Winter Meetings interview with Ned Yost

Q. What have you thought about what your front office has done so far?

            NED YOST: Working very hard. I told our front office last year in these very Winter Meetings, let's find a way to get us to 90 wins. And they got us to 100. So it's kind of the same mandate this year. Find a way to do it.

            But they've worked extremely hard. Dayton, you know, as hard as he works during the summer, it's twice as hard now trying to put a team together and trying to fill certain holes that we need filled. And they've been nonstop working on it.

 

            Q. What's the process kind of like when you're here at this point in time and your team has less guys on it than you did last year when you concluded and looking forward with uncertainty with what goes on?

            NED YOST: We don't have uncertainty, we know we'll fill those holes. And we've got a number of different guys that we're identifying in terms of right field, identifying a bat if we decide to go the DH route. And identifying starting pitching that we want to try to attempt to either sign via the free agent market or via trade.

            Right now we've gone over half the clubs, we look at every club. We look at every player and determine if there's a match. We try to decide, Okay, if it's going to be a trade situation, who are we willing to give up, who do we think that they want and try to have all that information in our head before we talk to the club. It's like a ballgame. When we sit down before a baseball game as a coaching staff we try to go over the game in our head so when something develops we have a pretty good idea what we're going to do.

 

            Q. With that many people you have in the bullpen and those you sign and expect to come back, would it be possible to get enough work for those guys or does somebody have to go?

            NED YOST: No, no, it's actually the perfect scenario, which it was two years ago. You know, last year having three guys to fill three innings is fine on a day basis. When you start pushing them two and three days, that's when it starts to get hairy, especially during the season.

            So you have another quality arm down there, like Hochevar, then you can mix and match if Herrera needs a day off you don't miss a beat, if Wade needs a day off, you don't miss a beat, if Hoch needs a day off, you don't miss a beat. Three, it kind of taxed us some last year. The year before when we had Kelvin, we had Hoch, we had Wade and we had Holly, there was a real nice flow to it.

            So you look at our bullpen, and I don't think that there's been a bullpen as dynamic as ours has been in terms of, you know, your back end three or four since Cincinnati had Randy Myers and Norm Charlton. They were just lights out, same as our crew.

 

            Q. Hoch had some incentives in his deal for starting. Do you have any plans to stretch him out at all?

            NED YOST: Right now, we put ‑‑ we take into account everything. We're not saying that, no, because that may be an option for him. Right now we bring him in as a starter and it might be less tax on his arm. But those decisions will all be made in spring training.

 

            Q. You're projecting forward, you think he'll be a late inning?

            NED YOST: Pretty much. But again, I'm not discounting him not being a starter. I felt really, really good when we were able to sign Hoch because I went out a number of times during the postseason and watched him throw. Golly, can you get on the mound right now? Man, I feel like I can.

            So I was really, really encouraged by watching him with his throwing program.

 

            Q. Who are some of the guys you feel like internally might be able to help you in right field or at DH?

            NED YOST: Right now, you know, we've got different scenarios, you can platoon Paulo Orlando and Peguero. Both of those guys came up last year. Paulo had a tremendous year in Triple‑A.

            Again, I really like the idea of a floating DH. I can't catch Sal 150 games again. I can't, I'll kill the kid. The problem when you're locked into a DH, you don't want Sal's bat out of that lineup. And there's days where it would be beneficial for Omar to DH, because his bat is good, Gordy to DH, Hos to DH, Cain could DH.

            We're talking about getting another bat. If we can get one, fine, if we can't, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. Because I think that the revolving DH will pay benefits to everybody on the field.

 

            Q. Do you have to flat out give Sal some days off, period, resist the temptation to just he's going to catch or he's going to DH?

            NED YOST: There will be times where I'll give him a day off. But Sal is a force offensively. He's a Gold Glove catcher, two time Gold Glove catcher. But his bat is a very productive bat. And at times last year we struggled offensively, it's hard to take that bat out of the lineup.

            I'm going to look back and I see, Okay, Gordy had a good year last year. Do I think he could be more productive offensively? Yes. I think Hos and Mous are going to be more productive offensively. Cain had a phenomenal year. I look for him to continue that. I look for Sal to have a better year offensively. I think our offense is going to be better just with what we have in‑house. But there's times where you'll identify that maybe a tough Sunday day where you give them the absolute whole day off. These kids like to play.

 

            Q. Is there an ideal number of games you would want Sal ‑‑ I know the answer is 62 ‑‑

            NED YOST: No, that's not an ideal. I don't have an ideal number.

