Winter Meetings interview with Ned Yost

Winter Meetings interview with Ned Yost

Q. Can you talk about what Chris Young meant to the team?

NED YOST: Oh, man, he meant -- his contributions to our club last year were invaluable, what he did, the roles that he filled as a starter, the roles that he filled in the bullpen.

But I think most importantly was the leadership that he brought inside that clubhouse with his attitude, with his competitiveness, with his professionalism.

You know, out players absolutely loved him. They learned a lot by watching him compete. And by competing, I mean, you know, he had never been a reliever before last year, and we said, we're going to put you in the bullpen, do you think you can handle that.

He looked me square in the eye and said: If I step on that mound, my job is to execute pitches. Doesn't matter if I'm in relief or I'm starting. Nothing is going to affect me. I'm going to with a what you guys want me to do.

It was that winner's mind-set that he brought in the clubhouse, not only his ability to produce as a pitcher on the mound but everything he brought to the table with him that was so important to our team.

Q. Was he a rotation guy?

NED YOST: I'm looking at him now as a guy to pitch in the rotation.

Q. How valuable is it that he can swing?

NED YOST: Anytime you have versatility as a player, it's valuable. You just see what the market is doing right now for Ben because of his versatility. He's probably the most sought-after free agent on the market, and it's the same thing as a pitcher. If you're versatile and are able to handle any role that your team will give you, and still be productive, you're going to be a valuable guy.

Q. Where do you see Danny Duffy, rotation guy?

NED YOST: Yeah, Danny is one of those guys -- I still think we are looking to try to upgrade the rotation a little bit, and Danny is a guy that could be a starter or a reliever. But time will tell exactly where we're going to go with that, and we'll see.

Q. Are there internal solutions at either corner, outfielder spot or in the rotation, too?

NED YOST: There are. More in the outfield I think. Right now, Dyson and Paulo Orlando, it would be nice to give them an opportunity to play more in a corner spot.

We've got young guys that are getting ready to break through, like Brett Eibner in and Fuentes and Martinez and guys like that that have had good years and continue to progress at the AAA level.

But like everything else, it's early, kind of early in the off-season right now. We're still looking to find a one-corner outfielder and we'll continue to look.

Q. In the situation with Alex, do you reach out to him and try to talk to him?

NED YOST: Not right now. I want Alex to make his own decision, and Alex knows where we stand as an organization and how much we would love to have him back. I understand, too, that he's got two wonderful boys and a great wife that he needs to take care of. You know, I think all along, alls I've ever wanted for any of my players is for them to be successful and do the best for their families that they can do.

Selfishly, do I want Alex back? Yeah, I love Alex. Do I hope we can get him back? Yeah, I hope we can get him back but time will tell.

Q. Are you still in the hunt for him?

NED YOST: I don't know where we are with that. I stay out of that. That's Dayton's department, and Dayton is in contact with the agents, stuff like that.

But I always think the market is still developing for Alex. I think everybody stays really focused right now on starting pitchers. Everybody is trying to grab that top-tier guy, and once those pitchers get off the board, they start looking at the position players. It will be interesting to see what happens once that heats up more.

Q. (Indiscernible)?

NED YOST: I would like to have him. When I had Soria, I loved -- I think Jack at that time, it was a crazy -- I think he tied a record with 39 consecutive saves or something. He was just unhittable. He was like Holly was when he was really, really good. He was just lights out.

You know, just loved his professionalism. Loved his makeup and his composure. Loved his ability to field his position, control the running game, execute pitches. A lot like Chris Young. He's just a professional performer when he steps on the mound and still very, very productive. Would love to have him.

Q. What was different about him, if anything, last year when you saw him with Detroit?

NED YOST: He was better. He was better than he was the year before after coming off a Tommy John. The year before that, when we had him, he was lights-out. Same stuff, 91, 92, his ability to execute pitches, his changeup, his curveball, his slider was all phenomenal pitches for him and he could execute them all. And he ran into the Tommy John stuff and lost location.

Coming back from the Tommy John, I thought his stuff was a little bit softer in his first couple months back, but last year, I thought he was all the way back. He was the Soria that we had, and it was very impressive to sit back and watch.

I was glad that Detroit traded him in the middle of the year because I didn't want to have to deal with a good Soria. They traded him to Pittsburgh. I just feel like he's got a lot of game left.

