Featuring Colin Hecht & Trevor Utley
By Trevor Utley
I wrote quite a bit about last year's Oakland Athletics. In my preview I said they didn't have the makings of a playoff team. A month or so later I was lauding them as the most complete team in baseball. By season's end, I was hopping on the media pig pile after they squandered the division and imploded in the Wild Card game. It was a season in which the A's went all in, only to get beat on the river card. The 2015 Oakland Athletics have a decidedly different makeup than the 2014 version. The big names are gone as GM Billy Beane once again tries to use his acclaimed tactics to assemble a cost effective contender. I for one think this will be a transition year for Oakland. Moneyball can't produce you much if you just lost all of your chips.
The A's will be featuring an entirely new infield in 2015. Brandon Moss is out at first base as he was traded to Cleveland. The slugger is due a sizable pay increase after his second consecutive 25 HR, 80 RBI campaign. That is a burden that Oakland didn't want to bear. In comes Ike Davis, a player in dire need of a fresh start. Davis has shown power potential in the past, but he still can't hit lefties and Oakland's Coliseum has been a graveyard for home runs from left handed hitters. He'll most likely be in a platoon with either Mark Canha or Nate Freiman. New DH Billy Butler may get a couple looks at first as well. To be honest though, he doesn't need any more on his plate to further his already declining power figures. Second base got a boost in the acquisition of Ben Zobrist. Zobrist knows what it is like to build on a budget from his time in Tampa Bay. He should fit in perfectly to what Oakland is trying to do and provide a bat as good at the top of the lineup as it is at the bottom. If nothing else, he may surpass Eric Sogard and Nick Punto's combined production from last year by June. The new shortstop is Marcus Semien. Coming from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija deal, Semien provides Oakland with a controllable asset. He isn't eligible for free agency until 2021. Third base is the most intriguing change in Oakland's inner defense. Normally, getting a 25 year old with the potential Brett Lawrie possesses would be quite the coup. However, it came at the expense of Oakland's most potent hitter the last two years: Josh Donaldson. Frequent injuries have stunted Lawrie's projected rise to stardom, but he is still young. It will be intriguing to see if he can finally break through in Oakland in replacing a perennial AL MVP candidate. While third base is the most fascinating, catcher is the most troublesome position on the roster. Gone are Derek Norris and John jaso, leaving third stringer Stephen Vogt as the starter. With all the roster turnover this winter, it is very surprising to see this glaring weakness untended. Vogt may start Opening Day, but if he is still behind the plate come September, Oakland is in probably worse shape that I expected.
While the infield underwent a transformation, the outfield stayed remotely stagnant. Coco Crisp makes the only shift, moving from center field to left. Crisp is the highest paid position player on Oakland's roster at $11 million. Two years ago he proved worthy of such a price tag as he set a career high in home runs (22) and finished 15th in the AL MVP balloting. His age, he's 35 as of Opening Day, showed last year though as the power (down to 9) and batting average (down 15 points to .246) dipped and he looked slow in center. A shift to the corner should do him good in the field. Hopefully for A's brass, it'll help rejuvenate his bat as well. Taking over center field duties is Sam Fuld. Fuld came back to Oakland last year at the trade deadline in a deal for Tommy Milone. He started off the season with the A's before being waived. He was a valuable utility outfielder for Oakland, but provided next to nothing at the dish (.209 BA, 3 HR, 19 RBI in 60 games). He has never been a starter for a full season in the Majors and I expect that to continue. If speedster Billy Burns (50+ steals three straight years in the Minors) can get his bat in order, center should be his. Josh Reddick returns in right field. He didn't quite replicate his breakout 2012 last year, but he rebounded from a disappointing 2013. Injuries still robbed him of 53 games, but the glove and plate discipline that eluded him in 2013 reappeared when he was healthy. The Oakland lineup doesn't look too bad but they will need full health from their power hitters or run production is going to be at a premium this year.
While the offense has the potential to sputter, the pitching staff should chug along swimmingly. Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija are gone to Chicago but Sonny Gray remains as the A's ace. Gray has all the makings of a Cy Young Award winner. He went 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA but both those figures look worse because of the A's late season swoon. Gray is the real deal and with his ability to get deep into games, he could challenge the 20 win mark in 2015. In 2014, Scott Kazmir set a career high in wins (15) and pitched his most innings (190 1/3) since 2007. The strain of that workload may make him regress a bit this season, but he should still be a reasonably productive second starter. Oakland has a lot of options in building the rest of their rotation, though most are unproven. Jesse Hahn had a decent rookie season in San Diego but one has to factor in Petco Park to pitching numbers like you would do for hitting numbers in Coors Field. Kendall Graveman, who came over in the Josh Donaldson trade, has had a tremendous spring (3-0, 0.42 ERA, 0.66 WHIP) and should get a spot. The last spot is up for grabs between a pair of starter/reliever tweeners, Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez. Chavez made the most of his time in the rotation last year (8-8, 3.45 ERA) but the former top-10 pick Pomeranz has more upside. Plus, you can't really have two Jesses in the rotation can you? I was going to mention Barry Zito as an option but then I peed myself laughing. (I'll replace the ottoman honey!) If Jarrod Parker comes back strong from Tommy John surgery in June, this rotation just gets that much better.
