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December 5, 2006

Willie Randolph


Q. How would you summarize the winter so far?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: It's ongoing. There's not much going on right now. We obviously picked up Valentin and been a couple of -- they might sound like minor trades, but picking up Johnson and excited about the Vargas kid, which should help us a little bit. I don't really look at the big picture until we go to Spring Training. But we'll continue to work and try to strengthen our team any way we can and just move forward. Everybody is looking for pitching, pitching, pitching. We're no different than anyone else. Keep moving forward.

Q. How do you feel about the rotation at this point?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Since we have a long way to go, it's not really fair for me to even evaluate it right now. Obviously I feel like we're going to do more, so I'll give you a better answer later on when we do this. But I'm the type of person that I always feel good about my team, and it's pretty obvious that last year with all the injuries we had, I didn't react or overreact to what we didn't have. If we started the season right now with what we have, we'd go out there and play. That's the way my team always approaches it. I feel good about our pitching, and hopefully we'll get stronger.

Q. Does John Maine and Oliver Perez get a head start in the rotation race because of their postseason performance?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, what do you mean "head start"?

Q. Do they have some special kind of -- because they performed well, would you look more favorably towards them?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: No, everyone comes to Spring Training competing for a job. That's the way I look at it. They did a nice job for us last year. I'm proud of them helping us accomplish get to where we finished up. But there's no one on my team, unless you're one of the real big boys, that think they can come to Spring Training and have a job just because they pitched well last year.
I appreciate what they did but they need to work hard in Spring Training and get strong and compete for a job. If they continue to progress and do a good job, obviously they have an upper hand because they've shown what they can do. By no means because they won a couple games in September can they pencil themselves in for a starting job. That's not how it worked.

Q. You're always going to dip into young guys when you have injuries in the rotation. What do you want to see from guys like Humber, Pelfrey?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, just step up. I appreciate young players and young pitchers in general, so I'm not afraid to give them an opportunity to compete for a job. Like I said earlier, they have to come in and work hard this off-season and come to Spring Training looking to take a job, and if they show they want to be on this ballclub and be a part of it, then that's even better for us. The quicker we can get young talent in the mix and get them comfortable with the league and just starting their careers, the better for us, good young arms in Humber and Pelfrey and same thing with Maine and Oliver and young players. We're hoping that Bannister can step up. He had a rough year last year after he got hurt. I'm still very high on him.
It's nice to have some depth and have some of the young players come out and go after the opportunity and just grab it. That's really what I want to do is have good competition in Spring Training.

Q. What's your concern level, if there is any, on your bullpen right now?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I feel real good about my bullpen. I'm not concerned about too much this time of year. Sanchez should be back strong and Aaron is still one of the better setup guys in the game, and Feliciano should be back. Hopefully we can sign Mota back.
We've had some additions and put some guys in there that are going to step up for us hopefully. Atkins might be able to help us out a little bit. And then some of the kids who got a taste last year - Padilla, another guy we don't talk much about but he's going to be healthy at Spring Training. Everyone is in the mix, everyone is in the pool. But my bullpen is something that I still feel real good about, one of our strengths from last year, and I don't anticipate -- we'll continue to add onto that.

Q. How about Bradford who did so well for you last year? I think it's kind of a surprising he got a three-year deal from Baltimore. Is that a hole you weren't expecting to fill?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Chad did a tremendous job, and obviously they offered him a tremendous contract. You have to kind of look into that and take that. I'm not sure where we were. I think we had two years with him. They gave him three for real nice money, so God bless him. That's great. He did a real nice job for us last year along with Feliciano and other guys in the bullpen. Someone might step up and do better, who knows.
We don't react to guys who are not here. We would love for them to have been here, but we'll continue to pick up, and just like Feliciano stepped up last year, I'm sure that a lot of people -- I think Bradford did a great job for us.

Q. Do you feel you have an in-house option for him?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Yeah, because what happens is people fall out of the tree sometimes. People step up. I'm always very confident in Spring Training that when I speak to my players in the off-season, I challenge them seriously, and when they come into Spring Training I make sure I look them in the eye and let them know, if you want to be a part of this, take it and let's go. I always feel good always about a diamond in the rough, someone who's going to step up and surprise you. That's the meaning of Spring Training.
Bradford, I don't look as it, oh, man, we don't have him. I look at it as he made the choice to go somewhere else, so someone else will step up.

Q. Is there anything active as far as discussions with getting an extension or is that on the back burner?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: We're in the process of talking. I'm focused right now on helping get this team ready for Spring Training. But we're talking to Jeff and hopefully something good will happen.

