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AN Interviews Oakland A's GM Billy Beane: Spring Training 09 Edition Part III

Monday was Part I of the AN exclusive interview with Billy Beane.  Tuesday was Part II.  Today the trilogy concludes.

If you're looking for spring training game threads, they will be in the FanPosts this week.

Thanks and I hope you enjoyed this.


Blez:  There have been reports about Dallas Braden in the media seeking permission to throw his screwball the year after, at least according to the media, the club asked him to avoid throwing it. (Editor's note: My discussion with Beane was about a week before Nico interviewed Dallas).

Beane:  I don't get involved in that stuff so I wouldn't know.  Yesterday he threw a little changeup and a cutter and a slider and his fastball.

Blez:  You don't know if he threw his screwball yesterday?

Beane:  That's a little bit of the micro stuff that I don't get involved with.  Dallas has made great progress and Curt and Ron have both done a great job with him.  I'm happy with the way he's throwing but as far as what he can or can't throw, I haven't read the media stuff so I'm sorry about that.  That one would be news to me.  I just like when he throws a swing and a miss.

Blez:  You don't care how he did it.

Beane:  Yeah I don't care how he did it.  That would be a better question for Curt as I don't have any information on that.

Blez:  You guys made a lot of changes in your approach to the health of the organization and by that I mean the health of the players.  You tried to change a lot of the processes and whatnot.  Yet last year you had very similar results as the year before.  Is this something where maybe you didn't expect an immediate impact?

Beane:  In fairness to our medical staff and the people here, the fact of the matter is that previous injuries is the best indicator of future injury.  You can do as much preparation as you want, but sometimes there is just no getting around that.  We have continued to make changes because we brought Bobby (Alejo) back.  Bobby is one of the leading guys in his field and in the industry.  Even beyond baseball, he's trained Olympic athletes and collegiate athletes.  He's very unique and has written a number of books.  Hiring Bobby was really just an opportunity to hire one of the very best.  Plus we knew him and knew the success he had. 

Blez:  I think Giambi might be preparing to sit in your seat in the future because he gave me the same answer.

Beane:  Bobby is just really quite frankly is one of the best I've ever been around and he's spent so much energy going through continuing education to try and get better.  He's just really passionate about what he does.  And like G, he brings a real big personality to the position which will be good for the young guys.  We had him for 10 years so his track record was great.  And he's only gotten better at what he does.  Simply put, he's one of the best in the business.  Period.  I didn't know if he was really going to want to come back because he's been really successful outside the sport so we felt really fortunate that he considered coming back.  And he's been great.  Bobby is just really special.  We felt lucky that he decided that he did want to come back.

Blez:  You seemed to make a special attempt to strengthen the bullpen.  You don't do things by accident so I imagine that had to be intentional.  Was it a case of trying to put less stress on some of the younger guys like Anderson, Cahill or Mazzaro in case they happen to break camp with the team?

Beane:  Certainly yeah.  I don't want to say concerned but the bullpen is still a little bit of a house of cards for lack of a better term.  You take one out and it becomes very thin.  We were just out there a week or so ago trying to sign some guys to further bolster it.

Blez:  Are you still trying to do that?

Beane:  We're open to it, yeah.  Because we have to be aware that one injury can really screw things up for us down there.  We just realized that as a small market club it might be a more efficient use of our funds.  The cost for relievers is less and it may have a bigger impact overall than putting it into other areas of our pitching staff.  I don't think there is any general manager in the game that feels completely set in their bullpen.  It's one of those areas that GMs wake up at night about.

Blez:  Speaking of something that can keep you up at night, is it a little unnerving to go into a season with an unproven closer?

Beane:  I don't feel that way because both of those guys, Devine and Zig (Brad Ziegler) pitched well towards the end of the year.  Zig was 9 out of 10 or 10 out of 10 or 10 out of 11 or something like that.  I don't even remember what it was.

Blez:  I think it was actually 10 out of 11. 

Beane:  See you know better than I do. (Editor's Note:  It was actually 11 out of 13 so we were both wrong)

Blez:  Ziggy is actually an AN writer so I should probably know.

Beane:  So you better know.  Joey, he closed out a game.  So the answer is no, I think we're fine.  And they'll do fine.  They did a great job with the second half of the season so I think they'll be fine.

