Kris Bryant

A.J. Puk's strikeout of Kris Bryant shows how special A's lefty can be

A.J. Puk's strikeout of Kris Bryant shows how special A's lefty can be

Allow A.J. Puk to reintroduce himself.

The A's young, hard-throwing left-hander made a cameo at the end of last season working out of the bullpen. He's expected to be a staple of the A's rotation this season, and he gave fans a glimpse of what makes him so special Saturday when he struck out Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant on three pitches to open the A's first spring training game. 

That last pitch made me feel things.

Puk, along with fellow southpaw youngster Jesus Luzardo, gives the A's rotation two potential aces in the making. During his one inning of work Saturday, Puk featured all four pitches in his arsenal -- four-seam fastball, changeup, slider, curveball -- and lit up the radar gun by touching 97 mph. 

But it was the punchout slider to Bryant that has people buzzing.

"First one of the year, it was a pretty good one to start out with. I was pretty happy with that," Puk said of the slider, via The Athletic's Alex Coffey.

[RELATED: Why A's no longer view Puk, Luzardo as prospects]

After coming off Tommy John surgery in 2018, Puk worked his way back to form last season before getting the call up to Oakland late in the year.

Now, he and Luzardo are ready to be the face of the A's rotation for years to come. If that slider to Bryant was any indication, the Green and Gold are in great hands.

Giants poised to take advantage with teams desperately shedding salary

Giants poised to take advantage with teams desperately shedding salary

SAN DIEGO -- There isn't actually a salary cap in baseball, but with teams acting like there is, Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have found an opportunity. 

The Giants traded for the remaining $12 million or so on Zack Cozart's contract on Tuesday afternoon and got rewarded with a prospect they thought about taking 10th overall in June. It was an interesting deal, the type you would normally see in the NBA, and Zaidi hinted that he could go back to that well. Asked if he had the financial flexibility to make another such deal, Zaidi nodded.

"Yeah, I don't think we're done," he said. "We're kind of weighing all kinds of different deals. We'll continue to evaluate those opportunities."

The Giants find themselves with this opportunity because, while there's no salary cap, teams will make poor baseball decisions to avoid the Competitive Balance Tax, which is at $208 million for the 2020 season. 

The Red Sox are eager to get under that line and have made big-money players available, potentially with a prospect or good young player being attached. There has been some industry speculation that they could pair 25-year-old outfielder Andrew Benintendi with a high-salaried starter, possibly David Price, who was Gabe Kapler's teammate in Tampa Bay.

The Cubs, Harris' old organization, are looking to cut back and reportedly have made former MVP Kris Bryant available. The Athletic reported Tuesday night that the Astros, looking to shed payroll, could trade Carlos Correa. The Yankees could attach prospects to some of their own veterans if they sign Gerrit Cole and want to clear payroll space.

This is still a relatively new concept for baseball, but it's not new to the Giants. They're just on the other side this time. Just 17 months ago, the Giants attached a prospect to Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin in a deal with the Rangers that was made in order to dip under the CBT line, which they went over the previous three seasons. 

There no longer are payroll concerns, and Zaidi entered the Winter Meetings with somewhere in the range of $70 million in space before hitting the line. Even after dishing out nearly $22 million Tuesday to take on Cozart and sign Kevin Gausman, the Giants still have plenty of flexibility, and they're doing exactly what they should with it.

[RELATED: Report: Giants 'likely' mystery team pursuing Gerrit Cole]

There aren't many teams, period, that have an ownership group willing to take on big deals. The Giants are one of them, and they also are in a position where they desperately need prospects and younger players. That has created a perfect storm. 

"There are clearly teams out there that are looking to create financial flexibility -- it's been a very active market -- and I think for us we're trying to balance our competitive aspirations in 2020 with some of our long-term goals," Zaidi said. "The fact that there are teams searching for financial flexibility, obviously we've created some of that, it gives us different options like we've been talking about. I think today is an example of the types of moves we can make with that."

Trout, Bryant win MVP Awards; four Giants receive votes


Trout, Bryant win MVP Awards; four Giants receive votes

CHICAGO -- While the Los Angeles Angels stumbled, Mike Trout soared again.

Just too good to ignore.

Trout won the AL MVP award Thursday for the second time in three years, and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was voted NL MVP in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Four San Francisco Giants received votes in the NL MVP race. Brandon Crawford finished 12th with 15 points, receiving one 6th-place vote, one 7th-place vote, one 8th-place vote, one 9th-place vote and one 10th-place vote. Buster Posey placed 14th with 11 points -- one 6th-place vote, one 7th-place vote and one 9th-place vote. Madison Bumgarner finished 16th with seven points -- one 5th-place vote and one 10th-place vote. And Johnny Cueto finished 27th with one point -- one 10th-place vote.

While the Angels finished fourth in the AL West, Trout was his usual brilliant self. The center fielder batted .315 with 29 homers, 100 RBIs and 30 steals. He scored 17 percent of Los Angeles' runs, the highest percentage for an AL player since Rickey Henderson with the 1985 New York Yankees.

Trout, who was a unanimous winner in 2014, had finished second in three of the past four years. He becomes the first MVP from a losing team since Alex Rodriguez for Texas in 2003 and just the fifth player ever to accomplish the feat, joining Hall of Famers Ernie Banks (1958 and 1959), Andre Dawson (1987) and Cal Ripken (1991).

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Trout said. "Just trying to get better every year."

Bryant hit .292 with 39 homers and 102 RBIs in just his second year in the majors, helping the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908. The No. 2 overall pick from the 2013 draft becomes just the sixth player to win rookie of the year and MVP in one or consecutive seasons.

"Kris is just an impressive young man in every aspect," Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. "(He) is very mature, professional, light-hearted, but serious at the same time. He's just kind of a dream player for any organization."

The Las Vegas native is the first NL MVP from the Cubs since Sammy Sosa in 1998 and the seventh overall for the once-forlorn franchise enjoying its best run in decades. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and right fielder Jason Heyward each won a Gold Glove, and Rizzo finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Manager Joe Maddon and pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester also were finalists for major awards this offseason.

Voting by BBWAA members was completed by the start of the playoffs.

Bryant was a runaway winner, grabbing 29 of 30 first-place votes and 415 points. Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who batted .347 for the NL East champions, was the runner-up with the other first-place vote and 245 points. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was third after he was the unanimous winner of the NL Rookie of the Year award on Monday.

Seager will look to follow in Bryant's footsteps next year.

Bryant was the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year after he hit .275 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs last season. Bryant joins Dustin Pedroia (2007-08), Ryan Howard (2005-06) and Cal Ripken (1982-83) as the only players to go Rookie of the Year-MVP in consecutive seasons. Ichiro Suzuki (2001) and Fred Lynn (1975) are the only players to win the awards in the same year.

Trout received 19 first-place votes and 356 points. Mookie Betts, who batted .318 with 31 homers, 113 RBIs and 26 steals in 158 games for the Boston Red Sox, was second with 311 points, and AL batting champion Jose Altuve of Houston was third. Retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz got one first-place vote finished sixth in his final year in the majors.

Associated Press contributed to this report