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.

Pirates place Gerrit Cole on the disabled list with elbow inflammation

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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Starter Gerrit Cole has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to August 25, with posterior inflammation of his right elbow, the Pirates announced. Pitcher Steven Brault has been recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis for Monday night’s start against the Cubs.

Cole was scratched from Monday’s start on Sunday and instead traveled to Los Angeles to be examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The right-hander previously underwent an MRI which ruled out structural damage.

Cole hits the shelf with a 3.55 ERA and a 95/32 K/BB ratio over 114 innings. The Pirates entered play Monday a half game out of the second National League Wild Card slot, so losing him for at least two more weeks will sting.

Nationals will add Mat Latos to the roster on Thursday

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 11:  Mat Latos #38 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Thursday is September 1, which means rosters expand. As a result, the Nationals plan to promote pitcher Mat Latos to the major league roster, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Latos had an opt-out clause for Monday, but after discussing the matter with the team, he agreed to stay at Triple-A Syracuse until Thursday.

Latos, 28, put up a 4.62 ERA over 11 starts with the White Sox before being released in mid-June. Nearly two weeks later, he signed a minor league contract with the Nationals.

In the Nationals’ minor league system, Latos has made three starts for the club’s Gulf Coast League team as well as three for Syracuse. In aggregate, the right-hander has yielded six runs (four earned) on 20 hits and 10 walks with 28 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Latos will likely pitch out of a long relief role for the Nationals and can be used as starting rotation insurance as well.