Blue Jays mail bag
The Jays will likely finish fourth in the AL East, with the upstart Rays jumping to the top of the heap. But at 60 games above .500 as a combined five-team division, the AL East has been by far the deepest and toughest in baseball and this year was far from a dismal failure for the Jays. However, organizational promises of the post-season have not been met. If the Jays win 86 games for the year, it will be a huge comeback from where they stood after being swept in Milwaukee in mid-June. Kudos goes to Cito Gaston and his staff, but the question remains: “Since this guy was already a member of the Jays’ organization, what took so long for them to give him another chance to manage? If the move had been made earlier in the season, would the wild-card have been possible?” We’ll never know. In any case, on to the mailbag.
Love the column, a few questions. For the life of me I cannot figure out why there was a can of non-stick cooking spray at the back of the bench in the dugout of Fenway over Cito Gaston's left shoulder on Saturday night. Any ideas? The same game Cito pulled Brandon League for Scott Downs with the game on the line; League was retiring batters and on fire recently, Downs not so much. I know Downs has done the job all year, but why not go with the hot hand?
Finally, Travis Snider has looked impressive, but has he done enough to keep the Jays from going after a big bat in the off-season?
Really, finally this time - if there is a new GM next year, they should get the right to pick their manager. That means Cito may not be back. Would you put up with another year of J.P. Ricciardi to keep Cito around? Personally, I love Cito, he got the most out of a talented team in the 90's and is well on his way to doing so again, I'd love for him to be back again.
Jason MacDonald, Amherst, Ont.
A: Very observant of you. At first I thought the spray can might have been to non-stick the dugout microwave for Litsch’s seventh-inning stretch-snack, but no, that’s not it. Then I thought it may have been there because the Jays’ goose was cooked, but no, again.
I asked Cito after the Yankee game on Tuesday night what the Pam was for and he had no idea that it was even there over his shoulder, but he said he would be interested to know if I found out. I asked Kevin Malloy, the Jays’ home clubhouse manager. He thought about it and then gave me the answer. It is apparently used in wet conditions to spray the baseball spikes both underneath and on the leather so that mud has trouble sticking to the shoes.
As for Cito’s handling of the bullpen in that game, you cannot manage on a hunch (unless your name is Quasimodo). League has been the seventh inning guy. Downs has been the eighth inning guy. When you get to that stage of the game, players are locked in to their roles. If you all of a sudden ask League to go out again in the eighth, the baseball focus - a very fragile thing – can be lost. He had just exploded though the one inning and left it all on the field. You cannot just add another inning to his role because he’s been pitching well.
In the case of the rookie Snider, he has been very impressive and I can see the Jays in ’09 returning to the same type of DH rotation they had in ’05 and ’06 when Frank Catalanotto, Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenbrand rotated between playing a position and DH, with others mixing and matching whenever they needed a rest from the field. This style could benefit guys like Scott Rolen, Wells, Lind and Snider. If the Jays go after a big bat it should be a position bat.
As for the Ricciardi-Gaston dynamic within the Jays organization, the relationship between GM and field manager has apparently changed dramatically since June 20. It used to be the GM that could save the manager’s job with a wave of the hand and a kind word in the ears of the right people. Now, it’s the other way around. It may have in fact been a generous wave from Cito and a good word to the right people at Rogers that may have saved Ricciardi’s job if indeed he stays. He has no problem with Ricciardi as GM as long as J.P. backs off when it comes to dugout decisions. That’s the way it should be. Even if a new GM came in, the Jays are banking on Gaston as the face of the franchise in the coming year. They would make sure that the new GM is okay with Cito before he was hired. The Jays are almost unique in major-league baseball in that the GM and manager have higher profiles than most of the players.
Q: Hi Richard,
While I understand how Shaun Marcum's injury and A.J. Burnett's expected departure contribute to a gloomy (Jays’) outlook for '09, wasn't the organization already better positioned to contend in '10 anyways? Jeremy Accardo, Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen, and Aaron Hill may need at least part of the '09 season to get into top form again; Jesse Carlson, Adam Lind, and Travis Snider may have some tough times in '09 as the rest of the league adjusts to them; plus prospects like Brett Cecil, J.P. Arencibia, and Scott Campbell seem to be on player development trajectories that would see them making significant contributions in '10 rather than '09.
Shouldn't the Jays look at '09 as a chance to get players healthy and develop some of their younger talent and then make a big push to contend in '10? I'm quite relieved that J.P. isn't talking about making big moves to acquire players to plug the holes in the '09 roster.
Dan B., Toronto
A: The Jays might be well advised to follow your advice and use ’09 as a building year. When Ricciardi took over the reins of the Jays in the winter of ’01, he predicted the team would be contending by ’05. That was reasonable for a team that had won 84, 83 and 80 games in former GM Gord Ash’s final three seasons. He wasn’t handed a horrible roster, although his first mandate was to cut payroll almost in half.
