Winter Meetings interview with Walt Weiss

Winter Meetings interview with Walt Weiss

Q. Walt, we've talked to Jeff a lot about this. The key has always been, are you guys going to find a way to get a starting pitcher to bolster a very young staff? I know it's just a day into the Meetings, but what do you think? What are the chances you guys might come away with something here or later?

WALT WEISS: That's always the focus. It seems to be that way. We're always trying to find ways to improve our pitching, talent-wise and depth-wise. So that's always a focus for us. It continues to be.

Sometimes you've got to be creative to do those things, but you're right. For the most part, we're always going to be relatively young as a starting staff. We've got to have young kids grow up quick and be mentally tough and all those things we talk about. Always looking for ways to improve our pitching.

Q. Walt, a lot has been made of the Royals' success, putting a lot of balls in play. With your ballpark, is the higher contact rate more important than a neutral ballpark?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, it's an offensive park. Just like the other offensive parks in the game, if the ball's in play, you've got a chance.

We talk a lot about, when you get to two strikes, what your approach is, and trying to save at bats and put balls in play. That's important. We've been middle of the pack as far as strikeouts are concerned.

But as far as our ballpark, yeah, if it's in play, there's a lot of grass out there, and you get rewarded for it.

Q. Following up on that, I was going to ask a similar question. The way the Royals won it all this year, almost a throwback a little bit. They weren't big sluggers. They stole bases. They played great defense. They had speed. Do you think overall that that's something that's making its way back into the game? Do you think the Royals have kind of set a blueprint for that?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, I think you could make that case. I think there's been a bit of an evolution or a re-evolution, I guess you could say, in the game offensively. I think the Royals were certainly the poster child for that.

I think the bottom line with the Royals offensively is they're very athletic. They had a lot of team speed. And they're a tough out. They made you earn every single out that you get. I think every team aspires to do that. But like the gentleman said before, in our park, you get rewarded for it even more if you're able to do those types of things.

I think the Royals, they've done a great job of developing not only their pitching but obviously their position players, and we saw that this October.

Q. Do you think with the bullpen with them to -- and what I'm leading up to, if the reports are true that Chapman does end up with the Dodgers, they essentially have two hard throwing closers at the end. Of course, we know the Royals have basically three really hard throwing guys in their bullpen. Do you think that could change things too to where teams are essentially saying, listen, give our starter six, seven innings, and then we'll just throw in the heat?

WALT WEISS: I think you're seeing a trend toward that focus on bullpens. I know that the years that we've been good and we've been playoff teams, we've had good bullpens. Going back to my days when I played there as a player in '95, we had a real good bullpen, and we figured come the sixth inning, we'll pass the ball around our bullpen, and our pen is going to beat yours.

I think you're seeing an emphasis on power in the bullpen. We're certainly leaning toward that. But you've got to be able to go acquire and develop it and all those things.

I think the Royals in a lot of ways have been a great example of some of these things we're talking about.

Q. I know you, before your time as manager, how aggressive you guys were about getting starting pitchers out very early, but do you see that -- to avoid that third time through, do you see more teams doing that, maybe not quite as extreme as this franchise did a few years ago? Do you think that's going to keep evolving as well?

WALT WEISS: I think the horses are always going to go deep into games, but, yeah, I think you look at more the back of the rotation types. I think you're starting to see managers lean toward going to the bullpen maybe a little bit earlier and try to avoid that third time through. I know that's been a hot topic over the last couple of years, and it seems to be trending that way.

But I think the horses are always going to get their innings.

Q. I've heard some things in recent days actually about maybe a six-man rotation for some teams makes sense. Obviously, you guys experimented a few years ago, and it didn't go that well. Would that be something, experimenting with the structure of your pitching staff differently, or would you rather let someone else do it and see if it works before doing it?

WALT WEISS: I think you've got to have the right makeup, and you've got to have -- you can't just throw a sixth guy out there just to have a six-man rotation. It's got to be a formidable guy that's going to help you win games. I know with us, we pick spots over the course of a season, depending on the schedule and maybe how much the rotation's been taxed.

We've gone to a six-man for a week here or a couple weeks there just to pick our spots and give guys an extra day, but I think that's something we'll continue to do at times. I don't see us doing it exclusively.

