Toronto Blue Jays: Clubhouse Cohesion, New Faces, And The World Baseball Classic

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Monday, February 18th, 2013

Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion. 3 of the first 4 hitters in the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays lineup, and all from the Dominican Republic. In their first year as teammates on the Blue Jays, and one of their first spring training practices, have already become a close trio. Dominican slugger Jose Bautista is missing from this photo, but is the 4th piece of this dazzling 1-4 combination.

Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion. 3 of the first 4 hitters in the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays lineup, and all from the Dominican Republic. In their first year as teammates on the Blue Jays, and one of their first spring training practices, have already become a close trio. Dominican slugger Jose Bautista is missing from this photo, but is the 4th piece of this dazzling 1-4 combination.

By Alex Mednick (Baseball Analyst and Toronto Blue Jays Correspondent)

The Toronto Blue Jays had a very well publicized off-season.  Many moves were made, including two blockbuster trades, the signing of one of baseball’s best and most controversial contact hitters, and a new (old) manager.  A core of the former Blue Jays remained intact, but between the big moves made by GM Alex Anthopoulos this off-season, along with the smaller additions, the Blue Jays have 12 new players on their 25 man roster.  These 25 players are expected by many, to hit the gates running, and to at the very least, earn Toronto a spot in the playoffs come October 2013.

Clearly, team chemistry plays are huge part of winning championships.  We have seen numerous teams boasting extremely talented rosters have merely moderate success, and we have seen teams loaded with professional journeymen have historic success.  Michael Jordan is noted for making the comment, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”.

The 2013 Blue Jays are very unique in that while half of their team is in fact new to Toronto, many of these players have played together and have cultural bonds. The blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins brought a total of 6 players to Toronto, all of whom, were quite obviously teammates in South Florida.  5 of these players are expected to immediately be impact players in the clubhouse. Another big trade with the Mets brought over three players who will likely contribute to the team to varying degrees, and have already formed close ties amongst each other due to the relationship that exists between a knuckleball pitcher and his battery mate.  Right off the bat, we can account for 8 of the 12 new players on the roster who at the very least, already are familiar with each other and are not entering a new city completely unfamiliar with their teammates. The following players might all make their way to the ALL-Star Game at Citi Field this year:  R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion .

2013 Preview of the Toronto Blue Jays:

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The addition of superstars like R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes doesn't bring the concerns many have when putting lots of superstars in the same room as each other.  None of these guys are the egotistical, clubhouse problems that people associate with superstar athletes.  They were handpicked by GM Alex Anthopoulos not only for their talent, but because their personalities mesh well with the existing ballclub.

The addition of superstars like R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes doesn’t bring the concerns many have when putting lots of superstars in the same room as each other. None of these guys are the egotistical, clubhouse problems that people associate with superstar athletes. They were handpicked by GM Alex Anthopoulos not only for their talent, but because their personalities mesh well with the existing ballclub.

Of course, there are other more subtle ties among the new players on the Blue Jays roster and the incumbents, as well as cultural ties.  Baseball in the Dominican is almost a religious practice, and Toronto has a long history of bringing Dominican talent to play north of the border.  Jose Bautista, the undeniable clubhouse leader has made many comments about the lively, fiery and fun-loving nature of Dominican’s.  Immediately, as if they have been friends their entire life, Blue Jays Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera have meshed as a trio…laughing and joking, while running through their exercises at the Blue Jays spring training camp in Dunedin.  Reyes, Cabrera, Encarnacion and Bautista fix to make up the first four spots of the Toronto lineup, come April.   These guys boast personalities that are great for keeping a team loose and relaxed.  GM Alex Anthopoulos carefully selected and targeted players that not only were top baseball talents, but that had personalities well suited for a healthy clubhouse atmosphere.

New Ace, and reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is well revered as being a model citizen, stand-up teammate, and a model citizen.  Jose Bautista is one of the most potent bats in baseball, bi-lingual, and possesses a natural ability to lead and command respect from those around him.  New addition, veteran Mark DeRosa seems to almost have been brought in to Toronto exclusively for his amicable personality, experience, and the intangibles he brings to the clubhouse. Former manager John Gibbons was brought back to lead the team again by Alex Anthopoulos.

Gibbons had a few public explosions with players during his last tenure in Toronto and there are some concerns about how he will mesh with the ever-passionate Brett Lawrie, but these are extremely overblown.  The reality is that John Gibbons brings a uniquely relaxed, Texas, lasse fair approach to managing.  The issues in the past with Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand are issues that a) occur often amongst large groups of men who spend a majority of their time together, however are usually not public, and b) events that will likely be prevented on a team such as this one that boasts so many player-leaders that will not accept Shea-Hillenbrand-like behavior.

Between Jose  Bautista, John  Gibbons, Mark  Buehrle, R.A. DIckey, Jose  Reyes, Mark  DeRosa and JP Arencibia, the Blue Jays have a great group of team leaders assembled.

