Winter Meetings interview with Joe Maddon

Q.  Joe, what's it like every year coming in here and not ‑‑ I mean, you get attached to some of these players, and every year they seem to be in play.  You're just kind of in limbo really.

JOE MADDON:  You know, we just ‑‑ that's who we are.  I'm very used to that.  It doesn't bother me at all.  Edger and I had a lot of conversations prior to this event, and even during the course of the season, middle of the season, three‑quarters of the season, we talk about what may occur that off‑season and into the next year.

Honestly, it doesn't bother me.  It bothers me to lose people, I mean, personality‑wise, friendship‑wise, good players, guys that fit in well, obviously, that's never good.  But knowing the way we have to operate upped the circumstances we operate and who we are, it's just the way this thing happens.

So I don't ‑‑ you guys know.  I don't get all worked up about that.  Again, we talk about Andrew, they're sitting upstairs right now, the guys.  They do a great job formulating plans B, C, and D, and that's what we're doing right now.

 

Q.  And your players get pretty tough‑skinned about this too, don't they?

JOE MADDON:  Yeah, I guess so.  You know, like obviously B.J. has come out in a good way.  Carl came out in a good way a couple years ago, and even Longoria came out in a good way this year too.

So I'm really happy for me ‑‑ when our guys do well ‑‑ of course, I'd rather they be here and stay here, but if they have to go somewhere else to do well for them and their families, that also makes me feel really good.  Watching the saga unfold with B.J. this off‑season, I was watching it really closely.  Again, I'm really happy for the guy, but we'd just like to be able to think, if it were possible under the right circumstances, to keep all these guys for many years and what that would feel like too, but we know that's not the reality here.

 

Q.  Joe, what do you make of ‑‑ obviously, there's a lot still to come, but the pieces that you have, one you're maybe getting, you kept Ryan Roberts, things like that.  What do you make of the pieces you have at this point?

JOE MADDON:  I like the pieces that we have.  You talk about the catchers, Lobaton and J. Mo and talk about Ryan and Zobrist.  Lobaton being on board, of course.  Jennings, Fuld, Mattie Joyce ‑‑ I'm probably forgetting some guys here.  Rodriguez, et cetera.  It's a great group.  It's a great core group, and it's a group that's won a lot of games over the last several years.  90‑plus wins the last three years in a row.  4 out of 5, I think we are also at 90‑plus.

And this group is the primary core.  Of course, I failed to mention David and James, et cetera.  And the bullpen.

Again, I love the challenge of what we do and how we do it.  I really mean that sincerely.  And for the guys around me often know that I do mean that.  It's challenging, but I have so much faith in our decision makers up top that we will make good decisions, that we will find the appropriate other guys to fill in, and then eventually these guys that are here, they're going to leave and hopefully do well for themselves somewhere else if, in fact, it has to be that way.

But we're going to be good again next year.  Trust me, we're going to be really good.

 

Q.  At this point, would you say Ryan ‑‑ it would seem like Ryan would be your second baseman or your shortstop?  That's still not settled?

JOE MADDON:  If you wanted to just go and play a game today, probably would happen like that more than likely.  Although Rodriguez is still in the mix, obviously, too.  I'm just trying to think if I'm missing anybody.  I would say probably that's accurate.

The way Zobrist played shortstop at the end of last year, there was ‑‑ when we first started doing that, there was the thought process he was going to play more against the flyball when our flyball pitcher was pitching and somebody else against our ground ball pitchers, but then Zoe just took ownership in that position.  He obviously liked it.

If you watched him and if you talked to him ‑‑ and, again, being with him every day ‑‑ he was very confident with it.  I thought he played better there than almost any other position he played all season.  It did not impact his offense whatsoever.

So moving forward, yes, but there's probably things that are going to unfold possibly that may alter the face of that?  But if not, then you could see something like that, yes.

 

Q.  And what are you thinking as far as Desmond goes?  He played Gold Glove nominated defense in left.  Do you move him to center?  Have you seen him enough playing in center that you like him in center?

JOE MADDON:  I love him in center too.  I love him in left.  Of course, he can play centerfield.  That may be what he ends up doing, just don't know how this is going to unfold.

