I've interviewed Billy Beane many times now and for me, it never gets old. I think this might be the first time that I've ever interviewed him within a week of a new season starting and that was intentional. Course the problem is that so much has changed in the one week since I did this that some of these answers may seem a little dated. I did get the chance to ask him about the Cust DFA and here is what he had to say about that:
It was really going to hamstring Bob's (Geren) flexibility with two left-handed DH's and no true utility player. We need Jack (Cust) to get some AB's to get him back to where he's capable and Eric (Chavez) deserves some AB's in order to shake off the rust from all his time off.
We didn't want to go through half the year going back and forth; that would do neither the players nor the team any good. Obviously Jack would need to clear waivers and accept assignment for this to all happen.
So without further ado, here is the AN beginning of the 2010 season exclusive interview with A's General Manager Billy Beane.
Tyler Bleszinski (Blez): We haven't spoken for a while, so before we get into the upcoming season and spring training, I want to discuss the offseason. Tell me what you think about your offseason and how you went about constructing this 2010 version of the Oakland Athletics.
Billy Beane: It was probably our longest offseason in the sense that since the day the season ended up until almost the last week, we were pretty active. We put together a wish list of needs that needed to be attended to. We jumped out of the gate trying a couple of things and we actually had some money. So what we wanted to do was pursue free agents because we didn't want to have to give up young players. At this point, we wanted to hold onto our young players and we looked at the free agent market as a way to fill those needs as it related to third base, adding an outfielder. We got out of the gate quickly in terms of acquiring Jake Fox. When free agency hit we were pretty aggressive on a number of guys and we weren't able to bring them here, not by virtue of having no finances. In a couple of cases, in fact, we outbid other teams and still couldn't get them to come play for us.
Blez: Why do you think that was when you were offering the most money? I know each case Is probably different, but what were some overarching themes?
Beane: We're in a rebuilding situation and a lot of people at that point in their career are looking for more establishing situations and looking to win immediately.
Blez: Can you talk about who it was that you were trying to bring in?
Beane: You can figure it out pretty easily I think. (Editor's Note: I took this to mean Adrian Beltre and possibly Marco Scutaro.) We were very aggressive on Adolis Chapman and wound up the runners up there. Ultimately I think we got slightly outbid on that one, but we were very aggressive there. It was told to us that we were the runners up in that sweepstakes.
Blez: What do you think of what the competitors in the AL West did and do you think this is the four-team race most are claiming it will be? What do you think of the other teams?
Beane: I would say it's probably the most closely bunched division. Realistically, I think we've got a long way to go in terms of having room for error when it comes to health. We have the longest road to go given where we were last year. Overall, Texas has a good group of young players and made some key additions so I think they are a team on the rise. I expect them to be certainly as good if not better than last year. The Angels certainly lost some players from last year but I think they're coming up with a pretty good core group of players that are going to return. They also made some pretty good moves, particular with Pineiro at the end, that puts them in a position that they historically have been over the last 10 years, which is going in as an early season favorite. That being said, they did take some losses. I was happy that they lost (Chone) Figgins but I wasn't necessarily happy that he just switched divisional rivals because I think he's going to have a big impact for Seattle. I also think Cliff Lee will when he gets back on the mound and Milton (Bradley) should help them offensively. Seattle and Texas have improved themselves. I think we've improved ourselves but as I said, we've got a long hill to climb with the least amount of margin for error due to the health issues. I still think it's a more closely packed division than the last couple of years and last year the Angels were clearly the superior team and were able to weather the injuries early in the season to still run away with the division. That will be difficult for anyone to do this year and I think health will determine where teams finish this year more so than any other recent season.
Blez: For the A's, is health the big question with the starting pitching more than anything, or do you need to be healthy everywhere to compete?
Beane: You expect some nicks here and there and everyone goes through the major league season like that, but there are very few areas where we could get away with injuries that last too long. If you look at us historically, the years that we won the division happen to be the years when we've had very healthy seasons. We had very talented teams, but we had very healthy teams. With small market teams, the injuries have an exponential impact on how they finish. We've felt that the last couple years as much as anybody. The higher the payroll, the deeper the roster and deeper the organization may become to be able to go out and replace guys. The lower the payroll, the lesser the room there is for the guys you have to get hurt.
Beane: He's a good player and he wanted to be a part of our rebuilding. He's coming off an injury. For us, despite coming off the injury, he seemed like a good value relative to the cost. There just wasn't a huge universe of players out there who were going to be available to us.
Blez: Was there any thought given to selling high on Rajai after such a remarkable year last season, especially after signing Coco?
Beane: One of the things we wanted to try and achieve this year was some sense of continuity. You look at Raj's minor league history, I think was a career .300 minor league hitter and was always labeled as a speed guy who wasn't going to hit. We had to trust that he would and he did. Selling high is all certainly relative in terms of what you were going to get for him. There certainly was some interest but we thought the continuity and building up with what Raj did was more a benefit to us than shopping around to replace him with someone else. The guy was a pretty dynamic offensive player for us and we wanted to trust that going forward.
