Winter Meetings interview with Dusty Baker

Winter Meetings interview with Dusty Baker

Q. After managing against La Russa since 1993, how will it be not to do that anymore?

DUSTY BAKER: I think it will be a little strange. We had a long conversation after they won the World Series. I told them I was going to miss them, doing battle against them. It's going to be a little different.

But I've got a pretty good relationship with Mike Matheny, too. That's going to be a little different, how he's going to manage. But as you see, life goes on, and the veteran guys are dropping out every year. The year before it was Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. And last year it was Tony and --

Q. That's you and Leyland left, right?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, they're telling me I'm one of the older statesman. I thought it was because of my gray hair, but I guess it's because the two guys left are Jim and myself.

Q. Did Tony call you or did you call him?

DUSTY BAKER: I called him, yeah.

Q. You've had some battles over the years, some got more heated than others?

DUSTY BAKER: It's all good, man. It's part of the game. I like battle. That's what makes the game fun. You hope that it doesn't turn into physical battle, but at some point in time --

Q. Are you okay with either Pujols or Fielder signing with other teams outside the division?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, I wouldn't mind if they signed in the American League. I love watching American League games, you know what I mean? But the two quality guys are big time. I don't know where they're going to end up, but good chance wherever they end up they're going to make a team happy.

Q. You talk about Tony retiring. Do you have a time frame of how much longer you will manage or will you keep going?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't know. People ask me that. I don't really know. ... Everybody always asks you when you're going to retire. A lot of people have been managing longer than me, you know what I mean, and I'm 62.

But I'm a young 62. A lot depends on if anybody wants you to continue to manage for them and if your family at some point in time wants you home or if your family at some point in time may not want you home, you know what I mean, because you haven't been home in such a long time.

We'll see. Whatever the situation is I'm going to do something. I'm not a guy that sits around and does nothing. I have a lot of interests. I love the game of baseball. If it is baseball, I'm sure I'll be busy. If it's not baseball, it will be something else.

Q. Like 2010, you're going into a contract year again?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah.

Q. Seems like you've been comfortable in the past.

DUSTY BAKER: I really don't have much choice, to tell you the truth. When I was with the Giants I signed two-year contracts. They said I might as well be a lame duck, I was on crutches, you know what I'm saying. It's no big deal to me.

How many people in life have one-year contracts? How many of you out there have one-year contracts? A lot of people are on paycheck-to-paycheck contracts, so I feel very fortunate to be even on a one-year contract.

So we'll see. I just do the best I do, manage the best I can manage, and things seem like they always, always workout for me in the time of need and in the time of stress.

Q. Now that Ramon [Martinez] is gone, what are you going to do with the catcher situation?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, that's a good question. Ramon was a quality guy on the team. I loved having Ramon. Right now we have Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco. So we're just trying to figure out how to use both of them. For the pitching staff, for the team, keep them both healthy. Keep Devin on a learning curve, and keep Hanigan, you know, on the trail that he's been on -- will get better and better.

Q. Will Devin be at the start of the season on the 40 man roster?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, he's on the 40-man roster. He'll start the season on the 20 man roster, unless he goes in the opposite direction than we think he's already going. I like both of them. I like what we have. I liked Ramon, too. Sometimes in this sport things happen sometimes.

Q. Do you get a sense on how Scott Rolen was doing?

DUSTY BAKER: He said he was doing good. He said he was feeling fine. We certainly need him. He played 65 games last year. That was tough on him, sitting on the bench. It was tough on us, sitting watching him on the bench. If he's healthy, Scott Rolen still has a lot of miles in him, offensively and defensively.

He's a good body type. He's a strong man, agile man for his size and a very determined man. He didn't like hitting .240 something.

Q. Along those lines, how do you see Juan Francisco fitting in the plans next year, the year after that?

DUSTY BAKER: I like Francisco. I like Francisco a lot. He's going to play a lot. Anybody that plays behind Scott is going to play, you know. Last year I was hoping Scott playing 120, and I was hoping Francisco picking up the other 40. And then Francisco got hurt and had a knee operation at the same time Scott got hurt.

So that kind of messed up my backup plan for Francisco. I'm a big Francisco fan. You would be, too, if you saw him hit the ball out of the ballpark. He's still young, 23 years old. And still learning a lot. And he's teachable, which I think is a big thing.

