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December 6, 2006
Q. Are you hoping to get some additions or subtractions by the end of this week?
CHARLIE MANUEL: We haven't got anything done yet. We're trying. Of course, yeah, we want to get better. We want to improve our team.
Q. How optimistic are you?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I feel like I don't know if we'll get something done here, but I think we'll lead into getting something done before the winter is over, before December or mid-January is over.
Q. Do you think you're better right now than you ended?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I don't know. Oh, yeah, I think our rotation is a little bit better. I think what we got, we've got a consistent rotation. It's very serviceable. Like last year when the season started, of course we got a couple young guys in our rotation and they were unproven, and I think adding Eaton and Moyer, I think that definitely gives us five pretty good starters.
Q. A year ago when the Mets made all the big moves, people were picking them to win it, you said, let's see how it plays out on the field, let's see what kind of chemistry they have, and now you saw that the chemistry paid off, they were by far the best team in the division for sure. Based on that, now there's talk that they may go out and get Zito. Do you think you guys have to make some big moves to catch up with the Mets? Is that the goal, to be as good as the Mets? Or do you say, the Mets didn't get to the World Series, we don't have to be as talented as the Mets?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think they had the best team in our division last year and I think they did have the most talent. I think our ballclub, especially when we came position-wise, Howard, Utley and Jimmy Rollins and I like how Hal Victorino has come along. I felt like we've gotten stronger and we've got more experience with Ut and Howard and Victorino and I think it makes our team better, but I think overall on the field-wise they have more experience and they have more depth and they've got more talent than we've got overall.
But at the same time I think they've got a problem with starting pitching. I haven't heard a whole lot about what they're doing or nothing, but I look for them to come off and make a big move here sooner or later. I think if they want to upgrade their pitching, then I think that they've got some of those guys who are out there in sight. I think some of the big pitchers left, and I think definitely they've been quiet and I think they might play on them.
Q. Have you seen enough track record on Victorino to think he can be a 162 guy?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I don't know about 162 because I think the way he plays, he plays a lot like Utley. Mentally and physically really goes all-out in a game, and I think I that's one of the biggest questions I asked myself, if he can play 162 games. I think right now you'd probably look at him playing 135, 140.
Q. So with that question mark, is trading Rowand, would that be a mistake in your mind?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I don't know. I look at that as first of all, I really like Rowand. I like everything about him. I like how he plays. I like what he brings to our club and our clubhouse as far as an attitude standpoint. I think he's one of the premier gamers in baseball. By all means I want to keep Rowand.
But going back to improving our ballclub, the things that we might have to do, I think when you talk about trading Rowand, then to me like we've got to get somebody that's really going to make us better.
Q. If both players are there, have you considered making Victorino the center fielder and Rowand --
CHARLIE MANUEL: As I look at it right now, I would say I love Victorino in right because of his arm and the fact that I saw him and he was catching all those foul balls up along the first base side that they don't hit in the stands, I think to me that really showed up. The reason I would probably like him is the fact that the angles that Rowand runs in center field, he's a guy that cuts down left to right, and the angles that he takes, he takes shorter, quicker routes to the ball because he is a prototype center fielder, although Victorino is a little faster, this guy knows how to play center field. They hit a line drive, it looks like it's going to fall in for a hit and he gets underneath it. That just shows he gets a good jump on a ball and knows how to play. That's what was making our defense better last year. But at the same time Victorino can definitely play center field, and on some he would play center field for us some, yes.
Q. You were asked if you think your team has improved, and you, I think, answered if you think it's improved from the beginning of last season until now. Do you think it's improved from the end of last season until now?
CHARLIE MANUEL: From when the season ended until now?
Q. Do you think you're a better team now than at the end of the season?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think our rotation is better. I think our bullpen, we've still got to address our bullpen. For me we need two pieces, two good pieces.
Q. Pat said yesterday that their No. 1 need is another hitter, then he added that he wanted to get a big bullpen piece, too. Do you agree that you need to get another hitter?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I listened to him, and I think yeah, we could definitely use a better hitter any time as far as that goes. But to me, like I've seen this now for the last two years, I think the pitching part becomes more important than what we need.
I look at it this way, and I kind of challenge myself and Milt Thompson, I think I know a lot about hitting, and I think that hitting is one of my fortes and I think that we can -- we're going to work and develop some guy. Whether that would be to improve Burrell or Rowand or Helms, I think that hitter is going to come from somewhere.
I look at our ballclub last year, and I think of the fact that baseball is kind of funny at times, and when you see a Chris Coste come out of AAA baseball and step right in and hit what he hit for us, .328 or something, and he did a heck of a job the last part of the season, I think we found a guy that actually did it for us, catching the last part of the season.
I'm very positive and optimistic about things, and I think the pitching is more important to us right now than the hitting.
