The Oakland A’s announced a few roster moves Saturday morning. The highlight is pitcher Chris Smith being called up to make a spot start in the evening’s game against the Mariners. In addition, catcher Josh Phegley was activated from the paternity list.
To make room on the 25-man roster, infielder Franklin Barreto was optioned back to Triple-A Nashville and catcher Ryan Lavarnway was designated for assignment. The DFA of Lavarnway also opened a spot on the 40-man roster for Smith.
Smith pitched for Oakland last year, eating some leftover bullpen innings toward the end of a last-place season. Expectations were low considering that he hadn’t appeared in MLB since 2010, but in a couple dozen frames he managed a 2.92 ERA, 3.43 FIP, and more than a strikeout per inning. That performance helped earn him another minor league contract from the A’s last winter, and he’s been plugging along in Nashville ever since.
Smith, 2017 AAA: 3.16 ERA*, 74 ip, 64 Ks, 20 BB, 5 HR, 3.76 FIP
* 12 starts (3.23 ERA), 3 relief outings (2.70)
Now, at age 36, Smith will make his first career big league start. He will be the oldest pitcher to make his first career start in 117 years of A’s baseball. The need arose when Jharel Cotton was placed on the disabled list on Thursday, though the team hopes Cotton will be back for his next turn according to Joe Stiglich of NBCS.
Meanwhile, Phegley is back after missing three games to paternity leave. Lavarnway got into the game on Friday and went 0-for-2, but his spot duty is now completed. We might have to wait a couple weeks to find out his fate, with the top possibilities including a return to Nashville or a waiver claim by another team in need of an emergency backstop.
Finally, Barreto returns to the minors after an up-and-down MLB debut. The A’s No. 1 prospect didn’t hit much in his first taste of the bigs, with a 71 wRC+ and a bunch of strikeouts, but he did swat a pair of homers including a dramatic walkoff job against the White Sox. He also flashed impressive speed, including two steals and a couple well-earned infield hits. He did struggle a bit defensively, but that was to be expected as his shortstop skills are not his calling card.
Barreto, 2017 MLB: 8-for-42, .190/.261/.381, 71 wRC+, 2 HR, 4 BB, 18 Ks
All that said, we could see the 21-year-old back in Oakland soon, suggests Stiglich. Veteran middle infielder Jed Lowrie is one of the A’s top trade chips and there is every reason to believe he’ll be dealt before the July 31 deadline. If that does happen, then his departure would clear space for a younger player like Barreto.
Hot takes: Congrats to Smith! The A’s already have a 30-year-old rookie in Michael Brady, and now there’s a second cool story of perseverance on the pitching staff. I don’t expect anything out of Smith, but I’m happy to let him have his day(s) in the sun until Cotton is ready. Rebuilding years don’t have to be all about rookies; there’s room for cool veteran stories too.
As for Barreto, his debut was solid enough. No one reasonably expected him to catch fire immediately, but he showed plenty of encouraging signs along the way. The next step for him is still cutting down on his strikeouts, after a 39% K-rate in his brief stint in Oakland.