Joe gonna go?

I’ll blog more later, but just glanced Buster Olney’s ESPN blog, and it appears Joe Blanton could be the next Athletic on the move.  Phils are apparently interested. Anybody on the Phillies big-league roster that you guys would want in Oakland (besides, of course, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, none of whom would be on the move)?

I’ll be back this afternoon with my thoughts on the second half.




The All-Star Game

One question for you guys this afternoon. Did you stay up and watch the entire All-Star Game?

I caught about the final six innings, and I can’t imagine anything that happened in the first nine topped any of what I saw. Aaron Cook’s 10th-inning escape with the bases loaded and no outs (the Colorado pitcher should’ve been the MVP), the incredible defense by Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, and the nerves experienced by AL manager Terry Francona (I could feel how nervous the Red Sox skipper was, could you?) were great theater.

I have to say, though,  that all this talk about how to avoid the tough decisions Francona and NL/Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle faced is bunk. If you’re going to play the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series — a ludicrous notion, by the way — then you play to win. If you’re a player at the All-Star Game, then you’re available to be used. Period, end of subject. If, say, Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir throws 100-some pitches on Sunday and the Rays don’t want him used in the All-Star Game, then DON’T SEND HIM.

I think a lot of this could be avoided if managers resorted to playing the All-Star Game the way they did back in the day. Starting pitchers should go 2 or 3 innings. The starters should play 4 or 5 innings. We should not see situations like we did Tuesday, where Giants closer Brian Wilson was removed after two batters — and two outs — to be replaced by someone else. Why is it so vital that everybody play? What is this Little League?

On the A’s front, I didn’t see Justin Duchscherer, but I take very little out of what a guy does in All-Star Game (unless his name is Jay Howell or Atlee Hammaker). It rarely portends to anything big picture. I’m glad Duke got a chance to pitch, because he didn’t get an opportunity in 2005. That sure affected him an adverse manner, didn’t it?





Billy’s a genius

Face it, that’s what everybody was thinking last night, right. Sean Gallagher dazzles the Angels in the opener of a series showdown. Matt Murton makes a great catch and adds a two-run single.

Nothing to it for Mr. Beane, huh.

Hey, I loved what I saw from Gallagher. Kids threw hard. Seemed to have the “I’m in control, here” demanor that you like to see from your starter. And he seemed to have an idea what he was doing. But before we go overly crazy, let’s remember that he’s facing a new league with little information on him. Let’s give him four or five starts, including a couple against the same team, before we hail this traded as a runaway success.

Murton, meantime, already moves toward the top of the A’s outfield chart, at least as far as defense goes. No reason ever to have Jack Cust out there or even Emil Brown if it can be helped. Murton was able to cover some ground and seems to know what he’s doing when he’s tracking the ball, unlike the two players mentioned above. Not sure how well he will hit, and obviously, he’ll need to contribute offensively. But better outfield defense makes an outstanding pitching staff that much better.

By the way, noticed a stat last night that indicated the A’s team ERA trails only their 1990 mark for their best before the All-Star break. It was generated on Comcast, and since A’s expert David Feldman is usually in charge of those, I imagine that’s accurate.




Encore performance?

This from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: National League All-Star manager Clint Hurdle is considering four pitchers as candidates to start Tuesday’s game. One of the four is Arizona’s Dan Haren, who started for the AL last season for the A’s. Seems like an unlikely pick, if you ask me, but Haren has the chance to be the first pitcher to start back-to-back All-Star Games for different leagues. Only three pitchers — Vida Blue, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson — have started for both leagues, period.

Haren’s stats are very solid (8-5, 2.83) and he’d be plenty rested heading into Tuesday. But I can’t see him getting the nod over Ben Sheets or Edinson Volquez, the others Hurdle is considering along with his own pitcher, Aaron Cook. And that’s not a slam on Haren, who has fulfilled expectations since being acquired from the A’s. But he isn’t even the best starter on his own staff, even though his ERA is lower than Brandon Webb’s right now. Who would you give the ball to?


