Blue Jays mail bag
Richard Griffin answers your Blue Jays questions. Click here to submit a question.
Opening Day has finally arrived and Roy Halladay looks healthy and ready to rumble. But two runs per game of support and head-scratching defensive gaffes aren’t going to do anything to relieve his frustration level. Pay attention to Halladay when things occur beyond his control. He is not the emotionless robot that he once seemed earlier in his career. This guy gets frustrated and shows it in short, obvious outbursts. But by the time the game ends and we get access to the clubhouse, he has reined in whatever it was that set him off and he gives controlled, emotion-free answers. Some good questions in the mailbag this week, but remember, for the GM and manager, the future is now.
Q-I found the outpouring of support for Reed Johnson in last week's mailbag to be somewhat laughable. Fans seem to think that Johnson is the superior player simply because he has a superior throwing arm. Granted Johnson might get a few outfield assists, or prevent some runners going from 2nd to home late in a game, but I am more interested in another stat, runs. According to baseball-reference.com the 162 game average for Reed Johnson is 85 runs scored. For Shannon Stewart the number is 102. I don't think that either Johnson or Stewart would get anywhere near those run totals in 2008 but if history tells us anything Stewart would almost certainly get 10-20 more runs in a season than Johnson would. Do you seriously think that Johnson's arm would save the Jays more than 10-20 runs in year? The Jays went with Stewart because he provides more consistent offence, and I think the Jays are going to need all the offence they can muster this year.
Casey Smith, Vancouver
A-I find the general attitude of seamheads and stat geeks like yourself towards real, human, flesh and blood players that don’t measure up to your computer-generated ideals to be sad. The so-called outpouring of love towards Reed Johnson from fans and from this mailbag last week has nothing to do with Reed’s throwing arm or the fact that some statistical proof can be generated from a website that shows Shannon Stewart capable of producing 17 more runs than Johnson in a 162-game season. It has to do with the fact of dealing with a decent human being that has not been treated with the same respect he has shown the game he has chosen as his profession. I talked to Reed the morning of the game in Lakeland the March date where you might recall that everyone outlined the showdown situation between Johnson and Shannon Stewart. After I turned the tape recorder off I told Reed: “I don’t think that leaving this team is a bad thing. I think you would be better off going to a team like the Cubs. The fans would love you. You would have a chance to get more playing time and the organization, if they went to the effort to trade for you, would obviously give you more respect.” He smiled when we talked about it and agreed and I believe he is in a better place. Therefore, it’s not a matter of ripping the Jays organization for dealing Johnson. The guy is still earning almost $2 million and has many earning years ahead of him. But please recall how Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi dissed Shannon Stewart when he originally traded him to the Twins for Bobby Kielty. Shannon is older now, still running against the wind. I don’t blame you for your immaturity. It’s easy for someone on the outside looking in to disregard the humanity of players. But it’s difficult for someone that has been in the major-league game for 35 years to do the same. There will never be any apologies from my part for caring about players as human beings, no matter how flawed their skills may seem when run through a computer.
Thanks for answering all our questions about the upcoming Blue Jays season. I have one about the situation with Scott Rolen-why is Marco Scutaro playing third base and not John McDonald? Was McDonald approached about playing third at all? An infield of McDonald, David Eckstein, Aaron Hill and Lyle Overbay would never let a ball through. We've all seen McDonald's exceptional work in the infield, why not put him in? Thanks Richard, cheers!
Dave Raiken, London, Ont.
A-I believe that the sequence of signings and promises in the last six months has something to do with Johnny Mac’s situation. I love the guy, but he was signed last year for $3.8 million for two years to be the starting shortstop. That’s enough for a man of his talent and I know he is happy. That’s more money than he ever dreamed of as a light-hitting Providence College shortstop. Then, last winter when Scutaro was signed, it was as a backup for McDonald at short and Rolen at third and Hill at second. Then when Eckstein was signed, all of a sudden Scutaro went to third-string at shortstop, but remained as the No. 1 reserve at second and third. Scutaro is a decent defender at third base and a better offensive force than McDonald. I have had this opinion for a while now. But I think that Johnny Mac should play shortstop every time Roy Halladay pitches. Usually it’s a personal catcher. I think Doc deserves a personal shortstop. If that doesn’t happen, then maybe while Rolen is out, Mac could play third base when Halladay pitches. Face it, in a game where one of the best pitchers in baseball is plying his trade, he does not need the extra run that a more offensive player might provide, he needs the two runs that a superior defender might prevent.
