Blue Jays mail bag
It seemed, heading into the ’08 season that the futures of Paul Godfrey and J.P. Ricciardi were inextricably linked. If the Jays failed once again to make the post-season, then both would be gone - or so the logic went. Somehow, despite another quiet October watching the dance from the sidelines, only one man took the fall for the Jays. By all rights, it should have played out like the ending of Thelma and Louise, only in this alternate Jays ending, J.P. - the Geena Davis character - hops out of the convertible and rolls to a stop on his elbows in the dust, looking up just as Godfrey – the Susan Sarandon character - drives over the cliff alone. In any case, we're now looking ahead to two more years of Cito and J.P., on to the mailbag.
Q: Hello Mr. Griffin,
I have always enjoyed reading your column but today I have a question for you. It seems over the past several years of Blue Jay mediocrity many have been criticized from the various managers to general managers to the owner. For some reason nobody ever appears to want to point the finger at Paul Godfrey.
From newspaper columns to television sports talk shows he is always treated as an untouchable when it comes to being criticize for the Toronto Blue Jays failure to win over the past eight years. Today in Damien Cox’s column, Toronto Argonauts management is being criticized. With the Toronto Maple Leafs the criticism is ongoing, of course there is not enough newsprint in the world if the media wished to criticize MLSE for everything they deserve. Even going back to the Harold Ballard years, he and his management were always subject to severe criticism and justifiably so. All Godfrey has been for the past eight years has been Ted Rogers’ mouthpiece who has clearly butt kissed his way to where he is now. In any dispute between the MLPA and the owners Godfrey always defends the owners as he has done numerous times on TSN’s Off the Record.
Yes he may be one of the reasons Toronto has a major league baseball team but has proved he is not capable of building a winning team. Someone would have eventually brought a team to Toronto with or without Godfrey. He did not even have the qualifications when he was hired as CEO since being publisher of an already established tabloid hardly qualifies him to be CEO of a major league baseball team. Outside of Rogers since he is the owner, Godfrey deserves more criticism than anyone. J.P. Ricciardi is constantly being criticized for his player moves but he was hired by Godfrey. Whatever amount of criticism Ricciardi receives, Godfrey should receive at least as much, which is not the case. I would love to know why he escapes the criticism he deserves.
A: There are some good points in your letter, but there is a huge difference between being president of the Jays and being president of the Leafs. First and foremost is that every single member of the Leafs ownership and every fan thinks they know hockey and could be the team’s GM. It’s not the same in the Jays’ ownership group. Hockey is our sporting culture. We are ingrained in it. So when the Leafs fail year after year, while being one of the most financially successful franchises in the NHL, it’s clearly a failure of ownership.
As for the Jays, Godfrey did the job that he was hired for in making the Jays franchise - the Jays brand - a viable part of the fabric of the city. He was the guy with the pooper-scooper walking behind the elephant at the circus. His failure on the field was in continuing to throw his blind faith towards his general manager who has kept the Jays “mediocre-to-decent” for most of his seven years, but never “good-to-outstanding”. It’s been a tease. Ted Rogers & Co. never claimed to understand the building of a baseball team and that was clear whenever Godfrey was forced to deal with baseball issues on talk shows that he was not an expert on, either. But he was aware of that and trusted his GM to build a winner.
Godfrey developed in his baseball knowledge from Day 1 until now. He quit interfering. When he arrived as president in 2000, he insisted they throw money at Carlos Delgado and Alex Gonzalez because he believed they were popular with the fans and needed to be kept for the long term. Both turned out to be bad financial deals for the Jays. These days they could handle the Delgado four years, $68 million contract. Back then they couldn’t. Since then he has allowed his GM to evaluate the talent and the needs on the field. Godfrey as president presided over the important purchase of the Dome and the stabilization of the franchise. Criticize him for staying with Ricciardi too long.
