Oakland Athletics Rumors

Oakland Athletics trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Athletics Claim Andrew Brown From Mets

The A’s announced that they’ve claimed outfielder Andrew Brown off waivers from the Mets. Additionally, minor league shortstop Tyler Ladendorf has been added to the club’s 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in December.

Brown, 30, received 49 plate appearances for the Mets this season and batted .182/.245/.341 with a pair of homers. He’s seen action in parts of four big league seasons between the Mets, Rockies and Cardinals, compiling a batting line of .220/.281/.390. As indicated by that .170 ISO (slugging minus average), Brown does possess some pop that likely appealed to the A’s. His Triple-A numbers are indicative of that power as well, as he owns a lifetime .298/.380/.555 slash at that level.

Ladendorf was acquired from the Twins in 2009 in exchange for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The Howard College product, Minnesota’s second-round pick in 2008, had never hit at the Triple-A level before this, his age-26 season. However, he slashed a strong .297/.376/.407 in 318 plate appearances with Triple-A this season, and Oakland has a clear need for middle infield options following the trade of Addison Russell and the free agency of Jed Lowrie.


Free Agent Profile: Jed Lowrie

Deciding how to frame Jed Lowrie’s entry to the free agent market depends heavily upon one’s perspective: did his failure to match his excellent 2013 campaign constitute a disappointment, or was 2014 another solid year as a regular that cements Lowrie’s status as an everyday player? After all, the CAA client had never made more than 387 plate appearances in a season until last year, yet now steps onto the market as one of the best available shortstops.

Pros/Strengths

Lowrie had a strong 2013 season, posting a .290/.344/.446 slash with 15 home runs. And he did it while playing shortstop, making him a well-above-average everyday player. Though Lowrie did not have an extensive history before that, his full-season result seemed to confirm what his earlier numbers had suggested. Over the 2008-2012 campaigns, Lowrie never even made 400 trips to the plate over a single season, but averaged a roughly league-average OPS of .743 while providing solid defense at short, second, and third. He also swatted 16 long balls over just 387 plate appearances in 2012 before succumbing to an ankle injury.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland AthleticsIn a sense, then, 2014 was an affirmation. Injury-free except for a freak bruised finger that cost him 16 games, Lowrie showed that he could be a viable everyday shortstop for a first-division club. Even with a significant power drop-off, Lowrie was worth 1.9 fWAR, though Baseball-Reference had him at one less win in value based on its differing defensive calculations.

And last year’s power outage ultimately looks like an outlier: Lowrie had never before posted an ISO of less than .142 in a season (minimum 300 plate appearances) until his .106 mark last year. Indeed, even with that season in the books, Lowrie owns a lifetime .150 ISO and seems a good bet to return to that level of power production. His 3.2% HR/FB rate, after all, landed at half his career average and seems more likely to go up than down.

A return to form at the plate more generally seems a fair probability. Lowrie suffered a bit from a .281 BABIP, though he has never posted high numbers. His walk rate (9.0%) and strikeout rate (14.0%) compare favorably to his career marks. And he upped his line-drive rate for the fifth-straight season while hitting groundballs at his career rate.

On the defensive side of the equation, Lowrie saw improved marks from defensive metrics. By measure of UZR, in fact, Lowrie was just above average for the position last year. Though Lowrie is not a base stealer, and did not rate well in the department in 2014, he has generally been about average on the paths.

It is worth noting as well that Lowrie brings a switch-hitting presence to the middle of the infield. Interestingly, despite career splits that favored his work against lefties, Lowrie flipped those splits last year, continuing to put up roughly league-average work against right-handed pitching. If he can recapture his former excellence when batting from the right side, particularly in the power department, Lowrie looks like a great add.

While a qualifying offer is at least theoretically possible, it seems highly unlikely that the A’s would be willing to risk $15.3MM in salary space.

Cons/Weaknesses

Of course, the above account ignores some real issues. Lowrie’s first full season of regular action came in his age-29 year, and he simply did not match it last season. For a player known largely for his bat, Lowrie was below-average at the plate.

