Blue Jays mail bag
Hola, amigos. The Jays organization has dipped into the Dominican child-labour market again, signing a Top 15 prospect, a 16-year-old infielder named Gustavo Pierre with room to grow. That’s a good thing. But it’s July and most contenders are building up their major-league club at the deadline for a two-month run at a pennant. Meanwhile, with less than 36 hours to this season's trade deadline without obtaining waivers, in his seven years as Jays' GM, here is a list of the July players that J.P. Ricciardi has acquired to bolster his club: Scott Wiggins (’02), Bobby Kielty (’03), John Hattig (’04), a player to be named later (’05) and Jeremy Accardo (’06). And the number of legitimate runs at a pennant that these moves have led to: None. On with the mailbag.
Q: Hello Richard,
There seems to be a general feeling that J.P. Ricciardi's days as GM are coming to an end, at least from reading these mailbags. While I'm sure not many folks will be sorry to see him go (myself included), is he really to blame for the mediocrity of the 2008 Blue Jays hitters? After all, who knows? If even four or five guys were having average years, perhaps the standings would be a little different. I still can't believe it's late July and no one on the team has 10 homers.
Nik Jones, Port St Lucie, FL
A: A couple of things need to be clarified surrounding any expert predictions of J.P. Ricciardi’s demise at the end of the ’08 season as general manager of the Blue Jays.
First of all, it should be noted there will be no physical harm coming his way, nor will there be any financial harm to the man. That’s always the way we want it. We are not vengeful souls out to hurt anyone. The reality is that J.P. is under contract through 2010 and the money is guaranteed, so his family will be taken care of whether he is actually continuing to make Jays’ personnel decisions or not. But the reality is that his seven years as GM have forever been involved in promises unfulfilled. Some years it was because Jays personnel was not good enough. Other years it has been because of unexpected, certainly important injuries that cost them a chance to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. Other years, like this one, it has been because of underachieving veterans.
But no matter how bad one feels for the bad luck that Ricciardi has endured in the seven years of his current job, he clearly did not feel the need to cut the same slack with the three field managers he has fired as in-season scapegoats for the team’s annual failures – Buck Martinez in ’02, Carlos Tosca in ’04 and John Gibbons in ’08. The injuries to Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells and Dustin McGowan this year have certainly hurt. But every team has injuries every year and yet no other team sells its fans on the sad-sack story of injury woe as much as do the Jays.
It’s certainly not a certainty that Ricciardi is gone -- and we have been known to be wrong before -- but if October does in fact bring the end of an era in Toronto, there is no doubt he will land on his feet. He has scouting ability and many friends in the game. But he was overmatched by the fates.
Q: What can explain the rash of pitching injuries over the past few seasons? Do we need to take a look a closer look at the circumstances surrounding manager utilization, player conditioning, organizational philosophy...etc. From the starting rotation to the bullpen, arm and shoulder injuries continue to bite the Jays.
John Gil, Chicago
A: The rash of pitching injuries is epidemic around baseball. It’s not just the Jays. In fact, I honestly believe that the amount of money being tossed around in guaranteed long-term deals is what makes every team so aware of every nick, pull, strain and scratch. Teams want to err on the side of caution. If a 15-day stint on the disabled list can prevent a long-term disability with multi-millions on the line, then teams will use the DL every time.
The other factor is that so many improvements have been made in the field of surgery to repair shoulders and elbows with recovery time being scaled back year after year, I believe pitching careers are actually lengthened by time on the disabled list to recover from any current surgery. Back in the day, shoulder injuries just meant that a pitcher had to change his approach and become a wily veteran instead of a flame-throwing youngster. But one fact that cannot be argued is that the leading winner all-time among pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery is…Tommy John.
Q: I remember back in the day when I watched Tom Henke and Duane Ward provide a wonderful 1-2 closing duo for the Jays that it seemed like the TV announcers liked to talk about their 'imposing 90-mph fastballs'. Am I mis-remembering, or has pitching really gotten so much better in the past 15 years that what was once a great pitch would now be considered someone who has lost a little off their fastball. How would Tom or Duane look to today's hitters?
