There wasn’t a whole lot of activity on Day 1 of the Spring Training but that’s to be expected. The purpose of the first day doesn’t really have anything to do with baseball at all — at least not the on-field component of it. All of the Blue Jays pitchers and catchers went through their physicals and by the sounds of it everything went as expected.
The physicals took place in Tampa, which meant only a handful of players were seen at the club’s stadium in nearby Dunedin. R.A. Dickey was one of those guys and he went through a light game of catch while several other players including closer Casey Janssen were working out but for the most part Spring Training doesn’t really get underway tomorrow.
That’s when more news will start to trickle in but free agent addition Dioner Navarro was one of those who talked to the media today and here’s what he had to say about getting another opportunity to become a full-time catcher:
The blog went into a hiatus over the long winter months but it will be back in action next week with the official start of Spring Training. While you’re waiting, please check out the Spring Training preview articles that are available on the main site. It was a four-part series that started on Monday and came to an end Friday.
There’s a big Spring Training preview which takes a closer look at the battles to watch in camp plus in depth looks at the starting rotation, bullpen and lineup. I’ll start filing articles from Dunedin so as always check bluejays.com for the latest news and updates. You can also follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB. As always, most of the content will appear on the official bluejays.com and mlb.com website but throughout camp there will be some odds and ends on the blog as well. Whether it’s expanded transcripts or my thoughts on what’s happening in Blue Jays land this is where you can find it.
The priority, though, will always be the main sites and regardless what happens here on North of the Border there will be a daily feature and in depth notebook which can be found there every day this spring. But I’ll also do my best to expand on that daily coverage with some additional analysis on the blog as well.
Coverage starts Sunday… here’s to an enjoyable season!
The Winter Meetings have officially come to an end but not before a Thursday morning that included the minor signing of RHP Tomo Ohka and also the Rule 5 Draft. When the Draft wrapped up, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made himself available to the media for one last scrum at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort.
Here’s some of what he had to say:
There’s already been one report from these Winter Meetings about the Blue Jays being involved in a three-team trade but it was something that actually happened several weeks ago. According to a report by FoxSports from earlier in the week, Toronto was on the verge of trading Sergio Santos to the Rangers as part of a three-way deal but another player involved failed a physical and the negotiations came to an abrupt end.
Perhaps that previous speculation was one of the reasons that three-team trades have become a hot topic lately. But the White Sox, Diamondbacks and Angels completed one Tuesday afternoon and Anthopoulos hasn’t ruled out making a similar type of move in the future. It’s certainly not his preferred way of doing business, though, and here’s why.
It has been a predictably slow Winter Meetings so far for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of his staff. Anthopoulos cautioned in the days leading up to the meetings that it appeared unlikely Toronto would make any major moves here in Central Florida. That would still appear to be the case with only one day remaining until clubs return home and continue to plot their next moves.
Even though there haven’t been any official transactions to talk about there have still be some interesting developments at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things making headlines:
Full transcript of today’s media availability with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons as provided by: FastScripts by ASAP Sports
Q. Last year Alex made all of his moves early. This year not so much, especially dealing with the starting rotation, what gives you confidence that the starting rotation will be able to compete?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I know he’s working. I mean, he’s working at it. The problem is everybody and their brother is looking for starting pitching out there, and everybody knows that. And there are limitations to what you can do as well. So we’ll see how everything develops, to be honest with you. Who knows. If something could happen here at these meetings or it might take a little longer. There is always the possibility that nothing happens. But, I mean, there is no secret to get better this year. We’ve got to pitch a little bit better.
Q. Once you got beyond the fifth starter last year and down into the system, it hurt you guys. Is that an area that you expect is going to be better this year?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, yeah. You look at it, Hutchinson is back, Drabek is coming back, so those guys are healthy. Whether we’ll be ready to start the season, the big league season, who knows. Ideally they’d probably start Triple‑A and if you need somebody they can come up. But health is not an issue with them right now.
Morrow is another big question mark. We think he’s moving on. He’s pitching in Arizona and throwing some simulated games and feels good. We need him. That’s a guy that we need and we’ve got to have him.
Q. How many starters do you have without question marks?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, you’ve got Buehrle, Dickey, you can pencil those two in. Morrow, we think he’s going to be fine, and then we’ll have to go from there. Of course, Josh Johnson is gone now. Redmond did a tremendous job for us; he’s also in there. Anybody I leave out?
Q. How about out of the pen, Santos? I know he won’t close right off. But is he fully capable of playing an important role this year?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, health‑wise, yeah. He’s good to go. He came in and had those chips removed from his elbow last year. He came up, and he’s good to go. I know he wants to close. I know he likes that role. We have Janssen, we have both of those guys. They’re both could be very valuable for us. The night that Janssen is not doing it, we’ve got Santos to do it. Health‑wise, we think that’s all behind him.
Q. One thing you did mention there, looking back, do you have a preference for the type of role you’d like him to have given what you saw?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, at this point, we’re not sure. It just kind of depends on how everything else stacks up. We think he’s versatile enough to do either role. He does a pretty good job with it. So we’ll see. Everything’s going to fall and be determined here as far as whether we have another starter.
Q. Behind the plate is going to look way different for you. The two guys that you have coming back didn’t even add up to 100 starts last year. What makes you think that with 162 they can handle it?
JOHN GIBBONS: They’re going to be very well rested. You know, I’ve been asked that before. You know, Navarro has always been a good hitter. We think he can do it. He’s going to get the opportunity to do it.
Then we brought Kratz in, and he and Thole will battle it out to see who will be the at‑bat. It’s an opportunity for each of those guys to play more games or two of the three anyway.
Q. In your mind, once you brought in another catcher, was there no room for Aaron? Was there no room for a 50‑50 type scenario?
JOHN GIBBONS: As the season develops, and of course we’re going into the off‑season, I mean, the writing was on the wall for J.P. I mean, that was kind of the sentiment of you guys are ready to get rid of him too. Not that we were, but you guys were pushing that way. That was a joke … But you know what, personally I’m going to miss the guy. You know what, I think wherever he ends up, I think he signed with Texas. I think that’s official now. I think he’s going to do a good job there. I really do. What can you say about him? He wanted to be in that lineup. He got beaten up pretty good. But I think he’s still got a bright future. Just came to the point in time there at Toronto where it was probably best to go the other way.
Q. The total package behind the plate in your opinion, will it affect your pitching in a positive way whether it be game calling or balls in the dirt, that sort of thing?
JOHN GIBBONS: As far as who plays?
Q. Yeah, as far as the pitching staff being approved because they’re throwing it to a new tandem out there?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I don’t know how to answer that. Navarro has always been a good hitter. We’ve got great reports on him. Pitchers love throwing to him. So he’s working on some big things. Kratz is known for his defense. I think if he totally ends up being the guy, more playing time is going to help him improve.
But, I mean, was your question does it hurt our pitching staff? I don’t know. Buehrle had a pretty good year, and J.P. was catching the whole time. I mean, that was just wherever they went last year, that was kind of the focal point. Our defense, a lot of people thought that was affecting our pitching whether that’s right or wrong, we really don’t know. But we brought some guys in that we think are going to help us out.
Q. Is Gose ready to be a valuable contributor?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, I think he is. He went down to winter ball now, and he’s hopefully going to give him a boost as well. But I thought he played very well in September. I think he’s on the verge. He struggled in Triple‑A, played better in the big leagues. But he’s got those skills that can help you in the big leagues even if he’s not quite up to par yet with his base running and his defense and things like that. Once he gets there, I think he’s going to get better and better. I think he’ll be a player that plays better in the big leagues than did he in the minor leagues. It’s rare for some guys to do.
Q. With what you have, do you see him as maybe a platoon guy in left field to start off with?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, we have ‑‑ if Melky’s fine, he’ll be in left field. But who knows how that’s going to shake out. We have Sierra who is out of options as well. Of course you have Bautista and Rasmus, so it’s a little bit of a log jam there. But a lot of it will depend on how Melky’s doing.
Q. When it comes to Jose Bautista, we heard there were rumors in the trade market. What is the status about him right now?
JOHN GIBBONS: About Jose? I know some teams have asked about him. He’s a big part of our team. He’s sitting in the center of our lineup and still one of the best hitters in baseball. You can understand why teams are asking about him. But he’s still here right now and we’re glad to have him.
Q. When you think about your bench and the way you construct it, could you carry three infielders on your roster and five outfielders? Would you feel comfortable with that?
