Oakland A’s starter Paul Blackburn is entering his second year of arbitration in 2024. Cot's Contracts projects him to earn just under $3 million next year. Because the A’s are expected to struggle through another down year in ’24, the front office should look to trade him.
The knock against Blackburn is availability. He has dealt with hand issues the past two seasons, with a torn finger flexor tendon in 2022 and a fingernail avulsion in 2023. Because of the injuries, Blackburn has started just 41 games and thrown 215 innings over that two-year span. Despite the missed time, he has been a capable starter for the A’s.
In 2023, Blackburn posted a 4.43 ERA with a 3.96 FIP and struck out over a batter per inning. The walk rate was a tick high, but he did well limiting hard contact and put up a career best 10% HR/FB rate.
Because he doesn’t throw particularly hard, Blackburn needs to keep the walks to a minimum and limit home runs. It’s a control over power profile that is most successful when inducing weak contact and ground balls. There’s risk of regression here, but if he’s able to sustain this level of success, he can be a viable starter for most teams.
So why should the A’s be looking to trade him? The A’s need healthy starters and Blackburn will be cheap. Unfortunately, the A’s won't sign him to an extension and it’s possible he’s at or near the peak of his value. He's entering his age-30 season and if the A’s can get a team to bite, there’s no reason not to.
Two trade partners that make sense
The St. Louis Cardinals have too many outfielders and a lack of starting pitchers. A package of Blackburn and infield prospect Logan Davidson for outfielder Dylan Carlson and pitching prospect Pete Hansen might make sense for both teams. The Cardinals would remove one piece of their outfield logjam and get a viable starting pitcher in Blackburn.
Meanwhile, the A’s would get a capable center fielder in Carlson. Coming off a down year in 2023, Carlson is still just 25 and entering his first arbitration year in 2024. Cot’s Contracts predicts he will earn $2.1 million. It makes sense for the A’s because they’d be adding a strong defensive center fielder with room for growth at the plate.
Another option is the Boston Red Sox. The Sox ran out of pitchers in 2023 and will be looking to shore up their back-end rotation depth heading into 2024. Blackburn represents a cheap solution. In this scenario, the A’s could send Blackburn and outfield prospect Henry Bolte to Boston for outfielder Wilyer Abreu, infielder Luis Urias, and infield prospect Niko Kavadas.
Abreu debuted in 2023, hitting .316 with an .862 OPS in 28 games. Despite some expected negative regression due to a .431 BABIP, Abreu looks like he can be an everyday player. He may be the fourth or fifth outfielder on Boston’s depth chart heading into 2024.
Urias started the 2023 season in Milwaukee before being traded to Boston at the deadline and had a down year at the plate. In total, he slashed .194/.337/.299 with just 3 home runs in 52 games while missing a large chunk of the season with a hamstring injury.
Urias is a potential non-tender candidate, expected to get around $5 million in his third year of arbitration. However, he’s a strong defensive third baseman and a better hitter over his career than what he showed in 2023. It could be too much money for the A’s to take on, but it would help solve the glaring hole at third base.
From the Sox perspective, Blackburn would help shore up the back end of their rotation by allowing Nick Pivetta and Garrett Whitlock to move to full-time bullpen roles and would mitigate the reliance on Tanner Houck becoming a successful starter.
The class of free agent starting pitchers is strong heading into 2024, with a handful of depth options in Blackburn’s tier. The A’s would do well to move him at or before the winter meetings, before the stove really starts to heat up and teams fill out their rosters.