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Billy Beane Back in AN Part II

Sorry for the baby delay, but without further ado, here is Part 2 of my interview with Billy Beane.  If you happened to miss the first part, click here to see it.

When we left off, we were still discussing the possibility of leaving.  But I wanted to probe the trade of Mulder and Hudson more...and what the team will look like in 2005.

Blez:  Getting back to the pitching situation. Barry Zito wound up being the lone man standing when so many people speculated that he was going to be the first man gone.  Does it just emphasize how clueless people are in trying to speculate what the front office is going to do?

BB:  Let's take all three pitchers.  One way you can you look at it is, if you're only going to be stuck with one, you're going to have a good one no matter which one it is.  There are varying opinions on who is better, who's this and that.  The fact is that we knew if we had one of them left, we'd still have a Cy Young candidate on our hands.  The other thing is too, if you want to look at it strictly from a performance standpoint, Barry was probably as good as any of them the last half of the season...from the halfway point on.  The one thing you can't undervalue is that Barry has never missed a start, nor come close to missing a start.

Blez:  I was going to ask you if injuries were part of the consideration.

BB:  Well it certainly was a positive for Barry.  Once again in understanding our goals and what we were trying to get in return, was that some of it was going to be driven by other team's interest in those players as well.  I think ultimately if we were going to be left with one of the three, you were never going to be left with anything but an outstanding pitcher.  People are probably looking for a little more science than that, but we were only going to get our best deal by letting the teams express interest in one as opposed to pushing one over the other to create a situation where people had some red flags about them.  We knew that if we let them choose, we at that point could make our best deal.  And quite frankly, you give me any one of the three and we're very fortunate because all three are special guys.

Blez:  This may be a stupid question given your tendency and belief in science and stats, but does a player's marketability factor into the equation at all?

BB:  Maybe I'm criticized for this a little bit, but I've always thought the best marketing tool for a team is the wins and losses.  To try and work from the other side, there isn't enough legs to that sort of speak.  Let's face it, if you signed Barney the Dinosaur to play left field for you, you'd probably have a good crowd one day, but they might not come back the second.  The bottom line is that it's really a player's performance that is ultimately going to drive our decisions 99.9 percent of the time.   I try and stay away from making marketing signs because I don't think they have any legs to them.  And I think that what people truly want to cheer on is a good winning team and a player who contributes to that as opposed to a gimmick that sells tee shirts for a couple of weeks.

Blez:  I agree with you.  Are there any efforts underway to try and sign Barry long-term or is that something you're going to evaluate down the road?

BB:  Probably evaluate down the road, but the one thing we have done is we've created flexibility going forward.  I've always said this, I've said this 4-5 years ago before Jason (Giambi) was gone, that there was no one in sports who could keep this entire team together, it didn't matter who you were.  It was always going to be about choice.  One of the guys we've retained is Eric Chavez, which I'm very glad we did.  He just turned 27 in December and is in the front of his career.  Going forward, whereas before we had no offers to Z, it's possible now.  It won't be long when Rich Harden will be one of those guys, albeit in a few years.  The good thing is that we've brought enough good players along that people want to retain as opposed to getting rid of.

Blez:  You're giving me perfect segues here.  Have you talked with Chavy about the trades?  He was obviously very close with Hudson and Mulder.

BB:  I love Chavy to death.  I, unfortunately, got to him after the papers got to him.  When I was able to explain to him what was going on, I think he understood and could see what was going on.  I spoke to him, I spoke to Barry, two guys I said that I've got very good relationships with.  The thing is losing those two guys, and having those conversations with Barry and Eric, I'm not fired up about explaining things to them.  It's a day of sadness when that happens.  The great thing is that these guys have been around long enough that you can give them a bigger picture view as opposed to catching them when they're speaking emotionally and first heard it, which is always tough. Not only that, but things are said that are taken out of context that don't always reflect what that person meant or was saying.  But I have had that conversation and I thought it was important.

Blez:  How do you they feel about things now?  I know you sat down and explained things to Eric.

