At some point over the weekend Alex Anthopoulos held court with the throngs of media who’ve gathered in Dunedin for the spring ritual of all writing the exact same fucking story every day [Note: they've actually been doing better at this than in year's past, I think, despite what I'm about to write], and the Globe and Mail, National Post, MLB.com, Toronto Sun and others have got you covered with recaps of the GM’s comments.
As far as the only real position battle in camp goes, at least among fielders not named McCoy, Vizquel and Valbuena, Anthopoulos reiterated comments from earlier in the winter that Eric Thames has the inside track on the left field job, because of his performance last year, and the fact that he finished the season with the job. However, the nobody will be handed the role, and they’re going to look less at spring stats, but quality of at-bats, as well as how Thames and Travis Snider play defence– something Thames was said to have worked hard on over the off-season.
He talked pure, unadulterated, 100% sense about Brett Lawrie, being quoted by the Globe thusly:
“I’m cautiously optimistic because I just know from experience with young players that they don’t always just hit the ground running and don’t stop. The league will have to adjust to him; he’ll have to adjust back. I think even his last 10 games or so before he got hurt, he started to chase a little bit more and so on, but at the same time he obviously was great. He was great when he came up and played for us – defensively, offensively, everything he brings, great teammate. And I thought the quality of his at-bats were outstanding. That being said, I don’t think it’s fair to take the stats he had last year and try to pro-rate them over 500 at-bats.”
He’s also got his head on straight when it comes to Brett Cecil– as he said that, while laying down the law with the 25-year-old isn’t exactly his style, but “I called him, beginning of November, and I just told him I thought he was at a crossroads in his career. His ability is such that he should be a part of this rotation, shouldn’t have to think about getting optioned and so on.” Anthopoulos predicted that Cecil would have “a big year.” Hey, he’s already won the Vernon Wells In the Best Shape of His Life Award (TM), amiright?
“I’m so proud and thrilled by the way he’s carried himself and handled himself. And I just think there has been a real change in his mind-set, his maturity. And I think his career has become a real priority for him,” Anthopoulos says, perhaps tellingly.
On the subject of Dustin McGowan, however, the GM sounds like he’s drinking a bit of the crazy sauce, explaining that “I’m probably as excited about him as I am about any of our starters.” McGowan is, of course, the guy coming off a three year absence, multiple shoulder surgeries, who walked 13 batters, gave up 20 hits and 15 runs in 21 innings at the end of last season. Twenty strikeouts and a 4.38 xFIP, though! [Note: not sarcasm. No, really.] “I know the numbers don’t look great,” he admits, “but I thought the stuff was outstanding.”
Speaking of nice stuff (as long as, y’know, we’re not talking about the elusive breaking ball), Henderson Alvarez! Anthopoulos expects he will have “a strong year,” mostly “because of his ability to throw strikes. Most times you get sent down because you can’t throw strikes [Note to Kyle Drabek], and one thing we know he’s going to bring is the ability to throw strikes and the ability to get ground balls.”
“We do need some things to break right and we do need help,” he said, adding a hefty dose of realism. “The depth that we do have is all kids, but kids with talent and ceiling and upside. From that standpoint, a year from now we could be talking about a rotation where we have too many guys, which is great. [Note: In-fucking-deed it is] It really changes that fast with the guys we have that would end up on the five-man and then the guys that are right behind them in New Hampshire.”
“Whether or not that depth allows us to translate into more wins remains to be seen,” he said– referring to not just pitchers on the fringe of the 25-man roster, but hitters as well– “but we would hope that the dropoff from our front-line guy to the guy that would be filling in would not be as drastic.”
On the offensive side of things, Anthopoulos says that the club “should be as strong if not stronger than it was last year, and it’s not really going to rely on one guy.” It’s something that gets overlooked by a lot of people ripping the club for a relatively quiet off-season. The mid-season additions of Lawrie, Rasmus, and Johnson will help immensely. And the potential coming-into-his-own of Encarnacion can’t hurt either.
“The fact that we started last season with a lot of right-handed bats was something we wanted to balance out,” Anthopoulos also points out. “Now we have a lot of left-handed bats, so we have a nice blend. Having the right-handed bats coming off the bench, John has some other options and it adds to that depth.”
“There’s upside to all the players,” he says. “But we don’t need everybody to have career years. We need everybody to just be solid and we’re going to have a very good team.”
“You look at the production you get out of centre field on average, I think you’re looking at a low to mid .700 OPS, that’s average across the board. He’s capable of that, no doubt about it and he’s capable of more. He’s done more,” the GM said of Colby Rasmus, as quoted by the Sun. “I know he went through a rough year getting traded, didn’t perform the way he hoped for. I think Yunel Escobar is a great example. Yunel played well right out of the chute, towards the end of the first year he didn’t play as well, but I noticed the following spring, Yunel just felt like he was finally at home and this was finally his team, and I expect Colby to be the same way. We know he has a world of talent and he can only move up from an ability standpoint and a performance standpoint from what he did last year.”
Perhaps most interestingly he said he was very curious about ol’ E5– and in particular, his versatility. “The fact that a guy like Edwin Encarnacion can play third, can play first and we’re going to find out how he does in the outfield during the spring. That’s something I’m really curious about in the spring. It allows us to go with a five-man outfield.”
Sure, why the hell not?