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Josh Suchon in AN: Spring Training Edition

Josh Suchon is the A's beat reporter for the Oakland Tribune and he recently took time away from covering the many stories out of A's camp to answer questions for AN.

Here is my recent conversation with Josh. I think you'll find it quite amusing and enjoyable. At least I know I did.

Blez: Let's start out fast and get down to the key question. How do you think the A's are going to finish in 2005 now that you've seen this team all throughout spring training?

Josh Suchon: My prediction has nothing to do with how they've looked this spring. To be honest, they haven't looked all that good this spring. But spring training means nothing. They are healthy and that's what is most important. The key, of course, is how quickly the young guns develop. Just before I left for Arizona, an old friend asked me how many wins I thought. I told him 86 or 87. I'll stick with that. If the bullpen falls apart, I can see them falling under 80 wins. If the young starters break out, I can see them winning 90 plus.

I do know the A's will be entertaining, on and off the field. I'm excited because there's so many characters and great quotes in the clubhouse. Nick Swisher and Eric Byrnes are a constant source of entertainment. This is my sixth year covering baseball and this is easily the best clubhouse, in terms of good guys, that I've ever been around. I don't know which guy I would single out is the worst guy in the clubhouse. Honest.

Blez: Were you skeptical about the Mulder and Hudson deals when they happened and what Billy got in return? If so, how do feel about them now?

JS: It was a foregone conclusion that one would be traded. The second was a total shock. I was pissed at the timing of the Mulder trade because I had to leave a Christmas party with my family to write about it and dessert hadn't been served yet. Once I heard Billy's explanation, it made sense to me. As a kid who grew up in the East Bay and attended about 40 A's games a year, the 1993-1998 seasons were brutal to watch. So when Billy talked about avoiding that, it struck a nerve with me. It was one of the many moments when I'm glad I'm a reporter (who just writes what people say) and not a columnist (who gets paid to write his opinion). Because as a columnist, you pretty much have to blast the GM for trading away the two best pitchers. If you don't, you look like a total homer and most of your readership accuses you of being a mouthpiece for the team. But the truth is, Billy's explanation from day one made a lot of sense.

I know the A's won't admit this on the record, but there had to be concerns about Hudson's health and Mulder's mental state after his meltdown last September. How much of a factor was it? We'll probably never know ... until Urban or Michael Lewis writes another book and tells us. But I don't think it's a coincidence Zito hasn't missed a start and he's the one they kept.

I like the players they received in the Mulder deal more than the Hudson deal. I saw Dan Haren's major-league debut, when I used to cover the Giants, and I've always been impressed with him. Kiko Calero showed some serious balls in last year's playoffs. I admit that I'd never heard of Daric Barton before the trade, but his numbers are impressive. I wouldn't be surprised if we think in five years it was the best trade Billy's ever made. I also wouldn't be shocked if Haren has a better ERA this year than Mulder. Of course, if Haren gets demoted in June, then I'll claim it was this hangover that made me just type that previous sentence.

Blez: Do you think Eric Byrnes will finish 2005 as an Oakland Athletic?

JS: Yes. If he does get traded, of course it wouldn't be a shock after this many rumors. Whether he's on next year's opening day roster is another question. He's bascially at the stage where he's getting too good (or expensive) for the A's. I hope he sticks around.

Blez: You had a great piece earlier this spring talking about Damian Miller's sometimes stubborn refusal to stick to the pitching game plan in certain situations. Do you think that was a product of the coaching staff not being strong enough with Miller or just trusting in a veteran? I imagine Kendall might wind up doing the same thing since he is also of the long-time vet status.

JS: First, I'd hate to characterize that story being about Damian Miller. It was a story about how quickly the young pitchers had bonded with Jason Kendall. I felt that was interesting. (Besides, I'd already written the "Jason Kendall grew up around baseball his entire life" story back in December when they traded for him.) I've had other pitchers tell me this spring, without me asking, how great it is throwing to Kendall and how much he's thinking back there. At the same time, I knew from covering the Giants that Kendall didn't always have that reputation as a great game caller, which is why I included the line that Jason Schmidt's praise of Benito Santiago was a subtle dig at
Kendall. Reputations change. It's weird. (And for the record, Schmidt and Kendall get along fine. When I saw Schmidt last week, the first thing he asked me was how Kendall is doing and he was genuinely happy that Kendall is finally on a winning team.)

I hope the article didn't come off as a dig at Damian. He's a good dude and a good catcher. The Cubs pitchers still love the guy. Their praise wasn't phony last spring. The story wasn't an attempt to rip the guy. Just stating a couple facts in there. And it was fact that some starters were requesting Adam Melhuse by the end of the year and Melhuse followed the game plan better. Different strokes for different folks, ya know?

Blez: Any funny stories from the clubhouse this spring? Besides the Lachemann play-by-play in the intrasquad games since that one was well-reported.

JS: These are the kind of questions that will get me in trouble. As reporters, we have to be very careful what stories from behind closed doors we share with the public. That's the fastest way to get players to lose trust in us. Or worse, to not act like themselves around us. We're lucky to have so many great guys in the A's clubhouse and they aren't constantly looking over their shoulders, worried that something they say will end up in the newspaper or on the Internet.

But if I don't give you something, I'm sure the AN readers will rip me. So I'll share my all-time favorite clubhouse story and hope the players involved don't mind. It was last August in Baltimore. Eric Byrnes was trying to get Bobby Crosby to grow his hair out. Crosby then started to get Byrnes to shave his head. As Byrnes was walking away, Crosby told him, "if you shaved your head, you wouldn't be Byrnsey. You'd just be Eric." Byrnes stopped in his tracks, like he was trying to think of a good comeback, then realized he didn't have a rebuttal and walked away. It was freaking classic.

Blez: Does the outfield picture become cloudy with Byrnes still around, Thomas having a solid spring, Kielty coming back initially strong and Swisher having an up and down time at the plate? It seemed for a while to be Byrnes in left, Kotsay in center and Swisher in right. Now, I'm not so sure.

JS: Barring injury, I still think the overwhelming majority of games will have Byrnes, Kotsay and Swisher in the outfield. That only changes if Swisher struggles badly. Swisher will struggle at some point. That's what rookies do. But the A's know they have to be patient with Swisher, like they were with Crosby. Let's face it, there's no question the organization loves Swisher. They have a lot riding on his performance. They need to give him every change to become an impact player. When a lefty starts, Swisher will play first base a lot. That will give Kielty some at-bats from his better side of the plate. I don't know how many at-bats Kielty or Thomas will get. That's for Macha to worry about and me to bug him about every day. But these things usually work themselves out based on player performance and injuries.

Blez: If you had to guess, who opens the season as the A's number five starter?

JS: I just asked Susan Slusser and she wouldn't tell me and we all know she knows everything. But maybe that's because she's going to have it in tomorrow's paper.

Seth Etherton has pitched the best this spring so far. I don't know how much that means. Kirk Saarloos is a great story, since he thought last October he was going to have Tommy John surgery. Keiichi Yabu is pitching much better. Dan Meyer will eventually be the number five starter, but I don't think he'll be in Sacramento to start the year. In other words, I don't know. There's still two weeks left in spring training. A lot can happen. I'll guess Etherton. That would be good because he's a great quote.

Blez: Besides Mark Ellis and his remarkable recovery, who would you say is the biggest surprise so far this spring?

JS: I've been surprised with David Forst's shot selection in our pickup basketball games. It was a surprise that his new assistant, Farhan, used a ball-fake on a 9-year-old girl and I laughed so hard I couldn't play defense. The inability of Mark Saxon to hang out with his former A's beat writers and spring training roommate (me) is not a surprise, but very disappointing. I'm surprised the weather hasn't been better. I'm surprised that I haven't strangled Joe Roderick yet. I'm surprised that I'm writing all this nonsense.

In all seriousness, actually there's been no major surprises with the actual A's. You can't call Huston Street a surprise. He's every bit as good as advertised and quite the southern gentlemen. I can't think of one outside of Ellis, and that's actually not a big surprise either because we knew how hard the dude was working to get healthy. It's been a pretty damn boring camp from a news standpoint.

Blez: Have you heard much chatter about the impending ownership change and how the players seem to feel about it?

JS: It's been a done deal for a longtime. Baseball just takes forever to make these things official. Honestly, I haven't talked to many of the players about the ownership change. I did a Q&A with Eric Chavez sometime last week and his advice to Wolff was something like, "give Billy the reigns. Trust him." I think that's an accurate way to describe everybody's feelings in the clubhouse.

Blez: Do you think Dotel finishes the season in an A's uniform? I know it probably depends on how the A's are competing for the playoffs, but in your scenario or prognostication of how well the A's will do, do you think he finishes the year in green and gold?

JS: It definitely depends on whether the A's are competing for the playoffs or not. It also depends on how well Huston Street performs. It might also depend on what other needs the A's have in late July and whether Dotel could be used to get that player. That said, I just don't expect the A's trading Dotel during the season. I just don't see the A's being completely out of contention and it's just not in Billy Beane's character to throw in the towel on a season. If anything, Billy is going to make moves to get them back in contention before he starts making salary dumps. Next offseason is an entirely different matter. He's going to be due a lot of money.

Blez: Do you think Ginter's defense been shaky enough to rule out him winning the second base job? Or is just that Mark Ellis has been that good in spring that it wouldn't matter what Ginter did?

JS: Tough question to answer. Ellis has definitely outplayed Ginter this spring. But we're still talking about three weeks, or about 30 at-bats, and that's too small a sample size to draw any conclusions - on offense and defense. I think they will both get playing time in the season and Macha will play the hot hand.

Blez: On a personal note, thanks for talking Urban into writing Aces. It's a great book that will always serve to remind A's fans of those glorious pitching times with our Big Three.

JS: I'm taking all the credit for the success of Aces. Urban owes it all to me. Just ask him. I'm waiting for my royalty check. If nothing else, he owes me a book idea.

Blez: Again, it's a pleasure to talk to you. You do a fantastic job covering our team.

JS: Thanks for the compliment. Tell that to my boss before my next review. Anytime you want, I'll welcome the chance to kiss the GM's butt, mock the Asst. GM for something that isn't true, take credit for a book I had nothing to do with at all, and rip the guy whose departure got me this job. Cheers.

Just give us your boss's email, Josh and consider it done. Thanks again for your time.