The Bullpen: Five things the Jays need to do in the off-season
1. Bump payroll to at least $140 million.
The stressful situation with the Blue Jays going forward into 2014 is far from a repeat of last year’s Marlins fan betrayal, where a failure to compete after a huge off-season buildup led to owner Jeffrey Loria pulling the chute and dumping all the high-priced stars on his roster, trading or allowing to walk, players like Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. That came after convincing various levels of government to fund a brand new stadium in the downtown area. Shady!
The Jays’ under third-year GM Alex Anthopoulos, tapped the highest payroll in club history at $121 million. The difference is that in a year of attendance drops around baseball, the Jays showed the game’s biggest attendance increase, over 400,000 more fans in 2013 than the year before. Management is encouraged to build on that response, that momentum and try again. But have they learned?
The problem is the built-in pay raises they’ve already got. Add to that the need to find a high priced starting pitcher and, ideally, one position player. It means ownership must accept a 2014 payroll that will approach or likely exceed $140 million. The fan support needs another injection of adrenaline.
2. Identify core players and be willing to trade the rest.
The short list of those core Blue Jays to hang on to includes Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista and R.A. Dickey. Anthopoulos must be willing to listen to offers for any other of his players, not to give them away but to improve in other areas of more need.
Colby Rasmus may be dangled because Anthony Gose is readying to step in at some point in 2014. Adam Lind or Melky Cabrera could be dealt at spring training because the best role for both is DH and there is only room for one. Cabrera found a fresh life, both literally and figuratively, when doctors found a benign tumour entangled in his spine. The GM is optimistic that Cabrera can return as an everyday outfielder. First base belongs to a healthy Encarnacion.
Mark Buehrle would only be traded because his value to a National League team might get the Jays a nice return, allowing more salary wiggle room. Buehrle has spoken to the GM about his respect for the Jays organization and the environment, wondering why it remains one of baseball’s hidden treasures (except for Ontario’s pitbull laws).
Catcher J.P. Arencibia would be available if someone else valued him as their No. 1 catcher. In addition, all of Anthopoulos’ relief pitchers — Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos and the rest, can be had because the bullpen is where they are the deepest and most interchangeable.
3. Find a top of the rotation starter to join Dickey and Buehrle.
The Jays honestly believed they had their long-sought-after veteran starting ace and leader when they traded for R.A. Dickey and his Cy Young. But after one season it’s clear his knuckleball makes him unique, a solo project that nobody else can look up to and emulate.
A new top-of-the-rotation guy does not have to be better than Dickey, but he must have experience in a winning clubhouse. That would include available pitchers like Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, Matt Garza, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Vogelsong, Yovani Gallardo, Cliff Lee — or even taking a non-guaranteed short-term chance on former Jays Chris Carpenter or Roy Halladay.
4. Import a veteran catcher with a winning resume and hire a fulltime catching coach.
Handing a heavy workload to Arencibia and bringing in a defensive knuckleball specialist as a once-a-week catcher has not worked. If someone asked for Arencibia in trade, the Jays would listen.
If Arencibia stays, then make him share the load or back up a veteran free agent like Carlos Ruiz, John Buck, Brian McCann, A.J. Pierzynski or Brayan Pena.
The Jays will not win and the pitching staff will not be at its best with Arencibia catching every day. In addition, they need to keep a fulltime catching instructor like Sal Fasano on the staff.
5. Create new spring focus. The Jays must become the hardest working team in Florida.
Shea Hillenbrand once suggested the Jays camp was a country club. That was during John Gibbons’ first time around. Allowing veteran players to prepare on their own — “whatever you’ve done in the past” — clearly did not work in 2013. Players were allowed to prepare themselves as they had in the past — not worrying about sloppy play, waiting for the opening day spotlight to get things moving. It was a dismal failure. The country club Jays must become a boot camp in 2014.
