A's Post-Season Interview: Farhan Zaidi, P. 1

As the weather cools, the fun heats up for front offices around baseball. The Oakland A's front office is busy planning the moves that will set the tone for the 2009 season. We recently sat down with A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi for an extensive interview about 2008 and plans for 2009. In part 1, we discuss Daric Barton, the possibility of the A's targeting free agents, and more...

OaklandClubhouse: I wanted to get a sense of how you felt the season went, not just the record of the major league team, but how the organization came out at the end of the year?

Farhan Zaidi: Obviously at the big league level it was a tale of two seasons. We came out and exceeded expectations in the first half, kind of the way that we have done it the past few years, really with pitching and defense. Our offense was in the bottom half of the league even when we were playing well. I think things kind of caught up with us in the second half; the injuries and then some of our younger players playing their first full season and wearing down a little bit. There was definitely a stretch right after the All-Star break that, especially with the first half, it was disappointing the way the team played.

But we were happy with the way things finished up. We made a run at second place and even made a bit of a run at .500. We didn't end the season on such a good note, losing the last five games, but before that it was nice to see some of our September call-ups contributing. A lot of the players that we had gotten in the deals during the last off-season and even during the season were able to come up and help the big league club finish well. At the big league level, it was kind of an up-and-down year, but that was to be expected.

We are never going to be satisfied with finishing under .500 the way that we did this year or the way we did last year, but one positive that we look at is that there are teams in rebuilding years that win 60, 65 games and even in a year where we were playing mostly young players and our effective payroll was really quite low – we had a number of players making the minimum or just slightly above the minimum – we were able to be somewhat competitive and make a run at second place and make a run at .500. Even in a year where the division fell out of our grasp fairly early, right around the All-Star break, it was nice that while working in some of the young players, we remained a competitive club.

At the minor league level, we were obviously very happy with the way things went. The clubs played well – we won titles in Sacramento and in Stockton – and the development of our prospects was obviously exciting to see: guys that we drafted like Sean Doolittle and James Simmons and Corey Brown and Trevor Cahill all having very good seasons; the guys that we got in trades like Brett Anderson and Chris Carter, just to name a couple, having very strong seasons, etc. We also had some leap-forward seasons from players like Vince Mazzaro, as well as Craig Italiano and Jared Lansford, actually all three of those guys from the 2005 draft all stepped forward and had really nice years. Both in terms of the collection of players that we got from the deals over the past year and in terms of the success of the players that we drafted over the past two years, I think it was a successful year for the organization as a whole.

OC: Where does this season leave the organization now? Do you have a timeline for how long you think the rebuilding process will take, or will it really just be a matter of opportunities?

FZ: We've talked about this some before in that your ability to contend or your ability to move up your timetable for contending is really a function of opportunity. We certainly have some financial flexibility to possibly pursue some free agents, which we really haven't done the past few years, and when we have [gone after free agents], we've really gone after mostly stopgaps who could help us contend just for that year. Whereas now in the free agent market, we would be looking for players who would be part of this team going forward for several years.

We also have some opportunities on the trade-side. If you look at our 40-man roster and even our non-roster guys, I think we have one of the deepest organizations in baseball. I think that will lend itself to consolidation if the right opportunities come up. When teams are looking to move top players, young players who are still in their arbitration years, they are looking for quality and quantity. That is something that we are going to be able to offer in the trade market. So if the right player is out there, it will obviously give us a chance to improve the big league club relatively quickly. We have the opportunity to keep our young players and let them develop or go out there and get a player if the right opportunity presents itself. So it is a bit of a function of opportunity.

I will say that with the year that we had, I do think we are a little bit ahead of schedule. Players like Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, for them to have the seasons that they were able to have, they could be ready for the big leagues as early as next year, which is perhaps a year earlier than we even expected. Having some guys have success and move through the system a little quicker than expected perhaps moves up the timetable a little bit. What would really move up the timetable is if some of those trade and free agent opportunities present themselves and we are able to make significant improvements to the big league team.

OC: Daric Barton was one young player who struggled for much of the year and first base is a position, obviously, where offense is the biggest concern. What is the team's approach going to be with him next season?

FZ: There is no easy or obvious answer with Daric. The fact of the matter is that he has hit everywhere he has ever been in professional baseball. He came up last year and was the best hitter on our team and that certainly heightened expectations for this year and maybe unfairly so. A player coming in as young as he is, there probably should have been more tempered expectations that he would go through some ups and down and not hit the ground running and be a .300 hitter right off of the bat.

