I love Eric Chavez. I enjoyed the heck out of watching him at the peak of his game, and I've always appreciated his brutal honesty. But he hasn't been at the peak for quite some time, and I doubt he'll ever be the player he once was. So my question is this: Why doesn't he just retire and save the A's all the money they'd be paying for the next year and a half?
-- Brittany L., Belmont, Calif.
I've gotten a ton of e-mails asking the same question, and to me, the answer is fairly simple: Any athlete who has reached the highest level of his game is competitive by nature, and the thirst for competition and the joy derived from playing the game make it extremely difficult to give up.
There's no question that Chavez feels guilty about not being able to reward the team's faith in him, and in addition to conceding that he already has generational financial security, he's admitted that the thought of shutting it down has crossed his mind. He wouldn't be human if it hadn't, given the circumstances.
As frustrated as A's fans are about Chavez, he's that and then some. But to retire when there's a chance, however remote, of getting healthy and returning to pre-injuries form would be to quit, and the last thing a competitive athlete wants to be known as is a quitter.
From what you have seen in and around the clubhouse, does it seem like this team is just emotionally and mentally not in good shape? From what I have seen, almost no one on the team seems to be having fun. These guys don't look like the typical loose and fun A's team and seem to not be very motivated.
-- Jake C., Walnut Creek, Calif.
I can't speak to their level of motivation, but there's no question they're not having much fun. Any team that's eight games under .500 with an eight-game divisional deficit this early in the season isn't going to be bouncing around the clubhouse and hosting balloon-animal parties. It stinks to stink, and the A's to a man know they've stunk thus far.
It's an odd mix, this team. The young guys are mostly very, very young and pretty quiet, and the veterans are true grizzled vets, as in older and fairly serious guys such as Matt Holliday, Nomar Garciaparra and Orlando Cabrera. Even Jason Giambi isn't nearly the goofball he was during his first tour in Oakland. Maybe they're louder and looser when the media's not around, but this clubhouse just doesn't seem to have a ton of life.
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The A's teams to which you seem to be referring had young veterans such as Giambi (Version I), Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Jermaine Dye, Miguel Tejada, Chavez, etc. They struck the perfect balance between taking the game seriously without taking themselves too seriously, and they had a ton of fun. But those were really good teams. It's easy to have fun when you're winning.
What's going on with Travis Buck? He was a stud when he came up a couple years ago, living up to all of the accompanying hype. Now he's a .200 hitter who makes bad decisions in the outfield and seems like a candidate for another trip back to Triple-A Sacramento. Got any theories on how he might be able to get back on track as one of the organization's most promising young players?
-- Gordon T., Portland
Funny you bring this up, because I recently shared my theory with Travis. I think it's a matter of confidence. I think he's lost his confidence somewhere along the way, and he doesn't entirely disagree.
The way I put it to him was this: When he was a rookie, he wasn't just Travis Buck. He was Travis Freakin' Buck. Big-time prospect from a big-time baseball program -- Arizona State -- with big-time Minor League numbers. He was digging himself, and it showed. For whatever reason, most likely the nightmare that was 2008, Travis Freakin' Buck is gone, and in his place is plain ol' Travis Buck.
I've looked at video of his swing from 2007 compared to this year, and it's pretty much the same. But when I see a close-up of his face while he's in the batter's box, I usually see Travis Buck, struggling part-time outfielder. Every once in a while, though, I see Travis Freakin' Buck, and what follows is usually a hard-hit ball. He needs to find that guy and keep him around. Confidence is everything in this game.
Does Ryan Sweeney have a chance at winning a Gold Glove this year?
-- Ryan W., Walnut Creek, Calif.
I don't think so. He's made some crazy-good plays this season, but the Gold Glove voting is more of a popularity contest than anything. The coaches who vote usually vote for either the guys who won the award the previous year, or they vote for the big names. Sweeney isn't a big name, and he's not on a big-name team. It's a bummer, but it's the way of the world in the big leagues. Mark Ellis can tell you all about it.
Is it just me or does Holliday look disinterested out there? Even when he hits home runs, he looks disinterested.
-- Paul W., Modesto, Calif.
Matt's a serious guy. Intense. I don't think he's disinterested. I think he's frustrated with the start he's gotten off to, frustrated that he's on a struggling team, and a little bit confused about why he's here and how long it'll last.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.