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3 Things to watch for the A’s in July

Trade deadline creeping up on us here

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s are just a week away from a much-needed break as the All-Star game is right around the corner. The season has been a disaster in the win column and a lot of the young guys the team was counting on are going through rookie struggles as the losses continue piling up. There’ve been a couple bright spots here and there, most notably Brent Rooker getting selected to the All-Star Game. Still, there’s questions that need answers for these A’s. Such as …

  1. Where in the lineup will Ruiz settle in? Second baseman Tony Kemp got the nod to lead off on Opening Night but it didn’t take long for the speedy Esteury Ruiz to find himself atop of the Oakland lineup. In fact Ruiz got his first chance at leading off in game #2 this season. From there he’d been almost exclusively the leadoff man for the months of April and May. And why not when he was stealing bases like Rickey (and still is) to go along with a solid batting average and on-base percentage?

And then June came along. The speed hasn’t disappeared but Ruiz began slumping with the bat hard. The center fielder had a .335 OBP at the beginning of the month but only had a .263 mark in June and lost a hold on the leadoff spot. Fans noticed when manager Mark Kotsay put him in the nine hole:

It’s encouraging that the team still is hoping for Ruiz to eventually reclaim that spot in the lineup. With that speed of his, he should be the long-term answer there. For now, though, Ruiz is batting ninth while Kemp, who is hitting .196 on the season, gets the nod at the top of the order more often than not.

If getting Ruiz going with the bat again is the goal, it doesn’t seem to be working right now as he’s slashed just .200/.222/.240 over the past seven games. It’s not like he hasn’t been getting a start leading off here and there recently but he’s found himself in the last spot in the order more recently. Is that going to be the spot he settles in for the rest of the season? If the struggles continue would the A’s throw caution to the wind and install him back in the leadoff spot again? Where Ruiz bats in the lineup is something to be keeping an eye on to see what the game plan is for the rookie outfielder, especially over the next month.

2. Will the starting pitching please solidify? There’s been a lot of turnover in the pitching department for the A’s this year, no more so than in the rotation. Of the five starters who began the year in the rotation, only JP Sears remains. All the others (Waldichuk, Fujinami, Kaprielian, and Muller) are either injured, demoted to the bullpen or in the minor leagues. The team has had 13 different pitchers start a game for the club this year and the rotation is more in flux now than at any point in the season.

At the beginning of the year there felt like too many options for the starting rotation but now it feels like no one has done anything to claim a permanent spot (outside of Sears). Paul Blackburn is finally back and has made all of his starts (7) since returning but outside of those two it’s a day-by-day thing in regards to who’s starting. The team has tried out other young options like Hogan Harris, Mason Miller and Luis Medina but like the others before them just haven’t been able to find their footing in the big leagues (or are injured, in Miller’s case). The team has no other option but to continue marching out these guys for the next few months. The hope is someone can join Blackburn and Sears as rotation mainstays and earn a permanent starting job. The good news for the candidates is the competition should be getting a bit easier moving forward. Will somebody, anybody, step up after the break?

3. Who is the front office going to trade? The A’s didn’t come into the season with a lot of obvious trade chips because the team was so young after a lot of trades that already happened. Outfielder Ramon Laureano and starter Paul Blackburn were probably the top pieces they had that other teams might want. Tony Kemp is a respected veteran who’s versatile and plays the game the right way. The team also brought in veterans like Jace Peterson, Aledmyz Diaz, and Trevor May with the hopes of trading them at the deadline for some more promising young prospects.

Except that hasn’t exactly happened. Laureano is now in the IL for the foreseeable future because of a broken hand, and even then Laser Ramon wasn’t having a great year to begin with. Blackburn started the season on the IL and only recently came back but with middling results. Peterson and Diaz are hitting just above the Mendoza line, and May hasn’t been what the A’s were hoping for when they made him the highest-paid player on the team, although he’s finally found his groove as of late.

Still, a team might go for any of these guys if it’s the right fit. May seems like the most probable to get traded due to his high contract and good recent performance. Kemp is hitting well right now in the semi-regular leadoff role and is a free agent after the year. Outfielder Seth Brown is hitting the ball well right now too and is going to be getting his first major raise this offseason through arbitration. And even backup catcher Carlos Perez has been solid when playing.

The A’s could strip the team down to the barest of bones if they traded players like Brown, Laureano, Blackburn, and May. Those players would probably bring back the most in return while the rest of the trade candidates just aren’t performing well enough. But how far does the team want to go? Blackburn (2 more seasons after this year), Laureano (2 years), and Brown (3 years) could all stick around for a while longer to rebuild value but are getting more expensive. Keep your ears open on possible trades and rumors floating around as we inch closer to the August 1st trade deadline which is less than a month away.