Winter Meetings interview with Bob Melvin

Winter Meetings interview with Bob Melvin

Q. What do you make so far of what this team has done during the off-season? Little bits and pieces so far, but what are your overall impressions of some of the moves that have been made?

BOB MELVIN: I think the fact that we're addressing the issues we had last year right away goes a long way in making everybody feel a little bit better. You look at numbers of the team last year, the one-run losses, how many close games we lost, and then you, as an organization, you sit down and try to figure out what went wrong, and I think our guys do as good a job as any. The areas that we're targeting right now are the ones we were a little bit deficient in, and I think we're off to a good start.

Q. I know a lot goes into why moves are made, but last year I think you turned over about half of your 40-man roster. When you come into the new year, do you worry about culture being changed? Can that be destabilizing any time? What do you do to remedy that, if so?

BOB MELVIN: You know what, we go upwards of 50 players every year, it seems like, so it's nothing new to us. Since I've been here, it's been -- and it's one of the things I say in the first meeting in Spring Training is just because you don't start here doesn't mean you might not be here at some point. It's the way we do things. Someone's doing well, whether they're on the roster or not, we have an area that we're having problems with, we're not afraid to make moves. So I think that, at least for the guys that have been around, for the most part, understand that, and for the most part, know that it's a clubhouse that we try to let guys be themselves and enjoy themselves. Therefore, I think you get acclimated that much quicker. But it's nothing new for us. We tend to churn the roster a little bit.

Q. Even with so many guys from outside the organization, there's not that much of a learning curve, I guess?

BOB MELVIN: No, especially with some of the veteran guys that have been around a little bit to move around. It's a pretty transient industry more and more, it seems like now. Once you get on the field and you start to produce, it's always nice for a new guy to have a good game. It just makes you feel like you're part of it that much quicker. But we as a staff, we try to keep the clubhouse pretty light and make them feel at home. So it's that much easier to perform on the field.

Q. Knowing how competitive you are and how much success you had initially, how difficult was it last year to go through that kind of season?

BOB MELVIN: It was really difficult. We'd been in the postseason three years in a row and felt like coming out of Spring Training, we had a great spring. We did have a lot of turnover, but it felt like everybody was on the same page, and we left spring with a lot of momentum. We won opening day at home for the first time in, what, 10 or 11 years and had a great turnout. Just really felt like a good start, and then we just couldn't sustain it. It seemed to kind of snowball on us a little bit. The one-run games wear on you, when you're losing a lot of close games, whether it was giving up runs late, whether it was being behind and coming back to within one run, it gets pretty frustrating as the season goes along. It was a tough year for everybody.

Q. You're confident this is a one-time thing?

BOB MELVIN: You know what, I'm very optimistic, and I know the guys we're bringing back, certainly some of the mainstays that have been here, whether it's the Sonny Grays or Sean Doolittles or Josh Reddicks, Coco. We're comfortable with those guys. And then adding around it, we've always been a pitching rich organization. We continue to profile, whether it's relievers or starters. Yeah, once we're all said and done with the roster, I know I'm going to be optimistic.

Q. Bob, understanding there might be physicals involved and such, what were your impressions just in general of Ryan Madson and the job he did last year with Kansas City, especially after having not pitched for three years?

BOB MELVIN: Right. One of the things we probably didn't have that some of the other bullpens had were hard throwers, guys that come in and miss bats, throwing 95, 96 miles an hour. We had a couple of guys, but it seems like most bullpens, every time that bullpen door opens up, someone is coming out of the bullpen throwing hard, so that was key. And to have a guy like that to persevere through tough times, is now back on top of his game, as well as he's really ever pitched before. He's been through the postseason. He's won a World Series. To be able to -- everything works out and get all the Is dotted and so forth. I know our guys are excited about it too, so that's a great addition for us.

Q. How do you feel about the makeup of the bullpen in general now? Do you see the need for maybe one more late inning guy? Where do you think it stands right now?

