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Earlier today, the Rays agreed to swap Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, infield prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The move represents a five or six win gain for the A’s, writes Keith Law of ESPN (Insider required). Per Law, Oakland lacked any “capable everyday middle infielders,” so the move is pure benefit at those positions. Here’s more reactions to the blockbuster.
- While it’s been a hectic offseason for the A’s, the club still has another $5MM available, tweets John Hickey of Bay Area News Group. My impression is that the team is pretty well stocked at this point. I could see a role for a third catcher, backup outfielder, or middle reliever, but no need is particularly pressing.
- Teams interested in Zobrist checked in with A’s GM Billy Beane within five minutes of the trade, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Zobrist appears to be a linchpin for the A’s, so a second trade strikes me as unlikely. Of course, Beane has shown this offseason that we can’t rule it out.
- The acquisition of Zobrist and Escobar will allow the A’s to shift Marcus Semien into a utility role, writes Law. Semien was previously penciled in as the primary shortstop, but he’s better suited to second or third base. With Semien and Zobrist capable of playing all over the diamond, Oakland could possess the most flexible roster in the league.
- “We see [Semien] as an everyday player, similar to Josh Harrison‘s role with the Pirates,” said Beane to reporters including Chris Haft of MLB.com. Meanwhile, Beane plans to leverage Zobrist’s versatility and switch-hitting to build excellent matchups. In the same article, Beane compared Robertson to former Athletic Mark Ellis.
- Jaso is excited to return to Tampa Bay, tweets Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. Per Baker, Jaso had identified the Rays earlier in the offseason as a team that might target him (also Twitter).
- Jaso’s return to the Rays could allow the club to shop left-handed outfielder David DeJesus, according to Law. The veteran outfielder is owed $6MM in 2015, and the Rays have a reputation for careful management of the payroll. A trade would open more regular playing time for Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer. Jaso is expected to serve primarily as a designated hitter.
- Beane’s re-tooling efforts are “fearless,” writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. The GM’s decision to trade multiple All Stars and established veterans to extend the club’s window to compete is nothing short of inspired. Justice also notes that manager Bob Melvin specializes in building cohesive teams. With so many new faces, Melvin will have his hands full.
The trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson and outfield prospect Boog Powell on Saturday was a franchise-changing one for the Rays, who parted with a longtime star. Zobrist joined the team in 2006 when it had never had a winning season and was still called the Devil Rays, and he was a key to the team’s turnaround, helping lead the organization to its first winning season in 2008.
Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman told the media Saturday afternoon that the decision to trade Zobrist, who would have been eligible for free agency after the season, was a painful one.
“This has been a difficult transaction for all of us to stomach,” Silverman said. “There are a lot of heavy hearts in the organization today. Ben has been a central figure in the transformation of the organization.”
Unsurprisingly, Silverman said that a team in the Rays’ position sometimes has to trade veterans for young talent.
“These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate. In an ideal world, we don’t make these kinds of trades, but we don’t have the luxury to do that,” he said.
While not all trades of older players for younger ones work out, such trades have often proven helpful to the Rays in the past.
“We acquired Ben Zobrist in a trade kind of like this,” said Silverman, referring to the deal in which they sent former star Aubrey Huff to the Astros in 2006.
The Rays parted with another starting infielder in Escobar in today’s deal as well. They knew heading into trade discussions that the Athletics liked Escobar, because the A’s had claimed him from the Rays on revocable waivers last year.
“When we talk to teams, oftentimes interest is expressed years before transactions actually come to a head,” said Silverman, adding that the A’s were one of a number of teams with interest in Escobar. “Oakland had interest in Yunel for awhile, and it helps set the tone for conversations.”
Now, with Zobrist and Escobar gone, the Rays will need to reshape their middle infield. The key will be Asdrubal Cabrera, whose signing the Rays officially announced today. Silverman said that Cabrera would get regular playing time either at shortstop or second base.
Beyond that, he noted, “we have an open mind heading into the spring” regarding the middle infield. Silverman added that Nick Franklin, who the Rays acquired in the David Price deal last summer and who can also play both shortstop and second base, could now get more playing time as well.
“There are a number of players in our organization who probably see a better opportunity for them,” Silverman said, though he also suggested that the Rays could continue to look for outside middle infield help.
Meanwhile, the Rays did get one big-leaguer as part of their return in the trade. Getting a good left-handed hitter in John Jaso was a key to the deal, Silverman said.
“He’s the kind of offensive player that our lineup has been missing against right-handed pitching,” said Silverman.
