9.19.02: Larry Lucchino (LL) from Thursday's 'Executive Report' on WEEI's Dennis
and Callahan Show with John Dennis (JD) and Gerry Callahan (GC):
LL: Morning Gentlemen.
GC: What do you think you can get for
Nomar? (haa, haa, haa)
JD: You came here after stints in
both San Diego and Baltimore and I'm sure with your eyes wide
open, even with the knowledge and the reputation of Boston, the
fans, the media, the passion, the whole thing, were your eyes
wide enough open to grasp what it is you're seeing in the last
week or so around this ballclub?
LL: To answer generally, I expected
it would be an intense place when it came to baseball, that was
one of the great things about Boston and I expected there would
be extensive media coverage. But I think I underestimated
the amount of the coverage, the extensive nature of the
newspapers coverage for example all over New England, the
popularity, and perhaps a little bit of the intensity of talk
radio as well. There's just more of it and it's more
intense than even I anticipated. Even Baltimore had a fair
bit of this, but nothing in comparison to Boston.
JD: Is the price a player, a manager,
an owner pays in this environment worth the passion of the fans?
LL: Oh absolutely. You spend a
lot of your time in some markets trying to gin up this passion,
trying to gin up this interest, trying to develop ways to get
the media to cover your team, so it's worth it absolutely and
it's a reflection of the history of the place too. This doesn't
spring up overnight because of one particular popular talk show
host or one particular controversial columnist, it springs up as
a result of generations and generations (the Sons of the Guys
Who Booed Ted Williams, my two cents, I love that line) of
interest in the team and the fact that the team is part of the
central fabric of the community.
GC: Hey Larry I know this is a
delicate topic at this point, but it's THE topic at least this
week, in Mike Silverman's story today he says "a baseball
source, and I know you love these anonymous sources, says "a
couple of times this summer, the Red Sox have raised Nomar
Garciaparra's name in trade talks, with other teams."
LL: Yeah, that was news to me Gerry,
I read that column this morning and I stopped and I said 'now I
suppose that could happen without me knowing about it' um but I
sure didn't know about it and I don't believe that it has
happened... unless it happened in the context of someone
saying... throwing out 'what ifs' or possibilities or 'oh you'd
give us your five top prospects and your next born son' ...'if
we did what... gave you Nomar? You want to talk about Nomar,
let's talk about it.' I suppose it could come up in that
context but I can tell you that I don't remember ever being in a
meeting where someone initiated or even responded to the notion
of trading Nomar.
GC: Do you believe in theory that
there is such a thing as an untradable player? Is there any
player that you would say 'he's completely off the table, I
would never even consider trading him?'
LL: I don't think I'd ever say that.
Although there are some players who come close to that there may
be times when you wouldn't want to trade him or you wouldn't
think a trade would be appropriate. But by and large (Duke
creepin' in?!?) Randy Johnson at one point was an
extraordinary pitcher, they made an exceptional trade for him,
and Seattle has gone on to great success as a result. So there
are times when emotionally you may feel that way, but
rationally, as a baseball executive, you've got to keep your
eyes and ears open. But even having said that as a theoretical
matter, I really don't uhh... I can honestly report that there's
been no discussion about trading Nomar Garciaparra. And the
controversy around him for the last couple of days, I really
think has been over the top.