AL Wildcard play-in: Monday, Tampa Bay at Texas
NL Wildcard: Tuesday, Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
AL Wildcard: Wednesday, TB/Tex at Cleveland
NLDS: Thursday, Cin/Pit at St. Louis; Los Angeles at Atlanta
ALDS: Friday, TB/Tex/Cle at Boston; Detroit at Oakland
Alex Anthopoulos season wrap-up:
Prior to the Blue Jays’ finale against the Rays, GM Alex Anthopoulos made himself available to media. Following is a transcript of only those questions and AA answers posed by the Star.
RICHARD GRIFFIN: Given that you knew you were thin in the rotation, do you second guess yourself on the way that you handled Ricky Romero at the end of spring training, sending him down when you were already thin?
ALEX ANTHOPOULOS: No, because I think Jay (Happ) was the better option for us at that time. So it was about putting the best team on the field. It was either going to be Jay or him that wasn’t going to make the team, so you owe it to the players in the room, you owe it to the fan base, to everybody else to put the best team on the field and if there’s a tough decision to make, especially when you look at the spring that Happ had compared to Romero. I think he clearly deserved to be on the team at the time. Especially with Romero, too, those struggles started in the second half of last year. We were hopeful that with that cleanup of the knees, the elbow, things like that, just getting away from it all that he might come in fresh and be back to the guy he was. He could never really get it going, so I don’t know that we could have changed anything there.
RG: Romero’s relationship seems to have changed with the organization. Do you see that or do you feel that?
AA: I guess it depends what you consider relationship. I mean obviously things have changed, from opening day starter to where obviously being in the minor leagues, it changes. Obviously that goes without saying. It doesn’t mean it can’t change back. So, I wouldn’t expect things to be the same. Obviously the performance hasn’t been the same. He hasn’t been up with the team the entire year. He’s struggling. You can’t necessarily do the same things. It’s harder to lead, do all those type of things and he has to get his own performance back to where he knows he can get it.
RG: When you say that you’ve talked to him about pitching in the winter are you talking Arizona or winter ball?
AA: I’d say more winter ball. It was just a brief conversation, just something. . . . He knows what he needs more than anything else. He knew when he came up in September, no guarantee of innings or how much work he would get, but he felt it would be to his benefit to be up here. We’d certainly look to do that. Just more of a thought did he feel he needs to continue to pitch. Would it help him. The same thing I asked him before he came up, or did he just need to get away from it. The year’s been a grind, obviously on all of us and for him as well. Sometimes getting away from it helps too.
RG: If you guys had won 74 games earlier and beat John Farrell’s mark, would (Kyle) Drabek and Romero have had a chance to pitch.
AA: I don’t even know if that . . . that’s the first time I’ve heard of that. No. I mean we have guys like Todd Redmond and Happ and Buehrle and R.A. that were going to pitch. It’s hard to say we were going to take those guys out of the rotation. It wouldn’t make any sense. No.
RG: Is it important for the fan base and ownership to make an impact move, maybe before the end of November as early as possible like you did last year with all those trades?
AA: You know we never went into it last year in terms of timing, like we need an impact.
RG: But this is different.
AA: Yeah, but I just think you start trying to dictate something and saying we need to do spmething in the next two weeks, three weeks . . . it’s not a good way to operate. So I think if it works out that way, so be it. If it works out that it’s January . . . Look, at the end of the day it’s going to come down to the season and how we play and what the results are. So if that means moves are made in January, or December, October, as long as we have the winning formula, the winning combination, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to matter. Because the season will tell the tale.
RG: There are several options behind the plate. Are you thinking about maybe bringing a veteran catcher in to share the catching duties and take some of that load off J.P. (Arencibia) and maybe have a fulltime catching coach also?
AA: I think having a coach is something we’ve definitely talked about. I don’t know that we’ve sat there and thought about having someone share time with J.P. We haven’t really gotten to that point I guess. We’ve looked at free agents at all the positions and everything like that. As we go through the winter and we go through the off-season and see who might be available, there may be some things that present themselves. But we haven’t talked about it, or haven’t planned for something like that.
RG: Would you investigate the clear No. 1 catchers that might be available?
