May 3, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Tommy Milone (57) pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Athletics Seeking Starting Pitching: Pipedreams, Reunions and Scouring the Market

In Susan Slusser’s Drumbeat report this morning, she mentioned that the team appears more and more likely to pursue the trade market to bolster their depleted starting rotation.  With a team ERA of 2.94, which is best in the American League, and an 18-11 record that is atop the league as well (although Detroit technically has a higher winning percentage while playing five fewer games), it seems curious that the team would be in the market.

But, not really.  As Slusser points out, the team is 16-2 in games started by Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez; they’re 2-9 in games started by Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and spot-starter Josh Lindblom.  That’s a staggering drop off, and one that will need to be addressed if the A’s wish to make the jump from simply a playoff team, to a World Series team.

As our own Jason Burke opined, the team could shoot for the moon and target a number one starter like James Shields of the Kansas City Royals, but the price tag to acquire such a pitcher would be immense.  The Royals would have to fall out of the race quickly and decisively for them to unload “Big Game” James.  Names like David Price of the struggling Tampa Bay Rays, and “Spellcheck” Jeff Samardzija also come to mind, both of whom would look good in green and gold.  But the chances of emptying the cupboard for a starter like those three seems like a long shot.  There also exists the option to stretch out Drew Pomeranz in Triple A to join the rotation later on, something I would like to see get started right about now.

There are some reasonable targets though who may be ready for the taking sooner rather than later, and they come from a rather frequent trading partner of the A’s.  At 10-22, already 9.5 games out of first place, the Arizona Diamondbacks are a team in free fall, and may look to move tradable pieces before other teams join the sellers market.  Chances are they may give it one more concerted push to resurrect their season in the month of May, but I could see them opening for business by June 1.  In Arizona, two potential reunion opportunities await in tall right hander Brandon McCarthy, and the baby-faced Trevor Cahill.

Both are off to rough starts in 2014, as are just about all of the Diamondbacks pitchers, but there’s reason to believe moving them out of the desert and back to the cool Bay Area would see them return to form somewhat.  I view McCarthy as more of a beneficial target, as he appears to still have short-term upside that I believe Cahill lacks.  McCarthy is a free agent after 2014, so the commitment to him financially would be minimal.

Another reunion possibility lurks on the east coast for the Athletics, the lovable New York Mets starter, the ageless Bartolo Colon.  Many fans were disappointed to see Colon depart for Flushing, NY but hoped Scott Kazmir would be able to fill the void.  Of course nobody was planning on losing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin for the season.  Should the Athletics seek to bring back Colon, the expectations would not be for him to replicate his 2013 season in which he finished second in the AL in ERA, but they would expect him to provide average to above-average innings at the back end of the rotation, something he is more than capable of even at his age.  Colon is signed through 2015, but the Athletics should be able to absorb most of the money owed to Colon, or give up a slightly better player to get the Mets to kick in some cash.  Of course the Mets would have to fall out of the race for this to be a possibility.

There are other names to keep an eye on as the season wears on and the pennant races take shape.  Justin Masterson of the Cleveland Indians; Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays; Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett of the Philadelphia Phillies, Jason Hammel of the Chicago Cubs, and Chris Young of the Seattle Mariners are all names to keep in the back of your mind between now and the July 31 trade deadline.

As I write this Tommy Milone is in the process of getting shelled at Fenway Park, perhaps the most predictable of predictable outcomes.  The Red Sox won it all last year, they’ve proven that they can get the job done on any and all stages, and if the A’s want to be able to hang with the big boys, they’ll need to have better showings than what Straily and Milone have put on this weekend.  The team cannot fall in love with the nice start in the standings, and fall into a trap of complacency, thinking they can simply carry on without Parker and Griffin holding down rotation spots.  When the top three starters (Gray, Kazmir, Chavez) encounter their bumps in the road, who will be there to pick up the slack?  Dan Straily and Tommy Milone have clearly demonstrated it won’t be them.

Tags: Bartolo Colon Brandon McCarthy Dan Straily Oakland Athletics Tommy Milone Trevor Cahill

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