Sunday, March 25, 2007

Condition Oakland has moved

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While the new site is fully operational, there will be some major design changes in the days/weeks to come, so please be patient as ConditionOakland evolves. We hope then new site and design will be easier on the eyes and make for pleasant reading. Any suggestions are welcome.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A's opening day roster beginning to take shape

It was just 2 weeks ago that I made a fairly bold prediction that Ryan Goleski wasn't going anywhere over at A Minor Consideration. Particularly considering the trouble the A's went through acquiring Goleski in the rule 5 draft and the fact that they will be without Kotsay for several months.

Well, it appears the A's brass may have other plans and Ryan Goleski may not be part of their future, which would make him a $100k gamble that didn't work out:

He's not likely to play there often, but if Perez is an emergency option in the outfield, it could affect the breakdown of the roster. Perhaps the A's could go without a utility player, which is something they've considered adding with center fielder Mark Kotsay out of action for two months or more.

"A big part of our success this year will be versatility,'' manager Bob Geren said.

Perez, who hit .102 last year in limited use, is 10-for-22 with four doubles and eight runs over his past 10 games.

"Seeing Antonio right now, he looks like the guy we traded for,'' special assistant to the general manager Billy Owens said.

Perez, who handled two groundball singles and one flyball Sunday, has played in the outfield before -- one whole inning while with the Dodgers in 2005.

"He can fill in in an emergency,'' said outfield coach Tye Waller, who has been working with Perez. "He's a good athlete, he runs well, he's got good instincts.''

It also helps, as mentioned above, when you have a hot bat in Spring Training (0.341 BA / 0.440 OBP / 0.537 SLG - 7 BB to 10 SO), whereas Goleski decidedly does not (0.162 BA / 0.205 OBP / 0.189 SLG - 37 AB, only 2 BB to 13 SO). I've always said Spring Training stats don't count for too much (look at Kendall and Chavez in Spring Training) but it's obvious that Goleski's weak performance at the plate is lowering his chances of sticking with the A's.

Geren's comment about versatility being a big part of the A's success this year is important. It ties in nicely with this article from Sports Illustrated yesterday about the same subject:

Is there any team in baseball that adapts quite like the A's? They are the Sultans of Scramble, the Masters of Making Do. We're still two weeks away from the 2007 regular season and Oakland -- the reigning American League West champ, a playoff participant in five of the past seven years, going for a ninth straight winning season -- already is in full improv mode. It's as if the A's plan to wing it. Or at least plan on having to wing it.

If you want to praise Billy Beane, the team's outside-the-box general manager, for the A's ability to adapt, that's probably a good place to start. He has built a team of moveable and manageable parts, a roster stacked with versatile and largely selfless players. That's helped a lot these past couple of years and, already, it looks like it will be coming in handy again this one.


Scutaro and, especially, Swisher have demonstrated just how important a willing, versatile player can be. Decent infield utility players like Scutaro who can play for long stretches of time are hard to come by. And a guy who can play both first and the outfield like Swisher -- often flipping back and forth in the same week or the same game -- is even harder to find.

"I talk to them all about the team-first type of play," says new manager Bob Geren, who also points out his bendable pitching staff (Joe Kennedy can be anything from a lefty setup man to a starter) and said he's talked to young infielder Antonio Perez about playing outfield. "We don't have selfish players in this organization."

Emphasis mine. The message is clear: we value versatility and if you want to play for us and you want increased playing time, then be prepared to juggle more than one position. That's why there's been talk of Melhuse spending some time at 3B occasionally. That's why we'll once again see Swisher bouncing back and forth between the OF and 1B. Marco Scutaro will once again reprise his role as super-sub for the infield and it's telling that Perez, whom many considered a disaster at the plate last year, is being asked to fill in for the OF.

From the looks of things, Perez will be on the opening day roster with Goleski the odd-man out and being sent back to Cleveland. That means a starting outfield of Stewart, Bradley, and Swisher, with Kielty most likely getting significant playing time vs LHP and Perez as an emergency back up. Here's how things are looking so far:

Dan Haren - SP
Rich Harden - SP
Esteban Loaiza - SP
Joe Blanton - SP
??? - SP (up in the air thanks to Kennedy's poor performance - could be Kennedy, Halsey, or even Windsor)

Huston Street - RP
Justin Duchscherer - RP
Kiko Calero - RP
Chad Gaudin - RP
Alan Embree - RP
Jay Witasick - RP
??? - RP (depends on what happens with the fifth starter position)

Shannon Stewart - OF
Milton Bradley - OF
Nick Swisher - OF
Bobby Kielty - OF

Dan Johnson or Erubiel Durazo - 1B/DH
Mike Piazza - DH
Mark Ellis - 2B
Bobby Crosby - SS
Eric Chavez - 3B
Marco Scutaro - IF
Antonio Perez - IF/OF

Jason Kendall - C
Adam Melhuse - C/3B

Anything can happen between now and Opening Day, but as the A's continue to make moves in Spring Training the picture is becoming clearer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Does Joe Kennedy deserve to be the fifth starter?

