The A’s Great Start: I have held my breath and refrained from doing a blog post, afraid I would jinx the A’s, who are off to their best start in many years. Alas, last night the Mariners, whom they had beaten 4 times this year already, found their bats and shutout the A’s 3-0.
The 0-0 tie was broken by a 3-run homer by Milton Bradley in the bottom of the 8th off Brad Ziegler, who got tagged with the loss.
But let’s put this in perspective. The A’s are now 6-3 on the season. That means they are on pace to win 108 games. Wishful thinking, I know. It probably won’t happen, but losing last night is not the end of the world.
One bright spot last night was a phenominal play by Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of 7th inning. Ziegler uncorked a wild pitch far off the 1st base side of the plate, sure to slam into the backstop. With Chone Figgins on 2nd base, Kurt lunged to his left, somehow stabbed the ball out of the air, spun around and fired a rifle shot to 3rd, right on the bag.
Kevin Kouzmanoff was waiting for it and tagged the speedy Figgins out. Bob Geren said, “I don’t think there’s another catcher who makes that play. That was flat-out amazing.” .
It was the second spectacular play Kurt has made against Seattle this year. 5 days earlier in Oakland, he tracked a foul flyball to the steps of the visiting dugout and caught it as he slid down the dugout steps. “He continues to do amazing things athletically, acrobatically,” said Geren. “He’s revolutionizing that position. He’s athletic as a catcher can get. It’s really fun to watch.” The play made ESPN’s 10-best plays of the day highlight reel last night, coming in at #2! You’ll probably get to see a replay tonight during the rubber game of the series with Seattle.
So the A’s are off to a great start. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the campaign. It is certainly a better first week of the season than we’ve seen in a long time.
Next Article: Meeting Bob Feller
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.