The A's hit a reset button this spring by trading away a handful of stars with an eye towards the future. Holding one of the marquee names of the 2022 Trade Deadline in Frankie Montas, the rebuild continued on Monday, with the right-hander going to the Yankees along with reliever Lou Trivino for four Minor Leaguers.
Montas, whose burgeoning trade stock took a serious hit after experiencing shoulder tightness just before the All-Star break, re-established his value with a pair of solid outings in his return. For the season, Montas is 4-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 19 starts and 109 strikeouts across 104 2/3 innings. His 1.14 WHIP ranks 10th among American League starters.
Montas is under team control through the 2023 season, which A's general manager David Forst cited on multiple occasions as a reason why there was no rush to trade him. The A's wanted a proper return for what they felt was arguably the top pitcher on the market, and they got a package headlined by left-hander Ken Waldichuk -- a product of nearby Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga who was rated the Yankees' No. 5 prospect and the No. 70 overall prospect in MLB Pipeline’s most recent rankings. Also coming over from New York are right-hander Luis Medina (Yankees' No. 10 prospect), left-hander JP Sears (No. 20) and second baseman Cooper Bowman (No. 21).
All four enter the A's Top 30 rankings on MLB Pipeline: Waldichuk at No. 3, Medina at No. 7, Sears at No. 19 and Bowman at No. 29.
“We got three pitchers who are very close to, if not already, Major League ready,” Forst said. “Sears has been in the big leagues and we saw him up close and personal in New York a couple months ago. All three guys we think are close to being in a Major League rotation, and Bowman is a guy that’s having a fantastic first full year out of the Draft. Excited to add all of them to our system.”
The A's received heavy interest from several teams during Spring Training about Montas, who was viewed as Oakland's next star on the move after Chris Bassitt, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Sean Manaea were traded away in the span of three weeks. Despite an encouraging improvement of play over the past month, the focus is on continuing to bolster a farm system that now features several promising prospects expected to help guide the A's back to playoff contention over the next couple of years.
Montas, 29, was originally traded from the Dodgers to the A's in August 2016 and battled some ups and downs as a young pitcher before fully evolving from just a hard thrower to a pitcher with premier stuff. In six seasons with Oakland, Montas went 35-30 with a 3.70 ERA in 114 games (89 starts) and has developed a splitter that has emerged as one of the more dominant pitches in the game.
Trivino, who was drafted by the A's in the 11th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, began the year as Oakland's closer but eventually lost that role after a shaky start. He holds a 6.47 ERA with 10 saves in 39 relief appearances this season.
Waldichuk, 24, will report to Triple-A Las Vegas. He was was a fifth-round selection by the Yankees in the 2019 MLB Draft after starring at Saint Mary's and holds a 3.00 ERA in 50 career Minor League games (48 starts) with 328 strikeouts across 215 2/3 innings. After dominating at Double-A Somerset to begin the 2022 campaign with a 1.26 ERA in six starts, Waldichuk quickly earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he owns a 3.59 ERA in 11 starts with 70 strikeouts over 47 2/3 innings.
Waldichuk brings a four-seam fastball that sits around 92-95 mph with impressive carry up in the zone that leads to plenty of swing-and-miss. His fading low-80s changeup and sweeping slider also grade out as plus when they're at their best, and the lefty has also been working on adding more depth to his curveball. Overall, it's a four-pitch mix that has him just about ready to slot into Oakland's starting rotation.
Sears, 26, has split time between Triple-A and the Major Leagues this season, faring well in seven games (two starts) with the Yankees by posting a 2.05 ERA across 22 innings. He is 1-1 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 games (nine starts) at Triple-A. Given his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame, Sears profiles as more of a multi-inning reliever than rotation piece. Sears will also report to Triple-A Las Vegas.
Medina, 23, is a big arm whose fastball sits 96-99 mph and has been clocked as high as 103 mph with cutting action. He's battled command issues at Double-A Somerset this season, where he's 4-3 with a 3.38 ERA and 81 strikeouts with 40 walks across 72 innings. If Medina can conquer his command issues, he's viewed as a potential front-line starter. If not, the bullpen is his likely destination as a big leaguer. For now, he’ll join the starting rotation at Double-A Midland.
Between the spring trades and Monday’s move, the A’s have significantly enhanced their pitching depth throughout the system. Five of their Top 10 prospects are now pitchers (Waldichuk, Medina, Gunnar Hoglund, J.T. Ginn, Ryan Cusick) they’ve acquired in trades since March.
“I wouldn’t say that in any of the deals we made since March that we necessarily went out to target pitching,” Forst said. “Ultimately, with the organizations we were dealing with, that’s kind of where we landed. Certainty after this deal, you look at the pitchers who have been added to our system over the last couple of months and I feel really, really good about our depth going forward. ... You add these three guys, it’s an exciting group of depth for our system.”
Bowman, 22, was a fourth-round pick by New York in the 2021 MLB Draft. He's flashed plus speed at High-A Hudson Valley, where he's swiped 35 bases while slashing .217/.343/.355 with eight homers and 15 doubles in 80 games.
The A’s still hold a few players whose names have recently been swirling around in trade rumors, including outfielder Ramón Laureano and catcher Sean Murphy. With Tuesday’s 3 p.m. PT deadline quickly approaching, Forst said he expects trade talks to heat up around the league, including his current discussions with other clubs.
“We’re gonna look at the opportunities that are out there,” Forst said. “As with everything, we’re balancing the players that are here now contributing with what we think we can achieve for future teams. I don't have a checklist of things that have to get done before [the Trade Deadline.] We’ll continue to stay abreast of where the opportunities are.
“There’s a chance for anything. The pace usually picks up in the last 24 hours with any deadline in this game. We’ll be ready for anything.”