Winter Meetings interview with Bryan Price

Winter Meetings interview with Bryan Price

Q. Your coaching staff is always a big part of the team. Talk a little about the guys that you hire?

BRYAN PRICE: Well, of the new guys, we hired Freddie Benavides as our infield coach. He's a longtime Cincinnati Reds, he played with the Reds, Minor League field coordinator, infield background, and we're hoping he'll continue to develop our infield, and looking to continue that and enhance that.

We also added Jay Bell as our bench coach. And I'm familiar with Jay from our time working with the Diamondbacks. He's well connected, was really kind of my have to have coach. And Jay fits the bill there. He's a terrific guy. Great baseball man. Great communicator.

Our hitting coach is Don Long, who we hired away from Atlanta. He was a coach with Pittsburgh. And he's terrific. He brings some energy and a new voice to the organization, with the offense. See if we can turn the corner with a couple of guys that we have high expectations.

We hired Jeff Pico away from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who was a field coordinator and a pitching coordinator, they have a lot of similarities, just the ability in understanding of the importance of the communication between the catchers and the pitching coach and being able to have that continuity there is very, very important. And more these days when relationships are maybe more valuable and important than ever. And Jeff really fits the bill.

Steve Smith we hired, he took a year off to spend with his son, going through his senior year in college. And he's back. And he's outstanding with Major League experience at third base and a lot of managerial experience, a great infield guy, as well.

We've got some holdovers. Mack Jenkins will be the bullpen coach, my assistant coach last year. Excellent as a second set of eyes, but also helping us with our advance reports and he's really shown up for pitching.

Mike Stefanski is our catching coach, replacing Lopez, and he's an outstanding catching guy. And has a good influence or affect for the entire organization.

And Billy Hatcher at first base. A lot of enthusiasm, outstanding background in base running and outfield play. He's a great contributor to the staff.

Q. Can you elaborate on the role of the bench coach. Most managers will say they don't want a yes man, they want somebody that's going to challenge them occasionally. Is that what you're expecting?

BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, I think the relationship is important to be back and forth, the give and take, to get an understanding of what we're both seeing. The other part is quite often with your bench coach, as much as -- I feel he's a strong communicator, I don't think that as a manager you can live in the clubhouse. I do think that quite often you do find that players sometimes prefer to go to an assistant coach.

They're in a position to continue forging relationships and certainly spend a lot more time on the field as far as interacting with the pregame stuff. And Jay is that guy. You can talk with Jay and communicate. He's a very positive guy. And I think that part of the relationship is significant. He is very strong with where the guys are, especially our bench guys or bullpen guys, to make sure there's a solid and open communication.

Q. (INAUDIBLE) do you feel like that's become more important for managers these days, and how do you approach that, in your day in and day out communication, trying to collaborate with the front office?

BRYAN PRICE: I think it's a fine line. From an organizational standpoint I think it's great to have strong communication. There's definitely going to be a lot of really talented baseball people in the same room making decisions. And I'll be the first to tell you, I don't know everything there is to know about baseball. I don't know everything there is to know about pitching.

The reason I put this staff together, the reason of being a part of this Reds organization, is the communication I've had the previous four years with Walt Johnson, and the support from Bob Castellini and the relationships I've had with this team. So absolutely, I see it as an extremely important relationship.

Q. Is that communication for the job something that comes more naturally to someone who has managed before?

BRYAN PRICE: It certainly could be. I think I'll tell you this, I have strong opinions when it comes to pitching because I realize that I was the one guy that was in the bullpen and the games. And I think that has value. There's value to my opinion in coming to deal with the guys that I'm with every day. Managing is going to be hard to have as close a relationship with every player as I have with the pitchers these past several years ago. The collaboration is certainly a huge part of this job.

Q. What are the Rays getting, what are some of his strengths?

BRYAN PRICE: People like to throw to him and that typically comes from trust and success, those things work with pitchers and catchers. He has a great feel. He's a guy that is good with reports and adjustments, he wants to do something early or come out of character, to make an adjustment, if he sees something. He's a very crafty guy. He's really good. The thing that's funny, when you're around him you might not necessarily think so.

The statistics the last couple of years, the caught stealing percentage, he's really extremely accurate, extremely coordinated. And very, very good at keeping going.

Q. Will Mesoraco be up to the task?

BRYAN PRICE: I think the benefit for Devin is he's had a couple of years of seeing what it takes. I think when you're catching in the Minor Leagues you don't have the scouting report, you don't have as much of the video footage, and looking at your opponent on the field and giving you a template for what you want to do.

