2009 A's In Review: Q&A With Farhan Zaidi, P3

We finish our three-part conversation with Oakland A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi with a discussion of the progress of a number of young A's players, including Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton and Landon Powell, as well as the role of Nomar Garciaparra and Zaidi's evaluation of the A's coaching staff...

For part one of this interview, please click here and part two, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: A couple of young players who are up in Oakland right now getting a chance to play are Daric Barton and Cliff Pennington. Obviously it has been a weird last couple of years for them from a development perspective. How do you feel about both of them at this point?

Farhan Zaidi: It's nice that they are getting a chance to play everyday and play for a team that is playing winning baseball. Ultimately, their performance and their numbers are things that we evaluate very closely, but I like the fact that these guys are playing everyday and are contributing in a number of different ways with their offense and with their defense and, particularly in Cliff's case, with their base-running. And I like that they are playing for a baseball team that is playing over .500 and that's won some series against some pretty good teams recently. That is the most encouraging thing for us, really. To have these young guys contributing to winning, above everything, is what we want.

Certainly their statistics are impressive, as well. Daric, since coming up this time, has hit probably about as consistently well as he has at any point since his call-up in 2007, so that is certainly encouraging. Cliff really struggled when he first came up in 2008, but when you look at his numbers in September last year, they are actually pretty good. He had a good spring training and I think with his performance in the minor leagues over the past two years, he really earned a shot up here. I think we are a little bit surprised about the power and the four homers that he has hit, but he is playing good defense and stealing bases and he is hitting for a solid average and those are all things we expected from him. Ultimately, the bottom-line for us is that they are getting to play everyday and they are just playing good, all-around baseball and they are helping the team win games.

OC: For guys like Pennington and Barton, are their performances right now what you are going to use to evaluate what positions you need to fill in the off-season?

FZ: The off-season and the things that transpire in the off-season are really functions of the opportunities that present themselves. It's really hard to go into the off-season saying, ‘we are going to find a new starter at positions X and Y and we are going to sign two starting pitchers and a left-handed reliever' because you don't know which players are going to be available [via free agency], how much they are going to cost, who might become available in trades, and in trades that you might want to make, what kind of players you might have to give up to get the players you have targeted. That being the case, there are just so many variables that it is really hard to go into the off-season saying ‘these are the five positions that we are going to fill.'

That said, you are right that the one step that you certainly have to make is evaluating your own players and the level of confidence that you have in them to be everyday players next year because when opportunities do present themselves, you have to ask yourself, ‘is this guy really a better player and will he help us become a better team than the guys that we have right now?'

That, I think, is going to be the question that we are going to have to answer with some of these guys and obviously their performance coming down the stretch is going to be a big factor in that evaluation. I don't think it is ever black and white where we say ‘we are definitely going to improve in that position and we absolutely aren't going to have to fill this position.' I think actually in general we have pretty good organizational depth across the board. Given that, we are going to make moves based on the opportunities that present themselves rather than trying to be too narrowly focused on two or three things.

OC: When Matt Holliday was traded, it was obviously for value, but when Jason Giambi was released and Orlando Cabrera was dealt, it seemed like those were moves to free up playing time for younger players. I was curious, then, why Nomar Garciaparra was kept given that he plays a position, or positions if you include DH, that could be handled by younger players?

FZ: At some level, you do want to have some veteran presence and he has obviously been a very strong presence in our clubhouse. He has worked well with the younger players and I think our younger players have picked up a lot from him. He is really like having another coach on the team. We also believe he can still hit. Pinch-hitting I don't think is something that he has really done a lot of historically, and it hasn't come with the best results. But when he has been in the starting line-up, which we have tried to do against lefties, he's actually done pretty well. As a guy who is still kind of contributing to the team and a guy that isn't taking everyday at-bats from a young player, he is a guy that we saw some value in keeping around.

That said, if the right opportunity came for us to move him to a team that was still in the race to give him a chance to play for a playoff team, we would have done that, but that opportunity never really surfaced.

OC: Landon Powell has had a strong rookie season backing up Kurt Suzuki. Do you envision a situation next season that would allow Powell and Suzuki to be in the line-up together more often as a way to improve the offense? Would that require carrying a third catcher?

FZ: Landon has really been a pleasant surprise. He is a guy who has been high profile his entire career; he was in high school and he was obviously a high pick coming out of college. There wasn't a ton in his minor league numbers to indicate that he would be this productive in the big leagues. Obviously we are ecstatic to be getting that kind of production from a back-up catcher because you just don't see that that often. It certainly has made us ask whether we should be looking for ways to get his bat into the line-up more often and that is one of the big reasons that we called up Eric Munson even before the Sacramento season was over, to give Bob Geren the flexibility to put Landon in there when he saw the opportunity.

Landon's performance has certainly warranted that situation. I wouldn't explicitly say one way or another that we are definitely not going to use him as a DH or we definitely are [next season]. We have Daric [Barton] as an emergency catcher and down-the-road we have Josh Donaldson, who is a guy who can play a couple of infield positions [first and third] and who has obviously been an everyday catcher. In an ideal case, you have another guy on the roster who can catch if you needed it and that might give you the chance to get Landon into the games more regularly anyway.

OC: How do you feel about the major league coaching staff at this point? This is now likely to be the third straight losing season. Do you feel like you have had an opportunity to give a fair assessment because you did give them more of a veteran squad to start or is it still a situation where injuries have not given you a chance to assess the coaching staff?

FZ: We are very happy with the coaching staff. We have a good relationship with them. We think they work well with the players and guys who are new to the coaching staff this season have said that the work ethic and the preparation that they have seen from the players here is as good as they have seen anywhere. Ultimately, those are the things that the coaching staff can control, the work ethic that is on the team and the preparation that goes into each game. At the end of the day, the players' performance dictates whether you win or lose games and there is only so much that the coaching staff can do to ultimately influence what they do on the field once they have taken care of all of the things that they can take care of off the field.

We are very happy with the preparation of our players and how hard they have worked. We feel like they have been very well prepared and I think we really judge the coaching staff based on the things that they can control and in those dimensions, we think that they have done a good job.

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