Blue Jays mail bag
The playoff races are shaping up in both leagues and the Jays have accepted the inevitable fact that they will be spoilers. They need to find out about Travis Snider, Jose Bautista and Shaun Marcum. The wins and losses down the stretch will have no effect on the fate of GM J.P. Ricciardi. At Rogers HQ the dye is already cast. One thing is certain. There is still plenty of entertaining baseball to be played at the Rogers Centre. On to the mailbag.
Q: Whoa! Did I read that right? Did you mention pitching coach Brad Arnsberg could be leaving the Jays after this season? Is his contract up, because I can't imagine he'd be fired!? Looking at what he has done with this pitching staff over the past few years, especially the young guys when Doc (Halladay) and A.J.(Burnett) were hurt, I can't believe the Jays would let this guy walk. If his contract is expiring, what are the chances he will come back next year? If he goes, who are your top candidates to replace him?
As always, thanks for your insight Richard!
Jon Empringham, Woodstock, Ont.
A: Arnsberg was badly shaken and in temporary shock on June 20 when John Gibbons was fired. In fact, the inside word is he lost his focus so badly in the pre-game pitchers meeting going over the Bucs hitters for the series that Roy Halladay had to hilariously finish up the meeting doing a bang-on impression of Arnie in full lecture mode.
Arnsberg has had a great run in his four seasons as Jays pitching coach. In his first year in 2005, the Jays’ team ERA dropped from 4.91 to 4.06. Since then, the team has been among the AL’s ERA leaders, capped by this season’s tremendous effort at 3.61, the best in all of baseball. When Arnsberg was promoted from Syracuse after one season at Jays’ Triple-A team in ’04, there was method to the Jays’ madness. Arnie had been pitching coach, friend and mentor to a great young Marlins’ pitching staff in 2002. The Jays in that first off-season were looking to sign free agent Matt Clement for ’05. The right-hander instead chose the Red Sox but his first phone call was to Arnsberg to apologize to his friend. Then came another of Arnsberg’s Marlins protégés the next winter, A.J. Burnett. This time the Jays hit paydirt with the close coach-player relationship, parlaying the convincing combo of one Brad Arnsberg and
5.5 million Ben Franklins $55 million into a five-year deal with the electric-armed Burnett.
Arnsberg will have many teams interested in the off-season and if Burnett uses his opt-out clause to test the market, all bets are off. If Cito Gaston returns as manager, he may, in fact, want another man as pitching coach. If J.P. Ricciardi is replaced as GM, which is up in the air, the new guy may prefer another man as pitching coach. In any event, Arnsberg is in the driver’s seat as far as his career is concenred, with the success he has had in Toronto.
Internally, the Jays’ top minor league pitching coaches include Rick Langford, Darold Knowles and Dave LaRoche, but the baseball landscape is littered with solid candidates if Arnsberg does decide to leave.
Q: Mr. Griffin,
In your estimation, what are the chances the Jays would endeavour to acquire Carlos Delgado in the off-season? He's a fan favourite in Toronto, still has lots of pop in his bat, could play a combination of first/DH, and serve as a mentor to young Alex Rios.
John Oatway, Orleans
A: The Jays can’t afford Carlos Delgado given the financial commitments and constraints they are already under. Carlos, one of my favourite people, has a $16 million option for next season. If the Mets choose not to pick it up, they will buy him out for $4 million. That means it would cost over $10 million for one season for any team to secure his services as a free agent. Delgado’s personal incentive to keep playing is that he wants to reach 500 home runs before packing it in. He is at 462 and is the hottest hitter in the NL, with a chance to be within 30 dingers of his goal by season’s end. That’s attainable in ’09.
However, as long as J.P. Ricciardi is GM of the Jays, Carlos would not consider coming back to play for the Jays. When Ricciardi arrived at the Jays, he immediately labeled Delgado’s contract his “albatross”. J.P. should have studied the original poem more closely. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the protagonist kills the magical albatross (a big sea bird) and all hell breaks loose on his boat. These words from an opium-addled Coleridge conclude Part the Fourth.
"And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea."
