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Billy Beane Visits Athletics Nation - July 2006 Edition Part II

In case you were vacationing from the A's and AN for a few days, on Monday I ran part one of my exclusive new interview with Billy Beane. This is the conclusion of that interview.

Two things: the World Cup was down to three teams at the time, Italy, France and Portugal, so Billy isn't repeating what had already happened and Cahill hadn't signed yet.


Blez: The starting pitching has been pretty darn good this year after a little bit of a bumpy start; I think the A's are second in the AL in ERA (this was before Wednesday's game against the Tigers).

Beane: Is that where we're at right now? Wow, I haven't checked recently.

Blez: Yeah, I'm pretty sure. Barry Zito has led the way. Does Zito become untradeable with Harden's injury issues?

Beane: Our position on Barry has always been the same. He's a very important part to this year. We value this year quite a bit, so if there's any way to combine the future and the present, you have to be willing to listen. But the fact of the matter is that it's probably unrealistic. No one is ever untradeable. As soon as you say that, then you're proven disingenuous. The fact is that Barry is very important and we value this year. The idea that we're going to accomplish what we want to accomplish without Barry, on first look, it looks very difficult.

Blez: Do you think Zito has been just as good as his 2002 season?

Beane: Yeah, I think Barry is pitching as well as he's ever pitched here. And I've thought of that, that this is as good as he's thrown since his Cy Young year, which is great timing for us and more so for him. But he's been outstanding.

Blez: With all you've said about trading Barry...

Beane: No, it's all you said about trading Barry. (laughing)

Blez: No, I mean what you said about not exploring it given the situation and what you want to accomplish, are the A's actively pursuing a deal to re-sign him?

Beane: I've said this many times, and this is more of a compliment to Barry than anything else, but if you look at the market for a pitcher of Barry's talent level, you'll see the numbers are pretty significant. That being said, the fact of the matter is that it's going to be very difficult if the market last year is an indication of what the market will be this year. That's just a fact.

Blez: Does the stadium issue and the where the stadium issues sit have an impact on your stance?

Beane: Right now, we don't have a stadium, so the stadium is not an issue. The need for a stadium is an issue. Until we have a stadium in place and we're assured of that and we're also assured of where we'll be playing and what kind of revenues we can have through that stadium, we're going to operate as we always have here. At some point will we have one? Absolutely. It's just a question of when and until we do, you just have to assume that it's going to be status quo with the way we operate the franchise.

Blez: If you can't re-sign Zito and Harden's injury issues continue, how concerned are you at the outlook of the 2007 rotation and beyond?

Beane: There's always going to concerns in this marketplace, we just have to find a way to deal with them. You always have to deal with "what ifs" and Rich has certainly had injuries his entire time here, but somehow we found a way to figure it out. A few years ago, we heard the question, well what are you going to do if Giambi leaves at first base? It's like holding sand here. Those are plenty of things to take into account, but we'll have time to worry about those issues in the coming months.

Blez: Did you chase players like Halsey and Gaudin knowing that they could be starters in the future with a possible Zito departure and Harden's injury issues?

Beane: Our operating procedure isn't "Because Harden has all these injury issues, let's get all these pitchers." You're constantly trying to get pitching in this marketplace. Those two guys are examples of guys who could be potential starters and in the case right now, they've been godsends for us during this time in a number of different roles. Brad has started, been the long guy, he's come out of the pen. Our attraction to Chad is that he's a very, very young pitcher. He's just turned 23 this year and he got to the major leagues at 20. We've always liked his arm. If there's a good thing about having injuries it's that you're forced to use young guys like that and you might find something that's a long-term answer for you. Chad's come a long way and he's getting to the point where he's learning how to be a major league pitcher and pitching in tougher situations. He's been a starter historically and it isn't like he couldn't return there, but he's showing his mettle as a reliever. He's got a great arm and beyond Rich, he might have the best arm on the team.

Blez: Do you think there's anything the A's or Rich could do so we could see him for those 30-35 starts we all crave?

