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Q+A with pitching coach Pete Walker

Here’s what pitching coach Pete Walker had to say during a scrum on Wednesday afternoon regarding several key members of his staff:

Why only one inning for Brandon Morrow when all of the others are going two innings during their first time out this spring?

“It’s what he did last year. We’re going to stick to what worked for him. He had a great spring last year, came along nicely. Gave him the necessary days off that he needed to keep him fresh and things worked very well so he’s going to stick to the plan.”

So it was more his own personal decision to go just one inning rather than the club’s?

“Obviously it worked last year and he wants to get off to the same start he did last year. It’s kind of a mutual decision.”

How is the workload determined for other pitchers?

“More or less it’s going to be a pitch count. It’s going to be 30 pitches and then all of those numbers to start off right now, we’ve discussed them, and obviously the pitches are the primary importance. If some of those starters are listed for two innings, they certainly aren’t going to throw two if it’s a long first inning.

“We have time, we’re getting them right, most of them are on their five-day rotation right out of the chute. The second outing will only be two innings as well. We have an extra four or five days in the spring so we’re going tomake sure these guys are where they need to be at the end of Spring Training to start the season, get the right number of innings and control their pitches throughout.”

On Casey Janssen’s progress from a shoulder injury…

“He’s coming along as expected. It’s a little slow, we’re still hopeful that he’s ready to start the season. If he’s not, we’ll go to Plan B but we’re prepared for that. Right now, he’s doing everything he needs to do to be ready for Opening Day and that’s his goal.”

Janssen’s plan for the next couple of weeks?

“He has a couple of more sides and then we’re going to get him into a couple of live BPs. But his schedule is subject to change at any time. We’re going to take it day-by-day, see how he’s feeling. Our goal is to just get him 100% whether it’s Opening Day or seven days after that. There’s going to be no rush to push him. Obviously, if he’s going to be the closer in Toronto we want him to be 100%.”

How much work does Janssen need to get in before the start of the season?

“I think with him, that’s a tough one because obviously our concerns are him being 100% so it’s impossible to put a number on it. We’d like to get him into games by the 13th or 14th of March. Realistically to get him to start the season, he needs to be able to go back-to-back days, he needs to be feeling great after those back-to-back days because when we bring him up to Toronto and he’s pitching in front of 50,000 people, the expectations are high, the team’s ready to go.

“He wants to be 100%, we don’t want to put him in the situation where it’s a struggle for the first week or two. We certainly wouldn’t do that. I think it’s not really a number of innings, it’s just after that back-to-back outing, if he’s feeling great he’s ready to go.”

Lots of time remaining to work out the kinks…

“There’s plenty of time but certainly we’re not going to rush him right now. He’s coming along at the pace that the doctors recommended and we’re going to stick to it. If there are any setbacks, we’ll go to Plan B. Right now, he’s feeling good and he’s on schedule.”

Josh Johnson lost some velocity last year. Wasn’t entirely unexpected since he was coming off a shoulder injury the year before. Where do things stand now?

“I think he looks really strong. The conversations I’ve had with him, and some of the video I’ve seen of him in the past, he looks really good and he’s feeling really good. I’m very encouraged right out of the chute.

“He has turned into a pitcher. He knows how to pitch. He’s not as concerned with the velocity being in the mid-90s consistently. if he’s in the low 90s at times, he knows how to pitch. He keeps the ball down. He has incorporated that curveball now which is going to help a lot to keep the hitters off balance. But his location and fastball command is impeccable right now and it’s fun to watch.”

With the curveball in place he could become really dominant if the velocity returns…

“There’s no doubt about it. That’s what we’re hoping for. But what he did last year, if he can just carry that into this season, I know he’s really encouraged with the breaking ball. The fastball, if that velocity jumps a click, great. If it doesn’t, we still have a super pitcher.”

On Esmil Rogers…

“He has a tremendous arm. I’ve seen quite a few good arms here to be honest with you. There’s some power and some untapped power. But he’s a guy that came into his own a little bit in Cleveland, struggled a little bit in Colorado. You look at the numbers and you’re trying to figure it out, I don’t know what was going on there. It could have been the Colorado air. But in Cleveland it came together a little bit, used his slider a little bit more and he knows how to spin the baseball and has a power arm. He seems to be a very athletic kid, just learning and getting better.”

Who are the untapped power guys?

“(Jeremy) Jeffress is a guy, tremendous arm. And even some of the non-roster guys I’ve seen so far. Very deceptive deliveries and guys that can definitely help throughout the course of the season.”

Upcoming Grapefruit League pitching schedule

The Blue Jays have released their pitching schedule for the first five games of the spring. It’s important to note that the amount of innings aren’t necessarily set in stone. It ultimately will come down to pitch count. If the starters have a long first inning then it’s less likely they’ll come back out for a second frame.

Feb. 23 @ DET:

Brandon Morrow (one inning)
Brad Lincoln (one inning)
Steve Delabar (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (one inning)
Dave Bush (two innings)
Ramon Ortiz (one inning)
Neil Wagner (one inning)

Extras — Chad Beck, Sean Nolin, John Stilson, Tyson Brummett
Work — Ricky Romero

Feb. 24 vs. BAL:

Mark Buehrle (two innings)
Sergio Santos (one inning)
Aaron Loup (one inning)
Jeremy Jeffress (one inning)
Chad Jenkins (two innings)
Alex Hinshaw (one inning)
Tommy Hottovy (one inning)

Extras — Three Minor Leaguers, Tyson Brummett

Feb. 24 @ NYY:

J.A. Happ (two innings)
Brett Cecil (two innings)
Justin Germano (two innings)
Claudio Vargas (one or two innings)
Richard Thompson (one inning)

Extras — Three Minor Leaguers, Mickey Storey, John Stilson

Feb. 25 vs BOS:

R.A. Dickey (two innings)
Josh Johnson (two innings)
John Stilson (one inning)
Mickey Storey (one inning)
Chad Beck (one inning)
Sean Nolin (one inning)
Tyson Brummett (one inning)

Extras — Three Minor Leaguers, Neil Wagner
Work — Brandon Morrow

Feb. 26 vs MIN:

Ricky Romero (two innings)
Steve Delabar (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (one inning)
Dave Bush (one or two innings)
Ramon Ortiz (one or two innings)
Neil Wagner (one inning)
Richard Thompson (one inning)

Extras — Tommy Hottovy, Alex Hinshaw, Claudio Vargas
Work — Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ

Q+A with new Blue Jays hitting coach Chad Mottola

To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Chad Mottola was hired to become the Blue Jays’ new hitting coach when John Gibbons was brought on board in November. It was a natural promotion considering Mottola spent the past four years as a Minor League hitting coach and review rave reviews from some of the club’s top prospects and struggling veterans.

Last year’s hitting coach, Dwayne Murphy, is still on the staff but will spend the majority of his time in charge of baserunning and outfield defense. In some ways it’s a perfect mix because Murphy has already established strong working relationships with the likes of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. So some of the veterans will be able to continue their work with Murphy while Mottola seems better suited to deal with the younger players on the team.

Here’s what Mottola had to say about his overall coaching philosophy and working with Murphy…

Process taking over as new coach, what are things you look to establish…

“What’s nice is that I’ve had a lot of the younger guys early on in their careers so kind of getting them back to where they were and letting Murph continue with the guys he had success with.”

Is it tough, though, having your predecessor still on the coaching staff?

“Not a shared position but having Murph makes it different than most… I wouldn’t say it’s shared but I’m going to let the guys lean on Murph when they need him. Murph’s going to be here for outfield and base running which is a priority and I think was needed at times last year. Going into camp, he’s going to have those guys more often than being in the cage and being around the cage. When he’s needed, he’s going to be used, if not when the younger guys, I already have a pretty good relationship with we’re going to go with what we had in the past.

“Murph’s nickname is pro and it’s for a reason. We have a pretty good relationship where there’s no ego with either of us. Going into it, having that established relationship makes it easier.”

Inherit team that has last two NL batting champions..

“Yeah, for sure. I’m getting to know those guys the first couple of weeks, find out what their philosophies are and build off what they’ve done in the past.”

Approach or philosophy how is it different from Murph…

“There’s not going to be much change with the guys who have had success. There are plenty of guys that had success under Murph and then I’m going to kind of work with the younger guys and see what they need to change to be what they can be.”

Getting guys in proper head space (ex Lind)…

“One thing about baseball is everyone has hit, everyone has their own opinion and everyone feels like they can fix everybody. One thing is that everybody has good intentions but one thing we’re going to concentrate on this year is having one message. So there is no mixed message, there’s not anybody trying to sneak in and be like hey I know you’ve done this.

“With Adam, I played with him, I coached him, we’ve done everything so we kind of know his personality and how to get him in the right position mentally to hit and I think that’s where he was at in the past, it was kind of mental.”

