Blue Jays mail bag
As summer approaches and nobody springs to the Jays' defence, the offensively challenged Boys of Winter continue their fall. But instead of anger, there appears to be a feeling of resignation washing over Blue Jays' Nation as the calls for the heads of manager John Gibbons and GM J.P. Ricciardi have been replaced by group frustration at the failure of the hitters. Is it too early to cry out, "Wait until next year!" On to the mail bag.
Q: Hi Richard.
Long time reader, first time writer. I'm very intrigued with the idea of the Jays trading A.J. Burnett before the deadline. I know some would see this as giving up, but if you look at Oakland (coincidentally - where J.P. Ricciardi probably gets all of his trade ideas from - and half of his trades - LOL), they tend to trade in years that they are rebuilding and years that they contend. If you could pick up a young, yet unproven starter with a medium-to-high ceiling who is under control for a few years, he could slide into the 5-spot in the rotation. With such a strong staff and brilliant mentor (Roy Halladay), I believe we would not suffer too much of a drop-off. Burnett is not exactly leading the way for this rotation.
Some argue for the two draft picks (if A.J. opts out after the season), but with a strong four and a little help from the offence we may still make a run for the post-season. To prove how little we would miss Burnett, decide who would be our starting four for the playoffs and see if you would choose Burnett over the others. Sorry to ramble on. Do you think we could get a pitcher of value (and possible extras) for Burnett and could JP pull off this move successfully?
Scott Dyment, Toronto
A: It can be done. Using the A’s Beane as an example, just this past off-season, the A’s one-of-a-kind GM sent all-star starter Dan Haren to Arizona, picking up Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, two current members of his starting rotation, as well as outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and a couple of minor leaguers. Both teams are happy. A few years ago, Bean sent lefty Mark Mulder to the Cards for Haren, Kiko Calero and minor leaguer Daric Barton. He sent Tim Hudson to the Braves in a trade that did not pay off, except in payroll savings, but at least he took the chance and pulled the trigger. In earlier years, in separate deals, he shipped to the Jays starters Ted Lilly and Cory Lidle. Yet, as you point out, the A’s seem to annually contend for the post-season.
If Burnett was traded, the man to replace him internally would be David Purcey who has yet to show he’s ready for the next step, given two chances so far. And with Jesse Litsch beginning to show major-league cracks as a fifth starter, Ricciardi would have to make his best deal ever. What he’s got going for him is that, technically, Burnett still has two years remaining on his contract and if he allowed a dance-partner team to negotiate with A.J. to guarantee and extend the contract, he might be able to get something of value. Or not.
Q: Richard, I have a question on the DH and you are the only one on earth that I believe will give an honest answer. The National League does not have DH but the American League does, and it seems like DH can be used to extend the life span of a baseball player. My question for you is why the union does not push the DH rule into National League. With DH, not only can the player play a bit longer, the average salary probably will go up a bit too.
Davy P., San Jose
A: I am convinced that the reason the DH has been a no-fly zone in negotiations is because the commissioner, Bud Selig, is so pro-NL and anti-DH that the union realizes nothing will get done in that regard until Bud leaves office and is replaced by a more pragmatic, less idealistic commissioner.
I have always been opposed to the concept of the DH, being a National Leaguer and a traditionalist from way back. But the recent incident with Chien-Ming Wang and his foot and the fact that fewer and fewer pitchers ever even swing the bat in college or the minors and then are asked to do it in the majors is ridiculous. It should be all or nothing in terms of NL and AL and since I’m realistic enough to know it will never be “nothing” then let’s make it “all”.
I believe the next negotiation, with an outgoing Selig, will result in the universal DH. I think that because of the idiotic way the Jays and other teams are starting to ignore the building of a bench and use roster spots for 12 pitchers, that there will also be an expansion of the active roster to 27 players. For lifetime proponents of small ball, the end of the steroid era, if it coincides with the addition of the NL DH, we may see some DHs being leadoff-type base stealers that keep the speed aspect of the game alive and even make it more prominent. Old fast guys instead of old thick-legged sluggers. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Q: Is Joe Inglett the new Reed Johnson?
