As promised yesterday, here is the transcript of a brief scrum with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston. It’s obviously much, much shorter than the 6,000-plus transcript of Alex Anthopoulos‘ media availability but there are still some interesting nuggets to take out of this:
Can you do an all-dirt infield?
“It’s not going to happen for the next five years, four years, or until we deal with the Argos situation. Because of the way the stands move, because of the fact it’s multi-purpose, that’s not going to happen. The way we’d like to see it is an all-grass field, we would put it in on March 1st and leave it there until the end of the baseball season. It can be done.”
Is there more money available for this team?
“In all honesty, I think we have to look at each case and whether or not it makes sense. We have a great owner. What I said before, we’ll spend money when the opportunity is right. The opportunity has been right before and we actually didn’t get the deal done. So, when Alex did this deal, and when he signed Melky Cabrera, the reality of the situation is that we had been down this path before. It didn’t get done, but we knew we had the support of Rogers and Rogers is 100% owners, they don’t have to go to anybody else.
“From the point of view, if there is more and it makes sense and you can improve the team I think the answer to that is yes. I don’t know that but I have absolutely no reason to say the answer is no. They have been terrific all the way along. We didn’t execute for a lot of different reasons.”
Learn lessons from the last spending spree (A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, etc)?
“I don’t know if they learned, I learned. There’s no use in spending money just for the sake of spending money. There’s smart money and there’s dumb money. We want to spend smart money, we think we spent smart money. But we don’t start Spring Training until Feb. 15, we’ll find out whether it’s smart money or not at that time.
“But we actually believe we improved the club. Our goal is to be a team that wins on a sustainable basis. He didn’t give away the farm system but he gave away potentially great players in the sense of the way they project. And I think the reason we were able to do it, is the money that has been spent in the last three years in the farm system. I would think maybe Washington spent more than us, but I don’t know anyone else that spent more than us in the farm system.”
In terms of players or?
“In terms of dollars. We’ve been spending, $15,16,17-million a year. So from the point of view, the way that we would sign guys that we picked up as a sandwich pick, I think Sanchez came that way, Nicolino. So, I don’t have any question that Rogers …. (inaudible) … because I think Rogers wants to win but you can’t just go buy a team.
Last winter, you said in the three of next five years Toronto would make the postseason. Do you still stand by those comments?
“The way that question went, we had one-year, three-year, five-year, and I said two-to-three years actually and I still believe that. That’s the goal. We’re not spending this money guaranteeing we’re going to win, but we’re not spending this money expecting we’re going to be an also-ran either. That’s the truth.”
Whether TV deal for MLB helped the funds become available this offseason…
“No. The real reason is that we have to show the fans there’s a reason to come out. We have a lot of empty seats that we fill, we have a lot of suites that we can fill. We’ve got a lot of things that can generate revenue and we’ll put it back into the baseball team. I don’t worry about that, we can play with the big boys financially but we’re still going to spend smartly and we’re not going to have really long-term contracts. I like three years, now they’ve talked me into five, but I can’t see us going to like 10-year contracts.”
Recently acquired starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle spoke to the Toronto media today for the first time since the 12-player blockbuster trade with Miami was completed earlier this month.
There wasn’t anything earth shattering in terms of news but Buehrle provided a lot of information about the problems he is going to encounter in Ontario because of his four dogs — including one pitbull. Johnson talked about how he wasn’t all that surprised by being traded because he expected something to happen before free agency. It’s just the timing of the deal that caught the potential No. 1 starter a little off-guard.
Below, I’ve provided the transcript for Johnson’s conference call with reporters:
On his reaction to the trade….
“At first it was a little bit of a shock. I’ve only known one thing and that’s the Marlins ever since 2002 when I got drafted. They’ve always been good to me but as soon as I slept on it, I woke up the next day and I was excited. It was a little bit of a shock, I thought I’d be there for maybe another half season to give it one more run at it but as soon as I woke up the next morning I was excited and ready to move on.”
On whether he’d be interested in signing a long-term extension in Toronto…
“That would be great. That’s the last thing on my mind, is worrying about getting an extension, or how long I’m going to be there. It’s more about winning. That’s all I’ve been about since I started playing baseball. I’m all about winning, that’s all I want to do. It makes everything better. It makes food taste better, it makes your wife happier, your family happier, everything is better when you’re winning.”
What were the major differences between your 2010 season and the one you had last year…
“2010, everything was clicking. Everything was working. I felt like I could throw anything up there and it would be an out, or a swing and a miss, get lucky and a line drive right at somebody. Last year it felt like every ball fell … My timing, my tempo, tempo is everything for me in my delivery. Whenever that’s missing, or it’s off, everything is going to kind of be thrown off. My tempo was all over the place, I was getting into bad habits early in the year. I’d get away from them for a start and I’d get right back to them a couple of starts later. It was tough and frustrating but the last 10 or so starts of the year I felt like I was getting back on track and getting right where I need to get.”
On what he asked John Buck about Toronto and the Blue Jays organization…
“Just kind of how is it, what should we expect? Those kinds of questions. I’ve known nothing else but the Marlins. Mark went through this last year a little bit, got into Spring Training and didn’t really know anybody. But just what to expect, I knew where Spring Training was, I flew down there and kind of saw Dunedin a little bit, where do you live. Just the basic questions that make that transition a little bit easier.
“Buck said that it’s an amazing place to play. The fans are amazing and the coaching staff all the way through the front office and everyone was amazing while he was there and said it shouldn’t be any different.”
On Buehrle saying Johnson turned a corner near the end of the 2012 season…
“Yeah. At the end of the year last year, I’d say maybe the last 15 starts I felt so much better than before. I was kind of fighting myself, my body, trying to do this or that. Maybe trying to find a little bit more velocity but once I started to relax and trust myself, trusted my stuff, it kind of just came out. I don’t know if I was throwing any harder or anything like that but the depth I had on my slider, curveball and the location of my fastball got much, much better.”
On whether he’s talked to any of the current Blue Jays yet…
“Yeah, I talked to J.P., he texted me. I actually met him last offseason in Miami and I talked to him for about five minutes. He texted me and said ‘Welcome, I’ve already got a video on you, I’m watching it, and getting ready for Spring Training to get you back on track.’ I texted Ricky Romero yesterday I believe, maybe the day before, just to tell him if he’s ever in Vegas to let me know and if he needs a throwing partner. I told him whenever I’m in Southern California I’ll hit him up and we’ll get together.”
On his thoughts about the revamped Blue Jays’ roster…
“Extremely excited. The people I hadn’t seen in awhile, just last night, went to a basketball game with them and they were asking me about who’s in the lineup, and just going through it again and I was just like, ‘Wow, it’s even better than what I had first imagined when the trade first went through.’ I’m extremely excited to get it going, to meet the guys and start that camaraderie going.”
On using the curveball more last season…
“I used to throw it back when I first got drafted. Whenever I was in low-A, somebody told me I’m not going to throw a curveball anymore you’re going to throw a slider. So I just had to jump into throwing a slider in the middle of the season and with kind of mixed reviews. The first outing was really good and then after that it was all over the place. The next couple of years I learned how to throw it.
