Reyes ready to run with second chance in Toronto
Speedster excited to see what he, returning core can do in 2014 when healthy
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jose Reyes has been afforded something with the Blue Jays that he never received in Miami: A second chance.
Reyes joined the Marlins as a free agent prior to the 2012 season with grand expectations of turning that team into a contender. Less than a year later, he was traded away as Miami abandoned its postseason aspirations in favor of rebuilding for the distant future.
The initial outlook was similar in Toronto, as Reyes joined a star-studded group that began the year as one of the favorites to win the World Series. Once again, though, his club fell well short of that goal. But instead of breaking things up, the Blue Jays have decided to see things through, which gives Reyes his shot at redemption.
"That means a lot," Reyes said during a sitdown interview with MLB.com. "In Miami, we didn't have that opportunity. Well, they traded me after the first year, so I didn't have that opportunity. Here, it's a little bit different.
"We know we had a tough year, a disappointing year, but at least we have the same guys here that went through it last year. I think this year we're going to be way better."
The most remarkable thing about the Blue Jays' 2013 season isn't that they didn't contend for a spot in the playoffs, but how quickly everything went off the rails. Toronto began the year by losing its first three series. By the end of April, the club was eight games under .500 and already 9 1/2 games back of the Red Sox for first place in the American League East.
A crippling ankle injury to Reyes was one of the main reasons why. He was just 10 games into his career with the Blue Jays when he suffered a severely sprained left ankle while stealing second base in Kansas City. Reyes is one of the most upbeat and personable athletes in the game, but in this case, he was left completely devastated.
Reyes was put on crutches and told he wouldn't be back until the All-Star break. To his credit, the four-time All-Star defied the odds by returning before the end of June, but it was apparent all along that he still wasn't himself.
The Dominican Republic native was frequently spotted limping around the field and in the clubhouse. His trademark speed and explosiveness weren't quite there, and the doctors told him the only way he would get it back was with a period of prolonged rest.
Despite all of the adversity, Reyes still put together a rather productive season. He hit .296 with a .353 OPS and 10 homers in 93 games, but he also wants people to know that the Blue Jays never really got to see him at his best. The plan is for that to change this season.
"Last year was kind of tough for me when I came back, because I had to limit myself in a lot of stuff that when I'm pain free, I'm able to do," Reyes said. "Stealing, hitting a triple and stuff like that. Last year I wasn't able to do that, but thank God I went through the offseason working extra hard on my ankle to get it stronger. Now I'm 100 percent, and I can't wait to get onto the field and play like the Jose Reyes from before."
Reyes said his No. 1 goal heading into the season is to play more than 150 games. That will be a challenging task considering the Blue Jays play half of their games on AstroTurf, which is notoriously tough on players -- especially ones who have a history of injuries who are trying to find ways to limit the toll on their bodies.
The 30-year-old said "it wasn't good" when asked to describe his experience with the turf, but then also quickly pointed out that despite all of the preseason concerns, his hamstrings never became an issue and the ankle injury happened away from Rogers Centre.
Natural grass is on its way to Rogers Centre, but isn't expected to be installed until at least 2018. Reyes could still be around then, but it's so far into the future that he's not going to concern himself with the politics.
"People know that playing on the turf every day is tough," Reyes said. "But as a player, it is what it is. We have to play in there, so you have to find a way ... so you can stay on the field and adjust to the turf. It's not in anybody's mind. Playing on the turf every day is going to beat up your body."
With a healthy roster, the Blue Jays' focus now shifts to what it will take to achieve those lofty expectations from a year ago. Toronto's core remains mostly intact, and while the starting rotation remains the big question mark, production from the likes of Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion also could go a long way in getting the organization back on track.
There was disappointment from the fanbase that more moves weren't made during the offseason to upgrade the roster, but Reyes doesn't seem too upset by any of that. All he wanted was the Blue Jays to get a second chance. Now they have it.
"We expect to win," Reyes said. "Since the first day we took Spring Training, that's the goal and that's the attitude as a player. That's my attitude. I know that the guys in the clubhouse, that's their attitude too. Winning, that's the main goal, especially after what happened last year, a disappointing year."