Oakland Athletics Dealt Huge Blow After Frankie Montas Suspension
By Jeff Weisinger
The Oakland Athletics are in need of a new ace pitcher.
A day after Frankie Montas shut down the Tampa Bay Rays in the opening game of their four-game weekend series – where he had nine strikeouts in eight innings – Montas received harsh news.
The 26-year-old righty was suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball on Friday after testing positive for a banned substance, just about ending his season. The A’s have played 76 games this season entering Friday, which means that, mathematically, Montas could come back at the very end of the campaign.
That’s unlikely and would be pointless, since Montas won’t be eligible to make the postseason roster if the A’s get that far.
Montas was caught using Ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator used in bodybuilding to increase strength and mass in lean muscles. It is capable of stimulating androgen receptors, steroid hormone receptors and mimicking testosterone, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
“I am deeply saddened to confirm that MLB recently notified me I have tested positive for Ostarine, a prohibited substance under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement,” Montas said in a statement on the suspension through the Major League Baseball Players Association. “While I never intended to take any prohibited substance, I unfortunately and unknowingly ingested a contaminated supplement that I had purchased over-the-counter at a nutrition store here in the United States.
“That said, I respect MLB rules and understand my responsibilities under the Joint Drug Agreement, and accept full responsibility. I sincerely apologize to the A’s organization, the fans, my teammates and my family for this mistake. My hope is to be able to return to the A’s later this season and contribute as best I can.”
Montas’ last start of the season Thursday night was his fourth straight quality start. His 2.9 WAR (wins above replacement) was fourth-best among qualifying pitchers according to FanGraphs.
Originally thought of as a potential bullpen guy, Montas made his case as a top starting pitcher this season, his best with Oakland thus far. He’s added a splitter, which put him over the top which has helped him become one of the more consistent pitchers in the game. Including Thursday night’s outing, he’s allowed two or fewer runs in eight of his last nine starts.
The loss is a gigantic blow to an A’s starting rotation that was already decimated with injuries entering this season. They started the season with Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk, and Jesus Luzardo. None of the four pitchers mentioned above is expected back with the team until at least after the All-Star Break.
Montas was easily the A’s best pitcher in the first half of the season and big part of the reason the club has around and above .500. His 2.70 ERA not only leads the Athletics but is fifth-best in the American League. He also leads the A’s staff in strikeouts (97) and innings pitched (90). He’s won five of his last nine starts with his last loss coming back on April 29 at Boston. He had won three games in a row before Thursday’s start against the Rays.
Although the Athletics are expected to get some help back in the rotation after the All-Star break, they’ll have to find a way to hang on in the AL West until then.
The A’s can lean on guys like Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, and Chris Bassitt to get bridge them through the All-Star break and to the trade deadline.
Fiers has won four of his last five starts, Anderson hasn’t allowed more than three runs in his last four starts, and Bassitt could be getting things back on track after a strong win against the Orioles earlier in the week.
Other pitchers like Aaron Brooks, Tanner Anderson, and the A’s bullpen will have to step up their game without Montas.
The A’s should be buyers for starting pitchers at the trade deadline, but the question is who could they get? Guys like Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, and Max Scherzer all seem out of the question for the A’s, but it’s also worth noting that they’ve made big, mid-season moves before. In 2014, they traded for Red Sox star pitcher Jon Lester to help with their playoff push, and he went 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in his lone half-season in Oakland.
The A’s are four games above .500 at 40-36 entering play on Friday, winning five of their last six games. They are getting back on track at the same time they went on their postseason run last year.
Montas’ absence will be a huge problem Oakland must find a solution for.