It was a far more jovial atmosphere than we’d seen at any previous State of the Franchise event, with the Blue Jays being Las Vegas’ favourites to win the World Series and all.
Nary a discouraging word was said — except for a couple of leather-lunged complaints about Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind — as Buck Martinez hosted the fan-friendly event, reading questions that season ticket holders had e-mailed in to be answered by Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, general manager Alex Anthopuolos and manager John Gibbons.
Gibbons revealed his likely starting rotation, and it will be headed by the defending National League Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. Brandon Morrow will be next, followed by Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero.
It’s quite the fall from grace for Romero, who had been the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter each of the past two seasons, but given his performance last year, it’s warranted. Romero wanted badly to be the glue that held together a rotation that was devastated by injury early on in 2012, and pitched through elbow pain so severe that he needed off-season surgery to repair it, which was reflected in his awful numbers last season. If he can return to his 2011 form, Romero could well be the best fifth starter in baseball history.
The only spots up for grabs on the Opening Day roster, given full health, are second base (Maicer Izturis has the clear edge in the battle for the everyday job with Emilio Bonifacio), back-up catcher (Henry Blanco will likely get the job over Josh Thole unless he appears to be completely done in the spring) and the last two or three spots in the bullpen.
Casey Janssen goes into the season as the closer, with Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver and the out-of-options Esmil Rogers the other locks for jobs. That leaves three spots for Steve Delabar, J.A. Happ, Brad Lincoln, Aaron Loup and the out-of-options pair of Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress. Lincoln will be worked as a starter in the spring, which opens the door for the Jays to keep Jeffress should he blow the doors off in Dunedin. Happ will almost definitely be the Opening Day starter in Buffalo, waiting in the wings should he be needed to move into the big club’s rotation.
Beeston, who reminded both Anthopoulos and Gibbons of his promise at this same event a year ago of two or three playoff appearances in the next five (now four) years, also spoke again about the idea of replacing the playing surface at the Rogers Centre with real grass. Beeston said that his resolve is to put grass in the building, the question is when and how. He said he’ll work with the Argonauts to deal with their needs, as there are issues with moving the seating into football mode when there’s grass down, but that “it can be done” and that the goal is to have grass “sooner than later.”
Beeston was also asked about ticket prices, specifically how the Blue Jays can continue to hold them down given the 50 per cent increase in payroll, and his answer was that while he can’t promise that they’re never going to go up, he’s proud of the fact that there hasn’t been a ticket price increase for four years, and that it may be possible to keep prices at their current level for a few years if attendance increases to the level the Blue Jays hope. He’d said earlier that he believes it’s possible for the team to draw three million fans in 2013, which would be the first time such lofty heights have been reached in 20 years.
There were questions about interleague play (it’s here to stay, given that there are now 15 teams in each league with the Astros’ move to the A.L. West), Colby Rasmus’ second-half slump (Gibbons says he has the raw talent to become a superstar, and looks forward to working with him because they “talk the same”), and the idea of Saturday night home games in the summer months, to which Beeston said that playing in the summer sunshine with the roof open is the way it should be, and that the Blue Jays will continue to play Saturday afternoon home games so long as he’s still in charge.
Before the question-and-answer session, the newest member of the Blue Jays’ broadcast crew was introduced to rousing applause from the crowd of about 1,200 season ticket holders in attendance, many of whom offered a standing ovation. With Alan Ashby having left after six years to go home to Houston (if anyone is upset with Alan for leaving, remember that he has to watch the Astros all year), Jerry Howarth’s new partner in the radio booth will be Jack Morris. The first-ever 20-game winner in Blue Jays history joins us having broadcast games for the Tigers and Twins, and worked the last couple of years on MLB.com.
Jack will be in the booth with us as we begin our run of pre-season broadcasts with the Blue Jays’ Spring Opener on Feb. 23 against the Tigers in Dunedin. We will be broadcasting ten games live across the Blue Jays Radio Network, and the rest of the Jays’ Spring Training schedule live on bluejays.com and then replaying them on the radio at night, following Raptors or Maple Leafs broadcasts.
Pitchers and catchers report in less than a week, and I’ll be heading down to Dunedin shortly thereafter to continue to bring you as much Blue Jays coverage as possible as this far-too-long off-season finally comes to a close. If nothing else, it’s going to be a lot of fun!