Blue Jays mail bag
The Jays are on a roll and it’s fun to go to the ballpark again. The numbers are still against them, but instead of complaining about not having enough time to catch the wildcards, why didn’t the Jays make the move to Cito Gaston earlier? When they come home to face the Orioles on Tuesday, there should be over 40,000 fans in the building – but there won’t. Why not? Where have all the real baseball fans gone? All of a sudden, Cito Gaston ranks second in Toronto to Sam Mitchell as the longest tenured manager/head coach among the big four pro sports. Who’d a thunk it? On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
I've been searching recently for a good Blue Jays forum and I was very happy to find your mailbag. As I write this, Travis Snider just hit his first big league home run. My question actually revolves around Snider and Adam Lind. Do you feel it’s in the best interest of the club for next season to try to develop either Lind or Snider or both into the DH role, or would they be better going after a batter like Aubrey Huff?
I’m a little lost as to why Huff isn't brought up in more conversations about decent hitters that may be available in the off-season. He’s making $8 million this year I believe, and is currently sitting at 30 HRs and 98 RBIs. He'd be an excellent fit to play third base when Rolen's shoulder is acting up, and DH when Rolen can play. Am I out in left field with this?
Scott Huber, London, Ont.
A: The Jays’ outfield dilemma going into 2009 reminds me of the overcrowding issue in the garden that they had in J.P. Ricciardi’s first season, 2002.
There was a youngster named Vernon Wells who had shown late in the ’01 season that he was ready for the next step. But the issue was that the Jays already had Shannon Stewart, Jose Cruz Jr. and Raul Mondesi around the outfield, all well paid and in their prime. Ricciardi announced going into the spring that Wells, at 23, would be the DH. Not likely. Since Wells was the best defender of the quartet, that didn’t seem that it would work. The Jays began the season rotating through the four guys as DH, but mainly with Stewart and Mondesi. In mid-season, they gladly dealt Mondesi to the Yankees for Scott Wiggins. The next year they traded Stewart to the Twins for Bobby Kielty. The point is that everything has its own way of working itself out in the end and there is no way the Jays can keep all four outfielders on the major-league roster for ’09. They won’t trade Snider, but they would listen to offers for any of the other three as long as the move would help them win right now.
As for Huff, he is a great hitter and a shoddy defender, but if you’re looking for a DH, at $8 million for one year, after which he becomes a free agent, it’s a better investment than Frank Thomas. But even though the O’s are loaded with good young hitters and could use pitching of any kind, they would have to be overwhelmed to give up Huff considering they only have one reasonable year of financial commitment left with him. You’re not out in left field, but the Jays already have Jose Bautista under control for the next two years at a reasonable rate that can play third or DH, with some power.
Q: Adam Lind versus Travis Snider. That seems to be the debate now in left field. What's going to happen if Snider hits well in September and then comes into Spring Training 2009 and makes the team? Do you think the Jays could entertain trading Lyle Overbay? Then the Jays could put Snider or Lind at first base. Snider was a first baseman in high school as I recall. Overbay, one of the bullpen guys and maybe someone else could get us a solid number three starter.
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco
A: This is a variation on the theme posed by the first question, with the Jays’ issue becoming the availability of Overbay in a winning equation. Lyle is a wonderful guy in the clubhouse and at $7 million for each of the next two seasons, is a reasonably priced piece of the puzzle for any team that already has good power in their batting order from other positions. The Jays are not one of those teams, especially with Scott Rolen’s shoulder turning him into a line drive, alley-type hitter and Wells and Alex Rios failing to break through into 30-homer type performers.
The short answer is “Yes the Jays would entertain offers for Overbay in the off-season.” But the answer at first base would more likely be Lind rather than Snider. Lind is the one with first base experience in high school and Lind is the one that has been carrying a first-baseman’s glove around in the pre-game. Snider is listed at 5-11, but is closer to 5-9 and I can only remember Ron Fairly and Mike Aldrete as superior Smurf first basemen.
Upon reviewing the beginning of the shining career of Carlos Delgado, I was surprised to see that he did not begin his career at first base. It would have been a significant challenge, I guess, to uproot the iconic Johnny O at the time. King Carlos bounced from catcher to outfield before finally landing and taking command of bag #1 where he reigned for 10 years. By the way, did Carlos get a W.S. ring for his brief appearance (2 games?) in the ‘93 regular season? I will long remember how Tom Cheek praised this rookie player in ‘94 and if I recall correctly, aptly named him the “Baby Bull” - 9 homers in 43 games!
All this to bring me to my question - in the midst of the calls for him to again don a Jays uniform, are we not missing some hints that he has already returned in the young Travis Snider? Yes, I know, small sample size, but - oh my goodness, the young man can hit and is built like an oak tree! Let the Yanks have their A-Rod and the Dodgers their Man-Ram - we have the Sniderman!
Richard, keep up the excellent work. Your writing has provided some of the best bytes to grace these web pages.
John S., Brussels, Ont.
