The Oakland Athletics have had a yo-yo season thus far, sinking to the farthest depths in May and now starting to soar.
Recently, Billy Beane sat down with me. I don't want to toot my own horn, but since Billy talked with me, the A's have scored 34 runs in four games and won all four. Is this mere coincidence?
Hmmmm...Billy might have to make this a weekly meeting.
Without further ado, here is part one of my conversation with A's GM and now part owner of the Athletics, Billy Beane.
Blez: Talk about this 2005 team. Is it more or less what you expected?
Billy Beane: Yes, in some individual cases. The thing that we've had to recover from that you can't expect is that injuries just decimated us. At no point this season have we had the team on the field that we expected starting in spring training when (Chad) Bradford went down. And now, we won't be able to put that team on the field given Dotel's injury and possibly Durazo. He's slow to recover. That being said, we have the majority of the players back and in one individual's case, that being Crosby, I think since he returned we're 15-9. We felt like when the whole team was on the field it would be a good team and one that developed and would have its ups and downs. From an individual standpoint, the pitchers have been no surprise with how they've done. Specifically, Blanton and Haren early in the year. Their early season ups and downs are exactly what you would expect from young guys.
Now what you're starting to see is a more consistent level of pitching each time they go out and each one is starting to feed off the other. Rich's (Harden) injury was huge for us. I think the Seattle series is a great example. You start off with Danny continuing with the way he's throwing, then you back that up with Rich Harden and then you've got Zito. I mean Z has pitched great and he should've won that game. And then out of nowhere comes Saarloos who is now your fifth starter. But there was a time when we had to call up Ryan Glynn in an emergency situation. So you've got a number of guys going back-to-back-to-back where it's very difficult to get anything going. I mean, Ryan has done a great job under the circumstances as has Kirk. But we had a stretch there in May where literally every night we were trying to find able bodies to fill in which would explain all the transactions we were doing. That was coupled with the fact that our Triple-A team was decimated. Because with (Dan) Meyer and John Rheinecker, who was pitching fantastic, going down it was tough on the organization.
Blez: What's the prognosis on Rheinecker?
Beane: You know it's frustrating. He has a tendon problem in his finger. He's seen a couple of specialists but still there is no return date in sight. It's a shame because he was pitching than at any other point in his career. And quite frankly, he would've gotten an opportunity here and we would've loved to have taken advantage of that. But I'm pleased. I'm happy and I'm enjoying what's going on. When you start to see the team on the field, and still it's not completely there, but it's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed seeing the guys, and I've enjoyed seeing Duchscherer's progress. It's a shame that Bobby (Crosby) missed the first two months of the season because as a second year player, he's been important.
Blez: He looks a like a completely different player with a great approach.
Beane: He's going to be a great player. But watching Duke's progress, Huston Street, and we're just so much further along. I always compare things to 93. But we're just so much further along because of the young players we have now and the young players we've got coming. I'm looking forward to seeing Jairo (Garcia) get a chance here. We sent him down to make sure he continued to get his innings in but he's making progress at the Triple-A level.
Blez: So you sent him down to make sure that you had that extra starter still here, or a just in case situation?
Beane: Yeah, and we didn't want to use Jairo up here as just an emergency-type guy. Just because there was a chance he could sit for 10 days and not get a chance to pitch. So we wanted to take advantage of the fact that he's pitching well. He came up here and threw a good inning, let's get him back down.
Blez: To help build his confidence up.
Beane: Yeah, exactly. He's very young. He's only 22. And Calero's injury, it looks like now he's starting to get back to his pre-injury days. Kiko is still a 2+ player, so the bulk of this team is still incredibly young. Swish has had some great days, he's had some not-so-great days, but that's to be expected. So I'm actually pleased, it's been a lot of fun.
Blez: Is this the type of season where you try to not look at the wins and losses as much as the progress on the field? I mean, obviously you want to be competitive, but you're building toward something better here.
Beane: There's two answers to that. In the month of May we weren't doing anything except trying to keep our head above water. There was nothing going on. We were just trying to put a team on the field, that's how bad the injuries were. So that interrupted any development. With that being said, I still think we can develop and be a competitive club at the same time. That's what you're starting to see now which was always the plan. The month of May, just throw it off the map, because there is nothing you can learn from that situation. It was a disaster from an injury standpoint. It was far too much talent and far too many guys.
Blez: Is that where the small market classification comes into play? Because you look at a team like the Red Sox and they have the deeper bench because they have that $100 million payroll.
