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The A's hosted their annual FanFest yesterday with a sellout crowd of 20,000. GM Billy Beane addressed the gathering and is pleased with the moves the franchise made this winter. "I think we accomplished a lot of what we set out to in the offseason, and maybe a little more," Beane said (as quoted by MLB.com's Jane Lee). "The division itself is better. Texas is always good, and the Angels improved on an explosive club anyway, so I think they'll be a lot better. Houston's only going to get better. The fact is, I think this division, as much as any in the league, has improved itself, and I'd like to think we've been able to replace some of the guys we lost from a good team and maybe added more in addition." Let's take a look at the other news and notes involving the A's and the AL West:
- Assistant GM David Forst held court with several bloggers, including Athletics Nation, at the A's FanFest. Forst was asked whether the club has an organizational philosophy on making long-term commitments. "I think we've benefited a lot from the flexibility over the last few years," Forst answered. "We don't necessarily want to recreate the team every year because fans like the players who are here and we like the certainty of guys that we know, but that we've given ourselves the ability to (play it year by year) is a huge factor in our success."
- One long-term commitment made this week was extending Coco Crisp, but Forst isn't concerned the A's are now bound to the center fielder through his age-37 season. "We think Coco is a little bit unique in his body type. Certainly when you get to that end of the spectrum, the track record isn't good in how guys have performed, particularly where we are now in terms of hopefully being beyond (PED use). But you always are taking a risk — I mean, we dealt with it on Bartolo (Colon), dealing with a guy who performed at 39, and 40, how far is he really going to go? So that's a question we really have to take into account every time."
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow knows his grand plan will be on display during Spring Training as several of the team's top prospects are scheduled to take part in their Major League camp, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "I do think for our fans, especially the ones that are going to come out to Kissimmee and ones that are going to listen on the radio and watch on TV, it's fun for them to be able to see, to get a glimpse," Luhnow said.
- Left-hander Nate Robertson has spoken with several clubs about an opportunity to win a bullpen spot this spring, tweets FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi. Robertson, who hasn't appeared in the Majors since 2010, spent last season with the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate pitching to a 3.04 ERA, 7.2 K/9, and 4.1 BB/9 in 45 relief outings covering 50 1/3 innings.
The Athletics held their A's Fan Fest today with manager Bob Melvin and GM Billy Beane hosting a Q&A session. Here are the highlights:
- Melvin says second base will be an open competition between Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks while Grant Green, the A's fourth-best prospect as ranked by MLB.com, will also receive a hard look, reports MLB.com's Jane Lee (Twitter links).
- Melvin plans to continue with the Brandon Moss/Chris Carter platoon at first base, tweets Lee.
- Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets the A's will not use any one set lineup because Melvin has multiple options depending on matchups and who's hot.
- Melvin views Coco Crisp as the starting center fielder with Chris Young moving around all three outfield spots, Lee tweets.
- Young says being reunited with Melvin is "like a breath of fresh air." (A's team Twitter feed).
- Melvin calls Yoenis Cespedes one of most talented players in the league and Beane adds he wouldn't be surprised if the 27-year-old Cuban takes it to another level, Slusser tweets.
- Beane is confident Hiroyuki Nakajima will make a successful transition to MLB, tweets Casey Pratt of CSNBayArea.com. In fact, Beane joked he will have a tougher transition in dealing with the effervescent Japanese shortstop.
- Beane expects their top prospect, outfielder Michael Choice, to open the season in Triple-A, unless something unforeseen happens, according to Pratt (via Twitter).
- The A's are convinced shortstop Addison Russell, last year's first round draft choice, is mature enough to be invited to Spring Training even though it wasn't part of his contract, writes Slusser on Twitter. Slusser adds this is an indication of how much the 19-year-old has wowed the front office.
Only two American League teams have a better record than the Athletics, even though they traded away their closer and two top starting pitchers for a collection of relatively unproven players after the 2011 season. Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey are all gone, but the A’s have a 71-57 record and are tied for one of the American League’s Wild Card berths with 34 games to go.
Though there’s no singular reason that the A’s have played this well, the team’s offseason trades could hardly be working out better. Billy Beane acquired one third of the team’s starting lineup, its setup man and two fifths of its starting rotation in deals this past winter. MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker offers a recap of these moves. Here’s the breakdown, featuring players on the team’s active roster:
- Josh Reddick, acquired from Red Sox in trade for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney – Reddick has been a major contributor to Oakland's offense this year, hitting 26 home runs and posting a .253/.321/.487 batting line. He has already been worth 4.3 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs' version of the metric.
