Feb. 9, 2016
Canadian Baseball Network
In case you missed it, allow me to sum up this past off-season for Blue Jays fans:
David Price :)
David Price ...
David Price :’(
Ok Ok, fine, so the team also lost leadoff hitter Ben Revere, gained reliever Drew Storen, reacquired starting pitcher JA Happ, and recently locked up the reigning MVP Josh Donaldson for two years - avoiding what looked like an impending salary arbitration.
And of course there was “the thing which shall not be named” with former GM Alex Anthopoulos, however that saga appears to have been magically forgotten considering the fan ovations for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins at last Thursday’s “Leadoff” event.
To be sure, those were all major storylines worthy of your time. But I’d like to draw your attention to the forgotten story - one far less mentioned yet perhaps even more important and potentially detrimental to the Blue Jays 2016 season.
No more Mark Buehrle.
“Ha!” you say. “That old guy? I forgot about him the minute he was left off the postseason roster!”
Yes, you may have forgotten about the man who has a World Series ring, five all-star appearances, four gold gloves, a no hitter, a perfect game, and 214 career wins ...
But it’s become quite apparent that those in the Blue Jays locker room do not share the same forgetfulness.
He appeared to be one of the team’s quiet leaders, forming special bonds with some of the younger players, most notably Marcus Stroman - who will very soon (in, like, two months) become the default face of the Jays rotation.
Speaking with John Gibbons at the Leadoff event, it’s obvious the Jays manager feels Mark Buehrle brought a lot more to the team then just his win-loss record, which by the way was pretty damn good. I asked Gibby what effect losing a guy like Buehrle could have on the psyche some of the Jays’ younger arms, the very same young arms the team will need to step-up if they plan to once again contend in the AL East.
“Everyone is going to miss him. Especially me,” Gibbons said of Buehrle. “He goes down in my top three all-time guys I’ve ever had a chance to manage.”
That’s fairly high praise considering the Toronto skipper has managed parts of eight seasons and nearly 1100 games for the Blue Jays, including a not-too-shabby pitcher by the name of Roy Halladay (yes, two Cy Young awards constitute “not-too-shabby”).
“Not only was [Buehrle] such a great competitor, and had a great career,” Gibbons continued, “but the kind of individual he was, that kind of speaks to what you’re talking about. He’s not here anymore and he was kind of a mentor.”
Anytime you’re talking about “mentors” or “team leaders”, you enter into a realm that is now foreign to many post-modern baseball analysts. Statistics - not intangibles - are now the game’s gospel; which, I admit, is perfectly fine!
But there was a day when intangibles mattered. Indeed to the players, and many fans, they likely still do.
“He just did everything right,” Gibbons said of Buehrle’s qualities as a mentor. “He knew how to keep guys loose, he knew the right words to say to certain guys and things like that.”
But even Gibby, who standing there in his blue jeans and beige leather jacket really did exude ‘old-school’, could not avoid being slightly more pragmatic.
“And he won for us,” Gibbons added. “He always produced. We have to have someone pick up his wins.”
Let’s be clear here, no matter what happened at the end of 2015, Buehrle was a winner. He had 40 wins in three seasons with the Jays, 15 of which came in 2015. If you think those numbers are easily replaceable, you should know he had the 12th most wins in the league last season.
(Note: I humbly await your comments on why the win-loss stat doesn’t matter.)
One can only assume that the main person being looked upon to fill the void left by Buehrle will be his young friend Stroman.
Back in October, Stroman told Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae that Buehrle had reached out to him in “that mentor role” early on.
“Just from the first second I met Mark he kind of took that liking to me,” Stroman also said. “Even though we are complete opposites it balances out because there are a lot of times when I’m doing too much and he’ll tell me to pull it back ...”
But with the man Stroman calls “Papa” no longer in the clubhouse, the Jays will likely need to find another source (and yes I do mean leader) capable of channeling the young pitcher’s energy, tempering it if needed.
With Latroy Hawkins also gone - whose leadership is often cited as a main reason the bullpen was so much better in the second half last season - fans should be wondering, who is that person going to be?
Perhaps the 41-year-old RA Dickey, who, from the outside looking in at least, appears to prefer to keep to himself?
Maybe JA Happ - a nine year veteran but one who has never had the dazzling personal success of a Buehrle or a Price?
Or is Stroman himself ready to become more than just a rah-rah type leader; someone who isn’t afraid to speak up; someone who’s willing to unite and lead the mixed-bag that is the Jays rotation?
After-all, he has publicly stated that he wants to be the team’s ace ...
For the sake of all you fans, one can only hope.