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Winter Meetings interview with Bud Black

December 11, 2017

Q. Big picture question. Coming off the season that you had your first year, you made the playoffs. How crucial is this off-season in your mind? You have some major decisions to make, how crucial is this off-season to keep the momentum going?BUD BLACK: Every off-season has it challenges. We're

Q. Big picture question. Coming off the season that you had your first year, you made the playoffs. How crucial is this off-season in your mind? You have some major decisions to make, how crucial is this off-season to keep the momentum going?

BUD BLACK: Every off-season has it challenges. We're no different than any other team. Our group, meaning our players and our front office realize what's ahead of us and the expectations and I know that our players are gearing up for that, and I know that Jeff and his guys and Dick even are ready to strike for certain players, trades that might occur to help.

I don't know whether "crucial" is the term, but every off-season is important for shaping your club and shaping the environment that you want to create going into Spring Training.

Q. Coming off the playoffs, what are you feeling about your club? Where is it going to take you?

BUD BLACK: It was a good first step for us last year having the season that we did. It was great for Nolan, Charlie, DJ, Cargo, our young pitching staff, the Rockies who have been only Rockies, to go through last season, that should be a great confidence builder for these players.

And the guys that came in, Holland and Desmond, McGee came the year before. These guys have been around playoff baseball. So I think collectively it was good for -- it was good for the group because the original Rockies who hadn't been through it, the guys who we acquired hadn't been through it. So I think it was a nice situation to come together as a team.

Now we've got to continue that, you know, that aspect of team moving forward. Even with the guys that we acquire this season, this off-season. Or try to acquire.

Q. Going into last year, you had general expectations of how your team would perform in certain facets. What did your team do better than expected and not as well as expected?

BUD BLACK: I think the offensive aspect of our group from the year before, from '16, I think that was -- that played out how we expected it. We led a lot of offensive categories. If we didn't lead a lot of offensive categories, we were in the top three, four, five. We had a good offensive year. Charlie had a great year. Nolan had a great year. D.J. hit over .300.

We had guys that had great spurts of weeks during the course of the season. Probably where we exceeded expectations were in our total team pitching, especially the younger group of starting pitchers that we ran out there for a lot of games in the early part of the season when Bettis was down, when Anderson was down, when Gray was down, Freeland, Senzatela, Marquez, Hoffman started a lot of games for us and performed.

I think our bullpen in general pitched really well, especially the first four months of the season. So we probably exceeded, I think, the national expectation. And I don't know whether we exceeded our own because I thought going in, once I saw these guys in Spring Training, that we could pitch well and we should pitch well. That was my thought.

I thought we played good defense. You look at what we did defensively as a team, our team defense, our infield defense, two Gold Glovers. You looked at all the defensive metrics, I thought we did very well there.

I thought where we could have done a little bit better was a little bit on some of the walk-to-strikeout ratios. I thought that was something I think we need to improve on going into next year. But overall, it was a good year.

Q. I talked to Chris Iannetta this morning --

BUD BLACK: I talked to him yesterday.

Q. I told me that.

BUD BLACK: Today's Monday. I talked to him Saturday. How did he sound?

Q. Chris told me that, compared to when he was first with the Rockies, he thinks in terms of handling pitchers, pitch framing, all of those things, he's heads above where he was when he was a young player with the Rockies. I'm sure you have looked at him and seen what you're getting. What are your impressions of Chris coming back to Colorado now at almost age 35?

BUD BLACK: I think it's a great fit for Chris and for us. And I totally agree with his own thoughts there, that where he is now as a player and where he was as an original Rockie. On the defensive side, I'm sure any player will tell you that experience is such a great teacher.

Here initially and then going to Anaheim, I know those years there with Mike and that coaching staff, he grew. Then these last two years in Seattle and Arizona. I think you take away a lot of experiences from being around different coaching staffs and catching instructors and pitchers and managers. It's only natural that you're going to get better.

