Oakland A’s

Signed: Lester Goes To The Cubs

lesterbye

Jon Lester says good-bye to Boston.

 

All along the thought here was that Jon Lester would return to the Boston Red Sox, the team he played for eight-plus seasons until a 2014 deadline deal to the Oakland A’s. But the free agent lefty instead opted for a reported six-year, $155MM deal with the Chicago Cubs.

The deal, which was agreed upon late Tuesday night, includes a vesting option for a seventh season that would bring the total worth of the deal to $170MM. According to ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Estes, the Red Sox top offer was six years for $135MM with no vesting option included.

Lester, who doesn’t turn 31 until January, was 16-11, 2.46 in 32 starts (21 with Boston) between the Red Sox and A’s last season. The pending free agent was dealt with outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s on July 31 for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a draft slot. Cespedes has been the subject of trade rumors, which now may pick up with the increased need for a front of the rotation starting pitcher.

The Red Sox reportedly made a one-year offer to bring back another former pitcher, Justin Masterson, but the righty struggled last year with Cleveland and St. Louis. You can expect renewed talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels.

New Cubs manager Joe Maddon was more than happy to have an old AL East nemesis on his team.

“It’s not often you get to win the lottery,” he said. “We won the baseball lottery so far this year, but now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now. We’ve got to make it real, but you need pieces like this to make it real.”

“He’s been [to the World Series] before. He understands what it feels like. I want to believe that he could foresee the same thing happening here,” Maddon said.

“Yeah. It definitely sends that message about how [Cubs president Theo Epstein] and the group feels about this particular group, but understand we have a lot of young players that have to grow up, and we have to do a good job of nurturing that and making it happen,” Maddon said. “It’s possible, but having Jon there definitely adds to the flavor and the believability.”1

Baseball free agency…expect the unexpected.

1 – espn.com

Starter and Closer: White Sox Obtain Samardzija and Robertson

chi

The Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams can’t be blamed if he’s feeling a bit giddy this morning. Last night, Williams started the finalization of a deal that brought starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija from the Oakland A’s and he also came to terms with Yankees closer David Robertson on a four-year, $46MM deal.

Samardzija began last season with the Chicago Cubs, was dealt to the Oakland A’s at the trade deadline, and now returns to Chicago, albeit this time to the south side of the Windy City. Along with the 29-year old right-hander, the A’s sent pitcher Michael Ynoa for infielder Marcus Semien, pitcher Chris Bassitt, 1st baseman Rangel Ravelo, and catcher Josh Phegley.

Samardzija was 2-7 despite a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs before he and Jason Hammel were sent to the west coast for shortstop prospect Addison Russell and two others. The man with the long mullet made 16 stars for Oakland and finished with a 5 and 6 mark despite a 3.16 ERA. The Notre Dame product is in the third year of arbitration eligibility and will be a free agent after the 2015 season. He earned over $5.3MM last season.

Semien played 64 games for the White Sox last season after he had appeared in 21 contests in 2013. He put together a .673 OPS with 28 RBI in 64 games, most of which were played at second base. Baseball America ranked Semien as the 91st best prospect in this past January’s Top 100. Semien, who will be going home (born in San Fran; attended UC-Berkeley) hit 15 HR and drove in 52 runs in 84 games for Triple-A Charlotte. He also  slugged .502 en route to an .881 OPS.

Shortstop has been Semien’s primary position in the minor leagues and that’s where he is slated to play for Oakland after the departure of free agent Jed Lowrie.

Bassitt was a reliever for the University of Akron, but was converted to a starter by Chicago. He’s shown improvement, but it still a work in progress. Phlegley was a first round pick, 38th overall, in the 2009 amateur draft. The 26-year old produced 23 HR and 75 RBI and slugged .861 for Charlotte last season.

He played up with big club for 65 games in 2013, but his OPS was a below par .522. Phegley put up outstanding numbers (.966) in 61 games for Charlotte that same season. With 270 games under his belt at the Triple-A level, Phegley is at the make or break point of his career. He’ll have a shot to at the backup role to Derek Norris.