The bullpen was one of the main culprits in last year's collapse but Beane addressed it this winter. New addition Tyler Clippard, acquired for Yunel Escobar in January, gives the Athletics a two headed closing monster along with Sean Doolittle. It'll be interesting to see if either emerges as the alpha dog or if manager Bob Melvin uses a platoon. Clippard would get the nod against right handed dominant ninth innings while Doolittle would get lefty laden lineups (say that three times fast). The rest of the bullpen isn't anything to sneeze at either. From the left side, Fernando Abad (1.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) throws gas while Eric O'Flaherty's sinker is a hell of a weapon. From the right side, Dan Otero (8-2, 2.28 ERA) and former All-Star Ryan Cook provide versatility as both situational and long inning relief.
As you can see, the faces may be slightly different but not much has changed in Oakland. The pitching staff is strong but the lineup leaves a lot to be desired. There is also always a sting after a team-wide disintegration like the one Oakland went through over the late summer months of 2014. I expect Billy Beane to be active throughout the year to fill in any gaps that his team has or potentially will have. They won't have the good fortune of riding a good start into the playoffs this year. It'll be a struggle to stay above the .500 mark this season. It is a struggle I feel they'll ultimately lose.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #11 (DOWN 9)
PREDICTED RECORD: 79-83
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Sonny Gray (starting pitcher), Ben Zobrist (second baseman), Fernando Abad (relief pitcher)
Hopefully this will be the last article Trevor Utley will write about the Oakland A's for quite some time.
Image Credit: Athletics logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
On April 14th, 2001, the band Thursday released their second album, Full Collapse. It is one of the if not the most popular album produced by the group. Then-label Victory Records registered the domain fullcollapse.com to serve as the band's official website that same year. The site is no longer in operation but it should be. It should be operated by the Oakland Athletics. This piece will recap what can only now amount to a lost season for the A's through the tracks of the album.
The thirty-six second introductory track to the album has only nineteen words, which is more than was said about the Oakland Athletics this offseason. To be honest, they probably liked it that way. For a team that had a major motion picture made about their organization, the A's like being off the radar. While their American League compatriots New York, Texas, and Seattle splashed cash all over the free agent field, Oakland played their usual game of Moneyball in their acquisitions. Trades netted Oakland a brand new back end of their bullpen in Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Drew Pomeranz. Low risk, high reward signings Scott Kazmir and Eric O'Flaherty also entered the fold. Top-15 MVP finishers Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp were returning on club friendly arbitration figures and club options respectively. Oddsmakers had the Athletics at 20-1 odds to win the World Series, a figure commensurate with the Reds or Pirates. I, as many others, had tempered expectations for the 2014 Athletics. Their start to 2014 made all our of our pensiveness look foolish
"Understanding In A Car Crash"
This is probably the most popular track on the album. It is still a part of Thursday's set list today and after thirteen years is a fan favorite, quite a statement for a record that got massive amounts of radio airplay as the first single released. Like the first actual "song" on Full Collapse, the Athletics' first month of play garnered them popularity and respect in the media and around baseball. They were 18-10 after April and were scoring runs at will. Sonny Gray was the American League Pitcher of the Month. They became the darlings of the Majors and overtook Detroit as the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series. I am aware that one month does not a season make, but the A's seemed to have their house in order. They didn't waste any time avoiding their own car crash in removing their most expensive player, Jim Johnson, from the closer's role when his early season woes threatened to derail Oakland's season when it was just one week old. They understood what they needed to do to keep the pole position in the race to the pennant. It seemed early on that there was nothing that could knock them off their course.
It is not to say that Oakland didn't have flaws. It was just that through the first few months they were very good at covering them up. Once Johnson was ousted as closer, Sean Doolittle became an All-Star as his replacement. The starting pitching continued to flourish, as I noted in my article on May 27th, and the lineup just kept on hitting. So I am telling you that their closer was an All-Star, their starting pitching was the best in the sport, and their lineup scored more runs than any other team in the American League; what could possibly be their flaws? The lack of a Plan B. They had the horses to win a title, but as with any sport you need to have reserves in the stable just in case. No team goes through an entire season unscathed and lack of a bench and flexible bullpen arms can doom even the most talented of teams. One would see as Oakland's horses rounded the first turn, the home stretch was a lot farther away than they realized.
