Athletics

A's spring training Day 41: Maxwell's two-HR day can't stave off bad news

A's spring training Day 41: Maxwell's two-HR day can't stave off bad news

PHOENIX — Bruce Maxwell homered twice against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, and his reward was a demotion to the minors.

Awkward timing, for sure. But the news itself wasn’t much of a shock to the A’s catcher, who knew he was the odd man out in a three-man roster battle. The A’s like the left-right platoon behind the plate. Stephen Vogt, who like Maxwell hits left-handed, wasn’t going anywhere. Josh Phegley is back healthy after knee surgery and has the advantage of being a right-handed hitter.

“I mean, I could have come out here and hit 1.000 and I probably still would have been in the same situation,” Maxwell said. “I can’t really do much about it. I try not to worry about it. At the end of the day everybody wants to play in the big leagues, but if the opportunity is not there you can’t stress about it.”

Manager Bob Melvin gave Maxwell the news in the dugout after he exited Oakland’s 11-1 victory, and Melvin certainly couldn’t give Maxwell a justifiable reason for the demotion except that the roster math doesn’t add up.

“Great day to have to do that,” Melvin said sarcastically. “But, he’ll be here at some point. We saw his progression last year, he did a great job for us. There’s nothing he did to suggest he needed to be sent down. It’s just a numbers game for him right now.”

The A’s batted around in a five-run third, knocking Brewers starter Matt Garza from the game after he recorded just seven outs. They tacked on four more in the fourth, with Maxwell going deep to left-center for a two-run homer off Jhan Marinez. In the sixth, he hit a solo shot off Corey Knebel to right-center and also added a run-scoring single to complete his four-RBI day.

Melvin has spoken often of the improving power shown by the 26-year-old Maxwell, who hit .283 with a homer and 14 RBI in 33 games with Oakland last season in his first major league call-up.

“If you look at the power numbers over the years, he’s getting better and better,” Melvin said. “He’s got the chance to be a 20-home run guy in the big leagues.”

NOTEWORTHY: Jharel Cotton held Milwaukee to just a run on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. He bounced back from a wobbly start against Seattle in which he walked five. On Sunday, his toughest challenge was staying loose as the A’s offense put up two time-consuming rallies. Twice, Cotton had to play catch while his teammates paraded around the bases.

But it sure didn’t affect him, as he struck out seven and walked one in his second-to-last spring training start.

“This one, I was more on the attack, using my fastball more so I can set up my changeup and off-speed pitches,” Cotton said. “I know everybody raves about the changeup, but I need my fastball to be there so I can throw that pitch off the fastball.”

He had an entertaining ongoing battle with six-time All-Star Ryan Braun. He struck out Braun on a cutter in the first, gave up a homer to left in the fourth, then battled back from a 3-0 count to get Braun swinging through a fastball in the sixth.

“I got him twice, he got me once,” Cotton said. “I think I won that battle today.”

HEALTH UPDATE: Daniel Mengden, who has missed all of spring with a broken right foot, is scheduled to get his walking boot removed Monday. Mengden said he’ll stay in Arizona for anywhere from two to four weeks, taking part in extended spring training. The good news for the right-hander: He’s been able to play catch while wearing the boot, so that’s a bit of a head-start for him once he gets full mobility with his foot. There’s no timetable yet for his return.

ODDS AND ENDS: The A’s knocked out 16 hits and recorded double-digit runs for the fifth time this spring. They improved to 16-12. … Alejandro De Aza, fighting for an outfield roster spot, went 2-for-3 with an RBI to raise his average to .300. … With few regulars making the trip to Maryvale Baseball Park, second baseman Max Schrock came over from minor league camp and once again made an impact, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI. … John Axford threw a scoreless inning of relief. Frankie Montas handled the final two innings, allowing one hit with two strikeouts and a walk. The hard-throwing prospect is a candidate for the bullpen as a multi-inning guy.

