A's vs. Giants, a Real Rivalry
Everything is relative. The Giants and A’s payroll combined is only about two-thirds that of the Yankees, who should be embarrassed that they don’t go 162-0. But the Giants payroll, about $85 million this year, gives them a flexibility that the A’s lack with their $60 million payroll.
Just that extra $25 million would have enabled the A’s to keep both Miguel Tejada and Tim Hudson, for instance. If they had those two, the A’s would be contending for the AL West Division lead. They don’t, so they’ve sunk to the bottom of the AL West, while trying to build a contender for the near future.
A’s general manager Billy Beane doesn’t complain, always saying he welcomes the challenge. In fact, he had the job in Boston, where money is not a problem, but changed his mind because he likes the close-knit operation with the A’s. Beane has complete control over the A’s operation, working within the budget, of course. Theo Epstein, who got the job in Boston when Beane backed away, has a much more generous budget but there are others involved in the decision-making.
The A’s had a nice run, four straight years in the postseason and a narrow miss last season, but when Beane looked at the team, he saw one which would be falling further back this season. So, he traded Hudson and Mark Mulder for prospects to rebuild the team. The only one who has provided immediate help is pitcher Dan Haren, but Beane didn't expect the team to get a big boost this year. He’s always been looking at 2006 and beyond.
BEANE’S PROBLEM is that there’s no room for error. He made one huge mistake, signing Jermaine Dye to a three-year contract for $12 million a year. Dye was a young player who was already good and had a better upside before the devastating injury to his ankle in the 2001 playoffs. After that, he had trouble staying healthy and never did anything to justify that contract, and that hurt the A’s for the length of his contract.
Even what would be minor mistakes for other clubs can hurt the A’s. For instance, Beane signed Scott Hatteberg to a two-year contract before last season, and Hatteberg had his best season last year. Now, he’s a roadblock for the progress of Dan Johnson, who can provide the power the A’s need at first base. Beane has been trying to trade Hatteberg, with no success. I think the A’s will eventually have to release him, because it makes no sense to keep Johnson out of the lineup.
Beyond that, there’s not much Beane can do or will do. It will help to have Bobby Crosby back at shortstop, because he’s going to be a star – and he has the right-handed power the club badly needs. Getting Rich Harden, who had become the most reliable starter, back will also be a big help. Nick Swisher is going to be a good player and he needs to play, so he can gain the consistency he lacks now.
Outfielder Charles Thomas, obtained in the Hudson trade, should be sent to Sacramento to get a chance to play regularly and get his swing back. When Octavio Dotel is off the DL, I’m sure Beane will try to trade him because rookie Huston Street has proved he can be the closer.
And, manager Ken Macha should drop Eric Chavez to seventh or eighth in the batting order until Chavez gets the heart transplant he needs. He’s killing the team in the middle of the order.
BEYOND GIVING the Giants the opportunity to sign Barry Bonds to a long-term contract, the added payroll hasn’t been the advantage it should be because general manager Brian Sabean has squandered it with bad decisions.
Sabean paid double what he should have for Edgardo Alfonzo, who was clearly on the decline before he came here. Ray Durham’s reputation was as good hit, no field and baseball people told me before he signed that he was going to be vulnerable to injuries because of his lack of off-season conditioning. Sabean signed a trio of mediocre outfielders before last season – Michael Tucker, Jeffrey Hammonds, Dustan Mohr – instead of using young outfielders from the system.
Conversely, he let Tim Worrell go, leaving the Giants without a closer.
This year, he made two good free agent signings, Armando Benitez and Moises Alou, but with Benitez out, the Giants are scrambling for a closer and Sabean is still trading off promising young pitchers, two of them for LaTroy Hawkins, a setup man, who gave up a grandslam in Wednesday night’s game in Philadelphia..
Giants ownership thinks highly of Sabean, but I think he’s been living off the big trade he made before the 1997 season, unloading Matt Williams for several players, including Jeff Kent. That trade was made because the Giants didn’t want to tie up so much payroll in just two players, and Sabean thought Bonds was the better bet. He was certainly right on that – while Bonds set home run records, Williams was injury-ridden and headed for retirement – and Kent turned out to be a better player than Williams while he was with the Giants.
But, the Giants let Kent walk, and they’ve been trying to fill that gap since.
OVERALL, YOU’D have to say that Beane and his people are superior to Sabean and his, and having more payroll isn't enough if you don’t make the right decisions.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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