Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Royals interviews: Part II with Brian McRae

Here is the entirety of my interview with former Royals, Cubs and Mets great Brian McRae. In this discussion McRae talks about the keys to success this season for the Royals, the Mark Teahen situation and what he's up to these days.

Q: You get to see a lot of this team, obviously. Just talk about what you see out of this team this year in regards to the direction they're taking.

McRAE: "Well, with how they finished the season last year and with the editions they made you hope that they can continue to get better. I think that with Gil and Zack at the top of the rotation, and with Soria at the back of the bullpen that they have those positions pretty much locked up and they're as strong as any team in the division (at those positions).

Offensively, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are going to have to take a step to the next level and do the things that they are projected to do. They might have been rushed to the big leagues and that's why they have struggled a little bit, but they're not really young players anymore. They've had some significant time in (the big leagues). For (the Royals) to do bigger and better things offensively I think it's going to start with what they're able to do with Billy and Alex. If they swing the bat well and are productive then I think that's going to make the whole lineup a lot better and be a lot more consistent.

I think the keys to the lineup are going to be what those guys do.
I think you're going to have typical seasons out of about everybody else. The wild card there is just how much better are Billy and Alex? They have some question marks as far as who is going to be the extra first baseman. They have an extra outfielder, so they have some chips to trade when they start assessing what they need in Spring Training.

They have some parts that (other teams) may want. I think Ryan Shealy is out of options, Kila (Ka'aihue) has put himself on the map, so he's got a shot at making the ballclub. If he don't make the ballclub out of Spring Training he could come up very soon. They have to find somewhere for him to play if he's still swinging the bat well and being very productive, because offensively they don't hit a whole lot of homeruns. So you can't keep a guy like that down too long."

Q: That's kind of a good situation to be in too, right?

McRAE: "It's a good situation to be in if you make the right decisions. You know, Mark Teahen has got to play somewhere. He's not a bench player. And the outfield seems like it's set with Guillen, Coco Crisp and DeJesus over in left. So where is Teahen going to play? How is he going to get his at bats? Because I don't think he's going to be productive if he plays twice a week. I don't think he's going to be happy because he's not a twice a week type of guy and he's made a lot of concessions (for the team).

He's moved from third base to right field, from right field to left field. He's done things at the teams request that might have hurt him offensively. You know, now it's time for the team to help him out a little bit and either find him a place to play, or get rid of him so he can go play somewhere else."

Q: Right, because I can see a lot of teams that would love to have a player like him?

McRAE: "Right. That would love to have a guy like him. So they have some parts that they can trade for upgrades that they may need either in Spring Training or down the line once the season starts. That's something they didn't have before. They have a lot of talented players, and the competition in Spring Training is going to be one of a talented player battling against another talented player - not just a plain guy.

The competitions (they used to have) in Spring Training were between guys that couldn't play. Now they have big league players that are backing up big league players and that's when you can tell the depth of the organization is better when you can have a good player backing up another good player, and they're both qualified to make the big league roster.

I think their (minor league) system is getting a little bit better. Some of the guys in double-A and triple-A are close to being big league ready, and that's the sign of an organization doing some of the right things. They made some good trades, good drafts. On the field side that's something to be excited about.

Off the field, with the renovations they're doing, and I heard some people in the organization say it's not a renovation project - it's a whole new stadium. That's good for the fans to be able to come out and experience that, and have fun coming out to what a lot of people believe is one of the best ballparks in baseball. But you have to have some good product on the field, because the stadium (itself) is only going to bring people in for a short period of time if the talent on the field and the results in wins and losses don't get better."

Q: Talk about yourself personally. I know you've done some radio and TV stuff. How much do you enjoy still being able to be around baseball a lot?

McRAE: "I like being around the game. That's why I continue to be doing what I've been doing. Been doing some radio work, helping the Royals with some clinics and camps. It's fun for me to be around the game. It's fun for me to go to the ballpark and watch baseball. I follow it that way and travel to different ballparks. I'm just a big fan. I love the fact that a lot of times my office is at the ballpark watching a baseball game. I get to go to Spring Training and things like that. That, for me, is just a thrill to be around people that want to talk baseball or watch baseball and enjoy it as much as I do."

Q: Have you ever thought about getting into coaching? Has your dad (Hal McRae) given you any advice on getting into anything like that?

McRAE: "I'm not ready to do that yet. I've been out almost ten years now, retired in 2000, and I'm enjoying not having February through October or September locked up. For right now I'm not seeing myself wanting to coach (professionally). I coached summer league ball a little bit. I help out with a sixteen and seventeen year old team in the Kansas City area a little bit. That's three or four days a week I do that. For right now that's good enough for me. I did enough in the fifteen years that I played pro ball.

Being gone that long and being locked into, 'this is what you have to do from Spring Training to the end of the season' - I don't know if I'm ready to go back into that lifestyle. I kind of enjoy having off the 4th of July, going to the lake if I want to on Memorial Day. Just doing things that normal people get to do. Baseball, you're locked in and that's a big time commitment.

Maybe down the road, maybe five years from now, I'll want to do that when things slow down as far is what I'm doing. For right now this suits me pretty good."


Mark LaFlamme said...

Good stuff. I like his clear, unambiguous view of things. Nice and practical, not to optimistic, not all doom and gloom. He's obviously a smart guy. And the skills of the interviewer, well... that goes without saying.
Nice piece.

Levi "Tug" Payton said...

Thanks Mark. I appreciate it. By the way, how do you like the revised look of the blog? Is it easier to look at? Thanks again buddy.