- Matt Chapman provided an update on his health status in the wake of offseason thumb and shoulder surgery, telling reporters (including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser) that he’ll be in the lineup when the Athletics begin their season on March 20 in Tokyo. The third baseman could miss a few early Spring Training games as he recovers, however, noting “it’s hard to say when everything will be a full go.” Chapman expressed some regret at waiting until December to undergo his shoulder procedure, as he said the joint was giving him some discomfort during the season but he thought some downtime would correct the issue. While the A’s will certainly be cautious about their star during the spring, it doesn’t yet seem Chapman is in any danger of missing any regular season action.
- Athletics righty James Kaprielian suffered a setback in his shoulder and will undergo an MRI, manager Bob Melvin told Jane Lee of MLB.com, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle and other reporters Sunday. The severity is unknown, but it’s still a disappointing development for the A’s and the 24-year-old Kaprielian, who hasn’t pitched professionally since 2016 because of shoulder problems. Kaprielian, a first-round pick in 2016, was a key part of the A’s return from the Yankees for Sonny Gray in 2017.
- Regardless of what happens with Kaprielian, Oakland “would love” to pick up one or two more starters prior to the season, Slusser writes. The low-budget Athletics aren’t looking to spend a lot, per Slusser, but there are a few pitchers on the market who could appeal to them. Free agents Brett Anderson and Edwin Jackson were key members of last year’s playoff-bound A’s starting-staff, for instance, and they have shown interest in the unsigned Gio Gonzalez, an Athletic from 2008-11.
- It’s “unlikely” the Athletics will enter the season with their current catcher tandem of Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Ultimately, the A’s may take a similar route to the one they went down last spring, when they signed a veteran (Jonathan Lucroy) in March, but the team could have a greater sense of urgency this time around because it’s leaving for Japan on March 14, Slusser notes. Free-agent backstop options are dwindling, moreover, though at least one of the available players – Matt Wieters – has piqued the Athletics’ interest.
- The Giants and Athletics are among the teams with some level of interest in free-agent left-hander Gio Gonzalez, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. New Giants president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi has waited out the market to find palatable one-year contracts with Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz already, so perhaps there’s a hope that the same can be accomplished with regard to the 33-year-old Gonzalez. San Francisco currently projects to have Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Rodriguez, Holland and Pomeranz in the rotation, with the fifth spot likely going to either Jeff Samardzija or Andrew Suarez, depending on Samardzija’s health after an injury-ruined 2018 season. Ty Blach, Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede are among the other rotation candidates on the 40-man roster. Meanwhile, there’s a clearer path to rotation innings in Gonzalez’s old Oakland stomping grounds. It’s not the first time the A’s have been connected to Gonzalez this winter, but the interest is nonetheless notable, as the last link between the two sides came well before the Athletics’ signing of Marco Estrada.
The Athletics are in agreement on a minor league contract with left-hander Jerry Blevins, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. He’d earn a $1.5MM base salary if he makes the big league roster. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle had reported just minutes prior that Blevins and the A’s were close to a deal. With this deal, the Excel Sports client will be returning to Oakland for a second stint after breaking into the Majors with the A’s and spending the 2007-13 seasons there.
Since departing the A’s, the now-35-year-old Blevins has spent the past five seasons in the National League East — one with the Nationals and four with the Mets. While the 2016-17 seasons were both strong ones for Blevins — 2.87 ERA, 12.0 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 — the 2018 season was a rough one. Blevins limped to a 4.85 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 1.27 HR/9 and a career-worst 21.8 percent ground-ball rate.
Despite last season’s unsightly results, Blevins has a long track record of overwhelming left-handed opponents, having held them to a .206/.264/.306 slash through the other 11 seasons of his career. In all, he has a career 3.52 ERA with 9.2 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 in 463 Major League innings.
Left-handed relief is a clear area of need for the Athletics, making Blevins a logical addition for VP of baseball operations Billy Beane, GM David Forst and the rest of the Oakland front office. At present, Ryan Buchter is not only the sole left-handed bullpen option on the 40-man roster — he’s the only healthy left-handed pitcher on their 40-man roster at all. The A’s, however, have several other non-roster invitees to big league camp in the form of Kyle Crockett, Dean Kiekhefer and Kyle Lobstein — each of whom will compete with Blevins to earn a spot in manager Bob Melvin’s relief corps.
We’ll use this post to track some of the smaller moves made around the MLB today…
- The Oakland A’s will bring lefty Wei-Chung Wang to spring training as a non-roster invitee, per the Athletic’s Melissa Lockard (via Twitter). Wang spent last season in Korea, where he earned a 4.26 ERA in 25 games for the NC Dinos of the KBO. He made brief appearances at the major league level for the Brewers in 2014 and 2017, but both cups of coffee returned disheartening results – a combined 11.09 ERA across 18 2/3 innings – including a somewhat noteworthy 2017 in which he recorded only 4 outs across 8 outings. Wang pitched well in the upper minors as recently as 2017, however, when as a then-25-year-old, he turned in a 2.05 ERA in 47 appearances out of the pen for the Brewers’ top affiliate.
Closer Blake Treinen won his arbitration case against the Oakland A’s, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan (via Twitter). Treinen, represented by Sosnick, Cobbe, and Karon, is now slated to make $6.4MM for the 2019 season, with one more season of arbitration eligibility remaining in 2020. The A’s had submitted a bid of $5.6MM.
This is a notable victory for players, as Treinen sets a new record for year-over-year increase in salary for a second-time arb-eligible reliever, a raise of 4.25MM on his 2018 salary. The largest previous increase had been the $3.575MM raise Greg Holland received in his heyday with the Royals. Of course, the Athletics were winners here too, beneficiaries of a significant jump in production from Treinen this season, as their closer recorded 11.2 K/9 en route to his first All-Star appearance, a 6th place finish in Cy Young voting, and a 15th place finish in MVP voting.
