2009 A's In Review: Q&A With Farhan Zaidi, P2

In part two of our three-part conversation with Oakland A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, we discuss the Matt Holliday trade, the development of Chris Carter and Adrian Cardenas, the definition of a "one-level-a-year" player, negotiating with Scott Boras draftees and more...

For part one of our interview with Farhan Zaidi, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: The big trade was obviously the Matt Holliday trade, the one in July. Now that you have had a chance to see Brett Wallace play everyday up close, as opposed to from afar, do you think he is ready to step in next season as the everyday third-baseman if Eric Chavez can't play?

Farhan Zaidi: I think his defense is still really a work in progress and to his credit, he has really worked on his defense as hard as any player that we've had. The coaching staff in Sacramento has seen some improvement even since we've had him and believes that he could be an everyday third-baseman [in the big leagues]. We got him for his bat and his ability to hit. If he can stay at third base – and we have no plans to move him right now – that would be great because going forward, even beyond next year, that is a position of need for the organization. Ultimately, his value lies in his bat and we are very excited about the way that he has hit for that team [Sacramento] and certainly continuing it in the playoffs.

We are still confident in his abilities at third base. We have left him there and there has been a lot of talk of his improvement there, but when you read most of the comments from scouts, they say that his bat will play anywhere, and that is what we are really excited about.

OC: How did you identify Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson as the two other guys that you wanted in that deal?

FZ: Actually, they were both guys that Dan Kantrovitz, who is our new coordinator of international scouting and also obviously works with us on the baseball operations side, had some history with in the St. Louis organization and actually scouted while they were in college. So he knew them well, and we knew them pretty well, too, being an organization that is obviously on the West Coast and has a strong emphasis on scouting colleges in that area [Mortensen went to Gonzaga in Washington and Peterson went to Long Beach State in California]. They were both guys that we knew and liked in the draft that St. Louis picked pretty aggressively but right around the area where we had pegged them. Between Dan's personal experience with them when they were drafted by St. Louis and our own draft evaluation at the college and pro level, we had a lot of information on them.

OC: Have you liked what you have seen from them thus far?

FZ: Yeah, absolutely. The amazing thing about Shane Peterson is that he would be about average or maybe even young for a college junior coming out in the 2009 draft. In fact, I think he is several months younger than the our first round pick this year, Grant Green. For him to be able to reach Double-A and actually be able to hold his own, play good defense and run the bases well was impressive. He hit around .300 with some extra-base power. I think we were really happy with his performance. That is a pretty aggressive spot to put a 21-year-old in and he handled it pretty well.

Mortensen is a guy that our fans are probably more familiar with having seen some of his starts at the big league level. He is right in the mold of the guys that we like: he is a sinker guy who gets groundballs and has secondary pitches that he can use to get strike-outs. He has a track record of throwing strikes. Even though he was a college senior pick and he isn't particularly young – I think he is 24 – he's a guy who still has some projectability left in his frame. He's got a long pitcher's frame and he has flashed velocity that if he can reach more consistently makes him an even more intriguing prospect.

That's what we see with both of those guys. We still think that they have significant upside. We considered them more than throw-ins in the deal. I think most people thought that as long as we got Wallace, we would be happy with the deal, but we definitely wanted to get additional talent for a guy of Holliday's caliber and we were very happy with those two.

OC: This is hypothetical, but if you were to trade Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith [the players dealt by the A's to Colorado for Holliday] for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson, would you be happy with that deal?

FZ: What I will say unequivocally is that I would be happy with that deal because it gave us the chance to have Matt Holliday for the first few months of the season when we were really trying to compete in our division. As he has shown with the way that he has played in St. Louis, he is still one of the best players in baseball. I think that is what was overlooked. I have seen people say, ‘what's better, the three guys that they gave up or the three guys that they got from St. Louis?' But a very deep aspect of that deal was having Matt for the start of the season and having him in the line-up on Opening Day, which was a line-up that we really thought was good enough to compete in our division. For the chance to have Matt Holliday for the first half of the year and feel like we were fielding a competitive team, yeah, I would unequivocally make that deal.

OC: Chris Carter has had an outstanding season after a very good season with Stockton last year. Was there any temptation when he was tearing up the Texas League to move him more quickly to the Triple-A level, or were you content to be patient and let him spend most of the season at Double-A?

FZ: I think in retrospect when you look at his overall line, he looks like he could have been a candidate to move up earlier, but a lot of that came late in the year. He was pretty good all year, but he really turned it up over the last month, month-and-a-half of the season. His whole season line isn't really indicative of his full season performance. His numbers were pretty good all year, but then they reached a completely different level in his last month, month-and-a-half or so in Double-A. I think that early in the year when he was performing well and seemed to be improving steadily, he was a guy that we viewed as someone who should have a full season in Double-A because he was a guy that, coming into the year, we viewed as a ‘one-level-a-year' sort of guy. But, to his credit, he really forced the issue. With the way he played in August in Midland, he really forced the issue and we felt compelled to reward his performance by giving him a chance to move up to Sacramento and obviously he has done very well there, as well.

OC: What is a ‘one-level-a-year' guy to you? Is it a player who you think takes longer to adjust to each level?

