Winter Meetings interview with Buck Showalter
Q. Buck, is it any more special having the winter meetings here in Nashville? Obviously, a place you spent a lot of time.
BUCK SHOWALTER: I spent a lot of time. Most people don't stay in AA that long. I didn't mean it that way. Someone said, you're the all time career hits in Nashville. Yeah, I was here for 20 years playing in AA. No, it's a great city. Met my wife here. That's probably the greatest thing. Spent some off seasons here working to make ends meet. A lot of memories. A lot of memories. She's spending time with her mom and dad. They still live here. She made the trip with us. Nashville's been real good to me in a lot of ways.
Q. Did you think of the time you might be a manager and Mattingly becomes one as well?
BUCK SHOWALTER: No, no. I'm sure Johnny Oates used to talk about what a pain I was asking questions all the time, but I was very fortunate to play for some really good managers here, and I learned a lot from them. AAA, learned a lot. Got to play for Johnny in AAA. Our paths seemed to cross a lot. Johnny is probably one of the most respected managers in Baltimore history. I wore his number on purpose. Johnny had a big impact on my life, and it started here in Nashville. He was one of those guys who was willing to tell you to find reality for you, and I'm always thankful to him and his family.
Q. A couple of days buck, a couple of days into the meetings. Are you getting antsy that the team hasn't really done anything yet?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Not at all. Just the opposite. We value our players. If someone doesn't value them the way we do, then we keep them. I'm the field manager, and I'm about not just the 40 man roster but everybody. I've talked to four or five of our players since we've been here, just checking in on them, and I'm trying to stay focused on that. I like our team. If we don't I listen, talk to Dan. We're in the same room, all of us, 10 or 12 people, and kicking a lot of things around. Obviously. But we value our players. Like I said many times, the greatest thing you can do is know your own. If someone values ours as much as the guy that we might think about acquiring, then you've got them. If not, you hold on to them. It's not that at all. From what has been out there, I'm real good we didn't do it.
Q. How much of a different vibe do you feel like this team has other than maybe a year ago?
BUCK SHOWALTER: There's more people here. It was quiet last year. I think probably after Christmas you get into that what have you done for me lately role. It's okay. I'm looking forward to going to Spring Training, which will mean that the wedding's over more than anything. I think everybody, as you can tell talking to our players, are really close to that recharge my battery season. We've got a lot of things going on with our players. Flaherty and Strop, just looking at what they were doing over in the Dominican. I'm really proud with where everyone is in the off season. Everyone is very attentive to maintaining the things they established last year. A lot of hard work going on right now.
Q. Buck, have you spoken to Chris Davis? Is he your first baseman at this point? Have you told him that? Or is it a wait and see approach?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I told him he was going to get an opportunity potentially. You thought you was throwing me for a while too. I talked to Chris. I told him one of the reasons why we're waiting to see what happens with Mark too. We're still hopeful we can bring Mark back and make up for our club. But I told him that one of the reasons I got my knees done was to work with him some. I think Chris is capable of doing an above average defender at a lot of places. He's very athletic for a big, strong guy. And I think the big thing is he wants to be a good defender. He doesn't want to be in the DH spot unless that's the way it best dictates our lineup that night. So he's got a lot of want to with the defensive part of it and not the pitching part.
Q. Buck, you look at what Toronto did and Boston. Do you still feel like the AL East is the toughest division, or is the AL West, with some of their changes, starting to kind of even things out a little?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I try to stay focused on what we what they do, I think that everyone knows that Toronto for years, there's a lot of things at their disposal, if they choose to use it. I also think, if they make a mistake, American League East, we have a corner on competition. The American League West, I thought, was good. Central Detroit came out of it. You look at Texas and Oakland and Anaheim, and I'll tell you, Seattle is going to be there too. That's a tough division. And now Houston. I think I'm right.
