Winter Meetings interview with Jeff Banister

Winter Meetings interview with Jeff Banister

Q. What is your assessment of your catching situation?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, my assessment is we have Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez. Chirinos that we feel comfortable with, and the same as we felt going into last year that we've got a guy that is very familiar with the rotation, the pitching staff, tremendous relationships with these guys; and a guy that, from time to time, offered some significant contributions with the bat. Not as much -- on the average side, but some of the big hits that he did have for us.

Really the defense played up. Obviously, missed some time with a couple of different injuries. We feel confident he's quite capable and will be back as strong as he was last year, and I think with another year under his belt, understanding what it takes to be a receiver in the landscape of baseball today.

Then with Chris Jimenez as a viable backup, but always with a mindset that getting better in a sense of if there's an opportunity to add, then we have an opportunity to add. But in that opportunity doesn't present itself and we have two guys that we used last year that were pretty good for us.

Q. What did you think of Colby Lewis' year last year, pitching through what he pitched through and continuing to be a medical marvel?

JEFF BANISTER: I think the overall win-loss numbers kind of stand alone with what Colby was able to do and what he grinded through. Just the leadership, at one point when you look at where Colby was at and what he was doing, he was pitching as good as anybody in our rotation.

There were times that we asked Colby to do some things for us too that -- to take the ball, and there were times that he stood out there and had one of those veteran outings that, knowing that he needed to help the bullpen out also if they needed some rest early. Just felt like he's just a guy that continued to show up every outing and give us what he was able to give us. To pitch through what he did from time to time last year says a lot about the competitor and the man.

Q. What's it going to mean for you to have Hamels for a full season this time?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, yeah, to have a guy that front end of the rotation, we saw what he was -- who he is and what he's about and what he's capable of down the stretch and even in the playoffs. I mean, this is a front of the rotation type pitcher that you can count on that gives a team a belief that every time he steps out there he's got an opportunity to win a ball game.

I think it's very comforting to know that we're going to have him from the very beginning. I also believe that it's very comforting to know that we've got another one not too far in the distant future coming as well.

Q. To go back to your catching situation, Chirinos has never caught more than 90 games in a season. Jimenez has never caught more than, I think it's 31 games in a season. How confident are you that you can get 150, 160 starts out of the two of them?

JEFF BANISTER: We didn't get it last year, and we used essentially five catchers. Telis was in there a little bit too to get the complete year.

You know the catching position is a fragile position as it is. So I think, more than anything else, it's not just -- you need to have either a front line guy or two guys that complement each other, but it's also having the depth in our development system that, when one of those guys goes down, that you can bring a guy like a Bobby Wilson, or we had a Chris Jimenez or we had a Tomas Telis to be able to fill in and give us quality starts behind the plate.

That's the thing is that, more than anything else, having those guys that they can step in and call the game and run the game for our pitching staff, and they have some knowledge of our pitching staff but also the knowledge of how we like to conduct the game from behind the plate.

Q. Do you believe in personal catchers, guys -- like Hamels and Jimenez's relationship they formed?

JEFF BANISTER: I got asked that question a number of times last year about having personal catchers. Really, I've talked to a number of pitchers, and I think that that's something that kind of evolves over time, just you have a certain amount of confidence that gets you kind of in a spot to where mentally a pitcher feels good, feels confident. But on a number of times, I talked to Cole, and as good a mojo as those two guys had, he still felt good with the other guys we had to go behind the plate as well.

Q. According to John Anders, you're looking for a right-handed bat who can play first or play outfield. Is either one of those two positions more important than the other as far as the kind of guy you want to get?

JEFF BANISTER: I think that really, I mean, we have a right-handed hitting catcher that at times has shown us the ability with the bat. I think he's going to improve. I think that that consistency is going to improve. How much that improves, I don't know yet.

Really when you look at our ball club and kind of the spots that you can add, those are kind of two spots. So I think that's the -- why those two spots continue to be hit on.

The importance of it is finding the right player at whatever spot it is.

Q. Does that guy have to be for you an established type player? It doesn't have to be -- I'm not talking about a foundation type player, but somebody who's established so that you don't have a question mark if Josh were to go down or if you were to lose Prince or whoever's at first base for any kind of extended period of time.

JEFF BANISTER: I don't think that -- I mean, established means that they've probably logged in some decent years in the big leagues and you're looking at a guy that's an everyday player. I think more than anything else, I think we're looking at what we feel is projected to be quality in the sense it's going to add to the lineup that we already have.

Q. Is there room for any young guys to take a job there?

JEFF BANISTER: Look, we're always looking to improve. I think one of the greatest things that you can create is some form of competition. Internal competition is obviously your best because it allows players to sharpen each other.

