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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The 2012 Athletics Are A Great Story That Has Nothing To Do With Moneyball

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Going to Michael Lewis for a quote about the 2012 Oakland Athletics because he wrote Moneyball as the author does in this NY Times article is like going to Stephen King for a quote on time travel and the Kennedy assassination because he wrote a novel about time travel and the Kennedy assassination. Lewis’s book was technically non-fiction and King’s is decidedly fiction, but the “facts” in Lewis’s book were designed to take everything Billy Beane was doing to take advantage of market inefficiencies and magnify them into an infallibility and new template that only a fool wouldn’t follow.

Lewis had an end in mind and crafted his story about the 2002 Athletics and baseball sabermetrics to meet that end. It’s not journalism, it’s creative non-fiction. Beane went along with it, became famous, and very rich. None of that validates the genesis of the puffery.

The intervening years from Moneyball’s publication to today were not kind to Beane or to the story…until 2012. The movie’s success notwithstanding, it was rife with inaccuracies, omissions, and outright fabrications such as:

  • Art Howe’s casual dismissal of Beane’s demands as if it was Howe who was in charge and not Beane
  • The portrayal of Jeremy Brown not as a chunky catcher, but an individual so close to morbidly obese that he needed to visit Richard Simmons, pronto
  • The failure to mention the three pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito
  • That Scott Hatteberg’s playing time was a point of contention and Beane traded Carlos Pena to force Howe’s hand to play Hatteberg—Hatteberg was still learning first base and wasn’t playing defense, but he was in the lineup almost every day as the DH from day one

There are other examples and it wasn’t a mistake. The book was absurd, the movie was exponentially absurd, and there are still people who refuse to look at the facts before replacing the genius hat on Beane’s head as “proof” of the veracity of Lewis’s tale.

This 2012 version of the Athletics is Beane’s rebuild/retool number five (by my count) since 2003. The Moneyball club was blown apart and quickly returned to contention by 2006 when they lost in the ALCS. That team too was ripped to shreds and the A’s traded for youngsters, signed veterans, traded veterans, signed veterans, traded for youngsters and finished far out of the money in the American League from 2007-2011.

Then they cleared out the house again and are now in the playoffs. It has no connection with Moneyball nor the concept of Beane finding undervalued talent. It has to do with the young players succeeding, as the article linked above says, and winning “in a hurry”.

Let’s look at the facts and assertions from the book/movie followed by the truth:

The A’s, under Beane, were “card-counters” in the draft

The only players on this Athletics’ team that were acquired via the draft and have helped the club are Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington, Sean Doolittle (drafted as a first baseman and converted to the mound), Dan Straily, and A.J. Griffin. The A’s drafts since Moneyball have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst, so bad that Grady Fuson—along with Howe, one of the old-school “villains” in Moneyball—was brought back to the organization as special assistant to the GM.

The hidden truth about the draft is that the boss of the organization probably pays attention to the first 8-10 rounds at most. After that, it’s the scouts and cross-checkers who make the decisions and any player taken past the 10th round who becomes a success is a matter of being lucky with late development, a position switch, a quirky pitch, or some other unquantifiable factor. Beane’s “new age” picks like Brown, Steve Stanley, and Ben Fritz, didn’t make it. The conventional selections Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton did make it, were paid normal bonuses of over $1 million, in line with what other players drafted in their slot area received. Brown received $350,000 as the 35th pick in the first round and his signing was contingent on accepting it.

Beane “fleeced” other clubs in trades

In retrospect, he took advantage of the Red Sox desperation to have a “proven” closer, Andrew Bailey, to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. Bailey got hurt and, last night, showed why it wasn’t his injury that ruined the Red Sox season. He’s not particularly good. Josh Reddick has 32 homers—power and inexpensive youthful exuberance the Red Sox could have used in 2012.

The other deals he made last winter? They were of mutual benefit. The A’s were looking to restart their rebuild and slash salary waiting out the decision on whether they’re going to get permission to build a new park in San Jose. They sent their erstwhile ace Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for a large package of young talent with Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, and Jarrod Parker. They also traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for even more young talent including Tommy Milone and Derek Norris. The Diamondbacks got 200 innings and good work (that hasn’t shown up in his 13-12 record) from Cahill and are also-rans; the Nationals got brilliance from Gonzalez and won their division. The A’s slashed payroll and their young players, as the article says, developed rapidly.

