“I’m not happy,” said Anthopoulos, the general manager, “but then, I’m never happy.
“I’m not emotional, but I feel like I’ve been through so much since I’ve been here. A 10-game losing streak. A 10-game winning streak. A manager firing. A manager hiring. Star player traded. Manager feuds with players. I think I’ve seen it all at this point. So I’m not phased by any of it, I remain focussed on getting to where we have to go.”
His Blue Jays are one game under .500 in the AL East, which is something of an anomaly. For all that’s gone wrong this season, the record could be and probably should be a whole lot worse. Aside from the obvious, the Jays have some difficulty either offensively or defensively at second base, third base, left field and centre field. And almost half the starting rotation that Anthopoulos envisioned in spring training is pitching in Las Vegas. You get to 60% of the rotation if you include the disabled list.
“If you’d asked me in February, I would have expected Travis Snider to be in left field every day and I would have expected Brett Cecil to be a mainstay in the rotation and continue to pitch the way he did last year. I would have expected those two things,” he said.
“But you know what? If we’re that smart to know what everyone is going to do every way, we probably should be doing a more important job (than this).”
So where are Snider and Cecil at?
“When they were sent down, they took a long time to get going. Lately, each of them have shown flashes,” he said optimistically but realistically. “Snider, for the first time, is starting to have some success. When he was here, he didn’t drive the ball. We thought there was some fundamental things he had to change. We need him to drive the ball to the opposite field where his power is. Finally, in the last 4-5 games he’s driving the ball hard. He hit two balls off the left field wall the other night. Earlier, he wasn’t slugging, he had no extra base hits. You know something’s wrong when Snider has no power. But it seems like he’s on his way again.
“Two of Cecil’s last three starts have been outstanding. He’s hitting close to 93-94 in two of those starts. Now we need more than that. We need four of five starts to be good, seven of eight. He’s getting there, but it may take some time. We think he will still be that guy (in our rotation) but my opinion could change three months from now. That’s one thing you learn in the job. Nothing is definitive.”
The season began with questions and almost three months in, there are even more. Anthopoulos wanted to find out whether J.P. Arencibia could be his everyday catcher, whether Adam Lind and Aaron Hill would bounce back from dreadful seasons, whether his young starters would take a step forward or in his words, regress. And you begin to understand the difficulty of his position by examining those issues by themselves.
Arencibia has been comfortable and effective at the plate, less so behind it. Lind has bounced back wonderfully and is one of the really dangerous hitters in the American League. Hill has seemingly lost his power stroke and has struggled to find his old form. From the young starters, only Ricky Romero has pitched to expectation, if not beyond them.
“This is when it gets hard,” said Anthopoulos. “I told our (players) at spring training. The demolition is over. We’re continuing to build now. We’re not building something for one year. We’re building something we hope we can sustain.”
The time limit is an ever moving target. This was supposed to be the experimental year followed by a contending year. Anthopoulos isn’t so bold as to declare next season his time to contend. There have been too many moving parts in play already this season, too many disappointments and setbacks.
The next anticipated piece comes with the eventual arrival of Brett Lawrie, no matter what position he ends up playing. But he will arrive without outward expectations from Anthopoulos.
“I know that he’s 21,” he said. “I know that a lot of good players before him have been up and down. If he comes up and he’s great, terrific. But maybe it won’t be this year or next year. Maybe at 24 it all comes together for him. The thing is, you don’t know. I just never want to put any huge expectations on him.
“I know a lot of people are excited to see him. But remember, Alex Rodriguez won the MVP at shortstop for the Texas Rangers and was the best player in baseball and the team finished last. One player can’t make that kind of difference in baseball.
“Everybody says, you need a face of the franchise. I don’t want one. Who’s the face of the Philadelphia Phillies right now? Is it Roy Halladay? Is it Cole Hamels or Roy Oswalt, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, or Jimmy Rollins? The good teams, the great teams, it’s not one guy, it can’t be one guy.”
And as for Kyle Drabek, the demoted starting pitcher?
“I was talking to (manager) John Farrell about this the other day. He said Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz had to go down three times before they were ready in Boston. Kyle is 23. He’s never failed at any level. He was a first-round pick who dominated the minors and never got hit. Now he’s had a setback. I think Kyle Drabek is going to be really good. I just don’t know when. When you’re dealing with human beings and time frames, you can’t always answer for certain.”
Sounding a little like Bryan Colangelo, Anthopoulos said the Jays don’t have any bad contracts, have a pretty good group of prospects and have payroll flexibility. Translation: “Everything is moving forward,” he said. “It’s not a time line I look at. It’s not ‘11 or ‘12 or ‘13, it’s more compass based. Are we going in the right direction? I think the answer is yes. Now we have to stick our heads down, get the work done and at some point it will show itself.
“Did I call this a dream job?” he said, repeating part of the question in his answer. “I know it’s a dream job. The responsibility is huge. I understand that. But if my job ended tomorrow, I know this organization is in a healthy place. It’s in a good place right now.”