The Oakland Athletics had a remarkable season. Ninety-four wins. Taking the AL West crown on the very last day of the season, beating a really tough Texas team after trailing 5-1. Extending the AL Division Series to five games before ultimately falling to the Tigers. It was an incredible story that gave A’s fans some of the greatest thrills we’ve had in the franchise’s long and storied history.
The architect of this team is General Manager Billy Beane. He traded away young and seemingly very valuable pitchers this past winter, leading some to believe that the rebuilding was underway once again in Oakland. And then a funny thing happened on the way to what some projected to be a 100- loss season. The A’s started hitting home runs to support their impressive young pitching staff. And with every booming home run, the team inched closer to the improbable reality of playoff baseball for the first time since 2006. The magical season was derailed by an unstoppable locomotive known as Verlander but it left A’s fans with a renewed sense of hope that they haven’t felt since the early 2000s.
I flew up to Oakland last week to do an interview with Billy, mostly covering what the team has accomplished and what we can look forward to in 2013. As always, I want to thank Beane for being so incredibly generous with his time in speaking to me. I realize it’s not something most GMs do and I’m thankful for it every single time.
Tyler Bleszinski: Let me just start off by saying congratulations on an amazing year. It all just ended so how are you feeling? Is it painful that it ended how it did? Or are you simply proud of what this team accomplished?
Billy Beane: A little bit of both. When you get into the postseason, it ends so suddenly, particularly in a Game 5 situation (in a best-of-five series) where either you’re going to New York or it’s over. It’s something you never get used to, especially this year when you have the high of Wednesday’s game with the walk-off win courtesy of Coco (Crisp). Then 24 hours later, it’s all ending. The moment that being proud came in was when the Tigers got that last out but yet all the focus was on our players from our fans. That was an incredible moment. I lived it through the television because I was in the locker room. The fans appreciated what Verlander and the Tigers did but at that point they focused on the team and it really touched everybody. It touched the team, it touched me. Just the fact that they were proud regardless of the outcome. That’s how I felt. You’re always disappointed when you get to a Game 5 and lose but upon reflection, we were all so proud of what these guys had done.
Bleszinski: Had you seen something like this before? It seemed kind of surreal to me. I guess maybe I’ve seen it for a championship round but not a team losing out in an early playoff series.
Beane: It was a moment that was one of my top three moments in the game. That would definitely be one of them. Period. I can’t recall that happening. There certainly were times over the years where things were appreciated but nothing like that moment.
Bleszinski: OK so now that the season is over, how surprised were you by the fact that the team won the AL West?
Beane: My surprise wasn’t that we were better than people seemed to expect. The surprise was that we were able to overtake a team, who in my opinion, was the best team in baseball for 161 games in Texas. That was the surprise. They are a great team and we were in the most difficult, most challenging division in the game this year. The ability to overcome 13 games in a challenging division with two very good teams with the Angels and Rangers, well, that was what surprised me. Texas had a tough four or five games but I don’t subscribe to the theory that the bottom fell out and they became a bad team. They were the best team in the game for 161 games so to overtake a team of that caliber was what surprised me as much as anything. The other thing was to overcome some challenging late season events like losing Bartolo (Colon) at a critical time. Also losing Brandon McCarthy, who isn’t just a very good pitcher, but losing him in the way that we did (hit in the head by line drive). That was traumatic for everyone. If you put all that together with having to go head-to- head in the last month with some really tough teams. That road trip that everyone discussed before we went on it, it scared the heck out of me. It was probably the most important and most challenging road trip that this team has had since I’ve been a part of the organization when you talk about how important it was and the fact that we were playing three first place teams in their own ballparks. We then lost Brett Anderson the second game of that trip (to an oblique strain). We came limping back with four wins but they were four critical wins in our playoff run.
Bleszinski: Based on the fact that the game has seemingly only gotten more and more unfair to the smaller market teams and the remaining four teams in the playoffs have payrolls well over $100 million, is there hope that this A’s team can take the next step despite the increasingly challenging odds?
|New York Yankees||AL||$ 197,962,289||1 of 30|
|Detroit Tigers||AL||$ 132,300,000||5 of 30|
|San Francisco Giants||NL||$ 117,620,680||8 of 30|
|St. Louis Cardinals||NL||$ 110,300,862||9 of 30|
|Oakland Athletics||AL||$ 55,372,500||29 of 30|
|Source: Usa Today|
Beane: We certainly have hope. The good news is the core of his club will be returning. The strength of this club will be returning and that strength being that we have young pitching. We had a very productive outfield if you look at the sum of what everybody did. That in itself gives you hope. That postseason tournament at the end of the year? Yeah all you need to do is get into it and you always have a chance. The challenge for smaller market teams like ours is how long that window of opportunity for competing stays open between the cost of players and keeping the group together for very long. It’s seemingly getting shorter and shorter. As it relates to next year, I’m optimistic.
Bleszinski: That’s an interesting point which leads to a question because obviously you’re well educated in business…
Bleszinski: You understand how these things go and I just assume that you project out a few years the budget and what players will be here for some time. How long would you guess, based on the current roster, that this current window remains open for this team?
Beane: It’s hard to say. I know it’s shorter as we’ve experienced it very recently. How short, that I don’t know. At my age, I’m honestly only looking at the next year. One of the things I felt good about at the last game is that most of these guys are going to be back and there’s also the possibility to add to them. That’s why I felt hopeful about it. I know I’ve told you this story in previous interviews but in 2001, we returned to New York after getting beat in Game 5 and it’s 3 or 4 in the morning and the plane is out there while they’re taking off the luggage. I remember looking at all the players and saying to Paul DePodesta who was standing right next to me, this is a great team and unfortunately, it’s not going to be back.
Bleszinski: This is a totally different situation.
