Q&A with Indians manager Wedge
Skipper set to enter his seventh season with the Tribe
Eric Wedge is entering his seventh season at the helm of the Indians, and his tenure has provided a mixed bag, in terms of results. After the rebuilding period of 2003 and '04, the thrill of contention in '05 and '07 was countered by the difficult disappointments of '06 and '08.But while last season saw the Indians fall out of the playoff race by midseason, the club's ability to put together a 40-28 record in the second half -- despite the trades of CC Sabathia and Casey Blake and the absence of Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez -- was in many ways a credit to Wedge and the tenacity he's helped instill in his ballclub.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
With question marks in the starting rotation and parity up and down the American League Central Division, the Indians will need that tenacity for the length of 2009. MLB.com caught up with Wedge a few days back to talk about what lies ahead and the mindset he's tried to create and maintain in the Tribe clubhouse.MLB.com: Do you think you and your staff and players have acclimated and taken advantage of the extended spring camp this year? Wedge: I think we have taken advantage of it, with regard to the decisions we have to make with the starting pitching, the bullpen and the position player spot. I think it's given a great opportunity to play our younger players more and given them unprecedented experience, with regard to Spring Training. And it's going to help us with some of the nicks we've had injury-wise. MLB.com: It seems there's been an added emphasis -- and I'm sure if it's a product of the experiences of the last few years -- on the organization's depth and how it will be called upon this season. Wedge: I've said to these guys, the 25 [players] we break with is important. But what's really important are 35 ... and, hopefully, it's no more than that ... but it's those other guys we don't break with that are going to help us win ballgames and hopefully be a part of something special. It happens every year. Obviously when you have those down years, you might use them more by choice. But even when you have the good years, whether it be '05 or '07, it's out of necessity. I'll never have any understanding for anybody going down to Triple-A feeling sorry for themselves or dwelling on it or having an attitude, because the reality is that it's been shown every single year that there are going to be people chosen from there to help us. So go down there and get after it. It's a no-brainer for me. MLB.com: Obviously those predicting your outlook for the season will look at the 25 guys. Wedge: I'm looking at 162 games. Everybody gets so caught up in [the Opening Day roster]. And believe me, it's important to break with the best 25. But it's more important to break with the right 25. And then what you want to do is have, basically, a combination of the best 25 over 162. Those 25 are going to change, be it through performance or injury. So I think it's important to break with the right 25, then work your you-know-what off to have the best 25 over the course of six months. All I care about, sitting here today, is how many games we win over 162. It's not about one day or one week or one month. MLB.com: This is a much different team than it was even a year ago, because, among other things, you lost CC and Blake. How would you characterize this team vs. that team? Wedge: It's still too early to tell. What makes it hard is not having a [Mark] DeRosa here and a [Shin-Soo] Choo here [for all of Spring Training camp]. That makes it difficult. But I think if you ask me that question in a couple weeks, I can answer it for you. Until we really get everybody together for a while, it's going to be hard to tell. MLB.com: People are going to point to the rotation as your biggest area of concern. Wedge: [Laughs] I wouldn't disagree with them. MLB.com: What are your thoughts on the rotation, going in? Wedge: I think we're going to have options; we're going to have depth. I'm just a little bit concerned about what we're going to get initially out of our top five. We're still trying to work through those final couple spots. If [Anthony] Reyes is healthy, he's going to be a part of this, for sure. But that other spot is still wide open. [Fausto] Carmona has a lot of work to do. Carl [Pavano] has a lot of work to do. Cliff [Lee] is still getting dialed in. We've got a lot of work to do. MLB.com: What did this team get out of the second half of last season? Wedge: Younger players gained some great experience and stepped up into some primary roles for the first time in their careers. That's going to help us. From an offensive standpoint, our guys learned you can score runs without hitting home runs. Our guys in the bullpen started to figure it out. And in the starting rotation, guys like [Scott] Lewis, [Zach] Jackson, Reyes, [Aaron] Laffey were given those opportunities, and they proved they can go out and give us a chance to win ballgames. I think there's definitely a chance for some carryover this year, in a good way. MLB.com: Both ownership and general manager Mark Shapiro have said they feel last season might have been your best as the manager of this club. How does that sit with you? Wedge: Well, I don't know about that. I'm not really good at talking about that. But I'll tell you this. I said after that last game in Chicago, "I'm as proud of this group of men as any team I've ever been a part of." I think that says all that can be said. MLB.com: Is there any urgency to build off that this year? Not just because of the standings, but also -- and I know this isn't your chief concern -- but the economic situation makes this an interesting year. Wedge: The game's in a great place, but when you look at the economy and all the trials going on in the world, it's a very confusing, tough time. What everybody's trying to do is see what's around the corner. Baseball's in the same boat. They don't know what's going to happen this year to affect next year. I know this. All we can do, as managers and players and coaches, is play the game we've always played it and focus on winning the game. People spend a lot of hard-earned money to watch us play, and I know our players are going to show up and play hard every day. But I don't feel the pressure or the urgency. I don't do that, and I don't believe in it. We control what we can control. I believe in our kids, and I'm confident that we have a pretty good ballclub. MLB.com: It's hard to believe this is your seventh year ... Wedge: [Laughs] I feel the same way. It does fly. MLB.com: Well, when you talk about the players showing up and playing hard, is that the stamp you want to leave on this team when all is said and done? Wedge: It's what I believe in. I wouldn't be a part of anything any different. There's no way they're not going to show up and get after it every day. Now they've taken that on and understand it. Respecting the game and being a good teammate are two things that have to happen here. Playing the game the right way is part of respecting the game. I just have so much respect for the families who come out and buy a ticket for their kids to come watch this team play. And win or lose, they know our kids are going to show up and play their hardest. Putting on a big league uniform is a privilege. To play any other way is disrespecting the game and everybody who came before you.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.