Q. Have you talked to Milledge at all since the season ended, reached out to him, seen how the off-season is doing?

Q. Is that something you plan to do, connect with to talk about expectations or things you want him to work on this winter?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Not specifically. I'm sure that -- I keep contact with all my players throughout the course of the season even if I just drop them a quick note to see how they're doing. It's not a priority but I'm sure I'll talk to him before Spring Training, and I'll do that with all my players. If I have something to say to them in terms of what I expect, I'll do that. He's not somebody I'll have to call.

Q. What do you want to see him improve on?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Just improve, period. He's a young player, we tend to forget that with him. He got into a situation last year where I think he was kind of overscrutinized, overanalyzed for a young player, and that's just New York, I guess. Milledge still has a lot of skills, a lot of talent. He's still young enough to play the game. He'll come to Spring Training like everyone else, and like I said earlier, compete for a job. There's still openings.
Shawn Green is going to have to come to Spring Training and compete for a job. It's good to have him as one of those real stable guys in our lineup, but so much can happen in Spring Training.
Lastings, I'm still excited about him. I thought he held himself pretty well even though he didn't get a lot of consistent playing time. Floyd got hurt and we waited to kind of speed up his progression a little bit, and I thought he handled himself okay. The thing I love about him, he's young and he's enthusiastic and he's got a lot of upside, so I'm looking forward to seeing him in Spring Training.

Q. What are the challenges for you as a manager next year, sustaining what you as a team achieved this year, to keep it going?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Just that, keep it going, keep working, keep trying to get this team to understand where we want to go long-term and not just the short-term. We need to come in and tweak things offensively and defensively. We had a great year last year, but there's still things I feel like we can improve on. That's where we're going in Spring Training is continuing to get better at our approach and how we play the game, make sure everybody understands what we're trying to do and be on the same page with that and just continue to get after it every day.

Q. Is that something that at some point you're going to have a make at Spring Training?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I always do, and in the off-season, too, I talked to players. It's not anything different from what I've done in the past. I think everybody knows that I'm going to be straight with what I want from them, and we'll move forward, understanding that we still have not reached our goals as far as winning a world championship.

Q. What tweaking do you have to do offensively?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Just in your approach, that's all. I don't mean particular players or having players understand what we're trying to do and totally committing to that everyday approach. If you're going to say -- if you're going to be on a certain team, a certain approach, you have to have guys that understand and guys buy into it and guys that are conducive to what you're trying to do. Just that kind of stuff is what I mean by that. Look at where we were last year and we try to improve on that as we go forward.

Q. What do you look as Valentin as? Do you look at him as a second baseman or is he wide open?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Right now he's my second baseman. The beauty of him is he can play different positions. If we were to do other things possibly, then he's the guy that can play outfield for you, third base, shortstop in a pinch. So he brings a lot of versatility to you, but right now he's my second baseman.

Q. Where are you in terms of naming another coach?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: We're close. A couple more interviews, but we're getting pretty close to narrowing it down. I'm probably going to move Sandy to third base, so we're concentrating on third base right now, but we'll decide probably soon.

Q. Is it likely it's in-house?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, we have candidates in and out, so I don't want to tip my hand on that until I talk to the players about it, but we interviewed guys in and out.

Q. Getting Glavine back, how does that affect you as opposed to getting another pitcher?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: We still want to get pitching and stronger in that area, but it's nice to have Glavine back. It's that comfort and kind of stability that we need right now, especially since Pedro is not going to be back, and not knowing if you're going to land a big fish.
Tommy is still solid for us. He won 15 games. I think he's made some nice adjustments and he'll be better next year if he stays with his approach. It was important to get Tommy back, no doubt about it. If we didn't get him back, we still would have had to have gone out and added on, and when you think about pitching and the list of guys that are out there, there's always the Weavers and the Suppans and guys that you don't think of at this time last year being an impact, but they end up making a tremendous impact.
Having said that, even if we didn't get Tommy we still had to look for pitching and continue to look for pitchers, but having Tommy in our fold, I'm happy for that because I need him to give us that veteran presence.

Q. How much more competitive do you expect the division to be this year?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I think it's going to be competitive and continue to be competitive. You look at the young players on the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, they're not going anywhere. A lot depends on health obviously and who they pick up in the off-season. But everyone has got a chance to get better. Washington, all these teams have young talent and you never know with young talent.
It's going to be a tough division and we look forward to the challenge of getting back into it and see where they stand.

Q. How disappointed are you that you didn't get Manager of the Year? Was there some personal disappointment for you based on the year that you guys had?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Yeah, from an organization, team standpoint, yeah, it was disappointing because I thought we were the best. I thought we deserved that.

