Ahhhhh, spring. Hope and optimism abound. It is the time of year when all clubs, including the Toronto Blue Jays are looking ahead with great optimism. Smiles and happiness seem to be the order of the day. And, with apparent major concerns regarding how the clubhouse functioned in 2014, perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps the Blue Jays clubhouse has changed.
One person who seems to think so is manager, John Gibbons. Or, at least that is what we read in a recent piece by John Lott of the National Post. Gibby seems to be much more optimistic about this group. “I’ve noticed a huge turnaround in here. For a short period of time, it’s turned into a tight group. They seem to all get along. It’s not always necessary, but it never hurts.”
Toronto Blue Jays
This may be music to the ears of GM, Alex Anthopoulos who has put in a lot of effort to rid the clubhouse of players who were negatively impacting the environment. And, while it is difficult to say exactly who those Negative Nellys were, we can get a good sense given the list of players who went elsewhere. Gone are oft injured and even more often hyped up, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and his wonky back, Colby Rasmus and his strike outs. Casey Janssen, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Morrow and Juan Francisco have also departed. Now, it would be unfair to say that these are the guys who caused the “issues” in the locker room, but when the GM comes out and says that he is making a priority of cleaning house, you have to wonder.
To replace these guys, the Blue Jays have brought in the leadership of Russell Martin. It would be a rather difficult search to find someone who doesn’t extol the virtues of his leadership. He is touted as a cheerleader, an excellent example of how to carry oneself and a guy who makes his pitchers better. As well, the Blue Jays brought in Josh Donaldson who was considered a leader on the Oakland A’s and a top notch 3rd baseman to boot. Both of these guys bring experience and a style of play that Gibby loves.
"“First off, you admire the way they play the game,” Gibbons said. “They’re both hard-nosed guys. They play hard. They’re all-out all the time. Not everybody’s like that in the big leagues. That right there gets everybody’s attention. They’re the kind of guys everybody loves because of that.”"
Well, then. If we were to listen to John Gibbons, we would think that everything is rosy. Except, there are a couple situations that have to make you wonder. Let’s take the “Trade Dioner Navarro” saga. Ever since the club brought in Martin, it has been made very clear that Navarro was not cool with that. He’s asked for a trade. He even named some teams that would line up in a trade. He has since softened his stance and has become more outwardly accepting of his position and role on this team. However, can one really be OK with going into a contract year being relegated to the back seat? Time will tell, I suppose.
The other situation that could impact the clubhouse is the treatment of reliever Steve Delabar. He was recently optioned and was none too happy to be shipped to Buffalo. And, while it was previously believed that Delabar would be an arm of great importance to this bullpen, it would appear that he became a victim of the ‘options game’. However, his disappointment was put out there for everyone to see. Now, one could make the argument that his disappointment would be an issue for the clubhouse in Buffalo, but the hurt feelings spill over and will likely not been forgotten when he inevitably makes his way back to Toronto.
The other aspect of this is that the team has sent a clear message to its players. ‘We will do whatever we feel is necessary regardless of feelings.’ This has the potential to backfire dramatically. If this is the approach in 2015 and it does not result in winning, the Toronto Blue Jays will need every ounce of leadership and positivity from Martin, Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Mark Buehrle and others to get through this season. However, if everything works out and this team is winning, all could be swept under the rug. Nothing breeds positivity like a championship.