Thursday, November 02, 2006

A's round up

I am leaving early tomorrow morning for a rather long trip overseas, so here's a round up of what's been going on with the A's to keep you busy for a little while. I will do my best to post as often as possible during my trip but internet access will be limited.

After interviewing internal manager candidates Ron Washington and Bob Geren earlier this week, Nippon Ham Fighters manager Trey Hillman interviewed with the A's yesterday:

Hillman last week led the Fighters to their first Japan Series title since 1962, completing his second two-year contract with the club. Hillman left a job as Texas' director of player development for Japan just before the Rangers fired former manager Jerry Narron and hired Buck Showalter after the 2002 season.

Before his year in the Rangers organization, Hillman spent 12 seasons as a minor league manager in the New York Yankees organization.

Hillman is on a whirlwind tour of baseball clubs as he is also interviewing with the Rangers and Padres. Also mentioned in the article is a new addition to the manager mix, Mets bench coach Manny Acta, who is supposed to interview with the A's on November 12. According to this article in the Contra Costa Times, Hillman felt pleased with his interview:

"I don't know how it went, but I had a blast," Hillman said. "Shoot, we talked baseball, we talked philosophy, we talked personnel. I think the biggest challenge for any organization, like Oakland, is to find the right personality and leadership skills for their club on the field.

"Today was a lot of fun. I wish I had more time."

Meanwhile the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan are getting ready to compete next season without Hillman, expecting him to be picked up by one of the U.S. major league clubs. Sounds like he did a pretty good job in Japan, particularly in regards to communication and relationships:

To an outside observer, the Fighters' seemed to develop on multiple levels under Hillman. The scouts and front office have done an amazing job of locating and drafting talent; the minor league staff has kept enough of that talent on track to add value to the big club; the coaches have
helped players make the necessary adjustments and have, along with the advance scouts, kept both the players and the manager up to speed on the opposition.

At the business end of this process is the players. The youngsters--and veterans whose careers had stagnated--have been making incremental development with Hillman's information-based approach keeping them abreast of their progress.

Add to that Hillman' decisiveness and knowledge of the game and it is no surprise the club has prospered. It is a winning formula for any organization, but it worked smoothly because Hillman is fanatical about communicating--both in getting his message across but also about acting on
others' ideas. The organization has matured because Hillman and general manager Shigeru Takada threw open the lines of communication.

"I am busting with pride that the people under my leadership have proved that things have to be relationship based," Hillman said by phone shortly before leaving for the United States on Tuesday.

With nearly everyone contributing ideas openly--and knowing the manager hears him--the organization has grown tremendously. From bringing in three front-line starting pitchers in two seasons, to the rapid development of second baseman Kensuke Tanaka, to dealing decisively with pitcher Satoru Kanemura's tirade, the club made one good adjustment after

Hillman's comments in this article from the Dallas Morning News also echoes the communication/relationship meme:

Among the topics he discussed were how Nippon Ham went from a long-time also-ran to Japanese champion in four years while he managed the team and the potential difficulties of coming to the major leagues after four years overseas.

"It's not a different approach," Hillman said. "It's about building relationships with the front office, but most importantly about building relationships with the players. They've got to want to play for you and be with you. I understand that anytime you jump from one organization
to another, you are making some kind of a jump. But if somebody said I hadn't been around major league caliber play while I was in Japan, I'd have to respectfully disagree."

Hmm.....sounds like Hillman could be just what the A's need....

It's a pretty well known fact that the A's days in Oakland are probably numbered, with Fremont rumored to be the front-runner for the A's next home. In the meantime, don't panic, the A's will be in Oakland until at least 2010:

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a lease extension to keep the A's at McAfee Coliseum through at least 2010, but several members acknowledged the deal is a stopgap measure as team owners look for a new home, perhaps in Fremont.

Council member Larry Reid said he hoped the A's could be persuaded to stay in Oakland, but doubted it was possible.

