Winter Meetings interview with Jim Leyland

Winter Meetings interview with Jim Leyland

Q. Jim, with the closer's role, regardless of who it is, do you prefer to have somebody define and name somebody full time for that job as opposed to going by a committee?

JIM LEYLAND: Well, preferably I'd like to have somebody. To be honest with you, from a selfish standpoint, when a manager has a guy -- and I'm just throwing out maybe a Mariano Rivera or whoever they might be, in our case Valverde last year. Number one, they're really good at what they do and those guys are hard to find.

Two, like I said, from a selfish standpoint, you very rarely ever second guess. I mean, you bring those guys in, and you're really not answering questions after the game. When you've got to do it by committee, if you have to pick and choose, then you leave yourself open for second guessing.

So I think the combination of, number one, those guys are really good at it and it's hard to find those guys, and, number two, it takes away a lot of questions after the game. So I'd much rather have a guy for those reasons in that position, but sometimes you don't, and you just make do.

Q. If you do not add anybody like that, do you think you might just pick somebody to start the season and try it before you would go to a committee? Would you want to?

JIM LEYLAND: I think we'll find out some of that information in Spring Training. You know, you get a pulse -- a lot of that closer situation has to do with the personality of the pitcher. Stuff's good enough, but the mental part of that is very -- it can be very fragile.

So I think in Spring Training. I already know the guys that are on our team, but I assume people are going to get to the question about the young kid Rondon, who there's certainly a possibility he'll get an opportunity. I'll get a pulse for him in Spring Training.

What I feel about him, his makeup. The one thing that Valverde was very good at is he could turn the page pretty quickly. And a closer has to be able to do that. When you get a young guy, I don't know for sure how a guy's going to respond. You don't know if you give somebody an opportunity, and those things happen.

They let one get away. How do they respond to it? How do they bounce back the next day? It's such an important part of your team because, when you let them get away in the ninth inning, obviously, those can have an impact on your entire team. So that guy is going to be huge for us as he is for every other team.

Q. Jim, you guys went with the closer by committee in the postseason for much of it. It worked out well. Fans really like that. How difficult is it to do for an entire regular season.

JIM LEYLAND: I think it's difficult to do it that way. I think that they liked it because it was successful. So I think it is a little bit more difficult to do it that way. I don't mind doing it that way. I've done it in my career, closer by committee, pick and choose, but it is difficult.

Like I say, it's a little more stressful than hitting in the eighth inning and saying, okay, Valverde or Mariano Rivera, whoever it is, during the game. That's kind of a no brainer. So it takes a little pressure off you. But you do what you have to do to win games. We will do that.

Q. Jim, are you confident the signing of Torii can help attract other free agents to Detroit?

JIM LEYLAND: We don't have trouble getting anybody in Detroit. Since the signing of Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez and people like that, it shows the confidence of our fans. We draw 3 million people a year.

Our owner is obviously very generous, not afraid to spend a dollar. People aware of that. I'd like to take credit for all of those guys coming over and signing, but I can't. I've got to give it to Mr. Ilitch because he's very fair to them. Thursday at 1:00, we've got 40,000. That's very good. It truly is an attractive place to play. It's a true baseball town. It really is.

The fans are very knowledgeable. They understand the game, I think more so than some other cities, and that's not a criticism against anybody, but I think they're really -- I think St. Louis and Detroit, the fans are really into the game and the integral part of the game a little bit more than other places.

Q. Jim, the way your outfield is structured now, how do you see the spring and summer playing out the way it is now for Garcia and Castellanos.

JIM LEYLAND: That's a very good question. I think what you have to do, you just have to decide, one, are they ready. If they are ready, are they ready to be put out there every day. If you put them in a platoon situation, how much are they able to play? Are they better getting 500 at bats? I think that's something that will be determined ideally later on.

Ideally, you like your guys to always be ready when they come up. I don't care how well they do in the minor leagues, but when they come to the big leagues, we think we have all the answers, but we don't. We don't know how they're going to respond in the three tier stadium.