- Seth Smith, acquired from Rockies in trade for Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman - Smith has posted a respectable .244/.344/.431 batting line with 12 home runs. He continues to produce against right-handed pitchers (10 homers).
- Derek Norris, acquired from Washington in trade for Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam – Norris became the Athletics' regular catcher when Oakland sent Kurt Suzuki to Washington. He has five home runs but just a .272 on-base percentage in 158 plate appearances.
- Ryan Cook, acquired from Arizona in trade for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow – The 25-year-old right-hander has a 2.45 ERA with more strikeouts (60) than innings pitched (55). He averages 95 mph with his fastball and 11.8% of his offerings generate swings and misses. Cook, a 2012 All-Star, picked up 12 saves earlier in the year.
- Jarrod Parker, acquired from Arizona in trade for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow – Parker has a 3.52 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 135 1/3 innings this year. Peripheral stats such as his 43.9 % ground ball rate and a 9.8% swinging strike rate are also encouraging.
- Tommy Milone, acquired from Washington in trade for Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam – Milone has a 3.73 ERA with four times as many strikeouts as walks in 159 1/3 innings.
- The A’s also traded for a number of minor league players, including Brad Peacock and Collin Cowgill.
Oakland currently has a 51% chance of playing in the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus’ postseason odds report. But even if the A’s don’t qualify this year, last winter’s trades should have an impact in future seasons. Smith will be second-time arbitration eligible this offseason, but Reddick won’t be arbitration eligible until next offseason. The others — Norris, Cook, Parker and Milone — are at least two years away from arbitration eligibility. Not only are these players contributing, they’re doing so at a time in their careers when they’re relatively affordable. That creates flexibility which makes a difference in any market and should be especially valuable in Oakland.
Adam Moore's quest to make the Mariners' Major League roster hit a big roadblock after the catcher suffered a broken wrist during Tuesday's game against the Reds. Moore will likely miss the rest of Spring Training at the minimum and he's seeing a hand specialist today to determine the severity of the injury. Moore was battling for a spot as Seattle's backup catcher, which could have been available given that Jesus Montero is expected to see a lot of time at DH this season.
Here's some more news from the AL West…
- Athletics GM Billy Beane chatted with Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News about such topics as Yoenis Cespedes, the challenges of taking the A's through another rebuilding process and the team's desire to resolve their stadium situation and possibly relocate to San Jose.
- Torii Hunter would "take less money" to return to the Angels next season, reports Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. "They have so many young guys coming up, guys they want to give playing time to, so I know it could be difficult for me," Hunter said. "But if they're willing to keep me here, I would love to stay." Hunter's five-year, $90MM contract expires after this season and though the outfielder has said he wants to play for two or three more years, his top priority is to play for a contender, preferably the Halos.
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto sees the battle for playing time on his club's roster as a strength, he tells MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. "The next team that wins a world championship with 25 guys, they will be the first," Dipoto said. "It keeps players fresh, it puts them in good matchup situations, it gives you depth, interchangeable pieces….Do I believe there's enough at-bats for the players here? Absolutely."
- Oliver Perez's minor league deal with the Mariners will pay him $750K if he makes the 25-man roster, reports MLB.com's Greg Johns. Perez can earn another $250K in incentives tied to innings and games pitched.
- The Mariners' wealth of minor league talent makes them "the next Tampa Bay Rays," writes ESPN's Jim Bowden (Insider subscription required), though the Mariners' higher payroll gives them a leg up on the Rays. Bowden is very high on Seattle's young pitching corps, comparing them to not just the Rays' current staff, but also to Oakland's Tim Hudson/Mark Mulder/Barry Zito trio of the early 2000's and the great Braves rotations of the 1990's.
- The Athletics and Giants released competing press releases yesterday in regards to the ongoing dispute between the two clubs over the Athletics' attempt to move to San Jose. John Shea and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle recap the more pertinent passages from each release, as the two teams argue over which has territorial rights to Santa Clara County.
WEDNESDAY: The extensions will have option years, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
TUESDAY: Not much is certain when it comes to the future of the Athletics, but their leadership team will remain in place long-term. Owner Lew Wolff said today that GM Billy Beane and president Michael Crowley have agreed to extensions through the 2019 season, Jon Erlichman and Rob Gloster of Bloomberg News report. Beane told Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio and ESPN.com that reports of a deal are a bit premature (Twitter link), but Wolff expects Beane and Crowley to sign within 30 days.
Beane became the team's GM after the 1997 season and Crowley became team president one year later. They face a problematic stadium situation in Oakland and the club may move to San Jose in the relatively near future. Both Beane and Crowley have ownership stakes in the Athletics and Wolff is the club's managing partner.
