It was almost like canisters of fresh oxygen had been pumped into the Rogers Centre on Tuesday night with the return of Cito Gaston to the dugout. Peoople were actually smiling. Fans were chanting -- good things instead of insults. One out-of-town visitor in the press box said he had never ever heard a manager’s name being chanted during games. It seemed like the old feeling of the Jays’ being a first-class organization had returned and fans seemed proud of where they were spending their spare time rather than looking for a bag to put over their heads watching more and more men were left stranded at third base. Of course, this is not going to last all year, so enjoy it while you can. Here’s this week’s selection from the mailbag.
Q: Do you feel that the blown save against the Yankees (June 5th, Jason Giambi’s ninth inning HR off B.J. Ryan) deflated the Jays, because after that game the Jays haven’t won two in a row and the Yankees won 8-of-11. Just seems like the Yankees have awoken and are making a run and the Jays to the opposite direction. Whenever it is that Aaron Hill gets back, who loses their roster spot? When Shannon Stewart is back who leaves?
Ricky B., Markham
A: I would tend to look to the West Coast a few days earlier for the start of the Jays’ ’08 demise. The ballclub had won three of the first four on the trip through California and were trying to make it a 21-9 month on the final day of May. On Saturday evening, the bullpen’s magic string of shutout innings ended in a 10-inning 3-2 walkoff defeat. But the next day was the dagger. Nursing a one-run lead into the ninth, B.J. Ryan disputed a hit batter, then coughed up a soft game-winning hit heading into the long flight to New York. With time to think about their frailty, they beat Joba in the Yankee Stadium opener, then lost the next two including B.J.’s unfortunate bomb to Giambi. Since that Saturday in Anaheim and following Cito’s home debut, the Jays were 6-15, winning two in a row for the first time on Tuesday. As for Aaron Hill’s return, that is so iffy right now, it’s hard to say whether it would be Joe Inglett again. And Shannon Stewart has become a non-entity, so that it might be Shannon Stewart who goes.
Q: Hi Richard.
I'm a long time Jays fan living in Wisconsin. I had the extreme displeasure of attending the Jays game in Milwaukee Tuesday night (June 17). I knew the Jays were bad, but I was still shocked by what I saw. Is this what fans in Toronto have to put up with at home games? These guys looked like they couldn't have cared less about the game. It was absolutely embarrassing to watch. I really expected to see Paul Godfrey walk over to the dugout mid-game and just fire most of the players on the spot. I think Dustin McGowan knew the game was over after the first solo shot by Prince Fielder. The offence showed no sign they were capable of scoring a run. I was sitting with a small cluster of Jays fans and we were just shaking our heads at this performance. With the Mets firing Willie Randolph and the Mariners firing GM Bill Bavasi do you think there's any chance Godfrey will finally realize he has to do something before this franchise is dead.
Rob Hardman, Madison, Wisconson
A: Kept this letter in this week’s mailbox because it is typical of what fans were saying and feeling before Godfrey and Ricciardi finally pulled the plug on Gibby and his non-lethal hitting instructor Gary Denbo. Your keen observations from Dairyland USA showed what had really happened inside the clubhouse. The players had not only given up on their manager, they had given up on themselves. That was an untenable situation with 90 games still remaining. The offence had been leaning on the rotation all season and the weight that the starters had been carrying finally took its toll. More games like the Jays’ laugher over the Reds Tuesday may provide a cure – but don’t count on it.
Do you think the Jays will hire a G.M with a established record once they fire J.P, or will they look another "rising star" like current assistant G.M Alex Anthopoulos? Seems to me that only an established G.M with a good record can help this team bring in free agents, someone like Pat Gillick maybe? Keep up the great work Mr.Griffin!
Jonathan Sanchez, York
A: The Jays cannot possibly go with another first-time GM and expect to compete for top-tier free agents. The incident with the Reds’ potential free agent Adam Dunn has damaged the reputation of the franchise out on the open market and in player agent-land. Not that the Jays planned to be major players next winter, but unless they correct the situation after the season with an established, high-profile name, the ugly ripple will continue to spread across the free-agent pool.
Anthopoulos should remain as a right-hand man for whoever takes over. His Aaron Hill contract was a well-thought out, well-concocted piece of baseball negotiating with presents for both the player and the club. It was imaginative and a good deal for both sides that has already been copied in part by other clubs looking tio lock up talented young stars.
As for Gillick, he would be a great senior advisor for whomever took over, if he was able to live at home in semi-retirement. The funny thing is that when he became the M’s GM he kept his home in Toronto. When he became Phils’ GM he moved his home to Seattle and is no longer based here. The new GM should have a history with the Jays’ franchise.
