ALDS Preview and Predictions – Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Oakland Athletics (96-66) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Athletics: Do their “thing”; keep the Tigers in the ballpark; get into the Tigers’ bullpen.

When I say “do their thing,” I mean the A’s game is based on hitting home runs and their pitchers throwing strikes. As long as they’re hitting home runs and their pitchers are throwing strikes, they win. If they don’t hit home runs, they don’t do much of anything else worthwhile.

Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes all had big power years. Other players in their lineup – Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick – hit the ball out of the park as well. But if they don’t hit homers, they won’t score.

The Tigers are a power-laden team that hits a lot of home runs in their own right. With Miguel Cabrera dealing with a spate of injuries, the A’s can’t fall asleep on him because he can still manipulate the pitcher like an aging George Foreman used to with his, “I’m an old man, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gon…” BANG!!! Then they’re watching the lights in the sky from their backs. It’s a similar situation as watching a Cabrera homer.

The Tigers’ bullpen is shaky and if the A’s force their way into it, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit aren’t accustomed to the roles they’ll face as post-season set-up man and closer.

A’s’ boss Billy Beane makes an impassioned self-defense of his methods not working in the playoffs because the playoffs are a “crapshoot.” It’s the exact type of excuse to which Beane would reply arrogantly and obnoxiously if someone else were to give it. If he’s supposed to be finding methods to bend baseball to his will, isn’t it time he finds a way to win in the playoffs?

Keys for the Tigers: Get something from their warhorses; get depth from their starters; hit the ball out of the park; keep the A’s in the park.

Cabrera is injured and Justin Verlander has been shaky. The playoffs tend to send a jolt into veteran players who’ve grown accustomed – and perhaps slightly bored – by the regular season. Adrenaline could help Verlander regain his lost velocity. Max Scherzer has been great this season, but the Tigers’ chances may come down to Verlander.

Leyland doesn’t like having an untrustworthy bullpen and while Benoit has adapted well to being a closer, there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll be able to do the job in the playoffs until he gets an opportunity and does it. It’s best to have the starters go deep into the games and score plenty of runs to not have to worry about it.

The Tigers’ pitchers keep the ball in the park. That has to continue.

What will happen:

Every year, the A’s are the “feel good” story and every year they get bounced in the playoffs. There’s a desperation to have Beane win that ring to somehow shut out any remaining simplistic Chris Russo-style, logically ludicrous argument of, “I don’t wanna hear what a genius he is. Win a championship.” If he wins, where can they go?

The problem is that Beane has never figured out how to use his “card counting” skills in the draft (also a fallacy) to handle the dice in the “crapshoot” that is the playoffs. One would think he’d have done it by now. Maybe he should show up for the playoffs in a mask and declare himself “Billy Bane” while telling the A’s to take control of his genius.

The Tigers are deeper and their defense has been shored up by the acquisition of Jose Iglesias. The shift of Jhonny Peralta to the outfield gives them an even deeper lineup.

Not hitting home runs is the death knell for the A’s and the Tigers aren’t going to give up the homers the A’s are used to hitting. On the mound, the Tigers and A’s are evenly matched top-to-bottom, but the Tigers all-around offense gives them the advantage.

The A’s are trying to validate their backstory, but all they continually do is validate the criticism of it.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR




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Detroit Tigers vs Oakland Athletics—ALDS Preview and Predictions

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Oakland Athletics (94-68; 1st place, AL West) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74, 1st place, AL Central)

Keys for the Athletics: Get depth from their young starters; maintain their magic; mitigate Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera; don’t be “happy to be here”.

The A’s young starters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin have shown no fear in becoming acclimated to the big leagues and carrying a team that no one expected to be contenders to the playoffs. That said, unless they’re successful in keeping runners off the bases ahead of Fielder and Cabrera and putting themselves in a position to use the multiple lefties in their bullpen late in the game against Fielder, they’re not going to win.

With the veterans Jonny Gomes, Grant Balfour, Coco Crisp, and Seth Smith, it’s not as if this is a purely young club that will be shell-shocked by the post-season. They’ve been freewheeling and feisty all season long in direct contrast to the outwardly calm and patient manager Bob Melvin.

They hit a lot of home runs and they pitch. If they fail to do one or the other against the Tigers, they’re going to lose.

Keys for the Tigers: Win Justin Verlander’s starts; receive contributions from hitters other than Fielder and Cabrera; get runners on base in front of Fielder and Cabrera; hope that Jose Valverde is able to close without incident or Jim Leyland smoking seven cigarettes at once in the runway while Valverde is on the mound.

