Lou Piniella Q&A

A transcript of Cubs manager Lou Piniella's Q & A session with reporters at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday in Nashville:

Q. For fans at home that haven't seen much activity as far as the big league club goes right now, you know, what do you tell them right now?

LOU PINIELLA: I tell them to be patient. It takes a while. Jim's been working hard here talking to quite a few GMs. At the same time, talking to some agents. Things have to fall in place for us. He promised me, though, by Christmas I'll be very happy. So things take time to materialize, and we've got a fairly good game plan. At the same time, things that we would be interested in doing now, other teams, they want us to wait a little bit. I like our game plan. And just have some patience and it will come to fruition.

Q. Do you still see making a trade maybe?

LOU PINIELLA: I would think yes. Yeah, I don't know about here. But yeah, I would see us improving a little bit through free agency, at the same time via the trade route.

Q. Talked about getting off to a fast start this coming year as you did last year but it didn't happen. Do you think an extra year of familiarity will help overcome some of that?

LOU PINIELLA: I think so. We know our players a lot better. Last year was a learning process for myself and the staff, as well as for the players. I think we're beyond that. So we can really concentrate on certain things that we want to do to help us ensure to get off to a good start.

Q. When you saw Infante traded yesterday, did you think that was a precursor for something else? You like this flexibility and you get another right-handed pitcher which looks like --

LOU PINIELLA: The young pitcher we got from Atlanta, our scouts really liked. They like his upside. They feel that he can pitch in the middle for us now. Got a really good arm and still on the improvement. I talked to Bobby Cox about him and he spoke very well. You never have enough good arms, and he'll be a nice addition to our pitching staff and we'll give him every opportunity in Spring Training to turn a spot and contribute.

Q. You talked to Matsui through an interpreter --

LOU PINIELLA: Yes, I talked to him for about a half hour.

Q. Have you done with Fukudome?

LOU PINIELLA: No, I have not talked to anybody else. I talked to Matsui through an interpreter. I was watching my daughter horseback riding, and we had a nice conversation for a half hour or so and told him, you know, about our organization and so forth. But he chose to go to Houston and we wish him well.

Q. Why do you personally like or what do you see from the Japanese players that they bring to the party in general?

LOU PINIELLA: You know, I've been fortunate. I had Ichiro in Seattle, what a great player he is, and Sasaki, the closer, he pitched exceedingly well. And then I had Hasegawa, pitched setup for us, another Japanese pitcher that really competed well and really did a nice job. The Japanese players are very disciplined. They have got talent, and they enjoy playing baseball. Got a really good work ethic and they compete very well. I've enjoyed having them. We had a younger kid over there, Suzuki, Mac Suzuki, that had some problems physically, but he had a bright future ahead of him, too.

Q. We talked informally at lunch about Rich Hill and what he has to do to take that next step to become an elite left-hander. What do you see?

LOU PINIELLA: I see a young man, truthfully, that still has upside to him. I think he needs to learn to pitch a little better with men in scoring position where he doesn't lose concentration from the hitter but can still be able to hold runners better than he has. At the same time, I see a kid that fights himself trying to strive for perfection, and it's not a perfect game. So those are the two areas that I think he needs to improve on the most. But he's young, especially young left-handed starting pitchers, sometimes it takes them a little longer to really develop and for everything to come together. But he's getting into that age group now where it should come rather quick for him. I like Rich a lot.

Q. We talked also informally about the fact that none of your players had even career-after years last year, but you still won the division. Do you look at that as an aberration, that at least a couple of those guys should be better this year?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, I thought they all played well, I really do. I think they are capable of doing a little more than they did. Soriano had 31 home runs. The only thing we would like to see Alfonso do is hopefully steal some bases, more bases, give us more speed out of the leadoff spot. Drove in 70-some runs. He missed, what, 25, 30 games, whatever it was, and a lot of those games, even though he didn't miss them, he couldn't run, which that's a big part of his game. Derrek Lee, he consistently was over .300 all year. Didn't have the big, big home run year. But he's certainly very capable of bouncing back and hitting 35 or 40 this year, the same way that Ramirez, Ramirez had some physical problems. Zambrano won his 18 ballgames which is the most he won at the big league level, but he lost 13. I think he can certainly have a bigger discrepancy won/loss where he can win 18 or 20 and lose eight or nine. But, you know, it bodes well for us, because it forced us to do a lot of different things and bring up a lot of different young kids and try different things. And because of it, our young kids got a chance to play and we probably got a chance to develop them a little quicker than we would have. I like our situation. So far here in these Winter Meetings, we haven't amassed yet, by we will as far as talent is concerned. Jim's worked hard, he really does. He gets after it. With a little patience, we're going to be where everybody wants us to be right now.

