The Bullpen: Stroman vows to overcome taint of drug suspension
YEAR 2, VOLUME III, Feb. 25, 2013
Spring training is always and easily the best time of the year for baseball fans. But this spring, before the games started, you had to get there early or you missed it with regard to seeing the Jays players working out at the Mattick Centre. Manager John Gibbons runs quick workouts.
Most days, the players’ bus would leave Florida Auto Exchange Stadium at 9 a.m. heading the 12 minutes to Mattick. Players would stretch at 9:20 a.m. and before noon they were done, except for some late conditioning. Now granted, most of them did early work before nine at the other park and the weight room is always jammed and rocking to a loud Latin beat. But still. Noon?
“I think, one, it’s a longer spring training, so we’re going to be here that much longer,” Anthopoulos said. “The other thing, players are coming in, it’s an older team, our young players, other than Brett (Lawrie) who’s 23, are Colby (Rasmus) and J.P. (Arencibia) at 26-27. So we have a bunch, for the most part, of veteran players that know what they need to do to get their work done and when it’s done they get to go home.”
Most springs, the club will add some “B” games in the morning, usually prior to the regularly scheduled game against a team that’s geographically close like the Phillies or Yankees. But this year, with only one split squad scheduled, the Jays chose to add nothing, even with 35 pitchers in camp.
“I think there’s so many spots on the roster that are set,” Anthopoulos explained. “In the past we’d get a lot more ‘B’ games because there was more competition in the rotation, more competition in the bullpen. You really need to get people as much of a look as you can.
“Going in with so many jobs already sealed, we tell the players right out of the chute. You know what the five-man rotation is. The bullpen, this is the short list, if things change, but otherwise, when players sign as mino- league free agents. So there’s no need to schedule extra games. We’re going to see those guys in minor-league camp.”
Even through it’s a more veteran Jays team, there’s still a lot of work to be done during the Grapefruit League schedule and a lot of that work has to do with the new coaching staff being on the same page and correcting mistakes, making sure they are not repeated. That became apparent in the opener vs. the Tigers when Moises Sierra was thrown out at third base to end an inning one step before Adam Lind scored a run, nullifying the tally. Later on in the game, it was Mike McCoy colliding with Ryan Langerhans. Bench coach DeMarlo Hale addressed both issues.
“Seeing (those situations occur) helps you evaluate, but it also brings up some situations where we have a group meeting,” Hale said. “With McCoy and Langerhans. I’m sure Murph (Dwayne Murphy), when we have some time, outfielders working together, he’ll address it again, because he’s done it before, how important it is to communicate. That’s part of the game. You learn from it.
“There were a few coaches that did speak to Sierra and just remind him. The good thing is I saw some players saying something. I thought that was very key, because that means your teammates are having accountability too. That’s good for any team. It happened in the flow of the game. We were able to get some time to speak to him when he came back in from the three outs. I saw Luis (Rivera) say something, even Marty Brown. It’s flow of the game. It’s not scripted. You can’t script that.”
But the two highlights of the camp thus far are undeniably:
1. Lance Zawadzki’s game-winning grand-slam in Saturday’s opener and
2. Jose Bautista’s monster mash on Sunday proving his critics wrong and even though he won’t admit it, laying his own mind to rest concerning the left wrist.
The fact is Marcus Stroman failed a PED test. The Blue Jays’ third-ranked prospect, last August while he was in Vancouver, was tested under terms of the more stringent minor-league program and was caught using a banned stimulant, suspended 50 games. By that time he had already been promoted to AA-New Hampshire. The negative mental image fans have of the PED drug cheat is of a shifty-eyed underachiever trying to take his limited talents to the next level, entering something illegal into his system deep in the shadows, away from his clean teammates, using an illicitly obtained liquid, cream or pill to make himself bigger, faster, stronger. Makes you shiver just thinking about it.
However, the Jays’ 21-year-old right-hander, selected 22nd overall in June 2012, Stroman shatters that stereotype. Stroman sat across a table from reporters the other day at the Mattick Centre in Dunedin, Fla, young, wide-eyed, looking like someone’s college-aged son, the kid ncxt door you would approve dating your daughter. Stroman had driven to Florida ahead of the minor-league reporting date, from his home in New York, with just a side-trip to his alma mater, Duke University to attend a Blue Devils-Tar Heels basketball game. In three years at Duke, he had never done that. Stroman had arrived at the Mattick Centre in time for the first day of the Jays’ annual mini-camp for top prospects, but of course, he had not been invited because he is currently serving a suspension that has 42 games left to go.
