The Oakland Athletics aren't often buyers at the trade deadline, but if they want to end the back-and-forth battle with the Texas Rangers for first place in the AL West, they should make a move or two. Specifically, starting pitching and some depth could put this team over the top.
At this point, an addition would be a bonus. It's not a necessity.
And in all likelihood, general manager Billy Beane will not sacrifice top prospects for a three-month rental in hopes of going deep into playoffs. Clearly, that's not his style. Instead, he makes subtle moves (see Stephen Drew) that get the job done without breaking the bank.
So, if Beane intends to give his team an advantage this season without letting go of too much in the process, there's a couple of spots that it wouldn't hurt to upgrade.
Listing this group here is not an indication that the rotation is doing a poor job. If the A's acquired another starting pitcher, it wouldn't have to be a top guy. Rather, a fifth starter to add as insurance might be a wise investment.
Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin have been consistent. Last year they were a solid three-four, and this year is no different. These two are doing the exact job expected from the middle of the rotation and shouldn't be bumped.
Bartolo Colon is 10-2 with a 2.93 ERA. But at 40 years old, how long can he keep this up?
Jarrod Parker started slow, but is currently in the recovery process. In the last 30 days, Parker is 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA. Between what he showed last season and what he's doing now, it seems to be clear that April 2013 can be regarded as a fluke. Still, in the very slim chance he does regress once more, a security blanket could be a smart play.
Specifically, a move for a starter upgrades the fifth spot held by Dan Straily.
Straily is only in the rotation right now because of Brett Anderson's injury. You could make the argument that a returning Anderson is the upgrade, but it's becoming difficult to depend on him to remain healthy.
For what it's worth, Straily has given a valiant effort, which shouldn't be overlooked.
Still, the A's marched into the 2012 playoffs with five pitchers 25 and younger. They made it five games.
A solid, fifth starter with playoff experience, a guy who can teach and motivate in the process (the pitching version of Jonny Gomes) could do wonders for the rotation.
Guys like Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza are going to be difficult buys. Quite a few teams need starting pitching, and these two guys are two of the hottest commodities on the block.
The best bet is Scott Feldman—a lesser-known name whose salary is affordable. It might be difficult to get him, though, because of the supply and demand. A few backup plans include Bronson Arroyo (solid but expensive) or Phil Hughes (struggling, but the A's wouldn't have to give up too much). If the Seattle Mariners are willing to trade within the division, Jeremy Bonderman would be a fantastic add.
A new pitcher would likely slide into the fourth spot, bumping Griffin to five.
Better Depth (Second, Outfield)
There are still five outfielders for four spots, but it's worked out playing time-wise because of all the injuries. Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Chris Young and Josh Reddick have all missed time.
Reddick is scrapping to bring his average up, Cespedes has been up and down and Young doesn't get hits often.
Perhaps it's time to invest in an upgrade.
The right outfielder is tricky, though. A hot hitter would be great, but then the question is, who does he replace?
That said, it's probably best to let another team overspend on Nate Schierholtz. Instead, a smart move might be to feast on the Chicago White Sox (11 games under .500 and last in the AL Central) in case they go into fire-sale mode.
Adam Dunn would be tempting. He could split DH duties with Seth Smith playing more of the field. His .195 average is terrible, but his 20 home runs make up for it.
Or, how about Marlon Byrd?
The New York Mets are 12 games back as of this writing, and Byrd is 35 years old. If the Mets can get anything for him, they might as well offer him up.
Byrd may not seem like a huge upgrade, but consider he's hitting .259 to Young's .192. Byrd has more home runs and RBIs (a higher rate of both), too. That little extra might be the difference of a game or two in a season in which the division might be decided by a game or two.
A guy like Raul Ibanez is intriguing too. He's nearing the end of the career but has shown he has a ton of fight left in him. His power numbers and ability in the clutch are impressive. He'd come fairly cheap, and the Mariners should be willing to part with him.
A second base upgrade could work, too.
By no means should you scoff at Eric Sogard. His .272 average is eighth best on the team. But what happens if Josh Donaldson or Jed Lowrie go down? Adam Rosales' .195 average becomes a more permanent part of the lineup.
The A's would be insanely deep if they trade for a second baseman and hold on to Sogard as an uber-utility man. He can still rotate through the infield fairly regularly.
Chase Utley might be an option. Utley is basically Sogard with more power and experience. Because of that, the A's should be cautious about spending much of anything on Utley. (I'll leave my bias out, but a Mark Ellis return sure would be fun.)
To receive, they'll have to give.
And as tempting as it may be to go all in, that's the wrong move. Dan Straily, Sonny Gray and Michael Choice should be off limits. However, Jemile Weeks, Michael Taylor, Shane Peterson and Grant Green make for interesting trade possibilities.
Oakland can compete as is. They don't need a player, but any upgrade would help separate the A's from the Rangers.