Exclusive: A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens Talks Top Prospects with A’s Farm

 

Last month, A’s Farm compiled our A’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, gathered from a variety of many different A’s prospect lists currently available. At the time, we offered our own analysis of each of the players on our list. But we wanted to find someone who could provide even greater insight into the players who represent the future of the A’s. And when looking for someone to give A’s fans a real insight into the organization’s top prospects, it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.

In his position with the A’s, Owens plays as many roles as a super utilityman. He works with general manager Billy Beane and assistant general manager David Forst in identifying potential major and minor league trade targets, with scouting director Eric Kubota in profiling potential draft picks, and with farm director Keith Lieppman in keeping a finger on the pulse of the farm system.

Billy Owens, back when he was striking fear into the hearts of Carolina League hurlers (courtesy of checkoutmycards.com)

Owens first entered the world of professional baseball twenty years ago when he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1992 draft. The slugging first baseman made stops at such exotic locales as Kane County, Albany, Frederick, Bowie, Rochester, Kissimmee and finally Jackson, Mississippi, where he claims to have made his best decision as a player evaluator when he decided to quit playing and get into the world of scouting.

Owens joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. The team eventually decided to elevate him to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use.

Now A’s Farm has the opportunity to take advantage of that too as we get his take on our A’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, as well as a few other players of particular interest. Owens’ knowledge of players inside and outside the A’s organization is broad and deep, but his genuine enthusiasm for the prospects currently stocking the A’s system should be very refreshing to hear for any true fan of the green and gold!

 

Jarrod Parker (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#1 – JARROD PARKER 

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2007 – 1st Round

Acquired from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill trade, the Diamondbacks’ first-round draft pick in 2007 struck out 112 batters in 130 2/3 innings at Double-A Mobile last year after missing all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a fascinating prospect. He had a tremendous performance the other day in his first outing in major league camp. He was sitting comfortably at 91-93 mph. He had an opportunity to bury a fastball inside on a 2-2 count, and that fastball was at 95-96 mph. He’s got a tremendous repertoire. His changeup has a chance to be a plus major league pitch. His breaking ball actually has a chance to be an average to plus major league pitch as well. He’s a tremendous athlete. His arm slot’s probably unique – his arm slot’s a little bit higher than normal. From a body standpoint, you could draw a comparison to maybe David Cone. He’s 6’0” and a tremendous athlete. He’s able to field his position well, quick feet on the mound, with tremendous stuff. The Tommy John surgery set him back a few years ago. He was a top 10 overall pick in the draft out of high school inIndiana. And the sky’s the limit. With his stuff, he’s got a chance to really exceed expectations.

 

Michael Choice (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#2 – MICHAEL CHOICE

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2010 – 1st Round

Probably the best pure power hitter in the organization, the A’s first-round draft pick in 2010 hit 30 homers and posted a .285/.376/.542 slash line while playing center field for Class-A Stockton last year.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a physical specimen. He’s got tremendous all-fields power. Armann Brown, our scout down there in Texas, did a tremendous job. Michael’s exciting. The bat gets through the zone in a blur. It’s hard to totally compare guys to major leaguers, but this guy’s bat speed is reminiscent of Gary Sheffield – it’s that explosive, it’s that powerful, it’s that quick through the strike zone. Michael’s only had a full season of A-ball, so there’s a lot of maturation process going forward. But he’s a tremendous kid. He’s smart. He’s got a thirst for knowledge. The foot speed is there to cover ground in the outfield. He’s a tenacious competitor, and he can hit the ball to the stratosphere. You don’t see power like Michael Choice everyday in the minor leagues.

 

Brad Peacock (photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

#3 – BRAD PEACOCK

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2006 – 41st Round

Acquired from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal, the 24-year-old right-hander turned heads by posting a 2.39 ERA while striking out 177 in 146 2/3 innings between Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg last season.

BILLY OWENS: He’s an athletic kid. He was a shortstop in junior college. He throws in the low ‘90s. He’s got a very repeatable delivery. He’s aggressive in the strike zone with the fastball. His curveball has shape – it has depth as far as the break, and it’s got some snap to it. His changeup is solid. And he had just a phenomenal year last year between Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues for three or four starts. We started watching him all the way back in his junior college days with Trevor Schaffer, our scout out there in Florida. Personally, I saw Brad pitch in the Arizona Fall League in 2010. That’s when we saw him start to really make strides – pound the zone, use both sides of the plate, show that outstanding curveball, good changeup. And he’s got a chance to build upon last year and be a solid major league starter at some point. The ingredients are there. It’s just a matter of us finishing him off here in major league camp and deciding where the chips may fall. But the potential is definitely enormous.

 

A.J. Cole

#4 – A.J. COLE

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 20

Drafted 2010 – 4th Round

A fourth-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2010, the 6’4” right-hander has struck out batters at a rate of 10.9 per 9 innings over his short minor league career, and many believe he could turn out to be the real gem of the Gio Gonzalez deal.

BILLY OWENS: He has tremendous potential. He’s tall, he’s lanky. He’s got that ultimate build that we think is going to fill out and be strong and have a chance to be a horse out there on the mound. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, good breaking ball, burgeoning changeup, and he’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that we identified all the way back to the draft. Trevor Schaffer, our Florida scout, was also able to identify him in the draft process. And the Nationals made a good selection there. He went last year to the South Atlantic League and really set that league on fire. He was tremendous all year. And talking to the Nationals in this trade for Gio Gonzalez, who obviously was an outstanding pitcher, Cole was definitely one of the headliners of the deal. So we’re definitely excited to have him.

 

Sonny Gray (photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

#5 – SONNY GRAY

Right-handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 22

Drafted 2011 – 1st Round

Often compared to former A’s righty Tim Hudson, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011 logged 5 starts at Double-A Midland late last summer, giving up just 1 run in 20 innings while striking out 18, and is expected to climb the ladder quickly.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a big-game pitcher. He was the Friday night pitcher at Vanderbilt from day one. He was a guy that our scouts out there in the southeast – Michael Holmes, Matt Ransom – they actually identified Sonny all the way back to high school. And everything he’s accomplished so far, those guys predicted back then. This kid’s as tough as nails. This kid’s a tremendous athlete, along the Tim Hudson lines. He’s a vivacious competitor. His skills on the mound are solid. He’s got a 94-95 mph fastball. He can run that two-seamer at 91-92 mph. He can snap off a very good breaking ball. His changeup’s improving – he’s starting to trust his changeup a lot more. And first and foremost, Sonny is just a gifted competitor. When something arises where you want that rock out there on the mound, you want a tough kid, you want somebody who’s going to be able to handle adversity, I vote for Sonny.

 

Grant Green

#6 – GRANT GREEN

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2009 – 1st Round

Originally drafted as a shortstop but moved to the outfield midway through last season, the A’s 2009 first-round draft pick consistently hits the ball hard and could earn a shot in the A’s outfield before long.

BILLY OWENS: Grant’s a gifted hitter. He’s probably a .300 career hitter so far, between A-ball and Double-A. He’s able to use all fields line to line. This guy can smoke a ball down the right field line, he can smoke a ball down the left field line, and eventually he’s going to be able to hit the ball to the wall. This guy has got a gift to square the baseball up. He’s a got a certain knack to hit the baseball with authority to all fields. I think the shortstop position was something that possibly he could have handled down the road, but his bat is going to be ahead of his defense, and so we made a decision to expedite what he does best, which is hit, and move him to the outfield. And hopefully we can get him to the point where he’s got that certain comfort zone in the outfield. His swing is reminiscent of Michael Young’s in Texas, and I think that he’ll be able to do that at the top level eventually.

 

Derek Norris (photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

#7 – DEREK NORRIS

Right-handed Hitting Catcher

Age On Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2007 – 4th Round

The only hitter the A’s acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals, the right-handed hitting catcher slugged 20 home runs at Double-A Harrisburg last season and sports an impressive career minor league OBP of .403.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a very athletic kid. He played primarily third base in high school. And so the strides he’s made in three or four years in the minor leagues have been tremendous behind the plate. His receiving skills have gotten better every year. His throwing arm is outstanding. I believe he’s led every league he’s played in professionally in throwing guys out percentage-wise. His average wasn’t the greatest last year at Double-A, but his walk numbers are phenomenal, so he still carries a high on-base percentage, And he’s got a little power – he’s got 20+ homer potential. He’s got a keen eye at the plate. He’s got an athletic body, and he’s got a throwing arm that a marksman would be proud of. So hopefully we’ll see him mature this year, build upon what he did last year in Harrisburg, and then after that, the sky’s the limit.

 

Chris Carter

#8 – CHRIS CARTER

Right-handed Hitting First Baseman

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2005 – 15th Round

Originally acquired in the Dan Haren deal with the Diamondbacks, the right-handed slugger has put up big power numbers in the minors, clubbing 31 home runs at Triple-A Sacramento in 2010 and posting a career minor league slugging percentage of .540.

BILLY OWENS: You’re talking about a 25-year-old kid who’s got 170 minor league home runs. I think his power potential is phenomenal. He’s got about 150 sporadic major league at-bats over bits and pieces of the last few years. At some point, whenever he gets comfortable, whether it’s this year, next year, this month, May, August, once Chris Carter gets comfortable in the major leagues, he will do damage. I can’t predict exactly when that’s going to be because nothing’s guaranteed and he’s got to compete for a job and earn a chance to play like everybody else. But if you look at Nelson Cruz, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Ryan Ludwick, those guys have proven right-handed power hitters normally don’t come to fruition over night. I like Chris Carter’s resume. And I really truly believe at some point he’ll do it in the major leagues. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

 

Tom Milone (photo by Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI)

#9 – TOM MILONE

Left-handed Starting Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2008 – 10th Round

Acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals, the left-hander posted a 3.22 ERA while walking just 16 batters in 148 1/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse last season and he should get a shot to show the A’s what he can do in 2012.

