Winter Meetings interview with John Gibbons
Q. Last year Alex made all of his moves early. This year not so much, especially dealing with the starting rotation, what gives you confidence that the starting rotation will be able to compete?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I know he's working. I mean, he's working at it. The problem is everybody and their brother is looking for starting pitching out there, and everybody knows that. And there are limitations to what you can do as well. So we'll see how everything develops, to be honest with you. Who knows. If something could happen here at these meetings or it might take a little longer. There is always the possibility that nothing happens. But, I mean, there is no secret to get better this year. We've got to pitch a little bit better.
Q. Once you got beyond the fifth starter last year and down into the system, it hurt you guys. Is that an area that you expect is going to be better this year?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, yeah. You look at it, Hutchinson is back, Drabek is coming back, so those guys are healthy. Whether we'll be ready to start the season, the big league season, who knows. Ideally they'd probably start Triple A and if you need somebody they can come up. But health is not an issue with them right now.
Morrow is another big question mark. We think he's moving on. He's pitching in Arizona and throwing some simulated games and feels good. We need him. That's a guy that we need and we've got to have him.
Q. How many starters do you have without question?
JOHN GIBBONS: Without question?
Q. With no question mark?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, you've got Buehrle, Dickey, you can pencil those two in. Morrow, we think he's going to be fine, and then we'll have to go from there. Of course, Josh Johnson is gone now. Redmond did a tremendous job for us; he's also in there. Anybody I leave out?
Q. How about out of the pen, Santos? I know he won't close right off. But is he fully capable of playing an important role this year?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, health wise, yeah. He's good to go. He came in and had those chips removed from his elbow last year. He came up, and he's good to go. I know he wants to close. I know he likes that role. We have Janssen, we have both of those guys. They're both could be very valuable for us. The night that Janssen is not doing it, we've got Santos to do it. Health wise, we think that's all behind him.
Q. One thing you did mention there, looking back, do you have a preference for the type of role you'd like him to have given what you saw?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, at this point, we're not sure. It just kind of depends on how everything else stacks up. We think he's versatile enough to do either role. He does a pretty good job with it. So we'll see. Everything's going to fall and be determined here as far as whether we have another starter.
Q. Behind the plate is going to look way different for you. The two guys that you have coming back didn't even add up to 100 starts last year. What makes you think that with 162 they can handle it?
JOHN GIBBONS: They're going to be very well rested. You know, I've been asked that before. You know, Navarro has always been a good hitter. We think he can do it. He's going to get the opportunity to do it.
Then we brought Kratz in, and he and Thole will battle it out to see who will be the at bat. It's an opportunity for each of those guys to play more games or two of the three anyway.
Q. In your mind, once you brought in another catcher, was there no room for Aaron? Was there no room for a 50 50 type scenario?
JOHN GIBBONS: As the season develops, and of course we're going into the off season, I mean, the writing was on the wall for J.P. I mean, that was kind of the sentiment of you guys are ready to get rid of him too. Not that we were, but you guys were pushing that way. That was a joke.
Q. We changed our minds.
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah. But you know what, personally I'm going to miss the guy. You know what, I think wherever he ends up, I think he signed with Texas. I think that's official now. I think he's going to do a good job there. I really do. What can you say about him? He wanted to be in that lineup. He got beaten up pretty good. But I think he's still got a bright future. Just came to the point in time there at Toronto where it was probably best to go the other way.
Q. The total package behind the plate in your opinion, will it affect your pitching in a positive way whether it be game calling or balls in the dirt, that sort of thing?
JOHN GIBBONS: As far as who plays?
Q. Yeah, as far as the pitching staff being approved because they're throwing it to a new tandem out there?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I don't know how to answer that. Navarro has always been a good hitter. We've got great reports on him. Pitchers love throwing to him. So he's working on some big things. Kratz is known for his defense. I think if he totally ends up being the guy, more playing time is going to help him improve. But, I mean, was your question does it hurt our pitching staff? I don't know. Buehrle had a pretty good year, and J.P. was catching the whole time. I mean, that was just wherever they went last year, that was kind of the focal point. Our defense, a lot of people thought that was affecting our pitching whether that's right or wrong, we really don't know. But we brought some guys in that we think are going to help us out.
