It's the third go-around with Alex from Athletics Nation, as this time the Mariners travel to first place Oakland to take on the A's, just a game behind the Wild Card leader. A 3-1 series would get the Mariners out of Oakland above .500, but it won't be an easy task, as Oakland carries an 19-12 record with a +51 run differential. Oakland, in many ways, looks like the best team in the American League.
Logan handled the questions last time around, so that's worth a look if you missed it before. I asked Alex a series of questions not just about the current roster, but about decisions Oakland has made, and the impact of injuries to their future squad.
Scott: How do you think the A's will approach the upcoming offseason with multiple major pitcher injuries that may carry over into the 2016 season? Is there enough depth to fill spots internally, or will they have to make external moves, and how big of a concern is it for guys like Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin?
Alex: You'd have to imagine that Billy Beane will go after some starting pitching depth to replace what he's lost in Parker and Griffin. In fact, he may not even wait until the offseason; I half-expect him to add another starter by the trade deadline, especially if Dan Straily and/or Tommy Milone continue to struggle. Athletics Nation has unofficially picked Brandon McCarthy as the guy we want to go after, as a solid (and familiar) veteran in a contract year on a terrible team who will probably be available and attainable.
But as for the rotation's depth, it is definitely starting to run out. After the current five, the options are underwhelming -- Josh Lindblom, who is replacement-level; Arnold Leon, who is completely untested; and Drew Pomeranz, who is currently in the bullpen and not stretched out to start. There's a good chance you will see one of them in the doubleheader on Wednesday. If there are further injuries, Beane will almost certainly have to look outside for help, even if it's just to find his next Jesse Chavez rather than an established arm. Even Billy's bag of tricks needs to be refilled now and then.
Scott: Why do you think the A's refused to give Bartolo Colon a two-year deal? While his ERA has been bad in New York, he's posting his best FIP/xFIP since 2011 and it seems like regression is about to come in his favor. Do you wish the A's would have kept him around?
Alex: I think Billy just didn't believe in Colon lasting two more years. His 2013 season was hugely unlikely to be repeated, since history's list of starters who remained effective into ages 40 and 41 is very small. Beane is very big on paying for future potential rather than past performance, and a nearly-41-year-old with Colon's baggage is simply not a good gamble.
The key is that Beane turned around and signed Scott Kazmir for virtually the same contract that Colon got from the Mets. That turned it into a sort of challenge situation; whichever one turns out better in 2014 will determine the wisdom of the decision. I was in favor of bringing back Colon for one year if that was possible (say, on a qualifying offer), but given that Kazmir is dealing so far I'm happy that Billy was able to once again make the tough decision and focus more on the team's future than on an emotional decision based on the team's past.
Scott: Are Drew Pomeranz's days as a starter over now that he's found success as a reliever? Or is his undeniable upside tantalizing enough to give him another shot at some point?
Alex: The team has suggested that it will keep Pomeranz in his bullpen role for now rather than try to stretch him out midseason. It's possible we could see him in the rotation in future years, but at this point it will probably be an emergency situation if you see him starting regularly this year.
To add further speculation, Pomeranz is a two-pitch pitcher at this point (fastball/curve), and perhaps the team doesn't yet believe his repertoire is ready for starting and would like him to stay in the pen until he develops a reliable third offering (again, that is my and AN's speculation). On the other hand, with the team's depth being tested, it seems odd to keep such a promising arm in the bullpen when quality starters are so desperately needed throughout a long season. I've learned to just always trust Billy when it comes to pitching. Jesse Chavez in the rotation? Cool beans, whatever you say Mr. Beane. It usually turns out correct.
Scott: Are you surprised at just how good this offense has been? Some of the key contributors are carrying high BABIP, led by Derek Norris at .412. Who's for real and who's not? Who do you expect to come down to earth and who's ready to break out?
Alex: Not really. The A's were fourth in the Majors in scoring last year, and they're fourth in the Majors in scoring so far this year. Considering that they returned virtually the same group of position players as last year, that sounds just about right. Donaldson is showing that he's for real, as he's been the team's best hitter and one of the league's best run producers. Yoenis Cespedes is finally learning plate discipline, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. And the whole lineup is drawing a ton of walks, as Oakland leads baseball in free passes. A patient lineup which gets on base ahead of two of the better sluggers in the game, or three if you count Brandon Moss? Sounds like a recipe for success. Throw in what is shaping up to be a breakout year for Derek Norris and some key contributions from Craig Gentry, and there is no reason this offense can't stay toward the top of the league again all season long.
With the exception of Norris' .371 batting average (that'll come down, though his plate discipline and power are for real), there aren't any hugely unsustainable performances in the lineup so far. What you see is what you're probably going to get, injuries aside. As for breakout candidates, look for John Jaso to come around a bit after an early-season strikeout binge, and hope (as an A's fan) that Josh Reddick one day rediscovers his stroke from early 2012 (seeming unlikely at this point).