I'm very comfortable liking him in centerfield.  Again, I don't think it will impact him offensively.  I think he's going to continue to grow as an offensive player, but if you have the right mix that he could stay in left field, that is an optimal situation, I think.  But putting him in centerfield does not scare me at all.

 

Q.  There's obviously reports that you guys have agreed with James Loney.  Can you speak of when you saw him as a player previously.

JOE MADDON:  Right.  I can't verify that yet, but I will speak about him.  I really got my best look at him at the end of the season when he was with the Red Sox, and I was really impressed with his at bats, the quality of the at bat.  Saw pitches well, looked over the bat well, great defender.  There's a real calmness about his approach to the game.  A lot of things I liked about all of that.

I've been liking him for several years.  Andrew and I have been liking him for a while.  If, in fact, that were to happen, he'd be ‑‑ he's a very nice player, and, again, my familiarity with him was based on the end of the season.  I really liked his at bats.

I know there's probably something, some chicken left on the bone there yet, according to Dave Wells, but he's also at that optimal age, like 28 years of age, right in that sweet spot, where we like to get guys, and maybe possibly what you would consider have underachieved to a point.  And all of a sudden, they come to us, and this is like the perfect time to get them.

This is the age, I think, where a lot of potentially really good players that maybe have not arrived there arrive there.  So we could hopefully be getting him, if that were to happen, at the exact right time.

 

Q.  Can you kind of compare like to Casey Kotchman, kind of similar game?

JOE MADDON:  There's a similarity to that.  I can't disagree with that.  There's some similarities, yeah.

 

Q.  Having a left‑handed hitting first baseman, if that were to happen, impact what you would do?  Would you want him to be right‑handed or depends on who the outfielder is?

JOE MADDON:  You would just have to, again, be prepared, I think, to platoon on situations with that first baseman.  If, again, we're going to look at righty/lefty break down.  And there's some times you want left‑handed ‑‑ as you know, you like lefties to play against certain lefties and maybe a lefty not to play against a certain righty.  The way pitching is trending the last couple of years, it's not just black versus white, right versus left, left versus right.

If we were going to do something like that, to be able to platoon would be good probably.  As you all know, I like to rest players.  Regardless of what it says on their birth certificate, they still get tired.  On our turf, they get worn out by the end of the season.

All this is accounted for in our discussions right now.  As we try to put it all together, understanding how many days a month does Roger need off or whatever and trying to figure out obviously that he stays well and he's healthy, what's this going to look like, and then you do that.  You just give people days off.

You don't play them until they're broken, and, again, you don't worry what the age, the actual age is.  We have to consider our home ballpark playing 81 games in that particular field, the schedule itself, and then you've just got to look somebody in the eye.

I think part of the reason why we finished well the last several years is because of that, that we do monitor that.  So my whole point is we don't just go out and buy a guy that normally plays every inning.  Of course, you did when you got Loney, but we don't necessarily have that guy.  Zobrist probably falls in that category somewhat too.  So we have to be aware of platoon potentials.

 

Q.  Joe, a bunch of us here in middle Tennessee have really loved to watch David Price the last few years.  Can you just talk about what a bulldog he has been.

JOE MADDON:  David, I want to say, first of all, one of the best teammates I've ever been around.  We really value that a lot, what he's like in the club house and in the dugout.  It borders on lunacy at times, that I really enjoy that.

And then you want to talk about the competitive nature, he is that.  This guy wants to play and pitch the biggest names.  He wants the biggest and best opponents.  He doesn't back down from anything.  And furthermore, I mean, he came in with a lot of built‑in expectations.  This guy keeps getting better.  And he still isn't as good as he's going to be yet.

There's definitely room for growth with him yet too.  For so many different reasons, he's valuable to any team, and he brings so much to us just beyond what he does on the mound.

 

Q.  Mentally, was he that way coming in?

JOE MADDON:  I thought so.  Go back to the 2008 playoffs when he pitched at the end there and he threw the last out with Lowery hitting that ground ball to second.  I remember we've talked about this often.  The conversation we had before the game, his eyes tell it all.  He's definitely ready.  He's not intimidated.

