Susan Slusser Rumors

AL West Notes: Hernandez, Andrus, Crisp, Athletics

Astros righty Roberto Hernandez has finally received his visa an is set to report to spring camp for a physical, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets. Hernandez has a bit of catching up to do if he hopes to make the roster after inking a minor league deal earlier in the offseason.

Here are some notes from the AL West:

  • A rough 2014 season for Elvis Andrus of the Rangers has left some looking askance at his eight-year, $120MM extension, which officially kicks in this season. As the Associated Press reports (via ESPN.com), Andrus says that he is ready for a better campaign after reporting out of shape last year. “This year I took it a thousand times [more] seriously than I did the year before,” he said. “… That was an offseason that I hope never happens again. In spring training I wasn’t ready.” A turnaround from Andrus would go a long way toward restoring the once-promising trajectory of the Rangers, to say nothing of his own. It would also increase his appeal as a trade chip, though Texas no longer has quite the middle infield logjam it once did.
  • Coco Crisp is set to play left field this year for the Athletics, manager Bob Melvin tells reporters including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). That shift, which was occasioned by a desire to protect the team’s investment in Crisp by reducing the toll on his body, will result in Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld platooning in center. In turn, that probably also puts an end to the notion that Oakland could look to acquire a second baseman and move Ben Zobrist to the outfield.
  • While it is hard to deny (and not entirely surprising) that the Athletics got less back for Jeff Samardzija than they gave to acquire him (along with Jason Hammel), the team feels good about the young players that it picked up from the White Sox, MLB.com’s Phil Rogers writes“Look, both of those deals are difficult,” said assistant GM David Forst. “You never like trading a guy like Addison [Russell], but Jeff and Jason filled a particular need for us at that time. Then to turn around and lose Jason and feel like trading Jeff is the best option is never an easy decision to make. Jeff is a guy who has his best years ahead of him still. He’s right at the age you want to get a pitcher. He knows his game. His stuff is without question. It was not an easy decision to make. It was part of the balancing act we are forced to make.”

Athletics Acquire Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar

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.

USATSI_8035097_154513410_lowresIt’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.


Pirates Claim Josh Lindblom, Outright Angel Sanchez

The Pirates have claimed righty Josh Lindblom off waivers from the Athletics, Pittsburgh has announced. Oakland recently designated him for assignment.

In a corresponding move, the Bucs outrighted right-hander Angel Sanchez to Triple-A. Sanchez was claimed by Pittsburgh back in July. He has yet to appear above the Double-A level.

As for Lindblom, the 27-year-old saw just one MLB appearance last year. He tossed 84 minor league innings, working to a 5.79 ERA with 6.4 K/9 versus 2.8 BB/9. Lindblom has played in parts of four major league campaigns.



Slusser On The Dan Haren Trade

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was recently named Rumor Royalty for the A’s.  She answered a few questions for MLBTR for the series.

MLBTR: Some have called Billy Beane’s return on Dan Haren "quantity over quality."  Do you agree?  What is your opinion on the Haren haul?

Slusser: My understanding is that the A’s felt that Arizona might be the best match all along for Haren and that they received pretty much exactly what they asked for, so clearly these are prospects the A’s valued highly, Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson in particular. Maybe there’s some belief the A’s should have gotten one of the Diamondbacks’ young big-leaguers, but that was never on the table. I’m not sure they would have done better elsewhere, and they got some quality and certainly quantity – which isn’t a bad thing. Mark Ellis was a throw-in in the Damon deal, essentially; no one really noticed him at the time. He turned out to be the most valuable piece, long-term.


Slusser On Barry Bonds Possibilities

We recently named Susan Slusser Rumor Royalty for the A’s.  She is the team’s beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.  As part of the feature she answered a few questions for us.

MLBTR: Could you see any team beside the A’s signing Barry Bonds?  In your estimation, what’s the most the A’s would pay for a year of Bonds

Slusser: An insider told me at the winter meetings that two other teams besides the A’s had asked about Bonds, so it’s impossible to rule out. If he plays – and that seems to be a pretty big if — Oakland has the best shot, but estimating a salary is really tough. If there’s no other interest and Bonds really wants to play, considering all the issues that surround him, the price tag could be pretty cheap, say $5-$6 million. If there’s more interest, it could go up. The A’s did pay Mike Piazza $8 million last year.

Do the A’s really want Bonds, though? There are good reasons to sign him, and equally solid reasons not to. They need to put fans in the seats after moving their most popular player, and they don’t have much in the middle of the order right now. On the other hand, they might alienate much of their fan base with Bonds, and a team that is in "full bore” rebuilding mode might not be looking to spend on a 43-year-old free agent with lots of legal problems and an iffy clubhouse reputation. There is no doubt it has been discussed internally, however.


Slusser On Blanton/Street/Ellis Trade Possibilities

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was recently named Rumor Royalty for the A’s.  As part of the feature, I asked her a few questions.

MLBTR: It seems Joe Blanton is a hot commodity, but we’re not hearing much about Huston Street or Mark Ellis. Do you expect any of these three to be with the team on Opening Day?

Slusser: I think Blanton gets moved by the trading deadline, at the latest, but probably before then. Street opens the season with the team but potentially could get moved by the deadline if a contender were to lose a closer, but overall, he’s less likely than Blanton to get dealt – he’s three years younger and, coming off an arm injury, he’s not going to bring back as much. Ellis has one year left on his deal, so wouldn’t bring a ton in return, plus he’s a great guy to have as a role model for young players. Clearly, no one is untouchable at this point, but of all the A’s more veteran guys, he’s the best bet to be around all year.


Rumor Royalty: Susan Slusser (Athletics)

As originally described here, Rumor Royalty is an MLBTR series where I name the one journalist for each team who has done the most for us hot stove junkies.  If the writer is up for it, I ask that person questions for publication on the site.  You can see all of the entries in the series here.

Today we present the honor for the Oakland Athletics to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Here’s a link to the newspaper’s A’s page.  Slusser also contributes to their A’s Drumbeat blog.  Slusser has been the A’s beat writer for the Chronicle for over a decade, bringing a refreshing sense of humor to what can be a grueling job.  She has answered three questions for MLBTR, and they’ll be running over the next few days.

Other journalists on tap: La Velle E. Neal III (Twins) and Mike DiGiovanna (Angels).