Know When To Close ‘Em

David Robertson had the best seat in the bullpen school of pitching. The Yankees reliever watched and learned from the best closer in the game, Mariano Rivera, from 2008-2013. Rivera taught Robertson his cutter and more importantly, helped him with the physical and mental aspects of the game.

After averaging 67 appearances from 2010-2013, Robertson became the full-time closer upon Rivera’s retirement. He responded with 39 saves in 44 opportunities and struck out 13.4 batters per nine innings. A first time free agent, Robertson and his agents looked to match the contract Philadelphia had given to Jonathan Papelbon (four years, $50MM) prior to the 2012 season. The Yankees were willing to go four years, but they weren’t willing to part with as much money as even the White Sox were.

With the emergence of set up man Dellin Betances, the free agent signing of Andrew Miller, and the acquistion of Justin Wilson, the Yankees felt Robertson was expendable. Kenny Williams is glad they did.

Rumors: A Pair of Sox in on Samardzija, Padres Talk Kemp

Kemp

On the heels of Saturday’s reported discussions between Oakland and Atlanta about A’s starter Jeff Samardzija, came reports later in the day that the Chicago White Sox were talking to Oakland as well. On Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Boston is also talking to the A’s about Samardzija.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen, the A’s are interested in White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez and prospect Tim Anderson, also a shortstop.

After a pair of down years at the plate, Ramirez hit 15 home runs and slugged .408 in 2014. He also drove in 74 runs, the second highest total of his career. The 33-year old native of Cuba has one year and $10MM remaining on his contract, with a $10MM team option and $1MM buyout for 2016.

Anderson was ranked this past January by Baseball America’s John Manuel as the third best prospect in the White Sox organization. He was the 17th overall pick in the MLB Amateur draft in 2013 out of East Central Community College (Decatur, MS).

The 21-year old played at three different levels last season, including 68 games played at Advanced ‘A’  Winston-Salem (Carolina League) and 10 games at Double-A Birmingham (Southern League). He was limited to 83 total games due to a fractured wrist that caused him to miss two months.

Marcus Semien, who played 64 games for the White Sox last season, is also thought to be a possibility for Oakland. Semien is a third baseman/second baseman, who Manuel ranked as the 5th best prospect in the organization prior to the 2014 season. He had a mere .300 on-base pct. for Chicago, but slugged a respectable .372.

No names have been mentioned in any Red Sox rumors with Oakland, and Cafardo feels Samardzija would be a plan B or C if they Red Sox can’t bring back Jon Lester or deal for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels.

According to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal, the San Diego Padres have talked to the Los Angeles about outfielder Matt Kemp. It’s hard to tell what exactly San Diego’s offseason plans are. This is a team with a low payroll that has talked to Lester and other high priced free agents.

Does it represent a change in philosophy or a way to promote season ticket sales? Kemp finished second in the NL MVP vote in 2011, also known as the year Ryan Braun cheated his way to it, after he hit 39 HR and drove in 126 runs. Hamstring and shoulder injuries limited Kemp to 179 games combined over the next two seasons, but he turned in a respectable, healthier 2014.

Playing in 150 games, Kemp hit 25 HR, drove in 89 runs, and put up an .852 OPS. The biggest deterrent in any trade for the 30-year old is the five years and $107MM still due to him on his current contract.

Rumor: Samardzija Could Be Next To Leave Oakland

samardzija

The Oakland A’s dealt All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night, will not be able to resign ace Jon Lester, who was picked up at the 2014 trade deadline for Yoenis Cespedes, and are now rumored to be talking to the Atlanta Braves about outfielder Justin Upton and catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis.

According to John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group, the price would be a high one. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who was picked up at the July trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs for a package that included starting pitcher Dan Straily and shortstop prospect Addison Russell.

Samardzija is under control for one more season before he reaches free agency. He earned over $5.3MM last season and will get a significant boost based on his performance between the Cubs and A’s in 2014.

