Blue Jays mail bag
The Jays are playing much better baseball under Cito Gaston. A.J. Burnett is pitching his butt off in an opt-out year, the same as he did in his free agent year, only better. The Jays’ 1-2 punch of Roy Halladay and Burnett may be performing as the best in the AL right now, but will either of them be back in ’09? And what about the GM? The Jays’ wild-card chances are in their own hands because of all the games they play against the teams ahead of them. But, because of that fact, the seeds are there for disaster. On with the mailbag.
While watching the Jays over the past few weeks I've been noticing the difference between how Cito manages and how Gibby managed. One of the main differences I've noticed is that Cito actually tries to develop players he has on his team. Prime examples are the emergence of Adam Lind in left field and the continuing work with Johnny Mac on hitting. It seemed that Gibbons didn't have the same approach to player development. How much do you think the Jays have been held back the past seven years due to Ricciardi's insistence on having managers with little to no experience? Also, if J.P. were to write a book do you think his Mediocreball would outsell his pal Billy Beane's Moneyball?
Dan Lucifora, Whitby
A-I’m not sure if, with regard to Gaston’s current managerial style, the word “develop” is as appropriate as the word “nurture”. Sports and baseball are so much mental that when a player fails, he needs to be reassured that all is not lost. The Jays under John Gibbons, with the ever-impatient Ricciardi at his elbow, were never able to do that – see Adam Lind’s 1-for-19 demotion; see John McDonald’s sub-.200 being glued to the bench; see David Purcey’s one start and out (twice). The most telling TV shots are of Gaston in conversation with his players in the dugout as the game is unfolding. The same shots of Gibbons saw him wedged into the home plate corner of the dugout, insulated from his players by at least two coaches. The Jays players have not been held back by novice managers as much as the fans have been fooled by the “win as many games as possible” mentality that takes over every September, wherein the Jays end up with a decent enough record to fool fans into a winter of optimism for the upcoming campaign. I have seen the outline of J.P.’s book. It’s called “Loonieball” and tells of one man’s missionary efforts to bring some semblance of baseball knowledge to millions of ignorant fans on the frozen tundra, north of the border, using occasional forays to Toronto from his home base in the baseball Valhalla of Worcester, Mass.
Q-For perspective, I've been a ball fan since the late 50s. I have enjoyed your blog as well as your regular columns in the Star since you joined the paper. I am originally from Montreal, and moved to T.O. after my Laval University days in 1969, just in time for the Expos' MLB start! I just heard that (Scott) Richmond has been sent back to AAA. Boy, it sure was IMPORTANT for him to be called JUST BEFORE the Olympics to screw up Canada's chances. It appears J.P. graduated Magna Cum Laude from the MLSE school of B.S. This guy has no idea how to deal with people or how to run a ballclub. Is Godfrey so poorly in tune that he can't see that either? Or is J.P. still here because he's cheap? This management group is slowly but surely killing MLB in TO.
Robert Campeau, Scarborough
A-First of all, I beg to differ on the idea that Ricciardi and friends are killing MLB in Toronto. There will be Jays baseball long after J.P. has done his last general managing in MLB. As for Ricciardi still being here, he was given another chance (hopefully his last) in ’08, because he convinced Godfrey and the folks at Rogers that the failure in ’07 was due to injuries and misfortune. Once management made that commitment, what would have been the advantage of letting him go at mid-season this year, or even now? No new GM is going to turn this boat around as games are being played and with rosters pretty much set. Wait until a full field of GM candidates becomes available and then make a decision. As for Richmond and his hosing by Ricciardi, it’s a disgrace. He was called up on the eve of the Canadian team’s trip to Asia. He was promised this wasn’t just for one start – and they were right, it was for three. For those that said Richmond’s major-league experience would be far preferable to going to Beijing and pitching against amateurs, that’s total crap. Richmond watching his Canadian teammates flame out from a motel room in Syracuse rather than the Olympic Village surely ruined his major-league experience. Richmond’s presence with the Jays instead of at the front end of Canada’s Olympic rotation meant that not only was the starting pitching weaker, but the trickle-up effect made the bullpen weaker as well. Anyway, it helped the U.S. gain a spot in the medal round. “O Canada. Our home and naïve land.”
Q-Please confirm or deny this vague memory I have. This was back in the golden years when the Jays were on top in terms of both performance and payroll. I seem to recall a vote amongst the owners regarding the possibility of implementing a salary cap or some other form of cost certainty. I also recall that the Jays and Yankees were among the few teams to vote against this. If this is what happened, it just seems so ironic how much we complain about the fiscal imbalance nowadays.
