Geren says depth key to '08 success
Skipper won't place limits on what club can accomplish
PHOENIX -- Bob Geren is beginning his second season as Oakland A's manager and the challenges ahead of him with a vastly younger and rebuilding team could be almost daunting.But the former Major League catcher for the Yankees and Padres has hardly acted this spring like a man with his work cut out for him. The attitude in camp has been very upbeat and the image of last year's injury-riddled season and a 10-games-under-.500 finish for the A's has quickly faded. The creed has been obvious. "Play the game hard," Geren said. "Try to have our young players accelerate their learning curves by getting them experience and giving them good solid coaching. Keep a positive environment out there so they look forward to coming to the field every day." MLB.com: Just give us a quick synopsis of camp. Geren: I can't picture it going any better than it's going. Injuries are minimal. Talent level is high. Effort and execution has been close to perfect. MLB.com: Any pleasant surprises? Geren: I don't know if they're pleasant surprises. The guys who were new, that I hadn't seen before, are showing what we knew about them from all of the great reports that we read. There's a lot of talent among these nine kids that we picked up in those two trades -- Dan Haren to Arizona and Nick Swisher to the White Sox. MLB.com: Anything in particular? Can you pinpoint someone? Geren: Sure: [Outfielder] Carlos Gonzalez, who we got from the Diamondbacks, and [pitcher] Gio Gonzalez, who we got from the White Sox. Then there's Dana Eveland and Greg Smith in the Arizona deal. They're vying for the starting rotation. They are very good looking players. MLB.com: The Diamondbacks trade, those six kids you got, have shown dividends, at least in the early going. It shows how sharp your player-personnel people and general manager Billy Beane were about making that deal, doesn't it? Geren: It takes talent to get talent. Dan Haren is a talented pitcher. They had a nice pitcher in him going their way. Those guys who came our way are all talented, too. MLB.com: Is this all Billy or your scouting system or a combination? Are you in on these decisions?
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Geren: It's all the front office. They talk to me at times about those moves, but those are their decisions. I'm not saying that in a bad way. That's just the way it is.MLB.com: Considering the youth movement your club is going through, to get all that talent in two trades has to be a big boost. Geren: No question. We have a lot more depth in our organization this Spring Training than last Spring Training. That's going to help us move forward in the next decade. We've done so well the last 10 years. To sustain that and look forward another decade, you have to have the depth and a pool of talent. Because of that it's really exciting around here. MLB.com: Just from a cursory glance at you guys, it would seem this season that you may surprise a lot of people because of that young talent. Geren: That's the thing we have going here. That's the kind of feeling we have around here. We don't want to make it too public. MLB.com: That was kind of the weapon that the Diamondbacks and the Rockies had last season. Geren: Good examples. Those are good examples of how they built their teams and what they were able to accomplish. It starts on the inside, where these players in the locker room believe that they're talented and start to believe they can beat people, and suddenly that starts to happen. MLB.com: Also, there's the ability to recover from losses and failure, isn't that true? That's tougher for younger guys. Geren: There's a learning curve for every young player. Most of it is the mental part of competing on an everyday basis. MLB.com: If somebody told you last year that you might start the season with shortstop Bobby Crosby and second baseman Mark Ellis being your only core veteran players in the starting lineup, what would you have said? Geren: What would I have said? I wouldn't have doubted it. We have a history of developing or finding young players and giving them opportunities here. And they've all succeeded. When we got Haren, Daric Barton and Kiko Calero in a trade [with the Cardinals for Mark Mulder] that just shows you how this keeps building. It's good. It's a positive thing. These are the kind of things that have made us successful. MLB.com: The A's had an $80 million payroll last year. You were there with the Padres, and higher than a lot of other teams.
Geren: Well, what we paid out and played at are two different things. A lot of guys were on the disabled list. And we were the defending American League West champions last year.MLB.com: The point is, it's not like the old days when Billy had to play around with less than $50 million. It's obvious that since Lew Wolff bought the team that his group is making a gradual and sizeable investment in this franchise. Geren: The entire front office has pulled together on all this since Lew came here, no question. MLB.com: What's your point of view about what you want to accomplish this season? Geren: Literally, it's just try to win every day and not limit ourselves with any projections on numbers. I just think it's difficult to estimate what a team can do that's young and talented like this. You don't want to place any limits on what we can accomplish. MLB.com: So just try to win every day and see how far that takes you? Geren: Be more short-term-goal type people. I said from the first day of Spring Training that we wanted to go to Maryvale [Baseball Park] for our opener and beat the Brewers. And that has to be our attitude every day of the season: Not to look so much at what our numbers might be at the end of the year. Look very short-term. So far, it has worked this spring. We've had a couple of big games, a couple of come-from-behind wins. The excitement level around here in practice and even in drills is so high that we just want to sustain that. MLB.com: Would you prefer to have a veteran like Mike Sweeney on the bench to provide some veteran leadership? Geren: I don't want to say I'd prefer one guy over another. I just think that no matter what happens this spring, we will have a nice blend of veteran guys and young players. You look at who we have in camp and that's going to happen. You've got [Alan] Embree and [Keith] Foulke, who have World Series rings. You have guys who've made All-Star Game appearances. You have everything already. This is not just a collection of young kids playing baseball. MLB.com: Is part of the key to this keeping Rich Harden healthy all year? Geren: With Harden, [Justin] Duchscherer and [Chad] Gaudin all having health concerns coming in and that being 60 percent of our starting rotation, a big key to our success is how healthy those three guys are. No doubt. Not only how healthy they are, but how they perform will play a huge part in it. MLB.com: What about Eric Chavez? What do you count on from him? He's had the back surgery and has already been setback this spring by about a week because of it. Geren: Right now, I'm staying very positive about him because all his rehabs went so well this winter. He just had a minor set back. He got the treatment to calm it down. I'll be able to answer that question better in another week or two. He feels good. There's something about his demeanor and attitude about this whole thing. It's so good and so strong. He feels that everything has been so successful. He played with a lot of injuries the last couple of years. He's hoping that will all be behind him now. He has a hungry attitude about the whole thing. MLB.com: What about the Japan trip to open the season against the Red Sox, March 25-26, are you stoked about that? Geren: I like it. The players are genuinely excited. There's no better way to open up a season in front of 55,000 people in a country over there where they love baseball. It's going to be a kind of different life experience for a lot of people. Baseball is baseball. But you get into a different culture in a different part of the world. I can't wait to see the enthusiasm at the ballpark. There's nothing better than a bunch of young guys getting a feel for a playoff atmosphere right away. It's a good experience for them.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.