Athletics

Suzuki's reign as A's catcher over, Norris is here to play

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Suzuki's reign as A's catcher over, Norris is here to play

OAKLAND -- Kurt Suzuki has been the A's everyday catcher since he took over for Jason Kendall in 2007. A roster move early Thursday morning introduced the man who's supposed to supplant Suzuki down the road and usher in the next era of A's baseball. Meet 23-year-old prospect Derek Norris.

The move to bring up Norris came earlier than anticipated for Oakland, but as manager Bob Melvin explained, "This is our best option."

Norris said he was a bit overwhelmed with all the action in the clubhouse, but Melvin doesn't think it will affect his young backstop.

"It's about accepting yourself as a big leaguer and knowing you belong," Melvin said. "I don't think there's any fear in him in coming to the big league level."

Melvin described Norris as a tough kid who handled everything they threw at him in spring training, both literally and figuratively.

He'll be tested immediately Thursday, as he was introduced to his first MLB battery mate Travis Blackley hours before receiving live pitches from him.

Norris, Blackley and pitching coach Curt Young congregated in the A's clubhouse for nearly a half hour, establishing the gameplan as the A's look for their second sweep in the last three series.

Yes, Norris is starting Thursday, but don't think this is the end of Kurt Suzuki in Oakland. He'll be back behind the dish to receive Jarrod Parker in the A's opener against the San Francisco Giants Friday.

"There both going to get plenty of action," Melvin said. "We feel like we have a good tandem." Melvin would not admit he was establishing a platoon, only that Norris is "here to play."

Unsolicited, Melvin related the plan to 2007, when Jason Kendall was traded to the Cubs (for LHP Jerry Blevins) to make room for Suzuki as the starter.

"This is about them coexisting," Melvin said. "The guy who's your catcher at the present and the guy that's potentially the catcher of your future. It's different."

Melvin said he spoke with Suzuki before making the move, and the veteran is at peace with the plan.

"We talked a lot in spring training," Suzuki said. "He's a great guy. I'm here for whatever he needs. He understands I'm not going to hold his hand, but I'm here to help him. I want to help him."

Suzuki's help will go a long way, especially defensively. Suzuki has established himself in MLB as one of the top staff handlers, evidenced by the cavalcade of young promising pitchers that made their bones in Oakland.

"Kurt's about winning, and he's about the Oakland A's winning." Melvin said. "If this makes us better, he's all for it."

Suzuki is having a down year at the plate, and Melvin cited his heavy workload and an early-season injury to his catching hand as potential reasons.

Suzuki, 28, has played in 60 of the 69 A's games this season. He's batting .215, forty points off his career mark of .255, and he is yet to hit his first home run.

Melvin acknowledged that the left hand injury Suzuki suffered earlier this season -- he was drilled in the back of the left hand by a Daniel Bard fastball and a few days later took a Jose Bautista backswing off the same spot -- may have played a part in Suzuki's down numbers.

"As long as there's not a bone sticking out, he feels he can play," Melvin said. "As durable a catcher as there is in the league."

But durability does not always translate to productivity. And the A's desperately need productivity from the catching position. A's catchers are batting .201 this season and they have not taken one ball deep yet, forcing the front office hand in fast-tracking Norris to the bigs.

As Melvin reiterated again at the end of his pregame media conference: "This is our best option."

Norris, who was lauded as an offensive catcher, can make it a pretty good option if he emulates Suzuki's 2007 campaign. Suzuki hit .249 with seven home runs in 68 games, sending the message that Kendall was expendable.

A's fans will watch intently as Norris takes his first MLB at-bats Thursday. Though no one will admit it, they'll go a long way in determining the future of his newest mentor, Kurt Suzuki.

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.