Winter Meetings interview with Don Mattingly

Q. Don, can you tell us about retraining the core, what do you expect a year together and your second year with these guys?
DON MATTINGLY: I think I will go back to the beginning, coming to Miami. One of the things that made this club so intriguing was that core group of young players that you felt like we could afford to keep together for a few years. That window doesn't get to be five or six, it's always a few years. We possibly can't keep doing that.

But with that intrigue is the fact that with a young core like that you should be able to allow your minor league system to grow up and hopefully get to a point where you can continue to replace and replenish without going outside and search. It's one of the big things about this core group. We love the talent, we love who the people are and we feel like these guys dare and want to get better.

We hope that last year's experience of, you know, walking through a pennant race, going through that, we weren't able to sustain. I was talking about it just a few minutes ago.

After the first road trip of the second half, we were nine games over, if we just played 500 baseball the rest of the way we get a shot to be in the party. We weren't able to sustain that, whatever the reasons were, injuries, mentally wearing down. We just weren't that club the second half.

But I also have watched Kansas City, who ends up winning a world championship, watched Cleveland and those young guys growing up and be in the same situation where a couple of years ago Kansas City stayed in the race, stayed in the race and then faded. Cleveland the same way for a couple of years, stay in the race, stay in the race and fade. You hope that experience helps you as you move into the next season. And if we can add pieces and create depth then we have a better chance of sustaining and being ready for that final push.

Q. You feel you're close?
DON MATTINGLY: In my mind, yes. Close. What happens to us -- things are going to have to still fall our way. We need to be able to stay healthy. That's why we as we sit in our rooms and talk over the winter, you talk about trying to create depth in your system, trying to create depth with your players so you can sustain injuries. And that's one of the things that we worry about.

Obviously I think without having to wait for a question, the loss of Jose puts us in a different spot because we've lost one of the best pitchers in the game and we're not going to be able to replace that.

Along with that we have to be creative in the sense of creating a better pen that can shorten games and things like that. That's easier said than done because if you start thinking about trying to throwing that many innings over 162, playoffs are different because you can do it for short bursts because you have off days and things like that. But 162 puts in you a different situation.

So you have to create your pen in a way that you have multiple inning guys out there, guys that bounce back, have some flexibility with options that you can replenish your bullpen through the course of the season and keep it strong and healthy. Those are the challenges that we have to move to the next step.

Q. With Jose's loss, mentally what do you think those guys that are so tight with him and he pulled a lot of guys even closer, how do you think mentally the team will handle that?
DON MATTINGLY: I think we'll handle that fine. I obviously don't know, we each individually deal with the situation in our own way. I think the strength at the end of the season with what happened, these guys did bond together even more than we've seen in the past and it's a group that we felt like got along and were after the right things.

That seemed to make it even closer, but I don't think we can count on that to move us forward. I think we're going to have to go out and perform and do the things you have to do to win games.

Q. More so this year than last year, you're more involved in the decisions upstairs, we heard. Can you talk about that more, what's been your involvement?
DON MATTINGLY: I think another great thing about coming to Miami has been wanting your input, myself and Tim Wallach. Tim is here also. You get a chance to have input and also have a chance to -- we know our guys as far as scouts and people that work in the front office and in our minor league system, how do we mold all of us together. That's really the -- when I envisioned coming in is not only a really good Major League team but building a group of people that you love working with that we're talking about our minor league system, how we want our guys to grow up, how to play the game and what we are expecting at the minor league levels. It allows us all to be on the same page.

I think as much as anything it's better communication and knowing guys better that we can all express our opinions and be able to talk in a way that's circular. It's not about the guys on the minor league side or development is one thing, it's not about Michael Hill and guys up here. For us it has to be one fluid organization, where we know we're counting on Marc Delpiano to build our system along with a lot of good people.

Those are the things that we are able to talk about and be able to have input back and forth in those situations.

