Organizational Meeting: Oakland A's
Lots of news today, including the Billy Wagner deal and Ozzie Guillen managerial hiring. Tomorrow is going to have to be a notes column, with all those things inserted. But today, I was lucky enough for the guys over at Elephants in Oakland to answer a few questions. And oh yeah, I did the same. Enjoy...
1) Billy Beane is highly touted across the Internet as a great GM, but contracts like Terrence Long, Jermaine Dye, and even Ramon Hernandez really have hurt this team. I mean, why extend Scott Hatteberg's contract, and why couldn't he give Jason Giambi a stupid no-trade clause? Do you agree that Beane lets his ego into his decisions? Isn't it ironic the team that preaches OBP finished 10th in their statistic, only .04 ahead of the Baltimore Orioles?
Elephants in Oakland- It's true that Billy Beane seems to fall into the same trap as most GM's when it comes to finalizing a multi-year contract with a player. And let's make that clear, we're talking position players. With pitchers, Billy Beane is reaping huge benefits in the long term deals completed involving the Big Three - Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito. But let's also take the distinction a bit further, Billy has also not tied himself up into several other bad long term contracts; Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen and Ray Durham all left via free agency. All have been hurt or not played up to expected levels since leaving the A's. Crystal ball stuff? No. But the A's saved themselves about $100 million over the market value on top of what those players received in the free agency market.
The Scott Hatteberg contract was thought by most to be a sign and deal contract. After all, what is to become of Erubiel Durazo? What about Minor League Player of the Year Graham Koonce, who looks to be a late blooming version of Jeff Bagwell (with a lower batting average)? Koonce's line so far - .654/.700/1.115. Don't look now, the A's have Don Johnson tearing up the Arizona Fall League (.372./.481/.628 and a ton of RBI).
Billy Beane has often been heard to mutter that is he ever pays more than $1 million for a first baseman he deserves to be fired. $2.5 million for Hatteberg a year for two years must mean Beane is willing to forgo his severance pay and benefits, too.
The Jermaine Dye deal is an albatross. He was hurt and he's not that bad, nobody in MLB was as bad as Dye last year.
Terrence Long just seems to be against all traditional logic. His numbers were supposed to steadily improve, instead they have dropped off a cliff and they were then driven to another cliff where they were shot, stuffed into a bag and then pushed off the cliff into a river. Which headed for another cliff.
Ramon Hernandez deal is well worth every penny. He is not a catcher for his bat, he is a catcher because of the way he handles the pitching staff and the home plate umpires. This is baseball, not fantasy league baseball, after all. Hernandez had a down year statistically in 2002 as he had some residual effects from a wrist injury suffered in the 2001 playoffs. His 2003 season was a very good year. Let's break it down a little differently;
Hernandez caught in more than 80% of the A's games, getting about 4 at-bats a game as a hitter, getting on base at a .331 clip. He was behind the plate for about 5,000 of the 6,000 plate appearances A's opponents had this season, allowing a .314 OBP. The A's were arguably the best pitching staff in MLB top to bottom. Leveraging Hernandez the hitter to Hernandez the catcher at $1.8 million a year, he looks to have earned his pay. Not to mention being 1250 times more valuable than the league average catcher.
Hernandez is also being worked to death and he'll be lucky to walk to the bathroom with his original knees by age 45. His pay is justified.
Giambi's contract is ridiculous and if were written on anything other than NY Yankees stationary it might be labeled one of the worst in professional sports. There is wide misconception that the A's did not offer Giambi a favorable deal and the specifics of that deal were made know by a Bay Area sports writer by the name of Glenn Dickey. Later the confirmations came out, but well after Giambi had already had his press conference. You have to remember, the A's are not a team to waste time or money with media relations unless they have to. They have too many other things to do. Billy Beane is no fan of the media and time talking to the press is time he and Paul could be scouring numbers and going over player reports. Take a look at the A's organization and one word comes to mind in regards to staff: thin.
Glenn Dickey is not a sports reporter. He is a writer who happens to write about sports. Dickey doesn't swallow anything fed to him by teams as the Associated Press and local beat writers too often do. The negotiations with Giambi went on for months and there was a long period during the 2002 season when the silent partner of the A's, Ken Hoffman was looking to sell. Billy Beane has a clause in his contract that he can get out if ownership changes hands, so this was a dicey few months.
