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Winter Meetings interview with Ned Yost

Q. What are the positives that Aoki brings to you and how do you see him fitting in your lineup?

NED YOST: The positives is that Aoki gives us a bona fide leadoff guy. A guy that plays with energy, a guy that's athletic, a guy that can run, that fits our defensive profile, does a nice job in the outfield, can play right field and did play some centerfield. He's an on base guy. He's a table setter. Somebody that we look to get on base for run producers, and score some runs.

Q. What are the positives that Aoki brings to you and how do you see him fitting in your lineup?

NED YOST: The positives is that Aoki gives us a bona fide leadoff guy. A guy that plays with energy, a guy that's athletic, a guy that can run, that fits our defensive profile, does a nice job in the outfield, can play right field and did play some centerfield. He's an on base guy. He's a table setter. Somebody that we look to get on base for run producers, and score some runs.

Q. Alex did a great job at the lead off spot, but you haven't had what you call a true leadoff guy for a while.

NED YOST: No, and that's where he fits the bill nicely for us. We can put him at the top of the order, he can work the count and get us on base. In our ballpark, it's a big, wide, expansive ballpark with a lot of ground out there. He can hit the ball to left. He can hit the ball up the middle, pull the ball to right field. He's got a lot of spots he can find holes. And hopefully, again, set the table for our big run producers, score more runs.

Q. Pretty decent arm?

NED YOST: Yeah. Plays a bit deep, but really comes in on the ball as well as anybody that we've seen. We feel that he's going to fill a pretty big gap for us.

Q. The outfield right now is crowded?

NED YOST: Yeah, it's crowded.

Q. Where do Lough and Maxwell fit in?

NED YOST: They fit in. Right now we've still got a lot of time before Spring Training. We think that Dyson is a tremendous weapon, if he's not starting with his speed, particularly off the bench late, he's as good as a big time pinch hitter because it just seems that in our club we have a bit of a knack in close games getting on base in the ninth inning, and allowing an opportunity, especially Billy Butler, to pinch run and get into scoring position, a chance to score some runs.

So David Lough made great strides last year and Justin Maxwell is a kid that had some great moments for us and still has great upside as an offense and a defensive performer.


NED YOST: We still have two months to try to figure it out.

Q. Cain is projected as your centerfielder?

NED YOST: Yeah, we like Cain as centerfielder.

Q. What would be the variables deciding where Alex is?

NED YOST: Again, you know, we'll go through it in Spring Training, we always felt all along that Alex was our best option at lead off because he was an on base guy. But we also felt that Alex was a middle of the bat middle of the order type of batter, a run producer. We'll look at Hosmer after coming off a great year. Billy Butler being Billy. Salvador Perez.

We've got to look and see how the lineup stacks up in terms of speed at the top with Aoki. Maybe Bonifacio hitting second and Gordy is going to be in the 4, 5, 6 spot, somewhere in there. Because Hos is pretty much going to nail down the 3 spot, as we sit today.

We've got two months left. We've got a lot of time to see what happens. But we're going to have more offensive RBI production further down in our lineup, which is going to be an advantage to us, I think. More than what we had last year.

Q. No matter what you're going to have somebody good hitting 6th?

NED YOST: Oh, yeah.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about your trying to get another bat, and it looked like you had a shot at Beltran. Is that essential to get another bat?

NED YOST: No, it's not essential. I like our team right now. But the thing that we do, especially here at the Winter Meetings is we always try to look at ways we can get better. If we leave the Winter Meetings not doing another thing, I'm okay with that.

But we'll see how it goes. We're talking about a lot of different things. We're talking about things that could make our team better and see how they play out. And like Beltran, you think you've got a shot at him, and boom, he's done. You don't know. You play it out, you think about it. You make a run, if it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

Q. You put on quite a presentation I understand for Beltran. How disappointing was it for you --

NED YOST: It was disappointing, I think. And quite frankly, we were really close with the money that he ended up signing. He wanted to be a Yankee. We wish him the best of luck.

Q. Second base you mentioned Bonifacio. Do you like him there or prefer him in the utility role?

NED YOST: No, I like him at second. I think when Boni came over last year, he did a great job for us. His life and energy brought a bit of a breath of fresh air. When he came it changed the makeup of our lineup, gave us more speed.

