Winter Meetings Day One

The MLB Winter Meetings are just getting underway at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, just 20 minutes from Vanderbilt campus. I got a press pass with the Vanderbilt Hustler and here are some of my updates from throughout the afternoon, which you can also follow on Twitter.

3:27 PM CT – Joe Torre on WBC:

Joe will be managing the US team at the World Baseball classic. He mentioned that he doesn’t want to overwork his pitchers, specifically that he will talk with each player’s manager and general manager to make sure that he doesn’t deviate from how his team would normally handle his workload.

When asked if he ever gets the itch to manage again, Torre sad that he did not anymore. He said that every game was a do-or-die of sorts and that the lows are too low after losses.

Torre was asked how important it is for the US to win the WBC as a sort of comparison to the Dream Team, but the first thing he mentioned was the importance of growing baseball internationally. He did stress that the team is set on winning, but that the competition would definitely be steep, especially from Latin America.

Torre discussed the rosters, which are not final, and said that about half the players would be pitchers. Additionally, there will probably be at least three catchers, since few catchers will likely be ready to play nine innings per game in March. He also mentioned the importance of role players in addition to stars.

Finally, Torre said he thought the key to winning would be pitching and defense. Plus the experience of managing near-All-Star Teams before would help, although it hurts that he doesn’t have a previous relationship with all of his players

3:55 – Mets and R.A. Dickey

The Mets are definitely open to moving Dickey, although the price will be steep. The asked the Red Sox in a meeting for both Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Dickey is two years from free agency, but the Mets also ran a similar hard bargain two years ago when the tried to move free agent-to-be Carlos Beltran, ultimately netting Zach Wheeler.

The Red Sox reportedly do not want to include either prospect in the deal. It’s unclear if either prospect would be available at all.

4:17 – Dusty Baker, Reds Manager

Dusty was asked about Aroldis Chapman and if he thinks a pitcher needs three quality pitches to be a starting pitcher. Dusty said that he doesn’t think it is mandatory for a starter to have to throw three pitches well, but if they don’t they need pinpoint accuracy. He said that he thought Chapman’s slider was excellent, but the changeup still needed work, especially over longer outings.

Baker also brought up the potential need for a way to limit Chapman’s pitches, although he said they didn’t have one single plan in mind, should the Reds move him to the rotation. He suggested a few ideas, including possibly shutting him down early in the year, limiting his pitch counts, spacing out his starts longer, and other “creative solutions.”

Baker also had high praise for young shortstop Zach Cozart, saying that he loved the kid’s attitude. His arm and running, though needed improving, along with, obviously, his bat. The manager had high praise for his glove, which he said was “very steady for a young player,” and also added that he didn’t want to sacrifice defense at shortstop.

On the subject of instant replay, Dusty said that he would like to see replay expended, although he also wishes umpires would reach their conclusions faster. To sum up his thoughts, replay is fine “as long as they can do it in a timely fashion.”

4:27 – Ned Yost, Royals Manager

Yost mentioned that the Royals are still looking to add starting pitching, fitting in with the reports that the team was pursuing James Shield and Jon Lester, possibly in return for super-prospect Wil Myers. He said that Luis Mendoza would definitely get a shot to keep his rotation spot, but if he didn’t win it, he’d definitely still remain on the roster as a long reliever.

If Myers did get traded, though, Yost said the team would have to depend upon Jeff Francoeur to have a bounce-back season. For the time being, they would still like to add an outfield bat, perhaps on the non-tender list–whether or not they end up dealing Myers. For the future, though, Yost said he is very excited about Jorge Bonifacio, among other outfield prospects.

4:36 – John Gibbons, Blue Jays Manage

Gibbons was very excited to be back managing in the big leagues, saying there is more pressure than before, although there is always pressure coaching in the majors. There was a definite excitement in his voice about the strength of his new team. Among the new players, Gibbons said he expects Mark Buehrle to be a team leader, whether vocally or by example.

Gibbons did divulge a bit about his lineup, saying he will start out the lineup with Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion for sure. Otherwise, he said nothing was set. Additionally, Maicer Izturis was signed as the starting second baseman, but he could be moved around the diamond. At the same time, Emilio Bonifacio could play second or in the outfield.

On the subject of the bullpen, Gibbons pointed out that a strong pitching staff makes a strong bullpen. He said that a lot of the roles have yet to be determined and may not be finalized for most of the year, but the more firepower he has the better. As for the closer’s role, Gibbons said that, again, nothing was finalized between Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos, especially since both are coming off injuries.

