Billy Beane has continued to make roster moves since I last posted here. Some seem to be improvements for the team. Others are downright puzzling.
Sheets Signs One-Year Deal: Undoubtedly, the biggest move is the signng of free agent Ben Sheets to a one-year $10-million deal plus incentives, to anchor the starting rotation for 2010.
That makes it the largest 1-year contract the A’s have given to a free agent from outside the organization.
The 31-year old hurler didn’t pitch at all in 2009 because he underwent flexor tendon surgery in his right elbow a year ago. In his 8 years in the majors, he achieved an 86-83 record with a 3.72 ERA, and had double digit wins in 7 of the last 8 seasons. In 2008 he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts.
On January 19th he threw a pitching session at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and impressed scouts from several organizations, including Oakland, reportedly hitting the low-90’s with his fastball. If he is healthy he’ll most likely be the #1 starter and will be an invaluable veteran presence for the younger guys in the rotation.
2010 Pitching Rotation: The rotation will most probably line up as follows: Sheets, Duchscherer, Anderson, Braden and Cahill, not necessarily in that order. Spring training will shake this out when we see how Sheets, Duke and Braden do, coming of long stints on the DL and surgeries last year. We can’t forget about Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazarro, and Josh Outman who could pitch their way into the rotation, especially if one or two of the guys above don’t fare so well in Arizona. The presence of Sheets will go a long way toward reducing the pressure on the young arms that was so evident in 2009.
Wuertz Returns to the A’s Bullpen. The A’s rewarded Michael Wuertz for his outstanding work in the bullpen last year with a 2-year, $5.25 million contract.
The team also has a $3.5M option for 2012, with a $250K buyout if the option is not exercised. He is expected to earn $2.2M in 2010 and $2.8M in 2011. Wuertz was the A’s last arbitration-elligible player to sign. His record in 2009 (6-1, 2.63 ERA, 74 appearances, and league-leading 102 strikeouts) was so good that the A’s violated their rule to tender only 1-year deals for arbitration-elligible players.
Monday, Feb 1st, Was a Busy Day. The A’s signed free-agent outfielder Gabe Gross to a 1-year contract. Gross hit .227 with 6 homers and 36 RBI’s in 282 at-bats last season for the Tampa Bay Rays.
He can play all 3 outfield positions, bats left, and has always been a solid defender. “We just felt like he was a good fit for th team, whether it’s spotting some of our guys agains tough righties or filling at time since he can play both corner outfield positions. We’ve always liked the way he plays,” said Assistant GM David Forst. His signing spelled the end of the speculation that Johnny Damon might resign with the A’s.
Also, last Monday, the A’s completed a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, obtaining infielder Adam Rosales and outfielder Willy Taveras for infielder Aaron Miles. It was made evident that the key player in the deal for the A’s was Rosales, as they immediately designated Taveras for assignment.
Rosales completes the infield picture for the 2010 A’s, as he can play all 4 infield positions, and will be used as a utility infielder and to spell Cliff Pennington at shortstop. If any of the other infielders go down with injuries, he could get significant playing time. “Our scouts have seen a lot of him over the past few years, and every single one of them just loves the way he plays the game and really likes his versatility,” said Asst. GM David Forst, who compared his energy to that of Eric Byrnes.
The A’s have until Feb. 11th to trade or release Taveras or they will be on the hook for $1.7M of his $2.3M salary for 2010. The A’s are not in need of another outfielder, especially after the signing of Gross, so they will be looking to move him in the next week. If they can’t and he clears waivers, he could go to the minors, most likely the Sacramento River Cats.
Finally, the A’s also designated for assignment infielder Gregorio Petit, and pitcher Dana Eveland (long overdue IMHO)
Hot off the wire, Eveland was traded today (Saturday 2/6) to Toronto for cash and a player to be named later, just 5 days after he was designated for assignment.
They also claimed Twins’ minor-league infielder off waivers. Tolleson, according to Forst, “…is another guy our scouts have liked since seeing him play in the Arizona Fall League in 2008. He can play a number of positions and helps add to the depth.” Both he and Rosales have options left, giving the A’s lots of flexibility, esepcially of one or two of the regular infielders go down with injury (Chavez?).
After the A’s acquired Aaron Miles, I became very curious about his role on the team as we didn’t hear his name mentioned at all in plans for the upcoming season. Apparently, Miles know he might be used as trade bait when he was acquired by the A’s. An Antioch native, he admitted, “It would have been nice to stay local and play for the hometown team. But in the end, you gotta go with what’s best for your career, and I think that’s definitely in Cincinnati.”