Being up with the big league club the past two Septembers must help…

“It makes really simple. Murph and I know eachother, I’ve sat in the cage hours upon hours and watched him work. He allowed me to work with guys which you don’t see in baseball of a big league coach allowing someone to come up in September and say go ahead have at it. So going into it, we have the same thing going, if a guy hops into our cage, my cage, or his cage, there’s nothing personal. There’s no worries about what he’s saying, we know how to work together.”

Past years coaches have tried to impart their own philosophy on hitting…

“I work individually. I think that’s what’s important about this game is that everybody has their own personality and their own style. They’re going to strike fear into their own team yet they’re going to let different guys have different approaches.”

Approach with Lawrie, priorities…

“We have a relationship in the past just getting him to slow down. He gets himself in trouble, the same thing that makes him great is the same thing that gets him in trouble. So just slowing down and quit trying to get the ball at 40 feet, let it travel a little bit.”

Rasmus…

“The talent in him is unbelivable. The things he does, the way he gets to the front of the box and we’re just going to get his quick hands to work in his favor rather than going through swing changes all year. I think we have a pretty good base going into the year and we’re going to try and keep it there.”

Rasmus made transition to front of the box last year… sticking with that?

“We modified it a little bit but it’s one of those things where as time goes on we hope we’re not going to see five different stances after an 0-for-4. We’re trying to get a consistent base and then we’re going to stay there.”

What are you trying to modify?

“We’re still doing some things, getting his hands a little bit lower and getting him in a better position to hit.”

Newcomers does it take time to get familiar with them…

“I think more getting to know their personalities. I think their track records speak for themselves. More than getting them comfortable here, the sooner that happens the better off we are. Guys that have the track records, kind of stay out of their way.”

Been with Gibby before…

“Yeah, I actually was in camp for a couple of years, had about a month and a half up in the big leagues with him. As far as our personalities, they’re great. Let the guys play and when they need us we’ll get involved. But with the talent we have now, it’s a good mix.”

Hitters facing live pitching Sunday…

“That’s all for the pitchers. Spring Training in the first week is for the pitchers. It’s one of those things that hey guys, get what you can get out of it, let the pitchers get their work in.”

Looking for specific things who are coming back from injuries…

“Just make sure they’re healthy. Early on, it’s a longer spring this year with the Classic going on, not necessarily numbers for sure, just make sure we’re healthy and then worry about the last week getting ready for the season. “

Lind speaks out about last year’s coaching staff

There were plenty of clues last season that 1B/DH Adam Lind and manager John Farrell never really saw eye-to-eye. There were some mild complaints from Lind during Spring Training that he was being told conflicting pieces of advice from various sources. There was also the rare public criticism by Farrell who went on record saying Lind was out of shape after he had been sent to the Minor Leagues in May.

The disagreements became more public during the offseason when Lind made an appearance on the Fan590 radio station in Toronto following Farrell’s departure to Boston. He talked at length about the lack of communication, Farrell’s fondness of the Red Sox even when he was an employee of the Blue Jays, and Farrell’s emphasis on the running game which reached an abrupt end during the final two months of the season.

The comments were taken by some as sour grapes but even if that’s the case there was a lot of truth in what Lind was saying. Several players have echoed similar sentiments off the record but to date Lind has been one of the only Blue Jays’ players not afraid to stand by what he firmly believes were the issues in the clubhouse for the past two seasons.

Lind was back at it again on Saturday afternoon. The comments weren’t intended to be malicious but instead provide somewhat of an understanding for what he has gone through the past couple of years.

Here’s what Lind had to say about the coaching staff from 2012:

“You guys were around the last couple of years and you have a manager telling you one thing, who was a pitcher, it makes it tough because he was from Boston where they were very selective and things like that, coming up through this organization it wasn’t something we preached or taught at the lower levels. That’s what he wanted to see and then to have a hitting coach like Murph, who’s an aggressive type hitting coach, sometimes you get a little confused on who you want to please.

“It was all in good faith and respect, but he would have his things out of me that he would want to see, and he would tell me that. You’d go to the cage and try to do your work or after an at-bat during the game and he would have more advice to give you. It would just get your mind thinking.”

More on the mixed messages and when they became an issue…

“Probably the first half of 2011. I felt really good at the beginning of 2011 and then I just ran out of gas. Then you start hearing all the voices from a bunch of different places, not that that’s an excuse or anything, but you hear them and you try to please people, especially a manager, because that’s who puts your name in the lineup cards, so you kind of want to do what he wants.

“At the end of the day it came down to me. I was the one given the opportunity to play. It’s on me, it’s not on the manager, that’s in the past and now we’re going to go forward with a very good lineup that we have this year.”

On the backlash he received from fans last season…

“I’d see my numbers and know what they’re thinking. I’ve been at bars during football games and things like that and have probably done it myself.”

On the difference of this year’s staff…

“This year the coaches will be given the freedom to do whatever they want. They have the trust of Gibby so he can just manage and sometimes the type of personalities we had on our staff last year, they micromanaged a lot and sometimes that can affect the way we play and the way we coach. This year the coaches have been given the opportunity to have free rein and do what they need to do for us to win games.”

More on the differences…

“I know with the staff that we have now everyone is confident in what they can do. They’ll be allowed to do their job the way it should be done. We’re going to work collectively and individually with the coaches.

“It’s going to be a fun experience working with Chad and having Murph in the mix as well.

“It’s a different staff. I think we learned as an organization from our mistakes the two previous seasons. The coaches are going to be free to do their jobs, have free rein to do what they think should be done.”

Any back issues?

“It’s good right now.”

Has the yoga helped?

“I hope (laughs). That’s why I did it. The back doctors suggested I do it. One of the unexpected things about it was that I actually enjoyed it. I mean, the time seemed to go by quickly. I wasn’t exactly looking at the clock for the whole hour and a half of each class.  I didn’t quite get into the spiritual side of it but I’d like to do that, too.”

Media scrum with Mark Buehrle

On expectations following the club’s busy offseason…

“I think I’ve come to realize that making expectations or putting stuff where we’re going to get to isn’t a good thing because every year I feel like we have a good team. The last couple of years we haven’t gotten to where we want to get to. Coming into a new team, on paper we look good, we have to stay healthy obviously.

“I think that’s with any team, we need to stay healthy and keep guys on the field and I think if we do that then I think we have a chance to get to the playoffs. From there, anything can happen.”

On having to leave family behind in the U.S. because of Ontario’s ban on pit bulls (Buehrle owns four dogs, including one American Staffordshire terrier which is banned in the province)…

“I think we’ve wrapped around it. At the beginning it was, just realizing the family wasn’t going to be there. Miami, we were able to live out in a different suburb so they’re there. But I think the biggest thing on that was we’re trying to bring awareness to the breed ban. Some families aren’t as fortunate as we are to be able to maintain two houses and be able to live away. She’s going to come see us, it’s not like we’re not going to see eachother.

“I’m not going to see the dog for awhile but we’re trying to bring awareness for the breed ban and help out those less fortunate than us. I don’t want to make it a big story all year, it does suck that the family’s not going to be there. But guys go through it, guys deal with it. We’re going to deal with it, we’re going to make it work and I’ll see my dogs whenever I can.”

Any success with people in Ontario on having the ban lifted…

“To be honest, that’s mostly my wife. I’m going to do what I can when I’m there. The last four or five years we’ve done some stuff with the teams that we’ve been with, doing rescue stuff, she has kind of spearheaded it and has been the leader of it. I’ve done what I could but obviously with going to the field every day and playing. She’s not going to be there, we won’t be able to do as much but if she has some stuff I can do in my off time I’m going to do everything I can to try and help out.”

On impact teammates will have without family being around…

“Obviously you’re around these guys a lot so we have a lot of time down here to gel together and get to know everybody. A lot of new faces obviously but yeah, just having these guys around, I know a couple of the guys getting traded over from Miami, playing against some guys, I know Sergio from Chicago. It’s good to know a couple of people over here and it’s going to be fun getting to know everybody and hanging out with guys.”

Been without family before?

“No. We’ve been lucky, this is our first time having to go through this. Kids are just getting into school this August so we haven’t had to go home for school, we’ve had them together. The last three years of this contract are going to be away and it’s something we’re going to deal with. It’s going to be tough in the beginning and not seeing your kids but people deal with it and we’ll make it work.”

Hard feelings about Miami after the club broke its word and dealt him during the offseason…

“We took the chance going in, with a no-trade clause. That was one question my wife and I kept asking, knowing what (Miami management) had done in the past and what the plan was , if it was going to be a long-haul thing or just one or two years. From what we got told, we decided to sign there.

