Mychael Urban is the beat reporter for oaklandathletics.com. He's been a good friend of AN for quite a while despite some of the beatings he takes from members here. I like to check in with the A's beat reporters from time to time and I figured that with all the changes around the team this offseason, this would be a great time to do it.
Without further ado, here is the first part of my interview with Urban. As you'll quickly establish he has some fun with some of the "rumors" around the site about him lately. Enjoy.
Blez: I've noticed that you seem to be writing every day and breaking a lot of news this winter. Are you working more, or if that just an function of how busy the A's have been?
Mychael Urban: What was the question again? Sorry, I was pouring myself another cocktail. Apparently some of your members have it "on good authority" that I'm an aimless drunk, so I might as well play the part.
So let me crack another bottle of Jack before I take on this lengthy list of questions. There we go. The burn in my chest ... yummy! Makes the longer work weeks of this winter a little easier.
Yes, I am working a lot more this winter, and that's by design. The business has gotten a lot more competitive, what with layoffs and cutbacks, and since newspaper beat writers get a lot of time off in the offseason, I've come to realize that it gives me an opportunity to establish the A's site as the only media destination for fans who want something about their team every day.
Whether it's getting an update on Bobby Crosby's mental state, the physical state of Mark Ellis' shoulder, or the overall state of the team's plan for 2009, I've been trying to give fans a reason to visit the site on a daily basis, whether there's hard news or not. And because I've been in contact with players, team personnel, scouts and agents more than ever, a lot of news kind of falls into my lap.
I'm glad you've noticed, though. That means the plan is working. It's actually been a lot of fun, and checking in with so many people in the offseason only strengthens the relationships that are so important in this and every business, so I suspect it'll pay off once the season rolls around.
Blez: What do you think really happened with Furcal? Did the A's mess up the negotiations or did he never really want to be in Oakland?
Urban: I'm not sure what happened with Furcal. I was hung over for most of that whole deal. But based on how everything ultimately played out, not just with the A's but with the Braves and Dodgers, I can't imagine anyone coming to a conclusion other than that Furcal never wanted to come here. It's not like the A's didn't offer him good glue, so if he wanted to wear white cleats ...
What Furcal's agent is accused of doing to the Braves is awfully shady, but what I suspect the agent did with the A's -- used them to stimulate the market for his client -- is pretty routine in general. The agent went the extra mile, though, in having Furcal come to the Bay Area and get a tour from Billy Beane. Funny how stuff like that gets "leaked," right?
It's all part of the game. Unfortunately for the A's, I think they got played.
Blez: Did the A's screw up by not signing Randy Johnson to try and add some depth to a young and largely untested rotation?
Urban: Well, the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that my glass is almost empty. Anyone seen the blue-cheese-stuffed olives? I like to soak 'em in moonshine.
The second thing that needs to be pointed out is that Oakland was not high on Johnson's list of teams he wanted to sign with. His preference was to stay in the National League, preferably in the NL West, all along. So let's sub the words "a proven veteran starter" for "Randy Johnson" in your question.
My answer to that question, as recently as late December, would have been, "Absolutely." In fact, I was subtly banging that drum quite a bit in my work. But right after the New Year, I decided to get a really good read on the industry's opinion of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Vin Mazzaro. I taked to scouts, players, coaches and executives who have seen more than a little of each, and what they had to say -- combined with what I've seen of and heard about Sean Gallagher -- changed my mind.
Cahill, Anderson and Mazzaro are the real deal. They might be ready as soon as this year, and a ton of people expect them to be every bit as good as Hudson, Mulder and Zito were when they first hit the scene. Gallagher is very young and likely to be a stud, too. So why lock a veteran into a rotation spot for the next year or two at a minimum of $5 million a year when you have some kids who might be ready to handle that same spot real soon?
Remember, despite the additions of Holliday and Giambi, the A's are still very much rebuilding, and they're doing it around young pitching.
