The Oakland Athletics picked up Homer Bailey, Jake Diekman and Tanner Roark over the last few weeks, giving much-needed upgrades to a pitching staff marred by injuries and inconsistent play. They were able to do all of that without giving up any of their top prospects, which makes a clear statement about their changing mindset.
In 2014, on July 31, at 66-41 and in the midst of their best season since the early 2000s, the Oakland Athletics traded away star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester.
The move, which was preceded by moving their top prospects Addison Russel to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, was a clear statement: if we’re winning the title, it’s going to be this year. It was the most no-tomorrow move I can remember a team making. Adding ace pitching talent, with the pickups of David Price and others by playoff teams across the league, spurred them into action.
You know how the story ends. The A’s finished the season 22-33, Lester gave up seven runs in the Wild Card Game, Hammel faced one batter, the A’s lost in an 11-inning thriller to the KC Royals, the Royals made it to the World Series, that summer the A’s unloaded Josh Donaldson and Samardzija that summer and two years later the Cubs, partly on the back of Lester and Russel, won the World Series.
This summer, with a team that is finding its groove, about to see a slew of injured arms get back to the majors (or make their debuts), the Oakland Athletics’ brass decided to make only minor additions and hold onto every major piece of their future.
Today they picked up Tanner Roark, who hosts a 4.24 ERA in 110 innings pitched for the Reds this year, unloading OF Jameson Hannah, the team’s second-round pick in 2018. They grabbed Jake Diekman, who has a 4.64 ERA and 1.336 WHIP in 42.2 IP this year but a 1.42 ERA and 10 strikeouts in his last seven appearances (6.1 IP), earlier this week from the Royals. And they got Homer Bailey for nothing earlier this month, and he is 2-1 in Oakland with two quality starts and one god-awful one against Houston (nine earned runs, including three home runs, in 2+ IP). Three low-risk, high-reward guys who have already paid dividends for a pitching staff that has lost the team many games this season.
As much as it is a vote of confidence in their current roster, it is a statement that they are truly in it for the long haul. They have made steps in the right direction.
The new stadium plans are a massive step. Re-signing Khris Davis to the biggest PYA deal in team history at $33.5 million over two years was a surprise. And this decision to hold onto Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk, Sean Murphy and Jorge Mateo, among a plethora of other top prospects, while also adding talented arms, is a firm commitment to continuing to ride the wave of the Matts, Ramon Laureano, Marcus Semien, the outfield platoon and whatever the returns of Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton to the big leagues will bring to the rotation.
The market for starting pitchers was attainable, too. Stroman went to the Mets for less than what the A’s could have given up. The Astros somehow got Zack Greinke – Holy Toledo what a scary rotation – AND Aaron Sanchez. The Braves picked up Shane Greene and others for backend relief help. And the A’s were in talks to get Noah Syndergaard. But they held on.
This is a team that has gone 158-112 since the beginning of last year with its top pitching talent sitting in the minor leagues or on the IL, on the backs of a stuck together rotation, an up-and-down bullpen and one of the four or five best starting lineups (on both offense and defense) in baseball.
If they are holding on here, it means they’re planning on running with this core for the long-term (which, for them, could be only two or three more years, but that’s pretty long for the A’s).
And that is a really good sign for the future of the Oakland Athletics.