The Toronto Blue Jays go into the 2019 season battered, bereft of several of the “name” position players who were on the club last year, and not expected to do much of anything in the standings. But that’s not to say that there isn’t going to be interest and intrigue in the ballclub. Here is the fifth of five storylines to watch in the first month or so of the season.
5. Veteran Presents
Say what? Veteran Presents (or presence)? What veteran presence? I mean Marco Estrada signed with the Oakland A’s and got them all green bathrobes with their name and number on it, a la David Price. Where are the Blue Jays’ veteran presents?
Well, there are still a few veterans left on the club, even after Kendrys Morales was traded on the eve of the season. The veterans include Kevin Pillar (30 years old, four and a half seasons of service time), Freddy Galvis (29 years old, six years of service time), Justin Smoak (32 years old, eight-plus years of service time), Ken Giles (28 years old, four and a half seasons of service time) and Matt Shoemaker (32 years old, almost five seasons of service time). Clayton Richard is the grandfather at 35 and almost nine seasons of service time but he’s hurt at the moment.
So, I guess we’re using the term “veteran” loosely, but since so many players on this club have less than two years of service time or are under 28 years old, we have to make do with what we have. Even the oldest player on the current roster, Javy Guerra (33), has less than four years of MLB service time and barely made the roster due to injuries. Daniel Hudson, at 32, actually has over eight seasons of service time but his teammates don’t really know him yet, having just been signed.
So what is leadership going to look like in 2019 on this Blue Jays team?
My impression is that the “veterans” like Galvis, are going to lead by example. Galvis’s record of playing every day for the past couple of years is something that the younger infielders can aspire to, watching his preparation and his attention to detail on defense, something that didn’t go unnoticed in spring training. He’s been an older brother for Latino players like Lourdes Gurriel and has said that he’s willing to put his consecutive-games-played streak to rest if it helps the team. Being a team-first guy who takes pride in his defense and his preparation is always going to be great leadership quality. He also leads the Jays in hair, at least until Bo Bichette‘s flow arrives.
Veteran starter Clayton Richard took up Charlie Montoyo‘s idea of having all of the starters present in the bullpen when that day’s starter warms up and having them all come in to the dugout together. It was probably the fact that the club’s most senior pitcher was the one to champion the idea that it stuck and that the Blue Jays rallied around their starter. And the Jays had a record of four starts and 22 innings of starting pitchers not giving up a run to start the season. And when Richard missed his start to go on the IL with a knee issue? Disaster. The injury broke the veteran magic.
And what about Kevin Pillar? Well, we haven’t heard much about his leadership and these days, he’s probably fighting more for a job before the season ends than he is worried about leading this team. Could he be distracted because of the rumours floating around of a possible trade to San Francisco? Did the presence of Anthony Alford in the clubhouse the night before the season started make him nervous and throw him off to start the season? We probably won’t know the answers to these questions for quite a while.
UPDATE: This post was written mere hours before the news of Kevin Pillar’s trade to San Francisco reached our ears. So fare the well, Mr. Pillar.
Ken Giles seems to be getting more and more comfortable as a Blue Jay and after his first spring training has come out of the gate sending a message, striking out five in three innings. As the closer, he sets the tone for the bullpen and it looks like the bullpen hasn’t been horrible (not that some members have been fantastic either) yet. The bullpen was seen as one of the weakest areas of the team and, while the Jays lost two extra-inning games to the Tigers, the ‘pen also held the Jays in the game last night against the Orioles, as the offense came just short of coming back.
And what about Smoak? He seems to be a quiet leader type so we haven’t heard much from him.
On a whole, the veterans on the Blue Jays are giving something back to the younger players. Of course, this contribution intangible by nature, but it’s going to be fun to watch how the youngsters grow in the care of the elders in April and throughout the season.
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