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December 7, 2005

Willie Randolph


Q. Just based on the acquisitions so far, Delgado, Wagner, Lo Duca, how do you feel so far?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, listen, man, you know, it's always nice, it's always fun when you're in Spring Training and you have a chance to really go out and compete and prior to that you try to piece it together if you can and you try to bring in guys that have not just talent but fit in well character-wise and fit in with what you're trying to do. It's always exciting talking about stuff and I really take a lot of that just very lightly as far as getting too ahead of myself when you talk about putting the team together.
We finally got a guy in the middle of the lineup that can give us real presence and production. He's done that over the years so I expect that from Carlos again. Obviously bringing in Wagner, a legitimate closer who makes you feel real good at end of the game when you give him the ball, all of that stuff is really comforting for most managers.
Having said that, I've been on a lot of great teams and I hate to sound, not even gloomy, but to me it's reality, it's being realistic about putting together a solid club but also coming to Spring Training and competing and getting to the playoffs hopefully but realizing that it's just not that easy. So I've been on a lot of great teams and I've been around baseball a long time and I've been around teams that you can just print tickets right from the get-go and in that case you never do that because it don't work out that way. I'm pumped up, I'm excited, a few more pieces to the puzzle, that would be even nicer.

Q. What are your thoughts, not plans but what are your thoughts about Lo Duca at this point and what he does for your offense?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Again, it's easy, or what you start doing is making out lineups and I haven't even thought about lineups. I think Lo Duca gives me a lot of flexibility. I like that about this team, we have guys that are very interchangeable, guys that can hit from 1 to 2, 2 to 6 spot and Lo Duca because he handles the bat really well and knows how to make contact, he can hit second, he can hit sixth. He's a guy that's going to not give you a lot of power of course but he's a good RBI guy. I like the fact that he gives you that added dimension of being able to put the ball in play and that's how we play. We did a poor job last year of making contact and without speed we have to make contact to utilize the proper way.

Q. The best speed you have is in the No. 1 spot.
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Yeah, but there's speed all the way around though. We have consistent speed but I'm just not ready to start putting together lineups yet because we still have some other pieces to put together and that depends on who the right fielder is, so there's a lot of things we're going to do. David Wright is a guy you can juggle around a little bit, he proved he can hit in different spots last year. He's a young kid learning how to hit and he showed that he can make adjustments and that he can handle different spots. Same with Cliff, even Carlos, everyone talks about Carlos has to hit second because stats say he should hit second. You know, you just play, and each year, you mature, you get better at what you do, and he'll get more and more comfortable hitting in certain spots.
But the key for me is that they can do different things, they can be fit in different shots and not really feel like you have to have one guy in one spot. Delgado, you know, he'll probably hit fourth; that's easy. He'll probably hit fourth. You like to work around someone like that. But I've seen him hit third before, too. You were on me last year, you know, I like to move my lineup around and spread them out with different things. It's nice to have overall flexibility and that's what I like.

Q. You said you would be pleased if you had something you could just say, okay, here is my lineup most of the time?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Yeah, most of the time but I still like the flexibility better. That's always better because players know they have to adjust, they know they have to come to the ballpark ready just to play, so I don't think that it makes my job any easier. I think it's better when you can move pieces around a little bit, different matchups, sometimes dictate guys that might not hit certain guys too well and you can put somebody else in that spot, too.

Q. We all know the best things that have happened since the end of the season. What's the worst thing that's happened since the makeup of your roster? You lost some free agents and you lost Marlon?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I know Marlon did a great job for us last year. (Cameron's) defense, that's something that we're going to probably miss a little bit. But Nady is not a bad outfielder and Victor hopefully over the winter will get better. I've always challenged him to concentrate on his defense and I think he knows where I stand with that. So I'm looking forward to seeing how he looks in Spring Training. But defense is very important to me, so even though you look at offensive guys who might leave and come and go, defense is important, too. So when you lose, a guy like Cameron, it hurts a little bit.

Q. Marlon, you liked him, he loved playing for you?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I brought Marlon here. He did a great job, and even defensively, where most people probably thought that he was way below average, he probably didn't look pretty all the time but he made the plays. I don't think he ever really hurt us. I'm not saying I wasn't holding my breath a few times but it was like, "okay, whew, nice play Marlon, good going."

Q. Who do you send to pitch to him playing the Nationals?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Doesn't matter. Hopefully it's a lefty or something like that. But he's a professional hitter, he knows what he's doing. If you make a mistake, he'll hurt you. He's not one of those guys that is going to scare away or shy away from lefties.

