FOX Sports Exclusive
A's strike first in MLB offseason
People forget, the A’s were pretty good last season.
They finished 81-81 despite playing with the lowest payroll in the American League and suffering their usual spate of injuries.
Now, as their recent transactions attest, they are quite serious about becoming even more competitive in 2011.
The A’s already have made the two biggest early moves of the offseason, winning the rights to Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and trading for Royals left fielder David DeJesus.
Their next step will be to add a designated hitter — maybe Lance Berkman, maybe Hideki Matsui, maybe an even bigger name. Billy Beane, like most general managers, operates on parallel tracks, pursuing multiple targets at once.
The A’s first expressed interest in DeJesus last August, when he already was out for the season because of right thumb surgery. But Beane in recent days also was after Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham, according to a major-league source. He even considered Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, but didn’t see a place to put him. The A’s already have Mark Ellis at second, Kevin Kouzmanoff at third and other DHs in mind.
The Royals’ price for DeJesus was right-hander Vin Mazzaro and Single-A left-hander Justin Marks. Opinions on Mazzaro vary, but few view him as even a potential No. 3 starter. Marks, soon to be 23, has yet to rise above A ball.
Here is how three different GMs assessed the trade:
GM 1: “Good deal for both teams. Fits both clubs. We’re OK on Mazzaro. Back-end starter.”
GM 2: “Fair deal. Like, don’t love Mazzaro. Decent chance draft picks, too (for the A’s if DeJesus departs as a free agent after next season).”
GM 3: “(I’m) not a big Mazzaro guy, and Marks does nothing for me. I like it for Oakland. Would have thought Kansas City could have gotten a better package.”
That’s the big question for the Royals — how much better could they have done if they had traded DeJesus last offseason or before he was injured July 23?
David DeJesus adds speed and versatility to an Oakland lineup that needs offense.Jim Mone
For the A’s, the question is whether one year of control of DeJesus will prove a worthy return for five years of Mazzaro and six of Marks, if the latter reaches the majors.
Well, the A’s plan to replace Mazzaro by signing Iwakuma, perhaps to a four-year deal. As for DeJesus, they could either sign him to an extension or collect two high draft picks if he qualifies as a Type A free agent, which is no sure thing.
The A’s view Iwakuma as at least a No. 3 starter. They like what they saw from left-hander Bobby Cramer last September. And lefty Josh Outman, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2009, is expected to return next season.
DeJesus, who turns 31 on Dec. 20, is the type of all-around player whose value has become more tangible to clubs that use advanced metrics to measure defense and baserunning.
The A’s led the majors last season in defensive efficiency, a statistic that measures the percentage of balls in play that are converted into outs. They do not want to compromise their defense behind such a talented young rotation.
Earlier this offseason, the A’s exercised club options on Ellis and center fielder Coco Crisp. They seem content with Kouzmanoff at third, in part because of his defense. They have one more player to acquire, the power-hitting DH.
Pretty good in 2010, they could be even better in ’11.
NOW AT FIRST BASE FOR THE RED SOX ...
Going back to the Johan Santana talks in the 2007-08 offseason, the Red Sox and Yankees have shown great reluctance to trade premium young talent for players they could sign as free agents a year later.
So, maybe it’s time for people to stop obsessing over the idea of the Sox's acquiring Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez this winter — particularly when Gonzalez, coming off shoulder surgery, told the Padres’ flagship radio station this week he might not be able to swing a bat for four or five months.
Gonzalez’s revelation should give pause not only to the Red Sox, but also the Cubs, White Sox and any other clubs that might consider trading for him. A more logical course for the Red Sox would be to sign a first baseman such as Derrek Lee as a one-year bridge to next year’s free-agent class, which could include Gonzalez, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
If the Sox lose Adrian Beltre, they will need to find out whether Kevin Youkilis is still capable at third. If they keep Beltre and want to pursue one of the big first basemen next winter, they could trade Youkilis, who is under contract through 2012 with a club option for ’13.
Beltre, coming off a big season with the Red Sox, presumably will look for a deal in the same five-year, $75 million range that he sought last winter. It is unlikely the Sox would commit that many years to him, considering he will play next season at 32.
A CLIFF-HANGER IN ST. LOUIS
While the Cardinals are still in touch with free-agent right-hander Jake Westbrook, the talks seem to have lost momentum. The Cardinals would prefer to sign Westbrook for only two years, and in a thin market he likely could get three.
Know who would be an interesting play for the Cardinals?
Think about it: If Lee’s desire to be close to his home in Arkansas is an advantage for the Rangers, it would be for the Cardinals as well. The Cardinals also offer the advantage of playing in the more pitcher-friendly National League.