A team with a pure ace such as Verlander holds a distinct advantage in a short series, but Verlander hasn’t pitched well in past post-seasons. For him to truly validate his place in history, he needs to go further than being a regular season horse and Cy Young Award/MVP winner, he has to come through in October. If Verlander is able to give the A’s pause early in the first game and make them think that the have to win the three games he’s not going to pitch, it could be a blow to the solar plexus for a young team that, for the most part, has not been in this situation before.

Contrary to perception, the Tigers offense is not limited to Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson had a breakout season; Quintin Berry provided a spark and speed; and Delmon Young has a penchant for hitting homers in the playoffs.

Valverde is shaky and gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting himself out of it. It’s devastating to any team when they get a lead to their closer and their closer blows the game, and it happens remarkably often in the playoffs and World Series.

What will happen:

2012 was meant to be a rebuilding year for the A’s, but this season has been about inexplicable (statistically and otherwise) leaps for both the A’s and the Orioles. The A’s rode youngsters Parker, Milone, Ryan Cook, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Griffin, along with veteran journeymen Balfour, Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Gomes to a shocking AL West title.

Can the young pitchers who reveled in the pressure during the regular season continue that trend in the playoffs? Parker is starting the opener against Verlander. Because of the new playoff rules, the team with the inferior record is beginning the playoff series at home. It’s a bizarre set-up but home field is generally overrated in baseball.

The A’s need their young pitchers to maintain their fearlessness against a Tigers’ lineup that houses Fielder and Triple Crown winner Cabrera. But that won’t help them if they don’t account for Jackson, Berry, and Young.

The A’s don’t have a long history against Verlander. Crisp is the only player on their roster with more than 20 plate appearances against him (8 for 22). They have a lineup of bats who like swinging at fastballs, but Verlander is more than just a near-100 mph fastball. He has a feel for pitching and gets better as the game wears on; if the A’s are going to get to him, it has to be early. If it gets to the fifth or sixth inning and Verlander gets his groove, the A’s are in trouble.

Max Scherzer isn’t scheduled to start for the Tigers until a possible game 4 after a shoulder injury put him on the sideline and an ankle injury set him back. I’d be concerned if the Tigers enter game 4 down 2-1 in the series and are relying on a rusty Scherzer.

The bullpens are similar with somewhat shaky closers who’ve lost their jobs at various times in their careers. It wasn’t long ago that Balfour wanted out of Oakland for having the job taken away from him in favor of rookie Cook. Valverde is unreliable at best.

The Tigers can hit for power with the Athletics and have the starting pitching to shut down the A’s offense. The bullpens are even; the starting pitching is an edge for the Tigers with Verlander looming for two games in the series.

The A’s magic ride was contingent on production that couldn’t have been crafted into believable fiction. The experience of the Tigers will show and they have star power that the A’s currently don’t.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR

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August Waivers Rodeo—American League

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Claiming any of the following players will be hazardous to one’s payroll.

Let’s have a look at American League players who’ll get through waivers for one reason or another.

Mark Teixeira, 1B—New York Yankees

If Teixeira’s contract were due to expire in the near future, someone would claim him and the Yankees wouldn’t let him go. If he was claimed now, they still wouldn’t let him go, but they’d at least briefly consider it. He’s owed $22.5 million annually through 2016 when he’ll be 36. He’s going nowhere.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B—New York Yankees

Yeah. You claim A-Rod. You’ll have A-Rod at 37 with $104 million coming to him from 2013 through 2017.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

His numbers are down, he’s owed $127 million through 2018 and he’s becoming the great player whose teams always miss the playoffs.

Carl Crawford, LF—Boston Red Sox

Yah. A-Rod has a better chance of being claimed.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

There would undoubtedly be factions in the Red Sox front office that would vote to let him go if he was claimed. Now he’s day-to-day with back spasms which, along with his poor pitching and not-so-charming personality, make him even more toxic with $31.5 million owed to him in 2013-2014. He also has 10 and 5 rights to block any deal but I think he’d love to get out of Boston by any means necessary.

Brandon Lyon, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He’s owed $5.5 million for 2012.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

No one claimed him in June when the Blue Jays had to get him through waivers to send him to the minors earlier in the season; he’s hit better since he was recalled, but with $7 million guaranteed next season, he won’t be claimed especially since he’s not on the disabled list with a back injury.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

Add the Blue Jays to the Braves as teams that the talented Escobar has aggravated to the point that they want to be rid of him. His contract pays him $10 million in 2013-2014 and he has an option for 2015. He’ll get through and might be traded.

