Terry Francona on Dale & Holley
|11.18.09 at 1:55 pm ET|
Red Sox manager Terry Francona went on Dale & Holley on Wednesday to take calls and questions about his job and the shape of the Red Sox going forward. He discussed the 2010 coaching staff, free agents such as Jason Bay, Alex Gonzalez and Angels pitcher John Lackey, the role for Jason Varitek, and more.
The interview will be available to hear on demand on the Dale & Holley Audio on Demand page. A transcript of highlights is below.
Where are you in the offseason?
We did some [coaching staff] interviews. We had some good interviews last week.
We obviously need to get our staff in order. That will take care of itself probably itself pretty soon. Then we have the free-agent process, which is obviously very important, and will be a long, slow, winding road. We’ve got a lot to do, and a lot of time to do it.
What is the status of the coaching staff?
We interviewed last week Ron Johnson, our Triple-A manager, who was very deserving of the interview, and Tom Goodwin who has been coordinating our outfield and baserunning in our minor leagues, who was very, very impressive. Not very experienced, but very impressive. Gary DiSarcina is certainly in the mix. Rob Leary is a guy whose name came up and needs to be in the mix.
Some of that is going to depend on – we have DeMarlo [Hale], we have [Tim Bogar] – we’re just trying to have the best staff we can, and one decision might affect the next.
Does the familiarity of a Ron Johnson help his candidacy?
He mentioned in his interview, out of the 40 guys on our 40-man roster, he’s had 22 of them the last couple years. Sure it’s helpful.
We really wanted to hire from within. I’ve been here long enough now. We need to promote from within when we can. There are a lot of good candidates outside of the organization. Their names came up. I think it’s important for us to promote from within, and we’re certainly going to do that.
Do you believe the Gold Glove reflects the most deserving defensive players or is it a popularity contest and/or something driven by offensive performance? Specifically, how did you view Derek Jeter winning the Gold Glove versus Elvis Andrus.
I actually think that’s a pretty good point you make. I’m probably of the mindset that Jeter had a very good year defensively. I really do think he did. Elvis Andrus had a spectacular year.
I think we tried as a staff to give it some time. We didn’t just want to have the ballots show up and write in some names. There have been some things that happened from time to time. I remember one year Rafael Palmeiro got the Gold Glove, and I think he only played first base for 28 games. That’s not good.
The thing you have to remember, sometimes you see guys on SportsCenter make spectacular plays. That doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re a Gold Glove candidate. The other thing you alluded to, and I think you’re right, is that reputation comes into play. Sometimes, in this league, staffs, coaches, managers are a little bit wary of voting a guy in in his first, second year. They want to see him earn it and see it over time. It’s kind of like making the All-Star team.
Would Jason Varitek make a good coach?
I don’t think yet. I wouldn’t approach him with that. I don’t think he would like that one.
I saw Tek the other day. I think he’s in a good place. I think he’s going to do a good job. I’ve said this a lot of times: he has that ‘C’ on his chest for a reason.
Victor is going to catch the majority of games. How much, we don’t know.
I think Tek can be an unbelievable backup catcher. Because his body can’t handle catching 140 games anymore, that doesn’t mean, if you run him out there less than that, especially from the right side – by the time July rolled around this year, he had 13, 14 home runs. You’re not going to find backup catchers who have that ability, that game-calling experience. He kind of gets run into the ground physically. He’s caught a lot of games. Some of that is my responsibility, too. But I think that in the situation we have, hopefully, upcoming, he can really excel in that.
Do you think his clubhouse role changes with decreased playing time?
I don’t think so, and I think a lot of that is because of Jason. If he didn’t accept that, then it could have been a problem. I don’t see that happening. I saw him the other day. He was about as fired up as I’ve seen him. Last year, that’s a tough thing to not play. I don’t care who you are, whether you’re good enough or not, to have someone come and tell you that somebody is taking your playing time is hard to take. I never saw Jason put himself ahead of the team. I didn’t expect him to walk to the clubhouse and lead the cheers for not playing. At the same time, he never let that get in the way of his caring for the team of helping Victor. Again, that’s part of the reason he has the C on his chest. He’s lived up to that. I know he will continue to.
Do you see Jason Bay re-signing?
I know I’m not in the minority when I say I hope so. I don’t want to make Theo’s job harder than it is. If I’m out there politicking for a guy, that doesn’t help Theo do his job.
You have to be patient. As fans, as the manager, you want things to happen now. We want to have our team in place now. It’s not going to happen. It’s going to take time.
