Last weekend the Oakland Athletics held their annual FanFest event, this time back at the O.co Coliseum where it belongs. At the event, along with all of the normal fare of getting pictures with players, we bloggers had an opportunity to sit down in a suite overlooking what would normally be the outfield, the field was covered in dirt and mud in preparation for the Monster Jam series. It was a fascinating hour we got to spend with Assistant GM David Forst (and his adorable son), Manager Bob Melvin, and pitchers Jim Johnson and Sonny Gray. There were a number of questions fired their way, and many great answers fired back at us, but there was one overarching theme that came out, this team is supremely confident about their prospects in 2014.
We all are painfully aware of the big money moves that were made within the division, with Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, and Shin-Soo Choo moving to the AL West, but the Athletics simply are not phased. Nor should they be, they are the two-time defending AL West Champions anyway. I asked Forst what, if any offseason objectives they failed to meet, and Forst couldn’t name any glaring misses during the offseason. Thanks, and credit to Athletics Farm for the quotes (that AC unit ruined a lot of my audio), be sure to check that site out as it is truly one of the best for A’s insight.
“When you look at our checklist at the end of October, replace Bartolo Colon, replace Grant Balfour, so you’ve got a starting pitcher and a closer. Craig Gentry was a guy we had been focused on for a long time who we just felt fit so well…with his ability to play all three outfield spots, running, hitting from the right side, so we sort of checked that one off…We added more pieces to the bullpen. We got some depth in the starting rotation with Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz. These were all things that we sort of laid out in October. You just hope you can hit as many as possible.”
Forst believes the team made enough improvements to three-peat as division champions.
“We still feel like the make-up of the complete 25-man roster gives us a chance to repeat, and as great a job as Bob Melvin has done the last two years of managing that group – putting guys in the right spots, platooning, using the bullpen. We feel like from 1 to 25, we’re just as strong as we were, if not stronger than, the last two years. And certainly the bullpen – with adding Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson to what was already an outstanding group, maybe potentially a full season of Dan Otero, and Jesse Chavezshowed last year what he can do – that has to be a strength that we’re going to lean on a lot.”
I asked about Josh Reddick, and whether this was a make or break season for him, Forst didn’t seem to think so.
“We certainly expect Josh to bounce back. I don’t think anybody knows fully how much his wrist affected him last year, and Josh will never ever admit it privately or publicly. But the fact is that he had that injury in Houston early in the year. And when you look at the difference in his numbers between 2012 and 2013, a player with his talent, you have to assume there’s something else going on. So we fully expect Josh to bounce back – and I fully expect to have him under contract hopefully sometime in the next couple weeks. But Josh adds so much with his defense alone that it’s hard to calculate his value to the team. And if he does get back to being the offensive player that we saw in 2012, he has the chance to carry this team at times.”
I still question though, just how long a leash Reddick will have with Craig Gentry in the fold. Bob Melvin spoke of the benefit of the depth of this team.
“Well, I think we increased the depth. We added a couple more switch hitters. Alberto Callaspo was here for a portion of the season…obviously Nick Punto’s the other guy I was talking about. So we’ll look at maybe Callaspo some at first base against left-handed pitching potentially. But the versatility and the depth gets more so each and every year. And I think it’s better than it was in was in 2012, better than it was in 2013…but the division has gotten better as well. So you always feel like you have to get better and address the deficiencies that you think your team had the year before.”
I asked what he and the team could take from the past two years of playoff experience.
“You always try to take the confidence that you had and what you’ve accomplished in years past, and we’ve accomplished some good things the last couple years. You also find some motivation in getting beaten in a certain fashion a couple years in a row. So we wouldn’t be scared of that situation again. We would relish it if we got it again. But more than anything, you try to find what’s best for your team that motivates you the best. And I think for us, it’s bringing our confidence with us and getting past what was a sour taste for us the last couple years.”
Jim Johnson had some glowing impressions of his new team, and his confidence in the team to make the postseason appeared high as well.
“I’m really excited to be here. I got to meet a lot of the guys for the first time officially [at FanFest]. I’ve played against quite a few of them for a couple years. You see how much fun they have on the field, and how that carries over, and the tight-knit group that they have. This is the time of year we’re all excited to just get out there and just start playing. I can tell it’s going to be a fun year.”
As a fan, it was a bit tough to see all this incredible talent move into the A’s division. There is no doubt that the team is the “hunted” now. I’ll admit that throughout the offseason I was hesitant to remain confident about the team being AL West Champions again, but this changed my mind. The confidence Forst, Melvin, and Johnson (Sonny Gray too, although he didn’t specifically address the topic) showed was legitimate. You could tell they truly feel they are the best team top to bottom in the division, and they weren’t just paying us all lip service. This belief in themselves might just be the final piece in carrying them over the hump, they’ve done everything except kick the door in, as Melvin stated, and there is no better time than now to to just that.