Casilla to report to A's on Sunday; Axford withdraws from WBC

Casilla to report to A's on Sunday; Axford withdraws from WBC

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s bullpen will finally be with its full cast by the end of the weekend.

Manager Bob Melvin announced that Santiago Casilla is scheduled to report Sunday after visa issues kept him in the Dominican Republic for the first 2 1/2 weeks of spring training. Also, John Axford has decided to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic.

As recently as Thursday, Axford talked with enthusiasm about playing for Team Canada for the second time, and the idea still appeals to him. But in addressing reporters Friday, Axford cited “personal and professional reasons” for his decision to back out. He didn’t get more specific than that, but said he’d been weighing for a while the pros and cons of leaving the A’s for what would have, at minimum, been about a week. He kept both Team Canada and the A’s fully informed as he was pondering his decision.

“Discussing it with (Team Canada), they were very open and happy I was talking to them about it, about my thoughts,” Axford said. “As it kept going, I think that’s what the fight has been for me. I have the Maple Leaf tattooed on my body. I’m very proud to be Canadian. I go back in the offseason, I still live in Canada … I loved putting on the uniform the last time I did. Hopefully what I can look forward to most is staying healthy and continuing my career and being able to do it again at some point in time.”

It seemed that by the time Casilla arrived, Axford would be gone to the WBC. So by Sunday, Oakland will have its full relief corps together. Lefty Sean Doolittle has yet to pitch in his first exhibition, but that time appears to be drawing close. Melvin said Friday morning that Ryan Madson was feeling better after he was scratched from pitching Thursday due to general arm soreness, as Melvin described it.

So of the five players on the A’s 40-man roster who were scheduled to play in the WBC, three backed out and another, starter Sonny Gray, was declared ineligible due to an insurance coverage issue. And now the possibility arises that Casilla, the final WBC participant, also won’t play due to his late reporting date. But Melvin said no decision will be made on that until Casilla arrives and meets with team officials.

“We’ve supported him as far as (playing in the WBC),” Melvin said. “Now, the timing has thrown a little bit of a wrench in it. But until he gets here and we talk about it, I think our stance remains the same.”

In other news, pitching coach Curt Young will be away from the team for several days after undergoing a surgery Friday to repair a disk in his neck.

A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason


A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason

The 2018 Winter Meetings were mostly uneventful, with just a handful of significant trades and free agent signings. But the players who did agree to contracts earned big money, signifying a hotter market than last year.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen inked a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies despite a modest 20 home runs and 65 RBI last season. Relievers Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly each got three-year contracts worth $30 million and $25 million, respectively.

The starting pitcher market, where the A's are most interested, appears to be especially strong. Patrick Corbin got a six-year contract worth a staggering $140 million from the Nationals. Nathan Eovaldi received four years and $67.5 million from the Red Sox, despite posting similar numbers to Trevor Cahill.

Even Tyson Ross earned $5.75 million from the Tigers following a season in which he recorded a 4.15 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, both significantly worse than Cahill and Edwin Jackson.

So what does all of that mean? Essentially, it suggests the A's will have to spend more money than they would like in order to be competitive in free agency.

Of course, in previous years, Billy Beane and David Forst have been successful finding diamonds in the rough for more affordable price tags. They say they will stick to their plan.

"We don't really get to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Forst said. "We kind of set our price. We know what we can do within the confines of our payroll and try to stay on that."

That might be a little more difficult this year, based on the early contract numbers in free agency. While the A's try not to let other teams' deals affect their negotiations, it's hard not to take notice.

"Any time a player comes off the market, whether it's a free agent or a trade, that's one fewer guy that you can put in place," Forst said. "So you kind of have to take that into account. We're not playing in a certain stratosphere with the starting pitcher market, so those don't really affect us, but you do have to keep it in mind. There are only so many guys out there." 

The A's typically prefer to wait until late in the offseason to find free agents who fit their price range. That tactic worked well last year with Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Lucroy. 

"We have sort of targeted conversations, free agents, and trades, and kind of go at our own pace," Forst said. "I don't know that any external forces are going to change that."

Oakland will have to hope a few quality free agents slip through the cracks again.

A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks


A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks

Matt Chapman had his second surgery of the offseason on Friday and underwent a successful procedure on his left shoulder, the A's announced. 

The Gold Glove-winning third baseman will begin physical therapy next week, and is expected to be able to swing a bat in six weeks, according to Dr. William Workman, who performed the surgery. Six weeks from the surgery is Jan. 25, 2019, or about two weeks before the start of spring training. 

Chapman recently felt discomfort in his shoulder during off-season workouts, according to the A's. In October, Chapman underwent surgery on his left thumb, and was expected to make a full recovery. 

Chapman emerged as one of the most important A's last season, and arguably the best defender in baseball. He led all of MLB with 29 defensive runs saved, and was voted the winner of the AL Platinum Glove. 

The A's need his glove -- and his bat -- healthy for spring training, no matter how the rest of the offseason shakes out.