Winter Meetings interview with Ryne Sandberg

Winter Meetings interview with Ryne Sandberg

           Q. Ryne, how many starting pitchers do you think this team needs to add between now and spring training?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, what we have is we have Lee, Hamels and Kendrick. We have Pettibone. We have Keith and Martin, and we have Gonzalez going into camp. Typically you can have eight or nine, possibly ten available.

            So at this point I'd like to add two starting pitchers right now in the mix would be a big plus in the near future to get through a long season. I think that's necessary. But to add to what we have is definitely a top priority right now.

            Q. Do you have any desire to see what (inaudible) can do? You have your top pitching prospect, do you have curiosity to where he's at?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Yeah, I know that he's still on the somewhat back burner type of possibility. But I'm anxious to see what he has.

            But to have him come to camp, I'm not sure he's coming to camp yet, but if he's coming to camp. He'd be a guy to gain experience and to have a guy that's on the way, and he's one of the few that we do have as far as depth. So that is the importance of adding a couple starters before we get to camp.

            Q. There is a lot of buzz today about the Phillies possibly trading Cliff Lee and/or Cole Hamels. Can you illuminate us on any of that?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I think that's rumors. This is the place where rumors happen and where they come from nobody knows. But we're trying to add starting pitching. That's our priority right now is to add to that, not subtract. So right now we're trying to add to Lee and Hamels and Kendrick, Gonzalez, Pettibone, not subtract from that.

            Q. So you don't believe there is any truth to these rumors?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  I don't.

            Q. If there were some truth and as the Skipper, can you win without either one of those guys?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I believe that it's not truth, so I don't even need to speculate the other direction there.

            Q. Just from an evaluation standpoint from what you saw from Domonic this year, when you see that kind of season for a player like that, how much better could he be or do you think there is room for even more upside after what you saw?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Domonic Brown made very good strides last year as far as putting together a really good, solid, healthy first half of the season. He did get banged up a little bit in the second half that resulted in a lesser second half. But I think that was steps in the right direction for him. I think with his bat and his better defensive play, I think that will all work together as a -- he was a complete package player for the first half. He was an All-Star player. So I think that's steps for him, stepping stones in what could be this year. So I'm looking forward to that. He's a player that wants to win. He's a left-handed bat in our ballpark. He's a guy that's with us going in the direction we want to go.

            Q. You mentioned the left-handed bat. Since specialized relievers have become prevalent in this game, there haven't been a lot of NL teams that have carried five regular left-handed at-bats. It's easy to see when you try to figure out a lineup that it balances everything out. Do you think that will be a liability for you guys or do you think you can make it work?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I think that hurt us last year. We weren't a good offensive team against left-handed pitching. I think Marlon Byrd coming in is a big plus. Can he bat top of the lineup? He can bat three, four, five.

            Having Ruiz back, he's hit in the middle of the lineup before. He has that capability. But Byrd is very good against left-handed pitching.

            Jimmy Rollins, the switch hitter will come into play.

            Revere, with his speed, he made good adjustments before he got hurt about six weeks. Getting his average up to .300, and he hit well against left-handed pitching.

            I think Chase Utley battles his at-bats against lefties. So I think the right-handed at-bats with Byrd, and having Ruiz back. Darin Ruf could be in the mix as a guy getting some starts in there. Freddy Galvis is the switch hitter. So I think going into this year we have a chance to be much better improved against left-handed pitching than last year.

            Q. Do you get the sense that another piece somehow gets added that it will continue to balance things out or are you kind of looking at what you've got right now?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  I still see us possibly getting in piece for the bench. A right-handed at-bat, the defense with depth at centerfield would be a plus for us. It would be a good option to mix in if that guy's out there. I wouldn't say that the bench is totally solidified right now. But I could see a piece for the bench to improve the centerfield experience, the right-handed at-bat.

            Q. You have an older team. Is motivating an older team different than one that has younger players? Are there different tactics you have to use?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  It can be different. I got a taste of it last year for about 42 games. I think motivation is part of the game. I think you can get the players to actually get them on board to motivate themselves.

            But I also look at our team as an experienced team. Some guys are still capable of putting together good years and with the balance that we have in the lineup even with that, we have some guys that could really have some good years and have a good mix throughout the lineup just with the balance that we have.

            When you're looking at an offensive team, it's about a lineup. It's not about one or two guys. I think with the guys that we have top to bottom, I think they have a chance to have good years. Motivating the experienced players that we have, I think having the last two seasons that the Phillies have had, I think has a bad taste in their mouth.

            Talking to them one-on-one, I know that they're all wanting a few more shots at postseason as a group with the core players that we have. And I think the motivation was the way that last year went. I think that will go a long way.

            Q. How many guys have you talked to?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  I talked to all of them at the end of the season. I've talked to a handful since. But I'll get in contact after the meetings are over with. Get in contact with all of them. I know they're all doing their work. We have a few players that are going to be coming in earlier in January than normal just to get out of cold weather and get started.

