One of the most commonly asked questions surrounding the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays is how long it will take for all the new faces to fit in with the old ones?
Since the end of the 2012 season, Alex Anthopoulos has added new nine players in his bold, $120-million chemistry experiment, one the Blue Jays GM hopes concludes in a World Series championship.
The situation facing the Blue Jays this spring is not dissimilar to the one that presented the 1993 club.
Twenty years ago, the Blue Jays opened camp with high expectations and several new faces following a fairly significant roster turnover following their first World Series title.
Gone from the ’92 team were the likes of David Cone, Dave Winfield, Kelly Gruber, Manuel Lee, Candy Maldonado and Tom Henke. In came the likes of Paul Molitor, Dick Schofield, Luis Sojo, Darnell Coles, Dave Stewart and Danny Cox.
One of the returning faces on the ’93 squad was current Blue Jays bullpen coach Pat Hentgen, who acknowledged it might take some time for the new players to feel at home in their new surroundings.
Just maybe not as long as you think.
“I’d be surprised if there was an (chemistry) issue at all come the third week of spring,” Hentgen told reporters Saturday at Rogers Centre prior to a youth baseball clinic, adding players will get to know each other on their own time, and on their own terms.
“Some guys are real approachable and some guys like to stick to themselves,” he explained. “That two-week period (at the start of camp) usually opens a lot of guys’ eyes. I played with Molitor and he was a quiet leader that led by example, didn’t get in anybody’s face and yet everybody looked up to him.
“Winfield on the other hand was more verbal, so I think that stuff just kind of takes care of itself.”
Hentgen also knows what the cleat feels like on the other foot.
Following the 1998 season, he was traded from Toronto along with Paul Spoljaric to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Alberto Castillo, Matt DeWitt and Lance Painter.
Having spent his first eight professional seasons in the Blue Jays organization, Hentgen arrived at Cardinals camp the following February as a stranger in a strange land, a feeling several new Blue Jays are likely to experience next month.
“When I got traded to St. Louis, going over there not knowing anybody, I had that same issue where you wear blue your whole life and you look down and it’s all red,” he recalled. “You go ‘wow’ and you look around and you don’t know anyone. You go from nine years of comfort to two weeks of discomfort.”
Of the new Blue Jays in 2013, only Josh Johnson and Josh Thole have spent all of their careers to date with one organization. Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicier Izturis, Esmil Rogers and Melky Cabrera have previously played the role of the new guy in camp.
And with the exception of Rogers, Izturis and Cabrera, the rest of the new Blue Jays will be met in Dunedin by old teammates sent to Toronto with them in off-season trades.
On Saturday, Jose Bautista said he reached out to new Blue Jays and fellow Dominicans Cabrera, Reyes and Bonifacio on the day the Toronto acquired them, adding he already has a sense for the environment his new teammates will create.
“We’re going to go out and relax,” he said. “When you have such a competitive group put together on the same team, you can’t help but to feed off each other. I’m sure that’s what we’re going to do.
“Nobody’s going to have to press and overdo it because nobody has to be spectacular. Everybody just has to come in, do their job and, as a group, we’re going to play pretty good baseball if everybody just does what they’re capable of doing.”
HENTGEN BREAKS DOWN BLUE JAYS BULLPEN
During a lengthy chat with reporters on Saturday, Hentgen raved about the assortment of arms he’ll have at his disposal in the Blue Jays bullpen in 2013.
Here’s what he said to say about some of them.
Casey Janssen: “He’s been a robot the last two years. He’s been excellent. Every time we had a guy called up when I was here, I always told the guys, ‘watch Janssen’ because his routine is phenomenal and he’s steady.”
Darren Oliver: “Obviously we’d like to have Oliver back, that’s a no-brainer, the way he can throw the ball, the player he is, the type of guy he is, on the field, off the field, in the lockeroom, in the bullpen. I’m hoping that he comes back but time will tell.”
Steve Delabar: “Nasty. Great swing and miss changeup. Explosive fastball.”
Aaron Loup: “A guy that’s just got that sneaky heater in the low-90s with three-quarter deception. He’ll bring a nice element to that bullpen.”
Brad Lincoln: “He’s a guy that to me, if he can just harness his fastball command a little bit better I think his career is really going to take off. I think at times his fastball gets him in some situations where he gets predictable; he’s 1-0, 2-1 a lot. Those are the things I think we’ll talk about and focus on in spring.”
Sergio Santos: “Everything I’ve heard has been good so far. He’s been throwing a lot so really not much of an update there. Talking to Pete (Walker), he says he feels pretty good. Six weeks of spring training and getting into that normal throwing program, really starts to wear guys. You tend to see some pitchers hit that lull about four weeks into spring, so we’re going to try and avoid that with Sergio.”
Esmil Rogers: Power arm, saw his stats, haven’t seen him a whole lot. I just know he’s got a heck of an arm, he’s got a high strikeout-per-nine. Not knowing him and seeing his stuff, but you’ve got to figure his stuff is pretty electric for sure when you strikeout that many guys.”