Big O Tires

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

In a world in which there is Aroldis Chapman and teams without parades, the San Francisco Giants decided that Santiago Casilla wasn’t the answer, and Mark Melancon is.
 
In fairness, the Giants made the Casilla call in September after watching him work and his confidence shrivel like an orange in front of a space heater, but there were other reasons why the Giants cratered in the second half and went from being a sure top seed to an in-by-the-skin-of-their-noses wild card team. They also hit after the break like they were portraying the San Diego Padres in a school play.
 
But the quick fix, albeit a pricy one, was Melancon, at $62 million for the next four years, a tribute to (a) his work in Pittsburgh and Washington, and (b) the knowledge that the Giants had to buy a closer because they have been unable to nurture one.
 
The contract, which is the highest for a closer in terms of total dollars invested until Chapman and Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen sign their deals shortly, is not the important part, though. The important part is that Bruce Bochy’s brain is less likely to explode, and that Madison Bumgarner is less likely to yank off a buffalo’s head in rage at another lead blown.
 
Melancon is Brian Sabean’s/Bobby Evans’ response to the 57 percent save percentage (43 saves, 32 blown) the Giants amassed in 2016, their worst in the 10-year Bochy Bullpen Whisperer era and a dropoff from 78 percent in 2010, 79 percent in 2012, and 72 percent in 2014, just to name three years that ended better than the way Game 4 of the NL Division Series did.
 
And while saves and save percentage are not the most granular ways to explain why the Giants made Melancon their fifth highest-paid player, they help explain the urgency to do so, an urgency more profound even that addressing the sinkhole in left field or the wobbly nature of third base.
 
Fortunately, of course, the Giants are swimming in money you have provided them, so that cost should not necessarily be a major impediment to attacking those other needs, but the bullpen was first because the bullpen was worst. And while Melancon will be 35 when his contract expires, the Giants are willing to take the nervous gamble that the contract will indeed expire before Melancon’s usefulness does.
 
And while your results may vary, closers are a nerve-wracking lot anyway, which is why four years and $62 million makes more sense than the five-plus and $100 million or so that Chapman is likely to attract. True, Melancon is not nearly as breathtaking (or as prone to induce his manager to overuse him as Joe Maddon did in the World Series), but the goal isn’t dropped jaws but outs created, and Melancon hasn’t allowed opponents to hit even as much as .210 against him in three years, and his three-year WHIP of 0.899 is sufficiently inspiring for San Francisco’s needs.
 
What comes next? Well, if Sabean and Evans can ply Larry Baer with sufficient drinks to make him put the budget away, they could throw a ton of money at Justin Turner of the Dodgers to (a) improve third base and (b) steal him away from the Dodgers, which always energizes the fan base. As an interested party, you don’t want to bet that way (Turner is considered pretty much re-Dodgered), but if your closer is suddenly worth $15 big ones a year, a third baseman . . . well, you get the point. In for that much, in for that much more, and then some.

Raiders go from beaten to not, as true champions often do

Raiders go from beaten to not, as true champions often do

The word “momentum” is largely dependent upon the word “moment,” and yet it is difficult to get players or coaches to acknowledge a particular moment when bad turns to good, or the other way around.
 
Put another way, when he was asked for the single play when the Oakland Raiders went from being owned by the Buffalo Bills to owning them, wide receiver Amari Cooper smiled wanly and said, “I don’t know. My memory’s not that good.”
 
Oh, he remembers when the Bills led, 24-9, in the third quarter, and he remembers when the Raiders took their final lead of 38-24. I mean, it was barely 15 minutes of playing time, maybe twice that in actual time, and he was there for a lot of it. So of course he remembers it.
 
But the singular moment? That’s all filed under “not important enough to spend a lot of time on, especially when another game is 97 hours away."
 
Minutiae like the answers to questions like “When did things change?” or “How did this loss become this win?” doesn’t interest them. It doesn’t have to. They can apply their own stories to why or when or how, but usually they’re just making it up. As guard Kelechi Osemele put it, “It doesn’t really work like that.
 
“You’re in the moment, and you don’t sense things like the moment when momentum shifted. You’re just playing. The next day, maybe you’ll see something on film and then it will hit you that something happened right then that might have changed the game, but not right then.”
 
Fair enough then. You be the judge when Sunday’s looming letdown became the most empirical proof yet that the Raiders are masters of their own fates. It might have been:
 
* The drive after Mike Gillislee plowed into the end zone from two yards out to give Buffalo its 15-point lead, when quarterback Derek Carr threw precision strikes to Clive Walford (18 yards), Seth Roberts (15) and Michael Crabtree (19, sliding to reach a ball thrown slightly behind him) to set up a three-yard touchdown to Crabtree that reduced a potentially lopsided defeat to a single score.
 
* The 22-yard punt return by Jalen Richard that set the Raiders up at the Buffalo 38 after the defense’s first three-and-out of the day, followed by the 21-yard burst by Richard that put the Raiders in position for Latavius Murray’s one-yard push to make it 24-23.
 
* The next Buffalo three-and-out that set the Raiders up at their own 41, from which Carr converted a third-and-10 with a 21-yard throw up the seam to Mychal Rivera, followed two plays later by an elegant 37-yard loft to Cooper, who had gotten behind Kevon Seymour.
 
* The 55-yard punt by Marquette King that buried the Bills at their own four-yard-line.
 
* Or the weekly Khalil Mack-Puts-His-Feet-Up-On-Your-Table moment, tipping Tyrod Taylor’s  pass on the first play after King’s punt into the arms of cornerback Nate Allen to set up the game-settling touchdown.
 
And there might have been more, but why be excessively pedantic? The Raiders used those fifteen minutes and seven seconds to gain 188 yards while holding Buffalo to three, and score 29 points in 28 plays while allowing the Bills 10 plays from scrimmage, not including the three punts. Momentum? Pick a play, any play.
 
The Raiders are now properly positioned as the most logical alternative to the New England Patriots in the AFC, but have a game Thursday night in soon-to-be-snow-encrusted Kansas City that could turn that back on its head. Win and then win out, and they can be masters of their universe, owning for the moment the tiebreakers over the Patriots that would prevent a trip to Foxborough and a nostalgic confrontation with the High Lord Tuck.
 
On their hand, lose Thursday, and they are tied with Kansas City without benefit of the first tiebreaker, having been swept by the perpetually hard-to-figure Chiefs.
 
In other words, momentum in Game 12 is always useful right up to the point where preparation for Game 13 must begin, in the same way that “Is Carr the MVP, or is it Mack?” debates become irrelevant within minutes of their embarkation. As head coach Jack Del Rio explained what he had just supervised, “Is there such a thing as a fast Sunday?”
 
He had already moved on, because dawdlers get crushed by events. Being the master of your fate is not the same as mastering it, and let us not forget that the Raiders do have that maddening gift for needing fourth quarter comebacks. That they can usually get them is not as comforting as never needing them.
 
And there are at least four and as many as eight more games to traverse between now and what the Raiders alone have dared to dream.
 
But Sunday was a day when the Raiders did define themselves as one of the toughest outs in the lineup, and if you want the momentum-shifter to be Buffalo tackle Cordy Glenn’s false start at the end of the third quarter, hey, dance it up. Whether things go according to the Raiders’ grand plan or they don’t, nobody’s going to care either way. All anyone knows today is that they were beaten, and then they were not, and that’s typically how champions are made.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

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AP

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.