Winter Meetings interview with Fredi Gonzalez
Q. How good does it feel just to get the option to exercise going into next year?
FREDI GONZALEZ: It's great, a great organization. People you want to work for, people you want to -- you get along with, and the one goal is to keep putting a good team on the field. It was fun when they came to me and -- it was good. It was a no brainer.
Q. You accepted?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah. (Laughter).
Q. What will you miss most about Chipper Jones?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Ooh, how much time do we have here in this media session? A lot. We'll miss his presence, we'll miss his -- obviously his bat in the lineup. Even at 40 years old, last year he did some wonderful stuff. He did some incredible stuff actually is a better word. We'll miss him in the clubhouse. We'll miss him, that constant, I guess, that he's been there for 18 years.
But along those lines, Atlanta Braves has missed Smoltz and Glavine and Maddux and those guys, and we have guys on our team right now that can step up and be that guy and not necessarily be Chipper Jones but be themselves and be leaders.
Q. Frank had talked a little bit about that, too, mentioned some guys he thought could kind of move forward and pick up the leadership, Prado, Heyward was one.
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, I think there's a lot of guys. I think there's a lot of candidates. Collectively they all do it, which is fine. Sometimes I think we mistake leadership for the guy to be on top, stand up on the table and yell and scream and throw chairs and that kind of stuff. And for me sometimes a leader is a guy that goes out there and plays the game the right way and can tell somebody, hey, this is not the way we do it here. We run bases hard and we wear the uniform the right way and play the game the right way. Walk the talk, I guess. Not necessarily the guy that's going to be the rah rah guy.
Q. That's more like what Chipper's leadership was, too, right?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, he wasn't a yeller or a screamer, but he went out there and played the game the right way and behaved the right way. The way you want to be a Brave. But we've got a lot of candidates in my opinion in that clubhouse that can do that. McCann is a guy that's been around Chipper for eight years, and he could stand up and do it. Jason Heyward from my experience with him in '11 to the experience we had last summer, 2012, you see a lot of maturity there, a guy that can do it. Freeman is heading that direction. Hudson is a guy that can take care of the pitching stuff, so is Kimbrel. So there's a lot of candidates there.
Q. You committed Prado at third base?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, we're kind of still kicking it around. Frank and our scouts and our front office people, they're knocking on doors and calling people and looking for that perfect or prototypical leadoff hitter. But if the season started tomorrow, you feel pretty comfortable that we could do that because of the versatility that Prado gives us. He could play left field and you could do something at third base Juan Francisco or let Prado play third and you could do something at left field with a combination of some of the other candidates that we have. You still feel like you've got a pretty good club.
Q. When you look at the lineup, I know you want that lead off hitter, but do you look up the middle and say this has a chance to be a pretty good lineup? Have you done some of that?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, kind of tinkered around a little bit. Of course, that's what we do as managers. You're always tinkering with the lineup. He adds a different dynamic. B.J. adds a different dynamic with his being a right handed guy that can hit in the middle of the lineup. If the season started today and we don't have that prototypical lead off guy, you could probably tinker with Prado up there in the lead off spot or Simmons or one of those guys and kind of play around with that. But it's nice to have a right handed guy in the lineup that can -- what did he hit? 27 home runs, somewhere around there, 28, from the right side, and it gives you a little dynamic.
Q. Do you see him -- ideally is he more of a 4 hitter, 5 hitter, 6 hitter?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Who?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I don't know. The lineups that I have, I haven't put forth. But he's a guy that can hit anywhere in that middle lineup. When we talk about lineups, usually the managers are wanting to keep the best guys up there closer to the top so they get more ABs. So you can sit here and get locked in and say he's the fourth hitter or fifth hitter, it's going to be dumb on my part because next thing you know McCann is crushing balls or Danny is hitting balls. Guess what? They're going to be hitting up at the top of the order. But he's a middle lineup guy, and we have some candidates there. Not everybody can hit 2, 3, 4 or 5 because Freeman has come into his own and he's swinging the bat and getting better. And Heyward last year hit third for a month and a half and he did a nice job, and McCann is capable of doing that, capable of hitting fourth. I don't want to get myself locked in and say, hey, he's going to hit in this spot.
