Billy Beane Visits Athletics Nation - July 2006 Edition Part I

Everything hasn't been rosy in Athletics Nation of late.  The team is in first place at the All Star break, but many fans think that is a temporary situation.  There's been a lot of finger pointing in AN; at Billy Beane, at Ken Macha and at the moribund offense.

So what better time to get Beane's input on the team and 2006 so far.  Topics on our mind are everything from that awful offense to whether or not to trade Barry Zito as the July 31st trading deadline approaches.  

Does this team need external help or is the answer in the A's clubhouse?  Read on and find out (note - this interview happened on July 6th, so a few topics weren't addressed like the Zito signing with Boras issue):

Blez:  I want to start on something general, how do you feel about 2006 so far?

Billy Beane:  I guess the ends justify the means, but it's been challenging up to this point.  It's going to sound like Groundhog Day up until this point when we had bad injuries last year, but this year has been unbelievable.  It's something I don't think any of us could've comprehended.  In some respects, having gone through it last year gives us a little levity.  This year has been terrible.  We did try to somewhat prepare for worst-case scenario, but let me invent a word here, this is worster-case scenario.  But these guys are pretty battle tough with Mach (Ken Macha) and the coaching staff and I think that previous years have given us a little bit of understanding that if we can keep our noses above water we'll be OK.

Blez:  I'm wondering if someone, perhaps a competiting GM, put Greg Brady's tiki idol underneath your bed?

Beane:  (laughs)  Tyler, it's just been unbelievable.  Nothing really surprises us anymore.

Blez:  You're already had to use the DL more this season than all of last season.

Beane:  And the other thing that sort of isn't known, and this is one of the perils of being in a smaller market, there have been plenty of times when we should've or could've put someone on the DL but didn't because we didn't want to lose them for fifteen days if we could make the choice to only lose them for eight days or 10 days.  Huston (Street) should've been on the DL earlier in the season which was one case.  Duke (Justin Duchscherer) probably should've been on earlier than we put him on.  (Joe) Kennedy was the same way.  As much as we've used it, it doesn't tell the whole story.  Bobby Kielty was unavailable.  Chavy (Eric Chavez) when he was sick for a week.  It (using the DL example) doesn't give a true indication of how much these guys have truly been banged up.

Blez:  I like to give you an open forum to respond to critics, and some have said that you were asking for trouble by getting players like Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas who are players that have injury histories.  Frank has largely been healthy and I assume that he probably wouldn't have gone on the DL had interleague not been on the schedule, but Milton has only played in 28 games so far this year.  Could you have seen this coming and is that why you stockpiled depth?

Beane:  Well, with Milton we were certainly aware of his injury history and that's one of the risks you take.  The other risk with Frank is that at his age, he's going to miss some games.  The other option was doing nothing.  In Milton's case, it's been frustrating, but it's something we knew was a part of his history.  Then again, I think it was something we were willing to take on.  You can't do something with a constant fear of the worst happening, you just deal with it when it happens.  With Frank, the response might be that we shouldn't have signed him, but we wouldn't have those 18 home runs.  Inaction is a far greater danger than action in this marketplace and taking the chance that you could face some of the things that could possibly happen.  We could sit here in our marketplace and do nothing but draft and develop, but we wouldn't win a lot very consistently.  We might be cute for a while, but we wouldn't win.  

Blez:  Then by the time they got good, they'd leave.

Beane:  They would end up somewhere else.  People start saying, and it even happens internally, "Well, what are they going to do with all their outfielders?"  They said this quite a bit during spring training.  And I did hear it internally with people asking what we were going to do with all these guys.  At some point you're going to need Bobby Kielty, you're going to need Jay Payton because Milton has been out for a while.  That's one of the reasons we held onto them because there has been an injury history.  

Blez:  Are you surprised at how quickly Andre Ethier is picking things up?

Beane:  Certainly, yeah.  There was no mystery about his talent and he's certainly made an impact in his first year.  We expected him to have to spend at least another season at Triple-A.  But he's shown himself to be more than ready since he was called up.

Blez:  Not only that, but often times young players like him come up and excel at the beginning in the first go-around through the league, but once they learn your holes, they attack them and challenge them.  A perfect example would be Dan Johnson last season.

Beane:  Yeah, yeah.  That does happen, no question.  But it wasn't like we didn't think Andre wasn't going to be a good player.  The idea of a trade isn't zero sum.  I think some GMs out there get that and there's some who don't.  In my opinion, the art of the deal is to improve your team and try and be better.  It isn't to make that trade to try and not give up anything and get something.  If you take that approach, every once in a while that will happen where you'll get something good and you won't give anything up, but you won't make a lot of trades.

Blez:  So you don't view trades as wins and losses?

Beane:   No, we don't do it that way and we never have.  We've always championed the fact that we're not afraid to give up players when we're trying to get something.  I think when you start to look at things that way, you aren't going to make a lot of deals.

Blez:  Have the A's just been fortunate that the AL West has been the NL West of 2005 this year?

Beane:  I think we've been fortunate that each team in our division has been kind of clumped together.  That's not necessarily because the division is weak, it's because our league is strong.  For example, take the Mariners who took advantage of Interleague to vault themselves into the middle of it.  This is an incredibly competitive league.  The Angels have had Colon out and have lost some players, but they're not going to go away because their pitching is phenomenal.  In some ways, it's only going to get stronger.

Blez:  In some ways, that's going to help them too because they had a chance to see Jered Weaver while Colon was out.

Beane:  Oh yeah.  I will say this, everyone thought the Central was going to be a good division coming in and it's turned out to be a great division with the emergence of some of the young players in Detroit combined with some of the veterans they had.  I also think the AL West's best days always seem to be in the second half.