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, it’s hard to say now. You know, we kind of look at it, you beef up a starting rotation and you might be a little less focused on the bench. Maybe we need to work on that offense a little bit and make it stronger too. So a lot of that. Of course, there are some guys that are out of options too. That’s always a factor. So everything’s going to revolve around how the pitching sets up. If we need them to be a little more high‑powered offense or not, or we like our pitching the way it is.
Q. (No microphone) is he definitely a platoon man or would you consider Lindy on some lefties?
JOHN GIBBONS: Lindy? It depends on who that other guy might be if we bring in a left‑handed hitter. He’s always dominated left‑handed pitching. He’ll probably platoon there. If not, he might certainly handle it. But there are going to be certain left‑handers that give him trouble, we’ll probably go with a right‑hander.
What I meant earlier about my comments about the pitching, stacked up how the bench and everything looks because monetarily, you know, how much money we’ve got.
Q. What happened to Ricky Romero? Can it be resolved in a positive way?
JOHN GIBBONS: We hope so. He’s still with us. We hope he bounces back and becomes the Ricky Romero of old.
Q. Do you have any idea what you think happened to him?
JOHN GIBBONS: No, I mean, we all have our thoughts. I mean, it happens in baseball sometimes. Whether it’s confidence, mechanics, mechanical problems, things like that. He had great success and very quickly in the Major Leagues, and you just hope he can regain it.
But he was scrambling there for a long time trying to figure it out. Nobody knows for sure. It’s a fragile business. Mentally a lot of times, mechanical, who knows. We hope he figures it out.
Q. I know last year was the WBC messed things up in the spring. But some people have suggested that it was too lax at spring training and you guys weren’t ready. Are there some minor adjustments that can be made this year, like longer bus trips for Jose or something like that?
JOHN GIBBONS: For which Jose (laughing)?
Q. Bautista. Just to get ready for April.
JOHN GIBBONS: Well, the WBC, no question that affected us last year because some marquis guys were gone. Of course, Lawrie got hurt there. But the way ‑‑ we’re going to make sure that we’re going to look at some things. The key thing is, hey, they get X‑number of bats, and the number of bats they need in each pitch and things like that. I think for the most part if you compare most teams in baseball, especially with veteran type players, you get the same number of at‑bats, guys like Bautista and Reyes, Reyes has had a history of leg problems. I’m not so sure you want him riding on buses for three hours. It prohibits that he’s ready opening day. Bautista too, he’s had some hip issues. So the key thing is those guys are ready opening day. But they’ll be ready.
Q. There were a lot of players you were not familiar with last year. The defense coming out of spring training suffered. Is that something you can focus more on or be more aware of that your team defense needs to upgrade like it was in September?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, we’ve got to play better defense or forget it. It’s a big part of it. It’s a big part of all sports. You’ve got to defend. We did. We were bad early on and that affected us in a big way. So coming out of the gates, we’ve got to play better defense.
Like you said, in September we’re much improved. Big part of that was Ryan Goins. But we’ve got to be ready to do the basics of the game. You’re not always necessarily going to hit a pitch early on. Some timing is still an issue for different guys. But you can still play and run the bases well. You can defend.
Q. Barring a trade or signing, how does second base shake out at the start of spring training? Is it an incumbent? Is it Izturis? Maybe Goins is your guy and he either plays his way in or out of it?
JOHN GIBBONS: We really like Goins. We like what he did in September. He gave us a shot in the arm. I thought he handled the ball well enough to be top dog going in there.
Izturis to be a utility guy, I think that’s his strength. Today that’s the way we look at it. Alex could go out and make a trade for somebody to bring a second baseman in. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But if not, I really like what Goins did.
Q. You worked with Seitzer in Kansas City and got to observe him there. What is he going to bring to some of the guys that might have struggled making contact last year?
JOHN GIBBONS: You know, he’s a ‑‑ we’re basically a free hitting home run type team, high strikeouts. That’s kind of who we are. But I think to beat the better pitchers in baseball. When that’s your approach all the time, they exploit that type of hit. He can do that, get away and beat a lot of the middle of the road, lesser pitches. But with the top dogs, we had trouble last year beating those guys. You have to be a more complete hitter. Be willing to use the whole field and a little different approach. Maybe cut down the strikeouts.
In Seitzer, I witnessed it in Kansas City. He had a lot of young hitters there. But the guy has battled and some of the toughest outs in baseball. Coming out of some young guys, he preaches using the whole field.
But you take a guy like Encarnacion and Bautista, those guys are where they are now because they hit home runs, drive the ball and they’re basically centerfield, left field type hitters. He’s not going to mess with those guys much and their success. But there are going to be times where it will be smart for those guys to take a shot the other way especially if they throw the big shift on them. If it means beating Jon Lester or Sabathia, the top dogs. The guys you have to beat if you’re going to win.
Q. Just on Halladay, the numbers are obvious and all that. But to manage him, what was his greatest attribute to you?
JOHN GIBBONS: First thing, Doc’s a first class guy. You guys heard it today. He’s a rarity in this business and in life. He’s one of those special guys that comes along and don’t come along that often. To be able to play just a very small part in his career is an honor for me. Doc never said a whole lot. The days he pitched, he never said a word. On the days he didn’t pitch, he might say 15, 20 in passing. But he always approached it with professionalism that most guys don’t carry.
Great competitor. He made some comments today, he just willed himself to win. He talked about today that 9‑8 game he won in Detroit, and that pretty much sums it up. Never give in, never quit.
I mentioned to someone earlier today, one thing he was talking about his league games and always pitching in league games, that’s who he was. He was the best in the business during his time. That is the number one job of a manager and probably the most important in my opinion is what do you with the pitcher, when you make the change and what have you. Any time he was pitching and took a step off the mound, he’d look over there at you. You’d kind of question yourself going to the mound. There isn’t one guy you didn’t signal right away. You would wait. You’d go out there. He’d give you that quick glance like what are you doing? But he’d always back you up good or bad, whether the move worked or backfired.
But he’s an intimidating sight. He’s not out there sitting at 5’11″ either. But he’s a special guy. I’m glad he retired a Blue Jay. I thought for a minute when I heard he was signing a contract, I thought he was coming back.
Q. Speaking of special guys, John Farrell was asked a few minutes ago about Tanaka, whether he had seen much of him. Your team has been rumored as interested in him. Have you seen much of him, Tanaka?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I’ve seen a little video. I think every team is exploring whether they can afford him or get an opportunity to get him. Our guys have talked about him. Whether that happens, who knows. But if they turn him loose and he comes over, there is going to be a pretty good bidding war for him.
Q. Remember once after a game you took Halladay out before we got into your office, he was in your office. He left and did not look very happy. Were there times where he’d say things to you after you took him out, just kind of airing his side of things?
JOHN GIBBONS: No, you know, I don’t remember that. I must have called him in. I think I probably did call him in to explain what I was doing because Doc would very rarely come to the office. Maybe if he was on his way to the weight room or something. But one thing about Doc is he would always back you up whether he agreed with you or not, he understood what you were thinking. But he’s one of those guys that I think you owed it to him to explain the reason I took you out was this or that. But you don’t necessarily to do.
Q. Last week, Goins was going to go work with (inaudible) for spring training. What are some of the things he can do?
JOHN GIBBONS: I liked everything I saw in September. He got some hits early. It’s always a big confidence booster. As he got more at‑bats, he started pulling guys out. He pulled the home run, and you could see maybe he’s a home run hitter and he started airing it out a little bit. But then I remember talking to him, and especially if he hit some left‑handers, he had to start hitting some balls up the middle and getting that breaking ball down and away, and cutting that fastball to the outside part of the plate. You either roll it over or you swing and miss it and punch a few to left field, left centerfield, and that will get their attention anyway. He was able to do it. I mean, he executed it right away. So we knew he had the ability and the hand‑eye coordination. I thought he finished very, very strong. For a guy who is known strictly ‑‑ not strictly, but his game has always been defense. He’s had some solid years too, but he’s never been that great big‑number type hitter down there. I thought he handled himself very well and, like I said, put himself on the map. I think early on the talk you hear is they saw him as a utility guy. I could see some of that. But he’s got a chance to be our second baseman, an everyday guy. If he produces, he can work himself a nice career. But he’s intense. He plays to win and he’s confident. He’s very confident which is half the battle.
Q. Will he be another one of those guys that has a big career in the minor leagues?
JOHN GIBBONS: He could be. As far as offense goes, you never know. It doesn’t happen too often, but he’ll see it every now and then. Don’t ask me to give you an example, but I’ve seen it.
Q. What would some of the attributes be that you would look for in a bench player when it comes up to the middle and filling out the middle infield?