``I truly think the A's are out of here in three or four years,'' Reid said, adding that he did not think there was the political will to subsidize a new stadium for the defending American League West champions.

Under the terms of the deal, the A's would be penalized for breaking the lease early unless they move to a ballpark inside the county. A's owner Lew Wolff is reportedly staking out a 143-acre site on vacant land in Fremont now controlled by Cisco Systems.

The extension at the Coliseum, which will mean $2.8 million in revenue for the city of Oakland and Alameda County, also gives the A's three one-year options, which could extend the lease through the 2013 season.

No word yet from New A's Ballpark blog on this development, but I'm sure he'll be forthcoming.

BaseballGirl over at Athletics Nation has a post on Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro where she describes Scoot as follows:

One would be hard-pressed to be able to create an iron-clad case for Scutaro being anything but, quite bluntly, a serviceable back-up infielder. He is both a below-average fielder and below-average hitter.....

She follows this up by saying that the A's fan base sees Marco as "...the disposable player..." Naturally, the many comments that follow disagree, as do I. Granted, my immediate group of fellow A's fans is rather small, but every single one of them is a big Scutaro fan. The same can
not be said of Mark Ellis. While none of us dislike Mark Ellis, we don't really have any strong opinions on the guy, he's just....well, Mark Ellis, 2B of the Oakland Athletics. While Marco's range is not as great as Ellis or Crosby, he has shown remarkable defense at both 2B and SS
positions and, unlike both Ellis and Crosby, has managed to avoid the DL so far. As we noted on this blog when we scored the A's hitters, Scutaro has been improving his numbers with more regular playing time over his 3 years with the A's:

Although a light-hitter, he has managed to improve on his overall numbers year after year:
2004 – 0.273 / 0.297 / 0.393 / 0.690 – 16 BB / 58 K
2005 – 0.247 / 0.310 / 0.391 / 0.701 – 36 BB / 48 K
2006 – 0.266 / 0.350 / 0.397 / 0.747 – 50 BB / 66 K
In each of his season with the A’s he has managed to dramatically increase his walk totals without sacrificing any power. He also has a penchant for the dramatic game-ending hit, which has made him a fan and media favorite in Oakland.

Let's take a look at Mark Ellis' last 3 seasons:
2003 - 0.248 / 0.313 / 0.371 / 0.684 - 48 BB / 94 K
2005 - 0.316 / 0.384 / 0.477 / 0.861 - 44 BB / 51 K
2006 - 0.249 / 0.319 / 0.385 / 0.704 - 40 BB / 76 K

As mentioned in our report on Ellis, he managed to really pick things up after the All-Star break:

At first glance, and especially compared to last season, Mark Ellis’ numbers look like a disappointment. But let’s take a closer look at his pre and post-All Star splits:
Pre-All Star: BA 0.219 / OBP 0.288 / SLG 0.311 – 3 HR
Post-All Star: BA 0.273 / OBP 0.342 / SLG 0.445 – 8 HR
I believe his post-All Star numbers paint a fairly good picture of what we can expect from Ellis in the future, provided he doesn’t slump early on in the season: a 0.270-280 / 0.330-0.340 / 0.400-0.440 hitter with low double digit HR and a modest number of walks. Combine that with
outstanding defense at 2B and you have one heck of a second baseman.

It's clear that Ellis, when healthy, is the superior player both defensively and offensively, but Marco has been far more than adequate as a back-up infielder, he has been invaluable. Mark Ellis is good, but I don't consider him to be the "...reigning golden boy..." and the A's would
be smart to hang onto Scutaro who is bound to get playing time again next year with both Crosby and Ellis as injury risks. Of course, Beane has surprised me in the past, and Scutaro's value is pretty high, so anything could happen, but I definitely think Scutaro is the more popular
player with the fans, thanks mostly to his timely hits, and has shown a lot of progress.


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