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Winter Meetings interview with Dale Sveum

Q. You talked about at the end of the season taking a little time to decompress. How long did it take you?

DALE SVEUM: I went to Hawai'i a couple days after, so that was enough. You don't really decompress that much, as much as you think. You've got to get away at the end of the season, and two, three weeks you kind of just want to get right back. It's something we've done our whole life and it's something you just want to keep doing all the time, even though you do need a break here and there.

Q. Talk about Baker and Feldman.

DALE SVEUM: Well, yeah, going into the winter we were wanting to get a few starting pitchers, and obviously we knocked off a couple already. So to get guys that you know, Scott Baker in Minnesota had some nice years, got to see him a lot when I was with the Brewers, a guy that throws a lot of strikes and has got some upside with his fastball, sneaky fastball. And he's on base right now, everything is going really well with the rehab and should be ready to go opening day.

And Feldman is another guy that's kind of in the same boat without the injury, but a guy that we feel very confident can pitch in the National League, in the National League Central, and do a good job. He's kind of unique, big, tall guy that's had some success, and we're glad to have both of those guys right now moving forward.

Q. Do you feel you have enough depth?

DALE SVEUM: I don't think you ever have enough depth. You know, I think we kind of fell into that last year, not having that much depth. Everybody is always looking for pitching, and you can't have enough of it, no matter how it all turns out. But the more pitching you're going to get, the better off you're going to be.

Q. Yesterday Theo said that everybody gets impatient not having a winter season. Are you more apt to be impatient in the second season?

DALE SVEUM: You mean myself?

Q. Yeah.

DALE SVEUM: I don't know. You know, you have a hand you're dealt and you go with it and all that, but you just patience is what it is. I don't care if you're winning or not having a good season. We're all in this to get to the big dance and obviously get to the World Series. But putting a team together is Theo and Jed's job, and it's my job to do the best I can with the players I have. You know, there's always things to be filled and to get better, and patience is what it is. But you can only use youth for an excuse for so long. We've got some guys coming, but patience is what it is. And a lot of times you understand, and then sometimes things do try your patience.

Q. Everybody knew this would be a process, but are you expecting a better record at least this season? Hoping?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah. You know, when you lose 100 games, you'd better go into it with a little more optimism. But yeah, last thing last year going into the season, we knew we were going to have to have a tough time scoring runs, and we ended up having a tough time scoring runs. The starting pitching was our strength going into the season, and that was one of our with Dempster's season, Samardzija coming on, had a great second half, learned a lot. Obviously Carlos Marmol had one of his best years. So the starting pitching, the bullpen, you know, stumbled at the beginning and I had to put people in situations they're not comfortable with, but the Shawn Camps and the James Russells of the year did a heck of a job. Hopefully we gets things a little more solidified where guys aren't doing things out of their comfort zone.

Q. The consensus was that you and your coaches did a really good job running the team, but when you lose 101, how do you quantify that in your mind as far as what a really good job is?

DALE SVEUM: When you lose 100 games, it's nice that people say that, but we held ourselves accountable, as well. We have to be better and do a better job. But we knew going in we were changing a culture of an organization, changing the culture of the 25 guys that are on that baseball field every day, and I think we accomplished a lot of things like that to get the people that come in this organization, the kids that have come up, the free agents that we want to sign are very comfortable knowing that myself and the staff are guys that are going to hold people accountable and get character type good players in the organization. It makes a big difference when free agents can find out that the staff and the manager are doing the right thing.

Q. When you say change the culture, you mean when players do come in, teach them about what their responsibility is both on and off the field? Is that a big part of it?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I mean, on and off the field is part of what we do is representing the Chicago Cubs. But it's the process of you heard me talk about it a lot last year, about the preparation on an everyday basis. The work ethic, and then once the game starts, it's always playing hard. And I think you guys got to watch every game. I don't think that team never didn't play hard or run balls out or anything like that. This is something that we went in and talked about and expected it, and I think we got it out of all our players.

Q. Do you see better things from Brett Jackson?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah. I mean, it's obvious you're not a Major League pitcher out there, but he made huge, huge strides just in his batting practice, completely overhauled a swing, changed a lot of things. Bruce was there. I don't know what he thought about his swing, but it was a completely different swing. Using his hands much, much more, staying behind the ball, a lot of things that are going to definitely help him going into the season. Nobody can sit here and predict anything, but I think he's got a good base to work with going the rest of the winter and Spring Training to understand the art of hitting, so to speak, that sometimes gets lost or sometimes gets taught the wrong way.

