WASHINGTON – Seeing the Toronto Blue Jays for the first time since signing with the Washington Nationals as a free agent over the winter made Casey Janssen feel …
“I wouldn’t say emotional,” said the right-hander who spent 10½ years in the Blue Jays organization after being drafted in the fourth round in 2004. “I think it’s going to be fun to see the old faces and get to compete against them, that’s for sure.
“I wouldn’t say emotional as much as kind of a turning of the page.”
Monday’s waves of thunderstorms got in the reunion’s way, the series opener between the clubs getting postponed with a split day-night doubleheader set for Tuesday. Once that gets going, the split between the reliever, who was 29-25 with 90 saves and a 3.57 ERA in 393 games will really hit home.
Janssen emerged as a closer for the Blue Jays in 2012 and was dominant in the role until he returned home from an all-star break vacation last year with an illness that sapped his strength. From then on he was in catch-up mode but didn’t fully recover, Aaron Sanchez ended up taking over the closer’s job and failed extension talks during in-season hung in the air between them.
They had no meaningful talks in the winter.
“I left a lot of it up my agent at the time and, because we kind of weeded through the ones with some interest and the ones with serious interest, I think the Blue Jays weren’t as serious as other teams,” said Janssen. “We had a lot of interest and we were being open-minded with all the teams involved. It worked out here, it’s a good fit for me and doing what they’ve done the last few years with the talent they have and winning the division and all that it ended up being a pretty easy choice.”
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, did little to address their bullpen over the winter, opting to stick with internal options and reclamation projects.
Brett Cecil is the closer now after rookie Miguel Castro struggled and was demoted, but establishing a series of set-up men to reliably get him the ball has been a struggle for manager John Gibbons.
“I thought it was something they might address a little more, but I haven’t followed them enough,” said Janssen. “I do know there are some talented arms down there, especially the guys that I played with. I still believe in those guys. I try to follow them as much as I can and I know they’ve got a tonne of talent, so I think they’re OK in that regard. With the new guys that they brought in, I’m not quite sure how they fit in or will play out, but over the course of the 162 games the guys that I remember are going to be just fine and I think without getting into the whole GM stuff … I’m sure they did the best they could with the money they had and allocated it according to what they thought was best.”
Most of the Blue Jays’ available payroll went to the signing of catcher Russell Martin as a free agent and the acquisition of Josh Donaldson, two moves designed to also change the clubhouse culture.
There was a significant turnover of personnel, with Adam Lind, Dustin McGowan, Colby Rasmus and Brandon Morrow also among the departed.
“I don’t want to say things or whatever, but I think there are things that probably needed to change,” said Janssen. “I think there were some people in there that probably got a little stale with the frustration and then others, yeah, I’m sure the guys they brought in, from what we hear, they’re great people in the clubhouse and of course great baseball players as well.
“I think they did a nice job of that, but you would be a better judge than I as far as anything really changed or how it’s any different. I enjoyed my time there. I felt like I was part of the solution, not part of the problem and, you know, played out my contract and it was just time to move on.”
Janssen, of course, had hope for a happier ending to his final season with the Blue Jays, especially when they led the AL East into June and held a playoff spot into August.
Then they collapsed in August and were unable to recover.
“It was great and then it was tough,” he said of 2014. “Personally I had a very good first half, as a team we had a great middle, then we just kind of faded and I did as well. It was a bummer, we thought we had the pieces there to be a championship team and a first place team, and we were for a while, and we just faded down the stretch. It was unfortunate.”
After missing most of April and May with a shoulder injury, Janssen recently returned to the first-place Nationals, appearing in four games thus far.
He’s enjoying a fresh start he didn’t necessarily want, but ended up getting.
“Yeah, it’s fun,” he said. “This is a first-class organization. There are a tonne of awesome people in here and talented baseball players, so I’m lucky enough that they had interest in me. I feel like as hard as it was to leave, I landed on my feet pretty good here.”