The Oakland A's busy off-season continued apace on Thursday, as the A's sent All-Star catcher Derek Norris and promising prospect Seth Streich to the San Diego Padres for a pair of young, major-league ready right-handed pitchers. Oakland also included international bonus slot 117 in their package to San Diego. The trade is the A's fourth of the off-season involving players who were elected to the All-Star game in 2014. Of the A's seven All-Stars, only Sean Doolittle and Scott Kazmir remain (OF Yoenis Cespedes was traded during the 2014 regular season).
In exchange for Norris and Streich, the A's receive right-hander Jesse Hahn, who impressed in his first half season of major league starting, and right-handed reliever R.J. Alvarez, who made his major league debut last September and should compete for a spot in the A's bullpen in 2015.
The A's say good-bye to Norris, who was the last piece of the package left that the team received for left-hander Gio Gonzalez and pitching prospect Rob Gilliam before the 2012 season. Norris spent just a few months in the A’s minor league system in 2012 before joining the big league roster and establishing himself as a threat at the plate versus left-handed pitching. In 387 at-bats with the A’s against left-handers, Norris hit .292/.374/.486 with 16 homers. His career splits versus right-handers are .208/.305/.314, although he hit .244/.340/.359 against righties this season.
Norris made the AL All-Star team in 2014 after a huge first half that saw him hit .294/.402/.477 with eight homeruns in 197 at-bats. Like so many of the A’s, Norris struggled during the second half of the year. He hit just .245/.314/.324 while dealing with a myriad of nagging injuries.
Norris’ defense suffered badly during the final months of the season, and he was benched during the last weekend of the season when the A’s had must-win games to clinch a Wild Card berth. Norris didn’t start the Wild Card game because of concerns about his ability to control the running game. He came into the game after Geovany Soto left with a broken finger on his throwing hand and the Royals ran wild off of Norris.
During the regular season, Norris caught just 17% of would-be base-stealers and that weakness was continually exploited by opposing teams down-the-stretch. Norris did have a 3.13 catcher’s ERA last season and his throwing issues were much worse in 2014 than they were in 2013 and 2012, when he caught roughly 27% of would-be base-stealers. His range factor behind the plate also came in below-average, according to Baseball-Reference.com, although it did improve over his 2013 numbers.
If the Padres believe that Norris can improve his ability to control the running game and his range behind the plate, San Diego could use Norris as a full-time catcher, rather than as a platoon player the way the A’s did. Norris hit right-handers well during the first-half of last season when he was his healthiest, leading one to believe that he could handle righties if given more opportunities. Norris has above-average power for a catcher, and power is something the Padres desperately needed last season. Norris also has some experience playing first base, and he could see some time at that position with San Diego down-the-road.
The A’s traded from a relative position of strength in dealing Norris. Before the trade, Oakland had four catchers on the 40-man roster: Norris, John Jaso, Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley. Jaso is coming off of two seasons shortened by concussion and it is an open question as to how much the A’s can expect him to catch next year. Defense isn’t Jaso’s strength regardless of his health, but he is an above-average hitter at that position. If the A’s hold onto Jaso the rest of this off-season, he could see some time at catcher, as well as possibly first base and DH.
Vogt figured to get the majority of the playing time at catcher even before Norris was traded, and that is almost assured now. Vogt wasn’t able to catch during most of the second half of the season because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He played in the outfield and at first base instead and then had surgery once the A’s were eliminated from the post-season. Vogt is far-and-away the A’s best defensive catcher. He caught all three runners who attempted to steal against him last season in the major leagues and had caught nearly 50% of attempted base-stealers in Triple-A. In 2013, Vogt caught 31% of attempted base-stealers with the A’s.
Offensively, Vogt had a strong season with the A’s, although he, too, struggled during the final few months. He finished the year with a 752 OPS and nine homers in 84 games with the A’s. Vogt’s versatility was in full force in 2014, as he played games at catcher, first base, right field and left field, as well as DH.
Both Vogt and Jaso are left-handed hitters, so it is likely to be the newcomer Phegley who takes over for Norris as the platoon partner for either Vogt or Jaso (or both). Phegley came to the A’s from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade. He played in only 11 big league games last season, but Phegley had an 861 OPS in Triple-A last year. Like Norris, Phegley has above-average power for a catcher and he hits left-handers well. Phegley also threw out 44% of would-be base-stealers in Triple-A in 2014.
