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Athletics trading aggressively as winter meetings approach

OAKLAND, Calif. – Billy Beane is busy dealing in December once again.

In one whirlwind stretch of less than 24 hours, the Oakland general manager pulled off a trio of trades with three different clubs and upgraded Oakland’s bullpen in the process. Beane believes his overall roster might be even better heading into 2014, with the front office determined to keep the low-budget club a contender after consecutive AL West crowns.

“In the time I’ve been here, we won the West in ’12 and Billy didn’t stand pat,” Manager Bob Melvin said yesterday. “He always looks to improve the team.”

First, the A’s acquired AL saves leader Jim Johnson from Baltimore late Monday as the replacement for All-Star closer Grant Balfour. Then yesterday, the two-time defending division champions traded for San Diego right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson in a swap that sent outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres.

That move became a viable option after outfielder Craig Gentry was acquired from Texas earlier yesterday with top outfield prospect Michael Choice going to the division rival Rangers.

Oakland also is waiting on lefty Scott Kazmir’s physical to finalize a $22 million, two-year contract.

“It’s fun. We’ve always had a pretty fraternal group,” Beane said. “We had some spots we needed to fill. I think we addressed the areas we needed to and in some cases I think maybe even upgraded, particularly when you look at the bullpen with the addition of both Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson. We all feel real good about where we are. The next step is putting it on the field.”

It’s been a busy couple of days for Beane and his staff to say the least, building the 2014 team through calculated additions and subtractions via trade. That has long been Beane’s offseason approach – and he insists even with all of these moves he might not be done.

Baseball’s annual winter meetings begin Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

“I don’t think it’s in our interest to sit here and take the winter off,” Beane said. “There’s a lot of winter left and a lot can happen.”

While the A’s have their starting outfield returning in center fielder Coco Crisp, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and right fielder Josh Reddick, Gentry provides an option off the bench and creates depth. The returnees have dealt with injuries in recent seasons.

Melvin and Beane have watched the versatile Gentry for years. They also received right-hander Josh Lindblom in the deal. Texas gets Choice and minor league infielder Chris Bostick.

The deal to acquire Johnson “came together pretty quickly,” Beane said, noting he was a pitcher on the team’s radar.

“As you can imagine, it was a pretty frenetic pace and we have a lot of satisfaction we were able to pull everything together,” Beane said.

Just in the short time since he switched teams, Johnson noticed how active Beane and his staff have been.

“It’s a team that’s competitive and they’re making more moves to be competitive,” Johnson said. “They’ve been busy and they’re trying to build some excitement. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my career and personally.”

Melvin is thrilled to add Johnson as his closer while being afforded the luxury of keeping his other important bullpen options – Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Dan Otero and Jerry Blevins – in their regular roles.

“That’s another key acquisition for us with Balfour going into free agency,” Melvin said of Johnson. “We did it with a proven guy, with a track record who has 101 saves the past two years. We could have done that with any number of guys, but this allows us to keep these major pieces in roles they’ve succeeded in – getting us to the ninth inning.”

And, now, Melvin will work Gregerson into that mix.

“I’m ready for anything,” Gregerson said. “I’ve been in a lot of different scenarios with San Diego and why should that change now?”

Gentry could get regular starts at designated hitter or the outfield against left-handed pitching.

Gentry batted .280 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 106 games for the Rangers this year.

“We’ve always really, really liked this player,” Melvin said. “Sometimes his stats don’t really indicate how he can impact the game. He’s one of those rare guys who can come off the bench and impact the game even if he doesn’t start it.”

Gentry is determined to do whatever he can to help the A’s win another AL West title.

“Being on the other side of the white lines from these guys so many years, it’s a great ballclub,” said Gentry, who feels comfortable in any outfield spot. “Hopefully whatever I can to help the team keep winning and keep up their streak. They handle themselves, they play hard. That team is exactly the type of player I am. I think I’m going to fit in well over there.”

The 24-year-old Choice, taken by Oakland with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, made his major league debut in September and played nine games late in the season for the A’s, batting .278 with a double and two runs scored.

As difficult as such decisions are, Beane chose to deal “one of our best prospects.”

“Trades are the biggest source of talent for us,” Beane said. “We don’t have a five-year plan here, we have a one-year stadium lease. We’re just not going to straddle the fence in what we do.”

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