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Andy LaRoche, Landon Powell, Bobby Cramer Make A’s Roster; Tyson Ross Reassigned

Following the Bay Bridge series finale and end of spring training, the A’s made their final roster cuts and set their 25-man opening day roster.

The only remaining battles left after the A’s announced over the weekend that Brandon McCarthy would be the team’s fifth starter, were for the bullpen, backup infielder and backup catcher positions.

In a press release following today’s spring finale, the Athletics announced that they had reassigned Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard and Tyson Ross to Triple-A Sacramento. The A’s also announced in their press release that they selected the contract of non-roster invitee Andy LaRoche. Wes Timmons and Matt Carson were also reassigned to minor league camp.

The final cuts meant that Landon Powell retained his job as the backup catcher, Andy LaRoche made the team as the backup infielder and Bobby Cramer earned the final bullpen spot.

Rich Harden and Andrew Bailey both were placed on the 15-day disabled list, and Adam Rosales was moved to the 60-day disabled list (retroactive to March 22).

The Athletics open the regular season Friday against the Seattle Mariners.

The Athletics opening day roster looks like this:

Starting Lineup
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
First Base: Daric Barton
Second Base: Mark Ellis
Third Base: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Shortstop: Cliff Pennington
Left Field: Josh Willingham
Center Field: Coco Crisp
Right Field: David DeJesus
Designated Hitter: Hideki Matsui
Outfield: Ryan Sweeney
Outfield / First Base: Conor Jackson
Infield: Andy LaRoche
Catcher: Landon Powell
Starting Rotation
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Brett Anderson
LHP Gio Gonzalez
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Brandon McCarthy
LHP Bobby Cramer
LHP Craig Breslow
RHP Michael Wuertz
LHP Jerry Blevins
RHP Brad Ziegler
RHP Grant Balfour
LHP Brian Fuentes


Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for You can follow him on Twitter:  @BMcClintock_BR.

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Oakland Athletics Rotation Set: Brandon McCarthy Named 5th Starter

After weeks of speculation, the fifth starter competition is finally over and the A’s have their rotation set heading into the final week of spring training.

Injuries and ineffectiveness removed Rich Harden, Josh Outman and Bobby Cramer from the competition, leaving Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross to battle it out as the Cactus League came to a close.

With one game left before the beginning of the Bay Bridge Series against the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, manager Bob Geren finally declared McCarthy the winner and fifth starter.

McCarthy experienced his only negative outing of the spring in his last start, but it was not enough for him to lose the job.

“He really only had one rough inning all spring,” Geren said. “Other than that, he’s been very good.”

McCarthy was the most experienced starter remaining in the competition for the fifth starter role after Rich Harden was sidelined by a strained lat muscle on the first day of spring training.

“He obviously has a little bit of previous experience, and he’s had a great spring,” Geren added. “He’s only had one walk and 20 strikeouts, which is obviously a good indicator of how well he’s throwing.”

McCarthy has a 17-18 record, 4.58 ERA, 5.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 ratios over parts of five major league seasons with the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers. McCarthy has made only 22 starts over the past three seasons due to shoulder injuries.

This spring he has appeared fully recovered and ready to contribute to an already stellar Athletics rotation.

McCarthy’s main competition for the fifth starter role this spring, Tyson Ross, will now compete the final week for a role in the bullpen. Ross posted a very impressive 0.59 ERA this spring in 15.1 innings pitched.

The A’s could keep Ross in the bullpen in long relief and for spot starts, or they could decide to send him to Triple-A Sacramento to continue on a regular pitching schedule and receive consistent innings.

“That’s a decision we’ll have to make at some point,” Geren said. “I’m mostly encouraged about Tyson and his development this spring. He’s been pounding the strike zone with good fastball command.”

With so many left-handed pitchers on the A’s staff (Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden in the rotation, along with Brian Fuentes, Craig Breslow and Jerry Blevins in the bullpen), Ross stands a good chance of making the team as an additional right-handed arm.

Ross has expressed interest in remaining a starter, but he would embrace any role that earned him a spot on the major league roster. He gained experience as a reliever last season with the Athletics in two stints in the majors.

Ross should excel whether pitching out of the ‘pen in Oakland, or continuing to gain experience as a starter in Sacramento.

Bob Geren seems to agree that Ross will have no problem with either role.

“He’s got such a high ceiling, such big potential in whatever he does.”


Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for You can follow him on Twitter: @BMcClintock_BR.

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Oakland Athletics: What Is Chris Carter’s Future with the A’s?

On Friday, the Oakland Athletics optioned Chris Carter to Triple-A Sacramento, ending his quest to break camp part of the A’s opening day roster.

Carter was a long shot to make the team after the offseason acquisitions of Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui. Although Carter expected the move, he entered camp determined to make it a difficult decision for the Athletics management.

Carter did not put together the spring numbers he had hoped, batting just .250 with two home runs through his Cactus League appearances.

It was Carter’s defense in the outfield that hurt him the most though. He committed three errors and made several other misplays. The A’s would like to see him improve his defense in the minors before returning to play in Oakland.

“He had a few struggles in the outfield, but he worked as hard as anyone else,” Geren told’s Jane Lee. “I told him that this is one of the toughest places to playspring training in Arizona, a lot of sun and wind in your eyes. A lot of other guys have missed balls, so I don’t want him to get discouraged and just to work.

“I think he runs well enough, and I think he throws well enough. Those are the two components that are hard to teachrunning speed and arm strength. The other stuff can be taught.”

Carter’s demotion comes before the Bay Bridge series to allow him more innings in the outfield early on, although Geren did say that Carter will also see time playing at first base in Sacramento as well.

“Having a guy that can play two different spots gives us a better opportunity to use him, gives him better chances to create a spot for himself,” Geren said.