“I didn’t throw a curveball for six-seven years, maybe more than that. Occasionally I’d mess around with it, during flat ground I’d throw it. Then in 2010 I actually started throwing it, but my season was so short, nine starts, and I’d throw it once or twice a game and that was it. A little show me, slow the hitters down and then I’d just throw them a fastball, slider, changeup. Then, this last year I finally learned how to pitch with it.
“This was my first full season to pitch with it and to throw it that much. I was learning the whole year. Good thing I had John Buck back there because he helped me out tremendously. Whenever I was in doubt he would put it down, kind of gave me that re-assurance that this is the right pitch, let’s throw it. So I could throw it how to throw it and when, where to throw it, things like that.”
On whether he’s comfortable using it at any time now…
“Any count. Last year, I started throwing it 0-2, 3-2, 2-0, I was throwing it in every count. It’s a pitch I relied on a lot last year.”
On why he stopped throwing it in the first place…
“They told me not to throw it anymore. It wasn’t consistent enough and actually the game before that I was starting to throw it for first-pitch strikes, two strikes, I finally got that feel for it just like I had in high school. It took awhile, it took half a season to figure out, but then all of a sudden I go to my bullpen the next time out and they said no more curveball. So, I was like, ‘Um ok, I guess I’ll start throwing a slider.'”
On whether he’s talked to any of the coaches yet…
“Yes, I talked to the pitching coach. Talked to John Gibbons really briefly, he texted me the day he got hired and just said I wanted to say happy thanksgiving and I’ll call you after the holidays and stuff like that. Two brief conversations and I talked to Alex a couple of times. Everybody seems nice and everybody’s excited and ready to get this thing going.”
On what went wrong in Miami…
“It was tough. Seemed like everything that could go wrong, went wrong. We’d have a good stretch there in May where everything was going right and I was pitching terrible too. I was maybe 0-3 in five starts in that month or something like that. We went like 21-8 or something like that. But then all of a sudden I started throwing well and the team was playing bad.
“I don’t know if it was more about, sometimes it seemed like it was more about the stadium. It was more worried about all of the new stuff, what’s going to happen next with the stadium and not worrying about just playing baseball and down to the basics of it.”
Below you can find a transcript of today’s scrum with Alex Anthopoulos. Tomorrow, I will post the transcript of today’s scrum with Paul Beeston. Both individuals joined the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for a lengthy interview about how the offseason has gone so far, next week’s Winter Meetings, plus an outlook for 2013.
It’s important to note, these questions are not mine alone. Members from all of the city’s major newspapers were there along with the wire services. During the sit down interview just about every topic was broached including a slew of injury updates, potential position battles, and payroll.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB if you’re not already doing so.
Q-in Nashville are you actively looking or just fielding calls?
“A bit of both. We’ll still try to be active. We’re trying to do things now.
“We feel better about our club today than we did at the end of the season, but there’s still areas where we can improve. We still can add depth in our rotation, still get better in the bullpen. Offensively I feel pretty good about the team. I feel pretty good about the bench. So I’d say bullpen and rotation depth and if we can upgrade some other spot in the rotation or upgrade a position player, sure we’d look to do that.”
Q- Deal with Marlins shut down some free agents you were looking at?
“It changed things. I think it’s fair to say. Shut down? I wouldn’t say that. It just changed the dynamic of maybe some of the players we had called on and we had started to talk to. At the same time, free agents we had talked to nobody was necessarily ready to move that fast. It certainly changed. We may have been looking at — for the sake of argument — 10 players. We weren’t going to sign all 10, but we might now be down to two or three that might still fit.”
Q- Some free-agent pitchers who are trying to reestablish themselves might be looking for one-year contracts. That the kind of guy you’re looking at?
“We would. The problem is those players probably want guaranteed contracts, so it comes down to, the rotation the way it’s set up — whatever the order is, but, Buehrle, Johnson, Romero, Morrow, Happ — all those guys are, no one’s a zero-three player in terms of service time. We said from the outset we weren’t going to guarantee Happ that fifth spot. He’s definitely a front runner and going to compete for that spot. But we’d have to feel that anybody we get, especially if we’re going to guarantee them a contract, they’re going to want the opportunity to start, that they would be an upgrade over the current five.
“So the likelihood is that a minor-league free-agent signing, probably try to be more active there. I think if you see us give a guaranteed contract to a starter that’s going to be someone we think is going to beat out someone in the current rotation or would be willing to compete and end up in the ‘pen. And some of those guys want a guaranteed starting spot.”
Q- What was it about last year where the depth didn’t work out?
“We had an inordinate number of injuries. I think we had the most DL days in the history of the organization, double the DL days of what we averaged in the past five years or so and I’ve been here for all five of those years. I thought we had enough bodies. We always plan to have 11 guys that have the ability to start.
“After your first five starters, the remaining six, three might get 10 starts, one of them might get two or three. We had enough bodies, but everybody broke down. I think all I can learn from that is to continue to stockpile depth and not rely on as much youth in the starting five. I think we had enough bodies, but out of the guys we were counting on to be in our rotation, the inexperience, the youth, maybe those guys should have been that depth for us. Maybe an Alvarez, last year, as well as he performed at the end of September in 2011, maybe we should have gone into it saying, ‘You know, as good as he looked, maybe he should be optioned and we’ll just have depth and he’ll be sitting there as our sixth starter.’ Rather than pretty much guaranteeing him a job coming into the year.”
Q-In the 6-10 guys, how many bodies do you have in place?
“We have bodies, it’s just: what’s the quality? Some guys, especially the minor-league free agents we signed or guys that we claimed off waivers and so on. Until you get to see them, you don’t know. Some guys emerge. We didn’t know what we were going to get out of a guy like Aaron Laffey last year. Relatively speaking I think he did a solid job for us on a guy that was a minor-league free agent. I don’t think we planned on him getting 18 starts. He probably would have been more valuable if we only had four or five starts out of him. I think you just try to get as much quality as you can.
“But you look at the teams that win, they normally don’t have to us 10 starters or 11 starters. When it comes to that point something’s gone wrong; guys are not performing or guys are getting hurt. Most teams that win use somewhere in the eight range. Obviously health is important for all clubs.”
Q- When you say you’re down to two or three free agents, you’re talking pitchers?
“Ideally. Right now we’re not in the market for any free-agent position players.”
Q- They would have to be upgrades?
“Over what we currently have. We have a bunch of guys in the bullpen that are out of options, so that can impact things as well. But they don’t have guaranteed contracts. In the rotation we would have to feel someone would clearly be an upgrade over the current five.”
Q- Have you been fielding calls about guys you acquired?
“Almost all the guys. Obviously you can’t trade a free agent, so no Izturis.
“But on the two trades — the Marlins trade and the Indians trade — got calls on all the players (calls or emails or texts, he clarified).”
Q- Buehrle was hurt by trade, what’s the reaction been for other guys to coming here?
“I’ve talked to all of them. Spoke to Mark a day or two ago, spoke to his agent today. I think they’re hurt. I can’t speak for them, but from what I understand, the commitment that they made in Florida, they expected to be there for a long time. They were obviously stunned and shocked. I think over time, though, I think there’s a level of excitement to come to a team that’s got a chance to win.
“Josh Johnson knew could be traded because year left on contract … It’s the guys that signed as free agents. John Buck is obviously excited because he’s been here and is very fond of the city. But I’d say Buehrle and Reyes because they signed as free agents last offseason, just more of the shock of being traded because it’s not what they expected to happen after signing those long-term deals. At the same time I think they have turned the page and they’re excited to be here; it’s a chance to win.