Finally, Gibbons also talked about some of the faster players on the team, saying that he didn’t want to rein in any of his faster players stealing, although “there are players in the middle of the order paid to knock them in.”

4:55 – Terry Collins, Mets Manager

Collins was asked a lot about potential moves and players he might be interested, but he noted that he didn’t have much say in transaction. Although it’s not up to him, he did say the team is looking for another right-handed bat in the outfield. In terms of whether the team is trying to contend or rebuild, he did said “everybody wants to win now,” although it’s a bit unclear if “everyone” is the Mets or just teams in general.

As for minor league pitchers, Collins said that Jenrry Mejia will come into the season with a chance to start for the major league team out of spring training. If Jeurys Familia starts the year with the Mets, though, he would be pitching out of the bullpen. Collins stressed the importance of minor leauge pitchers starting, rather than relieving, even if their future is in the bullpen, hinting that Familia would start in AAA, should he not begin the year in the majors. On the subject of Zach Wheeler, Collins expects him to follow the path of Matt Harvey last year, although Wheeler will get a chance to break camp with the major league club. Finally, Darin Gorski, will also have an outside shot at starting the year in the majors.

Collins got a very large proportion of his questions about R.A. Dickey, but kept reiterating that he loves R.A., has no control over whether or not he is traded, and that “it’s a matter of movie forward with who we have.”

Lastly, Collins added that Justin Turner would not be an every day player, but rather he would be a super-utility player. He said that Turner would be taking reps in the outfield every day.

5:05 – Bob Melvin, Athletics Manager

Melvin said that the team has a lot of free agent decisions, but that the team is not in a particular rush. Jonny Gomes already signed with Boston, but Brandon McCarthy and Stephen Drew, among other players, remain un-signed. The A’s are reportedly courting both Drew and Hirojuki Nakajima, although Melvin said the team would be fine with the players they currently have at shortstop. He said their currently players aren’t very experienced and aren’t putting up much offensive numbers. He also noted that being in a relatively unattractive small market doesn’t help out.

With the addition of Chris Young, Melvin said the team will be rotating outfielders (Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith) through the DH position to give the players some extra rest. He also said that the A’s were not looking to trade any outfielders, especially Cespedes, whom he said has the sky as his limit.

As for other positional battles, Melvin said he was comfortable and optimistic about having a lefty/righty platoon with Chris Carter and Brandon Moss. Alternatively, he said Derek Norris is without a doubt the starting catcher, although George Kottaras will have a solid amount of playing time.

Melvin also stressed that the team doesn’t really need to add much more pitching with six solid young pitchers. He did say that there wouldn’t be the same group of five starting pitchers in the rotation all season.

Melvin also spoke at length about the team’s new addition, Chris Young, who Melvin coached during his time in Arizona. The coach said that the front office asked him about Young prior to his acquisition and that he really liked Young’s athleticism and versatility. He also suggested that Young would likely lead off against left-handed pitchers, although he could also hit cleanup.

5:42 – Keith Law!

I got the great opportunity to talk with the great Keith Law for a bit, definitely one of my personal highlights of the winter meetings. Some of the conversation wasn’t on the record, but he gave some great advice and was very nice to meet up with a random college sportswriter.

5:46 – Joe Maddon, Rays Manager

Maddon stressed that if the Rays are to win 90 games on a regular basis, they need to pitch well and defend well. He said that you cannot out-hit or out-spend other teams; “to be as pitching rich as possible is very attractive. Pitching and defense will continue to dominate.”

The glasses-clad manager also showed optimism in Jeremy Hellickson, who he said could be a 200-inning pitcher in the near future. As for other young pitchers, he said that Chris Archer and Alex Cobb are competitive MLB pitchers, although maybe not for a title contending team. He said that he didn’t want to stretch out the young pitchers beyond what is necessary for them, since development is essential for the future.

Maddon was also asked about instant replay, and Maddon was mostly in favor of adding more technology. He said that aside from balls and strikes, everything else should be up for discussion. The key for him, though, was keeping things simple, possibly by limiting the amount of replay done in each game.

When asked about the Yankees, Maddon said that injuries would certainly be an issue (A-Rod will miss some time and Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be coming off injuries), but he fully expects the Yankees to make the right moves and play very well.

8:12 – Jonah Keri and Kiley McDaniel!

I also ran across ESPN writers Jonah Keri and Kiley McDaniel right before I left Opryland. It’s great to meet coaches and front office people, but meeting some of my favorite writers is just as cool. They’re a lot more personable, too. Very funny.

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