SAN DIEGO — Every big-league manager does a 30-minute interview with the media during baseball’s Winter Meetings, two managers at a time, on different sides of the spacious media work room. Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. was Fredi Gonzalez’s interview, and the Cubs’ Joe Maddon was the other manager sharing that time slot.
Needless to say, Maddon was surrounded by a throng of reporters and cameramen, while about 100 feet away Fredi had just us ol’ Atlanta reporters and a handful of others peppering him with questions.
It was a good session, informative with a bit of Fredi’s self-deprecating humor mixed in. Here’s a transcript of most of the session:
As you look at your roster right now, what do you think you need to do? Obviously you need to get another pitcher. What are some things you’d like to see, some additions that you’d like to see?
“Well, a (fifth) starter. We’re kicking the tires of some of the possibilities out there, whether it’s a free agent guy or maybe a trade possibility. And we’ve kind of kicked around a little bit our bench. But I think adding Callaspo, I think that helps the bench a little bit. But as we stand right now, we’ve got a pretty good club. Offensively you’ve got Nick in right field, you’ve got Justin at left. You can move Gattis from behind the plate, and bring Bethancourt along slowly, and we feel like we’ve got a pretty good offensive club.
Q. Obviously Johh Hart and his guys are making moves to get the best club on the field, but how much of the intangibles has been stressed? Because it seems that he’s making moves to get guys in to assure good clubhouse chemistry as well.
“Yeah, that’s some of the stuff that we talk about a lot. If all things being equal, the talent from one guy to the other, I think makeup is big. Obviously, if a guy comes in and he’s a really, really a talented guy and the makeup (is mediocre), you can live with those guys. But if everything being equal, we’ll take the (good) makeup guy. I think we’ve done that with Markakis. I think bringing (Alberto) Callaspo in — I’ve spoken to a couple of his former managers. Just talked to Ned ten minutes ago about him, and he loved him as a person, I think that’s a big plus.
“(Recently signed reliever) Jim Johnson, we got him to help out in the bullpen, and I think that’s a great sign, a guy that a few years removed from a hundred saves in two years, and he’s got great makeup. I talked to him on the phone a little bit.
“So I think that that’s great. The more you can bring in those type of players, the more you can bring in those grinders, I think it’s a big plus.”
Q. How about we see Markakis and Callaspo, the strikeouts, there are obviously good strikeout ratios. Has that been a priority with free agents this winter as well?
“That’s been a priority. That’s something we tried to address. We had a lot of strikeouts up‑and‑down that lineup last year. A lot. So you bring in Markakis, he’s going to put the ball in play; Callaspo, we think he’s going to bounce back from last year and put the ball in play and keep the line moving. So I think we have improved in that area.”
Q. With Bethancourt, obviously he has a great arm, but what does he still have to work on? What do you need to see improvement from him behind the plate?
“I think with Christian it’s just an opportunity. There is no reason for him to go back to Triple‑A. I think as we stand right now, and I say that literally — 2:30, Pacific Coast Time on Tuesday — Gattis is going to be the guy behind the plate, which is fine. You can bring Christian in. And looking ahead, I think we’ll manage Evan the same way we did last year, three games, give him a day off, and bring him along that way and kind of help him get through a major league season. You plug in Christian in those games, and I think he could learn from the major league level under Roger and being in a big league atmosphere, learning how to run a pitching staff and preparing himself for a major league game, I think it would be good for him.”
Q. If you did that, how would you work your outfield? Who would play?
“You mean Gattis? Gattis would catch, right now as we stand. (Justin) Upton in left field, (Nick) Markakis in right field, and B.J. (Upton) in center field right now, and hopefully we get him turned around. Then you could go a couple different directions in the outfield for a fourth outfielder.”
Q. But obviously that could change with, say, a trade?
“That’s what I said. If you believe everything you guys write, that you guys are making up or not (smiles). But, yeah, as of right now 3 o’clock, 2:30 Pacific Coast Time, that’s your team. You’re right, it could change. If something happens in the next hour or so, you can manipulate that.”
Q. You could move Gattis to left field?
“You could do a lot of different things with those pieces, yes.”
Q. Does Peraza have a chance to jump from the minor leagues to the major leagues?
“I think it would be a long shot (for opening day), to tell you the truth, but I am going to give him an opportunity. I think coming into spring training I’m going to sit him down and say, you’re going to be ready to go on every road trip. You have to be ready to play every chance you get, and we have to give him an opportunity. I want to see him play. I saw him play for four or five days a couple of instruction leagues ago, and he was really impressive. And you read our reports of our minor league coaches, some of our guys say he could do it right now. Some of the minor league people are kind of divided whether he could do it or not.
“(Andrelton) Simmons has won two Gold Gloves and he joined us 50 games or 40 games into the season. Peraza may be one of those guys. If he doesn’t break camp with us, he may be a guy you send him down to Double‑A, Triple‑A, let him play 30, 40 games and then next thing you know he’s (ready).”
Q. Do you envision him as a Jose Reyes‑type player?
“Wow. He’s got the speed. Reyes is a switch hitter, a shortstop. I like a lot of his tools, Peraza’s tools. He can run. I think he’s a top‑of the‑order hitter, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him play. I really am.”
Q. So if there were changes (Gattis moved to LF or traded) then as far as Bethancourt, you talked about him catching, do you think you’d be comfortable with him catching four or five games a week, being the primary guy? You saw him do it for a month, right?
“Yeah. Again in 30, 40 minutes, two days, a week, things change. But I feel comfortable he could catch a really good load of the games in the major leagues. He did it in September for the most part, and I thought he really caught well when Gattis went down just before the All‑Star break. That two‑week period, I thought he was really impressive when he came up and did that. So, yeah, I think he could do that.”
