TORONTO – Mark DeRosa is flattered someone claimed him on waivers earlier this week. He doesn’t know which team it was, but he’d like to find out, just for giggles. The Toronto Blue Jays haven’t said a word to him about the matter. He’s taking it as a compliment that they kept him.
“I drove to spring training not knowing what was going to happen for me personally this season and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my ability to contribute and to help younger guys and to do the things I’ve done,” the sage veteran said Friday. “I want to see it through, I want to finish strong, I want us to finish strong as a team and use it as a springboard to go into spring training.”
Whether DeRosa is a part of things next spring is another matter.
The Blue Jays hold a $750,000 option for 2014 on the 38-year-old that includes a $250,000 buyout, making him essentially a $500,000 player next year. For the combination of lefty mashing (five homers and six doubles in 94 at-bats), defensive versatility and clubhouse presence that he brings, that’s pretty good value.
The bench is, however, one place GM Alex Anthopoulos could certainly stand to upgrade over the winter, providing manager John Gibbons with more options should someone slump or get injured than he had this year.
DeRosa may also choose to walk away, as “my wife always has the line, ‘Do you want to raise 24 men or do you want to raise your own son?’ Kind of a little bit below the belt for her to tell me those things,” he adds with a smile, “but I understand wholeheartedly. It will be a family decision. But yeah, I still think I can compete.”
Of course there are intangible elements he brings to the table that extend far beyond what he does at the plate or with his glove, and if he does walk away, it’s there where his true impact on the team may very well linger, especially on Brett Lawrie.
“I know he’s really helped Lawrie,” said manager John Gibbons, crediting DeRosa for many of the Canadian third baseman’s recent gains. “He’s that proven vet that everybody bounces things off of, he’s got the right things to say at the right time. It’s been a frustrating year, but he’s helped stabilize some things.”
DeRosa and Lawrie have been locker mates since spring training, and have developed a strong friendship since. The trust within that bond has allowed DeRosa to counsel Lawrie and reach him in a way others haven’t.
“He was great in spring training, but he was set in his ways and going to try it his way. I get that, he’s young, he’s full of energy and he’s got an abundance of talent,” said DeRosa. “I think he’s realized that stuff doesn’t always mean you’re going to play great. He’s used me as a sounding board on a lot of different things and the one thing I always tell him, is your energy and your passion is what makes you great on defence, but I think it’s your Achilles’ heel on offence. You guys can see it, he’s a totally different hitter, he’s relaxed, he’s more upright, he’s using his hands, he’s studying film with Eddie (Encarnacion), he’s getting more mature in the game, and brighter and realizes it’s not just about God-given ability. There’s a mental side to this game.”
Rather than trying to hammer his points into Lawrie, DeRosa instead took the long view, built up that trust, and consistently dripped knowledge into him rather than poured it all in at once.
He praised and scolded.
“Being more of a big brother for him,” is the way DeRosa put it. “Letting him vent, letting him say what he needs to say, and then kind of picking and choosing what battles to fight with him day to day. You don’t want to just flood a guy with a million things to think about.
“With him it’s got to be in steps. He’s got to understand the importance of being accountable, being in the right place at the right time, and being consistent.”
Asked where Lawrie’s most important improvements have come, DeRosa replied: “A couple instances this year where I think he could (have been) more accountable for himself. That goes a long way with your teammates. And the other thing I’ve seen happen is from the offensive standpoint. He really calmed down and relaxed and trusts his hands.”
Lawrie found himself at the centre of a handful of early-season storms, one for being out of position on a bunt that cost the Blue Jays an extra-inning contest against the New York Yankees on April 20, another for getting ejected after innocently throwing his batting gloves back toward home plate following a strikeout May 24 against Baltimore, and then yelling at Adam Lind and third base coach Luis Rivera when the slugger didn’t score on a fly ball May 26 against the Orioles.
There were times the 23-year-old would never admit he made a mistake. That’s changing.
“Those are the things you work with him on – be accountable,” said DeRosa. “I remember early in the season there was a bunt play with (Aaron) Loup, where we had worked on it in spring training. Loup ended up throwing it down the line. There was a situation where Brett should’ve been at third, and we had worked on that. He wasn’t, and that’s OK. Guys make mistakes. It happens, but own it. Those are the things that are going to make you mature and get people off you.”
If helping Lawrie along in that process is DeRosa’s final achievement in the game, than the Blue Jays will have plenty to be thankful for. The shame if he does retire is that his final season will have played out the way 2013 has, filled with disappointment.
“I still believe in the talent in this room,” he said. “I know it hasn’t gelled for whatever reason – there’s a ton of reasons why it hasn’t worked, from an offensive standpoint and a pitching standpoint and a defensive standpoint. I still believe this team is capable of great things. With a couple of tweaks, a couple of adjustments, who knows? This year will not hold bearing on what I do next year. It will be a straight personal decision whether or not I want to put the time and effort into getting ready.”
On and off the field, DeRosa has more to give. Only he knows if he’ll be willing and able.