He has earned the right to be a free agent. This is his first time, and he wants to see it through. You know we’re going to be a major player. We always are.
Do I hope it gets done? Yeah. I bet you Jason Bay hopes it gets done. But he’s going to have other options, too.
Are you open to going on free-agent recruiting trips?
We’ve actually done some of those things in the past, just a little more under the radar. John Farrell and some guys went down to see Smoltz. During the Teixeira thing…We’ve done a lot more of that than people realize. We just don’t publicize it.
Is adding a starting pitcher more valuable than a middle-of-the-order hitter?
Every time Theo talks to me, I always say get a pitcher. I know we need to score runs. When you don’t pitch, you certainly make life a lot more difficult for the whole team. When you have a well-pitched game, even when you go into the seventh or eighth inning, you have a chance. When you don’t pitch, the game looks sloppy. A lot of balls in the gap, more cutoffs and relays, you have more errors. There’s more plays to be made.
When you have solid pitching, and sometimes past solid into spectacular, that’s when your team really has a chance, not only in the regular season, but it carries over into the postseason.
The organization has met with John Lackey’s agent. Can you comment on him?
John Lackey is one of the best. Every year, there’s a couple guys that seem like they can sway the fortunes of an organization. He’s that type of pitcher. Now, to get that type of pitcher, you’re going to have to make quite a commitment. That’s something that makes our organization a little bit uneasy. It doesn’t mean a guy can’t come in and help you win. If there’s an injury along the way, that can set your organization back quite a bit. There’s a lot to think about besides just the year 2010. You’re possibly talking about 2015. That’s a lot of years.
Do you consider him an ace?
Yeah, probably. I probably do. He’s missed a little bit of time, but when he’s out there, I think their team feels it’s going to win. He can match up against Beckett, Lester. He can go head-to-head with the better guys in the league and hold his own.
Would you like to have Alex Gonzalez back?
At a time of the year when we had a lot of moving parts at shortstop, he was really a stabilizing force. When the ball was hit, you’re out. Nobody more than myself, I appreciated I a lot, because we had a lot of moving parts. Going forward, to have him back, from our front office’s side, if we could get him back at the right price, yeah. We would enjoy that.
The thing to remember with Gonzy, what he did the last six weeks of the season was really helpful. When you look at that .310 on-base percentage, for a full year, if that’s what you’re going to go with, you’ve got to recoup that somewhere else. That’s something to think about.
How do you improve on the home/road splits?
That seems to be the $64 million question. The obvious things are that we’re very comfortable at home. We have great fans. We’ve got guys like Mikey Lowell that know they can hit that left-field wall. David Ortiz knows that he can reach out and hit the Wall.
It’s not just on the road, but especially against the better pitching in the league, we have not done well. We got into Anaheim in the playoffs, the same thing happened. The first two road games, we did nothing. It’s not a lack of trying on our players. I don’t feel like we need to have team meetings. We just get into the bigger ballparks and we don’t score as much. Some of our guys don’t reach the fences as much as they do at home.
It’s been a problem for about the last three years. The flip side of that is that we’ve played so well at home that it’s outweighed how we’ve played on the road.
What do you expect from David Ortiz?
What David’s going through is what a lot of guys go through. He’s getting older, he’s a big guy, and he’s been injured.
When that happens, your work ethic or your workload has to increase over the offseason or time starts catching up a little bit. That’s just the way it is. It’s not fair. Wake and I have had this conversation every year since I’ve been here. If you want to keep playing or pitching, you’ve got to work harder because you’re getting older. That’s just the way it is – especially with big-body guys who have been injured.
To David’s credit, he’s been in the ballpark everyday since the season’s been over. He looks terrific. He’s going to have to, because he’s got big shoes to wear. If he can’t, if you have a DH who’s not whacking the ball all over the ballpark, it kind of puts you in a tough spot. We’re so used to David hitting 40, 45, 50 home runs. We got used to that. If he’s hitting 18, it makes us a different team.
How do you value RBIs?
I think there are some things that can be skewed. I grew up in an era where, if you hit .300, you were a good player. Well, you know what? That’s not the tell-tale. I was the perfect example. I could hit .300. I never helped our team. I hit all singles, I never walked, I wasn’t fast enough to score any runs. It was kind of cosmetic. Getting on base is a very important stat. It doesn’t mean we have nine guys up there trying to walk. But it means if they’re seeing pitches and working counts, they’re going to become more dangerous hitters. If they’re on base, we talk all the time about keep the line moving, You have to have a good enough team to do that. If you have four or five guys who are taking their walks, and four or five guys that can’t hit, that’s not going to work. If you have a balanced team, which we try to do, and you have that approach, it’s going to work.
