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Winter Meetings interview with Bo Porter

Q.  When you think about where the team is at and just the title designated hitter, what qualities come to mind in terms of what you want?

BO PORTER:  Well, one of the things we want to do is try to get someone who obviously is going to be a run producer.  We're actually looking at the DH more so as a two‑way position, not just a person that's going to be able to hit but also have a place to go in the lineup, which will allow us to give some of our regular guys days off, as well.

Q.  When you think about where the team is at and just the title designated hitter, what qualities come to mind in terms of what you want?

BO PORTER:  Well, one of the things we want to do is try to get someone who obviously is going to be a run producer.  We're actually looking at the DH more so as a two‑way position, not just a person that's going to be able to hit but also have a place to go in the lineup, which will allow us to give some of our regular guys days off, as well.


Q.  As you look at the club from last year, go back and watch games or whatever, what do you think could they improve without adding players?  What things need to be done better do you think?

BO PORTER:  Well, I mean, from the offset, many people that I talk with that played against the Astros, obviously you guys witnessed a lot of the games, as well, we will be fundamentally sound, and that's something that I've talked to the players from day one, the importance of being able to play the game from a fundamental standpoint.  That gives you the best opportunity each and every night to accomplish what it is we're trying to accomplish, which is to win the ballgame.


Q.  And is it hard to quantify how big a difference that can mean in wins, losses, when you're hitting the cutoff man?

BO PORTER:  Well, from a fundamental standpoint whenever you allow the other team, whether it's an extra base or an extra out, that there has a huge effect on the ballgame, whether it's the pitcher throwing another 15 pitches just to get out of that inning, now you're going to your bullpen a little bit earlier, you may not see the effect in the sixth inning but now it affects who actually comes to the plate in the 9th inning.  The more clean the game is, obviously the better chance you have at winning the ballgame.


Q.  I know we still have to add some players, but what do you expect going into the American League?  Do you expect a substantial bump in your win total or is that not even important right now in the grand scheme of things?

BO PORTER:  Well, more importantly I think whether you win the World Series or whether you finish last in your division, each and every year you set out and you go into Spring Training, everybody has a desired goal, which is to be a world champion, and that is no different than our goal here in Houston.  Our goal is to build a world championship team each and every year, and in order to do that, you have to take care of the process, and I've talked to our guys about this.  Jeff and I have talked at length about it.  You can't worry about the end result so much, you have to more so worry about the portion that you can control, which is the process, and we will spend the entire spring, the entire season, each and every game, take vac of teachable moments because we have a young ballclub and we want them to understand that this is the Major Leagues and you're in the Major Leagues because we believe you are a Major League player.


Q.  You said yesterday you can't do anything knee‑jerk in terms of the AL West because you have to stick to your division but is there an understanding that it's not going to be easy, it's going to be a challenge?  It's one of the toughest divisions in MLB right now.

BO PORTER:  Well, I think Major League Baseball across the board is ‑‑ it's the highest level of baseball in which you can play, and in order to be a champion you're going to have to beat everyone at some point anyway.  We look at our roster, we look at our ballclub, we have a strategic plan.  You cannot allow yourself to get sidetracked by looking at moves that someone else will make and start to make moves from a knee jerk standpoint.  Systematically we know what we have in our system.  We know what it is we need to acquire, and we're going to do our due diligence and make those decisions.


Q.  What are your thoughts on the American League west?

BO PORTER:  Oh, I mean, you look at the fact that obviously Texas, all the success which they've had over the last few years, and you look at the Oakland A's, even from our standpoint, what Oakland was able to do from their transformation, that makes you sit back and go, it is possible to do it with not a $150 million payroll.  They have some very smart people over there, they made some good trades, they acquired the right players.  Yes, they are young, but they also added the right veteran players to that young group, and that's something that we look at in Houston.  We have a good group of core players that are young, we're trying to make sure we can add the right young pieces to go with our core.


Q.  We hear the word intensity a lot when they talk about you.  Where did that come from, and how is that going to translate on the field?  Is that something that will trickle down to players?

BO PORTER:  Intense?  I'm not intense.  Why would you think that?  (Laughter).

No, a lot of that has to do with my football background.  At the same time, I was always one if you're going to do something, you need to do it well.  You need to do it with passion and intensity.  That's something that from a player standpoint you want to create an environment.  I believe that the No. 1 job as the manager is to do everything that you can so that your players can play to their potential, and we all understand the added dimension that intensity and passion can bring to a ballclub.  You hear it all the time:  It's contagious.

I want them to look at me and see the level of intensity in which I'm going to put into each and every day, whether it's a Spring Training practice, whether it's we're just sitting down talking about the game of baseball.  That there is contagious, and I want our players to feed off of that.


Q.  As a first‑year manager, how important is it to have a good coaching staff and especially have a good bench coach there?