Q: OK, this is blasphemy but hear me out. I don't see the Jays contending in the next two years, so why not become the Tampa Bay Rays. Let A.J. Burnett walk and get two picks, and trade Roy Halladay for a bunch of blue chip prospects. Add them to Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan, Alex Rios and Travis Snider. Maybe even move Lyle Overbay for a prospect. This team cannot win. I don't think for a second this GM will do that, I'm still hoping against hope someone else will come in.
Kevin Layman, St. John's, Nfld
A: That’s clearly not blasphemy. In fact, under a different general manager it may already have been considered. But, as you point out, it’s a long-range plan that would require taking your lumps with an annual win-total likely in the 60s for the next three years. But it hasn’t happened because instead of the team’s future, the current GM seems always equally as concerned with his own legacy. If you were going to go in that direction as an organization, you would have to give Ricciardi a five-year extension and tell him to go younger and dump his stars for prospects, in effect start a “five-year plan”. Hey, that sounds familiar. The first move would definitely have to be trading Halladay for blue chippers and since he’s got two years left before free agency, it would have to be done now. But it won’t be and the moment will have passed.
Q: Hi Richard,
One of the major problems I see with the Jays is the lack of a leadoff hitter. We have guys, Rios, Vernon Wells, Scott Rolen and Overbay who are capable of driving people in, but it seems they too often come up with the bases empty. I know the World Series teams are an extreme example, but it seemed the Jays were almost spotted a 1-2 run lead to start games with Devo (White) and (Robby) Alomar at the top. The leadoff spot is so important. Ricky Henderson, Devo, Jonny Damon to name a few. Are the Jays looking to seek a top leadoff guy, or are they going to continue with experimenting with different guys already there? If so, do you see possibly Aaron Hill in the leadoff spot?
Peter McNab, Toronto
A: I agree with you on the importance of the leadoff spot, but not necessarily that Devon White was a great leadoff hitter. In ’93 when the Jays boasted the top three men in the batting race, White had a .273 average with a decidedly mediocre .779 OPS. Devo was a marvelously gifted athlete and a fellow Jamaican, but his 53 walks and 127 strikeouts were not classic leadoff. He stole 34 bases in 38 attempts, which is good, but the Jays had four players with 100-plus runs scored in ’93 and seven players with more than 30 doubles, so it wasn’t just the top two guys in the order that set the table.
Back to the future. Are the Jays looking for a top leadoff guy? No. As for Aaron Hill possibly batting in the leadoff spot, for some reason when Aaron bats at the top of the order he seems to struggle. He is more of a line drive hitter that has more value driving in runs from the seven or eight hole in a good lineup. Look for Joe Inglett and Marco Scutaro.
Q: Lots of speculation about the Jays needing and looking to accumulate a "big bat" lately. I think that maybe a different direction might help them score more runs, i.e. a whippet on the basepaths, someone like Reyes of the Mets. The Jays have been without a bona fide base stealer of the highest order for far too long now. Any potential free agents or trades in the off-season possible?
Ken Moore, Niagara Falls
A: There are very few whippets available out there, but there are other solutions. For one, I would consider going after free agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera after he leaves the White Sox at the end of this year. He is a slick fielder, steals bags and has been in the playoffs four times in the past five years with three different franchises. He established himself with the Expos so he is comfortable playing in Canada. No, he’s not the classic type leadoff man, but neither was Devo. His last contract was $32 million for four years. That’s about what you could sign him for next time around. He’s a Cito-type player.
Q: Hiya Richard,
I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here, but what kind of career stats do you figure Roy Halladay needs to compile over the next few years to be a viable Hall of Fame candidate? I guess we have to assume good health. Does 200 wins get you there these days?
Dan Mountain, Kingston, Ont.
A: Halladay has several of the prerequisites of the Hall-of-Fame in that he has won a Cy Young Award, has two 20-win seasons and has been the acknowledged ace of his staff for the past six seasons. Halladay is a workout fanatic and keeps himself in great shape. That means it’s reasonable to think he could pitch until he’s 39-years-old - another eight years. He has 131 victories right now. If he averaged 15 wins per year for the next eight seasons that would be another 120 W’s for a career total of 251. He would have over 2000 strikeouts, a bunch of complete games and an ERA under 3.50. The big thing that is missing and would bring him closer to “mortal lock” status for Cooperstown would be a World Series appearance. That will have to be in his next contract, of course.
