Winter Meetings interview with Joe Maddon

Winter Meetings interview with Joe Maddon

Q. Talk about Lackey. You know him well.

JOE MADDON: It's really exciting to get John. Got to know him about 2002. Part of the World Series, obviously, he was a big part of the Angels winning the World Series, and he actually helped pay for my daughter's wedding. I was really grateful for many years for that. John is one of the best competitors I've ever been around. You see it from the outside looking in. He demands a lot on a daily basis when he plays, of himself and his team, and I love it. I really believe that the particular kind of edge that John provides is really going to be helpful for us moving forward. I like the idea of coming off the kind of year that we had to really add this kind of a personality to the group, I think, would really benefit us even more. Our veterans within the group are already spectacular, and now you add John Lackey. Couldn't be more excited. I have not talked to him yet. I will. I've got his phone number now, but John, that's really, really exciting. When we got together and talked originally with Theo, I thought the same thing, they all thought the same thing about hopefully getting John, and it happened.

Q. Joe, when you look back a year ago, what was the most difficult thing, and what do you remember most about this whole year and the adjustment, that type of thing?

JOE MADDON: Honestly, the most difficult thing is to walk in the door where you really don't know anybody. I knew Davie Martinez. I knew Jed and Theo, from conversations, whatever. A couple players, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, but honestly, I didn't really know anybody there. I'm talking major and minor league. So you walk in the door, and you're there to impress your program on the entire group. Honestly, honestly, my first thought walking in the door is I need to build relationships with these people, period. And I intentionally did certain things in order to get to know people, have them get to know me. I don't want to say it's difficult. It's just something that you've got to do. I think too many times when you walk into -- talking about in the sports world, but maybe it applies everywhere else. You walk in the door, and you want to apply mechanical principles. To me, it was just about getting to know each other first before anything I ever wanted to talk about baseball-wise would be accepted. So that was the most difficult thing was just getting to know that many people that well that quickly.

Q. How did your life change most?

JOE MADDON: Honestly, not a whole lot. It didn't. Everybody was like anticipating a bigger market and all this, bigger city, different kind of scrutiny and all this kind of stuff. I get to go to Wrigley Field every day, and I get to work there every day with a really wonderful group of young players that are on the rise, outstanding ownership, and front office, my coaching staff. I didn't even know my coaching staff. When you are away from the ballpark, I'll concede, in the beginning, it was different because I'm in a big city. I'd never really lived in a big city like Chicago. So just driving to the park, getting your laundry done, things like that are a little bit different, but once you walk in the door, everything turns out to be the same. You walk in the door, you sit at your desk, you write a lineup, you talk to your coaches, you go out on the field, you talk to the press -- everything becomes the same pretty quickly. However, when the game begins and you stand at that corner and look up in the ballpark and the last seat is filled, that's kind of nice. And on top of that, the incredible support of the fans. Of course, I've always heard about it. I'd only managed three games there the year before with the Rays, so I didn't really have a full understanding or impact. But to report to work there every day and have it filled up like that, it's pretty special, man. It's very special.

Q. With all the kids you have this year, how do you sort of prep them to avoid a sophomore jinx?

JOE MADDON: I think the sophomore jinx is all about the other team adjusting to you and then you don't adjust back. So the point would be that we need to be prepared to adjust back. I think that's my definition of the sophomore jinx, and sometimes you will get the group that takes things for granted and believes or concedes that it's just going to happen again. I just talked to the group upstairs in our room, and I've already talked to them about the fact that's the one thing I have been thinking about is how to avoid that. And the conversation I need to have early on in camp, without being negative, without being critical of our guys, because we're just showing up. You don't want to be -- they're coming off a wonderful season. It's a very complimentary kind of a thing. You want to talk to them and praise them. But the target's going to be bigger, and I want us to embrace the target. The pressure is going to be possibly greater, and I want us to embrace the pressure. Those are two good -- the bigger target, the greater pressure, I think, equals a grander chance for success. So I'm all about that, and I definitely will bring that to our guys' attention. The combination of the accountability of our young players combined with our veterans, I really believe we could avoid those kind of pitfalls.

