A's Insider notebook: Projected lineup delivers


A's Insider notebook: Projected lineup delivers

March 13, 2011

PHOENIX -- The A's have quite happily gotten used to all the extra attention that's coming their way in the wake of general manager Billy Beane's offseason makeover, and even more happy buzz blossomed when manager Bob Geren posted his lineup for Sunday's game against the visiting Rockies at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It featured all nine of the hitters expected to start on Opening Day: Center fielder Coco Crisp led off, followed by first baseman Daric Barton, right fielder David DeJesus, left fielder Josh Willingham, designated hitter Hideki Matsui, catcher Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Mark Ellis, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and shortstop Cliff Pennington. Geren conceded that his batting order for the real opener might not mirror Sunday's; he's fairly big on alternating right- and left-handed hitters as much as possible, and Suzuki, Ellis and Kouzmanoff all hit from the right side (Pennington is a switch hitter). But that will work itself out in due time. Clearly, being able to pencil in all of his regulars on the same day struck a giddy chord with the skipper. "It's nice to get everyone out there together," Geren said. "It's been difficult with split squads and guys getting healthy, guys playing every other day for the most part here early. But you're going to see a lot more of that in these last couple weeks. A lot of them are going to start playing two or three days in a row, so we'll have everyone out there at the same time quite a bit. "It's pretty exciting, for sure." Adding to the air of excitement, the game was Oakland's first of the spring televised by Comcast SportsNet California, and several national media outlets, including MLB Network, were on hand. Living legend Peter Gammons was patrolling the grounds under the gorgeous desert skies before ducking into Geren's office for a closed-door chat before the morning workout, the venerable sportswriter's mere presence an indication of the club's status as a legitimate playoff contender. "People are pretty pumped around here, and they have been since Day One," said A's lefty Dallas Braden. "This is the first time most of us have experienced anything like this, and we're going to do whatever it takes to keep all these people coming back." That won't be difficult if the new-look lineup produces the way it did Sunday. Crisp, Barton and DeJesus singled to open the bottom of the first inning, and a wild pitch and a two-out single from Ellis gave Oakland a 3-0 lead. Barton and Matsui later homered, Matsui's being his first in green and gold, Crisp tacked on another couple of knocks to jack his Cactus League batting average to a slow-pitch softballish .519, and by the end of the fifth inning the regulars had nine runs on the board. That was a week's worth of runs at times in 2010, prompting Beane to add DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui to the middle of the order. "Dangerous," is how Braden described the improved offensive potential. "You pick up three guys like that, you know you're going to start doing some damage." RAMPING UP
As the end of camp draws closer, Geren plans to start managing games a bit more the way he'll manage during the regular season. "We haven't done a lot of hit-and-running, stealing bases, things like that," he said. "We'll be ramping that up with the regulars playing deeper into games. We might even do a little more of it than we'd do during the season, just because you need to work on things, and this is a good time to do that, when the games don't really mean anything." Another facet of the game that might get greater emphasis is one not easy to work on during camp: dealing with "sun balls," which can be a bear at the Oakland Coliseum. The A's work out every morning before their Cactus League games, the majority of which start at about 1 p.m., but as Geren noted, it's not like the outfielders can work on battling the 3 p.m. sun at 10 a.m. Thus, Geren said, outfieldfirst-base coach Tye Waller might occasionally be relieved of his game duties in the middle innings so he can take some of his charges to the back diamond at Phoenix Muni. MORNING MOVES
The A's announced a couple of roster moves early Sunday, sending right-hander Fautino De Los Santos and lefty Pedro Figueroa to minor-league camp.
NEWS: A's option RHP De Los Santos and LHP Figueroa
De Los Santos, part of the trade that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox in exchange for a package that included Gio Gonzalez, appeared in four Cactus League games and gave up three earned runs (four total) on eight hits and two walks over 3 23 innings. A 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic who consistently touches the upper 90's with his fastball but needs work on his command, he entered camp as a darkhorse bullpen candidate. Expected to open the season at Triple-A Sacramento, De Los Santos will be closely watched by Oakland's brass and could merit a call to the big leagues if he can resolve the control issues. "When guys throw that hard," Geren said, "they can come quick." Figueroa was optioned to Double-A Midland. FOR STARTERS
Based on the current throwing schedule mapped out by new pitching coach Ron Romanick, Gonzalez, who has a 0.96 ERA in three spring starts, is in line to start on Opening Day. Last year's top starter, All-Star righty Trevor Cahill, worked Sunday and gave up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five over four innings, pushing his spring ERA to 7.59. Geren hasn't announced his rotation, and he insisted Sunday that Cahill's struggles and the recent thumping of Braden by the Texas Rangers have done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm about his gifted young starting staff. "Everyone's right where they need to be, health-wise and pitch-count-wise," he said. The competition for the No. 5 job remains open, but righty Brandon McCarthy appears to have a slight edge based on his big-league experience. Also pitching well is Bobby Cramer, who made a good impression during a late-season callup in 2010. Lefty Josh Outman, working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2009, was the early frontrunner but has struggled with his mechanics of late.

