Winter Meetings interview with Fredi Gonzalez

Winter Meetings interview with Fredi Gonzalez

            Q. Comments on Bobby Cox getting into Hall of Fame?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Oh, one of my favorite days ever in being part of baseball, professional baseball. To just watch him sit up there and get elected, boy, we're so proud of him, the whole organization.

            I got a chance to ride in with him to the winter meetings, and I'll get a chance to ride back with him here in the next day or two, and I'm sure we'll talk some more. But what an honor it is to manage against him in my young career as a manager, and also sit next to him for four years and learn and manage against Joe and Tony. I congratulate those guys also. The whole organization is just ecstatic that Bobby's going into the Hall of Fame.

            Q. A lot of people you talk to say Bobby's greatest asset was his people skills, and Ed said when he became a manager, people said look at the guy who is best at whatever you want to do and emulate him, and Ned said initially he tried to do that. He said I can't do that. Bobby is just --

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Bobby, the first thing he will tell you is you've got to be yourself. And that is one of the first things he told me is you've got to be yourself. If you try to be somebody that you're not, they'll see right through you. You've got to be yourself. Obviously, both Ned and I have picked up a lot of good stuff from him. You can't help it sitting next to him just to watch not only his people skills but the way he runs the baseball game and runs a team. You give him a different team every year, and he wins. Just watch him and listen and pay attention, and you can't help but to pick up stuff.

            Q. When Bobby was thanking everyone yesterday along the lines, Red Adams and Campanis, do you kind of think about that, how your life might be different had you not made that move from the Marlins to the Braves 10, 11 years ago?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  I've always said that there's been a couple of men in my life that have impacted my life as not only in baseball but just as a person: my father, Bobby, and my bench Coach, Carlos Tosca, really. And I've never deviated from that. To have I don't know how many guys, we have 30 Major League managers here, and I don't know how many guys have that type of asset where I can pick up the phone or get a phone call from Bobby Cox and talk about a game or talk about a situation that I'm getting ready to handle. He's done it millions of times. Or Skip, this is what I'm going to do, what do you think? And have that asset there waiting for you at your disposal any time you want.

            So it's -- I tell you, there was one common thread in that whole press conference, really all those three guys mentioned organizations, they mentioned scouting, they mentioned minor leagues, you know. You can't help but think to be a successful Major League manager, you have to have good coaching. You have to have a great organization, you have to have a great farm system. All those three men mentioned that in their brief speech. It makes scouts, and it makes minor league coaches feel good.

            Q. Yesterday Frank was talking about how he didn't envision any frontline trades as he put it down here. He saw more and more support trades. Are you good with that? Do you understand? Are you all on the same page as far as what you need and don't need?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  We always want more. You ask any manager, you always want more. The better the player you have, the better you look. But we feel that if spring training starts tomorrow, our rotation is pretty good. Young, young, but it's a pretty good rotation with Wood and Medlen, Minor, Teheran -- Medlen, I don't know who I'm missing, or Beachy, I'm sorry. So you feel pretty good about that.

            Now if something comes around or something pops in our lap or anything that could get better and we could move and get our depth a little bit better, sure, I think Frank would be remiss not to listen to it. But right now we feel pretty good about the rotation. I think we're still looking for a possibility of some bench help, you know, and we may have it here in the winter meetings or it may be a little later on this winter. But our guys are meeting up there right now and they're beating the bushes to try to help make this team better.

            Q. B.J. doing anything with the club this winter to try to get himself back?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Not yet. He's not. I just talked to one of his representatives a couple of hours ago, and he said he's starting to hit in Tampa. Our plans are for Greg or Scott or both or all three of us to go either down to Tampa or if B.J. comes up to Atlanta, to spend some time with him. We'll get him going.

            Obviously, he doesn't -- I'm sure the season, that 2013 season, is not going to be one of his favorite seasons because of the numbers. But there is a lot of talent there. There are a lot of tools that we talk about, and there is a lot of potential there still. So we're going to try to get him what he was in Tampa, the guy that we wanted.

