November 2010

Passing the torch

Before I leave this blog to forever disappear into the internet wasteland, the time has come to introduce you to your new MLB.com Blue Jays reporter. Please give a warm welcome to Gregor Chisholm, who has officially grabbed the reins over at bluejays.com.

Gregor can be found on Twitter under @gregorMLB and you can head over to his new blog, North of the Border, to get your Blue Jays news from here on out. Gregor worked alongside me as an Associate Reporter for MLB.com in 2007 and I have no doubt that I am leaving the Blue Jays beat in capable hands.

For anyone interested in keeping up with my writing, I’m still on Twitter under @MLBastian and my “Major League Bastian” blog has moved to bastian.mlblogs.com.

Thanks for the memories, Toronto.

~JB

Crossing the border

JaysGameThirdFloor.gifThis photo of my wife and I was snapped during the summer of 2005, back when I was an intern getting my feet wet with MLB.com. Man, what a summer that was.

We lived in a studio apartment on Yonge St., about a mile or so north of the Finch subway stop. Our TV quit working midway through the summer, our air conditioner followed suit around the same time and we slept on an air mattress.

It was basically the ultimate test to see if my lovely wife, Kelly, would stick with me. For some reason, she stayed — and gave me a lift to and from the subway station every day — allowing me the chance to follow my goal of becoming a baseball writer.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, after parts of six seasons as an MLB.com reporter for the Blue Jays in Toronto, the time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life. As first reported by the New York Daily News (kidding, Mark), I will be taking over as MLB.com’s reporter for the Cleveland Indians. The move will be official later this week.

For those of you who have followed along over the past few years, you’ll no doubt realize why I’m making this transition. As a native of Chicagoland, and a grad of Michigan State, I have a large base of family and friends back in the Midwest. With a son now, being closer to family has never been so important for us.

This move to Ohio allows me the opportunity to continue to do what I love, but puts my wife and I a lot closer to family in the process. We enjoyed our time in Toronto and leave with so many great memories. After that first summer, we moved across the street from the ballpark (literally) and loved checking “live downtown in a big city” off our life list.

As a runner, I already miss the lakefront and the Don Valley path. I can’t tell you how many miles I’ve logged along both and I plan on returning to Toronto to complete a marathon in the future (keep it up, Mal). We’ll also miss our trips to the Beaches, the great food all over the city and all the great people we met along the way.

As a reporter, I’ll miss covering a group of players that I watched grow over the past few years. Shoot, I covered Casey Janssen when he was with the Lansing Lugnuts and I was a reporter for the Lansing State Journal while at MSU. I saw a lot of those players go from Minor Leaguers to established big leaguers, and formed some great relationships in that clubhouse as a result.

I also learned a lot from some great reporters north of the border. I’ll miss the late-night pizza hunts with Griffin in New York, stops in Baltimore record shops with Blair, comparing photos with Mr. Lott, making fun of Northwestern to Morgan and quoting the Simpsons with Sandler. Shi, Wilner, Ian, Zoro, Rob, Mr. Elliott, Ruts, Kenny, Cathal, and everyone else in the Rogers Centre pressbox, thanks for everything, guys.

I’ve also enjoyed the bond that was created with readers via this blog and Twitter. It has been fun seeing how interaction with fans has grown in the past few years and I was thrilled to be a part of that with the Blue Jays fan base. There is great passion among the Blue Jays’ loyal fans and social media and blogs has allowed that show.

All this said, you will still see my byline on MLB.com and I’m keeping my same handle on Twitter (http://twitter.com/MLBastian). One small difference is I will be moving my blog — still called “Major League Bastian” — to a new URL. You will be able to find my new blog at bastian.mlblogs.com.

You’ll also continue to see my byline some on bluejays.com in the coming days and weeks, but soon I’ll will be moving camp entirely to indians.com, and passing the torch to a new Blue Jays reporter in Toronto in the process.

