Winter Meetings interview with Walt Weiss

Q. The last few years none of your defensive guys have played (indiscernible). It seems that everything's gone toward the defense, shifts, and teams and everybody throwing 98. Is there anything ‑‑ I realize playing in your ballpark, this might be a dumb question. But do you see anything that will even things up again and bring scoring levels more in line?

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, I don't know what that is specifically, but I think it's pretty cyclical. When you look at the game, I think offensively back ‑‑ I don't know if it comes back as big as it was in the '90s, but it'll be back. I think that this is just trended down here in the last couple years, especially last year. But I don't have any doubt there will be a resurgence at some point.

 

            Q. Colorado Rockies, you guys are an offensive team and you have a lot of bats in an industry that's gone into a pitching dominated era. What are the good and bad parts of that? 

            WALT WEISS: Well, a lot of teams like our players. I guess that's good, because we like them too. Particularly our position players, and consequently we've had a lot of conversations because people are calling about our offense, and I get that. So we listen. We're not necessarily motivated to initiate as far as moving some of our offensive pieces, but we do listen. It's good to know that people around the industry like you guys.

 

            Q. As far as your rotation stands now, if you don't add, and Jeff has said that he'd like to, going forward, if you stay healthy, what are your feelings about the rotation right now? 

            WALT WEISS: We've got to have some young guys take the next step in their development. I think position player‑wise, we're very strong. We've got to keep them on the field. We've got to keep them healthy. So there is some margin for error there with our pitchers, I think, because we get out‑slugged for a little while. Can't do it for six months, but we can do it from time to time.

            We've got to pitch; that is the bottom line. We've got to pitch. We had some guys take a big step last year. We need to take another step, and we need to surprise our two. We need a guy to develop quickly, and like I said, take that next step quickly. I feel like we'll be competitive on the mound either way, but I don't think anybody complains about having too much pitching, so we'll try to stockpile arms.

 

            Q. Looking at your team as it stands now, you can't do it, but let's take pitching out of it, how good a team is this? Are you looking at a lineup that is competitive to win a championship? Your bench also. Do you feel like you have a contender if you took pitching out? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, I think you go position by position, I think we match‑up pretty well throughout the game. But, again, I think you see it every October when you turn on the TV. It comes down to the guys on the mound, and we're getting better there. We've got some good young arms; we've got some good young arms coming.

            But we've got to take the next step, like I said on the mound. But position player‑wise, yeah. When our guys are out there, I feel like we match‑up with anybody.

 

            Q. What is your update on Jhoulys? You did tender him to contract. So there has to be some sort of confidence that he can bounce back. What are you hearing about him? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, good reports on Jhoulys. Obviously a big concern for us going into the off‑season, and felt like he had a long way to go.

            When we were in September, we felt like he had a really long way to go. He's come a long way in a few months. Like you said, we've been encouraged enough to tender him a contract. We feel like he's going to be a big part of our club moving forward. We need him to be. He's approaching this off‑season with a lot of urgency. He knows it's a big year for him. It's a big year for him in his career. But all the reports have been very good on him.

 

            Q. Do you have a sense of the back end of your bullpen of what you're going to do yet? Are you going to let that play outcome Spring Training? I mean, LaTroy did a nice job but some other guys showed some stuff too.

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, there are some options, but I think LaTroy is the guy that's closed games down there, he's got experience doing it. And like you said, did a nice job for us. He did a nice job for us last year.

            So as we sit here today, he's the guy in that spot. I think we have some young emerging arms, like I said, some guys with some power, and maybe they develop into a closer. But as we sit here today, LaTroy will be the guy pitching in the ninth inning.

 

            Q. Without cutting, do you feel pretty confident with who you have to help Justin Morneau out at first and give him that adequate rest that he's going to need throughout the course of the season to stay healthy? 

            WALT WEISS: Well, yeah, we've got some options there. Wilin is a guy, he is a right‑handed complement to Justin. We feel like that's going to be a bigger part of Wilin's responsibility moving forward.

            We have some other options. Of course, Ben Paulsen was up there last year. He's left‑handed, so it's not the right‑left thing that sometimes you're looking for, but Ben did a great job and performed very well. He showed a lot of moxie for a young kid, so we're encouraged by that. But I think we have some options to take care of Justin.

