Eric Chavez, Coco Crisp, Buster Posey, Joe Borchard, Edgar Renteria
by Glenn Dickey
May 26, 2010

ERIC CHAVEZ still thinks he can contribute to the A’s but the reality is that his career is basically over. When the A’s brought Jack Cust back, that was the signal that the Chavez experiment as the left-handed part of a platoon DH was about to end. Though Cust was put in left field when he came back, that was obviously a short-term plan. Playing him full time in the outfield wouldn’t be fair to A’s pitchers.

I sympathize with Chavez because he’s a quality person. I hope the A’s handle this gracefully and have a retirement ceremony for him, preferably before a weekend game when they return from their current road trip in early June.

For Chavez, it’s a sad story of what might have been. When he came up in September, 1998, three months short of his 21st birthday, and hit .311 for the month, I thought he might have a Hall of Fame career. When a player comes up that young and shows he belongs, that’s usually what happens. Think Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, all in the HOF. Ken Griffey Jr., who came up at 19, will probably make it, too.

The one part of Chavez’s game that developed was his fielding. He came up with the reputation of being a bad fielder but, with the guidance of Ron Washington and his own hard work, he developed into a multiple Gold Glover. In the 47 years I’ve been watching major league baseball on a regular basis, he and Brooks Robinson are the best fielding third basemen I’ve seen.

His hitting disappointed me. As early as his rookie season, manager Art Howe said nobody on the team had more power, including Jason Giambi. I expected Chavez to have multiple 40-homer seasons, but he never hit more than 32.

The reason became apparent in recent years: Chavez often played injured because he knew how important he was to the team. He finally submitted to surgery and he’s had multiple ones, but it was too late to restore the power he displayed earlier.

If he had had surgery earlier, it might have made a difference, but when I asked him about that in a January media gathering, he just shrugged it off. “You can’t rewrite history,” he said. “I’ve had a good career and life.”

A congenitally weak back is his main problem. “I’m resigned to having back problems the rest of my life,” he said at that time. Asked if he would submit to another surgery, he said, “Not to stay on the field. Only if it’s something that helps me for the rest of my life.”

He knew he couldn’t play regularly any more but he hoped to be a super utility man, able to fill in at third, first or shortstop, which he had played in high school. But the A’s decided in the spring that even that would be too much, so he became the left-handed DH. He didn’t show his former bat speed and then, he landed on the DL again.

The A’s still face a decision on the DH slot: Are they going to continue with a Jake Fox/Cust platton or just use Cust? Fox had the key hit in driving in the first A’s run on Sunday but, aside from that, he’s done little, hitting about .200. Defensively, he’s a multi-position player, because no team has found a position he plays well. He may be too much of a luxury for a team which has young players they’d like to develop but can’t always find a roster spot open.

The A’s have no more power than the Giants but they do have speed, which the Giants lack. Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis are excellent base stealers, though Davis has struggled at bat this year – and now, Crisp is injured again and may go back on the DL. The A’s sholdn’t be surprised. Crisp has an injury history and he had his 30th birthday in November. If they had any doubts what happens to players at that point, they should have looked across the bay.

Even without Crisp, the A’s have good team speed. Ryan Sweeney is not a base stealer but he runs very well, routinely going from first to third on singles. Daric Barton runs well and so does Kurt Suzuki, especially for a catcher. So, the A’s can sometimes manufacture runs with their feet. That was enough against the Giants last weekend but it remains to see whether that will be enough for them on the road, where they have not played well this year and started off their current trip with a loss in Baltimore on Tuesday night..

A’s fans have hoped that Chris Carter and/or Michael Taylor would be up by midseason to provide some power but that’s not going to happen. Both are in the .230 category at Sacramento, though their power numbers ae good.

In Taylor’s case, the problem may just be that he’s been on the DL for an extended period. For Carter, it’s been a matter of adjustment in his first full year at Triple A.

Keith Liepplman, director of player personnel, blames it on the “cutter”, a fast ball which has a break as it approaches home plate. “It’s the latest ‘in’ pitch,” said Lieppmann. “It seems every major league pitcher has it now. It’s rare to see it at Double A (where Carter was last year) but a lot of Triple A pitchers have it. So, Carter is having to adjust to it.

“It’s just as well. He’s going to have to learn to hit that pitch at some point, so he might as well learn it at Sacramento and be ready when he comes up to the majors.”

Now, it seems that won’t be before late Sacramento, after the River Cats season is over. The A’s will have to make do wih what they already have.

KEEP IT QUIET: Dot racing on the scoreboard continues to be a popular between-innings diversion at A’s games. Don’t tell Lew Wolff or he’ll ban that, too.

FANTASY FOOTBALL: The beginning of the Fantasy Football craze began in August, 1963, when Andy Mousalimas, longtime owner of the Kings X sports bar in Okland, George Ross, sports editor of The Oakland Tribune, and Scotty Stirling met with Bill Winkenbach, minority owner of the Raiders, in Winkenbach’s rumpus room and set up the first draft. Subsequent drafts were also held there until Mousalimas bought the Kings X in 1968 and that became the location.

The idea was first hatched during a Raiders road trip in the fall of 1962 when Stirling, Winkenbach and Bill Tunnell, then the Raiders PR man, were talking in a New York hotel. Stirling told me years later that the idea originated with Winkenbach.

