Monthly archives: July 2008
Everybody's Still Here
Well, this year's trade deadline has come and gone, and the A's roster is still comprised of the same mediocrities, mehs, and Maybe One Days that just got swept at home by Kansas City. I don't know what's more dispiriting -- the fact that we're in for at least two more months of the uninspiring baseball the A's have been playing since the All Star break or that Oakland's few tradable commodities are so lightly regarded by the baseball world at large, they couldn't produce enough of a return for Billy Beane to pull the trigger on a deal.
So I'm afraid I don't have much to say about any of the trades that went down today...
Excuse me, Phil.
My goodness! It's Sigma Delta Chi National Sports Columnist of the Year Bill Plaschke. It's an honor to have you here at Catfish Stew.
Why, thank you.
Well, I'm sure you must have something to say about the biggest trade of the biggest trade to go down at the deadline -- the one that brought Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Well, the floor is all yours. Bill Plashcke, ladies and gentlemen.
Pick Your Headline
My wife and I disagreed about Wednesday's game--she thought it was a sloppy game, particularly defensively, while I found the defensive miscues forgiveable, and the game tense and full of interesting storylines, even if the final result was disappointing. I couldn't pick just one main theme to go with, so we'll run all the different headlines, and you can pick your favorites.
Carlos Gonzalez gets thrown out at the plate, and gets a fistful of Miguel Olivo when he tries to run him over. You can call it bad baserunning, or bad third-base coaching, but I think it was just a good play by the Royals, a well executed relay throw on a double by Jack Cust. If this run scores, the A's probably win this game in regulation. Instead the A's lost in extra innings, and got swept by the Royals. In recent years, such a sweep would be a total embarassment, but this Royals team isn't that bad anymore. The back half of their bullpen is quite solid and the starting pitching isn't at all embarassing as it once was. Find them a real shortstop and first baseman, and they're probably a .500 team. Meanwhile, the A's are moving backwards, falling below .500 for first time in many weeks. They've been freefalling ever since the Rich Harden trade.
Yankee Stadium, Trade Rumors
My Yankee Stadium reflections are now running over at Bronx Banter.
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With the A's Infinite Playoff Improbability Drive now running at only 6% and falling, the actual games seem to take on less and less significance, while the trade rumors grow in importance. The rumors about Huston Street, Alan Embree and Justin Duchscherer make sense, but I don't get the Jason Bay ones, unless Beane thinks he can flip Bay for more than he'd give up.
I'm not really expecting Beane to make any more moves. There are a lot of relievers available for trades, and the Jon Rauch-for-Emilio Bonifacio trade between the Nats and the DBacks probably set the market price for veteran relievers lower than Beane would like. The A's could have had Bonifacio in the Dan Haren trade, but chose Chris Carter instead. The A's aren't going to trade Street for some team's 7th-best prospect, and who's going to give up much more than the established value for a closer? Also, I'm guessing that all the saves Alan Embree racked up last year will bump him into the Type B reliever category, and given how much Embree has sucked lately, no one's going to pay more the value of a sandwich pick for him. So the A's might as well keep him, decline his option, offer arbitration, and hope he goes elsewhere.
Duchscherer seems to me the most likely to go, but he's been shaky since the all-star break. He was sick in the all-star game, wasn't sharp when I saw him at Yankee Stadium, and in his last start, he gave up more than three earned runs for the first time all season. Other teams might be worried that he's hitting the wall, having not pitched this many innings in a season since 2003. The biggest point in favor of his getting traded is that he's still the best starting pitcher available. If a team gets desperate, they might overpay to Beane's content.
With the Eric Chavez "shredded shoulder" news, all A's fans are drooling over idea of getting Andy LaRoche to replace him. The Dodgers seem to inexplicably hate LaRoche, but their front office is so disfunctional, it's crazy to get any hopes up. You have to want the Dodgers to (a) remain disfunctional enough to keep disliking a good prospect, and yet (b) overcome their disfunction enough to make a decision to trade him. Good luck with that.