Q. And Barney, too?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah, Barney is another guy that didn't have to make huge, drastic swing changes or anything like that. But a few things that we brought up about him, it's just more about driving the ball. I think his on base percentage is going to gradually get better just with experience. We all know the glove he has and the Gold Glove, but we have to get that OPS up, and he realizes that, and he's capable of doing it with both.

Q. Looks like you'll have a further addition to your bullpen very shortly. Can you talk about the further upgrading of the pen and how important that is to your team?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I mean, upgrading the pen is something we wanted to do at the back end of the bullpen. Whatever happens from here on out. But we're talking to a lot of people, and hopefully things work out. But Marmol is our closer and we've got to get better at the back end. We signed Shawn Camp back, James Russell, so that's a start, but we have to get better in that seventh, eighth, inning, also.

Q. Looks like LaHair found a good situation for himself, but subtracting an All Star from your roster, was it going to be tough to fit him into the outfield mix, or how did his role game for you guys?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I think he had obviously a nice first half for us, and it was kind of a unique situation that doesn't happen every year that a guy makes the All Star team and then basically almost didn't play very much the second half of the season, especially after Rizzo got there. Yeah, it wasn't going to be a super good fit in the outfield because of the speed factor, and we want to be more athletic in the outfield. Obviously you're going to miss that kind of bat because I think he made some adjustments I think that last month of the season to where it was going to help him a lot going into the season. But with Rizzo at first base, it worked out for everybody. I'm glad he's going over there, get some money and play and hopefully has a nice career.

Q. Is your outfield mix a fluid thing at this point?

DALE SVEUM: I don't quite understand what you mean.

Q. Right now you've got Soriano

DALE SVEUM: Yeah, we have DeJesus, and obviously we're looking for another outfielder to help out, preferably left handed. We'd like to get more left handed. So we're talking to people, and hopefully something gets done to where we can get some more production out of it, whether it's center field or right field or whatever happens there. It's nice to have the asset that DeJesus can go to center field or if it's a right fielder or vice versa.

Q. What are your expectations for Castro next year? When you think of numbers or more importantly the way he approaches the game every day, what do you expect to be different from last year or progress from where he was at?

DALE SVEUM: The biggest thing with him is we know the talent, we know the ability, the 200 hits, the ability to get hits. We saw huge strides defensively. We probably went to the middle of that season, the middle three months, I'd hate to think there's a better shortstop in all of baseball for about three months. Started out a little slow and finished a little slow, but those we know that three months in between was pretty special. So we know what we've dot defensively. But basically what I want to see out of him is just keep progressing mentally and understand the process of becoming a winning player and not a hit seeker, becoming more of a winning hitter situation, drive runs in, understanding the situations. Defensively, like I said, I think he came a long way but still has to even concentrate more. I think we got him probably, just throwing a number out there, probably really focused 80 to 85 percent of the time. We've got to get that to that 95 percent. I don't think anybody ever really focuses 100 percent. I think you'd be lying if you said that, plus 300 pitches per game, very difficult to get to. He took a lot of pride in it and did get much better for a 22 year old kid.

Q. His base drilling dropped about the second half, is that a product of getting a lot of people on base, didn't score as many runs because

DALE SVEUM: Yeah, it wasn't like he got shut down, it wasn't anything like that, especially those last two months we were behind early. We were behind not just by one or two, but we were down three, four, five runs within the first couple innings so often that that'll shut down the running game as much as anything.

Q. Do you think he can steal 30 to 40 bases?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah. He was easily on his way to steal 30 bases this year, but you have to win a lot more games and be ahead in ballgames to keep the running game going, as well.

Q. How much better can Rizzo be with that half season under his belt?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I think that half season and the confidence that he has going into this season, I know going into last season at Spring Training and stuff, I don't think he had the confidence even though he still had a pretty good spring and obviously got off to a great start in Triple A, but I don't think anybody after the struggles he had at the end of the '11 season that he was going in really quite sold on his new mechanics and his swing path and all that until it all started coming together and he started doing it. I mean, having that half a year under his belt and his leadership, he just took off in a lot of things and started understanding a lot of things. Even though he was hot when he first got there and then cooled off and got hot again, I think he learned a lot why that little three week period when he really got cold, why he started doing that. He got a little trying to hit home runs and do all those kind of things too much, and then he got right back to what he does best and finished up nice.

