As the trade deadline approaches, the consensus among most baseball insiders and experts is that the options for contenders who need starting pitching are slim-pickings.
Two of the main potential candidates are from the Oakland Athletics in Sonny Gray and Rich Hill, with Hill being the most likely to be traded to a team that needs a great starter in order to play deep into October.
But what if the A’s were to hold onto both pitchers? It certainly wouldn’t make the many, many teams interested in Hill very happy. But who says that the A’s may not surprise everyone? Usually, they take everyone by surprise by making a trade involving an important player. What if they do the opposite?
Hill may be worth more to the A’s than perhaps a top-10 prospect or even a group of prospects. The team already has enough talent in its farm system to field a competitive team by 2018, if not sooner. However, you can’t have a team full of rookies without a couple of veteran presences to guide them and show them by example what it takes to be successful in the major leagues.
Hill could be a big asset to the A’s, whose rotation will definitely include three rookies and (probably) Sonny Gray in 2017, but having that veteran presence could help the youngsters on the mound. Hill has said that he credits a lot of his success to the game-calling of back-to-back all-star catcher Stephen Vogt. He could teach the rookies to trust that their catcher can help them during the game.
The reality is, however, that the A’s trade big name players all the time; it happens often enough that it appears almost certain that Oakland fans will be saying goodbye to the guy they were, at first, unsure would even stay in the starting rotation for longer than a couple of starts.
As it turned out, after his last-minute Opening Day start in place of Gray in which he hit the first batter with the season’s first pitch, Hill has been absolutely brilliant. Currently, Hill is 9-3 in 13 starts with a 2.25 ERA.
What’s more impressive is his ability to amass strikeouts. Hill has struck out 90 batters in just 76.0 innings, or 10.7 batters per nine innings pitched.
If there’s a contending (or even one that’s not) team that wouldn’t want a dominant left-hander with those kind of numbers and a killer curveball, that team would be hard to find. The A’s may not be in contention right now but they, too, may want to hold on to the talented lefty.
Thus far, it has been reported pretty much everywhere that this team or that team wants Hill to help them save their season, including the Pirates, Orioles, Cubs, Yankees, Royals and even the Marlins.
The 36-year-old Hill will be a free agent after the season and will almost certainly be looking at a potentially big payout after his four almost-perfect performances with the Red Sox in 2015 and his year so far with Oakland.
Still, based on their track record, chances are that the A’s will trade Hill. They are well-known for trading upcoming free agents in order to get the biggest haul of prospects possible. They don’t often extend qualifying offers. However, it’s been said that they are comfortable offering one to Josh Reddick. Perhaps they are comfortable doing so with Hill?
There’s actually a chance that Hill would take it or negotiate an extension with the A’s. He is loyal to the core. The A’s were the only team who guaranteed him a place in their starting rotation this winter, something he may not be quick to forget.
It was one he would have to prove himself to keep, but it was easily his best offer. Hill wants to start and every other team he talked to last offseason wanted him in their bullpen. The A’s gave him a chance when nobody else would, and Hill is grateful for that chance.
He talked about the trade rumors surrounding him with reporters on Sunday,
“I know they’re here, but they’re nothing I can control,” Hill said. “My focus is right here, right now. I don’t want to be traded. I’d love to stay here. It’s a good place, the A’s gave me the opportunity and I thank them for that. Things are looking up here.”
Oakland has reasons to keep Hill that go beyond helping the AL West fourth-place team play better in the second half. Hill has reasons he’s loyal to the team.
While the odds are a trade will happen soon, there is still a chance that Hill has let the A’s know how he feels and if they feel he can help them in 2017, there could always be negotiations going on that the public is not aware of.
With all the teams needing a reliable starter to keep them in contention, there’s also a good chance that the A’s may get an offer so good that it’s one they simply can’t refuse. That’s understandable, but for a team already flush with young talent, particularly in the rotation, keeping the veteran Hill around may be more valuable after all.
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