Blue Jays mail bag
With the World Series wrapping up and the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas still a month away, unfolding in the first week of December, the Mailbag is taking a month-long hiatus for November, returning with trade talk for the first two weeks of December at the height of the free agent season and with the meetings on the horizon.
It’s been an interesting post-season with emerging young stars and reliable old ones taking centre stage. The AL balance of power will never be the same again, as the Rays’ impressive young talent is mostly under their control or already under contract for the foreseeable future and the Yankees with a brand new stadium and the Red Sox are not going anywhere. With three teams seemingly always competitive in the AL Central, the Jays task of competing for a wild-card spot has become even tougher. Standing still with the status quo in terms of roster and payroll just won’t cut it. On to the Mail bag.
Q: Richard, I remember reading in Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago that Theo Epstein's new contract called for an average salary of around $2M/yr. Am I wrong in thinking that GMs in particular and front office staff in general are underpaid to woefully underpaid? I mean, nobody in an organization has a larger impact on the direction of a team than the GM and at best they’re making John MacDonald type of coin. Shouldn't the new “moneyball” be poaching the best baseball minds and paying a premium if necessary?
Greg Wells, Toronto
A: I wouldn’t say that major-league GMs are woefully underpaid. The players have a particular talent or skill that is unique to the top 1,000 performers in their field, with a very short peak-skill period. Meanwhile, the career of a GM can go on a very long time. Just look at the age difference in this World Series between Andrew Friedman of the Rays and Pat Gillick of the Phillies.
Besides, the competition for the position of major-league baseball general manager is huge. There are 30 men in those positions but thousands of others that feel they could do the job if given a chance – and they may be right. I know that if given the chance and surrounding myself with the brightest baseball minds I know (and actually listening to them), that I could pass as a major-league GM. But I can’t hit a curveball.
Q: Okay so I see that the Jays have signed Adam Loewen to a minor league contract. He was a former top pick as a pitcher, but is now transforming himself into a hitter. My question is does his former prestige as a top draft pick follow him as he becomes a hitter? I'm not sure if I am phrasing the question right. Basically, the Jays signed a former top pick pitcher as a hitter. Should we care?
Matthew Madarang, Scarborough
A: I understand the question and no, Loewen’s status as a top draft choice as a pitcher does not follow him in his conversion to hitter. The reason we should care about the signing is that Adam Loewen is a Canadian and the Jays should be commended for signing him as a released free agent by the Orioles and giving him a chance to pull off his dream of a Rick Ankiel type conversion.
Loewen as a teenage amateur player in B.C. was a good enough hitter to play a position and hit as a professional but his major-league future lay in his strong left arm. It won’t be easy now and the smart money is betting against him ever even reaching Triple-A as a hitter, but people doubted Ankiel, as well. Elite athletes are elite athletes. Nothing should surprise. It’s a good story for the Jays, Canadian baseball fans and young Canadian players looking for role models.
Why do I get the sinking feeling that substantial drop in the Canadian dollar due to the bottoming out of the stock market is going to preclude the Jays from adding anything of significance from the free agent pool and the Jays will be worse than in 2008 with GM J.P. Ricciardi, not exactly the greatest trader, refusing to do deal any prospects to fill the Jays massive roster holes? (I'm not an English major, but I guess that was a run-on sentence, eh?)
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge, ON
A: You’re right about one thing and wrong about the other. I believe the Jays need to trade a couple of their great looking prospects for immediate help, but I don’t believe that the status of the Canadian dollar has shut them out of the free-agent market.
They won’t compete for guys like Manny Ramirez or C.C. Sabbathia, but with A.J. Burnett’s $12 million per year on hold, they can surely afford the next tier of free agent pitchers, led by Derek Lowe. Granted, Lowe does not have the raw ability of Burnett, but as a solid contributor, he could surely rack up a similar number of wins that A.J. did in his three seasons as a Jay.
The worst thing that can happen to Ricciardi with his major league roster is for him to believe he can compete with Joe Inglett and Marco Scutaro as everyday players and with either Travis Snider or Adam Lind as the full-time DH. Every competitive team will make changes this winter to improve.
The Jays by standing still would be taking a step backwards. Ricciardi does not have a clear vision of his 2010 team, otherwise he could pinpoint a couple of his top prospects in redundant areas and trade them for major-league help. But his biggest fear is that he makes a deal and one of his draft choices becomes a star for someone else while the guy that he gets sucks. That’s why he prefers signing released free agents, because all it costs him is money and if the guy is terrible, you just release him again.
