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A’s (for absent)

No shock here, but the A’s just announced that third baseman Eric Chavez, center fielder Mark Kotsay and outfielder Travis Buck will not play for the rest of the season.

I’ll have more on this down the road, because other assignments are making a lengthy diatribe prohibitive. But generally speaking, it’s smart. Chavez and Kotsay haven’t been 100 percent in two years, so no use rushing them back for a season that’s lost. Better to let them have an extra month to heal.

Buck, meantime, is a key cog in the A’s future. He’ll have surgery to repair a damaged right elbow that’s plagued him all year. The A’s will need him right and able to stay on the field 145-155 games a year, and I’d imagine this is the first step toward that.

As for what the future holds for Chavez and Kotsay? Who knows if they’ll even be here. But that’s a discussion for down the line.

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E-gone

The A’s parted ways with starter Esteban Loaiza this morning, so don’t be surprised if you hear cheers from the team offices. Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, in a move striking of desperation, agreed to take the rest of Loaiza’s contract off the A’s hands. That adds up to about $8 million through 2008, and while that might be cheap for a big-revenue club like Los Angeles, it represents a significant chunk of change for the A’s.

One immediate reaction: The A’s must feel pretty decent about their rotation prospects for 2008. Looks like they envision Dan Haren, Chad Gaudin and Rich Harden as a solid nucleus, though why they would rely on Harden at this point is anyone’s guess. Based on the fact they dangled Joe Blanton earlier this season, it’s likely he’ll be their key trade chip this winter. And don’t lose sight of Lenny DiNardo, who’s been better than expected and Dallas Braden, who struck out 17 the other night for Sacramento.

With the money they freed up, perhaps they’ll be able to work some money into their budget to upgrade the offense. Nobody in the organization denies that the bats have become the biggest Achillies’ heel on this team, and not having the albatross of Loiaza helps.

Overall, the A’s have done a nice job freeing themselves from large contracts. Loaiza joins Jason Kendall and Milton Bradley among the departed. I’d suggest they call Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield and try to pawn Mark Kotsay and his $8 million 2008 salary on him, but no GM can be that giving twice in one lifetime, and Littlefield already took Matt Morris off the Giants’ hands.

As for the Dodgers, Loaiza is worth the risk. He’s a better option than David Wells, and with next season being a contract year, he’ll probably do big things.

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Break up the Giants

Well, now that it’s clear the Giants won’t lose 100 games, I’ll be expecting my thank-you card in the mail. Couple of weeks ago, I blogged that they might make a real run at the century mark, and as only I can do, put the reverse-whammy on them, and they’ve hardly lost at all since then.

On Monday, they ran their hot streak to 10-2 with a win over the Colorado Rockies. The kids who played all contributed, with Brian Wilson being particularly impressive after taking over for Barry Zito. As for Zito, he was very good for the third straight time.

So, bring this group back intact in 2008 and it’s a juggernaut?

Uh, I’m not willing to go there yet, and if Giants fans are smart, neither will they. Their hot streak represents barely more than one-sixteenth of a season, and every club, no matter how awful, tends to have one of two hot stretches in a season. That’s what the Giants are experiencing, so enjoy it while it lasts.

That said, there are some good things happening. Kevin Frandsen had a big hit last night; perhaps the Giants will leave him alone to play one position over the final month.

Wilson was great, though who out there wouldn’t mind seeing him pitch the ninth. Spring training is a lousy way to gauge if a guy can handle the final inning, and while Wilson certainly seems to have the make-up, why not give him that opportunity now? Brad Hennessey has had a nice season, but let’s face it, he doesn’t strike guys out, and he doesn’t have filthy stuff. In short, he’s Tim Worrell, and while that could mean one or two outstanding seasons, it also means Hennessey is not the long-term answer.

Zito, meantime, just continues to do what he normally does in August. Doesn’t mean he’s going to morph into an 18-game winner come next season, though. The reason he’s succeeding now is because he’s snapping off his curve as confidently as he has all season. But when he loses the feel, the struggles will return, because he simply doesn’t throw real hard anymore, and his fastball command has always been shaky anyway.

