Jed Lowrie’s return to Oakland means a probable departure for either Danny Valencia or Brett Lawrie in roster redesign

The A’s acquisition of infielder Jed Lowrie Wednesday almost certainly means the club will trade one of its two third basemen, Danny Valencia or Brett Lawrie, before too much time has passed.

The A’s are overloaded in the infield with the addition of Lowrie, who played for Oakland in 2013-14 before signing a three-year, $23 million deal with the Astros in free agency last winter.

Manager Bob Melvin said the team will “have to see where he fits in,’’ but Lowrie doesn’t have the range to play shortstop anymore and was mostly a third baseman in Houston after the arrival of Rookie of the Year shortstop Carlos Correa. The A’s turned to Marcus Semien in 2015 to play, and while he led the league in errors, he improved from start to finish and his range was more toward the A’s liking.

General manager David Forst, asked about Semien’s position with the team, he replied simply “shortstop.’’

Forst also said “we acquired Jed to play,’’ so second base would be the likeliest spot for him to get consistent at-bats. Lawrie moved to second from third, but it wasn’t a good fit defensively. The A’s thought about putting Lowrie at second base in 2013, but Japanese import Hiro Nakajima didn’t pan out at shortstop, so Lowrie wound up there.

Suddenly, the A’s infield is crowded, particular at third base.

“There has got to be a corresponding move, at least you would think so,’’ an American League executive said in looking at the A’s move Wednesday.

Lowrie, meanwhile, comes back to the A’s with mixed feelings. He liked playing for Melvin, but he makes his home in Houston, and did even before signing with the Astros last winter.

“I’m disappointed to leave Houston,’’ Lowrie, who makes his fulltime home in Houston, told MLB.com‘s Brian McTaggart. “I signed the three-year deal here thinking I’d be here for those three years.’’

Oakland sent minor league right-handed pitcher Brendan McCurry to Houston in exchange for the veteran infielder. Lowrie originally was traded to the first-place A’s by the last-place Astros just before the 2013 season began. He now leaves a wild card Astros team to head to an Oakland team that led the AL in losses.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the A’s put reliever Daniel Coulombe on the designated for assignment list, giving them 10 days to trade him, release him or resign him to a minor league deal.

At the same time, starting pitcher A.J. Griffin, whose comeback from 2013’s Tommy-John-style ligament replacement surgery stalled late in the 2015 season, was released.

In bringing back Lowrie, the A’s are getting a known quantity. And while Lowrie, a switch-hitter, averaged just .212 with Houston in an injury-troubled 2015 season, he averaged .290 in two seasons with the A’s in 2013-14.

“We are very familiar with Jed,’’ Forst said. “It was a good opportunity for us. We acquired Jed to play. Where, we have some time to figure that out. He played a very good third base at Houston.’’

He will play somewhere, because, in Forst’s words, “he’s a really good player.’’

Melvin described Lowrie as “a very versatile guy, someone who had two good years for us, production-wise, from both sides of the plate.’’

Lowrie missed three months of the season with a torn ligament in his right thumb and was never able to regain his offensive stroke in a .222 season that saw him hit nine homers and drive in 30 runs. Before the injury Lowrie hit .300 with four homers and 10 RBI in 18 games.

“He had the one big injury with the torn thumb ligament,’’ Forst said. “And he was slowed at the end by a quad injury, but he was 100 percent by the end in the playoffs. He is healthy.’’

McCurry had 27 saves last year with Class-A Stockton and Double-A Midland, a total that led all A’s minor leaguers. The 23-year-old right-hander had a 1.95 ERA in 36 games with Stockton and a 1.62 ERA with Midland. He was the A’s 22nd-round draft pick in 2014.

Melvin said Griffin’s injuries “snowballed’’ on him in the last 12 months, but said the right-hander could be a winner again in the big leagues, given time.

Scouts say Griffin needs to throw his fastball at least 90 mph, and he didn’t show he could do that while working his way back from surgery last season.


A’s bring veteran infielder Jed Lowrie back from Houston

After a year in Houston, Jed Lowrie is back with the A's.

After a year in Houston, Jed Lowrie is back with the A’s.

Jed Lowrie, who helped the A’s to consecutive American League playoffs berths in 2013 and 2014, is coming back to the A’s.

Oakland sent minor league right-handed pitcher Brendan McCurry to Houston in exchange for the veteran infielder. He’d left the A’s after the 2014 season to sign a three-year contract with the Astros, so he has two years left on his deal.

The A’s will announce a 40-man roster move later in the day.

Lowrie missed three months of the season with a torn ligament in his right thumb and was never able to regain his offensive stroke in a .222 season that saw him hit nine homers and drive in 30 runs. Before the injury Lowrie hit .300 with four homers and 10 RBI in 18 games.