BILLY OWENS: He’s got a certain savvy to him. His walk numbers last year were phenomenal. He only walked about 20 guys all year. His strikeout rate is tremendous. He’s got poise. He can use both sides of the plate. He can heat you up, he can slow you down. He can change you up. He can change your eye level with his breaking ball. He’s a tremendous athlete on the mound. He can pick you off. He can field his position well. He’s not a hard-thrower – you can turn the gun off. In the Dallas Braden mold, he’s not going to knock your socks off as far as true velocity. But he can put it inside your hands at the appropriate time. The kid can pitch. He’s a good athlete. The first pitch he ever saw in the major leagues went over the right field wall, so he’s got one more homer than the rest of us! This guy’s a competitor. He’s going to be a solid addition. He’s close to major-league ready, and I’m looking forward to seeing him out there at the Coliseum at some point.

 

Michael Taylor (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

#10 – MICHAEL TAYLOR

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 26

Drafted 2007 – 5th Round

After putting up stellar numbers in the Phillies system, the outfielder’s progress has stagnated a bit since coming to the A’s, but the 26-year-old does still have a .296/.371/.476 career minor league slash line along with some solid tools.

BILLY OWENS: Michael’s got a well-rounded game. He hit for a decent average two years in a row at Sacramento. Just looking at him, you can see the power potential. You know, the hardest level to get over in baseball is Triple-A to the major leagues. As much as we like to see guys develop between A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A, the ultimate goal and the best players in the world play in the big leagues. And in the big leagues, they hit their spots, they make adjustments, they will do certain things out there. So Michael has got to get to the point where he’s able to impress the big league staff, compete and earn that opportunity. The talent level’s there, and hopefully it manifests for us in the green and gold.

 

Collin Cowgill (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

#11 – COLLIN COWGILL 

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2008 – 5th Round

The Diamondbacks’ fifth-round draft pick in 2008, the right-handed hitting outfielder barely missed making our Consensus Top 10 Prospect List, finishing just behind fellow outfielder Michael Taylor after hitting .354 with 13 homers and 30 stolen bases for Triple-A Reno last season.

BILLY OWENS: We drafted him actually the year before he signed out of Kentucky. He didn’t sign with us back then, so we gave him no choice and this time we traded for him. He’s got tremendous energy, he’s a feisty competitor. He can do a lot of things on the baseball field – he can defend, he’s got some power, he can hit for average, he runs the bases well. Cody Ross would be a very good comparison when looking at Collin Cowgill.

 

Josh Reddick (photo by Kelly O'Connor/sittingstill.net)

NEW ADDITION – JOSH REDDICK 

Left-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2006 – 17th Round

The key piece in the Andrew Bailey deal with Boston, the left-handed hitting outfielder hit .280 in 254 big-league at bats with the Red Sox last year, technically not qualifying as a prospect, but he is one of the most potentially exciting young players likely to make the A’s roster.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a rugged competitor. He’s got a nice power/speed/defense blend to him. He’s throwing very well so far in major league camp. The ball comes off his bat well. He hit 20+ home runs last year between Triple-A and the big leagues. Personally, I first saw Josh in the Arizona Fall League about three years ago, and he blasted a ball in the Fall League All-Star Game to dead center, and he hit it a mile. And we’ve been able to see that production manifest over time. And we were able to acquire Josh for a player, Andrew Bailey, who was a tremendous closer for us. So it was important to get a player back of Mr. Reddick’s caliber. And so far in big league camp, we’re excited to have him.

 

Yoenis Cespedes

LATE ADDITION – YOENIS CESPEDES

Right-handed Hitting Outfielder

Age On Opening Day: 26

The year’s most-heralded Cuban free agent, the A’s signed the power-hitting outfielder to a 4-year/$36-million contract late in the offseason in the hopes that his talents will quickly translate to major league success.

BILLY OWENS: First off, he’s got a lot of syllables, so I might just call him YC for now! But he’s a tremendous athlete. Personally, I saw YC play at the Pan-American Games in 2010 in Puerto Rico. And just the speed, power, defense quotient was scintillating just watching that over five or six games down there in Puerto Rico. And it was a very calculated but educated gamble orchestrated by Billy Beane and David Forst to be able to acquire a player of this caliber. And the process goes back to Craig Weissmann and Chris Pittaro, two great scouts of ours, and Sam Geaney, our international coordinator. I think that we weren’t sure that he was going to be in our neighborhood as far as the dollars were concerned. But once YC got to our neighborhood, we felt that it was a unique opportunity to get a player of his caliber with his middle-of-the-diamond skills. It’s definitely a testament to Billy and David trusting our scouting acumen and seeing what he’s done over there in international competition and taking this opportunity and seeing how it works out. We think this guy’s a gifted defender. We think he’s got a throwing arm that’s going to be amongst the best out there. So the ability is there. But now you’ve got to go show it at a professional level, hopefully sooner rather than later, in the major leagues.

 

Sean Doolittle (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WILD CARD – SEAN DOOLITTLE

Left-handed Pitcher

Age On Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2007 – 1st Round

Originally drafted by the A’s as a first baseman in the first round of the 2007 draft, injuries have limited his mobility and kept him completely off the field for the past two seasons, but he’s now looking to make his mark on the mound as a hard-throwing lefty.

BILLY OWENS: He’s a world-class competitor. He’s actually the career win leader at the University of Virginia, who’ve had a ton of major league players over the years. So the pitching mound is not foreign to Sean Doolittle. We all thought that he’d be a tremendous first baseman/outfielder right now and hitting 25+ home runs. But due to injuries, that didn’t happen. But now he’s allowed to compete again, and the other day at major league camp, he was up to 93-94 mph. He showed a promising breaking ball. He filled the zone up. He fielded the position well. He’s just a very competitive kid who wants to go out there and do what he does best and compete on a baseball field. And that’s something he hasn’t been allowed to do the last two years, so he’s just waiting to break out. There’s no question about the toughness and the competitive skills of this kid. And now he’s got a left arm that just happens to have a rocket attached to it.

 

Thanks again to A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens for taking the time to offer his insights on some of the A’s most intriguing young prospects!

 

 

A’s Farm 12th Ranked MLBlog in 2nd Month!

Scott Hatteberg is clearly pumped about A’s Farm (photo courtesy of Str / Reuters)

 

Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by for helping make A’s Farm the #12th ranked MLBlog in just its second month!

It’s clear that A’s fans are not just committed to supporting the team at the major league level but also to understanding the organization at every level.

Be sure to stay tuned for more great stuff on all the A’s up and coming young players in the coming weeks as A’s Farm heads to spring training!

 

Sizemore Out – Donaldson, Rosales, Sogard or Timmons In?

Scott Sizemore

Well, the A’s twin curses combined this week when the injury jinx and the third base hex went to work on A’s starting third baseman Scott Sizemore, striking him down on the first day of spring workouts and ending his season before it could even begin. An MRI revealed a torn ACL in his left knee that will require season-ending surgery. As with everything in baseball though, one man’s misfortune could open the door to another man’s fortune. But who will the big winner be in the A’s game of third base roulette? And who should the winner be?

So far, it looks like the team’s favored candidate to get the first crack at the hot corner’s brass ring is minor league catcher Josh Donaldson, who got in 53 games at third base last season in Sacramento and also got in some reps at the position in the Dominican Republic this winter. The other candidates in the mix are infielders Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard, who were presumed to be competing for the A’s utility infielder role this spring, along with life-long minor league infielder and non-roster invitee Wes Timmons. Two of these four players are likely to make the major league roster, while two of the four are likely to start the season at Sacramento.

Wes Timmons

It’s also possible the team could try to deal for a third baseman, but there seems to be a real shortage of quality third baseman around the major leagues at the moment, which could make the A’s more likely to just try to go with what they’ve got. The Angels’ Alberto Callaspo has been mentioned as a potential trade target, and the team has shown interest in him in the past. But since the A’s are overloaded with outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter types, and so are the Angels, it might be tough to match up on a deal. And it’s hard to imagine what the A’s might be able to offer the Halos to convince them that it’d be a good idea to part with Callaspo.

Eric Sogard

It’s also interesting to note that if the A’s had any idea that they’d be without Sizemore a month ago, it’s highly unlikely they would have chosen to designate infielder Adrian Cardenas for assignment, as they did at the time. As things stand now though, as long as there’s no deal and Donaldson doesn’t totally disappoint in the spring, it looks as if he’s the most likely candidate to get the first shot at laying claim to the job to start the season. But what about the other candidates? Who has real experience at the hot corner? And who has actually shown the most offensive promise to this point? Let’s take a look at the candidates’ career major and minor league numbers, and let’s throw Cardenas in just for fun.

(Col #1 = mlb games at 3B / Col #2 = milb games at 3B / Col #3 = total games at 3B / Col #4 = mlb avg / Col #5 = mlb obp / Col #6 = mlb slg / Col #7 = mlb ops / Col #8 = milb avg / Col #9 = milb obp / Col #10 = milb slg / Col #11 = milb ops / BOLD = category leaders / Click each player’s name below for their complete stats page)

 

Player            MaG    MiG    TG  /  avg  –  obp  –  slg  –  ops / avg  –  obp  –  slg  –  ops

Rosales        72 +   85 = 157 / 226 – 293 – 337 – 630  /  287 – 360 – 481 – 842

Sogard          10 +   15 =   25 /  221 – 277 – 338 – 615  /  295 – 380 – 413 – 793

Donaldson    0 +    53 =    53 / 156 – 206 – 281 – 487   /  268 – 360 – 455 – 815

Timmons       0 + 753 = 753 / 000 – 000 – 000 – 000  /   283 – 391 – 391 – 782

Cardenas      0 +    96 =    96 / 000 – 000 – 000 – 000  /   303 – 368 – 413 – 780

 

Adam Rosales

I know that many A’s fans are not particularly fond of Rosales after his extremely poor performance last year. It’s easy to forget though that he was attempting to come back from a significant injury that he obviously never fully recovered from. Nor should his dynamic performance from just a year earlier be forgotten either. Just looking at the numbers though, Rosales has played more major league games at third base than any of the others and tops the competition in major league BA, OBP and OPS and in minor league SLG and OPS. In fact, he tops the competition in all categories except major league SLG (Sogard edges him out by .001), minor league BA (Cardenas) and minor league OPS (Timmons).