A: Delgado was a catching prospect when he was first signed at a time when Pudge Rodriguez was just establishing himself as a great catcher with the Rangers from Puerto Rico. Delgado had next. The plan was to have Delgado replace Pat Borders when the time was right, but Delgado had a chronic knee problem that made the transition to another position necessary.
You’re right, at first it was to the outfield because of John Olerud. After Olerud left, the question became whether to move Joe Carter to first to prolong his career, or to give the position to the future of the team in Carlos. In ’96, they split the time at first between Carter and Delgado and went 74-88. After that, beginning in ’98, it was all Carlos all the time at first base. Good choice.
As for the comparisons with Snider, it’s important in more ways than one. You correctly recall the nine quick homers by Delgado in early ’94. The fan reaction was much the same as it is to Snider and his back-to-back three hit games out of the chute, with seven hits in his first 15 at-bats including that bomb to straightaway centre for his first homer. But it took Delgado until ’96 to establish himself as a major-league hitter. Delgado, approaching his stated career goal of 500 home runs, has a Mets club option for $16 million, which after his fabulous MVP stretch run will likely be picked up before the end of October, especially if they hang onto the division. He did get a ring for being a part of the ’93 effort.
Q: Hey Richard:
Last week you commented that the Jays may part ways with Brian Tallet and Jason Frasor. Do you feel this way because of dollars or because of trade value? Also, from a timing aspect, since both pitchers have remained healthy (uncharacteristically healthy by Jays standards) do you think the Jays will defer until spring training so to evaluate the overall health of Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo?
John Gil, Chicago
A: The reason for parting ways with Tallet and Frasor is that both men are eligible for arbitration and their contributions to the pen can easily be picked up by younger, cheaper arms from the farm system or that are already on board. If the Jays carry a six man bullpen and make no moves in the off-season, they will already have B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs and Jesse Carlson as lefties, leaving room for three right-handers: Brandon League, maybe a healthy Jeremy Accardo and one other guy – not Frasor. The Jays will likely try and trade the two pitchers, but may end up just not tendering them contracts at the deadline, making them free agents.
Q: Hi Richard,
Just noted your extremely valid comments on Scott Downs and his contribution these last two years. Then I go over to the official team site and read Cito and JayPee are thinking of converting him back into a starter. Now I know relievers are easier to find than starters, but this guy has absolutely no track record in that regard. And they have been throwing numerous names of guys already on the roster/on the farm who could start next year. If it ain’t broke…
Richard Williams, Redditch, England
A: This year especially, it could be argued that Downs has been more valuable to the Jays than Ryan in their respective roles. As for converting him back to a starter, I was in Gaston’s office when he was told about J.P.’s goofy scheme to convert Downs back into a starter and he did not seem convinced or impressed. But, diplomatically, he went along with the line of thinking for the cameras and notepads, seeming quite skeptical if you kept your head up and were paying attention to what he said and how he said it.
The list of potential Jays’ starters for next year, even without A.J. Burnett, includes Roy Halladay, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum, David Purcey, Casey Janssen, Scott Richmond, John Parrish and Brett Cecil. The list of guys that can handle the eighth inning 65 times per season like Downs has is much, much shorter. As they obviously like to say in Redditch, England, “If it ain’t broke…”
Q: Hi Richard,
With A.J. Burnett's impending free agency, the Blue Jays are looking at picking up two compensatory picks in next year's draft from whichever team signs him. Can you provide some clarity as to how the draft pick compensation process works? I know the bottom 14 teams in the league have their first-round pick protected (which is why the Jays drafted Travis Snider at #14 the year after signing A.J. Burnett). At which salary given to a free agent does the compensation kick in? Is it an escalating scale depending on the salary? I know that the recieved compensation picks from the Rangers for Frank Catalanatto's signing a few years ago, too. Just wondering how this somewhat confusing system works!
Brent Birchard, Bowmanville, Ont.
A: The key to the compensation formula for free agents is the Elias Sports Bureau run by the iconic Seymour Siwoff, the ultimate historian of major-league baseball. Players are ranked by position by Elias using their performance over the past two seasons. The complicated formula has as much to do with playing time, games, at-bats, innings as it does with actual statistics. The top 20 per cent at a position makes you a Type A free agent. The second 20 per cent makes you a Type B free agent. If you lose a Type B, you gain a “sandwich-round draft pick” between the first and second rounds. This does not cost the signing team a draft pick, but earns the losing team at least some compensation in the form of a draft pick somewhere in the range from #31 to usually #60.
If you lose a Type A free agent (like Burnett will be) then you get a sandwich pick PLUS the first round pick from the signing team. However if you finish 16th to dead last in the overall standings and have a June first-round pick between 1-5, then you cannot lose that pick. Instead you give up your second round pick – right after the sandwich round, so usually between 61-75 overall. The salary given to a free agent has nothing to do with the compensation. It’s all based on the Elias rankings. Anyone not ranked A or B requires no compensation but usually isn’t the type of guy that will make a difference in next year’s pennant race.
