A’s GM David Forst Talks about the A’s Starting Rotation, Clubhouse Chemistry, an Extension for Reddick & Some of the Team’s Top Prospects

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A’s GM David Forst

In what’s become his annual winter interview with bloggers, A’s general manager David Forst addressed a wide range of topics covering both the major league squad as well as some of the system’s top prospects at A’s FanFest on Sunday.

In his session, Forst discussed how he sees the team’s starting rotation shaping up, whether or not the A’s may still be able to make some additions to the roster, the likelihood of signing outfielder Josh Reddick long-term, last year’s lack of clubhouse chemistry, the future of top prospects Sean Manaea, Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz, and much more.

 

On the A’s starting pitching this coming season…

Going into the offseason…after Sonny [Gray], [Kendall] Graveman and [Chris] Bassitt, there were a lot of question marks. So you add Rich Hill early on, which was important to us. And then when you look at how the back end shapes up, between Jesse [Hahn], who’s feeling really good, Jarrod [Parker], who’s healthy as we speak now – obviously, he had an unfortunate setback last year – Aaron Brooks, whom we saw a little bit of, Felix [Doubront], who got to start a little bit, all these guys will figure in ultimately till Henderson [Alvarez] is ready. And signing Alvarez, it was key for us to know that he’s probably not going to be there the first six or seven weeks. We’re looking at June 1 as probably our best guess right now. But if you have Sonny, Rich, Graveman, Bassitt and then the rest of that depth, you feel pretty good about filling it till Alvarez gets there, and over the course of the season.

 

On the A’s top pitching prospect, left-hander Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea

As far as Sean has come and as great as he is, we really do want him to start the year in Triple-A. I said that about Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill many years ago too and they ended up here, so you never know what’s going to happen over the next two months. But once Sean got healthy with Kansas City and then made the transition [to the A’s organization], there was really nothing lacking from his game – and he continued in the [Arizona] Fall League just getting innings. There’s velocity, there’s command, there’s three pitches, there’s everything that you’re looking for out of a top-of-the-rotation guy. So we couldn’t be happier with where Sean is right now. And we’ll see him during spring training. I’ve already talked to [A’s pitching coach] Curt [Young] and said, “Let’s get him out there and get him some innings and have him face big league hitters.” But if everything goes right, I don’t see him starting the year with us – and that’s not anything he did, that’s just sort of how we’ve planned it.

 

On left-handers Sean Nolin and Dillon Overton, both of whom were working their way back from injuries last year…

Well, right before we traded for Sean, he was throwing 94 mph in the Fall League – and you really felt good. And unfortunately, then he had the groin injury, and it really just lingered. I mean, the guy we saw here throwing 86, that was not the guy we traded for, and I don’t think that’s who Sean thinks he is. So, ultimately, until he gets out on the mound in spring training, you just don’t know. But if he got back to being that guy, it changes his outlook completely. And for a player who’s out of options, like he is, certainly it’s important for us to get a read in February and March as to where he fits – and if that fifth starter spot, if that’s him, great, that fits us really well, and if he ends up in the bullpen giving us some length, that works too. I think you don’t know on him until he gets out there. For Dillon, this has been a long process for him coming off of [Tommy John] surgery. Again, you talk about that number 94 [mph], when I saw him pitch his junior year, that’s the guy he was – and sophomore year as well. He’s come back really well performance-wise off the surgery – he pitched great in Double-A. And you just sort of dream, “Hey, if we get this guy throwing 91-92 again, he’s here in no time.” So the fact that he can compete where he’s at and throw strikes and use the cutter and the changeup is great. If you add a little bit of fastball velocity, then he becomes really special again – the way he was viewed going into his junior year at Oklahoma.

 

On the free agent and trade market for the A’s as we approach the end of January…

Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson

Well, as always with the free agent market, we sort of just stay in touch – we’re never the aggressors. The one thing we did this year with Ryan Madson is we were aggressive, we sort of went to the top of the market. He was such a good fit with his stuff and his experience at the back of the pen. But otherwise, we sort of let the market come to us, and I think we’ll continue to do that. I can’t say there’s anybody out there right now that…we’re sort of really in on. We’re happy with the moves we’ve made. We do have some trade conversations ongoing, but that’s normal for this time of year, just to kind of stay in touch. But it’s a pretty unique market right now to be here on January 24 with all these guys out there…Yeah, we’ve made some of our best signings in February – Billy [Beane] has always said that over the years. I can’t think of anyone specifically off the top of my head right now that I think might fall to us, but we do have the flexibility, both payroll and roster-wise, to sort of be opportunistic if it’s there.