Josh Donaldson

So why isn’t Rosales considered the favorite to land the job at this point? Well, perhaps the team feels he still hasn’t recovered adequately from his injury and doesn’t have faith in his ability to replicate his performance level from 2010, or perhaps they just have a good feeling about Donaldson’s long-term potential. Regardless, it’ll be a position battle that’ll be a lot more interesting to watch than anyone anticipated heading into the spring. Let’s just hope that whoever wins it can keep the position from turning into the offensive black hole that it’s mostly been ever since we could last count on seeing Mr. Chavez’s name penciled into the lineup on a daily basis.

 

 

When Billy Met Johnny…

Ramone and Beane: the inaugural meeting of the Johnny and Billy mutual admiration society

Following on the heels of our two-part interview with A’s GM Billy Beane earlier this week, and in honor of Moneyball’s recognition at the Oscars on Sunday night, I thought it’d be interesting to re-run this old interview that I did with Billy Beane and punk rock legend Johnny Ramone back during the Moneyball season of 2002. The interview was actually conducted during the early stages of the A’s record-setting winning streak and first appeared in the late, great, Bay Area magazine ChinMusic! Johnny Ramone died just two years later from prostate cancer, and Billy Beane is now the longest-tenured general manager in the American League.

It’s interesting to see what was being said about steroids, budgets, the importance of on-base percentage, and the necessity of the A’s having to re-invent themselves ten years ago. The genesis of the interview is also kind of interesting. I always knew that Johnny Ramone was a big baseball fan. He’d told me in an interview many years earlier that he spent much of his free time on the road writing letters to baseball players requesting signed 8×10 photos of them for his collection. At first, I thought he was joking, but it turned out he was dead serious. And he eventually ended up with one of the largest collections in the country!

I’d also heard that Billy Beane, growing up as a teenager in San Diego in the ’70s, was a big punk rock fan. So with that in mind, I approached Billy at a spring training game in Arizona in 2002 and suggested the idea of doing a joint interview with both him and Johnny. His reply was: “Just say when!” With their mutual love of baseball and punk rock, it was natural that the two of them would immediately hit it off. And Johnny would later even end up helping out Billy’s daughter, Casey, with her school paper on the origins of punk rock.

After the interview, I had a baseball conversation with Johnny almost every week until he died. In the last conversation, just shortly before be passed, he was very concerned with Jason Giambi‘s struggles early in his multi-year contract with Johnny’s beloved Yankees. He asked me how many years were left on Giambi’s guaranteed contract, and when I told him, Johnny was distraught: “Oh my God, what are the Yankees gonna do?!” He knew the end was near–not for the Yankees, but for himself–yet all he could think about was the Yankees being saddled with a struggling Giambi’s contract. It was later that year that the Red Sox mounted their startling comeback against the Yankees, taking four straight to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs. And I couldn’t help but think that it was a good thing Johnny had already died by that time, because that surely would have killed him!

Excerpts from the interview appeared online at the time, but this is the first time the complete interview has ever appeared online. When you see that photo of Joe Strummer in Billy Beane’s office in the Moneyball film, don’t be surprised. As you can see in the interview, his enthusiasm for the Clash is almost as great as his enthusiasm for the Ramones!

(JR = Johnny Ramone / BB = Billy Beane / CM = yours truly on behalf of ChinMusic!)

 

BEANE ON THE BRAT

(from ChinMusic! #5)

Some people might think the worlds of baseball and punk rock don’t have an awful lot in common. But just try telling that to punk rock legend and baseball freak Johnny Ramone and Oakland A’s general manager and punk rock freak Billy Beane! You’ll have a mighty hard time finding a punk rock icon more devoted to our national pastime, and an even harder time finding a baseball executive who was buying Ramones and Sex Pistols 8-tracks and rushing out to catch the Clash way back in ’78. And who else but we here at ChinMusic! would have the sense to bring this dynamic duo together for an enlightening little chit-chat on our two favorite subjects…good music, and good old-fashioned hardball. The two talked a month before the end of the 2002 season, with Rhino Records having just issued a fresh batch of remastered Ramones releases, with the A’s in the midst of their record-breaking 20-game winning streak, and with the threat of a possible baseball strike looming just a day away. Thankfully, the games went on…and so did the first meeting of the Billy & Johnny mutual admiration society…

CM:     Johnny, meet Billy…Billy, meet Johnny…

The Ramones: We hate Yes!

BB:      Johnny, they might have given you a heads up that I might turn into a crazy fan here and just gush for a few minutes. But I went out and got the “Rocket To Russia” 8-track when I was 16. And I got into the Ramones, the Dead Boys and everybody else for the same reason that you started playing it. I got so sick of hearing “Kashmir,” and “Roundabout” by Yes, and all these synthesizers on the radio. So when I first heard you I went, “Oh my God!” It was like I was enlightened! So I said, “Johnny’s just gonna have to put up with me for a few minutes because I’m gonna turn into like some crazy Trekkie guy here.”

JR:       Hey, and I wanted to be a baseball player…I just fell into this!

CM:     That’s why we knew it was a great idea to bring you guys together!

BB:      You know how I found out that you were a baseball fan, Johnny? I had read somewhere that you knew John Wetteland.

JR:       I met Wetteland when Peter Gammons came over one day. He wanted to do a piece on baseball and rock & roll. He brought me over to Dodger Stadium and I got to meet Wetteland. And I was always a big fan.

BB:      Yeah, I actually played with John in Detroit briefly when he got drafted over there in spring training. And at that point we were exchanging Roxy Music CDs.

JR:       Boy, at this point he’s into Christian rock. So I guess he must have gone through some problems in his life!

BB:      Yeah, he had a tough upbringing. But he’s a real nice and very enlightened guy. And that’s how we started talking because I read somewhere that you two had hooked up. By the way, you know what I just did, Johnny? I went and saw Siouxsie & the Banshees.

JR:       Oh God!

BB:      Well, I had to go see them just because everyone’s going on these old tours again. So I went…and they were terrible! I was so disappointed. Siouxsie’s not in her salad days anymore!

JR:       Have you seen Marilyn Manson?

BB:      No, I haven’t. I was reading up on them. I guess the biggest thing for me is I first really gotta love the music.

JR:       I didn’t even know their music at all. But I ended up going to see them three times last year because I’m friendly with them, and their show is terrific. And last year, I went to see Green Day too and they were terrific.

BB:      Yeah, I really like Green Day.

JR:       I went to see them at the Forum a few months ago and I couldn’t believe how entertaining they were.

CM:     They have a good drummer, and I think a good punk band needs a really good drummer.

Blondie: Look, parallel lines - hey wait a minute, that gives us an idea!

BB:      Well, we were just talking about Clem Burke, the great drummer from Blondie

JR:       He was actually in our band for about a week!

BB:      Yeah, and I still think Debbie Harry was really cute back then!

JR:       Debbie was beautiful back in the ’70s and early ’80s…she was beautiful!

BB:      When we were in the playoffs two years ago in New York, Johnny, I made the cab driver take me to CBGB’s in my suit and tie and take a picture out in front of the awning there.

JR:       I went and did that when we went into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this past March when we got inducted. I probably took my first picture there since about 1974. I went inside for the first time in about 20 years too. And Hilly, who runs the place, was actually nice to me. He was never nice to me before. He gave me a t-shirt…he wouldn’t even give me a free soda before!

BB:      Well I’ve read all the biographies. You were actually a construction worker at first, right?

JR:       Yeah, I was a construction worker. I was a steam-fitter for five years. I bought a guitar when I was 26 years old.

BB:      That’s amazing!

CM:     Did you read “Please Kill Me,” the Legs McNeil book?

JR:       I don’t read any of them because…well, I just don’t read them.

CM:     Well, you were there!

JR:       I read baseball books all the time. Baseball’s my life…and watching old movies.

BB:      I actually just gave “Please Kill Me” to Scott Hatteberg, our first baseman.

JR:       Billy, we have a Ramones tribute record coming out in November. And we’ve got Rob Zombie, the Chili Peppers, Metallica, U2, Green Day, Rancid, the Pretenders, KISS, Tom Waits, a really good lineup.

BB:      Now is Tom Waits gonna sing a Ramones song?

JR:       Yeah, Tom Waits did a Ramones song. Eddie Vedder did two Ramones songs on it. U2 did “Beat On The Brat.” Metallica did “53rd & 3rd.”

BB:      Well I read Dee Dee’s autobiography, so I remember what that song was about!

JR:       Nobody sang about this kind of stuff. I mean, here’s Dee Dee writing about some Vietnam veteran coming back and becoming a male prostitute…and a Green Beret on top of it!

Lars Frederiksen wants to know: "Why'd you trade Ben Grieve?!"

BB:      Do you know Lars Frederiksen, the guitar player for Rancid?

JR:       Yeah. Wow, you really know your punk rock!

BB:      Yeah, he’s a huge A’s fan. He lives in San Francisco. In fact, his mother’s a season-ticket holder and we talk on occasion. He’ll call me when we make a trade. You know, “Why’d you trade Ben Grieve, what’s going on here?”