That verse, in Jays’ terms, would correspond to about the time that Carlos left T-O to go to the Marlins. From that point on, in S.T.C’s poem, it begins all spiraling downhill for the Ancient Mariner. For J.P. was it a case of life imitating art?
Q: Hey Richard, just have a quick question for you.
The Jays are leading the league in team ERA this year thanks to the likes of the bullpen. Is there a chance the bullpen can repeat its success next year or as crazy as it sounds be even better with B.J. (Ryan) getting stronger and (Brandon) League getting more mature as well as the return of (Jeremy) Accardo? Where will you think their team ERA will be next year?
Antony Yang, Toronto
A: To me, the key to the Jays’ bullpen success this year has been the marvellous work of left-handed setup man Scott Downs. This guy, last year at the age of 31, finally figured out what his best role could be. He went from a middle reliever that could work a couple of transition innings, getting both left and right-handed hitters with equal effectiveness, to a devastating lefty specialist who can pitch to the heart of the order in the eighth and hand it over to Ryan for the save. His three-year $10 million deal through 2010 is one of Ricciardi’s best contracts ever.
As far as the bullpen repeating the performance next year, you’re right about League’s emergence being important. We can’t be sure about how effectively Accardo can come back because his career body of work had not really been established yet. Consider Jesse Carlson as a third left-hander and fill-in with a couple of more right-handers to be determined – maybe Accardo, maybe Shawn Camp, maybe Casey Janssen – then the makings are there for a repeat of the lights-out pen we have seen this year.
Q: Richard, Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that the soon to be departed Burnett is 10-3 since Cito (Gaston) took over as skip - a marked departure from his career track and the projection that track would continue this year with a 6-7 record On June 20. Any insight on what Cito has done different to get A.J. to win - or is this just a coincidence (I also note Doc is a nice 8-3 since Cito's return - so it can't all be coincidence)
Michael Walter, Mississauga
A: Let’s take Halladay out of this equation. Doc could be 8-3 under Rich Stubler, he’s so focused on his own job. But, as for Burnett, there are two factors that have come together to create the perfect storm for his final three months of ‘08.
First there is the impending A.J. opt-out option at the end of the year. Second is the fact that, no coincidence, he began his hot streak at the precise moment the Jays tossed in the white towel of surrender by firing John Gibbons and bringing in a man whose mandate was to build for 2009 while still trying to compete hard in ‘08. When the playoff pressure is off or when a new contract is on the horizon, A.J. shines.
Probably worth noting is that in his six years with the Marlins, the one year they went to the World Series (2003) is the year Burnett sat out with his Tommy John surgery. One of his best statistical seasons in Florida was the one in which he was to become a free agent in 2005. The Fish finished a comfortable fourth in the division and A.J. went home early in a dispute with management.
Q: Richard: Why do teams sign opt-outs that don't need to be activated until season's end? Surely it would make more sense from a management standpoint if the opt-out had to be activated at some point before the trade deadline, no? At least that way, the GM knows what they're dealing with, and other teams know where they stand with trades. It wouldn't seem to make too much difference to the player - the contract would still go to season's end, they'd just need to give notice ahead of time. Am I missing something, or is it just another (of many) Riccardi screw-ups?
Thane BenAngelo, St. Catharines, Ont.
A: It will never change. What would happen if a guy had two years left on his contract worth, say, $24 million. He declares that he is opting out in July and the team does not trade him. What if he gets hurt in August? And what if the manager, since the player is leaving, makes him throw 140 pitches every time out because the team knows he’s gone anyway.
There are plenty of Ricciardi screw-ups without pinning this one on him. Besides, if anything makes sense from a management standpoint, you know very well that it makes no sense from the players’ standpoint, which means that Don Fehr and the players’ association would never allow such a provision to kick in.
Burnett apparently has the first and only opt-out clause ever given to a starting pitcher. Because of that, we think he will use it, even if it is only to pry more cash out of Ted Rogers, his least likely scenario.
Q: Can you see the Jays moving B.J. Ryan in the off-season? I would think that with the re-emergence of Brandon League, along with the hopefully successful returns of Janssen and Accardo, that B.J. would be expendable and that the Jays could use his salary money to go after a young front-line starter - assuming that A.J. opts out. Or how about moving B.J. to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy? I read that the Brewers may be looking to move Hardy in light of a very promising prospect in their system. I would love to see Hardy's 20 home runs at short for the Jays.
