Oakland Athletics Rumors


Quick Hits: Pineda, A's, Sandoval

MLB officials plan to discuss the Michael Pineda pine tar incident with the Yankees, though a suspension isn't expected, Brendan Kuty of NJ.com reports. Pineda had what Kuty describes as a brown, oily substance on his hand during Thursday's start against the Red Sox, but league spokesman spokesman Pat Courtney notes that the right-hander was never seen applying a foreign substance, and the Red Sox never raised the issue. A couple more Major League notes on a slow night at MLBTR:

  • The rotating cast for the closer's job in Oakland has continued despite the club's acquisition of Jim Johnson this offseason, writes MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby. The A's have had eight different pitchers lead the team in saves over the past 13 seasons. Manager Bob Melvin says he "can definitely see" Johnson regaining the role, however.
  • Giants manager Bruce Bochy says Pablo Sandoval has assured him that his contract situation hasn't been a distraction in the season's early going, according to a report from Alex Espinoza of MLB.com. Sandoval is hitting just .143/.265/.238 thus far. He's scheduled to become a free agent after the season, but extension talks with the Giants have reportedly been shut down.



AL Notes: Indians, Fuld, Lester

Dr. James Andrews tells MLB Network Radio (via MetsBlog) that a number of factors have contributed to an increase in Tommy John surgeries throughout baseball. One issue is that high school pitchers are throwing too hard, and their ligaments aren't maturing quickly enough to keep up with their velocity. Year-round baseball is another issue, as is throwing breaking balls at a young age. High school pitchers who throw harder than 80-85 MPH also run the risk of having arm issues. Here are a few notes from around the American League.



Athletics Designate Sam Fuld For Assignment

The Athletics have designated Sam Fuld for assignment, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. The move clears space on the team's active roster for another strong defensive outfielder, Craig Gentry, who returns from the disabled list.

Fuld, 32, appeared in just seven games for the A's, hitting .200/.273/.433 in 33 plate appearances. He has a career .233/.312/.334 line in 841 career plate appearances, most of them with the Rays and Cubs. He signed with Oakland as a minor-league free agent in February, then made the team out of spring training when Gentry was unavailable.



Joel Hanrahan To Work Out For Teams Next Week

Free agent closer Joel Hanrahan will host a showcase for teams next week, reports ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). In a second tweet, Crasnick lists the Mets, Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Rockies, Royals, Athletics, Red Sox and Rays as teams that are believed to have interest in Hanrahan. He adds that somewhat curiously, he hasn't heard much buzz on the Tigers or Phillies being interested, though that could always change.

The 32-year-old Hanrahan underwent Tommy John surgery and also had his flexor tendon repaired and bone chips in his elbow removed on May 16 of last season. He opened the year as Boston's closer after being acquired in an offseason trade that sent Mark Melancon to the Pirates, but he allowed eight runs on 10 hits (four homers) and six walks with just five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings for the Red Sox before landing on the disabled list.

Prior to that season, Hanrahan had averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings over a five-year stretch between the Nationals and Pirates. The Bucs acquired Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge from the Nats in a deal that sent Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan to Washington, and Hanrahan blossomed into a two-time All-Star closer with Pittsburgh. Always one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game, Hanrahan's 96.5 mph average fastball from his 2011-13 peak ranked seventh in the game among qualified relievers.



Minor Moves: Eric Berger, Anthony Vasquez

Here are the day's minor moves:

  • The Athletics have released minor league lefty Eric Berger just days after acquiring him, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). Berger had been working at Sacramento since being added via trade just ten days ago. The southpaw had a solid run at Triple-A last year, throwing 70 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA ball.
  • Anthony Vasquez, another 27-year-old lefty, has inked a minor league deal with the Orioles, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. Vasquez had a brief (and unsuccessful) run with the Mariners back in 2011, and saw his stock fall precipitously thereafter. He has worked almost exclusively as a starter in his professional career.
  • The MLBTR DFA Tracker shows the following names in DFA limbo: Mike Baxter (Dodgers), Pedro Ciriaco (Royals), Hector Noesi (Mariners), and Jeremy Jeffress (Blue Jays).