As a reward for his eagerness and enthusiasm, Jays brass allowed him to throw a bullpen on the side with Justin Jackson, a former first-round pick converting to pitcher after a failed infield career. Keenly watching the 15-minute session were GM Alex Anthopoulos and AGM Tony LaCava.
It had been a shocking moment for everyone when MLB announced that Stroman, the son of a long-time Long Island detective and a kid one semester away from graduating at Duke, had been suspended under the minor-league PED testing program, for using a banned stimulant.
“It was devastating at first, just a huge shock, and it was tough,” Stroman said. “The Toronto front office guys, they definitely helped me through it and let me know everything was going to be all right. I was in contact with Alex throughout the whole process. Alex let me know, if I was on the 40-man roster it wouldn’t have resulted in any suspension, it’s just part of the minor-league drug program.
“He let me know from the beginning, it is what is, you’re going to serve it, but we’re all here behind you and we’re going to help you get through it, everything will be all right. That and my family, I just have a very close-knit family and a few couple of friends. I stayed away from everything for a bit right after it happened, and moved past it. I realized it was a mistake, I put it in the past, and I’ve just been focused on the future and the present.”
Stroman offered his explanation of what happened. As part of his personal workout program, he had been consuming an over-the-counter product for a pre-workout boost that he obtained from a health store similar to GNC. It contained OxyElite which is on the banned substance list in the minor-league program, slightly different and more inclusive, more extensive than the major-league list.
“It’s just like Jack-3D and all that stuff like you take in college,” Stroman said. “I had no idea it was illegal, so it was an honest mistake. We do get a list. It was definitely neglectful on my part because I didn’t look at the list, so it was definitely my fault and I owned up to it. I understand exactly what it was. I’ve kept my head and down and worked harder than I ever have this off-season just to be prepared for this upcoming season.
“I have 42 games left and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be on the Double-A roster, they start April 4, and May 17, I’m pretty sure that’s the day. I’ll be down here, I’ll be working hard every single day and when the time comes, the time comes and I’ll be ready to go.”
Stroman is well aware that similar arguments of innocence through ignorance have been used countless times by countless disgraced players before. It will be a tough road back to being completely accepted, with fans in ballparks taunting him. The stain of suspension is hard to wash away.
“I know that’s the response I’ll get, I know that’s how it’s going to be looked at, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Stroman shrugged. “I understand people are going to automatically assume things and put me in certain categories, that’s where my family and my close-knit group comes in. I do care what people think about me, but there’s only so much you can care about what someone thinks about you. Literally, I’ve put (the incident) in my past, it’s in my past. I won’t mess up ever again, man. Everything goes through Donovan (Santas, minor-league strength and conditioning co-ordinator) and all the trainers here. I can promise you that won’t happen again. ”
Over and over again, Stroman referred to the strength of his family as his personal strength. His parents divorced when he was in the fifth grade, but stayed close for his sake, living a mile apart, giving him an ability to shuttle back-and-forth between the two homes with close relationships continuing with both parents. His paternal grandmother passed away a year ago, but she had watched every game he played in high school, both basketball and baseball and continued to drive the nine hours from Long Island to North Carolina to watch him start games on Friday nights at Duke.
“I can honestly say without my family I wouldn’t be nowhere near where I am today,” Stroman said. “It starts from obviously my dad . . . and my mom who have been unbelievable. My dad pushed me since I could walk at the age of three or four. He had me outside running with parachutes, training me, taking me here, taking me there, taking me all over the country to play. He was always the hard one, my mom was always the consoler when my dad was too hard. So it kind of worked out well.”
Stroman talked about the special relationship with his late grandmother.
“She was the foundation of it all,” he said. “She was the type of woman who was at the church, taking trips, travelling the world. She managed to do everything with her family too, so that was definitely a tough loss, but at the time it put everything in perspective. When that happened it made me realize, just live, stop worrying so much, just live in the present. That kind of helped me get through this suspension. If my grandmother was here, she would have been my number one supporter. She would have backed me up 100 per cent.”
At times in the conversation, it seemed that in living the dream, Marcus was actually living the dream of his father, a high school football player who tore up an Achilles and could never get there himself. The stories about parachutes on the back and dragging Marcus around the country for baseball seem driven. Was there ever a resentment of his father for that added pressure to live his dream?
