Notes: Smolinski set for surgery on right shoulder

Notes: Smolinski set for surgery on right shoulder

MESA, Ariz. — Outfielder Jake Smolinski will undergo surgery Friday for an injured right shoulder that hasn’t responded well to a throwing program.

Dr. Doug Freedberg, based in the Phoenix area, will perform the surgery, though A’s manager Bob Melvin said the recovery period won’t be known until Freedberg goes in and finds the extent of the damage.

It’s obviously a tough setback, as Smolinski arrived at spring training seemingly with the inside track to be the fifth outfielder should Oakland keep five on its roster. But Smolinski’s shoulder was already bothering him when he reported, and he had yet to play a single game in the field.

“He’s a guy we really feel has a high ceiling and has not hit his potential yet,” Melvin said. “Last year he did a nice job for us in center field and a guy we were targeting for quite a few at-bats against left-handed pitching.”

With Smolinski sidelined, veteran Alejandro De Aza — in camp as a non-roster invitee — becomes the favorite to make the club if the A’s keep five outfielders. He’s hitting just .238 in nine games but has had several good moments both offensively and defensively.

However, another non-roster outfielder is still in camp and has quietly impressed. Jaff Decker, signed to a minor league deal in November, has caught Melvin’s attention with the bat and glove. He’s hitting .300 (6-for-20) and can handle center field. That’s important as the A’s need someone who can serve as a capable backup to Rajai Davis. They’re getting a glimpse of Mark Canha in center, but they could ultimately decide to keep a fifth outfielder who has more experience at the position.

“Decker’s looked really good, and as comfortable as anybody we’ve had in center field (except for) Raj,” Melvin said. “Center field is obviously a spot, we have Raj and then we’re looking at Mark, but to have somebody else who’s experienced in center and handles it is something we’re looking for.”

The 27-year-old Decker, a left-handed hitter, has appeared in 60 big league games with the Padres, Pirates and Rays, hitting .162 with one homer and four RBI. San Diego drafted him as a sandwich pick (No. 42 overall) in 2008 out of Sunrise Mountain High School in nearby Peoria.

To answer the question on everybody’s mind, Decker’s first name is pronounced “Jeff.”

**

Chris Bassitt, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, threw 30 pitches Tuesday and mixed in changeups for the first time along with his fastball. The session got a big thumbs-up from Melvin, though Bassitt still has a long way to go. It’s still unclear if he’ll be back before the All-Star break or after.

“There’s no timetable but it’s exciting because we really felt like he was on his way to becoming a consistent starter” before the injury, Melvin said. “Really, for me, he’s a guy that at the very least is a middle-of-the-rotation guy with the upside of being even higher than that.

“With the setback he had to go through, I don’t know that I’ve been around a guy that worked harder in his rehab to get to where he is right now.”

Left-hander Felix Doubront, who was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this week, is on a similar rate of recovery from his Tommy John procedure as Bassitt.

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.”

 

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 4-2 loss to Blue Jays

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USATSI

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 4-2 loss to Blue Jays

BOX SCORE

The A’s collected hits in bunches over the weekend in New York.

They should have saved some of them for north of the border.

They managed just two hits total in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday that began a four-game series at the Rogers Center. And while the offense wasn’t the only area that contributed to this defeat, it’s tough to cover up for such a lack of offense.

Oakland has dropped three of the first four on this seven-game road trip, and Bob Melvin remains one victory away from reaching 1,000 for his managerial career.

The A's racked up 33 hits in a three-game series against the Mets, their most in any three-game series this weekend.

Still searching for that ‘W’: Chris Smith made his third start for the A’s and turned in his third consecutive quality start, going six innings and giving up three runs. You could argue he’s pitched well enough to win all three games, but the 36-year-old journeyman still is searching for his first major league win since 2008. Russell Martin homered in the first after the A’s gave Smith an early lead. Then Toronto added two more in the fourth, helped along by a Josh Donaldson double and two walks issued by Smith.

Chapman on a roll: Rookie third baseman Matt Chapman blasted a 435-foot homer for his third long ball in as many days, and that wasn’t his most impressive moment of Monday’s game. Chapman made a terrific stop in the seventh to start an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded to keep Oakland in the game at 4-2. He also showed some athleticism with a leaping catch with the A’s in the shift. Chapman basically was playing shortstop in that alignment, and the catch was persuasive evidence of why the A’s briefly experimented with him at shortstop in the minors. Overall, the A’s played strong defensively, with Khris Davis making a couple of nice plays in left field.

Axford struggles again: A tough season for reliever John Axford continues, as the veteran entered to begin the seventh and promptly loaded the bases with no outs before being pulled. He walked two and allowed a single before Melvin called on Josh Smith, called up just Monday from the minors. Axford has issued 17 walks in 21 innings this season.

Rotation thoughts: With Kendall Graveman seemingly nearing a return from a shoulder injury, Smith is basically auditioning to stay in the rotation each time he takes the mound, though a trade of Sonny Gray wouldn’t make things such a tight squeeze. From that standpoint, Smith helped himself again with a strong outing, and he also turned in a couple bare-hand plays defensively to aid his cause.

No Montas: With Frankie Montas stuck in New York because of a visa issue, the A’s recalled Josh Smith from Triple-A Nashville to fortify the bullpen. First baseman/outfielder Matt Olson was sent down to clear a roster spot.