            Q. Little message to him, simply, hey, look last year is last year. You're coming in with a clean slate and go with it?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Absolutely, absolutely. And that's the message. It's got to be that message. You've got to -- obviously it's maybe something you want to learn and have experienced, but you've got to forget about it. I think every good Major League Baseball player, there is a season in the back of their baseball card that you may want to forget, you know. But maybe 2013 is one of the seasons for B.J., but he is a good centerfielder. He can run. He's still a young guy, but we'll get him going again.

            Q. Your two most veteran everyday players, Dan and B.J., did not have the type of years you wanted, they wanted. Coming back into the clubhouse while it's easy to say turn the page, you're probably looking for a vibe in the clubhouse, a presence that these guys are going to gravitate towards. Talk about being young, how do you think the chemistry part of it will all work?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  You know what, we've always lost. The year before was Chipper Jones, we lost that presence and we did okay. This year we've lost Buchanan, we lost Huddy, but somebody will emerge. We've got some guys in that clubhouse that are ready to start heading in that direction. Heyward, Freeman, and maybe Kimbrel now that he's been with us for three-plus years. He becomes our guy, that veteran presence in the clubhouse.

            You know, if you can go out there and there is somebody out there to fill that void, then surely we'll try to do that.

            Q. Do you think about that as a bench guy maybe, a guy who has been in the postseason, maybe postseason success?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Yeah, we've talked about that guy, you know, a guy like Giambi in Cleveland or -- I'm not going to throw names out there, but one of those type guys that's going to be a good presence in the clubhouse. Hinske, when we had him a couple two years ago, and I think he's a coach now with the Cubs, so we'll steal his signs when he comes to town. But one of those type guys that know their role. They're going to pinch hit and play every once in a while, but they give you a good presence in the clubhouse.

            Laird is a guy that last year kind of started emerging to be that voice in the clubhouse, and he's still with us.

            Q. At the same time, you look at the core, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, all these guys that are young but talented, not a lot of teams have that kind of core that the Braves do. Talk a little about the core, the young, very talented players that have allowed you guys to win 96 games last year.

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Absolutely. We just sat here and talked about two guys that didn't produce to their expectations, and we still won 96 games and won our division. You've got Freeman who finished in the Top 5, MVPs, you've got Simmons who won the Gold Glove, and he's a young kid. You've got Heyward who, for me, if he didn't have the injuries he had, no fault to him with the appendicitis and the broken jaw, he might have won the Gold Glove and might have put 20-something in seats, you know. He's still a young guy. Justin Upton, who has been in the League six, seven years, he's a young guy also. You feel pretty good about your team. Your rotation is young. The back end of the bullpen with Avilan and Kimbrel is really, really young and really, really good. So, yeah. It feels good.

            We're not going to get old anytime soon. Hopefully we get some guys back that can help us. We've had some injuries, and we'll be okay.

            Q. What were your impressions of the way Evan Gattis handled the pitching staff last year?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  I thought he did a terrific job. I talked to him about three or four days ago, and I told him that he was going to be the guy behind the plate. Evan is one of those guys that likes to be goal oriented and wants to be told what his role is going to be. It's possible for next year, so we did. We had a nice conversation, and he's getting ready to be our catcher, whether he catches more than Laird does or Laird catches more than your typical back-up catcher.

            Our pitchers, talking to Roger, liked throwing to Gattis, they really did. So we feel good about that.

            Q. If it's something like a 3-2, maybe Gattis 3, Laird 2, is that aimed towards not only Laird's capable, but you're thinking about Gattis is a big body that you want to kind of preserve him over the course of the season, the fall season?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Yeah, the days of catching those catchers catching 155, there are not very many that can do that. So whether it's 3-2, 4-1, you know to start off with, to see how everything goes and how healthy everybody is. But for now he's going to be our guy. Him and Laird are going to be our catchers. Maybe he feels more comfortable catching back there, and his bat becomes even more of an impact in the lineup.

