January 2010

Buck in As future?

As reported here, a club source told me Sunday that the A’s have indeed signed free agent outfielder Gabe Gross to a one-year deal. According to the source, Gross’ contract is worth $750,000. He can earn up to $1 million based on plate appearances. Here’s the breakdown:

300 ABs: $25,000
350 ABs: $25,000
400 ABs: $50,000
450 ABs: $50,000
500 ABs: $50,000
550 ABs: $50,000

The deal was likely done Friday, and the club anticipated announcing the news Monday. So come tomorrow, if/when the A’s put out a release, it should be interesting to see who is designated for assignment. The Ben Sheets signing put the A’s right at the 40-man mark, so someone’s definitely getting the bump. I know this deal is also leaving many of you Travis Buck fans skeptical about his future in Oakland. Before the rumors of Gross (and Johnny Damon) began circling about, many assumed Buck was the A’s fourth outfielder. In the past, Beane has been adamant about Buck not being available to other teams, but a deal like this has to make you wonder if he’s changed his mind.

Count your outfielders

All is apparently not quiet on the Western Front. Talks of the A’s in pursuit of one-time Oakland player Johnny Damon have fizzled this weekend, but according to multiple reports — including FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and ESPN’s Buster Olney — the club is now in “serious discussions” with free-agent outfielder Gabe Gross. The 30-year-old Gross, who hit .227 with six homers and 36 games for Tampa Bay last year, would presumably offer the A’s a left-handed option off the bench and yet another backup outfielder.

Over the past couple weeks, both Beane and Geren have boasted about what could shape up to be the best defensive outfield in the league with Davis in LF, Crisp in CF and Sweeney in RF. The A’s also have the highly touted Michael Taylor waiting in line, not to mention options in Eric Patterson and Travis Buck — the latter who the A’s seem to have lost a lot of hope on, especially if a Gross signing gets done. So with the A’s entering camp with more outfielders than some can count, it begs the question of why Beane is so interested in signing an outfielder rather than what he calls a much-needed utility infielder.

At the same time, it’s Beane. And where his mind goes at this time of the year is anybody’s guess. After all, it’s fair to say the Ben Sheets signing didn’t make much sense — considering the pitching depth — before the deal came into fruition. And now that it has, it makes great sense barring any injury. But Gross is not Sheets. And he’s not Crisp. Or Kouzmanoff. So what gives?

Bailey, Wuertz and more

Good things really do happen to good people. Today’s case in point: Andrew Bailey. He’s one of several overly friendly (in a good way, of course) guys on the team, and he deserves everything that’s come his way in the past year, including his All-Star and Rookie of the Year honors. Good fortune has apparently followed him into 2010. Last night he was honored in a halftime ceremony at his alma mater Wagner College. The head honchos there decided to retire Andrew’s No. 17 – which he said came as a complete surprise when approached about it in the middle of the offseason. His former coach, Joe Litterio, couldn’t say enough about Andrew. You can read the full story here.

Also on the good-guy radar today is Michael Wuertz. The new daddy of son Braxton avoided arbitration and agreed to a two-year deal with a club option for 2012 this afternoon. When I spoke to Michael, he seemed very relieved knowing he’ll likely be in the same place for a couple years.

Add in the Ben Sheets signing and interesting Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections that have the A’s finishing first in the AL West this year, and I have to say it’s been a pretty good week for fans of the green and gold. Curious to hear your thoughts/arguments/ramblings related to the PECOTA news. Have to admit I’m not a big fan of those types of projections, but I know a lot of you are. So have at it…

Dear Jane …

I have already received a couple e-mails from fans with
questions waiting to be answered in the next “A’s Inbox” feature. I urge all
you readers to submit any and all queries you may have related to the A’s to
this e-mail. I will do my best to answer as many questions as possible in my
debut “Inbox,” which will hopefully make its way to the A’s site sooner than
later – depending on how quickly the e-mails start rolling in.

 

In your e-mail, please include your first and last name,
along with your hometown.

 

Looking forward to your submissions!

- Jane

Twitter: http://twitter.com/JaneMLB

Depth comes with decisions

For those still not sold on yesterday’s signing, I urge you
to join the pro-Sheets club. Why? Because it’s a win-win for all — Sheets gets
to pitch in a pitcher-friendly park, put up good numbers and re-enter the
market at season’s end and/or be moved to a contender for prospects come July
if the A’s are out of contention.

Basically, it’s a smart move for both sides — unless, of
course, Sheets gets hurt. But after listening to both the right-handed pitcher
and Beane talk extensively both during and after the press conference about
Sheets’ questioned health, I firmly believe he’s not going to be crowding the
trainer’s room this year. Billy said the guy keeps himself in remarkable shape,
and Ben went on for about five minutes about how extensive his physical was
before the deal was done.

Billy was asked if he felt anxious about having his rotation
led by two guys who didn’t pitch an inning last year. Definitely a fair
question, and one that I’m sure has plenty A’s fans wondering about too. Here’s
Billy’s answer:

“I wouldn’t say anxiety. Bigger anxiety was going into last
year having so little experience in our starting rotation. Ben opted to have
the surgery a year ago in an effort to make sure he was completely healthy, so
I have less concern than I would had he not had the surgery.

“Quite frankly, we were very pleased with the physical he
went through. Ben keeps himself in great shape, as does Justin, so we’re
anticipating them having a real good year. We can take a little bit of pressure
off our rotation because we now have some depth, which we haven’t had in the
last few years. Going into Spring Training, we have seven or eight guys.”