Alexei Ramirez, SS—Chicago White Sox

His hitting numbers have taken a nosedive and he’s owed $27.5 million through 2015.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s got a limited no-trade clause and presumably the team that claims him will be responsible for his $2.75 million buyout, but someone might claim him and hope that he can stay healthy for the last two months of the season (he’s sidelined with a sore back now) and perhaps provide some DH pop.

Casey Kotchman, 1B—Cleveland Indians

As a defensive replacement, there’d be a team to take him.

Joe Mauer, C—Minnesota Twins

He’s getting $23 million annually through 2018. If anyone claimed him, the Twins would pull him back; doubtful anyone will.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

With $14 million owed to him for 2013 and that he’s hit better recently, a team might claim him and the Twins would pull him back. If they trade him, it will be in the winter.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

No one’s claiming him, but if he proves himself healthy by the end of the month, he’ll be traded.

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s a free agent at the end of the year and a contender (or a team that thinks they’re a contender—see the Red Sox of Boston or Blue Jays of Toronto) could use him for the stretch.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

He’s owed $6.75 million for 2013. By the time his career is over, Frenchy might’ve played for 12-15 teams. That’s where his career is headed and it’s a major fall from being a Sports Illustrated coverboy and pegged a future megastar.

Bruce Chen, LHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s got a contract for $4.5 million for 2012, but eats innings and can be effective. He’ll get through and will be in decent demand via trade.

Roy Oswalt, RHP—Texas Rangers

Oswalt refused to pitch a third inning of relief on Sunday even though manager Ron Washington asked him to. He’s been mostly bad and is now causing a problem. For a small-town, “humble” guy, he’s doing a great impression of Terrell Owens. The Rangers will keep him around in case they need him, but no one will claim him.

Michael Young, INF/DH—Texas Rangers

As much as he’s respected, the final year of his contract on 2013 pays him $16 million and he’s been bad this season. If he’s claimed, the Rangers would be willing to let him go. He’s got 10 and 5 rights and won’t waive them.

Coco Crisp, OF—Oakland Athletics

The A’s have plenty of outfielders and Crisp is owed $8 million for 2013.

Vernon Wells, OF—Los Angeles Angels

His contract—$42 million for 2013-2014—is toxic.

Dan Haren, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Haren has a $15.5 million club option and a $3.5 million buyout; he’s having back problems and has been mediocre all season.

Ervin Santana, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s been bad, has a $13 million option that won’t be exercised and a $1 million buyout.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—Seattle Mariners

Figgins has $8 million guaranteed next season and has batted under .200 in each of the past two seasons. You claim it, you got it.

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Cespedes Has One Month

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As talented as Yoenis Cespedes clearly is, that talent is raw. He’s increasingly become a feast or famine hitter with trouble hitting breaking balls. His defensive liabilities in centerfield only exacerbate the limited level of his current game.

That’s not to say that the 26(?)-year-old doesn’t have his attributes. He’s shown a propensity to hit in the clutch and has displayed unbelievable shows of power. The Mariners’ Jason Vargas threw a mediocre fastball right down the chute and Cespedes—in his most impressive show of strength—hit a towering homer that he stood and admired for a length of time that drew the ire of Vargas and the Mariners.

If pitchers make the mistake of firing a fastball in a location where the free-swinging Cespedes can reach it, he does damage; but without noticeable plate discipline, teams are learning that Cespedes is the equivalent of Major League’s Pedro Cerrano: don’t throw him a fastball in a hittable location if you can help it.

His slash line is down to .238/.316/.436. After hitting 3 homers in his first 4 games of the season, he’s hit 2 in the 23 games since.

He’s not completely ready for the big leagues.

The laudatory comments for Billy Beane’s decision to sign him (“smarter than the average bear”, etc) have died down in correlation with Cespedes’s dwindling production. The signing was always a strange one for the rebuilding A’s. Following the winter decisions to clean house of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, Beane was setting the foundation for a future that was contingent on the A’s’ proposed new ballpark in San Jose. With the project still in limbo, Beane followed the trades of the above-mentioned pitchers by signing Cespedes and Manny Ramirez; he re-signed Coco Crisp to play centerfield; and traded for Seth Smith.

To his displeasure, Crisp’s position was usurped by Cespedes and he’s now on the disabled list with an inner ear infection.