Q. Would it be a natural transition to move into the first-base spot?

DUSTY BAKER: That's what he's doing. We'll see how Scotty does this year. How he does this year or next year. Yeah, I think it's a natural transition, that's what you do. So we're going to try him playing enough to keep him healthy. He might not be happy, but playing enough to keep him sharp.

Q. Your starting pitching drop off last year, did it prevent you from competing in the division title?

DUSTY BAKER: That's where it starts. That's No. 1. We were near the bottom, I think. So, you know, it doesn't take much. If you lose two guys out of your rotation or two guys aren't doing something, you've got 40 or 60 percent of your rotation out that are not performing the way you want them to perform. I think this year will be a lot different, a lot better, the starting pitchers. You're going to have teams near the top, most of them near the top are the teams that had the best pitching.

Q. Were you surprised that the Cardinals won the World Series from where they came from?

DUSTY BAKER: Not really, you know. The Braves let them back in the door. The Braves had their front-line starters -- and it was a situation where they had a 30 percent turnover in personnel, quality personnel. When you go get Rhodes, Dotel, Jackson, Corey Paterson helped them, I mean this is a -- like I said, it's more important how you finish than how you start.

Once they got to rolling, once they got in the door, and they got good starting pitching and got the bullpen straightened out. Everybody said look where they came from, and they still had good players, imagine if they had their bullpen straight. They would have won the division by 10 games if they had the bullpen together.

Am I right? They can definitely hit. And the only thing they were missing was some defense. And they shore up their defense when they got Furcal. That just shows you to me, you don't give up, throw in the towel, and give up the season because your games out. In modern baseball, there's very little room left anymore for the great comeback, for the great Yankee, Boston, Celtic, Yankees, those games aren't -- they're getting fewer and fewer games or even races like that, because teams start selling off guys.

But the Cardinals were buyers instead of sellers. And I think that's the tip to baseball.

Q. Do you feel that the NL Central gets overlooked and isn't taken seriously when it comes to the playoffs? It's the NL East and the NL West -- they say the Wild Card is going to come from there. And last season that whole division played pretty well?

DUSTY BAKER: That doesn't bother me. You ask the East and the West, those are the only two places in the country, anyway (laughter), am I right? What doesn't come out of the East comes out of the West. So the Midwest -- that doesn't bother me, anyway, because the Midwest I played in, they didn't play the Cardinals and Brewers every day like we did, and the Pirates. The Pirates, they had a lot to say, too. They were in first place at the All-Star break. So they beat us more than we beat them. It doesn't matter to me, you've still got to play.

Q. Last year you guys -- you guys never had a Japanese player, how do you see the Japanese market this season? Do you have any guys that might fit the team?

DUSTY BAKER: Very good question. I haven't heard anybody's name come up yet because -- I love Japanese players. When I went to Japan in I think '97 as a manager, when I was with the Giants, that's when I saw Ichiro and Big Matsui and Little Matsui, and I loved those guys. And we don't pursue Asia yet or Japan or Taiwan, any of those yet, but I'm sure we will. They've got some quality players coming out of there. And the players there are fundamentally sound, especially the infielders and the pitchers.

I remember talking to my good friend Leron Lee and Leon Lee, from years and years ago, and they said some of the best pitching they ever faced when they [were in Japan so all those guys, they can pitch.

Q. (INAUDIBLE)?

DUSTY BAKER: Big time, oh, yeah, every season.

Q. I mean the Japanese market.

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, because like I said, I wanted Big Matsui, Little Matsui and Ichiro did when I came back. I'm interested, but I'm not in charge of the area.

Q. Getting back to the starting pitching, do you think that Volquez will get back to what he was in '08?

DUSTY BAKER: It's impossible for me to answer. I hope so. For his sake and our sake. 18 months now, I think, almost two years removed from his operation and this is about the time if he was going to get back to that point, now is about the time. His velocity is not the question, it was his location and his release point. If he gets those back, he could be nasty.

Q. Would he be the closer answer for you?

DUSTY BAKER: Everybody mentions that. He could be. But you don't know how his arm would be. You don't know if his arm -- if he would take 3, 4, 5 days in a row throwing or -- it's not the two or three or four days in a row it's the warm up, sit down, warm up, sit down that the closer has to do. You warm up, we're about to win the game and we don't get a hit and he sits back down. And then he gets one more again. A lot of questions to be answered. And I think it has to be answered by Spring Training.

Q. What are you expecting from Chapman, this transition?

DUSTY BAKER: Same thing I expect of him. Hopefully to throw strikes. What was his ratio, 7 walks per nine innings? It's a matter of him finding the strike zone and throwing strikes, and us finding the spot that's going to be best for him, best for us. As you can tell, we have a bunch of questions that I can't answer, a bunch of hopeful situations that we hope come out.

