Toronto Blue Jays: Despite Injuries, Clubhouse Morale at All-Time High in AA Era


Toronto Blue Jays: Despite Injuries, Clubhouse Morale at All-Time High in AA Era

It’s late February now, and like every other season for the past 38 years the media and players alike have all begun to descend upon Dunedin, Florida in the wake of another Toronto Blue Jays spring training.

But, Dioner Navarro trade demands aside, and the recent shock of Michael Saunders being taken out by a ground sprinkler, the most interesting thing to be said so far about this team has not come from Dunedin.

Instead, it was said just four days ago, half-way across the United States in Phoenix, Arizona, at the spring training complex for the Milwaukee Brewers.

That is where former Blue Jays first baseman and current Brewer Adam Lind, told the media a few days ago that despite all of the major changes the front office has made this past off-season (including the trading of himself to the Brewers), the culture of the clubhouse hasn’t changed.

According to Lind,the guys who still run it are still there. Jose Bautista is the voice among position players and Mark Buehrle runs the starting pitchers.”

Not completely earth shattering, but what was said next probably confirmed the suspicions of a lot of both educated and casual fans alike.

That, “There might be a few more smiles with Colby gone.”

Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind (26) gets ready for a pitch during the first inning in a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. The Baltimore Orioles won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

With that said, it’s becoming more and more believable that the team we’ve watched the last few seasons were more interested in playing their way, than actually trying to make the necessary adjustments to win.

Let me explain.

It wouldn’t be difficult to assume Lind was still putting the clubhouse turmoil of the last two seasons in a nice way.

Remember, Colby Rasmus is the same guy who, as a rookie back in 2010, more or less told legendary St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, to shove it on several separate occasions.

La Russa had a reputation for butting heads with some of his players, but none of them had their dad chime in on the situation, and even fewer had the gall to demand a trade from such a prestigious franchise.

The rivalry became so intense, that even the unquestioned leader of that clubhouse, Albert Pujols, felt he needed to share his concerns with the media, saying to a reporter back in 2010 that, “If you don’t want to be part of this great organization, man, this is one of the special organizations that you want to play for. And if you don’t want to be a part of this, then you know what? You need to figure out a place to go and play”

If you could get a future hall of famer like Albert Pujols to publicly rip you like he never has before, I cringe to know some of the untold stories Rasmus might have been a part of in a clubhouse like the Blue Jays’, who notoriously had more than a few hot heads during his time here.

Those kinds of personality clashes can make a team with so much pressure on them to perform, a very unwelcoming atmosphere for any player, even a veteran guy like Lind who had been with the Jays since 2006.

Say what you want about the calls, but those blowups have happened way too often for my liking the past three seasons.

Luckily the past is the past, and despite the statement, Lind went on to say that newcomer and Canadian native Russell Martin could be a difference maker for the club’s overall attitude, and I’d have to agree.

It’s one thing to be good, like Jose Bautista, it’s another to be intense, like Brett Lawrie, and it’s a third to be a seasoned vet from winning organizations, like Mark Buehrle.

To have all three qualities in one guy, in the catchers position no less, could have a dramatic effect on how well this team will stick together through the longest season in North American professional sports.

Feb 26, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (55) during spring training workouts at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

One thing to also never forget, is that it is not always about the generals who are expected to lead by example. It is just as important for the foot soldiers to respond by following said actions.

At third base, gone is the hot headed and injury prone Brett Lawrie. In is the laid back, yet personable and intense Josh Donaldson, who has quickly become a favorite among scrum reporters and teammates alike.

Donaldson has eagerly been willing to share his story of how he’s came to be. His struggles, perseverance, and eventual successes in Oakland led him to become such a valued trade piece to Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopolous, in the deal that sent Lawrie to Oakland.

What might be the most important thing to recognize about this young man, is his praise of veteran Jonny Gomes during his time in Oakland while he was struggling in 2012. It’s just another example of the kind of role guys that are needed to make playoff pushes.

Compare that with what we sent in the other direction. A younger, just as talented third baseman, but one that has seemed to have a hard time making new friends and dealing with others who may differ from his opinions in the past, even if those people were the veterans of the team.

I’ll say it bluntly, their is a reason we got Lawrie from the Brewers organization for practically nothing back in 2010, they didn’t want to deal with his crap anymore, and apparently this past off-season, neither did AA.

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  • In the outfield, the Blue Jays have never looked more level headed, or Canadian for that matter. Between Victoria B.C.’s Michael Saunders and Mississauga’s

    Dalton Pompey

    , you have two guys just chomping at the bit to prove they belong in the bigs on a full-time basis.

    In Saunders case, like Donaldson, you have a player that wanted to be here, knows what its like to struggle and overcome at the major league level, and is very approachable both around his teammates and the media alike.

    Unfortunately for Saunders, he’s going to have to overcome one more struggle just when things seemed to be going right, now that he might be out for up to four months with a knee injury over a freak accident.

    Make no mistake though this is a guy that knows adversity, and whether the Jays are competitors or not by July, and I believe they will be, Saunders will be ready to give everything he has for the clubhouse and management that believed enough to trade one of their starting pitchers for him in the off-season.

    Look what went the other way to free agency, Melky Cabrera, a talented and well liked player that would have simply eaten up too much payroll for the results he would have likely produced on the field. Not to mention he has had just has many health issues as Saunders in the past, and even more character ones.

    For Pompey, you have an athletic freak that is as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they come, but couldn’t be any more opposite than that of a young Rasmus. Sure he can be confident, but he knows his role, and knows this is his big chance to make it in the majors full-time. Expect him to follow and gravitate around the guys that care and want to contribute no matter the cost, even if it means a hit in the stats sheet or playing time.

    That understanding is something Rasmus has never been able to grasp his entire career, and as I may be as bold to say, it is that exact negativity and entitlement that will keep him from ever reaching his full all star potential as a player. You can’t afford to be that negative in baseball when a 30% success rate as a hitter means your good.

    Finally you have the pitchers, and if you take away anything from reading this article it’s this: young pitchers need a wily vet around them to show how not to lose your head during bad stretches. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are just the guys to show a couple of young starters like Mark Stroman and Drew Htuchison how it’s done.

    Sep 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher

    Marcus Stroman

    (54) celebrates the win with Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) at the end of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    What is even more comforting for a fan is to know that, despite age, every single one of these pitchers have had some sort of setback in their careers, and managed to bounce back and dominate.

    I don’t think there could be a better guy to talk pitching with than Beurhle. Who, despite a low to mid 80’s fastball, has managed the most consistent numbers and innings pitched of this staff, since arriving in Toronto back in 2012.

    I don’t think there is a better person to talk about life with than Dickey. Who, despite literally being kicked out of the majors in his mid-30’s, clawed his way back by completely changing the way he pitched, and found a level of success that even he still has a hard time believing every now and then.

    Drew Hutchison required tommy-john surgery back in 2012 after coming straight from Double-A. He then proceeded to have a career year in 2014 at the age of 23.

    Marcus Stroman went through a five start slump last season, that included him getting crushed in front of friends and family in the Bronx back in mid-july against the Yankees. He responded by having an impressive August and September to help make a heavy case for his place in the rotation come this April.

    In other words, despite what you might have in expectations for the Toronto Blue Jays this year, having clubhouse issues, it seems for the moment, won’t be one of them.