JOHN GIBBONS: We know Izturis is going to be there. Izturis can play. He can play anywhere. You want in a bench guy, you want a guy that can come in and catch the ball. That’s what his primary job is. It depends if we’re going to go with a platoon and say Lindy, and if he’s a right‑handed guy, this guy has to pound left‑handed pitching. Or maybe that extra outfielder means a guy that can run or plus defender type thing. It all depends.
Lot of times you want certain guys, but there are limitations of what you can do with your salary structure too, you know. But the number one focus right now is seeing what we can do in the rotation. If nothing happens there, we’ll address some other areas.
Q. If nothing happens there, do you think Sierra could be that guy to maybe platoon a little bit against lefties?
JOHN GIBBONS: It could. He could get some at‑bats that way. We’ll have to wait and see. You know, Sierra hasn’t been one of those guys that’s necessarily dominated lefties his whole career, but he could. We’re looking for a spot for him if he has it because he’s got options.
Q. Have you heard about anything about how he’s looked at first base in winter league?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I heard he’s doing okay. But I have a hard time seeing him out there to be honest with you, if you want to know the truth. Maybe in that blowout.
Q. Your pitching staff, you prefer 12 to 13 bench guys. Will that depend on the strength of your starting pitching coming out of the gate?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah. That’s normally the teams with the strong starting rotations, they need less down there. Hopefully that’s the case with us. We have some guys that are out of options too, you know? That could factor into our bullpen. Luis Perez, Jeffress, you know, so we’ll see. From an area that was kind of a question mark going into last year, it’s really a bit strange for us.
Q. Has Alex asked your opinion on guys or free agents that he might be looking at to see what you think of adding them to that mix?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, we’ve talked about all the different guys out there. Like I said, if something’s going to happen, it’s probably going to happen via the trade route more so than free agency. I don’t know that for sure, but that is my gut feeling.
Q. You just mentioned a little bit about Tanaka. Can you describe a little bit what was your impression when you saw him pitch on the video?
JOHN GIBBONS: I mean, he’s dominant. They don’t touch him. He’s got a great split finger pitch. It’s like all the Japanese pitchers that come over here, they’re all pretty good.
Yeah, I got a chance to see Darvish firsthand now, and I’ve heard some comparisons this guy could be better than Darvish, which if that’s the case, that’s pretty darn good. So we’ll see. I know there are a lot of teams that would love to have him, us being one of them. But whether that happens or not, I don’t know.
Q. It will be more competition because now the posting season has changed?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, he’s a very young guy, too.
Q. Can you talk about Kawasaki and bringing him back?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, I know they talked to him. There is a chance that he wants to go back and play at home and make some good money over there. So that’s still up in the air. But we’d definitely love to have him back.
Q. If you guys do some different things to your bench and you don’t have a guy on speed dial, would it be a big issue for you? Would you miss that element? Is that something you really want to have?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, you’d always like to have that in your back pocket. We’ve got some pretty solid team speed. There is a time where you need a guy that’s got a chance to steal a base.
Just from the first time I was around, I had seen Raj as an opponent, but to have him on your team and gets in the game and it changes because at the don’t stop him. That’s a huge element. It’s a luxury a lot of teams don’t have. But Raj is also a different category than most, you know. But you’re down a run, two outs, guy on first base. Then you want somebody to score from first.
Q. (No microphone)?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, except he hasn’t been around long enough to prove he’s that type of runner. But, yeah, Goins can run. His big thing is learning pitching and that kind of thing, which you gain over time.
Q. Is there any hangover effects from last season from guys dealing with that disappointment and dealing with it in spring training to make sure nothing carries over or anything like that, a psychological effect?
JOHN GIBBONS: No, I don’t think there is anything that needs to be addressed on the season. We want to turn the page and move on. We’ve got to make sure our focus is, hey, you know, we didn’t answer the bell last year, but now it’s time to do it. Are we going to be ready coming out of spring training? We need a good start. Coming off the year we had, you know, in our division, we buried ourselves early last year, and we can’t afford that. We can’t afford to do that. So, yeah, we’ve got to be ready and step it up a little in spring training.
Q. Do you anticipate any impact from Desrosier’s movement? Is that something you want to have someone else to fill that vacuum that he provided?
JOHN GIBBONS: You mean with Lawrie?
Q. In general?
JOHN GIBBONS: We’re going to miss him. I just enjoy having the guy around. You know, watching it on TV a while ago. He’s one of those guys, he’s a rare guy too. He can do anything. He could be a GM or manager. He could take his pick of whatever he wants to do in this business. But I’d bounce things off him. I’d talk about strategies and how different managers that he played for, especially the successful ones, what they would do and things like that. He was a sounding board on me as well. He did a tremendous job hanging around with Lawrie. Lawrie loved him. I’m sure he’ll miss him and his friendship. Yeah, you can see why he’s on TV. You see why he’s on TV and Howard’s on the radio (laughing).
Q. Jose Reyes last year was in his first season with the club, went to the WBC, got injured. Can you expect more of a leadership role from him inside the clubhouse this year?
JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, one thing about Jose, he comes every day to play. He brings enthusiasm and he’s one of those guys. That’s the way he is. They all have their different personalities. The more you think about it, everybody looks for this guy’s got lead players, that always helps. But in reality, the manager has got to lead. The manager has to be your guy when it comes down to it. But those guys all help out. The manager has still got to be your leader.
Q. Are you saying a manager needs to lead? Are you going to be more active or is there something different you plan to do this year as opposed to last year?
JOHN GIBBONS: I’m not going to do anything differently from who I am. I do my things my own way. But everybody’s always looking for leaders. But in reality, the manager is the leader or needs to be. He is. It helps. You’ve got to have players doing some of that. But you say this guy has to lead the team, but the manager is still calling the shots.
Here’s the full transcript from Tuesday morning’s conference call with Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. There are also a series of articles on this topic currently available on bluejays.com
On the difficult decision to non-tender Arencibia…
“I can’t speak more highly about J.P. in terms of how long he has been in the organization, the type of character and human being he is and everything he has done. You build relationships with these players the longer they are in the organization. I obviously got to know him in the Minor Leagues, saw him come up, and be our starter for a few years. It was not an easy decision at all. I called him on Sunday night to let him know what was going on and definitely not an enjoyable call to make but he handled it as well as he could. He has always been a pro, he has always handled himself the right way and he’s definitely going to look forward to the next phase of his career.
At what point in 2013 did you realize a change was needed…
“I don’t know that there was a point. There was a few things, you step back, guys have good seasons, bad seasons, you try to sit back at the end of the season once the results are in and so on, step away from it a little bit and look at your alternatives and your options. That’s a lot of what it came down to but I don’t know that there was any point in the season where we were making plans for Dioner Navarro to be here in the offseason. That was all talked about and decided in the last few weeks or so.”
But at some point must have decided you couldn’t go any further with J.P…
“As we’ve done the entire offseason, we looked at the trade market, looked at the free agent market, looked to see if there were any fits for us. Navarro was someone, he wasn’t in an everyday last year, has been in an everyday role in the past, but someone that has pretty good contact rate, low strikeouts, pretty good on-base skills, been able to talk a walk and work the count. From a game calling standpoint, the work we did on him, I think everyone really raved about his game calling and how guys loved throwing to him. When we looked at the lineup we had and ways to improve the team, we just felt like he was a better fit for us right now.”
Navarro somewhat like Izturis where you set a bar early and if you can go above it later in the winter you will…
“No, I think with Izturis, we looked at him as a guy that would be in that utility role but had shown enough to get 300-400 at-bats in the past and that he had played all of those positions for so many years but I wouldn’t say it’s similar at all. We think with Navarro it’s similar to what we did years ago whether it was Rod Barajas, Gregg Zaun, John Buck, guys that didn’t necessarily have a chance to be full-time starters and came here and kind of revived themselves, got their careers back on track. What made us attractive was that we offered playing time and a starting role.
“The fact that Dioner has played over 100 games three times in his career, has been an All-Star, and is only 29, that certainly factored into the decision and even guys like Jose Molina that were here, his last year with us at 36 years old, started 44 games for us and then we see him go to Tampa and as a 38 year old start (a lot) of games for those guys. Dioner is very motivated and very hungry to get back to being that everyday guy, he just hasn’t had the opportunity to be the everyday guy since he left the Rays. We do think there’s some upside here, obviously from an offensive standpoint, he hasn’t had the type of year he had last year in his career, especially from a power standpoint, but there’s a lot of work that we did that we feel he may have turned the corner even swinging the bat as well, not to say we’re expecting a mid-.800 OPS but there’s a lot of pretty good indicators whether it’s approach, line drive rate, things like that, we think he may have really started coming into his own especially considering his age.”