Q: I first wrote you with a suggestion last year that you thought was interesting, but didn't think it made sense at the time. However I now think it's time to reconsider. The suggestion was trying Brandon League in the rotation.
Given the Jays’ current projection for the rotation next year sans Marcum, Burnett, and unlikely to get an impact pitcher of similar impact on the market (and given the uncertainty surrounding McGowan and Casey Janssen), the Jays need to catch lightning in a bottle. The fact of the matter is that guys like Janssen or Scott Downs could end up being decent contributors to the rotation, but the Jays need something more than that, and League is the only guy who at least has the pure stuff to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
A great sinkerballer could give you more value in a rotation over a full season than in the bullpen (especially a bullpen that is already pretty stacked), that's why the best in the game tend to be starters. They're usually innings eaters, and tend to require a couple of innings to get the feel of the sinkerball, which is not a luxury that relievers have. There is precedent with guys like (Derek) Lowe and (Fausto) Carmona and if it doesn't work, you could always move him back. I know you must always be careful with moving young pitchers between the bullpen and rotation (didn't do much for Kelvim Escobar's consistency when he was here), but I think his potential upside is worth at least one real shot at it.
Nelson Santo, Toronto
A: You bring up some interesting points. Candidates for the season-opening rotation for the Jays’ include: Halladay, Litsch, David Purcey, Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero. They definitely need to – and I believe will - go out and sign a free agent or trade for a solid 2-A or 3 guy in the rotation. That would take some of the pressure off the pitching staff until Dustin McGowan can return hopefully in May or June. League has not thrown 100 innings in any season since 2004.
I think a better choice would be to install League as the closer, supported by Downs, Carlson and Jeremy Accardo and try and trade the final two years, $20 million of B.J. Ryan to a contender that believes a bullpen ace would put them over the top. There are teams like that out there. Meanwhile, a healthy League, touching 99 m.p.h., with movement, has closer-type stuff and if the Jays are not going to contend in a rebuilding ‘09, then why have Ryan around with a contract that expires in ’10, just as the Jays are starting to contend again.
I was watching Sports Centre (the real one) down here in the U.S. this week and they had a segment on the demise of the Yankees (missing the playoffs for the first time in eons). One of the cited causes of this demise was the Yanks' depleted farm system. They cited the number of at-bats in recent years by recent Yankee draft picks and actually used the Jays' draft picks' at-bats (with a passing shot of Rios) as the comparison standard (assumedly because the Jays had the highest number in the division or league). Sorry that I don't recall the exact numbers (I think it was about 1,000 vs. 28,000 at bats) but needless to say I was shocked the Jays' farm system was being held up as the example. Obviously the Yanks do 'sell the farm' for high-priced veterans fairly often, but I didn't think the Jays were necessarily well stocked in the minors (past or present). Your thoughts?
Andy Kaczynski, Manhattan, KS
A: What kind of a shot is that about Sports Centre, the real one. I’ll bet that Sports Centre, which by the way they spell Sports Center, doesn’t have anyone quite like Dutchy. I know they don’t have anyone quite like Hedger. Back to your question.
Actually the huge number of at-bats for former Jays draft picks is not surprising. In the late ‘90s under Gord Ash, Tim Wilken, Chris Buckley and others, the Jays churned out major-leaguers for themselves and for others (see Michael Young, Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, Wells, Rios, et al.). Plus you’ve got guys like Jeff Kent, Casey Blake, Carlos Delgado and others. There were years where the Jays led all teams in drafted or signed players that were on major-league rosters. Even dating back to Pat Gillick, finding prospects was never an issue. For the Jays of the ‘90s it was keeping them that became the problem.
