Thursday, June 30, 2005

Land of the Dolts

East Coast baseball fans are a bunch of morons. Seriously, I have heard and seen more stupid things living out here than I ever did back home by the bay. I first noticed this a couple years ago as fans in the Bronx wildly cheered every medium deep fly ball can of corn hit by their beloved Bombers as if it were a game seven walk off slam. That particular trend continued this season in Baltimore as the O’s fans went crazy every time Sammy or Miggy popped-up. In fact, the only place I’ve seen a hint of baseball acumen has been at RFK where Nats fans appropriately cheered a ground ball to the right side that advanced a runner from second with no outs. (If you didn’t follow that keep reading it’ll get easier.) The madness continued this weekend in Philly where I took a road trip to see the Red Sox take on the Phightn’ Phils. Philly is a great town. I got a t-shirt with the slogan “Vote For Bobby” emblazoned Napoleon Dynamite style across the front. I saw a gem of a ballpark in Citizen’s Bank Ballpark. After two feet of hoagie I determined that Pat’s is WAY better than Geno’s. I also heard some of the most ridiculous trade talk on the local sports station.

Here’s the deal, the A’s are basically out of it. Oakland is seven games out of the wild card right now, which will be hard to make up. However, the A’s are hot right now. They’ve won eight of their last ten and are inching closer and closer to .500. Still, the assumption in Philly, and everywhere else with a contending team, is that the A’s are close to mailing it in and dismantling the ball club. I ask why? The A’s are finally starting to look like the etam that many people, including me, thought they would be heading into spring training. They’re getting quality starts out of their young pitchers, the bullpen is holding leads, and the bats are coming around. If Chad Bradford can comeback healthy, and Juan Cruz can figure out his control problems this team will be tough to beat down the stretch. If teams like Seattle pack it in, and Texas’ pitching woes continue the A’s could very well find themselves back in the wild card hunt before too long. But even if they don’t there’s no reason for a fire sale this year.

First off the A’s payroll is right about where it should be and knowing Billy Beane probably a few million under budget. Since it’s unlikely the A’s will add anything this year there’s no reason to dump payroll. The only A’s players of note who can walk after this year are Octavio Dotel who has no trade value, and Mark Kotsay who’s working on an extension. Most of the trade rumors surrounding the A’s have focused on Kotsay, a superb defensive out fielder with a good bat, and Barry Zito who’s been in obvious decline since his 23-5 Cy Young season in 2002. Even if this year is a lost cause the A’s should hold on to both these guys. The A’s got off to a slow start this year and every player save Marco Scutaro played far below their usual and expected level for the first two months. As a result Oakland dug a deep hole from which they may not emerge this year. However, unlike previous years they have no superstars eating up payroll and waiting to walk. Also, unlike previous years the A’s can take a mulligan on this year and keep their credibility with the fans as long as they remain competitive and don’t totally pack it in. Also, with a new owner in place the A’s may be in a position to add an impact free agent to complement the pieces they already have.

Still, the rumors persist. The Yankees and Cubs are said to be high on Kotsay, which is fine for them but begs the question, in return for what? The word at the water cooler for the past few years is that the Yanks don’t have any quality prospects in their farm system and I don’t see anyone on their major league roster who I’d want for Kotsay. Do you want Bernie Williams (.249/04/27/.341/.708)? Here’s a guy who’s been so bad in the field this year that he’s been replaced by Tony Womack who’s played 18 games in center during his 11 year career. Who else do you want for a 29 y/o OF in his prime? How about Tony Womack (35), or Reuben Sierra (39)? The only other piece the Yanks would likely give up is Giambi. Giambi has gotten himself up to.256/05/22/.396/.771 and I know I advocated for him earlier, but I still don’t want a 34 year old fallen slugger in exchange for Kotsay. So who do the Yanks give up? Exactly. Looking at the A’s needs and the rosters of each team I’d say the only player the Yanks could put in the centerpiece of a deal is Robinson Cano. The rookie 2B is hitting .282/05/25/.310/.764 in 174 ABs. A Cano for Kotsay deal would move Swisher or Byrnes into center and open up time for Charles Thomas. The Yanks could then move Womack back to second to fill in for Cano. As for the Cubs, well, I’ll take Corey Patterson because he’s young and could develop into a Kotsay type player even though his defense isn’t all there yet.

Which brings us back to the stupidity of Philly fans. All weekend I heard one caller after another propose a Zito for Pat Burrell deal. This belies their complete lack of baseball knowledge in that they obviously have not looked past Zito on the roster. The A’s currently have five major league quality outfielders (Kotsay, Swisher, Byrnes, Kielty, and Thomas) so why on earth would they give up Zito for another OF? Burrell is a nice player who would add some pop to the line-up, but I don’t think he’s worth giving up Zito. There are lots of ways to create offense, but pitching is at a premium. Besides that, who does Philly use to replace Burrell? Kenny Lofton’s been hurt, Endy Chavez sucks, and Jason Michaels, while good, has only had 142 ABs this year. The Phils could resign Doug Glanville who was traded to the Yankees in the Lofton deal and then cut by NY. Still, unless the A’s gave up an outfielder like Byrnes, and brought back a pitcher (Tim Worrell?) the deal wouldn’t make sense seeing as how Dan Meyer isn’t ready for prime time.

Of course, the A’s don’t need an outfielder. In fact, if they hold on to Kotsay the A’s don’t really need anything. The only holes they had going into this year were on the right side of the infield. Since they’re slow start Mark Ellis has come around and Dan Johnson is doing well at 1B. Other than that the A’s are set at every position. I’d like to see more from Jason Kendall on both offense and defense but I’m willing to give it another year. Peter Gammons seems to be the only major media type who thinks that the Yanks, Cubs, et al. will have a hard time prying young players out of small markets this year. Teams like the A’s who don’t need to dump payroll and have a strong farm system don’t need to give away the pieces that would complete the big boys. After all, why help solidify the Yanks outfield for the next five years when you can take advantage of Bernie’s bad knees for the next two or three? Instead the A’s, Brewers, Pirates and Tigers should sit tight and go get ‘em next year.

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