Q-As a long-time coverer of baseball, you must have been witness to a number of memorably extraordinary episodes, both on and off the field. Take just this Jays’ pre-season, for example. A key pitcher is immediately lost for the entire season. The team's biggest off-season acquisition is promptly injured. The No. 2 starter involved in a freak accident that costs him, temporarily, his No. 2 pitch. Even the ace of the staff isn't immune from the seemingly omnipresent and contagious voodoo, the victim of an uncanny one-inning collapse in his last start before the regular season. When the A.L. East gods lifted the curse off the Bo-Sox, to whom was it exchanged? How much weight do you personally give to the unpopular belief that superstition influences, and maybe at times even governs, the game?
Darrell Holtze, Guelph, Ont
A-I’m not sure “coverer” is a real word, but the curse that has overtaken the Jays since they won their last World Series is quite real. I have researched the origins of the curse and I believe that is has something to do with GM Pat Gillick releasing Alfredo Griffin on October 27, 1993. Think about it. What have they done since then? The Griffin Curse has brought the Jays nothing but grief. A mere 15 months later, I arrived on the scene to torment Jays management when they try and take shortcuts to success. Several years after that, John Ford Griffin arrived on the scene in a trade and crushed the organization’s playoff hopes with unfulfilled potential, cursed, as he was, by a throwing arm weaker than both of either Alfredo or Richard.
I love reading the Wednesday Mail Bag and I've finally decided to submit my own question to you. I was wondering why MLB teams are not permitted to trade draft picks? It is the only major sport that doesn't allow it. Maybe if teams were permitted to trade draft picks, wouldn't getting even a 5th or 6th round pick from the Cubs for Reed Johnson be better than nothing? Another point, instead of drafting according to "signability", why not allow teams to trade down in the draft for the player they want, and maybe gain a couple extra picks from the team trading up. I can understand from a player's perspective why the MLBPA might not want to allow it, as being released allowed Reed to choose his own destination. I'm just at a loss to understand this rule of not allowing the trade of draft picks.
Tavis McLean, Chatham, Ont.
A-I have always felt that trading draft choices in baseball would in fact save the integrity of the process. Think about it. An organization refuses to raise its major-league payroll due to financial constraints and market size. So they finish last and get the first draft choice, which is merely the right to sign the most expensive amateur in North America, a guy they can’t afford. So instead of choosing the guy that should be No. 1, they use the pick to take someone who is more sign-able and less of a prospect. Gord Ash is one who always believed that trading draft choices would benefit the smaller markets. The belief is that baseball powers that be are merely trying to protect bad general managers from themselves. I don’t think the players association would have any issues with trading picks, because players would be ending up with organizations that want them rather than being cut loose and scrambling for a job. I’m not sure it will ever happen, but it should.
Q-Richard, long time no talk.
The talks about left field are becoming redundant at this point but I just want to add one thing. Why did we ever sign Matt Stairs to a 2-year deal? We have a young lefthanded bat in Lind who scouts believe is major league ready and could hit .280 with 20+ homers. Really isn’t this the best-case scenario for Stairs? I know he had a great season with us, but really he's costing us the chance to develop younger players who could help contribute in the future. When you look at teams who make a run at the series they almost always have young guys step up to help drive the playoff push. Locking up a roster spot and a portion of Uncle Ted’s budget on an 85-year-old who previously couldn’t stick on any other teams roster seems like an odd decision to make.
Anyways, I hope he proves me wrong.
Scott Mackett, Burlington, Ont.