AA: Yeah, I think we would look at all free agents in all areas and anywhere we could improve I think we owe it to everybody to try and get better, so it’s all about alternatives and if we can’t do better we’ll do what we can to have the players on the roster and improve those guys. But if we can do better at any spot, we’ll look to do it.
RG: You talk about reviewing all areas of the operation. Is part of that going to be the way you develop young pitchers in the minor leagues? Because you send pitchers elsewhere, they seem to accelerate their development . . . . . . Wojciechowski, Syndergaard, Nicolino. Is it something that you’re going to review top to bottom, how you sort of baby your pitchers at the lower levels?
AA: Yeah, we’ve definitely talked about it. I don’t know that I’d say guys have accelerated development. I think guys were a little further down for us and obviously as they start to get up there, I think Hutchison was the same way, we watched his innings and then he got to the 20-year-old mark, 21-year-old mark then we ramped him up quite a bit and got him to New Hampshire by the end of the year. So, I do think we’ve definitely talked about maybe putting on a few more innings at an early age or putting on a few more innings before they come up here. But definitely something that we’ve talked about internally, we might make some tweaks there. We expanded it a little bit this year, but maybe take the reins off a little bit more.
RG: Is that because of guys like Daniel Norris and guys that were highly touted and haven’t developed as quickly.
AA: No I think Norris, we knew when we took him, a great arm, up to 96 (mph) from the left side. We were going to change some things in his delivery. Some of the other guys that were more polished that we had, like Drew Hutchison was a strike thrower, it wasn’t going to be an issue. It just comes down to innings and workload and things like that. A lot of the thought is that when we hadn’t drafted a lot of high school arms in the past and we started in 2010 and we’d obviously been at more of a college-oriented approach. You look at a guy like (Marcus) Stroman coming out of college, we ran him right up to New Hampshire. The thought is teenaged kids, their bodies are still developing, they’re still growing. We watch the workloads. You look at a lot of these guys when they go to college coming out of high school, they pitch once a week and only in their junior years, they get up to 110, maybe 120 innings, tops. The problem is that we treat these guys almost as if they were going to college early on and then once they have reached their quote-unquote man strength and they’ve developed and they’re done growing, the ligaments are strong, then we start piling on some of the innings.
RG: Experts talk about the Red Sox acquisitions in the off-season, free agents, trades, that were perfect fits and yesterday Gibby alluded to, used the word tension in his clubhouse in the first half of the season. Is there something that you need to do, a deeper investigation of guys you’re bringing in if there was tension and you guys win 74 games?
AA: No and I think, and again, I can’t speak for him, but I think, one, especially, you have the expectations that we had coming in to spring training and obviously coming into the season, we got off to a slow start and obviously it continued the entire year. That, I think for lack of whatever, you can use a million words, it’s not, no one should be happy coming into the clubhouse. You’re hoping to turn it around. You win the 11 in a row, you think we might go on a run here, really get going. You can take the Dodgers for example. I don’t know what the mood was there, but when you’re not winning it’s not good and guys aren’t happy. That goes without saying. I think we, and again, we can always improve and I don’t want to sit here and say we can’t get better in a lot of areas. I do think that all those teams on the way to the playoffs, the Red Sox certainly being one of them, they did a great job, can’t say enough of what they did, I do think a big part of it is their offence was outstanding, they were first in the league. But I do think a big part of it is they can have a great offence – you look at a team like the Angels, great offensive team, but they’ve had their issues in the rotation as well and that’s had an impact. I don’t know where the Red Sox rank in starters’ ERA but I know there was a graphic (on TV) where they were and where they were in 2012 and it’s a pretty big jump. I definitely think that was a huge part of the success they had this year, they had five guys that they could roll out there, now six. It’s not to say we’re not going to look to improve in all those areas, but I can’t stress enough with the rotation, the performance that we had, whether a great offensive team, it wouldn’t have got us to the playoffs. I have yet to see a team have the starters’ ERA we have, be ranked where we were, with a great bullpen, great defence, great offence and still make the playoffs. I just don’t think it’s occurred.
RG: Was the move to Buffalo a success for you?
