Winter Meetings interview with Fredi Gonzalez

Winter Meetings interview with Fredi Gonzalez

Q. A lot of attention was paid to the Royals and their high contract rate. Your team had a high contact rate in a completely different type of ballpark. Does ballpark matter to contact rate?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, I think the bigger the ballpark, the more you want to put the ball in play, get it in the gaps. It all depends on the speed, also, of your team. But, yeah, I think it matters.

Q. How much have you been involved with all the talks that are going on around Shelby and also Julio? And assuming they both come back, what will you tell them, if you need to tell them anything?

FREDI GONZALEZ: For me, that's the hardest thing that this is going on. This is the Winter Meetings and it's the hot stove time of the year, and people are going to be talking. And we've got two young, really good pitchers. People are going to be calling. That's the hardest thing is when Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran report to Spring Training with us, you've got to talk to those guys. You know what, I will take it as a compliment that people are out there, they are asking. And, you know, why not? They don't ask for guys that are not good players, good pitchers. We're not shopping those guys around. But I think you're not doing your due diligence if you don't answer some of those phone calls.

Q. With where your roster is now, as you look to next year, how much do you also look to 2017 and 2018?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, I'm looking to next year. I'm looking to get better than -- do better than what we did last year. You know, 67 wins, for me, for our team, for our fan base, is not acceptable. We're in that room, also, talking about getting our team better for next year. And also, kind of keeping in mind for the 2017 season, I think we've done that last year with some of the trades that we've made. We have built our farm system. We've got some young players from some other organizations, we've got some pitchers, and we did it through the draft and we are in good shape from that standpoint. We are up there trying to be a better team than we were last year.

Q. Is it important to get a group that all matures together as you put the puzzle together?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, we've talked about all that, and we feel that we've done that with our pitching staff, with Julio, with Shelby, with Wisler who came up and did a nice job for us. Foltynewicz, we gave him an opportunity to be in that starting rotation last year, and he did a nice job. Wish he had not got hurt in the last four or five weeks in the season and give him another five, six, seven, eight starts for his development. Perez has done a nice job. A bunch of the guys that were in Orlando last year that were doing rehab, you're going to see them play a big part in Spring Training this year.

Q. Yesterday John said you look as an offense as 29th and 30th, obviously an inherent need to get a bat. As you talk about trades, how much are you pushing that?

FREDI GONZALEZ: We all know the numbers. So there's no pushing going on. We all know we are all trying to get better. So as we go along and do our work every morning, we talk about who is out there, how do we go get those guys that can help us offensively without really taking too much away from our core or our prospects, or free agents, fifth-year draft, all those avenues that are available to us for us to get better.

Q. Is that a balancing act, for instance, with Shelby and Julio, obviously not going to trade Shelby unless you get a big return; do you understand the balancing act?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I understand the whole thing and I think every Major League Baseball club does the same thing. Obviously we hold some pretty good pieces. You saw the market. You saw Greinke, you saw David Price go out. There's not very many people that compete in that type of salary, and we have really, really good young pitching. Sure, why not call? So you listen to those phone calls. They have really got to knock your socks off for us to do something like that, make a trade for those two guys.

Q. The talk out there was that Shelby Miller for Pollock of the Diamondbacks. Do you value a starter over an everyday pitcher?

FREDI GONZALEZ: If you ask me that question without those names, that's speculation, you can go back and forth, a starting pitcher is every five days and a position player plays every single day. So you go back and forth. It all depends on who are the guys that we are talking about.

Q. Through these discussions you've had, can you get a better feel for that progress? Last summer was tough, but you knew it was part of the process. Through these planning discussions you've had over the last few days, can you kind of get a feel of the kind of progress that's been made over the course of the past year?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Progress to help the team get better?

Q. To make sure that this year will be different than last year.

FREDI GONZALEZ: You know what, at the halfway point last year, we were okay. We didn't have a great team on the field but we had a good competitive team that our fans loved and loved to come out and watch. We were I think 41, 42, 42,41, and 42, and then we lose Grilli on that Achilles injury in Colorado, Freeman had a tough year injury-wise, and then we made some trades and didn't have a good second half. I feel confident that John Hart and Coffey can put a good team together. I'm not talking about a great team that's going to win 120 games, there's no such thing, but I think with some of the avenues that we have, I think we can put a good team together.

Q. You're not immune to the criticisms around the community, and you hear the stuff about last year, second half.

FREDI GONZALEZ: It was tough, it really was tough. Not only myself personally, the coaching staff, our team, our fans, primarily our fans. You go from the two years we moved from winning the division, playing in the Wild Card and all of a sudden you're battling till the last day of the season not to lose 97, 99 games. We ended up winning -- we were 67-95. So it's tough. It's not easy.

