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First impressions

At last! After seven weeks of hearing through-the-grapevine stories, it was great to see Trevor Cahill on the hill last night (albeit not in person). I was mostly impressed, although I do think he has a touch of Bob Welch disease. Welch, for those who don’t remember, had a bad habit when he first arrived in Oakland in 1988, of responding to difficulties by trying to throw the ball harder and harder. As a result, his pitches would get straighter and straighter. It wasn’t until Welch learned to back off a bit during difficult situations that he became a Cy Young winnerWelch’s 1990 campaign is another reason why I pay hardly zero attention to what happens with veterans in the spring.

Not saying the ceiling is necessarily that high for Cahill, but he will be better than he was last night once he learns how to do the same thing. Cahill gave up single runs in the first two innings Tuesday, and even though there were other mitigating factors — home plate umpire Larry Vanover’s strike zone got real tight for one — but I noticed that Cahill seemed to pumping up his effort when he was in trouble. Successful major-league pitchers will tell you that the effort needs to be the same whether the bases are loaded or the bases are empty.

That said, I see why the A’s are so excited about this kid. Can’t wait to see Brett Anderson next.

Other impressions from the first two games:

— Jack Cust cannot play the outfield. He dropped one again last night. No more evidence needed.

— Ryan Sweeney doesn’t seem to cover much ground in center field. Not sure his loping strides are going to be that effective out there. Plus, he needs to take charge more. He seems to be better suited for the corner spots.

— Physically, Jason Giambi looks like he never left.

— As I predicted, Brad Ziegler gave up a run in his first outing. Nobody should be surprised. The man went 39 innings before allowing his first run last year. So naturally, he allowed one in his first try this year.

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“Are we there yet?”

Don’t you feel like that 6-year-old in the back of the car. Spring training has been painfully long this year. I mean, the World Baseball Classic was fantastic viewing, but do we really need to add an extra week-and-a-half to the spring to accomodate it? I mean, the A’s wound up playing 35 exhibition games in Arizona alone. THAT’S ALMOST A QUARTER OF A SEASON!!!

I can only imagine how I’d feel if I were there. I haven’t seen one iota of spring training — you may have heard the newspaper industry is in flux, and it’s led to a reassignment for me — but you don’t have to be down there to get a complete sense of what you’re about to see. And what I see for the A’s is this:

“AAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!”

Yep, the regular season is lurking like Lucy Van Pelt, calling out for the A’s to come kick this football. Only, the sense I get is that the A’s are about to land square on their back. Now, granted, a couple of times viewing Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill may put my mind at ease, but for now, not so.

From 800 miles away, here’s what I see.

— A rotation that has Dallas Braden — the same Dallas Braden who a year ago at this time was being sent down, having failed to make the bullpen — at the top of it. Enough said.

— A lot of leads blown late. Look, I think the Brad Ziegler story is as great as they come, but when I look at him, I don’t see “closer.” In fact, the way baseball works, he’ll give up a run in his first outing this season.

— Injuries, injuries and more injuries. Think the inability to get a new stadium and more revenue has anything to do with this?

— A lot of 8-6 losses. At least these A’s will be fun to watch. At least when they fall behind 3-0 in the first inning, we’ll have reason to keep watching. But the bottom line is that you have to get outs.

In other words, a whole lot is going to ride on the competency of Anderson and Cahill.

No pressure.

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“Bobby, you’re hot!”

The above was the persistent cry of a lone female fan at the Coliseum last year, and given how empty the place often was, it often echoed like a public address statement.

Obviously, it didn’t refer to his game.

A’s management clearly came to realize this, too. Finally. Four full seasons after thinking they’d found a suitable replacement for Miguel Tejada, the A’s essentially gave Crosby his walking papers on Wednesday. Not a moment too soon, either.

Look, I like Crosby. Good guy. Works extremely hard. Always been accountable. But the guy has a hole in his swing that size of a hula hoop, and even though he’s done an incredible amount of work to correct it, a guy can only do so much. So while his offensive numbers may improve, he’s never going to be what the A’s thought they had. Thus, the reason it’s smart to cut bait and find another solution.

Orlando Cabrera provides that opportunity. Our paper had a terrific graphic today, indicating just how much of an upgrade this is. What it compared were the three-year averages of Cabrera and Crosby over the past three seasons. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s what they are.

Games — Cabrera 156, Crosby 111

Average — Cabrera .288, Crosby .232

Home Runs — Cabrera 8, Crosby 8

RBI — Cabrera 72, Crosby 44

On-Base Pct. — Cabrera .338, Crosby .292

Errors — Cabrera 14, Crosby 14

I have a tough time believing Crosby will last in Oakland all season, and I’d be a tad surprised if he’s even there come Opening Day. He’s making $5.25 million, which makes him expensive in this time of economic downturn and too rich to be a “super sub,” which is how the A’s apparently perceive him now (all in all, I’d rather have Marco Scutaro in that role; oh wait, the A’s gave him away). Meantime, it would seem to reason that some team will find itself with a need for a shortstop at some point.

In the meantime, another favorite chant among a couple of my colleagues can be repeated with luster and good feeling this morning.

“NO MORE BOBBY CROSBY, NO MORE BOBBY CROSBY.”

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Bummin on Tejada

I’m sad about Miguel Tejada.

See, when I was growing up, I was raised on Joe Rudi. When I was in college, I had season-ticket packages to see Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. And as a professional, well, you don’t get much better than to be around a guy like Miguel Tejada.

