Blue Jays mail bag
Questions from readers surrounding the Bay-less July 31 trade deadline and the future of first base for the Jays are among the many themes of this week’s mailbag. Also more about the surprising Rays and why they can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox while the Jays continue to blame the tough division and their usual rash of injuries for their mediocrity. Yes, the Jays are settling in at .500 and playing fairly entertaining ball, but fans aren’t buying that this is the best they can be. What’s in the future? In the profound words of the Thin White Duke and a master of transforming himself to compete and keep up with the times, David Bowie: “A million dead end streets and every time I thought I’d got it made. Ch-ch-ch-changes!” To the mailbag.
Q-I just got back from backpacking through the Andes for a month and I can't believe the Jays did not go after Jason Bay. That was one chance J.P had to get a little grace period from the media and fans and show that the Jays are still trying to win and make a move for the wild card. Instead we get to see Bay tear up the Jays’ pitching staff in a Red Sox uniform. That's unforgivable. That combined with the Richmond call up clearly show that J.P. has no idea where to go or what to do anymore. How long does J.P. last at the helm or is the upper management just as inept as Ricciardi? You were right about one thing, with Cito managing they will linger at .500. Too bad .500 doesn't get you into the playoffs. Give us hope, Richard, what is the future of this team? Sorry for the rant, a loyal fan and reader.
Jonathan Sanchez, York
A-Before the Bucs moved Bay anywhere at the deadline, they called the Jays exactly for the reasons you outlined. They were hoping that Ricciardi would be feeling the pressure of landing a Canadian star in his prime and that he would give up two players that could help the Pirates almost immediately. The asking price is believed to have been starter Shaun Marcum and outfielder Travis Snider. That may have been too much, since Bay could have demanded a trade at the end of the season being, as he is, in the middle of a long-term deal already signed with the Pirates. The outfield of Bay, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios would have been pretty good, but all righthanded hitting. The removal of Marcum from the rotation, with Dustin McGowan already out and A.J. Burnett with his opt-out looming at the end of the year would have cast a shadow over the deal. The Jays would likely have still hung at around .500 the rest of the year and the euphoria for Canadian fans of getting Bay and finishing fourth would have worn off in a hurry. In any case, next July, J.P. may be free to join your backpacking expedition in the Andes. He never seems to be doing much at the end of that month, anyway.
With the Jays in definite need of "pop", do you think they will consider trading Lyle Overbay this off-season to make space for a heavy hitter? Would they consider moving Lind to first to make space in left? Could they reasonably expect to find (and sign) a quality home-run-hitting LF or first baseman in the trade or free-agent market?
Thanks, Corey Perrin, Hamilton, Bermuda
A-The Jays would definitely consider trading Overbay and becoming flexible with Lind. Lyle has $14 million left on the final two years of his contract, which is reasonable for a mid to major market team. I think it’s possible for Lind to make a conversion to first base in one off-season and spring. Even though he has improved his outfield play, he is still a below average defender. As for a partial list of free agent outfielders and first basemen this coming November: OF – Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn (Ha!), Brian Giles, Raul Ibanez and Manny; 1B-Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Jimmy Sexson, Mark Teixeira and Jim Thome. Remember that Ricciardi went hard after Giles a few years ago and after Ibanez at this last trade deadline and J.P. always remembers the apples of his eye, no matter how old and washed up they have become…see Brad Wilkerson and Frank Thomas, who, by the way, is a November free agent.
I love your column. With respect to A.J. Burnett, there is so much talk about his opt-out clause, a possible trade, etc. But on the flip side, why would he not want to STAY with the Blue Jays? He makes a ton of dough, the Blue Jays have a very good starting rotation and perhaps the best bullpen in the American League right now, and they are probably two better bats away from seriously contending? Furthermore, is it not true that one of the chief reasons he came to Toronto was because of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg? I look forward to your comments.
Frank Hannon, Penetang
A-There is more to baseball than a ton of money. There’s two tons of money. In fact, I’m sure he would consider staying with the Jays if between now and the end of October they jacked his guaranteed money for the next two seasons and then added three more years at about $15 million per, through 2013. Do you want all that commitment? Burnett is having a career year with his opt-out on the horizon as this year’s carrot on a stick. Recall that in his free-agent season with the Marlins, he set career bests in wins, starts and innings pitched. There is something to be said for money as a motivator. I think family issues might come into play also, with his comfort level and that of his wife being greater closer to their Maryland home. Mrs. B. doesn’t like to fly and his original Jays deal included 10 limousine rides from Baltimore to Toronto. Have you ever made that drive? As for Brad Arnsberg and their friendship, yes that is a factor, but rumour is that after John Gibbons was fired in Pittsburgh, on the Friday, Arnsberg called the regular pitcher’s only meeting to go over the Bucs hitters but was unable to complete it as he was so upset. Roy Halladay filled in nicely. The coaching staff for next year is still up in the air.