BOB MELVIN: I think we're looking at one more significant piece, and we're probably looking at maybe another starter or two, if we could potentially bring in another veteran guy, so the Gravemans and Bassitts and Hahns and those guys don't have as much pressure to pitch. Someone has to pitch in the No. 2 hole behind Sonny, who's very comfortable in the 1 spot. I don't think we're done, and we're always looking for pitching. You look at the injuries that we had last year on the pitching staff, and at one point in time, everybody we started with was down at some point in time. So when you feel like you have five starters, you really need to be seven or eight deep to feel confident going into the season.

Q. As the bullpens get deeper with the elite arms, the starting pitcher's responsibility seems to get shorter and shorter. And with more recognition with how the third time through the lineup theory, oftentimes, the hitters start jumping up, do you see yourself and others becoming more aggressive in maybe yanking that starter a little bit sooner, or do you think that's going to keep happening?

BOB MELVIN: It depends who the starter is. You've seen organizations -- Kansas City's done it, and they've been real successful with it, shortening the game. You have to have the guys to be able to do it. Their strength was their bullpen, where in the past maybe our starters are more our strength. I'm not going to pull Sonny Gray out of a game after six innings just because he's going through the lineup the third time, but the numbers would suggest that third time gets to be a little bit more dicey for a starter, and if you can have a deep bullpen, whether it's give a guy a little bit of a break, even a guy like Sonny Gray who's pitching a lot of innings, and know that you have the guys to be able to do it, I think it's prudent to look at that because the teams have had success doing it.

Q. Coco's kind of chronic neck injury, how much concern does that pose going into the season because of the inability to consistently stay on the field the last year or two?

BOB MELVIN: Right. When we talked when he left, he was really looking forward to resting up and trying to get himself healthy enough to where he could go out there on a semiregular basis. I know he wants to go out there on a regular basis, and last year, more so than any other year, injuries really popped up for him. And really toward the end, we couldn't even use him for more than maybe three or four innings of a game, where we'd pinch-hit him late and keep him in, but we weren't in a position where we could start him. So hopefully, he's getting a little bit healthier. He understands how to play with the neck issue. It was some of the other things that came up that kept him out of a starting role. He's shown, when he's healthy for us and he's playing pretty regularly, that the team responds to what he gives us. Hopefully, that's the case. But you have to have some support there in case he does need some rest or does get injured again.

Q. Going back to last year, did the difficult times sort of offer a learning opportunity? Did you learn anything about yourself and your managing style over the course of the year?

BOB MELVIN: I've had some tough years before as a manager. I've had good years. I've been around doing this for a little while. But I think more so because of the fact that we've had as much success the previous three years, that that was probably the toughest year that I've had. Did I learn anything? You know, you're always trying to get better as a manager. You're always trying to find ways to reach players a little bit differently to either motivate them or be a resource for them to get him better and make him feel more confident. So, yeah, I think every year you're looking to how you can reach players a little bit more. The roster you have is the roster you have. And for the most part, most rosters set up a certain way, and you make adjustments along the way, and we had to do that, especially in the bullpen last year. As a manager, I'm always trying to get better daily, if not every year.

Q. What's your understanding of everyone's health, among your starters, especially considering how many guys you had out at various different times last year. And somebody like Jarrod too.

BOB MELVIN: Right. We'll go easy on Jarrod. He hasn't pitched in a while. It was really encouraging to see, up until he had the issue with the bone, how he was coming along. My understanding was that didn't jeopardize the Tommy John surgery he had. So that's encouraging. But I think everybody's healthy as we could expect going along. It was nice to see Jesse Hahn get on a mound and throw a little bit toward the end of last year. Certainly, getting Chris Bassitt back in the rotation at the end for a few starts was key. As of right now, nothing's popped up to where we had a concern more so than we did when we left the season.

Q. Will Jarrod be stretched out as a starter?

BOB MELVIN: We're still debating that. He has starter stuff. So, yeah, I think coming into spring, we don't look at him as a reliever. I think we'd go the other way and look to start him, and if we had some issues there, whether he wasn't bouncing back as well, maybe look to do something different as far as the bullpen goes. But as we sit here right now, we're looking at him as a starter.