GC: Well what if you get a call? What
if there's a nice offer? What if there's something that
will improve, in your mind, improve the Red Sox ballclub on the
field for next season? Would you pull the trigger on a trade for
LL: You have to consider it with
everybody. It's more personality trait, there are probably some
people who would not feel this way, but I'm the kind of person
who would say 'well I'm gonna listen' if people want to talk
about some bizarre out-of-this-world kind of transaction, we'll
at least listen, we'll at least consider it... I'm sure you'll
appreciate this... there's so much talking that goes on in
baseball, there's so much war gaming and possibilities, we spend
much of our time listening to crazy, off-the-wall possibilities,
but we have other needs for next year and we're focusing on them
and we are not focusing on some bizarre, remote, crazy
possibility that someone might offer us half the earth for
JD: I'm sure this will be a question
better answered after you sit down and have a handful of
meetings with the rest of the owners, with Grady, with Mike
Port, with whatever you do in the off-season to prepare, but
just on a general basis, are you more inclined to blow it up or
LL: Oh boy, the balance is critical
in that regard, you've always got to build for the next year
under the current system that we have in baseball with an eye
towards the long-term future. So if the suggestion is that we
'blow it up' and ignore the core players we have who are in
their prime, I think that's misplaced. I don't think
that's uh... with Nomar, and Pedro, and Manny, and Shea, and
there's so just many, and Jason, so many players you can name,
Tim Wakefield - really pitching in his prime right now. I just
don't see, (and) Derek Lowe, I don't see the rationality to
blowing it up, but you still have to build with an eye towards
two years from now.
JD: Anybody who is even slightly
attuned with what's happening at Fenway Park and this baseball
team would have hard time disagreeing with the fact that you
have three special players on this team, and I mean special
players on this team, in Nomar, Pedro, and Manny. I'm wondering
if their presence on this team jives with your financial plan
for the immediate, intermediate, and long-term goals of this
LL: Yes (without hesitation). (JD:
They do?) Yes, we've planned to retain the players that we have,
we've anticipated that. That doesn't mean that our payroll is
going to grow exponentially every year, it just means that you
try to build around your core players and supplement them, but
what you want to avoid doing is paying gigantic $6-7-8 million
contracts to players that don't contribute, which is exactly
what happened to us this year, and blew our payroll all out of
GC: So how can you improve the
product on the field without jacking the payroll up, Larry?
LL: You can sign some of the players
that you have who are young players for extended periods, you
can trade wisely, I mean we improved our bullpen by adding Alan
Embree, and Alan Embree was a $500,00 player this year. There is
some correlation, make no mistake, between high payroll and
productivity, but it's not a one-to-one correlation, there are
teams who are quite good who draft well, we have some young
players who've come into their own, Shea Hillenbrand is a player
that you can build around, he makes $220,000 a year. So you
don't have to go out and sign the biggest name free agents in
the free agent market every November and December, in order to
improve your team, you can do it other ways.
JD: So should we assume that the
first thing on the top of Larry Lucchino's 'to-do' list is to
chop the dead wood out of this roster?
LL: We'll some of that's happening
just by evolution. We've lost a couple of high priced players,
during the course of this year, who are nonetheless on our
payroll, I'm thinking of Darren Oliver. I'm thinking of Jose
Offerman. There are some players whose contracts are over this
year who are not likely to be signed at the elevated rates that
they had coming into this year... if signed at all, so I think
that evolution will result in a number of players changing
teams, reducing the payroll, and of course that's offset by some
degree for the escalation of contracts for some of the players
that you mentioned (Nomar, Manny, Pedro).
JD: Larry for all the wonderful
things Nomar does as a baseball player, his production speaks
for itself, just the fact that , as we said, he's a special
ballplayer, would you like to see a guy like Nomar provide more
quiet, in-house leadership? But it seems to me that there is
something missing from this team, beyond numbers, beyond
production, a presence in that locker room who pulls Manny aside
when he takes a right-hand turn out of the batter's box and says
'Manny, that's not how we do it here in Red Sox land.'
LL: First of all it assumes that
Nomar doesn't do any of that. And he does some of that. Nomar is
one of the leaders on this team. Make no mistake about it.
He doesn't do it in the kind of traditional way, the kind of
obvious way, the loud, and vocal, and visible way, but he is
unquestionably a leader on this team. Would you like to have
someone who does it in the more conventional way, the sort of
firebrand in-your-face, kind of leader? I think that most of the
teams that I've been associated with that have had some success,
generally had someone like that among the every day players.
