Tag Archives: Oakland Athletics

The A’s Contend for a World Series Title Without Breaking the Bank

If money could buy everything, then the Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox would be popping champagne in preparation for postseason play.

As this wild 2012 Major League Baseball season has shown, however, general managers around the league should be tossing out their checkbooks and looking for young talent capable of carrying a team through the dog days of August into the pennant races of September.

Unfortunately for MLB scouts, heart doesn’t appear in box scores.  Instead it is usually read in the eyes of a few newbies who had been told by baseball pundits that they didn’t have a chance of making the playoffs with intra-division superpowers Texas and Los Angeles to contend with.

The Phillies, Angels, Red Sox, Marlins and Brewers all rank in the top ten for total payroll for the 2012 season.  None of these teams clinched a playoff berth and only the Angels and Brewers came remotely close down the stretch.

The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, defied all odds, clinching a playoff berth despite doling out the least money of any team in the big leagues in 2012 at $49,137,500.  The New York Yankees also will be seeing postseason action, but have a payroll nearly four times that of Oakland’s at $195,998,004.

After a slow start to the season, the A’s were the MLB’s hottest second half team, earning a huge role in the playoff discussion as the result of posting a 19-5 record in July.

Headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006 in which they lost to the Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS, Oakland now finds itself tied with the Texas Rangers atop the AL West standings.  A win by rookie phenom A.J. Griffin on Wednesday means the A’s will forgo having to play in the one-game Wild Card round, which will be against the second-place finisher in the dangerous AL East.

Many wonder why Oakland, a team that sticks to a strict system of sabermetrics, an intricate series of statistical algorithms used to evaluate on-field performance and player values, to dictate personnel decisions and keep costs down, is even close to playoff caliber.

What has benefited Oakland so much this season has been a lack of funds to overpay free agents; in other words, the A’s have been blessed to be without a prima donna for the 2012 season.

Hitting .289 with 23 homers, Cespedes has proved to be one of the best free-agent pickups of the year.

No player on the team currently makes more than $8 million and the biggest “splurge” of theirs this past offseason was a contract for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who has been well worth the $6,500,000 paycheck he has earned this season, garnering a decent amount the AL Rookie of the Year talk behind Mike Trout’s lion’s share.

There are even 11 players on the 25-man roster who make under a million dollars.  Would these players like to play for more money?  Certainly–they are human after all.  But the lack of big names and big bucks to assemble the 2012 squad left the A’s with a very important advantage: the ability to have a talented team that can win games in the shadow of big-spending teams that take a great deal of criticism for underperforming.

Even watching a ballgame in Oakland makes it perfectly clear that the A’s have never been about playing big-money baseball.  The O.co Coliseum is arguably the least flashy stadium in the MLB, consisting mostly of concrete and chalk lines for Raiders games.  Despite increases in attendance during their impressive year, much of the upper-deck has remained covered in tarps.

Humble abodes aside, the A’s showed the rest of the majors this season that the phrase “on paper” means relatively little compared to things like a strong farm system and player compatibility.

As the Athletics now look to compete for their first World Series title since the McGwire era, Brad Pitt will still be asking Jonah Hill, “Can these guys get on base?”

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Wild Card Within Reach for the Angels

In 2002, no one expected the Angels to come back.

It was the seventh inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series and the San Francisco Giants had champagne on ice, leading 5-0 and 3-2 in the series.

Up to the plate stepped Scott Spiezio, a lifetime .255 hitter.  Sporting his trademark soul patch and the same can’t-lose attitude that has made him a postseason legend, Spiezio locked in and knocked a Felix Rodriguez pitch into the right field stands to narrow the margin to 5-3.

The now-retired Spiezio has had heroic efforts in his only two World Series, one with the Angels and the other in 2006 with the Cardinals.

The Angels would go on to win Game Six and then the World Series in Game Seven, their first and only title in franchise history.  And it all came down to that one moment.

Though the remainder of the 2012 regular season provides the Angels with a bit more time for heroics, gutsiness a la Speizio may be needed to vault them past either the Yankees, Orioles or Athletics for one of two Wild Card spots.

7.5 games back of the Rangers with 15 games to play, winning the AL West is all but impossible.  The Tigers recent woes have taken them out of the Wild Card race and into a dogfight with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central title and the Tampa Bay Rays are now gasping for air after losing five of six against the Yankees and Orioles last week.

Now the AL Wild Card picture figures to be an odd-man-out three-team battle between the A’s, who are comfortably into the first Wild Card slot, the second-place finisher in the AL East and the Angels.

In Anaheim, the last mile of the season-long marathon will prove to be difficult.  9 of their remaining 15 games will be against division leaders (White Sox and Rangers) and the remaining six are face-offs with the Seattle Mariners, a team that is far better than many expected at 70-77.

The M’s have relied on solid pitching to compensate for an offense that fares no better than 29th in the MLB in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and now look forward to an opportunity to spoil any postseason plans the Angels may have.

In order to avoid a possible media circus this offseason, heart is a must down the stretch for the MLB’s third most highly-paid team at $154,940,524.

A 7-year, $126 million contract owed to Vernon Wells has many Angels fans shaking their heads.

