Blue Jays mail bag
Baseball columnist Richard Griffin answers your Blue Jays questions every Wednesday in the baseball blog. Click here to submit a question for Richard.
Q: Hey Richard,
My question is, where’s the plan?
So we re-sign Johnny Mac, then you trade for Marco Scutaro, then you go get David Eckstein? You re-sign Reed Johnson, knowing that you want Matt Stairs and Adam Lind to play, and then you go out and get Shannon Stewart? Is J.P. just blindly going forward, grabbing who he can in a futile and vain attempt to make the playoffs? We currently have zero positional players coming up through our farm system. We aren't going to win anything with the team the way it is, so why are we not concentrating on the future?
Andy Phillips, Toronto
A: The Jays are like the guy hanging around the backstage door of "America’s Next Top Model" waiting for each week’s loser to ask them for a date. The Jays know they’re not good-looking enough or rich enough to date the eventual winner, but, hey, the weekly losers are also beautiful, if somewhat flawed, and may even be a little vulnerable and desperate. In the words of Raptors' analyst Jack Armstrong…"HELLL-ohh!!"
As for the philosophy of the Jays, it has always seemed to be "Whatever makes you better…right here, right now." The only problem is that sometimes you’re getting better at a position where you were already good in the first place and, worst of all, you had made a commitment to a man.
The Ricciardi philosophy of ratcheting up his instant gratification can best be seen at third base. His first season, J.P. had slickly traded for the rookie-of-the-year, third-baseman Eric Hinske. He quickly signed him to a five-year deal. Two years later, he bailed on Hinske and signed Corey Koskie to a three-year deal, talking about clubhouse influence and veteran (Canadian) leadership. One year later, he dumped Koskie, eating major money and traded the best second baseman in the league for Troy Glaus, a veteran with three years left and an option at the hot corner, who had more power than Koskie, supposed clubhouse presence and had won a World Series MVP. Two years later, he has cast a roving eye towards the Cards’ Scott Rolen, a better defender and a more Type-A personality who had also won a World Series. Let’s see. Between 2004-08 that’s four starry third basemen in five seasons. A pattern? What do you think the odds are that Rolen finishes out his contract in Toronto?
As for John McDonald, don’t criticize Ricciardi for that contract … other than brickbats for the way he handled McDonald, the man, after he had signed Eckstein, settling for leaving a message on J-Mac’s answering machine to let him know he had been replaced as the starter without a game even having being played. But the $3.8 million, two-year contract can’t be criticized. McDonald, in effect, was rewarded by J.P. for his season-saving efforts of ’07 and is making more for the next two years than he ever imagined.
As for Scutaro, he is the depth the Jays can now afford on a nine-figure payroll. As for Shannon Stewart added on top of Johnson, Lind and Stairs, I’ll wheel out one of my favourite throwaway lines: "It's like bringing Darnell Coles to Newcastle."
The reason the Jays are not concentrating more on the future is that for Ricciardi, the future is now. Face it. If he does not win 88 games, the final two years of his own contract are in jeopardy.
Q: Hey Richard,
My buddies and I managed to snag some ducats to the Mets-Yanks at Yankees stadium in May. We needed to get down to "the House" before the wrecking ball did. Any baseball-related highlights you would suggest we include in the trip to the Big Apple?
Sean Keating, Ottawa
A: That is a brilliant decision. There is nothing like walking up through the Yankee Stadium tunnel from the concourse to the seats, emerging for that first spine-tingling look down at the same field trod upon by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Reggie and all of the game’s great Hall-of-Famers. It’s re-affirming and energizing. That must be your first look at the field. No cheating. Then you must take a tour through Monument Park and after that head out to the right field bleachers to watch the visiting pitcher warm up just prior to the game as the Bleacher Creatures gather.
Get to the Bronx (via subway) early enough to find a battered bar and grill on the River St. side and have a brew and a sandwich. The subway ride for a Mets-Yankees game is the greatest, with fans from both sides exchanging spirited jabs. Away from the park, ask someone where Ebbetts Field once was in Brooklyn, take the subway over there and just stand there and imagine the Boys of Summer. Get back on the subway and head out to the Class-A ballpark of the Mets at the farthest reaches of Brooklyn near Coney Island. The best-case scenario would be if there was a N.Y. Penn League game actually being played. That is horsehide heaven. Avoid Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. It's a ripoff.
