5

A heartfelt farewell

Hey everybody …

It’s with very mixed emotions that I share with you I’ll be leaving the A’s beat – and leaving Bay Area News Group — in the near future. … Talk about a tough transaction to report! It’s a very exciting time as I explore and see where my career takes me next. But this was no easy decision for me to arrive at. One, I’m leaving a lot of good friends behind at a company that delivers such top-notch journalism. Two, I’ve forged so many great relationships since taking over the A’s beat in 2007.

There’s a rhythm that comes with covering major league baseball. A daily routine gets established over 162 games, and you get to know the people in and around an organization in-depth – players, coaches, trainers, broadcasters, front office people, clubhouse staff, etc. There’s a rapport that develops even as you play the role of objective journalist, and it’s those connections that I know I will miss the most. A beat writer’s adrenaline rush comes from chasing down the news, investigating trade rumors and cranking out game stories on tight deadlines. But I also tried to savor the subtleties – casually talking hitting with Chili Davis, listening to Brandon Moss break down the difference between good pine tar and bad pine tar. That’s priceless stuff, and if my next job somehow incorporates these types of moments, that will be a very good thing.

There’s lots of (justifiable) griping on the baseball beat. The travel delays. The hours spent waiting on players to emerge for interviews. Press box Internet problems? Don’t get me started. But I’ve never lost sight of what a privilege it is to cover major league baseball. It’s been quite the experience, and thanks to all of you for reading my stories and coming along for the ride …

2

A’s re-sign Bartolo Colon to one-year contract

The early activity continues for the A’s this offseason, as they re-signed veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon to a one-year $3 million deal Saturday which includes incentives that could earn the starter more.

I’m not surprised to see the A’s target some veteran depth for their starting rotation — I think it was a need as they look ahead to 2013. But frankly, I thought Colon had pitched his final game in an A’s uniform after he was suspended in August for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Not so much because I thought the A’s would pass ethical judgement on him. More so because of his age — he’ll turn 40 in May — and because of the fundamental question that must be asked in light of Colon’s suspension: How much did his use of testosterone factor into his effectiveness last season? And what kind of pitcher will he be when he’s not using it? The A’s are convinced he can still get major league hitters out.

“I think you have to ask yourself that question,” general manager Billy Beane said. “We did see him pitch a couple times in winter ball, and we had somebody down there to answer that very question. We saw he was throwing just as well down there, velocity-wise, as he was during the season.”

A follow-up question to this signing: What does it mean for the chances of free agent Brandon McCarthy returning to Oakland? The right-hander said he would like to return, based in part on how well the A’s treated him and his family after he required brain surgery when he was struck by a line drive. But part of it might also depend on what kind of interest he gets on the open market. Indications are that McCarthy will be full strength for the start of spring training.

Beane said the signing of Colon and the possibility of re-signing McCarthy “are independent of each other. Brandon is still recovering, and we’re a long way from spring training. We’ll sort of take it a day at a time.”

Follow-up question No. 2: Have the A’s stockpiled enough pitching (and outfield) depth to try to swing a trade for a shortstop? You’ve got to think they will explore that option. But keep in mind that the A’s value their pitching depth greatly, based on the rash of injuries they’ve encountered in recent seasons.

“I’m not going to get into specifics of what we would and wouldn’t do,” Beane said. “We made it pretty clear up to this point that we’d like to maintain our core group of players.”

But this is the A’s, so we shouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens between now and the start of spring training …

0

A’s unveil 2013 spring training schedule

The A’s released their 2013 spring training schedule, and they will begin their exhibition season earlier than in any year since moving to Oakland in 1968. The Cactus League opener is February 23 against Milwaukee at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Everything about the spring schedule has been bumped up to accomodate the Winter Baseball Classic, which opens first-round play March 2. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11.

Here’s a few other important dates:

–The A’s and Giants play twice in Arizona — March 1 at Phoenix Muni and March 23 at Scottsdale Stadium. Then they play the traditional Bay Bridge Series March 28-30 — the first two games are at AT&T Park and the finale is at the Coliseum.

–On March 5, the A’s will play a home split-squad game against a to-be-determined World Baseball Classic squad.

–The A’s only Cactus League night game takes place March 22 against the White Sox at Phoenix Muni. First pitch is 7:05 p.m.

Season-ticket packages for A’s spring home games go on sale Nov. 9 at oaklandathletics.com/spring. Single-game tickets go on sale Dec. 7 and are available online or by calling 877-493-BALL. The box office at Phoenix Muni opens Jan. 31.