Q. Do you think it's underestimated a little bit the kind of job a guy can do? You guys did make it to the last game of the NLCS. Do you think that worked against you because people assumed you had a great team?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: I'm just totally dumbfounded on how it works obviously. All I can do is continue to stay focused on getting this team to where we need to go, and that's really all I can do. You've known me a long time, and I can only try to control things I can control. If we start trying to figure out what the criteria is and why people vote for what they vote for and what they see, that's not my concern. Like I said, I'm proud of where we've come in a short period of time, and again, these types of awards I would accept as a team anyway. The coaches, players, the organization, it's a collective thing.
I feel like we deserved it. It would have been nice, but having said that, we came one hit away from the World Series, and that's really what my main concern is. That's not really who I am or define what I've done. It's always nice to kind of get those props, because it's a way you can talk about what the award means to me.
I was looking forward to giving it up to the Buck O'Neills and the Jackie Robinsons and the Omar Minayas and those type of people, and I wanted to use that platform as a way to talk about that. I can still do it, I guess (laughter), but it would have been nice to stand up in front of a lot of people and give it up to people that deserve that kind of praise. But I'll just have to maybe do it in the future sometime.
Again, like I said, being where we are right now is way more important than any type of personal -- any type of award.

Q. How emotional does the Game Seven loss still rate for you and how daunting a task is it to build the thing up again over the course of a season?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: It's easy. You go through it the first month or so and the season is over and you might reflect a little bit on things, but what I reflect is all positive stuff. It just wasn't meant to be obviously. We didn't get there at the right time. I'm very proud of that. You start over from scratch. You throw it away and leave it alone and learn from experience and get ready for the next one.

Q. You've brought in a number of big name free agents since you took over, Pedro, Beltran, paying the most to get those guys. Do you think now you've established the Mets as a desired place for players to be where maybe you don't have to outbid every other team?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, you know, players gravitate toward winning for the most part. Obviously they want to get the money, too, so obviously that works hand in hand for us. But we've built a certain atmosphere here with the way our club is playing and the way we play and the commitment that management has shown to putting a winner on the field.
Again, I don't know how all that changes. As a manager and as a coach, what do you want to be a part of? Players have choices, and to me New York is the best place in the world to play. I never understood that years ago when players didn't want to come to a certain place. Obviously money is a big motivating factor in that, but if you want to show who you are and be the best and do it in the best place in the world, to me you want to play for the Yankees or the Mets or the Giants or the Jets or someone like that. That's just me.
The fact that we've been competitive, we play well as a team, I'm sure that makes things more attractive for guys to look at us because they say they want to win. The money is nice, too. If you want to be with us, come on, let's go. But if not, go somewhere else. That's the way I look at it.

Q. What's your sales pitch if you have one thing to say to Zito?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: What am I going to say to him? That's his choice. I'm not here to sell Zito on the Mets or anything like that. I would love to have him on staff, but when you get down to business and free agency, I always have respect for my players to do what's best for you and your family. I'm not going to call him up and say, hey, man, you've got to come play for us and this or that. He has an idea of what he wants to do in his mind, but I would love to have him, and I would say you know what, I think this team is going in the right direction, and if you want to be a part of it, we'd love to have you.

Q. What are his strengths as a pitcher? What jumps out at you about what's good about him?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, it's the fact that he's been able to take the ball almost every start he's had in the big leagues. That's huge. That's huge when you can be counted on to answer the bell, give innings, log innings, keep your team in the ballgame. He's one of those -- I won't say he's a horse like a typical horse because he's not an overpowering guy, but he takes the ball and he competes, and he's got enough in his arsenal to win a share of the ballgame.
I've always liked the way he goes about his business. He's the big fish out there and everyone is knocking themselves over trying to get to him, and hopefully he'll look at New York as a place he wants to spend the next four or five years.

Q. Are there any plans to talk to him?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: No, we haven't talked about that.

Q. Do you ever get caught up in money that gets thrown around or do you leave that to Omar? Do you think about where the market goes for pitchers?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, it's kind of surprising when you see some of the numbers being thrown out there. But it's not my money obviously, so I don't really care. It's funny because I find myself -- my mentality is thinking about the big picture, longevity of your organization, but sometimes you get really down to it and it's really about next year, so I've got to kind of catch myself sometimes, and go, you know what, if we go out and spend for a guy that some people might think is not worth what he's getting, that's fine with me. That's not my bill.
The game is doing well. Obviously it's flourishing. We've got a nice five-year deal, which is the first time in a long time we've had this type of harmony, which means that the game is this big golden egg and everybody is having a good time with it. It's nice to be a player right now.

Q. How much has seven teams playing in the World Series fed into that because everybody seems to have a chance?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: It's good for the game. Obviously the wild cards help that a lot, and the organizations are being patient with that, developing talent and bringing in kids and they're stepping up right away. Obviously college kids are coming up and making an impact right away, so it's great for the game. Everyone has a little piece of the pie and feel good about going into each season, and the fan base can really get behind a team. That just makes the game grow and makes it great for everyone.

