A's Exec Farhan Zaidi On The A's/Cubs Swap

A day after the Oakland A's made a big swap with the Chicago Cubs, dealing away Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin for a package of four young players, we caught-up with Oakland A's Manager of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi to discuss the deal. He tells us how the deal came together, what the A's like about the four players they got and whether he thinks the team can still compete for the playoffs.

OaklandClubhouse: I wanted to get your thoughts on the entire trade. I had read that the Cubs had been talking to you guys about Rich Harden for some time. Was it a trade that was being worked on for awhile or did it come together all at once?

Farhan Zaidi: The key of the deal from our perspective was getting Sean Gallagher back. We had had discussions with them on and off about Rich for a while and they had had a real reluctance to include Gallagher in the deal for obvious reasons. He's a young starting pitcher and he has made a bunch of starts for them already in the heat of a pennant race and done pretty well. That is really the most valuable asset out there in baseball right now, the guys who are young starting pitchers who you can put right into the starting rotation and they can be at least competitive right away with room for growth. That is what [Dan] Haren was when we got him. That is what we thought [Greg] Smith and [Dana] Eveland were when we got them. This guy kind of fits that same model.

So there was some reluctance on their part to include him in the deal. From our perspective, that [reluctance] kind of made it a non-starter. Once they were willing to talk about him at least, then things came together a little bit quicker. Part of making them feel comfortable about giving up Gallagher from our perspective was giving up Chad Gaudin in the deal as insurance for Rich because they were fully aware of the health issue with Rich and the fact that it is going to be an ongoing thing for him. They just wanted to feel like – especially with the problems that Rich Hill is having this year – that they had at least somebody that they could plug in if Rich [Harden's] injury problems kept him out for any extended period of time. So that is how Chad became part of the deal as well.

OC: Are you concerned at all about the depth of the starting rotation without Chad in the bullpen ready to step in if any of the five guys currently in the rotation were to get hurt or if Greg Smith or Dana Eveland start to falter as they reach their high marks for innings pitched in a season?

FZ: That's a fair question. If you look at it statistically, there has been a little bit of a drop-off for both Eveland and Smith in terms of what they had done earlier in the season. We haven't really noticed it stuff-wise, but their ERAs have crept up a little bit, although overall both of their numbers are still very strong. So there is some concern about it, but they both physically feel good, so we are not too worried about it. We feel like, in an emergency, we have some veteran guys in Sacramento like [Lenny] DiNardo and [Kirk] Saarloos and some younger guys like [Dan] Meyer and Gio [Gonzalez] that if we needed a few starts here and there, we feel good about those guys. We felt that it was worth the risk to get someone like Gallagher that we really coveted who can help us for a few years going forward.

OC: In terms of the timing of the deal, I know that there had been ongoing discussions with the Cubs and Gallagher was a player that the A's were targeting, but was there any temptation to wait to see how this homestand played out with the Angels coming into town before making this move, or was that really a secondary consideration to getting a player that you guys really wanted?

FZ: I think that people really understand the Catch-22 that Rich really was. When he was hurt, we couldn't trade him for anything and when he was healthy, you never really felt like you could get enough even if you knew that healthy stretch was going to be for a finite period of time and then you were going to be back to square one. I think that in our feelings, we always felt like if there was a stretch where he was healthy – and, you know, it wasn't really just about health with him; it was also that we had him for this year and an option for next year and who knows if we were going to be able to keep him beyond that point. If you look at what the Indians got for [C.C.] Sabathia, when you have a player who is purely a rental instead of having him for another year, it is harder to get back a return of multiple guys that you like. The Indians did well with Sabathia, but [Matt] LaPorta was really the one really top-end guy that they got back in that deal. So it wasn't just the health thing, it was also looking at his contract status.