Ideally, you'd like those guys to develop, get 400 or 500 at bats in a minor league level, but we've always shown we're not afraid to take a chance on kids. I think it's a combination of what's best for us and what's best for the player. I think that's what you have to weigh.

Q. And Garcia, what did he show you in the time he was up?

JIM LEYLAND: He did very well. I think that he came up, he did very well. Towards the end, they started to mess with him a little bit. I think any time -- we talked about this yesterday. Any time you bring up a young player, a lot of them do good right away, and then they get into that lull where somebody is starting to figure them out, and they don't look so good for a while, and you see if they can readjust. It's a game of readjustments.

When you get a young player, they don't know much about him. He does really good. Then they learn some things about him, and he doesn't do too good. When he re adjusts after that, he's home free. Quite a big league player.

Q. Jim, you guys had quite a fight with the White Sox for most of the season, all of the season maybe. I want you to describe what that was like, this mano y mano all season long.

JIM LEYLAND: It obviously was a great race. I just had lunch with Robin Ventura. They had a very, very good team. I remember talking to Gene Lamont. He said, we'll catch them, but I don't know if we'll beat them or if we'll pass them. We caught them one time. They caught us again. And we finally caught them and passed them for good, but it was a heck of a race.

It was tough. They were a tough team. You can look at seasons a lot of ways. I look a couple years ago, I say what was the key to winning the division. I thought, when we went down to Tampa and won four straight, that was a big part. This year, I really truly believe -- and I don't know how this happened. The fact we did really good with Kansas City and they did not was probably the decisive margin in the division, to be honest with you.

It's just freaky because at the major league level, it's not so much who you're playing, it's when you're playing them. That's very important. You get a team that's really hot and you're not playing good, you get beat. It doesn't matter what place they're in. Kansas City's got a lot of really good young players and an up and coming team. We were fortunate last year with them.

Q. In Chicago, you famously said early in the year, you were saying how -- you talked up the White Sox in a big way after one of the games you played against the Sox. You seemed to see this team better than most people did early in the season, that they were going to be there at the end. What did you see early on that most people weren't?

JIM LEYLAND: I think the White Sox have been really good ever since I've been in the league. They've been a really good team. For whatever reason, they just didn't seem to get the credit that I thought they deserve.

When you're talking about Konerko, and of course he got it done, and he hit the home runs like they expected. Rios really came on for him. And maybe we caught a break too. Denks was out. Paul Konerko is one of the better players in the game in my opinion.

They're just a good team. Last year they used a pretty young bullpen, which caught up to them at times, but overall did a good job with some big arms down there. I just felt like this was a really good team, and it's been a really good team ever since I've been in the league.

Q. Do you feel like they're going to be the team to beat next year in your division?

JIM LEYLAND: They're all teams to beat. When you start from scratch, new year, I don't know who the team to beat is. Hopefully, it's the Tigers. I can't swear to that. It will be tough again. Like I said, Kansas City is really up and coming. Terry's going over there to Cleveland now, and Robin's got a year under his belt. I thought he did an unbelievable job for a first year manager. He kind of made it look easy, to be honest with you. I didn't like that too much. I told him he made it look a little too easy.

It will be fun. Gardenhire and the Twins are always going to compete. They had a rough year last year. They had some injuries and stuff.

It's not going to get the press of the eastern division, obviously, but when you're in that dugout every night competing against those guys, you're not thinking what division you're in or anything. It's tough to win games.

Q. Jim, what was your thought process moving Gene to the bench off third base?

JIM LEYLAND: To be honest with you, he's had a knee operation before. Sometimes it flares up on him a little bit. We just thought we'd take a little stress off that. He's a great baseball mind. He'll be really good for me as well on the bench.

Brooken's a little bit younger. Put him over at third, maybe a little more active. Gene's knee gets a little sore. It bothers he him sometimes. He puts pads on them every night. So it's getting where they bone on bone a little bit, and it's a little bit tough for him.

