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December 5, 2012

On the Beat

Catching Up at the Winter Meetings

by John Perrotto

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.—John Farrell knows the Boston baseball scene. He was the Red Sox' pitching coach for four seasons (from 2007-10) before serving a two-year stint as the Blue Jays' manager. Thus, he understands the scrutiny all Red Sox’ managers are under in New England.

What Farrell found out Tuesday, during the second day of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort, is that former Blue Jays managers can also expect some scrutiny—especially if they leave the job to become the skipper of a team in the same division. The Blue Jays released Farrell from his contract on Oct. 21 and traded him to the Red Sox for infielder Mike Aviles.

Toronto reporters made Farrell's session with the media somewhat contentious on Tuesday. They peppered Farrell with questions about why he left the Blue Jays and if he failed to give his best effort late last season because he was considered Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington's first choice to replace Bobby Valentine. There were accusatory tones suggesting that Farrell lied to the media late in the season because his intent was clearly to jump to the Red Sox.

"At the time my response, which was all I knew how to say, was that my focus and attention was clearly with the Blue Jays," Farrell said. "So there was really no way for me to verify it. That was where my commitment was. So with that being said, my focus being with the Blue Jays, my total concentration was on the best effort that I could provide on a given day to put together a game plan to win on that night."

The Blue Jays lost 14 of their last 23 games to finish 73-89. Some players have said Farrell gave up on them during the poor finish. Farrell refuted that notion.

"I can tell you emphatically that my focus and attention was there every day," Farrell said. "And we dealt with a number of changes along the way, and I don't think anything that I demonstrated through my actions was anything less than 100 percent focused on the Blue Jays."

The Red Sox' second series of the 2013 season will be against the Blue Jays, from April 5-7, at Rogers Centre. Farrell should get an interesting reception.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said.

---

It seems as if free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche is liked a prized college football or basketball recruit. Manager Davey Johnson is putting an all-out recruiting effort to get LaRoche to return after he helped the Nationals to the National League East title last season; it’s as though LaRoche is a 17-year-old kid who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds.

Johnson invited LaRoche to play in his charity golf tournament last weekend in Orlando, which benefitted the Lighthouse for the Blind. Johnson also has a freezer full of beef that he bought from LaRoche's cattle ranch in Kansas.

"If I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will," Johnson said. "At my golf tournament, the main guy I wanted to see was Adam LaRoche. I tried to give him the best team, have him and (Nationals general manager Mike) Rizzo around each other a lot, and I told him to bring a pen from Kansas. Hailey Cardoza, one of our assistants to the GM, doesn't eat meat, and she bought half a cow. We're trying to make it easier for him to come back."

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The Rangers are going to face the elephant in the clubhouse eye-to-eye before the first full-squad workout of spring training in February at Surprise, Arizona. Rangers manager Ron Washington will address his team's collapse at the end of the 2012 season, during which it blew a five-game lead with nine games to play and finished one game behind the Athletics in the AL West. The Rangers then lost to the Orioles in the AL wild-card play-in.

"I think you always have to refer to what was previous because it wasn't successful, but it's nothing that we will harp on," Washington said. "It'll be something that we pass over. It'll be something that we will give every single person that will be in that clubhouse an opportunity to address, so once they address it, we've got to move forward into 2013. It'll just be something that we'll talk about that can make us better. That's it."

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While Texas faltered down the stretch last season, Milwaukee won 31 of its last 46 games to finish 83-79. That left the Brewers 14 games behind the champion Reds in the NL Central. However, it also gave them hope that they could win the division in 2013, just as they did in 2011.

"What we did to make that run at the end showed these guys with the team we have that we can win," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "If we hadn't gone on that run and we finished whatever we were, 10 games under .500, I think there would be a lot of question marks going into the season on whether this group can really win. There shouldn't be a question to that now."

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The Cubs reportedly have agreed to terms with Japanese free-agent reliever Kyuji Fujikawa on a two-year, $9.5-million deal. Fujikawa is expected to fly to the United States this week for a physical examination, and the deal will be announced Friday in Chicago. Fujikawa had 220 saves and 1.77 ERA in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said that Carlos Marmol will remain the closer. However, Fujikawa intrigues Sveum, who has studied the reliever’s statistics and watched him on video.

"He can fill any role," Sveum said. "He's got that kind of stuff. Those numbers and that ability to do things with three and four different pitches just don't come around very often. So he can set up, he can close, do anything he wants with the baseball. He's got four quality pitches and can add and subtract with his fastball. He can pitch in the seventh, pitch in the eighth, pitch in the ninth, he can get left-handers out, so he can pitch in any kind of situation."

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Orioles manager Buck Showalter was never afraid of expressing his opinions when he was an ESPN analyst. In fact, he found himself in some hot water a few times while working in television.

"I got in trouble doing the realignment thing, and I talked about two clubs that they should dissolve," Showalter said. "Not going there again."

Yet Showalter couldn't resist giving his take on the World Baseball Classic. While Showalter isn't necessarily against the WBC, he would prefer that it not be played in the middle of spring training.

"Personally, I'd like to see them extend the All-Star break and do it in the middle of the season when people are healthy, and it doesn't disrupt the season," Showalter said. "I think that would be one solution. If you extended the All-Star break, which would allow people to stay healthier, then you've got people at the peak of their development."

