Tag: Canada

Toronto Blue Jays Looking to Rebound Following a Season of Disappointment

A little more than a year has passed since the Toronto Blue Jays shocked the baseball world and captured the hearts of Canadians nationwide, following two huge trades and the free-agency signing of outfielder Melky Cabrera.

The moves made by general manager Alex Anthopoulos made the Blue Jays fan base forget all about the departure of manager John Farrell to the Boston Red Sox.

Rather, the fans began expecting to watch the team compete in the postseason for the first time since 1993, when it won the second of its back-to-back World Series titles.

To say that the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays underperformed following their offseason makeover would be an understatement. The team won just 10 of its 27 games in April and despite winning 11 consecutive games in June, was never in contention during the latter half of the season, finishing seventeen-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot.

To add salt in the wound, the Boston Red Sox, led by Farrell, clinched the division and went on to win the World Series.

Fast-forwarding to the 2014 offseason, there is considerably less hype going into the season than there was last year, when Las Vegas experts had declared the Blue Jays the odds-on favorites to win the World Series.

There are no such predictions this year from neither the experts nor the fans. Anthopoulos, too, has stayed quiet on the trade and free-agency fronts, with his only notable move being the signing of catcher Dioner Navarro.

While it may be easy write off the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays before the season even starts, fans should do well to remember that the returning roster consists of mainly the same pieces that had the baseball world raving last year.

The only two notable departures from the team are catcher J.P. Arencibia and pitcher Josh Johnson. Arencibia, with a batting average of .194 and an on-base percentage of .227 was arguably the worst hitter on the team. Johnson, meanwhile, only made 16 starts last year, in an injury plagued season and compiled a team high 6.20 ERA. Because of their sub-par performance, the departure of these two may even turn out to be an “addition by subtraction” scenario.

While many of the players no doubt underperformed, injuries also played a huge role in the 2013 Blue Jays’ struggles. Aside from the aforementioned Johnson, starting pitchers Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ both spent a significant amount of time on the DL. Ace R.A. Dickey pitched a large part of the season with a lingering back injury that sapped the velocity from his knuckleball and led to some sub-par numbers.

Players from the starting lineup such as Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera all spent time on the DL with various injuries. These injuries forced the team to rely upon bench players and minor league call-ups for a large part of the season.

Based on the roster the Blue Jays still have, the team should see much better results if the regulars can avoid the DL for the most part in 2014.

The team’s lineup still boasts formidable names up the middle in all-stars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Leadoff hitter Jose Reyes is still one of the best table-setters in the game. Colby Rasmus quietly had a breakout season last year and will look to continue that success in a contract year. Melky Cabrera is also an impending free agent following the 2014 season and will be playing for his next contract.

It’s worth noting that even with all the injuries in 2013, the Blue Jays offence still finished eighth in the American League in runs scored, fourth in home runs and sixth in stolen bases. This is still a potent offence and playing half its games in the very hitter-friendly Rogers Centre only adds to that.

The bullpen, led by closer Casey Janssen, was the team’s major strength last year and sent two relievers to the All-Star game. As the starting pitching faltered, the bullpen was overworked and ended up second in the AL in innings pitched. Despite logging so many innings, the bullpen still put up the fourth lowest ERA in the AL.

The starting pitching remains the team’s major weakness, and the one area holding the team back from being counted as a contender. Aside from Dickey and Mark Buehrle, who were solid though unspectacular last year, Morrow and Happ are both being counted on to have bounce-back years following their injury plagued 2013 seasons. The fifth starter in the rotation is still a question mark, but this is something Anthopoulos is aware of and trying to address.

“We’re always looking to add. Anyone wants to add a frontline starter each year. We just want to improve the rotation.” He told MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm in an interview in December.

Adding another frontline starter into the rotation would go a long way towards replacing the departed Johnson and giving the club a chance to compete. Free agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez would be prime targets for the team to go after. It’s also worth noting that while both Santana and Jimenez are linked to draft pick compensation, the Blue Jays have both of their first round picks protected in the upcoming 2014 MLB draft and would only lose their second round pick if they sign either free agent. The club also has highly touted prospects such as Marcus Stroman who could challenge for a spot on the rotation.

Provided that its stars stay healthy and its starting pitching can be improved, this team still has the pieces to be a force in the American League and rebound from a disastrous 2013 season.

