Blue Jays mail bag
Thankfully, it seems that the relatively successful conclusion to the Jays’ road trip through Minneapolis and Philly has brought Jays’ fans in off the ledges where they had been busily pounding out their last diatribes on some sort of Wi-Fi for Jumpers.com. Now we actually have readers defending J.P.’s legacy and wondering why I am so unfair. What would they be calling me if the Jays were ever to go on a win streak and take over first place? Yikes! In any case, another week, another mailbag. Here we go.
I think it's pretty disingenuous of you to describe J.P. (Ricciardi’s) draft record as “four guys, six years.” Those four players all came out of the 2003 and 2004 drafts. Moreover, while it’s accurate to describe JP’s first draft (2002) as a failure, you can't possibly pass judgment on his last three drafts. You know as well as anyone that it takes longer for prospects to develop in baseball than in any other sport. It's too early, even, to judge the 2004 draft when it's not clear what (David) Purcey, (Curtis) Thigpen and particularly (Adam) Lind will become. As for the drafts since, I would suggest that you're misleading fans by implying that we should be expecting to see results already. Yes, it does happen quickly sometimes, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. “Four guys (so far), three years” is a far more accurate description.
Darren Thomson, Vancouver, BC
A: Me disingenuous? Ha! I may be devious, duplicitous, guileful, indirect, lubricious and shifty…but disingenuous? Never. I do, however, think it was pretty disingenuous of J.P. to describe the Jays' cupboard as being bare when he arrived in November 2001 and that he needed to rebuild the farm system. That’s seriously laying down a challenge wherein your own drafts had better be damn good coming out of the chute…which they weren’t. In fact, that early cavalier dismissal of the Jays’ scouting efforts through the '90s eventually cost him the services of scouting director Tim Wilken who took it as a slap in the face and the departure of many other good men that had been left over from the Gord Ash regime.
In any case, it’s not just guys at the major-league level that are the measure of the last three drafts. Check the upper levels of the farm system using, for example, the Jays' '05 No. 1 pick, where they chose Ricky Romero when former NL rookie of the year Troy Tulowitzki was sitting on the draft board, chosen with the next pick by the Rockies. Sure the Jays can say they didn’t need a shortstop. They had Russ Adams and Aaron Hill chosen in the first round of '02 and '03. But in this day and age of pushing prospects through the system quickly because of the need for raw talent over polish, the Jays, at the current Triple-A level from the '04 draft and later, as of mid-May, had Chip Cannon ('04), Lind ('04), Eric Nielsen ('04), Thigpen ('04), Mike MacDonald ('04) and Purcey ('04). In the majors from '04 are Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch. In three years, since the '05 draft, not one of those guys has yet blossomed. Sure, it’s not too late, but here are the names of the Jays’ Top 10 picks from ’05 – Romero, Pettway, Patterson, Fowler, Bell, Ray, Butler, Phillips, Sowers, Stone. From the ’05 draft, the Red Sox first four picks were Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie.
So, when whining about playing in the AL East, don’t just compare the disparity between major-league payrolls. And the Sox picks are never as high as the Jays.
Q: Dear Richard,
I've never had the honour of a reply. I will take the heat and attribute this to uninspiring questions! Big fan of your columns and radio spots with the Bobcat. I wonder if the Jays should be exploring trading (Roy) Halladay (one of my all time favorites- but I’m at a loss to come up with any better quick fixes) for a scary bat at first or left and a bottom of the rotation guy). Do you think this would likely have a big affect on the kids in the rotation? Is there a big value in them having a guy like Halladay to emulate or is this one of those overrated concepts that never really plays out in practice? (For what it's worth, I'm thinking a trade like one for Jason Bay, using a third team to give the Pirates prospects/cheap MLB level talent)
Paul F., Toronto
A: There’s no such thing as an uninspiring question. Welcome to the Mailbag. The concept of trading Halladay for a big bat at first base or left and a bottom of the rotation starter is exactly what’s wrong with the current Jays’ team to begin with. The best major-league organizations, if they ever consider trading their ace it would be because they have someone exceptional and younger from the farm system pressing the issue and able to step up to the next level. You then make the deal and get needed parts on other parts of the diamond from elsewhere, while getting younger in the rotation with just a slight drop off - not in talent, but in experience. The Jays have already made their moves to find veteran hitters – Overbay, Rolen, Eckstein, Wilkerson, Stewart, Mench. They don’t need more of them. That just disguises the real problem of not enough homegrown talent. It’s like hanging an original Matisse over a hole in the wall of your living room and thinking that increases the value of your house. The loss of Halladay would affect the rest of the rotation more than any statistical analysis could convey. Even the suggestion of bringing in a third team in order to fulfill the Bucs needs for cheap MLB talent tells its own tale.