Q- How does second base shape up?
“I think Izturis is the front runner. He hasn’t been promised the everyday job so there’s definitely potential to compete there. Izturis would certainly be the front runner for that spot. Bonifacio’s value is that he can play second, can play all the outfield spots, can play the other infield spots as well. But as we sit here today — and it can change at spring training — Izturis would be the front runner but he hasn’t been guaranteed the everyday job.”
Q-Can you explain the catcher for catcher part of the Marlins deal? Equalization of the contracts?
“You’d have to ask Florida. That wasn’t something that we set out to do. We weren’t looking to trade Jeff Mathis. I can’t tell you what Florida was looking to do with John Buck. My understanding with Florida is that they were going to go with the kid they got from Detroit last year … and they wanted to make a change there.
“That was not something that we brought up. We never brought it up at any time. That part of the trade was introduced the last day and I was unwilling to do it. I said ‘No.’ It’s not anything against John Buck. I think he’s a very good player. He had a great year for us here. But we made a commitment to Jeff. He had been here and we weren’t looking to trade Jeff at all. From a loyalty component I didn’t think we needed to go down that path. That was what they felt was the final piece that they needed to get it done.
“So in the morning I said, “No.” The trade was off. If that was what was going to take to get it done, I would not make that trade. And we shut it down. They were pretty adamant that it wasn’t getting done without those two players, so I let the day go by, then at the end of the day, maybe 4 or 5 o’clock, after a lot of talks internally, finally decided that we couldn’t let this deal, the magnitude of this trade and the potential impact on the franchise and the dollars involved, we couldn’t let it not get done because of those last two parts of the deal.”
Q-Did you talk to Jeff beforehand?
“No, spoke to him afterward. It was tough, no doubt about it. I love Jeff as a player, there’s a reason why we signed him. Obviously it’s the largest trade I’ve ever made. In terms of total dollars and bodies it’s probably the largest one the franchise as made. I don’t think Jeff wanted to leave; I think he enjoyed it here, made a commitment here. At the same time, I think he also realizes the magnitude of the trade, he wasn’t shopped. The trade wasn’t going to get done without the two of them being included.”
Q-What’s up with Buehrle and the dogs (regarding the pitbull ban in Ontario)?
“They’re trying to work through it. I just talked to his agent again today.”
Q-How can you work through it?
“I think he’s talking to some groups and looking to where they can live. From what I understand they had to do some things in Florida, they had to do some things in Chicago as well. They had to live farther away from the ballpark.”
“I’m not sure. That could happen. It could be Niagara Falls, I’m not sure. There could be some changes to the laws in April. I’m not well-versed in that. They’re looking at their options, but they’re going to work through it.”
Q- (Phillies catcher) Carlos Ruiz busted for amphetamines, drug for ADD. My understanding is that there are 107 exemptions for different things by MLB. Without naming names, do you have any of these exemptions?
“Sure. I would say every team has players that are exempt from it. You have to do an exam, get it evaluated. But every team has some exemptions.”
Q-Status of Drabek, McGowan and Hutchison?
“Recovering from rehab … Drabek and Hutchison similar Tommy John’s, about a month apart, so they’re going to be during the season or some point late in the season. McGowan is on track for spring training, but obviously we’ll see how he comes along.”
Q-What is McGowan doing now?
“Right now it’s just recovery. He’ll have a date when he starts throwing.”
Q-So he’s not throwing now?
Q-Any change of thought on him moving to bullpen?
“Right now there hasn’t been. It’s just at the point of getting him back healthy. We’ll cross that bridge hopefully when we get to it.”
Q-Any headway on reviewing pitching injuries?
“Not yet. We’ll look at a few things. There are some things that we looked at. I know there are some things specifically that we can address and change. Things I’d rather keep private. It’s not from a training standpoint.
“There’s some things as we review the season we’re examining a little more. Just some things we can look at, workloads and whatnot. Again, we don’t know for certain. We think there may be something there. But we haven’t drawn any conclusions. Right now we have some ideas on some of the things that may have occurred.”
Q-Did Bruce Walton pay the price for all the pitchers that were hurt?
“No, not at all. Bruce has been in the organization a long time and prior to this past year we had great health. Bruce’s first year on the job in 2010 … the top four starters had never pitched 200 innings and they all made it through the season. So I think it was one of those things for John it was tough to make that change but he really felt strongly about Pete and wanted to go with him.”
Q-Could Bruce stay in organization?
“He might. Right now we don’t have a role. Bruce has been here a long time. He’s done a great job. It’s the unfortunate part about being in these spots. We’re not going to rule it out. Right now we don’t have anything, but things change. You get a phone call from a club, a spot opens up. We’re going to do our best, is the guess the best way I can put it. We’re not closing the doors on that at all.”
Q-When pitching went south, did combo of Farrell and Walton cause problems for pitchers?
“I don’t think so. I didn’t see that and I didn’t think so. You’d have to ask them. No one ever expressed that to me. I never had Bruce or John express that to me. If there was anything like that at all it was definitely not expressed to me. I think it was just, guys got hurt and we went through so many bodies and there was just so much turnover. Then we had a bunch of starters go 1/3 of an inning and that just kills your bullpen. There’s just so much turnover there’s no way to have any continuity.”
Q-One guy that’s been given a free pass has been your centre fielder. Is he a guy that people are still interested in or is he your long-term guy you might think of extending?
“You know what, I never talk about who we’re going to extend who we’re not going to extend. With Colby, at the all-star break, I think he was at 17 home runs, I think he had an over .800 OPS. He was having an unbelievable season. The last two months he did not play well at all.
“We’ve talked about it internally, what went wrong and so on. We think there could be a component of fatigue. He played all the time and one of the issues is that he hits all the time. I remember being in Miami and he had a good game against the Marlins, it was on a Saturday, I think he hit a home run or even two in the game. Afterwards, we played a day game, players were going to go out that night and enjoy themselves. He was going to go to the cage and hit. He just wanted to keep going.
“One thing we’re going to talk to him about is maybe learning to work a little smarter. He doesn’t need to work as hard as he does. He doesn’t need to take as many reps in the cage. It seems like now two years in a row he wears down at the end of the season and maybe we have to watch, give him some rest, give him some days off. We were so banged up from a position-player’s standpoint, we didn’t have that much depth on the bench.
“Colby didn’t necessarily get a tonne of days off. He was banged up as well. It’s not to make excuses for him. It’s the only thing that we can point to, that he did seem to wear down and tire, because the first half of the season he played so well.”
Q — Surprising that someone who has played that many years in big leagues is still getting tired?
“If you’re playing every day, and then you’re hitting, you’re taking a million swings in the cage in the morning, a million swings in the afternoon, a million swings at night, I think you can wear down. I think it’s a matter of learning how to work smarter. Roy Halladay was the same early in his career when he overworked himself, wore himself out in the offseason trying to get ready.
“I think over time you learn yourself, you learn your body, you learn how to do things. So, I think some players just have to adjust their routine. He’s still a young player, he’s 26, he has four years in now. I think it’s just learning how to get through a season and I think he had that success in the first half and my thought is to maintain that success, to keep it going, his work ethic, he almost works too hard.”