Still, this is a nice stretch, and the Giants should enjoy it. Ruining the seasons for other teams would be a nice way to finish out a mostly miserable season, and the Giants are playing their most consistent ball all season, so no reason why that can’t happen.

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A Fantasy Reject

One enjoyable thing about this job is logging onto the e-mail every morning and seeing what the reader’s are thinking. Sometimes, their comments are enlightening, other times silly. Still other times, you wonder why people bothered.

Got one of those on Sunday. A reader was outraged that I could possibly have listed Milwaukee’s Gabe Gross as a possible player to use in a fantasy league. He wrote five or six paragraphs explaining why this was a ludicrous decision, why Gabe Gross would not fit in any Fantasy League, how I must not have any interest in fantasy, and therefore, how dare I make any fantasy suggestions. He also hammered my choice for Craig Monroe under “Use Less.”

Gotta confess. He’s right on that last one. I’m one of the few remaining people I know who has not one ounce of interest in the fantasy aspect of sports. I joined a Yahoo league this year with the intent to give it a chance finally and lost interest less than a week into it.

Obviously, it’s just me, but I don’t see the pull in devoting all your rooting interest to a bunch of individuals. A couple of years back, I sat in the stands for a game and a couple of guys sitting behind me decked out in A’s gear were talking fantasy. It was a close game in a pennant race late in the year, and they couldn’t decide whether to root for a strikeout from the A’s pitcher, or a hit from the Angels’ hitter, because, well, they had both guys on their fantasy team.

That example is at the essence of what’s wrong with fantasy. The whole joy of aligning yourself with a “team” has been taken away. Think a Red Sox fan would be rooting for a Yankee to strike out their hitter in a key situation, because of fantasy interests? I suppose it could happen, but out here, where fans tend to lack real passion anyway, it’s more the norm than the exception.

Myself, I’m old school. The last thing I concern myself with when I cover this sport is the fantasy impact. To be honest, the USE/DON’T USE section in my weekly Sunday package, has become an interesting source of amusement. With few exceptions (the A’s Jack Cust being one), if I list a guy under “USE,” he inevitably slumps. If I list him under “USE LESS,” he inevitably gets hot. That’s why I chose Gross and Monroe last week. I have a friend at the office who’s a huge Cubs fan (a fantasy league nut, too), and by listing Gross and Monroe in the respective categories, I was trying to get him some karma.

Anyway, feel free to explain to me the fantasy allure. I’m open to converting, but I guess I just haven’t seen the light yet.

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The charge for .500

The A’s may not make the playoffs in 2007 — the standings are not conducive to it, no matter how well they play for the rest of the season — but that doesn’t mean there season can’t be a success. And if they finish at .500, it would be hard to look at their campaign any other way.

I wrote a column that examines whether it would be better to be the A’s are the Giants at this point, and believe me, the green and gold are far from perfect. Injuries continue to be an issue, and no matter how the organization may view it, there is a perception among some players that manager Bob Geren is to general manager Billy Beane what former Raiders coach Norv Turner was to Al Davis.

Nevertheless, should they finish .500 in a year so ruined by injuries speaks to a lot of good things. No. 1, you don’t finish .500 without busting it over the final couple of months, and their recent warm spell is indicative that Geren hasn’t lost the clubhouse. No. 2, a .500 campaign would be achieved largely by young, untested guys, and that would breed a confidence going into 2008 that shouldn’t go overlooked. No. 3, a .500 season would set a franchise record for the most consecutive winning seasons.

Now, can they do it? The A’s have 33 games left, and the combined winning percentage of their remaining opponents are .521. Among those foes will be every other team in the AL West (the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers) plus the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. The A’s are a combined 28-30 against those clubs.

It’s worth watching. Normally, finishing .500 after a recent history of playoff appearances doesn’t qualify for much. But given the group trying to pull it off over the season’s final six weeks, this would be a notable accomplishment.

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Lincecum’s heartbreak

Real rough one for Tim Lincecum on Tuesday. The man was absolutely superb for eight innings against the Chicago Cubs, striking out seven and being as consistently dominant as he’s been since coming up. Clearly, the kid was seriously dialed in, as many of the game’s best tend to be when they’re inspired more than usual, and Lincecum likely was, because he’d just endured a death in his family.

