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Unable to land an arm at the deadline, A’s move on

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Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (37) throws a pitch in the first inning as the San Francisco Giants face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 20, 2018.

With approximately two-dozen big league players moved in the hours ticking down to Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Athletics were left on the outside looking in — well, sorta.

It may not have been a deal done at the deadline, but Oakland made the addition it so coveted via a late-July trade, acquiring the one thing the A’s saw as an absolute need: another arm. And while it wasn’t the move most expected it was, perhaps, the single greatest addition. At least that’s what manager Bob Melvin believes:

“We got Familia … you’ve seen what he’s done for us. I don’t know that any team had a pickup like him. We’re happy with who we’ve got.”

While Jeurys Familia may carry with him the most impressive resume of any pitcher dealt at or near the deadline, the All-Star reliever did not fill a void the A’s front office has been looking to erase since last winter. But starters, in particular front-line starters, were a rare commodity in a buyer’s market, and the cost proved to be too rich for Oakland — Lance Lynn and Chris Archer each returned major league talent along with prospects.

The A’s still have time to add a starter in August, via waiver trade, much like the Astros did last year acquiring Justin Verlander.

Verlander, of course, is an extreme example, however. A waiver addition of his caliber is beyond rare, with names like Matt Harvey and Tyson Ross fit more for that spot.

For the time being, Trevor Cahill, who recorded his third win of the season Tuesday, is happy to continue the postseason hunt with the guys he already sees in the Oakland clubhouse:

“I like our guys, I feel like we always give the team a shot to win. They might not be the big-name guys, the big-price guys like some other teams have, but with our offense and our bullpen, if we all just do our part we’ll be fine.”

Cahill looked to be the under-the-radar signing the A’s were in search of last offseason, a veteran with postseason experience and front-of-the-rotation success. He has fit nicely into the top end of the Oakland staff, but it is Edwin Jackson who has assumed the role of ace, taking on the No. 1 duties out of the All-Star break after just four starts in the green and gold.

After his first two starts with the A’s, Melvin joked that Jackson was the guy Oakland had been searching for all along. Now 2-2 with a 3.32 ERA through seven starts, the 36-year-old 16-year vet is in agreement with Cahill:

“We’re in the playoff race right now. This team has the chance to do something special. … I’ve been on a lot of teams, I’ve been on winning teams and I’ve been on losing teams, and this team possesses something special.”

Sean Manaea, the only member of the A’s Opening Day rotation to still hold a spot in it, rounds out the top three of Oakland’s staff. But for a team in the playoff hunt a fourth starter is a requirement.

Brett Anderson and Frankie Montas — currently in a Triple-A holding pattern until the A’s need a fifth — are the options currently in the rotation. Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt are also options waiting in Nashville for the call. But the most interesting option in the A’s organization right now is Jesus Luzardo.

Luzardo is not only the A’s No. 1 prospect, he is ranked 12th in the league, according to MLB Pipeline, and 13th by Baseball Prospectus, which calls him “probably the most polished pitcher in the minor leagues.”

The 20-year-old southpaw is 9-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 19 games between Advanced-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. His next start will come as a member of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds following his promotion this week, and with Kendall Graveman expected to be moved from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery a space could very soon be made for the Peruvian phenom — especially if his dominance continues into the Triple-A level.

The chances Luzardo pitches with the A’s this season are very high. He will need to be called up prior to Sept. 1 if he is to pitch in any prospective postseason game, though.

This is just as likely, giving Oakland that option at the very least. Even if Anderson (2-3, 5.55 ERA) finds a rhythm or Montas (5-3, 3.75 ERA) rediscovers his, Getting Luzardo’s feet wet could make him an option, like David Price in 2008 with the Rays, as a left-handed reliever — another of Oakland’s needs.

The A’s currently have just one lefty (Ryan Buchter) they like to use in what Melvin calls “plus situations,” late in the game with a slim lead. Luzardo, with a mid-90’s heater and two plus off-speed pitches, offers his club a possible second, should another — like Tony Watson or Amir Garrett — not come across the waiver wire.

Outfield is Oakland’s final need, one that is much easier to fill via August trade. All-Stars Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones are each probables to be placed on waivers and moved by their current teams. But the emergence of Nick Martini and recent production of Mark Canha have pushed that need even further to the back of the plate.

Would the A’s benefit from the addition of another outfielder, particularly one with the history of success of an Adam Jones? Absolutely. But the main focus for GM David Forst and VP of Baseball Operation Billy Beane is pitching, adding or promoting a starter to solidify a rotation that hasn’t had a starter finish seven inning in a month, or a reliever to further bolster a bullpen that has been among baseball’s best. After all, it is pitching that wins championships.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.

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