“Yeah. I have this conversation with him now,” Stroman admitted. “Me and my dad have actually gotten closer as I’ve gotten older. Yeah, it was tough. It was very tough growing up because he pushed me so hard that I did start to resent him at one point and we did have a bad relationship for a little bit. But now when I look back on it, I thank him for it. ’Cuz who knows if he never was like that, who knows if I would be in the position I am today.”
So now Stroman has simply to bide his time until his circled May 17 date on the calendar, the day he believes he can return, likely to AA-New Hampshire. He can participate in minor-league spring training with the others, but he can’t play in any games with a paid admission, or be on a roster.
“It’s going to be hard knowing I could be out there playing, but I actually think I’m going to be able to develop more, I’m going to be able to stay here with the guys and I’m going to be able to work on all four of my pitches,” Stroman rationalized.
Stroman has, in fact, always been a basketball-first kind of guy. He was a position player when he went to Duke, but became a pitcher, as well, in his freshman year at Duke. He went to the Cape Cod Summer League where he enjoyed great success, then when he went back for his second and third seasons became the No. 1 starter and emerged onto the radar of MLB teams. Basketball is still his first love, but at 5-8, he was always going to be too short for Division I. At 5-8 and right-handed, many scouts would also say he’s too short to be a major-league pitcher. Old beliefs, ingrained myths die hard.
“I love it because it’s a stereotype,” Stroman said. “I’ve had that my whole life, people always used to say I’d never be big enough. I was never going to have the height, my dad’s not very tall, my mom’s not either, so it’s definitely a stereotype I love overcoming. (points to HDMH shirt he has on) It means Height Doesn’t Measure Heart and that’s something I trademarked recently, something that keeps me motivated and focused. I like the stereotype, I like beating the odds, I’m never going to be one to sit here and say I wish I was six-foot.”
Stroman’s suspension has already likely cost him future money and service time. The draft experts had suggested that of all the players in the 2012 process, Stroman was the closest to being major-league ready, possibly as early as last September. That would have set his service time in motion, guaranteeing an earlier arrival at those money-making MLB moments, arbitration and free agency.
“That was never even a thought, the whole money thing,” Stroman dismissed. “I just love being around the game and love playing, so yeah, it was definitely a setback. That would have been unbelievable to be up in the big-leagues in my first year, that was the hardest part. Income had nothing to do with it, it was just the fact of being at the big-league level, competing against big-league talent. That was something I had to get over, but that also drives me know, it makes me want to be there faster even more now, because I knew I could have possibly had a chance at that last year. ”
Stroman spent the past winter active on Twitter (@MStrooo7) waking up and going to be with Tweets to his fans, attending New York Knicks games, purchasing a new car . . . it’s all out there.
“I just kind of live now, man,” Stroman laughed. “I always have a smile on my face. I’m rarely, rarely in a bad mood. I try to enjoy every moment. That’s just the type of person I am. I’m never one to stress. If I get mad I’m over it within the next couple of minutes.”
The moment that Stroman feels will prove he has finally made it is when his Twitter handle needs to become “verified” with a little blue check next to his name. They only do that for the stars.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria came out of seclusion with guns-a-blazing on Sunday, purchasing full page ads in three south Florida newspapers to attack those who would suggest he did anything wrong in negotiating a sweetheart deal with taxpayers to build a new stadium, in loading up a roster of high-priced talent in 2012 to win it all, then dismantling after one season and in sending most of his star players packing in trades for prospects. This guy has huge cojones and admirable chutzpah. Following are the various sections of Loria’s statement followed by editorial comment.
Intro: It’s no secret that last season was not our best — actually it was one of our worst. In large part, our performance on the field stunk and something needed to be done. As a result of some bold moves, many grabbed hold of our tough yet necessary decision only to unleash a vicious cycle of negativity. As the owner of the ballclub, the buck stops with me and I take my share of the blame where it’s due. However, many of the things being said about us are simply not true. I’ve sat by quietly and allowed this to continue. Now it’s time for me to respond to our most important constituents, the fans who love the game of baseball.
Griffin’s comment: Yeah, the Marlins were horrible at 69-93, with a new stadium that taxpayers had forked over $450 million in public money for. So what did they get for their investment? One year of the promised stars, one year of Ozzie Guillen, a manager who immediately alienated the Miami Cuban population by praising Fidel Castro, a friend of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Guillen’s homeland. Who could have seen that coming, Jeffrey? Loria is calling the Jays deal a bold move. Yes, they got some good prospects, but he broke a promise that helped him land stadium financing.
