As expected, the Oakland A's have traded impending free agent Ben Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals. The A's have acquired minor-league pitching prospects Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks for Zobrist. The A's are also sending the Royals a reported $2 million in cash.
Zobrist is the third impending free agent to be traded by the A's in less than a week. On Thursday, Oakland dealt Scott Kazmir to the Houston Astros for catcher Jacob Nottingham and pitcher Daniel Mengden. Yesterday, Oakland traded closer Tyler Clippard to the New York Mets for pitcher Casey Meisner. Through these three trades, the A's have significantly upgraded their minor league starting pitching and catching depth while dealing players who weren't going to be part of the A's 2016 squad.
Zobrist was acquired by the A's this off-season from the Tampa Bay Rays along with shortstop Yunel Escobar. The A's gave up a lot of talent in that deal, sending the Rays' starting catcher/DH John Jaso and top prospects Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell. The A's then flipped Escobar to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Clippard. In the end, the A's wound-up giving up position player talent in Jaso, Robertson and Powell in exchange for pitching talent. The A's have done well drafting position players over the past three years, but starting pitching and catching were areas of weakness within their farm system. These three trades certainly help to make up those deficits.
Zobrist joins Johnny Cueto as the second big-name player to head to Kansas City in the past few days. The Royals, who are the defending American League champions, are strong favorites to repeat as AL Champs with those two additions. Zobrist should help fill the void left by the injury to Alex Gordon in the outfield for the next several weeks and then Zobrist can move to second base as an upgrade over Omar Infante when Gordon returns. Zobrist missed time early this season with a knee injury that required surgery, but he has been healthy lately. In 67 games for Oakland, he has a .268/.354/.447 line with six homeruns and 33 walks. With his ability to switch-hit and play all over the field, Zobrist has consistently been one of the most valuable position players in baseball the past several seasons.
Manaea was a Competitive Balance round pick by the Royals in 2013. Going into that draft, the Indiana State left-hander was considered one of the top-10 talents, but his draft stock fell over concerns about the health of his shoulder and hip. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip shortly after signing an above-slot deal with the Royals after the draft. Since then, his shoulder has been sound but he did deal with another lower body injury (groin) this season.
When healthy, Manaea, 23, is one of the top-30 pitching prospects in all of baseball. The 6'7'' left-hander can hit 97 MPH with his fastball and generally sits in the 92-94 MPH range. He also features a sharp slider and a solid change-up. This season, Manaea has thrown only 31.2 innings because of the groin issue. He has a 3.69 ERA and a 39:11 K:BB. Manaea was recently promoted to Double-A and could join the Midland RockHounds' rotation.
Brooks fits the mold of a traditional Oakland A's pitching prospect. He isn't over-powering, although he can touch 95 with his fastball. The right-hander generally sits in the low-90s with a fastball that he commands well. He also has a curveball, slider and change-up and he uses all four pitches well to keep hitters off-balance. Brooks has been a starter in the minor leagues but did make three relief appearances and one start for the Royals over the past two seasons. The 25-year-old has been at Triple-A for most of the year, and he has a 3.71 ERA with a 92:21 K:BB in 106.2 innings.