The A’s depth this season has left some people, myself included, wondering what Carter’s spot long term actually is?

Unless one of the A’s outfielders suffers an injury, Carter is unlikely to see significant time in the A’s outfield in 2011. In addition to Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus, the A’s also have Ryan Sweeney, Conor Jackson and Hideki Matsui capable of playing in the outfield as well.

Each of the A’s starters are free agents after this season, so if Carter is capable of improving his defense, he should find himself an outfield regular beginning in 2012.

Upon being traded to Oakland, Willingham expressed his interest in a potential extension with the A’s. Crisp, a fan favorite and productive member of the A’s lineup last season after returning from the disabled list, could also be in line for a new contract to remain in Oakland beyond 2011.

The A’s have not had any negotiations with either outfielder about new contracts through spring training.

The A’s decision whether to retain their veteran outfielders or turn over the positions to their minor league prospects such as Carter (Michael Taylor and Michael Choice also should be in line for outfield positions in 2012), will be determined by their development in the A’s minor league systems over the course of the season.

Carter’s other primary position, first base, is currently being manned by Daric Barton. Carter has a more powerful bat than Barton, but Barton’s emergence as one of the leagues premiere defensive first basemen has the Athletics exploring a multi-year contract extension through 2014.

Barring any major injury, Barton will be the first baseman for the foreseeable future.

With his two primary positions in question, and the fact that Hideki Matsui is only signed to a one-year deal, some people have openly wondered if Carter could be destined to be Oakland’s next DH? Many scouts share the opinion that Carter will eventually be a designated hitter in his career.

Carter’s power numbers in the minor leagues (he’s hit 149 home runs with 507 RBIs in 673 minor league at-bats), as well as Matsui’s reputation as a slow-starter, have left open the question if perhaps Carter could fill the DH role as early as this season.

The A’s don’t want to waste Carter’s athleticism though, the primary reason that they sent him to Triple-A to get more practice in the outfield.

“Obviously his bat is his strongest part of his game, but he has to get his defense up to speed with his offense, and I’m sure he’ll continue his hard work,” added Geren. “He’s a talented guy, a good athlete.”

Chris Carter is very much still in the long-term plans of the Athletics, but his development in the outfield this season with Sacramento will have a lot to do with his eventual place on the A’s roster.

I’m sure at some point in 2011 we will see him back in green and gold, but at which position is still a mystery.


Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for You can follow him on twitter  @BMcClintock_BR.

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Barry Bonds Trial: Why I Want the Jury To Find Him Innocent

The Barry Bonds trial just concluded its first week of testimony after eight years of buildup, and honestly, nobody should care.

Bonds is not facing trial because of any crime that caused physical harm to another person; he did not perpetrate some great social injustice. No, Barry Bonds is on trial because he took steroids to elevate his game in his quest to rewrite the baseball record books and then lied about it.

Do I personally believe that Bonds took steroids? Yes, absolutely, without a single doubt. In fact, nobody should have any second thoughts as to whether or not Bonds accomplished his feats naturally or via chemical aide. The trial is not about whether or not Bonds took steroids; it is about whether or not he knowingly took steroids.

The question as to whether or not he took steroids went out the window during his original testimony when he admitted to putting a clear liquid under his tongue and a cream on his body. We already know those substances are the designer steroids “the cream and the clear.”

That admission, along with public speculation that Bonds was on steroids before he became a BALCO client, was enough to convict Bonds in the court of public opinion instantly. So what was the harm of his lying in his testimony?

I am not condoning perjury, not for a second, but that was his only crime. Bonds is also being charged with obstruction of justice, but did he really obstruct justice by refusing to admit he knew he cheated?

No, that’s simple. Victor Conte was still sentenced for distributing steroids; all the people that needed to go to jail, ended up in jail and have long since served their sentences. Bonds did not help justice be served, but thanks to the testimony of the other players at the hearings, he also did not obstruct justice.

No, this trial has nothing to do with the actual charges being placed on Barry. This trial is about setting an example, at any cost. This trial is to prove that federal prosecutors do not like being lied to and shown up in court. The example must be set that no one is above the law, and what better way to do it than to bring down an already polarizing public figure who also happens to be baseball’s all-time homerun leader? What bigger target exists?

Let’s assume that the court does find Barry Bonds guilty, which he is, who wins?

Not the tax payers who are paying for this trial—reportedly the government has already spent between $10 to $50 million on their case against Bonds.

Not Major League Baseball—this trial just prolongs the embarrassment caused by the steroid era and baseball’s attempts to sweep the problem under the rug until Congress stepped in and forced the issue.

Certainly not the fans. We’ve all moved on. We understand the record books are tainted, and we all have our opinion as to where Bonds’ accomplishments truly place him in the history of the game compared to those he surpassed to reach his career totals.

There is no winner, regardless of the outcome.

What punishment will be placed on Bonds with a guilty verdict? It can’t exceed the four-month sentence that was handed to Victor Conte, the kingpin of the whole BALCO steroid distribution operation. Bonds will likely walk away with a slap on the wrist and probation. A light punishment, though, only brings the question, what was this all for?

If Bonds somehow receives a sentence that exceeds that given to Conte, there will be outcry that the punishment does not fit the crime (at least in the minds of rational sports fans that don’t have an axe to grind with Bonds). In a way, Bonds may become a sympathetic figure—victim of government bullying.

There isn’t an outcome possible that justifies the time and money spent leading up to this trial or seeing it through to completion. So why bother?

The real punishment Barry will face comes in 2013 in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. The baseball writers have the privilege of determining his fate in that trial. If the eligibility of Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire are any indication of how the voters feel about steroid users, then Bonds stands little chance of induction.

