In September when the affiliation between the Buffalo Bisons and the Toronto Blue Jays was officially announced, Alex Anthopoulos visited with reporters at Coca-Cola Field. The general manager for the Blue Jays touted some of the prospects Bisons fans would get to see, including Travis D’Arnaud, one of the top two catching prospects in all of baseball.
Then came off-season dealing. Toronto wants to win. It wants to end its drought of playoff-less baseball that stretches back to 1993, the year it won its second World Series. The Jays have committed to making that happen sooner rather than later. And that meant trading some prospects for established major league players.
So D’Arnaud was traded to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey to help out in the pitching rotation. Other guys were sent packing in the deal with the Miami Marlins which brought shortstop Jose Reyes to Toronto.
However, the Herd has not been forgotten by the parent club. The Blue Jays have signed 21 minor league free agents this offseason – a staggering number.
At the annual Bisons Hot Stove Lunch at the Adam’s Mark Hotel on Friday, Anthopoulos noted that he hoped his actions speak louder than words.
“I don’t think we’re an organization that likes to talk a lot and promise things,” he said. “Our actions are going to speak volumes. Hopefully just the transactions and the signings and the minor league free agents, that speaks louder than me standing at the podium. Because ... every press conference you hear, we’re all saying the same things. I’d rather not have to rely on talking.”
But words are meaningful. On the first conference call with Bob Rich, the Bisons owner said there are only four words that matter: It’s all about winning. Anthopoulos seemingly took those words to heart, constructing one of the biggest offseasons in recent memory for the Blue Jays and directing part of his front office to focus on creating a championship-level team in Buffalo.
“You’re always focused on getting depth to help you at the big league level, but we’ve never really gone into an offseason saying, ‘Hey, what do we have to do to win down in Triple A?’ ” Anthopoulos said. “It’s the first time. They’ll be some trial and error. I hope what we did worked, but we’ll be able to adjust. ... I think the rotation is going to be solid with a lot of experience. The offense has a chance to be good. I don’t know power-wise, we might be a little bit lacking. I’m not entirely sure. I think we should be OK, but again, we’ll make adjustments during the year.”
There are plenty of “unknowns” and “hopefullys” when Anthopoulos talks about the team to be fielded in Buffalo. But the unknowns aren’t as scary when the complexion of the organization will allow the Herd to develop over the course of a season.
Sure, Toronto went out and traded for some big time, big league guys with experience. That blocks the way for some of the prospects in Triple A from getting time with the big league club. But what it does is create stability, both for Toronto and for Buffalo.
“On the first phase of it when guys like D’Arnaud are traded, that’s going to hurt and sting a bit,” Anthopoulos said. “But long term, seeing our payroll rise, having established big league players for multi years, that’s going to be great long term for this franchise. In the past when we were so reliant upon our young players, they may only spend a month or two [at Triple A]. Now they have the chance to spend the entire year here and really develop.”
“It’s almost like what Boston and New York have done. You’ve seen Scranton do very well with their win-loss record. The PawSox do very well.”
Bisons fans are used to this approach. It’s what worked so well when the organization was an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. From 1995-2001, the Indians went to the playoffs six out of those seven seasons. They did it with a stable roster. And that’s when the Bisons enjoyed their greatest success, as players spent 100 games with the Herd, developing not just individually but learning how to win.
The Bisons revealed their new uniforms at the Hot Stove event. The team had previously released the new logo, which harkens back to the old-school Bisons logo. Team colors have returned to red, white and blue.
The home uniform is white, featuring “Bisons” across the chest in red with a blue outline. The road uniform is gray, again featuring “Bisons” in red printed across the chest. The alternate third jersey is an interesting combination of Bisons-Blue Jays. The red jersey features the team’s new logo over the left chest while featuring the player’s number in the font used by the Blue Jays. A patch with the American and Canadian flags is on the right side.
Outfielder Anthony Gose is a fan of the new affiliation between Toronto and Buffalo. The 22-year-old spent his first Triple-A season in Las Vegas with two stints with the Blue Jays, one in July and one in September. It is expected he will start the season with the Bisons. And oh, the joy of being just a 90-minute car ride from the major leagues.
“Just with the time zone difference and the jet lag players may get,” Gose said. “The travel. The distance. Going from the West Coast to the East Coast. To be 90 minutes away makes a lot more sense not only for the players but for the organization. It’s easier for Alex to come, be in the stands, see us play and keep tabs on players.”
The team also announced its promotions schedule for the 2013 season, which opens on April 4 at Coca-Cola Field.
The fridaynightbash! returns, however each night will have a different theme including Disco Night (May 24), Zombie Night (June 7) and Pajama Jam Night (Aug. 9). Star Wars Night will be June 22 this year.
And while Celery has not won a Chicken Wing race in two years, it gets its own bobblehead, to be given away on Aug. 3. Mystery Ball Night will be Aug. 22. The full promotions schedule is at bisons.com.