Kudos for Beane; What Are Giants Doing?
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 20, 2006

BEFORE THE start of this season, A’s general manager Billy Beane made three big moves:

--He signed free agent pitcher Esteban Loaiza to a three-year, $21 million contract. The Giants, who had also coveted Loiaza, then signed Matt Morris instead.

--He traded the A’s top prospect among position players, Andre Ethier, to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez.

--He signed free agent Frank Thomas, who had spent most of the previous two seasons on the disabled list, to an incentive-laden contract.

In July, the Thomas move was beginning to pay dividends, but the other two moves looked terrible, giving ammunition to Beane’s critics in the media and among the fans.

Loaiza got off to a terrible start, with an ERA over 6 runs a game. He had injured himself pitching in Bud Selig’s promotional extravaganza, the World Baseball Classic, and went on the disabled list for a time. Even when he returned it took him some time to recover his form, and Giants fans were delighted that he was failing while Morris got off to a good start.

Bradley was injured for almost the entire first half of the season, and Perez couldn’t hit in his rare appearances. Meanwhile, Ethier’s average climbed over .350 for the Dodgers, who platooned the rookie, using him against right-handed pitching. When Bradley did return, he got into verbal battles with East Coast fans. An mlb.com writer covering the A’s wrote that Beane was ready to release Bradley and that some A’s players were calling Bradley’s actions “a tired act.” In fact, Beane was never close to letting Bradley go and several top A’s players gave public support to Bradley. If there were any A’s players who wanted to see Bradley leave, they never came forward. The writer was miffed at Bradley for not agreeing to an interview, admitting in his story that he had never talked to him. Draw your own conclusions.

NOW, IN the stretch run, the picture looks much different.

Loaiza, healthy again, was the American League’s Pitcher of the Month in August. Morris has been doing his best Brett Tomko imitation for the Giants. When are the Giants going to realize that these pitchers were successful in St. Louis only because of their run support – and that, if the Cardinals don’t want them back, there’s a reason?

Since Bradley has returned from the DL, he has been an important part of the A’s surge. He’s a very talented player, who can win games with his glove, his feet and his bat. He’s even allowed the A’s to occasionally play “small ball” to win, starting an A’s rally in the final game of the Twins’ series with a delayed steal. Meanwhile, Ethier’s average has been falling steadily, an indication that NL pitchers have discovered holes in his swing.

And, Thomas has been the primary force in the A’s offense, as he is putting up the kind of numbers he posted year after year in his prime. He almost single-handedly led the A’s to their sweep over the White Sox, who courageously – and foolishly – pitched to him instead of walking him in critical situations.

Thomas alters the game because his home runs have come at critical points and they’re such mammoth blasts that they energize the team. He and Jim Thome are neck-and-neck in the Comeback of the Year race and he’s even getting some support for the Most Valuable Player award, though that’s likely to be a Derek Jeter-David Ortiz battle, with Jermaine Dye also getting some support.

And now, Beane doesn’t look so dumb.

COLLEGE POLLS: The absurdity of the polls ranking college football teams was revealed in separate moments this week.

First, the Associated Press announced that it was changing the order of Cal and Arizona State, moving the Bears ahead of the Sun Devils, because one writer had told them he had mistakenly e-mailed in his ballot from the previous week. Boy, he’s really paying attention to what he’s doing.

Then, when Cal coach Jeff Tedford was asked about his opinion of the Oregon-Oklahoma officiating mess, he admitted he didn’t know anything about it and hadn’t even seen any TV clips of the game. Of course he hadn’t. He’s involved in coaching his own team, not watching ESPN highlights. Yet, Tedford has a vote in the coaches’ poll. In fact, the coaches voting in that poll usually turn it over to a junior member of the staff, who does watch the highlights and has more knowledge about other teams.

GIANTS PITCHING: As the Giants self-destruct, the pitching staff that was supposed to give them a chance to make the postseason has led the way.

Frankly, the Giants rotation is a mess, with a collection of pitchers who should be fourth or fifth starters. Matt Cain, though he got rocked on Tuesday, has been the only consistent starter in the second half. Jason Schmidt hasn’t been the same since his 16-strikeout game. The Giants should have traded him at midseason when he had value, and they certainly should not try to re-sign him. Hitters have caught up to Noah Lowry. Matt Morris – see the lead item. Brad Hennessey looks great in long relief but in roles with more pressure, either starting or closing, he hasn’t sparkled.

DURHAM SWITCH? Reader Phil Lichtenstein has an interesting thought on Ray Durham: The Giants should re-sign Durham and shift him to first base.

Not a bad idea. Durham is a defensive liability at second because he has such limited range, but that wouldn’t be such an important factor for him at first. He’s having his best power year and has had many key hits for the Giants. I’d certainly take him over Shea Hillenbrand.

IGNORANCE IS BLISS: I heard a reader lambasting the Giants on KNBR the other day because he had read in Forbes magazine that the Yankees lost $50 million last season but George Steinbrenner keeps spending. The host defended the Giants but didn’t mention the most important point: Steinbrenner makes in excess of $100 million a year with his cable network, so he’s not losing money. I don’t expect fans to know that, but the host of a sports talk show should.

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