            Ryan Howard is full-time in Florida right now. The first of January, he'll start going over to the complex and getting some groundballs and baseball activities. So the biggest thing with our team is also being healthy. Except for Adams, we'll be, knock on wood, healthy going in and stay healthy.

            Q. Have you seen in the last few weeks reports say Ryan looks good and he lost a lot of weight?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  No, I just saw him at the end of the season in Atlanta. He looked very good. I think the key with him, and which will be key, obviously middle of the lineup RBI guy will be the fact that he'll have all of this, and he has all this winter to actually do activity things to stay in shape. The last series in Atlanta I was able to see him, and he already looked trimmer and was very excited about the off-season, continuing to work, and I think that will go a long way with his productivity in 2014.

            Q. Do you think it's a gamble to expect or believe those players, Howard, Utley, (inaudible), Ruiz can stay healthy an entire season considering their age and the way the past couple seasons have gone?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I think that is the importance of a good, solid bench player and players that will allow me to give them days off to hopefully keep them fresh and injury-free. I think that will play a big part. With a Freddy Galvis, if it's Kevin France, if it's Darin Ruf, whoever we might add, I think those guys will be key players on a team like this that will get an occasional day off and keep them fresh and hopefully stay injury-free.

            Q. Given all the things a manager has to deal with during the course of a game, how big a deal is going to be whether to add a challenge on a close play for replay?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I think, you know what, I think that's all part of managing anyway. I think I stay on my toes on close plays and knowing when a play needs to be looked at or the umpires need to gather up and get a different view. I think that's the way it's been up until now. But to have something in place where we can make some challenges and with that strategy have to learn it a little bit and then be smart with it. That will also go with helping the coaches and everybody making some good decisions on those reviews.

            Q. How important was it to add your old friend Larry Bowa to the coaching staff?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Larry Bowa will be a very good addition. I feel really excited about that. When you talk about a baseball guy and his knowledge, he's done it all in the game. So he'll be a great right-hand man. Looking forward to having him right by my side. Should be a lot of fun.

            Pete Mackanin also, another good baseball man, will be by my side coaching third base. So between the two of them, we're going to get our work in, and guys will get after it. I like their baseball experience. You can't beat those two guys' experience.

            Q. What do you know about Nieves a back-up catcher?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Nieves is very good behind the plate. Really good at game calling, and has been known to handle pitchers very well. So that's his strength. Anything with the bat would be a plus, but his throwing and catching skills and calling a game, handling the pitching staff is a plus.

            Q. I know Rueben yesterday talked about Miguel Gonzalez going down early and stuff and throwing down there. Is Bob McClure going to go down there and be a part of his workouts? Does he need to get a look at him, an extra look as a coach?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  That will probably happen. I don't have a definite on that. But Bob is in Florida. I know that he was going to get in touch with the pitchers one way or the other, if not go to Clearwater early for a situation like that. I would anticipate Bob getting a look at him. Whether that's definite or not, I couldn't answer that.

            Q. Is Carlos his primary (No microphone) down there, I guess?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I saw Miguel and (indiscernible) throw. He was playing catch. He had one or two little stints off the mound, but it was primarily just long tossing and getting the arm in shape. But he's been continuing to do that. He'll be ready to go into spring training.

            The other key with him is he really hasn't pitched in competition in some time. So whether we can get some possible simulated games type of action for him going in before spring or whatever that might be. But overall I'm just anxious to actually see him.

            Rueben mentioned yesterday he's not a total guy that we're 100 percent depending on right out of the chute because we haven't seen him. But it's just another reason for the added depth that is necessary in starting pitching.

            Q. Is there a concern with innings with him? Even if his stuff is great and he's great, this guy hasn't pitched in a while, going 200 innings right off the bat might be kind of --

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Yeah, those are all things that need to be determined once we see him and get a feel for him. That will start right from the first day of spring training to see where he's at and what he's capable of doing. Will he need a little back-up as we go and things progress? That's yet to be seen. We don't know.

            Q. (Inaudible) obviously spent the bulk of his career (No microphone). Do you have an idea of where you would like those guys to hit, do you think?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, there will be some strategy there. It's not ideal to have three or four left-handed bats in a row. But with the addition of Marlon Byrd and Ruiz, there is some nice flexibility there to have some balance, to not have three lefties in a row. So I think there will be some strategy there and to see who is swinging it.

            After a while, in some regards, the hitters start to make the lineup. See who is hot. Try some different things. But I like the mix of the right-handed, left-handed at-bats we have.

            Q. If everybody's healthy, is Ryan a clean-up hitter or is he flexible?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  He can be flexible. I see him right in the middle of the lineup, but I don't think anything has to be set with anybody. Like I say, lot of times the hitters determine where they hit as we get along. But to have Ryan healthy and swinging the bat well and batting fourth all year with all of that scenario, that would be ideal.