On whether there was any thought on tendering J.P. a contract and seeing how the market developed later…
“At some point, when you really don’t think it’s possible to make a trade, you try and do what’s best for the player and for his career. If we really felt there wasn’t going to be a trade out there for him, to sit there and carry him into Spring Training, on a non-guaranteed deal, potentially having to release him or option him, it just wouldn’t make sense for him or for us. We were pretty motivated, if we could get something done by last night we were going to do it, and if not, probably the best way for all parties involved was to make the decision.”
On whether there was any thought in using Arencibia as a back-up catcher…
“I don’t think that was going to work. Especially with Josh (Thole) having caught R.A. Dickey and from J.P.’s standpoint with where the money was going to end up in salary arbitration and things like that, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to go down that path.”
Any theories on why Arencibia regressed so much in the past year…
“I wish I did. I’ve said this before, I do think he’s going to bounce back. He was a little banged up and the one thing about J.P. is that he’s a very durable guy, very tough, plays through a lot of injuries. There was a time when we almost put him on the DL and he wanted to keep playing. He battled through it, grinded through it, we’ve seen him play with a broken hand and things like that. But I really don’t know. Certainly we didn’t expect it, we didn’t expect him to have that type of year. Maybe it was injury related, maybe things aren’t going your way and the more you press, the more you grind, obviously he’s very proud and has extreme pride in his job
and I think it may have just worn on him. I really don’t have anything specific to point to.”
Concerned about player development? Example of Romero and Arencibia going in the other direction…
“No, because I think you could take the opposite of that and see how guys have developed. You have a guy like Encarnacion, it may have stalled in some other places and emerged here, Bautista, a guy like Adam Lind who went back to the Minor Leagues and came back, or Lawrie who started off slowly and played better, or guys like Janssen who developed into a closer, or Loup who was basically a relief candidate and developed. Cecil was the same way, Brandon Morrow, there are a lot of examples. I just think that’s just the way the game works, very rarely do players careers go in a linear fashion where they just continue to improve each year and we’re certainly not the first team to go through it.”
Navarro deal cash neutral to what J.P. would have cost over next two years. Did the financial element come into play and how it will impact offseason…
I think it’s always some type of factor. You’re always looking to get value. I’ve always said, we like a lot of players but we like a lot of
players at the right price. If every player cost the exact same amount it would have been totally different but you do have to weigh contract term, length, some guys might get five-year deals and say you you’d love to have them at two or three but you don’t want those last two or three years of that deal so that player wouldn’t make sense. I think it’s all part of the equation, all part of the evaluation. Navarro didn’t necessarily have to cost what J.P. may have made in arbitration, it worked out that way, but if Navarro needed a three or four year deal I don’t think we would have made this deal.”
Did the off-field issues factor into the decision at all…
“No, I don’t think there were any issues. I think he was one of our best guys in the community, he was always available, always a great supporter of the ballclub. Any time we had a need in the offseason, Jays Winter Tour, hospitals, there were a lot of things he did behind the scenes that no one saw. To me, he was outstanding and I think that’s a big part of where he’s going to be missed because he was proud to be part of the only club in Canada and went above and beyond, it’s certainly going to be a loss for us.”
Pressure getting to him and as struggles went on and wore him down…
I never said the pressure got to him. I just said I know he wants to do well like any player would. Sometimes the harder you try when things aren’t going your way, you get into a little bit of a funk. But there are tons of players across the league that have gone through it before. When you look at J.P.’s body of work here, the way he carried himself, from Day 1, no one is perfect by any stretch but when you take his time here I think he carried himself exceptionally well and sure there may have been times when you wish he would have changed some things but I can’t speak more highly of how he carried himself here.
Importance of acquiring catcher as first move of offseason…
“I don’t look at it as significant on whether it was the first, the third or the fifth, it’s just something we felt we had a chance to improve the ballclub and we did it. It’s nice to have a switch hitter, nice to have more of a contact bat, some on-base skills. Dioner had a wonderful year in 240 at-bats and we think there’s some upside there especially considering his age. We think it’s a nice fit and obviously we’ll find out, there’s certainly an element of risk like there is in any deal because he’s not coming off a season in which he had played 110-120 games but if he was, with the numbers he put up, I think the market would have been significantly stronger for him. The dollars would have been significantly more and the years would have been significantly more.”
Was there a point where it was decided J.P. wouldn’t be able to change the issues..
I just think he had a down year, he knows he’s certainly capable of more, I believe he’s capable of more. He ran into some bad luck as well. He’s 27 years old, he has a lot more ability than he showed this year but, again, guys have bad years, it happens. It happens to so many players. It was about the alternatives and what was out there. If we felt there was a chance to improve the club we were going to do it but we didn’t go into the offseason with the decision of we were certainly going to make change. If something presented itself that was going to make the team better we were going to go down that path but it certainly wasn’t set in stone.”
When the frustration manifested itself with outburst on Twitter did you talk to him or leave it to Gibbons…
He’s definitely not the first person with Twitter, there are tons of professional athletes that have done the same thing. We always talk to all of our players about Twitter. I understand the importance about connecting with fans, the union feels strongly about it, the league does, and the certainly the ballclub as well. From a general manager’s standpoint, you always prefer your players aren’t on Twitter because then you don’t even have a chance that something is put out there that becomes a story or a distraction. I think we always try to educate our players, our media relations staff does as well, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
Plenty of free agent catchers on the market with more recent 100-game seasons, was the Rays making the postseason with Molina/Lobaton a model for what you’ve done?
“No, we didn’t look at it that way at all. One of the questions we had was in terms of playing time, durability, that was one of the questions that we had, it was part of the unknown. The fact that the player had played in over 100 games three times, the last time he had a chance to do it, obviously he did it, but he had been in a back-up role since then. Because of his age and everything else, and having a guy like Molina here, he was older and hadn’t necessarily been given the opportunity in a long time to catch close to 100 games, the fact that he was able to do it, certainly was part of the analysis.
“But I think Dioner with his age and the fact that he had already done it and we had some success with Gregg Zaun, John Buck, Rod Barajas, those type of guys that have come in here and been given an opportunity to play every day and really took the ball and ran with it, that certainly factored in as well. He hadn’t done it and that’s part of the risk but with all of the work that we did we certainly think he’s capable of doing that. We think that the contract built in some protection, it was priced right, even if he doesn’t perform the way he did last year, which we don’t expect that because the numbers were unbelievable but we still think he’s going to provide pretty good value behind the plate.”
How far away from being a Major League player is A.J. Jimenez…
“We think he’s very close, defensively we think he can come up here right now but his health is the most important thing. We’ll have him in Spring Training, hopefully he’s behind the issues he’s had from a health standpoint but we believe he’s very close. I think he can certainly make his way onto the team at some point this year but we’d still like to develop the bat as well and get him more at-bats.
Before you come to terms with a starting catcher do you reach out to current pitchers…
“We didn’t do that with our current players. J.P. was on the team and I don’t know if we necessarily want to mess things up. But we did do a lot of work with Dioner, talked to coaches, guys he played with, guys he has thrown to, former teammates, front office, we probably made at least 20 calls to various people that have played with him, been around him, just to try and put it all together. When you start to get a common theme and the common theme was everybody likes throwing to him, very good game caller, very bright. He certainly can improve on blocking balls in the dirt and his throwing is probably average … but everyone raves about his bat it made sense for us. We definitely did a lot of work on him and his background.”
Trying to manage risk a bit more, going for Navarro, was that an area where you could have managed more risk by paying more for a different catcher…
“You’re looking at the best value. Every contract has risk. When you look at free agents a lot of times, the medical files of various free agents and all of a sudden who you thought might be a great fit, maybe there’s a medical concern that wasn’t disclosed and the media and the fans don’t know it and that can impact how long you think a player is going to hold up. I think it goes back to, everyone likes players but you like them at a certain price. The price for one team isn’t the same price for another team, especially when you’re looking at free agency.
“Players have kids in schools, wives who want to be close to certain areas, travel and things like that. I remember two years ago, we were trying to sign a free agent closer and we were prepared to offer significantly more money per year but we couldn’t compete with a short flight from his home to the club he ended up signing with. That was very important for him and his family, that’s always part of the equation as well so it’s not as cut and dry as you just pick the free agent, offer him more years and money and they always come. It doesn’t always work out that way.”
Were there a lot of other options besides Navarro…
“I don’t know what you define as pursued. I think we looked into every position because we don’t know what’s going to come up in trade, we want to know the market and have the ability to react. I can say for this position, I think we looked into everybody on the free agent market that we thought could start and this was definitely the best fit for us.”
