Blue Jays mail bag
This is a big week for the Jays heading into the all-star break. The goal is playing solid ball on a homestand vs. the O's and Yankees in the battle for third place - a modest target - but important for the fans. New manager Cito Gaston's goal was to get back to .500 by the break and that’s not going to happen, but they can still make progress in their execution, game-by-game. That’s what Cito is trying to accomplish. And another thing. Just because GM J.P. Ricciardi seems to be saying it’s over, doesn‘t make it so. Think about it. He’s never been right about his team winning, so why do we assume he’s going to be right about his team losing? Realistically, the Jays are out of it, but somehow the baseball seems less frustrating, more entertaining. This is usually when the Jays shine. Cherchez le mail!
Q: Dear Richard,
I regret to inform you that I am on the verge of breaking up with the Toronto Blue Jays. As a devoted fan it is heart-wrenching to watch this team year in and year out fail and fall into what can only be defined as mediocrity at its best. I do believe this team has talent, as I have believed the last two seasons prior (thanks in large part to high expectations that J.P. Ricciardi and the gang have laid upon the club) but have yet again lost faith in this squad. I feel that this team is on the verge of needing to be blown up. The team is completely absent of clutch players and timely hits.
Will this current group of players ever benefit enough from Cito Gaston and his hitting tutelage to put together some wins and at least make this season interesting or are the parts simply not even there? I might suggest that a big bat is needed and that Lyle Overbay cannot be counted on as a key bat at a typical power position. His batting performance this year has been anything but shy of abysmal! His glove is a nice addition but defence is not the issue. Any thoughts on Lyle staying, Lyle going, or the acquisition of a big bopper in the lineup in the near future? And can we see this team ACTUALLY in contention for the playoffs this year or the next? Thanks for your time,
Evan Peaslee, London, Ont.
A: Tough week for baseball relationships and broken promises. First A-Rod and Cynthia, now my man E-Peas and the Jays … hey, I might be able to find Madonna’s cell number if you need a shoulder to cry on.
The danger of always being mediocre is that you’re always on the edge of the precipice, never quite bad enough to where the guy in charge throws his hands in the air and just wants to blow the whole thing up and start in a different direction. It’s a tease. The powers think, "Maybe if we’re all healthy and add just this one missing ingredient we can go all the way." Instead, if the Jays lost 100 games one year they might realize the god-awful truth that something drastic needs to be done, but on and on the Jays go finishing third, while at the same time finding enough bright spots to think that the light at the end of the tunnel is a new day dawning instead of a raging bonfire of replica jerseys ignited by disgruntled fans. Ricciardi has wasted a full season of our lives by convincing Ted Rogers and Paul Godfrey (and I must admit myself) that the ’07 team was good enough to come back as a unit and if healthy compete for a wild-card. For that broken promise alone, Ricciardi will be gone at the end of the year.
When Lyle Overbay was acquired from Milwaukee in time for the ’06 season, he was surrounded by home run bombers -- Vernon Wells (32), Troy Glaus (38), a Bengie Molina-Gregg Zaun catching platoon that crashed 31 homers and the rising, unlimited potential of Alex Rios. They didn’t need Overbay to drive the ball out of the park. Now they do and he’s not capable of it.
As with David Eckstein, Ricciardi continues to acquire parts without thinking of where they might fit in the puzzle of a winning team. He has too many square pegs trying to jam into too many round holes. As for Overbay’s future with the Jays, he is not the type of player that contenders are looking to acquire at the deadline, so if there is a market it will be at the winter meetings in December.
The Jays can contend next season, but only with a change at GM.
Q: Richard, it seems to me that Roy Halladay is criminally under-appreciated in Toronto. Frankly, he should be as beloved an athlete as Doug Gilmour or Pinball Clemons.
He has taken less money to stay with the Jays. He donates a ton of time and money to charity and his work ethic is unparalleled. It is a blessing that we Torontonians get to see him pitch every five days. Quite frankly his 9-inning shutout of the Mariners was a work of art. Why do you think the city has not embraced him like other athletes?
Also, what are the chances of Roy signing an extension after the 2010 season when his contract is up? I would love to see him stay but I would also like to see him pitch in the playoffs at least once in his career and it doesn't look like it is going to happen in Toronto.
Christopher Jones, Toronto
A: I agree with you about Doc being grossly underappreciated. What you say about taking less money to be here is absolutely true. In fact, this season his salary voluntarily dropped by $2.8 million from ’07 specifically so that Halladay could give Ricciardi the flexibility of payroll to compete. This was the year that Ricciardi had pinpointed for Doc. This was the year the GM promised his starting ace that they would be ready to win it all. This was the year that J.P.’s legacy would be established and Halladay would get his ring. All we get is dust in the wind.
As for Halladay’s image with the fans, unlike Gilmour, Clemons and even Roger Clemens, only Halladay’s numbers are larger than life. He prefers to keep his personal life, well, personal. He doesn’t hang out in karaoke bars like the Rocket. He doesn’t have a catchy nickname like Pinball. He never captained his team to the brink of the Stanley Cup Finals like Gilmour. Part of Halladay’s image problem is that he is so efficient and shows so little emotion on the hill. He seems in a different world when the cameras zero in on him and in fact he is. His wife Brandi explains his habit of zoning out from the fifth inning the night before until he’s done for the day in his own start the next night. Fans like fire and emotion in their icons. I prefer results and that's what Halladay provides.
Q: Hi Richard,
I like the Jays, but they have floated in the .500-stream long enough. I like Wells, Rios, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill and even Overbay. The catching platoon seems to be more productive and the bench is much stronger than recent years. Maybe Adam Lind will work out too. Is this group just not good enough? If you were the almighty decision maker who would you change in the starting field to propel the Jays upstream?
