Blogger Q&A's are a hit or miss proposition. They are something we'll only seek to do a few times a year and typically in particularly big series and/or when we can line up someone worth a damn to answer our questions.
We are fortunate enough to have one such luminary in Jason Wojciechowski, founder/author of Beaneball.org, prolific tweeter at @Jlwoj, where he dispenses labor law, baseball and face melting fashion takes in equal measure, and co-editor of the 2014 and 2015 Baseball Prospectus Annual. My sincere thanks to Jason for taking the time to do this. My questions will be designated with a "Q" for "Question" and Jason's answers with an "A" for "A's"
Q:It is hard to remember the last time a team's fanbase went through an offseason like the the one A's fans endured this Winter. While acknowledging that you all are practiced in letting go of favorite sons what was the offseason experience like for you? Was there ever a bottoming out point or a feeling of hopelessness or is the trust in the Beane regime so strong that it overcomes the loss of familiar faces?
A: The offseason kicked off with the Josh Donaldson trade, which felt a little bit like a new low. Billy Beane has traded great players and great A's before, but the trades have come progressively earlier in terms of service time. Donaldson just entering arbitration eligibility this offseason had some A's fans, myself included, talking ourselves into the idea that he'd be kept around for a year or two longer and not be traded just because his salary was increasing. Foolish! It didn't help that Donaldson's been an MVP-caliber player the last couple of years, overshadowed in a way by the Trout-Cabrera battles but every bit as good, all things considered, as anybody in the league not named Trout or Kershaw.
But I think at this point in the Beane Era, A's fans are less trusting than they are numb. We know players are going to get traded, we know we're going to like some of the returns (the one for Derek Norris, say) and not some of the others (the Jeff Samardzija haul looks mediocre; the Tim Hudson one turned out terrible), and we've to a large degree stopped wailing about it. All the people who were going to dump their season tickets because of a trade have long since done so. Those of us who've stuck around (i.e. most of us) I think have transitioned from our "In Beane We Trust" moment to maybe more of a "¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Beane" one. This offseason in particular was a fantastic lesson in how not to evaluate a team-building exercise: the piecemeal approach, trying to decide what Beane was doing and how well he was doing it after each of the Donaldson, Samardzija, Norris, Butler, and Zobrist moves was silly. Taken all together it's still ... let's say intriguing. But at least we don't get whiplash from week to week.
Q: The A's seemingly have suffered a great deal of pitcher attrition over the last 2 years and yet have a displayed an endless supply of apple-cheeked youngsters I've never heard of able to step in and hold down a rotation spot or key bullpen position. What is the status Jarrod Parker, AJ Griffin, etc. and which new fabricants of note has Beane created should further attrition strike the team?
A: Parker and Griffin are due back from Tommy John surgery (their second and first, respectively) somewhere toward the middle of the year. June-ish? Parker, oddly enough, is apparently a little bit ahead of Griffin, despite the repeated hacking at his arm to try to get it to work right. Maybe he did a really good job of memorizing the rehab routine? In any event, it's worth noting that Griffin's probably a no. 4 starter in his salad days, and who knows if, post-surgery, those salad days are still the present; and the notion of Parker as some kind of ace or at least top-of-the-rotation starter is wildly overblown. He's more of a no. 3, maybe a no. 2.
Beane acquired Sean Nolin, who is working his way back from a groin injury, and Kendall Graveman, who is in the rotation at present, in the Donaldson trade. Both have mid-rotation upside, though Graveman was impressive enough in spring training with his hard sinker and pitch mix to earn a spot that he didn't have obviously locked up in February. Jesse Hahn is also on hand -- he came over from the Padres in the Norris trade. He's got the most upside of any of the new additions, as his stuff gets all those descriptors you hear on good stuff, like "sharp" and "electric." Chris Bassitt was part of the Samardzija trade and is in Triple-A. If I thought he was any good, I'd probably not have thrown shade at that trade in my last answer.
Oh, and Barry Zito's back and pitching in Nashville. Yepppp.
Q: Billy Beane, while not creating the idea of exploiting market inefficiencies in baseball certainly has been instrumental in popularizing it. Is there an inefficiency he seems to be hell bent on taking advantage of this year? What gives the A's the edge in constantly finding these cracks in baseball knowledge despite the seeming rising tide of baseball analytics?
A: I have no earthly idea. I posited last month at Baseball Prospectus that Beane's current Moneyball is that there is no Moneyball. The search for the next efficiency is designed to be won by the teams with the most resources. First-mover advantage is fleeting. Therefore, don't look for truth and the Next Big Thing. In reality, it's probably just that he's inscrutable. But I like my theory better.
Q: Having already discussed the A's history of amassing pitcher depth how are things on the position player side? Coco Crisp is already set to miss time at the start of the year. Are there any positions where the team is badly suited to cope should injury or under-performance occur?
A: The A's have basically no depth on the position-player side, which is a funny thing to say about a team that employs Zobrist, but look: With Crisp and Josh Reddick currently on the disabled list, the A's for two games employed both Billy Burns and Tyler Ladendorf. Then they signed Cody Ross, who wasn't even good enough to make the Diamondbacks, and sent Burns down. When Reddick comes back Ladendorf will head back to Nashville, but still: Cody Ross. They do have three good options to lefty-mash at first base/DH, though, in Billy Butler, Mark Canha, and Nate Freiman.
Q: Despite projections and the Angels' 98 wins from a year ago I have felt for the last month or so that the A's are the Mariners' greatest threat in the AL West due to both the state of the roster and the front office's track record for mid-season adaptability. With all the roster change have you been able to manufacture expectations for this team? Are they as a big a mystery to you as they are to me? Why can't Beane just be cool, just once?
A: The team feels like a competitive but not threatening one to me. If the Angels and/or Mariners get on their horses and take aim at wins in the mid-90s, I don't see the A's hanging with them, and I don't see Beane improving the team at the trade deadline. If everyone's hanging around in the "88 wins could take this division" territory, then I could see the A's winning 88 games and taking the division. There's not a lot left on the farm to move to get an impact player at the deadline, though.
Anyway, I thought Beane was pretty cool in 2008, when Mark Ellis was his best player.
My thanks again to Jason for his help. May his team lose many games.