Going into their game on Wednesday night, the Oakland A’s carry a 28-39 record. They are currently 10 games out of first place, the largest deficit for any team in the American League. The A’s are 7.5 games out of the Wild Card race. Larger June deficits have certainly been overcome before, but given the sheer number of teams between the A’s and a playoff berth, the A’s chances of reaching their fourth-straight post-season are rather slim. When one considers that the A’s are 4-13 against teams with a better than .500 record, those chances grow even slimmer.
At some point over the next few weeks, the A’s are likely to decide to be sellers. Oakland gave-up a lot of talent to acquire veterans Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard this off-season, as well as veterans Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester last year. Being sellers during this year’s trade deadline will give them a chance to recoup some of that talent in hopes of rebounding quickly, in much the same way the Tampa Bay Rays went from buyers in 2013 to sellers in 2014 to a first-place team in 2015.
Below is a look at the players on the A’s current roster that are most likely to come up in any trade talks the A’s might have between now and July 31st.
The Impending Free Agents
It’s certainly no secret that the A’s are rarely in the market to re-sign their own free agents. There are the occasional exceptions, but most expect the A’s free agents to find new homes for the 2016 season. In particular, Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard, all of whom are expected to command significant multi-year deals this off-season, are likely to hit the open market.
The A’s acquired Zobrist and Clippard in related deals this off-season with the hope that the two veterans would give the A’s a realistic chance to compete for a playoff berth despite the loss of several key players from their 2014 roster. That plan hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons, one of them being that Zobrist missed a month with a knee injury. While he was out, the A’s went from 8-10 on the season to 17-31. Since his return, the A’ s have played better, to the tune of an 11-8 record.
Zobrist’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive in limited appearances this year. Through Tuesday, he was batting just .227/.316/.387 in 34 games. However, he has been swinging the bat well lately, collecting five hits and four walks over his last three games (three of those five hits have gone for extra-bases). Zobrist is also moving better on his surgically repaired knee.
Teams that valued Zobrist before the season aren’t likely to be put-off by his slow start this year. If they believe he is healthy, he should still be one of the top trade targets on the position player side of the market this year. Zobrist’s ability to play multiple positions makes him a good fit for teams dealing with an injured starter they expect to return later in the year. Zobrist can fill an immediate need while that player is injured and move to another position when that player returns. Nearly every team in contention could use a player like Zobrist.
Unlike Zobrist, Clippard has been healthy all season. With an ERA of 2.96 and a FIP of 3.80, Clippard hasn’t been quite as dominant as he had been in previous years with the Washington Nationals, but he has still been plenty good. His ERA+ is 131 and he has struck-out nearly a batter an inning. His walks are up (4.6), but he has generally been steady at the back-end of the A’s bullpen. Thanks to a shoulder injury to Sean Doolittle, Clippard has been pushed out of his customary set-up role and into a closer’s role. He has 10 saves in 12 opportunities for the A’s.
Some teams in need of a closer could look to the A’s and Clippard as a cheaper alternative than trying to pry away a big-name established closer such as Aroldis Chapman. However, it is more likely that a team in need of a shutdown eighth inning reliever will be looking in the direction of Clippard and the A’s. Given what teams paid for set-up men like Andrew Miller last season, the A’s could still get significant value for Clippard even if he isn’t viewed by most teams as a closer.
Scott Kazmir is the biggest wild card among the A’s high-profile impending free agents. Kazmir has been outstanding for the A’s the past two seasons, but he faded down the stretch last year and he had a minor shoulder issue earlier this season. Still, a team in need of a steady veteran starter could do worse than acquiring a left-handed starter with a 2.84 ERA (3.61 FIP), a 135 ERA+ and 8.6 K/9. He figures to be in demand, although questions about his health could bring down his value some.
Relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Edward Mujica are also free agents at the end of this year. They aren’t likely to generate significant trade interest – if any – but if either ran off a good string of outings before July 31st, that could change.
O’Flaherty has been a disappointment this season after pitching well in 2014 after returning from Tommy John surgery. He missed time with injury and has allowed nine earned runs in 9.2 innings this season. O’Flaherty is certainly capable of being much better than he has been this season, but he isn’t likely to rebuild much trade value over the next six weeks.
Mujica was available to any team that wanted him earlier this season after he was DFA’d by the Red Sox. The right-hander has pitched well since coming over to the A’s (no runs allowed in 5.1 innings pitched), but he is currently on the DL with a broken thumb. He is set to return sometime later this week or early next. It is conceivable he could generate some interest if he goes right back to pitching like he was when he got hurt, but the A’s aren’t likely to get any significant return beyond salary relief if they elect to deal him.
The Biggest Chip
Over the last 12 months, if we have learned anything, it is that no player in the Oakland A’s system should be considered untouchable. That being said, if there was ever a player the A’s put the untouchable status on, it would be Sonny Gray. Gray is one of the top-five right-handed starters in all of baseball right now. He is also affordable for at least another two years. Teams can spend decades trying to develop a pitcher as valuable as Gray currently is to the A’s.
That being said, if the A’s were ever interested in completely over-hauling their system, trading Gray would be the place the A’s would start. There are very few packages of talent the A’s could ask for from any team that would be considered unreasonable. Considering what the A’s paid for Jeff Samardzija with only a 1.5 years remaining of team control and for Jason Hammel for half a season of team control, Oakland should be able to get a package of talent for Gray that is even better than what they sent to the Cubs.