Thanks for everything, Blue Jays fans.

–JB

Anthopoulos discusses Gregg, Olivo

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos held a conference call on Friday to go over the moves he made one night earlier. Toronto declined all the club options in closer Kevin Gregg’s contract and declined a club option for Miguel Olivo shortly after acquiring the catcher in a trade with the Rockies.

Here are some highlights of what Anthopoulos had to say…

On the decision to make Gregg a free agent:

“The decision on Kevin Gregg was not an easy one to make. It’s one that we took a long time to make the evaluation and we really had it pushed up to the deadline just because of what Kevin did for us last season. Obviously, the numbers speak for themselves, but also the leadership component that he brought to the bullpen and to the clubhouse. That being said, I had spoken to him and I had spoken to his agent, because of the free agency dates and the option decision dates had been moved up, comparative to past offseasons, we just didn’t have as much time to potentially flesh out the market or flesh out the alternatives like we would’ve in the past. I explained that to both Kevin and his agent. What I really took the time to do over these last few days as guys filed for frree agency, was try to get a feel for some of the free agents that were out there and also to try to make a determination from a trade standpoint with allocating our funds.

“Like I explained to Kevin last night, we’re not prepared to lock him in right now at those option salaries, but we may very well come back to him in two weeks or three weeks from now, after we’ve had a chance to continue to work through the offseason and the market. We’ll know what the landscape will be. It’ll be a little more defined and we’ll have a better understanding and feel for what our alternatives are and we may very well come back and try to get something done with him. He’s very open to coming back here.”

On the possibility of an internal closing candidate:

“We haven’t made any determinations on anything like that at all. The offseason is so fluid. I have no idea what’s going to happen trade wise. [Manager John Farrell] and I are continuing to work on putting our staff together. He’s continuing to reach out to players and have dialogue and I’m starting to familiarize him a little bit more with the personnel that are here from our perspective. With respect to anybody specifically, in terms of certain roles and things like that, especially in the bullpen with any free agents, I wouldn’t be sitting here today telling you who’d be anointed the closer. That’s something I’d talk to John Farrell about because he would have a large part in making that determination as well.”

Asked if the closer is most likely to come from outside the organization:

“It’s hard to say. I’m open-minded to anything, I guess is what I would say. I’m going to continue to talk to John about it and continue to talk to our staff and our scouts about it. I don’t think there’s an absolute there. I’m open to anything. There’s a lot of ways that we can go with this thing.”

Asked if Olivo move was about securing the rights to the compensation Draft pick:

“No, and I’ve been reading a lot of that today. There’s a lot of components with that. We didn’t talk about the players that we pursued last offseason. When we signed John Buck, we were really agonizing over — at the time — Miguel Olivo and John Buck. … Collectively, we elected to go with John Buck. Knowing that John’s a free agent and, as we continue to gather information, whether it’s just getting a sense of a market and so on, it seems to be, and rightfully so, that the market for John Buck is going to be incredibly strong.”

On how Olivo move protects the team against Buck’s possible departure:

“I really don’t believe we can afford to be left naked at that position. We need to continue to have our options and continue to have our alternatives. Olivo is a guy we had interest in last offseason. We still continue to have interest in John Buck. But, we’re in the free agency period and we don’t know where the market for John is going to go. [The trade] allowed us to have dialogue with Olivo’s agent last night. It allowed us to explain to him with the way things are going for us in the offseason, explaining that we would like to have John Buck, we do have J.P. Arencibia with the club, we do have Molina under contract currently, but we do not know what the offseason is going to bring. We wanted to at least be able to have that dialogue. We were granted a window in a lot of ways to have that dialogue to be able to lay things out for them.”

Asked if he believes Arencibia needs more time before being full-time catcher:

“I don’t know. … You hope all players feel this way, J.P. absolutely feels that he’s ready to perform at the big league level at this time. I’m not one to ever say that a young player, or a player who hasn’t established himself, is ready at this time or that time. Players will dictate that to us and players will show that to us. That beeing said, my job and our responsibility is to protect the organization and to have the most competitive club. Part of that is to insure against certain performances, health, things like that. And, we need to continue to try to build that depth. Competition is not a bad thing.”

