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Oakland A’s acquire starting pitcher Tanner Roark from Reds

Another solid addition to the thin rotation.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s acquired starting pitcher Tanner Roark from the Reds on Wednesday, just a couple hours before the MLB trade deadline. The deal was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, and later officially announced by the team. Oakland also receives $2.1 million from the Reds to offset most of Roark’s remaining salary, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

In exchange, the A’s are sending outfield prospect Jameson Hannah to Cincinnati. Hannah was the club’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2018.

In a corresponding move, to clear space on the 40-man roster for their new acquisition, Oakland designated pitcher Andrew Triggs for assignment. Over the next week he’ll either be claimed on waivers, released, or accept a non-roster assignment to the minors. They’ll also need to make another move to open a spot on their 25-man roster for Roark.

This is the third trade made by the A’s this month, all of them for pitchers. They previously made two separate swaps with the Royals, one for starter Homer Bailey and then another for reliever Jake Diekman.

In Roark (pronounced RO-ahrk, two syllables), Oakland gets another solid mid-rotation veteran starter. In seven seasons in the National League he has a career 3.66 ERA and 3.94 FIP, and in 2019 he was off to one of his better performances before a July slump dragged his numbers down a bit. The 32-year-old isn’t an ace, but he’s a reliable arm for a rotation that didn’t have much depth beyond its top five starters.

Roark, 2019: 4.24 ERA, 110⅓ ip, 108 Ks, 38 BB, 14 HR, 4.20 FIP

His ERA was down to 3.36 at the end of June, though even this higher mark still rates as better than average (108 ERA+). In five starts this month, he’s allowed 20 earned runs in 24⅔ innings (7.30 ERA), but much of that damage came in one game at Coors Field.

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 in Washington, 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. After mediocre showings in 2017-18, the Nats flipped him to the Reds last winter ahead of his final arbitration year, rather than paying a hefty salary that turned out to be $10 million. For more details on his career, check out our trade rumor post from Monday.

The right-hander uses a five-pitch mix that includes a sinker, four-seamer, slider, curve, and change, with his two fastballs averaging 92 mph and dialing up to 95. He uses those heaters around half the time, split evenly between the sinker and four-seamer, and according to Statcast he’s turning to his four-seamer more than ever this year after predominantly relying on his sinker in the past. He’s also upped the frequency of his slider, which he’s throwing about a quarter of the time.

With that updated arsenal, Roark has seen a few changes in his numbers in 2019. On the bright side, his strikeouts have spiked to a career-high of nearly a K per inning, while his homer rate stayed steady even as dingers have increased around the league. However, he’s also generating fewer grounders than ever before, with a 36.7% rate that was once as high as 48.7% a couple years ago. Despite the spike in strikeouts, he still misses bats at a below-average rate (8.3%, vs. 10.7% for MLB starters).

Furthermore, Statcast has him at a .338 xwOBA. That’s his highest mark since 2015 (lower is better for pitchers), and stands comfortably worse than league average for starters (.322). From 2016-18, he posted a combined .315 xwOBA.

Roark is a free agent at the end of the season, so he’s a pure rental for the final two months of 2019.

Going the other way in the trade is Hannah, who represents the A’s top pick from the 2018 draft. Entering the season, Athletics Nation ranked him seventh on our Community Prospect List. The 21-year-old was playing this year at High-A Stockton, where he split time between CF and RF. His offensive numbers were modest so far in 414 plate appearances, though he should offer defensive value too, so his bat doesn’t have to completely carry him.

Hannah, A+: .283/.341/.381, 103 wRC+, 2 HR, 7.0% BB, 21.3% Ks

His speed is considered his top tool, though he hasn’t yet learned to use it as a weapon on the basepaths. He attempted 13 stolen bases this year and was successful on only six of them.

The A’s rotation now includes Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, Bailey, and Roark, plus either Chris Bassitt or Daniel Mengden in the fifth spot. Both Bassitt and Mengden are able to be optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas, and the likely bet is probably that Mengden will be the odd man out for now.

Hot takes

I like it, but don’t quite love it.

Roark was definitely on the short list of starters I would have been happy with acquiring this month. He’s not one of the splashier names that was being discussed, but he’s still an upgrade. He’s having a better year than Mengden and has a significant track record to back that up.

On top of that, the A’s simply needed to add quantity to their rotation, and in the form of a serious, proven MLB arm like Roark rather than more fringe flyers. There is zero reliable depth behind Mengden right now. They’ve got Paul Blackburn and Tanner Anderson in Triple-A, but both have been knocked around in the majors this summer. They’ve also got Sean Manaea and Marco Estrada on the way back from long-term injuries, but they will remain as total question marks until the moment they’re back on the MLB mound retiring hitters again. Maybe Jesus Luzardo will debut this year, and maybe he won’t. With a sixth established starter joining the group, there is now some breathing room in case someone else gets hurt over the next two months.

So the A’s got their extra starter, and there’s an argument to be made that he’s the third-best arm in the rotation (behind Fiers and Banderson). That’s what they needed to get done at this trade deadline during a contending season. Mission accomplished.

However, there are downsides. Hannah is quite a bit more than I was expecting this trade to cost, for a non-star rental. He’s not in the top tier of A’s prospects, and certainly not a Top 100 national name, but making the Top 10 of our CPL means he was one of Oakland’s better and more valuable youngsters.

Over at Baseball Trade Values, Roark was given a surplus value of 3.6, with Hannah at 7.4. The cash received by Oakland pumps their return up to 5.7, but the BTV model suggests they still had to overpay a bit to make this happen. That’s often the way things go at the trade deadline, with the leverage of time-sensitivity on the side of the seller, but it’s still a bummer after several of the earlier July trades had seen the buyers get away with seeming underpays (including the Diekman swap).

There’s also the matter of Roark’s recent slump, which is never what you want to see from a player you just acquired. And even when he was hot earlier in the year, he was still mostly serving as a five-inning pitcher. In past seasons he reliably threw 6-7 innings in the vast majority of his starts, but this summer there have only been six instances in which he’s finished six innings, and only once in which he went seven full. Because of those shorter outings, he’s only managed four quality starts in 21 tries, after boasting QS rates over 50% each of the previous two years.

But even with those caveats in mind, this is still a good pickup. Roark has mostly been effective when he’s taken the mound, and there’s no reason the A’s can’t ask him to begin working that sixth inning again. Hannah is a good prospect but not a critical piece of the farm nor of the club’s immediate MLB future, and if Roark helps them win a playoff series then zero A’s fans will be complaining about the trade price. If you’re still unenthused by the move, then just wait until the next A’s starter gets hurt — then we can revisit that opinion when the Tanner of the group is Roark and not Tanderson.

Welcome to Oakland, Tanner!