Winter Meetings Wrap

Well the winter meetings have come and gone and the A’s made some moves, most of which were fairly expected.

The bullpen revamp continued, as the A’s traded Evan Scribner to the Mariners for a minor league pitcher and then agreed to sign veteran right hander John Axford to a 2-year, $10 million deal, pending physical. Axford’s deal also includes incentives based  on games finished. Axford has closing experience – he lead the majors in saves in 2011 with 46 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. So in addition to Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, the 2016 A’s have a few options to go to late in games in save and high leverage situations. This is a level of depth that was tested for the A’s last year, with Doolittle injured for much of the season and Tyler Clippard getting the bulk of save chances early on. It’s nice to have options and hopefully it goes better this season than it did last season.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland AthleticsThe other big move came in the form of a trade, when Brett Lawrie was dealt to the White Sox for minor league arms J.B. Wendelken and Zack Erwin. It was pretty expected that one of Lawrie or Danny Valencia would get moved after the A’s acquired Jed Lowrie in a trade with the Astros last week, so here we are. Considering that Lawrie came over as part of the package in the unpopular Josh Donaldson trade, reactions from the fan base are pretty down on this trade. I would have certainly liked to see a higher ceiling prospect here but maybe this was the best they could do for either Lawrie or Valencia. Wendelken was in AAA last season, so we could see him sooner than later. Erwin, on the other hand, was a 2015 draftee and pitched in low-A last year, albeit extremely well (1.34 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 40 1/3 innings). By the time we see him anywhere near the bigs, we’ll probably have forgotten where he came from.

The A’s also made a Rule 5 selection on Thursday, but traded that player to the Padres as the PTBNL in the trade that brought Yonder Alonso to the A’s.

So the expected moves have been made and there aren’t really much more that remain. I do expect that they’ll add another reliever and maybe another starter, but there is no one on the big league roster that I expect to get moved and will probably be surprised if and when it happens. How many days until pitchers and catchers report? Go A’s…

Bullpen Revamp Underway

It’s no question that the biggest problem the A’s had in 2015 was the bullpen. Not only did they blow a bunch a leads, they blew a bunch of leads by a historic margin. If last season was replayed 100 times, they probably wouldn’t have been as bad as they were more than once or twice. Really. This piece lays it out quite well.

So it’s no surprise that the bullpen is getting the biggest overhaul as the offseason has begun over the last month.

October 19: Lost Pat Venditte on waivers to the Blue Jays.
November 2: Edward  Mujica became a free agent.November 3: Lost Dan Otero on waivers to the Phillies.
November 20: Traded Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays for RP Liam Hendriks.
December 2: Traded Drew Pomeranz, a prospect and a PTBNL to the Padres for RP Mark Rzepczynski and 1B Yonder Alonso.
December 4: Fernando Abad became a free agent.
December 6: Came to a three-year agreement with free agent RP Ryan Madson, pending physical.

So if we’re counting, it’s 6 guys out (depending on if you consider Chavez and/or Pomeranz relievers or starters) and 3 guys in. Hendriks comes with four years of team control and is coming off a season in which he had a 2.92 ERA and 2.14 FIP in 64 2/3 IP in Toronto’s bullpen. Rzepczynski is due to be a free agent after the season, and he split time between Cleveland and San Diego in 2015 with a 5.66 ERA but a 3.36 FIP in 35 IP (72 games). And then there’s Madson, a high risk signing for a guy who didn’t pitch for three years before last year. But the A’s have to like what they saw from him in Kansas City last season, with a 2.13 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 63 1/3 IP. He also has closing experience, which may or may not mean much but when your actual closer only pitched in 12 games last year, well you better have a backup plan.

The A’s have also been rumored to be in on some of the other free agent relief pitchers, including those who have already signed elsewhere, like Darren O’Day (Orioles) and Mark Lowe (Tigers), so I think it’s safe to say they’re not done revamping this bullpen. With the winter meetings beginning today in Nashville, it could be a busy week.

Who I’m Rooting For in the LCS

I have an easier time paying attention to the playoffs in a year in which the A’s weren’t in contention. Somehow having the A’s more removed from things makes it easier to just sit back and watch it. But this year, even though the A’s finished in last place in the A.L. West and had no prayer of the playoffs past June, they are very much connected to some of the playoff  narratives. This – along with various other irrational feelings of like and dislike to certain players and teams – affects how I root come playoff time. Let’s break it down.

NLCS: Cubs vs. Mets

USATSI_8760221_168381093_lowresA’s connections on the Mets: Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins (DL), Anthony Recker (not on playoff roster), Bob Geren (bench coach).
A’s connections on the Cubs: Jon Lester, Addison Russell (injured for LCS), Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Chris Denorfia.

There are a number of A’s connections here – some that make me cringe and others that don’t. And really, the ones that make me cringe are the ones on the Cubs. Two of these players are directly connected to last season’s epic failure. Jon Lester signed a free agent deal with Chicago after the half season rental failed to win the Wild Card game for the A’s. And Addison Russell is the shortstop we could’ve had but don’t, because of the trade that brought Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakaland last summer. At least we got some decent talent back for Samardzija, but there are just too many reminders of A’s failures on the Cubs for me to root for them to win. After all, the better the Cubs do, the worse it makes the A’s look.

On the other hand, Yoenis Cespedes is also directly connected to those failures as he was dealt to Boston for Lester. But I don’t have those same hard feelings seeing him gun down runners from the outfield at Citi Field. The Mets are Cespedes’s fourth team and third since being traded from the A’s. The connection lines have been muddled too much for me to care. And I just love watching Yoenis hit baseballs and hit them far. I’m rooting for the Mets.

ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Royals

A’s connections on the Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson, Cliff Pennington, Jeff Francis (not on the playoff roster).
A’s connections on the Royals: Ben Zobrist, Jonny Gomes (not on the playoff roster).

Fewer connections here but there is one big one here and it’s Donaldson. The trade was controversial and the Blue Jays’ success and Donaldson’s likely MVP seasons coupled with the A’s crappiness make this continue to look very, very bad for the A’s. That is a huge reason to root against the Blue Jays. They’ve got an MVP at the A’s expense; we don’t want them to have a World Series too!

But then there’s those supremely unlikealbe Royals. The A’s connected players do not invoke strong feelings. But the other connections to the A’s – mainly last season’s Wild Card game and the dust-up with them early in the season over a Brett Lawrie slide at second base – have them low on the list of teams A’s fans like. And then I also have one more personal beef against the Royals, and that’s that I will never forgive them for losing to the Giants in the World Series, just like I haven’t forgiven the Rangers or the Tigers.

So a team whose success makes the A’s look bad, or a team that I flat out just don’t like? It’s really a tough call in this one but for this one I’m ever so slightly siding with Canada. I’m rooting for the Blue Jays.