            Q. Betancourt going back to Triple-A, you think?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Well, we're open. We're open. We've always -- sometimes we made plans for our players or any player and sometimes they change those plans for us. I'm a big believer that the player will let us know when he's ready to play in the big leagues. If Betancourt comes to spring training and we sit down as a coaching staff and front office and say, wow, this guy is ready to play, there is no reason this guy is going to go -- or needs to go to Triple-A. And by the way, he's having a pretty good season in winter ball which helps him and maybe speeds up the process. We'll be open to that.

            We carried three catchers last year, and if he comes into spring training and says, hey, I'm ready to go, we'll address that.

            Q. What about (No microphone). Talk about maybe his future plans?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  He is -- offensively he's had a terrific time. He went to Arizona Fall League. Had a nice fall league. I think he got named one of the top prospects in the fall league. He's an offensive guy, a really offensive guy. He's serviceable at second base, and he's a guy that's knocking on the door ready, whether it's this year or July or next year or next season.

            Q. Maybe seen as a No. 2, No. 5?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  You know, I haven't gotten that far as far as where he fits in the lineup. But I know that the numbers are there where you could put him maybe gap hitter. You could put up those numbers offensively, you'll find a place for him.

            Q. I know Snits not back this year. But you did get Roger, Greg, Scott, how important was it to have everybody coming back from the staff this year?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Very important. I think it's one of those organization decisions on Snits that I think we'll be good for. I think Brian was okay with it. We haven't had that -- Snits has been in our organization for 37 years maybe, 35, 37 years, he's a guy that's going to be our guy in Triple-A. I look at him as an extension of my big league coaching staff. I feel comfortable. I can pick up the phone and talk to Snits and he'll get it done in Triple-A. Because during the course of the year you've got to use 23 pitchers, and that's been proven. Ten starters, four or five outfielders and they're all going to be coming from Brian Snitkers in Double-A. But it's important. It's important to have Brian in our organization.

            Roger back with our pitching, that speaks for itself, and the stuff that he's had. The impact he's had on our pitching staff since he's been here. Everybody else is saying we picked up Doug Dascenzo and he's going to be our base running, outfield guy, coaching third base. That was what we were lacking when we made that decision as an organization to put Snits in Triple-A. We didn't have a legit base running outfield guy on our coaching staff, which is here or there because the 2012 season I think we were second in the league in base running and Jason Heyward won a Gold Glove. And he would have won one this year if he didn't miss all those games with injuries.

            Q. Is Beachy rehabbing still or is he just strengthening?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  He's ready to go in spring training day one. He had a little clean up there at the end of the year, and we feel like he may be -- I couldn't tell you exactly, but he should break camp with us. He should break camp with us which is a good sign.

            Q. O'Flaherty, I know he's a free agent, but?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  He's progressing well with his Tommy Jon, and he's a free agent. I've got my fingers crossed that we can do something, because he's a big part of not only our organization but our bullpen.

            Q. He wouldn't be ready until the end of the season sometime?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  O'Flaherty and Venters should be -- they wouldn't be ready at the start of the season, no, but shortly there after. Maybe Venters a little bit sooner than O'Flaherty, but not -- maybe the first month and a half or so we should be able to get him back.

            Q. Will with the changes in baseball with the expanded replay and potential of getting rid of home plate collisions, what are your thoughts on that topic?

            FREDI GONZALEZ: I can answer that question on the replay more tomorrow. We've got a big meeting tomorrow with the replay committee. I really haven't gotten all of the particulars on what challenges and what can you challenge or how many challenges you have and that kind of stuff. So I don't want to make comment, I think. I think anything that you can get the play right, we're all in on that. So I can give you a better answer tomorrow afternoon. I think our meeting is in the morning. So I can get a better feel on how we're going to handle that situation.