Anyway, it then fell apart for him in the final inning. Now, two thoughts jump to mind regarding this.

No. 1: Manager Bruce Bochy could have chosen to go with a reliever in the ninth inning. Seems like it would’ve been a perfect time to test Brian Wilson, especially since he’s a guy who has closer’s stuff and who figures to play in the Giants’ future. If the final six weeks are about auditions, then why not audition Wilson, and see how he handles a 1-0 lead in the ninth. Sure, Lincecum had thrown only 88 pitches, but heck, the Minnesota Twins took out Johan Santana in a 1-0 game after eight innings Sunday, and he had struck out 17.

No. 2: Lincecum deserved to pitch the ninth inning, because a) he was the best pitcher the Giants had at the time (Wilson had pitched Monday in Florida and Brad Hennessey pitched three times in three days in that series) and b) he’s gonna have to learn to pitch the ninth inning with a one-run lead if he ever expects to be in a league with Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and the other greats. The ending may not have worked out, but this is a guarantee: The next time Lincecum gets to the ninth inning with a one-run lead and so few pitches, he’ll be much more equipped to close it out.

Would’ve loved to have heard from Lincecum, but he chose not talk to the media. Normally, this would set off a red flag for me, because pitchers who do that are not being accountable. But in this case, I think Lincecum is justified. Who knows how he felt emotionally? Besides, Lincecum already has shown that he’s very accountable for his performances, and he’ll likely address the start today.

Anyway, anybody who witnessed this game felt terrible for the kid after it was over, but in the long term, it will make him better. Nobody said the maturation process is without pain.

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Who’s on First?

Heard an interesting topic on Robert Buan’s postgame show following the A’s game Monday night. Buan asked his listeners how he thinks the A’s infield will break down in 2008. Very intriguing question, given 1) the health status of third baseman Eric Chavez b) the club option in Mark Ellis’ contract that the A’s have yet to pick up and c) the pending arrival of Daric Barton from the minors.

Of course, Billy Beane has rarely goine the conventional route, so trying to figure out he’ll think is a bit like trying to get into Barry Bonds’ head. It’s a fruitless pursuit. Therefore, nothing he does this winter will shock me. I could see him dangling Eric Chavez to see if there would be any takers (given his $11 million annual salary, there probably wouldn’t be), and I could also see him biting off any reporter’s head who might ask if such a move could be in the offing.

Same goes with Ellis. Beane comes from the school of Sandy Alderson, and one of Alderson’s guiding principles was that second baseman were a dime a dozen. Therefore, my guess is that he’ll try to move Ellis in the winter (and can’t tell you how much that would bum me out), because he conceivably could use a platoon of Donnie Murphy and Marco Scutaro at second. Then again, Scutaro is eligible for arbitration, too, and the A’s generally look to replace such players.

Anyway, how would you like the A’s infield to look in 2008. Here’s what I’d like to see going into spring training.

3B _ Eric Chavez (His six Gold Gloves count for something, even if he never does meet offensive expectations).

SS _ Bobby Crosby/Donnie Murphy (Murphy has really impressed me, he’s younger and until tweaking an oblique muscle, hadn’t been injury-prone. Crosby doesn’t deserve to lose his job because of an injury, but he does deserve to get some healthy competition in the spring).

2B _ Mark Ellis (If I had to guess, the A’s will let him leave and turn to a Marco Scutaro/Murphy platoon here. It’s all a matter of dollars. That said, the A’s always have been built to win on pitching and defense, and Ellis is a vacuum).

1B _ Daric Barton/Nick Swisher (Hopefully, they’ll let Barton play everyday after he’s called up in September. If he doesn’t cut it, then give the spot to Swisher and leave him there. The A’s already have plenty of outfielders).

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Who’s on First …?

Heard an interesting topic on Robert Buan’s postgame show following the A’s game Monday night. Buan asked his listeners how he thinks the A’s infield will break down in 2008. Very intriguing question, given 1) the health status of third baseman Eric Chavez b) the club option in Mark Ellis’ contract that the A’s have yet to pick up and c) the pending arrival of Daric Barton from the minors.