BUCK SHOWALTER: It is what it is. It's the best players in the world, and the competition only gets better as you come to this level. So it's a given with Boston and New York and Toronto. It's a given to me for a different reason with Tampa. We're going to have to keep grinding to stay up with them.
Q. In terms of expectations, are you confident your ball club is ready to take those higher expectations on leading to Spring Training?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Trusting the people that we have like I do and knowing their makeup and talking to them a lot this off season, there's a pretty good fire there that's been ignited. But so has it in different places, and that's why it's so gratifying, if you can do some things like we were able to do last year, but no one was satisfied with that. There wasn't some celebration after game five against the Yankees. We felt there was an opportunity we let slip away, and things you have to do to grind to get to that opportunity, but you get a taste of it. Guys like Manny Machado, it reminds me, when we took Jeter around and exposed him to the playoffs, even though he wasn't eligible, soak that in. You wonder, you hope that really means a lot to their career as they go forward. Derek used to say, that's just where I thought we were every year in October. Is there any other place to be. And there was a different look in a lot of our guys' eyes at that time of year. Now that they've got a taste of it, I feel real confident that they'll continue to pay the price to do the things it takes to get there.
Q. Buck, do you now, Dan was referring to this a little bit yesterday. The fact that you had the kind of season you had last year, within the industry there's a big impact on guys that maybe wouldn't have come here before who did now. Do you sense that now?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Coaches for sure. The players, it's like you heard me say this before. The agents say it's not about the money. I think you've really got to expose what a great baseball city Baltimore is and the history and the tradition, and they're a good baseball team and good fans. But when it comes down to it, I haven't seen any discounts yet what players are asking for or what other teams are asking. But I'll tell you, you did see it in something. The free agents with the movement we had and the opportunity that we gave people, and they know we're going to do it from within as much as we need to. Being able to tell people things and then follow through with it, we have had a lot of interest from some the peripheral things, the six year freeze, some things that don't normally appear on the radar screen of headlines, but as you saw last year, really play into some successes. So some of the signings we've had have been upper echelon ratings of six year freeze.
Q. Buck, how close do you think you are to naming a third base coach or making that decision?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I'm hoping by the end of the week. I'm flying to Baltimore. It's tough to get Dan and I Dan, especially, and everybody. I want to sit down with him. I've got the list pared down pretty good. I feel confident in them. We'll see. I'd really like to, but I'm not going to do it hastily and not feel good about it. But there's a lot of good candidates. I'd like to do it just because like I got a name yesterday, another great name. And I thought, gosh, I've got to vet that one through tomorrow. If you'd just stayed, we wouldn't have that problem.
Q. Buck, you mentioned Machado, the kind of season he had. How lucky do you feel to have this young man? Do you feel him to be an untouchable player in your organization?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Untouchable? There's nobody untouchable. I think our guys have a real grasp. There's not a sense of entitlement. They understand how hard it was to do what we did last year and how hard it's going to be to do it again. I was proud of Manny. I brought him up because he could play alongside J.J. and do a good job at third. I'm really proud of the job our minor league system did in preparing him to play third base. They were instrumental in that. Manny had a little scare there with, I believe it was meningitis, but he's over it. I talked to him a couple times, and he's doing well and doing a full workout. He's going to go in and get an opportunity to can our third baseman potentially, but he's got to earn it. We've got some other options there. He's not ready to pick up where he left off. You asked about first base. Chris is one of our options over there.
Q. Buck, Brian Matusz had some real success out of the pen. What do you see his role going into Spring Training? Do you want him back in the rotation?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Yes and yes. We're going to start out with him in the rotation as an opportunity because I was last week or so, trying to put together some of the work groups and some of the starts and the way our games go early in the spring, for some reason they're scheduling split squad games. We have a split squad game the first day of the spring last year, figure that out, which means you've got to supply 18 innings the first day of games. Brian will start out as a starter, which allows him to go into the bullpen, if so. He's going to get an opportunity. He had some off season surgery on a hernia that had been bothering him. Pretty minor, but he's doing great. Full activity. He's out there with Brady Anderson, as are about eight other guys working hard. I know he's out there with Chen. We've got the challenge of the WBC coming up. I'm sure people that know a lot more about it than me think it's really good for our game, but we have to make some adjustments in our schedule, but I have my priorities, which are the Baltimore Orioles.
