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December 5, 2006

Tony La Russa


Q. The addition of Lee and Soriano in Chicago, how is the Central going to be this year?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, it's improving every year. Yeah, I think both those guys we were interested in. The competition got them, so it'll make them better.

Q. How big a deal was it for you and how much were you sort of pleased to see the organization and Carp come to terms on getting some longer deals?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, talk about well-deserved. I mean, there's nobody more important to our club, position player, what's the expression, type versed. I think it sent the right message to him and to our ballclub.

Q. Considering the dollars that were being thrown around and considering what you may have to spend on a starter and maybe more than what he might sign for, was it important to get that in that context?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I think it's a fair deal for Chris. I know there's one agent that was complaining.
What's appropriate? I mean, some of the signings, why should that set the market? I think Chris is getting paid well.
But I think it's really important for our club, and Chris earned it, deserves it.

Q. You've expressed some reservations before about tying guys down for an extended period of five years for a starting pitcher. In his case do you feel that's a good spot for the organization?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. Well, I think whether it's a player or a pitcher, I don't think many of us are fans of a lot of years, a lot of money. I mean, that's security that goes against human nature. But if you have a unique situation, I don't think motivation is ever going to be a problem for Chris. So you get the right situation, the right guy, it makes sense.
You know, I just think it would be better for the game if we didn't have to do that.

Q. Walt was talking to us yesterday about the possibility of y'all maybe adding only one more starter. How do you look at the situation with adding Thompson as maybe a starter? If y'all only add one more, how do you look at what that one other spot would shake up as?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think we spent a lot of time evaluating what we have, and one of our assets is that we think we have flexibility in that bullpen, or vice versa.
We've always liked going to camp and stretching out pitchers. You need them in the bullpen. You just back them off some. I mean, I think that makes it healthier for us when we're looking at film of whether it was to have on Supe or Marquis or Weaver or any of those guys. I mean, I think the plan would be to have as many of those relievers come into camp extending their innings and their pitches, and I'm including Braden. Braden, Brad, Adam. I think that puts us in a better position this time of trying to look at the starters we're looking at, or relievers. If we're going to put relievers in our rotation, we need to replace relievers.
I like what we have. We've had good discussions and have a lot of flexibility.

Q. (Inaudible).
TONY LA RUSSA: When you say backup, you're talking about --

Q. Toward the end of the game.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, it's just that point. If there's going to be a guy or guys that become starter candidates, then you've got to replenish the bullpen. Right now you're looking at replenishing the rotation. So there's some relievers out there that we're talking to. Right now there's a lot of starters we're talking to.

Q. Is it a safe assumption if you were to get quality relievers that (Inaudible).
TONY LA RUSSA: I just think that -- here it is, it's Tuesday? We might sign three starters. I just don't think -- I think our plan right now is to extend Adam and Braden and Brad, maybe even -- I don't know if we'll do it with Josh. Right now they come to camp, we're going to stretch them out.

Q. When you say stretch Looper out --
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, see how it looks throwing more pitches.

Q. But, I mean --
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, our starter. I talked to him about it. We've always liked it because you're not in condition to pitch one inning because you've got a bunch of pitches already.

Q. Last spring Duncan played some first base because Albert was going up to the World Baseball Classic. Will you play him exclusively in the outfield a lot this spring?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, he'll get -- I'm real confident that when we leave camp that Chris will be at worse than average out there. What he did last year in the heat of the competition is amazing. He had a couple of games where he had a mistake, a couple in the World Series that got a lot of attention. But if you look at all the games that he played, he really was impressive, amazing. But that little experience, to go out there and play that well. So when he starts in the camp -- he's working this winter. There's no doubt in my mind he'll be average at least.

