Posted on: July 13, 2011 2:25 pm
Edited on: July 13, 2011 2:42 pm

3 to Watch: The Bud Selig edition

No matter what you think of Bud Selig as a commissioner, there's never been any doubt about Bud Selig as a fan.

He loves baseball. He loves watching baseball.

He switches from game to game on television every night when he's home. And when Selig met with the Baseball Writers Association of America this week, he said that his favorite games this summer have involved the Pirates and the Indians.

"I go first to the Pittsburgh game, and then Cleveland," Selig said. "I'm enjoying those two situations very much."

It's easy to see why. Not only are the Pirates and Indians great stories, but Selig sees them both as great examples of how his financial (revenue-sharing) plan is working.

He's right. They're great stories.

As to whether they're proof that the system works, that's a lot more complicated. Selig would also argue that the Rays have proved the system works, because they've finished first two of the last three years in baseball's toughest (and most expensive) division.

Rays executives would dispute that. They say there's no way they can compete long-term against the financial resources of the Yankees and Red Sox, and they beg regularly for a realignment plan that would get them out of the American League East (not going to happen).

Indians people wonder whether they can sustain long-term success. Even with Cleveland's success on the field this year (the Indians spent much of the first half in first place), attendance at Progressive Field has been mostly disappointing.

The Indians could win again, but they could also eventually find themselves back where they were in 2008-09, where they felt forced to trade Cy Young winners in back-to-back years, because they couldn't afford to keep them.

The Rays, despite another competitive team, had the second lowest average attendance in baseball (19,115, ahead of only the Marlins) in the first half. The Indians, at 21,106, ranked 26th among the 30 teams. The Pirates, at 23,577, were 21st.

Does the system really work?

Ask again in a few years.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Indians fell out of first place on Sunday, and they'll begin the second half with two starters (Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot on the disabled list). But they also begin the second half with four games against a Baltimore team that might have been the worst in baseball at the end of the first half. And they start with the outstanding Justin Masterson on the mound, in Indians at Orioles, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Camden Yards. Jeremy Guthrie, who will no doubt be the subject of trade talks later this month, starts for the Orioles.

2. Selig is a traditionalist in many ways, but he's also a businessman. So when someone asked Tuesday whether he sees a chance of more scheduled doubleheaders, he quickly said no. He's right, there's no way most teams would give up a home date (and a potential big gate), for doubleheaders that most fans wouldn't attend, anyway. The A's are different, because they have trouble selling tickets. So they did schedule a doubleheader, in Angels at A's, Saturday (4:05 ET) at the Coliseum. American League All-Star starter Jered Weaver is scheduled to start one of the games for the Angels.

3. Did the Pirates play the Astros every day during the first half, and is that why they had a decent record? It's not true. The Astros and Pirates played only nine times in the first half (with the Pirates winning seven), which means they play nine times in the second half, too. Three of those come this weekend, including Pirates at Astros, Sunday (2:05 ET) at Minute Maid Park, with All-Star Kevin Correia on the mound.

Posted on: June 21, 2011 11:13 pm

The jerseys are gold, and lucky, too

NEW YORK -- There was no way the A's were taking the field in gray jerseys Tuesday.

There was no way they were taking the field in green.

It had to be gold, after they won five straight games at home wearing gold. And it will be gold for a while, at least until they lose.

Equipment manager Steve Vucinich grudgingly packed the gold jerseys, and sprung them on the team just before Tuesday's game, which turned into a 7-3 A's win over the Mets. Vucinich said he wasn't really sure the gold went with the A's all-green road hats, or with their gray road pants, but if gold was lucky, then gold it was.

The A's have four different jerseys, and they normally use the gold ones as an alternate home top (with white as the normal home color). The gray and green jerseys are used for road games.

Category: MLB
Tags: A's
Posted on: June 21, 2011 11:06 pm

A's activate Ellis, but Weeks should play

NEW YORK -- Bob Melvin has made a difference with the A's, but so has Jemile Weeks.

