For part one of this interview, please click here.
OaklandClubhouse: Shifting to the offense, there has been a significant change in the make-up of the middle of the A’s line-up with the new additions. Let’s start with the DH spot. What is it about Hideki Matsui that you think will make the team better than it was with Jack Cust in that same spot?
Farhan Zaidi: It’s a fair question. The bottom line is that Jack was productive for us for the past three seasons. We are a team that puts a premium on a guy’s ability to get on-base and he was as good as anybody at doing that. His stats also have to be viewed through the lens of having played half of his games in our home park, which isn’t necessarily always kind to hitters. We have an appreciation for what he did. I think at some level, it was time to create a different dynamic in our line-up with a guy who will put the ball in play a little bit more. That’s definitely something that Hideki brings to the table.
I think power-wise, they are pretty similar. Jack was a little bit down the past couple of years, but they bring similar power to the table. Without putting too much of a premium on it, we did appreciate that Matsui is a guy who has played on some really good teams and is an experienced hitter who has played really well on big stages. He is actually very well respected by other players in the league. I think that was something that we were aware of that we put value on. If you talk to his former teammates on the Yankees and even the Angels, the other players on that team had great respect for him, both as a teammate and as a player and hitter. I think that is a pretty significant part of the equation and I know the other guys on our team are pretty excited to have him in the middle of the line-up next year.
OC: Do you anticipate that he will 100 percent DH or will he appear in the outfield at all?
FZ: I think the plan is for him to DH and we will try to get him some days off against lefties. He hasn’t hit lefties as well the past couple of years, but if you look at his entire career, he has hit lefties fine. I don’t think that is necessarily an erosion of skill as much as it is having an off-year. That is something that you see with left-handed hitters. I think the plan is for him to DH and in an emergency play in the outfield. I think it is going to be key for us to keep him fresh. He doesn’t have any serious injuries but a player at that age, if you can keep him off the field occasionally to keep him fresh, that is a good thing.
We were actually really encouraged by the way that Matsui finished last season. I think his OPS was over 900 after the All-Star break. You always have concern with a player in his mid- or late-30s, but he finished last year really strong, so we feel good about his chances.
OC: What do you think Josh Willingham and David DeJesus will bring to the line-up?
FZ: When we started the off-season, our plan was to get one of those guys because we felt we needed to upgrade the outfield. They were both guys who were projected – and in DeJesus’ case contracted – for $6 million and in Willingham’s case we projected in arbitration to be worth roughly the same amount. So they were affordable guys and guys whose skill-sets we really liked. Willingham is a power hitter who draws a lot of walks, as well, and DeJesus is just a good all-around hitter. He’ll hit .300 and hit 10-15 homers and play terrific defense and run the bases well.
We were hopeful of getting one of those guys. We were able to get the DeJesus deal done early in the off-season. Actually right around the time of the winter meetings, we were looking around thinking that we wanted to add a fourth-outfielder, right-handed bat type. We started thinking ‘we have a little flexibility, we may as well see if we can get Willingham.’ Instead of having a fourth-outfielder as a right-handed bat, why not get that right-handed bat in the line-up every day and get a better player?
We re-engaged with the Nationals, who we had talked to earlier in the off-season, and we were able to work something out. Having both of those guys in the outfield, we are pretty excited about that. If Coco [Crisp] can stay healthy, I think we have a very good all-around outfield. I think between Willingham’s hitting and right-handed power and DeJesus’ all-around game, they are going to be major improvements for us in those spots.
OC: You talked about the fluidity of the off-season. Was Willingham a guy who wasn’t available or wasn’t as available earlier in the off-season before the Nationals surprised everyone and signed Jayson Werth?
FZ: Yeah, I think that it is an example. The Nationals were a team we were talking to earlier in the off-season around the time that we were speaking with the Royals. We just weren’t that optimistic that we were going to be able to work out a deal there. I think a lot of the Nationals willingness to move him a little later in the off-season was a result of signing Werth and maybe wanting to reallocate Willingham’s salary towards pitching or some of their other needs.