Blez: Can the A's seriously considering going with Bobby Crosby in 2009 after what you wrote in your blog about Beane being out of patience with him? I mean, can they really go back from that being publicly reported?
Urban: Sure, they can. Billy and Bobby just need to belly up to the bar with me for some boilermakers. I'll play counselor between slugs and we'll get it all worked out.
While we do that, I'm pretty sure the blog you're referencing won't come up. What I wrote didn't say anything that the A's themselves haven't practically screamed this winter, did it? They tried to replace Crosby, then tried to give him away! Actions speak louder than words, right? I was just calling it how I saw it, and a blind man could see what I saw.
As for Crosby being back, the A's don't have really have a choice. He's still better than anyone else they have at shortstop right now, so they're going to just have to hope Crosby proves they were wrong to try to get rid of him. As your members well know, I think he will.
Blez: Is Lew Wolff putting pressure on Beane to make some of these moves to be more aggressive than he was planning to be because many fans think that the Holliday move just doesn't jive with what Beane has been very steadily building? Why cut down the payroll so much if you're just going to sign some guys that have probably seen better days like Giambi?
Urban: Hold on. That cougar in the corner is TOTALLY checking me out. Should I send her a mimosa? Do I slip the wedding ring off and hope she doesn't see the tan line, or is she old enough to not care?
Oh, right. The interview. Whatever.
Beane is far too persuasive to let an owner who adores him pressure him into changing his plans for the team, and make no mistake. Wolff loves him some Billy. The Holliday and Giambi moves certainly seemed incongruous at first glance, but Beane does have a very clear vision, which I think I mentioned earlier is reliant on young pitching.
The smart way to develop young pitchers at the big league level is to back them with an offense that gives them something of a security net. The last thing a rookie or second-year pitcher needs is to feel like he has to be perfect to have a chance to win. The offensive improvement that Holliday and Giambi represent also represents that security net, just as Giambi and Matt Stairs represented it when the Big Three was in its early stages.
Blez: Acquiring Holliday shows some level of commitment towards going for it in 2009, even if he turns out ultimately traded. The Giambi signing furthers this belief. Do you think that this team has any shot of competing with the Angels in 2009 or do they still need to do something about the shortstop situation?
Urban: What they need to do it put a tap in the press box. That way I won't have to sneak those little airplane bottles of Seagram's past that nosy-rose Korach every night!
On the field, I don't think the shortstop situation will have anything to do with whether the A's give the Angels a run. Great pitching wins titles. The Angels, in my opinion, have great pitching -- in the rotation and in the bullpen -- and it's mostly proven. The A's have some potential greatness, but they'll need all of it to come together in a hurry to stay in the race.
Blez: Do you think Holliday's hitting is going to suffer quite a bit going from Coors Field to the cavernous Coliseum? How much does he and an aged Giambi really improve the A's horrible offense from a year ago?
Urban: Speaking of Coors, ever notice how bartenders stop making eye contact with you after your 14th Silver Bullet? Is that, like, law? Or do you think he took it the wrong way when I said, "I like 'em stiff!"
Holliday's numbers will be fine. Sure, they'll dip a little at home, but his road numbers might actually improve. There are some pretty good pitchers' parks in the NL West. As for Giambi, I think his numbers -- batting average, anyway - will improve. He changed his swing a little in an effor to jerk balls out at Yankee Stadium, and he plans to get back to more of the all-fields approach that made him so dangerous the first time he was here.
And I think they will improve the offense a ton. Holliday and Giambi are legit 3-4 hitters. The guys the A's used in those spots last year mostly were not. So adding them moves everyone into spots for which they're better suited. That alone will help. And if Chavez is healthy and Cust does what Cust does, only in the No. 6 spot instead of 3-4, the offense is going to be the most improved in the game.
Part two of my interview with Urban will be running next Monday, same time, same place. Thanks, Mychael.