Q. I know there were minor ailments with Wood and Minor, when eached missed h is last start. Have they been checked since then?
“They’re fine. They’ll be ready to go in spring training, and Roger (McDowello) will keep tabs on that, and it will be‑‑ they’ll be fine. I don’t foresee any problems come Spring Training or any kind of that stuff.”
Q. Are you good with this‑‑ I guess you don’t have a choice, but the whole plan of ‑‑ John’s been pretty open about having one eye on 2017, and then in the interim you try to stay competitive?
“Yeah, I think he’s been terrific. He really has. And he’s been able to maneuver some pieces to get money to get other pieces, and still be competitive. I think we have been able, and I think we’ll continue to stock up our minor league systems. I know that was one of his goals, or our goals, to stock up our minor leagues.
“Again, I feel if the season started tomorrow and you’ve got the club that you’ve got right now, you feel pretty good about it. Our pitching staff is, and everybody’s looking for that extra starter. We’re not the only club out there. But your top four guys in the rotation are pretty good. They’re four young guys that are really controllable guys and in no particular order, but Teheran, Wood, Minor, Miller and the back‑end of our bullpen might arguably be the best closer in the game.
“Carpenter in the 8th inning, and with (newcomer Jim) Johnson coming and working with Roger, maybe we get something there, and you’ve got (rookie Chasen) Shreve who did a nice job in that little short window that we gave him an opportunity. (James) Russell did a nice job as a left‑hander. (Anthony) Varvaro is coming back. So you feel pretty good about your club.
“Shae Simmons is the other guy, Juan Jaime is another guy, Vizcaino is a guy. The guy who’s really interesting is the kid we just go from the Angels – Kahn? Cone? (Michael Kohn). I don’t know the pronunciation, but if he throws 98 or 100, I’ll figure it out real out.”
Q. The plan that we’re talking about is … I guess if there wasn’t an understanding between you and John (Hart) and all that, but it’s not like the ideal position for manager to be in coming off (the kind of season you had) last year. If they’re looking at the future, at 2017 and beyond. But if there is an understanding….
“The understanding is we’ve got to try to win, right? That is the bottom line, and it doesn’t matter. Yeah, ‘17 for me is way — that’s long. In our industry or my profession, four years down the road or three years down the road, that’s a long ways away, you know? I may be asking you guys for tickets to that (new) stadium.”
Q. If you take that napkin and write down the lineup right now, Markakis is at the top (battling leadoff) I’m guessing?
“Yeah. And that’s something that (when) we went to visit Nick, I asked him, and he said he didn’t mind. I think down the road ‑‑ I mean, right now he’s the best piece we have to lead off. He’s done it before and he feels comfortable there. I think in an ideal situation he might be a No. 2 hitter because he can really manipulate the bat and the baseball. But right now he’ll to lead off for us.
“Who knows? Maybe a month and a half into the season or two months, Peraza’s ready and we feel like he could be the guy, we will will make that move.
Q. Where are you putting Callaspo? Is he a No. 2 hitter, or could it a lot of different ways?
“Well, a lot. Depending ‑‑ you can go two, you can go sixth. You can go seventh. If you want to give Simmons an opportunity to hit number two and let him put him there and say, hey, this is what we want you to do, we could do that also.”
Q. Two free agents that you had this past year, Bonifacio and Harang, any chance they might come back?
“We’re talking about both of those possibilities. We really are. Harang for us was terrific. Three days before we broke spring training, we get Harang, and fast forward six months, and 200 innings, and 15 wins, 14 wins, something like that, may have had his best season he’s had in a long time. So you’re always looking for that one guy that can give you 200 innings, and he did that for us last year.”
Q. How much input do you have on possible player acquisitions?
“I couldn’t give you a percentage, but I get asked. I get asked what do you think, how does this guy fit? Do you know him? Do you want to talk to him? I think going over to see Nick a couple weeks ago was the first time I’ve experienced that, to go see a player. That was fun. You felt like you were on a recruiting trip. But it was a nice get to know the player and the family, and it was at his house, so it was a nice, comfortable place for him.
But you get some input. You don’t know controllability. You don’t know length of contracts, all the other stuff that us managers don’t know as the general managers do. But you get a little bit of input on it.”
Q. You had mentioned earlier trying to cut down in strikeouts, getting guys to K less. Is there a discussion about that trend in general, and the lower strike zone and maybe getting guys with the low pitch better or don’t chase down there?
“We haven’t discussed that in that depth. But we have discussed it just (in terms of) the strikeouts, period. People say the strikeout is just another out, but it really isn’t. Depending on where that strikeout occurs, it’s not just another out. And when you have six, seven guys in your lineup that are punching out 150‑plus, that’s a lot of outs. So I think by adding Markakis, a guy that can put the ball in play, and Callaspo, I think that will help us too.”
Let’s close with this, the second cut on Sturgill Simpson‘s album Metamodern Sounds of Country Music, one of the 2-3 finest LPs of the year.
Lately things have been a little complicated
Quality of life has got me down
Sex is cheap and talk is overrated
And the boys and me still working on the sound
A little happiness, a little love was all I wanted
Sure as Hell thought I’d found it but I was wrong
She left my heart feeling taunted and my memories all haunted
But it’s her I have to thank for all my songs
So every day I’m smoking my brain hazy
All I can do to keep from going crazy
But the paranoia is slowly creeping in
I keep drinking myself silly
Only way for this hillbilly
And I thank God for this here life of sin
Every morning when I rise I look in the mirror and despise
The sight of everything and all that I’ve become
The level of my medicating some might find intimidating
But that’s alright cause’ it don’t bother me none