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December 6, 2006

Ned Yost


Q. What do you need to get from here to there, from close almost to --
NED YOST: We are really close right now. We need health. That's what we need. We need J.J. to stay healthy, we need Rickie to stay healthy, we need Benny to stay healthy. But the total pieces are starting to add up to a pretty nice sum right now. So I mean you still can add little pieces, you know, we need a little depth, you know, in our pitching so that we don't have to go 3-17 if two guys get hurt for an extended period of time next year, but you know for the basic pieces, we're really close.
I mean, still thinking real strongly about Billy in the outfield, is he gonna play left, is he gonna play center, it just depends. Not quite sure and that will all kind of work itself out.
You know, basically, we've got a pretty good starting rotation. We got a pretty solid pen and our other nine guys look pretty good. Our catching is the best it's been since I've been this.

Q. What does Estrada bring?
NED YOST: He brings a durable offensive catcher behind the plate, a consistent offensive force behind the plate. And I've seen Johnny for the last couple of years and I think that Johnny should be a perennial All Star-type player. It's hard to find a catcher and this was more last year, there was more of him last year than there has been in years past, but it's hard to find a catcher that can catch, throw and hit and Johnny's big advantage is Johnny's a switch-hitter. He's a solid hitter from both sides and he is a clutch performer.

Q. Did you have a chance to have a cup of coffee with him?
NED YOST: No. We've talked a couple of times on the phone but when we get back home, we will have that.

Q. What are you thinking as you're sitting in that room and Doug is getting calls and it just seems like there's not a lot of action yet?
NED YOST: Thinking there's not a lot of action.

Q. Are you hoping that changes to get some of those pieces that you just talked about?
NED YOST: Just depends if it works out, you know. The problem is you don't really want to really create a hole to fill a hole, so you know, we're working from our strength, which is outfield depth right now and trying to make things work but, you know, there's just nothing going on right now.

Q. Do you look at it as Doug's got to find some kind of deal, at least one before the start of the season?

Q. You could go into the start of the season and feel like we're --
NED YOST: I'm not sitting here thinking right now Doug's got to find us a deal, you know? Again, that stuff will work itself out, it always does. You don't come here and panic and go, oh, we got to make a deal. I like the pieces that we got. You know, we didn't see -- we didn't see the real Kevin Mench last year and I think we will see the real Kevin Mench this year. I think Geoff Jenkins has always been a great player and given us everything that he's had from, you know, every time he steps on the field and he will continue to do that I think he's still got a lot of production left. But, you know, we got young kids like Corey Hart, moving Billy Hall, kids that, you know, fit what we're trying to do and trying to find them more playing time, it's been a bit difficult. So you try to open spots here and open spots there so that can happen.

Q. Hart's performance kind of commands more playing time this season, doesn't it?
NED YOST: Well, his career has gotten him to that point. I mean, he's always had success at every level that he has. And he didn't hurt himself last year the last two months of the season, just getting his feet wet and getting him accelerated in his development process at the major league level. That's what hurt. That's what hurt J.J. and Rickie, you know, Prince has got 600 big league at-bats under his belt last year and really wish you could say the same for Rickie and J.J.. that's a huge amount of development time last year.

Q. What was Prince's biggest move last year?
NED YOST: I don't know if you could say defensively was his biggest. It was my biggest surprise that he was that nimble and that good a defender. You know, he started out solid and faded a little bit at the end but I think a lot of that was the wear and tear of his first major league season and having to really go the distance himself, you know? He didn't have Rickie and J.J. and, you know, those guys in with him. So he was trying to carry the young guy load, you know, by himself.

Q. Did he have to learn how to play in September? I mean, did he have to deal with fatigue issues?
NED YOST: I think a little bit. I think that you don't really learn how to play, you just experience it for the first time so that you know what coming into next year, he's done it, he knows what it's like and it's a good experience for him to be able to do that to get to that September and that late September, playing every single day at the major league level.

