You have to wonder what’s next for the A’s.
Billy Beane & Co. have spent the last six weeks stocking up on young talent, most of it pitching, including right-handed starter Jesse Hahn and right-handed reliever J.R. Alvarez who are the newest additions with Derek Norris having been traded to the Padres Thursday night.
Already five of the seven players the A’s had at the All-Star Game this season are off the roster, and as Norris told me Thursday night, it seems like the A’s “are looking to rebuild’’ heading into 2015.
Norris may be right about that, but it seems more than a little possible that Beane is loading up for one big swing between now and the start of spring training. With Matt Kemp off the block now, the biggest bats known to be available are outfielder Justin Upton of the Braves and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies.
The first is something of a long-shot for the A’s. The second is a long, long, long shot.
The A’s were never serious about Upton when it came to trading Jeff Samardzija, but now that Oakland has used Samardzija to land the shortstop it needed in Marcus Siemen, the club has some more arrows in its quiver and could look to see what one year of the free agency-bound Upton could yield.
Tolowitzki is much more of an unlikely target for Oakland, given that he’s still owed $114 million over the next six years and he’s battled injuries time and again in the last couple of seasons. He’s played fewer than 100 games in two of the last three seasons, but he’s a 30-homer, 100-RBI bat when he’s in there.
The A’s aren’t ones for long-term, financially cumbersome contracts like that, so Oakland is an extreme longshot to go after Tulowitzki, to be sure. Even if they landed him, they’d likely ask him to play third base, leaving Semien at short and moving Brett Lowrie to third.
However, right fielder Jay Bruce of the Reds could be available with Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty in a desperate strait; he needs to cut payroll by maybe $10 million before spring training rolls around. Bruce, who had three straight 90-plus RBI seasons end in 2014 when his batting average (.217) finished 40 points under his career average, could be had for the right deal.
He’s making $12 million this year and $12.5 million in 2016 and has a club option for $13 million in 2017.
One thing this off-season has shown is that Beane isn’t one to sit pat. It’s not clear who will be available in free agency come the first six weeks of 2015, but if there is no big trade in the A’s future, you can expect the A’s to be in the free agent mix with perhaps $17 million available in payroll.
Meanwhile, with Norris gone the club can go behind the plate in Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley as a left-right platoon, and lefty John Jaso is still in the mix, for the moment at least.
The Padres aren’t above platoons, but in his early conversations with the San Diego brass, Norris believes he’ll have a chance to win an everyday job.
“I’m excited; this is a big opportunity, a chance to get out of the platoon,’’ Norris said.
Oakland, which also sent minor league pitcher Seth Streich and international signing slot No. 117 to the Padres, brings pitchers R.J. Alvarez and Jesse Hahn, both right-handlers, to the A’s as Oakland continues to get younger heading into 2015.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Hahn, 25, started in 12 of his 14 appearances (7-4, 3.07 ERA) for San Diego as a rookie in 2014 and has shown 98-mph velocity at times and his two-seam fastball that has good break to it. He occasionally will freeze hitters with his curve.
Hahn joins a crowded group vying for spots in the rotation. Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz return, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin were acquired from Toronto in the Donaldson trade and veterans A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker are expected back early in the season after undergoing elbow surgeries last season.
Alvarez, too, can get up close to 100 mph, although at 6-foot-1, and 200 pounds he is seen primarily as a reliever with the chance at just 23 to be a big league closer someday. He has a 2.41 ERA in three minor league seasons and 178 strikeouts in 119.1 minor league innings.
Norris posted career highs – batting .270 in batting average with 10 homers and 55 RBIs – in his third season in the majors.
“It’s an exciting time,’’ Norris said. “In speaking with the Padres, they believe they will compete this year. I don’t know, but I would not be surprised if they made another move or two to compete in the (National League) West.’’
Norris did not seem particularly surprised by the move by Oakland after watching so many of his teammates traded or leave via free agency in recent weeks.
“It looks like they are looking to rebuild,’’ Norris said of the A’s. “And they may be trying to reload their minor league system.’’
Earlier in the day, the A’s acquired left-hander Eury De La Rosa from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash, designated right-hander Fernando Rodriguez for assignment and released right-hander Jorge De Leon, who was claimed off waivers in October.