Winter Meetings interview with Dusty Baker

Q. How do you feel about going possibly in the season with an inexperienced closer?
DUSTY BAKER: Well, the winter is not over yet, so you can't be fearful of something that still has a chance to fill that position. So, it would be different if we were in, you know, late February, you know, late January, early February.

And somebody always emerges. I believe that, that somebody will come forward. They will separate themselves from the pack. But in the meantime, we're still looking to fill that void.

Q. What else is important to you personally to see filled before you get to Spring Training?
DUSTY BAKER: I think some depth, you know, because we still haven't signed -- Tim didn't sign Stephen Drew. And our bench is so important. These guys -- you can't win without a good bench. Depth is important.

I would like to have some more speed. You would like to have some power arms in the back end of the bullpen, hopefully. And more than anything, you want, you know, good health from the people that are here. And I would like to see my guys -- I've been checking on them. I would like to see them come into Spring Training in even better shape than last year because my teams basically don't go on the DL very much and I think that's attributed to the kind of shape that they're in and where our finances and training staff trains them. This is one of the best fitness staffs that I've had, ever.

Q. Will you handle Stephen Strasburg any differently next year?
DUSTY BAKER: No, I thought we handled him pretty good this year. Just some things happened. We'll see how he is. If there's anything I'm curious about, it's about how he is going into Spring Training. We have to see how he is, first, before we assess how we'll handle him. I'm hoping that it's all subsided. He's in the process of still learning himself and learning his body. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself.

I get to see all those guys on Friday and tap 'em on the stomach and tap 'em on the butt to see -- they don't know what I'm doing, they think I'm saying hello, but I'm really checking for, you know, fat content (Laughter), to see how much eating they can continue to do over the holidays.

Q. How much time did you take to reflect on the season, think about just the way things went and things you wanted to change?
DUSTY BAKER: I didn't think about necessarily things I wanted to change. You want to change the outcome of some things. I took a week before I went home, and I reflected mostly while I was packing, you know, to go home.

Then when I went home, I was watching the rest of the playoffs and the World Series, and I was ready to go home because I hadn't been home in eight months. That's a long time. I was ready to go home but not yet, because we had some things that I still wanted to do. I wasn't ready to go home, baseball-wise. I was ready to go home for home and that's understandable, I think.

I've enjoyed my time here. This is probably one of the best stops I've had outside of San Francisco, which is home. I really like D.C., I like the surrounding area, I like the people here, I like the educational level here. I liked everything about here, other than sometimes it rained a little too much, the rain delays. But other than that, it was great.

I had plenty of time while I was packing to -- and I pack by myself, usually I have somebody come and help me pack but I wanted to take my time, think about things, go to the stadium and just hoping this year's outcome will be different.

Q. You talked about the need for better hitting with runners in scoring position. Is that the kind of thing that can be taught to those you already have or something that needs to come from the outside from somebody new?
DUSTY BAKER: No, it can be taught. I think anything can be taught if you trust the source it's coming from and if you listen and then apply it.

Almost everybody was taught something at some point in time in their careers. We didn't originate anything, thought process, how to do, there is no how to do book in baseball. These things are passed down to somebody that you trust their knowledge and judgment.

So the game is very simple. He who touches home plate the most wins. And everybody hollers with on-base percentage, but you've got to have clutch men to drive in the guys once they get on base.

It's in the process. You can't do everything in just one year. So this year I think we will be better, better with our staff, be better with the team. They know me, I know them, you know, like I had heard about certain guys, they had heard about me from other guys, but now we know each other. I think being familiar with each other will translate into even better performance.

Q. Are you a believer that you need to do things differently in the postseason than a team that earns its way to the postseason does in the regular season? In other words, there has been three disappointments here of not getting through the first round. How much of that is the idea that you're good but you also need a little luck, too?
DUSTY BAKER: Yeah. Oh, yeah, you definitely need some luck, but it depends on your health, depends on your personnel, who's out there. Injuries are one of the keys in the game but what's more important is who is injured when you get in that situation or who's hot. Baseball is a game of ones, we're one hit away, one pitch away, one call away from the umpire.

I remember watching the Nationals a few years ago and they were one pitch away when Storen had the people standing on their feet going crazy because if he had punched out Molina and he kept fouling off pitches, they might have gone to the World Series that year. We were one hit away or sacrifice fly from going this year. We did everything that we could do except get one more.

So I don't see the need to change. We won 95 games and we had three or four guys with years that weren't indicative of them, you know? Quite honestly, I wanted to win 100 games. I won 103 games my first year and I remember telling La Russa that's what I wanted to do this year. And I didn't tell you guys that because you would have written this guy is crazy already, remember I came in with a bang the way it was at this press conference last year (Laughter).

It was a situation of I remember La Russa telling me, You don't know what you've done.

And I said, No. What did I do?

And he said, You won 100 games.