"Autobiography Of A Nation"
Oakland began the summer still in first and in control. The Athletics Nation had no semblance of panic in their hearts. Why would they? The division favorite, Texas, had been bitten so many times by the injury bug that they were closer to the bottom of the American League than the apex. The Angels were nipping at their heels, but all too often were reverting to the their under-performing ways of the past couple years. Seattle had not proved themselves worthy adversaries. With the Dodgers and Giants both winning with great regularity in the NL West, talk of 1988 and 1990 World Series rematches became more and more common. I for one, was one of them. There was even a photo set done by a Bay Area studio called "Do The Oakland A's Ever Lose?" Even with all these good feelings swirling in the Bay Area, Oakland seemed uncomfortable with their role as the alpha dog. Eventually they would embrace that position.
"A Hole In The World"
Remember when I talked about a lack of depth being Oakland's paramount imperfection? Oakland wasn't unaware of it. They were just misguided as to where they were lacking said depth. On July 5th, Billy Beane traded his previous two first round picks, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney, along with starting pitcher Dan Straily to the Cubs for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. The saying goes that you can never have too much pitching, but having an embarrassment of riches in lieu of filling other holes is always a potentially combustible strategy. The two former Cubs immediately entered the A's rotation, sending Tommy Milone (6-0, 2.92 ERA in his previous 11 starts) to Triple-A and left Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez, and Brad Mills looking over their shoulders. Samardzija and Hammel were both capable, proven arms, but would the stirring of the rotation pot pay dividends? Or would the additions create unnecessary dissent and tension in the ranks of a squad that seemed to be perfectly gelled? The A's would barely have their answers before they would again ask the question.
"Cross Out The Eyes"
"Cross Out The Eyes" was the second single released from Full Collapse. The Samardzija trade was big, but the second trade that Oakland made for a front line starter was even bigger. The trade deadline brought one of the biggest available fish to the Bay, left hander Jon Lester. The A's were still in first place in the West but their stranglehold on the division was loosening. The Angels and Mariners were mounting offensives but neither team made significant moves on July 31st. The A's decided to be proactive instead of following their pursuers' inactivity. I gave the deal an A+, and Lester won his first three starts for Oakland. However, giving up Yoenis Cespedes proved to be more costly than they had envisioned. They had starting pitching to burn but their once clutch hitting began to sputter. After Lester's third start, the Athletics' full collapse began.
"Paris In Flames"
Oakland's August was only the beginning of the fire. They started off by losing two out of three to the Royals before they seemed to right the ship with series wins over the Rays and Twins. After dispatching the lowly Twinkies, Oakland would only win consecutive games one more time the rest of the month. Oddly enough, that two game winning streak would come at the hands of the team hot on their heels in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels. On August 16th, for the first time since April 27th, the hunted became the hunters again. With the aforementioned two game toppling of the Angels paired with a win over the Astros, the A's were able to claw level. It was a place that they'd never be again. Oakland was catching fire, and not in a good way. The bad thing is their September would make them yearn for August's inferno.
"I Am The Killer"
If you were going to describe Oakland's August as arson, you would classify their September as a murder. The A's, who had once been in the driver's seat in not only their division but the entire AL, were fighting for their playoff lives. The five game deficit they faced at the start of the month doubled by September 11th. The offense that had laid waste to the competition through the season's preamble, could only muster more than five runs five times over their last twenty five encounters. They couldn't get hits in close games, or get outs in them. The starters and the bullpen were equally inept. Most teams that endured what the A's did in September, such as the 2007 Mets and 2011 Red Sox, had their playoffs hopes were executed. By some act of clemency, the governor wasn't ready to send the A's to the chair just yet.
"Standing On The Edge Of Summer"
There was just one week left in the season and the A's were still clinging to the last Wild Card spot. It was improbable because of what I just described in the previous paragraph, but there they were one game behind Kansas City. Why were they allowed to be so horrible and still have a shot at the postseason? Well, that was because the efforts of the team beneath them were an even bigger clinic in futility. Now I am aware that 10-16 is a worse record than 14-13 but Seattle's pursuit of Oakland couldn't have gone worse. They started off September swimmingly by winning five of six including two wins against the Athletics. After that though, they were 9-12. They could only manage two wins from six games from Houston. They were nearly swept by another team in free fall, Toronto, including a 10-2 trouncing with King Felix on the mound. Every time Oakland would go on a lengthy losing streak, Seattle could never seem to gain ground. Oakland were to be rewarded for being the worst second half team in baseball with a spot in the playoffs.
The Athletics would win their final game of the season 4-0 against Texas. Sonny Gray, whose struggles had coincided with Oakland's downturn, pitched a masterful complete game shutout as only one baserunner reached third base. The bottom of the order supplied the offense with runs being driven in by Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Vogt. Normally over the final dreadful month, if the heart of the lineup didn't produce, the A's stood no chance. This was an encouraging performance to show their rabid fans that they still had a bit of fight left in them. Miraculously, after a two month stretch that had slain better teams before them, Oakland was off to Kansas City for the Wild Card game. They had a chance to show everybody that they weren't collapsing, but instead lulling their opposition into a false sense of security.
