Blue Jays mail bag
It’s World Series time and the AL East has now supplied the junior circuit’s representative for nine of the last 13 seasons. With the young Rays in the championship mix for the foreseeable future along with the Red Sox and Yankees, the Jays are in tough for ’09 in terms of reaching the 90 win-mark and inserting themselves into the wild-card mix. To stay in touch with the big boys, the Jays need to move forward and make some changes, adding some missing ingredients. It won’t be easy. The fact that the current general manager is only on board for two more seasons (contractually) may not make him a lame duck, but at the very least this canard is showing signs of a slight limp. If new president Paul Beeston, in fact, is going to be looking for someone like himself as the new president, then why does he not just stay in the job himself? He is the best of his type of baseball chief executive. If, instead, he is looking for someone with a strong baseball background to replace him, then that new president will likely want to bring his own general manager into position. Stay tuned and on to the mailbag.
My biggest concern with the Jays is that they have $82.45 million in salary committed to eight players for 2010 (Vernon Wells $21, Roy Halladay $15.75, Scott Rolen $11.0, B.J. Ryan $10.0, Alex Rios $9.7, Lyle Overbay $7.0, Scott Downs $4.0 and Aaron Hill $4.0). With that in mind how can they afford to sign any free agents this year to more than a one-year deal? Do you see this team trying to dump contracts like Ryan, Rolen and possibly Wells this off-season, or keep everyone and make additions to long-term salary with player signings such as A.J. Burnett/Derek Lowe/Pat Burrell/Orlando Cabrera/Rafael Furcal, then be put in a situation where they have to dump salary next off-season?
Peter DeMarco, Kitchener, Ont.
A: I have similar concerns regarding the Jays payroll beyond 2010. I truly believe that other than any home-grown Jays currently on board that Ted Rogers and Ricciardi feel they need to extend, that this current regime under J.P. will not be given the ability to sign any new free agent beyond 2010 – the end of this GM’s own contract and that of manager Cito Gaston. Notice that the only Jays’ players currently with contracts beyond ’10 are Wells, Rios and Hill – all home grown.
Consider that the AL champions, the Rays have six players contractually committed beyond 2010 – Scott Kazmir, Dan Wheeler, Rocco Baldelli, James Shields, David Price and Evan Longoria. So if the Jays under Ricciardi are only allowed to sign outside free agents for a maximum of two years, through 2010 that would preclude Lowe, Cabrera, Ben Sheets, Furcal or anyone else in the elite or semi-elite categories this winter. As you point out, with $82.45 million already committed to eight players for 2010, for the Jays to complete a competitive roster with 17 more players, the Jays’ payroll in 2010, unless they dump some of the current contracts, would be approaching $120 million. If they can, I believe they will let teams know that Ryan, Overbay and Rios are all available for the right (or a reasonable) offer.
Q: Hey Richard,
I have always felt that the Jays should have more Canadians in their lineup and in the minor leagues. With that in mind, should the Jays try to sign the recently released Adam Loewen? I know that he is switching from a pitcher to an outfielder but the switch worked wonders for Rick Ankiel and the Cards?
John Gleason-Mercier, Ottawa
A: Adam Loewen is unlikely to ever make it back to the majors as an outfielder. The recurrence of Loewen’s elbow woes makes his a far different situation than Cards’ Rick Ankiel. The Cards’ successful pitcher-turned-outfielder had control problems on the mound and a mental issue that prevented him from pitching, but his outfield arm is strong and healthy. Loewen is currently in Florida trying to regain the nice hitting stroke that he had as a high schooler and college player. But, being with the O’s he never had a chance to take regular batting practice in the AL.
As far as the Jays’ having more Canadians in their system, I agree with that. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the Jays should hire every former major-league player that now lives in Canada in his retirement and put them on the payroll, using them as travelling ambassadors to represent the Jays at amateur baseball functions, tournaments, banquets, etc. across the country. I also think that the Jays should reserve the final four rounds of each June draft for the top Canadian players left over that have not been selected. There is a certain status as life goes on to having been drafted by a major-league team. Even a year or two of minor-league spring training for these kids, even if they were eventually released, would allow them to come home and pass on what they learned to the next generation of Canadian youngsters. The spinoff effect on Canadian amateur baseball would be worth the minimal investment.
Q: Hi Richard,
Just curious about next season. I know, the World Series hasn't even started yet and I'm already asking, but hey, why not get a jump on things? Watching the Rays take down the Red Sox in the ALCS Game 7 with David Price on the mound to close things out got me thinking: what is the state of the Jays’ young arms that should be coming up at spring training?
J.P. Ricciardi has been talking up the guys like Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero, but I was hoping to lean on your expertise to provide some insight into just how good these guys are. Are these guys projecting to be mid-rotation guys, back-end guys, future aces (we can only hope)? I've heard Ricciardi talk about a lot of things, and am not so sure I trust his judgment to evaluate players anymore.
Good work with the blog as always!
Jim G., St. Catharines, Ont.
