Winter Meetings interview with Pete Mackanin

Winter Meetings interview with Pete Mackanin

Q. At the end of the season, you kind of talked about how getting a full-time job, how you could maybe do some more stuff, implement some things and that you would take some time in the off-season to kind of think about what that would be. Have you given much thought about any specific things or adjustments?

PETE MACKANIN: Well, I constantly find myself thinking of new things, things I'd like to do, but I keep fighting the urge. I'm trying to enjoy my off-season as much as possible before we start that grind of seven months. But I've got some good ideas about just the way we're going to execute drills. We're going to put a lot of emphasis on baserunning, for one, which is why I eliminated your typical coach who is an outfielder/baserunning guy. Juan is going to remain the outfield guy, and Mickey Morandini is going to take over strictly baserunning and we are going to zero inasmuch as we can. I know everybody talks about fundamentals and how we are really going to pay attention to those things, but this is one way I feel we can really do that. Defense is a very important part of the game, and I'm very happy that we've got some outfielders that can cover a lot of ground and they are sure-handed outfielders. That makes the pitching better which takes runs away. In a couple areas, I feel we've already improved in that respect. A few more things like that, we're going to introduce a few more different ways of going about doing things.

Q. You had talked at the end of the season about how you've been in different situations whereas part of scouting, whatever, you talked about you look at free agents and which one are we going to get and sometimes you have to flip the page to lesser guys. How much of a role have you had at the Winter Meetings and looking over free agents?

PETE MACKANIN: We gather in that suite every day and just hash things out. We just talk about different players, who you run into. You kind of walk around and talk to people that you know and get a feeling of what other teams are looking for. You kind of have an idea, but it's just about schmoozing people and trying to get some information, and they get information from you. As I said, when I was with, for example, the Expos, we would go over in our group, we would go over the list of free agents. And by the time we would flip most pages to the back page, guys we can afford to get. But then when I was with the Yankees as a scout, it was anybody. We could look at anybody. The Phillies, and Matt, they have a certain way they go about doing things. So we are discussing more than anything. I can't really comment much on his attack, so to say. We just all give our input and they make the decisions.

Q. Given where the roster is in terms of rebuilding, when you get to Spring Training, how do you convince the players and the fan base, even, that there's any chance to be competitive?

PETE MACKANIN: The first thing I want to get across to the players is that I'm looking for positive energy. I start with that. I tell them that -- I'll give you an example. Freddy Galvis hit .260 something and he showed some promise there, and I think he's capable of doing better. César Hernández started playing finally, and he showed a lot of promise. We always felt like these guys were going to play well enough and hit well enough to be part of the future, but now they finally have an opportunity to do that. Maikel Franco stepped into his role and showed us that he was going to be a solid middle-of-the-order guy. Now that being said, all I can do as a manager to keep these guys pointed in the right direction is make them feel like how good they are, reinforce how good they are, and explain to these guys that in baseball, it's not necessarily always going to go their way and when you get knocked down, you're going to get knocked down during the course of the season, it's how you get back up, rather than staying down on the ground. So my approach is just to remain positive; at the same time, demand results.

Q. How about the fans?

PETE MACKANIN: The fans, well, let's put it this way: Somebody asked me how I was going to manage the team knowing that we weren't really at the place we want to be. Well, I manage -- I only know one way to manage. I just want to manage each day to win that game. And if I can convince the players to worry about how they compete on that given day, and let the fans know that we are competing and doing the best we can with what we have, I don't see how -- I think the way the players play will convince the fans that these guys are really trying and for real.

Q. What's the biggest thing you're looking forward to in terms of next season compared to last season where you had a lot of young guys and a lot of guys showing that they could do things, but what are you looking for in terms of a next step in terms of the guys that were on the roster last year?

PETE MACKANIN: Well, you take a guy like Galvis and Hernández and Franco, and Cameron made some strides late in the season, and he's a solid, strong-arm catcher, we've seen Odubel Herrera come out of nowhere to start off pretty good. He faltered a bit and went back to .250, .260, but then he battled back and hosed in right at .300. For me he's going to become a perennial .300 hitter. He's one of the better center fielders in the league in my opinion. That was a plus. Aaron Altherr, he made a good impression. He still needs a ways to go. But he made a great impression, as well as Cody Asche. We feel strongly that he's better than he's shown. We want these guys -- the next step is for Freddy to improve even more, for Hernández to improve. They have to incrementally have to get better. That's what we're looking for all of them to do, get better each year because we are counting on them to be part of the future.

Q. You mentioned Herrera defensively. Bourjos, I guess, arguably, is probably one of the guys that might be better than him defensively. How do you see those guys working and in terms of rotation, playing time?