Q. Is he still a closer type in your mind?

NED YOST: They are all closer types in my mind. Soria is a closer. Hoch can close. We obviously know Davis can close. We know that Herrera can close.

That's the strength of our team is our defense and our bullpen, and now our ability to put the ball in play, which is funny to me because everybody admires and ogles at the way we can put the ball in play where just a year ago, everybody was wondering what was wrong with our approach; when are we going to change our approach; why are you swinging at so many pitches.

I think it's important to continue to keep that bullpen strong. I think teams know two things when they come to play us, is that they have to hit the ball very, very hard or we're going to catch it because they know how good defensively they are; and they know that they have to have a two- or three- or four-run lead before the fifth inning, if they want a chance to win that game. With our bullpen, to continue to keep that bullpen strong and dominant, it's going to continue to be on our wish list.

Q. The corner outfield --

NED YOST: Again, I like where we're at right now. Do we want to try to get another starter? Yeah. Do I think we need one? I don't know. Again, I like what we have in the starting rotation. I'd like to try to get one more big bullpen piece.

You know, you do it different ways. The Mets did it with power up front in their starters. We do it with power in the back end of our pitching staff.

You know, I'd like to get another reliever. I'd like to get a corner outfielder. But like I told Dayton, we don't have to get the best guys, we've just got to get the right guys. And we've done a really good job of doing that. Last year with Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales, with Chris Young, with Franklin Morales, they were all late-signing guys that were scratching their heads when we signed these guys and they all ended up being an integral part of a World Championship team.

It's not just getting the best guys. It's finding the right guys. Dayton has a knack at doing that.

Q. In 2011 you said this club would win a World Series in four to five years. What did you know that everybody else didn't?

NED YOST: I don't know. That's a good question. I don't know, I just believed in their abilities. I can't remember, Andy, was it me and you that did that article, or might have been somebody else -- might have been Doug a couple years ago, when we were talking about Mike Moustakas and Mike was really struggling at that time and came back and struggled the next year. They were confounded why I would continue to play him.

I just always believed that he was going to be an All-Star-type player and a winning-type player. No matter how much he struggled, you had to give him the opportunity to work through it to get to a point where he could be productive.

And at that point, I said, you know, what do you want me to do? Just go to the third base tree and find another third baseman? They don't grow on trees.

I also made a point at that time, you know what, when there's somebody I believe in, I've never been wrong yet on that player. I've never been wrong on a guy I thought would be a really, really good player or part of a championship team that I was wrong on.

And I don't know how that is. It's just something that I see, something that I sense. I don't have any scientifical formulas that I figure this guy is going to be a great player. I can see heart and desire and competitiveness and I can see skill. It doesn't always translate into production right away, but I can always project production down the way with these young players.

And I just knew that, you know, you had to give them opportunity to get through tough times. When I was coming up, I always felt like when I really struggle, that if I was just given enough rope, I could get through it and be very, very productive. But I was never given enough rope. You struggle for three or four days, bam, sit your butt on the bench and you don't play for a month.

I think that was great experience for me as a coach to know that, hey, if you believe in somebody strong enough that they are going to be a good player, no matter how much they struggle, you stick with them and let them go through the ups and downs, and they will eventually get through it. And they all have.

So I just always envisioned that group, that it would be a group of combined pieces with Escobar, with Cain, with Gordon, with Moustakas, with Salvador Perez, with Holland, with Ventura, that when these guys all grouped up together and they got to a point where they were mature Major League players, they would be able to accomplish something special.

Q. Who is your first base coach going to be?

NED YOST: Rusty.

Q. Is he coming back?

NED YOST: Mm-hmm.

Q. Officially?

NED YOST: Unless he changes his mind.

Q. How would you describe what Madson brought to your bullpen and how amazing that story was?

NED YOST: It was an amazing story. You know, when I first -- I'm being really, really honest. When I first got to Spring Training and I looked at our roster, I'm like, Ryan Madson? I'm like, He hasn't pitched in three years. What are we doing here?

Went out and watched him throwing the side, and the first time I saw him throwing the side -- and Joe Blanton, too, both guys were phenomenal. I said, man, that's pretty good stuff.