The question remains – would that be worth it? For the A’s to make a move like trading Gray, they would essentially be waiving the white flag on the next couple years of playoff contention. The A’s have to look internally and decide whether they believe they have the pieces to get back to playoff contention within the next two seasons. If the answer is yes, then there is absolutely no reason to trade Gray. If the answer is no, then this scenario becomes more realistic.
Other Valuable Pieces
There are other moves the A’s could make that would land somewhere in-between the obvious trades of impending free agents and the organization-shifting trade of dealing Sonny Gray. The A’s have a number of veteran players who are under team control for several more years, but could have significant value on the trade market should the A’s elect to move one or two of them.
Stephen Vogt is probably the least likely among this group to be traded even though he is in the middle of an incredible offensive season at a position that is difficult to find decent hitters. Vogt, like Gray, isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2017, making him one of the best values in the game right now. He has some defensive versatility, as well, having proven that he can play first base as well as catch. Vogt is a team leader in the clubhouse on a club that has lost a lot of its leadership to trades and injuries over the past year.
The A’s could get blown away by an offer for Vogt, and depending on the package, they could pull the trigger. Back-up catcher Josh Phegley has been very impressive in limited playing time, so the A’s do have a natural replacement for Vogt should they move him (they don’t have a natural replacement for Phegley’s current role, however). But there is a very good chance that Vogt is undervalued around baseball. He is 30-years-old and is coming off of a foot injury that still impacts him from time-to-time. Consequently, teams aren’t as likely to give the A’s the kind of package one would expect for a pre-arbitration eligible catcher with a 906 OPS.
There is a long list of pros and cons when addressing the question of whether or not to trade Josh Reddick, as well. Unlike Vogt, Reddick’s perceived value around the league should be equal to his actual value to the A’s. Reddick is a free agent after the 2016 season, but that should still give a team plenty of time to get value out of him. He is in the middle of his best offensive season (884 OPS) and he is healthy for the first time since 2012, when he hit 32 homers. There is reason to believe that Reddick’s production is here to stay. He appears to have significantly improved his approach at the plate and currently has one more walk than strike-outs this season. Defensively, Reddick is among the best there is in right field.
There are plenty of contending teams that could use outfield help and a big bat in the middle of their line-up right now. The question for the A’s is whether they would be able to withstand the loss of Reddick themselves. The A’s don’t have any outfield prospects in their top-20 currently at Triple-A. Top overall prospect Matt Olson has seen time in right field this season with Double-A Midland, but he is still getting his feet wet at that position and at that level. Asking Olson to be the A’s everyday right fielder at any point this season or even early next season isn’t really fair to him and could harm his development. If the A’s got back a significant outfield prospect in a trade for Reddick (or another player), then this consideration would change, of course.
The A’s acquired Brett Lawrie this off-season for Josh Donaldson. Lawrie has had the unenviable task of not only being the player acquired for Donaldson, but also replacing his spot on the field. He isn’t the same caliber of player that Donaldson is, but Lawrie has done okay in his first year with the A’s. With a .279/.313/.403 line, he has been slightly above-average offensively. Surprisingly, he has been a little bit below-average defensively, although that has been a team-wide problem this season and Lawrie has had his share of spectacular defensive moments.
Lawrie isn’t a free agent until after the 2017 season, so he could be a key part of a revived A’s club in the next few years if you are in the camp that believes he is still growing as a player (he is still just 25). The A’s do have a lot of minor league depth at third base, however, so if a team like the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants were looking for a third baseman, the A’s could be in a decent position to trade Lawrie. In the short-term, they could play Max Muncy at third or move Marcus Semien to third. In the long-term, the A’s would hope at least one of the group of third base prospects (namely Renato Nunez, Matt Chapman and Ryon Healy) will turn into a big league regular at third.
Jesse Chavez has quietly been the second-best pitcher on the A’s staff this season behind Sonny Gray. Criminally underappreciated by nearly everyone, Chavez has posted a 2.64 ERA and a 2.80 FIP this season. He is walking just 2.3 batters per nine innings and he has allowed just three homeruns in 71.2 innings. In a different season where the A’s weren’t so bad, Chavez would be in the discussion for an All-Star appearance. In a lot of ways, Chavez has a similar profile to the one Jeff Samardzija had at this point last year. Chavez is even 1.5 years away from free agency, like Samardzija was last year.
Of course, there are two big differences between Chavez and Samardzija. One is that Samardzija had a longer track record as a starter. That made him more of a known quantity for pitching down the stretch and a bigger name nationally. The second difference is that Samardzija possesses that mid-90s fastball that teams look for when trying to acquire a top-of-the-rotation ace. Chavez is more of a finesse pitcher, but he still misses plenty of bats in his own right.
Similar to Vogt, Chavez isn’t as likely to be perceived around the league as being as valuable as he really is. Consequently, there is a real question as to whether it would be worth the A’s while to trade Chavez. If they did receive a good offer for Chavez, they would have a few replacements to consider for his spot, including Drew Pomeranz (currently in the bullpen), Chris Bassitt, Sean Nolin or Barry Zito. It would be interesting to see if teams would offer significant packages for Chavez and Kazmir together. Given Chavez’s ability to pitch out of the rotation and the bullpen, a Kazmir-Chavez package could be intriguing for a team not 100 percent sold on Kazmir’s health.