I had a chance to speak with ESPN’s Buster Olney this past Friday in advance of the Sunday Night Baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees. We talked about the Dodgers’ new ownership group, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, the state of both the Yankees’ and Angels’ respective franchises, as well as the Mike Trout contract. You can read the transcript of my interview, as well as listen to the full audio recording of the interview, below.
Listen to my Full Interview with Buster Olney:
Anthony S. Khoury (“ASK”): So the first thing I wanted to ask you about regarding the LA Dodgers, just in general, what are your thoughts on what the new ownership group has done in the past couple years whether it be in terms of this huge TV deal they have with Time Warner or the re-investment in international scouting and the farm system, or just this–as some people have talked about them now, this identity as ‘Yankees West’–what are your general thoughts and do you think that’s good for baseball, or do you see any bad things about the way the things have started up with the new ownership group?
Buster Olney (“Olney”): Well, there’s no question that it’s ‘Yankees West’, and the way that they’re running the team reminds me of how George Steinbrenner ran the Yankees. I covered them for four years and covered George for four years, and it was the same type of thing where it’s–’we’re gonna win a championship, cost be damned’. But George, during that time, he fully understood that the value of the franchise, the exposure of the franchise, would really benefit from that approach because he’s raising the level of expectation for the fans, and their belief that they could buy a ticket and invest in part of that journey for something that’s great. They’re putting their money where their mouth is and from the sale price of the team to the follow-up with what they’re doing in the farm system, as you referenced, to the money they’re spending on their guys–I mean, there’s no question about it–what their intent is. I do think that probably along the way–and I’m sure they’re aware of this–that there’s gonna be questions about how efficient are they being about it? Could they potentially do a better job? I think those are all fair questions.
ASK: Could you put an ‘A through F’ kind of grade on how they’ve done so far, just in your opinion? Do you think they’ve done pretty well, or is the jury still out?
Olney: There’s a business side of it. Anyway, it’s hard for me to answer that one because there’s so much about the business part of it that I don’t know. In other words, for me, looking at it from the perspective of a baseball reporter, you’re sort of working as an advocate for the fan and so, they’re in a situation now where as you know, being out there, there are a whole bunch of fans who are really unhappy about the fact they can’t watch the team, and you’re waiting for that part of it to get resolved. I think the money that they’ve invested in some of the players–in the end, is that going to turn out to be a smart thing or is it not going to turn out to be a smart thing? So I think it’s early to judge. Because I keep telling you, how many times since I started covering baseball, a new owner will go in, he’ll talk big, he’ll spend a lot of money, and then after a while, the other shoe drops, and I’m gonna wait for that before I can say, ‘well this is good and this is bad’.
ASK: Yasiel Puig–I know that there’s all this stuff coming out about how he got out of Cuba, and there’s so much going on with all that, and with all that in the background, there’s been a lot of frustration with moreso the team–whether it be the players or management–as opposed to the fans. But it sounds like from what you wrote in your blog–that Puig kinda ‘gets it’, like he’s apologized for the mistakes, he understands, and everyone is frustrated but hopeful about it, but do you get the sense that they understand that going forward, no matter how much he matures, there’s always gonna be some of these ‘ill advised’ plays that he makes but they’re willing to accept some of that as long as he for the most part ‘gets with the program’? Do you sense that kind of a sentiment about it, or what exactly is the expectation of the team as far as you can tell?
Olney: Well, the first thing with players always is ‘how effectively are they playing’ and the better they’re playing, the more that stuff will be overlooked. And last year, he was playing so well I think he made it really easy for the Dodgers to say, ‘oh ok, he missed second base’ I mean it seemed almost more playful. But as his performance went down, I think those standards start to go up. And I do think over time, like for example, after he showed up late for that home opener–we were there that weekend, and I asked some guys ‘how many times’ve you been late to the park?’ and they’re like ‘none, never been late’. It’s almost part of the credo–is that ‘ok, you can go out and have fun, you can do things, but you better show up on time’. And the level of frustration with the other players is high and it’s interesting because a lot of people have written about ‘does the media get it?’ that type of thing, I actually think it’s a fairly–it really is about a lot of young people we know where, the question is, ok–he’s given us a lot of indication that he recognizes that there’s an issue, he’s basically said aloud as much, but it’s just a question of whether or not he’s gonna change the behavior, and you know–that’s an open-ended question going forward.
ASK: From a fan’s perspective, we often see or have seen guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe seemingly be like mentors for him from the very beginning, but it seems like maybe there’s been a disconnect or they haven’t gotten through, or do you know anything about that specifically, or what’s been your impression in that regard?
