Yes, this week is a good week, despite the absolute riddle that is Barry Zito. First, Athletics Nation was fortunate enough to have Michael Lewis answer questions about his upcoming book Underdogs as well as Moneyball ramifications.
Now, Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager David Forst, Billy Beane's right-hand man, took the time to answer questions for AN.
So, without further ado, here is the AN Q&A with Mr. Forst:
Blez: How do you feel about where Octavio Dotel is at this point? Do you think that he's about what you expected? Or do you feel like the pen still needs help?
DF: I think it's fair to say we're very happy with what Octavio has added to this team. As much as anything, he has brought a presence to the back of our bullpen and allowed the rest of the staff to "move up a few outs" and fall into roles they're all comfortable with. We really feel like getting Arthur back healthy and in that 8th inning role where he has dominated for the last few years will be a big boost to an already good bullpen.
Blez: What do you identify as the A's biggest area still in need of improvement? Is it the pen, left field or second base?
DF: I've been asked this by a lot of reporters over the last few days. Our focus right now is on getting healthy and putting the 25 man roster on the field that we envisioned in Spring Training. That being said, we are always looking for ways to improve this team. The areas that you mentioned have all been strengths at times for this team and should be again if all goes well.
Blez: I've heard various people that cover the team state that the front office is still not 100 percent sold that Eric Byrnes can avoid the prolonged slump he experienced last season and has a hard time buying into him as an everyday Major League player for an entire season. How does the front office look at Byrnes?
DF: The bottom line on Eric is he brings something to the lineup everyday that not many players around the league (and certainly no one else in our clubhouse) can. As much as statistically-minded people are inclined to dismiss intangibles, there is an energy and passion that Eric exudes that we need to rub off on some our guys on a daily basis. Now, needless to say, that has to be accompanied by performance, and, at times, it certainly has. What Ken Macha's job comes down to is putting Eric in situations where has a good chance of succeeding and providing the performance we need out of that position.
Blez: Did you expect Texas to be where they are right now? Did anything in the analysis and predictions lead you to believe that the Rangers would be on top of the AL West at the All Star break? And how do you feel about where the A's are right now?
DF: I don't think it would be honest to say I expected Texas to be on top of the division at this point. We certainly were aware of how capable their offense was coming into the season, having seen first-hand the maturation of Hank Blalock, Mark Teixiera, and others. The wild card with the Rangers was, and still is, their pitching staff. They've gotten outstanding performances from Kenny Rogers, Ryan Drese, Ricardo Rodriguez, and a handful of relievers who have been getting the ball into Francisco Cordero's hands. Whether that holds up remains to be seen over the next two and a half months. As far as our standing goes, let's just say we've been in worse positions later in the year. We'd love to be looking down at the rest of the division right now, but our guys have been through this enough years in a row to know it only matters where you are after game 162.
Blez: There is a lot of talk about Randy Johnson going to Boston or Anaheim. I imagine the A's would try to prevent such a hypothetical move because it could give both of those already outstanding teams a huge upgrade. I don't think you're allowed to comment on specific players in trade talks per team policy, but would the A's try and prevent a star player from going to a rival?
DF: You're right: I can't and wouldn't comment on specific players. How's this - We would get involved in any trade discussion that would potentially make us a better team. If what makes us a better team is not having a specific player go to a specific team, we'd certainly consider doing what we could to make that happen. Is that vague enough for you?
Blez: How do you feel about the A's 2004 draft class? Who do you think will be the biggest surprise? Any particular names the A's fans should really follow closely (I mean players outside of the well-known ones like Street and Suzuki)?
DF: It sounds cliche to say we're very excited about this year's draft, but the fact is we are. Looking back at the players we expected to be available over the first couple of rounds, to have ended up with all the top-level performers that we did was a huge success...on paper. How this all plays out, obviously, will take a few years. Getting Putnam and Street in the comp round when most people thought we'd have to pick them in the first round was a coup. Getting a player like Jason Windsor in the 3rd round, and then have him go on to perform the way he did in Omaha was definitely exciting, and very validating for our staff.
Blez: How has the promotion in the organization been for you? Is the new position all you expected it to be? Is there anything about the job that you didn't expect? How is it working with Billy?
DF: The promotion really has not been that much of a change for me. Other than passing on a lot of the day to day work to Bryn Alderson, I'm really not doing anything that I hadn't done before. I do stay in much closer contact with Keith Lieppman and Eric Kubota now than I had the past few years just to make sure we're all informed about what's going on in different parts of the organization. But, like I've said in the past, Billy and Paul included me in everything from the time I started here, so I really feel like I knew what was expected of me when Paul left for L.A.
Blez: What is the key to the A's succeeding and making their fifth straight postseason appearance?
DF: Getting healthy and staying healthy. We really believe that our best 25 are good enough to win this division. Now, it wouldn't hurt to get a runner in from 3rd with less than 2 outs every now and then, but we try to focus on the things we have control over.
Blez: How concerned are you that Huddy will have the oblique as a recurring issue down the stretch drive?
DF: All I can say is we're being as cautious with Tim as possible. The training staff has him on a strict program in hopes of strengthening that oblique to avoid further problems, and hopefully it will be successful in both the short and long term.
Blez: Have the A's altered the team approach and philosophy since the publishing of Moneyball to adjust to all of the teams that have basically adopted the philosophy? Michael Lewis mentioned on my site the other day that the A's are engaged in a war of ideas with old baseball. Have you had to change those philosophies a bit to try and stay a step ahead of the other early adopters?
DF: Now, if I told you that, wouldn't it defeat the purpose of changing our approach in the first place. While I'm at it, why don't I just give you unfettered access to the entire front office and let you write a book about everything we do? :) Obviously, there have been some adjustments to be made as teams around the league tinker with the way they do things, but I think the best way to look at it is that we try to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate our own methods because that's how you get better, not because other teams are doing things the same way.
Blez: And lastly, can you tell me something interesting about yourself that maybe isn't widely known? Just something that might help you in your job, dealing with stress or something along those lines?
DF: Nothing helps in dealing with stress quite like a win. We are all in this business because we are just as competitive as those guys you see in between the lines every night, and the reward of seeing that come together 90-100 times a year in the form of a victory is, a lot of times, better than words can do justice to. Now, those other 60-70 nights, I have a wonderful fiance and golden retriever to go home to, so that's not so bad either.
There you have it. Thank you David, for being so willing to answer so many questions especially when you were in the process of signing draftees and probably thinking about the upcoming July 31st deadline.
I partially wish that I'd asked about Barry Zito after tonight, but hey, losing in extra innings to a guy named Bucky has me considering buying a golden retriever tomorrow...