"How Long Is The Night?"
The AL Wild Card game between Oakland and Kansas City was being billed as a good old fashioned pitcher's duel. Jon Lester is statistically one of the best postseason pitchers of any era. Big Game James Shields got his moniker for moments like this. The first inning was not indicative of the hype preceding the contest. The A's put up two runs in the top of the first on a two run home run by Brandon Moss. Kansas City countered by getting one of those runs back through a Billy Butler RBI single. Lester struggled with his location and in the bottom of the third Kansas City nosed ahead when Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer knocked in runs in consecutive at-bats. It was early but you could see that when Cain crossed home to make it 3-2, Oakland had that "here we go again" look about them. Then the sixth inning came. The A's were able to chase Shields, forcing in Yordano Ventura in an all hands on deck scenario. The fireballing right hander promptly gave up a three run home run to Moss, his second of the game. The dinger was followed by a single, wild pitch, and a deep fly ball that moved the runner to third. Ventura made way for Kelvin Herrera, who didn't fare much better. The sixth inning ended with five runs on the board for Oakland, a crucial momentum swing, and arguably the stingiest playoffs starting pitcher of the 2000s with a four run cushion. There was no way they could blow this right?
That is the funny thing about a team in free fall though, you never quite know when they've hit rock bottom. But when they do, everybody and their mother knows. Since he regained the lead, Lester had allowed just a fluke bunt single in the two subsequent innings. He would have no such success in the eighth. The trade deadline rental could only record one out before hitting the showers. Luke Gregerson would enter the game with men on first and second. Two pitches later there were men on first and third and another run for Kansas City. Gregerson would allow another run via a wild pitch but would make it across his tightrope inning with strikeouts of Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to put a tourniquet on Oakland's bloodletting. I wish that was the end.
After Greg Holland walked over hot coals to get the Royals out of trouble (that he caused) in the top of the ninth, Sean Doolittle was called on to send Oakland to Los Angeles and a chance to get a measure of revenge. The Angels had embarrassed Oakland with the lead they were able to put on them in the division. Three short outs and Oakland could get their comeuppance. Kansas City had other plans. They used their speed, like they had all year, to their advantage in their staving off of elimination. Josh Willingham led off with a pinch hit single off the A's All-Star door shutter. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for him and was expertly sacrificed to second base by Alcides Escobar. He would then steal third. Nori Aoki hit a sacrifice fly to bring the Royals level. Lorenzo Cain lined out and we were off to extras. The worst pain was yet to come.
There was nothing doing for the first two extra frames. The 12th inning came about and it looked like the first team to make either a mistake or a bold move were going to reap the rewards. Oakland looked to be in the reaping mood when they sent up Alberto Callaspo as a pinch hitter. He lined a single to left off Jason Frasor, the Royals' seventh pitcher of the evening, and the A's were back in front. Normally, a run in the top of an inning in extras is just as good as one in the bottom. The game is normally over. The Oakland Athletics 2014 season was anything but normal. Dan Otero came on for his second inning of work to try to shut the door on Kansas City. Otero has been a Bay Area lifer as a professional, only playing for San Francisco and Oakland in his short career thus far. He was 8-2 this season out of the A's pen and did not allow a run in 5 2/3 innings last October. You should know how this story ends by now. Otero gave up a triple to Eric Hosmer and a Christian Colon single that made it 7-7. Fernando Abad would replace Otero for one out before Jason Hammel, beyond a disappointment in Oakland, placed the final nail in the Athletic coffin. THE FULL COLLAPSE HAD BEEN COMPLETED.
"I1100" was an underwhelming end to Full Collapse. The end to the Oakland Athletics' season was even more depressing. A team that did everything "right" had everything end up so "wrong." The backlash on the A's front office, one that had been lauded for years, forced Billy Beane to defend the Jon Lester trade over the past couple days. Yes, one of the most highly regarded GM's had to defend trading for an ACE. That is what a collapse will do to even the sanest of fans. What happened to Oakland this year will never happen again. I am not saying that there will never be another collapse in baseball, that is naive. I am just saying that nobody will take their fans to the top and to the bottom in both the regular season AND playoffs, ever again.
For some reason, if you saw Full Collapse and thought this was going to be an article about Thursday, I apologize. But since you've made it this far, I might as well put the album here for you to reminisce to. Cheers!
Image Credit: Full Collapse (wikipedia.org)
Video Credit: Full Collapse Full Album (lubylu312/Youtube.com)
Featuring Trevor Utley, Lou Kessler, & Andrew Sanford
Featuring Trevor Utley, Lou Kessler, and Al deCiutiis
By Trevor Utley
The MLB Trade Deadline came and went at 4 PM yesterday and while waiver based deals can still be worked out in August, the last major deals for first place teams and the clubs chasing them have come and gone. Only time will tell if these deals bear fruit for the teams that made them, but in the interim let us review the deals of today and yesterday and hash out the winners and losers of baseball's most hectic afternoon.
