The A’s first half to 2016 was problematic. That’s being mild.
But the surge shown by Oakland since the All Star break begs one to wonder if there’s any possibility that they can make it through two and a half months with a winning percentage well above .500 — making them postseason worthy.
The A’s have gone 7-3 since the break, well above their previous clip, and looking darn good. More than that, they’ve done it against two contenders, the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros. And with the first place Texas Rangers cooling off, the division is beginning to look a little wide open.
Perhaps the A’s are better being sellers. Even with reasons to be optimistic, like rookie Ryon Healy stepping up in a major way, the three rookie starters finally pitching well, or the recent promotion of Jake Smolinski paying instant dividends.
The A’s farm is still not chock full of talent. Sure, they have a few young and talented guys from Nashville to Stockton, but they’re far and away from where Boston of the Los Angeles Dodgers are. They could use some more talent.
But if the phone calls being made and received by general manager David Forst aren’t going well — with Billy Beane is certainly in the mix despite his recent promotion — the A’s are now in a position where they could become buyers.
The Rangers played the same card last year — below .500 and looking doomed at best, they traded for Cole Hamels. And then won the division after surging like hell.
First, though, the A’s need to realize where they are. Up to Sunday night, the A’s are 24th in extra base hits, 21st in stolen bases, while only ranking 5th in runners left on base. Part of that last bit has been the inability to get hits or create walks.
But the A’s have also done well when men are aboard with a .266 team batting average with runners in scoring position, which is good for 10th across the league and 1st in the American League West.
That’s critical — having a solid leadoff hitter and a three or four hitter that can drive in runs is paramount, and frankly, the A’s have been without a clear power threat.
Shortstop Marcus Semien is arguably the best hitter on the team, already swatting 20 homers and with an almost respectable .301 on base average. Outfielder Khris Davis leads the team in long balls with 23, but his paltry .287 on base average comes second on the liability list after his awful defense.
The A’s could use someone like Jay Bruce of the Reds or Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers to shore up things. Neither are without their own deficiencies, but both provide something in the middle of the order, and are at least average defensively.
Blackmon seems more up the A’s zone, and might be the best addition of the group in total value and fit. But the A’s might need more. Their bullpen hasn’t been awful, and Ryan Dull has successfully taken his late 2015 magic into this season. They could use another solid arm in the pen, and also a real bat at either corner.
Atlanta’s Hunter Cervenka could be another buy low option, as the young reliever has recorded 33 strikeouts in just under 30 innings, and kept his WHIP in check, but also not showing the stuff worthy of being named a closing option.
Tampa Bay’s Steve Pearce has enjoyed one hell of a resurgent year with a .905 on base plus slugging percentage, which is well above his career average and thusly a reason teams might not offer much in return for the 33-year-old.
Pearce fits what the A’s do very well, he can play almost every position and he’s much cheaper than almost any alternative. What Pearce has done well over the span of his career is steadily get on base, something the A’s need.
Gonzalez might be the least expensive option in terms of prospects due to his large contract. Neither Pearce or Blackmon would require a top five prospect either.
Bruce and Puig could be more than the A’s are willing to offer, though their potential impact is significant, and Cervenka could probably be had for one of Oakland’s lower-level starting pitching prospects or maybe someone like Yonder Alonso.
Would bringing something like Gonzalez and Cervenka to Oakland really make the ultimate difference?
With 62 games left and an 11 game deficit to overcome for top spot in the division, that’s not something a betting man would go for. Unless they were given 5:1 odds or better, and with the division in disarray, the A’s could view it that way.
If Forst and Beane believe the Rangers have been overachievers, which they probably do, then this week could turn some heads. The A’s could swap chair real quick, and snatch up some mid-level talent hoping for a trip to the playoffs.