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A’s have traded youth for experience in pursuit of pennant

Alberto Callaspo no longer the old man on A's roster. (He's even changed his number and wears 7 now.)

Alberto Callaspo no longer the old man on A’s roster. (He’s even changed his number and wears 7 now.)

The idea that the A’s are a young, generally unknown team has lost some of its credence.

Starting with the trade of Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Cubs for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the A’s have added older, more accomplished players and they don’t strut that young vibe as much anymore.

At the start of the season, 30-year-old infielder Alberto Callaspo was the oldest man on the team (he’s 31 now). Now he’s fourth, with 33-year-old outfielder Jonny Gomes leading the pack.

The A’s haven’t traded for a bunch of codgers – Jon Lester is 30, Samardzija is 29 and Hammel is 31, a week away from turning 32. But they aren’t kids any more.

As manager Bob Melvin said before Tuesday’s game, “we’ve quickly gone from a young team to a veteran team.’’

Change has been the order of the day with the A’s. Six of the 10 starters Melvin fielded for Tuesday’s game with the Astros weren’t on the roster to start the season.

More than that, 11 of the 25 men on the roster weren’t around and active in April. Three of the current five-man starting rotation – Lester, Samardzija and Hammel – came from other organizations.

And maybe that has something to do with the A’s uneven play in August. This is a group just getting to know each other.

The popular belief is that anybody can fit in in the Oakland clubhouse, and while that’s generally true, it’s unlikely everybody can do it overnight.

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A’s: Crisp delighted to join the team in a victory again

Coco Crisp returned to the A's lineup in a big way Tuesday.

Coco Crisp returned to the A’s lineup in a big way Tuesday.

It had been less than two weeks since the last time Coco Crisp had been in the A’s starting lineup.

Quite a lot has happened in that seven-game interval. The A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. The Angels have crept closer in the standings. The Oakland offense had stalled.    Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays doesn’t change all of that. It does modify it some, though.

The offense is still struggling, but it was Crisp who came up in the fifth inning, looked for the biggest whole on the infield and guided the ball into right-center field for the game’s first RBI.

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A’s: Lester addition forces Tigers to play catchup

Yoenis Cespedes is heading to Boston after big trade deadline deal Thursday.

Yoenis Cespedes is heading to Boston after big trade deadline deal Thursday.

Deny them what you will, the Oakland A’s aren’t boring.

They could have settled for just having made the Independence Day trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but in the final six hours before the trade deadline they went out and completely rebuilt their roster.

At that point, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander said Oakland made the trade because of the A’s had to come through Detroit in the post-season.

But after the A’s moved Yoenis Cespedes from left field and shipped him to Boston in exchange for All-Star starter Jon Lester and platoon left fielder Jonny Gomes, it seemed like the Tigers were playing catch up with the A’s when Detroit made a three-team deal for the other big name starting pitcher out there, David Price.

With it being obvious there was no room at the inn for Tommy Milone in the A’s rotation near term, they traded the minor league starter to the Twins for center fielder Sam Fuld.

The moves spoke about the A’s on several levels.

One. They didn’t believe they could re-sign Cespedes to a long-term contract when his four-year deal ran out after next year.

Two. They didn’t see Jason Hammel or Jesse Chavez as giving them their best chance to win in a post-season start.

Three. Center field is a problem. Coco Crisp has trouble staying in the lineup ever since running into a pole holding up the Coliseum outfield fence and suffered whiplash. And Craig Gentry has a broken right hand that will keep him out two more weeks at a minimum.

Four. There is no time like the present. The A’s are playing to go to the World Series this season. Next season will have to take care of itself.

Things could change, but Lester seems to be a two-month purchase. He gives the A’s something that, with all their pitching, they didn’t have – experience pitching in the World Series. He was 2-0 in the series last year with a 0.59 and 4-1 in the three rounds of the playoffs overall and his career ERA in the playoffs is 2.11.

The A’s have the best record in baseball four months into the season, but that gets you nothing, particularly when the team with the second-best record in the majors is in your division. Because of that, general manager Billy Beane keeps pushing forward.

Since Jan. 1, Beane has added a left-handed reliever who has been one of the best in the game, Eric O’Flaherty; added a right-handed hitting first baseman in Kyle Blanks, claimed lefty pitcher Jeff Francis from the Reds, traded for left-handed starter Brad Mills, traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then traded for Lester and Gomes and reacquired Fuld.

That nine additions this year already, and even with Blanks injured and Francis no longer around, as A’s co-owner Lew Wolff told me Thursday, “there’s time yet.’’

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A’s: Looking at options 48 hours out from trade deadline

It’s closing in on 48 hours before the trade deadline hits (1 p.m. PDT Thursday), and just where do the A’s stand?

For one thing, they’re in a position where they don’t need to make a trade, although they continue to explore second base options. And while they don’t need an outfielder long term, they could use one until they know that Craig Gentry (disabled list, broken right hand) and Coco Crisp (neck) are healthy.

With the July 4 trade for starters Jeff Samardzija (pitching tonight in Houston) and Jason Hammel (pitching the series finale Wednesday), the A’s addressed their most pressing need going forward. On the other hand, you can never have too much pitching, so there’s that.