Q. You were talking about Lackey, and you said good fit, especially coming off the season you just had. Do you kind of mean it's not bad to have kind of a gritty guy just to make sure nobody relaxes, along those lines?

JOE MADDON: Yeah, John is used to winning. Listen, I've been around him. I know who he was raised by. He was raised by guys who were pretty tough guys, and I love it. He's been around David before. He's been around Jon Lester before. I like it. I like the edge. I love the edge. Edge is good. I'm good with it. I know how supportive he is. He's a great teammate, how supportive he'll be with the entire group, but I also know that, when he plays, he's going to demand the guys are ready to play. I love it. I think he's good for us. He's almost like the perfect fit for us after the season we just had.

Q. And slotting behind Jake and Jon is perfect?

JOE MADDON: You walk into a three-game series, and the other team calls for your pitching, and you say it's going to be Lester, Arrieta and Lackey. They don't like that.

Q. I don't know what you can say or can't say about going after Jason Hayward, but it's a possibility too. Needless to say, this Cardinals-Cubs thing isn't just during the season. It's 12 months of the year. Can you talk about this budding rivalry at the next level?

JOE MADDON: I love it. I absolutely love it. I grew up a Cardinal fan, a fierce Cardinal fan, and now I get to work against that feeling that I had as a kid. Last year, it was pretty interesting towards the end of the season how they got us early. We eventually were able to catch up later in the season. I think it's healthy for both organizations. It's healthy for baseball for a significant proper rivalry between those two teams. I think it's great. I know they're not going to back down. I know we're not going to back down. It's very interesting. And hopefully continue to nurture it in the future. It's no different than Red Sox versus the Yankees. It's very good for baseball. I think Cardinals-Cubs, as two relevant teams, is very good for baseball. I'm jacked up about it. Again, I can't tell you how fortunate I feel to be involved in this whole moment. I permitted myself to do nothing for the last month. I want to prevent myself to do nothing for the next two months. At times like this, I do get a little bit excited about it when you bring it up. I'm going to lay it back down. I've got to do some stuff next week, then I'll lay these thoughts back down. I'm going to hit the road for a little bit and just chill. But when you get back into it and know that, when you go to work, this is what the work pertains to, and that's pretty cool.

Q. Joe, a question from Baltimore. You faced Jake Arrieta when you were in Tampa a little bit. What changed with him? I know it started to change before you got there.

JOE MADDON: Fastball commit. I mean, any time -- almost every time you find a young really good arm, strong-armed pitcher that struggles, I would say almost 100 percent of the time it's because he doesn't know where his fastball is going. It could be a good number, like 94, 95, 96, whatever, but eventually, if he can't command that pitch, the other pitches are moot. The hitter doesn't have to honor them nearly as much. And if you start having to throw those other pitches too often and then get behind in counts and then here comes the fastball, fastball gets crushed. So, again, I've talked about David, David Price. David, once he learned where his fastball was going, that's what really jettisoned David. So I wasn't around when Jake came here, first of all, but I saw him in Baltimore, three, four, five innings, man, lights out, then all of a sudden, it would go away. From what I understand, when he came to us, the primary difference right now is just where his front foot lands, that he's more comfortable landing across his body. I think what had happened, there was an attempt to make him more straight up, align better or differently, which is like pitching 101. But I think what turned him around is the fact that, if you watch him throw, it's really unusual. The way he throws, if you talk to hitters, man, they don't see the ball. It's a combination of ferocious stuff and I can't see it. That's a pretty good combination. And then he knows where his fastball is going. So that's the difference.

Q. Joe, on a scale from one to ten, how much did the young players maximize last year? And I ask that question based on how well they perform, what could you expect this year? On a scale from one to ten, how much did that maximize?

