Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Jason Frasor has been around the city of Toronto and the team’s clubhouse long enough to have a pretty good idea of what the franchise has, wants and needs.
Now, on the verge of the 2011 campaign – his eighth with the club – an optimistic Frasor is ready to embark on the latest chapter of a quietly productive career, citing a retooled coaching staff as the major reasons why.
But despite the veteran’s positive outlook heading into the new campaign, the offseason wasn’t without its share of setbacks.
After seeing a successful 2010 season come to a close – one in which he set new career-highs in strikeouts and appearances – Frasor was set to reap the benefits of free agency for the first time in his career.
The only problem was that he was ranked as a Type A free agent.
When a player is ranked as a Type A free agent, it’s primarily due to their success on the field, something Frasor certainly had in 2010 with a 3.68 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.
The downfall of the particular status, however, is that if a player is offered – and declines – arbitration from their former club, any other team looking to sign the player must surrender a first-round draft pick to the former club in order to do so.
Unfortunately for Frasor, that wasn’t something other teams were willing to do.
“I was hoping to get a two-year deal from somebody,” Frasor said. “I talked to four teams in the offseason, and no one told us that, if I was offered arbitration and I declined it, they were willing to give up a draft pick for me. Not one team.”
“For middle relievers, or a fourth outfielder, it’s really tough.”
In the end, Frasor wound up agreeing on a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Blue Jays for the 2011 season with a $3.75 million club option for 2012. It may have been a blessing in disguise.
Even though Frasor was mentally ready to put on a different uniform and leave the only organization he has really known, he’s excited to begin another season with the Blue Jays.
“I’m thrilled to be back. It’s really nice to be back,” Frasor said.
On a relatively young team, the 33-year-old Frasor is a veteran presence by age alone, but entering his eighth season with the Blue Jays organization he’s also one of the club’s longest tenured players.
Having been around the clubhouse and the city for the better part of a decade, he understands the significance of the progress the Jays have made both on and off the field, quick to point out the aspect of the 2011 season he’s looking forward to most as Opening Day approaches.
“The new coaching staff,” says Frasor, without hesitation, “I think it was time for a change, and [management] certainly went out and cleaned house. Just an opinion, but I think it was time for a fresh start. From the head coach to the bullpen coach, [they’re] just great baseball people and everybody seems to be communicating, so I’m excited about that.”
But the Jays didn’t just clean house, they strategically added valuable pieces to their coaching staff that beautifully complement the coaches that the Jays retained: Hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, pitching coach Bruce Walton, and third-base coach Brian Butterfield.
The most notable new arrival is manager John Farrell, who previously spent time as the pitching coach for the Jays’ division rival Boston Red Sox. Farrell brought along his close friend Torey Lovullo – also from the Red Sox organization – as the Jays’ new first-base coach. New bench coach Don Wakamatsu – a former Major League manager – will serve as Farrell’s right-hand man in the dugout, and his experience as a catcher will be valuable to J.P. Arencibia, who will work with him the most.
Rounding out the additions were a pair of familiar faces: bullpen coach Pat Hentgen and coaching assistant Luis Rivera.
Hentgen spent parts of 10 seasons with the Blue Jays as a player, winning the Cy Young Award in a Blue Jays uniform in 1996.
Rivera spent the 2010 season managing the Jays’ Double-A affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats, and will bring his knowledge of the players coming up through the system and ability to speak English and Spanish to the Major League level for the Blue Jays organization.
Overall, it’s a masterful blend of old and new that gives the Blue Jays one of the most talented coaching staffss in all of baseball. Frasor has seen positive changes to the team’s morale in the past, but in this year more than any other.
The main reason for that, to him at least, is evident.
“It’s hard to explain, but [the coaching staff] is just… refreshing.”