Winter Meetings interview with John Gibbons

Winter Meetings interview with John Gibbons

Q. Were you a little surprised that with the change of president and general manager, that one of their first moves was to call you and say we want you back?

JOHN GIBBONS: No, I can't say surprised. I thought he did a pretty good job with the team last year. We got to the postseason, which was our goal. It had been so long. But I felt too there was always that possibility.

New people come in, a lot of times they do, they bring their own people. I didn't know either way, but it's not a shock to me. I still got to do my job with the guys on the field. I figure, as long as I'm productive and the team's productive while I'm here, I'll be around.

Q. There's still some of the front office guys there, but what's your first impression of Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro?

JOHN GIBBONS: Nice guys, very professional. I met Mark years ago when I was in Canton. I was with the Royals, and we were out at Spring Training. That's the first time I really had a chance to talk to him. I talked to him a couple times this off-season.

I did not know Ross. He was a player back when he was managing in the Eastern League. I know the name. They're two nice guys, easy. We had our meeting this morning. They're two easy guys to talk to. Throw my opinions out there and things like that. It's never an easy transition when you bring new people in. It's not easy for us. It's not easy for them. But we can make that work.

Q. Did you throw stuff like Babbitt at them?

JOHN GIBBONS: What?

Q. Some of those newfangled stats.

JOHN GIBBONS: You know my limitations.

Q. Is it a tenuous spot to be in, though? You're used to being in tenuous spots. It feels like everybody is always talking about you're just hanging on, whether you are or aren't. To have a whole new group, like you said, they usually do bring in their own people. How much do you have to look over your shoulder?

JOHN GIBBONS: I don't think I have to do that at all. It really comes down to production. If whoever's in charge feels that the team's meeting expectations, you're in good shape. If they don't, then generally, sooner or later, something happens to these positions.

I've never been a guy that worries about that. You guys know that. That's truthful. You just go out and do the best job you can, and I don't think it will be a problem.

We've got a real good team, we think. We got a taste of it last year, and we want to repeat that. We think we've got the guys that can do it. Play good enough baseball, everything will be fine, but I don't give that any thought. That's wasted energy. I need my energy.

Q. You got all of your batting order back, so you know you're going to score a lot of runs. Your starting rotation sort of slides down to more threes and fours, and your bullpen has lost some guys. He talks about getting 27 outs as the solution. Are you going to have to manage that in an entirely different way?

JOHN GIBBONS: It's going to be a different look right now. There's still time. There could be a couple of other moves and some changes. But we'll see. Speaking primarily probably for the bullpen.

I think the team, having Tulowitzki and those guys, Revere, on the field every day for six months is going to make us that much better. So we expect to score a lot of runs.

One area we did run into trouble the first half of the season was probably middle relief. Even sometimes later in the game. So that's always an issue for every team, and until they all come together, we know who everybody's going to be down there, it's tough to say. But that's always a challenge for us. It's a challenge for everybody else too.

Q. If you add depth to the bullpen, does that give you an option of having Sanchez back in the rotation?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I think so. We're discussing that right now too. What's the best way to go with Sanchez? We saw him last year very good, before he got injured, he was starting to make a lot of strides and turning into a pretty good starter. I can see him being a very good starter in his career. Really out of necessity last year he went back to the bullpen, and he's thrived down there. He could be a really good bullpen guy.

I think the decision that needs to be made is what's best for his future. I think he could be a cornerstone player for this organization. So we need to make that right decision. It's tough because, if he's in the bullpen this year, it's tough to turn him back into a starter because he's really still developing his secondary pitches.

Q. Is it easier for him to turn back into a starter than Osuna because Osuna had that full season as a closer. Is that a role you see him maintain?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, if the season would start today, yeah. Osuna would be doing that. I don't think that will change. I think he'll be our closer. I think he's got a chance to be a really, really good one for a number of years. I think he could also start, but I'm not sure we have that luxury.

Q. Is the plan in Spring Training to stretch Sanchez out? You go in, assuming he's going to start, and then make a decision?

