Given the game of chicken that Alex Anthopoulos is currently engaged in with various player agents and competing GMs, and how unusually deep into the winter it has taken him, it entirely makes sense that Jays fans are getting a little bit antsy about just what they may end up finding themselves devoting their time and energy to this summer. And holy shit, if they saw three of what I’d call the most important pieces of Jays-related writing to come along this week, their outlook probably didn’t get a whole lot less bleak.
Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star paints a picture of Alex Anthopoulos as a GM who has lost his way, not to mention the ear of his rivals.
At Blue Jays Plus, Gideon Turk gets inside sources, like current and former teammates of Jose Bautista (and others), to go on record (anonymously) about the way he operates behind closed doors, and the comments are hardly going to put any alleged issues to rest.
Meanwhile, over at Baseball America, Ben Badler handicaps the race to get Masahiro Tanaka’s signature on a contract, and in so doing makes it clear that he doesn’t think very highly of the Jays– not in terms of their chances of landing the Japanese ace, and also not in regard to their chances of being competitive in 2014.
In actuality, though, are things as grim as these pieces seem to suggest? I’m sure you won’t be shocked to discover that I really don’t think so — though, to be fair, my rosy disposition is mostly because I’m determined to be entirely sure that the Jays won’t be adding a front line pitcher for 2014 before I completely lose my shit on this organization — but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth looking at a little more closely.
It’s maybe not going to be the gong show promised by the title of this post, but nonetheless… shall we?
Griffin on Anthopoulos
Did Richard Griffin ever really believe that Alex Anthopoulos was “the game’s rising star, a 32-year-old with unlimited vision and the vigour of youth,” and “one step ahead, ready to re-invent the GM position”? Writing such things at the beginning of his Toronto Star piece, I suspect he’s speaking more of the “ninja GM” perception that many fans have had of Anthopoulos at varying times during his tenure, and not so much about his own personal opinion. But it’s a nifty trick he uses — swiftly moving outside of his own viewpoint, building AA up before the big teardown — and not the only time in the piece where he guides the reader towards a perception that he gives no evidence he actually believes.
The dots he’d really like us to connect are the fact that the Jays missed out making a deal for Doug Fister earlier this winter, and that “One executive at the recent winter meetings indicated that other GMs now realize that when they are talking to Anthopoulos about a potential trade, it may just be information gathering. Some have become more careful in their conversations. Maybe it’s time to adjust.”
It’s a fair enough point, taken literally and narrowly, but coming as it does immediately after the Fister stuff — “Would he have been given the opportunity two years ago?” Griffin asks, rhetorically. “Perhaps,” he answers — the insinuation is pretty clear.
Jays Journal falls into the trap:
As Mr. Griffin details, Anthopoulos has lost the art of surprise with his fellow general managers, mainly because of the way he’s dealt with them in the past. He’s spent far too much time hoarding information rather than actual dealing, putting off other teams while trying to put himself into a stronger trade position. Rather than continue to be a pawn in his moves, other GM’s are apparently shutting him out.
That was evident in the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals for what appeared to be a pittance. The Blue Jays could have easily been major players in such a deal, and Fister would have made a remarkable addition to this rotation. However, Anthopoulos was never even considered and was caught off guard by the move, something he has rarely been on the receiving end of.
That sure is what Griffin would like to imply, but it’s not at all what he said. What he said was that, according to a single executive, GMs are being a little more guarded with Anthopoulos these days, and then for good measure he added some pure speculation about whether the Jays would have been able to get in on the conversation two years ago– and wouldn’t even commit one way or the other as to what he actually thinks about such speculation.
Me? I think that if Anthopoulos is being frozen out, there must be a shitload of GMs pissing their rivals off with the same kind of information gathering. Because the Jays are hardly anywhere close to the only team who would have absolutely fallen all over themselves to obtain Fister at the price the Nationals did. It’s absolutely gutting that Fister was moved for the price he was, and I bet Anthopoulos is as upset about it as you or I– and probably equally as culpable in the club’s failure to land him, too.
Anonymous Teammates On Bautista
Gideon Turk has done some great digging into the issue of Jose Bautista’s clubhouse presence, and while it’s maybe an issue that we’d all rather just be put to rest (or most of us anyway), especially after the publication of this piece, I don’t think we can just yet.
As you might expect, much of what we hear doesn’t exactly break new ground. Some of Gideon’s sources — particularly younger players (“prospects” he calls them while noting that they’ve been in the big league clubhouse with Bautista) — are actually very positive in their comments. Another person, simply labelled a “Major League source,” and not necessarily a player, cites anger in the clubhouse over Bautista’s arguments with umpires as the main issue, which is at least as dumb as it is unsurprising. Others still bring up the notion of the “Latino clique” in the clubhouse, and while I don’t think that’s particularly atypical of big league clubs, it certainly provides the juiciest moments in the piece.
An industry source with direct knowledge of the goings on in the Blue Jays clubhouse said that Jose acted as a leader strictly for his Latino brethren, but when it came to all the other players on the roster, he could care less.
One veteran player, gone from the team now, even went as far to tell Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos that his team would never win if it featured a Latin clique like the one present over the past couple of years.
