Makin’ Moves With Billy Beane

Scott Kazmir

From Sugar Land to sugar daddy. (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison)

After a relatively quiet start to the off-season, Billy Beane and the A’s have begun putting the team together for 2014 by inking starting pitcher Scott Kazmir and trading the embattled Jemile Weeks for All-Star closer Jim Johnson.

Oh yeah, and the ever-popular Daric Barton is coming back as well.

While the nation was gorging itself on the heavy offerings of Thanksgiving last week, many A’s fans on social media lamented the perceived lack of activity from the front office. Personally, I knew to sit tight because Billy Beane usually makes a lot of things happen in December, but fickle fans love to get ahead of themselves. Lo and behold, yesterday brought us the flurry of unexpected of action that gave Billy his reputation as a wheeling and dealing mastermind.

Kazmir, who turns 30 next month, will be given a two-year deal worth $22 million.

The Houston native re-established himself as a legit MLB starter with the Cleveland Indians last season after being out of the majors for nearly two full seasons. In 158 innings with the tribe he posted a 4.04 ERA and averaged 9.2 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings to go along with a 40.9 percent ground-ball rate. Most importantly, the velocity that seemed to vanish from his fastball during the past few years returned in 2013, averaging 92.5 MPH on the gun, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

A two-time All-Star in his early years with the Tampa Bay Rays, Kazmir found himself pitching in independent league baseball with the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012 after a dismal 2010 season with the Angels and a single big league start in 2011 that led to his demotion and ultimately his outright release later that season.

When I first got word of the deal I was a bit disappointed and confused. I liked Kazmir a lot in earlier in his career, but I’m always leery of players who flame out and then come back. They’re never as good as they were when they first experienced success. However, a quick trip over to showed me while he didn’t set the world on fire last year he had a solid season, with a particularly strong second half. As long as he can keep his control, he’ll be a decent addition, and $22 million isn’t breaking the bank for anybody, even the A’s.

With Kazmir signing, it looks like Bartolo Colon will walk, while Brett Anderson has been linked to a myriad of trade rumors.

A few hours after that deal was announced, we learned Weeks was shipped to the Orioles in exchange for Johnson.

Johnson has led the AL in saves the last two seasons, but he also led the league with nine blown opportunities. It looks like this move was made in anticipation of Grant Balfour leaving, and Beane has replaced an All-Star closer with another All-Star closer that will make about half the money, with Johnson due to make about $10 million this season. His number of blown saves is certainly troubling, but a look at his career stats shows a pitcher who is very effective if he can keep hits to a minimum. It also doesn’t hurt to move from Baltimore’s bandbox to the pitching-friendly confines of the Coliseum. He’ll be a free agent in 2015, so this is likely his only year with the A’s, if he’s still on the roster come April (part of me thinks he’ll be flipped).

While I’m a little sad to see Jemile go, he simply needed a change of scenery. After an explosive debut in 2011, he slumped horribly in 2012 and found himself in the doghouse after making some questionable comments following an August demotion that season. He toiled in Sacramento in 2013 and just never seemed to re-capture the spark that endeared him to A’s fans early in his big league career.

The day began with the news that Daric Barton would be tendered a contract for 2014. Depending on who you are, you’re either intrigued or thoroughly disgusted.

Barton is the most polarizing figure associated with the A’s since Jack Cust. Some people love Barton’s defense and patient batting eye, while others lampoon is lack of power and would love nothing more than to banish Barton to the Netherworld of the baseball universe.

Back in May it looked as though he had finally worn out his welcome in Oakland by hitting .143 in eight games after being called up on May 8. Out of Minor League options, he was demoted to Triple on May 18, but no team claimed him and he remained property of the A’s.

Somehow, the strange cosmic forces of our universe made it so Barton performed well enough in Sacramento to earn another call-up in late August. This time, he made good on his opportunity. By the time the season was over he boosted his average to a respectable .269, looking nothing like the apprehensive hitter we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

While there are some A’s fans who still hold out hope for Barton, there are plenty of others who see his late-season surge as a pure mirage. I still don’t have a boatload of confidence in the guy, but the A’s don’t have many better options right now, and the cost to retain him, expected to be around $1.4 million, is scant. The A’s are in for a nice bargain if he can somehow extrapolate his September performance over the course of a full season.

With plenty of time left in the off-season you can rest assured Billy isn’t done making moves. With his reputation, nobody has any idea what will come next, but you can bet it’ll be discussed and dissected endlessly.

11:02 am Update: Hilariously enough, I knocked out most of this entry and then decided to go take a shower before finishing up. As I dried off my chiseled abs and monstrous arms I got back on my laptop to see the A’s acquired Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom in exchange for Michael Choice and Chris Bostick. Interesting trade to be sure. I’m sad to see Choice go since I expected big things. I should have an analysis of this newest trade up later.

1:47 pm Update: Billy is on a roll today. as I’ve just found out that outfielder Seth Smith has been shipped to San Diego for relief pitcher Luke Gregerson. Smith, 31, batted .253/.329/.391 with eight home runs in 410 plate appearances for Oakland this season. A left-handed batter, Smith has always been known to fare much better against righties than lefties, and 2013 was no exception as Smith posted a .748 OPS against right-handers and just a .621 mark against lefties. In return, the A’s will be getting one of the most effective relievers in baseball over the past several years. In 2013 Gregerson put up a 2.71 ERA and 1.010 WHIP in 66.1 innings of work. The bullpen is shaping up nicely for next season, and there’s no way Billy is done yet. More analysis to come later.

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