Playing Pepper

(Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

(Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

As some of you may or may not know, this site Blue Jay Musings is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, every spring the site Cards Conclave send around what they call Playing Pepper, a questionnaire to bloggers of every team in Baseball about their view on the off-season and questions about the upcoming season.

So without further ado here is our version of Playing Pepper.

1) What are your thoughts on the team’s off-season?  Did they do what they needed to do?

The biggest question marks going into the off-season where second base and the bullpen. They didn’t necessarily address those needs quite the way most Blue Jays fans wanted too. At second base they acquired Devon Travis who was a highly thought of prospect with the Tigers, but, he’s still just a prospect who will likely start the year in Buffalo. Maicer Izturis is looking to bounce back from missing almost all of last season with a knee injury and if he can show that 2013 was a fluke then he should bring some offence to that position. As for Ryan Goins, sure he’s a plus defender at second, his bat still hasn’t developed to the point where he deserves Major League At Bats.

Alex Anthopoulos passed on the bullpen arms in Free Agency this winter and I like the fact that they didn’t bite on the asking price for some free agent arms. Don’t forget, the Blue Jays’ pen was one of the better one’s in 2013 and bullpens are one of the more trickier positions to fill on a team because of the uncertainty year to year. I would expect the Blue Jays to be able to build the bullpen in house and probably the best thing for the pen would be if Aaron Sanchez is in it.

Did they do what they needed to do? in some ways yes and in some ways no. The Russell Martin signing is a huge upgrade behind the plate and he will do wonders working with the young arms in the Blue Jays rotation. Josh Donaldson was also a huge acquisition, nothing against Brett Lawrie who was a great defender, but having a guy that has proven he can stay healthy and that has hit for power playing most of his games in pitcher friendly parks in Oakland and Safeco and is also a plus defender and has playoff experience is huge for a team like the Blue Jays that have play-off aspirations this year.

 2) So how will the off-season GM drama affect the team, if at all?

The Dan Duquette-Ed Rogers-Paul Beeston drama from this past winter won’t have any affect on the team on the field. We probably won’t hear anything about a new president until November which is after Beeston’s contract is set to expire and he will head off into retirement.

3) What’s the strength of this team?

Easily the offence, with a 3-4-5 combination like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson they have arguably one of the best 3-4-5 combinations in all of baseball. Russell Martin should be able to put up similar numbers to what Melky Cabrera put up last season and I think Michael Saunders could be a nice addition to the line-up. Lets also not forget about Dioner Navarro who will be a nice bat off the bench and can fill in at DH and catch when Martin is not in the line-up.

4) What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

Marcus Stroman, I know he had a helluva of a rookie season with the Blue Jays, but I believe that he will only get better this year. Another year under the tutelage of Mark Buehrle will help as well. It should be interesting to watch Stroman develop this year and see his sinker that he worked on when he entered the rotation last year get even better. I honestly think that Stroman has ace potential and will be a stud for years to come.

5) What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

I think the Blue Jays will finish anywhere between 85-90 wins and with all the question marks with every other team in the AL East I think they have a really good chance to win the division. I do believe that this will be the year that they end their 21 year postseason drought this October.

 

We are looking at doing a Mailbag feature every couple of weeks here. Send your Blue Jay related questions to bluejaymusings@live.com

Blue Jays’ Unveil New Canada Day Jersey

Getty Images

Getty Images

On Saturday the Blue Jays sent out a tweet of Russell Martin modelling off the new Canada Day jersey that the team will wear on Canada Day when the Blue Jays face the Boston Red Sox.

It will be the first time since the team has gone to a special Canada Day jersey that it won’t be red. I’m not quite sure that I really like the new jersey, I think it’ll make me miss the all red jersey that the Jays had used the past three seasons. At least this one looks better than the protocol that Ian over at Blue Jay Hunter had come up with right?

And, hey, it gives Rogers another chance to make a bunch of money off these new jerseys that are slated to go on sale online at http://www.jaysshop.ca in June.

