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An interview with ESPN's Buster Olney

Yordano Ventura, Alex Gordon, and hot dogs.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, I had the chance to interview Buster Olney.

On common threads of new teams rising (Royals, Astros, Mets) and "old guard" teams falling (Tigers, Nats):

"I wouldn’t say common threads. I’d say the one overriding thing about baseball right now is that generally speaking, teams feel like they can turn around in a hurry. Part of the reason why is that there is so much money in the sport, so teams have in the last couple of years utilized the cash. Some of it hasn’t worked, where Oakland took the shot last year and lost in the Wild Card and San Diego during the wintertime. I think in general teams feel like they can make moves because they have a lot of cash available with a lot of these TV deals starting. I wonder if that’s part of it. A team like the Royals can be aggressive. A team like the Blue Jays in-season can be aggressive and feel like they can cover it."

On Yordano Ventura and his issues this year. I mentioned an article on Beyond the Box Score that talked about mechanics:

"The addition of [Johnny] Cueto comes at the perfect time. It does seem like [Ventura] is like a lot of young pitchers, and you see them go through ups and downs. You see that they have something that they figure out. Watching that start that he had the last time out, it seemed like Cueto was someone he was looking toward in the dugout. I remember last year during the postseason listening to him talk about Pedro Martinez. To have Cueto drop in at this particular time, it wouldn’t at all surprise if he sort of figured things out. It comes down to the right voice at the right time.

There are so many examples of this. Roy Halladay having Mel Queen, a AA pitching coach, tell him, 'You gotta change your mechanics or you’ll be out of baseball.' Or Sandy Koufax after hearing for years about 'just focus on throwing strikes', then having a catcher in spring training tell him and having it resonate in a different way. I don’t think anyone doubts his ability or his passion. It comes down to making a particular adjustment. I can’t really speak to a mechanical thing, not having spoken today with Dave Eiland."

On Cueto and the leadership role filling in for James Shields, particularly in regard to Yordano Ventura:

"I think in a different way [Cueto] is. For Ventura, it’s a very specific thing. It’s a big plus when you’re talking about someone who speaks the same language. Knowing that Cueto is someone he’s looked up to for a long time, in that particular instance Cueto could be a unique voice at the right time.

When I covered the Yankees, Andy Pettite always looked up to Roger Clemens. Then Clemens dropped in as a teammate, and Pettite took a big jump after ’99. A lot of that was that he had Roger around as someone who pushed him to work harder. With Ventura, a lot of it is managing his emotions. Having Cueto encourage him to pick up the tempo on the mound, focus on maintaining his control on the mound, that seemed like one of those things that’s going to be important for Ventura. It’s not unusual for young pitchers. So many young pitchers go through that. Carlos Martinez this year with the Cardinals has taken a big step forward."

Kevin: "It seems like we forget that young players need to learn when they get up [to the majors]. We are a bit spoiled with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout being successful at a young age."

"I think all we need to is transport ourselves back in time to when we were that age. I remember my first newspaper job in Nashville. I turned in my resignation. I thought about it for 48 hours, and I went back in on Monday and noticed that the sports center hadn’t seen my letter of resignation, so I slowly pulled it out of the box."

On Ventura’s "history" with the Angels and HBPs from Friday night’s game and the potential for problems Sunday night:

"I think it’s possible. A lot of it comes down to what’s the team’s philosophy in responding. Tony La Russa’s Cardinals were the best example of this. If you hit one of their guys or two of their guys, and it wasn’t on purpose, they were going to retaliate anyway. They felt like that was the way to stop it. I don’t know that I agree with that, but that definitely happens. When you start seeing guys getting hit, eventually (whether it’s on purpose or not) there’s usually retaliation.

I don’t think it’s directly related to Ventura, but I know that teammates of his have said, 'It doesn’t have to be on you. You don’t have to be the guy who addresses these situations all the time. Don’t feel that pressure.' That said, you see these types of situations get out of control all the time.

It’s one of the things I can’t stand right now is this culture of 'You have to retaliate if the other guy hits you.' The Jose Fernandez one when he hit David Peralta of the Diamondbacks. It was Christian Yelich who was hit by one of the Diamondbacks pitchers. I’m not criticizing [the pitcher]. When you watched it, you knew it wasn’t done on purpose with Jose Fernandez.

It seems like since they’re all in the same union, they ought to come up with something other than drilling each other, hurtling fastballs at each other and putting each other at risk. Sometimes an automatic response goes into effect. At times, it gets even out of control of the coaching staff and the manager. The players basically take it over. Young players in that situation feel the need to prove something to their teammates. I don’t know if that’s exactly what was going on with Ventura earlier this year, but I know that happens a lot."

On Alex Gordon and his free agency coming up:

"It’s such a weak free agent class, and he has so many specific talents. Put it this way: Alex is going to have to make the deal happen. I don’t think the Royals are going to pay him market value, per se. If he plays it out, he’s going to get better offers some other places. Whatever the number figure they throw at him, it will be a good offer relative to their market size. It’s just going to come down to what Alex wants. Does Alex want to work it out?

From the Royals’ perspective, the sentiment he mentioned last year, where he initially said that he was going to exercise the option for next year - he’s backed away from that since then, but hopefully that sentiment for the Royals continues. I wonder at times, when you talk about players who have put that much time in, if they sometimes undervalue being in a place where they’re going to be really comfortable. I’m sure Alex could other places and play well, but he’s such an institution here.

I remember the night he got hurt the response from Royals fans. I remember tweeting out a link to an article from Mike Piazza and Nomar Garciaparra when they suffered similar injuries. My goodness the Royals fans were like, 'Don’t tell us that!' It was kind of a worst-case scenario. Those numbers turned out to be right, in terms of how much time he would miss, but man he is just so beloved here. You would hope for his sake that it works out that he can stay.

The thing that works against them is that the Royals aren’t the only team that has placed a higher value on defense and defensive metrics, but the whole industry has. That means he’s going to get some nice overtures from other teams."

On the trade deadline and the craziest deals he heard about:

"The one that got everybody’s attention was Dave Stewart when he was having conversations with the Padres about Craig Kimbrel. A.J. Preller told this story on a radio station in Arizona – he said that we talked about Kimbrel, but that we would need Paul Goldschmidt in return. Now, when I heard it, the first thing I thought was that can’t be serious. I was guessing that A.J. was joking. I know that’s been conveyed through the San Diego media that he was joking. Dave Stewart didn’t take it like it was joking. That one was extraordinary.

I think at one point on the Cole Hamels-Dodgers conversation, I can’t remember the exact time frame of it, but I think it was in late June when the request was that not only was Corey Seager going to have to be in the deal, but [Julio] Urias would have to be in the deal as well. That’s an unbelievably high price for this day and age."

On whether a hot dog is a sandwich:

"I didn’t have strong feelings either way, but then we did a baseball tonight recently, and that question was thrown to Keith Law. Keith Law knows a lot more about food than I do. He said, 'Absolutely it’s a sandwich' and gave a technical explanation for why it’s classified as a sandwich. I would defer to Mr. Law. He knows food better than I do."

Thanks to Buster Olney for his time. The Royals play tonight on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN at 7pm central time.