There’s no denying that that Toronto Blue Jays fans are skeptical following an 88-loss season and a quiet winter. But Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons asked the 900 season ticket holders in attendance at Wednesday’s annual State of the Franchise event to stick with them as they look to build upon a dismal 2013 season.
The Blue Jays decision makers were greeted with questions from polite if frustrated fans at Rogers Centre as they sat atop the home dugout and fielded questions from season ticket holders, including some who have stood by the team for its entire 37-year existence. Many of the questions, which were submitted in advance by email, showed frustration on the part of the fans who will understandably be disappointed if Dioner Navarro is to be the club’s lone off-season acquisition.
Beeston and Anthopoulos responded by insisting that there’s considerable talent in Toronto and a plan in place to obtain even more.
“We are actively having dialogue,” Anthopoulos said. “The rotation is still an area we’d like to add. We’ll see if it’s one of these free agents. We are talking to a club or two about some trades, and we’ll see where those discussions lead, but we are very active and very involved in trying to bring in at least one more starter.”
Beeston says payroll could expand, and that he’s intent on replacing the Rogers Centre turf with grass by 2018. Anthopoulos added that he has kept in touch with free agent position players as well as pitchers. Gibbons has an even more direct message for fans: his team has talent.
“Stick by this ballclub. It’s a good ballclub,” he said. “Stick by us and hopefully we’ll reap the rewards.”
Beeston and Anthopoulos asked for fans’ patience as well, with the GM explaining that this off-season’s activity has been pushed back by a month or so compared to past winters. As a result, Anthopoulos has followed up an off-season that earned him widespread praise with one that leaves fans skeptical.
While the Blue Jays have been quiet so far this winter, Beeston said the team has the freedom to spend under the ownership of Rogers Communications.
“We can never complain that we’ve not been given the resources,” Beeston said. “I don’t think that we can worry about whether or not we have the resources. I have no hesitation that if the right contract came along that would help this ballclub, that makes sense for what we are and makes sense for our future that they would listen and give us the support.”
Beeston explained that he has never been turned down when approaching ownership for payroll clearance in the past. He repeated that wins and losses are often inextricably linked to payroll.
“What we need to do is perform on the field, and if we perform on the field, then we’re going to have all of the resources we need to make sure that you have exactly what you need, which is a very good team,” he said.
While Beeston and Anthopoulos continue to stand behind the team policy of limiting free agent contracts to five years, it sounds as though there’s some flexibility on that front. After discussing the matter at length with Beeston, Anthopoulos indicated that it’s not always a hard and fast rule.
“Would we ever say ‘no, under no circumstances whatsoever?’ No, we would look at it on a case by case [basis] but for the most part we do have that policy, we do adhere to it,” Anthopoulos said.
None of the current free agents are expected to sign for five years or more, which means they fit more comfortably within the Blue Jays’ long-term plans. Anthopoulos is in on a pitching market that still includes some intriguing options. “I think we all know the names. Arroyo, Burnett, Santana, Jimenez. Those guys are all still out there, they all can help our ballclub, can all be a significant improvement,” he said.
As for position players, the GM acknowledged that he has been in touch with the representatives of most prominent free agents. “Are we pursuing position players? I’d say no, but we’re open-minded,” he said, noting that he would offer a multi-year deal to a free agent position player under the right circumstances.
Gibbons added that he’s comfortable with the Blue Jays’ existing group of position players, which suggests adding a free agent such as Stephen Drew or Nelson Cruz is unlikely. If their asking prices drop, anything is possible. Otherwise, the only position players likely coming to Toronto are trade candidates or bench players (not Michael Young, though, as the veteran infielder prefers the Los Angeles Dodgers or retirement).
Fans who looked beyond Beeston, Anthopoulos and Gibbons saw a concrete playing surface covered with construction vehicles and rolled up carpet Wednesday. Within four years, the Blue Jays hope Rogers Centre will feature natural grass. Beeston repeated that the Blue Jays still hope to have a grass playing surface in 2018, once the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts are no longer sharing the facility.
“We’re for grass. There’s absolutely no question about that,” Beeston said, noting that the Blue Jays will add a natural playing surface even sooner if possible.
The Argonauts will continue to play at Rogers Centre through 2017, after which the stadium would be a baseball-only venue all summer, with the possible exception of occasional concerts.
In the meantime, fans may be impatient, but they aren’t rude. They greeted Blue Jays brass politely, and even if the reception didn’t compare to last year’s hype, it was characteristic of Toronto supporters. In fact, one fan recently approached and offered support when Anthopoulos was stopping at Tim Hortons en route to pick up his dry cleaning.
“People are very polite, very respectful, very supportive,” Anthopoulos said. “Sometimes you realize we didn’t have a great year and realize that they’re being really supportive.”
Anthopoulos will go a long way toward securing that support if his discussions materialize and he improves the Blue Jays roster. Otherwise there’s the risk that fans won’t be so polite a year from now.