BOSTON – The rumour mill is swirling in these parts as the hometown Red Sox spiral out of the American League playoff picture.
The focus is on ace left-hander Jon Lester, who's been a standout on two world champion pitching staffs (Boston in 2007 and 2013).
According to a report in CSNNE.com, the Blue Jays are among as many as eight teams pursuing Lester. The report suggests the Blue Jays have been the "most aggressive" in their interest.
What is true and what isn't is often disputed at this time of year. Lester has an expiring contract, about to test the free agent waters for the first time in his career, and the 30-year-old is expected to command an annual salary well above $20-million.
He would be a perfect fit in Toronto. He'd also be a perfect fit with 28 other big league teams.
Don't expect general manager Alex Anthopoulos to part with either of his star pitching prospects, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, who are now with the Blue Jays and each contributing significantly to the club's pennant drive.
Closer Casey Janssen, the longest tenured Blue Jay, didn't comment specifically on the Lester rumours but indicated the clubhouse is watching developments intently.
"Need to? I don't know if need to is the right word but I think a lot of people in this locker room would like to," said Janssen of acquiring a significant asset. "It's been a while since we've made the playoffs. It's been a while since we've been relevant. We've worked so hard to get to where we are and if there's a guy out there that can get us to the next level we'll embrace him like crazy and try and ride the wave with him.
"Hopefully the front office is doing something, continuing to try to improve this team and make this thing a special season for us."
Infielder Danny Valencia, acquired from the Royals on Monday for pitcher Liam Hendriks and catcher Erik Kratz, arrived in time for Tuesday's game at Fenway Park but wasn't in the starting lineup.
As for the Red Sox, Lester is scheduled to start Wednesday's series finale. Manager John Farrell indicated right-hander Brandon Workman would take Lester's place in the event he's traded or that a deal is imminent.
A chat with Kevin Seitzer
The Blue Jays entered Tuesday's action where they've been all season: the top 10 in the game's major offensive categories.
Toronto ranks first in home runs (129), ninth in walks (349), fourth in batting average (.263), third in on-base percentage (.331) and third in slugging percentage (.430).
TSN.ca sat down with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer to discuss the season, the degree to which Blue Jays' hitters have bought into his approach and the nature of today's strike zone.
You can listen to the audio here.
Below is the transcript:
TSN.ca: Kevin, the team's won eight of 11 games coming out of the All-Star Break and it seems the bats have come around after a bit of a lull through June and the early part of July. What are some of the keys you've seen in the last couple of weeks?
SEITZER: Well, I really started focusing, emphasizing big time more, getting back in the middle of the field because I really felt guys were … especially when Brett (Lawrie) went down it started, then Lindy goes down, then Eddie goes down and guys were really trying to step up and carry the weight and do too much and we got away from the things that we were doing to get us hot when we were smoking hot in May and it was getting back in to the middle of the field. If you focus on having good at-bats and the way I put it to the guys and continued to emphasize over the course of the last couple of weeks was we've got to focus on singling teams to death, just base hit, base hit, base hit, single teams to death and let the damage unfold and if we're focused on singling teams to death we'll find ourselves in better counts, we'll still end up squaring up balls more consistently that can go the other way or to the pull side and that's when the at-bats got better. That's what allows you to be more disciplined at the plate. These guys have got to stay aggressive, they're going to swing at bad pitches, they're going to get fooled but if you really have a plan and an approach that's really emphatically back through the middle of the field you're going to end up giving yourself a better chance to be consistent and that's what we've been doing and it's been great because some of the guys who've come up from Triple-A are really having great at-bats right now and they're contributing and that's what we need. It's been a good roll. The break couldn't have been more timely for the offence.
TSN.ca: How long did it take you to push that message through or to have that message be received as well as it has been? I think you recognize that when you were hired, you were hired by a club that had developed a reputation and I think had earned a reputation as a free swinging team.
SEITZER: That was my whole plan coming in was to, I don't want to take away power, I want to enhance power, I want to enhance run production, increase on-base percentage, generate more runs because that's the bottom line to winning ballgames from an offensive standpoint, you've got to score more runs than the other side and the more runs you can get day in and day out the better chance you give your club to win. I'm as big a fan of home runs as anybody and I just felt like it was more that they were geared toward hitting the ball hard. It wasn't so much that they were, you know, I'm just going to go up there and swing hard and just try and hit it hard, they were really just trying to have good at-bats and hit the ball hard but really they work on the middle of the field, they practice that way but then when you get in the game that's where you have to apply it and that was kind of the last little hump to get these guys over to where, okay, I've got a shift on, I'm going to work on hitting the ball the other way everyday in batting practice, maybe I'll have some confidence to try it in a game, boom it happens, they get an RBI, we get a rally going, we keep a rally going and then it just kind of fuels the fire. It hasn't hurt our home runs at all. When we left Oakland, we got swept out in Oakland, when we went to L.A. I had a long meeting with the guys and I just kind of went through the unfolding of the season and the ups and downs and keys that I saw that guys were doing consistently when we were good and then keys that we needed to make adjustments now that we're not doing. It was very well received. Basically what I do is I go in I just spill my guts, just pour my heart out to them. It's something I'm very passionate about, very convicted about it and when guys do the adjustment and they start to see the results from it that's when it's really fun, very rewarding from my side.
