- The Athletics have been rewarded handsomely thus far for their roll of the dice on veteran journeyman Rich Hill, and ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield believes that Oakland will continue to receive good work from the lefty. As Schoenfield explains, Hill has continued to show elite swing-and-miss numbers with his fastball, which he pairs with a frequently used curve. Indeed, Hill has picked up right where he left off last year: though his walks have crept up a bit, he is striking out 12.8 batters per nine and inducing grounders on more than half of the balls put in play against him, with metrics supporting his 2.42 ERA in 26 frames.
- Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney wonders whether there could be a “perfect storm” that allows the Athletics to cash in on ace Sonny Gray. It’s looking like a seller’s market, both at the deadline and next winter, and Gray could stand out. It’s far from clear whether the A’s will have strong interest in striking a trade, of course, but it’s easy to imagine widespread demand. And as Olney notes, this summer could well prove a high-water mark for the righty’s value.
Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick tells MLB.com’s Jon Morosi that he’s not aware of any substantive extension talks that took place between his agents, Seth and Sam Levinson of ACES, and the team during Spring Training.
That doesn’t mean no talks took place at all, though, as Reddick told his agents that he himself didn’t want to be involved in the process unless a deal became close. “I’ve told [my agents], ’I don’t want to even get a phone call if we don’t think it’s the right deal for me,'” he said. “They understand that. They’re right on the same page with me. The A’s told me they still wanted me, and they want it to be at the right price, and that was obviously great to hear.” Reddick, though, is a free agent at season’s end, and the tight-budgeted A’s could very well have a hard time retaining him if he reaches the open market. Reddick was said to have placed an end-of-Spring-Training deadline on contract talks, though a report from late March indicated that talks could potentially continue into the season if they show “sufficient promise of completion.” That’s similar to the thinking we heard from Adrian Beltre’s camp, and Beltre indeed agreed to a new two-year deal following Opening Day (despite having set an end-of-spring deadline himself).
Interestingly, Morosi focuses in on the fact that Reddick is a longtime favorite of Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, and Reddick himself confirmed as much. “[Epstein] told me he would never trade me, either,” Reddick tells Morosi. “Then he left — and I got traded [to Oakland, in December 2011]. I think I was Ben Cherington’s first or second move after he took over.” Morosi notes that Epstein was the Sox’ GM when Reddick was drafted and adds that it’s conceivable that Chicago could seek a corner outfielder this summer on the trade market following Kyle Schwarber’s season-ending injury.
Of course, it should also be noted that it’s still rather early in the season, and the Athletics are sporting an 11-11 record in a tightly contested AL West. In order for a trade of Reddick to even be considered a plausible scenario, Oakland would have to fall behind in the standings by a fairly wide margin, as he’s an easy candidate to receive a qualifying offer following the year. Beyond that, the Cubs have Jorge Soler as an option to pick up the slack in Schwarber’s absence. While Soler is struggling at the moment, he’s also enjoying a career-best walk rate and a career-low strikeout rate; at least some portion of his struggles can be attributed to a .205 average on balls in play, though Soler’s line-drive and hard-contact rates are somewhat diminished this season. It’s certainly plausible that the former top prospect, still just 24 years of age, could turn things around at the plate in short order. Suffice it to say, quite a bit would need to transpire over the coming months for a trade scenario to play out.
The likelier scenario, as it stands, seems to me to be that Reddick rejects a qualifying offer and tests the open market in what will be a weak crop of free agents. He’ll play this season at age 29 and is off to a strong start, batting .282/.352/.474 with four homers (including the base hit he collected just minutes ago as I was writing this). With the exception of a down year in 2013, Reddick has been a decidedly above-average bat with the A’s, and he’s posted a cumulative .269/.328/.450 slash since the opening of the 2014 campaign. Those numbers, of course, are suppressed to some extent by the cavernous dimensions of O.Co Coliseum, and context-neutral stats like OPS+ and wRC+ feel that Reddick has been 16 to 18 percent better than the league average hitter. While he struggles against left-handed pitching, he’s a strong bat against righties with an excellent glove in right field, per Defensive Runs Saved (+51 for his career).
