Winter Meetings interview with Buck Showalter

Winter Meetings interview with Buck Showalter

            Q. What's the challenge of keeping (INAUDIBLE)?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  It's a challenge. Our coaching staff did a great job with it. You know, as much as you see them in the spring, you make a decision to break with them, the first month or so, as you all well know, nobody can say for sure what you saw in Iowa the year before or in Sarasota Spring Training is going to play in the American League East or allow you to carry them.

            I think the toughest thing for me is the unknown with him the first month. Five-run lead and can he come in and get three outs before you get a closer up. It's unknown with a Rule 5 guy. More times than not you find the existing club, they protected him for the right reason.

            We've been fortunate the last two years -- I talked to T.J., he feels great. Loved the experience. And is going to come to our camp and I'm really proud of him. Ryan has got a chance to make our club again.

            Q. Dan mentioned Ryan when he talked about the internal options at second base and you feel confident that what you have there. Is Flaherty in your mind ready to become an everyday --

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Whatever they do on metrics, they profile him out as hitting 20 home runs on second base and played good defense, and that's a good combo. We have Jemile and potential of Jonathan Schoop, first and foremost, we have the potential with Brian Roberts. I like our options.

            Q. Would you like to bring Brian back?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  In a perfect world. Let's see if it works for everybody. It's not a perfect world, it has to fit to everybody. And there's some decisions that have to be made about it, people start changing salaries and whatever, I'm not -- it's not something -- I think they've got it wired.

            Q. How complicated or heated are discussions about players you could lose in Rule 5?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Not many. You don't know how somebody else evaluates your guys. One of the things where -- you lose a good player that becomes a great player, there's money involved, 25 or 50. Sometimes you hate to see a guy taken that you know you're going to get back, because it retards his development. I think we did that with Rosario.

            If you get somebody taken, I think the thing shows you that what, is it about 80 percent chance you get them back. As the old scouts say, you take the money they give you and go have a party. In that case we go play for our mini camp.

            Q. How do you look at the process of deciding whether Gausman is ready to help you the opening day?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Comparatively speaking, I don't think -- he's obviously not going to be a finished product. It's a process you have to go through with young pitchers, and he's somewhere in that process. He's going to be a good pitcher for us. But when -- we think Tilly has graduated and made some strides. And now it's the chance to stay in there with Chris. And Gaus has got stuff to pitch everywhere. I think what he was exposed to last year was invaluable, starting and relieving, he got to see a lot of different things. And I thought it was important for him to shut down, get away from it. And I think we're going to see a pretty good pitcher in the spring.

            Q. Can you believe a pitcher can finish development at a Major League level?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Depends who it is. The better your stuff, the more you can get there.

            Q. There's been some differences between the Red Sox and the Yankees, just different teams. How do you see it playing out, going into next season?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  It's always a given with the other teams in our division, that they're going to be better. I mean, God bless them. I'd do the same thing if I was them.

            Obviously it's improved, at the very least. A lot of time until the last week in April or March.

            I don't pay near as much attention what they're doing. It's a given, especially the Red Sox and Yankees, they're going to make a lot of splashy things. But I'd do the same thing if I was them. And they do it real well. Boston did a great job of getting talented players and good makeup guys last year and it did well for them.

            Q. You tendered a contract with Ryan and there was decision making there. Have you talked to him at all, will he be ready by the start of Spring Training?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I talked to him a couple of times in the offseason. Brady has had some conversations with him. Basically what keeps coming out of Brady is that he's further along last year than he was at this time.

            What that means, I don't think anybody knows until we get into the rigors of baseball full activity. But I think -- from our standpoint we're going to take another shot with him. In today's world, I hate to say it publicly, it's actually pretty cheap when you look at the going rate of things, if Nolan comes back a hundred percent, we've got something at a pretty good deal.

