Without much fanfare, A's manager Bob Melvin has put together quite an impressive managerial resume, one that covers stints in both the National and American League -- each of which has bestowed upon him Manager of the Year honors.
Melvin snatched up the AL honor just months ago, after leading Oakland to a 94-68 showing -- marking a 20-game improvement from 2011 -- and an American League West title, claimed on the final day of the season against the Rangers to erase a deficit of five games with nine to play. The playoff berth was the A's first since 2006, despite expectations of a 100-loss season going into the year.
Though Melvin is quick to pass along any and all credit for such success to others in the organization, there is no denying his own impact. The 51-year-old manager is back for his second full campaign with the A's, and his contract says he is here to stay through at least 2016. Such stability has lent a sense of comfort to Melvin, who recently sat down with MLB.com, with just a week until Opening Day, to talk about his club and all that embodies it heading into the season.
MLB.com: You like to steer your club away from paying attention to outside expectations, but what kind of expectations do you have for your players going into this season?
Melvin: To play in the fashion with the same intensity and focus that we did last year and expect to win. I try to keep it simple.
MLB.com: What is your team's biggest strength?
Melvin: We are able to individualize days, and whether it's a good day, you want to ride that momentum to the next day, and if it's a bad day, you try to put it away and start new. I think that's why, last year, we were able to do what we did. Everyone talks about the 15 walk-offs, but we had some very dramatic losses, too, and we were able to come out the next day and focus on that day, and, quite often, we won that next day. I think it was because of the fact we put all of our efforts into the one day, then wiped the slate and come back the next day expecting to win.
MLB.com: Much has been made of team chemistry and the impact it had on the team's success last year. Even with the loss of guys like Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge, guys who were a big part of that, is the same type of chemistry still in the clubhouse?
Melvin: Yeah, definitely. We like to have a little fun in here. I let them do their thing, as far as music and all that. You're with each other for the better part of eight months, so you better be able to have some fun and feel like you have some freedom. Yet when we go out on the field you have to be serious about what you're doing, and I still see that.
There are times when there are too many rules and you can be too strict about too many things, and players don't feel like they have some freedom to be themselves and be loose, and I think you have to have some looseness to your game to enable everything to work. If you play tight and you play scared, typically that's not a good recipe for a game. I think part of what we do in the clubhouse goes out on the field, in that everyone knows each guy has each other's back, and you don't have to put so much pressure on yourself to be the guy, that if you take your walk or don't get a hit that the next guy's going to get the job done. That starts in here.
MLB.com: Who do you think has the potential to step into a leadership role this year?
Melvin: I see a lot of guys. There are a lot of younger guys that are now a little bit more vocal. Coco [Crisp} is a big presence in there. Chris Young is soft-spoken, but if you get to know him, he's become a big presence in the clubhouse, and [Josh] Reddick is Reddick, and you're going to hear him regardless. I'd like to also think Derek Norris has some leadership qualities to him, based on the fact that he's a catcher and deals with our pitchers. And along those lines, Jerry Blevins is another guy I think has leadership qualities. It doesn't always have to be one guy. It can be a group of guys, and I actually prefer it to be a group of guys.
MLB.com: The AL West is home to several talented groups of outfielders. How do you feel your guys stack up with some of the others in the division?
Melvin: I like our outfield, and I like our depth. We have five true everyday players. I don't rank anyone's outfield. I can just look at ours and say ours is very good. I think any team would be enviable of the group we have. It's not too often you find that much talent in one spot.
MLB.com: How about your bullpen?
Melvin: It's a strength, definitely. It was for us last year, and it should continue to be for us this year, not only from having quality guys at the end of the game, but the kind of depth we have as well. We're going to have tough decisions to make here at the end of camp, because we feel like we have more than seven guys that deserve to be here.
MLB.com: Overall, how do you assess the AL West?
Melvin: It's as good as any division in baseball, and now with an unknown in Houston. During Spring Training, everyone in our division is here, except Houston, so it's a serious unknown. Those types of teams you certainly can't take for granted. There's certainly some talent there. They're building for the future, but that doesn't mean that they can't be a dangerous team and will have a big impact on the division. Seattle's going to be better, the Angels are the Angels and the Rangers are the Rangers, two of the best teams in all of baseball.
MLB.com: You're always saying you're constantly trying to better yourself as a manager. What's been the biggest lesson for you since coming to Oakland?
Melvin: I feel like if you don't take something away each and every day and try to learn something every day that you're staying a bit stagnant. What I feel good about is the communication around here. We're all one here. There are no separate entities between the front office, the coaching staff, the players, the trainers. We really feel like there's a lot of good symmetry here, and I've felt that from the day I've been here. That feels good. When you have your bosses' support you in the fashion that you do, it makes you feel good about you doing your job, and in turn it makes the players feel good hopefully about their job.
MLB.com: Having been a part of several organizations now, whether as a player, coach or manager, what is it about this organization you like best and influenced you to commit to being here longterm?
Melvin: It starts with Billy [Beane], Lew [Wolff], those guys, and the support they give me. The fans are a big part of it for me, too. I felt like I've been welcomed from the first day I got here, and being a hometown guy, it certainly adds to more of that feeling I haven't experienced anywhere else I've been.
MLB.com: Since arriving here, what sticks out as your best memory?
Melvin: Well, the two clinchers last September. You talk about focus, to clinch like that and know you have two more games and you have to beat arguably the best team in the American League to win your division, after celebrating at a decent pace one night, showed that these guys do have a lot of tenacity and didn't take it for granted. They felt like there was more to accomplish.