With the second-best batting average in the MLB, one would think the playoffs would be a foregone conclusion, but for the latter part of the second half hitting hasn’t been an issue.

Instead, bullpen pitching has acted as their Achilles heel.  In a ten game road-trip in early August that made a tremendous comeback even necessary for the Angels, the team’s bullpen ERA was an atrocious 10.54.

Numbers aside, the “clutch” factor has at times been absent.  Last Sunday, the Angels had an opportunity to at least draw a tie with the A’s in a crucial four game set, trailing 6-5 with runners on first and third with no one out in the ninth.

Needing a mere sac fly to tie the game, the Angels buckled.  Kendrys Morales struck out and Howie Kendrick grounded into a game-ending double play.

While that is probably the most dramatic example of failing to deliver the Angels have had all season, it should serve as a reminder of what not to do in the coming two weeks.

They have the offense, they have the pitching, now it’s just a matter of clutching up as the season draws to a close.

Besides, growing a soul patch never hurt anyone, did it?

 

 

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Say It Ain’t So, Ichiro!

Monday evening was much of the same for Ichiro Suzuki.

He went through his day just like any other and when it was time to go to work, he left for Safeco Field in his car, waved at the same parking attendant on the way in and headed into to the clubhouse.

Except this time it was the visitors clubhouse.  Sure, Ichiro’s first at-bat brought hearty cheers from the loyal Mariners fans as usual, but they had a much different tone.

Rather than saying, “Let’s go Ichiro!” to one of their few prized possessions of the last decade, they were saying, “Thanks for the memories!” to the newest member of the Yankees.

Every year a similar scene takes place, even if it’s not quite as instantaneous.  No matter how safe we sometimes think our aged hometown heroes are from the sadness of a cross-country trade, the MLB trade deadline always seems to surprise us.

Based on Ichiro’s eleven-and-a-half year tenure with the Mariners alone, Monday’s news came unexpectedly.  The move out of Seattle was one that tugged on the heartstring but made sense from an objective standpoint, considering the Yankees’ need for a reliable left fielder with speedster Brett Gardner out for the season with an elbow injury (shouldn’t have been so quick to dump Melky, no?).

It was almost surreal seeing the future Hall of Famer in pinstripes on Monday, buy hey, it’s a business!

A couple pitching prospects for a Mariners squad desperately in need of rebuilding can’t hurt either.

With the MLB trade deadline less than a week away, we might have already seen the biggest surprise, but a few other big names could likely be on the move.

Here are some of my predictions for what has the makings to be a wild week in baseball:

RHP Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers:

A few GM’s around the league are skeptical to trade for Hamels and it has nothing to do with his performance.  11-4 with a 3.23 ERA to date, the only drawback of pursuing the All-Star is the fact that he’s a rental in the last year of his contract.  Still, the Rangers are no average team.  With yet another AL West title in sights, they are more focused on getting the guy that can finally get them the last out of the World Series than having to negotiate a long-term contract in the off-season.

RHP Ryan Dempster to the Atlanta Braves:

At 5-4 with a league-best 2.11 ERA among starting pitchers, Dempster’s case is similar in that he’s a rental who could also be headed to a playoff contender.  As of this afternoon, the Braves trailed the 2012 fair-weather fan favorite Washington Nationals by 4.5 games in the NL East and were a mere half game out of the National League’s second Wild Card spot.  The only deterrent to this potential deal?  Dempster, a more than ten-year vet who has been with the Cubs for over five years, can by rule veto any trade his team proposes.  If it falls through, here’s to another year for Dumpster in the world’s longest-cursed sports franchise!

3B (Begrudgingly) Hanley Ramirez to the OAKLAND ATHLETICS?!?!?!

The surprise factor with this potential trade could even trump Ichiro’s.  For the past decade, the A’s have been cheaper than Phil Knight at an Adidas outlet.  This year, something’s different.  Not only did GM Billy Beane spring for power-hitting Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes with a 4-year, $36 million deal, they find themselves in contention for a Wild Card spot (15-2 in their last 17) for the first time since 2006.  Despite his unpredictable attitude and grumblings about having to play third base for the Marlins, Ramirez could be the consistent bat on the left side of the infield that closes the deal for the A’s down the stretch.  He will be seen as a welcome replacement for Brandon Inge, who has been hitting below the Mendoza Line since his arrival in Oakland earlier this season.

So much for the Hanley and Jose Show in South Beach…

OF Peter Bourjos and RHP Ervin Santana to the Tampa Bay Rays:

At 4-10 with a 6.00 ERA, starting pitcher Ervin Santana isn’t exactly having the long-term contract season the Los Angeles Angels had hoped for.  Bourjos isn’t doing much better, with a .223 batting average on the season.  Still, Santana has thrown well enough in recent years and Bourjos is just young and fast enough (25 years old with the nickname “Speedy Petey”) that this deal might be worth taking a chance on (with maybe a prospect thrown in here or there) for the Rays.  With a solid 8-6 record and a 4.39 ERA, Shields is the ideal back-end starting pitcher that could help Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Dan Haren and the Angels reach one of the two AL Wild Card spots up for grabs.  It would almost be easier to ask at this point, “Who isn’t in the AL Wild Card race?”

 

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