Charlie Wilson was laughing as he told the story, so at least that was a good sign. Like any farm director, the Toronto Blue Jays' director of minor-league operations developed bonds with his team's top prospects. So he was very uncomfortable when General Manager Alex Anthopoulos summoned him recently at the team's offices in Rogers Centre to discuss what was going on with the Miami Marlins.
“Alex came down the hall and got me and said to close the door,” Wilson recounted to this corner last week in Coca-Cola Field. “Then he goes, 'We've really got something going on here' and he went over it. I'm not going to lie to you, it hurt when he laid it all out. You feel attached to these players. You get them so young, guys like Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino right out of high school.
“They're going to have good careers but I can't tell you I'm disappointed when it's all said and done. They're getting their chance and we're getting a great return with a great group of players.”
Most teams want their top prospects to graduate through their farm system and have major impact in the big leagues. Only a scant few can freely choose to use them as players dealt as chips to make the big club even better. The Blue Jays' 12-player deal with the Marlins has moved them into the latter category.
It's a seismic shift, really. Sure, the Jays want players to graduate through their system and head to Toronto. But they also know that players are meant to be developed to get traded too. It's a clear statement they feel they should be a playoff team come 2013 for the first time since 1993.
“We always wanted to win,” Anthopoulos said after coming down the Queen Elizabeth Way with new manager John Gibbons for the Bisons' logo unveiling. “It's just the timing never really worked out. Last year we had full intentions to win. … We've had to make tough choices in letting free agents go, trading our Opening Day starters in back-to-back years (Roy Halladay and Shawn Marcum). And last year was the first year we felt we could push some things forward but the injuries and things that happened derailed us.
“We always talked about how we poured all kinds of money in scouting and development that some don't always make it and some will be used in trade. If you have three guys who play shortstop, they can't all play shortstop for the Blue Jays. When you have duplication or depth in an area, you'll use it to help the big-league team.
“We're never eliminating that depth entirely. We believe in needing it in the minor leagues. But sure, it's painful trading some of these young guys away. It's not easy to do. But you realize that's part of what they're there for.”
Gibbons and Anthopoulos became close when Gibbons was in his first managerial stint in Toronto and Anthopoulos was J.P. Riccardi's assistant GM. Gibbons said he was as shocked as anyone else watching on TV at home in San Antonio when news of the trade broke.
“When you get a chance to make a move like that, you go for it. Those opportunities don't come that often,” Gibbons said. “The fact that the Marlins were unloading that many guys, Alex had the young guys to offer and the ownership said here's the money to go do it, that's kind of rare. You only get so many chances in this game, in life. You have to go for it.
“In the American League East, we've always had the power-pack lineup guys in Boston and New York doing those kind of things. Now you're throwing in there that the Blue Jays are doing what those guys are doing. They make trades, they reload, they look to improve in a hurry with the best players and that's what we've done.”
Now, all this trade talk certainly raises a question about how much it will negatively impact the Bisons. There could be more moves of players ticketed for Buffalo. The Blue Jays have depth in their system and intend to sign minor-league free agents to fill the Bisons' roster. The Indians often made deals to boost their World Series hopes (think Sean Casey for Dave Burba or Danny Graves and Damian Jackson for John Smiley), but still managed to keep the Bisons competitive every year.
Anthopoulos made it clear what he expects. He brought current Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish with him to Buffalo last week. Tinnish, in charge of signing minor-league free agents, did not attend the Blue Jays' introductory news conference here in September.
“I wanted him to come up and see this place,” Anthopoulos said. “I told him, 'See this, we've got to win, we've got to win.' I probably put the heat on him a little too much but I reminded him. I wanted him to see the magnitude of it for himself, the ballpark, the scope of attention, focus, the interest level of this team and the impact he can have on it. I wanted him to feel it.”
“You could see the philosophy change when Alex took over as general manager,” Wilson said. “The first thing he did was throw a ton of resources at scouting and player development. He got more involved in Latin America. One of our goals is creating values in players and all that worked to that goal.”
The values built up on the minor-league helped turn unproven youngsters into big names like Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle.
“The Blue Jays are not messing around now,” Gibbons said. “It's a great baseball town and hey, there's one team in the whole country. That makes it unique. It's a proud country. There's nothing more they want to see than to get back on top.
“It's been a tough division, tough times in the past. We've had good teams that weren't enough to get over the hump. Now they're stepping up and the guys they're bringing in are difference-makers.”
Speaking of Reyes, there's been a ton of talk since the trade about how detrimental the Rogers Centre turf will be for his balky hamstrings. The Yankees, it should be noted, almost always sit out their infielders once a series when they come to Toronto for fear of the turf's effects.
“Our medical staff has told us your body does get more accustomed to it and the turf is not what it was 20 years ago, that hard concrete-type stuff,” Anthopoulos said. “It's changed a lot. There's no question. We had Alex Gonzalez coming off major knee surgery with no issues. Scott Rolen too.
“We talked to Jose Bautista about it and he said it was more on your lower back and knees, not on a hamstring at all. There's always an element of risk there and we were pretty thorough with our medical staff on that. If [Reyes] communicates with us, we'll be fine.”
Former Bisons catcher Dusty Wathan was the winning manager last week as the Peoria Javelinas won the Arizona Fall League championship with a 4-3 victory over Salt River in the one-game finale of the majors' prospect league.
Wathan managed Double-A Reading in the Phillies chain but was bypassed for a move to Triple-A Lehigh Valley when the Phillies hired former Gwinnett skipper Dave Brundage last month to replace Ryne Sandberg, who was promoted to Charlie Manuel's big-league staff.
Wathan is likely to return to Reading but he'll no longer be managing the Phillies. After 46 years, the team changed its name last week to the “Fightin Phils” or “Fightins” for short to pay homage to the Phillies' 1950 National League champions. The mascot will be a kid-friendly ostrich in fighting pose with his fists up. Seriously.
Big board in Seattle
The Mariners have unveiled plans for the majors' largest video board, an 11,425-square foot behemoth above the left field stands at Safeco Field that will rival the monster at Dallas' Cowboys Stadium for the biggest in North America. The video board will be 201 feet wide and 57 feet high, or 11,425 square feet total. The biggest in the majors is currently in Kansas City.
The Mariners are also moving in the left-field power alley from 4 to 17 feet in spots. In addition, the 16-foot-high hand-operated scoreboard down the left-field line will be moved back and no longer be part of the fence. That will make the outfeld fence only 8 feet high, similar to the Mets' at Citi Field.
Ex-Griff to Arizona
Former Canisius College pitcher Chris Cox has been sold to the Arizona Diamondbacks by the independent Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am League. Cox, a 24-year-old right-hander, was rated the second-best prospect in independent leagues by Baseball America after going 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 44.1 innings of relief work over 36 games.
Cox made 41 appearances in his career with Canisius, working as a starter and also out of the bullpen. He was a reliever in 2011, his senior season, and was 1-1 with two saves and an 0.69 ERA in nine games. Cox, an Ontario native, was chosen by the Blue Jays in the 39th round of the 2011 draft but did not sign.