AA: Sure. I mean it was great. The proximity, I think they had a good year. I would have liked if they had made the playoffs. They were in the hunt until the last week and I think if we hadn’t been taking so many of their players towards the end that they would have gotten into the playoffs. I think it’s a good indication that they wanted to extend with us after one year points to what a great success it was for us.
RG: Is having post-season on the resume important for players that you are going to bring in?
AA: Yeah, I think it certainly helps coming from a winning program, having won, having done those things I think is very important. But again, does it make sense the acquisition cost things like that, whatever resources we are going to have, whether it’s in trade, whether it’s dollars, those will get poured into the rotation first, then maybe some of those other aspects we’ll be trading out some of the position players and getting some of those other players that bring some of the characteristics that you’ve talked about.
BLUE JAYS CORNER
The week that was: (0-1 at White Sox; 1-2 vs. O’s; 2-1 vs. Rays)
The Jays played the role of spoilers quite well. The week before this one they had damaged the Yankees’ hopes, taking two of three at home. In the final seven days they traveled to Baltimore and won the opener, officially eliminating the O’s from the wild-card hunt. Then they ended the season facing the Rays, who came in sitting in the driver’s seat of the wild-card race. The Jays took the first two games, forcing the Rays to win on Sunday in order to stay alive. They did win that game but were forced by the Jays into a one-game play-in against the Rangers in Texas.
One and done at US Cellular
Returning to the scene of the start of their 11-game win streak, it was not a repeat of the earlier success in the Windy City. Recall that the day after game one of the Jays win streak was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final between the Black Hawks and Bruins. They called off the Jays-White Sox game at 2 p.m. in the afternoon due to stormy weather under sunny skies with light winds. Sure the storm hit at around 9:30 p.m. but they could have easily got the game in. I blame this awkward, unwanted, meaningless Boston-Chicago-Baltimore trip on the Black Hawks.
It was a coming out party for rookie third baseman Marcus Semien, who flashed some leather and hammered his first career homer off J.A. Happ in a 3-2 win.
Highlights of the O’s series:
After watching as the Red Sox celebrated the division title at Fenway, the Jays put the O’s immediately out of their misery on Tuesday, winning 3-2 in 10 innings, with 4 1/3 shutout innings from the bullpen and two late-game RBIs by Mark deRosa, a pinch-hit single in the eighth and another opposite field hit in the 10th, off Francisco Rodriguez.
The Jays’ 9-5 loss on Wednesday was marked by rare appearances in relief for Kyle Drabek and Ricky Romero, who each allowed late runs. Ryan Flaherty, filling in for the injured Manny Machado, homered twice with four RBIs, while impressive rookie Jonathan Schoop hammered his first career homer against Drabek in the sixth.
On Thursday in the rubber game, the Jays came up short in a 3-2 loss, putting an end to Mark Buehrle’s unusual streak of four straight seasons winning exactly 13 games. He finished with a record of 12-10. O’s reliever Jim Johnson notched save No. 48.
Highlights of the Rays series:
On Friday night, the Rays listed 64 permutations and combinations of results among themselves, the Indians and the Rangers. They were in the driver’s seat, needing to win two of three games against the Jays to secure home field advantage for the wildcard game.
On Friday, the Jays struck for four in the fourth and two in the fifth against Jeremy Hellickson, forcing the Rays to win the final two games. The big blow was a seemingly-innocent single with two runners on by Ryan Goins that eluded Sam Fuld in centre field, clearing the bases.
On Saturday, Happ picked up his fifth win of the year, as the Jays scored two in the fourth and four in the fifth to pull away for a 7-2 win, causing the Rays to lose some sleep heading towards Sunday’s must-win finale. Adam Lind drove in three runs, but his back stiffened up again.
