Blue Jays boss aims highA sit down with Alex Anthopolous
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
|Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos laughs while watching players practice at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida on Feb. 16, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
DUNEDIN, Fla. — A question and answer with Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos 10 days before the start of the 2011 season, which opens April 1 with a game at home against the Minnesota Twins:
Q: How excited are you about the 2011 season?
A: “Because of the nature of the job, the same way if you’d asked me how worried would I be or how down would I be. I don’t think you’ll ever hear me say: ‘I’m incredibly excited’ because you have to keep an even keel. You’re dealing with human beings, injuries, health, performances, there’s things that make you scratch your head every year. So I just try to stay grounded with everything and not get caught up in anything.
“I know this sounds crazy, but I’d rather spend time worrying, even if things are going well. I still want to worry because that makes me feel like we’re not getting complacent and we’re always trying to think a step or two ahead. Once you start getting excited and you think that everything is great, that’s when something occurs. You just don’t want to take your foot off the gas pedal, that’s the best way to put it.
“Until you get to the point where you’re in the playoffs and you win the World Series, you should never be excited from my standpoint.”
Q: Okay, so if you look down the road, would you get excited about what kind of team you could have in 2015 when the Kyle Drabek’s and Brett Lawrie’s and Anthony Gose’s and other prospects have arrived?
A: “I have no idea. There’s no question that we have a lot of talented prospects but at the same time, I know that they’re not all going to pan out, not all going to get here. Some of them will get traded and the reality of the game, some will get hurt. I’m not big on having a window or saying: ‘This is the year.’ I’d like to just keep adding talent and focus on the now with a long-term view. I don’t like to get tied up with this year or that year because in a year or two in baseball, things change fast. The thing is to just try to keep adding talent and stick with our plan and the rest will take care of itself.”
Q: When will you make the final decisions for this year’s team? You have decisions to make on your starters and relievers — and for Canadian fans, what of Brett Lawrie?
A: “We still have time and we’re going to take as much time as we can. At some point, as we get deeper into camp, innings become more valuable, more important, at-bats become more important. You want to be able to buy yourself as much time as you can until you feel like your hand is forced and you have to do something. But right now, we don’t have a set date. Unfortunately, it really is a cliche and we take it day by day. Because some of the battles are so close, things change, it’s that close. Then there’s the health issues, what happens if somebody goes down. So we’re going to take as much time as we can.”
Q: Is the play and development of Lawrie been the biggest surprise of this year’s camp?
A: “I don’t think any of our staff (on field) really knew the player. The front office maybe a little bit more because we’ve been after him for more than a year. I wasn’t necessarily surprised as I didn’t know what to expect. I knew our scouts were very high on him and he was very talented and those things. I think the one thing that I was personally surprised at is how quickly he has adjusted to third base and how much improvement he has made. I’m blown away with how many adjustments that he’s made, how many strides he’s made defensively and how hard he has worked. I’d say the No. 1 thing for me with Brett is the person more than anything else. We did a lot of homework and various people told us he was a really good kid who maybe had some issues with maturity but overall we were getting a very good human being. We’ve seen someone who has been embraced by his teammates in the clubhouse. I think he feels like he’s finally found a home and he’s just been a total pro, the way that he’s carried himself and the way he’s conducted himself. That’s the No. 1 thing for me. I’m proud to have him as part of this organization. I’m proud that he wears the Blue Jays uniform. I don’t know that I could have told you that when we acquired him. And I’ll say this about him: Every day he’s getting better.”
Q: Has Kyle Drabek shown that he belongs in the rotation?
A: “He’s definitely making it a very interesting battle. He’s right there and he knows that. I think it’s close. I think for the last two rotation spots, the battle is really close. He’s been using his changeup and that’s something that we really stressed to him, that sure, you’re performance is part of it but it’s going to come down to more than stats. His continued use of his changeup (and just not a reliance on his fastball and curve) is part of it. Controlling his emotions on the mound is also something that we’ve talked to him at length about. Kyle has really made strides, he’s done all that we’ve asked of him. It’s going to be an interesting decision.”
Q: Was one of the worst things that happened to your team last year was having an 85-win season and raising the bar of expectations?
A: “I’ll never say that winning games is a bad thing and I wished we had won more. I don’t think so at all because one of the things that we focus on as an organization and we want to communicate to our players and the fans is what our plan is, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We realize that not everyone is going to agree but I don’t form our viewpoint that expectations have been raised or lowered. I think people are more excited about the team and if that means there are great expectations, that’s great because that means there is more interest in the team and belief in the talent on the field and the way we’re going about it. From our standpoint, its not a bad thing but I think everybody understands what we’re trying to do for the long term — build it from the foundation up, have players that are going to be here for a long time, get more athletes into the organization that are hard-nosed, high-energy players.”
Q: How long can you continue to sell hope and promise to the fans without delivering on the field?
A: “That’s a great question and I don’t know. You use the world ‘sell’ and to me the world ‘sell’ has a connotation of manipulating, masking what the truth is. To me, I think we’re as transparent as we can be. This is what we’re doing, this is why we’re doing it. At the same point we realize that the fans want us to win right now, myself included. The question that needs to be asked is that every year is the year and we want to get to the point that (winning) is the expectation. New York doesn’t go into the season saying: ‘This isn’t our year’ or Boston. It’s just expected every year that they will win. The challenge is getting up to that point where the team continues to improve.”