Q&A with Lou Piniella

INDIANAPOLIS -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella spoke to reporters at the Winter Meetings Monday. The following is a transcript of the Q&A.

Q. We all know it was a tough year this past year and (General Manager) Jim (Hendry) is harking hard to make some changes. Is there anything you'd like to see happen this winter?

LOU PINIELLA: We've talked about trying to improve our baseball team. We've gotten some good reports on people that have been working hard to be ready for Kemp. Soriano, for instance, Soto has been working hard in Puerto Rico, Zambrano in Chicago, Ted Lilly from his minor cleanup that he had on his shoulder. Those are important things for us. Staying healthy, that was the biggest problem we had with our baseball team last year. We just couldn't keep people on the field. I think we lost about a dozen players for over 30 games. We just didn't have the depth. And to the credit of the team, these kids played hard and continued to play, and we salvaged. I think it's going to make us better this year.

Q. There's been some talk about Mike Cameron potentially being part of the club. What can you tell us about him as a player and a person?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, as a player and a person I have the utmost respect for him, there's no question. I had him in Seattle and got along with him very well. He's a guy that -- he can play. He likes to play. But as far as him with our team, you've got to talk to Jim Hendry about those things. That's his area. But Mike certainly is a real good ballplayer.

Q. What areas do you think the team needs to be --

LOU PINIELLA: Well, we've talked about it. The areas that -- we need a bat that can drive in some runs, and our bullpen is very young. I think we can add some experience into our bullpen. I would think that those are the two areas that Jim will concentrate on the most. We've got some good young arms in the bullpen that we liked, and because of the problems that we had last year, we were able to pitch a lot of kids and give them opportunities. We're further ahead of the game that way. But you still need a little experience. I think that's one area that Jim will concentrate on. And then the outfield situation, we're going to need an outfielder. You can talk about different ways to go at it, but I think the approach that probably makes the most sense is the center field situation.

Q. Last year you really wanted a little more balanced, left, right, left, right. Is that as much --

LOU PINIELLA: I don't think it matters anymore. Just keep people healthy on the field, and let's get people that can produce and let it go at that. Sometimes you get in a situation where the player that you specifically want is not there and you start forcing things, so let's just get the best player that we possibly can and go from there.

Q. You guys got a little short last year when (Aramis) Ramirez went down at third. Are you confident you have that covered now?

LOU PINIELLA: We've got (Jeff) Baker. We picked up Baker halfway through the season -- not halfway, but a third of the way through the season, and he did a real nice job for us. We like Baker. He played second, he can pick up a third, and like I said, we're going to give him a little work in the outfield, too, left and right, in the Spring Training.

Q. How much do you guys talk about starting pitching?

LOU PINIELLA: We've got -- I was looking, we were looking at the depth chart, seven names for five spots.

Q. Is that counting (Ted) Lilly?

LOU PINIELLA: That's counting Lilly, yes. We've got (Carlos) Zambrano, (Ryan) Dempster, Lilly. Lilly probably won't be ready when the season starts. We anticipate within two weeks to a month. We've got (Randy) Wells, we've got (Tom) Gorzelanny, (Jeff) Samardzija, and (Sean) Marshall.

Q. Ryan Dempster said over the winter that if they weren't able to trade Milton (Bradley) that the players would welcome him back. Do you feel the same way?

LOU PINIELLA: Look, that's not my department. But I'll tell you this: Milton played, and I think he played in 125, what -- I don't remember the exact amount, but he played in quite a few games for us. You know, it was his first year. But that's Jim's department, that's not mine.

Q. Have you talked to him since the season ended?

LOU PINIELLA: I've talked to -- I actually reached out to about five of our players, mostly about their families than anything else. But no, I haven't talked to him.

Q. When you talk about your bullpen, are you set on (Carlos) Marmol as closer or is that up in the air?

LOU PINIELLA: No, we're set with Marmol as closer.

Q. How do you think he'll react from the beginning knowing that he's the closer?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, I think last year, he was, what, 13 out of 13 in close situations at the end of the year? I think that's accurate, after he was named closer. We're very, very happy with him. We've got (John) Grabow that we re-signed, and we're looking for a right-handed counterpart to pitch in late innings, and only because our bullpen is very young. You look at the names that we have out there, they're a bunch of young kids with good arms. They got a chance to pitch last year, and we pitched well, but getting one more veteran would help stabilize things.

