- MLB commissioner Rob Manfred expressed optimism that there will be a positive resolution in “relatively short order” on the Athletics’ quest for a new park, as John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (in a tweet) and Joe Stiglich of SportsNet California (Twitter links) were among those to report. Nothing seems to be imminent — Manfred suggested that something will come together within the next year — but it nevertheless seems that there’s some forward progress. He suggested that there are still several potential sites being explored in Oakland, with mayor Libby Schaaf having “made it clear to [Manfred] that baseball is her first priority.”
SUNDAY: Alvarez, Parker and Doubront have all elected to become free agents, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Twitter link).
FRIDAY: The Athletics have outrighted pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Jarrod Parker and Felix Doubront to Triple-A Nashville, reports MLB.com’s Jane Lee (Twitter link). Each of the three was a likely non-tender candidate, as Alvarez recently underwent shoulder surgery, while Parker underwent a UCL/flexor tendon repair back in April and Doubront underwent Tommy John surgery in April as well. Though they can technically accept the outright assignments, each of the three is able to reject in favor of free agency, and that’s the likeliest outcome in each instance.
Alvarez inked a one-year, $4MM pact with Oakland after being non-tendered by the Marlins last offseason but was never able to fully get back on track following his first shoulder surgery. Ultimately, it was determined that he required a second procedure to attempt to repair a balky shoulder that has allowed him to pitch just 22 1/3 innings since a brilliant 2014 campaign (2.65 ERA in 187 innings) that now looks like a distant memory. He’ll draw interest as a free agent again due to the upside he brings, but securing a Major League contract isn’t a given this time around.
Parker, meanwhile, was once one of the more promising young arms in the game and looked like a mainstay in the Oakland rotation before a pair of Tommy John operations derailed his career. Now 27 years old (28 next month), Parker has battled through both of those procedures and an olecranon fracture and underwent what was said to be an experimental procedure to repair (but not replace) his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon this spring. The hope, of course, is that he can work his way back to a big league mound, but to call that goal an uphill battle in light of his myriad arm injuries is perhaps an understatement.
As for Doubront, he could theoretically be ready to return to the mound next April or May, as his TJ procedure was performed in the first half of this past April. Of course, it’s far from certain that his recovery from the procedure will go smoothly and allow that presumptive target date to be realized. Parker and many others in recent years (including New York’s Zack Wheeler in 2016) serve as reminders that while many arms are able to bounce back and return to a mound in 12 to 14 months, Tommy John surgery is by no means a guarantee and is often accompanied by setbacks that lead to considerably lengthier absences.
With these moves, the A’s have now shed an incredible 12 players to whom they had committed either 40-man roster spots or 60-day DL spots in a span of roughly 48 hours. Yesterday, Oakland outrighted Eric Sogard, Fernando Rodriguez, Andrew Lambo, Tyler Ladendorf, J.B. Wendelken and Donn Roach, while Matt McBride and Chris Smith were outrighted on Wednesday this week. And, on top of those players that went unclaimed by other clubs, versatile infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara failed to make it through outright waivers and was claimed by the Reds.
TODAY: Rodriguez, Landendorf, Roach, Lambo, McBride and Smith have all declared free agency, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Twitter link). Sogard also elected to become a free agent on Saturday.
THURSDAY: The Athletics announced this afternoon that they’ve outrighted second baseman Eric Sogard, infielder Tyler Ladendorf, first baseman Andrew Lambo and right-handers Fernando Rodriguez, Donn Roach and J.B. Wendelken to Triple-A Nashville, thereby removing those six players from their 40-man roster. That makes eight players that Oakland has shed from its 40-man roster in the past 24 hours, as the team also outrighted Matt McBride and Chris Smith yesterday.
Sogard is the most notable name of the bunch, though he missed the entire 2016 season due to knee surgery. Prior to that, the 30-year-old Sogard saw semi-regular time with the A’s from 2013-15, and he’s spent parts of five years on the Oakland roster dating back to 2011. The outright could spell the end of his time in Oakland, as Sogard has the Major League service time required to elect free agency. The 30-year-old batted just .247/.294/.304 in 401 plate appearances last season and has slashed a mere .247/.305/.315 from 2013-15. He did, however, draw positive grades for his baserunning, per Fangraphs, and both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating peg him as a plus defender at second base. Sogard is also capable of filling in at shortstop and third base as needed, so he could make for a nice utility target for clubs seeking low-cost defensive upgrades this winter.