Q. The left side of the infield, particularly Jose, the improvements that they made last year, how much better can those guys get?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: There's no telling really how much better they're going to get. They're going to be potentially great players. I'm just always very guarded with throwing out great, superstar, all that stuff. I just know that I like the fact that I have two young, young players who have a chance to really improve each year and it's exciting not just for me, but for Mets fans. They're impact kind of kids, and sometimes -- we have a couple, Beltran, and even though Delgado is a lot older, he's a guy also that should be here for a while. So it's a good feeling, very comfortable, good feeling.

Q. You talk about longevity, for you, too, being here, do you have an opinion on some of the young kids you guys have being talked about, about balancing that, what you need for yourself?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Do I have a good feeling about them?

Q. For you balancing the pieces you need now to win versus protecting those pieces long-term.
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, again, you just never know with young talent whether they're going to take off or just take the bull by the horns, if you will. It's nice to be able to give those guys a taste of it. You still see things you like about these kids. Although Omar is going to have to make a decision on whether he's going to keep guys or trade them, you still like the fact that they're here because if they're not being traded they're going to be traded for something that's an asset to your club, and if not they have a chance to be part of your future.
I'm excited about not just the top-level guys, but we have some young kids, Gomez and Martinez and those kids coming up in the system, probably more excited about that because they have great speed and they're young and enthusiastic which plays in what we're trying to do here.
You hope ideally you can hold onto your chips, your blue chippers, but that's why you have them, so you can have them ready to move if you have to, but hopefully you can hold onto them so they can show what they're going to do for your organization. I'm excited about the young pitching and young players in general. We have nice kids coming up, and it's a matter of how fast they can take over.

Q. Where Milledge is concerned in a city like New York, the expectations that are heaped on him, how realistic is it that he lives up to some of them as soon as this year, and how quick or how long is the trip from expectations to the point where he reaches his full potential, whatever that is?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: That's a great question, but to me, I don't know how to answer that because I don't get into all that. He's a young player, 21 years old, got a long way to go. He doesn't need to listen to the hype and what people say about him because that's just talk. He needs to find his own way, and he will.
But I don't talk to him about stuff like that, about what people expect from you, what they expect you to do. When you play for me you have to play a team game, so it's not about what the people say about you, it's about playing winning baseball. He's young, he's growing. I'm looking forward to seeing him next spring and seeing how he's actually matured a little bit since last year as far as his physical being. He's working hard this winter to get stronger and better.
But as far as all the other stuff, expectations and what people think, that means nothing to me. It shouldn't mean anything to him, either.

Q. Can Milledge make your team next year as a role player or does he have to start?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: That's, again, a question that we have to wait and see how things play out. Right now you'd like to see him play as much as you can, but in Spring Training for that question I might give you a different answer. He's probably going to come to Spring Training looking to take a job.

Q. Would you have liked to see him play winter ball?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: No, not necessarily. He's played a lot of ball the last couple years. Sometimes it's best just to rest, rest your body. He's played a lot of baseball the last couple years. He's okay.

Q. That was his call, though, right?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, it might have been a collective call. Omar and Tony and those guys talked to him about that. I'm sure if they wanted him to go, he would have wouldn't have resisted it I don't think, but I didn't talk to him about that. He was on our taxi squad. I didn't get a chance to talk to him when the season was over. Tony could have said, I'm going to shut you down for whatever reason.

Q. Barring some unforeseen injury or something like that, Green is your right fielder?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Yeah, he's the right fielder right now, but he's got to come next spring and solidify that. That's not for me -- right now he's the right fielder, yeah.

Q. Is there any position that's up for grabs or are all the starting positions in your mind have somebody attached to them?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: Well, there's a couple openings. Obviously Valentin is my second baseman but we'll see how that plays out, and Greenie is my right fielder but obviously the competition is there. There's nothing etched in stone unless you're Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes or David Wright or Delgado or Lo Duca or those guys like that. It's always nice to start with an open field if you can. That's the way to look at it. That's what we did last year. For me to say right now that anyone has a definite shot when the obvious guys do, everybody else has to go out and play. Do you think it's fair to say Green, you're the everyday guy, and then he has a really bad spring and Milledge has a great spring? Milledge might end up being my right fielder. He might be platooned with somebody, something like that. Anything can happen.

Q. For a guy like Green or Valentin, it's their position to lose? Is that a way to say it?
WILLIE RANDOLPH: No, not necessarily. I mean, I don't look at it that way. I just look at it as come in there, see where we are, see what we have. It's not fair to say to something that you have a job and if you don't play, you lose. He could have a bad spring, and if I like what I see in him defensively and the way he's approaching the game, he could still be my guy. It's not always a statistical thing and it's not having to hit .300 or .400 to make the ball club. It's what I see the best feel is for my team and the way we balance each other out at the end of the Spring Training. It's way too early to talk about this kind of stuff, man. Are you kidding me?

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