February 26, 2008
Great battle brews in left field
By JODY VANCE -- Sun Media
Typically, one would not expect stiff competition during an intra-squad game at the Blue Jays' Bobby Mattick Training Facility in Dunedin, Fla.
As always, these games are fun to watch -- we get to take a look at the kids in the system as they attempt to impress.
This spring, however, it's not just prospects and minor leaguers competing for jobs, this spring the competition on field is even a bigger deal.
Thanks to the Jays' signing of Shannon Stewart this week, we have big-name players doing battle for jobs and that equals some serious fun for fans here in Florida.
Spring training is always about guys gunning for gigs, but things change tone when there are bona fide baseball stars competing for a job.
Shannon Stewart wants a piece of the pie that has been shared by Reed Johnson, Matt Stairs and Adam Lind over the past two seasons.
Stairs and Lind are happy to share the load but, for the ultra-competitive Johnson, even at just five-foot-10, he wants to be the mainstay in that position.
The showdown between Stewart and Johnson will be a gentlemen's competition -- let the best man win.
Both have something to prove to manager John Gibbons and general manager J.P. Ricciardi this spring.
In the case of Stewart, who played last season in Oakland, he has seen a decline in his play and subsequently his paycheque over the past three seasons. Falling from US $6.5 million in 2006 with the Twins to just US$1 million (US) with Oakland, the change speaks volumes. Last winter, Ricciardi offered Stewart a one-year deal that he turned down, as he was holding out for two.
Now Stewart is a Jay with no contract and a mountain to climb as he will have to play his way to a deal with Toronto.
Johnson wants to be standing at the summit of that mountain ready to defend. Johnson and his newly inked one-year US$3.275 million contract will do everything he can to keep the returning Jay at bay.
Deals, dollars and turf at stake we aren't even into playing pre-season games yet and the competition is heating up.
-- Jody Vance is a sportscaster and personality with Leafs TV. Her columns appear Tuesdays and Thursdays in 24 hours.