Yesterday was part one of my exclusive chat with Billy Beane. Today is part two as we get deeper into looking at 2007 and the dreaded "i" word.
Blez: Most of the discussion about whether or not the A's can defend their AL West crown in 2007 depends on a lot of ifs. If Rich Harden can finally remain healthy for a full season, if Joe Kennedy or another candidate performs adequately in the fifth starter role, if Crosby, Ellis and Chavez have bounce-back seasons offensively, if Mike Piazza can adjust to playing DH and the transition to the AL...how comfortable are you with the prospect of the A's being a World Series contender in 2007?
Beane: You could ask that question every spring of us, so it's not unique. The fact of the matter is that I like our club and I like our young players. We've probably got a little smaller margin of error with injuries. If we're healthy, I like the rotation of Haren, Harden, Blanton, Loaiza and Kennedy. I like our bullpen. Crosby and Ellis. Chavy and DJ will probably get a lot of time at first. Swisher, Kotsay and Bradley. It's hard for me not to like that. The ifs are fair because we haven't been healthy the last two years. The way I look at it is that we're due to be healthy. Take someone like Crosby, who is a phenomenal talent. If the expectations are realized, we have a very good club. That's the nature of being in this marketplace. There are going to be a lot of ifs. And that's just the way it's been the last few years.
Blez: You mention Joe Kennedy when you brought up the rotation. Does he go into camp as the front runner for the fifth spot in the rotation?
Beane: Oh yeah, we would like to give Joe the first opportunity. He's been groomed as a starter most of his career even though he was great in the bullpen last year. Joe is a year away from free agency. He's got a lot of talent and I think he'll be very motivated. And getting another left hander in there will be nice. We think Embree can fill in and do a similar job to what Joe did last year. I'd say going in he would be the front runner.
Blez: Do you think that Daric Barton or Travis Buck are close to making the jump to the big club this year?
Beane: They're not far. Travis was having a spectacular season last year before he had that groin injury with what he did at Double-A. It's tough to say when, but they're both definitely showing up on the radar screen. Daric had the injury too, but Daric had a great winter ball season even though it wasn't a lot of at-bats. They're both knocking on the door. There were a few guys we investigated possibly signing, major league guys, but it's critical to us to constantly preserve some opportunities for some younger guys. You know for the Bucks, the Suzukis, the Bartons and down the line. Two years ago, we introduced a lot of young players and people are now used to those guys, like Swisher and Blanton and Huston Street and to some extent DJ. Last year we worked in Gaudin. I wanted to continue to work in younger guys. And one of the reasons we traded Kirk (Saarloos), was not that Kirk didn't perform for us, but we want to preserve a spot for a kid to come in and start to establish himself. It's so important for us to have a couple of young players every year come in and be a part of this club so they can be an integral part of the future.
Blez: I'm assuming your talking about someone like Windsor.
Beane: Exactly. And that was all part of the thinking there. It's very comfortable for certain parts of the club to just rely on this guy but we need to leave some opportunity for growth in the club. The thing is the next year you're saying, hey this rookie did a great job, is he going to move into the rotation? The most exciting part of this job for me, what I like more than anything is developing young players. Last year we didn't really have that many opportunities for young guys. I mean getting to the ALCS is fun, but the other part of the job that I missed was having young guys in there and sticking with them when they were struggling. I want to have guys come in in the spring who are looking to break through so they're names roll off people's tongues at the next year's FanFest.
Blez: So do you think Windsor will be a part of the bullpen this year?
Beane: Possibly, yes. Absolutely.
Blez: There's obviously been a lot of speculation about the A's trading for Lastings Milledge. The rumor has been for a starter like Joe Blanton. I know you can't comment on another team's player, but how comfortable are you with the depth of the A's rotation if you lose another starter, either via a trade or injury? For example, you just traded Saarloos yesterday.
Beane: Wow, you're getting really good, Tyler. You just answered yourself by saying I can't comment on another team's player. We've made progress in the last few years (laughs). One of the reasons we would be concerned about our depth is because I got a call from a friend when I was over in Europe who is an East Coast writer saying the blogs are going nuts saying you're going to trade Haren. I was like, goodness gracious, I've been touring the Colosseum all day and I'm more worried about what Augustus Caesar was up to 2,000 years ago as opposed to trading Haren. A lot of that was more blogosphere talk. We've got something that we value highly which is good young pitching. It would be extremely risky to consider moving any of that.
Blez: Do you feel comfortable with your outfield right now?
Beane: Yeah, I do. I think it will be important for Mark Kotsay to remain healthy. And with Swish and Milton, I like those three. And Bobby is as good as anyone in the league against left-handed pitching.
Blez: The A's seem to have an enormous group of relievers waiting in the wings with the trade of Saarloos and the addition of Shafer, Dunn, the presence of Embree, Duke, Calero and others. Is this something that you're purposely doing in loading up on relievers? Is this something that you're viewing as being undervalued right now? The bullpen?
Beane: I can tell you that's not the case, they're all expensive now. Not necessarily, it might look that way. We liked Shafer a bit. And in discussing guys, that was a guy we targeted. It was not an attempt to load up on them. I wish we had a whole bunch of starting prospects because we're probably a little thin with pitching prospects at the higher level. But not a conscious effort.