Q. With the addition of Navarro, does that mean Clevenger is starting out in Triple A or will he have a shot to beat out Castillo?

DALE SVEUM: No, Castillo right now. We went into the winter knowing that we felt very confident the strides that Castillo made the last month to six weeks of the season. We really feel that we have a guy that can catch a lot of games, if not 75 percent of them, 80 percent of them. That's still a wait and see, obviously. But Navarro would be the backup catcher, with the opportunity to catch even more with the performance those guys have. Navarro is still a young catcher. He's 28 years old, switch hits, gives you good at bats, can receive, call a game, probably the best backup catcher that was available out there. We count our blessings that we got one of them because it's not a very good market out there.

Q. The adjustments Brett Johnson made, do you think he could be a factor at some point next season, and does that impact how you look at the free agent market for outfielders?

DALE SVEUM: I don't think we take that into consideration, but there's no doubt that Brett Jackson could be part of the Cubs' big league team next year. These kind of things are obviously all up to the individual now, and we bring him up last season for the fact that hoping he was going to do well but knowing that we get to see him firsthand, where when a week ago when he got to come out to Arizona, we got to fix the things and see firsthand you get to watch the video but you just don't get the inside scoop. And I think he'll even tell you that it was a huge learning experience. Things obviously didn't go well, but he knows now that sometimes you have to hit that wall to understand, wow, I've really got to make some huge adjustments to play at this level.

Q. Why do you think you'll be a better manager next year?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I think I went through a lot. I have patience and understanding a lot of those things, dealing with a lot of different things, the trade lines, the rumors, the stuff the players had to deal with. You can go on and on. You always should, anyway, be better and better just because you've gone through a lot of different things. The difference the National League game on an everyday basis is something that speeds up and then but you just slow it down. At the beginning of the year, especially you learned a lot about the bullpen, when things don't go right in the bullpen like they didn't my first month (chuckling), so I think those are things that you move forward, you're going to be better at understanding that these things work, sometimes you do have to make changes and see what happens. And sometimes some changes are unfortunate; they don't work out. We had to put a young kid in the closer's role with Dolis. Started out like gang busters. He was awesome. And then gave up and then quite mentally at that age and that experience, just didn't pull it off. But marvel for taking him out, putting him back in, you could arguably say he was the best closer in baseball after he came back in the closing role. It would have been nice to have 50 opportunities, but he didn't have that many opportunities, but he was still really good. So you learn a lot from those experiences. The game stuff is pretty cut and dry for the most part. It's all the behind the scenes stuff that you've got to get better at.

Q. Have you learned anything more about the fan base after being there a year?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I mean, going there as a visitor and all those things, you understand the you know the loyalty. But then when you live it, you understand it. The importance of wearing that C on your shirt has got to get to a level. That's the culture of understanding of free agents, the players we have, the Minor Leaguers understand it's a huge, huge thing to be able to wear that jersey. So that's where we're changing the culture is to get to understand when you put on the Yankees pinstripe, it's different than some things. And when you put on a Cubs uniform, you want that to be different.

Q. Third base is a question. What are your thoughts on some of the options there?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I mean, there's it's a market that we all know that third base isn't what it used to be when you have 15, 20 guys hitting 30 home runs and changes the game with one swing of the bat. But we're talking to some people. Ian Stewart is a guy we'd like to get back, signed back. It's not the you know, Valbuena is having a heck of a winter ball right now and did a heck of a job for us, so we have some options but we're exploring a heck of a lot of options, as well.

Q. How about Garza? Is he going to be ready for the start of the season?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah, Garza is beginning of the season, I mean, we yeah, as far as everything is mapped out, he should be fine without any setbacks. Everything is going great right now. I think he starts actually throwing when did I talk to him? He should be throwing pretty quick here.

Q. There are some reports you guys are going to sign Japanese pitcher Fujikawa. Have you ever heard of him?

DALE SVEUM: Well, yeah, of course I have. We haven't nothing is done yet or can't really comment on anything because there's nothing going on as far as finalization. There's a lot of teams that he could pitch for. You want him to pitch for the Cubs. Yeah, I've seen video and I've seen all the numbers and everything like that. It's one of them guys that can pitch at the back end of our bullpen, no doubt about it.

