- The Mariners thought so highly of Emilio Pagan as both a player and a person that GM Jerry Dipoto described the swap that sent Pagan and minor leaguer Alexander Campos to the Athletics for Ryon Healy as “probably the most painful trade we’ve made,” Dipoto tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “In a group that’s not unused to changing bodies, a lot of guys were crushed we traded Emilio. He’s an unbelievable guy, a tremendous human being, he does all the right things,” Dipoto said. Pagan made his MLB debut in 2017 and immediately became a key cog in Seattle’s bullpen, posting a 3.22 ERA over 50 1/3 innings and recording 56 strikeouts against just eight walks. Pagan has continued to hone his game this spring, telling Slusser that he has increased usage of his changeup and also been throwing more inside fastballs to hitters.
6:00pm: Blackburn will be shut down for ten days, says manager Bob Melvin (h/t Jane Lee of MLB.com).
4:18pm: The Athletics rotation has taken another blow, this time involving righty Paul Blackburn. He is dealing with a right forearm strain, as Jane Lee writes in a piece for MLB.com. It now seems all but certain that Blackburn will not be ready to join the staff to open the year. With the rotation already missing Jharel Cotton and recent signee Trevor Cahill not quite ready to go, that leaves Oakland with much less depth to begin the season than had been anticipated. Lee suggests that “by default”, the A’s early-season rotation is now set to consist of Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs and Daniel Gossett.
The 24-year-old Blackburn made ten starts last season in his first taste of major-league action. While the righty pitched to a nice 3.22 ERA and a 56.3% ground ball rate, his 4.76 xFIP and shockingly low 3.38 K/9 left some question marks surrounding his capability to repeat that level of run-prevention.
Blackburn was a supplemental first round pick of the Cubs back during the 2012 draft. He came to the Athletics organization by way of a 2016 trade that sent Danny Valencia to the Mariners. Blackburn made his major-league debut on July 1st, 2017, when the righty allowed zero earned runs in six innings against the Braves.
The Athletics have shut down top pitching prospect A.J. Puk with biceps soreness, according to a report from Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. At this point, the severity of the injury is not fully known, though indications are that the exciting young lefty will be able to return to the hill before too long.
Needless to say, any issues in that region of such a valuable arm are going to be dealt with quite cautiously. Per the report, Puk has already undergone an MRI that did not give cause for concern that there is “any major structural damage.” Still, biceps soreness is a symptom associated with potentially serious elbow issues and the club will want to be certain that the current problem is not exacerbated.
Puk was taken with the sixth overall selection in the 2016 draft and turned in a solid, 125-inning effort in 2017. Splitting his time between High-A and Double-A in his first full season as a professional, the 22-year-old ran up a 4.03 ERA with 13.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
Oakland had already determined that the high-powered southpaw would not crack the roster out of camp. But A’s fans were already no doubt looking forward to his arrival sooner than later after watching him spin over nine scoreless Cactus League innings this spring before he was finally touched in his last frame. There’s no particular reason to believe that Puk’s ultimate ascension will be slowed significantly, though perhaps now the Oakland organization will handle him with added care early in the 2018 season.
The Athletics have agreed to a contract with veteran lefty Brett Anderson, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s a minors deal, but other terms are not yet known.
If the deal becomes official, Anderson will return to the place where he first broke into the majors back in 2009. He turned in strong efforts for Oakland for parts of five seasons, working to a cumulative 3.81 ERA over 450 2/3 innings. Of course, that only worked out to about ninety frames per season, as Anderson dealt with a variety of injuries.
Anderson has had his successes since leaving the A’s, as well. In particular, he turned in a strong effort in 2015 for the Dodgers, making over thirty starts for the first time since his rookie year and finishing with a 3.69 ERA over 180 1/3 frames. That earned Anderson a qualifying offer, which he accepted for the ensuing season.
Unfortunately, Anderson has been neither healthy nor effective since that point. The 2016 season was mostly lost to back surgery. And Anderson limped to a 6.34 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 55 1/3 innings last year after landing with the Cubs on a make-good contract.
There are still some signs of hope, however. Anderson is still just 30 years of age. Last year, he still managed fairly typical fastball velocity, posted an 8.8% swinging-strike rate that was the second highest of his career, and generated a typically solid 49.2% groundball rate. Anderson also may have suffered from some poor fortune with a .364 BABIP and 60.9% strand rate, though Statcast felt the results largely matched expectations based upon the quality of contact he surrendered.