Q. What is the key to keeping Ben Sheets healthy?
NED YOST: Man, tell me.

Q. I mean, does it get him down? It seems like --
NED YOST: Yeah, it gets him down a little bit but you know, he's working real hard right now and he's always -- from when I first got here, he's always had issues. He's had issues with his back and he got that resolved and then the fluke -- yeah, what was that back there, his trap or his -- his lat. Yeah, tore his lat and there wasn't a lot of history on rehabbing an injury like that so we kind of had to go into that a little bit blind, but he has recovered from that and second half of the year, last year the last six, seven weeks, he was back to being healthy again.
So but, you know, it really affected his spring, set him back, affected his spring because there were so many things he had never experienced in something like that we didn't know what to tell him, what to feel. You know it felt strange and, you know, he kind of popped some adhesions back there and that scared him to death and then he started feeling better and then he had the tendinitis, because what happens, muscles are learning -- new muscles are learning how to function because that late when it was set here, you know, all his muscles worked together but when it pulled off, it set back here, different now, all of a sudden, the muscles are relearning and you put more pain on this one now because this one is shorter, you know. The last six weeks of the season everything got strong and got healthy and started throwing the ball good again.
So he will have a full winter to rehab and get himself in shape that he didn't last year and coming into camp, ready to go so this is a big year for Ben.

Q. As you guys found out last year when Ohka and Sheets went down for a long period that you didn't have the starting pitching depth that you had, the guys from AAA mostly failed and it really hurt the team bad and put you behind the eight ball. Now you even have less at this point than you had, I think since Tomo is not in your pitching staff right now. How important is it for you guys to go and get more starting pitching before spring training?
NED YOST: I think we are always looking. I think every club will tell you that but you know we've got one pretty good option, Cordero is getting real close, you know, being available for us in those situations. But Doug is, you know, still on the lookout for starting pitchers, so we do have that depth, and you do have that coverage in case that happens again because that was, you know, that really threw us behind the eight ball. We went 3-17.

Q. 6-17.
NED YOST: 6-17.

Q. In those 20 times you missed those two guys, so that's minus 11.

Q. Trying to fill those two spots, shows you how important pitching depth can be. How do you feel about Villanueva?
NED YOST: Right in the mix.

Q. You've been around long enough to know that sometimes September games can fool you and that's when he mostly looked really good but did you get a long enough look at him like early in the year and to see what he's like?
NED YOST: You know, all that kind of stopped when he got there. You know, we threw him out that first time, that first time that he pitched two innings scoreless and then we started him again, threw a six-inning shutout, six shutout innings against Cincinnati and Jackson came up and kind of gave us some relief from our free-fall in those two spots, so, he really kind of settled them down. When we brought them back in September, of course, he was as good as anybody in the league.
I thought his big test was coming when he pitched -- matched up against Suppan at home and shut out the Cardinals and won that game, I think 1-0 and then five, six, seven days later, he matched up against Cardinals again in a must-win situation with the Cardinals the last day of the year, when they had to win that game, you know, Houston had to win. I mean, that was a huge game for him. And you know, I was really interested to see how he would rebound, a club like that had seen him seven days earlier, so it's not like they are not seeing the kid for the first time. They've seen him. They know what to expect. He matched up and shut them out again until the ninth inning and gave up the home run to Pujols.

Q. You've seen enough of him to feel comfortable that he would be a good candidate for a job?
NED YOST: Yeah, but he's in the mix. He comes to spring training and he's in the mix for that probably that fifth spot.

Q. The first three, what set is your rotation?
NED YOST: Sheets, Capuano, Bush and --
Q. Okay.
NED YOST: Vargas.

Q. With Cordero, are you talking long-term or maybe talking about bringing him into spring training?
NED YOST: I think it is still to be decided but we do know that he's getting close, so if we do run into problems again that we do include him on that list of depth. You know, he was in A ball last year and it will be hard to -- we reached down to AA for Villanueva.

Q. One thing you really lost is a lot of innings with Davis, so I mean --
NED YOST: We gained 173 at-bats with Vargas.

Q. So you feel okay with that exchange?
NED YOST: Yeah. Yeah, I thought that helped us a lot, getting a starting pitcher for Doug plus an All Star-type quality guy.

Q. How will you guys decide if Billy Hall is a left fielder or a center fielder or a right fielder?
NED YOST: It depends if we can get a center fielder. If we can get a more established, experienced guy to play center field then we will probably put Billy in left. And if we can't, there's still some debate, you know, if Billy likes center, I think Billy can handle center field.

Q. Would the perfect guy be a leadoff-type hitter that can play center field?
NED YOST: Right.

Q. Right now you were stuck where you were the last couple of years, trying to mix and match?
NED YOST: Right. Yep.

Q. Are you willing to let that go all the way to spring training?
NED YOST: Yeah, I want Billy set the first day of spring training. I don't want to be moving Billy from left to center to right. When we get to spring training, when Billy walks through that door the first time, I want him set in a position so we can take the entire spring to work with him for him to get him healthy.