Q: Hi Richard,
First off, thank you for your wonderfully detailed and witty responses to user questions. I look forward to reading your mailbag every Wednesday. I have a bit of a baseball 101 question for you. I personally feel that one of the most thrilling sequences in the game is the (attempted) outfield assist. It is a thing of beauty to see a strong throw from the outfield beat a runner to the bag. I've noticed that a lot of throws one hop to catcher or fielder. Is this due to a limitation in arm strength or are outfielders instructed to one hop the ball to the infielder? Also, who do you feel has the strongest arm in the game?
Naweed Tajuddin, Markham
A: You’re right, nothing brings you to the edge of your seat like a runner hitting third base just as the charging outfielder bends to scoop up the single on the run, then rifles the ball to the plate as the runner begins his slide. Or how about the ball down the line, cut off by the right fielder who spins and fires a one-hop strike to second base with ball and runner arriving simultaneously.
As for the number of one-hop throws, outfielders are instructed on throws from anywhere in the outfield to the plate or from right or centre field to third base to keep the throws low enough, especially on base hits, so that the cutoff man can either cut the ball and throw to another base to nail an advancing runner, or that the man rounding first can be decoyed into thinking the ball will be cut off and so he does not attempt to move up. These lower throws produce the one hop.
At this point in time, I would have to say that Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels has the strongest outfield arm, but not necessarily the most accurate. Rick Ankiel of the Cards is fun to watch, I was fortunate enough to see Roberto Clemente, Dave Parker and Ellis Valentine. Video of the ’79 Seattle all-star game with the batting practice throwing contest between Parker and Valentine is fun to watch to the point of stunning.
Q: Silly question time. I'm trying to recall the last time I've seen a Major League team trying to pull off the hidden ball trick. Are there rules in place that prohibit this? Are first base coaches and players just more prepared and aware? Or is it a case of it not being considered proper baseball etiquette? Sorry for the silliness, but I figured you could use a break from the Riccardi rippin'. Great job with the mailbag by the way!
Jeff Safford, Sudbury, Ont.
A: The hidden ball trick involves a stoppage in play after a base hit. The pitcher gets the ball back and steps off the back of the mound. A fielder comes up to talk to him and the pitcher slips the ball into his glove as they pretend to talk. The pitcher goes through some heavy acting because he’s not allowed to climb back on the mound without the ball. So he takes deep breaths and rubs up an imaginary ball in his glove, looks to the heavens, sighs and looks to the dugout, looking very unsure. Hey, Jason Frasor would be a good candidate for the hidden ball trick. The fielder with the ball hidden in his glove walks back towards his base. The unsuspecting runner takes a step off the bag and the fielder slaps a tag on his butt and shows the ball to the umpire. Voila! Etiquette be damned.
I believe that it does not work as well these days because every time there is a stoppage in play, somebody calls time and the umpire throws his hands in the air until the pitcher is on the mound. The hidden ball needs to come off of continuous play which never happens anymore. Besides, players back in the day were dumber.
Q: I’ve heard that Gene Tenace plans on retiring at the end of the season and that he only came as a short term favor to Cito. Is there any truth to this? Also that being said, I’ve heard rumblings that Cecil Fielder who is currently managing the Atlantic City Surf of the independant CanAm League has been contacted by Mr Gaston about the position. May I get your thoughts on the matter?
Elie, Fortin, Ottawa
A: The fate of the entire Gaston coaching staff when they took over on July 20 was never secure, so, of course, at the time that Cito was getting the group together on short notice, Tenace would have been doing it as a short-term favour to Cito. With the fabulous finish now in progress, things can change.
As for Cecil Fielder, there is nothing unusual about his being in touch with Gaston about a job, but I’m sure it was a case of Fielder calling Cito and not the other way around. Gaston mentioned the other day that he had just spoken with Paul Molitor, but that doesn’t mean it was to offer him a job. No, when a man becomes a manager, there are always hundreds of his former teammates, players and associates that e-mail or call about getting one of his coaching jobs. It’s the way it works in baseball. Fielder has had issues in his personal life and I’m not sure that Ted Rogers would be interested in bringing those issues to his organization. But it’s hard not to like Cecil Fielder as a man and I’m sure that Cito still does. Thus the phone call.
Q: Dear Richard,
I thought I'd lob you two softball questions that you may have answered before: who is your favourite Expo of all time and why? Who is your favourite Blue Jay of all time and why? And I don't mean who do you think is/was the best for each team, but who were your personal favourites.
Geoff Read, Thunder Bay, Ont.
A: Over the course of 23 years with the Expos, I had many favourites, but my Top 5 would have to be: 1-Andre Dawson (Andre is my youngest son’s middle name); 2-Moises Alou; 3-Larry Walker; 4-Tim Wallach; 5-Marquis Grissom. Dawson was my favourite because he was a man’s man. He had two knees that needed to be iced for an hour after every game so that he could play the next night, yet he never complained publicly. He had a great sense of humour and was the heart and soul of the greatest Expos teams from ’79 to the mid-‘80s when he went to the Cubs. He saved Tim Raines career after the cocaine issues and should be a Hall-of-Famer. As for my 14 seasons covering the Jays, my Top 5 would be: 1-Carlos Delgado; 2-Dan Plesac; 3-Pat Hentgen; 4-John McDonald; 5-Al Leiter.
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