TSN.ca: Is Jose Bautista perhaps the prime and best example of how to beat the shift, Kevin? By that I mean, there were times when he would take the ball up the middle or the other way earlier this season and we've actually seen defences adjust.
SEITZER: You take your hat off to him because he's primarily a pull guy, a home run guy, he gets paid to drive in runs and I take my hat off to him because he's putting the team first and that's the commitment that he made when I started, when I met him, when I started talking to him in spring training. He goes, whatever I need to do in order to help this team win, that's what I'm focused on. I'm seeing it. I'm seeing it everyday but when the guys went down I saw him try to do a little bit more to try to pick up the slack and he's one I've been trying to stay on to take your base hits, take your base hits and let the damage unfold. That's when his hands start working again because when he gets big, tries to do too much, not only is he not hitting home runs, which he wants to do, but he's not even having good at-bats. When his hands start working, that guys got as quick a hands as anybody in baseball and that's when it's fun because he can catch some balls out front without even trying and hit them out.
TSN.ca: We've talked at times over the course of the season about strike zones and home plate umpires and if you've had issues with a strike zone, you're probably one of 30 hitting coaches at some point this year that has. What is it you want your hitters to do, how is it you want your hitters to react when those situations arise?
SEITZER: These guys don't want to hear it because it's, oh back in the day it was way different, but I can attest to back in the day the strike zone was much bigger than it is right now. I tell them the same things that I always tried to do as a hitter is don't change the zone. If you start expanding the zone because you think it might get called or it does get called, you're going to get yourself out anyway. You can get yourself out or you can let the umpire get you out but if you don't expand and you stay consistent and you handle the umpires in a professional manner you'll have more success than what you'll think. That's the biggest thing. Home plate umpires are human. They're not going to be perfect and we're not going to be perfect. There are times when guys are looking on one side of the plate, really locked in on it and then they get a pitch on the other side and their brain says that wasn't even close and then you go back in and look and you go, well, it wasn't that far off. It may not have been a strike but it was close to the edge of the plate, which if it was a ball off it was a strike when I played. That was something that you just understood. You didn't swing at it until you had two strikes. With two strikes you tried to protect that but not expand even more and that's the hardest part from a hitting standpoint, when you start feeling that you're trying to cover 20 inches, 22 inches, it's impossible. With the pitching we're facing you can't do it. You've got to continue to hold on to your strike zone, don't deviate from it, hunt your pitch and let the results be what they are.
TSN.ca: You work long hours, you prepare everyday but how does your job change when the team is doing as well as it was in May to how it was performing in June?
SEITZER: You have to continue to stay the course. You have to be consistent with the message. Especially being my first year, you have to let these guys' personalities unfold and sometimes they don't want to hear a certain message at a certain time and you have to know when you can give them something, when you need to let them go a little bit and then work you're way in to bringing them back to where they need to be. You can't get frustrated, you can't get mad, you can't panic. They can't sense anything different than the way I was when things were going good. I may just not be walking around with as big a smile on my face but as far as our message, the preparation, the meetings, every advanced meeting I'll have a little point from the last series of things that I liked, of things that I'd like to see adjustment-wise, here are some things going in that this pitching staff will do compared to the past, the advanced video that they're going to be watching is going to see us being vulnerable at 'x' and so we have to counter that by locking in on whatever it is. There's always a little different that I might said and sometimes, you know, you may come out of a good series when you sweep somebody, stay right there, don't change a thing, whatever it is. The consistency is the biggest thing you have to show these guys on a daily basis whether you're going good or bad because that's what my expectation is out of them is not get too high, too low so I have to lead by example.
TSN.ca: Adding up to 100, how would you break down your job? Coach, teacher, psychologist, how do you break those facets down?
SEITZER: Coach and teacher are kind of the same thing. It's probably 60-percent coach, teacher and 40-percent psychologist and some days it may be 80-percent psychologist depending on what we're going through. It's amazing the things that I learned through my career how hitters, and I was one of them, will search for mechanical adjustments as soon as things start to go awry you start to tweak mechanics. It's my head, it's my stance, it's my set up, it's my hands, I need to raise them, I need to lower them, I need to move them back, move them in and what I found through my last few years of playing is the brain will totally dictate what position, what consistency in your swing you'll have. When things start to go awry I go right to the brain and not to the mechanics. There may be a mechanical adjustment or two but it's always the brain that's the underlying culprit when things start to go awry and you've got to go fix that first.
TSN.ca: Kevin, thanks very much for this, appreciate it.
SEITZER: All right, you're welcome.