On Sunday, the Rays bolted to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, battering St. Petersburg native Todd Redmond in a disappointing outing facing the team he grew up admiring. But on Fan Appreciation Day, the Jays fought back and loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth inning, trailing by a run, losing 7-6 against Fernando Rodney and the rest of a shaky bullpen. The Rays were then forced to wait around in the clubhouse until the Rangers had put away the Angels. The Rays were forced to fly to Texas for the wild-card play-in game. The winner will be in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Worst Blue Jays’ winning percentage since 1993 World Series (season, manager, W-L, percentage):
1. 1995 Cito Gaston 56-88 .389
2. 2004 Tosca/Gibbons 67-94 .416
3. 2012 John Farrell 73-89 .451
4. 1996 Cito Gaston 74-88 .457
4. 2013 John Gibbons 74-88 .457
6. 2009 Cito Gaston 75-87 .463
7. 1997 Gaston/Queen 76-86 .469
DOWN ON THE FARM
Inside the major-league clubhouse, Esmil Rogers confirmed that he will play winter ball back in his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, the participation of Ricky Romero in the Caribbean winter season is up in the air.
The Jays’ minor-league system finished a combined three games above .500 with Single-A Vancouver in the Northwest League the only league champion.
Triple-A: Buffalo (74-70).
Double-A: New Hampshire (68-72).
Single-A: Dunedin (63-68; 0-2); Lansing (61-78); Vancouver (39-36; 6-1). Bluefield (40-27; 0-2).
Rookie: Gulf Coast Jays (28-32); Dominican Summer League Jays (41-29).
THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY:
Sept. 30:1927 – Babe Ruth hits home run No. 60 facing Tom Zachary of the Senators ... 1988 – Dave Stieb of the Jays loses a no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth for the second consecutive start. This time it’s Jim Trabor of the O’s lining a single down the right field line past Fred McGriff ... 1988 – On the same day as Stieb’s feat, Orel Hershiser throws 10 shutout innings vs. the Padres to break Don Drysdale’s record of 58 consecutive shutout innings.
Oct. 1: 1970 – The Phillies close Connie Mack Stadium forever with a 2-1 win over the Expos. Fans swarm the field at the end of the game and tear up the grass as souvenirs ... 1961 – Roger Maris hammers homer No. 61 of the season against Tracy Stallard of the Red Sox, breaking the record of Babe Ruth set 34 years earlier. His record would stand for 37 years.
Oct. 2: 1991 – The Blue Jays clinch the AL East title and become the first team in history to draw 4 million fans to home games ... 1985 – First baseman Darrell Evans hits his 40th home run of the season, becoming the first player in history to hit 40 homers on both leagues. He hit 41 for the Braves in 1973.
Oct. 3: 1993 – The Blue Jays end the season with the top three hitters in the AL, the first time it has happened – John Olerud (.363), Paul Molitor (.332) and Robbie Alomar (.326) ... 1981 – The Expos beat the Mets 5-4 at Shea Stadium, led by a Wallace Johnson pinch-hit triple, clinching the second half title of the strike-interrupted season. It remains the franchise’s only post-season appearance.
Oct. 4: 1987 – The Blue Jays lose 1-0 to the Tigers on a Frank Tanana six-hitter. They lose the AL East to the Tigers on the basis of their seventh consecutive loss, the final three to Detroit. ... 1919 – White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte suspiciously makes two errors in an inning giving the Reds the only two runs of the game and a 3-1 lead in the World Series. The Black Sox scandal is uncovered the next year leading to the hiring of the first commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Oct. 5: 1967 – Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox one-hits the Cardinals as Carl Yastrzemski homers twoce with the Red Sox tying the World Series 1-1 ... 1968 – Bob Gibson strikes out 10 Tigers, with Tim McCarver and Orlando Cepeda stroking three-run homers for a 7-3 win and a 2-1 Series lead..
Oct. 6: 1966 – At 20 years old, Jim Palmer of the O’s becomes the youngest pitcher to throw a World Series shutout, beating Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers 6-0. It was Koufax’s last MLB appearance as the O’s pulled off a surprise 4-game sweep ... 1926 – Babe Ruth becomes the first player to hit three homers in a World Series game, going deep three times vs. the Cards in a 10-5 win.
