April 15: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If Marco Scutaro’s home run on April 15th was the highlight of 2007, Rich Harden’s injury on the same day was the lowlight. Harden never made another start. For all practical purposes, we could have gone home after this game and called it a year. Or, as it turns out, two or three years.
This exercise doesn’t look so hard in theory, but I’ve been fighting a hip strain for the last couple of weeks. This is to me like a picture of chocolate to a dieter. But at least my hip has only a strain, and not a torn labrum. The only good news about Chad Gaudin’s need for hip labrum surgery is that it totally explains his struggles in the second half of the season. He’s a better pitcher than his final numbers indicate.
Congratulations to all Dodger fans on their new, flexible backup catcher!
I’ve been dreaming of a true love’s kiss…I recently took my daughter to see Enchanted, a clever, well-executed story of when fairy tales meet the real world. I mention this because…well, I don’t really know why; I plopped this photo into the editor, and just started typing without thinking, and that’s what came out. I guess the song was stuck in my head. But I’ll leave it in, because I can totally make a metaphor out of this. You see, the land where you could find a sucker GM to take your veteran and get back multiple players who are both better and cheaper than they guy you gave up appears to now be a pure fantasy. Even Ned Coletti and Brian Sabean, who have a long history of trading away prospect gold for mediocre washed-up garbage, aren’t falling for that trick anymore, for goodness sakes. C’mon Ned…just one little bite of this apple and all your lineup holes will be filled…Nope, not happening. Billy Beane’s fairy land is gone, and he’s been shoved into the real world, where GMs now seem to understand the value of young players, where even a sure Hall-of-Famer like Johan Santana can seemingly barely net a return of one sure-fire propect, and any less-than-Santanas can only return prospects with less-than-certainties. Better get used to the fact that it ain’t only the witches that have warts anymore–the princesses do, too. (And if you want to use that last sentence as a metaphor to write an essay about the steroid mess, Be My Guest.)
All six players the A’s got in return for Dan Haren have both beauty and warts, and that makes the possible returns of this trade range from fairy tale to horror story. The most likely outcome is a mix of success and failure, where maybe two of the six reach their potential, two of them flame out, and two of them fall somewhere in-between. Let’s look at all six players, and compare them to players we know about.
Like the three players above, Gonzalez is an extremely talented athlete, possessing a cannon arm and a nice, powerful stroke that suffers from a lack of discipline with the strike zone. He also has a bit of an enigmatic personality, with complaints that he doesn’t work as hard as he should. Guerrero ended up putting his package into superstardom, Guillen became a solid major leaguer with some issues, while Rivera got his head screwed on backwards and his career completely fell apart. Note of caution for Billy Beane: Guillen’s career probably suffered greatly from being rushed to the major leagues at age 21 by the Pirates, when he still could have used some more seasoning in the minors.
Like Zito, Anderson is not a particularly gifted athlete, and doesn’t have much more than an average fastball, if that. But both he and Zito were extremely well-coached as youngsters (Anderson’s father is the head baseball coach at Oklahoma State), and combine outstanding off-speed pitches with a solid understanding of the art of pitching. But as Zito showed last year, the line between a Cy Young winner and a league-average pitcher is quite thin when you don’t have overpowering stuff. A career resembling that of the A’s current pitching coach is more of a realistic expectation. Conroy threw harder than Zito, Young or Anderson, but we’ll pick him as an example of a hyped-up A’s lefty who failed to make much impact.
I suppose I could have picked C.C. Sabathia instead of Wells, but this fairy tale is much more entertaining if you try to visualize David Wells in tights, acting as the Prince Charming of this Land of Large Lefties. Plus Sabathia stuck in the majors at age 20, while Wells didn’t get there until age 24, the same age Eveland will be in 2008. Redman is one of the least popular names in A’s history, and has been a below-average pitcher in his career as a whole, but he put his act together long enough to rattle off a five-year stretch of league-average pitching, which would be useful to the A’s if it comes early enough in his career. Birtsas is in the horror category both because he was a humongous lefty who never really fulfilled his potential, and because he was on the wrong end of two less-than-brilliant trades by the A’s. He came over to the A’s with Jose Rijo when Rickey Henderson was sent to the Yankees, and he followed Rijo to the Reds in a later trade for Dave Parker. Although Parker helped the A’s win the World Series in 1989, Rijo dominated the A’s in the World Series the following year.
