Blue Jays mail bag
Every Wednesday, baseball columnist Richard Griffin answers your Blue Jays questions. Click here to submit a question.
Q: Hi Richard. J.P. (Ricciardi) recently mentioned that he would be “looking internally and externally” for rotation help now that Casey Janssen is out for the season. Other than Jesse Litsch, who would you expect to be the best candidates for the rotation? Brian Wolfe? Randy Wells? Who might the jays be interested in “externally”? One name that comes to my mind is Joe Blanton, although it could be a pipe dream. We all know J.P. loves wheeling and dealing with the A's. I would love to know your thoughts on who might be out there.
Kevin Cooke, Toronto
A: At this point, Jesse Litsch is the man. When J.P. talks about looking “internally and externally” for rotation help it has about the same significance as when O.J. said he would be looking for the “real killer”. The other day, the Jays’ “internal” selections, of an immediate nature according to Ricciardi, included Josh Banks, David Purcey and a 32-year-old guy named Kane Davis, signed to bolster the Syracuse rotation. Only pitching coach Brad Arnsberg ever really mentioned Wolfe as a starter, touting him near the end of last year. Rule 5 selection Randy Wells is likely to either be purchased and sent to the minors or else be offered back to the Cubs. As for Blanton, he will make $3.7 million in ’08 with two more arbitration seasons before free agency. He would solidify the Jays rotation but there are other teams willing to give up more quality prospects. Besides, if the Jays were interested in Blanton they wouldn’t have waited until Janssen got hurt, because he was still going to be a last-minute decision between the pen and the rotation.
Q: Should John Gibbons shoulder (no pun intended) some of the blame for Casey Janssen’s health problems? After all, Gibby basically managed a three-man bullpen last season, ignoring the likes of Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet for long periods of time while getting Janssen up and into games at least four times a week, even into games that were out of reach.
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge, ON
A: I don’t think it’s fair to point a finger at the manager in hindsight, but the fact is that Janssen made 70 appearances in his first year as a fulltime reliever, having never appeared in more than 28 games as a pro – 26 of them starts. Certainly what you say is true about relying on three men and ignoring the rest of the pen. Sometimes you wondered why they had 12 pitchers on the staff, when the manager only really trusted Jeremy Accardo, Janssen and Scott Downs. There were two seasons in a row, 1997-98, that Cito Gaston and Tim Johnson rode Paul Quantrill and Dan Plesac into the ground, but they were both veterans and when Plesac’s arm went numb, he asked for time off and received it from Johnson late in the ’98 season. Young pitchers tend to pitch through the discomfort. Hopefully everyone involved has learned a little about handling a bullpen.
Q: Hi Richard, quick question regarding A.J. Burnett. From what I have seen and read, Burnett has always been sort of an outsider in the clubhouse, not really fitting in. What do you project Burnett’s contribution to be this year and does he feel at ease with the Blue Jays’ organization and players.
Joshua Grant, Mississauga
A: Burnett seems to be trying to fit in more as a regular human being. This has already been noticed by teammates, media and front office, but the night is still young. He was said to be pretty much an outsider in the Marlins clubhouse not forging any real friendships other than the pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg. He left the Marlins at the end of his free agent year missing the final week because of a disagreement with manager Jack McKeon. As for his potential Jays contributions, there are some guys that really don’t need to feel at ease – or maybe are even oblivious to any problems. I predict that Burnett in 2008 sets a career high in wins, maybe 13-14, is disabled at some point and exasperates and frustrates the Jays once again with his superior stuff not translating into a front of the rotation performance.
Q: So what’s the deal with Gutavo Chacin? Obviously, the wheels have fallen off the car. But I haven't heard anyone really address why he’s considered so ineffective now. Has he not rebounded from injury? Have hitters figured out his stuff? Was his rookie season just a fluke? In sum, is there any hope for the guy? (Is there even any hope that he'll have some trade value at some point?)
Kevin Siena, Peterborough
A: There are some guys in baseball that reach a point where if they are going to have success it has to be with another organization. Such is the case with Chacin. He struggled with left arm strain in ’06, then when he showed up at camp in ’07, the Jays found his progress very slow. He was stopped by Tampa police in the spring, made five April starts and was disabled. He went out on a rehab assignment. They tried to option him out and continue his minor-league stint to save service time. His agent objected, he was returned to the DL and on and on and on wne the soap opera. It has been nothing but frustration for J.P. and the Jays in dealing with the 27-year-old Venezuelan. Yes, his rookie season was somewhat of a fluke. He had a funky delivery where the ball was tough to pick up, hidden until the last second, which gave him deceptive speed on his fastball. Video scouting and the second and third time around the block may have wrecked his mystique.
Q: Hey Richard, Is it just my imagination or is the Blue Jays 2008 spring the same deal as their 2007 season...anemic hitting from the regulars, so-so pitching with lots of explanations (too early to throw my cutter, no fingernail, etc.), and no worries? I'd sure be a bit worried if they were my team. Comments?
D'Arcy Draper, Markham
A: As my friend Serge Touchette of Le Journal de Montreal used to say: “You are a keen observateur of baseball.” That is indeed the way the Jays spring played out last year, although they did manage to turn it on near the end of March. But don’t forget that Tomo Ohka, John Thomson, Victor Zambrano, Josh Towers and Chacin combined for 20 starts last spring, while Roy Halladay, Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch combined for eight. A healthy Frank Thomas had 32 at-bats all spring. This year he already has 31. Thomas is the king of “what, me worry.” But spring training seems to breed more of it because you can always shrug it off. “When the bell rings, I’ll be there,” isn’t always the truth, but it gets people off your back in the meantime.