 

Blue Jays’ Ink Dayan Viciedo To A Minor League Deal

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Toronto Blue Jays have added more depth to their outfield by signing former White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo to a minor league deal according to a Ken Rosenthal tweet

Viciedo, according to a tweet by Shi Davidi, will see time in Left Field, Third Base and First Base although Viciedo has limited experience at the infield positions.

Viciedo a career .254/.298/.424 hitter in his five big league seasons with the White Sox, and has some power in his bat hitting more than 20 home runs two of the past three seasons. He excels more against lefties than he does right handers, hitting .291/.331/.507 against left handers.

If Viciedo makes the major league roster he would be under team control until 2017 and will be in the battle to win a spot as the teams fourth outfielder and could get action in left while Michael Saunders recovers from his meniscus injury.

The Thursday Night Notebook

saunders

The Blue Jays haven’t even had their full squad report for Spring Training yet and the injury bug had bitten already as Michael Saunders tore his meniscus and is reportedly out until All-Star Break. Saunders did talk to the media on Thursday morning and said that his goal is to be back before the Break.  The worst part is just how freak the injury is. Saunders hurt his knee taking fly balls on one of the back fields at the Blue Jays Bobby Mattick Complex when he ran into a sprinkler.

For those keeping score at home that is the third freak injury in as many years to happen to a Blue Jay, in 2013 Melky Cabrera suffered a tumour in his back which made him look like an old man, last season Maicer Izturis completely tore his lateral collateral ligament in his knee when he stumbled down the dugout steps in Baltimore and now Saunders inadvertent run in with a sprinkler. Some one should tell the Baseball Gods it’s time to lay off of the Blue Jays, they’ve dealt with enough injuries in the last three seasons regardless of whether they were of the freaky variety or not.

As for who the Blue Jays plan on putting in Left field until Saunders comes back? Alex Anthopoulos said for now they will look internally at the outfielders they have, my guess is that Kevin Pillar is the most likely to be in left on Opening Day, but that they could also make a move at the end of Spring Training. Shi Davidi also dropped an interesting name into the mix when he appeared on the MLB Network tonight saying that Danny Valencia who has played some outfield in his career could get some playing time in left as well. I guess it’s a better option than trying Edwin Encarnacion in left like the Blue Jays did last year when Jose Bautista was hurt.

BLUE JAYS SIGN SANTANA 

The Blue Jays also announced Thursday night that they had came to terms with former Cy Young winner Johan Santana to a minor league deal. Santana will make his appearance at camp tomorrow according to reports. It’s yet another low risk, high reward signing for the Blue Jays who have been making a habit of doing these type of signings this winter. Santana, 35, hasn’t pitched in the Big Leagues since 2012 when he pitched with the Mets. He has missed the past two years rehabbing a shoulder injury, which happened to be his second in three years.

On the positive side of things if Santana can prove that he’s healthy and that he could contribute would give the Blue Jays another option for their starting rotation, most likely he will start the season in Buffalo and add more pitching depth for the Jays’ which in the past has been proven that you can never have enough depth.

Of interest to note, Current Blue Jay Josh Thole was the catcher that caught Johan Santana’s no-hitter when he was with the Mets in 2012. It was the first in Mets history.

GIBBY MUM ON OPENING DAY STARTER

This came as a surprise to me when Scott MacArthur tweeted out that John Gibbons wouldn’t commit to starting R.A Dickey on Opening Day, saying that when they knew, we would know. Not that it really matters and we really shouldn’t read much into it. MacArthur later tweeted out that if Dickey were to start the second game of the season in New York he would avoid facing the Orioles, who Dickey doesn’t fare well against, and that it would give Dickey three starts under the Dome in the Jays first homestand of the season. That makes sense and Dickey is a guy who has said he prefers to pitch in a controlled environment so making three of his first four starts inside the Dome rather than unpredictable outdoor weather in April is probably a good thing.

