Wednesday, December 17, 2003

A lot of IFs

Well the A’s decided not to pick up Scott Spiezio and traded for some light-hitting catcher from Montreal. Adam Melhuse is looking better all the time. Michael Barrett reminds me of Mark Johnson. Johnson Was acquired by the A’s last year in the Keith Foulke deal. He was supposed to be the guy who gave Ramon some time off and could provide some pop off the bench. He spent most of the year at triple A after getting beat out by Melhuse. Barrett’s numbers from last year are unimpressive (.208/10/30/) and he doesn’t even have the high OBP (.280), or patience (21BB vs. 37K) that the A’s usually look for.

But I’m not here to talk about catchers, I’m here to talk about infielders. First off, didn’t the A’s offer 97M over like 8 years to Giambi? But they couldn’t find 70M for Tejada, a younger player with no injury history, who plays everyday, and has been in the system since he was 16? That’s bull-shit. I was resigned to losing Tejada until I realized that the market is down and no one is getting A-Rod/ Manny numbers anymore. Tejada is just as good as Giambi at the plate, and better in the field. The A’s should have at least tried to keep him. I guess they figured that a fan base, desensitized after the departures of Giambi, Izzy, Damon, etc. would just accept the “small market” argument again. Fact is, the A’s should have been able to keep one of their top FAs. Instead the fans get jobbed again. I’m pissed. These moves had better be a precursor to some thing else (i.e. keeping Chavy, or the Big Three). For me it all goes back to MLB denying the sale of the franchise to the Dolich group. Dolich and George Zimmer wanted to turn the franchise around, stop crying about money and lobby hard for a new stadium, “I guarantee it.”

But, I digress. The point is, the A’s still need middle infield help. They cannot go into the season with untested Bobby Crosby as the starter, and Rookie Esteban German as the primary backup, and Frank Menechino who has shown he can’t handle the job on a full time basis. They need a veteran who can eat up some ABs, pinch hit, play some D in the late innings and tutor the kids. I took the liberty of looking at the available FA IFs who might be able to help. Below are their offensive stats (BA/HR/RBI/OBP/OPS/AB), followed by their fielding percentage, last year’s salary and my comments. Almost all these guys are likely to make less this year than they did in 2003.

Jay Bell: .181/00/03/.319/.504/(116AB) [.968] {550K}
--Bell is old. His offensive numbers blow, but the fact that his OBP and OPS are much higher than his average is encouraging. Also, he’s still decent in the field where a lot of younger players struggle. Not a bad, cheap, late inning defensive replacement, give a guy a day off, occasional pinch hitter type. Did I mention he’s really cheap?

Royce Clayton: .228/11/39/.301/.634/(483AB) [.977] {1.50M}
--This is one of the few guys who could really help out. First off he’s a SS, the position where the A’s are thinnest (Ellis, Menechino, and German are 2Bs). His offensive and defensive numbers are decent, if not spectacular.

Pokey Reese: .215/01/12/.271/.533/(107AB) [.969] {1.75M}
--I advocated for the A’s to pick this guy up two years ago when he was a hot young player for the Reds. He’s dropped off severely since then. Reese can play both middle infield positions and he was a decent lead-off hitter in Cincy. If the A’s feel like they can rehab his swing, and his D he might be worth a shot. Ron Washington is a pretty good IF coach, if the price is right Pokey could be a Jim Plunkett type reclamation project.

Eric Young: .251/15/34/.336/.727/(475AB) [.976] {2.00M}
--Ah EY. Once the pride of LA, young has fallen on hard times. It’s hard being traded to Milwaukee. Still EY had the best offensive numbers out of this group (aside from Aurilia) and is better than most of these guys defensively too. He’s an A’s type guy with a good OPS and a OBP much higher then his batting average.

Mark McLemore: .233/02/37/.318/.632/(309AB) [.974] {3.15M}
--Can you believe this guy is 39? Though his offensive numbers were down last year McLemore is another Tony Phillips type guy. He can play both middle IF positions as well some OF. Another guy worth a shot if the price is right.

Rich Aurilia: .277/13/58/.325/.735/(505AB) [.974] {4.25M}
--The attraction here would be getting guy who doesn’t have to move. Aurilia is a super long shot to go to Oakland. He’s too good, and will command too much money (though 5M for him is still less than 12M for Tejada). I would look for Rich to end up either A) where ever Nomar doesn’t get traded (Anaheim?), or in St Louis. Detroit is also looking for a SS to go with newly signed Fernando Vina. Aurilia would be a good fit for Oakland, but he’ll get a better deal elsewhere.