Q. Buck, last year you made a lot about using all 40 guys and then some.
BUCK SHOWALTER: And then some, yeah.
Q. Does that have to be the formula again, or have you advanced
BUCK SHOWALTER: I hope not, but it's great for morale. Our farm system, our coaches, our minor league managers, our scouts. We were talking with Dan, when I first met with everybody upstairs, how you see this guy and make this note and file this report, and little do you know that in August it might be the key report that we require a player that keeps us able to maintain the health of our bullpen for two more days. The moves that we made I had a lot of managers tell me they were impressed how proactive our front office was. We'd be in Seattle and play 15 innings, and that pitcher was there the next day to keep us from having to blow up an asset we had and overtax guys. That was probably one of the things I was most proud of was the health of our bullpen, but our pitchers got deeper.
Q. Getting beyond that, is that what you have to do to be one of those givens in the AL East?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I don't think anybody's saying it's a given. Noncloser relievers are very cycleable over history. I've got a group that I feel real comfortable that last year wasn't something they're not capable of doing again. That will be up to our starters again. Our bullpen will not be good if we're really struggling with our starters.
Q. Last year, Buck, you talked about in Spring Training, how you didn't want an everyday DH. You started out the season like that, and then Chris ended up being a DH a lot. Is that your philosophy again going into Spring Training?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Yeah. I said before, Chris, that there can be exceptions. David Ortiz decided to come to us we didn't offer anything but I'd rather be able to move it around which allowed us to keep people healthy last year. We really liked it because Chris' versatility. Chris could play right field for us and left field. He's capable of a lot better at first base. I really feel that in my heart, and third base for that matter. But the people that will be I'm hoping the people that will be DH 'ing this year are capable of playing other places too and not having to drop off defensively. Nolan is one of those guys. Nolan is doing great. I'm really excited about where he is because I think he could be a great contributing force. Just getting guys like him and Wada, who's scheduled to be our chief starter, we haven't had him all year. He's doing great. He's doing good.
Q. Is there one set of challenges to get from where the Orioles were at 93 wins and a new different set of challenges to try to stay there?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Sure. It kind of falls under the thing like last year I don't want to be stating the obvious to these guys. They know. Talking to them in the off season, if I start to go down that road at all, it's like, Buck, come on. You may get spring. There's a lot of things, until you get there and you get a feel I had a feel last week into camp that there was something going on that's a little different. I think I can tell pretty quickly. There's just something when you walk in a locker room, you ever get a feeling that something's going on. There's a feeling. I wish I could put it into words that something's not quite right. But you lean on your people. We've got to get good core people that care about doing the right thing and try to be good in the basics.
Q. Buck, do you know if you're going to be losing anything in the WBC as far as commitment?
BUCK SHOWALTER: That's an ongoing thing. I think we know that the only guy I feel like I know we're going to lose nonroster catcher Sam Miguel to Australia. And we're going to lose Robinson to Canada. Those are two nonroster catchers I've heard that they've asked for. Looks like Strop is going to be on the Dominican team. Am I breaking something here? Oh, well. I think Chen's still considering. Johnson, I don't think I think he's been asked, but with some of the things that went on last year early in the spring, I don't think he's going to go. Who am I missing? Let me go round the field. I feel like there was somebody else.
Q. You mentioned Quintanilla before.
BUCK SHOWALTER: I think they're asking for Q. Q is thinking about coming back to us. I hope he does.
Q. Anything on that at all as far as where that sits?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I know Dan was going to meet with him a little bit today. I think. I know that Nate and his agent were talking for the first time in about a week.
