Last night the Blue Jays held the annual ‘state of the franchise’ event at Rogers Centre. Season tickets holders had the option to send in questions in advance and have either manager, John Gibbons, general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, or President, Paul Beeston provide an answer. Television play-by-play announcer, Buck Martinez, acted as the master of ceremonies for the event.
The mood was certainly different this year – the questions much more positive. I guess that’s what happens when an organization makes offseason moves that vault the club into the Las Vegas favourite to win the World Series.
Here is a list of some key highlights in no particular order:
- Jack Morris, the first 20-game winner in Jays’ history, will join Jerry Howarth in the radio broadcast booth as the new colour commentator/analyst after the departure of Alan Ashby. Ashby was with the club for six years but accepted a position in television for the Houston Astros (he lives in Houston and his family is there). Morris has spent the past few years broadcasting for the Twins and Tigers, so he is no strange to the booth. And yes, he is still sporting a killer moustache.
- Anthopoulos commented that he isn’t concerned with the recent performance enhancing drugs allegations linked to the Jays newer signed LF, Melky Cabrera. Cabrera is freshly coming off a 50-game suspension for test positives for PED’s and now finds his name listed in a report out of a clinic in Florida along with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, among others. Anthopoulos doesn’t seem concerned, but I don’t share his optimism. I wonder that if the players mentioned in the report are found guilty, if Cabrera serves another suspension since he’s already done time and admitting to PED use in the past. When where these alleged users using?
- Gibbons unveiled the order of the starting rotation. Last season’s NL Cy Young award winner will take the ball in the opener on April 2nd vs. Cleveland. Following Dickey is Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Rickey Romero. Dickey getting the ball opening day was expected. It was also expected that Gibbons would break up his softer tossing lefties with his hard throwing righties. I’m a bit surprised that Johnson didn’t get the second spot in the rotation, although it really doesn’t matter with this line up. Morrow is definitely coming into his prime and if he can stay healthy, has a chance to be one of the top pitchers in the league. So no knock at him as the number 2. But Johnson has been a legitimate ace since arriving in the majors for the Marlins and is in a contract year. I think he’s going to be lights out if healthy.
- Gibbons stated that Casey Janssen is the team’s closer. This isn’t a huge surprise either considering that Janssen recorded 22 of 24 saves opportunities last year after taking over the closer role. He also put up some sparkling numbers: 2.54 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with 67 strikeouts in 63.2innings. There had been some talk in the media that Sergio Santos would compete for the closer position in Spring Training; he was acquired in a trade from the White Sox last offseason and was thought to be the prize addition to the team after recording 30 saves for the White Sox in 2011. However, Santos only pitched in six games and then missed the rest of the season with shoulder issues that led to surgery. It makes sense to see where he’s at before having him compete for the closer job after missing so much time. Especially since Janssen was about as lights out as a closer gets last season. I’m happy to see Gibbons squashing the media speculation about a closer position battle. Janssen deserves the job and it’s his to lose.
- Now onto someone that might not deserve the job but looks to be the front runner anyway: Maicer Izturis. It appears that when the Jays signed Izturis to a three-year deal this past offseason, Anthopoulos made a pitch that he wanted him to be the Jays starting 2B. That, however, was before he knew he would be able to pull off the blockbuster trade with the Marlins that brought another player with the ability to start at 2B: Emilio Bonifacio. This is a position battle to watch during Spring Training, but it’s likely that Izturis will start the year in the line up and avoid the bench. Bonifacio will find time in a super substitute role at 2B, 3B, LF,and CF. I prefer Bonifacio over Izturis in the starting line up. His speed and ability to get on base should have him in the line up regularly. Izturis is clearly the better defender, but I think he would serve the club better coming off the bench as a sub for 2B, SS, and 3B – a similar role to the one he served last season for the Angels. We’ll see how this plays out. My guess is Izturis starts the year at 2B and Bonifacio takes over by the allstar break.
- Another position battle is for the back up catcher role. It appears the aging veteran, Henry Blanco is the front runner for the job. He, like the man he’s competing against in Spring Training, Josh Thole, have both caught Dickey’s knuckle ball in the past. Thole has options remaining, which means he can be sent to triple-A without being exposed to waivers. Therefore, look for Blanco to take the job unless he drops off dramatically in Spring Training due to age or injury (he is 41 years young). I imagine J.P. Arencibia will get a huge dose of playing time if he can stay healthy this year – think Pat Borders in 1992 when Borders led the AL in inning played by a catcher.
- Beeston indicated that natural grass at Rogers Centre will eventually replace the Astro Turf currently on the field. He said this could happen sooner than most think. The big deal here is that the Jays need the Argonauts to move out of the stadium to make it an easier transition. The difference in field and seating arrangements from baseball to football make it difficult to have grass currently. It’s no secret that players don’t like playing on turf and only Toronto and Tampa are the only stadiums still using it. I’d love to see grass in the dome. We’ll have to see where this goes…
Just so everyone is aware, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week. It’s been a long and exciting offseason, but we’re almost there.
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