The Oakland Athletics enter Memorial Day weekend with a record of 22-23, five games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West and just two games back in the premature wild card race.
Dan Szymborski wrote an article on ESPN Insider yesterday updating the ZiPS projection system with new data from the first quarter of the season. The A's currently project to finish 75-87, twenty games behind the Texas Rangers for the American League West division title, and eleven games behind the Boston Red Sox for the second wild card spot.
Given those steep odds, should the A's be sellers at the trading deadline again this season?
While the A's have virtually no chance of catching the Rangers, I do think that the second wild card spot remains in play given the parity in baseball right now.
The A's should also be buyers at the trading deadline because they do not have any players on the roster that are going to bring back premium prospects in a trade if they decided to be sellers.
The two best trade chips that the A's have are starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy, who is currently on the disabled list with an ongoing shoulder problem, and Bartolo Colon.
While both McCarthy and Colon are solid mid-rotation starters, they are also both impending free agents with spotty track records. Trading either pitcher is not likely to infuse the organization with the high upside talent that it desperately needs.
The A's can improve in several ways between now and the trading deadline without having to trade away any prospects of their own. A lot of the A's issues should correct themselves. Getting their two best players, McCarthy and Yoenis Cespedes off of the disabled list will certainly help, as will the addition of Manny Ramirez at the end of the month.
Besides adding McCarthy, Cespedes and Ramirez to the mix, the A's should see significant improvement from Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington and Kurt Suzuki. All three players are drastically under-performing through the first quarter of the season, but each player is better than what they have show so far.
Weeks, who is currently batting .199/.290/.314 right now, hit .303/.340/.421 in 97 games as a rookie last season. The dynamic 25-year-old second baseman will improve as he learns to make adjustments throughout the season.
He should also be the beneficiary of better luck as the season goes along. His .226 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) will certainly improve given his speed and ability to hit line drives.
While Suzuki and Pennington do not have the upside of Weeks, both players are also off to slow starts due to similar bad luck on balls in play.
If Suzuki, Pennington and Weeks can start to hit closer to their career lines, the A's offense will improve drastically from its current position as the worst offense in the American League. Add Cespedes and Ramirez into the mix and the A's offense will look a lot more competent.
If Suzuki does not turn things around, the A's can turn to Triple A Sacramento catcher Derek Norris, who was acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade from the Washington Nationals this offseason. The 23-year-old catcher is currently hitting .293 with an .841 OPS for the River Cats.
Starting pitcher Brad Peacock is another River Cat that can soon help the big league team. Peacock was also acquired in the Gonzalez trade along with current starter Tommy Milone, Norris and pitching prospect A.J. Cole. He's had inconsistent results so far this season, but he has more upside than current starters Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey.
Those internal improvements and additions are not likely to get the A's over the hump on their own. The A's front office needs to stop waiting for a new ballpark in San Jose to fix the organization's problems. The San Francisco Giants and Major League Baseball remain obstacles to that ever happening, so unless the A's just up and move the team without their approval, they are going to remain in Oakland indefinitely.
The A's current situation is similar to that of the Pittsburgh Pirates of last season.
Pirates GM Neil Huntington acquired Derek Lee and Ryan Ludwick in an attempt to bolster the roster to make a playoff run after the team got off to a surprising start. The Pirates ultimately collapsed, but they did the right thing by attempting to compete.
The A's should follow a similar path.
The only way to make the most out of a bad situation in Oakland is to try to start winning right now. A new ballpark in San Jose and the revenue streams that it would bring are more of a pipe dream than making the playoffs this season is.
The A's should attempt to seize the day and make the most of this season by being buyers at the trading deadline.
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