Beane: Exactly. This one is totally different. That’s why I felt little remorse about that being the last day had I not felt optimistic about going forward. How far forward? I can’t tell you. A lot of that is sort of reliant on factors beyond our control like the escalation of salaries and things like that. But I can say with confidence, I do feel very optimistic about next year.
Bleszinski: Obviously the season had a ton of highs and some lows as well. What was your favorite moment of the year?
Beane: You mentioned lows. What was unique about this year was that there was only one period where we had a low and that was when we had a nine-game losing streak. But by and large, it was a season that continued to ramp up the entire season. Starting at the beginning of the year when we were hovering around the .500 mark, the narrative was they’re not that bad and they’re not as bad as we thought. Then we had the nine-game losing streak.
Bleszinski: And people jumped on the, "look they are as bad as we thought" bandwagon.
Beane: There’s never been a mystery why we lose games. It’s been injuries. But then from that point on, it was taking a step up a ladder. We got better and better and better. I looked at our record and I kidded with Dave (Forst – Assistant GM), jeez, I didn’t realize I was in that good a mood all summer. It carried all the way into September despite the tough schedule. The lows, and it’s always tough when you have an injury to a critical player at a critical time, but by and large the lows just encompassed that nine-game period. It was a very positive season if you extract that from it. That’s what makes it a unique season as you always have a lot of ups and downs. This year didn’t seem to have that.
Bleszinski: It’s interesting in thinking about how the A’s seasons have gone, especially when you were competing for playoff position regularly. You always seemed to have a lot of slow starts where everyone writes you off and then you come on as the season progresses. That was how this team was too. Is that just coincidence?
Beane: 2001 was just like that. We acquired Jermaine (Dye) at the deadline. I’ve always viewed the season in parts. When you start the season, you really are mostly just assessing what you have and who your competition is. One of the things we really did was micromanage the roster this season with changes. Susan Slusser had a great line and I might not get it exactly right but we had to do so many things on the fly that we were able to successfully put people in positions where they would succeed. Josh Donaldson is a converted catcher playing third base. (Cliff) Pennington comes in as a shortstop and finishes as the second baseman. (Sean) Doolittle starts out as a first baseman and now he’s one of our primary set up men. Brandon Moss had never played first base and he ends up as our first baseman.
Bleszinski: (Yoenis) Cespedes moves to left after starting in center.
Beane: Yeah exactly. There was just a lot of micromanaging on the fly in terms of putting guys in a position where they could succeed.
Bleszinski: In terms of the micromanagement though, how do you make the assessment that Donaldson seems like he could excel at third? Or that Moss looks like he could be a capable first baseman? Whatever you guys did in terms of making those switches, it worked out beautifully. It’s not like this happens every season. To take a position player and decide to change him to a power lefty reliever, I mean I know he was a pitcher in college, but it just seems like whatever you did came up golden.
Beane: Each one has its own individual story. Let me go back to a low. On the first day of workouts when we lost (Scott) Sizemore, that was a huge blow. We’ve been trying to fill that spot for years since Eric Chavez and to lose him on the first day of drills and knowing he was out for the year, that was tough. Knowing that Josh had experience at Auburn at third, we really had no choice but to move him over there. We also felt good because we knew defensively he could handle the position. He stumbled out of the gate (offensively) which players will do. He went back to Triple-A. We were fortunate that Brandon (Inge) was available and Brandon was a real lift to us. He played great through the course of the summer. When Brandon went down and we went back to Josh, it was one of those things where we had to trust what this kid had done in the past. I just said, if we don’t give this kid a chance now given what he’s done at the highest level of the minor leagues and he winds up going somewhere else and doing it, we’re simply going to hate ourselves. We poked around about trying to acquire a guy when Brandon went down but we had to trust the numbers, trust the data and the track record then it would be shame on us if we didn’t just give this kid the job. The moment he got up here he was a different player. I think what helped him was the success that some of the other younger guys who came up over the course of the season. There is a sense with the young guys of handing off the baton to the next guy which leads to a sense of empowerment when they get up here. A guy who rakes in Triple A and then come up here and struggles, the rest of the guys see that and it can be a little bit intimidating to them. Josh, the second time he got up here, he wasn’t even the same guy. But in Doolittle’s case, the credit doesn’t go to us, it goes to him. Sean was a very highly thought of prospect, he just couldn’t get over those knee issues. He basically missed two years. He was concerned, as were we, as to whether he was ever going to be able to play because of his knees. He went up and said he wanted to go back to pitching. We were definitely aware of his pitching when he was at Virginia. He was the number two starter on that team and he was a good starter. He would’ve been a relatively high draft pick as a starter. But we figured at that point it was worth a shot. Immediately, right out of the gate, he was throwing mid-90s. We were in a little bit of a dilemma because he had only thrown a couple of innings down there and we knew that other teams had seen a guy throwing mid-90s as a left-hander. We knew we had to keep him on the roster because if we didn’t someone was going to grab him. We kept him on the roster and he started in Stockton and then just simply kept moving up. It’s a great story but he deserves the credit for that switch, not us.
Bleszinski: What about Brandon Moss?
Beane: David (Forst) signed him as a six-year free agent during the winter. I really give a lot of credit on this one to Farhan (Zaidi –director of baseball operations). Farhan was screaming at us that we have to give this guy a chance. He had played infield as a high school kid even though it wasn’t first base. He at least had a background. Farhan was saying it the first month of the season and then May 1 he sent a long email, which was a "Moss Manifesto", basically with a lot of statistical analysis saying that we needed to give this guy a chance. We immediately called down to Darren Bush (Sacramento Rivercats manager) telling him to give the guy a crash course at first base. That’s really how it went and I give Farhan the credit on that one. People know who David is, but Farhan is the guy who kept banging on my wall saying that we have to give him a chance. It worked out. The dynamic of having both Chris (Carter) and Brandon ease into that position in spots where they could platoon a bit really helped them. Chris came up in Texas and almost immediately began hitting as we wanted to use him against left handers.