“I don’t want to talk too much on it. I wasn’t too happy at the time and still not too happy with those people down there obviously being lied to. It’s in the past and I’m looking to move forward.

“It took me a couple of months and I think I got over it a little quicker than my wife. I think she holds onto a little more. We both realize there’s nothing we can do about it. From what we were told, it’s kind of hard to let it sink in.”

Did anyone from Miami reach out after the trade…

“(Marlins president David) Samson called me on the trade and then when the article came out where I said that they lied to me, he tried to reach out again and I pretty much said ‘I’ve got nothing to say, I don’t know if you want to hear from me right now. It’s not going to be the friendliest thing.’ I haven’t talked to anyone since then and I don’t really intend to.”

What did Samson say?

“He told me they didn’t see the kind of season we were going to have and the attendance was low. He kind of went that route. He apologized and said that ‘I know we told you these things, but unfortunately we have to do this.’ “

On what he’d say to people who don’t have pets and don’t understand why he is so upset about the ban…

“Being a responsible pet owner, you can’t just dump your dog on somebody else or take a chance of breaking a law and taking him up there. We’ve had people say ‘Oh, you can bring him up here and knowing you have money, no one is going take your dog because they know you’re going to fight against it.’

“But the thing is, Slater will have to sit in a cage until that court date gets there. It could be two weeks or it could be three months. People who don’t own dogs are not going to understand that you’re leaving your family, your kids, behind over a dog. We just feel that all the training we’ve done with our dogs, it’s better they stay with my wife.”

On the supposed myths surrounding pit bulls and what he would say about the breed in general…

“They’re real loyal to their owners. Obviously everybody thinks they’ve got the locking jaws and they’re strong and mean but the way his temperament is, he’s awesome with our kids. He’s awesome when we have parties at our house and kids run in and ask where slater is. Every kid wants to go right to him.

“That’s the shame. Just because the way he looks is kind why we’re going to be separated. I know people are scared of them and freaked out by them but it’s mostly the owners, not the dogs. If you’re going to tie your dog up out back and treat it bad, it’s going to treat you bad right back. If you tie up any dog and don’t show them love and abuse them or don’t show them attention, I think any dog is going to be aggressive and have bad behaviour.

“Often the news stories you see on TV about a pit bull-type dog biting somebody and you look at the dog and it’s not even a pit bull. People just throw that name out there.”

More on Slater…

“We adopted him from a shelter. He was going to be put down the next day. We do a lot of work with Hope Rescues in Illinois. It just happens to be the week she was coming home (to Chicago) from Spring Training that she got returned and she was ranting and raving about this dog and I told if if she felt like that, to adopt it.”

On the upcoming season and the hype surrounding the team…

“You can obviously say we have a good team on paper but that’s why we have to go play 162 games. You don’t crown the winner in spring training off what they  did in the off-season. All the experts pick who’s going to win the World Series and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody have the two teams who actually end up in it.

“I like our chances, but we have to come out here and gel together and everybody has to stay healthy.”

Distractions in Miami last year… Johnson said the new stadium caused a lot of issues…

“I’m pretty laid back and don’t let stuff bother me. I like to have fun on the mound. I’m out there laughing. Good start, bad start, I just throw it out the window and get ready for my next one. Obviously I’m down to No. 3 or No. 4 in the rotation, so that’s always a good thing.”

On the Blue Jays getting Dickey and how it changed his outlook on the team…

“When you get a guy like that. The last couple of years he’s been dominating games. I faced him three or four times and two or three losses were courtesy of him. He was fun to watch. He’s a great pitcher.”

On his pitching style…

“I throw four pitches in any count. Obviously I’m not the hardest thrower so I have to go out there and keep guys off-balance. I just know I have faith to throw a changeup in a fastball count. I feel like I can throw any pitch in any count.”

Spring’s almost here

Hello folks, Spring Training is almost upon us. Partial coverage from Dunedin will begin on Tuesday with full coverage starting on Wednesday in what will be my first full day in Florida. Now that the offseason is over, expect daily coverage on the blog in addition to of course the daily coverage on the main site.

I’ll also periodically submit some photo galleries during the workout days prior to the start of the Grapefruit League season. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB for all the breaking news throughout the spring.

In case you missed it earlier this week, here’s the Spring Training preview article that should get you set for everything in camp: http://toronto.bluejays.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130207&content_id=41475634&vkey=news_tor&c_id=tor

Return from the holidays

I’m back in action after taking a couple of lovely weeks to return to my home province of New Brunswick to visit with friends and family. Now that the holidays are out of the way, it’s time to resume looking ahead to the upcoming season and what better way to start than a news conference with R.A. Dickey and Alex Anthopoulos.

On the main site, you’ll find my article on Dickey plus another item with all the latest information on Darren Oliver‘s potential retirement, request for more money, or a trade. After the 30-minute news conference with Dickey, Anthopoulos took some additional time to meet with reporters.

I’ll attempt to post a full transcript later this week but in the meantime here is a rundown of what Anthopoulos had to say:

  • The Blue Jays continue to move forward under the assumption that Oliver will retire instead of returning for another season in Toronto. The club appears unlikely to offer him additional money on the $3-million he’s set to make in 2013 and Anthopoulos said a trade would only be made if it provided the Blue Jays with a clear upgrade.
  • Even if Oliver does retire, Anthopoulos doesn’t expect to spend the $3-million on another player: “We blew so far past where we were supposed to be (in payroll). Darren was an exception, we exercised the option at the beginning of the offseason, payroll commitments were so different back then. Obviously if Darren was to choose to come back, we would certainly honor that, we’d be thrilled to have him. But that money is Darren Oliver money, it’s not go get another player or reliever money.”
  • Anthopoulos confirmed that former shortstop prospect Justin Jackson will make the transition to a pitcher this Spring. Jackson said on Twitter that he was clocked at 95MPH and it’s the live arm that has the Blue Jays intrigued about the possibilities. There are no guarantees it will ever work out but with Jackson failing to produce at the plate during his Minor League career it’s a risk worth taking.
  • J.A. Happ will begin the season as the Blue Jays sixth starter. In order words, he’s the back-up and won’t get an opportunity in the rotation until someone gets hurt. In the meantime, Happ will compete for a spot in the bullpen but he also has an option remaining on his contract and it’s possible he could begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo.
  • Anthopoulos said Happ wasn’t exactly happy about the news but the writing was on the wall once the club acquired Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Dickey for its rotation. Happ has accepted his role and for whatever it’s worth Anthopoulos said he’s excited about playing on a winning ballclub.
  • The Blue Jays do not expect outfielder Melky Cabrera to be asked to take part in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie are all but a lock to participate while it remains unlikely Jose Bautista will receive clearance considering he is coming off a left wrist injury that prematurely ended his 2012 campaign. No word yet on whether pitchers like Dickey, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson would be in the mix for Team USA.
  • Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training on Feb. 13. The full roster will officially report on Feb. 17.
  • Dickey said that he played catch with J.P. Arencibia in Nashville on Monday. Dickey praised Arencibia’s willingness to learn how to catch a knuckleball and provided the third-year catcher with a large glove that it typically used to for that type of pitcher.
  • Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays remain in the market for a right-handed bat that can be used off the bench. The preference is to acquire someone that has the ability to play in the infield but Anthopoulos may choose to stick with signing several players to Minor League contract with a shot at competing for the job. It’s also possible that additional players will become available when teams start making their cuts late in camp.
  • Anthopoulos also said that Sal Fasano‘s departure as the manager in Double-A New Hampshire will not have any impact on a potential future in that role at the big league level. The Blue Jays approached Fasano about taking a promotion to become a Minor League catching coordinator and they feel it’s something that will make him a more well-rounded coach/potential manager in the future.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Winter Meetings wrap-up with Anthopoulos

The Winter Meetings have come to an end and not surprisingly it was a relatively quiet week for the Blue Jays. Sure, there were plenty of rumours but in reality there was never anything close to getting done in Nashville.

Toronto already completed most of its offseason shopping, and while there is certainly a desire to keep improving, the type of moves that could come next weren’t expected to take place in the Music City. Could R.A. Dickey still be in play? Perhaps but the ball is clearly in New York’s court at this point.

We know that the Blue Jays and Mets have engaged in discussions but the extent of those talks remain very much unknown. Before anything can happen the Mets must make a final decision about whether they can re-sign their No. 1 starter, which remains their top priority. If those negotiations reach an impasse then Toronto along with several other clubs could enter the mix. That doesn’t guarantee any deal will ever get done but it’s safe to assume that Alex Anthopoulos will continue to explore the possibility. 

With nothing on the horizon, Anthopoulos left the Winter Meetings a day early and did not stick around for the Rule 5 Draft (which didn’t really matter because Toronto was already at full capacity on its 40-man roster). Before he flew out, though, Anthopoulos sat down for a lengthy chat with Toronto reporters. Here’s what he had to say and make sure to give me a follow on Twitter @gregorMLB if you’re not doing so already!