JOHN GIBBONS: I would think so. We haven't really made any final decisions on that. It's still December.

Q. Are there legitimately any concerns about Sanchez's durability over the course of the season as a starting pitcher?

JOHN GIBBONS: I don't personally. I've heard that argument. Maybe there is something to that. To my end, I don't see why. The injury he suffered last year was just a lat thing. It wasn't joints, elbows or anything like that. He's going to get bigger and stronger naturally.

But you have those guys with the big time overpowering arms, you still have to be careful with them. I think he can be a very durable guy that, for the most part, can stay injury free.

Q. The splits were pretty substantial for Sanchez, righties versus lefties. Is that something in his repertoire that can be adjusted?

JOHN GIBBONS: If you look at the end of the season, talking about when he was in the bullpen, he started being pretty effective about those lefties. Started throwing the two-seam fastballs and catch the inner part of the plate, and I think that kept them honest.

The whole thing, I think his game's going to come together, and he's going to be a star when he gets his secondary pitches going. That's a work in progress. He really hasn't had the chance to since he's been in the big leagues. Came out of the bullpen two years ago and really was basically a one-pitch pitcher because that's all he needed. Last year was the same way. Once he gets that going, the sky's the limit.

Q. I know you've only had Price for 2 1/2 months or so, but what are the Red Sox getting?

JOHN GIBBONS: They're getting the best, no doubt about it. His career speaks for himself. He's one of the elite pitchers in the game, and he always has been.

From a personal standpoint, what he did for us last year, he really basically got us over the top. If we didn't acquire him, good chance we don't make the playoffs. He was that good for us.

It was also a united clubhouse. He was a natural fit from day one. So it really helped energize some things because we were a solid team, but we just kind of staggered along, and he helped -- he was one of the guys that helped put us over the top.

Q. If there's a knock on him, it's been his postseason performance. What did you see there? Did you see the moment get too big for him at any time in the postseason appearances he made for you or starts he made? What do you think the issue has been for him in the postseason?

JOHN GIBBONS: I didn't see a different guy at all. I thought he -- you look at the -- the numbers in the postseason, I had to deal with that constantly. Everybody was talking about this and that. All I know is he's a guy that gets you into the postseason every year, and he pitched some very good games in the postseason as well.

He was victimized by a couple of home runs in this past series, and there's a little bit of luck involved too. A little more run support here or there, he wins some of those games, I'm sure, definitely with us.

And one thing I can say about him, though, after his first start in the playoffs, it didn't go the way he wanted, but he came to us and said, hey, pitch me out of the bullpen. We would never have done that if he hadn't approached us. That tells you what kind of guy he is. There's no way I could look at him and think you don't want this guy in the postseason. That would be crazy. That'll change.

Q. What's it going to be like having David to pitch against you?

JOHN GIBBONS: It will be tough. Just getting to know him for a couple of months, I've been a big fan of us. I'd rather see him, if he wasn't going to come to us, maybe go to a different division or maybe in the National League. That's not the case. I'm sure we'll see plenty of him. He's always been tough on us in the past, and that's never good. We'll see.

Q. Did Tony keep you in the loop during the Happ negotiations? And what did you think about signing?

JOHN GIBBONS: Tony, as often as he could, he kind of kept me abreast of the things that are going on. He had a lot going on himself. I like it. I've always been a big fan of Happ's. He did some good things for us, and in order to acquire Michael Saunders, we had to give Happ up.

Last year it was a struggle for him in Seattle, but he went over to Pittsburgh. I don't know if he made any adjustments. I haven't had a chance to talk to him about that, but he really finished strong. That's what we're banking on. He's a very durable guy. We need him to be good. But he's familiar with us. We know him. I think it will be an easy transition.

Q. What did you see out of David as far as working with some of your younger pitchers, like Stroman, who posted a really nice note when he left?

JOHN GIBBONS: Dave's one of those guys that everybody loves. He has that personality, and he's authentic. He cares about his teammates. Yeah, I don't know if he and Stroman even knew each other before he arrived with us last year, but they had a nice little bond, those two.

