PHOENIX -- Embarking on his 19th season with the A's and ninth as the club's lead radio announcer, broadcaster Ken Korach is a treasured voice in the Bay Area.
Only the legendary, late Bill King has spent more years doing radio play-by-play for the A's -- the subject of Korach's first book, a vivid and compelling portrait titled "Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic," released last year.
Korach is in tune with all things A's baseball, broadcasting most of the club's games each year. He has a unique relationship with manager Bob Melvin and the players, allowing him to provide exceptional on-air insight on the team's daily workings.
Korach graciously shared some of this in a recent sit-down with MLB.com in advance of Opening Day.
MLB.com: Obviously this is a team that's won back-to-back division titles, and there's thinking that they could be even better this year based on some of the moves they made in the offseason. Do you think that's the case?
Korach: I think it's possible. You just never know, as we sit here in Spring Training, how a season's going to work out. But I think the most important thing is that your fans have hope for the season. They've won back-to-back titles and have made this concerted effort to have depth, and that's tested right now, with the injuries to [Jarrod] Parker and [A.J.] Griffin. I like their club. I think the most important thing is looking forward to the chance that they're going to be in it the whole way.
MLB.com: How big of an impact could those injuries have on this team?
Korach: It's a great question. We won't know. It opens up opportunities. Those were two guys who had double figures in wins last year. They were very important to the team. It is a blow, but you know, with Bob Melvin it's kind of his mantra, when talking about when somebody goes down, there are opportunities. So I think they're fortunate with Tommy Milone, who won 25 games the last two years, to be able to slide him in there, and this is a great chance for Jesse Chavez, who, at the age of 30, might be a late bloomer. We'll kind of see how that goes.
MLB.com: Are you surprised at Chavez's emergence?
Korach: In a sense, because he was kind of on the fringes of just being a Major League pitcher. He had bounced around in several organizations, and when the A's picked him up a couple of years ago he was really struggling. His ERA was around 9.00, I think, during his time with Toronto, but he really turned it around. He's always had a great arm, and now he's developed confidence in his pitches. He has wonderful command, he has great movement and I think he's one of those guys that has always had the ability, and you just never know with certain pitchers when they're going to find it and turn things around. It's just a wonderful story I think and a chance for him to turn around his career.
MLB.com From talking with Sonny Gray, seeing him perform, what impresses you with the way he goes about his work?
Korach: He pitches beyond his years, or the A's wouldn't have chosen him to pitch the fifth game last year. I really thought that the second game of the playoff series, when he matched up against Justin Verlander, and Stephen Vogt won the game, that was maybe the most riveting game I've ever called, and for him to go toe to toe with [Justin] Verlander during that game, and I guess maybe it's easy to have confidence when you have that kind of stuff, because he has amazing stuff, and maybe the college experience from pitching at Vanderbilt in the postseason there, I think he just has a maturity that kind of belies the fact that he really hasn't even pitched a full season in the big leagues yet.
MLB.com: The A's have all these young guys, and then there's a guy like Scott Kazmir. They spent a lot of money on him this offseason. Based on what you've seen of him this spring and what he did last year with the Indians, what are you expecting of him this year?
Korach: Well, he's resurrected his career. He was on the back roads of baseball pitching in independent ball. I trust their evaluators, or they would not have given him the size of contract in the two-year deal. He's been great in the spring. I thought his first start in the Cactus League was midseason form. His fastball, 92 and 93, excellent changeup. I do think this: that in the American League West, especially, you've gotta have left-handed pitching. You look at some of the players that have come into the West in the last several years, going back to Josh Hamilton, who had a tough time against lefties last year, and now the additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Robinson Cano, so I think having lefties both in your rotation and also in your bullpen is critical in this division.
MLB.com: The division as a whole saw a lot of changes in the offseason. How do you see the AL West playing out this year?
Korach: Well I'm the world's worst prognosticator. I'd have to say you start with the A's and Texas. They battled it out the last two years. I think they're the two best clubs going in. There are a lot of question marks on the other teams, especially with their pitching. I think it's a strong division, and I like the fact that some of these stars have come to the West. I think, for me, bring it on, because I think it's good for the fans. I think the fans want to see a good attraction when they come to the park, and you're going to get that now because you play so many games against your own division.
MLB.com: And then you look at the moves the A's made this offseason. Which one stands out to you as maybe being the most impactful for this year?
Korach: Well I think you have to start with Kazmir, because he goes right into the rotation. Unfortunately we haven't seen Craig Gentry yet in the spring, but I know they felt very strongly about going after Gentry. The message that was sent when they signed Coco Crisp to his extension -- and they're not alone in this -- is that center field is really such an important position, and that could be very impactful if he's healthy and comes back from the back injury. To have a fourth outfielder who can play all three positions and can play excellent defense. He's a great baserunner, and I think, under the radar, that was a big move, but the two moves that garnered the most attention were Kazmir and Jim Johnson. It wasn't a trade in the truest since, because Balfour left as a free agent, but replacing Balfour with Johnson, it's not often that you can do that after losing a closer that was one of the best and get a guy that's saved 101 games over the last two years.
MLB.com: Now, there's hope that Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, they can bounce back from their down years last year and be the type of players they were in 2012. Do you expect that of them?
Korach: I think it's important that they do, and I do. Reddick may have gotten the Gold Glove already based on what he did against the Giants in the first Spring Training game of the year, when he robbed Michael Morse with two amazing plays in right field. So I think if he's healthy, he's going to be fine. I think you can almost write off his season last year because of the wrist injury. He's looked great in the spring.
Cespedes, I think, should have a bounce-back year, so if those guys are healthy and they're performing, it's a pretty good outfield.
MLB.com: Finally, I wanted to ask you about Bob Melvin. You've established a good relationship with him. What's impressed you about him during his time here that maybe fans don't see from the outside?
Korach: He's really a professional in every way. I think he just embodies what being a pro is all about. He has a wonderful presence about him. He's really a guy that engenders a great deal of respect in the clubhouse. You never hear any, even mumbling, from players about Bob Melvin. I think they all really respect him. He's on top of everything, and I think he's a guy who's kind of centered in his life, where I think he has things in a wonderful perspective, and that goes back to not getting too high or too low and keeping an even keel. I think he's been able to almost insulate the team from some of the outside influences, and it sounds like a cliché, but he's always preaching it, just that don't let what anyone else thinks affect you in going about your business. I've been around a long time. He's the total package. I don't know that you could have a guy that is better equipped to manage this team.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.