A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Friday, November 12, 2004

Fielding reports

Dear loyal readership,

TangoTiger, a leading sabermetrician, is putting together fielding reports done by the fans. It's an interesting idea, and I encourage all of you to go over there and spend the 10 minutes necessary to tell him what you think.

A's to Compete in 2005

There have been rumors that the A's would play a lot of youngsters in 2005 and try to rebuild a little after this year. From OaklandAthletics.com:
"We expect to contend for a division championship in 2005 no matter what happens this winter," Beane says. "That is, and will always be, the goal here."

This it not really earthshattering news, but it's nice to hear Billy explicitly say he is not looking at 2005 as a rebuilding year. I have been impressed with the A's ability to keep the payroll down, continue to develop talent and stay near the top of the AL West for 6 years. I suppose even if it was a rebuilding year, he might not say it. No fan of a team really wants to hear that their team is not going to go for the championship this year.

If 2005 WAS going to be a rebuilding year, I guess I would expect one of the big 3 to be traded for some young prospects. But that still might happen and the A's still might make the playoffs. I think Blanton is ready to be a major league starter, so it appears to me that the A's have at least 6 good starters. I could make the case that Duchscherer is ready to start in the majors also, but he was so great in the long relief, if we can keep him happy in that role, I'd hang on to Duke. I think Redman might be the most likely starter to be gone in 2005, but then again, he had an off year and he might be better this coming year.

If a team was assembled ONLY using stats there would be some players that should never be moved and some who might be overvalued right now and should be moved. Eric Byrnes might be overvalued right now. If a team was assembled at least partially based on popularity, which isn't such a horrible metric since the fans come to see popular players and so more popular players generate income, I would say there is no way Eric Byrnes should be moved. Stats-wise, his value is at an alltime high, and he may improve a little, but I can't see him doing too much better than last year. Personality-wise Eric Byrnes is probably the most enjoyable player to watch on the A's right now. He is not too expensive, I am making the case to keep him.

Using the same argument, Jim Mecir should never pitch for the A's again. He may have another good year somewhere, and I like the guy, but his popularity is down and so bringing him into a game causes people to shut off the TV. Statistically he might still be viable, but popularity-wise A's fans just don't want to see him out there anymore.

On the other hand, the A's have gotten a lot of mileage out of players other clubs thought were washed up or undesireable, Hatteberg and Bradford come to mind. The guy I wouldn't mind seeing in an A's uniform again is Jose Guillen. He is not going to break the bank and with his problems with the Angels last year, there aren't going to be a lot of other teams that want him. Now if there is something A's management know about him that I don't know, that's different, but if he is just a loud mouth who consistently hits screaming line drives, I'd take him and put him in RF. Team chemistry is cool, but so are screaming line drives and cannons in RF.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

2005 schedule released

The A's 2005 schedule is pretty interesting. As you no doubt know, for the past few years, the season has started and ended with a 20-game AL West round-robin. This is not happening in 2005. The A's start out with 9 games against Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Toronto, a great chance for a quick start to erase memories of this season's embarrassing fade. This is followed by 10 games against the AL west, with six coming against the Angels, who figure to be the A's main rivals (assuming Texas regresses towards the mean.) It should be a good early test of the 2005 team. Then an interlude of three with the White Sox before six more against Texas and Seattle. At this point, the A's would ideally have a very nice record. Then home-and-homes with New York and Boston, followed by three with the Giants, probably the toughest set of games in the year. 16 more games against not-great teams (though Cleveland is my pick for surprise team of the year).

The AL West is going against the NL East this year, which is good news, since the East is in shambles. The Braves continue to have smoke and mirrors (they've gotta collapse sometime, right?), the Marlins and Phillies are mediocre teams, and the Washington ????'s and Mets are disasters. (The A's are actually not playing the Marlins.)

Interesting schedule.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Winter GM Meetings

Baseball's annual winter meetings of the general managers are occurring this week in Florida. What do you think the Billy Beane and the A's should be trying to accomplish this week?

As I see it, the team has only one major need: a catcher. Damian Miller is a free agent and although he has said he'd like to keep playing for Oakland and the A's would love to retain him, it sounds as if he will get a deal approaching 3 years, $6-8 million. That's way too much for the cost-conscious A's (who paid him $1M this year). So the team needs a catcher. Adam Melhuse is a very good backup and I think he'd be a decent regular behind the plate, but it doesn't look like that's the direction the team is headed. Here are some viable options...