The worst thing that ever happened was that the Jays actually won 86 games in J.P.’s second season at the controls, in 2003. It fed his ego and led Ricciardi, a first-time GM, to believe his master plan could be accelerated. So he went out in the off-season to fill the perceived holes and make a run at the division in ’04. He traded for Ted Lilly, Justin Speier and Jason Frasor and signed free agents Miguel Batista, Pat Hentgen, Terry Adams, Kerry Ligtenberg, Valerio de los Santos, Chris Gomez and Frank Menechino. They proceeded to stink up the joint and win 67 games, setting the organization back several years.
It repeated itself in 2006-07. They took a step forward from 80 wins in ’05 to 87 wins in ‘06. The following season they dropped off, back to 83. Following that twice-repeated pattern, if the Jays manage to reach 86 or 87 victories this year by the end of the O’s series on Sunday, Ricciardi would be well advised from recent history to expect a small step backwards in ’09 – especially given the factors you point out.
Without Burnett, the Jays will have a $70 million commitment to 11 players for ‘09. That leaves about $30 million to spend to get back up to this year’s budget. Maybe they should just bank that money for the future and watch the young guys develop. Real fans would approve. Casual fans would stay away. The toughest sell would be to playoff-starved veterans like Roy Halladay, Scott Rolen, B.J. Ryan and Vernon Wells.
Q: Given the decimation of the pitching staff for next year and the uneven hitting this year, would this be a good time for the Jays to bust up the team and start over (maybe with a new GM), except for key players and look for another 3-5 year plan?
Frederick Duquette, Edmonton
A: The problem with that idea is that so many teams in pro sports have demonstrated that good management can turn things around in a hurry without blowing up a roster. Just because you’re starting over doesn’t mean you’re going to be better. Three and five-year plans are so … yesterday. The Jays’ yearly plan of playing hard, playing their veterans, maximizing the wins to feed the ego and keep the job of the GM, striving down the stretch to win enough games to finish above .500 and remain mediocre has cost them valuable spots in the June draft and has effectively kept them mediocre. I agree with the part about a new GM coming in, but if they ever decided to blow it up, the first move they would be forced to make is to trade their ace Roy Halladay. That would be a sign.
Q: Hey Richard, what is the situation on Dustin McGowan? Lately when the ’09 Jays pitching is mentioned, it does not sound like Dustin is in the picture. Will he be out most of the ’09? Are you aware of any budget plan for the ’09 season? The way things are shaping up for ’09, we must get rid of J.P. this off-season because he will have too many good excuses for not reaching playoff next season.
Davy P., San Jose
A: McGowan had surgery on his right shoulder and is projected to be out until at least May. The problem is that even if he participates at spring training, there is no guarantee of his return to the form that had him battling A.J. Burnett in the first half of the season to be recognized as the No. 2 starter behind Doc.
As for the budget plan, even though they will not finalize anything until the internal questions are answered about the GM, the president and the manager, the Jays should maintain the status quo at just under $100 million for ’09. The Jays in the off-season will sell fans the Cito Gaston bump extended for a full season and the long list of injuries that (sigh!) cost them another chance to beat the Red Sox and Yankees. They, of course, won’t talk about the Rays and their ridiculously small payroll winning the division title.
Q: My question is now that Marcum is gone for next year, Dusty is out till May and probably will not be in perfect form when he returns, what are the chances that the Jays add a guy like Greg Maddux for a year? Also, if Snider and Lind stick around next year does that kill any chances of (Carlos) Delgado coming back as a DH? Please answer this! Thanks!
Matthew Madarang, Scarborough
A: I’m glad you said a guy “like” Greg Maddux. The future Hall-of-Famer will only play on the west coast and for a contender. That leaves the Jays out. There are other short-term starting pitching free agents like Paul Byrd, but some are way past their prime or coming off injury. Otherwise, what I would do if I were GM is to go over the other 29 major-league rosters seeking quality starting pitchers with four-plus years of major league service. I would make a trade using prospects and maybe a major-league roster reliever as bait. The attractive aspect of this strategy is that you find a pitcher in his prime, maybe his late 20s, that you have under control for one or two years until his free agency. At four-plus years, the pitcher has reached arbitration and may be borderline affordable for some small-market clubs. There are trades to be made for short-term help until Marcum returns and guys like Cecil and others mature.
Q: Jesse Litsch was the Blue Jays 24th pick in the 1985 entry draft. He was fast-tracked through the Jays’ minor league system and has won 20 games over his first two major league seasons. What did the scouts miss or what has he changed to enable him to become an above average major league pitcher?