Should he go to arbitration, Samardzija’s case will be further proof that a starting pitcher’s won-loss record is not very meaningful. Prior to being dealt to the A’s, the Notre Dame product was 2-7 despite a 2.83 ERA and 8.6 Ks per nine innings. As you would expect his ERA rose in the AL, but only to 3.14. He had an eight to one strikeout to walk ratio and a .262 BABIP or Batting Average on Balls in Play with the A’s and still finished just 5-6 in the W-L columns.

The Braves, who have already acquired starting pitcher Shelby Miller from the St. Louis Cardinals, would probably like to hold on to Upton, but can’t because of another player’s contract that is an albatross around their collective necks. Ironically, that contract belongs to Upton’s older brother B.J. Upton, who the Braves erroneously signed to a five-year, $75.25MM contract prior to the 2013 season.

The deal has been a disaster, with the 30-year old Upton posting OPS numbers you would expect from a pitcher – .557 and .620. Needless to say, the Braves can’t unload him.

The 27-year old Justin, on the other hand, has surpassed an .800 OPS in his two seasons in Atlanta and won a Silver Slugger Award last season after he hit 29 home runs and drove in a career high 102 runs.

The 28-year old Gattis  hit 21 and 22 home runs in his first two seasons in the bigs, despite not reaching 400 at-bats in either year. Though he only caught and DH’ed this past season, Gattis played 48 games in the outfield in 2013. With just two years of Major League experience, Gattis is under the Braves control until 2019, which makes his inclusion in a deal (even for Samardzija) a head-scratcher.

While the team’s rotation would be bolstered by the addition of Samardzija – he would join Miller, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood – the Braves would be hurting for runs scored. It’s understandable that the Braves would rebuild their starting staff,pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are expected to miss the entire 2015 season after both underwent their second Tommy John surgeries this past Spring.

The acquisition of Miller cost the team outfielder Jason Heyward, which means Atlanta would be down three starters from their 2014 lineup, though perhaps someone like outfielder Josh Reddick could be sent along with Samardzija.

If the deal goes through, this is the Braves 2015 lineup at a glance:

C Christian Bethancourt
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Philip Gosselin
SS Andrelton Simmons
3B Chris Johnson
LF
CF B.J. Upton
RF

The Braves added former Yankees prospect Zoilo Almonte this offseason and outfielders Jose Constanza, Joey Terdoslavich, and Todd Cunningham on their 40-man roster.

Meanwhile the A’s starting rotation would be left with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. Like the Braves rotation, the A’s had two pitchers – Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin – undergo Tommy John surgery this past Spring and can’t be counted on in 2015. Prospect Raul Alcantara, who has just two games of experience at Triple-A, could join the rotation some time during the season.

Traded: A’s, Jays Swap Donaldson For Lawrie Plus 3

Donaldson

Friday evening rumors swirled, via the SF Chronicle’s Susan Slusser and FoxSports Ken Rosenthal, that the Oakland A’s were in the midst of putting together a blockbuster trade. At first it was thought that pitcher  Jeff Samardzija was to be involved, but that rumor was quashed by the two reporter’s sources. But a deal was being discussed and was finalized Friday night.

The A’s sent their All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for third baseman Brett Lawrie and three minor leaguers – shortstop Franklin Barreto, and pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin.

Donaldson adds another serious power bat to a Blue Jays lineup that already features Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  It also does damage to an A’s lineup that was weakened at the past trade deadline when they sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for rent ace Jon Lester.

Donaldson, who will be 29 in a little over a week, hit 24 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 2013. He followed that up with 29-98 year this past season, though his OPS dropped nearly 100 points.  The Alabama native made a mere $500K in his third full year in the Major Leagues and is arbitration eligible. Needless to say, he will earn a large raise for 2015 and it is likely the Blue Jays will try to sign him long term.

Lawrie, who began his career in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, was dealt to the Blue Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum in 2010. The former 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Lawrie has been a disappointment up to this point. Injuries have limited the 24-year old to 177 total games the last two seasons.

After posting an OPS over .900 in 43 games in his first year in the Majors, Lawrie has recorded .729, .712, and .722 OPS numbers the last three seasons. He had begun to develop a good power stroke last season – 12 HR in 259 at-bats – but was shut down the last two months of the season due to a strained oblique. He had broken a finger earlier in the year that caused him to miss six weeks.

