The Oakland A’s acquired starting pitcher Mike Fiers from the Tigers on Monday, the team announced. They had previously been linked to Fiers on July 31, just hours before the trade deadline, but did not come to a deal at that time. Now it has finally happened, in exchange for two players to be named later or cash. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, lefty reliever Jeremy Bleich was designated for assignment.
The July trade deadline already passed last week, but that doesn’t mean a true end to swaps. Teams can still make deals for the rest of the season, but the players must first pass through waivers. That’s a significant hurdle for any big-ticket names, but role players, expiring contracts, and those with albatross salaries often still find themselves in play. The A’s also acquired reliever Shawn Kelley from the Nationals on Sunday.
Oakland is particularly thin in their starting rotation, thanks to a barrage of injuries throughout the season, but they’ve worked their way into Wild Card contention anyway. Fiers isn’t a massive upgrade in terms of pure performance, but he’s definitely one of the team’s five best starters and could help eat more bullpen-saving innings than whoever he replaces. He represents a huge boost to the rotation’s depth in case of any further injuries, which are never out of the question.
Fiers, 2018: 3.48 ERA, 119 ip, 87 Ks, 26 BB, 20 HR, 4.66 FIP
More recently, Fiers has been, well, on fire. Seven of his last 10 starts have registered as quality outings, including one excellent showing against the A’s themselves (7 ip, 1 run, 5 Ks). He left his last appearance after just two innings after being hit by a line drive (shin contusion), but apparently that wasn’t enough to dissuade Oakland from picking him up. His numbers dating back to May 30:
Fiers, last 12 starts: 2.57 ERA, 70 ip, 55 Ks, 16 BB, 9 HR, 4.07 FIP
In terms of stuff, Fiers averages 90 mph on his fastball and tops out at 93. He boasts a wide arsenal including (in order of frequency) a four-seam, changeup, cutter, curve, and sinker, according to Brooks Baseball.
The addition of Fiers doesn’t mean the A’s found their new ace, nor anything close to it. But the extra depth lessens the chance of another SP injury fully derailing the playoff chase, not to mention the distinct possibility of one of Oakland’s current unexpected rotation contributors turning back into a pumpkin as the season wears on. Fiers is also under team control for 2019 (eligible for arbitration), so this doesn’t have to be a pure rental.
The A’s now have eight starters to choose from. Here’s a look down the list with four key stats: their ERA (measuring their results), their FIP (measuring the process they used to get there), their xwOBA (measuring how well opponents have hit the ball off them; league average is .328), and their innings per start (measuring their ability to go deep into games).
Based on that collection of metrics, Fiers looks like the fourth-best performer on the list and thus an upgrade to the five-man unit. Brett Anderson looks like the worst, but to his credit he spun seven shutout innings against a weak Tigers lineup on Friday. The point here is that Oakland has options to choose from now, instead of having to just roll with whatever five arms are healthy at that moment.
To make room for Fiers on the 40-man roster, reliever Jeremy Bleich was DFA’d. The 31-year-old journeyman made his MLB debut this summer for the A’s but only appeared in two games, and he retired just one of the four batters he faced overall. We’ll find out in the coming days whether he gets claimed by another team or remains in the A’s minor league system. Oakland will need to clear two spots on their 25-man roster before their next game in order to add Fiers and Kelley (plus maybe a third for the return of Chad Pinder from the disabled list).
This has been a wild season for the A’s, and it keeps getting wilder. They find themselves firmly in Wild Card playoff position, 2.5 games ahead of the Mariners, and now they’re only four games out of the AL West division lead as well with nearly two months to go. In total they’ve added three pitchers via deadline/August trades (along with Jeurys Familia), helping shore up the staff for this surprising run toward October.
This isn’t a splashy move but it was a smart idea. The A’s makeshift rotation has been a pleasant surprise and they just had an amazing weekend against the Tigers, but it would have been a gamble to expect those good times to continue unabated. There will be much tougher opponents on the horizon than the hapless Blue Jays and Tigers, both upcoming and in a potential postseason run. Adding another reliable arm to the mix was the responsible thing to do, even if it was just another one of similar quality to what they already had. Depth can save a season.
I’m happy with the addition of Fiers, but it’s impossible to judge the trade itself without knowing what the A’s gave up. For what it’s worth, Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle notes that the A’s claimed Fiers on waivers (rather than him passing all the way through), which theoretically should have reduced Detroit’s leverage since they only had one possible buyer.
As for speculating on the new-look roster, I’d guess that we see relievers Ryan Dull and J.B. Wendelken and infielder Franklin Barreto go down to Triple-A on Tuesday to make room for Fiers, Kelley, and Pinder. Dull and Wendelken are both part of the Taxi Crew who have options remaining and can be brought up and down more or less at will, and Barreto was only up to replace Pinder anyway.
The only thing left that I could possibly want the A’s to trade for is another lefty reliever. There is still one more expendable arm in the bullpen (Chris Hatcher), so if a cheap southpaw can be found then there would be room to fit him in. Otherwise, I hope Oakland is done dealing for the summer. They’ve done what they came to do in terms of beefing up the pitching staff, and now it’s time to see what this roster can do for the next two (or hopefully three) months.