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Billy Beane Midseason Interview Part II

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Yesterday, I ran Part I of my exclusive 2005 midseason interview with Athletics General Manager and part owner Billy Beane.

Today, is Part II. By the way, the A's are now 6-0 since I sat down with Billy and have scored 46 total runs. I think I'm going to be fetching his morning coffee any day now. Without further ado, here is the second part of the AN Exclusive interview with Billy Beane.

Blez: I read somewhere, I think it was Barron's, where you said that the A's try to pay for what a player will do as opposed to what he's already done. Doesn't that carry inherently more risk?

Beane: Of course, but there's risk in running a small market. It's a must. We're one of the lowest payrolls, we're sharing a market, we've got a stadium that leaks.

Blez: Do fans want to know that? (laughs)

Beane: Well, it's a fact. We share a stadium with another team. And especially for anyone who used to watch games here before they built that monstrosity in center field, they already know it. But as for paying for what a player will do, we have to. If we're paying for past performance, we're destined to have a bloated payroll far beyond our means. Now there are risks, as you are saying, because you're trying anticipate future performance by investing in it. Other teams are also in that boat. The Cleveland Indians are also kind of there. The Kansas City Royals. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. There are a number of teams now that aren't in the position to pay for the premium, premium players. It's a function of our situation right now. Hopefully that will change.

Blez: Is the only way that's going to change is with a new stadium?

Beane: It's definitely a good first step. It's a must.

Blez: Are you involved in that process at all?

Beane: I think we all are. It's a must. There is a finite level of achievement that we can have here because of the stadium.

Blez: Do you have a preference as to where you'd like to see a new stadium built?

Beane: I'd like to see it built somewhere here as I live right down the road. This is a great fanbase and I think the fans deserve the opportunity as well. If we have a big enough crowd here, it's difficult to get something to eat and to even walk through the crowd. The last four years when we've been in a pennant run, we've had to deal with divots in the field from exhibition football games.

Blez: Are you optimistic about it?

Beane: Oh, definitely. If you've been here as long as I have, you definitely have to be an optimist.
Blez: This might be a touchy subject given what some people are already saying...

Beane: There are no touchy subjects, Tyler.

Blez: Well, everyone wants to analyze the Hudson and Mulder deals already and repeatedly.

Beane: They should.

Blez: A lot of your critics are now seizing the opportunity to claim that you didn't get anything back for Tim Hudson. I want to know how you felt about that.

Beane: I guess I would reverse it and say, would we be better in that situation if we still had Tim right now? That's the question I would pose. Would we be better had we not done those trades?

Blez: You mean if he was on the DL?

Beane: The trades weren't made to be judged every single day. Again, two marvelous players, two marvelous talents and two marvelous individuals. But those trades were made because we had to make those trades. Everyone seems to want to cover it daily, but we're still pleased. We have the benefit of having an extended amount of time to judge these deals. The fact of the matter is with younger players you aren't going to get immediate satisfaction. That being said, I'm pleased with the way Danny Haren is throwing. I couldn't be more happy with Daric Barton's progress. I'm very happy with what I see out of Kiko Calero. Charles (Thomas) is down in Sacramento and he's tearing it up in Sacramento. He didn't really get the opportunity to play here, but we knew that was a possibility that might happen initially. Dan Meyer's season has been very frustrating, but he's 23.

Blez: The thing about it is that, I think it was after 27 games, ran a rundown assessing both the Hudson and Mulder deals. It's ridiculous to judge something based on that amount of time.

Beane: That's their job. The good thing is that I don't care what they write. It's a part of this deal with doing this job. We saw the erosion of this franchise last year. And when I say erosion, it's not that we didn't have good players, it's where the payroll was headed and where we would be standing in another year had we not been aggressive in trying to turn over the roster, both economically and personnel-wise. We have a very young team right now and it's going to progressively get better as opposed to a team that's going to lose players. We would've lost Timmy at the end of the year with very little to show for it. Mark we had for another year, but it probably would've been the same case. So I wanted to get to the point where I was building back up and I think that we took the step towards doing that.

Blez: That being said, you're looking pretty smart right now choosing Zito as the lone remaining member of the Big Three. He's pitched great this year and I distinctly remember people criticizing you for keeping Zito instead of Hudson or Mulder. But you look at Hudson and he has the oblique problem and is on the DL again. And Mulder is still struggling with his consistency. Zito is sitting at 10th in the majors and I think fifth in the AL in batting average against. Do you feel a bit of vindication in this case?

