Matt Halliday, Raider Mess, Tim Lincecum, Jim Harbaugh, Kevin Riley
This week, they finally made the trade, but it would have been far better if they had done it last July. Instead, they did nothing and the rest of the season was one long audition. For me as a writer, it was a good chance to evaluate the prospects, but it was maddening for fans. A friend of mine said, “Is there anybody out there on the field that you would pay to see?” – and the answer obviously was no.
And then, the A’s announced they would not raise ticket prices this year. Whoopee! How about a refund to those who paid major league prices last year for a Triple-A product. (My apologies to the Sacramento River Cats, who were more entertaining.)
Don’t blame Billy Beane for this. He makes the trades but he has to hew to the budget drawn up by managing owner Lew Wolff, who has taken his place in the Bay Area Owners Hall of Shame with Al Davis, John York and Chris Cohan. On a conference call today, Beane said he’d been talking to Denver about Holliday since last July but he obviously had financial constraints at that time. Beane has never been reluctant to trade good players if he could get what he wanted in return, and the trade he made this week could have been made last July.
Ironically, some of my media colleagues welcomed the ownership change from Steve Schott, but when the A’s needed to make a midseason deal, Schott would loosen the purse strings so Beane could make the deal he needed to make. But Wolff wouldn’t do it last season, even as the A’s payroll plunged to the bottom quadrant among major league teams. Attendance plummeted, too, but no matter. Wolff and John Fisher made money. Doesn’t that warm your heart?
The theory is that the A’s fantasy land idea of a new park in the Fremont swamp area will give them the money to boost the payroll. The plan would be a good one if the A’s could build in San Jose, which is what Wolff really wanted, of course. But it has a fatal flaw with its current location: It assumes people will buy homes in what is now a totally unattractive area and businesses will relocate there. And if cows had wings, they could fly.
Meanwhile, the A’s are renting Holliday for a season, or maybe a half, if the team falls out of contention in the first half.
It’s a good deal, even if it is late in being made. Holliday is an outstanding hitter and right-handed, which is what the A’s need. Carlos Gonzalez looked like a star in the making, but he’s not there yet and Holliday is. Meanwhile, the A’s are deep in outfielders. Ryan Sweeney established himself last year and Travis Buck seemed on his way back at the end of last season. Aaron Cunningham is in the mix, too.
The two pitchers in the deal were expendable. Huston Street had fallen behind two others for the closer slot, Joey Devine (the likely choice next season) and 2008 surprise Brad Ziegler. Greg Smith is a back of the order starter; the A’s have much better prospects who will soon be up.
“This was a trade we felt we could make and still stay with our long-term plan, which is to build with young talent,” Beane said.
Asked whether he thought Holliday would be affected by going from a hitter’s park in Denver to a pitcher’s park in Oakland, Beane said he wasn’t worried about that. “He’ just a good hitter. He contended for the batting title a couple of years ago.” Beane said he felt Holliday’s presence in the middle of the lineup would also take pressure off the younger players.
The deal also gives the A’s some star power, which they badly needed last year. See my previous reference to players worth watching.
Beane probably is not through making trades because he knows the A’s need more than just one player, no matter how good, to get back into contention. Though Beane talked of having Eric Chavez back, it would be foolish to rely on him making a significant contribution after all the injuries and surgeries he’s had.
First base was a black hole last season as heralded prospect Daric Barton never did figure out major league pitching. Barton looked like a sure thing as he made his way up the minor league ladder and hit .347 in just 72 at-bats in Oakland at the end of the 2007 season. But he never got untracked last season. He’ll get another chance, but how long will the A’s wait?
You have to give Beane credit, though: He’s already made the offseason more interesting than the whole 2008 season.
SIT DOWN, GREG: Now the news is out that Al Davis took the playcalling duties away from offensive coordinator Greg Knapp because he needed a scapegoat. Apparently he has no mirrors, either at work or at home.
Davis inadvertently did Knapp a favor because now he cannot be blamed for the Raiders inept offense. The truth is exactly what fired coach Lane Kiffin said in training camp: The Raiders don’t have enough good players. Of course, we know who has failed to bring in enough good players.
It’s been an open secret that Knapp can hardly wait to leave at the end of the season. His good friend, Jim Mora, will be the head coach in Seattle next year and he’ll join Mora there, as he did when Mora had the Atlanta job. He’s a good guy and doesn’t deserve being stuck with the Raiders. But then, nobody does.
HARBAUGH RUMOR: For all those who have wondered about the story that Davis is interested in getting Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh next season, I first heard that when Kiffin was fired. I haven’t written about it before because it’s a non-starter. Harbaugh will certainly get offers, pro and college, but they’ll be better than the Raiders job. I suspect he’d like to get back to the NFL – he was, of course, a quarterback in the league – but he’s much too smart to take a dead-end job like the Raiders.
CY YOUNG: Tim Lincecum richly deserved the Cy Young Award, but strong cases could also be made for starters Brandon Webb and Johan Santana and closer Brad Lidge, who converted all 41 save opportunities.
When the pitching award was first established in 1956 as a major league award and split into separate league awards in 1967, starters were still dominant, with the top ones expected to pitch complete games or come very close. Now, it has become a bullpen game, with starters seldom completing games. Since it’s so difficult to gauge the relative importance of a starter and closer, I think it’s time to have separate awards. The award for relievers could be named after Dennis Eckersley, who really popularized the idea.
RILEY STARTING: Cal coach Jeff Tedford didn’t hesitate this week as he said Kevin Riley would be the starting quarterback Saturday in a very important game against Oregon State at Corvallis. Equally important, he said Riley would get about 2/3 of the first team snaps this week, instead of sharing them equally with Nate Longshore. That’s important because it will give Riley more of an opportunity to be connected with his receivers.
Nobody has been comfortable with the quarterback juggling this season. Tedford certainly isn’t, either. He was ready to commit to Riley earlier but when Riley suffered a concussion against Oregon, he wasn’t sure about his quarterback’s health or his ability to learn the game plan for USC. Both those worries are behind him now.
Tedford said Riley’s mobility was the main factor in his decision, and that’s always been the chief difference between the two quarterbacks. Riley can sometimes turn a broken play into a gainer, and he can buy time in the pocket with his feet. Longshore is a sitting duck against a hard rush. One time in the first half against USC, when he saw the rush coming he just fell to the ground in a fetal position. At least he didn’t throw the ball up for grabs, as has so often been his pattern.
Riley still has some things to learn but he has the ability to be an outstanding quarterback. He also has the temperament because he’s able to shake off bad breaks – the best example is how he came off an interception (when he was hit as he was throwing) on Cal’s first possession against Oregon to direct a 71-yard scoring drive, which he completed with a perfect pass to the end zone. Against USC, after a touchdown pass was negated by a penalty, he came back to throw what seemed momentarily to be another touchdown before it was tipped and turned into an interception.
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