PETE MACKANIN: You know, I know that I've scouted Bourjos in the past, and I know that he's a premiere center fielder. I'm told, although I haven't seen them play that much, Aaron Altherr is an outstanding center fielder. What I saw out of Odubel this year was very impressive. He made some mistakes, but he outran his mistakes. He's flamboyant. He's not afraid to dive. He takes charge out there. To me a center fielder, my opinion of a center fielder is that he catches every ball that's hit in the air until he can't get it, and then the corners help him out. And that's how Odubel plays. You saw it. If they are all three close to being as good as Bourjos is, we have three center fielders, no matter where they play, it's going to cover ground and help the pitching and take hits away and we have improved that way.

Q. Do you see him playing more than Frenchy played last year?

PETE MACKANIN: Well, under the circumstances with what we have, he's going to get a lot of playing time. There's a lot of people that feel that he's better than the way he's played the last few years. I'm one of them. I like Peter Bourjos. I think he's got an upside to him, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the spring and have Steve Henderson work with him and get him back on the right track. If he gets enough playing time, that's what players need in order to get some kind of a rhythm going.

Q. You made the deal for Hellickson from the Diamondbacks. What do you like about him?

PETE MACKANIN: He's a solid strike thrower. He's going to give us some innings. He's got some experience. I know he started off extremely well his first couple years and hasn't been quite the same since, but, once again, we feel he's a guy that's going to pitch better than he has the last couple years. I thought Matt made a great deal getting him.

Q. When you look at Nola and how he kind of handled things last year, what do you expect from a second act from him going forward?

PETE MACKANIN: The thing about Nola, a lot of young guys, especially Nola, I recall my first time in the Big Leagues, I was scared to death. When Nola pitched, it's like he knew he belonged there from day one. He never showed fear. He's got a great presence on the mound. He made some mistakes with pitch selection and/or location, but he knew it and he adjusted immediately. The guy, he's a cool customer. This guy really is an intelligent pitcher. The thing he's got going for him the most is his ability to command his fastball to both sides of the plate. And you can't teach that. If you've got that, plus you add in his other things -- and I think his changeup we didn't see as much; that he could have thrown it more. I think once we see that, he's going to become even better. I'm not by any way comparing him to Greg Maddux, but Greg Maddux became a premier pitcher because he figured it out. He read swings. He knew what he had to do to get hitters out, and I think Nola has got the capability of being that kind of a guy.

Q. What strides would you like to see Franco make in what will be his second full season?

PETE MACKANIN: The one thing, the first thing that comes to my mind is, No. 1, he's going to be a solid, three, four, five hitter in my opinion. He's aggressive. He's a run producer. This past season, he did not play the defense we expected him to play. He made some careless errors, and I think the year before in AAA, he made -- it was something like five errors and they were all throwing errors. The guy doesn't miss. I think he got a little careless, and we're going to see a Gold Glove-type performance out of him defensively. He felt like he let himself down last year. We know he's better. Larry Bowa worked with him quite a bit and they both talked, which was a nice sign for Maikel to talk about it and say, I know I'm better than that. So that's the thing I'm expecting from him.

Q. How much time, if any, have you really gotten away from thinking about baseball? I'm sure when the season ends, you're thinking about what's coming up.

PETE MACKANIN: I've been in the game 48 years and you never stop thinking about it because something always comes up. Especially nowadays, every time you turn on the TV, there's another media outlet, MLB and ESPN and all these sports channels and you can't get away from it. I try to avoid it because I'd like to have a week or two where I just don't have to worry about it, because, like I said, once you start that first day of Spring Training, it's all systems go for seven months, hopefully eight months.

Q. And you talked a little about Cameron Rupp, a guy that you saw improvement from offensively at the end of the year last year. Is he a guy that can catch a hundred games? What do you see?

PETE MACKANIN: It's hard for me to project that, but let's put it this way: This guy can catch and throw, he's got plus power, above average power potential, and that's the kind of guy you're looking for at catcher; that cannot only do a good job handling pitchers but he can catch and throw runners out. He's got a bazooka for an arm and he's accurate with it. Now the next thing is getting his average where you'd like it, and he started hitting home runs later on in the season. I think with a few adjustments to his approach, I think he's going to be capable of hitting even more home runs and improve more as a hitter. Once again it, was his first full year in the Big Leagues, so you have to keep that in the back of your mind that it's not that easy just to jump in and hit .280 and 25 home runs and knock in 80 runs. There's an adjustment to be made. Getting back to your previous question, we are expecting these guys to get better than they showed they were last year.

Q. And how would you describe so far your relationship with Matt? Obviously it's one that's a very important relationship. How do you think things have gone and what have you learned about him?

PETE MACKANIN: He's a genuine person. He's very easy to talk to. He's intelligent. And he's congenial. This guy knows how to relate to people. At least he and I get along very well. I can say what I feel to him, and we can banter back and forth. I'm being paid for my opinion, all of us in baseball, at some point or another, we're paid for our opinions, and he solicits those opinions and he makes his decisions based on knowledge of the game.

