Oakland 3B Chavez ready for any role this season
OAKLAND – Eric Chavez is already embracing his new role with the Oakland Athletics this season: backup and utilityman.
The six-time Gold Glove third baseman has ordered himself a first baseman’s mitt and one to play the outfield, too.
“I’m going to have to get a bigger bag,” Chavez said.
He’s not going to be picky about where he plays – he’s just happy to be returning to the A’s at all following season-ending back surgery last June.
Chavez has undergone five operations since Sept. 5, 2007, including two microdiscectomy surgeries in different spots in his back.
“So, how’s my back feel, right?” Chavez asked with a grin as he sat down with reporters Thursday at the Coliseum.
The 32-year-old Chavez, limited by injuries the last three years, has been taking swings for three weeks now and is eager to test his body with the daily rigors of spring training next month.
At 210 pounds, Chavez is 10 pounds lighter than his 2009 playing weight. He hopes the hard work on his fitness this winter will help his cause.
A’s manager Bob Geren figures Chavez will make the opening-day roster. Chavez enters the final season of a $66 million, six-year contract extension he signed in March 2004 that includes a 2011 club option.
“I’m sure he just wants to get out there and play,” Geren said. “His health and performance will dictate how much he plays. He looks great. He’s in really good physical shape and he’s smiling, happy. If he can work hard in a part-time role and he embraces it, his chances of staying on the field go way up.”
Chavez had the latest operation performed by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles on June 23. He also has undergone three shoulder surgeries.
The A’s hoped all along that Chavez would be ready for spring training, but general manager Billy Beane has known it probably wouldn’t be in a full-time role. The GM traded for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff last week.
“I don’t see it as a threat,” Chavez said. “Kouzmanoff’s a great player. It was a good move for them.”
Chavez appeared in only eight games in 2009. He had one hit in his last 22 at-bats and was in an 0-for-15 stretch. He hit .100 with one RBI. That’s after he played in only 23 games in 2008, and 90 in ’07.
Chavez said the depth the A’s have now will allow him to take three, four or even five days off if there’s a point in the season when his body needs such a break. He said he won’t know until he’s back in the full-time baseball grind how he will respond physically.
“I’m going into spring training getting ready to play third base,” Chavez said, noting he knows he’ll also be taking grounders at first and shortstop. “I’m going to be prepared for anything. … If I’m healthy, he’ll throw me into the mix and we’ll go from there.”
For someone as talented as Chavez, the past three seasons have been “unenjoyable” to say the least. He said he received two or three cortisone injections in his back each season in order to play.
Chavez has accepted he can no longer play every day, and everything he’s been through has given him new perspective about taking on a lesser role.
“I think with my history, being able to count on me to be an everyday player is secondary,” he said. “I just know now it’s a necessity. I don’t have to be a star player and play in 155 games like I used to. If I’m the ace in the hole here and can be healthy and productive, that would be icing on the cake.”
Chavez plans to push himself from the first workout in Phoenix so he can quickly gauge his health. He said he won’t have another surgery to keep playing baseball, and will call it a career if he has another injury-plagued season.
“I hate rehab,” he said. “I’m pretty much over that.”
While he ideally would like to play three more seasons, Chavez isn’t counting on anything. Aside from the countless hours of rehabilitation, being a father to three young children has been his other big job of late.
“By spring training, I want no surprises,” Chavez said. “This is it. If my back is hurting, or my shoulder, I’m having no more surgeries. I’m definitely ready for that chapter after baseball.”