Nov 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie looks on before the game between the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Bay Area Buzz 3/12: Raiders Moves, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Lew Wolff’s Dance With San Jose

Oakland Raiders take a hit on first day of NFL free agency

They waited for this, struggled through bleak years for this, anticipated it and anticipated it, then the first day of the Raiders’ thrilling new era of salary-cap freedom arrived and …

Wait, the Raiders actually lost more good players Tuesday than they acquired?

That was an odd thing to happen on the first day of the NFL’s movement period, especially for a franchise almost bereft of decent talent already.

Oh, and the Raiders also began the day with more than $50 million in available cash under the salary cap limit.

Result: They lost good young left tackle Jared Veldheer to Arizona, lost solid young defensive end Lamarr Houston to Chicago, and lost productive tailback Rashad Jennings to the New York Giants.

Nobody is claiming that those three are destined to be superstars or even would have done much to prevent yet another 4-12 Raiders season in 2014.

But they were among the Raiders’ most valued players — possibly the three most valuable — and none of them got mega-bucks to leave the Raiders.

In fact, Veldheer got less than the Raiders eventually paid to land former St. Louis offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, who has missed 17 games in the past three seasons.

And it’s not like the Raiders are teeming with credible replacements for any player, at any position, which is partly why they’ve gone 4-12 the past two seasons.

Just as a reminder, Veldheer, Houston and Jennings were three of the four pending free agents that general manager Reggie McKenzie suggested in January that he most wanted to keep.

The fourth was safety Charles Woodson who is 37, still unsigned, and not very valuable any more.

My general point: The Raiders had more than enough cap space to afford re-signing all three, but they couldn’t afford the talent drain if they left.

And the Raiders ended up taking the loss, anyway.

Now let’s be clear, it’s not like huge infusions of free-agent spending are guaranteed to bring success and in fact many teams have caused enormous problems by spending too much and too wildly.

That would include the Raiders, many times, which is a large part of how they got into this sorry state a decade ago, by the way.

Sitting out the hottest free-agent bidding isn’t usually a bad way to play it in March and Tuesday’s inactivity wasn’t all by itself a devastating blow to the Raiders’ immediate or distant future.

But that has to be added to McKenzie’s very shaky 2013 draft, the signing of Matt Flynn and various other non-terrific McKenzie moves over his tenure, all leading to the current bottom-rung roster.

What you have left is a franchise that does not quite seem to have a lot of upward momentum, precisely when the owner, the players and the fan base presumed that the tide was about to turn.

Of course, there is plenty of time and money for the Raiders to sign other players to solidify some of the team’s most glaring weaknesses.

But now the Raiders also have more weaknesses, after losing Veldheer, Houston and Jennings, with zero guarantee that McKenzie can even bring the Raiders back to their 2013 talent level.

–Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News

Nakajima gets chance to show he belongs with A’s

Hiroyuki Nakajima arrived in the A’s clubhouse just a few minutes before the team bus was scheduled to depart for Peoria, Ariz., on Tuesday morning. He had to get his uniform and equipment sorted out quickly, but he kept being delayed.

Josh Donaldson bear-hugged him, lifting him off the ground. Players kept coming up to greet him, shake his hand, shouting welcomes of “Hiro!”

“He’s awesome,” Donaldson said.

“He’s a great teammate,” said Stephen Vogt.

It was the first appearance with the big-leaguers for the obviously popular Nakajima in almost a year, which is not exactly how the script was supposed to go.

Nakajima, a big star in Japan, signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract with the A’s before last season and was penciled in as the team’s starting shortstop. He gave a charming performance in an introductory news conference, calling general manager Billy Beane “sexy and cool.” There was expected to be another flood of Japanese media in the Coliseum press box to cover Nakajima. The signing was considered a coup at the time – the Yankees had originally bid on his major-league rights and, when they couldn’t come to an agreement, the A’s were excited to land Nakajima.

But something got lost in the translation. Nakajima struggled to adapt to American baseball, especially defensively. Jed Lowrie, acquired in a February trade, won the starting job, and Nakajima, who also suffered a hamstring injury, got a one-way ticket to Sacramento.

“He came into a situation that I’m sure he didn’t plan for,” River Cats manager Steve Scarsone said. “It can be humbling. But he was outstanding. He applied himself to all parts of the game. He was the opposite of a player like (pitcher) Hideki Okajima, who was not happy in the minor leagues and didn’t care who knew it.”

