THIS WEEK’S PLAYER MOVES PART OF COMPLETING BILLY’S PUZZLE
Well, I guess it’s finally time to exhale. It was masterful how Billy Beane and the A’s brain trust were able to swing so many deals in essentially a 24-hour period earlier this week. I think it speaks volumes about their advance preparation, decisiveness and vision for our club. As we approach next week’s Winter Meetings, we will certainly arrive in Orlando in a position of strength. The depth of our starting pitching and bullpen, and to a lesser extent, our middle infield and catching, makes us an attractive partner with other teams looking to improve their rosters for 2014.
Yet for Billy, it’s all about “pieces” to the puzzle. And a puzzle is a good analogy. When the MLB Executive of the Year begins hunting for new players, it’s not only talent he’s looking for. He’s also looking for the right fit and compliment. Whether it was John Jaso complimenting Derek Norris, or Eric Sogard serving the same purpose with Alberto Callaspo, collectively they fit into a baseball puzzle that has produced 96 wins and a division title last year. Now, with the inevitability that last season’s All-Star pitchers Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour most likely will leave for greener ($$$) pastures, the A’s baseball honchos have addressed virtually all their needs to stock another winning club in 2014. Consider the new pieces:
- LHP Scott Kazmir—He helps balance our rotation as a lefthander and provides a veteran presence whose best years may still be ahead of him. His post-All Star Break ERA with Cleveland last year: 3.38.
- Closer Jim Johnson—As good as Balfour was the past two seasons, there’s a case to be made that Johnson was even better. Also in the prime of his career, he’s led the majors in saves each of the past two seasons (51 in 2011 and 50 in 2012) with a sub-3.00 ERA. And he did it in a hitter’s park, with a playoff-contending team and facing mostly the bats of the American League East.
- RHP Luke Gregerson—He’s been a workhorse in San Diego who established himself as one of the National League’s better set-up men. His 105 holds over the past four years are second most in the NL and tied for fourth-most in the majors over that period.
- OF Craig Gentry—This may be the sleeper of this week’s flurry of additions. If you look closely, Gentry could be the quintessential Athletic. He can play multiple positions—left, right and center field—can steal a base when you need one and hits well at the Coliseum (.333 lifetime). His rifle arm and range in the outfield is well documented, plus he gives Bob Melvin a great option for pinch-running late in a game. And also consider this: Gentry owned the third-best batting average (.280) on Rangers last year, and his .338 average after the All-Star Break ranked third best in the American League. And it should be noted he started 50 games over the last two months of the season.
- INF Nick Punto—Another veteran grinder who can play multiple infield positions and is a plus defender. And while his overall batting numbers may not impress, his success against left-handed pitchers places him in an ideal platoon situation. He hit .309 vs. southpaws last season and .302 in 2012.
- LHP Fernando Abad—He may not have captured the attention of the players acquired this week, but picking up Abad from the Nationals might be another sleeper. When you can find a left-handed reliever whose fastball is clocked in the 95-96 range and has a nasty sinker, you jump on it. And Billy did. This will be his fifth season in the big leagues. He might have been under the radar in D.C., but when you look at his numbers (3.31 ERA in 39 games, 32 strikeouts and 10 walks in 37 innings) from last year, they suggest he might have to change his name to Fernando Agood before too long.
One common thread to most winning teams, I have found, is this: excluding the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers and perhaps a couple more high-priced clubs, the key to a team’s roster is value. If you were to look at the A’s as they’re currently constituted, breaking down the “value” of each player if they were on the common market, you would have to say they collective worth of our team is much more than its $70-some million. While I won’t go into individual examples, suffice it to say that on the open market, this is a team with talent equivalent to a payroll almost double its current figure. I’ve experienced this before on other teams I’ve worked for. It tells you the baseball office is doing a fine job evaluating and spending its money.
THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS: Great seeing A.J. Griffin and Sean Doolittle in our A’s offices yesterday. The two popular pitchers flew in to town Wednesday afternoon, and our Player & Media Relations Manager Adam Loberstein ran them through the gauntlet, first with studio visits to Comcast SportsNet and 95.7 FM The Game, followed by a corporate sponsor dinner Wednesday night. Yesterday, they greeted a couple hundred children at the Oakland Zoo and stayed busy handing out holiday gifts and feeding the animals. Griffin said his favorite animals were the giraffes. They also visited a children’s hospital before returning home to Arizona…Our skipper, Bob Melvin, has been spotted often at Warriors’ games at Oracle Arena. His love of W’s dates back to his childhood when he would follow the team, thanks to his godfather, Warriors’ long-time trainer Dick D’Oliva…Former A’s pitcher Dave Stewart continues to be a great role model in his hometown of Oakland. He and three-time Manager of the Year Dusty Baker, along with ABC7 news anchor Cheryl Jennings, are appearing at the 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence gala next Thursday, Dec. 12 at the Jack London Aquatic Center. It’s a great cause, as recognized by Jerry Blevins, Doolittle and the rest of the A’s bullpen this past season, as they donated $3,500 of their own money to Lorrain Taylor, the founder and CEO of 1000 Mothers, which provides comfort and services to families who have suffered the loss of a loved one due to violence. The Oakland Police Department has begun to refer such families to 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence as the best option in the City for care. There are still limited seats left for the dinner (dress is not formal) at $75 each, but you better hurry. The phone number for orders is 510-583-0100. Registration is from 5-6 p.m. with the program starting at 6:30.