A's trade Danny Valencia to Mariners

A's trade Danny Valencia to Mariners

The A’s made their first significant deal of the offseason by trading Danny Valencia to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday for minor league right-hander Paul Blackburn.

The move hardly comes as a surprise as Valencia lost the starting third base job to Ryon Healy in July and didn’t appear to be in the team’s plans looking ahead to 2017. Blackburn, an East Bay native who attended Heritage High School in Brentwood, was a first-round supplemental pick (No. 56 overall) of the Cubs in 2012. He was shipped to Seattle in July as part of the deal that sent left-hander Mike Montgomery to the eventual World Series champs.

“They had expressed interest in Danny right after the season,” A’s general manager David Forst said of the Mariners. “We took some steps in adding to the pitching depth with (the players received in) the Reddick and Hill trade. But it’s clear we need to have a rotation in place we can build around to be competitive again.”

Valencia’s departure leaves the A’s without one of their most productive right-handed bats. He hit .287 with 17 homers (third on the club) and 51 RBI last season but also garnered negative headlines when he punched teammate Billy Butler in a clubhouse altercation, leaving Butler with a concussion. Butler eventually was released in September.

There were other occasional issues, including a lack of hustle at times, that didn’t always sit well with the A’s brass. But it’s worth noting that Valencia earned praise from manager Bob Melvin for the way he handled his July demotion and his willingness to play wherever needed on the diamond. Forst also had complimentary words Saturday for Valencia, who the A’s will now see in the opposing dugout often as he suits up for an American League West rival.

“He did a nice job in our lineup,” Forst said. “This was about an opportunity to get a young starting pitcher we really like. ... It's always nice to bring an East Bay product back home.”

Blackburn, who turns 23 next month, was rated the Cubs’ No. 19 prospect by Baseball America before the 2016 season began. He went 9-5 with a 3.27 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) at Double-A split between the Cubs’ and Mariners’ organizations. He’s started in 85 of his 90 professional games, and he features a fastball that touches 94 miles per hour to go with a curve and changeup, all of which are considered above-average pitches. His control is said to be a strength.

“It’s my second time being traded within five months, it’s just crazy,” Blackburn said. “Mid-November, that doesn’t cross your mind at all.”

Blackburn grew up a Giants fan but attended lots of games at the Coliseum as a youth. He said his phone rang non-stop Saturday as word spread the A’s had acquired him.

Blackburn was asked to describe his approach on the mound.

“I’m not gonna go out and try to strike a lot people out. That’s not who I am,” he said. “The goal is to see how many people I can get out on three pitches or less. A lot of good things happen when you keep the ball on the ground.”

Blackburn joins a stable of quality young starters the A’s have acquired over the last couple of years. Sean Manaea is locked into a rotation spot for next season and fellow rookie Jharel Cotton is a strong candidate as well for one of those five spots. Raul Alcantara and Daniel Mengden are among others who saw major league time last season, and Blackburn joins a group of highly regarded minor league arms that includes Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas, who both came over from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade deadline deal last summer.

But bolstering the outfield remains a top priority as the A’s need to acquire a center fielder and find someone for right field, where Valencia was an option. Mark Canha, who’s been working out at Cal, is coming along well after hip surgery and will factor into the equation.

“We need major league outfielders,” Forst said. “We have to be (open) to any means of acquiring, whether it’s free agents or trades. It’s certainly not our history to be aggressive at the top end of the free agent market, but we have money to spend and we have some good options. Mark Canha coming back will help fill this gap.”

Many reasons why Bob Melvin was right choice for AL Manager of the Year

Many reasons why Bob Melvin was right choice for AL Manager of the Year

Bob Melvin is Manager of the Year in the American League. Not only recognized by The Sporting News a few weeks back, but now, on the grandest stage by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Melvin clearly deserves this honor on his own merits, but it’s even more impressive that he won what could have been a popularity contest. Considering Alex Cora and the season had by his Boston Red Sox. Or Aaron Boone with the Yankees, who wasn’t even named as a finalist. Both of those first-year skippers run huge payroll teams in huge media markets, and obviously lived up to some expectations.

But for Melvin, he took an emerging 2017 A’s group and raised the bar by 22 wins. That was despite enduring a completely broken-down starting rotation and a franchise that began Opening Day with the lowest payroll in all of baseball.

For reference: No team in the last 30 years of Major League Baseball has started the first game with the lowest payroll and gone on to the playoffs. Until the A's did in 2018.

Knowing some of the inner workings of this team without giving too much away, I can tell you that Melvin has a tremendous grasp on his club, both when they are surging and when they are struggling.

After Melvin won this award, analysts will try to point to tangible things such as in-game decision-making when it comes to quantifying how he managed his group so well. And yes, the A's did lead all of baseball in one-run wins.  

But for me, it’s all that you can’t see that makes Melvin the runaway winner for Manager of the Year.

For example, he facilitated the transition of one-time left fielder Khris Davis into an everyday designated hitter, and saw him hit more homers than ever.

Melvin guided Jed Lowrie through a career season where trade talks and the potential of a young prospect taking over at any minute could not have been higher.

Melvin established a back-end of the bullpen that fashioned Lou Trevino and Blake Trienen into one of the best setup/closer tandems in the game.

And last but not least, Melvin helped evolve players like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman during their first full MLB seasons into bonafide leaders on and off the field.

In short, the A’s are lucky to have Bob Melvin in the dugout. And even luckier that his recent contract extension will keep the Bay Area native at the helm for multiple years past the 2019 season.

A's Bob Melvin stays humble after winning AL Manager of the Year Award

A's Bob Melvin stays humble after winning AL Manager of the Year Award

Winning Manager of the Year honors isn't something Bob Melvin is a stranger to -- he's done it three times.

On Tuesday, the BBWAA announced the 57-year-old would take home the American League award after the Oakland A's finished a 2018 campaign that boasted a 97-65 record with an appearance in the AL Wild Card Game.

Despite being accustomed to the congratulatory wishes, Bo Mel remained humble.

"I said earlier -- it just means I've been around for a while, and I'm getting older to be able to be in a position to get it a third time, but it always feels good," Melvin said on NBC Sports Bay Area's "The Happy Hour," with a smile. "It's always a group effort -- our team this year was incredible."

The A's improved by 22 games from last season, and Melvin made sure credit was served to everyone, from the front office to coaches and, of course, the players.

"We are starting to see the fruits of some of these great trades that were made over the years," Melvin said.

And as far as the low payroll the A's are synonymous with -- don't worry. He addressed that as well.

"To be able to succeed with as low as a payroll as we had just means you have young players who are going to play really well -- and we did," Melvin said with a laugh.

He's not wrong.

Second baseman Jed Lowrie and closer Blake Treinen earned All-Star selections in 2018, and first baseman Matt Olson took home a Gold Glove Award and Matt Chapman earned a Platinum Glove Award for his defensive capabilities on the hot corner.

"To be able to do what they did and look at the Khris Davises and Marcus Semiens and Jed Lowries -- everyone on our team contributed," Melvin said.

Melvin earned 18 first-place votes from the BBWAA, beating out World Series champion manager Alex Cora, who came in second, by 11.