MONDAY: Cahill will earn $1.5MM, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
SATURDAY: The Athletics have agreed to a one-year, major league contract, pending a physical, with right-hander Trevor Cahill, Jane Lee of MLB.com tweets. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier Saturday that Oakland could target Cahill, a client of John Boggs & Associates.
With righty Jharel Cotton set to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire season, the Athletics found themselves seeking starting depth on Saturday. Cahill will provide that, and he’ll attempt to grab a spot in an Oakland rotation that lacks certainty beyond Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea. High-end prospect A.J. Puk seems unlikely to begin the year in the majors, leaving the A’s with Cahill, Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden and Daniel Gossett vying for the final three spots in their rotation (depth chart).
This deal represents a homecoming for Cahill, a California native whom the Athletics chose in the second round of the 2006 draft and who began his career as an eminently effective starter for the club.
Cahill spent 2009-11 in Oakland, where he ate 583 innings and pitched to a solid 3.91 ERA, despite less-than-stellar strikeout and walk numbers (5.48 K/9, 3.35 BB/9). The A’s then shipped him to Arizona in a five-player, December 2011 trade that brought them righty Jarrod Parker, among others. Injuries have since ended Parker’s career, while Cahill has seen his effectiveness wane dating back to the end of his first Oakland stint.
The 30-year-old Cahill started 30-plus games and racked up between 178 2/3 and 207 2/3 innings in each of his first four seasons, but he hasn’t approached those figures since. He’s only a couple years removed from essentially working as a full-time reliever with both the Braves and Cubs, but he primarily functioned as a starter in 2017.
Across 21 appearances (14 starts) and 84 frames between San Diego and Kansas City, Cahill posted a 4.93 ERA/5.28 FIP and logged 9.32 K/9 against 4.82 BB/9. He also registered an impressive 55.6 percent groundball rate (right in line with his career mark of 55.1). Unfortunately, though, shoulder issues helped derail his season after the Royals acquired him in July. While Cahill managed outstanding numbers over 61 innings with the Padres (3.69 ERA, 10.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9), he offset those by surrendering 21 earned runs on 33 hits and 21 walks, with 15 strikeouts, during his 23-frame Royals tenure.
Cahill was on the disabled list three times with shoulder and back problems during his two-team run in 2017, surely helping lead to his inability to find a job from November until now. The A’s, on the heels of the promising Cotton’s injury, are left to hope Cahill will more closely resemble the version who held his own with the Padres than the one who scuffled with the Royals.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Athletics right-hander Raul Alcantara could lose his 40-man roster spot when their deal with righty Trevor Cahill becomes official, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. Alcantara, 25, is out of options and hasn’t produced in Oakland, where he combined for 46 1/3 innings of 7.19 ERA/7.45 FIP ball from 2016-17.
- The Athletics optioned right-hander Chris Bassitt to Triple-A today in the wake of a rough Spring Training, though Bassitt told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he believes a lack of communication about his role contributed to his 7.11 ERA over 6 1/3 IP. According to Bassitt, “I was told coming into camp I was going to compete for a starting spot and never got a single chance…It’s hard to prepare when you don’t know what you’re preparing for. Anyone just wants to know what they’re expecting out of you and so far no one can really answer that yet.” Bassitt said he was willing to pitch in whatever role the A’s wanted, except he just wanted more notice and more clarity about that role. “The way my mechanics are, I pretty much have to go out of the stretch when I come out of the bullpen, and I wasn’t prepared to be a reliever, I really wasn’t. It’s frustrating all around that wasn’t relayed to me all offseason,” he said. Oakland manager Bob Melvin said he felt the team “tried to intimate that to” Bassitt that he would be deployed in an undefined role as a swingman, long reliever, or starter depending on the situation. Bassitt last pitched in the majors in April 2016, as he was sidelined for much of that season due to Tommy John surgery, and he tossed 50 2/3 innings in the minors in 2017.
The latest on Oakland…
- The Athletics agreed to reunite with right-hander Trevor Cahill on Saturday, and they may not be done adding old friends to their pitching mix. The team is considering signing left-hander Brett Anderson, who’d likely receive a minor league contract, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Anderson debuted in the majors with the A’s in 2009 and was mostly effective in Oakland through 2013, but injuries prevented him from realizing his potential. Those injury woes have seldom let up for Anderson, now 30 years old, in his post-Oakland stops. Most recently, he struggled mightily last season across 55 1/3 innings (13 appearances, all starts) between the Cubs and Blue Jays. Anderson pitched to a 6.34 ERA, albeit with a fairly encouraging 4.10 FIP, and logged 6.18 K/9, 3.42 BB/9 and a 49.2 percent groundball rate.