On Arencibia possibly switching positions:

“J.P. Arencibia for us, there’s no question, we view him behind the plate and we don’t view him at any other spot. People have talked about his ability to play other positions, because he’s that type of athlete and he’s that type of kid. But, there’s no question, his value and where we think he has tremendous ceiling and tremendous upside is behind the plate.”

What does it all mean? It means, welcome to the offseason.

–JB

Anthopoulos gets creative

 

Block_with_letter_B.jpgThis post was brought to you by the letter “B”…

… as in “Type B.”

On Thursday night, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos swung a pretty creative trade. For an hour and a half, catcher Miguel Olivo was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Then, just like that, the Jays made him a free agent.

At 10:14 pm ET, the Blue Jays announced that they had acquired Olivo from the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. At 11:47 pm, Toronto announced that it had declined Olivo’s $2.5 million club option for the 2011 season.

Why do this move? It’s a trade that showed once again that Anthopoulos likes to think outside the box in an effort to upgrade the Blue Jays’ Minor League system. Olivo qualifies as a Type B free agent, meaning he is worth an extra pick in the sandwich round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft if he declines arbitration and signs with a new team.

Colorado was likely planning on declining Olivo’s option, which would have cost them a $500,000 buyout. Toronto stepped in, saved the Rockies the cash and declined the option in order to gain the rights of the extra Draft pick. So, in a sense, the Jays just spent half a million bucks on a first-round pick.

This move has two benefits.

First, it protects the Blue Jays in the event that they decide they actually do want to re-sign free-agent catcher John Buck (also Type B). By gaining the rights to Olivo’s compensation pick, the Jays cancel out the loss of Buck’s compensation if he remains with Toronto. Second, if Buck ultimately decides to sign elsewhere and declines Toronto’s arbitration offer, then that’s two extra picks for the Blue Jays.

There is also the remote possibility that Olivo or Buck could accept arbitration. That’s obviously fine by the Blue Jays, who probably figure that such a decision is not likely, making the risk worth it. If by some chance one or both do accept, that’s added depth, and the offer is for one-year and it’s non-guaranteed.

Expect Olivo and Buck to look for a guaranteed deal elsewhere.

If both catchers do walk — the likely scenario — that leaves veteran Jose Molina and prospect J.P. Arencibia as the two Major League catchers for the Jays. Barring an addition, they could open the year with split duties before easing Arencibia into a full-time gig. Buck would be the full-time guy out of the gates, pushing back the development of Arencibia as the starter of the future.

Beyond Olivo and Buck, the Blue Jays also have Type A free agents in relievers Scott Downs and Jason Frasor. Both will get arbitration offers. If they decline, they’re each worth two compensatory picks in the 2011 Draft. Add in Type B free-agent closer Kevin Gregg (Type B), whose options were also declined Thursday, plus the Jays regular pick, and suddenly that’s eight possible early-round picks for Toronto next June.

That’d be quite a haul one summer after the Blue Jays boasted eight picks in the top 100 of the 2010 Draft — Anthopoulos’ first as GM. Toronto has had a clear emphasis on player development since Anthopoulos took over and reeling in extra picks is one way to increase the probability of landing some top prospects.

More top prospects means more depth, but it also means more bargaining chips. Not only does Anthopoulos want the Blue Jays’ Major League roster to see upgrades from top to bottom, he wants the same for the farm system. In order to swing impact trades, the Jays require a deeper pool of talent in the Minors to entice other clubs.

Anthopoulos was not available for comment after pulling off his latest trick on Thursday night. He planned on holding a conference call with reporters on Friday to discuss his decisions on Gregg and Olivo.

Stay tuned…

–JB

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