Winter meetings report: Maddon - no surprise - optimistic
Manager Joe Maddon addressed a large group of media at the winter meetings today and said that even with all the players they are losing they could still be a 90-win team if they make the right moves in rebuilding their bullpen.
After acknowledging that "with all the guys that are leaving it's easy to think it's going to be very difficult for us next year, and it probably will be,'' Maddon cited their core of returning players, strong defense and a starting pitching staff he considers "among the best in the American League" and said they have a chance to remain competitive.
If we could get some kind of a bullpen back together that would really make all the difference in the world,'' Maddon said. "That could put us back in the 90-win area, I believe.''
Also: "That to me is the key to our success next year, yes or no that we have a good bullpen.''
Quick hits on some other topics Maddon addressed:
* It's possible John Jaso could take over as the every day catcher, playing against right- and left-handers, which would reduce Kelly Shoppach to a pure backup role. Maddon said it was also possible that 2B Sean Rodriguez (who hits righthanded) and OF Matt Joyce (a lefty) could also get the chance to play everyday rather than be part of platoons.
* He is confident that Reid Brignac is ready to take over at shortstop if the Rays do trade Jason Bartlett: "I think Reid Brignac has all the mental and physical abilities to be a good major-league shortstop as a starter - I think he's about there right now.''
* As exec VP Andrew Friedman has also said, Desmond Jennings is not guaranteed to replace Carl Crawford in leftfield, and will have to earn the spot.
* While it will be "a different feeling" with lots of new players and different roles, Maddon said he is very excited about the upcoming season: "There's a lot of challenge to putting this thing back together.''
* He hasn't thought much of how to sort out having six starters, and that it is an ongoing discussion within the organization, mentioning the possibility one could go to the bullpen and also that Jeremy Hellickson could end up back in the minors, although that would be unlikely: "I really think Helly's ready to pitch in the big leagues.''
* It probably won't hit him until spring training or the start of the season that Carl Crawford is no longer part of their team, "when it actually slaps you in the face, or when he slaps you in the face with another team. He's a good guy, he's a good player, he's earned this moment and we all wish him well.''
* Ben Zobrist's position isn't set - he could be at first or in left but the preference is keep using him in a variety of roles - but Maddon is confident of a "bounce back" offensively. He also mentioned Elliot Johnson as a possible super-utility guy.