Monday afternoon, the Oakland Athletics lost their third straight game (CLE 5, OAK 3) and their fifth in the last seven games. They are 22-28 with a minus-46 run differential overall, both the second worst marks in the American League. Only the Kansas City Royals have been worse (21-29, minus-53).
Of course, it's not terribly surprising the A's are in last place. They went 69-93 last year and 68-94 the year before that, and they didn't add a ton of talent to their roster over the winter. Contention was always a long shot, and a shakier than expected pitching staff and a brutal team defense -- the A's have committed 51 errors in 50 games, 13 more than any other team -- has all but closed the door on a postseason berth already.
Add second baseman Jed Lowrie to the list of players on whom the Athletics will field trade offers – Lowrie, batting .293 with an .837 OPS, has been one of the team's best hitters, and his relatively modest contract includes a $6.5 million salary for this season and $6 million club option for 2018.
The A's have not yet gone for a full blown Astros-style tear downs during the Billy Beane era -- only five times from 1998-2014 did the club finish under .500 -- even though it might be the best thing given their payroll. Oakland needs cheap production to contend and they aren't getting a ton of it right now.
So, with that in mind, let's look at the players the A's could offer to contending teams (or even non-contenders, for that matter) at the July 31 trade deadline. Whether Beane and his staff decide to clean house and tear the whole thing down remains to be seen.
Yonder Alonso feels like a "must trade" to me. His 14 home runs are already five more than his previous career high, and while keeping a breakout player and building around him make sense, in this case it doesn't. Alonso is going to be a free agent after the season, and the longer his power surge continues, the less and less likely it is the A's will be able to afford to keep him.
Possible Suitors: There aren't many contenders in need of first base or DH help right now. As we saw in the offseason, the market isn't exactly robust for those guys. The Yankees are one possible suitor as long as they stay in the race and Greg Bird's ankle continues to be a problem.
Left-handed relievers are always in demand, so finding a trade partner for Sean Doolittle shouldn't be a problem. The question is whether he'll be healthy enough to trade -- he is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder issue -- and what teams are willing to give up to get him. Doolittle has had quite a few injury problems in recent years and that's going to scare clubs. They don't want to trade prospects for a guy only to have him wind up on the disabled list. It could make sense for the A's to hold on to Doolittle for the time being, then look for a trade in the offseason, after he (hopefully) stays healthy in the second half and rebuilds trade value. (Doolittle's contract includes club options through 2020.)
Kendall Graveman has turned himself into a rock solid starting pitcher since coming over from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson trade, . If you're only going to throw one pitch, a bowling ball sinker at the knees is a good pitch to throw. Graveman is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder issue for the second time this season, which will undoubtedly give trade partners pause. That said, Graveman won't qualify for free agency until after the 2020 season, so a team could still take the plunge with an eye on having him for the future, not necessarily 2017.
Possible Suitors: The fact Graveman is under control for three more seasons beyond this one opens up his market considerably. Even rebuilding teams like, say, the Phillies and Brewers could consider him. The Yankees, Royals, and Orioles are three clubs with a clear need for both short and long-term rotation help.
A lat stain forced Sonny Gray to start the season on the disabled list, and it's the same injury that limited him to 117 innings with a 5.69 ERA last season. (He also had a forearm issue in 2016.) Since returning earlier this month though, Gray has looked very much like the Cy Young candidate he was in 2015, when he finished third in the voting and had a 2.73 ERA in 208 innings. Gray struck out 11 in seven innings of one-run ball last time out.
The Athletics have a history of trading their best players once they start to get expensive (Donaldson, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, etc.) and Gray is reaching that point as well. He'll earn $3.575 million this season and have his salary climb even higher through arbitration in 2018, and again in 2019 before qualifying for free agency. It stands to reason the club will make him available soon, if not at the trade deadline.
Obviously the injuries, especially the recurring lat issues, are a red flag. Teams will have to weigh that risk against the potential reward, which is an ace-caliber starter under team control for two more seasons beyond this one. Pitchers like Gray, an ultra-competitive bulldog with a bat-missing curveball on the right side of 30, are always going to be in high demand. My guess is the A's would be able to find a team to meet their asking price despite the lat issue.
Possible Suitors: The Yankees (again) and Dodgers seem like two serious candidates for Gray. The Yankees need the long-term rotation help and they certainly have the prospects to trade. The Dodgers aren't as desperate for pitching help, but with the future of Clayton Kershaw (opt-out after 2018), Rich Hill (nagging injuries), and Julio Urias (innings limits) a little up in the air, they could pursue Gray. The Red Sox, Nationals, Orioles, Mariners, Cardinals, Cubs, Astros, and Rangers could get involved too.
Very quietly, Lowrie has been one of the most productive second basemen in baseball this season. He ranks fifth among all full-time second basemen in both WAR and OPS+ (133 OPS+). Lowrie is also a switch-hitter, which is always nice, plus you could stick him at shortstop in a pinch. I wouldn't advise doing that regularly, but if necessary, he can do it. Add in the fact Lowrie can be retained next season through a $6 million club option, and he could be mighty attractive.
Possible Suitors: Here's the kicker: shockingly few contenders need second base help. I suppose the Diamondbacks could take a shot given Brandon Drury's ability to play other positions, otherwise which teams need a second baseman? I don't see any right now. An injury could always open a spot, of course.
Did the Athletics miss their best chance to trade Stephen Vogt? Yeah, probably. Two years ago he put up a 117 OPS+ as a 30-year-old and was a first-time All-Star. Now he has a 74 OPS+, will be 33 after the season, and is two years closer to free agency. That isn't to say Vogt is a bad player. Just that his trade value isn't what it was a few years ago. Catchers are always in demand -- Vogt can also fill in at first base as well -- and surely the A's would be able to find some team to take Vogt of their hands. The question is whether they offers will be good enough to facilitate a trade. Vogt might be more valuable to the A's on their roster than anything he could bring back in a trade.
Possible Suitors: Hmmm, I'm not sure, now that I think about it. The Blue Jays could bring Vogt in to back up Russell Martin, I suppose. The Mariners are a fit depending on their patience with Mike Zunino. The D-Backs are getting by with Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis (and Chris Herrmann) for the time being. Catchers have a way of getting banged up though. It's very possible an injury will create a trade suitor for Vogt between now and July 31.
The A's have a few other players they could make available at the trade deadline, such as Ryan Madson and Santiago Casilla, though their contracts may be an obstacle. They're signed through next year. I could see the A's trying to cash in on Andrew Triggs' surprising success before the other shoe drops. Would they trade Sean Manaea? I wouldn't rule it out, but it would surprise me. Gray is, far and away, Oakland's best trade chip at the moment. Others like Alonso, Doolittle, and Lowrie figure to generate some trade interest as well.