Bud Black Q&A at Winter Meetings

San Diego Padres manager Bud Black is at the Winter Meetings and discusses how close the team is to making a deal, the emergence of Kyle Blanks, Adrian Gonzalez' situation, Mat Latos' off-season, and much more.

You've been here three days now. Can you characterize discussions, expectations, in terms of getting something done?

Bud Black: For the Padres? Sure. It's been a good three days for the Padres. I think first thing's first, a new general manager, a new assistant general manager, their first time in these shoes as Padres, so that's been great for the entire group of people who are here from our scouting staff, our other front office personnel, everybody getting to know each other and the new people, familiarizing themselves with the Padres.

So with that said, I think on the player front, you know, there's internal discussions daily, hourly, about our players, and some of the things we can do to help our club. But as of now, as you have noticed, there has not been a lot of player movement on our front.

Getting familiarized with Jed and Jeff, how has that impacted you guys going forward as? With Jed and Jeff familiarizing themselves with the entire organization top to bottom, going through that process, how does that impact your off-season plan? The team's.

Bud Black: That is their role. That is what teams in the front office do. That is their job description. Their responsibilities are for assembling the team in the wintertime. That's what baseball operations people do. So that's what they are doing, as far as how it concerns me.

You know, I get the players in the spring and I look forward to that, and I know that those guys are doing everything they can to assemble the best team for the Padres.

Identifying the need, is the tough part fitting it into the financial structure?

Bud Black: We have a situation in San Diego where our situation is different than a lot of clubs. But we will make do with what we have and continue to strive to put the best players forward to win baseball games in San Diego and the National League.

This past year you had a 12-game improvement, which ranks right up there, and did so with mostly a young roster. As you move forward, I guess the expectation is, externally, that these guys are only going to continue to get better. Do you see that happening? What's the next step for some of these younger guys?

Bud Black: You hope so. I think that you can -- year-to-year, you never know what's going to happen. You like to think the players will get better improved. But what we saw in the second half, where we really gained on our won/loss record, I think you saw guys get better collectively as a team, as a group.

You know, when that happens, it's going to result in more wins. Now, the key is to have those players as a group and collectively, continue to get better. You know, not just one or two guys and have a few guys fall back.

You know, we saw a lot of guys improve their performance the last two months, and that was the difference between the first half and the second half.

So, again, without repeating myself, we need that type of performance again from the greater majority of players.

These are things they are capable of? They are not playing over their head?

Bud Black: No. I think that we have a group of players who have proven that they are Major Leaguers.

Now, the key is to not get stagnant, but to continue to progress as a team and individually. And if that occurs, you are going to see the Padres continue to win more games.

If you keep Adrian Gonzales, are you comfortable with Blanks being the long term solution in the outfield? Is he okay out there defensively long term?

Bud Black: Yeah, in a short -- the short answer, yes. Because I think if that is the case, with Gonzalez and an emerging Blanks, that's two pretty productive offensive players. And I think just the short time that Kyle was in left field I saw pretty good defense. I did. I think there's room to grow there, as well, based on the number of innings he played in left.

If you watch Kyle play, you realize he has the foot speed, he has the hands. Does he look like a prototypical outfielder? No. But you know, like I said, he's got good hands, his feet work well, and instinctually he's fine getting jumps and reads.

Those will improve, and we think that we are going to like him a lot in the batter's box.

Have you checked on -- I know you have, but the updates on Kyle and Chris in terms of their physical progress?

Bud Black: They are both doing great. Kyle, you know, doesn't feel any effects of the plantar fasciitis that he suffered in September, and he's on a throwing program now, building arm strength to take it to the next intensity level which will occur in January.

So both of those guys are key for us, and there's no doubt that they are headed in the right direction physically.

Adrian has obviously had his name in the middle of the rumor mill for several months. During the off-season do you reach out to him at all to communicate about the voracity of the rumors?

Bud Black: Not so much. I think we have had enough discussions about it, dating back to the summer, and a few times as the season moved into the later months. You know, he knows. He's been around long enough. He's been traded a couple times. He's got a great advisor in John Bonds. I think there's been enough open dialogue between the Padres front office and Adrian. I've given him my spiel. I'm sure he's had some other conversations with players about the whole thing.

He's aware of what's going on, and I don't suspect that it will affect him on his on-field performance.

I assume that you anticipate that you are going to enter 2010 with Adrian?

Bud Black: Do I anticipate that? Yes. On our team, yes.

How good of a player is he in terms of his stature in the game overall?

Bud Black: It take a while to solidify yourself as a Major League player. I think it takes, you know, for most players, another year or two to solidify yourself amongst your peers as a player. I think that Adrian has passed both those hurdles.

I think the 2006 and 2007 season he solidified himself as a Major League player where he fully believed that he was the guy. I think in 2008, 2009, both All-Star selections, Gold Glove selection, has solidified himself as a marquis player.