Cunningham seems certain to be a major leaguer of some sort, but what kind? He is a card-carrying member of the League of Typically Underappreciated Outfielders Who Do Everything Well, But Nothing Great, where J.D. Drew is king. In the A’s organization, you can easily see how he could end up with a fate like Matt Murton, where he gets stuck behind some more established names (Swisher, Cust, Buck, Gonzalez) and never really gets trusted with a full-time opportunity to show what he can do over multiple seasons. Or worse, a fate like McMillon’s, where he rides the bench so long his skills rot entirely, and a career is lost for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
From what I hear about Chris Carter, he sounds like the perfect candidate for the Japanese Leagues: a big power hitter with plenty of holes in his swing for major league pitchers to exploit, so he ends up like Tuffy Rhodes in Japan, where they don’t care about a gaijin’s holes as long as he keeps hitting home runs. Sexson was able to overcome his holes and put up some big numbers until last year, but now he’s playing like he wants to go to Japan, too. Maybe that’s why he signed with the Japanese-owned Seattle Mariners in the first place. Rob Nelson is, in a nutshell, not Mark McGwire.
Like the other Kirks above, Greg "Kirk" Smith (for lack of a better nickname) will probably not have a career as long and glorious as James T. Of the three comps, Dressendorfer probably had the most talent, but he failed his Kobayashi Maru test miserably, and only ended up pitching a total of seven major league games. Saarloos and Rueter, on the other hand, both managed to make a decent career out of their slop-throwing repertoires. Rueter managed to turn his slop into a long career of league-average pitching, and that’s probably Smith’s ceiling, as well.
And did they all live happily ever after? Keep turning the pages…
Now that it’s clear that the A’s are doing a full-scale rebuilding project, what’s the plan? Who do you sell off, and who do you keep?
The conventional wisdom is that the A’s are trying to build the strongest possible team for the estimated opening of Cisco Field in 2011. With that in mind, I made the chart below. It shows all the players on the 40-man roster, plus a number of top prospects, in order to figure out which players the A’s have control over until that magical 2011 date.
Basically, anyone above the red line is now trade bait. Unfortunately, six of the eleven players who can become free agents before Cisco Field opens are currently coming off injuries, and probably wouldn’t fetch much in a trade until perhaps July, after they’ve proven themselves healthy. But Ellis, Embree, Blanton, Street and even maybe DiNardo should be popping up in trade rumors soon.
|in minors (estimated)|
Jack Cust is in the Mitchell Report. If you’re going to have a steroid-usin’ DH, might as well have the best one.
Adam Piatt and F.P. Santangelo are also mentioned (surprising names to me), as well as the usual Canseco/Giambi-era suspects.
Just wondering: are all the people who planned to boycott the A’s if they signed Bonds also planning to boycott the A’s if they keep Cust?
Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus came out today with his list of Top 11 A’s Prospects. Daric Barton (pictured above) is the A’s sole 5-star prospect on the list. I’d agree with Goldstein’s high rating: to me, Barton is the most impressive A’s rookie hitter since Jose Canseco. Barton doesn’t impress with his power, but with his mature-beyond-his-years approach at the plate. If Barton has a hole somewhere in his swing, I haven’t seen it. He has an impeccable eye for the strike zone, and has shown himself capable of turning any pitch in any location into a line drive. Whatever AL pitchers threw him during his September callup: high, low, inside, outside, straight, bendy, fast, slow–Barton hit them all. I am very much looking forward to watching the A’s finally having a player who makes the other team wonder, "How the heck do I get this guy out?"
Beyond Barton, the prospect pipeline is neither hopeless nor inspiring. There is one 4-star prospect, pitcher Trevor Cahill, and seven 3-star players who possess both upside and question marks. Sure, maybe all these players will turn out to be solid and/or star major leagues, but the most likely scenario is that this mediocre farm system produces mediocre major-league performances, and you end up with a team that finishes around .500 every year for the next four or five years. Meh, bleh, bleh.
If you’re an A’s fan who hates Barry Bonds, don’t mail all your A’s gear to Billy Beane just yet. It’s quite possible that all this chatter about whether or not Barry Bonds will join the Oakland Athletics is really just a minor subplot in the truly big story going on: whether or not Max Scherzer will join the Oakland Athletics.
If Billy Beane actually intends to blow up the current A’s roster and rebuild for the future, the explosion begins by detonating Dan Haren. In order for Billy Beane to push the button on a Haren trade, he’s going to want to be sure that he gets something in return that is likely to provide Haren-like value when the A’s are ready to contend again in 2009 or 2010. The Arizona Diamondbacks are apparently the team closest to being able to pull off a trade for Haren, but the Diamondbacks’ best pitching prospects are not particularly close to the major leagues.