As for who starts the Grapefruit League opener next week, according to MacArthur Gibby is leaning towards starting Aaron Sanchez.

The Thursday Morning Notebook

RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR

RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR

A day after former Blue Jay Adam Lind opened up to Bob Elliott about his time in Toronto, Lind was back at it again talking about his time in Toronto, this time to Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and it wasn’t nearly as nice as what he has told Elliot the day earlier.

“I had a back (injury), which had been the problem for four years,”  Lind said “I’m on a constant cycle of trying to stay one step ahead of that. Then I had a broken foot and continued to play on it. I don’t know if they really tried to find it.

“Then I continued to play and after limping around for a month, my back (began bothering me). It all just fell apart after three weeks and I was like, ‘I just can’t.'”

The “I don’t know if they really tried to find it” line might be the most damning against the Blue Jays medical staff and to be fair to Lind, it was at the urging of his mother to have an MRI done after he has hobbled around for a month. At the time of the injury many were questioning the medical and training staff for not having a MRI done earlier when he sustained the injury.

Lind then goes on to talk about his off-season program.

“Getting away from Toronto kind of allowed me to pick my physical therapists and doctors I wanted to work with over the off-season, and I think it was a nice change just to get a different set of eyes on me.

“I took a more comprehensive approach and tried to use my body as a whole and not just treat my back. There’s reasons why my back would hurt, and I think we started to discover some of those reasons and have made my body better as a whole instead of just trying to treat my disc issue.”

I think the biggest thing to look at might just be the medical staff. Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe there just might be something there. Let’s face it the Blue Jays haven’t exactly been the healthiest of teams when it comes to injuries the last few years. And it’s not like people haven’t been critical of them or wanting the Blue Jays to do a thorough overhaul of their medical team,

NEW VIDEO MAN 

Shi Davidi reports that last years instant replay video guy Sal Butera is going back to scouting after spending just one season in that role. Taking over the job of instant replay video guy for this upcoming season will be  Advance scouting co-ordinator Ryan Mittleman and Harry Einbinder, co-ordinator advance scouting and video.

MARTIN IMPRESSES DICKEY

On Wednesday Russell Martin finally had a chance to work with R.A Dickey catching the knuckleball. Dickey came away quite impressed after the session.

“Russell’s a great athlete, and more than that, he has a real willingness and desire to unpack what it takes to catch it well,” Dickey told Gregor Chisholm “I don’t anticipate us having any trouble, I think he’s going to be able to do it.

“He wants to be good at his craft, and he is. It shows in his pedigree and the things he has been able to achieve. … I knew that coming in. What you’re really not aware of, until you work with someone first hand, is really how athletic a guy is. He’s a real good athlete behind there, and because of that, I think he’s going to have a really good chance at catching it.”

As for Martin,

“I think he’s probably a little bit impressed with how I’m able to catch it and not struggle too much,” Martin said. “I’m not making it look too pretty back there, but I think as long as I catch the ball, I think that’s the most important part.”

The other positive is that there is  plenty of time this Spring for Martin to continue to get comfortable with Dickey, and maybe things go so well that the Jays won’t need the services of Josh Thole.

The Blue Jays Release Details On Their Fantasy Camp

image courtesy Blue Jays website

 courtesy bluejays.com

The Blue Jays mentioned during the State of the Franchise earlier this month that they were going to bring back a Fantasy Camp in November.

The Blue Jays have finally released the details on the camp.

It will run from November 15-20 in Dunedin FL at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the Bobby Mattick Complex.

The cost of the camp is listed at $4660 plus HST which includes roundtrip airfare from Toronto to Tampa, Five nights hotel accommodations at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa (double occupancy with a fellow camper), shuttle service between the airport and hotel.

Also included in the package is a Half-day group baseball skills instruction from Blue Jays alumni and coaches and daily baseball games with fellow campers at Blue Jays training facilities, as well as Shuttle service between the hotel and the training facilities.

