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A’s fans were asked last week if they approved of the moves that Oakland made at the trade deadline, and the result was a resounding “Yes!” The final tally was 93% approval, which ranks as the third-highest rating out of the 30 fanbases.
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The A’s entered July in the thick of the Wild Card race, and they had one obvious need: Pitching. Starters, relievers, anything. They’d just lost the ace of an already thin rotation to a suspension, and their bullpen was among the league leaders in blown saves. The lineup wasn’t perfect but it was darn good, and the boost they needed most before the July 31 trade deadline was some new arms.
When the dust settled, the A’s had gotten their job done. They didn’t land a fancy All-Star, but they nabbed three quality pitchers, all of whom constitute upgrades. That serves the dual purpose of raising the bar on the current squad, while also beefing up the staff’s depth by pushing a couple of the incumbents down to the minors. And they did all of this without parting with any of their top several prospects. The three trades, with links to our full coverage of each:
- RHP Homer Bailey (from KC) —FOR— IF Kevin Merrell (link)
- LHP Jake Diekman (from KC) —FOR— OF Dairon Blanco + RHP Ismael Aquino (link)
- RHP Tanner Roark (from CIN) —FOR— OF Jameson Hannah (link)
In Roark and Bailey, Oakland added two established veteran arms to a rotation that had just about run out of depth. They take the spots that would otherwise be held by the likes of Daniel Mengden, who has struggled with consistency all year, and Tanner Anderson or Paul Blackburn, who have been lit up in their brief MLB trials this summer. Now that trio can wait in the minors as emergency options for the rotation’s next injury, instead of already being pressed into duty with no backup plan waiting behind them.
Granted, Sean Manaea might come back soon, and top prospect Jesus Luzardo might debut at some point. Or they might not, considering how many setbacks each of them has already experienced this year. The new additions set the A’s up to have the good kind of problem over the next two months, with too many starters to fit into the rotation if Manaea and/or Luzardo arrive, instead of the bad problem with not enough viable arms if that pair never shows up.
As for Diekman, he brings the A’s two things. He’s another late-inning reliever, which helps take some of the pressure off the rest of the setup crew and addresses the team’s glaring weakness at holding late leads. And he also throws lefty, which allows fellow southpaw Ryan Buchter to move into more of a LOOGY matchup role for which he appears to be better suited. Diekman essentially took the roster spot of mopup man Brian Schlitter, which means a higher percentage of the arms in the bullpen can now be trusted in high-leverage spots, and as a bonus Schlitter was successfully stashed back in Triple-A so the upgrade didn’t even cost the club any depth.
Here’s some more info to help you get to know the new trio:
None of these three newcomers are now the best players on the team, not by any means. But all of them are good enough to help a contending squad, and they’re all better than what the A’s had before in their places.
Better yet, Oakland didn’t have to give up a lot to make these trades happen. Splashier additions would have cost bigger prospects, but it made sense to hang on to the Top 3 of Luzardo, pitcher A.J. Puk, and catcher Sean Murphy, all of whom are serious impact talents who have already reached Triple-A and are on the cusp of helping the MLB club in their own right.
Instead, the A’s parted with four other prospects. Three of them made our preseason Community Prospect List, but only one was in the Top 20:
- Hannah (7)
- Merrell (23)
- Blanco (27)
- Aquino (unranked)
They certainly gave up more than nothing, but this list doesn’t sting like some we’ve seen in the past. Hannah is a recent 2nd-round draft pick and a strong prospect, but he’s not a Top 100 national name and he’s still in the lower minors at High-A. What’s more, the A’s are loaded up to their ears in outfield talent, so he comes from an area of such ridiculous strength that it’s sometimes been tough to fit everybody into everyday lineups at the higher levels.
Meanwhile, Merrell put together two straight bad seasons and is in danger of approaching draft bust status, as a former No. 33 overall pick. Blanco has fun tools but likely profiles as an MLB bench guy at best, and he’s already 26 years old. And Aquino is a Rookie Ball lotto ticket, which means there’s always a chance that he becomes something but you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for him.
That group is a small price to pay for some sturdy win-now moves in a contending season, especially after factoring in the seller’s leverage that comes with the time-sensitivity of the July deadline. The fans agree, as they were able to look past the allure of the holy shit trade ideas and appreciate the value of some quietly shrewd acquisitions.
Only two other fanbases rated their teams’ deadlines higher than Oakland’s: the Rays scored 100%, and the Astros came in at 98% approval. Houston made the summer’s biggest splash by landing Zack Greinke, giving their juggernaut rotation a third legit ace, so it’s no shock to see their fans pleased at that result. Tampa Bay went a bit more abstract, as you might expect, picking up a couple of new pitchers plus breakout second baseman Eric Sogard — there’s a fair amount of risk in the trade for the two pitchers, so I’m surprised to see unanimous support from Rays fans. The Marlins, who sent those pitchers to Tampa Bay, also earned 91% backing from their fans.
For context, only 13 teams got at least 80% support for their deadline moves, while a dozen rated at 50% or lower, so not everyone was thrilled about how July went. The lowest mark came from the Cardinals at 10%, while the Pirates, Rockies, Angels, Blue Jays, and Red Sox all came in around one-quarter. In a fun twist, 82% of Giants fans are happy that the team passed up the obvious opportunity to flip their top veterans for prospects in a non-contending season, so we’ll see how that works out for them. Click here for a rundown of all the deadline trades around the majors.
Oh, and as for what the three new A’s have done so far in green and gold? Bailey’s 8.17 ERA is unsightly but belies the fact that he’s been quality 3-of-5 times, all three of them resulting in A’s wins. Roark has been good both times out, though Oakland squandered one of those efforts. And while Diekman has already shown some bouts of wildness, he’s also converted all three of his hold chances, stranded 2-of-3 inherited runners, and struck out five of the 20 batters he’s faced over four innings of work. So that’s five nice starts in seven tries, and a late-inning reliever who’s yet to blow a lead.
As for the normal weekly questions about the A’s, here are the latest results.
- Confidence in direction of team: 83% (down from 84%)
- Confidence in manager: 98% (up from 94%)
This survey was taken last Monday, just after the A’s had won four out of five games against the Brewers and Cardinals, so I’m surprised to see the confidence level drop slightly. But it’s still high, trailing only five contenders (Astros, Twins, Braves, Indians, Rays) and three fan-approved rebuilds (Padres, Marlins, Orioles). Houston’s 100% leads the way, with the Twins’ 94% coming in next. The Red Sox fell from 70% to 4% (lol), while the Rockies toil at 13% and the Pirates are sitting on a big ol’ zero for the second straight week.
Regarding manager Bob Melvin, we still love him. Next topic.
As for the national question, once again I don’t really get it. It asks which team looks strongest following the deadline, but the group of teams listed makes it unclear what exactly it means. If it’s asking for who is now the best team in the majors, then the Mets obviously don’t belong there, even with their recent surge, and the Indians are a dubious choice considering they might not even be the best in their own division. And if it’s asking for who made the biggest improvements at the deadline, then the mostly idle Yankees and Dodgers obviously don’t belong, while the extremely active Reds probably do. Either way, though, the answer is clearly the Astros, so in the end it doesn’t really matter.