The likelihood though is that the Fed won’t be able to find Bonds guilty. Don’t believe me? Ask the most notorious steroid user of them all:

“It’s ridiculous. They’re not going to find him guilty,” Jose Canseco said Thursday. “There’s so many other major issues in this world that need more attention. Meanwhile, they’re creating this million-dollar trial on perjury charges? Not the fact that he used steroids, that’s more important. But the fact that he perjured himself under oath? I mean, hundreds of thousands of people do that daily and get away with that.”

It pains me that I find myself agreeing with Canseco, but he’s right, this is ridiculous.

And that is exactly why I want Bonds to be acquitted of the charges. It is not that I believe Bonds is innocent, I know he is not, I want two messages sent here:

1) I want a message sent to the Fed that there is no benefit to society to chase down steroid users or those who lie about steroid use (no need for a Clemens trial as a sequel). This was a monstrous waste of time and money that could have been better used solving any number of the issues facing our country at this very moment.

2) I want the true punishment inflicted on Bonds to be at the hands of the Hall of Fame voters and the fans that have been forced to endure this pointless witch hunt. His crimes were against the sport of baseball, and the sport of baseball should be free to police him how they see fit. Exclusion from Cooperstown, or at least a prolonged eligibility process seem fitting, if that is their choice. If the voters decide the playing field was level and give him entrance on the first ballot, then that is baseball’s right also.

Barry Bonds had one of the greatest careers in baseball history. He was a great player before he made the decision to take steroids to elevate his game. Arguably, he was already a Hall of Fame-caliber player. His later years were other-worldly, as we know because of the use of chemical enhancement.

There is nothing this trial will tell us about Bonds’ playing career that we don’t already know. There is no benefit that will come from the past eight years of prosecution. And there is certainly no benefit to society to place Bonds behind bars for any length of time.

For the first time since it became obvious that Bonds was no longer playing the game clean, I find myself rooting for him. I don’t root for him because I like him. No, I root for him because the only thing more ridiculous to me than the notion that he did not know what he was taking, is the notion that this trial serves any purpose at all.


Brandon McClintock covers Major League Baseball for You can follow Brandon on twitter @BMcClintock_BR.

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Oakland A’s: Trevor Cahill Selected to Start Opening Day vs Felix Hernandez

Weeks of speculation have finally come to an end.

The rotation shuffling that saw the A’s top four starters all in the running to make the opening night start over the past two weeks finally concluded when manager Bob Geren named Trevor Cahill his opening day starter this morning.

Just last season, Cahill battled through spring for the fifth and final spot in the rotation before he finally found himself starting the season in Sacramento on a rehab assignment.

Following his call-up Cahill was the A’s most consistent starter, earning himself an All Star selection and a ninth-place finish in Cy Young voting.

Cahill will face reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners on Friday, April 1, in his first career opening-day start.

Bob Geren kept his decision a secret all spring, although he apparently had made the decision during the offseason that Cahill was his guy on opening night.

“Trevor was, in my mind, going to start Opening Day, if everything went well physically, for the entire offseason,” Geren told’s Jane Lee.

“I liked what he did last year. I liked his demeanor on the mound. The mental side of the game that he takes out there each time makes him ideal to start any game of the year. If there’s a little extra hoopla and flyovers and fireworks on opening night, he’s the perfect guy to handle that.”

While Cahill was the most likely choice for the No. 1 role following his 18-8 season last year (2.97 ERA), the A’s had several candidates capable of filling the role in 2011.

Brett Anderson has long been considered the eventual ace of the A’s staff; Gio Gonzalez has had an incredible spring and is looking to build on his breakout 2010 performance; and Dallas Braden is the most experienced veteran on the staff and boasts last year’s perfect game.

But Cahill was the most consistent Athletics pitcher in 2010, and based on those contributions, he earns the honor of starting in front of a packed Oakland Coliseum on April 1.

“He was obviously honored and happy to get that nod, but I also told him that all of our pitchers are very good,” Geren went on to tell Lee.

“They’re all similar as far as age and experience, so I told him to not take it as any added pressure whatsoever. Take it as a compliment, but don’t do anything different than if you were pitching the second game or the third or fourth. Just be yourself, and he completely understood and agreed with that.”

Cahill understands the added pressure and plans to approach the game as if it were just another start.

“I think the goal is just to take it as any other start,” Cahill told

“I think, regardless, your first start of the season, everyone is going to have a little bit of adrenaline, so I just need to make sure that’s in check.”

As a sign of maturity beyond his young age, Cahill also managed to take the news and stay grounded.

“There are a bunch of guys to choose from. Everyone had a good year, so I think it’s about lining things up. I know [Geren] feels confident in winning with whoever he puts out there, so I don’t think it’s a huge deal, just an honor more than anything.”

Along with Cahill, the rest of the A’s rotation combined for a Major League best 3.47 ERA in 2010.

Offseason acquisitions to strengthen the lineup should help provide additional run support for the A’s starters in 2011, as they look to improve on their 81-81 record and reach the postseason for the first time since 2006.


Brandon McClintock covers The Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for You can follow him on twitter  @BMcClintock_BR

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Ken Griffey Jr vs. Barry Bonds: How Their Decisions Will Decide Place in History

During their primes Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr. were the two greatest hitters of their era.

Both second-generation ballplayers, having famous fathers who had enjoyed their own successful careers, Bonds and Griffey were lifelong acquaintances that had similar career paths and comparable numbers through their primes.

While their paths to Major League Baseball were similar, their legacies would wind up very different.

Barry Bonds debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 and went on to finish sixth in Rookie of the Year voting at the age of 21. He would play seven seasons for the Pirates, totaling 176 career home runs, batting .275 and winning two MVP awards, before signing as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants in 1993.

From 1993-2007, Bonds would rewrite the history books while wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform, playing for the team his father had. Bonds would go on to win six more MVP awards during that span and amass an unbelievable 586 additional home runs, including a single-season record 73 home runs in 2001. By the time Barry would finish playing his final major-league game in 2007, he would own the career record for home runs with 762.