It's not usually a pitcher although it can be, but that kind of
leadership is helpful, it's helpful in any endeavor. So I do
think that there is a need for some of that on this team, that's
probably right, but I think there are people who can develop
into that. It's important for 'Nomar to be Nomar,' it's
important for players not to try to assume a role that doesn't
fit their personality. Because the season is so long, and the
interaction so intimate that people can see through pretense or
charade and the teammates certainly can. So I think it has to be
someone who has those characteristics quite by nature, and I
think we have some people like that, who can grow into that role
GC: Larry, if I were you, or any
personnel/management guy, my worst fear would be watching my
superstar walk away for nothing. If I'm Duquette and Clemens and
Mo Vaughn walk away, I mean that just rankles me. If I'm
Billy Beane and Jason Giambi walks away, and I get nothing, I go
to bed every night thinking 'boy I could have had three or four
prospects, a pitcher, a short stop...'I coulda had stuff.'
Do you think about that? Do you try to gauge Nomar's sentiments
here and say 'is there a chance that he will just do like A-Rod
and say 'thank you but no thank you' and walk away and leave you
LL: I think there's always a chance
that free agents will exercise that right and pick a place that
they would like to play or take an offer that absolutely blows
them away, but my preference, and I think I speak for John, and
Tom, and for the entire organization is that we'd love to have
Nomar play for this team for the remainder of his career.
There's something special about career players, and they're rare
these days. Guys who played from day-one to day-last with the
same team and there's something special about the franchises
that can do that. Cal Ripkens a most recent example for that and
his status in Baltimore will always be exceptional in part for
that reason. So would we like to have Nomar play his
entire career for the Red Sox? Absolutely, unequivocally,
GC: So is there a timetable in your
mind, would you want Nomar signed to an extension say this time
next year, or you'd have a pursue a deal?
LL: No there really isn't a specific
timetable. Because he is signed for 2003. And he is signed for
2004 and we have wolfs a lot closer to the sled than that.
Things we have to deal with more immediately. We have some free
agents who will be free to address the market in a couple of
weeks. (GC: Who?) Alan Embree is an example of that. Cliff
Floyd, we are absolutely going to try to do that (retain his
services), it depends on the price of poker and what Cliff's
other alternatives may be, what his interests are, but we think
he is someone who would like to stay here, we'd love to have him
(GC: and Embree?, you gotta keep Embree). You absolutely have to
make an effort to keep Embree, once again, it takes two to
tango, but certainly players of that stripe are hard to come by,
when you have opportunity to, as the incumbent to reach out to
them, I think you've got to.
JD: Your off-season obviously is
going to be filled with evaluating 'what you have,' 'what you
need,' 'where you're going to go,' 'who you're going to keep,'
'who you're gonna let go.' Does Grady Little's job
performance come under that scrutiny as well?
LL: Oh everybody is scrutinized
including we scrutinize ourselves at the end of the year to see
what kind of season we had, good or bad. But Grady's performance
is not going to be scrutinized in any way that's any different
than anyone else. Well sit down with him, get his ideas, and
have already in part. What's gone wrong this year? What's
diagnosis and what's the prescription for next year? We'll sit
down with Grady and everybody else, coaches, in fact we'll sit
down with a few players, one by one. The inmates aren't running
the asylum, but they should have a right to make their voices
JD: Larry on first blush, what does
Larry Lucchino think went wrong with team?
LL: Well, uh, let's see...that's a
complicated question, but a few things come to mind: the
bullpen, strength of the bullpen. We blew a lot of games in late
innings. We had numerous one-run problems. In this day and age,
the strength of your bullpen, and I mean everybody in the
bullpen, not just the closer, has got to be of high quality
there's just a tremendous reliance on it and I think we were
short in pitching depth both in the bullpen and in the starting
rotation. That was a major problem. Next year we'll be better
unquestionably and will have a considerably better performance
in one-run games as the laws of probabilities for that happen
for a second year... and we've got a different schedule next
year, don't play the NL West quality teams we ran into this
year, we play NL Central next yea and I think people have to
recognize that baseball isn't the same as it was 30 years ago
where everyone played exactly the same schedule. There are
different qualities of schedule, and I think next year's
schedule is beneficial to us in that regard. (GC: You've still
got 19 with Tampa, don't you?) Yes as a matter of fact we still
do have the unbalanced schedule.