Those skills, combined with his age and the aforementioned thin crop of free agents landed Reddick sixth on the first installment of MLBTR’s 2017 free agent power rankings, with Tim Dierkes writing that Reddick could be a sneaky candidate for a $100MM contract. I’d agree with that assessment and may even be higher on his chances at that nine-figure threshold than Tim, assuming Reddick is able to approximate his 2015 production. Reddick is, in many regards, a similar player to Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon, though he’s three years older than Heyward and three years younger than Gordon. That skill set has proven to reward free agents handsomely, positioning Reddick for a hefty contract if he continues his recent success.
The Athletics have called up catcher/first baseman/outfielder Matt McBride in order to prevent the 30-year-old from signing with a club in Japan, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. McBride received an offer from the Yokohama DeNa BayStars of Nippon Professional Baseball, Slusser reports, and his contract contains a clause that would’ve allowed him to opt out and pursue the deal. Rather than allow the versatile McBride to leave the organization, Oakland added him to its 25-man and 40-man roster (Felix Doubront was transferred to the 60-day DL). “I’m happy to be here,” McBride told Slusser following the promotion. “I knew it would be one or the other, and I think everyone wants to get the chance to play in the big leagues.” McBride does have some Major League experience, having spent parts of three seasons with the Rockies. In 158 plate appearances in the Majors, he’s batted .199/.228/.305. The A’s, then, will hope that his production can more closely resemble his lifetime .315/.351/.527 line at the Triple-A level (1418 PAs).
- Slusser also writes that lefty Sean Manaea has an “excellent shot” to stick in the Athletics’ rotation for the long haul if he can approach his numbers from Triple-A. The top prospect, acquired in last summer’s Ben Zobrist trade, could have an audition window of several weeks to impress the front office, as right-hander Henderson Alvarez still figures to be sidelined until mid-May. Should Manaea falter in his initial taste of the Majors, right-hander Jesse Hahn could re-emerge from Nashville, though he’s currently dealing with a blister that prevented him from getting the call on Friday. As Slusser notes, a strong early impression from Manaea will lead to a difficult decision for Oakland, who could have Manaea, Alvarez, Hahn, Sonny Gray, Rich Hill, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt all in the rotation picture. And, for those looking for a bit of a scouting report on the exciting young lefty, Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America has posted just that, in addition to his thoughts on what to expect from Manaea in the Majors.
The Athletics will promote top pitching prospect Sean Manaea to start on Friday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Manaea, a 24-year-old southpaw, came to Oakland last summer in the deal that sent Ben Zobrist to the Royals.
Since his arrival, Manaea has done nothing but impress. Already considered a top-100 prospect, he dominated at Double-A and started out the 2016 season at the highest level of the minors. Over 18 innings in three starts, he owns a 1.50 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9.
Entering the year, Baseball America credited Manaea’s big fastball, inconsistent but intriguing slider, and promising but still-developing change. BA rated him just inside the top fifty pre-MLB assets in the game, while MLB.com (#65) and ESPN.com’s Keith Law (#59) placed him a bit further down on their own lists. He isn’t generally seen as a fully-finished product, with polish on the secondary offerings and command cited as areas for improvement, but he’s certainly has done enough to warrant a shot at the major league level.
Righty Jesse Hahn had seemed in line for a promotion as the club looks to replace the optioned Eric Surkamp, and he’s certainly the more experienced arm. But as Slusser explains, Hahn is dealing with a blister at present so wasn’t an immediate option.
Whether or not Manaea will get more than a spot start remains to be seen. Either way, he won’t have the chance to accumulate enough MLB time to achieve a full year of service. But if Manaea can stick at the major league level, he would line himself up for future Super Two status and an extra year of arbitration eligibility.
The young lefty is one of several notable arms to get their first call-ups in recent days. You can read up on all of the recent top prospect promotions right here.
