Blue Jays mail bag
Baseball columnist Richard Griffin answers your Blue Jays questions from spring training. Click here to submit a question.
Q: Does the signing of Shannon Stewart solidify Reed Johnson’s exit from the Blue Jays in 2008? This pre-season the team seems more interested in Matt Stairs and it’s obvious that Lind will be a fixture in left field in '09. They also supplanted Johnson at the leadoff spot. I can see the platoon scenario going out the window and Stewart coming off the bench to spell Stairs when he is fatigued and J.P. dumping Johnson while he has trade value. This way Stewart can regain some value for next year’s market, Stairs can provide a strong bat and Lind will still get a whole season in Syracuse to develop and can be the starter spelled by Stairs in ‘09. Is this a likely scenario or is it jumping the gun?
Danny B., Ottawa
A: Reed Johnson’s tenure with the Jays has seemed like it is winding down ever since his too-early return to health last summer. The dedicated Johnson is a terrific defensive outfielder, but his offensive contributions in the second half of '07 diminished as he tried to come back earlier than he should have from back issues.
If Stairs does start the majority of games against righthanded pitching, and with Frank Thomas the everyday DH, that makes Johnson and Stewart, both righthanded hitters, pretty much the same player. In the wings as a fifth outfielder are Buck Coats, who can back up at all three positions, and super-sub Marco Scutaro, expected to add the two corner outfield spots to his repertoire. Where does that leave Reed?
There are NL teams that have former Jays personnel in their front office - like the Phillies, Cubs and Brewers - that all know what Johnson can do as a fourth outfielder, although at $3.275 million, that’s a fairly expensive bench player. By finding another home for Johnson and keeping Stewart for a season, the Jays would save about $2 million and if they kept Coats, they would have the late-inning defensive replacement they need. As you point out, Lind has ML experience, with Travis Snider on the fast track for '09.
Q: I love the column Richard. I cannot understand why the Jays always talk about batting Lyle Overbay second. He hits a lot of doubles and gets on base, but with his power and lack of speed, I feel he is much better in an RBI spot than clogging the bases up top. Furthermore, not that the Jays usually play small ball, but I think it is a waste to take a potential double or homer away from Overbay in order to move the runner over.
I feel Aaron Hill is much better suited for second, good bat control, more speed and he can make contact the other way to move the runner over. When does Aaron get a chance? I'd love to read your thoughts on this.
Jason MacDonald, Amherst
A: The days of Overbay batting second are over. Last year, it was an early season plan because they wanted a lefthanded bat near the top of the order and believed that when the other team’s first baseman was holding a runner on, Lyle could shoot groundballs through the hole on the right.
Also, they did not want the doubles-hitting first-baseman batting behind the doubles-killing Frank Thomas who has clogged more arteries on the basepaths than a diet of buttered bacon and poutine. As for Aaron Hill, that’s not a bad choice, but unfortunately batting first or second last year Hill was 1-for-25 and manager Gibbons will not go back to that well. I would give him another shot, but hey, that’s me.
Q: Hi Richard. I have a quick question for you: Is there anything wrong with Overbay’s hand? Is he 100 per cent? On Toronto's official site there seems to be some confusion regarding this topic. Hopefully you can clear this up. Thanks!
Jason O'Leary, Toronto
A: We won’t really see whether Lyle’s hand is 100 per cent until the games start, but all indications are - watching him do his drills before the games started - that his hand is sound. He has not worn any support on it and has done all the drills. His return to good, doubles-bashing health is vital for the Jays - both offensively and defensively - with Matt Stairs as the No. 1 backup.
Q: Richard, I'm curious about how Frank Thomas, who is working on hitting with Walt Hriniak, will be able to integrate what he is doing, with what Gary Denbo is preaching to the rest of the team? Do they just let Frank be Frank or do the two instructors have common approaches to hitting?
Kevin McLellan, Toronto
A: If Thomas was ever going to return to his batting roots with his first White Sox hitting coach, the legendary Walt Hriniak, it’s better he did that with the new Jays hitting coach, Gary Denbo, coming in than if Mickey Brantley, the old coach, was still there. That would have been a slap at Brantley. But by going to Hriniak, a disciple of Charley Lau, before hooking up with the new guy, there are no feathers ruffled.
