A’s right-hander Grant Balfour is scheduled to undergo right knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus on Thursday afternoon, leaving Oakland without its closer for approximately four to six weeks.
Given that timeline, the A’s are hopeful that Balfour could still be ready by the start of the regular season.
“I’m kind of a glass-half full guy, so I’m looking at it as, if there was ever a time to have it done it would be now,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Balfour, 35, echoed those sentiments in a statement released by the team, saying, “I feel good about getting it done now. It will allow me to get ready for Game 1 of the season. I knew the way I was feeling I wouldn’t have been able to pitch through it all season long.”
Melvin said Balfour felt some knee tenderness toward the end of last season but went about his normal offseason routine without any pain, before experiencing some on Wednesday before his scheduled bullpen. Balfour proceeded with his side session, after which the A’s opted to be proactive and send him for an MRI that revealed the tear.
The operation will be performed by local orthopedist Dr. Douglas Freedberg, who also operated on Scott Sizemore last spring when the A’s infielder suffered a torn ACL on the first day of workouts.
“After the surgery they will know how extensive it is,” Melvin said. “He’s a grinder, and he feels like he’ll be able to rehab very quickly. He keeps himself in great shape.”
In the meantime, the A’s are more than comfortable with their bountiful bullpen depth. Should Balfour end up missing any time during the regular season, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle stand out as options to close.
“Those are the obvious choices, but we’ll see how it goes,” Melvin said. “Again, depth comes into play. We’re not ruling Grant out to start the season, but this is the reason you accumulate as many guys as you can.”
Balfour compiled 24 saves in 2012, posting a 2.53 ERA and 0.92 WHIP along the way.
Oakland was expected to send just one player to the World Baseball Classic this year, but as of Tuesday morning that number shrunk to zero, with manager Bob Melvin telling reporters it’s his understanding that lefty Pedro Figueroa — anticipated to pitch for the Dominican Republic — will not be leaving the A’s this spring. That’s a relief for any club, since it allows everyone to remain on the same page for the duration of camp without any interruption. This also gives Figueroa more time to show the A’s he belongs in the bullpen, a challenge made tougher this year because of an abundance of depth, particularly amongst left-handers. There’s plenty of competition, and Figueroa’s absence could have easily paved the way for another arm to gain an edge for a roster spot. Melvin had not spoken to Figueroa about any of this yet, but he was under the impression that the reliever was the one who made the decision.
In other news, a new reliever (yes, another) showed up in A’s camp today. Hideki Okajima, whose Minor League deal with the A’s was made official Tuesday morning, was welcomed into the clubhouse just about an hour before the pitchers and catchers began their first official workout. The 37-year-old left-hander believed his career to be over after he failed a physical with the Yankees last spring, and he said he’s still befuddled why New York thought there was trouble with his pitching shoulder, since he was fully healthy at the time. He’s still fully healthy and grateful for the opportunity given to him by the A’s, who already have another Japanese player on their roster in Hiroyuki Nakajima. Okajima is also familiar with pitching coach Curt Young from their time together in Boston. Young said of Okajima, “He knows how to get people out.”
It’s Brett Anderson and A.J. Griffin, along with new reliever Chris Resop, throwing side sessions this morning here at Papago Park. Righty reliever Andrew Carignan, rehabbing from Tommy John, will also throw a side — 25 pitches — as he aims for a midseason return.
Plenty rain joined pitchers and catchers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium this morning, which was all about hellos and hugs and new haircuts and physicals and far too much talk of beards – even Brandon Moss, who has a modest beard of his own, joked, “There’s too much hair in this clubhouse.” This after seeing Daric Barton’s new beard, which arguably rivals Josh Reddick’s. If you couldn’t tell, it was obviously a very relaxed day around camp, since the only thing going on was pitchers and catchers checking in and such, with a large handful of position players roaming around in advance of their own report day Saturday. Nevertheless, here’s a breakdown of the day and of the team’s status heading into camp, which will liven up once workouts begin. Among those to report was Bartolo Colon, who has not spoken to media since his Aug. 22 drug suspension last year. He declined to talk again today, and it didn’t sound like he would be ready to talk anytime soon. Still, his teammates hold no grudges against the pitcher and are simply just amped to get back to baseball again.