Does replacing JP with Navarro increase chances of signing any free agents?
“It might. We talked to some guys that were free agents when we were doing our work on Navarro, guys that have thrown to him, his former teammates, some free agents have thrown to him. We tried to get information from them as well. I guess it might be a factor but I don’t know that I would expect it to be. For the most part, some of it is geography, some of it is family, a lot of time it is dollars.”
Thole as essential to catch Dickey?
“Right now, I think R.A. did a nice job with him, especially in the second half of the season R.A. seemed to really get in a groove. I know Josh didn’t swing the bat like he has done in the past and part of it may have been having to adjust to not playing as much and trying to do too much and things like that, we think Josh is a lot better than he has played from an offensive standpoint but I don’t know what I would use that word. I think Josh is a nice fit with R.A., did a nice job with him in the second half, I don’t know that we’re looking to break that up but I wouldn’t rule out if something was to present itself, we wouldn’t ignore it, but I think for now we’re fine with Josh being that guy.”
On the main site, you’ll find today’s article on the hiring of Kevin Seitzer as the club’s new hitting coach. Below, you’ll find the full transcript of his conference call with reporters.
On his philosophy as a hitting coach…
“My philosophy in a nutshell is to stay in the middle of the field, stay gap to gap, and make tweaks along the way with mechanics. Work with the guys with what their strengths are and then try to help them with their weaknesses too. I know that there’s probably a lot of questions about Bautista, Encarnacion, Rasmus, guys like that, that are more pull-type hitters, I also have a philosophy of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. So, let guys continue to do what they’ve had success with, but at the same time be able to help them with adjustments they need to make when times are tough.”
On favouring an opposite field approach with two strikes…
“Depending on the pitcher, too, who you’re going to face and what he features. Guys like a Bruce Chen, or Jamie Moyer type of pitcher, who are more offspeed with their secondary stuff and their primary stuff, you may take a more opposite field approach with them so you can continue to bust it with the majority of what they’re going to throw you. That’s the thing of making adjustments from hitter to hitter and pitcher to pitcher that we go up against, to maintain your strength, if you’re sitting more of a fastball to the opposite field but the majority of pitches you’re going to get are going to be slow, then you’re going to have a chance to pull those pitches.
“For me, the bottom line as far as philosophy, approach, is really making consistent hard contact and that’s why the thinking, the plan, of hitting the ball to the middle of the field, gap to gap, gives you a better chance to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. The better the swing, the bigger the guy, the smaller the park, the more balls that are going to go out. As long as hitters are making solid contact, you have a chance to not only hit home runs but drive gaps and if you have an approach and a plan that you can make adjustments depending on who you’re facing where you can be more consistently with putting the fat part of the bat on the ball you’re going to have more success. That’s really the bottom line in what I teach.”
On philosophy being based on the type of hitter he was in the Major Leagues…
“It’s a conglomeration of all the coaches I had along the way and things that I did along with all the conversations I’ve had with really good hitters and guys that I really respected that I played with or against. Continued as a hitting coach, I feel like my four years in Kansas City working with those guys on a daily basis and the adjustments that we made, I feel like I was able to add a lot more tools to my toolbox to help guys make adjustments quickly.
“The bottom line is you want to keep guys going the way they’re feeling good and shorten the slumps and keep those to a minimum and try to keep the confidence up to where they feel they have a chance every time they step into the box. All of the guys that I’ve talked to, and worked with, people I respected in the game, I started really studying the swing and studying hitting back when I was in college and throughout the course of the Minor Leagues. Then my time in the big leagues, I got to have some very special conversations with very good hitters.
“The things that I did, I hit the ball the other way just because my hands weren’t quick enough to pull the ball. My recognition wasn’t as good as what a lot of hitters are, and I felt like with the limited ability I had as a player I was able to have a lot of success because of my approach and plan. I can’t tell you the countless times I went in and looked to pull something, tried to pull it, and it went to right field. So, I was happy that I had a hit.”
On the special conversations, big influences, name off a couple…
“Obviously when you get to play a long time with guys like George Brett, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, those are just a few right there. Conversations with guys like Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Rod Carew, when he was a hitting coach. I would try to have conversations with anyone that would stand still long enough to talk to me. Wade Boggs was another one and Dave Winfield. I wanted to talk to power guys, I wanted to talk to high average guys, I just wanted to talk to guys who were successful big-league hitters. Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Harold Baines, when you could get him to say some words, those were great conversations. You want to continue to build your knowledge and build your program. Things that I saw and things that I heard, I would go into the cage and try them and see if they worked. I can’t really say that I would cater what I teach and my philosophy to one certain person or a book, it really just came through trial and error through 20-some years in the game.”
On conversations with Gibbons and AA about how philosophy can be beneficial to the Jays…
“I think it’s something that is going to help them be better well rounded hitters. With all due respect, they have been very successful for a long time and even though it appears to be all or nothing, they’ve been pretty successful putting up runs. I think I can even take that to a new level just by putting more tools in guys’ tool boxes, adding to their arsenal to where you understand what you need to do to beat shifts.
“If teams are shifting around to where they have the second baseman playing up the middle on the shortstop side for a right-handed hitter, or vice versa for a lefty, to be able to shoot that ball the other way. Guys like David Ortiz, he just came off a pretty good postseason, but I feel like a few years ago was when he finally made up his mind that I’m not going to let them shift on me and get away with it, especially with men in scoring position. Then he had the Fenway wall that he would pepper the other way. He still pulls plenty of his share of balls, but having the ability to go the other way to beat a shift to drive in a run is critical. I think a lot of times it goes with spending a little bit of time and showing guys technique No. 1 and mindset No. 2, of what adjustments they need to make to be able to execute that in a game. I feel like that’s one of the strengths I can bring to my game.”
On relationship with Gibbons…
“We had a tremendous relationship, I have all the respect in the world for him. He’s a very easy going guy but yet has some fire and intensity to him at the same time. If you’re around him, he’s a very good baseball man, I have ultimate respect for him. One of the things, too, our first year, he was our bench coach, we spent some time talking about philosophy and what I teach.
“I have a lot of respect for him because I felt like I had to win him over, I had to prove to him what I was doing and what I was teaching really worked. He saw the proof in the pudding for the three years that I was there. There was some pretty drastic changes in guys careers when we were together and he got to watch it on a daily basis and I think that played a big role in him wanting to bring me in. I came in, I interviewed, I met with Alex and other people in the front office, I had to share what I teach, what I base everything on, share stories and talk about things I’ve done in the past, how I worked with guys and helped them make adjustments.
“Alex Gordon, is probably one player that I feel the best about in accomplishments just because he struggled so bad his first years in the big leagues and it was a major overhaul process to help him make some adjustments he needed to make. He said the biggest thing that helped him was being able to stay in the middle of the field from a mental standpoint, but if you go look at his spray charts from his successful seasons, the majority of his hits were to the pull side. I could care less where the ball goes as long as we’re getting hits and driving in runs and having good at-bats. Just that ability to focus on a consistent approach is a big thing that I’m really concerned with and that’s what I feel like leads to success.”
On what he was dong last year…
“I have an indoor baseball facility here in Kansas City with Mike Macfarlane, it’s called Mac-N-Seitz baseball, we’ve been doing this for 17 years. I was here full time with the business and I have a son who was in Double-A last year with the Rays and I got to go see him for the first time in pro ball so that was really cool, I got to go see him on four different trips and having the summer to do that was a real blessing. I always try to find the good and the bad and as much as I hated getting let go by the Royals, there was a silver lining there. But I also realized how bad I wanted to get back in, I missed it a lot, I love helping guys, I love being in the dugout and being in the cage. It’s a really rewarding job, so I missed it.”
Plan for offseason…
“I’m going to get video sent to me by the club and just be able to get to know these guys from a swing standpoint. Then, I’ll reach out to them and touch base. They’ve had a long grueling season and probably the last thing they want to do is talk about their swing, talk about hitting and talk about their workouts for the winter but I will reach out and touch base with them.
“Try to keep it as brief as possible, introduce myself and let them know I’m excited, looking forward to working with them and holler if you need anything. Once guys start working out, if there’s a way that we can hook up, that would be a great thing but, for me, it’s not life or death. Once I get with guys and start building that relationship, we can make some things happen pretty quick.”
On the expectations of 2013 and moving forward…
“The expectations from last year were definitely, it didn’t work out the way everybody thought and hoped. I’ll be honest, I thought that team was going to pretty much walk away with it. But due to injuries and whatnot, they had a rough year and I think the potential is there to meet people’s expectations of what they were going into this season, for next year.