            I'm pulling for him. He's been on a long tough road. I think because of our loyalty to Nolan and what he's going through and how it happened, he got injured diving into the stands trying to help his club win. The organization has been very loyal with Nolan and not closed the door on him. And I'm proud of that.

            Q. Do you sense that the fan base is getting kind of restless?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Do you sense it?

            Q. I sense it. I wonder if you sense it. What would you say to the fans who are concerned the club hasn't made any big moves at this point?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  That would be if I was going by what you think has happened. I can trust it, that's what happened?

            It's early. I think last year we had the same conversation here and the year before, so I just remind you of that. We have the same questions being asked last year this time and the year before that. So there's -- I think we get so caught up in this four-day period, in some teams' case, the ten-day period. But I'm trying to stay focused on the 37, 38 guys we have on our roster right now. That's my job. I'm sure we'll likely add more on Thursday, at least one.

            Q. One of those guys that you don't have anymore is McLouth, and Dan answered the question yesterday about the leadoff hitter saying it's going to be a challenge. Are you contemplating putting Nick back as leadoff hitter, and do you think that would help them?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  He's a candidate. He's one of the guys if I have to fill internally, he's a guy that at the end of the day we'll look at. In a perfect world I'd rather not. But I could and I think Nick would do a fine job.

            Q. The swing of the change in the game, home runs come out, how do you put together a 25-man roster, is it any different now as sort of the season runs, what you need out of a lineup now that we're out of an era where 40 home runs? Is it more speed, more of the leadoff hitter, I'm asking if the 25 is put together differently?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I think the further I get away from it the more people think it changes and the more it stays the same, really. It's just handicap critique and a lot more reps are recorded and you've got more -- we were doing shifts 20 years ago, but we were basing it on 6 at-bats instead of 600. You want to have guts, play -- as opposed to a -- I don't know, we -- still pitching plays well. Defense plays well. Same things that played well -- it's a great game because the 90-foot increments have never changed. The more I'm around it, the more I realize -- it's such a sacred game in a lot of ways. Certain criteria for success don't change.

            Q. Could you talk about your relationship --

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  That was pretty deep there, sacred.

            Q. Could you talk about your relationship with your executive vice-president, Dan Duquette, and what you know about him now that you might not have known three years ago when you took the job?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Can I talk about it?

            Q. Can you?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  No. You gave me an out there.

            No, Dan's pretty good. I think a lot of people -- he laughs easily. We kid around a lot. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. It's a tough business and a tough job, a lot of pressure, a lot of juggling of a lot of balls. And I think he has a more healthy respect for what I do and I do for what he does. It's tough. There's a fine line between being sympathetic -- the challenge is tough. I respect what he has -- the job he has to do.

            Q. There have been some changes next year with the expanded replay.

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  We had one about the hardware and one yesterday. One thing I figured out, it's actually still a little bit in process. I'm sorry, your question?

            Q. I was asking, I know he's not completely done, but your thoughts on expanding what the current system in replay?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  What is the system?

            Q. Fair balls and home runs.

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  There's a lot more than that. Until we know what the current system is, we can't talk about whether we're going to expand it. I think most of our guys will take everything they put in place.

            Reminds me, the NFL shut it down for two years after they started it. I had forgotten about that. The replays were so bad, there was something about the quality. They said let's shut it down and get it right.

            The bottom line, it's going to make our game better. I think it's going to be a little bit of an entertainment factor for the fans. Can you imagine watching the NFL or a college game without replay now? I think after a year or so we're going to say why did we wait so long? I think the reason they waited was to get it right.

            I caution everybody, there's going to be -- I really hope you help us a little bit. You're going to come up with so many great what-ifs, what about that, where do you place the runner, and it's going to be better this year and it's going to be better the next year, and it's going to be better the next year. So it's a step in the right direction.

