Tagged: A's

The Sunday Scuttlebutt: Goodbye and Farewell

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Baseball’s amateur draft, slated to begin a week from Tuesday, would carry
far more luster if Major League Baseball would change its antiquated rules
preventing teams from trading draft choices. All of the other sports allow
draft choices to be traded, except for baseball, which continues to operate
under the fear that agents like Scott Boras would demand trades for clients
drafted by undesirable teams. (What teams don’t seem willing to admit is that Boras already tries to redirect players by refusing to sign contracts
with their drafting teams, thus enabling those players to re-enter the draft
the following year.) By allowing teams to trade draft picks both during and
after the selection process, MLB would accomplish two objectives. First, the
occurrence of draft-day trades would jazz up the festivities on June 9,
bringing more publicity to an event that is currently only followed by draft
diehards. (Imagine the stir that would be caused if the Nationals traded their
No. 1 pick, essentially the rights to uberprospect right-hander Stephen Strasburg,
to a team like the Phillies for three or four prospects.) Second, with so many
contending teams reluctant to deal their near-ready major league prospects for
short-term fixes, they would instead be able to substitute draft choices in
dealing for veteran players who can provide immediate help in the pennant race.
We would therefore see far more trades between now and the July 31st
deadline, spicing up what has become a lackluster trading season in recent
years…

 

Even with a healthy Brett Myers, the Phillies needed to add
another starter to make a successful run at their second-straight National
League East title. With Myers likely out for the season because of looming
labrum surgery on his hip, the need has only intensified. Heck, the Phillies
may have to add two starters to a core of starters that features ace Cole
Hamels, Joe “Bulldog” Blanton, and the sphinx-like Jamie Moyer, who just won
his 250th game. That threesome simply is not good enough to win the
East, especially with the Mets looming…

 

The hype attached to this week’s recall of super prospect
Matt Wieters by the Orioles is like nothing I’ve seen since the Rangers brought
David Clyde to the major leagues immediately after he was drafted out of high
school in 1974. In a way, I feel bad for Wieters, who has been praised to the
point that we expect him to become Carlton Fisk, Joe Mauer, and Ted Simmons all
rolled into one. Wieters will probably develop into a very fine player, perhaps
a great one, but it is quickly becoming impossible to scale the Mt. Everest
of expectations that has been created by so many talent evaluators and
prospects gurus. Let the young man breathe a little bit…

 

Not long ago, David Dellucci was a productive platoon player
capable of hitting for power, drawing walks, and fielding any of the three
outfield positions. On Friday, the Indians designated Dellucci for assignment,
a prelude to what will probably be his unconditional release. Based upon the
laments of Indians fans who have watched him stagger through the last season
and a half, Dellucci’s career looks to be cooked. He can’t hit, run, or field
at a competent level anymore, not even well enough to play regularly for an
Indians team crying for help in the outfield corners…

 

You know the first-place Yankees are doing well when Mike
Lupica makes only two references to them in his Sunday “Shooting From The Lip”
series of one-liners. If the Yankees were still struggling, as they did for the
first month of the season, every other segment of Lupica’s “column” would
feature some kind of potshot against the organization. The pattern has become
oh-so predictable from the guy who has been paid to hate the Yankees for over
30 years…

 

In a season filled with injury, disappointment, and general
underperformance, the A’s have found a bright spot in the play of veteran
second baseman Adam Kennedy. Acquired from the Rays as a replacement for the
perennially injured Mark Ellis, Kennedy is hitting .400 with five stolen bases
since being anointed the interim pivotman for Oakland. The Rays must be kicking themselves
for dumping Kennedy in a cash deal, especially after they lost Akinori Iwamura
to injury for the balance of the season. Tampa’s
unsettled second base situation is one of just several problem areas, in
addition to the season-long slump of Pat Burrell and the injury- ravaged
bullpen, where journeyman sidewinder Randy Choate is now receiving chances to
close games…

 

 

***

 

These words will mark my final musings for MLBlogs. After an
eventful and fruitful four-year run as the author of this blog, I’ve decided to
pack up the laptop and move to another venue. I want to thank at least some of
the people who have helped me along the way, such as Mark Newman, who has
provided guidance and assistance since my first article appeared here in May of
2005. Jacob Wilson has also helped by providing technical assistance, a
necessity for someone who is as computer ignorant as me. Additionally, I must
mention the contributions of those who have posted comments, along with the
loyalty of the readers, a small but dedicated group who have motivated and
supported my efforts. I hope you have all enjoyed the writing here, a product
of hard work and an undying love for our great game.

