October 2012

Farrell to Boston a surprise? Not really…

When the rumors linking John Farrell to Boston first surfaced last year, it was hard to take them at face value. It seemed relatively impossible that Farrell would be looking to bolt after one season on the job even if a dream scenario in Boston hung in the balance.

The speculation seemed as though it was a by-product of the Boston media and an organization that is notorious for leaking information to the press. There was almost a sense that it was the big bad Red Sox acting as league bully with a sense of entitlement and that Toronto should step aside and simply let Farrell return to his roots.

At the time, the Blue Jays didn’t crumble under the pressure. They instead instituted a club policy which prohibited employees departing for another organization in a lateral move. That was supposed to be the end of the rampant speculation but instead it was really just the beginning.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined to get into the specifics of what took place in 2011 but he did outline the recent events on Sunday afternoon. He said that it was the Blue Jays belief all along that Farrell would return in 2013 but that changed during a debriefing at the end of the season during which the manager expressed his desire to join the Red Sox.

The move supposedly caught the organization completely off-guard but there were indications throughout the past two seasons that Farrell hadn’t ruled out a possible return to Boston. There were the relatively weak denials through the media that sidestepped the issue more than it brought closure.

Whenever pressed on his connection to the Red Sox, Farrell frequently answered with “I am the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.” At no point did Farrell say he wasn’t interested in the job nor did he openly lobby for a contract extension beyond the 2013 campaign.

This was viewed by some as taking a common-sense approach to the situation. Managers very rarely have leverage in negotiations but it was clear from the start that almost all of the power rested in Farrell’s hands. Here was a Red Sox organization ,in a big-time market, with a big-time budget that clearly felt Farrell was the solution to their problems.

Instead of speaking out about the issue in any great detail, Farrell held his cards close to his chest. Along the way, there were plenty of clues where Farrell’s heart truly lied but at the time most of them seemed relatively innocent. It was clear through their pre-game embraces and discussions on the field that Farrell had a close personal relationship with Boston’s franchise player Dustin Pedroia.

There were also Farrell’s fond memories of his old neighborhood in Boston. There were his close ties to the organization with plenty of friends to be found even following the departure of Terry Francona at the end of the 2011 season. None of these developments were entirely surprising because of course he would have fond memories of a place he used to call home.

But for me, the clear sign that there was something to this Farrell speculation came on Aug. 25 when the Dodgers and Red Sox reached an agreement on a blockbuster trade. I was sitting in the Blue Jays dugout watching batting practice when I saw the breaking news on my phone.

I turned to Farrell and relayed the news and as is somewhat custom on the road we discussed the day’s events with a handful of other Toronto beat reporters. At the time, I made an off-handed remark about how that has to be the most salary being traded to one team in the history of baseball.

Farrell thought about it for a few seconds and then began running down the list of players I just mentioned were in the deal. Within a minute, Farrell had the total amount the Red Sox would be shedding in the trade. I remember being somewhat taken aback by this because — despite public opinions to the contrary — this is not the type of information most managers would know off the top of their head.

Sure, a lot of managers could ballpark the total figure but when I got back up to the pressbox I checked Farrell’s math. He was within a few million of the total amount going to Los Angeles, which is no small feat when you’re talking about a deal worth more than $250-million.

Now, I’m not relaying this story because I think Farrell had any knowledge of the deal prior to it actually taking place. Nor am I insinuating that there was blatant tampering on the part of the Red Sox and that Farrell knew with absolute certainty the job would be his at the end of the year.

Instead I’m using it as an example that Farrell never really let go of the past when the Blue Jays gave him his first managerial opportunity just two years ago. There’s very little doubt in my mind that Farrell would not have been able to immediately crunch of the numbers of any other team in baseball the way he could with Boston.

It became evident that he was still monitoring the Red Sox’s state of affairs. Yet another clue was provided at the end of the season when Farrell did an interview with MLB Network Radio in which he admitted knowing the timing of interviews for Boston’s managerial search. That’s also something that wouldn’t be considered commonplace even for an intelligent man like Farrell who is aware of his surroundings more than most peers.

Farrell’s departure isn’t exactly an act of treason but it does feel like the Blue Jays have been left at the altar. There’s no way the 50 -year-old could have envisioned when he originally departed for the Blue Jays that Terry Francona would be relieved of his duties less than a year later.

At the time, Francona was revered in Boston and it seemed inevitable for Farrell being forced to leave for another team in order to reach of goal of becoming manager. It was ultimately Toronto that ended up taking a shot only to see the favor repaid with a quick departure for a team he never really put in the past.

