October 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

bell.jpgBlue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield has been holed up in his “Man Cave” for much of this month, stuck staring at his framed Tomy Brady jersey in his Maine home as he recovers from surgery on his left foot.

“Make sure you write that I was playing through pain this year,” Butterfield quipped during a phone conversation.

Initially disappointed not to earn the Blue Jays manager job — that ultimately went to John Farrell — Butterfield is excited to be coming back as Toronto’s third base coach. Before he can start waving home runners, though, he has to have a cast removed, then suffer through some time in a walking boot.

“By mid-summer, I should be able to run you a good slant route,” joke Butterfield, who is as big a football enthusiast as you’ll ever find. That he roots for the Patriots is something I’ll have to forgive him for — no one is perfect.

Getting up and down the stairs in his home has proved challenging these days, though. Butterfield’s wife, Jan, was already a saint for finding a way to put up with his frantic pace. Now she’s got to wait on him during this post-surgery process. Lord help her.

Count on Aaron Hill to lend some assistance.

Recently, UPS showed up at Butterfield’s home with a package. The Blue Jays coach opened the box and inside was a small sterling silver bell with his initials engraved on it. The gift was from Hill and Butterfield got a big kick out of it.

“That was great,” Butterfield said with a laugh. “Now I can ring my little bell whenever I need something.”

That is if Butterfield’s wife doesn’t ring his bell first.

~JB

 

Reports: Farrell to be next Jays manager

John-Farrell.jpgAll indications are that the next manager of the Toronto Blue Jays will be John Farrell. Multiple reports have pegged the Red Sox pitching coach as Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos’ choice for the job.

The Blue Jays would not confirm the reports and Anthopoulos has not been available for comment. That said, an announcement could come as early as Monday in all likelihood.

Farrell was among the final four candidates, a group that also included Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale, Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield.

It is believed that Anthopoulos interviewed between 20-30 candidates for the job. It was an exhaustive hunt that appears to have ended with Farrell getting the job. He has no managing experience — Majors or Minors — but is great with pitchers and has a strong background in player development.

~JB

Highlights of Anthopoulos sit-down

AAabove.jpgBlue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos met with reporters this afternoon at Rogers Centre, discussing the season that was and the offseason ahead.

He’s “consumed” by his hunt for the Blue Jays’ next manager and he’s not satisfied with a winning season. Anthopoulos wants Toronto back in the playoffs, which means there is still plenty of work to be done.

With that in mind, here are a few of the highlights of the wide-ranging, one-hour meeting we had with Toronto’s young GM:

–Anthopoulos was encouraged by the progress upcoming free-agent first baseman Lyle Overbay made over the past few months. That said, even without a top first base prospect in waiting, the GM said the Jays’ approach to the position is unchanged. They’ll explore their options via trades and free agency. It’s no given that Overbay’s back for 2011.

–Asked if Adam Lind could be an option for first base, Anthopoulos did not rule it out. He did say, however, that Lind did not play enough there in 2010 to come right out and say that he is a realistic answer for the position. Anthopoulos also believes Lind will bounce back with a 30-homer season in 2011.

–Anthopoulos noted that second baseman Aaron Hill came to him and said he’s open to a position change (third base) if it will help the team. The GM also noted that Toronto has until Opening Day 2011 to make a decision on picking up all three club option years (2012-14) on Hill’s contract.

–Cuban shortstop prospect Adeiny Hechavarria began to wear down a little at the end of his first pro season, according to Anthopoulos. The Jays aren’t counting on Hechavarria for 2011, though that could change with rapid progress. Anthopoulos also said Hechavarria is considered a “priority player” in the Arizona Fall League, meaning he’ll get lots of playing time at shortstop.

–Anthopoulos said third baseman Edwin Encarnacion has a lot of room for improvement on defense, adding that EE could be tried as a first baseman or a designated hitter. There is also the chance Edwin is non-tendered, considering the type of raise he would be in line to receive through arbitration. The money he’d be owed might not match the value Toronto comes up with.

–Jose Bautista proved to be an asset in right field, but he told Anthopoulos — like Hill — that he’s willing to play more at third base if it helps the roster. The Jays are also prepared to go to arbitration with Bautista, though Anthopoulos likes to avoid hearings if possible. My gut feeling is there will not be a long-term contract for Bautista this winter.

–Fred Lewis was not too happy with his diminished role down the stretch late this season and Travis Snider is likely a full-time player come 2011. Anthopoulos noted that Lewis needs to improve defensively. If Lewis is not in the plans as a bench player, I’m not sure he brings much value off the bench. That could make him a non-tender possibility.

–Anthopoulos said pitching prospect Kyle Drabek will be given every opportunity to earn the fifth starter’s job next spring. Close behind Drabek on the depth chart is Zach Stewart, who was acquired in the Scott Rolen trade with the Reds in 2009. As for the front four, Anthopoulos does not see a clear-cut No. 1 starter.

–The Jays have free agents in relievers Scott Downs and Jason Frasor, and closer Kevin Gregg could hit the market if the Jays don’t pick up his club option for 2011. Anthopoulos said having veterans at the back end of the bullpen is important, but not necessarily a top priority if he feels the young options are capable of handling the job.

–Asked what areas needed improvement, Anthopoulos pointed to the poor bullpen ERA and the club’s subpar on-base percentage. He believes both areas need to be improved. On offense, Anthopoulos would like for the output to be more balanced, rather than living and dying by the home run.