Ken Griffey, Jr. had his own share of early success. Griffey debuted with the Seattle Mariners in 1989 at the age of 19 and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. In 11 seasons with the Mariners, Griffey would receive MVP votes in nine seasons, winning the 1997 MVP award.

Griffey would hit 398 career home runs in his first stint with the Mariners while batting .299 over the 11-year span. The Seattle Mariners truly had the most iconic player of his generation during his prime.

In 2000, at the age of 30, Griffey requested and was granted a trade to Cincinnati in order to play closer to his home in Florida. Griffey’s tenure with the Reds was marred with injuries and was nowhere close to the elite level of play he enjoyed while a member of the Mariners. While playing for Cincinnati, Griffey would enjoy several key milestones: Home runs number 400, 500 and 600 would all come while wearing the same Reds uniform his father wore.

In 2008 the Reds traded Griffey to the Chicago White Sox for the remainder of the season. In 2009, Junior would re-sign with the Seattle Mariners to bring his career full circle and eventually retire with the team that gave him his start. Griffey retired in the middle of last season with 630 career home runs, 132 behind his longtime friend, Barry Bonds.

It was long before their careers wound down, though, that Bonds and Griffey found themselves heading in different directions.

Following the conclusion of the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 that captured the attention of the country, Bonds and Griffey reportedly met in Florida at Griffey’s house. The two had a discussion that would see them make very different decisions that will ultimately affect how both are remembered.

In his book Love Me, Hate Me, Jeff Pearlman tells a story in which Bonds met with Griffey and confided in his longtime friend over dinner that he was about to start taking some “hard-core stuff.” Bonds was jealous of the attention that McGwire and Sosa received, feeling that he was the superior athlete and ballplayer and was not receiving his due recognition. While Bonds chose to elevate his game by cheating, Griffey chose to stay clean.

For the record, Griffey defended Bonds and stated to back in 2006 that he did not recall such a conversation ever taking place.

Regardless of whether or not the conversation happened, the decision by Bonds to use steroids, and Griffey to remain clean, alters the outcomes of two great careers.

Both players are now out of the game; only memories of their accomplishments remain. Bonds was shunned by all 30 teams following the 2007 season, and Griffey retired in the middle of the 2010 season quietly and without any fanfare—a sad ending to the careers of two of baseball’s greatest players.

In neither case was it the end to their baseball stories though.

Barry Bonds will be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame following the 2012 season. Griffey will be eligible after 2015. Would you care to wager a guess as to which player is enshrined first?

As spring training 2011 winds down and today’s major leaguers prepare for the regular season, the current role that each player holds tells the tale.

Griffey is a special instructor in Mariners spring training and a special assistant to the front office. Griffey is still embraced within the game of baseball.

Bonds, shunned by San Francisco Giants ownership, is sitting in a federal courtroom listening to testimony as a federal grand jury decides if he perjured himself in stating that he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.

Details of Bonds’ steroid use will undoubtedly emerge and stick in the minds of the fans and baseball writers who will eventually decide Bonds’ fate in baseball immortality. In reality, though, no additional details are really necessary. Bonds was convicted in the court of public opinion long ago.

As a result, 762 is not the same as 755; 73 is not as important as 61. Hank Aaron is still the king, and Roger Maris is still the man to beat for the single-season mark.

The memory of Barry Bonds is not the all-around athlete that won MVP awards in the early 1990s for the Pirates or the player the Giants signed that helped them to the playoffs in 1997. That slender athlete that could hit for average and power, play Gold Glove defense and was a constant threat on the basepaths is long forgotten, replaced by the mutation that emerged as a result of his dealings with BALCO.

The memory of Ken Griffey, Jr., on the other hand, is still that fun-loving, backwards-hat-wearing ballplayer that made the game look easy. Yes, we will remember that Griffey was injured more often than not as his career wound down, but there is not a hint of any wrongdoing. Had Griffey had better luck and remained healthy, he could have stood ahead of Bonds in the record books. It will be Griffey that enjoys induction into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility, while Bonds waits.

While 630 stands just below Willie Mays in fifth on the all-time home run list, at least to me, it stands above 762.


Brandon McClintock covers Major League Baseball for You can follow Brandon on twitter @BMcClintock_BR.

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Oakland A’s New Stadium: Did Lew Wolff Ever Give Oakland Serious Consideration?

As we just passed the two-year mark since commissioner Bud Selig launched his “Blue-Ribbon” committee to determine if the Athletics would be granted permission to move to San Jose, I decided I wanted to look back at the failed attempts to stay in Oakland. It was during this search I ran across an interesting blog post on that made me aware of some interesting articles written by the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury news that I had previously forgotten about.

The revelation of those articles and the quotes that were hidden within their writing tell an interesting story of the Athletics stadium quest and Lew Wolff’s involvement, even before he owned the team.

Dating back to the 1990’s the A’s have sought a new stadium that would help them generate a revenue stream capable of competing with the “big-market” teams. The team has now seen two straight ownership groups that have acted disingenuously in their dealings with the city of Oakland, and have purposely deceived the very fan base they count on for support and to provide their revenue streams.

The Athletics’ change of ownership from the Haas family to Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman began the frustration that has now spanned into its third different decade.

During the Schott-Hoffman era, A’s fans were subjected to the yearly speculation that the team would move anywhere from Sacramento to Las Vegas. In fact it was Schott and Hoffman that first became interested with the idea of moving the team to San Jose.

Oakland fans became tired of the constant threat to move the team out of town and rejoiced when the team was sold to San Jose real estate developer Lew Wolff and San Francisco billionaire John Fischer. Wolfe had previously been appointed to help find viable ballpark options within the city of Oakland, and vowed that he would build a new stadium keeping the A’s in Oakland.

