OaklandClubhouse: You guys have been busy since the start of the off-season, but let’s start with the acquisitions last week of Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. How do you envision the bullpen lining up now and what was the thought behind targeting relievers even though you had a strong bullpen last season?
Farhan Zaidi: First of all, they are a couple of guys who we have always liked. Balfour has had three pretty good years with Tampa and Fuentes is a guy that we saw a decent amount of the past couple of years with the Angels. Even earlier in the off-season, they were guys who we were aware of and wanted to keep track of. Earlier in the off-season, it was very much that a three-year deal was a starting point for any of those high-caliber relievers and that wasn’t something that we were willing to do.
The reality of the off-season is that you can’t expect just to have one plan and expect to be able to execute it. That’s not realistic for any team and I think it is even less realistic for us because between free agents that we go after that we might get out-bid for or that might not be interested in playing for us and trade targets that come available that you thought weren’t going to be available and sometimes guys that you thought were going to be available in a trade ultimately aren’t. It’s impossible to have one set of players you are going to go after without having a plan B or C or working your way through a set of alternatives.
We started this off-season with some targets in mind and we had to adjust as players came off the board. We had some financial flexibility and we think that we are going to be good this year. We won 81 games last year and our run differential was better than that. I think the consensus is that we are going to be a better team in 2011 than we were last year. Whether that is three games or five games or 10 games better, that will have to bare itself out. Getting back to those two guys, when it became apparent that we were going to be able to make a play on them with two-year deals at numbers that we were comfortable with and that they had interest in playing for us and that we had some financial flexibility left, it made some sense.
As far as where they fit, I think this notion of having a five-man rotation and a seven-man bullpen is a little bit antiquated. We used 23 pitchers last year. I think if you have seven or eight starters that you feel good about and eight or nine or 10 relievers that you feel good about, and that group of guys can soak up a pretty high percentage of the innings that your team is going to throw, then you are in pretty good shape. It’s hard to line-up those guys. We have a group of guys that we feel good about and obviously from a depth perspective, having additional depth, just with the attrition of the year with injuries, is a big deal. We feel like we were able to sign them to deals that we were comfortable with and we feel like they definitely made us better.
OC: There are a few of the relievers in camp who have options, but some, such as Joey Devine, who don’t. How do you approach depth discussions when you have guys who are out-of-options who may not clear through waivers?
FZ: Quite a few of those pitchers have options remaining. Without getting into specifics, more pitchers than people realize. That only becomes relevant if you are sitting there on Opening Day and have to make a decision of choosing seven bullpen guys from a group of nine or 10 healthy players at the time. You are rarely in a situation where you have so many [healthy] players that you wind-up losing a guy that you really like on Opening Day because everybody is healthy and everybody is ready to go and you only have so many slots. I think you see that throughout the league. You don’t know necessarily which guys are going to get hurt, but the unfortunate reality is that you always have a couple of unhealthy players at the start of the season.
It will sort itself out. In some sense, you are limited obviously by the 40-man roster. You can’t have 50 guys on that roster going into the season, so there only so many guys you can have on the 40-man and some of those guys are already slated for the minors or may not be healthy. It’s a bit of a clichéd answer, but we think it will work itself out.
OC: There were two guys who were DFA’d off the 40-man roster last week, Clayton Mortensen and Steven Tolleson, to make room for the two new relievers. From an outsiders’ perspective, those guys seemed like they would have pretty large roles in the depth discussions for the starting rotation and the infield, respectively. Is there a sense that they will both clear, or do you feel like you have addressed their roles on the depth chart with other players [note: Mortensen was traded to Colorado for Ethan Hollingsworth hours after this interview]?
FZ: We like both of those guys. If there was a 42-man roster, we would happily keep them both and they both do have options for next year, which make them attractive for teams considering them as potential depth options. There is nothing that we didn’t particularly like about either guy. It was just the reality of the numbers game. We still have a couple of days here to work out deals for those players and I think we have a good chance to work out deals at least for one of them, if not both of them.
As guys that we saw a little bit at the big league level and who performed well at Triple-A and have options left, those guys are useful players. And I think that those guys have a little upside, so it’s unfortunate. But to get two guys [Balfour and Fuentes] who are going to be two of our most important relief pitchers in our bullpen this year and hopefully next year, we thought that was a trade-off worth making.
OC: Does Tolleson’s removal from the roster indicate that you are confident that Cliff Pennington will be 100 percent at the start of spring training [note: Pennington had off-season shoulder surgery] and that you aren’t concerned about the depth at shortstop for the start of the season?
FZ: Yeah, we are optimistic about Cliff starting the season. You never know and guys can be very much on-pace to start the season and then have an unexpected set-back, but right now we feel good about Cliff’s readiness for the start of the season. And [Adam] Rosales is maybe a little bit behind him, but we don’t think that if he’s not ready it will be for an extended period of time. We hope to have those guys on Opening Day or shortly thereafter.
OC: Do you expect to see Eric Sogard at shortstop more in spring training? He spent some time there during the second half of last season with Sacramento.
FZ: Yeah, I think so. He’s not a prototypical shortstop, but the reality is that most utility guys aren’t. The ability to play over there is obviously pretty valuable. With Cliff last season, especially after Rosales went down, we were in a position where it was pretty hard to give him days off. Having a good option there [at back-up shortstop] would help. With Sogard, he’s not going to have Cliff’s range or arm, but if he reaches a level of comfort there and makes the Opening Day roster as the utility infielder and we feel comfortable putting him over there once or twice a week, that would be a great asset. And spring training is the perfect time to do that.
OC: Is it reading too much into the decision to DFA Tolleson and Mortensen that the rehab for Sean Doolittle’s knee is progressing in a positive direction?
FZ: Guys who are added can’t be removed from the roster for a certain period of time, but I’m not saying that we would have chosen Doolittle otherwise. When you select guys for the roster in that situation [to protect them from the Rule 5 draft], it is with the understanding that they are going to be on it. But to answer your question more specifically, our training staff is very happy with where Sean is.
I know it was a surprise to some people that know our system and know what he has gone through over the past few years to see him added to our roster, but there are front offices that we are close to that we asked about Doolittle and they said that if he wasn’t protected, they would at least consider [taking him in the Rule 5 draft]. The Rule 5 process is such that it is not so much that you are concerned the player is going to get taken and you are never going to see them again, it’s just not good for a player’s development to be selected and be in another organization and then be placed on the DL or waste away on a major league bench.
If you have a player who you think might be selected, for no other reason than if you want to be in control of that player’s development, putting him on the roster makes the most sense.
OC: Is James Simmons progressing with his rehab? Could he fill the spot that Mortensen would have filled on the depth chart?
FZ: Yeah. We feel good about our Triple-A pitching depth both in the rotation and the bullpen. Even after injuries, we have seven, eight, nine guys who are in the mix for the big league rotation. Some of those guys obviously have spots locked down, but there are a group of four or five guys for that fifth starter spot and the guys who don’t make it on Opening Day will be in the Triple-A rotation. Mortensen was certainly in that mix, but we don’t necessarily feel like we have to replace him right away. We have other guys who we feel good about backing up the big league rotation.
OC: Is Tyson Ross slated to start spring training on time? Has he worked through the shoulder injury he had last season in Triple-A?
FZ: Yeah. Right now he is on schedule.
Stay tuned throughout the week for the rest of this interview. We review the A's off-season additions on offense, the status of top prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor on the depth chart, the A's third base situation, how the team stacks up against the rest of the AL West, Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy's roles this year, the transition from Curt Young to Ron Romanick as the team's pitching coach, and more...