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Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos sounds off on team, off-season plans


Blue Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos spoke to the media Wednesday before the Jays took on the Seattle Mariners in the second of a three-game set. In the 37-minute scrum, Anthopoulos discussed the struggles of Ricky Romero, how Adam Lind fits into the club’s future plans and his off-season targets. Here is an edited transcript:

What will you look for in Ricky’s final three or four starts?

We’re just looking for him to perform. I was so encouraged with his start against New York.

I thought his stuff was outstanding, his command was outstanding.

. . . Stuff is still there, the arm strength is still there. I wish I had a reason as to why it hasn’t gone as well as it has this year. That’s why I think it’s important for him to finish out his starts and see where he ends up.

Do you have a clue about what went wrong this year?

No. If you look at the numbers, command is probably the biggest thing. Walk totals have definitely been the issue. That’s the only thing you can really point to statistically. But again, he’s flashed it.

I don’t want to belabour the point, but the start in New York it was all there and it wasn’t too long ago. Just from a scouting standpoint he was so good: the changeup, the curveball, the fastball, the sinker. I don’t care what lineup he would have faced, he was electric. So it’s there. If I was talking about something that happened a year ago, it’d be different. But it’s there and the arm strength is there; it’s just about commanding the ball.

Anthopoulos says Jays will spend in off-season

Do you think the extra rest (before the New York start) had anything to do with it?

I don’t know and that’s what I’m curious to see. There’s no question, the extra rest, he had that going into New York and I know John’s talked a lot about the (back-to-back 200-plus innings). Ricky works so hard in-between starts, off-season, you wonder if it’s a matter of maybe learning to pace himself a little more, I don’t know. And that’s not to say tonight is the be-all and end-all, but I’ll be curious to see what the command looks like, what the stuff looks like. . . I don’t know that I’m ready to draw any conclusions. Maybe he has to adjust his routines. They’re not the same guy, but Roy Halladay needed to scale back his off-seasons and bullpens. It’s just learning to work a little smarter. Maybe that’s one of the solutions, I don’t know. I’d still like to see how these next starts play out to have a more definitive answer.

What were your reasons for skipping him a start?

I think we were just trying things. I don’t know if we knew this would work, but all we could point to was New York and I think John and I talked about it and pointed to the New York start and he had an extra day’s rest and again maybe he’s just worn out. We don’t know. His health is fine, his arm strength is fine. But we don’t have anything to lose to try. It’s not like we’re doing this in May. We’re sitting here in early September, we’ve tried all kinds of things. That New York start was as good a start as we’ve seen in months and it came on the heels of more rest. So why not? If we had the answer sooner we would have done something sooner, but this is something I don’t see the downside to trying.

But it’s not something you can duplicate, as in only have him pitch every other start?

No, but it might just be this season. It might just be this season when he maybe needs a little more rest, maybe he needs rest in the off-season, maybe he tweaks his program. I think everyone adjusts. . . . There’s no manual on this stuff. A lot of it is trial and error and you just take in as much information as you can. So if you’re getting clues or hints?maybe that extra day of rest led to New York, that outing. Maybe he is fatigued and doesn’t realize it. We’ve talked to our trainers and medical people, sometimes players are fatigued and they don’t even realize it. I’m not sitting here saying that’s the reason, maybe it is. We’re trying some things to see if it might work.

What’s your assessment of the season Colby Rasmus has had?

Inconsistent. He’s shown flashes of being great and he’s had hot streaks. Every player will go through streaks and slumps and hot-and-cold periods. Obviously he’s been a little banged up, too, with his groin and trying to come back and staying off the DL, things like that. But I think overall . . . You look at the way he’s produced overall he’s had a good year. Again he’s got so much talent, he’s capable of so many things. But again, putting it together consistently from start to finish is a challenge for all players. But I think overall it’s been a good season. Can he be better? Absolutely, like all our players can. We’ve seen how great he can be when he does get hot.

How do you look at Rajai Davis’s situation for next year?