Q. Has Daryle Ward indicated to you that he might have a shot at more playing time and if everything else fell through, would you consider him more in right?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, Daryle swings the bat, he really does. You know, he's got to stay a little healthier. I don't know, he was on the DL a few times last year. We like his bat coming off the bench. He's a kid that can sit on the bench and win a ballgame for you with one swing of the bat. I think we got him for that more than anything else but I can understand the players want to play and I like that.

Q. We know you need another bat, everybody says that, and the bullpen is pretty well set. What about another starter? Would you take another starter?

LOU PINIELLA: You know, you can always use pitching, there's no question. I think the immediate needs, though, we need a good bat. Probably use a little speed in the lineup, too. I don't know if we're going to be able to -- once we do those things, I'm not so sure that we'll be in the market for pitching. I think the pitching that we have is certainly good enough. I don't think that you'll see us in the market for pitching. You know what, Jim would give you a much better indication than I would. We need the bat and we need a little speed.

Q. You have Theriot as the incumbent at shortstop, do you envision competition with him and Cedeno, or does Theriot have the inside track there?

LOU PINIELLA: Theriot is going to play shortstop. He earned it. He played really, really well. You're going to see Theriot at shortstop. Not sure if he's going to hit second or eighth in the lineup. But depending on our acquisitions, it will tell us a lot about that. I like Cedeno as a player. He's playing a little centerfield in winter ball, too, just to make him a little more versatile. I like him. When he got an opportunity to play last year, he did fine, but Theriot will be the shortstop.

Q. Is he good enough to back up both spots?

LOU PINIELLA: Oh, yeah. Cedeno can play second, he can play short, he can play a little third. Yeah, Cedeno's fine. He's getting to the age now where he's going to blossom. I think Ronny at some point, I don't know whether it's going to be with the Cubs or someone else, but he's going to be an every day player at the big league level and have success.

Q. Marquis has a spot in the rotation or does he have to fight for it?

LOU PINIELLA: Marquis, look, we've got -- I think we're going to go to camp. Our plans are to go to camp with eight starters and we've got Zambrano, we've got Lilly, we've got Marquis, we have got Hill, we've got Marshall, we've got Hart, Gallagher will stretch out there, too. And Dempster. I knew we had eight. Yeah, I envision Marquis in our rotation.

Q. How much does it help you to have Dempster?

LOU PINIELLA: I don't know, that's a good question. Look, Spring Training is going to answer those things. But you're right, I mean, Dempster saved 28 out of 31. That's a pretty darned good percentage. And at the same time, it frees me to use Howry and Marmol and Kerry Wood and keep them all fresh in those set up roles. You know, I talked to Dempster a couple times and even towards the end of the year, he felt that he wanted to give this a go. So maybe we'll pitch him against the Tigers early in the string. (Laughing) No, I'm just joking. Look, believe me, we're going to have to give this more thought. You know, obviously we told him we would give him a chance to start and we'll see how he looks. The Red Sox went to camp last year in Fort Myers with Papelbon being a starter and halfway through the spring changed their mind and he had a heck of a year out of the bullpen. So I'm not saying that's going to happen to Dempster but it possibly could.

Q. But you would want to go with one guy at some point?

LOU PINIELLA: Yeah, I don't like the committee, close by committee. I really don't. I would prefer to go with one guy and have another guy that if we've used our closer where we've won three or four in a row and he's pitched in those games, give him a breather. But no, I don't like the committee closing.

Q. Along those lines, people have assumed that Kerry Wood would be the closer.

LOU PINIELLA: Who is this?