Q: At the moment we are in Florida with two Jays games under our belt!! My question: My husband and I have had an ongoing “discussion” about the Grapefruit League! He says it means nothing to what the future holds for the upcoming season. I SAY -- "when they keep losing", it must give some indication as to their ability to perform!! What do you say Richard?
Carol Dyck, Mississauga
A: I’ll have to side with your husband on this one. The teams that invariably have the best records in the spring can be lumped into categories. The first is teams that have had a couple of horrible years in a row and are trying to promote hope and ticket sales at home by running up a good spring record. A prime example is the Dev….uh, excuse me the Rays. The second category is teams that had terrific seasons the year before at AA and AAA. They are strong because these are the players that are on the field in the last three innings of Grapefruit League play and are facing the same players they competed against and beat the year before. The Jays ’92 and ’93 spring marks were 13-18 and 11-19 respectively. They were followed by World Series wins. Manager Jimy Williams probably made a mistake in 1989, finishing the spring at 21-10 and raising expectations, so that when he began the regular season slowly, he was axed and replaced by Gaston. Of course there are other teams that have bad spring marks because they just stink. I don’t think this year’s Jays are among that group. I think they weren’t deep enough at the upper levels of the system in 2007 to compete this spring (Category 2).
Q: Richard, I know that injuries are common, as evidenced by the deflating news about Janssen, so GMs should be in the business of redundancies for positions. But, doesn’t at some point it hurt morale? As in the left-field, musical chairs, who’s next fiasco? I mean, I love seeing Shannon Stewart back in left, but at some point the Jays have to say, “this is our guy”. Is this making them all work harder for the position, or souring them on management?
Alexander Horn, Frankfurt, Germany
A: Thanks. I don’t get many questions from Frankfurters. (Sorry I couldn’t resist). The Jays are deeper at more positions than they have been in years, because J.P. has had more money to spend. But where do you stop in shoring up the depth chart? The friends inside the clubhouse of Reed Johnson must have wondered about the signing of Shannon Stewart, just as the friends of Sal Fasano probably scratched their heads when Rod Barajas was brought on board and friends of John McDonald wondered about the signing of David Eckstein. However, the truth from Ricciardi’s side is that morale is only as deep as the team’s won-lost record once the season begins. All three of those moves have a chance to make the Jays better and J.P. has never been concerned about hurt feelings.
Q: Hi Richard, As the year begins I'm getting revved up about our chances. One of my biggest "uppers" is the emergence of Brandon League. Can you put his potential in perspective, as to his health, his role and his effect on the pitching staff. Incidentally, I never miss your column.
Jim Gray, Thornhill
A: Hang on. League has not emerged yet, but he is definitely showing signs of reaching his potential. If the young Hawaiian continues to impress this spring he could be in the mix as an eighth-inning setup man with Scott Downs subbing for Accardo or, if B.J. Ryan comes back to close, as a seventh inning pitcher. League will likely never reach 100 miles per hour again on the stadium radar gun, but with a different arm angle and more movement and a better idea of what he’s supposed to be doing to get people out, his future looks far better than it did 12 months ago.
Q: RG - A question regarding spring training and injuries. I can understand someone who plays baseball only in the summer who gets injured early in the season. However, if I'm getting paid millions a year, this would be a full-time job for me. Winters and off-season would be for training and making sure the upcoming season would be great. Why is it that spring training reveals “surprise” injuries? Don't these guys take care of themselves? Doesn’t the club monitor its “investments”?
Karim Kanji, Toronto
A: There are various plateaus of working out and preparing for a season and the further along you go, the easier it is to suffer injury. Working out at home in the off-season is one level of intensity. Working out before the spring games begin is a second level. The exhibition games are a third and the regular season is a fourth. Most of the spring training injuries are of the minor types of strains, nicks, bumps and bruises. They are reported but are not serious. It should be known that every Jay at both major and minor league camp undergoes a full medical examination that is kept on file so that the team knows the precise time frame when an injury occurred. They need to do that for potential liability concerns. Off-season workouts can be a source of unexpected injuries because teams give players an off-season program, but they don’t always follow it. Clubs have hundreds of millions of dollars on the line and are more concerned about keeping their players healthy than any of us, but the human body was not designed for a lot of things in baseball.
Q: I was shocked today to read that JP is looking at Armando Benitez. After listening to dozens of games here in San Francisco in which Benitez squandered leads for the Giants, I shudder to think of him in the Jays’ pen. And he’s poison in the clubhouse. Your pal Ray Ratto at the Chronicle will confirm these assessments. Please make noise about this dangerous development.
Donald Bruce Wright, Los Gatos, CA
A: I was shocked when Benitez was signed also, but not because of his poisonous ways, because of his poisonous mound performances. It’s hard to say he was poison in a clubhouse that included Barry Bonds. It’s like having the vial of cleaning fluid sitting in your medicine cabinet next to the arsenic. They’ll both kill you and you’ll be just as dead. Pick your poison. The Jays will carry seven relievers and even if B.J. Ryan isn’t there on Opening Day, I, personally, would take, ahead of Benitez, Accardo, Scott Downs, League, Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, Wolfe and Randy Wells. But that’s just me.