            Probably what I'll do, because again the temptation to play Salvador every single day is great. Probably what we'll do right out of Spring Training is assign four starters to him and one to somebody else. At least every four days he's getting a DH day or a day off. And I think that's probably best case, works out best for everybody involved.

 

            Q. I know you're trying to win every year. Are you looking forward to having that official target on your back for 14 other teams in the American League?

            NED YOST: Oh, yeah. I was really excited about the way that our kids stood up during the playoffs. And I got ‑‑ we've talked about for years about taking their game to the next level, and what it feels like and the intensity and the focus and the whole mindset of taking their game to the next level. And they took their game to the next level during the playoffs.

            For them to experience that, to understand it, feel it, know what it feels like, you know, it's a great experience. Because now you know. Take your game to the next level. What does that mean? Now they know. They took their game to the next level.

            Their mindset was so singular in winning the game. There was no ‑‑ at times guys would be struggling and I've got to get my average back up, I've got to do this, and it was more trying to work on individual goals than team goals. Once the playoffs started that was gone, everything was about winning this game. Finding a way to win the game. I don't care what it takes, a walk, a hit, a stolen base, if you've got to pinch‑hit for me, that's fine. And they understood it. And they embraced it and they were extremely successful doing it.

            So with that experience I'm really excited to see what they can accomplish next year.

 

            Q. Do you feel like the wear and tear on Sal affected his hitting in the second half?

            NED YOST: Yeah, I do. I do. I think we kind of wore him down little bit. Because I know that Sal is a tremendous offensive performer. He got to where I felt like he felt like his bat was getting a little slope. He'd have to start his swing earlier, which resulted to more swings out of the zone. I think a lot of that was my fault.

 

            Q. Can you talk a little bit about Shields' status in the club, free agency?

            NED YOST: Yeah, we've talked about a number of different guys, free agent guys. And a number of different guys that maybe we could make deals for.

            I think James and some of the top guys, they're waiting for one of the big boys, Lester or Scherzer, to make a deal, set the market and go from there.

            You always hold out hope, does it look like we're going to be able to get him back, I think somebody is going to be able to outbid us for him. But he was tremendous when he was with us for two years. He came in and helped change the mindset in our locker room and with our organization. And he's a special guy.

 

            Q. Lester tell you where he's going?

            NED YOST: No, Jon has been ‑‑ I only talked to Jon one time. And he's been so busy going to here from there to there to here that his schedule is busier than mine.

 

            Q. Last year with Peguero, he got two games, really. Did you do a spot where you couldn't experiment?

            NED YOST: There was no time. There was no time. There was no time for that in September when those guys came up. We were battling Detroit for the division. And the experimenting and giving a guy an opportunity to see what he can do for next year, wasn't the right time to do it.

 

            Q. He's the sort of guy that you probably have to get an extended look to sort of see?

            NED YOST: You're right. Those types of guys, you know, through an extended Triple‑A season last year, this kid did a great job. Hit 30 home runs. Yeah, it was Triple‑A, but he has that kind of power. If you want to give him a look, you've got to give him a fair look. You can't just throw him out there for two weeks and if he struggles, bag him. That's not going to work.

            So, yeah, he's a guy if you decide to go in that direction, he needs a fair opportunity.

 

            Q. Looking at the division, do you feel like the Tigers are still your chief competition there for the top spot?

            NED YOST: No, I don't. I feel like the Tigers are top competition. But I think Cleveland is going to be very, very tough. We went into Cleveland the last week of the season and we had that makeup game and that put them two games out of the Wild Card. And we lose another one of those games and they're right there in that Wild Card mix with us. Luckily we came back and won the next couple of games and put them to four and almost got them eliminated.

            But that was a very tense time for us, because they were coming, they were playing hard. But Cleveland is very tough. I think that Minnesota did a great job, I think Torii Hunter is going to help them, they have a new manager in Paul, who is going to be terrific. I think the division is going to be wide open again.

 

            Q. What was it with the Tigers, what makes them so tough?

            NED YOST: I don't know, they struggled against us the year before, what was that? I don't know. We played really, really well against them the year before. And last year we really struggled against them. We just could not get any type of momentum against them, and don't really know why. We played some pretty good games. Got blown out of some games. But it's funny how it changes from year to year.

 

            Q. Do you have to approach Spring Training with your core guys any differently now that they've had success?

            NED YOST: No.

 

            Q. Do you approach it any different?

            NED YOST: No, we don't crack of whip. Our guys have never shown a propensity to come in lazy. I think the country saw it during this playoff run, the life and the energy that these guys have and how much they enjoy playing with each other.

