Ray Ratto

Cespedes brings question marks, huge potential


Cespedes brings question marks, huge potential

Every now and then, the As leap out of the corner of the swap meet that is the offseason and show that they actually have not completely abandoned the art of attention-getting.

In this case, signing Yoenis Cespedes, the power-hitting Cuban free agent, to a four-year, 36 million contract this morning.

As should surprise nobody, the As were not mentioned as a real candidate by many folks because the As never get mentioned as acquisitors, unless its for reliquaries like Manny Ramirez.

Cespedes has been one of the liveliest names in the off-season -- I mean, once you get past the nine-figure guys the As would never consider chasing. So when they came in, seemingly at the last minute if the rumor mill is any judge, and nailed down the signing, it reminded people that the As have a heartbeat, even if it is muffled by real estate flyers, and that they have a face, even if it is usually Billy Beane standing with his pants pockets inside out.

Cespedes, 26, comes with the baggage that every Cuban athlete comes with -- the uncertainty of the competition on the island, and the temptations of a far more material world. But for a team like the As, which turns out talent to other teams at far too rapid a rate while struggling to maintain local interest in what remains, a signing like Cespedes intrigues.

And with Oakland, intrigue that doesnt have the words stadium, San Jose and territorial rights is a refreshing change.

There is no telling with Cespedes what the As are buying, but he has shown signs of having both power and a good arm he has been compared with Raul Mondesi, who had a better-than-decent career in 13 years.

But Cespedes isnt likely to be an Elephant for even half that long, unless he is everything he has been advertised to be, and unless the As change their method of team-building to include arcane notions like retaining talent.

But as an alternative to Manny Ramirez, who would be merely the latest in a long line of past-it players Beane took a flyer on hoping to recreate Frank Thomas, he stands out as a beacon.

Well, a halogen flashlight, anyway. The As need that much light for people to see them after all the time theyve spent trying to keep the blinds drawn. Yoenis Cespedes is a start -- and if there is more behind it, maybe theyll become a vibrant team again. Its been too long, and too bland, in the East Bay.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.