Change-UpMarch 09, 2010
Stakeholders - Oakland Athletics
By Patrick Sullivan

From now through the beginning of the regular season, we will not be posting in-depth round-tables previewing each division like we have in years past. Instead we will feature brief back-and-forths with "stakeholders" from all 30 teams. A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel will join us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some will be in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but they should all be fun to read and we are thrilled about the lineup of guests we have teed up. Today it's Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager, David Forst.

Patrick Sullivan: Well David, the bad news for 2009 was that you were a last place club. But a 17-10 record in September, just a -2 run differential for the year and a lot of young talent say to me that there's reason for optimism in Oakland . Are you guys comfortable with how you're currently positioned?

David Forst: Well, I think the nature of this job is such that you’re never comfortable where you’re at and that you’re always looking for a way to improve. Having said that, I think we were all happy with the way the team performed over the last two months of the 2009 season and particularly how some of our individual young players progressed at the Major League level. That’s not to say that we don’t still have a lot of work to do as an organization - we play in a division that has the potential to be the most evenly-matched from top to bottom in the game. And, despite having added some important veteran pieces (Ben Sheets, Coco Crisp, Kevin Kouzmanoff, et al) this winter, we are still a young team. But, it’s a young team that we’re excited about seeing on the field in 2010 and certainly beyond that.

PS: The AL West is getting ridiculous. Texas comes off 87 wins, adds Vladimir Guerrero and Rich Harden, and develops/graduates yet more top homegrown talent. Everyone knows about what Seattle has done this off-season, and I am convinced that the Angels one way or another will never again win less than 85 games. I can't imagine it changes your approach, you always want to be as good as you can be, but can you speak to the competitive dynamics taking shape in your division?

DF: You’re right – it doesn’t change our approach. We just don’t have the resources to react to every move our competition makes the way some of the teams in the AL East do. But, it’s also not like we got caught by surprise by the fact that there are other teams in our division who have money to spend and have smart people making the decisions on how to spend it. And that’s why we had to be somewhat pro-active this offseason in identifying pieces that fit what we’re trying to do and then be aggressive in pursuing them. Some of them worked out; Jake Fox, Coco Crisp, and Adam Rosales were all players we had discussed even before 2009 ended as guys we wanted to find a way to acquire. Some of them didn’t happen; it’s no secret we pursued players like Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre, and Aroldis Chapman, only to lose out after making what we thought were very competitive offers. But, the other piece of that puzzle was being in a position to pursue a guy like Ben Sheets. We’ve spent a few years now developing young, major league-ready players to fill our roster so that, when the time came to outbid everyone on a top of the rotation guy like Ben, we’d have the financial flexibility to do it. So, to answer your original question – we definitely know what a competitive and evenly matched division the AL West is going to be, not just in 2010, but in the years beyond, and we’re constantly doing what we can to be competitive for the long term.

PS: Without venturing into the proprietary or confidential, can you talk about Ben's medicals? What ultimately gave you guys the comfort to pull the trigger there?

DF: First of all, any time you’re talking about pitchers, there’s no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to medicals. Plenty of pitchers who have been healthy for years are just one throw away from something that’s going to force them to miss time. So, it’s all degrees of confidence and certainty when you’re talking about investing significant dollars in a pitcher. In Ben’s case, we were obviously comfortable enough with what we read and what we saw to make the financial offer that we did. Without getting too much into details, we sent two people (Billy Owens, our Director of Player Personnel, and Gil Patterson , our Minor League Pitching Coordinator) to see Ben throw only after our trainers and doctors had read his medical file and signed off on it to that point (almost 11 months post-op). What we were hoping to see was a workout that matched what we were reading on paper, and that was part of why we sent Gil. He has as much experience with rehab, both as a pitcher himself coming up in the Yankees system and as a coach who has helped numerous pitchers come back from surgery over the past 25 years, as anyone in the game. What we saw on video and got back in the form of a report was that, what Ben was able to do off the mound that day in Monroe was just as good an indicator of how healthy is he as the written medical files were. Add to that a positive exam and MRI with our orthopedist in Oakland , and we were as comfortable as we could possibly be with Ben. Like I said earlier, all you can do with pitchers is just be as certain as possible. The next person who comes up with a fool-proof way of predicting every injury will be the first.

PS: Can we talk about your outfield? Would you have traded Aaron Cunningham without Coco Crisp in the fold? What are you guys thinking about for a Michael Taylor ETA? Whither Travis Buck? How pissed will you be if even one fly ball lands on the outfield grass? I imagine you guys are excited about your outfield defense with Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney flanking Coco. I'm throwing a lot at you, but just some general thoughts about the state of the A's outfield would be great.

DF: Well, I will admit, it certainly looks crowded out there right now. But, as we’ve found out the last few years, these things have a way of sorting themselves out. There’s no doubt that outfield defense (and defense in general) was a priority for us of late, and with the possibility of Sweeney, Crisp, and Davis out there at the same time, we feel really good about the prospects of turning some doubles into outs. The rest of the candidates out there are no slouches either – we think Taylor has a chance to be an above average corner guy, Travis has put a lot of effort into his defense over the last year and made a lot of improvement, and Gabe Gross has always done a good job at all 3 OF spots. Bob has a lot of good options when it comes to the outfield, and we always say that having too many good, healthy major league players is never a problem.

PS: Thanks a lot, David. To wrap things up, could you just discuss what, if any, overarching goals the A's Baseball Ops staff has on a year to year basis? I am from Boston and a lifelong Red Sox fan, and we hear Theo discuss the goal of putting a product on the field every year capable of winning 95 games. Understanding you don't have Boston's resources at your disposal, 95 wins annually may be too much of a stretch. But what is it that you guys are trying to do year in and year out?

DF: Without sounding incredibly boring and cliché, our goal every year is to win the division. That’s what we get paid to do and that’s what our fans expect. Last time I checked, they don’t hand out trophies for Best Trade or Best Looking Prospects or Most Marginal Wins by Payroll (trust me, we’ve tried on that one). At the same time, we are aware of our resources and the balancing act that needs to be done so that we’re not sacrificing the success of future teams. Every front office in the game wants to have a team that is competitive each and every season. But, in a market like ours, if we misread where our club is in the “Success Cycle,” we run the risk of setting the franchise back years. So, we’re constantly assessing the current club, the options available to us to make improvements for the “now” and for the future, and having to decide what gives the A’s the best chance to be successful for an extended period of time. I hope that helps explain at least a little bit what we’re “trying to do year in and year out.”

PS: Thanks again, David, and good luck to the A's in 2010.


Great, insightful interview (on the Q side and the A side). Forst is a great dude (despite being a Brentwood/Harvard dork), smart, approachable and realistic about his team and its capabilities. (Although there might be one case where you can look at a guy's stats over the course of a year (Kouz), and not realize how many bad ABs he had with guys on base, how many rallies he killed, and how just plain awful he was until the season got out of hand.) That division is going to be brutal.