The Oakland A’s hosted Fan Fest a little early this year, choosing “Championship Sunday” as the day to greet loyal A’s fans following a colossally disappointing season. Crowds were noticeably smaller and, for some unknown reason, the event did not feature team introductions as it has in years past but it was a beautiful (dry) day in Oakland and the event felt more like a family reunion than an over-crowded cluster of people than it has prior.
The usual suspects were on hand for autographs, photos, and Q&A’s, including a first time Q&A host in Eireann Dolan. I had the opportunity to talk with John Axford, Marc Rzepczynski (that’s a 8:3 consonant to vowel ratio in case you were curious), and David Forst and can tell you that these players seem genuinely positive about the upcoming season with Axford pointing out that he had other options and decided on Oakland partly due to their previous success in recent years and they both believe they will be assets to a bullpen that has been largely overhauled since 2015.
Forst, as is to be expected, dropped the biggest bombshell on us today. When asked to speak about rumors that Billy Butler had slimmed down during the off-season, he confirmed that Butler has hired a personal chef, installed a gym in his home, and had his Lasik surgery corrected. It seems that Butler is as unhappy about his Oakland A’s debut season as the fans were and is working hard to remedy it.
I was surprised to hear that Butler had “corrected” his Lasik surgery but was unable to followup on that portion of the answer. Was Butler not seeing the ball well last season? Obviously the gift of sight has nothing to do with the five+ second jaunt between home and first but it could help explain why he kept hitting balls directly to second base last year if the timing of his swing was off.
Still refusing to publicly acknowledge that chemistry issues in the locker room were a large part of last year’s tribulations, Forst did acknowledge that some of the moves made this off season did address that issue but that they will never choose a personality over talent when it comes to assembling the team.
In a Q&A session that featured Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, Reddick insinuated that the poison in the locker room was removed during this off-season and Butler, who many had speculated was a cause of friction, seemed to be in good spirits and was taking as well as issuing jabs at his “athletic prowess” throughout the session.
The fact of the matter is, no matter how often or in what variation they are asked, the Oakland A’s are not going to reveal what the real problems were in 2015. Forst praised Bob Melvin for keeping things from completely derailing and is optimistic that this year will be a return to the norm for Oakland. The GM calls it a “chicken or the egg” scenario where you really can’t tell if the bad chemistry caused the losing or if losing caused the bad chemistry but regardless, the problem was dealt with. Even Butler, speaking to John Shea, was quick to acknowledge that problem was dealt with but did not elaborate on what the problem really was.
When pressed about an extension to Josh Reddick’s contract (an extension Reddick said he’d like to receive before opening day), Forst said that the team was constantly in talks with Reddick’s agent and that it had come up during negotiations for his current year but also joked that he “didn’t know Reddick had a deadline.”
Forst mentioned that in many ways Reddick has become the face of the franchise and Reddick seems to be owning a bit of that this year which could make him the clubhouse leader that 2015 was lacking. His attitude, demeanor, and stage presence during the day’s sessions felt different this year. That’s not to say that he has been unprofessional in the past but, rather, that maybe he’s considering his role in the clubhouse a bit more seriously.
He acknowledged that his arm wasn’t as strong as it had been in years past and said that his shoulder had been bothering him for much of last year but assured fans that his arm feels great now and shed a little light into his preparation for the upcoming season.
If everything goes right for the Oakland A’s, 2016 could be a fun season with some very serious possibilities. Ray Fosse advised us all to ignore predictions (he just read one that stated the A’s are the only team in the division that can’t win) so I won’t make a prediction here but just like last year, the winner of the AL West is going to be the team that stays healthiest and gets crucial wins and there is likely not going to be a 90+ win team in the West this year.
Fans must remember, if half of the bullpen losses had gone the other way, the Oakland A’s would have been in contention despite an offense that “on paper” wouldn’t be able to get the job done. This is not a perfect team but if the team can avoid long term DL stints, they should be an interesting team to watch and as Jason Burke says, if they suck and are out of the race, there are a lot of great prospects to watch through September.
Come back to the site on Tuesday for the latest edition of the Swingin’ A’s podcast featuring some guest commentators!