Q. Walt, there's been from our point, the media's point of view, speculation that you guys might want to add a power bat, whether you guys want it or it's true. Chris Davis' name has come up as a free agent, as a first baseman. I know you can't tell me whether you're going to get him or not. What is your comfort level with Ben Paulsen as your number one guy going into spring?

WALT WEISS: Benny got his foot in the door, and he's been a productive player for us. Now we look for another piece to complement that? Yeah, we're always looking. But Benny has created an opportunity for himself and has been rewarded. I think he had over 300 at bats last year and drove in, I think, around 50 runs in limited opportunities. He's been a clutch hitter for us. We feel good about where he's at.

But that being said, always looking for another piece. We are pretty left-handed offensively. So you look around at some right-handed bats that might fit over there too.

I'm proud of Ben Paulsen and what he's done and the position he's put himself in.

Q. So given that, if you do look for another piece at first base, you would imagine that Chris Davis would be a pretty expensive piece there. Has Ben been good enough to where maybe you could save some money and get a less costly piece to add there?

WALT WEISS: That's an option. I'm sure there's a lot of teams that would love to have Chris Davis. He's an elite power hitter in the game. So, yeah, I'm sure that price tag would be quite high. Yeah, you look for pieces that complement what you already have and that will make you better.

Q. When it comes to medical staff and strength and conditioning, how much does that change? How much more advanced has that become since, say, your rookie year in the big leagues?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, worlds apart. We pay a lot of attention to it, especially where we are and the effects of where we play. We're very in tune with it. We have an outstanding medical staff, great strength staff. We pay a lot of attention to it.

As a manager, it even trickles down to off days and trying to keep guys fresh. That's something that I pay a lot of attention to. That's why it's important for us to be able to use our bench and have a versatile bench because of the pieces tend to move around quite a bit.

As far as the strength and conditioning, the medical part of it, we're very in tune to that.

Q. Does that seem like it's almost the next frontier, where so much of baseball has been dissected to every little decimal place, is that kind of --

WALT WEISS: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that everybody's looking for a competitive edge, and that's an area where you may be able to find one. We certainly look for competitive advantages on that side of things.

Q. Walt, what is the situation -- I don't know if you even know -- well, I guess a three-part question. One, have you spoken to Jose Reyes since the incident? Two, do you know where that stands in terms of, not just necessarily the legal process, but with MLB and the Rockies? And the third part of the question is, after seeing him play essentially less than half the season, what do you think of him as your starting shortstop going forward?

WALT WEISS: First of all, as far as that whole situation, I mean, it's out of our hands. It's something that falls under Major League Baseball, and they're going to deal with it. And they're going through an investigation right now, and they'll come to a decision at some point.

I do think that Jose is still a very, very good player. He's an elite player at times during his career. And I think he's still a very, very good player. Still, I think, a very fast twitch athlete. People talk about his range and those types of things, but he still moves very well. Switch hitter that can provide dynamic offense.

Looking at the situation last year and same with Tulo, when you get uprooted in the middle of the season and have to go to a new club and new league, so many adjustments to be made. I think you saw Jose dealing with some of those things last year. I still think he's a very good and very impactful player.

Q. Can you do something to make him a little bit more rangy defensively? People have talked about the range, but as you said, he's still a very good athlete. Is that just something that maybe some veteran trick will get him?

WALT WEISS: I think if he learns our pitching staff a little bit better, it's going to help with jumps and reads. So those types of things. Like you said, he still moves very well. You watch him run, still very, very quick twitch guy. So it's not a situation where he's got old legs.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Tony La Russa. In your division, you know him from back in the day, and he's not going out without swinging. The Greinke signing, threw money at Cueto. Can you put into words what you're seeing out of old Tony?

WALT WEISS: He's trying to make my life miserable, I know that. I said today that Tony took that job, the Diamondbacks just got a lot better the day that he was hired. It's pretty obvious that they have. They're a very good club last year, one of the best offensive clubs we saw all year. Now they've added some pitching, they're going to be tough. They're going to be tough.

Yeah, it doesn't surprise me with Tony over there and Dave Stewart. I figured it wasn't going to take long.

Q. Walt, the offense of Nolan Arenado, have you been surprised at just how dynamic an offensive player he's become?

WALT WEISS: I always felt and we always felt that he's going to be a dynamic offensive player. To be honest with you, I didn't know the power was going to be what it is this quickly. 40-plus homers, that's a lot of home runs. Always felt like he's a very good hitter and a productive hitter. The power has come, like I said, a little bit quicker than maybe we anticipated.