So I think his experience, his knowledge, his knowledge base, his growth in knowledge is in a really good place for us. And I see him with this staff on the starting side. Our bullpen, I think is -- you're going to see some -- I think you'll see our bullpen evolve here over the off-season. But he'll do a great. He'll do a great deal of -- with our young pitchers. There's no doubt about it.

Q. He told me he's up to the task if you guys want him to, to catch 100-plus games. Could you see him catching that many?

BUD BLACK: Yeah, I could see that. I don't know the exact number, but over the last couple of years, it's been 90. It's been 95. It's been 100. It's been over -- between 300 and 400 at bats. So he's capable. I thought last year, watching him play as much as we did, he looked great physically.

I think players nowadays understand what it means to take care of themselves, to get ready for a season, especially the catcher. He's a bright guy. So I think, all told, he's very capable of that.

Q. Some questions about his ability to work into the season. Where is that? And how do you address that?

BUD BLACK: I was not aware of that, but from what I saw, I thought he caught really well. I wasn't aware of that.

Q. In the playoffs, it came down to Matthews or Iannetta, and they went to Mathis coming off a broken hand. I don't know what that tells you.

BUD BLACK: I don't know. Maybe I'll do a little homework, but I did not see that at all.

Q. So you had three playoff teams in your division last year.

BUD BLACK: Good division.

Q. With expectations going forward, what do you see there?

BUD BLACK: Well, I've always felt over the course of my tenure in this division, it's always been a very, very tough division, especially on the pitching side when you look at what Kershaw's done, what Bumgarner's done, Greinke, down the line. If you look at the pitching in our division, it's really solid. The closers go back a decade of the closers in our division.

So I think the players who have grown up in this division -- Posey, Kershaw, Arredondo, Goldschmidt, I mean, keep going. This is a division of good players. I think we all know the challenges ahead of us, and it's -- I don't want to say it's fun, but it's real because there's good players, really good players.

Q. You said your expectation that you guys would come away from, if not the Winter Meetings, certainly off-season, with some outside help for your bullpen. Is that your expectation?


Q. There's a lot of rumors out there now.

BUD BLACK: Yeah. I think that -- you know, I can see that happening. I really can, yes. Well, I know this: We're going to try to improve our club. We're going to try. We had three guys who were free agents who were very instrumental in our success last year. And I know that Jeff's talked to all of them about coming back.

Q. What do you envision for Iannetta in 2018? Do you look at him primarily as a midfielder?

BUD BLACK: That depends on --

Q. On how the team --

BUD BLACK: On how the team is, yeah. That's the beauty of Ian. We talked about that last year, the versatility of what he brings to us. He played four positions last year. He played first, started the game at shortstop, played left, played center. And in the game he played center and the game he played short, he played well. He made some good plays, made some good plays.

So his versatility is big. Again, that gives us great flexibility to -- you know, if something arises on a player front, a trade, a free agent, whether it's a corner outfield bat, whether it's a first baseman that projects a lot of playing time, Ian is very open to doing whatever he needs to do to give us the best possible lineup.

Q. How do you factor David Dahl and Ryan McMahon when you're trying to talk about this?

BUD BLACK: With those two guys, they still -- there's an upside to those fellas. David's got to prove that he's healthy. That's first and foremost. He's got to come to Spring Training and play. He missed really an entire season. So he's got to get back on the horse and play.

McMahon had a very good season. AA, AAA numbers are legit. Came up in September, got a taste of what it's like to be in the big leagues, but there's probably still some developmental things that he has to take care of.

If nothing happens as far as us acquiring any players, then those guys sort of jump to the front of the line of maybe getting an opportunity.

Q. Jeff seems to work in terms of urgency as opposed to trying to do nine things at once. Does their presence put that as a lesser need with regard to the bullpen?

BUD BLACK: I don't think there's -- I don't think that's the right word. I think that, in a GM's chair from observing general managers over the years, I mean, things can pop up like that that can really change the course of your thinking. I mean, you have discussions with the general managers, other clubs all the time. So you sort of get a baseline and a foundation of what sort of lies ahead, but that can change at any moment.