Eric Ashby, Toronto
A: If the Jays lose Burnett, that’s $11 million available for each of the next two years. They may not have to move anyone else. But if the Jays did not feel they wanted to compete for the post-season in ’09, they might consider moving Ryan, especially if a new GM takes over.
Sure the Brewers are one of the annually contending teams that could use a seasoned closer, but as for Hardy being replaced at shortstop by their hotshot farmhand, the 21-year-old Venezuelan Alcides Escobar is good, but he’s still a full year away from playing in the majors. Escobar is hitting .328 at AA-Huntsville, with eight homers, 34 steals, great defensive skills and a .797 OPS.
For the Jays, trading Ryan would be risky. Statistics aside, when he rounds the corner and sprints through the bullpen gate, he fires up his teammates. He is a big part of the swagger of the Jays’ pen. Removing his presence from the mix would put Scott Downs in the glare of the closer’s role and it might be like when Dorothy finds out the Wizard of Oz is just a regular guy…”Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
Q: You talk about Aaron Hill (and Scott Rolen) returning being key to the Jays next year, and I can't argue it, but my question is: what are the chances for that? How bad off is Hill and will he be able to make it back?
Rusty Priske, Ottawa
A: I love Aaron Hill and the Jays are playing it smart. The young man is under contract for a long time and there is no need to rush him back and risk a re-occurrence of the concussion symptoms. Former Jays catcher Mike Matheny was forced to retire from the Giants because he came back too early. He was in Florida a couple of months ago and sent a message to Hill through teammates. “Take your time.” It’s impossible to be certain and would just be a guess for anyone, but odds are that Hill will be able to return at some point at full speed.
As for Rolen, his contract of a guaranteed $22 million for two more seasons would be almost impossible to trade in the off-season. He needs to re-establish himself as an every day third baseman with consistent extra-base power before anyone would be interested in acquiring him. That’s not going to happen before next July. But the Jays have Jose Bautista as insurance at third base. If Rolen is healthy, at the salary they are paying him he cannot sit on the bench. He must play. He’s a solid player when healthy but his contract could become an albatross if not. D'oh, there’s that A-word word again. Pass the opium, Mr. Coleridge.
Q: One of the positives this year has been the Jays' defensive play. As Sportsnet regularly points out, the Jays lead the league in fielding percentage and have the fewest errors. Do you find this surprising, given the line-up changes every game? Also, what do we attribute their solid defensive play to?
Thanks. Garry Sears, Ottawa
A: One of the biggest factors in an errorless streak is the ability of a team’s first baseman to scoop balls out of the dirt and save his infielders. Lyle Overbay has that ability. The smurfs around the current Jays infield – Marco Scutaro, John McDonald and Joe Inglett – are all major-leaguers on the basis of their gloves as much as their bats. They all are used to moving in and out of the lineup and are always prepared when called upon. Then there is the Jays’ attitude of preparation for all situations provided by coach Brian Butterfield.
Q: I had the pleasure of reading some excellent writers in my ten years in Toronto and I sincerely hope the readers and management of the Star appreciate the efforts of Richard Griffin and Doug Smith and others with their daily blogs. The Internet has changed the face of sports coverage and so has blogging. Mr. Griffin is on top of it in the Star. For those who read Richard and Doug on a daily basis you are totally informed of what' going on in an accurate and insightful manner. Here's hoping for a Cubs-Sox World Series!
Sincerely, Chuck Swirsky
A: Thanks Chuck. Nice words. In return as Mr. Swirsky leaves for his new career as the Bulls’ play-by-play man in Chicago, he should know that he clearly had his own tremendous impact on the Toronto and Canadian sports scene. I have three children that are all big Raptors fans (one other who only loves the Yankees) and for whom Chuck was the face of the franchise. They were always so impressed that whenever they sent Chuck an e-mail question or comment on the Raps’ website, he would answer every one. He didn’t have to. It wasn't in the job description but that’s how a franchise builds its fan base. That’s how a broadcaster relates to the community. Toronto will miss Swirsky. Salami and cheese will never taste the same.
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