Of course, Billy Beane has rarely goine the conventional route, so trying to figure out he’ll think is a bit like trying to get into Barry Bonds’ head. It’s a fruitless pursuit. Therefore, nothing he does this winter will shock me. I could see him dangling Eric Chavez to see if there would be any takers (given his $11 million annual salary, there probably wouldn’t be), and I could also see him biting off any reporter’s head who might ask if such a move could be in the offing.

Same goes with Ellis. Beane comes from the school of Sandy Alderson, and one of Alderson’s guiding principles was that second baseman were a dime a dozen. On the other hand, Ellis may well be the best all-around second baseman the Oakland A’s have ever had, and Beane may well decide that he’s worth more money than your average second baseman.

Anyway, how would you like the A’s infield to look in 2008. Here’s what I’d like to see going into spring training.

3B _ Eric Chavez (His six Gold Gloves count for something, even if he never does meet offensive expectations).

SS _ Bobby Crosby/Donnie Murphy (Murphy has really impressed me, he’s younger and hasn’t been injury-prone. Crosby doesn’t deserve to lose his job because of an injury, but he does deserve to get some healthy competition in the spring).

2B _ Mark Ellis (If I had to guess, the A’s will let him leave and turn to a Marco Scutaro/Murphy platoon here. It’s all a matter of dollars).

1B _ Daric Barton/Nick Swisher (Hopefully, they’ll let Barton play everyday after he’s called up in September. If he doesn’t cut it, then give the spot to Swisher and leave him there. The A’s already have plenty of outfielders).

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Dan Meyer’s debut

Two ways to look at the debut of Dan Meyer, the A’s starter who remains the only player left from the Tim Hudson deal to winters ago.

1: It was doomed to failure after Jack Cust dropped a routine fly ball on the game’s very first hitter. Meyer was probably amped up more than normal anyway, because it was his first start in the majors, and it’s taken him two years of overcoming injuries to get there. Meyer is also an intelligent guy, so it no doubt weighs on him at some level that for there to be any good at all to the Hudson deal, he has to succeed. The spotlight is on him more so than other players that first come up, and you combined all those emotions, and usually the first inning becomes the toughest. Cust’s error was a brutal way to start — two hands for beginners, Jack — and as it turned out, the two-run homer by Emil Brown that made it 4-0 would not have taken place had Cust caught the ball.

2. Meyer should’ve simply shrugged off Cust’s gaffe and gotten back to making pitches. As my boss told me last night, had Meyer done that very thing it sure would’ve shown a lot, and that’s a very good point. Meyer himself offered up that sentiment saying that “if you let something like that affect you, you’re going to have a short career.” That is true, but knowing you should do something and actually doing something is often a line that needs to be negotiated a few times before you get a handle on it.

Overall, I thought Meyer’s debut was typical. Some good things ruined by more than a few mistakes. One start is not nearly enough to get an accurate reading. Let’s see what he can do when his defense shows up behind him.

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The drive for 100

One question: Does anybody think the Giants have it in them to lose 100 games?

They hurt their chances Thursday, beating the Atlanta Braves 9-3 behind Tim Lincecum and a power spree.

Nevertheless, I think all the ingredients are there. The Giants are the two things a team needs to be to reach the century mark: Old and bad. Usually, veterans on clubs this hopelessly out of the race tend to shut it down this time of year, and the Giants have enough dissatisfied veterans who may become disinterested to give 100 losses a real shot. Just judge by Barry Bonds’ effort in the outfield the other night.

Entering the night, the Giants needed a 12-30 finish to join their 1985 predecessors as the only club in Giants history to reach that dubious distinction. That’s tough. They’d need to go 2-5 over ever seven games from now until the end, and with Lincecum and Matt Cain starting two of every five games, they’ll probably win at least 12 games by accident.

Still, it’s worth watching. If you’re going to be bad, better to distinctively bad. I mean, the 1985 Giants still get mentioned every now and then. Unfortunately, these Giants will probably come up short. I’m thinking they top out at 95 losses.

But here’s to them giving it a whirl.