Eric E. Toronto
A-You are thinking back to a time when history was always repeating itself. The push for a hard salary cap happened at every new negotiation on a basic agreement with the players’ union from 1972 to 1995. During that time frame, baseball owners were intent on controlling free-agent salaries and Yankees spending by instituting some sort of a salary cap, fearing that the imbalance between haves and have-nots among franchises was creating a situation wherein teams like the Yankees and, at the time, the Blue Jays with their annual 4-million in attendance, would create a two-tiered major-leagues. It is not true that the Yanks and Jays voted against it in the '90s, because Bud Selig as commissioner has never once taken a vote of owners where it was not unanimous leaving the room. That doesn’t mean that all teams always agreed on every issue, but all teams always emerged from the meeting room with arms linked in solidarity. You’re right about the Jays complaining, but it should be noted that the Red Sox are the only team with two World Series wins since 2000 and that 20 of 30 MLB franchises have been to the post-season since 2002.
Q-First I wanted to say thanks for all your answers and insight into the Jays, I look forward to your mailbag every Wednesday. My question is, If you were named Jays G.M what moves would you make, what free agents would you go for, or what would be your game plan for this powerless lineup of underachievers that Mr. Ricciardi has assembled? A loyal fan and reader.
Jonathan Sanchez, Toronto
A-As I always like to point out, GM Ed Wade of the Astros and GM Ned Coletti of the Dodgers were both former public relations guys in baseball – Wade with the Phillies, Pirates and Astros, Coletti with the Cubs – which makes me just as qualified as 6.7-percent of all major league GMs. My application is ready should anything open up locally. One of my first moves would be to find every former major-league player living in Canada and put them on the Jays payroll as consultants, scouts and ambassadors. Then, I would increase funding to Greg Hamilton’s Baseball Canada program and take a more hands-on approach to our team in the World Baseball Classic. I would sign free agent Carlos Delgado as a DH for one year until Travis Snider is ready and have him influence immature Puerto Rican star Alex Rios into maximizing his skills and focusing every day. I would sign Orlando Hudson and move Aaron Hill over to shortstop. I would hope A.J. Burnett walks. I would trade for a young ready-for-prime time No. 2 or 3 starter and not be afraid to give up some premium prospects. I would promote young J.P. Arencibia as the catcher of the future and re-sign Gregg Zaun (with full knowledge of his role) to tutor him and give him a crash-course in the Jays pitching staff. I would hire an experienced senior advisor and some veteran scouts and actually listen to their advice. I would go across the street from the Rogers Centre to St. Louis Bar and Grill for my weekly radio show, “Wednesdays with R.G.” and allow drunken Jays fans a chance to offer opinion without being condescending in return. I would stay in Toronto all winter.
Q-Why don't GMs start making contracts more incentive based vs. guaranteed salary? It is becoming common to see players in a contract year put up career numbers and then after signing the big deal "simmer on the back burner" until they are due for another big payday. Why not make contracts based on results? Such as an extra $500 000 for each goal reached; Hit 25 HR's, hit .300, steal 30 bases, win a gold glove, etc. It is hard to watch a guy who makes $10 million a year not run out a ground ball with everything he’s got.
Cavan Papp, Toronto
A-The simplest answer is the power of the Players’ Association and the fact that there are 30 different teams not all on the same page. If 15 teams are offering incentive-based contracts and 15 teams are offering guaranteed money up front, all things being equal, all of the available free agents would sign with the guaranteed-money teams. Because of the strength of the union, this is not a trend that can be implemented unilaterally by teams. It’s called collusion. One of the caveats for paying huge bonuses based on statistics is this: Say you’re in late September and you ask a guy to bunt or go the other way to move a key runner from second to third. The player has a half-million bonus for 20 homers and 100 RBIs and he’s a few numbers short of his incentives. What’s he thinking? Team win or half a mil’ for me? Tough call. I do agree with you that there are some players that seem to respond only to arbitration years, free agent years and opt-out years. But there is not much that can be done under the current system.
Q-One area in which the Jays seem to be particularly weak is first base. Are Lyle Overbay's stats among the worst compared to other first basemen? I know his homerun and RBI totals are low, but he also seems to hit into a lot of double plays. Are my assumptions correct?
Dave Kearney, Atigonish
A-This has been an off year for Lyle Overbay in terms of providing the kind of offence expected from the corner infielders. Among the 11 qualifiers with enough plate appearances at first base, Overbay is seventh in total bases and extra-base hits, fifth in batting average, sixth in OPS, fourth in hits and doubles, 10th in homers, ninth in RBIs and first in grounded into double plays. The shortcomings of Overbay’s season would not be so glaring if others like Scott Rolen, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells were performing to their best career numbers. Overbay is a fine complementary player, but his presence in the middle of the Jays’ order on an everyday basis seemingly forever at the plate with the game on the line, is not his best role. He could stay if others would step up.
