The days leading up to September 1 roster expansion will be some of the most interesting internal maneuvers for an Athletics team that has only had a rookie on its 25-man roster for three days this year, Billy Burns from July 28-30. Drew Pomeranz will be called up to start for the Athletics on Wednesday to allow the team's top four starters to go against the Los Angeles Angels from Thursday to Sunday's four-game set and potentially set the A's up well for the rest of the season and the postseason. Last Sunday's defeat against the Angels saw how easily a bad game can send our six-man bullpen to its limit. Who's down, who's up? And how?
Sean Doolittle and John Jaso were each placed on the disabled list and Kyle Blanks suffered a setback in rehabilitation, but Nick Punto and Jed Lowrie appear to be on the mend. Josh Donaldson has been banged up but played Tuesday night, and Sam Fuld banged up his knee on a defensive play last Sunday night that has him day-to-day.
On Saturday night against the Los Angeles Angels, the left-handed closer suffered a "strained right intercostal" at the end of the game:
As a result, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list effective from Sunday, August 24. According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, such strains can take two weeks for even a mild strain, to six weeks for a medium-grade strain, to three months and surgery to recover. This means that Doolittle could be back in late September, in the middle of the postseason, or perhaps not at all for this year.
Eric O'Flaherty is believed to be the interim closer in an effort to keep the other relievers in the roles they're used to. O'Flaherty was warming with a one-run lead in the ninth inning of the August 25 game against the Astros before the A's scored five to eliminate the save opportunity. While O'Flaherty initially was not to be used on consecutive days, manager Bob Melvin told the Bay Area News Group's John Hickey on August 20 that the A's expect to be able to use O'Flaherty on back-to-back days very soon.
Left-handed batting catcher John Jaso was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled effective from Sunday, August 24. Jaso missed much of the second half of 2013 with concussion symptoms, and he began to experience symptoms of fuzziness, nausea, and dizziness after taking a hard foul ball off the mask a couple weeks ago.
You can never be quite sure with concussion symptoms. Jaso could be better as soon as he is eligible to return on August 31, but it's hard to predict. Jaso says it's definitely not as bad as it was in 2013, and they're trying to avoid a situation where he takes another shot to the head and ends up out for the rest of the year.
The A's acquired Geovany Soto from the roster because Stephen Vogt has a foot issue that has prevented him from catching for much of the year. Soto is expected to start Tuesday night against light-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel.
In an MRI on August 22, right-handed batting first baseman and outfielder Kyle Blanks was found to be suffering left Achilles tendinitis. There is no timetable for his return according to A's manager Bob Melvin. Blanks initially went on the disabled list effective from June 23 with a left calf strain. He was transferred to the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster for catcher Geovany Soto, though Blanks is already eligible to return.
If Blanks is not ready to return by the end of the regular season, his place on the postseason-eligible list can be given to another player in the organization on August 31, even if that player is not on the 40-man roster on that date. The A's will already have two such flexible spots because A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker are on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie went on the 15-day disabled list effective from August 14 with a fractured right index finger. Today, Susan Slusser reported that Jed Lowrie "might resume throwing in a day or two." The Bay Area News Group's John Hickey believes Lowrie "is probably about a week away."
Middle infielder Nick Punto went on the 15-day disabled list effective from August 3 when he strained his right hamstring rounding third in a game on August 2:
Nick Punto travelled with the team to Houston, did some running and took batting practice on Monday, August 25. Punto could be activated later this week.
During the Sunday, August 24 game against the Angels, Sam Fuld banged his knee against the centerfield wall and landed awkwardly on this play:
Fuld finished Sunday's game, but was held out of Monday's game against the Astros. He remains day-to-day, and it sounds as if a DL trip is unlikely as the knee is stable.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson tweaked his knee in his final plate appearance on Saturday, August 23 against the Angels. He underwent an MRI on Sunday that found no structural damage, but was held out of the lineup anyway despite asking to be included. He started Monday against the Astros and went 2-for-3 with three RBI, two doubles, a single, and this ridiculous slide on a stolen base:
Donaldson has also recovered from issues with a hamstring that have been dogging him the last few weeks.
Besides Drew Pomeranz's arrival, there is going to be an interesting roster opportunity to return the A's to either a 7-man bullpen or a full-strength middle infield before rosters expand on September 1. We take each move in turn.
Drew Pomeranz arrives August 27
With left-handed starter Drew Pomeranz starting on Wednesday, August 27, the A's will need to make a corresponding roster move. While the A's moved to a six-man bullpen when Craig Gentry returned to the roster, they did so in light of Jason Hammel being temporarily available in the bullpen as he skipped his start because of the two off days last week. With Hammel starting on August 26, the A's almost certainly will not be moving another reliever off the active roster for Wednesday.
The A's are scheduled to face right-handed pitcher Brad Peacock on August 27, left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson on the 28th, right-handed pitcher Jered Weaver on the 29th, either left-handed pitcher Randy Wolf or Michael Roth is likely to start on the 30th, and right-handed pitcher Matt Shoemaker on the 31st.
