FOX Sports Ohio Q&A with Reds GM Walt Jocketty
Walt Jocketty is entering his eighth season as the president of baseball operations and general manager of the Reds. This is his 41st year working in pro baseball. It is his 21st year as the GM of a Major League Baseball franchise. Jocketty was given the John Schuerholz Award this past offseason for his accomplishment of two decades as a GM, a career which includes three times being named Executive of the Year by Sporting News and 10 times building teams that reached the postseason.
Three of those teams have been in Cincinnati. Jocketty came to the Reds after 13 previous seasons with St. Louis. He’s used to winning. The Reds didn’t win last season. Their 76-86 record was the worst for the franchise since it went 74-88 in 2008, Jocketty’s first year with the organization. The Reds also haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. There isn’t much expectation from prognosticators of that changing this season as the National League Central division is expected to be among the most competitive races in MLB.
The Reds traded two of their starting five pitchers from a season ago, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, in moves that were necessitated by the economics of baseball. They were beset by injuries last season, including losing first baseman Joey Votto for 99 games, and the question of whether Votto, right fielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Brandon Phillips can return to the offensive forms they’ve shown in the past lingers.
With Opening Day drawing near, Jocketty sat down with FoxSportsOhio.com during the final week of spring training in Arizona (before final roster moves were announced) to talk about the upcoming season, the challenges facing manager Bryan Price and the players, and the challenges he faces in trying to build a championship team while balancing the business side of baseball with the game on the field.
Fox Sports Ohio: Your thoughts on this spring camp, how has it been?
Walt Jocketty: I think it’s been great. From the very beginning we’ve had guys come in early and guys were in great shape. It’s been a very positive, upbeat camp.
FSO: What do you think about this team with the makeup of the roster as it is now?
WJ: I like our club a lot. Every club in our division has some question marks, and we have a few, but I think the basic core of our club, the everyday club and the bench, will be better than last year. Our pitching staff will be fine once we get definitive roles for certain guys.
FSO: There have been high expectations for this club the past few years. There doesn’t seem to be much of that this year from national media. Does that bother you?
WJ: Not at all.
FSO: Do you like that underdog role?
WJ: I do. I think it helps. For us, it gives us an opportunity to show what we’re capable of. We didn’t finish well last year so I think most media people look at us like we’re not very good or whatever but we’re a lot better than we finished last year. If we’re healthy and we play like we’re capable of, which I think we will, we’re going to be right there.
FSO: One of your priorities this offseason was to improve the depth not just on the 25-man roster but the 40-man roster and the entire system. How do you think you done with that?
WJ: I think we have much more depth this year. I think we’ll have guys at Triple-A that will be able to come up and contribute. We had to make some very tough decisions here at the end both position players and pitchers so we’re going to be in a better position that way this year than I think we were last year.
FSO: You made the trades of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in the offseason. That seems to have enabled the team to progress in a financially responsible manner. On a personal level, how difficult is it to make trades like that?
WJ: It’s tough because we had one of the best rotations in the league and take two-fifths of it away is tough to replace but I think we’ve done a pretty good job. (Jason) Marquis has had a very good spring and he looks like he should make the club. (Anthony) DeSclafani has done really well. He’s everything we thought he would be. It was a tough decision to make because those two guys, Simon and Latos, were free agents at the end of the year and this was the best value we could get for them right now and still stay competitive.
FSO: There is always that business aspect you have to deal with.
FSO: Because there is the business side and the personal side to the job, how much of a relationship do you have with players? Do you have to keep a barrier between the two?
WJ: You try to build a relationship with them to a point because you don’t want them to only see you come into the clubhouse or be around when something bad is happening. You try to be around to develop a relationship. We’re not buddy-buddy or go to dinner stuff but you have to build a mutual respect for each other.
FSO: That ultimately helps you do your daily work?
WJ: Absolutely. Without a doubt. I’ve always had a strong relationship with my players.
FSO: The contract status of Johnny Cueto hangs around. Is there any update on his situation?
WJ: No. We’re not in a position to comment on it now.
FSO: How much does that situation weigh on you as a general manager?
WJ: When you have one of the best pitchers in the game you want and hope there is a way you can keep him but it’s a tough business. So I don’t know.
FSO: Mike Leake is another player entering the final year of his contract. Any update on him?
WJ: No, not yet.
FSO: This is Bryan Price’s second year as a manager. What did you learn about him in Year One?
WJ: I learned that he’s a good leader. He has the respect of the players. Everything we saw with him as a pitching coach he’s been able to advance to the managing role and has done an excellent job with that. He really worked under some very adverse conditions last year with all of the injuries and kept us afloat for a long time. We ran out of depth and couldn’t recover but he’s strong, positive and keeps guys accountable. I look for him to have another very good year as manager.
FSO: Those were the same qualities you saw in him before you hired him as manager? Or even when you hired him as the pitching coach?
WJ: Yeah. I think even more so. That’s why we felt he was more than capable of stepping in and being a manager and running the whole show and not just the pitching staff.
FSO: You were honored with the John Schuerholz Award for your 20 years as a GM in MLB. What’s that mean to you?
WJ: Quite honestly until I got that award I really hadn’t reflected on it because you just go year-to-year and keep trying to build championship clubs. But it’s a tough business and the fact that I’ve been able to stay at it for 20 years, 20-plus now, is gratifying because I’ve had some success. I’ve had some bad years but there are only a handful of guys that are still going that long.
FSO: You said you hadn’t reflected on your time as a GM before the award. Have you thought on how you’ve been able to build a 20-plus year career as a GM, let alone the rest of your time in baseball?
WJ: I’ll think about that some year when I retire.
FSO: How does this team take the next step?
WJ: I think we’ve got some real quality guys on this club. I see some guys taking some leadership roles. We’ve had some really good meetings this spring in different areas and I see these guys doing that. That’s what it really takes, playing together as a team. We’ve got a number of new guys and I think they’ve all meshed well this spring and there’s a real good feeling in that clubhouse. I think what we have to do is keep playing as a unit, playing together and getting off to a good start. I think everything will fall into place after that.
FSO: Does 2012 sit with you at all? Or is it in the past?
WJ: It’s back in the past. It took a while to get over that because that was a year I thought we had a real good chance of advancing deep into the playoffs.
FSO: How much easier does a healthy Joey Votto make your job, and Bryan’s job?
WJ: You mean having a player of that caliber?
WJ: We’ve got a lot of quality players that make it a lot easier and that’s good. It’s really good.