The Oakland Athletics have forced themselves into the summer conversation.
A year or two early, they've pitched well enough to sneak up on the presumed wild cards. They've begun to hit a little and really only need a little. Just an average offense would go a long way for the A's, and they were better than average in June, and have been about average in July, enough so that their entire strategy is no longer to wait until Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes have their turns at bat.
Finally, the A's could be an interesting player at the trading deadline. They are one of the few contenders with a surplus of pitching both in their rotation and bullpen. Then, from the disabled list, they could add Brett Anderson in the coming weeks and Brandon McCarthy sometime after that. Minor league right-hander Dan Straily (46 strikeouts in 33 innings at Triple-A Sacramento) could be called up anywhere in between. (Dallas Braden remains a long shot to return before next season.)
Of their toddler starters, only Jarrod Parker might see his innings artificially limited. He's thrown 111⅔ minor- and major-league innings this season. His previous high, established last year, is 130.
Again, what they have is pitching. What they need is the slightest bit of production from the left side of their infield. No American League team gets less punch from its shortstops (Cliff Pennington, Brandon Hicks), and A's third basemen (currently Brandon Inge) are about as feeble.
If the A's were to trade a starter, it likely would be Bartolo Colon, the 39-year-old right-hander who has been more than passable in all but four of his 17 starts. There's also some depth in the outfield and the bullpen. The point is, they have options and they have supply where there is otherwise demand.
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"There's a lot to settle in the next couple weeks," A's assistant GM David Forst said. "We're listening. But we're not looking to significantly change the composition of this team."
And while the club's needs are clear, Forst said, "We're not looking to sacrifice a lot to do it."
That would seem to preclude them from adding the likes of Arizona outfielder Justin Upton.
If something of substance does come along, the A's will add to a payroll that ranks 29th in the big leagues.
And then …
Joey Votto's aching left knee will require surgery and about three weeks on the disabled list, meaning rookie Todd Frazier will go to first and the Cincinnati Reds will hang with Scott Rolen at third for as long as they're comfortable and Rolen's body holds up. At 37, Rolen is batting .199 and doesn't drive the ball much anymore. Being pushed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Reds might be better served to trade for a veteran first baseman and play Frazier more often at third. Philadelphia's Ty Wigginton should be available soon, if he's not already. San Diego's Mark Kotsay could tie them over, as could Miami's Carlos Lee.
Brett Gardner's elbow isn't getting any better and the Yankees are getting below-average production from their left fielders, lately that being Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones and the occasional Dewayne Wise. (Ibanez's four RBIs Monday night – on a grand slam – equaled his RBI production over his previous 63 plate appearances.) The Yankees could make a run at Shane Victorino or David DeJesus, or go bigger with Josh Willingham.
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In danger of losing touch with the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, the Dodgers are trying to engage teams in trades for starting pitching (Ryan Dempster, Cole Hamels, Matt Garza, Zack Greinke, even Francisco Liriano), third basemen (Aramis Ramirez, Chase Headley) and first basemen (Wigginton), but have found the discussions slow. The Brewers appear to be seeking major-league pitching for Ramirez. The Dodgers could also talk to the Phillies about Jimmy Rollins, who has affinity for Los Angeles and presumably would approve such a trade.
Mariano Rivera, on the possibility of pitching this season, to ESPN Radio: "Definitely, that's my goal. I'm not thinking about it because if it doesn't happen, I'd be disappointed. So, I'm taking it day by day. I'm working hard. I don't want to put something in my mind. I want to make sure I do my things first. Focused, optimism, confidence."
It's fluid, but here's a rundown on teams seeking starting pitching: Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers.
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