Besides, all the best hitting instructors rely on basic principles that are common – like balance, vision, focus and relaxation – and then allow individuals to tailor their swings to what works for them. Denbo spent the winter studying video of all his hitters including the Big Hurt and all is well. Unfortunately, not even Donovan Bailey as a coach could make Hurt run any faster.
Q: Hey Richard,
Is there much of a drop off between Robinson Diaz and Rod Barajas? If no, why then sign Barajas? When are we going to see some development in the catcher position?
Corey McNeely, Mississauga
A: Depth is a key when you are going for the gold and since this is a big year for the Jays’ front-office team, they couldn’t go in with either Diaz or Curtis Thigpen as a backup catcher knowing that Gregg Zaun is most effective at 110-120 games played. I have no problems with Barajas because in the past lack of depth at key positions has cost them and I’m tired of hearing that incessant, infernal whining about injuries.
This may be the deepest Jays bench in a very long time. As for development at the catcher position, look for J.P. Arencibia, a college kid drafted in the first round out of Tennessee in '07. He may be the first J.P. to complete his five-year Jays plan in less than five years.
Q: Hi Richard,
The Jays seem intent on putting B.J. Ryan back in and closing by opening day; would you say that this is an admittance by John Gibbons and J.P. Ricciardi that their due date by ownership is almost up? If they bring him back and he blows up again and is gone for the balance of his contract, which of the two would lose their jobs first?
Bob Grier, Calgary
A: First of all, their due date is almost up and they’ve known it since last summer. Second of all, I wouldn’t necessarily say that they have insisted that Ryan will be ready to close by Opening Day. They are trying to stay positive with B.J., even if they know the truth – which apparently they always do.
I trust the Jays’ medical staff to be conservative and not to succumb to the GM’s timetable, but instead to stick to what is best for the player. If they bring Ryan back and he blows up, it will just be one of those things more the result of his delivery and arm action than of faulty medical attention.
As for which would lose his job first, I think that Paul Godfrey, Ricciardi and Gibbons are unmistakably linked like George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson careening across the field, chained together in the opening scenes of O Brother Where Art Thou. They don’t know exactly where they’re going, but they’re making good time and they’re going there together.
Q: Hi Richard,
My question pertains to the Blue Jays pitching staff. I know that there has been a lot of hype around how deep the staff is, but I do have come concerns. Apart from Roy Halladay, the rest of the staff is question marks.
Burnett may be good for 10-12 wins based on past history, and as good as Marcum and McGowan were last year, wouldn't it be fair to say that they might hit the sophomore jinx this year in that last year was their first full year to pitch in the majors, and this year the AL hitters will be more aware of their weaknesses? That's not even including the fact that their fifth starter still needs to be determined.
I'm still struggling to see how this team will get the 92-95 wins it needs to make it to the playoffs.
Zaki Ameen, Mississauga
A: Put it this way, if each of the Jays starting five matched his career high in wins, that would come to 71 victories; using Gus Chacin as the fifth guy because of his 13 wins as a high water mark. The bullpen won 17 games last year. So, if the relievers match that - 71 plus 17, hmm, carry the ought…that comes out to 88 wins.
That’s with Halladay matching his 22, then adding three 12’s for A.J. Burnett, Marcum and McGowan and Gustavo’s baker’s dozen. Of course, McGowan should win more, A.J. is always expected to win more, Gus won’t be in the rotation, and Doc has only ever won 20 games that one year. I guess that’s why they play the games, but it will be a struggle to win 92-95. The bullpen could add some to that 17.
Q: Hi Richard,
Once it was clear that Ricciardi would not be buying or trading for any starters this winter, the fifth spot in the rotation was advertised as a toss-up between Jesse Litsch, Casey Janssen, and Gustavo Chacin. Then on Feb 17th, you said that Chacin was no longer in consideration.
