Alonso fired up to get A's career started, put on white cleats


Alonso fired up to get A's career started, put on white cleats

Yonder Alonso brings some sharp defensive skills to the A’s, and no shortage of enthusiasm about his new team too.

That much was apparent as Alonso talked with reporters on a media conference call following Wednesday’s five-player trade that sent him from San Diego to Oakland. By then Alonso had talked with Padres general manager A.J. Preller, A’s manager Bob Melvin and an old college teammate -- current A’s third baseman Danny Valencia.

After Preller broke the news of the trade to him, Alonso said that “all I could think about was going to the Bay Area and playing in the Coliseum with the white unis and white cleats. We played them last year and I was impressed with the players they have. They’re a bunch of players that just grind, and that’s what kind of player I am.”

[RELATED: Winter Meetings deals likely as A's add Alonso, Rzepczynski]

Alonso’s strength undoubtedly is his slick glove, as his offensive numbers have not matched the hype that came with the Cincinnati Reds making him the No. 7 overall pick way back in the 2008 draft. He’s a .273 career hitter with an impressive career on-base percentage of .340, but he’s never hit more than nine homers in the majors or driven in more than 62 runs.

However, the A’s are high on the overall package he brings, offensively and defensively, and Alonso says his swing began regaining its form toward the end of this past season, after he was dealing with the effects of right wrist surgery late in 2014. He also missed the final few weeks of this season with a stress reaction in his back, but says he is healthy now.

One of the first people Alonso talked to after hearing about the trade was Valencia, a teammate when both anchored the middle of the lineup for the University of Miami. Alonso played first base and Valencia handled third. They also played travel ball together in high school.

“I talked to him earlier today, and he had nothing but great things to say about the team,” said Alonso, who turns 29 in April. “I just wish it was February so I could pack my bags and get ready for spring training.”

The A’s have shown interest in trading either Valencia or second baseman Brett Lawrie, but the way the roster is coming together, it’s easier to envision Lawrie being the one dealt. The A’s are looking to improve the clubhouse chemistry issues that were a factor last season. And though Valencia was viewed by some as perhaps being part of the problem in that area (the blame extends beyond one player), there’s no debate about how much Valencia’s bat helped the A’s toward the end of last season. And certainly it can’t hurt, from a chemistry standpoint, to bring in a player that Valencia has close ties with.

[RELATED: What they're saying: Alonso goes to Oakland, Pomeranz to San Diego]

As for Alonso, he believes his offensive approach meshes perfectly with the A’s.

“It fits into what I do,” he said. “I’m a consistent hitter. I’m a tough out, I also want to see pitches. I don’t want to strike out. I think that’s the worst thing you can do as a hitter. Just be a tough out, put the ball in play, hit it to the gaps.”

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal


Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

It's a busy time for Billy Beane and the A's. 

After being eliminated two consecutive seasons in the AL Wild Card Game, Beane and the A's front office are trying to improve a team that won 97 games last year and bridge the gap between them and the Houston Astros. 

The A's executive vice president of baseball operations spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview from the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday, opening up on a range of offseason storylines affecting the green and gold on -- and off -- the field. 

What’s next for Marcus Semien?

On a personal level, it makes all the sense in the world that the A’s want to keep their MVP-caliber shortstop, and that Marcus Semien would want to remain long-term with the MLB franchise right around the corner from where he was born and raised.

If only baseball were that simple.

“I think the first order of a business standpoint is getting through this arbitration season [in 2020],” Beane told NBC Sports California on Tuesday, indicating that a bigger picture agreement is not immediately right around the corner.

“Guys who have years like Marcus usually get significant raises, and that’s the anticipation we’re expecting for him through the arbitration process. Anything beyond that, we’d be better served at discussing after that one year is in place.”

Semien can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Houston’s scandal affecting the A’s

Insiders know MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains active and aggressive. Much as electronically stealing signs would have impacted the playoffs, it also would have greatly affected Oakland, who lost the AL West by six and 10 games, respectively, to the Astros in the last two seasons.

“If true, it certainly would have had a huge impact on us much as anybody,” Beane said.  “It would be extremely disappointing and you’d hope that Major League Baseball would do something to make sure that never happens again.”

Instead of projecting what punishment could rectify the situation, Beane was more introspective about allegations that span back to 2017.

“My first thought, if it did happen, is how good our guys are," Beane said. "When you think of winning 97 games back-to-back years, it’s a compliment to the guys in our room, and how good they are."

A’s biggest targets?

With the exception of roles to be won at second base and a backup catcher, most of the fielding positions seem to be spoken for in Oakland. Add in a historically promising starting rotation on paper, and what exactly are the A’s trying to accomplish before opening day?

“It’s obligatory to say that you’re looking for an extra bullpen arm, and that would probably be the case with us," Beane said.

The story of Oakland’s relief core was Jekyll and Hyde from 2018 to 2019: From one of the most dominant in the majors to last season, where Liam Hendriks unexpectedly became the team's All-Star closer after being designated for assignment in 2018.

“Bullpens, from year to year are probably the most volatile in terms of performance," Beane said. "Last year we struggled with it, and mainly was with the same cast of characters too. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out.”

While some additions are still necessary, Beane did note that the “makings of a good bullpen” are already in place.

[RELATED: A's stars Semien, Hendriks voted to All-MLB Second Team]

Can Khrush bounce back?

The stats were once scary-consistent for Khris Davis, who hit .247 in four straight seasons and eclipsed 40 homers from 2016 through 2018. But in 2019, the designated hitter's averaged dropped 27 points (.220) and he also hit 25 fewer homers (23). All of this in a year where he signed a big contract, and suffered an abnormal injury playing left field.

“Khris took it really personally too,” Beane said. “He’s got a lot of pride, you could tell it was really bothering him, he feels like it's his responsibility to hit 40 homers every year. And he had done that. For him to struggle last year, I think it kind of snowballed on him.”

It was difficult to know entirely whether Davis’ struggles were mostly physical, mental, or a combination of each. But the confidence is that a reset button will only help the slugger in 2020.

“The hope is, with a long offseason he’s able to forget it, and do what he usually does: hit .247 and hit 40 home runs,” Beane said. 

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team


A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team

The A's were well-represented on the inaugural All-MLB Team. 

Shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks made the second team, MLB announced Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. 

Semien and Hendriks broke out in big ways in 2019, earning their spots in the best seasons of their respective careers.

The shortstop played all 162 games, slashing a career-best .285/.369/.522 to go with 33 home runs and 92 RBI. Semien finished third in AL MVP voting behind Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2019 MVP. 

[RELATED: Why Melvin, A's aren't worried about competitors' moves]

Hendriks, meanwhile, emerged as a steadying force in the A's bullpen amid Blake Treinen's struggles. The Australian posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, both of which were career bests. He also recorded 25 saves and made his first career All-Star Game. 

The All-MLB Team was selected by fan voting (50 percent) and a panel of experts (50 percent).