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A: Mis-remebering? Hey, is this really the Rocket writing to the mailbag for the first time? Very clever, in any case, I love the reference. But back to your question. You have to remember in the mid-90s when training techniques (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) became so advanced that it not only benefited the hitters, but a bunch of pitchers also jumped on the workout wagon. Henke and Ward and all those great pitchers going back from the ‘70s to early ‘90s were all handicapped in terms of estimating velocity of fastball, but there was no underestimating in terms of pitch movement and effectiveness. These guys could pitch and were smarter than most of today’s hard-throwing lunk-heads.
I remember the first time the Jumbotron at the SkyDome carried the readings on the speed of every pitch via radar gun in the stands. It was 1997, the first year that Roger Clemens was with the Jays. I remember because after one or two home starts he asked the Jays to stop displaying the speeds on his pitches whenever he pitched. Later in the season, unable to slow progress, they were back up, but Rocket didn’t want to give away any secrets – still doesn’t. But the point is that before that time broadcasters were always guessing on radio and television and saying Ward and Henke threw 90 m.p.h seemed like a nice round guess and a good compliment at the time. It would be a good guess is that all those hard throwers we remember back in the day actually threw harder than was reported at the time and that today’s hardest throwers throw slower than reported, because they are cited using the faster radar guns employed by FOX Sports, Rogers SportsNet and those two State troopers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania that clocked me last month.
I enjoy reading your column every week. But, on to business. On Wednesday, with the Jays up 2-1 in the sixth, the skies opened and the thunder rolled at Camden Yards, prompting a halt to play. The remainder of the game was finished on Thursday. I thought a game could be called after five innings due to inclement weather 4 1/2 innings if the home team is leading) and the team in the lead was awarded the win. What happened in this case? I'm sure other fans are wondering the same thing. The Jays won anyway 5-1.
Jack Poirier, Sarnia
A: A closer look at the O’s-Jays linescore at the time of the rain delay shows the Jays had scored the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth inning, with the O’s not having had a chance to bat and tie the game in the bottom of the inning. There is a somewhat new rule that has clouded the issue for many astute fans who remember the old. In the old days, a game like that which had gone five full innings and was basically tied, would have been called a complete-game tie with all individual stats counting and been replayed in its entirety. That means that many teams over the years have actually played 163 games or more. But now, any major-league game tied after five innings or more and then stopped is picked up at the spot of postponement prior to the next time the two teams meet at that venue. If the Jays had scored in the fifth and were leading 2-1 at the time of the rainout, they would have been awarded the win, but because the Jays scored in the sixth and the O’s did not bat, the official result reverted to five full frames which was a 1-1 tie.
What's the deal with Gustavo Chacin down on the farm? Could he be a call-up if A.J. Burnett gets traded next week? Also what's the story on this 16-year-old shortstop Gustavo Pierre, that the Jays signed this week. What other teams were interested in him and was there a bidding war around his services?
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco, CA
A: First of all, don’t look for A.J. to be traded. Second of all, don’t look for Gus Chacin to ever be a major-league Jay again. His 72 hits allowed to 46 innings pitched total at Class-A Dunedin stinks far worse than any vial of his Chacin cologne and the fastest he has been clocked at in the last couple of years was behind the wheel of his car.
As for Gustavo Pierre, the Jays apparently had locked this 16-year-old Dominican shortstop prospect up with an offer slightly under $700,000 well before the July 2 signing period opened for worldwide 16-year-old free agents. There used to be no minimum age for signing Latins, but after countless abuses, they made a rule that a player’s high school class should be graduating before he can be signed. That is a player who turns 17 after September 6 of the current year can be signed as a 16-year-old starting on July 2. A total of 17 International 16-year-olds were officially signed in the first two days after the July 2 period opened and Pierre was one of them. The 6-3, 180 lb. infielder was rated 12th among Latin American 16-year-olds by one scouting service and seventh by another, so certainly it’s a feather in the Jays’ scouting cap. He is projected as more of a third baseman or an outfielder and like most very young Latin American prospects, don’t look for him in Toronto for about five or six years. It takes a while.
Q: Hi Richard,
How is it that a behemoth of a man like Scott Rolen can't hit HRs anymore? I know he's had shoulder issues but here is a man who, coming into the season, said he's completely healthy and strong. And why is his approach to go the other way, take as many pitches as possible, move a runner along (as opposed to trying to drive him in), etc. like that of Eckstein (or McDonald), who is 8-9 inches shorter and about 75-80 lbs lighter? I mean, Rolen was a #3-4 hitter most of his career and now all of a sudden his approach is similar to that of a leadoff man with no power?