So I watched them in batting practice and saw the difference between a 93-mile-an-hour fastball and a phenomenal changeup that nobody could read from arm speed and thought we might have something here. Watched him go through Spring Training, knowing that I had to protect him a little bit because he had not pitched in three years and didn't want to overdo it in Spring Training.

But he continued to be impressive every time he went out, to the point where we got right at the end of Spring Training, when we had to make a decision, and a lot like Luke Hochevar who was coming off a Tommy John, we wanted to protect him. We were going to send him to AAA and let him have a month of AAA or three weeks and go day, day, day and then start doing some back-to-backs and then continue to build up arm strength. I wanted to do that with Madson, too.

Ryan said, You know what? I feel like I'm ready to pitch a Major League season. I said, It's a real grind. I want to continue to build your arm strength. And I was going to send him down no matter what, but then I found out we had a gentleman's agreement that if there was another team that wanted him on their 25-man roster once the season broke, we would let him go.

I went home that day thinking, I can't take a chance. I have to let him go. I'm thinking, I'm going to let him go, I'm going to let him go, and I went to bed and I woke up in the middle of the night telling myself, you can't let this guy go, you just can't.

The next day I told Dayton we can't let him go. We have to see what happens. He just never missed a beat from the first day to the last day of the season. Just really resurrected his career with great stuff. Velocity on his fastball is 96, 97 with a phenomenal change. Just had a phenomenal year for us. Actually made a great bullpen even better this year than it was the year before.

Q. Is Brian Flynn at all on your radar?

NED YOST: Absolutely.

Q. Where is he health-wise?

NED YOST: He's fine. He is ready to go. He's ready to compete come Spring Training. He was lights out in Spring Training, too, between him and Madson. How do you send a kid down that had that type of Spring Training? It's like, dude, you just -- man, you got screwed, buddy (laughter). That's all I can say. And ended up blowing out like three games into it.

Yeah, he's definitely on the radar this year.

Q. He could be the lefty out of the bullpen?

NED YOST: Could be. We have Collins coming back. I imagine we'll do Timmy a lot like we did Hoch last year, really protect him early in the spring and build up arm strength. We think Timmy is going to come back to full strength, too, which is going to be good for us.

Q. Could Flynn be in the rotation?

NED YOST: We haven't talked about him as a starter. We feel like probably his best spot would be at reliever. We've got seven, eight, nine pretty well taken care of, and for our club, a lot of clubs, the seventh inning is the black hole; for us, it's the sixth inning. If we can sign a couple guys that we hope to sign, we're going to be in pretty good shape there bullpen-wise, and Flynn will definitely help that.

Q. Edinson has had some rough years in Pittsburgh. Why do you think he's been able to turn things around?

NED YOST: He's made adjustments. He's always had great stuff. The key for him is being able to duplicate his mechanics consistently. And there's times during the season where he struggles with that. But for the most part, he can make adjustments and get back on track now in game where he couldn't before.

And just with that really good stuff, that good sinker that, good ball running in on a lefty and then back on the corner of the plate and his slider and curveball, just his consistency in duplicating his mechanics has translated into a lot more strikes down in the zone and has made him a much better pitcher.

Q. Do you find out how guys visualize their own mechanics as far as making a difference --

NED YOST: You know, video is so important nowadays where you can go back and you can analyze frame by frame your mechanics and what's right and what's not right, and then having a great pitching coach like he has had the last couple years in Searage and now with Dave Eiland and being able to identify when they are getting out of whack and stop it right there and get him back on track.

I think there was one game this year where Eddie just could not -- he knew what he was doing and couldn't make an adjustment. Every other game, Dave would go out there, he would make an adjustment and get right back on track.

Q. Was there a point where you said, hey, my team could win the World Series --

NED YOST: No, I thought from the minute we lost the World Series last year, from the day that game was over, I thought this is a team that can win the World Series. From day one of Spring Training, in my mind, I was convinced nothing was going to stop us from winning the World Series this year. There was nothing in any of the players' minds that entered that said, hey, we're not winning the World Series.

From day one of Spring Training, their energy, their intensity, their focus never wavered. I've never been on a team that's played 162 games where their energy never wavered for one instance throughout the entire year. So they were focused on what they wanted to accomplish. They knew what they wanted to accomplish. They wanted to win the division for the first time ever as the Kansas City Royals. They did that. They wanted to win home-field advantage. They did that. We had eight guys on the All-Star team that wanted to win home-field advantage for the American League in the World Series. They did that. And they wanted to win the World Series, and they did that, too.