JOE MADDON: I would say like a five, six, somewhere in the middle. My point is there's a lot of room left, I think. You don't win 97 games and don't play pretty darn good. While I say that, I'm thinking about K.B., I'm thinking about Addison in particular. Both struggled enormously during the course of the season and turned it around and eventually saw the light, came out at the other end of the tunnel. They're going to become more consistent. They're going to understand what pitchers are trying to do better. Thus they're going to be even better offensive players. Defensively, K.B. is pretty much a novice at third base. Addison more polished as a shortstop, but there's definitely room for improvement with both of those guys, as an example. Beyond that, the Schwarbers of the world, his defense is going to get better, whether it's behind the plate or in the outfield. Defensively, I promise you he's good, but he's going to keep getting better too. These guys are pretty much in the middle of their development in regards to that level I thought they played at last year. Like I talked about, they're highly accountable players, man. They're going to keep working.

Q. Last year I asked you if this was the biggest challenge with the young players that you had and their potential. How much of a followup challenge is it to make them reach that other five points.

JOE MADDON: Yeah, it could be -- I don't want to say if it's more difficult or not. The point is everybody knows us now. Like I said, the target's bigger, whatever. They're going to study us even a little bit harder. The challenge is a little bit -- it's going to be difficult. However, once the first bomb falls, everybody becomes a veteran. At least these guys have that veteranship from last year, so they know how to react to moments a little bit better now. They're not going to get as wide-eyed or freaked out over an 0 for 7 or 0 for 8. So that's going to be beneficial. I'm not going to change my approach in any way because it's pretty much the same every year with my guys. I've just got to pay attention to what's going on, try to give them my best advice or feelings in the moment and just really monitor how they're reacting to what's going on. Beyond me, it's all about -- we've got a really good coaching staff. Our coaches did a great job last year. There's such a wonderful support staff there. I think the combination of the ability and the baseball acumen of our young players and the coaching, our guys are going to find that extra four or five points.

Q. Last year, I think it was the second day of the Winter Meetings you guys got Lester, and you referred to it as winning the lottery. As you sit here the second day of the Winter Meetings, do you guys have another winning lottery ticket in you, as far as you know? And do you need that to kind of get where you want to go next year?

JOE MADDON: Anything's possible. We're having some interesting discussions. I like to think Lackey is a little bit of a lottery pick right now. I'm kind of digging on that one. We have a lot of good players. We have a lot of good players, and, again, we're still trying to augment that group, but there's a lot of good players there. The interesting thing that really stands out conversationally in our meetings is the depth, the potential depth of this group. And really to be a winner on a consistent basis -- you're going to have things happen. Guys, we were pretty fortunate last year, our pitching staff stayed pretty well intact. You're going to run into issues or problems at certain points, and you have to have the depth to overcome that. Based on what happened last year, the ascension of some of the other younger players, and what we could possibly do now, you're going to see a nice team on the field with some really severe depth coming behind these guys. Yeah, there's still the attempt to win a lottery pick, of course, but even if that were not to happen, I think we're still in pretty good shape.

Q. Joe, in terms of center field, would you be willing to -- knowing the other seven guys that you could throw out there, be willing to sacrifice some offense to get a run prevention guy there. If so, is Albert Almora a possibility? Because he's so good defensively.

JOE MADDON: We haven't talked about Almora yet. It's primarily based on the guys we have right now. The factor or the component of that, are the guys on the corners could be average outfielders possibly, but really well above average. So having a center fielder that's very good at playing center field could be very beneficial to our pitching staff and to the wins. So, yeah, you could possibly sacrifice a click of offense there just to get somebody to run it down, and I'm all about that. You know how much I love defense. Again, we're talking, talking, talking. There's some nice names out there, but, yes, the ability to run down a flyball and throw it accurately and well is big.

Q. Joe, how confident were you, both in how successful Addison Russell would be and how Starlin Castro would take that situation?

JOE MADDON: We felt confident adde would be good. I didn't know how well Starlin would take it and then adjust to it, and he couldn't have done any better. I mean, I'm visualizing the conversation I had with him right now, and he was so respectful and listened very carefully. I'm talking about Starlin. He sat for a couple of days. He didn't really play a lot. But we assured him that we were still going to work him back in there. And then he got his opportunity, and he took off, man. He turned into a really good second baseman. This guy can turn a double play. His arm naturally works well to turn a double play. And then overall his arm is better than people know too. His arm is pretty strong. But overall, his lateral mobility at second base was even better, I thought, than I had seen at shortstop. But then he started hitting again, and he hit the ball hard and with power and gaps and doubles. He's the kind of guy -- we're such a swing and miss team, I would count on him to move the ball at different moments. The runner on third base, less than two outs, can be kind of difficult. Runner at second base, no outs, can be difficult. With Starlin, you have a pretty good idea that he could move it, and that was something what we needed. By the end of the season, this guy was playing at a real high level, I thought. As a teammate, really like him. Respectful young man, love him. We had great conversations.