Bautista speaks out

Right fielder Jose Bautista re-joined the Blue Jays for their final series of the year at the beginning of October. He took the opportunity to provide an update on his rehab from right-wrist surgery, an assessment of the club’s supposed lack of leadership and Yunel Escobar‘s eye-black stickers controversy. Associate reporter Chris Toman will have an article coming your way in the next week or so but in the meantime I wanted to provide this transcript to keep some content flowing into the blog.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB. I’m currently in Baltimore to help cover the Orioles/Yankees American League Division Series but once that comes to an end I’ll be back on the Blue Jays beat. This should prove to be a very busy offseason, so keep following for the latest news and rumors.

Bautista:

On the injured right wrist….
“The wrist is feeling good. I’m about four weeks out of surgery, or close to that. It’s getting the range of motion back. Still a little bit of soreness and a little bit of stiffness but it’s pretty normal considering that the point in the recovery that I’m at right now. All the rehab right now consists of getting the swelling out and getting the mobility back and the range of motion. That strengthening process begins in probably about two weeks. Some time after that, I’ll pick up the bat and start swinging.”

On Omar’s comments…
“Omar is a guy that I really respect. Being latin and having played the game for so long, at an elite level, and hoping he gets into the Hall of Fame. I respect him a lot and I do know that his intentions were not malicious when he made those comments. That being said, I can’t say that I agree with what he said.

“When it came to addressing mistakes, I see it every day. I saw it every day when I was playing and I see it on TV when I’m watching games. Maybe he didn’t use the correct words he tried to use. But I haven’t really sat down with him to know exactly where he was coming from but more importantly I’d hate to see this being used as an excuse for our record. We’re the players, we’re on the field, we’re accountable for playing good and helping to get wins. I’d hate for something like this to be looked upon as the reason we’re losing more than we would like, or should.”

On Yunel…
“I don’t think the fact that I would have been here or not would have made a big difference. There is no doubt, that what he did was not acceptable. He does regret it and he’s really had a tough time dealing with everything and if he would have had any clue that that’s the way it was going to turn out, I guarantee you he wouldn’t have done it. But at the same time, I also feel like I need to defend him.

“I know behind what he wrote, there was no ill feelings. I know Yunel personally, I’ve been to his house in Miami. I’ve seen his friends. It doesn’t correspond writing something people thought was derogatory, with his lifestyle and the people that he knows. So, for everything to be blown out of proportion like it was, just simply because of a mis-translation and because of cultural differences and things like that. I feel bad for Yunel being in that position because English is his second language and he left Cuba around eight years ago on a raft, I mean he has been through a lot. So you can’t blame him for not being able to express himself the best way.

“Other people around baseball have said it and made comments about it and it’s not right but in latin cultures and in the clubhouse where boys are being boys, stupid stuff gets said all of the time. Yeah, it should have been happening behind closed doors where nobody would get offended or take it the wrong way, it’s unfortunate that it went outside of the clubhouse. Yunel really should have thought about it better before he did something like that but I don’t think if I would have been here, I’m not going to look at him and see what he has written on his face to see if it’s okay to go on the field. Nobody is going to do that. Nobody can pay attention to that and still worry about playing good baseball.

“Some things happened, mistakes happen and hopefully we can just grow from it. Hopefully this incident will teach him different things in life that he might not have learned. Because of it, and you guys know, he’s going through different projects and different programs. So, maybe from that mistake something good will happen, he can meet somebody that he can end up helping and affect their life in a positive way. It was unfortunate but if that’s what destiny led him to the path he walked down just so he can affect one life positively then so be it.”

On the skeptics who think Bautista might not re-gain his power stroke because of the nature of the injury…
“I want to know who those people are who think I’m not going to get it back because of this particular injury. The only people that could know that are either the people who had the surgery or that do the surgery. I’ve talked to about 20 people in that position and they all seem to agree that it was 99.9% chance that I was going to be the same player that I ever was before the injury. I have no doubt that I could be ready to play in about a month, game type situations, in a Major League game. Definitely plenty of time before spring training and the start of the season.”

On Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown….
“What he has done is not a surprise to me. I think more light has been shed on it because they’re going to the playoffs. But if you look at his numbers it doesn’t look much different than it has in the past. He does that consistently every single year and he has been my top MVP candidate, if I had to choose, in the last three years alone. If he wins the Triple Crown or not I still think he deserves to be the MVP but it would be really amazing to see somebody come off with a season like that because it obviously hasn’t been done since the 60s.