Later, Bob Geren was promptly asked about his starting
rotation. Is Sheets your ace? “Oh yea,” he replied. Quite a change from last year,
when Geren didn’t choose his OD starter (Braden) until five days before the
first pitch was thrown. He said Duchscherer, Braden and Anderson would likely
follow in that order, although I see a couple different options there since
Geren usually likes to go R-L-R or L-R-L. Both Geren and Beane made it very
clear that the fifth spot is not Cahill’s for certain — which I suspect
several people assumed would be the case. I, for one, though, do see Cahill –
who turns 22 in March — landing that fifth spot.

He definitely didn’t make as many strides as fellow rotation
youngster Anderson did last season, but he did improve on keeping the ball down
in the strike zone near the end of the year. His sinker has potential to be
very dangerous, but he’s gotta be careful with the long ball (he gave up an
Oakland-rookie-record 27 homers last year).

Then there’s Gio. The guy’s got what Geren deems the best
stuff on the staff, but keeping Gio in check mentally is what’s preventing him
from becoming a bona fide Major League pitcher. I talked with Gio for a long
while about this last week, and he said he feels he’s turned a page when it
comes to calming down on the mound. He’ll have to walk the talk come spring,
but if what he’s saying proves to be true, then he could definitely be in the
mix for the No. 5 spot.

Mazzaro is the final candidate for the job and, frankly, the
one several around the league pegged as the next big thing last spring. He was
usually mentioned in the same breath as Anderson and Cahill, and people were
going gaga over comparing the trio to The Big Three of Hudson, Mulder and Zito.
He was called up in June and quickly had heads turning by posting a 0.00 ERA in
his first two starts. But then he suddenly lost eight in a row, suffered a
shoulder injury and was never heard from again. Less walks and more strikes,
along with a slightly more poised appearance, and Mazzaro’s a big leaguer. But
when that time will come, no one knows. So for now, I see him getting schooled
at Triple A to start the season.

Don’t forget about Josh Outman, who should be back
mid-season. Including him, that’s 8 pitchers available to start. So when Billy
grabbed Sheets, was part of the plan to trade one of the younger pitchers for a
much-needed utility INF? “I think it’s fair to say we’ll hold on to the young
guys. We’ve finally got a little bit of depth.”

Depth? Yes. Lots of decisions left to make? Oh yes.

In a perfect world, what does your rotation look like?  

Sheets, Damon on As radar

All those thinking the A’s rotation is
the one area need not be touched heading into Spring Training, think again.
Recent reports are pointing toward a possible Ben Sheets signing in Oakland.

The 31-year-old free agent, who missed
all of 2009 because of elbow surgery, threw a pitching session in front of
several scouts and team officials — including those from Oakland — on Jan. 19
at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. His fastball topped out at 92 mph,
and his curveball was highly affective.

Now, almost one week later, the A’s are
apparently very much still interested despite Sheets’ desire for a guaranteed
$8 million in 2010. And while Billy Beane declined to comment, citing his
policy against discussing free agents, multiple reports say Oakland is
definitely in the mix. Other teams reportedly in a bidding war for the
right-hander include the Mets and Rangers.

The A’s do have some money to spend,
and Sheets would not only offer the A’s an added veteran presence in a very
young rotation, but also provide the club with some trade bait (Gonzalez?
Mazzaro?) to aide in their efforts in landing a power-hitting SS – the one area
on the field where depth is missing.

So while the Sheets interest may seem
somewhat of a head-scratcher at first glance, the notion doesn’t seem too crazy
upon further review – especially when Billy’s involved. However, the team is
also linked to an even stranger idea: Could Johnny Damon be back for a second
tour with the A’s if the Sheets signing doesn’t go down? Doesn’t quite make
much sense, but reports say it’s a definite maybe.

Last week at A’s Media Day, Geren
insisted he may have one of the best — if not, the best — defensive outfields
in the league with Davis in LF, Crisp in CF and Sweeney in RF. Damon’s not
exactly Gold Glove material out there, and he wouldn’t be much of a need at DH
either with Cust, Fox and (hopefully) Chavez already as options there.

Needless to say, the A’s roster could
be slapped with some changes by week’s end. Should be interesting to see how it
all plays out.

Welcome.

Offseason greetings to all in the baseball community, and
welcome to a blog written by your newest A’s beat reporter for MLB.com. My name
is Jane Lee, and I officially joined the A’s full-time beat for MLB.com on
January 18. Hopefully some of you remember me, as I enjoyed a handful of
freelance work covering the A’s during the 2009 season and also worked
alongside former Oakland beat writer Mychael Urban as his associate reporter
the previous year. Thus, having two years of experience on the A’s beat under
my belt, I can assure you nothing but complete and continual coverage of the
A’s that you are used to seeing at MLB.com.

 

I’m beyond excited about this opportunity, and I hope you
join me on the ride by bookmarking this page and making yourself a regular
visitor both here and at the A’s official site. My first week proved plenty
busy, as I reported on the A’s efforts to avoid arbitration with Rajai Davis and newbie
Kevin Kouzmanoff, wrote about Eric Chavez’s new utility role, heard from Coco Crisp and several others at A’s Media Day,
and covered the surprising news of Oakland prospect Grant Desme’s choice to leave baseball and join
the Catholic priesthood. Furthermore, I’m certain Billy Beane isn’t quite done
wheeling and dealing this offseason, so you may be seeing (more) new faces on
the roster before the team and I head to Phoenix in three short weeks for
Spring Training.

 

Here, you can expect any and all news and analysis related
to the team, as well as some fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes and observations
seen on and off the field. Please feel free to leave comments, or e-mail me here. Don’t
forget to follow me on Twitter, either!

 

– Jane


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