Athletics

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.”

A's Chris Bassitt, Austin Allen's quick bond creating success on mound

A's Chris Bassitt, Austin Allen's quick bond creating success on mound

Chris Bassitt’s stellar outing in the A's 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday almost wasn’t. But we’ll let the first inning be just a memory.

“I told myself after the first inning, I’m like ‘All right, you may be a little wild today, but don’t walk guys, make them earn everything,’ and it obviously smoothed itself out,” Bassitt told reporters in the postgame interview. 

Bassitt hit J.P. Crawford in the first with a curveball. After Dylan Moore hit into a fielder's choice and stole second, he came around to score on a single by Daniel Vogelbach.

Bassitt's performance more than smoothed itself out, and he had the help of rookie catcher Austin Allen in the process. In 5 2/3 innings, Bassitt allowed just one earned run, three hits and struck out seven. 

“Austin kind of guided me through the first inning and [got] going from there,” Bassitt said. “After the second inning, I just kind of felt myself out and I was kind of locked in from there on out." 

Allen came to the A's an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres for Jurickson Profar. And while he’s the new guy, Allen was able to form a bond with Bassitt quicker than usual. 

“Me and Austin spent a lot of time together over the last -- I would say two, three weeks just getting to know one another, talking about what I like, what I don’t like,” Bassitt said. “Obviously, a new catcher coming in, he’s got to learn basically me -- he’s got to learn who I am mentally, who I am physically, what I can and can’t do.

"I think we’re still learning each other, but at the same time, I think a lot more ahead of what we should be just because, again -- me and [Sean Murphy] are on the same page, and I think Austin’s done a great job of learning who I am.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

The fifth inning came fast, but before Bassitt was pulled, he wanted to make it count against Mariners rookie outfielder Kyle Lewis, who is hitting .425 with three home runs this season. 

Bassitt glanced over to the bullpen to see A’s reliever T.J. McFarland warming up, knowing Vogelbach was about to come to the plate. He had an internal message for Lewis. 

“All right, if you’re going to hit me, you’re going to hit my best pitch, so uh … here we go,” Bassitt explained. “So yeah, I knew that was my last batter.”

[RELATED: Luzardo to make first big-league start next week]

Bassitt struck Lewis out.

And Bassitt continues to improve.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said Bassitt was fantastic and “seems to get better every time out.”

A's takeaways: What you might have missed in 3-2 win over Mariners

A's takeaways: What you might have missed in 3-2 win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

Coming off an extra-innings win over the Mariners the night before, the A's backed that up with another 3-2 victory in Seattle on Sunday.

The A's bats were quiet until Ramón Laureano crushed a three-run home run in the top of the fifth to give Oakland a 3-1 lead. Matt Chapman also had his first hit of the series with a line-drive single to left field in the eighth.

On the mound opposing the A's was a familiar face in Kendall Graveman, whose velocity looked stellar with a four-seam fastball he worked on during quarantine. 

Here’s what you might have missed during Sunday’s game:

Still depending on homers?

Just a couple days ago, Laureano told reporters that those on the outside might be worried about the team’s offensive production, but that is definitely not the case for him. His fifth-inning homer was his second of the young season. 

This exit velocity on that homer actually clocked in at only 98.5 mph which is low for homers, but that’s Laureano for you.

On Saturday night, Chad Pinder hit a home run to tie the game which ultimately would help the A's pull out the win, but are these homers being depended on too much?

They’re also not all base-clearing home runs … minus, of course, Matt Olson’s walk-off slam on Opening Day, but that’s the consensus around the league it appears. This season, the A’s have left 12.62 runners on base per game, which believe it or not, isn’t even the top eight worst in the league, so it could be a blanketed situation.

Perhaps this homer dependability is a thing, but it doesn’t appear the team minds at the moment.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bassitt puts on a show

It was smooth sailing for Chris Bassitt, who made it through to 5 2/3 innings and threw 83 pitches. He allowed just one earned run on three hits, and struck out seven batters.

His flyball percentage has dropped drastically this season and that showed Sunday. Bassitt's curveball has lacked velocity, but is massive to add to his repertoire.

Heading into the season, Bassitt could have been pitched out of the rotation or the bullpen. With the delay of Jesus Luzardo’s arrival after he tested positive for coronavirus, and the setback from A.J. Puk, Bassitt easily worked his way into the starting rotation.

Last season, however, he made a great case for himself coming out of the bullpen when Blake Treinen struggled with a back injury.

"Hey, we know you."

Graveman, the former Opening Day starter for the A's, was impressive through the first four innings. Aside from his fastball, he also had a pretty impressive slider that he threw to Marcus Semien on a 3-0 count.

Gravemen spent four seasons with the A’s from 2015-18. He missed most of the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The 29-year-old went 4 2/3 innings and allowed three hits and two earned runs. Graveman struck out three and walked two A's batters. Graveman was originally supposed to be a big part of the A’s rotation in 2018, but that ultimately wasn’t the case.

[RELATED: Grossman details adjustment that changed his season]

It's been two years since Graveman pitched in the big leagues, and after a pitstop with the Chicago Cubs, he's found a new home in Seattle. So, despite him no longer wearing green and gold, it was good to see Graveman healthy and back on the mound again.