What is Mat Latos doing this off-season?

Bud Black: As we do with most players, we have exit meetings when a player leaves to go back to where they spend the winter. You know, we have had the conversation with Matt about expectations. We have been in contact with them, as well throughout the winter, making sure that he's keeping himself in shape. He's preparing physically and mentally for the season and what's ahead.

So there has been contact. I know the medical staff has been in contact with Matt, so like all of our players, we are keeping them at arm's length and keeping connected with them.

Sean Gallagher went to Venezuela after the season; have you talked to him?

Bud Black: I have not reached him. He's due a call from me. I did call; I left a message for him. I didn't talk to him live.

But, yeah, he went down to winter ball. He was -- one of our scouts, Van Smith, went down and saw him in Venezuela and we tracked him statistically. I'm not sure whether our front office personnel talked to any of the staff down there about Sean yet, but what came out of the winter ball experience was, you know, he knows that the knee is healthy. I think the knee situation is behind him.

You know, his performance down there wasn't probably up to his expectations. I think the hit-to-innings-pitched ratio is a little high, but I think the main thing to get out of his time there was the health situation; that everything is going to be fine for spring.

That's the one thing I want to know, where he's going to come into spring and battle for a spot in our rotation. I think the innings that he put in down there puts him in a good place now mentally, first and foremost, that he's healthy, and physically being able to throw a little bit was good for his arm, as well. Because he missed it most of the season.

You've talked about the ballpark quite a bit and you've had three full seasons at Petco now. Are you more convinced there is a Petco-type player after three seasons than you were maybe after a short sample early on?

Bud Black: Yeah, obviously 2007, my first year, I was getting to know the park. Last year, better and this year, after three years, you know the park better.

I think the guys who have been in baseball ops now realize that our park plays different than most. So I do feel that it's essential to -- without getting into every single position -- but two things do stick out.

I think because of the spaciousness, especially in center and right, that it helps to have a speed component in your outfield. And because of the dimensions, it's nice to have a couple players with true, raw power that can hit it out of the ballpark.

Some might think that, you know, just average Major League power on a scouting scale might not work. You know, that type of player with the raw power might prove to be more beneficial than just power. So you have to have legitimate power.

It is a home run park?

Bud Black: Absolutely, and it's evidenced by Adrian and as evidenced by Kouz to a certain extent and Blanks and others.

I think that, you know, a ballpark is a ballpark. I think ultimately, if everything is driven by statistics and guys play for statistics, offensively, then the statistics might not be there overall in Petco.

But what is important, the most important thing is the win or the loss. You're still playing a baseball game, whether it's Citizen's Bank or Petco. The idea is to win. I do think there is a certain style and a certain player that does fit our park.

Given the need to emphasize defense, as an industry, do you think that baseball is valuing defense differently overall over the last few years?

Bud Black: Yeah, well, I think that you can get into any discussion with anybody in baseball, in or out of uniform, executive or not, fan, and everybody places a different value on defense. Some people place a higher priority on pitching. Some like offense. Some like power. Some like speed.

I think it's been proven over the long course over this great game that pitching and defense, you know, do win, and they keep you in games each and every night, if you do have those two components, and have it legitimately, every night.

You know, it's nice to have balance. I mean, that is awful tough to defend on a nightly basis if you do have all components: pitching, defense, speed, power. Ideally that's what you try to do.

I do think that defense now is something that has been able to be quantified a little bit better than before statistically, and I think a lot of teams are using all the resources all available to them to rank and evaluate players defensively. I think it's a good thing.

What's your philosophy on inning and pitch counts for young starters? Give some specific numbers, as well, like what kind of numbers are you looking at?

Bud Black: You know, without getting into a long dissertation, we can talk -- I'd love to turn this off and turn the tape recorders off and talk at length about certain things. But for the purpose of this 3:30 interview, here are my thoughts on that.

I think they are in place, and they are probably in place for a good reason. And they are primarily in place because what we have done as an industry, me included. To sort of shape what is going on in this game as far as the pitching side, there are limits. Do there need to be? Probably not in the long run if we condition the pitchers differently than how we condition them now.

You know, we are not asking them to do probably what they are capable of physically. And with that said, we have to monitor. We have to watch their pitch counts. We have to watch their innings, because studies have shown over the last years that if there's an increase in workload, if there's an increase in pitch count, you know, the pitchers of today, you know, do suffer from that.

So they are in place. It's been a regression over the last, you know, I would say within a 20-year period where we've seen it get to where it is today.

Can it change? Yes. But it's going to, you know, take as much time to change it as we've seen it grow into what it is today.

What do you remember about pitching and inning counts when you were coming up?