“It’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to hit for average let alone the combination of average and power and runners on base has really allowed him to drive in a lot of runs. Being on a good winning team with guys that are really performing well in front of him to get on base, a lot of things have happened at the same time for him. I feel very happy.”

Do you think this team needs more veteran leadership or do you agree with Farrell that leadership has no age?
“I do agree that leadership has no age. I really don’t understand why everybody is making, in my eyes, a big deal out of that subject. It’s not something that needs to be addressed in our clubhouse. I think we have plenty of leadership on the players side, on the management side, on the ownership side, on the manager side. So, I don’t think we need any extra or additional leadership. That’s my personal opinion.”

What does this team need to make the next step?
“We need to play better. The guys that are on the field every night, at seven o’clock, we need to perform better. I can control what I do so I can really address in more detail what I can do to help this team win more games. I could have used a better on-base percentage this year. The lack of discipline at the plate early on really hurt my overall numbers when it comes to getting on base. I wasn’t getting pitched to earlier in the year, other teams were taking advantage because I kept swinging at bad pitches. So, when my teammates were on the bases for me, I couldn’t drive them in and when I needed to get on base for them I couldn’t do it enough. “

“It’s hard to point fingers at any specific area that the team needs to address just to guarantee wins. I don’t think that’s possible. But overall I think we can probably improve on anything. When you’re 20 games below .500 I think that can be a general assessment that you’re doing something wrong, something’s got to change. But the players that are on the field every day, the 25-man roster and the guys that we rely on in the Minors that are on the 40-man, we all need to be better because that’s the only thing that matters.

“We can prepare the best way ever, we can manufacture the best roster, and you can do whatever you want but when the game starts, if we don’t play good, we’re still going to lose.”

Anthopoulos’ end of the season news conference

Here is Alex Anthopoulos’ final news conference of the season. I apologize in advance for a typo here and there. I wanted to post this tonight but also have articles in the works for the main site but it has been a bit rushed. Instead of waiting any longer, though, he’s Anthopoulos:

Top priority this offseason?

“The starting rotation. A lot of where our team goes is going to be predicated on what we do with the rotation, it’s clear we have needs there, especially with the guys that were injured, they are not going to be ready for the start of the year or even the middle of the year. That’s definitely going to be a major area of our concentration in the off-season.”

Leadership an issue?

“It could be a combination of things, people define it in so many different ways, there are so many examples of it. Take Roy Halladay for example, I know he’s not a vocal, fiery guy, he is on the field, but he leads by example. Some guys will be more vocal and so on, I think a lot of it is we have a young team, and even though you can have young players that show attributes and the ability to lead, not all of them can and not everyone has comfort doing that necessarily. Beyond all that, winning is big part of it, when you win, things go a lot better, when you don’t win, I’ve seen both sides with teams over .500 and under .500, that’s when some of the other things come out. That’s not to say there’s not areas we can’t get better at, we can’t improve but there’s no question winning cures a lot of things.”

Payroll going up?

“It will, it will definitely go up, there’s going to be a little bit more to work with going forward into the off-season than last . there’s no question with what I’ve been told about where we can be, we’ll be able to look at players we wouldn’t have been as serious about or wouldn’t have fit. Again, and I tried to say this last off-season, it’s not a bottomless pit, it doesn’t mean we can have everyone we want, we’re going to have to be creative and make some things fit, but it’s definitely more to work with than we did last year and that will certainly be exciting.”

Prospects versus free agency?

 “The trade route may have been a more attractive avenue in the past, well if there’s a little more flexibility from a payroll standpoint, free agency might make more sense. If you look at the return and you can say we get to save these four players in trade and spend the dollars on a free agent, that ultimately might make more sense. It will have to be a combination. If that rotation can be shored up and it needs to be, that’s really going to dictate where this team goes.”

Fan increase leads to more payroll?

AA not involved at senior level, only knows what he’s been told. “Revenues for this organization have gone up and those revenues are going to be plowed back into the payroll. We talked about that last off-season, I think everything has been up across the board and the exciting part is we get to re-allocate that into payroll. In terms of pressure and things like that, I don’t look at that way at all, it’s more opportunities, maybe being able to look at players we may not have looked at in the past. That’s an exciting thing.”

Accountability for disappointing season?
 
“There was a lot of change to the roster and rather than trying to put it on a coach or a manager or things like that, the results of the current season you can put on me for the roster I give the manager and the staff. I know we’ve talked about the injuries quite a bit, that’s certainly part of it as well, but it is a young team but I give the manager and the staff the players, with injuries and some of the performances, it’s on me from that standpoint to give them a roster they can with and we didn’t have that this past year.”