Q. You managed both Jansen and A.J. Ellis. Have you made any recruiting calls at all?
DON MATTINGLY: I've spoken with both guys, but from there that's all it is, just -- I'm kind of out of the Michael Hill level of talks, because those talks are in a different spot. But I think as we identify in our meetings what's important to us with those roles, if you're talking about an A.J. Ellis or anyone else that's in that role it's a back-up role to J.T. It's there as a support for J.T., it's about buying into our system of how we're trying to prepare to win games.

We've talked about that role, tried to identify a number of guys that we think fit into that role. A.J. is one of those guys. Now, does it work out for us? Not sure, because of our budget restraints, where we are at with that, it's kind of between Michael -- but we talk about those things.

The same with Kenley, obviously a whole different level of, you know, financials there. So that's definitely above what I do, but I have had contact with those guys and just to make sure -- see if they have any interest because some guys may say, I don't want to play in Miami, I want to stay on the West Coast. So you would like to find a level of interest so you're not wasting your time talking about guys that really don't want to play in Miami and we want guys that want to be there.

Q. Did you try to sell them on the program or the team?
DON MATTINGLY: No, not trying to sell 'em. These guys -- players pay attention. They know we got a good, young club. There aren't too many people you talk to in baseball, they know we have a good club and we're close with that core group of players that we have a chance to be a really good club. So you don't have to sell them on that.

I think you're hoping the guys that you know with A.J. or Kenley, they understand what you do and so you know them, there is a comfort level there with that from that respect.

Q. What do you attribute Fernando Rodney's struggles to last year?
DON MATTINGLY: I wish I could answer that. Obviously his first half was over the top and he wasn't as good with us. There were times that he was good. Fernando was a great guy in the clubhouse, we had no issues with Fernando, it just didn't work out very well as far as the performance. Trying to figure that out is always tough with relievers, year-to-year or weeks to weeks, first half, second half, usage, age, all the different factors in there. But for me to answer I would be really guessing.

Q. Last September, when you were on the brink of going into last month of the season, I remember talking with you and you said you were going to find out what the club was made of because at that point you were right there. What did you see happening in the last month that contributed to how you finished?
DON MATTINGLY: I think part of it was, again, without making any excuses, going into that month we had lost Adam Conley, we had lost Wei Chen, Giancarlo was not there. Justin Bour was coming back but after almost a couple of months off.

So we did have factors that I think weighed into what was going on. We had to weaken our bullpen by trying to put Phelps in the rotation for a period. So I don't know if we got mentally worn down from playing the important games every day but I look at that as it's part of our process.

When you go into '17, you're hoping that' 16 was a lot of lessons learned. From my standpoint as a player, there are things you go through and sometimes you're so close to it you don't learn your lessons in it while you're in it. But when you go to the off-season and you're able to step back and evaluate your season and you're finally not on the road at the ballpark every day, every day, you start to realize, Hey, I could have did this differently, I should have been here, I got excited here. We still had a long season, we let ourselves get down and there was still plenty of baseball to be played, understanding the length of the season and things like that.

So, again, I'm not sure I would know exactly what happened, but I think we hope that our guys learned a lot of lessons from last season and can we grow from that and go forward. We think we can just because of the character of our guys. But, again, it's going to remain to be seen. We like the character of our players and feel like they have confidence in themselves and we have a chance to move forward.

Q. You said you felt out Kenley's level of interest in your team. How would you describe that interest?
DON MATTINGLY: I don't want to talk about a conversation with Kenley as far as what he feels, but I think the main thing I could say is that he wasn't opposed. He didn't tell me, I'm absolutely going back to the West Coast or I absolutely don't want to play in South Florida. So basically he was open to the idea.

Obviously he's a free agent, he's going to hear from a lot of people and he gets to assess his situation of what he wants to do. My call was to let him know we've talked about him, there was legitimate interest and we just wanted to make sure that he had interest. If there was zero interest then we can go with another plan or whatever that would be and the same with anybody that I've talked to in those regards.