The position Jaso has played the most is catcher, but Silverman suggested that Jaso’s hitting was more important to them than his ability to catch. Jaso missed the end of the 2014 season with concussion issues. Silverman said he expects Jaso to be healthy heading into the season, but added that it’s important that the Rays put Jaso “in the best position to succeed,” seemingly suggesting that the team could limit his catching if playing the position proved to be a health risk. The team could use Jaso at first base or outfield in addition to occasional catching if he proves he can perform at those positions.
“We want to make sure we get as much out of that bat as possible,” said Silverman.
Nonetheless, it’s Robertson, the Athletics’ former No. 1 prospect, who most interests the Rays.
“Robertson is the lead piece in this transaction,” Silverman said. “It takes a large trade like this for us to be able to acquire someone of his talents.”
Powell isn’t on Robertson’s level as a prospect, but he wasn’t a throw-in, either.
“He’s a speedy outfielder with an interesting bat profile, and one that we hope can develop a little bit more power. It’s a profile that is uncommon, but one that can often find success at the Major League level,” said Silverman. “He’s not going to overwhelm you in the stat box, but his value shows up in many different ways.”
Neither Robertson nor Powell has even played at Double-A yet, so neither of them are likely to help the Rays next year. Silverman says, though, that he expects the Rays’ offense to improve upon its AL-worst 612 runs scored next season, despite the departures of Zobrist, Escobar, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce.
“A lot of that is based on our expectation that the players who are returning will perform better offensively than they did last year,” he said.
“If our players play to our expectation, and we get the contributions we expect from the players we’ve added, this should be a better offensive team. … This team should be competitive. It should be compelling. The talent level is certainly there. It just looks different than it has in years past.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Rays have announced that they’ve traded Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for catcher/DH John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The Rays also announced that they would receive cash considerations, which Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets is $1.5MM.
“It’s an emotional and meaningful day as we bid farewell to Ben Zobrist and thank him for everything he’s meant to the Rays organization,” says Rays executive Matt Silverman. “Any description of his value, talent and character would understate how we feel about Ben, and we consider ourselves fortunate for all our great moments together.”
The Athletics entered the offseason with needs at both middle infield positions. They addressed one of those when they acquired Marcus Semien from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade, though Semien isn’t an established big-leaguer, and the versatile Zobrist can be moved around the field if Semien emerges. Or perhaps it’s Semien who will move around — he played third base in the big leagues and left field in the minors in 2014, and Slusser suggests that Semien could now be used “like a young Zobrist.” So acquiring Zobrist and Escobar certainly makes sense from a positional perspective.
The A’s pulling off a blockbuster trade for Zobrist and Escobar is surprising, however, given the trajectory of their offseason. They signed DH Billy Butler early in the winter but have spent much of the rest of it trading veterans, not acquiring them, sending Samardzija to Chicago, Josh Donaldson to Toronto, Brandon Moss to Cleveland, and Derek Norris to San Diego. The A’s also lost Jon Lester, Luke Gregerson and Jed Lowrie to free agency.
The Athletics aren’t interested in complete rebuilds, however, and acquiring Zobrist and Escobar (who the Athletics claimed on revocable waivers last August) should help, at least for 2015, in making up for the talent they lost previously in the offseason. The 33-year-old Zobrist has been one of baseball’s best players over the past several seasons, with four straight seasons of an fWAR of above 5.0. While his offense the past two years has been down from his 2008-2012 pace (slipping somewhat to .272/.354/.395 in 2014), his defensive talents and ability to play second base, shortstop and outfield make him tremendously valuable. He will be eligible for free agency after making $7.5MM in the last option season on the team-friendly extension he signed with Tampa in 2010. The Athletics can also extend Zobrist a qualifying offer after the season, potentially netting themselves a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
Zobrist had also been connected to the Nationals and Giants this offseason. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out in December, however, Zobrist would have made sense for any number of teams.
Escobar, 32, hit .258/.324/.340 in 529 plate appearances with the Rays in 2014. In the past, much of his value has come from his above-average glove, although UZR liked his defense considerably less in 2014 than it did in the past. He signed a two-year deal last April that carries him through 2016 at a total of $12MM, and he also has a $1MM buyout on a $7MM option for 2017.
From the Rays’ perspective, a trade of Zobrist or Escobar seemed likely after the team reached agreement on a one-year deal with Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera will make $7.5MM in 2015, exactly the same as Zobrist, so trading him doesn’t seem to be primarily about shedding salary, but about getting something for a top player who’s eligible for free agency before the next time the Rays are likely to contend. The Rays could now use a combination of Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe in the middle infield.
The Rays’ haul is considerable, as one would expect given Zobrist’s considerable talents. Jaso, 31, appeared in 54 games at catcher and 32 at DH last season, hitting .264/.337/.430. Given his solid hitting from the left side, Jaso is valuable at either position. He tells John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (on Twitter) that the Rays have told him they want him to mostly DH while occasionally filling in at catcher. That would leave Rene Rivera as the Rays’ primary backstop.
