This post continues our rumination on whether the Athletics should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, started here in this post and continued thereafter in this sequel. What started as a simple declaration of stated goals for one team is morphing into a treatise on how to read a team’s potential for the remainder of the season, and how the tea leaves should be read for trade deadline strategy (more on the big picture below).
With the split in the four game series again the Mariners, Oakland has accomplished most–but by no means all–of the objectives I originally set out for them to legitimately consider the possibility of getting back into contention. In the aftermath of the sweep by the Royals a week ago–a brutal bit of failure that will continue to have implications moving towards July 31–I stated that the A’s had to “play well against the loserish Rockies and Mariners–and that means at least 5-2, not barely scraping by with a series win and a split” to consider themselves remaining on the cusp of contention. Well, they didn’t do that, missing the mark by one game by going 4-3 against Colorado and Seattle.
So burn all the papers and back up the truck then? Maybe. The A’s still sit nine games under and in dead last place in the American League. Only if they get blistering hot against the Yankees and Indians on the upcoming road trip will they arrive at the All-Star break within easy sight of a Wild Card position. Indeed, why even consider the A’s for buying at the trade deadline at all, given their lack of accomplishment so far this season?
The answer is, because the stats largely indicate that they should have a much better record than they do. Of all the teams currently more than one game out of a Wild Card spot in the AL, only Oakland has a positive run differential–and at +49, it’s a hefty differential at that. The A’s are sixth in the AL in runs scored per game, and fourth in the league in runs allowed. They lead the league in ERA. But for their wretched defense and subpar relief pitching–both of which are correctable problems–Oakland has the ability to win a lot of ballgames in the second half of the season.
Note those correctables. Defense is simply a matter of working on fundamentals; that’s why the team brought Ron Washington back onto the staff. And how would the A’s correct the relief pitching problems? Trades, of course. That’s why, if they can hang close to the pack, adding a reliever or two–without shipping away any key cogs in the machine–at the deadline might propel Oakland back into contention.
It might be even easier to get back into it than a first glance may make it appear. Tightening the defense and getting better relievers could get the A’s doing more than just taking two of three and winning series; it might propel them onto a long win streak. Right now, Oakland’s longest winning streak of the season is only five games. A long winning streak may seem like the product of chance, but you don’t have to just sit around and wait for one to happen–you can make one happen by improving the team. Again, you do that by making trades.
So where the A’s stand now is right on the cusp. Had they taken the series against the Mariners and won even one game against the Royals last weekend, Oakland would be in a much better position going into this road trip. Now, they need to make a big splash against New York and Cleveland in order to justify holding things together and adding on at the deadline. Four out of six might be enough, but sweeping one of these series (and going 5-1 on the trip) may be necessary to make a run up the standings seem realistic. Otherwise, the smart thing to do would be to trade assets and make the team better for the future.
One may ask, why even ask these questions about Oakland? They’re a last place team heading towards the All-Star break; aren’t they basically the definition of a team out of contention? Perhaps; as noted above, the stats offer more hope than it would appear. And, it’s worth mentioning, the same analysis can be used on every team in the league.
Take Seattle, for instance. Having escaped Oakland with a split, and sitting just five games out of a Wild Card spot (and a game and a half above the A’s), you’d think they might be a better option for adding players at the deadline. But the numbers don’t back that up. The Mariners are sixth in the AL in both ERA and runs allowed, so the pitching is fine; but they are last in the league in runs scored per game–and that’s with quality hitters like Cano, Cruz, and Seager in the lineup. Plus they already sought to address their hitting woes by trading for Mark Trumbo, and it hasn’t really helped. Short of the Mariners current lineup suddenly catching fire, there isn’t a lot of reason to believe that adding another bat will help. Maybe it will–stats are just stats; they don’t tell the future–but the odds are the Mariners would be better off selling at the deadline and bolstering the roster for next season.
Among the rest of the AL’s also rans, nobody stands out besides the A’s as a good bet to add on and go on a run. The Red Sox are dreadful on the mound–they’re last in the league in pitching–and they’re not even scoring runs (9th in the league). Cleveland is middling on both sides of the ball; teams like Texas and Detroit are OK with the bat, but struggling on the mound. If the Blue Jays can add a good arm or two, they’ll immediately become favorites to take the AL East–but pitching can be hard to come by, since everyone needs it, especially at the deadline.
That may be the ultimate decider when it comes to who is a buyer or a seller this July 31st: so many teams are close to a Wild Card spot that everyone may want to buy–and that can’t happen. Every buyer needs a seller, and if nobody outside of Philadelphia wants to ship out arms, many teams that want to load up may be forced to stand pat due to lack of available partners. Thus, making a decision early on selling vs. buying may be crucial for getting the jump on everyone else–and that’s why this upcoming road trip will decide the fate of Oakland’s season…and maybe some other team’s season, too.