The Athletics announced Wednesday that they’ve reinstated right-hander Frankie Montas from the restricted list now that his 80-game PED suspension has been completed. Oakland had a full 40-man roster, so catcher Beau Taylor was designated for assignment in order to open a spot for Montas’ return. Montas won’t be postseason-eligible because of that suspension, but he’ll take the ball and start tonight’s game against the Angels.
Montas, 26, hasn’t pitched since June 20 after testing positive for the banned substance Ostarine. As with virtually all players who fail a drug test, Montas claimed to have been unaware he’d taken a banned substance, blaming the positive test on a “contaminated supplement” which he “purchased over-the-counter at a nutrition store here in the United States.” Regardless of intent (or lack thereof), he served out the full 80-game ban that first-time offenders face.
It’s not clear what type of workload Montas will be able to handle, although general manager David Forst indicated earlier this month that the A’s have kept Montas stretched out with a series of simulated games. Whatever volume of innings Montas can handle, they’ll all be pivotal at this point; the A’s are in the thick of a three-team AL Wild Card race with the Indians and Rays.
If the A’s get anything close to the form Montas displayed from March until late June, then they’ll be in excellent shape for tonight’s contest. Through 90 innings earlier this season, Montas pitched to a pristine 2.70 ERA with a similarly strong 2.91 FIP and a 3.42 xFIP. He averaged 9.7 strikeouts, 2.1 walks and 0.7 homers per nine innings pitched while keeping the ball on the ground at a healthy 50.8 percent clip.
Of course, skeptics will attribute that apparent breakout to Montas’ failed drug test, and there’ll be nowhere near enough time in 2019 for him to prove that he’s capable of sustaining that level of pace post-suspension. He’ll surely have a place earmarked in Oakland’s 2020 rotation, at which point he’ll strive to continue upon this year’s breakout and distance himself from that suspension as best he can. He’ll presumably be joined by Sean Manaea and Mike Fiers in that regard. Righties Chris Bassitt, Daniel Mengden and Jharel Cotton will compete with top left-handed pitching prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk for the final spots in Oakland’s rotation.
Montas, who’ll turn 27 next March, lost more than half a season’s worth of service time but will still ever-so-narrowly eek out enough service to reach two full years of big league service in 2019. As such, he’s still controlled through the 2023 season and remains on track to be arbitration-eligible following the 2020 campaign.
As for the 29-year-old Taylor, this won’t be the first time he’s been cut loose by the A’s. Oakland outrighted him off the 40-man roster following the 2018 season but re-signed him to a minor league deal, and the Athletics also designated Taylor for assignment earlier this year. He landed with the Blue Jays via a waiver claim but was eventually DFA’ed by Toronto and returned to Oakland on a second waiver claim.
Taylor is 5-for-30 with a pair of homers in a tiny sample of 36 MLB plate appearances. He’s spent parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level and batted a combined .256/.373/.385 there. He’s been about a percentage point below average in terms of caught-stealing rate for his pro career and has drawn average or better pitch-framing grades in the past few seasons.