For much of the offseason, all talk on the Athletics centered on where the likes of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas would head once the trade market picked up. We got answers to four of those five, with only Montas surviving the offseason teardown. That’s expected to be temporary, as Montas stands out as one of the most prominent trade targets on the summer market. Arguably the best arm who’ll be available this summer, Montas will dominate headlines over the next seven weeks. However, while Montas is understandably the highest-profile trade target on the Oakland roster, he’s not the only starter on whom the A’s will receive trade interest.
Fans would be forgiven if Paul Blackburn isn’t someone who’s been on their radar — or even if Blackburn is entirely unfamiliar. The 28-year-old right-hander came into the 2022 season with a 5.74 ERA in 138 career innings at the MLB level. He’d accrued two years of big league service already, but much of that was time spent on the injured list. Blackburn missed time in 2018 with a forearm strain and then with a tendon issue in his elbow (lateral epicondylitis). In his two years of service, he’s appeared in just 30 total games — 27 of them starts.
Blackburn, however, has come out of the gate strong so far in 2022. His 66 1/3 innings already represent a career-high in the big leagues, though he’s surpassed 140 total frames in a season several times when combining his Triple-A and Major League work, so workload management shouldn’t be a major concern. So far, in 12 starts, the former No. 56 overall draft pick (Cubs, 2012) has pitched to a sterling 2.31 ERA. Blackburn doesn’t miss many bats, evidenced by a sub-par 17.9% strikeout rate, but he’s also issued walks to just 5.7% of his opponents and induced grounders at an excellent 51.3% clip.
There’s surely some degree of good fortune at play for Blackburn, who’s currently benefiting from a .253 average on balls in play, an 80.5% strand rate and a tiny 6.0% homer-to-flyball ratio. Even with some expected regression on those marks, ERA alternatives like FIP (3.13), xFIP (3.64) and SIERA (3.91) all feel there’s some legitimacy to the idea that Blackburn has pitched like a capable mid-rotation starter thus far.
Statcast largely agrees, crediting Blackburn with a 3.36 “expected” ERA based on his lack of free passes and the generally poor quality of contact his opponents make. Hitters have posted an average exit velocity of just 87.4 mph against Blackburn (league average is 88.8 mph), and just 3.6% (seven total) of the balls hit against him have been considered “barrels” by Statcast — less than half the league average (7.7%).
It’s tempting to assume that Oakland’s cavernous home park has played a significant role in suppressing Blackburn’s ERA, and perhaps it has to an extent, but it’s not clearly reflected in his home/road splits. Blackburn’s two “worst” starts of the season (four runs apiece) have come at the Coliseum, in fact, and he’s sporting a 4.39 ERA at home against a nearly spotless 0.91 ERA in 39 2/3 innings on the road this season. Oakland’s spacious dimensions help any pitcher on the mound from time to time, but Blackburn isn’t the frequently seen case of a pitcher who excels at the Coliseum and is regularly hit hard on the road.
Blackburn doesn’t have overpowering stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s at least worth pointing out that he’s made some velocity gains and altered his pitch usage so far in 2022, which certainly seems to have contributed to his improved results. The right-hander’s sinker sat at 90.4 mph from 2017-20 before climbing to an average of 91 mph in 2021, and it’s now up to 91.9 mph so far in 2022.
Blackburn is also throwing his curveball at a career-high 17.8% rate — and getting outstanding results. He’s thrown 172 curves this season (already a career high) and finished 44 plate appearances with the pitch; opponents have just three hits (all doubles) and 19 strikeouts (43.2%) in those 44 plate appearances. FanGraphs’ run values credit Blackburn with the fifth-most valuable hook in MLB this year (min. 50 innings pitched), trailing only Kyle Wright, Shane McClanahan, Corbin Burnes and Framber Valdez. Among pitchers in that subset who actually throw a curveball regularly, Blackburn’s has been the most valuable on a strictly per-pitch basis.
There’s an easy case to be made for the A’s simply hanging onto Blackburn even if (or when) they trade Montas. While both are controllable beyond the current season, Montas is a free agent after the 2023 campaign and will see his $5MM salary jump close to $10MM next year. His trade value won’t ever be higher than it is over the next few weeks. Blackburn, however, is controlled for three more years beyond the current campaign. The A’s may well decide that’s enough value to hang onto him — particularly if the offers aren’t all that aggressive given the right-hander’s lack of track record prior to the 2022 season.