Q: Do you think things are awkward for JP now that Cito Gaston is the manager? You really think this was JP’s hire? Cito was an adviser to Godfrey was he not? Does this mean that Cito has lots more influence with Godfrey (and possibly Rogers) than JP?
Christopher Warren, Ajax, Ont.
A: Nothing about Gaston’s hire makes one believe that it was a J.P. initiative. I honestly have to believe that the original call to fire Gibbons was J.P.’s. But if he had his way, the replacement on an interim basis would have been Brian Butterfield, who knows the roster inside and out, is a solid tactician and is comfortable with the GM. But Butterfield as manager would not have saved the TV ratings or the home attendance for the final half of the season. That was more important to owner Ted Rogers and his president Paul Godfrey who then pushed for Gaston.
Awkward is not a good word to describe the new relationship between GM and manager. Arm’s length is better. Ricciardi has always been used to breezing into the manager’s office and exchanging his ideas and having them somehow implemented. That ain’t gonna happen here. Gaston as J.P.’s field manager is like Mother Teresa as George W. Bush’s secretary of state. They’re striving for the same goals, but where’s the love? If things turn around who gets the credit? Until proven otherwise, Ricciardi, whose contract runs through 2010, is on the clock.
Q: Dear Richard,
Why fire Ernie Whitt? Why do Toronto teams insist on treating former players like garbage? This kind of blatant disrespect is a slow cancer that will eventually trickle into the hearts of fans. Does J.P. even realize that Ernie Whitt played for years as a Jay? My point is that his allegiance was to the Blue Jays, not Gibbons, and this firing was not only unnecessary, it was a blatant and desperate "clean house" maneuver designed Specifically by J.P. to save his own job. Adam Dunn is wrong though. Ricchiardi is too much of a monkey to be a clown.
Brad Mitchell, Calgary
A: I have an unproven theory, but isn’t that the definition of a “theory”? When Buck Martinez was hired to manage, he beat out Ernie Whitt in the process. Paul Godfrey was part of that process and he knew Whitt was more qualified with his glorious Team Canada history. When Whitt was hired as a bench coach in 2005, the idea must have been Godfrey’s. The theory here is that Whitt, at that time, was told to be patient and bide his time and that his day would come. Whitt was not close to any of the Jays’ other coaches under Gibbons. When the move was made last week to fire Gibbons and ownership wanted a return to the glory days under Cito, there was no upside to keeping the former catcher around. Besides, Gaston was bringing two of his own coaches which meant two of the current staff had to go.
Whitt is right in saying that Ricciardi was hoping he would resign last October when the shuffle of assignments reduced him from bench coach to first base coach. In fact, he should have taken that opportunity to leave and find another organization that would give him a chance on their major-league staff.
Q: Dear Sir,
The justifiable criticism of Mr. Ricciardi and his glut of mediocrity on the playing field is well documented. But what about the makeup of the scouting ranks of this club? The Syracuse team has for years been clogged with overage career minor leaguers. The Jays have developed, what, one catcher (Pat Borders) in thirty-plus years? I'd like to see a piece on this branch of the Blue Jays tree. It looks like Kelly Gruber's Star prediction of March, for 77 wins in ‘08, might be bang on. Why didn't any of The Star writers ask Gruber to expand on this? Maybe Kelly G. should be the new GM - soon, please.
Best Regards, Selby Martin, Toronto
A: In the 14 years since Pat Borders’ final season with the Jays, only two homegrown catchers have started for the Jays on Opening Day. In 1996 it was Sandy Martinez in the opener, while in 2004 it was Kevin Cash. But all of a sudden, the Jays system is up to their knees in drafted and signed catchers of some quality. You’ve got, in no particular order, Robinson Diaz, Curtis Thigpen, Brian Jeroloman and the crown jewel of the system, J.P. Arencibia a 22-year-old Tennessee Volunteer.
So, let’s see, Kelly Gruber predicting 77 wins in ’08 is enough to warrant consideration as GM. How about Jays’ new GM Kreskin, or Uri Gellar, or Carnac. And by the way, why are there ads for psychic conventions in the paper. Shouldn’t they already know about them?
Q: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Barry Bonds: Yes or No? How much worse can it get? Or J.P. can go out and get some more unproductive cast offs from other teams again. (I am sure Julio Franco would love a chance to play for the Jays).
Brian M., Barrie, Ont.
