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Winter Meetings interview with Jeff Banister

MLB.com

Q. What's your feeling on where your bullpen is at this point? Obviously, we're smart enough to know we don't have a finished product. What's your assessment of where your bullpen is at this point?

JEFF BANISTER: We start with the names that we know, Bush, Kela, Claudio, Diekman. When you talk about that core group at this point, Tony Barnette, I think what they've been through, what they've learned the last few years -- listen, they're going to be better just through pitching in the big leagues. Going through the certain situations they've been through, learning what success feels like and learning when they've been challenged, how to fight through it, how to utilize their pitches.

Q. What's your feeling on where your bullpen is at this point? Obviously, we're smart enough to know we don't have a finished product. What's your assessment of where your bullpen is at this point?

JEFF BANISTER: We start with the names that we know, Bush, Kela, Claudio, Diekman. When you talk about that core group at this point, Tony Barnette, I think what they've been through, what they've learned the last few years -- listen, they're going to be better just through pitching in the big leagues. Going through the certain situations they've been through, learning what success feels like and learning when they've been challenged, how to fight through it, how to utilize their pitches.

Listen, core bullpens, they go through challenges. They learn what it takes to pitch through those type of situations. This is a group of guys that have not really been through any of that before. They've been through the up and the down. Obviously, we're still working on some of the other names to go in and fill in. But I think it still has an opportunity to be a solid bullpen.

Q. One of the things you do not have is an eight-pitch reliever that saved 20 games in the big leagues, not counting Barnette, obviously?

JEFF BANISTER: Correct.

Q. Does that concern you?

JEFF BANISTER: I think what we've learned over the course of the three-year span, to find that guy that has been through those types of situations and they know what it feels like because some of these guys, the challenge was, when they blew a save or we lost the lead, the challenge is coming back the next day. So obviously, we're still looking for that, whether it's internally or externally. That is one of our challenges.

Q. You bring back Barnette. The bullpen changes. You bring back Barnette, and you've added -- well, potentially added another reliever. How important, in your mind right now, is that component of finding a veteran leader for that bullpen? Whether that guy, as T.R. mentioned, has save situations in the past or just the presence aspect.

JEFF BANISTER: No, I think that's fair. Essentially, as we look at our options and try to look to see if there is a fit out there for our ball club, we'd like to be able to have one of those guys in place that you speak about. Because there is -- I think it puts guys in really good spots where they pitched before.

When you think about the guys that are in that bullpen right now, Kela, Diekman, Claudio, Barnette, Bush, still continue to work out as a possible starter and length guy, but to have the experience to go and pitch out of that back end is -- I think it's crucial for this ball club.

Q. Was it, in your mind, palpable that you lacked that last year?

JEFF BANISTER: I think the experience side of it, yeah.

Q. That's what I'm talking about.

JEFF BANISTER: I think that's one of the things that showed up for us, showed up early, showed up -- Claudio was able to stabilize it some. And really, if you want to look at a guy that was -- is crucial to a ball club winning baseball games as anybody, he was the guy because he was able to stabilize it up and down the bullpen really. He's so valuable in that role, but he became a guy that was able to close games out for us.

Q. Jeff, three years ago at this time, you were coming off a season where the offense had pretty much cratered around baseball, and a lot of people were predicting that speed was going to become a big part of the game again. Instead what we've got is a lot of power. So, A, why do you think that happened? And, B, how important is speed to the game now, relatively speaking?

JEFF BANISTER: There's two elements to speed. There's speed on the bases, speed on defense. I see it every day. It's a really nice concept on television with the Statcast™. We can track guys now at a greater rate. So I think the element of speed is crucial in the game, whether it's on defense or offense. You speak of offensively, you've still got to be able to score, whether it's from first base, second base, or third base. So you don't want to have all guys that are just all home run, no run. Because when the home runs don't show up, you've still got to be able to do something to put runs on the board.

As far as the home run rate, guys are hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and that's as simple as that.

Q. No why to that can be explained?

JEFF BANISTER: Yeah, they hit more out of the ballpark than they did the previous years. That's just as cut and dry as you can make it really.

Q. Prior to the Ohtani signing, you had discussed the idea of some modified version of a rotation. Do you still feel like that is a path you want to explore? I know that there's -- you still don't have your full roster, but do you think that's something you want to leave open, whether it's a six-man, four-man?

JEFF BANISTER: I think it's something that really, not just in a three-year time, this is something that -- I don't think I'm the only one that has looked at this as something when you -- there are parts of it that make sense. The schedule makes it challenging. Construction of your roster makes it challenging. When we look at the benefits for your rotation, the possible benefits, then you look at guys and you're able to collect enough data that tells us there are pitchers who definitely benefit from the extra day's rest or the routine of being on that five-day rest period or six-day rest period. You can point to ERAs. You can point to VLOs. You can point to walk rates go down, strike out rates go up.