FZ: I think that is fair. And this is a conversation that we have had about Chris. You don't want to pigeonhole guys like that. They should move up when you think their performance indicates that they are ready to move up to the next level and certainly that was something that he achieved in Midland. Coming into the year, though, if you look at his numbers in Stockton, he was a guy who had a high strike-out rate and didn't really have a high batting average, had some power and certainly hit a lot of homeruns, but he was a guy that I think we viewed as a player who had a lot of potential but was still a little raw. Plus the fact that he came from a high school background. With those guys, you never want to overwhelm them with the level of competition. I think with Chris, coming into the year, based on some of the more detailed stats he put up in Stockton – between the approach that our guys saw that sort of fed into the strike-outs and the batting average – he was a guy that we thought would benefit from spending a full year in Double-A. But again, to his credit, he improved incredibly over the course of the year and made his case for a call-up.

I think that is a fair question, though. You never necessarily want to pigeonhole guys as being ‘one-level-a-year' guys. I think in general when you are dealing with a player who didn't play college ball or even necessarily in a really competitive high school environment and have some statistical evidence that there is still some rawness to his game and numbers that are backed-up by player development and coaching staffs, that's the theory of it. But you are certainly right that every player by virtue of his performance deserves a chance to move up during the year.

OC: What about Adrian Cardenas? He has sort of been handled the opposite way, moved aggressively despite being a high school pick. Were you happy with where he ended up this season and where do you think he slots in long-term?

FZ: I think that is a fair point. Adrian actually got off to a better start in Midland than Chris did. He was producing more consistently from day one there, whereas with Chris, there was more of a steady upward trajectory. Which is why early in the year when there was an opening in Sacramento, Adrian was a good candidate for that. Obviously, his first go-around in Sacramento, he did struggle a little bit and he was feeling for contact and went back down. The second time he came up, he did a lot better and he has done very well in the playoffs.

Speaking subjectively, based on our evaluations, he is pretty polished with his approach. He doesn't strike-out much and he works the count and he has a short swing, so there are aspects to his game that we thought would translate well even at a relatively higher level for his age. That was the thinking with him and he had some time in Double-A last year, so he was a little further along than Chris just purely in terms of his playing experience coming into the year.

We are definitely happy that during his second go-around in Sacramento, Adrian is hitting the ball with a little bit more authority whereas the first time he came up, he was feeling for contact and probably was trying to avoid strike-outs and was really focused on putting the ball into play. Now he is going more gap-to-gap and showing that hitting ability that we felt he certainly has. We are definitely happy with where he is. He is a guy who can play a couple of different positions and we haven't penciled him at a certain position at a certain point in time going forward, but he is obviously a big part of our plans.

OC: If Cardenas does stay at second base, he will possibly be battling for playing time with Jemile Weeks. I know he had a truncated season, but what are your feelings on Jemile's progression at this point? Does he still look like the polished player you were expecting when you took him in the draft?

FZ: Yeah. I don't know if he would start the year in Triple-A, but I think there is certainly a good chance that he would be there at some point next year. I think we are just as confident in Jemile's hitting and base-running ability as we were when we drafted him. Actually, the greatest improvement he has shown has been in his defense, which we have always considered a work in progress. He's made a lot of improvements in that area. He is a guy that we really think can stick at second base and stay at that position at the major league level.

Between the two guys, they both have some positional flexibility and it isn't a decision that we have to make right now. We currently have a major league second baseman that we are very happy with [Mark Ellis], so it really isn't a decision that is on the immediate radar.

OC: Were there prospects that stood out for you among the players that you started spring training with?

FZ: I think the guy that has really taken a huge step forward is Grant Desme. With all of the injury struggles that he had coming into this year, we were just hoping coming into the year that he was a guy who could stay healthy, really. He has now established himself as one of the top prospects in the organization, a guy who can play centerfield, hit homeruns and steal a lot of bases. Statistically, he had one of the best seasons in the minors in any organization. I think that he is the one guy who really stood out for me as someone who took a big step forward. And a lot of that was really just him staying healthy.

OC: From the draft class, there were obviously the three guys who signed on draft day, but of the guys who you had a chance to see play, were there any who stood out for you?

FZ: Unfortunately like you mentioned, those guys got out late and another one of our high picks, Justin Marks, also didn't get out until late and then got hurt, so we didn't get a chance to see much of him. But a couple of the guys who finished the year off in Kane County – Michael Spina and Stephen Parker and Conner Crumbliss is another guy who actually performed well at the end of the season there – we were pretty happy with their progress. And a couple of the power arms that we drafted did well – Connor Hoehn, who was closing in Vancouver, was reaching 94, 95 at the end of the season. Paul Smyth, with the numbers he put up, our player development people were obviously very happy with him. We didn't get a good look at some of the headliners in the class, but some of the guys we drafted later put up some good showings.

OC: This was the first time that I can remember where the team went to the deadline with a number of its top picks unsigned. Was that a different feeling for you guys not to know until maybe an hour or so before the deadline that you were going to have three of your top six picks in the organization?

FZ: Yeah. In the past, I think we had made an effort to avoid those kinds of situations. This year, we decided to be more open-minded about dealing with Scott Boras clients, not because we had ruled it out [in the past] necessarily, but because we often just weren't in that price range. That had been our historical practice and we definitely wanted to be more open-minded about things this year, but coming down to the deadline, you definitely remembered why you had avoided those situations in the past [laughs] because it is stressful to think that these were guys that we had invested high picks in and thought very highly of. The specter of not getting those guys signed is concerning. I think that all along we felt good about our chances with those guys and I felt like at a very basic level, the players wanted to sign and wanted to play pro ball. When you feel that way about players, even when the time-crunch sets in, you feel confident that you are going to get those players signed.

Join us tomorrow for the final part of the conversation, when we discuss Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton, the role of Nomar Garciaparra, Landon Powell's playing time, the A's coaching staff evaluation and more...

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