* CBN's Alexis Brudnicki explores the behind the scenes action when teams make roster moves. It keeps clubhouse managers plenty busy, and keeps players like Anthony Gose, who has been back and forth between Toronto and Buffalo, on their toes. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
There is a lot more than meets the eye.
When the Toronto Blue Jays make a roster move, something they have done a lot this season -- from promotions and demotions to using options, signing free agents and making trades, each transaction requires a lot of moving parts behind the scenes.
And no one knows better how the process works and exactly what is involved than the clubhouse managers.
“Everything around here has changed so much,” said Kevin Malloy, Toronto's clubhouse manager. “The moves are incredible.”
Malloy has been with the Blue Jays since 1982 and in his current role for the last 19 seasons. He can tell you exactly what a day is like at Rogers Centre when a roster change has been made.
“Are we at home or on the road?” Malloy asked. “Home, okay so the player is coming today. Say we make a trade as opposed to a call up…because if he’s on the 40-man roster, we have a uniform ready to go.”
“And if he’s not,” added Blue Jays equipment manager Jeff Ross, “then we have to assign him a number. Kevin will put the uniform letters together, the number and everything, and I’ll get his size from our master sheet. Then he’ll get the uniforms done here, locally, in-house.”
Ross is one of the few remaining charter employees of the Blue Jays, beginning his tenure with the team before its inception. The Montreal native doesn’t believe that this year is much different than those in the recent past in terms of transactions, but things have certainly changed during his time with the Blue Jays.
“We used to have about one transaction a month here seven or eight years ago, one or two a month,” Ross said. “Now we have one or two a week.”
Scott Lesher has been a clubhouse manager for 25 years, and is currently in his 12th season with the Buffalo Bisons, Toronto’s triple-A affiliate. This season, as the Bisons set a new franchise record for transactions (surpassing the previous mark by July), Lesher has felt a difference.
“There’s not much to compare [this year] to with all the moves,” he said. “It’s been off the charts, obviously. There’s been so much up and down and around, this has been an interesting year for everybody…It keeps you on your toes. You go home at night [and] I literally usually sleep with my phone in my hand. I can’t wait until September to be able to put it on the charger in the other room with the ringer off.”
While the Blue Jays have a lot of resources in-house to help them if a new player joins the club while they are playing at home, the same process is not quite as easy in Buffalo.
“We deal with a local company here, Adpro,” Lesher said. “They’re out by the airport. At this level, we don’t have an unbelievable stock of jerseys like the major-league level, so we’re taking names off, putting new names on.
“Aaron Sanchez left and he was No. 24 when he got called up. I believe Sergio Santos is No. 24 now, and that’s just the way it goes. We’re always changing them out. That’s the big headache of it – sometimes we’re on the road and I’ve got to run over there and next-day [deliver] a jersey. We try and pack jerseys of guys who have been up and down between double-A and triple-A, but that’s the challenge, and then finding a number. Sometimes guys are stuck in a higher number until we can figure things out.”
If the Blue Jays are at home, the process is quick and relatively painless.
“It will be done and ready within an hour at the most,” Malloy said. “Now, if it’s a trade and he’s coming from Cleveland or Milwaukee or wherever else, myself or Jeff will call the equipment manager with Cleveland or Milwaukee and we’ll get all his specs.”
Road trips are a little more complicated.
“If we’re on the road, we have the kits with the letters and numbers and extra blank uniforms of all sizes,” Ross said. “So if we get a player and he’s going to be here tomorrow on the road, once again we’ll find out his size and we’ll send a uniform out, because every clubhouse has access to someone who sews.
“We send the uniform out, they’ll duplicate the uniform, and then we’ll give him some stock pants. Down the road, we’ll order him custom stuff if need be.”
Every player’s uniform is unique to him, requiring quick fixes during a time crunch before orders can be received.
“Each guy is custom,” Malloy said. “Jerseys, for the most part, give or take, [Jose] Bautista, [Juan] Francisco, and a few of them, they’re either a 44 or 46 or 48, so that’s standard. The pants are all custom. Each one has their name in them and it will have the waist, it will have the body of the pants and what size that is, and the in-seam.
“So [for example] when we got [Danny] Valencia from Kansas City, Jeff will give him a pair of pants and it will be close to what he wants. Then Jeff will email Majestic, who makes the uniforms, and they’ll put his name in the pants and it will be exactly to the specs he wants, a 36 waist on a 39 body with a 34 in-seam.”