He's all of that.  I mean, he's definitely a unique player.

 

Q.  Is there no doubt in your mind that he was the best pitcher in the American League this last year?

JOE MADDON:  I thought he was.  I thought he was.  Of course, there's a lot of guys.  Verlander is outstanding, Hernandez, et cetera, Weaver, they're all great pitchers, but I really thought David, wire to wire, he wall to wall did it.  There was like maybe one or two bad games all year.  Otherwise, the consistency was incredible.

He was kind of like a metronome on a nightly basis, strike throwing, velocity, the addition of other pitches, deep into the game, innings saved, saving the bullpen, all that stuff was present.

 

Q.  Are there some other guys you would compare him to in years past maybe?

JOE MADDON:  I've had ‑‑ I could talk about personally I was involved with three really good lefties for a bit, and that was Abbott, Langston, and Finley.  Among those three, I talked to Langley about him when we were out in Anaheim.  May remember Chucky a little bit more, although Langley is pretty funny too.  Jimmy is like one of the most stoic.  But I've been around some really good lefties, and he's kind of like that.

But David ‑‑ you all know him around here.  David is a ‑‑ he wants to be the best.  He's not satisfied without being the best, and he's driven.

 

Q.  What is Atlanta getting with B.J. Upton?  For Atlanta fans, what should they know?

JOE MADDON:  They're getting a very good baseball player, a guy who last year, I thought, really showed a lot of maturity, maturation both on and off the field.  I go, I try to ‑‑ not try.  For my purposes, the evaluation goes well beyond what you do on the field.

I think B.J. really started to come together mentally regarding his approach to the day, and then beyond that, you saw what he did power‑wise, especially the latter part of the season.

As games got more sophisticated, in a sense, he's making less mistakes.  In other words, he throws to the right bases more consistently.  He picks the right times to run more consistently.  I thought that he cleaned up his batting stance by the end of the season mechanically, and I think that's a big part of why you saw the progression that you did.

So I think Atlanta has lots to look forward to.  He's, what, 28 years old, and he's still getting better, and he's a great kid.  Don't be deceived.  The couple times we had to do different things, don't be deceived.  This is an outstanding young man, great teammate.  The players are going to love him there.  He's a lot of fun.  He's just a wonderful guy.

So you're going to see him keep getting better.

 

Q.  Mind if I throw a couple Red Sox questions at you.

JOE MADDON:  Sure.

 

Q.  As a former player, Jonny Gomes, everywhere he's been, teams end up winning.  I'm just curious if that's a coincidence in your mind or there's something about him?

JOE MADDON:  There's something about Jonny, yeah.  I saw Millar right there.  I was thinking of Millar right there.  Jonny Gomes, he's a different cat.  He really cares.  He really cares about the rest of the group.  Kind of like what I described with David Price, what he does, the lunacy in the clubhouse, et cetera, which is a very positive way.

And furthermore, I think he's really improved his batting stance and shortness of his swing the last couple of years have been more effective, and I know the kind of hitter that he plays in that ballpark.  I know he's going to ingratiate himself to the fans there.  He's the perfect guy.  John is going to fit in really well there.  Good for the Red Sox.

 

Q.  Another guy you have a lot of experience going back is Napoli.  What makes him such a tough out?  And what he's going to bring?

JOE MADDON:  I love Nap.  He came on a couple of years in Texas.  What made him great is acceptance of the opposite field.  He became much more difficult with two strikes.  Nap's always had severe power.  I remember working on him at the backfields at Diablo, just trying to clean up some things back then, because he had this enormous power, but there was a lot of swing and missing too.

He's made some really great adjustments.  He's a makeup guy like John is.  Not as outspoken as John, maybe not as flamboyant in a sense, but a man's man kind of a thing.  Going to be great in the clubhouse.  Nap is a good catcher.  Pitchers like him.  Pitchers like Nap.

Probably maybe not going to catch as much.  But both of them together are going to bring a lot of positives to that clubhouse.  There's no doubt.  And it's good for the Red Sox.

