Plenty of eyes will be on left-hander Rich Hill on Sunday as he makes what could be his final start with the Athletics, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Scouts from a handful of playoff-contending clubs – the Red Sox, Rangers, Orioles, Marlins and Tigers – will be in attendance to observe Hill’s home outing against the Blue Jays.
Hill, 36, has unexpectedly established himself as a hot commodity leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline since his torrid stretch as a member of the aforementioned BoSox last September. Dating back to that four-start run, the journeyman has performed like an ace over a 105-inning sample, having recorded a 2.06 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 2.83 BB/9, 49.6 percent ground-ball percentage and 17.9 percent infield fly rate. As a result, the A’s are hoping to land a haul similar to the one they received from Houston for southpaw Scott Kazmir last year (two prospects, right-hander Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham), according to Slusser, who notes that a Hill trade isn’t necessarily a sure bet.
If the A’s can’t find a deal to their liking for Hill, they could retain him through the season and then tender the free agent-to-be a qualifying offer, which will be worth in the $17MM neighborhood. Should Hill accept, that would give him roughly $23MM over two years with the A’s (including $6MM this season), which, considering his performance, wouldn’t be an unreasonable cost for his services. However, the A’s are much less likely to keep Hill and qualify him than they are right fielder Josh Reddick, per Slusser. Reddick – another pending free agent – is drawing pre-deadline interest around the league, as Slusser reported last weekend, and he and the A’s are far apart on contract extension talks.
In the event Oakland does shop one or both of Hill or Reddick, it won’t try to attach designated hitter Billy Butler and his contract to either, adds Slusser. The A’s are more worried about maximizing the return for their best trade assets than taking less just to throw Butler’s $15MM overboard. Since signing a three-year, $30MM deal with the A’s in November 2014, the ex-Royal has become an afterthought. In 163 plate appearances this season, the 30-year-old Butler has hit .253/.307/.380 with two home runs. His poor output could lead Oakland to eventually designate him for assignment, Slusser writes.
Interestingly, third baseman Danny Valencia is another designation candidate, reports Slusser, even though he has batted a fantastic .295/.348/.507 with 30 home runs in 659 PAs going back to last year. Despite that production and his cheap team control through next season, Valencia is not garnering interest, relays Slusser. With the out-of-contention A’s looking to evaluate their younger talent, the 31-year-old Valencia could end up designated – as he was with the Royals last season – if Oakland can’t find a taker for him. Whether Valencia is open to positions other than third and how he handles a decrease in playing time might keep the A’s from giving him his walking papers, however, according to Slusser.