At the Cespedes of Light

16 Feb

There’s a great scene during the ending credits of Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, where head coach Tony D’Amato (played by an extra gravely Al Pacino) takes the stand for what is going to be his retirement press conference following the climax of his coaching career after his teams loss in the playoffs. As D’Amato stutters and stammers through his thank you’s and regrets before speaking about the value of change and the willingness to give it another shot. To the shock and dismay of the crowd he ends up dropping a bombshell. Announcing that he will continue his coaching career with a new expansion team and take his quarterback with him. As he walks off into a new chapter, we see a closeup of his now ex general manager who simply mouths the words “son of a bitch”.

With the A’s signing Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes, I can’t help but feel those around baseball must be sharing the very same sentiment as they watch Billy Beane go right as he’s expected to turn left. If he can ever be expected to do anything that one would deem normal. Throughout Beane’s tenure in Oakland he has not been afraid to push the envelope and never has that been more apparent in the addition of Cespedes. As Cespedes and his agents spent the winter gauging the interest of some of the deeper pocket teams such as The Tigers, Yankees, Phillies, Cubs and most predictably the newly christened Miami Marlins who have not been shy about breaking out the checkbook this offseason in anticipation of the opening of their new stadium. As the weeks passed it became evident that the Marlins would be in the position to reach an agreement with the single season Cuban home run record holder. With money in their pockets, a brand new stadium, a couple big name additions, and a large Cuban population everything was set for Jeffrey Loria and the front office to wine and dine Cespedes and cross the T’s and dot the I’s on a big league contract. Like a snake hiding in the garden, Billy Beane went to work and quickly wrapped a four year, 36 million dollar contract with the 26 year old outfield essentially bring him to Oakland for the prime of his career.

As the A’s have spent the last few years striking out on adding fellow defectors Alexei Ramirez (White Sox) and Aroldis Champman (Reds), they didn’t let their past inability to add a free agent either domestic or international dissuade them from reaching a deal with Cespedes. Helping the agreement however, may have been the A’s prior working relationship with Cespedes agent Adam Katz who four years prior had brokered a record deal with the A’s for Dominican pitcher Michael Ynoa. As Ynoa, has struggled with injuries, and is currently working his way back up the farm chain at the still tender age of 16 the deal has yet to reap benefits but there is still plenty of time. It is believed that Cespedes is ready to make a Major League impact right now. With 33 home runs in a mere 99 games in the Cuban League last year, Cespedes power is real. Although his statistics were poor in a small sample size in Winter Ball (.145 avg, 1 HR, 10 K’s over 35 at bats), he showed a quick bat and powerful stroke against strong competition in the 2009 WBC. When the offseason ascended, he was advertised as a five tool player in his prime who could command a multi year deal in excess of 50 Million dollars. The A’s are getting him for a fraction of the price. Whether it had anything to do with the bizarre “showcase” video is yet to be seen. However, one thing is for certain. Billy Beane and the A’s have nabbed a potential steal in Cespedes, and now it’s his turn to make the most of his opportunity on the field.

Low Risk, High Reward

1 Feb

On March 9th, 1998, the A’s signed 36 year old Kevin Mitchell to a minor league contract. He was quickly assigned to Major League camp, where after a strong spring he would succeed in claiming a spot on the opening day roster. Mitchell had spent the past few years battling injuries and came to the A’s fresh off a painful 20 game stint in Cleveland the year prior, where he managed a .153/.275./.373 slash line before he was shown the door. With his age and declining skills, this former MVP would take the barest of offers to return to the Bay Area in a move Billy Beane would deem as being “low risk, high reward”.

Those very words always struck a chord with me and would echo through my head over the next decade as the A’s would make similar deals with Mike Sweeney, Todd Walker, Eric Karros, Ron Gant, Frank Thomas (Twice) and John Jaha which would provide less than stellar results. All high profile players on the wrong side of thirty, who would most usually sink (Walker, Karros, Gant, Sweeney) and rarely swim (Jaha, and Thomas the first time around). Each time they were a gamble. Essentially the biggest detriment is the waste of a roster space and the potential blockage of the development of a younger player. In the cases of Sweeney, Walker, Karros, and Gant the A’s would in fact give them their outright releases before the end of their season thereby cutting the losses.

