OAKLAND — Franklin Barreto was in good spirits on Thursday morning, still at his locker at the Oakland Coliseum despite the fact that he had been sent down, yet again, this time to make room for new first baseman Kendrys Morales.
“I’ve had to send him down many times now, and he’s a favorite of mine,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s a really good player, and he had a great spring.”
The switch-hitting Morales will be a middle-of-the-order hitter for the A’s, providing the left-handed power they’ll be lacking with Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson recovering from hamate excision surgery, but his acquisition also serves as yet another road block for Barreto. The 23-year old infielder not only saw the A’s sign Profar to start at second with the departure of Jed Lowrie, but learned the outfield this spring to expand his versatility, a task that looked to land him on the Opening Day roster following the Bay Bridge Series.
“He had a great spring, and I know spring training numbers sometimes don’t mean much, but sometimes they do,” Melvin said.
Barreto hit .351 this spring with a .429 on-base percentage, and played error-free baseball at all three outfield spots — his first big league outfield experience.
“He played the outfield well, he tried to give himself some more opportunities to play, and unfortunately, that’s the move today,” Melvin said. “He really didn’t do anything to warrant it, other than it just being a numbers game … I don’t ever [sense frustration]. He’s got a smile on his face, and he goes down and works hard. There are a lot of other teams that he could probably be playing for, and maybe starting for. He’s got to wait a little bit longer for his opportunity.”
Morales, set to arrive at noon, will play first against right-handers, as part of a platoon with the switch-hitting Jurickson Profar and right-handed-hitting Mark Canha, and would slot in occasionally at designated hitter.
“If you look up and down our lineup, we’re a little short on left-handed bats,” Melvin said. “With Oly out a little bit, it’s actually a pretty good fit over there. I haven’t talked to him about his role yet, but we still want to keep some of our other guys in place, the way we do it against left-handed pitching. He’s an added piece for us against right-handed pitching, had a good track record throughout his career, and last year, too. A good, late acquisition for us.”
Morales, 35, has spent 12 years in the majors, and hit hit .249 with a .331 on-base percentage in 130 games played with Toronto in 2018. He put together an MLB-leading seven-game home run streak from Aug. 19-26 (8 HR) last year, earning American League Player of the Week honors for Aug. 20-26 (.478/.500/1.191, 7 HR, 12 RBI). The seven-game homer streak is one shy of the MLB record (three times).
Morales has played 416 career games at first base, 23 games in right field and one game at third base, with a career .994 fielding percentage.
“David [Forst] talked to him last night,” Melvin said. “He has accepted the DH role and a lot of times, that takes a veteran guy to do that, but I know he likes playing first base, so from what I understand, and I’ve not talked to him yet, he’s excited about the opportunity to play first.”
A career .268 hitter, Morales has hit 211 home runs, driven in 728 runs and owns a .788 OPS in 1,310 career games with the Angels (against whom the A’s open the season on Thursday), Seattle, Minnesota and Kansas City.
“He’s always a threat. He’s a home run hitter, so he’ll fit in with our team,” Melvin said. “Probably will hit somewhere in the middle of the order against right-handers … I didn’t want to rush him and get him in a game, but it’s also nice to have him coming off the bench, too, a little later in the game. They’re all right-handed over there in the bullpen, so it’ll be a nice guy to have off the bench today.”
The trade, which sent minor league infielder Jesus Lopez and international slot money to Toronto, is also reportedly a good financial deal for the A’s. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Blue Jays will pay more than $10 million of Morales’ $12 million salary.
With the A’s set for 18 straight games coming out of the gate without a day off, the emphasis is to get length out of the starting pitchers.
“You look at our bullpe, it’s definitely a strength of ours,” Melvin said. “We don’t have too many guys down there for multiple innings. You get into a situation where you have to cover four or five innings every day, it’s going to be tough to sustain that, and our starters know that … You hope to save those [long stretches] for September, when you have more guys. That’s not the case.”
One of the few multiple-inning arm Oakland has for sure is J.B. Wendelken, who pitched in 13 games last season with a 0.54 ERA over 16 2/3 innings in his first extended big league action.
“THe last month, all the way through now, he’s been great,” Melvin said. “We have our plus-games guys set from the sixth inning on, he’s probably not in that. Depending on availability, if we have guys down, but I look for a little more length [from him] earlier in the game at this point.”