MINNEAPOLIS – It doesn't matter how but it does matter when.
The Blue Jays two All-Star representatives are counting on seeing a different looking club by the time the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline rolls around.
They won't deny it, if general manager Alex Anthopoulos swings a deal, it would be welcome.
“Huge impact,” said Bautista. “Any team that does a trade at the deadline in order to improve their club is going to benefit from it. Obviously that's why you do it. We'll see. We have capable guys, though, that we don't necessarily need to go out there but it would be a tremendous help for us to go get somebody. More importantly we need our guys that are hurt to come back into the line-up so we can have our real team come on the field altogether.”
Mark Buehrle echoed Bautista's last sentiment, while opining the four-day break would do the Blue Jays some good.
“Let's hope,” said Buehrle. “Everybody goes home and clear their minds and gets away from baseball for a few days and comes back refreshed like it's the beginning of the year. The injuries, to me, are the biggest key right now.”
Anthopoulos faces a delicate balancing act as he tries to upgrade his club for today while retaining its best pieces of tomorrow.
He's dealing with budget parameters, the numbers of which aren't clear but Anthopoulos often talks of being “creative” with any deal. Translation: dollar in-dollar out is the likely requirement of a completed trade.
The Jays would like to move reliever Sergio Santos and the remainder of his $3.75-million salary. They'd explore takers for Colby Rasmus and what's left of his $7-million contract. Neither player would be tied to an acquiring team next season. Santos has the first of three successive club options ($6-million in 2015) while Rasmus enters his final year of arbitration eligibility.
While trading Rasmus would leave the Jays weaker in centrefield, at least offensively, his deletion would free up significant cash to acquire an asset.
The Blue Jays need help in the infield, in the bullpen and like most other clubs not playing in Oakland and perhaps Southern California, could use another starting pitcher.
The players realize the division is available. Bautista said the Jays' chance of winning the American League East is the best since he arrived in Toronto.
“Not necessarily record-wise but momentum, division, competition,” said Bautista. “I've been here and our team has been hovering around .500 but it seems like, in the past, the division leader has [run] away with it and this time it's not the case. We're certainly within striking distance and we've got to take this break and hopefully come back with a different mindset like we were in the first two months.”
Injuries to Brett Lawrie (finger), Edwin Encarnacion (quadriceps) and Adam Lind (foot) have exacerbated an offensive downturn which began while all three were still in the lineup.
It's reasonable to believe that if manager John Gibbons was able to field his starting line-up, the offence would have reawakened by now. The Blue Jays continue to play in the top 10 in most major offensive categories despite the struggles of the last five weeks. If there's a point of concern, aside from recent performance, it's the abundant reliance on the home run.
The issue is the lack of depth to cover for the injuries. Mississauga native Dalton Pompey, who isn't major league-ready, is the club's only hot non-pitching prospect playing as high as Double-A.
“You would like to have some depth in your minor league system and some capable guys to come in and replace if somebody gets hurt,” said Bautista. “There's an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up right now and make a name for themselves and contribute and help out with wins. Right now we're going to the farm system but there are different methods of acquiring talent and if it's working out a trade or whatever it is … bottom line is there [are] opportunities out there on our team right now and how we get the players doesn't really matter as long as the guys that come in step up.”
Bautista slams turf
Jose Bautista made waves on the recent road trip when he spoke out strongly against Major League Baseball's flawed replay system.
While that topic wasn't broached during Monday's media availability, Bautista touched on a topic closer to home: the turf at the Rogers Centre and the effect it has on players' bodies.
Only two teams, Toronto and Tampa Bay, still utilize turf.
“It seems like us and the Rays, we all have to deal with more injuries than normal and playing banged up a little bit because of the turf,” said Bautista. “It's the only two stadiums left with turf. Even in football and other sports, you can see and you can tell teams that play on turf get hurt more often than teams that play on natural grass.”
Players often murmur about the turf, especially toward the end of lengthy homestands when they feel the aches and pains associated with a consecutive stretch of games on the fake surface.
Bautista is realistic about the natural grass solution, or lack thereof, and called on the organization to otherwise adapt.
“I don't know if there's a way to address it in Rogers Centre so we just have to deal with it and figure out a way to get deeper with our farm system and have guys that can step in and contribute right away if somebody gets hurt,” said Bautista. “We've got to get creative and we've got to figure it out. Just like we have to figure out how to win we've got to figure out how to stay on the field or have capable guys to come in and replace because some of these injuries, they're not even caused by any lack of preparation or people not working, it's just that you get beat up more when you play on turf.”
Buehrle isn't fussed about Tuesday
At 35 years-old and in his fifth All-Star Game, his first since 2009, Mark Buehrle knows his chances of returning to the Midsummer Classic are dwindling.
Still, he's not concerned about pitching on Tuesday night if American League manager John Farrell decides to go in a different direction.
“If I don't throw it's not going to be the end of the world,” said Buehrle. “There's some young guys. I've been here and I've thrown in these games before and if there [are] some younger guys that they want to get in there, hometown guys playing in Minnesota that they want to throw and they come over and say, hey, we're not going to throw you, I'm not going to argue, it's not going to be the end of the world. I'm just here to enjoy it and have fun.”
With 10 victories at the All-Star Break, Buehrle's assured himself of a 14th-straight double digit win total. He's four wins shy of 200 for his career.
Buehrle's midseason ERA of 2.64 is a run and a half better than his final number from last season (4.15). In his 15th year, Buehrle's never finished with an ERA below 3.00. His best, 3.12, came in 2005, the year his White Sox won the World Series.
A family affair
Mark Buehrle's wife, Jamie, and his son and daughter are in Minneapolis to share in his All-Star experience. One of his brothers, along with his wife and children are also here.
Buehrle's son, Braden, is now seven years old. His daughter, Brooklyn, is five. This is the first time he's been an All-Star when his kids have an opportunity to remember the event.
The treatment's been first class.
“We took a private jet up here,” said Buehrle. “I'm like, these kids are so spoiled right now. Like, they don't realize how spoiled they are so hopefully they can soak it in and have fun with it.”
Buehrle's mother, Pat, and father, John, aren't taking part. John underwent knee replacement surgery earlier this month and is struggling to get back on his feet.
John insisted on attending but Mark put his foot down.
“I'm not going to make mom or have mom be pushing you around,” said Buehrle. “You're going to get bumped. You're going to be sweating so, a chance of getting infected, there were too much health risks to get him here.”
The Blue Jays played back to back nine-inning games, on Wednesday in Anaheim and on Friday in Tampa Bay, which combined took almost eight hours to play.
“It's annoying how long some of these games are,” said Buehrle.
Buehrle is one of baseball's fastest-working pitchers. He notices the length of games, their lack of pace and admitted it's becoming increasingly talked about amongst players.
“I think they did that speed up rule a couple of years ago and it seems like since they've done that the games have gotten actually longer,” said Buehrle. “I don't know exactly how you can enforce it or make it more strict but they need to do something.”
Buehrle on Jeter
Buehrle tipped his cap to outgoing Yankees' captain Derek Jeter.
“He's owned me over his career so I'm not too sad to see him go and obviously get out of the game,” said Buehrle. “Obviously what he's done for baseball and over his career, I mean he's the top guy in Major League Baseball on and off the field so it's going to be sad to see him go.”
Buehrle's right. Jeter's hit him well, lifetime .341/.356/.545 in 46 plate appearances with two home runs and three doubles.