Ramirez’s suspension for failing a PED test is up on May 30th; the A’s have said that the plan is for him to go on a 10 game conditioning assignment before then and be recalled. They’re going to need a spot in the lineup for him and the obvious baseball move is to send Cespedes down, move Crisp back to centerfield, play Smith in leftfield and DH Ramirez.

Crisp’s bat has been non-existent, but he might regain his comfort zone if he’s playing his preferred position. They signed Ramirez and it would be silly for him not to play. Cespedes needs more seasoning.

It’s an obvious move…unless the A’s and Beane continue to be more concerned with perception and the desperate attempts to maintain the veneer of genius for Beane than with doing what’s right for the player and the team. Beane’s portrayal has become increasingly ridiculous with each subsequent maneuver he makes not to improve his team, but as a means to an end for peripheral benefits that can’t be gained by looking at facts. They’re clinging to a “future” that may never come and the absurd narrative of Moneyball.

Unless he starts hitting, Cespedes needs to go down the minors. Whether or not that actually happens is another matter entirely.

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Yoenis Cespedes To Play Center Field; Coco Crisp To Play Left

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Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin announced his intention of playing Cuban defector and inexplicable Athletics’ free agent signing Yoenis Cespedes in center field and Coco Crisp in left.

In a baseball discussion, I defy you to justify this decision.

Crisp was signed because he’s a top-notch defensive center fielder. We don’t know if Cespedes can play center in the big leagues and it’s absurd to think he can be even 75% of what Crisp is defensively.

But this is what they’re doing.

Why?

Because they have nothing else to bank their 2012 season on apart from the development and hope that Cespedes can draw interest and fans to a team that promises to be an absolute eyesore on the field.

They didn’t draw well when they were winning 100 games a year at the apex of Billy Beane’s mythical “genius” in the heady days of Moneyball before the rest of baseball caught on to what he was doing and began paying big money for players who got on base and hit the ball out of the park, doing little else.

So where’s the “genius”?

It’s gone.

Genius is not fleeting and judged on the results in and of themselves.

Genius is innovation. Genius is creativity. Genius is having a plan, following through on it and finding a way to make it work.

Is Beane doing any of that with this current Athletics’ configuration? With a series of desperate trades to deal away young, cost-controlled arms for packages of prospects in the “someday” hope that they’ll develop and be playing in a brand new ballpark in San Jose and the A’s will have the cash influx to compete with the big boys of baseball? That at some point during the contract extension that Beane signed to keep him with the A’s through 2019 that they’ll once again be good and his brilliance will again be validated by the subjectivity of the won/lost column?

He’s banking on Bud Selig and MLB finding a way to get the new A’s ballpark approved with the Giants letting the A’s infringe on their territorial rights; they want to sell the idea of the young players they acquired being part of the A’s renaissance in…I don’t know when! Is it 2015? 2016? 2017?

They re-signed Crisp even though he’s not going to do them much good on the field. They’d lose 95 games with him; they’ll lose 95 games without him. He’s still an Athletics’ player because of his speed and defense in center field. Now he’s not going to play center field. He’s going to play left.

No one knows what Cespedes is going to be and he’s the epitome of the type of player that Moneyball specifically said Beane wanted his scouts to avoid: he looks good with no verifiable results.

Maybe they can use his shredded physique in the tradition of Bo Jackson to sell jeans.

There’s no blueprint and Beane isn’t “smarter than the average bear”.

Don’t claim that this is a baseball move.

Don’t say it’s necessary.

Don’t imply some vague, unseen notion of a plan that’s known only to the evil genius Billy Beane.

And do not reference Moneyball as if the book and movie “prove” Beane’s aptitude in running a major league baseball team as if one thing feeds into the other without reality backing up the assertion.

He’s a baseball GM whose reputation became something that no one could live up to based on creative non-fiction and the sale of a story that doesn’t exist. He’s flinging things at the wall in a similar fashion to the reviled “non-analytical” GMs who were the bane of the existence of those who were promulgating the concept of a so-called revolution that would turn every baseball front office into something resembling a Star Trek convention and take over the world rendering the old-schoolers obsolete.

He’s in a war of attrition and running a dying franchise with nowhere to go and nothing to do to turn things around, so he’s reduced to gimmicks.

And he’s losing.

Badly.

Cespedes to center field is more evidence of idiocy and/or desperation.

Don’t dare say it’s anything else.