0

Josh Reddick strikes a bond with Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur

Josh Reddick, the A’s Gold Glove-winning right fielder, has a big fan in the Kansas City Royals’ Jeff Francoeur. They play the same position, they’re both from Georgia, and they both are known for having an absolute cannon for a throwing arm. Reddick and Francoeur also happened to be competing against each other for the Gold Glove award as the American League’s best defensive right fielder. It turns out that it’s quite the friendly rivalry. I talked to Francoeur yesterday but the quotes didn’t make my print story for space reasons, so I thought I’d share here. Francoeur, who won a Gold Glove in 2007, said he and Reddick traded text messages Tuesday morning, wishing each other luck. And he held absolutely no bitterness at being beaten out by Reddick for the award.

“I think he’s got by far one of the best arms in the league,” Francoeur said. “He takes great routes on the ball. With that big outfield in Oakland, you can’t really get away with having bad outfielders. … And he’s a fellow Georgia boy. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. I was happy for him.”

It’s interesting that A’s first base coach Tye Waller, who doubles as the team’s outfield coach, also mentioned the Oakland Coliseum’s unique characteristics when he talked about Reddick’s defensive excellence.

“Our ballpark made him showcase his talents,” Waller said. “There’s so much foul territory. He would go over to that foul territory and make these plays, and you don’t get that luxury in a lot of ballparks because those balls go into the stands.”

We’ll find out soon if the A’s are shown some more love in the postseason awards. The A.L. Manager of the Year winner will be announced Nov. 13, and Bob Melvin is the co-favorite along with Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter …

0

Josh Reddick, Brandon Inge are Gold Glove finalists

A’s right fielder Josh Reddick and third baseman Brandon Inge are top-three finalists for Gold Glove awards. Winners will be announced at 6 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2.

The awards, given to the best defensive player at each position in both leagues, are voted on by major league managers and coaches. Reddick is competing against the Kansas City Royals’ Jeff Francoeur and Cleveland Indians’ Shin-Soo Choo in right field. Inge’s competition at third base is the Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre and Royals’ Mike Moustakas.

Votes were cast in early September, and A’s manager Bob Melvin said then that he believed Reddick got good support around the American League. Reddick, in his first full big league season, finished third among major league outfielders with 15 assists. But one of the other finalists, Francoeur, led the majors with 19.

To be honest, I think Reddick’s big offensive numbers might help his chance at this award. Surely his 32 homers caught the attention of coaching staffs around the league. And backwards as it sounds, sometimes it takes offensive stats for players to get their defensive play recognized. Working against Reddick is the fact that Francoeur has a long-standing reputation as a good defender and is a previous Gold Glove winner (2007).

Inge, who missed the final month of the regular season with a shoulder injury, has never won a Gold Glove in his 12-year career. Beltre is a three-time winner.

The A’s haven’t had a Gold Glove winner since third baseman Eric Chavez was honored in 2006.

1

A’s add Chris Young to a crowded outfield mix

Here’s the full story I wrote on the A’s trade for Chris Young:

By Joe Stiglich
jstiglich@bayareanewsgroup.com

So much for that quiet offseason from the A’s.

They struck early in their preparations for 2013, trading infielder Cliff Pennington to Arizona on Saturday for center fielder Chris Young and cash.

Young, a 2010 All-Star whose numbers have dipped the past two seasons, would seem to be pegged as the A’s new center fielder, though general manager Billy Beane did not get specific on a media conference call.

Beane said he initiated trade talks with Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers on Oct. 12, the day after the A’s were eliminated by Detroit in the American League Divisional Series.

“This is a really good player, we’ve admired his talent for a long, long time,” Beane said of Young. “When these kinds of players are available at (a reasonable) cost, we think it’s necessary to jump all over it.”

The A’s also sent minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera to the Diamondbacks, who then flipped Cabrera to the Miami Marlins in exchange for reliever Heath Bell.

The trade begs the question of what happens to incumbent center fielder Coco Crisp, who is under contract next season at $7 million. The A’s did not acquire Young, a 29-year-old with three 20-homer/20-steal seasons, to sit him on the bench. Center is the only position Young has played in the majors.

Beane sought to squelch trade speculation regarding Crisp, saying he doesn’t plan to move any of his five outfielders under team control – Crisp, Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick or Seth Smith. He said he envisions those five rotating and sharing designated hitter duties.

“I’d encourage everybody to not go the route of, ‘Hey, they’re moving this guy, they’re moving that guy,’” Beane said. “First and foremost, Coco. He’s been a personal favorite of mine. There’s no need to go down that road from this point forward.”

But Beane also felt it was necessary to add outfield depth given that Cespedes and Crisp both missed significant time with injuries. Cespedes played in just 129 games and Crisp 120.

“Everybody knows how good we played when both were in the lineup,” Beane said. “Adding this type of player to that equation will help.”

Defense is a strength of Young’s, and if he’s flanked by Reddick and Cespedes, the A’s will have one of the American League’s better defensive outfields. Young had 27 homers and 91 RBIs in 2010, but those numbers dropped to an average of 17 and 56 from 2011-12.