Q. There was also some discussion about you beyond this upcoming season.

LOU PINIELLA: Come on, I don't need to approach that anymore. I've said what I have to say. I'll sign a 15-year extension and I'm going to go pull pitchers out with golf carts (laughter).

Q. You mentioned (Geovany) Soto. How important is he rebounding to your success next year?

LOU PINIELLA: Soto, he's working hard. Our people just saw him in Puerto Rico, and saw (Alfonso) Soriano in the Dominican, and he's in good shape. He's working hard. He's certainly much better than the year that he had last year. You know, I don't know if it was missing the time during the Spring Training or a little bit of a sophomore jinx or a combination of both. But yeah, he's certainly a lot capable of doing a lot better, and we expect him to bounce back and have more of a year than you would expect from a talented young man like him.

Q. You brought Alex Rodriguez along at age 19. Would you be afraid to go ahead and put (SS prospect Starlin) Castro in that mix?

LOU PINIELLA: No, I wouldn't be scared at all, obviously not. I've always enjoyed playing young players. It's just a question of readiness, and it's a question of not having to rush. Truthfully I'm very happy with (Ryan) Theriot. Eventually this young man will be the shortstop there, there's no question. You know, he only had like 50 or 60 or 70 at-bats in Double-A. So I would think that the natural progression for him would be to play in Triple-A, but we'll see what happens at Spring Training.

Q. What are your thoughts on replay? Do you think it needs to be expanded in baseball?

LOU PINIELLA: (Laughing) well, I'll tell you, I hate all those interruptions watching (baseball) on television, I really do. It feels like I need a refrigerator watching the game. Look, it's sports. It's human. You know, people are going to make some good plays, and they're going to make some bad plays. Umpires are going to make some good calls, and they're going to make some bad calls. I think when it's all said and done over a course of 162 games, it evens out quite a bit. If you have to concern yourself with winning because of replay, it means you're not very good.

Q. End of last year you talked a little bit about adding speed possibly. Is that something you guys might still try to do?

LOU PINIELLA: I think you're going to see a lot of teams, because of less home runs being hit, I think you're going to see teams probably trying to get a little more athletic. I don't know if we're going to be able to do that this year or not. I think adding one good solid bat to our lineup, adding a little depth to our bullpen, I think if we can do those things, I think we'll be well pleased and we'll be well positioned to get back on top in our division.

Q. Will Soriano remain a middle of the lineup hitter now that you've moved him out of the leadoff spot?

LOU PINIELLA: Yeah, we're going to keep him in that six hole. I think that's what's best for him. I know we've had this discussion many times. But I think we'll keep him in the six hole.

Q. When you consider you've changed your own managerial style over the years, you've had several jobs, each with sets of challenges, how do you view yourself as a manager psychologically and tactically these days?

LOU PINIELLA: Psychologically? I don't know how to answer psychologically. I've calmed down a heck of a lot. I think it's good. I think tactically all the experience I have helps out immensely. Managing in Chicago has been fun for me. It's a team that gets a lot of attention, and I enjoy the National League style of ball. Also I enjoy managing in Wrigley Field where the conditions change almost from day-to-day. Sometimes one half of the game until the end, start of the game until the end. Look, but I don't know how to answer your psychological question. You know, I'm basically old school in a lot of ways, but I also am smart enough to recognize that you have to change and that you have to look at what your peers are doing and how successful they are and try to incorporate things into your style. You know, basically I let guys play.

Q. How big of an asset will Rudy Jaramillo be to your coaching staff?

LOU PINIELLA: Look, he's been the most successful hitting coach in baseball over the past half a dozen years or so. I'm well pleased that he's a member of our staff. First of all, he's worked with some of these players that we have here, and he's had success with them. I talked to him at length in Arizona during our organizational meetings, and I love the concept that he has. We'll let him handle the hitting, and I think he'll do a really good job for us. He's anxious to get started. He was anxious then. But I think he'll really help. We've talked specifically about some of the players that we had on the team last year that struggled, and he was ready to get going then. I'm sure he's made contact with a lot of our players.