Fred Byfield, London, UK
A: Litsch is the type of young man that would not have scouted well as a high school player. It was the ’04 draft and most scouts have a category for BODY on their report sheet. The reports on Litsch as an 18-year-old would not have been good. Not that he’s got a Michael Phelps type-physique right now - more like Michael Moore - but there are some pitchers that can handle the extra weight and the soft-looking physique and succeed (see C.C. Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Rick and Paul Reuschel, David Wells, Luis Tiant, Fred Gladding, John Candelaria and Sid Fernandez).
But scouts have one chance to scout a non-premium kid at the high-school level. They would have said “has major-league arm, but will always battle his weight”. Such a report would have dropped him down to the 24th round. Once he turned pro, he added a cut fastball and the ability and toughness to pitch to both sides of the plate. Some young pitchers are never able to add another pitch or pitch inside effectively. He needs more of a track record to be able to label him an “above average major-league pitcher,” but he’s on the right track.
Would you agree that Rod Barajas is more valuable to the Jays than people realize? After he was injured earlier this month and Gregg Zaun inserted in his place, the Jays winning streak was stopped and the team went into a slump.
Eddy Mark, Toronto
A: I would not agree that Rod Barajas is more valuable to the Jays than people realize. Zaun has been the main catcher for other successful Jays pitching staffs, but his time off as a backup, his mangled mind set, advancing age and some nagging injuries have cut into his effectiveness. Neither man ranks in the top half of AL catchers and it’s clearly a position that needs to be upgraded before a championship returns to the T-dot.
Q: Dear Richard,
I read your column during spring training and have kept up my reading ever since. I was stunned when I read that J.P. Ricciardi would be back for 2009. I thought for sure Wall Street would be calling him.
To me the year went south when J.P. traded Reed Johnson. In order to provide me with a little peace, could you explain why Johnson was traded and how important do you think the trade was for the Jays? Thanks.
Pat Monette, Penticton B.C.
A: You were stunned? Ricciardi may owe Cito for saving him for another year. Besides, the move with Reed Johnson wasn’t even a trade. Reed was released and signed by the Cubs. Apparently the fan favourite being dumped in favour of Shannon Stewart was another case of ego triumphing over logic.
Ricciardi had what he thought was an agreement with Stewart back in November ’07, but the deal fell through when Stewart changed agents. That meant he was “stuck” with Reed, a guy that had none of the attributes J.P. admires in a hitter – specifically thick legs, an air-conditioning swing and mind-numbing patience. Johnson’s only attributes were a great arm, fearlessness, imagination and teen spirit. Now he’s a Cub and an integral part of the best team in the NL.
The ego part came in for J.P. when he got a call in February from Stewart’s new agents asking of the deal was still on the table. It was, but with less money and one year. As I’ve said before in the mailbag, it seems that J.P gets infatuated with a player and doesn’t give up on acquiring him even after the years have gone by and his skills have diminished (see Frank Thomas, Brad Wilkerson). Look for Ricciardi to go after Jack Cust in the off-season. He used to be infatuated with him.
Q: Hi Mr. Griffin,
I'm a long time reader and I absolutely love your insight on baseball and the Blue Jays. ESPN.com just wrote an article on Lymon Bostock, a player for the Angels and Twins back in the 70s, and was wondering if you had ever met him or had any stories about him? A player who was willing to give back his salary because he was playing too poorly, it's definitely not something you would see today. Do you have any stories or memories of him that you're willing to share?
Dave R., Markham
A: I admired Lyman Bostock from afar in the other league. Our paths never crossed. He broke in with the Twins the year after I joined the Expos. He was with the Angels in ’78 when late in the year he was shot on an off-day in the town where he was born, Gary, Indiana. I remember when Wallace Johnson joined the Expos in ’81, my first impression of the Expos’ second baseman was that he was from Gary, where Bostock had been shot three years earlier. We talked about that. I admired Bostock as a hitter and for some reason can still picture him in his strong left-handed batting stance in my mind’s eye. Another impression of Bostock was when Donnie Moore died and Chico Ruiz died and when Tony Solaita died and when Clifford Young died, all in the prime of their lives, how much the Angels franchise was affected by tragedy.
Q: If I understand the rule correctly if a pitcher puts his fingers to his mouth while on the mound with no men on base, then a ball is issued to the batter. If so, then could not an intentional walk be issued if the pitcher simply touched his mouth four times?
Maurice Feldman, Fonthill
A: The rule is supposed to be called whether there are men on base or not. Logically, you are right. The pitcher should be able to lick his fingers four times and save any possibility of a wild pitch and save his pitch count, but there have been wise guy managers that have tried the strategy and umpires refuse to bite. They have no reason not to call a ball but in this situation they always make the pitcher go through with the four intentional balls. Something about making a travesty of the game. As if some of them already don’t.
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