Oakland A's Front Office Q&A: Billy Owens

What a difference a year makes. In 2008, the Oakland A's were in a mode to trade established players for an influx of young talent. In 2009, the A's have been actively pursuing veteran players to help them in the major leagues. We recently spoke with A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens about the change in direction, the A's future plans in Latin America and more…

OaklandClubhouse: I wanted to get your thoughts on the direction that the team has taken this off-season. It's obviously a lot different than last year when you were making a lot of trades to get younger. Was the strategy at the outset of the off-season to add players with experience and how do you see those guys fitting into the 2009 team?

Billy Owens: I think that the direction that we took before the 2008 season was to get a little younger and have talent throughout the system, all the way throughout the 40-man roster, spots one through 40, and also create depth in the minor leagues so that we have talent from Michael Inoa all the way to Eric Chavez. With those trades last year, we were able to trade a lot of very good, established players and we saw some opportunities in the market where we were able to fortify our farm system and already have a nice layer of young players at the major league level going forward.

This off-season it was definitely our aim to surround our young pitching with a little more established offense and also with us shaving payroll [last year], it allowed us to pursue some opportunities in this economy.

OC: You were with the A's when Jason Giambi was with the organization originally, right?

BO: My first season was 1999, and Giambi was here in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

OC: What do you think he brings to the team based on what you know of him as a person and a personality?

BO: I think, for one, he is a dynamic leader. People have a tendency to follow Jason, not just the on the field, but in the clubhouse. He is a very positive influence and he is definitely a dynamic person as far as the leadership skills. In addition, we aren't the "power and walks" franchise that we were eight, nine years ago when it was totally en vogue. But he was a quintessential "Moneyball" type hitter in 2001 and hopefully in 2009 and over the last four or five years of his career, he will be able to produce somewhat close to what he did in his heyday.

OC: This is sort of an odd question, but I wanted to ask about Matt Holliday's contract situation. I had read some theories that the team wouldn't necessarily mind it if Holliday spent the whole season with the A's and then entered free agency because of the two draft picks. Does the draft-pick compensation system factor into how you value a player when you acquire him, or is that a separate consideration?

BO: I think that every aspect of the labor agreement is looked into in every facet of the organization. That is everything from a big name player with a big contract to a Rule 5 player. That is always going to be exercised properly and the Oakland Athletics are always going to follow the rules. I think that too much is made of the fact that Matt is one year away from free agency. He's not unlike a plethora of other players out there that are in that situation. He is an offensive force, we are happy to have him and we are getting ready for the 2009 season.

OC: One of the guys the team picked up last off-season was Gio Gonzalez. He had a good year at Triple-A, but then was up-and-down when he made his major league debut. Do you feel confident that Gio can be part of an Opening Day rotation or do you think he needs more time at Triple-A?

BO: I just think the thing with Gio is how young he is. I don't have his birthday in front of me, but Gio is 22, 23 years old. He was a kid who was always aggressively promoted throughout his minor league and now major league career. He was at Double-A at a tender age and had a hiccup there in Reading, Pennsylvania. He then got traded back to the White Sox and was sent to [Double-A] Birmingham and dominated the Double-A level [in 2007]. Last year, he started off relatively slowly at Triple-A, but by the time of his major league promotion, he was leading the Pacific Coast League in strike-outs even though he was the youngest pitcher in the league.

One of my things is that the major leagues are no joke. Like 99.9 percent of young hurlers in this game, he got roughed up initially in the major leagues. That happens. You can go back into the history of the game and whoever you think the top-50 pitchers or position players are in the game and look at their first 200 at-bats or their first 100 innings in the big leagues and 95 percent of them are not pretty.

OC: The A's just added two veteran relievers – Russ Springer and Michael Wuertz – to a young bullpen. Were these additions done with the thought in mind that the starting rotation was going to be very young and you wanted some veteran presence in the middle innings if the young starters weren't able to get past the fifth or sixth innings?

BO: No, I just think that the market dictated that we had the opportunity to sign a valuable relief pitcher in Russ Springer and we also made a win-win trade with the Cubs. We traded away two good minor league players in Justin Sellers and Richie Robnett and we received a solid middle reliever with a plus slider in Michael Wuertz.

OC: Was trading Justin Sellers at all a vote of confidence in what you saw defensively from Adrian Cardenas at shortstop last season, or was it more to free up a spot for Josh Horton to remain at shortstop, or neither?

BO: Justin played at Double-A last year and played outstanding defense at shortstop, but I don't think either one of those factors played into the trade at all.

OC: Switching gears a little bit, are the A's currently planning to be active once again on the international market on the July 2nd signing day or was last year a unique situation?

BO: Yeah, I think last year with Michael Inoa, he was a unique player and we took advantage of Raymond Abreu creating a relationship down there and we were able to secure his services. We are looking forward to watching Michael pitch going forward. But the direction that Billy Beane and David Forst took going into the 2008 season was to get more dynamic as an organization in terms of the talent level and from the youngest players in our organization all the way up to the top tier of our major league players such as Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez. So, in other words, we'll be active in Latin America again.

OC: Have you noticed a change in the Dominican program with the addition of some of the new talent, including Inoa, Robin Rosario and some of the other "bonus babies," for lack of a better term?

BO: As an operation, we were able to develop a lot of good Latin players over the years. We had a nice influx of talent between Miguel Tejada, Ramon Hernandez, Jesus Colome and Miguel Olivo. We were still able to produce talent, although we did get a little bit stagnant, but we still have players like Gregorio Petit, Javier Herrera, Santiago Casilla and Henry Rodriguez currently on the 40-man roster. But adding Michael Inoa into the fold and being more aggressive overall in Latin America definitely impacted the morale of the scouts and the whole operation in Latin America.

OC: One last question, the World Baseball Classic will be taking place for a second time this spring. Are you excited about that or are you concerned at all that both Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler were on the US provisional roster?

BO: I think that the WBC is something that is energizing. It's vibrant. We are all looking forward to watching it. All 30 teams are participating and, just like anything else, injuries can occur.

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories