Zaidi Talks Suzuki, Shortstop And More...

In the final part of our interview with Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi, we discuss Kurt Suzuki, the A's agreement with the Japanese Professional League team, the shortstop position and more...

Click here for Part One of this interview.

OaklandClubhouse: I noticed that Kurt Suzuki had a pretty steep fall-off in production during the final month of last season. Given how many games he started, is the team going to make a concerted effort to have a back-up – whether it be Rob Bowen or Joel Galarraga or whomever – who will give Suzuki more days off at the start of the season?

Farhan Zaidi: I know what you mean in terms of the statistical drop-off. Just talking day-in and day-out with Kurt, though, he felt great up until the last day of the season. He had to fight through a few things, but he only lost a few pounds over the course of the year, whereas in 2007, where he only really played everyday in the second half, he lost something like 10 or 15 pounds. I think going through that in 2007 really allowed him to learn how to take care of himself through a day-in and day-out basis and how to get through the grind of the whole season.

Do we want him catching 150 games a year? Definitely not. Last year was an important year for us in terms of pitching, especially the second half of the season, so it was important for him to be out there while we were breaking guys in. That will probably be the case again this season as some of our top pitching prospects make their way up to the big leagues. It's going to be important for us – and the coaching staff will agree, I'm sure – to have Kurt out there for their first few starts in the big leagues.

All that said, it's nice to have some options that you feel good about at the back-up position. Bowen will obviously be back and Landon Powell is another guy who we still have high hopes for.

OC: Will Powell be catching next season then? Do you think his knee will allow him to do that?

FZ: Yeah, definitely. The plan is to have him catch still. With Galarraga, our scouts that saw him in Mexico the past couple of years think that this guy can be a really good big league back-up. His statistics in the Mexican Winter League bear that out. There is a little bit of an unknown with him having basically just played in Mexico and not having played over here at all, but between those three guys, finding a capable back-up who can give Kurt a little bit more time-off should be possible. That is definitely a long-term priority for us. We don't want him playing as much as he played in 2008 going-forward.

OC: Speaking of the international scene, the A's signed an agreement with a Japanese Professional League organization (Rakuten Baseball Inc.) last week. What does that agreement mean for the A's from a player development and coaching staff perspective, and what will it mean for the JPL team?

FZ: The partnership has implications at a couple of different levels. One is functionally in the front office, it gives us a chance to share information. They may be asking for information on players that might be interested in playing in Japan and getting scouting reports and stats and that sort of thing. And it works the other way, as well. As more and more Japanese players set their sights on playing in the US, and more teams are posting their top players to come over here, it has become more and more important for us to have all of the information possible on those players.

At one level, it's just the ability to exchange information that is very valuable. Beyond that, there is a lot that both of us can learn in terms of best practices, particularly for the Rakuten team, as they are a relatively new expansion team. They have been very interested in how we run things, not just in terms of the front office, but how we handle player development. They spent some time with Keith Lieppman [A's director of player development] at our minor league facility in Phoenix just watching how the coaching staff handles the player development. There will be opportunities down the road for coaches to go back-and-forth and it will be a way for us to share our best practices on both sides.

OC: Was this something that was born out of the season-opening series in Japan last year?

FZ: We had actually been contacted by Rakuten before that. Over the last two or three years, they had made it a priority to seek out a Major League team to make a partnership, being a young, expansion franchise over there and recognizing the importance of being able to share information on American players. I think they were in contact with a couple of teams. I think in their minds we emerged as the best fit for a lot of reasons. They really place a value on statistical analysis and they liked what they saw from how Keith handled the player development-side of things. As their search process went on, they sort of gravitated towards us.

OC: Keeping it on the international theme, Gregorio Petit is having a strong season in the Venezuelan Winter League. Is that something that you guys pay attention to and will that help him if there is an open competition for the shortstop spot this spring?

FZ: I would say that over the last couple of seasons, the extent to which we follow winter ball has definitely increased, partly just because information is easier to come by now and we are able to get daily boxscores and that sort of thing. We definitely use that information to follow not only our own players, but also guys who are minor league free agents that might be playing really well in those leagues. When we get reports from our scouts, those numbers can affect the direction that we go in terms of those minor league free agents, as well.

Petit has been hitting over .300 down there and has been playing well. He has also played well down there in the past. We definitely like that he is hitting well. He will be competing for a spot on the big league team, whether it will be as a utility player or as an everyday player. I think every little bit of performance helps.

OC: Assuming that there isn't a free agent brought in or a trade made, do you anticipate there being an open competition for that everyday shortstop spot or does Bobby Crosby have the inside track on that job still?

FZ: He is the incumbent and I think it is his job right now. Petit and [Cliff] Pennington both had brief stints in the big leagues last year, but Crosby is a guy who I think he himself would say that he expects more from himself than what he did last year, but he is a guy who has done well in the past. I don't want to step on the coaching staffs' toes, but right now, he is our starting shortstop.

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