Q. Might not know exactly where everyone stands at this point in the off-season, but you have Markakis a year removed, and you've said you expect more from him and you hope that the off-season is enough for Freeman's wrist. Pertaining to those two guys, do you expect them to be healthy at the start of Spring Training?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I sure do. I think a full season of Nicky working out and getting stronger and resting, I think you'll see his power numbers go up a little more. Freeman, I talked to him about two weeks ago, and he's getting healthy and he feels like he's going to be ready to go to Spring Training full go. Hector Olivera is a guy that we didn't see the Hector Olivera as we wanted in the last month of the season. But, again, one year in the country, got traded from the Dodgers to the Braves, I don't think we've seen the real Hector Olivera or the Hector Olivera we've wanted to see. He'll have a year in the United States and get acclimated -- to get used to being in the United States, and then go and to Spring Training and get ready to go to the big league season.

Q. From what you saw from him, never mind the actual numbers, but what you saw from him and then what you've heard from Bo and such this winter, are you confident that he can be a lot better player than we saw last year? Can he be the guy you expected when you guys got him?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I'm really, really excited about the reports we got of him moving to left field, not only from Bo but also from Alex. They felt that he could do that fairly easy and do a nice job there in left field. Is he going to win a Gold Glove? Who knows, but they feel the confidence he can go down and play left field. You saw spurts with Hector offensively that you go, okay, there's the power. When he hits the ball, the ball stays his in the gaps, and you saw some at-bats -- again, I think we have not seen the real Hector Olivera. I think in Spring Training -- and who knows, maybe be the end of May before we see the guy we want.

Q. Left field a little easier, maybe can focus?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, that's the reason we let him play left field a little bit in Puerto Rico. Third base is not out of the question, but for him to play left field -- he's a big, athletic guy, and, again, the reports say he could do a nice job over there.

Q. Garcia played well for you at times?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Garcia did a terrific job for us. Here is a guy less than 150 at-bats, got ten home runs, can drive the ball, he has great hands, throws the ball across the diamond pretty well. So there is an opportunity there for him to play third base. If that doesn't work, we have also the option to bring Hector back over to third base.

Q. As things stand, you have depth at the back end of that bullpen. Have you said, hey, look, I'm going to Spring Training, thinking Viz is the closer or anything like that?

FREDI GONZALEZ: No, I'm going to Spring Training thinking that Jason, if he is healthy and has a great Spring Training or just a healthy Spring Training, we'll give him that opportunity. I think he deserves that. He's earned that. It's nice to have a guy like Vizcaino we kind of coveted a little bit, and he did a nice job. Same thing with Jim Johnson. We lost Grilli, J.J. stepped in for us in the ninth inning role, and he did a nice job for us.

Q. If you don't make another move in the pen, do you think you can have a solid bullpen?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, you feel there's an upgrade from when we started. We got a couple kids from the Rule V draft that may be able to help, Ramirez may be able to help. There are a couple other guys that are coming back from the rehab there in Orlando. You just throw them in the mix, you've got Dave Carpenter, prior to last year, he did a nice job for us.

Q. Related question. Tampa Bay's pitcher usage last year suggests they are very cognizant of the third time through the order pitcher numbers. How much has that been discussed with your staff?

FREDI GONZALEZ: You know what, it's pretty obvious, right, third and fourth time through the lineup, the numbers are going to go up offensively. You know, it all depends on your staff. Do you push Julio Teheran or do you push Shelby Miller more than you would push some of the other young guys? Everybody is built differently. Every starting pitcher is built differently. I don't feel you have to set a pattern that says, nobody pitches three times through the lineup.

Q. Hard to place the defensive contributions of Simmons, but what do you feel about Erick Aybar and how familiar are you with his game?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I'm a little bit familiar with him. When you talk to players or you talk to general managers and scouts and other people that are on the field, they say, This guy is a baseball player. He's a baseball player. He's played in the League a lot of years with a good organization, solid organization. I know a little bit about him, so I know there's a good fundamental base there. And you're right, we're going to lose maybe the best defender there is since they have been keeping track of the defensive stat, but I feel like we've got a good player in Erick Aybar. Defensively, he's solid. Offensively he could do some stuff. He could steal a base, hit-and-run. He runs the bases well. So you feel pretty good there.

Q. How much do you expect out of Peterson, second year in the Big Leagues, showed you a lot of things at times but had a lot of peaks and valleys?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I expect him to be better, keep improving. We bring those young players up, whether it's Peterson last year, Simmons, whether Julio Teheran three years ago. They are not a finished product by any means. They still have to go through some ups and downs, like Peterson did. Had a great first half; second half, not as well as the first half. But that might just be learning. Might be just a little learning process.