Q-I am a new Blue Jay fan but a neophyte in terms of baseball knowledge. I have some quick questions: 1) What does it mean when a pitcher is "spotting his fastball" or has "good command” of his pitches? 2) Why is it more difficult for a left-handed hitter to face a left-handed pitcher (and vice-versa)? 3) Why aren't catchers better hitters because of the time they spend behind the plate, their familiarity with pitch sequences, etc.?
Ryan Brenner, Wasaga Beach
A-A good series of questions. Obviously you’ve been paying attention. 1) “Spotting a fastball” means that within the strike zone (which is shaped like a rectangle), a pitcher is able to hit not just the zone, but spots in the zone. For instance, if a slugger likes to hit the pitches that are inside and low, a star pitcher is able to hit a spot within the strike zone that is inside and high or outside and low. All strikes are not created equal. Ask Josh Towers. Having good command means that he is able to throw strikes with more than one, or even all of the pitches in his repertoire. If you can only throw the fastball for a strike, then it won’t take long for the other team to figure it out and lay off anything but the heater. Not good. 2) Left hander vs. left hander? The first instinct of all humans is self-preservation. The lefthander steps in to the box and the lefthander standing 60’6” away from him unleashes a pitch that looks like it is coming at his head. The first instinct is to bail out. Since there is just a fraction of a second to react to any pitch, this basic survival instinct is what makes it so tough for lefty vs. lefty. In addition, any breaking pitch is moving away from the hitter’s bat and it’s harder to make solid contact rather than a glancing blow. 3) Catchers aren’t better hitters in the majors because they were never better hitters as kids. Face it, catching isn’t exactly the glamour position. Most of the good athletes and hitters as kids want to play shortstop. At some point, they spin off to centre field or second base, but few ever choose in their late teens to go behind the plate and take the physical abuse of foul tips and blocking balls in the dirt, etc. If catchers were better hitters they wouldn’t be catchers. At this point I apologize to my two sons, Matthew and Patrick, who are both catchers.
Q-The other day I was watching ex-jay Justin Speier pitch when suddenly, it hit me: his windup is absolutely a carbon copy of Jeff Reardon. Now, I know that Speier's dad played with Reardon in Montreal. Did Justin learn this from Jeff as a kid or is this just a psychic coincidence? I guess as a token Jays question: at the risk of circling the carcass early, how about Dan Duquette as a replacement for the mighty J.P? He really laid the groundwork in Boston for this run of success and it wouldn't be too far a drop-off for you guys in dealing with a big ego....just a thought.
Dave Jenkins, Ottawa
A-Hmm. I remember bouncing young Justin Speier on my knee as a six-year-old at the annual Expos’ family picnic on the field at Olympic Stadium, but I don’t remember him looking up and asking me about Reardon and his delivery. Here’s what I consider one of the most amazing facts in Expos’ history. In 1979, when the Expos set the franchise record with 95 wins, in addition to playing 15 doubleheaders, they had just one player disabled all season – Chris Speier on the 15-day disabled list in July. That’s crazy. As for Reardon, he was the original Terminator before Tom Henke and the Jays stole the nickname. In Montreal, we had t-shirts made up with Reardon wearing the Arnie signature shades and used The Terminator for Reardon on the scoreboard and in press notes, etc. How surprised was I to find out later that P.R. genius Howie Starkman and the Jays had stolen our idea for their own closer? It was just one of many times the Jays took advantage of the Expos’ small-market status. As for Dan Duquette as J.P.’s replacement, I don’t think so. In terms of ego, Double-D makes J.P. look like Richard Lewis. One thing about Duquette that people might now want to think about. Maybe he knew more about Roger Clemens' lifestyle and training habits when he allowed him to walk as a free agent than he ever let on and maybe Duke was suffering the slings and arrows or outrageous media abuse in silence, biting his tongue for the best interests of the game.
I know that Adam Lind has probably solidified the LF spot but how could the Jays pass up two rookies for Jason Bay? JP has to go if he can't bring in the top players here. I'm as frustrated as many Jays fans that this team can't put together a winning season. If the Rays can do it so can the Blue Jays!
Chetan Rakieten, Phoenix
A-We’ve addressed the Bay question higher up in the mailbag, but the issue of the Rays is a different one. The Rays also wanted Bay at the deadline, but the difference between the Rays and the Jays is that the Rays need was “specific” while the Jays’ needs are “generic”. The Rays could look at their team and point a finger at their need. The Jays can simply wave a hand over the diamond and find needs in ever corner. The difference is a Rays farm system that has taken advantage of high draft picks every June and finally is reaping the bountiful harvest. The Jays have yet to produce from the farm like Ricciardi promised it would when he took over in November 2001.