            And Spring Training, in all my springs with this group it's always been like that. They have a lot of energy. They have a lot of life. They get on the field. They practice the right way, they practice hard, they stay focused. We don't leave them out for nine hours doing drills. We go out and get our work done and we come in.

            I don't have any concern about these guys showing up ready to go.

 

            Q. When you lose a guy like Shields, 220‑some‑odd innings, back‑to‑back years, allowing the bullpen to rest. When you're making an addition to the rotation, do you look for Duffy or Ventura?

            NED YOST: I don't look to fill that spot. Duffy and Ventura are going to be fantastic for us. Guthrie and Vargy, Guthrie had a tremendous September and tremendous postseason. And Vargy struggled a little bit, three starts in September, but up to that point he was dynamite for us. I think the combination of that. And you don't know who is going to pop up. Zimmer shows up healthy, his stuff is right on line with Ventura's. You just don't know what Finnegan is going to do, what Hoch is going to do, and that's without getting another arm, which we plan to do.

            You just have to get there and see how it all plays out.

 

            Q. You alluded to this briefly, for as much as everybody is talking about the bat that you're going to add, how much is really about the internal guys you already have, them leading the way more so than this savior bat coming in?

            NED YOST: We're not looking for a savior bat. We're looking for a productive bat that's going to help us. With our bullpen, our mindset is just have the lead or be tied off the fifth inning, and we feel like we've got a real strong chance to win that baseball game. If we can get a productive bat to go with the bats we've got, we'll be in good shape.

 

            Q. Will it be funny to readjust to regular baseball? The managers in the postseason, you're out in the third inning?

            NED YOST: Yeah, it's a different way. And that's why it was so fun, I think, and so exhilarating because you were doing things you'd never done before. I never thought about bringing Kelvin in in the fourth inning. But that's what you have to do. When it's winner take all, do or die, and you're planning to advance in the playoffs, you push guys.

            But I think we did a great job last year of setting up our roles. We've got Jason Frasor coming back. And he fills that really big role, that fifth, sixth inning role. Louie Coleman is going to have a great bounce‑back year, Timmy Collins is going to have a great bounce‑back year. We feel like we're going to have enough depth and quality down in that bullpen to get Kelvin back to his one‑inning stints, and Wade and Hoch, if he's a reliever, make it work until we get back to the playoffs.

 

            Q. Your guys have shown they can get anybody out. You mentioned Tim. Any concern that you're too right‑handed heavy in the bullpen?

            NED YOST: No, because our righties all had to do a good job of getting lefties out. All of our righties we have power. Louie Coleman, even though he's a drop‑down right‑hander, he's always been very successful in getting lefties out for the most part. Frasor has a nice changeup and a cutter that he bears in on their hands.

            I've gone years, especially in Milwaukee, two years or maybe three years where we didn't even have a left‑handed reliever. If they've got your righties that have power and pitches to get lefties out, it's not a concern at all.

 

            Q. Six weeks or so that you've had time to reflect on the postseason. When you look back at it, what did you learn the most from that experience, just personally?

            NED YOST: I don't know. I think I learned to be a little more flexible. There were times ‑‑ first of all, I feel like I've got the best coaching staff in all of baseball and really, for me, really started to take advantage of it in September. And there were times when Wak would come up in a game and suggest something, and I'd say, I'm not going to do that. I'm not doing that. Are you crazy? I'd look at him, and turn to Pedro, and say, Would you do this? And Pedro would say, Yes, I'd do that. I'm not doing that. And I'd go, Let's do it. And I've never been like that before. I really used my coaches and their experience and their intuition and knowledge, and it paid off huge. It paid off huge for the entire organization.

            So to be a little more flexible to listen to quality baseball people, a little more, I think I learned how successful we could be when you do that. But I go back, even six weeks after, through the whole playoff process, and there's ‑‑ I keep thinking is there anything that I would do different throughout that whole process and there's not.

            We had the right situation in Game 5 that we wanted with bases loaded, Finnegan facing Sandoval, and gets a base hit. So they win Game 5. We blow them out in Game 6. I had the matchup I wanted with Herrera and Morris. And it didn't work out. He fisted one into right field for a base hit that put them up 3‑2. And Hos comes up and hits a ball up the middle and Panik makes a phenomenal play. That would be first and third with nobody out with the meat of our order coming up. If any one of those things happened or not happened, we would have won a world championship. That's how close we came. I don't kick myself over that.