So even though the A's activated second baseman Mark Ellis from the disabled list after Tuesday's win over the Mets, it's hard to see Ellis pushing Weeks off of second base or out of the leadoff spot in the A's order.

Melvin, the new manager who has led the A's to a six-game winning streak, said only that he would address the issue Wednesday, when Ellis arrives in New York and the manager has had a chance to talk to both players. But listen to the way Melvin talks about Weeks, and judge for yourself.

"He looks like he's been leading off for 15 years," Melvin said.

Weeks has only been in the big leagues for 13 games, but he's hitting .362, with a .400 on-base percentage. He walked in both of his first plate appearances Tuesday, stole two bases and scored three runs.

"Against a guy [Dillon Gee] who hadn't allowed a stolen base this year," Melvin said. "The takes were the most impressive thing. He has very relaxed at-bats."

Melvin described Ellis as someone "who has meant as much to this organization as anybody over the last 10 years," but it's clear that Weeks will continue to play. The A's will likely play Ellis some, if only to create interest so they can try to trade him, but Weeks has helped spark the team.

Weeks is the 24-year-old younger brother of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks. He's smaller than Weeks, but A's people talk admiringly about his strength.

They're not as impressed with his defense, the area of his game he obviously needs the most work on.

To make room on the roster for Ellis, the A's sent Daric Barton to Triple-A Sacramento. That move was expected, but it was also symbolic.

Barton was the one A's player who ex-manager Bob Geren seemed to love. Geren wouldn't keep anything constant in his batting orders, other than to hit Barton second every day.

Barton was hitting .212 with a .267 slugging percentage.

Melvin said Conor Jackson will now play regularly at first base.
Posted on: June 21, 2011 10:01 pm

Managing at 80: Fine for McKeon, but . . .

NEW YORK -- Jack McKeon was 42 when he first managed in the big leagues.

That's not unusual.

Bob Melvin was 41. Terry Collins was 45.

Jack McKeon is 80, and now he's managing again in the big leagues.

"I can not imagine doing that," said Collins, now the 62-year-old manager of the Mets. "I know Jack's young at heart, but this is a grueling job. I tip my hat to him. But no, I will not be doing that. I'm going to be playing golf. This is a tough job. To do it at 80 is unbelievable."

Melvin agreed. Asked if he could see himself managing when he's 80, he quickly said no.

Most managers won't. Jack McKeon is.
And Collins is right. It's unbelievable.
Posted on: June 21, 2011 9:51 pm
Edited on: June 21, 2011 11:18 pm

The Melvin effect: Now the A's are winning

NEW YORK -- The A's changed managers, and now they're winning.

But are they winning because they changed managers?

"We have the talent, but [Bob Melvin] helped us see it," closer Andrew Bailey said Tuesday. "Melvin came in and said, 'Give me four days to figure things out, and then when we get home we'll start rolling.'"

And after five losses in their first six games under Melvin -- after nine losses in a row to end the Bob Geren era -- the A's did start rolling.

They've won six in a row, after beating the Mets 7-3 on Tuesday night.

They're winning, and with some encouraging news about their injured starting pitchers (Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy are both on the way back, maybe within the next couple of weeks), the A's are starting to talk like a team that could sneak back into the American League West race.

First baseman Conor Jackson said Tuesday that he compares this A's team to the Diamondbacks team that went to the National League Championship Series . . . under Bob Melvin.

Jackson has a history with Melvin, and absolutely loves him.

"I've yet to hear anyone say they don't like him," Jackson said. "Listen, it's tough to get 25 guys to like one guy. But when I come in here, I want to play hard for nine innings for Bob. You don't want to feel you let him down."

There's no question that Melvin is benefitting from replacing a manager who wasn't well-liked or well-respected in the clubhouse. That was predictable, and it's why I wrote that Melvin had a real chance to turn things around, the day the A's hired him.

"Right place at the right time," as one A's person said Tuesday.

Maybe so, but Melvin didn't join the A's under the easiest of circumstances.

