I don't know if Alex Anthopoulos chafes when he sees Mike McCoy and not Travis Snider in left field for the Blue Jays, as was the case Wednesday night. I mean, I'm still trying to figure out John McDonald's presence and Jeremy Accardo's absence, and whether either is worth expending energy.
But I do know Anthopoulos is a smart guy, and I know that smart, first-year general managers pick their spots. You can't take over as GM of a team managed by someone with Cito Gaston's track record knowing that your boss - president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston - wants a comfortable exit for the guy who helped bring the city two World Series titles. You can't fight bitterly for every inch of your turf, not when you know that Beeston stared down the players during last year's September clubhouse revolt. So you save your powder, knowing you are just weeks away from making your franchise's most important managerial hire since Gaston was fired.
When you are asked about Snider's handling, if you are Anthopoulos, you point to his age: 22. You point to nine home runs in 222 at-bats, shrug and say, essentially, "could be worse." J.P. Arencibia's lack of playing time? "No," you would say, "John Buck was an American League all-star."
Gaston said he remains committed to "seeing Snider, seeing what he can do," down the stretch. He has said he wants to get Arencibia, the catcher of the future, playing time against non-contending teams.
Anthopoulos is more than okay with how Gaston is using Buck and Arencibia. Sometimes you just have to give it to a guy like Buck, you know? He's put together a season in which he's led all AL catchers in home runs (17) and runs batted in (57). Beyond that, he must get at least some credit for getting the Blue Jays' young starting pitchers to this point of the season without serious injury, which, you'll remember, was Job 1 in 2010.
Press Anthopoulos on Buck and he'll tell you two stories. One, he's seen Buck and Jose Molina both going over a pregame scouting report with individual pitchers. ("You don't often see two catchers doing that, usually it's just the guy catching that day.") Two, he had a discussion with Pat Hentgen last spring when Hentgen described in detail the importance of familiarity between catcher and pitcher.
Buck is a free agent who is comfortable here. How do we not know the love they're showing him isn't part of an attempt to bring him back to help mentor Arencibia? As for familiarity with next season's starters? That is why the baseball gods invented spring training, no?
Gaston picked up his 900th win as Blue Jays manager Tuesday night, and as he sat in the dugout before Wednesday's game, he chatted about pennant races he'd been a part of - winning and losing ones. Even those of us who like fewer flashbacks and more future in our September diet must give the man his due on the whole "integrity" of the stretch drive thing, because there was a price to pay for the Blue Jays' World Series: disappointment piled on disappointment.
Gaston has a deeper well of emotion and a longer memory than any of us when it comes to blown September leads and injuries and all those vagaries and that he feels obligated to do what he can against playoff-bound teams. Now, what constitutes Gaston's strongest lineup can often be, as was the case Wednesday, a Twitter-exploding combination of tiny sample size and turning over of every single stone. Gaston ran out as many right-handed batters as possible against Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland, with the exception of Adam Lind, because he "had some numbers against this kid." Three-for-five with a homer, to be exact. Got to have a leadoff hitter too, right? Hence, McCoy.
Would I be giving Snider more playing time? Absolutely. Arencibia? Tougher call, if I think Buck's future might be here in 2011. But can I understand what Gaston's doing? Yes I can, and my guess is his GM does, too. At this time, absent the train wreck that was supposed to be 2010, I'm as comfortable as him with it. It is, after all, Cito's last September, while Anthopoulos's toughest battles are ahead of him.
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