The only seven times Ricciardi has traded prospects for a ready-to-help-right-now major-leaguer are: 11/16/02 Mike Rouse (2b) and Chris Mowday (rhp) for Cory Lidle (rhp); 3/29/04 Jayson Werth (of) for Jason Frasor (rhp); 12/2/04 Tom Mastny (rhp) for John McDonald (ss); 1/12/05 Adam Peterson (rhp) for Shea Hillenbrand (3b); 12/7/05 Dave Bush (rhp), Gabe Gross (of) and Zach Jackson (lhp) for Lyle Overbay (1b) and Ty Taubenheim (rhp); 11/18/07 Graham Godfrey (inf) and Kristian Bell (rhp) for Marco Scutaro (inf) and this past summer sending Robinson Diaz (c) for Jose Bautista (inf).
Q: Good Day Richard,
Assume Toronto keeps Roy Halladay, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch or Dustin McGowan, re-signs A.J. Burnett or his equivalent or trades for one. They have 6-7 good pitchers trying for 2-3 spots. There has to be one that can be traded. Assume Toronto keeps Brandon League, Casey Janssen and Scott Downs and re-signs their free agents. They will have 7-8 good pitchers trying for 3-4 spots. There has to be one or two that can be traded. Assume Toronto keeps Travis Snider and Adam Lind; with three players capable of outfield play vying for one spot. There has to be one that can be traded.
Toronto can sign one big piece, trade for one big piece and hope Rogers listened to Paul Beeston’s request and sign or trade for the last big piece. Toronto has the pitching and the defence to go for it now. They just need three pieces to do it all, if J.P. Ricciardi is capable of it. It only gets done if Beeston does it. What do you think?
Richard Spackman, Lethbridge, AB
A: Your numbers are vague, but your basic idea is solid. The concept that you are getting to is that no organization can possibly find room for all of its top prospects that are backing up in the minor-league system, so why not trade some of them for help that can put your major-league team over the top.
Too many GMs brag about the number of farm teams that were in the playoffs the previous year. The fans in the major-league city, the people that are paying the freight, buying season tickets and souvenirs, those people don’t give a damn about your A-team in Poughkeepsie winning a title. What the Jays should do is get all their organization people in one room from scouts to minor-league manager and coaches to major-league front-office staff. They should define a consensus 25-man major-league roster and then a second 25-man roster of the players from the farm system with the highest ceiling at each position, including an 11-man pitching staff and a five-man bench. That’s 50 players in all. At that point, every other player in the Jays’ organization would become eligible to be traded for major-league help. Think about it. Every year there are about 40-more players added to the system through the draft. The most successful organizations use trades as a bigger tool than free-agency.
Q: Hi Richard,
Do you think we'll ever see J.P.’s first draft pick/flop, Russ Adams, in a major league uniform again? Or is the Jays’ bench already deep enough, with Joe Inglett, Marco Scutaro, John McDonald, and Jose Bautista? Adams put up respectable offensive numbers in AAA last year (.341 OBP 15 HRs & 63 RBIs in 429 ABs), but has his D improved any?
Marcus Hunke, Edmonton
A: Russ Adams was drafted as a shortstop, the No. 1 pick in Ricciardi’s first draft in 2002. Players that have made impacts in the majors that were drafted ahead of Adams include B.J. Upton (Rays), Prince Fielder (Brewers), Jeff Francis (Rockies), Jeremy Hermida (Marlins), Joe Saunders (Angels) and Khalil Greene (Padres). Those guys the Jays couldn’t do anything about, drafting 14th overall. But the guys that were picked after Adams in the first round are guys that the Jays had a chance to select. Some of these players are Scott Kazmir (15th), Nick Swisher (16th), Cole Hamels (17th), James Loney (19th), Joe Blanton (24th) and Matt Cain (25th). Sure, drafting amateur players is an imprecise science, but the Jays in some years made imprecision an art.
Getting back to Adams, the struggling infielder will likely play again in the major leagues, but likely not with the Blue Jays. He might be able to forge a Chris Woodward type of career somewhere else, but his days as a Jay are done. His defence is all in his head and really is day-to-day, so staying with the Jays where he struggled defensively in the majors would always be in his head. He would have a better chance somewhere else, in the NL.
The mail bag is taking a month off, but you can still Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection when his mailbag resumes in December in this space. **Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Richard. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**