Campers will also receive an authentic Blue Jays Jersey, a personalized home and away jersey, a fitted cap, baseball pants and a belt and two t-shirts.

Campers also will receive use of a clubhouse locker with their own personal name plate. Campers will also have an opportunity to attend Social events throughout the week including a welcome dinner, camper team draft and closing night awards dinner as well as Q and A sessions with Blue Jays alumni and coaches.

Blue Jays alumni scheduled to be at the camp are, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Homer Bush, Candy Maldanado, Lloyd Moseby, Tanyon Sturtze, Duane Ward and Devon White.

The Camp packages go on sale March 3rd.

For more info you can email baseball.academy@bluejays.com

A Look Into The Process Of Growing Grass Inside The Rogers Centre

Image via @James_In_TO

Image via @James_In_TO

During the Blue Jays State of the Franchise it was announced that the Blue Jays had signed a deal with the University of Guelph to do the research for growing grass inside the Rogers Centre.

The man in charge of that project is Eric Lyons.

Lyons is a plant Biologist at the University of Guelph and is tabbed as one of the best brains in the province of Ontario when it comes to turfgrass.

“We can do this inside a building – the question is, can that building withstand it?” Lyons tells CTV News.

We know how to grow grass indoors. We do it all the time. The challenge is growing grass on that scale, in a building that big.”

Paul Beeston has said in the past that it’s more to do about the air currents in the Dome than anything else when it comes to grass. However, researchers point out that the light could be the biggest factor as different types of grass could react differently with the artificial lighting that will have to be used when the roof is closed-which could be a lot.

Researchers also point out that humidity will be the other factor, and the one unknown with humidity is how it will affect the atmosphere at the Rogers Centre.

“All I can tell them is ‘This is the amount of energy that it will take to keep these plants alive; this is the amount of humidity that they will produce under natural lights and artificial lights,’” Lyons says.

“They need to ask the question ‘Can that building be retrofitted to handle that?’”

Lyons also pointed out that once the Blue Jays decide to go with grass that non baseball activities will have to be on a limited basis, which Beeston has pointed out that once they go to grass that it will just be a Baseball only facility. Lyons also points out that the grass would have to be torn out at the end of each season and the process of growing new grass started again in the spring. Lyons also points out that they would have to start growing the grass by this fall for it to be ready by Opening Day 2018.

The research team should have the results on the feasibility of grass at the Rogers Centre a year from now.

It does seem like they believe that it can be done it’s now just down to whether the building could hold up, and as Beeston has continually pointed out that if this goes through it won’t just be a minor project. The cement floor would most likely have to be ripped out and drainage in the building would have to be installed.

It also sounds like that regardless of whether the Argonauts leave before their lease is up at the end of the 2017 season that the earliest anything could happen would be 2018.

 

Cashew Mirman’s “Blue Jays Adventure 3: Owners Quest!”

Found this little gem of a video by Pitch Talk’s Cashew Mirman, who was also responsible for this awesome gem that came out before Christmas.

In Mirman’s latest video he pretty much nails the offseason fun that was Ed Rogers’ futile attempt to try to find Paul Beeston’s replacement.

Enjoy!

The Friday Night Notebook

Thanks to Blue Jays Senior VP of Business Stephen Brooks for tweeting out the latest pictures of the brand new turf at the Rogers Centre. It’s a close as they’re going to get to having real grass in the place till maybe 2018 and at first look it almost looks like the real thing. It also looks much brighter than the old turf and just by looking at the pictures the new turf does look like it’s much thicker than the older turf.

I guess we will have to wait till we hear player reaction to hear if it’s any better than the old turf which lets just say left much to be desired. It should be interesting to see what it looks like after a few months of use and see if it starts to look a little flattened out with taking it in and out for different events when the Blue Jays are out of town.

