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The path toward contention in Oakland lies with the arms

The A’s have a glut of young starters throughout their organization that can help propel them back to their former glory.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the Oakland A’s are among the worst teams in baseball. This isn’t something new for Oakland. But, with a fully stocked store of arms through the organization, the A’s may have the ability to not only grow the necessary arms to compete, but use a surplus to plug holes elsewhere.

In 2014, the A’s competitive position at the deadline led to the sale of a lot of minor league talent, including the likes of Addison Russell. After adding Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester, the A’s became the first victim of the Royals in the 2014 playoffs and left empty-handed. The aggressive 2014 trade deadline failing to pay off resulted in Josh Donaldson becoming more familiar with maple syrup. Losing a superstar in Donaldson, their temporary ace in Jon Lester, and flipping Jeff Samardzija left the A’s major league roster barren. Since then, the A’s have been consistently among the bottom feeders in the league.

Back in March, Joe Clarkin detailed the upside in the A’s rotation. The group of Manaea, Gray, Graveman, Happ Hahn, Triggs, and Cotton all were of note going into this season. Despite Gray’s troubles last season, it was clear that there was talent in the A’s rotation.

Thus far, the talent has shown. Each of the starters, outside of Gray and Cotton, are sitting well above 1 pWARP in the early season. Triggs and Manaea are a cut above, both in the top 25 among all pitchers in bWARP. However, the usage component has been an issue for some starters. Manaea, for example, is currently tenth in DRA, along with Triggs, Gray, and Graveman who are top 30 in DRA.

The A’s also have stable of players developing to join this group. Cotton, Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas, and AJ Puk lead that group. Puk and Holmes were both first round picks, though Holmes was acquired in the Josh Reddick trade with Cotton and Montas. Each of these players has appeared in a top-100 prospect list recently and is 25 or younger. Beyond them, arms like Dakota Chalmers and Daulton Jefferies, who recently underwent Tommy John, add a back-end depth to their system with the possibility of upside.

Meanwhile, the A’s lack any sort of a respectable group of position players, with Yonder Alonso and Jed Lowrie leading the group throughout the season. Alonso has, thus far, been swinging the bat like he never has before, with his wRC+ at 180. Lowrie has added a potent bat to their middle infield as well. But both of them are on the wrong side of 30. Khris Davis reared himself as a massive power threat for the A’s last season, but it’s hard for him to generate much overall value with his defensive misgivings. Meanwhile, Marcus Semien, who has his flaws, remains the only significant, young piece that the A’s have at the major league level, unless you really believe in Ryon Healy. Franklin Barreto, the team’s top prospect, should add to that when he is promoted, but it still isn’t much.

The A’s glaring needs lend nevertheless to future moves. Expending a young starter, especially when many of the impending free agents are struggling mightily, can help the A’s bridge the talent gap on their roster. Sonny Gray is an obvious candidate to be shipped off. Despite his down year last season, Gray has a long track record of success and is displaying that this season, even though his RA9 statistics aren’t really showing it. The questions arise beyond Gray. Manaea is emerging as a top of the rotation starter and Triggs has come out of nowhere to come up to similar quality, at least for now. In addition to them, Kendall Graveman and Jesse Happ Hahn look like quality, controllable, mid-rotation arms. Meanwhile, prospect currency is always at a premium and the likes of Holmes, Puk, et al can fetch a good player on their own right.

It’s very clear that the A’s either need to move things around or just get lucky to advance as a team further. They have lots of talented pitching, which is at a premium right now. They just need to turn it into hole-filling pieces.

Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.