By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Toronto Blue Jays vice-president of baseball operations Ben Cherington announced on Friday that the Blue Jays were extending their triple-A affiliation with the Buffalo Bisons through the 2020 season.
Canadian Baseball Network writer Alexis Brudnicki was in Buffalo for the announcement and shares this transcript from a media scrum with Cherington:
Cherington: Obviously here today, we’ve announced an extension for our relationship with Buffalo through 2020 and we’re very excited about that. This is an important relationship for us. Our mission with the Blue Jays is to bring the World Series back to Canada and we know that the only way that’s going to happen is by continuing to develop young players and bring them through the system to create a core, and that’s starting to happen we think. And we need to continue that, and Buffalo is a very important part of that mission for us and it’s obviously the finishing level for that and so the combination of the triple-A level being critical to that mission, proximity to Toronto obviously, and then most importantly, the people here led by Mr. and Mrs. Rich [the owner/president, and president of Rich Entertainment group, respectively] and Jon Dandes [president off Rich Baseball Operations] and Mike Buczkowski [VP of Rich Baseball Ops and Bisons GM] and the entire Buffalo family. There is no other place we’d want to be for triple-A, so we’re happy about this and excited to be here for longer, and we hope we’re here for a long time and we hope we can share with Buffalo in our success moving forward.
Q: Aside from geography, what else makes this place a good fit for development?
Cherington: I think it’s the people more than anything. It’s the people here who care about baseball, who care about Buffalo, and who care about being part of something special. So I think we feel like, we can talk about facility and location, those things are important, but what’s most important are the people inside those facilities and at those locations, so that’s, when we think about the relationship, that’s what we think about. We think about the people more than we do anything else. But on top of that obviously the proximity is important to us. There is a competitive advantage to being so close to your triple-A affiliate, so that was important. But it’s the people that stand out more than anything.
Q: What can be done to make it even better for both sides?
Cherington: Just get better every day. That’s something we talk about. It sounds simple but within baseball operations and in particular, player development, you know it’s almost, we almost make fun of each other for saying that all the time. Let’s just get better today. Let’s get better every day. So we’re just finding opportunities to get better every day. Our responsibility to that is helping our players and our staff by creating the best environment possible, by finding the best coaching resources, the best development resources, finding the best health and training resources, etc., so that our players have the best possible chance to improve their skills, develop as people, as players, so that ultimately they’re in a position to lead our team in Toronto. And if we’re doing that, then the Bisons are going to benefit from that along the way. So that’s what our focus is, and I think we know how much this team means, and this city means, to Bob and Mindy [Rich], to John, to Mike, and so we have a shared passion there about how much we care about, not just baseball but this place and we want to be a part of that with them, just as we want them to be a part of our mission in Toronto.
Q: Every executive of the Jays is going to get asked this every day but with Vladdy being so dominant in double-A, what will it take for him to move, whether it’s to here or Toronto?
Cherington: I think he came into the year with a set of priority goals, and he’s working hard towards those goals. His performance on the field, as you said, certainly offensively, has been really good, really strong. He’s an exceptionally talented young man. What we’re most proud of that with him, and of him, is how much, how hard he’s working on his defence, how much it matters to him to be a great teammate, and how much he wants to lead, to be part of a championship team, whether that’s in New Hampshire, Buffalo or ultimately in Toronto. So we have an opportunity while he’s in the minor leagues to work with him on those things. We know that he’s not going to be in the minor leagues forever. To some extent, the decision about moving, whether it’s to Buffalo or eventually to Toronto, some of that will be on him but he could push the force the issue at some point, and then some of it will be up to the collective opinion of the staff working with him today in New Hampshire, other people that have a hand in New Hampshire, people in the front office, people with different perspectives or history, whether it’s Mark or Ross, and history with young players that were in Cleveland and people that they’ve been around, and then just pool all that input and try to make the best decision. But Vladdy certainly has been doing his part and we’re really excited about it.
Q: Can there be a point of diminishing return if a guy is so dominant at a level even though he’s only 19?
