OAKLAND –- With the A’s struggling to make up any ground in the American League West, general manager Billy Beane decided it was time to pull the plug on a season that simply hasn’t gone according to plan.
Thursday’s trade of left-hander Scott Kazmir to Houston was the A’s first major move in advance of the July 31 trade deadline, but probably not their last.
They received two minor leaguers from the Astros –- right-hander Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham -– in return for Kazmir, an impending free agent who was widely expected to be dealt to a contender.
The A’s sit at 44-53 following Thursday’s 5-2 loss to Toronto, 11 games off the pace in the AL West and eight games out of a Wild Card spot. Beane said he wanted to give his club a chance to make a second-half push, but given the ground to make up, and the injuries that continue to collect for Oakland, he was persuaded to sell off one of his most attractive trade chips and try to replenish a farm system that is considered among the majors’ bottom third in overall talent.
[STIGLICH: A's trade Kazmir to Astros]
“We have to be realistic, and ultimately you don’t want to be sitting at the end of the year and have guys walk out the door and having to fill those holes (without getting something in return),” Beane said. “It’s the dilemma of the job -- if you do it, when you do it. And ultimately, we felt this was the right time.
“… When you make a trade with a guy like Scott at this time of year, there are some concessions you’re making, and understanding that the future is probably more important than the present.”
Given that mindset, it’s a strong bet that other veterans will be heading out of Oakland before July 31, the final day teams can trade players without needing them to clear waivers first. With Kazmir gone, the A’s best trade chip is utility man Ben Zobrist, another free-agent-to-be. The Pirates, Mets, Royals and Yankees all have interest in him and all have had scouts at the Coliseum this homestand. The Nationals also have been linked to Zobrist.
“It’s possible,” Beane said of more trades. “Again, we have to be realistic to where we are (in the standings). The math doesn’t necessarily work in our favor.”
Expect the A’s to continue seeking minor league talent in return, though it’s worth noting that Kazmir didn’t net them any of the marquee prospects from the Astros’ deep system. Nottingham, a 20-year-old who was a sixth-round draft pick in 2013, was ranked the No. 9 prospect in their system in Baseball America’s midseason rankings. Mengden, a 22-year-old drafted in the fourth round in 2014, was ranked just 19th on mlb.com’s list of Astros prospects.
There’s no doubt that Kazmir’s status as a rental player hurt the A’s return. Given that the Astros are only getting him through the end of this season, they weren’t going to give up any of their best prospects.
Then again, beauty is in the eye of the talent evaluator. Beane said landing Nottingham was a key to him pulling the trigger on the deal. The A’s sent several scouts to watch Nottingham play for Single-A Lancaster. Catcher is a position of need within the A’s farm system, and the team’s internal evaluators feel Nottingham is a major upgrade for them behind the plate.
“For a catcher to be potentially a middle-of-the-order hitter, that’s pretty unusual,” Beane said. “He’s really taken off this year.”
Nottingham is hitting a combined .326 with 14 homers and 60 RBI in 76 games split between two levels of Single-A. Scouts seem to agree that he needs to work on his throwing release. Mengden is a combined 6-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 18 games (14 starts) at two levels of Single-A.
Both will report to Single-A Stockton, where the roster includes shortstop Franklin Barreto -– the A’s top prospect by Baseball America -– and third baseman Matt Chapman, last year’s first-round pick and a highly touted infielder.