Q — Have you had conversations, the staff had conversations, with him about that last season?
“No, because it’s something we look back on. You go through the roster and you look at everything, pinpointing, and you start to look at it, start to have conversations. Whether it’s with the trainers, strength guys, and so on. That’s a theory. I don’t know that. Colby might manage his work a little bit better, maybe his results would still be the same. That’s something we’ll talk to him about but it’s a theory that makes a lot of sense from the conversations that I’ve had.”
Q — Regarding catching situation, Arencibia/Buck/Wilson/d’Arnaud…
“Right now, Bobby Wilson is an arbitration-eligible player, he’s out of options. We have a decision to make on him by Friday … I don’t see us carrying three guys to Opening Day. I think things can change.”
Q — On d’Arnaud’s situation…
“Travis wouldn’t come up unless there was a need, someone got hurt, someone got traded. It’s like the year when J.P. was having an MVP-calibre season down in Las Vegas. John Buck was having an All-Star year here so there was no room for him. But things can change.
“Travis has played some other spots, he has played some first, he can obviously DH. If his bat plays that well in the Minor Leagues and you think he can help, we’ll try to find a spot for him. I’d love to be in that position.”
Q — Last season you seemed pretty adamant about d’Arnaud being able to crack next year’s team. What has changed?
“I think I said he’d have a chance to compete. We’d be open minded to him competing, we wouldn’t rule it out. Adam Lind was sent down, he wasn’t promised a job. I think the lineup has changed a little bit now, we have more options, we have a little more depth, we had a young guy in left field but we feel pretty good about that now. The infield, there was just a lot of uncertainty I guess from a positional player standpoint and that’s where Travis is better than some of the guys.
“Lind is in the same spot, obviously he’s not guaranteed anything. He finished the season well, played well the last two months but he has to go out and prove it. d’Arnaud right now, if the season was to start today, we haven’t seen him come back from the injury, he’ll be in the Minor Leagues. But if he does force our hand there are always ways to make trades or find a spot for him.”
Q — On d’Arnaud playing some first base in the Minor Leagues. Is that an option?
“Could be. But right now we see him behind the plate long term. You never know. The fact that we tried that out to see if it he does hit that well, and if we have the need, we’d have the ability to call him up.”
Q — Did Hechavarria’s potential change in your mind?
“No, not at all. When we were doing the trade, we didn’t need a shortstop per say It wasn’t an area of weakness for the ballclub. We were clearly talking about the rotation, that was the priority. Reyes was someone I’ve always liked quite a bit, maybe to a fault, but it’s just what he brings.
“We didn’t want to include Hechavarria in the trade but ultimately if Reyes is under contract for five years, Hechavarria wasn’t going to take away Reyes’ job. As great as it would have been to keep him, he would have been blocked. He could have played other spots in the infield but, we’re hoping Hechavarria is as good as (expected). We think he’s going to be a great player, I don’t know that I can sit here and tell you that Hechavarria can do what Reyes does with the speed, the leadoff component, all of those things. I think he’s going to win some Gold Gloves. I think he’s going to be a very good everyday player but ultimately we got a star player in shortstop that we know what he can do now.”
Q — Insinuated before, Lind would have to play his way onto the roster. Has depth in lineup changed his status?
“No. I’m encouraged by the way he ended the year. David Cooper did a nice job before he got hurt. d’Arnaud if he really opened our eyes, we wouldn’t rule it out again right now. I would expect him to start in the Minor Leagues … But Adam still has to earn his spot and he still has to earn his at-bats. We’re trying to win and if someone is going to be an upgrade over Adam in the lineup and he has to be on the bench then we’ll look at it.
“I think Encarnacion has gotten to the point where he became the everyday first baseman at the end of the year … I think Encarnacion emerged as the everyday guy at first base but between first and DH we have enough guys that can play there.”
Q — Lind’s contract with options, does it make it attractive for other teams?
“Contracts are only as good as the player plays. So, really it comes down to does he perform? If he performs, then he’s a very valuable player to us. Really what it comes down to is trying to come to an agreement on length, we wanted a shorter deal, player wants a longer deal and there’s a trade-off. If we do that, then we want the options. But if he performs then there’s great value.”
Q — But talking more specifically about the Winter Meetings…
“I don’t think that Adam’s contract impacts anything other than the guaranteed commitment. I don’t think those options have any component right now. I think it’s what does he make right now, it’s a $5-million based salary with a $2-million buyout, and what was the production. I think that’s the way he’s looked at. If I was a club, I’d look at it as, if he performs for us, that’s added value, that’s upside. I don’t know that the options are going to be the determining factor if I ever want to acquire a player.”
Q — Lind clearing waivers last summer sober you up on his value?
“No, because at the time he was put on waivers he was hitting .190. To bring his average up to where he did, shows how much better he played at the end of the season. You got from .190 to maybe mid-.200s, and if you look at his left-right splits, if you look at him as a player that doesn’t face the left-handers, he’ll only face right-handers, close to an .800 OPS, which is a pretty good player.
“I think the marker, right now free agency wise, is not that deep and just look at some of the signings of last year, Casey Kotchman got $3.5, two years ago Lyle Overbay got $5-million. I think Adam has a lot of upside and a lot of ability and he’s still young. It’s definitely encouraging the way he played at the end of the year. If you take away the left-handed numbers, if you use him only against right-handers, I still think he’ll be a very good player.”
Q — Has Lind settled into an approach… regarding not working hard enough, working too hard, with the back, has that settled itself?
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with him. I think he’s learning himself as well. He had the back issue, he overworked trying to strengthen it and maintain it and then over time he started getting sore. We changed some of the exercises. You’re learning yourself and what learns for you and I think there was some concern that maybe he was five or 10 pounds more weight than maybe he should have been. He has to watch that as well.
“But I think Adam now understands where he’s at in his career. I think he’s encouraged as well with how he ended the year but I think he realizes where he’s at and what he needs to do to stay on the field and stay healthy.”
Q — Encarnacion everyday 1B so DH for Adam?
“It’s going to depend on everything but obviously Encarnacion is the everyday player, how many days a week he’s at first or DH I don’t know. Whether it’s a d’Arnaud, a Cooper, an Adam Lind, all those guys can play first base so however it works out Encarnacion is one guy that has every day at-bats. Who gets the everyday at-bats from the remaining three, Adam Lind because he ended the season as the everyday player and he played well is certainly the front-runner for that job, but he’s not promised that job. He still has to come out through spring training and earn that job.”
Q — Reyes injury history, leery of turf?
“We talked about it a lot, there’s always concern there, the fact he only missed two games last year was very encouraging, we obviously did a lot of exams on him, our analysis of the turf is if you’re going to get sore it’s going to be your knees and your back, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be some type of impact on your hamstring. But our doctors overall said there is risk, just like every other player, but not enough that we wouldn’t go ahead and sign the player or trade for the player. If we knew there was a direct link between turf and hamstrings, there would have been a lot more pause, but if it’s more knees and lower back.
“I remember when we signed Alex Gonzalez and he had a major knee issue that he had finally recovered from, we didn’t know how the turf was going to react to it, and he didn’t have any problems at all and that’s where something might come up. We feel pretty good that the turf isn’t going to add that much more risk to him, but it’s certainly part of the equation, we just felt pretty good about what our doctors said, that he should be fine.”
