How important is it for your team to be in a little better shape this season than last season? "Well, again, I've taken a lot of my knowledge from other sources, so it's not firsthand knowledge. But I've met with trainers and all the front office staff. I've read everything I think you guys have had to write about the Red Sox because I've been able to do that on planes. It seems like they let it get away or some of the guys let it get away. I think they understand that. I'm not going to have to have them do extra sprints in spring training. I think that these are great athletes, world class athletes, mature adults who get it and understand.
"After talking to some of them on the phone and leaving other messages, I'm sure that if they didn't agree with the message or didn't agree with the conversation, they would say, everything was perfect and we're just going to do it again the same thing. I don't think anyone thinks that's the way it's going to happen.
Carl [Crawford] bounced around the batting order last year. How much would you like to see him settle into one spot and just sort of keep him there? "You know, when I talked to Adrian, he mentioned how hitting in one spot in the order wasn't important to him. And so different guys have different strokes. But I can tell you that in the thousands of games that I've managed, I never made out a lineup card thinking about one guy. It's always about the group and how you fit in kind of together for the whole lineup. Hell's bells, I'd love to have one lineup and use it for 162 games, but it's more than likely I'll use 162 lineups than one lineup. So there's going to be lots of moving parts. I'll talk to Carl about that.
"If someone has a thing ... I remember when Mike Piazza came to the Mets, and he said, 'I can't hit unless I'm batting third' and he batted fourth and had some of the greatest years of his life playing for the Mets. Sometimes they get over it."
When you look at the lineup, is there anything, any players that you say, well, they typically have hit here, but I could see him hitting somewhere else?
"I mean, I could see Ellsbury hitting third, I could see Pedroia hitting third, second. He performed pretty well when he hit fourth. I'm not there probably the last thing in my mind is the lineup. I think there's so much more to cultivate before we get to Detroit and that thing that's posted on the wall as what we're doing battle with Game 1. That's way down the line."
Will you have a team captain? If [Jason Varitek] is not back, I doubt that. Maybe. But I don't know. I haven't given that a consideration, and it hasn't been a priority thought for me. ... I believe in a lot of liaisons, and to try to designate it to one person that it's his job to do something that is really everyone's job to do, I think is sometimes unfair to that person. Sometimes there's that guy who earned a stripe, who happened to be in that group so long that they kept pushing him forward, that he was the one that would be volunteered for that ugly duty, because there's really no benefit to it. You know, there's a reputation and extra work with the same pay. I don't think it's necessary. I'd like to have communication lines with a lot of the guys, you know?"
What are your expectations for Daisuke this season? "For him to get healthy first. He's in a real weird situation being it's the last year of his contract, he was injured last year, things didn't go well, the team didn't win the championship, I'm sure he feels a lot of responsibility. But he's also looking at the calendar, he knows when opening day is, he knows when May 1st is and June 1st, and we have to be careful to not let the calendar dictate his recovery process. I expect him to be healthy, and after that we'll take it from there.
Will you talk about your rivalry with the Yankees? "No, I hate the Yankees. I don't want to waste this valuable time talking about the Yankees. This is too valuable. I told Joe Girardi I used to love them, but now I hate them."
What are some of the things that you think make Yu Darvish successful in the Major Leagues if he came over here? "I have no idea if his talents will translate at the Major League level if he came here, but he's a quality pitcher. He has size, quality, velocity, breaking balls, very good hands. He makes the ball do a lot of crazy things on its way to the plate. Great competitor. If those things translate into another uniform, whether it's another uniform in Japan, who knows?"
What do you think of the Rays and the job Joe Maddon has done? "From afar, I've been in awe of the job they've done. I've admired the work of Joe Maddon and his team. If I was a broadcaster answering that question, I would say that everyone would rather have an expert team than have a team of experts, and I think that they strive to have an expert team and have succeeded in doing that."
So as the manager of a team that now has to beat them out, how do you view them? "A challenge, a real challenge."
Discussing Daniel Bard, obviously you have this uncertainty surrounding him. What are the challenges of the idea of having a pitcher potentially taking a reliever and putting him in the rotation? "The challenges?"
