Athletics

Despite A's picking up Lowrie's option, Barreto's time draws near

franklin-us.jpg
USATSI

Despite A's picking up Lowrie's option, Barreto's time draws near

The A’s followed through with exercising their $6 million club option Thursday on Jed Lowrie, ensuring the veteran returns as their second baseman to begin 2018.

However, you can’t really discuss Lowrie’s situation without addressing that of a much younger middle infielder.

Lowrie’s return means Franklin Barreto, Oakland’s top prospect, will begin next season at Triple-A Nashville. That’s probably in the best interests of Barreto, who will turn just 22 in February and could use a bit more seasoning.

But given the youthful direction this team has taken, it only makes sense that Barreto joins the A’s other young foundation pieces sooner rather than later in the majors. And it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles both Lowrie and Barreto in 2018. Their futures are intertwined.

Though Barreto has received equal time at shortstop and second base in the minors, the view from those around the game is that he’s best suited for second. That remains Lowrie’s territory, and after a healthy 2017 season in which he hit .277 with 14 homers, 69 RBI and set an Oakland record with 49 doubles, it’s easy to see why the A’s wanted the 33-year-old switch hitter back.

In a lineup that features many similar-style hitters — lots of homers, lots of strikeouts — Lowrie stands out as a veteran who knows how to handle the bat and deliver whatever the situation calls for. With better health than in past seasons, he also showed better range defensively.

And there’s a role for him in this young clubhouse. A particular snapshot stands out from late July: Lowrie and rookie third baseman Matt Chapman standing in the hallway of the visitors’ clubhouse at AT&T Park, mimicking batting stances and talking hitting.

This all sets up as a delicate situation for the A’s, who fully recognize Barreto’s talent but don’t want to just hand him a big league starting spot, particularly if it means unseating a respected veteran. Billy Beane, the A’s top baseball executive, addressed the topic in early October.

“I want a young player to sort of push, where his performance is so good that he sort of pushes himself in,” Beane said. “But Jed Lowrie had an absolutely amazing year, one of the best years probably this side of (Jose) Altuve, as good as any second baseman in baseball this year.”

The A’s are probably a year or two away from competing for the postseason. They watched other young players such as Chapman, Matt Olson and Chad Pinder emerge in 2017 when given a chance to play regularly. The big picture points to Barreto taking over second base the instant he shows he’s ready.

No doubt, that time probably isn’t Opening Day 2018. Barreto hit .197 in 25 games last season in his major league debut, striking out 33 times in 76 plate appearances. He also piled up 141 strikeouts last season at Triple-A, though that was accompanied by a .290 batting average, a solid .339 on-base percentage and 15 homers.

Confidence won’t be a problem. Barreto homered in his very first big league game and delivered a walk-off blast against the White Sox on the Fourth of July. There will be bumps in the road, but the A’s, at this stage, can afford to let young players stumble and learn while in the big leagues.

Which takes us back to Lowrie. The A’s have flexibility even after picking up his option. He’ll begin 2018 manning second base and the A’s can monitor Barreto’s progress. When they feel their top prospect is ready, Lowrie becomes an excellent trade chip as a productive veteran on a reasonably affordable $6 million salary.

It’ll be worth keeping an eye on both players as next season unfolds. The play of one can’t help but influence the future of the other.

***

The A's announced Mark Kotsay will serve as a major league quality control coach next season, assisting the coaching staff and consulting with the front office. Kotsay began last season as Oakland's bench coach but took a leave of absence in June for family reasons. 

Maxwell speaks about anthem protest, but stays mum on legal issues

maxwell.jpg
USATSI

Maxwell speaks about anthem protest, but stays mum on legal issues

When A's catcher Bruce Maxwell knelt during the anthem last season, he was the first MLB player to do so. He knelt before each of each of Oakland's final nine games, in order to protest racial inequality and in response to President Trump's incendiary comments about NFL players kneeling, but ended the season as the only MLB player to kneel during the anthem. 

This season, he won't kneel at all, he told reporters in a statement on the first day of spring training. 

“Obviously, I didn’t take that lightly,” Maxwell told the San Francisco Chronicle prior to the release of his statement.  “That was to bring awareness to a problem and the face we do see it, we do experience and we have empathy for what’s going on. This year I don’t plan on kneeling. … And we’ll move on forward.”

While Maxwell did address his protest during the anthem, he largely did not address his offseason legal issues.

“It’s ongoing, I can’t really discuss details,” he said. “It’s something me and my lawyers are handling.”

On Oct. 28, Maxwell was arrested in Scottsdale after allegedly pointing a gun at a food-delivery person. He pleaded not guilty to felony charges of aggravated assault and disorderly conduct in November, and is set for a settlement conference on April 13 after failing to reach a plea agreement on Monday, according to the Chronicle. 

If an agreement cannot be reached, Maxwell's trial is set to begin on Aug. 9. 

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson traded to... the Yankees

russell-us.jpg
USATSI

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson traded to... the Yankees

The New York Yankees Wednesday announced that they have acquired infielder Russell Wilson from the Texas Rangers in exchange for future considerations.

Wilson, 29, led the Seattle Seahawks to the 2014 Super Bowl championship, defeating the Denver Broncos, 43-8. At age 25, Wilson became the third-youngest quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory.

He has played the past six seasons (2012-17) with Seattle. A four-time Pro-Bowler, Wilson has completed 1,815-of-2,834 pass attempts (64.0 percent) for 22,176 yards and 161 touchdowns. He has compiled a career starting record of 65-30-1. In 2017, Wilson led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes.

"We've admired Russell's career from afar for quite some time," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. "This is a unique opportunity for us to learn from an extraordinary athlete who has reached the pinnacle of his profession. 

"After talking to a number of our players, there is a genuine excitement in having Russell join us for a short time in camp. We are all looking forward to gaining insight into how he leads teammates toward a common goal, prepares on a daily basis for the rigors of his sport, and navigates the successes and failures of a season."

The Richmond, Va., native was originally selected by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and was acquired by Texas in the minor league phase of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft. In 2014 and '15, Wilson participated in team workouts at Rangers spring training camp.

In 93 career minor league games between Rookie-level Tri-City (2010) and Single-A Asheville (2011) in Colorado's system, Wilson hit .229/.354/.356 (72-for-315) with 58R, 9 doubles, 8 triples, 5HR, 26RBI and 19SB. In his last 15 games with Asheville in 2011, Wilson hit .302 (16-for-53) with 13R, 5 extra-base hits, 9RBI and 5SB.

A two-sport athlete in college, Wilson graduated from North Carolina State University in 2010. Using his last year of amateur eligibility, Wilson enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and quarterbacked the Badgers to a co-Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl appearance following the 2011 season. 

Wilson is expected to be in Major League camp in March. While he is in Tampa, Wilson will participate in pregame workouts with the club and watch games from the Yankees' dugout.

He will be assigned to the Double-A Trenton roster.

Yankees media services