The roster: Losing is unacceptable to me. It’s incumbent upon us to take swift action and make bold moves when there are glaring problems. The controversial trade we made with the Toronto Blue Jays was approved by Commissioner Bud Selig and has been almost universally celebrated by baseball experts outside of Miami for its value. We hope, with an open mind, our community can reflect on the fact that we had one of the worst records in baseball. Acquiring high-profile players just didn’t work, and nearly everyone on our team underperformed as compared to their career numbers. Our plan for the year ahead is to leverage our young talent and create a homegrown roster of long-term players who can win. In fact, objective experts have credited us with going from the 28th-ranked Minor League system in baseball to the fifth best during this period. Of the Top 100 Minor Leaguers rated by MLB Network, we have six — tied for the most of any team in the league. We’ll evaluate this roster and possibly bring in additional talent based on our assessment of what we need. The very same naysayers who are currently skeptical once attacked us for bringing Pudge Rodriguez to the Marlins in 2003. More than any other, that move contributed to our World Series Championship.
Griffin’s comment: Bud Selig also approved contraction of the Expos and Twins back in the day, but that didn’t make it right. Selig was as embarrassed and distressed as anyone when the announcement of the trade was made with the Jays sending Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to the Jays. Selig’s personal reputation was involved, because he had helped Marlins’ ownership campaign for the public funding needed to build Marlins Park. The fact that the commissioner even took extra days to review the trade speaks volumes of his displeasure.
Acquiring high-profile players just didn’t work for the Fish because they overpaid a mediocre closer, Heath Bell, upset their best player Hanley Ramirez, moving him to third base to make way for Reyes, and gambled on Guillen as the loose-cannon manager with baggage. Having good farm teams is not what the taxpayers laid out their money for. Then Loria plays the ’03 Pudge Rodriguez card. Yikes. This has not been a well thought out plan for winning, with a kneejerk reaction to dismantle.
The Ballpark: The ballpark issue has been repeatedly reported incorrectly and there are some very negative accusations being thrown around. It ain’t true, folks. Those who have attacked us are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The majority of public funding came from hotel taxes, the burden of which is incurred by tourists who are visiting our city, NOT the resident taxpayers.
The Marlins organization also agreed to contribute $161.2 million toward the ballpark, plus the cost of the garage complex. In addition, the Marlins receive no operating subsidy from local government funding. The ballpark required that all debt service is paid by existing revenue. Furthermore, many are attacking the County’s method of financing for its contribution, but the Marlins had nothing at all to do with that. The fact is, with your help, we built Marlins Park, a crown jewel in our beautiful Miami skyline, which has won over twenty design and architecture awards and will help make us a premiere ballclub moving forward.
Griffin’s comment: The ballpark has not changed the basic Little Havana neighbourhood in which it was built. It seems like a big spaceship settled down on top of local housing. Beyond the parking garages, there was little indication of the promised urban renewal. The same houses sat across the street, with the same residents sitting on the same front steps. From the ballpark you can see the Miami skyline, but Marlins Park is certainly not part of the Miami skyline. And inside it’s garish and ugly.
As for the $450 million coming from tourism taxes, money is still money and could have better gone to other issues that better served the public welfare. Good faith was broken.
Our finances: The simple fact is that we don’t have unlimited funds, nor does any baseball team or business. Fans didn’t turn out last season as much as we’d like, even with the high-profile players the columnists decry us having traded. The main ingredient to a successful ball club is putting together a winning team, including a necessary core of young talent. Are we fiscally capable and responsible enough to fill the roster with talented players, invest in the daily demands of running a world-class organization and bring a World Series back to Miami? Absolutely! Is it sound business sense to witness an expensive roster with a terrible record and sit idly by doing nothing? No. I can and will invest in building a winner, but last season wasn’t sustainable and we needed to start from scratch quickly to build this team from the ground up.
Griffin’s comment: Loria does not take any responsibility for his management team building that untenable, losing roster. He is a micro-manager and there would not have been one major signing or trade for high-priced talent with which he was not closely involved. Reyes suggested that Loria advised him to buy a nice home in Miami just a week before he was traded and just before he left on vacation. That does not sound like there was a lot of advance planning in this new direction. The Fish are in a very strong NL East with teams that aren’t going away any time soon. Ticket sales were disappointing last season in the first year of the new stadium. How is he going to attract fans this year. It won’t be via attack ads in the three local dailies.
Communication: An organization is only as good as its connection with the community. We know we can do a better job communicating with our fans. That starts now. From this point forward we can ensure fans and the entire community that we will keep you abreast of our plan, rationale and motivations.
