Oakland A's Post-Season Q&A: Farhan Zaidi, P1

The 2007 season was a tough campaign for the Oakland A's, who suffered from a losing season for the first time since 1998. With the season ending, we spoke with Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi on a range of topics. In Part 1 of our in-depth interview, we spoke to Zaidi about the season, injuries, upcoming 40-man roster moves, and the progress of two promising lefty relievers.

OaklandClubhouse: I know the win total wasn't what you hoped for at the beginning of the season, but what were some of the positives and negatives for this season, in your opinion?

Farhan Zaidi: There were some positives and some negatives you could see coming out of the season, even down the stretch when it became obvious that the post-season wasn't going to be a reality and you were going to be wrapping up earlier than you'd like. The development of a lot of the players, including the young players who we project to be a big part of this ballclub moving forward, as well as the players that we went out and acquired out of necessity who have proven themselves to be capable of being very productive players, I think that has definitely been the positive.

On the negative-side, it's probably obvious, but it is just the health of the team, which I think was a really big drawback. It is really the main issue that we struggled with all year. Our inability to have the line-up out on the field on a regular basis that we had envisioned at the start of the season, that was really the biggest disappointment for the organization. We weren't able to put our best team out there on a day-in, day-out basis and really see what they could do.

OC: Does it make it difficult to project what next season's team will look like with some of those injuries lingering into the off-season, or do you have a sense that guys like Eric Chavez are going to be okay to start the season?

FZ: Yeah, there is definitely some uncertainty there. With back injuries and, in the case of Eric, he's dealing with a back and a shoulder injury, it is impossible to say right now what some of those players' readiness levels are going to be at the start of next season. Justin Duchscherer is an example of another guy [whose status could be somewhat uncertain]. With all of these guys, the target is definitely for them to be ready for the start of next season, but you can't say that with 100 percent certainty with some of the seriousness of the injuries that some of these guys have. I think the best way to say it is to go to the old saying, ‘you hope for the best and plan for the worst.' I think we realize that, as this year showed, a big part of our success and our ability to stay above water when some of these guys aren't able to get out there is to have organizational depth, whether it is in Triple-A or with the bench players we have with the major league team.

When you go into the off-season, it isn't just about ‘who are our nine starting position players, who are our five starting pitchers, who is our closer and our three most important relief pitchers'. It's about the entire 25-man roster, the 40-man roster and even the guys that you go out and sign in theory as Triple-A depth who wind-up being a pretty important part of the major league equation. I think, realistically, we have an idea of what our line-up would look like in an ideal world, and who would be making the roster, but there is obviously going to be some wiggle-room there. Health issues might dictate that playing time or roster opportunities present themselves to other players.

OC: It seems like the team is in a unique position right now in that you are currently carrying 48 men on the 40-man roster, thanks to having eight players on the 60-day DL. Obviously, you'll have to make a number of moves to get that number down to 40 over the next several weeks and possibly cut down even more than eight to leave room to protect players from the Rule 5 draft and that sort of thing. Did you have a plan when you were adding players during the season for how you were going to get that number back down to 40 or is that something that you are going to be addressing over the next several weeks?

FZ: I think in some cases we added some players to the roster that under normal operating conditions, and with the full health of our players, we probably wouldn't have added – whether we went out and got those players or whether they were players that we acquired who were playing in the minor leagues for us that we added to the roster. I guess the easiest thing to say is that we have some room to work with. We also have a couple of players who are going to be free agents – like Shannon Stewart and Mike Piazza, Adam Melhuse is another example, Jeff Davanon is going to be a free agent – and they'll come off of the roster [when they file].

So we have a few guys who are going to be free agents and a few guys who are going to be free agents who we may want to try to re-sign to minor league contracts [rather than roster deals]. Those are sort of on-going discussions and no definite decisions have been made. I think we are in a situation where we added players out of necessity because of the health issues and because of the guys who are on the [60-day] DL. In some instances, we are just going to have to work our way backwards.

It's going to be a challenge, in some cases. Some of the guys who we added to the 40-man roster out of necessity proved themselves to be pretty valuable players and ones who you would like to keep on the roster and protect for the off-season and that complicates things a little bit more. Another thing that happened in a couple of cases is that there were players who weren't necessarily Rule 5 eligible during the season that we added. Especially during the season when we had so many injuries, we added a few players who didn't necessarily need to be added. That presents a challenge all in itself. I guess what I am saying is that in some cases, we added players just for the sake of depth – and that is an easier situation to manage – but in other cases, when we added players under circumstances where it was earlier than we would have normally added them under normal operating conditions, that could present more difficult situations.