BO PORTER:  I think it's extremely important, and that's why we actually went a little bit longer than most people would have liked with our hires, and there was certain characteristics in which we were looking for, understanding the dynamic of our ballclub, and that teaching will be a huge part of our coaching staff and being able to surround our players with the dynamic staff.  We were able to get a Eduardo Perez who has a lot of experience in the American League and in the National League.  Obviously his pedigree being the son of a Hall of Famer.  We were able to get Dennis Martinez which I think will be a huge asset for us down in the bullpen.  We were also able to retain two coaches from our coaching staff.  A lot of times I think you take over a new job and you go in and the thought process would be clean out the whole coaching staff, bring in all new people.  But Doug Brocail and Dave Clark were two of the mainstays that we decided to retain because obviously they have history with our players, and at the same time you look at the pitching staff, the last, I think, 30 games of the season, we played 500 baseball, the pitching staff made tremendous strides and Doug Brocail was a huge part of that process, so we wanted to keep him in the fold.  We were able to get John Mallee, who has had a lot of success with young hitters in his years with the Miami Marlins, used to be the Florida Marlins.  I've known John a long time.  You talk to different hitters which he's had a chance to work with ‑‑ from Mike Stanton to Cody Ross to Dan Uggla to Gaby Sanchez and Chris Coughlin, his Rookie of the Year year.  And John played a major role in those guys' maturation.


Q.  Do you have an opening day starter right now or do you have to make your decision in spring trach?

BO PORTER:  Well, I think that's a decision that will obviously be made in Spring Training.  One of the things we will do in Spring Training is we will let everybody know it's a competition.  We don't have anyone who is designated the opening day starter or penciled in on the team.  It's something that you have to go out and you have to earn.


Q.  What about as far as the young players that are coming to camp, Cosart, Singleton, players like that?  Who are you most anxious to see and do they realistically have a shot to make this club and be contributors?

BO PORTER:  Well, one of the good things about where we're at as an organization is kind of what I just said:  the fact that you don't have established players all around the diamond.  You create a camp where guys feel like, you know what, there is opportunity here, and you want to see who's going to step forward and grab the bull by the horns and take the opportunity and run with it.  Age is not something that will deter us from keeping a guy if he's going to help the ballclub win games.

At the same time, we will take the development side of it from a standpoint of if you push this guy too soon, what are the repercussions to that if you don't go well.  But the players will normally tell you when they're ready.


Q.  As far as the use of pitchers, I know you have the DH now in the American League, but do you have a philosophy on starters you'd like to ‑‑ you want to pitch deep into games, but everyone is so conscientious of pitch counts and innings, but where do you come down on that?  Do you want them to be work horses and get tons of innings?

BO PORTER:  Well, pitch count is one thing, workload is another, because a guy can have a low pitch count, but the innings can be very stressful, depending on the game situation.  One of the positives of going to the American League from a pitching standpoint, obviously in the National League the pitcher is in the lineup, and from a maturity standpoint, a lot of times from a manager's standpoint, you get to that sixth inning, it's bases loaded, it's two outs, you feel like this is my best chance to get back into this game, and you're forced to hit for that guy at that time.

In the American League obviously you're not dealing with that.  You have the DH, the pitcher is not in the lineup.  There will be some growing pains or some maturation that you will be able to sit back and say I can send that guy out there for that seventh inning or eighth sinning because you're not worried about a double switch or getting the guy out of the lineup.  One of the things that we will stress to our starters is we're giving you the ball because we feel like you're one of the best five pitchers on this ballclub.  We want them to take that responsibility quite seriously and not look over their shoulder at all when they get that ball to go out and start a ballgame.


Q.  Would you be comfortable not signing a free agent DH?  Do you feel like you have players on your team who could be your DH or do you feel like you need to sign a DH to increase your run production in the AL?

BO PORTER:  Well, whenever we talk about the roster, one of the things that Jeff and I, we bounce off each other all the time is we're looking for opportunities to upgrade our roster.  We do have some internal options, J.D. Martinez, Brett Wallace.  We have some internal options that can end up being the DH.  At the same time when you look at the free agent market, you look at from an offensive standpoint where our team was at last year and the available players that are out there.  There are some players that are out there that would actually improve our ballclub, and we're going to definitely talk to most ‑‑ we've pretty much made contact with a lot of those guys, and we're going to find out which players actually fit best for the Houston Astros.


Q.  How do you see Castro's workload?  Do you expect him to be able to go back and catch 120, 130 games?

BO PORTER:  Well, from my understanding all the medical reports that I received from our medical staff is that he's doing great.  He has no limitations whatsoever, and we're looking forward to having Castro healthy.  I think over the last few years it's been a tough go because he's been dealing with a lot of the issues from a health standpoint, but he is definitely a frontline catcher.  We are very excited about him, and we look forward to him being healthy and being our everyday catcher.


Q.  How difficult is changing leagues?  You weren't there last year, but for the rest of the team and the people in place there, what difficulties are there?