Alex Anthopoulos:

On whether there was any progress on potential moves as the Meetings drew to a close…

“There are things that we looked at, spent a little time on, but then you realize they’re just not a fit. You always examine everything but there’s nothing that was presented to us that we’ve spent days on, or we’re working through. There was maybe one idea that someone floated that was interesting, that was fair value, we spent the night reviewing it, we just didn’t feel like it was the right fit for our club.”

On whether there were offers he presented to other teams…

“That I would say yes. But, again, I just don’t see it. They are more concepts. We’re not going to have anything resolved at all. Just more ideas, this player, that player, it’s more on the trade front than anything else. We’ve floated ideas, certainly teams can come back to us on them.”

On whether the previous moves this offseason took away a sense of urgency for these Winter Meetings…

“I think it’s always harder to get things done here. I feel like the Winter Meetings, there’s almost too much going on that it’s hard to get anything done other than free agent signings. This is where a lot of free agent deals get done, a lot of agents want to meet, and you’re always weighing free agents with trades.

“If we were to do anything (else), take a lot of the groundwork that was laid here and you do it after you get to step away, everyone gets to calm down a little bit. You’re trying to get a hold of people, they’re trying to get a hold of you, you miss calls because you’re in the middle of a meeting or on a phone call. It’s tough, everyone’s so preoccupied.”

On whether he expects that to continue through the month of December and result in a busy January…

“I think January will be Minor League signings. Maybe last minute trades, teams that have lost out on certain players. If we have depth maybe there’s a fit there.

“Clearly we made a large transaction early and that’s going to impact our ability to do other things. I don’t expect to do anything big.”

On whether he’s more likely to make a trade or sign a free agent…

“If I had to pick one, I’d say we’re unlikely to do either right now. But I’m always going to say the trade front.”

Does it bother you Yunel is back in the division? Would you ask a team not to flip a player to a division rival?

“You can do that. But when you’re making a trade, you’re making a trade with that team. You can’t try to start to control what happens after the fact. And how long does that last? Is it an agreement with the GM and he’s not there anymore, if things change. So, no, that’s just part of the game.

“At the end of the day, you can’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Yunel’s a good player, Reyes was a better fit for us. I’m not surprised that he got traded. I think there was a very real scenario he was going to get traded.”

Are you surprised the Yankees’ money doesn’t seem to weigh as much anymore?

“I know there’s been a lot that has been talked about. It seems odd. I’ll believe when I see it at the end of January or when Spring Training hits. They’re still going to have a healthy payroll, it’s going to be high. I can’t tell you that I know what the Yankees exactly are doing. Maybe they’re waiting for the right deals.

“I think they have been very specific. They’ve spent money, you look at Kuroda, he got a pretty good contract, it’s a one-year deal. Andy Pettitte. I think they’re just being very specific in where they’re spending their money. That’s just from an outsider.

“I know a lot has been written about and talked about on front. It’s not like they haven’t spent money. Three signings they made free agency wise were $10-million or more. They’ve already spent $38-million or whatever it was on three players and that’s pretty good.”

Is filling important positions on one-year contracts a problem? They seem to be trying to get their payroll down by next year.

“Yeah, I read that too, 2014. I think for the Yankees it’s not because they’re a great organization, they’re a winning organization. They’ve made the playoffs every year in the last 18 years or so except once and these are all older, more experienced players. It’s very similar to Toronto in the early ’90s. They had a lot of established stars that took shorter term deals because they wanted a chance to win. Or you see a guy like Torii Hunter go to Detroit on a two-year deal.

“Those winning organizations, they get those players on shorter-term contracts because most times those players have made their money, they’ve had their accomplishments, winning’s the last piece that they want and those organizations are in a great spot to sign those guys.”

Josh Hamilton seems to be having difficulty securing a long-term contract. Are the days of seven or eight-year deals coming to an end?

“They continue to happen because Ryan Braun was extended last year, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, David Wright. Seven-year deals, they’re latched onto deals that are already existing but those deals are alive and well.”

Are those better deals to sign when they’re your own player?

“I think any time you’re signing your own player you have more information than on a player from the outside and there’s normally an age component there because the free agency component, you’re only older. We feel pretty strongly, I know Paul definitely has been the biggest proponent of it, is term. We’d rather pay a higher rate on a shorter term than doing an incredibly long deal. Things change.

“I’ve come around to it, I really have. I know that it was more of a wait and see approach at the beginning but I’ve really come around to it. Players change, things change fast. Even five years in this game is a really long time.”

Does A-Rod deal lend credence to that?

“I think the injury component. Eric Chavez signed a deal with Oakland a long time ago and people talked about when Longoria signed his deal, he looked at guys like Grady Sizemore. I think the health is the biggest thing. Even from a performance standpoint things change as well. The longer you go on a deal the more things change. We’re dealing with human beings.”

Contracts Boston gave to Victorino and Napoli does that put Bautista’s contract in a different light?

“I think the biggest thing to look at, Jose, his contract was after one year of performance at the age of 31. At the time of the signing, the free agents at the time, Victor Martinez had a long career at a premium position and he got $12.5 million. Paul Konerko was a multiple All-Star for years, consistency of performance, he got $12.5 per year. Dan Uggla, years of consistent performance, got 12 something. Adrian Beltre, who was a great player for a long time and a Gold Glove third baseman got only $2-million more than Jose per year after a lot of years of great production at a premium position.

“Even if you look at David Wright’s deal right now, the extension, the average annual value is $17-million. I’m not saying it’s a small amount of money, that’s years of performance there, Zimmerman, Longoria. I think someone said it best, there’s no one in the history of the game that made more money off one year than Jose Bautista. That’s not to disparage him.

“I’ve said this before, I was uneasy with the contract. Two or three days later I doubted myself and wondered if I did the right thing. I’d like to sit here and say, we knew all along he was going to perform well. But I still think the way things are, those deals are shorter-term deals and obviously Jose’s was a five-year deal, but look at what Beltre since he has signed his deal, he has been unbelievable and he is making $2-million more.”

On Red Sox plugging holes one at a time and whether the Blue Jays could have taken a similar approach or if they needed to get everything done at once…

“We talked a lot. We had people in the office that would have not done that trade, which was an indication that it was a fair deal from a baseball standpoint. It’s very hard to give up that kind of talent. One of the big talking points internally was, rather than give up the players, we were taking up a lot of dollars, let’s go spend it in the free agent market and we’d get to keep our players.

“In theory, that’s outstanding. That is the way to go, in theory, if you can guarantee getting the free agent players. The problem, as I even saw last year, there are two examples but one especially, there was a reliever that we tried to sign last year that I must have called the agent 80 times. We were offering more money and we just ultimately, it was geography, it was family, it was all of those things. Sometimes even though you have more money and more years there’s no guarantee you’re going to get the player.

“We sit here sometimes now and talk about, let’s go sign this free agent, and I remind everybody, a bunch of other teams are having the same conversation we are. There’s value in getting the bird in the hand and that’s sometimes where you don’t haggle as much if you’re close to being able to get something done.

“In a perfect world you keep the young players, you sign the free agent if you can get the right value. But from that standpoint it was the certainty of acquiring the players carried a lot of weight.”

But would you have been able to get the money if you did it piece by piece or would you have had to go to ownership each time?

“I would have been on my own to a certain point and once I reached that point, now I’m going over, that’s when I pick up the phone and call. But it’s pretty fast. I don’t have to go up to Rogers and put up a PowerPoint slide presentation and spend days doing it. Obviously I have a direct line with Paul and Paul takes care of that.

“It’s pretty seamless and it’s pretty fast. Nothing should develop so fast that I don’t have 30 seconds to make a call.”

But would it have been a tougher sell to keep going back to repeatedly as opposed to the one-stop shopping?

“We had a pretty good amount of money to spend coming into the offseason one way or the other. I would have brought Paul along ahead of time. It wouldn’t have been all of a sudden something came out of nowhere. Free agency wise you always have a game plan. We wanted to get at least two starters. We wanted to fill certain spots, utility infield, shortstop, all that kind of stuff.

“We had meetings right after the season, we had targets in free agency we were going to go after. We had made calls on the trade front. That’s what I talked about at the GM meetings, there were a lot of other balls in the air, there were a lot of other free agents we could have engaged in, but the Marlins trade was clearly the right fit.

“We had the right players for them and they had the right players for us. It made all the sense in the world. Rather than try to spend time on this and that, to focus all of our energy on that. We talked out of the Marlins suite, I said this is the deal we’re going to spend our time on. We’re going go at it hard, spend the week or five-six days and there was value in getting it done early. We couldn’t leave it hanging around with all of the other things going on.”

