Blue Jays mail bag
Good start for the Jays thus far, as they await the return of B.J. Ryan, headed for a rehab stint in Syracuse and Scott Rolen, who had the pin removed from his broken fingertip on Monday. We’re going to break the Jays season down into 10-game segments all year just to keep track of their peaks and valleys. If they can finish every 10-game segment at least 5-5, there’s a good chance of hanging tough. The first 10-game segment ends on Friday. New clubhouse, the signings of Aaron Hill and Alex Rios, the Big Hurt on an RBI roll and Vernon and Lyle seeming healthy again all bode well. Now on to the mail bag.
Q: Richard buddy, do you not love the approach and look of the Blue Jays this year? Aggressive on the base paths, small ball (i.e. Aaron Hill and Gregg Zaun bunting) and Marty Peavy at third sending people home when last year the Jays would stay at third. Do these signs not seem to indicate a much better year if they can keep them up? I'm not just saying how they played against the Red Sox, I was even super excited during their Yankees series where they lost two games but still looked great. Do you think this play will continue and if so does it not seem like a playoff push is finally for real?
Chris M., North Bay, Ont.
A: While the contra-performance by A.J. Burnett on Tuesday night vs. the A’s sort of brought us all back to reality with regard to the Jays’ starting pitching, there surely is reason for optimism – but not smugness.
The stolen base aspect of the offence excites me a lot because, I guess, my NL roots are showing. Despite the early display of small-ball, the Jays will not continue bunting all season because, last year, as a manager, John Gibbons had the fewest sacrifice attempts of anyone in baseball. That aspect then will be expected to settle down.
As for Marty Peavy waving guys around third base, I’m not yet sold on him as a traffic cop and I’m not getting all excited just because he’s sent runners to score in a somewhat adventuresome fashion. In fact, the first two times in Game 2 of the season at Yankee Stadium that he sent guys home was somewhat akin to the guy in the Charge of the Light Brigade. “Into the valley of death…” Both times, the guy was dead to rights and Marty got away with it because of bad throws by Bobby Abreu. I don’t consider it good aggressive baseball when you’re having a man that should be thrown out and he’s safe. When Brian Butterfield was there, neither was it a conservative running game. It was just more consistently smarter and Marty will reach that point in time. How about in the Red Sox series, when there was a single to Manny Ramirez and Manny wasn’t even going to throw home, conceding the run. Peavy held the runner, but since the Jays won, nobody noticed.
As for a playoff push, to me, it would be if they were within a half-dozen games of a wildcard in the middle of September. And I think that’s possible.
Q: If A.J. Burnett has a good season, say 15 wins or more, wouldn't it make sense for the Blue Jays to renegotiate his contract and make him a competitive offer rather than have him leave a free agent? Is that a possibility?
Jerry Maloney, Hanmer, Ont.
A: That’s a very intelligent question and one that Burnett would surely have to consider if the Jays wanted to do it with him. Although he even preferred St. Louis or Baltimore the last time around, money usually talks – and his friendship and comfort level with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. The Jays have been structuring their contracts lately to extend through either the year 2010 or 2014. It gives them two plateau years for re-evaluating their direction. In that case, they would likely have to offer A.J. a five-year contract, plus an option through 2014 after this season in order to compete with other free-agent offers. That figure, in order to be competitive, would likely have to be about $15 million per, for a total of $75 million for five, plus another $17 million option.
Is Burnett worth that kind of money after 2008? No likely, even if he were to win 15-18 games. After all, at age 32 he still would have won more than 12 games just once and then you would have made a huge financial commitment through age 36. It’s an intriguing possibility, but with the faith the Jays have in some of their recent pitching draft choices, plus Roy Halladay, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum still on board for a few more years, it’s a possibility that they would try and re-negotiate with Burnett but it doesn’t seem likely.
Q: Hey Richard,
J.P. Ricciardi's always going on about our depth, but in all honesty if one of our five starters goes down we're screwed, I don’t see anyone else that can actually take a starting position constantly. All we need is another injury from A.J. and there goes our season. So Richard, are we really that deep?
Terry Park, Toronto
A: Actually, Ricciardi has been quite honest about the lack of depth in his starting pitching. He raves about the bench strength because of the extra money he spent on guys like Marco Scutaro, Rod Barajas, John McDonald and Shannon Stewart. Ricciardi also raves about his bullpen depth because of some of the veterans that he signed during the winter that will be on hand at Triple A-Syracuse if he needs help in the majors.
But as far as starters are concerned, if the Jays have an injury among the five in the rotation, they are in short-term trouble. The next best at Triple A right now include Josh Banks and David Purcey. It may work itself out later in the season with continued development like it did last year with Jesse Litsch, but for now the Jays management has its fingers crossed.
I've noticed that Scott Downs has, what seems to me, a new ritual (I don't recall him doing this last year). He inscribes something on the base of the mound before he makes his first pitch of the game. Is this in fact new? Do have any inkling as to what he's doing?
Santino Profenna, Toronto
A: Downs began the ritual last season of stepping to the back of the mound after he finishes his warmup pitches upon entering a game and inscribing the initials of his two children into the dirt. It’s a sweet touch and one that obviously has stood him in good stead, since he has just signed a three-year $10 million contract this winter and can afford to now be building a huge, custom-designed home in the wilds of Kentucky.