This put anything Billy Beane was doing as a GM into a wringer as they really didn't know what numbers they could deal with until Hoffman backed down from the ledge. By then the season was over and Giambi's agent was using his public relations department to start feeding the media reports on how badly the A's were treating Giambi. Which is ridiculous, because the A's built their entire advertising campaign around Giambi. They pushed hard for his MVP in 2001 and again in 2002.
This calls into question the motives of Giambi. People forget sometimes why he wore 16 with the A's and 25 with the Yankees. His father, John Giambi, raised both Jason and the Giambi who would not slide and huge Mickey Mantle fans. In a media guide way back in 1997 Jason Giambi lists as his career goal/dream to play for the New York Yankees. Was there ever a doubt he was going to wear pinstripes? Nope.
In fact, Billy Beane effectively handcuffed Brian Cashman and the Yankees in the negotiations. They drove the price up so high and included so many contingencies and clauses, Giambi is stuck in New York until his early late 30's. The A's made a good offer in salary on the suggested numbers by Giambi and his agent. When they matched the salary numbers, Giambi and his agent wanted a limited no trade clause. The A's complied. Then Giambi's camp wanted a no trade clause.
The big question here is: why?
Two years into the deal and Giambi would have been a 10/5 guy anyway, giving Giambi the right to refuse any trade to any team for any reason. So what would be the point of an 'unlimited' trade clause? There's no value there as the A's would not have seen a need to trade him, anyway - remember the media campaigns. So why then the no trade clause issue? Because it was the last straw. Billy Beane had other things to deal with and playing Giambi's agent for a chump and screwing the Yankees at the same time was eating into Beane's schedule. By most accounts, the A's countered at least three different deal breakers that were publicly leaked.
So Giambi, eventually, could point the finger at Oakland and keep his reputation as a nice guy and that he was willing to settle for less money. Please. When in fact, he and his agent felt they were using the A's to get a better deal out of the Yankees. Which is stupid. You just ask George Steinbrenner for the checkbook and he hands it over, anyway. Giambi was always going to New York and it had to be in 2001 because the 2002 free agent market crash that was projected would have killed the big payday.
The Yankees have, essentially, a very good defensive first baseman in Nick Johnson they may have to trade because they'll have too many first basemen and DH's (Johnson to Seattle for Ichiro?). Bernie Williams can't throw and there is steam picking up on the rumor that Alfonso Soriano will move to the outfield with the aging Williams moving to DH. Giambi is average at first, even when healthy and that seems like it won't happen, ever. He has a nagging hamstring injury that has bothered him since his time with the A's and his knee is at the top of a long laundry list. How do you get that hurt playing first base and DH'inng?
As far as the Billy Beane ego trip everyone else has been taking, it's a falsehood. Beane is actually a very grounded person who doesn't fit the mold of the traditional crusty baseball GM. Because of his bold moves and the press he gets because of those moves he has been painted as an egomaniac.
Michael Lewis' book...if Michael Lewis asked to write a book about your work place, wouldn't you defer? This is the guy who wrote Liar's Poker for McGwire's sake. Plus, he's married to Tabitha Soren! Beane was a fan of Lewis' and Lewis lives in the Bay Area, which helped the matter along. It was only supposed to be a short series of articles for a magazine, but the material was too rich. How many books are written on the Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees each year? How many of them actually mean anything? Zero, because they are all worship pieces and ridiculous picture books with fancy typeset.
People seem to think the focus of Moneyball is Beane. He is not. He is an example. The problem is that if 15% of America is illiterate half of the remaining 85% do not know how to read. Moneyball struck nerves because the GM's were wearing their Emperor's entire wardrobes. Any educated baseball fan knew about the SABR and Jamesian theories. Most just did not know how gullible and how very clueless most baseball front offices are. Bud Selig was right (has that every been written?). MLB needs to eliminate about a third of its teams. But not because they don't make enough money; just to put them out of their misery.
Wait 'Til Next Year- Billy Beane is a fantastic GM, but I'm hesitant to call him the best in the business. Let's give that label to Scheurholtz (for now), and wait on Beane.
The Long and Hernandez extensions were good in theory. The idea of tying a player up through his arbitration seasons is good in theory: oftentimes you can have a very good player for a longtime (see Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Tejada). But sometimes, especially in the case of Terrence Long, it backfires. Now, you're on the hook for $3M a year to a player not worthy of a Major League contract. Beane has to be careful when making these arbitration extensions, because Long's contract is ugly.