AL Notes: Adenhart, Nunez, Colabello, Athletics

Today is the five-year anniversary of the tragic death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, and Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports provides a worthy tribute to a player who the game lost too soon. We join many others in honoring his memory.

Here are a few notes from the American League:

  • The Twins' decision to acquire shortstop Eduardo Nunez from the Yankees was done with the goal of scoring more runs, reports John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Indeed, the club has indicated that it would be aggressive with early-season moves if it felt change would be beneficial. Though manager Ron Gardenhire says that he "love[s]" current starter Pedro Florimon, he added that "we've got to have offense" and said that Florimon has to get better at making solid contact. (He has two hits and two walks against seven strikeouts in 23 plate appearances to date.) Minnesota will apparently continue to make moves as opportunities arise, rather than giving its in-house options lengthy leashes. "(When) we left spring training we weren't done looking," Gardenhire said. "We were waiting for teams, all the way to the end, to start sending people out. We're ready. We're ready."
  • One positive force early on for the Twins has been Chris Colabello, who the club tried to ship out to Korea during the offseason. Instead, he rolled the dice on breaking camp and did so, and now sports an OPS north of 1.000 through his first 29 plate appearances. As Parker Hageman writes for Twins Daily, this latest unlikely twist is not the first in Colabello's remarkable career arc. The piece is well worth a read: it includes plenty of great quotes from the key players in his tale and provides some color for many of the "minor moves" type coverage found here at MLBTR. As club GM Terry Ryan explains, it all started with Colabello's grinding in the independent leagues: "Of course [Colabello] continued to put up number after number, year after year, and was worth a look. ... Ok, this guy deserves an invite to minor league spring training. He got down there, he was pretty good. He started in Double-A and never really had an off-week."
  • The Athletics' ownership group seems not to have any present intentions to put the club on the market, but would draw intense interest if it did, according to a report from Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. According to Kawakami, a variety of would-be buyers -- including the co-owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors -- are attracted by the team's current profitability and the possibility of guiding the team to a new ballpark in the midst of a thriving baseball economy. This does not necessarily mean that a move of the franchise would be in order; Kawakami reports that most of the groups with potential interest would be looking to keep the ballclub in Oakland (assuming a new stadium can be procured).



Free Agent Notes: Gimenez, Hanrahan, Available Players

All remains relatively quiet on the compensation free agent front -- as you may have heard, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales remain unsigned, though each is now freed of the possibility of receiving another QO next year if they sign a one-year deal. While there have been rumblings that Morales could be approaching a contract, specifics remain unclear. Nevertheless, there is still a good bit of motion among some less-heralded names in the season's early going. Here's the latest:



Offseason In Review: Oakland Athletics

Fresh off their second straight AL West Division Championship, the Athletics spent a significant amount of money to invest in what is now a stacked bullpen.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

  • Coco Crisp, OF: Two years, $22.75MM with a $13MM vesting option ($750K buyout).

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

After a disheartening defeat at the hands of Justin Verlander and the Tigers in the 2013 ALDS, the A's entered the offseason facing the reality that top starter Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour would likely command more dollars than the team was comfortable committing. The always active Billy Beane sought to fill these gaps on the free agent and trade markets, and baseball's most famous GM had one of his most active offseasons to date.

Kazmir-Scott-Athletics

Scott Kazmir (pictured) was signed to a two-year deal that was actually $2MM more expensive than the two-year, $20MM deal that Colon inked with the Mets, but Beane and his staff appeared more amenable to the risk associated with Kazmir's injury history than Colon's age. Kazmir comes with significant upside, as ERA estimators FIP, xFIP and SIERA all feel that his performance was more indicative of a 3.35 to 3.50 ERA than the 4.04 mark he finished with. Kazmir's 10.1 percent swinging-strike rate and 92.5 mph average fastball velocity both ranked in the Top 25 in baseball among pitchers with 150 or more innings pitched. He was sidelined with a minor triceps issue this spring, but looked to be in good form in his first outing of the year (7 1/3 shutout innings with 5 strikeouts, no walks, and just three hits).