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Billy Beane—2012 Baseball Guide Excerpt

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I’m sure some of those who are familiar with me, what I do and how strongly I feel about the farcical nature of Moneyball the book and how much worse Moneyball the movie was in terms of factual inaccuracy are expecting me to go into a rant about Billy Beane. Again.

But I’m not.

I’m saving that.

This is straight recapping and assessment.

The A’s began another rebuild phase under Beane as he allowed Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to leave as free agents and traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for packages of youngsters. He was intent—so he implied—on waiting out the resolution of the possible new ballpark in San Jose.

But then he did something strange.

He started making maneuvers that were diametrically opposed to a full-scale rebuild. He re-signed Coco Crisp; he signed veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes; and then committed the cardinal sin in the context of verifiable stats and knowing what one is purchasing by investing heavily ($36 million over 4-years) in a Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes.

Beane says and does whatever he wants.

There’s always an excuse.

The media was focusing on the job status of Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) so he replaced him not because of Geren doing a bad job, but because of media scrutiny being a distraction.

They don’t have any money, so they clear out the house of any and all veterans.

The ballpark is terrible, has no luxury boxes and the fans don’t come so he has to wait and hope the San Jose deal comes through.

No one wants to play in Oakland, so they have to take chances on the likes of Cespedes.

The Angels and Rangers are powerhouses, so why should the A’s bother to try and compete?

If it’s not one thing it’s another.

It’s not hard to be considered a genius when nothing is ever you’re fault; when the sycophants will find an excuse regardless of what you do and whether or not it makes sense.

No one blames him for anything because they’re either invested in Moneyball, don’t know enough to realize that Beane isn’t a genius whose every decision turns to gold or are afraid to protest for fear of being shouted down and ostracized.

He’s flinging things at the wall and hoping they work. That’s not analytical; it’s not based on numbers. It’s pure desperation on the part of the supposed “genius” and willfully blind silence on the part of those who know what he’s doing and refuse to protest are even more guilty.

His team is still terrible and the new template is 2015.

By then they’ll be good and hopefully have a new ballpark.

People in the media and starstruck fans might not want to admit the truth, but people inside baseball are aware. Beane let it be known through intermediaries leaking it to the media that he was willing to listen if the Cubs came calling to run their club.

He wanted the job.

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

People in baseball know he’s a fraud. And he’s trapped in Oakland.

Beane signed a contract extension to keep him with the Athletics through 2019.

That’s where he is and that’s where he’ll stay.

The above is a snippet from my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on KindleSmashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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From the People Who Brought You Michael Ynoa…

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Michael Ynoa is a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic who signed with the Athletics for a then-A’s record signing bonus of $4.25 million signing bonus in June of 2008.

He’s now 20-years-old and has thrown 9 professional innings in almost four years.

Ynoa had Tommy John surgery and is expected to pitch this season in the minors.

When he signed, his name was spelled Inoa; now it’s Ynoa. Whether there’s a Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez Heredia story and we’ll discover that he’s actually 43 in the future is unknown.

But back then, Billy Beane wasn’t criticized for the signing; he wasn’t criticized after Ynoa got hurt; and people have forgotten about the risk he took by making an investment in such a question mark while having little money to spend.

The only difference between then and now is that Beane’s status as untouchable and protected from the righteous indignation that other GMs are subject to has become more pronounced and gotten exponentially worse.

I’m not getting into saying the signing of Yoenis Cespedes is a good deal or a bad deal; that Billy Beane is betraying the tenets of Moneyball upon which his built his status as the Teflon GM; or questioning if the newest member of the Oakland Athletics, Cespedes, is going to be worth the 4-year, $36 million contract he’s reported to have agreed to.

That’s not what this is about.

It’s about Beane’s judgment being cast as unassailable because of a book, a movie and perception that he can do no wrong in spite of having done almost nothing but wrong since his last playoff team in 2006.

How is it possible to credit a man who is clearly just flinging things at the wall with no definable strategy? A man who’s hoping to get a new ballpark for his team and then have money to spend to attract players to come to his ballclub?

Does it make sense to trade the young pitchers Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey who weren’t making a ton of money and were part of the one strength the Athletics had—on the mound—for packages of young players and then turn around and use the money that the team was supposed to be saving on Cespedes? To keep Coco Crisp? To trade for Seth Smith? To sign Jonny Gomes and Bartolo Colon?

Anything can be justified by anyone if they’re sufficiently motivated, but how do you take seriously those who refuse to criticize someone for reasons that have nothing to do with the job he’s done, but because it conveniences them to shield someone like Beane from criticism because there’s a clear investment in the concept of him being what his fictional account says he is?

