Athletics

Bigger than baseball: Piscotty reflects on homecoming in trade to A's

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AP

Bigger than baseball: Piscotty reflects on homecoming in trade to A's

He’ll be playing in front of his family and hometown fans, in the ballpark he grew up going to as a kid.

Stephen Piscotty is fully aware that not many major leaguers get to do this, but his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the A’s means so much more on a deeper level.

The Pleasanton native will get to play in front of his mother, Gretchen, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, in May.

It was a difficult and emotional 2017 season for Piscotty, a 26-year-old outfielder who left the Cardinals for a period to be with his family and also dealt with two stints on the disabled list. He struggled to a .235 batting average after a 22-homer, 85-RBI season in 2016.

He admits how difficult it was to concentrate on baseball, with his thoughts drifting back to the Bay Area and his Mom. Piscotty expressed gratitude to the Cardinals for their treatment of him during his tough time and for their efforts in orchestrating a trade that brought him home.

The A’s sent minor league infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock to St. Louis in a deal that was finalized Thursday.

“We’re pretty emotionally tied to that organization,” Piscotty said of the Cardinals. “It chokes me up a little bit. But family obviously comes first, and sometimes some things are more important than baseball. With this opportunity here, it’s just a great combination of family and baseball. … A lot of good is going to come out of it.”

Piscotty and his brothers, Austin and Nick, grew up going to the Coliseum, as his father, Mike, has been an A’s season ticket holder for more than two decades. In May, their tight-knit family was rocked by news of Gretchen’s diagnosis.

“I remember kind of thinking ‘OK, they diagnosed it a certain way but it’s gonna turn out to be something else,” Piscotty said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I kept playing for a couple days, but I was so distracted, I couldn’t focus. I really didn’t care about what was happening on the field.”

Piscotty talked with manager Mike Matheny, hitting coach John Mabry and others.

“They were like, ‘You need to go home,’ and it was the right decision,” Piscotty said. “… It was a roller coaster year. I got sent down (to the minors), but I learned a lot. I’m gonna tap into some of those experiences.”

The A’s feel they’re getting an athletic corner outfielder about to reach his prime. Piscotty inked a six-year $33.5 million before the 2017 season, so he’s locked up at an affordable rate moving forward.

Piscotty has played mostly right field, but he and new teammate Matt Joyce can handle either corner spot.

Though the A’s made the trade primarily for baseball purposes, general manager David Forst added that “it’s wonderful for his family, and hopefully it will have given him and his family some peace of mind.”

Piscotty got news of the trade while in Pebble Beach with friends for a golf trip that had been a long time in the planning. Team orthopedist Dr. Will Workman actually made the drive to Pebble to administer Piscotty’s physical — at a local Airbnb property — so the A’s and Cardinals could finalize the trade.

Piscotty lives in Pleasanton in the offseason, but the family recently made a trip to St. Louis and saw the Budweiser Clydesdales. Gretchen loves horses.

Piscotty is optimistic his mother will be able to get out to the Coliseum to see him play. He credits his father, who has “worked his tail off” to take care of insurance needs and medications for Gretchen.

“We’re in a good place,” Stephen said. “We’re at a point where we’ve got things pretty dialed in and we can move around and go places.”

The support has poured in from St. Louis and the Bay Area. A’s president Dave Kaval, responding to a fan on Twitter, said the team will donate some of the proceeds from Piscotty jersey sales to ALS research.

“I wish I didn’t need all of their support, but it’s nice to have it,” Gretchen Piscotty told the Bay Area News Group.

Stephen, who grew up idolizing Tim Hudson and Mark McGwire, is excited to wear green and gold. Getting to spend more time with his mother provides a different kind of lift.

“That will give me a lot of comfort and peace of mind knowing I’m close.”

New Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna takes jab at A's during media event

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AP

New Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna takes jab at A's during media event

While expressing his happiness to be with his new team, Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna took a swipe at the A’s during a media function in St. Louis on Sunday.

Ozuna’s name, you’ll remember, swirled in trade rumors earlier this offseason that he might be dealt from the Miami Marlins to Oakland. Instead, the two-time All-Star was traded to St. Louis, making him one of several big-name players Miami has shipped off as it looks to slash payroll.

While attending the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up event to preview this season, Ozuna was asked what it was like being dealt to a team that’s more focused on winning right away as opposed to the rebuilding Marlins.