Aldon Smith shows off athleticism, strength in workout videos

Aldon Smith shows off athleticism, strength in workout videos

Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith is awaiting word from the league regarding his possible reinstatement.

In the meantime, the 2012 First-Team All-Pro is preparing his body for the physical grind that is playing in the NFL.

Personal trainer Steven Fotion posted multiple videos to social media of Smith's recent workouts:


GM McKenzie: Raiders can sustain success, ‘we’ve built this thing to last’

GM McKenzie: Raiders can sustain success, ‘we’ve built this thing to last’

ALAMEDA – Reggie McKenzie doesn’t talk to the media often, maybe a handful of times per year. That’s been the case since he became Raiders general manager in early 2012 and, throughout that time, those interactions come with a common line of questioning.

Everyone wanted to know about his grand plan to return the Raiders to greatness, or a progress report on it. It was a tall order, and McKenzie never said it was going to happen fast.

He had to get right with the salary cap and completely overhaul the roster, actions nearly impossible to do in tandem. He radically deconstructed, then reconstructed in a method that would set the team up for long-term success.

This was not a steady ascent. Poor play was expected early on, though mistakes intensified tough times and muddled his vision to the short sighted.

McKenzie never wavered, trusted his internal compass and steered this pirate ship through a storm. The skies have finally cleared. His Raiders are 9-2 heading into Sunday’s game against Buffalo, armed with a franchise quarterback, elite pass rusher and a respected head coach.

There’s a hulking offensive line, a pair of top receivers and quality cornerbacks secured for the long term.

Those old questions aren't valid anymore. 

Deconstruction is long done. Reconstruction is clearly complete. Now it’s on to the next phase: Sustaining success.

“The key is that your drafted players become your core,” McKenzie said on Thursday in a meeting with local press. “As far as (what's next), you need to know you can sign them and keep them and continue that process.

“That’s where we are right now, and we feel good about where we are. We think we’ve built this thing to last.”

McKenzie has done so with a three-pronged attack.

1. He has drafted extremely well, over the last three years especially, building a young core headlined by Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Gabe Jackson and Karl Joseph.

2. McKenzie found a respected head coach in Jack Del Rio guys want to play for, with a staff focused on development.

3. McKenzie has supplemented well in free agency – importing Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson Michael Crabtree and Donald Penn, to name a few -- generally without saddling himself with burdensome contracts.

The Raiders were so flush with cap space a few years ago they were able to fork out huge amounts up front on contracts that become pay-as-you-go deals without dead money later on.

They often use roster bonuses over signing bonuses -- roster bonuses hit the cap all at once; salary bonuses impact the cap over the life of the contract – to help mitigate long-term impact. In short, that gives the Raiders financial flexibility and cap space to play with each year. 

They’ll need it soon. Raiders premier players have come cheap, but the taxman is coming. Carr and Mack are still on rookie deals, but big contract extensions are a fait accompli. The same goes for Cooper when the time comes.

“The premier players will get paid, and we’ll try and keep everything intact as much as we can,” McKenzie said. “But what happens when your talented players play well? Contracts come up at times where they can benefit from it.”

Some teams -- New Orleans, for example -- suffer with a few players consuming significant cap space. Other teams, like New England and Seattle, keep on trucking with a good quarterback, defensive cornerstones and cheaper replacements through the draft or free agency.

“You have to continue to function with some young players,” McKenzie said, “and you have to find some mid-tier veterans who can step in and play well.”

The Raiders have been good mining undrafted free agents – McKenzie takes particular pride in those – to help keep the cupboard stocked.

While the Raiders rise may seem concentrated, from 3-13 in 2014 to 9-2 nearly two completed seasons later, it wasn’t quite so quick. McKenzie’s first two seasons were extremely lean while disposing of bad contracts, with a few hiccups that led many to question his vision.

Owner Mark Davis wasn't one of them. He stuck with McKenzie, a decision that looks pretty darn smart. His GM is certainly thankful for that.

“We were in constant communication the four years leading up to this year,” McKenzie said. “Nobody’s excited about losing seasons, but he did see the promise, and he believed in me. That was enough said. I told him my process, and he knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. We could try, but that wasn’t my style. That says a lot, because he was probably getting it from a whole lot of people to hurry up.”