Yankees manager Joe Girardi held court with reporters at the Winter Meetings in Dallas yesterday, and his new counterpart in Boston, Bobby Valentine, was a topic of discussion.
Girardi also discussed the changing landscape in the American League East, and the outlook for Yankees captain Derek Jeter in 2012.
Steve Silva has excerpts from Girardi’s interview in the video embedded here.
Click the full entry button for the full Q&A with Girardi, provided by the MLB media relations department.
So you guys did make sort of a move today acquiring the rights to a Japanese shortstop. What do you know about him?
Captain, shortstop, Seibu Lions, WBC shortstop; 2008 in the Olympics he was a shortstop. He’s a good player. This is about acquiring talented players to put them on our club. He’ll be asked to do a number of things. Obviously we will look at him. This is about acquiring talent and we feel we have a chance to sign a talented player.
You have Nunez in that role right now. If you sign him, do you envision space for both of them?
Yeah, I think there’s a space for both of them, and Nunez is a guy we envisioned moving all around and possibly playing some outfield. I believe there’s a spot for both of them.
Is this guy exclusively a shortstop or can he move around?
He has been, but obviously we would ask him to do more. We have a shortstop.
And a captain.
And a captain, yeah, and a WBC player.
Would you like to see another pitcher here as competition or who has more experience as a starter?
Obviously you always look to improve your club, but sometimes the asking price is too much, whether it’s — we feel it’s too much as a free agent signing or be it a trade. And if that’s the case, I do feel good about our rotation. If we have any chance to improve it, I’m sure we’ll do anything we can that makes sense for us, but it has to make sense for us, and we’re not just looking for a one year deal. We’re looking long term, as well. We feel we have some pretty good prospects in the Minor Leagues that are going to have the ability to help us this year, and these are the guys that are talked about in trades all the time. So it has to make sense, short and long term.
What makes you feel comfortable with that rotation? I assume you had at least two pretty major question marks at least based on last season with Hughes and Burnett. What makes you feel pretty content with what you have?
Yeah, it’s pretty close to the same rotation that we had going into last year. I liked what Freddy did for us. Freddy is a totally different look than all our other pitchers when you look at the type of stuff that he has. I like the progress that Nolan made and I think he’ll continue to get better. A.J. is a guy that we know has the capacity to throw very good games for us. We saw him throw a great game against the Tigers. Last year was the year where he had really one really hard month in the month of August, seemed to bounce back in September, had some good months early on, is a guy that always takes the baseball every fifth day and gives us innings. Our bullpen was very important to us last year and I think it’ll be very important to us again this year.
Phil Hughes, how does he bounce back? Is he able to be the guy that we had in 2010, and if he is that’s almost like going out and making a move because now you’re acquiring a guy in a sense we didn’t really have the Phil Hughes from 2010 and 2011. You’re acquiring a guy.
There was a report today that you would consider trading Burnett. How do you feel about that?
Well, there are reports out there all the time. Usually the Yankees always get thrown into every report because it looks good, can drive the price up. As I said, we’re always trying to improve our club. Is there necessarily truth to report about A.J.? I can’t tell you. But as I said, we’ll always try to improve, no matter where it is, whether it’s in the bullpen, a spot in the field or if it’s in our starting rotation. We’ll look at every avenue.
Do you look at Hughes as sort of the biggest X factor for your rotation?
He could be really important to our rotation. This is a guy that won 18 games in 2010, and that’s not always easy to do, win 18 games. But he pitched well for us, and that’s what we’re asking him to do to give a chance to win, keep us in the games like he did in 2010. I do consider him a big part of our rotation.
It seems like between CC and Hughes, conditioning of your starters is something that could become an issue. Is that something you want to be a little bit more cognizant of, more diligent, in Spring Training?
Well, CC, his conditioning only became a problem when he didn’t get a few outs. David Wells always said it best: When I’m pitching well, there’s no problem; when I’m not pitching well, they say I’m fat. CC was actually lighter last year than he was the year before, so CC works very, very hard. I see his routine, and he’s in that weight room and he’s doing all his work between every start. I have no problems.
Phil Hughes, I didn’t necessarily think conditioning was a problem for him. I thought that he got behind the 8 ball because he got hurt, and he never really caught it last year. And to me he is — that he gets off to a good start in Spring Training and he physically feels well and that his shoulder is strong and everything is strong.
You’re looking at three catchers?