As for the power numbers, there are reasons to believe that his fall-off was not simply an aberration. After all, Lowrie had put up double-digit home run tallies in just one year as a professional prior to this 2012-13 breakout: a 13-home run campaign in the upper minors back in 2007. And his batted ball distance on fly balls and line drives is down to a career-low 252.5 feet (via Baseball Heat Maps; compare to career marks within this post).

Then, there is the question of defense. While it is true that Lowrie saw improvements by measure of defensive metrics, Defensive Runs Saved still placed him at a troubling -10 mark on the year. As he moves toward his decline phase, it is fair to wonder how much longer he will stick at short.

Likewise, Lowrie moved in the wrong direction last year in terms of baserunning. Never a threat to take a bag, Lowrie nevertheless generally maintained average marks in terms of overall value on the basepaths. But he cost the A’s 3.4 runs last year, by measure of Fangraphs.

While Lowrie has now been healthy for two straight years, we are not far off from a time when he dealt with significant injuries on a regular basis. Nerve damage has accompanied several injuries, including ankle, shoulder, and wrist ailments.

Personal

Lowrie finished his bachelor studies at Stanford after leaving early to begin his professional career, according to this profile from Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. He also met his future wife during his time in college, and the family welcomed its first child last December.

Between her time working in international politics and his own moves across the country from team to team, the Lowries are familiar with changing residences, so geographical ties may not mean much in his situation. Looking ahead to free agency before the season, Lowrie said it would not change his approach to the game while also acknowledging its importance. “Every player wants to test the free-agent market,” he said. “What you ultimately strive for is to have people come to you and say, ‘We want you to work for us.’ It’s exciting.”

Market

With J.J. Hardy locked up, the middle infield market is filled with question marks. Hanley Ramirez obviously promises the highest upside, but he has his warts and could be viewed by many clubs as a third baseman at this point (or in short order). Asdrubal Cabrera was once seen as a premier talent, but has not been inspiring at the plate or in the field. And Stephen Drew fell off of a cliff in terms of offensive production last year.

Viewing the sum of Lowrie’s work over the last two years, when he has served as the A’s regular shortstop, paints an image of a solid option in this year’s market. A generally above-average hitter with power upside and a switch-hitting bat, a serviceable glove, and experience around the infield, Lowrie has plenty of appeal – even if he is far from a sure thing.

Looking around baseball, there are plenty of clubs that might have interest in Lowrie, though some may prefer a shorter commitment. In addition to the Athletics, clubs like the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Tigers, Astros, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Reds, and Dodgers could all conceivably consider employing Lowrie in some kind of capacity.

Expected Contract

Lowrie has earned just over $10MM in his playing career, far from a pittance but also perhaps a low enough number that maxing out a guarantee seems appealing. Given his preferable market placement, I think he will easily find enough interest to score a significant two-year deal and could well reach three.

While MLBTR’s Zach Links predicts that Cabrera will find three years and $27MM as a younger option, Lowrie seems to offer a slightly more appealing overall package at this point. Ultimately, I predict that Lowrie will be able to land a three-year $30MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL West Notes: Astros, Lewis, Rangers, A’s

A federal bankruptcy judge today approved a Chapter 11 reorganization that will allow DirecTV and AT&T to purchase Comcast SportsNet Houston, reports David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. The network will be relaunched next month as ROOT Sports Houston and will provide the Houston area with significantly greater accessibility to television coverage of Astros games. The team has issued a statement, via press release, expressing its pleasure with the outcome: “We are very pleased with Judge Isgur’s confirmation of the plan to reorganize the Network under AT&T and DirecTV. Throughout this long process, our main goal has been to provide broad coverage of Astros games for our fans throughout our region. This new Network will allow us to achieve this goal.  There are still a few obstacles that we have to overcome, but today’s decision is a big victory for Astros fans and the City of Houston.”