Q: Richard, I think I have the perfect solution for the left field. And it is called “The STAR of the week”. First thing to do is for the Jays to sign Barry Bonds and let him play left field for a week and then release him. The Jays can then have (Roger) Clemens for a week, (Jose) Canseco the week after (we can help him to promote his book too), followed by Sammy Sosa. What a macho four-week span! I saw (Mats) Sundin having a batting practice during spring training so I think he is good for a week. And somebody should start looking for Rick Vaive, Borje Salming and those old Leafs. Talking about old Leafs, there are actually some old Jays available on the market, Tony Batista, Corey Koskie, John Thomson (a pitcher, but who cares, none of them can hit over their weight).
Wow! This is a million dollar idea, and I think the Jays will make a lot of money out of that. Each week they should keep the Star of the week identification secret until the week has arrived. Media will follow the team and fantasize ‘who is the STAR’; Vegas will have a line on that. Fans will be rushing in to see the Star. As you can see now, the potential is unlimited. And if you think I forgot JP, don’t worry, I won’t. JP is the star for the last week of the season, and at the end of the week. Perfect Plan!
Davy P., San Jose
A: I like the concept. Too bad baseball doesn’t have 10-day contracts like the NBA. The Jays could begin on Page 1 of the Mitchell Report and give every player, in the order they appear, a second chance (for 10 days). The Jays would be sort of a Horsehide Halfway House. Then they could sign all those NFL players that have been to jail. Sign them for 10 days and use them as pinch-runners, something the Jays never seem to have late in games. It would give new meaning to the expression “call to the pen”. Does Pacman Jones have a cell phone? The Jose Canseco Bobblehead giveaway. You tap it on top of the head and Jose injects a teammate with HGH. The unique bobblehead promotion would prompt the question, “Whose ass is it anyway?”
Q: Hi Richard,
After reading today's (May 14) mailbag, it's nice to know I'm not the only one taking a break - or contemplating taking one - from the Jays. I, too, have been a Jays fan since 1985 (a terrible way to learn about heartbreak at age 13), but need to take some time off. The leadoff triple in the 10th inning of the May 8 loss to the Rays in 13 that was ultimately wasted proved to be the breaking point, especially since the (unlikely) comeback was so energizing in the ninth. I truly felt that game could have (and maybe should have) been one of “those games” that is a turning point in the season.
I've kept my eye on the Jays, who have won three in a row at this writing, so maybe not pouring your heart into a team is the way to go. Anyway, despite my emotional distance, I've noticed Alex Rios has gone into a tailspin offensively. Is he pressing to be "the man" now that Vernon is out for two months and trying to do too much?
Nik Jones, Port St. Lucie, FL
A: It seems that many Jays fans are intent on a C.C. Sabbatical. That extra-inning debacle vs. the Rays of which you speak is not the only game they lost that they should have won. On April 16 vs. the Rangers, in the bottom of the 10th with runners on 1-3, Joe Inglett fouled off a first-pitch suicide squeeze that would have won the game. It was a great play, great situation to squeeze. So why not give them another pitch - which was, in fact, ball one - then do it again. Instead, the squeeze was called off, Inglett grounded into a double play to end the inning. A.J. Burnett was forced to enter in relief in the 14th which then pushed him back from a start which then caused Davvid Purcey’s first ML start, which resulted in another loss. All for the want of a mediocre squeeze bunt.
