I really feel like I owe a grand post on the Jays’ annual State of the Franchise event, which took place tonight at Rogers Centre, if not to the world, at least to the members of the club’s PR team, like Jay Stenhouse and Mal Romanin, who were kind enough to invite myself and a number of other bloggers to the affair– even if I had a sneaking suspicion that part of the appeal was the potential for some free, positive coverage of the kind that the mainstream outlets haven’t been so interested in providing lately. The club’s staff was affable, accommodating, and amazingly didn’t even toss us from the post-event media scrums with Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston (though for a moment it was close, Eric), even if it meant allowing the definition of media to be blurred-enough that some of the unwashed masses were rather hilariously able to jump into the fray. Or, in the case of some video podcast nobody has ever fucking heard of, called Back In Blue, getting exclusive post-scrum interviews with the CEO and GM. Um… WTF?
Thing is, as much as I feel that an expansive post is warranted here, right now I can’t be arsed to do one– partly because, speaking of the line between media and non-media, I decided it only seemed right to firmly straddle it when a free beer was basically thrust into my hand approximately 30 seconds after arriving.
So, for now, let’s skip the gory details, the winks at Richard Griffin,the polite conversation with the delightful John Lott, the terrifying guy in a fedora staring in the direction of Drew Fairservice and I for practically the entire Q&A. Let’s get to what few nuggets Anthopoulos and Beeston offered to us, and maybe we’ll revisit the rest later.
Here’s what jumped out at me:
- In defending the club’s actions on Prince Fielder– a softball attempt to defuse the night’s biggest PR hand grenade off the hop– Paul Beeston, perhaps inadvertently threw Adam Lind under the bus, claiming that the club won’t do a deal for more than five years on anyone, but if Fielder had been available for one, for three, for five years, “we would have been there.” That’s some confidence in your current first baseman, Beest. Not that he deserves confidence, mind you, but still.
- The question above was asked by the evening’s emcee, Buck “Albert” Martinez. At one point I asked myself, would Alan Ashby have been up there happily lobbing softballs at the panel, acting as a blatant PR stooge? Something tells me no.
- At one point John Farrell referred to new reliever Darren Oliver’s “left-handed specialty.” I know he’s a giant slab-of-meat of a man, but would it kill somebody to point out to Farrell what splits are?
- A couple of times during the Q&A Alex Anthopoulos emphasised athleticism as being part of the direction the club is headed in. A subtle way to undercut the fans who are livid over Fielder, or a genuine tactic? Judging by the profiles of the kinds of prospects he’s acquired, I’ll guess the latter.
- Speaking of livid fans, there were a few, but there was nothing of the kind of foment that I expected. In fact, the first fan who had the audacity to get negative was met with considerable restlessness from the section I was seated in– but also clapping from what sounded like a majority of the crowd, once he had made his point.
- From the “getting specific without getting specific” file, Alex Anthopoulos answered a question about the Jays’ inability to sign Carlos Beltran [Note: seriously?] by pointing out that some players don’t want to play on turf, some don’t want to DH, some don’t want to change leagues. Makes total sense, and is exactly what you’d expect Beltran’s reasons for passing to have been. Y’know, if AA had acknowledged the elephant in the room and mentioned the fact that some players actually want to win, too.
- Later in the evening the GM referred to the fact that there were two players this off-season who they offered more money or more years to, but who turned them down. Given the comments above, I’d bet hard that Beltran was one. The other… I dunno… Kuroda? Madson? Broxton?
- Later still, in the post-event scrum, Paul Beeston made one of the more interesting comments of the evening, following a series of questions about installing a grass field– which he says could be done, if they don’t have any non-baseball events in the building (in other words: it ain’t happening), and he says has been under consideration for 10 years. Getting specific about the fact that some players don’t want to come here and play on turf, Beeston claims that Carl Crawford balked at the possibility. Because, y’know, he was totally coming here otherwise. (I’m not seeing this one written elsewhere, but I assure you I didn’t dream it.)
- On the other side of the player acquisition front, Anthopoulos got specifically non-specific about the trades that the club “missed out on” this winter, as some fucking buffoons would say. The club made their prospects available, he said in response to a particularly frustrated questioner, and they could have made trades, but other clubs wanted big league talent back– read: Brett Lawrie– and if they did it, “you’d be up there asking why we made the deal.”
- Speaking to that point as clearly as he possibly could, Anthopoulos pointed out that if they had traded a Brett Lawrie for a pitcher, or Henderson Alvarez “and four guys behind him,” they would have simply been filling one hole by creating another. How do fans not get this? What magical trades do they seriously think could have been made?
