Showalter: “This isn’t about being competitive, this is about winning”

Now that the euphoria over Alexi Casilla’s signing has started to dissipate, I decided to empty out the ol’ notebook and give you a few more quotes from manager Buck Showalter’s interview Thursday night on WBAL Radio.

Showalter was asked for his feelings on the present Orioles roster - minus Casilla, of course - and he responded that he “felt fine.” Here’s more:

“I look at it like there’s nothing else coming,” he said. “There may be. I think that’s such a poor reflection for the manager to be talking about everybody else’s players and people that are out there. I think we’re at 55 coming to camp right now. I guarantee there are a lot of guys pulling for us not to sign anybody or trade for anybody because it gives them a better chance to make the club.

“I think what we miss in a lot of this is, you saw how much Chris Tillman improved from 2012 to 2013. Who’s to say that can’t be Zach Britton? Wei-Yin Chen was hurt for it seemed like half the season. To get him back healthy again... Who’s to say Kevin Gausman won’t take that step that we all feel like he will at some point in his career? Miguel Gonzalez was hurt for a lot of the year last year. I think Tommy Hunter’s only going to be better. Steve Johnson was hurt last year for a lot of the season and wasn’t able to do what he’s capable of doing. T.J McFarland had a great winter ball and his experience last year is going to be invaluable as he goes forward. Bud Norris made an adjustment to the American League. I talked to him some. I think the arrow is only pointing up on him to be better.

“We all feel like Matt Wieters, as well as he caught, is capable of a lot better and more consistent things offensively. He’s shown that in the past. Ryan Flaherty, we all think the sky’s the limit on what he might be able do as a second baseman if he ends up there. Are we going to sit here and say that Manny Machado’s never going to be any more than what he did offensively last season? We know he has a chance to be even better. And I think if anybody wants to make a bet on what type of year Nick Markakis is going to have, I know where I’d be putting my money. Nolan Reimold, we all forget about him. This year might be the year Nolan finally gets everything together health-wise. Even a guy like Henry Urrutia, his track record is as good as anybody we’ve got in the minor leagues. He followed that up with a good fall league. And of course, David Lough, who we traded for, has a chance to very quietly be one of the better transactions of the offseason.

“I could go on and on, but I feel like it’s half full.”

showalter deep thought sidebar.jpgNot that Showalter is fully content to just sit back and let everyone else make roster moves.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you Dan (Duquette) and I don’t talk about players every day and talk about things that are out there and what fits for who we are and where we’re trying to go,” he said. “Let’s face it, it’s going to be about how quickly the process of the pitching comes together. People forget how many years Tampa Bay went through trying to get to that process and they got there. And regardless of what someone like Tampa does with other pieces on their team, it all revolves around their pitching. They run five quality starters out there every five days. When we can get to that point...

“I’ll match up with anybody in our division position player-wise, and I still feel that way. And we’ve got a chance to do some things to make that even better between now and the time we break camp. But until something else shows up, I’m looking at our own people. I’m not looking in somebody else’s pasture. I’m just looking in ours, and that’s what I want our players to feel like their manager and coaching staff are doing. And I’m perfectly content with that. But don’t take content to mean not looking for ways to get better.”

So, what about the fans and media who are venting about the lack of activity this winter and question whether this team can contend?

“Why are those expectations there? Because we created them the last couple years by being more competitive,” Showalter replied. “This isn’t about being competitive, this is about winning. This isn’t about being a wild card. This is about winning your division, OK?

“I like the direction in which we’re trying to go. And why are those expectations there? I like the fact that our fan base and our people in our city hold us accountable. They want us to be good. Every offseason has that somewhat. But are we basing it on what everybody else is doing? Should we go looking for a shortstop? Should we go looking for a first baseman? A third baseman? A center fielder? A catcher?

“We’ve got 29 pitchers coming to camp right now and only 12 of those are going north. Just because they’re not household names or they don’t have some illustrious track record and they don’t carry a 10-year contract or a seven-year contract next to their name doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be able to compete in our division. I just don’t get too bogged down in perceptions and reality. I love it, and I know our players love it, when they tell us we can’t do something. If that’s the case, then you’re going to miss the boat.”

What’s the one area where the Orioles most need to improve?

“We actually sit down when the season’s over and we talk about what I call ‘points of emphasis,’ ” Showalter said. “We had about five last spring and I felt like we accomplished about three of them. I want to accomplish all five of them, and we’re in that process. Some will be very obvious to you guys because you follow our club. Whether it be on-base percentage, whether it be pitching in general, whether it be keeping the ball in the ballpark.

“It’s one thing to identify them, and then it’s another thing to say, ‘OK, how are we going to do that?’ It’s like if you go into your first meeting and go, ‘We need to improve on X,’ and the players just nod. In a position of leadership, you’ve got to be able to say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it.’ And the way I like doing it is go and tell the players, ‘How are we going to do it? You give me the feedback. How are you going to do this?’ Whoever it may be. ‘How are you going to improve on this?’ That’s what spring training is about. You’ve got to identify them and try not to be Captain Obvious. But there’s about five areas that we’re really going to emphasize. And don’t tell me you can’t improve on it in the spring.

“Unfortunately, once the season starts, you’re playing every day and it’s just not good to be out there working on things every day at 3 o’clock in the heat when you’re trying to play games seven days a week for six or seven months. And that’s why spring training is so precious and I get very protective of the time that we have down there with these guys, and that’s why I look forward to it so much.”

Showalter doesn’t need to wait until spring training to reconnect with some of his players. The mini-camp starts early next week.

“I’m heading down Sunday for four or five days in Sarasota and I look forward to coming back from there with a better grasp of where we are,” he said.

“I told the players after the last game, ‘You don’t have to listen to me anymore,’ but I do miss them. I look forward to being around them again.”

Shameless plug alert: I’m back on “Wall to Wall Baseball” today from noon - 1:30 p.m. on MASN.

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