            The umpires care so much about getting it right. And I think this helps them. It's an educated guess -- it's the hardest game to officiate. And now we've made it easier, hopefully. And I think we're looking forward to some unknown, it's going to put more pressure on managers about decisions. The way that I've heard about doing it is a little different than the way you guys are perceiving it right now. But it's still not a final product. So they're going to do it some in the spring at selected clubs. Let's guess what selected ballparks that will be at, Jack. Probably Tampa? Okay. I'm done.

            Q. Have you heard any reports on Chen and how he's doing?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  If he will come. We can't call him up and say we want you to come to the mini camp. We are not allowed. We have to present it to MLB and they present it to the union or the agents.

            We're putting him on the list to see if he will come. Just want to get a feel for his knee and where he is with that.

            Q. Do you think that the knee injured his performance toward the end of last year?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Possibly. He wouldn't say that, but sometimes those things affect you mentally as much as physically, knowing they're there.

            Q. A young hitter like Urrutia, what does he have to do to take his game to the level of being a solid contributor?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I think he's got to get reps. You think about everything he went through last year. He finally gets to where he's out of Cuba. And a process of getting out of Haiti and the Dominican, the whole nine yards. All of a sudden he's in the Minor Leagues for a little while. And the next thing you know he's in the big leagues. Then he goes to the Fall League.

            You think about the year he had, the challenges in his life. And to get through it and hit .300 at what, three levels, not embarrass himself at our level, he's a very interesting guy for me. And I think things are really going to settle down and slow down for him this spring. He's another potential pop or what-if guy for me.

            Q. Were any of his problems sort of physical in that he needed to build up leg strength?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I don't have anything to compare it to. If I did, and say last year he looked like this. Last year he was in Haiti trying to get out. So I can't tell you. I guarantee you he wasn't eating real well.

            Q. Everyone talks about the ways you evaluate players and all these stats and everything. You guys lost a few guys that were deemed as good clubhouse guys. How do you evaluate moving forward -- how do you qualify being up in the clubhouse --

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  You asked a great question. You can't put that sabermetrics or whatever they're calling it.

            Johnson, Nate, I know one thing, our clubhouse guys took a hit, because they were some of the better tippers. Think about how it affects everybody. And on the road, too. And I'm leaving out a couple of guys, probably. Who did I leave out there?

            We hope to replace them with guys that bring similar contributions other than playing the game.

            Q. Everyone just looks at the chemistry and everyone thinks, it starts out in February. But for you right now this rebuilding, that kind of atmosphere has to start now?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  There are some other guys that might step up, having a year under their belt they hadn't before. Let's face it, chemistry comes from winning games, to start off with. You can start with good chemistry out in the spring. But if you go 0-30 in April, I bet your chemistry isn't real good. It runs hand in hand. You've got to get the people.

            I don't apologize for spending a lot of time trying to fit that as part of the equation and evaluation. Same thing that Terry and all the guys -- everybody else tries to do. Sometimes some people can overpower the game physically, talent-wise, see some clubs do that, but the beauty of our season is so long, some other things get in the way sometimes.

            Q. Last year you said that you thought that Zach Britton was going to have a big year. He's out of options. What reports have you heard on Zach?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  He's good. We're going to send Dave and Dom out to about four or five of the guys that are out there with Brady. I think Zach is one of them.

            We saw it with Tillman last year. A lot of people think it's more pressure. I've seen through the years when a guy is out of options, Zach doesn't have to worry every time if he pitches, are they going to send me out? More than likely he's going to be pitching big leagues this year, hopefully us. There should be a peace about that coming into camp for a while. Tilly and I talked about it last year. You're at a great point where you don't have to -- that's not an issue anymore. Go get them. And he took it in the right direction. And I think Zach's got a chance to do that, too. He's got a good hand, he can do some things in baseball. And it's there for him. It's up to him. He's going to get a heck of an opportunity.

