Generally speaking, the Oakland A's are a very good baseball team—one of the best teams in baseball during the 2014 regular season. But if they want to legitimately compete for a World Series title, there are a few things they must shore up.
Don't mistake that statement as doubt.
We're more than one-third of the way through the season already, and the A's have the best record in the American League. Statistically, they're top-five in categories such as starting ERA, runs scored, home runs and RBI, to name a few.
However, just look at the fact that the Colorado Rockies are also in the top five of many of those categories too. Yet, they're in third place in the NL West and own a losing record. The point is: Leading in the regular season doesn't mean too much come the playoffs.
Oakland must be well-balanced in that it has no glaring weakness. Easier said than done, sure.
Here are a few things to consider when the trade deadline approaches that will help with key weaknesses.
1. What to do at 2nd Base?
If you've been paying attention, you've probably heard this and are tired of it already. But it's being said often because it's the biggest hole in the lineup.
Against right-handers, Nick Punto is hitting .255. Alberto Callaspo hits .250, and Eric Sogard hits .213. Against southpaws, though, Punto's average is .254. Callaspo and Sogard hit .159 and .111, respectively.
The A's should do one of two things. They either need to make Punto the full-time second baseman or need to platoon him more often and trade for a player who hits against lefties better.
Even if they make Punto the full-time guy, they still need to upgrade his backup. Callaspo does an OK job against the righties, but no one behind Punto can hit lefties at all.
2. Do They Need 1 More Safety Net for the Starting Rotation?
It's been nice seeing Scott Kazmir thrive, Tommy Milone rebound and Jesse Chavez fill in nicely due to injuries. But with Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin done for the year, Jeff Francis not as effective as one had hoped and Dan Straily down in Triple-A, backup options are growing more slim.
What happens if there's one more injury? What happens if Drew Pomeranz—or anyone else for that matter—begins to slip? There's no one left really. Well, Josh Lindblom maybe. But is he a guy who can help carry Oakland deep into the postseason?
It would be smart to add one more insurance option.
That option should be a quality starter, too, one who can easily pitch third, fourth or fifth in the rotation. It shouldn't be a seventh-option type of guy. The A's have those already.
3. What is the Solution for Jim Johnson?
Oakland's Biggest Issue at the Deadline is...
Every time the relief pitcher warms up, he gets booed. You won't find too many players who really want to go out and give their best for a fanbase who doesn't like them. So if the fans don't care for him and assuming he doesn't want to be here, then it's best for everyone involved to trade him.
Manager Bob Melvin tried removing him from closing duties. Melvin has called on Johnson in a variety of situations. And each time, the results are mostly hit (for opposing batters) and not too much miss (unless we're talking Johnson's location).
Yes, the A's will have to eat a chunk of salary.
But this is a sunken cost. They're paying him no matter what, so the optimal strategy is the one that hurts the team less. If another team calls about Johnson, the answer should be a resounding "Yes!"
4. To Keep 3 Catchers or Not?
The A's are in a good spot trade-chip-wise because they have three catchers. Conceivably, a contender who needs catching can make a one-for-one swap with Oakland to satisfy both teams' needs.
But in this writer's opinion, Oakland should keep all three.
Derek Norris serves as the mostly full-time catcher. Stephen Vogt is predominantly the backup. John Jaso can DH. If all three are hitting, it shouldn't be out of the question to find all three time. Of all the A's players with 145 at-bats or more, Norris and Jaso have the best and fifth-best batting averages, respectively. Vogt is hitting .323 in 10 games.
In the last two postseasons, the A's have had a tough time against Detroit Tigers pitching. So it seems wise to keep this offense stacked in preparation for top-tier pitching once again.
If the A's decide to trade a catcher, Jaso would net a bigger return, but in the eyes of the trade partner, it's more likely its looking for a cheaper—but still effective—backup, and that would be Vogt.
5. Should They Go 'All In" and Trade Addison Russell?
Fear not. This is not a rumor. This isn't even speculation that has come from anywhere. It's simply a pre-emptive plea to Oakland A's management that no matter how tempting it may be to go all-in this year, not to fall for it and give up Addison Russell.
It's happened too often.
A team gives up its No. 1 prospect for one month of a superstar. Then that superstar walks in the offseason for much more money.
The San Francisco Giants experienced this with Zach Wheeler and Carlos Beltran. The Atlanta Braves got the last half of 2007 and the first half of 2008 out of Mark Teixeira, but they had to give up Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz to do so. Oh, and don't forget, the A's lost Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez in an exchange for 93 games out of Matt Holliday.
It's not an issue now, at least not one that anyone is talking about. But if it comes up, the answer should be an easy "No! No! No!"
All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and are current as of June 16, 2014, at 8:30 p.m. PT.