A: The Jays, barring any winter free agent signings, will likely need two starters to go along with Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey. They will likely try and ease Casey Janssen back as a starter, leaving them with the need for one until the return of Dustin McGowan sometime in May. The three top interim, internal choices, in order, are Scott Richmond, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero. Richmond will have a chance to impress as one of the top starters for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. That will be his own personal Olympics, a chance to represent his country in a significant tournament. If he does well against top international competition, he could be given a chance to open the season at the back-end of the rotation. The guy with the highest ceiling is Cecil, but the 24-year-old lefty averaged less than five innings per start in ’08 (that was the game plan) and needs to be stretched out in the spring. It would not be a huge leap to believe that he could be effective in the rotation as a 5-6 inning, 100-pitch starter supported by a deep bullpen. Romero, 24, will never be better than a 4-5 starter, but is further along, albeit with a lower ceiling than Cecil. Just this short analysis shows the need for the Jays to sign or trade for a proven major-league free-agent starter this winter.
Q: Hi Richard:
J.P. has some well-worn settings on his excuse dial. He has a payroll setting, a schedule setting, and an injury setting to explain why we are always behind New York and Boston. Now that the Beest is back and Rays have advanced to the World Series, what new settings do you see being added to the dial? Could one of them be that we can't make clear decisions through all that cigar smoke? Or could one be that we can't compete with the Rays because they are smarter than we are? Others?
Sandy Webster, St. Thomas
A: How about:
1) Hey, how can we compete with the Sox when even our president doesn’t wear any?
2) We could have maybe caught the Rays if only we had bench players like Eric Hinske and Gabe Gross.
3) Hey, if only we had home-field advantage that made a difference like the Rays do, what with that funky indoor stadium that nobody likes, with phony, slow grass and tacky “More Noise” signs on the scoreboard.
4) Think about it, if you were a free agent where would you sign – a hot place called “The Sunshine State” or some frozen tundra with a slogan “Yours to Discover”?
5) Hey, how do you expect me to convince players to move their families here, when I won’t even live here?
NOTE: There will be other excuses to come.
Q: For starters anyone who feels that Burnett is worth more then what his guaranteed $12 million per season for the next two seasons is (mentally challenged). The man finally has a full season without injury and had a solid record with an average ERA and people are talking $20 million per season all of a sudden. We all know the Yankees are stupid enough to offer him that kind of money but only time will tell if the Blue Jays are just as naive. I would like to think the Yanks and MLB have learned from their mistake of Carl Pavano, but I doubt that they have. Signing a player based on potential and hoping they will produce big numbers especially when we are taking about a pitcher who only have one 15 win season after many injury plagued ones with mediocre numbers. Its bad enough Wells is getting what he is for a contract who has never produced a 40 hr 125 RBI .315 batting average season, but J.P. thinks he can. I only wish teams made players back up their performances with a second straight solid season before they go crazy. So my question for you is, how stupid do you see teams getting when it comes to signing Burnett this off-season? I’m afraid we might see a new precedent for reckless spending which will raise the bar yet again for average pitchers like it was raised when the Jays got stupid and signed Burnett and Ryan for the price tags they did a few years back. Do you feel San Francisco knows how I feel after signing Barry Zito for a ridiculous long-term deal that they are indefinitely recreating?
Michael Harper, Fort St. John, B.C.
A: I tried to convince my bosses that if they paid me enough money I could be another Red Smith, Damon Runyon or Ernest Hemingway. I know I’ve never shown that ability before, but hey there was a column I wrote on July 27, 1999 that showed hints of what I’m capable of. Now if only I could write like that 240 days in a row, I’d be worth it. Of course, The Star wasn’t buying that argument. “Do it first, then come back and we’ll talk,” they said. If only Ricciardi was my sports editor I might have had a chance.
As for A.J. he will certainly be among the Top 4 of recruited free agent pitchers this winter, with C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Derek Lowe. I get the feeling that the others will wait until C.C. rider, then they will negotiate with the losers, knowing because of Sabathia’s deal how much they can reasonably ask for. Burnett will likely be in the $17 million range for four years. He might get a fifth option year. The Jays are not in that league. Hey, but the Jays might get the original Carl Pavano who is forever available.
Q: Hey Richard,
Quick question, with the World Series around the corner I was wondering what is your favourite World Series moment and where do you rank Joe Carter's home run in ‘93 in the history of World Series greatest moments? (I rank it #1 but obviously I have my biases).
Chris Chin, Toronto
A: I was with the Expos as a PR volunteer at the ’93 World Series in charge of producing the Commissioner’s game notes standing in the press box at the SkyDome watching Game 6 unfold. The Phillies’ excellent broadcaster Chris Wheeler walked by and said, “Hey Rich, can we borrow John Wetteland for a few minutes?” I laughed and turned back just in time to watch Joe Carter uncoil and Mitch Williams’ head snap around and Joe touch ‘em all. That was a great World Series moment.
But my favourite Series moment was walking along the third base stands heading for the losing Dodgers clubhouse to help with post-loss interviews and quotes as a PR volunteer in 1988. Kirk Gibson gimped to the plate and pitifully fouled off a couple of pitches as I continued walking. Then he found one he could handle, reaching down and jerking it into Matt Stairs territory. That is my favourite moment. Second is the Yankee Stadium reaction to Paul O’Neill as he took his right field position for the final time. Sitting in the right field auxiliary press box right behind O’Neill, it was hard not to get emotionally caught up by the moment.