The Athletics have made five playoff appearances under Beane, who has been with the team longer than any other American League GM. Beane was recently portrayed on the big screen by Brad Pitt in Moneyball. He last constructed a playoff team in 2006, when Oakland made it to the ALCS.
Ben Nicholson-Smith contributed to this post.
Some linkage from the West Coast as this Sunday night winds down …
- On Sunday we heard that Bud Selig will meet with the Giants regarding the Athletics' potential relocation to San Jose. If that relocation falls through, however, don't be surprised if Oakland GM Billy Beane winds up with the Dodgers once the franchise is sold, tweets Peter Gammons of MLB Network.
- The Padres have talked to former Mets GM Omar Minaya about a front office job, a source tells Dan Hayes of the North County Times (Twitter link). It's likely for an advisor role, tweets Corey Brock of MLB.com, who adds that other teams are interested in Minaya, as well.
- The trade of Ty Wigginton to the Phillies isn't the precursor to another move, Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd tells Troy Renck of the Denver Post (via Twitter). Seems like the Rox were seeking some salary relief.
A few items of note regarding AL West clubs, as the division's sole postseason representative, the Rangers, take on the Rays in Arlington.
- Morale in the Angels' front office had waned under former GM Tony Reagins, who resigned Friday, sources tell Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, and the organization's direction seemed vague. Reagins may not have been ready for the job when he took over for former GM Bill Stoneman in 2007, Brown adds.
- Elsewhere in Brown's piece, he reports that Stoneman, who has served as an advisor to the Angels since stepping down, will be part of the committee that searches for a new GM, but he will not return to the position, nor will Scioscia add that to his managerial duties. So, it seems certain the next GM will come from outside the organization.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com wonders whether A's GM Billy Beane could assume the GM role with the Angels. There'd be a lot to work through, as Beane is under contract through 2014 and wouldn't want to play second fiddle to Scioscia, but the Halos need another "significant voice," opines Rosenthal.
- The Athletics will not bring back pitching coach Ron Romanick, hitting coach Gerald Perry and bench coach Joel Skinner in 2012, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Slusser speculates the A's will ask permission to speak to Reds pitching coach Bryan Price and Red Sox pitching coach Curt Young, who is under contract another year and might be a lame duck now that Terry Francona won't be back in Boston.
Bennett Miller's Moneyball doesn't present sabermetrics as a revelation. That might be the key factor in making the film enjoyable for both of the movie's target audiences: hardcore baseball fans who know Michael Lewis' original book front-to-back and want to see if Hollywood gets the details right, and for more casual moviegoers who don't know the Oakland A's from the Oakland Raiders but are always interested in seeing Brad Pitt on the big screen.
The film streamlines Lewis' book into just the 2002 season, as the A's have just lost a heartbreaking ALDS to the Yankees and now face a winter of losing Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen and Johnny Damon to free agency. GM Billy Beane (Pitt) is getting frustrated over the realities of small-market baseball but gets inspiration when he encounters Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, playing a composite version of Paul DePodesta), a young, Yale-educated economist working in the Cleveland front office. Brand shows Beane the value — both financially and competitively — of signing unheralded players who take a lot of pitches, take walks and generally don't fit the mold that most teams look for in a Major Leaguer.
Along the way, Beane and Brand run into resistance from Oakland scouts, Oakland manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the media and the fact that the A's struggle through the first few months of the season. The team starts to gel, however, culminating in an incredible 20-game winning streak that tied an AL record.
The 20th win is more or less treated as the "Hollywood ending" so often seen in sports movies, since obviously Oakland's loss to Minnesota in the ALDS that year wasn't exactly an inspiring justification of Beane's strategies. (Also, the Athletics' 20th win was a game worthy of a movie in itself.) Yet the fact that Miller gives voice to the critics in the wake of Oakland's eventual defeat is a strong choice — it acknowledges the reality that there is no magic formula to putting together a team and that the sabermetric strategy was only a singular, and temporary, part of the Athletics' success. Pitt plays Beane as a smart and competent man who believes in what he's doing, but also allows just a bit of doubt to keep his feet fully grounded.
For baseball fans, the obvious elephant in Moneyball's room isn't Stomper, but the fact that the 2002 A's weren't a surprise. The Athletics are presented as an "island of misfit toys," to use Brand's description, but in real life, Oakland was coming off two consecutive playoff appearances. Even with free agent losses, they still had the likes of Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder on board. These players are barely mentioned in Moneyball, with Scott Hatteberg, David Justice and Chad Bradford instead featured as the key figures in the team's success. That trio combined for a 5.5 WAR in 2002, while Hudson by himself had a 6.6 WAR (Zito was 5.5). Obviously focusing on the players acquired due to sabermetric analysis fits the film's underdog theme, but treating the A's like the Roy Hobbs-less New York Knights is a bit disingenuous.
