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Winter Meetings interview with John Gibbons

MLB.com

Q. Let's start with the bad news that you finished 30th in the Best Looking Manager poll. What's your reaction to that?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, that's shocking, especially since good Gardy is back. (Laughter.)

Q. Let's start with the bad news that you finished 30th in the Best Looking Manager poll. What's your reaction to that?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, that's shocking, especially since good Gardy is back. (Laughter.)

That brought me down to my knee a little bit. I don't know. (Laughing.) Yeah. But, hey, beauty is only skin deep. Ugly is to the bone, so.

Q. Where do you think you should have ranked?

JOHN GIBBONS: Definitely a head above. Hey, not in the Top 20 but somewhere bottom 10, a little higher than that.

Q. Boch?

JOHN GIBBONS: I don't give a name.

Q. You look at the Yankees making a big move and Red Sox are reported to be looking for stuff. How do you guys keep up with that, especially after a season you had last year?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, one thing in my Big League coaching career I've always been in this division, that's kind of the way it works. You expect those teams to always -- they're almost forced to, they always make big moves, they try to make big moves, you do, but you got to try to keep pace with it. Especially the Yankees coming off a bit year, now they just added to it.

But, you know, I think there is limitations sometimes to what you can do, but I don't think you can be distracted by that; it's reality. Hey, if you want to beat these guys, you got to try to keep pace. But you still have to have your plan and target your guys and hopefully you land them, because it's not just a grab bag you can have anybody you want. It doesn't work that way. But that's the reality of it.

Q. In your discussions with Ross, what kind of input are you giving him about what you think you need?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, that runs throughout last year, the whole year last year. When you really start to get to the end of the year, we talked about we're staring at what we did that year and say hey, this is where we need to look at possibly in the off-season. Yeah, he asks me all the time, and I give my opinion.

Q. What do you tell him?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I basically saying we need some more offense, there's no doubt about that in my mind. Then it's typical of every team out there, you need to make sure your bullpen's strong, you can never have enough of that, and then try to get some bats. The big question for us is, what's Biagini going to do? Is he a starter, reliever? Try to answer those, and if you're going to go one way or the other, you got to get another piece, that kind of thing.

So it's always an ongoing conversation, everybody wants everything, but it doesn't mean you can have everything.

Q. Among the free agents out there, have you given him any input on specific guys that you would like to see?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, yeah, he always asks me, constantly asking me.

Q. Like who?

JOHN GIBBONS: I mean, same ones everybody else is talking about.

Q. Do you think Biagini still has a lot upside or did he show last year that maybe he belongs more back in the bullpen?

JOHN GIBBONS: No, I think he's got a lot of upside. Really for a guy he had his ups and downs at the start but the guy doing it for the first time really out of Double-A, I thought he did pretty good, really good at times.

Q. So what was it you think that Biagini -- like Ross said something about conditioning in the offseason, what's the next step that he has to take, do you think, to establish himself?

JOHN GIBBONS: That's part of it. I just think it's a confidence thing. He really took to the bullpen role, an inning here, maybe or two innings, just come in and air it out, that's totally different as a starter. You got to be able to log some innings, you got to have better endurance, but the stuff's there, but it's never easy just to go into it first time, first go around. Plus he was bouncing back and forth now, too, seeing what can happen in the game with strategy there.

Q. So obviously if you needed him as starter, and he was good, that would be pretty big for you guys probably not as big as Sanchez, but awfully big?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, because you can never have enough. You saw what happened with a couple guys got banged up last year and created a couple big holes.

Q. You watched the last couple of postseasons and bullpens sort of are being used in a different way and --

JOHN GIBBONS: Used and abused.

Q. Yeah, you ended the season with a pretty deep but inexperienced bullpen. Do you feel like there needs to be additions there or you could go in with that group?

JOHN GIBBONS: That group, I think you always have to add something because you really, especially in the bullpens, because you never know how they're going to bounce back the next year. In our case they were used a lot, especially early on. And you see over time it doesn't always happen but those guys that are used a lot, sometimes it affects them the next year. You may not see it that particular year but there's a hangover effect. So you got to be conscious of that. You don't want to get caught shorthanded.

I think that that's the one area I think every team tries to address one way or the other.

Q. Do you feel that your pitching staff suffered a little because your outfield was horrible?

JOHN GIBBONS: (Laughing.) That's a good morning, right? I love our outfield. We can get better, but there was some plays that need to be made that weren't made, no doubt that affects your game. But there's guys also playing in some positions that that's not necessarily their strength of who they are, so you got to adapt to that.

Q. Is that one area where you're expecting Ross to upgrade for not necessarily this week or before Christmas but before Spring Training?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, no, that's an area we're trying to target, no doubt. Yeah. Because Jose won't be around either, so.

