In for Joe Stiglich …
Man, these A’s are tough on the backup guy. First, a five-hour, 15-inning game on Monday and now today, where they trade the closest thing to a fixture on this team, beloved catcher Kurt Suzuki. I think the best way to get you all the info is to post the story I wrote for the website, and I’ll add a few notes and lineups at the bottom. Anyway, here we go …
by Carl Steward
OAKLAND– In the heat of the playoff race, the A’s nonetheless traded the senior player on their roster, catcher Kurt Suzuki, to the Washington Nationals Friday in exchange for minor league catcher David Freitas.
Suzuki, 28, was hitting .218 with one home run and 18 RBIs, and in recent weeks, had lost most of his playing time to 23-year-old rookie Derek Norris, who was acquired from the Nationals during the off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade.
“Derek’s our guy,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s going to get the brunt of the time behind the plate. Certainly, performance going forward will dictate how much, but we have a lot of confidence in him or we wouldn’t have made this move with Zuke.”
In a flurry of moves, Norris was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento along with outfielder Michael Taylor. Pitcher Dan Straily, who was scheduled to make his major-league debut Friday night againstToronto, was selected from ther RiverCats.
In a separate deal, the A’s acquired minor league right-handed pitcher Pat Neshek fromBaltimorefor cash considerations, and Neshek was also elevated to theOaklandroster.
To make room for those three players, outfielder Seth Smith was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring and pitchers Jim Miller and Evan Scribner were optioned to the Triple-A RiverCats.
General manager Billy Beane said while it was tough to trade Suzuki, who was drafted by the club in 2004 and has been in the majors with Oakland in June of 2007, the A’s had been moving toward Norris and the opportunity was there to give Suzuki a good home elsewhere.
“I think this will be good for Kurt,” Beane said. “He gets a chance to play every day. And we get to show some commitment to Derek. It’s probably best for both guys.”
Suzuki said he was shocked when Beane called him Friday morning to tell him of the deal, which was consummated after Suzuki cleared waivers. The veteran catcher thought he was safe after the trading deadline passed on Tuesday, but was excited to moving on to the first-place Nationals, where he said he had been assured he’d be Washington’s No. 1 catcher.
“Obviously, I’m looking forward to the opportunity working with that pitching staff in Washington and doing whatever I can to help that team win and go to the World Series,” Suzuki said.
Suzuki, one of the most popular players with the A’s both with teammates and fans, was oft credited with helping bring along several of the youngOaklandplayers who’ve come up through the system over the years.
“I don’t like to take that credit,” he said. “With the talent in that room, it makes my job easier. I was just the guys who put down the fingers.”
Several players said otherwise.
“It’s definitely a tough day,” said rookie pitcher Jarrod Parker. “Kurt took me under his wing when I was traded over and during spring training, he made a real conscious effort to get to know me. He’s done a lot for me and taught me a lot this season.”
Norris himself said he owes his current promotion to the advice and guidance he received from Suzuki.
“We had a great relationship,” Norris said. “I called him on my way down here (fromSacramento) to wish him luck. He gave me a little advice on here and I gave him a little advice on the team I came from. He was a great influence on me.
The A’s will realize significant financial savings from the deal. Suzuki was signed through 2013, and was scheduled to make close to $6.5 million next season.Oaklandwill pick up most of Suzuki’s remaining contract this year but will shave considerable dollars off their payroll next year, although there will be some obligation in 2013.
Whatever the money figures, Beane said the deal was not made for financial reasons.
“It was done for baseball reasons,” he said. “If there are any financial benefits, then that would be obvious. It was pretty obvious the last month that Derek was getting the majority of the catching time.”
“You look at Norris’ record and I think we’re 12 games over .500 when he’s caught,” added Melvin. “A lot of this streak started about the time he got here. So he’s proven himself very quickly here. I certainly don’t think it’s a salary dump.”
Beane said Suzuki’s production slippage was definitely an influential factor in making the trade and elevating Norris..
“It would be disingenuous to say it did not have an impact,” he said. “Kurt worked hard this offseason, but at least offensively, it has been a struggle for him. And it was going to be hard to get back to that level not playing every day.”
From a personal standpoint, however, both Beane and Melvin said Suzuki’s presence in the clubhouse and dugout would be tough to replace.
“I’ve been close to players, I’ve been close to catchers, and this guy is an all-timer for me,” Melvin said.
A’s: Crisp CF, Gomes DH, Reddick RF, Cespedes LF, Carter 1B, Ingew 3B, Norris C, Rosales SS, Weeks 2B. P Straily.
Blue Jays: Lawrie 3B, Rasmus CF, Encarnacion DH, Johnson 2B, Escobar SS, Cooper 1B, Davis LF, Mathis C, Gose RF. P Cecil.
Shortstop Cliff Pennington is starting his rehab tonight in Sacramento.
David Freitas, the catcher acquired for Suzuki, has been assigned to Double-A Midland.
Melvin said with Smith out, Taylor will get some starts, particularly against left-handers to give Coco Crisp’s touchy hamstring additional rest.
Straily and Norris have never worked together in a game in the minors, so this will be an interesting debut.
Melvin said Neshek will be used as a situational right-hander out of the bullpen. He added that the A’s have had their eye on Neshek for awhile now.
A’s top pick Addison Russell went 3-for-4 in his debut for Class A Vermont Thursday night with a home run and a double. Beane noted that the staff listened to the game on the radio, and Russell hit the first pitch he saw off the wall for the two-bagger.