OAKLAND — With just over two weeks to go before Major League Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline, the Oakland Athletics have acquired starting pitcher Homer Bailey from the Kansas City Royals for minor league infielder Kevin Merrell.
It’s the second year in a row the A’s have acquired pitching early during trade season.
Tied for the second AL Wild Card spot and just a game and a half back of Tampa Bay for the top Wild Card, Oakland gets one of the hottest arms in the American League without giving up much. They’ll also get him for two more starts out of Bailey — the first coming Wednesday — than had he been acquired at the deadline.
“It doesn’t mean we’re done,” said general manager David Forst, “but it’s nice to get someone in the rotation we feel makes us better.”
With ace Sean Manaea still rehabbing, an emergent Frankie Montas suspended, left-hander Jesus Luzardo’s timeline uncertain and two of the A’s most exciting starting arms — A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton — expected to come up as relievers for the stretch run, Oakland needed another starter for the stretch run.
“Our starting depth has taken a hit here, obviously,” said general manager David Forst. “… We checked around for some starting pitching. I’d let Kansas City know a few days ago that Homer might be someone we might be interested in.”
Bailey has a career 4.58 ERA (4.80 this season), but over his last eight starts, the 13-year veteran is 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 43 innings. Oakland will now get him for two or maybe three more starts than had they acquired him at the deadline.
“I think that’s the objective,” said A’s manager Melvin. “Try to get as many as you can. If you can get a couple extra in there before July 31, that’s a benefit.”
Against teams currently in position to make the playoffs this season, Bailey has gone 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA, with his one loss coming in a one-inning, early-season disaster at Tampa Bay where he allowed four earned runs. In 12 1/3 innings against those teams, he’s allowed six walks and struck out 11.
“Just looking at the Wild Card with Tampa, Boston and Cleveland and Texas, we’ve got really good teams to go up against,” Forst said. “It’s a huge climb to get to Houston, obviously, and we know that. We’ve known for a while now that the division goes through the Astros. luckily for us, we’ve got a lot of head-to-head matches to try and do it ourselves.”
A fly-ball pitcher, home runs have been a problem for Bailey over the course of his career — he gives up 1.1 home runs per nine innings — but Oakland Coliseum, as former catcher Jonathan Lucroy said last season, is a graveyard for fly balls. From 2010-16, the Coliseum ranked 24th in the Major Leagues in terms of hitter friendliness. This season, the park is 22nd in baseball in home runs per game.
In two starts at the Coliseum in his career, Bailey is 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in 13 innings, with one home run allowed.
“I think everybody’s stuff plays well in this park,” Forst said. “His stuff is great. He’s up to 95, he’s using his split a lot more, so I think our defense is going to be great for him.”
Picked 33rd in the first round of the 2017 draft, Merrell, a 23-year old middle infielder, was slashing .246/.292/.339 this season at Double-A.
“High draft pick, great tools, hasn’t really performed the last two years I think the way he would have hoped,” Forst said. “A lot of ability. You’ve got to give up something to get somehing.”
As with last year’s early acquisitions of Edwin Jackson (signed to a minor league contract in June) and Jeurys Familia (acquired July 21), this move shows faith in the team on the field, which has won nine of its last 11.
A similarly streaking team in 2018 added Mike Fiers and Fernando Rodney in August, and finished with 97 wins.
“The players feel these things,” Melvin said. “They want to feel like the front office is going out and making us better, and typically, they do that … To do it early, we’re not going to wait around until the last minute. If we feel like there’s somebody out there who can make us better, then they’re going to go out and do it.”
The trade for Bailey came together quickly Sunday morning. Bailey was slated to start, and was pulled from his bullpen warmup when the deal was struck. Bailey is making the big league minimum, so Oakland is only on the hook for $250,000 or so for the remainder of the season.
With the trade deadline now firm at July 31 — there’s no more “waiver” and “non-waiver” deadlines — Oakland is still in the market for pitching help, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, which had 18 blown saves all last season, and 16 this year in the first half alone.
“We’ve seen how quickly starting pitching can go down,” Forst said. “We’ll keep an eye on starters, but we have a lot of conversations going on, on reliever options.”