Q. You're going to have more established star-type players and higher expectations next season, is that more of a challenge for you, is there a different way to handle a team like that?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Not at all, not at all. I'm comfortable dealing with all of my players and communicating with them. Star players, to me they are just all players, everybody has to get the job done, and I think you wrote the pressure was on me and everything, and oh, man -- that's the only way I want it, man. What are you going to do, come here and fool around, lolly-gag? Play the game. All managers want to be able to take a chance and compete. Like Tony La Russa says, "take my shot," that's the way I feel, too. I'm a winner, I've been a winner and that's what I'm here to do is help this team win. Bring them all in, it's okay. Stack'em up.
Before the Yankees, in Pittsburgh, I grew up in a winning environment with the Pirates, being captain of the Yankees. You know, like I said earlier, I was laughing when I hear that kind of stuff. It's like, you know, this is a blessing to be in this spot and especially this quickly but so what, man, bring it on, let's go.

Q. How important is it, whether it's in two days or two weeks for you guys to pick up a top-line Zito, Vazquez type starter?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: All that stuff will play out on it's own. Who knows, those guys are out there but obviously Vazquez has to do a trade, and Zito, too. Omar is probably looking at all types of stuff, he always is, and it's just no rush for anything like that. Sometimes it's the best to way and see how things play out in Spring Training. So we've been pretty active obviously and we'll continue to get better, but I don't think there's any real urgency.

Q. When you got the job, did you know that it was going to be like this in terms of bringing in this many big-time All-Star players?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: You know the Mets, Yankees, teams like that have the resources to do what they want to do if it fits. Hopefully you want to spend your money wisely and do the right thing depending on what your payroll is but I didn't come in thinking how it might be or whatever. I just wanted to obviously be competitive and have a team that could compete every day. But, you know, obviously we have a lot of money that came off the docket and we're trying to spend it wisely.
You don't come in with any expectations or what it's like; you just prepare to manage the club that's there. I always just go with my guys. You don't ever hear me talk about what I don't have or bitching and moaning about getting this guy. I've got my team and I play. But it's nice to have these resources to go out and do these things. Ideally, it's what most managers look forward to. Going in, I had no idea, just take my team, go out and play and it's nice in the off-season to be able to add those types of players.

Q. I know the bullpen is a work-in-progress and you want to add more guys, but where is it leading up to Wagner right now? Hernandez, the arbitration deadline is here, how important is it to get him back?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: He's a free agent, so I look at free agents as, Piazza, they have their choice to make.
Obviously we want to strengthen our bullpen. All teams would love to have arms and all that. That's a given. When you're in competition with other teams and fighting for players, you just have to hope that they come back your way, that's all. But outside of that, I'm not thinking about anybody in particular to fill those spots because there's always guys that step up, even like last year with the way Aaron came about and did a good job, Padilla did a good job again. When you talk about the middle relief, you can't just put a 7th or 8th inning guy there because they might not be there. You need guys that can step up and guys that you can pick off the wire and whatever and come to Spring Training and shine for you. That's what you look for in middle relief and hopefully there's two or three of those guys in there.

Q. Having been part of the Yankees and being the manager last year with the Mets and this year with all of the moves, just being around town or doing your thing, do you get a sense that the Mets don't feel so much like the second team any more or do you feel like it's a lot, a lot more excitement generated around the team the past couple years?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: There's a lot more excitement obviously. But until you win, you know, you can't start comparing yourself. I always said the town is big enough for both of us, but you have to win. I don't think about being a second sister to anybody and I don't think the players really feel that. We're just trying to carve our own little groove and niche with our fans and this new team, this team that we have now, it's totally different. Players tend to separate what's been and the way we were. This team has in a lot of ways made a big transformation as far as talent.
You know, I don't think that we feel like we're competing against anyone, even though it's there. But we're trying to make our own name.

Q. Do you feel pretty good, last year you were talking about the playoffs and now adding the pieces, it would seem to build on the winning attitude and be able to accomplish that on a regular basis?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Yeah, and it's about building, the operative word is "building" on what we have. Yeah, it takes a while to change the mentality around and get guys to understand what you expect from them and what you need from them every day and we've turned that corner, I believe, where we finished up and the way we got out there every day and we play hard every day, and that's what I demand from my players. But you still need to get to another level and then some. Hopefully that progression will come and continue to come quick and we can get everybody playing for each other and getting the job done. It's not as easy as putting together -- it's really different. I try to convey that each year is really different. It's like starting all over again basically. But you have the core and you have guys who experienced some things together and you're familiar with each other and you hope that it continues to grow with the additions you have.
You know, we're going to try to build off the energy we've got going but it really starts from Spring Training to get that going again. It's like the snowball effect.

