OAKLAND — About one minute after news came down that the Oakland Athletics had acquired coveted right-handed starter Tanner Roark from the Cincinnati Reds, A’s manager Bob Melvin saw a familiar name come up on his phone’s caller ID: Sonny Gray.
“He gets after it,” said the former Oakland phenom and current Reds starter. “He loves to compete and he has a nice track record behind him too. So I know guys will enjoy playing behind him.”
In acquiring Roark — a former teammate of Blake Treinen, and once managed by third base coach Matt Williams — the A’s deepened their starting rotation with a known commodity and clubhouse presence. Roark’s addition capped a series of moves that over-filled the rotation and bolstered the entire pitching staff for a stretch run, without giving up any top prospects.
“Adding Homer [Bailey] and Jake [Diekman] to the team and then Tanner this morning was kind of what we hope to accomplish here,” said Oakland general manager David Forst. “You know, we needed starting pitching depth, we needed a back end arm in the bullpen. And to be able to finish it off with the trade this morning. We’re really happy with getting that done.”
Roark has traditionally been a groundball pitcher (career average of 44.5% of batted balls), he’s been more of a flyball pitcher this year (36.7% grounders). Either way, the spacious Coliseum will help, and Williams — a noted intense competitor in his own right — likes the way Roark competes.
“He’s a guy with a four, really five, pitch mix … throw strikes goes after guys,” Forst said. “I just, I think he’s a good fit for club.”
All three acquisitions — starter Bailey, late lefty Diekman and Roark — have postseason experience. Bailey has allowed one earned run in nine postseason innings, Diekman four in seven and Roark allowing three earned runs in seven innings.
All three acquisitions are also rentals, set to be free agents when the season concludes, meaning their price wasn’t too high. Oakland gave up prospects Ismael Aquino and Dairon Blanco for Diekman, light-hitting minor league infielder Kevin Merrell for Bailey and minor league outfielder Jameson Hannah, a 2018 second-round pick blocked by multiple highly-regarded prospects.
“I think our fans expected this,” said Forst, whose team has the best record in baseball since May 16. “Look, this team has played great. And, you know, ownership was great about wanting to go out and get guys. I mean, we added salary the last week. And in fact, we, you know, we probably could have added more or give up prospects. So John [Fischer] was great. He wanted to go out and do what we needed. So hopefully, you know, hopefully the fans have seen the commitment.”
Oakland had wanted to add another bullpen arm, but nothing materialized to their satisfaction. While tthere is no longer a monthlong waiver-trade period since the advent of the hard-and-fast July 31 deadline, the A’s will keep their eye on the waiver wire, but, other than some injury recoveries, this will be Oakland’s team going forward. One of those injury recoveries, though, could make for some difficult decisions.
Roark is a career 3.66-ERA pitcher, with a 19.2 WAR. Adding him to the rotation will make it decidedly crowded, especially with ace Sean Manaea on track to return from his rehab assignment after Aug. 7. He pitched on Tuesday, a start which assistant general manager Billy Owens attended, so the A’s have some time to work him in, but he and Manaea would likely pitch in the same first turn.
The rotation could consist of Mike Fiers, Manaea, Bailey, Roark and Brett Anderson, but that would leave both Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt out in the cold. Mengden — 5-2 with a 4.85 ERA — could move to the bullpen, but Bassitt has been dominant in stretches this season, going 7-5 with a 3.84 ERA and a .217 opponents’ batting average. Forst said he wasn’t sure just what the rotation would look like.
”I think we’re in a lot better shape than we were at the All-Star break,” Forst said. “I think we went into the break worried about ‘What happens if we have an injury?’ or ‘How does our rotation look?’ and I feel a lot better about it now.”
One thing the A’s weren’t concerned with was what divisional rival Houston was doing. The Astros — who Oakland faces eight more times this season — bolstered their rotation by adding Zack Greinke to the already-difficult duo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
“We can’t really sort of get involved in keeping up with the Joneses,” Forst said. “It’s just never how we’ve operated. We wanted to add a starter. I had no illusions that Houston wasn’t going to go out and do the same thing.”
While the A’s aren’t in the high-rent district by any means, they’re still in the Bay Area. Roark, he told reporters, found out about his trade when he was in the parking lot of an Arby’s.
“It’s not an awful place to be,” Melvin said, “but yeah, I think w we have some Michelin star places around. Whether it’s over here in the East Bay or across the bridge, we can probably find him a good spot to get a quick meal.”