Here’s more from the AL West…

  • Rangers GM Jon Daniels has already had discussions with Alan Nero, the agent for free agent righty Colby Lewis, about a return to the organization for Lewis, reports MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. The Rangers have extended a preliminary offer to Lewis, which Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports is a Major League offer. There’s mutual interest on both sides, according to the pair of reports, but the process has likely been slowed somewhat by the fact that Nero also represents manager Joe Maddon, who is said to be in line to take over as skipper of the Cubs. Lewis struggled in the first half of the 2014 season but rebounded quite well in the second half, posting a 3.86 ERA over his final 13 starts. His 5.18 ERA on the season was likely inflated by a .339 batting average on balls in play.
  • Also of note from Sullivan, the Rangers are expected to look to make rotation additions beyond Lewis this offseason, however they’re more likely to come via the trade market than via free agency. The Rangers do possess a good deal of middle infield depth. Both Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor both are seen as highly regarded talents, but the Rangers don’t have a place to slot both of them into the starting lineup. (It should be noted that the Profar/Odor speculation is my own, as opposed to something which Sullivan is reporting as likely.)
  • The Athletics today announced the promotions of three coaches (Twitter link). Darren Bush, who previously served as the team’s bullpen coach, will now shift into the role of hitting coach and fill the void left by Chili Davis (who signed on to fill the same role with Boston). Scott Emerson, who had previously served as a minor league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator, was promoted to the role of bullpen coach. Lastly, Marcus Jensen, who has served as a Rookie-league manager and minor league hitting instructor for the A’s, was named assistant hitting coach/catching coach.
  • Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has several updates on the Rangers‘ search to fill out new manager Jeff Banister’s coaching staff, noting that several announcements could come as soon as tomorrow.


Offseason Outlook: Oakland Athletics

After spending much of the season in first place and making the biggest splash of any team in July trades, the A’s scuffled with an ailing offense and were eliminated by the Royals in a one-game Wild Card playoff. They’ll have to deal with a number of escalating contracts as they look to retool and return to the postseason for a fourth consecutive year in 2015.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

  • None

Free Agents

The Athletics suffered a surprising postseason exit in the Wild Card round after aggressively adding Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and, to a lesser extent, Sam Fuld in July trades. While the narrative that the absence of Yoenis Cespedes derailed the offense was powerful, there’s little to actually support that thinking. Cespedes’ offense actually declined upon his move to the more hitter-friendly AL East. Meanwhile, Brandon Moss was dealing with a hip injury that required offseason surgery, Coco Crisp was playing through neck injuries, John Jaso was out with a concussion and the previously hot-hitting Stephen Vogt quite literally limped to the finish on a bad ankle. Josh Donaldson’s bat went cold in September as well, though it’d be a stretch (to say the least) to pin that on the absence of Cespedes.

All of this is meant to say that while the offense should probably be addressed this offseason, it isn’t for the reasons that many would initially believe. A healthy Moss at first base will go a long ways toward reviving the offense, and Blanks provides an affordable and able platoon partner, assuming his own health rebounds. Donaldson provides a potential 30-homer bat at the hot corner. In center field, Crisp will reprise his role, and Reddick seems likely to again man right field following a strong finish (he hit .299/.337/.533 in 200 PA following a return from the disabled list). The A’s can deploy a defensively gifted platoon of Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld in left field should they wish, and some combination of Derek Norris, Jaso and Vogt will be entrusted with catching duties.

The obvious hole for the A’s is in the middle infield. Top prospect Addison Russell is no longer a consideration after heading to the Cubs in the Samardzija/Hammel deal. Jed Lowrie is hitting the open market, and the team never had a reliable offensive option at second base in 2014. A reunion with Lowrie (at either position) is certainly a possibility, and other options include Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Emilio Bonifacio. GM Billy Beane may need to get creative, as top shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson has yet to play at Double-A (though he was excellent at Class-A Advanced in 2014). One option on the trade market could be Luis Valbuena, who drew interest from Oakland at the trade deadline.

