I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed participating in it.
I want to thank Billy Beane for graciously granting two hours of his time to discuss everything A's. Athletics Nation is eternally grateful to get a peek into the mastermind behind our green and gold.
Thank you, Billy.
Blez: What would you call your best move and conversely, what would you call your worst move?
BB: My best move? Hiring Paul DePodesta. I mean that. I lost J.P. (Ricciardi) in sort of the middle of this run and he was incredibly valuable. The brainpower Paul brought was amazing. I'd like to think that I taught Paul a few things and he taught me a few things. He's taken heat down there. You know, we're allowed to be creative up here, apparently, he isn't allowed to be creative down there. I would say from a personnel standpoint, there are two moves. And the moves have a lot of legs to them. Trading for Kenny Rogers, getting half his salary paid, having him for a year and a half, and then turning around and trading him for young players and using the money that he had to go out and get Kevin Appier and using that for Billy Taylor-Isringhausen. That transaction had so many legs to it. Then we ended up getting first round picks for Kevin Appier. A lot flowered from that. One, I knew it would raise some eyebrows. We always liked Mark Kotsay. I hated to trade Ramon (Hernandez) because he was one of those core group of young players and I knew I was giving up a good player. But to see Mark Kotsay sort of justify our faith in him, going back to when he was at Cal State Fullerton. There was a lot of satisfaction in knowing we'd given up a good player and people not really understanding it, but then understanding it once they got to see the player play. Once again, it was a good player for a good player, but I think people got to see the value in it. And having Miller for the year and having him do a good job, and then getting Kendall and getting two high draft picks for Miller as he leaves. You can't judge everything we do looking through a cylinder. I can tell you and this is an absolute fact. We knew there was a possibility we would also be getting the benefit of having him and also getting two picks for him. Not only did we give a player who we drafted in the 10th round in Jon Adkins, and without Ray we probably wouldn't have won the division and we ended up getting a first rounder and a comp for him. These were all things we thought about when we made the trade. People have a tendency of looking at Player X for Player Y and end it there. But sometimes Player X will have other value. I look at a situation like Bobby Crosby, who was the year that we had multiple compensation picks. It was the year Appier left in 2000. We took Crosby and Bonderman in the first round. Crosby is rookie of the year and Jeremy is going to be a marvelous pitcher, but we get Ted Lilly who helps us win the division.
Blez: That's why you can't go into the snap judgment as soon as a deal is made.
BB: Right, and that's what is interesting about these trades. And that's what I love, for lack of a better word, about the blogger's world. There is a tendency to really analyze things in detail. Ultimately, because there is so much conversation and investigation on a site like yours, people may not ultimately agree with it, but they stumble onto what you're trying to do. Someone emailed me something written on a Cardinals' blog, and they had nailed all the things we were talking about. The economic reasons, the personnel reasons and the reasons we made the exchange. The world of a Web log will lend itself to a lot of investigation. And you will often stumble across the answer more than someone who has to write in two hours to meet deadline just to make sure something is out in the paper the next day.
Blez: There are people on the site who are fans who understandably react emotionally to those kinds of deals, but once you have time to step back and take a look at things in depth, it becomes clearer. I'll tell you, when I heard about Mulder's trade, it was baffling for me. But once I had a chance to sit down and look at the argument and what you got in return, it helped to see things from that perspective.
BB: Yeah, I make sure I give all you guys about a day to go into time out. (Laughing) Then I'll go on to check and see what you've got to say.
Blez: You're overseeing romper room, huh?
BB: (Laughing) Exactly. But let's look at it from a different perspective. OK, let's just look at next year's team and put Barton aside for a minute, who may end up being the best of all the guys we've traded for. Let's take Dan Haren and Kiko Calero. It's not just Haren and Colero because their combined salaries are $600 grand. Give or take. $600 grand for those two vital roles. Right? Let's say the player you traded is going to make 7 million bucks. It's not just Haren and Calero, but it's Haren and Calero and whatever else you did with that 7 million bucks. One of the reasons that this team was so successful during its run was that we had young players that were contributing at the major league level that were very cost-effective which allows you to add other things. When you have a guy like Chavez and Tejada playing short and third making $300,000, it allows you to bring in a Kevin Appier. It allows you to bring in a player of that status and of that salary to augment it. When you have guys surrounding the diamond that are making 5, 6 or 7 million dollars in our market, that gets chewed up pretty quick. The remainder of your roster gets filled in with guys who probably shouldn't be there. The most valuable resource in this game is 0-3 (years of service) players who are good players on your major league team. Those are the most valuable guys you can have because that allows you to do so much more because they fill out a critical role.
Blez: Especially for the small market team, right?
