ST. LOUIS – A simple question for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – based on what you saw in spring training, what do you think the Toronto Blue Jays are going to be really good at – produced some interesting food for thought on the eve of opening day.
“The key here this year is the communication on and off the field,” the two-time all-star first baseman replied through interpreter Hector Lebron. “We’re very together, it feels that way. To give you an example, this morning everybody was on the first bus (to the stadium). That tells you right there that we’re looking to be together on this, we’re on board, on the same team. That will be what I say is the best part of this group.”
Is it different than last year, is it better than last year?
“I’ll say different, not better,” said Guerrero. “I’ll give you another example. If off the field everybody wants to go eat as a group, have dinner, different activities, everybody knows, we have the WhatsApp chat, everybody knows where everybody is. Kind of like that. That’s what I mean when I say different in communication.”
Are you playing a bigger role in that? Do you see yourself as someone who needs to be a unifying force?
“Definitely. That’s one of my goals this year, to try to keep everybody together,” said Guerrero. “Not just myself. There are different guys that are doing it also. But yes, I’m trying to be more vocal, trying to keep everybody together. We have a goal here that hopefully we can accomplish.”
Not exactly words bound to go viral and break brains on Twitter, but most telling from this snippet of conversation during Guerrero’s chat with media Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium is what the 24-year-old chose to highlight, as much as what he said.
Rather than point to an offence that remains a core strength, a pitching staff that has a chance to shove, or a defence that should play much tighter – all easy and fair answers to what the Blue Jays will be good at – Guerrero opted for how well the team is communicating and connected that to wider goals.
Zoom out and, trite as it may seem, it’s an example of the attention to detail the Blue Jays have spent the past six weeks focused on and talking about as they seek to progress beyond the wild-card round in 2023.
General manager Ross Atkins pointed to “a level of focus that is palpable in the clubhouse,” adding that his players “just want more and have raised their standards for one another.”
Matt Chapman noted that “last year we may have gotten a little bit ahead of ourselves” and that “this year we need to stay more in the moment and work on winning each game, win each day.”
Bo Bichette is “excited to see the product of the work we put in, the effort that we’re going to put on the field and excited to grind,” adding that “everybody we added brings professionalism, a work ethic, a desire to win and help their teammates.”
Alek Manoah believes “the chemistry of this team has only gotten stronger. We love playing with each other and we love showing up to the ballpark every day and working hard.”
Each of those comments is a strand from the same thread and while it’s possible the Blue Jays are simply plucking answers from the same interview handbook, what they’re choosing to say is reflective of what’s important to this group.
“We understand we have a good roster and we have a good team,” said Chapman. “But it takes that day-in, day-out grind to get to where you want to be. You can’t just out-talent teams. Last year we had the right idea. This year we have a better understanding of how to really achieve that.”
The Blue Jays expect those various points of emphasis – communication, attention to detail, focus, how everything matters – to help them avoid having a third straight season undermined by small cracks in a strong foundation.
They made tangible changes to that end, too, with the notable additions of left-handed hitters Daulton Varsho, Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier along with right-handed starter Chris Bassitt essential to achieving a different outcome in 2023.
But the recognition of how they need to squeeze out every bit of margin they can from the elements within their control has the potential to be the piece that pulls everything together.
“You’re not always going to go out there and just tear the cover off the ball. You’re not going to make every play,” said Chapman. “Not giving anything away is being prepared to do what you need to do, be able to take a good at-bat or, make a play on defence, take an extra base. When you don’t give anything away as a team and everybody’s on the same page and we’re playing our brand of baseball, that’s when teams are very dangerous.”
The 2023 Blue Jays very much have a chance to be good at the plate, on the mound and in the field. Their words, and more importantly their actions, suggest they intend to be good at everything in between, too.