Jays From the Couch attended the Toronto Blue Jays “Leadoff” Event and brings you a recap of the night
Right now we are smack dab in the middle of winter, just waiting for the day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training for the 2016 MLB season (57 days away). Baseball news dies down at this time of year, the big signings are over, trades have happened, and fans are sitting on their hands just waiting for that next big move for their team to be made. In preparation for the season, the Blue Jays had the annual State of the Franchise or “The Leadoff” last night in the Rogers Centre. The annual fan forum allows season ticket holders to listen in on the status of the Blue Jays in the upcoming season. And, Jays From the Couch was invited.
The night started off with a media press conference, followed by the fan engagement presentation which featured Buck Martinez, Evanka Osmak, and new Blue Jays colour commentator Dan Shulman. A lot of topics were discussed by all the speakers, including roster alignment, grass, and arbitration cases.
Mark Shapiro has not been well received by fans so far, taking a lot of the blame for the departure of Alex Anthopoulos. It’s easy to point fingers, but the job done by Shapiro so far has been nothing but impressive, walking into a championship contending team, not a lot needs to be done. Through the strengthening of the minor league system, and the addition of closer Drew Storen, it’s hard to argue with any of the moves the Blue Jays have made so far. When asked if he was content with the moves made so far this offseason Shapiro said, “If you can find a front office executive that says he’s content, with where the team is, he should no longer be a front office executive. Our jobs are to get better, and constantly thinking about how can we improve the team, the work is never done, you’re never satisfied.”
With news breaking earlier that week that the Roger Centre will be installing a dirt infield for next season, there were questions regarding removing of the artificial turf and putting in real grass. Shapiro said he would love to have grass put into the Rogers Centre, but their are still some issues with installing grass moving forward. Currently the University of Guelph, is conducting research to see how grass can survive in the early portions of the season, and in the indoor conditions. Originally it was reported, that the installation of grass was not a priority, but now it seems like steps are being made to get a natural playing surface soon.
New General Manager Ross Atkins seems to continue to have his focus on strengthening the minor league system, making sure there is more continuity throughout the organization. When asked what was more important, building more minor league rotation depth, or targeting one major pitcher. Ross Atkins stressed, his focus was on improving the long term roster of the team this offseason, and balancing minor league depth while keeping a competitive team on the field is what he’s striving for.
When Atkins was asked about ongoing arbitration cases, he couldn’t comment with too much depth on the matter. In regards to Donaldson, Atkins said he wants to lock up Donaldson long term instead of doing a one year deal. “We want him here as long as humanly possible. We’re going to do everything we can.” This was some of the best news of the night, while most fans were shocked that the Blue Jays couldn’t settle with Donaldson’s agents over $450K, it looks like the interest is to lock him up long term.
Kevin Pillar was the lone player to be at the event, and has high expectations entering next year saying the Blue Jays, “Are a World Series contending team.”
I asked Kevin Pillar, other than fitness what he had been working on the most this offseason. He responded,
“I think every offseason you want to work on your game, you want to come back with a stronger throwing arm, you wanna come back with better footwork, you want a quicker release, you want a better bat path. For me I think the biggest thing was working on better patterns with my bat. You know the education of hitting, the awareness of my body and what I’m doing in the box, when I’m swinging and working on my swing, I think it’s at an all time high. I’ve been able to reach out to some pretty good people, and some pretty good guys on our team, and have had the ability to hit with them. I think that’s a part I’m pretty excited to show off this Spring, and this year.”
Kevin also indicated he would love to be considered for the lead off spot, and the work he’s putting into his offence in the offseason seems like he’s ready to step into that role.
For so much of the offseason, we have heard nothing but negative remarks about the Blue Jays, a tough thing for some to wrap their head around after coming off the best Blue Jays season in more than 20 years. From what season ticket holders heard tonight, they have a reason to be more excited about next year. This roster is still stacked from top to bottom, the Blue Jays are interested in resigning Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and extending the reigning MVP Josh Donaldson, and they are fully prepared to stay competitive in the playoffs next season. Shapiro ended the night addressing the season ticket holders saying,“Thank you for everything, thank you to the best fans in the MLB.”
*Featured Image Credit: freaktography UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Spencer Redmond is a Graduate of the University of Wisconsin. His loves in life are the NBA, MLB, Stats, and his dog Parker.