And I like Boni. I like Boni anywhere he plays. Boni did a great job for us last year at third. He played a very solid second base and did a great job in the outfield, too. Guys that have a versatility, it's an advantage to your club that he can play multiple positions, that he's not locked into one spot on any given night. But as we sit right now, I like Boni at second base.

Q. Did he become a more disciplined hitter?

NED YOST: Absolutely. Yeah. And you know, it was there. I don't think he became a more disciplined, but that was the focus that we wanted him to have. And being as smart as he is and athletic as he is and the ability to adapt, I think he really made a mindset change with this. We sat him down and said this is what we wanted you to do, we want you to take more pitches, be a table setter, we want you stealing bases and scoring runs, and he took it to heart.

Q. I'm not asking you to predict a number, but based on the strides your club took last season, what are you looking for next year?

NED YOST: I'm looking for us to continue doing what we did from the All Star break on. As a young club going into last year, you knew, at least I knew, or I felt very strongly, that there would come a point where it would all come together for us.

And fortunately or unfortunately, that point didn't happen until the All Star break. And don't ask me what happened. I mean, we had a really nice April. Then we had a horrible May. But we had some issues where Salvador's grandmother passed away and he was gone for ten days. It just shows you the value of Salvador Perez to our club, how we went into a tailspin without him and his leadership and his production in the lineup.

But we recovered from it going into June and our whole goal and focus was get back to .500 by the All-Star break. We went, going in the last road trip of the year in reach of being able to do that and we got to within one game with the Yankees. Ended up losing the last two games, which put us three under with three to go. We went into Cleveland and thinking we're going to sweep, reach our goal. We got swept there.

I mean, it was a horrible feeling where your goal is in sight, it's within reach of getting back to .500 at the All Star break. Now you find yourself six games under .500 going into the break.

But when we came back, something clicked, Duffy came back, pitched against Detroit, and shut them out 1-0. We won more games in the American League from that point on.

It started where these kids started to understand, hey, we can play baseball and compete in this division. They started to believe it and buy into it. And it just clicked for them. And the second half was, you know, a lot of fun.

Now, with that being said, that's experience. And now with that experience under their belt and that confidence coming into Spring Training, we know now that we can compete. We don't think it, we know it. We've proved it, we've done it over the course of half a season. So these young men are excited about what we can accomplish next year.

Q. About Perez, has he become more of a rarity?

NED YOST: Well, he's a rarity because he's a Gold Glove catcher that can hit and be a middle of the order offensive performer and produce. I've never seen one. I've never seen one from the time -- Javy Lopez was the last one I saw, really. But even Javy in his prime and Salvador, where he's at right now, if I had an opportunity to pick one I'd still take Salvador. He's the best young catcher that I've seen in my career. They're just not out there.

And you could see at a very early age, when this kid was in A ball, this kid was going to be special because he had intangibles. He had leadership qualities. He was very intelligent. He's extremely athletic for a big guy. And you could just see that he was going to be an All Star, that he was going to be a Gold Glove winner.

So to have a kid like him on your club, there's just none out there.

Q. Do you think what we're learning about coaches that teams are going to be more reluctant --

NED YOST: I think everybody is trying to figure that out. We've brought in Don Wakamatsu as a bench coach. And Donny is going to be the catching instructor, too. And he's doing a lot of research on some of these lighter masks and that the concussions suggestions started when the titanium masks came out. We're trying to figure everything out, because he's a valuable commodity to our club. We've got to have Val back there catching and in our lineup. When he's not there, it was obvious what happened last May when he was gone. We struggled without him. It's hard to say that your team hinges on one player, but he's a pretty special player.

Q. Are you going to recommend that he goes back to the heavier mask?

NED YOST: We're looking at all different kinds of scenarios. We've tried the hockey style mask, which I don't like too much. Don thinks that maybe if we can get a heavier mask and try it, it will help.

Q. The thought of getting rid of collisions to home plate?

NED YOST: That's really not -- for me, you know, I grew up with collisions at home plate. I used to look forward to them a little bit as a catcher. I'm kind of biased on that. I think, you know, that -- it's kind of like football. Professional baseball, I understand, you know, but football has always been a violent sport. When you try to take some of the violence out of it it changes the game.