The pitching staff is expected to receive an addition soon in lefty Hideki Okajima, who agreed to terms with the A’s on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite Monday, pending a physical.
As the above links suggest, most of the daily content that comes out of camp can be found at oaklandathletics.com. But that coverage will be supplemented by several other social media platforms, including Twitter, where you can find instant updates via my account @JaneMLB, and this blog, where I’ll dump other bits of information and tidbits. I’ve also thought about creating a work account for Instagram, so if that’s something you’d be interested in following, please do let me know.
Now, onto a random dose of news from Day 1:
- New shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima met with media for a few minutes and said he’s been in Arizona since Jan. 31, in an effort to get to know his teammates, the facilities and the typical workout routine ahead of schedule, as to allow himself to fully focus on baseball once workouts begin Tuesday. In Japan, Nakajima said, spring workouts begin by February and involve seven-hour workouts with just one 15-minute lunch break. They’re even longer for younger players, who spend an extra hour and a half at the park following dinner, so “you’re entire body is sore and painful,” he said. Nakajima is looking forward to the “relaxed environment” Major League camp offers, but he plans to take advantage of each minute, fully knowing the adjustments that await him offensively and defensively. Off the field, everyone knows he’ll be just fine, with such a likeable personality.
- Scott Sizemore, in the mix for the everyday second base job, enters camp with no restrictions after recovering from the torn ACL he suffered on the first day of workouts last year. He’s obviously anxious to get out there but even more so for his first child, a baby girl, to be born. Sizemore’s wife, Brooke, has a week until her due date but the couple is hoping she arrives sooner, so as to allow them time together to adjust before full-squad workouts begin.
- Manager Bob Melvin reiterated what he said at FanFest about some of his pitchers easing into camp and being held back during the first batch of games. They’ll be particularly careful with guys like Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, who endured a big workload last year – nothing to be concerned about at all but important in helping them be fully ready for the season, especially with workouts starting earlier this year because of the World Baseball Classic.
- Speaking of the Classic, Balfour said he did consider joining Team Australia but ultimately felt it in his best interest to remain with the A’s and get his arm ready for the regular season. Plus, he added, “I’m going into a season here where I’m going to be a free agent, too, so I have to take care of myself.”
- Catcher John Jaso seemingly fits right in with this loose bunch of A’s, and he’s excited to be working with a pitching staff he faced one too many times for his liking last year while with the Mariners. Melvin said Jaso, like all of the catchers in camp, will be working with every pitcher, so as to get acclimated with the whole roster so there’s never any real surprises once the season begins.
- Righty Andrew Carignan, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, threw his first side session last week – 20 pitches – and all went well, putting him on track to throw two side sessions a week for the next five weeks. Other than him, every other A’s pitcher is without restriction entering camp — aside from maybe Jordan Norberto, Melvin said. Norberto missed significant time at the end of last season and, though he feels great, the A’s want to be cautious with him.
Billy Beane was at it again Monday, as the A’s restless general manager reeled in infielder Jed Lowrie from the Astros in a five-player deal less than two weeks before his club begins Spring Training workouts.
Beane and Co. can let out a sigh of relief now, having immediately bolstered the organization’s infield depth via Lowrie. Yet in doing so, the A’s were forced to give up power bat Chris Carter, along with highly touted prospects Brad Peacock and Max Stassi.
It’s a rather high price to pay for Lowrie, who comes to Oakland alongside right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez, but Beane never fears the risk in a move that could equate to bigger rewards — particularly when that window of opportunity for contending is open.
“Given where this club finished last year and where we see it having a chance to compete this year, we wanted to do everything we could to help ourselves right now and felt this was the best route to go,” Beane said. “It wasn’t going to get done unless Chris was in this deal.
“Jed’s a guy we’ve had a lot of interest in going back to his Boston days. He plays four infield positions and switch hits and has always been a good offensive player for a middle infielder.”