I do hope the cat story was exaggerated

Kevin Mitchell’s brief stay in Oakland would not deviate from the norm. Looking far from his former self, and failing to hit his body weight with depleted power. Mitchell would be given his release on August 7th. With Matt Stairs firmly entrenched at Designated Hitter, and little room for an immobile outfielder in the spacious Coliseum, Mitchell quickly found himself with very little playing time. In all respects, it was an experiment that failed. But one that came at very little cost. Signed for just over the league minimum, Mitchell provided the A’s with minimal offense but was noted for his positive clubhouse presence. Something that was a pleasant surprise given his contemptuous past. In his case, maybe the minimal risk was worth the minimal reward.

Which brings us to very real possibility of the addition of Manny Ramirez on a minor league contact. One year removed from a blink and you’ll miss it stay in Tampa Bay, Ramirez has multiple issues to frown on. Not only will he have to serve a 50 game suspension for his latest PED bust, he also has a pending legal charge from a domestic dispute with his wife to settle, as well as a past littered with various unsettling incidents from fights with teammates, to faking an illness only to be seen later that night drinking at the hotel bar. Quite, simply it’s a wonder he hasn’t been blacklisted from Major League Baseball like Jose Canseco. If you can look past all that, what you do have is one of the most feared and productive right-handed hitters in the history of baseball.

Albeit, one who is turning 40 years old in mere months and described himself as willing to “play in Japan or any other place”. As A’s beat writer Susan Slusser was quick to point out, in the event of a signing the A’s could use the first 50 games of the season to evaluate their DH position and see if Jonny Gomes or Chris Carter can lay claim rendering Ramirez irrelevant. Or they can “test out a DH who has 555 career homers – eight-most all-time among right-handed hitters.”

Maybe the A’s will be pleasantly surprised by a resurgent and rested Manny. Perhaps, his work ethic will rejuvenate him and provide a lift to a team that may open a few eyes this season. Providing power and average bringing Mannywood to the East Bay and some much needed attention to what should be a team with alack of star power. The best case scenario is one that is not easily attained. Manny could prove to be a distraction in the clubhouse and a shadow of his former playing self. But in the end, what do the A’s lose? The experiment is not going to break the season and perhaps if Ramirez shows signs of life he can be flipped at the deadline for more prospects. Essentially this is a sink or swim situation for the A’s and Manny. So let’s see if they dive in.

Is Billy Changing His Tune?

19 Jan

It's never boring in Oakland

Roughly three weeks Billy Beane traded Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox for 0utfielder Josh Reddick and two low level minor leaguers. This marked the third trade in the month of December that the A’s would trade a young, all star pitcher for a package deal in an attempt to rebuild and reload for a potential San Jose move in 2015. Most A’s fans get it. We’ve heard it time and time again that the margin for error is small. That the Rangers and Angels are breaking the bank and simply forcing the A’s to fold for the time being. Hope exists in the theory of a new stadium and a fresh start in San Jose. In their minds eye, the A’s brain trust must envision a stadium that sells out day and night with revenues through the roof. A team that not only competes to win games but  has the resources off the field to attract major free agents as the Florida Marlins have this winter. Combine this with what should be a strong, youthful team upon which the very foundation is being build at the moment and soon our patience  and loyalty will be rewarded.

Flash forward to barely three weeks later and Beane has made a flurry of moves to make fans question exactly how devoted he is to rebuilding process. Instead of continuing to trim payroll, and go full bore into rebuilding mode the A’s have in fact added payroll. The aforementioned Coco Crisp has returned to patrol center field, and joining him in left via trade with the Rockies is Seth Smith. To help fill the depleted pitching rotation, Veteran and medical marvel Bartolo Colon has signed a one year deal with the A’s. These moves are confusing and contradictory to the general information fed to the public regarding expectations for the A’s 2012 season. In the case of Seth Smith, Oakland ended up actually packaging a pair of pitchers in Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman whom were expected to play a big part on next years staff with the departures of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. The fact that the A’s were able to acquire a productive, sought after major league hitter in Smith for an overachieving righty (Moscoso) and an erratic lefty (Outman) is a credit to Billy Beane. Smith’s favorable power and batting average splits against RHP should prove beneficial to a team that is in desperate need.