Ask yourself this: if these deals were made by Omar Minaya, Dayton Moore, Bill Bavasi, Tony Reagins, Ed Wade or even Ruben Amaro Jr.—any GM who’s invited ridicule for the money spent and trades made in recent years without a plan that is palatable to the outsider “experts” that judge baseball from the safety of their armchairs and newsrooms—what would be said?

Would this be called another brilliant maneuver or would it add another layer to the reasons they should be replaced?

Cespedes might make it. He might not. Judging from the clips I’ve seen of him, he’s an intriguing talent.

But there have been many intriguing talents who’ve been pursued due to the free agent status of Japanese, Cuban, Venezuelan and other countries for players not trapped in the MLB draft. Many of these players failed miserably.

The Yankees, Red Sox and even the Marlins could afford to sign Cespedes and have him be a bust. The Yankees and Red Sox because they have the money; the Marlins because of the Cuban population in Miami would come to the games—for awhile—because they signed a young, Cuban player with multiple talents.

Can the A’s afford it if he’s a bust?

If he is, will we see more excuses as to why it’s not Beane’s fault and he’s still “smarter than the average bear”?

And if so, will you still believe it?

How long are young going to allow yourself to be treated as a fool?

How long?

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Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

//

Billy Beane’s House of Lies and Simplified Math

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Another defense of Billy Beane and his “strategy” for 2012 is presented by Richard Justice MLB.com—link.

Let’s deal in facts, shall we?

Here are the players the Athletics have acquired this winter and their 2012 salaries:

Seth Smith: $2.415 million.

Bartolo Colon: $2 million.

This is a total of $4.415 million for two exceedingly mediocre “name” new additions.

Here are the departures:

Trevor Cahill: $3.5 million (guaranteed through 2015 at $29 million with options in 2016 and 2017).

Gio Gonzalez: $3.25 million (arbitration eligible for the first time).

Craig Breslow: filed for arbitration and asked for $2.1 million; was offered $1.5 million.

Andrew Bailey: arbitration eligible for the first time; figure a contract of $1.5 million.

David DeJesus: $4.25 million (2-years, $10 million guaranteed from the Cubs).

Josh Willingham: $7 million (3-years, $21 million guaranteed from the Twins).

Hideki Matsui: was paid $4.25 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Michael Wuertz: was paid $2.8 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Rich Harden: was paid $1.5 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

All for a total of $29.85 million based on what they’re guaranteed for 2012 or what they were paid in 2011.

These are the raises for players they’ve kept:

Kurt Suzuki: $1.6 million.

Coco Crisp: $250,000.

Brandon McCarthy: $3.275 million.

Grant Balfour: $25,000.

Brett Anderson: $2 million.

Daric Barton: $675,000

Joey Devine: $180,000

Adam Rosales: $175,000

That’s a total of $8.18 million.

Adding $8.18 million+$4.415=$12.33 million.

Subtracting $12.33 million from $29.85 million comes to $17.52 million.

So from a payroll of $55 million in 2011, the A’s have slashed a total of $17.52 million.

Justice writes:

When (Beane) looked at the A’s after the 2011 season, he saw a third-place club that had neither the payroll nor the Minor League talent to make a dramatic improvement. He had $51 million in contract commitments for 2012 and a $55 million budget even before attempting to re-sign his starting outfield of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp (only Crisp will be back).

“I had to look at it honestly,” he said. “Look at the moves the Angels and Rangers have made. They’re going to have payrolls rivaling the Red Sox and Yankees. It just seemed foolish to go forward with a third-place team that was losing significant parts. We felt we had to do something dramatic.”

“Honestly”? Beane uses the word “honestly”?

Where is he getting these numbers from?

They could’ve dumped Crisp’s $5.75 million and found another, cheaper center fielder somewhere who would do pretty much the same things Crisp does. Or they could’ve just stuck Josh Reddick out there and given him the chance to play every day. What did they need Crisp for?

McCarthy just had his first season of moderate health after bouncing from the White Sox to the Rangers and having repeated shoulder problems—which also cost him eight starts in 2011—and failing as a top prospect. The only way the Athletics were able to sign him was because he was short of options for a rotation spot. He’s their new ace?

Someone would take Balfour and his fastball.

Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade (one of the prior teardowns) and Beane clings to him as if he’s hoping against hope that someday he’ll fulfill that potential.