Between Jose Bautista, John Gibbons, Mark Buehrle, R.A. DIckey, Jose Reyes, Mark DeRosa and JP Arencibia, the Blue Jays have a great group of team leaders assembled.

I think there are many reasons to be optimistic about the Blue Jays and many reasons we can spell of concerns about clubhouse cohesion despite the incredible turn-over and number of new faces in town.  The World Baseball Classic, however, adds an additional, interesting dimension to the launching of this new team.   7 players off the Toronto Blue Jays 25-man roster, including 4 new-comers, will be missing a large portion of spring training with their new club to participate in the World Baseball Classic.  In previous years, we have noticed that many players who have typically slow starts to their baseball seasons have actually gotten jump-starts in their performance by competing in the intense World Baseball Classic.  So in this regard, is bodes well for improving players on-field production from the get-go.  The concern of how it can affect clubhouse chemistry, is a legitimate concern, but one I think the Blue Jays may dodge.

Of the Toronto Blue Jays players participating in the World Baseball Classic, 3 of them will be teammates getting to know each other on the Dominican team (newcomers Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Esmil Rogers and reigning Blue Jays HR champion Edwin Encarnacion).  R.A. Dickey who is viewed to become an immediate clubhouse presence will ironically be playing on team USA with his battery mate, J.P. Arencibia.  Arencibia, who is regarded as a “young veteran” due to the fact that he is a mature clubhouse leader despite only being in his third MLB season, will surely spend the time getting to know the new ace of his staff. Finally, Brett Lawrie, will be the lone member of the Blue Jays playing for team Canada…but nobody worries about Brett Lawrie needing additional time to become familiar with his teammates; he is not a shy guy.

Veteran Mark  DeRosa was brought in by GM Alex Anthopoulos as a utility player, but also because of his veteran presence and great clubhouse personality.

Veteran Mark DeRosa was brought in by GM Alex Anthopoulos as a utility player, but also because of his veteran presence and great clubhouse personality.

When all is said and done, I think that being concerned about the chemistry on a team that has had so much turnover and boasts so many superstars is a very worthy one.  In the case of the Toronto Blue Jays, I think it is less of an issue than we would expect.  It is always frightening when you import 3 superstars from a failed “all-star” team from just the previous year (Buehrle, Johnson, Reyes were on the 2012 Marlins).  But these three guys are now intimately aware of how a team with high expectations can become a total flop: talent alone doesn’t win championships.  The work ethic boasted by these guys and drive to compete, combined with their experience will likely cause them to not allow their teammates to get too relaxed and content with their status as “front-runners”.

Anytime a team boasts so many superstars, you have to worry about personalities clashing.  But the superstars the Alex Anthopoulos picked up aren’t just extremely talented.  These players are also superstar personalities…and not the self-absorbed superstars that many athletes tend to be.  Jose Reyes is about as down to earth as anyone could ever hope for in an elite athlete–part of the reason he was so beloved during his time in New York City.  Josh Johnson is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but prefers to stay under the radar and out of the headlines. Toronto fans are well aware of the easy-going ways of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista’s focus on leadership and teamwork.  Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are veteran pitchers who have had amazing success as some of the most dominant pitchers in the league, but simply put their head down and go about their work every 5 games.

 Rickey Romero and Brandon Morrow are very much alike Buehrle and Dickey in their approach to the game, just younger and with shorter track records (but all the talent).  Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind are both quiet men of few words that have shown glimpses of their amazing talent, and will hopefully be able to shine in 2013, now that there is less pressure and they are no longer being relied on as heavily to be main producers in the lineup.  Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera and Mark DeRosa are also all guys handpicked by Alex Anthopoulos not just for their talent, but with a sharp eye for guys that make good teammates.

The Toronto Blue Jays have less to worry about in regard to team chemistry than many would think.

Drabek

Kyle Drabek is going to miss most of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  Ordinarily this might have crippled the franchise.  Instead, 60% of the Starting Rotation was picked up via trade in the 2012 winter – and the Blue Jays have a deep staff for the 2013 campaign.

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***

A big thank-you goes out to our “Blue Jays Correspondent’ Alex Mednick for preparing today’s featured article.  Alex has both played and followed the game extensively his entire life.  Alex grew up in New Haven, Connecticut—right in the crossroads of Red Sox Nation and The Yankee Empire.  Somehow, he dodged the bullet of joining the war between these two teams, and a love affair between the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex formed.  Growing up in Connecticut, Alex Mednick idolized Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.  When he was 19 he moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida.  Here he attended Eckerd College and continued fulfilling his love for baseball.  Tropicana Field was 5 minutes from his apartment, and there were 5 spring training camps within an hour drive.  Alex graduated from Eckerd in 2010 with a B.S. in International Business and dual minors in Spanish and Management.  Most importantly, he met his amazing wife in college, and the two now reside in Stuart, Florida. You can follow Alex Mednick on Twitter 

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Posted on February 18, 2013, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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