Q. What does new ownership bring to the team and to the franchise?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, it's unique in a way in that Mr. Ricketts that bought the team was a big Cub fan and would sit in the bleachers. He met his wife there. That's a unique situation. He's going to bring some caring and some attention. This guy here wants to win. He's a competitive guy. Having a private ownership as opposed to corporate ownership, it's going to make a difference, also.

Q. Is it a settling influence to have somebody now that you know you have an owner?

LOU PINIELLA: I think so. The past three years we've managed, but it's good when you have somebody that's going to give it some really good tender loving care, and from every indication from talking to him, he's got passion for the game, and he loves the Cubs. That's a pretty good combination.

Q. Would you say this is a make or break type year in the sense for the Cubs that you have veteran players, there's only a certain window for veteran players to get it done? Would you say that this is a peak year for the franchise to try to win?

LOU PINIELLA: I think it's an important year with new ownership. But I'll tell you this: I think the little bit of a fallacy with our baseball team, it's not an old team. It's a relatively young team. I don't think we have anybody over, what, 34. So basically the team is fairly young. But you know, it's of the age where you expect to perform well and to win. And I think we will, I really do. I hope that we can do just a few things here to improve our team, and I think we're going to be very, very competitive in our division and go from there. But it's not an old team. But it is a team basically that when you look at it, the most recognizable names are older. And you say, well, this team should win. And I agree with that. Look, last year we just had a lot of problems, a lot of problems physically. I mean, my God, every time we'd get somebody on the field, the next day somebody would be off, or even that day. But I think -- and remember, last year off of a team that won 97 ballgames the year before, we had 11 changes, where this year here we're not going to have nearly as many changes off a team that only won 83. So that's going to help, also.

Q. Speaking of expectations, you've managed Carlos Zambrano now for a few years. Do you expect this is the year where he has that breakout season?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, he stayed in Chicago all winter, and he's been working out. They told me, talking to Mark O'Neal, our trainer, he's lost 15 pounds. He's working hard, and Carlos has something to prove this year. He's coming off of a nine-win season. Everybody knows that he's a lot better than that. In fact, truthfully, I don't want to put any pressure on him, but this is a young man that should approach 20 wins every year with his stuff and with his physique, and hopefully this is the year he gets to that.

Q. You had a staff where nobody had 200 innings. Can that be a blessing and a plus for veteran guys?

LOU PINIELLA: Well, I think Dempster got 200 innings right at the end. But yeah, this was a difficult year. I think it allowed us to pitch a lot of people. We got a chance to really know our top people in our organization quite well. We haven't seen the kid (Andrew) Cashner at the big league level, (and) the kid that we got from Cleveland. We got a chance to see a lot of different pitchers, and I think that's an advantage in a way. When you're on the disabled list, after 30 days or so, it's hard to pitch the younger guys. I think the only one that wasn't on that line was Dempster. About three weeks for Dempster, but it's hard to pitch 200 innings if you're not out there every five days.

Q. Do you feel in any way, shape or form, given this is the last year that you have to prove anything or show anything, you've won, had experience, but new ownership, are there any expectations --

LOU PINIELLA: I told you I was going to sign a 15-year deal. What else can I say? Huh?

Q. How did you enjoy your time at the Colts game yesterday?

LOU PINIELLA: I enjoyed it. What a beautiful stadium. Outside, inside, and they've got a first-class team to go along with it. Yeah, it was a really enjoyable experience. TVs, the sound system, the product that they put on the field. But I was really impressed, really, with the stadium. I walked around quite a bit. I didn't get a chance to go down into the locker room because I got off on the first floor and the rest of the group left me. (Laughter). But outside of that, yeah, I couldn't be more impressed with the whole situation.

Q. Is it more challenging winning in Chicago than in other places you've been?

LOU PINIELLA: I think it's challenging anywhere. People don't realize, it's hard to win, period. It really is. It's not easy. We've had three winning seasons since I've been there in Chicago, two divisional titles. But we haven't had success in the post-season. That probably has been my biggest disappointment. Last year, look, somebody that told any of us that we were going to have your top people out for 30 days or more, as many as we had, you'd say, ouch. I think you take away top people from any team, there's going to be a dropoff. If we stay healthy this year, we do a few things over the winter, we'll get it done in Chicago again this summer.