Bleszinski: You mentioned some of the tough moments of the year including the Colon suspension and the Brandon McCarthy injury, not to mention Brett Anderson’s oblique. Was there ever a time during the season where you kind of felt like, OK, we’re done?
Beane: I have in the past. But one of the things we had this year was we were able to backfill with starting pitching. And the most important person on any team on any given day is the person who is pitching that day. I was down that we lost critical members but in Bartolo’s case we had sent (Dan) Straily down on a Monday so we couldn’t recall him to take that spot. We were going on a tough road trip into Tampa who was playing great. We had no starter so we had to come up with a starter for the opening game of the road trip. We brought Tyson (Ross) up and we got beat that day. It was temporary but once we got through that period we felt, at least we have starters. If you have starters, you always have a chance. There was never any real low moment like last year when everybody went down in May. We lost four starters in 10 days and we thought what are we going to do? As a result, the team just dove. Definitely having the depth in pitching kept us from getting too depressed about it and you can see what happened, it helped us stay afloat.
Bleszinski: Speaking of the McCarthy injury, there were reports that you spent the entire night at the hospital with Amanda, Brandon’s wife. Is that something unusual for you to do?
Beane: I was putting my son down for bed and reading him a book around nine o’clock. As we were getting news, myself, David and Bob (Melvin- A’s manager) from the trainers, we realized this was a lot more of a serious situation. Everyone saw him walk off the field so the assumption is he’s going to be OK. As the night went along, it became very concerning. I called Bob and he said he was on his way to the hospital and I told him, "Stay right there I’ll come pick you up." He was at the Claremont. I live in Danville and I told my wife, "Listen I have to go to San Francisco, Amanda is by herself." I told her Bob and I are going to go. It wasn’t even a question in my mind. Particularly not just Brandon as a baseball player but we’re talking about a member of our family. Also the concern was that Amanda was there by herself. Her husband was getting ready to go in for surgery and she’s there by herself. We’re not going to let her sit there by herself. No other thought ran through my head.
Bleszinski: Simply the right thing to do.
It took us an hour and a half to get home because we couldn’t get on the freeways to get back over the bridge. I’m looking at Bob and we’re supposedly two high-ranking executives and we can’t figure out how to get home.
Beane: Yeah, we HAVE to be there. I’m glad we were there. There was never any internal debate. To bring a little levity to the situation, we saw Brandon when he came out of surgery and considering what he’d been through he looked surprisingly good. He was a little bit incoherent but looked surprisingly good relative to what he’d been through. Amanda seemed to be doing better. I can’t remember what time we left, it was probably about 1:30 in the morning. The real comedy of the situation started then when Bob and I tried to drive home. All the entrances to the freeway were blocked off for construction because it was the middle of the night. No one was on the streets. It took us an hour and a half to get home because we couldn’t get on the freeways to get back over the bridge. I’m looking at Bob and we’re supposedly two high-ranking executives and we can’t figure out how to get home. We finally get on the freeway and drive across the bridge. I get off the freeway finally and Ashby is blocked off. We can’t get into Claremont which is right across the street. We go back over 24 and that’s when I said, "We need David." This is when David is at his best and the devil is in the details with him. We meandered around Berkeley and Oakland in the middle of the night. It literally took an hour and a half to get Bob from the hospital back to his hotel. It was a little bit embarrassing. But having talked to the doctor we felt good about the prognosis, it’s a funny story now. At that point though, I wasn’t a general manager, this was a member of my family.
Bleszinski: Speaking of someone being a member of the family, over the years some of the hardcore fans have given you the reputation of being heartless in terms of letting go of favorite players and making those hard business decisions. Yet in a situation like Brandon’s and the fact that he’s a free agent, is there room for sentiment in a situation like Brandon’s in terms of not wanting it to be his last appearance in green and gold? Like wanting to bring him back to be a part of that family again and not wanting it to end that way?
Beane: That’s what the winter is for. Independent of the A’s and the fact that Brandon is doing better, especially because he’s entering a very important part of his career, but as it relates to the A’s those are all issues we have to talk about. It’s something we can’t answer yet. As a baseball player, when he’s been on the field, he’s been very good.
Bleszinski: Conversely, did it make you angry when the news of the Bartolo Colon suspension came down? Or what was the feeling there, just going into business mode to deal with the reality?
Beane: Business mode. There is no going back. It was simply more shocking than anything. Like what are we going to do and how are we going to deal with it? I didn’t have time to pass judgment. We’re here in the middle of August and we’re in a pennant race, we had to put on our thinking caps on and figure out what we’re going to do.
Bleszinski: Just deal with it.
Beane: Yeah I simply didn’t have the time or energy to pass judgment on the whole thing. It was a bump in the road we had to deal with.
Bleszinski: I don’t think anyone would argue with Bob Melvin either winning manager of the year. What, in your opinion, made him so good this year?
Beane: If you look at the facts, a manager who is manager of the year, should be who did the most with the least. Nobody did more with less than Bob did. He had a team where some people thought it was going to lose 110 games. He had a team that had almost half the team was rookies. He won the toughest division in baseball. To me, that’s all you have to say.
Bleszinski: When you say he did the most with the least, doesn’t that kind of minimize what the front office did to provide him with the parts to win?
Beane: We certainly are very involved with player personnel but there’s a synergy between the two that helped it work. It was just seamless. What’s been gained over the year and a half with Bob is the mutual trust we have now. Privately we thought we were better than everyone seemed to think we were but there’s certainly no upside in running around…
Bleszinski: Saying how great you are?