Sometimes it works as it did with this series of trades, sometimes it doesn’t as with the failed return on the Hudson trade to the Braves in 2004.

They found undervalued talent

Yes. We know that Moneyball wasn’t strictly about on-base percentage. It was about “undervalued talent” and opportunity due to holes in the market. That argument has come and gone. Was Yoenis Cespedes “undervalued”? He was paid like a free agent and joined the A’s because they offered the most money and the longest contract. He was a supremely gifted risk whose raw skills have helped the A’s greatly and bode well for a bright future. The other signings/trades—Jonny Gomes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, Brandon Moss—were prayerful maneuvers based on what was available for money the A’s could afford. They contributed to this club on and off the field.

Grant Balfour was signed before 2011 because the A’s again thought they were ready to contend and all they needed was to bolster the bullpen. They’d also signed Brian Fuentes to close. Fuentes was an expensive disaster whom they released earlier this year; Balfour was inconsistent, lost his closer’s job, wanted to be traded, regained the job, and is pitching well.

The manager is an irrelevant figurehead

Howe was slandered in Moneyball the book as an incompetent buffoon along for the ride and slaughtered in the movie as an arrogant, insubordinate jerk. What’s ironic is that the manager hired at mid-season 2011, Bob Melvin, is essentially the same personality as Howe!!! An experienced manager who’d had success in his past, Melvin replaced the overmatched Bob Geren, who just so happened to be one of Beane’s closest friends and was fired, according to Beane, not because of poor results, managing and communication skills, but because speculation about his job security had become a distraction.

Melvin and Howe share the common trait of a laid back, easygoing personality that won’t scare young players into making mistakes. Melvin’s calm demeanor and solid skills of handling players and game situations was exactly what the A’s needed and precisely what Moneyball said was meaningless.

The 2012 Athletics are a great story; Moneyball was an interesting story, but they only intersect when Beane’s “genius” from the book and movie melds with this season’s confluence of events and produces another convenient storyline that, in fact, has nothing at all to do with reality.

The A’s are going to the playoffs and might win the division over the Rangers and Angels, two teams that spent a combined $170 million more in player salaries than the A’s did. It’s a terrific life-lesson that it’s not always about money, but it has zero to do with Moneyball and Michael Lewis is an unwanted interloper as the Beane chronicler since he knows nothing about baseball and is a callous opportunist who took advantage of a situation for his own benefit.

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Surprise Buyers—National League

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Yesterday I looked at the American League teams that are somewhat surprisingly in contention and what they should and shouldn’t do. Now let’s look at the National League.

New York Mets

It has to have flashed through the minds of everyone in the organization that if they somehow managed to get into the playoffs, the last thing any opposing club is going to want to see is R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana coming at them in a short series.

The jury is still out on them considering their second half swoons of years past, but few objective people thought they’d have gotten to July not only with the Wilpons still owning the team, but in serious playoff contention.

They’re looking for bullpen help and reportedly contacted the Padres about Huston Street. I’d call the Padres, but not for Street. My preference would be Luke Gregerson.

Grant Balfour of the A’s should be on the radar as well.

They could use an outfield bat. It doesn’t sound as if Seth Smith is available from the A’s right now, but he should be in play at the deadline. The Mets had interest in him over the winter.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager Clint Hurdle should have business cards made up that say:

Clint Hurdle

Former SI Coverboy

Busted Prospect Turned 4-A Journeyman

Hitting Coach

Manager Who Knows How to Run A Bullpen

Doesn’t…Take…Crap

The Pirates are for real. They catch the ball and they pitch. Early in the season that kept them around the .500 mark. Now Pedro Alvarez is hitting for some power to assist MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. They still need one and maybe two bats to be serious contenders. They’re not going to gut the system nor are they taking on a lot of money which limits what they can do. Two players from the Padres make sense. Carlos Quentin is going to get traded and is a free agent at the end of the season. Chase Headley is being bandied about.