Q — What’s Jose Bautista’s status?
“He actually wants to play Winter Ball, wants to play World Baseball Classic, we’re not allowing him to, he feels great, and I explained it to him, we just can’t take a chance right now. Winter Ball for certain, World Baseball Classic, I told him we’d continue to look at it, the thought as we sit here today would be no, but we haven’t closed the door on it.
“I just talked to our staff about it again, we haven’t completely ruled it out, there’s still a chance we would allow him to play in the Classic, it’s just exactly as I told him, if there’s any concern from our staff about playing in the Classic he won’t play, if they feel it’s a good idea and that it would be good for him to do it, then he’ll play. He wants to play, he expressed to me that he doesn’t know how many more chances he’ll get to play in that tournament and so on, but he also understands we have to do what we need to do with what’s good for the club. Right now the lean is no, but we haven’t closed the door, there’s still a chance.
“it’s just an indication of how good he feels.”
Q — Is Dwayne Murphy invited to help with hitters, or expected to help with hitters?
“His primary role is to work with the outfielders and he and Chad (Mottola) have a great relationship. It’s both. If someone wants to go work with Murph, or needs Murph, or Chad needs to bounce something off him, the program is going to be Chad’s, he’s going to run everything, advance meetings, all that kind of stuff, but Murph is there to help as a No. 2 guy and his primary responsibility is the outfield. He’s there to help.
“Just like everything else, I don’t think one coach connects with every single player. Two or three guys might have a comfort of going to work with Murph, a few guys might have a comfort going to work with Chad, there are other responsibilities with that role that Chad is going to deal with, he’s there to help in whatever capacity is needed. And it can only work because their relationship is so strong.”
Q: Looking to do something different offensively that led to Chad being lead guy?
“I don’t think we’re looking to change approaches. There are always ways to get better but from an offensive standpoint, we’ve been a pretty good team the past couple of years, at least in terms of runs scored, we’ve always talked about improving on-base percentage, I don’t know that there’s a hitting coach in the world that’s going to make someone all of a sudden be selective and walk.
“Can you slightly improve? Sure, but at the end of the day our offence has been a strong suit of this club, John ultimately had the final say on the staff, it was very important to me that he made the decisions, and he felt like this was probably going to be the best set up. We need someone who can work with the outfielders, Murph’s won a tonne of gold gloves, very good outfield instructor as well, it’s a way to have both guys on the staff in the right roles to help the team move forward because of Murph’s ability to work with the outfielders.”
Q: Concern about rookies pitching and hitting coaches?
“That’s something that John brought up as well, we talked about it for a day or two, ultimately there was a familiarity with both those guys. The fact that Murph is here offsets a bit of Chad, Pete there’s a comfort level and familiarity with all the players and the staff. If we had brought someone from the outside that didn’t have that experience, there may have been more cause for concern there. Pete has strong relationships and strong ties, if he’s the best guy for the job, he should be fine.”
Q: Any untouchables on your team?
“Earlier in my time as general manager, it’s only been three years, I would have been more adamant but I guess I would say I’ve softened my stance. I’ve never had anybody I wouldn’t trade, I’ve always had players I’m highly reluctant to trade, but at the same time, over time, I’ve realized if we have a chance to make the team better I’m going to be open to it.
“There’s no one we would never trade, there’s just too much risk and too much uncertainty, especially at the minor-league level, we’ve seen it, top guys, they don’t do well. The debate we have is the best prospects in the game were prospects at one time, as well, you do have to be careful with who you do trade.”
Q: How strong is farm system now post-Marlins deal?
“I still feel it’s very strong and as we were going through the Marlins trade, we still were looking at everybody we had in the minor-leagues, who our top prospects were, we were always looking at the remaining list of players and it still looked strong, it still looked good. I still feel we’re in a very good position, we’ve got very good players. The other thing is you’re always trying to manage ahead, trying to say who are some players who might take over from some aging players and expiring contracts and things like that, you want to protect yourself, especially at the premium spots.
“That’s why trading guys like Jake Marisnick or guys like Adeiny Hechavarria, they’re harder to trade because shortstops, centre field, are just tough positions to find. But I think we’re in good shape, I still think we can make more trades involving prospects and assuming we don’t trade everybody, still have a pretty good group of players. We’re still going to be active in Latin America going forward, we’re still going to have a top draft pick again, there are still ways to replenish. We built up enough inventory that we could handle one more big trade if we needed to.”
Q: How far away is next generation of in-house starters?
“I used to try to predict how many years and so on. What I prefer to do now and with the way the rotation is starting to shape up is have hopefully a solid five that are under control, have as many bodies as we can but realize that if we’re to the point that guys are ready to be up here and they have to be optioned, it’s a great problem to have.
“A good example is when Anaheim called up Jered Weaver and I think he went 5-0 or something like that and one of their starters came back and they had to send him down. He was ready to be up here but they had enough depth in that starting five, and they always made sure they were five deep, Tampa is another good example, guys have to be optioned that are ready, I’d love to get to that point, that we’re not relying on those guys, that they’re just sitting there as the sixth starter, the seventh starter, the eighth starter and the only time our hand is forced is when they’re out of options, which means we have enough continuity with the starting five that we’re not going into seasons banking on a bunch of young kids, in an ideal scenario.”
Q: No priority to extend Josh Johnson until season to see how things turn out?
“Years ago I would have been much more apt to try and do extensions with players sooner and I don’t mind waiting now, we’ve got the ability to extend players, we’ve shown that players that are here enjoy being here and as long as we can come up with what everybody feels is a fair contract, we can keep those players. I never feel a rush to extend a player, I always think we have the ability to do it if we had to live up to our end of the bargain, put a good product on the field, make it a good place for them to play.”
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has put almost all of the finishing touches on his coaching staff for the 2013 season. Toronto announced on Monday that DeMarlo Hale (bench coach), Chad Mottola (hitting coach), Luis Rivera (third base coach), Dwayne Murphy (first base coach) and Pete Walker (pitching coach) all agreed to deals.
The only remaining spot that’s still up for grabs is the bullpen coach. Walker will put together a list of candidates while Gibbons will do the same and eventually the two will come to a decision on who is the best choice. Gibbons will have the final say but said he’ll leave it mostly in the hands of Walker because he feels it’s important for the pitching coach and bullpen coach to have a strong working relationship.
There weren’t a lot of surprises in today’s news. Mottola had been considered the leading candidate for the hitting coach after receiving glowing reviews for his work in Triple-A Las Vegas. Over the past couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about Mottola’s tutelage through the work of Travis Snider, Anthony Gose, Adam Lind and Adeiny Hechavarria.
I realize that not all of those players came back to the Majors with noticeably improved results but it’s hard to pinpoint whether that’s the fault of the players or the coach. What I do know, is that all four spoke glowingly about Mottola’s coaching abilities and went out of their way to give credit to the former big leaguer. That can only be taken as a positive and likely played a factor in the club’s decision.
There’s a lot of speculation about whether Pat Hentgen will be considered for the bullpen coach. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be considered but it’s also just as hard for me to imagine that he would be interested in the role. Hentgen recently said during an interview on the Fan590 in Toronto that he would have a tough time saying no to Gibbons because of their past relationship but that doesn’t necessarily mean he would jump at the opportunity.