Beane: Exactly. There’s no upside in doing that. At the end of the day, what Bob does beautifully, he’s the spokesman and the face of the franchise. Nobody has ever done it as well. He’s brilliant at it. He manages and maintains an incredibly positive relationship with players even when he has to make tough decisions. Nobody, in my opinion, does that better since I’ve been around. Everything he did this year epitomizes what the award should be about. There’s other guys who did a great job, like Buck Showalter in Baltimore, but from the outside looking in, nobody was dealt a more challenging hand than Bob.
Bleszinski: Especially when you consider all the injuries, the suspension, and the other things.
Beane: What people forget is that we did have injuries this year. We were able to backfill better this year.
Bleszinski: The team had much more depth this year than in recent seasons, based on a lot of the deals you guys pulled off last winter.
Beane: Yeah agree. That was the idea. We simply didn’t have enough depth with the previous group of players.
Bleszinski: The pitching depth seemed like it was the key to me.
Beane: The pitching depth and if you recall, at the end of last year, we basically had no outfield. Ryan Sweeney was our only outfielder last year at the end of the year. We had to not only build our outfield from scratch but it became a very good and very productive outfield.
Bleszinski: The team has seemingly had good pitching for a few seasons. The missing element was the offense.
Beane: And in particular, the home run. Funny how that works.
Bleszinski: I’m getting there but the offense came to life after the All Star break to finally support the pitching. What do you think…you already said home run, but what do you think was the difference?
Beane: We hit a bunch of home runs. You’re simply not going to win in this league unless you hit a bunch of home runs no matter what anyone tells you. I’ve been saying that for 10 years.
Bleszinski: Ultimately, the key is pitching and power.
Beane: Yes, it’s pitching and power in this league. Nobody has done it better the last 15 years than the Yankees. Listen, you go into Texas and you’re playing that lineup? You’re not going to bunt and steal your way to winning games. Not eight, nine, 10 games a year in that ballpark. Then they come here. You can call that my opinion but you can certainly prove it mathematically. It’s simply not going to happen without the home run. We haven’t had power and this year we did. That was a huge difference.
Bleszinski: Do you think Chili Davis had a lot to do with it or was it mostly the personnel?
Beane: It’s always a combination of both. I think Chili was the perfect guy because as a player he was very similar to a lot of the guys we had here. He was better than some in terms of being a high on-base guy and a high power guy, but he was very intelligent hitter who knew his strength and weaknesses. He was a guy who was perfect to re-implement a philosophy we’ve always had around here.
Bleszinski: At the end of the year you essentially had an entirely rookie rotation. You’ve gone with young pitchers in the past but they haven’t necessarily immediately pitched like a Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin. What do you think was different about their mental makeup that made them so effective immediately?
Beane: Very quickly they didn’t seem like rookies. Jarrod is very self confident, with a quiet aura around him. It’s their talent first but you get to it a lot faster when you have the type of mental makeup and self confidence that a guy like A.J. Griffin or Jarrod Parker has. Tommy Milone has pitched great everywhere he’s been. He was kind of the crusty, old veteran of the group. Yet he’s a rookie. He needed someone to give him the ball and trust him. Going back to what I said about the position players, one guy does well and it gives the next guy the confidence that he can do it. It does have a chain effect. You said these guys were rookies but by the end of the year, Parker and Milone did not seem like rookies. Jarrod started Game 1 and Game 5 against the best pitcher in baseball and I felt great going into those games because I didn’t feel like a rookie was pitching. Some of the games that Tommy was thrown into, he responded great. The game in Detroit he threw really well. That isn’t a great matchup with some of those right-handed hitters they have. He pitched phenomenal. A lot of it is his makeup as they’re very even-keeled guys. They’re not excitable guys. That’s an important thing.
Bleszinski: Do you follow the playoffs once you guys have been eliminated?
Beane: Yeah that’s the one time I travel. I enjoy the playoffs. There are a lot of small, random events that determines what goes on.
Bleszinski: Do you maybe root for the team that ousts you guys?
Beane: I’m past that. I just want the best team to win. Unless you have friends and relationships that you might root for.
Bleszinski: Who do you think is the best team left?
Beane: I don’t want to say that right now. I have my opinion who that is but I don’t think there’s any value in saying it. It also doesn’t matter because the best team doesn’t always win in this tournament.
Bleszinski: Was it important to have Curt Young back to help some of the younger guys mature quickly?
Beane: Definitely. It was important for everyone. When Curt became available, it became seamless. I’ve known Curt since we were players. It just fit right in and there was no adjustment period. He knew most of the guys here. Although that isn’t fair since we traded most of them. He knew the organization and knew how we did things so it was like he never left. Continuity is always nice to have.
Bleszinski: This was basically an entire team of unsung heroes. But if there is one superstar on the team, it would be Yoenis Cespedes. Talk about his rookie year and how you think he progressed and where you think he can go from here?
Beane: He’s a remarkable talent although there are a lot of guys who are great physical talents who don’t put it all together like he did. You can see guys getting better on a weekly or monthly basis. This guy seemed to get better on an hourly basis. You could see him changing from at bat to at bat. He’d get the same pitch in the second at bat and he’d hit it a mile. You combine that with the fact that he spoke no English at all when he first got here. And his family was also still back there in Cuba. That’s a lot to deal with. Then you jump into the major leagues which is the toughest league in the world, it’s simply amazing. You think about the guy we saw in the playoffs then going back to his first day in spring training. That kind of progress is absolutely amazing. And having that type of talent in order to get to the playoffs every year is important. You look at the teams left in the playoffs and they have that go-to kind of talent with (Miguel) Cabrera and (Prince) Fielder in Detroit. (Matt) Holliday in St. Louis and Buster Posey with San Francisco. Yoenis was that guy for us. That being said, having Reddick and Yoenis back-to-back with Josh hitting 32 home runs this year was huge. Josh was also a gold-glove caliber right fielder who was in there every day. It’s nice when Bob knows that he can just put a guy’s name there and he’s going to be there every day. As someone once said, the most valuable players on any team are the ones who are the most available. When you’re dealing with a baseball season, that’s really critical. But it’s scary, in a good way, to think about how good Yoenis can be now that he has a year under his belt.