“Depending on what happens as far as the offseason goes with moves they decide to make, there’s definitely an expectation to win the division and go to the postseason. If anybody is thinking short of they, they probably need to make an adjustment mentally with all due respect.”
In some ways, it’s hard to believe but it was 20 years ago today that Joe Carter hit his infamous home run off Philadelphia closer Mitch Williams in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. The latest generation of Blue Jays fans weren’t even born when Carter’s shot went just over the wall in left field at Rogers Centre but it’s a moment that will continue to live on through stories and highlight reels for decades to come.
If Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was the ‘Shot heard ’round the world’ then Carter’s blast was at least the ‘Shot heard ’round Canada.’ There are numerous Canadians currently in the Major Leagues who have pointed to those teams in 1992-93 as being one of the main reasons they originally became interested in the sport. Everyone growing up during that time certainly recreated the scene of Carter’s home run in his/her backyard with the hope of one day being able to achieve such glory.
At the time, I was no different. I was only 10 years old when the Jays won their back-to-back championship but I can remember watching the game in my basement with my parents and the ensuing years I would go on to collect as much memorabilia from that era as possible. There wasn’t a single inch in my bedroom that wasn’t plastered with posters of that team. The official team photos from both 92/93, the Jays of Thunder featuring Alomar and Carter, a Kelly Gruber life size poster that I would measure myself against every month. The commemorative Coca-Cola cans that went out across the country, team-signed baseballs, baseball cards, you name it and I tried to get my hands on it.
I grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, and never even had the privilege of seeing a Major League game in person until a couple of years later. But none of that mattered. It wasn’t just Toronto’s team, it was all of Canada’s. The Expos were still around at that time, and I’m sure Quebec would be an exception to the statement, but from British Columbia to Newfoundland this was a team that became embraced by an entire nation.
I don’t view baseball through the same lens that I did back then. It’s impossible in this type of job. That’s not to say I’m not a fan of the game, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. But instead of being a fan of a team, or a particular player, I’ve become a fan of the big moment, the big story line, the compelling angle, the minutiae and reasoning behind every transaction an organization makes. I know too much about every player to view them with the type of blinders I did back when I was a kid, when those athletes of the early ’90s could do no wrong.
But earlier this week I was able to put those blinders on for at least one more day. I stopped being the impartial reporter for approximately half an hour when I had the chance to do a phone interview with Joe Carter. We reminisced about those memories of 1993 and while he recalled everything that took place in the days leading up to Game 6, the moments before the homer, the celebration afterwards, the fallout — I was able to relive exactly what it meant to grow up as such a big fan of the person, the player and the organization.
Those early teams are one of the main reasons I have the privilege of covering baseball for a living. I realized relatively early on that I could try to replicate Pat Hentgen’s delivery on the mound all I wanted but I could never actually achieve his success against hitters who would go on to any type of success. It worked pretty well against those Little Leaguers but it would only get me so far. Those early years were a big reason why, by the time I reached high school, I was emailing Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun for tips on how to get into the industry. So I at least theoretically traded in those baseball cards and team memorabilia for a recorder and a laptop.
I still had those journalism necessities during this Carter interview but make no mistake about it, when I talked to Carter, I wasn’t talking to him as the Blue Jays reporter from MLB.com as much as I was talking to him as the 10-year-old fan boy who lost his mind when that ball disappeared over the left-field fence. For just one day I was a completely biased fan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here’s an excerpt of the interview I did with Carter the other day. I hope you enjoy it.
Joe Carter Q+A:
On the 20-year anniversary of the infamous home run…
“It really is hard to believe that 20 years has passed. It’s something that people still always talk about. I was just thinking, as long as there has been World Series and baseball, this only happened twice in the history of the game. That’s the rarest of rare feats. For it to be 20 years, it goes to show you, when you’re young time just goes by slow but when you’re older it goes by incredibly fast.”
On whether the home run gets the respect it deserves…
“I don’t think it gets the notoriety in the States like it does in Canada. I’ve always said, if I played for the Yankees or the Dodgers, one of those big market teams, then it would have been huge. I think at times they give more honor to Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the World Series. That was a great moment, don’t get me wrong, a special moment for a special guy. But something like this I don’t think it gets the notoriety it gets in Canada because in Canada it’s unbelievable the reception that I get up there where people from the East Coast as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia, all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia. People still talk about that home run as if it just happened yesterday and it’s at the forefront of their minds. I’m very elated that they still remember that and it’s indeed a special honor for me.”
On whether he understood at the time the significance that home run had for all of Canada…
“I didn’t have the sense of it then when it happened. It was a long grueling season. The year before when we won the World Series that was a lot of pressure off of our backs because the Blue Jays had been clamouring so close really since 1985 when they got beat by the Royals after being up three games to one. It was a big relief after the ’92 World Series and the ’93 World Series was more of an enjoyment for us. We had a chance to sit back and enjoy that moment.
“So from that standpoint, it’s a special moment and it was a time for us to really enjoy what had transpired and I look back now, I go to Canada all the time and there are a lot of people named Carter, a lot of people around 20 years old named Carter (laughs), they were born around that time and it’s a great moment not only for me but for Canada and for all of baseball. It was a rare feat.
On the difference between closing out at home vs on the road in ’92…
“Believe it or not, from a fan standpoint it was better in Toronto, but from a player standpoint, it was better in Atlanta because after the game we went back to the hotel, we had all of our families there, all the people who travel with the team, there was probably 300-400 people there and we had the entire floor of the hotel, we had a band playing, we had all the food you could eat, everybody was there celebrating.
“If you can imagine guys like Dave Winfield, John Olerud dancing down the soul train line. We had a 5 o’clock wake-up call and I don’t think we went to bed that night. So, from a player standpoint, it was great while we were in Toronto. Winning it in Canada, we couldn’t really go out and have fun with the fans. I kind of missed most of the celebrations because I was doing all of the interviews. I came back two and a half hours later back to the locker room and everyone was done celebrating and I was like wait, I just got here.
“After the game, everyone got dressed and we went upstairs, we had a little sit down quiet dinner with the players, front office, wives, but it was really subdued and quiet. Meanwhile everyone on the streets was going crazy so from the fans point of view, it was great for the fans, but we had a better time in Atlanta when clinched there.”
On what was going through his mind during the start of that rally in the ninth inning…
“I knew the rally we had before in the eighth was very important because we hit around. I think Pat Borders popped up with the bases loaded, made the last out, but the good thing about that was we knew Rickey was leading off the ninth, I think everybody knew Rickey was going to be on first base, there was no way Mitch wasn’t going to walk him. Going into that ninth, I was like, wow, I’m up fourth this inning. Something always in the game happens and that ninth inning revolves around me a lot of the time. That’s what you live for in baseball, when you’re hitting third or fourth on a championship team you’re going to be in the spotlight more often than not.
“I was more nervous sitting in the dugout because I was pacing back and forth, sitting on the top step of the dugout, itching for a chance to get up there because I was waiting for my time. Sure enough, Rickey gets the walk, Devo pops up and then Molitor gets the base hit so I knew it would eventually come down to what I did, or I was going to be very instrumental with what happened. Having those two guys on base, Rickey and Pauly on first and second, I knew at the time, if I hit a ball into the gap Molitor is going to score from first base. That made my job a little bit easier with those two guys on first base.”
On whether he thought it was gone off the bat…
“Never saw it. I didn’t. The thing is, when Mitch threw me the 2-1 pitch, a breaking ball, I was looking breaking ball because I looked so bad on it. When he shook off the first pitch, I knew Dalton had to put down breaking ball again, so if he shook it off he’s going to the fastball but I thought I still have to think he’s going to throw the breaking ball again. Because I was thinking breaking ball and I had lost the last breaking ball, the 2-1 breaking ball, I said, okay you need to slow down a little bit and I need to see the ball all the way in. I need to follow it as if it was a 3-0 pitch and I was following it back to the catcher’s glove and so I followed the ball all the way in.
“He jerked a fastball down and in, more like a cut fastball and because I was thinking breaking ball, I kind of stayed back on the ball. Normally if I’m looking fastball, I’d either swing and miss at that ball and nine times out of 10 times I hook it into the third base dugout and scatter my teammates. But in that particular moment, because was looking breaking ball, I kept my head down and when I made contact, and even when I watched the replay I can’t see the ball because the angle of the bat and the ball, it was all simultaneously in the same motion, down and in, when I looked up, I never saw the ball.