We have an option on him, and with the option decisions we always wait right up until the end. Who knows what happens? We wait for all the games to be played, because things change, guys get hurt, guys don’t perform, something happens, someone might come up in trade, or there might be a free-agent discussion. Overall I think Raj has been solid, he’s certainly improved over last year. I think he’s a valuable player to have. I think everyone would like to have them on your team, but again, I think you’re always weighing what the option price is. His option salary is $ 3 million, there’s a $ 500,000 buyout attached to that, so it’s recall a $ 2.5 million expense, one way or the other. He’s done a good job for us, but we’ll have to make a decision by the end of the year.

How much stock do you put in what young players like Gose and Hechavarria do in September?

I don’t want to talk like I’m a great veteran of all these seasons, but the more I do this the more I would err on the side of caution with all young players. I think that’s just over time and that’s myself getting more experienced. I’d rather be surprised or let players force our hand. It’s not to say they’re not talented or they’re not good prospects, but we can go through the list of players that looked good in September, looked good for six weeks and regressed the following year or they don’t perform as well. I think your ultimate long-term outlook for the players does not change. We still think they’re talented, they’re going to be great players. But I don’t know that unless you have to, you want to rely on as many young players at one time. . . . J.P. Arencibia is a good example. He was in Las Vegas for two years, two full seasons at that level, second season he won the MVP and he didn’t perform for two or three months, he pretty much performed the whole year . . . At that point he had so much minor-league time, he had dominated the level. I think at some point you got to say, ‘We’ve got to give this guy a chance and we’re going to let him play. He’s really done everything he can.’ You can take a look at Anthony [Gose], for example, did he have a good season in the minor leagues? Yes. Did he dominate the league? No. He’d be the first one to tell you . . . If you can find a way to add that depth and maybe have the prospects more sitting there as insurance until you know 100 per cent they’re ready. Because like I say, they almost all get optioned, almost all the time and if someone fails or someone gets hurt, you’d like to have them as depth rather than start to integrate three or four kids at one time.

Does (Travis) d’Arnaud fall into the category of guys who have done everything they can?

I think the (knee) injury (suffered in July, which kept him out the remainder of the season) did affect that and he’s missed time the last few years. Again he was having a great season, so I don’t want to take anything away there. He was on his way to doing that, but he got hurt and he missed some playing time there. Even in Dunedin that first year we got him, he missed a lot of time. New Hampshire last year he missed a little bit of time but still put up a great year, an MVP year. I think Travis the injury slowed him down a little bit. I don’t have any doubts he was on his way to doing it, he just didn’t get the chance.

Do you want to see Hechavarria a few times at second base this year before it’s over?

I think we’ve seen him (already). He’s certainly an option internally ? Kelly (Johnson) is a free agent ? but I really don’t know which role we’re going to go. You’re going to look to get the best players you can and if that means someone comes up in trade or someone comes up in free agency and Adeiny is optioned down, he’s right there and he can be called up again. Guys can get traded again. Sierra was on option, Gose was on option and all of a sudden two outfielders get traded and they’re getting playing time. Things change fast, but I don’t think we need to see him at second base ? we know defensively he’s going to be fine.

But if you look at the free-agent landscape, second base appears to be a weaker position. There’s not a lot available out there.

I would agree, but sometimes you would be surprised what players become available that you wouldn’t expect and you scratch your head. We always say in the office when we’re looking to do things, the landscape changes so fast. That’s why we know when we’re about to make decisions, especially if we’re committing big dollars and payroll, we want to make sure it’s a move we definitely want to make because a month from now, three months from now all of a sudden players are going to be available. Last off-season I don’t think anyone expected (Mat) Latos or (Michael) Pineda to be available. We all knew Gio Gonzalez was going to be available. Or last summer, I don’t think people went into the season thinking Ubaldo Jimenez was going to be available, or Hanley Ramirez to be traded or Adrian Gonzalez to be traded. It’s amazing how fast things change across the league, so if you’re going to do something you better feel very confident it’s the perfect fit for your team.

