The Oakland A’s have the most victories of any American League team over the past two seasons, remarkable for a franchise that ranked 27th among 30 major league clubs in payroll last year.
The A’s have become one of the game’s most likeable teams, a favorite of Moneyball devotees and old-school types alike. They’ve blended smart analytics and multiple platoons with a welcoming clubhouse and grinder ethos under manager Bob Melvin. But in the past two Octobers, Oakland’s storybook seasons ran up against cold, economic reality.
Twice, the A’s hosted a decisive fifth game of the AL Division Series. Twice, they faced Detroit ace Justin Verlander. In all, 58 Oakland hitters came to bat against Verlander. Not one scored. The Tigers won 6-0 in 2012 and 3-0 last year, when Miguel Cabrera, the two-time defending AL MVP, clubbed a two-run homer in the fourth to account for all the runs Detroit needed.
“Both years, we felt like we should have won that series,” Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson, who finished fourth in last year’s AL MVP voting, told me recently. “They have a horse by the name of Justin Verlander who almost did the same exact thing two years in a row. It was pretty phenomenal.
“There’s times when you have to tip your hat to a guy. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game — if not the best — for (a) reason. At the same time, we have to get better. We have to do a better job of, when we get there, (finishing) what we can.”
This season, Cabrera and Verlander will earn a combined $42 million. That equates to more than half of Oakland’s entire payroll. An A’s fan might say that is unfair, but that’s life in a non-salary-cap sport. The Tigers outspend their market size. The A’s donât. Until the A’s put a shovel into the ground on a new ballpark, the Tigers — and other AL foes — will out-superstar them when it matters most.
Despite reaching the playoffs seven times since 2000, the A’s have one postseason series victory in the past 20 years — against the Twins (at the time, another of their low-revenue brethren) in 2006. Six times, the A’s have lost a fifth game in the ALDS. Too often, they’re one play — or one player — short.
(Further proof that revenue sharing hasn’t leveled the playing field as much as it should: The bottom 18 teams in payroll last year, according to Associated Press figures, have accounted for only two of the past 16 World Series titles.)
Which brings us to 2014. Barring injuries, the A’s will contend once more. They have one of the best, deepest pitching staffs of any team in the sport. They possess a dangerous lineup, with power, speed and burgeoning stars Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes. They’re able to withstand injuries because of a versatile roster and the lack of reliance on any one player.
But what if they draw the Tigers in the first round? And what if it goes to a fifth game? Who would hold the psychological advantage? Would the A’s have an ace who can outpitch Verlander, or a superstar hitter to trump Cabrera’s heroics?
This July, during those last days before the non-waiver trade deadline, A’s officials should keep coming back to that question: If we’re going for it this year, do we have our version of Verlander and Cabrera?
Obviously, no general manager — not even Billy Beane, who has been especially masterful the past two years — can make the likes of Verlander and Cabrera materialize on his roster in exchange for a couple of Double-A prospects on July 31. But what if David Price is available? Or if the Toronto Blue Jays are at the bottom of the AL East again, putting Edwin Encarnacion and/or Jose Bautista on the midsummer trade market? How about Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips?
The A’s first choice, of course, would be to have their current players mature into superstar talents capable of carrying the team through a playoff series. Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray — the promising right-handers defeated by Verlander in those Game 5s — could assume that mantle this year. Donaldson and Cespedes, both 28, are in their primes.
But if there is any doubt, this should be Beane’s year to strike big — assuming, of course, that another team is willing to eat enough money to facilitate the trade. Already, the A’s have seen that merely making the playoffs doesn’t guarantee a substantial boost in attendance the following year: The A’s drew 1.68 million in 2012, the first year of back-to-back AL West titles but moved up only to 1.81 million last season.
–Jon Paul Morosi, FOXSports.com
Jimmer Fredette’s short and painful Kings career is nearing its final excruciating hours. This mutual agreement to part ways? In Little League, it’s known as the mercy rule.
If the parties agree on a buyout for the remainder of the season, as is expected, Fredette has an opportunity to sign elsewhere, the coaches and front-office executives distance themselves from yet another player who doesn’t fit their plans, and Kings fans gain some much-needed separation from one of the most popular, if polarizing, figures in recent franchise history.
And by the way. Fredette can play. Mostly, Fredette can shoot, a skill that will remain coveted as long the ball is round. In a league where teams routinely shoot below 40 percent – check the box scores these days – the third-year veteran converted 47.5 percent of his attempts from the floor and 49.3 percent from three-point range despite erratic playing time.
His departure nonetheless was virtually assured last October when the team declined to pick up his $3.1 million option for next season. When potential trades failed to materialize prior to last Thursday’s deadline, majority owner Vivek Ranadive agreed to buy out the remainder of his $2.57 million salary and enable the former BYU standout to sign with another organization.