Blez:  You already mentioned Joey Devine's elbow, so do you think it will be fine?

Beane:  He tweaked it last year and any time something like that comes up this early you're always concerned.  It's something we're going to have to manage early in the season and we discussed it in our meetings.  He's just so very good that the tendency is, especially when someone is that good, I made it a point to say in the preseason meeting that hey, listen he's so good that you'll want to use him as much as you can but if we don't have him, it really creates a hole.  It's going to be a bit of an issue.  He's a great kid who works his butt off but the elbow has put him on the shelf in the past and we're going to have to be cognizant of his past going forward.

Blez:  Who do you anticipate, and it might be too early to tell, but do you think you'll name Joey or Ziggy as the guy to close?

Beane:  I think Bobby is going to go with whatever situation happens to work best on that day.  There hasn't been a fan out there when you bring a guy in there in the eighth inning and it goes one-two-three and then you bring a guy in in the ninth who gives it up and say, "Well, why'd you take him out?"  I think Bobby wants the flexibility to maybe leave that guy in or maybe use another guy against other matchups and maybe create a number of different options.  It doesn't matter who does it as long as somebody does it.

Blez:  That sounds like closer-by-committee.

Beane:  Every bullpen will work if you have good pitchers down there.  The whole term designated closer versus closer-by-committee is a function of who is out there.  Closers-by-committee doesn't work if you don't have good pitchers out there.  Proven closers don't work if they can't pitch any more.  The fact of the matter is get outs with the most efficient use of your pitchers down there.  That's what Bob wants to do and I think everyone agrees with him.  The closer, as it's being used now, just came in in the last decade and a half.  Up until that point, Goose Gossage and guys like him were throwing two and three innings to close games.  It worked for 67 years before and then all of a sudden for the last 15 we went another route but at the end of the day it comes down to whether or not you have good pitchers in your bullpen, you're going to have a good bullpen.  It doesn't matter how you use them even if they don't have designated roles.

Blez:  The argument comes in from maybe some of the old school guys who say that a guy needs to know what his role is in order to be mentally prepared to be successful.

Beane:  It can't be that old school because that wasn't the way.  I mean Whitey Herzog was running bullpens by committee back in the 80s and he's about as good a manager as there was in the 80s.

Blez :  I guess I mean recent old school.  (laughs)

Beane:  Yeah I guess you have to define what old school is.  I do get back to the fact that if you don't have good pitchers then just because you give them defined roles they won't all of sudden be good because they have a role.  The responsibility we have for Bob is to give him as many good pitchers as we can so he can do the best job.  If he doesn't have good pitchers then it doesn't matter if he tells them you have the 6th, you have the 7th and the 8th.  If they're not good it's not going to work no matter how you use them.

Blez:  What made Russ Springer appealing to you?

Beane:  You know what, he's been an appealing guy as he spent the last couple of years in Houston and St. Louis and because of family issues, he lives in Louisiana, it was important to him to be close to home.  He's quietly put up as good middle relief numbers as anyone in the National League.  He comes with a great reputation and it's already shown itself just speaking to him.  Everybody who has had him as a teammate couldn't say enough great things about him.  He's good and he's a great guy.  We lost Alan Embree who was a good guy in that bullpen and Russ will be a nice replacement for him in terms of experience.  We're pretty lucky that he was available and that he would consider coming out West given that he was very attached to the Louisiana area given that his family is there and his home is there.

Blez:  The Fremont stadium has been shelved if not officially killed altogether.  The process is not something I want to get into with you, but how disheartening is that for you from the perspective of someone who is trying to plan out some sort of longer-term success for the on-the-field product?