Q. What does he give you? What do you see in him as a closer?
DON MATTINGLY: With Kenley, we're just talking hypotheticals, he's a guy that is just a young, strong guy. This guy, he posts, you get him in the postseason, if you look at his postseason numbers, this guy is incredible. He's a guy that's durable, he's really a guy without a lot of innings on him. If you look at Kenley, he caught until he started pitching so the number of innings that you see on his arm are really the number of innings that he's pitched at the Major League level because he had a short minor league stint.

He's a guy that has shown he's capable of going one plus. Seeing what Dave did with him in the playoffs, able to stretch him out, give him a day off and he's right back out there. He's a guy that showed durability, bounce-back and able to handle any situation.

Q. How do you think Pags will help the offense?
DON MATTINGLY: Pags is a guy that we know is going to be ready. As soon as we made the hire, he's been working since. Watching video on our guys, studying them, assessing that season, start to go make contact with guys. I think he's going to be a guy that's prepared, that will be there from sunup to sundown. He's going to be a grinder with us all year long and guys are going to know that he's going to be in the Fox hole with them. He's going to bring a mentality to our club that we want.

Q. What was your relationship like with him on the Yankees teams in the '80s?
DON MATTINGLY: We were friends and you love playing across the diamond with him and he's a gamer. Obviously he moved on to Minnesota and a lot of different places but over the years continued to have a relationship with him.

When he was doing his scouting service business, we would check in with him. If I had a pitcher, when I was doing the hitting job, if there were guys that I didn't have any information on, I could call him to get information on them, and things like that.

It's a good relationship as far as personal, but that's not why you hire a guy. I know in this business you would like to be comfortable with who you're working with but you really want to hire someone that you think is going to help your club. And you can't be doing the buddy thing if they're not going to be able to produce for you. So we are going to need him to do a great job for us and we think he will.

Q. Last year you had Yeli in center. Was what your plan to keep him out there and Ozuna at left?
DON MATTINGLY: I will talk about Yeli for sure. We talked about him in center. We liked what we've seen with his first step out there, the routes that he took. With our outfield as big as it is, we think that he's got closing speed, that long speed, he's not a quick-quick burst guy out of the box but he is a long speed guy, kind of a -- I will probably mess up the first name, but a Maddox who was with Philadelphia in the '80s. This guy covered ground. He's a long strider. We've got a big outfield and we feel like he fits best there in center field.

Q. Who is in left and right?
DON MATTINGLY: We still talked about that. Obviously right now Giancarlo is a guy that's been comfortable in right. Marcell is a guy that's showed he can play left, center or right. We are digging into the metrics of Giancarlo and Marcell but we look at Giancarlo in right field and Marcell in left.

Q. Move Chi to left essentially?
DON MATTINGLY: We want to put the best club on the field and what's best for each guy and how are we the best team. We are just getting up to speed, I think, with the analytics within our organization. It's grown with Jason Pare, he gives us another dimension of you're trying to position and we're trying to put the right people in the right spots and make sure metrically we are paying attention. With the analytics, there's so much information. We do want to be able to evaluate our guys and that's part of it.

Q. You mentioned having Jason, you were excited having him for a full off-season. What's it been like having him involved in the process this time around?
DON MATTINGLY: It's been great. Jason came on before Spring Training last year and we were hitting him up and I think he was swimming a little bit, what we were asking for and now he's been able to hire people in his department. He's been able to create what he wants. He's a lot more comfortable and he's a bigger part of the process as far as us evaluating players and being looking at players to try to acquire, to trade, any of that stuff, Jason is a part of that. Us trying to get a good analytical look at guys, Jason has been a huge part of that and doing a great job.

Q. You may be pleasantly surprised with your team playing on the free agency with high-end teams like the Yankees?
DON MATTINGLY: You don't complain about anything we want to do, obviously about acquiring players and bringing guys in. From my standpoint we talk about who is the best players, who is the best fit for our team, how do we go about doing that, can we sustain our team. Can we sustain this team now?

We want to be good in '17, '18 and '19 and what we think our core group of guys has enabled us to do is still build that team with a young core group of players. How we go from there, where the payroll goes is kind of out of our hands.

So we do the best we can, make the best decisions on the players and you feel obviously good that we're at least here talking about things and trying to do some things.