Then Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente told the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2005 that he was optimistic Wolff would deliver on his promise to keep the A’s in Oakland.

“He’s a guy who wants to get things done, and he can get things done, ” said De La Fuente at the time. “If Lew Wolff wants a new baseball stadium in Oakland, then it’s going to happen. He’s the guy to do it.”

I wonder if De La Fuente still feels Wolff is the guy to get it done? Or, I wonder if De La Fuente, like many diehard Oakland A’s fans, believes that Wolff’s interest in Oakland was really all for show, all along?

We of course know that the city of Oakland feels the A’s acted disingenuously in their prior dealings with the city, and new mayor Jean Quan does not believe Wolff is giving enough consideration to Oakland’s most recent attempts at finding a suitable stadium site.

Was Wolff ever truly committed to building a ballpark in Oakland though?

Seven years before Lew Wolff would become a majority owner of the Oakland Athletics, he outlined how he would move the Athletics to San Jose if he were the owner instead of Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman.

In 1998, Lew Wolff provided San Francisco Chronicle writer Steve Kettman with his thoughts on the A’s ballpark pursuit.

“If I was going to pursue a ballpark, I would certainly do it in San Jose, not depend on a vote outside of San Jose, and I would work through the mayor and the Redevelopment Agency,” said Wolff. “It’s the difference between a big-league city and a non-big-league city. I wouldn’t spend five minutes on any other city besides San Jose.”

Thirteen years have passed since Wolff made that statement. His statement to the Chronicle wound up being the exact path that he pursued.

Fast-forward back to 2005 when Wolff took ownership of the A’s, former Sunnyvale mayor Larry Stone, a key figure in trying to lure the A’s to San Jose, shared his thoughts on Wolff’s public pledge to keep the A’s in Oakland.

Stone says that Wolfe could “say, ‘I tried, I have to look elsewhere. We hope and believe that one of the places, if not the only place, is San Jose.’ ”

A year later in 2006, Wolff abandoned hope of building a stadium in Oakland and turned his sights to Fremont. Or did he?

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News outlined his belief of Wolff’s true intentions with the city of Fremont deal.

Purdy details a plan in which the Athletics ownership would pursue a move south to Fremont, the furthest city south before entering into Santa Clara County, and thus into the territorial rights of the San Francisco Giants. He would name the team the San Jose Athletics of Fremont, and draw on the South Bay corporate revenue stream without owing the Giants a penny of compensation. Then at the last minute, Wolff can go to the Giants ownership group and drop the hammer.

“Look, if I go to Fremont and call the team the San Jose A’s, the Giants get nothing. But if you agree to let me actually move the team to San Jose, you’ll get some compensation. How about it?” Purdy theorized.

Interestingly enough, when Wolff was asked about Purdy’s theory, he refused to rule any of it out.

Wolff then secured a financial pledge from Cisco Systems for 30-year naming rights to the A’s new stadium. What better financial partner than Cisco if you are going to drive home Purdy’s theory to the San Francisco Giants (allegedly)?

Do I truly believe the whole Fremont plan was a sham? I can’t say for certain, but its failure also worked in Wolff’s favor making a believable case out of Wolff’s claim that only in San Jose was a new ballpark possible.

Since Wolff took ownership of the A’s he hasn’t done exactly what he said he would back in 1998. He did spend ample time on Fremont before turning to San Jose, but he has made Larry Stone and Mark Purdy look prophetic. In the end, his sites focused on San Jose though, validating his 1998 proclamation that San Jose was the only city he would find suitable if he were the owner of the A’s.

While Wolff and San Jose have waited for Major League Baseball to issue their findings, the city of Oakland has put together a viable proposal for a ballpark near Jack London Square at a site named Victory Court.

The Victory Court location does not offer the same proximity to corporate finance as San Jose, but beside that there is little downside to the proposal. The proposed Jack London location would offer some of the most scenic backgrounds in baseball with views of the Oakland estuary, the hills, and the Port of Oakland cranes in the distance. The nighttime skyline would be lit up with downtown Oakland highlighted by the Tribune building all visible from the stands.

A collection of restaurants, bars and coffee shops are within walking distance of the proposed site thanks to a renaissance in the downtown Oakland area. BART, Amtrak, 880 and 980 (connecting to 580) are all in close proximity, as well as the San Francisco ferry for those cross-bay fans that prefer the American League style of baseball.

While Wolff has publicly claimed over and over (and over) that he has exhausted all options in Oakland, you have to wonder why he is so opposed to this plan at the very least as a suitable backup to the San Jose proposal?

After a long career in real estate development, Wolff has to be aware of the legal nightmare the city of Oakland could put the Athletics through with lawsuits designed to keep the A’s in Oakland by delaying their departure out of town. With new Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to end redevelopment money, Oakland has a powerful bullet they have yet to fire which could essentially kill any San Jose plans.

Oakland has not needed to use their final weapon yet as Major League Baseball could very well decide they will not revoke the Giants territorial rights to San Jose.

This possible scenario is exactly what makes me wonder why Wolff would remain so adamant that Oakland is not a possibility?

Could there possibly be a hidden motive that we have yet to have presented to us?

In 2005 when Wolff took over the team and speculation first arose that Wolff’s real estate history in San Jose could lead to an eventual move to San Jose, Neil deMause of offered up this theory:

“MLB commissioner Bud Selig would no doubt be happy to see Wolff use the threat of a move to bludgeon Oakland into building a new stadium.”

Add deMause’s theory to those of Purdy and Stone, and we could wind up with the eventual end result of this saga if the Giants’ San Jose rights are upheld and the A’s are forced to stay in Oakland.