Q. When you first saw him --

PETE MACKANIN: Everybody wants to be liked. At some point you like -- you like me, don't you? (Laughing.) Sure, there's always that little anxious moment, but at the same time, I know I get along with people very well, and it is what it is. He's my boss and I try to get along with him, which is easy.

Q. Being on the same page with the lineup, do you feel like you already have that understanding of what you guys are aiming for?

PETE MACKANIN: He's been great. He has not sent me any mandates or made any demands from me or told me who I had to play. Once again, we talked about this earlier, I'm certainly going to discuss the team and what I'd like to do with them and he might have an idea that I might say, you know what, that's a good idea, we'll use it. So far as I'm concerned, I'm making out the lineup and until I'm told any differently, I'm going to continue making it out.

Q. There have been a few guys added for the bullpen, or at least potentially for the bullpen. Do you view it as kind of open competition or do you say, hey, I already have Gomez, Garcia, Giles, so now I have to fill in the rest?

PETE MACKANIN: No question about it. It's open competition. As I said, we've got some speed in the outfield, which makes any pitchers better. Takes away hits. We've got more pitchers with some backgrounds to them, which is going to increase the competitive environment of Spring Training, and these guys are going to know that, hey, if you want to play at the Big League level, we are looking for guys who can help us win. You've got to be better than the next guy. You're going to have to compete to make the team. It's a great environment to be in. So these guys who maybe thought they were doing okay, might get a wake-up call.

Q. Are you thinking about Giles as your closer at this point, or is that still pretty much an open question?

PETE MACKANIN: He's my closer right now. I like what he did last year.

Q. You talked about having three center fielders in the outfield potentially at the same time, to cover all that ground, is it Odubel's job or is it going to be an open competition as far as center field itself in Spring Training?

PETE MACKANIN: We've just been discussing that, and I know as we said, I know how good Bourjos is and I know how good alter can be in center field. But I also saw Odubel play last year. In my mind right now, he's the incumbent center fielder, which doesn't mean it won't change in the spring. As hard as he worked towards accomplishing his goals defensively last year, I want to make him -- I don't want to discourage him after doing such a good job for us. But I'll talk to him. Juan Samuel and I will talk to him, and we'll talk to all three of those guys, and even Cody Asche will be in the mix, and Darin Ruf will be in the mix. I'm just going to talk to these guys. That's the best way I know how to manage is talk to them.

Q. Are you going to have Herrera get any reps at second base in the spring or use him solely as an outfielder?

PETE MACKANIN: We'll probably work him out there. You never know, there's always guys coming up behind him, and, once again, as I said, when you're a three- or four-year player, there's always that young kid that everybody's talking about. So you've got to continue to compete and to keep your job. So let's put it this way: If somebody comes up that has to play center field for whatever reason, then we want -- I certainly want Odubel's bat in the lineup. It might come to that. I'm not looking to do that right now, but it may happen. I don't want to -- he had such a great showing defensively that I don't want to, like I said, discourage him from making him think it was all for nothing.

Q. With Matt coming in, he's going to bring more of an analytic angle to the club that's been there before. How will that impact you as a manager?

PETE MACKANIN: I scouted for the Yankees in 2008 and 2013. We used a lot of the analytics, and really it was the scouting director. We used a lot of the analytics and I used them to write my reports. There was a lot of information in there. I, for one, believe that anything that can help you make a decision on a player and evaluate a player is invaluable. I believe in it wholeheartedly. That doesn't mean that instinct doesn't come in. For example, you can look on an elementary level, during the course of the game as a manager, you look at matchups and so-and-so is 15 or 20 off a pitcher. But your hitter might be in the midst of the worst slump of his career, even though he hits this other guy well, so you might choose not to let him hit for him, because he's in such a bad slump. So the analytics tell you you should use him, but your gut kind of tells you, you know, not right now, he's not going to hit him right now. That type of -- that's not a good example maybe. So you can combine the two.

Q. A follow-up on that, data shows that pitchers are far less effective a third time through the order and now there's a school of thought that maybe you shouldn't put most of your pitchers in that situation.

PETE MACKANIN: That might appear to be a new concept, but over the years that I've managed, starting in 1985, you're always tentative when you get into that sixth inning. It always seems to happen late in the fifth or sixth inning where you have to keep your eye on your starter. It wasn't really one of those things that was written down or talked about, but that's always the time I, as a manager, would start getting a little nervous and be a little bit more -- and watch my starter a little closer and maybe get a guy up throwing. So it makes a lot of sense. It doesn't mean you'll always take your -- you will never let your guy face the lineup three times or four times, depending on how he's pitching. You've seen games where I think Nola went into the eighth inning, he could have thrown nine innings one night, he was just making adjustments as they came along. I think all of that is invaluable stuff, but it's nothing set in concrete for me.