Beane: No because you read far too much, Tyler. I just read you. I just read you, and that's it. You read too many other guys.

Blez: That may be the case, but the ignorance out there bothers me.

Beane: I'm being honest with you. I don't read those things. Honestly. There's far too many other good things to read. Too many good books out there. Too many good shows. Too many good concerts to go to. I actually think it's an advantage to us that people write these things and that other people read them. The fact of the matter is that we're never going to be influenced by those things and we never have. Our conviction is because we have a discipline in what we're doing. I don't get the opportunity to read those things because it's far down on my reading list.

Blez: I guess I need to make it far down on my reading list too.

Beane: Yeah, exactly. There's some wonderful books out there, Tyler. I know I'll never get to all the books I want to read.

Blez: Actually I'm reading a book right now by Dean Takahashi called Opening the Xbox. It's a great look at how Microsoft approaches something business-wise. It's very good.

Beane: I've heard of that. I'm actually reading a book called Shake Hands with the Devil about Rwanda. It's a great, great book.

Blez: Wow, I imagine that's pretty heavy.

Beane: Yeah, it's pretty sobering. So things like this don't seem like the end of the world. It has a tendency to bring you back to reality. But getting back to Z, the thing about Z is that he's been outstanding this year. His won-loss record doesn't look like it, but one of the best things about Barry is that Barry has never been in the training room except he ices his arm after throwing that day. Health-wise, knock on wood, he's been very good.

Blez: Yeah, you mentioned that as a factor before.

Beane: It's important. As you see, with a club like ours, we just don't have that replacement. Z's performance has been very good and his durability has been something that is just so crucial to us.

Blez: Speaking of durability, does the Harden oblique concern you at all?

Beane: No, no. You know, oblique has kind of become a synonymous word around here with the A's because it was something that Timmy battled. Tim and Rich are such powerful athletes, and they're both not very big and they're strong, wiry, explosive athletes. Something gives at some point. As far as Rich, it's something that he's never had before and so hopefully it's behind us. Could it happen again? Certainly because of those things I just mentioned. But back in the past, the first time I'd ever heard of that injury was when Steinny was playing here. I don't remember if I was playing, or I was pretty sure I was scouting. It was around 90. He pulled an oblique. The hammy and the oblique came into existence about the same era. Since then, it's something baseball players have had, hitters especially. We're not overly concerned with it. What we're concerned with Rich is that he's such an intense guy we needed to make sure that he was completely healthy. He's such a competitor and to be completely honest, the night he pulled it, he wanted to keep going. He said he'd just throw sidearm. That's the type of mentality of this kid. He's a little like Huddy in that sense. I mean Huddy is not unlike the black knight in the forest in Monty Python. He will stay out there kicking and screaming. Rich is kind of the same way.

Blez: Speaking of Z, there are lots of rumors that he is going to be dealt before the deadline. I know you don't normally comment on trade speculation, but would you like to say anything here.

Beane: Yeah, we have no intention of trading Barry. Barry is 27 years old and such an important part of this team.

Blez: Would you like to resign him?

Beane: Well, that's obviously going to be an important part of this upcoming offseason. We face this every year. Except last year where we just went ahead and traded them (laughs). But it's an issue and I hope it's an issue. I hope it's an issue because at some point we want to start retaining these players and that goes back to the economic situation. The great thing is that the fanbase here understands what has happened and obviously we all miss our favorite players, but there's a real understanding amongst the fanbase of what we're doing. With Barry, he has everything, his age, his health, his performance. He's the kind of guy you'd love to have around. But it certainly will be an offseason question.

Blez: What about Mark Kotsay, whose name has really started to surface quite a bit in rumors? I have to tell you he's also become quite the fan favorite on Athletics Nation.

Beane: Well, he should, he's one of my favorites. He is a marvelous baseball player and I keep using the word marvelous, but he's a quote, unquote, baseball player. He should be a fan favorite. He's a GM favorite too. You know, our job here is to sort of recreate these heroes. The great thing about the fanbase here is that when we made the move, everyone said, "What the heck are you doing?" And two years later, people are now saying, "You can't move Kotsay." It's good because they get that attachment because that means that the performance is there. Now it's OK we traded for him. Two years ago, it was, "What are you doing?" And that's good that it's worked out that way. I feel the same way about Mark. One of the issues we have with Mark is that he has the ability to become a free agent at the end of the season and it's by contractual right. He's the type of player we're always looking for. But the hope is that you can keep a player like that around. The question is that you can always face the possibility that you can lose him for nothing and that weighs into the decision. But I agree with the Nation.