But with that being said, do I agree with it? I don't really know, but the one thing that I do know is that I trust Major League Baseball, I trust the recommendations and when they've got a reason to do something, it's always well thought out and well planned out. If that's what they want to do I'll support them.

Q. How quickly did you reach out to Wayne. Was he in a tough spot?

NED YOST: He was in a tough spot. And I gave him some time. I gave it about an hour after I heard he got fired and called him because I had Dale with me in Milwaukee. I know the quality of teacher and coach he is. One of the best coaches I've ever had. And when I heard that that happened, I waited about an hour and called him. And I asked him what he was going to do and he said he didn't know. I said I know you've got a year left on your contract, but I've got something for you if you want it. Really? I said, yeah. So it was good. I think that with Don Wakamatsu and Dale on the staff, we've got a topnotch coaching staff.


NED YOST: Well, it helps a lot. You learn a lot of lessons. When you go through it the first time and you can sit back a little bit and kind of digest everything that happened and try to figure out what you would do differently, what you would try to do better the second time around, it helps a lot. He's a great baseball man, as is Don Wakamatsu, and having two guys on your staff with former Major League managing experience is going to do nothing but help me out a lot.

Q. How are you different the second time around?

NED YOST: I think I'm a lot better. I think I'm -- you know, things don't bother me as much as they used to. I think I'm calmer. It's just experience, you know. You sit back and you understand what worked and what didn't work and why it worked and why it didn't work. And a lot of times, like most people, most fans, everything is my fault. But my first time I was managing I felt like everything was my fault. But, you know, it's not. It's not.

You try to prepare the players to play. You try to put them in an atmosphere that's conducive to their success and make sure that they're playing hard and hard for each other. If they've got the right attitude, and then whatever happens, happens. And I think I learned that lesson. So I just feel that I'm better in that respect. Not so hard on myself.

Q. On the flip side of the Aoki, what are the Brewers getting in Will Smith?

NED YOST: They're getting a young left handed pitcher. I got a kick when I looked at Will's interview. And they asked him what kind of pitcher he is, and he said he's not scared. This kid is not scared. He wasn't lying. A lot of kids use that as a front.

Of the thing that was so impressive when we brought him up in the big leagues the first time, he was 22 years old, but he's so poised and polished that you forget he's 22 years old. You think he's 28, 29 or 30.

But he's a tremendous competitor. He's got tremendous upside. There were times when I put him in games last year where he was unhittable. He's still developing consistency in his bombs. When he's strong downhill, he's unhittable. At times he gets a little flat with his fastball, but he has the ability to make adjustments.

But I think the Milwaukee fans are going to like Will Smith.

Q. Is he still growing?

NED YOST: Absolutely. The kid is 23, 24 years old. And again, he competes. He competes as good as anybody that we had. And I think one of the things that makes it fun for me is I've been on staffs where you'll go to the mound and make a pitching change and guys will come in a little wide -- we don't have a guy on our staff like that. Our kids all compete and are totally unafraid when you put them in the ballgame.

Q. Have people told you how much you're going to like Aoki?

NED YOST: Yeah, a lot of people. A lot of people. People that I trust. We're going to like him. We've watched a lot of film and video. We've talked to a lot of people about him. They say he's a tremendous person, he's a tremendous competitor. They say we're going to like his interpreter, too.

Q. He does a little Japanese?


Q. You swapped Santana for Vargas?


Q. How does that change the dynamics?

NED YOST: It doesn't. The thing that Ervin gave us is the ability for 200 innings. I think that Vargas is going to do the same thing. Vargas is going to be a very solid competitor. He competes. He gives you innings. A lot like Jeremy Guthrie. You watch Jeremy Guthrie, his stuff doesn't knock your eyes out, but he keeps you in about every ballgame that he pitches in. And I think Vargas is going to do the same thing.

I talked to Mike Butcher, who is a good friend of mine, and he said that Jason Vargas is a heck of a competitor and was one of their most consistent guys all year long.

Q. What's the back rotation look like?

NED YOST: Wade Davis, Luke, Danny Duffy, Ventura, maybe Zimmer, you know, there's no telling.

Q. Your thought to start him back in rotation?

NED YOST: Yeah, as we sit right now, sure.

Q. You think you need more help for that rotation?

NED YOST: You know what, you could always use more help. But I don't think it's required. I'm pretty comfortable with the guys that we have on hand. I think that, again, we're going to be able to compete with the group that we have, especially with our defense. Our guys all -- for the most part all throw to contact.

I want to see Hoch give it a shot and Wade Davis give it a shot at a starter again. Because I think that both of these guys, you know, are tremendous competitors. We saw both of those guys late in the year in the bullpen. Those two guys could have been one of the top two tandems in the American League coming out of the pen. They were dynamite. We always had that to fall back on, in Ventura and Duffy, have lights out springs. We've got these kids, both Duffy, Ventura and maybe even Zimmer that have tremendous upside that can jump on it and ride it for a while. We don't know.

Q. Is part of the dynamic that gives Hoch a new opportunity is the cost of pitching out on the free agent market? In other words, you've got him, it's cost controlled?

NED YOST: We've got him and he's cost controlled, but he was dynamic for us all year long. He was the guy we always knew was there. And was just absolutely dominant for the most part of the year. And we've always loved his stuff. We just couldn't figure out a way to get him over the hump. When we put him in the pen last year, that might have got him over the hump.

We think he can be a very productive starter. We'll give him an opportunity in the spring to see where we're at. The cost of starting pitching is very high.

Q. I'm in Baltimore and they're relooking at Maddux as a starting pitcher.

NED YOST: I think most clubs are doing that. They're looking at all their options and trying to figure out what's most cost effective and what's best for the organization and for the team.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about Duffy's chances?

NED YOST: Yeah, we think Duffy is going to come back, came back and made five starts for us after Tommy John. Had some really good starts and had some okay starts. But he's going to be completely healthy. He's got all the, geez, I wonder how it's going to be when I come back, because he made his starts last year, and he's going to be ready to go. He's got tremendous stuff, as good as any left hander in the American League, and consistency is going to be an issue for him, but sometimes those guys find that consistency.

Greg Holland found it over a winter, went from a kid that couldn't throw strikes to throwing nothing but strikes, and is arguably one of the best closers, if not the best closer, in the American League. It can happen fast, especially for guys like Danny Duffy that are talented and that compete to the degree that he competes. He's going to find a way to get it done.

Q. How is Moustakas doing in Venezuela?

NED YOST: I think it was good for him to go down and continue some work with Pedro. He puts a lot of expectations on himself and he doesn't want to stop getting better. And he doesn't take anything for granted. And it's very impressive that while most guys are still home doing their weight programs, he's in Venezuela working on his swing for six weeks with Pedro and getting ready for Spring Training.

He's in great shape, as is Salvador Perez, who is down there working and playing some first and DH'ing. And I think it says a lot for his character and who he is, and how much he wants to be a winner in this organization.

Q. Is he changing physically his swing or --

NED YOST: No, just working on some natural -- getting back to his natural swing.

Q. I apologize if this was asked before, but could you talk a little bit about Brett's tenure as hitting coach and what that meant to hold things together, get through a rough time?

NED YOST: You know what it did, bringing George back in, I think just our numbers really didn't change from that point, but the thing that it did was it kind of opened up everybody's anxiety and let it out. He got in with Mous, he got in with Hos, he got in with Billy and Gordon. And these guys that were pressing so hard he got them to understand who they were and what they were trying to accomplish.

What was your goal every day? And it wasn't about hitting .300. It was about getting where you can have a good swing, feel a good swing and duplicate a good swing. It was as simple as that. But George didn't know -- George wasn't big in all the mechanical stuff because he was a natural hitter. What George was good at was the competition, was the confidence part. And he built confidence back in Hos and back in Mous. And he freed these guys up mentally so that with him and Pedro working on the mechanical sides and each and every one of them having their own individual programs to get better, we got better.

Q. He was the right guy at the right time for that group?

NED YOST: Absolutely. Him and Pedro. You can't say one without the other, because they were a great team together. I'm going to tell you something, we're going to have a good hitter hitting 6th and 7th and 8th. Our lineup should be pretty balanced.

You always look for offensive sequence, I think we're going to have a lot more offensive sequence, we're not going to have here we go, here we go, here we go, bang, dead stop. I think we're going to continue offensive sequence all the way through our order. And if we can do that we're going to score some runs.