MLB POWER RANKINGS (as of Sept. 29)
(Last week-start of spring)
1. Boston Red Sox 1-16
2. Oakland A’s 2-8
3. St. Louis Cardinals 3-13
4.Atlanta Braves 4-2
5. Detroit Tigers 5-7
6. Cleveland Indians 8-20
7. Pittsburgh Pirates 11-28
8. Los Angeles Dodgers 6-5
9. Tampa Bay Rays 7-10
10. Cincinnati Reds 9-9
11. Texas Rangers 13-6
12. Washington Nationals 10-4
13. Kansas City Royals 14-18
14. Baltimore Orioles 12-11
15. New York Yankees 15-14
16. Arizona Diamondbacks 16-17
17. Los Angeles Angels 17-12
18. New York Mets 20-27
19. Toronto Blue Jays 18-3
20. San Francisco Giants 21-1
21. San Diego Padres 22-23
22. Colorado Rockies 23-25
23. Milwaukee Brewers 25-22
24. Philadelphia Phillies 19-15
25. Chicago Cubs 27-24
26. Seattle Mariners 24-21
27. Miami Marlins 28-29
28. Minnesota Twins 26-26
29. Chicago White Sox 29-19
30. Houston Astros 30-30
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
It was sad news coming out of Montreal on Thursday, with the passing of iconic sports photographer Denis Brodeur at the age of 82. Although he was more renowned for his hockey portraits, I had the pleasure of working with Denis when he was the official photographer of the Montreal Expos though the 1980s and early ’90s. He was a humble man of tremendous personal accomplishment.
The father of Devils’ goaltender, Martin Brodeur, Denis was a skilled and decorated athlete himself, a member of Canada’s bronze medal Olympic hockey team as a goaltender in 1956. He carried himself with the ageless grace of an athlete, but never, ever brought up his sporting accomplishments in conversation to try and impress the people he worked with. He was better than that.
A loving family man, Brodeur would drive to spring training with his wife and any of his children who were available at the start of every training camp, staying at a motel on Singer Island, and on consecutive mornings in February, would set up shop and take all the publicity head shots and other projects we would have for him, using a back room at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, Fla.
At one point, Martin was no longer a part of the spring training trip because he was busy playing junior hockey in Saint Hyacinthe. Denis would tell me how his son was going to be an NHL goaltender and I would look at the stats and tell him, “Denis he’s allowing five goals a game in junior.” He would respond with a smile and say, “Yes, but he’s facing a lot of rubber and Lou Lamoriello of the Devils flew in on a private jet to see him play.” Denis once again was right. He was always right.
In 1991 at the MLB All-Star Game in San Diego, I was the commissioner’s game notes guy and as I sat down at my computer on the off day Monday at Jack Murphy Stadium, someone from the commissioner’s office introduced me to an earnest young man and said, “Hi I’d like you to meet Marshall Faulk. He’s a freshman football player at San Diego St. and he’ll be your runner.” Best runner I ever had, taking the printed notes sheet and hustling them to the photocopy people.
Years after that, in 2000, Faulk earned the NFL MVP as his Rams won the Super Bowl. That same year, Martin Brodeur and his Devils won the Stanley Cup. At that very moment I thought about a young Martin Brodeur working for me helping out his dad, chasing down Expos players for their head shots at spring training and Faulk as my all-star runner for game notes. Pretty unique volunteers.
Years after I had moved to Toronto to cover the Jays, my son, Patrick, was playing Triple-A hockey in Oakville and his best friend, the goalie on the team, was going through a crisis of confidence, which can be devastating at 13-years-old. I was aware that his hero was Martin Brodeur, so I sent Denis an e-mail asking if maybe he could ask Martin to write a short note to boost Stephan’s confidence. Within two weeks the kid received a treasure trove of Martin Brodeur-signed stuff and a personal note that was really nice, really sincere. Brodeur the son had truly become a reflection of his father.
Denis was a true gentleman, quick with a smile, who was always able to see the lighter side of life while holding on to a business-first demeanour. It was a pleasure to call him a friend.
R.I.P. mon ami, Denis.