Beane: If there was, we'd be doing it. It's frustrating to everybody because of his talent, but it's most frustrating to him. Rich is a very competitive guy and it's harder on him than everybody. Well, everybody but me, just cause he's such a great talent. But it's a different thing every time. One time it's an oblique, then it's the middle of his back muscle, and now this is the first time he's had any arm issues at all. Arm issues are usually what you worry about and this is the first time he's had that.

Blez: Do you think we're going to see him back this year?

Beane: I anticipate that we will. He's getting better and it's not an operation. It's a ligament. It's like spraining an ankle. When you stress those ligaments, it takes a long time for him to get back.

Blez: Many critics jumped on the Loaiza signing as a misstep. Then he began the season terribly by hiding that injury from the team. Do you think he's turned the corner and that he'll turn out to be a good signing?

Beane: He'd be the first to tell you that he more than struggled when he first came out. But there was a reason for it. Since he came off the DL, he's pretty much been what we wanted him to be. When we signed Esteban, we didn't sign him with the idea that he was going to be a number one or a number two. We signed him as a guy who was going to give us innings and who was going to be a very competitive guy. Since he took that break and addressed the issues that he had to, he's been very good. Our hope and the idea was that was the guy he was going to be. I don't think there's been a game since he's come off the DL, except maybe the Colorado game, where he hasn't pitched well. He's pitched very competitively.

Blez: Colorado is a place where a lot of pitchers struggle too.

Beane: Yeah, and even the other day against Arizona, his numbers didn't do justice to how he pitched. He should've gotten out of that inning with one run and I think he had a shutout going into the seventh inning. He pitched very, very well in Cleveland and got a win against San Francisco. Since the DL, he's been the guy we've expected.

Blez: The velocity seems back up to respectability too.

Beane: Yeah.

Blez: Are his off-the-field troubles a concern for you at all?

Beane: Troubles using plural probably wouldn't be fair. It was an incident. Any time there's an incident like that one, concern gives the impression that it's ongoing. That incident was disappointing and I'll just leave it at that.

Blez: There's been a lot of discussion about Huston Street and his occasional problems this year. Many have noticed that he seems to struggle when he comes out to try and get one batter out, sits down and gets cold then comes out to pitch another inning. Do you think there's anything to that?

Beane: The kid has been close to perfect since he's come out of college, so he's allowed to not be perfect. You know there was a time when we've had to use him a lot and he's not a machine so he's...

Blez: Well, it's unfortunate because he came out like a machine last season and set those expectations so high.

Beane: Yeah, and he's still having a great year and could've arguably been a member of the All Star team. You know in a perfect world, set up man throws the seventh, set up man throws the eighth. But we haven't had a perfect world here. If you have a game like that, you look to avoid another one and how to avoid it, but in some cases you just have to say the kid isn't going to be 100 percent perfect but he's been pretty darn good.

Blez: You're getting closer to that perfect world though with Duchscherer back and Calero there.

Beane: Yeah, hopefully. Yesterday when Bobby Crosby scored (crashing into the catcher) we were all excited, but I just wanted to look down and make sure he was all right. You start thinking that way.

Blez: I think most of us do with Bobby given his past. Tell me what you think of Dan Meyer and his chances of ever being an effective major league starter at this point. So many of us are still pulling for him.

Beane: We all are. He's seen a number of doctors, but there seems to be something health-wise that is affecting his performance. I think hope is the operative word. He personally needs to get healthy and I don't have a crystal ball on that one.

Blez: It all goes back to the Hawaiian tiki idol under your bed. You've got to get rid of that.

Beane: (laughing) Yeah. Pitchers' right or left arms can be fragile sometimes. That's why you have to look at a guy like Clemens and Johnson and Mussina who pitch for a long, long time like they do and stay healthy.

Blez: Or even Zito.

Beane: Barry, exactly. That's one of the biggest things Barry brings is durability. You know he's going to come out and pitch every fifth day.

Blez: Let's shift gears for a second. What's your feeling about this year's draft class?