Q. Your thoughts on losing Piazza and what he meant to the organization?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, Mike has been tremendous in the organization. He helped them win in 2000 and has been a tremendous consistent power hitter over the years. But when you become a free agent, you like to have him back but he has a choice there. So I don't think too much about free agents because there's a two-way street there. So you know, if we can work out something where he comes back to us in some shape or form, I'd like to have Mike back. Mike did a decent job for us but he was hurt and he's still one of those power presence, the guys that have been there before that he can always help you because he's always dangerous.
But you know, you mention his name and I haven't really thought about it, he might be out there trying to go somewhere else so we'll see.

Q. As far as Nady versus Diaz competing for right field, as far as second base, would you expect possibly an outside addition, and is Matsui competing with maybe Hernandez?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: You know I'm fine with Matsui. I know he's been beat up a little bit, fans and media and stuff like that, but for me if Matsui is healthy, he can play for me. He still needs to work very hard on his defense. He was making progress last year but he just kept getting hurt and I think he's one of those guys every time he got hurt, he gets set back. But I look at him, he has skills, and if we can upgrade or put a different piece here, because it's not just about the player, he's making a lot of money, there's a lot of that stuff going on. But having said that, I'm not one of those guys saying he can't play for me, or we need a second baseman, I haven't gone there with that because I still think he can play.

Q. Last year you thought he would be a pretty good No. 8 hitter.
WILLIE RANDOLPH: He's another guy that could probably hit in different spots, but the way that our lineup is set up, that might be the best spot for him. He can hit 7th, too. He's a switch-hitter and I think he's probably best when he attacks and in those spots you can probably be more aggressive.
Again, I'm not making the lineup card again, but he's the kind of guy that you can put anywhere. And if he is hitting 8th, that's really good. Again, health is the key. If he gives me 400 bats or whatever it might be, if he's in the 8-spot every day, I guarantee you his numbers will be as good as any second baseman in the National League.

Q. I don't know how much range he has but is it important with Delgado at first to have a second baseman that's more mobile?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: That's a little bit overrated I think. He ranges well, really. But we'll just position our players accordingly. I don't think that Delgado because he doesn't have great range, you need a second baseman that has range that's long and far. Make the routine play, that's all I want you to do. I think Carlos will do a more than adequate job. Defense sometimes is not just about focus, it's about concentration and I think in New York he will probably focus more than in Toronto or Florida where it's not as intense.

Q. You mentioned Diaz and his defense. Are there other guys, maybe young players or something like that that you want to see them work on certain things in this season, coming to Spring Training, having improved specifically in this area or that area?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, I always assume that all of my players are going to stand their weaknesses work on their weaknesses. In the off-season whether you play winter ball or you work out, you try to get better going into Spring Training.
I think my players know that defense is very important to me and that it's not about offense and if you don't get after it defensively, you're going to hear from me. So I would assume that it would be smart for them to come to Spring Training with their whole game together and play every aspect of the game.
I don't make it a point to talk to anyone specifically about it or demand anything. I just want to see it because you shouldn't have to say anything to them about it. They understand where I'm coming from and they understand what I want from them. They are smart, they play the whole game, and they do their play.

Q. Your farm system has already helped you in the trademark of having prospects to deal, Milledge comes up in every rumor out there, if he's still with you in February, what kind of upside do you see in having him? What role do you think you need to have down the road?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I think with him, I haven't seen him play a lot really. I saw him a little bit last spinning. I'm looking forward to seeing him in Spring Training a lot more. Depends on how quick he comes. And I love prospects, I love young players, but that's just talk. I've seen a lot of great young players come through and sometimes organizations inflate the value of them talking them up just for that reason. I'm excited about him. I hear he has really good skills. He's young, I love youth and young players and I'm looking forward to the spring.

Q. How does a guy deal with all of that talk before he even really arrives?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Hopefully he's a solid kid and he won't get into all of what he hears. The bottom line is that he's still got to go out and show what he can do. Hype is one thing, but I would hope that he's solid enough not to fall into all of that stuff. I don't really know him personally but from what I hear he's a pretty good kid.

Q. I don't imagine you've seen Solara, but if he does well in the spring, maybe competing for a spot?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: What I'm hearing, I hear he has pretty good stuff. I've seen him before, but with him I think he needs to build up, build his arm strength or stamina or be in better shape. He has not pitched a whole lot lately and I think it might be rushing a little bit, possibly try to get him into Spring Training and get him ready for the first part of the spring. If he comes quick, yeah, I hear he has good stuff and he's been in serious competition before. Another arm gives more depth and that's good to hear but I would caution to think that we're going to rush him through Spring Training. If he's ready in the season, that's just as good or if he starts out at AAA, that's just as good.