Those wondering how Moneyball would recreate, or dramatize, Lewis' portions of the book that deal with the 2002 draft….well, never mind, since the draft isn't even mentioned. Other important "Moneyball" figures as Jeremy Brown, Kevin Youkilis and Bill James are only briefly cited, though in James' case, it's probably best that he was just noted as the father of sabermetrics and not used as an animated narrator, as was the plan when Steven Soderbergh was originally supposed to direct the film.
Still, factual liberties are to be expected, especially given that Lewis' book doesn't follow a clear narrative. Oscar-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) are no stranger to adapting real-life stories to the screen and they approach Moneyball as Beane's story since that will make it the most easiest to digest for mainstream audiences. Pitt is up to the part, turning in a fine performance and making Beane a character compelling enough that you're eager to watch him NOT watch a ballgame.
Beane is so centralized as Moneyball's main figure that Brand basically just seems like his sidekick, and it may have helped to get a bit more insight into Brand's feelings at seeing his theories actually being applied by a Major League team. The film also seems to be missing a payoff scene between Beane and Howe where Howe begrudgingly admits that his boss had a point. (Though, since Howe actually didn't return to manage the A's in 2003, perhaps such a scene would've been a total invention.) Hoffman makes the most out of the role, but the Howe character is incomplete enough that it seems a waste of a gifted actor like Hoffman, who won an Oscar when he was last directed by Miller in 2005's Capote.
The film does well by its baseball scenes, in part because several of the actors portraying the A's are former major and minor leaguers, most notably Royce Clayton as Tejada. Moneyball generates some amusing tension from a scene where Beane and Brand are trying to negotiate a trade for Ricardo Rincon, which baseball fans may find comical given the relatively low stakes of picking up a reliever at the trade deadline. Nevertheless, the scene is a (very simplified) example of the mindgames that GMs often use on each other in negotiations.
Those expecting a documentary about the 2002 Oakland A's will be disappointed by Moneyball, as will those who value the opinions of baseball scouts, given how harshly the old-timer scouts are depicted. That said, Moneyball succeeds at its basic goal of delivering an entertaining story and making in-depth statistical analysis understandable and relatable to audiences that might barely understand balls and strikes. And, to boot, this character study of an impassioned, small-market GM may gain some unintentional comedy points if the real Billy Beane ends up as the general manager of the Cubs.
Image by Scott Wachter/Icon SMI
MLB is building momentum toward two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions per league, according to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. It doesn't appear that the players’ association will agree to expand the postseason unless owners agree to more balanced schedules and divisions, Stark reports. Here are the rest of his rumors…
- It appears that the Tigers and Rays will pick up their options for Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth, respectively, this offseason.
- Two MLB executives predicted to Stark that Ryan Madson will sign a deal like the one Valverde obtained two winters ago: $14MM over two years plus an option.
- Multiple teams have expressed concerns about Francisco Rodriguez’s off-field “baggage,” though K-Rod stands out as one of the best free agent relievers of the winter.
- Stark hears that MLB has been slow to approve incoming Astros owner Jim Crane in order to apply leverage on Crane so that he’ll agree to move the Astros to the American League. Earlier today, Bob Nightengale of USA Today had a report that conflicts with Stark’s article.
- Friends of Billy Beane say the A’s GM has legitimate interest in the Cubs GM job, though he has an ownership stake and lots of freedom in Oakland.
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo will interview managerial candidates this offseason before deciding whether Davey Johnson will return as manager in 2012.
- First base doesn’t appear to be a priority for Washington, but Rizzo says "you never want to say never” when it comes to possible offseason moves.
The Mariners announced yesterday that they agreed to a multiyear extension with GM Jack Zduriencik. The deal ends speculation about a possible regime change and means there’s one less job opening for GM candidates in MLB. Here are the latest notes on baseball’s general managers…
- Multiple high-ranking A’s officials tell Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that the Cubs haven’t made any contact with Billy Beane about Chicago’s GM opening.
- Newsday's Ken Davidoff thinks Brian Cashman will be back with the Yankees next year, partly because of the Mariners' decision to retain Zduriencik. Not only does that remove one possible destination for Cashman, the longtime Yankees GM has been intrigued by the Seattle job in the past.
- Carrie Muskat of MLB.com lists Thad Levine of the Rangers, Ben Cherington of the Red Sox, J.J. Picollo of the Royals, Rick Hahn of the White Sox, Michael Hill of the Marlins and former Twins GM Terry Ryan as potential candidates for the Cubs' job.