JR:       Oh yeah? Lars calls me up like once a year and we usually talk about old movies or horror films. I’ll have to run some baseball by him next time.

BB:      Given where you’re from, are you originally a Mets fan, Johnny?

JR:       I’m a Yankee fan! I’ve been a Yankee fan since I first saw Mickey Mantle play probably in like 1955.

BB:      Oh, well you and probably a few million other people! That’s how Jason Giambi’s dad became a fan too. That’s why Jason’s in New York now.

CM:     Well I’d say that had a fateful impact, didn’t it?

BB:      It did…there’s no question it did!

JR:       By the way, you’re doing a tremendous job with this team, Billy.

BB:      I appreciate it, thank you.

JR:       What’s your payroll?

BB:      We’re at about $40 million.

JR:       $40 million…unbelievable! I see teams always getting these over-priced veterans who don’t produce when you can bring up young guys that’ll probably give you the same type of production. And you guys seem to be doing that.

BB:      When Sandy Alderson, who’s now in the commissioner’s office, was here, Sandy sort of saw the dichotomy in payroll starting to exist. And we just started the process a lot earlier than a lot of other clubs. But the biggest challenge for us isn’t so much one year. The challenge is to keep reinventing yourself, after losing guys like Giambi, Damon, Isringhausen, and still stay at that payroll and still be good.

JR:       Right.

BB:      Three years ago, before we were actually good, I said, “Someday, someone’s gonna look at this group of young players that’s on the A’s club and say, ‘I can’t believe they were all on one team.'” That’s how good I think these guys are. Chavez is just 24 years old. Tejada’s 26. Zito, Mulder, Hudson…these guys are so young it’s just remarkable!

Tino Martinez: Why you no love me, Johnny?

JR:       Well, you see teams all the time that will sign guys who are average players, they might even be below average, but they’ve been veterans and they’re signing them for too much money.  I remember last year, with the Yankees having to deal with the Tino Martinez issue, and Tino leaving. Yankee fans were complaining. And I’m going, “Tino’s a below average first baseman at this point!”

CM:     I know a lot of people were harping on you Billy that the A’s ought to be signing Tino Martinez to solve your first base problem, and that probably would have cost you about $10 million more than you ended up spending.

BB:      You’re exactly right!

JR:       And the Yankees were smart, they got Giambi. I think he’s fourth in the American League in runs scored. He gets on base so much that he’s scoring all these runs, and he’s slow as can be.

BB:      That’s sort of our big thing, on-base percentage. And when it comes to that, Jason was really the poster-child for the A’s.

JR:       Exactly. And the Yankees were smart…they spent their money wisely!

BB:      Yeah, they did. And Jason’s such a remarkable player for all those reasons. In my opinion, he’s the best offensive player in the American League, and he has been for the past number of years.

JR:       When he hit that grand slam in that extra inning game, when they were three runs down, he just won over everyone. I’m making my wife sit there and watch this, and I’m going, “You’ll see, if the guy before him can just get on base, I think he’s gonna do it this time.”

BB:      Well, that was actually when Jason really started turning it around too.

JR:       Yeah, that’s when he won over all the Yankee fans. I kept saying, “How could they be booing this guy? Just leave him alone. He’s gonna have his numbers at the end of the season.”

CM:     Well, that’s the New York way!

JR:       I mean, forget Tino, you know?

BB:      Well, the good thing up in Oakland sometimes is that there are certain players you just can’t sign. So it sort of gives you the ability not to make decisions that maybe the public may want you to make.

CM:     You don’t have worry about whether or not to spend that $10 million…because you just can’t!

BB:      Yeah, exactly! And the one thing now, as well as we’ve been playing, can you imagine if we had Giambi back? You know, it’s sort of scary! That’s why I keep going back to just how talented this group of players we have right now is. And then the way the pitching staff just keeps getting better and better…

Ben Grieve: Why you no love me, Billy?

JR:       Hey, how come Ben Grieve didn’t develop like it seemed he was going to when he first came up?

BB:      He had a solid rookie year, he went on to hit 28 home runs his next year, then he just seemed to plateau and it’s just hard to explain. But with young players, the first hump you have is that you get up here and you’re just happy to be here. I guess it’s probably like an album. You come out with a hit album, and that first hit album wasn’t so hard. It’s the second one. You know, the ability to recreate that.

JR:       Everyone puts out their best stuff on the first one.

BB:      Yeah, exactly. And the ability to stay up and discover what’s going to work, based on making those adjustments, is really what makes the great ones. You look at a guy like Chavez, it scares me to think about what Eric’s gonna do. This is a kid who’s hit 30 home runs, driven in 100 runs, I think two years now, and won a Gold Glove…and he’s seven years younger than Jason!

JR:       I hope Soriano’s able to make the adjustments. He swings at a lot of stuff and he’s gonna have to get a little more plate-discipline.

BB:      Oh yeah, Soriano will be fine. The kid who’s gonna be good over there too is Nick Johnson. If you look at it, the best hitters always start out with that great plate-discipline.

JR:       Yeah, he’s got great plate-discipline.

BB:      The Yankee teams of the ’90s always sort of exemplified that. I’m pretty good friends with the Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman. And when they signed Jason, I know one of the things they really wanted to focus back on was on-base percentage, which they’d lost a little bit.

CM:     Well isn’t that also a key part of your philosophy with the A’s too Billy, getting your hitters to take as many pitches as possible and trying to get opposing pitchers to throw as many pitches as you can?

BB:      Yes, because ultimately, if you go into a game and you’ve got to face Clemens for seven or eight innings, and then Mariano Rivera for one, you’re not gonna get many runs.  What you try to shoot for is trying to get the middle relievers in there, get as many at-bats as you can against them, because if you have to make your living off Clemens and Rivera, you’re not gonna win too many games.

Nolan Ryan: Pitchers these days? Please!

JR:       I saw once where they said that Nolan Ryan in one of his peak years with the Angels was averaging like 160 pitches per game, okay? That’s hardly believable! I once watched a game with Sam McDowell pitching. He had gone 11 innings and had struck out 12 or 13 guys, walked 10, and he was up to like 230 pitches!

CM:     Guys hardly throw that many pitches in three starts now!

BB:      Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine…

JR:       And Ryan, back then, would never lose a game once he had a lead after like the seventh inning. He got stronger and more dominant as the game would go along.

CM:     You know, that’s an interesting point that Johnny brings up. I’d be curious to hear you address how things have changed. I remember when I was a kid following baseball back in the ’70s, you had four-man rotations as opposed to five-man rotations and you had guys throwing nine innings quite a bit…

JR:      Ferguson Jenkins throwing 30 complete games a year…

BB:      Mickey Lolich throwing I think close to 400 innings one year…

CM:     But what do you think about this sort of change in pitching philosophy over the years?

BB:      Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s funny because we’re kind of taking a look at that ourselves. I believe that the five-man rotation came into play when Earl Weaver actually had five great starters.

JR:       The Yankees always had a five-man rotation with Casey Stengel. But Whitey Ford had never won 20 games. And in the ’61 season when Ralph Houk became manager, he went to the four-man rotation and Whitey Ford won 24 games that year. But Stengel was always doing it.

BB:      Well, I think no one really knows the reason why it came into play. But I think the reason it stays in play is because pitchers’ health is at such a premium, and teams are so protective of those great young starters. And a lot of these guys now, this generation of pitchers, have been raised on the five-man rotation.

CM:     It seems like something that just kind of crept in without really any conscious thought. And now that it’s in, everybody’s kind of used to it, so nobody wants to vary from it.

Billy Martin: Just win baby!

JR:       I remember a time before when the Dodgers had the four-man rotation in the ’60s, with Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen and Johnny Podres. They had a four-man rotation. And then Billy Martin would go to the four-man rotation…

CM:     Yeah, Billy Martin used to like to throw the starters out there as long as possible.

BB:      Yeah, unfortunately that group of pitchers he had here, I think it was ’81 in Oakland, a lot of them after that had arm injuries.

JR:       But I think that could have just happened. I don’t know if Billy’s to blame.

CM:     He did that elsewhere and it didn’t necessarily happen.

JR:       Yeah, he did it with Lolich and he had a big year the following year. For throwing 370 innings, he still had a good year the following year.

BB:      Yeah, you know what’s interesting too is the Japanese have much different theories on it.

JR:       Right, pitch more!

BB:      Yeah. And I’ll tell you what, it’s something that in our organization we just want to take a look at it and sort of examine the history, as we’re sort of doing here orally.

JR:       I guess all those breaking pitches take a toll, right?

BB:      Yeah. And for us, our bread and butter is those big three young guys…Zito, Hudson and Mulder. And we just want to make sure we don’t do anything that could lead to an injury. So we actually keep track of every pitch they throw, even in between starts.

JR:       Oh, I saw Zito throw a curveball to a lefty last night…it started out behind him and went back over for a strike!

Barry Zito: I'm mentioned in this article, and it was written this many years ago

CM:     One of those knee-buckling curves!

BB:      Barry’s pretty special. He’s also a fledgling rock star, as you may or may not know.

JR:       Everybody wants to get into the act!

BB:      In fact, remember game three of the playoffs that he started last year, the 1-0 game?

CM:     The one with the Jeter play.

BB:      Exactly! Who could forget?! Well before the game, I was in the workout room running on the treadmill. And then Barry walks in and puts in a CD, plays it as loud as he can, and gets on the warm-up bike, and doesn’t say a word to me the whole time. And he has this whole routine when he’s pitching, different songs and stuff. People call him quirky, but he’s incredibly disciplined with his routine.

CM:     He’s just really locked in, that’s really what it is! But I know when I talked to Barry, he did say that you had turned him on to the Strokes, Billy.

