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.
Crossing the border
This 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.
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.
Anthopoulos gets creative
This 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.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Blue 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.
Reports: Farrell to be next Jays manager
All 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.
Highlights of Anthopoulos sit-down
Blue 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.
The Magic of Murphy
There are any number of ways one could dissect the incredible season currently being turned in by Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista.
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:
Game 160: A magical year indeed
Jim 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
BLUE 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)
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)
Game 157 lineups: Yankees at Jays
NEW YORK AT TORONTO
at 7:07 p.m. ET, Rogers Centre
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Lance Berkman, DH
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Brett Gardner, LF
Pitching: CC Sabathia (20-7, 3.26)
BLUE JAYS (81-75)
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. John Buck, C
8. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
9. J.P. Arencibia, DH
Pitching: Kyle Drabek (0-2, 4.91)
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