Mailbag: Who's next to replace Macha?

Mailbag: Who has the inside track on A's job?

Who's the front-runner to win the manager's job in Oakland?
--David L., Pinole, Calif.

I can't answer that question with even an ounce of certainty, so I won't. General manager Billy Beane generally doesn't tip his hand during negotiations, and that's what a managerial search is -- one huge negotiation. Last time I spoke to him regarding candidates, it was like he flipped into this heretofore unheard Robo-GM mode: "We'll take our time ... due diligence ... respect the process ... Erubiel Durazo ... OK, where was I?"

And that's his right. If anything, Beane's relative silence on the matter probably means that he doesn't have a front-runner at this point. I wish I were better at cracking the code for you, but there doesn't even seem to be a code.

I will say that I think third-base coach Ron Washington is the best possible fit, and it appears I'm not alone. Through Friday, more than 70 percent of the people who responded to a poll on this very Web site threw their support behind Washington, and the numbers were similarly in Washington's favor in an Oakland Tribune poll published on Friday.

True A's fans all know that Beane isn't one to be swayed by public sentiment; however, Eric Byrnes, Carlos Pena, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Rickey Henderson know that, too. So the backing of some writers and a bunch of fans might not do Washington a ton of good going into his interview.

But if Washington aces the interview and ends up in some sort of tie with another candidate at the end of the process, that same backing might be just enough to tip the scale in his favor.

If the A's have offered Frank Thomas a two-year deal for $15 million total, what in the world is the holdup? Doesn't that deal seem more than fair enough for a 38-year-old with a serious, recent injury history who, while tremendous last season, next year will be a 39-year-old with a serious, recent injury history?
-- Hank H., Storrs, Conn.

You are no longer welcome in the mailbag, Hank. For job-security reasons, I simply can't allow the questions to be more insightful and pointed than the answers.

Well done. I have nothing to add but this: If that's really the deal, Thomas should take it and run. Not run hard, but take it and run. It's a good deal, and Oakland is a good place for Thomas right now.

If I remember correctly, you were pretty high on Joe Blanton right before last season? You still on the Big Joe bandwagon?
--Kyle S., Eureka, Calif.

As fun as the Big Joe bandwagon sounds like it would and should be, I'm just going to roll up alongside it in the Husky Joe Hummer, with Johnny Cash's "Jackson" blaring from the speakers.

Yes, I remain high on Blanton. The man won 16 games as a 25-year-old in his second season, and virtually every pitcher in the bigs who is 30 or older will tell you that he didn't really "get" to know how to pitch at the big-league level until he was 27 or 28, at the earliest. That, for me, factors into what I think I see in Blanton: still a lot of upside.

The question now is how to extract the upside. How does Blanton go from good to great? An obvious answer: fewer bad outings.

Twice in April, he gave up seven earned runs in a start. He did it again in May, and in June he gave up a six-pack once; he gave up another couple of sixers in September, and there's your 4.82 ERA for the year.

But you can't ignore those 16 victories. It's probably true that ERA and opponents' batting average are the best metrics by which to gauge a pitcher's effectiveness, but the job of a starter really does boil down to this: winning games.

I'd like to see Blanton not lose weight, but redistribute it a little. I think he's built to pitch at about the same weight we've seen him at for the past two years; that's just his body. But if he leans it out a little and adds just a little more strength, I think he'll develop right along the lines of the Reds' Aaron Harang, who was like Blanton in Oakland -- only bigger and with less advance billing.

Now 28, Harang this year led the National League in strikeouts while going 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA. I can see Blanton drilling spots with his sneaky fastball, dropping righty-mini-Zito hammers on the corners and having similar success for a long time as long as the Big Joe bandwagon doesn't blow a tire.

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Question:

Did you see the letter to the editor that Jay Payton sent a Bay Area newspaper, basically backing Ken Macha? What did you think?
--Leslie W., Concord, Calif.

I saw it, but I didn't read it as a "backing" of Macha, per se, because that would imply that Payton was taking a side in the Macha vs. A's players issue. I didn't read it that way at all.

I thought Payton nailed it, in fact. He paid a little respect to the man who just got canned without disrespecting his teammates who wanted the man dismissed.

I've also had some e-mailers who thought Beane would read something deeper into Payton's words and not re-sign him as a result. And some who swear that Payton's letter was his good-bye to the Bay Area.

I happen to disagree with both groups, but not quite to the extent that I think Payton will be back. As I wrote in the mailbag last week, I just think Payton's going to get offered more elsewhere than the A's have him pegged for.

If you had to pick one thing you'll miss most about covering Macha as the A's manager, what would it be?
--Matt D., Lake Tahoe, Calif.

It'll be the same thing that I miss the most about covering former manager Art Howe.

There were more than a few times over the past six years that I didn't understand either man's decision, strategy or bullpen management even after he'd addressed the media as a whole, so I'd often double back and ask more about it a little later. And every time I did, I was always given the courtesy of a more detailed, honest answer.

It doesn't sound like much, but it is, especially after the decision in question cost the A's a game. A lot of managers will just dig into a defensive stance in such cases, but in my experience, Howe and Macha rarely did.

Sometimes it was off the record, but more often than not it wasn't, which improved the coverage of the game. And in each instance, I learned something different about the game. In that setting, the passion and depth of knowledge and experience of lifers like Howe and Macha really came pouring out. It was a cool thing to sit in on.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.