TORONTO — Cavan Biggio stood coolly outside the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse Sunday, as if he was standing at the plate eye-balling a pitch on the black. Seconds earlier, Marcus Stroman had just brushed past a media scrum, after being traded to the New York Mets for a pair of pitching prospects. Eric Sogard had been traded mid-game to the day’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays, for two players to be named later. Meanwhile, in Durham, N.C., Bo Bichette had been removed from the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons game and was to meet the Blue Jays in Kansas City on Monday.
Crazy, crazy stuff.
So, Biggio was asked, now that Sogard has been moved, was he ready to be the everyday lead-off hitter?
“I don’t know. Maybe not, maybe it’s Bo,” he said with a shrug. “I’m ready for whatever he (manager Charlie Montoyo) wants. I just want to be able to give him the best opportunity to make out a lineup that he thinks will win that night. I have enough experience in leadoff and hitting cleanup or even lower in the lineup. Second, right, left, third, first … whatever it takes.
“You don’t see this until you get to the Majors, two guys in different situations,” said Biggio, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. “This is an exciting time. It sucks to see some guys go, but it’s also exciting to see what’s going to happen the next couple of years.”
The future has arrived in Toronto in bits and pieces so far this season – mostly through the addition of Vladimir Guerrero and Biggio, and the rejuvenation of Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
Sunday? Sunday was like a wave hit, in part because in addition to news of the imminent arrival of Bichette – the shortstop who became the Blue Jays top-ranked prospect the second Vladdy, Jr., got called up and the sixth-rated prospect in the game – the clubhouse was losing two of its dominant personalities.
As for Stroman? Well, where do you begin? He is not one of the 10 best pitchers in Blue Jays history in terms of WAR, but he is the highest-profile remaining tie to the 2015 and 2016 playoff teams and his active social media presence and Height Doesn’t Measure Heart brand helped him cast an out-sized shadow over the life of the team, on and off the field. At some point, somebody told Stroman he was too short to be a starting pitcher – or so the story goes – and that was just the first of many chips that started to settle on his shoulders.
Stroman fed off slights, both real, but most often merely perceived, and he fought his battles with the front office and media on Twitter. In truth, he was harmless enough and at times silly, such as when he upbraided the front office for not informing him that his good friend Ryan Goins was going to be moved. He wasn’t owed an explanation from anyone, just as no player is owed an explanation from his team when a move is made involving the 25th man on the roster. Stroman also viewed some of the criticism levelled at him through the lens of race, which I suppose is his prerogative.
But know this: Stroman was a competitor, who routinely pissed off opposing players with his shimmy-shaking on the mound, running dialogue with himself, and stares into the opponents’ dugout. I mean, the man drove former Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter to the point of blowing a gasket, and for that alone he deserves a hearty standing ovation. None of us really know what Stroman was like in the clubhouse. He called himself ‘the glue’ in a recent tweet. He believed some of us viewed him as a cancer. Most likely, as is the case with 99.9 per cent of professional athletes, he was some place in-between depending on the day. I really believe he tried to absorb lessons from Mark Buehrle, and briefly, David Price. Really, I do. Choosing this past winter to get a tattoo of the Toronto skyline might not have been the brightest move, though. Repping ‘The Six’ through his jersey number was likely enough.
It was fitting in some way that news of his trade filtered out on Twitter as reporters were in the middle of a post-game interview with Aaron Sanchez, who seemed just this side of buoyant and beaming after a third consecutive start that hinted of better times ahead. Stroman and Sanchez’s bromance was one of the side stories of those good years. Stand them side-by-side and you had uniform Nos. ‘41’ and ‘6.’ Toronto’s area code: 416. But that relationship waned, most likely the result of two guys in their mid-20s from different backgrounds going their own ways, but also strangely sort of signalling the end of the good times.
While the debate regarding Stroman’s place in Jays history will likely pit those who believe the history of the franchise begins with Roy Halladay against those who think Dave Stieb and Tony Fernandez never received their due, there is little doubt about Eric Sogard’s place in his brief time, here. He picked a helluva time to have a career year, becoming in the process something this organization has lacked seemingly forever: a productive lead-off hitter. But even though he was never going to be here for a long time, he made an impact. The Blue Jays will tell you this has now officially become Vladdy and Bo and Cavan and Danny Jansen’s clubhouse – with Freddy Galvis around as the wise, old hand – but know this: lessons imparted by Sogard will linger. Lessons like the one Sanchez mentioned after the game. “He was always telling us to play a hard nine innings,” Sanchez said.
Added Biggio: “Eric and I kind of grew close in spring training because we played the same position, and I just kind of clung to him. Things would go along and I’d always be asking him: ‘Hey, what do you got on that?’ or ‘Hey, what do you got on this?’ We both went to Triple-A and it continued. I just wanted to get better every day and he was always the same guy every day. His preparation for every game was extensive and impressive. He was adamant on getting his work done every day. I have a ton of respect for that guy.”
The Jays still have pieces that are reportedly on the block, in particular, relievers Daniel Hudson and Ken Giles. But this was not a great weekend for scouts assigned to follow Giles, the Blue Jays closer. He still hasn’t worked back-to-back games since working in three consecutive games from July 2-4. The Blue Jays say Giles suffered nerve inflammation in his right elbow from a massage he received during the All-Star break and he was unavailable Sunday despite throwing just 10 pitches in Saturday’s come-from-behind win over the Rays. Giles’ four-seam fastball sat 94-95 m.p.h. with his final pitch at 96, not where he needs to be for maximum effectiveness, which is 98 and up.
One scout who has been following Giles responded with the phrase “not overwhelmed” when he was asked whether he’d seen enough from the closer, who has been eyed by teams looking at high-leverage bullpen depth. The deadline is 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, so there might not be much more time to change minds. But on every other front for the Blue Jays, change is here. And even though the return for Stroman is nothing near the Chris Archer-type package that was expected by the overly-optimistic, change has arrived, washing over them like a wave.
Taking out. Bringing in.