It’s very possible that we could. We’ve got to see how the rest of the winter goes, but it’s very possible that we could. You look at a guy like Jesus, he’s got to earn a spot. This is a young man that we have a lot of belief in. We believe he can make an impact on our club. The thing about Cervelli and Russell Martin is they can play the infield if they have to, and that gives us some flexibility. It’s very possible that we could carry three catchers.
You said Montero needs to earn a spot and everybody potentially needs to earn their spot. Do you go into Spring Training with it in your head that Montero is your primary DH?
Yeah, are those expectations we have for him, yes. We expect him to perform at a level that he helps us next year. We expect that from him. I’m not saying he would be our full time DH, because I think we need to rotate that around a little bit, but we expect to give him at bats as a DH next year.
Do you expect to give him at bats as a catcher, as well?
Yeah, I do. The one thing with Jesus is he’s been talked about for so long, I think people forget how young he is. He’s only 22 years old, I believe. There aren’t a lot of 22-year-old, everyday catchers in the big leagues. These are guys that have to learn, and there’s a lot to learn. And it wasn’t really until last year that he played every day as a catcher. Him and Romine were together and then they finally split them apart, and that’s part of it, too, because catching is a physical — it’s very physical, and it demands a lot from you, and you have to make sure that they don’t lose so much that they’re not offensively productive, as well. He is a guy that will continue to work very hard at his catching, and I believe he’s going to catch in the big leagues. I do.
Considering where he is in his development, what is an appropriate workload behind the plate for a guy in Montero’s position right now?
Well, Russell is our everyday catcher right now, so you can’t predict how many games he’ll play. A lot of it depends on how much he’s playing or on injuries or how well he’s swinging the bat. There’s a lot of factors, so you can’t say going into next year I expect him to catch this many games. I can’t say that.
But is there sort of a ballpark number for someone in that part of their development, you know what I mean? I don’t get the sense you’d catch him 100 games.
Well, when you look at an everyday catcher you’re looking at somewhere between 100 and 120 games. That’s what you’re looking. Russell would play more if I let him. That’s Russell. Russell was our everyday guy and he got nicked up a couple times where we had to sit him for a week. You’ve got to — playing time is determined on how well you’re playing. I mean, that’s the bottom line, and that’s why I’m always hesitant to say he’s going to get so and so games as a starter, as a reliever. It depends on how you’re playing. That depends on your playing time.
If you’re carrying three catchers, do you make one of them your backup and the other one the third emergency guy? How do you split up the duties? If Cervelli is on the roster, I assume he’s going to play some?
If he’s there he’s going to play some. Montero is kind of a wild card in this, how he’s doing.
Is he a guy you could move to other positions, move him to first base?
I think that’s something we are talk about, but we still consider him a catcher.
Montero didn’t have a good spring last year. You’ve seen him now. Does he have to have a good spring to make it?
I don’t know, we obviously got an opportunity to see what he can do for us last year at an important point of the year, and sometimes people will say, September you can’t judge a player, and you can’t judge a player in Spring Training. When you’re in the American League East and you’re fighting for a spot, you can judge a player a little bit in September like we judged Nova. We thought Nova was going to help us this year and he did. You look at the work he had in August and September of 2010, pretty good starts. So I think you can make a judgment on — but is he guaranteed a spot? No, he’s not guaranteed a spot. Do we want him to make the team and be productive and have his bat in the lineup? Yes, we do.
He has to hit better than he did last spring?
That would be a start, yeah.
Looking around the division, what changes are there with Bobby Valentine managing the Red Sox?
Bobby is going to be probably a little bit different type of manager than Terry was because every manager is going to have a different philosophy than the last guy. A lot of your moves as a manager are dependent on what type of players you have. If you’ve got a bunch of guys that hit the ball out of the ballpark and are slow to first base, you’re not all of a sudden going to become a base stealing team. So you have to look at the lineup. But time will tell how he’s going to manage that club, and it’s our job to pay attention.
With the Rays, obviously the run they made at the end of the season, they have a couple holes. Do you view them as a challenge this coming season?
Yeah, they’re going to be good. Any time you have the rotation they have, they’re going to be good. I think Toronto has improved and Baltimore has talked about making moves. And when you look at Baltimore’s young starters, I think they got some great experience last year and probably learned a lot and you expect them to be good, as well.
And the Tampa pitching stands out?
They are an outstanding staff.
What do you expect out of Jeter and do you expect to scale back the amount of innings he plays?