Q. So somehow before day one of spring training, you have got to figure that out?
NED YOST: Yeah, plenty of time, not panicked or in a hurry.

Q. He can play?
NED YOST: It is a new position for him, but he has played out there four or five times, played out there four or five times, so he look likes a natural out there, so I don't expect it to be a huge learning curve but he's just getting comfortable in the position. He is so athletic that he is a kid that can handle that. And I think work hard to get to be an average or above-average outfielder, either at center or left field.

Q. You ever seen anybody who was more versatile than that, in your experience?
NED YOST: There's guys that are more versatile but not as successful and don't have the talent, the ability that he has. I mean, a lot of guys have to be versatile and can fill in. Billy, you can play Billy, I literally think that you could play Billy at third every day, you could play Billy at short every day, could you play Billy at second every day, you could play Billy in left, center or right every single day. The tough part is just deciding which position do you want to put him at and you do that by the makeup of your team. I mean, if we didn't have a young J.J. Hardy, I'm sure Billy would be playing shortstop.

Q. A lot of people ask me, you guys have so many outfielders on your roster and you had a shortstop that hit 35 home runs, 85 runs and the other guy is injury-prone, why would you even move Billy Hall from short to --
NED YOST: Because we think it makes us a better team.

Q. For what position?
NED YOST: Because you've got a young shortstop that you can control his destiny for the next couple of years and you've got a kid in Billy Hall that is capable of moving to another position. We think J.J.'s gonna be a good player, so, I mean, what do you do with J.J.? You got two good players instead of one good player. You try to put as much athleticism, as many good, talented players on your team as you can.

Q. So marshalling your resources?
NED YOST: Exactly.

Q. What are they telling you about Hardy and Weeks and Koskie?
NED YOST: They are all doing fine. I've seen J.J., I saw J.J. a couple weeks ago when he went to Arizona, put on about 12 pounds, he looked strong, he looked healthy. Rickie is going to be fine, will start working out in January. He is right on schedule and Koskie is making progress.

Q. And Koskie is he doing anything?
NED YOST: Starting to do light workouts, he has been cleared to do light workouts. And I got a message from him the other day and said he is feeling much, much better and starting light workouts.

Q. That's one guy you're putting a lot of stock in coming back healthy?
NED YOST: Well, we really got our fingers crossed to hope he does.

Q. Did Rickie come in here and see you guys?
NED YOST: Haven't seen him. We have been in meetings.

Q. Because he lives here.

Q. Doug put an offer out to Cirillo last night, if he accepts and then Graffanino accepts arbitration tomorrow, you'll have, at least for the immediate present, you'll have three backup infielders on your roster. Can you keep all three or would somebody have to go?
NED YOST: Again, that will all work itself out. I think we could keep all three. Cirillo is -- you got durability and flexibility with all of those guys. Counsell can play shortstop, he can play third, he can play second. Graff can play second, can play some short. Counsell's better at short and plays a solid second base, Graff can move to the outfield and has played some in the outfield, a double-switch situations and Cirillo can play first and third.

Q. I was just wondering on the 25-man roster if there's room for three.
NED YOST: Just depends on how many pitchers you're gonna take. You don't do it today, you know? You look at your pitching staff and how it all matches up but, you know, again, the key is getting a bunch of quality depth and that's pretty good depth in Graffanino, Counsell and Cirillo.

Q. What would be your biggest piece of advice to the five rookie managers that are taking over? What is your biggest adjustment?
NED YOST: The biggest adjustment for us was we came in and we were prepared. And the thing I wanted to make sure I had that was really kind of like myself, an unexperienced pitching coach that you could kind of grow with and learn the game with and we laugh at how fast the game was for us in the first month and now just how everything goes so fast and that kind of caught us offguard a little bit. You know, we've been in baseball our whole lives but the game gets real fast.

Q. In what way?
NED YOST: Just things happen fast. You know, if you've never managed before, you've always sat back till somebody else's done. And I mean, there are situations that happen and happen fast but you can't -- you just kind of tell people just get ready, because it happens fast. For us, nobody really gave us that. Nobody explained that to us and then it hits us, we found out through experience that, you know, stuff happens, it happens fast and be ready for it.

Q. Because you are thinking of a lot of different things?
NED YOST: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, you actually -- you get to a point where you'll miss things if you're not careful, but it's a learning experience. Now, it's comfortable for us now but just be ready because, you know it doesn't mean that you're not qualified and it doesn't mean that you're not good at what you do, it's just the nature of the game in the beginning.