On whether there’s a specific type of player he’s looking for as the 25th guy…

“There’s value in keeping that spot open. You may, for whatever reason, carry one more guy in the bullpen. You may want to have someone that could be on option that you’ve got the flexibility to have someone go up and down if there’s a need there.

“We’ve picked up players each year at the end of Spring Training. Whether it was (Jayson) Nix or Fred Lewis. Guys become available at the end of Spring Training when they don’t make clubs.”

On Escobar (question asked on behalf of Tampa media)…

“Good player. Good defensive player. Outstanding hands, outstanding arm strength. A guy that has the ability to get on base and has very good raw power, pretty good gap power and has a lot of ability. A lot of talent, very talented shortstop.”

On how the AL East changed with the moves in the Winter Meetings…

“I still think there is so much more to be done on all levels. We up making a transaction early. Not by design, it just worked out that way. There’s no doubt those teams, not necessarily the Rays, but those teams do have dollars to spend, they have holes to fill. They’re going to keep doing it. Normally New York and certainly Boston can be big players in free agency. I expect that to continue, I don’t expect that to change.

“We made a big transaction early but there are still a lot of very good free agents that are out there. We’re done not, those teams are going to continue to get better.”

Leaving here closer to a free agent or a trade?

“If I had to pick one I’d say we’re unlikely to do either right now.”

So you’re set?

“I know we love to put words in my mouth but no I would say we’re going to try to continue to do things. I just don’t see there being anything right now. I think the Winter Meetings is tough. We’ve inquired on players, we’ve talked about things. But we don’t have anything that’s remotely close or that we’re really having a debate. I think there’s a bunch of deals that we can make at prices that we definitely do not want to pay.”

Long question about whether there’s a specific type of hitter for the 25th spot. A versatile player or a guy who can hit with some power, etc…

“We’ve had a debate about the 25th guy. I know it’s the 25th guy, but because of the versatility of the guys on the roster with Bonifacio, Izturis, obviously guys that can play all three outfield spots with Davis and Cabrera. We just don’t know how much the 25th guy is going to play and how he’s going to fit.

“We think Davis is certainly a bat that can hit against left-handers because he’s had some success doing that. The debate has been, do you keep the spot open? See how things go in Spring Training. Guys on Minor League deals that are performing well, guys that are out of options that don’t make teams. We can just take a wait and see approach. If we go sign someone to a guaranteed deal, and if we do, do you take someone that has more ability or someone that has a better clubhouse dynamic. Realizing that there isn’t going to be that many at-bats unless of course everybody gets hurt.

“That’s kind of the debate. Do you get someone that can help the dynamic of the clubhouse or be strictly the best player.”

Meet the manager with John Gibbons

John Gibbons sat down with reporters for his Meet the Manager session on Monday afternoon here at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. All managers  across Major League Baseball will sit through a similar media session this week with Boston skipper John Farrell scheduled to talk on Tuesday afternoon.

A nice bonus of this session is that the full transcript is provided to reporters by ASAP Sports. You can find my article about this scrum on the main media site but here’s with the full transcript from the event:

Q.  Your role this week is what?  We know what Alex does when it comes to trade signings, but when you’re in the room with him, what contributions does a manager make?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, what we do in there, you might throw out a name or two you’re thinking about trying to acquire or those kind of things, and he might go around and room and ask our opinions on different guys, if we know them, what do we think, what does that do to the team.  But one thing about Alex, he wants everybody’s opinion and he’s got to make the decision.  Kind of slow today and not much happening, but that’s kind of what happens at these meetings, and then the managers do these things and you turn around and go home.

Q.  What were your thoughts coming into today?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, I did that the first go‑around here, but it’s been a while.  But yeah, it’s always a ‑‑ it’s an exciting time because I’ve been out of it a while.  One thing, it’s always good to see some familiar faces that we have here.

Q.  It’s a little different coming into these meetings, for the last couple years it’s been about what are they going to give up.  Now you guys are coming in from a position of strength looking to maybe add some depth as opposed to what are we going to do.

JOHN GIBBONS:  We’re feeling good right now, there’s no question about it.  It was a big trade for us and signing Cabrera.  So they’ve really done a nice job of bringing in some players.  I said earlier when I got hired, now it’s a job that the manager and the coaching staff to pull it all together and get the most out of these guys.  But it’s a good position to be in.  This job came out of nowhere for me, and to be sitting there looking at some of the players that they acquired in doing that, makes it that much nicer.  I would have taken the job if he hadn’t made that deal, but it makes it much nicer to take it now.

Q.  Is there enormous pressure on you?

JOHN GIBBONS:  There’s always pressure, no doubt about it, because a lot is expected in the baseball world and the country of Canada and Toronto specifically there.  But yeah, that’s a good thing.  That means you’ve got a good team.  But there’s always pressure in this business to perform.

Q.  Alex was saying he was blown away by how many free agents are interested now in being a Blue Jay.  Do you get that sense in baseball, since the move how much of a popular distinction is now for players?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, everybody is excited about it.  When you turn on the TV, you hear about the Toronto Blue Jays a lot because of what they did and what the potential is here.  So it’s an exciting time.  You’ve got to go out and do it.  You can talk all the want, this time of year that’s what the game is.  But come April you’ve got to perform.

Q.  Have you gotten a chance in the last two weeks to talk to most of the guys you want to talk to?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, I’ve talked to most of the guys.  I’ve had trouble getting ahold of some of those guys down in Latin America, but yeah, I’ve talked to just about all of them.

Q.  What have you heard from the new guys especially?

JOHN GIBBONS:  They’re all excited, too.  A group of them came over, all played together last year so they all know each other, but there’s a lot of new faces.  And the guys that have been here, they look at if the trade is good for them, too.  You know what, our team got that much better and they’re excited about it.  Everybody wants to win.  And normally guys want to get to the Big Leagues and become everyday players and establish themselves, and once you do that, it’s time to win.

So they’re all ready to go.  But I’m going to have to familiarize myself a little bit more when we get to Spring Training because these guys don’t know me and I’ve got to get to know them, and we’ve got to come together as a team.  You just can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t play as a team or focus on the same thing, you don’t get anywhere.

Q.  Do you like the idea of having a guy like Buehrle as a veteran of this team?  Even when Doc was here, he was still growing with the team a little bit before he became that veteran guy.

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, Mark has been around a long time, been very, very successful.  Naturally he’s going to be a leader.  And you don’t need to be a local guy.  He’s the kind of guy that can lead by example.  Those guys, when things get tough, you can always fall back on them.  They have a tendency of pulling you through it and making a big pitching outing and getting a big hit to get a win.  Veterans have been around a while and they’ve got that knock.

Q.  Have you started looking at your roster and picture how you’d like the rotation to go or a batting order to do and utilizing what you have?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, I’ve tinkered with it from Day 1 when I got the job.  It’s a pretty good lineup now.  You’re not scrambling to jam guys in up at the top, but getting somebody who can hit at the top of the order.  Now we’ve got so many guys that can do that, we’ll sometimes have to move some guys back.  But it’s too early to say who’s going to hit where.  I can probably tell you the top four right now, definitely Reyes, probably going to be Cabrera and then Bautista and Encarnacion, I can guarantee that.

Q.  Alex was saying you talked about giving the opportunity to hit lefties.  What gives you the belief that he can hit lefties?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, Adam broke in when I was there, I think there was a couple September call‑ups.  After I got fired the first time, he got called up for good and really took off.  From Day 1 in the Minor Leagues he could always hit.  I mean, he was drafted as a hitter and he was always successful.  Last couple years he’s fallen on some tough times, but he’s hit before, so I expect he’s going to get every opportunity to do the same because he’s got a chance to be a key part of this.  And he hit before, he should be able to hit again.

Q.  What other things are going to be your priorities?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, you know, I just sit back and kind of look at the team, just kind of dream, if you will.  But right now with the new coaching staff, the new bench coach, we just kind organizing Spring Training because that’s the main thing in front of us right now, that’s basically it, and then finding a bullpen coach.  Hopefully we’ll have something next week where we’re going to do with that.  Other than that it’s been quiet and just enjoying the moment.

Q.  Have you had a chance to talk to Brett?  And what have people told you about him?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, you know, I had ‑‑ he’s a very aggressive kid with a ton of talent, got a chance to be one of the best players in the game.  That’s what I’ve heard about him.  I’ve heard, too, that he’s learned at this level on the basis he made some mistakes, that kind of thing.  I read that, I’ve heard that.  But he’s a kid ‑‑ from everything I’ve heard he’s the kind of guy you want on your team, he’ll run through the wall for you, and he’s got a ton of talent.  That’s the bottom line.  And with more experience, actually he’ll become a smarter player.