Q. What did you see in B.J.? What impressed you with the idea that he wants to bounce back?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, he said that in a press conference. He said that in a press conference, I feel like I can get better in the future. But the meetings that I had with him or the meeting that I had with him where we sat around the middle of the locker room with Greg Walker and Frank and a couple of the other guys, you know what, first time I ever got a chance to talk to the young man. You play against him and you see him, the way he can beat you. He can beat you defensively or he can hit a gap or a homer to beat you. But I saw a guy that knows the game. He has great game. He asked really, really good questions. Don't confuse the guy that's kicked back or laid back for a guy that doesn't have any fire. He cares about winning, which that was impressive. But just how comfortable we all were on just talking baseball, talking conversation.
Greg talked to a few people in Tampa Bay that he knew, and we did our homework and everybody came back saying this guy is a pretty good kid. Everybody liked him. I'm glad that he chose us to sign with us. I think he's going to make a big difference defensively, on the base path, and offensively.
Q. Before arriving in Nashville, the organization obviously made some significant moves. Is there a sense that the biggest moves are behind the organization this offseason?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, there's always -- Christmas is right around the corner, so you never know when you're going to get a little gift. But I touched on it a little bit earlier: If nothing else happens, nothing else happens, and between now and the start of the season is still a long ways and there's still a lot of things that could happen, you feel pretty good that you're going to be able to compete in our division, which is a tough division. Washington keeps getting better, I think the Phillies are -- what happened to them last year is not going to happen to them again, which the injuries, they lost Howard and Utley for a very long time. It's a tough division.
But I feel like if it starts tomorrow, the season starts tomorrow, we're going to be okay because of our pitching, because of our bullpen. It's pretty darned good. And we're okay, a pretty good team.
Q. Tommy Hanson was involved in one of these, and there are questions about his mechanics related to velocity. How much work do you do with like biomechanic study
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, we do the biomechanic work, Roger does a good job with the filming and that kind of stuff. But I think more importantly, the reason that we decided to go or to trade Tommy was there was no reason for Delgado or Teheran or those two guys in particular to go back to a third year in Gwinnett, Triple A. We felt like those two guys and the possibility of Gil Martin, they could give us that fifth starter. And we kind of dealt Tommy to bolster our bullpen a little bit with Walden, a guy that in 2011 saved over 30 games, gives you a little experience there. So it kind of makes that bullpen of ours a little bit deeper.
Q. Were there any concerns biomechanically with him, or is that something you'd rather not address?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, I'd rather not address that. But you know what, when he left us he was healthy. What did he end up winning? 13 games? And I think he's won a lot of games when he's with us. I know there were some concerns there with the miles per hour dropping down a little bit. But I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say he's a little funky, his delivery, but he's fine. He's a competitor and he's a winner, and I think the Angels got a pretty good starting -- they needed some starters, and I think it was a good trade for both clubs.
Q. Is there a general organizational philosophy about letting people keep their natural arm angle as opposed to asking them to change?
FREDI GONZALEZ: You know what, just to say -- not to get myself in trouble, I think that our organization does a good job not putting pitchers in -- it's hard to change arm actions and arm angles when you're 21, 22, and I think our pitching coaches in the Minor Leagues and our pitching coordinators in the Minor Leagues, they let them -- they kind of let those guys do their thing before tinkering.
Q. Was Tommy hurt or -- obviously he had an up and down season?
FREDI GONZALEZ: No, Tommy was fine. I know he missed some games with I want to say it was his back if I'm not mistaken. He missed -- put him on the DL for 15 days, but he was fine as far as that. He's missed some times in the last couple years, little times, but nothing significant. Just some minor stuff.
Q. As you looked at kind of decompression of the season, do you kind of just focus on 94 wins or after the disappointment of that one game wears off?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I didn't understand.
Q. As you decompress from the season and look back, do you just focus on those 94 wins and not just that one game?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, you focus on 94 wins and you focus that we made the postseason, and I think once you get into the postseason, you're going to have to catch some breaks. And you've got to have a little bit of luck to keep going further. So you focus on -- our goal is, like every year, to get to the postseason, and we did that this year, or 2012, and that's our goal next year is to get to the postseason, and hopefully you catch on fire, you catch a couple breaks and you get a little deeper.
