All of the managers have interview sessions here at the winter meetings. Eric Wedge had his a little while ago. In that he talked about attitude and change. He also said that Ichiro remain the lead-off hitter and that for now Chone Figgins is still the starting second baseman. When asked about Dustin Ackley, he sounded like the Mariners would plan to make sure he’s definitely ready for the big leagues. He’s also talked with Milton Bradley and is satisfied that they have put things behind them.
Here’s the full transcript.
We’ve heard a lot about you being a big fan of platooning in different situations. Do you anticipate doing a lot of that this year?
I don’t anticipate platooning. I think that you platoon as needed. If it’s the right situation for the team, if it makes sense for where those two players are at that particular time, then you go with it. I don’t think you ever lock yourself into anything.
I think you have to be careful with young players, especially younger players that you’re trying to find out about. If you pigeonhole them early and platoon them, you’re really going to struggle to find out about them. You know, you’ve got to recognize and trust your evaluations and what your eyes are seeing and what you’ve seen from them in the past performance- wise, and make those decisions.
But I think there is a place for it. I think it’s rare if something like that stands the test of time, but I think there is a place for it.
When we look at your designated hitter for this year, is that something you’d like to see somebody handle full-time some?
I don’t think it has to be that way. I don’t think it has to be that way. I mean when you have multiple options as a DH, I think sometimes it can be better for a ballclub. But you also want to have some sense of consistency if somebody really takes that role on and runs with it.
In the best case scenario, though, if you can have somebody that can DH maybe the majority of the time or even half the time and go out and play the field or if you have people that maybe can’t play on an everyday basis, whether it be for physical reasons or, again, performance reasons right, right, left, left, then you can mix and match that. Ultimately, maybe you can get a few extra games out of some of your guys.
We’re going to have to make sure that we keep these guys fresh, keep them strong. So we have to be calculating with our days off.
Is that going to be a challenge the rest of the way that you see it building up right now in keeping guys in there that you’re going to be doing a lot of mix and matching?
I think there will be this year. We’ve got to find out about some of our players. When we’re sitting here next year this point in time, we need to have a lot of questions answered. Whether it be about players in our minor league system that are moving from level to level, and we feel a little bit stronger about them or maybe not quite as strong, but that gives us a little bit more direction or obviously more importantly at the big league level.
So, you know, the challenges are going to be to make sure that you’re putting the best club out there to give yourselves a chance to win, but also, you know, answering questions on some of your young players. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward, as cliche as that is, it’s real.
I think patience is rewarded in time. 162 games, with these young players, it’s a sport of failure. You’ve got to be patient, and you’ve got to really trust what you see and trust your evaluations and be communicative along the way. You’ve had a chance to look at what you’ve got.
You’ve had a chance to look at what you’ve got. What are the areas you need to improve in?
Just overall. I love starting everything with Felix. The fact that we’ve had a closer here the last couple of years that have done a pretty good job. You’ve got a lead-off hitter that you can count on. So we’ve got some pieces. But everybody hits me over the head with the offense and I completely understand why. But that’s just not one area. That’s the whole package when it comes to what’s happening or what has happened here offensively. So it’s not just one area that we need to do better with. It’s an entire mindset. It’s an approach. It’s a level that has to be raised. The bar has to be raised. And this is the Major Leagues and that bar has to be raised.
You have a lead-off hitter type in Chone Figgins as well. Would you consider moving Ichiro into a different spot?
Not at this point in time. Ichiro is our leadoff hitter. He’s had a tremendous amount of success there. We’ve got a lot of work to do here. We don’t need to take on something else right now.
Ichiro’s one of the cornerstones right now for us. We want him to be himself, get his hits, get on base. We need to do a better job helping him score more runs. He’s doing his job and has done his job for years now. But we need to come compliment him, whether it be situational hitting or runners in scoring position whatever it may be. We have a number of different areas that we need to raise the bar with.
A lot of the guys underachieved offensively last year, not typical of what they normally do. Does that make it difficult to have a read on what you have because you’re looking at last year’s stuff a little bit?
You can’t just look at last year. I don’t do that. I never have. You can’t just look at yesterday or last week. You’ve got to try to look at everything in its entirety. And I think that when it comes to last year, things just really dominoed in the wrong direction, obviously. You know, I think when you move forward, again, from the conversations I have with them, the meetings that I’ve had with them, once we get in spring training and we start presenting what we’re going to be all about, things are going to change. It’s going to take some time for this to play out on the field, but ultimately things are going to change because certain things are negotiable, certain things are nonnegotiable, certain things are accepted and certain things are not accepted. That’s the way we’re going to go about our business there.
Does it look like Ackley could start the season at second base?
I don’t know. He did a great job in Arizona. He’s a tremendous talent.
He’s changed his mechanics tremendously?
Well, he’s a fantastic young hitter. But the big leagues are the big leagues. You know, he’s still working to get more comfortable at second base. We feel very strong about him. Whether or not he breaks through our big league club is yet to be determined. We’re not going to just look at spring training. We’re going to look at the big picture and what’s best for the club, what’s best for him, and ultimately what’s best for our future down the road.