The A's have a few options. Nate Freiman could be optioned out, though that leaves the A's without a right-handed hitting first baseman until at least September 2, because players optioned to the minors must remain there for at least 10 days unless their minor league season ends (including playoffs) or they are recalled to replace a player going on the disabled list. Given Stephen Vogt's struggles against left-handed pitching (.212/.226/.423 vs LHP in 53 career plate appearances) and Brandon Moss' general power struggles since the All-Star Game (.179/.304/.255 since the break), this would not be ideal against the two lefties the Angels will throw at Oakland.
If Nick Punto is going to be ready to go on August 28 and will not need a separate rehabilitation assignment, the A's could option Andy Parrino and brave having only Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard in middle infield for Pomeranz's start on August 27. That way, while Parrino will be locked into the minor leagues by the 10-day option rule, Punto can still return by optioning Pomeranz to the minor leagues on August 28.
The A's don't necessarily need Punto to return if they want to call up a middle infielder. They can activate infielder Tyler Ladendorf, recently returned from his 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse, or even Alden Carrithers, who has played at second base earlier in his career but has primarily played third base this year. The A's could move a starting pitcher off the 40-man roster like Deck McGuire, who is struggling in Sacramento with a 7.16 ERA in five starts, including allowing 12 earned runs to the Reno Aces in four innings on August 11.
If the A's are willing to go two days with only two middle infielders, including one game against the Astros, there's another option to return the A's to three middle infielders, that also allows Drew Pomeranz to take over Jason Hammel's spot in the rotation against the Seattle Mariners on September 1, fitting the grand plan outlined by Scott Parker on Monday night. I'll discuss how in the next section.
Which minor league team? Or "Why did Sonny Gray get sent to Low-A?"
You may have noticed I'm being deliberately vague about which minor league team the A's should option out these various players. As I noted, a player sent to the minor leagues on optional assignment must remain there for at least 10 days unless he is recalled to replace an injured player (like Dan Otero for Sean Doolittle) or his team's minor league season, including playoffs, comes to a close.
All the A's minor league affiliate seasons end on September 1. However, the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, Double-A Midland Rockhounds, and High-A Stockton Ports are all in contention for minor league postseason berths. The Stockton Ports clinched the second half California North division league championship on Monday, the Midland Rockhounds clinched a Wild Card berth in the Texas League on Monday, and the Sacramento River Cats lead the Reno Aces in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern division by one game.
The Beloit Snappers, Oakland's Low-A affiliate, will not be making the playoffs. What could end up happening is that the players that get sent down this week get sent to Beloit so that the A's don't have to wait the full ten days to bring them when rosters expand. Otherwise, the person demoted on August 27 could not return until September 6, missing two games against the Mariners and one game against the Astros. Pomeranz could not return until September 7, missing a chance to possibly take over Jason Hammel's place in the rotation.
If instead the A's did not demote Pomeranz, but instead waited until after Sonny Gray's start on August 28, then we can really have fun with the roster rules. Sonny Gray, of course, has options. After his start against the Angels, the A's could option him to the Beloit Snappers, and recall him in time for his September 2 start against the Seattle Mariners. Even if the A's elect not to try to keep Pomeranz on the roster, the A's might still do this in order to recall a seventh reliever as soon as possible.
This is not without precedent in the A's organization. Just last year, the A's sent Tommy Milone to the Stockton Ports on paper for this very reason:
Milone being sent to Stockton rather than Sacramento. Ensures he can rejoin A's when their season ends.— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) August 28, 2013
Don't hold him to this, but chatting on Twitter with Stockton Ports' official scorer Paul Muyskens, it appears that Milone never actually had to show up to Stockton after he started for the A's on August 27 and was optioned on August 28:
@jfkooAN Pretty sure he has never pitched in a game for the Stockton Ports or even put on a Ports uniform.— Paul (@ThatsAnError) August 25, 2014
Milone was recalled on September 3, the day after the Ports' last game on September 2. Of course, by then the A's had turned to a rotation of Griffin, Parker, Straily, Colon, and Gray, but he was available in the bullpen.
Sonny Gray or anyone else sent to Beloit for this purpose would not actually have to go to Wisconsin. Further, because the A's will have at least Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin on the disabled list at the end of the year, there won't be concerns about rendering Gray ineligible for the playoffs. A player is "postseason-eligible" if he is on the 25-man roster or on a Major League disabled list at the end of August 31. If a postseason-eligible player is on a Major League disabled list at the end of the regular season, he can be replaced by anyone in the organization at the end of August 31.
So even if Sonny is, on paper, not on the active roster on August 31 but in Beloit, he can be made eligible for the postseason because Parker and Griffin will be postseason-eligible players on the disabled list at the end of the season.
I better not see anyone asking me why we demoted Sonny Gray on Friday morning.