JR:       So I guess Billy’s the coolest guy in the organization!

CM:     Exactly, it’s up to you to pass this stuff on to the next generation of players, Billy!

BB:      Well, I was passing out Ramones CDs to Spiezio. And now with Scott Hatteberg, who’s a huge music fan, I actually gave him the DVD of “The Filth & The Fury,” and I had to explain it to him. I gave him a whole history of how Malcom McLaren had come over to New York and had sort of managed the Dolls

CM:     Yeah, he was the last of the Dolls’ bad managers.

BB:      Kind of ruined them too, didn’t he?

CM:     Well, I know Sylvain and Arthur Kane, so I’ve heard plenty of Malcolm stories.

JR:       Have you heard the one about when I hit him in the dressing room up at the Whiskey?

CM:     No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one…let’s hear it, Johnny!

JR:       Well he was in the dressing room, and I’m already offended that this guy was in my dressing room, and he says to some girl I was seeing at the time, “Hey, what’s his problem?” And I go, “What’s my problem?” And I punched him. Then I pick up Dee Dee’s bass and I go to hit him over the head with it, and they drag him out.

CM:     Just in the nick of time!

Scott Hatteberg: Filth & The Fury fan?

JR:       I don’t need this guy asking, “What’s my problem?”

CM:     Well, you know, after the Dolls broke up, Malcolm took Sylvain’s guitar back to England with him. And in some of the early Sex Pistols stuff, you see Steve Jones playing this white guitar…

JR:       The white Falcon…

CM:     Yeah, Syl’s white Falcon, exactly!

JR:       He had the Dolls dressing up in the red patent leather with the communist hammer & sickle backdrop behind them. And I’m going, “What is this?” You know?

BB:      Well, when I gave Hatteberg “The Filth & the Fury,” I explained to him the differences between the New York scene and the English scene. He actually went home and watched it and he was just blown away. He couldn’t believe how great it was!

JR:       Oh, he was liking it then?

BB:      Oh, he loved it! A couple of years ago when the Pistols did their reunion tour, I figured I had to go, right? So I went out, and there was a whole group of young guys. And then there were guys like me wearing, you know, middle-aged man clothes, who had actually bought the first 8-track! Anyway, on the last song, a young guy behind me decides the best thing to do was to push the guy in front of him. So I’m sitting there with my brother and his friend and coming this close to getting into a fistfight at a concert. I was the assistant GM at the time, so my brother grabs me and goes, “You’re the assistant GM with the A’s, you don’t need to be getting into fights at punk rock concerts!”

JR:       That would have been terrific, yeah!

BB:      The purists would say, “Oh, you can’t go see the Pistols now, it’s not the same thing.” But I’ll tell you what, it was great!

JR:       The best band I’ve seen since I got started in like ’74 were the Clash at a certain point…like around ’77-’78.

BB:      I saw them when they came over to the States on their first tour.

JR:       Yeah, with the “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” the second album tour. They were just tremendous on that tour.

BB:      When I saw them, Johnny, they had just come over, and they had not yet come out with “London Calling.” “London Calling” was due out in about six months.

The Clash: Just give 'em enough rope

JR:       So it was still after “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.”

BB:      Yeah, exactly.

JR:       They were probably at a peak there, because I saw them a year or so later, and they weren’t as good as they were the previous year. So they peaked. I guess this must have been in ’78, right?

BB:      Yeah, it was probably the Fall of ’78.

JR:       The first concert I went to see was the Rolling Stones in 1964. It was at Carnegie Hall in New York. I remember the date, June 20th, 1964.

BB:      My first one was KISS.

JR:       I see Paul Stanley around here. I’ve got him on the Ramones tribute record and he’s a really nice guy.

BB:      You guys played out here, Johnny, I think it ended up being your last tour. It was an outdoor amphitheater up in Concord, and I want to say it was ’93.

JR:       Well, the last tour would be ’96 when I did Lollapalooza. That was the last thing that I did. I retired then, and the only time I’ve ever played again was one song with Pearl Jam. They did a Ramones song and they wanted me to play one song with them.

BB:      Well, Dee Dee was actually up here about a year ago.

JR:       Yeah, Dee Dee died, you know?

BB:      Yeah, I remember the day it happened in fact.

JR:       You know, from watching athletes play beyond their prime, I wanted to retire and stay retired. I did not want to get up there and perform, and be past my prime. I was already, but I had to continue on to reach a certain amount where I could comfortably retire. So I had planned out my retirement probably five years before I retired. And I’m definitely sticking to it. I don’t even touch the guitar.

BB:      Well in terms of your guitar-playing, as you got older, did you find yourself more interested in doing more with the guitar, or did you just love the style that you…

JR:       No! I never even touched the guitar. When I’d walk on the stage, that’s when I touched the guitar!

BB:      Just had a callous on that index finger, right?

JR:       Yeah, we’d keep touring and playing all the time. I just loved playing for the fans, otherwise to me it was like I hated being on the road. I loved getting on the stage and playing the hour-and-fifteen-minute show for the fans.

CM:     Everything else was just work, huh?

JR:       Yeah, everything else was just work! But I loved meeting the fans, talking to the fans. I signed autographs for every fan. It was such a good feeling knowing that if I talked to them for one minute, they seemed to be so excited and it would make their day. And I thought, “Wow, this is just great that I’m able to make their day just by being nice to them!”

Phil Spector: He never was able to wash the Ramones out of his hair

BB:      By the way, I actually liked “End Of The Century” that came out in ’79-’80, the one that Spector did with you guys. In fact, that was the first year I signed. I was in the instructional league and wearing that out. That’s when “Rock & Roll High School” came out too, the movie. And I remember all those problems that supposedly you guys had with Phil Spector doing that album. And you know, it was supposed to have been a nightmare recording it.

JR:       Right.

BB:      But I actually like the album. I think the sound is great!

JR:       Rhino just put out the next four albums starting with “End of the Century,” “Pleasant Dreams,” “Subterranean Jungle,” and “Too Tough To Die.” They came up with bonus tracks and demos and everything else. I’ll send you a bunch of stuff.

BB:      I was just saying…I never get tired of it! I go into a ballpark now, and some of the riffs that you guys had I hear in ballparks, and commercials…

JR:       Oh yeah, it’s so funny. Actually, I sit there, and when it comes on, if I’m at the ballpark, I feel embarrassed and I’ll look down. I try to hide.

BB:      Well, you know, I was in Berkeley about 11 years ago and I was gonna buy a guitar. So there was a young guy who was working at the guitar store. And he goes, “Well what do you like?” And I said to him, “Well, do you like the Ramones?” And he looked at me straight as can be and goes, “Doesn’t everyone?”

JR:       I wish!

BB:      …as if that was a ridiculous question to even ask! But I remember, even in the ’80s in Milwaukee, they used to play the intro to “Blitzkrieg Bop!”

JR:       Yeah, a lot of the ballparks put it on.

BB:      Well Milwaukee was one of the first to do it in the ’80s. And with “Blitzkrieg Bop,” they never played the words, they just played the intro.

JR:       Yeah. “Hey, ho, let’s go!” They play it at Yankee Stadium all the time.

Bay City Rollers: the Ramones' biggest threat?

BB:      Well it must be flattering, especially when you think about the first time you guys put that riff together, and you’re thinking “Hey, this works!” And then…

JR:       Well, we had written that song because we had heard the Bay City Rollers doing “Saturday Night.” And we thought that was our competition, the Bay City Rollers. So we had to come up with a song that had a chant ’cause they had one too.

CM:     That was gonna be your big pop hit!

BB:      Well, I think you outlasted them!

JR:       So what are they going to do about steroid use, Billy? How do we go 37 years with Roger Maris’s record there, and then have it broken six times or something in this recent period? They’ve made a joke of these records that stood…it’s not adding up.

BB:      Well, obviously when things happen people are always going to start to wonder. But it sounds like they’re working on something that I think, if anything, would lend itself to at least putting away some of the questions about some of the things that are going on.

JR:       Well if I was hitting 50 homers and I was not on steroids, I would come forward and say, “I volunteer to be tested.”

BB:      Yeah, if I was hitting 50 homers…well if I was hitting 50 homers, I wouldn’t be the GM of the A’s right now! But you know, all through the ’80s, weightlifting was totally taboo in baseball. And guys now lift weights in baseball like they do in football, so there’s no question that the players are stronger because they are working harder. When I first got in the game, the only thing guys did was they hit and they threw. The conditioning they did was very minimal compared to now.

JR:       Yeah, that part is all true. But no one’s hitting home runs any farther than Mickey Mantle.

Mickey Mantle: They're still not hitting 'em any farther than this guy!

BB:      Well there are certain guys, Mantle being one of them, that transcend time anyway. And I always believe that even in the game now, there’s a group of players that is so much better. They’re at such a level beyond everybody else that it’s like Jordan in basketball. Bonds is one of those guys, and so was Mantle, and guys like McGwire. Put him in any era, 20 years from now, and he’s just gonna be exactly what he was, a tremendous player!

JR:       Right, the great players would be great in any era.

JR:       Well, it looks like it’s gonna be the A’s and the Yankees again this year!

BB:      Well, we’ll cross our fingers. I hope we get a chance at them. We’ve got a tough division.

CM:     Do you watch all the Yankee games on cable, Johnny?

JR:       Oh yeah. You know, occasionally I’m cheated out of a couple though. They don’t have them all on.

CM:     Do you get out to many games since you’ve moved to southern California?

JR:       No, not that many because my wife doesn’t want to go. And I’m sort of at home with my wife now. But retirement’s great though…I love it! This is what I’ve looked forward to all my life. It was a little weird the first year, sitting around and missing playing. But I knew that’s how it was gonna be. That’s why boxers don’t get out; that’s why ballplayers don’t get out. But I tried to prepare myself for that mentally. Look, I did it for 22 years…time to move on with my life. You know, I’ve been married for 20 years and I’m just happy being home with my wife.