Blez: Does Dan Meyer factor into the equation this year?
Beane: Well he had a pretty significant surgical procedure last year. But all reports are that he's doing really well and I'm very anxious to see him to be honest. I think until he gets out there and there's something tangible I don't think you want to bank on him. But there have been great reports so far.
Blez: Were you surprised at how much money Barry Zito wound up getting?
Beane: I've been around long enough to not be surprised by anything. I'm really happy if he's not going to be here, and I mean this, I'm happy that he's in San Francisco. I know fans see him as a baseball player but I sort of see him as a guy who we've grown up with and I think the world of the guy. As far as the amount of money, that's what the market would bear. I think it's a great spot for him. I'll probably see him pitch more for the Giants now than I did for us because I watched a lot of Giants games. It'll be great and a lot of fun. I couldn't be happier for the guy. He's in a spot where people know him, so there really won't be any adjustment for him. He deserves it. He's really a unique individual.
Blez: What was your reaction in general to some of the starting pitching contracts this offseason? I suppose the Loaiza contract now looks like a bargain.
Beane: One of the things we were concerned about last year and one of the reasons we pursued Este was because we saw what the market would start to bear for starting pitching. We knew there was a very strong chance we were going to lose Barry and now I'm really happy we have Loaiza. There's no reason to be shocked anymore at anything. I've been here a long time and nothing really shocks me. If you're shocked that means you're probably not prepared for it.
Blez: What does this mean for the future of the A's rotation when someone like Zito can command the richest contract ever paid to a pitcher? Obviously it makes developing from within that much more important, right?
Beane: Yeah, it's always been important, but each year it gets more and more important. My biggest reservation on signing Esteban last year was the fact that we were going to lose a draft choice. If you look at the way we've built this rotation the last decade, it's been through the draft. It used to be important, but now it's an absolute necessity for a club like ours to develop internally. It's very rare that you're going to go out and get a guy like Dan Haren anymore. That kind of trade is almost impossible to make even nowadays because of the cost of the starting pitching. People don't want to give up good, young starting pitching. They never have, but even more so now.
Blez: There was a report a while back that Bobby Crosby was upset with the fact that his back injury wasn't diagnosed properly. Do you think the injuries, and you've brought that up quite a bit, is just a fluke thing or does the organization need to take a close look at the medical treatment the players are getting? Or do they need to do different things to prepare for the season? Is there something you can do to address it or is it just a string of bad luck?
Beane: First of all, I'm not sure that's entirely accurate on the misdiagnosis. And quite frankly, in defense of our medical staff, Bobby was a bit frustrated as well. I think he wanted to be out there. I think there was a little bit of frustration coming out on Bobby's part. Injuries are going to happen. The idea that your medical staff is going to prevent them is wrong. They are there to treat them. In Bobby's case, a lot of the injuries come from the fact that Bobby plays the game hard. A lot of his injuries have been impact injuries. Last year, the first game someone slides into him and cuts up his finger. He gets hit in the ribs one year and gets fractured ribs. He chips a bone in his ankle sliding into the plate.
Blez: What's the answer with a player like that then? Do you have to tell him to back off a little more?
Beane: No, you can't. We've just had some bad luck. There's no question that some guys are more prone to injuries than others and Bobby's certainly had some injuries. But I don't think it's an indictment on his durability. Part of it is the way he plays the game and that's why he is going to be a great player.
Blez: Are the A's doing anything differently to try and stave off the injuries in 2007?
Beane: We sit down every year with the medical staff and the trainers to try and analyze why things happen and you try and make adjustments where you can, but it can be like trying to hold sand. There was one year here in the early 90s where our club invented the oblique strain. We had Dave Henderson, Terry Steinbach and Walt Weiss all had oblique strains and we'd never even heard of these things. You get a number of injuries in a certain area and maybe you start focusing on that and something else happens. It's just a part of the game. And honestly, we've just had some bad luck with it. When you think about a lot of the injuries, a lot of them aren't just tissue injuries, they're impact injuries. The other thing that's not mentioned much either is that you have an injury to someone like Chavez who was basically injured all year. He was never completely healthy and people don't hear about the medical staff helping him to stay on the field. There's no glory in being a team doctor or a team trainer because no one cares about you until something goes wrong. When something goes wrong, everyone is expecting perfection and that's just not fair.
Blez: More specifically, have you talked with Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden about how they're feeling going into 2007?
Beane: I spoke to Bobby the day I got back from Europe and he sounded great. He feels really good. We're going to be really slow with him in the spring. The only thing we're going to care about with Bobby is getting him ready to play at the beginning of the season. We're going to be very cautious with him and take our time with him. David (Forst) spoke with Rich the other day and he's doing great. He feels great. He hasn't been throwing off the mound but throwing long toss which is a pretty good indicator as to how he's going to feel on the mound. I haven't gotten to speak to Eric. He's been traveling and dealing with family things. But I haven't had a chance to speak with him but from the reports we have, he's fine. Eric works hard during the offseason. He's really diligent. I talked to Kotsay a number of times this winter. I talk to Mark quite a bit.
Coming tomorrow: Beane talks about the state of the farm system and whether Daric Barton or Travis Buck will be with the big club in 2007. We also discuss the move to Fremont and what really happened in negotiations wiht Justin Smoak.