Unlike Buck Showalter with the Orioles, Melvin was given the tag of interim manager, even though there's an expectation he'll be around past this season. The reason, it seems, was that the A's had no time to interview any other candidates, but the effect was that Melvin didn't come in with the hammer that Showalter had.

Melvin came in without the ability to hire any of his own coaches, and he joined a team he knew little about. He had no time to study up, because the first time general manager Billy Beane called him about the job was late the afternoon before he was hired.

He didn't know the players, and that's why he began that first meeting by asking him to give him those four days to figure out who fit in which role. He did say that when they got home they'd start rolling.

"But I don't want to sound like Nostradamus," Melvin said Tuesday night, with the winning streak at six.

He won't say this, but he didn't need to sound like Bob Geren, either. Geren didn't have consistent roles, and Melvin does. And he communicates those roles to the players, which Geren did not.

The A's have taken to Melvin. Maybe they would have taken to anyone who replaced Geren, but the fact is that it was Melvin and they've taken to him.

And they're winning.

Winning because of him?

Who knows?

But they changed managers, and now they're winning.

Posted on: June 19, 2011 7:39 pm
Edited on: June 19, 2011 7:46 pm

3 to Watch: The Miller and Maybin edition

Andrew Miller was supposed to be an ace. Cameron Maybin was supposed to be a star.

When the Marlins got Miller and Maybin in the December 2007 Miguel Cabrera trade, everyone in baseball said they'd done well. Everyone with the Tigers said they had done well.

We all know now that it didn't work out that way. We all know now that Miller still hasn't become an ace, and Maybin still hasn't become a star.

And we all know now that not even a year after they fired the manager who was supposed to benefit from that Miller-Maybin deal, the Marlins now find themselves in search of yet another manager.

Meanwhile, Miller and Maybin find themselves at Fenway Park.

Monday night, Miller will make his first start for the Red Sox, the latest team trying to unlock what still seems like enormous potential. He'll face the Padres, the latest team hoping Maybin's power and speed will translate to baseball wins.

This Padres-Red Sox series would be fascinating regardless, with Adrian Gonzalez going up against the hometown team that traded him away, and Anthony Rizzo facing the team that had to include him in that trade for Gonzalez. And with Dave Roberts, the unsung hero of those 2004 Red Sox, returning to Fenway as a Padres coach.

But we know about Roberts and we know about Gonzalez, and we think we know about Rizzo.

We're still trying to figure out Miller, who is either one of those late-developing tall left-handers or one of those hard throwers who never make it. He's getting his chance now with the Red Sox, because Clay Buchholz is on the disabled list and because the Sox didn't want to lose Miller, who had an opt-out in the contract he signed to go to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Miller was 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 games for the PawSox, and in his last start he struck out 10 in 5 1/3 innings, while allowing just one run.

We're still trying to figure out Maybin, too. His numbers this year with the Padres (.254/.316/.404) are decent, but by no means great. One thing I do know: When I saw Maybin last month, he was smiling more than he had in the last two years with the Marlins.

Maybin smiled wide when I mentioned a spring training conversation I had with Miller, who said the two have remained close friends.

They've both been through a lot and they've stayed close, communicating mostly by text message.

This week, they'll meet again.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Jack McKeon was 42 years old when he managed his first major-league game, with the 1973 Royals. Now he's 80, and there's a real chance he'll be back in the dugout, as the interim replacement for Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez. If McKeon takes over for Angels at Marlins, Monday night (7:10 ET) at Sun Life Stadium, he'll be trying to keep the Marlins from equaling a team record with an 11th straight loss (they lost 11 straight twice in 1998, the year of the fire sale). It won't be easy, not with Jered Weaver starting for the Angels. Weaver last lost on May 18 (the Marlins were 24-17 back then), and he has a 1.36 ERA in his last five starts.

2. Miller appeared in 58 games over three seasons with the Marlins, going 10-20 with a 5.89 ERA. He lost his last five starts in 2010, with a 12.74 ERA and an incredible 52 baserunners in 17 2/3 innings. It'd be hard to do that against the weak-hitting San Diego team he'll face in Padres at Red Sox, Monday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Then again, maybe Gonzalez (.481 batting average in his last 12 home games) will tell his old buddies how much fun it is to hit at Fenway.