The Jays are clearly a better team than their record shows. The other thing that really annoys fans that want to take a break are the close-ups of the dugout in losing or turnaround situations. Too much smiling, laughing, joking. Not enough angst and gnashing of teeth. Fans are asking why should we care more than the players? Nik, no matter your good intentions, I say you won’t be able to tune out. It’s in the blood.
Q: With the Jays offence struggling mightily to score runs, how can Gibbons justify putting (Brad) Wilkerson in the number one slot? Even when he is on, Wilkerson is the type of guy who only manages to hit for power at the expense of a lot of strikeouts.
Wilkerson is batting .125 with a .176 OBP as a Jay. How do these numbers justify putting him first in the order? I know that the Jays lack a true leadoff hitter but don't you think that anyone would be better at this point than Wilkerson?
Casey Smith, Vancouver
A: As you point out. The Jays lack a true leadoff hitter. Brad Wilkerson has had success (??) at leadoff with the Expos. Consider that Bonds (Bobby, not Barry) used to be one of the game’s great leadoff hitters for the Giants back in the day when 30-30 was one of the game’s revered accomplishments. He struck out 189 times one year, setting a major-league record. But Wilkerson is to Bonds what Winnie the Pooh is to a Grizzly Bear.
Shannon Stewart has had extensive leadoff experience, but at one point in his career, he chose to pursue extra-base power over stolen bases and now he has neither. David Eckstein is returning soon, but he is simply Care Bear to Wilkerson’s Pooh. When Wells returns after the all-star break, they can go back to Rios and let him steal some bags.
Q: It seems to me that there are a number of teams who have had weak bats at the beginning of this year. Team batting averages have dropped from .275 in 2006 to .258 this year. Do you think one of the reasons may be testing for steroids and other drugs? Players are cleaner and do not hit as well?
Howard Rose, Concord, Ont.
A: Fo’schizzle less ster-izzle my Rot-izzle. I think Commissioner Bud Selig need point no further than the statistics of lowered batting averages and home run totals to begin patting himself on the back that in fact the new negotiated deterrents within the MLB drug policy and the Basic Agreement are working.
Players are scared of being tested and not everyone can afford the designer, undetectable performance enhancers. But overall for baseball, it’s the rank-and-file Fantasy League players that are really pissed about the lack of power numbers and it’s the major league managers that are having a hard time re-incorporating many of the needed aspects of small-ball back into their game plan. It’s coming. Once that all happens and normal sized athletes with speed, power and intelligence once again rule the day, I believe that the game will become extremely enjoyable to watch again, despite the decreased power numbers. Baseball was always appealing to North American fathers, mothers and families because it was an everyman game performed by guys that weren’t supermen.
Q: I have been listening to Blue Jays telecasts for years now and the smartest person to has ever worked on any of the shows has been Rance Mulliniks. He should be the Blue Jays manager. I know, I know what happened the last time we hired one of the old Jays but Rance has a maturity about him and he does not honk his own horn as the others do. Plus, this guy knows hitting.
Paul Grzela, Montreal
A: If you don’t mind being managed by McCloud. I can’t help it. This guy Mulliniks when he talks on TV (which is a lot) reminds me of Dennis Weaver from that great '70s cop show of the cowboy police detective in New York on assignment as a wily fish out of water. That’s who I think of.
I do agree that Mulliniks is a very knowledgeable baseball guy, but as for honking his own horn, what a guy does in the privacy of his own Rogers’ hotel suite is none of my business. Seriously, the one thing that Buck Martinez learned as soon as he got into that 48-stout uniform (before he discovered his own version of Herbal Magic) was how fast the major-league game moved and unfolded when you descend from the TV booth into the dugout. Early on in his managerial career, he talked about not having pitchers ready in the bullpen, not having guys ready to pinch-hit, etc. Besides, there is a lot to be said about the respect one needs from your players to have been in uniform within the last decade, to know how to run a spring training and coordinate a successful coaching staff. Sitting next to Jamie Campbell for two years just won’t do it.
