Oakland Athletics: Is Dan Straily returning home for a playoff push?

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 12: Boog Powell
OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 12: Boog Powell /

The Athletics won their final two games against the Giants at AT&T Park to come away with yet another series win as they head into the All-Star Break.

Fantastic. 13 games over .500. Now that’s the way to finish up the first half!  Oakland hasn’t lost a series since losing three straight games to the Astros back in mid-June. It was a wake-up call for a ball club on the verge of teetering towards yet another insignificant season.

The Athletics find themselves just 3 games out of the 2nd Wild Card spot after three consecutive series wins in July, defeating the AL Central leading Cleveland Indians, the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, and their Bay Area rival, the San Francisco Giants.

This performance over the last two weeks was a message from the players to the fans, to the AL West, and to the front office.  It may be a year or two early, but somehow this team has found a way to make an opportunity for itself this season. Now it’s up to the front office to assess the weaknesses that exist and work those trade lines to position this team for a playoff run.

Where are the holes?

The starting rotation was the biggest question mark coming out of spring training and the regular season only served to complicate matters. The injury bug demolished one starting pitcher after another leaving Sean Manaea as the only healthy pitcher left from the original Opening Day rotation.

Jharel Cotton. Tommy John.  A.J. Puk. Tommy John.  Kendall Graveman. Banished to the minors. Daniel Mengden. Also sent down. Daniel Gossett, Andrew Triggs, and Paul Blackburn. All currently on the DL. Current healthy starters Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson each have spent time on the DL as well.

It’s been one band-aid fix after another for this starting rotation.  Surprisingly, the staff has managed to be moderately successful through all of the injuries. More often than not, they’ve delivered enough quality innings to hand the game off to the bullpen with a win still in reach.

The million dollar question for this team, or maybe the $2 million dollar question if the ownership really opens their wallet, is how long can the starting rotation continue to dodge bullets? A quick look at Baseball Reference shows the starting trio of Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, and Brett Anderson have pitched 52.1 innnings, 24.1 innings, and 23.2 innings respectively.

To put that in perspective, the three of them collectively have pitched less innings than the 123.2 innings Sean Manaea has delivered thus far.  Cahill has the tools to be effective but has difficulty  staying healthy. Edwin Jackson is a journeyman with a career 4.64 ERA. Anderson has given up 36 hits and 18 runs over his 23.2 innings this season. This isn’t how a playoff contending pitching staff is assembled.

Yet here we stand, shortcomings aside, within arm’s length of the final AL Wild Card spot. It’s been an admirable performance by a rotation that has faced a mountain of adversity but it’s difficult to avoid this feeling that we are playing with house money.  When the luck runs dry, so will our chances of making the playoffs this year.

The bullpen and offense are largely responsible for where this team sits at the break.  If Oakland is going to continue keeping pace with Seattle, the front office is going to have to find a starter or two to provide some quality innings.

Who is available?

It’s important to make the distinction between who is available for teams like the Yankees or Dodgers vs. who is available with the Athletics’ front office approach. While this team has played itself into an opportunity this season, Beane will not mortgage an important piece of the future on a big name arm that will only serve as a late summer rental.

Jon Heyman, an MLB insider for FanCred Sports, recently speculated which starting pitchers may be moved as we approach the deadline.  On his list are names like Degrom, Syndergaard, Hamels, and Fulmer.  As an A’s fan, these are names we can forget about.  Whether it be the prospects their clubs would demand in return or the varying degree of high salaries involved, it isn’t a price our front office is going to pay. Ever.

Instead, the names off of Heyman’s list that stand out to me are guys like Harvey, Ross, Eovaldi, Wheeler, Gibson, or possibly Nova. These are the fringe guys and that’s where the A’s live. A couple of these guys have salary implications that would require their current team to eat some of the money to get a trade done but for the most part, this second, or even third tier of available pitchers are the types of arms we can expect the front office to target.

If I was a gambling man…and I am…

One name I failed to mention earlier off of Heyman’s list for the purpose of inserting him here is Dan Straily. Straily hasn’t been heavily discussed in July trade rumors, but he’s a pitcher that fills a lot of boxes on Billy Beane’s checklist.

Is he available? The Marlins are in rebuild mode yet again and will be looking to trade away any veteran of value in exchange for young prospects.

Is he affordable? A quick check of Spotrac shows that Straily is on a one year contract totaling $3,375,000. That’s a number the A’s front office can live with.

Is he dependable? Straily pitched 191 innings for the Reds in 2016 and 181 innings for the Marlins last season. He can be relied upon to eat up some innings.

Is he a good fit? Straily is a fly ball pitcher as evidenced by his career 45.7% fly ball rate.  Plenty of room at the Coliseum for fly balls to be eaten up. Straily also has a comfort level with this organization having been a 2009 draft pick by the A’s who went on to play three seasons for us before being traded off to the Cubs back in 2014.

Straily was considered a kick-in player for that trade as it was Addison Russell who was the centerpiece of the deal that netted the A’s Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in return. Fast forward four years and the possibility now exists that Beane brings back a homegrown talent for the very same reason he was initially sent away for; to help this team make a playoff run.

There are certainly bigger names that will grab the spotlight as we approach the trade deadline, but none may fit into a situation more seamlessly than Straily returning to Oakland.  We don’t need a big personality or someone flashy. That isn’t Oakland Athletics baseball.

Instead we need a ball player who is comfortable in his own skin, who knows his strengths and limitations, and one who would be invested in showing the fanbase that he shouldn’t have been included in a trade the first time around. As we approach the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, it’s entirely possible that Dan Straily is the hero that we didn’t know we needed.