The 28-year-old Lowrie has spent the majority of his career at shortstop — 240 appearances in 368 starts — but will be asked to get comfortable at essentially every infield spot, with newcomer Hiroyuki Nakajima still pegged as the everyday shortstop. He’s a reliable option at third base should youngster Josh Donaldson stumble and he can not only lend his glove at second base, where Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks are expected to duke it out for playing time, but as a switch-hitter he offers a nice complement to the left-handed Brandon Moss at first base in Carter’s absence.
The A’s must be creative with so many working pieces, and that just so happens to be one of manager Bob Melvin’s biggest assets. The 2012 American League Manager of the Year, who guided Oakland to a division title with a mix of rookies and castoffs, always seems to get the most out of his platoons, putting each of his players — whether of the everyday or bench type — in positions to succeed.
“Our roster is very interchangeable,” Beane said. “That’s one of the things we had last year, which worked to our advantage. I think this roster is every bit, if not more, interchangeable than last year’s was, and we think that was one of the major reasons we were able to win the division.”
Lowrie, who played at Stanford, is very familiar with the Bay Area and equally as much with some of his new teammates — many of which double as ex-teammates: Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, via his Red Sox days.
The infielder brings with him a career .250 average spanning five seasons, none of which amounted to more than 100 games. The closest the oft-injured Lowrie got to triple-digit appearances was last year, when he played in 97 games, hitting .244 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs while not sidelined with a couple of fluke injuries.
“I’m excited to come to a team that won one of the better divisions in baseball last year and have the opportunity to come back and play baseball in the Bay Area,” Lowrie said. “I obviously followed the story last year, considering everyone had pegged either the Angels or Rangers to win it. It was a great story to watch from a distance. It’s a group of young guys that obviously know how to win and hopefully just continues to get better.”
Carter was thought to be an integral piece of Oakland’s future, but he may be primed for a brighter one from a personal standpoint in Houston, where his right-handed bat could break havoc at Minute Maid Park. Furthermore, he gives the Astros an appealing long-term option at designated hitter, where his at-bats were going to be limited in Oakland because of the excess in outfielders.
“We don’t really need a true DH, since we’ll be resting outfielders and some of those guys are going to be in the DH slot,” Beane said. “We didn’t see as much opportunity for Chris immediately.”
Peacock was facing a similar situation. The right-hander, initially acquired by the A’s from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal last year, was prepared to enter camp behind at least seven pitchers, following a full year at Triple-A Sacramento that saw him go 12-9 with a 6.01 ERA. Suddenly, he could be given a quick opportunity with the rebuilding Astros.
Stassi, meanwhile, departs the organization that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft on the heels of another injury-plagued season. The catcher endured two stints on the disabled list but still managed to hit .268 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs in 84 games with Class-A Stockton.
Monday’s trade only came together once Rodriguez was included, however. The 28-year-old righty struck out 78 batters in 70 1/3 innings for the Astros last season and “was part of the deal that helped us get over the top,” Beane said, “because we felt like we were giving them a pretty good package and this addition sort of helped us get to the finish line.”
Overall, Rodriguez was 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA in 71 relief appearances in 2012 — misleading numbers, insists Beane, who likes the added bullpen depth this trade gives the A’s.
It seems they don’t need much else before camp opens.
“I rarely say this,” Beane said, “but I told this to [owner] Lew [Wolff]: That’s it. We’re done, as it relates to the Major League roster.”
Oakland’s non-roster invite list for big league camp — beginning just two weeks from today — stands at 18. Here are the names:
RHPs Bruce Billings, Andrew Carignan, Mike Ekstrom, Brian Gordon, Sonny Gray, Kyler Newby
LHPs Garrett Olson, Justin Thomas
Catchers David Freitas, Luke Montz, Max Stassi, Beau Tayor
Infielders Miles Head, Jefry Marte, Scott Moore, Darwin Perez, Addison Russell
Outfielder Michael Choice
The A’s have also released their promotion and events schedule for the 2013 season. There are plenty of giveaways this year, including these:
- 2012 AL West Division Champion Fleece Blanket (April 13)
- Reggie Jackson Bobblehead (April 27)
- Yoenis Cespedes Replica Jersey (June 1)
- Grant Balfour “Ragin” Gnome (June 16)
- Coco “Lean” Bobblehead (June 29)
- Josh Reddick Replica Jersey (July 13 — against his former Red Sox club)
- Yoenis Cespedes Bobblehead (Aug. 17)
The complete list can be found here.
