As we approach the July 31 trade deadline, the Oakland Athletics are in a position they’ve strived to attain every season that Billy Beane has been the general manager.
Oakland has typically taken two routes in regards to the trade market. They have sold some valuable assets and gotten as much as possible in return if they’re out of contention by the deadline, and they have looked to add a few pieces in order to make a second half push if they have a chance to catch whoever is leading the division.
The A’s are currently a half-game back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West, and as the team continues to win, there’s little incentive for Beane and his cohorts to indulge any possible deals that will disrupt the flow.
This group proved its mettle when it swept the Rangers in the final three games of the season last year to earn a playoff berth, and the front office did most of its work in the offseason to plug any holes that might have prevented the team from making another run this year.
Jed Lowrie and Chris Young were the marquee acquisitions during that time, as well as infielder Hiro Nakajima, who has been rehabbing a hamstring injury in Triple-A Sacramento for the entire first half of the season. Bartolo Colon re-signed for a one-year, $3 million contract to give the team four returning starters, and the A’s got a great look at potential call-ups like Grant Green, Shane Peterson and Michael Taylor during spring training.
At this point, the franchise boasts one of the deepest talent pools in all of baseball.
So in short, Oakland would do just fine to keep the roster as is and ride out the second half of the season and live with the results. But that hasn’t prevented anyone from speculating on what holes they may be trying to plug, and the one position that has been talked about in that regard has been second base.
A couple days ago, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs explored the possibility of the A’s acquiring Chase Utley from the Phillies. With Philadelphia currently sitting 7.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East, there’s still the possibility that they look to buy and not sell, but as Cameron points out, Utley will be a free agent in the offseason, and he’s been thrown around as a possible trade chip should the Phillies stumble and find themselves out of contention.
While there’s much to be said about Utley’s ability as an all-around player, the question is, how much would he give you in comparison to what you’re getting out of Eric Sogard (and Jed Lowrie, who plays second when Adam Rosales is in the lineup at shortstop)? I could go into detail on this, but thankfully Nathaniel Stoltz at Athletics Nation already did that.
To summarize, Utley would be an upgrade, but it would be for substantially more cost, and the upgrade isn’t necessarily sizable enough to justify the move. Additionally, Lowrie’s value right now is at the plate, and the A’s like to have a backup option on hand that can come in at shortstop to shore up the defense. Utley would not be able to platoon in that regard, and the A’s actually have a guy that can who’s doing pretty well with the River Cats right now (Nakajima).
So on the surface, sure, it’d be great to have Utley. But when you look at the logistics of how this team is set up, it’s hard to say he’s a perfect fit, and Beane would likely have to give up a considerable amount to get him.
The idea of giving up a few prospects for a short-term solution isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Much has been made of reports that Jemile Weeks could hypothetically be had in the right deal, and it’s curious that he hasn’t been called up at all this season after being marketed as the second baseman of the future as little as two seasons ago.
Grant Green has gotten the bulk of the starts at second lately in Sacramento with Weeks getting slotted in at DH, and it will be interesting to see if anyone gets moved before the deadline to clarify the situation.
The question in that scenario is, what would the A’s be trying to acquire? The only real need that anyone has really identified (besides a permanent solution at second) is another power bat to add to the lineup, and that’s something that every team is always looking for.
Still, first base is hardly a position Oakland has figured out, although Brandon Moss is a veteran presence in the clubhouse that can hit for power and Nate Freiman has generally impressed at the plate in his rookie campaign.
There are a couple of players available on the market who could help the A’s offense. Adam Lind of the Blue Jays and Justin Morneau of the Twins are two first basemen that could be on the move. Lind is the more valuable of the two, but he’s under contract for three more years, while Morneau will be a free agent following the end of the season. Morneau is a former MVP whose best days are surely behind him, but he’s hitting .290 and could be a nice rental if Beane didn’t have to give up too much to get him.
Ultimately those sort of acquisitions would really seem like a stretch in a season where the A’s have been one of the top American League teams. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The A’s certainly aren’t broke (in an analogical sense; finances are a different story). If the front office can add another arm in the bullpen or another bat on the cheap, then so be it. But it’ll be nice for once to go into the trade deadline knowing that no matter what, the A’s are set up for success going forward.