Q. Justin took a big step forward last year and made a big difference. Curious what areas of the roster, do you see some upside or some places where internally you can have a big game and help things next year?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, what he was talking about, outfield play, you don't know what Alford is going to do. He may come on fast. He's down playing in Mexico right now. You get Teoscar Hernandez, he's got a ton of talent. I don't think necessarily you can just automatically bank on them and, hey, those are your guys, but they could come out of nowhere or shock us and turn into some of the better players in the game. You were asking?

Q. Just other places on the roster where you see upside and better performance next year compared to this year?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, naturally I think the rotation's going to be that much better with getting Sanchez back, that's going to be a huge boost. If you get Happ back good six months, get a good five months anyway, Estrada, you're feeling pretty good.

Q. Do you have a sense of what you can expect from Diaz offensively, defensively? Have you had the chance to kind of look at what he would bring to you guys?

JOHN GIBBONS: We like him and he gives us coverage depending what happens with Tulo, when he's ready, and Devon has had the knee issue, I mean, that will cover a lot of that.

I can remember scouting Diaz, what year it was, beginning of the Spring Training, he came in for a tryout. You guys remember that?

Q. Before he signed with the team, I think?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I think it was 2013. Beginning of Spring Training I went over there and he had a little -- they were taking him around and we saw him, and I loved what the kid was doing. Of course we didn't sign him, but he had a big year two years ago, I can see him definitely helping us.

Q. Russ is going to turn 35 before next season, two DL stints last year, how concerned are you about that?

JOHN GIBBONS: No different than going into last year, that was kind of the plan anyway. He was banged up. But it's the most demanding position on the field, definitely in my opinion. Just got to deal with it.

You can see the difference. If you look what he's done for the organization the last couple years, yeah, he's huge, but we're going to have to be smart, and give him a day when he needs it and you hope that he stays injury-free.

Q. Given his age and his contract, which is significant, how valuable though do you think he is to your pitching staff?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, he's huge to what those guys have done. They will tell you that, too. But when we acquired him, I mean -- but you lack at his history, everywhere he goes, teams make it to the postseason because everything revolves around pitching. The catcher has a huge part in that. Granted, he's been playing on some good teams, but you know what, the catcher is the center of the whole team.

Q. Do you think when you have an older team in baseball that the worry is higher for injuries?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, naturally. That's the way it goes. It's a hard game to play and not only just playing the game but physically doing it every day, you don't get a break. You get the six-month grind plus you had Spring Training, that's hard on guys that have been everyday players their whole career and it takes its toll.

Q. How comfortable are you with the catching depth behind Russ?

JOHN GIBBONS: We'll be fine. We got a couple good young kids coming along, yeah, yeah.

Q. Do you think Luke can improve his hitting?

JOHN GIBBONS: He came back after being on the DL with his knee problem, I thought he was much better.

Q. How much have you seen from Jansen and McGuire this year?

JOHN GIBBONS: I haven't seen them a ton but I like everything that I've seen out of them. You look at Jansen, really came out of nowhere to put himself on the map with us. A big part of it is because he put on glasses, you know, because you do need your eyes. He flew through the system last year. And Reese, we picked him up a couple years ago with Liriano. Good left-hand-hitting catcher. So it's got a pretty good tandem right there. Eventually they will get their shot.

Q. When you have two young catchers like that, who are your depth pieces in case there's an injury, do you do anything different with them in Spring Training to prepare them that if they, if Russ does go down, they can jump in and hit the ground running or do you give them extra reps with certain pitchers or things like that?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, they need to play, but you look back last year how we started the season, I think the regular people get playing time. We'll do that, but there's going to be plenty of playing time for those guys and guys will go down to the minor leagues and throw, but you always try, you try to line them up with an eye towards the future but really we need to get all our guys ready.

Q. Assuming that Tulo comes back and he looks healthy, do you expect to rest him more often? Do you think he's reached a point where rest might be a preventative thing for him, in terms of his injury history?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, well, I mean, really that was the point of last year too. As you get deeper in the season, pick some days and then he had the issue with of course the ankle. So, yeah, we would approach it the same way.

My reports on him are good. He's feeling pretty good, but you never know until he starts doing it every day out there. But it's reality, for his own good, and for the sake of the team he's probably going to need some rest.

Q. Does he still resist that, like is it still a bit of a fight to get him to rest?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, really with all of them you're going to get that. But there comes a time, a particular game or a stretch of games that they know they need it. You don't want too many guys that are looking for that rest.

Q. What is your sense though of where he is now and where he might be at the beginning of Spring Training? He's not going to be able to go full out and compete in Spring Training, is he?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, he won't be too far from it from my understanding because he's made a lot of progress. When did he hurt himself? Do you remember?