Alternatively, the A’s could look to the international market and pursue Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang or one of two Cuban second basemen who will soon hit the market: Jose Fernandez and Hector Olivera. However, Kang’s 38 homers aren’t seen as likely to translate to the Majors, and one scouting director to whom MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes spoke made the unfavorable comparison of Kang to Hiroyuki Nakajima. The A’s know all too well that gaudy stats from overseas often don’t translate, as they’ve received no return on the two-year deal they gave Nakajima. And, Nakajima posted those stats in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, which is commonly regarded as a more advanced league than the Korea Baseball Organization. Fernandez and Olivera may come with more upside, but neither is technically a free agent yet, and there’s no telling exactly when they will be cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control and Major League Baseball. So while either Cuban second baseman would make sense, the A’s would probably need to at least solidify shortstop (a one-year deal for Drew, perhaps?) if it’s decided that Fernandez or Olivera is the answer at second.

One possibility that has been bandied about is a trade of Donaldson, though when asked about it, one Oakland official gave Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle a very frank reply: “That would be stupid.” Nonetheless, Donaldson projects to earn $4.5MM and will hit arbitration three more times as a Super Two player, making him an increasingly expensive option for the A’s. I’m of the mind that the A’s are not yet under pressure to move Donaldson. I can’t see the team parting with him for anything short of a massive return that would yield immediate help for the middle infield and possibly a cheaper alternative at third base. (One possibility I’ve envisioned would be a trade sending Mookie Betts and Will Middlebrooks, among others, to Oakland. That, however, is pure speculation, and the Red Sox are said to be loath to trade the highly touted Betts in any deal.) Suffice it to say, while a Donaldson trade is a possibility, it also strikes me as unlikely.

The D’Backs present a plausible trade partner, with three young shortstops all more or less ready to contribute in the Majors (Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed), and the Cubs of course have a bevy of middle infielders as well, including Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcantara. It’s unlikely, of course, that the Cubs would consider parting with Russell in any trade to send him back to Oakland. Beane could also rekindle talks for Yunel Escobar. Whatever route he takes, the lack of anything resembling a league-average bat to place at second or shortstop is a clear obstacle for the A’s.

Turning to the rotation, however, things don’t look too bleak. The A’s will be getting both Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin back at some point during the 2015 season, and in the meantime they’re hardly wanting for arms. Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez can all open the season in the rotation, with Chavez perhaps eventually returning to a bullpen role as he did in 2014. Each of those pitchers turned in an ERA of 3.55 or better as a starter.

The A’s will likely add a depth piece or two, perhaps on minor league deals, as Parker and Griffin can’t be counted on immediately next season. We also probably shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the A’s add a mid-range free agent despite already having a seemingly solid crop of in-house arms from which to draw. They were in a similar situation last offseason but signed Kazmir anyway, and they added Lester, Samardzija and Hammel in July despite a respectable group of starters. Justin Masterson would present a nice buy-low option, while Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy present attractive mid-range possibilities.

Adding a starter would allow the team to shift Chavez or Pomeranz to the bullpen, which is indeed an area that may need some addressing. Gregerson will hit the open market and could land as much as $20MM in Dierkes’ estimation (I’m inclined to agree), leaving a fairly significant hole. Sean Doolittle will return for a second season as closer and be joined by Eric O’Flaherty, Dan Otero, Ryan Cook and Fernando Abad in the ‘pen. Rodriguez will be 31 next June and has yet to establish himself in the bigs, making him a non-tender candidate. Evan Scribner has been outstanding at Triple-A for the past three seasons and could get a longer look, though he’s yet to be a major factor in their plans. He’ll be out of options, which could help him get a look. Even if that’s the case, Oakland still seems to need at least one additional relief arm. Jason Grilli, Joba Chamberlain, Jason Frasor, Luke Hochevar and Jason Motte all strike me as possibilities for Oakland.