Like Donaldson, Lawrie is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, but will make substantially less than Donaldson for the 2015 season. He earned $516K and change in 2014.

As for the minor leaguers acquired, Barreto put together a .311/.384/.418 slash line last season for Vancouver (‘A’ ball). The 5’9″ shortstop was signed out of Venezuela and has two seasons in the Jays’ organization under his belt.

Graveman, a 6’2″ right-hander, was drafted in the 8th round of the 2013 MLB amateur draft. He made his Major League debut this past September and appeared in five games with mild success. The Mississippi State product made a combined 27 starts this past season in four different minor league levels. Overall, he finished 14-6, 1.83 with 115 strikeouts in 167.1 innings pitched. He also averaged less than a hit per inning and issyed just 1.7 walks per nine innings. In his call up, Graveman averaged about 93 mph on his fastball and used a cutter and slider as his secondary pitches.

Nolin was the Blue Jays 6th round pick (2010) out of San Jacinto College in Texas. He made one start for Toronto in 2013 (He didn’t make it out of the first inning.) and one relief appearance in 2014. Nolin made 17 starts for Triple-A Buffalo last season, finished 4-6, 3.50, and averaged 7.6 K’s per nine innings. He has a low 90s fastball and relies heavily on his changeup.

UPDATE – Josh Donaldson took to Twitter to thank the A’s fans.

Donaldsonthanks

Free Agent: Billy Butler Heads West to the A’s, Young Man

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The A’s are banking on Billy Butler getting his power stroke back.

 

Billy Butler has been a fixture in the Kansas City Royals lineup since his rookie season of 2007. He was one of the few consistent productive players for the Royals teams that won less than 70 games a year.

But after his best season (2012) – 29 HR 107 RBI .882 OPS 192 Hits – the lineup’s regular designated hitter saw his production drop off. It came at a time when the Royals had a resurgence and made it to the World Series for the first time since 1985. With young players like Alex Gordon ready to starting getting big money, it was an easy decision for Royals’ management to not bring Butler back. The 28-year old agreed to terms with the Oakland A’s Wednesday on a three-year, $30MM deal. It’s a slight bump in salary from the $8MM he earned the last three seasons in KC.

Oakland is looking to Butler to replace some of the offense lost when they dealt Yoenis Cespedis to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester during the 2014 trade deadline. But will Butler be able to supplement the A’s offensive production in 2015? After a drop off to 15 home runs and 82 RBI in 2013, Butler only powered out 9 HR this past season and had a career low .379 slugging percentage.

Butler is a station-to-station base runner and a prototypical designated hitter – he hasn’t played more than 37 games at first base since 2010 – so he needs to rely on his ability to drive the ball to be successful.

He’s making the move from a pretty good hitter’s park to one (Oakland Coliseum) that favors pitchers. Granted, it’s been against the A’s pitchers, but Butler has a career .252 batting average in Oakland and a pedestrian .759 OPS. By comparison, Butler had an .849 career OPS at Kauffman Stadium in KC (and a .766 mark on the road.)

Time will tell, but at $10MM per year, the contract could prove to be a a major bargain, especially for a player under 30.

Big Names, Big Games in AL Wild Card Contest

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

by Drew Sarver

It has been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals reached the postseason. 1985 saw the Royals win their one and only World Series Championship. (With a  little help from umpire Don Denkinger.) Tuesday night, the Royals will host the Oakland A’s in a one game showdown between the two AL Wild Card winners. To the victor go the spoils and a divisional round match up with the Los Angeles Angels. You know where the losers go.

The A’s have been to the playoffs 11 times during the Royals drought, but haven’t been to the World Series since 1990. Their last World Series title, the ninth in franchise history (The first five were won when they called Philadelphia home), came in the “Earthquake series” with the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals were an expansion team in 1969, two years after the A’s departed Kansas City after a 13-season run. The only prior postseason meeting between the two squads came after the strike-shortened 1981 regular season. The Billy Martin-managed A’s swept KC in three straight games before they were swept in three games by the New York Yankees in the ALCS. It was a disappointing end of the season for Kansas City, which lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies one year earlier.