Firstly, let us set aside the deals that don't really need to be graded out. These are the transactions that don't have much bearing on pennant races or involve lower caliber pieces. These trades include:
This could be a reclamation project for a player Cubs' GM Theo Epstein knows very well. Look what the North Siders did with Jake Arrieta so far this season.
Denorfia becomes part of a Mariners' outfield desperate for a spark. San Diego doesn't get much back in the two prospects, even though Almonte was the Opening Day centerfielder for the M's, but the Padres can be happy to part ways with Denorfia's over $2 million salary for what amounted to a platoon guy against lefties only.
The Braves got better with Bonifacio who, while quite fragile, can play all over the field outside of being part of the battery and Russell who absolutely dominates left handed hitters. Caratini was a second round pick a year ago who is still transitioning from the infield to catching but has a bat that could pay dividends.
The A's outfield is beat up right now and will make use of a player like Fuld whom they actually waived earlier this season. He will get some decent run right now with Cespedes gone and Coco Crisp ailing but when the main cogs come back he'll be a fourth or fifth outfielder. Milone regressed from last year but should still be a part of the Twins' rotation going forward.
Miller is a free agent this offseason and Boston didn't want to let him walk for free. The left hander was traded in the division but netted the defending World Series champions a prized piece of the Orioles' farm system. 21 year old southpaw Rodriguez hasn't been exactly setting the world on fire at Double-A Bowie but was ranked as Baltimore's #3 prospect in 2013.
If you listened to our podcast we addressed Milwaukee's glaring hole, their bullpen, and even had Haniger involved in a deal for an arm. Milwaukee brass seemed to have a different plan in acquiring Gerardo Parra and inserting him into a crowded outfield. Haniger and Banda aren't world beaters. This was a weird trade for both sides as neither team really got better.
There is a big batch of young talent being swapped in this one. The Marlins got the major league ready talent from Houston while Houston will have to wait a while on their haul. Cosart should slot in behind Jose Fernandez in Miami's rotation for the future while Hernandez is playing beyond expectations currently. A whole lot of maybes going to the Lone Star State.
With those minor deals out of the way let us delve into the ones that will have varying impacts on who makes the postseason in both leagues. From two aces being dealt to some head scratchers from the Bronx Bombers, this was easily one of the more active and interesting trade deadlines in recent memory.
ATHLETICS GET JON LESTER, JONNY GOMES, & CASH
RED SOX GET YOENIS CESPEDES & A COMPETITIVE BALANCE DRAFT PICK
The A's, which seemed to be many a reporter's mystery team in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, swooped in seemingly at the last minute for the highly coveted lefty. The move improves Oakland's greatest strength and widens the gap between them and the Angels in the AL West. Jonny Gomes takes his talents to the Bay Area as well and should get a good amount of bats against left handers, he is currently second in the league in average against southpaws, in a banged up A's outfield.
The Red Sox, the busiest team on Deadline Day, gets back a player in Cespedes that has a swing tailored for Fenway Park and an arm that could throw a laser to the plate even from the fabled triangle in Boston's centerfield. Boston may be in a similar situation to the Lester one next year with Cespedes though. A free agent at the end of 2015, the Cuban could ask away if the Red Sox don't improve.
The argument for this trade on Boston's end is that they get a big bat in the two time former HR Derby Champion and a chance to chase Lester this offseason since it is almost a foregone conclusion that the small market A's will not pay the sticker price on Lester. If they end up whiffing on him and then Cespedes walks away next fall, this deal will be frowned upon by Red Sox Nation. If they rebound (not even necessarily resigning Lester in the process) and convince Cespedes to stay, the Red Sox made the best out of a bad situation. For Oakland, they show they are all in this year and it is World Series or bust. Lester paired with recent acquisitions Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel as well as Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, and Sonny Gray make a team nobody wants to face come October. They may just not all be in Oakland green and yellow in 2015. But trust me that Oakland will just find new shiny toys to play with.
OAKLAND GRADE: A+
BOSTON GRADE: B
TIGERS GET DAVID PRICE
RAYS GET DREW SMYLY, WILLY ADAMES, & NICK FRANKLIN
MARINERS GET AUSTIN JACKSON
After all the trades that Tampa were rumored to have turned down for their ace, it seems they panicked in trading him to the Tigers. Detroit gets a left hander to put between Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in their rotation and frankly didn't give up that much to do so. They kept young infielder Nick Castellanos in town and the only pitcher they lost in the deal was Drew Smyly who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen with no real consistency. It keeps Detroit on pace with Oakland for the top seed in the American League Playoffs and keeps their rotation strong if Scherzer departs in free agency.
Seattle acted as a third wheel in this deal and came out smelling like roses. Jackson is still only 27 and improves a Seattle outfield devoid of offensive and defensive talent. They gave up Nick Franklin who though he was seen by some as one of the Mariners of tomorrow, only hit .128 for the M's thus far in 2014.
