Vancouver Canadians will get to see more Blue Jays prospects such as Otto Lopez come through Nat Bailey Stadium.
Vancouver Canadians co-owner Jake Kerr shared his thoughts on local sports radio about the Toronto Blue Jays‘ recent invitation to the C’s to become one of their four full-season minor league affiliates.
Speaking with TSN 1040‘s Matt Sekeres and Blake Price, Kerr said it was “a good day for the Canadians and Vancouver baseball.”
“I think we’ve very much wanted to stay with the Jays. It makes a world of sense to us. We’ve had a great 10-year-plus relationship with them and at an operational level, we think it really works well and so do they. That was the good part of the story.
The issue that was facing us was that under the new major league affiliation rules, each team only got to choose four affiliates and at the Single-A level, from a geographic standpoint, Toronto would’ve been better off going to Michigan. They’ve had a team in Michigan for longer than they had been in Vancouver and so there was that debate. … We lobbied very hard for Vancouver. I think there was a point in which (the news) that leaked out from San Francisco that said we’re going to Oakland but other people read it too.
The interesting twist was the Premier of British Columbia, Mr. (John) Horgan, is more of a baseball fan than I knew and he, on his own volition, picked up the phone during the election and phoned the chair of (Jays ownership) to indicate to him how important it is to the province and in particular, the people of Vancouver, that the Blue Jays stay with the C’s. I think that had a full bit to do with (the Jays) decision.
This is not just a baseball decision for them. They want to re-establish themselves here in British Columbia in a major way. They’re building a new headquarters and I think it was an important (for) the corporation even though some of the baseball guys might have felt it would be easier to drive to Michigan.”
The prospect of being without affiliated minor league baseball in Vancouver never entered Kerr’s mind.
“I was never concerned about Vancouver being eliminated because our operation here is so much better than so many others that I knew from our dealings with Oakland that Oakland would have picked us up no matter what. It turned out the selections were very much a matter of the major league clubs picking their own affiliates. MLB gave a general template to it but .. when you look carefully at who got who, there are some real anomalies and those are because of things like Vancouver and Toronto. For instance, (the) LA (Dodgers) own Oklahoma City so they’re not moving out of Oklahoma City. It doesn’t make any geographic sense but that’s the way it is and there’s a lot of cases like that. I never doubted there’d be baseball here. I did doubt that for a while … that the Jays would be here.”
Kerr says the Blue Jays gain the benefit of Vancouver serving as an introduction to life in Canada.
“If you talk to Charlie Wilson, the (Blue Jays) player development guy, it’s a giant deal for them. It allows the players to understand how to use a passport, how to get across the border. Our housing situation here where he have so many good housing families, a lot of whom speak Spanish. For a lot of kids from the Dominican and etc., this is the first stop and being in Canada really matters. It also matters to … the Blue Jays.
To my other amazement, we’re on after the Blue Jays on some Saturday nights on TV in Ontario, we get good ratings. I guess the guys sitting in the bars watching the Jays stick around to see the C’s. That’s worked really well for us too.”
Kerr was asked about the challenges of moving to full-season High-A baseball but he is focusing on the opportunities.
“We think it’s all positive. The Triple-A guys had had problems because they played a full 154, then 162 games and had to start in April when the majors started. Our deal is we’re going to be playing 132 games so we won’t start until mid-May. Sure there’s some May showers but there’s showers in June too in Vancouver. We think having inventory is going to be very helpful. We were sold out and I think it’ll be good for everyone, for the fans and for us.
Secondly, we’re going to be playing a calibre of better baseball. We’re going to be playing High-A full season. You won’t see any more Vladimir Guerrero (Jr.’s) miss us. It’ll be a four-step process within the Jays so really it’s all good news.”
Kerr says although the Boise Hawks and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes “unfortunately got dropped” from the Northwest League, it will create one benefit for the players.
“It’s going to be a far better situation frankly for the guys closer to the west coast. The bus trip to Boise was a son-of-a-gun … 13 or 14 hours. The major league are just not going to let that happen anymore.”
Part of the new arrangement between Major League Baseball and Minor League baseball involves the upgrading of minor league ballparks. Kerr says there are plans in the works.
“It’s a 10-year agreement with the Blue Jays so there are going to be major improvements with the stadium. In a couple of contexts, there are issues with locker rooms, player facilities, more modern analytics devices, etc. that we’re going to have to deal with over the next number of years. They’re going to give us time to build that stuff out. All of the teams are going to have to do it. We’ve got a great relationship with the City of Vancouver so I’m confident that we can joint-venture on that stuff.
But for the fans, it’ll mean that down the right field line, we have had planned—and have had in the works before COVID-19—to improve the picnic area and build a bunch of new facilities, better food and beverage, a bar and a bunch of stuff. We’re still going to do that. We’re going to do that probably on top of the building that we’re going to build for the players. It’ll be some major construction at Nat Bailey but it won’t start for sure until after the 2021 season.”