We have an advance report, and people that take that advance report and break it down and try to simplify it, and hit it with a lot of statistical data that will tell you what the guy does early, but that's a lot of stuff to commit to learning, because you don't have to just concern yourself with the errors of the pitchers, but you have a lot of stuff that doesn't come overnight. And I think that's what we're talking about, you can put him behind home plate and by the first bat he'd have some understanding of strengths and weaknesses and go for the -- and Devin is progressing in that direction.

Q. How much of his being starter is also about his offensive ability? He could bring more power toward the middle of your lineup?

BRYAN PRICE: That's what we anticipate with Devin. He's progressing through the system. I'm a pitching guy, I'm not going into any long winded diatribes on hitting. But I think with Devin as a younger guy coming up through the system he has more power in the right center, I'd like to see him revisit that.

Q. What's the last month been like for you since taking the job?

BRYAN PRICE: Really busy. This has been good vacation time, usually. The Christmas tree is going up, but it's been great.

You know how few people ever get an opportunity to do this. It really is something that hit me sideways. I wasn't expecting this to happen. I think if you do this long enough you're either really comfortable in your spot or have more impact on how the ballclub plays. I think that's where my career was going. I don't think I would be a pitching coach until I was 55 or 60. I think I would be getting out of it.

Q. You've won 90 games. How good of a situation is that to walk into knowing that you have a team that can win right now?

BRYAN PRICE: It's great. I don't mind expectations. One thing I know is that you spend too much time learning about your job, you lose the job. You have to worry about going out and doing the job, that's all that really matters.

I think that's probably the biggest emphasis. And you have to appreciate his effort in turning this ballclub around to win consistently, expect to win. I know that we're disappointed that we didn't do more, especially in 2012 and 2013.

That being said, you can't deny the fact that this is an organization -- I think the cup is definitely half full in this situation. And as we've gotten to the point where we've turned the corner from just expecting to make the playoffs. We're expected to do a lot more.

Q. What do you do to take that next step?

BRYAN PRICE: You know, I think the two teams that were in the World Series kind of gave everybody a lesson what it looks like to be great. And that is to appreciate the ballgame every inning, appreciate every time you have to add on to it. That there's a certain effort and grind to the makeup of your ballclub.

I love our team. They're a great team. I think they need to find a little bit more of that grind. And I think we need to resonate with our fan base that we're not that team that may take games or stretches of games off where you don't understand the importance of every bat, every score, every inning that we need to throw. So I think it's distracting, just that little bit more.

Q. Does that fall on the manager or how do you do that?

BRYAN PRICE: Well, I'll tell you, I think that one of the jobs for me to do is to try to find that way. And I think that Dusty did the same thing, and I think some of the staff members that are not on the 2014 staff are doing the same thing.

I think what the important thing is, that's not just a message from the manager, it's an understanding of our team. Talking to the guys on the team after I got this job, there was definitely a strong understanding of opportunity missed there in 2013 and in 2012. And it was somewhat of a shocker to fall out of the playoff race in 2012 and not come back even more hungry to do damage in 2013. So that was disappointing.

But I think we all talked about, there's parts of our game that we just need to get better, base running situation, offense, appreciating the opportunities is something that seems to resonate with all of our guys. I think everyone has special responsibility in it.

Q. There's been talk of having Joey Votto tinker with his approach. Do you expect him to be any kind of a different hitter in the next season than he's been in recent years?

BRYAN PRICE: My feeling about Joey is that I think it's been mentioned, yeah, he needs to extend the plate to drive in runs. And I don't believe that. I think it can be very difficult to work hard to get an understanding of the strike zone and be able to manage it like Joey does, and then ask him to go outside that strike zone to be productive with runners in scoring position.

I think what we hope is that he's able to take advantage of more of those triple counts, those times he's in a good count and maybe not be quite as selective in that situation, still trying to hit strikes, but maybe not there's sometimes where he got deeper into the at bat.

In the end, he really did have a phenomenal year, and I think he's conscientious, that one of his responsibilities will be to drive in runs, and we've got to present him with those opportunities, and I think we'll see differences between 2013 and 2014.

Q. How do you make up for the lack of opportunities when you don't have (INAUDIBLE) scored a lot and not having that is a pretty big difference between last year's club and what happens next year?

BRYAN PRICE: Agreed. I think that's one of the reasons why we're here. Why we're here is to show up and see what our alternatives are. We're all excited about the development of Bill Hamilton, and one of the big decisions that we have to make between now and opening day is if he's ready to handle that load. He doesn't have to be a .410, .420 percentage, he can steal a lot of bases, he's going to be in scoring position a lot.