Tampa Bay was not in the situation with Price that Boston was in with Lester. They had another year to go with their all-world left hander and instead of holding onto him for a run at the second AL Wild Card dealt him and got the proverbial pu-pu platter return. Smyly will be in the rotation for the remainder of 2014 but his role will probably end up being the same back and forth one it was in Motown. Adames is one of the more highly touted prospects in Detroit's weak hitting minor league system but he is only 18 and is light years away. It will be interesting to see if the struggling Franklin gets a chance to play everyday at the Trop.
The Rays have shown they didn't even want to pay the potential arbitration figure for Price in 2015. A team that has flying high lately has just been shot out of the sky. The team with the most to give got the least in return. I am still trying to wrap my head around this deal on Tampa's end. Detroit solidifies themselves as an American League power and Seattle gets a competent outfielder for seemingly nothing. If I write any more about this trade my brain is going to explode.
DETROIT GRADE: A-
SEATTLE GRADE: A+
TAMPA BAY GRADE: F
CARDINALS GET JOHN LACKEY & COREY LITTRELL
RED SOX GET ALLEN CRAIG & JOE KELLY
Boston is making no bones about blowing up their team. It seemed everbody outside of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were on the block. After Jon Lester, John Lackey was the second domino to fall. The right hander had rebuilt his image in Boston after injuries and the "Chicken and Beer" nonsense faded, making him one of their most coveted assets. His $500,000 salary for next year doesn't hurt either.
St. Louis has been chasing Milwaukee for the Central Division crown for the majority of 2014 and the acquisition of Lackey (along with Justin Masterson that we'll get to next) restocks the pitching shelves that were getting pretty bare for the Cards. Lackey will probably sit in the third starter role behind Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, a daunting opponent for the third game of any potential postseason series. Corey Littrell is basically a throw in for this deal and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last time I ever write his name again.
Boston doesn't necessarily get taken to the cleaners on this deal though. Allen Craig is only a couple seasons removed from being one of the most feared late game hitters in all of baseball. He was more than clutch in St. Louis' World Series triumph in 2011. If he can return from his injuries, which Boston will surely allow him too, they may have gotten themselves another late inning hero to pair with Big Papi. In Joe Kelly they get a pitcher who can start or relieve, and though he won't wow you with his numbers eats innings and gets outs.
While Tampa seemed to force their own hand with the Price trade, Boston so far has made teams work hard for their arms instead of the inverse. This trade helps both teams now and in 2015 and both GMs should give themselves a good old Barry Horowitz pat on the back for making it.
ST. LOUIS GRADE: B
BOSTON GRADE: A-
CARDINALS GET JUSTIN MASTERSON
INDIANS GET JAMES RAMSEY
This trade was consummated yesterday but it is still significant in St. Louis' charge to the Central Division title. They know all to well that you can never have too much starting pitching heading into the postseason, especially in the National League. In acquiring Masterson, they've added depth to a battle tested rotation whilst not giving up a high level prospect in doing so.
The Cardinals will go as far as their starting pitching will take them. Each of their runs to the World Series in the past decade have been on the backbone of their staff. The former Cleveland right hander may not be in the rotation come the postseason but has experience coming out of the pen from early years in Boston which is valuable to St. Louis.
James Ramsey, a 24 year old outfielder who has spent his season at AA for Springfield, is a prospect who may be in Cleveland by the end of this season or Opening Day 2015. He has hit .300 for St. Louis' second tier team and has shown decent pop the past two seasons. It isn't a haul for the Tribe but it isn't a complete swing and miss.
After a run to the Wild Card game last year, Cleveland went backwards. They did right by their Opening Day starter and got a player in Ramsey that will be able to contribute sooner rather than a normal prospect in one of these types of trades would. St. Louis has a completely right handed rotation but one that is very flexible and experienced in postseason play.
ST. LOUIS GRADE: A-
CLEVELAND GRADE: B
NATIONALS GET ASDRUBAL CABRERA
INDIANS GET ZACH WALTERS
I thought the Nationals would address the hole in their lineup left by Ryan Zimmerman's absence but thought it would be a third baseman instead of another shortstop. They did just that though as they shipped out promising middle infielder Zach Walters for Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera. He will get a trial by fire at second base for the first place Nationals with Ian Desmond entrenched at short.
Washington is loaded with pitching so if they were going to make a move it was definitely going to be for a bat. Adrian Beltre and Martin Prado (who eventually landed in New York) were discussed but they eventually settled for the former All-Star Cabrera. Cabrera will be asked to man second base for Washington, a position he hasn't played since 2009. The former Indian will most likely leave in free agency but he'll provide some steadiness in the infield until Zimmerman returns from his latest ailment.