A: Good question, but no. Actually, whenever I see Joe Inglett strolling through the clubhouse looking just happy to be here (instead of Syracuse) and doing multiple fill-in jobs for manager John Gibbons, I think more of former Expos utility man Casey Candaele. The 5-9, 165 lbs. forever smiling switch-hitter was already 25 and a career minor-leaguer with the Expos when he made his major-league debut in 1986. He cobbled together a nine-year major-league career, never threatening to be a starting player. Candaele hit .250 in almost 2,000 career at-bats, with a paltry .640 OPS. He played 343 games at second base, 194 in the outfield, 118 at shortstop, 54 at third and one game at first base. He was the third catcher if needed and was also willing to pitch. Plus, he was a great guy. That’s Joe Inglett. As a note, Candaele’s mother played in that women’s pro baseball league in the ‘40s and she became the inspiration for the movie A League of Their Own. I believe she was a better hitter than Casey.
Don’t want to overreact to Vernon Wells’ recent failure in the clutch against the Cubs (first-pitch popup, two out, bases loaded, after last two batters walked, I believe), but, what is the Blue Jays record with Wells in the lineup and out of the lineup this year? Seems to me their best month (May, 20-10 or so) coincides exactly with the extended time Wells was on the DL. Okay, it’s a team game, but how then to explain your team plays best in Wells’ absence? How about, Wells substandard ability to hit with RISP this year and last year, and an OBP around .300? Rios didn’t seem out of place in CF, either. Do you agree Wells’ contributions are overvalued? How can they play so well without him? Is there a market for him, and if so would you trade him?
Bob White, Lasalle, Ontario
A: Taking that one Wells at-bat out of its game context would be an overreaction. I have no problem with one of your power hitters in the middle of the lineup seeing two straight walks and then swinging at the first pitch. The guy on the mound is a major-leaguer and you know that he wants to get the first pitch over, likely with a fastball. Wells is out there to drive in runs, not to draw a third straight walk.
That’s been part of the Jays’ problem, not having enough guys wanting the responsibility of driving in runs. That Wells failed and continues to fail, that’s the real story. And the Jays were 15-11 with Wells on the DL, but don’t forget, a big part of that May surge was the fact that the bullpen put together a shutout streak of 24 innings with him out of the lineup. It was not his absence that spurred that stretch.
The Wells contribution of this year and last is disappointing. But the expectations of what the Jays were expecting when they forked over the cash are not overvalued. Wells is defending like they thought, but nothing else about his current game is worth the money they are paying him. It’s part of the reason that manager John Gibbons can just throw his hands in the air and accept his own fate of maybe being fired.
Q: At this rate do you think there's any way Shaun Marcum will be in the Cy Young race even if he only gets 11 wins this season on account of a MLB record 30 no-decisions - (give or take)? Also do you know what the current no-decision record is?
Graham Harvey, Toronto
A: There is no way that Shaun Marcum will be in the Cy race this year. First of all, the Jays’ No. 1 candidate for the award is Roy Halladay and there are seldom if ever two starters from the same team listed on the ballot (voted on by the Baseball Writers Association) unless you have a duo like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling back when they were both in their prime with the D’backs. Marcum is a wonderful contributor to the Jays’ rotation, mixing it up as far as speed and approach to hitters is concerned. But there is only room for three names on every Cy Young ballot. Marcum will have to wait until Halladay is gone, and the Jays are hoping that is never.
Q: What's the over-under on how many more blown saves it will take before BJ Ryan's "sore back" becomes an excuse, and eventually a trip to the DL?
Mike S., Georgetown, Ont.
A: The Jays have two more years of B.J. Ryan, therefore I don’t think they will take any chances with Ryan’s health once they are officially -- no, make that realistically – out of the Wild Card race. Ryan has dropped several miles-per-hour off his fastball, which is more a sign of not being fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery, having his strength and timing back, than any current injury woes. In any case, in September, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did shut him down for the rest of the season and bring him back for 2009-10 in top form. Good “sore back” reference. That lie may be the low point of J.P. Ricciardi’s career and the start of his infallible aura with fans being peeled away.