CM:     Well, it’s time to start spending more time focusing on baseball now, Johnny!

JR:       Yeah, trust me, I do plenty of that!

BB:      You’re a collector too, right Johnny?

JR:       Yeah, I’m a collector. I don’t have it anymore, but I had probably the largest autographed 8×10 collection in the country. I had about 5,500 different players’ autographed 8x10s…pretty much from 1950 on, probably 75% of the players. But I’m also a movie poster collector. So I decided to liquidate that collection a few months ago and put the money towards movie posters. I just wanted to make it easier on my wife in case anything ever happened to me. So I just took the money and put it into some 1930s horror movie posters that I collect. My friend Kirk Hammett from Metallica, he’s a huge collector too. He lives in San Francisco…but unfortunately, he’s not a baseball fan!

BB:      Well if there’s any baseball stuff I could get you…

JR:       Well I do collect team-autographed balls!

BB:      Well I’ll get you one of those!

JR:       I have mostly ’50s stuff…’55 Senators, ’55 White Sox, ’55 Cardinals. But guys now don’t write as neat as they used to…every signature was so perfect! But I’d love to be able to add something…

BB:      Well why don’t we be optimistic and say that you’ll be getting the 2002 World Champion team ball?!

JR:       Well if I had an Oakland A’s team ball, I might have to start rooting for them!

BB:      That’s what I’m banking on! Well like I said, I tried to stop from gushing, but I’m like a Star Trek fan when it comes to the Ramones. Thanks for taking the time out, Johnny. I really appreciate it. I’m a huge fan, as big as they come!

JR:       Yeah, it was great talking to you too!

 

You can also check out my original review of Moneyball from back in 2003 here… ChinMusic! – Moneyball Book Review

 

Yours truly with Johnny and Billy in 2002

 

Exclusive: A’s GM Billy Beane Talks Trades and Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 2

Billy Beane, pondering the A's outfield picture

Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of our exclusive interview with A’s general manager Billy Beane, where he discussed the talents of Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the Trevor Cahill deal with the Diamondbacks, and the big Gio Gonzalez trade with the Nationals. In today’s episode, we’ll cover the Andrew Bailey deal with the Red Sox, what he looks for in minor league players, his favorite new bands, and his biggest catch of the offseason. Now let’s get back to the action – we rejoin our game, already in progress…

AF: Now let’s take a look at the Boston deal for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. You got Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara. Obviously, Reddick is the guy we’re expecting to see first. So what did you really like about him?

BB: He had a real good year last year with Boston just coming up – he’s still very young. We were at the time certainly still in desperate need of some young outfielders who were ready to step in. Josh is a great defender and a very, very athletic kid, and a guy that we always liked even before this year. So given the need at the position and some of the success that he had his first year out, we thought he’d be a good fit for us.

AF: I guess you’re looking at him as primarily a corner outfielder at this point.

BB: Probably most of the time, but Josh has the ability to play center too. So that’s nice to have, particularly if you need to give guys rest. But he’s an outstanding corner guy and he’s a very capable center fielder, which is never a bad thing.

AF: It sounds like you’re going to have a lot of capable center fielders on the roster this year.

BB: Yeah, well it’s nice to have. You’ve got to give guys rest. And if someone goes down, you really don’t want to be stuck with just one because it creates this huge hole. So having guys you can move around if needed is great to have as a manager.

AF: Guys getting injured? Imagine that!

Josh Reddick: To shave or not to shave? That is the question! (photo by Kelly O'Connor/sittingstill.net)

BB: Yeah, exactly!

AF: I’m assuming Josh Reddick’s going to have every shot at being a starting outfielder for you in the major leagues this year, right?

BB: Yeah, that’s the thought. Yes.

AF: Now Miles Head is someone people weren’t quite as familiar with. I think he’s only had one full year in the minors. What about him got your attention?

BB: Well, he took some big strides forward with the bat this year. He had a very good offensive year. His original position was third, and we’re going to move him back over to third. And if he can combine his offense with some capable defense, he’s a pretty interesting prospect. But he made some huge strides last year offensively, and that’s what brought him to our notice.

AF: The final piece of that deal was Raul Alcantara, a very young pitcher. What did you like about him?

BB: Well we saw him in the Gulf Coast League a couple times and he was very impressive down there. Once again, he’s got a very good fastball, a good arm, and showed himself very well for a young kid. And we were very impressed with him.

AF: Now when you’re looking at minor league hitters, whether your own players or other people’s, what are the key things you’re looking for?

BB: Well, I think the whole game is about controlling the strike zone, whether you’re a pitcher trying to get hitters to swing outside the zone or you’re a hitter trying to shrink the strike zone. And it’s a skill set that translates from the minor leagues to the major leagues very well, so that’s certainly one of the first things we look at. And let’s face it, it’s still hitting, so the ability to make solid contact on a consistent basis is always pretty important.

AF: What about minor league pitchers? What are the first things you’re looking at when evaluating them?

BB: I think you always like to see strikeouts, swings and misses, because it’s not dependent on anything else. And it’s also a good indicator of a guy’s future success in the major leagues. So it’s nice to see guys who strike guys out and miss bats.

AF: Well it seems like a lot of the guys you’ve gotten this offseason are pretty hard throwers and have some pretty good strikeout numbers, so it sounds like that’s really the direction you’re going.

BB: Let’s put it this way, you don’t have to throw hard to strike guys out, but it helps. There’s certainly a correlation between strikeouts and velocity. But strikeouts are a good indication of what a guy’s stuff is like. And if guys can’t hit it, it must be pretty good.

AF: Now this offseason, you acquired a lot of young pitchers, and a few young hitters. You’ve also had some young hitting prospects in the system for the last few years. And it seems like you’ve opened up plenty of opportunities for the young pitchers to play and make it at the major league level this year. But you’ve also gone out and acquired some major league hitters and maybe not opened the door quite so wide for some of your young hitting prospects. So what was the thinking behind that?

BB: Well our feeling is, you’ll get the opportunity when you sort of earn that. If we thought guys were ready or had proven they’re ready with their minor league performance, we would give them that opportunity. But in many cases, that just isn’t what’s happened. Minor league players don’t stay minor league players for very long if they hit well. It’s really that simple.

AF: If you earn it, it will come!

BB: Yeah, absolutely.

AF: I’m curious to know how the season looks from a general manager’s perspective. What’s the slowest time of the year for you when you can maybe turn your focus away from baseball for a minute and take a vacation or do something else?

BB: Nowadays, I’m not sure there is. There’s never a day when there’s not something for you to do. But probably the time when a lot of the industry will at least take a little bit of a break is between Christmas and New Year’s. But there’s very little time other than that when you’re not really working on something. Even when I go on vacation, usually I’m working. We take the family to Hawaii every year, but every year I’m usually up early in the morning making calls and trying to get things done before we get out for the day. But it’s turned into probably a 360-day-a-year job. And with the access to general managers through mobile phones and e-mail, it really never shuts down.

AF: I guess it’s not like the old days when you could go on vacation and people couldn’t find you.

BB: It actually works out good because when you are away, you don’t feel disconnected. Sometimes vacations are no fun if you know there’s a lot of stuff piling up on your desk. I think it works out good because I think you actually have more freedom now because you can get a hold of people so much easier than you could ten years ago. So I actually think it’s a good thing.

AF: So you don’t have to rush back to the office to deal with everything.

BB: Yeah, exactly.

AF: So what’s the busiest and most intense time of the year for you?

BB: When the World Series ends up through Christmas is by far the most intense and busiest time as far as the workload goes. Every year, that period is the one when you’ve always got something to do and your day never seems to end – right up to the Winter Meetings and even up until Christmas – that’s by far the busiest time.

AF: And when do you start preparing for the draft?

BB: Right after the start of the year. The scouting department is getting everything ready. They’re having their meetings.

AF: I’m assuming you’re in a pretty intense mode leading up to the draft in June.

BB: Yeah, for the scouting department it’s intense for them until the draft. And for myself and David Forst and some of the other guys, it’s pretty involved just making sure that we see some of the guys we can in April and May leading up to the draft in June.

AF: So what’s the most interesting non-baseball experience you’ve had this offseason?

Billy Beane's biggest catch of the offseason?

BB: Catching a 30-pound salmon on a fly rod! That was probably the most interesting and the most fun non-baseball thing.

AF: Where were you fishing at?

BB: Up near Redding on the lower Sacramento River.

AF: So I guess you’ll also be headed out to Hollywood for the Oscars soon, right?

BB: Yeah, that’s next weekend. So that should be fun. It’s been an interesting year with the movie and everything. And this will be sort of a bookend to it all. And it’s a great honor for the people who put the movie together, certainly for Brad Pitt and all the people who were nominated. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. And my wife and daughter are going to be there with me, so it’ll be a great experience.

AF: Any good new music you’ve been listening to lately?

Hey ho, let's go A's!

BB: I like that new M83 stuff that’s out – it’s a little different. I like the Dum Dum Girls. It’s got a little bit of that Raveonettes kind of sound – that wall of sound. I still like that National album that came out. The other band I like I’ve been hearing that I think is an L.A. band is Bleached. Those are a couple of the more recent ones.

AF: Well, you know the Johnny Ramone autobiography is coming out April 1st?

BB: Aw man, that’ll be great. I’ll look forward to it. It’s still hard to believe three of the original Ramones are no longer with us.

AF: But the drummers are all still alive!

BB: I know! I was just thumbing through this book on the Ramones, and I was looking at pictures of Johnny and Dee Dee and Joey, and they look so young. It just doesn’t seem like that long ago.