 

Q.  Can you walk around here, people ask about are you going to trade a pitcher?  You've said all along you'd like to keep them, but it seems that everyone else in baseball thinks you're going to trade a pitcher.  Do you think that it's going to happen?  Have you come to grips it may have to happen to get the help you need?

JOE MADDON:  I've come to grips that it may happen.  Do I want it to happen?  Not necessarily.  You saw what happened last year.  The only reason we won 90 games last season is because our pitching was so dominant and good.  For us to be 90‑plus on an annual basis, we have to pitch that way.

You're not going to be able to outhit mistakes.  You're not going to be able to outhit the other team nightly.  We're just not.  We're not going to spend that dough to be that group anyway.  Furthermore, I think the offense has come back, and it's going to continue to come back.  I think pitching is going to continue to dominate.  Defenses and pitching are going to continue to dominate offense, I think, in the future.  Not the near future.  It's just going to be that way.

So having said that, I'd much prefer on a nightly basis to go into the game thinking we might be a little bit behind on the offensive side, but we're ahead on the pitching side.  That, to me, is much more attractive.  It's just a better way to go into the game, and you feel like you can win.

And I know you lose that 1‑0 game or that 2‑1 game, start bemoaning the fact you've got it figured out.  But you've got to figure it out somehow.  If nightly we have to do that, I understand that.  But to me, to be as pitching rich as you possibly can is a good way to go.

 

Q.  I guess maybe that's the fine line.  You either have too much.  How much do you need?  If you have eight, can you get by with six or seven and then fill in if something really bad happens?

JOE MADDON:  The way we worked it last year was almost to perfection in a sense.  What Wade did in the bullpen, also being one of those starters that was folded back, and then what Cobb was able to do like we thought he could.  And don't forget Neimann gets hurt for a long period of time and was really not a factor, but he still can be again.

It's an interesting situation to be in, but, again, I'm telling you, man, on a nightly basis to be able to start the season, not just the game, knowing that, okay, so and so's pitching tomorrow.  When you send out the three pitchers for the next series to whomever, you feel pretty good about it.

 

Q.  But if you have those five and one is in the bullpen and two are in AAA, are you hording them when you could be filling holes elsewhere in the roster?

JOE MADDON:  Depends what you're filling it with.  If you're filling them in with people that you want, that you covet, that you really want these people, that they're perfect and you believe that, that's one thing.  To fill them in just to say this guy seems to be the best fit for what's available now.  As opposed to just really coveting somebody, we're going to get that guy, that's a different acquisition than just a fill‑in kind of thing.

I think, when you just start filling in the spots, there's actually more candidates than people realize sometimes, and I want to believe that, when they come into our system and play with us, that we're going to draw the best out of whomever this guy is?

So, again, if you're really blown away by somebody, yeah, it makes all the sense in the world.  But, if you're not, I'd rather keep that arm, I think.

 

Q.  Do you see Hellickson as possibly becoming like a James Shields, 200‑plus innings guy like him?  Is he built along that line?

JOE MADDON:  He definitely is capable of 200 innings, there's no question about that.  I don't think.  But beyond that, Shields is an animal.  Shields is different.

James, he's one of those elite guys that, again, a lot of that's derived from his work ethic and not unlike the way David plays.  Shields wants to be the best.  He's driven to be.  I'm not saying Jeremy is not.  Shields, even bodily‑wise, is a little more gifted than Hellickson.  He's got all these attributes that works to his favor.  Helli can be 200, 200‑plus.  Everything's got to break.  We've got to watch him well.  He has to work for it too.  It has to be something he really wants to do.

I think, if he truly wants to be that guy, it's definitely within his ability, no question.  Again, it just comes from the physical side where you have to work to earn the right to be that guy too, and I think he can.

 

Q.  If you look at your pitching staff, obviously, getting toward the back end of the rotation with Archer and Cobb, are those guys kind of close to possibly moving up if you were to move one of the top two guys?

JOE MADDON:  They are.  They're definitely very competitive Major League pitchers.  Then again, if you're chasing a championship, how far forward do you want to push them in the rotation?  Where they sit, beautiful, absolutely beautiful, right now.