Q.  Have you had a chance to chat with him?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, I talked to him a couple times on the phone, yeah, and he’s excited.  He’s a gung-ho kid you can just tell by talking to him.  Also a friend of mine was one of his hitting coaches when he was down in Double‑A with the Brewers, and he said, “You’ll love this kid.  He’ll go through a wall for you.”  I’ve heard nothing but good things to be honest with you.

Q.  The common thread in describing you as a manager here is knowing how to handle a bullpen.  In your mind what is it you do with a bullpen that makes it effective?

JOHN GIBBONS:  You know, that would be tough to answer.  First of all, you’ve got to have good guys pitching down there.  You’ve got to have some talent, some fire power, then you just piece it together.  With a good starting rotation that always makes a bullpen better because those guys are working less, and then you’ve just got to identify the roles and run with it, know who can do what.  And you’ve still got to protect those guys.  You don’t want to kill them down there.  You piece it together like a puzzle in a lot of ways.

Q.  Do you go into Spring Training in that regard with an open mind in terms of roles?

JOHN GIBBONS: Yeah, because they threw some things at me.  I know Janssen, he had a great year and he took over as a closing role.  We’ll find out about Sergio, see where he’s at, find out whether coming out of the gates he’s healthy enough.  It make take him a while to get going.  But guys like Delabar and Lincoln, good arms, see how they fit.  Luke, the lefty, it’s always valuable to have a good lefty that can get lefties out.  A lot of guys can’t.  We’ll piece it together.  But I’ve got to learn these guys.  And you can’t judge everything off Spring Training because you know how that is sometimes, so I’ll rely on these other guys to tell me some of that.

Q. Is part of it letting them know when they’re going to be used and not getting them up too often?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, that’s where it takes its toll on the bullpen is you get them up and you don’t use them.  If you get them up and you get them in the game, everything is fine.  There’s ups and downs that really take their toll on these guys.  You can’t always do that, but if you’re conscious of it and say ‑‑ especially with your late‑inning guys, you’ve really got to guard those guys because if things are going well they’re going to be in a lot of games, so you’ve got to be conscious of that.

Q.  Is Mike the second baseman as far as you’re concerned or could Emilio Bonifacio win that job?

JOHN GIBBONS:  As of Thursday he’s signed to do that, but he’s very versatile.  He can play several positions.  Bonifacio can also play the outfield.  We do have to figure that out, but it’s a good problem to have because they’re both very talented kids, men.  So we’ll see.

Q.  Update on Sergio Santos?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, we don’t know anything about Sergio really.  Well, we know ‑‑ we don’t know how far along he is.  You’ve got to be conscious of that.

Q.  Regardless of that, what Janssen did last year, would you give him the chance to keep the job because it’s his to lose?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, that’s tough to answer right now, but I’m a big fan of Casey’s because I had him before, I know what he’s capable of doing.  Any time you come off a surgery, you’ve got to be ‑‑ you don’t know what’s going to happen.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  But it’s nice to have both those guys and maybe can do that.  Casey had a little minor procedure himself, so you’ve got to be conscious of that, of both those guys.

Q.  Can you compare how you’re looking for a place in this division?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, I still think it’s the toughest division in baseball.  That first go‑around, it was tough.  You were looking up at Boston and New York all the time.  Tampa was on the verge of really coming into their own.  You could see some young players ‑‑ in Baltimore at that time they scored runs; on the nights they pitched they were very tough.  I followed them over the years, and New Yorks and Bostons, they’re always going to be ‑‑ Boston had a down year last year, but that’s not going to last.  And Baltimore gets into the postseason.  Tampa is right there.  So it’s a tough grind, tough division to play in, but that’s why we feel with the trades we made and signing of Cabrera gives us a shot.  But you’ve got to go out and do it, but it gives us a lot of excitement.

Q.  How do you feel about the starting rotation?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Very good.  Very good.  You know, I think every team in baseball is looking for five guys they can count on, and through this trade we added two pretty good ones.  So that was a question mark coming in before they made that trade.  Yeah, we feel pretty good.

You’re going to have your ups and downs throughout a year, guys are going to get banged up, there will be some injuries.  That’s just part of it.  Now the thing is you’ve got to focus on depth.  So one of these guys or two of those guys go down for any length of time, can we cover it.  That’s where teams get in trouble.  Same thing with the bullpen.  Hopefully you have a guy sitting down in Triple‑A that can come up and maybe has a little experience and he’s not just a BP arm out there.

Q.  How much do you know about Happ?  He pitched in the National League.  And what do you expect out of the fifth starter in terms of performance?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, you want a guy that’s good and competitive that can keep you in a ballgame, give you a chance to win.  The thing I remember most about Happ was a Spring Training game the last time I was here and we played the Phillies over there, and he just blew us away for five innings or whatever his stint was.  I can remember talking to J. P. about that afterward.  Who’s this guy right here?  I kind of lost track, but he’s got a good arm.  He strikes out ‑‑ he’s a big strikeout guy, and he’s be a perfect fit.  Here’s his opportunity over here to do it, and lefties are always valuable.  Some of the best hitters in the game are lefties.

Q.  It seems like there’s a special window for the Blue Jays who have been shut out for a long time.  Is this your time?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, we hope so.  But I mean, it’s still early in the offseason.  The Yankees are going to be good.  They won it again last year.  You know, the Red Sox, there’s too much pressure on them not to do something to strengthen their team after what they went through last year.  That’s a given.  And Tampa, they come at you and they’re one of the better teams in baseball every year the last few years.  And Baltimore.

I don’t know if this is our window.  We think we’re very competitive and we can compete in this division now, but we’re hoping this is our time.

Q.  Is it going to be strange at all playing in your division after managing another team?

JOHN GIBBONS:  No, because I don’t really know them.  If I knew them, it might be a little bit different, but I know he’s a fixture there in Boston.  They really wanted him back.  After all those years of being the pitching coach there.  I did get a chance ‑‑ I was in town with Kansas City a couple years ago and got a chance to meet John, but I really don’t know him, but I’m sure he’ll do a great job over there.

Q.  He knows your players fairly well.

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, but you know, to get him out or hit him, you’ve still got to execute, and we like our guys.

Q.  What else do you think this team needs to finalize the roster?

JOHN GIBBONS:  To be honest with you, I like the way it sits now, but you’re always looking to strengthen it in whatever way.  I think the big thing now is depth, to overcome some injuries, what have you.  But you know, they put together a pretty good group of guys.  You can’t have everything.  Nobody has a perfect team.  You’re never going to ‑‑ we sure like the way it’s shaping up right now.

Q.  Have you had conversations about what went wrong last year, what things have you heard?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, just from what I’ve heard and what I’ve read and things like that, baserunning was an issue, running into needless outs.  I can’t comment on a lot of that because I wasn’t here.  That’s not fair to anybody that was.  I guess this would be my chance because I don’t know most of these guys.  To get to know them, make my own judgments.  You know, throw my philosophies at them, that kind of thing, my style of play.

So I can’t worry about that.  It’s a new start for them.  It’s a new start for me.  But this team has got very good team speed.  We’ve got power.  We’ve got the pitching.  So we need to play smart baseball is basically all I can tell you right now.

Q.  On the running game….

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, you know, you’ve got guys and that’s their game and they’ve been very successful about it and they do it, you don’t want to shut that down.  That’s why we got them, because they can do those things.  So go for it, but be smart, too.  Because we have some hitters sitting in the middle of that lineup that are ready to drive you in and hit home runs and those kind of things.  So be smart about it.  We don’t want to run unnecessary outs or ‑‑ still, you’ve got to be successful at a high rate, you know, when you’re stealing.  But hey, that’s your game, go for it.  That way you come up against tough pitching on a given night, low run scoring game, those guys can generate the runs for you and that’s how you can win those games.  But they’re getting paid a lot of money to do those things and we’re not going to get in the way of that.

Q.  Which coach will handle the running game?          

JOHN GIBBONS:  Luis will handle that, and Murph, and then me.

Q.  When you were interviewing with Alex on the weekend in Toronto, since then when you’re talking with players on the phone, has anyone mentioned the clubhouse situation late in the season, especially the players?  Have you talked to them about it?

JOHN GIBBONS:  No.  I had heard some things and read it, but I didn’t want to approach that.  You’re going to get guys, different views on what’s going on in there, and you’ve got ‑‑ I’m sure you run into guys that weren’t fond of somebody that might have been here, that kind of thing, so you’re going to get different stories and that kind of thing, so I didn’t want to approach that.

I’m taking over, so this is my chance to kind of shape the clubhouse the way I think it is.  I think they’ve got some good guys on the team, but there’s going to be a bunch of new faces, so you’ve still got to come together.

