UPDATED 3:30 p.m.
The Oakland Athletics are 38-0 this season when leading after seven innings. They’re 46-0 when leading after eight. They’ve scored more runs in the eighth (69) and ninth inning (50). Thanks to All-Star closer Blake Treinen and rookie sensation Lou Trivino, Oakland has been one of the best late-inning teams in the major leagues this season.
General manager David Forst last week told Jim Rome that this group of players deserved to stay together, to make a run at the playoffs. Forst and Billy Beane just made this group better.
With the addition of New York Mets reliever Jeurys Familia — in exchange for $1 million of international slot money and prospects Bobby Wahl and Will Toffey — Oakland adds yet another late-inning ace to a team that is surprisingly still in the playoff race despite low preseason expectations. The A’s currently sit four games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card spot.
“Any time you’re bringing another weapon for us to use to win ballgames, the front office makes moves to make the team better, that means that they’re in it with us,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “I recognize here that this is a very good team, and I’ve been in the playoffs three different times with three different teams. This team is a playoff-quality team. No question in my mind. it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together.”
Familia, who will arrive on Sunday, was 4-4 with 17 saves and a 2.88 ERA in 40 relief appearances with the Mets, who are bringing up the rear in the National League East at 40-56, with the fourth-worst record in the major leagues. He’s slated to make $7.925 million this season.
“We thought he was the best guy out there,” said general manager David Forst. “We’ve talked for a few weeks now about what we could do to add to this team. Obviously, the guys have played great, and Billy [Beane] and I have been very open about how we feel they deserve an opportunity. Adding a reliever right now was the best option, and we thought Jeurys was the best guy.”
The 28-year old Dominican Republic native is tied for ninth in the National League in saves and has yielded just one home run in 40.2 innings. He has a .234 opponents batting average, including .185 against right-handed hitters.
Familia, though he’s been a closer, may not start out in the ninth — Treinen has 24 saves already — but he would provide another power arm in the late innings to shorten games, and allow manager Bob Melvin to get more rest for his other relievers. Oakland already has a 3.52 bullpen ERA.
“I think what it does is it allows us not to have to run Blake out there for three days,” Melvin said. “Very rarely have we gone three days in a row with anybody at this point, so it allows us to break it up a little bit, and then on certain days, when we have a full complement in the bullpen, after the fifth or sixth inning, we can pull the plug and run a bunch of closers out there.”
Melvin has never managed an All-Star Game, but now, he’ll be able to see what it’s like: Running out three closer-quality arms in a row in the late innings, each throwing 96-plus.
“I hadn’t thought about it that way, but [they are] three quality-type closers, who are all All-Star worthy,” Melvin said.
Originally signed by the Mets as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, Familia was named a National League All-Star in 2016 when he saved a big-league best and Mets-record 51 games. Over his seven year career, Familia is 13-17 with 123 saves and a 2.66 ERA in 313 games. He leaves the Mets ranked third on their career saves list.
The A’s were able to get Familia without trading any of their most coveted prospects. In years past, Melvin said it’s been painful to lose some key pieces at the trading deadline when the A’s were sellers. He wouldn’t say which loss was the most painful, but he has a few to pick from: Sonny Gray, Josh Reddick, Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir, to name a few.
Over the last month, though, the A’s have gone 21-7, including going 7-3 before the first half ended against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians and AL West-leading Houston Astros. That shifted the thinking in the front office, Forst said.
“It did,” Forst said. “We knew going into that stretch with six against Cleveland and four against Houston, that was going to give us a real good sense of where we were, and guys played great. The thing about this part of the season, is you’re sort of past the marathon phase. This is a sprint now for August and September. All you have to do is play well for another 60 games, and we’ve got a chance to do that.”
Instead of giving up major league pieces, the A’s dealt Wahl and Toffey. Two solid prospects, to be sure, but not the crown jewels of the farm system.
Wahl, 26, made his big league debut last year with Oakland and posted a 4.70 ERA in seven relief appearances. The former fifth-round pick has spent the entire season at Triple-A Nashville, where he was 3-2 with 11 saves and a 2.27 ERA in 34 games.
Toffey, rated as the A’s No. 17 prospect by MLB.com, was batting .244 with five home runs and 32 RBI in 48 games with Single-A Stockton, where he played third base exclusively. The 23-year-old left-handed hitter was the A’s fourth round draft pick last year, and hit .263 with a home run and 22 RBI in 57 games with Short-Season Vermont in 2017.
“It is nice,” Melvin said. “You always want to be in position where you’re potentially adding, so yeah, we’ve had three years where it’s been just the opposite. Three weeks ago, maybe this isn’t a conversation.”