Q. With all your statements and actions, you've always been fiercely loyal to the Tigers organization. Is that one of the reasons that Gene has stuck around as long as he has beside you?

JIM LEYLAND: Gene Lamont was the No. 1 pick of the Detroit Tigers back in 1965. Got a couple of years in the big leagues with them as a player. I signed with the Tigers in the fall of 1963. So there's been some loyalty by the Tigers to us too. It's a great place for us. It was kind of like going home for both of us, and we really enjoy it.

I always knew it was a great baseball town, but I had no idea that it was as much as it is. It seems -- like I live in Pittsburgh right now, and it seems like in Pittsburgh that's the Steelers' town. In Detroit, it seems like it's the Tigers' town. That's just the way it seems.

Q. You talked about it's not who you play but when you play them. I know last year you ended up with the A's and some crazy wild west road trip, and the Sox ended up playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Wouldn't it be nice for that last week of the season -- I know you play a lot of games against each other. Wouldn't it be nice to play central on central in that final week? Doesn't that make sense?

JIM LEYLAND: I used to be one of the those guys who used to say, how can they have this schedule? Since I've been on a 16 man committee with the commissioner and the couple of people that are involved in making up the schedule, with the TV stuff and all the things that go on now and the changing the times of the game and everything, I learned to just keep my nose out of it because it is so complicated I could never figure out how to make out that schedule.

Nothing's perfect. You can look at that a lot of ways. The schedule is the schedule. Wherever they drop me off, that's where we play.

Q. How hard was it to put the World Series behind?

JIM LEYLAND: It wasn't very difficult for me to put the World Series behind us. To be honest with you, after we beat Oakland in the Division Series, the entire postseason was like a blur. I mean, a four game sweep of the Yankees and being swept four games by the Giants, it seemed like it went by so fast. I would have never guessed that we'd have swept the Yankees, and I would have never guessed that the Giants would have swept us. But you put it behind you.

One of my favorite expressions -- and the Detroit players get tired of it -- but you can't chew yesterday's breakfast. It's over with. Move on, move forward. 2013 coming up. Let's get ready for it. We did good. We got a lot of pats on the back for winning the American League championship. I'm very proud of that.

Bruce Bochy and the Giants did better than we did. I tip my hat to them. Let's get back to 2013 and see if we can get back. It's hard to get there.

Q. Last winter, you talked about Verlander, the importance of him not trying to outpitch his Cy Young season, saying he could pitch even better but just not had the same type of results. As Cabrera goes into 2013, is he kind of in the same boat where you caution him to try not to overshoot?

JIM LEYLAND: I guess I'd be safe in saying it's probably unlikely he'll win the triple crown next year. It hadn't been done since 1967, so I doubt -- if there's any guy that could possibly do it, it would be him, but I say the same thing about Cabrera every year. He's going to have a great season.

What's that going to lead to statistically as far as batting title and a home run title, I have no idea, but he'll have a big year. And I did, you're right. I said last year it's very possible that Verlander could pitch just as good or better this year and not win as many games or could pitch not quite as good and win more games. You never know how that's going to play out.

Q. Jim, it seems like Cabrera is playing in the world classic. What's your thought on that? What's the expectation of his performance?

JIM LEYLAND: Well, I think that that's a no brainer that he's going to play for the Venezuelan team. And you support that thing. The commissioner gets mad at me all the time because I'm not a big -- I'm not in big favor of that particularly, but I support it because the commissioner said you better support it, and I listen to him, and I don't want to get kicked off his committee.

So it is what it is. But I think that it's a little different because Spring Training, you have to do a lot more work in Spring Training. You have to be a bit more organized because you've got to figure out who to bring in, who's going to be gone, piecing together the right team to make sure you take a good team on the road. You have to take a certain amount of big league players when you go on a road trip. Sometimes when they have something like a world classic, they make a little excuse for you and you don't have to take quite as many.

