Athletics

After a year on TV, Matt Williams can't wait to help A's: 'I'm a rat, man'

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After a year on TV, Matt Williams can't wait to help A's: 'I'm a rat, man'

Broadcasting kept Matt Williams connected to the game he loves.

Now, the former All-Star and Gold Glove third baseman is back in his element. Being on the field, coaching and instructing, is what Williams loves most. He’ll get a chance to do plenty of that after joining the A’s as their new third base coach.

The longtime Giant took time to discuss joining the team across the Bay with NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil, in the latest episode of “The Bro Show” podcast, also available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play.

Williams played for the Giants from 1987-96, emerging as one of the National League’s top sluggers and best defensive third basemen. His coaching path eventually led him to a two-year stint managing the Washington Nationals from 2014-15. Local fans got reintroduced to Williams in 2017 when he served as a pregame and postgame Giants analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area.

“My most comfortable place is on the field, in the uniform,” said Williams, 52. “I’m a rat, man. That’s where I’m most comfortable, swinging a fungo with blisters on my hands and in the grind of 4:30 a.m. to the ballpark. So I’m happy to be back, and I’m so happy that (A’s manager) Bob (Melvin) called me and I’m proud to be part of the team and the organization.”

Williams’ ties to Melvin go back to their days as Giants teammates. He also credits Melvin for instilling the coaching bug in him after Williams called it a playing career in 2003.

“He invited me down when he was the manager in Arizona to spring training to work with Mark Reynolds and the infielders,” Williams said.

His credentials as a player — five All-Star Games and four Gold Gloves — speak for themselves. But, as Williams points out, he traveled a rocky road establishing himself as a big league regular, noting the patience that former Giants GM Al Rosen and manager Roger Craig showed with him early in his career. Perhaps that perspective will come in useful as he works with several young A’s players still finding their footing in the majors.

“There are times when Roger Craig or Al Rosen could have said, ‘You know, this kid just isn’t gonna make it,’” Williams said. “For three straight years it was really lean. But they just kept supporting me and kept helping me. I think that’s where I get my desire to help these players.”

As much as Williams enjoyed being an analyst, he’s pumped to be back in coaching.

“I love the broadcasting stuff, but when Bob Melvin calls and says, ‘Hey, I want you to coach third for me,’ I have to accept that job.”

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

The A’s swung a trade on the first day of the Winter Meetings, but it wasn’t the type of swap that’s been anticipated.

Oakland dealt second baseman Joey Wendle to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The storyline for the rest of the week is whether the A’s complete a deal for their biggest target— a right-handed hitting corner outfielder.

They weren’t involved in heavy dialogue Monday as the four-day Winter Meetings opened at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. But they’re on the lookout for an outfielder that will allow them to shift Khris Davis from left field to designated hitter.

Billy Beane, the A’s head of baseball operations, reiterated to reporters that the team ideally wants to acquire an outfielder who’s under team control for multiple years. The Cardinals’ Stephen Piscotty fits that bill and is known to be a primary target, but the A’s have been linked to others too, including Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.

If a trade doesn’t pan out, Beane didn’t rule out the possibility of signing a free agent outfielder, but the focus is trading for one who’s signed to an affordable contract. Beyond that, the A’s seek a left-handed reliever to continue fortifying a bullpen they’ve already added to this offseason.

“We were pretty specific with who and what we want, whether it be a free agent or a trade,” Beane said of the team’s approach to the meetings. “There’s a few free agents we have interest in, a trade here and there. And if we don’t get them, we’ll just wait for the offseason” to continue.

Wendle, who saw slices of big league time in 2016 and 2017, was originally acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Moss during the 2014 Winter Meetings. He drew some comparisons to Mark Ellis for both his style of play and work ethic but found himself blocked at second base despite an impressive big league debut in September 2016.

He hit .260 that month in 28 games, and though that average doesn’t stand out, he impressed defensively and proved to be a spark plug hitting leadoff, drawing praise from manager Bob Melvin. But a shoulder injury cost the 27-year-old Wendle valuable time in spring training last season and extended into the regular season. It didn’t help his cause that Chad Pinder emerged as a second base option and valuable utility man, and that Franklin Barreto — the A’s top-rated prospect — also arrived on the big league scene for stretches.

In addition, the A’s think highly of another up-and-coming second base prospect, Max Schrock. Acquired from Washington for reliever Marc Rzepczynski in August 2016, the 23-year-old Schrock opened the eyes of Melvin’s staff last spring and hit .321 for Double-A Midland in 2017.

Jed Lowrie, of course, is the A’s veteran incumbent at second base but is a logical trade candidate at any point given Barreto’s inevitable full-time arrival in the majors.

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

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Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

The deterioration of ballpark talks at the Peralta site won’t affect the A’s grand plan on the baseball side of things.

At least that’s what vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told reporters Monday as the Winter Meetings opened in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The A’s promoted a number of highly regarded minor leaguers last season who showed promise that they could be future foundation pieces. Along those lines, Beane and his staff planned to target some of those youngsters for long-term contract extensions, with an eye toward generating momentum as a new ballpark was built near downtown Oakland.

The A’s will still look to lock up some of those players, Beane said, even after last week’s news that the Peralta Community College District board halted negotiations for the team to build a new ballpark on land that sits near Laney College.

“I think it’s still a strategy we try to embark on,” Beane said of signing young players.

Consider third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who both entrenched themselves last season as rookies, as two obvious candidates for long-term deals at some point. But they aren’t the only two.

When could the first deals come?

“Realistically, the sooner the better,” Beane said. “Certainly we’ve got between now and spring training to introduce the idea. But probably more sooner than later.”

It’s an uncertain time for this franchise. Will the A’s look elsewhere to build in Oakland? They don’t seem thrilled with the idea of revisiting the current Coliseum site or Howard Terminal as possible locations. Could majority owner John Fisher consider selling? And if so, does that open the door to the franchise leaving the Bay Area? It doesn’t seem any scenario should be counted out right now.

No one representing the club, including team president Dave Kaval, has spoken publicly about ballpark plans since the Peralta talks abruptly ended Wednesday.

As far as baseball operations go, it only makes sense to continue down the path that they recently committed to. The only bad course of action for the A’s is not to take any action at all.

Beane and general manager David Forst need to stay the course and continue their commitment to young players, crossing their fingers that the business side of the operation can pivot and find a new direction for building a ballpark.