OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Geren believes his club is "so close to being an elite team." Reaching that level, potentially by adding some much-needed power, is something the A's are hoping to do during the 2011 season, one which Geren will officially be able to watch in the skipper's role again. That much was made certain on Saturday, when the A's announced they had exercised Geren's contract option for the 2011 season, which will mark his fifth year at the helm in Oakland.
"There are only 30 of these jobs in the world," Geren said, "so it's a real honor, obviously, to have one. To be asked back to try to bring us to that next level, it's a real privilege in my opinion." Geren, who will turn 49 this month, entered Saturday's contest against the Red Sox having guided the A's to a 70-70 mark and a second-place standing in the American League West, where Oakland trails Texas by 7 1/2 games with 22 contests remaining. A's general manager Billy Beane has watched Geren and Co. struggle to stay above the .500 mark for much of the second half, but he's also witnessed a handful of positive developments, despite all the youth and injury that surround the team. "I think one of the first things to do, when you're evaluating that position, is take a look at what they have to work with to begin with and then what they have to deal with during that time and as the season goes on," Beane said. "Considering this is the youngest team in the big leagues, and also couple that with the fact we've had to get through -- and haven't even gotten through -- a number of injuries, guys have responded well to that adversity." In Beane's mind, then, picking up Geren's option sooner rather than later "seemed pretty obvious to all of us." Much of that notion, he said, comes from wanting to give the younger players a sense of continuity as they continue to transform into Major League mainstays. "For us, it's critical we have a manager who is not only a teacher but has the patience to get through some of the growing pains these young players are going to have," Beane said. "Bob and the rest of the staff have certainly done that. ... Under circumstances, I think they've done about as well as you can expect and probably beyond that." "There's definitely a comfort level here," Andrew Bailey said. "I think we know what to expect, and I think Bob knows what he can expect from us. This year has been better than last year. As a team, we've obviously come together a little bit more and we're playing better baseball. It's something we're proud of and something we can build on for next year." Geren has put together a 296-329 managerial mark in his four seasons as A's skipper, the first three of them resulting in a losing record. The A's are hoping to put an end to that trend this season, one during which several players have witnessed a shift in Geren's managerial style. "He's changed a little bit," Mark Ellis said. "He lets guys run a little bit more and play their game a little bit more. He likes to be hands-on, he likes to have his hands on everything, but he's starting to let it go a little bit and let guys play a little bit more." "Throughout the years, he's gotten so much better with the players," Gio Gonzalez said. "Once you get comfortable around your players and see them a lot, you start opening up. He knows how to interact and relax and keep it cool sometimes." Gonzalez is part of a young A's pitching staff that has compiled a Major League-best 3.45 ERA, a mark that has Geren excited about the club's future. But, per usual, he's set on staying in the present, where "we still feel like we have a chance to catch the Rangers" thanks to a gritty attitude exuded by all in his clubhouse. "I think right now, the most satisfying thing has been the development of the young players," Geren said. "Having a core group of young players that are going to be with us for a long time, and watching them mature and improve week to week, month to month, that's probably the most satisfying thing." The 2011 season will mark his 12th year within the Oakland organization, as he served as the club's bench coach in 2006 after spending the previous three seasons as bullpen coach. Before that, he served as manager of Class A Modesto in 1999 and captained Triple-A Sacramento over the next three seasons. Given Geren's status for the coming season, much of his current staff could be returning, but Beane made no indication that anything is set in stone. That's the same mindset he's taking with Ellis and Coco Crisp, who Beane said likely won't know about the status of their 2011 contract options until the offseason.