Figgins made a switch to second last year and struggled defensively a lot. Do you talk to him to see where he’s more comfortable because you have an opening at third base with him?
There is always that possibility where he could transition back to third, but I don’t think that we can go down that road. Right now he’s still our second baseman. Ultimately, we know that he can play a very good third base. I think if he does stay at second base, he’s going to continue to get better.
I think that until we finish this winter in regard to what our team ultimately finishes out to be with player acquisitions or anything else, I think that we just need to sit tight and see how it plays out. It’s nice to have options.
He’s going to be much more comfortable this year. Any time you go and you leave home and you get that first multi-year contract, then you put a position change on top of it, you’ve got a lot going on.
He’s a fantastic player, and he’s going to do a very good job for Seattle. I saw him for so many years when I was in Cleveland, and I know what he’s capable of. I know what he’s all about. We’re proud to have him.
With so much payroll allotted to half dozen or so players, is that a hamstring in terms of Jack trying to make improvements?
Well, right now with where we are, payroll, for me, is not an issue at all. I’m familiar with being in a smaller market and understanding the challenges that go along with that. But we’ve got so many other things that we need to work on, that we need to institute here right away. Things that we’re working on right away behind the scenes. The intangibles, the structure, the atmosphere, just making sure that we educate all of our people, whether it be staff or players just how we’re going to go about our business here.
How important is the bullpen to a team that is going to be young and starting out?
Well, the bullpen is eight, nine times out of ten, the separator for any Major League club. You look at the history and you look at why teams have had successor why they haven’t had success, and more times than not, you can attach that bullpen to it.
But it’s also the toughest thing to figure out in baseball. Whether it be a young club or an older club, I don’t think there is any less importance one way or the other, because it’s so very important.
You give yourself a chance to win a ballgame with your starting pitching. I think you can make an argument there is nobody more important than those starting pitchers because they give you that chance to win the ballgame. But ultimately you have to get that last out too. So pitching and defense is the way to go. We want to be as athletic as we can, but ultimately we need to be prepared for anything that comes down the pike.
You mentioned Ichiro, your leadoff hitter. Figgins struggled a little bit getting used to the number two role. Is that a tough position for a guy to change to leadoff two?
It’s a little adjustment. But I feel like with what Chone did the last couple of months of the year he was more comfortable. I think he’s going to be more comfortable, you know, and more familiar with Ichiro this year. And, again, it’s not his first year in Seattle. He’s not starting from scratch. Whether he’s a second base or third base, he’s going to be more comfortable just being a year in and having those experiences behind him and under his belt.
I really expect him to have a very good year for us this year.
Jack has talked about no one’s going to be on scholarship next year. How much of a sense of competition or feel of competition are we going to see this spring?
I think it’s very healthy. When it comes to Major League Baseball and being in the big leagues, they’re the best of the best. They’re the best players in the world competition should be a part of that. If there’s not competition involved, it’s because you’ve accomplished so much at that big league level already, that you’ve anointed yourself that position. We’ve only got a couple people that are in that spot.
Just for the fact that I haven’t seen a lot of these guys on a day-to-day basis and our staff, even all the more. But when it comes to being a big league player, you’ve got to be able to handle that competition. Whether it be from the teammate next to you or even more importantly across the way.
You find out a lot about people when it comes to competition. We’re not just looking to get a little better, we’re looking to work our ways to be a championship ballclub. To be a championship ballclub when everything’s on the line and all lights are shining on you and everybody’s watching, you better be able to perform.
When you were in Cleveland, you had a lot of young guys come in together at once. Now you’re having a lot of young guys again. Is there anything you want to learn from that experience that you want to do differently or is there anything you take away and say we definitely have to do this?
I liked a lot of what we did. Some of the things we did or I did, I would do differently. Of course I’m not going to tell you any of that right now. But I’ve learned from it. I think that patience is the one thing that comes to mind. You know, especially with young, talented players. I think it’s maybe more important to be a little bit more patient with those guys than be premature.
So I think that when it comes to our young ballplayers and our young ballclub, it’s important to have a few veterans in there mixed in to understand what the hell it’s all about to be a pro and be the best that you can be every day.
That’s one thing I love about Ichiro. He shows up, he has a routine. He’s prepared as anybody in the game, and he does it every single day. So you know when he plays, he’s the best that he can possibly be at that point in time, okay. Because he is that prepared.
I think you can learn a lot from that. Some guys lead by example. Some guys are more vocal. Some guys are tougher. We’re going to have a little bit of all of that.
Did you have a chance to talk to Ichiro?
Yeah, I talked to Ichiro when I was in Seattle. We had a nice conversation. I felt like it was important for us to meet face-to-face before I left town, before he left town. The first of many conversations for us.
But I’ve seen him across the way for so many years on the other side. I get a great understanding of where we are as an organization, and where we are as a ballclub with each and every day. And he’s been here for a long time. I’m looking forward to watching him play. I love watching these guys play at this level. They’re the best of the best. And I’ve got a great deal of respect for what they go out and accomplish.
Is the balance point too much youth going forward?