Delving just slightly further into the conspiracy theory department, let’s revisit 1998 and some thoughts from Oakland’s most recent Hall of Fame inductee, Rickey Henderson:

“Oakland can support a big-league team, but it’s a city where if you want support, you have to spend the money and get good players,” Henderson said at the time.

“If you’re not putting a good team out there, you can’t expect people to come out. There’s so many other things to do. The Haas family put more into the community. That’s why they had the support of the community.”

Henderson made these statements long before Wolff was even considered to be in the running for the A’s ownership. His thoughts echo the opinions of many die-hard A’s fans though, put a winner on the field, and the fans will be there.

The A’s have in fact put together a team of “good players” this season, and with the end of redevelopment looming and no answer from MLB, perhaps the A’s ownership is quietly beginning to embrace the idea of staying in Oakland. Placing a winning team on the field could be the beginning of making amends with the fans they have angered the past five years.

Hmm, perhaps there was more to Lew Wolff’s playbook than Larry Stone and Mark Purdy foresaw.

Then again, probably not.

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Felix Hernandez Declares It His Time Now, and He’s Staying a Seattle Mariner

After an award-winning 2010 campaign, with trade rumors constantly swirling around him, Felix Hernandez is set to enter his 10th season of professional baseball in the Seattle Mariners organization. Hernandez has enjoyed several successes in his 10 years in professional baseball, but he has much higher sights for himself.

At the age of 16, Hernandez signed with the Mariners on July 4, 2002. According to Hernandez, the Mariners were not the highest bidders, but they were the team that made him the most comfortable.

“The money was good, and Seattle treated me the best,” he said through an interpreter at the time in an interview with The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The Mariners were among a handful of teams that recognized the unique talent that Felix Hernandez possessed, a talent that could develop into one of the best pitchers of all time.

“After watching him, I could understand why we gave him some money,” farm director Benny Looper said in an interview he gave in 2004. “He was a good-looking prospect even at that age.

“If he lives up to his potential, I’d put him in the same class with Junior (Ken Griffey) and Alex (Rodriguez).”

Hernandez has lived up to his potential, earning his first Cy Young award last season at the age of 24, and he is just now entering his “prime.” How do you provide an encore to a Cy Young season? If you are Hernandez, you raise the stakes and attempt to become the best pitcher in the Major Leagues.

Felix respects other great pitchers such as Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, David Price, Ubaldo Jimenez, etc., but he wants to stand at the front of that line.

Hernandez is one of those rare athletes that possess the desire to be the best at everything he does, a trait that has already taken him far in his professional career, but also one which gives him a very high ceiling in regards to his potential accomplishments.

Scott Budner, Hernandez’s pitching coach with the Missions in 2004, made this prophetic statement one year prior to Felix’s Major League debut with the Mariners:

“The thing that’s going to make him special is that he’s (fiery) on the mound,” Budner said. “He doesn’t like to lose. He’s a great competitor, and when things get tough, he gets tougher.

“That’s why Michael Jordan is so far above everybody else. Michael Jordan had incredible talent, but a lot of guys do. Jordan wanted to win more than anybody did, and that’s why he dominated. Felix has that nice combination that you look for of raw talent, and he…wants to beat you. That’s a beautiful thing.”

His then-teammate Rene Cortez also added, “He wants to win everything. Playing cards, PlayStation, whatever we do, he has to win. That’s what I like about Felix. Whatever he has to do to win, he’ll do it.”

Since making his debut in 2005, that is what Hernandez has done more often than not. He has won on a team that has only seen a winning record twice since Hernandez joined the rotation (2007 and 2009). Over that time, King Felix has compiled a 71-53 record with a 3.20 ERA.

In fact, Felix Hernandez has improved every season since making his debut. His 2006 ERA (his first full season with the Mariners) was 4.52. In 2007 he lowered his ERA to 3.92. In 2008 his ERA was 3.45. The 2009 season was spectacular with a 2.49 ERA, and in 2010 Hernandez won the Cy Young award on the strength of his league-best 2.27 ERA. This is not accidental. Hernandez strives for improvement with each new season.

“Do I think I can be better? Why not?” Hernandez says. “I’m trying to get better every year.”

This spring, Hernandez has not been content sitting back and enjoying the success he had personally in 2010. He has been limited to only 2.2 innings pitched, but has a 1-0 record and 3.38 ERA to show for it as he beat the division rival Oakland Athletics.

Hernandez has spent the rest of the spring throwing bullpen sessions and carving up hitters in live batting practice sessions designed to limit other teams ability to see Hernandez too many times before the regular season.

Hernandez’s intensity shows through even in these live batting practice sessions. If he is not happy with the break on his pitches, he lets you know. He seeks perfection with every outing, even meaningless spring sessions that are as much practice for the batters he is facing as they are for him.

With the level of success that Hernandez has accomplished at such a young age, there are the inevitable rumors that come from the “big-market” franchises such as New York and Boston. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik has reiterated he has no intention of trading Hernandez. It would be irresponsible, however, not to at least field calls from interested teams given the return that trading Hernandez would bring.

As important to Mariners fans as Hernandez’s success on the field though is his desire to stay in Seattle and turn the franchise into a winner. Felix negotiated a no-trade clause into his contract that includes both New York and Boston.

While Hernandez admits that pitching in the environment of the AL East holds a small appeal to him, he prefers to pitch in that environment as a visiting player with the Seattle Mariners.

“I’d love to be in that position playing against the Yankees or Boston,” he told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. “The field is always packed. The adrenaline is up and up. It’s the best place to pitch.”

Asked if he would waive his no-trade clause to pitch elsewhere, Hernandez says:

“I’d say no. I hear it all the time, but I’d love to stay here. I like Seattle, like the organization, like all the people I’m around, and I live in Seattle. We’ve got a lot of talent here—young talent. We could be good. If [Erik] Bedard stays healthy, and [Jason] Vargas is pretty good, [Doug] Fister’s pretty good, [Michael] Piñeda is big and has great stuff. And I’m OK.”

