Friday, November 30, 2007
Today's Press Conference
There was no way I was going to miss this afternoon's Press Conference with Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Our Manager Manny Acta discussing the Big Trade of My Main Man!! Ryan Church and Our Catcher Brian Schneider to The New York Mets for Lastings Milledge. Had to hear the words from those that conducted the swap. The surprise addition of Milledge himself on the conference call--made the entire effort worthwhile. No, I don't know much about Lastings--but in his brief question and answer period with the press, he was impressive--especially for someone of such relative youth--22 years old.
As usual, I recorded the event in its entirety on my Ipod. Below is my transcript of the entire Press Conference with Jim Bowden, Manny Acta and Lastings Milledge on Friday Afternoon, November 30th, 2007 at 3:30PM. All 18 minutes worth.
Here we go:
Jim Bowden: “We are very pleased to be able to acquire Lastings Milledge, a 22 year old outfielder who we think is a building block as we continue to build this organization through young players. All of our Top Evaluators, including Our Manager Manny Acta, who was with the player in New York, feel Lastings can develop into a middle of the lineup impact hitter. And certainly at 22 years old and controlling the player through 2012 certainly bodes well for our future. This was a very difficult trade for The Nationals to make, giving up both Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. We would like to thank them for all their contributions to our organization. Brian was with our organization in Montreal and Washington for 13 years—his entire career, drafted, signed and developed. And, he was such a leader for us in the clubhouse, as well as, in the community. And, he and Ryan Church will be missed both on and off the field.”
“That being said, to get a young player of the potential that Lastings Milledge has—you have to pay a price. And, we paid a STEEP PRICE. But, we felt it was a move we needed to make. It continues our plan of building through young players, mostly through the draft or through trade. We are very, very pleased to have made this move today.”
“I would now like to hand it over to Our Manager Manny Acta, who had Lastings in New York.”
Manny Acta: “Good Afternoon everybody. It’s a big emotional day, as Jim just pointed out. We traded two of our GOOD GUYS—Basically. Players that were not only with us before we landed in Washington, but they were good guys in the clubhouse—good guys in the community. And, in order to get a good guy like Lastings Milledge, then obviously we had to give up good players like Church and Brian Schneider. But, as Jim just pointed out, we are getting a guy that fits our plan and has a chance to be an impact bat in our lineup for years to come. A multi-talented guy that can play the three outfield positions. And, be a run producer, as well as, play defense and bring a lot of energy to our ball club.”
Question: Milledge had a lot of controversy in New York, some of which seemed sort of petty. Manny do you think it was overblown and how do you feel about his character?
Manny Acta: “I know Lastings very well. I can assure you that Lastings is a good kid. Lastings came up to the Big Leagues very young and in a tough spot—a New York, Big Market Team. He was just not prepared to handle that. But, with that being said, he’s a great kid. A lot of that stuff—you can’t believe everything you read or hear. I know him first hand, and I love the kid. And, I believe the kid is going to be just fine with us.”
Question: How do you feel this trade will affect your team on the field? And, who do you think will replace Brian Schneider in that leadership role?
Jim Bowden: “As far as replacing him in the leadership role—we obviously have Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns. All three of which can fill that bill as far as a leader goes. Obviously when you look at a trade like this from our clubs perspective, this deal is not made for the 25-man roster in 2008. The deal is made to add a piece to build upon a championship caliber club. Obviously, this does leave a hole next to Jesus Flores at catcher that we need to resolve. And, also depletes two left-handed hitters that gives us an imbalance that we need to continue to work on. But, when you make a trade like this, you are not making the 25-man roster. You are making the trade to get a young impact player that you hope to build your team around.”
Question: Will that change your approach in Free Agency?
Jim Bowden: “I think we have been very clear from the beginning with Our President Stan Kasten—when he publicly said when the season was over—we are mainly going to build our franchise through the draft and with trades for young players and free agency is really a last resort.”