Two names I haven't heard in trade discussions are Greg Smith, Dana Eveland, and Dallas Braden. The A's rotation of the future probably doesn't have room for any of them, and certainly not for all of them. Two years from now, the A's rotation will probably be Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Vince Mazzaro. Smith, Eveland, and Braden are merely placeholders until the other guys are ready. Smith in particular seems to be outperforming his talent, and now might be the best time to sell high.
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Below the fold, some pictures from Yankee Stadium that didn't make my Bronx Banter piece.
That's the Ticket
I'm currently reading Michael Palin's diaries from 1969 to 1979, though that's not what I want to talk about. I bring this up merely to point out that Palin's book is rather large, as you might imagine a decade's worth of diary dispatches would be. Thus, this telephone directory-sized book makes for a poor traveling companion, no matter how compelling Palin's dispatches from the set of Jabberwocky or how faithfully he retells that hurtful thing Eric Idle once said about Terry Jones.
So I've been on the road the past couple of weeks -- Escondido last weekend, and Kansas City this one. (Official motto: Come for our fountains and barbecue; stay for our debilitating humidity.) Thus, rather than carry a separate suitcase just to haul around Michael Palin's book, I grabbed a paperback off the shelf to pass the time on the plane -- The Mustache Gang. Written by Ron Bergman, it's still the definitive contemporary account of the A's first few years in Oakland, even though it was published following the 1972 season before the book had yet to be closed on the Swingin' A's era.
But again, that's not what I was planning on talking about.
My copy of The Mustache Gang is actually Ken's old copy of the book. About a year ago, Mr. Arneson was in the process of paring down his library and was kind enough to let me root through his belongings, pick out anything that pleased me, and dismiss the rest with affected disdain. And so that's why I have a dog-eared copy of The Mustache Gang as well as an impressive collection of tomes about Swedish folklore.
Which brings us, at last to the point: When I cracked open The Mustache Gang, I found this slip of paper tucked into the inside cover.
As you can see, it's a coupon for a 1992 A's game against Cleveland. For the princely sum of $3.50 -- half off the $7 face value of the ticket -- you can grab yourself one seat in the Coliseum's still-untarped upper deck. Mother's Cookies will even throw in a pack of A's trading cards at no addition expense.
I don't want to turn this into one of those In-My-Day-Quarters-Cost-A-Nickel rants, but $7 seats might be enough to get even me to darken the Coliseum's door with greater frequency. Even if I do have to tie an onion to my belt, what on account of it being the fashion at the time.
Say... you don't suppose the current A's regime might honor that old coupon, do you? I mean, I realize it expired 16 years ago and all, but it's still in excellent shape, even if I have been using it as a bookmark to gauge my progress through Mustache Gang. If nothing else, it would be an wonderful gesture on the team's part to sell me a $3.50 seat, no questions asked. I'll even drop the expectation of the pack of trading cards, as I imagine few remain from the 1992 promotion. I won't even insist that they remove a section of tarp so that I can claim my upper reserved seat as promised -- anything in the second deck will do.
Say, speaking of promotions, note how many fans walked away that day with a free pack of trading cards -- 35,000, or about 93 percent of the people who showed up that day based on the attendance figure listed in the box score. That's how you do a giveaway promotion -- not handing out things to the first eight dozen fans who show up at a gate you've randomly determined by pulling letters out of a Wells Fargo replica A's hat. Learn from your elders, A's promotions department. Stop cheaping out on promotions, and maybe people might want to attend a game at your ballpark every once in a while.
Don't know if you clicked on the Retrosheet link to the boxscore from that August 30, 1992 game, but it was a pretty nondescript affair. Down 2-0 at the get go, the A's plated runners in the second, third, fourth, and fifth innings to build a lead they would never relinquish. Your final score: Oakland 7, Cleveland 5 with Ron Darling picking up his 12th win of the year, and Rick Honeycutt nailing down the save.