The mischaracterizations and fabrications inherent in Moneyball—the book and the movie—are continuing unabated and unchallenged. Replete with salable buzzwords implying the same party line for his constituency, it goes on and on.

There’s a separation from rebuilding and collecting prospects and ratcheting up the rhetoric to maintain the veneer of knowing what one’s doing, having a plan and executing it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Lies.

Fabrications.

Political-style calculations.

And the masses are still buying it.

Under no circumstances am I questioning the prospects nor the basis for making the trades of Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. We don’t know about the players he received and won’t know for awhile.

That’s not the point.

The point is that he’s spewing the same garbage he’s been spewing for years in a self-interested, self-absolving manner to shun the responsibility for the failures of the teams he built.

They’ve failed to meet expectations when they were supposed to contend and now they’re going to meet expectations by falling to 95 losses.

But it’s not Billy’s fault.

I don’t want to be sold something by a clever marketer/con-artist who’s still clutching and using this nonsensical and faulty biography.

Beane’s become a “means to an end” executive and that end is to hold onto that aura of “genius” that was created by Moneyball. There are still those that believe it and take his word for why he does what he does—they don’t bother to check.

Is it because they trust him? That they want to protect him? Or is it because they’re afraid of what they might find if they dig for facts?

The A’s are going to have a lower payroll and they’re going to be much worse than they could’ve been with worse players than they had because of this “strategy” that is played up in the latest piece about Beane.

When does this stop?

When will the true objective reality be examined and cited?

When?

//

Poor Billy

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So you’re trapped in a division with two powerhouses.

You play in an awful, antiquated and uninviting home park that, in spite of your best efforts, will never be suitably habitable for your baseball team, has few amenities and won’t attract the casual fans, season ticket holders and suite buyers looking to impress clients.

You have a few marketable players—young and talented—signed to reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future.

But the expectations are that you can’t compete because of the above factors.

What do you do?

Do you stick to the blueprint you created to combat these obstacles in your path?

Or do you give up the present and dream of a new ballpark; the ability to relocate; a bolt from the heavens to save you from your inescapable fate?

Well, if you’re the Rays you stick to what you have and try to find a way to win.

And you succeed.

If you’re the Athletics and Billy Beane, you continue the trend of playing the hapless everyman locked in the vacancy of a medieval prison and praying on a daily basis to the Baseball Gods that something, somewhere, someone, somehow will help you to escape this purgatory.

You move forward ably assisted by those in the media, fans and industry who are still immersed in your crafted reputation based on a skillfully presented piece of creative non-fiction that is becoming more and more absurd by the day; the same piece of creative non-fiction that was dramatically licensed into a film and made worse with mischaracterizations, twisted facts and outright falsehoods, yet is given credibility because it was made by an Academy Award winning director, Bennett Miller and has the “sexiest man alive”, Brad Pitt portraying you.

You’re still living off of Moneyball. You’re trying to alter the plot to make it appear as if nothing is your fault.

But those inconvenient facts keep popping up.

Of course there are those who still cling to this aura of genius and shield you to the last. They utter such inanities as “Billy Beane isn’t to blame for sad state of A’s” and Bruce Jenkins plays the role as the defense lawyer trying to defend the indefensible.

Through strategic leaks from devoted emissaries, it was made clear that you wanted the Cubs job. “Billy’s willing to listen to the Cubs,” etc. One problem: the Cubs didn’t want you. They never approached you. They had no interest in you. What made it worse was that they had their sights set on someone who might not have existed had it not been for you; for Michael Lewis; for Moneyball. Theo Epstein was their one and only target and they got him. Epstein’s rise came as a direct result of your somewhat understandable, part-family/part-prescient/part legacy decision that led to you staying with the Athletics.

By now we all know what would’ve happened had you followed through on your handshake agreement to take over the Red Sox.

For ten years, Red Sox Nation has had a paper bag handy to collectively hyperventilate at the carnage your tenure would have wrought both financially and practically. They offered you something in the neighborhood of $12.5 million and were going to allow you to spend a substantial amount of time running the team remotely from your home on the West Coast so you could be near your young daughter…and away from the stifling fishbowl that is Boston sports.

But luckily for them, you backed out.

Down the drain went your plans to trade Jason Varitek; to sign a nearly finished Edgardo Alfonzo; to sign someone named Mark Johnson to replace Varitek; to make Manny Ramirez a DH.

Who’s David Ortiz? Would you have known? Would your luck have been similar to that of Epstein to sign a released player such as Ortiz?

The Red Sox won a championship two years after you declined their offer and, as Moneyball the movie says, used the principles that you created.

