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December 8, 2009

Tony La Russa


TONY LA RUSSA: I look forward to this more than the other things coming to the winter meetings.

Q. Are you in a place to talk about the pitcher that you added?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I explained to him a couple things. One, whenever a guy faces you and you're not happy when he gets announced, you always think, boy, it would be nice to get him on your side. So I'm going back to the Marlin days of Spring Training, that season and ever since. He's a guy that we thought would be a real good starter for our side.
I know he has a couple edges because he's in Oklahoma, so Cardinals, Midwest. So it's a big step forward in the off-season.

Q. What kind of personal fit do you think there is there as far as a teammate, cultural, et cetera?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I went to see Terry yesterday afternoon, very, very positive. It's no secret, our starters, they work. They work a lot between starts. They work together. I think Brad has experienced some of that, and I think he's going to fit right in.

Q. Lance Lentz, one of our local guys, do you see him having a shot at contributing at the Major League level?
TONY LA RUSSA: That's a push. I know he's well thought of, but we've got a nice club, so it's not like whenever he gets his opportunity he's going to walk into a situation. But we'll take a look at him. I'd be anxious to look at him up close and personal.

Q. Have you seen much of him yet?
TONY LA RUSSA: I haven't seen him, just walking around the Kemp.

Q. Before we got here, the thought was that you would maybe go for another veteran starting pitcher. More and more it sounds like you are hoping to get another veteran pitcher. I didn't know to what extent that suggested a shift in what you are trying to accomplish, or if that's just a part of the plan?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think everything we do this winter is tied together with the funds available, and obviously the outcome of Matt Holliday impacts a lot of what we can do.
One of the plans came down to where if there wasn't a free agent that fit the starting spot, we would look internally. If guys are in the Minor League system and guys are Major League relievers like Kyle McClellan or Blake Hawksworth, or something. So I just think right now we're trying to work to get the best and deepest roster and then we'll start fine tuning it.

Q. How far do you think you are from -- not just financially but time wise before having to go to, quote, Plan B?
TONY LA RUSSA: That's an interesting question. I guarantee you we've thought about a lot. I know we have a good feel for what we represent, what we need. I think that not only did the trade help us get into October, but I think it helps us in our chance to have him be a part of our club, because he experienced his teammates -- Cardinal fan sport, stuff like that. I also know that Scott is an experienced agent, has his reasons for doing what he's doing, and it hasn't gone unnoticed. We rarely get mentioned as one of the teams with a chance to sign him. But we refuse to believe that. I think we've got a legitimate shot. And I just think that there are some alternatives, and if Matt decides someplace else, we've got a way to make our club a contending club.

Q. Have you talked to Matt recently?
TONY LA RUSSA: Recently, no. We exchanged texts a couple times after his baby, after their baby.

Q. Were you in the room two nights ago?
TONY LA RUSSA: Uh-uh. My point is we've been through this -- everybody has been through this. Everybody club has been through this. The timing is a critical part, the player, the agent, their timing, does it jive with the club's timing. Sometimes clubs are more patient than others, and I don't know how patient we can be.

Q. Is it accurate to say that timing could be as big an obstacle here as big as terms?
TONY LA RUSSA: I don't know, that would be a good question for Mo. I just know there's a timing thing because we're more proactive than to sit around and wait. But I think the other side is that we refuse to believe that we're not a real attractive ballclub for Matt.

Q. What about having him there in the fold, or what you've heard since the end of the season gives you the sense that just having him around gives you an advantage? We've heard different things on that, too.
TONY LA RUSSA: If you'll give me one different thing that you've heard, I'd like to respond to that, because it would shot me.

Q. Someone called it a market driven deal.
TONY LA RUSSA: That has nothing to do with -- I was talking about his experience with us for a couple months being a big plus for us. And the reason I say that is because I know how his teammates feel about him and how he feels about his teammates.

Q. So it's like a tie breaker?
TONY LA RUSSA: I don't know. I don't know how to gauge it, I just know he got a good feel for everything about St. Louis, whether it's his teammates, whether it's the organization, whether it's our fans, the tradition. It's a strong plus.

Q. Do you get involved at all in lobbying a player like that, making the case for him? The reason I ask, Francona was saying in Jason Bay's case, for example, that he's taken the approach to back off because he feels players have the right to explore the market.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I agree a player has a right to explore the market. I think it's just a common sense thing. Sometimes you get in a situation like this, and the player will be looking for some input. I think the point I just mentioned, when Matt spends a couple months with us, we end up qualifying for October baseball, you know, he has a real good feel. I mean, I've talked to him. We talked at the end of the season, towards the end. He's teamed to his teammates since then. But I think it's less necessary when you've been a teammate.
If a guy has never been on your club and they're interested in talking to you, I don't know if you lobby but you try to present your best side and be honest with it.