*All statistics are from baseball-reference.com

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Oil Can Boyd Opens Up About 1986, Bobby V., and How He Really Got His Nickname

It’s been 20 years since Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd pitched in the big leagues, but he can still bring some heat when it comes to conversation.

I met up with Boyd for a book signing at New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, Mass., last weekend, and then stayed after for a few hours to talk with one of my all-time favorite Red Sox pitchers. His book, They Call Me Oil Can (written with Mike Shalin) is a no-holds-barred, colorful look at his career and life, and he’s just as open—and outspoken—in person as in print.

From our chat, here are the Can’s reflections on…

How he got his nickname: “Everybody says it’s because I drank a lot of beer and they called beer “oil” down in Mississippi, but that’s not true. It was rot-gut whiskey. Everybody in Meridian, where I grew up, drank it. You got it from a lady up the street named Big Mama, who was the neighborhood moonshiner. I used to go up to her house and fetch it for my mother, sneaking it into our house under my shirt so my father wouldn’t see it.”

“When I was seven, I started drinking some myself. One day somebody caught us in a tin shed drinking Big Mama’s whiskey out of oil cans, so my friend Pap started calling me “Oil Can.” I wrote it under the bill of my baseball cap, and my high school teammates started calling me that too. It stuck.”

Bobby Valentine: “I played for Bobby in Texas, and he’s a good guy. He’s open and will talk straight to you. He could be temperamental, sure, but he’s a very, very smart baseball man. He knows games and respects players, but he’s the skipper. Ballplayers shouldn’t be telling him what to do.”

“Your job as a player is to hit the ball or catch the ball; he manages and you play. When you make up all kinds of distractions, this is what happens—the team can’t win. They got the talent, but they never listened to the man.

Wade Boggs (who Boyd claims often directed racial slurs at him when they were teammates): “He’s a bigot; it’s ingrained in his family history. Coming from Central Florida, that’s just what you grow up hearing and learning. He was protected by baseball then, and nobody will say anything against him now. The Red Sox don’t invite me to anything that Wade is going to be at because they know I’ll kick his ass. He wasn’t at the 100th anniversary celebration, right? I was—so there you go.”

The summer of 1986 (when he was suspended for 21 games after briefly quitting the team following an All-Star snub, but still went 16-10 to help the Red Sox win the pennant): “Being a young ballplayer, with money in your pocket, makes you very vulnerable. There were a lot of distractions and a lot of ways to get into trouble. I found them. It was my fault, sure, but I felt there was nobody I could talk to about it.”

“Still, people looked out for me; I lived in Chelsea, and sometimes I’d be out late at night and the police would come and say, ‘C’mon, Oil Can, you don’t want to be messing around here, you can get shot or killed,’ and they would give me an escort home.”

“While I was suspended I hurt my arm in a tussle with some cops; they thought I was getting drugs from a guy and really roughed me up good. I would ice my arm every day, but it always hurt. I could hear a clicking in it. But still I kept pitching, winning the [AL East] clincher against the Blue Jays and through the playoffs and World Series. I didn’t tell anybody about the pain.”

On not starting Game 7 of the ’86 World Series, when, after a rainout, manager John McNamara decided to go with Bruce Hurst and skip over Boyd: “When it came time for Game 7, and he [McNamara] told me I wasn’t starting, I didn’t know what to say. I just ran off and cried. They used the rain as an excuse, and said Bruce had the hot hand, but I felt that circumstances during the season led to that decision. They put their personal feelings about me ahead of the team. They were not going to take a chance on my going out there and winning the World Series after everything that went on.”

[Hurst, who had already won twice in the Series, pitched six innings and left with the game tied 3-3. Boston relievers broke down, however, and the Mets won, 8-5. Boyd never got into the contest.]

How he stayed focused on the mound: “I smoked dope—every day. I started when I was 12 and never hid it. I was such a thinker, my mind was never idle, but when I smoked I got locked in. I was so focused, I couldn’t hear anything else on the field. I became creative, like an artist doing a painting. A little blue here, a little red there; a curve ball here, a slider there. It got to the point where [first baseman] Billy Buckner would come over and say, ‘Are you high?’ If I wasn’t, he’d say go get him some.”