This is an elite player on both sides of the ball and has the makeup to be great, wants to be great, works to be great every day, wants to play every inning of 162 games. He's everything you could ever want in a player. That's what he is.

Q. You mentioned before that Jose Reyes is still a fast twitch athlete. You had Justin Morneau the past couple of years. Can you still play as an elite player at times?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, I have no doubt that Justin can. It was great to see him come back from the concussion-like symptoms and get to play down the stretch and play very well, swing the bat very well. Still a very professional hitter.

So, yeah, I think it's up to Justin whether he wants to continue to play or not, and if he wants to continue to play, which I believe he does, I think he's going to be a very good player for somebody, yeah.

Q. Walt, you went from a first year, first time manager, to your second year, what was the biggest difference? What was the best part of that experience? Where did it help you the most?

WALT WEISS: From my first year to my second year?

Q. I cover Kevin Cash. He's going from year one to year two.

WALT WEISS: I talked to these guys about it. I felt my second year that I just knew my club a lot better. That first year was a year of assessment, really in a lot of ways for me. But that second year action, I felt like we knew who we were and what we needed to do to get better and to be more competitive. I think that was probably the biggest change from one year to the next.

Q. So more knowing the umpires, the other teams and things like that?

WALT WEISS: That stuff, too. You get to know your league, it seems like you're in your division all year, or it seems that way. So you get familiar with the division very quickly.

Q. Walt, is there anybody on your staff now that John Axford is gone, that if you don't add a piece that you think, besides Adam is hurt still, could come in and be a closer? Are you looking at Diaz as a possibility or somebody else?

WALT WEISS: Diaz is an option. I think Scotty Oberg could be a future closer. I don't know if that's in 2016. It could be at some point. Then that will play out. But I do think he's got the mentality and the stuff to do that. Yeah, off the top of my head, as we sit here today, those two guys right there are a couple of options.

Q. If you could look at your roster at the guys you have under control for a few years now and say, we could be building towards something, but how much do you feel you could maybe disturb that a bit, if you will, to try to jump that timetable like some teams have done in recent years?

WALT WEISS: Disturb in which way?

Q. As in you could sit here and say, we've got these guys on the way, maybe 2017, 2018. Do you want to disturb that group that you have, especially your position players, and possibly make it 2016 as opposed to later?

WALT WEISS: I think we're in an interesting window of opportunity here with our position players. You talk about Arenado, Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LeMahieu, some guys that are not rookies anymore. They're two, three, four years into their career. They have established themselves as prominent players in the league. So there's a window of opportunity position player-wise for us. Those guys are a big part of it.

So we're excited about that. We expect them to take the next step in their development. I don't know how much of a step Nolan can take after the year he had, but certainly going to continue to be an elite player. But, yeah, position player-wise, we feel pretty good about those guys and where they're at in their careers.

Q. Is it kind of tough right now, because a lot of teams like some of those guys, and maybe to get the pitching you need, they're going to be asking for it. Where do you sit with that?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, it's got to be something that's very appealing to you. You're not going to do something like that on a whim obviously. But when you've got guys that are under control and are relatively cheap and are productive, those guys are very valuable guys, and all those players that I mentioned fall into that category. So it would have to be something that really blows you away.

Q. For fans that don't get to see Cargo every night, fans in other cities, can you describe to them why he's so good, why he's so amazing? Who you can compare him to maybe?

WALT WEISS: People talk about five tool players, and I think he's one of those guys you talk about. I wish everyone could have seen him play on a daily basis in the second half last year. He was really, really something to see. We've seen that before.

I'm proud of Cargo because he had a tough stretch for probably a year or more, where he was really battling to get back to that level. And then all of a sudden, he flipped that switch, and there it was again, and it was really good to see.

He's a guy that brings more to our club than just the production. He's a very likable kid and a good leader in that way. I think he's taken on more and more of that responsibility, and he's more aware of that responsibility. This is a freakish player.

Q. In regards to a swing, I wouldn't say this to Albert Pujols to his face, but I think that Cargo has the sweetest swing in baseball. Can you describe the fluidity of that swing.

