Expect A's to shed players by deadline

The Oakland Athletics have trudged deeper into last place, and it is a virtual certainty that their cast will change before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Oakland Athletics are scheduled to face the Mariners on Aug. 1.

But no one knows how many of these Oakland Athletics will be at that game in Seattle.

The White Shoes trudged deeper into last place Tuesday by dropping an 8-3 decision to the Tigers, and it is a virtual certainty that the cast will change before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. You may have heard that Billy Beane enjoys making trades. Well, this group is giving the general manager good reason to exercise the full expanse of his creativity.

The A’s are 13 games under .500. They will miss the postseason for the seventh time in eight seasons. They have the worst average attendance in the American League. And the following players are mere months away from free agency: David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, Hideki Matsui, Conor Jackson, Rich Harden, and (if his option is declined) Michael Wuertz.

The farm system is thin at the upper levels, so even more veterans could be flipped for prospects — hence rumblings about relievers Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Craig Breslow, and closer Andrew Bailey.

“It is what it is,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It is that time of year. There is a lot of talk about that. I try not to take too much stock in that, because for the most part they are just rumors. It’s just something every team has to deal with when they are in the position we are right now.”

The San Diego Padres have a celebrated warehouse of relief pitchers — Chad Qualls! Mike Adams! Heath Bell! — but don’t be surprised if the A’s lead the majors in trades over the next 12 days.

The Rangers, Orioles, Giants, Pirates, Blue Jays, Brewers and Reds had scouts at Tuesday’s game in Detroit. Texas, while a division rival, would like to add a reliever such as Bailey or Balfour to its bullpen. Milwaukee is in the market for left-handed relief and has interest in Breslow.

But of that group, the Pirates and Reds may be the best candidates to trade with Oakland. Both clubs are interested in relievers and outfield bats. The A’s could supply either.

In fact, I’ll make a prediction: No fewer than two members of the A’s everyday outfield — Willingham in left, Crisp in center, DeJesus in right — will be wearing new uniforms by the end of this month.

Before Tuesday’s game, I asked Willingham to guess who will be in Oakland’s starting outfield for that Aug. 1 game. He laughed. “I have no idea,” he said. “You can’t ask me that.”

When friends and family ask about the rumors, Willingham refers them to his wife, Ginger, who apparently knows enough of the industry chatter to become MLB’s 31st general manager.

“She has all the information,” Willingham said. “I don’t keep up with it — or I try not to, unless somebody tells me something. She reads. She wants to know where her family’s going to be, if we get moved.”

And if we were to ask her, would she say that you’re going to be traded?

“She’d probably say yes,” Willingham replied.

Willingham isn’t so sure. (“I don’t have a feeling, really, until they bring me in the office and tell me I’m traded,” he said.) The truth is that his status has a lot to do with his ongoing recovery from a left Achilles’ tendon strain that forced him to miss three weeks. He came back on July 7 and has an impactful 1.045 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in eight games since.

But Melvin felt Willingham needed the day off on Tuesday, which of course will make the scouts scrutinize his body language and explosiveness all the more when he gets back into the lineup. At this time of year, it doesn’t matter much that Willingham’s season has been a disappointment compared with his 2010 production. General managers care only that he (a) has a track record of hitting for power, (b) won’t cost them any money after this year, and (c) is healthy right now.

“Everything’s good,” Willingham said. “I’m hopefully getting over this Achilles’ thing. I’m not completely over it yet. But I’m a lot better.”

DeJesus is in a similar position to Willingham: His 2011 numbers aren’t great, but teams will want him because of the player he could be over the season’s final two months. Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the right thumb injury that cost DeJesus the remainder of the 2010 season — at a time when his trade stock was soaring.

DeJesus says the thumb injury is a non-issue now. But he entered the series with a .654 OPS — more than 150 points lower than last year. So the scouts will wonder.

Hey, he went 2-for-3 on Tuesday. Maybe it’s a start.

“He’s still a good player,” Melvin said. “He’s still a great athlete. He does good things for us on the defensive end. He’ll get hot.”

Crisp is something of a rare commodity — the switch-hitting center fielder. Melvin referenced Crisp’s willingness to play through pain as one of his attributes, citing “a heel injury and finger thing — a lot of different things going on.” Hmm. Melvin meant it as a compliment, of course, but any medical issue in July is of the utmost importance on the trade market.

Maybe that explains why Crisp’s numbers have been pretty ordinary this year. But those statistics matter about as much as those glossy preseason annuals that picked Oakland to win the AL West. For the A’s, this has become a 12-day season. Pack light, gentlemen.

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