Blue Jays mail bag
Oh what a night in the Bronx! For those of you who weren’t able to quite stay up late enough to see the end of the all-star game it was like watching a Jays’ intra-squad game, with one side going hitless with runners in scoring position, while the other was going 3-for-22. In any case, with the ebbs and flows I got back to the hotel room at 3:30 a.m. (that's without stopping for a beer) and had a wakeup call at 6:00 a.m. to finish up the mailbag and get ready for a flight on Porter Airlines out of Newark. In any case, it was a tremendously entertaining three days in New York, with Josh Hamilton providing one of my new, favourite Yankee Stadium memories and the longest game in all-star history capping it off. Tuesday, it was almost like the Yankee ghosts of Monument Park didn’t want to let go. But, in the end, even the ghosts have enough respect for the game that they wouldn’t have allowed it to end with David Wright pitching against J.D. Drew. Although, come to think of it, the Drew thing, with the idea of a Red Sox right fielder pitching at the stadium in the final all-star game ever at this place might have amused the ghost of Babe Ruth (who I think is in charge). In any case, on to this week's mailbag and a second half with many more Jays questions than answers.
Q: Would the Jays consider going to a four-man rotation to solve their pitching puzzle?
Frederick Duquette, Edmonton
A: I fear the only guy that could handle that four-man puzzle is Roy Halladay. Even though A.J. Burnett has done it successfully twice this year on three days rest, his history of injury would catch up to him before very long. As for the younger guys on the Jays’ staff, there has not been any level since any of them was 15-years-old at which they have been used regularly on three days rest. As such, it would be disastrous for guys like Jesse Litsch and Shaun Marcum to try it.
Canadian Hall-of-Famer Ferguson Jenkins had a brief stint as a pitching coach in Chicago with the Cubs. He felt today’s pitchers were babies and that he could insinuate a basic four-man rotation. He was wrong. The pitchers balked at the idea and the Cubs fired him. The only possibility for the Jays would be to use off-days as a way to get Hallladay and Burnett as many starts as possible. Every once in a while that might involve a start on the fourth day, but not as a regular rotation feature.
Q: Hi Richard. Always look forward to the mailbag segment each week. Obviously you will be busy with the rumour mill over the next few weeks. Our roster could certainly look different if the Jays move A.J. Burnett, possibly others, as predicted by many. I have a couple of quick questions for you. First of all, now that J.P. Ricciardi and Cito Gaston have unofficially conceded the season is lost, can you run through some of the prospects we can expect to see arrive in Toronto over the coming weeks? I've heard about David Purcey, Travis Snider and Brett Cecil - but who else is likely to show up for an audition?
Secondly, in a related question, I'm reading a lot about of rumours about Florida chasing after a catcher. Knowing we have a couple of hot catching prospects in the minors who could be ready soon, should the Jays be considering moving Gregg Zaun or Rod Barajas, and moving one of the kids up now in preparation for next year?
Thanks Richard - keep up the great work!
Jon Empringham, Woodstock, Ont.
A: After speaking with Roy Halladay at the all-star press conference, I’m beginning to think that A.J. is going to stay put with the Jays unless another club offers someone that can help the Jays this year – which is not likely. Ricciardi has an unwritten commitment to his ace, Halladay, not to give up and to continue to try and win this year and beyond, at least through 2010, the length of Doc’s contract and J.P.’s.
Trading a guy like David Eckstein is different. It would not be a sign of giving up because of the presence of the surprising Marco Scutaro and the reliable John McDonald at shortstop. Besides, Eckstein should never have been signed in the first place, so his trade would just be a case of returning to where they should be.
As for the prospects that may be on the way to play the final two months, Purcey is a lock, while Cecil would be here only if Marcum was to go back on the DL for some reason or if Burnett was traded and the Jays had two open slots in the rotation. Among position players, the Jays are in no hurry to move Snider to the majors. They have a huge financial commitment to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in the outfield and Adam Lind is young enough and has enough of an upside that Snider need not be rushed.
Who else? There are no position players at Triple-A that are close to being ready. The two catchers are just good enough with the Jays to go out and lead the pitching staff through games down the stretch, but not good enough to be any other team’s answer to contending down the stretch. If the Jays moved Barajas or Zaun, they would not bring a young guy up to sit on the bench and their best catching prospects are at least a half year away from starting in the majors.
Q: So now what? Do we allow J.P. to make the trades to dismantle the team that he poorly assembled? It is clear this team is more than just a fine-tuning away. Shouldn't we bring in a new GM now to start the process?
Alan G., Toronto
A: Why do they need to dismantle this Jays team when the fact is this is not a team that has exceeded salary capability and needs to dump money commitments? Other than Burnett or Eckstein, the best Jays deals can be made in the off-season, whether it is for Lyle Overbay, Rios, B.J. Ryan, or whomever.
In any case, they will not allow J.P. to dismantle this current team on his own. I don’t believe he can call any major shot without a close look from the powers that be at the Rogers campus. I believe his situation will be thoroughly reviewed at season’s end with the standings being the deciding factor. The Jays, if they let J.P. go right now, would need to make an interim appointment as GM with all of J.P.’s apparatus still in place, so why bother? If it’s not assistant Alex Anthopoulos appointed to the post, then Alex will be an important holdover for whomever takes the job.
Q: Hi Richard,
I know that everyone in T-O (including yourself) is calling for JP's head now; but as a baseball writer, does it make writing about the Jays easier having JP as a GM? I mean JP is such a loose cannon that even a caller in a radio call-in show can tick him off to say the wrong thing. As a baseball writer, would you prefer a bigmouth GM like JP or someone more conventional? My all-time favourite JP quote is "Rios being 6-5 hitting like he is 5-6". What is yours?