The veteran switch-hitter average just .194 in his final 51 games.

In his two seasons with the A’s in 2013-14 he averaged .290, hit 21 homers and drove in 125 runs in 290 games played, mostly at shortstop.

He comes back to the A’s primarily in a backup role, although he could move in at second base, a position that never got locked down in 2015. The A’s had thought of Lowrie as a second base candidate when he was with the club the first time around.

He’s said in the past he’s open to the job at second, although he would prefer not to bounce from position to position. Eric Sogard and Brett Lawrie did most of the second base work in 2015, Lawrie moving over when Danny Valencia came in to play third base the final two months of the season.

With Houston, Lowrie played mostly third base with rookie Carlos Correa moving into the shortstop’s job en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors.

McCurry had 27 saves last year with Class-A Stockton and Double-A Midland, a total that led all A’s minor leaguers. The 23-year-old right-hander had a 1.95 ERA in 36 games with Stockton and a 1.62 ERA with Midland. He was the A’s 22nd-round draft pick in 2014.



Vogt comes back to life with a pair of awards and a return to the field

Stephen Vogt missed 12 games with one of the worst foul tip shots to the groin you are ever likely to see on a baseball field. I hadn’t actually seen the video until Tuesday night, and it was hard to watch. You’d like to say you feel Vogt’s pain, but … uh, no thanks.

“I don’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Vogt said. “It was the worst 10 days of my life, and I don’t ever want to go through it again.”

But he’s finally getting back to normal. After a couple of games at designated hitter, Vogt was at first base against the Rangers and he could be getting back behind the plate sometime this weekend, perhaps for Barry Zito’s momentous Saturday start against old pal Tim Hudson.

W”e’re pretty much healed, we’re glad to be back in there,” he said. I want to play every day. I’m glad that it wasn’t anything more than it was. I’m glad it was a two-week thing and not a life thing. I’m very blessed and lucky that it wasn’t anything worse.”

Vogt also has been prepping for getting behind the plate both mentally and physically. He caught what he said was an hour’s worth of bullpen sessions Tuesday, because the biggest challenge is overcoming the psychological aspects of the hit he took. You get a little gun-shy after what he went through, and he wants to break through those mental barrier.
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Ryan Cook trade was quietly made, but he was just one of the big reasons A’s have failed this year

In for John Hickey …

People forget just how good Ryan Cook was in 2012. Really good, and really nasty. He was 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and 14 saves, only allowed 42 hits in 73 1/3 innings and struck out 80 with a 0.914 WHIP. He made the All-Star Game, where he pitched a 1-2-3 inning and struck out Bryce Harper and David Wright looking. He was a mainstay in the A’s power bullpen along with Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour and one of the big reasons the A’s wound up winning the American League West.

“He was paramount to the success we’ve had here the last three years,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We don’t accomplish what we did, certainly in ’12.”

But Friday, just before the trade deadline, Cook was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later, who is not likely going to be anyone you’ve ever heard of. It was done swiftly, quietly, and without much emotional reflection.

But really now, what the heck happened to Cookie?

He still had the stuff, as he showed in spring training. He just didn’t know where it was going. He pitched in just four games for the A’s this season, and gave up runs in three of them. He was dispatched to Triple-A Nashville, where he was on-again, off-again, and never returned to Oakland. He was 4-1 with eight saves but had a 4.05 ERA and his hits-to-innings pitched ratio was almost dead even. His strikeouts were down, and his WHIP was a less than imposing 1.380.

It’s easy to dismiss Cook as a non-factor in 2015, but he should have been. He’s only 28, should be in the prime of his career, and had he even been close to his form in 2012 and 2013, he really would have helped this ’15 club. With Doolittle out, he conceivably could have stepped in as the closer as hard as he threw. It never came close to materializing, which makes you wonder why the A’s could never get him straightened out.

“Sometimes when you sent down, you can get a little bogged down with your confidence and your motivation,” Melvin said. “Sometimes a change of scenery in a new organization can really invigorate you. I think that will be the case with him. I know he’s excited about the opportunity.”

But what happened?

“Baseball’s about making adjustments and being consistent, and this year, he was not as consistent as we’d seen in the past,” Melvin said. “Maybe a little at the end of last year, too, the command issues ended up biting him a little bit. I think more than anything, it was the command issues, because the stuff was pretty close to the same.”

Coco Crisp played nine innings at Class A Stockton Thursday night, was scheduled to play another nine Friday night and may play another game over the weekend, then he’ll return to Oakland on Sunday and possibly play on Monday.

Melvin said the A’s don’t yet have a plan for left-hander Felix Doubront, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations just before the trade deadline, but he’s inclined to think Doubront will get some starting opportunities, if for no other reason that the A’s have no left-handed starters at the moment. A 25-man move will be made once Doubront arrives in Oakland.


