Athletics

Cespedes is back in the lineup, again

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Cespedes is back in the lineup, again

OAKLAND -- Yoenis Cespedes is back in the A's lineup. He returns to his customary spot in the order -- batting clean up -- but he is in unfamiliar territory as the designated hitter. The Cuban-born slugger has never started a game as the DH.Cespedes, 26, has missed nine games with a strained left hamstring, avoiding a trip to the disabled list. His last start came last Wednesday in Colorado, but he left the game after just one at-bat, when he re-aggravated the injury trying to leg out an infield single. He also missed 22 games with a left hand injury. Cespedes is a key component to the A's lineup. When he plays the A's are 20-16. Without him they are 12-20. He is batting .273 with six home runs and 26 RBIs. The right-handed power-hitter has a knack for hitting home runs at the most opportune times. Five of his six homers have come with runners on base, and three of them were hit in the seventh inning or later. Rest doesn't seem to effect Cespedes adversely. He hit .385 (10 for 26) with three doubles, one triple, one home run and five RBIs in the eight starts that followed his trip to the DL after his hand injury. During that span, he collected a hit in six-straight plate appearances, snapping the streak on the play that re-aggravated his hamstring injury. Look for the A's to try and get Cespedes back into the outfield soon. Using him as the DH has its positives, but it also has some negatives. In the outfield he can keep his recently recovered hamstring loose by running. As DH, he will have to be careful not to let his leg muscles cool down before sprinting out on the basepaths.

With Yankees on the prowl, error costs Sonny Gray in loss to Blue Jays

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USATSI

With Yankees on the prowl, error costs Sonny Gray in loss to Blue Jays

BOX SCORE

Sonny Gray walked off the mound after a scoreless bottom of the sixth Tuesday in Toronto.

Was it the last inning he’ll pitch in green and gold?

That’s the dominant storyline around the A’s right now, especially in light of Tuesday afternoon’s revelation that the Yankees are making a run at acquiring both Gray and first baseman Yonder Alonso from Oakland in a package deal.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported multiple sources as saying the teams were “making progress” on a deal that would send both players to the Big Apple.

The A’s have been scouting the Yankees’ farm system recently, along with the systems of other contending teams who are considering Gray. The speculation surrounding Alonso, a free agent this winter, has been light in recent weeks except for the Yankees’ known interest. But after New York acquired corner infielder Todd Frazier from the White Sox last week, it seemed the Yankees’ need for Alonso might have lessened. Apparently, that’s not the case.

Gray struck out nine over six innings in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays, which leaves the A’s 1-4 so far on this seven-game road trip. All four runs off him came in the second, when his own throwing error toward second base helped open the gates to the only rally Toronto needed. Ryan Goins had a two-out two-run double and Jose Bautista also doubled home a run in the inning, with all four runs off Gray unearned.

MLB.com also reported earlier Tuesday that the A’s had a particular interest in Yankees Single-A center fielder Estevan Florial, and that infielder/outfielder Jorge Mateo, ranked New York’s fourth-best prospect by Baseball America before the season, could also enter the equation. That same report mentioned that such elite Yankee prospects as shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielder Clint Frazier and pitchers Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield would be all but untouchable. All are among New York’s top-10 prospects.

But for a deal that includes both Gray and Alonso, it stands to reason the A’s could ask for the inclusion of one or more of those four in a deal.

The Yankees aren’t the only team that has an enticing pool of prospects that could make for a match with Oakland. Houston, known to be going after a starter, has multiple outfielders who could be attractive to the A’s. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are among other teams in search of pitching who could put together competitive offers.

Gray’s next scheduled start would come Sunday at home against the Minnesota Twins, one day before the non-waiver trade deadline.

Decision time for A's: Trade Sonny Gray now or later?

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AP

Decision time for A's: Trade Sonny Gray now or later?

As Sonny Gray prepares to take the mound against Toronto on Tuesday night, there’s not a hotter name in the rumor mill as the major leagues’ non-waiver trade deadline approaches Monday.

Yet there’s a contradiction attached to the A’s right-hander. He is simultaneously the likeliest Athletic to be traded, and the toughest to pry away simply because of what the team will demand in return.

The markets for first baseman Yonder Alonso and second baseman Jed Lowrie haven’t developed as expected, to the point that you wonder how much the A’s could even get in return for them right now.

That focuses the spotlight squarely on Gray, 27, who has posted a 1.62 ERA over his last five starts and comes with two more seasons of team control before he hits free agency. That’s why he’s been linked to no fewer than nine contending teams who are looking for starting pitching.

The A’s sit in a position of strength here. They don’t have to deal Gray right now, and indications from within the organization are that they don’t feel a pressing need to deal him before Monday if they don’t get swept off their feet by an offer. They can retain him, and he’ll still hold great value as an offseason trade chip with those two years of team control.

MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reported Tuesday morning that the Yankees and Nationals — who have already struck a deal with Oakland to get relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson this month — are two teams in particular to watch in the hunt for Gray.

Morosi also reported that the A’s are targeting young outfielders as the anchor of any deal. That makes all the sense in the world given their organizational needs, particularly in center. It’s also in line with what I’ve heard that the A’s would prioritize getting position players in return since they worked so hard over the past couple of years to acquire and draft young starting pitching (though it stands to reason a deal for Gray would be a multi-player package that could also include pitching prospects as well).

Morosi specifically mentions Yankees Single-A center fielder Estevan Florial as a player the A’s like. He’s just 19 and at least a couple years away from the majors. But Billy Beane, the head of Oakland’s baseball operations, said after making the Doolittle/Madson trade that the emphasis moving forward would be on acquiring high-end talent, not necessarily prospects close to being major league-ready.

Other potential Gray suitors have elite outfield prospects in their system: The Astros boast Kyle Tucker, the Nats have Victor Robles and the Mariners have Kyle Lewis, though it’s doubtful whether Seattle has enough elsewhere in its farm system to assemble a package to land Gray.

Just a hunch, but keep an eye on the Dodgers as a team that could enter the Sonny Sweepstakes in light of Clayton Kershaw’s lower back injury. There’s strong ties between the Oakland and Los Angeles front offices, and the teams struck a deadline deal last summer that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers. They have one of the majors’ top outfield prospects in Alex Verdugo, who’s currently at Triple-A.

Though much mystery remains, an eventual trade of Gray is inevitable. The A’s have a solid base of young pitching depth, both in the majors and coming up through the system. And Gray’s rebound from a poor 2016, combined with his favorable contract status, makes him too tantalizing a trade chip for the A’s not to make the move.

The key question is not “if” but “when.”