With division rivals dominating rumor mill, how will A's respond?

With division rivals dominating rumor mill, how will A's respond?

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As you ponder what moves the A’s might make in the near future, keep an eye on what’s taking place with the teams they’re trying to chase down in the American League West.

The Astros and Rangers, who look like the division’s top two teams on paper, are in the thick of some of the juiciest rumors circulating on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings.

Houston already has made several impact additions this offseason, including signing former Athletic Josh Reddick to a four-year $52 million contract. The Astros, coming off a disappointing third-place finish in 2016, have also traded for catcher Brian McCann and signed outfielders Carlos Beltran and Nori Aoki, plus right-hander Charlie Morton to fortify their rotation.

Now the Astros are on the hunt for a top-flight starter to complement 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Reportedly they are a major player to land White Sox ace Chris Sale — destined to be the most talked-about name throughout these meetings — but it’s believed Houston doesn’t want to part with young infielder Alex Bregman, which might thwart a trade for the big lefty.

The Rangers, two-time defending AL West champs, also are looking for an ace-type addition to their starting staff with the possibility that Yu Darvish could leave as a free agent following this season. But Texas also has been linked to free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion, and gets mentioned in trade rumors involving outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Billy Hamilton.

It’s no wonder the Rangers are on the lookout for hitters — they’ve already lost Beltran to free agency and could watch fellow outfielders Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez and first baseman Mitch Moreland walk as well. One way or another, expect Texas’ roster to look drastically different in 2017.

The Seattle Mariners, who made a 10-win improvement last season over 2015, are very much in the market for a rotation upgrade of their own, and they’ve been aggressive with offseason moves under general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Don’t forget about the Angels, who are searching far and wide for a second baseman. If Los Angeles gets better health from its starting rotation this season, that alone could make the Angels more of a division threat.

How does all of this pertain to the A’s?

It demonstrates that climbing the ladder in the AL West won’t be an easy task for a club coming off consecutive seasons in the cellar. The teams expected to fight atop the division are aggressively trying to get better. And surely A’s officials take notice as they weigh whether to make significant moves to improve for 2017 or take a step back, evaluate more of their young talent in the upcoming season and lay groundwork for the future.

To that end, right-hander Sonny Gray’s name figures to surface throughout the four-day winter meetings, taking place just outside the nation’s capital.

The Atlanta Braves, an up-and-coming team that’s been linked to Sale and other top pitchers, have interest in Gray. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the Braves and A’s discussed Gray but that Atlanta found the A’s asking price too extravagant, even though it didn’t include stud shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson.

The Braves do have some talented young center fielders — Ender Inciarte and Mallex Smith among them — and given the A’s great need at that position, it stands to reason at least one of those players would surface in talks between the clubs. Whether the Braves would part with either is another question.

Report: Pursued by A's, Kurt Suzuki agrees to deal with Nationals


Report: Pursued by A's, Kurt Suzuki agrees to deal with Nationals

It appears the original report on former A's catcher Kurt Suzuki possibly making a return will not come to fruition. 

According to executive reporter Mark Feinsand, the 12-year veteran catcher has agreed to a two-year deal with the Nationals:

The details of the deal, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, includes two years, $10 million. $4 million in 2019, $6 million in 2020. 

Suzuki spent two seasons with the Nats where he slashed .239/.297/.344 with eight home runs and 50 RBI in 122 games. He was acquired from the A's to Washington in 2012. 

The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser originally reported the 35-year-old was approached by the A's about a possible one-year deal next season after he was granted free agency recently. 

A's free agent signing anniversary: Designated hitter Billy Butler


A's free agent signing anniversary: Designated hitter Billy Butler

On this date four years ago, the A's signed free agent designated hitter Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million contract.

Butler, who was 28 at the time, had spent his first eight MLB seasons with the Kansas City Royals. His best season came in 2012 when he slashed .313/.373/.510 with a career-high 29 home runs and 107 RBI. He was named an All-Star and won a Silver Slugger.

However, Butler's production did not carry over to Oakland. In 2015, he slashed a career-worst .251/.323/.390 with 15 homers and 65 RBI.

The following season, Butler was involved in the now infamous clubhouse fight with teammate Danny Valencia, sustaining a concussion. The A's would release Butler less than a month later.

[RELATED: A's relsease Billy Butler]

It's safe to say the Butler signing did not work out for Oakland, both on and off the field. While it seemed like a reasonable contract at the time, Butler failed to live up to it in his two seasons with the A's.

The biggest takeaway from the signing has to be the importance of character and personality when it comes to clubhouse chemistry. It's actually quite remarkable that the A's went from literally fighting in the clubhouse to having one of the most cohesive groups in the league in a span of just two years.

When it comes to this offseason, Billy Beane, David Forst, and Bob Melvin understand the significance of the team's chemistry and will be careful not to upset it. Talent and production will certainly factor into their decisions, but so will character.

It's also important to note that offensive production doesn't always carry over between home ballparks. The Coliseum can be a nightmare for power hitters and Butler could never wake up.

Of course, the A's figure to focus primarily on pitching this offseason, which could have the opposite effect. Pitchers who have struggled in other ballparks often find success at the Coliseum (see: Trevor Cahill). That should work in the A's favor.

As for Butler, 2016 marks the last time he played in the majors. Following his release from Oakland, he signed with the Yankees but only played in 12 games. Unfortunately, he will always be remembered for that one clubhouse incident in Oakland.