Q: Richard, the thing I don't understand about teams like Toronto is why they're so reluctant to pay big money for draft prospects with signability issues, yet will needlessly waste money on fringe role players? They get stuck with a team that’s unable to acquire elite talent (either through the draft or free agency) and freely allow some of that talent to be taken by their competitors on the relative cheap. That doesn't seem like the best strategy towards competing.
Greg Wells, Toronto
A: I agree with much of what you are saying. Former Jays' GM Gord Ash was always a proponent of eventually being able to trade draft choices in the June entry process. It's the only major sport where you can't deal draft picks. Currently (and the Jays have always been part of it) there is a huge Catch-22 with the June draft. The teams that finish at the bottom of the standings are often teams that have low payrolls. They can't afford the best players. They get high draft picks but can't afford to pay the huge signing bonuses of the top guys, so they find someone else that they know they can sign at a reasonable price and elevate him from a mid-first-rounder to No. 1 or No. 2 overall. The top guys then drop down to the big boys that can actually afford to deal with the Scott Borases of the world and life goes on. Bogus.
The Jays are actually moving in the right direction in the draft. The NBA, NFL and to a lesser extent the NHL offer instant rewards for a good draft. In baseball you don't know what you've got until 2-5 years down the line. High school studs have always been the costliest first rounders, because they have more options and more upside than a three-year university player. Ricciardi's best draft pick, Travis Snider, was his first Round One high-schooler. The Jays are spending more in all areas and it’s looking up but it will take a while to see the results.
Q: Hello Richard,
Why do the Jays seem so dead set on carrying 12 pitchers? I kind of understood them doing it last year when they couldn't be sure of what they were going to get from the pitching staff, but this year they have a pretty good idea of what they have (even if they don't know who will be the fifth starter yet). Personally, I like the idea of having an extra bat on the bench for late inning flexibility. Keep up the good work and ignore the Expo haters, there's still a lot of real fans out there.
Rob MacKay, Calgary
A: That is a very good question. I think that a 14th position player is far more valuable than a 12th pitcher. The last guy in your bullpen is basically the guy with the mop who cleans up the fourth and fifth inning messes. He is the St. Jude of the pen. Last year it included Jordan De Jong, Lee Gronkiewicz, Joe Kennedy, Jamie Vermilyea and Brian Wolfe (who is the only one that eventually handed in his mop). To me, a 14th player on the bench with a particular skill would contribute to more potential wins, like a Wayne Lydon-type that could pinch-run in the eighth and steal a bag and score from second on a short single and play a little centre field in an emergency; and is not considered a future studly prospect as an everyday guy.
Q: Hey Richard!
Quick question for you: With the recent additions and subtractions the Jays have made this year, what kind of a ball team do you see them as, a home-run hitting team or base-to-base?
Karim Kanji, Toronto
A: The Jays this year are more of a doubles-hitting, smart-baserunning, scoring-from-first-base-on-a-ball-to-the-gap type of team. It's too harsh to call them base-to-base (except for Frank Thomas) and it's too optimistic to call them a home-run hitting team (except for Frank Thomas). Just look at the lineup. From catcher, around the infield, the most homers should be around 20-25 from Rolen and 15-20 from Aaron Hill and Lyle Overbay. In the outfield is where the spike may come in power, if Vernon Wells returns to form and Rios is a 30-30 guy and Stairs continues to swing from his ass. The Big Hurt is a given at around 30 bombs. But most guys can go first to third or second to home and the coaches stay on top of them in terms of aggressiveness.
Q: Hi Richard,
What's with former Blue Jay Shawn Green? Late February and no team has shown interest in the outfielder-first sacker. In 446 at bats last year with the Mets, the 35-year-old hit a respectable .291, 10 home runs, and had 46 RBI. In your opinion, is his career now at an end? He seems to have taken on a Rodney Dangerfield persona (i.e. no respect).
Harvey Rosen, Winnipeg, MB.
A: I was shocked when I went to Pittsburgh last summer for a Mets-Bucs series. Shawn Green looked to have shrunk in stature, skills and physique. He had spiralled from a clone of Don Mattingly to a shadow of Don Knotts. There is a good reason he was not receiving offers this past winter. The .291 was a soft average and the middle-of-the-order RBI total in 446 at-bats was unacceptable. I really like Shawn as a person, but 30 teams cannot be wrong. It's not that he didn't want to pay for a huge paycut, it's that nobody was interested. He's retired and that’s good, because he's done.