The World Baseball Classic will feature just one A’s player this year, as lefty Pedro Figueroa was revealed as Oakland’s lone participant in the event Thursday.
Figueroa, 27, will represent the Dominican Republic alongside a star-studded cast of peers that includes Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano and Jose Reyes, among others. He is one of 11 pitchers on the provisional roster.
The hard-throwing Figueroa, expected to be a key component in Oakland’s bullpen over the next few years, made 19 appearances for the A’s in 2012, compiling a 3.32 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings as a rookie.
The Dominican Republic is in the Puerto Rico bracket with Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Spain and opens against Venezuela at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 7.
Figueroa’s teammates, Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley, considered possibilities for Australia’s roster, will not participate in the Classic.
The A’s on Wednesday strengthened their catching staff by acquiring backstop John Jaso from the Mariners in a three-team deal that resulted in them also returning pitching prospect A.J. Cole to the Nationals.
The A’s added in Minor League right-hander Blake Treinen and a player to be named later in the package to Washington, who gave up outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse to Seattle.
To clear room on the 40-man roster for Jaso, the A’s chose to designate George Kottaras for assignment just one day after agreeing to terms with him on a one-year deal worth $1 million to avoid arbitration.
Jaso, who carries with him a productive left-handed bat, is a prime platoon candidate next to new teammate Derek Norris, given his eye-opening splits. He posted a .927 OPS against right-handers last year, compared to .393 vs. lefties.
Overall, the 29-year-old Jaso brings with him a likable offensive profile, having hit .276 with a .394 on-base percentage to go along with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs in 108 games for the Mariners last year.
Cole, just 21, was highly regarded by the A’s, who landed the righty from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal last winter. But he struggled greatly at Class-A Stockton in 2012, going 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA, before being demoted to Burlington, where he was 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts.
A’s players Seth Smith, Jerry Blevins and Brandon Moss were among 133 Major Leaguers who officially filed for salary arbitration on Tuesday.
Each player will exchange figures with the A’s on Friday, and arbitration hearings are scheduled from Feb. 4-20, if necessary. Teams and players can negotiate on a contract all the way up to their hearing date, however, and most often a court session is avoided.
Smith will take home the largest paycheck of the trio, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting his 2013 salary to fall around the $3.3 million mark, after he earned $2,415,000 last year.
This marks the second year in which Smith is arbitration-eligible. Embarking on his fifth full season in the Majors, Smith hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games — mainly split between left field and designated hitter — last year for the A’s, who plan to use him mostly at the latter position this season.
Blevins, embarking on his first arbitration experience, made $490,000 in 2012 while enjoying a standout season, going 5-1 with a career-best 2.48 ERA and a .201 opponents’ batting average in 63 relief appearances. These numbers suggest the lefty, entering his seventh season with the A’s, will likely make at least $1 million in 2013.
Moss, meanwhile, is projected to earn around $1.4 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors. The left-handed hitter spent parts of five seasons in the Majors with three different teams before enjoying a breakthrough season in 2012 with Oakland, for whom he hit .291 with 21 home runs and 52 RBIs in just 84 games.
Remember when A’s FanFest took a three-year haitus? That wasn’t too long ago, but surely times have changed with Tuesday’s news that the A’s have already sold out all 10,000 tickets they put on sale for the Jan. 27 event just last Friday. Pretty impressive.