And I was like, So? Why can't I do that every year? Nineteen years later, still haven't done it but I got quite a few 90s in there.

Q. As you watched the playoffs and saw how the Dodgers used Jansen, what did you think about how Francona and those guys used their closers?
DUSTY BAKER: I like how they had the resiliency to do that. It's a case-by-case sorta situation. I was a bit fearful because I still get credit for Wood and Prior, and even though that wasn't the case. And I didn't know about Mark Prior's injury until we got to Spring Training. I was the most shocked man in the whole world. I was kinda -- not kinda but I was taking care of them then. You won't know the outcome until Spring Training or into next year because you're risking injury, so which one is it? Which one is correct? Is it you put -- do you take that big of a risk now and sacrifice the future maybe or, you know, what is the answer?

It's the same way Lincecum and Cain and those guys, they won a bunch of World Series and stuff but those guys sacrificed something in maybe their careers. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Q. You did use Melancon in two innings in Game 5. He was capable of that. Were you in the hunt for Melancon since against the Giants?
DUSTY BAKER: Yes.

Q. What was your input?
DUSTY BAKER: I got input, but I'm not putting in money and that's what real input it, you know what I mean? My input was such that we all wanted Melancon, you know, but we don't have the budget or the packed stadium for 800 games in a row like the Giants do. They have more resources than we do. We got a lower budget and everybody has a budget. If we would have spent that on Melancon, we wouldn't have been able to spend anything on anybody else. But you've got to do what you can do inside the budget. If I had really input, I would have probably spent another $200 million. That's like my son that plays his video games and they won't accept his roster because it's like, $400 million.

Q. Wilson Ramos is coming down to Tampa, what kind of guy is he?
DUSTY BAKER: He's a heck of a guy, he's buffalo. I hated to lose him, but business is business. I didn't know he signed with Tampa, because I haven't kept up the last couple days but you're going to love him. He's a guy that was turning a corner in his career and one of the saddest days I had in my career and definitely last year is when he -- when we had to carry him off the field and I knew he was hurt and wasn't going to be able to play in the playoffs and wasn't going to be able to cash in on the great year that he was having at that time.

I spent a lot of time with the Cheyenne and Tatanka and the buffalo is one of their sacred spirits. And they adopted Big Ramos and they brought him some artifacts and different things when we went to Colorado and that meant a lot to me to see them accept him in that fashion, because I'm an honoree Cheyenne and now he is, too.

Q. He was a great hitter?
DUSTY BAKER: He has learned how to hit. He was my two-out, RBI clutch base hit to right field and that guy is slowly leaving the game. There are home run hitters, there are guys that do this and that, but that two-out, RBI single that you need, you know, to win the game, he's learned how to do that, he's learned how to get the sacrifice fly, he's learned how to drive in runs. I'm wishing him nothing but the best.

Q. How much thought have you given to the idea of using your top reliever in a nontraditional role particularly if you don't have an established closer?
DUSTY BAKER: Man, I haven't thought about it at all. I've been thinking about, you know, enjoying myself at home. I can't think baseball 24 hours a day, 12 months a year. I need a break. You know what I mean?

We all need a break from whatever we're doing. I mean, I think about some things, but I don't just dwell on -- the one thing I learned about having cancer and having a stroke and being out of the game is that there's more -- I know baseball is our life, it's been mine for a long time but there is more to life than just baseball, you know? As a matter of fact, when I get home, I'm going duck hunting. So it's like -- we'll see, depending on the personnel, you do what you do according to the personnel. We haven't decided on the personnel yet and I will let you know.

Q. You talked about budget with regard to Melancon and the closer position. When a manager has a relationship with one or more of the options out there like you have history with Chapman, how does that factor into the equation as the team goes forward?
DUSTY BAKER: It factors into it. I don't know if we have a person or not. I asked and I didn't get a definitive answer, so I assumed we hadn't done it. But as important as relationships are, I've just learned that most of the time the salary supersedes the relationship.

Q. What did you see from Ryan Zimmerman last season that gives you the confidence that he can return to the form he's had in the past?
DUSTY BAKER: Number one, he's healthy. He started out Spring Training and I had to program him because of his foot. I had to kind of bring him along slowly to make sure he started the season healthy. I think the fact that he is starting the season healthy, the fact that this guy is a quality guy, team leader. He didn't like the year he had. I got four or five guys that didn't like the year they had, probably.

You know, you look on the back of your bubble gum card, we all have years that we wish we could erase from our bubble gum card but it's there. I think he's going to have a big year, plus we need him to have that. Again, you know, we'll see. He started working out early, you know.

Jayson Werth started working out early. I'm urging all my guys to. The guys that got a taste of it, they don't like the way that season ended and the old guys here don't like how the season ended. I think our job is going to be tougher. When I look around, Atlanta is vastly improved. The Phillies are another year older. The Mets might get to pinch that back together. Miami is already a good team. I think we've got the toughest division around.