Tony Womack: .226/02/22/.251/.558/(349AB) [.988] {4.50M}
--What happened to this guy? He was a darling in Arizona, and now he’s bounced around a bit. Womack is another one who could play both middle IF positions and some outfield if needed. He can lead off, though his OBP was awful last year. On the plus side he has a good FP. Wouldn’t be my first choice, but not bad.

Fernando Tatis: .194/02/15/.280/.543/(175AB) [.968] {5.25M}
--Remember when this guy hit two grand slams in one inning? Me either. Guess Chan Ho really is that bad. Tatis has slid drastically. He had some very good years in St. Louis and looked like a rising star (hence the contract). Tatis would be a major reclamation, far more so than Reese. His offensive stats from last year are reprehensible, and his D wasn’t that much better. Still, if the price is right...

So how do these guys compare to our current back ups?

Frank Menechino: .193/02/09/.364/.630/(83AB) [.667]
--Worst year ever. Frankie, fan favorite, had a terrible year and limited opportunities to turn it around. The guy hasn’t been the same since Mark Ellis blew by him on the depth chart.

Esteban German: .205/00/01/.295/.500/(39AB) [.982]
--These are German’s career numbers over two cups of coffee in ‘02 and ‘03. Apparently he can play some D. But he hasn’t had to do over a full season. The A’s used to have the luxury of bringing new players along slowly (see Tejada 1997-1999) but now the weight of expectation is upon them. Us fans want the playoffs! We want a championship before the Big Three head to NY, LA, and Boston.

So, who gets Sir Rantalot’s endorsement? Excluding Aurilia as the longest of long shots I vote for either Eric Young or Royce Clayton. Both guys have decent offensive numbers. Offensively Young edges Clayton with a better AVG and a better OBP. Clayton edges Young defensively because he plays a premium defensive position where the A’s are starting a rookie and could use a veteran presence. The second tier consists of Reese (because I refuse to give up on him), Womack, McLemore (good D), Tatis and Bell, in that order. That said, I would be surprised if the A’s sign any of these guys. If they miss the playoffs due to poor play from their young middle infielders I’ll point back to this article and say, “I told you so.” If they win the series (or any playoff series) well, then that’s why Billy Beane has his job, and I’m unemployed.
10:09 pm est

Monday, December 15, 2003

Farewell Miggy

Well Rant fans the Winter Meetings are about half way done and its time to recap the weekend’s activity. Of course the big news for fans by the Bay is that Miguel Tejada signed a monster deal with Baltimore, the richest and longest contract for anyone this off-season at 6 years and 72M over the life of the deal. Though the move was not unexpected it still hurts a little since Tejada was my favorite player since came up as a rookie in ’97.

The A’s also missed out on two more free agents. Over the weekend Keith Foulke decided to join the escalating arms race in the AL East by signing with Boston. The A’s actually put up a good fight for him, but in the end the madness and monopoly money in the East won out. As usual. The other FA lost to the East was former Seattle CF Mike Cameron. The A’s were after Cameron, apparently because they like having disgruntled outfielders and wanted to make sure they had at least five guys competing for three spots. After all, it did wonders for T-Long’s demeanor and production. My guess id that, had the A’s acquired Cameron they would have tried to move expensive and oft-injured Jermaine Dye. That said, Cameron would have been a solid pick up, good power, excellent D and a jab at the M’s.

Like all A’s fans I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ever since Giambi left and Oakland went into the season with Mini-G and Frank Menechino at the top of the order I have doubted Billy Beane every year, and every year he’s proved me wrong. Once again, I’m waiting patiently for Billy to do something. Right now the A’s need a closer (Ricardo Rincon is NOT the answer), a lead-off batter (unless Byrnes gets consistent real fast), and a catcher. Looking at Melhuse’s numbers from last year, they're great. If Billy thinks he can do it for a whole year, I’m on board too.

Around the League

The AL East is quickly replacing the AL West as the dominant division in baseball. The West has put two teams in the playoffs every year this century. Look for that to end soon, like this year. The East is loading up, and its not just the Yanks and Sux. While the Bambino induced moves of those two franchises have gotten tons of ink, the other teams in that division are getting better too.

The O’s got Tejada, and are going hard for Vlad Guerrero and Pudge Rodriguez. Even if they get all three the O’s don’t have the pitching to make much noise in the East. While this is not exactly A-Rod for a quarter-bil the O’s may end up with what they had a few years ago, and what Texas has had the past few years, a bunch of thumpers, no pitching, and a fourth place finish. I know I said I’d stop prognosticating but here’s another one anyway: The Oriels will not make the playoffs for the life for Tejada’s contract. The Yanks and Sux will battle for the division and the Wild Card every year for the foreseeable future.