I’d be hesitant to do anything too drastic and mess with the Pirates’ current chemistry nor would I go for a big name and sabotage what they’re building.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Carlos Lee has long been an underrated player and is better with the glove at both first base and in the outfield than he’s ever been given credit for. The change to a pennant race might wake up his power bat. But the Dodgers need a bigger, more productive power hitter than Lee.

I’d focus on Justin Morneau.

They could use a starting pitcher and some bullpen help. Ryan Dempster, Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke have been linked with the Dodgers. Balfour, Street, Brandon League, Brian Fuentes and any other available reliever will be a target.

GM Ned Colletti is aggressive and will trade prospects to gets what he wants in trying to win now.

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The A’s Had Nothing To Lose With Manny

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Billy Beane’s decision to sign Manny Ramirez wasn’t the work of a “genius” nor was it a desperate move for a desperate team with a desperate front office.

Was it an attempt to garner headlines for a stripped down club desperately hoping for permission to build a new park in San Jose and without the money nor the cutting edge advanced stats to compete with the clubs that were now paying for that which the A’s once got for free?

Or was it a worthwhile “why not?” risk to provide a reason to watch the A’s other than to see what their newest signing Yoenis Cespedes was going to do and how many games they were going to lose?

The truth about the Athletics’ signing of Manny is in the middle somewhere between promotional purposes and baseball maneuverings.

It’s the fog of baseball. There’s no method to determine the “truth” when there’s no 2 + 2 = 4 truth to begin with.

It was either going to work or it wasn’t. In that sense, it was just like the drafts and the trades and the signings and the so-called “genius” of Beane that wasn’t genius at all, but was the good fortune to stumble onto a method that allowed him to take brief advantage of tools that few others were using at the time.

It ended quickly. Now the A’s are back where they started from and Albert Einstein couldn’t fix them unless he rose from the dead with a 94-mph cutter and a knee-buckling curve while simultaneously building a rocketship to send Michael Lewis into space on an undefined “mission”.

There are plenty of whys in the A’s decision to sign Manny and the answers are all pretty much accurate.

The signing of Manny was done to accumulate attention for the uninteresting A’s. When he joined the club in spring training, he was on his best behavior, doing his Manny thing of not knowing people’s names, acting like the good teammate and behaving appropriately. That he was still set to serve a 50-game suspension for failing a PED test was irrelevant. When Manny was ready—if he was ready—to join the big league club, he’d be recalled and the team would figure it all out later.

Then Manny started playing for the Triple A Sacramento River Cats and batted a respectable .302 with a .349 OBP. That’s fine. But of his 19 hits, 16 were singles and none were homers. He’s 40 and if he couldn’t hit the fringe big leaguers and youngsters that permeate Triple A clubs today; if he couldn’t hit the ball out of the River Cats’ reasonably dimensioned home park, what chance would he have had playing his home games in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum against legitimate big league pitchers with fastballs, control, command and breaking stuff?

The A’s didn’t need him. They’re better than anyone could’ve thought they’d be. Manager Bob Melvin could’ve been sabotaged by Manny’s presence. The DH slot is glutted with Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith. They have plenty of outfielders that deserve to play instead of Manny. The short burst in attendance they would’ve gotten and the merchandise sales of Manny bobbleheads, jerseys and T-shirts would not have mitigated the trouble he might’ve caused once he reverted to the Manny who was reviled in Boston and Los Angeles for on-field and off-field act.

The charm of Manny disappeared with the new revelations that make his antics less a childlike, innocent inability and disinterest to assimilate to the world away from the playing field into more of an overtly stupid and self-involved “I can do whatever I want because what are you gonna do about it?” tale of arrogance and misplaced (though repeatedly validated) belief that the rules don’t apply to him.

He asked for his release and the A’s gave it to him.

The A’s had nothing to lose.

It was worth a shot and didn’t work.

And now he’s gone.

The A’s are better off.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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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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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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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?

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Quality Moves, Under the Radar

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While the Marlins and Angels have garnered the headlines with their spending sprees; the Nationals by their overreaching trade for Gio Gonzalez; the Red Sox with their front office and off-field controversies; and Billy Beane for being Billy Beane and therefore worthy of attention just because, two teams have made drastic improvements amid questions, criticisms, ridicule and camouflage.