- Oakland pared down its rotation competition Sunday, sending southpaw A.J. Puk to minor league camp. That seems to leave Cahill, Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett and Daniel Mengden as the contenders for the last three spots in their rotation. While the 22-year-old Puk ranks as one of the game’s top prospects, expectations were that the A’s would send him down, as he hasn’t even reached the Triple-A level yet.
- Catcher Josh Phegley has a pair of broken fingers on his right hand and will cease baseball activities for at least two weeks, Jane Lee of MLB.com tweets. That should take Phegley out of the running for a roster spot in Oakland, though it looked unlikely he’d earn one anyway after the club recently signed Jonathan Lucroy. He should team with Bruce Maxwell to comprise the A’s top two backstops, leaving Phegley – with his one option remaining – to head to Triple-A.
The struggles of Shohei Ohtani this spring have been well-documented already, and while he’s ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball in most publications, scouts have been vocal about some weaknesses in his game. Ohtani would seem to be a significant part of the Angels’ plans for 2018, but GM Billy Eppler recently said that the club has made no assurances to Ohtani that he’ll be on the opening day roster (report: Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times). “In our universe, we are evaluating this in a vacuum,” said Eppler. “Is this 23-year-old prospect ready to make an impact on both sides of the ball?” The decision to start Ohtani in the minors (if a serious consideration) would certainly make sense from a development perspective, and would come with the enormous benefit of giving the Angels an extra year of control over the two-way Japanese phenom, if he were to spend at least 15 days at Triple-A. Of course, such a decision would surely come with a storm of controversy as well.
Elsewhere in the AL West…
- Greg Johns of MLB.com writes that the injury to Ryon Healy might have presented an opportunity for Mariners first baseman Dan Vogelbach, who’s opened some eyes this spring by hitting .405 with nine extra-base hits and nine walks in 37 at-bats during Cactus League play. “Vogey deserves to be on this club,” said GM Jerry DiPoto. “He has raked from day one. He has controlled the strike zone really better than anybody in the Cactus League. What he’s doing with the bat is reminiscent of what he’s kind of always done in the Minor Leagues, but we’ve never had the opportunity to see in the big leagues.” He also offered high praise for right-hander Rob Whalen, who was acquired from the Braves a year ago and has proved dominant this spring after coming into camp 25 pounds lighter.
- Athletics right-hander Jharel Cotton will officially undergo Tommy John surgery according to a report earlier today. “I’m trying to take it as best I can, and just get ready for the long process, the long road ahead,” Cotton said in a video tweeted by Jane Lee of MLB.com. “I just gotta work hard with the rehab and come back stronger, so that’s what I’m gonna do.” Cotton’s absence in the rotation will leave the A’s a bit thin on starters, which the club has reportedly acknowledged; manager Bob Melvin has suggested that they might look at free agent pitching options, if prices have come down (h/t Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle). One way they don’t plan on filling the rotation void is with top prospect A.J. Puk, according to club president Billy Beane. Via another tweet from Lee, Beane had the following comments when asked if Puk was a legitimate option for the opening day rotation: “If he is, it’s only because we don’t have a lot of options. Do I think it’s ideal to call upon a kid who has half a year at Double-A? No. That would not be the preferred route.”
March 17: Cotton is set to undergo Tommy John surgery, Jane Lee of MLB.com reports via Twitter.
March 16: Slusser tweets that Cotton is getting his second opinion today. The right-hander adds that he currently has full strength in his elbow and isn’t experiencing much in the way of pain.
March 15: The Athletics received some unwelcome news today. As Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was among those to report (Twitter links), righty Jharel Cotton has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor muscle.
Clearly, the UCL is the major concern here. The diagnosis indicates that there is some amount of tearing to that key elbow ligament. It’s not yet known what treatment Cotton will undergo, though he’s slated to receive a second opinion before deciding.
Any kind of surgical outcome would surely mean an extensive absence. Even a “primary repair” procedure, rather than full-blown Tommy John surgery, would likely put Cotton’s 2018 season in doubt. Of course, an increasing number of pitchers are able to pursue rest-and-rehab programs, often supplemented by stem cell and/or platelet-rich plasma treatment, as an alternative to going under the knife.
Cotton had been expected to play an important role in the Oakland staff after making 24 MLB starts last year (though he struggled to a 5.58 ERA). Now, it seems likely he’ll be sidelined for quite some time, even if he pursues a non-surgical approach to dealing with the injury.