Ben Zobrist was considered the linchpin of the A’s retooling last offseason, the super-utility player who would make their flurry of moves come together for the 2015 season.
But the A’s have now parted with the idea and the player.
Oakland traded Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday, continuing a midseason roster shakeup that has included dealing away pitchers Scott Kazmir and Tyler Clippard in the last week. The A’s also sent cash to the Royals and in return received right-handed pitcher Aaron Brooks and left-handed prospect Sean Manaea.
General manager Billy Beane indicated the Zobrist deal could be the last of the A’s major moves before Friday’s trade deadline. Beane said the A’s could still look for minor acquisitions to bolster the roster for this season or next, but he “wouldn’t anticipate” more moves in the pattern of trading a key established big leaguer for prospects who might help the A’s down the road.
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“You’d rather be on the other end of it, that’s for sure,” Beane said on a conference call. “This season, I think we had high hopes but got off on the wrong foot, starting with Sean (Doolittle’s) injury, and then it just seemed to sort of snowball on us.
“It’s not the preferred side you’d like to be on, but again, we’ve been on both sides, and what we’re doing now is necessary, I think, and probably pragmatic going forward for the overall health of the organization.”
Brooks, unlike the players the A’s received in the first two deals, could help Oakland immediately. He made four major-league appearances for the Royals and is expected to start Saturday against Cleveland.
Manaea, though, is the bigger prize. Manaea, 23, was ranked as the Royals’ third-best prospect before the season by Baseball America and had a 3.69 ERA in seven minor-league starts this year after beginning the season at extended spring training because of a hip issue.
“We’ve been hurt with injuries, and the (starting pitching) depth has been cut into due to some of the injuries, some of the guys not returning,” Beane said. “So in short, one of the things with the deal with Ben was we wanted to address the lack of pitching depth in the organization, and we think this helps.”
The A’s expected Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to return this season from Tommy John surgery and bolster the rotation, but Parker suffered a gruesome setback during a rehab start in May and Griffin still is rehabbing in the minors. Jesse Hahn is on the disabled list with a forearm strain, and the departure of Kazmir has left the A’s with another hole in their rotation.
Asked what the acquisition of Brooks might mean for Barry Zito’s chances of being called up, Beane said he’s “not going to speculate as to what we’re going to do” and the A’s will “make that decision when we get to it.”
Manaea is much like the other players the A’s have acquired at the trade deadline. He’s a younger prospect Beane said is “the type of player we didn’t think we could possibly get in this type of deal,” given that Zobrist will be a free agent after 2015 and the Royals likely acquired him for a two-month stretch run.
Beane said Manaea got a slower start this season because of the lower-body issue, but the A’s medical staff “did a pretty thorough medical on him and felt very comfortable.” Manaea will start with Double-A Midland (Texas).
The Royals have assumed the role the A’s had a year ago at the trade deadline, appearing to be all-in this season after losing the World Series in seven games to the Giants. Kansas City, which has the best record in the American League, acquired Johnny Cueto, one of the top starters on the market, before trading for Zobrist.
“You could make the argument that for a position player, Ben was certainly one of the most attractive guys out there, as well as Cueto from a pitching standpoint,” Beane said. “They’re adding to a very good team, and I’d assume they’re going to be pretty formidable from this point forward.”