Dickey makes it clear: He wants Thole on Blue Jays

R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole. (Steven Senne/AP)

R.A. Dickey always could talk, so it would come as no surprise if the city of Toronto had to pay overtime for maintenance workers tasked with cleaning up the words left by Dickey during the Blue Jays Winter Caravan. I’m not certain all of it was what the organization wanted to hear.

Whether it was in a radio interview on my show or several print interviews, the knuckleballer missed no opportunity to make clear that he wants Josh Thole to be part of the 25-man roster – even though Thole is offensively challenged and fundamentally useless on the four days Dickey isn’t pitching. Put it this way: if you thought Dickey would give a big endorsement to working with Russell Martin, you were upset.

“I don’t think there’s any replacement for time spent,” Dickey said. “Josh has caught 75 to 80 percent of my starts since 2010 or 2012 and there’s nobody better … but it would be nice to have someone like Russell who can do it as well.”

‘As well?’ Really? Look: I understand Dickey’s fears. He probably still has nightmares about J.P. Arencibia’s three passed balls in the 2013 Home Opener, which was also Dickey’s Blue Jays debut. I know I do. And I realize that any time Dickey shakes off a catcher it’s a sign he’s going away from his knuckle-ball, so having a catcher who can think along with him is vital. But considering this is a team with serious everyday concerns in centre field and at second base, not to mention a shortstop (who will see time at designated hitter) as well as getting days off to ward off the Artificial Turf Monster, the team can’t afford to waste a spot on a one-trick pony like Thole. Much like a Munenori Kawasaki sighting, if you see Thole around the Blue Jays this season it’s not a good sign.

COMING UN-(W)RAPPED

The seeds of Terrence Ross’ benching – which saw him replaced by Greivis Vasquez to start the second half Sunday after going scoreless in 10 first-half minutes - were sewn repeatedly in recent games. The Raptors had put up with Ross’s defensive deficiencies because he was their only three-point shooter of consequence. But with Ross 6-for-23 from beyond the arc in six games and becoming an increasingly reluctant combatant, there was no reason to keep him in.

“He had some open looks and missed some shots,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said of Ross on Friday, after a 110-89 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which Ross was 1-for-8. “All you can ask for is to get open looks.”

It was clear that something – or someone – would have to give when DeMar DeRozan returned. Ross is that person. DeRozan’s absence was a tailor-made opportunity for growth on the part of Ross, but instead of writing himself into games, he seemed more comfortable on the periphery. I’m not saying give up on him; but if I could turn him or even Amir Johnson into something that would help me in the playoffs, I wouldn’t hesitate. In the meantime: shut it with the booing. You’re turning into Leafs fans.

WHAT I LEARNED

The things you learn in a week hosting a sports talk-show:

”I’m going to use this spring training to experiment a little bit with getting my body feeling the way I want it to feel when Open Day arrives, rather than getting to spring training and two weeks in I’m ready to pitch five innings.”

(*)Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey says he will change his approach this spring from previous spring trainings.

“We defend on the ball, and a lot of teams in the league don’t on a consistent basis … so we don’t rely so much on the help of our big guys … that gives the big guys a chance to play defence without being in foul trouble all the time.”

(*)Atlanta Hawks TV analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins discusses the Hawks, who were rampaging through the NBA even before their 21-point win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of frustration, but when you step back and look at it Rex Ryan has a brilliant defensive mind … if I’m coach Ryan, I’m making a personal phone call to every single player on that squad and tell those guys: ‘Hey, this is where I want to be and be with you guys.’ I think that would lend an air of confidence to the players and move the progress they made this year forward.”

(*)Buffalo Bills radio analyst Mark Kelso offers some advice to new Bills head coach Rex Ryan on how to deal with the Bills defensive unit, who rallied around now-departed defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Full segment

QUIBBLES AND BITS

(*)More conjecture last week about Paul Beeston’s future, but I think I can boil it down for you: Dan Duquette wants to leave the Baltimore Orioles; the Blue Jays want him to take over as President and chief executive officer and, barring a playoff berth, next season he will be given wider baseball powers while a new CEO is named for the Rogers Centre. Who is handling the compensation negotiations for the Orioles? Is Duquette in effect advising owner Peter Angelos on the return for his services? Could the price for Duquette include Dioner Navarro?

I know one Blue Jays insider who claimed this weekend he was shocked Navarro hasn’t been traded yet, believing that general manager Alex Anthopoulos had two viable deals for the catcher on the table as late as last week. Meanwhile, Beeston is not under contract for next season and is scheduled to make a public appearance in front of season-ticket holders at the state of the franchise function on Feb. 5. I’d call that a timeline, if not a deadline.

(*)The Calgary Flames’ Sean Monahan is a special player: his goal 24 seconds into overtime Saturday was his fourth career OT goal – third this season – making him at 20 years, 89 days, the youngest player in NHL history to reach four OT tallies, ahead of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 20 years, 218 days. Monahan’s 120 games played meant he was the second-fastest to reach four OT tallies in post-expansion history. It took Tyson Barrie just 98 games to collect four OT winners.

(*)This week in creative soccer chants: Manchester United fans chanting “4-4-2” at manager Louis Van Gaal as his club puttered around in an in effective 3-5-2 formation. You don’t hear that in North America. Beats the hell out of “D-fence … D-fence!”

THE END-GAME

My feelings about Dion Phaneuf have been clear over the past couple of years: he isn’t a No. 1 defenceman or a captain, yet he was cast into the role of both by Brian Burke. I can’t blame Phaneuf and I laugh when people say he should have turned down the captain’s ‘C’ when Burke offered it, knowing he wasn’t ready. Like that’s ever done. But moving Phaneuf out seems to be the next necessary step for the Toronto Maple Leafs. If that means taking on another horrible contract or tossing in somebody like Nazem Kadri and fishing in free agent waters in the summer for a Johnny Boychuck or Mike Green, so be it. Even his defenders must now acknowledge that, until Phaneuf is gone, there can be no meaningful change, cultural or otherwise. As long as he’s here, any new agenda is doomed to failure.