New pitchers looking forward to joining the Jays
TORONTO — While it took a few days for the news to sink in, newly acquired left-hander Mark Buehrle said he’s looking forward to the next stage of his career as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Buehrle, fellow starting pitcher Josh Johnson and all-star shortstop Jose Reyes were acquired by Toronto in a blockbuster trade with Miami earlier this month. General manager Alex Anthopoulos dramatically reshaped the roster with the 12-player deal along with the free-agent signings of outfielder Melky Cabrera and infielder Maicer Izturis.
Buehrle, who signed a US$58-million, four-year contract with the Marlins a year earlier, said he was not expecting to be dealt.
“I think it was just a shock and I think the next day or two was just a whirlwind,” Buehrle said Thursday on a conference call. “I was just trying to just figure stuff out. Obviously having to do a move again and everything that’s involved in switching teams. I think it was just craziness going on for a couple days.”
The 33-year-old left-hander spent his first 12 big-league seasons with the Chicago White Sox before signing with Miami. He said the trade to Toronto has sunk in now and he has embraced the change with “open arms.”
Buehrle said he’s working with his wife — also an avid dog lover — on exploring options regarding his two-year-old pit bull, a rescue dog named Slater. Ontario has had a pit bull ban in place since 2005.
“I was joking around with my wife saying that they probably shouldn’t let me in the country before they don’t let my dog (in), because my dog is so loving and so awesome,” he said.
“So we’re working with some people that we know that do a lot of stuff with pit bulls and people up there in Canada. We’re trying to work and do what we can do to try to get things resolved, but as of right now I don’t know exactly what we’re doing.”
The Blue Jays’ recent moves generated tremendous buzz in playoff-starved Toronto and signalled the team is ready to hang with the big boys in the tough American League East division. Anthopoulos also brought back former manager John Gibbons to succeed the departed John Farrell as skipper.
Johnson said he too was shocked to hear about the deal but is “extremely excited” to be joining the Blue Jays. He said that he was chatting about the lineup Wednesday night while out at a basketball game.
“I was just like, ‘Wow, it’s even better than when the trade first went through,”’ Johnson said.
The former Marlins join a Toronto team that already has a solid nucleus in place with players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia.
Buehrle said while the teams in the AL East are always challenging, he’s impressed with the club’s direction.
“You look at the team right now, you’ve got to like your chances of getting to the playoffs,” he said.
Buehrle and Johnson should provide a significant upgrade to Toronto’s starting rotation, which has been anchored by Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. Buehrle exceeded 200 innings for the 12th consecutive season this past year and went 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA.
He said he’s always enjoyed his previous visits to Toronto, calling it one of his favourite baseball cities.
The Blue Jays also acquired catcher John Buck and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio and received cash in the Miami trade.
In return, the Marlins got infielders Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino, catcher Jeff Mathis and outfielder Jake Marisnick.
Toronto’s payroll increased significantly with the deal. Buehrle has $52 million remaining on his deal, Johnson is owed $13.75 million in 2013 and Reyes has $96 million left on a contract that expires in 2018.
A six-foot-seven right-hander, Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010.
He was limited to nine starts in 2011 because of right shoulder inflammation.
The 28-year-old Johnson was 8-14 last season with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts. The two-time all-star recorded 165 strikeouts with 65 walks in 191 1/3 innings.
“I’d say maybe the last 15 starts, I felt so much better than before,” Johnson said. “I was kind of fighting myself, fighting my body, trying to do this or that, maybe trying to find a little bit more velocity. But once I relaxed and just trusted myself, it just kind of came out.
“I don’t know if I was throwing any harder or anything like that. But you could tell with the depth that I had on my slider and my curve ball, and the location of my fastball got much, much better.”
Johnson also said he talked with Buck — who played for the Blue Jays in 2010 — about what to expect in Toronto.
“Bucky said that it’s an amazing place to play,” Johnson said. “The fans are amazing, the coaching staff, all the way up to the front office. Everybody was amazing while he was there.
“And he said it shouldn’t be any different.”
Johnson said it “would be great” if Anthopoulos were to ask him about a contract extension. But he said his focus now is on preparation for the 2013 season.
“That’s the last thing on my mind is worrying about getting an extension or how long I’m going to be there, it’s more about winning,” he said. “That’s all I’ve been about since I started playing baseball. I’m all about winning, that’s all I want to do. It makes everything better.
“It makes food taste better, it makes your wife happier, it makes your family happier. Everything is better when you’re winning.”
Toronto is coming off a disappointing campaign in 2012. The Blue Jays finished with a 73-89 record, good for a fourth-place finish in AL East.
Notes: The annual winter meetings will be held next week in Nashville. The Dec. 3-6 gathering is set for Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.