So, yeah. That is a perfect of example of that. For us, it was a good thing that we still had the financial flexibility to make that kind of move.
OC: In regards to the third base situation, earlier in the off-season you brought in Edwin Encarnacion briefly before letting him go and the team also attempted to sign Adrian Beltre. Are you comfortable with Kevin Kouzmanoff as the A’s third baseman?
FZ: Yes, absolutely. Adrian Beltre is one of the best five third baseman in baseball. Pursuit of truly, truly elite players is not something that we are going to do that often and ultimately it is our job to upgrade the team in any way possible. Sometimes that means at least considering upgrading a good player with a very good or even great player. And that’s just the reality of going season-to-season with your team and having to consider every option and possibility to make that team better.
That said, we recognize what Kevin Kouzmanoff brings to the table. If we did not think he had value as the everyday third baseman, we would have just non-tendered him and figured something else out at the position. But he’s a guy who can hit 15-20 homers and he plays terrific defense. At a position that is pretty hard to fill, that is valuable. So, yeah, we do feel comfortable going into next season with him as our third baseman.
OC: Ryan Sweeney has seemingly lost his defined role as the everyday right-fielder with the new additions to the team. I know he is coming off of knee problems and I don’t know if those have been resolved, but do you envision him as a fourth-outfielder, 50-75 games a year guy, or as someone who will play more frequently than that?
FZ: I kind of look at our outfield and as excited as I am about it and as good as I think those guys are, none of them played anything remotely close to full seasons in 2010. If you look at how many different guys played in the outfield last year and how many different guys we thought were fourth or fifth or sixth outfielders who ended up getting significant playing time, I think Ryan is going to play a lot. We do think very highly of him and he is still in our long-term plans and even in where he is projected to be on this team – which is as a fourth outfielder who can spell players at all three spots – I expect him to get a lot of time, just between injuries and trying to keep those other guys healthy.
Even if those three outfielders stay healthy, in a season after playing 80 or 100 games, you don’t want to throw them out there for 150 games. Almost like with a pitcher who misses a season, you don’t want to get him all the way back up to 200 innings right away. I think Ryan will be in there a good amount. It might be a good chance to keep him healthy and save a little wear and tear on his knees. He’s still very much in the long-term plans for this team. Willingham and DeJesus are only contracted with the team through 2011 and we like those players and they may be here for longer than that, but if they are not, we feel very good about Ryan as an everyday outfielder.
OC: With the new additions and Sweeney still on-board, Chris Carter is obviously not someone who will be relied on to be on the Opening Day roster unless there are a number of injuries. Were these acquisitions made in part to keep the pressure off of young players like Carter?
FZ: Again, it’s the situation where we think we are going to be competitive this coming year and the chance to have really established, good big league players at those positions was something that we put a value on. Chris is still probably the top prospect in our organization and one of the top power-hitting prospects in baseball, but, you know, he hit .258 in Triple-A last year. That is not something that punches an everyday job in the big league necessarily.
That said, in his defense, he is the kind of guy who jumps up a level and gradually gets better. He worked his average up to .258 after a slow start. Even in the big leagues he started slowly but did very well the last week or two of the season. But we didn’t think that the strong last week or two of the season necessarily meant that we should pencil him in for an everyday job in the big leagues in 2011. Now, just to clarify, this is a guy we think very, very highly of. We’ve talked many times about how much of a premium we are putting on developing our own power hitters because that has been a weakness of this team the past few years.
Going out and getting David DeJesus and Josh Willingham is not an indictment of what we think of Chris Carter. He’s a guy who is still very much a part of our long-term plans and a guy we are still very much excited about. We just think that he could use a little more seasoning after hitting .258 in Triple-A and if he pounds down the door and does great in Triple-A, he’s going to be a big part of this team next year. I don’t think that anybody is necessarily trying to hold him down, but I think after his performance last year, I think we didn’t necessarily want to have to rely on him to be a very productive big leaguer from Day One of the 2011 season.