We've been very lucky to have the Hudsons, the Mulders, the Tejadas, these are great guys too. As much as the fans love them, they should love them because knowing them personally, they're gold. And Kotsay fits that perfectly. I get letters from people about the time he's spent with them. In spring training, I got this great letter from this family where Mark had really taken the time at a restaurant to stop by and say hello to them and said he would get the kid a bat. And then the next day, he saw the kid and recognized the kid and brought him down and gave him a bat. It's stuff like that that is just a part of Mark. He should be a lot of people's favorite guy. Because he plays the game right on the field and he's an absolute model human being off the field.

Blez: Are you optimistic about him being here long-term?

Beane: Oh yeah, because I think there's a desire on his part.

Blez: But this is part of the dance?

Beane: Exactly. I just think we need to see how it goes. That being said, we're also going to make sure we have the best baseball team and we're going to do that within the confines of what we have to operate with now. I've said this many times, economically, we're in a position that sometimes keeps us from making bad baseball decisions. If we signed everyone's favorite player here, every year they came up, we'd be in big trouble right now. As a fan, you can look back and say, wow, good thing they didn't do that. But we don't have that luxury here. We can't go "oops" and then just erase the mistake. So in many cases, we're prevented from making a bad baseball decision. You want to be in a position where you can make some really good ones. Miguel is a great example. He's a great player. Who wouldn't want him? Baltimore has a great player. We need to get ourselves in a position where we can make those good baseball decisions and have the financially ability. But there are some where we just aren't allowed to because we just don't have the ability to.

Blez: Do you think that the constant outfield rotation has hurt various players? I'm thinking about Charles Thomas and Eric Byrnes when talking about it. I mean do you think a player needs to be in there every day to be the most productive?

Beane: At times. But at the same time, you can say that it's helped Bobby Kielty. I think everyone would tell you that playing every day would be much easier and beneficial to the player. But what you have to ask yourself, is if it's beneficial to the team? Each individual player you mentioned, there are pluses and minuses with them playing and not playing. Take a guy like Swish. You want to give him a chance because he has a chance to be here for a long time. You want to give him a chance to fail and the history of young players is to be inconsistent.

Blez: So, sort of an, accept it now and try and build toward the future.

Beane: Yeah, exactly, in some instances. But each position is unique. But it does get back to the fact that we're all incredibly selfish. Kenny is. I am. You want to win and who gives you the best chance to win that given day. Sometimes it's matchups-oriented, which guy is better against a righty or a lefty. But you want to find that balance and one you want. There's no question every player would benefit from playing every day, but you just can't play every player every day.

Blez: Do you think a player's spot in the lineup makes a big difference in whether or not he produces? I'm thinking in particular of Kendall who seems to just have better at-bats when he's leading off as opposed to hitting second or third. And judging by his stats in each of those spots.

Beane: I don't usually put a lot of weight in it, but I have seen situations where even if there is nothing there, then maybe there is. You'd think that there wouldn't be any impact and I wouldn't know. That's almost a better question for the players.

Blez: Well, when you played, how did you feel when you hit in different spots in the lineup?

Beane: (Laughing) I wasn't really good enough to get a feeling in any of them.

Blez: Talking about spots in the order, what is the thinking behind Hatteberg hitting cleanup because he certainly isn't your prototypical number four hitter? Is it more for protection for Chavy and make sure you have someone behind him who can give you a good at-bat?

Beane: We probably don't have a classic number four to begin with, so that goes into it. But you might see Hatty behind Chavy when a right-hander throwing. Then there's the threat of a lefty coming out of the bullpen. So what Kenny tries to do is not stack three lefties in a row, so they can't just bring in a lefty out of the bullpen in any given situation. It's going to be depending on the day. So because there is no classic fourth guy, it'll be which guy will fit on any given day. Some days, it might be Hatty, some days it might be Kielty against a lefty. Byrnsie and Kielty are both outstanding against left-handed pitching. Kenny will try and match it up that day. But since there isn't really that (number four) guy, it'll have to based on who is pitching that day and then think about if I put Chavy and Hatty together, will I be hamstrung by someone coming out of the pen at a crucial time. Kenny's had to juggle that situation and some days Hatty'll be there and some days he won't. It's really based on the day. Hatty will be the first to tell you that he's not a classic clean-up guy. But there are times where we've had Hatty third and he's been very good there. It's really based on the daily matchup.