Q. Were you confident, though, that that was the right thing to do, even if Starlin hadn't responded the way he did?

JOE MADDON: Yeah, it was the right thing to do based on getting Addy where he's supposed to be. I'd be lying -- we didn't know. I'm not telling you I knew that Starlin was going to play that well. I'm not that smart. But I thought we thought he could, as long as he embraced it, and he did. You talk about the guys in the background, Manny Ramirez played a big role in that. Jonesy, our third base coach, played a big role in helping him adjust to that side of the field. So there's a lot of people working behind the scenes to make that work. And Blanco. We have a wonderful support staff there that we could take a moment like that and really help the young man out. So the entire staff worked, I think, well in making that adjustment.

Q. Joe, as well as you know David Price, how much do you think he's going to succeed and embrace a place like Boston?

JOE MADDON: I'm loving on David. He's not going to change. Whatever you see at this point, you're going to see there. He's going to pitch the same. With good health, he's going to pitch the same way. Off the field, the community is going to love him. He's going to get involved. His teammates are going to love him because, when that guy's not playing, he's as supportive as anybody I've ever met as a pitcher, starting pitcher that's not playing that day. He's transparent. That's who he is. There's nothing fabricated. That's who he is. I don't anticipate anything to change.

Q. You used to tell Dexter, as you go, we go. What's your level of optimism as to how that leadoff spot gets resolved?

JOE MADDON: Again, it's conversational right now. I don't know. I thought Dex did a great job. He really came on the second half. He really started to organize the strike zone better, accepted his walks. His power showed up. I don't know. We've been talking about it. There's different thoughts on how he can do it, but I don't have a solid answer for you right now.

Q. Joe, you're in the room every day with meetings. How disruptive or amusing are the rumors that you guys hear and that you deal with on a daily basis?

JOE MADDON: Honestly, the meeting starts out in the morning kind of getting at a lot of the stuff we hear. I'm just being honest. That's just the nature of the industry right now, and things are formulated. People are always playing fantasy GM. It's great. I've talked about -- I love it. It's great. The fans have got to read something. You've got to put something out there. Whether it's on television or in the print media or sometimes on a computer, I think it's great. I love this stuff. So it doesn't bum me out. It doesn't bother me. The only time, when it injures a player specifically, that his name's involved and there's really no substance to it, that's the part that sometimes is difficult because you've got to talk to this guy. Listen, it's not true, man. It's not true. That's the only time it becomes somewhat interfering, but otherwise, we need to get our game out there. We need to get people reading about our game. We need to get them involved, speculative. All that stuff is great, but a lot of it is musing in the morning.

Q. You have a lot of contacts still in Tampa. If they were to offer players out there, there's some good people on that team?

JOE MADDON: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We talk to everybody, of course. I still have a lot of good friends, and I run into a lot of them here and back in Tampa, where I've been pretty much the whole off-season to this point. Yeah, they have some really nice players there. There are conversations going on like there are with everybody else.

Q. Joe, you raved about Javi since day one of Spring Training. You've seen what Soler can do in October. Are you bracing for the possibility that maybe you guys are going to have to trade away a talent like that to get to where you want to go next?

JOE MADDON: Anything's possible. Of course, I don't know if I would use the word embracing, but it's part of the business. It's part of the game. As of right now, I don't anticipate that happening. I really don't. But if it were to happen, it happens. Again, my biggest concern would be the kid, the player, because like you said, Javi is special. I really like him a lot personally and really got to know Soler. And Soler is another example of a staff really impacting a guy in a positive way, Manny and all the other guys, Johnny Mallee and Ske and all these guys. It's really wonderful how our group worked together to get the most out of these guys. So, yes, anything's possible, but I really anticipate they're going to be here.