The Diamondbacks’ Top 10 Prospect list on Baseball America has five pitchers on it, but four of the five just launched their pro careers in 2007. The only pitcher on the list who pitched professionally in 2006 was Brett Anderson, and he has only advanced as far as the High-A California League, where he pitched well for a 19-year-old, but was not unhittable, either. A lot can go wrong with a 19-year-old arm between A-ball and the major leagues. If I’m Beane, I like Anderson, but I need to get one sure-fire major-league pitcher in return, as well.
This brings us to the aforementioned Scherzer, who completely dominated the California League in his debut, and was quickly promoted to AA. Scherzer’s success caused MinorLeagueBaseball.com to name him the 35th-best prospect in baseball. The only question about Scherzer making the majors is whether he can develop a third pitch to be a starter, or if he’s a closer in waiting.
If I’m Beane, there’s no way this deal happens without Scherzer, but the Diamondbacks are naturally reluctant. Initial reports out of the Winter Meetings put Scherzer on the Diamondbacks’ list of "untouchable" young players, along with Justin Upton, Chris Young, Stephen Drew and Mark Reynolds. So, as rumor had it, among the Diamondbacks six best young near-major-league-ready players, only Carlos Gonzalez (MinorLeagueBaseball.com’s #23 prospect) was available in exchange for Haren.
Not good enough; no Scherzer, no deal. Beane left the winter meetings in Nashville without trading Haren, and started making noises like he planned to keep the roster intact, and go for it in 2008. The fact that the Angels didn’t end up with Miguel Cabrera helps make that decision seem more plausible. Next thing you know, quotes like this show up in the press:
"There is no doubt in my mind that Oakland will sign Bonds," one major-league executive said Thursday as the winter meetings wound down. "I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen."
Well, that set off quite a storm of discussion, didn’t it? If you’re the Diamondbacks or some other team that had Dan Haren as Plan A or Plan B, and all over ESPN they’re discussing Barry Bonds joining the A’s, you’re thinking, hmm…maybe I won’t be getting Dan Haren after all. Because if the A’s trade Dan Haren and rebuild for 2010, there’s certainly no reason for the A’s to put up with the headaches that come with Barry Bonds.
The recipe, in summary: drop a large spoonful of Barry Bonds rumors into your "we-are-contenders" broth, stir well, and let simmer for two days. Then get a taste of this:
Arizona has been the most aggressive suitor for Haren, with a package of up to five prospects, including outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, pitcher Brett Anderson and, as a possible player to be named, pitcher Max Scherzer, the 11th pick of the 2006 draft. Were the A’s to conclude a deal with the Diamondbacks, it could happen early in the week.
Jay Marshall (pictured above) was typical of players chosen in the Rule 5 draft: talented, but not quite ready for the majors. He had some moderate success against left-handed batters (.717 OPS against), but basically had no way to get right-handed batters out at all (.869 OPS). I think he needs another year or two in the minors. The A’s spent a roster spot on him the entire season, only to lose him on waivers to the Red Sox after the year was over. (Update: and now, the A’s just claimed Marshall back.)
To lose Marshall would after all that would seem like a waste of a roster spot. Then again, with all the injuries, the A’s could barely find enough players to fill out the 25-man roster anyway, so who else were they going to fill that spot with? In hindsight, it would have been wiser to protect Jared Burton, who went to Cincinnati in the same Rule 5 draft, and had himself a darn good year.
Hernandez, a 49th-round draft-and-follow out of Broward (Fla.) Community College in 2002, spent two stints in the Mexican League in 2005 before spending all of 2006 at high Class A Winston-Salem. The 23-year-old pitched at Double-A Birmingham this past season and boosted his profile significantly in the Arizona Fall League.
Often compared to Twins righthander Matt Guerrier for his command and control rather than pure stuff, Hernandez is also an innings-eater with an above-average curveball.
"This is a guy someone’s going to bite on," said one National League scouting director. "He’s all guts and showed the ability to shut people down with games on the line. He profiles as more of a middle reliever, but any manager you talk to who’s had him will tell you they’re not afraid to put him in there in the ninth inning.
"His fastball can be fringy, but he’s got a pretty good curveball with a lot of depth to it, and his changeup is probably his second-best pitch."
Hernandez went 0-0, 0.00 in 12 appearances for Phoenix during his AFL season. He struck out 11 in 12 innings, walking four.