One of the last pieces I did for The Chronicle was on this phenomenon. A researcher for ESPN came out earlier this year and Mousalimas showed him all the records – as he had also done for me. But when the piece came out on ESPN, the claim was that the craze had started in New York in 1981. So, they missed by 18 years and 3000 miles.

I uses ESPN is into Fantasy Television.

GIANTS MOVES: Bringing up Buster Posey at this point would be a bad idea. He needs more time to work on his defensive skills behind the plate. With Bengie Molina and Eli Whiteside, the Giants wouldn’t have the ability to play Posey behind the plate so he’d more likely be playing first base. (I understated Posey’s home run numbers in my Tuesday Examiner column because I got erroneous stats from an Internet site but the key stat was that his home run percentage declined when he went from Single A to Triple A. That is not a good predictor for power on the major league level.)

Later in the season, perhaps by late July or early August, it might be a different situation. Molina’s play fell off late last season and he has declined even further, offensively and defensively, this season. He’s still good at handling pitchers, which is why the Giants re-signed him and sent Posey to the minors, but he might be too much of a drag by late season, which would make room for Posey to be the primary catcher.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering why there has been no mention of Joe Borchard. A former star at Stanford, Borchard played parts of four seasons with the Chicago White Sox and didn’t do much, but he has legitimate power, having once hit a ball 500 feet at Philadelphia. He has seven homers (Posey has five) with the Grizzlies. There wouldn’t be the pressure on him that there would be on Posey, and he would have value as a reserve outfielder – and as a DH went the Giants play interleague games in an American League park. Certainly an improvement on Matt Downs, who was the DH for one of the games against the A’s at the Coliseum last weekend.

Of course, Borchard is 32, so he may be too young for the Giants.

NO SURPRISE: Watching Saturday’s game on TV,. I heard Mike Krukow waxing ecstacally about seeing Edgar Renteria and Freddy Sanchez turn a double play and I thought, “Enjoy them while you can because the chances of seeing them on the same field much this year are slim.”

Sanchez had just started playing, five months after his shoulder surgery. Renteria had just come off the DL. Now, it appears he’s headed back there.

The Giants hadn’t been hurt by Renteria being on the DL because, though he’s had a far better career than Juan Uribe, at this point, the younger Uribe is probably better both in the field and at bat. To keep him in the lineup, manager Bruce Bochy moved Pablo Sandoval to first base and Aubrey Huff to left field to start the game.

The good news is that the Giants have depth. The bad news is that, because of their age, these players can’t stay healthy. The age of this team is one of the primary reasons I’ve doubted that the Giants will make the postseason.

BARRY ZITO: A short piece in Sports Illustrated last week looked at veteran players who got off to surprisingly strong starts and made the point that, when veterans have that kind of start because something critical has changed in their play, it probably won’t last. With Andruw Jones, for instance, a major league high 25.7 per cent of his fly balls are clearing the fence. Jones has always been a fly ball hitter with a high strikeout rate, so SI predicted that his home run rate will soon fall and he’ll be a drag on the offense.

With Zito, the change is a career-high 44 per cent of his outs coming on ground balls. Zito has always been a flyball pitcher, so that ratio is not likely to continue. SI’s prediction was that he’ll regress from his great start but probably not to his awful 2007-2009 levels with the Giants. That sounds about right to me. Zito has already started to come back to earth, and he was horrendous in his last start, against the A’s. I almost wrote that he’s thinking too much, but he’s not familiar with that process. More like reacting differently.

NO CHANGE OF HEART: For his play in the 2009 season, Brian Cushing, outside linebacker for the Houston Texans, was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, with 39 of the 50 voting writers voting for him.

Then, Cushing was found to have taken an illegal substance and banned for the first four games of the 2010 season. The Associated Press sent out ballots again. This time, the 39 who had voted for Cushing the first time did so again, and one voter who ha not voted for him this time, which appalled Sports Illustrated.

That tells me two things:

--Football writers are much more realistic and less moralistic than their baseball brothers. Football writers realize that steroids have been part of the game for a long time and that won’t change. Baseball writers think they can turn back the clock. They’re quite prepared to keep Barry Bonds, the leading home run hitter in history, and Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of his generation, out of the baseball Hall of Fame because of steroids use (unproven in Bonds’ case, BTW). That’s the best reason I know to take
the HOF voting away from writers.

--Sports Illustrated continues to be the leading moralizer on this issue, now that The Chronicle has backed off since Phil Bronstein was banished to a basement office. (Gwen Knapp, who never saw a drugs column she didn’t like, hasn’t gotten the message.) Tom Verducci, a very good baseball writer with a blind spot on this issue, likes to write about the game being “pure” again with its new drugs policy. In fact, baseball has never been pure in any realistic sense, and the new drug policy is a joke, because urine tests can’t detect Human Growth Hormone (HG) use, which is the drug of choice for most of the top sluggers. The decrease in power numbrs is much more likely to have been caused by a de-juircing of the ball.

I’ve never condoned steroids use but I’m realistic enough to know you can’t succeed by telling athletes they can’t take something that will improve their performance. It’s like telling movie stars not to have face lifts.

LINE OF THE WEEK: “Br ian Sabean says the 2010 Giants are still evolving. Doesn’t give much credence to the theory of intelligent design.” – Janice Hough, Palo Alto.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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