Q. Is Gose ready to be a valuable contributor?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I think he is. He went down to winter ball now, and he's hopefully going to give him a boost as well. But I thought he played very well in September. I think he's on the verge. He struggled in Triple A, played better in the big leagues. But he's got those skills that can help you in the big leagues even if he's not quite up to par yet with his base running and his defense and things like that. Once he gets there, I think he's going to get better and better. I think he'll be a player that plays better in the big leagues than did he in the minor leagues. It's rare for some guys to do.
Q. With what you have, do you see him as maybe a platoon guy in left field to start off with?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, we have if Melky's fine, he'll be in left field. But who knows how that's going to shake out. We have Sierra who is out of options as well. Of course you have Bautista and Rasmus, so it's a little bit of a log jam there. But a lot of it will depend on how Melky's doing.
Q. When it comes to Jose Bautista, we heard there were rumors in the trade market. What is the status about him right now?
JOHN GIBBONS: About Jose? I know some teams have asked about him. He's a big part of our team. He's sitting in the center of our lineup and still one of the best hitters in baseball. You can understand why teams are asking about him. But he's still here right now and we're glad to have him.
Q. When you think about your bench and the way you construct it, could you carry three infielders on your roster and five outfielders? Would you feel comfortable with that?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, it's hard to say now. You know, we kind of look at it, you beef up a starting rotation and you might be a little less focused on the bench. Maybe we need to work on that offense a little bit and make it stronger too. So a lot of that. Of course, there are some guys that are out of options too. That's always a factor. So everything's going to revolve around how the pitching sets up. If we need them to be a little more high powered offense or not, or we like our pitching the way it is.
Q. (No microphone) is he definitely a platoon man or would you consider Lindy on some lefties?
JOHN GIBBONS: Lindy? It depends on who that other guy might be if we bring in a left handed hitter. He's always dominated left handed pitching. He'll probably platoon there. If not, he might certainly handle it. But there are going to be certain left handers that give him trouble, we'll probably go with a right hander.
What I meant earlier about my comments about the pitching, stacked up how the bench and everything looks because monetarily, you know, how much money we've got.
Q. What happened to Ricky Romero? Can it be resolved in a positive way?
JOHN GIBBONS: We hope so. He's still with us. We hope he bounces back and becomes the Ricky Romero of old.
Q. Do you have any idea what you think happened to him?
JOHN GIBBONS: No, I mean, we all have our thoughts. I mean, it happens in baseball sometimes. Whether it's confidence, mechanics, mechanical problems, things like that. He had great success and very quickly in the Major Leagues, and you just hope he can regain it.
But he was scrambling there for a long time trying to figure it out. Nobody knows for sure. It's a fragile business. Mentally a lot of times, mechanical, who knows. We hope he figures it out.
Q. I know last year was the WBC messed things up in the spring. But some people have suggested that it was too lax at spring training and you guys weren't ready. Are there some minor adjustments that can be made this year, like longer bus trips for Jose or something like that?
JOHN GIBBONS: For which Jose (laughing)?
Q. Bautista. Just to get ready for April.
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, the WBC, no question that affected us last year because some marquis guys were gone. Of course, Lawrie got hurt there. But the way we're going to make sure that we're going to look at some things. The key thing is, hey, they get X number of bats, and the number of bats they need in each pitch and things like that. I think for the most part if you compare most teams in baseball, especially with veteran type players, you get the same number of at bats, guys like Bautista and Reyes, Reyes has had a history of leg problems. I'm not so sure you want him riding on buses for three hours. It prohibits that he's ready opening day. Bautista too, he's had some hip issues. So the key thing is those guys are ready opening day. But they'll be ready.
Q. There were a lot of players you were not familiar with last year. The defense coming out of spring training suffered. Is that something you can focus more on or be more aware of that your team defense needs to upgrade like it was in September?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, we've got to play better defense or forget it. It's a big part of it. It's a big part of all sports. You've got to defend. We did. We were bad early on and that affected us in a big way. So coming out of the gates, we've got to play better defense.
