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The Oakland A's

Stick a fork in your Oakland Athletics

I'd like to take this time to revise last week's thinking. The A's were pretty bad a week ago, and then they went and lost eight straight games. So now they're done. Finished. They have a statistically insignificant chance of making the playoffs, and it's time to look to the future.

Scott Hatteberg is a free agent at the end of the season and he will gradually cede first base to Dan Johnson, who will merely warm the bag until super-prospect Daric Barton (who came over from St. Louis in the Mark Mulder trade) is ready. They're also looking to move Octavio Dotel, but his trip to the DL has seriously reduced his value. But it's not like they've got a lot of veterans who can be redeemed for prospects at the trading deadline -- perhaps Mark Kotsay, Barry Zito, Erubiel Durazo and even Eric Byrnes could be had for the right price. For the most part, this will be a season to develop young players at the major league level. Billy Beane has always dealt to push his team over the top. Now he'll be dealing to put next year's team over the top, which will take a decidedly different form than what we've seen in the past.

At any rate, the first incarnation of Moneyball is over. It produced great teams for six years. But now that the cat has been out of the bag for a few years, on-base percentage has become over-valued by the rest of the league and you can no longer find a productive first baseman on waivers. On the plus side, the A's farm system -- which produced Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Jeremy Bonderman, Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen and Huston Street in just a few years -- is well-stocked from Beane's amateur drafting. But it's not going to deliver anything this year.

I'd like to think that the new A's owners are going to give Beane a little bit more money to maneuver with in the off-season. He already proved he could build a winning team on the cheap, now I want him to get a chance to build a team that can beat the Red Sox and Yankees in the playoffs.

Gigantes No Mas

What can I say about the Latroy Hawkins trade? Would you give up David Aardsma and Jerome Williams for a 32-year old short reliever? Most observers saw Williams and Aardsma figuring prominently in the Giants' plans in 2006 and beyond. Despite the Giants being in 4th place despite padding their schedule so far with Colorado and Pittsburgh, Brian Sabean decided to bet his children's college fund on double-zero. The only way to explain this deal is that Sabean somehow believes he can compete not only with the rest of the division but also with the rest of the league and make a run at the title in 2005, Barry Bonds be damned.

I like Hawkins. He's a good pitcher. He's the Giants' best active relief pitcher. But he's a short reliever who's going to be used as a setup guy and not a "closer." (For now.) At his best, he'll be worth two or three wins to the Giants over the rest of the season. He's just not worth two 23-year old pitchers who could be productive major leaguers as early as this year. Sabean might not have been burned by the other prospects he's dumped in the past, but this smells like a desperation deal. General Managers keep their jobs by not embarrassing themselves, and Sabean may very well be mortgaging 2007 and 2008 in order to make a pathetic run at a .500 record in 2005. It smacks of short-term self-preservation rather than long-term competitiveness. The Giants are carrying a lot of baggage in the form of Kirk Rueter, Marquis Grissom, Mike Matheny, and Edgardo Alfonzo, and now that list quite obviously includes their General Manager. The Giants have been slow to break up a system that's not quite working, but even with leaded feet, I don't see Brian Sabean being around here in 2007. Real Giants fans should hope his departure happens sooner.

While we're on the subject…

There's a lot of mysticism surrounding closers -- they've got to have a theme song and a goatee, or maybe live in a trailer somewhere, or have been raised by wolves, or at least be really, really angry. It's tough to get that magic label, and we tend to see successful closers as somehow better than the guy who comes in during the 7th or 8th with the bases loaded and has to pitch out of the jam. On Sunday, vaunted Padres closer Trevor Hoffman came in with a three-run lead in the ninth and mowed down Lance Niekro, Omar Vizquel and Yorvit Torrealba. In the same game, Chris "not the closer" Hammond pitched to the meat of the Giants order in the 7th and 8th. On Thursday, Eric Gagne took a three-run lead and set down Torrelba, Niekro and Ellison. But Yhency "no, sir, not the closer anymore" Brazoban took on Giants hitters three through seven. Brazoban and Hammond inherited runners and one- or two-run leads. Gagne and Hoffman came in with the bases empty. Set-up men often put out a forest fire before the supposed more-skilled closer even gets to the scene.

So let's talk about Tyler Walker's holiday weekend as closer, where he generally did get the tough assignments. He came into three tied games in four days. Each time, he left the game three runs down. For those of you keeping score at home, batters were 9-for-13 against him in this stretch with two doubles, one home run and a walk.

Can I say that bringing Walker into close games is a terrible way to use him? Yes, he throws 95 miles per hour, but he lacks both the control and the strikeout ability necessary to work in tough situations. There is a very good reason that he was a long reliever last year, and it's not because he doesn't have the "mentality" to be the closer. Somehow he's been anointed, and I suppose he will retain his label about as long as Matt Herges and Arthur Rhodes did, which is to say, not very long. I can only hope that the Giants soon realize Latroy Hawkins should get all the tough assignments (and even some of the saves) from here on in.

Parting shot…

Brian Sabean says he's not done with his dealing, and that he's looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder. Is that a veiled request for Barry Bonds to speed up his rehab? Anyways, Sabean has a left-handed outfielder. No, not Michael Tucker: Todd Linden. Linden has a 1080 OPS in 225 trips to the plate this year in Fresno. What more does he have to do? Maybe Sabean is just fattening him up to trade him for a VETERAN left-handed hitting outfielder.