Tuesday night, the teams will have one chance to move on to the divisional series. That is the punishment in Major League Baseball for not winning your division.

The Royals are counting on their ace, James “Big Game” Shields, who earned that moniker while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, to take them to the next step. The Rays’ usual money crunching resulted in a trade that sent Shields and reliever Wade Davis to KC for then prospects Wil Myers (now a regular in the Rays’ lineup), pitchers Jake Odorizzi (now a regular in the Rays’ rotation) and Mike Montgomery.

Shields, a free agent after the season, has been incredibly consistent in his two seasons in the state of Missouri. He followed up a 13-9, 3.15 campaign in 2013 with a 14-8, 3.21 mark this season.  The 32-year old has topped 200 innings in eight straight seasons, and pitched just 1.2 innings less this year than he did in 2013. He’s made at least 33 starts in each of the last seven seasons, a testament to his durability.

A 16th round pick in the 2000 MLB amateur draft, Shields has had his ups and downs in six post-season appearances. He put his team in a 3-1 hole in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, but the Rays rallied for a 6-4 victory. Shields picked up the victory and settled down, before departing in the 7th inning. Though he lost both of his starts in the ALCS, which Tampa Bay won in seven games, Shields lost the opener to Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2-0. He didn’t fare as well in a 4-2 loss in Game 6.

Down one game to none in the World Series, Shields tossed 5.2 shutout innings to help Tampa even the series with the Philadelphia Phillies at a game apiece. Shields didn’t get another chance to pitch, however, as the Phillies closed things out in five games.

Shields will need to be at his best for the one-game playoff, because his counterpart is one tough customer. Jon Lester has a pair of World Series rings, but his victory over cancer is arguably his biggest win. After treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Lester returned to the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and threw 5-plus shutout innings in Game 4 of the Red Sox World Series sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Like Shields, Lester has been a model of consistency in his career. He’s topped 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons and may be having his finest season to date. Lester put up career bests in innings pitched (219.2), ERA (2.46) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings, allowed 0.7 home runs per nine innings, and was named to his third All-Star team. For someone that played for over eight years in a baseball hot bed such as Boston, it’s hard to believe how little Lester is talked about when the names of the best pitchers in baseball come up.

Jon Lester is ddefinitelyone of them and that will be reflected this coming offseason when the free agent to be hits the open market. Lester had a tough decision as the trade deadline approached this past Summer. Stay in Boston, destined for last place, or go somewhere with a chance to make the postseason and possibly return to New England over the Winter. Lester chose the latter and produced a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts, of which he won six. Through no fault of his own, Oakland plummeted out of first place (14-23 in their final 37 games) in the AL West and ended up 10 games behind the Angels.

Instead of preparing themselves to play the winner of the Wild Card play-in, and trotting out Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray, the A’s will lean heavily on their left-handed ace to give their starting rotation the chance to flex their pitching muscle. They have a good chance to move on with Lester, who enters the game with a 2.11 ERA in 13 playoff appearances, 11 of them starts.

Two big names for one very big game.

Who hits Shields:

Josh Reddick .318/.318/.864  3 HR 5 RBI in 22 plate appearances (PA)
Nick Punto 4-14 (.286) with 4 walks in 18 PA

Who doesn’t hit Shields:

Adam Dunn 7-35 (.200) 1 HR in 40 PA
Coco Crisp 3-24 (.125) in 25 PA
Jed Lowrie 3-16 (.188) in 16 PA

Who hits Lester:

Alcides Escobar .353/.429/.471 in 21 PA
Lorenzo Cain .313/.353/.500 in 17 PA
Eric Hosmer .308/.471/.538 1 HR in 17 PA
Raul Ibanez .333/.333/.667 1 HR in 15 PA

Who doesn’t hit Lester:

Billy Butler 4-28 (.143) in 33 PA
Alex Gordon 4-25 (.160) in 28 PA
Josh Willingham 3-20 (.150) in 26 PA
Omar Infante 3-20 (.150) in 22 PA

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.