Yes, the Yankees are all over Lee and remain the favorites to sign him. Yes, the Cardinals’ first priority is to lock up Pujols and the second is to improve their offense.
For the Cardinals, the pursuit of Lee would make sense only if A) they determined that extending Pujols was impossible; B) Lee was willing to take less to play closer to home; and C) the team was willing to trade Pujols this offseason or go over budget in 2011.
That’s a lot to ask, to say the least.
Pujols, as a player with 10 years of service, five to the same club, has the right to veto any trade. Besides, the Cardinals’ best shot of winning would be with Pujols and Lee on the same team, if only for one year.
Problem is, the Cardinals already have $81 million committed to 10 players next season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Besides adding a starting pitcher, they need to address second base, shortstop and possibly third as well as the left side of their bullpen.
HOW LOW CAN KONERKO GO?
Free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko has career earnings of nearly $90 million, according to baseball-reference.com. Part of him surely wants to play for the Diamondbacks, where he could live at home in Scottsdale with his wife and two young children. But for it to happen, he would need to make an extreme financial sacrifice.
Konerko, who turns 35 on March 5, is coming off a career-best .977 OPS and $12 million salary. Adam LaRoche had a 25-homer, 100-RBI season for the Diamondbacks, albeit with a .788 OPS, and the team declined its end of his $7.5 million mutual option, viewing it as too steep.
The D-Backs could use Konerko as a DH only in interleague road games. Rather than sign him, they could stick Brandon Allen at first and focus on more pressing needs — the bullpen, another starter, a left fielder.
The White Sox want Konerko back. The Orioles, Rangers, Cubs and other clubs also could make big plays for him. The Diamondbacks appear a long shot at best.
Free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski actually might be more difficult for the White Sox to replace than Konerko, considering the large number of first basemen on the market.
Pierzynski, soon to be 34, is among the game’s most durable catchers and particularly valuable to the White Sox as a left-handed hitter. Third baseman Mark Teahen and left fielder Juan Pierre are the only other left-handed hitters on the current roster (infielder Omar Vizquel is a switch-hitter).
Tyler Flowers, the Sox’s leading candidate to replace Pierzynski, is a right-handed hitter who has regressed offensively while improving his defense. The free-agent market is thin in quality alternatives after Victor Martinez, a switch-hitter who could help replace Konerko and Pierzynski.
Perhaps the best solution for the White Sox would be if Pierzynski accepted a one-year, non-guaranteed contract through arbitration — he has caught more than 10,000 innings and is coming off a down year offensively. But a team such as the Marlins, Rangers or Mariners likely would offer Pierzynski a two-year guarantee.
NISHIOKA, URIBE AND THE WEAK INFIELD CLASS
For all the talk about the weak starting pitching market, check out the meager crop of available free agents at second base, shortstop and third.
No wonder the Chiba Lotte Marines are expected to post Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who can play second or short; the winning bid for Nishioka’s rights figures to be quite lucrative.
Among major-league free agents, shortstop Orlando Cabrera already is drawing more interest than he did at this time last season, and so is infielder Juan Uribe, major-league sources say.
Uribe is one of the best second basemen available after Orlando Hudson — and, along with Miguel Tejada, one of the best shortstops available after Derek Jeter and one of the best third basemen available after Beltre.
The Giants signed Uribe to a one-year, $3.25 million, free-agent contract last season. It will cost them considerably more to keep him this time around.
The Tigers recently signed free agent Jhonny Peralta to a two-year, $11.25 million contract. Peralta owns a .748 career OPS compared with Uribe’s .731, but Uribe is a clutch, infectious player whose value transcends his stats.
See the 2010 postseason.
AROUND THE HORN
- The White Sox are checking into free-agent closer Rafael Soriano, yet another indication they may trade or non-tender Bobby Jenks. The Rays figure to lose Soriano and several of their other relievers as free agents and lack the flexibility to buy comparable replacements.
- Some in the industry wonder if Sandy Alderson’s seven-month stint as MLB’s leading reformer in the Dominican Republic will adversely affect the Mets’ ability to attract Dominican talent. Alderson, the Mets’ new GM, was typically aggressive and decisive during his tenure in the Dominican, which had been a strong pipeline for the Mets under Omar Minaya.
- One rival executive cracks that if the Pirates name Jeff Banister manager, it will complete the “longest managerial search in history to hire the bench coach.” Perhaps the Pirates should have acted more quickly on Eric Wedge, who was the first candidate they interviewed on Oct. 5. The Mariners hired Wedge 10 days later.
- R.I.P., Dave Niehaus, one of the all-time greats.
More Stories From Ken Rosenthal