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Alonso’s on-base percentage, defense at 1B intrigued A’s; Pomeranz surprised to leave, but happy for opportunity

Yonder Alonso moves from Padres to A's with Wednesday's trade that sends Drew Pomeranz to San Diego

Yonder Alonso moves from Padres to A’s with Wednesday’s trade that sends Drew Pomeranz to San Diego

In a prelude to what might be an active session at the winter meetings for them, the A’s traded for a long-coveted target Wednesday, landing slick fielding first baseman Yonder Alonso from the San Diego Padres.

The A’s also added left-handed situational reliever Marc Rzepczynski in the deal while sending big league lefty Drew Pomeranz, Class-A left-hander Jose Torres and a player to be named later to the Padres.

While the A’s traditionally go for power and on-base percentage from first basemen when they can, Oakland general manager David Forst and his boss, Billy Beane, have long liked Alonso for other qualities, including a glove that, Forst says, might be as good as any in the business.

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A’s ship Pomeranz to Padres, get 1B Alonso, LHP Rzepczynski

Drew Pomeran was traded to the Padres Wednesday for first baseman Yonder Alonso and lefty reliever Mark Rzepczynski.

Drew Pomeran was traded to the Padres Wednesday for first baseman Yonder Alonso and lefty reliever Mark Rzepczynski.

OAKLAND – In their traditional let’s-not-wait-for-the-winter-meetings mode, the A’s locked down a trade with the San Diego Padres that netted first baseman Yonder Alonso and left-handed pitcher Mark Rzepczynski.

The A’s sent veteran lefty reliever Drew Pomeranz from the big league roster and left-handed minor leaguer Jose Torres, a left-handed reliever who spent the 2015 season at the Class-A level. Oakland also will send a player to be named later to the Padres.

The key to the deal for the A’s is Alonso, a left-handed contact hitter who hit .282 in 2015 with a good on-base percentage (.361) in his fourth season with the Padres as a platoon player. He had five homers and 31 RBIs in 103 games.

He would likely be in a platoon in Oakland as well, sharing time with Mark Canha, a right-hander who went from Rule 5 pickup to middle-of-the-order hitter in 2015 with the A’s.

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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.

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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.

 

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Disappointed Venditte will use 2015 as building block

Pat Venditte will not be coming out of the A's bullpen again after the Blue Jays claimed him on waivers Monday.

Pat Venditte will not be coming out of the A’s bullpen again after the Blue Jays claimed him on waivers Monday.

Regardless where the rest of his big league travels take him, Pat Venditte said he will always have a soft spot for the A’s and Oakland.

After a seven-year minor league sojourn, Venditte hooked on with the A’s last winter, got a long look in spring training, throwing from both the left and right sides, then made it to the big leagues for 26 games in which he was 2-2 with a 4.40 ERA and a decent 1.186 ERA.

Now he’s off to Toronto, the Blue Jays having claimed Venditte on waivers from the A’s Monday.

“I am disappointed; I really liked it there,’’ Venditte told this newspaper Monday afternoon. “It means the world to me that the A’s gave me a chance. For them to have run me out there as much as they did in spring training, and then after I’d done well at Triple-A; they gave me a shot at the big-league level.’’

Venditte was called up for a stretch in June in which he pitched four times, then was a regular out of the bullpen, mostly against left-handed hitters, after being recalled in mid-August.

“In the minor leagues, you don’t know how your stuff is going to translate in the big leagues,’’ Venditte said. “I was able to get some of the best hitters in the world out. Obviously sometimes they got me. I like the way I stacked up against them.

“I would have liked to have performed better at certain times, and obviously there were some rough ones, but they allowed me to bounce back. Getting that chance to pitch after getting hit around showed what I can do and it probably led to this other opportunity now.’’

Venditte said the Jays are thinking of using him as the A’s did, mostly against left-handed hitters, but added “it’s up to me to pitch better right-handed to get to the same level from that side.’’

“I’ll use this as a building block,’’ he said. “I have confidence now that I didn’t have 12 months ago. Confidence is the big difference now.’’

 

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Zito makes it official, announces his retirement

Barry Zito announced his retirement from baseball Monday.

Barry Zito announced his retirement from baseball Monday.

Left-handed pitcher Barry Zito, who spent a decade and a half in the starting rotation of both the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, announced his retirement Monday.

Writing for the website www.theplayerstribune.com, Zito said “I am retiring today from baseball, but I’ll never be too far away from the game that made me who I am.’’

Zito spent the entire 2015 season pitching in Triple-A Nashville, and thought his career would end with a one-inning relief appearance for the Sounds Sept. 6.

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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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Early returns on Danny Valencia continue to be positive

Danny Valencia is impressing the A's already. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Danny Valencia is impressing the A’s already. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND — The A’s are building for next year and beyond, so self-scouting is a big part of that.

Danny Valencia is a player Oakland wants to learn more about and the early returns continue to be positive after he knocked in two first-inning runs in the A’s 2-1 win Saturday over the Houston Astros.

“He’s been great,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Valencia. “Knocking in runs and that’s what you want guys in the middle of the order to do. We want to give him some opportunities here against righties and we gave him a big one today and he came through for us.”

Valencia’s solo home on Friday night proved to be the winning run and his two-run double in the first inning Saturday had the same effect as the A’s (50-62) won their second straight against the first-place Astros. Continue Reading

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A’s send O’Flaherty to Mets for player to be named later

The A’s packed left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty and cash and sent him to the Mets Tuesday in a deal announced in the third inning of the A’s-Orioles game at the Coliseum.

The Mets had been looking for someone to serve as a specialist to get left-handed hitters out, and the A’s, who were not going to resign him at the end of the season, had been looking to get rid of what was left of O’Flaherty’s two-year, $7 million contract.

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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.