12:09 AM Eastern
It appears as though the State of the French Fries at Rogers Centre is strong. So strong, in fact, that not once did a fan in attendance at the Blue Jays’ annual opportunity for season ticket-holders to engage with the club’s main decision-makers pose a question about concessions or hot water in the washrooms or anything else having to do with the fan experience at the ballpark outside of what occurs between the white lines.
The talk was all about baseball, and that’s a good thing.
It wasn’t all positive, as a few interrogators wanted to know why the Blue Jays didn’t sign Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish or even Carlos Beltran and why they didn’t trade for Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez or Michael Pineda – but the tone in the overall wasn’t angry. And they got some good answers, too!
Why didn’t the Blue Jays sign Fielder? Paul Beeston isn’t willing to offer a free agent a contract that’s guaranteed for more than five years. He feels that it’s the right way to go about the business of building a winning ballclub, and it has worked for the Blue Jays in the past. It seems as though the game is moving in a direction in which such contracts will be necessary to sign elite-level free agents, but so far Beeston isn’t budging. To his credit, Alex Anthopoulos says he will continue to work on Beeston, and that he did get his boss to change his previous policy of no deals longer than three years. Anthopoulos also managed to convince Beeston that giving Ricky Romero a five-year contract (with an option for a sixth!) was a good idea. To Beeston’s credit, most of the seven- and eight-year contracts awarded in the big leagues have been spectacular failures despite there having been every reason to believe they wouldn’t be at the time they were signed.
Why no Darvish? Probably because he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues and the Rangers are going to pay an average of close to $20 million per year over the next six in order to secure his services. As Anthopoulos said again tonight, the Jays knew going into this off-season that they weren’t likely going to be involved with the big-name, big-ticket free agents, and that includes Darvish.
Why no Beltran? That’s where it gets interesting. Anthopoulos was asked specifically about Beltran, and while he wouldn’t answer specifically, he did say that some players don’t want to play on turf, no matter how much you’re willing to pay them, and some don’t want to DH or switch leagues, no matter how much money you offer. Later on in the evening, Anthopoulos said that there were two free agents to whom the Blue Jays offered more money than they eventually signed for. It would seem those dots are pretty easily connectable, and one can feel pretty safe in assuming that Beltran was one of those two guys. Who was the other? If I had to guess, I’d say Ryan Madson. Just a hunch, though.
As to the idea of trading for a top young starter, in talking his way around the answer to that question, Anthopoulos gave away more information than he ever has to me or any of my fellow media folk. The Jays’ GM mentioned that he could have acquired a big-league starter, but that he would have had to have given up more than just the talent that’s bubbling under the surface – it would have cost him players off his big-league roster.
Anthopoulos said he could have acquired a starter but would have had to have opened up a hole elsewhere (Brett Lawrie for Pineda?) or that he could have given up Henderson Alvarez and FOUR guys below him on the depth chart in order to acquire another starter (Latos?). There were trades available to be made, and Anthopoulos said that he could easily have made a deal over the past few months that would have gotten fans very excited, but come June, those same fans would have been calling for his head.
Other than all of that, which was some pretty broad hinting at great inside info, the two biggest things to come out of the State of the Franchise were mentioned by the president.
Beeston said that he believes the Blue Jays will be in the playoffs “two or three times over the next five years.” He also mentioned that the Jays have been examining the idea of bringing real grass into Rogers Centre to replace the current AstroTurf.
In discussing the playing surface, Beeston acknowledged that some players not wanting to come to Toronto because of the turf is a real issue. He also said that because they’re discussing putting in natural grass doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to do it – or even that it’s possible, given the Rogers Centre’s multi-purposeness – but it was really great to hear. We’ve certainly come a long way from the 1/8- inch thick strip of green carpet that covered what would otherwise have been more parking lot at the Ex, but natural grass is the ideal surface on which to play. They can get it for short stints, like for a soccer game, but can they get it in for 81 Blue Jays games? Would it have to be removed after every homestand? Can they put a drainage system in so it can be watered? Lots of questions still need to be answered.
As for the playoff prediction, well, that had to be music to every Blue Jays fan’s ears. It’s not all about hoarding draft picks and cycling through good players to get more, it’s not all about pushing the “compete” date farther and farther into the distance for rebuild after rebuild, it’s not about wasting years while they have the best hitter in the game – it’s about building a winner, and doing it soon. Of course, Beeston said that even though some fans want the Jays to fast-forward the plan, he didn’t think it was a good idea, and Anthopoulos piped in by saying that with that prediction, Beeston just did press that fast-forward button on him.
Among some of the other interesting things mentioned at the State of the Franchise:
-Beeston said MLB is discussing the idea that interleague games be played with league-opposite rules. That is, A.L. rules in N.L. parks and vice-versa. I’m not a fan of interleague, but we’re most assuredly stuck with it; I think that change would be welcome, and make things much more fun to watch.
-Beeston said that Tom Henke’s name always comes up when the Level of Excellence is discussed.
-John Farrell gave himself a C grade for his rookie season, and also said Travis Snider and Eric Thames will compete “head-up” for the starting job in left field and that defense will be an important part of the decision as to who wins the job.
-Anthopoulos poured cold water on one fan’s ridiculous assertion that Kelly Johnson was indifferent towards being a Blue Jay and often looked as though he’d rather be somewhere else.
-Farrell leapt to the defense of Colby Rasmus, answering one fan who insisted that the Jays gave up too much for their centrefielder by saying “we gave up a couple of good pitchers, but Colby will show that we didn’t overpay for him.” In answering the same query, Anthopoulos pretty much said that the only key piece the Jays moved in that deal was Marc Rzepczynski, who has a “chance to be a very good left-handed reliever”.
-Farrell was asked who he thought could be the 2012 version of Brett Lawrie, and he spent a few minutes gushing about Drew Hutchison before also mentioning Anthony Gose, Travis d’Arnaud and Deck McGuire.
After the fans got their chance to ask questions (the audio of which can be found elsewhere on this fine website and the video of which can be seen at sportsnet.ca), we media types has our shots at the evening’s main speakers. Here, for your listening pleasure, is the audio of those scrums.
First, Blue Jays President Paul Beeston:
General Manager Alex Anthopoulos:
And last but not least, manager John Farrell:
It was a fun night, it’s always great to be in a baseball environment in the middle of a late-January snowstorm. I got to meet quite a few of you loyal readers and listeners, which was a treat, as well as a few Blue Jays bloggers, including Drew Fairservice of the late, great GROF and Drunk Jays Fan Andrew Stoeten, whom I’d met before and with whom I formed part of a Triple Play Roundtable last weekend along with the inestimable Rob E. Wong, who was my wingman at the event tonight.
If you’re following me on The Twitter @wilnerness590, you got a lot of the quotes from tonight’s event as they happened. If you’re not, and you’d be interested in such things, then you probably should.
Comments are always welcome – I read them all and respond to most!