He struggled a little bit and I don't know if that was a snowball effect from getting off to a slow start or if he felt some pressure as the first baseman on the team to try to hit homers. We had talks on and off that maybe he had a little loft in his swing and maybe his swing had gotten a little bit bigger than last year. There is a constant evaluation of a player and his mechanics and that kind of thing, but, for the most part, by the time these guys reach the big leagues, they are what they are, and they have gotten to that point because of the players that they are. So you don't want to tinker too much with Daric or throw too many theories out there. The fact of the matter is that he is a young player and he didn't have the season that we expected. I think he was disappointed in how he played.

He still factors in going forward for sure. If we have an opportunity to add a first baseman that we think will really impact the club at the major league level that may give us the option to allow Daric to have some more development time or it may give us the option to DH him, something like that could happen. We aren't necessarily penciling him in as an everyday guy, and I think he realizes that. He has got to earn his playing time. This year, we maybe didn't have the opportunities we may have next year, so it's something we will evaluate. Like with everything, it is really a function of the opportunities that present themselves in the off-season.

OC: The outfield situation is looking kind of crowded going into the spring. It is probably a good thing, but you have at least four young guys who look like they could be starters in the big leagues next season in Travis Buck, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney and Aaron Cunningham. Is that a situation where they will compete in spring training for playing time or is that something that the team will look to narrow down this off-season?

FZ: I think we are probably going to go into the spring with an open competition for one or two of the outfield positions, to be honest. Ryan Sweeney, of that group, was certainly the guy who performed best and most consistently at the major league level this year. It is not out of the question that we would go out and add an outfielder or add a DH, which might push Jack Cust into that outfield picture, so it could get more crowded before it gets resolved, actually. I don't think that is out of the question.

A lot of those guys are young players who wouldn't be hurt by having more time in Triple-A. They certainly, in terms of options, have that flexibility. I don't think we are at a point where we feel that all of these guys have to be big league regulars at the start of next year. Just as a function of the numbers game, they can't all be in that position. It's definitely a position of depth, but it is also a situation where we may want to add a veteran presence to that group and I think that any playing time that is available, it is going to be an open competition. We know how guys did this year and I think some of the [roster decisions] will be left open for how they perform in the spring.

OC: When the team picked up Rajai Davis, you mentioned to me that the team was interested in him as a player who could bring a different element to the A's with speed and the ability to play centerfield at the end of games. How do you feel that acquisition worked out ultimately?

FZ: We were actually very happy with Raj and thought he did a great job for us. He was definitely a base-stealing threat. We did steal more as a team this year and we were more efficient with our base-stealing. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but that has always been an important thing for us. Actually, looking at it now, we were 88 for 109, which is a very good percentage [nearly 81 percent]. Raj was a guy who stole a lot of bases and was efficient in terms of his percentage. That was important to us. He also played a great centerfield as a defensive replacement and he started against a number of lefties and gave us a nice presence at the top of the order.

He definitely fits into the outfield mix. There are ways that he can really impact the game with his speed, whether it is on the base-paths or in the outfield, or legging out base-hits or bunting for hits. That is a dimension that we didn't have before. We are a team because of the home park that we play in and because we always seem to have strong pitching and defensive teams, we play a lot of really close games. When we are in those situations late in games where we need one run to tie or go ahead, having him be able to come in off of the bench and steal a base or two and be able to score from first on doubles that maybe other guys wouldn't be able to score on is important. He definitely is a weapon coming in off of the bench in those situations.

We were happy with him and we see him as a piece of a competitive team. It would be unfair to call him a stop-gap acquisition. We see him as a guy who could be a part of the future of this team.

OC: He's out of options, is that right?

FZ: Yes.

OC: There are a couple of other guys who are also out of options, Dan Meyer and Andrew Brown come to mind. Are those situations that you expect to play out through to the spring, or will they be resolved before then?

FZ: Right now, the best thing that I can say is that those guys will be around in the spring and that they will have to play their way onto the team. We have a lot of depth in the pitching department. Andrew Brown, when he was healthy, was one of our top relievers, and Dan Meyer has definitely shown in spurts that he can have success in the big leagues. But those are probably situations that will be resolved in the spring.

Stay tuned for the remainder of this interview, during which we discuss Huston Street's possible role with the A's next season, the player who was the biggest surprise in the organization this season, where Eric Chavez slots in the team's plans for next year, the health of Justin Duchscherer, and much more...

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