12/08/09 9:21 PM EST
Relationships important to Mills
New manager focuses on making most of Astros talent
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
A little more than two months from beginning his first Spring Training as a Major League manager, Mills is weighing one person's professional advice more heavily than most: Boston Red Sox manager and close friend Terry Francona.
"I mean, you look at the success that they have had in Boston," said Mills, who was named manager of the Astros on Oct. 27 after serving six seasons and winning two World Series titles as Francona's bench coach. "I'm going to reflect on a lot of things that went on there, there's no doubt."
Mills, 52, managed for 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues before joining Francona's staff in 2004. He was more than just a sounding board in the dugout. Francona leaned heavily on Mills to do everything, including dealing with players and organizing Spring Training.
It's that successful Red Sox model that Mills plans to bring to Houston, which is coming off a fifth-place finish in the National League Central. Under Francona, the Red Sox were ultraprepared, had accountability, paid attention to detail and stressed strong communication.
Perhaps more than anything else, communication was lacking under the leadership of former manager Cecil Cooper, who was dismissed with 13 games remaining in the regular season. Cooper lost the respect and trust of his players, something Mills is putting at the top of his list.
"It is definitely going to be one of the biggest things I'm going to bring with me from Terry," Mills said. "He knows how to balance that relationship with the players. Plus, when you have to tell a guy sometimes something he doesn't want to hear, I think Terry does a good job of that balance. And that's a big thing that I want to bring with me."
With that in mind, Mills has already reached out to most of his players, including a recent lunch with Lance Berkman and general manager Ed Wade. Those he hasn't seen in person, he has called to introduce himself.
"There's been a few guys in the other countries that I haven't been [able to talk] to, like [Kaz] Matsui," Mills said. "I've tried to get in touch with him, and I've talked to his interpreter quite a bit. But it's been good. The feedback that I've gotten and the excitement that I feel from the players is pretty good."
And it's those players -- from the speed of Michael Bourn to the bat of Lance Berkman -- who will determine what kind of baseball the Astros will play. Mills isn't married to any kind of philosophy on the field and says it will depend on what kind of personnel he has.
"I don't want to put myself in a box and say we are going to do this and wait for a three-run homer with a guy that only does that every now and then," he said.
The Astros will leave the Winter Meetings without closer Jose Valverde and shortstop Miguel Tejada as part of their plans, which will leave a huge hole in the lineup and the back of the bullpen. Wade is still working behind the scenes to address those needs, but Mills plans to take advantage of everyone the general manager gives him.
"We are going to try to utilize everything that we have -- the personnel that we have, the speed that we have, the aggressiveness that we have and the skills that we have," he said.
Mills plans to lean on bench coach Al Pedrique, who has experience managing in the Major Leagues, much like Francona relied on him.
"I have all the confidence in the world in him," Mills said. "Our relationship has taken off on the right foot, and I am excited about him having that responsibility and being with me. The six years I've been with Terry and those experiences, I think I'm more inclined to give him a lot of responsibility and just kind of watch how he does some of those things. But I have no qualms about him. He's going to be an absolutely outstanding bench coach, and a big support for me."
Above all else, Mills said he will demand the most out of his players -- just like Francona.
"And once they had the confidence that he was going to work with them, treat them special and treat them better than they have ever been treated before, it seemed to work," Mills said.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.