“OK” is drastically downplaying Hernandez’s abilities, and he knows it. He will play a major role in the Mariners future success in 2011 and beyond. He does not simply want to rank above Mariners greats such as Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr as Benny Looper once predicted; he wants to stand as one of the greatest pitchers in Major League history.

With four years remaining on his current contract with the Mariners, Seattle fans will witness first-hand as Hernandez pitches his way towards the top of pitching ranks.

With respect to the other great pitchers in the game today, Hernandez simply says:

“This is my time.”

Felix Hernandez’s Career Statistics:

Year  ERA  CG  IP  ER  BB  SO  WHIP  BB/9  SO/9 
2005 4 4 2.67 12 0 84.1 61 25 23 77 0.996 2.5 8.2
2006 12 14 4.52 31 2 191 195 96 60 176 1.335 2.8 8.3
2007 14 7 3.92 30 1 190.1 209 83 53 165 1.377 2.5 7.8
2008 9 11 3.45 31 2 200.2 198 77 80 175 1.385 3.6 7.8
2009 19 5 2.49 34 2 238.2 200 66 71 217 1.135 2.7 8.2
2010 13 12 2.27 34 6 249.2 194 63 70 232 1.057 2.5 8.4
TOTALS 71 53 3.20 172 13 1154.2 1057 410 357 1042 1.225 2.8 8.1

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Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper Reassigned to Minor League Spring Training

Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and one of the most hyped prospects of all time was reassigned earlier today to the Washington Nationals minor league spring training camp.

After drafting Harper with the first overall pick, the Nationals signed him to a five-year, $9.9 million major league contract which includes guaranteed invites to spring training. Harper was impressive in his first appearance, batting .389 with five RBIs.

The Nationals decision to demote him now was made to give him experience playing and starting every day rather than entering games off the bench.

According to two major league sources, Harper did not take the news of his demotion well, attempting to convince manager Jim Riggleman and general manager Mike Rizzo that he would benefit more from remaining in the major league camp and learning from the Nationals’ veterans and hitting coach Rick Eckstein. The Nationals front office disagreed and wants him to get regular at-bats to help further his development.

“We think Bryce needs to go to the Minor Leagues, get four or five at-bats per game and prepare himself for the season—that’s the reason we got him out,” Rizzo said. “He was getting one or two at-bats per game, playing in spurts. He needs to be prepared for the season, get plenty of at-bats and get reps in the outfield.”

Harper has vowed to make it to the Majors this season, and if his spring performance was any indication of the work ethic he will have in the Minors, he probably stands a pretty good chance.

“I have to go down there and get a couple of more at-bats per day,” Harper said. “That will be good for me. It was a great experience here. I couldn’t ask for anything better. I loved every minute of it. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon.”

“Nobody likes to leave the big league club. This is the life that you want to live every day. It’s just the process. I’ll just go down to the Minor League club. I’m going to bust my butt. I’m going to play hard, like I always do,” added Harper.

The Nationals have asked him to work on his baserunning, defense and throwing accuracy while he plays for their Minor League affiliate.

In his limited playing time this spring in the Major League camp, Harper impressed fans as well as his future Washington teammates. Jerry Hairston, Jr. was among the Nationals’ veterans that was impressed with what he saw from Harper in his first spring training camp.

“I loved the way he carried himself,” Hairston said. “He is a confident kid, but he is not over the top. While he was here, he was humble. He is a guy that soaks up what veterans tell him. He is eager to learn, and that is going to bode well for him.

“He is learning to be a right fielder. He is going to be in the big leagues quicker than people think. He has that type of talent. He really needs to get four or five at-bats per game and concentrate on getting better. He did a great job for his first big league camp. He is only 18, but he should really be coming out of high school. I can’t think of another 18-year-old who could have done it.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is another Washington veteran who was impressed with Harper this spring.

“He is miles ahead of any 18-year-old kid as far as handling everything, baseball-wise. I don’t think it’s going to take him too long to get up to the big leagues,” says Zimmerman.

“He is a lot bigger and more athletic than people think,” Zimmerman said. “I didn’t know he was as big as he is. He is only going to get bigger. He is young and still growing. He lives baseball and he is very intelligent. He knows the game. He is far ahead mentally.”

Jayson Werth may have best summed up Bryce Harper and the need to send him to the Minor Leagues though.

“I’m overall impressed. He is way ahead of anybody I’ve seen—not just his size, but his togetherness, coordination and the ability to hit with so much power,” said Werth. 

“The one thing you have to remember is that he is 18 years old. He has never played professionally. He has a lot of talent, he has a really high ceiling, but everybody has to play in the Minor Leagues. The Minor Leagues builds professionalism, gives everybody a chance to play every day. When he gets that chance and do that, the next time we see him, he will be a better player.”

General manager Mike Rizzo has not ruled out calling up Harper to play in the Majors this season, however it will likely be a September call up if at all. Harper plans to make it a very hard decision for the Nationals to leave him in the minors however.

“I’m going to be a leader down there, take everybody on my back and let’s roll,” Harper said. “That’s the guy I am. Hopefully, I’ll see you guys back in July.”

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Oakland A’s Spring Training: Gio Gonzalez Emerging as Ace, Choice Turning Heads

The biggest competition this Spring in Athletics camp was supposed to be the battle for the fifth starter spot in the rotation. Gio Gonzalez has taken center stage in his appearances this spring and created a competition with fellow rotation-mates Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson for the team’s number one spot.

While Trevor Cahill emerged as the team’s ace last season, and Brett Anderson has been hyped as being the pitcher eventually poised to take over the team’s role as the ace of the staff, Gonzalez did not spend the offseason sitting back, content in his role as the number three pitcher. Instead Gonzalez spent the offseason working on his legs, abs and his balance.