- One of the more interesting questions of the night came from a gentleman who said he had a bunch of young players from Venezuela playing in Niagara Falls, and that he’d tried to contact the Jays to come have a look at them, but got nowhere– meanwhile, the Texas Rangers, while the World Series was on, no less, did heed his calls, and came up and signed five of them. Anthopoulos said he was unaware of the situation and was curious himself to find out how this particular ball was dropped– if that, indeed, was the case.
- Getting more general, Paul Beeston said that MLB has been looking into spicing up interleague play by having NL rules in AL parks and vice versa, much to the delight of fans who could somehow possibly give a fuck.
- Asked about the Jays abysmal interleague record over the years– despite the entire roster being turned over– John Farrell pointed to the recent hiring of ex-catcher-of-the-future, Kevin Cash, who will do advance scouting on the Jays’ interleague opponents, which will hopefully give them an edge they didn’t have in recent years.
- Farrell also mentioned the possibility of using outfield platoons in 2012– presumably in left, presumably with one of Thames and Snider, who will have an open competition this spring for the starting job, and Ben Francisco or Rajai Davis. If it’s the latter, OK– well, apart from the fact that Snider, should he be here, deserves every at-bat he can get– but if they’re thinking platooning a lefty with Francisco, um… again, someone please feel free to tell the manager about the existence of splits.
- On the good side of the ledger, Farrell shot down the traditional notion that a speedy player needs to lead-off, saying that they should put their guys with the best ability to get on base ahead of Jose Bautista in the lineup. Bea-utiful! It’s just… um… then explain why the fuck we saw so much of Eric Thames in the two-hole last year?
- Farrell also spoke highly of prospect Drew Hutchison, and said that, especially at mid-season, he would have no reluctance to call him up to the bigs, if the need were to arise. Of course, if the need for Hutchison to come in like a white knight arises, things aren’t going so good.
- At one point a female questioner asked about the ridiculous lack of ladies merchandise that isn’t either too cute or pink or features only the cutest and most popular players. Um… awesome question. Beeston was quick to agree to just about everything on the night, but this one in particular seemed like a concern he wanted to look like he wanted to get to the bottom of.
- It didn’t make it into my notes, but at one point during the Q&A, Alex Anthopoulos referred to coming into his job and having, among other challenges, players wanting to be traded, and later he said that Roy Halladay “demanded a trade.” He said it more casually than it maybe looks in print, and I know we all know that Halladay made it clear that he wasn’t going to re-sign and all that, but have we ever heard so explicitly that a trade was “demanded”? I didn’t think so, but then again, I long ago stopped giving a shit about the franchise’s second greatest ever pitcher.
- Speaking about his methods for player acquisition, and how they might change under the new CBA, Anthopoulos said that– fucking obviously– the plan wasn’t to attempt to hoard draft picks in perpetuity, but that the way he loaded up on picks in his first three years was, in essence, a way to exploit the system.
To that point, lastly, and perhaps most curiously, Anthopoulos said that going forward, even though it’s going to be harder to hoard picks and to get players over slot, he wants to keep building the club’s minor league core by always having a first and second round pick. Again: he always wants to have a first and second round pick. Unsaid, of course, is that to do so, he’d never be signing a free agent who’d require them to give up his pick to the team the player came from? I don’t know if that’s what he meant, but that’s what he said– fortunately for Alex is was wrapped in his typical Anthopoulspeak and not easy to catch. Update: On the above, crossed-out last point I had to go and take a look at the new CBA, because, truth be told, I was never actually clear on how the pick forfeiting aspect of free agent compensation works. Turns out, Anthopoulos didn’t say anything of note here, because, while clubs who sign free agents that received a $12-million qualifying offer (or whatever the number that year happens to be) do forfeit their first round pick to the team the player came from (unless they pick in the top 10, in which case they give up their second-rounder), those clubs get a pick back at the end of the first (or, if applicable, second) round– essentially a sandwich pick, but one that is referred to as part of the preceding round. In other words, the fact that the Jays will always have a first- and second-rounder has nothing to do with any sort of planned unwillingness to sign high-end free agents.
Update the second: Oh beer. So delicious. So mind-fucky. Um… ya, so it turns out I misread a rather critical word in the section of the CBA pertaining to the Update above. It’s not teams who sign players that received Type-A qualifying offers who get a pick back at the end of the first round, but the teams that lose those players. In the wording of the CBA, as it appears online, it’s unclear whether this pick goes to the club who lost the player in addition to the pick forfeited by the signing club, or if the end-of-round pick is the only compensation. Either way, the team who signs such a player loses theirs, and once again the comment from Alex Anthopoulos that the Jays will always have their first- and second-round pick becomes potentially ominous. (Thanks to @fmblair for pointing out the error in the correction to the first error.)
So… there’s that.