Erik Hahmann: Josh Sale was at the Rays winter development program. What was his impression with how he handled himself? What can we expect out of him in 2014 (what level).
Andrew Friedman: As far as Josh was concerned, last year didn't go the way any of us would have liked. But Josh has responded to our challenge to commit himself to approaching this with a productive mindset. Between the Winter Development Program and spring training, he's gone about his work the right way and with a good attitude. We're optimistic that he will be able to take that approach into the season, and very eager to see him play.
EH: The team had one of the highest fly ball percentages last year despite playing in Tropicana Field, a pitcher's park. Is that an intentional strategy?
AF: Even though Tropicana Field isn't an extreme outlier, we're certainly aware of the effects it has on different players and, though it's an inexact science, we do our best to factor that into our roster construction. But there are so many things to consider in putting together our team that we take care not to put too much weight on any one of them. Our job is to look at the larger picture, assess all of the available options, and assemble a group of guys that will work together and complement each other.
EH: You have nearly a decade into the job with an analytical background, does it surprise you how much of what a baseball player does or value he brings is intangible? i.e. Molina handling the staff or shields mentoring young pitchers.
AF: Not at all. In fact, I think the opposite would be more surprising. In any workplace, or any family or group of people, it would go without saying that good people bring to the table a lot more than can be measured. In baseball we have the ability to measure many things but that doesn't mean that the importance of those intangibles is lost. Appreciating our players as people, and understanding what they bring to our clubhouse and our culture, is critical.
EH: With the addition of Balfour and the title of closer, is defining roles in the bullpen something you're becoming comfortable with or do you see it as a necessity for the player?
AF: We've always viewed our bullpen as a cohesive unit, a group of pitchers who can work together to nail down a win or hold a game to allow our offense to take the lead. In Grant's case, we're adding one of the premier relievers in baseball whose ability to pitch at the end of the game is very well established. We know he's going to fit very well within the group in that role. So I don't see this as a change in philosophy as much as just stating the obvious.
EH: Is it tougher to accumulate depth through waiver-wire claims and minor-league deals than it was five years ago?
AF: Relentless competition is built into this industry and so the bar is always being raised. There's probably a greater emphasis being placed on depth now that there used to be but I don't think that's a unique trend. Everyone is always trying to get better, and every avenue for talent acquisition is more difficult and more competitive that it was five or ten years ago.
EH: Do you target pitchers with control/command in trades over guys with plus velocity? (Jake Odorizzi and Matt Andriese for example)
AF: Above all we look for pitchers whom we believe can succeed in the American League East. Because the hitters in this division are so disciplined, that means we have to be able to challenge and beat them in the strike zone. There are different ways to do that, whether with overpowering velocity, a knockout secondary pitch, plus command or tremendous feel for pitching. With the competition we face our standard needs to be very high, but we keep an open mind to different profiles that can meet that standard.
EH: Once again the team doesn't have the type of speed we've seen in years past. How much of a factor, if at all, does that play when filling out the bottom of the roster?
AF: The ways in which impact-type speed can change a game certainly aren't lost on us, even as we recognize that it's difficult to find or acquire. In putting together our roster, we try to balance many different factors - ultimately, we are looking to both score runs on offense and prevent them on defense. And so with that in mind, we've tried to acquire well-rounded, versatile players who can add value in many different areas, including with their speed and baserunning ability. We see guys like Logan Forsythe and Brandon Guyer able to help us in that way.
EH: The bullpen looks to be fairly set. Having not pitched in the majors since 2011, what are your expectations for Juan Carlos Oviedo this season?
AF: We're very encouraged by what we've seen from Juan Carlos this spring in terms of the way the ball is coming out of his hand. When healthy he was one of the better late-inning relief pitchers out there and we think that he has that kind of upside for us in 2014. Our biggest challenge, given how long it's been since he last pitched at this level, will be to bring him along properly and manage his workload so that we can keep him productive throughout the summer. We are intent on doing that the right way and are eagerly looking forward to what he can contribute.
Thanks again to Andrew for taking the time to talk with us.