I think it’s about do you have a threshold? I mean, one year, you know, for Cleveland we started ten rookies. I didn’t know we did until all you guys told me after the game we did. But that was just where we were. That’s the way our lineup played out. That’s how many young people we had at that point in time.
I don’t think it’s going to be that extreme here. CC wasn’t CC, Cliff wasn’t Cliff, Grady, Hafner, nobody knew who they were. We’re starting out here with Felix and Ichiro. Everybody knows who they are, okay. So we’re going to play our young kids. We’re going to give them opportunity, but we’re going to push them. They’re going to have to be tough enough to handle that.
We’re going to have a good time playing. You start playing this game because it’s fun. You can’t forget that. But when it’s go time you have to get out there and get after it. You’ve got to understand what that means. You’ve got to understand what that means and it will be our job to help them do that.
Talked to Jack Cust an hour ago, he said he’s coming to you guys once he passed the physical. He expects to play both sides as a DH. He expects to face righty and lefty pitchers. Do you anticipate doing something like that? Do you anticipate him playing the field at all?
Well, I’ve seen Jack play for, again, a long time from the other side of the diamond. He’s a tremendous talent. We’re just going to have to see how it plays out. Nothing’s done yet. Obviously we like Jack. I’ve liked him personally as a manager for another ballclub.
When we talk about what we’re trying to do offensively, you can hear me talk about quality at-bats, good at-bats, strong at-bats, making good outs. Working and making it tough on that pitcher. I think he does a lot of that.
It takes time to establish that discipline. It takes time to understand what it means to put up a good at-bat, to stick your nose in there with two strikes and to do some of those things. If we can get a few other people to help us do that and our young people can watch that, that’s going to help us.
Do you have any thoughts on the potential of expanded playoffs?
Well, I’m hearing a lot of talk about it. I’m not quite sure what I think of it just now, to be honest with you. Not to be on the fence, but that’s where I am. I haven’t put a great deal of thought into it. I’ve been focusing so much on Seattle and what we’re trying to do here. So I haven’t looked at that from a broad perspective just yet. I know there is a lot of talk about it.
I will say with the wildcard, it’s been really good for baseball and good for a lot of cities. Not just the teams that get in via the wildcard, but the other two or three teams that are in the mix all the way to the end too. It creates a buzz in the city. I’ve been on the short side of it, I’ve been on the good side of it too. But the buzz and the excitement it creates for baseball, I think, is a good thing. And I’m sure that’s why they’re talking about it because they want to expand that a little bit.
What does it mean to have so many of your coaches that you coached with in Cleveland?
It was very important to me to get a couple of guys over here that know what I’m all about, that know what we’re trying to do before we start to do it. That have done it with me before. So they know what’s around the corner. You know, and Carl Willis, Jeff Datz, Robby Thompson those are the guys that have done it with me before, amongst others. But they’re the ones that we have here. And, you know, they could see it happen before it happens, and they know how difficult it was at times, but they were in the trenches with me before, and they’re going to be here again today.
It was also important to me to get somebody from last year’s staff, somebody from within the minor league organization as well as outside the organization, and that is what we have with Chris Chambliss, Mike Brumley, and Jaime Navarro. I feel like we have the best of all worlds. We’ll be a close group like we were in Cleveland. We’re going to have each other’s backs and care about each other and be in it for the right reasons. In it for the right reasons, and the right reasons are we’re in it for the players.
When you look back at Cleveland seven years ago, what do you come away with? Is it one thing?
Well, I felt like we took on something that was quite a challenge. Arguably we tried to do something that hadn’t been done before in that timeframe, and we did accomplish that. Ultimately we didn’t win a World Series there, you know, but we basically started over in ’02 and ’03, and we built an organization and a ballclub that was of championship caliber.
The economics in the end didn’t work out to keep that group together. But if you look at our young people that we brought in via the draft or trades and developed, and the way they went about their business and the way they played should make anybody proud.
I talk about respecting the game and being a good teammate and how those two things are non-negotiable. That is the way our kids acted. That is the way they played. And I plan on working to do the same thing here in Seattle.
The way your roster stands now, I would assume Jack Cust is going to be a primary DH. Who are your other DH options?
I’m not going to speak on Jack right now. But I’ll tell you with Milton Bradley, Milton’s going to be a guy that is obviously going to do some DHing for us, but also balance in the outfield. Left field, right field, I can see him being a switch hitter. He gives us, you know, great options there from both sides of the plate. The health issues for Milton are the biggest questions. So we’re going to do the best we can to, again, be as productive as we can offensively.
But before we even get to that point we have to establish some do’s and don’t’s and just what we can expect from our young people on a day-to-day basis as we work through spring training. So we’re a long way from that.
You mentioned you talked to a lot of players. Have you talked to Milton yet?
I have. I had a good conversation with Milton. I think that I was saying this earlier, I think he and I both have a great advantage this time around. He knows what I’m all about, and I’m very familiar with him. Obviously we have some history. But I think we’re going to work that to our advantage this time around. I know that’s what I want and I know that’s what he wants. That was many moons ago when we were together. He didn’t have any gray hair. It was many moons ago. I don’t think I had any gray hair back then either, by the way (laughing).