Q. There has been some suggestion that Matt might be a National League player, someone who's better suited for that league than for the American League. Do you have any idea what that means and what you think of that idea?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I wish I could get away with being dishonest and say that's true so we can cut the American Leaguers out of this. But there are no restrictions to his game. I would not agree with that. Based on their All-Star and World Series success, there's probably a little arrogance right now on the American League side, which means we need to win some games.

Q. Do you think in some ways you guys are too right-handed right now?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think most baseball people will tell you if you're going to do anything one way or another, you want right-handed. A lot of clubs win with right-handed hitting. It's more dangerous if you have a lot of left-handed hitting. The goal every winter is you want to try to be as perfect in terms of situations, circumstances that come up, and right now we could use some left-handers. Switch-hitting, left-handed side.

Q. (Inaudible.)
TONY LA RUSSA: We don't know who the left fielder is in that spot. Right now we have a left-handed second baseman and a left-handed center fielder. There's room for a left-hander or a switch-hitter. I mean, I'd take Matt. I'd take a right-handed third baseman. Good hitters are good hitters, especially on the right-handed side.

Q. Would you react to Whitey Herzog's statement in St. Louis and again this morning that he's not sure Mark McGwire is going to come back as a hitting coach in St. Louis.
TONY LA RUSSA: I heard just a tidbit yesterday. I didn't hear today.

Q. He said he's not sure it's going to happen because it's going to be very tough, and he's going to have to answer the same questions over and over in the same city. Is there any reason to believe that there's second thoughts about it, or can you react to that?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I know how seriously I've personally considered it before I presented it to our owner and general manager and our coaching staff, and I know the seriousness of my conversation with Mark, and I know how seriously he thought about it before he accepted. I think it's going to work, and I think he has demonstrated to some of us that he has a lot to offer as a hitting coach.
And also, I was just in the bay area the day that I left, and John Shea did a piece, I don't know if you saw it or not, where he had four of the A's teammates quoted, and I thought that was exactly right because part of what you get with Mark is not just his hitting expertise, he's an outstanding teammate. I think a couple guys said he was the best teammate they'd ever been around.
So his character, I don't think anybody in St. Louis has forgotten him walking away from $30 million. Physically his back was sore and he couldn't perform. This guy, we'll be lucky to have him.

Q. Do you have a feel for when and what kind of setting he would first talk to them?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think it's all being worked out. I just know that there's a World Series, and I know he definitely did not want to be a part of Cy Young or MVP, which we all agree, and know I think we're past that, and I think it's imminent.

Q. I don't know why Whitey would say that, but there's no reason to believe that there's any second-guessing at this point?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, the quote that I saw from Whitey was he wasn't sure how good a hitting coach he would be. Then he went on to talk about some hitting coaches about good for some hitters, and he went on and talked about Charlie how, George Brett would have been good. So I don't know how much is directed at Mark. It was just about hitting coaches. I don't know what he meant, but I know what we've done. I know the conversation I've had with him. I know how excited he is. I know he's talked to our players. I think our fans are going to be real excited to see how hard he works.

Q. You mentioned that the front office staff and the coaching staff talked about Mark's position, and you weighed in heavily. Have you thought about what kind of weight that's going to put on the players as they get asked the questions throughout the course of the season?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think what'll happen is hopefully whatever questions there are will happen before we go to Spring Training, and that's about him being the hitting coach, and you can allow or not allow whatever distractions you want.

Q. So they're going to be able to freely answer questions about the whole thing? They're going to get barraged probably.
TONY LA RUSSA: What are they going to get barraged about? I don't know where that's going. I think our club will be asked about him as a hitting coach, and whenever he has his opportunity to talk, he'll say whatever he has to say. That's part of his business.
I know that once we get into Kemp, assuming he has his opportunity to speak, it's going to be about coaching. He's coaching. I know we're supposed to be by the cage, but we're going to talk. I think he'll have an adequate opportunity to talk to him.

Q. Terms of Pini, what did you see as the biggest difference in his work from the American League to the National League?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, as I mentioned at the beginning, since the first day I saw him pitch for the Marlins, he was a guy that came on the radar for Dave Duncan and myself, from day one. When I saw that he might be moved by the Marlins we were interested, and since then he's gone a couple places. We were always trying to make what happened today happen. We just like all he brings to a team as far as getting guys out.

Q. If I recall correctly, you had said in the story that you anticipated maybe something getting done as far as appearance in the next couple weeks. Do you still think that's likely the case?
TONY LA RUSSA: That's my guess. I don't have anything on the gospel, but I know some of the things that we did not want to be a part of, distractions are now over. What's the next distraction? The holidays.

