Because of the arbitration tender deadline, December 2nd was always going to be a big day for the Oakland A's off-season, but the A's made it even bigger with a pair of headline-grabbing moves.
At the start of the day, those following the A's were most closely monitoring the deadline for teams to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. The A's had nine players who were eligible for arbitration and there was some suspense as to whether Oakland would offer arbitration to all nine.
In the end, the arbitration deadline turned out to be the most mundane part of the day, as the A's decided to tender contracts to all nine -- Josh Reddick, John Jaso, Jed Lowrie, Jerry Blevins, Fernando Rodriguez, Brandon Moss, Jesse Chavez, Daric Barton and Seth Smith. The A's announced that they had agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Rodriguez, who missed the entire 2013 regular season after injuring his elbow during spring training.
Around midday, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports reported that the A's were closing in on a two-year deal with free agent starter Scott Kazmir. Several reporters later confirmed that the A's had agreed to terms with Kazmir for two years, $22 million. Kazmir was once one of the top young left-handed pitchers in baseball, but he fell on hard times starting in 2009 and was out of affiliated baseball entirely in 2012.
Kazmir signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians and made the team after a strong spring training. The 29-year-old made 29 starts for the Indians, posting a 10-9 record and a 4.04 ERA. He struck-out 162 in 158 innings and walked only 47. Kazmir's best month came in September, when he had a 43:4 K:BB and a 2.57 ERA.
A first-round pick of the New York Mets in 2002, Kazmir made his name with the Tampa Bay Rays in the mid-2000s, helping the Rays reach the World Series in 2008. He has struggled with injuries since that time, however, although he was relatively healthy in 2013. The deal won't be made official until Kazmir passes a physical exam, according to several reports.
Assuming the deal is made official, Kazmir will join a deep, but young A's starting rotation that includes Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray and Tommy Milone. Whether the A's choose to keep all seven starters or trade some of that depth will be one of the big questions that hovers over the rest of the A's off-season.
The rotation will likely be without starter Bartolo Colon, who led the A's in wins and ERA last season. The 40-year-old is currently a free agent and the A's aren't likely to bring Colon back given the money they are committing to Kazmir.
The back-end of the A's bullpen will also have a different look in 2014. Just before the arbitration deadline, the A's finalized a deal to acquire arbitration-eligible closer Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles. Johnson was acquired for A's 2008 first-round pick Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.
Johnson, an All-Star in 2012, has saved a major-league leading 101 games over the past two seasons for Baltimore. In 2012, Johnson helped the Orioles reach the post-season by saving 51 games in 54 opportunities. In 2013, Johnson saved 50 games, but he also led the league with nine blown saves.
Johnson is a sinkerball pitcher who has walked fewer than 2.4 batters per nine innings in each of the past four seasons. His ERA has been below 3.00 in each of his last three years and he has made at least 69 appearances in those three seasons. Johnson allowed just five homeruns in 70.1 innings this season and has a career HR/9 of 0.5. He is expected to command a salary of at least $10 million in arbitration. Johnson will be a free agent at the end of the year.
The acquisition of Johnson is a strong signal that the A's will be parting ways with 2013 All-Star closer Grant Balfour, who is a free agent. Balfour is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal. That Johnson will be a one-year commitment was likely what attracted the A's to him.
Weeks will get a much needed change of scenery with the Orioles. The former A's top prospect starred for Oakland during his rookie season in 2011, but he struggled in 2012 and seemingly fell out of favor with the A's. Oakland has several infielders ahead of Weeks on the depth chart, including Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo and Nick Punto, who signed with the A's as a free agent earlier this off-season. The A's also have the versatile Andy Parrino on the 40-man roster and veteran Hiroyuki Nakajima on a minor league contract through next year.
Weeks spent all but the final month of the 2013 season with Triple-A Sacramento. He hit .271 with a .376 OBP. Weeks stole 17 bases in 19 opportunities. Exclusively a second baseman until this season, Weeks added valuable defensive versatility, logging time at shortstop and in centerfield, as well as second base.
The player to be named later in this deal may be a player who is currently eligible for the Rule 5 draft. If that is the case, the player will likely be announced as soon as the draft is completed.
Stay tuned later this week for in-depth analysis of where the A's stand after all of these moves and what else they need to accomplish before the start of the 2014 regular season.