Q. Is Nate here or just over the phone?
BUCK SHOWALTER: No. He was working out at the time. So he called him back afterwards.
Q. How do you feel about that one, Buck? Nate returning?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Do I want him to?
Q. Do you feel good it could come to that conclusion?
BUCK SHOWALTER: We have plans in place in case he doesn't. He better, you know. Biggest one is Nolan. We'd like to have Nolan and Nate playing and healthy, but you have to have contingency things set up in case it doesn't happen. You value a player a certain way, and all of a sudden somebody comes in and values him completely different the way you do, you have to have the ability to say no. I think Nate understands that as much as we'd like him back, but he has to do what's best for him and his family just like we have to do what's best for the Baltimore Orioles. Our payroll, just maintaining the way Peter's allowed us to is $23 million. With Jones, Markakis who am I missing? Three or four more.
BUCK SHOWALTER: Johnson. I was looking the other night, just the increase to keep those guys. Our payroll is going up. They earned every penny of it. Thank God that we have them.
Q. Buck, you talk about payroll, there's talk about payroll disparity and some of these big TV deals. Is it the same old situation it's been the last 20 years? How do you see it?
BUCK SHOWALTER: If you look at it that way, level playing field, all those things, people like Billy and bob in Oakland and the players there and Joe and Tampa, they've done a great job of eliminating those excuses. Some people don't like those excuses eliminated because they're always able to talk about woe is me. But that's something we really try to take out of our locker room, and I think Bobby probably did it too out in Oakland, and Joe's done a great job in Tampa. It is what it is. You got to know who you are, and you got to know who you're not. We've had some things come up already like here that we go we know that's where we can't go. If we're going to keep weeders and Jones and Markakis and these guys, you've got to know who you are. That's why the farm system is so important. We'll continue to dwell on the Machados and the Strops and the Bundies. We have the 24th pick this year in the draft instead of the 4th, 5th, or 6th. I don't know if that's good or bad. It might save us bonus money. We also have a 36th pick. We have a quick pick after that we got from the what do you call it?
BUCK SHOWALTER: It's a balance thing. We got two picks before 40. I don't know why I know that. Yeah, I do know why.
Q. Can you talk about how aggressive that you and Dan were terms of changing the club last year? Say, like bringing in a McLouth when that situation was there. And do you get trapped in a year two, now that those guys have done something for you, you can't be as aggressive in the second year?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I don't know about trapped. I hope we don't have to make any moves. Our starting pitching was pretty much intact for the first half of the season. Injuries are part of it. That's another thing that we on purpose didn't let float in there, using injuries as an excuse, unlike a couple of clubs that we got a little tired of hearing about their problems. It is what it is. It's part of the game. It's an opportunity. I was real proud of the organization and how quickly the depth I'll tell you, the job that was done. And these guys have heard it by our AAA staff, Ron Johnson and Mike Griffin. I marvelled at the evaluation skills they had. I spoke to Ronny, it seemed like every night about he wouldn't just base it on a statistic. He said, this guy can help you do this. He was in the American League east the year before. It was invaluable. I think what it did do is our players knew that what wasn't good enough. They've heard sometimes after a game, I go, that's just not good enough anymore. Might have been. Our guys knew they were short conversations when we did have to send somebody out. Very seldom did we send somebody out for lack of production? Hey, we need someone that can pitch three innings tomorrow night instead of blowing up. They understand how it was going. They came in and knew somebody was coming and somebody was going because we needed to maintain a level of competition. There were no secrets in Norfolk. You guys had a clock flying to the people in Norfolk. They knew about the move before he did. They don't have watt signs anymore, do they? Remember those?
