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A’s Now On “Seller’s” Side Of Annual Wild Card Dilemma

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
“I’m pitching with a chip on my shoulder — it’s a trade chip.”
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

With the All-Star game behind us, it is now officially “trade deadline season,” with the season’s second half beginning for the A’s tomorrow and the August 2nd deadline just 13 days away.

Last year at this time, the A’s were not serious contenders for the division as the Houston Astros were clearly too good to be expected to blow a lead that sat 7-8 games up on Oakland as the deadline approached. But the wild card was in reach, with 5 teams (BOS, NYY, TOR, SEA, OAK) vying for 2 spots and little separating them in the standings.

The question facing the A’s was: how much do you mortgage in the quest for a wild card spot? Their answer, as it turned out, was quite a bit as they parted with talented rookie Jesus Luzardo in order to land the dynamic Starling Marte.

As it turned out the A’s didn’t make the post-season, but at the same time no one can argue they got closer with Marte — who excelled in his time with the A’s — than they would have with Luzardo, who had fallen out of favor with Oakland and continued to struggle with the Marlins.

2022’s Potential Suitors

Fast forward to 2022 and the A’s find themselves on the other side of the table, sellers at the deadline with a potentially appetizing piece to dangle in Frankie Montas. And the wild card race will once again come into focus, with 3 of the 6 divisions pretty much wrapped up as the Dodgers, Astros, and Yankees start to ponder October and the Twins taking solace in being the only AL Central team more than 2 games over .500.

That being said, divisions will still be hotly contested by teams who may well vie for a frontline starting pitcher. The Braves trail the Mets by only 2.5 games, the Guardians are 2 back of the Twins with the White Sox hanging around at 3 off the pace. And the Cardinals sit just 0.5 game back of the Brewers. So that’s 7 teams still in a tangle for the division.

Meanwhile, with 3 wild card spots now in play everyone else and their sister fancies themselves a contender. Certainly the Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mariners, Padres, Giants, and Phillies join the teams from the previous paragraph as contenders but these 7 are fighting strictly for a wild card spot.

So the question becomes, who most covets a SP of Montas’ caliber:

- LAD, NYY, HOU, already with strong SP and looking strictly ahead to the playoffs? (Probably not)

- ATL, NYM, MIL, STL, MIN, CLE, CWS, fighting for the division with the wild card as a backup?

- SD, SF, PHI, TB, BOS, TOR, SEA, clawing only for a wild card spot?

The Trade Chip

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves...Montas first has to be a desirable target and that means proving he is healthy and ready to pick up where he left off before leaving his start in Seattle after 1 inning with what turned out to be shoulder inflammation.

Tomorrow, Montas starts game 2 of the double-header against the Detroit Tigers in what becomes essentially a “lose-lose” proposition. If Montas pitches poorly, it’s a huge setback, but if he pitches well it comes in the context of mastering “just the lowly Tigers” — the only team that rivals the A’s for offensive futility — and the jury will still be out.

What Montas needs to do is to pitch well against the Tigers, like “he is supposed to,” and then come up big in his next start: Tuesday, July 26th, against the Astros. Then you have yourself the trade chip you have counted on for months.

The Final Days...

In that scenario, the A’s face an interesting dilemma. Montas would be lined up for one more start, on July 31st at the White Sox, if he stayed on an “every 5 days” turn and Oakland wanted to showcase him one more time.

Or if they want to avoid the risk of a bad outing or resurfacing of injury, because the A’s have off days on July 28th and August 1st they could “keep him on turn” and his next scheduled start would fall at 6:38pm on the evening of the trade deadline — too late to matter.

My “Plan A” would be for Montas to dominate the Tigers tomorrow and turn in a strong start against the Astros next Tuesday, looking like the Montas we know — and then for the A’s to tell teams they have the next 5 days to bid for his services, that his next start will be for his new team.

Let’s assume that for once the baseball gods choose to smile on the A’s and his starts against DET and HOU go as planned. Today’s question is whether Montas’ prime suitors will come from the 7 teams still in play for the division or whether they will come from teams like the 2021 A’s were: strongly in play for a wild card spot, but that’s it.

We close with an additional twist. Remember that Starling Marte was strictly a 2-month rental, whereas the team that lands Montas lands him also for 2023. That makes him potentially far more appealing to the teams who are only in the wild card hunt for 2022 — because they all should fancy themselves contenders for the division in 2023.

This key factor might widen interest in Montas from amongst 7 teams to amongst 14, and that would be a very good thing for Oakland. Let the showcase begin, and then let the bidding begin. Fingers crossed.