            To come as close as we did to winning a world championship, the slimmest of margins, one run in Game 7. I kept thinking after a week or ten days I'll be able to reflect back and feel really good about it. But five, six weeks and hasn't happened. Still that hole of we were that close to winning a World Championship, which was our ultimate goal to bring the World Championship back to Kansas City and we didn't accomplish it. That goal moves on to next year.

 

            Q. Do you think that it might be a little difficult at the start to get past that when the group reconvenes?

            NED YOST: No, our guys are going to be foaming at the mouth ready to go. They want it, too. So I think that they're going to show up with that taste in their mouth that they want to get that extra run.

 

            Q. Last year you mentioned we need that James Shields of the offense, that leader inside the clubhouse. Did that player emerge in October or does that search still waiting?

            NED YOST: No. I mean, obviously I think they all stepped ‑‑ you look at what Mous did. Mous was that guy in October. Mous ended up breaking the franchise record for postseason home runs. Everybody stepped their game up. And it just got to a point where they just ‑‑ they put together great at‑bats. But they were relaxed at‑bats. They weren't: I've got to add 20 points to my average at‑bats. I need to get on first base so that something can happen.

            With our pitching, we didn't have to score a bunch of runs. You go back and look at the playoffs, 13 innings in the Wild Card game. And the first two games in Anaheim went extra innings. And then played an easier game for Game 3 to win that series. And then extra inning game in Baltimore. And I can't even remember Game 2, and then Game 3 and Game 4 were 2‑1 ballgames. We scored enough to win because our pitching and our defense was so dynamic.

            So you kind of put it all together, that's all that really matters and that's all that counts.

 

            Q. More so to the leadership average. Do you have that guy?

            NED YOST: These kids, the experience that they gain, you know, with Hosmer, with Mous, our Latin contingent guys, between Omar, Salvador, Esky are all calming influences for those guys. And you all saw Ventura, he's as cool and calm as can be no matter what.

            So, yeah, I don't think we have any issues in terms of leadership in that locker room offensively. We've got a bunch of guys that I trust and count on to be really, really good.

 

            Q. What about Aoki, are you having him back?

            NED YOST: We're still talking to his agent. This time of year there's a lot of big numbers being thrown around, you know? So we're just trying to filter through it and see what works for us. We would love to have him back.

 

            Q. Aoki is not a big outfielder, but if you lose him what would you lose?

            NED YOST: Aoki, he's a guy, very special with his ability, doesn't strikeout, he's a cut and slasher like nobody I've ever seen. You put a fastball down and away, he's going to drill it through the 6th hole, you throw him a fastball in, he's going to pull it ‑‑ his hands and his hand‑eye coordination are as good as anybody I've ever seen. You hear the phrase "hit it where it's pitched." He literally does it. Literally does it. Every year he's close to leading the league in infield hits. He finds a way to get on and battle. He's a good offensive player, struggled a little bit in the first half of the season. He's such an information‑oriented guy that he was just really learning the league and learning the new pitchers in the second half, especially in the September, he was unbelievable how good he was offensively. And defensively he's a very solid performer in right field. But when you've got Dyson and Cain that you can put out there, that's a huge upgrade over anybody.

 

            Q. You showed this year that you don't need to score big runs to go far. Do you see things ever going back toward the offense? Now you have a bullpen that you can lock down the game. It seems like everything is going toward defense here in recent years. Is there any way to get it back the other way?

            NED YOST:  For our team?

 

            Q. Any team, really.

            NED YOST:  Some teams just have different philosophies. Some guys they want to get guys that have power and can drive the ball out of the ballpark. Our ballpark is big, it's hard to hit it out of the ballpark. Dave did a good job of making our stadium become a home field advantage for us. The ability to manufacture runs and hold down the opposition. I would like to see our team go a little more offensive, but not at the sake of losing defense or athleticism, because that's a big part of our game.

 

            Q. How do you balance that? You have Cain and Gordon who can cover the whole outfield pretty much. When you're trying to fill that right field start?

            NED YOST:  Still, we need a bat, but the thing that we got is Dys, too, we have the ability to ‑‑ the object is to be tied or ahead the sixth inning on, then you can put your best defense out there. It's not as necessary to have a Gold Glove out there, but it's preferable. Because when you have to defend for Dys, or when you defend Dys, you run that base running bullet that you have in the 8th or 9th inning, that can pinch run for Sal or whoever to steal that base, to either get to Holly or win the ballgame.

 

            Q. (INAUDIBLE)

            NED YOST:  Well, I mean you cutting him already?

