And Chavez, who in 2009 will be in the fifth year of a franchise-record six-year, $66 million contract that includes a $12.5 million option -- with a $3 million buyout -- for 2011, plans to hold up his end as Oakland's everyday third baseman
"I'm about three months or so out from surgery right now, and rehab has been going really, really well," Chavez said. "I'm not going to start with baseball activities until January or late December, but talking to the doctors and trainers, we all pretty much feel like I'm ahead of schedule. So if I had to guess right now, there'd be almost no doubt; I fully expect to be ready for everything by the time Spring Training starts.
"And I fully expect to play third base."
Upon reading those words, A's fans, who understand that the six-time Gold Glover is, by nature, a realist with a slightly pessimistic slant, should feel at least as hopeful as does Chavez.
A's manager Bob Geren certainly does.
"It's funny, because I just spoke to [A's head athletic trainer] Steve Sayles within the past hour, and he said, almost verbatim, everything that Eric told you," Geren said later Wednesday morning. "He said the same thing about Mark Ellis [recovering from right shoulder surgery] and Justin Duchscherer [hip surgery], too. The rehab for all three of those guys, who are a huge part of our team, has been going very well and is ahead of schedule. That's great news for us."
"And the thing about Eric is that he's such a hard worker, there's never a concern about whether he's doing everything he can to make sure he's ready. Just knowing him, when you hear that he's optimistic, it makes you feel really good. I think we're all expecting him to be ready to go this spring, for sure."
Chavez, who turns 31 on Dec. 7, was far less hopeful heading into Spring Training 2008, before which he'd submitted to surgeries on both shoulders and his back. He spent much of the 2008 season on the disabled list, batting .247 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 23 games.
"I'm not an idiot," Chavez said. "I know that until I pick up a bat and swing it, until I pick up a ball and throw it, I can't guarantee anything. The fact is that I don't know for sure how my shoulder is going to respond when that happens, so I'm very cautious about what I say about it. But my program is very detailed, and there's a big difference between being able to focus on taking care of one shoulder as opposed to two shoulders and a back."
Chavez's most recent surgery was similar to the one performed to fix a torn labrum in the same shoulder in September 2007. By August, the posterior labrum had frayed, and a lesion had formed where the biceps tendon attaches to the top of the labrum.
During the 2 1/2-hour procedure, team physicians John Frazier and Thomas Peatman repaired the labrum and lesion and also transposed the biceps tendon, and Chavez initially feared that his career was in jeopardy.
Shut down for three weeks after the surgery, Chavez said the progress he's made while rehabbing three times a week since early September has been pushing the notion of continuing his career as a first baseman or designated hitter further from his mind.
"Hey, I'll do anything that gets me out there for 130, 140 games," he said with a laugh. "I'll do whatever they want me to do if I can do it; I've jumped out there in the outfield before."
"If I was looking at coming back as a DH, I'd have no doubt at all," he continued. "Obviously my hitting has suffered, but what's been causing the pain has been throwing. And I've talked to guys with similar surgeries and they all say that throwing takes longer to come back; hitting comes faster. So I'll maybe start throwing the second week of January just to give it a little extra time. And I'll be hitting before that.
"I'm basically on the same program I was on last winter, except the focus is on one thing -- the shoulder -- and there haven't been any relapses or setbacks at all. So even though it's hard for me to comment that I'll be 100 percent by spring, I'm definitely anticipating it."
At the same time, Chavez, who played through pain for most of 2006 and 2007 and hit a total of 37 homers and had 118 RBIs in 227 games in that span, knows that there's some understandable skepticism out there.
"I've heard that people have said or written that anything [the A's] can get out of me will be a positive, and that's fine," he said. "I understand why they'd say that. I've been playing hurt -- or not playing -- since 2006, and it's pretty obvious that the injuries have affected my performance on the field when I've been out there.
"But I honestly feel really good about where I'm at right now, and by the time Spring Training rolls around, I'll have been able to do everything I need to do to know exactly where I am.
"Last year, I didn't really have any idea where I was going into camp."