Charles Adam, Manitoulin Island, Ont.
A: The Jays could use a stud catcher, an offensive shortstop and an everyday left fielder with a big OPS (on-base-plus-slugging). Given that mixture, the DH situation would take care of itself. I have always liked using the DH as a resting place for an extra hitter getting the night off from playing the field, rather than dedicating the spot to one thick-legged old guy schussing hard on the downslope of his career. That’s how the Jays did it in ’05 with Shea Hillenbrand, Frank Catalanotto, Eric Hinske, Corey Koskie and others. But consider if Rios and Wells were merely duplicating their ’06 numbers here in ’08. Vernon in ’06 was .303, with 32 homers and 106 RBIs, while Alex was .302 with 17 homers and 82 RBIs in just 128 games. Simply that increased production from your supposed stars would have covered up a host of down ’08 years from others.
Q: Hi Richard, I was curious if there is a "special" chapter in J.P.'s "How to Build a Baseball Team" manual that tells him all successful teams include a roster of four shortstops given the fact no depth (or power) to your bench? I mean c'mon man "Now batting the designated-hitter...David Eckstein?" Surely there is someone in the system who bats right and has some power. I realize Kevin Mench is in the minors but I would rather have him come off the bench to hit in a promising inning than Mr. Midget with his hair on fire!
Dwayne Andrews, Sydney River, NS
A: J.P.’s self-help book can be found on the “bargain” shelf right next to Ted (The Unabomber) Kacsynski’s tome “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Madonna’s best-selling “The Material Girl’s Guide to Saving a Marriage” and Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega’s “Top 100 Power Rock Ballads of All Time”.
I must admit that the “David Eckstein as DH” moment had my head spinning that night as he approached the plate with a chance to lay down a bunt and advance key runners into scoring position…of course he didn’t because that would have been embarrassing. In fact, Ricciardi may be the Imelda Marcos of baseball GM’s. Instead of shoes, he keeps buying up shortstops. In a previous life, it was third basemen. I thought he was getting over that Imelda closet full of pumps mode in the time after he had acquired Corey Koskie when he already had Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenbrand and then went out and got Troy Glaus the next winter handing over Orlando Hudson, the club’s best second baseman since Roberto Alomar -- and top fashion critic ever.
Q: Good Day Richard,
In your last mailbag you stated that the Jays were not in win "right here, right now" mode, so I was curious as to what "mode" you believe the Jays are in. This core of players has proven they can't win more than 86 games together. The core of the team (Wells, Roy Halladay, etc) isn't getting any younger, so what do we fans expect from this team now and in the foreseeable future? Also, how badly do you think Mr. Ricciardi regrets taking Ricardo Romero over Troy Tulowitzki in the 2005 draft? I know I'll never forgive him. Thanks very much for your veteran insight on baseball.
A Loyal reader,
Jonathan Sanchez, York
A: The Jays were in a “win right here right now” mode all spring all the way through the firing of John Gibbons. With the hiring of Gaston, it indicated that they are playing for next year. They are now in a “compete hard right here right now” mode, which is like “win right here right now” only with more of a sense of reality. It’s still worth going out to watch if you love baseball, because they are competing hard. I wouldn’t put too much stock in looking at the ages of Wells, Halladay, et al. These guys still have many prime years ahead of them so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in the “woe is us” mode.
The Tulowitzki-Romero mistake in 2005 was drafting for “need” rather than the best player available. The Jays needed almost-ready-for-primetime left-handed starters, not shortstops (see Aaron Hill; Russ Adams). In baseball that is a huge draft philosophy mistake always avoided by the Pat Gillick regime and by great Expos’ scouting staffs led by Gary Hughes during the ‘80s. The caveat is that the baseball draft is such a crapshoot with results often not properly evaluated for four or five years that if you draft four straight shortstops No. 1, by the time they develop your circumstances are far different than when you made your selections. Ricciardi found that out (see: Hill; Adams; Ouch).
Q: I'm amazed at all the pessimism. Didn't anyone see the Rockies stink for five months last year and get to the World Series? With great pitching and defense, and a group of talented, if underachieving hitters, can't we be this year's Rockies?
Andy Siegel, Los Angeles
A-There’s an old saying about lightning not striking twice in the same place. For every Rockies there’s a Cubs, White Sox or Red Sox with a drought that lasts decades maybe centuries. Can the Jays be this year’s Rockies? Uhh, let’s see. In a word, NO!
Q: Hi Richard,
I've a very basic rules question for you. What is the difference between a "foul tip" and a "foul ball"? From where I'm sitting (always sitting; never playing) if the hitter hits the ball and the catcher (or anyone on the opposing team) catches the ball before it hits the ground that should be an out. How come "tipping" the ball doesn't count as a legitimate hit of the ball? Reading the rules, I still have no idea whether there's a quantifiable difference between the two - if the ball deviates by more than X degrees from the bat, it's a foul ball but if it's less than X degrees, it's a foul tip? Thanks for your continuing education of a cricket-loving Britnadian.
Ed Lee, Toronto
A-It’s all in the interpretation of the umpire, but basically to be a batted ball in play and not a foul tip, a fielder should have to make an athletic move to catch the ball. For instance, if the hitter fouls a bunt into the catcher’s mitt it’s a foul tip. If he bunts it and it changes direction off to the side of the plate or behind the umpire no matter how small the parabola and the catcher makes an adjustment out of his crouch to make the catch, that’s an out. In the mind of an umpire, it’s an athletic move off a change of direction by the ball.
A little known part of the foul tip rule is that on a third strike, to be a held for an out, the ball must hit the catcher’s glove first and then be held. If a foul tip is off the catcher’s chest, shoulder, knee or the facemask and then settles in the glove it is not an out.
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