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Yes, the A’s do need another starter

Even if they can’t add a top-tier arm, the A’s will need at least one more starting pitcher if they want to keep this up.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians
Just adding a guy like Mike Fiers would make me feel much better about the rotation.
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Lately, the comment sections of articles on this site have been abuzz with trade speculation about possible targets for the A’s to add to their lackluster rotation. Often, there will be at least a handful of users that suggest that unless the team can add a controllable, top-tier arm, the A’s shouldn’t try to add to their rotation at all. I wholeheartedly disagree.

The first argument I have seen come up often is that the prospect cost could be too high for some of these back-end arms. Frankly, I don’t believe this to be the case. Although this deadline’s starting pitching market may lack the top-tier talent we’ve seen in recent years, it makes up for it with sheer depth.

Consider the following. The contenders that are likely to be in the market for a starting pitcher include eight teams: the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves. If you squint, you could add the Washington Nationals and the Boston Red Sox.

Compare this to the number of starters that are at least somewhat likely to be traded: J.A. Happ, Tyson Ross, Cole Hamels, Matt Harvey, Nathan Eovaldi, Lance Lynn, Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Zack Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, Francisco Liriano, Ivan Nova, Mike Minor, Danny Duffy, Jordan Zimmermann. Even if a solid handful of those guys aren’t dealt, there are still more than enough to go around. Maybe there’s too much competition for Gibson and Happ at the top of the market, but I have no doubt the A’s could acquire an arm like Estrada or Lynn without even putting the slightest dent in their deep farm system.

The next argument I’ve seen is that the A’s shouldn’t add one of the lower tier options such as Estrada when they “already have” a handful of those guys in their rotation. But I don’t see any reason to trust any of the starters the A’s are currently shuffling between their rotation and Triple-A.

  • Sean Manaea, the A’s de facto ace, isn’t missing any bats this season. He has gotten by on an unsustainable .222 BABIP and has a 4.47 FIP. In 2017, no qualifying starter posted a BABIP under .244. And no, it isn’t due to weak contact - Manaea’s 38.6% hard hit rate is easily the highest of his young career. Manaea has been the A’s only healthy pitcher this season, but he has plenty of injury history from his minor league days and is steamrolling towards a career high in innings. There are many reasons to be concerned about even the team’s most reliable pitcher.
  • When healthy, Trevor Cahill has been the A’s best pitcher, both by standard and advanced metrics. The key phrase there is “when healthy.” Cahill just returned from a lengthy DL stint and had a shaky first start back, albeit against a tough Houston Astros lineup. Is it realistic to expect him to stay both healthy and effective through September?
  • Daniel Mengden and Brett Anderson have both just pitched poorly this season. each posting FIPs far too close to 5.00 for my liking. While I am a fan of Mengden and believe he has much more upside than he has shown, and I recently suggested a way Anderson could reinvent himself, neither of them have looked deserving of a rotation spot this season.
  • Edwin Jackson has also gotten by with his share of small sample luck, owning a .211 BABIP over his four starts with Oakland. He looked dominant in his first start against Detroit, but since has settled back into being Edwin Jackson. The strikeouts aren’t coming, the walks are starting to come back, and there’s less and less reason to trust him every fifth day.
  • And then there are Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas. Both have shown themselves to be useful in small stints this season, and they have seemingly taken strides, especially with their control. But neither have missed bats much at all this season and I fear regression may be imminent for both. I think they are both valuable to the team, but more so as the sixth and seventh starters, available at Nashville in case of further injury.

Just because the A’s rotation has been battered by injuries doesn’t mean that the remaining pitchers are safe from the injury bug themselves. I don’t feel particularly safe about the health or performance of any of the A’s seven rotation candidates. I also don’t think the A’s recent method of success - short outing by the starter, late comeback by the offense, lockdown bullpen - is sustainable. Sometimes the offense just won’t be able to scratch those runs across. In addition, that strategy will put a heavy load on the bullpen, one that can’t just be solved by promoting Bobby Wahl or trading for Zach Britton.

Adding a pitcher like Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, or Lance Lynn wouldn’t be an exciting move. None of those guys are going to turn into an ace down the stretch and end up starting the Wild Card game. But I strongly believe that adding at least one innings-eater is a necessity. I feel much more confident that pitchers like those three will be able to take their turn in the rotation every fifth day and give the A’s a chance to win, even if it’s three or four runs over five or six innings. Nothing flashy, but reliable.

I realize this is a very pessimistic evaluation. But I don’t think enough here are looking past this recent hot stretch and into the future, where injuries are all but certain and regression looms. Right now, the A’s need some reliability in the rotation. I highly doubt that will come from any of their internal options, and that leaves a trade as the only viable option.


Do you think the A’s need to add at least one starter before the deadline?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (734 votes)
  • 19%
    Only if they’re top tier and/or controllable
    (188 votes)
  • 6%
    (66 votes)
988 votes total Vote Now