Blue Jays mail bag
Baseball Columnist Richard Griffin kicks off spring training - and a new Blue Jays blog - by dipping into his mail bag. Click here to submit a question for Rich and he'll answer a selection in this space every Wednesday.
Q: Richard, Heading into camp, what’s the best batting order you think the Jays might go with? And would they benefit with a mixture of lefties and righties at the plate?
Cam C., Toronto
A: The Jays would definitely benefit from more lefthanded batters in the lineup, but they are what they are. Against righthanded pitchers they would probably go with:
Against lefthanded starters, they might try:
The lineup weaknesses are in the task of finding a legitimate second place batter for the lineup, in finding enough lefthanded bats and in not having the lead-footed Thomas clog the bases by placing him in the top four of the batting order.
Q: Richard, love your work! As a lifelong, diehard baseball and Jays’ fan I have a question about the team in general. What is their identity? Where is this Blue Jay way? The Yankees have the pinstripes and a leader in Derek Jeter. I think J.P. and his marketing managers need to start by returning to pitching and defence (the first we had, the latter we traded away to Arizona) and go back to being the BLUE Jays.
The Devil Rays have smartened up and realized that black is a football colour. J.P. needs to model his franchise after winners, not a statistical method that requires juiced up players and the ability to win in the playoffs. But then again, we can't make ‘em anyways. Long live the black and teal and silver Jays!
Dan Marshall, New York
A: A lot of your observations and frustrations are the same as many die-hard, old school Jays fans. Right now, Blue Jays Way is just a street address for the Rogers Centre. And for the past little while it’s been a cul-de-sac. In fact, if the Jays are going to win in the next two seasons, it will be with pitching and defence, both of which are already above average. The outfield D, with Vernon Wells and Alex Rios and the infield with Lyle Overbay at first, Aaron Hill at second, David Eckstein and John McDonald at short and Scott Rolen at third base is solid defensively. With Zaun starting most games, the task of controlling opponents’ running games is still a problem, but Zaun calls a good game for his pitchers and is more familiar with them than Barajas, who throws much better.
The Jays pitching can be very good if the breakthrough guys from a year ago continue to improve. But the black uniforms of the Blue Jays, that I agree with. However they seem to sell more of the club gear nationally because of it, which, of course, is the key.
Q: Since (Vernon) Wells and (Frank) Thomas were so slow out of the gate last season are they going to ride more of the buses in spring training?
Marcus Heinrichs, Toronto
A: Thomas last spring only played in one Grapefruit League road game and that was in Tampa vs. the Yankees and he drove his own car to that game, so, in fact the Big Hurt never took a bus last spring. He has promised over the winter that he will try and alter his preparation to include more road work, but that remains to be seen. As for Wells, a notoriously slow starter, he has made his fair share of trips in Florida over the years. The Jays are hoping that with his shoulder issues behind him that he will be quick out of the gate and have a productive first two months.
Q: First time, long time. Are the Jays serious about rushing B.J. Ryan back from Tommy John surgery in nine months? When they pulled this same stunt with (Victor) Zambrano last year I was skeptical but not really concerned because it was Zambrano. They have a lot of money tied up in Ryan, why are they rushing him back two months early?
Sheldon Klootwyk, Ottawa
A: That is a strong concern, but one that the Jays do not seem overly worried about. I agree with you, because history shows that 12 months post-Tommy John surgery is usually the proper rehab time prior to a return. They did rush Victor Zambrano last year, having him open the season in the major-league bullpen, pitching him sporadically in April and then thrusting him into the rotation at the end of the first month. He failed and now is gone.
After speaking with Ryan on Tuesday, he seems amped for the start of the season and claims that he has had no setbacks since starting to throw again. I agree that with the success Jeremy Accardo and Co. had last year and with B.J. having three years left on his contract, being conservative and careful with Ryan would be the best course of action. We will see if the Jays agree. It’s something to watch carefully during the spring.
Q: Rich, I was wondering your take on Adam Lind. Just last year he seemed the crown jewel of the organization's farm system, but now a year older, it seems, barring injury, he'll once again be down in Triple-A. Not only that, but with lefty hitting Matt Stairs signed for 2009 as well, there seems no place for the youngster at all.
With only LF as a viable playing position, do you think the Jays have pretty much abandoned grooming their own superstars for the foreseeable future? I mean, in regards to position players, the only successes over the last six years with Ricciardi's drafted players seem to be Aaron Hill and…well... Aaron Hill. That's pretty rough.
Nate Holmes, Toronto
A: When the Jays decided to re-sign Stairs, it certainly set Lind back in terms of his role in ’08. They feel that the defensive liabilities Stairs brings to the game are more than offset by the potent bat and the lefthanded threat he presents, as well as his strong, positive veteran influence in the clubhouse.