I’ve gone on a lot in other blogs about my lifelong ties to the A’s. You lose those when you become a beat writer, because it’s just a natural by-product of the gig. I knew that going in. But what was new to me was that you’re drawn to players for different reasons than by what they do on the field. Tejada, to put it simply, was one of those guys in the industry who you’d want to introduce to your family (in all the years of doing this; I’ve met about a dozen, but Shooty Babbitt, Mark Ellis and Kirk Rueter head the list). Closest thing to Pete Rose I’ve ever seen in terms of playing hard every single second and loving the game so much.

You know what? I’m more proud today of my affinity for Tejada than I’ve ever been. Watch the video. THAT’S how you apologize for something

(And as for Buster Olney’s point — and I love Buster Olney’s blog — two points of my own: 1. Do we really need to hear what the players have to say anymore? Can’t we just assume most of them, if not all, were doing something?  2. Let’s be careful before we start accusing people of what they’re doing behind closed doors? I mean, maybe Miggy did throw away the steroids he bought. Granted, not very plausible, difficult to believe and only a fool probably does; but we can’t write as fact that it didn’t happen).

More important to me is that he was contrite. He seems to know his actions were wrong. If he could go back and do it differently, it seems he would. I did not come away from the A-Roid interview feeling the same way. And once upon a time, I loved Alex Rodriguez, too.

In 2001, the last A’s season before I joined the beat, I bought a Tejada jersey, just to add to my collection (and I don’t collect much anymore; another by-product of the job). I have that to go with ones of Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart (I gave the Mark McGwire one to charity). I’m very glad I have it.

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On Springer and more

The A’s apparently are closing in on a deal with free agent reliever Russ Springer. Forgive me if I don’t go overboard with anticipation.

Don’t get me wrong. Springer has had two very good years in a row. But relief pitchers are a little bit like the economy. You can use your best data to get an idea of what will happen in the coming 12 months, but in reality, it’s far too unpredictable to know for sure. So while Springer will add a nice veteran presence for a young bullpen, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t pitched in the American League — generally considered superior offensively to the National League — since he was with the then-Anaheim Angels in 1995.

That said, the A’s usually do a nice job of finding setup men. Jim Mecir, Jeff Tam, Chad Bradford, Mike Magnante, and even Ricardo Rincon (for a time) have been the right men at the right time through the years. It’ll be interesting to see if Springer can do the same.

— No brainer call by the A’s brass to re-up play-by-play man Ken Korach for another couple of seasons. I did not envy Korach when he had to step in for Lon Simmons back in 1995, but through the years, he has established himself as one of the best in the game. I’m not sure how much the kids out there still listen to games on the radio, but broadcasting that way has become a lost art. Korach maintains objectivity (a nearly extinct quality these days), regularly gives props to opponents and does a fantastic job of painting a picture. Now that the A’s are on a radio station that can be heard outside the Coliseum parking lot, do yourself a treat and tune in.

— One last note on the Jay McGwire/Mark McGwire news item last week. I asked Matt Holliday at a luncheon last Thursday whether he would care if it was revealed officially that McGwire used steroids. Holliday, who has worked on his hitting with Big Mac, predictably didn’t comment. But it seems to me that, at this point, why would we care? It would be a bit like condeming somebody for smoking in the 1950s or not wearing their seat belts in the ’70s. Mark McGwire was a product of his time and seems to have made some mistakes with his choices along the way. That would put him in company with, oh, the entire human race. But what bothers me is his lack of forthrightness. If he truly wants to help people, he needs to be honest about his experience, whatever it may have been. Living a lie, if that’s indeed what he’s doing, is an extremely dark place to be.

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McGwire ‘outed’?

Wow, back in the blogosphere again. The job description for me has changed in the past couple of months — won’t bore you with the details — so the posting in this space has belonged primarily to Joe Stiglich, our fine A’s beat writer. But I’ve recently been given clearance to launch again, and Joe and I will be sharing the space as we get closer to spring training.

Anyway, wanted something interesting to mark my return and darned if Dead Spin hasn’t provided it. It’s tough to tell sometimes what’s for real and what’s tongue in cheek on that site, but it appears that Jay McGwire is about to out his older brother. You know, the guy who bombed 345 homers over his final seven seasons.

Of course, to say this reveals any great insight would be akin to saying that George Michael’s misadventures at Beverly Hills park a decade ago revaled something we didn’t really know already about his sexuality.

Still, Jay McGwire’s story, if an when it’s published, removes yet another layer of doubt surrounding his big brother. I can tell you that when Mark McGwire appeared on Capitol Hill four years ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue from a guy who told me he knew Jay McGwire from a local gym and that it was an open secret the guy was dealing in steroids. The gentleman wouldn’t go on the record, wouldn’t lead me to anyone else, and the story never went anywhere. But it’s interesting.

And speaking of McGwire, the kid who does batting-stance impersonations did a fantastic one of No. 25. But the best was Dwayne Murphy with the hat pulled down over his head and swinging so hard he fell down.

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The Grades Are In

Thank goodness it’s over!

That’s about the best thing you can say about the A’s season, especially the second half. It’s been miserable to watch, so I can only imagine how much of a grind it’s been for the players involved. Incidentally, the final numbers: 75 victories (their fewest since 1998); 51 players used, including 24 pitchers; and 11 rookies who made their debut. No matter how you slice it, that generally does not add up to a lot of success.

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