Q. What about your approach to pitching this year? You gave each pitcher on the 40 man roster a biomechanical analysis, and you went through Peterson, Rick Adair. What kind of impact did that setup have?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Some people do it with their eyes. Some people do it with magnets and testing. It all works. So you embrace everything to try our pitching coaches did a great job all through the system. Rick Adair is one of those guys that you're not going to see doing an interview after a guy's pitched a shutout because he knows next time out a lot of guys run for cover. But very quietly our pitching coach did an unbelievable job, all things considered. Monitoring the innings of the guys like Miguel Gonzalez and Chen, who entered areas he'd never been before and give an extra day's rest where we needed it. And trying to maintain, Rick and we had a whole lot of help from Rick Peterson and our whole staff out there. It was fun to be around because everybody knew how big a contribution they were making, and I appreciate it. I laud them for it. Kind of crazy. You get playoff bonuses. It should be shuffled around to all our guys. I think we should do that.
Q. Buck, you mentioned the WBC earlier.
BUCK SHOWALTER: And I shouldn't have.
Q. Obviously, it does disrupt clubs in Spring Training because you lose some guys to it.
BUCK SHOWALTER: I haven't actually been in one yet. All those years, I haven't been in it.
Q. Do you feel there's a better time to have it?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Yeah, I do.
Q. What would that time be? Is?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I hate when guys complain about something and don't have a solution. Like I got in trouble at ESPN about doing the realignment thing, and I talked about two clubs that they should dissolve. Not going there again. Because they didn't. And when I went in there Personally, I'd like to see them extend the All Star break and do it in the middle of the season when people are healthy, and it doesn't disrupt the season. I think that would be one solution. You can't start earlier, and you can't continue it. If you extended the All Star break, which would allow people to stay healthier, then you've got people at the peak of their development. It's more obvious who's healthy and who's not healthy. So the rule would be, if you can't play in the WBC, you can't play in the All Star game. No. That's what I would do. What do you think? You got a better solution?
Q. I don't think there really is a good one. I was just asking an opinion. That's all.
BUCK SHOWALTER: When would you all have it? When would you have it, Sue? Are you a big fan?
Q. I'm not a big fan. I'm not sure I'd do it.
BUCK SHOWALTER: They messed up. We were supposed to play Brazil. But some team upset somebody, and now we're playing Spain.
Q. Brazil beat Panama, and so Brazil gets sent to Japan because half their team is Japanese descent, and Spain goes to Puerto Rico instead. And you get Italy.
BUCK SHOWALTER: We get Italy?
Q. No, we get Spain.
Q. I thought Spain was going to Puerto Rico.
BUCK SHOWALTER: Britain, the mother has some Dominican background. They asked for him. Markakis with the Greeks. All of a sudden, really? I guess it's popular. Outside the country.
Q. More so.
BUCK SHOWALTER: Kind of like hockey. Are they playing?
Q. No.How unusual is it to see a manager switching teams within your own division the way John Farrell is from Toronto to Boston.
BUCK SHOWALTER: I haven't really thought about it. I guess it's unusual. It doesn't happen very often. John is really good, and so is Gibby. I managed against both of them. It's a good fit for both of them. They're a good addition. Did they get a player back?
Q. Yeah, players go both ways. Aviles went to Boston and Toronto.
BUCK SHOWALTER: But did somebody else come back?
Q. David Carpenter went from Toronto to Boston and also got DFA'd.
BUCK SHOWALTER: It's pretty humbling when you get to ask players what they think you're worth. I won't ask what I was worth.
Q. How do you think Wada is doing?
BUCK SHOWALTER: He's doing great. I know that's kind of under the radar. We have a chance to get a good pitcher a lot sooner than some people think. I'm not going to say the start of the season until we get down to spring. I think he's going to be healthy and ready to go earlier than people think. He showed it to us once or twice in the spring why he was so coveted, but we knew something was wrong. Something wasn't quite right with him. He showed it to us over in where were we?
BUCK SHOWALTER: Yeah, it was Orlando. So it's there. We've got nothing but rave reviews on his work habits. The doctor's real happy with the surgery. He's got a chance to really give us a shot in the arm. Chen was a great pickup for us.
