AN Interviews Oakland A's GM Billy Beane: Spring Training 09 Edition Part II

Yesterday, Part I of the AN exclusive and first ever spring training interview with Billy Beane.  Today, Part II.  And tomorrow morning will be Part III.

If you're looking for spring training game threads, they will be in the FanPosts from Monday through Wednesday this week.

Enjoy!

 

Blez:  How much did the economic situation in the world impact your approach this offseason, which is now seemingly stretching into this season given that you're still signing players at this point?

Beane:  It was a pretty fluid situation.  Not just for us professionally, but for everyone personally.  I don't think anyone hasn't been touched significantly by what has been going on.  We were making plans in September as to what our payroll and budget would be but as things continued to get worse, and the fall was the roughest of any time I've experienced in my life, we were making adjustments because it was all changing right before our eyes.  It did impact us.  Had things been normal, we might have had even more flexibility.  Fortunately we were in a better position because we had reduced the payroll significantly the year before.  Had we not, it would have been a pretty tough situation for us.  If we had just continuing with the previous roster with the payroll what it was we would've been over and the budget would've been far, far beyond the resources of what we had to pay. 

Blez:  At the same time, the depressed market allowed you to do things like get Cabrera whereas you might not have been able to if it hadn't.

Beane:  No question, no question.  The low payroll helped us going into the winter but the conditions meant that we had to adjust and put some brakes on some things.  

 

Blez:  You mentioned Cabrera and Garciaparra in particular.  It's pretty obvious to any baseball fan why a Matt Holliday is appealing. 

Beane:  As I said, he's a "Stud."  (laughs)

Blez:  Why Cabrera?  Why Garciaparra?

Beane:  Nomar can still hit.  He's versatile and he's right-handed.  With Nomar, it's always been trying to keep him on the field.   He's getting a little older and has had some injury issues but there's never been any question about his ability to play the game.  He's still very, very good.  We figured in this situation, in a perfect world, we wouldn't have to play him on a daily basis.  But he's a heck of an option to have if you want to rest Chavy or you want to put a right-handed bat at first.  And because of his versatility in other areas, it helps.  Nomar wanted to play here.  He wanted to stay on the West Coast.  He has a relationship with Jason.  He's got a great reputation and is a great guy.  I thought it was a good fit relationship-wise and personality-wise.  With Orlando, we've gone head-to-head with him for years.  I mean every time you turn on the TV in October he's playing for somebody, whether it's the Angels, Boston or Chicago.  So we've seen quite a bit of him.  He's a gold glove caliber shortstop.  He can hit.  He can steal bases.  He brings a real upbeat personality to the field, a little bit like Tejada was when he was here.  He enjoys playing the game and he enjoys going out there every day.  He's a workhorse.  He's been one of the steady performers at that position for years.  We felt like it was an opportunity we had to jump on given what the cost was, so we feel pretty fortunate.

Blez:  Has it been hard on Bobby since it has happened?

Beane:  Bobby has been great.  We've had interviews about this before.  We sat down and we didn't expect him to say that this was great.  At the same time, he's said he's willing to do whatever the team asks.  He wants to play every day as does any competitor who is on that team.  I feel for Bobby because I like him personally and I like him professionally.  He's got a lot of ability.   He's had injuries in his past and he'd be the first to tell you that that has impacted his development.  His desire and competitiveness is never something you can question.  He's been fine.  He's been great.  I would expect that would be the case going forward.  He comes from a baseball family and been in a clubhouse and he understands how it works.  He doesn't necessarily have to like it and that's fair and we're OK with that, but he's a pro and...

Blez:  Would you like to keep him for depth reasons or is it the type of situation where his desire to be somewhere where he can start comes into play?

Beane:  If he can help us win and he's a valuable member of our team, you always want to keep him. 

Blez:  You guys had him at third base yesterday.

Beane:  That's the first time he's been over there.  He's going to have to be a quick study in learning a number of positions, but he is a good athlete and I think he'll adjust pretty quickly.  As far as a trade is concerned, he obviously has a desire to play every day and I would suspect that if somebody goes down around the league, they may inquire about him.  But in a perfect world, he's performing for us and is a major part of this club and a major contributor.

Blez:  I know you love your draft picks.  If anything these interviews have taught me, it's that you love your picks.  What made Cabrera such a priority to sign for one year and have to give up a second round pick?

