First of all, much congratulations to the Toronto Raptors' Terrence Ross, was crowned as the champion of the the NBA's Slam Dunk contest last night, and he did it by jumping over the son of Twitter's CEO! So that's two championships for Toronto in the past six months. Good start.
Back to baseball, spring training for the Toronto Blue Jays is getting into its full spring, with the team scheduled to have its first full work out this morning. There really isn't a lot of real news happening yet, but the intrepid reporters on the Blue Jays beat have been talking to players and coaches and have gotten some interesting quotes from them.
First up is Jose Bautista. The slugger told Jeff Blair that since he signed the big extension with the Jays, he has, at times, questioned whether the club was going to do anything significant to bring them closer to winning, "but [Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos] had a plan and executed it." On Yunel Escobar's painful press conference after the eye black scandal, he said that he would've done it in a different way--for example, hiring a better translator. Yes, the translator was pretty horrible, but even a better translator would not have saved the presser--especially with Escobar making the stupid "my hair stylist and interior decorator are gay" comment (paraphrased). And we didn't need a translator to hear former manager John Farrell say in plain English that he didn't think there aren't any problems with homophobia in locker rooms.
That was probably the nadir of the 2013 season and for the public perception of the team. The Blue Jays were already in the middle of a horrible stretch of the season and the last thing they needed was a non-baseball issue. Someone in the know told me that the Blue Jays' management decided at that point that there was no way they could bring Escobar back for 2013.
Speaking of "Nadir," the CEO of Rogers Nadir Mohamed announced that he is resigning as of January 2014. As the head of the Blue Jays' ownership, he is the one that puts the final stamp of approval for all of their significant moves. Steve Ladurantaye has some quotes from Paul Beeston in his piece, with the Jays president giving a lot of credit to Mohamed. Beeston was very thankful for ownership when I heard him speak last week, saying that not only has he approved huge increase in payroll this past offseason, in the past he had always been supportive of using money to build the farm system. And although Mohamed isn't a baseball expert, he has great business acumen and would talk with Beeston and Anthopoulos to creatively structure contracts and other things on the business side of running the club. Maybe it was his idea to decline Rajai Davis' option just to sign him to a one-year deal with a bonus in order to move $500,000 out of 2013's payroll.
According to Bob Elliott, Toronto is interested in free agent infielder Munenori Kawasaki:
Jays interested in free-agent INF Munenori Kawasaki, 31, .192, .459 OPS in 61 games with Seattle last year— bob elliott (@elliottbaseball) February 17, 2013
This would be a pure depth move and he won't get a Major League contract--I don't even know where he will be slotted in the organization.
Sportsnet's Barry Davis has a report on third baseman Brett Lawrie's style of play--full on 100% all the time (warning: self-playing video). Unlike John Farrell, John Gibbons won't want to pull back the reins and change Lawrie. On his part, Lawrie has said that he does learn from mistakes, and Jose Bautista speaks about risk/reward calculations--hopefully he never jumps into a photographers' pit again, unless catching the foul ball would make a difference between clinching and being eliminated.
Next up, Adam Lind speaks about problems with last year's coaching staff. Gregor Chisholm and Mark Zwolinski wrote about how the fans' favourite scapegoat was unhappy with John Farrell telling him one thing (to be selective in choosing pitchers) and former batting coach (now first base coach) Dwayne Murphy telling him another (to be aggressive). Lind and Farrell were "never on the same page" according to Chisholm, although he believes that his advice were always given in good faith. Current hitting coach Chad Mottola looks forward to working with the more laissez-faire John Gibbons to go to players with an united voice--Lind thought that Farrell micromanaged too much and didn't allow his coaches to have too much freedom. It's still the spring so we can blame the micromanaging Farrell, but remember that Lind struggled under Cito Gaston as well, so it all comes down on him to prove all his detractors wrong. The good news is that although brief, his work with Motolla in Las Vegas last year seemed to have improved his numbers somewhat (small sample size alert). And his personal relationship with the new hitting coach (they were teammates with Syracuse in 2006 and 2007) may give him the boost he desperately needs.
Gregor Chishom interviewed Chad Mottola. Mottola comes into a sort of awkward situation, with the previous hitting coach still on the staff. He will be taking the younger players and letting Dwayne Murphy work with players that he has had previous success with (like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Mottola will be working with Colby Rasmus to commit to a single batting stance.
On Friday, Jose Reyes told reporters that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria actually told him to consider buying a house in Miami just four days before the big trade.
Big congratulations to new Blue Jays (or perhaps Buffalo Bisons) catcher Josh Thole and his wife Kathryn for welcoming baby Harlow into the world two Thursdays ago. Unfortunately, that meant that Josh only had a few days to spend with the newborn. There has been a huge overhaul of the team, and Rosie DiManno writes about the Blue Jays' gelling process.
Kyle Franzoni asks whether J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole, or Henry Blanco will end up being knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's primary catcher. I really don't see Blanco breaking with the club unless Thole stumbles, but Anthopoulos signed him for a reason, so maybe the situation makes the big league backup job Blanco's to lose. But in any case, if Thole shows any sign of his previous offensive numbers in Buffalo, Blanco would be on a very short leash.
Ken Fidlin writes about the Blue Jays who hail from the Dominican Republic. I recently chatted with George Bell, who told me that the Toronto Blue Jays have firmly reclaimed their number one status on the eastern half of Hispaniola. In a separate piece, Bautista has some really nice things to say about his new teammate Emilio Bonifacio.
And happy birthday to former Blue Jay Danny Farquhar, who is best known for his side-arm delivery and having been traded for Ichiro Suzuki.
Finally, a reminder to you to go and guess some mystery games from 2012! I will be posting answers on Monday.