But the trade deadline is not to be trifled with, so let’s have a look as A’s possibilities:

 

–Second base: Probably the best option for the A’s is the Rays’ Ben Zobrist (.269, 8 homers, 29 RBIs). He was an All-Star last year, and at 33 is something like perfect for the we’re-all-about-versatility A’s because he can play second, third and the outfield, although he hasn’t been in center field since last year. He’s under club control through 2015, which would fit nicely into the Oakland narrative, too.

The Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera (.249, 9 homers, 40 RBIs) has been strictly a shortstop since 2010, but he came up as a second baseman/shortstop and if the A’s were convinced he could give them the defense they need, he could be a nice bit of 28-year-old adrenalin for the A’s lineup.

Then there’s Aaron Hill. The Diamondbacks’ second baseman is, at 32, having the worst year of his career (.255, 8 homers, 49 RBIs), but it was just last year that he hit .291 and two years back he hit .302 with 26 homers, and a change of scene could do the right-handed hitter well. He’s owed a lot of money, though, $24 million over the next two seasons and the A’s wouldn’t take that on without getting a bucket of money back from Arizona.

Talk about adding Nick Franklin from the Mariners has happened, but it’s tough seeing Franklin a fix for this year. He’s never played a full season in the big leagues and has spent most of this year in the minors after the addition of Robinson Cano. His defense is unproven, but he’s been a consistent .300 hitter the last two years at Triple-A Tacoma, even if he’s hit just .128 in 17 games for Seattle this year.

 

–Center field: Marcell Ozuna (.272, 16 homers, 57 RBIs) is someone who probably shouldn’t be mentioned, because why would the Marlins trade a 24-year-old who might be an impact player? Well, the Marlins have approached the A’s about starting pitcher Tommy Milone, and if the A’s are going to entertain thoughts of trading Milone, who was 6-0 over an 11-game stretch before getting bumped to the minor leagues by the arrival of Hammel, Oakland may as well ask for someone they could really use over the long term knowing that the Marlins seem to have available center field options in their minor league system.

The A’s couldn’t hold on to left-handed hitting center fielder Sam Fuld because there was no room on the roster after early April, but Fuld, now with the Twins, would seem to be just what the A’s need – a defensive whiz with the ability to play off the bench. He’s done a decent job (.272, 1 homer, 17 RBIs in 51 games) for Minnesota, but he’s probably available.

 

–Pitching: As we said above, the A’s don’t really need another starting pitcher, but they’ve called the Red Sox in the last few days with left-hander Jon Lester (10-7, 2.42) available from last-place Boston.

And the Marlins have contacted the A’s about possibility of the left-handed Milone, currently pitching at Triple-A Sacramento, heading to Miami.

Sean McAdam of CSNNE first reported the A’s interest in Lester, although Oakland is far from being at the top of the heap. Toronto, St. Louis, Seattle, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the A’s join the Brewers and the Braves in being interested enough to see if there is room at the table.

The Red Sox are willing to move Lester, and Lester is willing to be moved, but any decision is likely to come down to the final hours leading up to the deadline. At a minimum, the A’s would have to send Milone to the Red Sox, but it’s not clear the A’s have enough in the minor leagues system to complete a deal for the veteran, who would be just a two-month addition.

Lester isn’t the only starter the A’s have asked about. They tried to get David Price from the Rays a month ago, but they moved to Samardzija and Hammel when the Rays said they weren’t ready to make a move. Since then, it seems that Price will stay put with the Rays playing better, but you never know.

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Smith making his case for more at-bats vs. lefties

For a man who has been primarily a platoon player in a Major League career that career that dates back to 2007, Seth Smith is looking decidedly un-platoonish these days.

Smith, a left-hander, came into the season having an 11-1 edge in games started against right-handed pitchers opposed to lefties, 368 to 32. Sunday, however, was his fifth start against a lefty this season in 27 games overall, and his third in the last four games.

He’s playing about twice as often against lefties this year than he has historically.

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A’s-Sox pregame update — Thursday

It was pouring when I got to Fenway Park about an hour ago, but the sun is out now and it’s looking like this game will start on time. … The Temptations were blasting in the A’s clubhouse this morning — not the usual pregame tunes. I’ll say this: Nomar Garciaparra has seen some Motown clips in his time, judging by the dance moves he was busting out.

No Scott Hairston in the lineup for the third straight day. He says his quad has been slow to recover, but he’s hopeful for tomorrow’s night game in Oakland. Eric Patterson sits today also, with Boston throwing lefty Jon Lester. Ryan Sweeney starts in left field for a change, with Rajai Davis in center and Jack Cust in right.

With the trade deadline just more than 24 hours away, shortstop Orlando Cabrera looked pretty loose this morning, joking around w/his teammates. Manager Bob Geren mentioned how veteran players don’t let trade rumors rattle them this time of year. I’d say Cabrera falls into that category …

The lineups
A’s
Kennedy 2B
Cabrera SS
Garciaparra DH
Cust RF
Everidge 1B
Crosby 3B
Davis CF
Sweeney LF
Powell C

Gonzalez LHP

Sox
Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Youkilis 1B
Bay LF
Ortiz DH
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Green SS

Lester LHP