Blue Jays committed to Overbay
Struggling first baseman has support of manager, GM
TORONTO -- Managing a baseball club involves more than what happens between the chalk lines. An example came Wednesday night, when Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston showed a little faith in first baseman Lyle Overbay.
Overbay is fighting through a slump at the plate, but Toronto is committed to keeping him in the lineup as the everyday first baseman. That being the case, Gaston was not going to turn to his bench when Overbay stepped into the batter's box during a critical moment in an eventual 5-1 loss to the Tigers.
Trailing by four runs with two outs and runners on first and second base in the sixth inning, the left-handed-hitting Overbay squared off against left-handed reliever Bobby Seay. Gaston could have turned to veterans Kevin Millar or Jose Bautista -- veteran right-handers on the Jays' bench -- but the manager felt it was too soon for such a move.
"That's really sending a bad message right away," Gaston explained. "It's early in the season -- give him a shot and see what happens."
Overbay came up empty in the opportune situation, striking out to end the inning, but the result was besides the point in Gaston's eyes. It's better to show confidence in a player early in the year than to pull him off the field and risk having him question his role on the ballclub. That could hurt the team in the long run.
"You don't want to do that," Gaston said. "You'll lose some games, but you'll win some down the road by not doing things like that."
Gaston's point might make sense for now, but that doesn't mean the situation will play out the same way later in the season, especially if Overbay's offensive issues persist. There were questions surrounding the first baseman entering the year, which is one reason that Toronto pursued Millar over the offseason.
If Overbay isn't able to provide the type of numbers the Blue Jays believe he is capable of producing, there is a realistic chance that Millar will see increased playing time as the season moves along. Four games into the season, though, Toronto is holding out hope that Overbay can be a key contributor to the team's lineup.
"The No. 1 thing for us is we're committed to Lyle," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "He's our first baseman and we've got a lot of faith and confidence in him. As the season progresses, though, it's all about results for all of us. We've made a commitment to Lyle -- we made a long-term commitment -- and that shows you what we think of him.
"But, if we get to a point where we're not getting the production -- at any position -- I think we'd have to evaluate it. We're fortunate we have a guy like Kevin Millar here who is a veteran, who can sit a little while and still be a very productive player. But, I don't think there is any if, ands or buts about it -- we're commited to Lyle.
"It's like anything -- if the team is not playing well, we're up for doing anything to help make us a better team."
The Blue Jays made a long-term investment in Overbay following the 2006 season, when he hit .312 with 22 home runs, 46 doubles and 92 RBIs in 157 games in his first tour with the club. Toronto inked him to a four-year pact worth $24 million after that showing, and the first baseman is under contract for $7 million this season and next.
Midway through the 2007 season, Overbay had his right hand fractured by a pitch from White Sox starter John Danks. Ever since, the first baseman has struggled with his consistency and power production. He hit .240 in 122 games in '07 and finished last season batting .270 with 15 homers and 69 RBIs across 158 contests.
During this past offseason, the 32-year-old Overbay underwent a few surgeries to correct three hernias. The Jays held him out of the first week of games during Spring Training and Overbay ended the preseason hitting just .174 (8-for-46) with 17 strikeouts compared to 14 total bases in 16 Grapefruit League contests.
Entering Thursday, he was 1-for-12 at the plate through Toronto's first three regular-season games. The Jays are hoping the early results aren't a sign of things to come, and the club will continue to pencil Overbay's name into the lineup as the starting first baseman, but Toronto knows it has some insurance in Millar.
"We had to build depth in case Lyle doesn't have the type of year that we expect him to have," Ricciardi said. "We can't have no production out of that position, so we've got to be able to protect Lyle a little bit -- give him some time here and there to take a day off.
"Millar is such a good addition to the team in so many ways. He was there and he was a guy we targeted."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.