DUNEDIN, Fla. — Mark Buehrle shook hands with some new faces and exchanged bear hugs with some familiar ones. He smiled widely chatting at his locker stall with Darren Oliver and Sergio Santos, and warmly patted J.P. Arencibia on the back after throwing a bullpen.
Yes, this new beginning forced upon him by the Miami Marlins’ most recent talent sell-off was an unwanted one for the veteran left-hander, but he sounds and looks determined to make the most of his new opportunity with the Toronto Blue Jays.
While the raw feelings over being traded 11 months after signing a US$58-million, four-year deal as a free agent still linger, and the subsequent upheaval in his life means he will spend a season apart from his family for the first time, Buehrle accepts his situation, even if he takes issue with how it came about.
“We took the chance going in without getting a no-trade clause, but that was one question my wife and I kept asking about, ‘What’s your plan because we know what you guys have done in the past, what are your plans for the next couple of years, and if this is going to be a long-haul thing or a one or two year thing?’” Buehrle said Wednesday ahead of the Blue Jays’ first official workout for pitchers and catchers. “And the things we got told are one of the reasons we signed there.
“I don’t really want to talk too much on it because I wasn’t too happy at the time and I’m still not happy with some of those people down there from obviously getting lied to and some of the stuff we were told. It’s in the past, and I’m looking to move forward.”
Buehrle was part of a bold winter makeover by the Marlins after the 2011 season, joining Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and manager Ozzie Guillen as splashy new additions. All are gone now, Reyes joining Buehrle on the Blue Jays, Bell dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Guillen fired after a 69-93 train-wreck.
Once the blockbuster with the Blue Jays was completed, Buehrle said Marlins president David Samson phoned him with the news and “he said, ‘We didn’t see the season we were going to have, the attendance was low,’ kind of went that route. He apologized and did say, ‘I know we told you these things, unfortunately we had to do this.’”
Shortly afterwards Buehrle released a statement through his agent saying the Marlins had lied to him, and at that point Samson tried to contact him again.
“He tried to reach out to me and I just said, ‘I’ve got nothing to say. I don’t know if you want to hear from me right now, it’s not going to be the friendliest thing,’” said Buehrle. “I haven’t talked to anyone (with the Marlins) since then and I don’t really intend to.”
There are more pressing things for him to focus on now, like ensuring the Blue Jays’ big buildup doesn’t fall flat on its face the way so many others in recent memory have.
Buehrle speaks from experience on that front having watched lauded off-season moves fail to pan out with the Chicago White Sox in 2011 and the Marlins last year.
“I’ve come to realize that making expectations or putting stuff of where we’re going to get to isn’t a good thing, because every year I feel like we have a good team but the last couple of years we haven’t gotten to where we want to get to,” said Buehrle. “Coming into a new team, on paper we look good but we’ve got to stay healthy and keep guys on the field.
“If we do that we have a good chance to get to the playoffs. From there, anything can happen.”
Buehrle, of course, will be an integral part of making that happen, his peerless durability giving the Blue Jays the type of steady high-quality innings-eater every team wants for their rotation.
A pitcher in every sense of the word, he’s posted 12 straight years of 200-plus innings by keeping opponents off balance and simply picking them apart.
“The guy just gets it done,” raved Josh Johnson, another Marlins teammate who came over in the big deal.
Though some poor career numbers against the New York Yankees (1-8, 6.38 ERA in 12 starts) and Boston Red Sox (6-8, 4.64 ERA in 18 starts plus one relief appearance) present a challenge to overcome, perhaps the primary obstacle Buehrle may face this season is in adjusting to being without his family.
Due to a pit bull ban under Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act, his wife Jamie and children Braden and Brooklyn will stay behind in the family’s home purchased in Broward County, outside Miami, after he signed with the Marlins, before settling back into their off-season residence in St. Louis.
“I don’t want to make it a big story all year,” Buehrle said. “It does suck the family is not going to be there, but guys go through it, guys deal with it, we’ll deal with it, we’re going to make it work, and I’ll see my dogs whenever I can.”
A private members bill aimed at repealing the ban authored by Randy Hillier of the Progressive Conservatives in December 2011 and co-sponsored by fellow MPPs Kim Craitor of the ruling Liberals and Cheri DiNovo of the New Democratic Party holds some promise for him, but its progress was killed by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s prorogation of Queen’s Park.
The bill must be restarted, something Hillier told sportsnet.ca in December he intended to do, adding, “It’s just a crazy unintended consequence of this poorly thought out bill where we’re preventing high-calibre people, and all kinds of people, from taking up residence and being part of our community.”
Buehrle’s wife has worked actively with animal rescue and their pit bull, Slater, was adopted out of a shelter a day before he was to be put down, joining their three vizslas. They discussed leaving Slater with friends for the season, but decided that would be unfair.
“Being a responsible pet owner, you can’t just dump your dog on somebody else or take a chance of breaking a law and taking him up there,” explained Buehrle. “We’ve had people say ,’Oh, you can bring him up here and knowing you have money, no one is going take your dog because they know you’re going to fight against it.’ But the thing is, Slater will have to sit in a cage until that court date gets there. It could be two weeks or it could be three months.
“People who don’t own dogs are not going to understand that you’re leaving your family, your kids, behind over a dog. We just feel that all the training we’ve done with our dogs, it’s better they stay with my wife. …
“It’s going to be tough at the beginning, not seeing my kids, but people deal with it, and we’ll make it work.”
The Marlins left Buehrle with no other choice, and a big year with the Blue Jays will certainly help him make the best of it.