Bleszinski: I have to imagine that his performance this year was best case scenario when you signed him. It had to be.
Beane: Yes. Was it a risky signing? No question. But we also weren’t flying completely without a net. We had information going back to his amateur years. We also had other players who came over from Cuba that we could use as a barometer to try and measure what we’d think he’d do. It was a little bit of scouting, a little bit of science and a little bit of luck.
Bleszinski: Does it make you more likely to jump into the international pool again this winter?
Beane: It depends. It’s dependent on the player. We were runner up on (Aroldis) Chapman and we were runner up on Ramirez. The three players who have come over from Cuba, we were the runner up in two of the three and we ended up getting Cespedes. It is a market that we’ve been involved in, we just haven’t always successfully gotten the player.
Bleszinski: You mentioned Josh Reddick and he had a fantastic first half but he seemed to really struggle in the second half, posting an .880 OPS pre-All Star and a .647 OPS post All Star. Are you concerned about that going into 2013? What do you think contributed to that?
Beane: It’s a long season and this is the first time that Josh has played every day in the major leagues. Being a major league player is about making adjustments. At some point there’s going to be fatigue that comes in for a young player going through a full season for the first time. Instead of taking out parts and dwelling on them, you have to look at the entire body of work which was fantastic. I think it’s a learning process for him as well.
Bleszinski: The season just ended so you probably haven’t had a chance to really formally go through the process of evaluating what you have. But I imagine you have a feeling for a part of the team that you know you want to improve.
Beane: You have to look at the outstanding spots that will be available. Stephen Drew has an option and depending on where that goes, that might be a spot we have to fill. Jonny (Gomes) is a free agent. Those are the two potential free agents and depending on what happens with Stephen’s option, that may be an area we have to look at. We’ll have some idea in the next month or so. Beyond that if you look around at our roster, Josh is our third baseman going into next year. Our outfield, beyond Jonny, are all back in the same role. Brandon and Chris, we feel good about them manning first base. Pennington moved over to second and platooned with (Adam) Rosales and they were an effective situation for us. Catching we have Derek (Norris) and George (Kottaras) returning.
Bleszinski: You also have (Jemile) Weeks waiting in the wings.
Beane: Exactly, Jemile and (Scott) Sizemore will be back too. It’s very likely that Sizemore will move back to second base given Josh’s performance at the end of the year. That’s Scott’s natural position. There’s not a lot of holes beyond the potential free agents.
Bleszinski: 162 games is a lot of games but at this point it seems like you have more than adequate depth.
Beane: That’s an area you’re always continuing to address. You can never have enough depth. We really want to always be preparing for rainy days. It’s not always easy in terms of a pitching staff and bullpen. You can’t go into a season thinking here’s our 12-man pitching staff and we’re going to go all the way through with this. You almost have to an 18 to 19-man pitching staff.
Bleszinski: Especially starting pitching. You can’t have enough.
Beane: It’s challenging for sure.
Bleszinski: You seem to have that right now though. You’ve got (Dan) Straily, (Brad) Peacock, A.J. Cole and others.
Beane: We have some but we’re going to need more. I’m simply never comfortable with that. Blackley is also a potential solution. Travis did a great job for us this year. We will be looking at the depth and attempting to do what we did this year and that’s have a lot of it.
Bleszinski: You mentioned Chris Carter. He had a few limited shots and looked overmatched nearly every time. Yet he came up midseason and suddenly looked like the guy that everyone expected. What was the difference with him?
Beane: A little more confidence and more time at Triple A. Bob Melvin also put him in situations where he could succeed. He worked hard to help get him on a little bit of a role. He even worked against the right handers too at times. It was sort of a flip flop between him and Brandon as to who was swinging the bat the best. He was eased in. Other times we’ve thrown him in there and just kind of expected him to carry the club. That’s simply unrealistic for a young player. I just think a lot of it came down to confidence. He still had ups and downs but everyone saw the potential. He felt good about himself.
Bleszinski: Bob seemed to manage platoons really well. It must be a challenge keeping two parts of a platoon happy. Whether that’s Carter and Moss or Norris and Kottaras or Rosales and Pennington, it just seemed like it was one of Bob’s big successes in 2012. He seemingly avoided the public complaining of, "I’m not getting enough playing time."
Managing a platoon is a challenge too because they start a lefty and you have your right-handed lineup then they go to the bullpen and you have to pick the right time to use the bats off the bench. It’s not black and white.
Beane: The good thing is everyone got to play. The other thing is the personalities. In many cases these guys were getting chances they’ve never had before. These guys were happy for that opportunity but Bob did do a great job of keeping everyone fresh. Managing a platoon is a challenge too because they start a lefty and you have your right-handed lineup then they go to the bullpen and you have to pick the right time to use the bats off the bench. It’s not black and white. It’s easy before the game because a lefty is starting but as the game goes along you have to pick and choose when to make that switch. It’s when you bring a Seth Smith or Jonny Gomes off the bench and that’s the thing that Bob has to deal with. It’s not always easy. The fact is though that all these guys got lots of playing time and in many cases they were happy to get it and the personalities fit the situation.
Bleszinski: Because the team was so unexpectedly good this year, is there a chance that you move some of that young talent to get a player that might take the team over the top?