Q. Probably a lot easier to get over the nightmarish two innings in that wild card game than a nightmarish four or five weeks the previous year, wasn't it?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, it was, but it's still difficult because you still want to be those last two teams playing in October. But the thing that kind of hurts the most, you try to get over it, is that we didn't -- uncharacteristically we played a game that we haven't played all year, which for the most -- for 162 games we led the National League in defense or fielding percentage is a better word, and we made three errors that game and cost us a bunch of runs. But that's the way it goes sometimes. You lick your wounds a little bit and go on to Spring Training.
Q. Going into the season obviously it's not ideal, but how much uneasiness is there regarding your starting catcher coming back from pretty major shoulder surgery, Janish, who obviously is just a backup but a pretty important backup defensively. Are you pretty confident in what your medical people have told you that Mack will be back strong and that kind of thing?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah, I think that Mack and Paul, they're going to be fine. They're going to miss anywhere between 10 days or two weeks at the beginning of the season, and that's it. Everything else is going to be fine. I really look for Mack to have a hell of a season for different reasons. He's healthy, number one, and I think he's in the last year of his contract, and here's a young guy that he's not even 30 yet, and he's got a lot of big league games, a lot of big league years, productive years ahead of him. I am really looking for him to have a hell of a year.
Q. Are you looking for Dan Uggla to come back to his usual 30 homer form?
FREDI GONZALEZ: You know what, I would love that, of course. I think last year he struggled a little bit with the home runs, but I think he led the league in bases on balls. You know what he gives you, just a hard nosed, blue collar type guy, and yeah, I'd like for him to bounce back with 30 home runs and hit what the back of that baseball card says, and I think he'll do that.
Q. What's it been like over the last year or so to wrap your head around how the Nationals established themselves in the division and sort of deal with that where they weren't really a factor for so many years?
FREDI GONZALEZ: They've been a good club. You can almost see them getting better almost every year. When I was with the Marlins, they went out and they led guys like Desmond, they led guys like Espinosa and Morris and Flores. And those guys go out and they're pitching, just go out and play and get better and get better, and last year they said, okay, we're ready to compete and we're ready to win. And they filled in some spots with LaRoche when they went outside Worth. They're a good club and they're going to keep getting better. Bryce Harper is a very, very good player. They signed another pitcher. Strasburg will be ready to go right from the very beginning. And the rest of their bullpen is really, really good. Rotation is good. They're the team to beat, there's no question in my mind.
We've got to go into Spring Training, and our goal is to win the division for a lot of different reasons. One is you don't want to play that one game playoff because it's an advantage to win the division. But it's going to boil down almost like every year which team is going to stay healthy.
Q. Has it been different to see the perception of the Nationals change over the last several years?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Perception as in
Q. Things like this, they're not viewed so much anymore as who wants to sign there, who's going to deal with them, that sort of thing.
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, you almost saw that coming. You saw it, and Mike Rizzo and Davey has done a terrific job building that club, and they're very, very formidable. They're good. They're really good, and they've got some young pieces and they've got some veterans and they've got a good blend.
Q. What's it like with a security blanket like Kimbrel at the end of the game? What do you look for from him next year?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I look for him to do the same thing he's done the last couple years. You don't have a crystal ball in front of you, but here he is. If he can do this for a 10 , 12 year career span, he'll be up there with some of the big names and closers, you know, the Riveras and Hoffmans and those type of guys. Maybe a little longer than 12 years, but I don't look for him to do anything more really. He keeps getting better because he wants to get better. He studies, he works. And barring injuries, I see him having a hell of a career in front of him.
Q. Back to your catching situation, who do you lose without having David Ross?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, you lose a pretty good backup, I think. There's some people, me included, that say that this guy might be the best backup in the National League -- I take it back, best backup in the Major Leagues. But we went outside Laird, and I think he's going to do a good job. I think he really is going to do a good job, and good for Rossie. He went out at his age and he got a pretty good contract with the Red Sox, and he's over there with a good club, and he's going to help that team.
Q. How will his veteran presence help the younger catchers in Boston?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I think he'll help the entire clubhouse, I really do. He's a guy that's been around a little bit, he knows the game. He was there before a while ago, I believe, so he knows. You know what, he's going to be one of those guys that it's -- the presence, his presence is going to be felt in the clubhouse.