For players around the big leagues, all of the required measurements are readily available.
“That information comes from spring training,” Ross said. “The company Majestic comes into camp and measures everybody, regardless if we order him something or not. All that information is right in here [his computer], and unless he changes something, they have all the information.
“So if we call up and say, ‘Valencia, Kansas City, two pairs of pants, two jerseys,’ short pants, long pants whatever, they’ll fire it out.”
It’s a little different down on the farm.
“Our jerseys are already what size they are,” Lesher said. “No. 24 is an XL, No. 34 is a XXL, so that’s what it’s going to be. During the year, we try not to give away [certain] numbers, like Anthony Gose. I’ve kept his jersey because he’s been up and down five or six times now I think, so we want to hold onto them for guys like that, who have been here. But it becomes a challenge.”
Lines of communication are very important when it comes to the moves.
“Mike [Shaw, Toronto’s director of team travel and clubhouse operations] would tell us,” Malloy said. “The transaction would come out and an internal email would go out to the Blue Jays staff that Assistant General Manager Andrew Tinnish would probably send out. Mike quickly replies to that and he says, ‘Valencia is on such-and-such flight coming in from Chicago and he’ll arrive in Houston at four-thirty.’
“Mike will pass that on through an email…and that’s when we know he’s coming. If Jeff is on the road, he just tells the visiting clubhouse guy, ‘We’ve got a new guy coming, Valencia, you’ve had him here before and he’s going to wear 15.’ They assign him a locker.”
Lesher has been impressed by the information flow throughout the system.
“It’s a communication thing,” Buffalo’s clubhouse manager said. “It’s been something we’ve all learned as the process went on. Communication is the key and it’s off the charts with [director of minor league operations] Charlie Wilson, our trainer Voon [Chong], and Mike Shaw up there. As much notice as you can get, you get.”
But even with advanced notice, things can change rapidly for the Blue Jays. For example, Cole Gillespie and Nolan Reimold were added to the roster while the team was on the road, and both left the squad with injuries before returning to Rogers Centre.
“In our case here, because of the transactions we’ve had in the last two years, I’ll usually wait until the day [the team returns], if I’m not on the road trip. I’ll go about two or three times this year, so if Jeff’s not on the road, I’m on the road. But if I’m here in Toronto, I’ll wait until I come in to unpack…
“I’ll wait and then say to myself or to [Mustafa Hassan] my assistant, 'Reimold needs a locker, Valencia needs a locker, Dan Johnson is gone, [Chad] Jenkins is back,' and then we’ll go from there and move the lockers around.”
But who cleans out the lockers?
“It depends on where they are,” Malloy said. “Were they sent down or traded when we’re on the road? Esmil Rogers was sent down on the road. Some of the players, I don’t want to mention names, but some of the players know they’re going to get sent down and they’re just called up. One of the players two trips ago knew he was going to get sent down and he took everything with him. Everything was gone out of his locker.
“So Moose or I will clean out their lockers. If they’re gone, we put everything in the back and we’ll send it to them. We just sent out a ton of stuff for Erik Kratz the other day.”
The procedure is similar down the road at Coca-Cola Field.
“A lot of guys will pack what they need and leave stuff,” Lesher said. “In the front room I have a rack that has the guy’s name and all his stuff that he leaves behind – their red stuff, their pants, because we wear no stripe and they have piping up there and the guys will leave them because they’re good pants they had from the big leagues or something like that. We have a ton of stuff over there that guys have left here. They’ll take their Blue Jays stuff in their Blue Jays bag.
“Dan Johnson left two bags here and said, ‘If I don’t come back, in a perfect world, mail them to me at the end of the year.’ Anthony Gose has stuff littered everywhere. Erik Kratz, I’ve had his kids’ bikes since Day 1 because his stuff came here on the truck and he went to the big leagues last minute and he’s been up and down with his family.”
Sometimes the process has to wait until the player has been informed of his status.
“Coming down [from Toronto], we’ve got to get lockers set up,” Lesher said. “If it’s a new guy, I don’t know, like they had just got [Brad] Mills and they hadn’t had him before. You’ve got to figure out sizes and all that stuff. Setting them up is the big thing.
“This year we’ve had times when the transactions don’t run current and we’ve got to tell a guy when he shows up and they might have already sent a guy. So even if I know a guy is leaving, maybe even to go to the big leagues or double-A, I can’t take his locker until he comes in and is told, or when they call him and let him know. Sometimes we’re locker scrambling because we’re kind of at the max out there.”
