It could take another acquisition or two to have the A's celebrating like this in October
The official second half of the 2013 MLB season begins Thursday, July 18, and as the calender pushes towards late July and into August, contenders emerge and pretenders begin to fade.
For the Oakland A's, nothing suggests that their surprising ascension among the game's elite teams will not continue after a 56-39 first half.
However, contending for a division title is one thing. To make noise in October and be in position to make the franchise's first World Series appearance since 1990, Oakland may be in the market for a key acquisition before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
Of course, the A's have also acquired key cogs long after that annual deadline in past years. While it might be wishful thinking, this is an A's team that could go beyond plucky small-market underdog to the top of the heap with one or two moves.
The American League remains wide open and the A's have as good a chance as any ballclub.
That said, to get a great deadline player, it usually costs high-end prospects. For the A's, there are a few options, but three truly stand out when considering what it might take to land a playoff ace or a key bat.
Here are those three trading chips in the A's search for a difference-maker, and no, the A's aren't getting Cliff Lee. He's just the best starting pitcher on the trade market.
The No. 3 piece on this list is pitcher Raul Alcantara.
A 20-year-old hard-throwing Dominican, Alcantara was seen as being the 12th- to 20th-best prospect before the saeason began. But with his development continuing rapidly, scouts like those at Scouting Book continue to be very high on him:
An often-overlooked part of Oakland's wheely-dealy offseason, righthander Raul Alcantara is a flamethrowing righthander with very hot stuff that he's still learning how to control. He's got a near-perfect pitcher's body and seems to show an ability to learn from coaching, an ability that shouldn't be taken for granted among the young and naturally talented. While we're not confident he will stick as a starter, he should benefit from Oakland's clever approach to pitching development, so even the 'bad' result should allow him to become a strong piece of a vibrant young bullpen in just another couple of years.
Unlike higher-rated prospects such as Max Stassi or Michael Taylor, Alcantara continues to ascend, which is usually important when making high-profile trades.
The No. 2 player on this list is infield prospect Daniel Robertson.
Drafted as a third baseman, the 19-year-old native of Upland, Calif. has played the entire 2013 season at shortstop in Single-A Beloit.
Known for his patience and ability to hit to all fields, Robertson projects as a quality hitter with above-average power once he fills out. Though his 2013 splits have not been terribly impressive (.266/.342/.376), the outlook is still positive, according to Scouting Book:
A toolsy hitter who's already capable of spraying balls all over the field, Oakland infield prospect Daniel Robertson looks to fit well into that organization's on-base philosophy. His short swing and excellent eye look more advanced than his age, in fact. Listed by many as a shortstop, his so-so range and powerful arm look more like third base tools to us, and his workmanlike approach to the game suggest that the A's might finally have their Kevin Youkilis, even if it took an extra decade to find him.
Another reason that the A's may not hesitate much about dealing Robertson is that his projected positions are being manned by two All-Star quality players in Oakland (Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson and ) and a potential superstar in the wings (Addison Russell) in the minor leagues.
Not long ago, Weeks was untouchable. Now, his days with the A's could be numbered
The top player on this list is someone who I figured would be the A's second baseman for the next five-to-10 years. But after an electrifying 2011, Jemile Weeks has simply not been what the Oakland organization had hoped he would be.
Unlike any other player on this list, the combination of what Weeks has shown in the big leagues and the likely need for a change of scenery makes him the single-most appealing trade chip the A's have in the next couple of weeks.
Weeks seemed well on his way to earning a spot on the Oakland roster before an injury derailed his momentum this spring. While he has not being great down at Triple-A Sacramento, he has been good enough.
What is most heartening about his numbers has been the patience that Weeks has shown at the plate. Thus far, he has walked more times than he has struck out (58 to 57) in 2013. His high on-base percentage of .398 enables him to use his speed on the bases where he has 12 steals in 14 attempts.
Ultimately, with the logjam at the middle-infield spots and two players in Grant Green and Hiroyuki Nakajima seemingly higher on the A's list of priorities, Weeks could very well be a player used to acquire a piece for this 2013 A's club. It is a move that would benefit both sides in the short term.
Prospects like Gray are simply untouchable currently
Let's be clear: Weeks, Robertson, and Alcantara, while all quality players, are not the best prospects in the A's farm system. And players either on the current roster or with big league experience, including Chris Young, could be included as well.
However, let's be even more clear: Those players (Addison Russell, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, Grant Green and Michael Choice) are pretty much untouchable. So mentioning them when Billy Beane is about as likely to use them in a deadline trade as I am of winning Powerball is pretty pointless.
In many ways, those prospects that have made the call could be Oakland's best chance at roster fortification. Gray especially has a chance to really impact the team in the second half. However, second-tier players that are being dangled like Jesse Crain or potentially a rental bat like Michael Young could be had for these players.
The only thing for sure is that just when you think Billy Beane has been figured out, he manages to make another big move. So the deadline will almost certainly come with a surprise or two in the East Bay. It will be interesting to see if the A's push their chips in and go for the gold this fall by making moves here in the summer.