Rodriguez, 32, underwent shoulder surgery last month but logged 40 2/3 serviceable innings out of the Oakland bullpen in 2016. Since joining the A’s in 2014, he’s pitched to a solid 3.74 ERA with 8.8 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. Like Sogard, Rodriguez has the requisite service time to elect free agency following his outright assignment, and depending on his progress from shoulder surgery could be a nice buy-low target for teams looking for veteran ’pen depth.
Wendelken, 23, has been weighing Tommy John surgery and recently sought a second opinion on his right elbow. Given the current injury he’s facing, it’s not a surprise that he cleared waivers. The A’s will be able to retain his rights and clear a 40-man roster spot by outrighting him, and he can rehab from any surgery that he may ultimately undergo next season without accruing MLB service time. Oakland picked up Wendelken in last winter’s trade that sent Brett Lawrie to Chicago, and he showed a penchant for missing bats in Triple-A (4.11 ERA, 12.7 K/9, 5.1 BB/9 in 46 innings) before struggling in a small sample of MLB games.
Roach, 28, has been traded once and claimed on waivers five time since being drafted by the Angels in 2010. His extreme ground-ball tendencies and strong control have continually piqued the interest of Major League clubs despite the fact that he’s a soft-tossing righty who has averaged fewer than five strikeouts per nine innings in Triple-A. Roach has been outrighted in the past and figures to elect free agency in search of a minor league deal this winter.
Ladendorf, 28, collected just four hits in 50 plate appearances with the A’s this season and has played sparingly over the past two seasons at the Major League level. Originally a second-round draft pick of the Twins, Ladendorf was traded to Oakland back in 2009 in exchange for Orlando Cabrera and is a career .261/.327/.349 hitter at the Triple-A level, where he’s played shortstop, second base, third base and outfield.
Lambo, 28, picked up just one plate appearance with the A’s in 2016 and is a career .189/.230/.295 batter at the Major League level. The former top prospect saw his 2016 campaign come to an end in mid-June after the A’s announced that he’d undergone surgery to treat testicular cancer. The announcement from the A’s was made on Twitter and, as such, doesn’t come with a timeline for Lambo’s recovery, but hopefully he is progressing well and can ultimately make a return to baseball.
Second baseman Eric Sogard was among the many players the Athletics outrighted off their 40-man roster earlier this week. That may have ended Sogard’s tenure with the organization, as the 30-year-old has elected free agency in lieu of an assignment to Triple-A Nashville, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link).
Sogard, whom the Padres chose in the second round of the 2007 draft, joined the A’s in 2010 in a trade that also sent Kevin Kouzmanoff to Oakland. Sogard garnered minimal major league experience over his first three seasons with the A’s, but his playing time picked up in earnest in 2013. Between then and 2015, Sogard amassed 1,140 plate appearances and batted a below-average .247/.305/.315. On the plus side, Sogard graded well on the base paths and in the field during that span, per FanGraphs, and he showed off some versatility by spending time at shortstop and third base.
Injuries were the main story during the 2016 campaign for Sogard, who began the year on the disabled list with a shoulder problem and then underwent season-ending knee surgery in April. Sogard made $1.5MM this year and was scheduled to go through arbitration for the third and final time during the offseason. He’ll instead hit free agency a year early.
The Reds have claimed infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara off waivers from the Athletics, Cincinnati announced. Fellow utility option Patrick Kivlehan — who was claimed just eight days ago from the Padres — was designated for assignment to clear roster space.
