Justin Verlander thinks the Tigers influenced the Athletics’ recent pitching acquisitions

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The Athletics made headlines yesterday when they acquired starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. The A’s, who have won the AL West two seasons in a row, are leading the division again by 3.5 games and are 20 games over .500. There’s no doubt that GM Billy Beane is trying to put his team in a position to win a championship.

Tigers starter Justin Verlander thinks his team influenced the A’s to bolster their starting staff. The Tigers, of course, booted the A’s out of the ALDS in a nail-biting fifth game in each of the last two seasons. Verlander threw a complete game shutout against the A’s in Game Five of the 2012 ALDS and threw eight shutout innings in Game Five of last season’s ALDS.

Via MLB.com’s Jason Beck and Matt Slovin:

“I found it very interesting,” Verlander said Saturday. “Really, when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us. No doubt about it in my mind. If they want to win a World Series, they’re envisioning that they have to go through us, and even though it’s been two fantastic series, it’s been heartbreaking for them the last two years.”

[…]

“When you have a team like ours, somebody’s going to go out there and dominate,” Verlander said. “And it just happens the last couple years [against Oakland in Game 5], it’s been me. And I think they felt like they needed that person. Star power in the playoffs goes a long way. Power pitching in the playoffs goes a long way.”

Though the Athletics had done well in the starting pitching department prior to the trade — their 3.30 rotation ERA is fifth-best in baseball — rotation depth was one of their more obvious weaknesses. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have been among the best one-two punches in baseball, but the A’s couldn’t feel comfortable relying on Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone in the post-season. Due to injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, Chavez is a full-time starter for the first time in his major league career. And despite good results, Milone has had trouble missing bats, something the A’s likely realize is not a good thing in post-season baseball.

Padres may have more interest in Dallas Keuchel than Bryce Harper

Dallas Keuchel
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An interesting tidbit today from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who noted that ongoing talks between agent Scott Boras and the Padres have focused more on starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel than slugger Bryce Harper. Earlier this week, there were conflicting reports on the Padres’ level of interest in Harper — MLB Network’s Jon Heyman heard the club had not ruled out another big signing after getting Manny Machado, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune talked to multiple sources who believed otherwise — but any agreement between the two is looking unlikelier by the day.

As for Keuchel, Rosenthal cautions that a potential deal is still a “longshot,” especially as the team has other, cheaper options in mind. The 31-year-old southpaw turned down a qualifying offer from the Astros last year and is likely angling for something north of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he rejected from the club in 2016. He’s coming off of another solid performance in Houston, where he went 12-11 in 34 starts with a 3.74 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9, and 3.6 fWAR through 204 2/3 innings in 2018.

While Keuchel has failed to garner substantial interest around the league this offseason, Heyman points out that the Phillies are looking to establish themselves as frontrunners for the lefty — and they’re far less likely to have hang-ups about his asking price, too.