The challenge, again, is the schedule, finding the guys who, A, are willing to look at it, to be part of it, wrap their minds around it. Because traditionally, we're kind of stuck in that five-man rotation.

Q. Do you feel like you're committed to breaking out of that mold?

JEFF BANISTER: Look, there's different levels of commitment, yes. Yes.

Q. We talked about Gallo last week, not pinning him down just yet. How much flexibility has it given you guys this off-season to look at other areas because he can hop around?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, he's got great flexibility as far as where he plays, the athleticism that he gives you in both spots, whether it's on the dirt or in the outfield. In the outfield, the ability to run balls down, big guy that's athletic -- I think he could play anywhere in the outfield really. That's how athletic he is. Just how long-term do you want to put him in any spot in the center of the diamond, a big guy out there. But as far as left field, third base, first base.

First base, the ability to save infielders. Infielders feel comfortable enough to -- there's challenging plays, go ahead and let go of the ball. Get it over there. He's going to come up with it.

I think Joe has the athletic ability to be -- I think he's an above average first baseman right now. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that this guy one day, if he's an everyday first baseman, gold glove-type defense. That's just his range, his ability.

But flexibility in looking at other players to add to, yes. I think that's a plus, and it's been one that we've deliberated quite a bit in the room.

Q. We all know about the strikeouts, but you expect that number to go down as he gets better as a hitter. How much of that is part of your guys' hope that you cut down on strikeouts, the internal -- there has to be internal improvement for that to happen.

JEFF BANISTER: There has to be internal improvement. I think maturity, what you can and can't do, you learn. You learn what pitchers are trying to do to you.

Joe is an athlete. I think learn himself as a hitter. He's a student, so I think that number obviously will shrink just because of that. I think it's going to shrink for all those young guys.

Q. Odor?

JEFF BANISTER: Odor, all of them, Mazara. As they become better players, learn the league, that number is going to go down. For some, we'd like to see it -- not only the strikeouts lower, but the on base concentrated effort. It's necessary. Our guys understand that.

Look, we were third in baseball in home runs last year, something like that, somewhere in that vicinity. We still have a lot of room to grow offensively.

Q. What is your assessment of what Rudy Odor can do to be better next year?

JEFF BANISTER: T.R., that comes down to this is -- Rougy, he knows when he hits well. He knows where his hot zones are. It's a full commitment to sticking to that game plan and shrinking the strike zone for himself.

The one thing that we did, year one, we really committed him for being able to hit balls out of the strike zone, if you remember. There was a lot of talk about, man, this guy can hit a lot of different pitches. Now we're talking about he needs to dial it back in, right? That's kind of the -- it comes down to being able to control the strike zone, but still -- the thing that we don't want to do is take the aggressiveness away from a guy that can drive the ball in the gaps out of the ballpark. You just don't want to do that. There's any given pitch that he's going to hit the ball out of the ballpark. But what he swings at, what he sees, the ability to barrel his baseballs up and stay out of the chase zones.

Q. The key word with Rougy to avoid in this whole process would be "don't" or "no"?

JEFF BANISTER: I would think so.

Q. The emphasis is going to be, okay, here is your hot zone. Here is your hot zone. Focus on this. Focus on this. And not worry about, well, you hit .170 here. You hit .130 here.

JEFF BANISTER: Know what you do well, and that's -- I do believe that, as we became challenged in certain areas of the baseball game, that there were guys who want to win and contribute that they probably got out of their own comfort zones or trying to do a little too much.

So as a coaching staff, we've got to do better getting back into the frame of mind of staying focused on what you do very well and improve on that as opposed to trying to do more.

These guys are capable of so much. I hate the phrase that I've used before. Don't do more than you're capable of. I don't think a few of these guys have reached what they're capable of yet.

Q. Chris Jimenez today in an interview was talking to guys from Minnesota, and he said that he got the sense from Yu Darvish that he was maybe not a big fan of some of their rules, the kangaroo court rules or dress code rules. Did you ever get a feeling from Darvish that he was unhappy with the clubhouse culture in Texas?

JEFF BANISTER: How does kangaroo court have anything to do with clubhouse culture?

Q. I'm not in there for that, but --

JEFF BANISTER: Look, I don't -- the things that -- we've been committed about our clubhouse culture. I think we have a great group of guys inside that clubhouse who are open to everybody who comes into that clubhouse. I hadn't gotten any word of that.