BB: Yeah and it's critical that we have those guys. That's really the basis for all our success. You know when Bobby Crosby comes in and hits 20 bombs as a rookie shortstop making $300,000, that's incredibly valuable. What you don't want to do is have eight of those guys who are cutting their teeth all at the same time. At that point, you truly do have a rebuilding situation. Those are only kind of fun.
Blez: I'm not sure if we ever got your, I'm not sure you want to call it this, but your worst move.
BB: Some of those are yet to be determined. (Laughs)
Blez: Well, any that you look back on and kind of cringe?
BB: You always do that. I'm not hesitating because I'm having a hard time thinking of bad moves, but I want to think of one I look back on and kind of go, "Yow." It was a ways back, but one I've referred to before, when we traded Steve Karsay for Mike Fetters early. We all make mistakes. It's an imperfect science. The Karsay one wasn't a particularly good trade. Probably the most talented player I've traded and will probably be the best player I've traded, will be Bonderman. But I also knew when we did it that we needed someone to fill out our rotation and Lilly was going to do that at a rate we could afford. Ted was very, very successful for us when he was here. I still have faith that Bobby Kielty will be a good player. People will point to that one. But understand that Ted was going to get to a range we couldn't afford. I still think it's a story unwritten despite Ted's year (in Toronto) because I think Bobby is going to be a good player. Ted's season last year was certainly a more productive year from that standpoint. But I rule out Bobby Kielty because I think Bobby Kielty is going to be a very valuable guy. I think very, very highly of him and I know that might raise the ire of some people who might not be very satisfied with his performance last year.
Blez: Being a former player and having a management perspective now, how do you feel about the steroids scandal?
BB: I hate to think that it's having an effect on young people who see it as a vehicle on the road to success. That to me, is the biggest issue and the biggest negative. I'm not in high school, but it scares me to think that young people would see that as a way of being successful in this game.
Blez: Have you heard anything about the Moneyball movie? Are they consulting you at all?
BB: Yes. I know it's still something in the works. I've officially yet to sign off on it. Because anytime they make a movie, you have concerns that people who are very important to you aren't misrepresented. I would say as much as anything, that's why I haven't given the full write-off on it, at least with any approval that I might have.
Blez: Anybody you see playing you? Maybe (George) Clooney?
BB: (Laughing) That would be flattering and that would probably be the greatest fictionalization I could imagine.
Blez: Couple more questions. You mentioned Bobby Crosby a couple of times. How much do you expect him to mature this year? What can we expect out of him?
BB: Even if Bobby improves just a little, you've got a heck of a player on your hands. I think the first two years of a major league player's career are going to be similar to what you saw Bobby's rookie year. You're going to see some up and down and up and down. And then what you're going to start to see in Bobby around the end of his second year is some real consistency. And then you can say, "Hey, this guy's going to be a star." The thing you've got to be careful with young players is the moment you think that they've finally got it, you have to know that they're going to go through more tough times. I think what you're going to see in Bobby is a better player, but one who is still cutting his teeth and going through some of the growing pains a young player does. But the one thing I think you're going to see this season is that he's really going to grasp what is going on and by the end of the year you're going to say, "Wow this guy is really going to be something special." You're still going to see some ups and downs because he is still incredibly young. We saw it with Miguel, we saw it with a guy like Chavez. We even went through that with guys like Giambi. But once they get it, they don't lose it. At some point during the season, you're going to see that with Bobby. Bobby is just scratching the surface. There are a few players who've come through our system and they're just different. When Chavez came in and was hitting batting practice balls down and away for line drives over the left field wall, the other players would go, wow, this guy is special. Bobby will do things like that and we've all seen him hit balls as far as any power hitter we've ever had here. Guys will go, this guy is going to be special. Bobby is one of those guys who almost cares too much. He's so critical of himself. Being a perfectionist is one of the things that can be tough on a young player. Bobby is that. Bobby doesn't ever want to make a mistake. He takes every mistake personally. He takes every at bat personally. When he learns not to do that, he's going to be even better. It's a sign of his character because he cares that much, but it can also slow him down because he cares so much. Bobby is one of those guys who, as a rookie, if he had a tough game I won't go near him.
Blez: He sounds sort of like a Junior Billy Beane.
BB: He does, but he's far better. This kid is really special and very talented. He refuses to accept any failure at this point. That's one of the reasons you see the ups and downs, but because of that, that's why he is going to wind up being very special.
Blez: What are your remaining priorities this offseason?
BB: We've got a few arbitration cases to go. With the winter that we've had, we're focusing on getting one-year deals done. It's not that we aren't going to consider multi-year deals with these guys. Whether it's Ruby or Dotel, we certainly might consider something down the road.
Blez: Does Dan Johnson and Huston Street's presence in the system affect your thinking towards those players in particular?