Changes galore for A’s: Brooks to start, Mujica to be closer; Lawrie may see extended time at second base

Edward Mujica will get a chance to close for A's now that Tyler Clippard has been traded.

Edward Mujica will get a chance to close for A’s now that Tyler Clippard has been traded.

In the last five days the A’s have lost their No. 2 starter, who also happens to have the league’s best ERA, their full-time utility player and their closer.

Think there might be a few jobs up for grabs with Oakland?

There are.

The first man to get a crack at taking over in the rotation for Scott Kazmir will be Aaron Brooks, the right-handed pitcher picked up Tuesday as part of the Ben Zobrist trade with the Royals.

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A’s talking about business side of baseball after wave of trades

Brett Lawrie was one of many A's to talk about the business side of the game Tuesday after three trades in five days.

Brett Lawrie was one of many A’s to talk about the business side of the game Tuesday after three trades in five days.

There’s nothing like an unpopular trade to get players to talk about how “baseball is a business.’’

When that phrase is uttered, it’s a good bet the player is going for the easiest justification.

And when there have been three trades in five days as has been the case with the A’s, with three proven and popular big leaguers shipped off to make pennant race runs elsewhere, that baseball-as-business is the handiest crutch around.

The way to have prevented the trades of Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard and now Ben Zobrist would have been to win more. And not all that much more, either, If the A’s, a Major League-worst 10-24 in one-run games, had won say six more of those, games they had a legit chance to win,  they be a .500 team and they’d have been close enough that general manager Billy Beane might have gone in another direction.

That would mean turning one-in-three of their one-run losses into wins. I you’ve been watching the A’s, you know it wouldn’t have taken that much. A few big hits and a few clutch pitches would have gotten the job done.

That didn’t happen.

“At the end of the day, baseball is a business,’’ third baseman Brett Lawrie said. “This is what happens. You hate to lose the guys we lost, guys we’d built relationships with, but this is what’s happened, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.’’

DH Billy Butler signed a three-year contract with the A’s last winter, and the team he is playing with now doesn’t look anything like the one he thought he’d be playing with. Yet he has taken it in stride.

“I’ve been through this a few times in Kansas City,’’ he said. “If you’re not in contention, then players who are in the last years of their contracts are going to be traded. There’s a lot of frustration because we didn’t play better.

“We lost a lot of those one-run games that we should have won.’’

Catcher Stephen Vogt said he’d spotted Zobrist Tuesday morning in the hotel with his family, well before the trade went down.

“I was thinking I should say goodbye, just in case,’’ Vogt said. “I’m sorry I didn’t.

“The frustrating thing is we put ourselves in this position. But we still have 60-some games to play, and I think I speak for everyone in this clubhouse that we will be trying to win each one.’’

Right fielder Josh Reddick echoed that.

“We still have a lot of games to play, and we’re going to go out every day like we have,’’ Reddick said. “We haven’t had our best year, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here now.’’

If it was up to Reddick, he would have held off on making the trades, although he says he realizes the July 31 trade deadline waits for no one.

“I would have liked to us see have more time,’’ he said.


As strange as season has been, Billy Burns offers great hope for long-range future

I Believe In Billy Burns. And so does Stephen Vogt.

“He’s been a consistent, solid baseball player all season,” Vogt said Saturday night. “He’s the Rookie of the Year, in my opinion.”

Burns should be the Rookie of the Year in a lot of people’s opinions by now. If he’s not, they’re not paying close enough attention, and that’s entirely possible considering Oakland’s standing in the American League. But the campaign needs to start now, because there is not a better candidate out there, and he may need some public relations to drive home the obvious.

Burns scored the game-winning run in the A’s 3-2 10-inning victory on Vogt’s first-pitch single, and if Rickey Henderson was watching at home, you know he was saying, “Yeah, kid.”

Vogt got the Gatorade shower and the shaving cream pie, but Burns was the true hero of the winning rally. He not only opened the bottom of the 10th with a double in the right-center gap, he boldly bolted for third with nobody out and stole the base. Maybe not the proper play with the meat of the A’s order coming up, but no question, once he made it, the odds increased significantly that Oakland would get him home.

“I tried to time it up to get a good jump and I feel like I did get a good jump, so I just carried through with it,” Burns said. “Sometimes I’ll shut it down but I felt with the timing I had I thought I had a good shot at it, so I just took a chance.”
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Graveman making Donaldson trade look better and better

News flash: Kendall Graveman is good. Very, very good. His latest seven-inning shutout stint extended his scoreless streak to 16 innings, and he outdueled the bane of Oakland, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, for his latest feat of fine mound work.