Beane: When you are in a position when you feel like you have a chance to win, you have to remain open-minded. It’s a case-by-case basis depending on who that player is. But we’ve always been aggressive when we have good teams. I have not been afraid to move guys in order to acquire the talent we need. The short answer is that’s certainly a possibility.
Bleszinski: You did basically completely re-load the minor league system this year.
Beane: They’re now major leaguers, so now we have to do it again (laughs).
Bleszinski: Do you really feel that way?
Beane: A lot of those guys in the trades were a part of this team a lot earlier than many people thought.
Bleszinski: You still have Miles Head…
Beane: And A.J.Cole and Peacock like you mentioned. Milone, Parker and Norris and Cook, they’re all here already. In this market you have to constantly need to make sure your minor league system is in good shape which is easier said than done sometimes.
Bleszinski: Talk about the Coliseum crowd. From all the reports, it was the best crowd possibly ever for some of the games down the stretch. What do you have to do to make sure that the team sees that kind of energy in the ballpark on a nightly basis in 2013?
Beane: First thing is a competitive team. At least going into the year, that should be the case. The Angels and Rangers are there. And the Mariners are an improving team. We can’t just throw our gloves on the field.
Bleszinski: Astros too.
Beane: I forget that they’re in our division now. We need to make sure that the optimism remains if we’re going to expect people to come out and see us again. The best thing we can do is to try and improve and give people hope that last year wasn’t a fluke.
Bleszinski: Had you seen a crowd like that?
This one was different because the enthusiasm built up throughout the summer as the team was building. It did create a very unique situation.
Beane: When we had good teams, it’s always been a special crowd. That’s never been the debate. I’ve seen them going back to the 80s. This one was different because the enthusiasm built up throughout the summer as the team was building. It did create a very unique situation. The potential is here but when you have 81 home games, the onus is on us to make sure that people have something here that people want to come out and see.
Bleszinski: There was this feeling, at least from what I could see, that when people seemed to doubt the team the most, that’s when it seemed to defy the odds. It went through the entire second half up until that last game when I think they were down 5-1 and then ended up winning that game 12-5 to take the division. Then you have the five-game series, down 2-0, win game three and then win game four in the most unbelievable fashion. Two questions: In Game 5, were you thinking, they’re going to do it again? And then the other question is, what was it about this team that contributed to this mentality of always seeming to be at their best when the odds were at their worst?
Simply put, I did think we were going to win Game 5 despite the fact that Verlander was on the mound who is a generational pitcher. He is amazing. What this team did better than any team I’ve ever been around is that they really took the game in front of them and they worried about that game.
Beane: Simply put, I did think we were going to win Game 5 despite the fact that Verlander was on the mound who is a generational pitcher. He is amazing. What this team did better than any team I’ve ever been around is that they really took the game in front of them and they worried about that game. It’s a cliché but they didn’t worry about what was ahead of them or what happened the day before. A lot of credit has to go to the players but a lot of credit has to also go to Bob. His ability to create that mentality was amazing. They did that better than anyone I’ve ever seen. They took it one game at a time. They never thought, "woe is us." I think of a tough Yankee loss we had on a Saturday when we were up 9-5 in extra innings and we got beat. It was a crushing game at a critical point in the season and our bullpen was depleted. Yankees needed the game as bad as we did. We then went out and won that game on Sunday. That epitomized how these guys responded every day all year. It really just goes back to the old cliché of you can only win today’s game. We’ll worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow. That was what set them apart.
Bleszinski: As a fan, I think that’s what captured our imaginations the most this year. Because whenever I doubted them the most, that’s when they did something incredible.
Beane: Me too. We all felt that way. They really never looked too far ahead. It was a very resilient group. They were also a fun bunch of guys who enjoyed themselves. They also knew…
Bleszinski: When to turn professional.
Beane: Exactly. They knew how to keep it compartmentalized. Even when I think about the Monday when we clinched the playoff, they weren’t here all night. They knew they had a game to win and boom, they went back to business that Tuesday. For a young team, that’s pretty unique. It’s easy to enjoy when you’re young to enjoy all the spoils of victory but these guys knew when to say, "that’s enough guys, let’s get ready." It was a great balance.
Bleszinski: Is it going to be a big challenge to carry over that same mentality into 2013 or because it’s the same group, maybe not?
Beane: I can’t answer that as it all comes down to winning. I’m convinced that chemistry and all that are byproducts of winning. These guys feel good about themselves and the beauty is that they’re now a battle-tough group. I was thinking about it against Detroit. Jarrod Parker is pitching Game 1 and Game 5 of this series, that’s really going to help him going forward. There’s going to be a sense of calm when low points come.
Bleszinski: The sense of familiarity, like I’ve been here before.
Beane: Yeah, yeah exactly. And going into Yankee Stadium for Jarrod Parker or Tommy Milone is not intimidating. They’ve pitched in front of sold out crowds in a playoff situation. But in terms of recapturing it, when you win games, you’re going to continue to have that feeling if you keep winning.
Bleszinski: It just sort of felt like a special and unique year, almost a team of destiny.
Beane: Yeah it was my most enjoyable year because we were able to fly under the radar. We could go about our business without a lot of distractions. The hardest part was the last couple of weeks everyone started focusing on us. There were too many media people hanging around (laughs).
Bleszinski: Hindsight is always 20/20 but if you think the team was somehow able to pull out Game 2 in Detroit that you don’t have to face Verlander again and you’re in a much better position.
Beane: Thanks for reminding me of that (laughs). It is what it is. You can’t make any predictions about what would’ve or should’ve happened from that point on. People forget that even though Verlander was dominant, Scherzer was also dominant. In some respect, he was throwing every bit as well as Verlander was. But the reason we were able to win that game was because he’d had a little bit of a layoff he didn’t have the pitch count buildup. I don’t buy into the whole "built for the playoffs" thing but if you look at it, facing Verlander, facing Scherzer and a guy like Fister and their fourth starter is Anibel Sanchez. They’re a very tough team to face. I feel like I just talked myself into a team that’s built for the postseason but you look at the series now.
