Oakland A's Off-Season Q&A: Farhan Zaidi, P.1

Despite making only a handful of signings and two trades, it has been an eventful off-season for the Oakland A's, who have been rumored to be connected to a number of different players. We recently spoke with A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi about the A's off-season. Inside, part one of the conversation...

OaklandClubhouse: In discussing the off-season and given that today [Monday, January 11] was the day that the Aroldis Chapman deal with Cincinnati was announced, I thought the Chapman negotiation process would be a good place to start. From the outside, at least, it appeared that you guys were in the middle of the bidding for him. What was that experience like? It seems a lot different from any free agent bidding the organization has participated in before.

Farhan Zaidi: Yeah. We talked internally as the bid escalated – and we were pretty aggressive with our bid right out of the shoot – but thinking back, it quickly got to the point that we were guaranteeing more money to a pitcher than we certainly ever had in my five years here. The only guarantee that I could think of that was similar was when we signed Esteban Loaiza and that was $21 million and we were obviously talking about a very different kind of pitcher. I think for everyone involved in the bidding, because Chapman was such a unique talent, it was a little bit out of everyone's comfort zone but it was just a process where you had to do your due diligence and come up with your value of the player and make your bid. It was either going to be good enough or it wasn't.

We obviously put together a pretty aggressive bid that we felt good about and we were there right until the end. As we sit here, we were one of the 29 teams that didn't get him and didn't think that the risks in terms of what he ultimately got made sense for us. We certainly feel good about the process we went through. We were very involved with his agent. We did a lot of due diligence on the player and this is just how it ended up.

OC: I thought it was interesting that so many teams like the A's and Cincinnati who aren't traditionally connected with these types of signings were involved in the bidding process. Do you think that because of the way resources are being allocated, that will be a continuing trend, or was it just a fluke that the Bostons and New Yorks of the world weren't leading on this bidding this time around?

FZ: I think this is one of the issues we face in modern baseball economics which is even when you look at what happened this off-season, even when a team has financial flexibility like we do, it isn't always easy to attract players here because of the stadium we play in and player perceptions about that. In a weird way, the sort of conventional channels of signing free agents, we may not have the same opportunities as a team that plays in a stadium or a market where players are more willing to or more attracted to playing in. As a result, we have to be more out-of-the-box in terms of how we look to spend our resources.

Ultimately, it all comes down to opportunity cost. If you are the Red Sox and there are a lot of free agents out there who want to play for you because you are a contender year-in and year-out and because of the market and the stadium that you play in, there is a pretty high opportunity cost for spending money on a guy like Chapman. For a team like us that has had some documented difficulties selling players on playing here over the past couple of years, I think our opportunity cost is a little bit lower. I think there is a very economic reason for why you see teams like us and the Reds bidding on a player like Chapman, and I think a lot of that has to do with opportunity cost.

OC: One guy who you were able to sign was Coco Crisp. I think that acquisition caught a lot of people by surprise given that there is the perception that the team has a lot of depth already in the outfield and that maybe the corner infield is a more pressing need. How do you see Crisp fitting into the 2010 roster?

FZ: I think it was documented in some of the articles that came out when we signed him that Coco is a guy we have liked for a long time, dating back to when he was with the Indians and Red Sox. He is a guy we tried to trade for a couple of times. We think he is really a difference-maker defensively out in centerfield. We have other outfielders who we think are outstanding defensively, but we think Coco's talents defensively in centerfield are very unique. As a player that we liked and as a player who we think, if he is healthy – and all of the reports right now are encouraging – we think he could really be that kind of difference-maker defensively in centerfield. He made a lot of sense. He is still relatively young and we signed him to a deal that gives us some flexibility because it is a one-year deal with a team option.