Q. You changed the team chemistry or the team chemistry changed a lot last year with some of the older guys leaving, and the team seemed to play better after the changes. Do you think that the chemistry, there's still some guys that need to go to get this thing completely turned around or in your mind the changes that were made last year were sufficient?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think some of the changes that we made, I think right now -- I love our chemistry. I like our chemistry and I think the fact that we do have Utley and Howard and Victorino and those guys like that and Rowand. We were talking about guys who really love to play baseball. I think Jimmy Rollins definitely in the last two years, he's kind of -- like he fits right in there with them because he's exciting now. I think the fact that we put really some exciting players with him and energy guys, I think he comes right into the fold.
I think that we've got what I call now a very mental aggressive ballclub, and I'd like to keep it that way. I think some of the players that we had, veteran players I think that had been there a long time, and it was better for some of them to move. I think that definitely the way we think and our attitude and the our chemistry is much better than it was two years ago.
Q. Are you confident that you can improve this ballclub, and if not, can you win?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think when the season starts out, you always think you can win. Probably even if I didn't think that I wouldn't tell you we couldn't. It doesn't matter. Like when the season starts, I'm thinking about winning.
Q. Can you win with this cast of characters in the bullpen?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think we've definitely got to improve our bullpen. For us to beat the Mets or compete with the Mets, I think we definitely have to improve our bullpen.
Q. Are you confident you can do that as your talks are going right now?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think we're going to have to make some of the moves that we're talking about to do it. I think the pitching part, I think if you look from a ballclub is set offensively in some ways, yeah, we could use that big hitter. But at the same time, like I said, we're going to find -- I'm positive that we can find that big hitter.
But the pitching, I want us to have a better bullpen.
Q. And that big hitter could come from within?
CHARLIE MANUEL: Yes, without a doubt.
Q. Why are you confident now that you can rehabilitate Pat Burrell when efforts to that extent have failed in the past?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think if we had the Pat Burrell that -- the only thing about his hitting last year was he was kind of inconsistent. I think two years ago he was very consistent. I think if we get that consistency back, and that's kind of how baseball runs. It's hard to sit there and explain sometimes to someone about the game.
You play 162 games. Sometimes a guy, he hits .313 with runners in scoring position two years ago and he hit .228 last year. He might bounce back this year and hit .340 or something this year. It gives you stuff to write about, but at the same time that's the way it's played.
If we get him back to where he was, I think we can live with that. If Pat Burrell, he hit 29 homers, I know you guys know the stats but he hits 35 homers and .270 and knocks in 117 runs, yeah, that'll play. That'll be okay. I can live with that. That would be good.
Q. He might have gotten there this year if he didn't sit 17 times in the second half.
CHARLIE MANUEL: Right.
Q. What did you see in the second half that made you sit him so frequently?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think I know Pat, and I think I know -- and I think that's one of my better traits is the fact that I communicate with my players and I know them and I kind of have a feel for when to rest them and when not to, and when someone is struggling or I think is going bad and it's time to give him a day off or two, as a manager I choose to do that. Don't get me wrong, Pat Burrell wants to play every day, and the fact that I will take him out of the game in the seventh inning sometimes with defense, and I've said over and over, if he can run -- if he gets to the point where he can run as good as he did two or three years ago, he'll stay in the game longer. But that probably took 100 at-bats away from him, and as far as his production that probably hurt him in some ways. He would have probably hit anywhere from four, five, six, more homers if he had those 100-some at-bats and he would have knocked in probably another 15, 20 runs.
Q. But there were a number of times you didn't start him. That has nothing to do with late game defense.
CHARLIE MANUEL: I felt like it was time to sit him down, from a mental standpoint give him time to think. If you take 162 games and the guy rests 15 or 17 games, that's not really all that bad. I've seen sometimes where I would like to rest Utley or Howard or something like that, although last year Howard was pretty durable, but from a mental and a getting tired thing, I think Utley, sometimes he needs a blow every now and again. To rest him 17 games would be a lot, but Pat I think there comes times when you had to sit him down.
Q. You touched again on Pat's foot. Gillick said yesterday he thinks maybe concerns about his foot are overblown a little bit, that maybe it's not going to be a problem. Are you convinced of that or do you need to see something from Pat in Spring Training to convince you of it?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I need to see things -- how he's running.
Q. Going back to the pitching for just a second, you obviously knew coming into the off-season you need pitching, and at the start of the off-season there's X number of pitchers out there, and now a lot of those are off the board, so how concerning does it get to you as you see these pitchers going elsewhere that you might have been interested in?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think the ones that we were interested in, yeah -- like when you don't get some of them -- once you don't get a guy, then you go down to the next number, and you keep going down the totem pole, and pretty soon you're down at the end (laughter), and that's not good.