Except you didn’t create them

You implemented them.

For that you deserve praise, but not to the degree where nothing is ever your fault; where you receive accolades for what goes well and constant, worshipful, caveat-laden pieces on every possible outlet giving you a free pass for what has gone wrong.

You get the credit.

You never get the blame.

What a wonderful world it is in Oakland.

Why would you ever want to leave? You’re an owner now.

Based on nothing.

You’re bulletproof to criticism.

Based on nothing.

You’re doing whatever it is you want looking toward the future ballpark, money, luxury suites, season-ticket sales, WINNING!!! that someday, someday, someday will come.

Based on nothing.

The Rays are living with the hovering terror of the Yankees and Red Sox in a division that is far more treacherous and hopeless than anything you’ve ever experienced and they’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four years.

What have you done?

They detail a plan and execute it.

You fling things at the wall, make your speaking engagements, wallow in the idolatry and reset the computer when too much malware accumulates.

And you make money.

To augment the young pitching you developed, you tried to win in 2009 by acquiring an MVP-quality bat in Matt Holliday, reaching into the past with Jason Giambi and signing a leader-type veteran Orlando Cabrera.

Your team was a disaster.

You retooled.

In 2011, you signed and traded for veteran bats Josh Willingham and David DeJesus along with established bullpen arms Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

Again to augment the young pitching you developed.

Your team was a disaster.

So you abandon the young pitching because, obviously, that was the flaw in your plan. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey were traded away for that “future”.

At least you’ve kept Coco Crisp and are looking at Ryan Ludwick.

That’ll work because you’re a genius.

By my count, this is rebuild number five. The fifth time you’ve retooled and purged the club of any and all players making a reasonable amount of money as you purse your lips and nod, gazing toward the sun and stars.

Someday, someday, someday.

The ballpark, the young prospects, the drafts, the hope, the hype—one day it’ll happen. Then you’ll win. Then your resume will be legitimate and not based on a mythmaker with an agenda.

It’s lasted forever.

Where and when does it end?

When is someone—anyone—going to stop and look at you with the vaunted “objective analysis” that you harped on so ferociously like a hypnotizing mantra that your congregation and followers so avidly repeated and used to shelter you?

It’s enough.

You’re not staying in Oakland because you don’t want to abandon the team in its time of need. You’re staying in Oakland because the industry sees right through you and your propaganda and no one else wants you.

And it’s enough.

You’ve lived off of Moneyball for ten years. Now we’re approaching the logical conclusion as the only salvation you have left is the old standby of “bad ballpark, bad fans, bad competition, bad rules, bad, bad, bad”. Those who are either too stupid to see or too invested in your supposed genius to acknowledge the truth maintain their blindness, deafness, dumbness.

Your team is a train wreck; you gave up on 2012, 2013 and 2014 because you don’t have any answers left and are clinging to a sinking life preserver in a dark, unforgiving sea.

Yet there are no sharks.

Where are they?

Are they responding to editorial edict to continually show you in the best possible light? Are they afraid of the reaction to stating facts that a large segment of the baseball public doesn’t want to hear?

The plausible deniability you maintain in having allowed the disparagement of Art Howe in print and on film is more telling about your selfishness than anything else you’ve done; Howe, who absent the hyperbole you had as a player, had a workmanlike and respected career you could never have hoped to have and saw his reputation as a baseball man torn to shreds by Moneyball the book and then was made worse by tearing him apart as a human being in the movie. Never once was he contextualized. You never said a word when you could’ve and should’ve.

Nothing.

Because it was to your convenience that he—and you—be judged that way.

It’s terrific to use a reputation as a bodyguard; to never have anything be your fault; to receive credit and no blame.

Nothing’s your fault.

Let’s shed a tear and hold a moment of silence for Poor Billy.

It’s not his fault that his team is terrible; that Moneyball was written; that he’s facing the prospect of an Angels team with Albert Pujols now leading the way; that the Rangers—emerging from bankruptcy two short years ago—have taken his stat-based techniques, bolstered them with old-school strategies and scouting acumen and now have back-to-back pennant winners and won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Moneyball is bankrupt as well, but there’s no Chapter 11 protection from its chapters full of lies. Being morally bankrupt doesn’t count I suppose even with the protections you’ve received.

Nothing’s your fault.

The Rays are in a worse situation than you.

But at least they try.

So wallow in the love. Accept the sympathy. Watch as your team loses close to 100 games.

And know the truth.

//