Blue Jays mail bag
This week’s mailbag begins with an unburdening of the soul, a true confession of a Jays fan that is considering cheating on his first true love. What the heck, Jays, Rays, it’s only one letter. In any case, the Jays have started the second half, post-All-Star break as they ended the first, struggling to score runs and struggling to win on the road. But the return of Shaun Marcum is a plus and the influence of Cito Gaston continues to make the immediate future look a little brighter. The trade deadline is coming up, but don’t look for much from the Jays. They don’t have to dump salary and A.J. and David Eckstein won’t get them too much in the way of immediate help. Read on.
Q: I have a problem Richard. On the night of an Evan Longoria slam, I found myself cheating on the Blue Jays... I was reading an ESPN article on those Tampa Rays. But it gets worse, I thought to myself the following as I continued to read.
1. This is a team I can really get behind, because they did a good job of developing young talented players. As a fan, that's always more satisfying than signing Lyle Overbay and dumping O-Dawg for a broken leg.
2. They play hard every game, and have for years now. I've seen it every time we lose to them, which we've done too often for years now.
3. They are doing it with a very small payroll against the grandeur of Red Sox Nation and the Yanks.
4. MOST IMPORTANTLY. Wasn't this supposed to be the type of team that J.P. promised us when he got here 7 years ago?
Richard, what am I supposed to do about this? Should I stay true to the Blue or sneak out behind their back and buy a Tampa cap? I know you're the only one that can help me, and please be honest.
Graham Harvey, Toronto
A: I feel a little like Dr. Phil listening to confessions of a cheating heart. But fear not. Even if, for the moment, you allow yourself to slide down the slippery slope towards being a Rays supporter because of all the good reasons that you point out, it won’t be hard to come back once the Jays earn the right to be loved once again.
First and foremost you have shown that you love baseball and that’s the key. I remember living in Montreal and drifting away from the Habs for a number of years, but yet I always came back to my first love and am still a big fan now. And yes the “Rays way” is supposed to have been the “Jays way”. Carl Crawford is their Vernon Wells, only faster and healthier. B.J. Upton is their Alex Rios, only more well rounded. Granted, the Rays have benefited from a long series of last place finishes and higher draft picks, but as the Jays always say, the draft’s a crapshoot. The Rays have clearly rolled 7 or 11 more often than not while the Jays have come up with snake eyes. Maybe Toronto should start out by taking over Tampa Bay’s abandoned half-moniker and call themselves the Devil Jays. It seems for a while that only their fans have been Blue.
Q: Hey Richard,
First of all, thank you very much for answering our questions, at the end of the day, there is nothing more fun than talk baseball. I basically have two questions, with just a little rant:
I have been a fan of both the Expos and Jays for the past 25 years (in the case of the Expos I have the psychological scars to prove it!) and I have never seen a lineup from one through nine completely underachieve. There is not one hitter on this team that is even having an average year ... not a one. What has happened to this team’s offence?
My second question is exactly how many mistakes does the good J.P. have to make before he is fired? There are some excellent GM's out there (Terry Ryan); how many more years of the five-year plan do we have to go through?
Dave Jenkins, Ottawa
A: I can’t remember a season in which so many players on one team, in one lineup have performed below their career numbers. Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas may be the only veterans not to underachieve. The old baseball axiom is that players will find their level over the course of 162 games. If that’s the case then the Jays in the last two months are going to average 10 runs per game and get back in the race. But it says here that it ain’t gonna happen.
This season must surely be the last straw for Ted Rogers and company in terms of ending the J.P. era of Blue Jays baseball. Ricciardi convinces himself and his bosses year after year that injuries are the only thing keeping him from fielding a championship team. Yet here he sits, with a fourth manager in seven years and a losing record, while the upstart Rays are the ones competing for the division and a wild-card in baseball’s deepest division. Ricciardi put all his eggs in this ’08 basket after an injury-plagued ’07 and now the basket has been dropped and the eggs broken, with too many bits of shell to even make decent scrambled. In fact after seven years, the yolk’s on us. And, yes, Terry Ryan now a senior advisor with the Twins, would be a great replacement.