Bleszinski: You did say right at the beginning of this interview that winning in this league is all about starting pitching.
Beane: Right and it is. They’ve got some dominant guys there and they have some guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. There was a lot of focus on Cabrera as there should be. But a lot of the peripheral players had an impact on us in that series. (Andy) Dirks and (Omar) Infante had some big hits. (Alex) Avila is one of the better catchers in the league so he isn’t a surprise. But the focus is on Cabrera and Fiedler but a lot of those guys can hurt you, like Austin Jackson. They’ve got a good team. I don’t think there’s any shame in getting beat by them.
Bleszinski: I know you don’t care much about what critics think about you. Haters gonna hate. But you have to derive some satisfaction from the folks who’ve said for years that you inherited that team that was successful in the early 2000s. There is no doubt whose team this was this year. How much satisfaction did you get from this team that was, without question, all Billy Beane?
Beane: I’ve never thought I inherited the team in the 2000s since I was an assistant GM in 93. At this point in my life and career, I could really care less either way what they say. Seriously.
Bleszinski: I had to ask that since it’s a narrative I’ve seen.
Beane: Hey I don’t really care there’s too many other interesting things that I can be reading. Other than SB Nation, of course (laughs). I’ve always ignored that.
Bleszinski: We have the intelligent fans on our sites so no haters there.
Beane: I rarely read the local papers to be honest. I have to ask if De La Salle is undefeated every year (laughs).
Bleszinski: Did you watch the playoff games in person?
Beane: Yeah I enjoy the playoffs as I can just relax and enjoy them. I’m not very uptight during the playoffs. It’s a reward for the season. There are events that are going to happen that are out of your control. You can’t change your roster. You can’t bring guys up, it is what it is. As a GM this is the sixth playoffs I’ve been to and I try to enjoy them more and more each time because who knows. You aren’t guaranteed to get back. We’ve had a gap since 2006. I told my staff, just enjoy this and have fun.
Bleszinski: You famously said, "My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs." Do you think that’s still an accurate statement?
By and large, out of 162 games, the best eight teams will get to the playoffs. Cinderellas in May aren’t there at the end of the year.
Beane: By and large, out of 162 games, the best eight teams will get to the playoffs. Cinderellas in May aren’t there at the end of the year. I said eight but it’s 10 now. You have the 10 best teams because you’ve gone through the season. You get into a short series, anything can happen. There’s no accounting for random events that happen. There’s nothing that you can plan for in order to prepare for those random events. Over a season they get washed out but in a short series they don’t. The last two World Series Champions, one made it the last day of the season, one made it the second to last day of the season. They were very good teams but I don’t think their business plan was to barely make it to the playoffs and then win the World Series. When was the last time we had a repeat World Series winner?
Bleszinski: I would guess the Yankees of the late 90s.
Beane: We haven’t had one in the 2000s.
Bleszinski: Cardinals could get there this year.
Beane: Yeah and they were a Wild Card team that had to go to a one-game playoff. I talked about Texas earlier. I can guarantee you that every team was thankful that Texas got knocked out in that one-game playoff. All credit goes to Baltimore for doing it. They proved themselves to be a very good team. But from start to finish, Texas was one of the best teams in baseball. They just had a brief little bump there. They had some injuries too but I don’t think that comes from flaws in putting their team together. In fact they put a great team together.
Bleszinski: I’ve read theories where people seem to think that a team based on power in the playoffs won’t succeed because you have to rely on pitchers to make mistakes in order to take full advantage of that power and the pitchers left in the playoffs are typically some of the best in the AL. Do you buy that theory?
Beane: No. If you go back and look at each playoff team over the last 10 years, more often than not the team that won each playoff series, they out-homered their opponent. Whether or not they were a team that hit a lot of homers during the regular season, if they out-homered the other team in the playoffs, they were more likely to go forward.
Bleszinski: It all comes back to pitching and power.
Beane: Any team can win this tournament. The template doesn’t change based on who wins that tournament. The Yankees have won more games than any team in baseball the last decade. They’ve consistently been the best team in baseball. Whether they won the tournament or not is irrelevant when you’re talking about the best team in baseball. A different team has won it every single year and they’ve won it in different ways with different personnel. If you’re talking about home runs, my guess is, without looking, that whatever team out-homers the other in a playoff series, that that’s the team that advances.
Bleszinski: Is the team going to have to get over that hump and win the World Series in order to fully validate the A’s process or is getting in the playoffs with that budget enough of a success?
Beane: I don’t think about validation. You always want to win the championship.
Bleszinski: All you can control is being that team that succeeds over 162 games.
Beane: Yeah exactly. You just put yourself into that tournament enough times and…
Bleszinski: Eventually you’ll win it.
For me there are two greatest team sports achievements ever. Number one was John Wooden’s NCAA titles in a single-elimination tournament. Number two, and the one no one ever talks about, was the Atlanta Braves 14 out of 15 division titles.
Beane: For me there are two greatest team sports achievements ever. Number one was John Wooden’s NCAA titles in a single-elimination tournament. Number two, and the one no one ever talks about, was the Atlanta Braves 14 out of 15 division titles. They won one World Series so people don’t talk about them. To put that team together and win that division 14 out of 15 years in this economic environment? Were they a small market team? No. Were they a big market team? No. But they did have enough to make smart moves. They don’t get enough credit. That was one of the single greatest achievements in team sports. What John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox did during that time period was incredible and they don’t get enough credit in my opinion. That was an amazing achievement.
Bleszinski: It’s an even bigger challenge for baseball given that so few teams get in the playoffs and the length of the season.