WALT WEISS: It's a pretty swing. Yeah, left handers, for whatever reason, seem to have prettier swings than right handers. Yeah, just to come out and watch him take batting practice is something to see. He's truly a gifted player, yeah.

Q. Walt, getting back to Thomas' point here for a minute, is the challenge for this organization, you talked about the window of position players, lining up those windows? You have all this talent, young, controllable talent. That only lasts so long. You've got to merge that with pitching. And so far, during your tenure, you guys haven't been able to do it. Is that the biggest challenge facing this club right now?

WALT WEISS: I think so. I think it's right up there, yeah. Again, the challenge of acquiring pitching, that's something that we live with. Every once in a while, you've got to make a bold move like Jeff did last year with too low. That was a big deal. Pulling the trigger on that one, that's not something that's easy to do.

But those are the types of things you've got to do from time to time to bring in more talent on the mound. We've got to develop it well, and I love our pitching guys we have at the major league level and at the minor league level. Those guys do a great job developing our pitching, and our young pitchers have got to grow up fast. There's no way around it. They've got to be tough, and they've got to grow up quick, and they've got to make an impact.

Q. Jeff has grown the analytics department since becoming GM, and he's on record saying he's going to continue to grow it. How does that impact you as a manager?

WALT WEISS: It's information. I love information. The more, the better. And then you got to discern what's usable and what's effective, and that's what we do.

We have some great people in our analytics department that are taking on more and more of a load. For example, we went from the team that shifted the least in baseball to, I think, the most in the National League in one year. It's obvious there's an impact there, and I'm using that information, and I'm open to that information. Yeah, like I said, it's just more information than we had when I played. Decide what's usable and what's effective.

Q. Just a follow-up on the Diamondbacks question you were asked just before. With Samardzija going to the Giants, obviously Greinke to Arizona, talk about the dynamics in the National League West.

WALT WEISS: It's like the Gold Rush all over again. Everyone's going West. It's always been appealing for free agents to play on the West Coast. It's a beautiful part of the country. The weather's great. There's some great teams in our division, great organizations, and a lot of history. So it's a very appealing place for free agents. We're seeing that once again in this off-season.

It's a tough division. It makes you long for the days of the balanced schedule, where you're not playing, it seems like six months in your own division. That's our reality. We get up for those games in our division. It's a great challenge for us. We've done relatively well in our division over the last couple of years, but we need to play better in the division. It's a meat grinder. There's no doubt about it.

Q. I was just going to follow up real quick. If things shake out correctly, you open up with Greinke at Chase Field.

WALT WEISS: Somebody has to. Why not? It seems like every other week we're in our division. You get to know each other very well. Unfortunately, I was hoping Greinke would end up at least in another division, and I was hoping for the other league, but at least another division. He settled in the NL West again, and we'll deal with it.

Q. If you can assess where your young pitchers are now, after last season, Greg got his feet wet, Bettis took a big step forward. You picked up a number of guys, like Rusin and Hale and Hoffman. Do you see all those guys having an impact on the club this year?

WALT WEISS: Obviously, counting heavily on Bettis and Jonny Gray right from the get go. Eddie Butler had some struggles last year, and we feel like he's still in play, though, and there's still something there.

Some of the guys you mentioned, like the Hoffman kid we picked up in the trade, he's on the horizon. A kid like Kyle Freeland is ready to make a splash at some point.

So some young arms maybe not breaking camp with us, but some young arms will be excited about in the near future. The guys at the big league level, certainly Chad Bettis, we're really excited about. Chad took tremendous strides last year and put in a lot of work to get to that level. We're really excited about his progress.

And Jonny Gray looks the part. Had some dominant performances last year, and then we're looking for him to take that next step and be more consistent. But those are two of the guys we're counting on right away.

Q. When you were struggling through all the pitching situations last year, were there times you had to sit back and say, wait a minute, maybe it would be better with Jordan Lyles coming back?

WALT WEISS: I think as a manager, you don't think like that, but it would be nice to have a horse like Jordan Lyles back. Unfortunately, he's had some strange injuries, hand injury, foot injury, but otherwise he's a horse, and his arm's very healthy. We're looking forward to getting him back to stabilize that rotation.

Chatwood, obviously, we love the kid, and he's very talented, coming off a second Tommy John. So we want to be careful there. We're excited about where he's at and being a part of it again.