Beane:  Second round isn't easy to give up.  We got Trevor Cahill there a couple of years ago.  It can be a pretty fruitful draft position so it wasn't easy.  We felt like we had Giambi.  We got Holliday.   He was too good a player out there and he was worth giving up a draft choice for.  With the team we had, we felt he was too good a player at that cost.  Listen, it's not easy to give up that second round pick, but we felt that having Orlando this year was worth it to us.  Because of where our draft position was, we weren't going to lose that first round pick and having that pick in a relatively decent slot sort of eased the pain a little bit.  But having Orlando seems worth it to us.

Blez:  The big knock on Cabrera is that he doesn't get on base enough. 

Beane:  He's still a 40 doubles guy who is capable of double-digit homers.  He'll steal you 20 bases and if you go back, he's a gold glove defender.  He's won a couple of gold gloves in his career so that's a pretty good package right there.  He's consistently been one of the best shortstops in the league year in and year out. 

Blez:  I think it will be fun to watch him and Ellis work the middle of the infield together. 

Beane:  Yeah.  He brings a certain energy to the park.  He's a grinder who is out there every single day and loves to play.

Blez:  Is the thought behind Nomar to have him as an insurance policy for Chavy in particular?  Is this an indication of your concern over Chavy's health?

Beane:  No, not at all.  It was really a versatile, productive right-handed bat.  Now can he spell Chavy?  Yeah and that's a good thing.  It's good for Chavy.  It's good for us.  He can also go to first against left-handed pitching as he's very good against left-handed pitching.  It wasn't specific that signing Nomar was just in case.  It certainly is a nice back-up plan but when we signed him it wasn't specifically an insurance policy.  And he's a good player and we've always been left-handed heavy.  To find a guy that caliber was just too hard to pass up.  We talked to him two months ago.  I had talked to him on the phone.  At that point he had wanted to get himself healthy and get himself ready.  He called back a couple of weeks ago and said hey, you and the Phillies are two clubs he's strongly considering.   He does want to come back and play and then it became just us.  We actually had some interest in him previously when he was with the Dodgers for all the reasons I just gave. 

Blez:  Matt Holliday.  You called him a stud.  You're going to love having him hit in the heart of your order.  It's been a long time since, well, maybe Jermaine Dye, since you had a right-handed bat like that...

Beane:  Me and Jermaine are the two last ones I can think of.  (laughs)  Actually Frank (Thomas).

Blez:   I should have said Frank but I was thinking more of a position player and a guy who could play some good defense for you.  Holliday is still relatively young.  At the same time, he has Scott Boras as his agent.

Beane:  It's funny, look, Holliday is a great player and Scott is a great agent.  I have a great relationship with Scott.  People always say, hey, he's got Scott.  The reason Scott is able to sign some of these players to these big contracts is because he has great players.  And he knows what he is doing.  I view Scott like most people would view a good attorney.  You'd rather be dealing with someone who is good and competent with a player of that caliber than somebody who is not.  But getting to the base of your question, is he (Holliday) a difficult guy to retain?  Absolutely because he's that good.  Does that mean that it's impossible?  No.  Does that mean it's realistic?  Well, we'll see.  It won't be because of Scott.  It's because he's a great player and he will command a significant amount of attention on the open market.  Quite frankly, I've had a great relationship with Scott and find him extremely bright and competent.  He's one of the best out there and very entertaining to talk to. 

Blez:  Do you think the Coliseum will adversely impact Holliday's production this year?

Beane:  Not to the point where it's a concern.  It will all be relative to some extent.  He's just a great hitter.  I think that will translate to wherever he is.  Is it the same ballpark as maybe Arlington or Colorado?  No, but he will still be one of the better hitters in this league just like he was in the National League.

Blez:  Are you expecting a full rebound from Daric Barton this year?

Beane:  Yeah and in fairness to Daric, I think everyone expected more from himself offensively, including himself.  He finished relatively strong.  A couple areas where he was strong was that he was a good baserunner and a good defensive player for a guy who just took up the position a couple of years ago.  But yeah, Daric is better than that.  He's also extremely young.  He's a young kid.  We still have extremely high hopes.  I can assure you that if we made any signals that Daric Barton was available, we'd probably get 29 calls on him.  Well, maybe 28 as the Yankees would probably say we're good there for the next eight years.  He's well thought of in the industry and we think very highly of him too.  It was a good growing process for him.

Blez:  Is this the kind of situation where you might send him down to Triple-A at the beginning of the year because of the seeming logjam you have with the first base, DH-types?