“All I saw was the bank of lights. I knew I hit it good, but I didn’t know if I hit it high enough to get over the fence. As I jumped three or four jumps down the first-base line, I saw Pete kind of slow down to a trot and when the ball went over the fence, the thoughts that go through your mind, the first thought that goes through your mind this is just unbelievable I can’t believe that happened. My second thought was make sure you touch all of the bases Joe.”
On being forever linked with Mitch Williams…
“Mitch didn’t go through a tough time, it’s the way people perceived him, all of the death threats and everything. But Mitch never let that bother him and that’s what I loved about the guy. Here’s a guy that gave it his all, I gave it my all, it just so happens that that one time I happened to come out on top. But I’ve always said, if it wasn’t for Mitch they wouldn’t have been there. He had 43 saves, he saved Game 2 of the World Series and he saved the last game in the NLCS against the Braves to get them to the World Series.
“The things that he went through, the Philadelphia fans, they can be some unruly fans as we’ve all come to know. But Mitch I think he handled it very well, he stayed in the area up there, and we are going to be forever linked but I think it’s a pretty good thing. I don’t know if he thinks it’s a good thing, at times he says come October his name will always be kind of out there because of what happened in the World Series. Unfortunately there are going to be great times and bad times because in this game someone has to win and someone has to lose and a moment like that is going to be always remembered.
“We get along great, we got along great before then, I never had a problem with anybody I played with or against. I’ve always been that type of person. I think the one thing he should be embarrassed about, in 1998, my last year, they kind of did a where are they at now and Mitch had challenged me to a bowling match. He had his own bowling alley just outside of Philadelphia and so when Baltimore came to town to Philadelphia it was a big event. They had a limosine take me down there, Mitch carries a 200 average. He gets me into a bowling alley, ESPN is there, the lights and cameras on, they were announcing it and everything and it was funny because when I walked in, one of Mitch’s good friends, he yelled at me, you cost me $1000. I said, well you bet on the wrong team.
“They made me up a bowling ball, I went down to the alley and I rolled the first ball between my legs and it was a strike. Mitch’s eyes, his mouth dropped, his eyes are huge and he goes “noooooo.” His buddy goes, I’ve got $100 on Joe. I beat Mitch three straight games and he carries a 200 average but he did now know, I grew up bowling. My father, who just passed away in September, he was 82 years old, he bowled up until he was 80 years old. So, I was a very accomplished bowler. I beat him the first game, I bowled like a 235, 240 and just blew him out of the water. He couldn’t believe it was happening. Now, that’s where he should be embarrassed, baseball that was two guys giving it their best, but bowling, on his home field, that’s where he should be embarrassed.”
On being a ringer and Mitch not seeing it coming…
“No he didn’t. I even bowled in college, Wichita State, had a very good college bowling team, in the dormitory I lived in, I bowled for three years on our dormitory bowling team so I was a very good bowler.”
On getting back to Toronto on a regular basis for his annual charity golf tournament and various events with the Blue Jays…
“It’s very important but it’s not just for the Blue Jays, it’s for all of Canada. That, to me, is my second home. With my golf tournament, we’ve raised more than $1.2 million for the Children’s Aid Foundation in just four years of having my golf tournament there. Mitch, last year, he came down, he was so gracious to come down and play in that. We had a great time with that. Going from Vancouver all the way to Halifax, it is phenomenal the reception that I get. I know that, too much is given, much is expected. I know that my greatest times in baseball were in Canada and for me to go back there and show them the love and favor that they’ve shown me, I love it tremendously that I can go back there and make an impact. Help a lot of kids and a lot of people and that’s what I try to do. It’s good to still be associated with the Blue Jays but it’s even better that I’m associated with all of Canada, not just the East Coast but the West Coast also. “
The following is partial — but mostly complete — transcript of Alex Anthopoulos’ media scrum regarding the job safety of John Gibbons and a slew of other topics:
Have you been following the recent comments about how the Blue Jays should fire John Gibbons? Have you thought about firing him?
“No. I haven’t been reading them but I was told about it. Today I was doing an interview and I was told by the interviewee that seems to be the big talk. I’ve been staying away from reading a lot of things but there are no changes, John is our manager and we expect him to be.
“But I understand what the response is, when you’re not playing well as a team, these are things that happen. You talk about the GM, the manager, you talk about the players … people want a reason and changes usually come when players aren’t playing well and teams aren’t performing. I think that comes with the territory so I’m not surprised from that respect. I’m not saying that just in respect to Gibby, when you’re not playing well, you’re not going to have nice things to say and good stories to write.
So you don’t plan on making a managerial move…
“No, not at all. I don’t think our issues, I think we can all get better, myself included. When we are where we are in the standings and the results are what they are there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement and clearly we’re going to need some sort of change. I’m not prepared to say what those are, I think we need to play out the season, either way we’ve looked it, we’ve talked about it. We can look at so many areas because when you have the results that we have, there are plenty of areas, I do think and I believe that, if you look at this historically, second last in starters’ ERA, I’ve yet to see some teams have success doing that and ultimately we can examine why that is, and that’s not to say we can’t improve in other areas, offensively, defensively, but I think that’s where it starts … I don’t know how much the manager can influence that part of the game alone.”
So, unequivocally, Gibbons will be back next year?
“Yes, there has never been any thought on that respect at all.”
Looking back, did you whiff on some of your offseason trades?
“I think there are certain trades that haven’t worked out in terms of the performance of the players, I think that goes without saying. There were players we expected to play better, be more healthy, all of those things. I think with any thing, some trades take a little more time to develop, especially if you have a player that’s under contract …
“You have to just go back to your process. I look back all of the time, I review, and there are times things don’t work out and there are times ultimately that we can improve our process and change it. We’ve reviewed it a ton obviously, we review everything when you’re not playing the way we expected to play and everyone expected us to play. I do believe our process was sound, that doesn’t mean we can’t improve, we always look to improve but I do believe our process was sound. Certain things haven’t worked out and sometimes it’s hard to explain why some players don’t play as well then they go somewhere else and play better.”
You’re talking about reviewing the organization, does that mean the review of the manager is complete? Gibbons will be back?
“Yes, I’ve already said that. But the review, I think you review the team all of the time, top to bottom, including yourself, that goes without saying. I don’t know that there’s a team with a perfect anything. Manager, GM, players, everyone can get better in this game, I think everyone would acknowledge that. I don’t think there has been a person in this game that has said, I’ve got all the answers and it’s all there. Our focus is on how do we make this team better and it starts obviously with players.
“There are other areas that we can look to improve upon, but I do think it all starts with the players and the talent we have on the field. Some of it has been health, we need to look at some of those things as well, we had a lot of injuries again, twice in a row now. Last year it was one time, now… there are so many things and we still have four or five weeks, who knows what else comes? Good and bad. I think you take the full season to review.”
Why are you so loyal to Gibbons?
“I actually think, the in-game managing, I think he has done a great job. I think it’s so easy to pin results on one person. I think it’s
convenient. I could say that for myself, I could say that for certain players, for the manager. I just don’t think blame falls on one person. I
think when we’re playing the way we have, I just don’t think it falls on one person, it’s collectively. There’s blame to share, that’s probably
the best way to put it. I just don’t believe it’s one thing and that’s the issue. I think Gibby, in game, has done a great job. We’ve had
three-fifths of our rotation in flux, whether it’s through injury or performance.
“We’ve only had two mainstays in the rotation the entire year, that’s no an excuse, that’s just a fact. That comes to my chair, it
comes down to the players, the staff, the training staff, we’re all accountable to an extent why things have gone the way they have. But to
sit there and say it’s one person, that doesn’t make any sense. I think it’s an easy out to be honest with you.”
When you look back, what are words you use to describe this season?
“Obviously we haven’t played to expectations the way we thought we would. I know that’s about 20 words there. I haven’t sat and thought about it. You’re obviously going day to day with it and dealing with things as they come up. But there’s no question, no one’s enjoying watching the results and the play and all that type of stuff.
“Our focus has to be on how do we get better. To focus on blame and things like that, that’s part of the process and the evaluation but I
just don’t think, it’s collectively when we’ve had the results we’ve had, it’s a lot of areas.”
Do you still believe the core can win?
“I do. But again, where we are where we are with the rotation, you guys can pull it up, I’ve yet to see teams with the performance we’ve had in the rotation that you can win that way. That’s not to say that our position players are perfect by any stretch or we can’t improve the
offence in certain areas or we can’t improve defensively and all those things but ultimately I do think it starts on the mound. I think there’s
an impact to the bullpen, there’s an impact to the offence, you’re down four or five runs in the first inning or the second inning and you start to press. I think there’s just a carry over effect in so many ways. Health is part of it too.”