Hentgen spent one season in the bullpen role while on John Farrell‘s staff in 2011. He left at the end of the year for personal reasons and a desire to spend more time with his family. I’m also a little skeptical about how much Hentgen actually enjoyed working out of the bullpen. He never told me he didn’t like it, but in conversations Hentgen did seem to speak more highly about his previous role as a roving pitching instructor in the Minor Leagues.
While serving in that capacity, Hentgen had more freedom over his own schedule and also was able to spend time with the club’s up-and-coming top prospects. In particular, Hentgen enjoys working with starting pitchers which always led me to believe he would possibly consider the pitching coach position (if offered) but would take a pass on the bullpen role.
This is admittedly mostly speculation on my part but I just don’t see Hentgen agreeing to go back into the bullpen. I think it’s more likely he stays on in his current role as a special assistant to the organization. In that capacity, Hentgen acts as a part-time instructor during Spring Training while continuing occasional work with Minor Leaguers.
Here’s what Gibbons had to say about the coaching staff during today’s conference call with reporters:
On how the Blue Jays were able to lure Hale away from the Orioles even though Baltimore offered him a contract extension at the end of the year…
“DeMarlo and I go way back. We managed against each other in the Minor Leagues in ’96 or ’97. I think it was ’96 we coached together in the Hawaiian Winter League, we roomed together for those two months down there so we got to know each other pretty good. Then of course managing against each other coming up through the Minor Leagues.
“That’s our connection right there and he’s one of the better baseball guys around. He’s intelligent, he’s always viewed as a guy who’s a possible manager and hopefully he gets his opportunity because I think he would be a darn good one. So, knowing that, he’s the perfect guy to have on the bench.
“He was highly sought after by the Blue Jays at one time, when Farrell got the job, so it was just a natural fit. Our friendship’s big, we can trust each other, I know him very well and everywhere he goes, his teams wins so if anything that’s a big factor right there in itself.”
On how he balances friendships and coaching pedigree when making decisions on the coaching staff…
“I think No. 1 is baseball resume and their ability as a coach instructor. That overrides everything. You can get to know guys over time and you know what, you don’t always have to get along and see eye-to-eye on everything. You want the best coaches … I know some of the guys, I think that’s important, the players already know a lot of these guys and they are very good coaches so there isn’t always a need to make a change.
“This is these guys’ livelihoods, you don’t always want to turn that over either. If there are guys that are highly qualified, good guys, highly respected and their doing a good job, you know what let’s keep them around. But I have the benefit of knowing most of them anyways.”
On the decision to replace Bruce ‘Papi’ Walton with Walker as the club’s pitching coach…
“First off, that was one the toughest things I’ve ever had to do because Papi and I go way back. We’re good friends, he has done a good job and he was very good to me over my years here. The way I look at Pete, I have a long history with Pete coaching and managing him over in the Mets’ system. I even had a few words for him when we first got him over here in Toronto. I think it was 2002-03 when he came over here.
“So I know him well and I’ve always followed his career, he’s always been one of my favorite guys. Knowing what kind of pitcher he was and what it took for him to get to the big leagues, the dedication, just the way he approached the game, it wasn’t an easy road for him. He was always that one guy who was always going to go above and beyond, do whatever it took to get there.
“Honestly, I always thought this guy had a chance to be a great coach some day and he can be a difference maker. Here was my opportunity to give him a chance to do that and that’s basically how all of that came out. But it was tough, Papi is a good friend and has done a very good job as well.”
On whether there’s any concerns about having a rookie hitting coach and a rookie pitching coach…
“I did look at that and you wonder how will that go over. But they’re both known. Pete was in the bullpen last year, Chad has been in the organization. It’s not like they’re unknowns but they are new to their profession and that did cross my mind. But as far as Chad, we still have Murph on the staff and Murph’s going to help out with the hitting as well. He’ll primarily be the outfield guy and handle the base running but he’s there to assist Chad and I’m sure there are a lot of guys on the team that have a lot of faith in Murph and I have no problem with them using both of these guys.
“The thing is, after talking with both of them, they’re happy to work as a tandem and bottom line is we want guys that produce. Murph knows the inside out of these guys so I told him not to hesitate to share what you know and what these guys might need. He’s perfectly fine with it, Chad’s perfectly fine it. This also allows Murph, he’s a six-time Gold Glover, he’s going to take over the outfield for us and that’s big. We’re able to utilize both of these guys now. I don’t think it will be a problem, they’re both highly respected that’s for sure.”
On whether these decisions were ultimately made by Gibbons or by Alex Anthopoulos…
“I made all of the decisions. I bounced some things off him, I’d ask him about the different coaches but he said, ‘Hey this is your baby. Go for it.’ Like I said earlier, I’m big on continuity. They had a number of injuries last year that I think hurt the ballclub and the tough record, the manager left, so it wasn’t necessarily people weren’t doing their jobs and it was a total collapse, there were some things that were involved.
“These guys have good reputations, they do a good job, they’re known to do a good job. I was looking for a little continuity, that way there’s not so much turnover and it’s not a big shock to all of the players. But I did, I had the final say. Alex was adamant about that and I told him I think it’s important any time you can promote within the organization I think it does wonders for morale down at the bottom because it gives everybody a feeling they have a shot some day. But in the end he said pick the guys you want, I’ll give you my input, but in the end I have to live and die with it.”
On whether the club is waiting for an answer from someone on the bullpen coach role…
“I told Pete, I said listen, ‘I think it’s very important that the pitching coach and the bullpen coach work together.’ They’ve got all of those guys and they have to make them work. I’m getting some input from him, I told him to come up with some names that he might like. I’ll throw some names at him. To me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an ex-pitcher to hold that position, it could be anyone else as long as it works well with Pete.”
On whether this is more ‘his’ staff than when he took over in 2004…
“When I took over at the end of ’04, Butter was in place, Gil Patterson was the pitching coach and then, let’s see, how many years ago was that? You guys expect me to remember all of that? (laughs) That staff was pretty much in place and this one he said,’Hey come up with some names of guys you like. You have to make it work, we’re putting together a good team right here, we have to make it work.’ So he’s giving me a little bit more stake in that. But like I said, I’ve always been big on continuity and rewarding guys in the organization if they’re good coaches and good instructors and that’s what we have here.”
On the loss of Brian Butterfield….
“Butter’s leaving, that’s a big loss, there’s no question about it. Personally, I don’t think there’s a better coach in baseball than Butter. But he moved on and I expect Luis to be very, very good over there. I don’t know Luis very well but I’ve heard some great things and I think he’ll do fine. He’s a good baseball man, good infield instructor and Butter had nothing but praise for the guy. There’s no question that Butter’s a big loss.”
On whether Hale or Rivera will be in charge of the infielders…
“Luis will do that. DeMarlo will oversee everything, he’ll keep an eye on everything. If somebody needs help here and there, he’ll do that. There’s lots to do with that bench coach job, especially going into Spring Training, that’s when a lot of the work is done. When we get into the season, he’ll be very valuable, he can dabble in a lot of different things.”
On who will be in charge of Spring Training and how important it was to have Rivera return because of his ability to speak Spanish in a diverse clubhouse….
“DeMarlo will do all the Spring Training. As far as the latin guy, Luis’ here anyways. But, yeah I think that’s important. Most of them all speak English but it never hurts to have a guy in case you get into an in depth conversation, some guys may struggle with English like I do. (laughs). But that never hurts.”