Many expected Balfour to sign a two- or three-year deal with a significant average annual value this offseason. The A's likely thought the same and deemed it too rich for the their taste, though apparently only in terms of contract length and not AAV. Oakland acquired Jim Johnson in exchange for Jemile Weeks and David Freitas in what amounted to a salary dump designed to free up payroll for the Orioles. It wasn't exactly a move that most would expect of Beane and his regime, as Oakland has long subscribed to the theory that closers are made, not born. (Balfour himself had just eight career saves prior to signing with Oakland.) When the A's have spent on a closer, it's been a more modest annual investment, such as their two-year, $10.5MM deal with Brian Fuentes prior to the 2011 season.

As if adding Johnson's $10MM salary wasn't enough, the A's doubled down on expensive relievers by flipping Seth Smith to San Diego in order to acquire one of the NL's best setup men -- Luke Gregerson. Each player had one year left on his deal, though Gregerson will end up earning roughly $750K more than Smith after agreeing to a one-year, $5.065MM deal to avoid arbitration.

After seeing their acquisition of Chris B. Young result in a mere .200/.280/.379 batting line, the A's looked elsewhere for a lefty-mashing fourth outfielder and acquired Craig Gentry in an intradivision trade with the Rangers. In Gentry, Oakland secured one of baseball's best defenders and fastest runners -- two skills that typically aren't rewarded through arbitration. That was unequivocally apparent when Gentry's first trip through arbitration resulted in a $1.145MM salary despite a healthy 6.2 fWAR over the past two seasons. That's nearly $10MM less than Young earned in 2013; suffice it to say, while Michael Choice was a reasonably steep price to pay, Oakland greatly improved its outfield depth for the next three years in a way that won't cost them financially. By acquiring Lindblom in the deal, they also gained another bullpen arm or potential rotation option, which has proven to be crucial this spring (more on that later).

Beane also acquired some future upside, though it doesn't come without risk; in Drew Pomeranz, he landed a former No. 5 overall draft pick (by the Indians) who has yet to flourish in the Major Leagues despite reasonable success at the Triple-A level. Pomeranz has opened the season in the Oakland bullpen after a strong Spring Training. Also acquired was the speedster Billy Burns, whose 10 steals in 26 Spring Training contests drew comparisons to another fleet-footed Billy -- Billy Hamilton. Burns has averaged 76 steals per 162 games in the minors and has a career .420 OBP, and he's likely not too far from Major League ready.

Questions Remaining

Beane and his staff were able to make all of these moves without losing too many of the major pieces from last year's club. The loss of Colon, in theory, will be offset by the acquisition of Kazmir. Johnson and Gregerson are designed to replace Balfour at the back end of the bullpen, and while the loss of Anderson defintely sent some talent out the door, he pitched just 44 2/3 sub-par innings last season in a year when the A's won 96 games.

The question, then, becomes just how much -- if at all -- the A's improved. It's certainly curious to see Oakland spend this type of money on its bullpen, given the team's modest payroll. In Johnson, Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty (who won't even pitch until midseason), the Athletics are spending more than $16MM. For a team that's in record-payroll territory despite an overall commitment of roughly $82MM, that's a significant amount of money to spend on late-inning relief.

Even before the benefit of hindsight regarding Jarrod Parker's Tommy John surgery, one could argue that some of those funds would have been better allocated to the starting rotation. Though Oakland starters finished ninth in the Majors in ERA last season, they finished 19th in FIP and 23rd in xFIP, and that was including the departed Colon. A full year of Sonny Gray will help those numbers, but a full season of Kazmir is far from a safe bet. Talented as Kazmir might be, he's topped 160 innings just twice in his career and logged 158 last season in his comeback with Cleveland. From a WAR standpoint, he may only need 250-300 innings to justify the value of his contract, but the A's are probably hoping for a higher total than that, which is no sure thing.