AF: I know. It’s amazing how quick they all went.

Shortly after that, like the Ramones, our connection was lost, as our intrepid general manager traversed the desert on his way to Phoenix. So that concludes our pre-season check-in with the A’s main man. Hopefully we’ll have some pleasantly surprising new developments to discuss when we check in again in the post-season. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section. And be sure to check back in at A’s Farm this weekend, when I’ll be re-posting my Billy Beane/Johnny Ramone joint interview from the memorable Moneyball/winning streak season of 2002!

Exclusive: A’s GM Billy Beane Talks Trades and Prospects with A’s Farm – Part 1

A's GM Billy Beane is cornered by a horde of hungry sportswriters at the general managers' meetings in Florida (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

To very loosely paraphrase that old-time sports junkie Alfred, Lord Tennyson…“it’s spring training and a young man’s fancy turns to baseball!” Well, not just young men’s, but lots of middle-aged and old men’s too! It’s also a time for general managers and front office staffs to evaluate just what they’ve got to work with. And few of them will be casting their eyes on as vast a sea of unrecognizable faces as our own general manager, Billy Beane, who spent much of the offseason acquiring talented young prospects that most of us wouldn’t recognize if we were standing next to them at one of the Coliseum’s communal urinal troughs!

A’s Farm took the opportunity to talk with Mr. Beane late last week, just prior to his arrival in Phoenix for the start of spring training, and just shortly before the mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers. We wanted to get his take on all the hot young prospects he spent his winter working to get his mitts on. Neither his reported contract extension with the team nor the Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez signings were official at the time of this interview, so he couldn’t comment much on those subjects. But I think his passion for the team and his excitement over the talented core of young players he’s assembled clearly show through here. So without any further ado, let’s go to the tape…

AF: Just to start out with, can you talk about your new contract extension that’ll reportedly be keeping you with the A’s through the 2019 season?

BB: We’re putting some finishing touches on it. It’s not quite finished, but I anticipate it being finished very soon. Conceptually we’re in agreement on most of the issues now and we’re just finishing it up.

AF: And is there anything new to report on the whole situation with the potential move to San Jose?

BB: Unfortunately, no news on the San Jose, or stadium front, as I like to call it. We just continue to patiently wait for some decision. We’ve been told straight-up that it’s going to come soon. It hasn’t, but we still continue to wait. There’s been no new news recently.

AF: I guess you’ve been having to give that same answer for a while now.

BB: Yeah, unfortunately we have. But there’s nothing we can do about it. The powers that be have their own timetable and things that they have to do, so we just patiently wait.

AF: Though it’s not official yet, the A’s have reportedly signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a 4-year deal. So what can you say about him at this point?

BB: He’s a very talented player that we’ve spent a significant amount of time scouting. He’s a center-of-the-diamond player. He’s got tremendous physical skill. He’s played at the highest level internationally on arguably the best amateur team in the world. And it’s hard to find that kind of talent out there.

AF: Well let’s get to all the big offseason deals. When you first started talking to Arizona about a potential trade for Trevor Cahill, was Jarrod Parker one of first names that came to your mind?

Will Jarrod Parker wind up in the rotation? (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

BB: If we were going to give up a pitcher in our starting rotation, particularly someone of Trevor’s caliber, one of the places we were going to have to start was with someone we felt could replace Trevor in the rotation very quickly. The Diamondbacks have a number of good young pitching prospects, and Jarrod certainly was near the top of the list for us.

AF: What stood out most about him to you?

BB: He’s been a pretty high profile kid since he came out of high school. I believe he was the tenth player in the draft, so he’s always been on everybody’s radar screen. He had Tommy John surgery a couple years ago and he bounced back well from that. He’s not a real big kid, but he’s got a real explosive fastball. And of everything we know, he’s supposed to be a tremendous kid with great makeup and competitiveness as well. So we gave up a very good pitcher, and what we really did was turn back the clock a little bit in terms of the service time and the cost. So we were fortunate and happy to get Jarrod and fortunate that Arizona would consider moving him to us.

AF: Is there anything you feel he still needs to work on?

BB: Usually with young pitchers, it’s just refining their command of the strike zone. Most guys who get to the big leagues can throw a strike, but it’s also about throwing quality strikes. And that sometimes comes with experience. So I think in Jarrod’s case, it’s just being even finer with his command – and continue to work on his breaking ball, because he certainly has a major league fastball.

AF: And what do you think his prospects are for making the major league roster?

BB: Well he’s certainly going to get the opportunity, along with all the young pitchers. Some of it will be depending on where Dallas Braden is in his recovery. Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross – those guys will probably get a shot at the rotation, because we’ve lost a couple guys and Dallas may not be ready, and we may take it slow with him. I think he’s doing great, and I think he anticipates being ready. But if we’ve got a lot of depth with young guys, we may opt to go very slow with Dallas and make sure he holds up all year.

AF: So do you consider it pretty wide open for the final two or, if Braden’s not ready, three spots in the rotation – with Milone, Peacock, Parker, Godfrey, and Ross?

BB: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

AF: I know you’ve had your eye on outfielder Collin Cowgill for a while now. I think you drafted him once and have tried to trade for him before.

BB: Yeah, we had a long history with Collin. We’d drafted him the year before he signed [with Arizona] out of Kentucky, and he opted to go back to school. And over the course of the last couple years in pro ball, we’ve always liked him as a player. We just weren’t able to get him over in a deal. He’s a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three positions and is ready to take the next step in the big leagues. He was a good fit as well in terms of where he was at in his development. He’s got a lot of skills, he’s got a little bit of power, he’s a good hitter and a good defender. He’s a pretty balanced all-around player.

AF: Is there anything you’d like to see him work on at this point?

Has Collin Cowgill earned his shot? (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

BB: Right now, he just needs to get some at bats at the major league level. He’s proven himself at every minor league stop. So hopefully we can just get him enough at bats. The fact that he’s right-handed will help that, and he can play center field. For him, it’s just experience and feeling comfortable. He had some big league experience last year and he had some postseason experience too. But we do like him as a player and we think he could have a long major league career with us.

AF: What do you think his odds are of making the major league roster out of camp?

BB: Well I think he’s got a very good chance. He’s done everything at every minor league level. So it’s really about giving him that chance. But he’s earned his way to the big leagues, and I think he’s got a very good chance. He’s got a lot of versatility too. It’s nice to have a guy who can play all three outfield positions.

AF: Now the final guy in the Arizona deal was reliever Ryan Cook. What did you see in him that made you want to get him included in this deal?

BB: Well he’s a guy who made some huge strides last year. He was converted from a starter to the bullpen. He’s got a big arm. He’s the kind of guy you like to have in the bullpen – a big power arm. He got a little bit of big league time last year, but really took a step forward. It’s nice to have guys with that kind of velocity in your bullpen. And he’s a guy we actually tried earlier in the year to get in another deal. So we were happy to get him as well.

AF: How hard does he throw?

BB: He can get it up there 95-96mph. He’s definitely well above the 90 mark. He can get in the mid-90s.

AF: Will he have every chance of making the major league roster?

BB: Yeah, it’s hard to say. Someone of those things we’ll be sorting out during the spring. But he’ll be given a chance.

AF: Now when you started talking to Washington about the deal for Gio Gonzalez, was there one name on the top of your list that you were intent on getting included in that deal from the start?

BB: We liked all four players quite a bit. It was a challenge getting all four, but we knew we had a pretty good pitcher we were trading. And I think, to Washington’s credit, it was a pretty competitive trade market. There were a lot of teams interested in Gio. But I don’t know that we’ve had a deal since I’ve been here where we’ve really liked every player at the level we like these guys. We think all of them are going to be major league players. The three pitchers have a chance to be major league starters. And in Norris’s case, we think he’s going to be a front-line major league catcher. So to get that many guys you think are going to be major leaguer starters or front-line major leaguers, I think is pretty unusual, so we were very pleased with what we got back.

AF: Well that deal certainly did a lot to fortify your whole system and it looks like those three guys could be the core of your major league rotation for some time to come.

BB: Yeah, hopefully. With a small market club, you kind of have to develop your own pitching. And when you trade for it, you have to get it pretty young. We’re not going to make much headway going through the free agent market for pitchers. It’s expensive and it’s pretty risky. So this is the way we have to do it. Hopefully this group will be a group that stays together for a long time. A lot of it’s predicated on what our future is.

AF: So let’s break it down one by one. Tom Milone, a left-hander, seems to be a pretty smart pitcher who knows what he’s doing. What did you see in him that you really liked?

Can Tom Milone replace Gio in the rotation, and as Dallas Braden's favorite lefty friend? (photo by Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI)

BB: He’s a little bit like Dallas Braden. He’s a pitcher who’s really dominated at every level he’s been at since he signed. He’s not going to wow you with his fastball velocity like Dallas. But he really knows how to pitch. He’s got great command. And ever since he came out of the draft, he really hasn’t hit any rough spots whatsoever.

AF: Now Brad Peacock was the lowest drafted of all the guys you got this offseason, but his minor league numbers were great. What did you see in him you really liked?

BB: Well he was a converted guy. So he really just started pitching. But he’s got a power arm and a real sort of heavy fastball. He had a great year and pitched a little bit in the big leagues. But he was one of the better pitchers in the Eastern League and one of the top prospects for Washington, so we were pretty excited to get him in this deal.

AF: He had an awful lot of strikeouts. What’s his best pitch, and how hard does he throw?

BB: He’s got an explosive fastball. The fastball’s the best pitch for anybody to start with. So it all starts with his fastball. And I think he was near the top in the minor leagues in strikeouts per nine last year, and that’s usually a pretty good indicator of how a guy might do in the major leagues. He can get it up there 93-94mph with some movement and it’s got some pop to it.

