LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The upper reaches of their organization lacking in premier talent, the A’s used a piece of their bullpen depth to get some on Wednesday afternoon, trading for speedy outfielder Billy Burns from the Nationals in exchange for lefty reliever Jerry Blevins.
Make that two trades in as many days for the A’s, who swung a deal for hurlers Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen while giving up Brett Anderson to the Rockies on Tuesday, and five trades in the last 10 days. Moreover, this marks the seventh trade consummated by the A’s and Nationals in the last three years.
Burns, 24, was named the Nationals’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, after batting .315 with a .425 on-base percentage and 96 runs scored in 121 games between Class-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. He stole 74 bases in 81 attempts, and in his three professional seasons has stolen 125 bases and been caught only 17 times. He played 119 games in the outfield this season, between left field and center, and committed only two errors.
The switch-hitting outfielder, who fills the void left by the departed Michael Choice, was a 32nd-round Draft selection by Washington out of Mercer University in the 2011 Draft.
Blevins was the A’s longest-tenured pitcher, having just completed his seventh season in Oakland, going 5-0 with a 3.15 ERA and .218 opponents’ average in a career-high 67 games. His 281 career appearances with the A’s are tied for sixth most in Oakland history.
The always engaging southpaw served as the club’s player representative each of the last two and a half seasons and was very involved in the local community, making Tuesday’s news bittersweet for Blevins.
“I’ll miss Oakland,” Blevins said by phone. “It’s the only place I’ve known in the big leagues, and the fans have been so great to me. It’ll be a sad moment when I leave, but I’m excited for the opportunity.
“You know, trade rumors are just that, and I’ve always gone to the way of ignoring all of the rumor talk and waiting on facts, so it was definitely a surprise for me.”
The loss of Blevins could now entice the A’s to use the left-handed Pomeranz out of the bullpen, though he’ll also likely be in the mix for a starting spot.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The A’s worked in fast fashion last week when reeling in five players in four separate moves in a matter of two days, so it’s of no real surprise they’re not exactly zealous to get another deal done this week at the Winter Meetings, which conclude Thursday.
The majority of Oakland’s front office members, including general manager Billy Beane, arrived in Orlando on Monday evening, whereas most other clubs’ officials landed on the scene Sunday. That left little time for work to be done.
“Obviously we haven’t been here very long and we did a lot of our work last week, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have ongoing conversations with clubs and agents,” said A’s assistant general manager David Forst. “We feel really good about the team and the things we did last week and where we’re at, but we always still look to make some tweaks and make some changes.”
Last week’s brought about enough to fill an entire offseason, as the club reeled in starter Scott Kazmir on a two-year, $22 million deal in advance of trades for closer Jim Johnson, reliever Luke Gregerson, and perhaps the most valuable part-time player in the game in speedy outfielder Craig Gentry.
Their Major League roster now essentially in place, barring what would likely be any minor adjustments, the two-time defending American League West champion A’s may now turn their focus on helping their farm system, in part depleted because of the loss of top outfield prospect Michael Choice in the Gentry trade and the promotion of top pitching prospect Sonny Gray to the Majors.
“You never feel like you have enough,” said Forst. “I don’t know the best way right now to supplement that, but obviously there is a gap in guys we see contributing in the immediate future. I don’t know that we’ll get four or five prospects no matter what we trade.”
But the A’s have potential to land one or two key pieces should they opt to move lefty Brett Anderson.
The southpaw, making $8 million in 2014, is one of seven starters occupying the A’s rotation, making him expendable. However, Anderson’s medicals could potentially be cause for concern for interested teams. The Rockies are already one known club who heavily inquired on the oft-injured lefty but backed off a bit when scouring medical reports that indicated Anderson’s stress fracture in his right foot may not be completely healed.
Multiple A’s sources said Monday there was absolutely no worry over the foot at season’s end. Still, Anderson’s track record — health issues, including Tommy John surgery in 2011, have limited him to only 162 innings over the last three seasons — could prevent other teams from pulling the trigger on a potential risk.
