As the A's went through the paces of opening night batting practice, a solitary voice cried out from the stands."Hey," the male fan yelled out to the guys in green and gold, "who are you guys?"Some three hours later, Yoenis Cespedes gave not only the paying customer, but the entire sold-out crowd at the Oakland Coliseum an answer. A thundering, 462-foot, shake-Mt. Davis-to-its-bloody-core retort.Cespedes, the Cuban defector whose rights were surprisingly won by the notoriously thrifty A's, announced his presence with authority, to borrow a line from the seminal baseball classic "Bull Durham." His fourth-inning home run, a two-out, two-run blast on a 2-and-1, 84-mph fastball down the pipe that ricocheted off the facade of the second deck in left-center field, was a thing of monstrous wonderand beauty.It echoed Miguel Tejada at the height of his powers. Bo Jackson in the 1989 All-Star Game. Frank Thomas in his epic 2006 season with the A's."I've hit some farther in Cuba," a chagrined Cespedes said in Spanish.Indeed, it was the hardest-sounding hit ball by an A's batter since The Big Hurt made a run at the MVP award six years ago. Yes, "sounding."Because even when Cespedes took batting practice, you could tell when it was him in the cage. Simply by the sound of the ball coming off his bat. The same way you could tell it was Thomas taking his hacks."You don't see too many here at night that go that far," offered A's manager Bob Melvin. "He'll hit them farther than that."Granted, Thomas should be in Cooperstown in a few years while Cespedes was playing his third -- ever -- game in the major leagues. So the comparison is oh-so unfair. But this is what happens when a moribund franchise in desperate need of a marquee player that makes you stop what you're doing every time he comes to the plate lands such a hitter.The way Tejada did. And Jackson. And yes, Thomas.Even when the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder -- he looks much larger -- is striking out. As he did in the sixth inning. Swinging. And in the eighth. Looking.These A's, though, seem to get stage fright under the bright lights of opening night. In falling to Seattle, 7-3, the A's lost their eighth straight Coliseum opener.And you expected Cespedes to have butterfiies?Nerves are what Cespedes experienced as he planned his defection last summer to the Dominican Republic. When the five-tool player left behind everything and anything he has ever known. When he put pen to paper to sign that four-year, 36-million contract with the A's to realize a dream of playing in Las Grandes Ligas.In eight seasons playing for Granma in Cuba's Serie Nacional, Cespedes hit 177 home runs. And in his final season, he batted .333 with 30 homers and 99 RBI in 90 games.So yeah, he could rake. But the Mariners also showed respect for his arm, the speedy Chone Figgins not daring test him by tagging from third base on a medium-range fly ball in the third inning."He looks to be a true center fielder," Melvin said.But in getting full extension on his home run, the 26-year-old rookie pulled the most veteran of moves in admiring his shot at the plate before embarking on his fanciful trip around the bases.In Cuba, where the games have more showmanship than stateside, Cespedes would have watched the flight of his ball longer, and with more aplomb.Instead"What are you doing?" Cespedes asked himself, before sheepishly realizing where he was and exiting the box.Eight days earlier, on another continent, Cespedes homered off Seattle's Shawn Kelly in the Tokyo Dome. So when his 462-foot bomb off Jason Vargas cleared the fence, Cespedes become only the second A's batter since 1918 to homer twice in his first three games.The other? His Cuban countryman Bert Campaneris, who did it in 1964for the Kansas City Athletics.Cespedes raised his brow in wonderment."I'm very content to hear that," he said. "He was not only one of the best players with the A's, but one of the best to come from Cuba. So to be in his company, that makes me very happy."Who are these guys?Cespedes more than introduced himself.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The A’s didn’t add any players during the four-day winter meetings, but they did wave goodbye to one.
Minor league right-hander Dylan Covey was scooped up by the Chicago White Sox in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. The Sox pay the A’s $50,000 for his rights, and he must either remain on their 25-man roster for the entire 2017 season or be offered back to Oakland for $25,000.
The 25-year-old Covey, ranked the A’s No. 20 prospect by mlb.com, was an Arizona Fall League standout this offseason after working his way back from an oblique injury that wiped out most of his 2016 season.
“We’ll see what happens,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “He certainly was as deserving as anybody of being protected (on the A’s 40-man roster), we just ran out of spots. Good for him to get this opportunity.”
As for ways Oakland might supplement its own roster, that task continues.
The A’s held plenty of discussions over four days spent at the sprawling Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, but those talks didn’t bear fruit in their search for a center fielder. They had trade dialogue with the Kansas City Royals regarding Jarrod Dyson, a blazing runner and potential leadoff man, but couldn’t find common ground.
As the holidays approach, the A’s will continue to scan the free agent market and explore trade opportunities.