Q. It seemed like, by the end of last season, Mark Canha established himself as an everyday type guy. Given the roster now with Alonso, it seems like it might be a little bit tougher. Where do you see him given his playing time?

BOB MELVIN: If Alonso signs, his versatility will be key for him again in the outfield and at first base, maybe place him at first against left-handed pitching and then look to get him in the outfield. You look, he was a serious reverse split guy last year, where we had targeted him to be a guy that would be a weapon against left-handed pitching. Most of his production numbers came against right-handed pitching last year. He's certainly warranted what he accomplished last year in coming in and out of the lineup to put up the numbers that he did. It suggests we should expand the role for him this year now. We're not done with our roster configuration yet, but as we left, that's how we looked at him.

Q. You mentioned the desire to have a No. 2 guy to slot in after Sonny. What traits define a No. 2 starter to you?

BOB MELVIN: It's usually more of a veteran type guy, and maybe not even production guy, more taking the pressure off some of the younger guys. I mean, you potentially could put a veteran guy in the 2 hole even though you might get more production out of your 3 and 4 guys, but it's just kind of taking a little bit of the pressure off. We're looking at some veteran guys right now. Whether or not we'll be able to sign them, I'm not sure yet. If we're done as far as the starters go, I think we have enough guys to compete, but we're always looking to add guys. Because of the amount of younger guys we have, in particular, a veteran guy right now.

Q. Over your time in the game, how do you think the role of manager has changed?

BOB MELVIN: I think the manager's probably a little bit more involved with the players. I know, when I was a player, I was a little reluctant to go hang out with Sparky Anderson, even though he probably wouldn't have had a problem with that. I think a little bit more personable. You're seeing an influx of young players more so when I played; therefore, there's a little more teaching going in. You're in there teaching with some of the younger players now. I think to an extent nowadays, the current managers are maybe a little bit more approachable than years back.

Q. With Jed Lowrie coming back, how do you see things with your middle infield, especially the fact that Marcus did work so hard last year and looked like he was showing some improvement there toward the end of the season?

BOB MELVIN: He definitely did. His best work defensively was done later in the season. I was saying earlier too, you look at he's playing every day. He's struggling, and now he's asked to come out at 1:30 in the afternoon every day and work with Ron Washington, knowing that he has to play again that night. I don't know that I've been around a player that's worked as hard as he did and got better as the season went along. I think the offensive portion of it tailed off a little bit based on the fact he was working so hard on the defensive end. So we'll see how it all plays out. We've got a few more moves potentially before we comment on who's where, but I do like the versatility of the guys we have. Brett Lawrie showed he can play third and second. Jed's played everywhere in the infield. Valencia has played a little second and first too. Marcus has even been a guy that's played a lot of different positions, and Sogard can play. We have a lot of versatile guys. If potentially one of these guys do get traded, it will be the guy we can get the best haul for being that all of our guys are pretty versatile.

Q. What did you think of Liam Hendriks when you saw him last year?

BOB MELVIN: He was significantly different out of the bullpen than you saw in the rotation. When we saw him in -- I believe it was Minnesota in the rotation, it looked like a completely different guy. I know, speaking with him, he's really excited about getting a consistent chance to pitch. He's another one of those guys we're talking about that can miss some bats and throw in the mid-90s and makes the hitter a little bit more uncomfortable and start their bat a little earlier. So I know he's excited about being with us, and we're just as excited about it because we feel like we're creating some depth in the area that we need to retool a little bit.

Q. Some guys get so much of a boost when they move to the pen than others. Have you ever noticed anything that seems to predict that at all?

BOB MELVIN: Well, as a starter, to an extent, you're a little bit more pacing yourself because you have to throw --

Q. But some guys go to the pen and get three or four miles an hour, and some guys go to the pen and are about the same?

BOB MELVIN: Typically, they throw a little harder out of the bullpen just because they're not used as long. It might not be the case for everybody, but a guy like Drew Pomeranz for us last year, when he went to the bullpen, the velocity picked up a little bit. Pretty consistently, the guys pick up the velocity a little bit just based on the fact they're not out there as long and pacing themselves, so to speak.