July 31, 2012
Blue Jays stay the course
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
SEATTLE - In the end there was no big fish landed by Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos as the trade deadline came and went.
While other clubs hauled in the big tuna such as Ryan Dempster and Zack Greinke, the Jays were content to reel in a couple of minnows in Pittsburgh’s Brad Lincoln and Seattle’s Steve Delabar.
Ten days ago, the Jays and Houston agreed on a 10-player deal that brought them reliever Brandon Lyon and starter-turned-reliever J.A. Happ.
No wow factor there, No signs of the Jays ‘going for it’ in the manner that other clubs jumped into the deep end of the pool.
Instead, Anthopoulos was content to solidify a bullpen for the rest of this season and next, one that had been torn apart by injuries and poor performances.
“The way we look at the trade deadline is it’s not so much about focusing on one area,” Anthopoulos started out. “There’s no doubt the bullpen for 2012 could be improved and even beyond that in 2013. I don’t think it’s any surprise when you look at the number of free agents we had in the bullpen before these trades. We were going to need to try to solidify that somehow and getting some guys with power arms and swing-and-miss stuff and a lot of years that are under control, it had a lot of appeal for us.
“Ultimately we had to go into an area of depth (outfield). You don’t necessarily want to trade the guys we did but you also understand that we were going to have give up value one way or the other.”
What the Jays went after in trade talks and what they could ultimately pull off and ended up with are two entirely different things. Anthopoulos said he went kicking tires on starting pitchers, including this season only rentals, but couldn’t find a fit.
“We were involved in a lot of things, starters, position players, anything that we felt could help our club,” Anthopoulos said. “It does get a little frantic I guess, especially when you get to today. Ideally you don’t want to have a lot of dialogue on the last day just because things seemed to get a little bit rushed.
“I think we had pretty healthy dialogue on a number of areas because obviously we still have a lot of areas we can improve on this club.”
Is he satisfied with what he accomplished or does he wished he could have done more?
“Until you win the World Series, I don’t think you should be satisfied,” he replied.
While the Jays are better in the bullpen, their rotation remains a potential weak point until Brandon Morrow returns later in the month and Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek next year.
As to who is the heir apparent in left field now that both Eric Thames and Travis Snider are gone, that isn’t clear.
“Right now I think it’s really open,” Anthopoulos said. “Anthony Gose has been up here for a little while Jose Bautista has been down. I don’t know that we’re ready to lock into anybody now. Obviously Gose is up here now and Raj (Rajai Davis) is on this team and we still have an option on him for next year. A guy like (Moises) Sierra is someone that we like as well. But again he’s behind the other two on the depth chart.
“We still feel we have some pretty good depth from an outfield standpoint.”
Still, the Jays are a better team with the bullpen additions than they were 10 days ago when the only arms that manager John Farrell could trust belonged to Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor.
“Again, we added two big league players to our bullpen (Lincoln and Delabar),” Anthopoulos said. “I think we improved our club because of where we’re positioned right now. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that at all.”
Jays fans may be disappointed in the no-name acquisitions but that isn’t a concern of Anthopoulos.
“We’re certainly not going to make a move for the sake of making a move or make a “splash” for the sake of doing that,” he said. “I think there’s plenty of opportunities to do those types of things in free agency in the winter.
“At the end of the day I think the fans understand that we’re ultimately doing what we think is best for the short and long-term of the club and I don’t think anybody wants us to make a bad deal.”
Time will be the ultimate judge of that.
Lincoln a long-shot starter with Jays
Newly acquired Brad Lincoln has made starts at the major league level with the Pirates but even though the Jays do not have a lot of depth in that department right now, they believe his role with the team will remain in the bullpen.
Even looking ahead to next season, the question of Lincoln being a candidate for a spot in the rotation would be a long shot.
“I don’t think we would ever rule it out because he has done it before but when we looked at him, the primary appeal is his ability to pitch late innings,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “A power arm with swing-and-miss stuff and that was really what he was acquired for. Obviously there is added value, or the upside, maybe one day he would potentially be able to start. Again, that wasn’t the primary focus when we acquired him. He was acquired to fill a late-inning relief role for us going forward.”
With both Jason Frasor and Brandon Lyon eligible for free agency this off-season, the odds are high that the Jays will want to retain Lincoln for the bullpen.
Delabar a great story
Steve Delabar’s route to the big leagues is so improbable that you’d think it had been scripted by a Hollywood screen writer.
After toiling in the minor leagues for years and getting nowhere, his career seemed to come to an end when he snapped his elbow in June of 2009. The surgery to mend his arm included a large metal plate and nine screws and after that he had no option but to retire from the game.
“As far as my professional baseball career, it was basically over,” the affable Delabar, who was acquired late Monday night in a trade with the Seattle Mariners said Tuesday. “There wasn’t much I could do at 26, 27 years old. ‘Hey guys, I’ve never been above high-A, do you want to give me a major-league job.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
In 2010 he became a substitute high school teacher and assistant baseball coach and decided to partake in a shoulder strengthening program that he was going to teach to the kids in the baseball academy where he was working.
“They are weighted balls. They look like baseballs but are different colours,” Delabar said. “It’s a weighted-baseball program built to strengthen the shoulder and also increase arm speed at the same time. I did the program because I was going to teach the program. With a broken elbow I didn’t know if I was going to play again. I just wanted to teach this program and help these kids at our academy and sure enough it helped me.
“I did this program on a whim and it just helped me out.”
Besides rehabbing his arm, Delabar built up velocity.
“Before I think I touched 94 and mostly I’d run 90, 92,” Delabar said. “Now I’m 94 to 97 and can even run it up high some days when it’s nice and warm out.”
With his rebuilt arm and recovered elbow, Delabar was signed by the Mariners as a minor-league free agent in April of 2011 and whizzed through their organization until he reached the big leagues last September.
“I ask my wife: ‘You thought last year was crazy and a wild ride.’ Now this year, we’ve gone to Japan, been sent down, back up. Now we’ve been traded mid-way through and who knows what’s going to happen the rest of the season. Hopefully it will be a playoff run and a chance for the World Series. It’s been an amazing ride.
“All I can say is it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Bullpen depth built back up
With the additions of Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar to go along with the earlier acquisitions of Brandon Lyon and J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays once again sport a bullpen that has both depth and quality.
It wasn’t the case for the past six weeks when manager John Farrell leaned heavily on the only arms he could trust in Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen. If Farrell was forced to go to his bullpen in the fifth or sixth, there were no arms that he could trust.
Now that gap has been filled in.
“There was a dropoff in terms of dependability and really major-league experience and consistency when we looked at three or four guys we’d go to in games we were either down a run or tied or ahead versus some others,” Farrell said of the position he was put in. “It probably, because of that limited group, caused overuse on Frasor’s part (he’s on the DL with forearm tightness) and unfortunately we’re all paying the price of his absence, but the additions have given us much more depth and the ability to keep games closer in those days when we’re maybe down a run or two, with the potential of scoring some runs late.”