Update: Here's more on the subject from Susan Slusser and Mychael Urban. Key quote from Urban:

Shouldn't the A's be more concerned than they seem to be about Joe Kennedy's awful spring? And who would get the call if they dumped him from the rotation?
-- Samuel T., Pleasanton, Calif.

I think they are, whether they say it or not, and Kennedy knows it. He's got three starts left this spring, and if he doesn't turn things around fairly dramatically, he's going to have an awfully short leash come the regular season.

Going into Spring Training it was assumed that Joe Kennedy was a lock for the A's fifth starter. Thanks to a long string of bad outings in Spring Training, however, there could be some cracks in the wall:

The fifth-starter role is Joe Kennedy's to lose, the A's keep saying, and if that's really the case, his job security is getting shakier and shakier.

Kennedy has a 20.48 ERA and opponents are batting .543 against him. Another candidate, lefty Brad Halsey is 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA, while Triple-A Sacramento right-hander Jason Windsor has a 10.38 ERA. Fellow minor-leaguer Shane Komine has the best ERA of the bunch, at 5.14.

It's hard to imagine, barring a trade, that Kennedy won't claim the fifth job. As outfielder Nick Swisher stage-whispered to a bunch of reporters clustered around Kennedy, "It's spring training."

True. It is Spring Training, and I try not to put much stock in Spring Training numbers, but in 9.2 IP he has given up 31 hits, 22 earned runs, walked 6, and has a WHIP of 3.83. Nobody else, and I mean nobody, has worse Spring Training numbers than Kennedy's. What's really scary is that now that people are openly questioning whether he truly deserves a slot in the rotation it could get into his head and affect his performance even more. Or, hopefully, it will motivate him to really buckle down and get his act together and pitch his butt off.

The good news is that if Kennedy struggles during the season, the A's have plenty of backup who should pitch just as well if not better. Halsey could easily step into the same role as last season, as a fill-in starter. Both Komine and Windsor are on the 40-man roster and could be called up for a stretch, if need be.

Last season our 5th starters (Halsey and Saarloos) combined for 12 wins, and had almost identical WHIPs (1.63 and 1.66). Even their ERAs were eerily similar (4.75 and 4.67). And they weren't really all that much worse than 4th starter Esteban Loaizia, he of the 4.89 ERA which would have been upwards of 6.00 if it weren't for an incredible August.

So with a (hopefully) healthy Harden, a solid Haren, and a steady Blanton who should improve on last year's numbers, there isn't really a whole lot of pressure on the 5th starter, which makes it all the more imperative that Kennedy not blow this chance, particularly considering this is his walk year.

The A's acquired reliever Alan Embree with the idea that Kennedy would shift from the bullpen to the rotation. But he has yet to distance himself from fellow lefty Brad Halsey, surrendering 21 hits and 13 earned runs in three starts (7 innings).

"As long as guys are getting sharper and crisper with their breaking balls, that's all I'm looking for," Geren said. "I'm not looking for spring training stats. As long as whoever needs to be ready for that fifth start, (what's important is) we feel like he's ready."

Emphasis mine. Not exactly a vote of confidence from the skipper.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Durazo making a case for 1B

Durazo had a breakout season in 2004 and was looking forward to another great year in 2005 before a freak arm injury while preparing to play 1B sidelined him for the rest of the season. He was let go and spent 2006 bouncing around the Minor Leagues for 3 different teams. The A's were wise (and lucky) to pick him up on a minor league contract for 2007 during the off-season, where he absolutely murdered the ball in the Mexican Winter League.

It's doubtful the A's will be carrying Durazo on the 25-man roster come opening day, particularly since, well, they did sign him to a Minor League contract, but the man is certainly making things tough for the A's:

Erubiel Durazo, who is trying to make the team as a non-roster invitee, provided the most impressive swing of the day in a game against the Mariners. He hit the first pitch he saw from left-hander George Sherrill over the right-center-field fence, the deepest part of the stadium, for a three-run home run.

What makes the drive even more impressive is the fact that Sherrill did not allow a home run in 72 appearances for the Mariners last year and left-handers hit .143 against him.

"He's playing like a big-league player," Geren said. "He's the most diligent of anybody in getting his work in this spring. It's going to be tough, and I hope we have a real tough call."

So far, Durazo is certainly making it a tough call. It will be interesting to see how things work out for the big guy and I'll certainly be watching no matter where he ends up.

Javier Herrera optioned to AAA Sacramento and other news

I have a post up over at A Minor Consideration with a quick run down of the players from Spring Training who have been optioned to AAA Sacramento or Minor League Camp. Herrera has been optioned to Sacramento after spending the bulk of last season in low-A Kane County. From my post:

Touted as one of the A’s top OF prospects since he joined the A’s, I think it’s a combination of high expectations and the fact that the A’s are going to need all the OF talent they can get after this season. Bradley is in his walk year and his performance will most likely price him out of the A’s budget. Kotsay has a bad back, regardless of how successful the surgery is, and 2008 will be his last year with the A’s. Swisher is fine in either RF or LF, but I have a feeling he’ll be spending more time at 1B in seasons to come. Kielty will most likely be gone in 2008 as well, as there is only so much the A’s should be paying for a part-time lefty masher. And Stewart is most likely hoping he can win comeback player of the year which means he’ll go for the heaviest bidder in the offseason. Conclusion: the A’s are going to need all the OF help they can get in the near future.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A's beat SF 5-3

Harden is looking downright dominant so far this Spring. Today he pitched 3 strong innings, giving up 3 hits, no walks, and striking out 4 with zero runs earned. So far he has not allowed an earned run and has struck out 9.

Another hot hand for the A's? Milton Bradley: 1 double, 2 triples, 3 BB to 1 K, and a line of 0.571 / 0.647 / 0.929. Now it's only been 14 AB and as I have said so many times before, I don't put much stock into Spring Training stats, but it's nice to see Bradley keep up the hot hitting he displayed in the playoffs.

Glad to see Piazza bouncing back so quickly from being hit in the arm earlier this week. He was 2 for 3 with a double.

Bad news (depending on how you look at it): Loaiza left the game with tightness in his shoulder and said he didn't feel good out there. If serious, someone else on the A's roster would need to step in. Everyone knows how I feel about Loaiza, where I gave him an "F" in my season review:

Tossing your fastball in the low 80's when you normally hit the low-mid 90's enroute to an ERA of 8.35 with ZERO wins in April does not endear you to the fans as a new player. No one forgot his dismal performance either, even when he pitched an outstanding August amidst a bunch of sub-standard or downright terrible months:
April: 8.35 ERA
June: 4.91 ERA
July: 7.26 ERA
Aug: 1.48 ERA
Sept: 5.11 ERA

Take out that August, which was CLEARLY an anomaly, and you have a 2006 ERA above 6.00.

Loaiza's entire career is a bunch of sub-par performances with the occasional diamond in the rough - he has had only 2 full seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and his career WHIP is 1.42. I don't know what kind of numbers the A's were looking at when they decided to sign Loaiza, because everything I saw said this was a disaster in the making.

So if Loaiza doesn't start opening day, I won't lose any sleep over it. And looking at his numbers just about anyone can fill in for him and not have to worry about meeting any high expectations - just give us 5-6 innings of batting practice and you'll be just fine.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How will Kotsay's absence affect the A's?

By now everyone is aware that Kotsay, after checking with 3 different doctors, has elected to have back surgery to hopefully fix his ailing back once and for all:

Kotsay, who has had a chronic lower-back problem since 2003, said the arthroscopic surgery will be performed today by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles.

"We have a solution," Kotsay said in a phone interview Wednesday night, adding he'll be out of action eight to 12 weeks. He wouldn't be cleared to begin light rehabilitation until after a three- to four-week healing process.

This means, best-case-scenario, we can expect Kotsay to return to action sometime in June. The question is: how is this going to affect the A's?

While it certainly isn't good news for the A's, on the bright side it opens things up for some players who were probably wondering about their standing with the team. Ryan Goleski, acquired through the rule 5 draft, just became a likely certainty to make the 25-man roster, which I discussed over at A Minor Consideration. Dan Johnson can probably relax a bit knowing that Swisher will spend the bulk of his time in the OF now and not have to worry about the A's demoting or trading him (neither of which, in my opinion, he would deserve). Geren won't have to worry, at least for the near future, about giving enough playing time to Shannon Stewart and Bobby Kielty.

With Kotsay (0.988 FPCT / 2.66 RF / 0.877 ZR) out, Milton Bradley will move to CF (0.986 FPCT / 2.70 RF / 0.891 ZR) with Swisher in right and Stewart in left. As long as Bradley's health holds up, CF defense should be fine. Bradley's back up for CF, should an injury befall him, will be Swisher (0.981 FPCT / 1.77 RF / 0.862 ZR - right field), who would be a defensive downgrade from both Bradley and Kotsay.

One other area Kotsay could be missed is leadership. He is widely accepted as one of the clubhouse leaders, if not THE leader, and sometimes consults with Beane & Co. The jury's still out on how his absence will affect team chemistry but luckily they still have guys like Kendall, Piazza, and Chavez who are also leaders in their own right.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dan Meyer

Over at A Minor Consideration I have a post up discussing the brief history of prospect Dan Meyer (who? oh yeah, that third guy we got from the Tim Hudson trade, what happened to him?), questioning whether he is still a prospect or a bust. You be the judge.