            The home plate collisions, it's a double-edged sword. Me being a catcher in the minor leagues, never played in the big leagues, you try to protect one side and then you hurt the other side. Then you put the umpires in a position where they've got to make another decision that maybe they shouldn't. By me saying that, if you said you've got to slide at the plate, if you don't slide you're out. All right, I think colleges and high schools have that rule. Well, the catcher's going to take advantage of that. The catcher is going to say, okay, I know he's got to slide, but I'm going to sit on the plate. I'm going to block the plate. Now the umpire, can he block the plate? The ball is not there yet, that kind of stuff. So I'm all for protecting players, obviously, and concussion is one of the biggest issues we have in our sport, well, all sports in general, really. But that's the thing with blocking the plate not blocking the plate.

            Catchers know that the runner doesn't have to slide. They don't block the plate. So I don't know if you make it a rule or you just give them -- try to teach them more about concussions and maybe have guys teach them how to slide better. Did that answer your question?

            Q. Yeah, it did. Thank you. You've had the luxury of defensive catchers the last few years. But what we've seen in the last few years, guys like Napoli at the plate, Mauer, the giants -- do you see an evolution in that position where the guys who can really hit are going to move out?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  I don't know. But it's tough on a manager. I remember the first time that that was brought up was I think Bobby Valentin mentioned it with Piazza. He had Piazza, and he was your best hitter.

            At some point with our organization McCann was the best hitter and Posey in San Francisco. As you know, it's hard to take your number three or number four hitter out of the lineup because he's the catcher, you've got to give him a rest. So I don't know if there are many catchers that can make a position change where you could put them at first base. I know with Posey you had that luxury that you could put him at first base or Mauer you could move over to first base a little bit. But I don't know if everybody has that luxury. But you ask those catchers. They want to catch. If you're a catcher, you want to catch. That is the best spot on the whole field.

            Yeah, it's tough sometimes when you want to give a guy a breather after a night game and he's your three or four hitter.

            Q. It all increases your value not just to the team but for themselves when they negotiate people. They bring in the bat and they're still catchers?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  When you have a guy like Piazza, McCann, Posey behind the plate or Molina, you know, it's big.

            Q. What is it if you look back to what this team did this past year or looking ahead, the roster is about the same, what gives you the most confidence or comfort about where the team stands entering this season?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Well, the health coming back, with Beachy getting healthier, our bullpen, we should have them at the beginning of the season right there shortly, Venters and hopefully O'Flaherty. That's a different topic. But the health of those guys coming back, the youth of those guys coming back. The experience.

            Now all of a sudden we've been through, since I've been here, you go behind the 2010 and some of those guys were in that playoff. The Wild Card against the Giants, Medlen, Kimbrel, you feel good about that. They're young, they're getting postseason experience, and they're three-plus or four-plus Major League seasons under their belt.

            Q. You and Frank each commented after the Division Series loss that you guys need or wanted to get an ace to help you get past that postseason. Do you still feel that way? It seems that you kind of de-emphasized the importance of that.

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Like I said earlier, you always want to get better. You always want to improve. If there's somebody out there that fits, then, yeah, sure, you always wanted one of those aces. But, again, I've wished for a lot of presents during Christmas and never got them, you know, so it's always good to wish. But, again, when you asked me that question first, I said do you feel about our club.

            When you're looking at the postseason, I guess, the Dodgers, we faced Kershaw, we faced Greinke, and Ryu, and Medlen, and Minor and Teheran, and Freddy Garcia. And other than Julio Teheran game, our guys did okay. They matched up. They matched up. I think Julio we gave them a two-run lead or three-run lead, and I think there was a point in the game where he had experienced, you could see that it wasn't there. So, yeah, you wish for a lot of things. They're out there.

            I've been with Frank three years now, and with the Braves going on eight and two different stints. If there isn't something out there that makes this team better, and it works and it fits, they'll get it done.

