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Exploring Tanner Roark as Oakland A’s trade target

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The Reds right-hander would be an affordable rotation upgrade.

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David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB trade deadline is two days away, and the Oakland A’s could use some more pitching. They already established themselves as buyers this month by acquiring starter Homer Bailey to bolster their rotation, and reliever Jake Diekman to strengthen their bullpen, but they’ll need more help than that. They’re in postseason position right now with the second Wild Card, so contention isn’t some long shot dream. It’s a real thing and this is the moment to seize it.

Indeed, Oakland doesn’t appear to be done shopping. After acquiring Diekman on Saturday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the A’s “do not figure to stop” with just their current pair of pitching pickups, and that “they have explored adding another starting pitcher.” He then mentioned Reds starter Tanner Roark as one of their targets.

Sounds like a trade rumor! Let’s take a closer look. Also make sure to check out our previous trade rumors posts:

First is the matter of availability. There haven’t been any reports explicitly stating that Roark is on the block, nor even that the Reds are looking to be full-on sellers. Heck, we just saw the sub-.500 Mets become buyers for Stroman, one of the biggest names on the market, and the barely .500 Giants appear to be shying away from dumping the impending free agents that everyone assumed they’d try to deal. Our friends at Red Reporter suggest that Cincy should just keep going for it in 2019, instead of selling in a landscape where two-month rentals don’t really return much anymore.

However, the Reds do have the fourth-worst record in the National League at 48-55, standing seven games back of the second Wild Card with nine teams ahead of them for that spot. With those long odds, and Roark facing free agency at year’s end and receiving interest from multiple clubs, it’s at least worth considering that Cincy might look to recoup some value for the future.

Quick look

Roark spent his first six years in the majors with the Nationals, after working his way up from the 25th round of the 2008 draft. Of his five full seasons, two of them were excellent, with sub-3.00 ERAs and sub-4.00 FIPs, and in 2016 he even got a downballot vote in the Cy Young race. His other three campaigns were mediocre at best, including his most recent samples in 2017-18, but to his credit he at least ate 180 innings in each of those last two years and racked up more than his fair share of quality starts.

Roark, career: 3.63 ip, 1042 ip, 7.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.94 FIP

Then last winter the Nats flipped him ahead of his final arbitration season, rather than paying a hefty salary that turned out to be $10 million. The Reds sent over Tanner Rainey, a decent relief prospect who can dial up to 100 mph but hasn’t figured out where the plate is yet. There have been two players in MLB history with the first name Tanner and the last initial R, and they were traded for each other straight-up.

In his new home in Cincy, Roark has enjoyed a mini-bounce-back season. It hasn’t been a career-best performance, but still a clear step above what he’d done in the previous two years. In particular, his strikeouts have spiked up, while his homer rate has mostly stayed steady even as dingers have increased around the league.

Roark, 2019: 3.95 ERA, 107 ip, 106 Ks, 34 BB, 14 HR, 4.15 FIP

His ERA was down to 3.36 at the end of June, but a July slump inflated that mark. For what it’s worth, though, his worst start this month came at Coors Field, accounting for half of his total runs through four outings.

But wait

Beyond those surface numbers, it’s worth noting that Roark isn’t pitching deep into games. In each of 2017-18 he posted 17 quality starts in 30 tries, which is a darn good rate and well above the league average. Quality starts aren’t a be-all end-all metric, but they’re useful as a quick reference guide. Even though Roark’s overall stats were only meh, he was at least consistently finishing six or seven innings and not getting blown up too often. The A’s could use more of that.

This year, though, Roark has only managed four quality starts in 20 tries. The reason is that he’s only throwing five innings per game, with only six instances in which he’s finished six innings and only once in which he went seven full. In 2017 he went six innings 20 times and seven innings eight times, and in 2018 those numbers were 21 and 11.

There are any number of reasons why Roark might be making shorter starts, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a red flag of anything he’s personally doing wrong. Perhaps his next team could stretch him back out just fine. But the point of this asterisk is that one reason Roark’s ERA has gone down this year is that he’s not being asked to work that sixth (or seventh) inning.

The cost

For this, we turn to our friends at Baseball Trade Values for a reference guide. In terms of the Reds’ needs, I’m no expert on their organization, but it seems they have lots of young outfield talent plus a good 3B locked up long-term and a top 3B prospect in their system. I’m assuming they’d be interested in pitching and middle infielders.

Between Roark’s rental status, his mediocre track record, and a few mill left on his salary, his trade value is low. BTV has his surplus value at 3.6, which puts him in the range of the following A’s players and prospects:

  • RHP Daniel Mengden (4.6)
  • SS Jeremy Eierman (3.1)
  • RHP Daulton Jefferies (3.1)
  • RHP James Kaprielian (2.9)
  • RHP Paul Blackburn (2.5)
  • RHP Daniel Gossett (2.4)
  • RHP Grant Holmes (2.3)

BTV founder John Bitzer (invisibleinkwell) mentioned this morning that the market has leaned more toward buyers than expected, and that pitchers Stroman and Diekman went for less than they were listed. So, perhaps we should be looking more toward the bottom of that list of A’s chips, especially since Roark’s numbers have declined a bit since the last time values were updated.

Perhaps Eierman would fit the bill, or maybe the two sides would rather make it a pure pitching swap. Cincy could roll the dice on a pitching prospect like Kap or Holmes, or pick up a controllable, optionable arm like Blackburn or Gossett, who could feasibly eat innings in a rotation for years to come.

For the A’s, any of those four pitchers from the previous sentence would also clear a 40-man roster spot, which will become increasingly important as the season progresses — and especially when the offseason comes and the next wave of prospects must be protected from Rule 5. There’s a serious roster crunch coming between now and November, and one way to lessen it is to cash in on a couple of logjammed players now while doing so would be productive, rather than having to DFA someone useful down the road.

Or, the answer could be a combo of two lesser prospects, like we saw for Diekman. The Low-A Vermont and Rookie League rosters are packed with young infielders and pitchers, with too many to bother naming here. Put a couple together just like the Royals did with Dairon Blanco and Ismael Aquino.

Or, go in the other direction and package Roark with a reliever. The Reds are reportedly open to dealing Raisel Iglesias, who’s having an off-year but just spent three straight seasons as an excellent late-inning arm (2.47 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 71-of-79 save/holds) and is under contract for 2020 and 2021 at pricey but not completely bonkers salaries ($9M each). He’s actually listed at a negative value on BTV right now due to all that guaranteed money, but regardless of how accurate you think that is, the point is that he’s probably both attainable and affordable trade-wise.

Roark would represent more of a depth move than a splashy impact star addition. He’s probably better than Homer Bailey, but functionally represents a similar presence, as a veteran rental just hoping to be average-ish. That would still be an upgrade for this A’s rotation, though, so he’s certainly worth considering.

Who would you give up for Roark? Vote in the poll below, and let’s discuss in the comments! Two names I didn’t bother including in the poll are Mengden (seems like a lateral move for the A’s) and Jefferies (I think AN really wants to keep him, unless maybe if it’s part of a trade for a true star).

Poll

Which of these trades makes the most sense?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Roark —FOR— Eierman
    (64 votes)
  • 4%
    Roark —FOR— one of (Holmes or Kaprielian)
    (37 votes)
  • 37%
    Roark —FOR— one of (Blackburn or Gossett)
    (314 votes)
  • 13%
    Roark —FOR— two lesser prospects
    (112 votes)
  • 14%
    Bigger deal to include Roark + Iglesias
    (120 votes)
  • 23%
    Don’t acquire Roark at all
    (201 votes)
848 votes total Vote Now