Whatever additions the A’s make could have to be creative, as the team currently projects to have a payroll of just under $77MM between its guaranteed contracts, arb-eligibles and league-minimum players needed to round out the roster (assuming a non-tender of Rodriguez). Last year’s Opening Day mark of roughly $83MM was a franchise record, and while it’s possible that Beane and assistant GMs David Forst and Farhan Zaidi will have more money to work with, a significant hike doesn’t sound expected.

It’s that thinking that has likely led to speculation on a trade of Donaldson, but I personally wonder if they’ll be more open to moving a different pair of more expensive players: Samardzija and Kazmir. With Samardzija set to earn nearly $10MM and Kazmir locked in at $13MM, the A’s could theoretically make either available and replace him either via free agency or by acquiring a younger, less expensive arm in that trade. Samardzija will likely seek $100MM+ on the open market following the 2015 season, pricing him out of Oakland’s range (though they will make him a qualifying offer if he remains with the team at that point). Kazmir is more expensive and comes with a troubling injury history. That might make him more difficult to trade, but teams with larger payrolls likely won’t have major trepidation about committing that type of money to a pitcher with a 3.77 ERA and even more encouraging peripheral stats in 348 1/3 innings since returning to the Majors in 2013. He’d be an attractive option for a team looking to bolster its rotation on a short-term commitment rather than committing to a similarly risky starter on a multi-year deal.

The A’s have a number of excellent pieces in place, but some of those pieces are becoming more expensive, which limits Beane’s freedom in crafting next year’s roster. As such, I do expect some pricier veterans to be shopped this winter, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a play for an international free agent with a more backloaded contract that becomes more expensive in 2016 once Samardzija, Kazmir, O’Flaherty and possibly Jaso are all off the books.

Oakland faces an increasingly difficult division, with the resurgent Angels, the improving Mariners and a presumably healthier Rangers club all looking like serious competition in 2015 (to say nothing of an Astros club that did make a 19-win improvement in 2014). Next season could be the final shot for this core group to make a deep postseason run before we see another of the significant roster overhauls we’ve come to expect from the Athletics.


Free Agent Profile: Jason Hammel

A bounceback stint with the Cubs made Jason Hammel, a 6’6 righty, one of the most anticipated summer trade targets, and he ultimately became the second piece in the deal that sent top prospect Addison Russell to Chicago. But the 32-year-old faded in Oakland and now joins a loaded market for mid-level starters. Hammel’s reps at Octagon will go out looking for multiple years, but can he achieve it without taking a lower AAV?

Pros/Strengths

Though he went through a rough stretch after moving to Oakland, putting a hurt on his bottom-line results, Hammel actually finished quite strong. He allowed just 14 earned runs over his last 50 2/3 frames for the A’s, good for a sub-3.00 mark that was more reminiscent of his sturdy open to the year with the Cubs. On the whole, you can’t argue with 176 1/3 innings of 3.47 ERA pitching, and that’s what Hammel delivered in 2014.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers

Neither is there reason to believe that those figures were the result of some dumb luck. Hammel did benefit from a .272 BABIP and 78.3% strand rate, but the 12.0% home run-per-flyball rate fell above his career average and could be due for a bit of regression. ERA estimators were generally supportive of the final earned-run tally, as Hammel posted a 3.92 FIP, 3.57 xFIP, and 3.50 SIERA.

Best of all, Hammel showed a restored ability to generate strikeouts. Back in 2012, his breakout year with the Orioles, Hammel posted 8.6 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9. In 2014, after a drop in the intervening year, he landed at 8.1 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine. He also has maintained his fastball velocity in the 92-93 mph range, a tick off from ’12 but in line with his career standards. And he increased the usage of his slider, with positive results.

Hammel also managed reasonable effectiveness against batters from both sides of the plate, yielding a .305 wOBA to lefties and a .297 mark to righties.

Cons/Weaknesses

In spite of his overall success last year, Hammel is not without his areas of concern. For one thing, the stellar groundball rate he reached in 2012 (53.2%) has dropped over a dozen percentage points in each of the last two years. That could be due in part to the fact that he has gone to the four-seamer more frequently, with his two-seam offering dropping in effectiveness.