If we had decided to wait and Rich had gotten hurt – because we had had times in the past where we had gotten close to a deal or we were in discussions and then Rich would have to be shut-down with something and that would just kill all momentum – so here there was a situation where there was a team [the Cubs] that truly understood all of the medical risks and was willing to assume that risk and at least he was out there pitching every fifth day at the current time. We aren't trying to pull a fast one on everyone when he is out there pitching every fifth day. When the team [acquiring Harden] understands all of the medical risks and is willing to give up a few pieces that you really like, then when that came together, we knew it was time to make the deal. And that time just happened to be [Tuesday].

OC: What can you tell us about the other three guys in the deal and how do you feel that they will fit into the team right now and in the future?

FZ: Let me go in terms of big league experience. Matt Murton obviously has been on the radar for a while. He was a supplemental pick back in 2003 and he was a guy that we liked out of college also. He has always put up strong numbers and he is a corner outfielder who will give you an over 800 OPS. He is a right-handed bat which is something that we need given the fact that with Carlos [Gonzalez], Ryan Sweeney and Travis Buck, we are very left-handed in the outfield. So this is a guy who sort of fits in in that sort of outfield/DH mix very well. He is a contact guy. He has power and he is a very nice compliment to the group of players that we already have out there.

Eric Patterson is another guy that we've liked for a while. He is someone that we had talked to the Cubs about in the past because he brings that element of speed to our team that we haven't had for a long time. He actually has pretty good power, as well. He has had slugging percentages of .450s and up at every level in the minors in the last two or three years. He hit very well at Triple-A this year. It's interesting because I read a couple of things on Web sites talking about the deal and talking about both Murton and Patterson as 4A players, which is a pretty unfair label. The only time that Matt Murton played everyday in the big leagues was in 2006 when he hit .300 and had an 800 OPS. And Patterson is a guy who has moved up a level every year and was in Triple-A last year and was doing well there and there really wasn't a spot for him [with the Cubs]. It isn't like he has had an extended stint [in the big leagues] and not really produced with it. He is a guy that we still think is a legitimate prospect and a guy who has a chance to be an everyday player, whether that is at second base or in leftfield or center. He has the versatility to play a couple of different positions, which we like. I fully expect him to be up here [with the A's] at some point in some kind of capacity, whether it is as a utility guy or possibly playing every day.

Josh Donaldson being a supplemental pick in the draft just last year, he is a guy, interestingly enough, that we had rated very closely to Sean Doolittle [in last year's draft]. When we made the Doolittle pick, it was really between him and Donaldson. He was a guy that Eric Kubota and the rest of our scouts really liked in the draft. He had a good junior year [at Auburn] and a great Cape [Cod League season] in the summer of '06. He went out and did very well in the Northwest League last summer. I think people are kind of underrating him right now because he has gotten off to a tough start in the Midwest League this year. But if you look at what Doolittle did in the Midwest League last year, he didn't do that well. In fact, Donaldson's slugging percentage in the Midwest League – despite only hitting .215 or something like that – is higher than Doolittle's slugging percentage was last year, and we all know what Sean has gone on to do this year [18 homers in 85 games in the Cal League].

We are actually going to give Donaldson a chance to go straight to the Cal League and I think he is going to have a very good rest of the season there. He is a guy that we really liked as an amateur and we have seen him a few times as a pro and still really like him and think he is going to be an average or better big league player. That coupled with the fact that he plays a preeminent position – whether it be at catcher or a little bit at third base, where he played some in college. He is a guy that we still think is a very good prospect, so to get him also in the deal was great.

OC: I was actually going to ask you about that. Do you see Donaldson getting equal time at catcher and third base to see where he ends up best defensively?

FZ: Our reports on his catching from when our scouts have seen him this season have been very positive. Anytime a guy can actually hack it defensively as a catcher, we don't want to move him unless there is a health issue or some other issue that kind of necessitates that move, maybe being blocked by another catcher higher up in the organization. None of that, at least for where Donaldson is right now development-wise, really plays out in this scenario. We want him to catch four or five times a week and probably share time with Raul Padron in Stockton and kind of mix in third base and DH the rest of the time. But he is definitely a guy who is going to be in there in the line-up every day at one position or another.

