A's bolster staff, bullpen ahead of playoff push

Addition of Roark at Deadline gives Oakland three new arms in July

August 1st, 2019

OAKLAND -- Whether it’s been due to injuries or suspensions, starting pitching had become a concern for the A’s, leading general manager David Forst to set a goal of fortifying that aspect of the club as it gears up for a playoff race. That mission was accomplished with the acquisition of Tanner Roark on Wednesday afternoon, the club’s third trade for a pitcher in the month of July.

Adding Roark to a rotation that already features another newcomer in Homer Bailey, who the A’s traded for July 14, now gives the A’s six starters on the active roster. With only five rotation spots, the A’s face a tough decision to figure out whose spot Roark takes. The impending return of 2018 rotation anchor Sean Manaea, who is expected to be called up after one more start at Triple-A Las Vegas next week, will only complicate things even more. But for Forst, it's a good problem to have.

“We’re in a lot better shape than we were at the All-Star break,” Forst said. “We went into the All-Star break worried about what happens if we have an injury or how does our rotation work, and I feel a lot better about it now."

The other addition came July 27 in left-hander Jake Diekman, who arrived from the Royals with expectations to help solidify an A’s bullpen that has struggled to hold down late leads this season with an American League-leading 21 blown saves.

“We’re very happy with all of our acquisitions over the last couple of weeks,” Forst said. “Adding Homer and Jake Diekman and Tanner this morning was what we hoped to accomplish here. We needed starting pitching depth and a back end arm in the bullpen and we were able to finish it off.”

While the chatter earlier this month was about adding multiple relievers before the Trade Deadline, the A’s are fine with Diekman being the only new piece in the bullpen. They are banking on a return to form from Blake Treinen, who after struggling to the point where he was revoked of his closer duties in June, has started to look more like the Treinen of old. The right-hander appears to have regained command of his nasty sinker, as he has thrown it for strikes often to turn in scoreless outings over his last six appearances.

There’s also Liam Hendriks, who went from being designated for assignment by Oakland in 2018 to replacing Treinen as the closer and earning his first career All-Star selection this season at the age of 30.

Add Diekman to those two, and the A’s believe that they have a reliable trio of arms to go to in some combination over the final three innings of close ballgames. It’s something they’ll need over the final two months of the season in a tight playoff race that saw them enter Thursday’s game against the Brewers with a 61-48 record, a half-game back of the Rays for the second American League Wild Card spot.

“We sputtered a little bit at times this year. It hasn’t just been one guy, it’s really everybody to an extent,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of his bullpen. “But you look at the group in totality, it’s a good group.”

In all, the price that the A’s had to pay for all three pitchers came relatively cheap in terms of prospects. Of the four prospects that left Oakland in the three deals, none were in MLB Pipeline's Top 100. Jameson Hannah, who went to Cincinnati for Roark, was the club’s No. 8 prospect and the highest-rated outfielder in the system. But with three other outfielders among their top 15 overall, the loss of Hannah is one that the organization can withstand given the depth that has been built up.

“We gave up a good prospect. Jameson Hannah is a very good player, a second-round pick, and we wish him the best of luck,” Forst said. “That’s the balance this time of year; how much you’re going to give up depending on whether you have control of a player beyond this season.

“We engaged in conversations for both types of players: Guys who we can control beyond this year and rental types. The three pitchers we ended up with are all going to be free agents at the end of the year, but that’s just how it worked out, not necessarily what we set out to do.”

Oakland didn’t make the blockbuster move. That belonged to the division-rival Astros, who landed right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke just minutes before the 1 p.m. PT Wednesday Deadline, but the A’s have incrementally made themselves better and believe they are in a good position to reach the postseason for a second consecutive year.

“It’s pretty impressive to be able to get two Major League starters who have had nice careers to this point and Diekman,” Melvin said. “It makes us better without a doubt. Give David and Billy [Beane] credit for not just stopping after one or two acquisitions.”