The Indians are just waiting for Francisco Lindor to be ready. The uber talented shortstop down on the farm for Cleveland isn't there yet and Walters could plug the gap between Cabrera's exit and Lindor's arrival. He played in 32 games for Washington this year but only garnered 39 at-bats in those appearances. He will probably never hit for average but has 20+ home run potential at either shortstop or second base which is enticing.
When two teams help each other on a deal you can't knock it. Cabrera gets to chase the postseason for a second straight year while Walters is a stopgap to Lindor or a much cheaper option if Jason Kipnis slips further after signing his new contract.
WASHINGTON GRADE: B+
CLEVELAND GRADE: B-
NEW YORK GETS STEPHEN DREW & MARTIN PRADO
ARIZONA GETS PETER O'BRIEN
BOSTON GETS KELLY JOHNSON
This one was actually two separate trades but I combined them for the sake of time. Drew and Johnson swapped colors in the first non-waiver deal between the Red Sox and Yankees since Mike Stanley was dealt for Tony Armas Jr. Martin Prado comes over from Arizona for Peter O'Brien, a power hitting catcher who had spent his entire 2014 at AA.
From just a personnel standpoint, neither of these two trades make much sense for the Yankees. Drew is going to play out of position at second base for the Bombers after Brian Roberts was designated for assignment. Prado has more positional flexibility but seems to be of no more use to the Yankees than a $11 million a year utility guy. Don't get me wrong, they gave up nothing of immediate value to acquire these two but they were two deals that just seem to have been made for making a deal's sake.
In Boston, Xander Bogaerts now shuffles back to shortstop a move that may exacerbate his fielding woes. The young Aruban started off 2014 at short but then moved to third with Will Middlebrooks' injury and the resigning of Drew. Bogaerts going back to shortstop leaves third base for Brock Holt, which is his natural position. Johnson can play both in the infield and outfield and will surely get plenty of AB's spelling various Sox hitters down the stretch. Arizona gets out from under a big contract in Prado for a guy in O'Brien who could potentially replace Miguel Montero if Arizona chooses to rid themselves of his big deal.
Overall, the Yankees got two expensive players with no real place to put them. Though like I said before they didn't lose out on a top prospect or high level Major Leaguer to do so, but if they were going to address anything at the deadline it should have been pitching.
NEW YORK GRADE: C-
ARIZONA GRADE: C
BOSTON GRADE: B-
Trevor Utley is sad the Dodgers whiffed in their pursuit of both available aces but LA kinda has some good arms already so he thinks he'll live.
Image Credits: Let's Make A Deal (2guystalkingmetsbaseball.com); Lester, Gomes, Cespedes, Price, Lackey, Craig, Kelly, Masterson, Cabrera (espn.com); Adames, Ramsey, Walters, O'Brien (milb.com); Smyly, Franklin, Jackson, Drew, Prado, Johnson (mlb.com)
By Trevor Utley
In my preseason MLB preview I picked the Oakland Athletics to be the eleventh best team in the sport, finishing third in the talent laden American League West. I stated, and I quote, "I don't think Oakland's offense is good enough to carry them to the postseason." I made overtures at the potential statistical declines for Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss and that their other lineup mates low batting averages would lead to lower run production. There is still four months of baseball to go but I feel I can say right now that I whiffed on the prospects for the 2014 Oakland Athletics' season.
After yesterday's 10-0 decimation of the AL Central leading Tigers, the A's stand at the summit of the American League with a record of 31-20. They have done this with a staggering run differential of +100; 57 runs better than their closest competitor, division foes Los Angeles. The Athletics' 258 runs scored are only two behind Colorado for the most in the entire Majors. Clearly, Oakland is not doing this with smoke and mirrors. Moss and Donaldson continue to tear the cover off the ball, each having 12 home runs as of today. The holes in Brandon Moss' swing so far have been filled. The first baseman leads the team with 42 RBI, a mark good enough to be tied for third in the MLB. His average also sits at .289, 32 points above his career level. His bash brother across the diamond, Donaldson, has fallen back just a bit off the pace from his breakout 2013, but just slightly. Though his average has taken the biggest dip, his RBIs (38) and walks (29) are both commensurate with his numbers from a year ago. If you are an advanced metrics kind of guy take note that Donaldson (3.9) and Moss (2.2) are first and fifth in the American League in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). It isn't just these two riding floats in Oakland's hit parade though. Catcher Derek Norris has cooled off moderately after a white hot first two months but is already having his best season as a Major Leaguer. He is also one of two Oakland regulars (shortstop Jed Lowrie is the other) to have more walks than strikeouts, a rarity in today's game. The outfield trio of Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Yoenis Cepedes have done their share with 65 runs scored and 66 driven in.
They have actually done more damage away from the Coliseum. (Sorry Overstock.com I don't recognize your sponsorship no matter how many orders my mother has placed with you!) Of the nine times they have scored double digit runs, six of those have been on the road. They not be Hawk, Animal, or even Mel Gibson but these A's are some road warriors. The A's haven't been discriminatory in their doling out of doomsday devices either. They are over .500 against every division with the exception of the AL East, which took a recent sweep from Toronto to send them under the dividing line. I guess Oakland's offense IS good enough to carry them.
