Eric Chavez Remains Sidelined

I like the Oakland A’s this year, I think their young pitching might make the leap and I like the offensive pieces they’ve assembled too. The additions of Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera, Jason Giambi and even his brittle-ness himself, Nomar Garciaparra should add some much needed pop and depth to the lineup.

So, it was disappointing, although not that surprising, to see the news that A’s third baseman Eric Chavez was a late scratch from his spring training debut on Monday. Having played in only 113 games the last two seasons due to injuries, Chavez hasn’t performed particularly well even when he has been on the field. After his last good season, in 2005, Chavez was signed to a 6 year $66 million contract, with the A’s making a noteworthy commitment to, at the time, one of the best third baseman in the game.

The deal was particularly interesting because of who was and WASN’T offered a long-term contract. The A’s made little effort to sign either Jason Giambi, the 2000 AL MVP or Miguel Tejada, the 2002 MVP when their contracts were up, despite both putting up prodigious numbers. While both men commanded extremely high salaries, a major reason for why no long term deal was offered, I wonder if there wasn’t something else to it.

Most baseball fans would agree that Billy Beane is one of the top GMs in baseball (in fact, we’ll have an excellent guest column on this very subject coming shortly) and that he chose to NOT lock up either of these stars is very interesting to me. Also, at the time, the Chavez deal helped set the market for his position, so it wasn’t as though the A’s were completely adverse to spending money on their homegrown talent.

Of course, since both Tejada and Giambi left the A’s they have been linked to and investigated for using steroids. Currently, Chavez has never been mentioned in any manner regarding performance enhancing drugs.

Did Billy Beane know his teams were fueled by ‘roids? Did he recognize that steroids would lead to diminishing results as players bodies broke down and so for that reason he opted for Chavez over the two more successful players? Seeing that it was likely MLB might crack down on steroids in the game, did the A’s sell high on the players they knew couldn’t perform cleanly?

Eric Chavez was a very good player for several years but the other two were superstars and the A’s chose to let them walk. It is possible that a shrewd GM could have locked either MVP up with an offer somewhat similar to what was offered to Chavez, but that never happened. And we’ve already agreed that Beane is shrewd, so what why did he choose Chavez over the other two?

Unfortunately for the A’s the Chavez signing has been almost a complete sunk cost; having a dead-weight Chavez on the payroll drags down the small-market team, that’s $11 million they could be using to improve their team elsewhere. But I wonder if, seeing the rapid declines of both Giambi and Tejada outside the confines of Oakland if the A’s ever regretted their decision.

Did the A’s make the right move and just get unlucky? With the chance to invest in a mashing OPS machine in Jason Giambi or a superstar shortstop, the A’s chose instead to invest in their third baseman, who while a Gold Glover and All Star was never their best player.

Of course, it is also possible, considering the amount of injuries and the way his body is constantly breaking down, that Chavez himself used steroids, and that is the reason for his precipitous decline. In this day and age we have to accept that as possible.

Eric Chavez may barely get on the field anymore but, (seemingly) free from controversy and steroids suspicion, the A’s chose to invest in someone clean despite his teammates seeing much more individual success. The A’s teams of the first half of the decade were characterized by their big 3 pitchers (Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder) and by their big 3 hitters (Giambi, Tejada and Chavez); the only one whom the team made a serious commitment to was Eric Chavez. Was Billy Beane once more ahead of the league, recognizing that the artificial numbers from steroids were going to go away and he tried to keep his one natural star hitter?

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March 2009


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