Q.  You mentioned your approach and philosophy.  How would you describe it?

 JOHN GIBBONS:  My personality or ‑‑

 Q.  Both.

 JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, I think any smart manager, you’ve got to take a look and see what you’ve got.  Like I said a minute ago, we’ve got really good team speed, we’ve got guys that can hit the ball in the seats.  And you’ve got to remember, too, in our division, it’s a good division for hitting home runs, too.  We’ve got guys that can do that, some guys that are just good hitters.

We’ll turn them loose when we need to and then it’s just pretty much just running the pitching staff is where everything comes into play.  Getting the most out of your players.  You’ve got to get the most out of who they are.  That’s what I think successful managers do.  I’ve said before, and I don’t want to minimize things, but baseball is different from other sports where it’s not all Xs and Os because most teams bunt at the same times, whatever the situation might be.  They’ll hit and run, steal and all that, depending on who’s on the mound.  You know what I’m talking about.  Fastball, play calling, Xs and Os is everything, so baseball is getting the most out of what you’ve got, and the guys that are successful in this business do that.  Your top managers, that’s what they do.  And then they’re smart enough, I believe, to get out of the way and let those guys ‑‑ you can’t control everything in this business.  That’s why you see talented teams win and less talented lose.  Turn them loose and let them use their skills.

Q.  A lot of times when you bring good players together, they don’t always match.

JOHN GIBBONS:  No doubt, yeah.

Q.  So that’s part of the job, too.

JOHN GIBBONS:  That’s a big part of it, yeah.  A lot of new faces.  Everybody has got to be looking for the same goal, and that’s to win.  You’d like that to always be the case, but different teams that’s not always the case.

So we’ve got to make sure we get that out of them, and I think we will.  But it should be fun.  But there’s no substitute for talent in this business, and so going in we’ve got a lot of talent.  That’s why we feel really good.

Q.  Is it going to be tough on you not having at least Lawrie and Reyes all Spring Training because of the World Baseball Classic and maybe some other guys?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Yeah, you’d rather have it the other way, but it’s been very successful.  It gives them a chance to represent their countries.  But you’d rather have it the other way because you want them doing their normal routine instead of going off and just playing games.  But nothing you can do about it.

Q.  Would you have anything to say about Bautista, whether he plays or not?

JOHN GIBBONS:  Well, I know the team’s, the ballclub’s, talked to him about it might be smart not to.  But if you get a chance to represent your country, that’s kind of tough to get in the way of that.  But you’re still ‑‑ your player is still your number one responsibility.  So whatever that means.

Q.  There’s been a lot of talk about expanding instant replay after some of the things that have happened.  What’s your view on that?

JOHN GIBBONS:  You know, I wouldn’t get carried away with it because I think that’s one of the beauties of the game is the human element.  The umpires, they don’t miss a lot.  Maybe fair or foul balls down the lines would be something I would look at to go along with the home runs.  But as far as trapped balls and things like ‑‑ I don’t know, now you’re getting ‑‑ expanding it any more than that, I think it would mess up the game too much.

Like I said, these guys are pretty good at what they do.  When you slow those things down and actually see it.  But we all make mistakes out there.  That’s one of the beauties of baseball.  The human element can get in the way sometimes. 

Anthopoulos on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings

Day 1 of the Winter Meetings is now in the blocks. On the main site, you’ll find my article on Blue Jays’ likely choosing minor additions over another blockbuster move and a piece about John Gibbons entering the season with a lot of pressure to perform.

Here’s a full rundown of what GM Alex Anthopoulos had to say to the media on Monday afternoon:

How do these meetings compare to the first ones you attended in Indy?

“Didn’t enjoy the first meetings in Indy, Roy Halladay, getting grilled by you guys daily, trying to keep it quiet, I didn’t feel pressure the first meeting because it was what it was, it was just hard with the media focus and the frenzy to try and keep things quiet. The tough part of that one is you’re coming here trying to trade a player that has a full no-trade clause, so it’s not one hand tied behind your back, it’s both. Just not an enjoyable process and I think that really cemented my belief in no no-trade clauses, I wouldn’t want to be in that position again.”

Change after payroll jump?

“I haven’t seen that yet from a financial standpoint, I have seen more interest in all of a sudden coming to the Toronto Blue Jays by players. I’ve had other players call me and say so and so wants to come here, free agents, that’s exciting to see. Paul always talked about this, whether it’s the hot water in the bathrooms, or the field, or that stadium, and it’s winning. We haven’t won anything or played a (playoff) game, but it’s the attempt to win and be competitive and be a contending team has opened eyes and that’s exciting. Paul’s right, we have to go out and do it and win, but there’s definitely been more interest because of the commitment that ownership has made and it’s clear everyone believes we’re trying to move forward and make the club better.

Depth to rotation, minor-league free agents, why not aim higher?

“I think you can do both. I always get asked about payroll and it’s not a bottomless pit and we talked about the parameters or the areas, and for where we’re at not, we blew by whatever the area was, that’s in the dust, the rear-view mirror of where I thought we were going to be. The Marlins trade really changed that. It’s not a bottomless pit but I also know the right trade, the right player, I always have that ability to have the conversation with Paul and he in turn takes that up to ownership.

“We’re happy with the five starters we have, it’s the reality of you’re probably going to need more than five, someone’s not going to perform, someone is going to get hurt, so it’s more starters 6, 7, 8, at least and no team is motivated to trade those types of players. They don’t make any money, they have options left, so you’re looking to trade young player for young player or conversely you’re talking about signing a minor-league free agent. It’s important but it’s hard to do. Sure if somebody came up that would push someone out of the rotation, great, I just don’t necessarily see that occurring, and we’re happy with the talent of the starting five.”

Would you look at guys like Kevin Slowey?

“Anyone that qualifies as a minor-league free agent we would look at. The challenge is that we do have five established starters in the rotation right now, so it’s not about selling the opportunity, the opportunity is right there and it speaks for itself. That’s certainly a challenge. The fact that there’s not a lot of upper-level depth, anybody can look at it and say, ‘you know what? I’m one pitch away from being called up, one 6.00 ERA from being called up, and that certainly can happen.’ And it’s probably going to happen.

“The fact that we don’t have a lot of bodies at the higher levels to compete with can open it up. Again, most of those deals to minor-league free agents, at least the ones that have a chance to have the greatest impact, they’re going to wait as long as they can to get a 40-man spot, to get a big-league deal, and those deals might get done in January. The meetings aren’t normally where you get those deals done.”

Carlos Villanueva — Could he be the depth SP/swing man you guys are looking for?

“Yeah, he could. After we made the trades, I called him just to check in with him and just to see where he’s at. He still wants to start but I think, at the same time, with the changes that we made to the team and to the roster, he’s a little more open to coming in and competing for a spot. Carlos wants to win, he has always been adamant about that. Clearly he wants an opportunity to start as well but because he feels better about the team he was a little more open-minded.

“I probably don’t have anything more to report on that front. I just wanted to check in on him and see if he was adamant that he needed a guaranteed spot or if he was a little more open to competing. From my conversation with him, was a little more open but it didn’t go any further than that at that point. I told him this during the summer, that the reason I couldn’t lock into a spot is one, if I did, I would keep my word to him, but I didn’t want to be prevented if a trade presented itself, all of a sudden we made a commitment and I had to turn down a trade.”

Open to the idea of bringing back Brandon Lyon or Jason Frasor?

“Early in the process, all of our free agents, whether it’s the agent or the player, depending on my relationships. Obviously Brandon Lyon I don’t know as well but a guy like Jason Frasor or Darren Oliver I’ve gotten to know a little bit more. We’re open to all of those guys we’re just trying to work through a few things. There’s still some trade opportunities and it’s just like what I talked about earlier, if you still have some options and you make a trade, all of a sudden it may eliminate an opportunity. We want to make sure that some of the trade options, we vet those out and we know that they’re not going to happen. Then we can maybe go back to some of our free agents if they’re still around.”

On whether Oliver’s informed the club whether he’ll be back or not in 2013…

“He’s not sure yet. I talked to him a week or two ago, he’s open to coming back to Toronto, so I think it’s more a decision on whether he’s going to play or not. It’s very consistent to what we talked about last offseason when we signed him, it’s family considerations more than anything else. His boys are getting older and it’s hard being away from home.

“I think he’s encouraged and excited by the changes that we’ve made to the team but I think it’s going to go to January. I just talked to him before we left and he’s going on holidays for a week or so. It may go to January. I think most likely it will go to January. We’re going to continue to have dialogue but right now I’d say it’s a coin flip whether he’s going to be back or whether he’s going to play again.”

On whether a deal for a frontline starter seems likely…

“We always look but I would just say right now, unlikely. If something changed tonight, tomorrow, the day after. I just think there is so much going on. There’s so many teams having dialogue it’s hard to really pin anybody down. I think it’s harder to get things done here. I think free agents, I think the Winter Meetings have become a place where free agents sign, more than trades get made.”