Blez: Was there any thought to trying to sign Ben Sheets to a longer term deal rather than just a one-year deal to try and take advantage of him coming off the injury? Or was it mutually beneficial to just go short term, just in case the team doesn't perform well and he'd be easier to move at the deadline?
Beane: You hit the nail on the head. It was mutually beneficial for both sides in terms of length. Ben made it clear over the winter that they wanted to sign a one-year deal. And let's face it, there's risk associated with a guy who has missed a year in terms of injuries. I don't think we were in a position to be able to go further than one year based on the risk and the history. It was something we were both comfortable with. Ultimately what we're trying to do with Ben and Coco is to give some stability to the young guys. You want the club to be organic as possible and hope that having Ben around will allow the younger guys to develop and that they'll prepared to step in his place going forward. It was pretty clear that we were only interested in a one-year deal and they were only interested in doing a one-year deal. Our commitments going forward until things change (with the stadium situation) are going to be limited. So we want to reserve our flexibility for some of these young guys that turn into good major league players and bring some cost with that success. We're a little bit in flux until we get a new venue in some way, shape or form. If we don't get a new venue, we're going to stuck in the same cycle that we've been in for the last 10-15 years.
Blez: So your thinking is, you sign a Ben Sheets with the thought that if the team doesn't compete, then you can trade him to a contender for more young players around July. Then if it does compete and you do well, then down the road you have the money freed up to re-sign a Brett Anderson or Ryan Sweeney. Is that what you're saying?
Beane: Exactly right. To paint any other scenario would be disingenuous. If we're having a good year and we're competing, we'll do everything within our power to allow it to continue during the season. We've always shown that if we're in it, we'll take advantage of the opportunity and trade for players if it improves us and gives us a chance to finish in the division. If not, then we follow the cycle. To say anything else would just be disingenuous. You have to keep your options open in this situation. If I were to say otherwise, it just wouldn't be being truthful to everyone.
Blez: Is that the similar thinking behind bringing Justin Duchscherer back for that one-year deal despite the history he has with this organization?
Beane: From an over standpoint, we threw those kid pitchers out there (last year) and they were forced to either sink or swim. It's not an ideal situation or environment for them. With Justin, I don't think anyone could argue that when he's out there, he's very, very good. The risk of the cost of signing him versus the reward was worth it. No matter where you are in the development of a team, having too much starting pitching is never a bad thing. We felt confident that this is the best use of the $2 million we had at the time. Finding a starting pitcher with that kind of success is difficult, despite the health risk we have with him. I don't think any of us are signed up to think he's going to throw 220 innings this year. Although we think the innings and the time he's going to be out there will be beneficial to the team and also to many of the younger players on the team. It gives us a lot more depth and allows us to not have to force feed guys who might need more time in the minor leagues.
Blez: You mentioned guys that might be thrown in to sink or swim. Do you think Trevor Cahill was thrown in that exact situation last year and what do you think it's done to him in terms of his ability to become the pitcher that most think he can become?
Beane: Yeah he's a kid who had spent the majority of the year in A ball the previous year and some at double A. He had to skip a level. I think he showed times when he showed significant improvement. He won double digit games at his age which is pretty remarkable. But he did lose some development time, there's no question.
Blez: Do you think that will harm him moving forward or do you think he'll be all right?
Beane: Not with Trevor. He's a really solid make-up kid. But it's not ideal the way we did it last year. He's shown significant improvement this spring just by virtue of that experience.
Blez: You traded away Brett Wallace. Was it because you felt like he wasn't going to stick as a third baseman because with the ongoing concerns over Eric Chavez's health, the organization had a big-time need for someone to man that position?
Beane: We didn't think Brett would stay at third and we have a plethora of young guys at first base. We took from a position of strength and tried to address an area of need. Between Carter, Daric Barton, (Sean) Doolittle and then Brett, there was only one spot for four guys. It just seemed like a better utilization of our assets given our need for a player like Taylor in the corner outfield spot.
Blez: You did get Michael Taylor back in that deal. What did you like about Taylor in order to make that deal?
Beane: The right-handed power. For his size, he's a very athletic kid. He'll be a good defender on the corner. For a guy who has hit for average up until this point, he's continued to develop power. I just thought he was a unique talent in a position of need.
Blez: A position of need for the A's was third base. Then you went out and got Kevin Kouzmanoff. Do you feel like third base is finally taken care of for the first time in several years?
Beane: Yeah I do. There was a certain amount of comfort in knowing that we have a guy who was proven but there is a certain amount of urgency in the organization to find that young guy, that next Eric Chavez. That means developing him or drafting him, but it certainly buys us some time in a position of need since 2006 when Eric started to come up with some of his injuries.
Blez: Do you think Kouzmanoff will experience much of an improvement going from Petco to the Coliseum?
Beane: The Coliseum isn't...
Blez: Let me clarify, I know it isn't hitter friendly in terms of the foul territory, but you can get good power during the day specifically.