Beane: It's not just trying to get by with say, losing Rich Harden. Because we didn't have Crosby, Dotel, Calero and Duchscherer was out for 10 days. We couldn't put him on the DL because we really had no one to replace him and we knew he was only going to be out about 10 days. We didn't want to lose him for 15 by putting him on the DL. You take Bradford out too and he's been an important part of our bullpen these past few years. One guy you can get by on, but when you're talking about six or seven guys there's no way. It's not an excuse, it's a fact. The month of May was just one of those months where you say, let's just get through this thing.
Now the good thing with all this is that there creates opportunities. With Octavio going down, Huston Street gets the opportunity.
Blez: A lot earlier than expected.
Beane: Exactly. And so now as we sit here today you can say, well we've wrestled with that closer spot the last couple of years. Maybe we have been presented the opportunity to have that taken care of. Duke's been great too. He went from being a long reliever to a spot starter to now he's closing games. It's not the ideal role for him, but at least he's proven himself capable. He's a really valuable guy to us. But now as the guys start to come back, you can see the development and develop as well as be competitive which is what the whole plan was all along. I think it's really unfair to judge the month of May. I mean we went 4-20 at one point.
Blez: Yet, the team seems to be climbing closer to .500 every day.
Beane: Yeah, but it's a big hole. We know why the hole was there and you can't point fingers at anybody.
Blez: You were talking about starting to build now and be more competitve. We're getting near the time of year when GMs make the decision about whether they are going to be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline. Is that something you've already made a decision about? Or are you going to wait to see how things play out over the next several weeks?
Beane: That's always an easy question to answer. We are always both. There's never been a year that we aren't both. The goal here is not to have a cute little team that's competitive. The goal here is to have a team where year after year we are competing for a playoff spot. That's always the way I think. We want to be good for a long time. We're always going to be both.
Part of the reason we're both and not just buyers is in part because of the market situation we're in. But it's also healthy (to be both a buyer and seller). I don't see a change in that. We've always been involved in the deadline one way or the other. We will continue to be. But our goal is to be good here, year after year after year. So when you look on the field, you see Crosby and say, he's going to be here five years, player X is going to be here five years. We don't shoot for .500 here. We never have. We're not going to do that. Our goal is something we will attain and we're going to do it as quickly as we can. It's not this five-year rebuilding plan.
Blez: You already talked about May and the offense was well...
Beane: We struggled to say the least.
Blez: Yeah. Have you ever seen a team go into team-wide funk all at once like this team did? And how tough was it for you to be patient and not run out and throw a band-aid over it?
Beane: I was patient because you take someone like Chavy. You know he's going to come around, it's just a matter of when. And his impact on the lineup is huge. You knew when he picked it up, well, it's as simple as looking at his good days. When he has good days, everyone else does. So you knew he was eventually going to come around. He's only 27 years old, remember. The offense, in fairness to them, when guys are hurt, each guys have a tendency of trying to be the hero with each at-bat they have. We got in a very bad funk there and there's no explanation except to try and be patient. One of the things that we are severely lacking in, and it's due to the erosion of losing some guys, is the power. It's an area we need to address going forward. Not just short term, but long term. When you don't have power, each game you have is likely to be a close game, even when you win, it's a tight game. Like the game in Seattle the other night when we won 5-0. You add power and those games become 7-0 or 8-0 games, as opposed to every game being a 3-2, 4-2 game.
Power is the great separator. You can manufacture your butt to one run, but after a while, luck is going to hurt you.
Blez: Moving forward then, you'd say power is one area where you'd like to upgrade?
Beane: Yeah, but it's not easy to find and it's expensive. That's why we no longer have it. Because when we develop it, we lose it through free agency. We lost Jason (Giambi), a 35-40 home run guy and Miguel (Tejada), the same thing. Now, there's going to be power developed from some of the guys within, like from Crosby. But he's a second-year player. You don't expect him to go out and hit 30 homers. It's going to come over time, but in the short term, waiting for it is going to be difficult. You go to the team stats of every team and the teams that hit home runs are going to score runs. The one consistent thing for scoring a lot of runs is getting on base and slugging. You can have 1,000 stolen bases, but if you don't have power to go along with it you're not going to be bringing those guys home. And that's why Boston is so deadly. You look at those two games there. Home run. Boom, boom, game over, see you later. You're never out of a game if you have the ability to hit one over the fence.