“We felt we were going to have a very strong starting rotation coming into the year. That obviously hasn’t been the case so that has to
strongly be reevaluated. In terms of cores, things change from year to year, player evaluations change from year to year so for the most part I think we all can see the players that have performed and have been good players for us, I think that goes without saying. Players that haven’t performed as well, haven’t had as good a season, we evaluate them, contractually as well.”
After Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, how do you envision rest of rotation shaping up next couple of weeks?
“The remaining two spots, we’ll see how things go. I think a guy like Todd, obviously, starting tomorrow, we’ll see how he does. Hopefully he gets back on track, he’s had some good starts, he had a rough one against the Astros. I think it’s important for him. It’s really start to start for some of those guys as well. We’ve talked about calling up some of the young guys but, again, we’re letting them make all their starts as well. We haven’t made any determinations. We’re really using these last few starts to finish the evaluation.”
Johnson’s future and whether club would make qualifying offer at end of the season…
“I think you wait because you see how he recovers, he responds. Dr. Andrews said two weeks of no throwing, then get up again. They want to get him up off a mound by the end of the season. That will tell us a lot as well. The fact we don’t have to make a decision today, why not take the time to get more information? Who knows, along the way maybe he does great, maybe, obviously we hope not, there’s some type of setback. We’ll take the time.”
How can their not be a culture of losing if you’re losing in the clubhouse?
“I guess it depends on what you define it as. When you’re losing, you’re losing. But I don’t define it that way. If you choose to do that, that’s
your right. But to me, it comes down to none of those players want to under perform or not do well in games. You guys are in there, I don’t
think anyone is happy about it or likes coming to the ballpark like that, everyone would prefer to win I think that goes without saying.”
Difference between wanting to win and knowing how to win?
“Certain people can say that, if our starters’ ERA is last or second last in baseball and our guys are battling back and losing 7-5, is it that? Or
is it, maybe, if we gave up four runs instead of eight. If we do comeback for that day, do we know how to win and the next day we forgot? It’s so subjective. That’s not to say you’re wrong but I think it’s so subjective it’s hard for anyone to pinpoint. There are things statistically you can pinpoint, clearly the rotation needs to be better, we can look back historically I don’t think there are teams that are last or second last (in ERA) that have had success. That’s fact, the other stuff is definitely open for debate, conversation and improvement.
“But if you’re middle of the pack, offensively we can get better we we’re not the worst in the league. The rotation, from a consistency standpoint in the offseason, that’s where we need to get better, we’ll go as far as our rotation gets us. We felt very good about the starters we had and it didn’t work out, health, performance, things like that. We’ve had really two guys be mainstays the other year, three have been up and down.”
See enough progress in young guys like Lawrie, Arencibia, Rasmus?
“In certain areas. I don’t know that you’re ever satisfied, guys can always get better. Even players that are good players, there are areas
they can get better. Everyone’s game can get better so there’s always room for improvement for every player.”
Among theories you’re kicking around, things you can measure, but are there intangibles or subjective issues that you can say you need?
“We’ve talked about that, we just don’t know how far to take it. I don’t want to get into (specifics) because one, it could be a lot of things
where people run back to players. That’s more on the brain storming side and I’ve been here in years past when players get a label of this or that and they go somewhere else and they do well. I think it’s a dangerous, slippery slope and you have to be careful. A lot of it comes down to production.
“It’s amazing how much our opinions of players change when the production changes. We had issues with certain parts of their game, and
then the production is a little better and now we kind of forget about the other issues. I don’t want to single out any of our players but you
guys can go back through it. It’s amazing how quickly our opinions change when the performance is better.”
Changing rotation next year…
“We’ve got four guys contractually right now in Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle and Happ. Then we have some of the young guys internally, Hutchison, Drabek, guys that have made starts this year Redmond, Rogers and so on. We’re always looking to add. I don’t know ultimately that it will be there, I don’t think we’re going to look to force anything but we’re always going to look to add. I think there’s improvement we can get from within as well. Brandon Morrow from 2011, what looked to be a 2012, I don’t think we were shocked with the way he was performing because I think we all knew it was in there.
“If Brandon Morrow comes back next year and pitches somewhat close to what he was in 2012 I don’t think anyone would be surprised because the ability is there. R.A. I think has been significantly better the last month or two … I could see him significantly better. Mark, I think, has been the same guy he has been his entire career.
“Ideally you go outside the organization and then your Hutchisons, Drabeks, Nolins, those guys are your sixth, seventh and eighth starters rather than, with all due respect, some of the Minor League free agents we had like a Ramon Ortiz, you’re not necessarily relying on those guys to come up.”
Do you feel closer to playoffs than this time last year?
“We’re not the same, obviously we weren’t playing well both times. I think there was more distractions last year. That’s not to say we’re enjoyingthe way we’re playing but the focus seems to be baseball related more this year than last year, I don’t need to rehash all of it, we weren’t playing well compounded with so many other stories, whether it was Yunel, so many other things going on. There were more distractions. I don’t know, I guess I don’t look at it that way. I guess I’d say, I still believe we have the makings of a good team that needs work, that needs changes, that needs health and we didn’t play the way we expected to. I think almost everyone across the game expected us to be a good team, to what level, I don’t know. But I think unanimously people thought it was going to be a good competitive team and it didn’t work out.”
So you’re saying you don’t think you need to make major changes?
“Depends on what you classify that as. We need to make changes, that goes without saying. How can we sit here with our win-loss record and say we’re going to maintain the status quo, that’s just not realistic. But what do you define that as, I don’t know. We’re going to need to make changes. What that is, we’ll take until the end of the season and into the offseason to make those determinations. But things change, even the last four-five weeks, we’ll find out more about some of these players, good and bad. We’ll know more about Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera. We’ll know more about the guys starting in the Minors.”
Thinking about bringing Johnson back?
“I haven’t thought about what the roster is going to be with guys that are pending free agents until we have more information. There’s a lean, there’s this, there’s that, we just don’t have enough information.”
One guy you didn’t mention was Romero, has he done anything this year to make you think he could be in the mix again?
“He’s had starts where you definitely believe it’s around the corner. He has spurts where it looks like it’s coming back and then he has had
starts where he didn’t perform as well. With him, you’re evaluating every single start he has and you’re hopeful … Morrow is the example in ’11 that we were waiting, waiting, and then it was the last three or four he was good. With Romero, we just need to see the consistency. He’s still young, he still has stuff, hopefully next Spring Training he comes in but I can’t project at this point what he’s going to do moving forward. We know the ability is there, we’ve all seen it, just consistency wise we haven’t seen it.”
But that’s pretty much exactly what you said in April or May. That has to be frustrating that the outlook hasn’t changed?
“I think everyone is hopeful and we just don’t have the answer on what will it take to get him back to where he was, to be that All-Star. I
don’t have doubts that the ability is there and that he is capable but to try and handicap it, put a timeframe on it, I just have no idea. I never would have predicted this to happen to begin with, even with how he began the season last year, 8-1, ERA was in the low fours, never would have predicted what would happen to him the last few months of the season. To try and do it now, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Will he be a September call-up?
“I don’t know yet. We’ve talked about a lot of September call-ups, obviously he’s a guy we’ve talked about, but we haven’t made any
determinations. We’re going to need a third guy behind the plate, certain guys coming back from injury for sure, Delabar and McGowan will be back. But we’ll see how they recover. The other guys that are down there, start to start and we’ll see how we’re doing and what our needs are. I don’t believe we’re going to call guys up to not play, it doesn’t make sense. If we think there’s innings or at-bats, those are the guys who will get called up.
He abandoned those mechanical changes during the middle of the season. Does that add to the disappointment?
“No, not at all. Like we told him, I think any mechanical changes were made were done in conjunction with him. We weren’t going to do anything he wasn’t comfortable doing,he was part of the process but I don’t think anyone said this is the fix. We know, exactly this, will get you back on track. Take three weeks, four weeks, let’s try this. That’s a lot of what happens, it’s trial and error. We don’t know why, we have theories and beliefs but we can’t really be convinced why things have happened. If he ultimately believes he has found something that works for him, and he feels good about it, and he believes in it, that’s what you have to go with. So the fact that he had that type of belief, absolutely, we encouraged him, do what you feel is best. You know yourself better than anybody else but at the same time he was struggling, was trying to find some answers, worked with him in 2012 and tried some things, skipped a start, tried a lot of things, just couldn’t get him going.
Any sense of next year’s payroll?
“I don’t know the number, it gets talked about in the offseason. I know we’re not going backwards but what ultimately the number is I don’t know. A lot of it will depend on what players become available. Last offseason it was a certain number, certain players became available and it changed. It’s always fluid.”