A's Front Office Q&A: Farhan Zaidi, P.1

Gonzalez is a big part of the A's future.

The Oakland A's made a splash last week when they traded their number one starter Dan Haren for a package of six prospects. We recently spoke to Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi about a range of topics. In the first part of this multi-part interview, we discuss the motivation behind the Haren trade and the three position prospects that the A's received in the deal.

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OaklandClubhouse: When you started entertaining offers for Dan Haren, did you have an idea of the type of package the A's were looking for or were you analyzing each individual offer as it came in?

Farhan Zaidi: When the off-season started, I think we recognized that we had to be open to going in a number of different directions, including the possibility of having to trade some of our better young players. We recognized that the depth and, most important, the overall health of the organization was a question. There was never a point where we were making calls or Billy [Beane] was making calls to other GMs, but it just became apparent that as word got out that we were thinking about moving Haren from there, like clockwork, the calls started coming in.

There were a lot of calls on Haren, but we didn't get into too many in-depth discussions with that many teams. We weren't just dipping our toes in the water or shopping this guy around trying to get the best deal. Frankly, there were only a couple of organizations that had the players that we liked enough and had the depth that we wanted to make the deal. Arizona had a number of players that we were interested in. There were a number of teams reported in the media to be interested in Haren, but [Arizona] was one team that was very aggressive from the outset. They understood Haren's value and understood that there was going to be a high asking price for him.

We met with [the Arizona front office] at the Winter Meetings and laid the groundwork of a deal that we would be interested in and then the deal fell pretty much into place soon after that.

OC: So does this move affect every other move that the team will make this off-season? I noticed that the team brought back Kiko Calero, and that seemed more like a move a contending team would make. Is every move made under the same strategy or is each move considered separately?

FZ: That is a fair question. I think that the responsible thing to do is to look at each move as an independent move to some extent. In one sense, you have to have an overall plan. In the other sense, you can't pass up a move that would be considered a smart baseball move just because of the direction you think you are going in. In Kiko's case, he had health problems [last season] but we know the kind of pitcher he can be. No matter what kind of team you have, contending or not, having a pitcher of Kiko's caliber if he is healthy at the cost that we wound-up paying for him, was a smart baseball move.

I think there is some perception that there is some financial motivation behind this and nothing could be further from the truth. If we thought that throwing more money at this team would make us a contender or that we had the health to go for it, we certainly would have done that. Lew Wolff is such a great owner and a great competitor and [spending money and competing] is probably what would make him happiest, but as the baseball operations group, we have to be more level-headed and try to see the big picture and try to remain objective when evaluating the organization. We have a group of players here that I think you could talk yourself into believing that we could contend with. But there were always going to be a lot of ‘ifs' attached to that: if Eric Chavez came back from his injuries and was healthy and if Rich Harden made 30 starts. There were a long line of ‘ifs' that would determine whether you would contend or not.

Getting back to the original question, we are still trying to make smart baseball decisions. They are not financially motivated at all. If there is a player that it makes sense for us to retain at whatever cost that is and we think it makes sense to make that move, then we'll do it.

OC: When it comes to making the decision to start the free agency clock on a young player, for example Carlos Gonzalez, who hasn't spent that much time in Triple-A, is there less temptation to start a guy in the major leagues if you are looking at a longer period of time before you plan to contend?

FZ: You want to have a plan in place, but with young players, we have always taken the approach that they will come up when they are ready, whenever that is. Carlos Gonzalez is an interesting case because there are a lot people who believe that at his age and maturity level, he kind of plays up to the competition. One thing that is noted a lot is that when Justin Upton got to Double-A and Carlos had a little bit of competition, in terms of prospect-status, his play really took off. If you go along with that kind of thinking, and with the tools and ability that he has, he could very well make the team out of spring training. But we have some other options in the outfield, so it is not like we would have him making the team out of necessity. He is such an important part of our future at this point that we will do whatever is best for his development.

OC: Do you see him as a centerfielder or does the team plan to keep him in right?

