Winter Meetings musings

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Winter Meetings musings

NASHVILLE - As soon as you move through the rotating door to enter Gaylord Opryland's lobby you are handed a map. That's how massive the site of the 2012 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings is. It is a bit of a sensory overload. Immediately recognizable in the lobby are prominent members of the media, baseball executives, some current managers, and one very impressive manager of the past, Tommy Lasorda. The baseball people all mingle on a bridge directly outside the lobby. At times the narrow bridge that takes you over a large man-made pond gets so crowded that it is hard to pass through. Being exchanged are business cards, pleasantries, and information. As you take a couple of escalators the hotel opens up to a massive garden conservatory with thousands of dangling strands of white light. You can see a quaint gazebo and much more water as you take the skywalk to to the area that eventually winds around to the make-shift television sets, and MLB press conference rooms. More people are standing around talking. Most people are in suits -- surprisingly with no ties -- or company branded polo shirts. There's a surprising amount of job seekers here.You introduce yourself, get business cards, talk to agents, and try to catch wind of moves that could be on the horizon. Inside the hotel there are about eight bars. Most people just partake at night. Below the television area there is a guided boat tour that takes you around the inside of the hotel. It costs 9.50 but they let us ride for free because we brought a high-def camera to shoot scenics. Outside there is a dazzling display of holiday lights. It's easy to get lost here. It's even easier to cover massive amounts of distance without realizing it. For now, these observations are the only ones that matter from the Oakland A's side of the beat. A's general manager Billy Beane and assistant general manager David Forst will be arrived this evening. They will speak with the A's writers and then get to work. If you think it is surprisingly quiet from the A's perspective, this is why. Even when they are here, the A's tend to be relatively quiet at the Winter Meetings. Oakland needs a shortstop. Whether or not they can bring back Stephen Drew is the biggest question. His agent Scott Boras is one of the toughest negotiators in the business. He is here. Drew is drawing interest from several clubs. If the A's can't bring him back, the shortstop market is thin. I spoke with the agents of Yuniesky Betancourt. They say they have been in contact with Oakland but haven't had any serious talks. Betancourt could be had for pretty cheap. He signed a one-year deal with the Royals last offseason for 2,000,000. He only played 57 games last season, but played over 150 games in five of the last six seasons. For now, most of the news that relates to the A's has to do with moves other clubs have made. Mike Napoli has signed with the Boston Red Sox. Napoli, 31, got a three-year deal. He hit 54 homers for the Rangers in the past two seasons, and it certainly hurts Texas' lineup to lose him. The other big news that might have a mild trickle down effect for Oakland is that Alex Rodriguez is going to miss extensive time after undergoing right hip surgery. With the Yankees in need of a back up at third base, Brandon Inge could be a solid solution. That might make it harder for the A's to bring Inge back. With Jonny Gomes joining the Red Sox, Inge could be valuable to the A's as a clubhouse leader and provide depth behind Josh Donaldson at the hot corner. Much more to come. Make sure to check out SportNet Central, and Chronicle Live tonight. We'll have A's manager Bob Melvin on both shows. I'll also be attempting to grab him for a one-on-one interview for SportNet Central: Hot Stove on Tuesday.

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Raul Alcantara, who could factor in as a starting or long relief option for the A’s, is experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring.

Alcantara, who made five late-season starts last season in his first big league call-up, threw the pitch for the first time to hitters Tuesday, so he’s still in the infant stages with it. The A’s would like Alcantara to develop a solid third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup, though he does dabble with a curve and cutter too.

“In general, we’re looking for a ball that’s gonna dive, something where the bottom’s gonna fall out,” Oakland bullpen coach Scott Emerson said.

Alcantara, 24, faces crowded competition for the No. 5 starter spot with Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn among those also going for it. Claiming the last spot in a seven-man bullpen is a possibility, though the A’s could surely utilize a second left-hander to go along with Sean Doolittle.

Making Alcantara’s case more interesting is that he’s out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make it through waivers unclaimed before the A’s could send him down.

Alcantara throws a hard changeup that clocked 86-87 miles per hour last season. Ideally, Emerson said his splitter would settle in the low 80’s.

Speaking through interpreter Juan Dorado, Alcantara said he’s gradually getting a feel for the new pitch.

“Obviously it’s a little more difficult on the hitters to know that there’s a different pitch,” he said. “They’re used to me throwing a fastball, a cutter and a change, and now implementing a split would just help me out to show them something different.”

CAMP BATTLE: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who re-signed with Oakland in the winter on a minor league deal, offers depth as a potential swing man who can start or relieve. Detwiler went 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA in nine games (seven starts) last season for the A’s. Those numbers look ugly in a short sample size, but Melvin values the veteran beyond what the stats show.

“I think he liked being here and we wanted him back.”

QUOTABLE: “I must be a little behind this year because the guys are hitting me a little harder than they normally do. Healy took me over the batter’s eye three times in a row.” — Melvin, who throws a couple rounds of batting practice every day.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s will hold a pair of two-inning intrasquad games Thursday at the Lew Wolff Training Complex, with both set to start at 11:40 a.m.

Melvin happy that pace-of-play rules changes didn't go further

Melvin happy that pace-of-play rules changes didn't go further

MESA, Ariz. — A’s manager Bob Melvin can live with Major League Baseball’s altered intentional-walk rule. He’s just glad some more drastic changes weren’t implemented for 2017.

It was announced that pitchers no longer will have to toss four pitches outside the strike zone for an intentional walk. Managers will simply signal from the dugout when they want to put an opposing batter on first base.

That change is part of the effort to speed up the pace of play, although it’s debatable how much time will really be saved by eliminating traditional intentional walks. There was just one intentional walk allowed every 2.6 games in 2016.

“I was just worried about any number of new rules coming in,” Melvin said. “If this was just one they’re looking to speed up with, I’m OK with that.”

MLB management reportedly has pushed the idea of a 20-second pitch clock on pitchers — which has been used in the upper minor leagues — and limiting the number of trips managers and coaches can make to the mound, both in an effort to play games faster. Melvin is against the idea of limiting trips to the mound in particular.

“It sounds like there’s a school that thinks that’s not that important, and it really is,” he said. “Unless you’ve been out on the mound and know how quickly the game can go at times, especially in big situations … it’s our job to try to slow it down for the pitcher. For me that would have been a tough one.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke critically of the players’ association for not being more receptive to some rules changes for 2017. Management can change rules without the union’s consent if it gives one-year’s notice, and Manfred reportedly intends to give that notice to the union with an idea of possibly implementing changes for 2018.

One of the more radical ideas tossed about was starting with a runner on second base in extra innings, hoping to avoid games dragging on late. Although that idea will be tried in the World Baseball Classic and possibly in some Single-A leagues, all indications are it’s unlikely to reach the majors.

“I was hoping that never got any traction,” Melvin said. “I mean, it’s just not baseball, for me. It’s like a simulated game — at the most important part of the game.”