Spring training questions: Oakland Athletics

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Can Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer hold up at the top of the rotation?
Sheets would seem to have the better chance of the two. He hasn’t put in a full season since 2004, but he did make 31 starts in 2008 and he should be completely recovered from the torn flexor tendon in his elbow that cost him last season. It’s important to remember that he’s not coming off major shoulder surgery or Tommy John surgery — he’s a far better bet than most pitchers coming off a missed season. Duchscherer, on the other hand, has never put in a full season as a starter and he has significant back and hip issues to go along with history of arm problems. Also, he missed the end of last season with clinical depression.
If the two pitchers somehow combine to make 55-60 starts, the A’s would have a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason. But while I think Sheets is a reasonable bet to hold up his end of the bargain, I wouldn’t pencil in Duchscherer to make even 20 starts.
2. Will a Rajai Davis-Coco Crisp-Ryan Sweeney outfield hit enough to remain intact?
It should be baseball’s best outfield defensively, but the three players have combined for one 800 OPS season between them and that was Crisp’s 2005. Davis, a big surprise over the final four months of last year, is far from the prototypical left fielder, and Sweeney, while still possessing some upside, has hit 12 homers in 948 major league at-bats. I have the trio projected for 23 homers in 1,453 at-bats this season, and even that might be optimistic.
The A’s do have alternatives, but they traded the two best (Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham) to the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff. Jack Cust could log some outfield time if Eric Chavez forces his way into the lineup as a DH. Gabe Gross is an adequate fourth outfielder, and both Eric Patterson and Travis Buck are still in the organization, though perhaps not for much longer. Odds are that the A’s will go with the defense-first alignment to start and then adjust once they struggle to score runs.
3. Will Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez take necessary steps forward and provide the A’s with some much-needed rotation depth?
The Sheets signing would mean there’s only room for one in the rotation, but that depends on everyone getting through the spring healthy. Both should factor heavily into Oakland’s plans. Gonzalez, who has fanned 143 but walked 81 in 132 2/3 innings as a major leaguer, has nothing left to prove in the minors, while Cahill might yet benefit from some Triple-A time. I’m very interested in seeing how Cahill looks this spring after he went through his rookie season without ever showing a consistent breaking ball. He has the greater upside of the two. If both prove capable of holding their own at the bottom of the rotation, the A’s will be better able to withstand injuries. It’s doubtful that Sheets, Duchscherer, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden will all be healthy at the same time very frequently.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.