Q: Who do you think will be the next player inducted into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence? Carlos Delgado, for being the one constant positive during a decade of mediocrity? Or Roy Halladay for being a true "ace" for six years and counting?
Jon X., Milton, Ont.
A: That is another very good question. I have a soft spot in my heart for catchers and the fact that Pat Borders was a World Series MVP and allowed the Jays staff to have such confidence in throwing sinkers and splitters and balls in the dirt, even with runners on third base, makes me say him.
However, his offensive numbers and relatively short tenure as the Jays starter make it almost impossible to consider him. Another decent choice would be John Olerud for his consistent offensive excellence as a Jay and just for being a good dude. Jesse Barfield is a possibility, but most players from that generation of Jays, if they’re going to go up there are already there.
Maybe the next guy truly will be Carlos Delgado, a couple of years after he retires. Like Mats Sundin, he was criticized for not wanting to waive a no-trade clause and leave a town that he had grown comfortable living in. It was always unwarranted criticism and the Jays forced him out with a lowball offer, but he would love the honour once he has retired. However, as the next guy on the wall, I believe the Jays should, by the latest next season, invite Pat Hentgen to be included on the Level of Excellence. I have often told anyone that would listen that Hentgen is what I would want my sons to be like if they were major-league players.
Q: After watching Gibby pull Burnett after giving up a walk (not that uncommon) and a home run to A-Rod (also not that uncommon) it seems that he is ready to ride the bullpen like a rented mule once again this year. Can the injuries to B.J. Ryan and Casey Janssen be attributed to Gibbons' style of getting the starter outta there after 5 or 6 (if the starter is not named Halladay, that is). If so, should we expect a guy like Jeremy Accardo to go down next year, after closing for the first month of this season and then being responsible for getting the ball to B.J. in the 9th when he gets back.
Mark Freitas, Toronto
A: Gibby’s from Texas so his affinity for riding rented mules is understandable. I think he can be forgiven for his hook of Burnett at Yankee Stadium. First start out of the chute and an elevated pitch count with a well-rested bullpen made it understandable.
As for the injuries to Ryan and Janssen, the B.J. injury is as much a result of pitching mechanics as anything, while, as I’ve mentioned before, the Janssen injury may be as a result of a kid who has been a starter his whole career coming out of the pen with a heavy workload. But it’s not like it’s the first time that an injury like that has happened. I do believe that when Janssen comes back next year that Gibbons will find ways to pace and space him.
Q: Hi Richard,
I've been impressed with the gutsy play of new Jay Marco Scutaro, whose three stolen bases already have him within two of his career high (and, need I add, on pace for an astounding 81!) and hasn't looked half bad at third base, either. To get to the point, though, I was wondering whether this guy has a nickname that we fans can use. If not, I have a suggestion: during the home-opener, my friends and I resorted to shouting 'Scooch' when he stole second and made a leaping catch. Please spread the word in your mailbag column, Richard - I hope to be seeing Scooch signs in the stands before Rolen returns to active duty.
A: Scutaro’s presence on the roster began to look redundant when David Eckstein was signed as a free agent. With John McDonald now in a backup role, what kind of playing time would there be for the former A’s utility man? But he is the kind of player that fits in well on a major-league bench of a contender. He knows his role and does not demand to play every day, but when he has to fill in for a period of time like he is for Scott Rolen, then he handles it well.
As for a nickname, most guys and the manager refer to him as “Scoot”. If this was hockey, of course, he’d be Scoot-y. The great Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto was nicknamed Scooter, so maybe Scuataro’s nickname should be Rizutter.
Q: I'm just curious. Why is Roy Halladay's nickname Doc?
A: Try Googling Wyatt Earp, the legendary lawman from the Old West and you will find that other than his brothers Morgan and Virgil, his best friend was the dentist, gambler and gunslinger, Doc Holliday. The quartet was famous for their part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
Mind you, pitcher Roy Halladay doesn’t have the persona of a gambler, but he can be a bit of a gunslinger. As for the dentist part of the equation, it often seems like for this Doc, getting enough runs in support or having the defence make a key play behind him is like pulling teeth. The nickname was given him early on in his career by the late, great Jays’ broadcaster Tom Cheek.
Q: Why does the NL continue to have 16 teams while the AL has 14? Is it to keep some kind of balance, or do no NL teams want to move back? I still don't know why Milwaukee switched.
Ryan Miller, Pickering, Ont.
A: The reason Milwaukee switched from the AL to the NL is that the commissioner, Bud Selig, was the long-time former owner of the Brewers and mandated it to be so. Milwaukee was always a National League town dating back to the Braves and Bud was a National League guy. But when the carpet-bagging franchise moved to Atlanta in the mid-‘60s, the next available franchise was a transfer of the AL’s failing Seattle Pilots in 1970. Selig and his ownership group took whatever they could get. So when the opportunity came along with expansion and realignment in the ‘90s, Bud jumped in and took his Brew Crew back to the senior circuit.
The reason it remains 16-14 to this day is that since in baseball there are games every day, if it was 15-15 between leagues, one team would have to sit out every night…unless, of course – and it’s a suggestion I have already made – baseball moved one team to the AL and scheduled one inter-league series every day continuously throughout the season. Instead of having two mega-periods of inter-league play, they could just quietly schedule one game every night. The NL Central has six teams, while the AL West only has four, so logically it could be a team like Houston that would geographically complement the Rangers, A’s Angels and Mariners.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space.