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Billy Beane Visits Athletics Nation: New Season Edition 2010 Part 2

Yesterday was part one and today is the conclusion of AN's exclusive season opening interview with A's GM Billy Beane.  I'll again put up the caveat that we did this interview on Monday, March 29, so some of the answers might seem a little dated. Also, I want to personally thank Billy who did an interview with me on his birthday after he had very little sleep the night before because his twins were keeping him up.  We were two tired dads during this interview.

Any way, thanks to Billy Beane for taking the time and I hope you enjoyed this interview on the opening days of the 2010 baseball season.

Blez: I've read that the plans right now seem to be leaning towards the A's splitting the time between Daric Barton and Eric Chavez at first base as long as Chavez remains healthy.  Why does that seem to be the plan right now when Barton has had a great spring thus far and Chavy has struggled a bit.  Barton also seemed to finally come into his own last year.  

Beane: We haven't gone with any plan yet, so you have to be careful what you're reading.  Eric will be the first to tell you that he's not an everyday player.  What we want to do is to utilize his skills as much as possible.  Daric comes in as the incumbent and he's always been a guy that we've thought very highly of and he finished up strong last year.  He continues to take it into the spring.  It's a story not yet written.  It's hard to ignore Daric's most recent development, but we have another week left in spring and Eric has held up well.  We also have to give Eric Chavez the benefit of the doubt in that he's been out for a couple of years.  We should be happy that he's healthy, that he's been able to go out there all during the spring and give him a chance to get his sea legs underneath him.  With the way Daric has played though, it's hard to ignore that. I think there will be plenty of opportunities for anyone that is healthy, that's for sure.

Blez:   Tell me about the rotation.  You've got Sheets, coming off injury, Justin Duchscherer who missed a year, Braden who, gotta love him, gets in there despite an apparent staph infection...

Beane: He didn't have a staph infection. Dr. Braden was not correct in his diagnosis (laughs).

Blez: Then you've got Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill for the number five spot. How do you feel about the starting pitching?

Beane: Well it's deeper. As you said, there is some risk with some of those guys given their history. I think we have to be prepared. In a perfect world, you begin the season with five starters and you end with the same five. But that just hasn't been the case with us or most organizations. The good thing this year is that we have other options if someone stumbles due to injury or otherwise. We haven't had that in a few years. The thing we're dealing with right now is some nicks in the bullpen which was a strength for us last year.  That's why we acquired Ramirez from Texas and then yesterday got Chad Gaudin.  Gaudin is a very versatile guy. He can long man, pitch in the set up role and he can also start. He's a very valuable guy if health comes into question as it often does during the season.

Blez:  As with the past few seasons with the A's, the bullpen appears to be the strong point.  How are you feeling about the pen right now in spite of all the injuries?

Beane: It'll be easier to answer when we actually start. We've got (Andrew) Bailey who is feeling good. He's throwing in today's game and we'll breathe a sigh of relief when he gets a couple of games under his belt.  (Craig) Breslow is feeling good.  I don't think he's scheduled today, but we do feel better about him.  The guy we don't know about but should have more information later today is Mike Wuertz and his status.  It's safe to say that Mike be a little delayed in terms of starting the season.  We don't know that for sure but he's had a slow spring with a shoulder problem.  If he started the season on the DL, it wouldn't be a total shock.  Unfortunately that was one of the ramifications of having so many young starts.  As good as the bullpen was last year, the carry over winds up affecting this year and some of the things we're dealing with right now. We don't know that for sure, but it's definitely feasible.

Blez:  How is Joey Devine doing?

Beane:  Joey is coming along.  He certainly won't be ready for the beginning of the year, but we're hopeful that we're going to see him sometime during April.  It's more likely to be the end of April rather than the beginning. He's had a little bit of a stumble there a few weeks ago and he's starting to throw off the mound now but it's unrealistic to think he's going to be ready until, at the earliest, the end of April.

Blez:  You seemingly made the right choice to not make a qualifying offer to Jack Cust as you got him back at less than expected.  Were you anticipating it working out that way when you made the decision?

Beane: You have to respect what Jack had accomplished in his time with us.  Even though he had been non-tendered, there was still a certain price point where he was still very valuable to us.  Ultimately, in our opinion, he reached that.  And our team had such little power and to not have the number one power hitter on our club we realized that there was no one to replace him with.  From the start, the day he was non-tended we said we would have interest in bringing him back.  Both sides were able to come to a mutual agreement that works for both parties and hopefully Jack goes out and gets back to his 30 home runs and provides that at what we think is a reasonable cost.

Blez: Is the goal to have him as the DH the majority of the time this year?