When the news first broke about Toronto’s massive 12-player trade with the Marlins I admit to feeling a little bit skeptical. The issue wasn’t talent – there’s no denying that Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and perhaps even John Buck fill obvious needs. Sure, there’s risk associated with each player but almost every trade will have at least an element of that.
My biggest problem with the deal was the amount of salary heading north of the border. I figured that if this gamble didn’t pay off the Blue Jays would be saddled with the type of immovable contracts that would once again create a slow rebuilding process and set the franchise back a decade. If it worked out, Anthopoulos would go down in Toronto sports history but if it didn’t then it would be years before the Blue Jays could compete again.
Upon further review, though, that’s not really the case. Based on information from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, I crunched the numbers on Toronto’s payroll through the 2018 campaign. It’s true that the Blue Jays won’t have a whole lot of flexibility for the next few seasons but the club could get out from under almost all of its major commitments following 2015.
That gives the Blue Jays the next three seasons to compete with almost all of its core completely in place. It’s a very reasonable timeframe to see whether this team can take it to the next level. If they do, then presumably some of these players will have their contracts extended again. But if it doesn’t, the club once again will have a lot of money to spend.
Another benefit of clearing contracts by 2015 is that Toronto’s next wave of Minor League talent should be ready by then. Even after this week’s trade with Miami, the Blue Jays still have one of the best Minor League systems in all of the baseball. The thing is, most of that talent can be found in the lower levels and needs at least a couple of years to develop. With the exception of Anthony Gose and Travis d’Arnaud there really aren’t any potential impact players that will be ready before then.
The only major piece of the Blue Jays’ roster that is eligible for free agency prior to 2015 is Johnson. The newly acquired right-hander is set to enter the final year of his deal and there are a few ways this scenario could play out. Assuming he stays healthy this season (which is far from guaranteed) the Blue Jays could deal him at the deadline if they are not in contention or they could opt to re-sign him at the end of the season.
If Toronto makes a strong run at the postseason then there will be even more increased pressure on ownership to strike a deal with him. That becomes a pretty realistic scenario because of all the funds available after 2015. A reasonable salary in years 2014-15 could then be offset by a backloaded contract, which as you can see below would definitely be feasible.
J.P. Arencibia — (**500,000)
Edwin Encarnacion – 8,000,000
Emilio Bonifacio – (*2,500,000)
Jose Reyes — 10,000,000
Brett Lawrie – (**500,000)
Melky Cabrera – 8,000,000
Colby Rasmus – (*4,500,000)
Jose Bautista – 14,000,000
Adam Lind – 5,000,000
John Buck – 6,000,000
Maicer Izturis – 3,000,000
Rajai Davis – 2,500,000
Mike McCoy – (**500,000)
Josh Johnson – 13,750,000
Mark Buehrle – 11,000,000
Brandon Morrow – 8,000,000
Ricky Romero – 7,500,000
J.A. Happ – (*3,800,000)
Casey Janssen – 3,900,000
Sergio Santos – 2,750,000
Darren Oliver — 3,000,000
Steve Delabar – (**500,000)
Brad Lincoln – (**500,000)
Esmil Rogers – (**500,000)
Brett Cecil – (**500,000)
Dustin McGowan — $1,500,000
Approximate 2013 Total – 122,200,000
Extras – Potential deals for Bobby Wilson, and Corey Wade. Also contracts for players on the 40-man roster such as Luis Perez, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek. Miami reportedly is sending $4-million to the Blue Jays as part of their deal so some savings will be found here as well.
*Arbitration eligible. Salary projection taken from MLBTradeRumors
**Contract can be renewed by the club as player is not yet eligible for arbitration. This is a very rough estimate for the salary.
Edwin Encarnacion – 9,000,000
Jose Reyes – 16,000,000
Melky Cabrera – 8,000,000
Jose Bautista – 14,000,000
Adam Lind – 7,000,000 ($2-million buyout)
Maicer Izturis – 3,000,000
Mark Buehrle – 18,000,000
Brandon Morrow – 8,000,000
Ricky Romero – 7,500,000
Casey Janssen – 4,000,000 (club option – no buyout)
Sergio Santos – 3,750,000
Dustin McGowan – 1,500,000
2014 Guaranteed Total – 77,000,000 (10 players)
2014 Total With Options – 99,750,000 (12 players)
Edwin Encarnacion – 10,000,000
Jose Reyes – 22,000,000
Jose Bautista – 14,000,000
Adam Lind – 7,500,000 ($1-million buyout)
Maicer Izturis – 3,000,000
Mark Buehrle – 19,000,000
Brandon Morrow – 10,000,000 ($1-million buyout)
Ricky Romero – 7,500,000
Sergio Santos – 6,000,000 ($750,000 buyout)
Dustin McGowan – 4,000,000 ($500,000 buyout)
2015 Guaranteed Total — 78,500,000 (Six players)
2015 Total With Options – 103,000,000
Edwin Encarnacion – 10,000,000 ($2-million buyout)
Jose Reyes – 22,000,000
Jose Bautista – 14,000,000 ($1-million buyout)
Adam Lind – 8,000,000 ($500,000 buyout)
Maicer Izturis – 3,000,000 ($1-million buyout)
Ricky Romero – 13,100,000 ($600,000 buyout)
Sergio Santos – 8,000,000 ($750,000 buyout)
2016 Guaranteed Total — $22,000,000
2016 Total With Options — $78,100,000
Jose Reyes – 22,000,000
Sergio Santos – 8,750,000 ($750,000 buyout)
2017 Guaranteed Total — $22,000,000
2017 Total With Options — $30,750,000
Jose Reyes — $22,000,000 ($4-million buyout)
2018 Guaranteed Total – 0
2018 Total With Options –$22,000,000
It might not seem like it, but the Blue Jays have been down this road before and the truth is it wasn’t even that long ago.
Back in 2005, J.P. Ricciardi had just finished his fourth year on the job as Toronto’s general manager. He oversaw a club which finished two games below .500 but had plenty of optimism for the future with the promise of an increased payroll.
The club’s ownership group, Rogers Communications, was a multi-billion dollar corporation that in theory had plenty of money to spend while the public pressure only increased after the company purchased what was then called SkyDome for a measly $25-million.
Ricciardi and president Paul Godfrey presented ownership with a plan on how to get baseball relevant in Toronto again. In order to compete against the likes of Boston and New York in the American League East, the club would have to start spending like it belonged.
Rogers responded in kind favor and agreed to provide a major influx in cash to get things started. What followed was one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history as Ricciardi’s phone number suddenly was put on speed dial by all of major player agents from around the league.
The first major move was signing closer B.J. Ryan to a five-year, $47-million contract. Right-hander A.J. Burnett followed a few weeks later armed with a five-year, $55-million deal while the club then put the finishing touches on a major trade which saw third baseman Troy Glaus and the remaining three-years, $36 million on his contract come to Toronto.
But Ricciardi didn’t stop there. He would also pull the trigger on a trade with Arizona for first baseman Lyle Overbay and later signed veteran catcher Bengie Molina to a one-year contract valued at $5-million.
The Blue Jays committed more than $145 million in total salaries as part of those deals. The club went from being ranked 25th in baseball with a $45.7 million payroll in 2005 to No. 15 the following year with $71.9.