Treinen, 30, came to Oakland after a disappointing start to the 2017 season left him sporting a 5.73 ERA in July, struggling to get swings and misses with only 7.6 K/9. The Nationals were counting on him to be a key cog in their late-inning bullpen rotation that year, expecting a big year after he established himself with 73 appearances and a 2.28 ERA the year before. Given the opportunity to reset their bullpen in one fell swoop, the Nats sent Treinen and two minor leaguers (more on them later) to Oakland for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The deal panned out for Washington, as the duo stabilized the pen en route to an NL East title. Doolittle ably stepped into the closer’s role, affirming himself as both a production and personality fixture in Washington.
The A’s didn’t do so bad on their side of the deal either, as Treinen put together a massively successful 2018 campaign as the A’s closer: 38 saves, 9 wins, and 0.78 ERA. The minor leaguers in the deal look like good gets as well. Southpaw Jesus Luzardo has a real chance at acedom, coming into 2019 as Baseball America’s 7th ranked prospect overall (subscription link). Sheldon Neuse, the other prospect in the deal, lands as the A’s 9th ranked prospect, per BA, as he looks to build upon his first full season in Triple A, where he hit .263/.304/.357 as a 23-year-old.
Notably, in the other arbitration case settled thus far, the Washington Nationals defeated spare outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who will make $3.25MM in 2019 after submitting a bid of $3.5MM.
The Athletics are at least “considering” pursuit of veteran backstop Matt Wieters, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). It’s unclear just how much interest the Oakland organization has; multiple unnamed rival organizations are also said to be involved.
Wieters, now 32, first qualified for free agency after the 2015 season. At the time, he was considered a high-quality, everyday backstop, but he was also coming off of two injury-plagued campaigns and took a qualifying offer to remain with the Orioles. Despite a subpar 2016 campaign, the Nationals promised him $21MM over two years (while also giving Wieters an opt-out chance that he did not ultimately take).
Add it all up, and Wieters owns a tepid .235/.303/.376 batting line in 1,200 plate appearances over the past three campaigns. Though he still draws average reviews for his blocking and throwing, Wieters has graded out as a negative in the pitch framing department. Of course, he’s also a respected veteran who seemed to suit the pitchers who worked with him in D.C., so there’s room for interpretation regarding his defensive value.
Wieters obviously does not profile as a regular receiver at this point, but the former fifth overall pick does still seem like a reasonable target for the right team. The fact that he hits from both sides of the plate adds to the appeal, along with his clubhouse gravitas. For the Athletics, there’s clearly room to improve a depth chart that’s presently topped by Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann. Wieters ought to be an affordable option and still has a bit of pop; perhaps the A’s will stake a bet on the hope that he’ll be reinvigorated in a timeshare situation.
The Athletics have announced the hiring of veteran baseball executive Sandy Alderson. He’ll join the organization as senior advisor to baseball operations.
Alderson, 71, just wrapped up a tenure as the general manager of the Mets. He had previously served as CEO of the Padres and, before that, as GM of the A’s. Indeed, Alderson helmed the Oakland baseball ops department from 1983 to 1997, when he handed the reins to then-GM and current president of baseball operations Billy Beane.
While Beane has become perhaps the most widely known baseball executive, due in no small part to the fact that he was once portrayed by a rather well-known actor in a certain feature film, it’s fair to note that Alderson was calling the shots during the club’s last championship run back in 1989. Of course, both worked closely together before Alderson left for a MLB post and are no doubt excited to get back to work together in an effort to continue the strides the ballclub made in 2018.
Alderson, of course, did not finish his tenure with the Mets in the manner he would have preferred. In addition to overseeing a pair of disappointing seasons, he battled cancer and was forced to step away from the club in the middle of the 2018 season. The New York organization ultimately hired Brodie Van Wagenen to replace Alderson after the latter’s contract expired at the end of the season.
Fortunately, Alderson said over the weekend that his treatment has been quite promising to this point — so much so that he has been deemed cancer-free for the past four months. It’s great to see that he was able to get back in the game so quickly.
- Even after signing Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada in free agency, the Athletics may land another starter before spring training, according to general manager David Forst (via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic; subscription required). The A’s were quite reliant on utilizing the opener strategy in 2018, though Forst suggested both Fiers and Estrada will continue as traditional starters. As of now, those two are projected to join any of Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Chris Bassitt, Aaron Brooks, Frankie Montas or even high-end prospect Jesus Luzardo in the A’s season-opening rotation, per Forst. Oakland also has several rehabbing hurlers – including the trio of Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk – and they’re all making progress, as Lockard details. When healthy, some of those pitchers might factor into the A’s bullpen, a group that could pick up another left-hander, Forst revealed. The only southpaw reliever on their 40-man roster is Ryan Buchter, who excelled in 2018. Securing further catching depth is on the team’s radar, too, executive vice president Billy Beane stated (via Chris Haft of MLB.com). While the A’s do have a quality catcher prospect in Sean Murphy, who could debut in 2019, their behind-the-plate situation at the major league level is uninspiring. Their only 40-man catchers are Josh Phegley and free-agent signing Chris Herrmann, and those two haven’t done much in the majors.
- Meanwhile, although Athletics outfield prospect and ex-Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray declared for the 2019 NFL Draft earlier this month, the A’s expect him to report to camp. “There’s been nothing from their side that suggests otherwise,” Beane said Saturday (via Haft). Murray, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, may end up as a first-round pick in the NFL, which would seem to make it a long shot that he’d ever suit up for the A’s.