Olney: Well, I think there’s no question, and without getting into specific players, I know some stuff but I can’t betray confidences, but without a doubt, that there have been guys in there who said ‘you know what? I’m gonna help you out’, and then over time I think that a level of frustration has set in along the lines of maybe the way you are is apparent some times, like ‘geez, we talked about this, right? Didn’t we deal with this thing about showing up on time??’ And, I think that for some players, it’s gotten to the point that you probably had one or two guys just say, ‘you know what? I’ve had it, I tried!’.
ASK: The Hanley Ramirez extension discussion–do you know anything about what’s going on with that, or do you get the impression that everyone feels like that’s definitely gonna happen, it’s just a matter of when?
Olney: It makes sense from the outside–look, I don’t know any details specifically about how far apart they were–but I know this, that: you have an ownership group that–as you’ve talked about it–it’s a Steinbrenner approach, they’re gonna do everything they can to win, they need a shortstop, and Hanley potentially, if he hits like he did last year, he can be that guy. And he’s obviously betting that whatever number the Dodgers had in front of him, that he can do better. Maybe because he knows the Yankees need a shortstop when the year is over too. Maybe he’s looking at some other situations and figuring, ‘you know what? I’ve got a lot of money in the bank already, I’ll bet on myself.’ But it makes sense that he would return because they really like him, they appreciate him, he’s played well for them, and you figure at some point they’ll reach an agreement.
ASK: I wanted to talk a little bit about the Angels and Yankees–because I know that’s obviously the Sunday Night Baseball game–and these teams are interesting because obviously with the Yankees you have so many of their core players that are in baseball terms a lot older–late 30s–obviously the two free agents they brought in, other than Tanaka–Ellsbury, McCann–they’re 30, and then you have the Angels who just tied themselves down to Pujols and Hamilton who are in their early 30s for big sums of money for many years–do you see any parallels at all between the two or do you see that either team is necessarily, because of these issues, in decline or what’s your impression about where they both stand right now?
Olney: Boy, there’s no question–the Yankees are going through a transition period without a doubt. I mean, Rivera walking away last year, Derek is gonna walk away, they’re gonna have to replace and find some infielders, their farm system is in some bad condition, but I think in a way there definitely are some parallels because the Angels’ farm system is not considered to be very good, they’ve got some older guys too, and now especially as you see Tanaka pitch more and more, you feel like that going forward the Yankess at least have an anchor. We didn’t really know six months ago if they were gonna have an anchor who was gonna help them be the guy especially after Cano left, but it looks like Tanaka is gonna be able to be that guy. He looks like he’s that good, assuming that he doesn’t get hurt and they now have to build around it, and the Angels have that guy. They’ve got the best player in baseball, now that they have him locked up. I’ll say this–the one thing that separates the two of them is that I think the Angels are kinda bumping up against the ceiling of where they wanna go, what Arte wants to spend, and I think with the Yankees–it’s all bets are off at this point. This winter, when they’re in the process of trying to fill in that infield, and maybe if Hiroki Kuroda walks away, or they need a starting pitcher, it wouldn’t surprise at all if they went after a guy like Scherzer.
ASK: You mentioned Mike Trout–obviously, it was kind of an unprecedented deal that he signed, giving up the three years of arbitration to sign this big deal–and a lot of people say, ‘well, there’s compromise on both sides because he maybe could have gotten more money but he could have also gotten injured. What were your impressions about that contract and whether or not that’s good or bad for baseball going forward?
Olney: Well, one thing is that, no matter which way he was gonna go, and it’s totally his choice, obviously–he’s gonna be fine. It was interesting to hear from a lot of agents and a lot of general managers, executives, on what strategy they would have picked and most of the people I spoke with thought–and I’ve had this conversation with players–where they were shaking their heads and they were saying, ‘wait a second, if he could have gotten a 10 year deal, you know maybe push the Angels to a 12 year deal for 350 million, 400 million, dollars–wow–you know, you’ve gotta do that!’ And, a lot of people disagreed with the decision, but again, they weren’t saying it like ‘boy, was he stupid!’, it was ‘boy, if I had that poker hand, this is how I would have played it.’ And there was a lot of people who felt that they would have played it differently, but I’ve talked with people who know Trout, and what they basically say is a) he really wants to win, and b) if the Angels aren’t necessarily in a position where they’re gonna win in six years, and who knows where they’re gonna be, then he would probably explore opportunities when he became a free agent, and people who know him say that no question, the Yankees are a possibility down the road, if he can’t win with the Angels.
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