Blez: You alluded to this earlier. The offense seemed to awaken when Bobby Crosby came back. Do you attribute that to coincidence or does he bring something intangible to this group?
Beane: He is such a critical link. He's right-handed. And we tend to be left-handed heavy. He provides much more depth to the lineup, so I don't think it's coincidence at all. Marco (Scutaro) has done a spectacular job filling in for him and filling in for two guys the last two years. But Croz is such a critical link to that lineup. His presence pushes everyone else down and he's right-handed protection in front of, or behind at some point, Chavy. So I don't think it's a coincidence at all.
Blez: With the team's early-season struggles, so many fans and columnists began pointing at Chavy and the decision to sign Chavy to a long-term deal reportedly over Miguel Tejada. Do you care to respond to the people who said this?
Beane: First of all, we signed Chavy during last spring training. Then he goes out and wins another gold glove, leads the league in walks, misses six weeks and hits 29 home runs. So no one writes anything then. What they do is they take, out of context, two months of struggling. We've always said Miguel is a spectacular player. It would take too long to explain, but the revisionist history of what went on is just wrong. The fact of the matter is that I'm happy that we have Chavez at third and Crosby at short. That's my choice. It will be my choice. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be the right choice. But Miguel is a marvelous player and who wouldn't say that? There was never a choice given at the time.
Blez: Well, you also had this player who the organization thought highly enough of, ready to step in and take over for Miguel. A lot of people say it's easy, you just move Crosby over to third. But asking a 22-year-old to do that isn't as easy as asking someone like A-Rod to do it.
Beane: Yes, but they are also taking things out of context and I don't even feel like wasting my time explaining it.
Blez: I think people have selective memories when it comes to making a case in this instance.
Beane: Again, Miguel is a great player and always has been. But Chavy and Crosby in our organization, I'm happy with that. Miguel and Chavy are marvelous players and we have a future marvelous player in Bobby Crosby.
Blez: It sounds like you get tired of hearing about this, probably more so after the first two months.
Beane: Actually I don't. I don't hear it as much. It's just a ridiculous statement taken out of context.
Blez: I get tired of hearing it myself.
Beane: Well, it's a completely out-of-context statement and they don't have any background as to what went on or anything like that. It's a completely hindsight, contextual viewpoint. And there's no understanding as to what went on. The fact of the matter is that I'm really happy we have Chavy. He's a 27-year-old who has four consecutive gold gloves and averaged 30 home runs and 100 RBIs over the course of that time and I believe he'll still do it this year, which will make it five. Over the course of his career, he's going to go down as one of the greatest players in the history of this franchise. So, no regrets.
Blez: I don't think you could state that any more plainly.
Beane: I love Chavy. He's an absolutely fantastic player. I am so pleased that we have him.
Blez: Do you consider him a leader?
Beane: Yeah, I do. He leads with his bat and his glove. That's what leaders do. Leaders don't sit in the clubhouse eating Snickers bars and running their mouth. Leadership is only effective if you're playing the game and leadership comes in different forms.
Blez: A lot of people say he's too laid back.
Beane: No, you know what Chavy is. He's a guy who has his emotions under control. Good for him that he does have his emotions under control. If it would make people happy for him to bust bats and throw helmets, I'm not so sure that would do anything. It might make people feel better, but I can assure you that no one wears it more than Chavy. If he goes 0-4, you just know he's internalizing it. I'm around him all the time. It might make people feel better, but I can assure you it's bothering him. The fact that he has some maturity and can control his emotions and not take it out on the field, well, that's an asset.
Tom Brady with the New England Patriots is a great leader. You know why? It's because he's darn good. Bonds is a great leader because he's a great player. Leadership is a function of production. You can't really be a non-producing player and be a great leader. You can be a guy who's funny and fun to be around in the clubhouse, but that doesn't necessarily make them a great leader.
Blez: Well, it's also fans making judgments about someone after watching them on TV.
Beane: You know what it is. It's the old John McEnroe versus Bjorn Borg personality. Is Bjorn Borg any less of a champion in tennis than John McEnroe with a completely different personality? Bjorn Borg is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He and McEnroe are, but totally different personalities. When McEnroe misses a shot and argues with an umpire, people felt better because they want to do that. But when Borg didn't, and I'm going back quite a few years for some people, does that mean he doesn't care as much? They're just different personalities.
Part II of the Athletics Nation midseason interview with Billy Beane will be posted after the game tomorrow. Beane discusses the new stadium, the Hudson and Mulder deals and Kotsay's future with the team. Stay tuned.