–Anthopoulos said catching prospect J.P. Arencibia has nothing left to prove in the Minors. He has earned a shot in the big leagues. Will it be as a starter or backup? The GM would not say. The Jays will explore bringing back John Buck, but Anthopoulos said he has earned a long-term contract and a No. 1 job, whether it’s in Toronto or somewhere else.

–As he’s noted plenty of times, Anthopoulos made it clear that the Blue Jays are not operating with a specific payroll. If moves make sense, he has the ability to increase the finances as he sees fit. That gives Toronto the freedom to look at every free agent and lots of trades scenarios without ruling players out due to salary.

–Asked if he had any more hirings in mind for the front office, Anthopoulso said there was nothing in the immediately plans. That said, the GM noted that something he is considering for the future is someone who has more of a computer background, or a stats guy. 

Check bluejays.com later for more on Anthopoulos’ hunt for Cito Gaston’s replacement and the unique situation the club is in regarding Bautista’s contract negotiations.

–JB

The Magic of Murphy

Murph.jpgThere are any number of ways one could dissect the incredible season currently being turned in by Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista.

Here’s one…

In all of baseball’s long history, there have only been three players to achieve at least 50 home runs, 35 doubles, 100 walks, 100 runs and 120 RBIs in a single season.

Babe Ruth did it twice (1920 and 1921). Hack Wilson joined the club with his unbelievable 1930 showing. And then Luis Gonzalez added his name to the list in 2001 with Arizona.

In Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Twins, Bautista drew a walk in the first inning, giving him 100 free passes on the year. That made him the fourth member of that elite class of sluggers.

 “It’s amazing to me,” Bautista said. “It’s unbelievable, but at the same time I’m happy and I’m proud that I’ve achieved what I’ve achieved.”

Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy should also feel a sense of pride over what he has achieved as well. Consider that, dating back to 1930, the only two players to reach those collective benchmarks in one season are Gonzalez and Bautista, who both had Murphy as their hitting coach during their historic seasons.

Murphy was Arizona’s hitting coach in 2001 and has been with the Blue Jays in the same role since manager Cito Gaston returned midway through the 2008 campaign. Bautista joined Toronto roughly one month after Murphy’s arrival three seasons ago, and Murphy went to work on adjusting the right fielder’s approach.

“With all the adjustments that I made,” Bautista said, “I feel like I’ve been seeing the ball better all season long. It’s allowed me to lay off some bad pitches and it’s led to some walks.

“When I get myself in good hitting counts, they eventually have to come over the plate and that’s when I’ve done most of the damage.”

Reminded recently of his connection to Gonzalez, and now Bautista, Murphy was not sure how to react.

“I never looked at it like that,” Murphy replied. “The only thing I can say is I teach the same thing. It’s not about hitting home runs — not at all. It’s about getting the pitch you want to hit. I think guys are trying not to hit everything.

“They’re trying to hit the pitch they want to hit. That’s made all the difference.”

Here’s a look at the list:

BauList.jpg

–JB

Game 160: A magical year indeed

Thome.jpgJim Thome has been in Jose Bautista’s shoes. Not literally, though, since I’m pretty sure Big Jim wouldn’t be able to squeeze into those particular cleats.

I’m talking about joining the 50 Home Run Club.

Back in 2002, Thome launched 52 home runs for the Cleveland Indians. Now, the veteran slugger is a designated hitter for the Twins with 589 career blasts on his resume.

On Thursday night, Thome got a close-up look at the spectacle that has been Bautista’s season this year. Bautista become just the second person to send a pitch to the third deck at Target Field as part of a two-homer outburst that gave him a big league-high 54 for the Blue Jays.

“He’s had a wonderful year,” Thome said. “I think when you have a year like that, a lot of things go right. We call that as a hitter, a magical year. When you get pitches to hit, you hit them out front and get lift on him. It’s an awesome thing to watch — not against us — but just to see how his year has played out, just the whole story. He’s had a great year.”

What does it take to hit 50 home runs?

“You have to be healthy and you have to catch breaks,” Thome said, “where some years you hit a ball out front and it might be a double, and certain years you hit a ball out front and you get lift on it. And, you get in that groove where a lot of balls that you do hit out in front of the plate, you do get lift on them and they go out of the park.

“There are some years where you’ll go, ‘Maybe I just didn’t square a ball up as good and not like another year.’ I think that’s the thing. You hope every player goes through that year where you go, ‘Man this worked out great.’ Maybe that’s his year this year.”

Some more Bautista facts:

–His 9 multi-homer games matches franchise record (George Bell, ’87) for one year
–That’s the most since Boston’s David Ortiz had 9 multi-homer games in 2005
–He has five five-RBI games this year, setting a franchise record
–One walk away from being 14th member of 50 HR/100 BB club
–One walk from being 7th with 50 HR/100 BB/30 2B in one season
–Aiming to be 1st player since ’97 (Ken Griffey Jr.) to lead MLB in HRs in 4 months.

And here’s your lineups…

—————————————–

TORONTO AT MINNESOTA
at 7:10 p.m. CT, Target Field

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (83-76)
1. Travis Snider, LF
2. Yunel Escobar, SS
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Aaron Hill, 2B
7. Adam Lind, DH
8. John Buck, C
9. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B

Pitching: Ricky Romero (13-9, 3.79)

Thumbnail image for Twins.jpgTWINS (93-66)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. J.J. Hardy, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jim Thome, DH
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Jason Kubel, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Pitching: Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.83)

–JB

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