In this space, Jenn Smith takes a look back at the recent stories surrounding the Blue Jays and provides her thoughts on the matter, with links to some of the original sources. Look for this series on Sunday mornings to help you catch up on the goings on in Jays land.
I will be the first to admit that I experienced a strange mixture of emotions the day it was announced that then-General Manager Alex Anthopoulos had decided to part ways with the Blue Jays. It seemed incomprehensible – how could a man walk away from the team for which he (along with then-President Paul Beeston) was the primary architect after they had just completed the most exciting and magical season in twenty-two years? And though at the time I would not have been able to articulate why I was so distressed, I later came to realize that my concern was that the loss of Anthopoulos would somehow lead to the demise of whatever team chemistry had been established. It was as if pulling on the one thread would somehow cause the entire fabric of the team to unravel. I will also be the first to admit how much of an overreaction this was at the time. All one has to do is listen to both the players and the front office to realize just how much the entire team is in sync and motivated by the ultimate team goal – to finish what they started last season.
Some analysts and fans believe that winning promotes team chemistry, but many players appear to believe the opposite – that, while talent is certainly necessary (no team is going to win with a bunch of below-average players), team chemistry begets the winning culture require to have success on the field. In an interview with Richard Justice of MLB.com, reigning MVP Josh Donaldson is quoted as saying, “some people say chemistry is a non-factor. But if you could have seen our clubhouse from the beginning of the season last year to what it was at the end of the season, it was night and day. When you have 25 guys on the same page, that’s just fun.” That same page is what Donaldson refers to now as “unfinished business,” Last season’s playoff berth lit a lingering fire under the team which won’t be satisfied unless they bring home a championship.
While it may be easy to dismiss Donaldson’s comments about team chemistry – it’s easy for a player to make such statements when the only season they’ve played with a team happened to be successful – he isn’t the only Blue Jay expressing such an opinion. Jesse Chavez told Steve Buffery of the National Post that it’s one of the best clubhouses he’s been a part of, including his time here in 2012. “…it’s not because of the playoffs. It’s because of the atmosphere the guys bring to the clubhouse. I think it’s better…If you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to perform and we’ve seen that. The talent has always been here, I don’t know if certain guys were not comfortable, or certain people were around guys they weren’t comfortable being around,” said Chavez.
Russell Martin reiterated this sentiment in a phone interview on the Fan 590, saying that there was a “good feeling because of established chemistry” and that the players are excited because they “know they have a good team.” Martin took his comments one step further, though, saying that this season there is “more communication between the front office, training staff, (and) strength coaches” and that everyone seems to be in unison. He praised the more scientific approach to player training and said that things were “structured and organized more so than last year.”
This brings me back to my original point, which is that the vilification of Mark Shapiro was born out of fear brought about by the emotional season that was 2015, rather than any concrete reason to believe that he would somehow dismantle the team and its chemistry. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, but the passion of many fans – myself included – caused an overreacted to Anthopoulos’ departure. In fact, I would now argue that Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have improved upon the foundation they inherited. Let’s examine the evidence. The decision to not offer Price a lofty contract led to the re-signing of Marco Estrada and the acquisitions of J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez, all of whom offer far more flexibility than the team would have had otherwise. The fact that there is a four-way battle for the fifth spot in the rotation speaks volumes about the accumulated depth on this team.
The new front office has also established an innovative high-performance department (described in detail last week by Arden Zwelling) that is already being praised by players (see Martin’s comments) and which, if successful, could change performance design in baseball. This demonstrates a commitment to player health that is vital not only in terms of reducing the number of time spent on the DL this season, but in avoiding decline as players age.
Finally, there is the enthusiasm from Shapiro himself, who has clearly spent time getting to know the players and who admires their “grit, determination and perseverance.” If you listen to him speak, as he did on the Fan 590 Friday with Jeff Blair and Steven Brunt, there is no doubt that he believes in this team and is committed to its success. Of course, one could argue that Shapiro is very adept with words, and that we cannot evaluate this front office until much more time has passed. I agree with that. But, I no longer doubt the commitment of this regime to fostering a winning culture now and into the future. This is something that, as a fan who is heavily invested in this team – both emotionally and financially – I greatly appreciate.
The start of the regular season is just fourteen days away, folks. It’s time to take care of unfinished business.
- With Edwin Encarnacion’s self-imposed deadline of Opening Day to sign an extension fast approaching, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reported that the Jays have offered the slugger a two-year deal with no dollar figure attached. Elliott followed this with another article in which he quotes Encarnacion as saying, “they don’t have it in their plans for me to stay here.” This comes just a few days after it was reported that Edwin is “pessimistic” about reaching a deal. I refuse to let this curtail my enthusiasm for this season. I’ve made my peace with the likelihood of Encarnacion and Jose Bautista not returning after this season – I intend to enjoy the heck out of this season. The rest, as Andrew Stoeten points out, is “just business.”
- Bill Baer of Hardball Talk has an in-depth Blue Jays preview, in which he predicts the Jays will finish the season in second place in the AL East with a 94-68 record (yes, you read that correctly. 94 wins and second place). Baer lists five things necessary for the Jays to repeat as AL East champions, the first of which is to have repeat performances from Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. Both of these guys showed some sort of changed, repeatable skill, so there’s some hope that this could work out.
- David Kaplan from ESPN 1000 Chicago joined Dean Blundell and Co. and once again opened the David Price wound (as written about here by Ian Hunter). To wit: “I know for a fact David Price wanted to stay a Blue Jay. He would’ve taken less than he got from Boston or the offer he got from St. Louis. He literally would’ve taken less money to stay in Toronto.” Frankly, I don’t buy it. Price was in Toronto for all of four months, and while I believe he loved both the team and the city, I can’t imagine even a native Torontonian turning down $217 million, but perhaps that’s just me.
- A notoriously media-shy Troy Tulowitzki spoke out about the pitching staff earlier this week, saying, “definitely the offence gets more love, but these guys [the pitchers] shouldn’t be overlooked.” And to harken back to the previous point, Kevin Pillar added, “as much as we’d like to have David Price back, we’ve made some really good moves in bringing back a guy like J.A. who was arguably the best pitcher in the second half last year in Pittsburgh – a guy who is familiar with this clubhouse and the city and we’re excited to have him back.”
- Sixteen year old slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is working out with the Blue Jays this spring, hoping to earn a spot with the Jays’ class-A affiliate Vancouver Canadians. Behold his sweet swing and raw power.
- John Lott wants you to meet Connor Greene – “a lanky, loose-limbed youth who oozes athleticism and breaks out a big grin every now and then, as though he can’t believe his good fortune.”
- Though he will once again use old faithful this season, Troy Tulowitzki is beginning to prepare for life beyond his infamous glove.
- And, finally. The Blue Jays tweeted out a promotional video with the message “Last year was just the beginning. History is Now.” The tweet included what I assume is this year’s official hashtag – #OurMoment.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports