Escape from New York

A year ago, the A’s opened the All-Star break by losing four straight in Minnesota. That was the continuation of a nine-game skid that set the table for a 32-42 second half.

Anybody else sensing deja vu following a three-game whipping at the hands of the Yankees this weekend? This one extended the A’s losing streak to five games, and now that they head to Tampa Bay — one of baseball’s best home teams — I can see this thing getting out of control.

Work committments limited me to seeing only a bit of Friday and a tad bit of today’s contests. But this is one of those series where the box scores speak volumes. The A’s, as their roster is constructed, simply can’t hit, at least not consistently. Ryan Sweeney was the only guy to collect an RBI (he had four) all weekend. Ridiculous.

Does anybody want to watch this lineup anymore? I mean, Jack Cust (1-for-9, eight strikeouts) is the lefty version of Richie Sexson. Donnie Murphy is one of the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. Jack Hannahan is just not very good. I think the state of the A’s offense was best summed up last Sunday, when Rob Bowen (now at .196) was summoned to pinch-hit against Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning.

And let’s understand something. This is not a hitting coach problem. This is a personnel problem. You can see why general manager Billy Beane is acting as if he’s conceding the division to the Angels.

Ugly. Real ugly.



Crystal Ball

Now, was that so bad?

I’ve been a bit puzzled about the outrage regarding Billy Crystal’s appearance for the Yankees in a spring training game. A lot of what I’ve heard from fans on the radio and read throughout the country has to do with it making a mockery of the game.

What?! Mockery of the game? Gimme a break. The real mockery is that folks have to pay to see exhibition games at all. They aren’t real games, they aren’t treated like real games, and the majority of players you’ll see for 162 games in the regular season don’t approach them like real games.

At least the Billy Crystal signing gave an otherwise dull exhibition some zing. It gave the fans some additional entertainment. What’s wrong with that? And what better guy than Crystal, who has always tried to impart the magic that baseball carries in everything he does.

Only thing I’d like to see in the future is to have each team raffle off, say, one or two, one-day, no-money contracts so an ordinary member of the public can have his one at-bat in the sun.

Think of the goodwill that could generate. 



The Santana winners

Wanted to wait to blog on the Johan Santana trade into I talked to an  acquaintance of mine in the baseball industry. Three guesses as to what his initial assessment of the deal was?

1) Santana will dominate even more than he normally does, because National League hitters are unfamiliar with him, and Santana already owns hitters in the American League who have faced him. 2) Santana’s upside will be 25 wins. His downside will be 22 wins. 3) The Mets made this deal to win a World Series this year.

Well, duh. Isn’t that we’re all saying?

Then, this person told me something I wasn’t prepared to hear. He said the Twins may not have been fleeced as bad as you think. Seems that one of the pitchers Minnesota received in the deal is considered a can’t-miss stud. I am always skeptical when I hear such a thing, and the fact that Deolis Guerra is only 18 and hasn’t been above Single-A only adds to it. But I trust this person’s evaluation of talent, and he says that the Twins won’t be crying in a few years.

As for now, plenty of Minnesota fans will be angry, and perhaps they should be. But not because bringing back Santana would’ve enabled the Twins to contend. Minnesota was in a situation similar to the A’s in that they probably would’ve entered the campaign as the third- or fourth-best team in the division.

Instead, the reason for unhappiness among the Twins faithful should have to do with what the Twins could’ve had and what they wound up getting. As Buster Olney wrote on ESPN.com, this was probably the fourth-best deal they could’ve swung. In the end, they were enticed with offers for Yankees pitchers Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes and outfielder Melky Cabrera; Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and wound up with none of them. They’ll spend years wondering if they should’ve pulled the trigger on this deal back in the winter meetings.

Have some sympathy for new Twins general manager Mike Smith, however. It wouldn’t be easy for a veteran GM to navigate trade waters that include the Yankees and Red Sox potentially bidding against each other. For a rookie to be asked such a thing is not fair.

Then again, baseball is a lot like life, and nobody said life is fair.

Incidentally, the Mets will find a way to sign Santana to an extension. If they don’t, their GM Omar Minaya would have to go into hiding.


The Winter Meetings

Arrived here at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville on Monday morning, and the joke was already making the rounds. Baseball’s Winter Meetings should be re-named the Santana Meetings, at least this year.

Make sense. A paltable buzz exists as baseball’s collective nation waits to see where Minnesota Twins two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana lands. According to multiple reports, the sweepstakes will come down to the Red Sox and Yankees, with each team upping its ante in recent days. The Yanks reportedly have given the Twins 24 hours to accept an offer that reportedly includes top-notch pitching prospects Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy and center fielder Melky Cabrera.

The Twins’ decision regarding Santana figures to have a direct impact on the A’s, because the loser of the Santana Sweepstakes likely will shift its focus to Dan Haren. If Haren becomes the No. 1 attraction, which he will be once Santana is traded, the A’s can hold out for an even better offer.

It’s early, but it shouldn’t be long before the news starts to trickle in. Stay tuned.