Paul Beeston, the President and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre, visited Seneca College Saturday morning to speak at Bill Humber's "Baseball Spring Training" course. Despite having to dig out from Friday's snow storm, there were still approximately 40 people in attendance for an hour-long question-and-answer session with "The Beest."
A broad variety of topics were covered, but one of the first questions had to do with the Rogers Centre. Beeston re-interated that the club was exploring installing real grass into the stadium some time down the road. I had a bit of sticker shock when he mentioned that some $250 million in retrofits and renovations will be required in the next decade to modernize the facility. Beeston confirmed that one of the changes fans will notice this season is that Windows Restaurant is no more, as first tweeted by @GTAdross:
@andrewstoeten spoke to beeston tonight.Windows is losing its windows.Becoming open porch that all fans can walk through.— G.TAdross (@GTAdross) February 6, 2013
The porch area doesn't have a name yet (calling it "Home Run Porch" would be a stretch since only a handful of homers actually get out there), but the plan is to have some tall tables there for fans to enjoy their food and drinks. The plan is to have the porch be accessible to all fans, not just the ones with tickets to the 200 level.
One of my pet peeves about the Rogers Centre is that the roof is rarely open in April, even when it is warm and not raining outside. Beeston explained that they need to complete approximately three weeks of tests before the dome can be operated, and the tests cannot begin unless there is good weather outside. Most interestingly, he also said that most players--not just knuckleballers like R.A. Dickey--would love for the dome to be closed all the time, because everyone likes to know for certain the condition they will be playing in. Beeston mentioned that when the dome was opened in early April back when the stadium was first built, fans would complain about the cold evenings and the high winds.
The big trades this offseason could not have happened if Rogers did not allow the Blue Jays to spend money on building the farm system, Beeston said. Besides praising the owners, he was very impressed at the way general manager Alex Anthopoulos was able to sign free agents (and making that trade for Miguel Olivo) that allowed the club to accumulate high draft picks for several season. When asked about international free agents, Beeston revealed that ownership had signed off on offering $25 million to sign pitcher Aroldis Chapman. But after Anthopoulos and other club officials went to see Chapman throw in late December 2009, the offer to Chapman was "significantly lower" because he just did not impress during that workout. The Cincinnati Reds ended up signing him for $30.25 million
Continuing to heap compliments onto his general manager, Paul Beeston said that Anthopoulos is one of the greatest communicators he's met. One example that was brought up was the way Anthopoulos dealt with J.A. Happ: before the rumours of the R.A. Dickey trade started swirling, Anthopoulos had personally phoned him to tell Happ why the move was being made and what is expected of him in 2013 and that it is highly unlikely that the Blue Jays would be able to go through all of 2013 without needing a sixth starter. Another example is that every year, Anthopoulos and the manager will sit down one-on-one with each player at spring training (including non-roster invitees) to discuss expectations, define his projected role, and address any concerns from the player. Beeston claims that he doesn't know any other general manager who does that with everybody.
World Baseball Classic
On the upcoming World Baseball Classic tournament, Beeston said that it "couldn't have come at a worst time," because of all the new additions to the team's core this season. That said, he said that "spring training is too long already," and also re-affirmed his belief in the series and its role in building up the game internationally. Melky Cabrera's decision to step away from the WBC was his alone--the team did not pressure him to make a decision either way. While Beeston doesn't know why Cabrera decided to quit, he doesn't think it was coincidence that Cabrera made his decision right after the Biogenesis story broke.
New Batting Practice Caps
During spring training, and during batting practice throughout the season, the Blue Jays will be wearing a new cap--one that I did not particularly like. The red maple leaf front was designed by Major League Baseball, but the Blue Jays had wanted their branding on the cap. The compromise was to tack on the Blue Jays cap crest on the back of the cap, just above the MLB logo. Beeston confirmed that the Blue Jays' new batting practice cap will be the only one in baseball to have the team's regular crest on the back.
The worst kept secret regarding the Blue Jays from the past four years was that they did not like having their AAA affiliate in Las Vegas. Paul Beeston admitted it, listing problems such as distance, time zones, Pacific Coast League travel, tremendous offensive environment leading to unreliable statistics, climate, ballpark, and temptations to sin. The Blue Jays reluctantly signed a two-year player development contract (PDC) with the Las Vegas 51s for the 2009 season after exhausting all other options (Buffalo and New Orleans). Beeston said that the team, then under the stewardship of Paul Godfrey, were negotiating with the Buffalo Bisons before U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stepped in on behalf of the New York Mets. Beeston did not discuss this, but there were rumblings back then that the affiliation would have been unlikely in the first place, as Buffalo's resentment for Toronto was palpable at the time when it was believed that Toronto had wanted to take away the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.
Beeston was obviously unhappy the Syracuse Chiefs filed divorce papers after a 31-season marriage with the Blue Jays. He largely blames J.P. Ricciardi's regime for basically ignoring their affiliates' needs. There were no plans to help the Chiefs win, and members of the front office rarely visited Syracuse. There was one major event where Beeston and Pat Gillick, neither of whom were working for the Blue Jays at that time, attended, but no one from the club's front office showed up.
When the initial two-year PDC with Las Vegas expired, the Blue Jays looked at all their options again, and Beeston said that their minds were set on affiliating with the Oklahoma City RedHawks. It would still be a team in the Pacific Coast League, but at least it would have represented a slow movement back east. Unfortunately, negotiations fell through and the club signed on for another two years with the 51s.
Even before the end of this past season, the Blue Jays front office started looking at re-affiliation options, focusing on Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo. When it was clear that only the Buffalo Bisons would become available, and that their relationship with the Mets had soured, it became a no-brainer for Beeston to focus his attention to securing the Bisons. Beeston took a page from Alex Anthopoulos' playbook and personally met with the Bisons' owner and general manager to convince them that affiliation with Toronto works out for both sides, and of course, he was successful in his efforts.
Unfortunately, Paul Beeston had another commitment so he had to leave after a very short, but very informative, hour-long conversation.