BB: Not so much this year. There's room for all, ultimately. Particularly in Huston's case. The thing we won't do with Huston Street is anoint him a future closer. I'm going to always hedge my bet and say, he's going to be a darn good major league bullpen guy. I think that closing in the major leagues is something you have to be careful in saying someone in the minor leagues is going to be that guy. That being said, I will say, he's going to be an outstanding major league reliever. And where he pitches, the sky is probably the limit. There's been too many guys who have come through the minor leagues who've been set up for a fall. I think who anyone who has seen Huston believes that he is closer to being in the major leagues than he is from being away from it, that's for sure.
Blez: Are you pretty much done with trades?
BB: I was predominantly. There's no sense of urgency.
Blez: There are still lots of rumors of you trading Byrnes.
BB: I've seen that. I would say the bulk of our offseason is over, but we're more likely to go into camp with this team than we are to make too many changes to it.
Blez: I've read in several places that Nick Swisher played the majority of the year last year injured with a thumb problem. How eager are you to see this kid and what he's going to be able to do in the majors when he's healthy?
BB: Nick's one of those kids that even when you aren't eager to see him, he's eager to make sure he's seen. He's really something special as far as his makeup and his personality. It's been well-documented what I thought of Nick from day one. I'm probably guilty of being tougher on Nick than anybody. In fact, I remember he hit a home run against Cleveland and I happened to be in San Diego that weekend visiting my daughter. It wasn't televised and I saw him doing this ridiculous dance in the dugout. When I got back into town, I immediately yanked him aside and told him that as a rookie, he didn't need to be on ESPN after hitting a home run. I think that shocked him a bit.
Blez: I know I said this earlier, but I appreciate you taking out so much time to talk to me because you've become a personal hero of mine and one of the reasons I love following this team. It's a true honor that you would take out so much time to take to talk with the AN community.
BB: I appreciate it. I love the site and I love the support you give us. I know immediately it can be a vehicle for some frustrations but I know they care like I do.
Blez: Occasionally, you do get the people who spout off without truly thinking or stepping back.
BB: It's kind of like Halloween. 95 percent of the kids couldn't be happier that you're there to answer the door to give them a piece of candy, but there's always five percent who can't wait to egg your house. Just because the five percent want to egg your house doesn't mean you stop answering the door.
Blez: Well, I hope you understand that there are people who don't always understand what you're trying to do, and they occasionally write about it.
BB: You'll hear people say, I only care what people write when they're people that I care about. My conviction isn't like stalks of wheat in a field. The day I run the franchise like that is the day that I'm not fit to be a leader.
Blez: I'm glad you feel that way.
BB: For any franchise, there is a strong segment of the fanbase that does care because they're emotionally involved in the team. Sometimes their first reaction isn't always their real reaction. You aren't going to always make everyone happy. Listen, we've averaged 95 wins over the past six years and there are some people who think we should've averaged 98.
Blez: For me, my philosophy is to look and see what direction the franchise is going in before I make a snap judgment. You have to assess how the on-the-field product performs. You can't always make the judgment based solely on names on a paper like so many people were willing to do.
BB: To me, it's going to be a fun year because there are some unknowns. I still think if people are real fans of this team, the worst thing to happen is for them to have no hope. Even if they question some of the things that have gone on, what can be said is that the players that we got in these trades are young and talented; what we don't know is how their initial performance is going to be. But the belief is that hey, they're pretty good and they should get better. There is hope. The worst thing is to have an apathetic feeling surrounding your favorite team. When you say, when are they ever going to get it right?
Blez: I certainly don't feel that way. That may have been a part of the initial emotional reaction of the trades, but once you take a step back and take a look you realize that the team has gotten better in two areas and for the future.