“I wanted to get myself ready for Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill,” Gonzalez said. “They’re always ready. I figured, ‘”Hey, why not join them?'”

The difference from a year ago is amazing. Last spring Gio was competing with Trevor Cahill for the fifth spot in the rotation. Gonzalez eventually won that competition, thanks in part to an injury that would land Cahill in Sacramento for a pair of tune-up starts to begin the season. Gonzalez is guaranteed of a spot in this year’s rotation, allowing him to relax and work on fine-tuning his pitches for the regular season.

“You still have to go out there and try to perform,” Gonzalez said. “At the same time, I don’t have to kill myself like I did last year.”

So far, the results have been dominant. In two appearances Gonzalez has pitched a total of five innings and compiled the following line: 0.00 ERA, zero hits, zero runs, zero earned runs, 10 strikeouts, two base on balls and a 0.40 WHIP.

According to Oakland backup catcher Landon Powell, Gonzalez can be unhittable, as he has been so far this spring.

“His stuff is electric. When he spots his fastball and gets ahead in the count, the curveball is unhittable,” Powell said.

In his spring debut, Gonzalez threw 25 pitches as he shut down the Cincinnati Reds, striking out five batters. Of his 25 pitches, 17 were thrown for strikes and he reached 95 MPH on the radar gun.

“That was amazing,” manager Bob Geren said of Gonzalez’s outing. “He was sharp as can be.”

Following Gonzalez in the game was Brett Anderson, who many scouts and baseball writers had slotted ahead of Gio in the rotation. “Yeah, Gio totally screwed me on that one,” Anderson said with a grin. “How am I supposed to follow that?”

And so was the case in Gonzalez’s second appearance this spring, three more scoreless innings and five more strikeouts.

Trevor Cahill (8.10 ERA, 10 hits, six earned runs, 1.80 WHIP in 6.2 innings over three games) and Brett Anderson (7.20 ERA, seven hits, four earned runs, 1.60 WHIP in five innings over two games) will likely wind up the two candidates competing for the Opening Day start against Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners. If Gonzalez continues to dominate the Cactus League, it will be hard for manager Bob Geren to overlook Gio for the honor.

As Gonzalez continues his maturity and development as a major league pitcher, he could very well wind up the ace of the Athletics’ elite rotation.

Gonzalez recognizes that while he has enjoyed early success, it is still very early and he must keep working to improve on his craft.

“I hope I don’t peak too soon. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve still got a lot of room for growth, mentally,” says Gonzalez.


Fifth Starter Update

Rich Harden has been improving from his early spring injury and has been able to throw pain free from 120 feet twice in his most recent spring workouts. The next step for Harden is to throw from the mound and throw a live batting practice. Harden is at least still a week or two away from making his Cactus League debut, leaving him little time to jump back into the competition.

Josh Outman, who looked impressive in his bullpen sessions early on, has been anything but impressive in his three appearances so far. This spring Outman has yielded six runs and 11 hits while walking six in 4 2/3 innings. If Outman does not rebound in his next few appearances he will likely find himself starting the season in Sacramento to continue improving his control and gaining more game experience.

Tyson Ross followed up Gonzalez’s impressive performance against the Brewers with three scoreless innings of his own. In three appearances so far Ross has a perfect 0.00 ERA with six hits and six strikeouts in 6.2 innings.

Brandon McCarthy has pitched twice this spring, compiling five innings allowing only two runs (3.60 ERA) while striking out four.

Rounding out the A’s competition for the fifth spot, Bobby Cramer has an impressive 1.29 ERA in seven innings, allowing only four hits while striking out one.


Michael Choice Turning Heads

Choice spent the offseason working with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Torii Hunter, and the results have been impressive in his first Spring Training. So far in 16 at-bats Choice has six hits for a .375 AVG.

Choice has been impressing veterans and scouts alike with his time in the batting cage, but also with his preparation and approach to his first Cactus League camp.

“Nothing fazes him,” manager Bob Geren said. “I’ve never seen anyone that played at basically one of the lowest levels come up here and be so comfortable. You’d never know that he had never been here before. He gets good jumps on balls in the outfield, he’s been aggressive at the plate, he’s swung at strikes for the most part. He looks pretty advanced based on his experience level. What you see and then knowing what he’s done, experience-wise, they don’t match. He’s way ahead of that.”

Coco Crisp, who will eventually be replaced by Choice in centerfield (possibly as early as next season), added this about the rookie:

“He seems to have a good head on his shoulders,” Crisp said. “From the baseball standpoint, you’d think he’s been here for a couple years. Inside the clubhouse, he’s very quiet and humble.”

“He puts a lot into his swing,” Crisp added, “but it doesn’t look that way. It’s hard but effortless. He’s just a natural baseball player.”

“From what I’ve seen, he definitely has the ability to be something special. I’m not sure how that’s going to translate.”

Crisp was not the only person at A’s camp to comment about Choice. Oakland A’s Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, on hand as a special instructor for Spring Training has also taken note of Michael Choice.

“He’s got all the tools, and he’s just here at camp to develop and make all those things come out,” Henderson said. “I’m very impressed with him, especially the power that comes out of him. He’s a real nice player, goes about his business the right way. He’s very smart, he observes a lot and that’s a good sign.”

Upon being drafted last season, Choice declared that he would be in the Major Leagues within two seasons. While at the time it seemed like a long shot, Choice seems to be headed in that direction.

“It might have been a little premature to say I’ll be in the big leagues in two years, but it’s still a goal,” he said. “It’s a good goal to have because that’s extremely fast. If I can get there in that time, then great. If I can’t, I’ll keep working as hard as I can.”

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