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!