Q: Hello Richard, Last week I went down to see the Jays and Yankees play, and stopped into Syracuse to see the Chiefs. I was impressed with a few players there and wondered where they stood on the Jays Depth Charts - Eric Kratz, Chip Cannon and Wayne Lydon.
Terry Lowe, Toronto
A: For true Jays fans that care about the future of the club, a trip to Syracuse for a weekend series or even to Buffalo when the Chiefs are there should be a rite of summer.
Let’s start with Kratz. He has a chance to be the future Sal Fasano or Ken Huckaby of the organization. He is a career minor-leaguer in terms of talent, but if you call one of your catchers up to the Jays then you won’t be embarrassed if Erik catches for a week. He can have a long pro career, but with little major-league time. Think Crash Davis.
As for Chip Cannon, the Jays have hopes that he can become a major-league contributor at some point, but the fact that their No. 1 pick in June was another left-handed hitting first baseman, David Cooper, means they are not completely sold. Whenever it is that Lyle Overbay leaves the scene, Cannon would have been a logical candidate to replace him, but he’s now dropped behind Cooper on the 2011 depth chart. Think Eric Crozier.
As for Lydon, if the Jays had a real bench with 14 or 15 players like teams back in the day, then Lydon would have a chance to make the major-league team. But the Jays value two men with mops in the bullpen more than one man with wheels in the dugout. Because of their philosophy of being more concerned with finishing blowouts than winning nail-biters, Lydon will have to go somewhere else to be a major-leaguer. Think Otis Nixon.
Q: Hi Richard, Like everyone else, (including Rance Mulliniks) I think I know what Alex Rios is doing wrong. So can you tell me about the environment for coaches like Gary Denbo and players like Rios. I've heard that traveling and all there is very little opportunity during the season for Rios to get one-on-one help for his addiction to ground balls. Is this true and does the manager ever order that he (or any other player for that matter) schedule time with the batting coach?
John Sault, Winnipeg
A: Hey, maybe Mickey Brantley was not as bad a hitting coach as his firing was meant to show the fans.
Under his first hitting coach, Mike Barnett, Rios was a singles hitter. Under Brantley’s tutelage in ’06-’07, he became an alley-to-alley power hitter and an all-star. Under Denbo, he’s back to being an oversized Wee Willie Keeler.
What is the common thread between Barnett and Denbo? They love to work with video and sit their hitters down to analyze their own swing. Maybe Rios was not meant to overanalyze. Some of the great hitters in history never saw themselves hit. They just saw the ball and hit the ball. In fact, the thought that there is not enough time to work with individuals is not true. Denbo can never be accused of not working hard enough. When the Jays are on the road, he is out at the park early afternoon. All he does is hang around the indoor cage waiting for his student-players to show up looking for extra work. If the right fielder has not done enough cage work to snap out of his funk, then blame it on Rios.
To stick with the travel theme a friend and I are going to Cooperstown on a trip what do you recommend doing at the Hall of Fame in order to get the whole experience.
Bryan Cook, Ottawa
A: The Hall itself does not look imposing, but for fans of the game, it’s a daylong adventure with memories flooding back around every turn. If you feel the need, ask for Hall president Jeff Idelson, a good friend of mine, and ask him to show you the Robert O. Fishel Award and look for my nameplate. It’s there the year after Ned Coletti, now the Dodgers GM, won it. If you have room in the trunk, bring a giant pumpkin for the annual PumpkinFest. Prize money is $2,500 and it will help pay for the trip. It’s all good. There’s a couple of hotels and inns in town, with three or four bars and restaurants to choose from on the main street. There’s a nice gold course nearby and the James Fenimore Cooper Museum. There’s three lakes to explore, boat tours of the Erie Canal, a bowling alley and don’t miss Jerry’s Bait and Tackle shop. Enjoy.
Q: Hey Richard,
Enjoy your blog. I was watching Jesse Litsch get a visit from the pitching coach during a game recently when he was in a bit of trouble. It was hot and the sweat was pouring down his face. Is it just not allowed in those situations if someone is visiting the mound to take a towel and maybe a bottle of water out and give the pitcher some water and let them wipe their face as you talk to them. I just don't believe I've ever seen that happen. Couldn't hurt.
