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Three trades the A’s should consider to improve their rotation

The Athletics finished the 2018 season with four healthy starting pitchers on their 40-man roster — none of them especially reliable.

It is an easy argument to make that their lack of viable starter options played into the A’s Wild Card demise in the New York. And thus far this offseason, the pickings have only grown slimmer for 2018 American League Manager of the Year Bob Melvin when it comes to rotation options.

Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk, Daniel Gossett and Andrew Triggs will each be unavailable when the 2019 season opens, and Paul Blackburn is no lock. So, the front office’s decision to non-tender Kendall Graveman (who would have begun the season on the disabled list anyway) and Mike Fiers leaves Oakland with four 40-man starters currently under contract — that includes Jesús Luzardo, a rookie who will almost certainly be on an innings-limit.

With the Baseball Winter Meetings underway in Las Vegas, now is the time for the A’s brass to make a move toward a more dependable starting staff.

Here are three starters the A’s could acquire via trade

Sonny Gray

Oakland A's vs Kansas City Royals
Injuries to A’s outfielders could force manager Bob Melvin to consider using pitchers like Sonny Gray and Sean Manaea as emergency fielders. Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay

Gray brought a handsome return to Oakland when he was dealt to the Yankees at the 2017 trade deadline, but it is no secret that his time in New York has been far from ideal — for him and his new team.

Though he has enjoyed stints of success, Gray, 29, has posted a 15-16 record with a 4.51 ERA and 1.416 WHIP in pinstripes, far from what was expected when his acquisition cost the Yankees a trio of top prospects. While he has been far from his All-Star form of 2015 for quite some time, perhaps a return to Oakland is just what the former ace needs to rediscover top-of-the-rotation form.

Over five seasons in the green and gold, Gray went 44-36 with a 3.66 ERA — inflated by a 5.69 in an injury-riddled 2016.

Oakland’s minor league system is not exactly stacked, but the market for Gray makes him very affordable. The A’s could keep the original additions from New York, Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo, and get Gray back for one mid-level prospect.

Alex Wood

Wood, 27, went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.057 WHIP two short years ago, anchoring a rotation that carried the Dodgers into the World Series. He was demoted to the bullpen last season, but not for his own failures necessarily — he went 8-7 as a starter. Instead, it was an embarrassing abundance of dominant starting for the back-to-back National League Pennant winners.

The deceptive lefty has worked more than 150 innings in each of the last two seasons, something only Manaea has done for the A’s, and only once in his career finished a campaign with an ERA above 3.84.

Unlike Gray, Wood does not seem to be on the downswing, and thus would demand far greater in return. Adding the North Carolina native would require the A’s to part ways with minor leaguers the likes of Kaprielian, Sheldon Neuse or Richie Martin, and most likely more than one.

Madison Bumgarner

Houston Astros vs San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) reacts after pitching a complete game on five hits in the 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Scot Tucker/SFBay

Sure, this may be a bit of a pie-in-the-sky aspiration but Bumgarner is the top starter name currently floating.

Now 29, Bumgarner has been the Giants’ ace for nearly a half-decade and led the cross-bay rivals to three World Series titles. There is a clear drawback: the four-time All-Star has suffered season-shortening injuries each of the last two years.

When healthy, though, the lefty would give the A’s a bona fide ace, a starter  that eats innings while keeping his club in every game. What’s more? Bumgarner is one of the top postseason performers in the long history of Major League Baseball, with an 8-3 record and 2.11 ERA.

The asking price is high — sky-high. Acquiring Bumgarner would demand the A’s give up multiple top prospects, like Austin Beck, Lázaro Armenteros and perhaps Puk or Luzardo.

Going for Bumgarner would cost Oakland some of its future, but that is often the cost of chasing the crown now.

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47)
Gonzalez will take his 3.12 ERA and 197 strikeouts to the Nation’s Capital. (Keith Allison/Flickr) Keith Allison/Flickr

Should the A’s decide not to make a splash via trade, adding any of the aforementioned names or any others, includin Zack Greinke, options are available in free agency. Matt Harvey and Matt Shoemaker represent the mid-level, where Oakland would likely shop, while Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ are among the top-tier targets. Of course, the returns of past A’s Trevor Cahill — who was among Oakland’s available starters in the Wild Card Game — and Gio Gonzalez are each distinct possibilities.

Be it though free agents, high-dollar or otherwise, or blockbuster trade, the A’s have no choice but to add to their rotation depth.

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