This morning, something awesome happened. This amazing thing happens every year, and has been my favorite annual event for the past three or four years. What is this event, you might ask? It's simple - the calendar changed from June to July.
July is a significant month to me. It means that it truly is summer. It means that America truly is independent. It also means that the Major League Baseball season is truly underway. No longer is it "too early" for stats or the standings to matter. Late comebacks happen, but they are far from common. Once July hits, baseball fans truly have a good idea of how teams' postseason hopes are shaping out.
In past years, that has been a great thing for the Oakland Athletics. Having been in the thick of the race in 2013 and 2014, and having been close enough to rally back in 2012, the A's have been a fantastic team to watch in recent Julys. However, this season, things seem to be different. After a horrid May and April, the A's had seemed to have dug themselves too deep of a hole. However, a winning June might have an optimistic front office thinking differently.
July means trade season. And this trade season, the million-dollar question is, will the A's be buyers or sellers? Let's fully evaluate both options. (Note: I am not advocating that any of the following players be traded/traded for. I am simply writing about who I think COULD be traded/traded for.)
This happens if: Billy Beane and the rest of the Oakland front office know their team is better than it has performed, and they have the numbers (run differential, Base Runs, Pythagorean Win-Loss) to back up their claim. They think their club is only a couple of key additions away from a fourth consecutive postseason berth in a relatively weak American League.
Trade Chips (Buying)
Franklin Barreto, SS - Barreto, the A's consensus top-two prospect heading into 2015, has endured a rough start with his new organization. and has fought his way back to a .743 OPS despite his awful April. However, his defense at shortstop has remained questionable, and he hasn't been running as much as he did in his breakout 2014 with Toronto. This, along with Oakland's relative middle infield depth (Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder, Joey Wendle) and top two draft picks (Richie Martin and Mikey White), makes the high-ceiling shortstop a possible trade chip that would warrant a high return.
Drew Pomeranz, LHP - Pomeranz, acquired from Colorado prior to the 2014 season in the Brett Anderson trade, has been all kinds of inconsistent throughout his career. It has been more of the same in Oakland, as after posting a sparkling 2.58 ERA in his 10 starts in 2014, Pom struggled to a 4.40 ERA over his 8 starts in 2015, which he has followed with relative success out of the bullpen. Regardless of his inconsistency, the former first-rounder has flashed huge potential, and his three years of control could appeal to some selling teams.
Max Muncy/Renato Nunez, CIF - These two are lumped together as former top prospects in the midst of disappointing seasons on both sides of the ball. Muncy's power has gone missing after a breakout 2013 in Stockton (High-A). He still presents above-average OBP skills, and defensive versatility. Muncy's high floor and decent power ceiling could be appealing. Meanwhile, Nunez has always had great power and great overall potential, but defensive questions at third base and consistently low walk rates. Furthermore, his 2015 slash line at Double-A Midland isn't pretty (though it is improving, and he's starting to hit for power). In the end, neither has an obvious place in Oakland long-term, as their primary positions are blocked by Brett Lawrie, Mark Canha, Matt Olson, Rangel Ravelo, and eventually Matt Chapman. Selling teams would be more than excited for a chance to acquire either player.
Trade Targets (Buying)
Clearly, the area of the team with the biggest need for improvement is the bullpen. The rotation is full, and there isn't much room to add to the lineup (and it's performing well overall anyway). An outfield bat could also help, but I'm not including any in this section just yet.
Buying Low with the Marlins' bullpen - The Marlins are probably out of the race, as losing Giancarlo Stanton for at least 4-6 weeks with a broken hamate bone has crippled their playoff hopes. They should look to sell, as Mike Axisa opines for CBSSports.com. This means hard-throwing lefty Mike Dunn and struggling side-winder Steve Cishek should both be available. Dunn, 30, has pitched to a 4.85 ERA (4.14 FIP) despite 9.35 K/9, and is under team control through 2016. Cishek, 29, was demoted to Double-A after posting a 6.98 ERA (4.24 FIP) over 19.1 innings. Since returning from the minors, however, Cishek has rebounded with a 1.59 ERA (2.39 FIP) over 5.2 innings. His lofty salary could be a deterrent. but perhaps Miami would include some financial relief in the deal. Cishek will be a free agent following the 2017 season. The two should not be too costly for Oakland to acquire, should they choose to do so.