Beane: Jack gave it a great effort out there, but he'd be the first one to say that given the guys that we have, that he'd be better served to be at the DH spot on a regular basis. The good thing about Jack is that he can go out there.  But we are going to try and keep him in the DH spot because we have some great defensive outfielders on the club. Unless Bob has no other choice, you'll predominantly see Jack DHing.

Blez:  Do you think the A's will steal a lot more bases this year since it seemed like once the team got aggressive on the basepaths in the second half, the runs started to come then?

Beane: It was the skills we had and I think Bob utilized it well. At the end of the day, for us to be a high-performing offensive club we have to slug at a higher rate than we did the last couple of years. The ideal thing is that with some speed we develop some power and a little more dynamic offensive with someone like Raj.  The thing about stealing bases is that it helps create that mentality of aggressiveness and Bob has done that well.  A guy like Raj is going to steal bases no matter where he's at. He's a pretty unique talent, speed wise. What it does from a mentality standpoint is that guys who might not run as well as Raj get into a more aggressive mindset.  It's not just stealing bases, but going first to third and taking the extra base on a base hit. I think creating that mentality is as big a positive as anything. Ultimately, having guys like Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki, who runs very well for his position, you create a mentality of not waiting around for things to happen. It's not just the stolen base in a vacuum. It creates a mentality of aggressiveness throughout the club.  Bob did a great job of instilling that in the guys and ultimately guys get confident on the bases as they do at bat. The best way to do it though is to have those guys at the top of the lineup and then get the power guys and then you have a dynamic club. Nobody wants to be one-dimensional where the only way you can score runs is by hitting home runs and the only way you can score runs is by stealing a base.  The best teams this franchise has ever had, and if you look back to the ‘89 team it's a prime example, you had speed and power with Rickey (Henderson) at the top of the lineup and then the big power hitters in the middle.  That's ultimately what every team is trying to create. It's something we'd like to do as well.

Blez:  You mentioned Rickey. What kind of impact does it have to have Rickey Henderson around folks like Rajai and Coco Crisp?

Beane: He's been great here.  He brings a lot of energy and he's smiling all the time. In fact he's been so good that after the first week we brought him down we brought him down again. He's going to continue to work with the organization throughout the season. It's not just about stealing bases. I've talked to Rickey about this and the greatest skill I think Rickey ever had was his ability to take a great at-bat. He forced you to throw a strike and got you deep into the count.  He'd take a walk if you were going to give it to him, but if you're going to lay the first pitch in there, he was going to hit it over the fence. He has a lot to offer outside of just leading off and stealing bases.  That was just one of the many skills Rickey had. Rickey was also an outstanding defender as well and knew the outfield. He's been great and he's brought a lot of smiles, a lot of energy and a lot of expertise. He's been an absolute pleasure to have around.

Blez:  Where do you think you are in terms of rebuilding this team?  Have you set benchmarks for what you want the team to be accomplishing in 2010?

Beane: No, if we're healthy I think we'll be taking a tangible step forward in terms of performance. Of course we're going to have to be healthy in order to do that. But it's really hard to project too far into the future because of our payroll limitations. But our immediate goal is to stay healthy and then take a step forward record-wise from where we were last year. Where that takes us is hard to say. We need to get some of these young bats up here and I think once you have the young pitcher and the young bats up here and them all taking steps forward then you can consider yourself a contender. But we still have a ways to go.

Blez: How do you grade a manager in this situation? When does the pressure for success start?

Beane: You have to be realistic. A manager has to have players good enough to win from the outset before you can start to expect them to win. In Bob's situation, we've basically taken his best players away from him every year and provided him with less experienced players so he's done a great job of coming in to do the best job every day with what he's been given. Quite frankly, in ‘07 and ‘08, we basically took the most experienced and accomplished players from him, so you have to be realistic with the expectations based on what he's given. One way to measure it is are the young players playing hard for him and are they showing improvement.  At this stage, we're pleased with that. Bob has dealt with more injuries than anyone and dealt with a rebuilding situation.  He goes into this year with the lowest payroll in the American League. He brings a ton of energy and a can-do attitude. We've been very pleased with what he has done.

Blez:  How much stock do you put into statistics like batting average on balls in play, and defense independent pitching statistics?  Do you think a hitter has any control over the BABIP or is it all luck?  And do you think you can measure the DIPS for a pitcher effectively?

Beane: Oh man. That's probably a question that could take all day to answer. There are so many statistics out there and some have greater weight than others but to say one is more important than another is hard to answer. But they are one of many different statistics we look at. It would take too long to go over each one and deal with how much of it is luck and how much validity each one had. Certainly they are of value and have their proper weight.

Blez: It seems like certain players have a good BABIP each year. Do you think that indicates that there is some control over it?