            Q. Do you take base running as any factor as to where a guy would hit? Obviously I don't think it's really clear how Ryan's running or whether he's going to have all of his speed he had back?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  There is some strategy there at the top of the order how you mix and match with guys to put some hit-and-run guys together.

            Once again, I think flexibility goes a long way. Ben Revere could be a leadoff hitter. Jimmy Rollins could be a leadoff hitter depending on who is pitching. Speed at the top of the order for the three-hole hitter and for like a Ryan Howard batting fourth, obviously ideal. There is nothing new there.

            Q. Do you expect the offense to be much better? Because back in Philly most fans have been pretty underwhelmed by the moves so far. They're seeing the older guys resigned and brought in. How good do you think the offense can be?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  I think staying healthy is number one. Like I said, the balance up-and-down the lineup could create some good at-bats and good opportunities for each hitter up-and-down the lineup. We have the possibility of Revere, Rollins, Utley, Howard, Byrd, Brown, Ruiz, Asche, just to name a few of the possibilities there that allows each hitter to just have their at-bats and not really have too much pressure on each guy when you have bats like that. You get two or three guys hot, that's ideal. When I look at those hitters, it could be any three of those guys at one time.

            So with everybody back, with Ryan Howard healthy, that's a step in the right direction. With the right-handed at-bats, the left-handed at-bats, that is key. And the versatility of the guys and flexibility.

            Q. What was your conversation like with Jimmy Rollins at the end of the year, and what do you think he needs to, you know, get on base more or hit for some more power?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, at the end of the season, I saw progress over the last six weeks of our games with him using the middle of the diamond and some of the opposite field a little bit more, getting on base with that approach. I think he laid off some bad pitches and drew some walks and became a base runner. Batting second and first, that is key for him and key for the team is for Jimmy Rollins to get on base and use his base running skills. He did pop a home run, one or two in there somewhere as just a reaction thing, which I don't think he was trying to do at the time.

            But I saw him at an Eagles game about three weeks ago. He was looking forward to the changes and the direction of the team. The younger players that came up and did a nice job, and the young arms in the bullpen showed promise. So I think there were a lot of good things that he was talking about, and I was talking to him about. But also for him to do what is necessary for the team, and that is for him to get on base, and make things happen that way. Play shortstop every day, be a guy at the top of the order that's scoring runs.

            Q. Are you optimistic that he can be that guy still over the course of an entire season?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  I think so. I think once again with the lineup that we're featuring right now and the possible balance, and the possible bats that we have in the lineup, I think Jimmy feeds off something like that. So, once again, I say it's a lineup that's not up to one or two hitters to do the job. It's for all of them to participate and have different guys get hot each week. I think we have those type of hitters that it could be any one of them.

            Q. When Ruf had that Big 12 season, Triple-A, and then came up here for a little bit, he tore up left-handed pitching. Last year that was a significantly different thing. He was probably a little better against right-handed pitchers. Did you see anything in the time you got to see him as to what was going on there with him against left-handers?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, I think Darin Ruf lost his right-center approach and his ability to take the outside middle away pitch and drive it the other way for whatever reason. I think he got a little bit to the pull side happy, which is an adjustment that he needs to make, whether it's get closer to the plate or just having a mental approach and a practice about driving the ball the other way and reacting inside.

            So I think it was -- for me, I think it was like a one year thing for him that we saw right away where he was a little bit on the pull happy with his technique and mental thoughts. So I think he can make an adjustment, and come back and do better than that. He's better than what he was last year against left-handed pitching, no question.

            Q. We talked a little about managing yesterday and styles and philosophies, the dynamic of the clubhouse. Can I ask as a player and now it's the players room as long as you have the right guys sort of in charge of it, obviously with the many veterans that you have, do you feel good about that part of it?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  Well, my experience is the locker room is the players' locker room, but I like to be in there myself and I like the coaches to be accessible to the players in the locker room. I think that's one of my key jobs is to know what's happening in the locker room and be available to players' daily conversations, daily pep talks, whatever it might be, to let the players know that we're there for them.

            We'll be on the field getting work in to hone their skills and to have them be the best players that they can be and do it as a group. Do it because it's fun. It's fun to be on a baseball field playing the game of baseball. It's fun to practice it and get better. I think that all works with the locker room, and some of my philosophies that I enjoy. So I enjoy being around the guys, whether it's in the batting cage, whether it's in the bullpen, the dugout, whatever it might be in the locker room. I like being part of it. That is something that I enjoy.

            Q. Curious to get your thoughts about plays at the plate. I guess it's going to come up with discussions with the managers tomorrow. Are you in favor of rule changes or maybe are you of the camp that you have to be convinced?

            RYNE SANDBERG:  I think I need more information on how they would rule a play at the plate. Because the object of the game is to score runs and for runners to touch home plate. If