The Rich Harden trade reaction

Heard this from a talent evaluator in the aftermath of the Rich Harden trade: “I think (the A’s) just traded damaged goods.”

That seems to be the majority opinion around the Coliseum right now. Harden just didn’t look right in his final two A’s starts, and that has everybody wondering if (when?) he might break down again. Wonder if Billy Beane was wondering the same thing, not that he’d ever admit it if he was.

Anyway, here are some quotes:

From Rich Harden: “I had kind of heard about (the rumors). But I was surprised when it happened, a bit of a shock. I think it’ll be good. They’re a good team, got a chance to do something special. It’s tough leaving her at the same time.  I’ve been here my whole career.”

From Beane: “I would say the Cubs were pretty aggressive. Me and (Cubs general manager Jim Hendry) talk a lot anyways. We consistently had conversations over the last month. We finally came to an agreement this morning. I don’t think there was necessarily anything that put it over the edge, other than Jim’s consistent contact, the fact that they were looking for a starting pitcher — I wouldn’t say they were looking for a starting pitcher, they were looking for Rich.

Also from Beane: “We were balancing, respecting that the club is playing well while also keeping in mind we’ve had numerous injuries over the past week. Guys have done a good job trying to battle as much as they can. But I think we also started thinking as we go forward, what we set out to do this year. I don’t think we’ve taken a step back, but I think we’ve taken a step forward for the next five years.”

From second baseman Mark Ellis: “(As players), we’ve got to be out there, play every day like we’re making a run to the playoffs. I don’t think it sends a message to us. I think it’s something they felt they had to do.”






So long Rich Harden

Where’s there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and a blaze was uncovered about 20 minutes ago when the A’s announced that they’ve traded Rich Harden to the Chicago Cubs along with reliever Chad Gaudin. In return, the A’s get right-handed pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton and infielder Eric Patterson and catcher Josh Donaldson. All but Donaldson have spent time on the Cubs’ roster this season, and Gallagher will immediately jump into the A’s rotation, A’s general manager Billy Beane said.

The deal comes amid myriad reports out of Chicago that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry had been talking often with Beane about Harden. Beane basically confirmed that in his session with reporters, saying that it was Hendry’s stick-with-it-ness that ultimately created the deal.

I like the move from the A’s standpoint. As I blogged Monday, Harden hadn’t looked like his normal overpowering self in his past two starts, and with 11 straight starts behind him, I felt like the A’s were playing with house money. Talked to a couple of people in the organization moments before the deal was announced, and they seemed to  have that same sense.

As I also blogged, the standings had something to do with it, too. Beane said the team has weighed the recent injuries to Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez against what its goals were at the beginning of the season. He said he sees this trade “not as a step back, but a step forward for the next 3-5 years.” We’ll see, and what will be real interesting is the reaction of fans to this move, given that Beane’s winter trades of Nick Swisher and Dan Haren yielded very positive results.

I think Beane, again, deserves the benefit of the doubt. This A’s club was not built to win this year. And even with Harden aboard, it was hard to see that happening. Beane obviously is a better evaluator of such things than me, and I tend to go with a guy’s track record on such things. So I’m guessing the short-term pain will be replaced by long-term gain.

As for Harden, it potentially could be a great deal. It could also be a nightmare. He goes to a legitimate World Series contender in a great city. This move is essentially the Cubs’ response to the C.C. Sabathia acquisition by Milwaukee, so there will be pressure on Harden to be the type of ace he’s always been envisioned as being. But if Harden gets hurt, the fans will be far more unforgiving than they are here.

More later.



Harden heading out?

You knew a rumor of this sort was coming, it was only a matter of time. But just heard that the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that the Cubs are in discussions with the A’s involving Rich Harden.

First thought: The Cubs might be responding to the acquisition by their NL Central rival Milwaukee Brewers of starter C.C. Sabathia. Second thought: This won’t be the only rumor involving Harden between now and July 31.