Q. Do you prefer him at left or right?
TONY LA RUSSA: Either way. I think he can play in both places.

Q. Before all this got started, (Inaudible).
TONY LA RUSSA: I think the smartest thing we've done is we haven't spent money that -- not only that we thought was more than we should spend for those impact bats -- I think Adam fits our ballclub real well at second base, and I think he's a solid, all-around player, tough out, good defensive player, good baseman. Impact bat is more -- would be the outfielder more. There's still a couple guys out there that we're looking at.

Q. Do you like Kennedy hitting second or down the line?
TONY LA RUSSA: I mean, I think he's capable of hitting anywhere. He's a really smart player. I had the opportunity to see David, I was in California last Friday, talked to him for two or three hours. He noticed some really positive things about the way he plays, Adam.

Q. I'm surprised how many bases he's stolen, 223 bags he's stolen?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, this guy is a complete player and a real good competitor. We didn't want to include him in the trade just because all his Minor League managers raved about him as a winning player, so we're glad to get him back.

Q. If all things were equal, would you prefer to bring back guys you are familiar with, guys like Weaver or a Suppan or go outside the organization? Does it make a difference to you?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, when you say "all things being equal," to me one reason that we've -- it's not the only reason, but one reason that we have remained competitive is we put the value that we can -- that fits our ballclub on a pitcher or a player, and if that doesn't get him -- you end up stretching, you end up causing more problems.
You do the same thing with -- there's a value for Suppan, for Jason, for Jeff, for Mark. Hopefully something works out with one or two of those guys. If it doesn't, it doesn't make sense to stretch.

Q. The market is making that kind of judgment more and more difficult, isn't it?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. I mean, I don't know how many more guys will sign for somebody that's been out there, but we -- we just spent a day and a half in person. I talked to Dunc over the phone. I think we'll end up with real good pitching, and it'll be within the framework that we can live with and keep competing with.

Q. Have y'all reassessed any of the numbers? Have y'all sat down with rough ideas for numbers on October 29th or whenever it was? Have y'all reassessed that in light in the last six weeks?
TONY LA RUSSA: Just a little bit. Just a little bit. Not a lot.

Q. You won the World Series with a team that looks really like what you had when the season started, not like what you had for most of July and August. When you evaluate the team this year, do you look as it as a team that needs improvement based on a team record of 83 wins, or do you look at it as a World Series team, hey, we were the best team in baseball, we don't require as much as perhaps what other people do?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think Walt, I've come to appreciate his -- his philosophy is some turnover is healthy for a club. We've got some already, we've got Kip and we've got Adam, but I mean, I think it's clear to just about everybody that if Jim Edmonds is healthy and playing and Scott is healthy and playing and Juan Encarnacion is out there, you talk about the infield we have and the position players, I mean, that's a real good team because they play all parts of the game.
You've got Chris from day one.

Q. Izzy has made some comments lately and Walt has expressed optimism about his availability. Is there a way you can rate the level of optimism?
TONY LA RUSSA: You know, the biggest concern is he's got this burning desire to be out there right away. The biggest concern just keep reinforcing it's a six-month season, and if he misses a week or two weeks or a month, just don't do anything crazy. But I know he's feeling really well. He's got a great workout partner. You can't have a better situation than that. And Chris has mentioned he's a man possessed. Izzy is really into it. I think he'll be back sooner rather than later, but his body should tell him when he's ready to go and not just his mind.

Q. Is that a competitive situation if he's healthy?
TONY LA RUSSA: He's a closer, absolutely.

Q. When you won back with Oakland, did you find that the next year coming back as defending champs that teams did come at you harder? Was that much of a factor or does that tend to wear off after the first few weeks?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, regular season the teams I think have been coming after us. We've been competitive now for several years, so I think clubs have gotten ready to play us. I think a lot of it is just the attitude that the club develops. I mean, to me it's as simple as we're not defending anything. We're hunting the '07 championship. We're all starting at zero as far as record.
Our attitude is we're going to try to go out and try to win something. It's more aggressive, and I think there's a frame of mind about making something happen rather than sitting back and trying to protect the turf. We're not protecting anything. We're going to try to win again.
But I think -- since 2000 we've been competitive, and I think we've seen best shots.

