LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A new piece of off-season business was added to the Toronto Blue Jays’ to-do list last week when head trainer George Poulis left to join former general manager Alex Anthopoulos with the Atlanta Braves.
His departure is a significant one, taking 15 years of experience as the club’s head trainer plus three years as an assistant along with him. Also amplifying the void is that assistant trainer Mike Frostad and major-league strength and conditioning coach Chris Joyner were fired earlier in the off-season, leaving multiple holes to fill.
“That’s a big hit for us, losing George Poulis and that level of expertise and experience, we have to factor that in,” general manager Ross Atkins said last week. “The timing is also very difficult – it’s not as clear-cut to just to cast the largest net. We’re not going to be asking permission from other teams at this point of the year – we may, but we’re likely to be denied – so we have to do what we can to off-set that experience, but the timing is difficult. We’re constantly evolving and thinking about the best resources and skill-sets to complement the entire baseball operations department, not just the medical staff.”
Angus Mugford, director of the Blue Jays’ high performance department, is heading the search process. As things stand, they have athletic trainer and transaction co-ordinator Jeff Stevenson, head physical therapist Nikki Huffman and minor-league athletic training co-ordinator Jose Ministral in place.
The Blue Jays lost 1,408 games through 31 disabled list stints spread across 25 different players. Atkins said after the season that “some of the inefficiency of our communication” on the medical side had been a source of frustration and added he felt like had let down Aaron Sanchez and Devon Travis.
Over the past two years, the Blue Jays have created and expanded a high-performance department to help care for players, with the team “shifting toward integrating more physical therapists,” said Atkins.
“That was the biggest difference, there was not really a philosophical disconnect, it was more the addition of resources,” he said. “We were hoping not to subtract and we will add where we lost. But it was more skill-set differences and marrying those two set of experiences and less philosophical.”
• Also on the Blue Jays agenda will be working on finding a new quality control coach to replace Derek Shelton, who left to become bench coach for the Minnesota Twins. Manager John Gibbons is expected to work with Ross Atkins on that decision.
• Jack Morris is the ninth person tied to the Blue Jays selected to Hall of Fame. The first 20-game winner in franchise history joins Pat Gillick, Roberto Alomar, Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Bobby Cox and Phil Niekro. Morris and his long-time Tigers teammate Alan Trammell were chosen by the Hall’s Modern Era committee Sunday night.
“This is a very humbling point of my life,” said Morris, his voice cracking. “I’m very proud and honoured to join some of my heroes that are here.”