As disheartening as it may be to be a fan of a small market team in a state of constant flux, the very idea of change and the challenge of proving the critics wrong will always have an appeal. The subtractions have hurt. Not only from a personal standpoint but it became apparent that the A’s were willing to sit back and be a non competitive team in 2012 and that is unacceptable. It almost parallels the plot of the Charlie Sheen classic Major League where a patched together team of has-beens and never will be’s come together to win the pennant under the threat of relocation. Alas, this is no movie. This is real life. The roster changes in the last few weeks have left this fan optimistic. If nothing else, the 2012 A’s could surprise with a young talented team that plays hard and gets contributions from the entire roster. New and Old. Until this happens. Until we’re not forced to enjoy another winter of discontent watching the lifeblood of our organization leave through trades and free agency. Until there is no more goal lines on our baseball field come every August, it will still be the same old song here in Oakland.

Confusion and Coco Crisp

7 Jan

Coco is receiving a bonus for the Afro

With Spring Training a mere six weeks away, rosters all across Major League Baseball will now begin to take shape before pitchers and catchers are due to report. In a move that has brought upon much confusion, the A’s officially agreed to bring back center fielder Coco Crisp to two-year 14 million dollar deal with a 2014 team option. This is a franchise on the verge of putting the most inexperienced team on the field since the 1998 Florida Marlins, while simultaneously planning to a new stadium that has yet to be approved. Up until this agreement with Crisp, the A’s had shown no attempt to offer a long term deal to any of the free agents on the market much less one of their own.

Over the last month and a half they have peddled off three all-stars pitchers in an attempt to infuse the farm system with ten young talented players, whom only one (Josh Reddick) spent a significant time in the majors last season. On the free agent front, the whispers of who will be brought in to help fill gaps in the depleted A’s outfield have ranged from Ex Giants (Cody Ross), Ex Farmhands (Ryan Ludwick), and Ex Athletics (Connor Jackson). All uninspiring. All mediocre at best who in all reality may not be better that a full season of Michael Taylor, Brandon Allen, or Colin Cowgill. Crisp at the very least is a dynamic defensive centerfield who has shown A’s fans first hand that he is purely capable of saving a significant number of runs a year for an offensively challenged team. On the offensive side, he led the American League in stolen bases last year and did a decent job with the bat despite less than stellar OBP for a leadoff hitter. In all respects, Crisp is a very good player whom should have a few more productive seasons left in his career. Why the A’s decided to award him 14 million in the face of such insecurity is beyond me. Perhaps as Billy Beane has stated, he does not give up so easily.

I’m too competitive to ‘punt’ anything,” he said by telephone this week. “It’s not part of my DNA. I’ve got an emotional investment in this team, and if we’re playing in Oakland, then let’s make the best of the situation. I don’t leave for clear skies as soon as I start seeing the clouds. I keep thinking something will get better.”

Billy Beane, SF GATE, January 4th, 2012

San Jose Can You See

29 Dec

To many the Christmas Eve news of MLB’s approval of an impending San Jose relocation as reported by USA Today’s Bob

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Nightengale signified that closure on the future of the Oakland A’s is indeed on the horizon. As the twitterverse erupted in response to the first reputable claim that the A’s have been notified of their approval to relocate under the current ownership, I couldn’t help but simultaneously feel a sense of relief and sadness at the news.

However, my allegiances to the blue collar world of the East Bay will inevitably surrender to the luxury and white collar computer startup world of the Silicon Valley. The fact is a shiny new facility and increased payroll will allow the A’s to stay in the game. So to speak. With a projected enhanced payroll and serious corporate sponsorship, we may yet see our poor small market team transform into baseball titan before too long. With all the excitement and brouhaha sure to come if and when this move occurs, I truly hope that the tradition of the Oakland A’s is not lost in transition. From the glorious green and gold color schematics, to the retired jerseys of Eckersley, Hunter, Henderson and company. The past must be recognized and the move signified as not just a fresh start but a new era in the rich history of one of baseballs oldest franchises. Whatever may come from a future relocation, I for one will miss the rally cry of “Let’s go Oakland” but I shall anxiously await a new chapter in what should be a glorious future.

Please allow me to introduce myself…

22 Dec

Oh where have you gone Eric Fox?

 

 

 

Welcome one and all to the Baseball Alchemist, a hard hitting blog devoted to the past, present, and future of baseball. More specifically a focus on more of the untold stories, players, seasons, teams and instances of the past, as well as a look toward the future and what it may hold as we embark on a new frontier of player evaluation and value. From a personal standpoint, be prepared for heavy insight and scrutinization into the Oakland Athletics. As a franchise that I proudly align myself with, I seek to delve into all issues regarding the possible San Jose relocation and current dismantling of the Major League Roster. So come as you are and feel free to reminisce, dream, project, debate, cheer, dismay, and hope for all things baseball.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.