Q. July 30th.

JOHN GIBBONS: July 30th? So it's been a few months and the reports I'm getting, he's moving along. But I mean he's doing it in a smart way. I don't know if he needs to go day one of Spring Training all out. But he'll tell us as we go along. Same way with Devon. He's feeling pretty good, but we dealt with that last year, too.

Q. Three or four years ago when offense seemed to crater in baseball, a lot of people were talking about how the speed game was going to become big again. That obviously didn't happen; it became a power game. Why do you think that happened and what role does speed play in baseball now and on your ballclub?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, yeah, you're right, people would talk the game's going to go back a little bit more this, a little more the old-fashioned type game, but then you look at this year, the number of home runs hit. There's talk about the ball. For us personally, you have a roster that's put together, and those are your guys, and in our particular division. We play in home run-hitting heaven, all the teams in there, it's a slugfest. So you got to be able to do that with them.

I think there is a lot of value to having some guys that can really run. We have had our troubles manufacturing runs over the last couple years. I think at times that's cost us. But there's trade-offs too. The game exploded again last year with the home runs hit and of course you had the blister issues on certain guys, and it's a big question about, is the ball different and what have you. We haven't heard anything on that.

Q. With Biagini at the bottom of the rotation and kind of a swing-type guy and with Sanchez, if he, with the finger, you never know, and the possibility Stro's head explodes, is it important to get like more of a 1-2 veteran guy, if Ross is going to acquire a starting pitcher, than sort of a mid-rotation guy?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, you would love that guy but I don't know how many of those guys are available and what the cost would be.

Q. Do you like Sabathia?

JOHN GIBBONS: Oh, yeah, I love him. I've always liked him. He's coming off a big year, yeah. And he's available.

Q. Were you at the meeting yesterday with him?

JOHN GIBBONS: No, no, I was not. No. But yeah, ideally you get one of those guys, an ace or close to an ace.

Q. At what point were you convinced that Ross and Mark were going to try and win this year and not rebuild? Does that give you a good feel going into this season?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, really I think, I think every team looks at it every year. Well, the realities of the game, what you're up against and they like our group, like I do as well. But I think that everybody started looking at that at the middle of the year after our slow start, and then we just kind of hovered back and forth, kind of treading water and that kind of -- the focus turns to that, the questions are asked, what are you going to do next year? This guy's a free agent, what are you going to do? So that's when people start talking about it and you know, you run this as long as you can.

Q. What do you like about Sabathia?

JOHN GIBBONS: He's a workhorse, man. He's always pitched well against us. One of the great competitors in the game for a number of years. I thought he looked strong last year. He had that knee issue and some things that kind of hampered him, the hammy I think it was.

Q. Mostly knee.

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, but, yeah, I thought he looked really, really good last year. He's got that good breaking ball and he's a big, strong guy.

Q. If were you talking with a free agent, what are you selling him on your roster?

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, just look at the team around you. We're coming off a tough year, no doubt, but you got guys like Russell Martin, Donaldson coming behind you, got a lot of good things. It's a good veteran team, it's got the potential and chance to win some. It's a pretty good group and really it's one team, one country; that's a selling point. Great fan support, all that stuff.

Q. Have you ever heard that some pitchers might be reluctant to come to Toronto because of the ballpark?

JOHN GIBBONS: I think there's pitchers who are reluctant to go to the American League period. In our division, generally it comes down to the most money anyway. They may tell you differently, but that's usually what happens. But teams are wary of the ballpark you pitch in, yeah.

Q. Are you worried at all next year or next season about the possibility of Josh's contract status becoming a distraction for him?

JOHN GIBBONS: Becoming a distraction? No.

Q. Like people asking him about it all the time.

JOHN GIBBONS: Well, he's pretty good at blowing you off, too, if he don't want to talk to you. But I don't think it will distract him. But I do know that he's -- you're not going to find a more motivated individual. You guys probably figured that out. So he knows he'll be a free agent unless, of course, we sign him. So that will motivate him more and he might have a monster year. I expect him to have a monster year, because that's what he thrives on.

Q. What's your theory on players entering the final year of a contract heading towards free agency? In your experience, does that affect them at all?

JOHN GIBBONS: No, they're all different. It affects them all differently. Some of them press a little bit more because, hey, it's here, this is what I've been looking for and that affects their play. That can really hurt you in baseball. Guys like Josh, it motivates them. It will motivate him to have the biggest year he's ever had and he might do it.

They're all different because their personalities and their makeup's different.

Q. What type of a premium, if any, do you place on a pitcher having previous experience in the American League East?

JOHN GIBBONS: You're aware of it. I think you basically look at a guy's got good stuff, he's got good stuff. I'm sure if a guy's pitched in the AL East and he's had a tough go of it, that gets your attention, too. I think every team looks at the best available.