 

I will continue to write for Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter, but
beginning this week, I will be writing a weekly article for The Hardball Times,
an outstanding web site featuring original in-depth comment. I will also be
contributing periodically to the site’s new blog, THT Live. So beginning this
Friday, you can find my writing at www.thehardballtimes.com.
I hope that at least some of our readers and posters will follow us over there
while continuing to support some of the good people here at MLB, like Bronx
Banter, Julia’s Rants, The Newberg Report, and Curt Smith’s Voices of the Game.

 

So it is time to bid goodbye and farewell, but hopefully
only until the next adventure begins in a new location. See you at The Hardball
Times.

 

Sincerely,

 

Bruce Markusen

“Cooperstown Confidential”

Cooperstown,
NY

 

 

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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With Carlos Delgado out of commission for at least two
months and possibly longer, the Mets need to face facts and acquire a first
baseman who can hit with some power. Even with Delgado for most of this season,
the Mets have hit the third fewest home runs among the 30 major league teams;
only the Giants and A’s from the power-starved Bay Area have lower totals. Of
the available first basemen, Nick “The Stick” Johnson appears to be the best
player. According to the estimable Peter Gammons, the Nationals have asked for
right-hander Bobby Parnell in return. As much as Johnson could help, I don’t
see the Mets making that deal. Parnell, who was just clocked at 100 miles per
hour at a weekend game in Fenway
Park, has a full arsenal
of four pitches and could contribute long-term as a No. 3 starter. Given
Johnson’s injury history, the Mets would be wise to hold onto Parnell and
substitute another pitcher or two (Brian Stokes? Sean Green?) in his place…

 

The Mets have also expressed interest in Mark DeRosa, the super-utilityman
who could become the first victim of Cleveland’s
dreadful start. DeRosa’s versatility would be wasted as a first baseman, but he
could always move to left field or second base once Delgado returns in July.
The Mets have received virtually no home run production from their second
basemen or corner outfielders, which points out the lack of depth within their
top-heavy lineup…

 

Is it just me or is anyone else getting sick of Jake Peavy’s
pickiness when it comes to finding a new place to pitch? First, Peavy didn’t
want to go to Atlanta,
and now he’s given the heave-ho to the White Sox, who had agreed to send two
prospects to the Padres. Peavy wants a contract extension to accompany any
trade, and has also indicated that he prefers to play in the National League,
and not the American League. Does Peavy have such little confidence in his
ability that he feels he can’t be successful in the tougher league? If that’s
the case, I’d be awfully hesitant to trade a large package for Peavy,
ostensibly one of the top five or ten starting pitchers in the game. Peavy’s
reticence, along with his inability to get into the seventh or eighth innings,
should serve as red flags to opposing general managers…

 

While the Padres failed in their latest attempt to trade
Peavy, they did execute a minor deal on Friday, sending Jody Gerut to the
Brewers for Tony Gwynn, Jr. Let’s chalk this one up as strictly a public
relations move, as the Padres acquired the son of their first full-fledged Hall
of Famer. At best, the younger Gwynn looks like fourth outfielder material,
hardly a fair return for Gerut, who has some power and can handle all three
outfield positions. If Gerut can stay healthy, he’ll help the surprising
Brewers in the jumbled NL Central…

 

How much longer do the Orioles wait before summoning No. 1
prospect Matt Wieters from Triple-A? The O’s, who are going nowhere in a
stacked AL East, have been playing an aging Gregg Zaun as their first-string
catcher when he’s clearly a backup at this stage of his career. Orioles fan need
some reasons to hope; let that hope begin with the promotion of Wieters…

 

Is it any wonder that the A’s aren’t scoring runs? Not only
have they suffered a huge power outage at McAfee Coliseum, but now they’re
batting Orlando Cabera in the leadoff spot. I actually like Cabrera as a
player, but if he’s a leadoff man, then Perez Hilton is a great journalist…

 

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels might be an early
favorite for American League executive of the year honors. Daniels took a great
deal of heat for some of his offseason moves, like moving Michael Young to
third base, but most of Daniels’ plans seem to be working. The Rangers are much
better defensively with Young at third base and rookie Elvis Andrus at
shortstop, allowing Hank Blalock to concentrate on his hitting skills as a DH.
The signing and revival of Andruw Jones has also paid dividends, giving the
Rangers depth in the outfield and a potential trade chip should they fall out
of contention…

