For two weeks this spring, John Gibbons will be missing the left side of his infield, his putative ace, his opening-day left fielder and his No. 1 catcher. Is this any way for the Toronto Blue Jays to start making a run at their first playoff spot since 1993?
“From a selfish standpoint, it’s not ideal,” the Blue Jays’ manager said Thursday, when the rosters for the World Baseball Classic were unveiled. “I’m new to these guys, they’re new to me. But this tournament is turning into a big thing and you’re playing for your country. There’s pride involved there, so about all you can say is, go for it, man.
“But,” Gibbons added, “it is frustrating.”
It’s as if they’re holding a special spring training for all our fears. Brett Lawrie (Canada), Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Esmil Rogers and Melky Cabrera (Dominican Republic), and J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey (U.S.) are all scheduled to take part in the event, which could potentially take them away from the Blue Jays’ spring-training site in Dunedin, Fla., for a little more than two weeks.
Reyes’s health figures to be an issue this season based on the fact the Rogers Centre has artificial turf, so the soft grass of spring should be a respite. But the site of his first-round WBC games, San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium, has FieldTurf. When Reyes and the New York Mets played a series in San Juan against the Marlins in 2010, he was kept out of games after suffering what the team called a “turf-related” back injury in the first game of the series.
We’ll leave aside the thought of Lawrie rounding third and bearing down on Arencibia when Canada plays the United States at Chase Field in Phoenix. Good luck getting Lawrie to tone it down during a game. This is in addition to the fiddling around with the biological clock that comes from competitive games being played at a time when pitchers and players are usually working up to the regular season.
Leave aside the mixed messages that come from post-WBC analyses of players’ performances. Think instead about Lawrie, the Blue Jays’ third baseman, and Reyes, their new shortstop, acquired in a 12-player deal with the Miami Marlins and unveiled Thursday at a news conference at the Rogers Centre, being apart when they ought to be developing an awareness of each other’s strengths and limitations. Given the ground they cover and their full-throttle approach to the game, that’s not good.
With Dickey, a knuckleballer, and Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle making up three-fifths of a new rotation, Gibbons’s preference would be to have them get used to each other not just in Grapefruit League games but in the usual side-work that is a spring-training staple.
Arencibia has told teammates that he is not ceding his spot behind the plate on the day that Dickey pitches to either Josh Thole or Henry Blanco, who have caught Dickey, so there might be value to the two of them being together under the tutelage of U.S. manager Joe Torre. What can’t be measured is the impact that being in the same clubhouse with Derek Jeter and Ryan Braun will have on Arencibia, who has been thrust into a leadership role on the Blue Jays without a great deal of mentoring. Right there is your silver lining, folks.
It could have been worse. Jose Bautista lobbied general manager Alex Anthopoulos – gently, it appears – to be on the Dominican Republic’s team despite the fact he underwent surgery in August to repair a torn wrist tendon sheath. Bautista asked Anthopoulos a week ago if there was “a crack in the door” that might let him play. He was assured that was not the case. “If I have to be the bad guy,” Anthopoulos said after the Reyes news conference, “then I will.”
There was no malice in Anthopoulos’s voice, just as there was none when Gibbons voiced his frustration. The Blue Jays are, rightly, four-square behind the concept of the WBC. They’ve just never been where they are this spring for a long, long time. There’s not been this much at stake.