Beane:  Having been here as long as I have, we've faced setbacks when it came to getting a new venue.  We haven't had a new stadium here so it doesn't feel like we've lost anything.  So it sort of feels like business as usual on the baseball side.  It's just the way it's been the last 10 or 15 years.  So in that sense, I'm OK.  We're pretty adaptable here.  Lew (Wolff) worked his butt off to try and make that work down there and from an ownership standpoint we invested significant capital to try and make it work.  We did everything we could and it just didn't.  I don't want to speak for Lew, but from Lew's end it no longer made sense to continue to put more capital into something that just didn't look like it was going to happen and anytime soon, which is why we ultimately pulled the plug.  This wasn't a free two-year dance with us down there but there were funds that were invested and there were so many preparations that went into building a stadium at this point.  In our situation, we couldn't continue to throw more money at it if it wasn't going to happen and wasn't going to happen in a reasonable time frame and that became quickly apparent.  Both sides made an effort, certainly the city of Fremont and I know we did.  If anything you check the box and say, OK that's not an option and let's go back to the drawing board.   The fact of the matter is we need a new venue and we need to aggressively continue to pursue that as much as possible.  And we need one, preferably for all of us, in the Bay Area.  That's where I want it.  That's where Lew wants it.  If you think about it, when Lew first bought the team he tried in our own backyard to get one done here.  That wasn't going to happen, certainly.  Then he went right down the road and said, let's try this again.  Lew is committed to being in the Bay Area and doing everything he can to keep the team there.  But we're also committed to having a new venue and there are only so many boxes we can check off.

Blez:  What do you do at this point?  Do you go back to Oakland?  Do you start to talk to Major League Baseball about opening up San Jose?

Beane:  Given that the Fremont thing is still sort of fresh and that we just currently pulled out of that pursuit, we're kind of going back to the drawing board stage.  My responsibility is to build a baseball team and I know Lew everyday is thinking about how we get something.  Where it will be, I don't know yet.  It needs to be somewhere and it has to happen.  All of us have a nostalgic feeling about the Coliseum.  My whole entire professional career has been there.  It's old, but it's my old stadium and I feel the same way about it.  It really has, and it's not just me saying this as it's been in numerous papers, but the one year we had the ability to pursue free agents and it's a challenge.  It's not a venue that players look forward to coming to and playing for their career.

Blez:  Are you saying that it had an impact on trying to attract someone like Rafael Furcal who you were trying to woo to come here?

Beane:  I don't think it was the end all but it doesn't help us.  I don't necessarily blame the players.  I mean our facilities are far less than any place else in the league.  Whether it's our clubhouse or the weight room, any of the accoutrements that come with a professional facility, ours are well below anyone else's in the league.   When a player goes around the league and sees the other amenities and then has to play in a facility that's below that, it gets around and it has an impact.  I don't think anyone has ever complained about the area itself.  The fans are great.  And the area is a wonderful place itself to live in.  But the facility itself, where is where the players spend most of their time, is really subpar compared to the rest of the league.  It's not an opinion.  It's a fact.

Blez:  I think it's the only stadium left with Minnesota now getting a new facility that is a combination stadium left, right?

Beane:  Is Florida no longer one?

Blez:  I'm actually not sure.  I actually think it is too.

Beane:  Yeah well that poses problems too.  The fact is, and it's no one's fault, is that this is a 40-plus year old stadium.  The only work we had, and maybe it's just my opinion, but the work we had 10 years ago didn't necessarily enhance it from a baseball standpoint and I think most fans would agree.

Blez:  You could say that.  It appeared at least to the hardcore fan that's been following the A's closely that you've been building purposely with an eye towards opening the new stadium in Fremont with the kids hitting their prime.

Beane:  That wasn't the reason we did what we did.  It would have been a nice byproduct of that but we would have had to do it any ways.  The difficult thing is if we don't get a new venue, we'll have to do it again.  We'll have to keep doing it and keep doing it.  We'll have to turn things over.  The hope was that if we did it this time then we could just build on this.  But as long as we're playing in this facility, it will be an ongoing process, managing our payroll and managing what we're spending.  It would have been nice to have had those young guys right when the stadium opened.  But it wasn't the reason we did it.  As long as we're there and in that facility we're going to have to do it.  It's just a fact.  People won't understand why, but I'm just giving people a heads up.  It's happened numerous times since we've been here.

Blez:  OK be honest now, when you're asleep at night do you ever dream of having the Yankees' checkbook during free agent season?

