OAKLAND -- Baseball's biggest buyers at this time last year are officially sellers. The A's, entering Thursday 11 games back of their division despite improved play of late, dealt one of their biggest assets in the morning, sending left-hander Scott Kazmir to his hometown Houston Astros for right-handed pitcher Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham, both Minor League prospects.
A struggling A's club that entered the season with expectations of a fourth consecutive postseason appearance may not be done, either. General manager Billy Beane, his focus firmly fixated on the future, could also look to move infielder Ben Zobrist and closer Tyler Clippard ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Like Kazmir, they will be free agents at season's end and could bring back several more prospects for Beane, who is building a large collection following the trades of six All-Stars in a year's time.
"I think we had to be realistic where we were as a club," said Beane, who last July acquired aces Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester amid a playoff push. "How we came out after the All-Star break was important. We were 3-2, but unfortunately still dropping a couple games with the way the Angels were playing. With the deadline looming and the market probably soon to be ripe with a lot of opportunities, we thought this was the proper time."
Kazmir, 31, was originally signed to a two-year, $22 million deal by the A's as a free agent ahead of the 2014 season. He went 20-14 with a 3.12 ERA in 40 starts for them, including 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 18 starts this season, exceeding expectations most had for the resurrected left-hander.
Beane and A's manager Bob Melvin lauded Kazmir's on-field work and gave equal praise to his clubhouse leadership, noting the influence the three-time All-Star had on several youngsters, including locker mate Sonny Gray.
Before the trade was finalized, Kazmir was scheduled to start against the Blue Jays on Thursday. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz instead toed the rubber in his place and is expected to remain in a patchwork rotation that also recently lost Jesse Hahn to a forearm injury.
The A's have had at least six players on the disabled list all year, and the group that has been healthy struggled out of the gates, falling 16 games under .500 at the conclusion of play May 22. They're 30-22 since, but still face a daunting upward climb to contention.
"We weren't necessarily in a position where we wanted to do anything," Beane said. "We wanted to give the club as much an opportunity as we could, so we were kind of hand-checking as much as anything. Ultimately, when they included a player we thought very highly of, it came together pretty quickly."
The 20-year-old Nottingham, who forced Beane's hand in turning the deal, is hitting a combined .326 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs across stints with Class A Quad Cities and, more recently, Class-A Lancaster. Houston took him in the sixth round of the 2013 draft.
"For a catcher to be potentially a middle-of-the-order hitter, that's really unusual," Beane said. "We sent a few of our scouts to watch some guys in their system, and this kid really stood out, and they have a very deep system, so they were an attractive team to engage with."
Nottingham and Mengden, a right-handed pitcher projected as a future A's starter, will immediately join Class A Stockton.
Mengden was ranked No. 19 among Houston prospects by MLBPipeline.com. Nottingham was No. 22.
Kazmir spent nearly an hour in the A's clubhouse saying his goodbyes and swapping hugs with teammates and coaches before departing. Though he knew this day could come, he maintains he was still "shocked" when he heard the news from Beane and Melvin.
"It's something you gotta wrap your head around," he said. "But you know, I'll say I had a great time here, I really did. I'm going to miss all the guys here, staff, everyone, top to bottom. I really don't have too much to say because everything feels like it just hit me at once. It's going to take some time to sink some stuff in."
To take Kazmir's spot on the roster, the A's recalled right-handed pitcher Arnold Leon.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.