Scott Hatteberg, on the other hand, was a very stupid move. With Graham Koonce having the season of his life, Dan Johnson not far behind, why make this move? Koonce is ready, and has legit 40HR, 100BB potential. Instead, he'll have to play around Hatteberg, since he got his name published in a Lewis book.
If the story is true that 6 years, $91M with a no-trade clause could have locked up Giambi, it should have been done. No ifs, no ands, not buts.
2) The A's lost two big advocates of their philosophy this off-season when Rick Peterson and Paul DePodesta left the team. Will this effect Billy Beane, or will the A's beliefs live on?
EiO- Well, Paul DePodesta isn't going anywhere, yet (Dodgers, if anywhere). And Peterson had probably done as much as he could with the A's. There is reason to believe the A's can continue to take the schema of preparation Peterson has created and continue. Don't forget, the A's allowed Peterson to go and he left on better than great terms. There's no reason to think Peterson wouldn't be open to suggestions or advice to the new pitching brain trust (Curt Young). They'll be spending time together in Alabama this winter, anyway.
WTNY- I believe this will really hurt Beane. One of the points I took away from Moneyball was how much DePodesta really helps this team, especially on draft day. Oftentimes in the book, they refer to DePodesta's computer, and the analysis he has done for the team. If he leaves, that will be gone, and Billy Beane will have to discover which button to click with on the mouse.
Rick Peterson will hurt, but not as bad. His principles have been established, and they can probably find someone to continue with that. Look for Beane to go after someone like Mike Marshall, who would really help the club.
3) With Rich Harden a mainstay in the rotation, the A's promise to have four great pitchers next season. Would you hold onto Ted Lilly, or try to deal him for a J.D. Drew type? Is PCL pitcher of the year Justin Duchscherer a good enough pitcher to succeed in the Majors?
EiO- We're not sold on Harden or the decision to bring Harden along this soon. Especially the decision to bring Haden in for a relief appearance in the ALDS when a homerun could win the game and decidedly turn the series. 97 mph fastballs have a tendency to supply their own velocity when redirected.
Ted Lilly? Which Ted Lilly? If the A's could get a lot for Lilly in trade, they should go for it. Lilly is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, inside a fortune cookie crushed inside a spoiled brat's clenched fist. Lilly could be had for 3 years at a $2-3 million a year. That's rather pricey for a fourth starter considering Justin Duchscherer and Joe Blanton are on the verge of making the jump.
Duchscherer has pitched more innings than he ever has this year and he's currently pitching for TEAM USA. He may need a few months off to recover from his off-season. Duchscherer is ready, no question. But his body might collapse by Spring Training. If not Duchscherer, don't fret, Billy Beane will have someone else ready to step in and don't be surprised if it comes from an unusual source (Keith Foulke, anyone?)
The A's are loaded in their minor league system with right-handed arms. Casting Lilly off for a prospect with a hefty bat wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities. Not Jury Duty D. Drew has more issues with his knees than Bud Selig has with the Hair Club for Men.
WTNY- Lilly should be gone. I bet a lot on him in 2003, and he was way too inconsistent. For as good as the A's rotation will be next season, it's much better to spend 300K on Duchscherer than $3M on Lilly. This team needs to worry about their offense and their bullpen, so Lilly is off the hook.
Duchscerer proved himself this season, and in the spacious A's ballpark, he'll benefit a lot. He doesn't hurt himself by walking people, and should be a solid Major League pitcher. Is a 4.50ERA good enough for the 5th starter of a fantastic A's rotation? That's around what Duchscherer might have, and I really compare him to Jae Seo of the Mets.
4) One of the main reasons the team isn't pursuing Miguel Tejada is their top prospect, Bobby Crosby, is ready. What do you expect from Crosby this season? Would the team be smart to lock-up Eric Chavez or save the money to keep the great pitchers in Oakland?
EiO- Bobby Crosby might seem ready, but his footwork was horrible last year in the few appearances he made and the A's called him up it seems, just to cool him off. It was most likely just jitters, but it wasn't pretty. He looked like he was going to trip over his own feet a few times and he didn't do a whole lot at the plate. There are questions about his range and he could eventually swap with Mark Ellis. Ellis is an exceptional fielder and played short in college. Ellis should have a gold glove for his work this year, but the award is biased toward hitting stats.
If Crosby can swing .280/.340./.460 most everyone will be happy. His defense will be the key. The A's pitchers get a lot of groundballs (exception Zito and Lilly's off days). The giant egg that Tejada laid in April actually makes the transition easier to swallow. If the free agent market turns soft, Tejada may return for a single season, but it's in that 10-15% chance of happening area.
