Sometimes the best answer is far from the most exciting. Right now the 2018 A’s are feeling plucky, with 4 improbable comeback wins in 8 games on the current road trip and a season-high 4 games over .500. In just over a month we will know if the team is a “buyer” or a “seller” this trading deadline. My guess, or at least recommendation, is no.
It’s a bit easier to argue on the side of not buying. Even if they haven’t run away with the division yet, the Houston Astros are far and away the best team in the AL West and the A’s have known pretty much from the git go that their only possible avenue to the post-season is to nab a wild card spot. The first wild card spot will almost certainly go to the loser of the Yankees-Red Sox AL East sweepstakes, leaving only wild card #2 in play.
Don’t be overly daunted by the A’s 7 game deficit to Seattle for that wild card spot, as a lot can happen in 82 games. Don’t even be daunted by the fact that Oakland needs to fend off multiple teams, such as the Angels, as a strong enough showing can fend off all suitors for a “best of the rest” spot — these are comptetitions amongst flawed teams who are never far from a 5-game losing skid or a disappointing September.
The reason not to be buyers is more that you don’t want to mortgage much in the pursuit of a second wild card spot, which is essentially taking a shot at taking a shot at the division series. Add as much under-the-radar starting pitching as you can? Sure. But trade a good prospect in the hopes of being the least flawed of several flawed teams and flip a coin at the ALDS? That’s not wise.
As for selling, though, there are myriad factors pointing the A’s away from selling. One is simply that this year, the A’s don’t have a lot of coveted players to trade at the deadline. Jed Lowrie is having a great year but is not going to bring you back the likes of Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian — nor even the likes of any one of those, most likely. Trevor Cahill is in a walking boot and Jonathan Lucroy is slugging .350. For the A’s to really stock their farm system they would have to part with Blake Treinen, and Treinen is under contract for the 2019-20 seasons when Oakland has a chance to be increasingly competitive. So in all likelihood you’re looking at losing a useful player but not getting back a whole lot.
Then you have the fact that the A’s have a ton of ‘staying power’ in a season where each time they are delivered a knockout blow they bounce off the ropes only stronger. Here are the A’s, sans Kendall Graveman, A.J. Puk, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett, Andrew Triggs, Brett Anderson, Daniel Mengden (and currently Matt Chapman), cobbling a rotation together with Sean Manaea flanked by Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Paul Blackburn, and Edwin Jackson, and they have just hit a new high-water mark of 4-games over .500 on a trip in which they can spot the opponent 5 or 6 runs and they will still come back to win. And you’re going to dismantle a core piece from that?
Further, in the cases of Lucroy and Cahill, you have players at positions in which the team has little depth and Oakland’s need for the player is high. With Lowrie, you are talking about the team’s best hitter, most essential veteran contributor, and a huge part of why the A’s are afloat in the wild card conversation. In Treinen, you have the biggest piece of why Oakland has been able to go 15-7 in one run games and habitually win games decided after the 7th inning has commenced. The message to the remaining core, if you deal Lowrie or Treinen, is not one I would want to give.
It seems counter-productive to tear away at the fabric of this scrappy, surprising, resilient, sometimes downright magical team just to add a little to the possible future. The answer is not sexy but it’s right in front of the A’s collective noses: keep this group intact, find out how far they can take it, hope for the best, stay the course on the rebuild, and enjoy the ride.
Whom should the A’s look to move at the deadline?
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None of them
All of them