Q. When did you say Garza was going to get started?

DALE SVEUM: Should be 26, so probably another four or five days he's going to start throwing. So everything is going really good. But yeah, he seemed to think when I talked to him that everything is he's basically on the same path as if he didn't have an injury. Everything is going really well. That's about the time he'd start throwing before Christmas and start cranking it up. So everything is going really well.

Q. How is his state of mind?

DALE SVEUM: You know Garza; he can't wait. He can't wait to get back on the mound, and obviously right now he's at baby steps. But right now there's nothing really changed as far as if he would have pitched the last game of the year. He would have took the time off and started throwing right about now, and that's what he was getting ready to do. Yeah, I mean, Garza is wound like a top, so he's ready to start going.

Q. Is he kind of a wild card for how your team competes going into the season?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I mean, he's the type of pitcher that's a front line guy that can and should be our No. 1, No. 2 guy. But he has to get to that level of winning and not giving games away with that kind of stuff. And he knows that. He'll be the first one to tell you that there's something that always gets in the way of a domination or dominating a baseball game. But yeah, he's if you have Samardzija pitching the way he did at the end of the year. Garza. Travis Wood, I think, is just learning to pitch; he came a long way. And then Baker and Feldman solidify the rotation, but you need health. You need depth. So you're always trying to be creative, find pitching any way you can.

Q. Did you get out to see Solare or Baez much?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah, I went to about five or six fall games, yeah.

Q. What was your impression?

DALE SVEUM: You know, the bat speed is Gary Sheffield type bat speed.

Q. You're talking about Baez?

DALE SVEUM: Yeah, incredible bad speed. Didn't get to see any results, but the bat speed was pretty good. I didn't go to his best games. But he had a heck of a Minor League season, the combination of the home runs and everything. He was a bigger kid than I thought when I saw him in person. I saw him in big league camp, I didn't really I saw him without a shirt on one day, and I was like, wow, he's a pretty big kid. But a lot of tremendous, tremendous tools at that age. That kind of bat speed just doesn't come around at 19 years old.

Q. Can you talk about your experiences playing baseball here in Nashville and how badly this city needs a new stadium for the Sounds?

DALE SVEUM: Well, it's been a while since I've played here, but if they're playing in that same stadium, then yeah, they need a new stadium. But I enjoyed it. I was here two and a half months, three months, and I don't know how they draw now, but we drew a lot of fans. It was nice coming to 8,000 to 10,000 people a night playing here. That was my last year playing, so it was fun to a fun experience. We had a great team. So it was a lot of fun. It's a great city. Obviously we all know what kind of city it was, or is, but definitely they need a new ballpark to keep up with the rest of the country. There's some great Minor League ballparks around the country now.

Q. You mentioned you saw reports on Fujikawa. Is he like a closer type of guy?

DALE SVEUM: Well, I think he can fill any kind of role. He's got that kind of stuff. Those numbers and that ability to do things with three and four different pitches just doesn't come around very often. So he can set up, he can close, do anything he wants with the baseball. He's got four quality pitches and can add and subtract with his fastball. Yeah, I mean, he can pitch in the 7th, pitch in the 8th, pitch in the 9th, he can get left handers out, so he can pitch in any kind of situation.

Q. Some managers have learned Japanese to communicate with some of their players. Do you know any words?

DALE SVEUM: No. I know how to spell. Thank you. But that's about it.

Q. What would this team have to do to compete this year?

DALE SVEUM: I think like most any I mean, you look at the Oakland A's last year, I think the Orioles winning all those extra inning games, the one run ballgames, the walk off home runs, we talk about all the time you have to have slugging percentage, you have to have the ability to hit fast balls so you can win those close games. But my point is you have to have your core guys, your eight guys that are going to go out there every day as an offense, and they have to have kind of their career years. You see most teams when they might be not on paper like the Yankees or the good Red Sox teams or guys end up having out of nowhere guys have their career years, and all of a sudden you win a lot more ballgames. Don't get me wrong, you still have to pitch, so that's the bottom line. So you have to compete. We have to put together a pitching staff and get these guys to understand that you've got to stay away from the walks. We were very close if not leading the league in walks, and not walking too much. So you're not going to produce runs and give up a lot more runs when you walk people or you don't walk. There's a lot of things that happened, but last year I probably said that we need our corner guys to hit 25, 35 home runs and drive in 100 runs, well, we came up very, very short of that. You have to score runs, too. We talk about pitching, but you do have to score runs. That's why Shawn Camp and James Russell pitched so many games, because we were in games but we couldn't score enough to win those games.