The Athletics announced today that minor league right-hander Sean Murphy has died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 27. A former 33rd-round draft pick, Murphy was recovering from 2014 Tommy John surgery prior to his untimely passing. He pitched 490 2/3 innings with a 4.26 ERA in parts of five minor league seasons with Oakland. Current and former teammates have taken to social media to express both disbelief and sadness at the news, and MLBTR joins the many in the industry offering its sincerest condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of a young man who is gone from the world far too soon.
Here’s the latest from Oakland…
- With Billy Butler receiving so little playing time, the Athletics may need “to make a larger decision” about his future with the club, ESPN’s Buster Olney opines within his latest subscription-only column. Butler is hitting .192/.222/.269 in 27 plate appearances this season, showing no signs of turning around his declining production of 2014-15. Because he’s almost a full-time DH, Butler has no other value than his bat, hence his sub-replacement level fWAR in each of the last two seasons. Butler is owed roughly $18.2MM through 2017, however, so cutting him would be a costly decision for the A’s.
- Eric Surkamp had a rough outing today against the Blue Jays, and there is already speculation that his time in the A’s rotation could be up. Jesse Hahn or top prospect Sean Manaea are options down at Triple-A, though as Jeremy F. Koo of the Athletics Nation blog writes, there are quite a few weather factors that could impact any decision Oakland makes about their staff. Triple-A Nashville has had its pitching order thrown off by a pair of recent rainouts and the A’s face a possible weather cancellation tomorrow in Detroit, so a double-header could be in play for Tuesday or Wednesday. Koo outlines the various weather-related scenarios, as well as looking at what bullpen additions the A’s could make with an extra roster spot (via either a demotion or the 26th spot assigned to teams for double-headers).
- The Athletics’ good start will make it less likely that Sonny Gray is traded, though Rosenthal notes that even if Gray was shopped and a team was willing to give up “a ton” for the star righty, the A’s would still face a tough decision about pulling the trigger on a deal. Gray will become eligible for arbitration next winter, and though his arb costs may eventually price him out of Oakland’s comfort zone, Gray would still certainly be “affordable” for the A’s in 2017 (and really a bargain if he continues to post ace-type numbers).
The Athletics announced following tonight’s game that third baseman Danny Valencia will be placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a hamstring injury suffered in yesterday’s contest. Valencia, though, tells reporters that he doesn’t consider the issue to be serious and doesn’t anticipate missing more than the minimum amount of time (Twitter link via the Bay Area News Group’s John Hickey). “I will be very upset not to be in [the] lineup,” said Valencia in reference to the end of his 15-day DL window. The A’s didn’t announce a corresponding roster move, but Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that it’s “clear” that the versatile Tyler Ladendorf will be recalled from Triple-A.
A few more notes from the game’s Western divisions…
- The Padres have placed left-hander Robbie Erlin on the 15-day DL and recalled right-hander Leonel Campos from Triple-A El Paso, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. “He’s had some tightness in his forearm,” manager Andy Green said of Erlin. “He’d pitched through it, was capable of continuing to pitch through it. … We just thought it best at this point in time to shut him down for a couple weeks and get on top of it.” The Padres haven’t announced a replacement yet, but Lin tweets that Double-A right-hander Cesar Vargas was scratched from his start tonight and does not have an injury, making him a definite possibility. The Friars gave Vargas a big league contract and put him on the 40-man roster this offseason despite the fact that he’s never pitched in the Majors. Vargas has a 1.42 ERA through his first two starts this season and has a career 2.58 ERA at that level.
- Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs tells MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez that he’s throwing his fastball between 90 and 94 mph and is ready for a return to the Majors. However, Skaggs is still building up his endurance and says he understands the Halos’ cautious approach to his return. “I haven’t had any input or anything,” said Skaggs. “They said they want to save my innings for the end of the year, which completely makes sense. It’s frustrating for me because I want to pitch more. But it’s a good thing that they care about me, care about my future, about my health.” A healthy Skaggs could be a boon to an Angels rotation that is without C.J. Wilson and is going to be without Andrew Heaney for an indefinite amount of time. Heaney went on the disabled list with a forearm strain and, as of earlier this week, was said by manager Mike Scioscia to have “plateaued” in his rehab from the injury.