A: Barry Bonds? No. That window has closed. Does anyone believe that Bonds has been working out hard in his period of ostracization while he awaits his fate in the U.S. legal system? He already had wonky knees and hitting a baseball is more than just past history and reputation. Though I’m sure Cito Gaston is one of the managers that could handle Bonds’ ego. Hey, Joe Carter was in the clubhouse after Tuesday’s game. Maybe he could help the offence. Unfortunately, you are right about one thing. The only moves this season have been for other organization’s castoffs. That’s what happens when your own (AAA) cupboard is bare.
Q: Hi Richard,
With the memories of Detroit's Stanley Cup win still fresh in the minds of many of us and all the articles we read about their vaunted scouting system and their highly skilled management team a question comes to mind with this organization, that is the Blue Jays.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the system (?) they are now employing in comparison with the one they used in days gone by when they were winning World Series etc. Given your experience I would hope that you would add your own 'opinions' (in fact I know you will) about the best one to use in baseball with scouting and management being the focus.
Paul Bertils, North Bay, Ont.
A: The Red Wings have it all over the Jays in terms of European scouting. Unfortunately there is no Babe Ruutu in the Finnish pipeline or any Walter Johansons in Sweden. The biggest difference between the glory years of the early ‘90s and now is the amount of money the Jays had available to spend. They were drawing 4-million fans per year and the dollar was still somewhat healthy. The Jays’ team payroll in 1992-93 was the highest in baseball. Now they draw half that home attendance and are in the middle of the payroll pack. But that doesn’t stop the Twins and A’s and others from competing year after year.
The Jays’ Caribbean scouting has been a problem this decade. For instance, in the first 15 years of the Jays, the Dominican was overrun with kids wearing Jays’ caps like their heroes in the big leagues. It made it easier to compete when it came to signing young Latins. Currently the Jays have two players from Latin America on the active roster: Alex Rios (Puerto Rico) and Marco Scutaro (Venezuela). It makes it hard to compete for that young talent. The Jays had a good draft in 2007, but fans will need to wait a few years before seeing the results in Toronto. Outfielder Travis Snider, the team ‘s No. 1 pick in ’06 is the closest position player to the majors with a chance to be a star.
Q: Hi Richard.
How important is the role of the sports psychologist to team success? The Jays seem to be suffering from some kind of collective psychological disorder. Allowing Prince Fielder to get an in-the-park home run is enough to traumatize anyone's ego. That has to have been the low point of the season so far. I feel sorry for the Jays, and for myself for investing hours watching and waiting for a turnaround. Maybe I need a shrink.
Chris M., Collingwood, Ont.
A: Maybe we all need a shrink. The Jays, like all major-league teams, have an Employee Assistance Program that includes any psychological help for a player or his family. But, professionally as a ballplayer, a guy like Roy Halladay is a prime example of someone who has found his own guru and relies on him somewhat through books and occasional conversations. Good hitting and pitching coaches are amateur psychologists with their players. Brad Arnsberg is one of the best at playing mind games with his pupils, especially necessary with unusual personalities like A.J. Burnett.
Q: Hey Richard,
Love the blog. Quick question. Do you think that Vernon Wells could return to being a .300/100RBI hitter if he had a lefty like Carlos Delgado (circa 1998-2006) hitting behind him? Just curious.
Matt M., Calgary
A: I believe that more than the effect of protecting Vernon, the presence of a powerful lefthanded hitter like Delgado (’98-’04) behind him would drag Wells along to being a better hitter. Hitting is more of a contagious art than a protected one. Yes, it would help a little with better pitches to hit, but that assumes that Wells is able to be a disciplined hitter and only go after hittable strikes, which he has never proven that he is.
I see Travis Snider is finding his feet in Double-A and is looking very good. I'm guessing we won't see him next year and he'll spend a year in Triple-A. Do you think he may be rushed to the big leagues or is 2010 the more likely arrival date? Finally what is the buzz on J.P.(!) Arencibia. I see he has over 60 RBIs and has just been promoted to Double-A. Is he above Diaz and Thigpen on the depth chart or is it too early to tell?
Kevin H., Toronto
A: There is no need to rush Snider to the big leagues. He is just 20 years old and has been climbing the organizational ladder in timely fashion. The best thing for him would be to finish the year successfully at New Hampshire, then start next season at age 21 at Syracuse, in AAA. His arrival date in the majors at that point would depend on how fast he adjusts to the veteran pitchers that populate Triple-A baseball who are trying to trick him. It is a necessary level for young hitters.
Plus, if Adam Lind finds some success this time around and Lyle Overbay has another couple of seasons under contract, let Snider enjoy being a phee-nom in the minors. As for Arencibia, even the major-league guys that went down on injury rehabs were impressed with the young catcher. Yes, he is ahead of Thigpen and Diaz on the 2010 depth chart…maybe even late 2009.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space. *Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Richard. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**