OC: I know that before the season there were a number of guys from that large 2004 draft class that the A's were going to have to protect from the Rule 5 draft at the end of the season – such as Kurt Suzuki or Danny Putnam – that the team ended up adding to the 40-man roster during the season. However, there are still some top prospects out there who will probably have to be protected. Is it difficult to know which players are going to be vulnerable if left unprotected? I know the team lost Jared Burton last season in the Rule 5 after he showed well at the Arizona Fall League, and he pitched very well for Cincinnati this season. Is it a guessing game in terms of what other teams are going to be looking for in that draft?

FZ: Jared was a little bit of an exception. If you go back and look what he had done in our organization, at least the couple of years leading up to when he was taken in the Rule 5, we have very detailed reports on how our players are performing throughout the year, and his velocity, for the most part, if you go back and look at our game-by-game report, was along the lines of 88-92. He was a consistent performer, but he wasn't a stand-out, I guess would be a fair way to say it. His results were good, but they weren't at a level where he would be an absolute obvious Rule 5 choice.

I guess what happened with him was – I don't know if he had lingering injury issues or what – but he went to the Fall League and showed very well there. His velocity spiked and he was now throwing more 90 to 94 and touched on 95, which is what he pitched at this year. So I think that was a case of timing for Jared because he peaked in the Fall League and that is where a lot of people saw him and it was good scouting by the Reds. They probably had reports on him during the regular season and the Fall League and probably figured that it was worth the roll of the dice that he was the guy that they saw in the Fall League and that was the guy that they would see going forward. And that was the guy that they got and he has done very well for them. He's the kind of guy that you can never have enough of as an organization.

There are times when you go with the information that you have and sometimes there is new information on player that comes available. Sometimes organizations have different information on a player than you do or concentrate on different information and, a lot of times, that is how the Rule 5 ends-up playing out. The organization that has the player has one set of information and other organizations have a different set of information. They are both subsets of the total information of the player, so neither is necessarily right or wrong. Occasionally, a team will use the information that they have and take a risk on a player and it will work out well, and other times it will turn out badly.

I would say, in general, you have to be very cognizant of players who are going to be Rule 5 eligible, not just those from the draft, but also international players that you have signed, and you have to evaluate not just how much the player is worth as an asset in general, but also how prepared [to play in the major leagues] that that player is. As an example, it is very difficult to carry an extra infielder or outfielder if he's not a player that you can rely on for certain things, such as being a defensive replacement or a pinch-runner. With a relief pitcher, there are always mop-up innings and that sort of thing at the back-end of your bullpen where you can afford to take guys. In truth, that is what we did with Jay Marshall [this season]. We knew that as a relief pitcher, he would be a guy that we could probably use very situationally, which is exactly how a player like him should be used. It's a little bit easier to manage a Rule 5 player's ups and downs as a relief pitcher than as one of the 13 or 14 position players on the roster.

You have to look at what the player's talent level is, what his standing is within the industry, and how prepared you think a player is [to play in the major leagues]. You might think a player is a very talented player, but you also might think to yourself that there is no way that a team is going to be able to carry this player for an entire season. The team might take a look at him in spring training and realize that he is too raw and that he would be a bit of a liability to carry that player for the entire season. That figures into it a little bit. The biggest issue is making sure that you protect your best talent. That's kind of where we are at right now, and we are still working on it. I don't believe that the roster freeze date is until mid- to late-November, so it isn't something that we have to decide on right now.

The other thing that is going to come into play for us a little bit this season is with injured players. We have a couple of injured players who are roster eligible – Landon Powell is an obvious example [torn ACL in early July] and Mike Mitchell, who had shoulder surgery in July. That will lend a completely different angle to the whole thing because in some sense those players are easier players to draft because a team can take a player like that, keep him on the DL for the year. What winds up happening is that if they take that player and he ends up spending the entire season on the disabled list, then they only have to carry him for the first 90 days after he is activated.

So what a team could do with a guy like, say, Landon Powell – who is obviously under strong consideration to be protected and probably will be, but no final decision has been made – but if you take a player who is in Landon's position and has been injured, a team could take that player and could activate him actually September 1st next year when rosters expand and at that point you are carrying 40 players so it isn't that big of a liability to carry a player that you might not be using that often. Then actually in 2009, you would only have to carry the player for the first two months of the season.

That is another dynamic that we are having to deal with, and it isn't always the case, but certainly this year it is an issue with at least a couple of our players. There are a lot of things that go into a) who you are going to protect on your Rule 5 list, and b) whether you are going to try to keep a roster spot or even two roster spots open and be willing to roll the dice on a Rule 5 pick of your own. That is stuff that will all play itself out, partly in conjunction with all of these other roster moves.

