17

Catching up on a quiet (so far) A’s offseason

Hello everybody … long time, no blog.

I’ve been doubling up lately with Cal football coverage and that’s taken the lion’s share of my time. But “Inside the A’s” has been neglected long enough, so I wanted to drop in. Not that there’s been a ton of A’s news to report anyway this offseason. By now you’ve caught the drift that the A’s won’t be as aggressive going after players as they were last winter (unless those acquisitions come in the form of prospects via trade). You might have seen this story from ESPN’s Buster Olney regarding the A’s being sellers, largely because their stadium situation remains unsettled. If the A’s get approval to build a ballpark in San Jose, we know that GM Billy Beane plans to rebuild with younger players, hoping to have a nucleus ready to blossom when that ballpark opens for business. If they were to be denied, it’s possible they might open the checkbook a little more. And what if the issue continues to drag through the winter with no word from MLB? The indications I’ve gotten are that the A’s won’t spend aggressively as long as they remain in limbo.

Olney wrote that he could see the A’s trading starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and closer Andrew Bailey. Of the two, I see Bailey as the stronger possibility to go. If the A’s don’t see themselves contending in 2012, then a dominant closer becomes less of a necessity. And Bailey could fetch a nice haul given he’s just 27 and under team control for the next three seasons. A front-of-the-rotation starter such as Gonzalez is more of a foundation piece and much tougher for a team to replace. Having said that, if a team knocks Beane’s socks off with an offer for Gonzalez, I think he would certainly pull the trigger. The Marlins are looking for starting pitching as they move into their new ballpark in Miami, and this report out of Florida says they’re eyeing Gonzalez, who is from the Miami area and would be a great addition from a baseball and marketing standpoint. The question is whether the Marlins (or any team) have the pieces to pry Gonzalez away.

Here’s some key dates to keep an eye on:

Nov. 23: This is the last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to a Type “A” or “B” free agent in order to get compensation should that player sign elsewhere. The A’s have decisions to make on outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. Willingham is a Type A, meaning the A’s stand to get a first-round pick and a sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds) should he be offered arbitration and sign elsewhere. DeJesus is Type B, meaning the A’s would get a sandwich pick if he’s offered arb and signs elsewhere. The risk for teams, of course, is that a player unexpectedly accepts arbitration, and the team is stuck paying a large salary to a player it didn’t expect to have around. I see no such risk with Willingham. He’s likely to land a multi-year deal somewhere and would seemingly want to keep his options open. DeJesus might be more willing to accept arbitration, so unless the A’s feel good about him returning, they have a decision on whether to offer it. Sometimes a team and player will reach a gentleman’s agreement that the player won’t accept arbitration if offered. I’m not sure if that’s being discussed with DeJesus.

Dec. 5-8: The four-day event known as the winter meetings, where reporters bump into each other as they walk with noses buried in cell phones, monitoring Twitter. The A’s are often subject of rumors at the meetings, but usually this period is a time for them to lay the groundwork for future moves. Now that I’ve said that, they’re bound to pull a blockbuster there. Just you watch …

Dec. 12: The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. It’s an important day because any arb-eligible player not offered a contract is cut loose and becomes a free agent. The A’s have 10 players eligible for arbitration – Gonzalez, Bailey, relievers Craig Breslow and Joey Devine, starters Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy, first baseman Daric Barton, outfielder Ryan Sweeney, infielder Adam Rosales and catcher Landon Powell. Beane said at his season-ending press conference he expects all will be tendered contracts, but we won’t know until deadline day.

1

Coco Crisp sits again, status unknown for Thursday

Checking in from Toronto, where the hot topic of the day is whether the Blue Jays are stealing signs from the center field seats during home games. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke at a news conference vehemently denying any of the allegations that came out of an ESPN The Magazine story on the subject. His opening statement: “This whole thing is stupid. It’s unbelievabvle that we’re sitting here to even talk about this. … All I’ll say is there’s zero truth to this.”