 

            Q. Are you cutting him already?

            NED YOST:  No, he'll be in Spring Training. I'll miss him until Spring Training comes, then I'll be glad to see him. He may come back and all of a sudden hit .400 in Spring Training. We'll see. Who knows? I'm not cutting him this early.

 

            Q. Speaking of pinch running, what was your thought of Billy heading out to Oakland?

            NED YOST:  I was kind of hoping that we would be able to find a way to keep Billy with us. And I thought probably it would, but when I heard Oakland's number, Billy's got to go. That's great for family. That's great for him to be able to sign a three‑year deal at 10 million a year. I was really happy for him.

 

            Q. You expecting Finnegan to be in Spring Training?

            NED YOST:  We're going to stretch him out in Spring Training and see what we've got, go from there. It's easier to stretch a guy out to see what you've got, back him down if you want to put him in your pen, exactly where he's going to start, I don't know. We'll find out what we see. He's going to be a good one for a long time. He's got tremendous poise, tremendous stuff, and what an addition to our club in September when he came up.

 

            Q. On a little different topic, you got to see all those years in Atlanta what kind of pitcher John Smoltz is, he's on the Hall of Fame ballot, crowded ballot, any doubt in your mind ‑‑

            NED YOST: ‑‑ when are they announcing that?

 

            Q. January 6th.

            NED YOST:  Oh, really? He's going to make it, no doubt. He's fantastic, yes. The years that he had and the stuff that he did, not only as a starter but as a reliever, no, he's a no doubt, first ballot Hall of Famer for me.

 

            Q. There's been such a drop in offense in the last decade or so. You see a team like yourself, how do you rationalize what's going on here, do you think this is a cyclical thing, or the game is going to stay this way?

            NED YOST:  I think this is the way the game is. I think this is the way the game was. This is the way the game got away from it, and now it's back to where the game is. I think offense is down, and I don't think it's a coincidence. I think that's the way the game is. I think we're going to get back to manufacturing more runs, more speed and athleticism to manufacture runs. And you're still going to have the guys that will drive the ball out of the ballpark. Especially in parks that are home run friendly parks, you're going to get guys that get more home runs, your Baltimores and Philadelphias, and things like that.

            I think it's back to playing baseball, for the most part, the way baseball was meant to be played.

 

            Q. And just given the way you ran your game, it seems you're very comfortable where that?

            NED YOST:  Absolutely. Poll a hundred people in the country and ask them if our style of play was enjoyable. And I think they would say he can, yeah, it's different. It's old time baseball. But it was different because we haven't seen it. We haven't seen speed and athleticism and daring base running, and guys trying to create havoc and taking chances and getting big singles that were the bang, bang plays. That's exciting baseball. And I think that the country loved it. And I just think that it's a fun style. I love it. Do I like the three run homer? Yeah. I'll take the three run homer anytime someone wants to jump up and give me one. We've got to find other ways to get it done.

 

            Q. It seemed like the game got so far into the power aspect for so long, I guess to some degree it still is there. But when a team wins like you guys do, that runs it's offense like you do.

            NED YOST: Well, it's a different world that we live in today, you know. It's a different ‑‑ the players are different than when I came up. There's more the social media, the Internet, all the stuff that Andy is tweeting, all this stuff that goes with being a baseball player today, right? And it's the same way. I mean I don't know why fans got away from liking the bunt. And all of a sudden the numbers come in. But a lot of times the numbers don't really take into account the human element of the game. And there's a place for it, don't get me wrong. We look at numbers all the time.

            But a lot of times people will scream and yell at me for bunting, but I guarantee you of the bunts that we put on, a third of them I put on and two‑thirds the guys were bunting on their own, trying to find ways to bin a ballgame. Because they wanted to win a ballgame. They wanted to get that runner to the next base so that somebody could drive in. A, B, C baseball. A, get on the base, B, move them over, and C, drive them in. Our guys enjoyed playing that style of baseball and it was very successful.

 

            Q. Did you ever get bothered by some of the stuff that seems to be directed not as much at your team, but sometimes at you?

            NED YOST:  No, no. Again, I've been called a dunce, an idiot, everything else. And Andy has come up with all kinds of stuff on Twitter for me, and it just doesn't bother me. I'm really comfortable with who I am. I know who I am. I'm not the smartest dude on the face of the earth. I never claimed be to. Never professed to be. But I'm really comfortable with who I am. I'm comfortable about my organization. I'm comfortable with my players. So I don't really pay too much attention.