Q: Hi Richard.
Is the Stewart signing as big a coup as it seems? He's a career .300 hitter and still only 34, slightly worse on defence than Johnson but a very consistent bat whether starting or subbing. So would it make sense to keep both him And RJ as it would provide offensive and defensive depth in the outfield? That would mean carrying only 11 pitchers, but the seventh reliever doesn't usually get tons of work anyway, and wouldn’t it also be better to have someone like Brandon League or Brian Wolfe or Gus Chacin getting big innings in AAA and ready to come up if arms get tired or injured?
On a related question, is this the deepest (not necessarily best) collection of offensive & defensive talent the Jays have had? These are some (potentially) exciting times(!)
Troy Kolar, Toronto
A: There are two key phrases in your question. One I disagree with and one I am on the same page. The one I disagree with is "slightly worse" when it comes to comparing defensive abilities of Shannon and Reed. That's like saying Grenada's defence was slightly worse than the U.S. in 1983, when they invaded the Caribbean island nation. If the Jays carried Stewart and not Johnson, they would need a fifth outfielder anyway to play centre field when Vernon was off or hurt (likely Buck Coats). If it's Johnson over Stuart, they don't need a fifth outfielder. I also agree that the 12th pitcher is better off getting regular work at Triple-A, although with a minimum ML salary over 300G, most pitchers don't mind sitting on a major-league bench. The phrase I agree with is "potentially exciting." These guys have a chance to be good because they are the deepest they have been in many years and can withstand injury better.
Q: Hi Richard:
I like the return of Shannon Stewart as a hitter, but I also remember his weak arm and how hitters were always running on him. Do you see him sticking with the team and if so do you think he will be used primarily as a pinch hitter? Also, does Johnson look like he has returned to form?
LeRoy Pennell, Barrie
A: Do not think of Stewart as a base-stealer anymore and do remember the cavalcade of baserunners rounding third and heading for home or going first to third in front of him on balls hit to left. That doesn't happen with Reed Johnson out there, so the difference in offensive abilities has to be huge to justify a Stairs-Stewart platoon with no Johnson on the team. Stewart is surely a better hitter than Johnson, but is he a better player?
I believe that a team like the Cubs, with Tim Wilken as scouting director, the guy that drafted Johnson, is interested in him as a fourth outfielder. That would be good for Reed's career. A trade would mean that Coats should stick as a fifth outfielder.
Q: Hey Richard.
Over the winter, I've heard increasing calls to trade Adam Lind. Trading Johnson makes sense now that we've got a better hitter for less money, but why trade Lind? Hasn't he been billed as a sure-thing hitting machine for the past couple of years? What's changed? Or was it J.P.-created hype when he really isn't that good? If Lind has been over-hyped, then my point is moot. But if not, why not platoon Lind and Stewart (assuming we can extend his contract to a 2nd year like he wanted originally) in 2009, with Travis Snider getting most of that year to develop (since he hasn't even been to AA yet). Stairs would be in the final year of his contract as a super-sub (outfield, 1st base, DH). Then in 2010, Lind & Snider could battle to win (or platoon) in left field. If the “loser” is good enough, he could even DH and be the 4th outfielder. What's not to like? Heck, by that time, Chip Cannon could be at first and Robinson Diaz/Curtis Thigpen at catcher. We'd only have to buy or trade for short & 3rd. The youth movement would be nearly complete and J.P. a hero. Or are my glasses too rose-tinted?
Troy Kolar, Toronto
A: It started out as J.P. created hype, but Adam Lind showed enough in limited at-bats last year that by 2009, he could be a part of the mix in left field and at DH. Given 500 at-bats, I can see Lind hitting 30 homers. His defence is shaky, but baseball today doesn’t seem to care much about that. I agree Lind should get more at-bats at Triple-A this year, but the problem is that in ’09, he will still be blocked by Stairs and the Big Hurt both in their last seasons. Then there is Rios, Wells and Travis Snider who is coming like a train. It’s a crowded outfield picture that means someone will be traded…likely Lind. If Rios signs a multi-year deal this spring that will be a commitment from the organization that extends beyond Ricciardi. As for the rest of your feel-good scenario, I am going to put on my Pete Rose-coloured glasses and say, "Don’t bet on it."
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space.