Q. Talk about what you saw from Minor there down the stretch. How much does that influence the confidence you have in your rotation?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, we saw a guy that just kept getting better. There were some times there in May and June where we sat around and was it good for him to go to Triple A, and you saw a guy that just for him to go out there every fifth day and go through the rotation, just keep getting better and keep getting better, keep getting comfortable. We saw that with Beachy the year before. I don't know if there's a magic number of starts or magic number of Major League innings where you say, okay, he's got it. But you saw a guy that got better by going out there and there was no reason for him to -- even though there were some critics out there saying send him down, get him out of here, we didn't do that, and kudos to our organization and to our pitching coach Roger who stuck with him, and that's one reason with Teheran and Delgado. Sooner or later we've got to get them away from Triple A. It's not going to help them. Run them out there in the Big Leagues and see what they can do.
Q. Talk about Beachy coming off midseason. That's going to potentially be a big boon for you guys? You're not talking about just adding an average pitcher.
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah, and you know what, we'll worry about that when it gets there because you think, okay, this rotation with Beachy is going to get there, who comes out. And by that time we may be begging for pitching. So you don't know.
But the last time I checked, he's doing everything that he's supposed to, and one thing I've learned with that Tommy John thing, if you do what they ask you to do and you do the rehab and you do -- it's almost -- you can't fail, and knowing the kid that Beachy is, I expect him to be that window right where he's supposed to take his 12 months, 11 and a half, 12 months, so I expect him to be right on schedule.
Q. What do you think about Chris Midland over the full season?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Over next year, the rotation?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Pretty good. You know, he does a lot of things right. He does -- he throws strikes, he commands three or four pitches, he fields his position. He's a winner. He's a winner. I don't expect anything less than that from him. And Roger told me that when we put him in the rotation, once he's in there he's never going to come out because you're going to like it. Not only do we like it, I think his teammates like him when he pitches.
Q. Philosophically you're not a proponent of giving up outs with the bunt, and I know Braves fans who think that you do it too much. Why the disconnect?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I don't know. I don't know.
Q. Is there a situation where sometimes a manager will go away from his philosophy over a period of time for whatever reason?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Oh, I think so. I think so. I think your philosophy changes with the dynamics of your club. You know, I really do. I think if you have a club that can run, then you run. If you have a club that can't run, then you try to create runs some other way. But to sit here and say that -- I don't even know what my number is as far as bunting and not bunting. We're a National League team, and sometimes -- because the pitcher bunts all the time, that number gets skewed a little bit. But as far as for position players bunting, I'm not sure I did it that much.
But I don't know where the disconnect is. We just try to win ballgames, and whatever I feel or through watching games and experience, is bunting a runner over a base gives you a chance to win the ballgame, we'll do it.
Q. At least at the end of the year you look at the numbers, how many times -- what was your success rate stealing, how many times did you sacrifice and try to take a look at whether that should change or is it just organic that it happened?
FREDI GONZALEZ: No, I don't -- again, I think your dynamic of your team is what makes you change or not change, your lineup.
Q. You moved towards the end two thirds of the way into the season last year, kind of changed your philosophy for maybe the complexion of the bullpen, but you went with Kimbrel on the road, (inaudible), and then you used them again late in the season in the eighth inning and
FREDI GONZALEZ: One time I did it. I only did both those things one time.
Q. Is that something you would think about doing once in a while or is it something you want to shy away from?
FREDI GONZALEZ: No, no, I think it all depends on how we get to that point. I think both of those times, the times we used him in the tie game in New York, it was -- the middle of the order was coming up. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, tie game, and it was David Wright and Davis and that group was coming, and so we used him there.
The four out save only did it once, and I think that he hadn't pitched in three or four days when he did that. So I think it all depends on how you get to that spot.
Again, you kind of -- the more you do this, the more you grow or mature or try different things, and so we've done that a little bit with him. But it all depends on how you get to that point. Obviously if he's pitched three days in a row, I don't think I want to -- I don't think it would be smart to run him out there for a four out save on the fourth day, that kind of stuff. But you try something every year, something that was important to me in my first year may not be important to me now.
Q. You say the strides Heyward made last year were pretty significant. Can you see him resuming that -- he had a great rookie year, injuries the second year. Can you see him continuing to go forward, this guy could be a superstar?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, I think he is there now in my opinion. I think winning Gold Glove, that was a big piece of hardware for him. I know I'm so proud of that winning that because there was no question in my mind that he was the best right fielder in the National League the way he played and saved us many times.