For fans attending, here’s a complete list of those expected to be on hand:
Manager Bob Melvin and his coaching staff, Yoenis Céspedes, Ryan Cook, Coco Crisp, Sean Doolittle, Josh Donaldson, Grant Green, A.J. Griffin, George Kottaras, Tommy Milone, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Pat Neshek, Derek Norris, Jarrod Parker, Josh Reddick, Adam Rosales, Evan Scribner, Scott Sizemore, Seth Smith, Eric Sogard, Dan Straily, Chris Young
Furthermore, with 2013 representing the 40-year anniversary of the 1973 World Series championship, the A’s have announced an in-season celebration of this historic accomplishment April 27 vs. Baltimore, when 10,000 fans will receive a Reggie Jackson bobblehead. FanFest will initiate those festivities by featuring some of the icons from 1973, including appearances by 1973 team members Sal Bando, Bill North and Ray Fosse.
Embarking on his 16th season in his current role as A’s general manager, Billy Beane has tackled countless decisions in his time at the helm, some more difficult than others. This one was a no-brainer.
Beane showcased a hefty nod of support in his manager on Monday, awarding Bob Melvin a two-year contract extension through the 2016 season — even though Melvin was already locked up through 2014.
“This was probably the simplest negotiation I’ve ever had in my career here,” Beane said. “This is something I initiated. I approached Bob with it, and Bob was interested. It really is a reflection on our commitment to Bob and Bob’s commitment to us as much as anything. If you know you have the right guy, there’s no sense in waiting until he has one year left.”
The 51-year-old Melvin, regarded with much respect from his players, led them to a 94-68 showing — marking a 20-game improvement from 2011 — and AL West title, claimed on the final day of the season against the Rangers to erase a deficit of five games with nine to play. The playoff berth was the A’s first since 2006, despite expectations of a 100-loss season going into the year.
Melvin’s role in a stunning season that featured 14 walk-off victories, which ultimately concluded with a Game 5 loss to the Tigers in the AL Division Series, did not go unnoticed, as he was named AL Manager of the Year, just five years after taking home the award in the National League.
It was Melvin’s first full year at the helm in Oakland, as he was named interim manager following the dismissal of Bob Geren on June 9, 2011 — a label he shed when he signed a three-year contract on Sept. 21 of that year.
“We knew we had the right guy from the get-go,” Beane said. “I think the continuity is important, and just as important is it’s what was deserved.”
It’s no coincidence, then, that Melvin’s new contract aligns with Beane’s. The A’s general manager is signed through 2015, with options that could extend his services to 2019. His assistant general manager, David Forst, is under contract through 2016.
“We all see ourselves in sync together,” Beane said, “and it seemed fitting that we should parallel the same tracks we have.”
Melvin, a Bay Area native who’s compiled a career 634-628 managerial record, couldn’t be more appreciative of the gesture.
“From the minute that I got here, I’ve not only felt welcomed by Billy and the front office staff but by the players and the clubhouse personnel and the training staff and the fans,” Melvin said. “Everything has been so fluid here. You get an extension from the people that you respect and admire and show so much support in you, it really makes you feel good and better about doing your job.”
Melvin’s wasn’t an easy one last year, not after an offseason that led to the trades of three All-Star pitchers and brought about an influx of young players and castoffs. Yet he managed them all with ease, seemingly pulling all the right triggers in a roller coaster of a season that included a nine-game losing streak and subsequent 72-38 record after June 1, tops in the Majors.
All the while, Melvin supported an all-rookie starting rotation at points — rookies started 101 games — and crafted more than 130 different lineups that featured as many as five platoons at a time, with several players playing out of their usual position to accommodate the team’s needs. By season’s end, a catcher (Josh Donaldson) was playing third base, an outfielder (Brandon Moss) was manning first and a shortstop (Cliff Pennington) had taken over second-base duties.
“Bob’s an outstanding leader,” Beane said. “He has the unique ability to be both a great leader and someone who’s well likes, which is a fine line that guys in his position have to walk. I really think Bob is a great representation of a modern-day manager.
“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions in that chair and people aren’t always going to like them. But, at the end of the day, when they walk out of your office and still respect you and like you, that says a lot.”