HOUSTON — The A’s welcome the All-Star break with open arms, eager for the opportunity to get away for four days, rest up and wipe the slate clean in preparation for the second half.
Problem is, their first half makes it unlikely that the current roster will stay together much longer.
The A’s are 38-51 after closing things out with a 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday. They are 15 1/2 games back in the American League West, and in Oakland history, only the 1979 club (30 1/2 back) and the 2001 club (19 back) faced bigger deficits at the All-Star break since divisional play began in 1969.
That makes it quite likely that the front office will pull the trigger and trade some of their most sought-after veterans before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. Left-hander Rich Hill and right fielder Josh Reddick are the obvious candidates based on the fact that they’re due to hit free agency this winter.
But others, including third baseman Danny Valencia, second baseman Jed Lowrie and relievers John Axford, Ryan Madson and Marc Rzepczynski (another pending free agent) are all conceivable trade chips.
Sonny Gray? It’s not out of the question considering he would command a nice haul even with subpar numbers this season, with so many contenders looking for starting pitching. But considering the 26-year-old Gray only hits arbitration for the first time this winter and is under team control until 2020, the A’s also have incentive to keep him for now.
The speculation and uncertainty is something A’s players know well. They were in a similar boat last year, only the situation wasn’t as bleak. Oakland entered the All-Star break 8 1/2 games off the pace and went 3-2 to begin the second half before starter Scott Kazmir was dealt to the Astros. Reliever Tyler Clippard and utility man Ben Zobrist were traded in the days after.
“I think a lot of us in here have seen it happen,” Reddick said. “(The key) is just not worrying about it. It’s not something we can control or dwell upon. I feel like we’ve just got to come in here, and if and when the moment happens for a person that gets traded, we’ve just gotta keep going. We’ll play a ballgame the next day.”
Reddick insists he’s trying to keep the same mentality for his individual situation. He and the A’s haven’t held contract talks for a while, and being that the A’s are certain to lose him once he hits the open market at season’s end, a trade seems very possible. CSN California reported recently that the Giants are among the teams with interest in him. The Cubs, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Nationals have shown at least some interest and the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that the Royals are eyeing him.
“If I get called into the office and it happens, it happens,” Reddick said of a trade. “If not, I’ll be here for the remainder (of the season) and keep trying to win no matter what. I’m just gonna come in and enjoy my time with my teammates and the time that I’m wearing these colors. We’ll have to just see what happens.”
The A’s led 1-0 and were looking for the game’s final out Sunday when Evan Gattis doubled in the tying run off closer Ryan Madson, who had a rough weekend with two blown saves. He holds a 9.64 ERA against the Astros this season in six appearances (4 2/3 IP). Houston’s winning run scored in the 10th on a throwing error by Valencia at third, whose throw across the diamond on Carlos Correa’s grounder was wide of first and allowed Jake Marisnick to score the game winner. It was one of four errors the A’s made. Offensively, they had just four hits.
“You don’t win many games with four errors, yet we got one pitch away from winning the game,” Melvin said. “The first ones didn’t cost us, the last one did.”
Said Valencia: “I knew I had to get rid of it quick because Correa was running, and I threw the ball wide.”
The silver lining for the A’s was lefty Sean Manaea, who threw seven scoreless innings in the best start of his rookie season. He’s one player who seems guaranteed to stick around beyond Aug. 1, but question marks remain elsewhere on Oakland’s roster.
“You can’t control (trade speculation),” Melvin said. “There’s more notoriety to it nowadays because there’s countdowns and clocks and all that sort of thing. You can’t escape it. But hopefully if we play better as a team, it won’t be impactful, and we’ll keep our guys together.”