I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Atlanta Braves General Manager John Schuerholz this past Friday afternoon. Mr. Schuerholz was gracious enough to grant me a substantial 40 minute interview that covered a range of topics that I feel will be of interest to all. Given the length of the interview, I will break it down into multiple parts, the first of which I will present to you this evening. So without further ado, here is Part I of my interview with Mr. John Schuerholz...
Joe Hamrahi (JH): First of all, thank you Mr. Schuerholz, for taking the time to speak with me today. I realize it is an extremely busy time of the year. Add to that the Furcal negotiations, and I'm sure your time is very limited.
John Schuerholz (JS): Not a problem.
JH: Getting right to the point, let's start with Raffy...Furcal. Any new developments? Or are you just waiting it out at this point?
JS: That's it. No new developments. (Editor's Note: Furcal signed a 3 year, $39 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night)
JH: Do you get the feeling that he (Furcal) wants to return to Atlanta or is the decision purely a matter of economics?
JS: He hasn't said either one of those two things to me. We've been talking to his agent, and he hasn't said anything about those things to me.
JH: Ok, moving on to some other things...I'm going to work backward from some of the more recent developments.
It was a surprise to some of us that Leo (Mazzone) left the organization. Were there ever any serious negotiations to keep Leo in Atlanta, or was it just the time for a change of scenery for Leo?
JS: Well Leo was ready to go. I'm just repeating what he said publicly in a thousand different places. He had the opportunity to join his lifelong friend Sam Perlozzo in a town closer to his aging parents and in the same state where his children from a divorced marriage lived...and he got a three year contract with a huge raise. Those were elements that couldn't be duplicated anywhere else.
JH: I guess I was just wondering if there were any serious negotiations with Leo to stay here (in Atlanta).
JS: He was very, very certain that's just what he wanted to do.
JH: Following Leo's departure was the hiring of Roger McDowell. That was also a bit of a surprise to us all. At what point did Roger emerge as a candidate to replace Leo? Maybe you could give us a little insight into Roger the coach and teacher as opposed to Roger the pitcher that we knew for so many years?
JS: As we gathered candidates for consideration to replace Leo and did our due diligence talking to guys who watch coaches out in the field do their work at the major league level, the minor league level, AAA, so on and so forth, it became evident that so many people had come to recommend him (Roger McDowell). Several felt he would be a top notch candidate. I had one gentleman who used to work for me, and who was a major league manager at one time, and had an opportunity to get to know Roger in a related way, say Roger was going to be a major league pitching coach superstar.
Then we, Bobby (Cox) and I, interviewed him and were very impressed with his demeanor, his intellect, his passion, and his enjoyment of what he does. Knowing and combining all that, with the knowledge that we are now welcoming a larger number of young pitchers to our organization, what better guy was there than Roger.
JH: We got to know Roger up in New York and he always was a very interesting person.
JS: He's got a great personality, and he promised not to give any "hot foots" so we're pretty confident that won't happen.
JH: (laughs). That's good to know!
While we're on the topic on pitching, we know now that Kyle Farnsworth is now going to the Yankees. I've read all your comments the last few days. Was it your intention to try to sign Kyle Farnsworth as your closer for 2006? Or were your plans to shop around?
JS: It was our intention to sign him (Farnsworth) as our closer and Furcal as our shortstop.
JH: At this point now...
JS: We have to find another closer.
JH: Do you feel that you will look within the organization or try to bring someone in via free agency?
JS: I have no idea really. You know...why narrow it down? There's a whole canvas of opportunities that we're going to explore. We'll go to the Winter Meetings and talk to teams, talk to agents of free agents continually. We've already begun that process...We WILL have a closer. I just don't know who it will be.
JH: Whether or not he moves into the closer role this year, next year, or two years from now, did you plan to draft Joey Devine so that he could be your long-term closer?
JS: It was our hope. I don't ever say it's our intention when we take an amateur player. He's rushed through our development program because of a need we had, because of his maturity, and his abilities. But, there's more work to be done there with Joey. He has a lot of potential, and we like him a lot. And we wouldn't be surprised if someday soon he becomes our closer. But, that will happen in its own time. That will run on a parallel track to us structuring and building our team right now.
JH: Continuing on the theme of younger players, if Furcal doesn't come back (Editor's Note: We know now that he has signed with the Dodgers), do you feel that Wilson Betemit is ready to step in and play shortstop?
JS: We think so. When we signed Wilson Betemit and he began his development as a professional player, he was electrifying as a shortstop. He played in the Futures All-Star Game in Seattle. He hit a home run left-handed and right-handed in the same game. He was a superb shortstop. As his role morphed into more of a utility role at the major league level, he didn't get the same amount of time to play as he did in the minor leagues. The question is, can he regain those everyday shortstop skills? You know. And he's going to be playing shortstop for the last half of the winter season in the Dominican. He'll come to spring training with the chance to put the shortstop's glove on everyday. He'll prepare himself for that challenge, and we'll see. But we have real positive expectations that he'll do a good job.
JH: Well you're certainly not lacking shortstop prospects in the organization. That seems to be one of the team's stronger areas.
JS: We think it is. Whether Wilson or Tony Pena or Elvis Andrus, or (Yunel) Escobar, Luis Hernandez...you name `em.
JH: Let's shift over to another high profile young player who's been getting a lot of press...Andy Marte. At the moment he seems like he doesn't have a position, but those things tend to work themselves out.
JS: They always have. In all my years in baseball...40, and in my years as a general manager, this is my 25th, they always work out. You never have a problem with too much talent. The problem is when you have too little. We find a way to make matters work if we have an excess of talent...whether you move a player to another position, whether you trade a player...
JH: Is there any possibility that Marte goes to camp at a different position or tries to learn a new position?
JS: I don't think so. I don't think so. He's too young...he's a primary dominant third base candidate for a major league team in the very near future, whether it be for our team or someone else's team. I mean this guy's total package, offensively and defensively, his power potential, and excellent defensive skills make him a legitimate major league third baseman. Right now, though, there's a guy named Chipper Jones ahead of him.
That concludes Part I of our interview with John Schuerholz. Thanks for checking out TalkingChop.com and be sure to check back soon for Part II of our dialogue with the Atlanta Braves general manager.