Within the next few days, it’s expected that MLB and the MLBPA will announce that a second playoff wild-card team will be instituted for this coming season.
The tentative schedule has the two wild-card teams in a one-game play-in on the day after the end of the regular schedule for the right to play the No. 1 seeded division winner in the best-of-five Division Series.
“I think it’s great for baseball and I hope it comes into play this year,” said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. “Any time you increase opportunity and potential late in the season, it’s going to keep the divisional and league races going deeper into the month of September. Hopefully we’re in the mix to win one of those five spots.
Terry Francona was standing in the middle of the Blue Jays clubhouse just past 8 a.m. Thursday, when John Farrell came through the door.
At first Farrell didn’t see his friend and former boss with the Red Sox. Then Francona pointed at his watch and called out across the room: “Hey, don’t keep the media waiting.”
Deposed as Boston manager after last September’s colossal collapse, Francona is now an ESPN baseball analyst and looking like the weight of the free world has been lifted from his shoulders. He’s making the tour of baseball camps but won’t be making it to the Red Sox camp in Fort Myers.
“That would be just too weird,” he said. “I’ve got them on opening night and that’s going to be enough of a circus.”
Once Thursday’s workouts started, Farrell had a few moments to chat with his old pitching coach.
“It’s always good to see him, good to catch up,” Farrell said. “He seems to be enjoying what he’s doing. Most importantly, it’s nice to see him around the game, involved. He’s always had a great outlook.”
Francona explained that while he left the Red Sox kicking and screaming, the more time he’s out of the pressure-cooker, the more he realizes how good it’s been for him to step away.
“When you’re in the middle of it, you’re not able to see what it’s doing to you,” he said.
Farrell said Francona’s people skills have shaped his own approach to managing the Blue Jays.
“Seeing the way he dealt with 25 individuals and all the situations that arose in that city, in that ball park, in that media swirl, he’s very adept at handling the many different challenges that were thrown his way,” Farrell said.
How successfully Colby Rasmus is at bouncing back after his struggles of last season will dictate where he bats in the Blue Jays lineup.
“When he’s at his best, he’s a guy who has hit in that 5-6-7 slot,” said manager John Farrell. “We’re fortunate that we have a lot of flexibility with our lineup. We have the ability to stack some left-handers against certain right-handers, he could find himself in the middle of the order somewhere if he’s in one of those hot trends.
“I don’t want to pigeon-hole him into one spot. We have a good complement of left-right throughout the lineup. He’s a guy with the ability to be aggressive on the basepaths and he can hit the ball out of the ball park.
“But I think more importantly is his mindset coming in here, being comfortable and that setting the stage for his ability to play out more consistently.
Omar Vizquel has received no promises from the Blue Jays, but the more you see of him around camp and the more you listen to the team brass talk about him, if he can play at all, he’ll win the job as utility infielder.
“We have to see him work within the speed of the game,” said manager John Farrell of Vizquel, 44.
“In his prime, I don’t know if there was an infielder with a more accurate internal clock, able to judge the speed of the runner and the pace of that ground ball, getting the right hop, making the throw. I don’t think those instincts have gone away.”
The intangible benefits of having one of the premier Latin stars of the past two decades in the clubhouse are significant.
“There’s a lot of value in that,” Farrell said. “Look at the last three places he’s been: Texas, with (Elvis) Andrus, Chicago with (Alexei) Ramirez, now here with (Yunel) Escobar. There is a reason for that. We’re hoping for him to impart those same intangibles and knowledge.”
Ever since Marc Rzepczynski went to St. Louis in the Colby Rasmus deal at the trade deadline last year, the Jays have lacked that situational left-hander that is so important in the American League East.
“It was on the priority list of things to do, particularly with the lineups in our division,” John Farrell said.
That priority was filled when they signed 41-year-old Darren Oliver, who has been money in that role for the last six years of his long career.
“We need him to matchup against (Robinson) Cano and (Adrian) Gonzalez, and to turn (Ben) Zobrist around. A left-hander that late in the game, with the success he’s had ... I know when we signed him I felt we got better immediately.”
Farrell also has his eye on lefty Evan Crawford as lefty depth in the organization. Crawford, an eighth-round draft in 2008, pitched at New Hampshire last year.
“He’s left-hander who has got good stuff, a left-hander with average velocity and an above-average breaking ball,” said Farrell. “In our division, those guys are going to be needed. That’s not to overlook Luis Perez by any means, but we need multiple lefties in our pen.”
BLUE JAYS MOUND ASSIGNMENTS
Friday — Noon Intrasquad game (6 innings)
Team Blue: Ricky Romero, Jason Frasor, Rick VandenHurk, Robert Coello, Chad Jenkins
Team Gray: Brandon Morrow, Nelson Figueroa, Drew Hutchison, Evan Crawford, Deck McGuire
Saturday v Pirates: Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Jerry Gil, Jim Hoey, Danny Farquhar, Luis Perez, Ryan Tepera, Joel Carreno, Scott Richmond
Sunday at Pittsburgh (Bradenton): Henderson Alvarez, Aaron Laffey, Chad Beck, Jesse Chavez, Francisco Cordero, Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver
Monday at Detroit (Lakeland): Drew Hutchison, Robert Coello, Evan Crawford, Nelson Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Jerry Gil, Jim Hoey, Drew Carpenter