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JJ On Opening Day? Not Bleday Likely!

Miami Marlins v New York Mets
“A Custian drive to deep right...!”
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

So we traded an A.J. for a J.J., making for an awkward phone call to the Puk residence. “You heard we were stretching you out to be a starting pitcher? No, we said we were stretching you out to be a Marlin.”

As for Bleday, formerly a 4th overall pick and currently a career .167 hitter, I don’t see his acquisition as likely impacting the roster right now. Barring a trade of Seth Brown, I see the A’s taking advantage of the fact that Bleday comes not only with pedigree but also with 3 minor league options.

A look at the A’s outfield shows two RH batters who figure to play everyday in Esteury Ruiz and Ramon Laureano. Then you have a LH batter, Brown, who can’t hit LHP, and a RH batter, Cristian Pache, who can’t hit RHP. (Whether he can hit any pitching is an open question, but he is most certainly out of options.)

The A’s could look to trade Pache, but if the group we see is the group we have, it seems like a logical scenario has Brown and Pache in a platoon alongside Ruiz and Laureano. That leaves Bleday and Conner Capel fighting to be a 5th outfielder but more likely in a battle to be “first man up from AAA,” considering that Tony Kemp can play OF and so can Aledmys Diaz in a pinch.

The one wrinkle with this plan is that it requires Ruiz to move around a bit because the only position you want to see Pache playing is CF. So potentially you’re looking at a Brown-Ruiz-Laureano alignment against RHP with Ruiz moving over to LF to create the Ruiz-Pache-Laureano trio against LHP. That’s potentially an elite defensive outfield, by the way.

As for the man of the hour, Bleday, he might be the hoped for heir apparent to Brown, who will have trade value if he builds upon his solid 2022 with an even better 2023. Or he might try to force his way onto the big league roster as a bat you find a spot for, be it as part of an OF platoon, in the DH spot, or replacing Laureano (if and when traded) as an everyday OFer.

But the trade for Bleday, with 3 options left and just 0.075 service time accrued, is most likely not with 2023 in mind so much as down the road. Although injuries and trades could certainly thrust Bleday into the spotlight this season.

As for Puk, despite the largest of hiccups he had a pretty solid 2022 season overall but he remains a pitcher who has never yet combined “starting” and “staying healthy” and as they did with the Cole Irvin trade Oakland traded from a place of depth: absent Irvin and Puk, the A’s LHP crew still boasts Ken Waldichuk, Kyle Muller, J.P. Sears, and Hogan Harris, with Sam Moll and Kirby Snead returning to the big league bullpen.

A final thought...Bleday, in some ways, reminds me of a player I have not heard mentioned as a comp. Stay with me here, as their skill sets are not that similar. Consider Bleday to be akin to Jarred Kelenic, another LH batting outfielder who was drafted high (6th overall), has always shown an ability to draw walks, but hit the big leagues with such a thud you would think my Aunt Bertha had landed on him after a fall from the second story.

Kelenic’s pedigree, so far, has gotten him a career .141/.221/.313 slash line in MLB, good for a 55 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR. Yet at 23 years of age he still has a chance to parlay his tools and pedigree into success — or just to be yet another “hot prospect” who could do everything except hit in the big leagues.

If the A’s had dealt their “erratic but good” reliever for Kelenic, it would be widely seen as a strong “upside play,” and the same probably applies to Bleday. If you’re feeling optimistic, note that even in a failed (.167/.277/.309) 65 game debut, Bleday’s BB rate was elite at 12.6%. And you can take comfort in the resurgent 2022 season at AAA in which Bleday rediscovered his power, belting 20 HR in 85 games and slugging .470.

If your mood is more salty, there’s ample room for pessimism given that Bleday is a career .225 hitter in the minors and that’s .048 better than he managed for the Marlins. But the A’s are exactly the type of team that needs to make “upside plays” with guys whose warts make them available, and in Noda, Ruiz, Hernaiz, and Bleday Oakland has added some intriguing talent of late.

JJ Bleday vs. The Big Leagues: It’s another tale that will be interesting to watch unfold. Just don’t necessarily expect to get to that story at the start of this season.