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.

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

Pinder's potential 'coming to fruition' in chance with A's

OAKLAND — With so much attention focused on who might be the next wave of A’s infielders coming up from the minors, Chad Pinder is making quite a statement in the present.

Pinder enjoyed another big day at the plate Sunday with a two-run homer and a double in the A’s 12-3 loss to Boston. That came on the heels of Saturday’s 460-foot home run that made him just the fifth player to reach the second deck just above the Coliseum’s first level of luxury suites.

For fans around the country who might have seen that mammoth blast on highlight shows, it likely was their first introduction to the 25-year-old Virginia native. However, those within the organization witnessed Pinder’s steady rise through the farm system since he was drafted as a sandwich pick between the second and third rounds of the 2013 draft out of Virginia Tech.

“I don’t think it’s a shock what he’s doing,” said A’s designated hitter Ryon Healy, who was part of that same draft class. “I think he’s always been that caliber of player. He’s always had that potential and it’s coming to fruition right now and it’s really fun to watch.”

Pinder, who made his big league debut in September but began this season with Triple-A Nashville, is hitting .286 over 21 games with Oakland. He’s homered in four of his past eight, and he provided a boost over the weekend as the A’s took three of four from the Red Sox.

The right-handed hitting Pinder was in the lineup all four games — with the Red Sox starting lefties on the mound for the final three contests, the A’s stacked their lineup with righties, giving Pinder a stretch of consistent playing time.

He’s provided enough of a spark that he warrants consideration to remain in the lineup even though the A’s are scheduled to face right-handers during their two-game series with the Miami Marlins that begins Tuesday at the Coliseum.

Granted, it’s not the biggest sample size either way, but Pinder is actually hitting better against righties (.348, 8-for-23) than he is against lefties (.231, 6-for-26). Four of his five home runs also have come against right-handers.

Asked whether Pinder could draw more starts against right-handers, A’s manager Bob Melvin replied: “Potentially, yeah. You want to try to stay consistent with the lineups you have, but if you have a hot hand, you look for ways to get him in there.”

Working in Pinder’s advantage is the versatility he’s shown since being recalled from Nashville on April 16. The A’s always knew Pinder could handle second, shortstop or third as needed, but he’s also shown to be a capable option in right field with a strong arm for the outfield.

Pinder was the Texas League (Double-A) Player of the Year in 2015 and ranked No. 7 on Baseball America’s preseason list of A’s prospects. He’s making the most of his time in the majors.

On the minds of many Oakland fans is when a couple more infield prospects who are impressing at Triple-A — middle infielder Franklin Barreto and third baseman Matt Chapman — might get their first crack in the bigs.

Barreto, ranked as the No. 25 overall prospect in the majors in Baseball America’s most recent ratings, is hitting .311 with six homers and is tied with Matt Olson for Nashville’s RBI lead at 27. Chapman, ranked the 95th overall prospect, missed two weeks earlier this season with a wrist injury but has shown signs of heating up offensively. He’s hitting just .237 but has eight homers and 15 RBI.

Two other Nashville players, who have both seen time with the A’s, are putting up noteworthy numbers: Olson, a first baseman/outfielder, is hitting .276 with 10 homers and 27 RBI, and corner infielder/outfielder Renato Nunez is tied for the Pacific Coast League lead with 12 homers to go with a .245 average and 25 RBI.

The A’s are working with Barreto and Chapman to hone their approach at the plate and control the strike zone. General manager David Forst maintains the A’s will be patient with both, noting that Pinder benefited last year from a full season at Triple-A before his promotion.

“The calendar needs to turn over,” Forst said. “They need at-bats. Matt missed a couple weeks with the injury, but they just need more days and more at-bats. We don’t have an ‘X’ on the calendar anywhere where this is the day. We’ll know when it’s time.”

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

Axford makes his 2017 debut; Doolittle takes step forward to return

OAKLAND — The A’s officially welcomed John Axford back into their bullpen fold Sunday, and they got some encouraging news about another reliever.

Sean Doolittle was expected to only throw a flat-ground session before the series finale against Boston, but he wound up throwing 15 pitches off the mound as well. That’s the first time Doolittle has thrown from the mound since joining the disabled list May 3 with a strained left shoulder. Next up is a 25-pitch session off the mound Wednesday.

The early indications are that Doolittle’s current shoulder woes aren’t as severe as the ailments that sidelined him for major portions of the past two seasons.

Axford was reinstated from the 10-day DL Saturday for his own shoulder strain, but his season debut came Sunday, when he handled the eighth inning and allowed one run. He was sidelined during the season-opening series against the Angels when he hurt his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen.

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All indications are that first baseman Yonder Alonso will be available to return to the lineup Tuesday for the opener of a two-game interleague series against the Miami Marlins. A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Sunday’s game that he considered Alonso as potentially being available off the bench. Given the A’s are off Monday, it’s reasonable to assume Alonso will be ready Tuesday when the Marlins start right-hander Jose Urena on the mound.

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The A’s are plenty familiar with Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland from his days with division rival Texas. But Moreland continues to do damage against Oakland even though he’s out of the AL West. Moreland’s two-run homer in the sixth off Andrew Triggs marked his third homer of the four-game series, and his 19th homer in 80 career games against the A’s. That’s his most homers against any major league club.

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The run Axford allowed in the eighth snapped a streak of 27 scoreless innings at home by the A’s bullpen. Josh Smith allowed five runs in the ninth.