Likewise, Hammel has seen an advanced proclivity to allow the long ball. His home run-per nine figures have both returned to the levels they sat when Hammel was struggling to establish himself at Coors Field. And pitching in Wrigley Field does not offer an excuse; the park actually landed in the middle of the pack in terms of permitting the long ball, and Hammel did not exhibit strong home/road splits in this department.

Then there is the question of durability — or, perhaps more to the point, innings. Hammel did miss significant time over 2012-13 with knee and elbow issues. He came back to deliver an injury-free 2014, of course, but those recent, reasonably significant issues cannot be discounted entirely.

On the whole, while his medical sheet does not look overly concerning, Hammel has yet to finish a season with more than 177 2/3 frames to his record. He nearly matched that mark this year, logging 176 1/3 innings, and probably would have bettered it had the A’s not skipped his turn down the stretch. But the fact remains that Hammel has not established himself as a 200-inning workhorse, even when he has been healthy — a fact which delivers its own concerns.

Personal

Hammel is married with one child. He writes on his personal blog that he loves spending extra time in the offseason with his wife, Elissa, and young son. LEGO construction, in particular, seem to be a preferred family pastime.

Per a somewhat outdated profile, Hammel resides in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, close to his wife’s hometown. Hammel himself was born in South Carolina and graduated from high school in Washington. He also attended Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon, from where he was plucked in the tenth round of the 2002 draft.

Market

This is where things start to get tough for Hammel. On the one hand, in terms of recent results and career workload, Hammel looks like a better bet than Scott Feldman, who landed three years and $30MM on last year’s market. And he is a good deal younger (or less risky) than the roughly comparable arms that landed two-year deals last year: Bartolo Colon (2/$20MM), Scott Kazmir (2/$22MM), Tim Hudson (2/$23MM), and Bronson Arroyo (2/$23.5MM).

But this is a different market, one that includes a good number of arms that offer more extended track records or higher upside.

I’ll crib from Tim Dierkes’s profile of Santana. As Tim noted there, the second tier of starters (behind the big three) includes not only Santana but names like Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, Justin Masterson, Jake Peavy, and Hiroki Kuroda (assuming the latter decides to pitch). Other than Kuroda, the only players even eligible to receive qualifying offers are Santana and Liriano, meaning that Hammel will not stand out in that regard.

In some respects, Hammel’s trajectory over the last three years looks something like that of Santana entering last year’s market: first a strong year that made him look like a long-term piece, then a dud that led to a change of scenery, chased with an ultimately fulfilled chance to re-claim value. But 2013 Santana was arguably the second-best arm available in a thin market. For Hammel, there’s a case to be made that he lands outside the top ten.

Expected Contract

Though the competition is fierce, the volume of good arms loose on the market also indicates that multiple clubs will be looking to fill in the gaps that were left. But last year, in a free-spending environment that blew out previous cash outlays and awarded significantly more deals of three-or-more years in duration, only eight pitchers got more than two years guaranteed, with six others getting a second year (and that’s if you include Tim Lincecum, who was extended just before officially reaching free agency).

Ultimately, I think there is a decent chance that Hammel ends up being one of the hurlers who falls through the cracks somewhat and does not maximize his value in a competitive market. While a two-year deal at a strong AAV cannot be discounted as a realistic outcome, I’ll predict that Hammel gets a third year but has to sacrifice some annual salary to do so, landing at the Feldman deal with a three-year, $30MM contract.


Athletics To Sign Brad Mills

The Athletics have reached an agreement with left-hander Brad Mills on a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, reports Baseball America’s Matt Eddy in his latest Minor League Transactions roundup. MLBTR’s Zach Links hears that Mills drew interest from a number of clubs, but chose the A’s because he felt it presented him with a strong opportunity to make the big league club again (Twitter links).