Buying High with the Red Sox' bullpen - The Red Sox are also probably finished, due to a lackluster starting rotation and some multi-million dollar busts on offense and defense. It's probably too soon to completely count out a team with the talent, youth, and deep pockets of the Red Sox, but things look a little bleak in Boston. If they choose to sell off pieces, their top relievers Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa could become available. Uehara, 40, is defying all odds in the midst of another fine season, posting a 2.89 ERA (2.53 FIP). He is owed a hefty $9MM in 2016, at age 41. Tazawa, on the other hand, is only 29 years of age. He has been dominant in 2015 (2.62 ERA, 2.69 FIP) and would be under team control through 2016, his final year of arbitration. These two could prove costly in terms of prospects. However, both are definitely fantastic pitchers.
Another Kind of Cuban Missile - If the Cincinnati Reds chose to sell, they could bring back a boatload from dealing starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. However, perhaps their most appealing trade chip is Cuban flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. Chapman is all kinds of sexy, from his triple-digits fastball to his huge strikeout rate to his glorious Cespedian eyebrows. Of course, he will also be the most sought-after bullpen arm at the deadline, and may not even be moved (as he is under team control through 2016). But if the A's truly believe they can win and wish to fortify the bullpen, Chapman would be the best possible guy to add.
Or Perhaps a Different Red? - The offense has been fine to this point, but it could always use a little boost. And perhaps Brandon Phillips could provide that. If the Reds pay down his ugly contract, Phillips could be valuable to an A's team struggling on both sides of the ball at second base. Phillips' bat and glove would provide a considerable upgrade over Eric Sogard, and would push Ben Zobrist to left field. However, Phillips is nowhere near worth a large asking price, even if his contract is paid down considerably.
In conclusion, there are some definite options if the A's do choose to buy. There are plenty of intriguing relievers available for varying costs, and even a couple of bats that could help out the offense. There are, of course, more options than I have touched upon, both as chips and targets. But what if they sell?
This happens if: Billy Beane concludes that the team doesn't have what it takes to get back into the playoff race, and he decides to shift his focus from 2015 to 2016 and beyond. It will almost surely be a seller's market this July, a notable trend thanks to the inclusion of the second Wild Card spot. More teams feel like they are just a piece or two out of the race, and fewer teams feel like they are truly out of it. Only the Phillies, Brewers, Rockies, White Sox, and Marlins are sure to sell, leaving plenty of buying teams hungry for talented rentals. That's where the A's, and many of their well-performing veterans, come into play.
Trade Chips (Selling)
Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF - Zobrist is perhaps the best position player on the block that could be acquired without breaking the prospect bank. At age 34, Ben is rebounding from a rough start that included an April knee injury. The key with Zobrist is his versatility - in his career, he has spent significant time at three different defensive positions and has played every position other than catcher. This versatility, combined with a bat roughly 20% better than league average for his career (119 wRC+), makes Ben Zobrist very attractive. Zobrist will be a free agent following the 2015 season.
- Confirmed Suitors - New York Mets (source), Kansas City Royals (source), Washington Nationals (source), New York Yankees (source), Chicago Cubs (source)
- Speculative Suitors - Zobrist's versatility makes him a good fit on literally every contender with an offensive hole. Other notable fits could be the Baltiore Orioles (OF), Toronto Blue Jays (OF), Los Angeles Angels (OF), San Francisco Giants (OF), Arizona Diamondbacks (2B), or San Diego Padres (2B).
- Expected Return - We know what kind of return the A's are looking for with Zobrist, as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that in talks with the Nationals they targeted young outfielder Michael Taylor (no, not that one). Taylor isn't/never was a blue-chipper (peaked as BaseballAmerica's #32 prospect after 2014), but he is a talented young player with real potential. In terms of prospects, a player in the 30-70 range on a top 100 list could reasonably be expected to headline a return. That's roughly a 55 FV in scouting terms, or an above-average every day player.
