A’s general manager Billy Beane acted swiftly a few winters back when he felt his team wasn’t a contender, trading front-line players such as Dan Haren and Nick Swisher for prospects.
There’s a different type of handwriting on the wall this year. Coming off back-to-back American League West championships, the A’s are aiming for a deep postseason run in 2014. Once again Beane has struck aggressively, only this time he’s added to his roster.
The A’s swung two trades within a span of four hours Tuesday, acquiring outfielder Craig Gentry from the Texas Rangers for outfield prospect Michael Choice and getting reliever Luke Gregerson from the San Diego Padres for outfielder Seth Smith.
This came on the heels of Monday’s blockbuster moves, when the A’s signed left-hander Scott Kazmir to a two-year $22 million contract and acquired closer Jim Johnson from Baltimore for infielder Jemile Weeks.
Whether they’re clearing house or reloading an already talented roster, the A’s are never boring.
“We’ve never sort of straddled the fence,” Beane said on a media conference call Tuesday. “We don’t have five-year plans here. We have a year-to-year stadium lease. We have to recognize an opportunity when it’s there and be aggressive and take advantage of it. We’re kind of either all in or all out.”
Nonetheless, it’s surprising that the cost-conscious A’s have added such a large chunk of payroll, particularly with Kazmir and Johnson, who figures to command a salary in the neighborhood of $11 million through arbitration this year.
Oakland traditionally has not spent big bucks for a closer, but Beane bristled at the suggestion that the A’s have shifted their philosophy regarding the ninth inning. He also denied that a new Major League-wide television contract – which will provide each team an extra $25 million – played a big role in the A’s spending.
“We’ve got a number of young players that perform at a very high level that we’re not paying a lot of money to,” Beane said. “We’re able to spend in other areas that are needs. At the end of the day, you have a pool of money and you carve it up the best you can.”
The A’s clearly felt the bullpen deserved a significant portion of that pie.
Aside from adding Johnson – a 50-save guy last season who will allow Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle to remain in setup roles – the A’s added another late-inning option in Gregerson, a 29-year-old right-hander who has been one of the National League’s top setup men. He’s posted a 2.88 ERA over five big league seasons and has averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Gregerson figures to make around $4.9 million this year in arbitration and can become a free agent next winter. To get him the A’s gave up Smith, who played a crucial role during last postseason but got squeezed out of playing time in the regular season.
Gregerson said he’s enthused to join Oakland’s bullpen.
“We didn’t always have the biggest hitters (in San Diego), but when we pitched (well), we won a lot of ballgames,” Gregerson said. “It looks like this team has pitching and hitting. We should win a lot of games.”
However, the A’s splashy moves come with potential downside. Choice, just 24, has a promising combination of power and speed, and with Chris Young having departed, the 2010 first-round pick stood a good chance of making the A’s Opening Day roster.
But Gentry is more battle-tested at the big league level, and Beane said one of his most pressing concerns was adding a proven backup center fielder who could fill in for Coco Crisp, who is injury-prone. It figures that the right-handed hitting Gentry could see time at all three outfield spots and could potentially form a platoon in right with Reddick.
“In evaluating our club, one spot where if someone went down, we had very little coverage was (center),” Beane said. “We were counting on Coco to play a lot of games (last year). We didn’t want to put the whole season at risk based on one person’s health.”
The A’s also received pitcher Josh Lindblom from Texas in the Choice trade and sent minor league infielder Chris Bostick to the Rangers.
The question is what deal comes next.
“I don’t think it’s in our nature to sit there and take the rest of the winter off,” Beane said.
Left-hander Brett Anderson is a strong trade possibility given the signing of Kazmir (though his deal is pending a physical and not yet official). The Toronto Blue Jays like Anderson, and the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners reportedly also have interest.
A source familiar with the Indians’ thinking said no deal was imminent with Cleveland.
When asked what else the A’s might seek in any future trades, Beane’s response seemed telling.
“We’re always gonna be exploring new ideas whether for right now or something that could help down the road,” he said.
That would indicate that the A's, having made several moves to strengthen the present club, could consider dealing Anderson for a bundle of prospects. The Blue Jays are one team willing to deal from their farm system to land a pitcher.