Q. You said that everybody needs a break and things of that nature, but when you got this job in the offseason last year and you talked about how much you wanted to get back into it, how much because of how it ended last year are you rejuvenated even more to do this and how long do you want to manage?
DUSTY BAKER: I don't know. Tell you the truth. The way I look at it, between my family, my hunger, between, you know, the prayers that I send up looking for answers and looking for clues, it will come to me, you know? Some of it's in your control and some of it's out of your control. If it was in my control, I wouldn't have been out two years in the first place but you can't hire yourself.

There is such a thing in this world, you know, people put too much credence on age. A lot of my friends are musicians and most of them have young musicians tutoring under them. Instead of the young musicians trying to get them out of there, they trying to hang with them and learn some chords from them while they're still on this earth and get some knowledge from them.

Baseball has gone the other way, sorta with the old ones to get out. But I always thought of having a grand council of baseball knowledge when I was starting to coach with Al Rosen and Spec Richardson and Frank Robinson, these guys that still love baseball and have a lot to offer. If they're all young who is teaching who? You know what I mean? And if they're all old, who is learning from whom?

Therefore, we need both age and wisdom and knowledge and we need youth and energy.

Q. Is Bryce Harper moving to center field a real possibility or would you guys rather not have the wear and tear?
DUSTY BAKER: I don't know, we haven't discussed it, really. Bryce can play it. At this point I would rather him not, just speaking honestly. That's a lot of wear and tear. You kinda got to have a wide receiver-type runner in center field. You know, wide receivers, they love to run. They just run, run, run and run. You gotta have a guy that just loves to run like, ala Gary Maddox, you look at Devon White. These guys, they run without any effort. I would just assume him stay out there and hit and throw people out.

Q. Question about Lopez. What are your expectations of him, and will he be a factor as a starter in the rotation?
DUSTY BAKER: We will have to see. We will have to see how that shakes out. He's come a long ways in a short period of time which lets you know his desire and his ability to learn and to be taught and then apply it upon command. The fact that the adjustments that he made in such a short period of time and a couple years ago this guy was a catcher and here he is now talking about him as one of our top, young pitchers which a lot of people have asked for in trades and stuff. And we're trying to keep him out of that and that shows you how we feel about him.

So, yeah, he's in our plans. We're not sure if it's starter or reliever. You ask him, he'll take whatever role we give him, he'll take that $500,000 minimum salary versus whatever he's going to make in the Minor Leagues, know when I mean? I'm sure he's happy in whatever spot we put him in for now.

Q. You saw McCutchen during his peak years and a few times last year. Did you have any impressions of him last year, did he seem like he had lost something especially in center field?
DUSTY BAKER: I saw a guy that might have been injured but not hurt enough not to play. That's what I saw. I couldn't figure out how we were throwing fastballs by him because you don't throw fastballs by him. He's a hands hitter, I think something might have been wrong with his hands, personally, from a guy who has had hand injuries.

No, I mean, he didn't gain weight, he hasn't lost any desire, he's only 30 years old. In modern baseball there is no such thing as a down year now. People don't tolerate -- they equate money to always doing good and it's not like that. So sometimes everything you hit is a hit and sometimes you have years where everything you hit is caught. So I just like to think he had a down year.

Q. If it wasn't an injury to the hands that would affect the hitting, as far as the defensive piece did you see anything differently out there for him?
DUSTY BAKER: Not really. I saw some stuff on ESPN, I think, because he didn't mess up a ball on us. But I saw some things on ESPN, but you don't know if it was lost in the crowd or if it was -- when you're used to a guy catching everything then you're used to it and you start asking, what's wrong? I don't know if his legs are hurt, I don't know, because we're not like football where you don't have to disclose an injury or what's wrong, we hide ours, football discloses it.

Q. Y'all hide yours?
DUSTY BAKER: Yeah. I don't want you to know -- you guys ask me, I ain't telling ya. (Chuckles.)

Q. At this point there was a lot of talk about Chris Sale and you weren't able to land him.
DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, I was disappointed, you're always disappointed but how long does disappointment last? I was disappointed because I had heard great reports on him. I just thought about the possibility of, you know, boy, having a monster staff, but after disappointment then you've gotta figure out Plan B and C. And how long can you be disappointed, you know? Because you can't bring it back. So we'll see.

Q. You've seen how Trea Turner can play a lot of different positions. At this stage in a guy's career is it important that he's solidified at one or is that versatility --
DUSTY BAKER: No, I'd like to, I'm sure he would like to, but, again, it beats where he came from. Would he rather in his brief career be here and doing this or be in Triple A doing that? You know, we're going to decide on where he's going to play and a lot of it depends on, you know, who we pick up or what we do or whatever and that's going to have a lot to say with where he ends up.