 

The Hall of Fame staged a nice event on Saturday, when it
debuted its new exhibit, “Viva Baseball,” which chronicles the history of Latin
American participation in the sport. Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Juan
Marichal attended the opening, with both speaking eloquently about their pride
in the achievements of such fellow Latino standouts as Felipe Alou, Roberto
Clemente, and Minnie Minoso. A full house of media, including a number of
prominent Latino broadcasters and writers, made for standing room only in the
VIP seating area bordering the exhibit. With its array of vivid colors, selection
of multi-media interviews with Latino Hall of Famers, the impressive
large-screen video board, and the bilingual approach to storytelling, the
exhibit is brilliantly presented…

 

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, two new names have been added
to the roster for the first ever Hall of Fame Classic, scheduled for June 21 in
Cooperstown. Jeff Kent and Mike Timlin, both
retired after finishing their careers in 2008, have committed to play in the
old-timers game scheduled for Doubleday Field. (I could see Kent hitting three or four home
runs while taking shots at the short left-field porch at Doubleday.) Aside from
Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, and
Brooks Robinson, the Hall can now boast the following headliners for the game: Kent,
Bobby Grich, George Foster, Jim Kaat and Lee Smith. Of those latter five, I’d
vote Kent and Grich for Hall of Fame induction, with tough “no” votes for Kaat
and Smith. And here’s perhaps the best news about the Hall of Fame Classic.
Tickets are only $12.50, a far cry from the small fortune being asked by the
Yankees to attend games at their new stadium.

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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How quickly a player’s value can change. Brandon Inge could
have been had for a song during spring training. The Tigers would have taken a
small amount of talent from any team willing to pick up the bulk of Inge’s
contract for 2009. Just a few weeks later, the Tigers are glad that nobody took
a flyer on their starting third baseman. Through Sunday’s games, Inge has hit
seven home runs and is making an early argument for a berth on the American
League All-Star team, especially with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. He’s
also played a stellar level of defense at third base, which is no surprise to some
scouts who consider him capable of winning a Gold Glove…

 

The Royals made a surprising move this weekend when they
designated third-string catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena is a rare
breed in 2009–a backup catcher who can actually hit and carries more than a
modicum of power. He also brings versatility to the table, with his ability to
fill in at third, first, and the outfield corners. Expect the Royals to find a
taker in a trade for Pena. If not, he won’t last long on the waiver wire. There
are at least a dozen major league teams who could use help behind the plate

 

The Yankees just cannot seem to avoid injuries. For the
third straight year, the Bombers have been assaulted by a wave of physical
setbacks to start the season. They have five players slated to be part of their
25-man roster currently on the disabled list. The growing list includes set-up
reliever Brian Bruney (elbow), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hip), and default third
baseman Cody Ransom (torn quad), all of whom have hit the DL during the
Yankees’ disastrous weekend venture to Boston…

 

Speaking of waves of injuries, I thought the A’s would be a
factor in the AL West, but the disabled just isn’t cooperating. Staff ace
Justin Duchscherer remains on the 15-day DL with an elbow that underwent
arthroscopic surgery and won’t be able to return until the middle of May at the
earliest.  The A’s also learned this week
that their No. 1 set-up reliever, Joey Devine, will likely be lost for the
season because of an elbow injury. With Duchscherer and Devine, the A’s would
have made a run for the Western Division with the Angels, who have a ravaged
pitching staff of their own, but without at least one of the “Double D’s,”
Billy Beane may have to conduct another firesale this July…

 

Jeff Francouer has promised repeatedly that he’ll be a new
player in 2009, but we’re still seeing the same strangling level of impatience
at the plate. Through Sunday’s games, Francouer has drawn only three walks in
18 games, which is palatable if you’re a Kirby Puckett type of player, but unacceptable
if you’re not hitting for power and not bringing Gold Glove fielding to right
field. Unfortunately, the Braves are strapped for outfielders. They’ve already
made top prospect Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder and just had to place
the disappointing Garret Anderson on the disabled list…

 