BO PORTER:  Well, when you play inside one league for a long time, obviously we were in the National League central for a long time, and a lot of ‑‑ I think it's an adjustment both ways.  I think it's one that can be somewhat of an advantage because the teams in the American League West, they don't really have much history on our guys.  At the same time you can look at that and there can be some disadvantage to it, as well, because we don't have much history on them.

So I think it's give and take.  I think at the same time it's going to be a challenge, but it's a challenge that we're looking forward to.


Q.  Do you want to fix a particular player at DH or use ‑‑

BO PORTER:  Like a platoon situation?


Q.  Yeah.

BO PORTER:  Well, like I said, when we think about the designated hitter, one of the advantages of being in the American League, if you have a designated hitter that can also play a position on the field, it allows you to give other guys days off because you can put that guy on the field any given day and not take away from your ballclub.


Q.  When we talk about free agent DH, from Japanese market we have Hideki Matsui.  People talk about the production decrease because of his age or injury that he had.  In your eyes is he still capable of competing in Major League Baseball?

BO PORTER:  I'll tell you what, Matsui has obviously put together a pretty stellar career.  He is a guy that we had talked about as an organization because of the fact that obviously we have the designated hitting spot available in our organization.  It's something that as the offseason goes along and different players may fall to us or not come our way, it's something that we will look at, and if there's a good fit, it's something that we will explore.


Q.  Along those lines, Matsui is obviously a guy who's an older player, and as you said a stellar career.  Could someone along those lines be helpful for a very young team?  Would you look to maybe add some experience as well as simply a DH?

BO PORTER:  Well, as we talk about our young core group, one of the biggest things which we have talked about as an organization is making sure that we add what I call some difference makers in the clubhouse, and when you have young players and you're able to surround them with veteran players, because we're going to have to have some veteran players that bridge the gap between our young Major League ready players right now and our future Major League players.  We want to try to add some guys in the clubhouse that still have some ability that can help us from a playing standpoint, but at the same time it's twofold.  They're able to help our young players in their maturation in becoming productive Major League players.


Q.  Who on the team now do you think could step up and be the leader type?  I know you've reached out to a lot of the players, but is there anybody you have your eye on that you hope takes that bull by the horns?

BO PORTER:  I told our players we're not looking for one guy, we're looking for a group of leaders.  When you start talking about productive Major League teams, you want leaders to exist at every level, at every position, because at the same time, young is like a word that's used quite often, but these guys have played baseball for a long time.  They've played quality baseball, they've been highly productive players, and from a leadership standpoint, it is something that I will take very seriously and the rest of my staff.  We've talked to each other about it, we're going to encourage these guys to develop their leadership skills because the more leaders you have, I think the better ballclub you have.


Q.  Obviously it's your first time managing, but are you somebody that wants to pick a team captain or do you let that situation evolve?  What's your initial theory on that?

BO PORTER:  I don't think for one minute that a manager or a coach or a person ‑‑ I think leadership is something that the other players will tell you that they're willing to follow that person.  It's not something that me as the manager can say this person is going to be the leader.  The rest of the players, they will let you know how they feel about that person, and leadership is something that it's a maturation that takes place and nobody even has to say there's the captain.  You don't have to ask the question who's the captain of the Yankees.  The players will tell you it's Derek Jeter.


Q.  Your corner situation in the infield, are you comfortable right now with Dominguez and Wallace?  I know you said things are up for competition, but they seem to be the two guys right now.

BO PORTER:  Yeah, you look at Matt Dominguez, I was fortunate to be in Florida when they drafted him in the first round, he is an extremely gifted first baseman.  He has a chance to be a Gold Glove first baseman.  The only question mark they had in Florida was was he going to hit enough.  You look at the production he was able to have in a short period of time coming offensive to Houston, and we were extremely excited about Matt's development, we believe he's going to be a cornerstone in our organization for years to come.

Wallace was another guy acquired via trade.  He put together a pretty good offensive year.  We believe there is more power in his swing and John Mallee has been working with him this offseason to try to get to some of that power.  So we're comfortable going into the season with those guys because we believe that they're going to be Houston Astros for a long time.


Q.  The difference of a player you bring in like say maybe a Matsui or Beltran as opposed to Singleton, it's 80 to 78 as opposed to 91 to 93, so have you had many discussions with Jeff as to what you'd rather have?

BO PORTER:  Yes.  From an organization standpoint you have to do what's best for the team today with a watchful eye on tomorrow.  We're not going to do anything that will hinder the Houston Astros' progress moving forward.  We know our strategic plan.  We know the long‑term goal of the organization.  We're going to systematically make sure that our players are developed properly, and when the timing is right, I've always said this, the player will tell you when they're ready for the Big Leagues.


Q.  Will Singleton be a DH option for you or is that not fair?

BO PORTER:  Well, no, I don't think that's fair for a younger guy, especially when he has a chance to be an everyday first baseman, be a pretty good defender.