Q. Sabathia, after what happened this past week, do you think you could convince him to pitch against the Yankees five or six times a year?

JOHN GIBBONS: I don't know if I could convince him to do anything but hopefully somebody could. Yeah, I mean he's got to like what they have done over there. I'm sure they would want him back. I would expect they would want him back.

Q. All that right-handed power?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, well, we got a connection over here, too. He played for Shapiro, you know. Maybe that will help us.

Q. Do you remember much from your first go around with the Blue Jays, was against the power, the Yankees and Red Sox were scoring like 900 runs a year. Do you remember how challenging that was on a three-game series or four-game series to get through your pitching staff?

JOHN GIBBONS: One thing you always liked is when they played each other head-to-head before they played you, there was something to that, too. They came in and they were beat up -- you go back to those years, middle of June, end of June, both those teams usually pulled away by then. So that was kind of a different division, it was almost out of hand at that time.

But they're great teams to play. They play in ballparks that are great places to go to, fun places to go to, and if you're going to be the best, you got to beat the best. Historically those are your best teams, because they're just great sports teams and great cities and the people demand a lot and ownership's forced to react to that.

Q. You had Halladay and Burnett back then, so you generally needed one guy to be able to go deep and shut them down during the course of a series?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, and you know those guys were going to get hit around, too, because you look at their lineups, but, yeah, if you didn't play well or you didn't pitch well, particularly well, you were in for a long two, three days, three or four days.

Q. As an old-school guy are you getting used to the high-performance aspect of your clubhouse? Are there things that you like or that you would change in the second or third year with that? You had a lot of injuries and stuff.

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, a lot of freak things, but that's, generally you look around baseball, I mean most teams do, it's almost like the games played on field, most teams are doing the same thing anyway, because everybody has access to the new knowledge or the new techniques and what have you. So like you're playing a game and most teams are going to bunt or hit-and-run or change a pitcher at a certain time. That's kind of just the way the game works.

But yeah, we were banged up last year but most teams were. But I don't think it was because necessarily what we did differently. It was just one of those years, because a couple years prior to that we were pretty fortunate we had very few injuries.

Q. As a rookie what was your typical conditioning day at Spring Training? Jumping jacks? JOHN GIBBONS: I remember they started bringing little, was it they call it Jazzercize or some kind of -- they started bringing in people, you remember? They were doing like -- it wasn't yoga then.

Q. Jane Fonda?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah there was some of that. I remember that. Somebody brought that. A lot of running. A lot of poles back and forth. Weightlifting was frowned on. You didn't touch a weight. Yeah, times have definitely changed.

Q. What about George, are you going to miss him?

JOHN GIBBONS: Oh, yeah, oh yeah. Personally I'm really going to miss him because he's a great friend. He was my chauffeur. The organization, he's been great to the organization. In my mind, he was one of the tops out there in his profession. That's why Alex was aware of that when he brought him back, brought him down to Atlanta, so.

Q. Japanese player Ohtani went to the West Coast but you guys are still playing against him with the Angels. Possibly with the double pitcher and hitter, what do you think are some of the challenges that you guys face? How would you like to prepare to face him?

JOHN GIBBONS: To face him? Well, I've always heard what a great talent he is, and I think it's great that he's going to get a shot to play both positions. How that plays out, nobody knows. I understand he's a baseball rat, that's all he wants to do is play the game. He's not big into the limelight and all that. He's really serious about his game, and I think it's great for Major League Baseball. And we thought we had a shot to sit down with him, and it didn't happen. We would have loved to have had him.

Yeah, I think it's going to be great for the game. It made, I mean, you never know how things play out, but it sure looks like it made the Angels that much better. Combine him with Trout and some other guys, they're that much better. I think it's great for the sport.

Q. Were you involved in the Jays' pitch to him at all?

JOHN GIBBONS: Are you going to say that's what killed the deal? Q. I wasn't going to go there but.

JOHN GIBBONS: (Laughing) No, but I was prepared to go out there, if we were going to sit down with him. Where is Kawasaki at? Is he making a comeback?

Q. Was he part of your presentation?

JOHN GIBBONS: Maybe that's what we didn't do that we should have.

Q. We were asking Ross about that months ago. He was going to use him.

JOHN GIBBONS: Kawa?

Q. Yeah. Seems to be a no-brainer?

JOHN GIBBONS: Did he play last year?

Q. Wasn't he back in Japan?

JOHN GIBBONS: But was he playing? Did he play? He played? Okay. Because I heard he was doing some media stuff, too. They had the All-Star Game, because he went over there a few years ago, remember the postseason thing. He was like the media guy.

Q. He was doing interviews?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah.

Q. He was selling beer?

JOHN GIBBONS: Selling beer? Was he?

Toronto Blue Jays