Q. What is the chance of Darvish coming back to Texas?

JEFF BANISTER: Darvish is a great pitcher, a guy that we loved and competed very well for us. He's a free agent. So right now that's an ongoing process for him. I know we're searching for starting pitching.

Q. You need one more starting pitcher. Whatever size the rotation is, you need one more starting pitcher. Does that guy need to be not somebody on the rebound, not somebody coming off rehab, not somebody coming off a bad year, but somebody who's got a track record that you can count on from day one?

JEFF BANISTER: I think J.D.'s done a pretty good job of adding a couple pitchers to this point to our rotation. I think that, as you talk about -- the question was what we don't want to look for. I think that excludes the potential fits that really have an opportunity to help this ball club. I think we're looking at all options.

Would you like to find an established big league pitcher that has a track record? I think every club would like that, T.R. Right now it's finding the fit for this ball club that gives us an opportunity to win baseball games.

Q. I think the outside perception and the narrative often gets made, whether it's media or fans, is that either you're on one side of the pendulum or the other. Either you're all in or you're rebuilding. Now the key phrase is tanking. Do you find that there's a third route and that you guys are kind of headed down that third route?

JEFF BANISTER: I think you're always retooling to some degree, Evan. I don't -- the word "tanking," I'm not familiar with. I've heard that term used before when I turn on the radio, but --

Q. But I'm saying not necessarily rebuilding and not necessarily going all in, but there's a middle road.

JEFF BANISTER: Well, yeah, I think retooling, there's always that element every year. That's why we show up here for the Winter Meetings. We all convene and talk about and make trades and sign free agents. There's a retooling aspect to everything we do. The reality is until you get out and play it on the field, you don't really get to see exactly how that works out for you. But third element, if you want to say third, that's fine. To me, it's just the process of retooling and reshaping to some degree.

Q. Did you tell Ryan Rua in your exit interview as far as 2018 and what he should be focused on?

JEFF BANISTER: First of all, all those exit interview conversations are between myself, J.D., and the player. They're very -- a lot of them are -- we talk about what their off-season routine is, what we feel they need to improve on, what they feel -- they talk to us about what they feel they need to improve on. So it's not generic. It's pretty specific to the individual as far as their time frame, their schedule, coming into Spring Training, make sure we have all the phone numbers right so we can contact each other.

And then from that point, it becomes a period of time where we check in and see how they're doing and see if they're on pace with the things that they set out and talked about that they needed to work on.

Q. Now that Ohtani is with the Angels, you have to face him multiple times. Can you talk about the challenge that brings?

JEFF BANISTER: Look, first of all, I think he has an opportunity to become a tremendous player in Major League Baseball. Great challenge laid out in front of you. I'm a fan. I can't wait to watch it play out. What our scouts tell us, he's a very talented player, opportunity to sit down and talk with him. Blessed and humbled to be able to do that.

The challenges, I don't know yet. We'll see. We'll get a really good look at him, I'm sure in Spring Training. The number of times -- they're in our division. So, look, those challenges will present themselves as we get an opportunity to play against him.

Q. Now he's a major league player, do you think it's possible to actually stay as a two-way player in the major league level?

JEFF BANISTER: I'm not going to tell you. We thought he could, so yeah.

Q. You scouted him. Can you talk about facing him?

JEFF BANISTER: I think we have good information on who he is as a player and a person. Until he gets out on the field of play -- we'll know more as we play against him.

Q. I think yesterday J.D. was mentioning a point in time probably in July, shortly before the deadline, at which time he had mapped out your daily roster. I think he said 62% of the time you had a three-man bench at that point, which means you have at least eight relievers. Is it feasible in your mind to carry eight relievers regularly? Could you even try on some occasions nine?

JEFF BANISTER: It would be a challenge. I mean, it really would be.

Q. But what about eight?

JEFF BANISTER: I mean, there's -- yeah, you can do it.

Q. How would you like for one of those relievers to be Jose Leclerc as a guy who's figured it out?

JEFF BANISTER: We'd really like for Jose to continue to improve. I thought there were times last year they showed signs -- a dynamic arm, swing and miss, change-up. He's one of those guys that, as they continue to grow and learn at this level -- listen, those young guys are learning as they pitch. Every pitch out there is a learning experience for them. It's a process they have to go through.

It would be nice for a guy like that to continue to improve and be part of the mix.

Q. Somebody told me -- we were looking at some fancy numbers, and they were explaining them to me. He walks 7 point something batters per nine innings, but his ERA was under 4.00. It was pretty incredible. Then he started showing me some other fancy numbers, and they were pretty eye-popping. I'm sure you've seen these numbers too. I don't know what Todd presents or relies on. This kid, I think, has a high level of intrigue, does he not?