Forst said the team is “having ongoing conversations” when asked about potential trades, only generalizing on the topic.
“Free agents are expensive, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, “and there are a lot of ongoing trade conversations on both ends — teams that need starting pitchers and teams that have them. I think it’s pretty active.”
These talks could easily hasten as starters continue to fall off the free-agent market, which is steeper than ever. But the A’s are content staying pat for now, even as their AL West counterparts continue to add big names.
Forst joked he “could have done without [Robinson] Cano in our division,” referring to the second baseman’s impending $240 million pact with the Mariners, but also noted, “I would argue that our competitors have been doing that for more than just a couple of seasons.”
“We fully expect to be outspent by everyone in the division,” he said. “Obviously with the Astros now, it’s not quite everybody. But I don’t think that’s anything new. We’re really happy with the team we have now and the additions we’ve made, so we don’t expect to keep up with them dollar for dollar, but to compete with them as we have the past two years.”
OAKLAND — The A’s are counting on a rookie to take down the Tigers in Thursday’s decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series, with 23-year-old Sonny Gray getting the nod over veteran Bartolo Colon.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin announced the decision on a conference call Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his club suffered an 8-6 loss in Detroit to force Game 5.
Gray will go up against Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander, who in Game 5 vs. the A’s last year put the Tigers on his back with a complete-game, 11-strikeout effort that sent Detroit to the AL Championship Series. He also pitched seven shutout innings in Game 2 on Saturday.
But Gray did Verlander one better, compiling eight scoreless innings in Oakland’s Game 2 victory. He allowed four hits, with only one leaving the infield, and walked two in the affair, which marked just the 11th start of his big league career.
Oakland’s 2011 first-round Draft pick has a 1.85 ERA over his last seven outings, and his ability to continue such an impressive trend could help the A’s buck a depressing one. The club enters Thursday’s contest 1-11 in potential clinch games since 1990.
Colon, 40, lost to Detroit in Game 1, but followed a three-run first with five scoreless innings. He hasn’t won a game against the Tigers since 2003, going 0-8 in 14 starts for three different teams in that span.
Should the A’s advance to the ALCS, which begins in Boston on Saturday, Colon would likely start Game 1 against the Red Sox.
A day after compiling 16 strikeouts in a Game 1 American League Division Series loss to the Tigers, the A’s rolled out a similar lineup against righty Justin Verlander for Game 2.
The only new face in the lineup for Saturday evening’s contest was Seth Smith at designated hitter. Brandon Moss, who DH’d on Friday, moved to first base in place of Daric Barton.
Melvin said he targeted this change all along, noting Barton’s defensive troubles on Friday did not play into his decision.
“Smitty has a history with Justin Verlander,” said manager Bob Melvin, “and the versatility with Brandon Moss allows us to play him at first.”
Smith is just 2-for-15 in his career against Verlander, but one of those hits is a home run, and he’s also walked six times in 21 total plate appearances vs. the righty for a .381 on-base percentage.
He was part of an A’s lineup that did well in running up Verlander’s pitch count the last time they faced him, forcing him to throw 44 pitches to get through a two-run first inning, 104 in all to finish five on Aug. 28.
Smith hit .286 (4-for-14) in seven games against Detroit this year and is a career .321 hitter vs. the Tigers, with four home runs and nine RBIs in 19 games. He also went 14-for-38 over his final 19 regular-season games.
“He was swinging the bat well,” said Melvin. “He has the most experience of getting at-bats and sitting for a while and still keeping himself ready to get an at-bats, whether it’s once every three or four days or once a week.”
