Wedge Looks For More Improvement

The Indians have yet to make a major offseason move -- except for signing free agent reliever Masahide Kobayashi from Japan -- but manager Eric Wedge is confident the team can improve on 2007. MLB set up a question and answer session with the 2007 AL Manager of the Year from the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Here's what he had to say on a variety of topics concerning the ballclub:

Q. You guys are one of the quieter teams in general this winter. How do you feel about that? How do you feel about what -- most likely bringing back pretty much the same team.
ERIC WEDGE: I'll tell you, I said this before and I think about it, obviously. I think that the best way for us to get better are the guys that we're bringing back to be better. You know, you're always going to have players that, you know, may be a little bit overachieved and maybe some players you anticipate them doing, but with our youth and our core and with the people that we're bringing back, my focus and our focus should be to the players we have and concentrate on them being better. If we can do that, then I think that will help us more than anything we do.

Q. Eric, what do you think happened with Travis Hafner and what does he have to do to, you know, just get back to where he was?
ERIC WEDGE: Just about him just getting back to his normal self. I think he had a lot going on last year, you know, on and off the field. He was busy. He was dealing with things that young players especially players of his ability and have accomplished what he's already accomplished have to deal with, and I think last year may be the year he learned more than any other year in his career. You go through moments like he had, and he's such a great competitor. I know that he never gave into the fight, but he could just never get himself going and keep himself going, but he still held his own. We hold him in high regard in terms of what we expect from him. That comes with a being a great player and hitter. I think you'll see Travis be much more relaxed this year and get back to what he does best and being one of the most consistent people.

Q. Do you see him in the postseason putting too much pressure?
ERIC WEDGE: Sometimes you start chasing something and you can't catch it. You know, you run out of time. I don't know. You have to speak to Travis. But then you get to the point where you're trying to make up and then you start trying to do too much, especially I would think in the post-season. And when you're a great player and hitter like Travis, you need to do the work and stay true to what you do and yourself and let it happen. Sometimes if you try to make it happen, it can be a little bit more difficult.

Q. Last year in the post-season was dramatic, emotional. Both in good ways and bad ways. What is your personality or what would you like the personality of your team to be when you start spring training?
ERIC WEDGE: Well, our entire focus when we start spring training is to win the Central Division. You can't look past it. What we need to do is just focus on playing the way we need the play within our division and doing everything we can to win our division. Then if you can take the next step, we've got guys in that have some experience, have been through some things they hadn't been through before. So, we can't look past anything. Everybody needs to be working harder than they ever have this winter to come in this spring and just focus on that Central Division. We get to that, then we can focus on the next set of goals.

Q. There's some speculation about the roles of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta. Are they going to stay the same, second base and shortstop?
ERIC WEDGE: Yes. They're going to stay the same. Asdrubal has challenges ahead of him. It's different when you break with a club out of spring training versus hitting the ground running during the season coming from AAA. I think he'll handle it well. He's a sound player. He's an all-around player. He plays with some maturity out there and -- but still, I mean, any young man's first big league season is a challenge in and of itself.

Q. Taking Japanese lessons?
ERIC WEDGE: No. We had dinner and talked and we can e-mail. We're working through it but excited to have (Kobayashi). Yeah. I think it's a strong addition to our club. The guy has a great deal of experience late in the ballgame. I think he'll be a good fit for us in our bullpen.

Q. Have you ever seen him pitching?
ERIC WEDGE: Video, yeah, sure. I've never seen him live. In video and we have access to quite a bit of that, and we have had people go over there and see him pitch live, but had a chance to meet him, have dinner with him and talk to him. I think he's excited to be here and him and his family, and we're excited to have him become part of our family. That's the way we look at things here. We've got a close group of young men that care about each other and play the game the way it's supposed to be played, and that's not something you can take for granted. It's not something they can rest on. He'll just be a part of our group now.

Q. Did you ever worry going down the stretch that, you know, every manager does that, you get locked into like three, four guys, the three relievers that you rely on the most. Is he going to give you a little more leeway there?
ERIC WEDGE: It worked out. I remember it worked out better for us this year because we had (Jensen) Lewis, (Rafael) Betancourt, and (Rafael) Perez doing it. To ask for more than that that late in the ballgame, it's greedy. I felt pretty good about that. You know, we had some people step up for us in the post-season. I think about all the things that happened. I think -- I think (Kobayashi) is going to be a strong addition. To close as many games as he's closed, to pitch in that atmosphere and with what's on the line, and to do it for extended period of time, you know, obviously Joe Borowski, our closer, and Betancourt will be our setup guy. You'll need (Tom) Mastny and Perez and Jensen Lewis, and we've got (Aaron) Fultz back. He was on and off for us last year. Still had some experience. Mastny was with us all year. We've got people. We're going to have some depth. You've got to have it. You can't have enough depth.

Q. Bullpens are never fluid?
ERIC WEDGE: I think you have certain individuals in bullpens that are. Bullpens as a whole, the only thing you can control with that is to have depth. You look at the way bullpens open up opening day. Look at them in September. Very rarely, with maybe the exception of a couple guys, hopefully one of which is your closer, you know, you'll -- you're going to have some people in and out of there, obviously performance and injury related, but more times performance than anything.

