Yesterday’s trade deadline may have passed at 4 PM, but that didn’t mean that work was over for Alex Anthopoulos, as he then embarked on a mini press junket, speaking to the Fan 590, TSN radio, and an assemblage of reporters, about the day’s (and previous night’s) dealings and non-dealings.
If he were JP Ricciardi, and I wasn’t worried about diving too deep into the hackneyed “honeymoon is over” meme, I might have labelled this some kind of a “bullshit tour,” but… what he was saying wasn’t really too outlandish or unexpected, even if at least a couple of items struck me as odd.
From the Fan590 Interview
Chatting with Bob McCown and Damien Cox on Prime Time Sports (audio here), Anthopoulos spoke mostly about the deals that went down on Monday night, involving Travis Snider and Eric Thames, as well as the club’s situation in both left field and the bullpen.
At the start of the year, he tells McCown and Cox, in left, “we didn’t really have anybody who took the job and ran with it.”
“It really came down to, you know, Raj Davis wasn’t really a candidate for us because of the season he had for us last year– he had every day at-bats and he didn’t perform. We felt that his best role might be as that fourth outfielder, and get some playing time at all three outfield spots. And really, when you look at the way Eric and Travis both played last season for us, Eric clearly played better than Travis for that short period of time,” he says.
Clearly? OK, sure if you look at their overall offensive numbers– completely ignoring Thames’ butchery on defence, the fact that Snider performed about as well at the plate in 2010 as Thames, and that Thames’ hitting was buoyed in 2012 by a couple of unexpectedly hot months– I guess you can say that? Maybe?
“That’s not to say which one’s going to have a longer career or make more All-Star teams or anything like that at all,” he continues, implying that, yeah, Snider had the better pedigree and the greater potential, but, you know, we decided to do this one on 2011-based offensive merit alone– just like they did by calling up Anthony Gose ahead of Snider, amiright?
“Even in Spring Training, from a performance standpoint, if you look at the numbers, Eric had a stronger Spring Training,” Anthopoulos continues. Because, y’know, they didn’t exactly tell us that spring stats shouldn’t be looked at, back when, y’know, it served them to say so.
“But Travis showed promise, and he had to work on some things, and he finally started to find it a little bit with the extended time in Las Vegas, but he did miss time again with his wrist.”
This last bit, I think, is where you get a hint of how Anthopoulos thinks of Snider as a bigger risk than a lot of fans have been willing to believe in the wake of this trade.
In this vein, he later says of Snider that “it was going to come down to, what’s the bat ultimately going to be?”
He continues, but– and this is entirely just my spitballin’– seems to catch himself in time to move away from any critique of the player he just dealt.
“I can’t tell you that I know what it’s going to be, but it wasn’t so much caught up in that, it was more we had a need. We had a need in the bullpen, and if Travis was the guy they had to have– and that was a discussion that we had– if it made our team better, that was what we had to do.”
He goes on to say that ”I don’t think I would have told you before the season that I expected to trade Travis Snider,” but it happened because that’s what got them Lincoln, who had appeal because entering a new mode of thinking in terms of finding relievers has “always been on our radar a little bit, long term.”
“The first two years– my first two off-seasons in this jobs– in terms of signing free agent relievers, there was a lot of things that went into it. One, obviously, you’re looking for guys that can help your team. The second component was that we knew we were rebuilding the franchise, and at some points we obviously made some moves to take a step back, and we looked for relievers that could help the club, but also could create some kind of asset value for us.”
“I’m finding more and more, as our team is transitioning to a contending team, the bullpen obviously is becoming more important,” he says, hopefully not– but probably– putting too much stock in the one-time in-season failures of the relief corp. he cobbled together (to much acclaim, you might remember) this past winter.
“The depth of the bullpen is so important– the reason being, because if you’re going to be a contending team, you’re probably going to have a lead most nights, and you can’t go to the same two or three relievers, and you’re going to need to be five or six deep, one way or the other. And if you’re not, you’re going to be going to the same two or three guys, and you’re going to end up wearing them out. So, as we’re moving in that direction we needed to make the bullpen as deep as we could make it, and obviously we still have areas to address in the starting rotation.”