The Rockies and Indians are poised to leap into serious contention in 2012 because of said acquisitions and they’ve done it relatively cheaply and without fanfare.

Still needing help with their starting pitching, the Rockies are one of the suitors for the underrated and mean Hiroki Kuroda; if they get him, I’ll like their off-season all the more.

Here are the Rockies moves so far:

Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

I went into detail about the match between Cuddyer and the Rockies in an earlier posting. In short, his defense in right field won’t be an issue because of the Rockies pitching staff’s penchant for getting ground balls; his hitting will improve markedly playing in Coors Field; and he might see substantial time at first base with the recent injury history of Todd Helton. He’s a better player than Seth Smith and will hit and hit for power.

Traded RHP Huston Street to the Padres for minor league lefty Nick Schmidt.

The Rockies sent $500,000 to the Padres (for Street’s 2013 buyout) and cleared the rest of his $7.5 million salary.

Street was not reliable as a closer, gave up too many hits and homers and was expensive; the Rockies dumped him and his paycheck and have Rafael Betancourt to close and Matt Lindstrom to back him up.

Schmidt is 25 and still in A ball. This was a money spin for an organizational warm body and it was a smart thing to do.

Traded C Chris Iannetta to the Angels for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed C Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.4 million contract.

Iannetta has pop and gets on base, but he was never able to put a stranglehold on the everyday catching job; Chatwood was one of the Angels top pitching prospects who had an up-and-down season in Anaheim. He’s a ground ball pitcher who should do well in Colorado.

Hernandez is fine with being a part-timer, has power and throws well. He’ll be a perfect tutor to young prospect Wilin Rosario.

Traded INF Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash; signed 3B/1B/OF Casey Blake to a 1-year, $2 million contract.

Wigginton was a fiery player and hit a few homers, but he’s terrible defensively and limited offensively. They’re paying $2 million of his $4 million salary and signed Blake to a 1-year contract for $2 million—basically they traded Wigginton for Blake and it’s a great trade…if Blake is healthy.

Blake missed most of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and required neck surgery.

His health is the key. He’s versatile and is a good fielder; he has power; and Blake is plainly and simply a professional baseball player who goes unnoticed but is a key component to a winning team—the other players, coaches and managers will tell you how good a player a healthy Blake is.

If they add a Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to go along with the package they got last summer for Ubaldo Jimenez, it equates to a strong top-to-bottom club that has repaired the holes that caused their underwhelming 2011 record of 73-89.

The Indians have done the following:

Acquired RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves for minor league LHP Chris Jones and $10 million.

There’s no defending Lowe’s performance for the Braves, but the Indians got an innings-eater and will only pay $5 million of his $15 million salary. When a durable sinkerballer like Lowe is pitching so poorly, the issue is generally mechanical; if the Indians can fix whatever was preventing him from getting the proper movement on his pitches, he can again be effective; perhaps he just needed a change-of-scenery.

Either way, you can’t go wrong for $5 million. With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have a formidable rotation backed up by a strong bullpen.

Re-signed CF Grady Sizemore to a 1-year, $5 million contract after declining his option.

Sizemore was a budding star before microfracture surgery derailed him; he’s worked very hard to come back and it took Carlos Beltran (whom the Indians pursued but lost to the Cardinals) a full season to return to relative normalcy after a bone bruise. Although Beltran didn’t need microfracture surgery, the injuries and recovery times are similar. If Sizemore can be 75-80% of what he was, he’s a bargain.

The Indians finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and are looking for another bat, but with full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo along with some semblance of production from first base (they need to sign someone, perhaps Derrek Lee) and Travis Hafner, they’ll score enough to contend in the winnable AL Central.

The Rockies and Indians need to be watched closely in 2012 because they’re legitimate playoff threats without having spent $300 million as the Angels did or hoodwinking their local government to get a new ballpark as the Marlins did.

They did it with under-the-radar acquisitions, bold and clever.

And they’re going to pay off.

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I’ll be a guest tomorrow with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

Spread the word!

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