Two questions: why is Gus not even being considered, and what is the heart of the philosophical (or practical) argument between Gibbons and Ricciardi as to where Janssen should start the season?
Troy Kolar, Toronto
A: If you hang around and pay attention, you can always hear the change in attitude towards certain players from the top on down. Certain sarcasm creeps in and dismissal of questions involving certain players is done with consistency. Such has been the case with Gus Chacin.
As for the Janssen-Gibbons debate re the role of Casey Janssen, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg believes that the likeable righthander would need to use a consistent curveball as a third pitch, instead of a changeup, to go through batting orders effectively two or three times, just because of his Tom Seaver-like delivery. He also believes that in the long run, asking Janssen to throw too many curves would be detrimental and Arnsberg thinks that he had found a perfect role last year. Ricciardi is not sold on Jesse Litsch.
Q: Richard, love the Expo columns! We need more of them, on the definitive word on what happened to the team of the 80’s. Why did Roy Johnson and Pat Rooney fizzle out? Was Gary Carter divisive enough to trade, would Tim Raines have been greater had he not had the drug issues? What would Steve Rogers have done on an even mediocre team? What has happened to Jeff Reardon after he retired?
A: I appreciate your sentiments re the Expos. Their history is an important part of Canadian baseball history, but it’s a shame the bitterness that invariably finds its way into my personal e-mailbox any time I write about the Expos. There is something wrong when these people that claim to be good Canadian baseball fans cannot read an item about a big part of this country’s storied sports history without lashing out at the mere mention of Canada’s first major-league team.
As for what happened to the team of the '80s, the team’s front office - after losing out on the final weekend of the season to the Pirates in '79 and to the Philllies in '80 and then losing the final game of the '81 NLCS on Blue Monday - the front office panicked. Instead of staying the course in '82 with a still-developing pitching staff, John McHale traded third-baseman Larry Parrish to the Rangers for Al Oliver and took Rodney Scott off second base. They were part of the heart and soul of that clubhouse. In '82, with maybe their best offensive talent led by Oliver, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, the Expos were eliminated by the Cards with a week to go. The next year, Bill Virdon took over as manager and that was all she wrote for the team of the '80s.
As for Roy Johnson and Pat Rooney, Johnson was a talented lefthanded-hitting outfielder, but with a tough Chicago upbringing and no family support, he was not able to sustain his raw talent and build a career. Rooney was a typical successful college outfielder who never had major-league talent and rose as high as he deserved. He was lately in the news as Terry Francona’s agent of record in his new three-year extension with the Red Sox. He has done well in his post-playing career.
The Carter trade was not necessarily about being divisive. It was more of the same as what broke the team down in '82, in terms of Expos’ management believing that with Carter they had not reached the Promised Land so let’s change it up. With Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans they thought they could reload for the second half of the '80s. Raines’ drug issues were not as extensive as people would imagine. After his rookie season in '81, flush with major-league money, he returned home and fell into a bad crowd. He spent that winter and the '82 season under the influence until September when the Expos discovered his problem. He went to rehab for cocaine use in the winter of '82 and that was it. Even in his drug-addled season of '82, he batted .277, stole 78 bases, scored 90 runs and posted a .722 OPS. Steve Rogers was very similar to Dave Stieb in that he was a better pitcher than his won-lost record indicated. Rogers, now an executive at the Players’ Association, was too analytical and instead of shaking off a defeat would dwell on it. He was 10-5 with a 1.54 ERA in 17 starts as a rookie in '73 and finished his career with 37 shutouts and a 3.17 ERA. His 158-152 record was compiled with teams that ranged from horrible to great. He was what he was.
As for Jeff Reardon, it’s a sad story that we hope turns around. Several years ago, the original Terminator - given the name with requisite T-shirts and paraphernalia two years before Tom Henke - was retired and living in Palm Beach Gardens. He lost his son under tragic circumstances and then, in the wake of that emotional crisis, was arrested for shoplifting. Jeff is hopefully going to be able to put his life back together with the help of doctors, wife Phebe, and the support of family and friends.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space.