The full lineup, with Sonny Gray scheduled to pitch:
CF Coco Crisp
SS Jed Lowrie
3B Josh Donaldson
1B Brandon Moss
LF Yoenis Cespedes
DH Seth Smith
RF Josh Reddick
C Stephen Vogt
2B Eric Sogard
ALDS Game 1 starting lineup:
CF Coco Crisp: 4-for-14, 4 K vs Max Scherzer
SS Jed Lowrie: 2-for-6, 1 K
3B Josh Donaldson: 1-for-8, 3 K
DH Brandon Moss: 3-for-13, 1 HR, 5 K, 2 BB
LF Yoenis Cespedes: 1-for-4, 1 K, 2 BB
RF Josh Reddick: 4-for-10, 5 K
C Stephen Vogt: 1-for-2
1B Daric Barton: 0-for-4, 3 K
2B Eric Sogard: 3-for-5
Rotation: Bartolo Colon, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily
Bullpen: Grant Balfour, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Brett Anderson, Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez
Catcher: Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt, Kurt Suzuki
First base: Brandon Moss, Daric Barton
Second base: Alberto Callaspo, Eric Sogard
Shortstop: Jed Lowrie
Third base: Josh Donaldson
Outfielders: Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith
CINCINNATI — For the last week, the A’s haven’t been playing like the first-place team the current standings say they are.
Going back to July 30, an eight-day, six-game span, Oakland’s pitching has been inconsistent. So has its defense. The only thing consistent about this club has been its hitting — consistently bad, that is.
A sputtering A’s lineup was nearly shut out a second straight game on Tuesday, before Derek Norris hit one out of the park with two outs in the 9th in an eventual 3-1 series-opening Interleague loss to the host Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Oakland managed just five hits in the affair.
As for that first-place standing, the A’s are quickly letting it slip away, having watched a six-game lead over the Rangers narrow to 1 1/2 games in just eight days.
Before Norris’ homer, his eighth of the year, Oakland hadn’t scored a run since Saturday, a disheartening stretch of 18 innings without one, their longest such streak of the season. And since July 30? Well, only 10 runs have crossed home plate. All the while they’ve left 45 men on base and are 4-for-41 with runners in scoring position.
That includes an 0-for-6 showing on Tuesday, with seven left on base, while starter Dan Straily struggled to gain any sort of rhythm in yet another short outing.
Oakland’s right-hander gave up two runs on six hits, including Jay Bruce’s second-inning solo shot, with one walk and three strikeouts in four innings, marking not only the third straight start he hasn’t completed five frames but also the fifth time in his last eight tries.
Straily didn’t put up a clean inning until his last, and by the time it ended, he was already at 75 pitches, leading to lefty Jerry Blevins’ entrance at the start of the fifth.
Blevins proceeded to allow a leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo, his issues with first batters — a staggering 44 percent of them have reached base this season — continuing. Only more trouble awaited the lefty, who threw Derrick Robinson’s ensuing sacrifice bunt into right field, allowing Choo to score and Robinson to safely reach first.
Blevins stranded Robinson and the Reds didn’t score another run, but neither did the A’s, who watched righty Mat Latos toss 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Matt Garza is making fast friends with his new division foes.
The Rangers pitcher, having already voiced his displeasure with Eric Sogard on Saturday after the A’s infielder executed a safety squeeze, took to Twitter later in the night and took shots at not only Sogard but the infielder’s wife, Kaycee.
Among his numerous tweets directed at the Sogards: “childish is having your wife speak up for you! certain people can’t shut there woman up!”
Eric, participating in a team charity bowling tournament on Saturday night, learned of Garza’s remarks from a few teammates and was rather surprised, especially since wife Kaycee had only tweeted, “Eric is probably the last person to respond to getting called names.”
“I went back and looked to see what she said and I don’t see it how it was directed at him, or how he could take it that way,” Sogard said.
Still, he took the high road and even slightly excused Garza’s actions.
“Obviously you get caught up in the heat of the moment, things like that can happen,” Eric said, “but I was kind of surprised to see it escalated and what happened later.
“[Kaycee] just thought it was a joke. She took it off her shoulders quickly, wasn’t offended by it really. We just kind of laughed about it. We took it as a joke, and that’s how we’ll continue to look at it.”