Don’t look now, but the Jays have put together a mean staff, adding Lilly, Hentgen, and Batista. They also got a good closer/ set-up guy in Kerry Ligtenberg. The Jays’ lineup ain’t half bad either, they won’t compete with the big two in that division, but they’re trying.

Tampa Bay:
They are trying, having added Jose Cruz Jr. Look for them to compete, in like fifteen years, if Furious George dies and the Sox win the World Series and decide to tear it down.

Other News:
-The Dodgers traded for Juan Encarnacion. Hooray! Dan Evans did something!

-Look for the Mets to trade for Billy Koch. Koch didn’t do well in Chicago but had his best year in Oakland with new Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson.

-Joe Horn is a mark. TO already cornered the market on off-color touchdown celebrations. The cell-phone is just an extension of the Sharpie celebration. That said, Chad Johnson’s sign was pretty fresh.

-Prepare yourselves now A’s fans. Eric Chavez is a free agent next year and the Yanks are desperate for help at the hot corner.

Friday, December 12, 2003

More Spiez Please

OK so I was wrong about Kaz-Mat and Benito so I’m going to get out the prognosticating business for now and make a suggestion. The A’s should target free-agent IF Scott Spiezio. Yes, the same Scott Spiezio the A’s unceremoniously dumped in favor of Randy Velarde all those years ago, the same Scott Spiezio who killed SF in the World Series two years ago.

After two years of showing he could be a legit starter Spiezio was dumped by the Angels and needs a home. Why not bring him back to Oakland? Here’s why they should:

Spiez is basically Scott Hatteberg with pop. Why would the A’s want another Scott Hatteberg? Well, why not? According to Michel Lewis nine Scott Hatteberg’s would constitute the best offense in baseball. Let’s look at the numbers:

Stat Hatteberg Spiezio
AVG .253 .265
HR 12 16
RBI 61 83
2B 34 36
3B 0 7
BB 66 46
SO 53 66
OBP .342 .326
SLG .383 .427
OPS .725 .779
AB 541 521

The only categories where Spiez ranks behind Hatteberg is OBP, BB and SO, and he did it in fewer ABs. So, now you’re asking, why bring in another 1B when the A’s already have Hatteberg and Durazo under contract? Well, first of all, having a solid backup at 1B would help rest Hatte’s back on turf, and against southpaws, and allow Durazo to shift to his natural position, DH. Also, Spiez started his career as a SS, played 2B with Oakland and played 3B and 1B in Anaheim. A team as cash strapped as Oakland should jump at a guy who can back up all four IF positions. Spiez can be like a new Tony Phillips, with out the drug problem (he can even fill in at LF in a pinch). Spiez is a guy who can throw up some clutch numbers (i.e. his dinger in game six), play a little D, and let’s face it, A’s fans who lived through the Dave Magadan, Mike Oquist days have a soft spot for Spiezio. Of course Spiezio will probably go somewhere where they offer him a chance at a starting job (though he’s versatile enough to rotate positions and hit his way into the lineup). C’mon home Scotty, we got some ABs for ya, we’re waiting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Catch as Catch Can

Here is a quick digest for you A’s fans who are too lazy to sift through the off season muck.

- It looks like the A’s won’t stand pat on Adam Mehuse at catcher. Though I think Mehuse showed something last year, especially the ability to hit under pressure (aside from game 5), he may be a year away and could benefit form a platoon with an experienced player. One rumor has the A’s trying to bring in Benito Santiago (though another story has Santiago going to KC). This would fit the “platoon and train Melhuse” theory. Santiago probably can’t catch everyday but he did hit .279 last year. His walk totals are very un-A’s like, (29BB in 401AB) but he knows how to work with a staff.

- If the A’s don’t get Santiago Peter Gammons offers a convoluted path of trades and intrigue that would net them Paul LoDuca for Joe Blanton. LoDuca appears to have fallen out of favor in LA where his numbers have declined every year since his first full season in 2001. This trade doesn’t seem to make sense for the A’s given that LoDuca’s low walk totals don’t mesh with the A’s offensive philosophy and he doesn’t have the leadership value of Benito Santiago to off-set that. Also, Blanton is a rising pitching prospect and the A’s success has been built around pitching which has allowed them to go for OBP and power on offense. It’s the Big Three who have allowed the A’s to win with cast off position players. But Zito, Mulder and Hudson won’t be around much longer. They’re all eligible for free agency in the next few years and the A’s won’t be able to keep them. That means they’ll need to reload through the farm system, which means Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer and Blanton may be the Big Three of the future. The Bottom line is that Blanton may be more valuable down the line than LoDuca.