“I feel happy about that,” Ozuna responded. “First thing when I heard they were trying to trade me to the Oakland A’s, I say … (long pause) Well, I say ‘God, please leave me over here.’ Then I heard they trade me to the Cardinals, I say ‘OK, thanks.’”

Ouch.

Well, it’s not the first time such an insult has been hurled the A’s way, whether directly or indirectly. Last winter, it came out that Matt Holliday — who spent part of 2009 with Oakland — had a no-trade clause included in his contract with the Yankees that prohibited him from being traded only to the A’s.

Is it surprising to hear Ozuna volunteer his thoughts about the A’s in a public forum? Perhaps.

Is it a shock that he’d feel that way in the first place? Definitely not.

It’s no secret the A’s reputation is one of a team that’s always looking to trade its best veteran players rather than spend the money to sign them long term. It’s also common knowledge that they play in an outdated ballpark that’s considered the worst in the majors.

No question, those are the dominant thoughts of players on the other 29 teams when they think of the A’s. And there’s no quick fix to that. National perception is tough to alter.

“Why doesn’t ownership just start spending more money on payroll?” you might ask. “That’s the best way to change perception.”

No arguments there, but we know from the past that isn’t going to happen. Clearly, majority owner John Fisher isn’t going to spend more freely on payroll — especially with the A’s being cut off from MLB’s revenue sharing system — unless he sees the potential for other forms of revenue to stream in.

It all points back to the critical need for the A’s to identify a ballpark site and begin construction on a new home. That will send a message around the majors that a plan is in motion, that better days are ahead.

Until then, the A’s can expect to absorb the occasional jab like that delivered by Ozuna. On the bright side for Oakland fans, they might have just identified Public Enemy No. 2, a player who can slot in right behind Holliday as their favorite opponent to vilify.

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

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USATSI

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

The A’s took care of a big piece of business with their top run producer, signing slugger Khris Davis to a one-year contract Wednesday and avoiding arbitration.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the sides settled on a $10.5 million salary. That’s more than double the $5 million Davis made last season in his first trip through the arbitration process, but a huge raise was expected after Davis put up more monster numbers in his second year with Oakland.

His 43 home runs in 2017 ranked second in the American League and he was third in RBI with 110. Consider that Davis is the only major leaguer to crack the 40-homer mark in each of the past two seasons, and only Giancarlo Stanton has more total homers during that span (86 to Davis’ 85).

That obviously makes the 30-year-old Davis a valuable commodity.

“Back to back 40-homer years in this ballpark. You guys don’t talk about it enough,” A’s executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane said in October. “When we acquired him (in a trade from Milwaukee) we knew we got a guy with a lot of power. I think we were thinking a 30-homer guy. The fact he’s gone 40 back-to-back is pretty amazing. He fits in perfectly here. I think having that big bat that Khris brings helps guys like (Matt) Olson and (Matt) Chapman.”

So it’s clear the A’s value Davis, and that’s why he hasn’t been traded thus far, as many around the game speculated he might be this winter. But where do things go moving forward?

He’ll be eligible for arbitration one more time next winter before he’s able to test free agency heading into the 2020 season. If you’re an A’s fan, you know where this is going. If July hits and the A’s are floundering in the standings, Davis no doubt will be a trade candidate. He’d have appeal as a proven slugger who would remain under team control for 2019.

But Davis is a rare breed. He loves playing in Oakland and doesn’t hide that fact. The pitcher-friendly Coliseum has done nothing to suppress his power. In fact, he’s thrived. His 26 home runs at the Coliseum in 2017 fell one short of Jason Giambi’s Oakland record for homers by a home player.

It would seem he’d be open to a long-term extension, and the sides reportedly have held past discussions about one. The A’s have designs on signing some of their younger core players to extensions. But you’d have to rank it as a surprise were they to actually complete an extension with Davis, given the money he would command.

More than likely, Beane and his staff will evaluate the team through the first half of the upcoming season, weigh the pros and cons of dealing him, and if he stays, enter through this arbitration process again next winter, knowing that he’ll command even more bucks on another one-year deal.

An ‘X’ factor is how Davis adjusts to his shift from left field to designated hitter. He told NBC Sports California in November that he prefers the outfield but will fill whatever role is best for the team.

The feeling here is that he’ll put up the same numbers that fans have grown accustomed to, and the ball will be in the A’s court as to how long he remains in green and gold.