Q: Hi Richard,
The Blue Jays had to settle on Las Vegas as their Triple-A team for the next two years after ending their relationship with Syracuse, when it became apparent at the end that Buffalo wasn’t going to work, and there probably was no other option. What would you think about the Jays forging a relationship with the Winnipeg Goldeyes (currently of the Northern League)? They have a beautiful stadium. It's always packed, yet the Independent League they're currently affiliated with has been floundering the past couple of years. It's only a two-hour flight away from T.O. and if the 'peg were offered the chance to be the minor league team for the Jays I think it would be a win-win situation. The Manitoba Moose became the top farm team of the NHL Vancouver Canucks after the Jets left and that's worked out fairly well. What do you think?
Chuck Laing, Kitchener, Ont.
A: There are legitimate business reasons why Canadian cities have been aced out of affiliations with major-league teams. There used to be Triple-A teams in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver but no more. There are legitimate issues involving, among other things, working visas for players and staff, exchange rates, travel and other considerations that have stripped Canada of Triple-A ball. The Jays will surely have a short-term, two-year relationship in Vegas. At that point, they will have to find a city closer to Toronto with a legitimate minor-league ballpark already built. But after the last dismal round of musical AAA-franchises, with Syracuse, Buffalo and others choosing more popular major-league affiliations with organizations that have higher profiles with better farm systems, the Jays may have a tough time again.
Q: Richard: really enjoy your columns. I was wondering why Scott Rolen seems to be above criticism. I've never read a bad word about him in the media, yet he contributes very little and pulls down a huge salary in the bargain. Sure, he's a good fielder, but he wasn't hired (I don't think!) for his glove. Because of his shoulder injury, the guy just can't hit for power or average any more, and probably never will again. He was always a top RBI man, and that has left him too. I see him as a huge liability. John McDonald is a better fielder and makes about $10 million less a year. Rolen seems like a pleasant guy and all that, but I think he's washed up. He's yet another example of Jays' fairy-tale management. They threw about $11 million at a player the Cardinals knew a year ago was near the end of the line. Now the Jays are saddled with him. He's a walking example of that overused metaphor of the elephant in the room. Why is he treated with such kid gloves when it comes to criticism?
Bill MacDougall, Toronto
A: When the Jays first obtained Rolen and brought him in for a press conference, he charmed the media with his enthusiasm for playing in Toronto, bringing his family into the equation and doing every interview with every media member at the event. First impressions are always the most important, so even though more was expected of him, as the season went on, media continued to cut Rolen a lot of slack. Even as he struggled, he was always available to talk about his season and to man up about his failures, never using injury as an excuse. So when details of his shoulder problem were revealed, once again media was willing to forgive his statistical downturn. More players could learn from his unforced cooperation that it’s not that difficult to get media and fans on your side by not being a total jerk. Yes the Cardinals knew of Rolen’s ongoing shoulder problems and yes the Jays under Ricciardi seem to have accepted more tainted baseball meat over time, but sometimes guys trying to re-establish their careers are the only players that will come north and give Toronto a chance.
Q: Hey Richard, I was reading J.P.’s plan for next year rotation, and I saw Brett Cecil and the two Romeros (Ricky and Davis) on his list. My question is why didn’t the Jays bring them up this September if they think they are in the mix for next season’s starting rotation? Spring training can only tell who is not good but it is not sufficient to tell who is really good.
Davy P., San Jose
A: Three places - spring training, September and winter ball in the Caribbean are all bad places to evaluate young players. Considering Ricciardi’s intentions with regard to young players, you can’t blame him for not bringing Cecil and Ricky up just to sit. I think, instead, they should have had a plan and brought both guys up to put them into the Jays’ rotation for the last three starts after the Red Sox series had ruined their chances. Instead, as usual, the Jays insisted on keeping all the big boys in the rotation – including the opting out Burnett - trying to win as many games as possible in order to continue J.P.’s legacy of third-place mediocrity. It’s one of the reasons the Jays continue to remain mediocre because they try so hard every September to win as many games as they can so they can sell a fast finish to the fans in the off-season. Then their young guys aren’t ready for the start of the next season, then they bring them up when they’re ready in mid-season then they have another fast finish to reach mediocrity then they do it again…ad nauseam.
Q: Hey, Richard.
Out of curiosity, is there any chance at all the Blue Jays might consider signing free agent Ken Griffey, Jr.? Sure, he's beat up and getting old, but 48 home runs over the past two seasons would be near the top of the Jays' players' figures over that same stretch, I think. And I think he might still be able to hit 30-35 and stay relatively healthy as a DH. And, in that case, he could potentially spell players in the outfield once in a while if they needed a day off. Just a thought. Thanks!
Kyle Kulseth, Sheridan, WY
A: No. I love Junior, but he would have a Frank Thomas-ian effect on the Jays and that’s not good. He’s a Hall-of-Fame player, but his diminished skills would lead to fan disappointment and would retard the development of some of the young hitters.
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