July 21, 2024

One team leads the AL West, while the other is in last place. Can two rivals help each other improve?
To no one’s surprise, the Oakland Athletics are not viewed as strong playoff contenders for 2024. With a 32-56 record, a -101 run differential, and FanGraphs playoff odds of 0.0%, things are looking bleak for the green and gold. Having said that, they’re known to be aggressive during trade season, trying to strengthen their franchise’s future. With the Mariners in a winning position, who should they look to acquire?

OF Brent Rooker – .261/.338/.515

Brent Rooker on 10-day injured list by Oakland Athletics - Sactown Sports

 

At the top of the list is Oakland’s best bat. There will surely be a lot of demand for Rooker, and with good cause. His breakout 2023 season saw him post a.817 OPS in 526 bat appearances, and he’s having an even better 2024.

Along with his current 145 OPS+, his 15 doubles, two triples, and 16 home runs highlight his strongest attribute: power. Sure, he strikes out a lot (34.1%) and whiffs a lot (35.5%), but when he makes contact, his exit velocity is in the top 10% of qualified batters. Furthermore, his barrel rate of 16.5% and average launch angle of 19.2 degrees enable him to score so many extra base hits.

Rooker has mostly been used as a designated hitter in Oakland, which could explain his offensive comeback. Having less defensive responsibility normally allows players to perform better at the plate, although some of baseball’s top players (Aaron Judge, Gunnar Henderson) have played elite defensive positions and still rake. Rooker primarily plays corner outfield and has been a below-average defender, so who would he replace?

The obvious answer is Mitch Haniger. He’s in the second year of a rather expensive $28 million contract with a ’25 player option, but he just hasn’t been able to deliver thus far in 2024. His -0.8 rWAR is the result of a.614 OPS and -5 defensive runs saved. Rooker would hardly be playing Ichiro-esque defense in right field, but he would be a significant offensive increase, which Seattle requires to compete at the next level of baseball.

OF JJ Bleday – .242/.323/.439

Oakland Athletics' JJ Bleday showing progress in second season

 

Rooker had his breakout season in 2023, and Bleday is enjoying his this year. After two disappointing seasons, he is now swinging the bat with ill intentions. He has already hit 22 doubles, three triples, and 11 home runs.

He doesn’t hit the ball as hard as Rooker, but he has much better plate discipline, striking out at a more manageable 19.0% rate and walking at a solid 10.3%. Bleday’s average launch angle of 18.8 degrees and sweet-spot rate of 37.6% help compensate for his league-average exit velocity by limiting ground balls. He has even splits versus both lefties and righties and a fairly balanced hitting profile, which Seattle could use.

Bleday has played center field throughout his major league career, but he has also spent time on the outfield corners. He’s another strong option to replace a struggling Mitch Haniger. Furthermore, he isn’t a fantastic defender, but he’s not as poor as Haniger or Rooker this season. He only has -2 defensive runs saved and -1 outs above average, so he’s getting closer to sufficient.

RP Lucas Erceg – 3.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Lucas Erceg: Oakland's Other Breakout Reliever | FanGraphs Baseball

 

With Gregory Santos on the mend and currently on a rehab assignment with the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners’ bullpen may not require any aid. However, it remains to be seen how effective Santos will be, and another reliever would not harm, especially if it is reasonably priced for the team.

Lucas Erceg is one of numerous hidden stars in Oakland’s bullpen that work in the shadow of superstar Mason Miller. Spending the most of this year as Miller’s setup man, he’s striking out opposing batters at a 27.6% clip while having whiff (31.6%) and chase (32.4%) percentages among the top 15% of qualified pitchers. His slider is particularly vicious, with a 56.5% strikeout rate and a.043 opposing batting average. With a sinker/four-seam duo that both reach 98.5 mph, it’s no surprise he’s had success.

The Mariners will already have to decide who to let go to make place for Santos. Right now, it appears that Eduard Bazardo will be optioned first. If the Mariners opt to sign someone like Erceg, Mike Baumann could be next to depart. He doesn’t have any alternatives left, thus he’ll have to be designated for assignment unless he’s traded himself. For an arm talent like Erceg, it may be a vital move.

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