You seem to bring both both sides — statistical analysis and scouting — together.
I think there is both sides. You have to kind of wed those and come up with the best way of putting a team together. I don’t think you can do just one or the other. I think you can make mistakes. Sometimes the game can deceive you if you just look at it with your eyes. That’s why we look at statistics all the time. At the same time, there are people playing this game and you try not to forget that. You try to look at both and make good decisions.
Can you wait on Bay’s decision until mid-January? And, do the Sox have enough resources to trade for both a top pitcher and hitter?
I don’t think you’re going to see Jason out there on Jan. 15. I’ve got a feeling that won’t happen. That’s something Theo has to balance. You play poker a little bit. Fortunately, he’s a good poker player. I guarantee you he and his guys don’t have Plan A or Plan B – they’re probably down to the middle of the alphabet. One move affects the other. That’s just the way it is.
Do I think we have enough to make trades? Yeah. Do we want to? I don’t know. When you’re talking about acquiring big-name, good players, you’re going to have to give up big-name, young good players. In today’s game, not a lot of teams want to do that. That’s a tough balance. If you get productive players who aren’t making a lot of money yet, that’s really, really valuable.
How difficult is it to maintain relationships with players and balance those with the business side of the game?
That’s actually a good question.
We had to release George Kottaras. I love George. He never played. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good kid.
[Relationships with players] never get in the way of what we’re doing on the field, but at the same time, I do want to enjoy these players. It makes the bad news a little bit harder but doesn’t change the message. I don’t want to go through this and not get close to some of these players. … When you get around these guys for a while, you can’t help but get close to them. But it doesn’t change the message. We’ve given a lot of guys difficult messages. It’s not fun, but we do what we think is right.
How are you doing physically? How much longer do you want to manage?
Physically, this is probably the best I’ve done after a year. That’s probably because we got done prematurely, which is bad, but I’m actually doing it pretty well.
As far as doing it, I don’t know. It takes a lot out of me. It’s not just managing. Managing here, although I love it and I’m kind of addicted to it, it’s difficult. I can’t see myself doing this for 30 years. Saying that, I haven’t lost my excitement or my wanting to do it. When there comes a day when I don’t have that, regardless of what my contract says, I won’t do it.
How do you view Jed Lowrie going forward?
That’s an interesting question. I just spoke to Jed yesterday. He’s up in Canada.
He’s doing some therapy on that wrist. The wrist is troublesome. He already had a surgery. We love him as a player. We would love to be able to plug him in at shortstop everyday. He’s a switch-hitter. He could probably hit a ton of doubles and an occasional home run. He’s pretty reliable. The one thing that hasn’t been reliable is his health. It puts us in a little bit of a tricky spot. Quite honestly, it’s difficult. We don’t know quite what to do. We can’t put all of the shortstop position in his hands because we don’t know if he’s healthy enough to do it. But if he is healthy enough, he’s good enough to do it. We’re in a little bit of a predicament.
Is the ability to get on base born or bred? Can you develop patience and teach people to wear out pitchers?
I don’t think you can do it at the major-league level, or if you can, it’s few and far between. That’s why we take so much time in player development talking about that. When they get to the big leagues, the game is going a lot faster. They’re facing better competition, better pitching, and if you expect guys to all of a sudden start swinging at strikes, I think you’re kidding yourself.
So we spend a lot of time on that in the minor leagues. Guys don’t move up as much if they can’t swing at strikes.
Johnny Damon is a great example. Sometimes he walked. Sometimes he fouled off 12 pitches, I don’t know if it was by design, he was fouling off balls all over the ballpark. It was a talent of his. You put him in the leadoff spot and he helped wear down pitchers. I think if you get into teams’ bullpens before they want you to, you’re going to have success.
Mark McGwire is back in the news after the Cardinals hired him as a hitting coach — should he be in the Hall of Fame?
I’m just here to talk about the future, not the past. [Laughter] To be honest with you, it’s a subject that is really difficult to talk about. In our game, I think you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think people are guilty, but you’re also having people be guilty who haven’t been proven guilty. So, in my job, where I’m stand, I’m better off not saying something. It’s not fair. It’s unfair to some people on the good side. It’s probably also unfair to some of the other people. our game is what’s been guilty. we’ve taken steps to fix it. We were just a little bit late, and we’re paying the price for it.
What was the impact of the stories this summer surrounding David Ortiz?