Q-With the Jays playing better under Cito, do you think J.P. actually has a chance to save his job? J.P. now can say he makes all the right moves during the off-season and blame the sub .500 performance on John Gibbons. If Vegas has a line on J.P. as a GM for the ‘09 Jays, what will that line look like and should I bet on it?
Dave P., San Jose
A-Ricciardi was about 50-50 to return for ’09 when the season started. He needed a good finish with about 87-90 wins. Then came the injuries. Then came the John Gibbons firing with Gaston (not his choice) taking over. Then came the dissing of Adam Dunn. Then came the promotion of Scott Richmond. The came the statement that Cito will be back in ’09 when the time was dead wrong for the organization to even suggest that possibility. Stay tuned, but as of this moment, the odds on the board at Vegas would have to be 6-5 that he will not return as GM for ’09. It’s not worth putting money on, especially since it won’t be anywhere on the board. In the words of Adam Dunn: “Who is this guy?”
Q-Thanks for your insight on the Jays every week. I just wanted to know how Jesse Litsch is doing. Is he regaining the form that he had prior to his last eight games in the majors? While Scott Richmond and David Purcey are doing a good job of filling the No. 4 and No. 5 holes, our pitching staff was just that much better with him and McGowan rounding out the rotation. Most of the readers will call me delusional, but I'm still holding out hope that they can pull a strong August and get back into the thick of things after the series with the Red Sox, Yankees, and the Rays. If that's the case, Jesse Litsch might be a better fourth starter than David Purcey based on his experience down the stretch. Any updates on Jesse?
Louis K., Richmond Hill
A-I’m with you regarding Litsch and so are the Jays since he is now back and ready to take his regular turn. I think they mishandled it a little bit. What had become the best five-man rotation in the AL early in the season was shaken by the injury to Dustin McGowan and then to Marcum. The idea of shipping Litsch out to regain his command was okay, but the Jays’ mystique and personality had become the rotation. Litsch should have been the one back to replace John Parrish in the rotation not Richmond. Halladay, Burnett, Marcum, Litsch and Purcey should stay together as long as healthy. That being said, Richmond should be in Beijing with Team Canada. The team had yet to play its first Olympic game vs. China and already Richmond had been sent to the Jays’ bullpen. That’s not right. They told him it was for more than just a couple of starts and he was looking forward to a Friday assignment at Fenway Park. Now the ace of Team Canada’s rotation has been handed a major-league mop and is buried in middle relief with a mediocre .500 team. Is that the backyard dream J.P. is talking about?
Q-Love reading your blog. I'd like to add another viewpoint on J.P.'s handling of the Blue Jays. He has developed a pattern of taking action when none is required. The latest is announcing that Cito will be back next year. Not to say Cito isn't deserving, but why in August when J.P.'s future isn't secure? Then there was bringing in Eckstein when he already signed Johnny Mac to a deal. Or signing Josh Towers to a deal after a so-so year. Or throwing mega-bucks at Frank Thomas when no one else was. Or bringing in Shannon Stewart after signing Reed Johnson. It's like he just can't keep his hands off the team. His decisions have wound up costing the Jays a fair amount of money and have hurt the club more than helped it. Maybe he needs to get a hobby.
Bo Buczko, Toronto
A-Ricciardi’s like the vintage car collector who can’t get enough of old, expensive vehicles – but doesn’t need to take them for a test drive because he remembers how well the car drove when it was brand new. As for promising that Cito would be back in ‘09, that was either brilliant gamesmanship with the Rogers people or a gross mistake on his own FAN radio show where he can’t seem to grasp the balance needed between dispensing news and playing his cards close to the vest. Victims of J.P.’s “cornucopia” philosophy around the diamond include John McDonald, Reed Johnson, Eric Hinske (twice) and Gregg Zaun (twice).
Q-I decided to look up the stats of Syracuse this morning and who should I find batting last night was Travis Snider. My first thought, "Great, can't wait to see him in the big leagues." My next thought, "Who does he replace?" Lind isn't going anywhere - he's cheap and productive. So that leaves Rios and Wells. But they're the future of the franchise, or so we're told. Assuming Snider continues to hit the way he does, how do the Jays fit him in? Is he a future first baseman?
Derrick Crowe, Toronto
A-I honestly believe that the Jays would prefer to leave Snider in the minors until the middle of next season. First of all that would delay his free agency by a full year and might also postpone his arbitration. Second, they want to make sure he is ready for the bigs by watching him perform at Triple-A from Opening Day in ‘09. As for the way they line up, Snider is not very tall and other than Ron Fairly and Mike Aldrete I can’t think of too may good first basemen shorter than 5-10. It might be better to consider Lind as a first baseman if he stays with the Jays beyond Lyle Overbay.
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.**