What is Adam Lind’s future with this organization?

Right now he’s under contract for next year, but I guess I would say at this point he certainly has another year that he’s capable of and we’re hoping to have. He had the half-season last year where he was outstanding and the numbers at the break were outstanding. The latter half of the season he didn’t play well and this season he’s been hurt, he’s been inconsistent. So I don’t know yet. I know he’s under contract one way or the other, but in terms of going forward, off-season, starting jobs, things like that, I’m not prepared to make any determinations right now. Our responsibility is to get better.

Does he need to win a job on this team next year?

I don’t know that I’m ready to say that yet. That’s hard to say. But I guess what I would say is, look, he’s already been sent down (to the minors) at one point and he’s been hurt, so I think it’s fair to say if we feel someone else can do the job, we’re not going to be afraid to do that. It’s what makes the team better. But I’m really not certain. It all depends who’s available, what comes up in trade. Adam has the ability, I think we all know he has the ability, but it hasn’t come out the last few years. I can’t sit here now after the last year and a half and say, ‘I know what Adam’s going to do next season.’ Obviously I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic, but I don’t know that we can sit here and plan and say this guy is going to be our cleanup hitter the following year, I just can’t.

Is there a possibility that if you don’t find someone from outside the organization that David Cooper could give him a run for his money this spring?

I wouldn’t rule it out. Again, Adam’s under contract, but I wouldn’t rule out coming into spring training that there would be competition. The fact that he’s been sent down once certainly points to the fact that if players don’t produce we’ll make changes. From that respect I’m certainly not going to sit here and say Adam’s guaranteed to be the everyday first baseman or the everyday DH next season. Right now the production, he would tell you too, he’s capable of more and his numbers have not been consistent with what he’s capable of doing. . . . But it’s one thing to say you’re capable of something and another thing to do it. Last off-season we went into it saying, ‘It’s tough to say who we had.’ Half a season he was a borderline all-star, led the league in RBIs at some point early in the year. Second half of the season did not play well at all. That was the question going into the season: which Adam Lind were we going to get? The one who was the cleanup hitter who was great through the middle of July, hitting 300 with a mid-1.000 OPS and on pace for high-20s in home runs, or the guy we saw in the second half of the year? . . . I’m just not ready to guarantee anything right now, it’s been inconsistent. It hasn’t been a position that we can rely on going forward.

And you have to determine that probability (that he’ll improve) and from the history that probability is not very good, is it?

The numbers speak for themselves. . . . We have a lot of areas as a team where we can improve and that’s certainly an area ? whether it’s internal by Adam playing better or David Cooper doing well and so on ? we have other areas that are more of a priority and the rotation is clearly the priority for us.

Do you have to add veteran talent to move forward next year or can you move forward plugging in young kids?

Depends. Young kids that are starting to be established? Mike Trout is a young kid, but . . .

You got a Mike Trout?

No, but my point is it’s not about age. What kind of player is he? How productive of a player is he? If you can go out and get a 24-year-old who’s a really good player who’s been in the league two or three years, you would certainly end up doing that. So I don’t know if I get caught up in years of service, it’s what’s the talent level. Talent comes first and then you can be a little selective about experience, good in the clubhouse, but I think talent comes first. We have to get better.

. . . Whether you view Encarnacion at first base or DH, one of those spots is clearly entrenched, Adam hasn’t been entrenched this year, so it’s going to be open at this point. We’re going to keep our options open.

Is your shortstop entrenched?

Yes.

And your catcher is entrenched?

Yes.

And third base, right field, centre field, Encarnacion?first/DH, backup catcher.

So you have open . . .

Left field, first/DH, second, utility infielder and obviously the rotation too.

Have you learned anything this year from watching other teams ? specifically Baltimore and Oakland ? that you didn’t think at the start of the year?