Beane: (Director of Scouting) Eric (Kubota) is a good one to talk to about that. But if you look at the entire draft class and not just our guys, there is a belief that this wasn't a particularly talent-laden draft. That being said, we're always hopeful the draft class we have is going to be good. Time will tell, but we've had a good start. Just look at the third round pick we took in (Matthew) Sulentic. He's an 18-year-old playing in the Northwest League and it's all college kids. He's hitting about .340. We thought he was one of the top two or three high school bats in the country and his first couple weeks have justified that. It's still really early. Our second round pick (Trevor) Cahill has just returned from a trip and we're hopeful to get him signed relatively quickly. We're optimistic that we will. He's obviously a major part of that class.

Blez: He's considering Dartmouth, right?

Beane: That's where he plans on attending if he chooses not to sign. But we're optimistic.

Blez: How much did it hurt to have to wait until the second round?

Beane: It was not a lot of fun. We've had it a couple of times since I've been here and it takes some fun out of it. But once it gets rolling you get into it. The draft, in many cases, is just so random. Harden came in the 16th or 17th round, Hudson was in the sixth round, Dan Johnson was in the seventh round, so there's major leaguers in there, you've just got to hope you find them.

Blez: What is your favorite most recent draft class?

Beane: Oh, I don't know if I could say that. I don't know if you have a favorite.

Blez: Well, then which would you call the most successful?

Beane: I don't know if you look at some and say, well this is where we were the most successful. You look at some as missed opportunities. We've looked at drafts and said, oh if we only drafted this guy instead of this guy. I don't think you can beat yourself up for making mistakes because you're going to. I just don't think you can let them freeze you. What you want to do is learn from them and analyze the process from which you made that decision.

Blez: So you look at the missed opportunities quite a bit?

Beane: Yeah, there are some players that you look at like that. There are some players that you might not have been on to begin with, but there are some players where you said, "we like him and this is our kind of player" and then you opted to go another route and that's when you hit yourself. It's easier to say this now, but in the 2003 draft we had two high school kids we were going to take. The first guy on our list was Conor Jackson. He was going to be our guy. We had no reason to believe he wasn't going to be there. Eric and his staff had seen him for years right down here in our backyard at Cal and Arizona took him right in front of us. The other two high schoolers we were going to consider were Brandon Wood and Lastings Milledge. Our staff did a great job. We had historically taken college kids at the time. Those are sort of what if scenarios and it happens to everyone. I remember a few years ago a guy like Lance Berkman who was right down our alley, a college hitter with a lot of plate discipline and we went in another direction. But that happens all the time. It's so imperfect that to say that you have your finger on it is just untrue. You don't.

Blez: That's interesting to say that it's imperfect, but a big portion of Moneyball is dedicated to your pursuit about trying to improve the process and odds. How do you think you stand compared to when that book was written and published until now?

Beane: What we wanted to do, because there seemed to be so much randomness to the results, was to try something that was going to give us a way to compare our decisions going forward. There's a lot of time where you start the draft and end and then you rarely go back and look at the process. We wanted to at least take something irrational and maybe take something objective from it so that we could improve on it going forward. Perfection is never going to happen, particularly when there are humans involved in the business and there's going to be subjectiveness. We're constantly going to be changing. We're constantly evaluating why we might've been successful and why we might've been unsuccessful. Hopefully we're learning from that. The average draft has two players out of 50 rounds that get to the major leagues. If you can find a way to get three, over five years that's five extra players and a significant amount of players for your major league roster. To say that we, or anyone, has figured it out is untrue.

Blez: Do you think you guys have gotten better at it though?

Beane: I think what helps you in this game is that the organizations that have had a lot of success in developing and drafting players and getting them to the major leagues are the ones who have had people who've been in their positions for a long time. So they can always learn from their mistakes. That doesn't mean you aren't going to make mistakes or you're never going to miss, but I look at Minnesota and Terry Ryan who's been there since I was player in the 80s. He's done just a great job. With their entire staff, they're able to look back and make comparisons. The Atlanta Braves...they have a very stable, experienced staff and those are two of the better ones. I think we have that here. We've all had our mistakes, but you just try and learn from those. Just don't let them become such a burden that it freezes us. We realize we're going to make mistakes.

Blez: How do you feel about the current state of the minor league depth in the A's organization?