OK… I think I might actually get where he’s coming from on this one, and that it might be closer to the beliefs of those who have been blindsided and confused by his recent pursuits of relief pitchers than we maybe realize. Yes, there are plenty of scrap heap, year-to-year arms available on the free agent market, and it’s entirely possible to piece together a decent bullpen that way. But Anthopoulos seems to be favouring the stability of performance, cost-certainty and extra years of control that come from trading for these guys, and doing so at the cost of only– and this is where he and many fans will inevitably differ– fringy potential members of the roster.
Yes, it hurts to give away any kind of potential, but the 25 spots on the active roster are finite, so if you can use a guy who isn’t projecting to be a part of that group to acquire someone who is, maybe the thinking is that even if it’s one of the lowest-value members of that group, it’s worth doing. Or, at least, that seems to be the thinking.
Of course, clearly the fact that so many game seem to have slipped out of the Jays’ grasp because they’ve bled away insurance runs while John Farrell hasn’t been able to use Oliver, Frasor or Janssen– who he saves to protect leads– in addition to the fact that the club doesn’t have a lot of bullpen arms coming back next year, seems to be a factor here as well.
With a bullpen fronted by Janssen, Santos, Lincoln, Happ, potentially Oliver, and Stroman– who was just promoted to New Hampshire– in place for next year, the Jays may well end up with a net savings, meaning there will be some extra resources available to fill other needs, and that’s something that has value that needs to enter the calculation as well.
Related to that, it seems as though one of those areas of need may not be the outfield, as Anthopoulos– while going out of his way to not give anything to anybody– raved about Anthony Gose including, believe it or not, the at-bats he’s taken in his stint so far.
“What I’m impressed with with Anthony is, one, from a confidence standpoint, if you ever get a chance to know Anthony Gose, I don’t think that’s something he’s ever going to lack,” he says. “I think one of the best parts about him is that he’s so mentally strong and tough. And he went to winter ball this year and he didn’t do well, and I asked him, you know, what happened, and he was like, ‘I just sucked.’ He wasn’t down on himself, he didn’t put his head down. He just very matter-of-factly said, ‘I’m going to get better.’ He’s got such a great belief in himself. And I think overall the quality of his at-bats has been outstanding. He doesn’t chase, he works the count. I think there’s times from a mechanical standpoint where he’s a little bit late getting his hands going or getting his foot down– I think that’s why you might see him swing through some balls. But I’m very encouraged– I know the numbers aren’t there, but I’m very encouraged about the quality of his at-bats.”
Um… OK, it’s not like Anthopoulos was going to say anything else, but that’s laying it on a little fucking thick.
From the TSN Radio Interview
For reasons that you don’t have to think too hard to figure out, the guys at TSN are a little more hostile to the Jays’ message than their competitors over at Sportsnet. Anthopoulos continued his post-deadline press junket (we were talking about this at some point, weren’t we?) by joining James Cybulski (& Co.!) on Tuesday afternoon (audio here), and the most interesting topic was actually about what didn’t get done.
“Today we were still trying to work on something fairly big– probably around noon today,” the GM said. “It was on life support there for a little bit, but it didn’t go anywhere. We were active, we had a lot of dialogue. It’s just a good time of year to be able to make trades, because everybody is very engaged.”
Pressed on it, he admitted that the deal as for a starting pitcher, and later on, while trying to downplay the size of what he was working on, he bristled at the representation of it as a “blockbuster,” saying “I don’t want to characterize it as this huge deal, just something maybe a little more significant than what we’ve done in the past.”
More significant that getting Rasmus? Or Escobar? Or Lawrie? Or dealing Halladay? But not a blockbuster? Okaaaaay…
Further to that, he says emphatically that he had permission from ownership to add to payroll for, say, a Matt Garza. ”In terms of dollars, that would have never been an obstacle to getting a deal done.”
Whether it was Garza, he wouldn’t say. And he continued to insist that the rumblings that are out there very often aren’t true.
“Everything that we’re linked to is probably way off base,” he said. “I read a lot of things about how we were shopping players or we were dying to move players. We didn’t have anybody we were shopping, we didn’t have anybody we were dying to move, we don’t have any contracts we’re trying to unload, that kind of stuff.”
Clearly that’s a reference to the countless reports about the Jays’ eagerness to move Yunel Escobar– which I still, honestly, think very well may have been based solely on the ridiculous magnification of a tiny nugget from Jeff Blair several weeks back about some discontent. But what do I know?
There’s also, he says, “a lot of gamesmanship that goes on, whether it’s clubs putting out false information, agents putting out false information.”
