Exclusive Birdhouse Interview with Cardinals’ General Manager Walt Jocketty
by Brian Walton
I had the opportunity to pose some questions to Cardinals’ General Manager Walt Jocketty in a one-on-one interview prior to Tuesday’s game with the New York Mets. Here is what Walt had to say about character, his young arms in Triple-A, the upcoming draft, sabermetrics, Latin American presence and contract negotiations with his star free agents.
BW: I noticed you were joking with Ray King a few minutes ago. In addition to the obvious scouting analysis, how important is character and chemistry in your evaluation process of a potential player?
WJ: We feel it’s very important to get guys that will fit in with our club, because we feel that a big part of a player is how they mesh with the rest of the team – the so-called chemistry of the club. I think it is really important. Ray, for example, has a real good reputation with the clubs he’s been with. He’s not only a fun guy and a guy who keeps the team loose, but he also a guy who will do a lot for the ballclub in the community. He was very active in doing various community commitments. That’s also very important. So, it’s something that we definitely look into. We do a lot of background checking on guys.
BW: Have you ever had the reverse situation, where a guy’s personality was such that you decided to get rid of him despite decent on-field performance?
WJ: We’ve had a couple of cases like that, but usually the guys mesh pretty well. But, if they don’t and it becomes a problem, then we do try to move them on.
BW: At this point, how are you feeling about the trade with Atlanta over the winter that included King?
WJ: Ray’s done a great job for us. You know, he’ll pitch every day, like Kline does. And, Marquis is quickly developing into one of our best starting pitchers. And, he’s just 25 years old. And then, Adam Wainwright is really the key to that trade. He’s a top pitching prospect and has been very good at Memphis and is not very far from being able to come up here and help us. Both he and Danny Haren are now capable of pitching up here, however, it’s better for them to stay down at Memphis and continue to get experience.
BW: Is it possible that we will see Wainwright in St. Louis this season, then?
WJ: At some point. If nothing else, probably in September. But, before that, if we had an injury or had a problem of some sort, we’d probably bring Haren first and Wainwright would probably be right behind him.
BW: One of your big off-season hires was a non-field one, as you brought Jeff Luhnow in to man a new position, Vice President, Baseball Development. How is the meshing of statistical analysis with traditional scouting going?
WJ: Right now, they’re spending a lot of time gathering their data together so we can find trend lines for not only major league, but also minor league evaluation and players in the draft and so forth. It’s going well. It’s just very time-consuming. There’s a lot to put together and a lot of information to sort through to develop the type of models for players that we are looking for. This year, we’re slowly putting it together, but in the future, it’s going to be very beneficial.
BW: What can you share about your 2004 draft strategy? Last year, you went heavy on catchers, for example. Have you formulated your approach yet?
WJ: Well, we’re still in the process of doing that. In fact, I was just talking to our scouting director (on the cell phone just prior to talking with me). I think we’ll probably be (hesitates) – it looks like the draft is going to be heavy on pitching again, so I think we’ll probably be looking at pitching. It’s strong in both high school and college, so we really have to make a decision on which way we are going to go with that.
BW: So, what is your strategy? Which way do you lean if you have two pitchers of equal capability, but one is a high schooler and the other is in college?
WJ: That’s a good question. I think it depends on the individual, because you know, in some cases, especially in early rounds, it’s a little risky to take a high school player, a high school pitcher. Generally, they have a higher upside because you have a longer time to develop them. You completely take care of them; you can kind of bring them along as you want, rather than sending them off to college, and you really don’t know what is going to happen to them.
BW: Any plans on the Cardinals getting back into the Caribbean? I recall you cut back your presence there a few years ago.
WJ: You know what we did there? We basically shut it down because we just weren’t happy with the direction we were going. We decided that rather than throw good money after bad, we’d shut it down for the most part. Again, that’s something we’re re-evaluating and will determine what we’re going to do; but I think by the end of the year we’ll have something in place – some form of facility in the Latin American countries. But, we’re still trying to decide where to base the operations and how we’re going to do that. But, it’s something we are working on.
BW: Last question. What is the status of your negotiations with impending free agents Edgar Renteria and Matt Morris? Are discussions continuing during the season?
WJ: No. We did some before the start of the season and weren’t able to reach an agreement with anybody and they basically wanted to play out the year. So, until they approach us, they’ll probably be no further negotiations.
BW: And that’s the case with both Renteria and Morris?
WJ: Yep. Yep.
BW: Ok, thanks for your time, Walt.
WJ: You bet. My pleasure.