Of course, I think down the road they're going to meander up to the top of the rotation, no question.  Or more so.  With the ceiling for each one may differ a little bit, but both can be more ‑‑ maybe like 2, 3 kind of a guy.  For right now, if you can set them where they set, that makes you really strong, I think.  That's as they continue to develop.

I think sometimes ‑‑ we've talked about this in the past where guys have a modicum of success, and all of a sudden you want to thrust them into this bigger role and you think that they can handle it.  Maybe they're not quite ready.  The developmental component is still important to us, and maybe, if you let somebody set up just a little bit too long, that's not bad without burning them up.

I like where they're both sitting.  I like the developmental path of both of them right now.  The point is not to rush either one if you can help it, into a more substantive kind of situation.

 

Q.  There's been a lot of hue and cry for more replay after some of the things that happened in the postseason.  What's your take on that?

JOE MADDON:  Yeah.  I mean, I've thought about it a lot, and I think there's definitely room for more of that, more replay.  I think the one area that probably should be off limits would be balls and strikes more than anything.

Beyond that, I still believe also maybe even foul tips could be something that could be concluded, that it could be a ball or strike possibly.  Beyond that, my point is, everything else should be open for discussion.  Technology the way it is, and as it keeps advancing ‑‑ you're looking at the sports that are utilizing it well right now and relatively quickly.  I think actually our game could handle it even more quickly based on how the game's kind of wide open.  It's not in a pack.

Like in a football play where there's a bunch of guys piling on, and there's this wide open space, whatever.  I think you're going to see more of that.  I don't know to what level.

And I like simple, with anything.  I like simple, and I like implementation, but also maybe a little bit at a time.  I'm not saying to be very slow about it, but I still think ‑‑ I think there's a movement on to get that done, and I think the more you think about it based on what you can do with cameras and an extra set of eyes somewhere, it's probably not far down the road to the point where like maybe 10 or 15 years from now, you're going to say, I can't believe they didn't do this.

 

Q.  Is umpiring as good as it was 30 years ago?

JOE MADDON:  I think so.  I think so, yeah.  I just think they're upped more scrutiny.  Had the same amount of scrutiny been applied to those guys that many years ago, you'd have had probably the number of complaints back then as you get right now.

It's kind of tough when you are constantly second guessed like they are, and I still believe on a nightly basis our game is still the best officiated, the most directly officiated, first time through at a really rapid speed.

I also know ‑‑ and I was talking to the supervisors.  There's a lot of supervising being done now too regarding calls and talking about moments afterwards.  I talked to the umpires a lot, and I think I've developed a better relationship with them the last couple years than I had.  So I think it keeps moving forward in a positive way.

And, again, it's just for the betterment of the game.  Furthermore, as we get to the point with more replay, that's going to reduce the arguments.  I don't know if people dig that part of the game, if that's part of the game, but I think the more you rely on instant replay, the less arguing you're going to have.

 

Q.  There's a perception that the AL East maybe is wide open as it has been.  The Yankees, I'm sure you probably heard today, A‑Rod's going to be out for a while.  The Red Sox trying to reput it together.  What's your take, as we sit here now, on the division?

JOE MADDON:  I agree.  I think it is about as wide open as it's been.  Obviously, what Toronto did was very substantial.  The injuries and the age of the Yankees, obviously, Mariano coming back from a problem.  Jeter's coming back from a problem.  A‑Rod being involved with a problem right now, it's going to have a different look.

But they played really well last year with a lot of problems too.  They pitched well, and they played the game properly too.  So they're going to still be there.  They're going to make the appropriate moves to thicken it up, I don't doubt that.

But you're right.  As all five teams, heads up.  It's going to be kind of tight, and it's going to be very tight.  Respectfully, I think, every team is going to have an opportunity to get to the playoffs next year in our division.  Obviously, like you're saying, more so than any time in the recent past.

I think that's good.  I enjoy that.  I love that, actually.  I talked about this before.  I love the competitive nature of our division.  I think that brings out the best in us.  We really do believe that.  So it's going to be fun, man.  It's going to be fun.