Scott Kazmir, LHP - Kazmir is almost certain to be moved, due in part both to demand from other clubs and the fact that the A's are relatively deep in starting pitching (compared with other areas of the team). The A's could certainly hang on to the veteran starter and plan on extending a qualifying offer to him in the winter, but if Kazmir were to run out of gas in the second half (as he did in 2014) or get injured he would likely accept and the A's would miss out on a prospect return. Scott will be well sought after, though, as he will be a cheaper alternative to Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto. This could, somewhat ironically, drive up his price tag. I'm not too sure he needs that inflation, though - Kazmir's 2.79 ERA (3.38 FIP) in 15 starts this year, following an All-Star appearance in 2014, should be reason enough for a high acquisition cost. Kazmir will be a free agent following the 2015 season.
- Confirmed Suitors - Houston Astros (source), Chicago Cubs (source), Toronto Blue Jays (source), Kansas City Royals (source)
- Speculative Suitors - New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Expected Return - Jon Lester and David Price were two big-name pitchers dealt at the deadline last year, but both were another notch about Kazmir and therefore don't make great comps. Also near last year's deadline, half a season of a struggling Justin Masterson netted the Cardinals' #8 prospect (per BaseballAmerica) James Ramsey; two months of Brandon McCarthy brought back left-hander Vidal Nuno, who stepped right in with league-average performance in 14 starts for his new team; and John Lackey, with one year left on his deal, returned MLB-ready swingman Joe Kelly. Kazmir is considerably better than all three of those guys, though. The most comparable deal I could find was 2013's Matt Garza trade. The Rangers gave up third baseman Mike Olt (BaseballAmerica's #22 prospect entering the year, but in the midst of a disappointing season), righty C.J. Edwards (in the midst of a breakout season, ranked #28 following the season) and righty Justin Grimm (Rangers' #5 prospect entering the year, but also in the midst of a disappointing season). These three were dealt for half a season of Matt Garza, who had a 3.17 ERA (3.78 FIP) in the National League prior to the trade. The A's could reasonably expect this kind of return or even better when dealing the superior Kazmir -- that is, multiple quality prospects.
Tyler Clippard, RHP - Clippard, in the midst of possibly his worst year of his career, has been the anchor for an awful A's bullpen. Although his 2.79 ERA is pretty, his 3.93 FIP and 5.19 xFIP aren't. His 4.18 BB/9 rate is his worst since 2009. However, he still has the track record of a dominant set-up man, and thus has many teams in need of relief help calling for his services. Tyler will be a free agent following the 2015 season.
- Confirmed Suitors - Toronto Blue Jays (source), Washington Nationals (source), possibly Houston Astros (source)
- Speculative Suitors - New York Yankees, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays
- Expected Return - Not a whole lot. Last year, half a season of Andrew Miller netted Eduardo Rodriguez, but Miller had been much more dominant than Clippard has and Rodriguez had not yet broken out. Back in 2013, half a season of Francisco Rodriguez (also more dominant than Clippard) netted the Orioles' #4 prospect Nick Delmonico. In the end, don't expect a big name in return for Clippard. The A's will either pick a fringey guy they've taken a liking to, or package Clippard with a bigger name (such as Zobrist or Kazmir) in order to maximize value.
Jesse Chavez, RHP - Journeyman Jesse Chavez is one of the best stories in an A's franchise full of great stories over the last decade. Chavez, claimed off of waivers from Toronto at age 28, was forced into the rotation after injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin in spring 2014. Since, he has done nothing but throw quality innings for the A's. He has posted a 3.29 ERA (3.52 FIP) over 34 starts and a handful of bullpen appearances these past two seasons, including a 3.27 ERA (3.03 FIP) over his 13 starts in 2015. Chavez is under team control through 2016, his age 32 season.
