Different Plans for A's, Giants
A’s general manager Billy Beane started his rebuilding in the offseason, trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.Predictably, the A’s have sunk to the bottom of the AL West this season. The A’s had a resurgence with last week’s homestand and I think they’ll play much better in the second half, but the tipoff is their road record. Bad teams always play worse on the road.
The team of the future is beginning to emerge, though.
The infield is solid and in their prime years. Catcher Jason Kendall, 31 this month, is on the high end of the prime years, generally figured at 27-32, but Eric Chavez is 27 and Mark Ellis 28. Dan Johnson, who will certainly be the first baseman next year, will be 26 in August.
Right now, with the A’s playing inter-league games and not able to use a designated hitter, manager Ken Macha is alternating Johnson and Scott Hatteberg at first, but when the A’s get back to American League games, Johnson should be the first baseman, period. He’s better defensively than Hatteberg (everybody’s better than Erubiel Durazo) and has a good upside.
When Durazo comes off the disabled list, Beane should either trade or release one of the veterans to make certain Johnson plays. My choice would be to keep Durazo for the year because he has more power than Hatteberg. If Johnson can’t play first for any reason, Nick Swisher can always play there for a short time.
Otherwise, Swisher is the right fielder for the present and near future. Re-signing Mark Kotsay will be a priority for Beane. Kotsay won’t be 30 until December. He’s the best defensive centerfielder the A’s have had since they’ve been in Oakland, a solid hitter with some power, a good baserunner and a good presence in the clubhouse. What’s not to like?
Left field is still a question. Eric Byrnes has never shown the consistency the A’s want, Bobby Kielty has had some hot streaks, but he’s as inconsistent as Byrnes. Charles Thomas, the best defensively of the three – he has even played center when Kotsay has been out – has looked lost at the plate, but he did hit .288 with the Braves in the last two-thirds of last season. He needs to be sent to Sacramento to get regular playing time and work on his swing.
The young pitchers have looked like young pitchers, occasionally very good, more often struggling, but Dan Haren seems to be hitting his stride and Joe Blanton has shown flashes of what the A’s expect from him. Rich Harden looked very good before he got injured. Next year, I would expect the starting rotation to be Harden, Barry Zito (the A’s have a club option for 2006), Haren and Blanton, with Undecided the No. 5 starter. Meanwhile, Huston Street has looked like he could be the closer for several years.
THE GIANTS plan for the last few years has been to surround Barry Bonds with veterans and make a run at the postseason. It’s worked fine until this year, when injuries have drastically changed the team’s outlook.
Manager Felipe Alou seems to be the only one who’s realistic about the team. Alou noted even before the Wednesday night loss to the Kansas City Royals, second in a row to the worst team in the American League, that nobody should expect the Giants to win with Bonds and closer Armando Benitez out and Jason Schmidt in a mysterious funk.
When the A’s struggled, Beane’s biggest change was to bring up Johnson. Giants general manager Brian Sabean traded away two young pitchers for reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Two years ago, that might have been a good trade, but Hawkins’ confidence was shaken by his unhappy experiences in Chicago, and he hasn’t even been effective as a setup man so far with the Giants. Of course, there’s no real use for a setup man and closer if your starters give up the game early.
Rebuilding has been a dirty word in the Giants building because they don’t think they can keep their fans if they go to that. But, I’ve got news for them. The fans certainly don’t like what they’re seeing now. The tickets are pre-sold so the Giants still have money coming in, but there have been many empty seats at recent games, making the official count a joke.
People who have bought tickets and don’t want to go to the games – and can’t unload them to other fans – aren’t going to be eager to re-up next season if they think the Giants are still sticking with the tired old formula.
Why not bring up Todd Linden and put him in left field? Linden is hitting .319 in 213 at-bats at Fresno, with a .443 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .671. He’s hit 17 home runs and knocked in 54 runs. Do you think the Giants couldn’t use that kind of hitting in their lineup?
That would mean, of course, that Pedro Feliz would be moved to third and the Giants would have to bench one of their high-priced free agents, Edgardo Alfonzo or Ray Durham. I think the better choice would be to move Alfonzo to second and bench Durham, who’s always one at-bat away from the disabled list. That would be admitting the mistakes Sabean made in signing those two to inflated contracts, but so what? Everybody makes mistakes. It’s far worse to keep trying to justify them.
Alou has been so desperate for starters that he’s had to use 42-year-old Jeff Fassero, who was supposed to be in the bullpen, in that role. It might be time to bring up Matt Cain, who’s been the bright pitching hope, from Fresno. Cain has struggled with his control, hardly an unusual problem for young pitchers, with 37 walks in 61 1/3 innings – but he’s also struck out 70 hitters and Pacific Coast League hitters are averaging just .198 against him.
Don’t you think Giants fans would rather see a young pitcher like that than a 42-year-old? If Cain were coming up in the middle of a pennant race, it wouldn’t make sense, but who’s kidding? The Giants are currently trailing 12 National League teams in the standings, three of them in their own division. They’re as close to last place in the NL West as third.
Cain would certainly have problems pitching in the majors now, but he’d also learn, as the A’s young pitchers are already doing. Nobody doubts Cain’s ability, so it’s time to give him his shot.
DO I THINK the Giants will bring up either Cain or Linden? No. They’re locked into a position, and they can’t admit that it isn’t working. That’s the very definition of stupidity.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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