Q: Hypothetically: Lets say you're a struggling team in the toughest division in baseball... You haven't made the playoffs in well over a decade... This year you're an underachieving team with great pitching. Your most glaring problem is your ability to score runs (and you don't even have a player with 10 HRs at the all-star break). You walk away from your last two games in Tampa Bay where you lost one 2-1 and your pitcher pitched a gem and the other where a homer could have tied it in the ninth.
And as an aside, your leading home run hitter has been on the DL twice this year. Out there, available, is the leading home run hitter of all-time...What is going on? You have a place for him ANYWHERE in your line up because Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson can't hit over .220 and your clean up hitter is Rod Barajas. He'll probably even play for a million bucks. Who cares if he's a disturbance, what's the worst that could happen? We finish in last?
Jason Camelford, Miami (through Toronto)
A: All of those points are legitimate up to the part about signing Barry Bonds as a partial solution to any of the Jays’ problems. Fans in Toronto have shown that they have never been about individual players but that they only respond to winning. Recall that there was never a huge attendance spike when Roger Clemens pitched at the SkyDome even when he was the best pitcher in the majors winning back-to-back Cys.
Sign Bonds? It would be more of an attendance boost for media than fans. Although when Joe Inglett becomes a key to your lineup, maybe you have reached the point where there’s nowhere to go but up. But let’s go back to the issue of Bonds. Here’s a guy that is in his 40s, had physical problems his last couple of seasons, had legal and ethical issues to contend with and has not played a game in 10 months. If he really wanted to play and contribute to a major-league team and wasn’t just looking to pile up more personal numbers, he would be in an Independent League keeping his swing ready to go and showing major league teams that he can still play. But he’s not. He’s a hall-of-famer, but he’s not Superman.
Q: Hi Richard, when last season ended I thought the BJ's were set at short with Johnny Mac, him being the best fielding SS in either league. Why haven't they made him a special project of the hitting coaches? If they got him up to .240 or .250 he would be invaluable.
Secondly, they have been missing their starting second baseman for weeks now and insist on using Eckstein as DH. Moving him to second which would suit his arm and range would seem to be the answer to two problems yet there's no movement there. Your thoughts?
Ken Diamond, Colborne
A: John McDonald is the unluckiest Jay alive. When they signed him to the two-year $3.8 million (all figures U.S.) deal last fall, he looked to be at the pinnacle of his career, with all his hard work finally paying off. But then the GM saw free-agent David Eckstein and his two championship rings and made the best offer out there, which Eckstein accepted. Even though McDonald saves as many runs with his defence as Eckstein creates with his offence and even though these Jays are all about pitching and defence, Johnny Mac lost his starting job without a bat being swung. Then when Eckstein was hurt early in the season, he got his job back – for one day. He tore up his ankle and by the time he came back, Eckstein was also back.
As for moving Eckstein to second base, that’s a great idea. In fact, when Cito Gaston took over, for the first week of the first homestand, Eckstein was working out taking groundballs at second base just in case the move became the best option. But Inglett and Scutaro started to perform well and the idea was placed on the back burner. Personally, I would like to see an infield of Overbay, Eckstein at second, Johnny Mac at short and Rolen at third and see where that leads, especially if Aaron Hill is out for the rest of the year.
Q: With 2007 1st rounder J.P. Arencibia tearing it up in Double-A right now and both Robinson Diaz and Curtis Thigpen having down years, do you see the Jays calling on Arencibia over the other two in either September or next year?
Elie Fortin, Ottawa
A: I’m pretty sure that by the end of 2009, Arencibia will be called up and the starting job will be his. Thigpen’s window of opportunity has slammed shut on his fingers. Diaz has not taken the bull by the horns and asserted himself as the catcher of the future.
How do they proceed? I can see the Jays picking up the option of Rod Barajas for ’09 and elevating Diaz to be his backup until Arencibia is ready to take over…which won’t be that long. But the reason for not calling Arencibia up in September this year is that then he must be added to the 40-man roster and protected for the rest of his career, when, as a draft pick in ’07, they aren’t required to protect him until after ’09.
