In a division that features a team that has appeared in the past two World Series and a team that made two of the biggest splashes during free agency last offseason, few could have predicted that the Oakland Athletics would find themselves in second place in the AL West this late in the season.
But that’s not even the best part for the A’s.
One look at the American League wild card standings and it becomes clear that, despite trading away two members of their starting rotation during the offseason, and having a payroll that is the lowest in the major leagues, the A’s are just .5 games back from claiming the second wild card spot.
As a result, rather than continuing to sell players at the non-waiver trade deadline and throughout August, the A’s just acquired a player who could end up supplying a surprise boost to the team’s playoff push.
A tweet last night from the official twitter account of the Arizona Diamondbacks reported that the team has traded shortstop Stephen Drew to the A’s for minor leaguer Sean Jamieson.
But why get excited about a player who’s batting just .193 in 40 games this season?
For one, that average is by far the lowest of his career, so chances are the average is simply a result of a slow start for Drew as he returns from an injury.
Drew returned in late June from an ankle injury that cost him 137 games between the end of last season and most of the first-half this year.
In his last full season in 2010, Drew batted .278 with 15 home runs and 61 RBI in 151 games for the Diamondbacks.
If Drew can bat anywhere close to that during the remaining games of the regular season, it would be a major improvement over what A’s shortstops have provided this season.
The team’s primary shortstop this season, Cliff Pennington, has batted .196 with just three home runs and 18 RBI. For the season, A’s shortstops have the lowest combined batting average in the AL at .190. The team has also received the second fewest amount of runs from the position in the league this season.
Drew, meanwhile, has an opportunity to provide run support to a team in the thick of the playoff race, while also giving the A’s another option to use at the top of their lineup.
But the 29-year-old’s acquisition also improves the team’s playoff chances in another way.
The A’s have long traded proven players in order to acquire additional prospects and maintain a low payroll. However, Drew is set to make $10 million through a mutual option next season, unless the A’s buyout his contract for $1.35 million.
As the team’s second baseman Jemile Weeks said in an article on ESPN.com, this move signals that the team has a vision that they’re going after.
“He’s a good player, so if he comes along and jumps in and fits in and helps us win, we’re all for it,” Weeks said. “I guess they’re trying to make a push, they’re trying to improve what they feel they need to improve. They’re trying to head in a certain direction. Obviously they have that vision in their heads and that’s what they’re trying to show right now.”
The A’s may not have initially expected to be in contention for one of the AL’s two wild card spots, but now that they are still in the running coming down the stretch, boosting the lineup and team morale certainly won’t hurt their chances.
The A’s will close out the regular season with 20 out of 23 games against teams currently near the front of the playoff race. They already have the second best team ERA in the AL, and power hitters in their lineup in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick.
One major weakness, however, was at shortstop.
By acquiring Drew, a free agent after the season, the A’s made a low risk deal that could end up paying off big time down the stretch both on the field and off it.
The A’s may not have expected to be in contention, but Drew’s acquisition shows they’re not going to let it go to waste.