The A's should consider platooning Eric Chavez with a scarecrow against left-handers. Chavez is the poster boy for wasted talent. There are whisperings of a self-confidence problem and social anxiety disorder. This is a guy with a ton of talent and a marshmallow psyche. He may not be worth locking up in a long-term deal as he may take several years to realize his own personal potential and to become a complete player. Not in the five-tool sense. Chavez gives at-bats away and often looks lost at the plate. Against left-handers he often looks like he is hoping to work a walk rather than have to swing the bat. Compare that to ten-day periods when he launches balls above the plexi-glass 480 feet away in the bleachers at the Network Associates Coliseum and consistently gets on base as if his dog was waiting at first base for him.
WTNY- Crosby is more than ready..he's ready for a Rookie of the Year season. I think we can expect 30 doubles, 20 home runs, and a .280/.340/.450 line.
I wouldn't lock-up Chavez yet, because his head is way too far up his ass. To have as much talent as he has, and to hit lefties at such a despicable pace is pathetic. Let him go somewhere else if he wants to, and save the money for that rotation. Plus, I'm sure the great selection of Mark Teahen will pay off at some point (insert sarcasm).
5) Another of the A's many beliefs is you can find a closer with ease. Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch, and Keith Foulke. Who is the 5th name on that list? Is Moneyball reliever Chad Bradford capable of holding the job?
EiO- Chad Bradford was the best pitcher in baseball in 2003 at not allowing inherited runners to score. He is much more valuable as a set-up man than a closer. The A's could turn to Chad Harville as a closer and as future trade bait. Jeremy Fikac was in the mix until his Arizona Fall League experience turned into possible months of rehab (shoulder). In reality, the A's might be the first team to go with the closer by committee and simply the last guy to be on the mound at the end of the game gets a save. As dumb stat if there ever was one.
Keith Foulke does want to stay in Oakland. For $6 million a year and if Ken Macha pulls his head out of his ass and uses the pen correctly, the A's could have as good a bullpen as a starting rotation.
WTNY- No, Chad Bradford shouldn't be closer. I like him in his current role, and I think the A's shouldn't put closer pressure on him. Instead, sign a cheap reliever, like Rod Beck, to a one-year deal. Or, use Tim Lilly to acquire one.
6) After Moneyball, five of the A's top six draft picks flunked out. Was Moneyball a bad thing for the franchise, and specifically the players yet to touch stardom. Won't the book be laughed at if players like Jeremy Brown and Mark Teahen never have success?
EiO- Two years and they already flunked out? Isn't that a little heavy-handed? How long does it usually take for a player to progress through a minor league system? How many top picks usually pan out? Moneyball did put a lot of unnecessary pressure on a few players. And Brown was out with an injury, so let's not jump off the bridge until we get to it. Most players take a few years to find themselves in the A's system. With the exception of A ball, the A's system had successful teams. We could go into theory and giving into the team concept and disregarding personal glory, etc. We won't. It was an odd year for the organization.
WTNY- The A's system took a hit this year, although Joe Blanton and Bobby Crosby aren't a bad one-two. Shane Komine blossomed as well, so he'll find himself in the top 10. Nick Swisher still has a lot of potential, but he probably wasn't ready for AA in 2003. Look for the A's to send him back there in 2004, and for him to follow the path of Gabe Gross. Swisher should be playing center for the A's in 2005, and justify Beane's selection. Blanton will replace Hudson in the rotation in 2005, and pitch very well. I'm not bullish on Brown, but he has until 2006 to get ready. Ramon Hernandez has two more seasons left on his contract, so Brown can take some time to redo AA, and to have a full season in AAA. I like Ben Fritz, and I can see him having a good 2004, if he plays in high-A. Note to Billy Beane: take it slow with these players. I don't like Teahen, and I don't think he'll ever reach the Majors.
7) The A's have already made a good claim this offseason, when they grabbed Marco Scutaro off waivers. It seems like there will be a Spring Training battle at second, where Mark Ellis will fight Scutaro, Esteban German, and Frank Menechino for the job. Who would you choose for the job, and who should lead off for the A's next season?
EiO- Expect Frank Menechino to be traded - he was seen in street clothes in the Yankees dugout during the playoffs. Esteban German is basically a singles hitter and long tried the A's patience. Scutaro has decent numbers, but they aren't enough in comparison to Ellis' defense. As far as a leadoff hitter, we're a long way from April. The A's outfield is about to be overhauled, and the Winter Meetings will be a lot of fun.