I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight the exploits of the men trying to keep opposing hitters at bay. When Jarrod Parker had to undergo the second Tommy John procedure of his life during Spring Training, a strength was considerably weakened. Scott Kazmir, who had a career renaissance with Cleveland in 2013, was given the charge of taking the ace's role. He has done more than admirably going 5-2 with a 2.56 ERA. The rest of the staff has been just as stellar. Along with Kazmir, the four starting pitchers for Oakland who could qualify for the ERA title rank in the top 20 of the American League. Sonny Gray leads the entire league pitching to a 1.99 mark and was the AL Pitcher of the Month for April. Every one of Gray's starts in 2014 have been quality ones (6 IP, 3 ER or less). Converted reliever Jesse Chavez has been a godsend for the A's posting a 4-2 record, 2.61 ERA, and a team high 61 strikeouts in this his first season primarily as a starter. Chavez's output has been rather unexpected. The 61 K's are already a high for a season and his ERA is over two whole points lower than his career average. The "weak link" Tommy Milone has an even record at 3-3 and a 3.50 ERA. Former first round pick Drew Pomeranz has made the transition from middle relief to the rotation smoothly replacing the struggling Dan Straily, who was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento earlier in May. The bullpen has rebounded from incumbent closer Jim Johnson's early season trials.
The A's aren't going away. There will be surely more hurdles placed in front of them as 2014 trudges along but I can say now I don't see them tripping up. All of what I perceived to be their shortcomings have truly been the antithesis of the word. Reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is today's test for the Green and Gold. Oakland has been acing such tests. If you were putting together report cards for the first trimester of the season, Oakland's would have quite a few references to the insignia on their cap as the summer begins. If I was getting one however, I think I'd be looking forward to summer school.
Trevor Utley is happy that the A's are doing so well. That other team from the Bay Area's success so far...not so much.
By Trevor Utley
I am not even going to play around with prose on this last team on the countdown before my playoff teams. I don't think Oakland's offense is good enough to carry them to the postseason. Since I am a tease however, I'll tell you why in a bit. First up, the good news! Once again, through "Moneyball" I guess, or as a normal person would call it, shrewd personnel maneuvering, the A's have assembled quite the starting rotation and bullpen. (OK, a normal person would probably call it Moneyball too but I just loathe that term.) They lost closer Grant Balfour and ace Bartolo Colon to free agency but did remarkably in finding Jim Johnson (through trade) and Scott Kazmir (through free agency) as replacements. What Oakland was not expecting was that the man who was supposed to take Colon's place, Jarrod Parker, is more than likely going to sit the entire 2014 season after a second Tommy John procedure. This forces either Kazmir or A.J. Griffin into that #1 spot (scheme, scheme, plot, plot -Luda). This also puts more pressure on Sonny Gray and Dan Straily, two rookies in 2013 who vastly outperformed expectations. Jim Johnson, who has a ML-Best 101 saves over the past two years, comes in to replace Grant Balfour. He may not be a Athletic for very long as this is his last arbitration year and he will be due a fairly hefty contract. Getting to Johnson will be much smoother for Oakland too as they traded for San Diego's Luke Gregerson, who excelled in the same role for the Padres. He will be flanked by power southpaw Sean Doolittle and former All-Star Ryan Cook. Their pen is so deep that the long man may end up being Tommy Milone, a lefty who started 26 games in 2013. Now I am aware that the A's were the fourth highest scoring team in the Majors last year. I am also aware that the A's will be using the same lineup as 2014 begins. Josh Donaldson was a revelation last season, hitting .301 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI, finishing 4th in the AL MVP balloting. I don't expect him to regress but as a guy who gets hit by a lot of pitches and doesn't have a low gear, I expect him to get hurt at some point in 2014 and that'll be a gigantic blow to this squad. Josh Reddick should hit more than 12 home runs but if he can't keep his batting average out of the doldrums it was last season he'll be valueless. You cannot reasonably expect another 20/20 season from Coco Crisp. Yoenis Cespedes has shown glimpses of superstardom but follows those glimpses with longer stares at overthrown cutoff men and a poor average from trying to hit everything out of the park. I actually think Brandon Moss can hit more home runs this year than the 30 he parked in 2013 but only if he can keep himself on the field. In conclusion, The A's won't make the playoffs after two successive trips but they won't regress to the 70-win team they were before this recent delightful spell.
Coming up next will be my second (in terms of record) NL Wild Card, who already need to do some reshuffling after recent events.
PREDICTED RECORD: 89-73
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Josh Donaldson, third baseman; Jim Johnson, relief pitcher; Jed Lowrie, shortstop
Image Credit: Athletics logo (sportslogos.net)