            Q. What are the keys for Nick to get back to his, quote, unquote, normal year statistically. And how important would that be for the team?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I think staying healthy. Nick is not one of those guys that broadcasts, as my mom used to say, he enjoys ill health. You get some people once you know everything is wrong with them, Nick is not one of those guys. Probably half the things we don't even know.

            Somebody told me the other day that he's about as good as he's felt and looked in a long time. We'll see. I think most of it is going to be health.

            You think of all the things he's gone through challenge-wise, we seem to forget about him because he's such an internal guy with things like that, one of the reasons why you love him. Also one of the reasons why it's challenging for him physically, you know.

            Through the years guys with his approach and makeup, you're making a big mistake counting them out. I think he was setting us up for -- is he in line for comeback player of the year? How do you get into that category when you're a candidate?

            Q. Usually you miss extended time, if he had a career year, maybe.

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I hope so. He deserves it.

            Q. Given the way the last few years have gone, do you think it's a wide-open, all-five teams in this division, do you enjoy it that it could be that situation?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  If you talk to the Yankees or Red Sox, Tampa -- I don't know. Wide open. I'm trying to figure out a way for us to be involved in it. It's almost a given that the other teams are going to be able to because of some of the things that they're able to do. I don't really sense it's a given that those teams are going to be good, competitive, and some of the better teams in the American League. We're trying to paddle underneath the water and stay up a little.

            Q. (INAUDIBLE)?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  That was last year, and that was the year before, and that was the year before. And unfortunately, they -- in a lot of cases it's fortunate that they erase the slate. You want it to be erased. But we'll see. Our curiosity will be satisfied. We always want to know something before it happens. I'm okay knowing about it when it does happen. You guys have heard all this crap before.

            Q. The last couple of weeks you lost some players that you'd grown close to, Johnson and McLouth. Does it become harder for you as you've gone along to say good-bye to players who have been together?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Yes. I miss guys. I miss our players. I say good-bye at the end of the year, it's a tough conversation, boy. I ain't very good at it. I'm not good at good-byes, and especially when a guy is leaving the organization.

            It's a lot different when you know that -- things you ask them to do and things you ask them to commit to, and you get it, they get a return from it, the team gets a return, their teammates get a return. And then the business part of it takes over, and it's bye. It's tough.

            But I felt talking to Dylan Bundy the other day, that's tough. Those things are -- I miss the players. I look forward to seeing them in the spring. And there's some guys I won't see. But I will see them again.

            Q. Have you had a meaningful conversation with Jim?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  How do you define "meaningful"? I talked to him a couple of times, yeah. The first one didn't last too long. The second one was longer.

            Q. Fielding texts or calls from players reacting to that trade who weren't happy about it?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  No, because that's part of my job and they care. I like to think I do, too. And they deserve to hear from me about those things.

            So it's not pleasant. It's not one you pick up to talk to or whatever. But you have to. But you have to.

            We can replace those guys somewhat. You're not going to try to replace it, you're going to try to fill that void and we'll see if we can replace it. That's two different things.

            Q. You've had a close relationship with Brian Butterfield through the years. How good is it seeing him win the World Series?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I don't like him that much, I can tell you that. No.

            Q. Have you spoken to him since?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Oh, yeah. We exchanged some messages probably an hour after the game was over, last game. I was pulling for him. I was pulling for the Red Sox, one, because they're from our division, and I thought they were the best team in the League. I wanted to see that rewarded. They reallocated their funds into good people that were talented. The Dodgers helped them with that. And they helped the Dodgers, too.

            But out of all the things that happened with that I was most happy for Brian. He's a champion in his own right. He's one of the best third base coaches, infield coaches, if not in baseball. That was special for me to watch.

            Q. Having managed Matt Williams a few years, what kind of guy is he?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I was out in the Arizona Fall League when Matt came back from his interview. I think he was going back or something, we sat there for about an hour or so talking. I came away, I came back to my car in the parking lot, and he's asking me? I'll be asking him.