Beane: We've brought a lot of kids up here, but we still have a lot of players that we feel are going to be outstanding players. You look at a guy like Travis Buck, who one the reasons we even considered trading Andre is that Buck is a very similar guy and he would sort of quickly fill that void that was left with Andre. And up until this point, he hasn't disappointed. To be a year out of the draft and to be doing what he's doing in Double-A, we're very pleased with that. (Kurt) Suzuki and his catching is very strong. There will come a day when we're going to need that. We've got some young pitchers which everybody would like to say and we've still got a young staff here. Jason Windsor has been outstanding and he's been knocking on the door as we speak.

Blez: Was there any consideration that he come up to the big leagues when you suffered through all the injuries?

Beane: It was too early at that point. Daric Barton had the injury this year, but we think very highly of him. At the risk of leaving people out, those guys (Director of Player Development) Keith (Lieppman) and Eric and (National Field Coordinator) Chris (Pittaro) keep coming up with guys that are going to be in the major leagues.

Blez: Do you think there's enough in the minors to make a deal for a proven player at the trading deadline?

Beane: Oh sure, yeah.

Blez: I suppose it's a matter of which ones you want to give up?

Beane: Yeah, exactly. We haven't been shy about giving up players and there are a lot around the majors who are former A's. But it's a two-way street, you can't scream for adding this to your roster and then two years later say well why did you give this guy up? There's time to sort of preserve, and a lot of preserving is seeing where you see those players being and what kind of depth you have. It's a constant balancing act. Ultimately the judge should be that we're trying to constantly remain competitive so that every year we have a conversation about the division title. We've avoided the dreaded five-to-seven year rebuilding program in the last eight or nine years. It would be easy in this marketplace to say, we're going to be working on this for the next five to seven years so just hang with us. But we've really tried to avoid that.

Blez: The team could very well be in a much better position than it's been in a lot of other seasons past, depending on what happens over the next few games, heading into the All Star break. Do you feel really good about things right now?

Beane: Yeah, listen, we've had the injuries, but let's look at it in linear fashion. We're in first. We're one of the youngest teams in the big leagues. We've had our issues this year and things aren't perfect, but what's the alternative? We really aren't in bad shape. Because of the injuries we haven't performed as well as we could, but at least we have an explanation. As we go forward, there's a pretty good core of players who are going to be here for a long time, which means hopefully we're in this position a year from now saying hey, here's where we sit and we have a chance at a division title. So we're trying to not take a break from a team that has a chance at the division and for the last eight years, that's what we've done.

Blez: When you approach the trading deadline, does it make more sense to get a rent-a-player like a Carlos Lee or a cornerstone-type player like a Lastings Milledge-kind-of-guy? Do you take that into account when you're considering players?

Beane: It all depends on the situation and who the player is and what impact you think he will make. You have to balance between acquiring a player and what you're giving up to get him. It's the same every year. There's an immediate satisfaction that people like to have and we haven't avoided that. We're not afraid to get a player that you may only have for a half a season.

Blez: As in a Ray Durham-type.

Beane: Yeah. But there's definitely a balance.

Blez: I have to ask you about the Susan Slusser article that caused quite a bit of backlash including you reportedly calling Nick Swisher into your office for a discussion. What really happened? There's a lot of discussion out there about the article and the impact it's had on the team. I'd like to give you an opportunity to clear up anything.

Beane: Any conversation I have with a player is exactly that, private. I'd leave it at that. I'm not sure that addressing young players that you may or may not be happy with should be necessarily the biggest secret, and the fact that we would in fact have a conversation. So I'm not sure what kind of backlash there would be. I'm not aware of it. Having a conversation with a young player is a part of this job.

Blez: It happens from time to time.

Beane: Yeah, exactly. I'm not aware of any backlash resulting from it.

Blez: On a bit of a lighter topic, I know you attended the World Cup. What was that experience like for you?

Beane: It was a great experience. I've been fortunate that I've been a part of a lot of great sporting events, either being there in person or growing up watching sports. The World Cup is probably the greatest sporting event I've ever attended. Just because you have a great sport and you have this mixing of so many different cultures and people from all over the world. In Germany, you go to the game to see Germany and Poland and half the stands are people that come over from Poland and the other half are German. That carries on down the line with other countries. It was just an incredible experience.