 

            Q. Speaking of first base, Kyle Parker, we didn't see a lot of him last season. Obviously there were reasons with Morneau and the way he was hitting, but is this a big year for him to kind of show you why you drafted him in the first round? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, Kyle, we feel like is an exciting offensive player potentially. Got the football background, so maybe a little bit more of a late bloomer in baseball terms. But a lot of talent, a lot of power, right‑handed power. He's a guy that we've worked at first base to have that on his resume. So he can compete for a spot on our club as a corner outfielder/first baseman. Like I said, it's nice to have that right‑handed power. He's still developing, but we're excited about the future for him.

 

            Q. With him, I know you want to create roster flexibility. Is it better that he's a two‑position guy or would you like to settle him at one? 

            WALT WEISS: No, I think we need him to be able to play both. Like you said, we tend to carry 13 pitchers during the season, for the most part, and if that's the case, you have four guys on your bench and you need a versatile, athletic bench. So if a guy can play multiple positions, it's a better fit on our club.

 

            Q. I know that there's been a lot of discussion about whether you guys will trade Wilin and that's out there. If you don't, and you go into the season with McKenry and Wilin, is there a clear cut number one right now? Because McKenry showed up well and got significant playing time in the last third of the season. Or can you not say yet? 

            WALT WEISS: I think Wilin would be the guy going in. That doesn't mean that Mac's not going to play a lot. I think he will. Obviously the demands at that position are well‑documented and guys get beat up back there and put on a lot of mileage in a short amount of time at that position. So it's nice to be able to have another option to counter that. Mac performed very well for us. We love the energy. We love the ability to communicate and carry a staff. We love the intellect and all that stuff that comes along with Mac.

            But we go into the season with Wilin as the front guy, but with Mac playing a lot also.

 

            Q. Neither one of them were very good at throwing base runners out. Was that on them and some of the physical problems that occurred or is that rest with the pitching staff? 

            WALT WEISS: I think a big part is the physical challenges they had, the injuries. And Mac was coming off a knee surgery, so both dealing with physical things.

            But I think we do a pretty good job as far as trying to control the running game off the mound. We can still be better. I think we need to get better there. But we've done a pretty decent job there and giving our catchers a chance to throw guys out. That's all you can ask for. I think if we do that, both of those guys are capable of throwing people out.

 

            Q. The strike zone was lower across Major League Baseball this year. Did you see that having much impact on your team on either side of the ball? 

            WALT WEISS: You know what, it works in our favor because we preach to our pitchers the ability to attack the bottom of the strike zone. When you're getting rewarded for that, I think that's a good thing. It plays right into our hands and the park we play and we try to keep the ball out of the air. So our guys have done a good job of putting the ball on the ground.

            I think we've led the league in turning double plays. So it's a big part of our defensive mindset. So the lower the strike zone, the better for us.

 

            Q. Is leading the league and turning double plays, is that always a good thing? 

            WALT WEISS: You can look at it a couple of different ways. There are going to be base runners at Coors Field. There is no question about it. It's a hitter friendly park, but that's why we constantly prepare about the ability to get two outs with one pitch. It's critical in our place because there is going to be traffic. Like I said, our guys have adapted to that fairly well.

 

            Q. What update can you give us on Cargo and Tulo, and have you talked with either of them in the last month or so, or whatever? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, all signs are that both of them are ahead of schedule. Very encouraging as far as the reports on both of those guys. Talked to Tulo a handful of times. I've talked with Cargo, so we've all stayed in the loop there. Like I said, it's all good news. So we feel like they're probably ahead of where we thought they would be at this point.

 

            Q. As far as the two injuries, which one will be rehabbed quicker? I was under the impression maybe Tulo was a little quicker than Cargo with the knee. When Spring Training comes, will they be full go? 

            WALT WEISS: It's tough to say. It's tough to say with an injury. I don't know who is going to be done first. We don't look at it like a race to the finish line. But we're encouraged by the fact that we feel like they're ahead of schedule. Does that mean that they're ready to go first day of Spring Training? I can't say for sure, Thomas, but I don't think it's out of the question.

 

            Q. With all the strikeouts in the game now, there is a school of thought that teams may need to put the ball in play a little earlier in the count. What are your thoughts on that, and does your ballpark play much of a factor in that? 

            WALT WEISS: Well, a ball in play can always be dangerous. We talk about two‑strike approach a lot. I think everybody does, every team does. It comes down to the ability to execute that approach. Like you said, a big part of it is not missing your pitch when you get it early in the count, not getting the two strikes.

            There is so much power on the mound in today's game that pitchers are going to have the ability to miss the bat, and I think you're seeing that in the numbers. So the ability to make the adjustment deeper in counts with a hitter has become increasingly important, I think. We've stressed it a great deal. But it comes down to being able to execute it.