Q-What is with Alex Rios lately? In the series against Detroit he was dropping easy flyballs in the ninth inning, not running hard on a soft grounder to (Edgar) Renteria to get thrown out at first, not sliding in at home to get tagged out when his teammate is rightfully signaling for him to get down and slide. Fortunately these easygoing errors did not cost the team victories but it is unsettling to think that he may not be a "gamer" considering the big deal he just signed. Should Jays fans be concerned with his attitude and how long do you think Cito would let Alex not give it his all?
Aaron Hickey, Peterborough
A-I believe Rios needs a mentor that is a player, not a coach. Vernon Wells’ locker is as far away from Rios’s in the Jays’ palatial clubhouse as the room will allow. Rolen is near Wells and has his own problems in his first year with the Jays. Adam Lind is just happy to be here. Pitchers are pitchers. Perhaps the Venezuelan infielder Marco Scutaro is his closest confidant, but even Scutaro’s fundamentals of base running and his grasp of the finer points of the game seem a little suspect at times. Don’t forget, Rios has just recently become a father and I remember the four times that it happened to me, my productivity at work suffered for a while due to the pressures of sleep deprivation and the stress of an extra mouth to feed and a little person to care for. Rios will be all right.
Q-Trading Roy Halladay would kill me. But given the Jays continual mediocrity, I'm wondering if they need to blow this thing up and start anew. What do you think the Jays could get for Halladay? Would his value be higher this off-season with two full seasons to come under contract, or next July around the trade deadline?
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco
A-The Jays cannot “blow it up” without getting rid of Halladay to a contender. When the Jays inked Halladay to a multi-year extension for less than fair market value, part of it was that they promised the good Doctor that they would win before the end of his contract, or die trying. That’s why when Ricciardi mis-spoke in July about it being pretty much over, he quickly corrected himself the next day and said he mis-quoted himself. It’s why he’s never been a seller at the trade deadline no matter how close to the cellar he may be. Certainly the Jays could get a nice package of young players almost ready for prime time. If a new GM comes in and wants to blow it up, then he would have to start with Halladay. It would be better to do that in the off-season than in July. But I would not do it.
Q-I've previously asked you about evaluating the performance of pitchers using wins and losses and how that can be misleading, I now have a question for you about offensive statistics. I've noticed that more and more baseball experts have been leaning towards on-base percentage over batting average because walks are becoming more valuable and along with on-base percentage, Slugging percentage to create the all important OPS. My question for you is, do you think batting average will one day soon become obsolete?
Eric Sillius, Oakville
A-Every statistic lies. You can make statistics say whatever you want to. I know because I wrote major-league game notes for 20 years. Batting average has been diminished in recent years, but will never become obsolete and the winner of the league batting title will always be recognized as someone special. On-base percentage gained importance because certain teams on a budget were looking at players they could afford and weren’t highly scouted, that weren’t talented enough as hitters to post high batting averages but could swat the occasional longball. So they looked for smart, disciplined, less-than-elite (usually college) athletes that could draw at least 10 walks for every 100 at-bats. This goal of considering the art of “not” swinging the bat as an offensive strength was aided and abetted by umpires whose strike zones were shrinking faster than the sales of gas-guzzling SUVs. You use the term loosely when you cite “baseball experts”. All I know is that I coach a team of bantam baseball players and we play certain teams that refuse to swing the bat, clearly looking for bases-on-balls. This may win some games at 14 years old, but is a serious problem in developing young baseball players as hitters. Considering on-base percentage more important than batting average is not baseball. Jack Cust has a better on-base percentage than Ichiro Suzuki, but who’s the better player?
Q-I suspect it's been pretty much obvious to everyone that B.J. Ryan ain't the same pitcher that toiled for the Jays in 06. After the Tommy John surgery, he's obviously lost a few m.p.h. and after the balk call in L.A. he seems afraid of pitching inside (that was his meal ticket, pin-point control inside with some tilt). Seeing the growing confidence that (Brandon) League has, what are the chances of him being elevated to closer for 09? I'm in!
R. Murphy, Hacketts Cove, N.S.
A-Ryan will be the Jays closer as long as he is there and healthy. He is making too much guaranteed money through 2010 to give way to League, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs or anyone else. The closer’s role is like the cornerback in football. When you get burned, everyone remembers it. Even the best closers blow saves and Ryan, still within 18 months of T.J. surgery is still bouncing back physically. He is a presence that lifts the younger bullpen members to a higher plateau. His value is more than saves.
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