Yeah, he was always willing to help. He was enthusiastic guy. He came to work every day. He didn't hide from anything. He didn't run from anything. It was a pleasure to manage him. You know what, I'm sure now he'll end up in Boston, and he'll have the same effect on those guys.

I think he's going to do wonders for them.

Q. Is there any disappointment when he decided not to come back?

JOHN GIBBONS: Oh, yeah, no doubt about it. He's one of the elite pitchers in the game. But we all knew he's going to test the free agent market. He owed it to himself. He would have been crazy not to. Boston blew him away, so we wish him well.

Q. Can you talk about Jesse --

JOHN GIBBONS: Want to know about Jesse? Jesse Litsch?

Q. If you want to go that route. Talking about the Chavez route.

JOHN GIBBONS: I was in Kansas City, and Jesse was there briefly. I knew him a little bit. I'm really a big fan. He's come into his own the last few years at the major league level. He's had a great arm and had trouble putting it together. Little by little, the last few years, it's happened for him.

I think he's a guy that could possibly be a starter, be a swingman type, fill a role like Estrada did last year. He doesn't start in the rotation, starts in the pen, and he could be that guy that comes in and bails us out somehow. But he used to be a thrower, now he's a pitcher. He's got a pretty good idea what he's doing, and he's going to be very valuable to us.

Q. Do you see there being a competition at the bottom of the rotation between Chavez and Hutchison and maybe Sanchez for one spot?

JOHN GIBBONS: When you look at it, Stroman, Dickey, Happ, and Estrada. That's four. So, yeah, those guys are going to be competing. Somebody's got to win that job.

Q. Right. But is it going to be more of a competition, or do you think you go in wanting somebody to fill that rotation spot up?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I have my ideas what I think may happen, but we like all those guys. So maybe the best way to do it, unless there's a certain way we build our team to make us as strong as possible, then we do that. But competition brings out the best in everybody.

Q. When Jay Happ was effective for you, what was he doing? What can he lean on as far as his experience with you or last year with Pittsburgh?

JOHN GIBBONS: Really, with Happ, it really came down to throwing strikes, throwing enough strikes. He's one of those guys, he's in great shape. He's got a strong arm. I don't think he's ever banged up. Then we tried to stretch him out as far as possible. He'd always run into problems. He was always the 100-pitch count area in the fifth inning, so he was limited to what he was going to do.

Then he changed his arm angle a little bit to lower his slot for command and get a little more movement side to side. He always had trouble up and down because he's more over the top, and that seemed to help him. He pitched a lot of good ball games for us and started going deeper into games and things like that.

But really with all of them, it comes down to command. I hate to really lump that on everybody, but one thing you know, he's strong. Never really had any problems.

Q. Some of the adjustments he talked about after signing was kind of related again to that arm slot thing. Is there anything about his mechanics that requires a bit more tinkering or experimentation with pitchers? That goes back, like you said, all the way to Toronto.

JOHN GIBBONS: He's a big guy. Generally, with those bigger guys, it's tough to -- things get a little out of whack. I think, in a lot of ways, he can be still a late bloomer where it all comes together for the last few years of his career. I've seen him really good, and I've seen him struggle. But we've always liked him.

Q. Is it a black and white issue with Hutch? He's either starting in Toronto or starting in Buffalo, or is there a possibility that he could come out of the bullpen for you guys?

JOHN GIBBONS: I can't answer that right now, how that's all going to stack up. Hutch is a big piece for us. He won a lot of games last year.

I expect Hutch to bounce back and have a much better year this year. He's another guy, if you think about it, where he is at this stage of his career and his age, he's doing fine. He's winning games. He's pitching really good ball games. He's struggled at times, but really that's not uncommon for a guy with his experience level.

I think we were leaning on him so heavily, that there was really no room for him to fail without taking some heat. So I think he's still going to have a great major league career and he's very valuable to us.