In other words, a typical A’s Duchschererianistic find: a young player in another organization without impressive physical skills, but excellent statistics: 84 strikeouts, 23 walks in 85.1 IP at AA as a 22 year old. I’m sure the A’s are happy with their choice.
The A’s lost two of their 2002 Moneyball draft picks in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft: Brant Colamarino was selected by Toronto, and Ben Fritz was taken by Detroit. Perhaps this move will help them finally reach the majors, to join 10 other major-league players (Swisher, Blanton, Brown, Teahen, Murphy, Kiger, Burton, Komine, Papelbon (didn’t sign), Taubenheim (ditto)) the A’s selected in that famous draft.
Unconfirmable sources have informed Catfish Stew that following today’s trade of Cameron Maybin (pictured above), Andrew Miller, and some other fuzzy feline fluff to Florida in exchange for the awesomely studly bat of Miguel Cabrera and the cooler-than-words-can-describe Dontrelle Willis, the Oakland Athletics have changed their trade demands when it comes to their most prominent trade bait, Dan Haren.
No longer are the A’s asking for four top prospects in return for Haren. Instead, the A’s will simply give Haren away to any NL team that is willing to switch leagues with them.
"Seriously, have you seen the Tigers’ lineup now?" an Athletics source is reported to have said. "There’s no freakin’ way we can compete with that. And Johan Santana joining a rotation with Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, and Buchholz? Unbelievable. And then you’ve got the Yankees and Angels who have money growing on trees…it just ain’t fair."
The source says the A’s have done their math homework, and trading Haren for switching leagues would pay for itself. "We’d lose the revenue from all those Red Sox and Yankee games, and we’d lose about five wins by giving Haren away, but we still could easily win 95-100 games in the National League, and make all the money back in the playoffs. The NL sucks."
The A’s hope to find some greedy sucker NL owner who would drool over the idea of adding Haren to their rotation, and then counting all the extra revenue from adding nine Red Sox and Yankee home games a year. "It shouldn’t be too hard," said the source. "The entire National League is run by bozos."
Meetings, meetings, meetings. I’ve always worked in small companies, and avoided big ones, and a big reason for this is because I despise meetings so much. How do I hate thee, meetings? Let me count the ways.
Take, for example, the current stage of the Fremont ballpark, 12-18 months of utterly predictable meetings. Know this: the A’s are moving to Fremont. It’s going to happen. Oh, sure, somebody’s going to say "there aren’t enough parking spaces" or "the school playground is too small" or "the traffic–oh, the traffic!" but clearly, unless somebody who has to spend money on this actually says, "this is too expensive", this move is going to happen. Wake me up when it’s over.
Is there really, truly a good reason for the winter meetings anymore? I know the A’s hate these meetings (they’re usually the last to arrive and the first to leave), and I don’t blame them. With email and mobile phones these days, what information is more efficiently transferred face-to-face? Do you need to spend two days travelling from Oakland to Nashville and back, for example, to find out if the Arizona Diamondbacks will give up Justin Upton in a package for Dan Haren?
"Hi, my name is Brian. Thanks for coming to this meeting. I called you all here to see if you would be willing to send me some power hitters in exchange for any of my players not named Cain or Lincecum. Let’s go around the table. Billy, let’s start with you."
"I don’t have any power hitters, either. Well, except for Dan Johnson. I’ll could probably give you Johnson for Lincecum, if you really twist my arm."
And if the rumors are true that Billy Beane is going to ask more in return for Dan Haren than the Twins are asking for Johan Santana, well, they’re just adding to the inanity of the whole thing, aren’t they? No GM who has those kinds of prospects is dumb enough to give Beane that much. So then, we come back full circle to #1: we can figure out these conversations in advance. Beane says "I want two A+ prospects and then some", Team B says, "I’ll give you an A, a B, and a C", and Beane says thanks, but no thanks, and then everyone goes home and nothing gets done.
Let’s cut through the crap. Here’s what I think Beane really wants: for each player he’s selling, he wants at least one player who he’s confident will end up just as valuable as the player he’s giving up. And then on top of that, he wants one or two or three other players who are somewhat less talented, but could pan out, just in case he’s wrong about the first guy. So basically, he needs to waste the time of 28 GMs who won’t do that to find the one who overvalues the A’s player and undervalues his own. And he needs to repeat this process five or six times with Haren, Blanton, Street, etc.
Goodness gracious, how torturous. Am I ever glad I do not work in a major league front office.