JEFF BANISTER: High level of intrigue, eye speed, hand speed, spin rate on the baseball, things that -- lack of exit, below, movements. Listen, this is a guy that can get swing and miss. However, it comes down to consistency of strikes and being able to put command of the baseball. I don't think that will ever change.

It's the same for every single pitcher that walks out there and his ability and how well they command the baseball. But Jose Leclerc is one of those guys that, when he profiles out and stuff, he hits a lot of the check boxes that you want to see from a reliever.

Q. The one check box that he hasn't checked that you mentioned is the command. It seems like every guy that you have added so far this winter is a big time strike thrower, low walk rate, at least in one guy's case in Japan. That is a significant element of how you guys have approached remaking the pitching staff?

JEFF BANISTER: I think -- look, when we do kind of a critical analysis of the team and where we were and where we felt like we needed to improve, we talked about at the end of the year last year. There were two areas on both sides, offensively and defensively, the ability to command the strike zone in the batter's box, the ability to command the strike zone off the mound.

So when you look at it, one of the first things you can do is go out and profile guys out that you feel are better in that department. So, yeah, we feel like we've done some of that. Now we also believe that there are guys out there that are going to continue to improve in that area as well, guys that we have internally.

Q. But that is, as you continue to plow through the off-season, that is a key element of acquisition, purchases and acquisitions?

JEFF BANISTER: I would think that's part of it, yes. It's part of the way we view and kind of analyze players, yeah.

Q. I would say -- I don't know. I'm just throwing a number out. 50 percent of the time of your post-game press conferences had to deal with a loss. One of the first things you'd say was five walks, six walks. That's like almost the first thing you go to after a loss, is it not?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, look, when you think about the free battle on both sides, whether it's giving away or taking, when you're upside down on one of them, the win percentage goes down significantly. So the ability to control that, if you will, whether it's ball-strike ratio, less walks off the mound, more walks in the batter's box -- and it's not just about the batter's box just looking to walk. No, it's taking advantage of the walk that's in front of you. But it's also not giving those up. They go together.

Q. But it drives you crazy. There will be nights when there will be some weird controversial play they all want to talk about, and you say, yeah, that happened, but I go back to five walks. How much is that driving you crazy?

JEFF BANISTER: I don't know that it drives me crazy. Listen, I listened to radio when I was a kid, and I used to listen to managers talk about the exact same thing. Pitchers control the strike zone and shrinking the walk number. In 2018, it's kind of the same process.

Q. Like that part of the game hasn't changed?

JEFF BANISTER: I don't think so.

Q. While we're talking about walks, Chris Martin has been walking single digit guys the last couple years in Japan. Have you talked to him? Are you familiar with him? Are you going to kind of discover him in Spring Training?

JEFF BANISTER: Well, I've had conversations with Chris Martin. I don't think -- I don't know that we've announced anything on Chris Martin.

Q. Hypothetically, if --

JEFF BANISTER: I don't have anything hypothetically to tell you.

Q. Is any player left on the market that would cause you the same amount of exuberance as really good seats at a George Strait concert?

JEFF BANISTER: Why do you bring up George Strait?

Q. Somebody was almost like drunk tweeting the other night from a George Strait concert.

JEFF BANISTER: There's no such thing, Evan. I enjoy George Strait, yes.

Q. Do you feel like you're making progress in emphasis towards the walks? Like you said, the guys who are coming back have to get better, but you've made strides on the guys that you're bringing in? The guys that we can't talk about are all, quote-unquote, strike throwers?

JEFF BANISTER: Yes.

Q. Is that like -- I mean, like J.D., one guy he brought in, he said, we have some batters that said, yeah, he's got great makeup and he's a strike thrower. That's all he said. Is that like one, two, and everything else is --

JEFF BANISTER: I think there's a balance, T.R. I do. There's some dynamic arm guys that have control and they don't have high walk rates. They've got stuff, and it's pretty dynamic; and it's swing and miss. That's how they limit their number of walks.

And then there are guys who have great command of the baseball and throw strikes and have the ability to get hitters out. I think those were trying to find the right mix to put on a team so if there's a challenge on any given night, we have some guys we can utilize that will throw strikes and give our defense a chance to play.

Q. That is a key element, particularly on the bullpen side right now?

JEFF BANISTER: Absolutely, yeah.

Q. I don't know that there's another way to reinforce that.

JEFF BANISTER: No.

Q. What is your favorite George Strait song?

JEFF BANISTER: You want to go now probably -- in the beginning it was "The Chair."

Now we're at George Strait questions. I think we're good.

Texas Rangers