Q. When it comes to guys playing or potentially playing in the WBC, do they run that by you or give you a heads up?
DON MATTINGLY: We've got guys, I know Christian is going to play, he wanted to play. I think the tone of the WBC has really changed within the players. Before it was kind of like, oh, you're not ready. It seems like guys really want to play.

I know Realmuto was another guy who was considered, I don't know if they're there or not or making a decision, but he's another guy that wanted to play, that wants to be a part of it.

I think your biggest concern as a manager is they're not getting at-bats. If Christian is there sitting on the bench for two weeks and not getting ABs, he's not ready for the season. So you would like to know that your guys are going to continue to get playing time and be preparing for the season as well. But I definitely think the tone of guys -- the feeling you get is guys want to be a part of it. That's exciting and obviously I think the last WBC I probably watched more closely, it was just really exciting to see it and see it evolve and grow and help grow our game. I think it's been interesting. It's gotten better and better and more and more interest from fans, media, and players as well.

Q. Do you have a preference with Phelps, keep him in the back end or rotation?
DON MATTINGLY: We feel like he can affect more games out of the pen. He gives us -- I don't want to say poor man's, but an Andrew Miller type. He's a guy that can close a game out for you, he can pitch in the eighth, multiple innings. When we put him in the rotation, he was able to give quality innings there. With the way we are, with the loss of Jose and where our rotation is and where we're at, we feel like David is going to best serve us out of the pen. That could still change, injuries, anything that happens. But his flexibility and durability, what he was able to show last year, we thought was best suited for us in the pen.

Q. Obviously we saw in the playoffs the role of the bullpens and the fact that you don't necessarily have that established rotation of guys that you're managing. How do you look at that challenge?
DON MATTINGLY: That's a challenge and I think Tito said it best because everybody gets excited that you're using your closer for three innings and all this other stuff. And Tito was almost like, Don't get too excited because you can't do this for 162.

That being said, the way our rotation looks, we want to build our bullpen with that in mind to be able to have flexibility up there and that's where we will talk about having a number of guys that can throw multiple innings, making sure we have a number of optional guys that we can move back and forth. We feel like our bull pen is one of our strengths.

Our depth, when you start talking about getting into our minor league system with an Austin Brice and Ellington, just a number of guys that we think are really good bull pen arms. Just a number of power arms and guys that can fit into that role is probably our strength. So we want to be flexible so we're not wearing out Phelps, Barraclough, A.J., whoever those guys are. If they don't need to pitch then we need to protect them with other guys. And we've got to be able to go sometimes from the fifth to the seventh and we're going to have to have bridge guys.

So I think you build your bullpen in a way that you can handle all that. And that's not as easy as it sounds because you start asking four or five innings out of your pen every night, a strength to start off with ends up being basically tired and you wear 'em down.

Q. How do you see Ichiro?
DON MATTINGLY: Ichiro I think we look at it as the same role. He was really, really good for us. He's a guy that had a good year offensively. Defensively he gives us protection in three spots in the outfield. He was a good pinch-hitter off the bench, still hitting left-handers better than right so he gives you options with that left-handed pitcher out of the pen. You're not afraid to bring him in if they go left-handed. You're almost saying "thank you". So we will plan on using him the same way.

We felt like our usage with him was better last year, he didn't play as many games. We don't think he is capable -- I shouldn't say capable, that's not a good word for him, but we don't think he's a guy that's out there five or six days a week. We think in a pinch-hit role, he's in a play once or twice a week role, and that's the best way to use him.

Q. What impact did it have with Gordon being out those 80 games? I know Dietrich came in and played overall good at second and what did you see from Dietrich when he came back?
DON MATTINGLY: He gives you a different dimension. Talking about Dietrich, he gives you an on-base kind of metrically player that you like. He gets on base, he walks, he gets hits, he's got a little bit of pop, little power in there, too. So he did a really good job.

We think he got worn down, too, maybe he's best suited playing five days a week instead of seven. Like an every day, every day, every day type of guy.