No, the more interesting game would be what happened the next day when the Baltimore Orioles came to town. Let's pick up the action in this Mike Mussina-Kelly Downs pitching showdown in the bottom of the first:
R. Henderson flied to left
Yup, that was the game when Jose Canseco got traded to Texas for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell, Bobby Witt, and that ever popular by-product of Athletics trades over the years, cash. The deal was completed just in time for Canseco to be lifted from the game as he stood in the on-deck circle. I would tell you the reaction of the Coliseum crowd -- puzzlement, I suppose, until word of the deal leaked out -- but I wasn't there. I can tell you that, among the school chums over at my house that night, the Canseco trade really took the air out of the British Bulldog's triumph over Brett "The Hitman" Hart in the main event of the SummerSlam pay-per-view.
Yeah, I spent the night watching wrestling. And now I read books. Go figure how that worked out.
Please Put Emil Brown Out Of My Misery
I'm looking at the lineup for tonight's game against the Rangers. Emil Brown is batting cleanup. Against a right-handed pitcher (Vicente Padilla). Yes, the A's now have a cleanup hitter who is hitting .250/.282/.382.
OK, go ahead and just trade everybody, Billy Beane. Because if Emil Brown is your cleanup hitter, your team is really, really pathetic. Actually, if an outfielder with a .669 OPS is even on your roster at this stage of the season, let alone batting cleanup, you're not really even paying attention. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that's because you're so busy making trade proposals that you haven't had time to get replace him yet, and not because your TV is stuck on the Fox Soccer Channel. Especially because, you know, Euro 2008 is over, the English Premier League hasn't started up yet, and the Earthquakes are even farther from a playoff spot than the A's.
Hot New York Days
Spent the weekend in New York City, where it's been 95 degrees and muggy every day. Had a good time meeting up with fellow Toastmasters Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran and Diane Firstman on Friday night, and took in the A's-Yankees game on Sunday. Given the weather, I was quite grateful that I had the nosebleed seats, as our seats were under the upper deck overhang, and we got to watch the ballgame in the shade. It was a good game, as Andy Pettitte was painting corners as well as he ever has, and Justin Duchscherer, while not quite on his game--missing the strike zone a bit more often than he usually does, still varied his speed and location well enought to keep the Yankees' offense from launching too much thunder.
The difference in the game was pretty much the difference in the teams, as the Yankees have power, and the A's don't, and the Yankees have experience, and the A's don't. One blast from Jason Giambi provided more power than the A's lineup could provide, and a baserunning misjudgment by Ryan Sweeney in the ninth inning prevented him from reaching second when Bobby Abreu dropped a fly ball, and he was forced out. Just a few innings earlier, when Sweeney had singled in the tying run at 1-1, my wife said, "Is there a worse baserunner than Ryan Sweeney?" He seems to make baserunning errors every time she watches him, and he made her very prescient.
I suppose that if Sweeney had made it to second on Abreu's miscue and come around to score in an A's victory, I could have said that the A's have defense, and the Yankees don't, as Sweeney made a nice throw to nail Alex Rodriguez at the plate for the second time this weekend. But such is the way of talented youthful teams--they'll excite you one minute, and disappoint you the next.
This was my first and only visit to Yankee Stadium before the new version opens next year. I'll write a longer post on the topic later in the week after I return home to California. I would have enjoyed a A's victory more, but if you can't appreciate a close, well-pitched ballgame, and having a chance once in your lifetime to experience the buzz as Mariano Rivera emerges from the Yankee bullpen to close out a ballgame, you don't deserve to call yourself a baseball fan. Even if it was unbearably hot and muggy, it was a good day of baseball.
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Blanton Traded to Phillies for 3 Prospects
According to Buster Olney at ESPN, the A's have sent Joe Blanton to Philadelphia for second baseman Adrian Cardenas, pitcher Josh Outman and outfielder Matthew Spencer.
The A's must really think Mark Ellis is going to leave as a free agent, as the A's are loading up on second base prospects all of a sudden. First they drafted Jemile Weeks, then they traded for Eric Patterson in the Rich Harden trade, and now they add Cardenas. Meanwhile, we're still stuck with no heir apparents to either Bobby Crosby or Eric Chavez.