Beane: Your goal is to win the championship. You can’t win the championship unless you get in the playoffs. I’ll say it for the fifth time in this interview. From start to finish, Texas was probably the best team in baseball. I don’t think because they lost that last game that I think any differently. In other words, was our business plan better than Texas? For 161 games they did everything right. And the one game playoff knocked them out.
Bleszinski: You’ve talked about power a lot and how important power is to being successful. One of the themes of Moneyball was how on base percentage had become an undervalued commodity. Someone listening to this interview might think that you value power more than anything these days.
Beane: It’s 10 years later and people still don’t understand what the book was about. It’s a fruitless exercise.
Bleszinski: I think in many ways, this year’s story was even more remarkable than those "Moneyball" teams.
Beane: Michael was never writing about an individual team.
Bleszinski: Yes, I know.
Beane: You say yes, but people misunderstand the book all the time.
Bleszinski: He was writing about the process and how teams at a disadvantage had to try and find things that could possibly give them an advantage. It was never about on base percentage. It was how a team with a $55 million budget could possibly figure out how to compete with a $200 million team. When you’re talking about a story, though, even human interest, the game has gotten more unfair based on budget differences, this team succeeded in an even more fascinating fashion than some of those teams that Michael wrote about.
Beane: Was this a good story? Yeah. But I don’t think Michael is running to his computer.
Bleszinski: Nobody expected it from this team. Especially when you consider the division this team was in. The Rangers. The Angels outspent everyone last winter and got the best free agent hitter AND the best free agent pitcher.
Beane: And the Angels were really good too. I was really happy they did not make the playoffs because I would not have wanted to play them.
Bleszinski: That makes the A’s and what you were able to accomplish, one of the best sports stories of the year if not the best story of the year.
Beane: We’re all a pretty fraternal bunch here and we’re all pretty proud of it. The thing that was really unique was that it was just so much fun to work with Bob on a daily basis. The communication lines were phenomenal. I’ve talked to him since he’s left. I talked to him every day. As a matter of fact, I should probably just leave him alone. In fact, I called him last night and it was 6:45 my time. I wasn’t used to him being on the East Coast.
Bleszinski: Were you and Bob already talking about 2013?
Beane: Yeah that and we’re friends. We have interests that we share beyond baseball. I’m going to New York next week to hang out with him. Bob is always really good at selecting restaurants in the village. He picked out a great one last time and I’m sure he’ll pick out a great one this time too. We’ll do that next Tuesday night. We were basically operating on what we thought was right. We weren’t the ones making predictions beforehand. We weren’t making predictions during the season. The preseason narrative did make a good story ultimately but we weren’t operating under that narrative. We were just trying to do what we thought was best. I do think it was a great story but my hope is that it isn’t a story that ended with last Thursday’s loss. One of the things we were most proud of this last decade was going to the playoffs four times in a row. And we had turnover. We lost a lot of guys. The ability to sustain, in this market, four consecutive years of playoffs and that consistency is something that we’re the most proud of. It would be nice to repeat multiple playoff appearances and create some momentum going forward to next year. Listen I’ve been here a long time and that was pretty special. It was neat to see the area really embrace this team. Even in my neighborhood to walk around as I’m usually pretty anonymous there. Then we start winning and then you’re not as anonymous as you’d think.
Bleszinski: Did you have people yelling, "go Billy" and "Go A’s"?
Beane: It was a little more subtle. They were just really into what was going on. It was nice to see. It’s nice to have both Bay Area teams be successful and half the people are A’s fans and half are Giants fans. That seems a lot healthier. Giants have had some great years and they’ve been the dominant baseball team in the market. So when both baseball teams are doing well, it’s nice to see that friendly rivalry. We share a market with them, but it’s great to see Oakland at 94 wins and San Francisco at 94 wins and they’re talking about us nationally as Bay Area baseball.
Bleszinski: Would’ve been fun to have had a Bay Bridge series.
Beane: Yeah it would’ve been. It would’ve been fun because people forget how hard the travel is. Especially on the West Coast. I’m not even playing and it just beats you up. If you go all the way through, you’re going coast to coast. You’re just going to be exhausted all the time.
Bleszinski: Were you upset at all about the playoff format? You win 94 games and then your reward for that was starting the series in their ballpark for two games in a five-game series.
Beane: Upset is the wrong word. There hasn’t been a significant home field advantage in a five-game series if you go back and look. It was a one-year thing. That’s the deal. I don’t think that’s the reason we lost. Crowing about it now would just be making an excuse.
Bleszinski: It turned out to be a moot point eventually because you pushed it to a Game 5 any way and had it at home.
Beane: Yeah exactly. Once something has happened, I’m never one to gripe about it, especially in the postseason like with umpire’s calls. There’s nothing you can do about it and griping about it isn’t going to help. These guys are trying. You just have to let it go. If you start focusing on it then it just becomes more distracting.
Bleszinski: Do you like the current set up for the strike zone or would you favor an automated or computerized strike zone?
Beane: The umpires are an incredibly important part of this game and its legacy. My response to that or any kind of instant replay, it would be to ask them first. They’re really, really good at what they do. People don’t appreciate umpires and referees until they’re gone as we saw in the NFL’s labor situation. They don’t realize how good these guys are. When you notice an umpire, it’s because something went against your club. Think about the number of actions and calls they do every single play, every single game. These guys are really good, they care and they try. My response when it comes to instant replay, I would simply ask them what they want. Everyone else has the benefit of multiple camera angles and slow motion instant replay. And the more you look at it, the more the anger builds which is totally unfair.
These guys bust their rear ends to do the best they can. Any expansion of instant replay or any other changes, they absolutely need to be incorporated into that decision. I have a lot of respect for them.
Bleszinski: Thank you so much Billy.
Beane: As always Tyler, my pleasure.