Dodgers Acquire Sheldon Neuse, Gus Varland From A's In Exchange For Adam Kolarek
The A’s continued rebuilding their bullpen Friday morning, swinging a trade with the Dodgers that netted lefthander Adam Kolarek and outfielder Cody Thomas in exchange for a pair of top-30 prospects, infielder Sheldon Neuse and righthander Gus Varland.
Kolarek, 32, pitched to a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings out of Los Angeles’ bullpen in the shortened 2020 season while stranding nearly 96% of runners. He initially broke into the majors in 2017 with the Rays and owns a 3.32 ERA in parts of four big league seasons.
In return, the Dodgers acquire two intriguing prospects. Neuse, a natural third baseman, is close to the majors and was the top-ranked hitter for average in Oakland’s system. Varland was tabbed a potential riser in Oakland’s system in 2019 but had Tommy John surgery that summer.
This is not the first overlap between the Dodgers and A’s. Los Angeles famously signed Max Muncy, formerly with Oakland, as a minor league free agent and watched him blossom into a formidable power hitter. Current Dodgers closer Blake Treinen once held the same role in Oakland, and the two sides even linked up for a deal in 2016 when Los Angeles netted Rich Hill and Josh Reddick.
Scouting reports on all players below:
Sheldon Neuse, 3B/2B
Neuse, who was on Oakland's 40-man roster, entered 2021 ranked as Oakland’s No. 11 prospect after ranking in its top-10 in each of the previous two seasons. The A’s initially acquired Neuse with Jesus Luzardo in the 2017 trade with the Nationals that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington. A natural third baseman, Neuse was blocked by Matt Chapman and the A's asked him to increase his versatility, so he saw time at both shortstop and second base. He was considered a potential platoon option at second in 2020, but failed to win the job and spent all of the shortened season at the team’s alternate site. Neuse has long displayed impressive hitting qualities and boasts above-average power. He is aggressive, sometimes to a fault, but can make up for it with impressive barrel control. Neuse has struggled to get to his power consistently against higher-level pitching, posting 30-plus percent strikeout rates in his limited time in the majors, as well as at Triple-A, and his approach can waver. Neuse is a stocky athlete, but is surprisingly smooth in the field and his plus arm can handle all the throws at third base. He gives the Dodgers another close-to-the-majors option at third base, which could become important if they do not re-sign Justin Turner.
Gus Varland, RHP
Ranked No. 22 in Oakland’s system entering 2021, the A’s immediately tabbed Varland as a potential riser after they drafted him in the 14th round out of Division III Concordia-St. Paul and he subsequently dazzled at both short-season Vermont and Low-A Beloit. At his best, Varland features a fastball that can touch 94-95 mph with a strong spin rate that helps it play effectively up in the zone. He also mixes in a tight-spinning slider and a changeup that could still use more refinement. There is some concern about Varland’s delivery —the added length in the back both adds deception and stress on the elbow—and the A’s worked with him to get his elbow to flex more upon his foot striking the ground as he finished pitches. Varland had Tommy John surgery in July 2019 and returned to throw eight innings in instructs this fall, looking much like he did prior to injury. He projected as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter or multi-inning reliever.
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Adam Kolarek, LHP
Kolarek has been one of the top lefty specialists in baseball the last few seasons. Since his MLB debut in 2017, he’s held lefties to a .176/.217/.248 slash line and allowed only two home runs in 221 plate appearances. However, Kolarek is much more susceptible to righthanded hitters (.297/.365/.470) and the introduction of the three-batter minimum makes it difficult to find the right spot for him, lest he fail to retire a key lefty and has to pitch to a righthanded hitter. Even so, his presence gives the A’s a strong option to counter Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez with the Astros, Joey Gallo with the Rangers and Shohei Ohtani with the Angels among the dangerous lefthanded hitters in the American League West. He is under team control for four more seasons and will not be a free agent until after 2024.
Cody Thomas, OF
Thomas was the backup quarterback at Oklahoma for two seasons, including one behind Baker Mayfield, before quitting football and focusing solely on baseball on junior. He was drafted in the 13th round by the Dodgers and made his way to Double-A in 2019, where he led the Texas League with 23 home runs but also struck out 144 times, tied for eighth-most in the league. Thomas is built like a football player at a thick 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and has the strength and power to match. He has plus raw power from the left side and shows flashes of it in games, but his consistency is often lacking and he’ll go through long stretches where he struggles to make contact. Thomas doesn’t have the game experience of most players his age, so there is some thought he has more room to grow as he gets more at-bats. His physicality, lefthanded power and solid athleticism give him a foundation to work from.