Bud Black: I think in a traditional sense, coaches and pitching coaches did have pitch counts and you did have clickers. You knew how many pitches a guy threw. But a lot of times you didn't take a pitcher out because of pitch count. You took him out because of performance, where now the case, it's probably shifted. We take guys out because of pitch count and maybe not so much performance.

There's no doubt you do get tired at some point; whether it's Sandy Koufax or Warren Spahn or Don Drysdale, they got tired. They just get tired later than some guys today. They were conditioned mentally and physically, too.

I think the modern pitcher today, with a different mindset and a different conditioning with his arm, you know, can at some point in the future -- it probably won't ever happen, but throw 250, 300 innings. The players today are bigger, stronger, faster across the spectrum of all athletics.

Does that answer?

Totally. Yeah. With the exception of Adrian, you were talking about Petco Park. Now, when you look at right-handed, do you think more power -- the power element at Petco is more from the right side, and from the left side, you want guys that eye on base can get the ball in play?

Bud Black: Not necessarily. I think it's nice to have, in a perfect world, some right-handed pull power, because there is a homer to left field.

And with that said, I think -- I don't know how many homers Adrian had hit to the opposite field, but I can vividly remember a number of them, and I remember two home runs to left field. If you have that left-handed hitter that has the ability to hit the ball to all fields, that's a great combination.

If you have a right-handed hitter who can elevate the ball with power to left, you know, the left field seats are reachable without really having to crush it.

A left-handed pull hitter?

Bud Black: Probably predominately pull hitter. If he's really an exaggerated pull hitter, I like that, too, because he can get it in the porch. But for a right-handed hitter who is just late at the right time to hit it in the porch right-handed like Marcus did it in 2007, hit a couple of balls in the porch, that's nice, too.

The thing about it is there's no doubt there's going to be less home runs hit in our park because of the dimensions. I think that what you're looking for is guys who can hit and guys who can play. We have to as a group stop, you know, blaming the park for it's dimensions. Let's just play.

Your take on Jed?

Bud Black: Jed's been, for me personally, our interactions have been great. I have enjoyed getting to know Jed. A fellow that just jumped right in, whether it's information about the Padres or wanting to get acclimated as quickly as possible. You know, everything, it's been great to see.

Has not missed any beat?

Bud Black: I think this has sort of been a good week for Jed, hiring Jason McCleod, getting Jason on board, sort of solidifying his baseball ops department and getting to know our scouts and other front office personnel in the confined quarters here in Indianapolis has been great for Jed.

I know that his passion for his job will show up in the team that he assembles. He's going to do everything he can to put the best group on the field. He's working hard. He's studying. He's asking questions. He's going through all the right exercises to meet those ends.

Just your personal pet peeves. What drives you crazy, either in the clubhouse …

Bud Black: When my daughters don't put their dishes away. That bothers me. You know, I think any manager will tell you that ultimately the thing you want from your players is to play the game each and every night; to go at it with an intensity that we expect from our side, and, you know, from our teammates' side. That is something I think that bothers all of us.

And also, to keep going; the preparation. To prepare to play, to get ready to play a Major League game, if I don't see that happening, that bothers me.

For the most part I think our players know where I stand. As you guys know, baseball is a daily thing. There's some guys who do it great. Some guys need, at times, maybe a little bit of a nudge to go about it. But they quickly adjust.

So much of baseball is economically related these days you guys seem to have to worry about that and play young players, which means you have to be more of a teacher, I think. Talk about that role of teaching as manager.

Bud Black: Well, here is where I am with that. Me, personally, and I can probably speak for a lot of managers and coaches, either in the Major Leagues or Big Leagues, what I enjoy the most out of this job is the teaching aspect. Nothing beats being a player, no doubt, when you're actually under the fire.

But from a coaching profession and managing, you know, teaching is great; I love it. And I get the opportunity to do that, especially with our club. Like you said with the group of young players that we have, and I enjoy that immensely.

You have got the greatest ballpark in the League and the most wonderful weather in the country, and the fan support seems to be quite strong regardless of where you are in the standings. So a lot of things are going the right way.

Bud Black: We have a beautiful park and arguably, I think it's the best in baseball. It's awesome. Like you said, it's a great city. It's a great destination for a lot of tourists. A lot of people are moving to San Diego because of the city itself. Our fans, there's a loyal Padre fan base which is wonderful. And, you know, in the short term, what we did the last two months was great, and hopefully that springboards us into next year, being able to continue to do the work we did on the field in August and September.

How competitive can you be?

Bud Black: Depends on how good we play. I think we have some players who are definite Major Leaguers. We have some young fellows who are going to continue to prove that they are Major Leaguers. And in our situation, if we have guys that play like they are capable, and as a group, meaning all 25 guys play well, you know, we can do what we did the last couple months, and that's win a lot of games.

You know, that's the tricky part, and that's why you play, to see if 25 guys can play good and not just seven or eight. Some teams can afford to have a couple of guys have off-years. We need guys to play well.

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