Q. Kerry Wood. Do you have any preconceived notions right now?

LOU PINIELLA: Look, I'm really pleased to see him signed back with us. He's a Cub, and I tell you what, he got better and better as the season wore on last summer. The only thing that I've said with Kerry is the durability. Outside of that, he certainly has the stuff. He's got experience. He's got the desire and he likes that type of situation. He's got all the ingredients. But the durability; to be a closer, you have to pitch three or four days in a row at times. We didn't do that with Kerry. I think he pitched back-to-back games only twice all summer.

Q. The way you manage, do you need a long man? You grab the game by the throat in the sixth inning a lot of times.

LOU PINIELLA: Or the game grabs me by the throat. (Laughter.) Yeah, I like the idea of -- you know what I like about the idea? I like the idea of a long man that can be your emergency starter. That's what I like where a pitcher comes to the ballpark and all of a sudden he's got a strep throat or, you know, whatever. Put your long man in there to pitch, as opposed to having to go down to AAA and bring somebody up. I like that idea. I like the idea that being a young pitcher, that's learning how to pitch at the big league level. I like a long man. Last year our bullpen, most of our pitchers were the shorter variety, and we tried Gallagher and it didn't work out that well for him in that role, because he had to sit too much.

Q. Do you think Hart can be the guy?

LOU PINIELLA: I like Hart. I like Hart, yeah, I really do like Hart. He's got good mound presence. He's got a nice, good, cut fastball and a nice little slider, spots well and he throws strikes. I like Hart, yeah.

Q. I know we have to ask Dempster this, but why do you think he wants to do this knowing there's not a real opening in the starting staff necessarily?

LOU PINIELLA: He likes that. I mean, he really enjoyed starting in Miami. I would say that's the primary reason. That's probably the primary reason. He enjoys starting and going out there. And closing is not the easiest job in the world to do, I mean, it really isn't. It sounds like a nice glamour job. But I know he likes starting and we've talked -- he he's talked to Larry Rothschild, our pitching coach.

Q. A few hours left here in Nashville, can you characterize your thoughts on if you may get something done?

LOU PINIELLA: I don't know. You have to talk to our general manager about that. I'm just -- this is Jim's time and he does a real nice job at this. So you'd have to talk to -- but he's worked hard. I know he's worked hard. He's talked to quite a few clubs and whether something happens here or not, for sure the groundwork has been laid to get something done afterward.

Q. Has the uncertain ownership situation impacted anything?

LOU PINIELLA: None. None at all. That subject has not even come up. The Tribune Company, they have been very supportive and they have told us to go on with our plans as usual and try to put the best ballclub we can on the field within the parameters that they have set financially.

Q. Your young center fielder?

LOU PINIELLA: Yeah, Pie, we sent our hitting coach to the Dominican twice to get him to shorten his swing, to work the count a little more, to hit the ball, to bunt once in a while, to slap the ball by the third baseman. I'd like to see Pie take a good look at what a young man like Kenny Lofton -- well, not a young man, but Kenny Lofton and be that type of player. He certainly has the ability to. So we'll see. Shorten up his swing, slap the ball by the third baseman, get the third baseman in. You know, it's something that he has not been able to do and hasn't had to do at the Minor League level. But when you get to the big leagues, you have to start somewhere and that's a good place to start and then build from that. Yeah, it's a big year for Felix. He's a good kid. He likes to play and he wants to please and he wants to do well.

Q. What are the challenges for a manager, and maybe not with this specific situation, but in your experience, trying to win at the Major League level, and also grow young pitchers at the same time, particularly starters with the innings.

LOU PINIELLA: Young pitchers, as long as they are not intimidated, and as long as they compete, you can win with young pitching. Especially if you have more experience and you have a nice veteran bullpen to go along with it. Yeah, I like the idea of good, young stuff, I really do. You're talking about the Yankees, probably, right, with the young starters they have? Yeah, send them over to Chicago, we'll develop them (laughter).

Q. Do you see more of that now with teams paying attention to how many innings those guys get, rather than saving their careers for the long term?