AF: Now the other pitcher in that deal was A.J. Cole. He’s very young, but people rank him very highly and think he’s very talented. What got you excited about him?

BB: He was a high-profile high school kid out of the draft. He’s got sort of a classic pitcher’s build – long, lean with a real loose arm. He’s got a tremendous amount of talent, starting with his fastball – which he can get up to the mid-90s – which again, is a great place to start. He’s the farthest away of anybody, but he could have the highest upside of anybody.

AF: Where do you see him starting out this year, probably in Stockton?

BB: It’s hard to say right now. That would be the logical next step for him. But I don’t want to make any commitments till I’ve gotten a chance to get to know the kid.

AF: The final piece in that deal was catcher Derek Norris. He seems like a classic guy you might be interested in. He gets on base, he has some power. I know he had a low batting average the last year or two. I don’t know much about his defensive skills. So tell me how you see him?

BB: Well, just as you said. It’s hard to find a guy at that position who hits for power and gets on base. He’s not dissimilar to the way Mike Napoli was when he was coming up with the Angels. His throwing was very good last year. He throws runners out at a very high clip. So he’s got a good combination of skills for that position. He’s very athletic. He actually runs pretty well. He probably runs well enough to be an outfielder if you needed him to be.

AF: Do you view him as a catcher though?

BB: Yeah, he’s definitely a catcher. It’s just unusual to find a catcher who runs that well and is as athletic as he is.

AF: Do you anticipate him ending up in Triple-A or do you think he needs any more time in Double-A?

BB: I think he’s about ready to take the next step. We’ll see how spring goes, but I don’t think we have any illusions about whether he’s going to go back to Double-A.

 

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our exclusive interview with A’s GM Billy Beane, in which he discusses the Andrew Bailey deal with Boston, what he looks for in minor league players, his favorite new bands, and his biggest catch of the offseason! In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section.

 

Spring Has Sprung!

A’s pitchers and catchers report for the first day of workouts in Phoenix.
(All photos taken from public Twitter feeds and credited below)

The Green & Gold on display in the A's clubhouse in Phoenix (photo from Oakland A's official Twitter feed @Athletics)

A's likely opening day starter Brandon McCarthy (photo from Susan Slusser's Twitter feed @susanslusser)

2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray (photo from Jane Lee's Twitter feed @JaneMLB)

Pitching coach Curt Young observing pitcher Brad Peacock (photo from Jane Lee's twitter feed @JaneMLB)

New catcher Derek Norris gets acquainted with old catcher Kurt Suzuki (#8) (photo from Susan Slusser's Twitter feed @susanslusser)

Former A's infielder Phil Garner talks with catchers Anthony Recker, Josh Donaldson and Max Stassi (crouching) (photo from Susan Slusser's Twitter feed @susanslusser)


Be sure to check back tomorrow for the start of our exclusive two-part interview with A’s GM Billy Beane.


A’s Sign Cespedes, Manny to Follow: Bad News for Taylor, Carter & Cowgill

Yoenis Cespedes: As Chico Escuela might say, "Baseball been berry berry good to him!"

The A’s shocked the baseball world on Monday when news broke that the team had signed Cuban free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The team reportedly inked the 26-year-old to a 4-year, $36 million contract that will keep him with the A’s through the 2015 season. The right-handed slugger set a single-season home run record in Cuba last year, clubbing 33 homers in 354 at bats to go along with an impressive .333/.424/.667 slash line.

The prized prospect is considered a 5-tool player, but how his talents will translate once he’s transplanted into the major leagues is anyone’s guess. But we should find out soon enough as Cespedes, who played center field in Cuba, is expected to open the season in either center or right field for the A’s. The slugger could be counted on to be the cleanup hitter that general manager Billy Beane recently said he was looking for, with recently acquired outfielder Seth Smith slotting in the #3 spot right behind outfielder Coco Crisp and second baseman Jemile Weeks, who’s expected to bat leadoff.

Cespedes’ power is clear (hitting 1 home run every 10.7 at bats in Cuba last year), and he also possesses some speed, but his plate discipline and ability to hit for average are likely to be the biggest question marks. Experts seem to be expecting something like a .250-.260 batting average from him with somewhere between 20-30 home runs per season. With those sorts of numbers, he could have a career that profiles something like Vernon Wells or, for old school A’s fans, perhaps George Hendrick.

After the Cespedes signing, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted that the A’s are still interested in signing Manny Ramirez. And the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports that the A’s are likely to sign Manny and give him a shot once his 50-day suspension is over in mid-May.

Manny says: "Let Yoenis be Yoenis!"

Beyond the obvious reasons, the Cespedes signing, along with the continued talk about Manny, is also interesting for what it says about how the A’s view other players on their roster. While the team seems willing to put plenty of faith in their young pitching prospects’ ability to step up and perform in the majors this season, they clearly seem reluctant to want to put much faith in most of their young hitting prospects at this point.

Rather than giving a clear shot to young hitting prospects like Michael Taylor, Chris Carter, Brandon Allen or Collin Cowgill, the A’s have instead brought in Cespedes, Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes, re-signed Coco Crisp, and seem poised to bring in Manny Ramirez as well, virtually locking out the young hitters from any real opportunities on the major league roster.

At this point, barring a trade, the A’s will open the season with five outfielders on the major league roster – Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick, Smith and Gomes (with Smith and Gomes likely getting most of their at bats in the designated hitter spot – at least until Manny Ramirez’s potential arrival).

Assuming Suzuki, Sizemore, Pennington and Weeks will be joined on the roster by a backup catcher (Powell, Recker or Donaldson) and a utility infielder (Rosales or Sogard), that leaves two open spots on the offensive roster. And considering various comments by A’s management in recent weeks and at FanFest, it seems that Daric Barton and Brandon Allen would be favored for those last two spots.

Michael Taylor: Out in the cold, on the banks of the Sacramento river? (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

That leaves a glut of ten potential outfielders and first basemen available for the Triple-A Rivercats roster, including Chris Carter, Kila Ka’aihue, Michael Taylor, Collin Cowgill, Grant Green, Brandon Moss, Jason Pridie, Jeff Fiorentino, Cedric Hunter and Jermaine Mitchell. Since the A’s have rarely carried more than six outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter types on the Sacramento roster at any given time, something will have to give.

Mitchell isn’t likely to be fully healthy at the start of the season, and Hunter is still young enough that he could be sent back down to Double-A. That leaves two left still to be trimmed. Spring injuries could take care of one or both of those spots, as could potential trades. But of the ten names listed above, you’d expect the A’s to give priority for Triple-A outfield at bats to Cowgill, Taylor and Green, and priority for first base and designated hitter at bats to Carter and Ka’aihue.

So it seems like minor league free agent signees Brandon Moss, Jason Pridie and Jeff Fiorentino, all of whom signed on with the A’s when the only experienced major league outfielder on the roster was Ryan Sweeney, might end up regretting their decision since they could very well wind up out in the cold. And it’s safe to assume that Cuba’s loss is bound to leave Taylor, Carter and Cowgill on the outside looking in as well.

 

 

Beane To Remain With A’s Through 2019

Billy Beane: Looking to the future

A’s owner Lew Wolff told Bloomberg Television today that General Manager and Vice-President Billy Beane and team President Michael Crowley have both agreed to extensions that will keep them with the team through the 2019 season.

Beane, who has been general manager of the A’s since 1997, is the longest-tenured GM in the American League. And Crowley signed on with the team just one year later. The 76-year-old Wolff told Bloomberg, “If they are here another 30 years, that’s fine with me.” Then he joked, “Somebody said the reason I am doing it is I want one or the other to be able to wheel me into the new stadium.”

And what’s most important in this story for A’s fans is what’s not said about what it means for that new stadium. As everyone knows, the A’s are eager to build a new stadium for themselves in San Jose and have been awaiting a decision from Commissioner Bud Selig granting them permission to do just that.

Wolff and the A’s brass have basically described a decision that would block their proposed move to San Jose as a death sentence for the team. Unconfirmed rumors have been circulating that the fix may be in and that Selig will grant the A’s permission to move before long. And today’s news only seems to make that speculation more credible.

Why would the team’s two top executives choose to commit themselves for the next eight seasons to a team that may have no future? They wouldn’t. The announcement that Beane and Crowley have committed to the A’s through 2019 means that they clearly see a bright future for the A’s – in San Jose – through the end of the decade and they want to be around to see it!

A's owner Lew Wolff: Look, no Mt. Davis! (AP Photo/San Jose Mercury News, LiPo Ching)

Cubs claim Adrian Cardenas off waivers from A’s

Adrian Cardenas: You're going to be needing a jacket in Chicago

The Chicago Cubs claimed infielder Adrian Cardenas off waivers from the A’s today. The team had designated Cardenas for assignment 10 days ago after signing free agent outfielder Jonny Gomes.

Cardenas was originally acquired from the Phillies, along with pitcher Josh Outman and outfielder Matt Spencer, in the Joe Blanton trade. The 24-year-old hit well in Triple-A last season, posting a .314/.374/.418 slash line at Sacramento. Cardenas never got a major league at bat with the A’s though, and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus tweeted today that, “He’s a really bad infielder.”

Cardenas started out as a second baseman and shortstop, but the A’s eventually shifted him to third base, and then to left field last season. And the team obviously had a hard time finding a position they felt was right for him.

The loss of Cardenas opens up the second base position at Triple-A Sacramento this year for Wes Timmons, who will be teaming up with the loser of the A’s utility infielder battle – Eric Sogard or Adam Rosales – at shortstop, with Stephen Parker at third, and most likely Kila Ka’aihue at first, to form the 2012 Rivercats infield.

 

 

Adam Rosales (photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Eric Sogard (photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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