On paper, the signing of Milton Bradley made tons of sense
for the Cubs. They need the kind of left-handed bat that the switch-hitting Bradley
can provide. But Bradley has started out miserably at the plate (one hit in 23
at-bats), has already suffered his first injury, and won’t play again until Lou
Piniella deems him 100 per cent healthy. In the meantime, the Cubs will
continue to play with 24 men. Observers in Chicago are also wondering when Milton and
Sweet Lou will have their first blow-up. Both men have explosive tempers that
tend to erupt when things go badly on the playing field. Watch out in the Windy City…

 

Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did during the 2004
postseason, when he practically carried the Astros to their first berth in the
World Series. By flattening out an already level swing, Beltran has been able
to hit National League pitching at a .406 clip. Beltran won’t hit .400 for the
entire season, but his speed, patience, and ability to switch-hit make him a
contender for his first batting title. I just hope that Beltran doesn’t wear
himself out trying to catch everything in an outfield that will feature Daniel “Bull
in a China Shop” Murphy all too regularly and Gary Sheffield on occasion… Sheffield’s
presence on the roster continues to surprise many of the New York beat writers. With Sheffield in town, Fernando Tatis’ role has been reduced
to almost nothing, while Ryan Church remains a platoon player in the eyes of
Jerry Manuel. Sheffield started Friday night’s game against Washington’s Scott Olsen, the first time the
Mets had faced a left-handed starter all season…

 

Finally, a postscript to Hank Aaron’s visit to the Hall of
Fame on Saturday. In filling out all of the artifacts contained in the new
Aaron exhibit, the former Braves legend has donated more than 50 pieces of
memorabilia to the Hall of Fame and Museum. The large supply of Aaron artifacts
include not only the requisite share of milestone bats, balls and gloves, and
his entire uniform from home run No. 715, but also several bricks and a porch
post from Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile, Alabama. Those surviving pieces
from Aaron’s youth serve as yet another reminder of how “The Hammer” came from
modest beginnings, overcoming a lack of money and a preponderance of racism on
his way to one of the greatest careers in the game’s history. Kudos to Hall of
Fame curators Erik Strohl and Mary Quinn for a job well done in constructing
such an extensive exhibit on Aaron, now on permanent display on the Museum’s
third floor.

The Nickname Game: Team Names

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Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.


While
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.


“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox

Epitomizing
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.

 

“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
Yankees

No
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison.  The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.

 

“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
Cardinals

This
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
brawls.

 

“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:

Coming
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).

 

“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
Reds

Some
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”


“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
Pirates

The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.

 

“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s

After
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.


“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves

The
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.


“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox

The
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.


“The Bronx
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees

This
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse.  It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.

 

“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers

The
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).

 

“Harvey’s
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers

This
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.

 

Sunday Night Splash–Giambi, The A’s, and Taveras

Each winter brings outrageous free agent demands by players and their agents. At the start of the current off season, Scott Boras let it be known that he wanted a ten-year, $250 million contract for prized client Mark Teixeira. Last week, Boras “settled” for an eight-year deal worth $180 million. But even Boras’ initial demands don’t represent the most outrageous request by an agent or player this winter. No, that honor belongs to Jason Giambi, who has had the gall to insist that the A’s give him a three-year contract running through the 2011 season. That would be a three-year contract for a 38-year-old, one-dimensional slugger with a bad body and a severe lack of athleticism. That would be three years for a guy who plays first base with all the dexterity of a stone statue, and will be limited to DH duty for the balance of the contract. That would be three years for a streak hitter who disappears for long stretches, making him an offensive non-entity because of his lack of foot speed and inability to make contact. Is Giambi out of his mind? How did A’s GM Billy Beane prevent himself from keeling over with laughter after hearing that particular demand from Giambi’s agent? I mean, you can’t write this stuff…

 

Because of Giambi’s desire a three-year deal, the A’s have turned to two other free agents of left-handed vintage, Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson. Abreu makes some sense because of his ability to maintain a high on-base percentage and steal bases, but Anderson is harder to figure. Never a patient hitter, Anderson doesn’t draw walks the way the A’s would like their sluggers to do. He also has a bad reputation for failing to run out grounders and pop-ups, a criticism that dates back several years with the Angels. Frankly, I’m surprised the A’s haven’t made a run at underrated free agent Adam Dunn, whose combination of power and patience makes him the consummate “Moneyball” player. Dunn also has seen his market shrink this winter, making it possible for the A’s to sign him to a three-year deal at reasonable terms. With Dunn and Matt Holliday in the middle of the Oakland order, the A’s would have their best one-two power punch since the hey day of Giambi and Miguel Tejada…