3. Bob Melvin began this season working for the Mets, then went to work for the Diamondbacks, before going to Oakland to try to rescue the A's. Melvin helped the Diamondbacks over the weekend, when his A's swept the Giants to help Arizona stay close in the National League West. Now Melvin comes to New York to see his other former employers, in A's at Mets, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Citi Field. The Mets interviewed Melvin when they were looking for a manager last fall, but Terry Collins has given them no reason to regret their choice. They haven't regretted putting Dillon Gee in their rotation, either. Gee (who starts Tuesday) is 7-0, the longest winning streak by a rookie to open a season since Weaver started 9-0 with the 2006 Angels.

Posted on: June 9, 2011 12:22 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2011 2:53 pm

A's fire Geren; Melvin takes over

What would it take for Billy Beane to fire Bob Geren?

Well, now we know.

It took last place. It took nine straight losses. It took players, past and former, complaining publicly. It took, according to Beane, a constant focus on the manager's job status.

The A's general manager fired his close friend Thursday morning, relieving Geren of his duties and replacing him with Bob Melvin. Melvin, the former Mariner and Diamondbacks manager who had just rejoined Arizona as a special assistant, will serve as the interim manager for the rest of this season, beginning with Thursday night's game in Chicago.

"This was an opportune time for a change," Beane said on a Thursday afternoon conference call.

The move will stun some people who thought Beane would never fire Geren, who was the best man at his wedding. Others assumed that Beane would wait until the end of the season, if he fired Geren at all.

But the A's, who expected to contend behind a pitching staff that is one of baseball's best, have turned into a disaster that has only gotten worse. By last week, there were rumblings in the organization that Beane could be ready to make a change.

Players questioned Geren's communication skills, and rival scouts and executives derided him as the worst manager in the game.

"They'll never win as long as he's there," one scout with Oakland ties told me last month, after the firestorm that began when Brian Fuentes and Huston Street ripped Geren in print.

People close to the team said that Geren had lost the trust of his veteran players.

"He could have said the house is on fire, and guys would have stayed, because they wouldn't have believed him," one A's person said.

Thursday, former A's catcher Rob Bowen ripped Geren on Twitter, writing: "Finally the A's have realized Geren has destroyed a dozen pitcher's careers and doesn't have a clue how to manage a big league club."

Geren was 334-376 in five-plus years with the A's, and never had a winning season. The A's had been to the playoffs five times in the seven years before he took over.

This year, the A's have been hurt by injuries, with four starting pitchers on the disabled list and with closer Andrew Bailey also missing time. But even with the injuries, the A's rotation still owns the lowest combined ERA in baseball, at 3.17.

Offense has been a much bigger problem, as the A's have scored the fewest runs in the American League. That's not all Geren's fault, but players complained about his inconsistent lineups that kept anyone from getting going.

Those complaints helped fuel the questions about what it would take for Beane to fire Geren, and the GM said that speculation led to his decision. He refused to say whether he had talked to A's players about Geren, but it's hard to believe he hadn't.

"You get a feel of the tone of what's going on," Beane said. "You need to shift the focus back on the field."

The 49-year-old Melvin has local ties, having grown up in the Bay Area and playing one year at the University of California. He played 10 years in the big leagues, and he managed the Mariners for two years and the Diamondbacks for a little more than four years. He took Arizona to the National League Championship Series in 2007, but was fired two years later.

Melvin worked for the Mets last year, and the Mets interviewed him last fall before giving their managerial job to Terry Collins. Melvin returned to the Diamondbacks in April, and as of Thursday he was planning to call this weekend's Diamondbacks-Marlins series on Arizona radio.

While the A's named Melvin as just the interim manager, it's hard to believe that there's not some kind of understanding on a longer-term relationship.