Beane:  The thing about spring is that you never say what you're going to do three weeks before you have to do it.  Just because you never know what is going to happen.  When a decision has to be made on our roster overall, then we'll make it, but to sort of publicly make it now doesn't any sense.  So when we get to the point where we have to make the decisions in regards to the 25-man roster then we'll judge everybody.

Blez:  You mentioned Daric defensively.  How do you view the A's overall defensively?  Either Cust or Giambi will need to be in the field and both Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis are coming off surgeries that could adversely impact their defensive play.  It almost seems like the A's are having to sacrifice a little defense to try and improve the offense this year.

Beane:  To some extent yes, but I think if you go around the diamond then you've got Holliday who is a gold glove caliber outfielder, particularly in left.  Sweeney is a really solid defensive player.  Raj is an excellent defensive player.  Jack will be the first to tell you he's not a gold glove but definitely got better at it when he was out there and played right.  And when he's out there he hits better and it had an impact on his offense.  Jason will be going back and forth at first and he's still got good hands.  Ellie (Ellis) is a gold glove guy and we don't see any downturn when he gets back on the field and how he plays defensively.  I think we have a chance to be a very good defensive club.  When Chavy comes back, he has six gold gloves.  When he's out there, I don't expect to see anything different from him.  Overall I expect this to be a very good defensive team.  Suzuki is great.  If you look at it there are like five guys who could win a gold glove or have.  Cabrera, Ellie, and I know most of the Nation thinks he should've won one already just like I do...

Blez:  Or several (gold gloves).

Beane:  Yeah, exactly.  And he's one of the premier defensive second basemen in the game.  Cabrera has won one.  Chavy has won six.  Suzuki was outstanding defensively last year.  Holliday and Sweeney are good defenders.  If things fell right, you could have a number of players on the field who could win gold gloves.  And have already.  They'll be times when it might not be the perfect defensive club but I think there will be great guys who will be playing with others who maybe aren't great defensive players and I think it will be a decent defensive club. 

Blez:  Is it more important if, say someone like Cahill makes the team or even comes up mid-year, and he throws a sinker does that increase the impetus to make sure that you have Daric Barton at first base and a certain infield arranged around trying to improve the defense behind him?

Beane:  Yeah to a certain extent.  It may be a part of the discussion.  And there have been times where we had certain pitchers pitching where we felt, hey, this is a day where Chavy needs to play because of this style of pitcher.  So you have those conversations but it's just one of many reasons you build the lineup.  The thing about Bob (Geren) is that those are all things that he thinks about.  This guy lives and breathes the next day's lineup and he has fun doing it.  He does his homework.  He comes up with stuff that even Farhan (Zaidi) won't.  He'll be ahead of him at times because Farhan prepares stuff for the lineup as well.  He'll already have it or know and say I was already checking this out, can you look into that for me?  Bob is thinking of lineups two or three days in advance.  Unfortunately he hasn't had the ability to have the players either through injuries or trades.  He's had to constantly mix or match since the day he got here and he's been extremely adaptable.  Every day the sun comes up Bob thinks it will be a great day.  That's just the type of guy he is.

Blez:  There have been a lot of statistical studies that say that batting order doesn't matter.  Do you agree with that?

Beane:  We've seen the same things.  It can just have a slight impact.  I guess I believe those studies.  At the same time when a manager is putting a lineup together for that day he's trying to create runs.  If you think about it, for years the Angels didn't have a left-hander down in the bullpen so you could actually stack your lefties back to back to back.  And then there's times when you face a club that is full of lefties in the bullpen so you might try and separate them so you don't set up a perfect inning for a left-handed reliever.  It's kind of a day-by-day thing.

Blez:  Do you believe lineup protection exists?

Beane:  Yeah I think having a guy behind a hitter has a big impact, but I also think there's a macro way of looking at it.  I think having good hitters in the lineup can take the pressure off the younger guys.  I expect Sweeney and Buck to really benefit from Giambi and I expect Jack Cust will benefit too.  Most of the time, Jack hit third or fourth for us last year.  But if you think about a guy like Jack sneaking up on you with 100 walks and 30 homers then that will be a nice benefit to having those guys.  The protection can come in different forms.  It doesn't necessarily have to be back to back.  Just their presence there can have significant impact on younger guys in the lineup. 

 

Coming tomorrow morning:  The final part of the Beane interview where Billy discusses his extra effort in strengthening the bullpen, not having a designated "closer" and how the Fremont situation has impacted the baseball side of things.

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