A's land Kouzmanoff in deal with Padres
Along with Cunningham, Hairston returns to San Diego
Kevin Kouzmanoff admitted Saturday he's been a long-time admirer of Eric Chavez.
Now, he's headed to Oakland to possibly serve as his replacement.
The Athletics and Padres completed a four-player deal on Saturday, one that sent Kouzmanoff and Minor League infielder Eric Sogard to Oakland in exchange for outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.
The slick-fielding Kouzmanoff -- who has also displayed pretty good power numbers despite playing three years at the pitcher-friendly PETCO Park -- fills a position of dire need for the A's, who don't believe Chavez -- coming off two back surgeries -- can play third base on an everyday basis anymore.
"Eric's a heck of a ballplayer, man," Kouzmanoff said in a conference call. "I've got some competition, you know? And he's actually been one of my favorite players to watch. I've admired him for a long time and love his game, love watching him play. It'll be exciting to get next to him and take some swings with him."
A's general manager Billy Beane didn't dismiss a possible platoon at third base if the lefty-hitting Chavez proves he's healthy, but he added that Chavez is also versatile enough to also handle other positions -- perhaps first base or the outfield.
"We had gone into the offseason realizing that with Eric's health the last couple of years, [third base] was a position we needed to fill," Beane said. "And if Eric was able to come back, then we had a good problem on our hands. So we were pretty determined the whole offseason to find somebody who could play the position on an everyday basis and hopefully play it well.
"I think this will actually help [Chavez], as well, because I don't think there will be the pressure on Eric, if we didn't have Kouzmanoff, to go over there and feel like he was going to have to man the third-base position for 140 games."
While speaking to The San Francisco Chronicle, Chavez said that if he's healthy, he believes the plan would be for him to merge into a utility player -- spelling Kouzmanoff once or twice a week, serving as a designated hitter, playing some first base and outfield, and maybe even being the team's backup at his natural position of shortstop.
"I've always been open to playing anywhere," Chavez told the Chronicle. "I've taken a lot of pride in being the best third baseman I can be, but I've never felt that third base is what I have to be."
Kouzmanoff, going into his fifth season in the Majors, batted .255 with 18 homers and a career-high 88 RBIs in 141 games for the Padres this past season. The 28-year-old, originally from Newport Beach, Calif., was a sixth-round Draft pick by the Indians in 2003 and had a 16-game stint with them as a rookie in '06.
He was then traded to the Padres that offseason, and in his three years in San Diego, he's hit .263 while averaging 20 homers, 82 RBIs and 147 games each season.
Like Chavez, Kouzmanoff is pretty good with the glove, too.
The right-handed-hitting third baseman committed just three errors at the hot corner in 2009, setting a National League record for fielding percentage for a third baseman at .990.
Each year in the big leagues, Kouzmanoff's fielding percentage has increased, from .857 in 2006, to .932 in '07, .974 in '08 and the NL record in '09.
"Years ago, when I first got into pro ball, I was told I had a good bat but I was a little rocky defensively," said Kouzmanoff, who's arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. "As soon as I heard that, I realized there was another aspect to my game I needed to work on, so I've been working just on my defense hard for years now, and I think it's finally starting to pay off now with a lot of reps."
In the deal, the Athletics will be returning Hairston to the club they acquired him from about six months ago. Upon hearing of the trade, Kouzmanoff was excited to be joining his old pal from San Diego. But then he gave Hairston a call and found out the two had essentially been swapped.
"That was kind of surprising because he just came from San Diego, and I didn't think he was going to be going back," Kouzmanoff said. "But that's just the business side of things."
Beane said Sogard, the 23-year-old second baseman the A's got in return, is "a guy that we wanted to draft [out of Arizona State], and since he's signed, he hasn't disappointed."
In 117 games for Double-A San Antonio in 2009, Sogard -- a second-round Draft pick in '07 -- hit .293 with six homers and 51 RBIs. The lefty hitter sports a .292 batting average and .375 on-base percentage in his three years in the Minor Leagues.
As for parting with Hairston and Cunningham, Beane admitted he would've preferred to make his moves in free agency -- namely, third baseman Adrian Beltre, whom the club was reportedly interested in -- so they wouldn't give up young players in return.
But Beane said the club addressed its major need in acquiring Kouzmanoff.
"He's got power, he's a solid defender and he's really just made himself a solid Major League third baseman, which is exactly what we need right now with Eric being on the shelf the last couple of years," Beane said. "I think he's a great fit, especially at this time."
Now the A's will look to acquire a utility infielder, especially one who can spell Cliff Pennington at shortstop if needed.
"Cliff is going to be the guy [at shortstop]," Beane said.
"And I think the need we need to address immediately is a backup guy to Cliff and Mark [Ellis] at second base."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.