J. T., Richmond Hill
A: Observing the gentler side (with the bat) in the first year of Scott Rolen with the Jays has been like finding out that UFC champ Georges St-Pierre is really into feng shui. Who’d-a thunk it. Rolen has not disappointed with the glove at third base, far exceeding anything that Troy Glaus provided in his two seasons here, but his bat…oy!
One can only hope that the issue has been that Rolen is trying too hard with runners in scoring position in his first season with a new club in a new league. The other explanation is what my esteemed colleague, Larry Millson of the Globe and Mail might describe as “just another National League stiff.” The Jays are hoping it’s just a glitch in his offensive career. In the meantime it has been tough to watch, as you describe, a career 3-4 hitter in the lineup playing small-ball -- out of necessity.
Q: Hi Richard,
if Carlos Delgado gets to 500 home runs, do you think he will get into the Hall of Fame? If he did, I would assume he would go in wearing a Jays hat? Thanks!
Rory Wilson, Halifax
A: If Delgado does reach 500 home runs, which is one of his stated career goals, then he is surely a Hall-of-Famer, but not a first-ballot one. His time in New York with the Mets could have cemented his candidacy, but instead, his
first second year at Shea when they folded down the stretch to miss the post-season, those around the Mets’ clubhouse reported extreme disappointment in what they had heard about as tremendous leadership qualities in Toronto. That, even though the Mets’ roster was brimming with Latin players. This season has been different. After a slow start and with the change to manager Jerry Manuel, Delgado has once again become an offensive catalyst. If they make it to the World Series, he becomes a shoo-in for Cooperstown and yes he will wear the Jays’ hat.
Q: Hey Richard,
Couple of questions regarding A.J. If the Jays don’t trade A.J. this season and then he opts out, is there a time limit for the two picks compensation? For example, if A.J. is not signed by anyone before the ‘09 season, will Jays lose the compensation? The second question is if the Jays do not trade A.J. and A.J. does not opt out, is it possible to make A.J. the closer next season and trade B.J. instead? I heard A.J. has a very simple baseball mind, so let him face 3-4 guys a game probably will prevent his brain from freezing and I will say this decision is a "no-brainer".
Davy P., San Jose
A: First of all, according to Ricciardi, Burnett is off the trade market for this year, preferring to let the free-agent chips fall where they may and take the two premium draft choices next June if the righthander utilizes his opt out clause in November. The question about losing the compensation seems somewhat hypothetical since that scenario has never happened before in this era (excluding collusion) where a free-agent in the prime of his career has actually been snubbed past June of the following season. But as long as he is under contract to a major league team by the time of the draft, the Jays receive their two-pick compensation. Remember that one of the reasons the Jays are holding onto him is that in baseball there is no such thing as trading draft picks. So in order to get the equivalent of those two picks right now, the Jays would have to identify two warm bodies from another organization’s farm system that are the equivalent of two Top 50 picks this year. That’s a tough call for the Jays and even tougher for another team to surrender two premium prospects for a guy that can walk away in November.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love reading your columns and the mailbag. A baseball 101 question. It looks like a curve ball and a breaking ball are the same thing. If that is indeed true, why the two different names? If not what is the difference between them.
Anne Guenther, Toronto
A: I love that question. In fact, a “breaking ball” seems to be the play-by-play announcer’s way of escaping the fact that he really has no clue and can’t identify the pitch as it happens. He may know it was slower than a fastball and from where he sits in the pressbox it looked like it changed direction. Thus the generic description “breaking ball” covers a host of broadcasting sins. On TV, when they finally replay the pitch from the centre field camera, it will be the analyst seated alongside the pitch-challenged play-by-play guy that will tell you slider, curveball, slurve, splitter, change, knuckleball, cutter, or whatever else dude may be throwing up there. Of course on radio, Jerry Howarth can get away with identifying the pitch because nobody can see it on radio. Of course there is a legend that Mike Wilner, the third man in the Jays’ booth can actually close his eyes and identify the pitch by sound. We kid you not.
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.**