 

Dunn’s former team, the Reds, made a risky signing over the weekend. They inked the non-tendered Willy Taveras to a two-year contract, thereby committing themselves to him as their new leadoff man. Taveras is a good defensive center fielder with plenty of range, but his .320 on-base percentage is less than satisfactory in the leadoff spot. And while he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases, it’s always a bad sign when your stolen base total exceeds your runs scored total; Taveras scored a mere 64 runs in 2008. He’s really only a slightly upgraded version of Omar Moreno, which is fine when you have players like Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Bill Robinson, and Mike “The Hit Man” Easler batting behind you, but the Reds don’t have that assemblage of talent backing their leadoff man. In an ideal world, Taveras should be batting eighth in a National League lineup, but the Reds don’t have anyone else who fills the bill properly…

 

With Taveras in place, the Reds now have two-thirds of their outfield set: Taveras’ presence in center and allows Jay Bruce to move to right field, where he’ll be a better long-term fit. Still in need of someone to play left field, the Reds are considering moving Edwin Encarnacion from third base to the outfield, but they’d first have to sign Ty Wigginton. The Reds have also made contact with the Yankees about one of their spare outfielders, either Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, or Nick Swisher. Let’s rule out Matsui, mostly because no one knows whether his two surgically repaired knees will hold up playing the outfield. IT could come down to a preference for either Nady (who can be a free agent after 2009) or Swisher (who is signed long term), with the Yankees likely looking for two solid bench players in return. A package including a catcher (Ryan Hanigan?) and an infielder like Jeff Keppinger could get it done, or perhaps Keppinger and a B-level prospect. 

Holliday Rush

In an age when there are few wheeler-dealer types among major league general managers, Billy Beane is the closest thing we’ll ever find to an old throwback like Charlie Finley. Thankfully, Beane comes without the personality problems that made Finley reviled among the other owners and the rest of the baseball establishment. But just like Finley, Beane will make trades at any time, whether it’s dealing veterans for kids, like he did over the summer in trading Rich Harden and Joe Blanton to the Cubs and Phillies, respectively. Just a few months later, he’s on the verge of trading kids for veterans, with a swap of three players to the Rockies for Matt Holliday pending only the passing of physicals for the players involved.

In acquiring Holliday, a legitimate star, Beane is sending a clear message to the Angels and the rest of the American League West: The A’s can win a weak division in 2009. Beane understands that the Mariners are putrid, the Rangers are still rebuilding, and the Angels could be on the downhill slide once they lose free agents Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. Holliday by himself won’t be enough to slice the gap between the A’s and Angels, but he is an excellent first step in that direction. Holliday is an all-purpose offensive player who hits for average and power, draws walks, and runs the bases well. For a team that desperately needs an offensive infusion, there are few players who can help as much as Holliday. There’s a perception that Holliday is a one-dimensional slugger, but he’s a smart baserunner who managed to steal 28 bases this season. He won’t steal that many again in 2009, but it’s reasonable to think he’ll steal 15 to 20 bases, making him a threat to go 30-20 in the power-speed department. As an outfielder, Holliday’s probably below average, but isn’t such a liability that he makes you cringe the way that Manny Ramirez and Bobby Abreu do. He’ll also find the outfield at McAfee Coliseum easier to play than that of Coors Field. 

If Beane can supplement his apparent pickup of Holliday with several other shrewd acquisitions, the A’s will have a chance to make a run at the Angels next summer. Beane still needs a new left side of the infield; along those lines, he will make a hard charge at free agent Rafael Furcal, who could double as Oakland’s new leadoff man. He would also be smart to stop counting on a comeback from the always-injured Eric Chavez, and instead consider free agent third basemen like Casey Blake and Joe Crede. In giving up Carlos Gonzalez as part of the return package for Holliday, he’ll need to find a new center fielder, perhaps someone like Melky Cabrera (trade) or Jim Edmonds (free agency). The A’s could then add Jason Giambi as a free agent, giving them a DH who walks and hits home runs the way that the A’s once did during the height of their Moneyball frenzy.  