Lind, no Nuryev in the outfield himself, will not make the Opening Day roster if he is not going to play – or at least platoon. When Stairs departs the scene in two years, Lind might have a chance to play, although by that time, young Travis Snider will likely be ready to contribute. Of course, also by that time, Frank Thomas will be out of the picture as well, which leaves room for an extra bat.
I like Lind’s offensive development last season and was surprised that Stairs was re-upped.
You’re right about the limited success of Ricciardi’s draft selections, but on the pitching side, at least he’s had Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch.
Q: Richard, I've heard some complaints about some fans on how Curtis Thigpen will most likely be heading to Triple A Syracuse because of the recent Rod Barajas signing. But didn't the Jays use him last year mostly as a first baseman because they're not projecting him a catcher anymore because of his skills?
Paul Miller, Waterloo
A: Curtis Thigpen was never going to be a part of the 2008 Jays plans. The Jays need to win right now and Thigpen is not in that picture. Signing Barajas has not affected Thigpen’s ’08 season. He was slated to go back to Triple-A, splitting time with Robinson Diaz. Many in the organization prefer Diaz in the long run and that led to plans to find another position for Thigpen. At first it was going to be second base and then first base. Now that they have pretty much committed to Hill at second and with Lyle Overbay healthy and ready to play every day at first, it looks like Thigpen will continue to catch. Syracuse is where he belongs.
Q: Hey Richard, as I grow ever-weary of JP's decisions, I have three questions about David Eckstein:
1. What is his career and 2007 on-base percentage;
2. I've heard he could be a defensive liability - how likely is it that we'll see Johnny Mac in late-innings defensive assignments; and
3. Why was St. Louis willing to let this guy walk?
Doug S., Peterborough
A: Ah, David Eckstein. The man has two World Series rings – with the Angels and Cardinals, which is hard to argue with. But you always wonder how he does it. In answer to your questions, he had a .356 on-base average last year and is at .351 lifetime. Defensively, his arm from the hole is below average, but his release is quick and accurate. He seems to make every out at first a close one. With the presence of Marco Scutaro as a reasonable third option at all three infield positions, it makes it easier for manager John Gibbons to bring McDonald into games in which the Jays have a late-inning lead. It’s likely to happen a lot.
As for why the Cards were willing to let Eckstein walk, they felt his days as a shortstop were numbered. The Cards have former Jays’ shortstop Cesar Izturis and prospect Brendan Ryan 1-2 on the depth chart. In fact, many of the teams that had spoken to Eckstein as a free agent were interested in moving him over to second base. The Cards didn’t want to give him a three-year deal as did the Jays.
Q: Who are the most promising rookies coming down the pipe that we can expect to make the greatest leap this year, either within the minor league ranks or into the major league club?
Matthew Vatta, Toronto
A: Look for outfielder Ryan Patterson to see a lot of action in Grapefruit League games this spring. He is a better defender than Adam Lind and could be brought up during the season if there are any injuries. Much has been written about young outfielder Travis Snider. He’s a good one, but don’t look for him to reach the majors until the rosters expand in September. The top pitching prospect, lefthander Brett Cecil was selected in last summer’s draft and is likely still a year or two away. There aren’t many others that could make the leap to the major-league club.
Q: I've noticed many pundits saying that Tampa will be able to put together a respectable season this year and are on their way to contention. I think much of this has to do with the prospect of not finishing last because the Orioles have taken such a turn for the worst. I really like Tampa's core (Crawford, Upton, Shields, Pena, Kazmir), but they look to be a long way away from competing for anything to me. Do you think they're starting to put something together in Tampa and does this/would this add any degree of urgency for JP if even third place in the division isn't a guarantee?
Danny B., Ottawa
A: The Rays have never finished above .500 but they believe this year they have a chance. If they do, then the Jays would be struggling to stay ahead of them in the division standings. Think about it. With the Red Sox and Yankees seeming a lock to win over 90 games, if the Rays step up; how often do you see four clubs in the same division all finish above .500?
The Rays rotation has two solid starters at the top in Scott Kazmir and James Shields. Add Matt Garza and the still-developing Edwin Jackson and they could cause problems. The organization is loaded with prospects, so it would seem that the Rays are indeed on the verge of putting something together. However, since Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi is fixated on the Sox and Yankees, it’s unlikely that the development of the Rays has caused him to lose any sleep. If the Jays end up battling the Rays for third place, then J.P. is likely a goner, anyway.
Click here to send Richard a question and he'll answer a selection in the Blue Jays blog.