But at the same time, it's hard to explain because you get guys -- like you can find guys sometimes, like in this game they talk about lightning in a bottle. Every now and again if a guy has got some potential, all of a sudden he'll break through and he'll pitch pretty good for you. That's kind of always out there.
But right now starting out, if you look, we've got Gordon and Mathieson and Geary and Smith and possibly Fabio Castro. So to me like we need back end help and we need eighth inning and somebody that also can take some relief off of Flash and close out some games for us.
Q. I guess Geary was kind of that breakout guy for you last year. Do you see a guy within the organization you can plug into a spot in the bullpen who can be a breakout guy or do you have to find guys from outside to put in those two spots?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think from what I know we've got, I think we've got to find it somewhere else.
Q. Mathieson can't do it like he did two years ago?
CHARLIE MANUEL: No.
Q. What happened there, just confidence?
CHARLIE MANUEL: Did you say two years ago?
CHARLIE MANUEL: Mathieson, I managed there two years --
Q. Three years ago.
CHARLIE MANUEL: From the time I've been there Mathieson, it's been kind of tough for him. He's been inconsistent. I think he has the talent and the ability to do it, I think it's just a matter of him -- more preparation, more study and stuff like that and getting it done.
Q. Who would be a favorite if you had to go into the season right now?
CHARLIE MANUEL: He would be the favorite, yes, him or Geary.
Q. Did it hurt him last year to bounce -- I know you had to in some cases move him from the rotation from the bullpen and back to the rotation, but did that hurt him at all in terms of his preparation or how he performed?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think it did to a certain extent. I said going into Spring Training last year I wanted to give him a role and keep him there and I didn't want to bounce him around, and that's exactly what happened. We got to a point where we had to bounce him around. I keep hearing people say -- believe me, I've heard it said now for two years, this guy, he belongs in the bullpen, he belongs in the bullpen, he belongs in the bullpen. Well, I've kept him in the bullpen and I like him. I think he has a lot of ability, I think he has the talent to do the job.
But we're looking for somebody that -- we need some consistency. I think down the stretch the last two years actually I think that's really cost us. I think at the end of the year the eight out of ten games that we lost from the sixth inning to the eighth, I don't know exactly the stats, but I know that we kind of gave away some games.
Q. I know the free agent signing period began the Soriano, Justin Speier, maybe a couple other relievers and some of them went quick at high dollars. Do you think maybe the organization miscalculated what the market would be this winter and that caught you offguard and it's hurt you guys as far as being able to improve?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I don't think that we misread the market. I think what we did, we -- those guys out there that we know, I think we had a number in mind for those guys, what we could spend or basically what we wanted to spend on them. It wasn't like we were trying to get them cheap or nothing. I think we knew the chance of the market -- like when somebody gets a tremendous contract, it seems like that jumps everybody else up, relief pitching or starting pitching, and that's kind of what's happened to the market.
Q. As a manager of a big market team, though, I know it's not your money to spend. How disappointing was that to see Soriano, who a lot of people wanted here, and guys like Speier, how disappointing is it for you to see names going off the board and now you're going to get whatever is left over where you have to give up players to fill those needs?
CHARLIE MANUEL: Well, we were in a position where, like we feel like we have to win. If we're in a position where we have to win, of course I'm sure that we want to put the best team possible we can on the field. So talent still prevails.
I can recall La Russa when we won the World Series, he said give me good players. He said, "The talent makes the manager." I've always told you guys that, I'm only as good as my players, players do the playing. We need the best possible players that we can get. I shouldn't say possible players we can get; we need the players that -- that's how we're going to win is to have the talent to match up with the Mets.
Q. Speaking of consistency and getting guys back on track and getting in your rotation, Jon Lieber is a guy that certainly had an up-and-down year, got hurt and was okay in the second half. Are there concerns about what you need to see from him next year? Are you worried about what you might get out of him?
CHARLIE MANUEL: We've got to get a solid season out of him. We have to. Lieber is going to play a role in how many games we're going to win in our club because he's still one of our main pitchers in our bullpen. We need for Jon to step up and have a Lieber year and win us anywhere from 15, 16 ballgames. Any time we have some slack in our rotation, that puts more stress on our bullpen, and when we do that, that's kind of what averages out your pitching staff.
Q. As a veteran, though, when you struggle like that, and there are obviously whispers about his conditioning and rumors, do you think a veteran kind of has to do it himself? Burrell you might be able to help him with your hitting knowledge, but as a pitcher do you think he kind of needs to get that under control?
CHARLIE MANUEL: No. I think any time that you struggle, people look for a reason. They want to find out the reason, the manager, the pitching coach, the media, the public, general manager, the organization. So therefore if you look and you see somebody whose condition is not good, then that'll come up, and if you see somebody whose velocity is down, you start looking for the reason. Is it the conditioning or is he hurt or whatever. I think those are the things that happen.