Every time we play somebody else in that division, man, anything can happen.

 

Q.  Joe, can you talk about the impact of Jose Molina on the pitching staff.  What did he bring?  There's some studies, pitch frame is off the charts.  What does he bring to the table?  Terms of pitches?

JOE MADDON:  J. Mo, first of all, I really enjoy our conversations daily.  J. Mo just has a lot of good ideas, the thing that stands out to me about him, as much as anything, I love his trips to the mound.  I love his conversations in between innings.

A lot of times he was almost vilified in our papers, regarding maybe blocking the ball once in a while, et cetera.  The other thing is he started throwing the ball really, really well by the end of this.  I'd say by halfway through the year, he was throwing as well as anybody in the league.  So I don't even ‑‑ beyond all the receiving skills, I just like what he started to do.

See, what happened was early in the season, it's kind of like getting used to everybody.  Getting used to each other.  We play different kind of defenses, how he's setting up.  He's looking at different stuff beyond the plate.  I think, as he got more used to how we did things, he really got comfortable, and I think a lot of the success of the pitching staff was reflected in a lot of those different things.

So we really like him, obviously.  That's why we got him back.  We think he is a difference maker, but a lot of it has to do with his conversations with pitchers.  And, again, he started to control the running game, which we had not done in a while.  All those things are attractive.

 

Q.  Having seen him play a hundred games or so, would you think that was the right number?  Would you prefer someone else play 100 and he play 60?  What do you think?

JOE MADDON:  I think what we did last year is absolutely right on.  I want to believe we can do the same thing again this year.  There was times, like he argued he wanted to play more often.  I think by the end of the season, he realized it was pretty much right on.  I still would like to use that template from last year going into this season regarding how to use him.  I think that was perfect actually.

We talked about it a lot before the season began.  I thought two‑thirds game involvement would be pretty much optimal, and he ended up pretty much around there.  With good help ‑‑ and he's really working hard.  He really likes it here.  The guy really wants it.  And we talked to him, and he understands how much we value him.  I think that matters, and it's going to be motivating for him also.  I'd say 100 is going to be good again.

 

Q.  There's a Japanese free agents who are infielders?  Would you be interested in them?

JOE MADDON:  You know, honestly, I don't know these guys.  I honestly don't ‑‑ it's hard for me to comment on that.  I'm sorry.  I'm just not aware.

 

Q.  You guys say Longoria will be ready for the spring.  You tend to be conservative in Spring Training games start February 23rd relatively.

JOE MADDON:  We have a longer camp too.

 

Q.  Relatively, when do you think he'd be back on the field?

JOE MADDON:  I think, if we could get him involved in a normal length Spring Training, it would be fine with me.  I'm not into this you've got to do that, got to do this kind of stuff.  You look at the first game of the season.  You work backwards.  For me, it would be about getting him the appropriate number of at bats, and we could do that somewhat also utilizing minor league games too or even simulating games.

My biggest concern about guys, established players like him is number of at bats.  What's that number that gets him ready to be beneficial for the first day of the season?  More than anything else, we'll look at the opening day and work backward from there and not worry about getting him in the game, getting him in the game.  That would not be my concern.

 

Q.  Are you guys exploring looking at getting an assistant hitting coach?

JOE MADDON:  That's something we talked about.  It's a possibility.  We have not finalized that yet.

 

Q.  A lot of teams have that.  Do you see things going that way?

JOE MADDON:  It was like a thing we did a couple of years ago with the quality assurance coaching.  It was more abstract, and it morphed into essentially being the assistant hitting coach.

I think it's good to have a different set of eyes.  The hitters normally have the hitting coach.  Obviously, on most staffs, everybody is a hitting coach.  All the coaches are, and everybody wants to throw their two cents in.  It's nice to be more specific with two guys working in tandem.

I think part of that is getting the right two guys.  Stan and Hick, they work perfectly together.  It couldn't be set up any better than those two guys.  If we're going to do this, I think it would be important to get somebody that would reflect Shelty really well.

It should only benefit.  If it's not done right, it could be very detrimental too.  I guess that's my point.