Q. Jeff, over time in the game, have you noticed an evolution in your role as a manager? Have you learned something in your first go at it, how it's changed and how you appraise it?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, I think the evolution of the relationship between front office, field, and then the player relationship is probably evolved in the sense that it is -- I believe that it's necessary, that partnership, straight line of communication, the ability to help each other with the decision-making processes, and then also -- which I believe breeds trust on the players side. It creates a culture where guys can -- they can just go out and compete and play, and they don't have to worry about anything else.

Q. When you say a straight line, are you connecting the front office to the player through you?

JEFF BANISTER: I think that there is definitely that flow of information that is necessary, yes.

Q. Did anything in this first year sort of strike you as something you didn't expect but you didn't anticipate playing through?

JEFF BANISTER: I'll say this, that the time consumption is really what's the most -- you can't prepare for. There's absolutely no way you can prepare for it. And everybody says you've got to find a way to reach a certain balance. Well, look, there is no balance. What you have to do is be disciplined and strict as what's important in your daily preparation and also just I believe that the interest in the development of everybody around you is necessary because, look, we're all trying to advance and move forward with the idea of developing and creating a culture of championship.

So you don't have enough hours in the day to be able to do all that and still play a baseball game. So what's real is you still have a baseball game -- at the end of the day, you have a baseball game to be played, and that's ultimately what's important.

Q. Jeff, you created quite a foundation for in-state rivalry for a division title in the playoff berth. How much was it, and is that something we could see for several years to come?

JEFF BANISTER: A.J. and I talked about that, and what a lot of fun that was really. For a Texas guy, yeah, I hope that that's a rivalry that lasts the length of baseball. At any given time, to have the eyes of the baseball world on the two teams in the state of Texas is pretty special for me.

So, yeah, it was a lot of fun. A.J. and I talked about that, and our wish is that it continues to be strong and that it's -- we're both battling it out year to year.

Q. Were you able to watch the University of Houston football team? Were you aware of what was going on prior to the end of the baseball season? And what was going through your mind watching the University of Houston?

JEFF BANISTER: Got little bits of what was going on and what Coach Herman was able to create in a very short period of time at the University of Houston. Just the overall rise again of Cougar football and kind of bringing it back to the front of the sports page, if you will, and what, I think, an incredible feat by him and his staff and their players because they get overshadowed in the state of Texas.

To be able to be nationally ranked and go into a Bowl, it was fun for me to watch. I wasn't able to catch all of it, but now here at the end, I've paid quite a bit of attention to it.

Q. Are you going to try to go to the Bowl?

JEFF BANISTER: I'm not going to be able to go to the Bowl game. It would be nice to be able to go, but I'm not going to be able to. I've got some other --

Q. Will you be able to watch it somewhere?

JEFF BANISTER: I'm going to be able to watch it, yes.

Q. What does the University of Houston mean -- we've never really talked. I know you've got that helmet on that desk. What does the University of Houston mean to you?

JEFF BANISTER: Look, one, it's where I met my wife and where I had an opportunity to go play college baseball. A coaching staff and a university that gave me the opportunity to continue the quest of playing the game of baseball.

Some of my greatest friendships were made at the University of Houston, and just the collegiate lifestyle. To say that I was once a baseball player with the old Southwest Conference, to me, I still carry that in my heart proudly. But, yeah, it's an extremely important place for me.

Q. As far as Darvish's performance, what are your expectations for him at this point?

JEFF BANISTER: Our expectations are for him to continue to rehab and get ready, and when he is ready, to be able to pitch for us. I'm not going to -- if you're asking about number of innings and number of appearances, I think the whole process will let us know just where we go with that.

Q. When's the last time you checked in with him to see where he's at?

JEFF BANISTER: I saw Yu at the end of the season. It's been a few weeks since I've seen him. That's not untypical of any other player. This time of year, you tend to give guys an opportunity to go home and reconnect, unpack their bags and really get down to work.

So we've started the process of reaching out and trying to connect with all of our guys. We have a process by which he go through with all the coaching staff and the training staff and medical staff, and I'll reach out to each one of these guys individually at some point.

Q. Is he in Japan, or is he here?

JEFF BANISTER: Right now I don't know what his timetable is or his exact schedule. I believe the last I heard, that he was going back to Japan, but I'm not sure when he's scheduled to be back here.

Q. In the playoffs, you did what you had to do in terms of setting up your rotation. That ended up leaving Colby out. Have you had any conversation with him since making that decision just about what went into the decision?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, we had conversations with him then.

Q. At that point?

JEFF BANISTER: Are you talking have I -- since we've all packed up and gone home, have I had any more conversations with him since then?

Q. Yeah.

JEFF BANISTER: Not at this point.

Q. So it was all -- you explained it all to him at the point in time you made your decision about the rotation?

JEFF BANISTER: Yeah, and that's typical. So, look, there's -- understand that there are always decisions that get made. Look, we'll -- yeah.

Q. We'll, yeah, what?

JEFF BANISTER: No, I haven't, and we'll leave it right there.