Q. You like the an intangible makeup of the team? I know it is big with you, that it's developed to the point where you're comfortable with it?
NED YOST: Yeah. Yeah. I like the makeup of the team. I love the makeup of our young kids. I like the makeup of our pitching staff in the bullpen. They are all competitors. They all have great work ethic and they want to win. And it means a lot to them. And you can see there's times when we get close, we will get on a roll and we'll do something and all of a sudden, guys start pedaling too fast and just shows you what they want to do, just learning and getting the experience to learn to handle those situations and that's what's key. You know, like Prince, got those 600 at-bats last year and that's what -- I think the biggest disappointment for us last year was that Rickie and J.J. lost that second half development, which would have been a big time experience for them.

Q. You said that you want from day one Bill Hall to know the one position to play. Do you have any similar feelings for Corey Hardy, putting him in one outfield spot and leaving him there? First of all, do you want to see Corey Hart play regularly?
NED YOST: Yeah, I think Corey Hart is a kid that is going to be a really good major league player.

Q. You profile him in any one of the three outfield spots more than the other?
NED YOST: Not right now. It is still kind of -- certain things happen, he can play left. If certain things happen, he could play right.

Q. But a corner?
NED YOST: Probably a corner.

Q. Last week as we were preparing our advances for the winter meetings, one thing the internal discussions keep coming back to, Corey and Billy need to play.
NED YOST: Corey Hart, he's a young kid that has a lot of athleticism, he can run. You know, he moves in the outfield and he's like Billy a lot. He's still learning his craft out there. You know, he got moved so much early in his career, started as a first baseman, you know, had all the Brad Nelsons, Prince Fielders, moved him to third, you know, worked at third for two years and here comes the Helms and everybody else and we move him to the outfield. So I'm glad he settled in a little bit in one position and now we can focus on him settling down and learning the nuances to get -- because outfield defense is a real priority for us this year, really improve that outfield defense and we think, you know, Corey is an athletic, got some speed out there, and Billy has athleticism.

Q. Do you look at Mench as missing an opportunity in the second half last year?

Q. Now that it's two months later or whatever, what happened to him?
NED YOST: You saw what happened.

Q. We saw it but I don't think any of us understand it.
NED YOST: Well, you know what, I can't explain it and I don't think Kevin can explain it. I mean, he surely didn't want to come over and not play well, but a lot of times, you know, it's a shock when you've never been traded before and you come to a new team and everybody's looking at you and you really try to make an impression. You know this game is played with natural ability and in order to let your natural ability flow, you've got to be relaxed. You can't press. And when you come and press, it's like what Turnbow ran into I think in the second half too, you know, he started to run into a little bit of difficulty, start pressing and then nothing good ever comes out of that, you know. Instead of taking a step back and relaxing, you charge forward and you are trying to make it right and you're trying to make it better and it just happens, you just -- it's hard to recover, it's like a snow bull rolling down a hill. It's hard to stop. You know, if it happens early enough in the season, you can kind of stop it and reverse it a little bit but it just never could stop.
But I think that coming into next year, I think all that's behind him. And I think we will see the real Kevin Mench.

Q. What is your reaction to the immense amount of money being spent, in some cases by your direct competitors in the division?
NED YOST: The money's gotten crazy. But if you got it, spend it, I guess. You know, we got to do things a little different but that's why I love this job, it's a challenge doing it different and doing it right. There's something to be said to take a club like ours and build it back right and have success. You know, to me, that's much more gratifying than, you know, spending $300 million just sitting back and letting them play. You're building something, you're developing something. That's the attraction and the beauty of the job and where I have my fun, watching these kids grow, and watching these kids learn and watching them have success, watching them become, you though, successful.

Q. If you guys want Bill Hall and Corey Hart to play as much as possible down field, if Geoff Jenkins is on your team in spring training, where does he fit?
NED YOST: Fit in with the group outfielders that are out there.

Q. But where is the playing time?
NED YOST: Again, we don't have to decide all that today. I know we want to but we don't have to.

Q. We want you to.
NED YOST: I know. I know.

Q. Pretend you do.
NED YOST: If we were there, we'd have an answer but we're not there. There's still things that could happen and there's things that might not happen.

Q. Are you shocked that a trade was made at the winter meetings today? We are flabbergasted.
NED YOST: I heard there was one made.

Q. I mean I think, a trade at the winter meetings.
NED YOST: Tell me about it. We've been going through it up there for two days, trying to talk and think about things. You walk up there now and everybody is staring at each other like this.

