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A's now rejuvenated with Dye
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
"There are times when the players have to know that the general manager is trying to win as hard as they are," says Beane. "That was one of the many things that Sandy taught me. There's a time in the season when upstairs one has to try to inject some life into the club.
"Anyway, I love surprises."
Acquiring Jermaine Dye for two prospects (infielder Jose Ortiz and outfielder Mario Encarnacion) and a left-handed reliever (Todd Belitz) they had acquired from Tampa Bay at last July's deadline was a surprise to some across the baseball land because there had been so much speculation -- especially in New York, which assumes Oakland is a suburb in the shadow of Passaic -- that Beane would dump Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, all free agents at the end of the season.
"I still believe strongly that we can win, and I think this proves it," says Beane. "I have said all along that I might do a few things, but they would be for the present and the future."
While holding out hope that he can sign Giambi, who right now is right in the fight for a second straight MVP award, Beane may end up holding onto both Damon and Isringhausen and still continue to build. This winter, Dye will be in the same position that Damon was in last winter, a fifth year, arbitration-eligible player, which means he just assumes Damon's money. For the present, Giambi has a right-handed producer behind him in Dye, and by putting Dye, Damon and Terrence Long in the outfield and allowing Jeremy Giambi to DH significantly strengthens the A's defense.
As you may remember, two years ago, Beane was lambasted for being in the race and trading his No. 1 starter (Kenny Rogers) a week before the deadline. But by Aug. 1, Beane had traded his No. 1 starter and his closer (Billy Taylor), acquired Long and Isringhausen and traded for Kevin Appier, Randy Velarde and Omar Olivares, all for roughly the same money. Last season, he got reliever Jim Mecir, who turned out to be a huge factor down the stretch.
And after acquiring Dye, Beane tried to keep moving. He took a run at the Blue Jays' Kelvim Escobar, but couldn't afford to deal catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has helped develop Oakland's Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. He checked into Jose Cruz Jr. and some other players, but as of Saturday seemed pretty much at the end of his trading mode unless something dropped out of the blue, all for less than $33 million.
"With the talent we have here, we should be focused on winning," says Beane. "We have ground to make up in the wild-card race, but we can do it. Our pitching is good enough."
No fooling. Hudson, who leads the league in quality starts, is second in wins and ERA and is second to Pedro Martinez in almost every other significant category, is the clear Cy Young Award leader at this point. Mark Mulder has won 12 games and is surging toward the top echelon of AL lefties. Now, if Zito can just pitch the way he did down the stretch last year and either right-hander Erik Hiljus or lefty Mario Ramos step in for Gil Heredia, perhaps they can catch up and make it a five-team race for three playoff positions with the Twins, Indians, Yankees and Red Sox.
"It sounds good right now," says Beane. "But there were a lot of people who called me an idiot when I traded Rogers."
One general manager who knows what it's like to get hammered is Colorado's Dan O'Dowd. "It's pretty rough," says O'Dowd. "But if we're going to get what we need done, I have to be prepared for the heat."
The Rockies have fallen hard into last place in the NL West, and are playing like a team gathering its supplies for the winter. What O'Dowd doesn't have that Beane had two years ago is a rich farm system, one which he is trying to build.
O'Dowd shelled out a lot of money last winter for pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, while giving Todd Helton a long-term deal. But things haven't worked out. The bullpen has been shot, and O'Dowd says, "I think I underestimated how much depth one needs there in our park." The defense has been erratic, and pitching depth has been in question. There is heat on manager Buddy Bell, as well as O'Dowd. Not only that, but as they got off to a disappointing start, the payroll has been moved downwards to the level of the White Sox and other mid-market clubs, which makes the $31 million paid to four players 50 percent of the payroll. Now, that's just stifling.
The Rockies' GM has an idea of what he wants to do.
"This is a great, great baseball town and franchise, but it's a hard place to win," says O'Dowd. "It wears players out to play here. There is so much room to cover, the position players, especially the outfielders, get exhausted. Because of the oxygen and the air, the recovery time for muscles and injuries is much longer. I can see why pitchers cannot hold up easily."
What O'Dowd now thinks one needs at Coors Field is 1. three good starters who can get through the sixth inning consistently and take pressure off the bullpen, then get two veteran, lower-cost starters; 2. a deep, 6-7 man bullpen that can be used interchangeably, with anyone capable of closing on any given night; and 3. athleticism to cover the field and maximize the ability to catch balls in play, as well as power to produce runs, all built in 13 positional players (to allow for 12 pitchers).
"If you have sluggers who can't catch the ball, you're dead because you'll end up losing too many 14-13 games," says O'Dowd, who also knows that the one year the Rockies made the playoffs, they had their best road ERA. The best example of the wear is Larry Walker, who is in the best shape of his life, hustles all the time and now has an elbow that is hurting him and other body parts that ache.
But as O'Dowd has scrambled, wheeled and dealed and tried to re-invent the Rockies, he is learning that he's supposed to win at the same time. And now, having traded the popular Neifi Perez, he has found out that his neck may be on the line.
Perez is an outstanding defensive shortstop and a high-energy, enthusiastic, team guy. O'Dowd has young Juan Uribe, who one AL scout says, "has a great arm and can be a terrific player." Uribe may not be ready, so O'Dowd has been looking at Pokey Reese, Edgar Renteria and other available shortstops to fill in in the meantime.
In dealing Perez, O'Dowd got Ortiz, a second baseman, from the A's. Some feel Ortiz can be a 35-homer second baseman in Colorado (he was a consensus rookie of the year pick in spring training before getting hurt) and a tools outfielder in Encarnacion, who has excellent plate discipline.
O'Dowd clearly saves money on thbis deal, as Perez was asking for $29 million for four years.
But the deal has not been met with enthusiasm, to say the least, although if there are other moves and O'Dowd's plan begins to explain itself, then it may quiet as long as fans appreciate that one cannot attract pitchers to Colorado and quickly build a championship team on a mid-level budget.
This trading period seems to indicate that the smooth fielding, average offensive shortstop -- and look at Perez's numbers away from Coors -- is not cost effective at big bucks.
"There is no question that it's hard to win without shortstop defense," says Reds GM Jim Bowden. But as the Indians have proven with lesser dollars for the game's premier defensive shortstop, Omar Vizquel, there is a finite payroll for most clubs, and the megabucks go to hitters and pitchers.
Look at what shortstops you can have right now. The Blue Jays would love to dump Alex Gonzalez and give the job to Cesar Izturis, who is making the minimum. Royce Clayton, Renteria, Reese, Rey Ordonez and Rey Sanchez are there for the asking because of big contracts.
Unless you're the Yankees, it's all about how you allocate the payroll your budget mandates. Which is what makes Beane so remarkable. There is only one team in baseball with a lower payroll than the A's (Minnesota) ... and the A's are the team that went out and traded two minor leaguers for Dye.
"That business of waiting and not trading prospects is baloney," says Beane. "When you have a chance, you'd better go for it. We're going for it because I think it could be our time. In Colorado's case, it's not their time. But it will be when Dan is done building."Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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