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The Rockies have spent plenty of time and effort trying to figure out how to pitch better at Coors Field. Colorado went to the ill-fated four-man rotation last season, with each starter on a 70-pitch limit. That caused pitching coach Bob Apodaca to ask for reassignment and played a part in manager Jim Tracy resigning at the end of the season.

New manager Walt Weiss has a different idea. Instead of worrying so much about the pitching, the former Rockies shortstop would like to see his team go back to trying to outscore the opposition.

"We're going to try to be overwhelming offensively," Weiss said. "That's the plan, and I think we have the personnel to execute that. Now, of course, you've got to be smart about when to run, and it still comes down to making good decisions, but I do think we have the personnel. I think we're a very athletic club, and I think we've got some guys that are going to hit balls in the gaps and in the seats when you make mistakes. I really like our club offensively and what the potential is there."

---

The Dodgers could conceivably have the highest payroll in baseball history in 2013, as it will be well north of $200 million. With the high payroll will also come high expectations from the fans and media.

No one understands that better than manger Don Mattingly, who spent his entire playing career playing with the Yankees. He insists his team will not be weighted down by all the money talk and the idea that the season will be a failure if the Dodgers don't win the World Series for the first time since 1988

"It's tough to win the whole thing," Mattingly said. "A lot of things have to go your way. You're in a short series—five-game, seven-game series—things can change quickly. Thinking you have to win it all to be a success is kind of a tough world to live in. We have to think about just the grind of getting ready to play, the journey of every day, getting better, working hard, worrying about the process, not worrying about the final result. So we're going to have to really to be able to do that because our guys are going to have to be ready for these questions about winning it all."

---

Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton was the subject of plenty of rumors at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. His name continues to be bandied about in trade speculation at the Winter Meetings. In fact, general manager Kevin Towers has been so open in talking about the idea that he is listening to offers on Upton that, at times, it seems like a foregone conclusion a deal will be made.

All the trade talk would seemingly be a distraction for a young player. And it would seem to be doubly difficult for a player who has been considered the face of the franchise. However, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said it is all part of the game and that Upton should be fine if he’s still with the club at the start of next season.

"I don't think it's difficult," Gibson said. "I played with the same rumors, OK. I got booed. I did all that. I don't look at it as anything that's tough, it's just all part of it. Again, I represented how I feel about Justin all year long. I've never wavered from that. The reason he's being talked about, in part, is because of how much of a talent he is. I think that people somewhat, they get down or discouraged on what he isn't doing, but there's no perfect ballplayers out there, and he's damned good. He's very, very good. That's why there's so much interest in him."

---

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has become an icon in the Upper Midwest. The affable skipper has led the franchise to six AL Central titles in his 11 seasons on the job.

However, Gardenhire will enter next season on the hot seat now that the Twins are coming off back-to-back last-place finishes. Gardenhire will also be in the final year of his contract and general manager Terry Ryan, who shook the coaching staff in October, said there will be no talks on a possible extension this winter. Gardenhire says he understands Ryan's line of thinking.

"It's not like I have a choice whether they want to give me an extension," Gardenhire said. "It's not something that I lose sleep over at night. You earn your contracts and you earn your extensions, and as I said this last couple of years, I haven't earned anything. We haven't done very well, and you're graded as a manager on how your ballclub performs. It doesn't matter whether you had injuries, it doesn't matter whether you were short on players. You're still graded on wins and losses. Terry told me that, and it didn't offend me at all."

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Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery. With that in mind, the Giants seem to be spawning a lot of copycats after winning two World Series in the last three years, primarily on the basis of strong pitching and defense. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has noticed the trend.

"I think clubs are really trying to build up their bullpens in particular to improve their pitching staff, but also their defense, there's more attention paid to that," Bochy said. "The last thing you want to do is give up more than three outs in an inning, and so I think that's true. I know that's what we wanted to do, and it's worked well for us. Instead of trying to slug out it with the other team, play the game, and hopefully you've got a pitching staff that's going to keep you in the game, give you a chance to win. The more often you do that, chances are the more games you're going to win."

---

Last season, White Sox manager Robin Ventura showed that having previous managerial experience isn't always a prerequisite for success. Ventura had never managed on any level yet kept the White Sox in the AL Central race until the final days of the season before finishing second to the Tigers.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny also had no experience and he led his team to the National League Championship Series, where they lost in seven games to the Giants. Weiss also has never managed, and that caused a reporter to ask if Ventura thought he was a trendsetter.

"That's the last word you would use with me, believe me," Ventura said with a smile. "I don't know if it's trendsetting or a fad, but you're also looking at organizations that know these people. So it's not like these organizations are hiring somebody that they don't know. They're hiring people that they're very familiar with that they think can handle it."

---

New Astros manager Bo Porter once played in the Rose Bowl as a defensive back with the University of Iowa. He was known for his intensity on the gridiron and that has carried over onto the baseball field during his stints as a coach with the Marlins and Nationals.

"A lot of that has to do with my football background," Porter said. "At the same time, I've always been one that if you're going to do something, you need to do it well. You need to do it with passion and intensity. I believe that the No. 1 job as the manager is to do everything that you can so that your players can play to their potential, and we all understand the added dimension that intensity and passion can bring to a ballclub. You hear it all the time—it's contagious. I want them to look at me and see the level of intensity in which I'm going to put into each and every day, whether it's a spring training practice, whether it's we're just sitting down talking about the game of baseball. I want our players to feed off of that."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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