Q. Has some of the delay been the hope that he does it in person as opposed to a conference call?
TONY LA RUSSA: I can say, those details, I'm not sitting there trying to orchestrate anything. I just know that it's going to happen, and however it happens, I think it'll be done well. The three things I said, I agreed with. Well, first of all, the World Series, they tell you to leave the World Series alone. And we happen to be fortunate that we had candidates for the two weeks there for awards.

Q. Have you been talking to Mark regularly at all?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I talk to him a lot. I talk to him about hitting. He's already had conversations with some of our guys. He's worked with guys over the winter. He's studying tape. I mean, he's -- I'm the beneficiary of those conversations. I know how excited he is about it.

Q. So he's kind of started the job already it sounds like?

Q. Last year before you got Holliday there seemed to be a sense that you were somewhat deficient offensively and that you needed to have some protection behind Albert. Absent Holliday, in what may or may not be available, are you concerned that you basically go into the same situation that you were in in the middle of last year?
TONY LA RUSSA: No, I think we have some alternatives, plus we've got a guy like Ron who's a year older. But I think there's some alternatives there that we think will give us a deep lineup. Matt is a guy that we'd like to have. We don't control that totally.

Q. Would you be comfortable throwing Lug big back in?
TONY LA RUSSA: I'd be comfortable putting anybody back there -- you look at what you've got when the time comes. He's a year older, you're more experienced, and it's more fair. We could use a slugger type for the middle of the lineup.

Q. Do you think you would hit Rasmus somewhere besides second so he could run a little bit more? I know Albert doesn't like guys running ahead of him.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, here again, see, as I said every time I try to correct you, which I totally respect because I don't want to tick off the Hall of Fame, but Albert has never said anything about him not running. I don't give the run side to Rasmus a lot because it opens up a base for Albert. He had a chance to run more once we had Matt. They still walked Albert some, but made him paycheck check. So you weigh him running more versus what he does in that second role to generate runs.
I mean, he had I thought an impressive year because he was facing guys for the first time, and he competed well. He hit in the middle of the lineup, and his average as fourth or fifth hitter was I think about the same as before, maybe even better. I think we'll see how much he develops and slot him in wherever we need him.

Q. What's your opinion on keeping young starters on a strict pitch count, just sticking to a number?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think you have to pay attention to young starters because they're developing physically, and I think common sense tells you that you can't treat a young starter like he's -- at 22 like he will be at 28 or 30. You've got to let the body grow. A couple of the measures are how many pitches he's thrown, how many innings. But you watch his delivery in the game, is he struggling, is it an easy game, hard game. I think if you had to do a shorthand on it, number one, if it gets to where he's starting to get fatigued, he's not going to have enough experience to back off, he's going to rare back for extra, and that's dangerous. So generally you don't want to push a young guy.

Q. How much do you count on your pitching coach for feel in that situation?
TONY LA RUSSA: I count on the pitching coach for everything. If he nods, he nods, if he goes like this (indicating), I do whatever he said. That's why there's no ironclad, let a guy no more than X number of pitches, unless in the type of game -- how he came into that game, the couple starts before. It's an art. There's no science with it.

Q. When you look at the possibilities of Matt not being around, what kind of moving piece is Skip? Is he your second baseman no question or does he factor into that left field equation?
TONY LA RUSSA: You'd have to pick a guy who really impacts your team, and I'm talking about impact-impact, in a significant way, to mess with the progress that Skip made as a second baseman. And I think that the chances of that are slim. I mean, whenever I'm having a down moment, I think about him playing second base, and I get a great vibe. It's just one of the damndest things I've ever seen. I think he'll build on it and be a major source of strength for us.
But he's a teammate, so if all is said -- if you had some second baseman drop on your club, that's a middle of the lineup slugger, he wants to win, and he'd go play third, he'd go play left, whatever. Skip is Skip.

Q. I realize that's going to be a baseball decision, but to what extent is it wanting to do right by a guy who did a lot to make that happen?
TONY LA RUSSA: You know, he is tied for first, and I say that because he's been around a long time together. But it happens with the best teammate you can have. If you told Skip that the Cardinals' chances to win in 2010 would improve if he went to X position, I mean -- he'd probably hesitate and say, second, is that what I heard you say? I just don't see that likely.

Q. Are there things you can do at the top of the order to protect Albert if a slugger doesn't come your way?
TONY LA RUSSA: Same thing we talked about before, more guys on base, and the deeper the club behind him -- I think we'll get somebody.

Q. Were you intrigued by Figgins at all?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, I think he's an igniter, he's a terrific player. The only problem is for that kind of money, that isn't our priority. We don't have a deficit.

Q. So you see those coming from inside the way it's constructed now?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. It's something else we can do this winter. You just asked about figure begins. I think if you had a lot of money and you could get the other things done and had a chance for a player like Figgins, yeah, Figgins is great.