But heck, you can't get a better name for a pitching prospect than Josh Outman, can you?
I like this trade better than the Harden trade, because I expected to get less from Blanton. But Cardenas and Outman are legit prospects. In the preseason, Kevin Goldstein gave them both 3-star ratings, while John Sickels ranked them both as solid B's. Spencer didn't make Goldstein's list, while Sickels gave him a C+.
BTW, if you don't like either of the two trades, you can blame this article of mine. I was literally two minutes from publishing it when the Rich Harden trade went down, and this Blanton trade goes through two minutes after I finally pressed the publish button on the thing.
Studies in Scandinavian Language and Literature
Trivia question: How do you say "Timmermann's Griddle" in Swedish?
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Free trivia: The Danish province of Greenland is almost completely covered by a snow-white ice cap. So why is the island named so colorfully? Is it because the natives all wear A's caps? Contrary to popular belief, no, it is not. The name derives from the color your face turns when you eat contaminated chicken while flying above it.
Here's a travel tip: try to avoid contracting food poisoning on long, intercontinental flights. You may not have known this, but there are many better ways to begin your vacation. Like, say, doing anything else.
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More trivia: A list of people poisoned in or above or on their way to Denmark:
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No wonder Danes are the happiest people on earth. They could be poisoned at any moment. When you start with such low expectations, anything else is a happy surprise. I survived my Danish poisoning! Life is great!
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In 1992, Denmark won the European Soccer Championships. Two years later, Danish happiness levels plummeted, because Danes started expecting success. When the Danish team returned to previous levels of failure, Danish expectations returned to near-zero, and the Danes regained their happiness titles.
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As for our Greenland Athletics, until my actual encounter with Greenland, I was pretty happy. Perhaps because, like the Danes, I came into this season with incredibly low expectations. I expected disaster, and instead, it's been kinda not bad. Look, the A's are pretty much having the same season as the Yankees, likely to finish above .500 but out of the playoffs, but the Yankee fans are much more miserable about it.
Then I met Greenland, puked on the plane, landed in Copenhagen, barely missed a train to my Swedish destination while my stomach gurgled, finally arrived my brother's home, where I promptly puked a bunch more. I thought, well, this vacation can't get much worse than this. What's worse than being poisoned? I couldn't eat for two days. Shortly after I had regained my strength, Rich Harden was traded for much less in return than I had been expecting, and I felt miserable again. Then a couple days after that, my baby daughter got sick with fever, and cried inconsolably for hours and hours until she finally fell asleep and the fever broke the next day. And to top things off, a few days later, my 17-year-old nephew went out to a party at a friend's house, and as he left the party, he was robbed, kidnapped and driven to multiple ATMs and made to drain his account, and then beaten up and left on the street with a shiner, a broken nose, and a concussion. (Yes, this happened in Sweden.) But hey, other than those things, it's been a wunnerful, wunnerful show.
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Tomorrow, I depart Sweden for New York City, where the weather forecast calls for muggy, 95 degree East Coast heat all weekend long. We're scheduled to see Justin Duchscherer pitch on Sunday in my first and only visit to Yankee Stadium, so the odds are good I'll at least witness a competitive game. But then again, given my recent fortunes, Duchscherer will be traded or injured before then, and/or the game will be cancelled on account of thunderstorms or some other random act of God. That is, of course, assuming I even survive the flight out of Stockholm. Perhaps I should reaquaint myself with some August Strindberg scripts before I order my in-flight meals.
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My expectations right now are about as low as they can be. If the A's go on a 15-game losing streak out of the all-star break, for example, I won't be heartbroken; I'm fully expecting such misery. And if anything uncatastrophic happens, I am pleasantly and happily surprised, such as this afternoon when I discovered to my great joy the answer to the above trivia question:
Your Catfish Stew Cheap Shot o' the Morning
From this morning's Chronicle:
[Justin] Duchscherer, [Ervin] Santana and Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez will be on the same chartered flight for New York after the game. Rodriguez recorded his 37th save, an ongoing major-league record for most saves before the break.