Q. Can you relate to the Twins' situation, with the trade possibly having to trade Johan Santana and having to rebuild a pitching staff all over again? How difficult is that?
ERIC WEDGE: I really can't speak on that. I just don't believe in speaking on situations that I'm just not privy to every bit of information there is. I think it's hard to do that. I'll speak on our club. I know obviously it was different because we started, you know, from day one with me. That was what we were doing. So when I came -- when I came up here, I knew what the deal was. It was the right thing to do. We needed to do it, and it was the right time to do it, to put a plan together and worked hard to stick together with it.

Q. How important was it for you to manage in the Minor League with some of these guys and then when you came up to the big club to deal with all the different personalities, to have some of the guys have played for you?
ERIC WEDGE: That was important. I think it was important for -- all about the players. I think it was important for them, but it helped me, too, because I had some first-hand knowledge of those guys. I think the guys that have been with me in the past -- some of those guys back in the day I had played with or against. They knew me as teammates or as opponent, too.
So I don't think there was any mistake in my personality. I think they understood what I expected and they understand just how important it is to be consistent and to be a good teammate and respect the game and do the things we talk about doing. You can't say it enough because, you know, you've got to do what's best for the ballplayers and do everything you possibly can to help them be successful and to be true to the game, and so we've really worked hard to try to build that.

Q. Did you ever run across Dick Williams in your career?
ERIC WEDGE: Never have. Never have. Obviously a great honor (being elected to Baseball Hall of Fame), great career.

Q. People say that that kind of style, he was an old school kind of disciplinarian, that style is dead. What do you think about that?
ERIC WEDGE: People say you can't have it both ways. I don't understand that. In other words, you don't have to be fire and brimstone or just kind of roll with the flow. Why the hell can't you be both depending on what the situation calls for, depending on what your team is all about, what this individual is all about?
All the curve balls are thrown to you over the course of a year, what you have to do is make sure that you're consistent and your players know what to expect from you. There's nothing more important than that. Then you pick your spots, you know. A lot of that has to do with too timing. Some guys can need a kick in the butt. I believe my personal opinion -- you work off your team. The team doesn't work off of you. Now there's certain absolutes we have. You still work off your team different areas of your ball club, different individuals on your ball club. Do everything you can possibly do to be the best you can be.

Q. You don't think the money has made the players softer or uncontrollable?
ERIC WEDGE: No, I don't think so. Respect is a big factor in this game, to and from. When they get out there and play, you know, they're out there, they're out there, they're playing for what's going across their chest for their teammate next to them, for the people that paid money to watch them play. That's why they should be out there playing.

Q. What do you have to do to make this club better?
ERIC WEDGE: I think going back to what I said before, I really feel that way. We've got to really focus on the guys we're bringing back and try to be better. Every player that comes back should be looking to be a little bit better this year than they were last year. Some players we want to be a lot better than they were last year. Some players probably couldn't be much better than they were last year. It's all part of it. Collectively when you look at the 25 we break with and however many players we end up using over the course of the year, 35, whatever it may be, 40, you want the make sure that everybody is doing everything they need to be doing right now to help us win as many games as we can next year.

Q. Do you at all look at say what the Tigers are doing or other teams in your division?
ERIC WEDGE: Yeah, obviously we pay attention to it. Our focus is always going to be on the Cleveland Indians. We control what we can control. We're a good baseball team when we get out there and play the way we're capable of playing, play the way we like to play it, then we're capable of beating anybody.

Q. Do you think you have to add anything to the club?
ERIC WEDGE: I think you're always looking to get better. Do I think we have to do it? No. No, I don't think we have to. You're always looking to get better. I mean, you're always looking for a deal that a makes sense for both clubs. If we can find a win-win situation, we'll pull the trigger. I know it sounds like a broken record from year to year. You can't find what's not out there. We're still going to put the emphasis on the guys that we have.

Q. Will there be a hangover with your team after losing like they did?
ERIC WEDGE: No. No. I mean fair question, but not at all. Our guys, they do a good job of separating. Our guys do a real good job of understanding what they just went through, learn from it, and then move forward. Tell you, we've got a pretty tough group. They've toughened up a lot over the last couple of three years. They've experienced about everything you can experience with the exception of a World Series. Last year at this time I was saying they pretty much experienced everything you can experience throughout the course of the regular season. That was another strong step. We fell short but felt good about the guys we have coming back. They just have to make sure to a man that they work hard to get better.

Q. Is it hard to take? Are you over it now, or do you still worry about it?
ERIC WEDGE: Nothing we can do about it. I think when you take it deeper in the season like that, it takes a little bit more time. I'd be lying to you. It's in perspective. I understand where we're at and where we were, and it was a great experience for our players, for our staff and myself. The city was fantastic the way they rallied, but the bottom line is we fell short and we still have some work to do.