Jaso was a semi-regular player for the Rays in 2010 and 2011 before they traded him to Seattle. He’s projected to make $3.3MM in 2015, his last season before he’s eligible for free agency. Jaso missed the end of the season last year with concussion issues but is expected to be healthy heading into the 2015 season.
The real jewel here, though, is Robertson, who MLB.com and Baseball America rank as the Athletics’ top prospect MLB.com also ranks him the No. 85 prospect in baseball overall. The 20-year-old also, obviously, would have qualified as Oakland’s top young shortstop after the A’s traded Addison Russell last year. Robertson, who the A’s drafted in the first round in 2012, hit .310/.402/.471 in 642 plate appearances with Class A+ Stockton in 2014, winning praise for his line-drive stroke on offense and his sure-handedness on defense. The loss of Robertson is another hit to the Athletics’ farm system that lost plenty of talent in the Samardzija deal with the Cubs last summer, although the addition of Franklin Barreto in the Donaldson trade should help with the middle infield depth they’re losing.
Fellow 2012 draftee Powell, meanwhile, ranks No. 11 on MLB.com’s list. Powell (who isn’t related to the fellow lefty-hitting outfielder and former Orioles great of the same name) hit a terrific .343/.451/.435 in 381 plate appearances with Class A Beloit and with Stockton in 2014. He was, however, suspended for 50 games in July for testing positive for an amphetamine. He doesn’t have an outstanding arm, but has good speed (though he hasn’t translated that speed into good basestealing ability yet) and could stick in center field.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report that a deal sending Zobrist and Escobar to Oakland was imminent. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to tweet that the Rays would get Jaso and two prospects in the deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that Robertson was involved in the deal, while ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted that Powell was in the trade.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Athletics have designated Andy Parrino for assignment, John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group tweets. The move clears space on the team’s 40-man roster after their acquisitions of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar.
Parrino hit .152/.216/.283 in 51 plate appearances with the A’s in 2014, spending most of the season with Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .286/.363/.404. The A’s claimed him from the Rangers in April. The acquisitions of Zobrist and Escobar reduced Oakland’s need for infield help, making Parrino expendable.
Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera is set to host an open showcase at the Giants’ facility in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 21-22, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. The 29-year-old second baseman is one of the top international prospects on the market but is not yet eligible to sign with clubs due to the fact that he has not been cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) or by Major League Baseball.
Representatives from the majority of Major League clubs should likely be expected to attend, as this will be many scouts’ first opportunity to see Olivera in-person in several years. Olivera missed the entire 2012-13 season in Cuba with what his club said was a blood disorder, and he also sat out from many international tournaments in that span. He returned to Cuba’s Serie Nacional in 2013-14 and batted .316/.412/.474 in 273 plate appearances, although as Badler cautions, Olivera played second base in just 29 of his 90 games, appearing at DH in all of the others.
Olivera’s age and experience as a professional in Serie Nacional will make him exempt from international spending limitations once he is ultimately declared a free agent by the league and OFAC. It’s not clear at this time, however, exactly what type of contract the soon-to-be 30-year-old will command.
Badler notes that earlier in the offseason, he heard both the Padres and A’s mentioned as possible fits for Olivera. San Diego may not be as strong a fit for Olivera as it was a few weeks ago, however, as the Padres have added Will Middlebrooks to the mix at third base,. One would assume that Jedd Gyorko would have slid over to the hot corner eventually if Olivera were to play second base for the Friars.
From a purely speculative standpoint, I can also see the Nationals, Angels, Blue Jays and White Sox as fits based on team need, as each has some uncertainty surrounding their second base incumbent. The Sox are admittedly an imperfect fit, as they just signed Emilio Bonifacio and have the well-regarded Micah Johnson waiting in the wings, but from a 2015 standpoint, Bonifacio could simply be used in a super utility capacity.
White Sox second base prospect Micah Johnson will have a chance to earn a starting job this spring, but he has bigger plans for his baseball career, writes Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Johnson has his eyes on an eventual GM job when his playing career is concluded. He’s continued his studies while in the minors and plans to attend law school after his playing career is complete. Current GM Rick Hahn agrees that Johnson could fit in as a manager or GM. Per Hahn, “Micah is one of those guys who has that high off-the-field potential.”
- The A’s won’t become a surprise contender in the bidding for Max Scherzer or James Shields, writes Jane Lee of MLB.com. We all know about the payroll constraints facing Oakland. As Lee points out, the A’s have a solid rotation in place as it is, with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir manning the front lines.