BB:  My biggest responsibility is to the people who follow this team, but in some respects a guy like Eric who has committed his services to us for the next six years, I feel like there is a responsibility to him to make sure that in the prime of his career, he's playing on a competitive team.  It would behoove me for him to have some sort of visual as to what we're trying to do here, not just for this year, but going forward as well.  I didn't want Chavy to wake up and realize that he was the only good baseball player left on the team and he had eight rookies surrounding him.

Blez:  You mentioned the makeup of this team, what do you think of this team going into spring training?  Do you think it can compete in 2005 for the AL West title?  I've read in many places that the belief is that you're looking forward towards 2006, but what about the team in 05?

BB:  I'm not going to go on record and say what is going to happen just because it's not a good idea even if you're the New York Yankees.  But anyone who knows me knows that I've never given away a game or an inning in my life as a general manager.  I'm excited about 2005.  I'm even more excited about 2006.  Despite this being a very difficult winter with the departures, it has also been one where when I look around the diamond, I look at Chavy and he's back next year, I look at Crosby and he's back next year, I can look at second base, they're back.  I can look at catcher, he's back, I can look at the outfield, they're back.  I look at the five projected starters and they're probably around another five years.  The fact that we've laid a foundation excites me.  I think in 1999, I said after we won 87 games, this would be the worst team we would have over the next five years.

Blez:  And that was the truth.

BB:  Yeah, and I felt that way.  I could sort of see the horizon.  And going in, I feel like I have the opportunity to say that.  I'm a fan like everyone else, and I unfortunately grew up a Padres fan.  I loved when I saw things laid out in front of me and I could see the horizon.  Whether that horizon was one month away in that year or even a year and a half away, I wanted to feel like the Padres were going to be good and getting better.  Unfortunately, it didn't happen during my youth.  As a general manager, I look at the same thing.  What I enjoyed about the 2000's through 2003, I knew that we were going to compete for a number of years, there was a sense of stability.  Last year, I felt like we're getting to the point financially and personnel-wise where we're going to start pushing the envelope as to what we're going to be able to achieve within the means that we have.

Blez:  You felt like you kind of hit a ceiling.

BB:  Yeah, I felt like if we just went status quo, which we weren't going to be able to do any way, we were just going to scrape the back of the fence if we won it.  And knowing that bringing that team back was not going to be possible, and then the departures of the guys.  No matter what, there was going to have to be significant changes just because of where the payroll was going.  Now, we've at least reached dramatically, but in a sense not that dramatically. We haven't said that we've traded Hudson and Mulder and we're going with all these rookies, we've scaled the payroll down to X dollars and and we'll sit and be patient for five years.  As far as I'm concerned, there are three spots that are unknown, albeit very critical ones.  But they are also very talented kids who've proven themselves at every level and now their next opportunity should be at the major-league level.  But in every other position, I believe we're better, we're deeper, we're more versatile.  The bullpen is better, it's deeper, it's more versatile.

Blez:  Do you feel that way about the outfield?

BB:  Yeah, absolutely.  Our outfield is incredibly deep right now.  Very much so.  Ellis is coming back.  Ginter's addition.  Crosby is coming back for another year.  The fact that we're able to retain Ruby as the DH.  Having Dotel the whole year.  Plus having improvement around him.  I would still say, and I'm not just trying to put on a marketing face myself and not to minimize the two incredibly talented guys we had, but we've gotten a lot better in a lot of other areas.  Similar to when people attached themselves to the 99-2000 team, people have the opportunity to attach themselves to this one as well.  They can believe that this team will be good and it will get better.

Blez:  Did Harden's maturity-- because he was phenomenal last year and he looks like he could have an even higher ceiling than Hudson, Mulder and Zito and I know a lot of things can go sideways-- but did his maturation have anything to do with the deals?

BB:  We need to watch ourselves, but Rich was arguably one of the best pitchers in the game the second half of the year.  But it's comforting knowing that he's there and he's going to be here another five years.  I'm sure some of the questions he is going to get are in regards to, "Hey, you and Barry are the guys now, that is a big step up from being the fourth guy as you were last year."  But you know, that same pressure was put on Hudson, Mulder and Zito when they first arrived and they handled it.  Rich has handled everything that's come his way and I think he'll be fine.  Better than fine.

