July 2010

Sheets, Bailey and crickets, oh my

Maybe Sheets won’t be retiring after all…at least that’s the impression I got after he spent some time chatting from Louisiana with reporters today. He understands he’s 32 and, with another flexor tendon surgery, likely wouldn’t be able to return to the field until the 2012 season. But this guy has a real love for the game- you saw it on the field with his fiery mound demeanor, and I had the privilege of seeing it off the field in the clubhouse. So even though I said yesterday it wouldn’t surprise me if he opted for retirement, which I still don’t think is out of the question, I should have added that it wouldn’t surprise me if he underwent another procedure. If he forgoes the surgery, I’d love to see him coaching – not necessarily at the big league level but perhaps college or even a Little League team. He’d be awesome in that role – he loves to win, and he knows how to do it while having fun. Plus he’s got two boys of his own, and he seems to be great with them. Ben said he plans to be around the A’s clubhouse next week and for much of the rest of the season, so I’m sure he’ll keep us updated on what’s in store for his future.

In other news, Andrew Bailey is proving that the injury bug is still alive and well in the A’s clubhouse. All reports indicated his back was improving, and he even said yesterday he could “probably” pitch in a game if need be. But today Geren said he’s still day-to-day, and I’m wondering if the A’s would be best suited to give him time on the DL to fully recover. After all, back injuries should not be messed with – just ask Eric Chavez. Brett Anderson will officially be activated from the DL to start against Chicago on Friday, so the A’s could potentially place Bailey on the DL tomorrow and, in the meantime, simply hand over his roster spot to Anderson. Then again, they just might wait it out with Bailey, as they did with Mark Ellis and Conor Jackson before finally sending them to the DL. Either way, this isn’t time to sport a depleted bullpen. Craig Breslow and Michael Wuertz have already been handed a large work load this week, and the A’s can’t expect to run them out there every single night.

On a slightly less serious note, I personally can’t wait to get out of Texas, where flying – yes, flying – crickets have taken over. They’re on the field, in the dugout, in the press box, in the parking lot, in my dreams….everywhere. And they’re nasty little things. Well, they’re actually pretty big. Anyway, Chicago may be just as warm as Texas, but I can manage so long as crickets aren’t involved.

More thoughts on Sheets’ departure

Sheets may have been the only true veteran on the club’s pitching staff, and he may have been given the largest one-year contract the A’s have ever handed a free agent they signed from outside their organization. But, by night’s end, no one was talking about the numbers or the dollars. Sheets really gave the A’s so much more than that, and I think it goes without saying the clubhouse just won’t be the same anymore — not without Sheets there yelling, “Good morning, champions!”

Kurt Suzuki was asked about the loss of Sheets after tonight’s game, and before the question was finished, he blurted out a “Wow.” He said he hadn’t been told of the pitcher’s season-ending injury, which I think surprised all of us reporters. But once he regained his thoughts, here’s what he had to say about Ben:

“That’s a
bummer. We’re not just losing his arm. It’s more of his clubhouse leadership,
the role he plays on the team leadership-wise. He’s always upbeat. He’s always
going to pick up the team. He’s great to have around, especially for us young
players. It almost sounds corny, but he kind of brightens up your day when he
walks in because he always has something funny to say, and he’s always talking
loud, joking around. That’s the biggest thing, losing that leadership, because
that’s huge in baseball.”

I really can’t say whether Sheets will go through with another surgery or not. Even if he got it done fairly soon, I don’t know if he’d be ready to audition for another team before Spring Training. And, given, his recent history, I just don’t know that many teams would show up for the audition. Sheets, at least in my eyes, seems to be at peace with his situation. He wasn’t around to talk today, but when he was placed on the disabled list Saturday, there was a calm about him that reminded me of Eric Chavez during Spring Training. Eric made it known that he was content with whatever happened, whether he stayed healthy or not, because he knew he gave his team every effort possible. Sheets is the same way. He’d probably pitch until his arm fell off, but at the end of the day, he knew another injury to his elbow was possible. He also has two young kids, and when he wasn’t playing in 2009, he spent a lot of time with them at home, and he’s said before that he doesn’t regret the time missed on the field at all, mainly because of the time it allowed him with his family. So if he opts for retirement, which I’m fairly certain he’s considering, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. He basically pitched with pain all year, and for him to give the A’s the innings he did says a lot about his competitiveness.

I wish him the best, and I know he’ll make good out of any situation that comes his way in the future. 


Sheets out for year with torn flexor tendon

The worst possible scenario was confirmed Wednesday when Bob Geren announced that Ben Sheets will
miss the remainder of the season with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow.

According to
the A’s skipper, a second elbow surgery — the first caused him to miss all of
2009 — has not been scheduled, and there was no indication that one will be in
the near future. Sheets will be a free agent at the end of the year, so he
could potentially choose to elect retirement rather than face another procedure
and the process of finding a team.

Nothing of
the sorts has been determined, though. After all, the news was just settling in
with Geren, who has already watched Justin Duchscherer and Ryan Sweeney go down
to season-ending surgeries.

.

“He’ll be
missed both on the field and off the field,” he said. “He’s been a great teammate
for a lot of the young guys. A lot of them looked up to him for his
competitiveness and, off the field, he was just a pleasant guy to be around.”