I’m leaning toward thinking the proper avenue for the A’s is to deal Harden. He’s been quite hittable his past two starts, and perhaps they think they’re playing with house money now that Harden has made 11 straight starts without getting hurt. I’m sure there’s continuing concern that Harden can break again, especially since his fastball has lacked a little life in his past couple of starts.

Besides, the A’s are a longshot to win the American League West, and I don’t see them making a move in the wild-card standings unless they get completely healthy. They haven’t been completely healthy since the Lincoln administration (joke, people). The A’s have shown how replenishing with young talent can breathe life into an organization, and no reason to think they won’t get a bountiful of talent for Harden.

Still, you’d hate to stumble into a playoff berth and not have Harden on your roster.  Imagine a Cubs-A’s World Series in which Harden was pitching Game 7 against the A’s? (Yeah, right)

By the way, this question was posed to me during a radio show today? Who has a better shot to make the playoffs, the A’s or Giants? Had to say the Giants. How wack is that?





Big Apple-bound

It sure wasn’t a shock to see Terry Francona take Justin Duchscherer for his AL All-Star pitching staff. Richly deserved, you’d have to agree. I really looked at Duchscherer as a huge question mark entering this season, both because of the hip surgery he was rebounding from and his transition from the ‘pen to the rotation. But Duchscherer will tell you that’s what’s been so gratifying about this season. More than the All-Star invite, he relishes proving doubters wrong about his ability to make the switch.

No A’s infielder finished in the top eight in fan balloting, and no outfielder finished in the top 24. Not incredibly surprising considering the A’s low profile as a team, but I thought Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby deserved a little more love at their respective positions …


Is it really him?

OK, so the Lakers have Jack Nicholson. Turns out the Chicago White Sox have some star power in their fan base as well. I was walking through the lobby here at U.S. Cellular Field and passed right by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.  It was one of those, “It can’t possibly be him moments,” because the lobby was practically empty except for him. A Sox employee confirmed for me it was Jackson, and that he takes in the occasional Sox game. Jackson played quarterback at North Carolina A&T and was actually offered a contract by the Sox out of high school. Thought about getting his take on whether the A’s should trade Harden. Then I thought about getting him to do a spontaneous reading of “Green Eggs and Ham,” like he did on that hilarious Saturday Night Live skit a few years back. Didn’t do either …

Back to the world of the A’s … maybe there was a reason Keith Foulke got rocked Wednesday in Anaheim. He went on the DL today with what’s being described as right shoulder inflammation. Jerry Blevins, who was closing at Triple-A, was called up to take his place. Anybody out there feeling less than confident in the A’s relief corps these days? For those counting, that’s 17 DL transactions this season for the A’s. Remember it was just last season they tied an Oakland record with 22. Unbelievable …

Bob Geren is giving Wes Bankston his third straight start tonight, this time at first base with Barton riding the bench. Yesterday Bankston was picked to DH over Emil Brown. The A’s obviously don’t see the harm in seeing what this kid’s got … 



Long-term investment

About to hop on a conference call w/Billy Beane, where the A’s are announcing the signing of Michael Inoa, the 16-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic … $4.25 million signing bonus reportedly. What? You weren’t pulling down $4 million-plus in your job when you were 16? I know, me neither. That’s the name of  the game these days though, when it comes to big league teams pursuing young players in Latin America.

Being a GM and flying to the Dominican to wow a kid like Inoa must feel like being a college football coach and sitting in the living room of a top recruit. You’re making a sales pitch, and with Beane’s personality, I could see him winning over a kid and his family if given enough time. Clearly, the A’s think the world of Inoa’s ability. But you can bet this was a statement to future international players that the A’s are serious about getting the best players. Still, this is a lot of cash to invest in a player so far away from making it to the bigs. Any thoughts?

And now the bad news: Eric Chavez is headed back to the DL for his shoulder pain. Wes Bankston was called up to take his roster spot. Sorry, that’s all the details for now. More later …