Then you worry about what the fans that are watching our games are thinking. So it's a little more complicated than people think because a lot of people come down to Florida. They plan their vacations to come down there, and all of a sudden, some of their star players are maybe playing in the world classic. You try to keep everybody happy. I think the concept is a brilliant idea by the commissioner, but it can get things out of whack a little bit.

He'll do good in that too. He's pretty good.

Q. At this point, which do you think is going to be the toughest division next season?

JIM LEYLAND: The central because that's the one I'm in. When I say that, I don't know what's going to be. That can vary from year to year.

Like I said, in the big leagues, it's not so important who you're playing, it's when you're playing them. If you go in and catch Baltimore and Toronto back to back and they're hot, that's the toughest division. If you go to Kansas City and Toronto and they're hot, that's the toughest division. It is what it is.

Q. Jim, you've been with organizations that have spent a lot of money and ones that haven't. Is the ability to spend money more important now than ever before?

JIM LEYLAND: I think that's a decision your owner makes. In our case, Mr. Ilitch makes that decision. Fortunately, he chooses, which certainly benefits me, he chooses to spend money. He believes in stars. He believes that stars draw people, and I think he's 100 percent correct.

So whatever Mr. Ilitch chooses to do, and in most cases, he's certainly not afraid to put some good contacts out there and which helps the Tigers, helps the fans, helps me.

That's up to individuals. I don't get involved with other people's business, whatever they do. I just happen to be managing for a great owner who's not afraid to spend some money. I've been on the other side where we didn't have money to spend. So you do like some of the other clubs are doing today and make do the best you can.

Q. Brief change of topic. What were your thoughts on the high school reunion?

JIM LEYLAND: My high school reunion was absolutely terrific, and I knew everybody but two people. There was one fella and one girl that I didn't know. I knew everybody else, and we had a wonderful, wonderful time.

I hadn't even them. We only had one other reunion, the five year reunion, and I was playing ball and wasn't there. Now I haven't seen most of those people in 50 years. Now they want to get together in a couple of years when we turn 70. I hope I make it. We had such a good time, now we want to get together. We want to get together when we celebrate our 70th birthday. I don't know if that's going to happen or not. We had a great time.

Q. How differently did the girls who may not have paid attention to you in high school, how did they look now?

JIM LEYLAND: I don't see quite as good as I used to. But they look pretty good to me. Margaret Bayer looked fantastic. Her husband's a great guy. She looked really good.

I don't know. I kind of wondered, when I drove back to Pittsburgh, I was thinking to myself, I wonder how the girls thought old Jimbo looked. I'm sure they thought, he's a little bald, a little skinny. I don't know what they thought. It was really good. It was a fun time. It was a great time.

In fact, four of them are coming to Spring Training games this year. They're all getting together and flying in from different parts of the country to one of the gal's house in Florida, and they're all going to come and see a Spring Training game.

Q. If they did a revote, would you be the prom King?

JIM LEYLAND: I was never the Prom King, but I was the most popular boy. I could bring out my year book for you if you don't believe me, but I didn't bring it with me.

Q. The White Sox were saying, when they build their team, they've got to take into account what you guys do and pattern and see if they can match up in any way. In your case, do you guys look at a broader picture? Do you look at who we have to beat in baseball and not just concentrate on general things?

JIM LEYLAND: I have control over the Tigers. I don't have control over what anyone else does. We know the competition is going to be very fierce no matter who we're playing, and I just worry about my team. I do the same thing during the game. I don't worry about what the other manager does. I don't get involved and try to outmanage somebody or worry about getting outmanaged. I just manage my players.

The White Sox are very good. I'm sure, like everybody else, they'll try to add some pieces to get themselves as competitive as they possibly can. They're very competitive and a very good organization. I worked for that organization back in the '80s, and the same owner is still there. So it's a very good organization.