Ian Strang, Toronto
A: It is allowed for a coach to bring a towel and a bottle of water. That simply counts as a mound visit, but most pitchers would balk at such a thing. They all know what it takes to stay hydrated between innings, so usually there’s no problem with the need for water. As for the towel, in the words of that roll-on deodorant ad, “Never let them see you sweat.” However, in the case of Litsch, he is still carrying a little extra poundage and as the summer moves along, as the weather heats up, an occasional towel with the pitching coach might not be a bad idea.
Q: There has been lots of talk about either Lance Berkman or Josh Hamilton winning the batting Triple Crown in their respective leagues. I looked at the AL pitching stats today and saw that the vastly underappreciated Roy Halladay is in the top three in the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts). Although Doc is no longer a strikeout pitcher, as long as he piling up innings he'll strike out plenty. Is this another case of American media ignoring Halladay's greatness or is it just too early for such talk? Also isn't it time to re-evaluate the importance of strikeouts? And other than Cliff Lee's Sandy Koufax impersonation, Doc has to be the early favourite for the Cy Young? It's looking like another "cheer for personal achievements" season in Toronto.
Melvin Leon, Hong Kong
A: There is really an American bias against players on Canadian teams. I think a lot of it has to do with those sports highlight shows on TV. Why would you feature Jays’ games on your nightly packages when as a network you don’t have an outlet in Toronto. Therefore Jays players are underexposed in the States as a matter of good business.
As for Halladay and the pitching Triple Crown, that is not as recognized as the hitting Triple Crown, so it will only be later in the season that any buzz will start if Doc is still in position. You’re right about the accumulation of innings leading to impressive strikeout totals. The new Halladay thinks about pitching to contact to keep his pitch count down, but admits there are plenty of times in a game in certain situations with baserunners that he is looking for the K. And his stuff is good enough that when he looks for them, many time he will get them. He’s a longshot for the Triple Crown, more because of wins and the fact the Jays offence sucks.
Q: Any thoughts on why the Jays aren't hitting the long ball? I really don't get it. These guys just can't seem to get anything over the fences. Is there something wrong with Scott Rolen that we don't know about? A career proven RBI guy, and he turns into a singles hitter and is far behind in RBIs. Anything wrong with Rios that we don't know about? I don't have the stats, but the Jays must rank near the bottom in the majors for HRs and RBIs. No wonder they're a mediocre team. Take the pitching away, and this team would be hard-pressed to make it in the International League.
Bill MacDougall, Toronto
A: The Jays’ failure to launch is perplexing to everyone, even in the post-steroid, post-supplement, check the label on your bottle for banned ingredients era. The ’08 Jays could change their mascots from Ace the bird to Punch and Judy. The ’08 Jays should learn to play Let’s Go Blue Jays and Take Me Out to the Ballgame on the banjo.
As for Scott Rolen, they didn’t bring him over to hit home runs. They though that even if they got rid of Troy Glaus, a better option for homers, they thought would have enough longball punch to compensate. Rolen was an RBI man with great leadership ability and tremendous instincts for the game. His instincts are there. His leadership is there. Rolen’s RBIs are not there.
The problem with thinking about acquiring a proven hitter is that the only spots available that you haven’t locked in to for the future are catcher and left field.
Q: Hi Richard,
Thanks for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions via blog. It really adds a new dimension to your articles. I have a question for you. My brother and I were pondering.
If you were to put together your Jays "lightning in a bottle team", one which consists of Jays who had 2 years or less service with the club, who would you put on it? I have a theory that a good portion of it would be guys who won a World Series, which says something doesn't it?
Graham Jack, Ottawa
A-That’s an interesting, if somewhat goofy question. The Benjamin Franklin lightning in a bottle all-time Jays’ roster might look like this:
C Gregg Zaun, Darrin Fletcher
P Roger Clemens, David Cone; Aquilino Lopez, Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, Josh Towers
1B Shea Hillenbrand
3B Tony Batista
OF Dave Collins, Jacob Brumfield; Rickey Henderson, Otis Nixon, Matt Stairs
DH Jose Canseco, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield
Mgr Tim Johnson
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