He’s a career .239 hitter and has struck out 130-plus times in five of his seven big league seasons. He missed time with shoulder and quad injuries this season but said he’s now 100 percent. And he’s happy to be reunited with A’s manager Bob Melvin, his first skipper in Arizona.

“It just seems like an exciting team, from watching them on TV,” Young said.

Beane originally said he envisioned the bulk of his roster returning, suggesting a winter of little activity for the A’s. He included outfielder/DH Jonny Gomes in those plans, as did Melvin. Gomes – a valuable clubhouse leader — hit .262 with 18 homers and 47 RBIs. But now it appears the free agent might be out of the plans for the defending American League West champions.

Beane said Young’s addition “will have an impact” on whether Gomes is retained.

However, the team’s most pressing issue entering the winter is whether to bring back shortstop Stephen Drew, and Pennington’s departure underscores that. Drew and the A’s hold a $10 million mutual option for next season, a hefty price tag. The A’s could buy out the option at $1.35 million and attempt to negotiate a new deal with Drew, but the veteran (and agent Scott Boras) might prefer to test the free agent market.

The A’s don’t have a legitimate everyday shortstop on the roster were Drew to leave.

Pennington
shifted from shortstop to second base when Drew arrived in a trade from Arizona himself Aug. 20. Pennington adjusted well defensively but hit just .215 for the season.

“I’m excited to go to a team that I thought was really good last year when we played them,” said Pennington, who was the A’s longest-tenured position player. “But leaving Oakland, after making it to the postseason and finally getting things in the right direction, that’s the tough part.”

In other news, Beane said Scott Sizemore will switch from third to second base and compete for the starting job there. Sizemore missed this season because of a torn knee ligament. The move validates that the A’s are confident moving forward with Josh Donaldson as their full-time third baseman.

7

Curtain finally falls on an A’s season to remember

It was an odd scene to observe inside the A’s clubhouse after a 6-0 Game 5 loss to Detroit. Players were packing their bags, giving hugs, shaking hands and heading their separate ways for the offseason. The past few years, we’ve seen the finish line coming well before it arrived. But the way this season unfolded down the stretch, there was no time (or reason) to think about the finish line. Every game mattered. And then, with the final out in the ninth Thursday, it’s all done. And it hit quick.

There’s no doubt this year’s A’s team struck a chord with fans and formed a bond that past teams didn’t quite achieve. Anyone who was in the stadium after the game, when so much of the crowd stuck around and gave a huge ovation, could feel that. There were reports that G.M. Billy Beane was shaking hands as he drove out of the parking lot. Who saw this love affair coming just a couple months ago?

“It felt great,” A’s right fielder Josh Reddick said of the postgame ovation. “We knew something like that was gonna happen with these guys. I got really close with the right field fans. You gotta give back to the fans when they’ve been giving it to us all year.”

How do the A’s keep the ball rolling once spring training arrives in February? Hopefully Beane unveils part of his plan when he holds his end-of-the-season chat with reporters. But it sure doesn’t feel like the A’s are due for a roster tear-down and rebuild this winter, and that alone has to make an A’s fan smile …

0

Seth Smith batting cleanup for A’s in Game 5, Brandon Moss dropped to seventh

First pitch for Game 5 is fast approaching at the Coliseum, and it’s one of the coldest nights of the season here. But the A’s are used to crummy weather here at times, and certainly the Tigers get their share in Detroit. I don’t think the elements will affect either team more than the other.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Crisp CF, Drew SS, Cespedes LF, Smith DH, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Moss 1B, Norris C, Pennington 2B; Parker RHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Berry LF, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Dirks RF, Peralta SS, Avila C, Infante 2B; Verlander RHP.

Dropping Brandon Moss from the cleanup spot is the first semi-significant lineup tweak in this series by A’s manager Bob Melvin. You can’t be too surprised considering Moss is 1 for 13 with seven strikeouts. Smith homered in Game 3 and of course delivered the game-tying two-run double in Game 4.

“It’s just a minor tweak. We’ll go with the hot hand,” Melvin said. “Smitty is probably swinging it a little bit better, but that doesn’t mean Moss’ spot doesn’t come up in a bigger situation. We still have a lot of confidence in him.”

–Melvin said he doesn’t foresee needing any of his starting pitchers for relief duty tonight, unless the game “goes 15 innings,” in his words. Hey, I’m not putting anything past these teams in this winner-take-all Game 5. Were the A’s to win tonight, we may not know who they will be playing in the A.L. Championship Series until Friday. If the A’s win and the Yankees win, we know Oakland will play Game 1 on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. If the ORioles win tonight, Baltimore and New York play Game 5 on Friday, and the A’s will be waiting and watching to see who wins. If it’s New York, they will fly across the country to begin the A.L.C.S. Saturday. That would be a brutally quick turnaround, as the A’s probably wouldn’t get to New York until the wee hours of Saturday morning. If the Orioles win the series, the A’s will have home field advantage and host Baltimore on Saturday. That’s much more simple.