Spring Training. The A’s will have a lot of depth when they arrive at spring training later this month. Is Billy Beane happy with who they have now? Not so fast. Forst said that the swarm of roster moves last Monday doesn’t necessarily mean the club is done wheeling and dealing.
Miscellanea. OC Signs: Former A’s Shortstop, Orlando Cabrera signed a $3M deal with the Cincinnati Reds, which includes a $3M option for 2011 with a $1M buyout of the club doesn’t want to sign him for the additonal year.
A Higher Calling: A’s Minor-League outfielder Grant Desme, the MVP of the 2009 Arizona Fall League, got a call, but it wasn’t from the A’s brass.
He resigned from professional baseball in late January to embark on the 10-year path to becoming a priest, starting with studies at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County beginning next August. “It’s like I’m re-entering the Minor Leagues,” he said.
Sacramento River Cats Owner Dies: Arthur Lynn Savage, the man who changed evenings in Sacramento and gave the River-City baseball fans a home team to brag about, passed away at his East Sacramento home on Nov. 22, 2009. He was 58.
The River Cats organization is one of the nation’s most successful minor league franchises. During the last 10 years, the River Cats broke attendance records every year, outdistancing 200 other minor league teams in the country.
Mr. Savage was named the Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year in 2000 and the franchise was honored with the Bob Freitas Award for Excellence in Minor League Baseball for the 2004 season. He will be sorely missed by all who knew or played for him.
That’s all for now. I’ll be at spring training with the A’s from March 17th to the 25th. It should be lots of fun watching all that talent contend for the right to break camp with the A’s.
Wouldn’t you know it? A couple of days after my last post, the A’s made another move! In a deal with their new BFF trading partner, the San Diego Padres, the A’s acquired third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and sent them Aaron Cunningham and Scott Hairston,
whom the A’s obtained from the Padres last July. The A’s also received minor-league second baseman Eric Sogard in this deal.
It appears, according to Rick Hurd of the Oakland Tribune, that Kouz will get the bulk of playing time at 3rd, and Eric Chavez will move over to 1st base. Chavvy is recovering from his second back surgery in as many years. Rick reports that Assistant GM, David Forst, said that Eric “has been throwing and taking grounders in Arizona,” and he “feels great.” We’ll see how he does in spring training when he has to play in game situations.
Kouz seems a good solution to the A’s 3rd base dilemma. He had a great year in 2009 with the Padres, hitting .255 with 18 home runs and a career-high 88 RBI’s. He posted a .990 fielding percentage at the hot corner, committing just 3 errors, a National League record.
Kevin and Eric will have some competition at 3rd from Jake Fox who was part of the deal that brough Kevin Miles over from the Cubs for Jeff Gray et al. There is some question about Fox’s defensive skills, but he had 11 homers and 44 RBI’s in 82 games with the Cubs last season.
Scott Hairston, on hearing the trade rumors, said, “I hope I’m coming there for sure. If this is true, it’s a dream come true…unbelievable!”
Scott will play alongside his brother Jerry Hairston Jr. when he reports for Spring Training with the Padres in Phoenix (Peoria, actually).
I am really looking forward to the upcoming season. Join me here for the ride.
First of all, this is a long post for which I apologize, but I think you’ll see why when you read it.
Sunday’s game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium was truly surreal. I discovered the snafu when I took my ticket out of my fanny pack and looked at it. I was supposed to be sitting with my friends from Sacramento in Section F, Row 2, Seat 4, which is in the shade. I have very fair skin and freckles and I definitely do not do sun. But my ticket it said I was to sit in Lower Box 1, row 2, seat 4, which would not get shade until sometime this evening when the stadium would be empty.
I showed my ticket to an usher who gave me a very strange look and asked, “Are you an usherette, or do you work for a team?” I replied, ‘No, this is the ticket that was sent to me. I’m supposed to be in Section F.” He smiled and pointed down to the rows right behind home plate. “Well, when you get down there, take a look at the name badges of the guys sitting around you. Some of them are former baseball players.” Cool, I thought, this could be interesting.
When I got down to my seat, my main thought was that I wasn’t going to last long in the Arizona sun. Should I go to the box office and ask for a shade seat? I had a long-sleeved sun shirt on and a wide-brimmed hat in my bag so I decided to stick it out in row 2 for the time being and see what happened. I sat down and took in the situation.