On Adam Lind…

Less impressed with small sample sizes, seen improvements, need them to take, Lind has ability. “We need to see him do it start to finish rather than trying to speculate on what he may or may not do. I just don’t think we can prepare that way, we have to let him go out and do it.”
 
Type of SP to target?

“We just need quality. If we can go get five front of the rotation guys we’re certainly going to do it. You’re always looking at the best quality you can get and that’s all it’s going to come down to. The guys that are at the front or middle of the rotation, those are guys that are going to chew up innings with good ERAs, all that kind of stuff. We just need to improve.”

Darren Oliver status… do you need an answer whether or not he’s coming back by a certain period of time?

“I’m going to give it a few days at least and then probably reach out to Darren and then let him get back with his family. . I’m not going to rush Darren at all, I’d love to have him back. He’s an asset to any club he’s with.” Knew last off-season retirement would be possible.”

John Farrell coming back?

“John is the manager of our club. I don’t have a problem at all (with him returning on a one-year deal), I know this has been asked before, about terms of the contract and things like that. I think I’ve been pretty consistent from that standpoint, we need to focus on the roster, we need to focus on making the rotation better, those are the areas of this team that needs to be addressed, especially in light of what the results have been. Certainly health is going to be part of the solution, but not all of it. The rotation still needs to get better.”

Prepared to overpay for upgrades?

“Yes. Again, it’s not a bottomless pit, so you’re weighing your options and I think that’s ultimately what it comes down to if you have x amount of dollars to spend, what percentage of that are you going to allocate to one or two or three areas. For the right fit, or what you might deem the perfect fit, the overpay makes a lot of sense. Where you do get into trouble is when you start settling for someone who you objectively weren’t as excited about, I’d rather overpay for someone we really believe in than someone we’re not so certain of if it saves money. You end up getting what you pay for.”

Any danger in tipping your hand about having such a strong desire to acquire pitchers? Possible disappointment from fans if it doesn’t happen?

“I think if I sat here and said we were going to get these three free agents and we don’t, that would be a problem. Or we guarantee certain things, that would be a problem. But I think I’m stating the obvious. I mean people look at the numbers, every team, every GM look at it like we do. They go through the teams,where they ranked in their respective areas, blown saves, starter’s ERA, offence, on-base percentage. So, for the sake of argument, if someone is lacking in power, you know they rank last, the GM would say ‘These guys need power.’ I don’t think they’d tell me ‘We’re all set.’ I think it’s pretty obvious.

“I don’t see how with a straight face I can tell anybody we’re all set in the starting rotation. I think I’m stating the obvious, to the fans, to the guy on the corner, to every GM in the league. There might be some other areas that discreetly, quietly I have some concerns with that might not be as apparent. Those are the things I would keep quiet.

“I will give Shi credit on this one,during the year he wrote about how we should have some concerns for the bullpen going into next year because we had a lot of guys that were free agents and that was something that was very on my mind from the beginning of the season. We had guys that were making some money and weren’t under control. It was something I was going to really be aggressive about during the season and try to address. If that (fact) had been out there I think it would have been a problem, but this (starting pitching) is pretty apparent, pretty obvious. I don’t think I’m showing my cards at all.”

Emphasis on making a big move before the Winter Meetings?
 
“You always prefer to get things done sooner than later. I think it’s safe to say the bigger the free agent the longer they want to wait. The winter meetings, from past experiences, with any of the bigger free agent signings, it seems like it always drags a little bit. That’s the toughest part about free agency. Sooner than later sets everything up. You know how much money you have left,whether options can be in trades, but you can’t force things, especially with free agency.”

Personal adjustments as GM….

“I’m constantly adjusting. I don’t know that it’s one area. Roster, draft, development, all of it, so I don’t think I ever stop learning, ever stop getting better. It’s not to avoid the question, it’s just I think the list can go on and on. I won’t sit here and say that we’ve settled on anything. We trying to constantly adjust, constantly get better. You only stop doing that when you win the World Series. Even then I bet you’re still trying to improve.”

Impressions on Gose and Hechavarria for next year….

“They’ve both performed fairly well for young guys, obviously ups and downs. The longer they’ve been up here they’re starting to settle in a little bit more, but again over the years,especially in the AGM role you see a lot of guys come up and perform in September and not perform the following year, so ideally your young guys are in the minor leagues and you have players that are a little more established to give them a little more time. They get to force your hand. There may be a set of circumstances that one of them’s on the roster. If two of them are on the roster that means we probably made some big trades and it was a payroll thing and we needed to fit some things in. It’s hard to tell;. I wouldn’t rule it out but you just don’t know what the results will be the following year. I guess I would never rule anything out,but ideally we would have them in the minor leagues.”