It was pretty entertaining to listen to him go on …

–As for A’s news, Coco Crisp (strained right calf) is out of the lineup again, with Ryan Sweeney playing center field and Cliff Pennington hitting second in the order. Manager Bob Melvin said Crisp was scheduled for baseball activity before the game to test his calf. He’s not sure about whether Crisp will be ready to play in Thursday’s road trip finale. “I’m always hopeful, but I’m not even gonna handicap it,” Melvin said. “If he does feel it some, I would be reluctant to play him.”

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney CF, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Jays — Davis LF, Escobar SS, Bautista RF, Lind 1B, Encarnacion DH, Rasmus CF, Hill 2B, Arencibia C, Lawrie 3B; Alvarez RHP.

3

Ryan Sweeney gets a look as No. 2 hitter

All is quiet on the A’s front leading into Game 2 of this three-game set against the Red Sox. Coco Crisp and Kurt Suzuki both have the day off, so David DeJesus leads off and Ryan Sweeney hits second, with Daric Barton in the No. 6 spot again. A’s manager Bob Geren was asked how long he envisions Barton batting lower in the order. “I don’t know,” he said. “I actually like the lineup better when he’s hitting second – when he’s going good. We’ll go day to day. I like the way he swung the bat last night.”

Geren also said he expects Guillermo Moscoso to be fine to start Tuesday after his extended relief stint Friday night. Moscoso threw 40 pitches, which still leaves him an option to go on three days’ rest Tuesday against Baltimore. If Moscoso wasn’t ready for Tuesday, the A’s would probably have to call someone up from the minors, because I don’t see Geren going with Josh Outman on short rest after Outman struggled Friday in his 67-pitch stint.

The lineups:

A’s: DeJesus RF, Sweeney CF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Barton 1B, Powell C, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Red Sox: Ellsbury CF, Pedroia 2B, Gonzalez 1B, Youkilis 3B, Ortiz DH, Crawford LF, Lowrie SS, Drew RF, Varitek C; Beckett RHP.

0

A’s-Rangers makeup date set; Sweeney starts again, Matsui sits

It’s a gloomy afternoon at the Coliseum, as the A’s try to even the series with a White Sox team that’s suddenly playing very good ball. On to the news …

–The A’s and Texas Rangers will make up Wednesday’s rainout on July 7 in Arlington. That was scheduled to be an off-day leading into an Oakland-Texas series, but now the teams will just play a four-game series.

–Ryan Sweeney is swinging a hot bat, and it’s earning him some playing time. He’s back in left field for the A’s for a second straight day, hitting third. Josh Willingham is serving as DH, which pushes Hideki Matsui to the bench. It’s an encouraging sign for the A’s that Sweeney is forcing his way into the lineup, and it reflects well on the outfield depth that Bob Geren talked up during spring training. But it’s also a statement on Matsui’s struggles. He’s started just three of the A’s past six games and is hitting .236. Today is just the third time he hasn’t started against a right-handed pitcher. “It’s just kind of a thing where I wanted to get Sweeney in there because he’s swinging so well,” Geren said. “We’ll look at what happens today, but more than likely, (Matsui) will be back in there tomorrow.”

–Andrew Bailey threw 18 pitches in an extended spring game in Arizona. Geren said he recorded four outs and allowed one bloop hit. More importantly, Bailey was in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball and used all of his pitches. He’ll be re-evaluated in Oakland on Sunday, and if all goes well, he might begin a true rehab assignment.

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, Sweeney LF, Willingham DH, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennignton SS; Ross RHP.

White Sox – Pierre LF, Ramirez SS, Dunn DH, Konerko 1B, Quentin RF, Rios CF, Castro C, Beckham 2B, Morel 3B; Floyd RHP.