Q. When it comes to everyday decisions, whether it's the pitcher rotation lineups, how do you weigh what's best for the team for 2016 versus what's best moving forward?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, again, it depends how we go into Spring Training, but you've got to try to win, and it's a balancing act. It's a balancing act because there's no guarantee 2017, not for myself, not for the coaching staff, not for the fans. They want to win now. And you know, you've got the whole picture and you see all these players, all these young, talented players that are coming up through the system. But when I make up that lineup at one o'clock or two o'clock in the afternoon, I want to win that night's ballgame. Now, I'm not saying that in a situation, a young player in the eighth inning that you may pinch hit for, you let him go ahead and hit in that situation, so he could get that at-bat.

Q. Is it tough on you to get that extension last year, and then you hear the talk about 2017 being the real big year when they are going to increase -- where does that leave you? Do you just worry about all you can worry about is next year?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I don't worry about that kind of stuff. I mean, you could have a ten-year deal and you still might not be able to go into the 2017. So I just worry about just getting through 2016 and put a good product on the field and try to win some more games.

Q. When you look at Folty, do you just plan on going to camp and having him stretch out and from there determine what kind of role he'll take?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Yes.

Q. He'll be in the same boat as everyone else, if Manny is healthy? Good reports on Manny?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Manny, good reports. Folty has not started playing catch, obviously. You go into Spring Training like we always have, maybe try to get -- at least early on get six or seven guys stretched out, because, as history has shown us, you think you have seven, and you end up with three.

Q. Do you look at Gordon Beckham as a backup, a utility guy?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, he can play second base. He can play shortstop a little bit. He can play third base. He can be a guy that can complement Peterson at times. He could be a guy that's a nice National League player. I talked to Greg Walker about Beckham a lot in the last couple years, and he told me this guy is a premier defender. We'll use him in that role and give Peterson some time off here or there and use him that way.

Q. Do you think that can help Jace to get a break, just once every three or four games or whatever against a certain pitcher?

FREDI GONZALEZ: There's no question. I think last year, some of Jace's second-half numbers were down because we played him a lot. We played him a lot. He has that experience. Now going forward, if he faces a tough matchup, that's the time you run in Beckham or whoever you want. I thought Castro came in last year and did a terrific job for us. Here is a guy who can play shortstop two weeks at a stretch, played great second base, puts the ball in play, you can hit-and-run with him. You can do an a lot. He's a smart baseball player.

Q. The Angels' defense over the years --

FREDI GONZALEZ: How much time do you have? My patented answer is is that the best play you've ever seen them make; and I say, no, the next one. And not only the great plays, but the instincts, the awareness. There's plays that they don't even come up with the highlights that he makes that stops the runner going for another base that you just your head and go, did we just see that. We've had the pleasure and privilege to watch him for three and a half years. We talk about it all the time, what a great defender he is; special, when you talk about him, he's special. You're going to call Bo and tell him, hey, I just saw him do that. The best cutoff the relay guy I've ever seen at shortstop, the best. He's got off-the-chart arm, arm strength. There's going to be third base coaches in the American League that haven't seen him that are going to make a mistake, because they are going to send a runner from third and they are going to throw him out at the plate. He will be out at shallow center or right center and he'll make the play at the plate.

Q. Did you have to shift --

FREDI GONZALEZ: We shifted a little bit, but sometimes we were in the wrong shift or we were in the right shift and the ball was hit to a different place and he would catch up. He would catch up. But he's a special, special player, special person. The fans in Anaheim are going to enjoy watching this guy play.

Q. What have you heard so far on Toscano? He's only played a couple games, but --

FREDI GONZALEZ: I have not heard.

Q. You went so long last season, I think 60 of the final 62 games you threw out a righty, had an all-righty rotation. Do you need Banuelos to be healthy and ready, or could we see another all-righty rotation?

FREDI GONZALEZ: For his sake, make sure he's healthy. It's always nice to have a little different feel to bring a left-hander in there or vice versa, dominated to one side. But for his sake and our sake, I would love to see Manny come to Spring Training healthy and compete. Hopefully with a full off-season off, he can come to Spring Training healthy and we'll see an improvement from Manny.

Q. How about Newcomb as a lefty?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Did -- Newc as a poss -- you know what? Where we are at, I'm open-minded. I know some of these guys are a little bit younger, but we're open-minded of bringing guys up. If they don't break camp with us, I'm sure we will see one of those guys during the course of the year.