Beyond the uniforms and the lockers, there’s also the matter of undershirts, shorts, socks, belts, jackets, hats, and all the other pieces to the puzzle that provide a certain degree of difficulty. And they're always made harder if the team is on the road.
“We pack a road trunk,” Lesher said. “Hats, obviously, that’s a big thing with all the different sizes and trying to make sure you have enough. We definitely pack a huge trunk with hats and shorts and t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, and earlier in the year heavier jackets and socks.
“We wear red underneath, so these guys coming from Toronto have all got their blue. That’s created a bit of a challenge over the last couple years. We have to make sure we pack everything red and have what they need, otherwise it gives them an excuse to wear blue.”
When the Blue Jays are at home in Toronto, clothes and sizes are, of course, easier to work out.
“The hardest part is that if you’ve got a guy coming in on the road, especially,” Malloy said. “It’s a lot more difficult on the road because we’re living out of four or five little trunks as opposed to being able to just go in the back room.
“’This isn’t what you want? You want the short sleeve, you want the three-quarters, you want the heavy, or you think you’re a large? You’re not sure? You’re an XL?’ Then, by the way, he needs to get to the field. This happened to me in Kansas City earlier this year. They want to be on the field in 10 minutes and they want to make sure they have the right stuff.”
Added Ross: “The guy shows up and he’ll have black shoes. We don’t carry blue shoes so now we’ve got to call Nike and next-day [deliver] something or borrow somebody’s so he has the proper shoes.”
Some players are more particular about it than others.
“When [Cole] Gillespie came up in Oakland, he used a pair of Adam Lind’s shoes,” Malloy said. “[Nolan] Reimold wore his other shoes one day, which are black and white, from Baltimore. He didn’t have any. We do the best we can.
“I remember one time years ago, we made a big trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. [Toronto] got John Frascatore and Tony Batista. Frascatore, right-handed pitcher, tells me he’s only got black shoes and he needs a size 10 with a right pitching toe. So I said, ‘Okay, John, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll get it close, but I’m not saying it’s going to be a pitcher’s shoe.’ But he was adamant. Eventually I got him [the shoes] so that was fine.
“I kept looking because Tony Batista wanted a size nine-and-a-half and I said, ‘Tony, I’ll see what I can do.’ I kept looking and looking and asked around and he said, ‘No, no I’m fine, I got a pair.’ Well, I found out after the game he wore a shoe that was a size 12. It was two-and-a-half sizes too big. It was like clown feet.”
Added Ross: “That’s because when you’re in the Dominican, they have no money, they’re poor, and if anybody gives you a pair of shoes, if they’re too small or too big, you’re wearing them. So he was just used to it.”
Jerseys can be a problem in a different way.
“The worst-case scenario, and it happens, not as much today as it did maybe 15 or 20 years ago, is you go on the road, someone gets hurt at night and they say, ‘We’re going to call somebody up,’” Ross said. “You find out the next day, it’s a day game, and Joe Blow is getting called up. Well, he’s not on the 40-man or we don’t have a backup jersey for him.
“So the guy shows up and you don’t have the resources to get it sewn at that time of day, on the weekend, and you give the guy another jersey with someone else’s name. I used to make up [jerseys] with just numbers and no name. So, here you go, you’re No. 7 today and you’ve got no name. Or, one time the guy wore someone else’s uniform.”
That guy was Darren O’Day. In April of 2009, he was designated for assignment by the New York Mets and claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers. The day he joined his new club, the team was in Toronto. He landed in Ontario’s capital with the game in the eighth inning, and instead of going to his hotel, he was told to head to the field. No one was prepared for that.
“Here’s what happened,” Ross said. “They got the guy, he’s flying in to Toronto that night and the GM is on the road and he says to the equipment guy, ‘He’s not coming to the ballpark, we’ll get him tomorrow.’ So the equipment guy says to Lenny [Frejlich, visiting clubhouse manager], 'we’re going to get this guy made up, but it doesn’t have to be a rush tonight, as long as we have it ready for tomorrow.'
“Well, what happens? The game goes long, into extra innings. Now the guy is headed to the hotel and now they need a pitcher. They bring him over and he’s got no jersey. So they give him someone else’s.”
O’Day wore Kason Gabbard’s jersey, a pitcher who was in triple-A for the Rangers that night. It brought about confusion immediately, since the current Baltimore Orioles' reliever is a right-hander and Gabbard is a southpaw.