Q. There's a story out today about Encarnacion looking to negotiate a contract by Spring Training or become a free agent. You've thought of him as a valuable part of this team, but at $10 million, will he be moving forward?

JOHN GIBBONS: $10 million is a lot of money. You look at his production the last few years, it's really a bargain. When they first signed that, I wasn't around, but it was a leap of faith in the organization for them to sign it, what he accomplished at that point in the organization and what they thought he was going to do. This organization made out all right, that's for sure.

There's a lot more money for Eddie to make before it's all said and done. As far as whether he tests the waters, who knows? We need him to be good again this year. I saw a different Eddie in the second half after we made those moves. It kind of rejuvenated Eddie, and he really took off. I think he'll be excited about coming this year because we won last year and the fact that he will be a free agent.

Q. Between all the different ailments that he had, what are your -- even the sports hernia that he had for the surgery for after the season. What did that tell you about his durability last year that he was able to produce through the pain, I guess?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, Eddie's a tough guy. He had that -- yeah, he's had the nagging injuries here and there. The finger was real tough. But that's part of being a big league baseball player. You do it every day. The great ones, they play through it. They find a way to play through it. They may need a day here or there to catch their breath a little bit or maybe help them heal up just a hair.

But he knows support for him is out there, and we need him out there. But not everybody can do that.

Q. How much of an ask is it from Estrada to be able to do the same thing for you that he did last year?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, if he can repeat that, that would be -- that year he had last year was a phenomenal year, it really was. Really a guy that came out of nowhere. We thought he was good; we didn't think he was that good.

The type of games he pitched, and then really you go back and look in the playoffs, when the season's on the line twice, and what does he do? He pitched as good a two games as anybody has pitched all year when you had to have it, and that says something about the guy. He's really a master of what he's doing. Everything came together for him last year.

Q. As good as Estrada was last year, does the bullpen at all become a bit more of a priority knowing that Dickey is that one inning, two inning heater that you guys have?

JOHN GIBBONS: I think, if you look at it right now, the four we know that are in the rotation, yeah, that's probably where we're looking right now. That's important. You can have great starting pitching and they can do their jobs, but if it gets away late every night, that's never good either. That's probably more of a focus than anything.

Q. The Boston Red Sox team, the version that you saw in September, what impressed you about that group compared to the team that they were fielding earlier in the season?

JOHN GIBBONS: Oh, shoot, they were definitely more athletic. Bogaerts came into his own. Bets came into his own. Jackie Bradley was back on the scene. He went down and regrouped in the minor leagues, and he was playing like they envisioned him over there.

There were some stops defensively they struggled earlier in the season, and we capitalized on it. It's kind of like what happened to us. We weren't getting some balls on the field, and it cost us. They experienced some of that too.

But really, I think they probably had the best -- close to the best team speed in baseball now, at least in the American League. They're very athletic. They can probably manufacture runs better than you're used to seeing Boston teams, at least that philosophy. They were tough on us.

Then you look what they've done with their bullpen, bringing in Kimbrough and the move today with Seattle. They've got David. Yeah, they've changed some things in a hurry, but they demand that.

Q. Given how good Betances and Miller were last year, are you at all surprised that Miller's name is prominently mentioned in trade talks as it has?

JOHN GIBBONS: I saw that a few weeks ago. I don't know how accurate -- you guys are always accurate, I'm sure. That did surprise me a bit. That would be a nice guy for us to get. I don't see that happening.

You figure the Yankees are always laying in the weeds to do something. I'm sure they'll make some moves. That got my attention, I'm sure.

Q. How dangerous was that dude at the back of the bullpen? You saw a lot of them, obviously.

JOHN GIBBONS: I don't know if they blew any games. There might have been one or two if they did. It was pretty much a lockdown game if you got those guys. Especially Betances, he can go an inning plus. And Miller was as good as you can be. He won the postseason award, didn't he? That's as good a duo as there is in baseball.

Q. You talked about them laying in the weeds. Is that strange they've not been with any of these free agents. You haven't heard them connecting. It looks like they're not looking to spend money this winter. Is that a strange thing?

JOHN GIBBONS: I think from my time in Toronto, especially my first round here, they were always in the forefront of everything that's going on. But you know they're planning things out. They can strike or do something any time.

Q. You obviously did well to get the five new guys at the deadline. Is there ever a point where a roster turns over too much, maybe in the off-season, and it's hard to keep the same culture and continuity. Or are fresh faces good?

JOHN GIBBONS: That's a tough question to answer. I don't think anybody really knows the answer to that. I think every year you probably need a little bit of change, and then a player or two. I don't know how many. I think that's always good. It will be a little bit different.

Tulowitzki will still be here, and Revere will be returning and Price and Lowe and Hawkins will be the guys we acquired that will be gone. That will be different.

But there's an opportunity for somebody else to step up and do your thing. There's no doubt about it. Those guys were a huge part of our success last year turning this thing on.

Q. Given that Colabello finished the season playing first base every day and now you're bringing back Smoak, what are you going to do with first base as it stands now?

JOHN GIBBONS: I'm not sure exactly how we'll work that. We kind of went through a little bit of a -- it wasn't a full every night. We'd kind of mix and match on who they were facing and this and that, who was hot.

You look at Colabello, he turned it on at the end when everything was on the line, and it was fun to watch. He really had a tremendous year. Smoaky did too. It was nice to see him get rewarded with a nice contract. It's really a luxury, and we'll figure out how it works. I can't say that's what it's going to be for sure.

Q. So maybe play it out similarly to last year, in terms of riding the hot hand?

JOHN GIBBONS: Colabello is going to facing plenty of right handers, year.

Q. Would you consider revisiting Tulo in the leadoff spot?

JOHN GIBBONS: No, I like the way we looked when we finally put Ben up there. It wasn't like it was a strategic move, and he responded like he always did. To be honest, I think Tulo likes it a little bit further down, maybe more. I don't know that for a fact, but that's my guess. Richard got us to the postseason with that move right there.

Q. What's your plan for left field in terms of working in Michael Saunders? Or will you use him in different spots?

JOHN GIBBONS: First you've got to see if Michael's healthy. I think it's probably going to nag him for the rest of his career, I would think. We've always liked him when we acquired him. I think he could be a very valuable part of this team.

Going in, you've got to believe Revere is the guy. He's done that for us. He's healthy. We know that. And he's a spark plug for us.

Hopefully, we can find plenty of time for Michael. He can help us.

Q. The way it's set up Thole would be catching Dickey. How important do you think it is for him to rest, to get away from the knuckleball?

JOHN GIBBONS: How do you know that's what's going to happen?

Q. You said actually right now that Thole would the second catcher.

JOHN GIBBONS: Oh, I said that. I think it did take its toll on Russ a little bit. It's not an easy thing to do. That's Josh's speciality and he's very good at it.

Russ did very good with him. Dickey had some great games with him back then. It's not an easy thing to do. It did take its toll on him.

Q. Do you need to find a backup fielder now?

JOHN GIBBONS: We're looking for a utility guy. Pennington left and went to Anaheim. That's one of the spots we're hunting for.

Q. Is there a particular type of player that you want in there?

JOHN GIBBONS: He's got to be able to play shortstop a little bit, too.

Q. There does seem to be quite a bit of frustration from the fan base that the organization hasn't spent a lot of money this off-season. Were you expecting more, or were you expecting to adjust some complementary pieces as opposed to those big names?

JOHN GIBBONS: I didn't know what was going to happen, to be honest with you. You look at it, and we've got a good ball club. Really just needs some minor tinkering here and there. I think everybody's hoping that price would come back. That didn't happen. So we've got to adjust, and we've still got to respond.

Now the off-season's not over, and there's still some room to make some adjustments. As far as the fans' reaction, that's natural. Everybody probably reacted that way. Everybody wanted price back. But it's still a business. Boston just blew him out of the water.