I think he paid attention to how many days in a row he played last year and made sure that he was fresh, and a lot of that is just watching. Do I have a set number of games that I expect him to start at shortstop? No. I might start him at DH one day to kind of give him a blow, I might do that. The big thing is to make sure he has life in his legs. It’s the same for Alex, it’s the same for Tex, it’s the same for all my guys. The one thing that was interesting, there were days where I thought Grandy might need a day off and you would play him and he would hit two home runs. He was the one guy that was kind of hard to figure out. But I kind of get a good feeling by watching them when they need a day.
Did you have to temper your expectations for what you get out of Alex from this point forward?
No, I haven’t. A lot of times a player is remembered by how he finishes, not how he starts, which is understandable. But Alex before he hurt his knee was really good last year, and we expect him to be 100 percent when he comes into Spring Training. People were talking about in Spring Training the way he was driving the baseball about being an MVP type candidate, and then he hurt his knee and some things changed, and I think at times he favored his knee and he was out there playing with it, and he wasn’t quite the same hitter, and we never really got him back truly healthy. He came back from the knee and then hurt his thumb. I expect with the offseason of rest, I think you can have high expectations.
I guess the question is your expectations of the number of games you get out of him. He’s a guy who used to play 160 games a year. Do you need to be more careful with him on a preventative basis with him this year?
150? I don’t know about 150. You have to wait and see how he’s doing and how many DH days you can give him and how timely are days off, but I expect him to be productive, I do.
You went into last year knowing that how the rest of the top and bottom of your lineup your three, four and five are Teixeira, A Rod and Cano. Have you thought about that this year and is that going to change?
That’s something we’re going to have to evaluate in Spring Training. How do we set our lineups, and do we have one lineup with guys in a certain spots for right handers, do we have one lineup for guys that are left handers. You try to be careful stacking all your lefties together, so when you start talking about left handers you’ve got Gardner, Granderson and you’ve got Cano. Left handers don’t seem to bother these guys a whole lot, especially Robby Cano. Robby Cano is dangerous against everyone. But I think you have to make some evaluations in Spring Training about your lineup, and those might be some of the biggest decisions we make.
Do you lean toward Cano in the three-hole?
It’s definitely something we’ve talked about and will continue to talk about, and you’ve got to see how players come back and how healthy they are and how they’re doing. Robby is a guy that you really consider hitting third.
Does the same go for the lead off spot?
I don’t think any of us could complain how Jeter played the last three months in the lead off spot. I expect him to be our lead off guy.
You talked about Montero playing first. Are you just answering a question or is that something that realistically you could see him spending some time at first base in Spring Training?
Is it something we might play with? Maybe. Is it something we may not play with? Maybe. It’s something that I have brought up, but we still consider him a catcher, and in Spring Training you want the guys — and especially a young catcher like that who has to learn staff catching as much as possible. So how much time would you really have for him to play at first base? It’s might be a situation I tell Cervelli, take ground balls because you never know when we might have an emergency and I might put you there. But it’s not necessarily something I’m looking to do. If we were to go into the season right now, Swish would probably really be our backup first baseman if I was to give Tex a day off.
Do you anticipate your entire coaching staff returning?
We will all be back, every one of us, yes.
Given what happened last year, if you were to go into the season and one of your starting pitchers was struggling and say Ben Willis or Betances was pitching well, how open would you be to making a more aggressive more than last year?
I’m not afraid to make a move. If a guy is pitching well and you believe he can help you we’ll call him up. We called up a number of guys to our bullpen last year, signed a number of guys that really panned out. If you have a feeling about a guy that he can really help you, and if the guys in Triple A, it’s not someone that I’m going to see every day. If you have a feeling about calling up a young player, I’m not afraid to do that. We got great contributions out of young players last year.
Are you comfortable with the idea of giving a player as young as Montero the bullet being of his at bats at DH?
I want him to still progress as a catcher. I mean, those are the evaluations that we have to make in Spring Training. I think it’s important that he continues to catch because we believe that he can be an everyday catcher at some point in the Big Leagues. The only way you’re going to get better is catching, not by necessarily DHing all the time.
It’s something that we have to manage, it’s something that — it’s not an innings limitation, that I’ve had to manage the progression of a player. You have to manage that.
What are your impressions of Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish?
I have never really seen him throw, so it’s hard for me to really have an impression of him. I know he’s been talked about a lot, and the idea that he’s possibly coming to the States, but I’ve never seen him throw in person.