Is he ready to handle the position offensively? Because I think defensively he's ready. We'll find that out.

The other question is: Can we find somebody that can give us a stopgap until we're a hundred percent sure that Billy is ready, so we're not forcing it, we give him time to develop. I just would hate to see him in a straight platoon position, if that was our best ballclub. But we're still going to give him a chance to come in and win a position.

Q. You guys aren't in a position to remake this club nor probably a great need to remake this club. But how will it be different? Not just personnel or with personnel. It seems like there are going to be differences, and how do you get over the hump with that?

BRYAN PRICE: Well, for me, personally, you know, I had the advantage of sitting in and watching the Hall of Fame announcements today with those managers. And one thing that I heard loud and clear was the importance of doing things the right way, that there's a right way to do things.

I think in that area alone is something that we can tighten up. I think there were some things that stood out for me quite often were driving in runners with less than two outs from third base, with two outs from third base, and base running. Having an understanding of situational base running, situational offense, having guys utilize that 3 4 hole with a runner on first base.

There were things that seemed like we weren't terribly adept at doing offensively that I think there's definitely room for improvement. I think our situational game has great room to improve, and not just during Spring Training, but during the course of our season and regular routine, more attention to detail.

Q. Tony La Russa started hitting his pitcher 8th periodically to put another table setter in front of the big bats. Is that the type of thing you'd consider? How much value do you put on a high percentage guy?

BRYAN PRICE: We like to have runners on base. We like to have them in front of guys, we expect them to drive them in. Our 2 hole has been a challenge to find somebody that was a productive 2 hole hitter and could get on base, a guy that can get behind runners, a guy that gave us another opportunity to get on ahead of Joey or Ludwick or Bruce, or guys we expect to drive in runs. We have a few challenges in getting things exactly right.

But with the lineup we might not be able to do that, but we can certainly expect the talent to improve upon where we've been. I think we have that potential with this group.

Q. Do you have a lineup in your head right now?

BRYAN PRICE: I do, but I don't want to go over that.

Q. What about the idea of hitting your pitcher, are you willing to go against convention and do some of the Joe Maddon kind of defensive shifts?

BRYAN PRICE: Absolutely, absolutely. I think this is -- as you know, this is new for me, but I never say never policy, I said that in pitching, and it's the same with setting the lineup and defensive shifts. We have an awful lot of data. And if we're not willing to use that data to our advantage --

Q. The data shows that giving up to the sacrifice bunt costs the teams runs over the year. What are your thoughts on bunting away from the 9 hole?

BRYAN PRICE: Well, I think that personnel and where you are amongst your personnel, where you are in your lineup, and who you have in those positions to drive those runs in kind of tells the story about your decision making, what are you getting to, what are the advantages based on who you have behind hitting, if that's a negotiable thing with the bullpen that's lined up, putting the on deck hitter in position to be in a good matchup, the opposing manager to bring in somebody that's a good isolation guy for the guy on deck.

Q. I watched in the last couple of years how tough the division has got. What are your perceptions as far as how tough it's going to continue to be?

BRYAN PRICE: Well, everyone is working to get better. And one thing we were able to do the last few years is to -- you could see that coming back in 2010, my first year in Cincinnati. You could see it taking shape. And certainly the Cubs and the Brewers aren't going to be sitting on their hands for that to take place, they're going to do everything they can to get back on top.

I think the only thing we can do is create a situation where we come to work and play the game the best we can play. There were times, in particular in our division with St. Louis, where there were times where it felt like they were a better team. And that's something we have to get beyond. We have to get beyond that and not worry about that, just worry about playing the game better than we have. We've played really well the last four years, but we're looking to be an impact. We've got a little ways to go.

Q. What are your expectations for Brayan Pena, what do you like about him?

BRYAN PRICE: We liked a lot of things. I think first and foremost, certainly is his productivity, especially from the left side of the plate. We know he's a good guy. If there's anything -- our initial question was about the coaching staff, is trying to get guys to have -- that have a common voice and that that voice is a positive voice and it's an honest voice and it's one that holds people accountable.

Brayan Pena comes with a pretty big fan base, as far as people in the game that understand and appreciate what he does. And I know he's not so much -- he's efficient behind the plate, a strong left handed bat and he's a great character and unifier. And that's what we're looking to get a little bit tighter.

Q. Do you have an idea what his workload might be?

BRYAN PRICE: A lot of it is going to depend on Devin. I'm a big believer that you have a 25 man roster and you have 25 guys that have had a role and that role is an important role. That doesn't happen if you're never playing.