OC: The reports I have read on Eric Patterson's defense at second base haven't been that strong. Does the team intend to give him a chance to improve defensively at second, or do you see him being more of a super utility player?

FZ: The immediate plan is for him to go to Sacramento and play second base every day. We feel that that is his primary position and it is the position that has the greatest value, obviously. If you are getting his offensive production and his speed from the second base spot, that is more valuable than getting it from a leftfielder. So that is the plan. We may mix in some playing time for him in leftfield and centerfield just because he might have more of that role certainly the rest of this season if and when he gets called up.

We actually think his defense has improved quite a bit. He is kind of saddled with a reputation of being sort of a shaky defender, but if you look very carefully at his defensive metrics and if you read at least our scouting reports on him, we think he is an average defensive player at second base right now. He has the kind of athleticism where you are still kind of hoping for above-average defense and maybe that comes down the road as he continues to get reps there. But we are not so concerned with his defense right now that we feel like we have to move him off of [second base]. We think he is an average defensive second baseman right now.

OC: What about the timeline for Matt Murton? It doesn't seem like he has a lot more to do at Triple-A given the time that he has spent at that level and in the big leagues the last few years.

FZ: Obviously we have a lot of moving parts right now. We have some guys who are injured who may come back right after the All-Star break or maybe not, so rather than having a huge roster shake-up right at the time of the trade, we wanted to take a few days and assess the situation to see where everyone fits. But he is definitely a big league-ready player. As I said, back in '06, he was basically an everyday player for the Cubs. And, as I mentioned, we definitely have a need for what he can bring, which is a right-handed bat with some power and a high contact guy. I think he'll be up in short order, it's just a matter of us figuring out the rest of the roster and how exactly he fits in.

OC: This is sort of a general question, but how does this trade – or does it – affect any future trades the A's may make with other players who have been rumored on the market like Joe Blanton or Huston Street?

FZ: It's a general question and I'll probably disappoint you with my general answer. [laughs] I think each one of these situations is pretty independent. As situations and opportunities arise, you have to look at the players that you are getting and what your plan is with the roster and the line-up going forward. It has to fit in the central plan. But I think we have talked about this before, it's not like our plan at the start of the year was to trade Dan Haren in December and Rich Harden in July and then at the end of the month we were going to trade these other two guys. It's impossible to operate that way because each of these trades is a function of opportunities when other teams present themselves as an attractive and interested bidder. If we didn't have this opportunity with Rich, then he would still be on our team and that wouldn't mean that our overall plan was any different [even if he was still on the team]. This trade was more a function of opportunity.

We still think that we can win with this team. Part of it is that Gallagher was already a pretty solid big league starter as he has shown with the Cubs. We think he can keep us in games every fifth day at the least and, at the best, he can have that same kind of trajectory that a young Dan Haren had when he first got here. It is all going to be a function of how other teams present themselves when they want to talk about players. I don't think that we are in a mode to try to gut this team and eliminate any chance that we have to compete this year because I believe that we have the pieces to stay in the race.

There is no strict plan right now that these particular players have to be traded and these players we are going to keep. It is all a function of what presents itself in the next month.

OC: Is there a timetable for Eric Chavez's return at this point?

FZ: The last report I saw on him [Tuesday] night was that he was feeling okay and progressing okay, but there was no timetable on his return. I couldn't give any exact timetable on when he might be coming back right now.

OC: Is that some of the uncertainty surrounding the roster that it isn't clear when some of these players like Chavez and Frank Thomas might come back?

FZ: Yeah, absolutely. With Murton and Patterson, we know we are going to have those guys in Triple-A in the immediate future and maybe over the All-Star break, there may be a reassessment of the composition of the roster and that sort of thing. We believe that after a few days, we will have a much better sense of where those guys are, how Frank is progressing, and, like I said, with Chavvy, there really isn't any timetable. Bobby Crosby, we expect to have him back right after the All-Star break or just a couple of games into the second half. Just having a little more information after the All-Star break will make it easier for us to make decisions on exactly where those guys fit in this year.

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