Beane: I know your point and it is certainly something that we looked at. It's not the greatest hitting park in the world and there is a lot of foul territory. It's much better to hit during the day. It's certainly something we looked at. I think with Kevin, he got off to such a miserable start and really had to catch up. But if you look at some of his road production it stands to reason that he should see even more improved production after hitting in, arguably, the toughest hitting park in the game. It's something we looked at and I think we're thinking we'll get improved numbers from last season. The other thing is that defensively he only made three errors last season and set a record for the fewest number of errors for the position. Being able to nail it down defensively will be as big a help as anything.
Blez: Do you feel OK with the A's shortstop situation right now?
Beane: I don't put a huge amount of stock into spring training, but leaving Cliff Pennington alone last year and letting him play certainly did wonders for his confidence coming into spring this year. Between Daric Barton and Pennington, they've been our two best players down here (in Phoenix). Cliff has taken the bull by the horns. We feel a lot better about it now than we did before we came into spring training. He's looked fantastic down here. We think he has the ability to be a very good everyday major league shortstop and he's certainly shown it this spring. Adam Rosales has certainly shown himself to be very good as well. We have more depth there than we did coming into this winter. I think with Rosales and Cliff and now we have Grant Green down the road, we feel much better about it now than we did a year ago, that's for sure.
Blez: Did you expect Adam Rosales to be pushing for a job this spring?
Beane: Yeah, we were quietly very enthusiastic about being able to acquire him. The other thing with him is that he's so versatile. He also brings a great energy to the game that I think is unique. He's a lot like (Eric Byrnes) Byrnsie in that he always has that motor running. That has a positive impact on everyone. We played him at short simply because it was an area of need for us. But he's also played second and third. At some point in the future, if need be, you can put him the outfield. He's pleasantly been a surprise, but privately coming in, we were very excited to get him so it's not a total shock to us.
Blez: It's coming close to decision time for guys. You have a week left. How much does having options left factor into decisions during the spring?
Beane: They do come into play. The other thing, particularly in our situation, people put such a huge emphasis on the club you break with, but you aren't going to only use 25 guys during the season. Sometimes you leave spring training trying to create the deepest roster by virtue of keeping the guys who are out of options and sending guys down. If you get rid of a guy who is out of options, then that gets rid of that option permanently. That player is no longer available to you two weeks into the season. Sometimes you break with the team that will afford you the deepest roster going into the season.
Blez: Then you can fill in as needed.
Beane: Right, exactly.
Blez: Where does Travis Buck fit on the 2010 A's?
Beane: He's certainly a guy that we still think very highly of and the best answer to that is that it is still to be determined.
Blez: You clearly went after pitching and defense this offseason. It's clearly something that you value very highly.
Beane: Actually I would've liked to have gotten two 40 homer guys but they weren't available (laughs). When you're in our market, you go after what is available to you for the best value. Baseball is a zero sum game. Power is a very expensive commodity these days. Ultimately we're trying to go for the best available players for the cost. Sometimes they're guys with speed and defense. This year the power bats certainly weren't going to be available to us.
Blez: If those power bats aren't available to you, is it a situation where you have to look to load up in other areas like pitching and defense?
Beane: It's really simple. It's who are the best players available and what we can afford. It doesn't really matter what specific skill set they have. And in some cases, like someone like Coco, if he's not coming off an injury he's probably someone we won't be able to afford. We have to take risk on the injury and him coming back healthy. Just understand that if Coco Crisp has a completely healthy year, we probably can't afford him either.
Blez: Most folks seem to believe that the big flaw with the 2010 Oakland A's will be the lack of any power.
Beane: They believe it because it's true.
Blez: So does that affect the decision if you only have one spot left between say Eric Patterson and Jake Fox? If the team seems to be starved of power, maybe you keep one player over the other because of that weakness. If you feel the team needs more power, maybe you go with a Jake Fox because of his track record.
Beane: No, I think it's who is going to help you win the most games. It's really that simple. If a guy has power and another guy doesn't have power but is a better player, you keep the better player. It's really that simple. Power is just one part of the game. Ultimately we're going to keep the guy who is going to help the team win as many games as possible.
Blez: A couple of the big potential power threats for the A's are Taylor and Chris Carter. I know it's tough to predict when these guys will make the team, but are they a part of the plan for 2010? Who do you think is on the faster track now that you've seen them a bunch close up?
Beane: Ideally they push themselves into 2010. But that ultimately depends on their own performance and the performance of the guys who are ahead of them right now. Given that they're at the Triple-A level and both of them handled themselves pretty well last season, but they could certainly use some more time at that level. It's really going to come down to how they perform and develop and ultimately how the guys up here are performing at that point. It wouldn't surprise me to see them up here at some point given that they're at Triple-A but we're hoping it's a situation where they force themselves into the picture.
Coming tomorrow morning: What benchmarks does Beane set for 2010, what it's been like to have Rickey around again and some outdated conversations about Jack Cust.