Friday, August 29, 2008

stitch01 Interview

stitch01 is in his very successful 2nd year as manager of the Ottawa Rough Riders, formerly the New Britain Smelters. The Rough Riders won 98 games last year and are on pace for another successful season, as they're 64-46 and hold a significant lead for a wild card spot. Key to their success has been the emergence of 2B Eugene Workman. After batting only .263 with 25 HR last year, Workman is batting .298 and has already hit 41 HR in 24 less games. The Rough Riders also boast a very solid 1-2-3 punch in their starting rotation, with Alberto Oliva, Antone Day, and Joel Rando all having great seasons.

Q: How do you feel about your team's performance so far this year? Pleased? Surprised? Disappointed?

We're about where I expected. We won 98 games last year with basically the whole core coming back and I think (hope) we've improved with our offseason moves. Last year's team struggled for the first 100 games or so then caught fire, I've been happy to see us click earlier this year. Alexander is a little bit of an odd league for me in that I have a very, very good team that has no chance of finishing closer than 20 games out of first. For the most part, the season is about trying to figure out how we can best put together a team that has a shot to win four short series and specifically upset Rochester and/or Indy.

Q: Are there any players on your team that you feel are really over- or underachieving?

We liked Eugene Workman and thought he would give us offensive upgrade, but we didn't expect him to be an MVP candidate with 40+ HR. We've been relatively happy with his defense as well. He sees most of his time at 2B even though he's more of a natural third baseman and has acquitted himself well. His acquisition was more dumb luck than anything. I think Wichita moved him for financial reasons and we had a cost-controlled good young player in George Fonda to replace Workman, so that trade came together pretty quickly. Our offense has actually regressed a little since last season, so Workman has been invaluable.

Joel Rando and Alberto Oliva have been, as you pointed out, two huge contributors. We didnt expect Oliva to be the Rookie of the Year last year and he's pitched almost exactly as well this year. Just attacks the strike zone, we're very happy with him.

Rando is a guy who had some trouble with the HR ball last year, which perplexed us a little bit. This year he's done a much better job with keeping the ball in the park and has been a legit number 2 starter who frankly should have made the all-star team over Antone Day. Going into the season he wasn't really in our long-term plans, but he pitched his way into them and we just wrapped him up to a reasonable long-term deal.

One final guy, a little under the radar, is Pascual Lee. He's currently on the DL but has pitched really well in every role on the pitching staff and given us some flexibility on a team with a lot of 1 inning pitchers.

Our biggest underperformer is Norberto Manzanillo. He's been a perennial all-star and has just had a terrible first half. We expect him to pick it up over the second half of the year. It's pretty important to us he retain Type A status, he's been playing better of late so we are optimistic.

David Penny has been a little bit of a dissapointment, although some of that may be our fault, he's being asked to leadoff and isn't a true leadoff hitter.

Ricky Jacquez hasn't blossomed yet like we hoped after his strong season two years ago, we expected some more pop. Norberto Marrero has played well in a platoon role and may start to take a little bit of time against RHP.

We still feel comfortable that all these guys will play to their true level once we reach the postseason.

Q: What do you view as your team's strengths and weaknesses, and do you plan on making any moves to eliminate those weaknesses?

The bullpen was and probably still is our biggest weakness. We have some decent pitchers, but dont really have the true lights-out closer down there nor do we have rubber arms. We've been using about 6 guys to fill those final three spots using the AAA shuttle, but we've had too many games where there are really only 1 or 2 guys who aren't too fatigued to pitch. Luckily our top three starters tend to go deep into games and Day is the definition of a horse.

We probably have already made our biggest moves to fix that. Over the all-star break we traded Charles Suzuki, a very good young pitcher, in a move that acquired Calvin Davis. We think Davis gives us a guy who can get K's, who can go two innings and who slots in well as our top set-up guy and can take pressure off the rest of the pen. Rafael Baez is taking Suzuki's spot in the rotation, he's a downgrade but he's serviceable as a number 4. Given we are completely playoff focused and I'm not sure Suzuki was going to start playoff games for us, I felt we had to make that move. Getting Pascual Lee back will help as well.

We're a little weak at SS/CF, we've been mixing and matching based on matchups. Trevor May has been having a really good year with the bat, but he's borderline in the field given his age. We'll probably look to make a waiver move here, we got Garrett Fox after the deadline last year and it worked out really well. We don't have a lot of financial flexibility, so we're going to have to get a little creative here.

Q: How do you view the long term future of the Rough Riders? Are they set to be a dynasty, or are you in win-now-at-all-costs mode? What, if any, is your plan?

It's a little bit of an odd position. It's an older team with a lot of talent and the true ace I think you need in the playoffs in Antone Day, who is 35. So that argues that you need to go for it now, and that's mostly what we have been doing. We gave up our first rounder last year to sign Terry Pratt, who I think was a perfect fit for this team, and the Suzuki trade I mentioned earlier was a definite go-for-it-now move. As long as we have Day close to his peak, we have a shot in a short series and we should take it.

The flip side is that, realistically, we're only going to be the third best team in the NL. So I think completely emptying the farm system to improve the team is probably not the right move, not a high enough reward. Our farm system is a little thin, especially with position players. I have not done a good job drafting the last two years, so we can't really afford to move any high-ceiling talent.

So we think the core we have is good enough to make the playoffs for the 3 seasons left on Day's contract. Out mindset is basically, how can we improve on the margin for a short series without giving up our top prospects? Realistically, we are going to have to get lucky in order to win it all with the current core so we need to try and start to rebuild the farm system at the same time. We very well may let Manzanillo go after the season and take the picks which will help. Our next draft is crucial, we absolutely can't have a third straight poor draft. I'm confident we'll get it done.

Q: Who do you pick to win it all this year? Why?

I can't pick against Rochester or Indianapolis so I'll split my vote between those two. Rochester has the most talent by far, Indianapolis has had good success against them in the postseason. Don't count us out in Ottawa though!

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