2

Conor Jackson gets another start at first base for A’s; Kevin Kouzmanoff back at third

It’s early May, and the Royals are 17-14 and in second place in the AL Central. That has people talking in Kansas City after this franchise has struggled for so long. But the real buzz as the A’s begin a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium is the major league debut of Royals top prospect Eric Hosmer. The left-handed hitting first baseman wasn’t supposed to reach the bigs until later this season. But he mashed at Triple-A and the Royals believe he’s ready. Hosmer, 21, was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. He’s the crown jewel from Kansas City’s loaded farm system, and it should be entertaining to watch him take his hacks against lefty Gio Gonzalez.

The A’s could use some exciting new blood in their batting order. For now, Oakland fans will have to settle for tonight’s intriguing lineup. Conor Jackson draws his second start in three games at first base in place of Daric Barton. Ryan Sweeney’s five-hit game Thursday buys him a start in left field, with Josh Willingham sitting. Andy LaRoche spells Cliff Pennington at shortstop and Kevin Kouzmanoff returns to third base after riding the bench for five games. A’s manager Bob Geren says no one is out of the lineup for health reasons. “Everybody’s healthy. That’s why I’m continuing to mix guys in to keep everybody healthy and everybody fresh,” Geren said.

I don’t read too much into Willingham sitting, but it’s interesting to see Jackson getting another start at first base, particularly against a right-hander. Geren is looking for ways to keep Jackson’s bat in the lineup, and Barton is hitting .204 with six RBIs in 31 games. If Jackson keeps hitting, might he get more time at first? Right now, I like him in the No. 3 spot with David DeJesus batting second.

–A team spokesman said there was no more news on Dallas Braden, so we can assume he has yet to get that second opinion on his injured shoulder.

–It’s a big night for DeJesus, who returns to Kansas City for the first time after spending the previous seven-plus seasons with the Royals. He held a pregame press conference but then had no idea how to find his way from the interview room to the visitor’s dugout. He never spent much time on the visitor’s side of this stadium until tonight …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, LaRoche SS, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Royals – Aviles 2B, Cabrera CF, Gordon LF, Butler DH, Francoeur RF, Hosmer 1B, Betemit 3B, Treanor C, Escobar SS; O’Sullivan RHP.

0

Coco Crisp out of the lineup again, A’s say it’s precautionary

It’s a perfect afternoon for baseball at the Coliseum. I have no idea what kind of crowd will show up today, a rare non-holiday Monday afternoon game. But it’s a potentially big game for the A’s no matter how many people witness it. Taking a four-game series from Texas, the AL West favorites, would provide a healthy dose of momentum. And that could be helpful considering the surprising Cleveland Indians – with a majors-best 19-8 record – roll into town Tuesday for a three-game series.

–After a big game yesterday, Coco Crisp is back out of the lineup. A’s manager Bob Geren said the team is treating Crisp’s sore quadriceps carefully. “We’re just being cautious with him,” Geren said. “We’re monitoring how the game goes. He had high exertion yesterday with a lot of running, and we have to be cautious.” With a night game tomorrow following today’s day game, Geren said the thinking was that Crisp could get a bit of extra rest and be ready for Tuesday’s series opener with Cleveland. Crisp played down the situation. “I’m perfectly fine,” he told me. “It’s just a day off. I’m not quite 100 percent.” Geren added that Crisp was available off the bench if needed.

Does it concern you that Crisp is sitting again? Judging by how he played yesterday, the leg can’t be bothering him too much. If occasional rest now is going to help him be ready to play regularly for the long haul, it’s probably a smart idea.

–David DeJesus is playing center field in place of Crisp, with Conor Jackson getting another start in right. I asked Geren if he considered playing Ryan Sweeney in center since DeJesus has struggled a bit hitting. Geren said Sweeney would get some playing time soon with the A’s facing a string of right-handed starters coming up.

–Other injury updates: Andrew Bailey will pitch to hitters for the first time Wednesday, and Dallas Braden played catch this morning, but we didn’t get a report on him yet.

The lineups:
A’s – Ellis 2B, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, DeJesus CF, LaRoche 3B, Pennington SS; McCarthy RHP.