On Eli Whiteside essentially replacing the recently non-tendered Bobby Wilson…

“Pretty much. The Yankees signed him to a deal where they guaranteed some Minor League dollars. We talked about doing the same thing with Bobby Wilson on Friday, where we would have signed him to a pre-tender deal, he may have come off the roster, if he cleared he would have provided us depth. He wanted to see his options, test the market a little bit. So, Whiteside is someone that we think is similar. We like him and we have depth and we’ll just see how the offseason continues to move forward.”

This rules you out of the Rule 5, correct?

“We’re going to be at 40. Today was the day. We could have not claimed Whiteside and left the spot open but we decided to go ahead with it. So, unless we release someone, which we don’t play on doing (we’ll pass on Rule 5).”

On reaction to the news that Alex Rodriguez is undergoing another hip surgery…

“I wasn’t surprised. Maybe slightly on the level of what they say – four to six months. I heard grumblings that there may have been some rumors and things like that  but it doesn’t really change what we do. The Yankees are great. They’re good every year. They continue to be good every single year. Brian Cashman does an unbelievable job of continuing to sign players to short term contracts that produce, so it doesn’t change anything for us.

On whether Janssen’s recent surgery increased desire for more depth in the bullpen…

“No, I find, last year, I mean I talked about this a lot. Transitioning to a team that we hope is a contender year in and year out, starting to place more of an emphasis on the bullpen and building that depth. Again, the more options you have, the greater likelihood that you don’t have to overuse a reliever when the manager has more options.

“We have some guys in the bullpen that have options, so if we have more relievers. That’s why you see us claiming guys on outright waivers, whether it be Cory Wade, we just took off or Jeremy Jeffress and so on. Building that depth is so important, like I said. You know guys are going to get hurt and you need to try to build as much depth as we can.”

On whether it will be tough to replace Oliver in free agency or if club could go with status quo…

“Right now we’re fine with the group that we have with or without him. We’re better if we have him, clearly.But we’re fine with the group that we have. Again, it’s about what do we have behind those guys. Maybe it’s just last season, all the injuries and the changes.I know you can’t have depth all over the place, but depth on the mound is so important. I do think better performance out of the rotation is certainly going to help the bullpen as well. We had so many starts where guys were going an inning and a third, a third of an inning. The bullpen would get crushed for six days. The adage is the bullpen’s only as good as your starting rotation. There’s definitely some merit to that.

“So the more options we have, we’ve talked about right now Loup would be one of the left-handers. Cecil is out of options. He’d have to make the team. You need another left-handed reliever but you have a bunch of righties that can get lefties out. Rogers can get lefties out. Delabar can get lefties out. Lincoln can get lefties out. So, we like the depth. We like the sawing-and-miss ability. I’d just like to have another two or three guys waiting in the wings in case we have to make some changes.”

Update on Joel Carreno (who was struck near the eye by a ball during a game in the Dominican Republic)…

“He’s having surgery tomorrow in the Dominican. He should recover. His eyesight is pretty much come back, He should be recovered in three weeks and ready for spring.”

Update on search for a bullpen coach…

“Gibby and I, we’ve talked about it on and off. Before the meetings. We’ve talked to Pete as well. Pete’s going to have very strong, probably the most important voice because he’s the one that has to work with him day in and day out. We have a short group of candidates. I would expect it to get done before the holidays. There’s a lot of trade stuff going on. There’s a liort of things we were trying to work on before we got here. We just figured when we get to the meetings, we’ll just talk about it more, so it’ll certainly get done before the new year.

On whether there has been more trade talks than a year ago…

“I have to sit back and think about what we did last year, but maybe in my mind I feel like we’re much more specific about who we’re really engaging n trade. I don’t think we’re casting as wide a net. You always cast a wide net at the beginning. You talk to every club. What are your needs? Once I realize we don’t really fit with certain clubs, I really won’t follow up as much as I would have. I’ll stick with the teams I really feel like there’s a really good chance of there being a deal. It doesn’t mean deals get done, but like I mentioned at the GM meetings, there may be 10 teams I feel could be a deal with, but two have a stronger likelihood. Then I push the eight teams to the side and concentrate on the two.”

On who is the favorite in the AL East…

“I would say the way the division ended up last year. You have to go that way. I don’t like to get caught up in what people do in the winter. People talk about Anaheim last year, Boston two years ago. I was here when they signed Crawford and Gonzalez. We were all saying wow, nobody’s going to win a game again. To me you show respect to the teams that already won. The other thing too, is the changes that we made, we’ve got a larger gap to make up. We won 73 games. It’s one thing if we’re within a win or two of each other, but we still have a large mountain to climb. Till we start playing games and guys stay healthy and have good seasons, we’re the fourth best team in my opinion because the other three teams haven’t gotten worse.”

Trading Molina last year make it easier to part with prospects this offseason? You were extremely reluctant to part with Molina but were eventually convinced to pull the trigger…

“I don’t think Molina had an impact on that, I think it was more where the team was. We consciously went into last season….we had our own scouts see our own affiliates more than we ever have. I remember Charlie Wilson saying ‘Man, someone’s running through our affiliates every day, pretty much’ we had a scout there and I really wanted to have as much information on our own players ‘cause we felt like the organization was starting to shift in that direction, and clearly it was going to be the focus was going to be on big-league players rather than Minor-League players. And that’s what…at the trade deadline, because we have a larger staff, by the time we got to July, we already had seen every minor-league team multiple times, so we would have gotten a 3rd or 4th look the last month or two, and we really didn’t need, we had enough.

“So it was let’s now get a 3rd or 4th look at the big-league level instead of a 3rd or 4th look at the minor-league level, because we had all the information so, ummm, I probably spent more time with our affiliates and so on. I think it’s just where you’re at as an organization. 2010 when we started we had a lot of holes to fill – the age of the players, the contractual status – you don’t want to be in the middle, it’s one or the other. I don’t think it’s ever easy to trade prospects and young kids, especially when you have your staff around you that believes so strongly in them.”

More likely to trade or sign for a bullpen piece?

“I think we’re more likely to not do anything in the pen, if I had to guess. If something presents itself, great, but it’s not something that’s a front-burner issue for us. It’d be nice to get a little more depth, it’d be nice to get a little more starting depth.”

On Triple-A affiliate being in Buffalo and how that improves club’s chances at Minor League free agents…

“I think it’s helped. I think the hard part about the PCL is, as a minor-lg free agent, you sign a contract, and if you end up spending the bulk of the year there – you’re signing a one-year deal – you always think about how you’re going to hit the market the following year. Unfortunately, the ERAs are so inflated, you’re not as appealing if you’re coming off a 6 ERA in that league and I think it allows you to maintain your value a bit more, being in the IL. From some of the feedback we’ve gotten, people have great things to say about the operation, the way players are treated, the stadium and so on, that certainly helped as well. I think it’s been a help all over the place.”

Update on Santos…

“I asked our staff that the other day, and again, until he’s off a mound in Spring Training, but they think he’s going to be fine, so we’re encouraged. But again, in my mind, until guys are out there doing it, it’s more of a wait and see approach on all these guys.”

Platoon partner for Lind a top priority?

“I think Davis certainly can do that. We’ve talked about it, I think Gibby’s thought – we were talking about it a little bit today – I think his thought would be to give him one more crack at facing some left-handers early but knowing that obviously we have some other options. But his thought today, and obviously he’ll make those decisions going forward and he could change his mind in the spring and during the season, but he did bring it up today that he thought you know what, maybe to let those guys get the Abs early even against some left-handers, take a look at the results and maybe then make the adjustment, but clearly you look at the left-right splits and we do have some options with some right-handed bats and we’ve looked at who’s our 25th guy going to be and it might make sense to get a right-handed bat. We don’t really have anybody right now who would be the 25th guy.”

On trainer Hap Hudson leaving. Did it have anything to do with the injuries?

“No, no, not at all. Hap’s been a trainer for a long time and he has some other opportunities that he wanted to pursue as well but no, it’s not related at all. Hap could have absolutely stayed in the organization but he wanted to pursue some other things. He was outstanding for us, a valuable and experienced trainer.”

Can you rely on McGowan next season?

“I hope so, but again, anyone who has been injured, I don’t want to go into Spring Training counting on them. That’s not to take anything away from them, but I think we’re better to prepare in the winter that way and if they all factor, I’d love to be in a position that we didn’t count on the injured players and all of a sudden they all come back and we’re stuck and we have too many guys. That’d be a great set-up for us.”

Cecil strictly a reliever now?

“I think so. I think the thought right now is just strictly pen and he’s got to make the team out of Spring Training.”

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