So he's going to play. We're hoping that Devin is ready to take that No. 1 spot and be a guy that catches 120, 110, 130 games. I think it's less likely for the 130.

Q. The post expanded replay is good, bad?

BRYAN PRICE: You know what, I didn't like the idea initially, and I think it's one of those things until you get hit by a call, a tough call, for whatever reason as a baseball fan you always like the human error. And I think it's got to play itself out a little bit.

It may be one of these things that we have to play with for a year and figure out if there's a way to tweak it or make it better, if it's something that connects with the managers or players or not.

Q. In addition to instant replay there's been a lot of talk about protection for catchers, no more collisions at the plate. How do you feel about something like that?

BRYAN PRICE: You know, it's funny, because now they're ensconced in all this more gear and more protection and so on and so forth. I do think the athletes are getting bigger and stronger. I don't think baseball is that much different than football; these guys train year round, they put on muscle mass and are faster and stronger. I think sometimes in baseball is what happens is we get away from the art of playing the game a certain way, and there's certain positions as a catcher where you receive the ball, to where you're less likely to get hurt in a collision. However, sometimes those are unavoidable situations based on what position it puts you in as a catcher.

I'm more a traditionalist, I like to stay away from changing the game too much. And I think collision is a part of the game. And for the most part from what I see quite often is the runner is in an effort to try to avoid that type of contact. These guys have careers, they make a lot of money, and they don't want to get hurt either, but there's that underlying factor saying we want you to give it everything you've got to score that run. A little bit of conflict of interest in that thing.

Q. (INAUDIBLE) the pitcher plays a big role, as well. Why do you think he's so good at his running game?

BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, you know, I think, first of all, he's very athletic, very quick, and he's very athletic. I think like most other teams pay a fair amount of attention to equipment. It makes a difference. But more than anything I think he's -- he's as accurate a guy as I've seen. He's terrific. He has great athleticism.

Q. Have you kept in touch with (INAUDIBLE)?

BRYAN PRICE: I'll speak to him myself. I like him so much. And I think it's hard to have a player (INAUDIBLE) to keep him around, and he's in that situation. He'll be 37 next year, probably close to the last player contract. I saw Jamie Moyer go through it. Your performance suggests maybe a two or three year commitment, and he probably is going to get that in Cincinnati. He's got to go out there and give his best performance. And then the decision comes down to if -- you hate to lose him.

Q. Have you seen the secret to his durability in his career?

BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, I think it's a number of things. Certainly his body type, he's sinewy and loose and athletic. There's not he's not one fly open, drop the elbow, and all of a sudden the shoulder is going to blow out. He's loose and sinewy. He never takes a day off. He's in great shape. And he just loves it. The thing about this game sometimes is a guy like him, I don't want to say he's self made, but he appreciates the opportunity.

Q. Do you see him pitching as long as Jamie Moyer?

BRYAN PRICE: I think he'd like to. I think he'd like to, and it may include him going into the bullpen or whatever and getting crafty with that sidearm breaking ball. But I think he'd love to play.

Q. You guys don't do anything else rotation wise?

BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, we do. It's a tradeoff, really, across the board. We've got David from Arizona, a left hander that we feel is close. I'm very happy. We don't there are not a lot of comfortable matchups. Tony, when he's taking the ball he's been very, very good. And he's a great fastball pitcher. I think he'll do a terrific job.

Q. Do you feel confident in Jonny's ability to pitch the whole season?

BRYAN PRICE: You know, what we know is that he's struggled to stay real healthy with his shoulder. Kind of along the lines of Homer Bailey, who had a couple back to back years of setbacks is just getting really diligent with the work.

And I think when you're young you're less apt to -- not as far as going out and running more, he's a good worker, but really staying on the shoulder exercises, and staying strong in that situation. He's always had a semi wild finish. He's not as open now, in that he gets overrotated. The challenge since 2008 was keep the shoulder strong and have the durability for the entire season.

Q. It's more the finish issue than the windup, this issue is from, everybody sees the overrotation, maybe it's more the other side of it than the rotation?

BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, it's definitely, as he's coming to the hitter. If you go back and look at him in 2008 when he started, it's an aggressive front side and a lot of fall over to the first base side. Not uncommon with pitchers. When you look at it, if you just saw him once he started doing the rotation, look at that overrotation, he's done that ever since I've seen him.

Q. (INAUDIBLE)?

BRYAN PRICE: We're still debating it, but there's a key, once you start throwing to get your arm ready for winter ball. These guys have to go back on the regular throwing program. We also have an academy where he can throw and face hitters.