Q. About 30 percent Latinos among the players; does it surprise you to be the only Latino manager?

FREDI GONZALEZ: A little bit. It surprises me a little bit. I think over 28 percent of the players in the Major Leagues are Hispanic, and I can't give you a reason why I was the only one. I can tell you that I was given an opportunity, not only once but twice now. You feel that there's a lot of great candidates out there in the Hispanic community and also in the minority community in general that should be given that opportunity to manage a Major League team. You have a lot of pitching coaches, you have a lot of hitting coaches and you have a lot of other coaches in the Major Leagues that are Hispanic or minorities. But I'm the only manager in the Big Leagues. Like I said, there is a lot of great, great candidates out there that are really qualified. I don't want to name them because I'm sure I'll miss somebody and I'll get a phone call, how come you didn't name me. Again, I got an opportunity. The Atlanta Braves, my team, we have six minority coaches, not counting myself, in my staff. Two of them have former Major League manager experience, Bo Porter, and you argue and sit here back and forth and give Bo some credit that he was in the beginning of the Houston Astros success. You've got Carlos Tosca, who manages the Blue Jays, and you look at his numbers, and he's been successful. And you've got Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez, Jose Castro, and we got one phone call from people outside the other 29 clubs for an interview. Bo got an opportunity to interview with the Florida Marlins, and good for them that they interviewed Bo. That's what -- and I'm going on a soapbox here, but that's not -- doesn't feel right. You've got qualified guys and you have other -- I'm sure there's tremendous, like I said, tremendous amount of coaches in the Big Leagues that deserve an opportunity like I did.

Q. It also seems like with the way the game is going with young general managers, often Ivy League educated, there's not a link to some of the minority candidates, so they might not get that opportunity either. The doors might be closed even more --

FREDI GONZALEZ: For general managers?

Q. For managers, because a lot of times these young Ivy League-educated mangers, general managers, the guys they are going to hire are guys they know, who have a background --

FREDI GONZALEZ: Right, and I can't answer to the hiring process of what other organizations do. But I think just a phone call, right, just a one-on-one interview with somebody that you may or may not know could be helpful for us, for the minorities and the Hispanics to get more opportunities to manage in the Major Leagues.

Q. Would you want to see them do something like the NFL has where they are required to interview a minority candidate?

FREDI GONZALEZ: We do. We have the Selig Rule. I read an article not too long ago about what the Commissioner said about let's get some entry level-guys and kind of cultivate that pipeline. If you look at the Minor League organizations, every Minor League organization, there's a lot of Hispanic and a lot of minority coaches in those lower levels. Like I mention, you look at any Major League staff, you see minorities and Hispanics in hitting and pitching coach positions; those are entry-level positions. We already are there in those positions. We just need to get an opportunity to sit one-on-one. You know, hopefully this interview airs and there's 29 other presidents and general managers and owners to say, hey, you know what, Freddie's right, he got an opportunity, twice now, and he's done a good job. There's been successful minority managers and successful Hispanic managers in the Big Leagues. You've got -- Ozzie Guillén comes to mind. He won a World Series. Dusty Baker. I'm glad he's back in our ranks. Dave Roberts, the Dodgers hired Dave Roberts. Felipe Alou. Rubén Amaro with the Phillies, (indiscernible) got an opportunity to run his own club. And, again, nobody bats a thousand, right? I'm just naming you four or five guys that are successful, and you could probably name me four or five guys that haven't been. Again, nobody bats a thousand. But, again, given an opportunity, I think the candidates out there will be impressive.

Q. Going back to your rotation, how important is it to have a guy, not specifically Norris, but a veteran in the rotation to lead those young guys?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Very, very important. We are really happy to have Bud because he's a guy that's done it before. He's a guy that can kind of lead those guys how to do it. It's funny because you say young guys, but Julio has been in the League for five years and Shelby has four-plus. They are maturing in that direction and being leaders, but it's important. And we've always had that one guy, until last year, we had Aaron Harang, we had Bud Norris, whether he's in the rotation or bullpen. Timmy Hudson two or three years ago; it's important to have that presence.

Q. Jonny Gomes?

FREDI GONZALEZ: I congratulated him and texted him on the World Series. We'll see who develops. Maybe somebody else picks up that flag or the microphone and carries it on.

Q. Nice to have A.J. back in that regard?

FREDI GONZALEZ: A.J., it's nice to have him. You know, last year, we talked about it, hitting .300 at age 38, shoot, we might be all retired and he'll still be catching. Got to give it up to him. He loves coming to the ballpark. He loves playing every day. He loves to compete. When we signed him, it was a good day for me personally.

Q. Could Swisher be the guy that picks up Gomes' baton?

FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, it could be Nick, it could be anybody. Freeman has been in the organization going on six years. He's a guy that could do that. There's a lot of candidates in there that can do that. We're still early on in the process of picking your team or molding your team. There is one thing that we did a nice job last year, John Hart and Coppolella and myself, is when we went out and got some people, character was a plus. We had to have those guys before, with everything being even, those two things was a big deal for us.