 

On committing to former platoon player Danny Valencia as the A’s everyday third baseman in 2016…

I think having Danny for a full season was a big part of our offseason plan, the way we put the club together. Obviously, hitting right-handers, going into 2015, was the knock on him. And he will be the first to say that he consciously made adjustments – opening his stance, getting his foot down earlier against righties. It’s not my department to work with hitters, but there are things that he did. And I talked with [A’s hitting coach] Darren Bush over the course of the second half when Danny got here and said, “Hey, is this guy for real?” Because his performance against righties did not suggest he was going to do what he did. And Darren is confident. No one is more confident than Danny, I can tell you that. Without you even asking, he will tell you he can hit right-handed pitching. I think we feel really good about him being at third base every day.

 

On the possibility of Josh Reddick and the A’s coming to terms on a contract extension…

Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick

We obviously just got Josh’s one-year number done but, in the course of that conversation, I have spoken to his agent about an extension. So it’s something we will continue to talk about…Look, the relationship that Billy [Beane] and I have with Josh, the relationship I have with his agent, we will have conversations over the next two months and see if it works. I mean, there’s obviously a lot of money to be made out there on the free agent market. But Josh, as long he’s been here, has kind of become the face of our team, somewhat the drive and the energy of this club. So it’s something we will make an effort at. It takes two to kind of get to that place, so we’ll see where it goes…Till we get into the conversation, you never know where it’s going to go.

 

On Billy Butler’s and Coco Crisp’s offseasons as they look to rebound next year…

Billy has been very upfront that he did not have the season he’d hoped to have. And he did make an effort, everything from getting his Lasik corrected to putting a gym in his home to working with a personal chef in the offseason. He has taken every step you want to see over this four or five month period – he’s done it to sort of show that he’s serious. So, on paper, there’s no reason to believe he doesn’t get back to the player we signed. So that’s clearly important for our club if he’s going to take a lot of DH at-bats. Coco is healthy as we sit here right now, which is kind of the best you can hope for. He’s spent time in the offseason working on his neck, working on his various wrist and knee issues, his elbow – there’s a list of things – but he is healthy…So he’s excited about the year. We just need to get him on a field and have him run down a fly ball or take batting practice. Until he does those baseball activities day in, day out, it’s hard to say how he holds up.

 

On last year’s perceived lack of clubhouse chemistry and what the team has done to address it…

Bob Melvin

Bob Melvin

Well, I certainly won’t deny that it’s something that we talked about and addressed with [A’s manager] Bob [Melvin]. Look, anytime you get off to the start that we did and then the season plays out that way, not everybody’s going to be happy. And we’ve always talked about this chicken-and-egg thing – does winning breed chemistry or vice versa? So when you have a season like we did, guys are going to be unhappy, not everybody’s going to get along – that’s part of it. And frankly, you learn a lot about people, players and staff, when you go through that season. And I can tell you that I feel great about Bob after what he went through and dealt with in 2015. That said, we did look into the makeup and the personalities of the guys we brought in and did as much background as we could do on a free agent – a guy like [Ryan] Madson or [John] Axford, whom you haven’t had here. We made a trade with San Diego and [former Padres coach and new A’s coach] Mark Kotsay knew those guys. So we had some ability to look into guys in the offseason, and it was something we talked about a lot. I don’t think we will ever get to the point where we’re bringing in good guys over talent, but it’s part of the equation. And certainly, coming off of last year, it’s something we’re cognizant of.

 

On where prospects Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz may be getting most of their playing time in the future…

I will say Franklin wanted to play some center field. We want him to get time at second base and center field, that will continue, but ultimately we still believe he can play shortstop. So, if he and Yairo end up together in Midland to start the year, they’ll go back and forth between second and short…but certainly Yairo can really play the position, and we feel really good about that. What he did in the California League over a short period of time was really impressive. You look at both those guys, the bat’s playing at 19-20 years old, and you feel really good about moving them through the system. So I think we’ll continue to have both of them at short. And as long as it’s sort of tenable moving up, we’ll do that. At some point, we may have to make a decision on one or both. And I know Franklin likes working on center field. I think anytime you have a season the way he did and you make 30+ errors [at shortstop], it’s hard to sort of have that confidence. And there’s a lot of pride. I don’t think he wants to go out there and let teammates down. But he’s 19 years old. And the list of guys –  whether it’s [Eric] Chavez or [Miguel] Tejada – who made 30+ errors in the Cal League and then went on to do just fine, it’s a long list. And everybody believes that Franklin has the athleticism and the fundamentals to play shortstop if we decide that’s where he should be.

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