Garza did not speak to Sogard in the morning and told reporters he didn’t plan to, but he issued this statement, declining to field further questions:
“All I want to say is I let my competitive spirit cross outside the lines, and that shouldn’t happen. I let my passion, my fire carry over, and that’s not how this game should be played. And for that I apologize to the Sogards for anything that was said through my Twitter. That’s all I have. I regret what happened, and I’m just looking forward to a great game today.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin is not on Twitter but he was well aware of the goings-on.
“I really don’t have a reaction,” he said. “That’s between two others in a world I’m not part of.”
Melvin, like Sogard, didn’t quite understand why so much frustration was built over Sogard’s ability to do his job, which extended Oakland’s lead to two runs in a 4-2 victory.
“We’re trying to add on a run against a really good pitcher that was on a roll,” Melvin said. “We got to him early in the game and scored three runs off him but didn’t do anything after that. We’re just trying to get a run home. They’d do it as well.”
“I was just doing my job out there,” added Sogard. “I got the bunt sign from my third-base coach and put the bunt down and apparently he didn’t like it. Just playing the game. Obviously it’s something you want to leave on the field when the game ends and move on.”
Asked if he’d bunt against Garza the next time he faces him, Sogard smiled.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It seemed to work out yesterday.”
With a pair of off-days looming and no need for a fifth starter until Aug. 13, the A’s opted to exchange one of their starters for relief help from Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday.
Struggling lefty Tommy Milone, who gave up six runs on nine hits, including two two-run homers, in just 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the Rangers on Friday, was the odd man out. Long reliever Evan Scribner took his roster spot.
“Tommy just needs to go down there and do his thing,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He went through a little period here recently where he hasn’t been pitching great, but he’s still pretty good. And when you’re sending a guy like Tommy Milone down, it means you have some good pitching, and we do.
“He’s been giving up some hits, and maybe his command isn’t like it was earlier. Last night was his worst game. He’s had a couple of these in his last four. We still have a lot of confidence in Tommy. He’s a big part of this team, he’s just not here right now.”
Friday marked the second time in his last four starts of pitching fewer than four innings for Milone, who has a 4.81 ERA over his last 14 starts after posting a 3.71 ERA during his first eight.
He’ll start for the River Cats on Thursday in Omaha.
“Obviously I feel like I haven’t pitched like myself lately,” Milone said, “and I think it could be good to go down and work on myself and work on getting back to what I think I am and what I know I am as a pitcher, and hopefully I’ll be back up here soon.
“I feel like that’s the kind of pitcher I am, the guy who’s always consistent and tries to keep their team in the game, and I haven’t been that guy. Hopefully I can get that back.”
Scribner joins the A’s for the third time this year but first since May 10 when he was optioned to Sacramento, where he has a 2.48 ERA in 25 relief appearances. He comes to the A’s having not pitched in two days, giving them a fresh arm following Dan Otero’s 42-pitch relief performance on Friday.
“Throwing as many pitches as he did yesterday,” Melvin said, “you get into an extra-inning game today and you don’t want to get caught short.
“Scrib’s pitched in any number of roles for us. He’s matched up, pitched an inning later in games, pitched length for us. He’s a very versatile bullpen piece.”
“It’s always fun to pack your whole life up in an hour,” joked Scribner, who got word of his promotion early Saturday. “Down there I felt great, throwing strikes, getting ahead. It’s frustrating being away from the team but we have fun down there too. It’s something I think about on an everyday basis but I try to stay focused on doing my own thing to try to get back as fast I could.”
2009 first-round Draft pick Grant Green’s place as Oakland’s second baseman of the future is no more. That’s because the A’s focus isn’t so much on the future as it is the present, which is why they traded Green to the Angels on Tuesday night in exchange for infielder Alberto Callaspo.