Blez: Was it like anything you've ever been to before?

Beane: No, I tried to call David (Forst) from my cell phone and it was maybe 20 minutes before a match and I was outside the stadium and I couldn't even hear him. Keep in mind that this was before the match even started. It was great. The support for all the teams there was great, including the U.S. which had some great support.

Blez: Have you been a soccer fan for a long time?

Beane: It's come on the last couple of years. I think it's one of those things where you know the entire world is playing this sport. We think there's passion surrounding some of the sports teams here like the Red Sox and even the A's. When you see the passion that surrounds this it really dwarfs anything over here. If the entire world is doing something...

Blez: There's got to be something to it.

Beane: Exactly, there's something to it. You're seeing the best athletes from these countries. Had they grown up in America, they might be playing other sports.

Blez: It's been a great tournament. The Italy-Germany game the other day was just amazing, I don't know if you saw it.

Beane: It's been great. Listen when I watch a college football game, I expected Reggie Bush to take the ball every third play and go 80 yards for a score. So you expect that kind of immediate satisfaction and excitement. I want to view soccer in a different context. Maybe there's only one or two goals, but you find yourself watching the game more intensely and seeing how things are set up. The anticipation is great. When it does happen, that makes it that much more exciting. People have a tendency to expect more and say there isn't enough offense. Well, there is, it's just comes in a different form. I just like watching the great athletes. When you watch Brazil it's like watching the Lakers play when they had Kobe and Shaq and this incredible amount of talent where there didn't seem to be enough basketballs to go around. You watch Brazil play and Ronaldinho is like watching a great point guard. He's a tremendous athlete. You watch them play and it's amazing what kind of athletes these guys are.

Blez: Did you view it as more of a personal trip or were you trying to do a little recon considering the new project you're involved in in San Jose?

Beane: It was a combination. Given the fact, and this isn't a secret, that we have the option with the potential for having the MLS franchise here in the Bay Area it would behoove us to learn as much as we can about the business. But in the same sense, it was a great opportunity as a personal trip as well. Lew (Wolff), myself and Mike Crowley and Farhan (Zaidi) went down. I think we all walked away from the experience blown away. We were that much more excited about the potential for soccer in this country. Not that it isn't there already in that we see kids doing it everywhere. But the key is to take it to that next level. It was a little bit of both and well worth it.

Blez: How many games did you see while you were there?

Beane: We saw four games. Four good games.

Blez: You saw Brazil live?

Beane: Yep, we saw Brazil. They call it the beautiful game and when the Brazilians play it, it's easy to see why. They are just spectacular athletes and great gentlemen.

Blez: Who do you think is going to win the World Cup, even though this interview will run after the final is played?

Beane: Given that I only have three teams to choose from....hmmm.

Blez: Who did you think before the tournament then?

Beane: The easy pick would've been the Brazilians. I would say at this point that Italy will play France in the finals. That's going to be a great match. France has been fantastic and fun to watch, but with that being said I think the Italians might find a way to take it. The thing about France is that they have Henry and Zidane, who is about to retire, these are brilliant older players and they seem to bring their game to a certain level.

Blez: The level of cardiovascular fitness is just remarkable.

Beane: Sometimes watching a sporting event and you're sitting down with a Coke in your hands you can't understand why guys are tired. But when I watched the U.S./Italy game, it was exhausting watching the game. The U.S. played their hearts out and when you watch them and they're going full speed that whole time, it just reminded me of when you were a kid and had to run the mile for the first time for a good time and you were sitting at the end of the bench feeling like you were going to throw up. You got that feeling viewing this. You were exhausted watching it and fitness is just such an essential part of it.

Blez: What's the timeline for the soccer team in San Jose?

Beane: We have the options. There's a couple of years to decide to exercise the options, so it's still in the infancy. We have the next couple of years to investigate the process.

Blez: Is it related to the stadium search for the A's at all?

Beane: No, it's a completely separate issue.

Blez: Thank you so much for your time today, Billy.

Beane: It's my pleasure, Tyler. I appreciate you coming in for it.