Cherington: We want our guys to be challenged, so if we felt at some point in total, he wasn’t being challenged by a level then you’d have to start thinking about that. We haven’t gotten to that point, because even though as I said, obviously the offensive performance has been really strong, and that’s not surprising to us, there are other parts of his game that he’s really working hard at and we still feel like that that’s a level that can challenge him and it’s appropriate, but we’ll see. These things work themselves out and it would certainly be our responsibility to Vlad, and also to the Blue Jays, to make sure that we are challenging him appropriately.
Q: Was the original plan going into the year to let him go incrementally, and what about Bo as well?
Cherington: The plan was to start in New Hampshire. That was it. We weren’t looking past that. The plan was to start in New Hampshire and focus on priority development goals that we had worked with. There’s 180 of those in the system, not just Vladdy, but every player with the Blue Jays has an individual development plan and within that plan there are priority goals and then the work is to partner with the player on those goals and figure out the work we’re doing to improve on those, so Vladdy, like every other player in the system, is working toward those goals. So that’s as far as we got. We didn't start talking about how long it would take, or when he might move up, we’re still in that phase of focusing on his goals.
Q: Does the Jays on-field success have any impact on how quickly you might fast-track someone?
Cherington: I don’t think so. That’s a conversation that we need to mull other opinions obviously but we know that when a player is ready to help the major-league team is also probably when that player has accomplished enough toward his goals to be ready to move up. So I don't think one would force the other. They would either come together at the same time, when there’s an opportunity, or they wouldn’t, and you take more time. Obviously winning is very important to us and we’re committed to winning this year, and if at some point a player in the minor leagues can help us do that, and we think he’s ready for that, then I'm sure that that would be considered, but that would be the case for any player in Buffalo or in the farm system.
Q: How aware is the parent club of what type of a jolt the addition of a Vladdy or a Bo would bring to this specific organization, the Bisons?
Cherington: Yeah, we’re aware. I mean, I shouldn’t say we’re perfectly aware. I mean, I don’t really know how much, I can’t say for sure. I would expect that there would be some interest in it. But, and we do feel like it’s important for players to play at the triple-A level. It’s an important development challenge to be here. We’ve got young players here right now who we really believe in, and we believe are going to be good major league players, and they’re being challenged by this level. So this is an important level to be at, for some period of time. It’s a different level of competition than double-A is, it’s a different calibre of competition, different kind of player you’re facing, different matchups, different game-playing strategy, it’s just a different level of play. So it’s an important level for players to experience at some point. So in terms of what kind of jolt that makes, on fans or the business, those questions are probably better for someone else, but I would expect that there would be interest in that.
Q: From this level, recently you’ve also brought up Voon Chong to Toronto, Ben Wagner to Toronto. What does it mean to have those other pieces of the puzzle here for you guys to utilize as well?
Cherington: It’s exciting to see people like whether it’s Voon or Jason Dowse is helping us also in Toronto right now, Jose Minestral has been an assistant for a while, and never mind Mike Mordecai and the coaches who have had an opportunity to be part of what we’re doing in Toronto and that’s as rewarding as seeing players really, get that opportunity. It’s exciting for them and also really what that means is those people have found a way to improve themselves and get better, just as we’re encouraging players to get better. And we believe that they can give back to our culture in Toronto and that’s what we’re seeing so far this year. So I think we want to continue to see more and more of that, staff getting an opportunity as much as players do.
Q: What went into the decision of the length of the contract? Did you want to go longer?
Cherington: Yeah, I mean in the current contract I believe the PDA is up after 2020, so that’s the furthest you can go out anyway. So we actually didn’t waste that much time on the length, we just knew that we wanted to extend the relationship. Both sides seemed to have that interest. We talked about it in spring training and it came together pretty smoothly. And we know that, we had a really healthy conversation about what that would mean for everybody, and we know that there’s things that we wanted, as the Blue Jays want to get better at to help the Bisons during that time in the next three years, and we’re committed to that. We’re excited about it.