I thought D, we sustained his loss pretty well with Derek because he was good during that period. And I thought D kind of forced the issue a little bit when he came back, tried to prove to us that he was going to be that same player. I think D, as the season went on, you could see him relax and become himself again. And I think that's what we will ask of D, to just get back to being himself and doing his thing. He doesn't have to carry anybody, doesn't have to do anything special, just be himself.

Q. (No microphone.)
DON MATTINGLY: I know he's traveling a lot, see him everywhere.

Q. Keep up on Instagram?
DON MATTINGLY: Not all the time, but I've noticed a few.

Q. To get him to be what he can be, what do you think you need to do?
DON MATTINGLY: With Big G it's a matter of couple of things. Keeping him on the field, his durability, he's had weird-type injuries, but consistency.

I think last year the one month in there was just a month that seemed like got totally lost and hopefully we can gain more consistency. I think he's a better hitter than what he showed. He still hits 27, you know, one of our top RBI guys without the games played.

But I think there is a better hitter in there with a more consistent approach and what he's doing. I think he should be closer to a .270, .280, less strikeouts and just a tougher out on a daily basis. I think there is more there than what we seen last year. It was just a tough year for him once that injury turned into a -- that was a tough injury for him.

Q. Do you still see a 3-4 with Yelich 3 and G at 4?
DON MATTINGLY: I still like Yelich 3, and I think I talked about it last year, you want to give him a chance to drive in runs by hitting a single. And the emergence of the power with Yeli, hits 20 homers last year, either 98 or 99 RBIs. He's a guy that can drive a run in with a guy on first. So he's turned into an RBI guy, kind of forced in the middle of the line-up. And we still think there is ceiling, there's more to go with Yeli. He just clicked 20, I think there is 30 in there. I don't want to put that pressure on him but I think it's there and I think it's there without having to try to hit him. I think it comes naturally out of his swing and his body as it keeps continuing to get stronger. This kid can really, really hit. So for me he stays in the three-hole.

Q. You saw with Washington last year, Wilson Ramos a lot. How good is he when he's healthy?
DON MATTINGLY: He was really, really good last year, he was a tough out, righties or lefties, he was a tough out. Obviously that was an unfortunate injury for him and I don't know how that bounces back or what the team is trying to do with him but a really good player.

Q. (Inaudible) Japanese pitcher on the market right now?
DON MATTINGLY: Are you talking about --

Q. (No microphone.)
DON MATTINGLY: He's a guy that's been in discussions for us. Along with Tazawa, he's another guy that we identified that we like. It just depends which route we go and what happens. But we've definitely looked at those two guys and they're a part of at least our discussions of how we're trying to build a pen with some not only flexibility, some different styles. We got a lot of power guys, a lot of power young guys where you're trying to find guys that can do some things differently and gives us a little bit of a different look when they come in.

Q. Ozuna was in the All-Star game and has been part of trade speculation. What do you see him and his impact on the club?
DON MATTINGLY: I love Marcell, he plays with a smile on his face and I love that because he comes every day ready to play. A guy that's, you know, excited about playing every day. Whatever we ask, he's wanted to do. I thought Marcell took a step forward in the first half. Second half, for whatever reasons weren't the same.

But we think there's another guy there that's capable of putting those two halves together. With him it's just the growth of pitch selection, what are we swinging at, what are we thinking about up there at the plate offensively. Defensively he was really good. I love Marcell. I think he's a guy -- we gotta score runs. We were one of the last teams in the league in scoring runs. You don't win if you can't score and we've got to be able to score and I think he's a part of that.

Q. Do you think part of that was not having Bour around him?
DON MATTINGLY: No question, but I think we led the league in singles and last in doubles. So we're a club that really has to give -- you hate to say outs, but more productive outs. You've got to be able to move runners, get a guy in from third base, lots of little things that we weren't very good at that are all about scoring runs, base running. There's all kinds of factors that go into that, but all those things for me and for our organization are free.

It's about our prep, our mindset, all those things are free. They don't cost you anything. To be better prepared, to be able to have that mindset that I'm going to move this runner, things like that so that's where we have to get better.