Blez:  Do you think that you've improved the offense or the bullpen more this offseason, if you had to forecast it?

BB:  I would say equally both without copping out.  I'm very excited about our catcher.  The one thing about that position is that you have good ones and you have really good ones.  In a position that was a void for us, we didn't just acquire a catcher, we acquired an all-star and a guy with the third-highest batting average of all-time (for the position).  You couple that with the fact that he brings a very intense dynamic to the club and I think he's going to have a huge impact.

Blez:  Do you think his presence is going to help speed the maturity of the young starters?

BB:  Someone talked to Jason after the deals, I think it might have been one of the writers, and Jason had faced Haren and Colero.  I think the purpose of the writer calling was to get a negative reaction from him, and he said that even though he was disappointed in losing the guys we lost, his response was, these guys are nasty.  And he has experience hitting off of them.  I think his presence will be good for them.  You're talking about a guy that's an all-star.  And if you look at it from a pitcher's standpoint, the young guys are going to look around the diamond and a lot of times when teams rebuild and rebuilding with young pitchers, you have guys who are still figuring out how to play their position.  That's a tough combo.  With our pitchers-- when Danny Haren takes the mound or Joe Blanton takes the mound-- he's going to look around and see a gold glove at third, he's going to see Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis at short and second and he's going to see a lot of stability around him.  Once they learn to trust those people behind them, it's going to help bring them along as well.  I think Jason's personality will help as well.  He's kind of a no-BS-kind-of-guy.

Blez:  You keep talking about Crosby and Ginter and Ellis and Chavy, but one position you haven't mentioned is first base.  How is that position shaping up for you?  Do you see that as still being Hatteberg's job or would you like to give DJ (Dan Johnson) a shot?  Or is that to be determined?

BB:  I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying this-- Hatty is our first baseman.  First of all, he deserves to be.  He did get very tired at the end of the year last year, but more than anything that was through a lack of depth that we had.  We didn't have a real deep team last year.  This year, if Hatty needs a day off, we can put Nick Swisher over there and you still have a collection of outfielders to choose from.  Hatty is the first baseman and he deserves to be.  And Ruby is the DH for certainly 2005 unless something happens during the season.  That being said, Dan Johnson is one of our best prospects, which gets back to the future of this club.  If there is a chance you can send the MVP of the PCL back because you don't have room for him, I think that's...well, it temporarily might not be good for that player, but it bodes well for the organization.  The kid Barton that we got, we're going to move him to first base.  He was a third baseman in high school and his bat is just too valuable.

Blez:  I've read plenty about him and people mention Albert Pujols when they talk about him.

BB:  In our opinion, he's the best pure bat in the minor leagues.  

Blez:  Wow.

BB:  Yeah, I know that's saying a lot because he's only 18 years old.  But at this juncture, starting from rookie ball and all the way up to Triple-A, he has as good an offensive ceiling as anyone in the minor leagues in our opinion.  Good enough to be an incredibly productive first baseman.  Think about the catching situation that we have, it went from being a bit poor to...

Blez:  To being flooded.

BB:  Yeah, we're flooded with them.  And that's a good problem to have, especially when you've got an all-star for three more years.  It puts you in a great position.

Blez:  Are you involved at all in the new stadium efforts?

BB:  It's never been in my responsibilities up to this point.  I've not had a say.

Blez:  This may be a loaded question, but has George Steinbrenner gone completely mad?  $200 million dollars?  When you look at the Red Sox and the Yankees, they seem to be the only two teams that can play on that level in the American League.  They're in a different stratosphere because of their inflated budgets.  Is there a problem in baseball with that?

BB:  It seems like I have that question or some derivative of that question every year.  First of all, you can never criticize because they've been a very successful franchise and they're spending what they have available to them.  Good for them.  At some point, situations like that create opportunities for clubs like ours.  It might sound crazy, but they, teams like us are still playing with 25 men on the roster.  Sometimes they need to move very good players off their roster and it creates very good opportunities for us.  This isn't a high profile situation, but because of that, we were able to get a great pitcher who was very effective for us last season, Chris Hammond, and he cost us 15 cents on the dollar.  An opportunity was created because of the situation in New York.  I don't view it as frustrating as many fans do, I view it as something that will create an opportunity somewhere along the line if you look for it.  Instead of looking at it as an excuse and complaining about it, I look for the opportunities it creates for us.