Rangers – Andrus SS, Moreland 1B, Young 2B, Beltre DH, Cruz RF, Murphy LF, Davis 3B, Teagarden C, Borbon CF; Holland LHP.

0

Reminiscing on Little League day; Dallas Braden to see doctor

It’s Little League day at the Coliseum, so there was a trail of kids making their way past the A’s dugout high-fiving Gio Gonzalez and Bobby Cramer this morning. … I have vivid memories of attending Little League day as an 8-year-old, wearing my uniform and making a lap around the field before the game. Rickey Henderson was playing left field. This was Rickey’s first stint in Oakland, when he wore No. 35. My earliest memories of going to A’s games are seeing Henderson in left field, Dwayne Murphy in center and Tony Armas in right. In Toronto recently, I got to interview Murphy, who’s now the Blue Jays hitting coach, about Rajai Davis. That was cool … Friends ask me if I get star-struck interviewing major league players. For me, it’s more the current crop of coaches around the majors that I get a thrill out of talking to. Because the guys coaching now were the ones I idolized as players when I was growing up. … Anyway, everybody’s gotta take the trip down memory lane now and then, right?

–Dallas Braden is not a happy camper right now regarding his stiff shoulder. He had very little to offer on the injury this morning. “Still sore, stiff, hurts. I’m not gonna throw.” Asked if he was holding out hope of making his next start, Braden just shook his head no. A’s manager Bob Geren said Braden would get checked by a team doctor later today, so maybe we’ll get more information after the game. Geren isn’t speculating yet on whether Braden will miss any time. And with Monday’s day off, the A’s can push Braden’s start back several days if they wish. But on first impression, it sure doesn’t seem like good news for Braden based on his demeanor. Might Tyson Ross or Bobby Cramer be in line for a stint in the rotation?

–Coco Crisp is not in the lineup. With no game Monday, the A’s want to try to give him two straight days off to rest his back. But Geren said Crisp is available if needed off the bench. David DeJesus is playing center field with Conor Jackson in right. Geren said he was considering giving Ryan Sweeney a start, but Sweeney’s hamstring tightened up as he legged out a triple last night. He’s also available if needed, but Geren didn’t want him starting.

–Somewhat lost in the shuffle with the A’s terrific starting pitching so far: The fact that Trevor Cahill has not been very sharp. He’s failed to complete five innings in two of his first three starts, so we’ll see how he fares this afternoon. Tigers starter Brad Penny is facing the A’s for just the third time in his career. He’s allowed 15 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings this season.

The lineups:

A’s – DeJesus CF, Barton 1B, Jackson RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Ellis 2B, Powell C, LaRoche 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Tigers – Rhymes 2B, Jackson CF, Boesch DH, Cabrera 1B, Raburn LF, Kelly 3B, Peralta SS, Avila C, Wells RF; Penny RHP.

0

Perfect weather for A’s-Twins series opener

I thought I was pretty wise to jam my suitcase full of warm clothing for this nine-game road trip to cold weather cities. It’s turned out to be a picturesque afternoon at Target Field in Minneapolis – sunshine and blue skies for the A’s-Twins series opener. We’ve got a 3:10 p.m. start (local time), and it will cool off once the sun goes down. But the temperature is supposed to reach the mid-70’s by Sunday (though a heavy chance of rain). Today is the Twins’ home opener, so this place will be packed …

–It’s the standard lineup for the A’s against right-hander Carl Pavano:

A’s: Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Anderson LHP.

Twins: Span CF, Mauer C, Morneau 1B, Young LF, Cuddyer RF, Thome DH, Valencia 3B, Hughes 2B, Casilla SS; Pavano RHP.

–Ryan Sweeney’s playing time has been minimal so far – he’s appeared in just three games off the bench and gotten just two at-bats. But manager Bob Geren says he plans to get Sweeney a start very soon for either Coco Crisp or Josh Willingham. Geren has said he looks forward to working all of his outfielders into the playing rotation to keep everyone fresh. When Crisp sits, I’d expect we’ll see David DeJesus shift to center and Sweeney get the start in right. At least that’s what Geren said he had planned during the spring. But Sweeney’s innings will be tough to come by barring an injury. With Conor Jackson playing well, he’ll be the first option to make a spot start in the outfield, particularly against lefties.

