Sonny Gray brushes off false trade rumor as A's blank Indians

Sonny Gray brushes off false trade rumor as A's blank Indians

OAKLAND — A cell phone can be the worst enemy for a ballplayer trying to get in the competitive frame of mind before first pitch.

Sonny Gray had his next to him leading up to Friday night’s start.

He probably wishes he hadn’t.

Less than an hour before game time at the Coliseum, Gray’s phone lit up with text messages from friends and loved ones who saw a false tweet coming out of Chicago that the A’s right-hander had been scratched against the Cleveland Indians, leading to all kinds of speculation that a trade was in the works.

“It’s hard,” Gray said. “You get 50 text messages 45 minutes before the game, and that’s when you just try to put your phone away and go to a place where you can block everything out and get ready for the game. So that’s kind of what I tried to do.”

About the only place he’ll be able to escape those rumors is when he walks to the mound. Gray set the distractions aside Friday and provided yet another stellar effort, bottling up the Cleveland Indians over six innings in Oakland’s 5-0 victory coming out of the All-Star break.

Over the past four starts, Gray is 3-1 and has surrendered just four earned runs in 27 innings for a 1.33 ERA. If you throw out an abbreviated one-inning outing in Anaheim in September of last season, Friday marked Gray’s first scoreless start since Sept. 8, 2015 against Houston. But it’s merely an extension of the excellent form he’s shown lately.

The downside of that success — no starter in the majors has more speculation swirling around him as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

Gray has downplayed things after some previous starts when the trade topic has come up. On Friday night, he didn’t hide the fact that the bogus pregame report bothered him a bit.

But he says it never got to the point where he went and asked anyone A’s-affiliated if he indeed he had been scratched and didn’t know it.

“I mean, it would be nice to have (some clarity), I guess, but that’s not how it works,” Gray said.

He wasn’t the only Athletic trade target who stood out Friday. Yonder Alonso crushed his 21st home run. Relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson both continued to exhibit their sharp form.

Shopping season has begun for contending teams, and the A’s “For Sale” sign is up. But it will take a boatload in return for a team to land Gray. The A’s have some leverage — a starter who is still young (27) and under team control for two more seasons after this. And with the Cubs coughing up two prime-time prospects to the White Sox in a package to get Jose Quintana — a starter with similar value as Gray — the A’s asking price gets steeper.

Whether a team ponies up to meet their high demand is the key to whether the A’s pull the trigger. After stocking up on young pitchers over the past couple of years, indications are the A’s would now like to get their hands on young, impact position players.

And it makes sense they would want prospects who are major league ready now, or very close to it. The outfield remains an area that needs upgrading.

Until then, Gray will do his best to keep his cell phone out of sight and ignore the rumors. “It’s just one of those things that you have to deal with sometimes,” he said. “Whatever happens is gonna happen, and that’s out of my control.”

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach


A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

OAKLANDThe Oakland A’s named Matt Williams as third base coach on Bob Melvin’s coaching staff for the 2018 season, the club announced today.

Williams spent five seasons on the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff as first base coach (2010) and third base coach (2011-13, 16) and also managed the Washington Nationals for two seasons.  He was named National League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA in his first season as manager in 2014, guiding the Nationals to a 96-66 record and an NL East title.  He went 83-79 in 2015 for a 179-145 (.552) record in two seasons as manager.

Williams played 17 seasons in the majors with San Francisco (1987-96), Cleveland (1997) and Arizona (1998-2003).  He was a .268 career hitter with 378 home runs and 1218 RBI in 1866 games.  Williams was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

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Ryon Healy trade has domino effect


Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.