WTNY- Trade Ellis. He doesn't fit the A's philosophy, and there are players on the market who do. Read below to see what I do with the second base position, but I think it's a different philosophy. Scutaro was a very good claim, but I think he'll need to prove it again in 2004.
8) Create a step-by-step offseason to-do list for Billy Beane, along with a projected 2004 lineup.
EiO- FROM THE DESK OF THE BEST LOOKING GM IN BASEBALL A 2004 To Do List
1. Haven't panicked before, why start now?
1a. Hide Paul Depodesta's phone
1b. Hide Paul Depodesta's calendar
1c. Hide Paul Depodesta
2. Trade Terrence Long or take him for a very long drive and reunite him with his stats. Get anyone with a pulse to take his place. Don't over look AAA and sign a free agent like you did last year. Eric Byrnes was there the whole time and Chris Singleton was $1 million wasted on a fourth outfielder.
3. Hire a public relations firm to handle the media for once. It may cost a bit, but it's better than having to answer stupid questions from the local beat writer idiots. Have the slobbering fools chase after carefully worded press releases and puff pieces rather than questioning the franchise books for a change.
4. See if you can trick Vladimir Guerrero's agent into a meeting.
5. See what Jermaine Dye is worth and then act on it. The long-term plan no longer involves Dye. See if Theo Epstein wants to try and drag Manny Ramirez through three or four other teams and dump his salary in a few different places (Arizona, Chicago, Florida). Dye might be able to be a cog in that scenario. Plus, there's at least one minor leaguer on the list to be had.
6. Consider propping up the other guys in the front office; Eric Kubota, David Forst and Danny McCormack in a larger role to deter much of the public focus. A season in the shadows could be better than another year of burn in the spotlight. Everyone else in baseball will know who is still behind the controls.
7. Continue begin wishy-washy on GM interviews and vacancies. Make sure every new GM hire knows they were a second choice at best.
8. Projected 2004 line up:
Mark Ellis, 2nd base
Jose Guillen, Right field
Eric Chavez, 3rd base
Graham Koonce, Leftfield
Erubiel Durazo, DH
Bobby Crosby, Shortstop
Scott Hatteberg, 1st base
Eric Byrnes, Centerfield
Ramon Hernandez, catcher
9. Look into hair replacement options.
WTNY- My to-do list and starting lineup:
1) Get rid of Lilly, Long, and Ellis- These players don't fit in, and make way too much money. Lilly may have to be non-tendered, and Long may have to be released. Ellis could be traded, but your not likely to take in much of a player (maybe a LOOGY to replace Rincon?). This will free up some extra cash, as the focus should be on offense.
2) Sign Jose Cruz and Kenny Lofton for the outfield- Cruz walked 102 times in 2003, and no, that's not a misprint. He's a gifted player, and I know he's very capable in left. He could split time there with the likes of Eric Byrnes and Billy McMillon, but give him the job. Lofton is perfect for this team, as he employs the plate discipline philosophy, and is a tremendous leadoff hitter. Byrnes would be a great 4th outfielder, and could spot all three positions at times.
3) Sign Tony Graffanino for the infield- Graffanino would play second vs. all right-handers, and 3rd vs. the left-handers. Against lefties, Esteban German would step in at second base. Also, give Graham Koonce most of the time at first/DH, possibly sitting out against the occasional tough leftie. Scott Hatteberg would be a good bench player, and Durazo is still the 'holy grail.'
4) Get Rod Beck to close- Let's face it, this guy can pitch. He may not be pretty, but he can do it. He's nearing a save milestone, and pitched in nearby San Diego last season. He still wants to close, and in Oakland he could do it. Also, sign a cheap LOOGY to replace Ricardo Rincon.
My 2004 projected lineup:
1. Kenny Lofton- CF- L
2. Tony Graffanino- 2B- R
3. Eric Chavez- 3B- L
4. Erubiel Durazo- DH- L
5. Jose Cruz Jr.- LF- B
6. Graham Koonce- 1B- L
7. Jermaine Dye- RF- R
8. Ramon Hernandez- C- R
9. Bobby Crosby- SS- R
Bench: Melhuse, Byrnes, Hatteberg, German, and McMillon
Rotation: Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Harden, Duchscherer
Bullpen: Beck, Bradford, Fikac, Harville, Mecir, LOOGY
Check back tomrrow, we got notes. Red Sox on Thursday!