Q. There is an alternate train of thought that he can protect a guy from the front.
TONY LA RUSSA: I agree with that.

Q. But given what your resources, you don't see that as --
TONY LA RUSSA: I still think we have a better chance of guys, legitimate chance of guys in front of him than behind him. We could use a guy behind him again.

Q. (Inaudible).
TONY LA RUSSA: Miguel is an interesting guy. I've known him forever, Spring Training in Baltimore. He's like exactly the kind of player that he has become. I know he has a relationship with a couple of our guys. Yeah, we've talked about Miguel.
I mean, I value our opinion. I know when he comes to bat, it means uh-oh.

Q. Is it fair to say there may be a larger number of kind of intriguing fits for y'all at third base than the outfield right now?
TONY LA RUSSA: Probably, yeah. You've got Mark out there, so there's...

Q. When you signed DeRosa, did you immediately think of him as (Inaudible).
TONY LA RUSSA: I think one of the values that he brings to the club is versatility. Now that we're on the same team, I know he's got that Skip Schumaker mentality. He wants to play on a winning club, and he wants to be out there a lot. You can move him day-to-day to different positions, he wouldn't care. Or he could play someplace that's not third base. I know he's willing to play second. But he plays third real well. He could play short if you needed him to, and he's definitely an outfielder. I think if he came back he would just do whatever the club needed.

Q. Would you see any combination where both Mark and Matt are on the team?
TONY LA RUSSA: Oh, yeah. If they're both reasonable money, yeah.

Q. Would you be okay if the team were constructed like last year and the team got better as the year went along (Inaudible)? Do you think he'll still have the capability to go after that, or based on what happened in the Minor League system last year would you see opening day to be more like (Inaudible)?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, we definitely moved some prospects. I think we still have some prospects. I know if you get to where you start the season and you've got some money left and you give yourselves some flexibility, that's a real good position to be in.
But right now, I think what you do, you try to max out your opportunities as long as they're smart. I think we've done a really good job at it. That's what I heard Whitey say, he complimented the ownership here since '96 for never really jeopardizing the future of the organization. If there's reasonable moves to make, you make them. But you don't want to do something -- PR guy, for example, you run out of money, and you go in and you regret that, that's sort of silly. So just try and put together the best club we can, and hopefully it works where we have something left for the season.

Q. Bobby said this is his last year. Do you think the Cardinals should try and (Inaudible)?
TONY LA RUSSA: You know, there's really nothing cute in Joe cracking himself up. A lot of times when you take a shot like that, everybody laughs, but you don't usually make yourself laugh like that, so I've got to analyze what would be so funny about this being my last year.

Q. You can make an announcement and that would be funny.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, what I was told by ownership and the front office is that whether this is my last year or I've got more years, my attitude is still the more help they give the coach and the manager -- the coaches and the manager, the better they feel. I don't think it would change if I followed your advice and left after Spring Training (laughing). You'd probably miss me a little bit, wouldn't you?

Q. I asked Bobby this yesterday. You look at what has been in the game, pretty much who you've managed against, a lot of people, there's a lot of people that are still around, Bobby, Piniella, Cory, Leyland. It's kind of a rarefied type of group of managers that are still in this game --
TONY LA RUSSA: And all of them are talking about going out next year (laughing).

Q. But I wonder if you look at the context and the time you've been managing, not just evaluate yourself but kind of evaluate yourself against your class.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think one of the neatest things that I can experience -- I mean, there's other things to think about, but I'm reminded sometimes during a conversation with baseball people or fans or friends, you know, the early days as a manager, we had all those legends, some of those guys in the Hall of Fame now, I mean, that's a special memory. Then you have this time now where you've got guys with years and years and years going against some of those guys. That's a special memory.
But I get -- I really get into the managing and the coaching thing. So when I see some of the young managers, watching tray over in Kansas City -- I mean, I saw Terry his first year in Philadelphia. I saw him really struggle in the first half, remember, and all of a sudden they got better because he didn't burn any bridges. Now he's in Boston doing a great job with a tough situation. I mean, I noticed all that. Just been 30 years of watching. There's a guy managing Washington that I thought did a great job in San Diego and Chicago, and I think will do a great job at the Nationals. To me, it's all real good memories, good recollections for different reasons.

Q. You've said before that you've had a hard time envisioning what you would do if you weren't managing. Last couple years maybe have a little bit clearer vision of what that might be?

Q. Sitting here now talking about how you're looking ahead just to this year, two years, three years.
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I mean, I think in the last two or three years, realistically -- when you don't feel like you should be in the dugout anymore or on the field, if you only know baseball, you'd like to be part of an organization that -- and contribute something that's -- if it's not on the field, it's upstairs somewhere doing something.

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