–The Japanese media was looking forward to covering the first game between Hideki Matsui and new Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who made the jump from Japan in the offseason. But Nishioka suffered a broken leg Thursday and was put on the DL, so that storyline is on hold. Nishioka had been hitting second, so with him out, Joe Mauer is in the No. 2 spot today. He’d been hitting third. …

–It’s crucial for the A’s that starter Brett Anderson comes out sharp today. The crowd will be jacked up, and Anderson can temper that by throwing strikes and keeping runners off base. In case you’re interested, nobody in Minnesota’s lineup has much history against Anderson or any numbers to suggest an advantage or disadvantage on either side …

0

Josh Outman sent down, 5th starter battle officially down to three

****Here’s the lowdown on the A’s news of the morning …

Left-hander Josh Outman, who appeared a top candidate to be the fifth starter when spring training started, was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento along with right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, who also merited consideration for the spot early on.

This news doesn’t surprise considering how Outman has struggled to this point. The guy hadn’t pitched since June 2009 as he faced a long road back from “Tommy John” surgery. Still, Outman entered the spring healthy, and the A’s brass talked highly of his chances. But Outman has been frank that it might take a while for him to find his form.

“I had a feeling it was going to be like this,” Outman said this morning. “I haven’t competed as well as the other guys competing for the fifth starter spot.” A’s manager Bob Geren said Outman just needs innings at Triple-A to continue shaking rust off. “He’s been improving, he just needs to keep on that track to be ready to pitch at this level. I told him I’ve been through a lot of things in this game, but I’ve never missed 18 months.”

This leaves Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer fighting to be the fifth starter. As things are shaping up, McCarthy is emerging as the favorite, especially if he pitches well in today’s start against the Giants. Geren said that all three pitchers have a chance to make the roster “in one capacity or another.” That means any of the three could make the team as a long reliever, even Ross, who the A’s have said they’d like to keep as a starter.

–Split-squad action today:

A’s vs. Diamondbacks at home:
Crisp CF; Suzuki C; Willingham LF; Matsui DH; Kouzmanoff 3B; Jackson 1B; Sogard SS; Taylor RF; Timmons 2B; Braden LHP.

A’s at Giants:
Pennington SS; Ellis 2B; Barton 1B; DeJesus RF; Carter LF; Sweeney DH; LaRoche 3B; Donaldson C; Carson CF; McCarthy RHP.

–Ryan Sweeney had not been cleared to play two days in a row yet on his surgically repaired right knee, but Geren said he’d pinch-run for Sweeney if he gets on base in his third or fourth at-bat. And he’s not playing defense, so it’s a light day.

–Joey Devine (right biceps) said he had no lingering effects from a 35-pitch bullpen session Saturday. He could face minor league hitters in a day or two …

0

Crisp expects to return Sunday; Sweeney goes deep

Here’s your afternoon A’s update since I didn’t post anything baseball-related this morning:

–Coco Crisp says his left hamstring injury isn’t serious, and he thinks he’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow. Last season he missed time with an injury to his right hamstring, and he said he tried to play through that when he shouldn’t have. “I’m just trying to stay on top of it.” The left hamstring tightened on him last night as he swung during his second at-bat.

Ryan Sweeney started in center field today and hit leadoff in Crisp’s place. A’s manager Bob Geren said this morning that he’s seen more power from Sweeney in batting practice. Then Sweeney drilled a two-run homer to left-center in the third inning off the White Sox’s Jake Peavy — that’s opposite-field pop that Sweeney doesn’t display all that often. …

Craig Breslow is throwing in a minor league intrasquad game this afternoon, and he’ll do fielding drills afterward to test his sore hamstring. Breslow’s arm strength is fine but his mobility is keeping him out of Cactus League action to this point …