I enjoy your reading your pieces each week. I recently went to the Syracuse Newspaper web site and searched on articles regarding this issue of affiliation. I was struck at the long held frustration by the fans in Syracuse that the Blue Jays were not a well-run organization and certainly for many, many years did not help that City have some winners. So it comes as no surprise to many that essentially no one wanted the Blue Jays and at the end of the day, the only one left was Las Vegas! My question is, what does this say about the way this franchise has managed its affiliates and its prospects? Is this an issue with its other affiliates?
I know some Major League teams have their best young prospects go from Double-A right to the majors without stopping long at AAA. How will this move to Las Vegas impact the club? It also does not sound like either party was that excited by this marriage and it may be a short-term deal. The ideal would have been in Buffalo - did the Blue Jays reputation in AAA make that impossible? Thanks.
Dean Germano, Redding, CA
A: I think that Syracuse always wanted someone else as a tenant with more pizzazz and sizzle and was also a victim of benign neglect by the Jays. No championships ever. They had their excuse. It’s like a comfortable marriage that has lasted 30 years. Sometimes when you should be sending flowers, you forget. Ah, she’ll get over it. The Chiefs didn’t need a box of chocolates, but how about a couple of top prospects. The Jays’ front office under J.P. Ricciardi has never been “touchy-feely” at the best of times. The relationship with Syracuse may have been taken for granted until it was too late. There is a little humour in what has happened. The Jays in ’08 were concerned about the “attitude” of certain of their major-league players that they felt were partying too hard. Hello Shaun Marcum. The punishment was to send them to AAA-Syracuse for a reality check. In ’09 these “party-hearty” guys will be punished by being sent to Las Vegas. Wooo-hooo!
Q: Hi Richard. Love the mailbag. I'm wondering, with all the negatives being brought up surrounding the Triple-A move to Las Vegas, was there any serious thought to having an affiliate somewhere in Canada?
Marc Bernard, Elmira, Ont.
A: That’s a natural and intelligent question. Of course, Canadian cities used to be hotbeds for minor-league baseball. Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, even Quebec City, Winnipeg and Trois-Rivieres had Double-A and Triple-A teams in the past. But at some point baseball changed some of their visa rules with regard to foreign players and the operating expenses, travel and other costs changed as well. It would have been fun for the Jays to put a Triple-A team in Ottawa or Montreal, but it was never a consideration and this is one where you can’t blame the Jays.
Q: Just a curious fan. Do you know why is it that Lind, Litsch, Jesse Carlson and other new Jays all wear hats that are not contoured or formed like 99.9% of all other player? Is it a fashion statement because it makes them look very odd indeed.
Gary Bartlett, Dundas, Ont.
A: It is the younger generation of players that wears their flat-brimmed hats and it is indeed a fashion statement of the hip-hop generation. If you check out the music video channels you will see guys like 50-Cent, L’il Wayne, The Game, Jay-Zed, T.I., Snoop, Socrates, Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Ludacris and Kardinal Offishall all wearing their hats with the flat brim, labels still affixed underneath the brim and slightly off to an angle. It’s just the way they roll. The hat is where it’s at, fa-shizzle.
The first guy to wear his hat that way in a World Series was ’06 Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes, born and raised in Downey, California. It prompted the ancient analyst Tim McCarver (or maybe it was Joe Buck) to ask him in a post-win interview, “Why do you wear your hat that way?” Reyes patiently explained his hometown and his generation. But truthfully, it does look a little silly for baseball players.
Q: You had suggested that the Jays GM job is secure insofar as the Jays might (now must) search for a president of the company, a more pressing need. Once the Presidency is determined, how secure is the GM's job?
F. Duquette, Edmonton
A: It depends on who is the new president. If the new president is an American steeped in the baseball culture, he may very well choose to bring in a new GM. If it’s a Canadian with ties to Ted Rogers, or hockey, or business, or local politics then the safest course of action (but maybe not the best) is to leave Ricciardi alone.
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