Now Nakajima, 31, is getting another chance because of the injury to red-hot prospectAddison Russell, who strained his hamstring against the Dodgers on Monday and is expected to be out at least a week. Nakajima got the call from minor-league camp. Bob Melvin said he was looking forward to seeing how Nakajima has progressed since last spring.

On Tuesday, Nakajima – wearing No. 74 – entered the game against the Padres in the bottom of the seventh inning. A ball that was ruled a hit glanced off his glove, and he caught a liner. He didn’t have an at-bat.

Few Japanese infielders have successfully transitioned to the American game. One theory is that the move from Japan’s Astroturf fields to grass is difficult and that Japanese players don’t learn to be as aggressive defensively. Scarsone said that another theory is that the Japanese game relies less on power and more on bunting, so infielders don’t field as many sharply hit balls.

In Sacramento, Nakajima hit .283 in just 90 games, off his career average of .302 with the Seibu Lions and with far less power. Nakajima hit four home runs with Sacramento; in Japan he hit 162 over 10 seasons. Melvin said that the report on Nakajima was that, in Japan, he studied pitchers carefully. The A’s manager thinks Nakajima may be more comfortable now that he’s gained more familiarity with opponents and how they pitch to him. And that he may just be more comfortable in general, after a season in the United States.

“You would think anybody would be a little bit more comfortable now,” Melvin said. “And would have a better chance to succeed.”

The River Cats moved Nakajima around defensively. He played 28 games at shortstop, 37 at third base and 19 at second base.

“The thought process was that if he got back to Oakland, it would be a utility situation,” Scarsone said.

Melvin indicated that remains a long shot.

“There would probably have to be some injuries to guys we have here,” Melvin said. “But who knows? Anything could happen in baseball, and I think he realizes that. That’s why he’s here working as hard as he is and trying to get back to the big leagues.”

The A’s have been impressed with Nakajima’s attitude. He was outrighted off the 40-man roster in August, and there was some question whether he would even be back in the States.

“For him to come back and be a minor-leaguer this year, that’s pretty impressive,” Melvin said. “I’m sure he could have gone back to Japan and played, but he wants to prove himself here.”

–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle

A’s owner Wolff standing in the way of new stadium

Say this for San Jose mayor Chuck Reed: He doesn’t give up easily. As soon as A’s owner Lew Wolff announced that he was having trouble negotiating a lease extension on the O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Reed announced that they could play in a temporary home in San Jose. But that’s prohibited by the contract the Giants have with Major League Baseball.

Wolff’s problem with the Oakland negotiations: He doesn’t want to pay any rent. He inherited the contract Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann had with the Coliseum. When the Raiders moved back to Oakland, it caused serious problems for the A’s with the construction to add seats for football. The 1996 season opener had to be played in Las Vegas because of construction at the Coliseum. The Coliseum rewrote the A’s contract, not requiring them to pay rent for the rest of the lease.

Those conditions no longer apply. Wolff and his oh-so-silent partner, John Fisher, have prospered, reportedly earning as much as $23 million in revenue-sharing money one season.

Wolff created an artificial attendance reduction when he tarped off seats in the upper deck. That prevented the A’s from getting the 50,000-person crowds they often got when the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Giants came to town. Even so, their attendance has been rising and their fans support the team loudly; players often say how much they appreciate that support.

The A’s could certainly use a new park, but it is Wolff who is preventing that, in his quixotic attempt to move to San Jose. There are two plans to build a new park, on either the southern or northern end of Jack London Square. Oakland businessmen have pledged support for the first one and I’ve talked to the money man for the second project, who insists there would be no problem raising the money.

But Wolff isn’t interested. He’s still pursuing his San Jose dream.

It’s not going to happen because of the agreement the Giants have with MLB.

Forget the urban legend that, as A’s owner, Walter Haas granted territorial rights to Giants owner Bob Lurie so he could explore possibilities in the South Bay. Two attempts failed at the ballot box.

Lurie and Haas were good friends, both members of the Lake Merced Country Club, and I’m sure they discussed this. Haas no doubt told Lurie he wouldn’t stand in his way, but the fact is, there were no territorial rights at that time. Yet, this story keeps getting repeated by writers who don’t do their homework.

In late 1992, just before he stepped down as head of the group trying to buy the Giants from Lurie, Walter Shorenstein told me there would be two conditions in the new contract: 1) The Giants would have to get a new park within 10 years; 2) The Giants would then have territorial rights to all the counties down the Peninsula and into San Jose. They were looking at Silicon Valley, of course, and money from that area helped build the park.

–Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Examiner

Tags: Hiroyuki Nakajima Lew Wolff Oakland Athletics Oakland Raiders