Q. You were asked about turnover three of the last four years or something, but is there particular value to getting turnover and having fresh guys come in?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, right now, I mean, I think that's just the reality and you deal with it. I mean, some of the guys that we've lost we'd prefer to have had last year and celebrate with. But that's just the reality. Like I said, you assess the value.
But I mentioned Walt. Yeah, I think it's good to have some newness there. Unless we re-sign all those starting pitchers, we've got a new situation. Our position players are going to be -- look a lot like they were except Chris will be there all year. I would say Scott Spiezio, we only had one year together, so I think he's still new, Bennett, it will be only his second year. I like that because they know how we go about it.

Q. I'm wondering in terms of the personality of the club, is it a little easier to sell hunger if you've got some guys in there who didn't win the ring with you the previous year?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, Adam has got a ring, Chip doesn't. I mean, to me I think all you've got to do is show them some of the pictures of the looks on the guys' faces. Did you guys make this up? Is it phony or did you really get this excited? Look. Isn't it worth trying -- why not try to have that same kind of fun?

Q. Hypothetically if you went into the season with rotation of Reyes, Wells who had some injury situation last year, and Wainwright who hasn't done it before, to what extent does that create a jump ball or maybe a variable where maybe there wasn't before?
TONY LA RUSSA: I mean, I said earlier, I feel real good about what we have a chance to have, and part of it is if a couple of those guys out of that bullpen -- those are really good arms, they're going to start games for us. What that does is create -- how we pitched that last three or four innings because you would think that you're going to have to kind of develop some stamina there.
I don't know, that's why we go with 12 pitchers. I think we're used to playing with 12 and 13 players.

Q. What is it that intrigues you particularly about Looper as opposed to some of the other guys?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, last year he had times where he pitched more than one inning. He's throwing in the 90s consistently. The more he pitched, the more he improved his two off-speed pitches. You have four free agent starters and you try to be creative. I mean, I think Dunc talked to Loop about it before we all went our separate ways, and he responded well. I talked to him just the other day.

Q. If you've got a guy who had the problems he did against left-handed hitters that kept him out of the ninth inning for a while last year, you would think somebody would stack left-handers against him if he were some sort of starter. How far removed is he from having a confident pitch to get left-handers off him?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, that's part of what he got better and better at. He was making good pitches with his two off-speed pitches, and I think the more he pitches -- I mean, according to the numbers, we had a couple starters who had left-handers, but we ended up getting them out. They just got better at building their weapons.

Q. But we're talking about all these contingencies. You still feel as though there's an excellent chance you'll pull down available starters?
TONY LA RUSSA: I mean, that's probably a good question for Walt. Excellent, that's a strong word. I know we're talking and I think we're getting a decent response. If it comes down to purely money and somebody offers a guy more money and that's what they want, they may not get anything. But we're looking at starters and relievers. I think we have a reasonable or good chance to come down with one of those starters and one or more relievers.

Q. What else do you need to accomplish these next few days in order to make this a successful few days at the baseball winter meetings?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, mostly pitching. Just got to replenish -- find out which of our free agent pitchers are going to go someplace else or stay with us. If there's a bat that makes us deeper, and there's a couple guys we're looking at.

Q. Do you go on with Chris more or less pencilled in with as not an everyday guy close to it, or is one of your outfield spots more of a competitive-type situation?
TONY LA RUSSA: No, I say he goes into Spring Training with the idea that what he did the second half of the year is what he's capable of doing, and then it's up to him to keep earning it. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to be ready to play, and I think he's legitimate.

Q. You guys had a decision to make at the end of the year about Edmonds, and there was some debate during the season about the organization having to decide whether he was a $10 million a year player. Given the decision, it seems like the answer was yes. Was that as much a determination of what his abilities are now or based on what the market is now, that it was going to be hard to find somebody of his skill level for that money right now?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, it's a combination. I think mostly it's what Jim is, and the biggest factor there is health. If he's healthy, I mean, he's still a premium player. The judgment was that some of the physical issues get taken care of during the winter.