James Ho, Vancouver
A: It does not make writing about the Jays any easier to have J.P. as GM. Having a loose cannon is one thing, but having someone who will be forthright and honest is more important. If the only times that Ricciardi says anything remotely useful is when he goes off on his own radio show, then that sucks for us. Ricciardi criticized John Lott of the National Post for directly recording “Wednesdays with J.P.” or whatever the hell that self-serving paid show is called. J.P. claimed that Lott should have called him for comment before writing about his Adam Dunn comments? Why? So J.P. could claim he misquoted himself or that Lott took himself out of context? That’s so much insecurity shining through.
J.P. is not a bigmouth. He is a very calculating careful, private person who feels that the Canadian media and the Toronto fans are not always worthy of knowing the truth about their team. Which brings me to my favourite J.P. quote: “It’s not a lie if we know the truth.” That sounds like something you would read in a fortune cookie at the Mandarin buffet table instead of a falsified injury report on a major-league closer. Hey, at some point, “the backbone’s connected to the elbow bone” I suppose..
I was surprised when Kevin Mench was recalled from Syracuse to take the place of Vernon Wells. What do he and Brad Wilkerson have to do to prove to JP that they're not major league calibre players anymore? Since this season is a write-off, what would be the downside in your opinion of letting these two turkeys go and bringing up Buck Coats and Travis Snider?
Matt Lewis, Ottawa
A: So was Keviin Mench. Actually the switch-hitting Coats was supposed to be called up when Wells went down again, but he was not physically ready due to a minor injury so the Jays went from boys to Mench.
When J.P. has his mind set on acquiring a player and is foiled the first time, he will lay in the weeds and wait and wait and then pounce, as with Wilkerson, even if said player has reached the point where nobody else wants him. Well if said coveted player has turned into a dud, it certainly makes the GM’s job easier eventually landing him, but makes the fans’ job of staying loyal more frustrating, as Wilkerson’s strikeout totals mount and his OPS remains in the Air Canada fleet range – somewhere between 707, 747 and 767.
Q: Hindsight being 20/20, why do the Jays management feel so compelled to sign every player to long-term contracts? What was the rationale behind extending Lyle Overybay's contract? I mean, a .280, 20 HR, 80 RBI first-baseman is not exactly a hot commodity on the free-agent market. What was the rush to sign him? Same thing with Vernon Wells. He's been one year on, one year off for his entire career, and with Rios being able to replace Vernon in CF, why not explore trading Vernon or letting his contract run out and spending the money elsewhere? If this is the core of our offence until 2010, aren't the Jays in trouble?
Jordan S., Toronto
A: It’s called cost certainty in some places and throwing good money after bad in others.
Whenever the Jays find a player with any amount of baseball ability who actually likes Toronto, the Jays organization has always had enough of an inferiority complex to believe “Hey we’d better lock this dude up before he changes his mind.” There’s invariably a feel-good press conference where the player talks about “financial security” and his new responsibility to produce big numbers. The club talks about both sides being winners, giving something now and getting something back in the future. The count of players locked up by Ted Rogers mounts and the Jays can begin to plan their next snazzy marketing campaign around the new guys who have committed to stay north of the border – although nobody, including the GM has enough of a commitment to actually move here year-round and live with us.
There was a familiar modus operandi with both Vernon and with Alex. Before signing them to long-term deals, Ricciardi put on a full-court press for an entire winter trying to trade each of these guys. When those trades did not amount to what J.P. wanted, the next step was to ink them to long-term deals. As for Overbay, he fit in better as a complement to a then-slugging lineup. But all of a sudden after signing his long-term deal, the sluggers have all been stripped away or their power has disappeared and the emperor at first base has no clothes.
If this is the core of your offence and continues to perform like Punch and Judy instead of Papi and Manny, then, yes, the Jays are in big trouble going forward. Rios and Wells need to lead the way and become 30 HR, 130 RBI players year after year. That would fix a lot of the problems.
Q: Hi Richard,
I was just wondering whether or not MLB teams are allowed to trade their first round draft picks in the amateur draft? We never hear of any trades where a team has traded prospects and a future draft pick the way we see in the other major sports. Is this because it is prohibited by MLB or do teams just classify the future draft pick under "player to be named later"?
Zeshan G., Toronto
A: There is a strong belief out there that major-league teams can trade draft picks as part of a package for veterans. The fact is MLB teams are not allowed to trade any draft picks at any time. In fact, teams are not allowed to trade anyone that has been drafted for at least 12 months after the draft, which prevents one GM asking another “Who do you want me to draft?” and then making an agreed upon deal right after the June process. On Tuesday, Bud Selig addressed the question of trading draft choices and said there is no sentiment among GMs for any change in that regard.
I personally believe it would help to allow trading Top 50 picks. The reason I feel that way is that the reason many teams finish near the bottom is that they don’t have the money to spend on payroll. So instead you turn around and give them a Top 5 pick in June and they can’t afford to deal with uber-agent Scott Boras or some other demanding mega-agent for the top rated players. Instead, they draft someone of lesser ability that they know they can sign fore the money they can afford, which casts into doubt the integrity of the whole draft. If a team could trade a Top 50 pick, then it could help itself now by pinpointing prospects someone else has already developed and in turn give up a tenuous investment for the future (for them) to a team that could more afford to take that chance, drafting the proper player in the proper slot.
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.**