            Q. But if you don't get one, you can move forward without it.

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  If spring training started with our starting rotation and our club, we'll be okay.

            Q. You talked about starting with the guys you have at the Major League level and guys that are coming through the Minors as well. Is that something that you feel like sending those guys out there is that the next step in the evolution to become the front of the rotation guys?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Absolutely. There is not a stadium in the minor leagues that they've got 60,000 people yelling at you, and you have to perform, and you have the press of the postseason and the playoffs. Then September, a pennant race. You can't simulate that. By then getting that experience.

            I think David Hill got two-thirds of an inning in one of those games or a third inning in one of those games. That's got to help going forward. He can go out there this year or next year in that spot and say I've been here. I've been here. I know what it's going to feel like when I take the mound at Dodger Stadium. So that's got to help.

            Q. How will you approach Uggla coming into spring if he's still with the club?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  You know, we've got to get him fixed. We've got to get him fixed. He just got married last weekend, and he's on his honeymoon, so I'm going to leave him alone for 7, 8, 10 days. Whether it's the beginning of the year or after Christmas, whatever, we'll make contact with him. Sit him down, talk to him and try to fix him.

            Here's a guy that his first five seasons of his career he's done something that no other second baseman has ever done in the history of our game. This year when he hit .180, but he still hit 20 home runs, blocked a bunch. So it's still there, you know? So he's a guy that can block.

            And Fletch, we're going to have to get him straightened out. The first contact has to be by me, work that relationship and get that straightened out.

            Sitting back during the course of the winter and the playoffs, he wasn't on the playoff roster, and that was a tough decision. People think the postseason is fun, but it wasn't, not for me when you've got to tell guys you can't play in the postseason. You can't do this or you're not on the roster. It was the first time in seven years of my career that Uggla wasn't on the roster or on the lineup. So that's something that we need to address with him and we need to talk.

            Q. It's doable though, it's not irreparable, the relationship?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Yeah, I think so. He's a competitor, and I think he'll be fine.

            Q. Is there -- you haven't had any contact with him since the end of the season?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  No.

            Q. So is that really the only difference in this situation where you've said you approached B.J. and Uggla? Would you approach them both the same way other than with Uggla you have to --

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  No, yeah, they're two different situations. Two different people, so you've got to approach it two different ways.

            Q. If it did start tomorrow, spring training started tomorrow, Dan Uggla your second baseman?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Yeah, he's on our team.

            Q. Do you approach it carefully?

            FREDI GONZALEZ: No (laughing). Did I tell you I've got a couple of pitbulls this winter?

            Q. Is Jason Heyward still your leadoff hitter in your mind?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  As the team is right now, yeah. He did a terrific job for us. I mean, we took off for different reasons why we moved Jason into the leadoff spot. We took off. I think the best runs we had were with him leading off. Other than he's 6'4, 235, you look at his numbers, he's a prototypical leadoff guy. He gets on base. He gets you a double. He can still you a bag. He can hit .280, .290, but he looks funny because he's 6'4", and he's an unbelievable body on him. But, yeah. If the season started today, I would pencil him in as leadoff. He was right in the middle of him getting hot when his jaw got broken. To all his credit and our medical people, we got him back, and I didn't see any residue of any of those -- of his jaw being broken.

            I think the first night back he got a couple hits if I'm not mistaken. So he is a special guy.

            Q. Can you talk about Eric Hinske and what he might bring as a coach?

            FREDI GONZALEZ:  Sure. It brings a smile to my face because he was a coach long before he knew he was a coach with Hinske because of the presence he brings to the clubhouse. He's going to hold those players accountable. He is a smart baseball person. And nobody wants to win more than he does. He brings that experience to the postseason. He had a record of three or four World Series or something, in a row.

            So it's a plus-plus with him. I think the Cubs are lucky to have a guy like that.