Blez:  It sounds like you really enjoy and thrive on that creative aspect of it.

BB:  Most recently, we got criticized for trying to be creative.  It's what not all people understand, we CAN'T operate in the standard fashion.  So, whenever we do things, it's going to be preemptive or aggressive. In our terminology, it would be creative; in someone else's terminology it would be crazy.  We have no other way of surviving than to do things that way.  Actually, surviving is the wrong word...succeeding or competing.  The only way we can is if we're doing things that are outside-the-box.  If we did things standard running this baseball team, we would fail and fail miserably.

Blez:  That could explain why you'd take so much time talking to someone who runs a blog supporting the team.

BB:  Yeah, exactly.

Blez:  It just shows that you are very forward-thinking and progressive in a variety of ways, and we're all very thankful for that.  It's also why this fanbase follows the team so closely and can truly see an almost entrepreneurial spirit around the team and try to understand what you're doing.  

BB:  Think about it logically.  The fans would be really, really upset with me if I actually read the papers and incorporated their opinions.  They wouldn't like the product.  I'm not sure I would be showing much leadership by doing that.  That being said, let's take the most recent trade of Mark, as hard as it was for the fans, imagine how hard it was for me.  I had to make the call...I talked to his mother first.

Blez:  Oh God.

BB:  I'm very fond of Mark.  I wasn't having fun doing it.  Just as people weren't having fun receiving the news.  It ruined my Saturday night too.  Think about it logistically.  Obviously it's a surprise to most people as it's 7 o'clock on Saturday.  So people immediately go to their typewriters and evaluate the trade.  In some cases, some of these guys are on ESPNEWS 10 minutes afterward.  They have no idea what we've acquired and have no idea of anything else.  The newspapers are there because when they see the opportunity to create noise, they will.  Their job is to sell papers.  Their job isn't to make me happy, their job isn't to make fans happy.  Their job is to create noise.  If there is an opportunity, they are going to.  There is no legs to a newspaper story that immediately comes out the next day and says, "Hey, this looks like a great idea for the A's and this is what they're planning on doing and everyone will have a great time."  But they do get a lot of talk show and get their names splattered across the airwaves when they do create this noise.  And that's their job.  My job is to ignore the noise.

Blez:  Well, you do a damn fine job and we're all thankful for that.  Let me tell you, and I'm sure you don't hear this from reporters or many fans, but there is a very large and devoted fanbase that has a ton of faith in what you do.  Even though many of us had no idea who the hell Daric Barton was before the deal, we have faith when you're making these kinds of moves.

BB: It's appreciated.  Many times over the past couple of years in particular, the faith people have is evident.  The only thing that I can say is that as much as they care, my personality is such, if they can imagine it, it's to the 10th power with me.  It truly is.  Once again, if I didn't care what happened, not just for this year and the upcoming years, if I didn't care what my legacy was as GM of this franchise, I would be going scorched earth.  I'd be trading minor league studs left and right.  There's times to hold onto guys in the minor leagues and times to trade guys and you have to gauge it.  We've traded good young players, but by and large, I think most people have been happy with the return we've got.  But there are times we're going to say no.  I want us to be good all the time for a long time.  I've seen it when tough or uncomfortable decisions aren't made for a sports franchise and in particular, a baseball team.  I saw it in 92; at the time I was a major league scout and we knew what should've been done, and I've said I'm not going to let that happen here.  I want us to be good as long as we can.  I'm thinking about next year as much as the guy who just bought his season ticket.  But I'm also thinking about 2006 because I want someone sitting next to that guy who bought season tickets in 2005.

Well, I imagine there could be a run on interest in a certain purple dinosaur once the word leaks out that Beane mentioned his name.

Coming soon, Beane names both his personal best moves and what he considers his worst.

Stay tuned.