Q. We walked up there and it was like July.
NED YOST: That's what it was like.

Q. And then two open chairs and it was like -- we were supposed to sit here and talk to Doug, zombies looking at us.
NED YOST: We have gone through every possible scenario that we can go through. But you know, having the depth, you know, playing from a little bit of a strength where we never have before and we are sitting here and looking at the team and you know what, we don't have major holes. And I like that. You know, we are really solid behind the plate and we are solid in the infield, you know, if Graff accepts arbitration, that, you know that gives you -- and we can get Cirillo signed and, you know, either way, that's two out of the three of those guys or all three of them, they are all solid, major league players that have an idea and can play the game right and give you quality at-bats. They are all gamer-type guys. And you look at the outfield and you've got Jenkins who's had success, Mench who has had success and you've got young, quality, potential, impact-type players at the major league level out there. So we like our pitching. We are pretty good.

Q. Sounds like right now you feel okay going into the season and consider yourself a playoff team?
NED YOST: I like our team. I like our chances. Again, we keep our fingers crossed and hope that everyone can stay healthy.

Q. You were saying last spring training you were saying, you know, just do the little things, but obviously that changed.
NED YOST: We lost our second baseman, our shortstop and our third baseman right at or before the All Star break. You lose Sheets for six weeks and we still got into the middle of August and we're three games out of first place. We don't have that ten-game losing streak, there's no telling what would happen if we could have just played .500 at that point, because after that, we kind of took off and played pretty good the last three weeks of the season.

Q. Are the Tigers an inspiration to the fact that --
NED YOST: A bit, that they came out of nowhere. Nobody expected them to do anything last year.

Q. Is that something you mentioned, is that something you talked about?
NED YOST: No, not really. I think it is more of an inspiration to me, knowing that it can be done, but our guys were pretty focused on where they're at and what they're capable of doing.

Q. How is Rickie defensively before --
NED YOST: He was making huge strides. I mean, huge strides.

Q. Early I mean.
NED YOST: Early on he was just -- he was as bad as it got defensively. And the first, what was it, 35 games he was --

Q. He made 22 errors in his first 52 games and 1 in his next 35.
NED YOST: All of a sudden, it wasn't even the errors, it was the plays he was making because in the first 50 games, Prince probably saved him another five errors.

Q. Any thought of moving him to the outfield?
NED YOST: You know what, I thought there was always a bit of a thought in the back of our mind but we were going to play it out, all the way to the end, you know, we were going to let Rickie take every opportunity, because if you've got Rickie Weeks offensive capabilities and he is playing, you can smooth him out at second base, you have an above average defensive performance and his strides that he made before he got hurt were huge. He was making huge defensive strides. I mean, he was making plays that would knock your eyes out and doing with some fluidity. He would start to lose the stiffness. He was being nice and catching the ball and --

Q. You hear so many outsiders say they need a center fielder so bad, they say that is the one piece, why don't they move Tony Graffanino, Craig Counsell and all the others just fill in at second.
NED YOST: Who says that?

Q. Don't we hear that? "They."
NED YOST: Who is the intrepid they?

Q. Those that like to call in the talk radio.
NED YOST: Oh the smart ones "they".

Q. We hear even scouts in the press box say, are they even thinking about center field? They think he is such a good athlete and that you need a center fielder.
NED YOST: We can find a center fielder. You know what, the lure of having an above-average offensive second baseman is a big deal and if you can have a second baseman of Rickie's capabilities, you're ahead of game.

Q. Well I think, to be honest --
NED YOST: The same thing and that is kind of our thinking with Billy Hall. You can have it center field offensive-wise, and if we have to move him to the corners, he is probably going to be average. I mean, you are talking about pretty big numbers for corner outfielders. But the more guys that you can have that have above-average offensive capabilities, of course the better off you are going to be and it is also very, very easy to take Rickie Weeks and say move him to center field. You know what, you got to play it out, there is a lot of hard work involved in developing a player and I think you're copping out if you take a kid like Rickie just because he's struggling a little bit. You're telling the world that you don't want to work with this kid and make the kid better, send him to the outfield where it's easier. I don't do that.

Q. Is it easier to find a left fielder or a center fielder? I mean why not just put Billy in left field?
NED YOST: I think it's easier probably to find a corner. For us, it is important, especially for us that we improve our flexibility in the outfield and that is the key. Yeah, we want a more efficient defensive player in that spot. It may be Billy. He is an athletic guy. If there is a more experienced guy that we can get out there I think we'd probably take that option.

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