It was a group I was very, very proud of. Whatever they set their mind to, they accomplished.

Q. Why can Alex Gordon be an effective player for the next few years?

NED YOST: He's got tremendous ethic and he's got tremendous baseball skill. His routine is impeccable. You try to explain to people, for me, Alex Gordon is the perfect baseball player. He has the perfect mind-set, day in and day out, of what it takes to be to play 162 games in terms of preparing yourself each and every day to go out and be your best.

He's got that mental attitude where alls he's going to do is go out and compete. He doesn't care about anything. He's hitting second, you move him down to the eight-hole, he don't care. He doesn't cry about stuff like that. He's got a team-first mentality. Alls he wants to do is contribute so that your team can win.

But he's extremely talented. He's a Gold Glove-caliber left-fielder. He's an All-Star. He's just a great player both mentally and physically.

Q. When you had Greinke back in 2010, what did you see from him and could you see this progression?

NED YOST: Yeah, absolutely. You could see Zack's greatness every time he stepped on the mound. It was funny, I knew -- when I came in 2010 as an as advisor to Dayton, I kept my eye on Greinke a lot in Spring Training and could tell he was a different kind of a guy and knew he didn't like to engage in much conversation.

I never said anything to him. I never said a word to him until the day that I took over as manager of the Kansas City Royals and I walked up to him, he was in the bullpen and I said, Zack, I just wanted to say hi. It will probably be the last thing I'm going to say to you all year because I know you don't really like to talk much. And he looked at me and goes: Whoo. Thanks. (Laughter.)

I let Zack be Zack. He's a very unique guy. It's amazing how intelligent he is. And when you do have a conversation with him, he's always very enlightening because he doesn't sugarcoat anything. He always will tell you exactly what's on his mind. But you could just see Zack, he had won the Cy Young the year before or maybe 2008 -- when did he win it? 2008, and I came in 2010. Might have been 2009. But, yeah, you could just tell that he was going to be an elite, elite pitcher in the Major Leagues.

Q. He's going to take it through a 36 or 37 season --

NED YOST: You listen to radio talk show guys and they say they see a lot of similarities between Zack and Greg Maddux, and I was with Greg Maddux for a long, long time in Atlanta, and it's true. You see that ability to be able to read swings, to break down hitters' strengths and weaknesses, the ability to execute pitches, the ability to field your position. I've never seen anybody field their position like Zack does. The ability to control the running game. The ability to have a handle on what's going on in that ballgame at all times mentally; it's the exact same thing Maddux did.

I can see the comparisons.

Q. How different is the off-season for you coming off a World Series championship?

NED YOST: It's a lot different, a lot busier, a lot crazier. When I go to Kansas City, it's hard to go out anywhere without getting standing ovations and stuff like that. I mean, it's absolutely crazy, going to a restaurant, you just kind of want to sneak in (indicating people clapping and cheering).

First of all, you knock off six weeks of your winter. I've been going to places I normally wouldn't go to during the off-season. Been to a lot of different cities for a lot of different things. But thank goodness after the Winter Meetings, I'm pretty freed up through the new year, so that will be nice.

Q. One at-bat, but Mondesi had a pretty unique role joining you guys for the World Series. What do you think that means for him long term? That's an unusual situation to get your first taste of the Big Leagues --

NED YOST: Yeah, I don't think it's going to do anything for him long term. I think that you see this kid play and you get a pretty good sense that this kid is going to be an All-Star. He's going to be a phenomenal player. He's going to be a guy that's going to be able to hit with power from both sides. Tremendous defender at shortstop. Very, very athletic and can steal bases. He's just going to be a fantastic player.

And that was a tough decision to make to put him on the roster, because we had some really good candidates that we could pinch-hit, if we needed Jonny Gomes, there was different things we could have done there. But we went with him, because he can steal bases. We needed to take Gore off that roster because, we needed that extra base stealer and a guy to pinch hit in situations that were not extremely crucial in the World Series and the National League.

But I think he's just going to be a fantastic player in the years to come.

Q. As you sit here now, do you see Omar as your Opening Day second baseman?

NED YOST: Yeah, right now.