Why was Romero not sent down by Lind was?

“I think with Adam the struggles were a little bit more prolonged.They started the second half of last season. Especially someone with a track record that’s done it before, you stick with them. If this was the first time Adam had not had as much success, he would have been given a little more rope like he was last year, even the year prior to that. He hit for some power, but the average was down.

“Ricky, the three years prior to that has been outstanding. He got better each year. The innings, ewverything else. I think it’s one of those things that you continue to try to work through things.”

Did you consider sending Romero to the Minors?

“No. We evaluated things start to start. He struggled and so on, I think you’re always looking for solutions first and foremost. At no time did we ever get serious about anything like that at all. The extent that we went with it was to have him skip a start.”

What type of tinkering does Romero have to do this offseason?

“I don’t know that today I’m prepared to answer that question.I have a lot of different theories and ideas and I know I’ve pointed to that start in New York (on Sept. 19), it’s so tough to pinpoint, is it mechanics. We obviously tried all kinds of things all year. It was a lot of trial and error throughout the season waiting for him to come out of it.

“We use Brandon Morrow as an example the year before. He really only clicked the last three starts of the year. He struggled for that long a period. We’re going to spend a lot of time in the off-season taking a look at more things. I don’t know that we have the answer right now. If we did we would have certainly done it sooner. All you can do is chalk it up to a down year for him. His work ethic, outstanding stuff is still the same, velocity still the same.The walks is what really spiked. Conversely the strikeout rate dropped and so on. It’s something we’re going to continue to look at in the off-season.”

Have you seen enough from Encarnacion that you’d be comfortable with him starting next year at 1B as opposed to DH?

“He played well at first. I know he’s been banged up a little bit. He’s athletic,he’s gotten himself in tremendous shape the last two years. I thought he did a very good job.”

Does that open up the possibility of going after a DH that doesn’t necessarily play a position or do you need someone that can play 1B as well?

“I think we’d be open to either. I can’t say that we’re really locked into anything.Like I said the fact that Edwin can play first it does give you some flexibility there. He can play first, he can DH. Maybe Lind can play first base and DH. Does someone come in? Is there a trade made? The only person whose guaranteed anything in his role is Encarnacion. If we had guys under contract that would be a factor but I don’t know that we’re locked into has to be a DH or has to be a position player.”

Studying the injuries…
        
“There’s no set date.I think it’s just the more we look at it, the more we evaluate it,over the course of a season I think we don’t want to be too quick to make change. We’ve really done things in this organization even when I was in scouting in 2004 when I got here. There’s been a lot of consistency, the medical staff, the doctors the training staff. There’s been a lot of stability there. And 2012 was absolutely, when you look at a nine-year period, 2012 is definitely the (year that stands out) with the number of injuries. I think we had more DL days than we’ve ever had in this organization.If we had made changes coming into this season with our doctors, our trainers, our strength staff, if we had made changes for routines,for throwing programs, it would be something to point to. We’ve stayed consistent. We don’t want to just chalk it up to ‘it happens, it’s bad luck.’ We want to make sure we do the work. We want to make sure before we make any drastic changes or tweaks that we’re certain about what we need to do and we’re certain about cause and effect.

What type of hitter are you looking to acquire?
 
“We’ve always talked about adding on-base. We knew coming in because we’d talked about it in spring training in the off-season, seven out of nine guys we git hit 20 home runs or have the ability to do it. And then we knew that was going to be a high strikeout lineup. Striekouts, power, home runs go hand in hand.We’re always looking at more on-base if we can. Contact-ability so not a bad thing either. You see it come into play. You try and move a runner over, man on third less than two outs, getting the run in. Strikeout’s going to hurt you there. Conversely we do hit a lot of home runs as a team. There were times we were ranked one, right up with New York. We always looked at more on-base and contact-ability, if we can.”

On Lyon and Frasor (pending free agents)…
 
“They both did great jobs. Jason got hurt in the middle but he’s been here a long time. He leads in career appearances for this organization and everything else he does bring. But the bullen is an area of depth. It’s going to be important that we have some relievers that have a chance to be here for a while.Both guys we’ll strongly take a look at. I don’t know where that’s going to go,but even Brandon performed incredibly well for us. Strike thrower, good curveball. They both did a great job for us so they’ll both be guys we definitely take a look at.”

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