For part one of this interview, click here. For part two, click here.
OaklandClubhouse: In regards to Michael Taylor, do you view his 2010 as an aberration or are you concerned with where he fits long-term now?
Farhan Zaidi: There were a lot of expectations of Michael going into last year and it’s no secret that he struggled with that. He was dealing with a lot. He was part of a very high-profile trade. He was coming to a new organization. I don’t think those were the easiest adjustments for him to make. As much as people talk about his season being a disappointment, he still hit .272, drove-in 78 runs and stole 16 bases. Even in a bad year, he actually did some things pretty well, so those are encouraging signs for us.
This is a guy who when we acquired him, we thought he had a chance to be a star at the big league level. One tough season in a season of transition is not going to change that. But I think like with Chris [Carter], we didn’t want to go into 2011 having to put a lot on his plate and having to rely on him at the major league level. Going back to Triple-A and having some success at that level is probably the best thing for him.
OC: Shifting gears a little bit, how do you view the A’s relative to the rest of the division? Obviously, the Rangers are the flag-bearers as AL Champs and the Angels always seem to put a good team together and Seattle has a big budget even with their recent struggles. Do you think the A’s have made up ground on Texas and have kept the Angels and Mariners behind them, or is it too early still to tell?
FZ: I think it is fair to say that the Rangers are the favorites at this point. They are the defending division champs and they’ve had a nice off-season. They signed [Adrian] Beltre and they got Arthur Rhodes, which was, I think, another underrated move. He is another really good reliever in what is a very, very good bullpen. When we signed [Grant] Balfour and [Brian] Fuentes, you saw a lot of media coverage about the best bullpens in the AL and in the major leagues. And there was talk about us and some of the other teams that have made additions to their bullpens. I would put up the Rangers bullpen against any team and they strengthened that this off-season. I think with their moves and given the team that they started with, being the AL Champions, they have to be considered the favorites and the rest of us are playing catch-up a little.
Like I said, I do think we are a better team going into this season than we were last year. Whether that means we are three games better, five games better or 10 games better, that just has to play itself out. With the Angels, they are going to be getting Kendry Morales back and they are going to have Dan Haren for an entire season. They went out and got Vernon Wells. That makes their team better. They’ve made some moves. It’s interesting but the Angels are the kind of team where everyone has their stat projections and team projections and they always seem to do better than those. I don’t think they should be underestimated even when those projections coming in having them as a sub-.500 team or whatever. They always find a way to be pretty good and exceed those expectations.
To finish off with Seattle, they obviously had a tough year last year. They haven’t spent aggressively this off-season and they have a lot of talent coming up [through the minors]. I actually think they are going to be better than people think. They’ve made some subtle moves without making big splashes and they had some people who underachieved last year.
OC: It would be funny if Vlad [Guerrero] signed with the Angels to see all of the AL West 2010 DHs stay in the division but all with different hats.
FZ: That’s not out of the question. The DH market is sort of an interesting market every year. On the one hand, it does sort of feel like the supply exceeds the demand, but there are other issues about which players are going to rule certain teams out. That certainly happens to us. There is something to be said for waiting the market out, but you can also be left without a seat at the table doing that. It kind of works both ways. We actually signed [Hideki] Matsui relatively early in the DH market, a lot of which has started finalizing itself the past couple of weeks. But we still think we acted with a guy that we like, who wanted to play here and who signed to a number that we were comfortable with. So we are happy with how that turned out.
OC: What did you see from Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy that helped you decide to bring them onboard?
FZ: Brandon McCarthy is a guy that we have liked for a long time back when he was with the White Sox and the Rangers first made that trade for him. The fact that he is a four-plus player in terms of his service time and that he has an option left, he presented us with some nice flexibility in terms of getting a starting pitcher who we would have control over for a couple of years. He was already on our radar and then he went down to the Dominican and pitched extremely well there. We had a scout there who was able to see him and filed a very positive report on him.
That moved the process along. I think that at the time we were willing to be aggressive monetarily. When you look back on it now, it really doesn’t seem like that big of a nut in terms of the spending that happened this off-season, both for us and for everyone else. We are glad that we were able to get that done and that we were aggressive about it.
With Rich, I think when you are in a situation where you have some depth already and you can bring in somebody like Rich – I know that you have spoken to [A’s new pitching coach] Ron Romanick and they have a close relationship, and he feels good about our chances of keeping Rich healthy. I think you have to manage your expectations a little bit with Rich. I believe he is a competitor and that he wants to be out there, but from a physical perspective, he has had a hard time throwing 34 starts or making it 200 innings. I think you have to go in hoping that you get 20-25 Rich Harden starts, which is actually very, very valuable, and have the depth to work around that if there are times during the season when he needs time off to recover. And I think we do have that depth.
We’ll see how it goes in spring training. He may adapt to pitching in shorter stints and might be a factor in the bullpen, whether it is a long man or at the end of games where we have some other options. If we can keep him healthy, which Ron believes that we can do, Rich is a tremendous weapon and a tremendous asset. He wanted to be here and he appreciates the fact that there is some familiarity and it just made a lot of sense.
OC: Speaking of Ron, that is a transition that maybe not a lot of people talk about outside of the organization, but it is a pretty significant shift. The A’s haven’t really had that many pitching coaches over the past 20 years. Obviously Ron has been with the organization a long time. How important was it when Curt Young decided to leave for you to bring in someone who really buys into the “Oakland A’s way” of developing pitching and, in many ways, created that philosophy?
FZ: Yeah, I was going to say, not so much buying into that philosophy but really having created that philosophy to a certain extent with Ron. We did value the continuity that he offered. That’s one reason why the candidates that we talked to were all internal. Ron has relationships with the guys on our staff, whether it is from being the bullpen coach or when he was the coordinator and worked with a lot of these guys as they were coming up. He’s just an incredibly knowledgeable, organized guy and I think he relished the opportunity to be the lead guy and be the one guy ultimately responsible for the staff. I think he is going to grab the bull the horns and do a great job. He has already been in communication with the guys. He is going to put his stamp on the position in a way that I think will be very positive.
OC: Were you relieved when the Yankees decided to go in a different direction for their pitching coach vacancy than Gil Patterson [A’s minor league pitching coordinator]?
FZ: Oh sure. He’s another guy who is a tremendous asset to the organization. Obviously his enthusiasm is infectious. He likes having guys to work with. It is the same thing with Ron. You want pitching coordinators, instructors who are really committed to making guys better and don’t just go through the motions. It’s funny, sometimes I think Gil, and to an extent Ron, looks too hard to find something to fix with guys. [laughs] But that is to their credit. That’s how good they are as pitching coaches that they believe that everyone in our system has a chance to move up the ranks and get to the big leagues and they want to find what it is with every one of those guys that is going to get them there. I think Gil is as good at that as anybody. I think the pitchers really buy into his philosophy and enthusiasm. He’s done some great work with us.