The Kings, in essence, did Fredette a favor. He wasn’t going to play and he didn’t want to sit. So good for him and good for them. Once the agreement is finalized, he can entertain offers from other teams, and preferably, from playoff-bound teams.
“I fully understand our league and the process, and who we are right now,” Kings coach Michael Malone said before Tuesday’s game against the Houston Rockets. “We’re trying to do right by our guys, while also trying to put a team together for the future that this city can be proud of. We are trying to find our group and our foundation that we can move forward with, and hopefully get this thing moving in the right direction.”
That direction didn’t include Fredette, whose departure leaves DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, Isaiah Thomas and Travis Outlaw as the only players remaining from last season’s squad. Additionally, general manager Pete D’Alessandro – who plans to audition players on 10-day contracts – acquired and traded Greivis Vasquez and Luc Mbah a Moute within a matter of a few months. The new regime’s motto seems to be this: keep making moves until you get it right.
With Cousins established at center and Rudy Gay upgrading the small forward position, the search for a starting point guard and a rim-protecting power forward once again dominate the conversation. D’Alessandro and front-office executives Mike Bratz, Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond have been scouting college prospects extensively, with Bratz currently in the midst of his second overseas trip.
But, as always, the NBA draft comes with a buyer-beware caveat. Fredette, who undoubtedly spent most of his 25th birthday Tuesday packing his belongings, offers a classic example of the fickle nature of the league’s annual player feeding frenzy.
A prolific, at times spectacular college scorer, he was burdened from the start by unreasonable expectations, an ill-conceived roster and the lack of a true position. Selected 10th in 2011 ahead of Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Kenneth Faried, among others, and well ahead of No. 60 draft pick Isaiah Thomas, Fredette was greeted by an ecstatic overflowing crowd. He was the darling of the community before he stepped onto the court for his first practice, and when he did, he was almost immediately outplayed by the less-heralded Thomas.
– Ailene Voison, Sacramento Bee
Applause is in order as the NFL seeks to eradicate the N-word from the playing field. But it’s hard to muster more than a golf clap, because too much could go wrong with this.
At the moment, it’s just a proposal. But the Fritz Pollard Alliance — which monitors diversity in the league — believes the NFL competition committee will adopt a policy penalizing teams 15 yards when players use the N-word on the field.
The sentiment is laudable, the gesture appreciated. The initiative the NFL is taking, even though a minor step in the name of progress, is a worthy notion. Because it is high time this derogatory term is plucked from the mouth of normality.
All usages. As a term of endearment. As an expression of anger and venom. As a label for a lower class of being. As a synonym for black person. As emphatic punctuation. All of it needs to go.
It doesn’t matter which letters are at the end of the word, an -er or an -a. That whole argument is bogus. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking smack about your mother, or your momma, I better be ready to duck.
This problem won’t be fixed 15 yards at a time anyway. And the NFL’s new policy only addresses the end result, not the core issue that birthed it.
Self-improvement is most effective through education, not legislation. If the real goal is better citizenship among the athlete population, if the NFL is aiming for awareness and compassion among its employee base, an unsportsmanlike penalty won’t work. As part of a holistic plan, perhaps. But as a shot of linguistic penicillin, not so much.
Since 99 percent of the N-word usage on the field will come from the 70 percent of the players who are African-American, a holistic approach is in order. That begins with educating young people, with lifting their consciousness and improving their historical context. Respect and maturity is learned, not imposed, and this task demands an approach similar to the NFL’s activity on concussions.
“I think it’s going to be really tough to legislate this rule, to find a way to penalize everyone who uses this word,” Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said, according to ESPN.com. “And it’s not going to be white players using it toward black players. Most of the time you hear it, it’s black players using the word.”
Of course, this might not be the NFL’s motivation for change. Considering that this is the same league that not only allows but also supports the Washington team using the R-word as its nickname, it wouldn’t be a shock if the motives are PR-related. And if that’s the case, a 15-yard penalty won’t work, either. Just as it hasn’t stopped players from roughing passers or yanking face masks.
If the NFL wants to really stop players from dropping N-bombs on the field, game officials should keep a tally of the offenders. For every time they hear the word — or any derogatory term — somebody loses $10,000.
Imagine that bill.
Imagine, too, a close game, right down to the wire, fourth-and-1 in the red zone. A stop by the defense will win the game. But — no! — the offense gets new life and an automatic first down because the ref heard a player use the N-word while instructing his teammate.
That’s what stands to happen. Because for many, the use of the word is habitual, embedded in their vernacular. A utility word with so many connotations and caveats, shutting it off cold turkey is not a realistic option. And it’s unacceptable for a team to lose a game because the linebacker listens to too much Lil Wayne.
–Marcus Thompson II, San Jose Mercury News