For the first time in a while there isn't "50 feet of crap" between everyone else and Oakland.
Also, for the first time since anybody can remember, the Oakland A's seem to be making some serious moves this offseason.
And for the first time in a long time, the A's may gives fans reason to again scream the famous phrase of late A's announcer Bill King, "Holy Toledo!"
Yes, the same Oakland Athletics who were seen as merely a Triple-A team from 2007-11, finishing four of those five seasons with sub-.500 records, who have won the American League West pennant the last two years only to have their underdog World Series hopes dashed by Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers twice, are actually spending money this offseason.
Yes folks, sound the alarms, light the flares and, for those in the Bay Area, do the Bernie; A's general manager Billy Beane has opened up the wallet! Just like he said he would during the GM Meetings last month.
But he's also spending smart. Not bringing in stars, but filling needs.
Beane began the spending when he brought in utility infielder Nick Punto on a $3 million deal back on Nov. 13th. Punto split time between second, third and shortstop in 116 games for the Dodgers while batting .255 with two homers and 21 RBI.
That, however, was just the appetizer.
Yesterday, the A's agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal with lefty Scott Kazmir and followed that signing by acquiring closer Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for second baseman Jemile Weeks.
Johnson fills the A's need at closer after Grant Balfour "raged" his way into free agency, while Kazmir fills the hole in the A's rotation left by Bartolo Colon.
Johnson finished the 2013 campaign with 50 saves in 59 opportunities for the O's, with a 2.94 ERA. His 50 saves tied with Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for most in the bigs. Johnson has only blown 12 saves over the past two years (101 saves in 113 opportunities) spent as the Orioles' closer.
According to Tim Dierkes of MLBtraderumors.com, Johnson was due a big raise in arbitration following his two stellar seasons. Baltimore saves money by acquiring the young Weeks, while Oakland's increasing payroll allows them to afford Johnson.
Kazmir will arrive to the Bay Area following a 2013 season in which he posted a 10-9 record with a 4.04 ERA and 162 strikeouts. Kazmir also brings some much needed postseason experience, including two World Series starts with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 against the Philadelphia Phillies. In those two games he took a loss and a no decision over 10 innings pitched, allowing five runs while striking out nine.
The addition of Kazmir, assuming he can reproduce what he did for the Tribe in 2013, is a huge boost to a rotation that was second in the American League in ERA (3.56) and features young stud pitchers like A.J. Griffin (14-10, 3.83, 171 K), Tommy Milone (12-9, 4.14, 126 K), Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97, 134 K), Dan Straily (10-8, 3.96, 124 K) and Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67, 67 K).
Earlier today, Steve Adams of MLBtraderumors.com reported that the A's also acquired 30-year-old outfielder Craig Gentry, and pitcher Josh Lindblom from the Texas Rangers in exchange for 24-year-old outfielder Michael Choice.
Gentry, quite possibly one of the game's best defensive outfielders, hit .280 for the Rangers last year, with two homers and 22 RBIs.
The A's plan to make the 26-year-old Lindblom into a starting pitcher, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Lindblom carries a 3.82 career ERA as a reliever, appearing in 109 career games with the Dodgers, Phillies and Rangers.
To see this organization increase their payroll while still maintaining their way of business is definitely progress for Oakland, proving that 2012 wasn't just a one-hit kind of year. However, with all of that said, now that Oakland is spending more money, expectations will be high as well.
Another loss in the ALDS won't cut it in Oakland anymore.
Yet, should everything work out for Oakland as they hope... well, "Holy Toledo!"
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