Beane: It really gets down to a pretty basic theory here I think. If you consistently hit the ball hard, you're going to have a good batting average on balls in play. Take a guy like Albert Pujols who consistently puts the fat part of the bat onto the baseball and he's going to do well with that stat. If you boil it down to its simplest form and that's if you make hard contact consistently, it's going to usually equal a good hitter.

Blez:  I know you're probably already tired of talking about the Moneyball movie, but The Blind Side wound up such a huge hit and really cast a spotlight down on Michael Oher. He was thrust into the public's consciousness in a way I don't think he was expecting.  Is there a part of you that's anxious about having an even greater spotlight cast on yourself once it's released?  Or at least really very publicly rehashing a lot of the stuff from the book all over again?

Beane: The book has been out for eight years and it continues to sell very well. It has brought some great things into my life, but as I always say it's his talent as much as anything because he's a brilliant writer. As far as the movie is concerned, I don't really think about it too much. As with any movie, my bet is that it won't be identical to the book. Quite frankly, Tyler, I don't think about it much.

Blez:  Did you at least hear that (Paul) DePodesta is being played by Jonah Hill now?

Beane: I heard that but I didn't really know who Jonah Hill was until someone told me.

Blez: So you haven't started calling DePo "Superbad" or anything?

Beane: No, I haven't seen the movie Superbad. The discussion for me with the book and the impact has been great, quite frankly. It's changed my life and helped introduce me to people outside the industry who I might have never come in contact with. It's been quite flattering.

Blez: Speaking of meeting people outside the industry, has Brad Pitt contacted you to get to know you in preparation for his character?  

Beane: I've had the opportunity to spend some time with him. He's a great guy and really down to earth. I really enjoyed the few times we've gotten together.

Blez: Did you feel like he was studying your mannerisms or anything?

Beane: No, not at all.  We've just gotten together and enjoyed the conversation. He was a really good guy and very down-to-earth. More so than you would expect for someone with his kind of fame.

Blez: Finally, how excited are you right now about the 2010 season for the Oakland A's? Are you approaching it with trepidation or are you excited?

Beane: I'm excited about every year. It's the competitor in me. I'm always excited. I always like to get opening day out of the way because I think there's too much focus on opening day when there's such a long haul. I enjoy the cycle of the baseball season. I enjoy the winter but once the winter is over and baseball season comes, I enjoy the whole league playing, the minor leagues starting up, the draft coming and I'm always very optimistic at the beginning of the season. I always have great expectations. I just like to get opening day out of the way because I've never liked opening day.

Blez: Really? Even when you were a player?

Beane: Well as a player it's different. As an executive, you just want to get the hoopla out of the way and get into the rhythms and flows of the season. I remember a few years ago, I think it was 2006, we opened with the Yankees. Barry pitched I think and he went against Randy Johnson and the Yankees and we just got clobbered. Once that night is over, your annual body clock kicks in and there's games on and lots of information being processed.  I really start to enjoy that, but it takes a couple of days to get through opening day. One thing I do like about opening day is turning the TV on first thing in the morning and having so many games broadcasted, that's a lot of fun. But I like the rhythm of the season once you get past opening day.

Blez: Where you can get into more of a routine.

Beane: Yeah, very much so. Summer is coming and the weather is turning in the Bay Area. This is my 31st year in the game, so your body gets kind of used to the different seasons and I always look forward to it. I like spring training. One thing I look forward to is going north after being down here for seven weeks because it's gray when you leave with no leaves on the trees and then you get home and every flower in the Bay Area has bloomed and the hills are just green. I look forward to seeing that. I also look forward to driving into the office and seeing Betty (his assistant) who I haven't seen for seven weeks and seeing everyone else. It is a time for optimism. It's the great thing about baseball and spring training. The thing that stinks is that I remember that it was the beginning of the year last year when we started to get the injury bug, I think we were in Texas and Nomar (Garciaparra) and Ellie (Mark Ellis) went down. It was all in a space of one or two games and then you're playing catch up and that's difficult. The hope is to leave spring training healthy and start the season out and get on a little bit of a roll.  It is a time I look forward to and I'm very happy when we start once we get past opening day.

Blez: The good news is that it seems like both Duke and Sheets seem relatively healthy right now.

Beane: Cross your fingers.  The bullpen is one area that we're trying to work out. The position players are by and large feeling pretty good. A lot of the guys are anxious to get up and start playing. They think spring training is too long. It's because of injuries and getting your pitchers ready is why spring training is as long as it is. If we had to open up two weeks ago, we'd be very short in the bullpen right now.

Blez: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Happy birthday to you!

Beane: Thank you very much, Tyler.