            Matt is going to be good. He's got good presence and he understands how hard the game is to play and how he's struggled sometimes. He's not going to be too sympathetic with things. I'm going to be real surprised if he doesn't do real well. He cares, doesn't take himself as seriously as is his persona might be. He can laugh at himself. We had a lot of good times together when he was a player, and even more so now. He's a special guy.

            Q. Did you think he'd be a manager?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Yeah, I was surprised he wanted to, especially after watching me. I don't know, I don't know somebody's personal business, as far as if they need the money or not, but Matt loves the competition. He loves -- he's always been very giving, helping people. At first a lot of people didn't think he was approachable as a player, but once they asked, he's as good as they got. He's a golden boy. He's got a good soul and heart.

            Q. There's been talk about trying to take away collisions at home plate.

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  I think it's a great idea, especially with our guys. We had a couple of players that went after him, I thought kind of cheap, one of them with you-all's club, that we'd love to see eliminated. I don't want to see anybody run into Molina. I think talking to Tony and Joe yesterday -- I call them by their first name now that they're Hall of Famers, that makes me feel special -- but Tony said you're going to see some form of it and I applaud it.

            I know Mike Matheny, some of the collisions I saw him take. The question is: How do you define blocking the play? There's so many gray areas. If you want to step back and take a throw from right field because the top of the hop is behind the plate, does that conclude a 3-play double collision? Does it include a runner down the first base line and a pitcher? Is it only home plate? Is it in a rundown, if you run somebody over, is that a collision?

            But protecting the catchers and trying to take some of the maliciousness out of it. And bottom line, having our catchers around for our fans to enjoy more, I'm for it.

            And I tell you, ten years ago I may not have said that, it's part of the game. If you teach it right and whatever. Now after I see some of these collisions where basically the catcher has got no chance, and it's going to be somewhere similar to football, where certain type of tackles, the guy is going out of the game. I'm all for it. I've seen enough, two or three guys go after him purely maliciously, and I would have liked to eliminate them. I'm hoping baseball eliminates that.

            Q. Do you think replay will eliminate the phantom play at second base?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  No, it won't. I asked them about that, if a guy is out by 30 feet -- some of the players don't want to stay on the bag. That's a good question. I asked that question.

            The one I want to see eliminated is the double play, they feed it to him, he doesn't really catch it. And they take it out. And they said they're going to get rid of that with the replay. I'm looking forward to that being eliminated. Like the World Series, they ended up getting it right.

            Q. (INAUDIBLE.)

BUCK SHOWALTER:  It depends on how you define it.

            Same thing with a guy catching a fly ball and going back -- we'll see. This whole replay thing is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

            They're trying to get the equal -- like if Fenway Park has their replay booth right behind the dugout and because of the facility, ours is 150 yards away, they can't -- they're not going to allow that, it's not fair. They're making sure everybody has the same looks, and the same decisions. We couldn't put a booth right behind our dugout, because we can't put one behind -- they're trying to make it fair for everybody. It's smart. I figure they're going to have to do something.

            Q. Where the cameras are?

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  Where the feeds are. We were up looking at the different feeds. There's about 12 feeds you're getting. And in ten seconds you know. I think when it's all said and done, they will actually speed up games. When it's all said and done, when they get all the kinks out you'll see games faster. You're not going to have arguments.

            And it's going to be, not theatrical, but I think an entertainment thing. They're going to be able to show replays while they're waiting, where they couldn't do it before. It's going to be an entertainment factor, that's going to be better for fans. You're not going to get anything on your TV that you couldn't get at the ballpark. And that was a challenge in the past.

            Q. You have less ejections for managers.

            BUCK SHOWALTER:  You're telling me now the only ejections for managers will be over judgment, balls, and strikes. He said, no, if you can't get a guy to go to replay, you'll probably be mad. After you've exhausted -- you go out there trying to talk them into going and checking it, that might make them mad. Especially when you said you should.

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