The switch-hitting Callaspo will mainly play second base for the first-place A’s, who had been looking for an offensive upgrade against left-handed pitching at the position — currently shared by platoon players Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales — before Wednesday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, as their pursuit to a second straight playoff appearance continues.
Rosales is likely to be designated for assignment prior to Wednesday’s matinee against the Blue Jays upon Callaspo’s arrival.
“We needed some infield help, particularly someone who could help swing from the right side,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “We’re pretty thin infield-wise, when you start thinking about the fact we’ve played Josh [Donaldson] pretty much every inning of almost every game. He can give Josh a breather. He can hit against left-handed pitching, play some second base.”
Beane didn’t anticipate any other moves before Wednesday’s 1 p.m. PST Trade Deadline, saying he was “not currently” engaged in other trade talks.
“Sometimes things happen quickly,” he said, “but I would say probably not. You never know. You get calls sometimes early in the morning on the last day, but at this point I don’t see anything right now.”
Callaspo, 30 and in his eighth Major League season, has strictly played third base in each of the last three seasons. He hasn’t played at second since 2010 and hasn’t been a regular there since 2008, but he offers the A’s a better bat against left-handers than Rosales, who was hitting just .197 entering the day.
For his career, Callaspo has favored the right side of the plate, posting a .763 OPS next to a .696 clip as a left-handed hitter.
The second-base platoon likely stays intact, then, with Sogard and Callaspo sharing duties at the position, leaving Jed Lowrie to remain at shortstop on an everyday basis going forward, with Sogard acting as his backup.
Beane, who began fielding calls from the Angels on Monday morning, didn’t shy away from questions regarding Callaspo’s absence from second base, stating up front, “I am concerned.”
“But he has played it a lot in the past, and there wasn’t a huge availability of that type of player,” he continued. “He’s going to have to get over there. We were in a situation where we needed another infielder.”
Callaspo was batting .253 with five home runs and 36 RBIs in 85 games for the Angels, having also compiled 33 walks next to just 22 strikeouts spanning 334 plate appearances.
He is owed roughly $6 million, including $4.875 million in 2014, and the A’s are expected to pay all of it.
“I think he’s a great player,” said Chris Young, a teammate of Callaspo in 2007 in Arizona. “He’s really good defensively, and he’s a guy that’s going to put the ball in play. Great bat control, one of the better bat control guys in the league. I think he has a great approach at the plate and is able to make a difference up there and keep things moving.”
“He’s a quality player,” said Donaldson. “He’s one of those guys that can be a table-setter and get on base a lot. He’s solid in all parts of the game.”
Green, 25, made his Major League debut for Oakland on July 8, ultimately going hitless in 15 at-bats spanning five games while committing three errors. Defense has always been a concern for Green, whose movement between positions in the Minors slowed his journey to the big leagues.
However, the A’s always thought highly of his bat, which registered a .325 average with 27 doubles and 11 home runs in 87 games for Triple-A Sacramento this year. He was a late scratch from the River Cats’ game on Tuesday night, around the same time Callaspo was pulled from the Angels’ game in Texas.
Beane admitted giving up a first-rounder wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t “so much a matter of things not working out with him.”
“It’s just a matter of addressing a need for a first-place team and recognizing and trying to grasp the present,” he explained. “We’re in a pretty unique position. I think we need to do everything we can to help this club out. The guys here, Bob [Melvin], the staff and the people that follow this team deserve that. We did think highly of Grant, and the price was steep, but it was a sellers’ market for this position, and not many guys out there, but we needed to get somebody.”
It’s a sentiment appreciated by his employees.
“In a clubhouse, no matter what happens, you believe you have what it takes,” Young said. “We’ve been able to play pretty well this season, but any time a move is made in an attempt to make the team better, you have to respect it.”
Said Sogard: “Any way we can improve, absolutely. We’re looking forward to this last stretch, and hopefully we can keep this going. [Callaspo] is a great player. He’s been a hassle for us, so it’s great to have him on our side. I think he’ll be a great fit in our clubhouse.”