A's Problems/Solutions; Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis; Roger Maris
by Glenn Dickey
Jul 01, 2009

WHEN YOU get in a hole, itís best not to keep digging, but thatís what Aís management, from general manager Billy Beane to manager Bob Geren, is oing.

Beane had what seemed to be a good plan in the offseason, trading for Matt Holliday and signing Jason Giambi as a free agent. The moves were supposed to strengthen the Aís offense and bring in name players who could attract fans. In fact, theyíve done neither.

Holliday seemed to be coming out of his early slump in early June, but heís fallen back into it. Apparently, heís one of those hitters who can look good in a favorable environment, as he had in Colorado with a hitter-friendly park and in the middle of a solid lineup, but fails when he has to be the leader. Heís playing his home games now in a park which depresses batting averages because of the huge foul areas and whose winds at night often turn potential home run into harmless fly balls. His value is strictly as a hitter because heís a mediocre fielder. Reportedly, he canít wait to get away from the Aís because he knows the season heís having will cost him money when he hits the free agent market after this season.

Giambi is simply exhausted because heís had to play so much in the field. Never the most nimble of fielders, at 38 heís a defensive liability. When the Aís signed Frank Thomas, it was with the understanding that he would only be the DH and never play in the field. They should have made the same decision with Giambi.

Star players do not bring in fans unless they make the team better. With the added depressant of owner Lew Wolffís public statements deriding Oakland as a location for a new park, the adding of Holliday and Giambi has not made any difference in ticket sales Ė and not in the teamís performance, either. In fact, this team is playing worse than last year. Just five games short of the halfway point, they are on a course to win just 68 games, seven fewer than last year.

It is time for the Aís to make some serious changes Ė and for Beane to consider a drastic change for next season: Hiring a real manager, not just another errand boy.

Here are the changes that should be made immediately.

--Make Giambi a full-time DH and hope not playing in the field will enable him to regain his power stroke. Giambi hasnít hit for average for several years but, when healthy, heís hit for power Ė 32 home runs last season. Combined with a relatively high on-base percentage, that can make him a factor. Donít EVER play him in the field again.

Who would play first base? Please not Nomar Garciaparra, except for an occasional game. The Aís are supposed to be built around the farm system, so Iíd give Daric Barton another shot. Barton had hit on every level, including an 18-game stint with the Aís in September, 2007. He was regarded by other organizations and ďBaseball AmericaĒ as a great hitting prospect. Then, he hit .226 in 2008. Nobody has a clue what happened to him, but I think the Aís should give him another shot. At the very least, he is a huge defensive improvement over Giambi, which helps the young pitchers.

--Get rid of Jack Cust, either by trading him or giving him his outright release. I advocated this before the start of the season but the over-optimistic Geren envisioned a lineup that would feature three 30-homer hitters Ė Holliday, Giambi and Cust Ė and perhaps a fourth in Eric Chavez. Thatís not happening for the first three, and Chavezís career is over, though both he and the Aís cling to hope that he could return from his latest back surgery.

Cust has the same pluses and minuses as Giambi, a relatively high on-base percentagee, good power and a terrible glove. He should be strictly a DH, too, but you canít have two of them, so Geren has played Cust in right field, with often disastrous results. Itís almost comedic at times, though it didnít seem that way when he crashed into Mark Ellis, who had ranged into right field to catch a popup, in Sundayís game against the Rockies. Ellis had just come off the DL, and it seemed Cust was going to put him back there.

Travis Buck should be playing right field, instead. Buck doesnít have Custís power but heís a more consistent hitter and an infinitely better fielder. As heís noted, when he played consistently as a rookie, he had a good season. Heís been plagued by injuries Ė is it something in the Aís clubhouse Ė but he deserves a chance to play regularly. The Aís pitchers deserve that, too.

The Aís system is deepest in outfielders, so if Holliday is traded this month, one of those currently in the minors should be brought up.

The emphasis always should be on developing players for next year and beyond. If the current plan is maintained, the Aís will be in the same floundering position next season. In essence, theyíll have wasted a year. Theyíre giving their young pitchers an audition now, and they need to do the same for their young position players.

Itís too late to replace Geren this season, but he definitely needs to go before next season. Before that happens, Beane needs to take a look at what heís doing with his managers, too.

Beane has had three managers during his tenurre. The best by far was Ken Macha, but he and Beane were like oil and water and Beane eventually fired him.

Macha was tough with the players and some of them disliked that treatment after the grandfatherly Art Howe, but he got results. When Milton Bradley, who has had problems wherever he has gone, came to the Aís, Macha was able to keep him cool enough that Bradley contributed greatly as the Aís won 93 games and the AL West in 2006, advancing to the ALCS. Thomas was another player who had had problems in Chicago but he was a huge contributor under Macha. In fact, he spoke up in defense of Macha in team meetings Ė and publicly, after his firing.

Can you imagine Geren dealing with either Bradley or Thomas? The question answers itself.

Geren was the obvious choice to replace Macha because he totally agrees with Beaneís philosophy. Frankly, I thought he was a good choice because of his success at Sacramento, but heís in over his head here.

