Beane's Moves, Manny to Dodgers,York/Newsom, Bonds/Aaron
The A’s were a punchless outfit in 2008, but since the end of the season, general manager Billy Beane has traded for Matt Holliday and signed Jeson Giambi and Cabrera as free agents. Now, the lineup has a totally different look.
Cabrera is not a power hitter – just eight home runs last year for the Chicago White Sox – but he’s an excellent No. 2 hitter who can steal a base when necessary, 20 last season. The A’s have been known as a station-to-station team but they’ve been running more the last couple of years. Beane believes in the big inning approach, which has been the basis of most successful offenses in baseball since Babe Ruth first started hitting home runs, and he doesn’t believe in aborting a possible big inning with a thwarted stolen base attempt. But there are also times, in the late innings or against a top-level pitcher, when it’s judicious to play for one run. Being able to steal successfully in that situation can be very important.
The A’s now have two hitters, Holliday and Giambi, who are natural fits for the 3-4 slots. Another potential middle-of-the-lineup hitter is Eric Chavez, who has said he’s finally healthy this spring after multiple surgeries the past two years. He will apparently make his spring debut at third base this week.
If Chavez can play regularly, that would enable the A’s to hit Jack Cust sixth. Cust is a 30-plus home run hitter, but his frequent strikeouts make him a bad fit in the middle of the lineup because he short circuits potential rallies. But if a pitcher had to face him after Holliday, Giambi and Chavez. . .
At the very least, the A’s will be much more interesting to watch this year, especially after the snooze fest last season.
The pitching? The A’s bullpen will be strong again. The starting pitching is a question mark, depending on the development of their young pitchers. The A’s best prospects, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, will probably start the season at Sacramento, but there are others. I particularly liked what I saw of Sean Gallagher, who came over from the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal last July. The A’s also have an ace-in-the-hole: Pitching coach Curt Young. There is nobody better at developing young pitchers.
Cabrera also gives the A’s some flexibility in the infield. Both Chavez and second baseman Mark Ellis are coming off serious surgery. Though Crosby has never played anything but shortstop, he’ll get a lot of practice/playing time at second and third this spring. It’s also likely the A’s will sign Nomar Garciaparra as a backup at first and third. They won’t get caught short this year, as they were last year when Chavez couldn’t play and they had to use Jack Hannahan, who was inadequate both offensively and defensively.
Crosby is understandably unhappy about his demotion and wants to be traded, but I have no sympathy for him. Injuries have curtailed his play but he was healthy last season and had his third straight season hitting under .230. Baseball at the major league level is about constant adjustment, and Crosby never adjusted to how he was being pitched. Finally, this last winter he worked with Mark McGwire to refine his hitting approach, but it was too late. He’d already run out of chances. Maybe he’ll eventually fulfill his potential with another team, but he wasn’t doing the job for the A’s. They had to look for another shortstop, and they got a good one in Cabrera.
The comparison between the A’s and Giants in their signing of Cabrera and Edgar Renteria is also interesting.
In terms of value to their teams, Cabrera and Renteria are virtually identical. Both are very good defensively. Renteria has a little more power, Cabrera is a better base stealer. Both are on the downside of their careers and had significant offensive drops from the previous year.
Making their move right away, the Giants signed Renteria for $18.5 million for two years. Beane made an offer to Rafael Furcal but was rebuffed. He then waited as Cabrera lowered his demands from the Renteria level and got him for a relative bargain price – and for one year. If he doesn’t work out, they can just let him go after one season. If Renteria continues his decline, the Giants will be stuck with him for another year. That’s been Brian Sabean’s pattern in this decade: Giving players too much money and too many years.
MANNY’S BACK: The Dodgers are finally getting Manny Ramirez back, which will make them the favorites in the weak NL West. Ramirez never got another offer. The Giants waited, not wanting to get into a bidding war. They had an opportunity when Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, rejected the Dodgers’ offer last week and the Dodgers took the offer off the table. But, again the Giants did nothing, so the Dodgers resumed negotiations. Remember that when the Giants have a string of 2-1, 3-2, 4-3 losses this season. Their pitching will be strong, but you have to score runs to win consistently. They badly needed a hitter like Ramirez in the middle of their lineup.
JED AND THE MAYOR: Don’t expect anything substantial from the meeting between San Francisco mayor and Jed York, now in charge of the 49ers operation, because no stadium is going to be built anywhere in the Bay Area in the current economic climate. But it’s good news that they met, instead of exchanging angry e-mail messages.
I’m more and more impressed with Jed. When I met with him recently, he showed a good grasp of what needs to be done, as well as an understanding that he shouldn’t try to make football decisions because he doesn’t have the knowledge. That’s very important, because his dad has never understood hiss limitations. In our first conversation after he took over, John York told me he was going to give Steve Mariucci advice on how to deal with his assistant coaches!
There’s another thing about Jed York: This is what he wants to do. He’ll be on the job 24/7. That was never true of his father, who shuttled back and forth between Youngstown, Ohio and Santa Clara.
STEROIDS FALLOUT: In my Examiner column yesterday, I referred to an interview with former pitcher and pitching coach Tom House in May, 2005, in which House said that steroids use on his Atlanta Braves team was widespread in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Reader Michael Babcock alerted me to a blog which discusses some curious home run statistics for the Braves in that period.
Hank Aaron, who held the all-time career home run record until it was broken by Barry Bonds, had a spike in his home run percentage as he aged: In 1971-73, when he was 37-39, he led the National League in home run percentage each year. In 1973, he had the highest home run percentage of his career, as he hit 40 in just 392 at-bats.
In 1973, teammate Darrell Evans also had a spike, hitting 41 homers after hitting just 31 combined in the previous two seasons.
Aaron was obviously a consistent home run hitter throughout his career, and Evans finished with a significant number, too, 414 for his career.
But a third player on that team, Davey Johnson, topped both Aaron and Evans with 43 home runs. Johnson did not hit as many as 20 home runs in any other season. In 1972, he hit just five. In 1974, he hit 15.
In 1996, Brady Anderson went from 16 home runs in 1995 to 50 in 1996. His manager was Davey Johnson.
There’s another significant comment which has been largely overlooked by the media. On March 17, 2005, in his statement to the House Government Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman said, “In 1973, the year I first ran for Congress, the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce concluded a year-long investigation that found—and I quote—‘drug use exists…in all sports and levels of competition..In some instances, the danger of improper drug use—primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids—can only be described as alarming.’”
Maybe it didn’t all start with Barry Bonds after all.
STANFORD FOOTBALL: Coach Jim Harbaugh is lobbying Comcast to telecast the Cardinal’s final spring practice, scheduled for a Monday night. When asked about that by a writer, Harbaugh playfully said, “Monday night football is very popular. Haven’t you heard?”
Offensive tackle Allen Smith was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA because of injuries and still has hopes for an NFL future.
“I have to get back on the field,” he said. “The last time I played football was 2007. That isn’t going to cut it with pro scouts.”
As for the importance of football, Smith said, “I know there’s more to life than football…but not much more.”
BRUCE MAGOWAN: For those of you who have wondered about Bruce, he’s now working for Comcast, which is dramatically increasing its sports programming. He won’t be on air, as he was at KNBR. He’s working instead in production, primarily in scheduling guests for the “Chronicle Live” program which will air weeknights, 5-6 p.m., starting April 6. The program will have writers from all Bay Area newspapers, not just The Chronicle, and I will be one of them. I’ll keep you posted about my appearances on the show.
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