The A’s are also giving up Seth Streich in the deal. Streich was the A’s best minor league starter last season, although he missed the final month of the season with a right shoulder injury that eventually required surgery. When healthy, Streich is a groundball pitcher with excellent command. He struck-out 116 and walked just 22 in 114 innings in the hitter-friendly California League last season. The 2012 sixth-round pick was our 21st-best A’s prospect at the start of the off-season, and he would have rated higher had it not been for the injury.
Streich’s fastball sits in the low-90s and gets good movement down in the strike-zone. His breaking ball improved significantly this season and he has a good change-up that keeps left-handers honest. Streich is aggressive, challenging hitters to beat him, which they rarely did in 2014. A two-way player in college, Streich is a good athlete who fields his position well. He will be 24 at the start of next season.
In return for Norris and Streich, the A’s received two pitchers who could factor heavily in the team’s fortunes in 2015 or serve as trade bait later in the off-season for a corner outfielder.
Jesse Hahn is a 6’5’’ right-hander, who was a 2010 sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech by the Tampa Bay Rays. Hahn would have gone much higher in that year’s draft, but an elbow injury dropped him down the rankings. He would miss all of the 2010 short-season and the 2011 full-season because of elbow troubles. He made his debut in 2012 in the New York-Penn League after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Although Hahn was kept on a strict innings limit during his time in the Rays’ organization, he still racked up impressive numbers. He had a 2.77 ERA and a 55:15 K:BB in 52 innings in 2012 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA in 69 innings in 2013 at the High-A level. Hahn struck-out 67 and walked 18 in High-A that year.
Last off-season, Hahn was part of a seven-player trade between the Padres and Rays. Hahn made his San Diego debut at the Double-A level in 2014, and he had a 1.91 ERA in 42.1 innings with the San Antonio Missions. Hahn struck-out 38 and walked 15 while allowing just one homerun. Despite less than 170 career minor league innings under his belt, Hahn made his big-league debut this season with San Diego. After a rough first start, Hahn settled in and was very solid during his rookie season. He made 12 starts and two relief appearances for San Diego, posting a 3.07 ERA and a 70:32 K:BB in 73.1 innings. Hahn allowed just 57 hits and four homeruns.
The Padres shut Hahn down early in September to limit his innings. He threw 115.2 innings during the regular season between Double-A and the majors, a career-high for Hahn. Hahn should be able to jump up to the 180 innings mark in 2015.
Hahn is a hard thrower whose fastball ranges from 91-95. He also features a curveball, change-up and slider. Hahn has had to remake his mechanics since recovering from his elbow injury, but he has been able to repeat his delivery well. He is a groundball pitcher and has the frame to be heavy-workload starter once he has built up his innings. Hahn was added to the 40-man roster by the Rays before the 2013 season and has an option remaining, but he should slot into the A’s rotation next season barring a disastrous spring.
The other pitcher the A’s received in the deal was reliever R.J. Alvarez, who was traded for the second time in six months. Alvarez was a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 out of Florida Atlantic. Almost exclusively a reliever during his minor league career, Alvarez has a 2.41 ERA in 119.1 minor league innings. He has struck-out 178 and walked 51 in his minor league career.
Alvarez began the 2014 season with the Angels at the Double-A level. He had an 0.33 ERA in 27 innings with the Arkansas Travelers before being traded to San Diego in the deal that brought Huston Street to Los Angeles. Alvarez continued in Double-A with San Diego and he had a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 innings. He struck-out 23 and walked three with the San Antonio Missions.
Alvarez was a September call-up for the Padres and he appeared in 10 games for San Diego. In eight innings, he allowed one run on three hits. He walked five but struck-out nine.
The Florida native is a power pitcher who can hit 98 with his fastball and lives in the 93-95 range. Alvarez also has a hard slider and a change-up. He could develop into a closer down-the-road and should compete for a spot in the middle of the A’s bullpen this spring. If Alvarez proves ready for the big leagues in 2015, he could help replace Luke Gregerson.