Zaidi Talks Holliday, Giambi And More...

The Oakland A's have had a busy off-season, adding two potent bats to their tepid offense. We recently spoke to A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi about the A's newest additions, the impact on the playing time of Travis Buck and Daric Barton, how the team feels about Ryan Sweeney out in center, the health of Eric Chavez and whether Barton could see time at third inside...

OaklandClubhouse: We last spoke a few weeks after the end of the regular season. It has been an interesting off-season. I wanted to get your take on the team's two acquisitions and how you think Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi will impact the A's offense?

Farhan Zaidi: We thought – whether by trade or free agency – that there were only a handful of impact offensive players available, Holliday being one of them and, by free agency, Giambi being another. There were a pool of players that we targeted and even though Holliday isn't a traditional acquisition in the sense that he has only got a year left on his contract and he is represented by [Scott] Boras, who has essentially a rule about taking his guys out to free agency, the opportunity for us to add a player like Holliday, even for one season, was worth it. Particularly because he is a right-handed hitter. We haven't been able to find that guy lately. We lucked into it a little bit with Frank Thomas in 2006, but year-in and year-out, it has been a struggle for us to find a good right-handed hitter for the middle of the line-up.

We knew the price was going to be steep for Holliday, but we went to the Rockies early in the off-season and let our interests be known. We were lucky from an organizational standpoint that we had the depth to be able to offer them what they were looking for. We gave up some good players, but I think we were still able to keep the core of the team intact and maybe deal from positions of strength within the organization while being able to fill a major, major area of need. We love the fact that Holliday is a guy who, age-wise, is at his peak and besides the fact that he is a fantastic hitter, he also is a great base-runner – he stole 28 bases last year – and he is a very good defensive left-fielder. He's really a complete player. Being able to get the right-handed hitter for the middle of the line-up who can basically do everything on the field and isn't a one-dimensional player was worth the cost for us in terms of his salary next year – which is $13.5 million – as well as the players that we had to give up.

As for Giambi, we knew just adding one piece wasn't going to be enough. The fact that the second-highest homerun total on our team last year was 13 and the fact that we hit only 125 as a team, we needed to get more power in the middle of the line-up. Making it more difficult for pitchers to make it through the middle of our line-up was obviously a priority and Giambi obviously is a guy who makes it a little tougher on opposing pitchers to work through that middle of the order. To be able to combine him with Holliday and Cust and have three guys who combined to hit 90 homers last year kind of gives our line-up a different look.

I think that Giambi was a guy who we had an eye on from the start of the off-season and it was just going to be a question of fit and affordability. As the market started to bear itself out and his price began to come down from what they were looking for earlier in the off-season, we really started to see a fit. At that point, we were able to get a deal done pretty quickly.

OC: Is there a concern when both Giambi and Jack Cust are in the line-up that there is going to be one defensive position that is going to be weaker, whether it is because Giambi is at first and Cust is at DH or Cust is in right and Giambi is the DH?

FZ: That's a fair point. In general, I think that we have been one of the best defensive teams in the league the past couple of years. I think that that will still be true next year, as well. If you look at the different variants of what our line-up might look like, we are going to have above-average defensive players at a number positions. At some point, there are some trade-offs. To be able to get those two guys into the line-up at the same time, you do have to give up a little bit on defense sometimes. We still think that we are going to be a good defensive team overall.

Having guys like Cust and Giambi surrounded by good defensive players helps a lot. In the case of Giambi, when he does play first base, he's got Mark Ellis on second who has excellent range covering ground on the right-side, making that side of the infield a little less of a concern even with Jason. Just being able to surround those guys with really good defensive players helps in that regard. We recognized that offense was an absolute priority and even with having one of those guys in the field, we are still a better team for it.

OC: Daric Barton and Travis Buck appear to be the two players who are most affected by these acquisitions from a playing-time perspective. From a development-perspective, is the team comfortable with a situation where one of those guys is a bench player, or do you feel that both of them need to be in a situation where they are playing everyday?

FZ: Just looking at the way the team lines up on paper right now, if everybody is healthy, both of those guys are not going to be in the Opening Day line-up. We think that over the course of the season, both of those guys are going to get plenty of playing time in the big leagues. Just with the health issues that we've had over the past couple of years and the fact that a couple of guys who are projected to be everyday guys for us next year haven't been running out there for 162 games a year the last few years, there should be playing time to go around. Those guys are both going to get worked in and are both going to get a lot of time in the big leagues. The question is going to be when they aren't in a position to be in the line-up everyday, will we send them down to get regular at-bats or have them on the bench so that we have them if we need them? We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

OC: Was trading Carlos Gonzalez a sign that the team feels comfortable with what they saw out of Ryan Sweeney defensively in centerfield last season?

FZ: He is really an outstanding right-fielder. I think he could win a Gold Glove out there, but – even though he is big for a centerfielder – at his age and with the speed that he has right now, he can cover the ground in center. If you talk to our coaching staff, they'd say that he is the team's most fundamentally sound outfielder, at least he was among the group we had last year. We definitely think he can do the job in centerfield and don't have any reservations about that.

The issue with Carlos was that we were able to deal from a position of strength in the outfield. Even now, after trading Carlos, we still are six or seven deep in terms of guys we think can be everyday players in the majors. Centerfield is always of particular concern, so our confidence that Ryan could handle the position on an everyday basis made it a little easier for us to include Carlos in the trade.

OC: Is the team feeling good about Eric Chavez's chances to start the season playing unencumbered?

FZ: Until he gets out there and plays 140 or 150 games, you just never know. But based on the reports we are getting from the training staff and based on the reports we are getting from Eric himself on how he is feeling, I don't think we could be getting better news at this point. We definitely understand that it is a long road back from having the three surgeries, but the good news is that he is still relatively young, so there is every reason to think that he can make it all the way back and have a healthy season. Right now, the reports are all very positive.

OC: Should Chavez have to miss a lot of time next season, would there be any consideration to having Barton try third base again, or was that an experiment that didn't really go anywhere in Sacramento a few years ago?

FZ: You never want to say never, but I think it is pretty unlikely, mostly because the player himself felt kind of uncomfortable over there. For a young guy who has worked a lot already on a position change, having to go from catcher to first base and who has improved himself a lot at first base, probably making him going through that kind of change again, even if it was on a temporary basis, wouldn't really be worth it. I would say it is pretty unlikely.

Stay tuned for part-two of this interview, during which we discuss Kurt Suzuki's playing time and his potential back-ups, the shortstop situation, the A's new partnership with a Japanese Professional League team and more...


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