DUNEDIN, Florida – Monday marked John Farrell's return to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium but it was Blue Jays' manager John Gibbons who had the line of the day.
"Are we supposed to go out there and have a wrestling match or something," joked Gibbons. "He's a little bigger than I am." What about a steel cage match, asked one reporter. "Steel cage? (How about) MMA?"
There lies one of the contrasts between the Blue Jays once and current manager, Gibbons, and Farrell, the man he replaced. Gibbons, shooting the breeze with the assembled mass while Farrell, always professorial with his on-the-record dialogue, remained stoic, almost unemotional.
"I appreciate people might have differing opinions," said Farrell of his departure from Toronto for Boston. "All I can do is go about my work day in and day out. People are going to form their own impressions and I certainly can't control that."
A large contingent of Blue Jays fans felt spurned by Farrell, who orchestrated his trade to Boston shortly after last season ended. Those in attendance on Monday let him hear their displeasure, booing him lustily when starting lineups were announced. It's likely a small sample of what will greet Farrell on April 5 when his Red Sox arrive in Toronto for a weekend series.
"April will get here when it does," said Farrell. "We've got a lot of work to do here right now. I'm certainly not looking too far ahead. How that unfolds, we'll see. I fully respect (the Blue Jays,) they've got a darn good team and I'm looking forward to competing against them."
Farrell's time in Toronto is marked by the sense he never was fully invested in the organization. Having come from Boston where he had served as pitching coach, Farrell led the Blue Jays to an 81-81 record in 2011. After the season he quietly expressed interest in Boston's managerial job when Terry Francona was fired following an infamous September collapse. The Blue Jays declined Farrell permission to speak to the Red Sox and the job eventually was given to Bobby Valentine.
The 2012 season unfolded in such a way, if you tend to believe in destiny, you'd buy the notion it was the Red Sox's and Farrell's fate to come together. The Blue Jays finished 73-89, better only than Boston in the American League East, after injuries decimated the starting rotation and prematurely ended Jose Bautista's season. In Boston, Valentine's one year cameo was doomed almost from the get-go when, in April, he questioned Kevin Youkilis' commitment and was quickly rebuked by clubhouse leader Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox's 69 wins were the franchise's fewest in a season since 1965.
Farrell's frustration with the Blue Jays grew as injuries and losses mounted. Rumblings are his working relationship with general manager Alex Anthopoulos began to suffer. When Valentine was fired in Boston upon last season's conclusion, Farrell made it clear to Anthopoulos he wanted out of Toronto, believing the grass to be greener at Fenway Park. Farrell prefers not to use hindsight when asked whether he would have remained in Toronto had he known the off-season moves Anthopoulos would make.
"They felt it was the right thing to do for the organization and I fully respect what their needs were and the approach that they took," said Farrell. "A lot of good players were brought in."
Monday also marked the return to Dunedin of Brian Butterfield, who left with Farrell after serving 11 years as the Blue Jays third base coach and infield instructor.
"Oh sure," said Butterfield of whether Farrell was downplaying his anticipation of his returns to Dunedin and, eventually, Toronto. "Even today it feels a little bit different. We bussed in on the other side and we're in the visitors' clubhouse. John's cool about it but I think there will be some butterflies early in the season when we start in New York and then get to Toronto."
- The Blue Jays have claimed 1B Lars Anderson off waivers from the Chicago White Sox.
Anderson, 25, has played in 30 major league games, all with Boston, batting .167 with four RBI. Anderson has a .272 batting average with 76 home runs and 415 RBI in 748 career minor league games.
- Blue Jays' left-fielder Melky Cabrera, playing his first game before a home crowd, was roundly cheered before each of his at-bats.
Cabrera smacked two doubles, one down each line, in his first two times to the plate. He drove in Toronto's first run of the afternoon in the third inning.
The 28-year-old signed a two-year, $16-million deal with Toronto in November. He served a 50-game suspension last season for testing positive for enhanced levels of testosterone.
- Major League Baseball Players' Association president Michael Weiner is making his annual spring training rounds. He stopped by Dunedin on Monday to meet with the Blue Jays. Drug testing was among a list of topics discussed.
Asked whether Cabrera could face additional sanctions, including suspension, should the league's investigation into Biogenesis prove evidence of wrongdoing, Weiner said it's too early in the process to know. "It's a tough and complicated legal question. I think the commissioner's office could take the position that if they had evidence of a separate violation, conceivably they could seek additional discipline. We might challenge that. The players' association has an obligation to represent any player who is subject to discipline but also has an obligation to the vast majority of players who want a clean game."
Cabrera's name is linked to Biogenesis, a now-defunct Miami anti-aging clinic alleged to have peddled performance enhancing drugs to a number of high-profile major league players.
Weiner says the union will speak to each player whose name has surfaced in the initial report, in the Miami New Times, and subsequent reports.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, are among the group with alleged ties to Biogenesis.
- The Blue Jays host the Twins, Tuesday, 1:05 ET at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.77 in 2012) will make his first start of spring training. Romero is scheduled to pitch two innings.
Mike Pelfrey, signed by Minnesota in the off-season and coming off Tommy John surgery, gets the start for the Twins.