Like you said, in September we're much improved. Big part of that was Ryan Goins. But we've got to be ready to do the basics of the game. You're not always necessarily going to hit a pitch early on. Some timing is still an issue for different guys. But you can still play and run the bases well. You can defend.
Q. Barring a trade or signing, how does second base shake out at the start of spring training? Is it an incumbent? Is it Izturis? Maybe Goins is your guy and he either plays his way in or out of it?
JOHN GIBBONS: We really like Goins. We like what he did in September. He gave us a shot in the arm. I thought he handled the ball well enough to be top dog going in there.
Izturis to be a utility guy, I think that's his strength. Today that's the way we look at it. Alex could go out and make a trade for somebody to bring a second baseman in. I don't know if that's going to happen. But if not, I really like what Goins did.
Q. You worked with Seitzer in Kansas City and got to observe him there. What is he going to bring to some of the guys that might have struggled making contact last year?
JOHN GIBBONS: You know, he's a we're basically a free hitting home run type team, high strikeouts. That's kind of who we are. But I think to beat the better pitchers in baseball. When that's your approach all the time, they exploit that type of hit. He can do that, get away and beat a lot of the middle of the road, lesser pitches. But with the top dogs, we had trouble last year beating those guys. You have to be a more complete hitter. Be willing to use the whole field and a little different approach. Maybe cut down the strikeouts.
In Seitzer, I witnessed it in Kansas City. He had a lot of young hitters there. But the guy has battled and some of the toughest outs in baseball. Coming out of some young guys, he preaches using the whole field.
But you take a guy like Encarnacion and Bautista, those guys are where they are now because they hit home runs, drive the ball and they're basically centerfield, left field type hitters. He's not going to mess with those guys much and their success. But there are going to be times where it will be smart for those guys to take a shot the other way especially if they throw the big shift on them. If it means beating Jon Lester or Sabathia, the top dogs. The guys you have to beat if you're going to win.
Q. Just on Halladay, the numbers are obvious and all that. But to manage him, what was his greatest attribute to you?
JOHN GIBBONS: First thing, Doc's a first class guy. You guys heard it today. He's a rarity in this business and in life. He's one of those special guys that comes along and don't come along that often. To be able to play just a very small part in his career is an honor for me. Doc never said a whole lot. The days he pitched, he never said a word. On the days he didn't pitch, he might say 15, 20 in passing. But he always approached it with professionalism that most guys don't carry.
Great competitor. He made some comments today, he just willed himself to win. He talked about today that 9 8 game he won in Detroit, and that pretty much sums it up. Never give in, never quit.
I mentioned to someone earlier today, one thing he was talking about his league games and always pitching in league games, that's who he was. He was the best in the business during his time. That is the number one job of a manager and probably the most important in my opinion is what do you with the pitcher, when you make the change and what have you. Any time he was pitching and took a step off the mound, he'd look over there at you. You'd kind of question yourself going to the mound. There isn't one guy you didn't signal right away. You would wait. You'd go out there. He'd give you that quick glance like what are you doing? But he'd always back you up good or bad, whether the move worked or backfired.
But he's an intimidating sight. He's not out there sitting at 5'11" either. But he's a special guy. I'm glad he retired a Blue Jay. I thought for a minute when I heard he was signing a contract, I thought he was coming back.
Q. Speaking of special guys, John Farrell was asked a few minutes ago about Tanaka, whether he had seen much of him. Your team has been rumored as interested in him. Have you seen much of him, Tanaka?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I've seen a little video. I think every team is exploring whether they can afford him or get an opportunity to get him. Our guys have talked about him. Whether that happens, who knows. But if they turn him loose and he comes over, there is going to be a pretty good bidding war for him.
Q. Remember once after a game you took Halladay out before we got into your office, he was in your office. He left and did not look very happy. Were there times where he'd say things to you after you took him out, just kind of airing his side of things?