Jason Varitek, the top free agent catcher, is way, way, way out of the A's price range. His agent, the notorious Scott Boras, has said that Varitek is looking for a 5-year deal worth $50M. Wow. So how does this affect Oakland? The Red Sox are desperate to keep him, but that may end up meaning that the Yankees will get involved in a bidding war with them... but the Yankees already have an all-star catcher, Jorge Posada. If the Yankees outbid Boston for Varitek, they may ship Posada to some team like the A's (there were unfounded rumors of a Posada-for-Tim-Hudson trade, which seems crazy, but something else may work out). Posada is an elite player who, unlike most Yankees, does not have a no-trade clause in his contract. That contract, will, however, pay him $12M in 2005 (and $13.5M in 2006), and the Yankees would have to foot some of that bill in the event of a trade.

Why is Posada a good fit? First of all, he's a star player. Despite the aspersions cast on his defensive prowess (a glaring instance of Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense), he's an above-average defensive backstop who is annually one of the two or three best-hitting catchers in Major League Baseball. He hits for a decent average, but what really separates him from the pack are his power (.226 ISO from 2002-04) and patience (262 BBs over that span). In other words, he's a perfect Moneyball player. Posada has had a history of hot starts and slow finishes, but this is primarily because the Yankees have never had a decent backup catcher, and so they've asked Posada to catch more games than just about any regular catcher this side of Jason Kendall, wearing him down in the process. On the bright side, Posada didn't become a catcher until late in his minor-league career, meaning that he has a lot less mileage on his knees than most 32-year old backstops.

Okay, so maybe I'm dreaming about Posada. After all, it might cost a king's ransom to get him, and then there's the matter of paying him. Where else can the A's go to get a serviceable catcher?

The cheap and effective option, to me, is Boston's Doug Mirabelli, who is also a free agent. He has spent the past three years serving as Varitek's backup/Tim Wakefield's personal catcher. This is a role for which he is manifestly overqualified. Over those three years, Mirabelli has posted the following line (474 AB): 22 HR, 32 2B, .255/.330/.462. That's miles better than the league average for catchers, even if you take Fenway Park into account. On top of that, his usage pattern (catching Wakefield's knuckler every fifth day) is totally inconsistent with his monstrous platoon split--Mirabelli has hit a whopping .305/.381/.532 vs LHPs. He's too good to be just a platoon catcher, though, so the A's should just sign him (2 years, $2M?) and start him 120 games a year. Melhuse can spell him once or twice a week against righties (keep in mind that Melhuse has slugged .500 for his career against RHPs), thus giving the A's a cheap and super-effective catching tandem. Bear in mind that with all the catching talent moving up through the A's minor-league system (Baker, Suomi, Suzuki, Powell), the major league job just has to be kept warm for a year or two until somebody from the farm is ready to claim it.

What about the other options? The other free agent catchers (Einar Diaz? Dan Wilson? Sandy Alomar?) are mostly abysmal. Maybe Greg Myers or Gregg Zaun has a little bit of value, but they don't really represent an upgrade over Melhuse in my opinion. There have been trade talks involving Charles Johnson of the Rockies, but Johnson is not the player he once was, and is saddled with an awful contract. Presumably this would only happen if the Rox agreed to take Arthur Rhodes off the A's hands, but even then I don't think it's a good fit.

Okay, I've had my say. What about you? What should the A's be up to this week in Florida? And who will be the starting catcher next year?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Crosby wins ROY

Bobby Crosby has, as expected, won the American League rookie of the year, getting all but one first-place vote (which went to Shingo Takatsu of the White Sox.) Congratulations to Bobby on this deserved award.

Hoewver, I can't help but think of the year as a disappointment. Crosby won the award almost by default; no other AL rookie had a good year with enough playing time to be seriously considered. Crosby underperformed my expectations; he was solid defensively, but I think he can hit a lot better. I'm very optimistic about him having a breakout year in 2005, or maybe 2006. There is research on minor leaguers suggesting that the guy who's most likely to improve dramatically is the guy with the high strikeout rate; the theory goes that it's most likely due to one problem, which if it can be isolated and dealt with, will result in a huge jump in productivity. Before his bad September, I was touting Crosby as a reasonable candidate for MVP in 2005. I'm backing off of that, but I think there's a chance he will go off for .280/.370/.530 or something like that.

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