That said, he tells us they “made everyone available,” noting the extremes of activity that he went through as the deadline approached– which was mostly fruitless. ”You can force deals,” he explains. “You can get the fan base excited for maybe a week or two, and then people realize that maybe the damage you’ve done to the organization is going to end up being worse.”
Could it have been worse than the reaction to dealing Travis Snider for a damn reliever? I’m not so sure. But, as Anthopoulos tells us, that “was just one of those things where we’d been trying to get Brad Lincoln for quite some time.”
“When you’re playing the free agent market for your bullpen, you have to do it year-in, year-out, and it becomes harder and harder,” he says, echoing what he spoke about with McCown and Cox. “I think the market for relievers is slowly starting to change as well. Now that we’ve become a more competitive team, it’s a more important area for us.”
“In 2010 and 2011, I think it was pretty apparent that we still had some work to do from a foundational standpoint. I mean, last year it was clear that we needed a centre fielder badly,” he said. “To have a guy out there on the market like Colby, with control and talent and age, if we were going to hurt the team short-term– which we did, obviously, we traded our bullpen– long-term we felt we were going to get a core piece that we needed, but we knew that, trading all those guys, the club was going be worse for it.”
Now, he says, he thinks “we’re much farther along,” and as such, “Our mindset has changed.”
“You can never have too many guys who are options for you late in the game.”
The same is true in the lineup, apparently, where even though ”we’re finally getting to the point where, position player-wise, we’re in very good shape,” he adds that it’s important to keep building ”depth and lengthening the lineup,” which “allows guys to not perform, because it’s going to happen.”
His focus, it seems, is being shifted in the direction of his 25-man roster. That doesn’t mean it’s a complete abdication of his principles on prospects or potential, but I’m pretty sure that’s what’s underlying all of what we’ve seen this summer– and if you look at the premium placed on having quality on the active roster by the clubs he’s competing with in the AL East and the other big swinging dicks around the Majors, I think it probably makes sense to have eventually started to make this turn. Of course, he’s not entirely around that corner yet.
From His Talk With Reporters
At his North of the Border blog, Gregor Chisholm has a great transcript of what Anthopoulos spoke to reporters about following the passing of yesterday’s deadline, the deals made Monday night, and the promotion of Moises Sierra– who the GM seemed higher on than might be expected.
“A guy like Sierra is someone that we like,” he says. “We think he has the type of upside to be a Nelson Cruz-type player. I know, obviously, Cruz is a bit of a late bloomer but his skill set and his tools certainly match that. Obviously he’s not there yet and he has to go out there and do it. We are high on him, we are excited about him.”
“But again,” he assures us, “he is behind the other two right now on the depth chart but we still feel we have some pretty good depth from an outfield standpoint.”
The other two are, of course, Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis, and the GM cautions that “for me to sit here at the end of July and try to say who’s our left fielder going forward, when we have guys with options and control, it’s way too early to make a decision like that.”
“The only guarantees in our outfield right now are Jose Bautista in right field and Colby Rasmus in center.”
The bigger question, though, is pitching, and Anthopoulos went out of his way to praise the guys who have filled in with all the injuries to the rotation, but also insisted that “we definitely could improve in that area. That’s not to single anybody out. If you look at the numbers and where we rank, until you rank 1 you can always improve.”
He also tells us that when it comes to the bullpen help they acquired, “I think there is no question we added bodies, two good bodies that have the ability to strike guys out which was important to us. Guys with above-average stuff and guys who have the chance to be here for a while. That can only improve our bullpen, especially with the number of free agents we have.”
While Travis Snider was a tough talent to give up, Anthopoulos explained that “finding late-inning relief help isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do.”
Ahhh… that’s maybe a bit of an overstatement, in my estimation, but very obviously the Jays really like the player they acquired.
“I don’t think we had anyone that was not excited about him and the way he was throwing the ball. I think all our scouts felt pretty strongly about him. I think it was a unanimous, everyone felt that it was a very, very good talent for us,” Anthopoulos said of Lincoln. “A power arm with swing and miss stuff.”
“Obviously there is added value, or the upside, maybe one day he would potentially be able to start,” he says, but “that wasn’t the primary focus when we acquired him. … He was acquired to fill a late-inning relief role for us going forward.”
So… that really is that. Let’s hope Alex is ahead of the curve on this one.
Image via ESPN.com.