Blez: You mentioned Ken Macha. What do you think of the job that he's been able to do so far this year? And he's only signed through the end of this season. Does he have a long-term future here?

Beane: Kenny's been great. We've both had to battle this season as it's been a difficult time to go through, but I think it's also brought us together quite a bit. We really had to try and put our heads together to try and figure out that month of May. It was very challenging.

Blez: Were you able to get a lot of sleep that month?

Beane: I know this is going to sound very contrary, but I've found this incredible growth process. I'm not worried about it long-term. And short-term is just that, short-term. So I don't react to randomness and when I say randomness, I'm talking about a guy like Rich pulling an oblique or Bobby breaks a rib. Those are random events and I don't make decisions over random events. So I have a sense of peace. If I sat there with the whole team on the field and we were on pace to lose 120 games and I had no way of statistically or visually identifying the problem, then I might lose sleep. But if I know internally why something is wrong, then I'm OK. At that point, it's either fixing it or waiting for it to play out. It's like when you talk about guys hitting. I don't lay up at night wondering, oh gosh, is Chavy going to hit? I don't lose any sleep over it because I know he is going to hit. There's no reason for him to not be hitting. So I slept fine because I knew the reason. When you don't know the reason, that's when it's frustrating. And if you dig hard enough, you'll always be able to find out why. The month of May was just something we were all trying to get through. I felt bad for Lew Wolff. He's just been unbelievable. It's just an absolute joy working with this guy. I felt bad because this was his first few months in the game. Here he is, just continuing to worry about us. That's just the type of guy he is.

Blez: So the transition has been smooth?

Beane: Oh, he's been great. This guy just loves the game. He celebrates every win in such a way that is really refreshing. Here he is, coming in and buys this team and then goes through a month like that. He really knows how to create loyalty amongst people with the way he operates. I felt bad for him and here he is feeling bad for me, Kenny and the players. But it's our job to get wins for him.

Blez: I think I cut you off when you were answering the question about Ken Macha.

Beane: It's been a challenge, but it's been a great growth process. I've always said, and said during spring training, this is going to be fun guys. I've been through all of these cycles. I was here as the best team in the game, then we became one of the worst teams in the game, then we became one of the best teams in the game again. I've seen the cycle. It's very rewarding when you see progress with these young players and realize that you're heading in the right direction and you've got creative license to do things that you would never be able to do in a previous situation. I find it exhilerating. I think Ken has bought into that too and it's tough because Kenny is a competitor. It drives him nuts, but he's really kept his cool through this whole situation and really exhibited signs of being an outstanding leader. It's easy to be a great leader whether you're the GM, the manager or whoever or even a player when things are going good. Leadership really comes out when you're struggling and Kenny has handled it in such an outstanding manner. You know, we just took three out of four in Seattle and we're sitting at 32-40, but it's great to see the progress. It's great to see Danny Haren go out for his fifth consecutive good start and say, hey, he's on his way. Then seeing Joe Blanton go out and do what he did in consecutive starts. He gave up two runs against Philly in the first inning and then just shut them down for the rest of the game. And people say, hey, this guy is going to be all right. Kenny has really responded well to it. Once again, it's easy to manage a healthy, dominant team, but good managers and good leaders are developed during difficult times.

Blez: Do you want to see him here long-term?

Beane: Well, I think it's something we're going to discuss at the end of the year. That's not to read anything into that, either. I'm very pleased with what Kenny has done this year as well as I was pleased with what Kenny did last year and the previous year. The only reason I don't answer directly is because our basic feeling is lets get just through this and talk about it then. But in no way, read into any of that. This is something we talked about during the winter and we both decided to wait on it. And I think that's a credit to Kenny. That's a sign of his own security. I think that's great. I take that as a character trait, when you're going through this difficult time and he isn't saying, "What about my contract?" That's a good sign. That's a sign of someone who feels, hey, I'm a good manager and I'm good at what I do. It's him telling me we're going to deal with it at the right time, and that's a good trait.

The interview concludes on Tuesday after the holiday with a look at the 2005 draft, how Billy feels about the Kendall deal and how things have changed since Lew Wolff took over ownership from Steve Schott.