            We were good at times last year, and then at times it got away from us and we weren't very good with two strikes. But there is a lot of ebb and flow there. But I think everybody's trying to put the ball in play, and sometimes you have to sacrifice some things to do it, and that's where the approach comes in.

 

            Q. A thought to some people I've talked to is does that sacrifice power by swinging earlier and you're not waiting for the perfect pitch? That's why I'm wondering whether your ballpark would factor in.

            WALT WEISS: Well, in a hitter's park, you get rewarded for some things. Even sometimes a less than perfect or less than ideal approach you can get rewarded. It can be a trap. It can give you a false sense of security.

            I don't want to make too much of it. I think for a hundred years now, when you get your pitch you want to hit it. You don't want to miss it regardless of where you are in the count. But I think with all the strikeouts it becomes increasingly important to not miss your pitch when you get it.

 

            Q. If you are not a first‑pitch swinging hitter, a guy who ambushes guys a lot, can you change because the numbers say that maybe you should fire? 

            WALT WEISS: I don't think so. I don't think so. I think that's tough to do at the Major League level. It's tough to change your stripes to that degree.

            Now we can work on approach. If a guy is chasing a lot, that's something we've got to fix and he's got to be able to make an adjustment with. But I think you've got to be careful trying to transform guys into something that they're not. If you're a guy that takes a lot of pitches, I don't think that should change. There is strength in that, in being able to get to first base and having the ability to do that. But I think you've got to be careful trying to transform people away from what their strengths are.

 

            Q. A question of the leadership on your club. I'll couch it in this way: You lost Cuddy, who I know you had a great deal of respect for, and I think a lot of players did. And you were without Tulo and Cargo for a significant amount of time last year, so maybe they weren't in the mix as much. So given all of that and coming off a bad season record‑wise, how do you feel about the leadership part of your team going forward? 

            WALT WEISS: I think we have some young players that are probably going to have to take that step at some point. Hopefully next year we'll see that. But for me, I expect all of our guys to provide some kind of leadership. I don't care if it's their first year in the Big Leagues. There are a lot of different ways to lead. It doesn't always look like Cuddyer's leadership or Morneau's leadership. It can come in different forms. I expect all of our guys to lead in their own way.

            But in the traditional sense, like you're talking, I think we have enough guys in that clubhouse. And I felt really good about our clubhouse culture and the mentality of our club collectively. I don't worry too much about the leadership part of it. I think there are some things in place that I'm proud of and the type of guys that we have.

 

            Q. Does Nolan become that kind of guy? The idea that he's transforming, he's so good a player that he's a veteran now, and maybe he's a leader by example maybe more than he used to be? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, I think no question. Nolan can lead in his own way. He's still a very relatively young player, but you know what? I think he matured a ton last year. So I have saw tremendous growth in Nolan when he came to that. I would expect that he's ready to take on more and take on more of that responsibility. He's ready to. I think he's established himself as an elite player, really, in the league. So for him, he's probably ready for that next step.

 

            Q. Can you talk about what Justin Morneau brings to the table? I remember last year you talked about looking at the video and thinking this guy could be back and now that you've seen him for a year? 

            WALT WEISS: He's a great person and a great player, and that's what we saw this past season. Selfless in every way, and that's true leadership. When a guy is willing to serve like Justin is, that's a true leader. It was great to see him have the year that he had had through all the struggles that he had the previous couple of years. It's good to see the good guys rewarded by the game, and that's what we saw last year with Justin.

 

            Q. When you sit back and start dreaming about the 2015 season, and dreaming about making up the lineup card, is Troy Tulowitzki's name in there and (indiscernible) name in there? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, absolutely. I think the fact there's been a buzz around those guys is because everyone likes them. The fact of the matter is we like them too. So, yeah, absolutely. I'd love to be writing their names on the lineup card come spring time.

 

            Q. Kevin Cash was recently hired to manage the Rays. He doesn't have any managing experience, similar situation to you were in. What is his biggest challenge, and what is some advice you would give to him? 

            WALT WEISS: I think it's important that you have people around you can lean on, and I'm sure Kevin does. People that you trust and respect, and people that have done it. I had some guys that have managed around me, Tommy Reynolds, and Rene Lachemann to name a couple. But it's important to have that, to have that perspective and experience around you.