But that wasn’t as bad as the Joe Carter incident.
“We got burned a few years ago,” Malloy said. “I don’t mean just the back, where it says ‘Encarnacion’ and ‘Bautista’…if you do a Google search on this, you can see it, we got burned with a Joe Carter [jersey], it said ‘Torotno’ on the front.”
Added Ross: “What happened with Joe was something happened to his uniform top that day. I forget what it was, but it got rained on or he tore it, and he came in between innings and he said ‘I need a uniform.’ So we go in the trunk, pull it out, [look], Carter, 29, there you go. He goes out there and it was misspelled.”
As Malloy knocked on wood, he noted that the jerseys have all been accurate this season, somewhat remarkable considering the changes and moves. In all likelihood, the increase over the last couple of years might have something to do with the fact that the triple-A affiliate is now just down the highway in New York state, no longer in Las Vegas where it had been previously.
“Thank goodness it’s not Las Vegas for triple-A,” Ross said.
Being so close makes it easier to move players up and down, but driving across the border can present its own set of problems.
“Playing for Toronto, they all have their passports,” Lesher said. “Voon, our trainer here, arranges it with Mike Shaw up in Toronto a lot of times…our car service guy knows the drill better than me, the guys who have to go to customs and get a work visa, if it’s their first time or after so many times.
“We had one guy who went past [customs] and didn’t realize that he went too far and they had to call him and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to stop.’”
The trip to the big leagues is certainly easier. The Bisons use local car service TLC, and driver Don McKnight for the most part, and because they’ve been able to provide so much business, the team’s secondary service is Buffalo Limousine.
“With guys like [Anthony] Gose and [Chad] Jenkins, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lesher said. “I’ve never seen them so many times and back and back. If they keep calling you up, it’s a good thing, and when they keep sending you back it’s a numbers game, but as long as they keep calling you up it’s good.”
Malloy thought back to the last couple of seasons Toronto was affiliated with the Las Vegas 51s and said, “Think of the miles Mike McCoy put on,” referring to the Blue Jays' resident position-filler.
McCoy’s experience was not dissimilar to the number of trips Chad Jenkins has taken this year.
“Me and my suitcase are best friends,” Jenkins said. “It holds my entire life, and it’s got quite a few miles underneath it. It’s tough. It’s a new place probably once a month, I find myself somewhere.”
Added Malloy: “I was joking with Chad the other day about this, about how many lockers he’s had in this room this year, or the last two years. I’m being dead serious. In the last two years, I’m guessing Chad has used six or seven different lockers in there.
“He’s in [Steve] Delabar’s locker right now, and I just said to him the other day, ‘Chad, what locker in here have you not been in?’ So, that’s a part of the whole thing…people understand [Jose] Bautista and get that, but [guys like] Jenkins, [it’s hard] to appreciate the roller coaster ride that he’s on and living out of a suitcase.”
Jenkins had a tougher time with the movement last season. This year, it seems as though he has just strapped himself in for the ride.
“Last year I got bit by it, I guess you could say,” the right-handed reliever said. “They told me I’d come back up in 10 days and then I was here [in Buffalo] for a month-and-a-half. That one hurt. For me now, it’s just wherever I’m at I try to enjoy it. That makes life easier. I’m over trying to figure out who’s going where and when it’s going to happen. I gave up on that pipe dream years ago.”
Jenkins was one of a select few players on the Blue Jays roster this year with options, allowing Toronto to move him between levels without the threat of losing him to another club or having to trade, waive or release him. Before Erik Kratz was traded to the Kansas City Royals in July, he was in the same boat.
“It’s less than ideal,” Kratz said. “It’s hard too, because last year [in the Phillies organization] I had options and didn’t move up and down. I had pretty much a similar type of year, similar type of numbers, and then you get traded for. Part of the value of being traded for was because I had options, but I had a whole year where it didn’t really matter. This year it came into play and now they’ve really used it.”
Husband to Sarah and father of seven- and five-year-old boys and a 22-month old daughter, the most straining part of the season so far for Kratz has been the logistics of moving an entire family back and forth across the border between their apartment in Buffalo and their apartment in Toronto.
From the outside, roster changes seem simple – one name moves up, one moves down, or perhaps laterally – but there is so much more that needs to be done.
“It’s more than just the uniforms now, what goes on behind the scenes for him and his family,” Malloy said. “Between Mike, [the front office] upstairs, and Jeff and myself and the trainers, it’s incredible. There are a lot of moving parts.”
-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis