BUFFALO, N.Y. — There was a large Blue Jays presence at the annual Buffalo Bisons Hot Stove Luncheon, with general manager Alex Anthopoulos and president Paul Beeston pressing the flesh with the denizens of the Queen City, along with Anthony Gose, who spent some time in the big leagues last season but figures to be the everyday centrefielder and leadoff man for the Bisons in 2013, and George Bell, who played against the Bisons in 1980 at old War Memorial Stadium (where they shot The Natural!).
Anthopoulos’ eyes were riveted to his phone for most of the early part of the proceedings, and he apologized to the crowd for that when he spoke, explaining that the deadline to file arbitration figures was about to arrive, and announcing that the Blue Jays had come to terms with all three of their remaining arbitration-eligible players — Emilio Bonifacio ($2.6M) and J.A. Happ ($3.7M) each got one-year contracts, while Josh Thole signed a two-year deal with an option for a third that guarantees the young catcher a total of $2.75 million.
Of the three signees, only Bonifacio is likely to break camp with the Blue Jays.
Happ, who had three great starts for the Jays between regaining his feel for starting and suffering a season-ending broken foot, has been displaced from the rotation by the acquisitions of Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson. If the projected starting five comes through Spring Training unscathed, Happ will get the ball on April 4 in Buffalo, when the Bisons open up their season against Rochester.
If all goes according to plan, Thole will be catching him. The Blue Jays signed Henry Blanco earlier this week with the idea of giving him every opportunity to make the big club as the back-up to J.P. Arencibia.
Blanco is a tremendous defender, is very familiar with R.A. Dickey and his hard knuckleball and, perhaps more importantly, is a noted positive presence in the clubhouse, heartily endorsed by many, including none other than John McDonald.
His presence allows the Jays to start Thole in Buffalo, where he played as part of the Mets’ organization in 2010 (with two games on a rehab stint last season as well). The 26-year-old will get every day at-bats and be a 90-minute limo ride away should Arencibia go down to injury — filling the temporary full-time role that would more than likely be too much for Blanco.
With the Blue Jays’ offence set with nine every-day players and the presence of Emilio Bonifacio and Rajai Davis — who, between them can play every position on the diamond — on the bench, the need for a back-up catcher who can really contribute offensively isn’t a large one, and the Jays love what Blanco can do off the field and behind the plate, giving him the edge on Thole if his 41-year-old frame can hold up.
With Blanco coming into the fold, Darren Oliver returning earlier this week and all the arbitration-eligible guys locked up, the only thing remaining on Alex Anthopoulos’ to-do list is to finish off the big-league roster with the 25th man, who we thought once upon a time might be Russ Canzler, since claimed off waivers by the Yankees.
As for the Buffalonians, they got their first look at the Bisons’ new uniforms as they get set for their first season under the Blue Jays’ umbrella. Bisons’ GM Mike Buczkowski was pleased to report that they were returning to the old red, white and blue colour scheme, but of course, you can’t actually call colours by those bland names anymore. The uniforms are ice-white, scarlet and, well, they didn’t say what fancy name they were calling the blue part.
For their part, the Blue Jays’ brass spoke of the commitment to bringing a winning team to Buffalo. The starting rotation could feature five former big-leaguers in Happ, Brad Lincoln, Justin Germano, Claudio Vargas and Chad Jenkins and Gose, who Anthopoulos compared to Jose Reyes as a speed and energy player, will likely be the centrepiece of the team.
Beeston got a big hand from the crowd when he said that the Blue Jays wanted to be in Buffalo for years, felt they should have been in Buffalo for years and hope to be in Buffalo for years. To be sure, it’s the perfect fit for the Jays’ top minor-league affiliate — and I hear the hydrofoil they’re looking at to transport players back and forth is going to be seriously decked out.