 

History was made with the Blue Jays winning their arbitration case against Josh Donaldson Friday. Donaldson was the first Blue Jay position player to lose his arbitration case. Donaldson was awarded $4.3 million instead of the $5.725 million that he had requested in his arbitration hearing on Thursday. It will be a nice tidy raise for Donaldson who made $500 000 in 2014. It was the second time in as many weeks that the Blue Jays had an arbitration hearing. Last week the Blue Jays lost their arbitration hearing against Danny Valencia. The Blue Jays are expected to save around 6 million over the next few years with the ruling in the Donaldson case as his salary will affect his future years of arbitration as Donaldson still has three arbitration years left unless the Blue Jays are to buy out his remaining years and extend him.

Speaking of Donaldson, The MLB Network has been doing their list of Top 10 players at each position and when it comes to third base they have Donaldson listed at number two. Adrian Beltre was ranked number one and Josh Harrison rounded out the top three in the position.

The Thursday Notebook

Jonathan Dyer-USA Today

Jonathan Dyer-USA Today

I’m a day behind, but the Blue Jays made a roster move on Wednesday releasing Chris Collabello outright to Buffalo. It does come with an invite to Spring Training so if he is able to outplay Kevin Pillar than he could make the team as the fourth outfielder. Collabello was taken off the forty man roster last week after the Blue Jays acquired Jayson Aquino from the Colorado Rockies. The Blue Jays claimed Collabello off waivers in December. Collabello 31, in 401 plate appearances has hit .214/.284/.364. Last season Collabello started off extremely well in April hitting  .295/.343/.484 and drove in a club record 27 runs before falling off the earth hitting  .173/.229/.291 in May and June earning him a demotion to Triple A. The potential is there, it’s just a matter of making the proper adjustments, if he can than he has a chance to make the Jays’ out of Spring Training.

Speaking of Spring Training the Blue Jays sent out these tweets Thursday morning;

So now apparently Truck Day is a thing these days. The Blue Jays are not the only team that has sent out tweets like that, as several teams have done the same.  I guess it’s a teams way to get the fan base excited as it means the nearing of pitchers and catchers reporting which in the Blue Jays case is now only 12 days away.

PREDICTION TIME

It is also the time for baseball experts and analysts to come out with their annual predictions and rankings. ESPN’s David Schoenfield of ESPN’s SweetSpot Blog has been slowly releasing his rankings on teams and in today’s instalment ranks the Blue Jays at number seven. Schoenfield predicts that the Blue Jays will end their playoff drought going 87-75 and winning the AL East. Schoenfield also thinks that Marcus Stroman will be even better than  last season. He also thinks that Russell Martin won’t match last season’s career numbers.

It is worth noting that ESPN’s predictions are the first one’s that I’ve seen that pick the Blue Jays to win the East in 2015. Athlon Sports annual Baseball Preview magazine has the Blue Jays finishing second in the East behind Boston, they also have the Blue Jays as a Wild Card team. The Sporting News has the Blue Jays finishing third in the East behind Boston and Baltimore.

Not that one should put much into rankings and predictions because usually it never turns out the way these experts and analysts think they will. Remember the 2013 Blue Jays were picked to win it all by some and last years team was expected to finish last.

SPORTSNET RELEASES SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Thursday afternoon Sportsnet released it’s TV schedule for the TV side of the network. Sportsnet will air ten of the Blue Jays Spring Training games. Sportsnet will begin their coverage with the Blue Jays first Spring Training game Tuesday March 3rd against Pittsburgh. Sportsnet’s coverage will conclude with the pair of exhibition games in Montreal against the Reds April 3rd and 4rth.

Sportsnet will also air all Blue Jay exhibition games either on the Fan 590 or through sportsnet.ca

TICKET PRICES GOING UP A TOONIE

The Blue Jays also announced this week that ticket prices will go up two dollars for all tickets except for Club seats and In the action seats. It is the first raise in ticket prices in five years.

I suppose that with the Blue Jays payroll having gone up the last three years like it has that we should be lucky it didn’t happen sooner. As long as they put the increase into the actual team on the field it’s a small increase that most fans should be able to live with.

 

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