I think you always try to. It’s hard to say because you look at Arizona last year, they had a great year, Kirk Gibson was the manager of the year. I think they brought back basically the entire team and they added guys like (Trevor) Cahill and some other guys where things didn’t go well. I don’t think there’s one specific area. The thing that stands out about the Orioles is the bullpen’s done a great job. The bullpen’s been outstanding. Everyone talks about the one-run games. You have to think if you’re winning a lot of one-run games the bullpen must be doing a great job to keep the game close. But again that’s kind of stating the obvious. Most contending teams are going to have deep and good bullpens. That’s something I’ve started to value more this season. It’s not to say I didn’t value it, I just felt like the team in 2010 and 2011 had more issues to address first. I felt like we could have waited a little bit to address the bullpen. Now it’s definitely a priority for us. . . . If you plan on being a contending team, you’re either going to be down a few runs most nights or up a few runs most nights and that means you’re going to be using a lot of relievers to keep the game close and if you only have two or three guys, you can’t go to them each night so you better have a deep bullpen. You can say you have the best closer in the game, the best setup guy in the game, but if the remaining five guys aren’t getting the job done it probably isn’t going to work.

Carlos Villanueva is a free agent after this year. Do you consider bringing him back as a starter?

He’s done a very good job, I’m stating the obvious. Last year I think he made 12 or 13 starts for us. For eight he was outstanding, but the last four or five ? I know he had an arm injury so there’s definitely a reason for the drop-off in performance. Again, it’s hard to pinpoint. When you’re looking at a starter you’re looking at 32 or 34 starts, 200 innings, durability, things like that, that’s part of the equation. There’s no question when he’s taken the ball he’s done a great job. But his (durability) is obviously part of the equation. That’s not to take anything away from him. But that’s the unknown with Carlos, he’s never had 200 innings, he’s never had 32 or 34 starts. I think we all would say you love what you see, what he’s done for us and he’s a great teammate and all those things. But again we’ve only had bits and pieces of him starting.

Are you skeptical about Villanueva’s ability to start?

No, I’m just saying we don’t have much information. I don’t want to use a word that’s derogatory to the player ? I don’t want to doubt him. But I also have to be objective and realistic, too. . . . I don’t know if Carlos could tell you if he could pitch 200 innings. Would he make 34 starts? How would he perform over that period of time? We don’t have anything to base that off of. . . . Off the sample that we have, he’s been great.

Is five-year limits on contracts still carved in stone?

Right now I know (club president) Paul (Beeston) is a big believer in that and that’s definitely a policy. But I think I’ve said this in past years; I don’t ever want to say that we’re not going to be open-minded about doing anything. At this stage right now (the policy) hasn’t changed, we haven’t talked about it changing. I know Paul had a policy before with starters, only doing three years, and we changed that to five with Romero. As of right now I would say that we haven’t talked about any changes, but I don’t know that I’d ever say it’s set in stone. Things change all the time.

Are you given a payroll or do you request one?

I don’t request one. It’s discussed. It’s discussed collectively, where the team is at, what we’re going to look to do. It’s not set in stone, but . . . there’s areas that I think we talk about being in and again, depending on circumstances, players, it can vary. I think it’s a combination of things: it’s part of what our sales department’s doing and that’s more Paul’s area, where we generate and so on . . . I think we go into every season trying to be in a certain area and if a player comes up or a trade comes up it’s not, ‘No, we discussed a (payroll) area.’ We can have dialogue about anybody at any given time, but we do have a target to try to be around.

Given the boost in attendance, ratings, will the payroll go up next year?

Sure, yes, our payroll is going to go up, no doubt about it. I think our payroll has climbed each year. Obviously there’s always talk about it climbing to astronomical levels and like I’ve always said, I don’t think that’s realistic but again it has climbed each year and it will continue to climb. To what level does it end up climbing? That remains to be seen. But it does climb and I think it’s climbed a good amount each year. Maybe not by $ 40, $ 60, $ 80, $ 90 million like everybody else but it climbs and I think if our payroll continues to climb we’ll be in a pretty good area.

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