Question: What are you feelings that Milledge can play center? You have Pena, Kearns and Milledge now—how do you see them lining up in the outfield?
Manny Acta: “Well obviously, I didn’t get the chance to see Milledge play center in New York. We had (Carlos) Beltran there. But, he (Lastings) was drafted as a centerfielder and is a very gifted athlete. It’s too early to say that (playing centerfield). That’s what Spring Training is for. We are not going to hand anyone a position right now for a spot in the lineup—because I am sure that Jim is not over with (trades). We are going to continue to improve our ball club. And, I don’t want to feel like a fool naming somebody for a certain position and then three weeks later having another press conference to change plans. He’s multi-talented, a good athlete, and we shall find out.”
Question: Is Jesus Flores your starting catcher or do you feel you need to acquire a starting catcher?
Jim Bowden: "We certainly think that Jesus Flores can certainly develop into being a number one catcher. We are very pleased with the job he did last year. Obviously, we always want to build up as much depth as we can. In an ideal world, would it have been better to platoon Flores for a year up here or have him play at AAA—you could argue either way. But, the reality is that we are building this organization for the long term. And, certainly we feel Jesus Flores can develop into a Number One Catcher, and I can’t tell you how the rest of the off-season is going to play out. So, I would prefer to answer the question at the beginning of April (2008). But, do I feel that Flores can be a Number One Catcher in ’08—YES. I think he can also be a platoon catcher. I think he can also be an everyday (player) at AAA. Those decisions will be made based on what our other options are.”
Question: You have seen Lastings develop over the past few years—from afar. What do you think is the next step in his development? And, where do you see him hitting in the lineup?
Manny Acta: “Lastings needs to play. He needs to play regularly. He needs to play everyday. People need to see what he can bring to the table and see how he develops at this level. Its very tough for a kid like him to come up to the Big Leagues and play a week, sit down, play again, get sent down and back up. Obviously, being out there (playing) everyone will be able to see what he can do. I just think that once he gets out there, the next step will take care of himself. Which will be him getting experience and showing the world why he was drafted number one (12th overall in 2003).”
Question: As to where he will hit in the lineup?
Manny Acta: “We have three months to go before Spring Training and I can’t be putting him in a specific spot. I can guarantee you he will hit from 2nd to 7th. He can hit in any of those spots. As I said, I don’t want to put him in a certain lineup spot right now.”
Question: Manny, out of curiosity—once Lastings Milledge hits his first home run as a National—and he goes down the right field line and high fives all the fans—what would be your reaction?
Manny Acta: “Let me tell you. A lot of those things—it depends who does it. I think a lot of you guys (reporters) have seen players shake fans hands. You know the kid was just a rookie and it was blown way out of proportion. It’s a contrast when all of you guys want us to be fan friendly—but then you shake someone’s hand then its taken the wrong way. I just think he was young kid feeling the love of the fans and he didn’t do it to disrespect the game or anything like that. HE WAS JUST EXCITED!!”
Lastings Milledge joins the telephone conference.
Lastings Milledge: “I am very excited to be with you guys—especially to be with Jim. Jim has been following me for about six years now. He’s seen me play in High School. He’s seen me develop as a Minor League Player and a Major League Player. I can’t thank him enough for giving me this opportunity and everyone in the Washington Front Office to give me this opportunity to play everyday and really shine like a star. I just can’t thank them enough.”
Question: How shocking is it to be reunited with Manny Acta? What did you think of your time in New York? What did you think of all that quote, unquote, and controversy? Would you talk about that?
Lastings Milledge: “Its great to be back with Manny. When I was struggling a little bit up there (NY), everybody seemed to be against me. And, he (Manny) was actually there for me. He gave me some words of encouragement and showed me how to go about my business. He was really there for me and its great that I am now back with him. And, I know I will play hard for him—give him that extra effort—knowing that he has my back and knowing that anything I am put through—he is going to back me 100%. As far as the controversy goes—sometimes you feel like you get the raw end of a deal. But, whether it was, or whether it wasn’t---it made me a better person. It made me a better ballplayer. It helped me play in a Big Market and have everyone against you at some point. It (that incident) has really done a lot for me in developing as a Major League Baseball Player.”