LOU PINIELLA: I think we had -- how many young kids we have in our rotation this year, two of them? One pitched 200 innings and another one pitched -- would have pitched 170, 175. So watch your pitch counts -- they will do fine over there. They have got good arms, the kids that you're talking about.

Q. How do you look at the division? I know it's only December 5.

LOU PINIELLA: Our club right now is incomplete. We've got to fill in a few of our -- a few of the blanks, and we will. But I think it's going to be a competitive division again. Our job is to work hard in Spring Training and come out of the box well, that's important. Last year we had to step on that pedal full bore for a long, long time. The Yankees were another team that came out of the box, and they had to do the same thing, and both teams lost fairly quickly in post-season. I like our chances in our division. I really do. I like our talent level. I know some of the things we want to do, if we can just do three-quarters of them, I'd be really, really pleased. I look forward to my second year in Chicago and the challenge.

Q. We killed you about manufacturing runs, me in particular, of course, toward the end of the year, that you couldn't do it, and there was no answer that you could give. Are you hoping that that's solved?

LOU PINIELLA: We're looking at that. That's part of our equation. That's part of our equation, the on-base percentage, the idea that we can manufacture a little more; that we don't have to rely strictly on the long haul, that's part of -- notice that none of the players that we have talked about this winter are power, power hitters. They are capable of hitting home runs but they are more of the athletic variety that you can create with.

Q. Do you anticipate that Mark Prior is going to get moved?

LOU PINIELLA: You've got to talk to Jim about that. His name has been brought up but Jim will give you the best answer on that.

Q. You sure?

LOU PINIELLA: He might not want to, but he could. But his name, he's been discussed with some teams.

Q. Jim's been tight-lipped about Fukudome, do you have a sense of how many teams are in this thing?

LOU PINIELLA: He's a very talented young man, really good player. He would make a fine addition on many Major League teams, including ours. You know, if he decides to come here, we would really welcome his services.

Q. Have you paid attention to what the other teams have done in the division? Obviously you guys are there with the Brewers, and they lost their closer; and the Reds needed bullpen help, and they got the Brewers' closer; Astros have a new manager. What do you think of the other teams in the division?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, they are all going to try to improve, there's no question and we are going to have to improve a long with them. Yeah, you can see that last year we went from last place to first place in the division in a short period of time. So certainly it can be done. We've just got to continue to improve a long with the rest of the teams.

Q. Talking about Kerry Wood's durability, is he where he's going to be?

LOU PINIELLA: I think he can get better, there's no question. He's another year removed from his physical problems. Should be stronger. Yeah, at the end of the year, his arm really felt good. He was strong and he was really throwing the ball well. So yeah, with some good rest over the winter, yeah, he should continue to improve.

Q. Will you be able to tell by the end of Spring Training if he can handle the endurance thing?

LOU PINIELLA: Yeah, we can tell. We'll be able to tell. With 30 games in Spring Training, we'll be able to tell, how they bounce back, how many times people are in the training room, the stuff. We usually pitch relievers back-to-back in the spring. We'll pitch them a couple innings a few times. We'll be able to tell, yeah. No question.

Q. Speaking of Fukudome again, have you picked up any Japanese along the way with some of these players?

LOU PINIELLA: With Ichiro I used to speak Spanish, so, yeah.

Q. Soriano speaks Japanese.

LOU PINIELLA: Yeah, Soriano can speak some Japanese, that's right.

Q. Derrek Lee probably, too.

LOU PINIELLA: How about that.

Q. Yesterday the Miami trade with Detroit, American League getting two more great players, why such a disparity now?

LOU PINIELLA: Yeah, the Red Sox have won two World Series in the last four years; they are a dominant team. And I think these American League teams say to themselves, boy, if we want to get where they are at, we've got to improve. The Central Division was very competitive last year, too, with Cleveland and Detroit. But I think you start seeing a team that people start fearing a little bit as a team that can dominate for a few years, you've got to get after it, and that's exactly what Detroit did.

Q. Is it almost like the Red Sox and Yankees have set the bar so high?

LOU PINIELLA: I think so, I really do. I think that's a really good way to describe it. They have set that bar and players have to -- teams have to get after it.


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