I think Manny's injury hurt us, he's an
extraordinary player, he's an exceptional player, losing
him for 5-6 weeks, given the exceptional start we were off to, I
think that made a difference. I know everyone says injuries are
part of the game, and they are, but losing the key player we
had, at key time was also a factor. I think we had a couple of
disappointing performances in a couple of positions, we thought
Tony Clark might be the answer at first base. We thought Rich
Garces might be the set-up man that we hoped he would be. We
thought that Dustin Hermanson's health would be fine and he
wouldn't be hurt on the second day of the season, so there's
three major positions right there, where we didn't get what we
GC: I'm holding out hope, I think
Tony's gonna bust out these last two weeks, I really do...
LL: Well I hope so, he's a good man.
GC: Larry, when can we expect an
announcement from you saying 'so-and-so... Mike Port...
whomever, is your permanent general manager?
LL: Oh we're going to, that's the
first order of business in the off-season is to make a decision
regarding the permanent GM and I think given the importance of
that decision, it will fairly soon, but it won't happen until
the off-season, we're not going to go into any of this right
now. We're going to sit down and talk about the year we had.
Probably in October, November.
JD: Finally question from me Larry, I
think Tuesday was a Fenway Park feedback session with you and a
bunch of people, can you give us the tone, or part of the
content about what stuck out in that meeting?
LL: Sure we had our Fenway feedback
session with 20 fans from all over New England, people who had
written to us with complaints. People who we just pulled out of
line, it was sort of a random group and the tone was quite
positive by and large, people were focused on the changes in
atmosphere, the changes in the ballpark. Mike Port was there for
part of it and Mike heard some specific suggestions from fans as
well about how to make the team better for next year. But by and
large, I was positively ... I was relieved... frankly, that the
tone and the commentary was as positive as it was. Yawkey
Way got rave reviews from the fans and we took a little tally of
people on the question of 'renovation vs. replacement' of
Fenway... I think the vote was 11 for renovation and 9 for
JD: Tying up an old piece of
business, I read in the paper the next day after we chatted last
week that you didn't think my reaction to Manny's lack of
participation in the 9/11 ceremonies was anything but tardiness
on his part?
LL: No... I suggested that what I
heard about was some tardiness and that, that whole issue I
thought was blown out of proportion.
JD: Umm hmm, OK ...did you see the
LL: I did not see the tape still, I
just heard from other people, I've got a tape sitting on my desk
but I still haven't seen it.
JD: Larry thanks for the... GC:
I think it's just 'Manny being Manny'...
LL: Now, now... umm... I will look at
the tape because it sounds like John still got a 'bee in his
bonnet' on this one...
JD: No, you know what it was
Larry?... it was just juxtaposed to watching six or seven hours
of this nation pay tribute to 3,000 people, and seeing your
entire team, save one, stand on the top (step) of the dugout,
and it wasn't like he was down there reading comic books, or
flippin' the bird, or pickin' his nose, but he was going about
'Manny's business' while 24 Red Sox players stood on the top
(step) of the dugout...
LL: And then he proceeded to take his
place on the top (step) of the dugout...
JD: Well that was not shown on the
two pieces of video that I saw... I only saw Manny walking up
and down the...
LL: Ok... But that's not what I was
told by the folks who were there, so um, anyway I think it's an
issue that has been blown out of proportion as I said a minute
ago, and I don't think Manny's behavior justifies criticism on
JD: Alright... LL: OK...
JD: Thanks Larry...