So much unknown drama still to play out.

Enjoy …

1

A’s pull out another thriller to force Game 5 against Tigers

You could describe the A’s comeback 4-3 victory Wednesday night as unbelievable, but it’s getting easier and easier to believe they will somehow find a way to pull such games out. Down two in the ninth, they rallied for three runs for a walk-off victory over Detroit that forces Thursday’s Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series. This team is incredible to watch, but a killer to cover on deadline. Just when you think one story is unfolding, the A’s go and switch it all up in the span of a pitch or two.

So with this series coming down to a winner-take-all final game, the question is what kind of carry-over effect such a loss will have on the Tigers. There’s not much more they could have done right leading up to the ninth. They received great pitching, got just enough offense and even squeezed out an insurance run to make it a 3-1 game in the eighth. On the verge of clinching, they had the rug pulled out from under them and now must try to finish the job Thursday. Psychologically, I’d think they might still be reeling when they arrive to the ballpark. But the fact that they’ll run Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 5 will probably have a stabilizing effect.

The Tigers obviously feel good about their starting pitcher, but I think the A’s feel very good to be running rookie Jarrod Parker out there. A’s fans have reason for optimism based on how Parker threw in Game 1.

–Coco Crisp and Seth Smith, the ninth-inning heroes, arrived in the interview room after Wednesday’s game, and Crisp still appeared a bit out of breath as he answered questions.

“This club, we’ve been battling the whole year, giving a hundred percent,” Crisp said. “And these walk-offs have been our M.O. this year.”

Apparently closer Grant Balfour was stoking the fire in the A’s dugout starting in the eighth inning. He was yelling that the A’s were going to make a comeback, and fellow reliever Sean Doolittle said everyone started believing it.

“He was like, ‘We’re gonna do it!’, screaming at the top of his lungs,” Doolittle said. “That kind of stuff is infectious.”

–More on Thursday’s pitching matchup:

*Verlander is 3-0 in three starts against the A’s this season. In 20 innings, he has allowed 10 hits and just two runs, with 25 strikeouts and eight walks.

*Parker opposed Verlander on May 13 at the Coliseum. He took his first loss of the season, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing two runs. As I mentioned in the pregame blog, don’t expect Parker to be in awe matching up against Verlander in such a big game. It seems like he’s looking forward to the challenge.

Check in w/you tomorrow …

0

A’s ready for Game 4, hoping to force a Game 5

Checking in before Game 4 here at the Coliseum. … It’s going to be colder than last night. The wind really kicked up while the A’s took batting practice, so it feels much more like October baseball than that warm homestand the A’s had to close the regular season.

It’s always odd, in the A’s currrent situation, to attend these pregame press conferences with the managers and next day’s starting pitchers. If the A’s don’t win tonight, they won’t have a next game. So you’re asking questions to the effect of, “Bob, in the event there is a Game 5 …”

What I can tell you is I think Jarrod Parker will be a confident pitcher taking the mound tomorrow night if the A’s do extend this to a fifth game. The guy’s got an understated confidence about him, and he had that from early on in the regular season. He won’t be in awe matching up with Justin Verlander after he pitched well against him in Game 1.

“I think it’s what makes this time of year great,” Parker said. “We both have a chance to do a lot of special things. We get to that Game 5 and it’s win or go home. But we’re going to play the game like we normally do. And I think we have the advantage at home.”

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Crisp CF, Drew SS, Cespedes LF, Moss 1B, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Smith DH, Norris C, Pennington 2B; Griffin RHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Berry LF, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Dirks RF, Peralta SS, Avila C, Infante 2B; Scherzer RHP.

It’s the identical lineup from last night for the A’s. They have six left-handed bats in there against Max Scherzer, which is a good thing considering lefties are hitting .292 against him this season. Righties are at .201.

The A’s are hoping tonight’s starter, A.J. Griffin, can bounce back from his recent struggles. But if he falters, manager Bob Melvin said his bullpen is fresh, so expect him to make a move early. Travis Blackley and/or Evan Scribner would be his first choices for long relief work.

Looking over the Game 3 postgame stats and notes that were handed out, I was struck by how many “firsts” there were for the A’s — Brett Anderson’s first postseason win, Grant Balfour’s first postseason save, Seth Smith’s first postseason homer. The A’s are just an inexperienced playoff team in relation to the Tigers, not that Detroit manager Jim Leyland is putting much stock in that.

“I’ve never believed in that, I believe in talent,” Leyland said. “Somebody always has to win their first one.”

That’s all for now …