We certainly have some depth in the outfield both at the big league level and at Triple-A, and I think it is a situation where things will sort themselves out. There are certainly more pressing needs for our team, but we don't want to go out and sign players just to fill a need if they are players we don't like or don't feel confident in. That is how you wind-up making bad deals. We'd rather go out and pursue players that we have a history with that we like and that we feel confident are going to be good players going forward. The pieces ultimately will fall where they will. We certainly have a couple of places where we want to make improvements, but if we address those needs before going out after a player like Coco that we liked a lot, we wouldn't have gotten him. You don't always over the course of an off-season get to do things in the order of priority. You often have to do them as they come up. So that was the thinking on Coco.

OC: Now that Jack Cust is back, there isn't that fourth-outfielder-who-can-fill-the-DH role available. Given that, would you feel comfortable with a starting outfield that includes both Crisp and Rajai Davis, or do you feel like their skill-sets (centerfielders with good gloves and good speed) are somewhat redundant?

FZ: I appreciate that argument. I recognize that there is some concern that you are giving up some power, especially in one of the corner outfield spots, a position that is generally regarded as a spot where you want to have a guy who hits in the middle of your line-up. Ultimately, you win games with good players, whether their offensive contribution comes from hitting homeruns or stealing bases or hitting for average or playing good defense. There are good teams who don't hit homers and there are bad teams who do hit homers. There are many good players who don't hit homers and there are many average or below-average players who do have power.

I think that just saying that you can't play Player X in left field because he doesn't hit enough homers that argument as a standalone doesn't make a lot of sense if you have reasons for going with that player. If the player is also deficient in other ways, like he doesn't play well defensively or he doesn't hit for average, then I think that is one thing. But if you are just saying that the player doesn't hit enough homers, I think there is more subtly to building a team than just saying "at these three positions, you need guys who hit a lot of homers."

That being said, the best three guys are going to play. I'm not necessarily saying that that is going to be the alignment. We have, like you said, four or five outfielders who potentially could be starters on Opening Day. I don't think there is a configuration that concerns us in terms of how much power it is going to generate. I think that it is a situation where we are looking to play the best players.

OC: There are going to be a lot of people who make the connection between the acquisition of Jake Fox, the subsequent non-tender of Jack Cust and then the situation where he was brought back. Both players tend to be paired together. When you made the decision to trade for Jake Fox, was that to be a contingency in case you couldn't sign Jack Cust, or was there always the thought that both players would be on the same roster, if it could be worked out financially?

FZ: I certainly don't think we ever precluded having both players on the team and, in hindsight, it is obviously the case that we have both. We pursued Fox because he was a player who could fit in at a lot of different places on the team. If, ultimately, Jack went somewhere else, then Jake could be the DH. With Jack on the team, Jake is a guy who could get a lot of at-bats at third base, first base and in left field and a little bit at DH. That is the role that it looks like he will be playing. He is a guy that we like and that we had interest in last year. It certainly gave us some comfort that if Jack's price got out of our range, we were covered at DH, but I don't think that when we made the move for Fox that we were ruling out bringing Jack back. That is what we said and it was a genuine comment. It did give us a little bit of insurance at DH, however. Because Fox has some defensive versatility, he is one of those guys who can get 300 at-bats playing different positions with this team.

OC: So you feel comfortable with him playing games at third base and first base given the defensive struggles that he has had?

FZ: We've obviously seen him at those positions and in left field and I think he is a little bit underrated defensively. I'm not saying that he is a good defensive player, but I think that he can play for stretches at those spots and be fine. I think we are perfectly comfortable playing him at different spots around the field as needed as a way to get him at-bats.

OC: Now that Cust has been non-tendered and then re-signed as a free agent, is he a free agent again at the end of the year, or is he still under team control like he would have been if he had been offered arbitration and signed that way?

FZ: He'll still be arbitration-eligible at the end of the season. Any player who has fewer than six years of service, unless you explicitly state in his contract that he is a free agent at the end of the year, then he does default into being a part of the arbitration process.

Stay tuned throughout the week for the final segments of this interview in which we discuss the A's third base situation, the Michael Taylor-Brett Wallace trade, the future of Michael Ynoa, Fautino De Los Santos and Pedro Figueroa, and more...

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