It doesn’t help, ever. I think if you let it hurt, it’s our fault and shame on us. We have a responsibility to play the game regardless of what’s going on. We just, at the time, we were beat up and we weren’t playing very good. That didn’t have anything to do with us losing. I don’t think it was helping David hit. I think he was worn out from all that. But I think when those things get in the way, it’s an excuse.
What is Jacoby Ellsbury’s potential as a power hitter?
He’s already stolen about 70 bases, which is one of the gest in the league. I think with health, that will probably get a little bit better, because if he maintains his speed, he’s certainly going to learn the league a little better. His hitting, his offense, I think he’s going to grow into some power. What we’re a little bit wary of is trying to get him to pull the ball in the air. Good young players who play everyday get stronger and get better by experience. He’s going to hit some balls out of the ballpark. The most important thing I see with Jake is his ability to get on base. If he gets on base, because of his legs, because of our offense, he’s going to score runs. When he scores runs, we win games.
Were you surprised that the Yankees succeeded with an older club, with guys like Mariano Rivera being around 40 years old?
[Rivera] is a freak of nature. He’s got that pitch, that cutter, it attacks lefties, it fools righties. He’s been doing it for a long time. They have – it’s probably not real popular to sit here and talk about how good the Yankees are – they had a phenomenal team. They had ways to beat you. We’re a good example. We caught them early, before they were ready to go.
Did they change mid-year?
They weren’t playing tremendously well when we caught them early. They were hovering around .500. we played some good baseball. We had a great comeback against Mariano when Jason hit the home run. Some things fell our way. Then they got rolling.
A couple things. They got Alex back in the lineup. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but when he comes back, Teixeira goes crazy, so now all of a sudden you have a three and four hitter, or four and five hitter, going off. Their baserunning was really, really good. They had the ability to steal a lot of bases. And their bullpen came together. They had one of the best bullpens in the league. That’s why they won so many games late. They’d bring in their bullpen, they wouldn’t give up runs, and with that lineup, they’d get into other people’s bullpens and they’d win.
Some defensive metrics say that Ellsbury is a bad outfielder. How is that possible?
First of all, it didn’t say he’s a bad outfielder. It said he didn’t measure up to league average as a centerfielder. That’s two different things. Pretty much every team has their best defensive outfielder in centerfield. As you go through the American League and you look at the centerfielders, to be an average centerfielder defensively you’ve got to be pretty damn good.
I actually think he is. The defensive equation is the hardest, in my opinion, to evaluate. They’re trying to make it better every year. They keep making adjustments to it. There’s a lot of things that come into play. You play here and then you go to Texas, that’s like going to a roller rink. The ground they cover is going to be less. There’s a lot of things out there that aren’t perfect. They’re trying to find ways to measure it. I do think Jacoby is getting better. I think he will continue to get better as he understands the strength of guys in the league, positioning, how important it is, I do think he will get better. I think he goes left to right very well. I think he is still learning how to go back on a ball, get back to the wall and show that athleticism.
[Defensive metrics are] more of a tool for signing guys and for the front office. It’s not something we look at going into a game because it doesn’t really help us prepare for a team.
If pitchers fall into bad patterns on the mound, why aren’t they forced back into the gameplan?
That’s not answerable in 30 seconds.
They’re human. … When you’re out there on the mound, there’s a very fine line between success and failure. Sometimes you’re talking about a ball that Beckett throws at 94 miles per hour fastball that an umpire views as an inch off the plate that, other nights, he gets it called. If he gets it called for strike one, now he loosens up, he throws a breaking ball for a strike; if it’s called a ball…
When things aren’t working, we don’t force guys to do it. If he goes out there without a breaking ball, for us to continually tell him to throw it probably isn’t going to win that game. It’s a fine line. We tell catchers all the time about, early in games, stay with pitches so we don’t turn a guy into a two-pithc pitcher. At the same time, if he’s given up six runs, he’s not going to be out there later in the game. So we try to balance that line and do what we think is right. It’s easy to say use all three or four pitches, change speeds and locate. But unless they do that, they’re not going to be in the game.
Is Jon Lester or Josh Beckett the ace?
Part of what makes us good is that we have two. I don’t think it’s important. I know you give the ball to somebody on Opening Day. Once Opening Day comes and goes, it doesn’t really matter. I think we have the ability to send two guys out there that can match up with anyone in the game. That’s part of the reason that makes us good.
The way we were set up this year, we were going to use both of them twice anyway.
If you have to make a decision and one guy pitches once, then it’s a big decision. If you have the ability to pitch both guys twice, which we were going to do, then it doesn’t really matter.
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