So here we are, with the Oakland Athletics as sellers once more.
This could be one of the more interesting periods for the future of the A’s franchise, as the talent they acquire, and the talent they ultimately trade away, could have huge ramifications on the club’s next run of success.
On Saturday over at FanRag, our very own Melissa Lockard ranked the A’s trade candidates, and of course Sonny Gray was at the top of that list. Personally, I feel that the A’s are going to end up moving Sonny before the non-waiver deadline. They couldn’t move him last year because they would have been selling low while he suffered through an injury-riddled season, and with fewer resources than some of the bigger market clubs, the A’s have to make their trades count. Yeah, you can go ahead and make your Josh Donaldson/Yoenis Cespedes jokes here.
The point remains that Gray is their most valuable trade chip and should be able to bring back a slew of top talent given his history of success and his status as a top arm when healthy. If the A’s are going to improve upon their recent fortunes, trading Gray is almost a necessity at some point soon, and given the number of young players currently on their roster, their timetable for contention may not arrive before Gray hits free agency after the 2019 season.
The A’s have plenty of young talent in the infield, but they are thin in outfield prospects and could always use high-ceiling position players. And, of course, you can never have enough pitching, as the A’s injury woes have demonstrated this season. So where could the A’s look to upgrade their fortunes this trade deadline season?
Defense has been a rough spot for the Oakland Athletics in recent seasons. According to FanGraphs, they’re terrible. They’re almost twice as bad as the 29th-ranked San Diego Padres as a team. Their UZR/150 is a MLB-worst -13.5, as is their Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of -50. The A’s pitching staff is having to work harder to bring innings to an end, and that adds up over the course of a full 162-game season. The A’s also have the worst arms in baseball roaming the outfield, whether you’re looking at the sabermetric readings, or just plain looking.
Khris Davis can crush the living beejeezus out of the ball and is an offensive weapon, but his defensive abilities hurt the club. He has a team-worst -10 DRS, and Jaycob Brugman (-4), Matt Joyce (-3), Mark Canha (-5) and Rajai Davis (-1) have all been on the wrong side of zero, as well. Chad Pinder and Matt Olson, both converted infielders, are the only current A’s outfielders that hold positive marks with this statistic.
Whether or not Sonny Gray is on the move this summer will dictate the level of talent the A’s can bring in via trade. Ryan Madson is going to be a coveted reliever over the next few weeks, though he likely isn’t at the top of the reliever market. The Washington Nationals have had troubles with their bullpen all year, from effectiveness to health, and they will certainly be buying relief arms by the end of the month. They’re definitely in need of a closer, but bolstering their relief corps as a whole is also paramount if they’re hoping to make a deep run. Madson could fill either void for them. The two teams have plenty of history making deals, whether it was the Gio Gonzalez trade, the Tyler Clippard deal before the 2015 season, or the Marc Rzepczynski trade at last year’s deadline. Heck, A.J. Cole hasn’t been an Oakland prospect for a while, maybe it’s time for him to head back?
The team that I could see making a push for Madson (and reportedly has shown interest in Sonny Gray) could be the Milwaukee Brewers. While I’m not quite sold on them adding Gray, Madson is one of those under-the-radar players that a team that doesn’t want to mortgage their future would add. He would give them hope for a postseason run, but wouldn’t set back the rebuilding process too much.
The one thing that Milwaukee has plenty of: outfielders. They’re currently rolling with Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana from left to right, with utility option Hernan Perez serving as the primary backup for each and Eric Thames, a.k.a. “god”, getting in on the outfield action, as well. Braun has at least three more years on his current contract with a mutual option for 2021, his age 37 season. There have been rumors that the club could look to move him, but even if they did, the Brewers would still have a surplus of outfielders with top prospect Lewis Brinson, number four prospect Corey Ray, number six prospect Trent Clark and number 12 prospect Brett Phillips roaming the outfield in the minors. There is no way that the Brewers hold on to all of these players, and what better time to move one of them?
Phillips, 23, stuck his toe in the big-league waters this season, playing in five games and recording 11 plate appearances. With Triple-A Colorado Springs, he is batting .292 with a .356 OBP and has a wRC+ of 129. He has a little speed on the bases and a cannon of an arm while manning all three outfield positions. Plus, his laugh and personality would fit right in with the Oakland vibe.
Then again, the Brew Crew could look to trade off of their big-league roster to keep players with more time left on their contracts, and Broxton would be an interesting add. His defensive metrics aren’t as good as last season’s and he is a roughly average hitter, but for a nearly 37-year-old reliever, he’d be a great speculative add. Broxton has 14 homers and 16 stolen bases, plus he strikes out entirely too much. He’d fit right in.
Because a team always needs pitching, duh. At points this season we’ve seen every member of the A’s starting rotation hit the disabled list. Pitching depth is always a key to contending. If the A’s were to trade Gray, I’d be looking for a top pitching prospect, a top outfield prospect, and a couple of lower-level, high-upside guys. Again, the Brewers have all of these, but getting them to part with some of their pitching would be difficult, being that that is their biggest weakness at the big league level.
If Madson were to be moved to a team that is not Milwaukee, I would expand that wish list to perhaps a Double-A level pitcher that could be a back-of-the-rotation option in a year’s time, and/or someone with the upside of Frankie Montas, who could be a solid relief option down the road.
In the Fanrag piece mentioned above, Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, Matt Joyce and any other veteran is also either mentioned, or ranked. With some of these other guys, the target will almost certainly be lower-level talent with upside. The way that the A’s could maximize their value here would be to take on someone that has either been recently injured, or has been struggling this season at the next level. Buying low on a player is something that the A’s have done plenty of in recent years, and sometimes it pans out (Rich Hill, Khris Davis) and sometimes it doesn’t. Playing it safe may be the right move, but it’s the boring move. And Oakland is anything but boring.
Outside of these two facets, the A’s appear to be content with what they have at the moment. Of course, if a hotshot prospect became available at a position that seems to be covered (shortstop, first base) then that could change, but with Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Ryon Healy, Barreto, Olson, Pinder and Bruce Maxwell, the A’s seem to be pretty set with internal options on the infield.
This non-waiver deadline should see plenty of players on the move as the front office dumps some payroll and tries to collect more talent for the future. The biggest difference between this deadline and deadlines past is that the future is nearly here, and the departure of veteran players opens up playing time for that future to officially take hold in Oakland.
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