When the plane lands, I understand that Francisco Rodriguez leaps out of his seat and dances around the cabin like he's never successfully completed a flight before.
As I type this, I'm watching the Major League Futures Game (A's connection: Cliff Pennington has just struck out and Tervor Cahill is on the mound to start the second inning), where Davey Johnson is managing the team made up of U.S. players. The minor leaguers are wearing the caps of their Major League affiliates. In Johnson's case, he's sporting a New York Mets cap. Play-by-play man Gary Thorne informs us that it's the first time Davey Johnson has worn a Mets cap since leading the team to the '86 championship. Erin Andrews repeats this little tidbit of info in her in-dugout interview with Johnson a few moments later.
Presumably, Johnson went capless in 1987, 1988, and 1989. I had no idea.
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That's a Load of Beane
I've poured through all the analysis I could find about the Harden deals, and I still don't like it emotionally. But there's a major point that I haven't seen being made on the rational side of the ledger, so I'll make it here. I'll begin with a quote from the San Jose Mercury News:
Asked if dealing Harden might lead to more trades involving players such as Joe Blanton or Huston Street, Beane responded: " 'No' is probably the quickest answer." But he added: "I think you have to look at (possible deals) independently."
That's a load of bull. Beane may make his deals one at a time, but that doesn't mean he looks at his deals in isolation. He looks at them as to how it affects the team as a whole, and what kind of flexibility it gives him in the future. Which brings us to the missing point: the A's are saving quite a bit of money in this trade over the next year and a half:
Gallagher and Murton and Patterson will make about $1 million or so between them, which makes about $11 million or so that can be spent on something besides an extremely injury-prone starter and a mop-up man in the pen. Perhaps $4 million of it has already been spent on Michael Inoa--a younger, hopefully healther Rich Harden for the future. And perhaps the rest of that money can be spent on extending Mark Ellis or Justin Duchscherer. Perhaps you and I wouldn't trade Harden and Gaudin for Gallagher, Patterson, Murton and Donaldson. But if you think of the deal as including Inoa plus an extra year or two of Mark Ellis, the trade looks a lot better, doesn't it?
If you figure the A's are unlikely to make the playoffs in 2008, and you want to load up for 2009, who would you rather have: Harden and Gaudin, or Gallagher and Ellis?
Harden and Gaudin Traded to Cubs
Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin were traded to the Cubs today for pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton, infielder Eric Patterson and catcher Josh Donaldson.
My first reaction is that Cubs fans ought to be insanely happy about this. They're not likely going to miss any of those players in their pennant drive much, while Harden and Gaudin will both make an immediate impact, especially if they turn Gaudin back into a starter.
And my second reaction is that if Cubs fans should be happy, then A's fans should be disappointed. I like Gallagher, but Murton seems redundant on the A's roster, Patterson seems like the type of risky player who, like his brother Cory, will likely not pan out unless he can miraculously find some plate discipline, and Donaldson--never heard of him.
But still, I suppose now was the time for Beane to sell, before Harden got hurt again. And Beane was probably going to trade Gaudin either this July or in the winter, as the A's have plenty of cheaper players to provide similar production than Gaudin, a former super-two player who reached arbitration status earlier than other players of his age.
So Beane had two very talented players, but flawed--Harden by his fragility, Gaudin by his price tag. The timing was right to trade both these guys.
So I'm not bothered by trading either player. What I am bothered by is that I don't feel like the Cubs are feeling nearly as much pain about this trade as I am. I liked Gaudin, and loved Harden. Watching him pitch filled me with a child-like giddiness. The Cubs should be wincing--ooh, did we have to give up [insert Josh Vitters or other talented name here]? But they're not, are they?
I can rationalize it--Harden's fragility reduced his trade value, and they're getting five years of Gallagher for 1+ year of Harden, but screw rationality. They traded two flawed players, and got back four flawed players, none of whom are very easy to muster up any child-like giddiness about. Emotionally, this one really hurts.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Ken: catfish AT zombia d.o.t. com
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