            I think probably if there was a surprise, it's the number of people you're responsible for as manager. The game ‑‑ there are not a lot of surprises with the game. If you've been around the game and you've been in the game a long time, you're not going to be surprised by a whole lot that happens on the field. Now you're sitting in a different seat as manager. You've got to be out in front of things, and you have people around you that do that with you collectively. But I think the leadership on such a large scale is probably one of the things that caught me by surprise. A lot of people are depending on you from top to bottom. That's a lot of responsibility. It maybe takes a little while to get into the routine of the day and the flow and to get accustomed to that.

            But at some point it doesn't take long to get on autopilot and it becomes part of who you are. But there is a bit of a learning curve there.

 

            Q. After the struggles of the last couple of years, a lot of teams may drop into a rebuilding mode. You guys have chosen not to do that. How big is this year to not only ‑‑ to have a record to justify the decision to push forward and try to contend with the Dodgers and the Giants? 

            WALT WEISS: It's extremely important. I feel like we didn't want to go that rebuilding route because there is enough talent on our club that if we can keep it intact and we keep on the field, we feel like we're in a good position. We're addressing the needs we feel we need to address, and hopefully we'll be better in those areas when we get to Scottsdale in the spring. But we didn't rebuild because we felt like there was still enough talent.

            Like I said, position player‑wise, I feel like we match‑up with anybody. But it's critical that we stay healthy and we keep our core guys on the field and involved. I think that's why we didn't go that rebuilding route, because we feel like if some things go our way, we're in a position to do damage.

 

            Q. Not to add pressure, but do you feel like it has to work this year? I know you can't control health, but ‑‑

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, yeah. I think it's hard to sit here today and say that, but we're at a point where we've got to turn it around. Yeah, the reality of it is, if it doesn't happen this year, yeah, you're probably looking at going a different way at that point.

            But I think the age of the core of our group is allowing us to stay the course too. We still have a lot of guys that are in the prime of their careers. So that gives us hope that there is still a lot left in this group.

 

            Q. How much input are you having? I know Jeff's only been on the job about two months at the GM. Are you having quite a bit of input in these meetings and player personnel decisions as you guys come down here?  

            WALT WEISS: Yeah, I've been very involved, probably more so than the last couple off‑seasons. Spent a lot of time downtown at the stadium with Jeff and the rest of the guys upstairs.

            Anytime there is transition like that, you need to make sure that you get on the same page, you're all up to speed. It's been a little easier transition, I think, for Jeff because he's been around our organization for so long. But it was important for the two of us to get together right away. Right after he got the job, the first couple three weeks, we spent a lot of time together. I think we needed to.

            But to answer your question, yeah, I've been in the middle of a lot of those personnel discussions.

 

            Q. So he has a really good feel for what you value in terms of personality, and characters and all that stuff? 

            WALT WEISS: Yes. I think that was communicated right away, and some of it he was already aware of. Because like I said, we've been around each other for some time. But, yeah, those things were a big part of the early discussions.

 

            Q. With your outfielders, specifically Blackmon and Dickerson, one of the things you told them leaving the season because they did have good years and people are going to adjust more to them or be looking out for them? 

            WALT WEISS: Well, both of those guys understand that. They have a great sense of awareness, and they're both very good self‑evaluators. Both of them very young, talented players.

            I think with Dickerson, there is not a whole lot to say to Dickey. He's so motivated to be great that there is not a whole lot of prodding you have to do there. You know, just trying to get to the next level for him as a hitter. I think he's going to be, again, an elite hitter in the game. I think he's well on his way. But he wants to be great, and that's always what motivates him.

            Charlie, I think he felt really good about what he accomplished last year. But he's another one that's very driven, very motivated.

            So those are two guys that you don't have to spend a whole lot of time talking about how to get ready, how to get better. They do it themselves. But two very good, young outfielders that want to be great.

 

            Q. Jorge (indiscernible), really struggled in the beginning but seemed to find himself and make some determinations. What was it that he did to get to where he ended up? Can he do it from the start this year? 

            WALT WEISS: Yeah. I think what he did to turn it around is he just simplified some things. I think he was trying to be a lot of things. Most of all, he was trying to be the ace of the staff and be that number one guy and thought he had to live up to some things. I think he put a lot of added pressure on himself.

            But we had some good conversations after some of those early struggles, and I think there was some clarity. He went out and relaxed as much as Jorge can relax, and performed very well for us again. He's a great weapon for us because he's been dominant at Coors Field. He loves to pitch there, and he's a guy we can point to as a pitcher that turned his career around at Coors Field. You don't get to say that a whole lot, but he turned his career around and has been dominant in our park. He's been a very valuable player for us.