That player is, of course, an idiot. And here’s where, if I weren’t being lazy, I’d suggest that there’s still enough merit in what the player is saying to take it seriously, and I’d make a bunch of statements about how it literally makes zero sense to think that such a thing would have anything to do with winning baseball games, and couch it with a bunch of stuff I don’t really mean about how it maybe-possibly-could have some non-zero something to do with something, just to keep the beer league doofuses who’ve felt something and the swallowers of every empty sports platitude ever uttered about team chemistry off my back, but… sorry, the statement is just dumb and I couldn’t possibly care less if a bunch of young guys from the Caribbean and South America plopped into a North American culture they didn’t grow up in, or speak the language of, getting paid millions of dollars to play sports get a bit cliquey.
I don’t give a shit if the Christians or the big game hunters or the Japanese guys or anybody else on a given team find themselves hanging around with each other, either, and frankly I don’t think it would be the subject of nearly the same amount of commentary were it one of those other groups. In fact, with all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka this winter, the idea of there being multiple Japanese players on the same team is seen as a selling point– as was the notion of the Jays and their Latino contingent, back when that characterization was convenient.
The stuff about not caring about players outside the clique is a little more concerning maybe, but pardon me if I can’t muster too much of a shit about that, either — this team needs Jose Bautista hitting home runs, not playing to some kind of role that mostly exists in the minds of petty teammates — nor am I even particularly troubled by the biggest nugget from the piece. You can go ahead and be troubled by it, of course, but I don’t think it’s terribly hard to understand…
One player, who was involved in an on field accident with an opposing Dominican this past season that resulted in an injury for the other player, was shunned by his Latino Blue Jays teammates for many days after the play. The entire Dominican contingent would not talk to him for days because of this incident.
I have zero doubt in my mind that this is a reference to the Colby Rasmus slide to break up a double play in the fourth inning of a Max Scherzer start that was already 5-0 that sent playoff-bound free-agent-to-be Omar Infante for x-rays*. This slide. Yeah, it was a baseball play, and I was OK with it — still am — and I think the reported reaction, if true, was certainly too much. But sometimes I also think our notions of how teams actually work are pretty hilariously quaint, too. I can get that if you’re friends with a guy, even one on the other team — and don’t kid yourself, these players can run in pretty tight circles — maybe not appreciating the not-entirely-necessary threat to his livelihood on a play like that.
Sorry again from combating stuff your minor hockey coach told you with some common sense, though. Flame away!
*(Or, I did have zero doubt… until it was pointed out to me in the comments that the piece says the incident involves a Dominican, and Infante is from Venezuela.)
Badler On The Jays
Lastly we have Ben Badler of Baseball America, who includes the Jays among the “lurkers” for Masahiro Tanaka, but evidently he doesn’t quite understand why they’d bother.
Even if the Blue Jays forecast Tanaka as a frontline starter, do they have enough talent to put around him to shoot for a playoff spot next season? Tanaka would help them beyond the 2014 season, of course, but after winning 74 games last year and looking at this point like the worst team in the American League East, is now the time for the Blue Jays to invest north of $100 million in one pitcher?
I’d quibble — and have — with the notion that the Jays are the worst team in the AL East, though I will grant that without another starter they’re very clearly with the O’s and Yankees in the second tier, but I get the sense that Alex Anthopoulos would probably be OK with this sort of characterization– not of his club, but of his willingness to pursue Tanaka.
It’s certainly the pervading thought. Dan Szymborski of ESPN.com (Insider only) ranks Tanaka’s suitors based on who has the most to gain in acquiring him and doesn’t include the Jays, while Ken Rosenthal highlights potential landing spots at Fox Sports, as well, and similarly neglects to include the Jays.
Or… “neglects” may be the wrong word. I don’t think it’s malicious so much as the industry simply doesn’t see the Jays as players for Tanaka the way that they do the Mariners (who have far fewer dollars committed in the coming seasons, even with Robinson Cano now on the books), or the Yankees (who are the Yankees). There will be no hysteria over this Japanese ace the way there was over Yu Darvish two winters ago — at least not in this city — and while I don’t think that means they’re any more likely to actually make a strong play for him under the cover of the silence of lowered expectations, I don’t think it’s nearly as far out of the question as a lot of people do.
They’re saving their bullets for something — though, yes, it’s more likely one of the guys who’ll require a draft pick (the prices on whom may be dropping, at least according to MLBTR’s latest) — and they’re not going to be stymied by their phony policy restricting contract length (and anyone who even mentions that nonsense without pointing out that term is meaningless anyway, as it’s all about total dollars, ought to be immediately tuned out).
Then again, Badler thinks it’s possible that they may even not, which he suggests as he twists the knife:
If they consider themselves far enough behind the rest of the AL East, they could hold off on major free agent acquisitions for at least another year until they’re ready to contend.
He explains in the piece that the coming of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez will go a long way towards making 2015 a year in which the Jays can contend, so that’s kinda terrific, but still… I think they’re going to sign somebody, and are probably much happier being under the radar while they work towards it– especially since that will make it a whole lot easier for fans to swallow if they miss. Would the front office take that outcome in stride, though? I highly doubt it.