It's a strange season in Major League Baseball, since the Oakland Athletics—with their 38-49 record as of Saturday morning—are 20.5 games out of first place in the American League West Division, yet only seven games out of the final AL playoff spot. But teams have overcome bigger deficits than that in the past to make the postseason: the Kansas City Royals, for example, were ten games behind in the chase for the top 2014 wild-card spot on July 23 that year, and they ended up making it all the way to the World Series.
However, it's highly unlikely these A's can pull off that feat, for a few reasons which we don't need to enumerate here. Suffice it to say, the Oakland roster currently lacks the talent to make such a charge, especially in the starting rotation which currently ranks ninth in the AL with a 4.65 ERA. For comparison, when Oakland made the post-season in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the team posted numbers of 3.80, 3.72 and 3.37, respectively, in the statistical category.
Therefore, in keeping with the tradition of trading away salary and talent before July 31, here are five players we think the A's should trade by the end of the month in order to come back a better team next season (in alphabetical order):
1. Yonder Alonso, 1B: It's great that he made his first All-Star Game at age 30, but Alonso is having the season of his career with 19 home runs, 42 RBI and a .935 OPS, currently. Making just $4 million this year, he's cheap enough to trade and playing well enough to bring a nice haul back in return. It's unlikely Alonso will ever play this well again in his career, based on past precedent and statistical realities. This year could turn out to be a fluke in his career, so trade him now while his value is highest, Oakland front office.
2. John Axford, RP: Yes, what team would actually take this guy in a trade? First, bullpen depth is always valued for teams charging toward a postseason berth, and Axford has closing experience (144 career saves). That is valuable to a contending team, even if he isn't pitching well right now (5.95 ERA this year). His career 10.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched mark still has weight, so all the A's need is some desperate team to take a chance on Axford as his modest contract comes to an end this season. Anything in return is a plus for Oakland.
3. Santiago Casilla, RP: This was a bad signing for the A's to begin with, and, like Axford, the Oakland "closer" isn't pitching well in 2017 (as his 1.344 WHIP demonstrates) despite past success elsewhere. Again, bullpen depth has value at the trade deadline, and Casilla is owed about $8.5M through the end of 2018. That's nominal for most contending teams to absorb for a guy with World Series experience (three rings with the San Francisco Giants and a 0.92 postseason ERA in 19 2/3 innings), even if he's turning 37 later this month. Oakland still would have Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson on hand to save games for the club, as well. Both are better pitchers when healthy and signed through 2018, as well.
4. Rajai Davis, OF: After being a postseason hero for the Cleveland Indians last year, Davis just hasn't played enough (or well) in Oakland this year. He has obvious value, however, for any team in the postseason, with his unique power/speed combination off the bench. Davis stole a career-best 43 bases last season in Cleveland, but the A's just haven't utilized him much this year (14 SBs in only 68 games). Oakland can get some prospects in return for Davis, who might end up in Cleveland again since clearly Indians Manager Terry Francona knows how to use him best.
5. Jed Lowrie, IF: Lowrie can play every infield position if need be, as he has played them all in his career. There are rumors Boston may be interested in him to play third base, for example, although he's only played second this year in Oakland. Lowrie's contract is on the higher side, but he's a veteran presence that can be valuable for any postseason contender. Hitting over .270 in 2016-17 with the A's has restored his credibility, too, after a few down years (2014-15) where he struggled to hit .240 combined. Oakland has replacements ready made in the infield already, as well, so the team won't miss him.