Beane:  I'm past that point and I've said many times, I love being here and I love working for this franchise.  We can talk about the venue and it sounds like woe is me, but this is a great team to work for.  This is a great place to live and a great franchise to run and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  I've had opportunities to make that trade and I haven't.  It isn't fair to make this sound like this isn't a wonderful franchise.  I love it.  Part of me loves the Coliseum in a nostalgic way too.  That doesn't mean that I wouldn't like a new facility.  Of course I would.  We need it.  I don't waste any time doing that.  There are headaches that come with that payroll that I'd prefer to not have to deal with.  This is the job I choose to be at and I have no interest in being the general manager somewhere else.  I've said that for a number of years. So far I've lived up to what I've said.  This is a great franchise that has one of the greatest histories in the game and I've always thought we could be a part of that history and part of an era and continue it.  We've had our challenges, from Philadelphia to Kansas City to here.  Revenue and finances have always been an issue going back to Connie Mack. 

Blez:  It would be nice to get to the point where fans don't have to fear their team leaving.

Beane:  It wears you out.  We're not doing it because we enjoy being criticized for moving players.  My life would be much easier if we didn't have to, but it's just a necessity.  It's a tenuous situation when it comes to revenues and payroll.  We have a low season ticket base.  We're one of the lowest if not the lowest in the league.  There is no predictability in terms of how many people will show up.  On a Monday night we don't know what it's going to be and we have a very vague idea what it's going to be the next night because a significant portion is walk up.  When you have a season ticket base of 20,000 you can pretty much say that you know at least 20,000 tickets are sold for this game and when it's a quarter of that you can anywhere from 5,000 people show up to 20,000 people show up and it's day by day.

Blez:  Is the stadium the culprit and not the surrounding area?

Beane:  There's a lot of reasons and all of them valid.  I don't think it's a lack of passion for the team or anything like that.  Or a lack of interest in the team.  I don't think that at all.  But I think there's a lot of reasons why it is what it is.  But those are some of the reasons that make it challenging here.  Simple things are far as staffing for a game are major issues.  When David Rinetti, our director of stadium operations, has to staff a game he doesn't know how many people to bring in for that game because he only has a vague idea what the attendance might be and he has to call up enough people to make sure they are ready to go just in case.  Those are some of the challenges we have to deal with.  It's little things, but it's not a little thing if you have to run the stadium operations.

Blez:  Do you anticipate greater crowds this year with bringing Giambi back and Holliday in and even having a name like Nomar Garciaparra in the fold?

Beane:  I've never viewed names as the reason people come.  I've always felt like it was the performance of the team.  I think what names can do is at least pique someone's interest and at least get them to consider coming out but they only consider it if your team is playing well.  I don't think the name itself will sell tickets.  But if it's contributing to wins that's when people react to it.  It's my opinion and I've always said it, but people ultimately attend games for a sport franchise based on how they are performing on the field.  Not because of the names.  Names will pique the interest and have people consider it, but it will take the team to start winning to get them to take that step.  If they're not winning, the name itself isn't enough to get people to come out. 

Blez:  That makes me think of Alexander Ovechkin in Washington with the Capitals.  Ovechkin was dynamic and awesome to watch but the team itself wasn't playing well and people weren't coming out but now the team is near the top of the conference they're selling out constantly.  They're coming out to see what he might do, but they're also coming out to see the team win.

Beane:  Yeah exactly.  I think back to when McGwire was here.  When we traded him, we had one of the lowest attendances in the league.  He was still hitting 45, 50 homers and then he goes to St. Louis on a winning team and he's a sensation.  He was hitting them just as far here as he was in St. Louis but the team wasn't any good.  And I don't blame them.  That deal is perfectly fine with me.  As a general manager, it's a very linear relationship.  You win, we'll come out and watch you play.  You don't win and they don't.  Or if you people see that you have a team that has a chance to win and creating something can also create some excitement. 

Blez:  Is that where you see this team right now?

Beane:  It's hard to say.  I think what we want to do is be better than last year and from a macro standpoint people will see that this will ultimately be an organic team and one that came from our minor league system that has some legs to it as far as its performance.  But we also wanted to take advantage of some opportunities out there to sort of speed up the development of it.  We want to be patient with the young guys but we also have a major league sports team and we want to win games because we do want people to be interest in it and not just go into hibernation until the young guys are good.  You can have a five year plan but don't go around announcing it.  Do your best, in the interim, to have that five-year plan in the background and go ahead and execute that, but do what you can to keep us interested.

Blez:  So the fanbase doesn't complete erode.

Beane:  Exactly, yeah.

Blez:  I appreciate all your time, Billy.

Beane:  I always enjoy it, Tyler.  Thank you for your support and interest.  We really appreciate it.