- Rockies right-hander Miguel Castro is dealing with shoulder inflammation and could land on the disabled list, writes MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. The hard-throwing 21-year-old, acquired in last summer’s Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster, has been outstanding for the Rockies early in the 2016 season, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in six innings pitched.
- The Mariners’ revamped bullpen has delivered excellent results early in the season, writes Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Incredibly, as Dutton points out, none of the seven relief pitchers that are currently in manager Scott Servais’ bullpen were on the Mariners’ Opening Day roster in 2015. GM Jerry Dipoto acquired four of the club’s current relievers (Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, Joel Peralta and Nick Vincent — this offseason, but Dipoto explained to Dutton that he’s all too aware of how fleeting the success could be. “I spent my entire major-league career pitching 400 pitched games in the bullpen,” said Dipoto. “Never did anything else. If you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. The bullpen is about as unpredictable as it gets.”
Athletics infielder Eric Sogard is undergoing left knee surgery at the moment, manager Bob Melvin told reporters, including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link). Last week, Sogard informed the media that doctors had found loose bodies in his knee and would likely undergo surgery. Sogard said he’s played through pain in his knee the past couple of years, but he’s reached the point where surgery is required. Dr. James Andrews is performing the operation, tweets John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group.
At the time the injury was made known to the public, Sogard was expected to be out six to eight weeks, though a definitive timeline won’t be known until the operation is completed and the club makes some form of announcement. Losing Sogard for an extended period does thin out the Athletics’ infield depth, but as is so often the case in Oakland, the club has enough players that are capable of handling multiple spots to cover in his absence. Jed Lowrie (second base) and Marcus Semien (shortstop) currently comprise the middle-infield duo for Melvin’s team. While the bench lacks a true backup shortstop, Lowrie has plenty of experience and could slide across the infield should a need arise, with Chris Coghlan then presenting an alternative at second base. Should the A’s need to tap into their minor league system to bolster the big league club’s infield depth, versatile Tyler Ladendorf is on the 40-man roster and has played shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield spots in his minor league career.
Sogard, 29, has spent parts of the past six seasons with the A’s and seen semi-regular playing time in each of the past three. While he’s not a particularly productive bat (career .239/.295/.313 batting line), Sogard is an excellent defensive second baseman that can also handle both shortstop and third base. He’s controllable through the 2017 season via the arbitration process, although with a $1.5MM salary in 2016, he could potentially arise as a non-tender candidate depending on the severity of his injury and/or the extent to which his bat can improve following a pair of difficult years at the plate.
A few notes from the American League…
- Standout Indians left fielder Michael Brantley will soon make his 2016 debut, according to manager Terry Francona. “He’s getting pretty close,” Francona said (link via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com). Brantley is likely to play consecutive games at Double-A Akron sometime during the upcoming week, per Bastian, as he works his way back from a right shoulder injury. Brantley emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous offensive threats during the previous two seasons, slashing a combined .319/.384/.494 with 35 homers and 38 steals, before undergoing shoulder surgery last November.
- Angels southpaw Andrew Heaney still has a ways to go to return from a left flexor muscle strain, manager Mike Scioscia told reporters, including Brian Hall of MLB.com. Heaney started for the Halos on April 5 and put up a decent line against the Cubs (six innings, seven strikeouts, no walks, seven hits, four runs), but his velocity dropped precipitously from the beginning of his outing to the end and he complained of left forearm tightness. The 24-year-old then landed on the disabled list the next day.
- The Athletics will continue using both right-hander Ryan Madson and lefty Sean Doolittle to close games, manager Bob Melvin told Willie Bans of MLB.com. “We’re just trying to do the best we can with, number one, matchups and, number two, with how guys are pitching,” he said. Madson has fared well this year (six innings, two earned runs, five strikeouts, one walk) while going 3 for 3 on save chances. On the other hand, Doolittle – one of the game’s top relievers from 2012-14 – has not bounced back nicely this season after missing nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury. Although Doolittle’s velocity has stayed in line with his career averages, the 29-year-old has yielded four earned runs and three homers in 5 2/3 innings this season.