CLEVELAND — The A’s wound up swinging their first trade leading up to Monday’s deadline, but it didn’t involve any of the expected parties.
Billy Burns was shipped to Kansas City in exchange for fellow outfielder Brett Eibner, who will report to Triple-A Nashville.
What a turn Burns’ career with Oakland took since the start of spring training. Coming off an impressive 2015 season in which he led American League rookies with 153 hits, he lost time in center field to Coco Crisp in the first half of this season and hit just .234 with no homers and 12 RBI in 73 games, eventually getting demoted to the minors following the All-Star break.
That was also when the A’s decided to give Jake Smolinski more of a regular shot in center field, with Coco Crisp getting some time in left field or coming off the bench.
“The organization always is looking for what they think is an upgrade,” manager Bob Melvin said before Saturday night’s game against the Indians. “Billy did some great things for us but I know we like Eibner. He’s got some power, looks like he’s got a little bit of speed. I don’t know much about him, but for us to make this deal, obviously we like the player a lot.”
Eibner, 27, was ranked as the Royals’ No. 17 prospect by Baseball America entering this season. He made his major league debut this season and hit .231 with three homers and 10 RBI in 26 games spread over two stints with Kansas City. The rest of his season has been spent in Triple-A, where he played all three outfield positions but saw most of his time in center.
The right-handed hitting Eibner also pitched while at the University of Arkansas but focused on the outfield upon being drafted in the second round in 2010. He’s considered an above-average defender in center with a strong arm for the position and the versatility to play the corners.
The center field spot holds some mystery for the A’s looking ahead to 2017. Coco Crisp has a $13 million vesting option that becomes guaranteed if he appears in 130 games. With his reduced role due to Smolinski playing center, there’s a good chance Crisp won’t reach that number (he’d have to appear in 48 of the final 59 games), in which case the A’s could buy out his option for $750,000 and cut ties. It was obvious even before Saturday’s trade that Burns had fallen down the totem pole. And though Smolinski has had some big moments for the A’s so far in the second half, the A’s could hardly pencil him in as their 2017 center fielder based on the small body of work they’ve seen so far.
Eibner may get the chance to throw his hat in the ring next season in center. Or, in the more immediate future, he would represent some right field insurance should Josh Reddick get traded before Monday afternoon’s deadline. Lefty Rich Hill and Reddick are the two A’s players getting the most traction in the rumor mill right now.
Hill threw 60 pitches off the mound to test the blister on his left middle finger. His workout was broken into four sessions — three with his finger wrapped and one without. All indications were things went well. Hill is eligible to come off the DL on Thursday, and Melvin said he’d likely be targeted for a start either Thursday or Friday. That’s assuming Hill is still wearing an Oakland uniform.