Q. Do you have to go in prepared for him, maybe even expecting him, not to be a 140-plus game guy and do you have to have a contingency?
TONY LA RUSSA: Isn't that how you operate anywhere? You operate so you're protected at every position. I just think the key -- the only thing that he and I would talk about is -- he made a comment about he doesn't want to be a platoon player. Well, he's not a platoon player, but if he's out there and he's flinching every time he swings against a left-hander with that shoulder, why would you play him against a left-hander? So the only conversation I had with him is how healthy are you, I mean, like on a day-to-day basis, and then if he has one of those seasons where he stays healthy, he plays against everybody. If he's ouchy, then play somebody else.

Q. Not necessarily something like what you were dealing with Walker where you sort of built in days for him, or is it?
TONY LA RUSSA: I don't know. I think when he signs the contract that he signed, I think he has an expectation and we have an expectation that he's going to be out there and he's going to be an everyday player. He's part of the core. Health defines how much of that is true.

Q. At the end of the year after the World Series I asked you the question (Inaudible). You acted surprised the question would be asked. I think somebody even took it a little further in saying if you wanted --

Q. I think people were hearing some of that same stuff, not from you, but I guess I was just wondering, here we are getting ready to go into a new season and you've got one year left in your contract. I know you've always said that's the way you've liked it. But given where you're at and the team is at, is there any reason you would change as opposed to in the past?
TONY LA RUSSA: You mean an extension?

Q. Yeah.
TONY LA RUSSA: I mean, I've got the -- whatever, the luxury, the reality of being around long enough, I've never looked at the length of the contract. I mean, we've talked about this. I signed for three years. At the end of the first year, if the players didn't want me around, I wouldn't -- I'd go someplace else. Now it's the last year, it's the same exact frame of mind. I think the only difference is based on the success in October. We don't have to win in Spring Training to get to opening day. The general manager has assured me that I'll be there for the rain.
When I tried to push that into May, he wouldn't buy it. He said, "You'll be there for the ring ceremony."

Q. He probably told you you've got to win 83 games this year?
TONY LA RUSSA: There was a pretty strong hint.

Q. I just didn't know where you are in your career, where you are with this organization. Unless something really weird happens, you're going to become the winningest manager in franchise history this year, and my sense is this is the place you would want to be your last stop, and I just didn't know if that would affect the whole longevity thing in terms of your contract.
TONY LA RUSSA: See, I think it gets kind of confusing. If you would have told me in '96 or whatever that you're going into the 12th year in St. Louis, I would have said, I mean, that just doesn't happen. It's not realistic. But that's what it is.
I think what Mike put together, which I say sincerely, Red deserves to be the guy at the top of the list. My answer is get close to that, he becomes the manager, then I'm his bench coach. I say it a little bit tongue in cheek, but I'm sincere.
I can't help what it is. I think the guys are still okay with me, and I like being there. But when you start -- what happens beyond that, I go back to what Sparky said. Just don't try to figure things, just play it out, and when the time is over, it's over. I know 12 is a lot of years. If I end up getting through the whole season.
You start trying to figure that stuff and it just gets confusing and a distraction, so I'm just going to not worry about it, and I have no idea about 2008, I really don't. I'm not even going to think about it. I didn't think about 2007 last year, I thought about 2006. That's a lesson you learn early on from some of the guys that taught me, and it makes a lot of sense and that's how I handle it.