Q. I'm just looking ahead to later in the month at something. What got you to the University of Houston? What led you to end up there? What's the story behind that?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, the story is I had gone to UNLV on a recruiting trip and actually had scholarship papers to go to UNLV. I was playing in a summer game, and the head coach at University of Houston happened to be there. He asked me at the time if I'd made my decision yet, and I said, no, that I was waiting on them to talk to me. A, I didn't want to go too far if I had to go outside of the state. I wanted to give my parents an opportunity to see as many home games as they possibly could given the fact that everything I had already put them through.

And we've talked about how much my mother actually loves the game and the gift back to her really, if I could stay close, to give her an opportunity to come to as many games as she possibly could.

So with that came an offer to go to the University of Houston. So after evaluating both offers, and they were both equal as far as scholarship money. There wasn't any more on one than the other. They were both pretty well maxed out. So it was kind of an easy choice for me to do that for them.

Q. You have three lefties in the rotation, right?

JEFF BANISTER: Yes.

Q. Would you be all right if you had four? Or if you guys are looking for starting help, are you excluding left handers?

JEFF BANISTER: I don't think we'd necessarily -- look, we're looking for the best ones to put in the rotation. Obviously, it's not optimum necessarily to be so heavy handed in one or the other, but I would think that you'd want to create a nice balance in the rotation for yourself also.

Q. Jeff, are you all looking -- J.D. had been saying one starting pitcher. Is it two? Are you all looking for two?

JEFF BANISTER: I think you start with one and then with the understanding that we have some depth in Chi Chi and Nick and Ranaudo and Klein. So we do have some guys we can look at as depth.

But you remember that Chi Chi and Nick pitched some pretty significant games for us. So I think one and then have the opportunity to create some competition for the next spot.

Q. You have now put together a very deep back end of the bullpen. There's also a shortage of back end relievers around the game. How would you feel prospective-wise to use some of that depth to acquire starting pitching?

JEFF BANISTER: I think that any time you -- I hate to say we have an excess. We don't have an excess. I don't think you can have an excess of anything. This game, we saw just what it takes to win and how much depth that it does take.

As we start the season and you look at where our bullpen was at and the depth that we necessarily didn't have, and then we added Diekman and Dyson, what it did for our bullpen and actually what it did for our entire pitching staff. So having to answer the question of do you use those as assets, if you will? Is that the way the question is coming out -- of acquiring --

Q. Yeah, it's one set of assets. How do you feel about the possibility of that set of assets?

JEFF BANISTER: If it's necessary to make a better ball club, then that's -- obviously, you've got to look at all options.

Q. Jeff, data shows that pitchers perform -- their numbers are worse the third time through the order. So there's some talk in the industry about not letting pitchers go deep into games. Where do you stand on that?

JEFF BANISTER: I think if you look at how we utilize some of our starters in certain situations, there's certain times that that third time through does get problematic for guys from time to time. I wouldn't say, in my opinion, that's a set standard. I think you take each individual starter in each game. Each game is its own game. When you start to comprehensively look at a game or a situation and say this is how you play it out, I think you back yourself into a situation where -- because they don't always work out that way.

You're just not going to get a nine-run lead and your guy is going out for the third time around, you're just going to take him out? I don't think it works that way because you'd better have a very deep bullpen to be able to do that every single night.

Q. Jeff, do you have any Josh Hamilton updates on his workouts?

JEFF BANISTER: Not any more than what we had --

Q. Last week?

JEFF BANISTER: Yeah.

Q. Do you guys -- are you aware of any Minor League catching that you've added?

JEFF BANISTER: Outside of the internal guys, no. We haven't --

Q. You haven't added any?

JEFF BANISTER: No, not at this time.

Q. So at this point in time, your most advanced catcher or closest to the big leagues beyond Jimenez and Chirinos is Cantwell?

JEFF BANISTER: You've got Cantwell and -- yes.

Q. If Cantwell could catch and Nicholas could hit, just combine them there?

JEFF BANISTER: It would be beautiful if it worked that way.

Q. So Prince Fielder, if you look at pitchers coming back from surgery, they say first year is rough, second year they really take off. Fielder coming back from that unknown, do you think he might go back another level? What do you think are the chances of him raising it back to close to what he needs to be?

JEFF BANISTER: I think there's a definite chance, in my opinion, for there to be an increase. Now, where the ceiling is on that, I'm not going to speculate. This is a guy that, I mean, there may not be a ceiling on what he can do, but I do believe there's definitely room for improvements and an increase on the numbers just based on where he was coming into Spring Training, the commitment to being a hitter, trying to find his stroke again, trying to find the timing, which he did very well for a long period of time during the season.

Then the power started to show up. We talked about this as far as how to relearn how to do things all over again. Part of that is also the rigors and just the grind that it takes to play this game. So having the body relearn that again for him is, I'm sure, necessary. So I do believe that there's an opportunity for him to improve.