Q: Huge fan of your column Richard, so please finally take one of my questions. Ken Griffey, Jr. is available right now. He’s a big time left-handed bat, can DH and play left or right field, or even centre field with Vernon Wells injured.
His contract is due at the end of the year, so he’d be a great fit. I still think Barry Bonds would be better, but the owners seemed to have banded together to ban him from ever playing baseball. What do you think? Griffey in 2008 in Toronto?
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco
A: I love Ken Griffey Jr. I loved him in Seattle when he was being ripped for wanting to leave town. I loved him with the M’s when he was being ripped for being selfish and not taking BP with his team every day. I loved him when he accepted a trade then signed with the Reds to be closer to home. I loved him when he was accused of being injury-prone, even though every injury was as a result of giving maximum effort all the time. I love him because he has the sweetest left-handed swing in baseball that I can show to my 15-year-old Oakville Bantam players as an example of how to hit. I love him because he respects his own father who was a key member of the Big Red Machine and he reveres Henry Aaron whose record he was once a shoo-in to break. I love him because he would rather go watch his daughter play soccer during the winter than go play golf with Tiger Woods. But I wouldn’t go out and acquire him at this stage of the Jays development and his own career. Expectations would be too high for what he could deliver and I’d hate to see a Hall-of-Famer being booed at the Rogers Centre.
Q: Hi Richard:
Since Jesse Litsch’s record extrapolates to 20-4, should he be preparing his Cy Young acceptance speech? And, would you trade for Jason Bay? If yes, whom would you give up for JB?
Stu Royal, Brampton
A: Hey dude, I can run 100 metres in 16.8 seconds, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to win the Boston Marathon. I would trade for Jason Bay to play left field, but what have you got as bait. The Bucs would not want Burnett. They would want Marcum or Dustin McGowan. That would mean you trust Purcey for the present.
Also, with the right-handed hitting Bay, Wells and Rios in the outfield, with Rolen, Eckstein and Hill, that would leave Overbay, Zaun and the DH as lefty swingers. I guess that’s not much different than what’s going on now and they’re still being dazzled by lefty starters. Go figure.
Being a huge fan of the Jays of the 80s featuring (Jim) Clancy, (Tom) Henke, (Lloyd) Moseby and the Killer B’s. I see a few similarities between Shaun Marcum and my favourite player from that time, Dave Stieb. Do you agree?
Donnie Francis, Hamilton, Bermuda
A: Stieb had better stuff and was a bigger prick. Marcum has the best ability on the current staff to change speeds and slow down the bat. Stieb was a smart guy but thought he was smarter than everyone else, including his own catcher. Marcum is a wonderful personality with little of the abrasive ego that Stieb showed. Marcum has a chance to be a poor man’s Greg Maddux by the time he’s done. Stieb was a poor man’s Jim Palmer.
Q: Greetings from the West. My questions are regarding the upcoming draft. With only one first round pick and no sandwich picks is it back to the same old with lower ceiling college kids or the more recent trend of best player available approach which seems to be paying some dividends? Is there any chance of the Jays taking the Canadian Brett Lawrie? Baseball America says he might be a man without a position but that hasn't stopped the Jays from taking Russ Adams and Adam Lind. Thank you and keep up the great work.
Dave Smith, Winnipeg
A: The Jays have thankfully drifted away from low ceilings towards players that could become something special. The first of that ilk was outfielder Travis Snider as the first round pick, the first high school No. 1 of the Ricciardi era. Because of the high number of draft picks they had a year ago, there is no insecurity about having to wait a little longer for their No. 1 to develop, so they are free to take the best player available – which does not preclude it being a college player. The best website for Canadians in the June draft is compiled by Bob Elliott of The Sun. Check it out here.
As for Brett Lawrie, the catcher-third baseman from Langley, B.C. he is projected by some as a third round selection. The Jays under Ricciardi have never pandered to selecting a player just because he is Canadian, but if Lawrie is available in the right slot when the Jays’ turn comes around, they would not hesitate to choose him.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space.