Build an A's roster for less than Bryce Harper's projected 2019 salary

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NBC Sports Bay Area

Build an A's roster for less than Bryce Harper's projected 2019 salary

No one knows where Bryce Harper will end up next season, but one thing is for sure: He'll get paid. A lot. And that's an understatement.

Many have speculated Harper could sign for as much as $400 million over 10 years, translating to a whopping $40 million per season. By comparison, the A's entered 2018 with a $63 million payroll. For the entire team!

Just for fun, here's a breakdown of Oakland's starting lineup last season, with their combined salaries, courtesy of Spotrac.com:

Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy ($6.5 million)
First base: Matt Olson ($547,500)
Second base: Jed Lowrie ($6 million)
Shortstop: Marcus Semien ($3.125 million)
Third base: Matt Chapman ($547,500)
Left field: Nick Martini ($240,260)
Center field: Ramón Laureano ($172,870)
Right field: Stephen Piscotty ($1,333,333)
DH: Khris Davis ($10.5 million)
Starting pitcher: Sean Manaea ($550,000)

Total: $29,516,463

That's the A's entire starting lineup, plus their ace, for more than $10 million less than Harper's projected $40 million per season.

Let's keep going. Here are some other players you could add to an A's roster and still remain below $40 million:

Blake Treinen ($2.15 million)
Edwin Jackson ($1.5 million)
Trevor Cahill ($1.5 million)
Brett Anderson ($1.5 million)
Ryan Buchter ($555,000)
Chad Pinder ($550,000)
Mark Canha ($518,144)
Lou Trivino ($474,660)
Daniel Mengden ($418,048)
Dustin Fowler ($341,504)
Franklin Barreto ($263,700)
Frankie Montas ($208,030)
Chris Bassitt ($167,010)
J.B. Wendelken ($164,080)
Beau Taylor ($87,900)

Total: $39,914,539

To recap, that's an entire 25-man roster for less than the $40 million that Bryce Harper could earn next season:

Starting pitchers: Sean Manaea, Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Daniel Mengden
Relief pitchers: Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, Ryan Buchter, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt
Catchers: Jonathan Lucroy, Beau Taylor
Infielders: Matt Olson, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto
Outfielders: Stephen Piscotty,  Ramón Laureano, Nick Martini, Mark Canha, Chad Pinder, Dustin Fowler
DH: Khris Davis

Unless  Harper can play every position simultaneously, à la Bugs Bunny, the A's appear to have the edge.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper

World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on bright future

MLB rumors: A's called CC Sabathia, could target Sonny Gray for pitching

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USATSI

MLB rumors: A's called CC Sabathia, could target Sonny Gray for pitching

The A's are desperate for help in their starting rotation headed into MLB free agency, and they reportedly tried to turn to a hometown kid to get some.

Oakland called Vallejo native CC Sabathia before he re-signed with the New York Yankees on a one-year, $8 million contract, according to FanCred's Jon Heyman. With Sabathia off the market, Heyman wrote that the A's are prepared to turn to another Yankee with Oakland ties: Sonny Gray.

Last month, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team entered the offseason "open-minded to a relocation" of Gray. The Yankees acquired Gray from the A's ahead of the trade deadline in 2017, in exchange for a package centered around outfielder Dustin Fowler and infielder Jorge Mateo.

Gray, 29, said playing for the Yankees was his dream, but the past year-and-a-half has been anything but that. In 41 appearances with New York, Gray is 15-16 with a 4.51 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Gray particularly struggled at Yankee Stadium after the trade, posting a 6.55 ERA in 88 innings. In 107.2 innings away from Yankee Stadium, Gray posted a 2.84 ERA with the Bronx Bombers.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is much friendlier to pitchers than Yankee Stadium is, as Gray can attest from his successful A's stint from 2013 to 2017. Considering that success (44-36 with a 3.42 ERA in 114 games) and how thin Oakland's rotation was down the stretch after a litany of injuries, it's easy to see why the A's might want to turn to a familiar face.

[ROSS: What A's can learn from previous MLB free agency bargains]

[SOURCE: A's hope to re-sign starting pitcher Edwin Jackson; four MLB teams also interested]