At the same time, money was the general driving force behind Oakland’s offseason teardown, which stripped the payroll to just under $50MM — second-lowest in all of Major League Baseball ahead of only the rebuilding Orioles. The A’s don’t have a single guaranteed contract on the books for 2023, so payroll should be less of a concern than ever, but Blackburn will reach arbitration for the first time this winter and see his salary jump from its current $710K to somewhere north of $2MM. Oakland will have to spend at least some money on a few players, and Blackburn seems like a solid, affordable option to plug into the rotation at least for the next couple seasons. There’s also a bit of “found money” appeal to the idea of getting a potentially decent return for a starting pitcher who cleared waivers in Feb. 2021 and was barely on the big league radar prior to the 2022 season
It’s unlikely that the A’s will aggressively shop Blackburn, but controllable pitching is the most coveted resource at the trade deadline, so teams will at least inquire about the right-hander’s availability. And the A’s, in the midst of their most aggressive step-back in years, aren’t likely to take any player off the table unless they can control him for five or six more years. That’ll likely lead to some conversations about Blackburn and perhaps about lefty Cole Irvin as well — though Irvin is controllable for an extra year over Blackburn and has some more questionable secondary marks to go along with rather glaring home/road splits. Blackburn, of course, isn’t the ace that his rudimentary ERA currently suggests, but contending clubs need capable innings to round out the middle or back-end of their rotation as well, and he certainly appears capable of filling that role for the foreseeable future.
I’ll open by dismissing a recurring rumor. No, the Cardinals are not going to pursue Montas. No matter what. They aren’t going to part with the prospects it would require, and Mo is never going to admit he underestimated the need for starting pitching. Not going to happen.
Looking at Cards prospects they wouldn’t need to give up one of their top 3 to get Montas. Cards have a lot of good hitter the A’s could use.
The A’s would demand Brendan Donovan as he fits their high OBP model, McGreevy/Graffido (sp) and a lesser prospect. They’d have no interest in a guy like Burleson who seldom walks and they know guys like Gorman, Walker, and Winn are untouchable.
Lol they could demand Donovan all they want they won’t get him…Donovan is probably more untouchable than all the cardinals prospects…the cardinals don’t need Montas…they have Flaherty coming back tomorrow and Matz by the end of the month…Flaherty, Mikolas, Waino, Hudson, and Matz…where is Montas supposed to fit in there…the cardinals will not go after a starter when they have those five and woodford, Pallenta, and Liberatore to spot start…they should go after another bullpen arm but they also have Hicks who will be back and pitching out of the bullpen…I would be surprised if they do anything
Where do you get Matz will be back by the end of the month? Mo said yesterday he just received ANOTHER injection. That’s not good.
Well they need to. Even with those names mentioned TJ, Wittgren, and VerHagen are DFA-worthy.
Paul Blackburn looks like Randy Dobnik. No fastball, pitches well when he throws strikes, injury history. Solid pass.
One of the things the A’s rea doing is making a team take Trivino in a Montas trade because they don’t want to release Trivino and his 3 million salary. This might be holding up some of the trade offers. Fisher is so cheap he will do anything to save money. Also with braves losing their 2B I would not doubt Kemp gets traded soon to them for some mid level prospect.
This guy feels way too much like a Tommy Milone kind of acquisition…
would like to see him play for the Pirates, just because of his last name! Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week
Man, the A’s are one moribund franchise. Nobody comes to the games. (average 8,283 per game) Low revenue. Terrible stadium situation. It’s too bad that a team with lots of past glory is in the dumpster. Can Billy Beane pull off another resurrection?
You can blame the owner for all of that. Refuses to spend any money on a player. Will only pick up players at the minimum wage. Refuses to sign a new stadium in Oakland instead waiting for billions in free money from other cities. Fisher is the worse owner of any sport franchise in the world.
In 2021 the A’s were playoff contenders.
The cheap owner allowed his FO to give free agent Trevor Rosenthal a $11m contract – 10% of their total payroll cost. Rosenthal never threw a pitch in 2021.