But knowing that, whether it's Dahl, McMahon, Tapia, further down the line a couple of guys, it sort of gives you a little bit of feeling of there's a fallback if things don't happen. And there's a little bit of you don't know what to expect from certain prospects. I think there are prospects and there are players that I think you feel really good about. Given the opportunity, this guy's going to do it.

With Dahl, there was a sample there that gives us indication that he's going to be a pretty good player. But I think he does have some -- I think he has to re-establish himself for sure.

And Ryan is still a little bit young to really know what we have. But we're going to -- we'll get them out there in Spring Training, and if it happens where he makes our team and gets at bats, we'll see. I wish I had a crystal ball, but those two guys are good players, along with Tapia and others.

Last year in Spring Training, we knew there were some young pitchers that were going to get an opportunity. And they got an opportunity, and they performed.

Q. What's your sense of McMahon's skill level right now as a first baseman?


Q. As a first baseman. We didn't get to see him at the big league level much.

BUD BLACK: He's athletic. Each day that he's out there, either in game or practicing, he's going to get better because he has the movements and the body control, coordination to be a good defender. His hands are good. He throws well. I think instinctively, from what I've seen, it's solid. For him, it's just repetition to feel comfortable. I mean, we bounced him around. He played some first. He's played second base.

But that's sort of a tribute to him as a player, thinking that he can handle this because at some point in the future, we want his projected bat in the lineup. But I think wherever he plays on the diamond, he's going to do well. I think he's going to be a solid defender.

Q. Bud, three years ago when offense was way down, a lot of people were predicting that speed was going to become a big part of the game again. It turns out that power became big. What role is speed going to have going forward, and how does it impact your team?

BUD BLACK: Well, I think that -- again, I'd have to go into the depths of amateur baseball to see if there's guys who can run are playing our game. I'd like to think that speed will always have a place in our game -- Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, these guys are game changers how they play, and I think it helps our game.

So I hope that there are kids who have speed who are younger who are playing our game, can develop into major league players. But I do know that in general athletes are getting bigger, stronger through numerous ways, strength and conditioning, nutrition. So power is happening at a greater rate, I think, than speed because I think you can build power. You might not necessarily build speed.

It's just common sense to me that power is coming into the game because you can build it as a young player, as an amateur. You can't build speed. So for speed to stay in our game or increase in our game, we need fast guys to be playing as kids. So let's do that. Let's get them off the soccer field, get them off the Lacrosse field. Let's get them on a baseball diamond.

So if you guys see young fast guys out there, get them a baseball glove for Christmas.

Q. What was your first exposure to Iannetta?

BUD BLACK: Early on, an early Rockie, 2007, right? I think his rookie year. He was there with Yorvit Torrealba. Hey, Torrealba, good player. I had him in Tampa.

I thought Chris was -- you could tell, I think, there was a future there with him as a player. He looked the part. And I think, to Patrick's question earlier, I think he's -- at 35, I think he's probably in a place now in his career where it's all sort of come together, you know, the mental side, the wisdom of playing for a number of different managers, experience. He's in a good spot.

And I think he played really well last year. I thought he caught well. I thought he moved well. They did some things with Mathis and Herman and him that I thought they were well managed.

Q. Why do you think longevity has become such a rare thing in your line of work.

BUD BLACK: You know, I think that there's heightened expectations. That's probably one factor that goes into decision making on people in my line of work. There's a few fellas that don't fall into that. My good friend up in Anaheim.

Q. Yeah, he's been around a long time.

BUD BLACK: I think that's the nature of what's happened really over the last 20 years in professional sports. I think it's a part of it, and it always changes. There's a course of things that thinks that changing something will make it better, and sometimes it does. Sometimes it does. The trick is knowing when to make that change.

Q. We saw three playoff teams change hands. When you see stuff like that, does your head spin as a fellow manager?

BUD BLACK: Well, it spins a little bit because I was close to two of them, with Dusty and Johnny. I know Joe. I don't know him well. Because I know who they are as men, as leaders, as baseball guys. But you also realize it's part of what we do, and it's the same in football, basketball, hockey. Soccer. So it's part of it.

But we know what this is about. It's expectations.