Q. Chapman, you're not committed one way or another?

DUSTY BAKER: No, we're not committed because we don't know.

Q. You'll stretch him out early and --

DUSTY BAKER: We were in the process of trying to stretch him out in the Fall League, and then he was supposed to go to Puerto Rico. That plan didn't work. We found he had a weakness in his shoulder. So right now we're back to the drawing board, I guess. I'd love to tell you a definitive answer, I just don't have one.

Q. Another question without a definitive answer: Alonzo, obviously he showed that he can hit at the Major League level, but it's well documented that the position -- the defensive positions, where do you envision him in an ideal situation, where would you envision him?

DUSTY BAKER: Well, again, he's tried to put himself into position. He's lost like 18 to 20 pounds. He's been working on his footwork and agility. He had a minor knee surgery. So he's trying to put himself in a position to possibly be able to play the outfield, because we've got Joey, MVP and Gold Glove at first base.

Again, it's another hopeful situation here that we'll see. He's a first baseman by trade, but right now we have one of the best in the business. So all you can do is put yourself in position to possibly succeed, which he's in the process of doing.

Q. Is he ready to hit in the big leagues?

DUSTY BAKER: He was ready to hit in the big leagues in September. You don't really know if a guy is ready to hit in the big leagues until an extended period of time. Until they make adjustments and find their holes and weaknesses, and how you adjust back to them. Sometimes it can take two or three years. That's why I don't get real, real excited in the beginning about guys, because nobody knows them.

I was one of those guys myself. I remember I went out to dinner with Hank Aaron, Ralph Garr and Jerry. I was with the Braves as a rookie and he was with the Mets. And he told me I was the toughest out in the lineup and I was smiling from ear to ear because the guys I was out with and he said I don't know how to get you out yet. So I kind of reserve that for when they start making adjustments and then you'll see if a guy is ready to hit.

Q. What kind of hitter could he be?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't know yet. I know he's a tough out. I know he has a great idea of the strike zone. He hits the ball well the other way. He's shown that he has some power, not tremendous power yet. But a lot of time power comes. I mean, who knew that -- what's my man up there in Toronto.

Q. (Indiscernible)?

DUSTY BAKER: Did anybody think Bautista was going to hit 50 home runs? So you don't know most of the time. Sometimes you know. You knew Pujols was going to hit the day he got there.

Q. What do you think [about Joey Votto trade rumors]? What do you think about his name keeps coming up in trade rumors. How do you think it affects his psyche with all the things he's done for your team and he keeps getting mentioned?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't think it affects him because we're not the one that's mentioning it. You can't stop other people from mentioning it. When I was playing they were talking about trading for Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Until it comes out of our mouths, I don't think that anybody needs to pay attention to it, because the last time I saw, I think it came from the Blue Jays -- didn't the Blue Jays mention it? He's from Toronto. I hope not.

Q. I know the Marlins mentioned him?

DUSTY BAKER: The Marlins mentioned him. The Marlins are mentioning everybody. If they've mentioned it they've gotten a few of them. It looks like they're trying to get more.

Q. Isn't he a foundation guy that you just don't want to move, he's just too important?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't want to move him. The organization doesn't want to move him. The people know we're a small market. Everybody knows the money that they're about to pay him or what he's about to get paid, and they can't figure out how we can afford to keep him, but the other way, how do you afford not to keep him?

Q. You had Houston in your division for so many years, how will it be not to have them?

DUSTY BAKER: I'll let you know next year. We still have them one more year. It's going to be weird at that point in time, you know. But as of right now, everything is still the same.

Q. You mentioned earlier your battles with La Russa. You had some with Bobby Valentine, including a playoff series, how do you think he'll fit in Boston?

DUSTY BAKER: We didn't almost fight, did we?

Q. No. Not that I remember.

DUSTY BAKER: Bobby knows how to manage, you know. Bobby likes to win. And one thing about the Red Sox, they're going to give you enough ammunition and enough players most of the time to at least be in contention. There are certain teams that you can count on being in contention, because they're going to give you enough ammunition.

I like Bobby. I like Joe Girardi, I like Buck Showalter, that's one of the toughest divisions, I think in baseball. Toronto year in and year out, that division is going to be tough. He's got his hands full, you know what I mean? And the team has their hands full with Bobby.

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