Q. Buck, you've mentioned the A's a couple times today, sort of in passing. They were obviously the other sort of big surprise and great story. Were you paying attention to that? Do you see similarities between your team and the A's?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I was paying attention because of the playoff ramifications. We didn't see them very much. But you could feel the excitement they had going on out there. Felt great for Billy and bob, knowing both of them. I guess there were some similarities, just, I think, from an energy, and I think the mentality that was going on a little bit. Kind of snowballed for both clubs. You play so many games. There's no Cinderellas, but I know sometimes I'm sure Bob, in a private moment, coaching staffs kind of look at each other and go this is pretty cool, you know. I'm not so old that I can't take that in and go wow. There's many a night where I kind of said, boy, I'm pretty lucky to be a part of this. Hope I don't screw it up.
Q. How do you take that to this year?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I don't know.
Q. You're not going to sneak up on people.
BUCK SHOWALTER: We didn't last year. I keep telling people like Cinderellas. You don't sneak up on somebody. It's like, oh, this year they figured out how to pitch this guy, and that's why he's not hitting. Believe me, after three at bats, these pitching coaches, I see the phone calls, the way they share information. What did you do to get him out? What did he hit? I remember Harper, when he came up, talking to AAA managers and AA. There's such a sharing of information. You are what you are. Mentally, you may have snuck up on them, but physically and what was going on, you guys don't allow anybody to sneak up on anybody. I guarantee you, when Bob and them came across the coast, everybody knew exactly what was going on. You can't hide anything anymore. Like Machado, they threw the kitchen sink at Machado the first week. All of a sudden, they decided he couldn't hit a fastball in. Trust me, they were pounding him day one.
Q. It's going to be different this year, you know that. Or is it?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I don't know. I don't know. It will be different from the surprise factor, I guess. For who, though? Who is it a surprise to? Who was this year a surprise to? It wasn't our players. It wasn't at all. They weren't walking around going wow. They were in there every day going, yeah, what's next. So what did it surprise? Me, I little bit. I'm trying to be honest.
Q. Buck, do you think so much was made what you guys did in one run games, extra inning games. How does that carry over from one year to the next?
BUCK SHOWALTER: I don't know. It would be a lot more enjoyable if I knew how they were going to turn out. If you get in the dugout, hey, I know how this game's going to end so I don't have to endure the pain going up through there.
Q. People are going to point to something that's not sustainable from one year to the next.
BUCK SHOWALTER: I would do if I was handicapping it. Just the odds alone. You wouldn't think that could happen. But the players have such a quiet confidence in those situations. They wouldn't talk about it in the dugout. They were happy. Believe me, we'd like to get it over in nine innings. If we'd have done a better job in the nine innings, we on the be playing extra innings. We wouldn't play the one run games. When we got beat, we got beat. It was a big number.
Q. Buck, going back to playing baseball in Nashville, how badly do they need a new stadium? They're still playing at Greer stadium.
BUCK SHOWALTER: I've got great memories at Greer Stadium. They need a new stadium. Should have happened a long time ago. Great baseball town. I was in Memphis last week meeting my talking with my next in laws, and we were right across the street from the new stadium there in Memphis, gorgeous. There's no reason why Nashville shouldn't have that. It's been a constant. It's a great baseball city. I actually think they could support somebody at any level they wanted to. Football has done well. I think the hockey's done well. I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more talk about them during the expansion time. When they can't even upgrade Greer, there's been some good baseball people work their way through that place. It's been tough. It was the Taj Mahal when I was there, but that was 72 years ago.
Q. Was it really, though?
BUCK SHOWALTER: We thought it was it was probably the best facility in AA at that time. The attendance, I think we drew close to 500,000 that one year. They were roping off the warning track. But it was a great time for baseball in Nashville at that time. First couple years the Yankees were here.