“My guess is there are plenty of things we talked about this week that have legs, and those conversations will continue over the next few weeks,” Forst said. “We’ve got two months until pitchers and catchers report, four months until the season. We’re not the only ones leaving here without actually consummating something.”
The Orioles are another team reportedly trying to pry Dyson from the Royals. Another center fielder mentioned as being available is Reds speedster Billy Hamilton, although reports suggest Cincinnati isn’t in a rush to move him.
Dexter Fowler is the best free agent center fielder still on the market, although Austin Jackson and Rajai Davis seem to fall more in the A’s price range.
Forst was asked how much urgency there is to the center field search.
“I’m not confident they’re gonna be there all winter, there’s only a certain number of guys,” he said. “We’re not going to risk anything to jump out (and do something) we wouldn’t otherwise do. But we think we’re being diligent.
“We cast a wide net, and we continue to. We have to keep doing that just to make sure — free agents, trades, different kinds of players, platoons, whatever. I think we have to keep our toes in every option.”
As for other areas the A’s can improve, they may look to add a veteran starting pitcher. Just speculation, but Doug Fister is one free agent whose price tag figures to be reasonable, and he’s a Northern California native. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the A’s simply invited a veteran to camp on a minor league contract to see if they can find a diamond in the rough, or at least someone to provide competition.
A’s executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane mentioned second base as an area of concern because of injury issues (Jed Lowrie) and inexperience (Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder), but it’s very possible the A’s stick with their in-house options.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — A’s general manager David Forst flies home Thursday afternoon, and unless there’s a drastic change in the final stages of the winter meetings, he’ll still be searching for a center fielder.
Wednesday’s events included some discussion between Oakland and other parties, but no concrete progress toward landing a center fielder. That’s despite the late-breaking news Tuesday that the A’s and Royals were talking trade for fleet-footed Kansas City outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
“It’s a two-way street with a free agent or a team, a function of the other side’s pace,” Forst said. “It’s unlikely (they complete a deal at the meetings), and not for lack of conversations or lack of ideas. Just things move at different speeds.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean the chance of landing Dyson is done. Forst pointed out talks which transpire at the winter meetings sometimes materialize into a deal down the road. But it’s also worth noting that the Baltimore Orioles are pursuing Dyson too. FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported that Baltimore and Kansas City have discussed him.
Therefore, consider the A’s as players in the free agent as well as trade markets.
“We’ve cast a wide net,” Forst said.
Two free agent center fielders came off the board Wednesday as the Rockies agreed to a five-year $70 million contract with Ian Desmond and the Rangers re-signed Carlos Gomez to a one-year $11.5 million deal. Desmond was assumed to be out of the A’s price range, but Gomez was thought to be a realistic target. He opted to return to Texas, which needed to do some outfield re-stocking after losing Desmond and Carlos Beltran, who like Gomez was an in-season acquisition for the Rangers in 2016.
The three most enticing free agents left now at the position appear to be Dexter Fowler — like Desmond, expected to command a pricey multi-year deal — former Athletic Rajai Davis and Austin Jackson.
As for other needs, the A’s would add a veteran starting pitcher at the right price and could look to upgrade at second base, though neither of those is as high a priority as landing someone to anchor the middle of their outfield.
Manager Bob Melvin addressed reporters at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Though A’s top baseball official Billy Beane said Tuesday the organizational focus was on the future, aiming for a strong team to be in place by the time the A’s potentially move into a new ballpark, Melvin’s attention is solely on the upcoming season.
“In 2012, we had I don't know how many rookies on that team. It was all rookie starters, and we ended up winning the division,” Melvin said. “Once you start the season, the focus is all about winning.”
Should the A’s not bring in a center fielder who can also lead off, the first in-house candidate Melvin mentioned as perhaps hitting atop the order was Joey Wendle. He gave a nice showing of himself in a September call-up and hit leadoff for a stretch, but there’s no guarantee that Wendle even starts at second base next season, especially if veteran Jed Lowrie is healthy after foot surgery.
Former Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale has rejoined Oakland’s staff as Melvin’s third-base coach, and Melvin has plenty of confidence that Hale will capably fill Ron Washington’s shoes as the infield instructor. Washington was popular with A’s infielders and had particular success working with shortstop Marcus Semien.
Hale served as Melvin’s bench coach before getting hired by Arizona before the 2015 season.
“Obviously we've talked a lot about Wash and what he's meant to some of these younger guys,” Melvin said. “We feel like if anybody can replace Wash, it's Chip Hale.”
Forst said John Axford will pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Fellow reliever Liam Hendriks has not yet committed to Team Australia.
Right-hander Chris Bassitt, who underwent Tommy John surgery in May, was examined by A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta on Wednesday and his recovery is going very well. He’s between throwing programs right now. Forst added that lefty Felix Doubront is also coming back well from the same procedure.