Q. Yates or Moreno, are they still around?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I get reports on them but just progress reports and they are coming along better. Those guys were obviously out all last year, so we'll take a good look at them in Spring Training and see where they are physically.

Q. Based on the fact that everyone in your division has lost at least one significant player, do you think that right now you should be considered the favorite in the division?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I don't really look at stuff like that. I mean, that's just kind of rotisserie stuff or whatever. I still think the Braves are the team that you have to beat, and until we do it, putting things on paper in the off-season and feel like -- it's funny, the Braves are a perfect example. They always seem to get knocked down a little bit but then they come back and win. That's why I don't buy or subscribe to that theory or whatever.
Teams have a way to regroup, rebound, they find players, players step up, out of the blue, that you don't know.
Yeah, we've done more than some teams have done. Some teams in our division are seemingly weaker because you take a guy like Billy Wagner away, he's going to affect you, you take a team like the Marlins who probably were in the World Series a couple of years ago and they are weaker. You know it's like the Nationals last year, they gave us fits and they gave a lot of teams fits when other people thought they would just be an expansion team and flounder around and get beaten up all year. I like what we're doing but you have to play the game.

Q. Do you sense there's more changes?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I think this year is important to have a strong -- I've always believed in a strong bench but I think we really have to make sure we put some more pieces of the puzzle on our bench. Can't have enough team depth. I like to play a lot of guys, I like to give my guys rest and that's why I think we need to add some more pieces. Don't have to be big names or anything like that. It can be guys who are willing to sacrifice and play the game for his teammates.
We're not finished but I think what we're going to do more than anything is concentrate on some of the smaller pieces.

Q. Omar acknowledged that Offerman is a possible fit as the pinch-hitter. Would you like to have him?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Did he an okay job for us last year. He's one of those guys who understands his role off the bench. If we don't see anybody that can give us more versatility, you know, he's a guy we might bring back. He didn't play too much on the field last year but I like my guys to be a little more rounded, but I like him.

Q. Is there certain positions you want to see him play, like short and third?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, ideally, infielder, outfielder, we have Woody to back up Jose, and Jose Valentin, another guy who can play in different positions and stuff. You like to have guys who you can reverse a little bit. Sometime you need guys that are just going to come off the bench and pinch-hit for you. We didn't have a guy last year who can play all three outfield positions with speed, which is an added dimension and plays right into what we want to do. Again, we still might be able to pick up some guys, or competition in Spring Training, someone might just step up. I like the fact that Spring Training is a place where you can try to fight and win a job. Maybe someone is going to come up in Spring Training and say, look at me.

Q. Last year, of all of the things that you've done this winter and other teams have lost in the division, would you expect to win the division?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I expect to win every year. That's just me. I know that's not easy and it's not like I'm making a bold prediction. I'm a winner, I'm about winning. When I feel that I can have a team that can compete, obviously we have a legitimate chance to compete, then I expect to win. But we'll see. We'll see when we get rolling or whatever. It's like everybody else, start from scratch. You know, I've been on a lot of teams that expect to win.

Q. Do you think you guys should be, looking at the roster, be the favorite to win?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: No. The Braves are still the favorites. I said that a second ago. The Braves, until you knock them off, they are still the favorites. They have a lot of talent and they always find a way to stay right in the mix. I would not be surprised in the next couple of days they come up with a blockbuster deal and everybody thinks they are laying in the weeds and then boom, they have done it for years.

Q. Do you know something?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: No, I don't. But I know from watching them over the years, that's how they operate sometimes. They are a great organization and they get ready to play every year.

Q. Last year when even moments when Reyes were enjoying some real good success, you always caution to be patient with young players because there will be growing pains. But now with full seasons under their belt, how much does the approach change to where you can begin to expect certain things and you can take the gloves off a little bit?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I don't think I've tried to treat them with kid gloves or anything. You're a little more -- you tolerate it a little bit more when young players come in for the first time and really getting their feet wet. After a year and showing they can handle themselves. I've said sometimes, he's young, he's growing, but after a while, the mistakes you've made or things you've gotten away with as a rookie, it's time to throw that away. It's time to get the job done and learn from your experiences and stuff.
I like the fact that they have got a good year under their belt and they both show they can handle playing every day. I think they are going to get better. But I try not to treat my young players like babies. I might understand what they are going through, but there comes a point in time again where it's like, listen you're not a rookie anymore, it's time to be consistent with what you're doing and step up as leaders on the team. We'll be ready to go. I have high expectations from all of my players and it's going to be the same with the young players, too.

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