I’ve been in Florida for less than a week and I’ve already changed my opinion on several key issues surrounding the Blue Jays during this year’s Spring Training. There are only a handful of jobs up for grabs this spring but those competitions should be rather interesting to watch as these next few weeks unfold.
I arrived in Dunedin with a few predictions in mind. The first was that Drew Hutchison was going to win the final spot in the rotation and that Josh Thole would be the back-up behind the plate with the main purpose of becoming R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher.
Unlike previous springs, it hasn’t taken very long for me to change my tune and here are some of the reasons why:
On Morrow’s bullpen…
It’s just good to see him out there, it’s been awhile. The thing I’m most impressed with, you look at him, he has put on a lot of weight, muscle. He looks strong, he looks like you’re supposed to look and last year he didn’t look like that. He looks like a good strong, durable starting pitcher. The fact that he’s out there and feels good, is big for us.
On performance of SP last April/May…
Today is the last day I’m going to talk about last year, but last year we didn’t play very well in any phase of the game early on. We didn’t play very good defense, hitting was sporadic and we struggled in the rotation. That leads to how we started the season. But these guys have a lot of pride, expect most of them to bounce back. We had some real good performances on the year, at the end of it, with Dickey, Buehrle, some of those guys. Rasmus, Eddie, some really good years but as a team it was a struggle. We have to go about our business and answer some questions.
On SP depth chart…
We have a good idea. We have some good depth now. Drabek’s back, Hutch is back, we feel good about that. Stroman is on the move. Sanchez, we think will come quick. We have some options whereas last year we didn’t have that many. Hopefully you don’t need that many but the reality of the game is you might. The depth is definitely better, whoever wins that last spot, we’ll see, but it’ll be a nice little competition. McGowan’s in the mix now, we’re going to try and stretch him out and see how that works. We like the way it looks, we really do, but we still have to go out and do it.
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.”