- Even if the A’s had reached the World Series, Lee thinks we would have seen GM Billy Beane complete many of the same offseason trades. Beane “sensed the club was regressing” when he went out to acquire Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester. With eight free agents outgoing, there was an overarching need to restock.
- The Red Sox met with free agent starter James Shields during the winter meetings, but no substantive talks have occurred, tweets Jim Bowden of ESPN. While there’s an obvious use for a front line starter in Boston, the club is clearly taking its time feeling out the market. The Sox are expected to be competitive in the AL East, but an ace could put them over the top.
Here are a few notes from around the game to round out the evening:
- The Athletics appear well-situated to make a run at Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, writes Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com. Oakland has some financial freedom after its run of divesting veteran assets, and has the flexibility to wait and see if and when Olivera becomes eligible to sign.
- The Phillies have made some significant trades in recent weeks, but must part with Ryan Howard to fully enter a rebuild, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Maikel Franco is ready for a big league roster spot, says Brookover, and Howard should not be allowed to stand in his way.
- Trading away corner outfielders Jason Heyward and Justin Upton was the right decision for the Braves, opines MLB.com’s Terence Moore. The roster was not good enough to be a serious postseason threat, says Moore, and moving those pieces brought back important future assets.
Here’s the latest on some of the top international players who seem set to join Major League Baseball in 2015…
- The Athletics, Padres and Yankees are the teams who have been particularly connected to Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, sources tell Baseball America’s Ben Badler. All three teams have a need at second base, and Badler opines that the Nationals could also be a contender for Olivera given their lack of depth at the keystone. The Marlins were also linked to Olivera earlier in the offseason though their subsequent acquisition of Dee Gordon may have solved their need for second base help.
- Also from Badler, he describes Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada as a “potential franchise player” in a clip from a new documentary by Jonathan Miller and Sami Kahn. Badler’s commentary is a continuous stream of praise, which is perhaps unsurprising given the 19-year-old Moncada’s reputation. Moncada is reportedly currently in Florida, waiting to be cleared by the US Office Of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign with a big-league team.
Here’s the latest from Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
- The Blue Jays, Athletics, Cubs, White Sox and Angels are interested in Stephen Drew to play second base but don’t want to pay his $9MM-$10MM asking price, Sherman writes. There’s concern that Drew’s poor 2014 season marks the beginning of a serious decline. “Fine, you want to say June and July [last year] were spring training for him, well, how about August or September? There was never a time in which he looked like a major league hitter,” says one executive. The Yankees could have interest in him, but want to commit to Didi Gregorius at shortstop and could have concern Drew would provide an easy distraction from those plans, even if he’s signed as a second baseman. Earlier this month, we guessed Drew would get a one-year, $7MM deal.
- The Royals signed Alex Rios this offseason even though Rios rejected a trade to Kansas City last summer, Sherman says. The Rangers tried to trade Rios to the Royals, but Rios requested that Kansas City exercise his 2015 option as a condition of the deal. The Royals said no, so Rios used his no-trade clause to stop the trade. Rios thus spent the entire season with the Rangers, refusing a chance to join a team in the midst of a playoff race.
- There have already been rumors of the Padres trading Wil Myers to Philadelphia in a Cole Hamels deal, and Sherman writes that San Diego would, in fact, consider dealing Myers, who they might feel isn’t good enough defensively to handle center field.
Here’s the latest from the American League:
- The Mariners still have their eye on Padres outfielder Seth Smith, writes Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. However, it’s unclear if San Diego is eager to move Smith. Along with Will Venable, Smith is one of just two left-handed outfielders on San Diego’s 40-man roster. While the club is still expected to trade one of them, there remain several factors in play. Divish also hears that offers have been made by Seattle for Smith.
- After today’s trade of Shawn Kelley, the Yankees appear to have 11 candidates for two bullpen jobs, writes Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. Kuty assumes the club will attempt to identify a long reliever and a spring standout to fill the spots. Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, and Manny Banuelos are the top candidates for to fill in as long reliever. Of those who may be given a chance to surprise in spring training, 2014 draft Jacob Lindgren is perhaps the most interesting. Across four levels, Lindgren struck out 48 batters in 25 innings last season. He’s yet to pitch above Double-A and isn’t on the 40-man roster, so he should still be viewed as a long shot.
- The A’s could be among the clubs interested in 30-year-old Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, opines John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group. Oakland has few internal options at second base beyond Eric Sogard. Meanwhile, Olivera hit .316/.412/.474 in the Serie Nacional last season. After returning from an injury that caused him to miss the previous season, Olivera spent the majority of his time at designated hitter. He has yet to establish residency in another country, making a spring training debut doubtful. Clubs expect Olivera to hold an open showcase once the residency issue is resolved.