TORONTO — The view from the visitors’ side of the diamond at Rogers Centre was disorienting for Ryan Goins, although a rousing ovation from Toronto Blue Jays fans when he took the field for the first time with the Kansas City Royals sure brought him some comfort.
“It was special man. I got a little lump in my throat, a little choked up,” he said Wednesday afternoon, before his Royals suffered a 15-5 lashing that capped a three-game sweep. “You don’t know what to expect, really. That was a special moment for me that I’ll remember forever, coming back somewhere where I spent so much time. It was nice to feel the appreciation and that you earned the respect to the fans.”
Goins received the ovation when he replaced Alcides Escobar at shortstop during the seventh inning in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, tipping his cap to fans. He later started the second game at second base, finishing 0-for-5, receiving a warm greeting before each trip to the plate.
Not bad for a utility man who played 448 games over five seasons with the Blue Jays, at times delivering mesmerizing defence but never producing enough offence to remain in the lineup consistently. There was lots of love for him.
“You see guys who helped us win the division in 2015 and the wild-card game in 2016, when Eddie (Edwin Encarnacion) came, and obviously Eddie had a more illustrious career here, but they respect people who helped the team win, who helped the city put baseball back on the map,” said Goins. “And they’re obviously headed in the right direction here, as well.”
The 30-year-old drafted in the fourth round in 2009 out of Dallas Baptist University, and developed in the Blue Jays system, had hoped to be part of helping turn things around in Toronto this year. But he wasn’t tendered a contract on Dec. 1, the night the Blue Jays acquired Aledmys Diaz from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Essentially, the club reallocated the $2 million it would have paid Goins to a player who is currently their starting shortstop.
“It caught me off-guard,” said Goins. “The explanation that I received didn’t make any sense to me, still doesn’t, telling me that you need a more versatile team. I’m thinking, what’s more versatile than a guy who can play every position on the field? But it comes down to money and things like that, and they wanted to make moves they thought would make the team better.
“They’ve done their thing, I’m moved on and done mine, and I’m here today.”
Goins batted .237/.286/.356 in 459 plate appearances over 143 games for the Blue Jays last year, numbers inflated by his .330/.368/.540 line in 117 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He finished with 62 RBIs as a result—fifth on the team behind Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista—which made his departure difficult to reconcile for some parts of the fanbase, and for Goins himself.
“I was hurt for a while, obviously,” he said. “I loved it here, I wanted to be here as long as I possibly could. My time was over. I still keep in touch with the guys the, coaches, with DeMarlo (Hale) a lot, KP (Kevin Pillar), Stro (Marcus Stroman), Tulo (Troy Tulowitzki), all the guys in the corner of the locker room with me. Obviously want to see them do well.”
Goins once again worked out with Tulowitzki over the winter and the veteran shortstop helped him put things in perspective.
“Ultimately, like me and Tulo talked about, it made me a better player, just with learning new things and trying new things,” said Goins. “I had a great spring, my swing has been good, up until the last couple of weeks I felt like I was in a good place. I just keep going about my work. Obviously I would have liked to get more hits (Tuesday) than I did, but I think it made me a better overall player, mindset-wise and everything.”
The non-tender cut Goins loose into a tumultuous and slow-moving off-season market. He ended up taking a minor-league deal with the Royals on Jan. 25 and made the club out of camp.
“I waited a while, you kind of see where the big guys go, then you can try to fall into place after that,” he said of his approach to free agency. “It got to the point where I wasn’t sure what was going to happen so I just said, I trust the people here in Kansas City that I know, I trust what they were telling me and everything they told me was true, it’s all happened like they said it would.”
So while he had interest from the Baltimore Orioles and some National League clubs, Goins ultimately ended up with the Royals, who four days after inking him re-signed Escobar.
That pushed him back into the utility role he filled for the Blue Jays, producing a 2.5 WAR per Baseball Reference in 2015 and a minus-0.7 over the next two years, leaving as a part of the club’s two most recent post-season teams.
“Just the relationship with the guys, man, and how those teams came together and loved each other and played for each other was special,” Goins said of his last memories. “Probably the closest I’ve felt to college baseball again, just total team effort every day. Going to the playoffs, seeing this place go from 7,000 people a game to 50,000 people was insane. You see the videos of playoff games and stuff like that and you realize how wild this crowd is. It was crazy.
“Those are the times that I’ll definitely remember.”
ON THE MEND
Kendrys Morales, on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain, will be ready for activation Friday on his first day of eligibility, manager John Gibbons said Wednesday, but the news is less certain for Josh Donaldson.
The star third baseman, on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, is eligible to come off the DL Saturday but remains in a shutdown period. He’ll need to do some throwing before his activation and there’s no apparent timeline for that at this point.
He won’t simply be activated to DH since Gibbons believes the shoulder issue “was bothering him a bit swinging,” as well.
While there are no guarantees, there’s enough time for Bautista to potentially work himself into game shape and win himself a roster spot in time for that series, Atlanta’s only to the city this season. The Blue Jays visit the National League squad on July 10-11.
“I like it,” manager John Gibbons said of the news about Bautista’s deal. “I’d be happy to see him, it would be good to see him. I’m sure (visiting Toronto) would be pretty cool for Jose.”
Bautista, whose trust in Anthopoulos was pivotal in the agreement, has reported to the Braves’ extended spring training camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where he’ll play third base.