He has little strategic sense. Heís overworked his bullpen because he usually yanks his young starters too early, but on Sunday, he sent Vin Mazzaro out for the seventh inning after heíd already thrown 104 psitches. The reason? He wanted to bring in left-handed reliever Craig Breslow to face the second hitter, who was left-handed. Thatís carrying the matchup strategy to the point of absurdity. Mazzaro came out after walking the first batter.

At another game I witnessed, Geren crowed about his strategy in the bottom of the ninth which gave Rajai Davis a chance to knock in the winning run. But Davis is a notoriously weak hitter and the strategy succeeded only because the infield was drawn in so his pop fly, which would have been an easy out otherwise, landed at the back of the infield dirt, just out of reach of the infielders on the right side.

Geren uses the DH for players like Garciaparra and, last Sunday, Kurt Suzuki, when Suzuki was given a day off from catching, which means both Cust and Giambi have to play in the field.

Beane needs to get a strong manager in place for next season, but before he can do that, he needs to take a step back. He canít just bring in another errand boy.

This isnít about his philosophy, which is the same philosophy that guided the Aís in the Ď80s, when they had great teams. Sandy Alderson believed in the importance of on-base percentage, rather than just batting average, but he didnít try to tell Tony La Russa how to manage his team.

Thatís the kind of relationship Beane needs to have with a strong manager. Itís the only way the Aís are going to be able to break this suicidal cycle.

WARRIORS CHANGES: Speculation continues about whether the Warriors will make a trade to get either Amare Stoudamire or Chris Bosh. My guess is that neither will happen. Warriors GM Larry Riley has said they wonít make a trade for a player who is on the last year of his contract, as both these players are, without negotiating a new deal Ė and so far, the agents for those two players havenít been approached.

If the Warriors do make a deal, I hope that Monta Ellis is included, not Stephen Curry. As point guards, both have a shoot-first mentality but Curry will be the better player and may even be that now. He showed some passing skills when he played the point for Davidson, and heís definitely more adaptable than Ellis, who has never shown much court vision. Whatever he may say, Ellis is always going to look for his shot first and pass the ball only if he canít shoot it. That is not a point guard.

It may well be that the Warriors will keep both players and play them at the same time. Thatís the kind of thing Don Nelson loves to do because it prompts talk of how heís the mad genius. Playing Ellis and Curry together, the Warriors might score 130 points. Of course, theyíd give up 140.

SAN JOSE fans who want the Aís like to talk about the fact that their city is third in population in the state, but thatís true only because city limits were stretched out long before the population expanded. Driving south on 101, you have to go nearly to Morgan Hill before youíre officially out of San Jose.

In contrast, San Francisco could have expanded by annexing San Mateo county in the early 20th century but chose not to. So, the San Francisco population is restricted to the 49 square mile area itís always had. Itís had some population growth lately because of the high rise apartment buildings downtown but itís still under 800,000. Yet, the city population during the week days is supposedly around 1 ľ million.

Similarly, the population of Oakland is less than 400,000, but the city is in the middle of an urban sprawl that stretches from El Cerrito in the north to Hayward in the south. The only break in that stretch is Highway 24, which cuts through the northern edge of Oakland on its way to the tunnel. Otherwise, itís one continuous city.

What San Jose has, of course, is Silicon Valley, which Lew Wolff covets. But Silicon Valley residents played a big part in financing the Giants park in China Basin. Thatís why the Giants wonít give up their territorial rights.

MARIS IN HOF: The female sports columnist for The Chronicle who apparently believes that steroids are the biggest evil in the world, wrote a column this week suggesting that Roger Maris should be in the Hall of Fame for two reasons: (1) He was not on steroids; and (2) He hit 61 homers in 1961.

In fact, Maris has never been a serious HOF candidate because election to the hall is supposed to be based on the playerís career, not one year. In his career, Maris was a good player, not a great one. In 12 seasons, he hit .260 with 275 home runs.

His record year was a fluke because it was an expansion year. There are two other hitters who illustrate that point: Jim Gentile hit 46 homers, which was nearly a quarter of the 179 he hit in a nine-year career. Norm Cash led the American League with a .361 average; before and after that year, he didnít exceed .270.

That aberrant year is also an example of why I donít regard baseball records with the reverence that many older readers and baseball writers do. Like all sports, baseball has changed over the years, so many records are essentially meaningless. Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron have both passed Babe Ruth in career home run totals, and the Babeís 60 homers is now well down the list of seasonal home run production, but does anybody seriously doubt that Ruth is the premier power hitter of all time? Jack Chesbro holds the record of most pitching wins in a season with 41 in the dead ball era, but his name never gets in the discussion about best pitcher of all time. Cy Young won a record 511 games, pitching entirely in the dead ball era, and the pitching awards are named after him, but most baseball historians regard Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson as better pitchers.

That 1961 season was an exciting one because of all the offense; until Mickey Mantle was slowed by injuries, it was thought he, not Maris, might be the one to beat Ruthís mark. Mantle finished with 54, the highest total of his great career.

But one year shouldnít get a player into the Hall of Fame, especially when it was an aberrant one.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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