JOHN GIBBONS: No, you know, I don't remember that. I must have called him in. I think I probably did call him in to explain what I was doing because Doc would very rarely come to the office. Maybe if he was on his way to the weight room or something. But one thing about Doc is he would always back you up whether he agreed with you or not, he understood what you were thinking. But he's one of those guys that I think you owed it to him to explain the reason I took you out was this or that. But you don't necessarily to do.
Q. Last week, Goins was going to go work with (inaudible) for spring training. What are some of the things he can do?
JOHN GIBBONS: I liked everything I saw in September. He got some hits early. It's always a big confidence booster. As he got more at bats, he started pulling guys out. He pulled the home run, and you could see maybe he's a home run hitter and he started airing it out a little bit. But then I remember talking to him, and especially if he hit some left handers, he had to start hitting some balls up the middle and getting that breaking ball down and away, and cutting that fastball to the outside part of the plate. You either roll it over or you swing and miss it and punch a few to left field, left centerfield, and that will get their attention anyway. He was able to do it. I mean, he executed it right away. So we knew he had the ability and the hand eye coordination. I thought he finished very, very strong. For a guy who is known strictly not strictly, but his game has always been defense. He's had some solid years too, but he's never been that great big number type hitter down there. I thought he handled himself very well and, like I said, put himself on the map. I think early on the talk you hear is they saw him as a utility guy. I could see some of that. But he's got a chance to be our second baseman, an everyday guy. If he produces, he can work himself a nice career. But he's intense. He plays to win and he's confident. He's very confident which is half the battle.
Q. Will he be another one of those guys that has a big career in the minor leagues?
JOHN GIBBONS: He could be. As far as offense goes, you never know. It doesn't happen too often, but he'll see it every now and then. Don't ask me to give you an example, but I've seen it.
Q. What would some of the attributes be that you would look for in a bench player when it comes up to the middle and filling out the middle infield?
JOHN GIBBONS: We know Izturis is going to be there. Izturis can play. He can play anywhere. You want in a bench guy, you want a guy that can come in and catch the ball. That's what his primary job is. It depends if we're going to go with a platoon and say Lindy, and if he's a right handed guy, this guy has to pound left handed pitching. Or maybe that extra outfielder means a guy that can run or plus defender type thing. It all depends.
Lot of times you want certain guys, but there are limitations of what you can do with your salary structure too, you know. But the number one focus right now is seeing what we can do in the rotation. If nothing happens there, we'll address some other areas.
Q. If nothing happens there, do you think Sierra could be that guy to maybe platoon a little bit against lefties?
JOHN GIBBONS: It could. He could get some at bats that way. We'll have to wait and see. You know, Sierra hasn't been one of those guys that's necessarily dominated lefties his whole career, but he could. We're looking for a spot for him if he has it because he's got options.
Q. Have you heard about anything about how he's looked at first base in winter league?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I heard he's doing okay. But I have a hard time seeing him out there to be honest with you, if you want to know the truth. Maybe in that blowout.
Q. Your pitching staff, you prefer 12 to 13 bench guys. Will that depend on the strength of your starting pitching coming out of the gate?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah. That's normally the teams with the strong starting rotations, they need less down there. Hopefully that's the case with us. We have some guys that are out of options too, you know? That could factor into our bullpen. Luis Perez, Jeffress, you know, so we'll see. From an area that was kind of a question mark going into last year, it's really a bit strange for us.
Q. Has Alex asked your opinion on guys or free agents that he might be looking at to see what you think of adding them to that mix?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, we've talked about all the different guys out there. Like I said, if something's going to happen, it's probably going to happen via the trade route more so than free agency. I don't know that for sure, but that is my gut feeling.
Q. You just mentioned a little bit about Tanaka. Can you describe a little bit what was your impression when you saw him pitch on the video?
JOHN GIBBONS: I mean, he's dominant. They don't touch him. He's got a great split finger pitch. It's like all the Japanese pitchers that come over here, they're all pretty good.
Yeah, I got a chance to see Darvish firsthand now, and I've heard some comparisons this guy could be better than Darvish, which if that's the case, that's pretty darn good. So we'll see. I know there are a lot of teams that would love to have him, us being one of them. But whether that happens or not, I don't know.
