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Offseason Visit with Susan Slusser

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Unlike if she worked the other sports, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has to work her beat 24/7/365. So I'm especially thankful this week that she took time out of preparing for Thanksgiving to answer some pressing questions regarding the A's quiet posture thus far.

Without further ado, my conversation with Susan Slusser:

Blez: The offseason has been pretty quiet thus far and Billy Beane has hinted that it could very well be that way this year. Do you
believe him or do you think that the A's will do something big like trade a Zito or sign a Frank Thomas? If they will, who do you think they'll target?

Susan Slusser: I think they'll first try to explore acquiring someone younger who they can then have under their control for a few years (Gomes, Quentin, Conor Jackson, Milledge, that type), but if a Thomas or Piazza slips through the free-agent market on the cheap side, I'm sure they'd have interest if they can't get a younger bat. I think you'll hear them linked with every available hitter around in the next few weeks, and I don't think it will take Zito to get all but a few (Milledge, say). And if Zito isn't dealt this winter, I wouldn't rule out a long-term extension for him in late spring.

Blez: If they do remain silent, do you think the A's will be able to challenge for the division title next season with the returning team?

Slusser: They need another bat, preferably a right-handed hitter with power. The offense just didn't have enough oomph to compensate for an off night by more than one or two guys - they needed everyone clicking to work right. When they do have everyone clicking, it's a very nice offense, but otherwise, it's not so impressive. And they didn't have the depth to really afford any injuries. It would be nice if they could pick up a productive hitter and somehow re-sign Hatteberg for a little depth and experience.

Blez: What do you think of the whole Ken Macha he's gone, he's back saga?

Slusser: Unusual, but then Billy Beane went through a version of that himself. I think that made him sympathetic to Macha changing his mind. And, as Beane said several times, Macha was the guy he wanted all along, so it made sense. As Macha mentioned, the timing was probably a factor in the initial parting of ways - emotions were running high right after the season. When the dust settled, they realized it was still a good option for everyone.

Blez: Do you think someone like Barton or Ethier has a good chance to make the squad next season?

Slusser: I think they'd like to get Barton a full season of Triple-A - he's only 20, and this isn't an organization that rushes players. I could see Ethier up by mid-season or, without a doubt, September, if the A's have the need and if he gets off to a strong start at Sacramento. It's going to be hard for him to make the club straight out of spring training, though, unless there's a major injury in the outfield. The A's don't bring kids up to sit on the bench, and they seem set in the outfield right now, with Kotsay, Swisher and Payton/Kielty.

Blez: Has anyone mentioned anything to you about Dan Meyer's health and whether he's likely to be 100 percent come spring training?

Slusser: I haven't heard any updates since his setback in August, but my understanding then was he was being shut down so he'd be ready in time for the spring. If that changes, I'll try to make a mention of it ASAP.

Blez: What do you think happens with Paul DePodesta

Slusser: A brilliant guy like Paul will not go without a job for long. He didn't get enough time to put in his plan in LA; someone will give him that chance in the next year or two. I know the A's would find him something if he really needed a position, but I don't think that will be necessary.

Blez: Have you heard anything about Rincon, Durazo and/or Dotel coming back?

Slusser: Rincon switched agents (he's with Dave Stewart now), which has slowed the process, but I do know both he and the A's wanted to get something done.

Even after elbow surgery, Dotel is probably going to be too expensive for the A's to take a risk on, considering he'd be a set-up guy now (I know he's said he'd play for Oakland for free - but that's something the union and his agents aren't going to allow to happen). I think he could be a terrific pickup for someone, because the surgery went so well and he's way ahead on his rehab schedule, but the A's don't gamble on guys' health very often.

There's almost zero chance Durazo will be back. And say goodbye to draft picks, unless one or both signs with another team before the deadline to offer arbitration. Offering either arbitration would be risky - if it actually make it to arbitration, awards are usually based on several years, not just the most recent season, and both those guys made over $5 million last year.

Blez: Do you think Rich Harden will finally be healthy for an entire season?

Slusser: He throws with so much force, and, like Tim Hudson, has a small frame, so he might always be susceptible to those various muscle strains. The fact that Rich bulked up so much last winter might have been a factor, too, so a different workout routine - maybe Kotsay-style pilates - might help prevent those kinds of injuries. The good news is that he's so young and he's such a hard worker that if the team comes up with the right workout plan for him, he will follow it single-mindedly.

Blez: What do you think the A's backup plan will be for Kendall's backup?

Well, Melhuse is back - sort of a shame for him, career-wise, because even if he gets more playing time, it won't be much, and there are certainly teams that Melhuse could start for (and teams have inquired about him, too). I know it kills Kendall to sit, but some extra rest wouldn't hurt him. Backup backup? The A's have all those catchers in the system - Baker, Brown, Suzuki - so if there's ever a need, they do have some options, but I don't think any one of them is quite ready. Like you guys, I hear rumblings from time to time that Daric Barton might go back to catching, at least part-time, but I've never had that confirmed. We'll see where he's working out this spring.

Blez: Finally, there's been a bit of discussion about Kendall on the site and we want to know if you look into your crystal ball, will Jason Kendall hit a home run on 2006?

Slusser: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Kendall will hit THREE home runs this season. Oh, wait, you meant in a GAME. Well, I guarantee he'll hit three in batting practice, at least.

No, really, I do think he'll hit two or three this season, and knowing Jason, he'll get rid of the first one pretty early on just to make sure we all stop asking him about it.

Blez: Thanks so much for your time, Susan!