- Confirmed Suitors - Los Angeles Dodgers (source)
- Speculative Suitors - Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers
- Expected Return - A trade for a player like Jesse Chavez is fairly unprecedented. That's likely because a player like Jesse Chavez is fairly unprecedented as well. Ian Kennedy with two and a half years of control was dealt for two relievers, but Kennedy was in the midst of an awful season. Jake Peavy, also in the midst of a disappointing year, netted promising young outfielder Avisail Garcia and a few lottery tickets in a three-team deal in 2013. Jeff Samardzija, however, was much more established at the time of his trade to the Athletics last year. So I'd expect a return somewhere between the Peavy haul and the Samardzija return, probably closer to the Peavy deal.
Josh Reddick, RF - Back in May, Ken Rosenthal speculated that the A's could use Reddick as another big trade chip. However, he also stated that "the team resisted offers for him all last offseason." Nonetheless, we could see the former Gold Glover on the move, as he is in the midst of his most complete season at the plate. The power is still there, but joining it are newfound on-base skills that make Reddick a true weapon on offense. He is under team control through 2016.
- Confirmed Suitors - None, so far.
- Speculative Suitors - Los Angeles Angels (unlikely), Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals (if Matt Holliday is out a while), Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants (ugh), New York Mets
- Expected Return - The A's would rightfully ask the world for a year and a half of a Gold Glove outfielder in his prime hitting 30% better than the league average. For a year and a half of a far inferior player in Austin Jackson, the Mariners had to give up young infielder Nick Franklin. One year of Jason Heyward fetched four years of quality young starter Shelby Miller, but Heyward had more of a track record as well as the mystique of being a former No. 1 overall prospect. Outside of that, very few recent comparable trades exist, if any. I'd expect a top-30 prospect (or a young player of that caliber) to headline a Reddick trade, along with a couple additional noteworthy pieces,
(Note - Yes, Ike Davis was omitted from this list. This is because I believe Davis has been good enough for the A's to want to keep him, but not good enough for another team to want to give up anything noteworthy for him. Also, there have been three months of baseball since the A's acquired him for nothing but international slot money, and he spent one of those months on the DL. So I think he stays put.)
Trade Targets (Selling)
Only one trade target of the A's has been confirmed, and that is the aforementioned Michael A. Taylor, a young outfielder for the Washington Nationals. Taylor, 24, is a good defensive outfielder who possesses a nice power-speed combination, with the potential for a high on-base percentage. Taylor could be an above-average regular in the future, possibly near the top of the lineup. At worst, the right-handed hitter could be a Craig Gentry - a superb fourth outfielder who could start against lefties.
That is the only confirmed target so far, so all following players are purely speculative on my part, based largely on the presumption that the A's are looking for near-MLB ready talent. Of course, that might not necessarily be the case, given this recent quote from Beane (via Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area):
"At some point, if we consider going another direction (and selling), we're probably best served to take a (look at) depth and rebuild our farm system. That's the currency for us. We fully expected (the farm system) not to be at its peak because we've traded a lot of players."
So, who knows. But for now, here are some guys who are close to being ready for MLB.
Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays - Boyd has broken out in a big way in 2015. After posting a 1.10 ERA in 12 Double-A starts, and a 2.25 ERA in two Triple-A starts, the 24 year-old was called up and made his debut last Saturday, striking out seven while giving up four runs (three home runs) in 6 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers. He has great control, however, and this year his fastball has touched 95 MPH. He could definitely be an A's target, as O.Co Coliseum could help keep some of those dingers in the park. Boyd still has six years of team control.
Preston Tucker, OF, and Jon Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros - Neither of these players are too likely to be moved, for different reasons. Tucker is a 24 year-old lefty outfielder (soon to be 25) with a lot of power upside. He has been in the majors since May 7 and has posted a 110 wRC+ in that span. However, having just drafted his younger brother Kyle, the Astros may not be looking to part with Preston so soon. Singleton, 23, is also a lefty with huge pop. He is a first baseman and a former consensus top 100 prospect. After a disappointing start to his big league career in 2014, he mashed 17 homers in 70 Triple-A games, earning himself a return to the big leagues. However, despite the Astros' log jam of power-hitting 1B/DH types, Singleton may not be available. He is signed to an extremely team-friendly contract ($2MM a year through 2018, followed by some affordable team options) and still has top prospect pedigree. Either player would be a huge acquisition for an Oakland squad in need of power.