Yeah. "Well, that the unknown of durability is going to remain with anyone, whether it be Feliz or anyone who transfers from the bullpen to the starting staff. You can judge his pitches in spring training and you can judge his success, but it's very difficult to project the endurance of that success throughout a game. So that's a challenge. And then developing the pitches, of course, having, as we've talked, having more than two pitches that I know are extremely hard to hit. That third pitch is a necessity. Of course he does a good job of holding runners, and I think he'd have to improve his fielding a little"
In terms of the challenge of making an evaluation in spring training about his fitness, what is that like for a manager? "Very, very difficult. I don't think there's a formula that those guys fit into, and once they solve the A plus B, it works. We have to remember Spring Training is a very deceiving part of the season. Not only are they day games, but it's not always A lineups. As you're trying to get guys to develop new pitches, often it doesn't come with success. Sometimes guys will pitch their 28 innings or 30 innings in Spring Training and not have the kind of success you want, but still, you believe that they could be a quality starter. I think it's all the stuff about experience that helps make those decisions. But again, it's going to be individual, unique.
Is it more difficult to project how a middle reliever or setup man would translate as a starter versus how he would translate as a closer? "How he, because he wasn't the closer, would translate as a starter rather than translating as a closer? Again, commitment is always part of the equation, okay. And if he's totally committed to being a starter, I think he'll be successful. I think if he's totally committed to being a closer, he'll be successful. Because I think he has extreme talent. But that idea of commitment, I think right now, because he's in this position, he doesn't know which way to go. He doesn't know if he's fish or fowl. I told him to commit his conditioning program to be a starter because it takes more on the conditioning side. But when we get to spring training, he's going to have to mentally commit to doing whatever it is that we decide for him to do.
Do you look at Aceves as being in the same boat right now as Bard or are you leaning one way or another on him? "Same, from all the meetings and everything I've read statistically and everything I've seen, I think he's right in the middle there. Both, neither, I don't know what it is.
Can you have too much of that in camp, too many guys with undefined roles? "Well, right now we have 33 games, so that means we have 297 innings, and if we're playing at home, that means you don't have a ninth inning ten games. And two of those games, it's not really 297 because two of the games are seven inning games. So take off two more, it's 293, so we're down to 283 innings.
"To get four starters at 30 and two starters at 25 and get your seven innings for those other seven guys, and then we have I think another 18 guys in camp that at least you want them to pitch an inning, well, we're using up 282 innings, probably 279 innings in that. The stuff you don't have is innings, and for a lot of these guys they have to be quality competition innings, and I don't know if B.C. and Northeastern qualify there, and sometimes these split squad games don't necessarily qualify, and sometimes the fifth inning through the ninth inning don't qualify. So we're really down to a tough situation.
How great a voice do you have right now in some of the roster decisions that are being made by Ben, particularly in player acquisition? How big a voice do you have at the table? "These five days there's been a lot of inclusion, and I've been one of the guys that has been included in the conversation. That's right where I want to be. I don't think he's bothered me at 2:00 in the morning when he comes up and he's staring at the ceiling and comes up with some idea, but it's been very structured and very educational, a little, for me, because it has been so structured. But we have our morning, afternoon and nighttime closing meetings, and any thoughts that he has, he's shared with the room. I'm in the room."
Are you going into spring training with any uncertainty, and what's your philosophy in terms of figuring out who the best guy would be in those situations going forward? "You know, I think often, if it's just competition in spring training, all that stuff is made for you, the players determine it. They show you what it is. You know, the weird selections in spring training are the last guy in the bullpen, the 25th man on the roster, the utility player, if you're going to keep the extra catcher, those are tough decisions because they're not defined. Competition is usually presented."
Have the last few weeks been energizing? "Absolutely. I mean, I feel like in the last two weeks, my life has been in such a whirlwind, wonderful pace that I count my blessings. I'm saying, 'I can't believe I just did that.' It's been really neat.
There are baseball people who say that the worst time to evaluate a player is September and spring training. What are your thoughts on that? "I agree totally, yeah. If you're evaluating on results. Now, again, that experience thing is the thing that keeps you from evaluating on results. When I tried to allude to, what I said and I wasn't very clear, if a guy could give up runs in his 30 innings and still be part of your stuff because you evaluated him not on the results but on his ability to develop those pitches that you see some endurance, you see that commitment, and you say, yeah, this is a guy and hey, guess what, mistakes are made out of spring training, and that's why we play 162, so we can continue to make adjustments.
"My little soap box, you've maybe heard it before, but it's still my soap box, is that the roster should be extended in April and not in September, and if it was extended in April, we'd see these guys under the lights. We'd see someone playing at Fenway. OK, we'd see someone in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium in the first month, and now we'll understand a little more about them than you could possibly understand in Fort Myers."