The two versions of the Buffalo Bisons' annual Hot Stove Luncheon that I've been to have been sort of like microcosms to the offseason. For example, last year, the excitement was palpable at the luncheon: the Bisons had just re-branded and introduced new uniforms and caps, the Blue Jays looked like they were close to clinching a postseason berth, and the Bisons also looked like they were going to be one of the lucky triple-A teams who would not lose too many players to the big club. There was a buzz in the air. There were things to write about. This year... there is less.
It was still a nice luncheon, of course. The Voice of the Bisons Ben Wagner emceed the event again to a packed house of Bisons fans and corporate sponsors. Sportsnet's Jamie Campbell started things off with short Q&A sessions with Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Brandon Morrow, and Dustin McGowan--a bunch of soft questions but it was nice for the fans nonetheless. The two clubs' brass--Mike Buczkowski of the Bisons and Alex Anthopoulos of the Blue Jays--said all the right things about their relationships. Anthopoulos spent most of last year on his phone since it was salary arbitration day, but this year I don't even remember seeing him pull it out during the event. Then, the crowd gave a warm welcome to new manager Gary Allenson. Allenson didn't say much different compared to his interview with Wagner. Then there was the obligatory lucky draw prizes and table drives.
The Bisons will be starting the 2014 season on April 3 when they face Rochester at 2:05 pm at Buffalo's beautiful Coca-Cola Field. Buczkowski hinted that there are going to be some upgrades to he ballpark for the new season that will be announced at a later date. Tickets and the full season schedule are available on their official website. Canadian fans should be happy to learn that, as of right now, the Bisons still plan on accepting Canadian dollars at par at the stadium.
Comments from Gary Allenson and Alex Anthopoulos
Full audio from the pre-event press conference should be available soon on Sportsnet, but again there was just a few things of note:
- Gary Allenson made a joke in reference to his infamous ejection as the manager of the Norfolk Tides. I wonder if he remembers that there is a bar just over the right field wall at Coca-Cola Field.
- Allenson was high on Marcus Stroman, saying that he has four pretty good pitches and that he fooled a lot of hitters in double-A
- He also likes Sean Nolin a lot, and just wishes that he wouldn't be as hard on himself some times
- He threw two very exciting comparisons when talking about A.J. Jimenez: he's kind of like Tony Pena behind the plate with his ability to block balls, and kind of like Matt Wieters at the plate but without the power. Allenson mentioned that Jimenez's arm was still not 100% last season.
- Kevin Pillar was called a "special" guy by Allenson, saying that he just needs to work on pitch recognition especially sliders from righties. Said that the look in Pillar's eyes reminded him of Dustin Pedroia, whatever that means.
- Allenson talked about how bullpen coach Bob Stanley was the one who first got him an interview with the Blue Jays organization last offseason (Allenson and Stanley were teammates in Boston)
- When asked how he balances between trying to win and developing players, Allenson was quite straightforward in saying that his first priority is development, and Bisons fans can expect to see struggling prospects be put out there every day to try to get out of their funk rather than replace them with someone who is doing better.
- When Alex Anthopoulos came up to the lectern he announced to the media that Chris Getz was just signed and will get to compete for a major league job in spring training, and that they are looking for another outfielder on a minor league deal for Buffalo. I think it would be fun to see Blake Gailen back in affiliated baseball.
- This will disappoint Blue Jays fans, but Anthopoulos said that although prices for starting pitchers have changed since the winter meetings, they are still very high. He mentioned that he expects J.A. Happ to be in the rotation for 2014. (Of course, last year he thought that Happ would be the Bisons' opening day starter.)
- However, he said that the club has explored free agent and trade options for starting pitchers--some of them would just require a "yes" from the Blue Jays to happen. Later he reminded the media that it is still only mid-January, and that some free agents or trades may happen before opening day.
- Anthopoulos mentioned that the nature of he injuries in 2013 were more "freak injuries" compared to 2012. The club has made some strength and conditioning changes since the Tommy John epidemic, and he also mentioned that they have adjusted some things to prevent oblique injuries.
- In terms of the Rogers Centre, Anthopoulos said that he is not involved in day-to-day discussions over upgrades, but he still would like to see grass in the stadium in the "next few years." But before that, he mentioned that the Blue Jays may be installing a new interim artificial surface in a "year or two."
The Bisons have released their 2014 promotional schedule, highlighted by the always-popular Star Wars Night on Saturday, June 7. A couple weekends after that is Blue Jays Weekend--generally they have a retired Jays player make appearances (hopefully in 2014 they won't have any current Jays player on rehab). Buczkowski mentioned that the Bisons will be wearing specially-designed uniforms for the event--probably something that echoes the Jays' design. Other highlights: Independence Day eve fireworks on July 3, home run derby on May 30, autographs day on July 30, and the Chicken Wing bobblehead night on August 23. The complete list of promotions can be found here.