The Oakland A’s acquired starting pitcher Mike Minor from the Texas Rangers on Monday, just a few hours ahead of the 2020 MLB trade deadline, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN.
In exchange, the A’s are sending two players to be named later to Texas. The players will be prospects, outfielder Marcus Smith and corner infielder Dustin Harris, reports Levi Weaver of The Athletic. However, they can’t be officially named yet because they aren’t part of the current 60-man player pool, and as such they aren’t technically eligible to be traded until after the season.
Oakland was publicly rumored to be on the lookout for a new starting pitcher at the deadline, and now they’ve done just that. This is their second trade in the last few days, after acquiring infielder Tommy La Stella from the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, with both deals involving AL West division rivals.
As for Minor, the left-hander constitutes a buy-low for a legitimate star. He overcame an extensive injury history for an impressive stint in 2017, earning him a multi-year contract with the Rangers, and he rewarded them handsomely with two strong seasons in 2018-19. Last summer he rose to an ace level, earning an All-Star berth and finishing eighth in AL Cy Young voting.
Minor, 2019: 3.59 ERA, 208⅓ ip, 200 Ks, 68 BB, 30 HR, 4.25 FIP
However, he’s struggled a bit this year at age 32. Only one of his seven starts has registered as quality, and only twice has he completed six innings, though his last appearance was his best so far with six scoreless frames against the mighty Dodgers. He’s faced the A’s once this year, allowing five runs in five frames and earning the loss.
Minor, 2020: 5.60 ERA, 35⅓ ip, 35 Ks, 13 BB, 7 HR, 4.83 FIP
Those numbers are mediocre at best, but they’re also a small sample after three straight years of resounding success (3.62 ERA, 4.02 FIP, in 443 innings). Statcast does say opponents are hitting the ball better so far, with his xwOBA rising from .303 (good) to .340 (worse than average) this summer.
This is the final year of Minor’s contract, and it contains no options for 2021, so this is a pure one-month rental. That, combined with a bit of money he’s still owed, means his trade price was low relative to his substantial upside.
If Oakland gets the Minor you see in the 2020 stats, then they added some cheap depth to the back of their rotation, which is critical because they had virtually no serious present-day depth behind their suddenly shaky current five. If he bounces back at all in September, then they may have found a steal, and one who raises the top of their overall talent level and gives them a potential rotation threat in October.
Here’s some encouragement from one of the better analysts in baseball:
There’s a possibility that some sort of tweak could unlock more from new A Minor: never have his breaking balls shown more drop, & never have they been as bad (by whiffs & slugging). Yeah, he’s down almost two ticks from last year, but he’s a good pitcher w/chance to get better.— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) August 31, 2020
And another interesting note:
Mike Minor: 4 starts this season with 6+ K’s.— Greg Korn (@greg_korn) August 31, 2020
A’s combined starting rotation: 6 starts this season with 6+ K’s.
Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle adds this input from a rival team executive: “He’s leaving Texas for a more spacious Coliseum, and Oakland’s exceptional defense. He should be motivated going to a contender and approaching free agency, and he knows the division. This fortifies Oakland’s rotation.”
In return, the A’s ship out two members of their 2019 draft class, both of whom cracked the bottom of our preseason Community Prospect List Top 30 last winter. Smith was the team’s 3rd-round pick, a high school outfielder whose strengths include speed, athleticism, and contact at the plate (Smith ranked No. 21 on our list). Harris was the 11th-round pick, but immediately earned sleeper status due to his power potential and got some love from national pundit Keith Law (Harris ranked No. 31 on our list, and No. 19 on Law’s).
Oakland also included some international slot money in the deal. That doesn’t mean they sent actual cash, just the ability for Texas to spend slightly more of their own money in the next international signing period (where spending is strictly capped).
In terms of value, our friends at Baseball Trade Values rate this as a perfectly even swap. The combination of Smith and Harris is within one-tenth of a point of the median value assigned to Minor, which is effectively a tie. Oakland didn’t overpay, but they also didn’t steal anything. They bought off the discount rack but paid the appropriate sticker price.
(Update: The Rangers are also picking up half of Minor’s remaining salary, or $700,000, reports Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. So, Oakland may have come out slightly ahead after all, though it’s still close to even.)
The A’s will need more roster moves to make space for Minor — one to add him to the 60-man player pool, one to add him to the 40-man roster, and one to add him to the 28-man active roster, though certain transactions could satisfy multiple requirements at once. The obvious move would be to transfer pitcher Burch Smith to the 45-day injured list, since he’s unlikely to return this season anyway from his forearm injury; that would clear the 60-man and 40-man spots. For the active roster, it’s as simple as optioning down a reliever, like perhaps Jordan Weems.
Finally, a look at the updated rotation. Oakland’s unit is led by Frankie Montas, who has struggled in three starts since a brief bout of back tightness. Rookie phenom Jesús Luzardo has the most talent but the least experience. Sean Manaea is mostly pitching well but not going deep into games, at best staying strong for five innings at a time (and sometimes getting lit up in the 4th or 5th). Mike Fiers is exactly Mike Fiers, a solid and reliable innings-eater. And Chris Bassitt has alternated between lights-out and slumping.
That’s not a bad group, and the A’s have put together a 22-12 record with them, but there are enough question marks that a new addition was a wise idea. Next on the depth chart is Daniel Mengden, who has been unable to stick as a starter so far but is still present in the bullpen as a long/swingman.
We’ll learn more in the coming days about how Minor’s arrival might affect the rotation and roster, but for now, he’s a quality lefty arm who was rented at a reasonable price that doesn’t mortgage the best parts of the farm’s future. It’s not the most exciting deal that was available but it’s better than nothing, and it could be a downright bargain if Minor bounces back even a little.