Q. What did C.C. (Sabathia) learn in the playoffs last year?
ERIC WEDGE: C.C. was unbelievable. Arguably the best pitcher in the game. The only time he really gets in trouble when he tries to do too much, and that's all for the good reasons. That's because he's one of the best teammates I've ever seen, because he does care so much about the Cleveland Indians and his teammates and the fans in Cleveland and he does take a great deal of responsibility for how we are as a ball club. No different than Victor (Martinez) does. Your number one pitcher and your starting catcher to feel that way and to mean it and lever it, that's a pretty good start for a ball club.

Q. Will your team learn more from defeating the Yankees or from dealing with losing the lead against the Red Sox? What do you want them to learn more from?
ERIC WEDGE: You learn from all your experiences. Your experiences aren't just winning ball games. It's losing ball games, too. The ability to finish out the regular season, to win a series. Obviously those are serious steps for a young ball club and young ballplayers. I think you have to look at the total package. I don't think you can delineate that. You have to understand you're talking about playing the Yankees and the Red Sox in the post-season, obviously not just at Jacobs Field but in their backyards, too. Probably no greater post-season experience than talking about those two teams. I thought our kids did a pretty good job of handling it. Should be better for it.

Q. What does Cliff Lee have to do to get back into the rotation?
ERIC WEDGE: Look at his last outing. He pitched a couple innings there and the way he used his fastball, the way he used his breaking ball, the change-up, the rhythm, the tempo. That's what he has to get back to, and I don't think he ever caught up last year, Guys. I mean, he didn't have the benefit of spring training, so never really built himself up. We tried to build him up during the season. Then he comes back, never really caught up. I think he was playing from behind all year, and it's just too tough at the Major League level to do that. You got to be one of the special few to be able to be behind and still perform. And so I'm sure there's going to be a lot of grit and determination for him each and every day in the off-season as he looks towards spring training and the regular season. He has to be honest with himself. He's a great competitor. Do what he needs to do to come back.

Q. Josh Barfield, he never really got on any kind of consistent roll?
ERIC WEDGE: No.

Q. How much of that was knowledge and how much of that was everything else?
ERIC WEDGE: Combination. He definitely, I feel like he needs to be more consistent with his approach, stick with the game plan to give himself a chance to be good. He was great. He handled everything very well. We had some difficult conversations with some of the guys last year of which he was one. He was a great teammate to the end. I know he was frustrated. Everybody wants to play. You want everybody to feel that way to play. He has the make some adjustments with his approach and fundamentally and mentally to give himself a chance to hit in this league. Hopefully we'll see that happen.

Q. Is he a guy who has to play every day next year?
ERIC WEDGE: We're not sure. We talk about that. We haven't really made any decisions yet in regard to that. I don't think you have to just yet. I think we'll let it go a little bit longer and I'll talk to Josh and Mark (Shapiro), and I will talk a little bit more and we'll go from there.

Q. Andy Marte is kind of sitting there right now ..?
ERIC WEDGE: We've got him playing some third base and first base in winter ball. We'd like to have him as a utility option for our ballclub next year. Our infield is set right now. He needs the make our ballclub, the guys that play first base and third base.

Q. Get some speed?
ERIC WEDGE: I think we need that. I think you talk about (David) Dellucci and (Jason) Michaels, kind of working off each other out there. It's tough to use Michaels as a pinch runner. You know we need one late in the ballgame. Some of the guys we have in the middle there. I think the other utility spot or with one of the utility spots, however it plays out, we need to have somebody that can be a pinch runner and play some defense for us.

Q. Would you trade a starting pitcher or would you be in favor of trading a starting pitcher if you could get maybe like a legitimate -- not legitimate but a guy that could play every day in one of the corner outfield spots?
ERIC WEDGE: Awful tough. You know, I just don't think it's something that's real advisable to do. If it's starting pitching depth, maybe you can consider it. If it's somebody in your rotation, it's too important of a void to try to fill, just really is. The other ones give you a chance to win the ballgame. There are no absolutes. I think that it's really tough to do.

Q. What's your gut feeling on C.C.? Do you think you can sign him?
ERIC WEDGE: I don't know. I know we want him and he wants to be here, so we'll see what happens.

Q. You want to chip in?
ERIC WEDGE: (Laughter) With what?

Q. Adam (Miller) going to get a shot this spring?
ERIC WEDGE: We'll see how he comes in this spring. We'll make sure he's strong and healthy. You know, obviously we'll give him a good look.

Q. How does the right-field situation pan out? Do you have a platoon now?
ERIC WEDGE: We've got plenty of outfielders. I was really impressed with Frank Gutierrez last year. He was a big part of what we did. He's going to get every opportunity for us and -- but, you know, Ben Francisco and (Shin-Soo) Choo coming back and Dellucci coming back and Michaels and Grady Sizemore. We've got some good young outfielders that we're excited to see play.

Q. Is it hard to know how well Choo is progressing because he didn't get to play much last year?
ERIC WEDGE: You know what? I felt like -- I'm pretty confident when it comes to him. I would have liked to have seen him more at this point in time. I feel like we've seen him enough to know he's going to be a pretty good player.

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