Q. Jim, how much longer do you want to do this?

JIM LEYLAND: I don't know, to be honest with you. I'm not putting any timetable on it. We've got a good situation. I took a pretty good beating this summer and rightfully so. I think the one year deal is fair for everybody. They can make a decision whether they want to bring me back, and if at the end I'm tired of it, I can say so long.

I don't know them anything, and they don't owe me anything. It's all good. It puts a little pressure on me during the season

Q. Lame duck?

JIM LEYLAND: Not so much a lame duck, but you here the rumblings, not from the organization, but a lot of fans who want me fired during the season. That's just part of it. You have to accept that. I'm willing to accept that doing a one year deal. I don't want a two or three year deal, and I doubt they'd want to give me one. I think it works out good because I trust the organization and I also trust my own ability.

I think I'll do good enough to maybe get another contract for a year. I think I'll do good enough to do that. If I don't, that's fine. They should get somebody else. That's the way I look at it.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about your outfield, please, what your options are, what you're looking at now.

JIM LEYLAND: Right now, I really like what our outfield looks like. We're going to have Torii Hunter in right and Jackson in center, that's no secret. Probably dirk son in left against right hand pitching.

We would like to tweak our team a little bit by maybe getting a right handed hitter, maybe to fool around with a little bit of a platoon out in left field. We'd like to do that. Boesch is certainly a candidate. He and Dirks are both left handed, but he's on our ball club. I like it.

We have Quintin Berry, who's got some speed there. We have good options. You've got the two kids, one of the other gentlemen mentioned, you want to take a look at them. Can one of them stick? However it plays out. But we're pretty good in the outfield.

One thing I like about it is I'm not going to have to -- and once again, this is not a criticism. But I'm not going to have to defense like I've had to the last couple of years. Last couple of years, hi to make that decision, when do you pull the trigger on taking a guy out for defense? And then all of a sudden, somebody hits a two run Homer and the game's tied and you lost him on offense.

With Torii Hunter and Jackson, for sure they won't come out, and Dirks won't come out. I won't have that problem.

Q. Jim, about Garcia, you obviously got a good look at him last year. What do you think he brings -- what do you think Tiger fans should know he brings to the table that they didn't see from him last year?

JIM LEYLAND: I think he's eventually going to hit with power. And I think he's eventually going to hit with power. I think it's usually the last thing to come. The thing I like about Garcia and the reason I'm so high on Garcia is because he's the total package. I love two way players, he's a two way player.

He can throw, he can run, he's a very good defender, and I think he's going to be a very good offensive player with home run power eventually. He's really a total package player when he arrives. How soon he's going to arrive, I don't know. When he arrives, you do have a two way player. It's not just somebody you put in left field and hope he hits a home run the first two or three times up and get him out of there for defense.

This guy is going to play the entire game, might steal a base. He can do a lot of things. I think the thing they'll see eventually that they did not see this year is power.

Q. Jim, is Infante on track for being fully healthy for Spring Training?

JIM LEYLAND: To my knowledge. I have not talked to him, but to my knowledge, he'll be absolutely 100 percent.

Q. Given kind of the revolving door that you guys had at second base the last few years, how meaningful can it be -- or how beneficial is it to go into a season having that set?

JIM LEYLAND: That's a treat for a manager. If you can pencil a guy in there every day at a position and you're not worried about picking and choosing against a certain pitcher other than to give a guy off, that's a total luxury. The more everyday players you have, the easier it is for you. That's just like the closer. If you have one, it makes it a lot easier.

Q. How happy were you for what Phil Coke was able to do in the postseason? You got the fans on his side.

JIM LEYLAND: I was happy for me. Cokey was kind of hot and cold. Poor Jose, I felt so bad for him because he got on a little negative role at the wrong time. And Coke got on a positive role at the right time. But it wasn't too, too long the fans were talking, and they were roughing Cokey up a little bit. It shows you the old what have you done for me lately kind of deal.