Athletics’ general manager David Forst recently spoke to Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle to discuss the state of the team coming out of the All-Star break and moving towards the July 30 trade deadline. The club is planning on making additions, which is unsurprising given that they are currently holding down a wild card spot and are also just 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Astros in the AL West.
More specifically, the team seems to be focused on bullpen upgrades, a need that was recently exacerbated by Trevor Rosenthal’s season-ending surgery. “It’s a little different math now that Trevor’s not going to be part of this group in August and September,” Forst said. “But I think we still see the bullpen as a place we would hope to augment.” Forst and the A’s will seemingly be quite open-minded as to the kind of relievers they target, not worrying about specific roles they have played. “I think our focus is just on best pitchers available and not necessarily guys who have experience closing.”
Even without Rosenthal, the bullpen has held relatively steady in Oakland. Their collective 3.92 ERA is good enough for 11th in the league. But advanced metrics are a bit more skeptical of that mark, with FIP putting them at 4.27 and xFIP at 4.73.
And there could be some help coming from their minor league clubs. Forst says he sees A.J. Puk as “being someone that gets called on up here” and Jesus Luzardo could be an option but “he obviously needs to get some things straightened out down there before he’s a consideration to come back.”
Of course, with the A’s, the budget is always a question. Roster Resource currently estimates the payroll to be $86MM. The team has gone above that in recent years, but not by much. According to Cot’s Contracts, they’ve gone as high as $95MM, in 2019. If the team is willing to go to that range again, that certainly leaves room for shrewd bullpen additions.
But what about a bigger splash? Shortstop stands out as an area of need. Oakland’s shortstops have produced a wRC+ of 61 and an fWAR of -0.1, both numbers putting the team near the bottom of the league. And those are primarily attributable to Elvis Andrus, who has started 87 of Oakland’s 94 games thus far. However, Forst seems uninterested in entertaining the idea of moving on from Andrus. “Elvis is the shortstop,” Forst said. “His defense has been outstanding, his energy and positivity in the clubhouse never waned. I know Bob will tell you how valuable he’s been off the field and his on-field play the last six weeks has absolutely matched that.” These statements always have to be taken with a grain of salt, of course. A public statement could be part of a negotiation strategy that belies the club’s true intents.
But even if the A’s do try to find a new shortstop, it will be more challenging than upgrading the bullpen, given their aforementioned budget-consciousness. Trevor Story is widely believed to be traded this month. But he’s still owed more than $6MM of his $18.5MM salary. Javier Baez is slightly more affordable, with about $4MM remaining of his $11.65MM salary. But it’s still possible the Cubs could retain and extend him. Andrelton Simmons has a salary of $10.5MM but isn’t a huge upgrade over Andrus, given his wRC+ of 73 and fWAR of 0.1 this year. Of course, Andrus himself is making $14MM this season, which could allow the A’s to include him as ballast and increase the prospect payout to keep a deal relatively financially-neutral.
Adding a reliever would be much simpler. Looking at the trade candidates laid out last month by MLBTR’s Steve Adams, the top relievers on the list are Richard Rodriguez, Ian Kennedy, Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia. Of that group, the highest paid is Kennedy, with a salary of $2.15MM this year, leaving less than a million to be paid out. A slight shakeup in the bullpen could help the A’s strengthen the relief corps as they try to charge into a pennant race.