FZ: We think he can play centerfield. He played quite a bit of centerfield this year. Our guys have seen him play centerfield and they feel like he has the skills and the aptitude to play centerfield. It's something we think he can do. However, we don't necessarily view him as a natural centerfielder, but we think he is probably equally adept at playing center and right. If he is the best option to play centerfield for the team and he is ready, he might very well end-up there.

OC: Did Javier Herrera's on-going hamstring problems lead the team to feel that they needed to bring in a talent like Gonzalez?

FZ: There is no question that Javi's health issues have set him back a bit. I don't think we approached what we wanted to target in the Haren trade in terms of specific needs. As Billy said many times when he talked about our needs, he said ‘we need everything,' so there was no real discriminating where we said ‘well, we don't really need a centerfielder, or we don't really need this position.' We went after guys that we really liked. That's what I'll say about the Arizona package. The industry perception is that some of these players are better than others, but all six are guys that we really like. In some cases, these are players that we evaluated more highly than the industry perception. There may be a bit of a winner's curse with that sort of thinking, but that is definitely the case with all six of those guys.

OC: Two of the players in the package were traded from the Chicago White Sox organization to Arizona in different deals but over the last few months. Had the team tried to trade for either Aaron Cunningham or Chris Carter before this trade?

FZ: We hadn't, over the past year, really engaged in any talks with the White Sox so that opportunity never arose. Had a chance arisen, they were certainly two of the names that we would have asked for. They were both guys that we liked coming into 2007, and they both performed extremely well during the season and we think they really established themselves as guys to watch.

OC: Cunningham seems like the kind of player who does pretty much everything well but doesn't have one particular skill that stands out. Do you see him as a centerfielder-type, or do you see his power developing enough to be a corner outfielder?

FZ: I understand that there is an industry perception that this is a guy who might be a ‘tweener,' whose offensive production might play better in center but whose defensive abilities might be better suited to a corner. However, one of the comparisons that our scouts made who saw him during the year and saw him at the Fall League, where he performed pretty well, was Aaron Rowand. That is pretty high praise because [Rowand] is a guy who is a top-tier centerfielder in the major leagues.

They kind of view [Cunningham] as that kind of guy. Rowand himself, he's an outstanding defensive player, but he doesn't have the kind of speed to be a natural centerfielder. He sort of relies on his positioning and on his instincts and on getting good reads on balls to make up for whatever lack of speed he might have. He's a guy who has some power – he won't hit 30 homers – but he certainly has enough power to do some damage. And he has some speed – he won't steal 30 bags a year – but Rowand is a guy who will steal 15 bases. He's a guy who does just a little bit of everything and he has off-the-charts intangibles, and that is how we see Cunningham.

OC: With Carter, he is probably the first pure power prospect the team has had in awhile. I know the organization always believed that power was a skill that developed over time, but is the team now looking to target players who show power early on in their careers, like in high school or college?

FZ: I think in Carter's case, this is a guy who didn't fit an obvious or immediate need, but we just liked him so much. We talked about other players who might have been in the deal in Carter's place who might have fit more specific needs if we were going on a more need-specific basis. We just liked Carter so much and we are an organization that has really lacked a lot of right-handed power over the past couple of years. We had Frank Thomas for a year, and that worked out well. We brought in Mike Piazza and he had health issues, but the possibility of having a homegrown, right-handed power hitter was just way too tempting to pass up. Eventually, we just couldn't come up with any incarnation of this deal that would have left Carter out.

As far as the issue of power, we have always been an organization that felt that guys with good approaches and good swings could develop power as they got older. That said, there is nothing wrong with showing power when you are young. That is certainly not something that goes away. I don't think that [acquiring Carter] represents any shift in the organization's philosophy, but in this case, it was just an opportunity to get a guy who had already shown some power who we think can develop into a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter. Those guys don't grow on trees. Carter has a long way to go [to reach the majors], but just the possibility of what he might become is just really exciting.

Stay tuned for the rest of this interview, when we discuss the pitchers that the A's acquired in the Haren trade, the fate of Joe Blanton, as well as the overall health of the major league team, what Chris Denorfia could bring to the A's, the health of Mark Kotsay, and more…

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