So much Rich Harden. So much for Nick Swisher. And so much for the big, bad Angels. Nice, isn’t it, that there were more than a couple of A’s-related items going on in the opening round of the baseball playoffs. Here’s my take on them:
The release is on the A’s Web site. Starting pitcher Joe Blanton goes to the Philadelphia Phillies for three prospects that casual fans have barely heard of, if at all. Two of them, second baseman Adrian Cardenas and outfielder Matt Spencer have not played above Single-A. Oufielder Matt Spencer just reached Double-A.
In other words, this is a deal for 2010, one that will supplement the deals that already have been made for 2009. Not an easy time to be an A’s fan, to be sure, but the A’s charted this course over the winter, so if anybody is shocked about this, they don’t know this team.
I understand the annoyance felt by A’s fans. It seems that as soon as a player gets good enough for fans to latch onto, he’s dealt. But I honestly don’t think it’s that the A’s don’t want to win. In fact, I know that’s not the case. General manager Billy Beane is as competitive a guy as I’ve ever met in my life; you don’t get to where he is in life without that streak and he would not stay in a place where winning is not the ultimate goal.
But one other thing about Beane is that he’s a realist. And what is happening here is that he has determined that the A’s as presently constructed are unlikely to do special things. Therefore, the emphasis is on trading guys at their peak value. If the A’s had a young, dynamic lineup that was scoring five runs a game, I guarantee Dan Haren would still be here, and so would Blanton.
I asked assistant general manager David Forst on the conference call what he would say to the fans, and to paraphrase him, he essentially said that A’s management is “not immune” to the feelings of their fan base, but that the desire is to build a team that’s really good for a really long time. That was the thinking back in 1999 when the A’s made some trades to add to a foundation that eventually made four straight playoff appearances.
Forst also said the A’s like the team they have now, one that should get a lift from the returns of Frank Thomas and Mike Sweeney from the disabled list by the end of the month. So don’t be shocked if the A’s go out and add somebody. But the bottom line is that the team they had was six back of the Angels in the American League West, and as Forst said, “we want to be the team being chased.”
Does it take faith to feel OK about what’s happening. Darn right it does. But Beane does not whiff on deals very often, and I like that the A’s are adding young hitters to the mix. The lineup they’ve trotted out recently could match the ol’ 1978 and ’79 A’s for sheer impotence, and there’s nobody in the minors that’s going to make that a lot better anytime soon. So the A’s need to add some offensive talent. Whether they’ve done that here, who knows, but I don’t blame them for taking a shot at it.
Tell me A’s fandom, what’s your reaction?
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.
Spent the weekend moving — what a drag! — and am just now coming up for air. Funny, you miss one weekend of games, and you tune in Monday, and you don’t even recognize the team you’re watching. Anyway, a few thoughts on what the A’s were doing during my time buried in boxes.
Joe Blanton’s exhibition opener is in the books, and the A’s pitcher can rest content to know that spring training, in his words, “is what it is.”
The A’s opening-day starter was ripped six runs in two innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his first Cactus-League outing. He was scheduled to pitch three innings, but because he was battered about, it took him only two to reach the 45-pitch limit.
The Brewers tattooed Blanton for four extra-base hits among the eight he allowed. Again, no reason for panic, because the ball flies in Arizona and pitchers are working on specific things. That said, pitchers are normally ahead of hitters this time of year, so to see balls hit so hard so often was a tad noticeable.
“I just threw strikes,” Blanton said. “That’s all I wanted to do. I mean, it starts getting frustrating. I really wanted to work on fastball command, and they were just swinging at everything, and I was throwing strikes. So, it kind of forces you to start throwing offspeed pitches.”
Blanton likely will go again in four days.
It’s amazing the things you notice when you’re waiting for Cactus League ball to start. Earlier today, A’s starter Joe Blanton offered up one of the most impressive sights you’ll ever see.
Blanton’s pre-game long toss took him to nearly the center-field warning track. There, he threw the ball near straight as an arrow to catcher Justin Knoedler who was standing down the left-field foul line. Blanton unleashed the ball at least 70 yards in the air with each toss, and at least outwardly, it seemed to take as much effort as tossing BP to a 7-year-old.
Anyway, that’s the only impressive thing about his day so far. Blanton was ripped for three runs by Milwaukee in his opening inning, the lowlights of which where Prince Fielder’s laser double to left-center and Ryan Braun’s home run to dead center.
Now, repeat the mantra: It’s only spring-training.
By the way, the A’s may have suffered their first injury of the Cactus League. Ryan Sweeney, one of the men in the Nick Swisher deal, seemed to hurt himself when he clipped first baseman Fielder while running to first and has been replaced by Aaron Cunningham.
Denial is a very interesting thing.
If there was one thing that struck me more than any other during the A’s annual media luncheon this afternoon, it was that. The A’s always kick off 2008 by stuffing the scribes and trotting out the manager for a Q-and-A session, and it’s always interesting to hear what the skipper thinks. And after all of five minutes, I was left wondering, “What is he thinking?”
Here’s what he was saying:
On the perception the rebuilding A’s may struggle (OK, stink): “The perception is not accurate. We’re going to try to win every game.”
On the expectations created (OK, devalued) with the trades of Nick Swisher and Dan Haren: “I don’t feel like just because we traded a couple of our players that it’s going to make that much of a difference.”
Like I said, denial is an interesting thing.
Now, I understand that Geren shouldn’t be condemned for airing feelings that go so far against the conventional wisdom. More power to him, in fact.
That said, it is fair to wonder if has a true grasp of what’s happened this winter. The reasons Billy Beane gave for making the trades that robbed Geren of his staff ace and his second-most productive hitter were that 1) he didn’t feel like this team could win enough if returned in tact and 2) he wanted to get younger and restock the farm system. Given that reasoning, you’d hope Geren would realize it enough to separate what’s best for the future with what’s best for the present.
Example: A young pitcher (say Gio Gonzalez), gets lit up early in a start during April. Does Geren stick with him to see how the starter handles such a thing at the expense of trying to win that game, or does he yank him early? Or say, Daric Barton goes into a titanic slump in May? Does Geren give him at-bats in clutch situations with a game on the line, or does he pinch-hit for him? And if it’s the latter, what kind of message does it send?
Anyway, these kind of questions will iron themselves out once the season begins, but it will be worth following. Geren must maintain his credibility in the A’s clubhouse after a 2007 campaign in which he struggled to do so, and a few silly moves could cause him to lose the respect of the few veterans who remain.
Meantime, here are some of the other things Geren said during the luncheon:
— Joe Blanton and Rich Harden will be the first two starters in Japan. Of course, this is dependent on both of them still being on the roster come the season-opener.
— He will emphasize winning in spring training, because he doesn’t want all the talk about rebuilding to leave a message that the A’s shouldn’t try to win. That’s kind of a tweak on his above quote and seems reasonable.
— Third baseman Eric Chavez has started baseball activities and has “absolutely no set-backs” from three offseason surgeries.
— Justin Duchscherer is “going to have to prove” he belongs in the starting rotation. Duchscherer, who had hip surgery last season, reportedly has had no set-backs.
— Dana Eveland, one of six players acquired from Arizona in the Haren deal, has a motion and stuff comparable to David Wells. Let’s hope he won’t have that body shape, either.