Q. What did you think of Hideki Matsui's World Series performance?

LOU PINIELLA: It was wonderful. He hit the ball extremely well. He's a professional hitter. He swings the bat. Basically -- you can't say he carried, but he certainly had an outstanding World Series and was rewarded with the MVP.

Q. I know it's Jim's department, but is he the kind of player that you would like to manage?

LOU PINIELLA: I'd like to manage anybody that can play and play well to be honest with you. But in the National League you've got to play the outfield, too. We're in a situation where anything that we add to our outfield, we've got to get defense. That's part of the equation. We just can't look for an offensive player alone. We've got to look for somebody that can play both sides of the ball. That makes it a little more difficult for Jim.

Q. Do you have to wait to see the rest of Jim's moves to see if the defense is going to improve?

LOU PINIELLA: We have to wait. But look, keeping our third baseman on the field healthy is key. At first base, third base, shortstop, Theriot does a -- I've just got to rest him a little bit more. We had so many people hurt last year, I keep saying I've got to rest him more, and I see where he played 154, that's probably too many. He got tired at the end of the year. But boy, when you've got people hurt every day and you're trying to win baseball games and stay competitive -- at second base we've got (Mike) Fontenot and Baker. We need to concentrate on our outfield and catch the ball a little bit. Catching, Soto is going to get better, and the other kid, the backup catcher, does a real nice job defensively.

Q. You mentioned Fontenot. Do you anticipate a comeback season for him? Does he play enough positions to fit in on the club?

LOU PINIELLA: Does he play enough positions? His best position is second base. He can play a little third. Usually you want your middle infielder to be able to play shortstop, too. We've got (Andres) Blanco that we like. He can do that. Let's see how our team is put together. But right now when you look at our depth chart, we expect Fontenot to bounce back and hit a little better, or a little more like he hit his first year than he hit his second year.

Q. Jake Fox is a local kid. I'm sure you enjoyed --

LOU PINIELLA: I enjoy Jake. He's a confident young guy, and I'll tell you what, he's got some sock in his bat. It's a good move for Jake going over to Oakland. He'll get a lot of at-bats over there. They've got the DH. It's a wonderful opportunity for him. We gave him a chance last year to establish himself at the big league level, and he did quite well. He did quite well. But moving him over to Oakland where he's going to get a lot of at-bats and maybe get a chance to play in the field occasionally, have that DH available to him, it's good. I've heard from a lot of people here since I've been here the past couple days that the kid we got, (Jeff) Gray, will help us. They say he's another young man with a real good arm and that he'll be able to pitch in those middle to late inning situations for us.

Q. I'm sure you're used to having these meetings in more temperate zones. What do you make of having this in Indianapolis?

LOU PINIELLA: It's fine with me. Yeah, I walked downtown on Sunday, and nice city. Look, cold weather, we're here for baseball, we're not here to sit by the swimming pool. (Laughter). You can see I've been in Key West fishing, so I've probably got enough of hot weather.

Q. Interesting Hall of Fame candidate Edgar Martinez. Can you talk about that and comment on DH's in general as Hall of Fame candidates?

LOU PINIELLA: He's been the best DH by far in the history of baseball. It's an integral part of the American League's team. It shouldn't be held against him. This guy can hit and he can drive in runs. When he was young, he could steal bases, and when I first went there, he'd steal 20 bases and play third base, hit second in the lineup, and as he got bigger and stronger, we moved him into the DH spot and hit him in the middle part of our lineup. Ten years I was with Edgar, there wasn't a better right-handed hitter in the league.

Q. Talk about Barry Larkin, 2,200, 2,300 hits. People are looking at that hit total saying it may or may not have been enough. Does he have enough to make up with the intangibles?

LOU PINIELLA: He made it to the All-Star team numerous times. Basically I considered him like the captain of our baseball team. He's a winner. I thought for the three years I was there, he was a dominant shortstop in the National League. You know, why not? Why not? I think probably it's getting too hard to get into the Hall of Fame.

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