Alcantara, 24, was once one of the more well-regarded prospects in the Cubs’ minor league ranks, but his promising production at Double-A and Triple-A as a 21-year-old and 22-year-old, respectively, hasn’t carried over to the big league level. Alcantara hit .271/.351/.452 with Double-A Tennessee back in 2013 and followed that up with a huge .307/.353/.537 slash with Triple-A Iowa the following season. Both of those impressive stints fueled a promotion to the Majors in ’14, but Alcantara floundered through 300 plate appearances that year, and his bat regressed at Triple-A in 2015. All told, he’s a career .195/.249/.337 hitter through 351 big league plate appearances, though he did post a respectable .278/.325/.467 slash in 108 Triple-A contests this season.
Alcantara has experience playing a slew of positions and can give the Reds another versatile option to move around the diamond. He’s played mostly second base and center field at the Major League level but also has professional experience at shortstop, third base and in both outfield corners.
As for Kivlehan, his stay on Cincinnati’s 40-man roster proved to be brief. The former Rangers/Mariners farmhand was claimed off waivers in late September. In the past calendar year, Kivlehan has been traded from the Mariners to the Rangers, only to be sent back to Seattle before being claimed off waivers by the Padres and later by the Reds. He’ll now potentially land with a fifth organization in the past 12 months. The 26-year-old has just 24 big league plate appearances but is a .282/.344/.470 career hitter in the minors, where he’s played both corner infield positions extensively and has seen limited action in all three outfield slots.
We’ll continue here with our “Three Needs” series, in which we break down a few high-level needs of teams that fell out of contention early. (Soon, we’ll take full looks at every team’s offseason outlook.)
For the Athletics, a last-place finish in the AL West for the second straight year probably won’t spur a full-blown rebuild — it’s just not how the team has operated — but will likely lead to a fair bit of roster turnover this winter.
1. Improve the speed and defense.
If Oakland’s combined position-player fWAR from 2016 was doubled, it would still be nearly a win shy of the next-to-worst team in baseball. Though the team’s hitting was below-average (91 wRC+), it was the bottom-of-the-barrel baserunning and defense that did most of the damage.
The A’s had company in their troubles on the bases, with the Cardinals, Angels, and Tigers also in the conversation for worst in the game. But on defense, the A’s were far and away the least gloveable team in the league, by measure of both UZR and DRS. And that’s before accounting fully for the work behind the dish, where primary catcher Steven Vogt is one of the lowest-rated receivers in baseball (see here and here).
There may not be a lot of opportunity to change things in the infield beyond hoping for internal improvement. Moving Danny Valencia off of third base helps, but Ryon Healy isn’t an inspiring defensive choice either. Marcus Semien had a whole lot less errors, at least, so perhaps he can drive some further improvement next year at short. If he can return to health, Jed Lowrie will be looking to improve on his metrics in limited action this season at second, but age and injury pose questions. At first, Yonder Alonso has typically graded well, but had his worst season by the metrics in 2016. (Of course, his bat was a bigger problem.)
While consideration should be given to tweaking that alignment, the outfield is the key area that Oakland can target to add some speed and glovework. Read on for more on that area of need:
The A’s announced this afternoon that they’ve outrighted catcher Matt McBride and right-hander Chris Smith off the 40-man roster. Both well-traveled minor leaguers have enough professional experience to elect free agency.
McBride, 31, appeared in 20 games with Oakland this season and totaled 44 plate appearances, during which he batted .209/.227/.279 with 10 punchouts against one walk. That marked the fourth season in which McBride spent some time at the Major League level — each of the other three came as a member of the Rockies — but the former second-round pick has been able to manage just a .201/.228/.299 slash in 202 big league plate appearances. He’s carved out an excellent career at the Triple-A level, however, where he’s batted .310/.350/.517 in parts of seven seasons. Given that production, McBride shouldn’t have trouble latching on elsewhere as a depth option.
Smith, 35, has also seen big league work in parts of four seasons. The 2002 fourth-rounder (Red Sox) totaled 24 2/3 innings with the A’s this year and turned in a very strong 2.92 ERA with 29 strikeouts and a 45.6 percent ground-ball rate, but he also walked 13 in that time (4.7 BB/9) and averaged just 87.6 mph on his fastball. Like McBride, Smith has a pretty lengthy track record of success in Triple-A, having logged a 3.68 ERA with 8.8 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in 509 innings across parts of nine seasons at that level.