So there’s still a lot of work to do if Beane is indeed hellbent on trying to make the playoffs in 2009. But with Holliday soon to be in place batting fourth and playing left field for the new-look A’s, Beane has managed to complete his first major hurdle of the off season.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Oakland Follies, Luis Ayala, and Pete Rose

This is no way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of being the Oakland A’s. Including Sunday’s 13-1 humiliation at the hands of the White Sox, the A’s are now 5-23 since the All-Star break. As Bill Madden pointed out in his Sunday column in the Daily News, their level of play is so historically bad that they are threatening to eclipse the franchise mark for the worst post-All-Star break record ever. That was set in 1943, when the Philadelphia A’s went 15-61 under Hall of Famer Connie Mack. For those who may have missed out on that team, the ’43 A’s featured the immortal infield of Dick Siebert, Pete Suder, Irv Hall, and Eddie Mayo, who combined to hit four home runs over the 154-game schedule.

The reasons for the sorry state of the current A’s are numerous. A full-throttle assault of injuries (including season-ending jolts to Mike Sweeney and Eric Chavez), midseason trades that sent Rich Harden and Joe Blanton elsewhere, and a reliance on too many not-ready-for-prime-time prospects have all conspired to place the A’s in a death spiral. If you’d like to place a finger on the No. 1 culprit, however, you might be advised to look at the team’s offense. At their current pace, the A’s are on track to score the fewest number of runs in franchise history since the 1979 A’s. Managed by the forgotten Jim Marshall, those A’s managed to score 573 runs for the season. With such luminaries as Mike Edwards playing second base and Rob Picciolo at shortstop, and journeyman catcher Jeff Newman leading the team with a scant 22 home runs, the ’79 A’s lost an Oakland-record 108 games on their way to finishing last in the American League West.

In terms of hitting, today’s A’s aren’t much better. Corner infielders Daric Barton and Jack Hannahan have been offensive ciphers, combining for ten home runs all season. (Where are Dave Revering and Wayne Gross when you need them?) After a good start to the year, outfielder Emil Brown has reverted to journeyman form, justifying the Royals’ decision to release him after 2007. Even highly regarded center fielder Carlos Gonzalez has struggled, experiencing growing pains despite being the top prospect acquired from Arizona in the Danny Haren deal last winter.

Only a good start to the season has prevented the A’s from taking their place next to the franchise’s worst teams in terms of won-loss record. Since moving to Oakland in 1968, the A’s have experienced 100-loss seasons only three times. Despite their horrific play over the last month, the current A’s are only 11 games under .500, at 56-67. Padded by the early season wins, the A’s would have to endure a truly awful stretch for them to challenge the 100-loss mark.

Then again, it’s only mid-August. Maybe these A’s have another 33 losses in them…

In contrast to the A’s, the Mets are trying to reverse their trend of early season underachievement by playing their best ball over the past month. Prior to Monday’s loss to the Bucs, the Mets had won six games in a row–in spite of Billy Wagner’s continuing absence. The Mets understandably remain concerned about their bullpen, though, which explains Omar Minaya’s acquisition of Luis Ayala on Sunday. I might be in the minority on this one, but I like the pickup of Ayala. Though he’s pitched poorly this season, Ayala was very good in 2007; in fact, he’s been an effective middle reliever his entire career. His career ERA of 3.33 is a full run better than the league average. A change of scenery–from the league-worst Nationals to the hard-charging Mets–might be a tonic for Ayala, who is only 30 and fully healthy after missing all of 2006 because of Tommy John surgery…

ESPN SportsNation has been conducting polls on the greatest players in each franchise’s history. The Reds, as one of the oldest franchises in the game, have featured perhaps the most stunning ballot results thus far. At last look, the leading Cincinnati votegetter has been baseball’s favorite banned boy–none other than Pete Rose–with about 55 per cent of the tally. Somehow, Johnny Bench is running second to Rose, and Joe Morgan can be found all the way down at fifth place. Unbelievable. Gambling issues aside, there is simply no way that a reasonable argument can be made that Rose was a better player than Bench (MLB’s greatest catcher) or Morgan (arguably the game’s best second baseman ever). In my mind, Rose ranks as no better than the 4th best player in franchise history, well behind Bench, Morgan, and Frank Robinson. Let the arguments begin… 

Finally, this is the last week that we’ll take suggestions for the new baseball card image we’ll be displaying on the home page. (Sorry, Willie Mays.) Topps cards are preferred, but we’ll also consider Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck if the story behind the card is a good one. Post your suggestions now!