Q. Are all systems go with him at this point? I know you guys were trying to get him in at the end and decided not to. Talking about Chatwood.

WALT WEISS: He's going to come in and hopefully have a normal spring. Some of this stuff is trial and error. There are some examples out there of a second Tommy John, but we're always going to err on the side of caution with Chatty, especially early on, once he shows that everything's fine, it will be all systems go.

I'm looking forward to seeing him in Spring Training. We're always going to have to pull back the reins on him because he wants to be on the mound right now in a big league game today. So he's that type of kid where you always have to pull back on the reins. I'm looking forward to seeing him.

Q. Any thought, coming off a second Tommy John, using him in a relief role in the beginning to see? Maybe until he shows that he's healthy.

WALT WEISS: Again, I think it's something we're going to have to have a feel for moving forward when we see him and see what it looks like and see how he responds to the daily routine and how he bounces back. Those are decisions we could make then. As it stands right now, we still look at him as a starter. We'll see how he responds to that.

Q. Daniel Hudson of the Diamondbacks came back after two Tommy John surgeries. They were extremely careful with him in Spring Training, because I covered them, and he wanted to be a starter, and they said, no, you're not going to be a starter. I thought he had a terrific season. He appeared in like 60-some games, but they used him in a very intelligent manner.

WALT WEISS: Certainly one of the schools of thought is going that route. Again, you have to watch and see with your eyes and trust your gut and go from there. But I'm aware of the Hudson situation. I think they did a good job with him.

Q. Walt, getting back to the metrics, and you brought up the example of the shift and how you guys had increased it more than any NL team. I'm assuming you guys have looked at or are in the process of looking at the results of that. Do you think that in the long run, that the way you guys shifted with Nolan basically gobbling up that whole left side, did it work out for you in the long run? Is that what the numbers showed?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, the numbers showed we returned more ground balls and outs percentage-wise. That's the bottom line for me. Are we turning a higher percentage of ground balls into outs? It helps to have -- if you have one guy on one side of the infield, it's nice for that guy to be Nolan Arenado because he covers so much ground and can finish just about any play that he gets to. So that's a nice luxury to have. Yeah, it was effective.

Q. Is your philosophy for pitchers -- not for every pitcher, but in general terms, is the organization still looking at that ground ball philosophy at Coors Field, that that's still the way to go?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, that's still important to us. For me, it's important that guys can identify how to do it when the game's telling them to do it. So double play situations, for example. We put so much emphasis on turning double plays with the infield defense. We feel that's a competitive advantage for us. We want our pitchers to be able to feed our infielders, especially in double play situations. Can you identify what your ground ball pitch is, how you go about getting it, how you execute it? Those are things we continue to talk about.

Given the option, I like guys to just miss the bag completely. I'll take that. But the ability to put the ball on the ground is still important to us.

Q. Going into last season, the theory was that the pitcher didn't matter as much because the hitter tended to hit the ball to the places that you found on the shift. Is that true? Or did you find last year that the pitcher is a big part of this?

WALT WEISS: The pitcher is a factor, but we were a little surprised by how much -- I thought it was more of a factor numerically than it showed. That's another part of it, as a pitching staff, being able to pitch to shifts too. That's also a factor. I do think that major league hitters will start to adjust. I think the big boppers will always try to hit the ball in the seats for good reason. So we'll continue the shift on those guys until the end of time.

But I do think the other -- the contact type guys are going to make adjustments.

Q. Did you see that happening?

WALT WEISS: Yeah, I saw that -- I saw intent anyway. I saw intent with hitters trying to beat the shift, especially the guys that weren't extra base hit type guys. Trying to handle the bat a little bit better and beat shifts, I can see that intent. I do think major league hitters over time will adjust to a degree to the shift.

Q. One more shift question, Walt. Prior to last year, was there not enough data available to you that you shifted more, or was it more flexibility on your part to go away from tradition?

WALT WEISS: Certainly, I had the flexibility as a manager. I just -- we probably didn't have as much data the year before. Maybe it wasn't a focus for us. There was talk about it with our analytics guys upstairs, about doing it more. I was very curious about it. So the off-season after 2014, one of the challenges I posed with our front office guys was let's talk about shifting and how can we utilize it to our advantage? And they dove in. You saw the results of it last year. It was pretty extreme, the adjustment we made. I think it probably wasn't as big a focus the year before.