Along with co-owner Jeff Mooney, Kerr is looking to stick around for the foreseeable future but has given thought to a succession plan that will not involve family.
“One thing I guarantee you is our heirs will not (take over the team). Mooney and I … are not getting any younger but having said that, we really do enjoy what we’re doing. I know this sounds trite but we never got into this as a big-time investment. We’ve been fortunate the fans have come and we’ve done better than we thought we could.
As far as we’re concerned, we’re going to stick around at least to see all of the build-out and how the league works. I think our great hope would be that there’s a number of local sports people that we’re very good friends with and it would be our hope eventually that obviously the ownership stay local and I think there are some pretty logical guys we can talk to. We haven’t done a bit of it. We don’t intend to right now but there’s some pretty good prospects moving forward.”
Kerr is looking forward to “marketing our 132 games and get back to business” and—unlike his ownership partner Mooney—vows to never perform the Chicken Dance during home games at the Nat. Still he may be doing a dance of joy—perhaps an Irish jig—that the C’s and Jays are back together again.
A number of former Vancouver Canadians have moved on from the Blue Jays after the recent Rule 5 draft. 2017 Canadians pitcher Dany Jimenez was selected by the Oakland A’s in the major league phase after being taken by the San Francisco Giants one year ago. The 26 year-old from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic appeared in two games with the Giants and struck out Mookie Betts before he was returned to the Jays. The 6-foot-3 right-hander turns 27 on December 23.
Joining Jimenez in the Oakland organization is fellow righty Zach Jackson, who was selected in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. The former Arkansas Razorback toiled for Monty’s Mounties in 2016 and collected the win in his C’s debut in Boise July 16. He went on to post a 3.57 earned run average and struck out 23 batters in 17-2/3 innings. Jackson split 2017 with Lansing and Dunedin, made it to New Hampshire in 2018 and reached Buffalo in 2019 where he posted a 9-0 with a 3.97 ERA and struck out 68 batters in as many innings. The 6-foot-4 hurler from Tulsa turns 26 on Christmas Day.
Also taken in the minor league Rule 5 draft was 2017 C’s right-hander Justin Dillon who was chosen by the New York Mets. The Sacramento State product went 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA and whiffed 28 batters in 23 innings for Vancouver. He was also the winning pitcher in Game 2 of the North Division final against Spokane and struck out seven batters in three innings in the Game 4 Northwest League championship clincher against Eugene. Dillon split time in Dunedin, New Hampshire and Buffalo in 2018 and pitched in Dunedin and New Hampshire again in 2019 where he won a combined 10 games with a 3.63 ERA.
Dillon’s 2017 teammate Jake Fishman was reeled in by the Miami Marlins. The left-hander from Union College struck out 23 batters and walked only four in 23 innings to go along with a 1-0 record and a 1.17 ERA. He earned a promotion to Lansing in late August and missed out on the 2017 Northwest League championship celebration. The 2018 season saw Fishman go up to Dunedin with a cup of coffee in Buffalo that saw him strike out a batter in 1-1/3 shutout innings. The Newton, Massachusetts native pitched closer to home by spending 2019 with New Hampshire where he sat down 74 batters over 62-2/3 innings. His career ERA in the minors is 2.97 and has tossed a chair to 183 hitters over 166-2/3 innings. Turning 26 on February 25, the 6-foot-3 Fishman could find himself in the majors in 2021.
I reached out to Fishman and he provided me with an update of what’s going on him.
“I ended up getting a phone call from the Blue Jays minor league coordinator, Gil Kim, who broke the news to me. It was a nice conversation and I definitely appreciated that he called. Shortly after I got a call from the Marlins to welcome me to the organization.
I’ve been training at Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts. They do a great job giving us everything we need to be successful in the weight room and off the mound. They also have great protocols around creating a safe environment for training during the pandemic.”
And yes, he’s been hearing a lot of Fisher/Marlins-related comments
“I’ve definitely gotten a ton of those puns already haha but it’s all fun to me.”
The fifth and final Vancouver Canadian to change addresses is 2017-2019 first baseman Yorman Rodriguez who was claimed by the San Diego Padres. Rodriguez enjoyed one of the best hitting seasons by a Vancouver hitter in its short-season history by hitting .369 over 40 games in 2019, a 102-point increase from his batting average the year before. He finished the year by hitting .344 with Lansing.
In another transaction of note, 2012 Vancouver Canadians outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. is now with the Cincinnati Reds after signing a minor league deal that includes an invitation to spring training. He slugged 13 home runs while slashing .241/.297/.412 with Baltimore last season. The 28 year-old from Peachtree, Georgia began his big league career in 2017 with Toronto before being traded to the Orioles for international bonus pool money before the 2019 campaign.
On a final note, congratulations to 2017-2018 Vancouver Canadians outfielder Brandon Polizzi for earning his Kinesiology degree from Cal State-Dominguez Hills.