Mills, 30 in March, split the season between the Brewers, A’s and Blue Jays organizations, seeing Major League time with the latter two. Much was made of the trade that sent Mills from Milwaukee to Oakland for all of $1, but the procedural move proved to have little impact. Mills was knocked around for nine runs (eight earned) in 16 1/3 innings for Oakland, surrendering 19 hits with a 14-to-7 K/BB ratio. Oakland designated the southpaw for assignment, and he was claimed by the Blue Jays.

With Toronto, Mills yielded 13 runs in 4 1/3 innings and found himself designated for assignment once again, this time clearing outright waivers. He elected free agency following the season.

Mills was outstanding at Triple-A this season — a large reason for the bewilderment of Brewers fans following the initial trade. In 107 1/3 minor league innings, Mills pitched to a pristine 2.01 ERA with 8.6 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9. He will provide the A’s with some rotation depth which is much needed, as Jon Lester and Jason Hammel are free agents, while A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker are both recovering from Tommy John surgery.


Coaching Notes: Braves, Jays, Aldrete, Rays

Here’s the latest coaching news from around the majors…

  • In addition to Seitzer, the Braves have announced the hiring of Jose Castro as the assistant hitting coach.  Castro, 56, has worked as a minor league hitting coach or coordinator with the Expos, Marlins, Padres and Mariners from 1990-2010 and served as the Cubs’ quality assurance coach last season.
  • The Braves have hired Kevin Seitzer as their new hitting coach, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports.  The hiring could be officially announced as soon as today.  Seitzer served as the Blue Jays‘ hitting coach in 2014, meaning Toronto now has a vacancy to fill.  Seitzer also previously worked as a hitting coach with the Royals (2009-12) and Diamondbacks (2007).
  • Seitzer and the Blue Jays couldn’t settle on a new contract, which led Seitzer to explore options elsewhere, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports.  The Jays are now looking for a new hitting coach in addition to a new bullpen coach, though the rest of the coaching staff is under contract for 2015.
  • The Athletics have hired Mike Aldrete as their new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, with the hiring expected to be announced today.  Aldrete, a Bay Area native, spent the last three seasons as the Cardinals‘ bench coach and four seasons prior to that as St. Louis’ assistant hitting coach.
  • The Rays don’t know who their next manager will be, but they’re planning on keeping their current coaches, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes.  A new manager will usually add some of his own staff, but that won’t be the case with the Rays, who want to ensure continuity regardless of who manages next year.  Topkin points out that could be good news for bench coach Dave Martinez, who could be a candidate for the managerial job.

Quick Hits: Ramirez, Hitting Coaches, Hudson, Zito

Two-time NPB MVP Alex Ramirez has retired, Jun Hongo of the Wall Street Journal Japan reports. The 40-year-old Ramirez played briefly for the Indians and Pirates between 1998 and 2000, but it wasn’t until he headed to Yakult for the 2001 season that his career really got going. He hit 29 homers that year and quickly emerged as one of the most feared sluggers in Japan, hitting 40 or more home runs three times in his career. Ramirez finished his NPB career in 2013 with 380 homers for Yakult, Yomiuri and Yokohama, then played and coached last season with the independent Gunma Diamond Pegasus club. Here are more notes from around the Majors.

  • Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis has left the team to become the new hitting coach of the Red Sox, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com tweets. Davis hit 350 home runs in a 19-year career with the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals and Yankees, then worked in the Dodgers and Red Sox systems before signing on with the Athletics prior to the 2012 season. In his previous stint with the Red Sox, Davis served as the hitting coach at Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox will begin interviewing candidates for their assistant hitting coach position this week, Bradford and Alex Speier report.
  • With Davis out, the Athletics are now looking for a hitting coach, and one candidate is Angels assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. The Angels could also promote Hansen to replace Don Baylor, who missed much of last season with a freak leg injury. Hansen, known as a pinch-hitter throughout much of his career, played 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Cubs, Padres and Mariners. The Athletics could also consider Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan, Slusser tweets.
  • If the A’s do have interest in Magadan, the won’t be the only ones. Davis had previously been a top candidate for the open Yankees hitting coach job, and the Yankees could now turn to Magadan, who interviewed Wednesday, George A. King III and John DeMarzo of the New York Post report. The former infielder played 16 seasons with the Mets, Marlins, Mariners, Astros, Cubs, Athletics and Padres.
  • Barry Zito‘s seven-year contract with the Giants didn’t turn out so well, but he did help them land Tim Hudson, Ryan Hood of MLB.com writes. When both pitchers were free agents last winter, Hudson called his former Athletics teammate to see what he thought of playing in San Francisco. “I said it’s a first-rate organization, from the top down,” says Zito, who assured Hudson that Giants fans had changed since the two pitchers had played together in Oakland. “Giants fans had a little more of a rep of just coming out for baseball games and not really having a die-hard presence and creating an intimidating atmosphere. It was very light. I told him 2010 changed everything.” Hudson posted a 3.57 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 189 1/3 innings for the Giants this season. Zito, meanwhile, says he determined in August 2013 that he would “take some time away from the game and focus on family.” He did not pitch this season.

Quick Hits: Hunter, Stewart, A’s, Nats

It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series.  The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games.  The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902.  Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?

Here’s some news from around baseball…

  • If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully.  Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck.  Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
  • If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines.  Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer.  Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
  • Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold.  The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
  • On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
  • Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes.  Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year).  Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
  • The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes.  King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.

Cardinals Notes: Taveras, Pujols, Aldrete, Trades

The Cardinals’ thrilling 5-4 win over the Giants last night tied the NLCS at a game apiece and also made some postseason history.  As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, the Cards became the first team to ever hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a playoff game.  That final homer, of course, was Kolten Wong‘s walkoff solo shot.  Here’s some more from St. Louis…

  • Oscar Taveras delivered that seventh-inning homer for the Cards last night, though a few issues have made the top prospect no longer “untouchable” in the organization’s eyes, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.  Taveras hit .239/.278/.312 over 248 PA in this rookie season and didn’t see much action down the stretch in September or in the playoffs thus far — he has only five PH at-bats during the postseason.  Perhaps of greater concern, Taveras put on 20 pounds last offseason and “his work habits have drawn attention from some veterans,” though Strauss notes that the 22-year-old “is not considered a toxic clubhouse presence.”  In my opinion, even if he’s not totally “untouchable,” St. Louis would undoubtedly want a massive return if they considered dealing Taveras and it’s a very long shot that the team would so quickly give up on such an elite prospect.
  • Strauss figures the Cardinals are likely to trade an outfielder this offseason, with Matt Holliday locked into the left field spot and Taveras, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk and prospect Stephen Piscotty all in the mix for the other two outfield spots.
  • The Cardinals’ decision to let Albert Pujols leave as a free agent “could go down as one of the wisest in baseball history,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes.  Rather than spend $250MM on Pujols as the Angels did, the Cards instead spread that money around and have reached the NLCS in all three seasons since Pujols’ departure.  “When we knew we had to look at the next chapter of this organization, it was really about understanding how we could redeploy those resources,” GM John Mozeliak said.  “You never know if you’re going to be able to sustain that high a level, but certainly to get close to that level, or back to it, was something we were able to achieve, first with the signing of Carlos Beltran and then [Jhonny] Peralta.”
  • Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete is “a very likely possibility” to become the Athletics‘ new bench coach, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links).  Aldrete has a very good relationship with A’s manager Bob Melvin and a move to Oakland would allow Aldrete to live closer to his home in Monterey.  The A’s have a vacancy at bench coach since Chip Hale has been hired as the Diamondbacks’ new manager.
  • It is generally considered a mistake to fix a roster problem by trading from the Major League roster, yet the Cardinals’ young depth has allowed them to twice make such moves, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  The Cards dealt Colby Rasmus for bullpen help in 2011 and ended up winning the World Series, while this past July saw Allen Craig and Joe Kelly traded to the Red Sox for John Lackey.  “I understand the risk profile in doing what we did,” Mozeliak said. “But in both situations….I felt we had to do something different — I felt we had to pull from the club to improve.”