Athletics ace Frankie Montas, who experienced a worrying velocity drop over the weekend, underwent an MRI that revealed shoulder inflammation, team trainer Nick Paparesta announced to reporters Wednesday (Twitter link via Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle). He’ll receive a cortisone injection and miss his next start, but there’s no further timeline on his absence for now. Notably, the A’s have not yet placed Montas on the injured list, and Paparesta noted that the MRI did not show any structural damage in Montas’ shoulder.
While Montas has avoided the injured list for the time being, it’s still a concerning development for a pitcher who, along with Reds righty Luis Castillo, is widely viewed as one of the prizes of this summer’s trade market. The A’s tore down the bulk of their core over the winter, shipping Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea out in a series of cost-cutting trades that also built up what had become an increasingly thin farm system.
The expectation was that Montas would follow his teammates out the door, but the A’s never found a return they deemed in line with what was reportedly a sky-high asking price. He ultimately stayed put, started for the A’s on Opening Day, and has been the subject of trade speculation throughout the season.
Today’s announcement obviously doesn’t preclude the possibility of a trade, but any recent shoulder issue is going to make interested teams somewhat leery, even if they’ll be able to review all of Montas’ medical records first-hand. And, of course, if the current shoulder ailment is a portent for an absence of any real note, the A’s will likely lose the opportunity to extract peak value a player who was very arguably their most marketable trade chip even dating back to the offseason.
Montas is controlled through the 2023 season via arbitration, meaning they’d have the entire 2022-23 offseason to try again, assuming the right-hander is healthy at that point. They’d also have the first half of the 2023 campaign. That said, the trade value of a healthy Montas won’t ever be higher than it is right now, and if the A’s are unable to move him due to injury, they’ll no doubt be left feeling as though they overplayed their hand.
The 29-year-old Montas has been every bit as good this season as he was in a breakout 2021 showing, pitching to a 3.26 ERA over 17 starts — a total of 96 2/3 innings. The righty’s 25.8% strikeout rate is just barely south of last year’s 26.6% strikeout rate — strikeouts are down league-wide, on the whole — and he’s made improvements in his walk rate (6.2% compared to last year’s 7.3%), ground-ball rate (47.1% to 42.3%), average exit velocity (88.6 mph to 89.3 mph) and hard-hit rate (36.6% to 42.2%). Montas is making $5MM this year and will be eligible for arbitration once more this winter before reaching free agency following the 2023 campaign.