With the trade deadline just over two weeks away, it may be easy to assume that the A’s will now stay quiet following the Jeff Samardzija trade and not make any more splashy moves. The team is already saturated with talent and without their two top prospects, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, as trade bait.
But here is a scary thought if you are the rest of Major League Baseball: Not only did the A’s land two of the most coveted free-agent pitchers and become immediate World Series favorites, but now with a surplus of young, talented arms, they are primed to be buyers at the trade deadline to address their limitations at second base.
It was not headline news, but when the A’s acquired Samardzija and Hammel from the Cubs, Tommy Milone was demoted to Triple-A. Also, recovered from a broken hand, Drew Pomeranz was activated from the disabled list Sunday and then promptly sent down as well. There simply is not room in the rotation.
With wins in his last six decisions and a 3.55 ERA that was on the decline before being sent down, Milone would not be in the minor leagues for many other ballclubs. Pomeranz sports a 2.91 ERA over 55.2 innings pitched this season. He, too, deserves to be in the big leagues. Furthermore, A.J. Griffin (3.60 career ERA in two seasons with Oakland) and Jarrod Parker (a former ninth overall pick and the owner of a 3.73 ERA in two years with the A's) will both return from Tommy John surgery next year.
Thus, thanks to the Samardzija-Hammel acquisition, the A’s now have a surplus of young, talented starting pitching. With four pitchers (Milone, Pomeranz, Griffin and Parker) all without jobs, or five pitchers (now including Jesse Chavez, who was formerly a relief pitcher) vying for one spot in the starting rotation, the A’s are clearly an attractive target to many teams.
Yet while the A's may have the pieces to make another deal at the trade deadline, it is obvious that they do not have many glaring issues.
The three-headed monster of Dan Otero, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle has erased any semblance of a concern in the bullpen. Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp are everyday staples at their respective positions. And the first base and catcher positions have turned into the three-way platoon of Derek Norris (.294 BA), Stephen Vogt (.358 BA) and John Jaso (.274 BA). Do not ask how it is working, but it clearly is.
Middle infield for the A’s, however, has been a different story.
Granted, Jew Lowrie has done an admirable job at shortstop. In 90 games (82 starts), he has posted a .234 batting average and driven in 34 runs.
Second base is where the bulk of the worry lies, and it has only escalated since utility man Alberto Callaspo was placed on the disabled list after straining his right hamstring, as John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Switch-hitting Nick Punto (160 at-bats) and left-handed-hitting Eric Sogard (156 at-bats) currently share time at second base and have struggled immensely. The two have combined for a total of one home run, a .202 batting average, a .259 slugging percentage and 16 RBI while manning second base—all position lows for the A’s. Their .273 on-base percentage and meager 25 walks (also both position lows) presumably make for an irate Billy Beane.
The A’s continue to be heavily dependent on Lowrie to carry the weight of the middle infield. An injury to the seven-year shortstop would be catastrophic, as a Punto-Sogard middle infield would be about as offensively inept as they come.
There are a number of potential solutions for the A's and their middle infield concerns.
Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy are both subject to being shipped elsewhere in the coming weeks. The two are the best-hitting second basemen on the market, but the chances the A’s acquire either is slim, given the fact that Utley does not want to leave Philadelphia in the first place (as Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News reports), and the Mets are asking for a hefty amount of minor league offensive talent in return for Murphy.
Luis Valbuena of the Chicago Cubs has also drawn interest from the A’s, but the Cubs are reluctant to deal him, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal states. However, with prospect Arismendy Alcantara making a case for himself as their everyday second baseman (9-for-23 with a home run, five RBI and a stolen base in his first five big league games), Valbuena may be on his way out.
Perhaps the best fit and most realistic acquisition for the A’s is Tampa Bay Rays do-everything-man Ben Zobrist. Slashing .266/.401/.754 with a .352 on-base percentage and five multihit games in his last nine contests, Zobrist would provide a noticeable and immediate boost offensively. His ability to play second base, shortstop and either corner outfield position makes him an even more intriguing option for the A’s.
Karl Buscheck, the A's Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, views Zobrist being traded to the A's as an ideal situation for both teams, as the Rays are likely to be looking for young pitching at the deadline. Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz, Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin would all be at their disposal.
Combine this perfect match that addresses the needs of both teams with the parting words of general manager Beane in an interview with Jim Bowden of ESPN (h/t MLB Trade Rumors) and it is clear the A’s will not be complacent with their league-leading 59-36 record:
Well, you know, there’s a lot of time left, Jim. Whether you have needs or not, you have to take advantage of the environment. This is a time that everybody comes to the table. And whether you’re actively pursuing something specific, you want to be a part of the conversation. I don’t want to say we’re done. The short answer is: I hope we’re active still.