"Bob's got the rest of this year to make an impact," Beane said. "He's got a big job ahead of him. We'll see how it goes."

Geren had a rough final few hours as manager. The A's lost 3-2 in Baltimore on Wednesday night (and some criticized Geren for using singles-hitting Ryan Sweeney instead of power threat Hideki Matsui as a ninth-inning pinch hitter). Then the team had travel trouble because of bad weather in Chicago. The A's plane sat on the ground in Springfield, Ill., for three hours, and the team didn't arrive at the hotel in Chicago until 6 a.m. local time.

A few hours later, the A's announced that Geren's time was up.

Billy Beane had seen enough.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 24, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: May 24, 2011 1:55 pm

Geren may not communicate, but Fuentes just did

If the A's were any other team, or if they had any other general manager, Bob Geren would easily top any list of managers on the hot seat.

His team is in last place. There is rumbling in the clubhouse. And late Monday night, the rumbling became public, when fill-in closer Brian Fuentes blasted Geren after the A's latest loss.

Fuentes is 1-7, which means he probably deserves as much blame as Geren for the A's problems (and as much blame as their traditionally toothless offense). But people close to the team say that Fuentes' comments reflect a greater clubhouse unease with the manager -- who is so close to general manager Billy Beane that Geren was the best man at Beane's wedding.

Beane has consistently supported Geren, publicly and (by all accounts) privately. He has consistently said that he thinks Geren is a good manager, and put the blame elsewhere for the A's lack of success (they've never had a winning record under Geren, who took over immediately after the team lost to the Tigers in the 2006 ALCS).

But there are some who wonder if this is different, especially now that Fuentes spoke out. There are those who believe that Beane would even be willing to fire his best friend, if he becomes convinced that Geren has lost the team.

"It would crush him," said one person in the game who knows Beane well. "But I think he would do it."

It wouldn't be a surprise if Beane dumps Fuentes first, if only to prove that one angry (and unsuccessful) player can't get his way.

Fuentes' most damning comment, made to a group of reporters after Monday's 4-1 loss to the Angels, was that he has had "zero" communication with Geren.

"There's just a lack of communication," Fuentes said. "I don't think anybody really knows which direction he's headed."

What had Fuentes so upset (other than losing yet again) was that Monday was the third straight time Geren had used his closer in a tie game on the road, something most managers won't do. Monday, apparently without warning, Geren called on Fuentes to warm up in the seventh inning, then had him start the eighth inning in another tie game.

Fuentes called it "unorthodox managing." Unorthodox is fine, but the more significant question is whether Geren was putting Fuentes (and the team) in the best situation to succeed.

Remember, it was a "lack of communication" that got Ken Macha fired in Oakland. Then again, Macha wasn't Beane's best friend.

In this case, it would be easy to kill the messenger. Fuentes has been awful as the replacement for injured closer Andrew Bailey. Geren has put him in eight tie games, and Fuentes has taken the loss in six of them, an incredible stat for a pitcher who rarely works more than one inning.

Fuentes is just the third pitcher in at least the last 90 years to lose seven games in relief this early in a season (Gene Garber with the 1979 Braves and Jim Kern with the 1980 Rangers were the other two).

And plenty of managers, when relievers have complained about not knowing their roles, have responded by saying, "Your role is to pitch when I put you in the game."

Besides, let's remember that Fuentes signed with the A's to be Bailey's setup man, which means he would be used in exactly the situations Geren has put him in this week.

But it's also true that plenty of managers have lost respect in the clubhouse by failing to communicate with their players. And that's usually the first step out the door.

One A's source said that everyday players constantly need to look at the lineup card when they get to the clubhouse, because Geren hasn't told them in advance whether they're playing (or where they're hitting).

The feeling in the clubhouse, the source said, is that Geren dislikes his veteran players.

It's a recipe for trouble, and when it's combined with losing, it's usually a recipe for getting a manager fired.

But most managers weren't the best man at the GM's wedding. Most teams aren't like the A's.

How bad would things need to get for Beane to fire his best friend?

Maybe we're about to find out.

Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com