OC: Speaking of the Rule 5 and of the Arizona Fall League, Jay Marshall is going to head to the AFL in October. What are you hoping to see from him in the AFL? Is the team looking for him to get more experience against right-handers, or just more innings in general?

FZ: Actually, part of the thing with him is that we actually want to give him a chance to face some left-handers. [laughs] What wound-up happening with him is that he started the season off very well, and we were trying to use him situationally and get him in there against lefties. Part of his problem, I think, is that he was perhaps a little too successful early on and he earned the confidence of the coaching staff facing both lefties and righties. Then as the season went on, he started having trouble with righties.

OC: Which is what was expected based on his track record, right?

FZ: Right, exactly. I think when we got him, we really wanted to target his usage to be a situational left-hander, which we thought as a team would be a useful piece to have. We felt that he could get major league lefties out, even coming out of A-ball. I think if you look at his splits, I think he did pretty well against left-handed hitters. He got hit pretty hard, especially as the season went on, against righties. I think some of that was him not having confidence in his entire pitch mix.

During spring training, he actually showed a pretty decent change-up and the makings of a decent slider. Once the season started, he pretty much stuck with his fastball. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn't. I think just the ups-and-downs of a season affected him. Getting off to a good start and maybe getting over-exposed and being used in too many full-inning situations, and then struggling and maybe being in a position where the coaching staff perhaps lost a little bit of confidence in him, it was an up-and-down season.

I just think that getting a chance to compete [in the AFL] against players his own age in an environment where he feels like he can use some of his secondary pitches and not necessarily be overly concerned with the results, will be good for him. I think with all of that, it will just be good for him to go out and get some innings and work against both lefties and righties and work on his pitch mix. At the end of the year, he wound-up with 42 innings, which isn't terribly few for a relief pitcher, but his work load was a little bit inconsistent. I think it will be good for him to just go there and get steady work.

OC: Another lefty that you picked up this season is Jerry Blevins, who had a similar quick rise from A-ball to the major leagues as Jay Marshall. Blevins was sort of flying under the radar with the Cubs after struggling last season with some mechanical issues, but he appears to have the stuff and certainly had the numbers this season to look like a future major league lefty. How did the A's zero in on Blevins to target him for that trade?

FZ: That's a fair question. Obviously he did very well after coming over to our organization both in Midland and then going up to Sacramento and, I think, exceeding everybody's expectations there. He came up to the big leagues and he had a few bumps in the road, but he showed enough stuff that I think that people are excited about his future with the team. I guess with him, going back to when we started talking about that trade, obviously we are a performance-oriented organization and we are always going to be partial to guys who are healthy and performing at a high level. There is no doubt that he started the season very well in the Cubs' organization and he was striking out a lot of guys, which is something that we always look for. His walk totals were also really low, and, really, his numbers across the board were outstanding.

He did have a bit of an interesting history. If you look at his numbers, with last season being the year that the Cubs asked him to drop down and he struggled. Before that, he was still a strikeout pitcher with more strikeouts than innings pitched, but his other numbers – his ERA and his peripherals – weren't nearly as good as they were this year. We kind of looked at him as a player who might have taken a leap forward this year. We had to take a little bit of a leap of faith that the performance improvement that he showed this year was legitimate and not just the case of him being the hot hand or whatever.

In any case like this, we would take a look both at our own internal scouting reports – of which we had a number this year from people who had seen him with the improved velocity, which is why he drew our interest originally – and we used that in conjunction with the statistical analysis that we do. He is one of those guys who we really like to hone in on, which is a player who is putting up really good numbers who our scouts have gone out and who have sort of rubberstamped the player to say that he is a legitimate prospect and that he has the stuff to get major league hitters out and his numbers are legitimate. He was a guy who sort of passed both tests.

I don't know if that is that perceptive of an answer because every team will tell you that they like players with good numbers and good stuff, but it's kind of a balancing act with both of them. I will say that what makes us maybe a little different when analyzing a player like that is that we generally will first go to the numbers and then look for guys who are standouts. Then from there, we try to vet out which of those players are really good players by looking at our scouting reports and making sure that our scouts also believe that those players are guys who have major league futures.

Stay tuned for the rest of this interview this week, as we discuss the progress of players such as Jack Hannahan, Jack Cust, Travis Buck, Daric Barton, Kurt Suzuki, Dan Meyer, Dallas Braden and more...
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