Q: Hey Richard,
Love the mailbag. You mentioned this week that Wells and Rios need to become 30 HR, 130 RBI guys to improve the outlook for the current nucleus. Question is: how likely do you think that really is?
Greg Jones, Burlington, Ont.
A: The 30 home run thing is more likely for Rios, rather than for Wells at this stage, but the 130 RBI thing is likely for neither, until the Jays get a couple of legitimate table-setters at the top of the batting order that can reach base consistently and steal some bags. In fact, Rios is probably the Jays’ best bet as a big-time leadoff hitter in the Bobby Bonds style of play, but in that case he would not be a candidate for 100 RBIs.
Q: Richard, having so many contracts back-loaded, how do the Jays plan to field a 25-man roster never mind a playoff-calibre team in 2010 and beyond. In 2010, the Jays will have $90M committed to eight players (i.e. Roy Halladay, B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Scott Rolen, Wells, Overbay, Rios, and Hill) which could potentially be $97M if you count Vernon's signing bonus.
Greg Wells, Toronto
A: Don’t forget A.J. Burnett, if he decides to stay. That’s another $12 million in ’09 and ’10. That is the definite downside of back-end loading contracts. In the short term, when the deal is made, you may have the athlete under contract for a reasonable amount and it’s a feel-good story for fans of a player that actually wants to play in Toronto. But in the long term, you look down the road and the financial responsibility can be staggering.
Your 2010 salary numbers are definitely in the right neighbourhood, so it’s clear that if the Jays wanted to contend in 2010, they would need a supporting cast among the remaining 17 players of more than just major-league minimum type players. By then, you would have players like Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan reaching arbitration-eligible status. If they hung on to the eight guaranteed contracts, (plus Burnett), they would likely be paying around $150 million in total payroll. I don’t care how much the times have changed since 2002, that’s not the type of budget that Ricciardi sold as a bill of goods to Paul Godfrey as the reason to hire him in November ‘01. J.P. was hired as a man that could compete with the big boys on a budget. Now he’s becoming a big boy himself and still finishing down the track. If the payroll is going to be that high in two years, then hire a GM whose track record is as a proven winner when given that kind of money to spend. Why is it that Bill Gates gets richer and so many lottery winners can’t handle their good fortune, blow their money and end up back where they started?
Q: Hi Richard,
I completely agree with you about JP Ricciardi's ouster at the end of this year. I hate how he is so insecure, and dishonest with the public. Speaking of honesty, I think Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun is the epitome of this. While he works for a rival newspaper, I'd like you to comment on your colleague and his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.
When will you be up for the Hall of Fame as well?
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco, CA
A: Nice segue from J.P. to Bob Elliott. I believe that my esteemed colleague from the Sun is not always right, but he is always honest and true to himself and his beliefs. Bob has been so important to the development of baseball in this country as a chronicler of all things good about the Canadian game that it makes him unique in either country. It is this national aspect of promoting the sport in an entire country that puts him over the top among candidates when it comes to voters for the Spink Award and it is what will earn him the nod for Cooperstown in 2009. As for myself, I think I will have to remain satisfied at being in the Hall-of-Fame as the ’93 winner of the Robert O. Fishel Award for public relations excellence. The big trophy is in my son’s room on a top shelf, I think filled with used golf balls.
Q: Hi Richard -enjoy your insights a great deal. Do you think the re-appearance of Mel Queen is another nail in J.P.'s coffin? (I hope!) and if so would he be a viable candidate to be G.M.?
Jim Roberts, Hamilton, ON
A: Mel Queen is not a viable candidate for GM. He is, however, a solid evaluator of pitching talent and as such will be useful as an outside observer with no attachment to any of the farm system’s prospects through having recommended that player for the draft, etc.
The big question is, who brought Queen in to do that job of going through the system and looking at the talent. In fact, the only current members of the front office to be in place when Queen was still pitching coach back in ’98 are Paul Godfrey and Cito Gaston, which makes any thought that it was a Ricciardi decision to bring him in seem highly improbable.
My top four list as replacement GM for the Jays going forward include Brian Cashman, Cito Gaston, Terry Ryan and Alex Anthopoulos. I’ll have a column about that subject later in the week.
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.**