This is the Graveman who dazzled in spring training. He ran up against the rocks when the regular season started, but the general consensus among the A’s is that he started rushing when the regular season began. He needed a short stint in the minors to calm himself down and start again. Ever since his recall on May 23, he has been just short of brilliant — nine starts, none in which he’s allowed no more than three runs and the last six in which he’s allowed no more than two. His ERA is 1.78 over those nine starts (12 earned runs in 60 2/3 innings pitched).

A lot of folks didn’t understand the Donaldson trade considering the A’s still had control of his services for another three seasons. But now, they have a 24-year-old starter who could be a mainstay for the next five years. He’s a bona fide candidate for American League Rookie of the Year (along with teammate Biily Burns), and while Donaldson is having an All-Star first half in Toronto, the A’s aren’t so bad off for making the deal. We haven’t even seen Sean Nolin yet, the other starter obtained in the deal (he’s 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA at Triple-A Nashville) or still-teenage shortstop Franklin Barreto, who’s hitting .281 with seven homers at Class A Stockton.
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The halfway point sell-off looms as A’s stumble once again on crucial homestand

We’re still a couple of weeks from the All-Star break but the A’s will actually reach the 81-game midway point with Wednesday afternoon’s interleague series finale against the Colorado Rockies. Gosh, how time flies when you’re having fun.

At 35-45 through the first 80, the writing is pretty much on the wall for the 2015 A’s and it reads, “Not entirely hopeless, but …” They looked like they had something going when they won five in a row on the road coming into a 10-game homestand. But with four losses in five games at the Coliseum confines, Oakland is on the precipice. A bad weekend against Seattle could set the course of the club’s second half long before anyone anticipated it.

If Billy Beane could get such a strong read on last year’s club at the midway point — the A’s were 51-30 through 81 games in 2014, in case you were wondering — it doesn’t take a mind reader to know what Beane must be thinking right now.

Sell, and sell fast. He has marketable commodities with which he can reap long-term gains and the sooner he can move impending free agents like Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard and possibly even Eric O’Flaherty, the more he will likely get in return from clubs in need for the second-half playoff push.

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Top pick Martin agrees to terms, works out with club; Gray in hospital with flu-like symptoms

The A’s agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Richie Martin Tuesday and the 20-year-old shortstop out of the University of Florida worked out and took batting practice with the team before heading out on his summer minor-league assignment.

Martin, the 20th overall pick, will depart Wednesday and begin play with Oakland’s short-season Class A team in Vermont. Before he left, he got the grand tour of the major league clubhouse and met most of the players and staff. His biggest thrill, he said, was the shoes he received from equipment manager Steve Vucinich.

“I actually heard about the white shoes about a week ago and I was pretty pumped about that,” Martin said. “I’ve never worn white shoes in my baseball career.”

Martin said while growing up in Valrico, Fla., he watched A’s players Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist when they played with the Tampa Bay Rays. He’d only been to California once before this week, when he was 9, so he doesn’t know a whole lot about Oakland or the A’s organization.

“The only thing I really knew was seeing the movie `Moneyball,’ ” Martin said.

Asked to give a comparison with general manager Billy Beane and actor Brad Pitt, who played Beane in the film, Martin said, “The hair was spot on, and the glasses. But I’d only been around him for an hour, and in the movie, they kind of made him more aggressive and everything was about business. But he was making jokes, and the whole time I was around him, he was smiling. So maybe he’s not like Brad Pitt in that sense.”

Martin, who hit .291 as junior with the Gators with a .399 on-base percentage, said he has drawn comparisons with Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond as a good blend of offensive and defensive skills. He added that he grew up idolizing the great Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Martin, who was accompanied by his parents to his signing, also noted that his maternal grandfather, Walter Thomas, played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. Thomas actually played parts of four seasons with the Monarchs and in 1945, batted second ahead of future Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Satchel Paige also was on that Monarchs team.

Martin isn’t sure how long it will take him to get to Oakland for real.

“Hopefully it will be quick,” he said. “It depends on how I play and nothing but that.”

The A’s have now signed or agree to terms with 31 of their 40 selections from the draft, including each of the first 13 and 19 of the first 21.

Scheduled starter Sonny Gray had to be admitted to the hospital Monday night with flu-like symptoms, and as far as manager Bob Melvin knew, Gray was still there Tuesday afternoon.

“It hit him pretty hard,” Melvin said. “He’s actually been dealing with it for the last couple of days, but last night, it actually got worse. I talked to him this morning and he still sounded pretty weak, but he said he felt a lot better than last night.”

Melvin wasn’t sure how Gray would be slotted back into the rotation, noting that it would depend on how quickly he recovers.

Chris Bassitt was called up from Triple-A Nashville to take Gray’s start, and infielder Max Muncy was optioned.

Elsewhere, just an off day for outfielder Josh Reddick against a left-handed starter. He’s available, and will start on Wednesday.