The question marks surrounding Kazmir's workload are magnified by the injuries to Parker and A.J. Griffin. Oakland has begun the season with Jesse Chavez in its rotation, and Lindblom has already been needed for a spot start. An early injury to Kazmir could push Lindblom into the rotation full-time and leave the club with little depth.

When everyone was healthy, adding two veteran starters might've seemed unnecessary, but perhaps they could have done so and moved a starter to address other needs. The team pursued a reunion with Tim Hudson this offseason and finished runner-up to the Giants; I wonder if foregoing the trade for Johnson could have left them with the financial wherewithal to add both Hudson and Kazmir.

That could've led to a trade to shore up their second base situation. For all of Eric Sogard's popularity -- he nearly won the #FaceOfMLB contest this offseason due to his overwhelming popularity with the fans -- the fact remains that he's a career .240/.295/.341 hitter. He and Punto provide strong defense at the keystone, and Sogard is a valuable member of the Oakland clubhouse, but a second base upgrade could have been beneficial. Had things shaken out differently, perhaps a second intra-division trade of the offseason could have been struck to add Nick Franklin to the fold. It won't be a surprise if the A's are in the market for a more potent bat up the middle this summer.

Deal of Note

While the Kazmir signing and the Johnson acquisition are both a bit out of character for the A's, perhaps the most interesting move the club made was its extension for Crisp. Beane and the A's are known for signing young, core players to long-term deals (and often trading them a few years into those deals), but an extension for a veteran player such as Crisp is of the utmost rarity for Oakland. The closest thing we've seen to a deal such as this one from Beane is Mark Ellis' two-year, $11MM signed following the 2008 season. Ellis was set to hit free agency following that season, while Crisp would've been a free agent following the 2014 season (Crisp's previous two-year deal with Oakland was signed in January 2012 as a free agent).

It's certainly a gamble, to an extent, on a 34-year-old whose game is largely based on speed, but Crisp has been worth at least two fWAR and 2.7 rWAR in each of his four seasons with Oakland. While he's not likely to play in 150 games per season, Crisp has been an underrated commodity in Oakland and should live up the value of his deal even when he faces some inevitable power regression (Crisp's average home run distance in 2013 was 353 feet, per BaseballHeatMaps.com, and Hit Tracker lumped eight of his 22 home runs from 2013 into the "Just Enough" category).

Overview

When coming off a 96-win season, it's difficult to find ways to definitively improve a club. Late injuries to Parker and Griffin have muddied the picture when looking at Oakland's roster, but heading into Spring Training, this looked to be a club that would challenge its record from 2013. Though the team could stand a few upgrades, Beane and his staff constructed a solid roster, top to bottom. It's possible that their spending spree on relievers was simply due to the fact that they had money to spend but so few glaring holes on the roster that they put the excess funds toward the only area that they felt needed a good deal of work.

The loss of Parker hurts, and Oakland has a lot of eggs in the fragile basket of Scott Kazmir's left arm. However, the club also has the depth to replace him, especially once Griffin returns to the mound. Injuries have ravaged the Rangers as well, somewhat lessening the blow of their own DL-related woes. While the Astros, Mariners and Angels all look to have improved, they're all still chasing the 2012-13 AL West Champions, and the A's figure to make a strong push for a divisional three-peat in 2014.

Photo courtesy of Ed Szczepanski/USA Today Sports Images.



Minor Moves: Rapada, Gimenez, Cabrera, Taylor

We'll keep track of the day's minor moves here:

  • The Mariners have signed lefty Clay Rapada and added him to the roster at Triple-A Tacoma, according to Rainiers announce Mike Curto (on Twitter). Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune first reported (via Twitter) that Rapada was working out for the team. The left-hander has a 4.06 ERA in 94 big league innings but has never been able to hold down a consistent big league job despite dominant numbers against left-handed hitters; Rapada has held lefties to a minuscule .164/.255/.231 batting line in his career. However, righties have roughed him up at a .345/.464/.611 clip.
  • Catcher Chris Gimenez has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock, according to the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant (Twitter link). Gimenez, who has been outrighted previously, has 72 hours to accept or reject the assignment. He was claimed off waivers by the Rangers last week but quickly designated for assignment when the club promoted Daniel McCutchen to the Majors.
  • The Cubs have outrighted reliever Alberto Cabrera to Triple-A after he cleared waivers, reports Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). The 25-year-old righty was designated on Saturday. 
  • Outfielder Michael Taylor has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. The 28-year-old will take up residence in Sacramento for the fifth straight year since joining the Oakland organization.
  • Brian Bogusevic has accepted an outright assignment from the Marlins, reports Cotillo (via Twitter). Bogusevic, a 30-year-old outfielder who was acquired over the offseason for Justin Ruggiano, could have elected free agency since he has previously been outrighted.
  • The Red Sox have released outfielder Scott Cousins, Cotillo also tweets. Cousins, 29, has seen bit action in parts of four MLB seasons. The news was first reported yesterday by Mike Andrews of SoxProspects (via Twitter). According to Andrews, longtime minor leaguer Juan Carlos Linares was also among the players cut loose from the Boston system.
  • Pitcher Armando Galarraga is working on securing a visa after receiving an offer from the Taiwanese club Brother Elephants, his agent tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Cotillo tweeted earlier this morning that the former big leaguer was close to a deal to move to Taiwan. In 542 career MLB innings, Galarraga has a 4.78 ERA  with 5.7 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9.
  • Outfielder Dave Sappelt has been released by the Phillies, tweets Cotillo. Sappelt himself said on Twitter that he appreciates the club carrying him while undergoing offseason surgery. The 27-year-old has seen limited action in three big league seasons.
  • The Astros have outrighted reliever Raul Valdes to Triple-A, according to the PCL transactions page. Though he lacks an extensive MLB track record at age 36, Valdes still has an intriguing recent stat line and looks to be a good bet to see time in Houston at some point. His ERA was a ghastly 7.46 last year, but he put up 9.5 K/9 (against just 2.1 BB/9), good for a 3.10 SIERA. Valdes posted numbers more line with those peripherals in 2012 and even during limited action this spring.
  • Likewise, Hiroyuki Nakajima has been outrighted to the top affiliate of the Athletics, also via the PCL transactions page. The move is not surprising, given that Nakajima had only been added to the 40-man in the first place to fill it up to allow for the team to designate Taylor for assignment, according to a report from John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (via Twitter).

Steve Adams contributed to this post.



Athletics Sign Joe Blanton

The A's have signed right-hander Joe Blanton to a minor league deal and assigned him to Triple-A Sacramento, the team announced (on Twitter). By signing with Oakland, the CAA Sports client will return to the organization with which his Major League career began.

Blanton, 33, struggled tremendously in his lone season with the Angels after signing a two-year, $15MM contract last offseason. Those difficulties, along with a 7.08 ERA in 20 1/3 Spring Training innings with the Halos, led to his release last week. The Angels will still be on the hook for his $6.5MM salary and $2MM option buyout.

The former No. 24 overall pick posted a sky-high 6.04 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 44.3 percent ground-ball rate in 132 2/3 innings with the Halos last year. Despite a respectable ground-ball rate and solid K/BB ratios, Blanton was again plagued by a bloated homer-to-flyball ratio (19.1 percent). He's posted a well-above-average HR/FB mark in each of the past five seasons, leading xFIP (which normalizes HR/FB based on the league-average rate) to project ERAs that are consistently well below his actual results.

Blanton will serve as rotation depth for an Athletics rotation that will be without Jarrod Parker for the entirety of the 2014 campaign. Oakland also has a lot riding on the fragile arm of Scott Kazmir and has already seen an injury to A.J. Griffin come up as well, so adding Blanton as a veteran insurance policy makes some sense as a low-risk, moderate-reward option. While he doesn't come with significant upside, Blanton has proven himself capable of being a solid innings eater in prior seasons.









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