The quick-fix solutions were supposed to turn the Blue Jays into potential contenders for the postseason. Ryan and Glaus managed to earn spots on the All-Star team and the club also finished with 87 wins — its highest total since 1998 — but it still wasn’t enough to overtake the Yankees atop the AL East.
With the postseason seemingly within striking distance, the Blue Jays decided to go all-in for a second consecutive offseason. Toronto began once again made an early splash by signing designated hitter Frank Thomas to a two-year contract valued at $18-million in what seemed like only the beginning.
Ricciardi then took a strong run at free agent pitchers Ted Lilly and Gil Meche. He boasted about having enough money to potentially sign both hurlers but was ultimately spurned in their decisions to go elsewhere.
Not to be outdone for long, Ricciardi continued along with his offseason and once again it seemed as though money wasn’t an issue. He signed Vernon Wells (seven-years, $126 million) and Overbay (four-years, $24 million) to long-term extensions while ensuring his core would remain in place for the distant future.
It was another $168-million in guaranteed money and Toronto’s overall payroll jumped to $81.9 million for the 2007 campaign. Looking back, it was the final positive news of Ricciardi’s eight-year tenure in Toronto.
The Blue Jays suffered more than their fair share of injuries during that 2007 season en route to a disappointing 83-79 record. The following year, things didn’t get much better as Toronto managed to finish 10 games above .500 but were still a distant 11 games back of New York for first place in the division.
After a series of failed attempts for the postseason, the club ultimately was broken up and the slashing of payroll slowly began. Glaus and Wells were dealt, Ryan and Thomas were waived, while Burnett and Overbay left via free agency.
But now everything has come full circle with Alex Anthopoulos having just finished his third at the helm as GM and Rogers Communications apparently once again eager to spend money. The end result was Tuesday night’s reported deal with Miami that sees Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck on their way to Toronto.
The Blue Jays will take on upwards of $160 million as part of the blockbuster trade and their 23rd-ranked payroll ($75.5 million) could move into the upper-third of the league with salaries expected to approach $120 million in 2013.
Anthopoulos made the bold megadeal knowing full well that there’s a strong chance it will ultimately define his time in Toronto. Ricciardi was aware of that, too, back in the spending sprees of 2005-06.
That’s where the Blue Jays hope the similarities between the two will end. Right now, there’s only optimism for the future but also go in knowing that nothing is guaranteed.
Alex Anthopoulos is in the middle of what can only be described as his most important offseason to date as Toronto’s general manager. He’s in the market for a pair of starting pitchers while also searching for potential upgrades in left field and at second base.
If that wasn’t enough, Anthopoulos also faces the unenviable task of having to conduct his second managerial search in just over two years. The speed — or lack thereof — of the current search has led to some criticism about a perceived lack of urgency with free agency already well underway.
Here’s a mostly complete transcript of what Anthopoulos had to say about that and other important offseason topics during a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. You can find my article from this interview on the main site.
Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’ll be posting breaking news on the Blue Jays’ offseason moves.
Where do things currently stand in your search for a new manager? Do you have a timeline and will the search be temporarily put on hold because of this week’s GM meetings in California?
“It will slow down for two or three days but hopefully sooner than later. I don’t have a specific timeline but we’re making progress, moving in the right direction, moving along. Sooner than later but for two or three days while we’re at the meetings it slows up. But it will pick right back when the meetings are over.”
There has been a lot of talk about how not having a manager in place could impact negotiations with free agents. Has this been mentioned in conversations or do you think it’s somewhat overrated in the public eye?
“It has come up in conversations, which is to be expected. I haven’t really seen it so far be an issue. I think a lot of it will get resolved before some of the big free agents sign. I’ve yet to see be a problem.”
You’ve been quoted as saying this search is about finding the right fit for Toronto. What are some of the qualities in a manager that you’re looking for this time around?
‘It’s finding the right fit for the city, for the players, for management. You could take the top five managers in the game and they might not be the right fit. It’s not a player, you’re not filling in first base or an outfield position. There’s more than just checking off boxes in terms of what makes a good manager.
“I think it’s much more specific for what fits with the organization, the players, the community. It’s hard to quantify it that way but I think it’s more specific to the organization and the city than anything else, management, community and the players.”
Having been through this process once before, how do you weigh what experienced guys have done before versus what rookie candidates say they’ll do in an interview setting?
“You can find out tangible things from coaches they worked with, players they managed, you have a much better feel how guys are going to run a bullpen. You take out a lot of the guess work involved and they’re much more of a known quantity, the guys who have done it before, and there’s definitely a comfort in that.
“That’s not to say that those are the best candidates, but there is definitely a comfort when you don’t have to guess as much because ultimately you’re not sure how someone’s going to react.”
What can you tell us about Esmil Rogers? What did you like about Rogers and how long were you interested in him?
‘We had talked to the Indians about him a little bit during the summer and then in the offseason we started to talk a lot more. We always look to add any arms that we can, bullpen, starters. It’s a power arm guy, we think he’s just coming into his own. He’s always had tremendous stuff, whatever the reasons might be it didn’t work in Colorado but he really turned the corner with the Indians and our scouting reports of him were outstanding.
“It’s a power arm with an out-pitch slider, swing and miss stuff, every good athlete and it’s someone we think, in time, can pitch late in the game. It was a small sample size with the Indians but he seemed to really get his confidence going, really had some success, and we think the stuff certainly translates to pitching late in the game and you can never have too many of those guys.’
How does the acquisition of Rogers impact negotiations with guys like Brandon Lyon and Jason Frasor? Is there still room for another arm?
“I wouldn’t say we’re ever done. It takes away some of the urgency to do something but the goal is to have a deep bullpen. If you’re going to be a contending team you’re going to be in most games, whether it’s down a few runs or up a few runs, you’re going to need a deep bullpen to either hold those leads or keep the game close.
“If you only have two or three guys to rely on, you’re going to end up burning them out and you’re not going to the performance. We want to have as deep of a bullpen as you can, you love to have swing and miss stuff if you can. It’s still early to tell, we could still have a scenario where we’d have a spot for someone but it’s probably not as much of a priority as it was before we made this trade.”
In terms of payroll and what your current needs are, do you need to fill holes in the starting rotation before moving on to potential upgrades in left field and second base?
‘It’s all fluid and mixed in together. In a perfect world, you would address your rotation first and see what’s left over but you just can’t. It’s impossible for us to dictate free agent timelines, other teams in trade. I’ve repeatedly said that the rotation is definitely the No. 1 priority but that doesn’t mean that if a trade for a reliever like Rogers comes up that we’ll put it on hold until we know we can make a trade for a starter.
“I think we just have to jump at the opportunity as they come and if that means a second base option comes up or a left field option comes up we’ll jump at that. But we always have our eye on the rotation as well.”
Would you ideally leave Anthony Gose and Adeiny Hechavarria in Triple-A for another year or does that depend on what moves you make this offseason?
“Ideally yes, but that’s not to say it’s going to be the way it’s going to work out. There are scenarios where both could be on this team. But in a perfect world we would have them in the Minor Leagues, continue to develop and get every day playing time. But come Spring Training depending on what has been done with the roster, where we have to allocate our funds, there’s a scenario where they could find themselves on the team.”