Blez:  Do you expect that (the teams to be better in the second half) to happen again?

Beane:  Yeah, I think as long as they remain healthy, things won't change significantly over the course of the season.  This division is going to be competitive and it's going to be four deep.

Blez:  Do you think this team will be close to 100 percent healthy post-All Star break?

Beane:  Oh man.  You know I think, we should see...Joe Kennedy is doing well.  Justin Duchscherer I already mentioned, but he's still working himself back in.  But he is active.  Milton is doing great and should go back on rehab this weekend, which is good.

Blez:  He going down to Sacramento?

Beane:  He will start in Sacramento, I believe, on Friday.  Rich (Harden) is the only guy we don't have a timetable for.  Obviously he's incredibly important but he is improving.  We can't pinpoint when he's going to be back and it certainly won't be right after the All Star break.  He's a ways from that.

Blez:  Have you been happy with what you've gotten from Frank Thomas?

Beane:  Oh yeah, he's been great and he's just gotten better and better.  The shame about him missing that interleague time with the leg muscle (problem) is that he was just starting to roll.  He's quickly showed what he's been worth to us this past weekend when he was the sole creator of any offense we generated.  

Blez:  Speaking of health, there have been reports that Eric Chavez has three or four separate nagging injuries.  Do you think there's a chance he might be DL'ed or is he just going to try and play through them?

Beane:  Right now, the DL isn't something we're considering.  We have the All Star break which is good.  But he's had nagging things all year.  One thing about Eric is that he wants to play.  He's one of those guys who over the years if he has injuries, he heals pretty quickly and even if he's at 60 or 70 percent he'll go out there.  He's been struggling with the hamstring and had forearm issues.  He also got terribly ill in Toronto, so it's been an uphill climb for him health-wise since then.  But the fact of the matter is that Eric isn't a guy of a whole lot of words, but he's a man of actions.  He knows how important he is to the team.  People have a tendency of expecting too much from Eric and they don't understand how valuable this guy is on defense and what his presence means to the middle of the lineup.  But they don't know that he's going out there when a lot of others guys would just back off and not play.  

Blez:  Do you suspect that the injuries are why his numbers have gone down so much in June?

Beane:  Right now, yeah.  No question.  Like I said, that's the type of case where a guy could cover himself personally with the injuries and things he's had and eliminate a lot of criticism, but Eric's been going out there at times when he probably many times, shouldn't have.

Blez:  Is that an evolutionary step in the maturation process of a player like Chavez?  You know the fact that he's going out there with so many separate injuries.

Beane:  Even as a young player, I remember when he had plantar fasciitis, you know the foot tissue issue that McGwire had several years ago.  That's normally a four-to-six week recovery timetable and he was back in like 10 days.  Even when he broke his hand and got hit by the pitch (by Damaso Marte), the doctors will always tell you four-to-six weeks and you always expect six-to-eight.  Eric was back almost six weeks to the day, playing in a game.  He's always been quick to heal in one sense and he's quick to return in that if he feels he can go out there, he will.  That's always been a part of Eric that people don't know.  Once again, Eric is not an emotional guy on the field and people want that because it will help satisfy their own emotions, but it's a little bit unfair because he really exemplifies what a leader should be.  He walks the walk.  He doesn't lead with his mouth, but it's the actions and the attitude he takes.

Blez:  I assume you probably have theories as to why the offense has struggled to score runs this year.  What do you think has happened?

Beane:  I certainly don't have any answers.  The inconsistencies in our ability to put the same lineup out has hurt and that's due in some cases to injury.  There's been times where we've had enough of our regular players back and I don't think anyone really has the answer.  For some reason, we've always been a hot and cold team.  If anybody had the solution, the players, coaches or myself, we would've implemented it already.  I think we're the third youngest team in the big leagues and if you take Frank out of the mix, we're the second youngest.  So you still have to take into account the fact that young players...

Blez:  Are gonna have their big ups and downs?

Beane:  Yeah.  I think that if some people heard that, they'd be surprised that we have that young of a team because in many circles we were the favorite to win the division.  That's the balance between having players like Crosby who people perceive as a veteran, but Bobby has had a lot of injuries and he's still a young player.  Swish is in his second year.  Dan Johnson is in his second year.  You have to understand that's part of their maturation.  I'd rather have a young team than an old team, at least certainly in this marketplace.  We just have to bite our lips and be patient when they're struggling and enjoy it when they're going well.

Blez:  Do you think the team needs some outside help or do you think the answer is internal?

Beane:  We get close to July, there's always trade talk.  That's something everyone in the big leagues is talking about.  But we need to get healthy.  I think until we get healthy it's hard to evaluate.  That's the way we're looking at it right now.  I'm not necessarily going to go out and look for a guy to replace a young player just for temporary satisfaction.  I think getting healthy will help everyone's outlook and self esteem too.

Blez:  I wouldn't suggest that the A's changed philosophy, but it seems lately that Ken Macha has been more aggressive on the basepaths, Crosby has stolen some bases and the team seems to use the hit and run a little more.  Is it a matter of just being smart when you make those kinds of adjustments?

Beane:  If you look at when we did it, we did it against a club who had thrown something like four our of 90 runners out (Padres).  I think from Kenny's view it's that we've never said don't steal.  If you've got an 89 percent chance of making it, then everyone should be going.  We were playing against a club who had trouble throwing runners out and we took advantage of it, it's that simple.  Everything is sort of on a case-by-case basis.

The final installment of my interview with Beane will run on Wednesday and topics covered include whether or not Zito becomes untradeable with Harden's injury problems and what Billy thinks of the current state of the A's farm system.  We also have a discussion about the World Cup to close out the interview.  I'll feature an open game thread tomorrow for those of you who want to comment on the All Star game.

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