BB: Does that mean that we aren't going to have our ups and downs? No, we are absolutely going to. We're going to be a little more volatile in certain areas. There will be things that just don't work out as planned. One thing I've always prided myself on, and I had this conversation with Tim Hudson-- when we were in Chicago, if you recall, we lost two out of three this year. We lost a couple of games in St. Louis and it was starting to come to a head. I called Tim Hudson when we were in Chicago and it was beginning to fracture the clubhouse, if you recall. I called Tim and not too many people know this, and I said, "Tim, we'll fix it before the end of the week. We'll get this thing taken care of, we're going to get it fixed." I remember thinking to myself when we hung up, because I remember telling Tim we were going to fix it, I wasn't quite sure the answer myself. But he needed to know that we were doing something. I think it was by the end of that week when we got Dotel. I'm both patient and impatient. I'm patient when I know something is going to work out. But if I can see things that are evident and obvious to me, we're going to fix them. As an example, Ted Lilly. We knew Ted Lilly was going to be a good pitcher and remember when he came over he was still strengthening his shoulder and people were wondering what the heck was going on. We knew, myself, Paul and David, knew he was going to be good, so we were able to be patient. But I'm not going to be patient if it's not going to work doing it over and over and over again. If we're going to commit to something long term, we will, but there are things we'll be less patient with, just like fans. The one thing we've always done is make adjustments when we felt like adjustments were needed or could be made. In a perfect world, you go into spring training, you're in first place from day one until the end of the year, but it doesn't always happen that way. But come April 1st and the season opens, we're constantly trying to find ways to improve the team because just like anyone else, we're not ever satisfied either. I am very excited about our future. I'm excited about how some guy is going to perform, but we feel good about how they are ultimately going to be as performers. I feel good about Kendall catching, as most fans do. I feel good about Chavy playing third. Feel good is probably the wrong word. I feel great. I feel great about Crosby. I felt great about Ellis coming back and Ginter being there. I feel great about Durazo being back. There's a lot of things to feel great about. In my response to the young pitchers, I'm excited we have them. I feel lucky that we have them and they're going to be here. They've been so good up until this point. I'm excited to see them going through the growth process that Crosby had to take at short. But I'm also excited that not only can we protect them with a much-improved bullpen, but think about the fact that under this current circumstance, two of our best prospects--Garcia and Huston Street--might not even be able to crack this bullpen. Not only is the bullpen improved, but it can get better.
Blez: Suddenly you have depth.
BB: Exactly, and that's one of the things we lost over the last few years.
Blez: And I kind of sensed that from you when we spoke back in August. That you were sort of realizing that.
BB: I did. I could see that we were getting to a point where if we just kept going la-de-dah, that we were just going to progressively start to erode as opposed to progressively getting better.
Blez: Was it partially looking at the bell curve of wins, how it went up and up and then started going down?
BB: Not so much the wins. The wins were a symptom of that. I talk about our depth. Kenny (Macha) will be challenged each day to put together a lineup that isn't going to hurt someone else's feelings that day. Last year, we really ran these guys ragged. I was actually disappointed we didn't win the division because it was there for us to win, but I was also incredibly proud of the way the guys performed under the circumstances. I mean, we lost Hudson for six weeks, Mark struggled the second half, Hatteberg's tongue was hanging out at the end of the year.
Blez: Miller's was too, yeah.
BB: Chavy was also gone for six weeks. You think of what we went through and the fact that we lost in the second to last day of the year to a team that loaded itself up in the offseason with players and it's hard to not be proud of the aggregate performance of the team despite the disappointing finish. Just going in there and losing a couple of players and keeping things the same would've been a very comfortable way for us to do business. But if we were to put together a team that won 84-85 games, I think people would've been more disappointed in that. I think it's better to not let this thing run out and then announcing to the public that we're rebuilding for four or five more years. When you're GM comes up and says, "I've got a five-year plan," that's him saying, "We're going to get our butts kicked for four and hopefully we finish .500 in the last year and I can get an extension." When you say you have a five-year plan, youre saying we're going to get our butts kicked for four years, so it isn't my fault. That's a comfortable way to do business.
Blez: Thanks for taking that preemptive strike.
BB: Well, it's still a story untold. Is it going to be perfect? Of course it isn't going to be perfect. But there is a plan. People who follow sports franchises that are most disappointed with their favorites team are the ones who hear their people and ask, "What are they doing? What's their plan? Do they have any idea what they're doing?" We'd like to think that despite it not being popular, there is a short-and a long-term plan with this franchise going forward. Believe me, when that trade is made, everyone gets irritated. I'm the one who has to sleep, it's my job. As much as they care, I care more. Actually, let me go back, you asked me my worst move of all time. I was the assistant GM, me and J.P. decided Ariel Prieto over Todd Helton. That was it.
Blez: So, you're revising that decision?
BB: Well, Helton was our guy, we all loved him. But then it became kind of cool to get a Cuban pitcher who might go to the major leagues. So we made an 11th hour decision. Quite frankly, the decision to do that was a lesson learned when it came to Zito. There was a number of players who fell to us and when Zito was available, we said no way and took Zito because he was our guy. It was a lesson learned that we haven't forgotten. It was by far the worst. I was the assistant GM, but I definitely had a hand in the poor decision. Not that Todd Helton's any good. (Laughs)
Blez: Well, again, Billy, thanks so much, I know you probably still have a ton of stuff going on.
BB: Not a problem, Tyler. I'll look forward to seeing it on the site. The approach that you've taken is to highlight the good things about the franchise. Not to create noise. Understand that papers are emphasizing the negative things that are happening. You have a vehicle that's trying to understand what we're doing. The premise of the site is that you want us to do well.
Blez: I'm a fan first and foremost. Thanks again, Billy.
Anyone else eager for April to roll around?