- As I speculated here a few weeks ago T-Long may be headed back to the Mets. Sure it’s via SD but if it happens I will still claim my prognostication skills are in full effect.

- The A’s may be on the verge of actually retaining a free agent. And he’s a good one, keeping Keith Foulke would be nails. He was one of the best pitchers in the AL last year, he can pitch in any situation, for more than one inning, and he can go on back-to-back days.

- The Detroit Tigers are coming after Tejada, if he takes their money he deserves what he gets. Maybe he should ask A-Rod about going to a loser.

Friday, December 5, 2003


Word is that the Mariners have offered Miguel Tejada a three year 25M dollar deal. So, aside from the fact that Tejada is not returning to Oakland, what does this mean? For one, it means that the M’s must feel like they are out of the Kaz Matsui sweepstakes. If that’s the case (coupled with NYY’s new deal with Aaron Boone) it means Matsui is likely to go to either LA, Anaheim, or NYM. Of the three, LA is the most likely bet because a move to LA would not require Kaz to switch positions. The NYY and NYM already have shortstops and would ask Kaz to switch to second base. Another reason NYY is likely out is that with Sheffield coming to NYY the outfield is full and Alfonso Soriano will have to stay at second. Also, LA has a large Japanese population and two Japanese players on the Major League roster. If Kaz goes to LA it may push Anaheim to step up their pursuit of Nomar, which could help Boston trade Manny for A-rod.

In short (no pun intended), Tejada to Seattle could mean Kaz to LA, Nomar to Anaheim, A-rod to Boston, and Oakland rookie Bobby Crosby trying to stay out of the shadows of the Big 5. Fans in the O can only hope that the idea of Tejada staying in the division will irk A’s owner Steve Schott more than Giambi and Damon going east, or Izzy going to the NL. Still, the chances of keeping Tejada in Oakland seem slim.

Brewing Trouble?

At first glance it appeared the Milwaukee Brewers were doing the unthinkable, taking a horrible team with a tiny payroll and trading a way their best players in an attempt to lower payroll even further. All this after fleecing the taxpayers for millions of dollars for a new stadium that killed three workers and opened a year late. And after that new stadium resulted in a nice payday for the owners after Milwaukee was chosen to host the all-star game, an honor bequeathed to them by the owners dad, commissioner Bud Selig.

Of course Bud used to (read “still does”) own the team, though he claims he is not involved in financial or baseball related decisions. Still, here is a team that is pocketing its revenue sharing money instead of investing it in the on-field product. Recent evidence that Bud has been helping finance a team he allegedly does not still own did not do much to help the Brewer’s image.

I was one of those people who cried foul over the idea of trading Richie Sexton, it seemed like another move by management to cut payroll and increase profit at the expense of the fans. But looking at the deal the Brew-Crew got good value for Sexon without taking on too much money. In these economic times you cannot trade a star player or a big contract without making some concessions. Basically you either need to take back salary in return (i.e. the proposed A-rod for Manny deal), agree to pay part of the player’s salary (i.e. Colorado and Florida helping to pay for Mike Hampton to play in Atlanta) or accept crap prospects in return. Usually teams take option one and two. In this deal the Brewers took back some money, and got some decent players in return. They were not going to resign Sexon next year and they got something while they could. Here are the main players as I see it:

To Arizona: Richie Sexon 1B/OF
To Milwaukee: Craig Counsel 3B, Junior Spivey 2B, and Lyle Overbay 1B

Basically the Brewers gave up one slugging al star 1B (and his .270 BA) for 3/4 of a starting infield. Counsel and Overbay won starting jobs last year, and while they won’t be all-stars this year (or perhaps ever) they are legitimate starting infielders. Spivey was starter on the 2001 D-Backs team that shocked the Yanks in 2001. He may be shifted to the outfield in Milwaukee, again, not a super star but a legit player.

In “Money Ball” Billy Beane talks about how he knew he couldn’t find or afford one player who could replace Jason Giambi so he had to find two or three who could. He ended up with Scott Hatteberg (cast off from both Boston and Colorado), Mark Ellis (brought up from the Minors), and David Justice (trade from NYM). Milwaukee is taking the same tact here, hoping that the players they bring in are better then those they have now, and can contribute to victories in a similar way that Sexton did (or didn’t depending on how you look at it). It may be that having moderate production throughout the line up can be more helpful than having one or two sluggers and a bunch of scrubs. After all, “Moneyball” provided a formula wherein 9 Scott Hattebergs would constitute the best offense in baseball.

So, dont discount the Brewers moves completely. Maybe Bud is telling the truth and they are rebuilding in the model provided by the A’s and Marlins. We’ll see, only 5 months ‘til spring training.