Q. Joe, you've been someone who's always embraced and utilized defensive versatility. Do you see other teams really starting to embrace that and utilize it?

JOE MADDON: It is becoming really En Vogue. Mark is sitting right here. We used to talk about -- I thought there should have been a Super U player on the all-star team. In 2009, the way Zobrist had come on, and it's a position, it's an absolute position, just like second base or left field is. A real legitimate SU guy is a position, and it permits you to do so many different things with your lineup daily and so many different things to get progress daily. When you have a guy -- part of that is the selfless attitude of the player themselves. Not everybody is suited to that for two reasons. They're not comfortable moving around or their ego doesn't permit them. Zo, from day one, he's always been accepting of that. He's all about winning. That's what he's about. I do think it's become more En Vogue. I hate seeing it because I know how beneficial it can be, but I think over the last several years, I think him, Chone Figgins with the Angels, really stand out for the guys I've had. We even tried to do it with B.J. Upton, when B.J. came up. That was part of the thought process to get him to the big leagues.

Q. When you look back, what would be the biggest areas of improvement from a first year manager to a second year? The benefit of that experience.

JOE MADDON: Are you talking in Chicago or just in general?

Q. In general, just in general.

JOE MADDON: I think there's a higher level of awareness. That's really ambiguous. Generally speaking, whether it's more aware of how to deal with your people, to interact with your guys. More aware, if we want to talk about the minutia of the day, like your lineup construction, how are you going to utilize your bullpen. You just become more aware. You get a better feel for what's going on around you, I think. Just doing this, you become more aware. I think there's a level of awareness that becomes more comfortable. I think, as you become more aware, you become -- and I had this conversation with T.B. -- less fearful of things. You really become more absorbed in the process of the day. I know, like I said, it's ambiguous, but it's an awareness factor. You just feel what's going on around you in a better way and able to react to it better.

Q. Have you seen an evolution in the role of the manager during your time in the game?

JOE MADDON: Oh, yeah. Well, there's so much more to think about. The managers in the day, they did their lineup, their bullpen, but they didn't have all the information at their fingertips to utilize as accurately as we can right now, whether it's offense, pitching, or defense. It wasn't as specific. There's many more things today that permit you to be more specific and, I think, more confident in your decision making because it's really rooted in some good, hard facts that you can prove. So there's more to consider. There's more to consider just in game planning, I think, and beyond that, again, just this. I used to watch Gene and all the dudes and Johnny Mac and Cookie and Marcel, but it was never like this. Just the accessibility, the information getting out so quickly, social media. There's dramatic difference in all of that that was obviously not there back in the day. So there was less to have to contend with on a daily basis. But primarily for me, I like information, and I like the fact that the information is accurate. And then beyond that, I'm very grateful that I've had the chance to work as long as I have because I do believe there's still a feel involved beyond just numbers. It's not -- people want to treat it like fantasy baseball a lot, and it's actually really baseball with real people. If you're able to handle the new information age and combine that with some good old fashioned scouting techniques or scouting abilities or teaching abilities, coaching abilities, recognizing trends, whatever's going on quickly, that's the way to go about it.

Q. Joe, you had 97 wins last year. Generally talk about your division is the toughest division. Is that a stretch to win this year, or do you wait until everybody shapes up in the division to figure it out?

JOE MADDON: You're talking about winning 97 games again?

Q. Yes. Is the division going to be tougher this year when you look at the shifts around the league?

JOE MADDON: Yes, I anticipate a lot of the same. I think us, the Pirates and the Cardinals will pretty much be duking it out like we did last year. I don't know where Cincinnati is going to arrive. I know there's a lot of stuff going on there and in Milwaukee. But these are two very successful franchises, so I anticipate more out of them this year. The rest of the league, we saw the East a little bit. The Mets handled us extremely well at the end. The Phillies gave us a hard time. I know -- whatever, all these other teams are looking to improve. I just think within our division, you're going to see a lot of the same at the top.