I think he's a young kid, he's, what, 23, 24 years old, and there's a lot of potential there and there's a lot of growth still there. Again, he's almost like Kimbrel. If he goes out and does what he did last year and the numbers escape me a little bit, but was it .280, right around there, 20 ish home runs, maybe could drive in a little more runs, 30 something bases, 20 something bases? That's pretty good. I think sometimes his fans are -- or coaches, you always want more, but those numbers are pretty solid numbers if you can sustain those for a long period of time, longevity.
Q. Are you concerned about having Kimbrel pitch for Team USA?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I'm concerned -- well, I take it back. No, nothing concerns me about a WBC. We'll just leave it at that.
Q. We've seen Minor have great success and have periods of struggles. Are there any things that he's working on this offseason in particular where you sort of slot him in? Where do you see him at in his career right now?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I think he's on the upside of his career. Again, barring injuries, you don't have a crystal ball or know that kind of stuff and you hope none of that kind of stuff happens. But he's in the rotation. He really has, he's established himself in the rotation, whether he's one, two, three, four, I couldn't tell you that right now. But he's in the rotation, and here's a guy that I think the experience is going to get him better for next year. I'm sure he is -- we've got a couple guys in our team that are unbelievable athletes, unbelievable workers, him being one, Beachy, they take care of themselves. They want to be the best pitchers they can be. So I see him right now without even talking to him, I see him running someplace or lifting weights or getting stronger for next year.
Q. I imagine this is a question you've talked about a lot before, but there's a pretty long track record of teams not being able to bounce back from what your team went through in September of 2011. How were you able to get over it so quickly?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I wish I could take credit for that, but I've said this before, and I'm so proud of our club because there was a lot of questions asked about the lapse of -- they used every adjective in September to describe that the last month of 2011. But I'm so proud of them because there was a lot of questions asked. Pretty much the same team came back in 2012. And the manager, and in Spring Training, there was questions asked right from the very beginning, and we started 0 and 4, and -- yeah, it was terrible. But our club, we've got a good club, and it was the majority of the guys coming back, and we went out and won 94 games, and we went out and got into a playoff, a chance to go deeper in the playoffs.
I think it was a club that learned collectively from top to bottom, from me to the last guy on that roster, that that could happen again. And we did it. We did let it happen and we went out and built on it and had a pretty good season.
Q. What kind of things do you learn from that?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Oh, geez. You know what, it's just experience. It's just getting through that stuff and making changes when you feel like making changes and doing the little things.
Q. I just realized you lost 20 out of 30 the year before. This time you won 20 of your last 30.
FREDI GONZALEZ: Is that right? In September?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Yeah.
Q. You had Martin sort of play everywhere last year, and at shortstop it was crazy. You might not have him in that sort of role next year because you have sort of a couple open positions that he probably filled?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I hope not because that means everybody is healthy, because he plays shortstop because we had nobody, and I think nobody knew he could play shortstop, how well he played shortstop. But what a great flexibility to have, versatility as a manager, and you can -- yes, in a perfect world, we want to say, hey, Martin, you're a left fielder or Martin, you're the second baseman -- I take it back, Danny is the second baseman, but Martin, you're the third baseman and that's going to be your position.
Q. Are you going to have Tyler come up?
FREDI GONZALEZ: I like Tyler Pastornicky a lot. Tyler for me is an offensive guy, and he played shortstop for the first 40 something games, I believe, give or take a game or two, and he did okay, so we know he can play shortstop at the big league level. We may go into Spring Training and try him at second base, maybe try him at left field. Same thing Washington did with Lombardozzi because he's an offensive guy and try to use him and plug him in and help him and help us be -- for lack of a better term, a super utility guy. But for me he's an offensive player, and I like him a lot.
Q. We didn't ask you this whole time about Simmons. How special can he be?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Very special. I think he's one of those guys that at the end of his career he may win a couple of those Gold Gloves. You know what, you can say this but people are going to probably criticize me about it or whatever. But I think if he would have stayed healthy, I think at the end of the year him and Bryce Harper, it would have been a hell of a decision about who was going to be the rookie of the year because he was headed that same direction. I'm assuming he had enough games. I think he would have had enough games to qualify or justify the -- because he added that type of energy to us when he came that Bryce did to Washington. And again, he got hurt, so there's no discussion there. But I really thought that he could have been that candidate if he would have stayed healthy.
Q. So no more headfirst slides, right?
FREDI GONZALEZ: Well, you talk about that in Spring Training, but you can't take that away from them.