The first five rows of this section were empty except for me. This didn’t surprise me as it was about an hour before game time. It was getting warm and I was thirsty so I left my bag under my seat and went off in search of a Pyramid Hefeweizen. Beer in hand I returned to my seat, my bag was still there, but still no people in the first five rows.
The first guy to join me was Craig Colbert who played and coached for the Giants. He is now the Advance Scout for the Phillies. He and I chatted about baseball and scouting and I told him about my book. Others straggled in over the next half hour, including Lee McPhail IV, Director of Professional Scouting for the Baltimore Orioles who was there with one of his scouts. Next came a couple of other guys whose nametags I couldn’t see, and a scout from the Colorado Rockies, the team the A’s were playing that day. I talked to quite a few of them and apologized for the ticket mix-up. I guess I was feeling really self-conscious around all this maleness. But they were all very polite and welcomed me.
To my right a couple of seats, another guy sat down and looked over at me. I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. He said his name was Richard Schlenker, a scout for the Angels, who lives in Walnut Creek, CA, near where I live. I was becoming more at ease around all this testosterone (the beer helped) so I told him about my book and gave him my card. He wanted to know more about the novel and said he’d look for it.
Shortly before game time, guys began trickling into the seats in the first row. Let me step back a second and paint a picture of this scene. Four feet in front of me was the net that would protect us from foul balls. Twenty feet beyond that was home plate. I could hear everything that was said on the field. Several of the players and media guys waved or nodded at the guys in the row in front of me.
My curiosity finally got the better of my shyness and I tapped the shoulder of a tall guy with a broad-brimmed hat seated in the front row one seat to left, and asked him who he scouted for. “The Oakland A’s,” he replied and introduced himself as Craig Weismann. Two seats to his right a young man with dark hair sat down. I tapped his shoulder and asked the same question, to which he replied, “I’m not a scout, I’m the Assistant GM of the A’s.” “David Forst,” I managed to blurt, and he nodded. I had to pinch myself to convince myself this was really happening.
To top that, while I was talking to one of the other scouts another guy sat down between Craig Weismann and David Forst. I didn’t see his face because he was facing forward wearing a brimmed hat. Only when he got up to speak to someone at the other end of the row, did I recognize him as Billy Beane, the A’s General Manager. And I thought Craig Colbert had made my day!
During the game, the ambience in the first five rows was so different from the rest of the stands. No beers were in the cup holders except for mine, just sodas and bottled water. While action was happening on the field, our section was deathly quiet; these guys were working and they were all business. And as the pitcher stepped on the rubber and came set, as if choreographed by Michael Smuin, each of the scouts in perfect unison raised a hand gripping a Stalker Sport speed gun and aimed it at the pitcher. As the latter started his delivery, the scouts pulled their triggers. Within a fraction of a second the velocity of the pitch showed up on the two inch screen at the back of the speed gun. Then each scout lowered his weapon to scribble something in the open notebook sitting on his lap. When each subsequent pitch was thrown, the dance was reprised.
Between innings everything changed. Conversation erupted and the guys talked about everything but baseball. I heard a discussion of the blues and where to hear it in Phoenix. Forst and Weismann talked about playing basketball. Apparently, David started a team at Spring Training with a couple of guys from the front office, a couple of sports writers, and others. They play at the Giants facility in Scottsdale. Who they play is anyone’s guess, probably front office guys from the Giants or other MLB teams. Others behind me talked about which Hollywood star could play a certain baseball player if they ever made a movie about the latter. Then their conversation wandered off to things about Hollywood in general. I sat there soaking it all in and taking notes.
On the field the A’s played baseball against the Colorado Rockies. A’s pitcher Sean Gallagher struggled a bit in the first inning and gave up a run, but he got a four-run lead to work with in the bottom of the first, courtesy of Rockies pitcher Greg Smith, one of the players the A’s had traded for Matt Holliday in the offseason. The Rockies scored runs in the third and fourth innings to take the lead at 6-5. Not again, I thought. We had already lost the other two games I had seen, but no further damage was done by either team until the ninth inning.
After an uneventful top of the ninth, I figured I’d better move up to the seat I had originally signed up for and reconnoiter with my friends. I stood up and bid the guys good bye and thanked them for a very colorful afternoon. They wished good luck with the book and I left, still reeling from the amazing experience.
In the bottom of the ninth, A’s outfielder Chris Denorfia stroked walk-off home run with a runner on board to win the game with a final score of 7-6, breaking the A’s 11-game losing streak. What could be better than that? Well, maybe sitting with the A’s front office and a bunch of major league scouts for eight and a half innings. Just maybe.