Amidst the current news coverage, it can be easy to forget how far we went together not so long ago. In 2003, I helped bring a second World Series Title to South Florida. We know how to build a winning team, and have every intention of doing so again. I know you share my passion for great Marlins baseball, my love of Miami and my desire to win again. We’re in this together and I humbly ask that we start fresh, watch us mature quickly as a ball club, and root for the home team in 2013.
Griffin’s comment: After the trade and the bad press coverage, Loria convinced his club president David Samson to cancel his weekly radio spot. Loria hid himself away. Now that initial ticket sales have been dismal, he has decided to emerge and that communications is suddenly the key.
We’ll let you know what’s going on, fans. Let’s see, when Ricky Nolasco, Placido Polanco and Adeiny Hechavarria are your three highest paid players, your payroll is $45.5 million and your manager is Mike Redmond you can see why ticket sales might be a little slow.
The other thing about fan trust is that the Marlins won the World Series in ’97 and then dismantled the roster and the payroll. They won the World Series in 2003 and did the same thing. It’s been 10 years and promises to be at least another five before they can hope to do it again. Why should Marlins fans ever trust Loria and his baseball franchise ever again? What a mess.
THE RANT, Part 2
We always talk about the unique selflessness of the Canadian players when it comes to the spirit of playing for your country in the World Baseball Classic, then Russell Martin comes along and spoils the entire feel-good atmosphere. Selfish! The Pirates catcher wants to play shortstop for Canada. He won’t be allowed to by Team Canada and the Pirates, so he’s not going.
That is unbelievable. The WBC is in two weeks and Canada has just two catchers on the roster and one of them, the starter, decides he doesn’t want to go. If Martin was injured that would be one thing. He skipped the first WBC in ’06 because he was trying to win a job on the Dodgers’ roster. He played in 2009, but Canada lost two of three and was eliminated. This is Canada’s best chance and now Greg Hamilton has to go looking for another catcher, maybe George Kottaras or Mike Nickeas.
“It’s just too much grind,” Martin wahh’ed to MLB.com. “The catcher’s out there the whole game, and it just takes your body so long to recover from catching 20 innings or so.”
Martin suggested he wanted to play shortstop or not at all. He has never played shortstop professionally, but played some second base prior to being drafted.
Hey, just stay home Russ and don’t expect a phone call in 2017.
BAEBALL AMERICA TOP 10 BLUE JAYS PROSPECTS
The fabulous Baseball America Prospect Handbook is now in bookstores everywhere, profiling the Top 30 prospects in every organization. The pre-season Jays list must be adjusted because Nos. 1-2, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and RH Noah Syndergaard were both included in the R.A. Dickey trade with the Mets.
Following is the new Top 10 for the Jays, according to BA.
1. RH Aaron Sanchez, 20...6-4, 180...8-4, 2.49 at A-Lansing last year
2. RH Roberto Osuna, 18...6-2, 230...1-0, 1.50 at A-Bluefield & 1-0, 3.20 at A-Vancouver last year
3. RH Marcus Stroman, 21...5-9, 185...1-0, 3.18 at A-Vancouver & 2-0, 3.38 at AA-N.H. last year
4. OF D.J. Davis, 18...5-11, 170... .250, 5HR, 25SB at three levels last year
5. RH John Stilson, 22...6-3, 200...5-4, 3.88 ERA at A-Dunedin and AA-N.H. last year
6. LH Daniel Norris, 19...6-2, 180...2-4, 8.44 ERA at A-Bluefield and A-Vancouver last year
7. LH Matt Smoral, 19...6-8, 220...Injured last year
8. OF Anthony Alford, 18...6-1, 195... .167, 1HR, 4SB at Rk-Gulf Coast last year
9. C A.J. Jimenez, 22... 5-11, 200... .257, 2HR in 27G at AA-N.H. last year
10. RH Tyler Gonzalez, 20...6-2, 170...1-1, 8.40 at Rk-Gulf Coast last year
ON THE ROAD AGAIN – ARIZONA VS. FLORIDA
Not much changes at spring training from year to year, but a nice break from Florida will come next week with the first round of the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix. To me, other than the time difference from Toronto, Arizona is a far more attractive site for baseball training camps.
There are all 15 teams within an hour and a half drive of each other, even in traffic. The weather is more consistent, the golf is fabulous and the restaurants more diverse. Hiking, climbing and things for tourists to see like Sonoma and the Grand Canyon are endless. The only negative for fans is that prices are more expensive. But, by now, after 36 years, Florida is like home in the spring.