In 2021 the A’s finished 29th in team home attendance – 2nd last in MLB. Their TV ratings are terrible.
I doubt that even 10% of those that have come on here for years making the same tired comments complaining about the A’s have spent a cent on them in that time.
The owner spent for Rosenthal in 2021. He got nothing on the field, and the “fans” didn’t show up. He’d be a fool to lay out even more money in 2022.
You left out a few things. Like the third lowest payroll in 2021. You name one player given $11 million but the closer they had became a FA and sign for 3x that amount. Also TR was the only FA they signed besides bottom of the barrel players.
fans didn’t show up in a Covid year. Seriously are you one of the owners making weak excuses. Attendance last year was down 33% over all. in MLB. I doubt you even know the history of the A’s and the terrible ownership that doesn’t even want to pay minor leaguers enough to cover housing cost.
Why should fans care if the owner gives them the finger and trades away all the players and surround the team with AAAA players that will not even be on a MLB roster in 3 years? I am wondering if you work for the A’s?
Your statement is almost verbatim what has been said about the Oakland A’s this entire century. They’ve been successful and rebuilt several times. The playoffs being a sprint…a little luck…and rheyd have several moribund world series titles.
Don’t the A’s need to Hold on to young, cheap and good Players? Blackburn is exactly that, making like minimum wage, I say KEEP HIM.
Trade someone else.
Judging at the Early returns from Christian Pache and Kevin Smith, whom Scouts always questioned their Hit tools,, I just don’t trust our FO to ask for the right players in any trades at the Deadline. Keep Blackburn.
Steve mentions that possibility in the article. Sometimes being at least willing to discuss a player opens up the lines of communication between clubs and can facilitate deal-making.
Both Smith and Pache were traded to the A’s because they were cheap and Frost the GM thinks he can hit a home run on minimum wage. Both have showed no signs of being a future all star or even enough to be a journey man player. In watching the A’s for almost 50 years I can say this is the worse team they fielded if you don’t count the starting pitching.
This is where Mets fans chime in: trade every prospect we have for whomever is available at the moment even though we are already in first place. We’ll have time to complain about why our farm system is so barren later.
@Cosmo2 I agree with you for once, I wouldn’t trade any of our prospect for the guys mentioned in the article. However, I’d trade Baty or Mauricio (only 1) in a heartbeat if it ment we would be getting someone like Castillo or even David Bednar if he comes with Quintana
I’d still be hesitant but, yea, those deals make more sense; the point is, if we are going to trade prospects let it be well thought out and let it be for the right players. Not just the headline of the moment, which so many fans get caught up in.
Mendoza Line 215
LFG- Bednar will not be traded for four of the very young players types that you mention.
Quintana has cooled down some but unless he bombs out the Pirates should get a reasonably good AA prospect for him.
Flags Fly Forever Cosmo.
Still no reason to give up the future. That’s how you win only one. Wanna win more? Can’t treat individual seasons as if they are all that matter. Can still win it all while still considering the future. That way you do it without necessitating an imminent rebuild. “Flags fly forever” is lazy thinking in my opinion. I want a dynasty, not a slightly better roll of the dice for a mere one or two seasons.
the BABIP and fly ball/HR rate don’t scare me but that strand rate is kinda scary
The As would be foolish not to trade Blackburn. Even though other clubs aren’t going to be fooled by his numbers this season, it’s still an opportunity to sell high on a guy that will probably never pitch this well again.
Amen to this brother!
3.5 years of control here, and knowing the A’s, they will ask for a trash return. Looks lije a good idea to trade for.
He’s got “Cardinals No 3 rotation” written all over him…
No he doesn’t…the cardinals don’t need a starter
The Cubs should let the Yankees trade Clint Frazier for Montas. Frazier got superstar status in the future!!!11!
That made me laugh because before Frazier was released by yanks some of their fans acted like he would part of a Olson deal.
Sure, but this joke was old a year ago.
I’ve never heard of this guy until reading this but I’m pretty skeptical that teams will be willing to trade anything of real consequence for a guy with only 2 months of track record
Dumpster Divin Theo
Take these broken wings and fly away