Athletics

A's outlook: Options at second base 'a concern' for 2017 season

A's outlook: Options at second base 'a concern' for 2017 season

Among many questions Billy Beane addressed with reporters during the recent winter meetings, one in particular generated an honest and straightforward response from the A’s top baseball official.

It pertained to second base, and how that position sets up for Oakland in 2017.

“It’s a concern,” Beane said. “Long term, I think we feel like we have some options that probably aren’t quite ready yet. I think we prefer not to rush those options.”

The second base mystery revolves around the health of veteran Jed Lowrie, who is recovering from August surgery on his left foot to remedy a number of ailments, including ligament damage and a bunion on his big toe that sidelined him for the final two-plus months of 2016.

In his absence, Joey Wendle showed some promise at second during his first major league exposure in September. Chad Pinder, who also got his first taste of the bigs late in the season, returns to the picture as well. And it might just be that the A’s true long-term answer at second isn’t even playing there regularly yet.

Shortstop Franklin Barreto, Oakland’s top overall prospect, has logged some time on the right side of the bag in the minors and most recently in the Arizona Fall League. The 20-year-old Barreto figures to begin this season with Triple-A Nashville but will likely make his big league debut sometime in 2017.

Unlike center field — where the A’s lack both a short and long-term answer — team officials at least like their future options at second. The question is whether they seek immediate help via free agency or trade.

The Twins’ Brian Dozier is available but Minnesota is setting a high price for him and doesn’t necessarily have to unload him. Chase Utley, who makes the Bay Area his offseason home, is an intriguing name on the free agent front, though he’ll play this season at age 38.

STARRING CAST: All indications are that Lowrie, 32, is recovering well from foot surgery and that his timetable should have him ready for the start of spring training in February.

At full strength, Lowrie offers the A’s an experienced switch-hitter that manager Bob Melvin feels can bat anywhere in the order. But Lowrie also is three seasons removed from his last truly solid campaign — in 2013 he slashed .290/.344/.446 with 15 homers and 75 RBI for Oakland. His offensive production is key because Lowrie doesn’t offer great defensive range at second. The value comes with his bat.

“Jed certainly is an option,” Beane said. “We have to wait until he’s out there and playing and fully recovered from his surgery. … With guys who come off surgery, and when the timeline (to return) puts them right around spring training, if you bank on that you can find yourself in trouble.”

Keep that health factor in mind as you ponder whether the A’s could find a taker for Lowrie. It’s believed they’ve at least gauged trade interest for him this winter, though his physical status could make it tougher to pull off a deal. He’s in the final season of a three-year deal that will pay him $6.5 million in 2017. That’s not an outrageous amount, and Lowrie does offer the versatility to play shortstop or third if needed.

CAMP COMPETITION: Wendle hit .260 with a homer and 11 RBI in 28 games of his big league debut last season. Not eye-popping numbers, but he impressed those within the organization with his defense, an area in which he's improved by leaps and bounds since coming over from Cleveland in the Brandon Moss trade of December 2014. He also plays with a fire that the box score doesn’t account for. And if Wendle can improve his patience at the plate and work deeper into counts, the A’s could give him a longer look as their leadoff man.

Should the A’s not be convinced Lowrie is the everyday solution at second, Wendle and the right-handed hitting Pinder could form a second base platoon, though there’s not a guarantee that both (or either) even make the Opening Night roster.

Another prospect whose name is worth stashing away is Max Schrock, a non-roster invitee to spring training. Acquired from the Nationals for reliever Marc Rzepczynski and cash in August, the 22-year-old Schrock is a bat-first second baseman who has played as high as Double-A to this point.

PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether Wendle and Pinder get a look during the spring as true utility-type infielders. The A’s will need to identify a backup infielder. Pinder has experience playing second, short and third. And Wendle, though he’s primarily a second baseman, played a substantial amount of shortstop during winter ball in Mexico .

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

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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

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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