Question: You’ve had the opportunity to play all the outfield positions in the Major Leagues, how do you rate yourself as a centerfielder—as compared to playing left and right?
Lastings Milledge: “I was drafted as a centerfielder and I think right now that centerfield is my premiere position. Obviously—with The Mets, I had to take a detour because of the talent of Carlos Beltran. So, the plan kind of changed a little bit. I played left and I played right—a little uncomfortable, difficult position to play. But, I definitely feel I am not a liability in left or right. And, I can play both positions, left and right—above average. But, centerfield is my Premiere Position, that’s the position I feel I can do more for the team.”
Question: Did not playing everyday affect your performance in New York, will playing everyday help your development?
Lastings Milledge: “I would not say that not playing everyday affected my development. When it was all said and done—I had the opportunity to play. I can’t make any excuses for that. And, I can’t make excuses for hitting .241 playing my first year. I can’t make excuses for that. What I can say is that I will be a little more comfortable to know that I am going to get a little more playing time. They are just going to let me play and that’s the most important thing to me at this point in my career.”
Question: Over the past few years, you have been involved in a lot of trade rumors. How do you feel now to be more certain about your situation? Do you feel comfortable that you may have found a home in Washington where you will get more playing time?
Lastings Milledge: “It’s a real big relief for me and my family. It’s a big relief for everybody. I really didn’t get enough to show what I can do (in New York). The little bit of things I did do this year; I feel I could do a lot more. And, a lot more for my team—The Nationals. Saying that, I am really relieved that I can get an opportunity to play. But, I still have to go out there and play. There is really nothing set in stone right now. I still have to win a position—that’s it. But, it is a big relief to know that somebody is behind you with Manny. Manny wants me to play. I know he wants me to play. But, I still have to go out there and play ball.”
Last Question: This is a high profile trade and a lot of people will pay attention to it for the names involved. There will be some amount of pressure on you. Are you ready for that, can you drive yourself off that—at all?
Lastings Milledge: “I will go back to the other question about being in New York and handling all the controversy and everything like that. Having the pressure of being a Number One Draft Pick for a Big Market Club—and having to come in and expect all the fans to expect you to carry the team. I feel like I don’t have any pressure to show anybody anything because everyone knows what I can do. The biggest thing is that The Front Office and Jim (Bowden) and Manny (Acta) know what I can do. So, I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody—except these guys."
That concludes the press conference.
The most interesting comment for me was Our General Manager stating that he was not 100% sure that Jesus Flores would DEFINITELY be the Number One Catcher in 2008. Considering that there is little catching talent within Our Organization--obviously--Jim Bowden has something else in mind from outside. And, even more interesting that Washington reportedly turned down Catcher Johnny Estrada from The Mets in this trade (yet, that's only speculation). Flores is quite the talent. He surprised many last season--enough to make Brian Schneider expendable. Yet, its odd to give up a solid receiver--when you are unsure of what remains on your squad at that position. Yeah, I understand the long term goals--but rarely does any team relinquish a solid talent--and just hope to fill that void. Really, that's strange--unless a countermove is coming soon. Another swap, which Bowden is not ruling out by his comments.
And, I enjoyed Milledge's handling of the entire situation. He was impressive and was not shaken by either the trade--or the media. New York has provided some nice life experiences for him. A good thing.
Afterwards--Sohna and I, met up with our good friends and fellow season ticket holders--Colleen and Jeff--at an Arlington, Virginia Italian Restaurant to celebrate both My Main Man!! Ryan Church's and Brian Schneider's efforts over the past three years of Washington Baseball. We are going to miss them. Its the least we could do for the fun they help provide all of us.