Scott Schebler, OF, and Darnell Sweeney, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers - (I actually wrote this section about a half hour before the phony Sonny Gray trade! Hah!) The Dodgers have a very deep farm system that goes way beyond top names like Corey Seager and Julio Urias. They also have many enticing young pitchers that the A's could very well target, but I've chosen to focus on a couple of their MLB-ready bats. Schebler is a 24-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder who is likely average on defense. but could be a very good hitter. He has no place in a crowded Los Angeles outfield, and possesses a little speed and some improving plate discipline to compliment his power. Sweeney, on the other hand, is a speedy switch-hitting middle infielder who knows how to take a walk, and also has some sneaky pop. He will most likely end up at second base, or possibly moved to the outfield. Again, the Dodgers have almost no room for him. Sweeney is also 24. Both players are under team control for six years.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Kansas City Royals - Reportedly, the Royals may look to move Finnegan in order to try to go all the way once more in 2015. They also are a fit for most of the A's top trade chips. I see a strong fit. Finnegan went all the way from the College World Series to the MLB World Series in 2014, as he dazzled as a reliever despite having little professional experience. However, he is having a bit of an off year, being shuttled between three levels of play (AA, AAA, MLB) and struggling with command. This might make it the perfect time to buy low on a high-upside, high-floor arm. At worst, Finnegan (only 22) is a solid left-handed reliever, and those don't grow on trees. At best? He could join Sonny Gray to form a formidable one-two punch at the top of Oakland's rotation for years to come.
Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS, A.J. Cole and Tanner Roark, RHPs, Washington Nationals - This is a fun system to look at. Difo is a 23 year-old switch hitting middle infielder who jumped from Single-A in 2014 to a short stint in the majors in 2015. His best tool is his speed, as he stole 49 bases in 2014, but he is also a good contact hitter and solid defender, and has sneaky pop. Both Cole and Roark (we all know Cole very well) have struggled in 2015. Cole's walks are up and strikeouts are down, but maybe another return to Oakland could get him sorted out. Roark still doesn't walk anyone, but his strikeouts are down, leading to an ERA inflation from 2.85 in 2014 to 4.34 in 2015. His move to the bullpen following the Max Scherzer signing certainly hasn't seemed to help, either. Cole, 23, or Roark, 28, would both be quality pick-ups as at least back-end starters. Roark is under team control through 2019.
Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Arismendy Alcantara, UTIL, and Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Chicago Cubs - The Cubs have shown strong interest in many of the A's major league assets, and while their blue-chippers may be off-limits, now might be a good time to buy low on some other young Cubbies. Baez, 22, has crazy right-handed power, but also big discipline issues (41.5% K rate in the bigs in 2014). However, his power is worth the risk, and if anyone can fix him it's the A's. Alcantara, 23, profiles as a Ben Zobrist-lite. He is a switch-hitter, proficient at almost every defensive position, and has some nice power and speed, despite some strikeout issues of his own. Finally, Vogelbach has done nothing but hit in his career, but his power has yet to show up to the extent it was expected to. This, coupled with real defensive concerns, kind of make the 22-year-old seem like a lefty-hitting Billy Butler (back when he was good).
In conclusion, the teams interested in the A's top trade chips have some very intriguing young talent that the A's would surely love to acquire. I, for one, would certainly be ecstatic to receive any of the players listed above as part of a return for an expiring veteran. They aren't kidding when they say it's a seller's market.
More than 4,000 words of analysis later, here we are. In my opinion, the A's should take advantage of the market and sell. Some of this available youth could very well join Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Brett Lawrie, Billy Burns, and others as the core of the next great A's team. The A's have to take advantage of this opportunity to restock and reload. What do you think? Should they buy, or should they sell, or perhaps both? Who would you target in a trade? Let me know down below. Also let me know if you'd be interested in follow-ups, with some of my trade ideas. As you can probably tell, I have plenty.
July will be an exciting month. I, for one, am psyched to see what shiny new toys the A's front office will present us all with. Who knows, the A's next franchise player or Hall-of-Famer could be acquired in the next couple of weeks. I just can't wait. Go A's!