Q. It will be more competition because now the posting season has changed?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, he's a very young guy, too.
Q. You might get (no microphone)?
JOHN GIBBONS: We need Kawasaki to help us.
Q. Can you talk about Kawasaki and bringing him back?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I know they talked to him. There is a chance that he wants to go back and play at home and make some good money over there. So that's still up in the air. But we'd definitely love to have him back.
Q. If you guys do some different things to your bench and you don't have a guy on speed dial, would it be a big issue for you? Would you miss that element? Is that something you really want to have?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, you'd always like to have that in your back pocket. We've got some pretty solid team speed. There is a time where you need a guy that's got a chance to steal a base. Just from the first time I was around, I had seen Raj as an opponent, but to have him on your team and gets in the game and it changes because at the don't stop him. That's a huge element. It's a luxury a lot of teams don't have. But Raj is also a different category than most, you know. But you're down a run, two outs, guy on first base. Then you want somebody to score from first.
Q. (No microphone)?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, except he hasn't been around long enough to prove he's that type of runner. But, yeah, Goins can run. His big thing is learning pitching and that kind of thing, which you gain over time.
Q. Raj is still out there.
JOHN GIBBONS: I know.
Q. For a guy like him?
JOHN GIBBONS: I haven't heard anything. Anybody heard anything on Raj? No. I would think he should get a pretty good deal, I would think.
Q. Probably wants to be a starter though, right?
JOHN GIBBONS: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Q. Is there any hangover effects from last season from guys dealing with that disappointment and dealing with it in spring training to make sure nothing carries over or anything like that, a psychological effect?
JOHN GIBBONS: No, I don't think there is anything that needs to be addressed on the season. We want to turn the page and move on. We've got to make sure our focus is, hey, you know, we didn't answer the bell last year, but now it's time to do it. Are we going to be ready coming out of spring training? We need a good start. Coming off the year we had, you know, in our division, we buried ourselves early last year, and we can't afford that. We can't afford to do that. So, yeah, we've got to be ready and step it up a little in spring training.
Q. Do you anticipate any impact from Desrosier's movement? Is that something you want to have someone else to fill that vacuum that he provided?
JOHN GIBBONS: You mean with Lawrie?
Q. In general?
JOHN GIBBONS: We're going to miss him. I just enjoy having the guy around. You know, watching it on TV a while ago. He's one of those guys, he's a rare guy too. He can do anything. He could be a GM or manager. He could take his pick of whatever he wants to do in this business. But I'd bounce things off him. I'd talk about strategies and how different managers that he played for, especially the successful ones, what they would do and things like that. He was a sounding board on me as well. He did a tremendous job hanging around with Lawrie. Lawrie loved him. I'm sure he'll miss him and his friendship. Yeah, you can see why he's on TV. You see why he's on TV and Howard's on the radio (laughing).
Q. Jose Reyes last year was in his first season with the club, went to the WBC, got injured. Can you expect more of a leadership role from him inside the clubhouse this year?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, one thing about Jose, he comes every day to play. He brings enthusiasm and he's one of those guys. That's the way he is. They all have their different personalities. The more you think about it, everybody looks for this guy's got lead players, that always helps. But in reality, the manager has got to lead. The manager has to be your guy when it comes down to it. But those guys all help out. The manager has still got to be your leader.
Q. Are you going to cut back on some of the choreographed home run celebrations?
JOHN GIBBONS: Hey, that was a hit last year this time of year in spring training. I remember you guys were all excited about it.
Q. You guys? Some of us are old school.
JOHN GIBBONS: I know you are.
Q. Are you saying a manager needs to lead? Are you going to be more active or is there something different you plan to do this year as opposed to last year?
JOHN GIBBONS: I'm not going to do anything differently from who I am. I do my things my own way. But everybody's always looking for leaders. But in reality, the manager is the leader or needs to be. He is. It helps. You've got to have players doing some of that. But you say this guy has to lead the team, but the manager is still calling the shots.
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