A-That’s the sign of a good baseball fan…disagreeing with a move, but hoping to be proven wrong. The good thing about the Stairs move for the Jays is that the money he is being paid is not so much that they are locked in and unable to make another move. I agree with you that if you are going to have a mediocre defender in left field with the ability to hit 20 homers and drive in 80, why not go with the younger guy. But for J.P. Ricciardi and John Gibbons, the future is now. They are not about development at the major-league level. They are about wins and losses…now.
Q-Shaun Marcum, real deal?
Byron Bulucon, Mississauga
A-It depends on whether you are asking about Shaun Marcum as a human being or as a major-league player. As a human being he is for sure the real deal. There are guys that try to snow you as a member of the media, pretending they are something they are not. There are guys that try and shut you out as members of the media, clamming up when you ask them a question, moments after you have seen them act like Robin Williams with their teammates. Marcum is genuine and thoughtful with his answers. He often seems genuinely interested in questions that make him think deeply. However, “real deal” as a pitcher is another story. I fear more for a healthy Marcum than I do for a healthy Dustin McGowan. Marcum has marginal stuff that relies more on taking the sting out of enemy bats. The scouting report is important with Marcum. When you throw 97 mph like McGowan, a scouting report isn’t going to help if you don’t have the bat-speed. Marcum is the type of pitcher susceptible to the sophomore jinx, especially with video scouting and the fact that every opponent in your second year has seen everything you’ve got and when you like to throw it. I believe he is the real deal as a person and a 13-game perennial winner as a pitcher.
I know John Gibbons won't presume anything, but is there a possibility we will see Travis Snider in left field this summer? Though Stewart and Lind are ahead of him right now, he has made remarkable progress since he was drafted and is now ranked with the likes of a Jacoby Ellsbury et al. If he lights things up in Syracuse this year, how long will it be before he assumes left field on an everyday basis? Thanks.
Marc Losier, Toronto
A-The thing about Snider is that as a high-school player in his ‘06 draft year, they really don’t need to add him to the major-league roster until after the ’09 season. At 20 years old, there is no real need to rush him, especially with Matt Stairs on a two-year deal and with Adam Lind ahead of him and with Vernon Wells and Alex Rios locked up. He is coming on so quickly, though, that I can’t see him waiting past September this year when the rosters expand to 40 players. I can see the lefthanded hitter asserting himself so much in the next 12 months that the Jays consider having him as the opening day left fielder in ’09, looking to trade Lind over the next off-season.
Thank you for your insight as always. Come visit us in Bermuda. I was comparing stats of John McDonald to another player of the same age and position from a different time. Now, correct me if I am mistaken, last year John had a .982 fielding percentage vs. this player's fielding % of .987. It must be pointed out that John played in only 123 games (102 of those at ss) vs. 158 of the other player. I believe he committed 8 errors during his time at that position; 10 for the other player in 158 games. My point is that I think John McDonald made enough of a defensive impact to deserve to start. An airtight defense is a major factor in winning championships ('87 Twins). I would have liked to have seen him grow as an everyday player. David Eckstein as good as he has been does not seem to be the essential linchpin to get us to the postseason at the sacrifice of John McDonald's defensive prowess. Incidentally the other player in question is Ozzie Smith at the age of 32 in 1987. Your thoughts.
Donnie Francis, Hamilton, Bermuda
A-I also would have liked to see McDonald get a full season as the starting shortstop just because it seemed that every start he made last summer, he pulled off at least one defensive gem that brought you out of your seat. If you recall last summer when Royce Clayton began the season as the starter, it began with Roy Halladay subtly requesting that Johnny Mac play short whenever he toed the rubber, maybe the same scenario when the Cy Young guy starts could play itself out this year. Halladay needs to save his bullets via spectacular defence rather than an extra run offensively. At least we would see John once every five days and Eckstein would get a break, keeping him healthy. Some of the acrobatic plays McDonald made last year were in fact reminiscent of the great Ozzie Smith, but to my mind, nobody, over 162 games, has ever equaled Ozzie.