Major League Baseball’s wild-card game is in its fifth year, and it doesn’t sound as if it’s going away. Speaking to reporters before Tuesday’s single-elimination matchup between Toronto and Baltimore, commissioner Rob Manfred expressed support for the format. “In terms of the games themselves, I understand that baseball doesn’t usually have one-game knockouts, but I do believe these two games get our playoff season off to a really exciting start,” said Manfred. “I’ve gone to the wild card games, each of them, the last two seasons. The atmospheres in the ballparks are phenomenal, and I think it gives a great jump start to our playoff season.”
Manfred also touched on several other pertinent topics as the league and the players’ association continue working toward a new collective bargaining agreement. Here’s a roundup (courtesy of the Associated Press and Jim Caple of ESPN.com):
- For the first five months of the regular season, all major league teams play with a 25-man active roster. When Sept. 1 rolls around, that number increases to 40. September doesn’t quite resemble the rest of the regular season as a result, and Manfred isn’t a fan. “I don’t think 18 pitchers in a game is a good thing,” Manfred said of the increase in pitching changes that September brings. “I do believe in a reform of those rules, again protecting the benefits that are available to players, I’m not looking to take away service time or anything like that, but I do think it would make sense to get to a situation where we played out September games closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year.”
- Home runs have skyrocketed across the majors in recent seasons, leading to questions about whether the ball is juiced. Manfred shot down that idea, saying, “We are absolutely convinced this issue is not driven by a difference in the baseball. My own view is the spike is related to the way the game is being played now, the way we are training hitters from a very young age. We have not been able to find any external cause that explains the spike in home runs.” Whatever the reason, batters hit nearly 1,500 more HRs this season than they did in 2014 (5,610 to 4,186), while the league’s homer-to-fly ball rate was at 9.5 percent two years ago compared to 12.8 percent in 2016.
- In terms of putting together a schedule, 32 teams would be better than the current total of 30, according to Manfred. However, he’s not on board with expansion until the stadium situations with the Athletics and Rays are figured out.
- Manfred left open the possibility of eventually introducing an award to honor former Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident Sept. 25. “I understand there’s some strong feelings on this topic,” Manfred stated. “It’s not the right time of year to be thinking about additional awards. But it’s an issue we’ll talk about during the offseason. Obviously, we recognize the significance of Jose in terms of his importance to the Marlins franchise, and the fact that he was symbolic of the next generation of players.”
- MLB has come out in support of the Save America’s Pastime Act, a piece of legislation that limits the pay and benefits of minor league players. When Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star (Twitter link) pressed Manfred on that Tuesday, the commissioner commented, “We’re not opposed to paying minor league players any particular wage. What we are opposed to is the imposition of administrative requirements in terms of keeping track of hours and overtime.” Manfred also referred to those requirements as “impractical” and wondered aloud whether extra batting practice or going to the gym would qualify as overtime. “For us it’s really not about the money so much as the burden that would be imposed,” he added.
- Among the Athletics’ many needs, the outfield stands at the top of the list, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. Outside of Khris Davis, there’s little in the way of sure things. “No question center fielder is a concern short term and long term,” said president of baseball operations Billy Beane. “Until we discover a long-term option, we may be strategic in how we fill that temporarily.” Slusser notes that the club could end up pursuing a bounceback player, suggesting Carlos Gomez as one possible solution.
- Athletics exec Billy Beane is happy about the team’s young pitching depth, but he could still look outside the organization for a veteran starter, Comcast SportsNet California’s Joe Stiglich tweets. The team figures to have a healthy Sonny Gray leading its rotation in 2017, and Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman took steps this season to establish themselves as reliable big-league starters. Jharel Cotton also got good results down the stretch. There are any number of other options on the Athletics’ 40-man roster, but injuries and performance issues cloud the picture. The team’s success last season with Rich Hill last season could perhaps also help convince them to add a veteran as a low-risk, high-reward proposition. The Athletics signed Hill for just $6MM, and he (along with Josh Reddick) ultimately landed them Cotton, plus low-level prospect Grant Holmes and the hard-throwing Frankie Montas (who missed most of the season with a rib issue but could become a 2017 rotation option if he’s healthy).