Sheets, who
posted at least six innings in each of his last 14 starts, was initially placed
on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a strained right elbow following a
pair of outings that brought about inflammation in his troubled elbow.

Surprisingly,
the A’s pitcher — who missed all of 2009 following elbow surgery — put
together rather impressive numbers during those starts, which resulted in just
a combined two runs. But those numbers, no matter how they read in a box score,
didn’t say as much as the one that read on the radar gun, Sheets insisted at
the time.

“I was still
successful with the diminished velocity,” he said. “It didn’t fool me, but I
was still able to pitch. When I knew my stuff wasn’t there, I knew it wasn’t
going away. … Swelling’s no good. I know that. Your arm just don’t swell.
Things just don’t swell for no reason.”

Sheets also
expressed that at no point this season did he feel a strong progression toward
his old self, the one that was a four-time National League All-Star while with
Milwaukee. He was 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts for the A’s and has allowed
an American League-leading 57 extra-base hits.

“The whole
year’s been frustrating,” he said. “From where I was before spring, it’s never
really taken any jumps you always hear about. To say I felt good for extended
periods of time would be false. I felt good here and there — a couple innings
here, a couple innings there, but nothing sustained throughout the year.”

With lefty Brett
Anderson’s impending return to the mound Friday in Chicago, the A’s still boast
five healthy starters, the other four being Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Gio
Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro.

The Taylor/Carter question

As we keep
seeing guys from Sacramento getting the call to Oakland, I keep getting more
questions wondering about Michael Taylor and Chris Carter. When will their time
come? Why aren’t they being called up? Why Matt Carson and Matt Watson? I think
it’s widely expected that the duo of Taylor and Carter will immediately give
the A’s the power they’ve been looking for all year. That won’t happen, though,
until they can prove that power in the PCL, where they’re both currently
hitting under .260 (Carter, as of Wednesday, is batting .238; Taylor, .252). Meanwhile, upon their promotions, Carson and Watson were
both boasting an above-.300 mark. And as many in the organization has said before,
there’s no sense in rushing Taylor or Carter. Many thought they’d be up by now.
To tell you the truth, I did too. But they’re simply not performing, and
bringing them to an even bigger stage isn’t going to do any good, either. Right
now, they account for 24 percent of Sacramento’s total strikeout number. Carter
has 96 through 83 games. And the next highest number? Well, that would come
from Taylor, who has fanned 52 times in 69 games. The A’s have done right by
letting them find their groove in the Minors. At the same time, they’re
preserving their Major League service clock as well — the A’s have said that’s not a priority, but if they can, why not? So don’t be
holding your breath for either to land in Oakland anytime before September.

Who’s your A’s All-Star?

Your obvious A’s All-Star candidates are Kurt Suzuki and Andrew Bailey. Quickly making his way into that mix is Trevor Cahill, who has been downright nasty in his past couple of starts, particularly his last two, which has resulted in a 2-0 record and 1.31 ERA. Add in the 21/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through those 20 2/3 innings of work, and the tale gets even better. He lost two of his first four starts but has since won his last seven decisions. Cahill’s final two tests will come against a pair of power-loaded teams: first, the Yankees, against whom the 22-year-old has yet to face in his career; then come the Angels, whom Cahill has fared well against in five starts (2-1, 2.56 ERA). So, assuming he continues his hot streak against said teams, he should — in my opinion — be invited to the All-Star Game. The thing is, though, as we already know, he won’t be allowed on the active roster since he’s slated to pitch Sunday. And if you’re a team like the A’s who are likely to boast just one representative, don’t you want that representative to actually step onto the field at some point? So, my other vote, who happened to rightfully be noted by Geren today, is Craig Breslow. When those outside of the A’s community think of potential Oakland All-Star relievers, Bailey immediately comes to mind. And yes, Bailey is again having another good year (his 1.64 ERA is seventh lowest among AL relievers), but there are many who would send Breslow in a heart beat. As Geren said today, “If we need to win a game, I always put him in.” His opponents are batting .156 against him, which happens to rank fourth lowest among AL relievers. And the amount of work he’s been given (39 games, second in AL) speaks for itself. He’d automatically give the AL a dependable lefty in the ‘pen, as he’s done for the A’s pretty much all season.

Bottom line: Cahill, without a doubt, deserves to be an All-Star. His current 2.74 ERA ranks fourth among all AL starters and his .274 opponents BA is good for third. Breslow, also, deserves to represent the A’s. So send them both. One sits, one (hopefully) pitches. Both are honored, as they should be.

Of course, that’s not taking anything away from Bailey or Suzuki, the latter whom I’ve yet to speak of. Suzuki’s value to this team is undeniable, but I’m not so sure his current numbers (.258, 10 homers) are going to cut it in the competitive AL catchers race. Then again, Geren’s on the coaching staff, and he’s said countless times that Suzuki would be his pick, so it will be interesting to see how much pull he has in it all.

Either way, the All-Star representatives will be announced tomorrow, so make sure you keep an eye out on the A’s site for who’s headed to Anaheim in a week.

Who gets your vote? Comment, and tell me who and why.

A. Andrew Bailey
B. Craig Breslow
C. Trevor Cahill
D. Kurt Suzuki
E. Other

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