Inside Pitch: Trade season arrives in Oakland
For the Oakland Athletics, with July comes brisk trade winds.
Now four weeks from the MLB trade deadline, the A’s (35-44) sit in the American League cellar — 7-1/2 games out of the AL’s second Wild Card spot. And while much of the roster is made up of young, up-and-coming talent, it is peppered with veterans, many of whom boast serious trade value.
Can they burst back into the postseason race by month’s ends? Sure. But with so many that must first be jumped, the likelihood is limited.
So, GM David Forst and the Oakland front office will venture into the trade pool in search of market value for guys like Yonder Alonso, whose breakout first half has netted him an All-Star nod, and Sonny Gray, who brags a price tag that remains elevated from his Cy Young finalist season of 2015.
As the A’s continue to grow younger — seven of their Baseball America top 10 preseason prospects have gotten run — the clock continues to tick on some of those veterans’ time in Oakland.
Fastball: Sonny the top target
The former All-Star is all but a lock to depart the East Bay via trade. And with a significant list of possible suitors, a 1.20 ERA over his last two starts — two earned runs over 15 innings — is just what the A’s needed to forge something of a bidding war.
Over the past month, the Houston Astros have emerged as a favorite to make a move for Gray. The New York Yankees are also among the top suitors, while Cleveland lingers as a dark horse. With his elevated interest, Gray could offer one last gift to a club, and fan base, to which he’s offered two seasons of scintillating starts and the undelivered promise of 2014. That gift: a high-level prospect the likes of outfielder Derek Fisher, Houston’s No. 4 prospect.
Changeup: Yonder — solo or combo
Alonso is among the AL’s top first baseman in on-base percentage (.377, No. 1), home runs (19, No. 3), slugging percentage (.575, No. 3), extra-base hits (32, T-5) and RBIs (41, T-6).
Alone, he could bring in a top prospect. But coupled with Gray, the two could bring a haul eclipsing the one Oakland received when it shipped out Rich Hill and Josh Reddick last season. Together, a guy like Yankee outfielder Clint Frazier, baseball’s No. 15 overall prospect, according to mlb.com — and the franchise’s No. 1 prospect, ahead of AL home run leader Aaron Judge — would not be out of reach.
Alonso is not a lock to be traded, however. As first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the 30-year-old first baseman is interested in an extension with the A’s, intrigued by the talent on the verge of blossoming. If traded, he could being the green and gold a future star. If not, he gives them a veteran presence both in the clubhouse and in the lineup — something much-needed as youngsters like Franklin Barreto, 21, and Matt Chapman, make the big move from Triple-A to the bigs.
Curveball: Lowrie back to Texas
Like Alonso, Jed Lowrie is enjoying a career year. He is on pace to surpass his career high in homers (15), all while slashing a very respectable .278/.350/.467. And being under contract control through the 2018 season adds to his value.
With the 33-year-old, the return would be more a matter of quantity than quality. Should Oakland trade the two-time Athletic it would be to a team looking for infield depth, in exchange multiple mid-level minor leaguers. The Astros could be a possible landing spot — Lowrie has bounced back and forth between Houston and Oakland since 2012, spending two separate stints with each.
Slider: Bullpen arms at a lesser value
Santiago Casilla has been far from perfect as the A’s closer this season — his 4.02 ERA and 1.29 WHIP are both above average for the position. Relievers, though, are among the most coveted players at the deadline.
Ryan Madson (2.41 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) carries greater value than Casilla, but both will generate interest.
It won’t be for massive return, but don’t be surprised if one or both righty are dealt before the deadline.
Shortstop Marcus Semien (right wrist) and pitcher Chris Bassitt (Tommy John surgery) are each creeping up on returns from the 60-day disabled list — Semien expected within the next week. With their respective returns, the A’s will need to clear space on the 40-man roster.
The top targets for designation are John Axford, who has allowed 13 earned runs in 19-2/3 innings this season (5.95 ERA) and Adam Rosales, who is slashing .233/.271/.347 while committing eight errors in the field.
Axford had the start to his season delayed by a shoulder strain. Since his return on May 21, the 34-year-old right-hander has offered just nine scoreless outings in 19 attempts, and his 1.88 WHIP is the highest among the club’s active hurlers.
Rosales was brought aboard in the offseason to fill the super-utility role, with defense being his greatest strength. His eight errors are second-most on a team having committed the most errors in baseball — eight more than the second-worst White Sox and 15 more than the next team, the Brewers. That coupled with his inability to gain an rhythm in the box make him the obvious choice for designation with the return of Semien.
Pitch-out: Bondo and fiberglass outfield
Whatever moved the A’s make, it will be in search of outfield help. Of the top 10 prospects in their system, there are five pitchers, four infielders and one catcher. On fact, there are only three bonafide outfielders among Oakland’s top 30 prospects — Jaycob Brugman, who is currently on the big league roster, and Lazaro Armenteros and Skye Bolt, each years away from call-ups.
Tuning in to any A’s game will immediately display the depth of talent on the infield and in the pitching staff. Guys like Chapman and Barreto, and Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea are players around which a franchise can be built, and that is where the promise of the A’s futures lies. But an outfield including Rajai Davis (.206/.263/.308) and Matt Joyce (.220/.333/.405) is nothing more than a patchwork overdue for overhaul.