Mike Bauman

A's skipper Melvin focused on present

Bauman: A's skipper Melvin focused on present

A's skipper Melvin focused on present
PHOENIX -- Many managers in this situation, with a young club in a truly difficult division, would publicly give you nice, safe song and dance about what a great team this will be at some indefinite point in the future.

Not Bob Melvin, manager of the Oakland Athletics. Melvin's optimism regarding his club is as immediate as it is sincere.

"I like our club," Melvin said Monday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. "I like what I've seen this spring. I like how the group has come together at this point. We still have some decisions to be made. The pitching still needs to be ironed out. We have a lot of good, young, talented starters here that we're still evaluating. But I like our group. I really do."

This is not, of course, the preseason prognosticators' preferred view of the A's. This club is in against some of baseball's best in the American League West. Both the Angels and the defending American League champion Rangers are not only loaded with talent, they are coming into mega-millions with new television rights deals.

The Athletics, meanwhile, traded three pitchers of established value -- Gio Gonzalez, who had won 31 games over the last two seasons, Trevor Cahill, who had been an 18-game winner, and Andrew Bailey, who had been a successful closer.

In these sorts of circumstances, it is much safer for the manager to gaze well down the road at a future that is open to subjective interpretation because it cannot be seen from here.

"Not me," Melvin says. "I'm looking forward to the next day. That's my rhetoric to the team. You know, there are some teams in our division that can probably say, 'All right, we expect to be here.' I don't expect us to be anywhere but the next day, the next game and expect to win that game. That's what I talk to these guys about."

This approach is not markedly different than the one Melvin, a former big league catcher, has taken throughout his career.

"I have experience with that," Melvin said with a smile.

This is his third Major League managing job. In the last one, with Arizona, Melvin was named the National League Manager of the Year in 2007, after winning a division title. That team achieved a statistically improbable feat, winning 90 games despite being outscored.

The degree of difficult may be even greater in this job. But Melvin believes that his club is better than widely believed.

"People don't think our offense is very good, but I do," Melvin said. "I think our offense will be better than people think, because of the personnel that's here. We have some unknowns. Certainly our center fielder [Yoenis Cespedes] is an unknown. If we get down that road and add Manny [Ramirez] after those 50 games [of suspension], that's another potential upgrade to the offense. So I think we're an intriguing team, more so than we were three weeks before Spring Training started."

Cespedes, the widely sought Cuban outfielder, received a four-year, $36-million deal from the A's. He meets the standard for the term "intriguing." By all reasonable reports he is a major talent, but that talent has yet to be fully tested at this level. The Athletics have made one major accommodation for Cespedes: On their trip to Japan to open the regular season with two games against the Seattle Mariners, Cespedes will play center while the previous and highly capable center fielder, Coco Crisp, will move to left.

There are other young position players around whom the A's, or any team could build. Second baseman Jemile Weeks is an exciting offensive player. Outfielder Josh Reddick proved that he could produce against Major League pitching when he played with Boston. Kurt Suzuki is coming off what was a substandard year for him offensively, but he has established himself as a big league catcher. The cupboard is not bare, although it does not appear to be as full as the cupboards in Arlington and Anaheim.

This may not count for much over the long haul, but for the moment it appears that the young Athletics have taken to heart Melvin's next-game, next-day, right-away approach. With a 6-5 victory over the Diamondbacks Monday, the Athletics improved their record to 14-4-1, best in the Cactus League.

"It's something I talked about the first day, is that winning is important no matter where you're playing, where its Spring Training, regular-season game, intersquad game, you lace your shoes up, you go out and you expect to win," Melvin said. "I told them that winning was important. I wanted the second group of guys -- typically the second wave of players dictate the outcome of games in Spring Training -- and I wanted them to take pride in that. And they have. When the first group comes out, the second wave goes in very energetic, hungry and has done very well. And where we are with our record, I'm proud of the fact that these guys take it seriously and they're out there to win."

This may not help immediately, but the A's have indisputably upgraded their farm system with the talent they received from the pitching trades, particularly the Gonzalez deal with the Nationals.

"I'm excited about where this team is going," Melvin says. "This could be the start of something that we feel is going to get better each and every year."

And that improvement, for this manager, starts not at some hazy future date, but this year, this season, here and now.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.