The Oakland Athletics were having a quiet Major League Baseball Hot Stove Season up until early last week. Last Monday they signed free-agent pitcher Scott Kazmir to a two year, $22 million deal thus ending their pursuit of veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon.
They also traded minor league infielder Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later, for the Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson who will replace free agent closer Grant Balfour. Balfour is in talks with a handful of teams, including the New York Yankees. After coming off a career year in 2013, Balfiour will command more money than the Athletics would be willing to spend. Coming off an All Star year in 2012, Johnson, the American League saves leader, went 3-8 with a 2.95 ERA and 50 saves with Baltimore last season.
Finally it seemed like general manager Billy Beane and the A’s were making some big deals this off season, yet Oakland’s movement did not end with the signing of one key player and the trade for another; the organization made quite a few other changes and decisions as well.
The A’s decided to tender contracts to each of their nine arbitration eligible players: outfielders Josh Reddick and Seth Smith, infielders Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie, relievers Jesse Chavez, Jerry Blevins, and Fernando Rodriguez, catcher John Jaso, and to the surprise of many, their longest tendered player, backup first baseman, Daric Barton. The A’s then turned around and traded Smith to the San Diego Padres for set up man, Luke Greggerson.
In keeping Barton the A’s kept with their strategy of recent years emphasizing a focus on team depth and player on base percentage. Barton will likely back up the A’s usual platoon duo Brandon Moss and Nate Freiman.
Oakland also traded top prospect Michael Choice to the Texas Rangers for utility outfielder Craig Gentry and pitcher Josh Lindbloom. Depth on the bench should not be a problem for the Athletics.
Tendering a contract to Rodriguez ensures Oakland’s bullpen depth. Last week the A’s also added a much needed lefty reliever, Fernando Abad, from the Washington Nationals for minor league infielder John Wooten. The addition of Johnson, Abad, and Greggerson to an already stellar bullpen of Ryan Cooke, Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, Dan Otero, and Lindbloon should mean the Athletics should have one of the best and deepest bullpens in the league this coming season.
Billy Bean has been spending more than he ever has as if this is the Athletics’ year to win it all telling reporters:
“We have no five-year plan. We have a one-year plan. We are either all in or all out. If the time comes that we think we are not at that level, we’ll be all out. We’re not going to straddle the fence.”
Spending a little more money this year is a delight to many of the players who are hoping to take the back to back reigning American League Western Division Champions past the AL Division Series and beyond in 2014. Third baseman Josh Donaldson reportedly commented:
“I’m glad to see that they are opening up the pocket books a little bit and spending a little bit more money to take this team to the next level.”
Beane is not done yet. He still wants to add a quality hitter to his lineup and with a full starting rotation he is looking to trade LHP Brett Anderson to get one. As Major League Baseball’s Annual Winter Meetings kick off today at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, the A’s can be expected to be swirling in the rumor mill as they search for the last missing piece to complete their puzzle. It is rumored they have been in talks with the Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Kansas City Royals regarding Anderson. But there is always a chance that they may not actually need that big bat. Right fielder Reddick, who struggled offensively in 2013 due mostly in part to an injured right wrist, could very well return to his 2012 form where he hit 32 home runs. This way the A’s could trade Anderson for a package of prospects.
Whether the flurry of activity for Oakland is over or not still remains to be seen. Having a track record of always being in the rumor mill yet usually accomplishing minimal business during the winter meetings the Athletics seem unlikely to make a big decision. Should the right deal be thrown their way or possibly because the organization has been more liberal with their spending in the past week there is still the possibility of another surprise from Billy Beane.