I think any time somebody is struggling, of course you find ways to fix it or basically getting him back to where he should be. And I think that's what happens, and if you're not playing up to par or struggling, then there's always going to be talk about you and there's always going to be remarks and there's always going to be somebody who makes suggestions and has ideas and things, and that's kind of how it goes.
Q. Do you think his conditioning was poor?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think at times Jon's conditioning, yeah, I think his conditioning -- he could have been definitely -- had better conditioning, yes.
Q. Did you give him a program in the off-season? Did you give him an off-season program?
CHARLIE MANUEL: Yeah, we've talked to him two or three times, and he's on a program and doing some things, but his biggest thing is his conditioning program mostly is like in a weight room or doing a treadmill underwater and stuff because of his knees, and that's as far as his -- that's a big thing of his conditioning. It's hard for him to run hard outside and stuff because of his knees. He has never done that.
Q. Did you see the comments that Dallas said about Burrell, that he needs to maybe focus more on baseball, he's sent him notes to the clubhouse saying he's 30 years old, it's time to grow up, maybe stop going out so late and being a party guy, that he has a responsibility? Do you agree at all that Pat needs to maybe focus more on being a baseball player and less on living the glamorous life that money can bring?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think it's something that -- how I feel about that or something that I think I should talk to Pat about that. I don't know, I didn't see that. Really, I did not see it. But at the same time, I think in baseball there is a maturity stage as a player. A lot of times taking care of yourself is part of it, but at the same time I look at Pat, he's the first guy at the ballpark. He's one of the first guys at the ballpark, and he definitely stays out late at night sometimes. I mean, most of the time. Some of those other guys like Utley or Gordon or somebody like that will stay longer, but it's not like he just comes real early and leaves real early. I mean, he spends his time at the ballpark. I go back there, I see him, I throw to him every day in the cage early, and he definitely puts a lot of time in.
I didn't see the remarks he made or nothing like that, but at the same time I think --
Q. I guess some people think that this guy has superstar talent and was a guy that was going to be putting up numbers like Howard, and that first year, the 37 homerun season and people haven't really seen -- although he has had some numbers at times, maybe expectations are greater for him because he's a big guy that was the first overall pick. Is maybe Pat what he was last year, or do you think this guy should be somebody that should be a 45, 50 homerun guy like Howard?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think two years ago I think he had a very solid year for us because he did hit better with guys in scoring position and in the clutch and things. But I look at him, and what's wrong with somebody being a .270 or .280 with 35 homers and 120 RBIs. That's a pretty good player, too. It's not like -- I mean, that's more of what I'm trying to say. That is more than an average Major League Baseball player. That's going to put him -- like he tied Pujols for the ribbies that year in the National League, and his homers will probably get him in the top 15, so he is in the higher echelon of production that way.
How do you grade him out, just because Howard hits more homers? Pat Burrell hit .300 -- every time I talk to him, I talk to him about hitting .300 because he'll hit 35 or 40 homers. He's not a .300 hitter until he proves he can do that.
CHARLIE MANUEL: Any time that you take three strikes or take a third strike, I want Pat swinging the bat. He takes a lot of called strike threes, and that shows that the ball gets up on him quick or whatever, but at the same time those are things that he definitely can improve on.
Q. Has he played up to his potential to this point, or has he been an underachieving? He's putting up numbers but clearly people are disappointed in what he's done?
CHARLIE MANUEL: That's kind of what the game is all about. Everybody can't hit 40 or 50 homers. Like when somebody projects you to hit -- for me if I sit down -- I've told you guys before about Howard. I said Howard is capable of hitting .300 one of these years. He had .300 this year. And probably somewhere along the line somebody probably said Burrell is going to hit 40 or 50 homers, but until he hits them, then you'll get more of a grading position for him. I think that's what kind of makes the player and that's what kind of makes the longevity player. Eddie Murray never hit 45 homers but he hit homers in his career. He's sitting right in that area. Maybe Pat is a .270, .280 hitter but what's wrong with that?
Q. Having finished the game off the last two, three years do you tell the team anything different in Spring Training about getting out quick?
CHARLIE MANUEL: Of course.
Q. Will you tell them that?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I tell them that. I told them that two years ago from -- the first game counts as much as the last and we've got to be prepared and we've got to come out ready to play. Really, I've been preaching that for the last two years. At the same time, I mean, going into Spring Training, I want us to definitely -- that's a big thing about it is being ready and prepared when we come out of the gate.
Q. Will Spring Training be any different?
CHARLIE MANUEL: I think we'll do some things as far as like extra work and early and late and take individuals and work with them on weaknesses more than probably before. Those are things that probably kind of require.
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