Boyd was clearly upset as he talked about how things went after ’86, when a blood disorder required him to inject a needle with blood thinners into his stomach every day. He was on the disabled list much of the time, and after 1989 signed with the Expos as a free agent.

He rebounded to pitch nearly 200 innings each of the next two seasons—often very effectively—but after a trade to Texas and a late-season slump in 1991 was unable to find another big league job at age 31.

Oil Can felt he had been blackballed, and I realized he had a lot in common with another great free-spirited Red Sox who could pitch and talk up a storm: Bill “Spaceman” Lee.

Both men liked their weed, both men were passionate, personable ballplayers embraced by teammates and fans, and both had their careers in Boston end on a down note before a brief resurgence in Montreal. Both felt the baseball establishment kept them from staying on in the majors, and they had two of the greatest—and most famous—nicknames in big league history.

The Can seems at peace with himself these days. After a decade where he said anger over his shortish MLB career forced an estrangement from his wife and two kids, along with a bad cocaine habit, he’s quit hard drugs and is back with his family and running the Oil Can Boyd School of Baseball in Providence, Rhode Island.

He does some private coaching with high school teams as well, along with an occasional event for the Jimmy Fund or other charity. And while he rarely gets to Fenway, he was back for the 100th anniversary celebration in April and got a terrific hand from the crowd when introduced. That meant a lot to him.

“I fight every day not to go out and get drugs, but it’s a private fight,” he told me. “I don’t call it being clean, I call it being tolerant. I stay healthy, and I’m on a baseball field seven days a week. That’s where I feel the most comfortable.”

That’s one more thing he and the Spaceman have in common: Both are still pitching. Lee has hurled in a variety of leagues through the years, and this summer, at age 65, became the oldest man in history to win a professional game when he went all nine innings for his hometown San Rafael Pacifics of the North American League in a 9-4 victory over Maui.

Boyd, who moved back to New England just in time for the wonderful Red Sox summer of 2004, now lives in Providence and pitches with teams in two divisions of the Men’s Senior Baseball League—one for age 35-and-up, the other for 48-and-up. He’s still lean and spry a few weeks short of his 53rd birthday, and says he plays shortstop when not on the mound.

“I gotta go work out, I’m pitching tomorrow,” he told me with a smile as he left the Mobile Book Fair. I thanked him for the time, and all the joy he gave Red Sox fans back in the mid-’80s. It was fun to watch him then, and fun to talk to him now.  


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at saulwizz@gmail.com and @saulwizz. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Catcher Jeff Mathis to 2-Year Extension

According to CBSSports, the Toronto Blue Jays have signed veteran catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year extension worth $3 million with a $1.5 million club option through 2015. 

Mathis, 29, had spent the majority of his career with the Los Angeles Angels before being sent to Toronto in 2012. In his career he’s batting .196/.256/.312, but he hasn’t been in MLB for eight years for his bat.

Mathis has been key behind the plate for the Blue Jays this season ever since the injury suffered by J.P. Arencibia, maintaining a .997 fielding percentage to go along with an A.L.-leading 39 percent rate of throwing out potential base stealers. 

With the signing, Toronto has opened the door for discussion about the starting job behind the dish in 2013.

With highly touted prospect Travis d’Arnaud on the verge of cracking the big club’s roster, much is to be said about whether he or Arencibia will be traded this offseason for potential pitching help. 

Arencibia is batting .242/.279/.466 in 2012, but is currently on the disabled list recovering from a fractured hand.  

Coming into 2012, d’Arnaud was the Jays’ No. 1 prospect, and he hasn’t disappointed, batting .333/.380/.595 for Triple-A Las Vegas. He was ranked 19th on MLB’s preseason prospects list.

This offseason just got a little more interesting for Toronto, a team who is hoping to put together a championship caliber team in the very near future. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

O Canada! The Top 10 Active Canadian-Born Major Leaguers

Happy Canada Day to all!

For most Americans, Canada is the wilderness to our north, a place of moose and mounties. But in more recent times, Canada has also been a hotbed of baseball talent, giving us a Hall of Famer pitcher in Ferguson Jenkins and some great sluggers, like Larry Walker.

Today, Canadian ballplayers are some of the headliners on MVP ballots, Cy Young races, and could one day see Hall of Fame consideration. Who is the most talented Canadian major leaguer today? Here are the top 10.

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