Q. Last September you were in Arizona talking about there's going to be a time when people get tired of talking to the same guy. I didn't know if that was just a bad moment or things weren't going so well or you really felt like, hey, this is really getting stale.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think -- I'm not being -- I'm not kidding, but I think probably the biggest problem is the media. Half the time I say three words and you guys know exactly what I'm going to say. I mean, you do.
I think there's a certain amount of, this guy has been around. My friend Bill Walsh always talked to me about that, "The media is tired of you." I mean, I'm definitely tired of the media (laughter).
But that's only one part of being here. You know, the fans, the organization and the players. We have enough changeover that I think it's still working with the players.
But what I was saying is if you get to where two of those -- not just one, but two, the ownership gets tired of you but the players can listen to you or the media or the fans, I mean, that usually happens. That's kind of amazing, 12 years.

Q. So we need to convince the players or the ownership?
TONY LA RUSSA: You've got to get one more thing going for you (laughter).

Q. The year before when you went to the World Series she was there, but did this mean anything to Elaine to be there?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, on a personal level, the interest, the family interest in how we were doing, you know, I talked to them during the year and they followed all the games on the internet if they're home. I think we ended up having that final success.
You know, she and the girls, since I'm not a computer guy, you know, they've heard and read some of the criticisms and the shots that were taken over the years. I think it was very neat to see how the three of them, and especially Elaine, I think Elaine, she really enjoys the fact that we got that world championship. I mean, that really adds a lot to my enjoyment of the thing.

Q. How will it be going against Lou Piniella 18 or 20 times a year?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think we only play 16 times this year. I checked that.

Q. It seemed to us that you and Dusty had been longtime friends, but when there were meetings between the Cardinals and the Cubs --
TONY LA RUSSA: That strains the friendship.

Q. Is that what you fear might happen with you and Lou, too?
TONY LA RUSSA: It's different because we were -- Dusty and I became friends in pro ball. Lou and I go back as kids, so it's a different kind of -- we had the experience in the A's and Seattle, so we've done it before.

Q. The rivalry wasn't quite as intense as this one, though.
TONY LA RUSSA: No, it's not quite as intense. I mean, it's not my preference to have competition in your division with somebody that you're close to, but that's the way it is. I mean, it's clear they're going to be improved. I told him when I saw him yesterday, he's probably the favorite (laughter).

Q. And he said what?
TONY LA RUSSA: He said -- he agrees. I think he said that (laughter).

Q. This is as set a roster of position players you've had. Your bench is about the same unless you made a move?
TONY LA RUSSA: But even if you do that, you're only talking about one difference. I was going back, you can still be competitive with that. In Oakland we were in the World Series three years in a row and the position players were pretty much the same. I don't think it's a bad deal, it's just something that -- I mean, I like that part of the club. We don't have the newness that we've had. But there's going to be, probably, however it is, the pitching staff is going to be new, probably.
If you move a couple relievers or reliever into the rotation, that's new. You've got Kip Wells. So I think there will be enough interesting there. But you're right, you go to camp -- I'm assuming that guys like So and Aaron, that they're a part of the club and we can sign them.

Q. How much does the addition of Eli intrigue you?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I think -- and I haven't talked to him, but I know what he said, and he's exactly right. I mean, he's a big leaguer as a catcher, and I've always understood when you've got that much physical ability, he liked going out there in the outfield and running and throwing, but it'll be interesting. I don't know that I won't play him in the outfield some in Spring Training. He's got to get at-bats.
I think he's a smart move on his part.

Q. How would he make the team? It looks like it's set up tough for him.
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, it is tough. That's because we've got a good team and we have guys coming back. But there is a way for him to be on that club, so it's up to him. He'll get playing opportunity. That's why he probably has to get some at-bats by catching, to get enough at-bats.

Q. The way you've set up, it almost seems as though he's an insurance policy as a catcher.
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I'm not sure if he is. I don't know if he's going to be a AAA catcher. I think he's got to come to camp and make the club. You know, if you take three catchers, it's not bad, either, when one of the guys is like him.
But he's willing to play, he's older, I'm definitely intrigued by having him back.

Q. Are you out of here tomorrow?
TONY LA RUSSA: Thursday.

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