DUNEDIN, Florida - Encountered by a newbie to the Blue Jays beat, J.P. Arencibia makes one thing clear.
"I was never worried," Arencibia said of trade rumours that have quieted since fellow catcher and top prospect Travis d'Arnaud was included in the trade with the Mets that brought R.A. Dickey to Toronto. "It was the media making speculation and, honestly, it was uninformed speculation. For myself, I was never at one point worried about what was going to happen. I was told by Alex, from day one, what my position was in this organization."
The Blue Jays have a glut of catchers with major league experience in camp. Henry Blanco is the veteran of the group, entering his 16th season in the big leagues. Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, who is not on the 40-man roster, were both acquired in the Dickey deal.
Make no mistake, from a catching perspective, this is Arencibia's team and it is Arencibia's pitching staff. It is a group that has been overhauled dramatically with the high-profile acquisitions of the aforementioned Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Arencibia knows these first three weeks are of particular importance, given that he will be leaving camp in early March to join Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
"I just have to get ready and be able to be comfortable with every pitcher and catch guys as much as I can that I need to get a relationship with," said Arencibia. "Most guys on this team I've caught (a lot,) but Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, those are the guys I try to catch every bullpen and be with them every time that I can."
Buehrle says he is still getting to know Arencibia, having thrown to him once, on the first day of camp last Wednesday. Perhaps the 27-year-old's greatest challenge will be dealing with Dickey's knuckleball, although he has had a head start. Arencibia and Dickey both make Nashville their off-season home and got together for workouts.
Every young catcher benefits from the experience of a veteran backup. Henry Blanco has the inside track on the job and the 41-year-old Venezuelan brings with him a wealth of knowledge. The Blue Jays are Blanco's tenth major league team since he first broke in with the Dodgers in 1997. Included was a two-year stop in Atlanta a decade ago, during which Blanco served as Greg Maddux's personal catcher.
"I'm willing to help anyway I can," said Blanco. "We've already had a pretty good conversation. The main thing is if we do (well,) the team is going to do (well.) That's the main key, help each other out and just try to do whatever it takes to win games."
It seems the early admiration is mutual. Arencibia has been helped along by the likes of John Buck, Jose Molina, and Jeff Mathis during his two-plus seasons in the majors. He sees Blanco as someone who is easily approachable.
"I try to talk with him as much as possible and I've told him that if he ever sees anything, not to hesitate (to address it,)" said Arencibia. "I'm still young in this game and I'm always learning."
Blanco is familiar with Arencibia's work, having watched him on TV the odd time.
"He's a pretty good athlete. This guy has pretty good talent. Hopefully he can finish developing that talent and become one of the best catchers in the league."
- Manager John Gibbons left Florida Auto Exchange Stadium early and didn't address the media. He's suffering from the flu.
- All Blue Jays players had reported to camp by the end of the day, Saturday, and the first full team workout is scheduled for Sunday. Earlier in the week Gibbons offered that Sunday's schedule would include batting practice off live pitching.
- Shortstop Jose Reyes is looking forward to working with outfield and base running coach Tim Raines. Reyes had a career-high 78 steals as a member of the New York Mets in 2007 and that spring he worked with former Blue Jay and Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson, the game's greatest ever base-stealer.
"The one thing I learned from Rickey, he took me to the video room and all the time he said, 'you need to learn when the pitcher's going home and he's (throwing over) to 1st base,'" said Reyes. "If you do that, you'll be safe 85-to-90-percent of the time. I have to thank Rickey for everything he taught me."
As a younger player, Reyes relied entirely on his speed to steal bases.
Raines, 53, stole 808 bases in a major league career that spanned 23 seasons, the first 13 of which were played with the Montreal Expos.
- More Jose Reyes: Of his many tattoos, he has one of each of his daughters on his arms. Joselia is 8, Katherine is 6 and Ashley is 4. Reyes will bring his family to Toronto, from New York City, for the summer after his girls finish the school year.
Where did his dreadlocks go? The Marlins had a policy prohibiting long hair and so he got rid of the look, selling the hair for charity and raising $10,000 in the process.
- Jose Bautista is, as you would expect, thrilled with general manager Alex Anthopoulos' off-season moves. "They have a plan and they executed it when they felt the timing was right to do so. It was one of the promises that was made when I signed here and they definitely came through."
Bautista and other veterans are routinely consulted by Anthopoulos about possible acquisitions. Those conversations, generally, are about a guy's personality type, off-the-field behaviour and whether he would be a good fit in the Blue Jays' clubhouse.
- Edwin Encarnacion repeated his off-season routine that propelled him to a career offensive year in 2012. He worked out with, among others, Yankees star second baseman Robinson Cano.
"It's going to be a very exciting year for me and the team," said Encarnacion. "You see how many different guys they brought to the team, pitching and hitting. I like to win. I don't like to lose. I want to play in the playoffs and I think this is the year we can be there."