Blue Jays mail bag
I don’t know about you, but Tuesday night demonstrated to me how shallow my life is without sports. There was nothing happening on Tuesday. Baseball playoffs were between rounds. No hockey exhibitions. No NFL or CFL. The Raptors were in Cleveland but not televised. Around 8 p.m. my sons Patrick and Matthew were sitting in the family room when I walked in. Pat lay on the sofa in a daze after quarterbacking his Loyola junior football team to a gritty 23-0 loss to Assumption High School. The usually overworked converter lay useless across his chest as he and Matt dazedly watched The Natalie Gulbis Show on the Golf Channel. “Natalie freaking’ Gulbis? You gotta be kidding!” I was told it was either that or three other channels with poker. Hey, Natalie began to look pretty good after a while, although her dad is a bearded freak. On to the mailbag.
I think it's time for people (including myself) to stop their "complaints" about J.P. Riccardi because he is here to stay. On that note, when asked about his plans for addressing the roster issues he hasn't given any clear indication at all only by saying we'll look from within. Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Dustin McGowan...then what? What about an ideal SS (Orlando Cabrera)? He shouldn’t cost too much (6-8mil/yr). What do you think will happen this off-season for the Jays, Richard, since J.P is being somewhat silent?
Kam Hooshmand, Richmond Hill
A-There are two ways to look at the “don’t-complain-because-he’s-here-to-stay” Ricciardi’s prospects for winning in ’09. The first view is that at 86-76 in ‘08, the GM only need find 10 more victories to likely earn a post-season berth. The obvious downside to this view is that standing pat, especially if A.J. Burnett flees south, will not do it. The rotation needs to be boosted with a No.2 or 3 starter, as does the offence with at least one potent bat. The second view, more of a caveat, is to recall that the last time a Ricciardi team finished with 86 wins, it immediately followed up with 67 victories the next year. That would be, of course, between the years 2003-04. After the ’03 season, No. 2 starter Kelvim Escobar was a free agent, No. 3 Cory Lidle left and No. 4 Mark Hendrickson was traded. In their place, Miguel Batista and Pat Hentgen were signed as free agents and Ted Lilly was obtained from the A’s. Unfortunately Halladay descended from 22-7 to 8-8 between ’03 and ’04 while the three new starters combined to go 24-33. Recipe for disaster. That demonstrates how much easier it is to drop 19 W’s than it is to add 10. As for the White Sox shortstop, Cabrera, I’m with you. Wherever he plays, the team seems to go to the post-season. He is good defensively and can bat at the top of the order, with good pop in his bat and has played in Canada before with the Expos. As for J.P.’s silence, it will end as his job status becomes more secure with the hiring of a new president.
I’ve been thinking about it and clearly we have some holes to fill on our team. Also, given our current payroll, not much ability to go out and spend big money on free agents. Considering this and the fact the bullpen is a source of major strength on our team especially with the return of Jeremy Accardo and Casey Janssen (assuming he doesn't become a starter) would it be fair to say B.J. (Ryan) is our best trading piece? K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) is looking for 5yr/$75Mil which makes BJ seem like he's coming from the discount bin. I've read he really fires everyone up in the bullpen and inspires confidence, but let’s be honest, that’s only worth so much. We could trade him and our large salary for a solid position player or starter for around the same salary, or a good young guy with a small contract, enabling us to hit the free-agent market a little harder this year. Do you agree, and does this mean I can be GM? If he's not our most valuable trading piece, who do you think is?
Graham Harvey, Toronto
A-I disagree about not having much money to spend, but I do agree that B.J. Ryan would be a great trading chip. If Burnett leaves, that gives the Jays’ a $70 million commitment for 11 players. With the other 14 roster players mostly young guys with no bargaining power, even with the arbitration guys that would leave about $10-12 million for free agents in ’09 given a payroll of $100 million in ’09. If the Jays traded B.J. Ryan’s $10 million, that would give them over $20 million to sign free agents or to acquire a healthy contract in trade. The closer’s role without Ryan would be up for grabs between Scott Downs and Brandon League. That could be decided at spring training, with Accardo also having ninth-inning experience. There will be a lot of movement this winter with regard to closers and the Jays could easily slip into that volatile mix and come out winners.
Just noticed your comment in last week’s Mail Bag where you pointed out management felt Shaun Marcum and some of the other Jays young major leaguers were partying too hard. Can you expand on this at all? I assume pretty much all ball players party, especially on the road together, but how did these guys (Marcum specifically) cross the line?
Terry Bridge, Waterloo
A-There are just some Jays insider rumblings to go on with regard to the “punishment” theory of Marcum’s being optioned to Triple-A, but it’s impossible to get anyone to comment on the record. When Marcum was sent to the minors on August 23 the day after a loss to the Red Sox at the Rogers Centre, it was a shock to everyone, including Marcum. More than one source indicated that the move was meant to “send a message” to Marcum and the other young players about lifestyle. Apparently someone had seen Marcum out, or heard that he was out, the night before the failed night game against the Red Sox. So when Marcum ran out of gas in the fourth inning vs. Boston and allowed four runs, some of the annoyingly “holier-than-thou” front-office folks reacted in anger. He was shipped out ostensibly to work on some mechanical issues but it was leaked to Alan Ashby on radio that there may have been “an attitude adjustment” involved. Leaks like that don’t just happen by accident. Hung over? Hey, maybe that creeping, eventual breakdown leading to Tommy John surgery may have had something to do with the failure. Maybe the fact that the Sox are a damn good team had something to do with it. Hey, Don Larsen, 52 years ago on Wednesday, didn’t know he was pitching again in the ‘56 World Series so he stayed out partying all night the night before he went out and threw a perfect game. That information is straight from the guy that was out drinking with him all night. On thing for sure, the Jays better not try that same punishment thing again next year. Their Triple-A team is in Vegas. Party on, dude.
This is probably a dumb question, but I can't seem to find anyone to answer it. When a position player makes an error, costly or not, does he apologize to the pitcher or even the manager in the dugout at the end of the inning? I'm sure no one feels worse than he does -- unless you're named Manny Ramirez -- but are mea culpas served up afterwards?
Nik Jones, Port St Lucie, Fla.
A-Like everything else in life, apologies all depend on the individual. The classy guys will look at the pitcher and tap their chest to say, “Hey it’s my fault.” Some like John McDonald will even walk the ball back to the mound and just tell the pitcher to make sure he gets the next guy to hit it to him again and he’ll make up for it. Which he usually does. But there are other guys that won’t even look at the pitcher. They’ll look at their glove. They’ll go over and smooth the dirt where the ball supposedly took a bad hop. They’ll check the wind. They’ll look up and curse the sun (sometimes even with the roof closed). These are the guys that get traded or have no pitching friends. As for Manny, if I was a pitcher and he made an error as he javelined into the turf or crashed into a wall or cut off a throw from centre field or had a ball clank off his glove in the sun, I think I could not help but laugh and I would not need an apology. It’s Manny being Manny.
I've been an avid reader of your mailbag for some time now. I've been looking over the short list for this year's Veterans Committee ballot, and I was wondering what your thoughts were - are there any players eligible this year who you think deserve Hall Of Fame honours? And is there any insider buzz about this being the year for any specific players?
David Wencer, Toronto
A-The problem with the Veterans Committee is that every one of the players under consideration had their chance for 15 years on the regular ballot before finally losing their eligibility. I was on the nominating committee for four years and the 25-man media committee spent a lot of time putting together a serious, deserving list of old-timer nominees. There was never anyone voted in in that time. The voting committee with living Hall-of-Famers and others included are tough. It’s not like a membership in ClubLink. In any case, Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Al Oliver, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre and Maury Wills are in a special class of players that began their careers in 1943 or later. Of those 10, the durable lefthander Jim Kaat and the slick-fielding third baseman Ron Santo have the best chance of getting in. But the best guess is that none of them will.
Q-Are you planning to apply for the Jays President’s job?
Frederick Duquette, Edmonton
A-Yes. I am in fact working on my resume this week. Credentials? I have been involved with major-league baseball since 1973. I love dealing with Canadian baseball fans. I can promise hot water in the Rogers Centre bathrooms. I get my clothes at the Salvation Army just like Paul Godfrey. I think boosting amateur baseball is a key. Give me a huge expense account, a company car, a stack of business cards and I can make things happen.
With the U.S. at the edge of an economic slowdown, do you foresee the salary of baseball (free agents) going south? Also, can you please shed some light on so many young arms (Janssen/Marcum/McGowan) in the Jays organization having long-term injury issues? Is it just an organizational-wide abuse of its young arms or is it just pure luck (lack thereof)?
James Ho, Vancouver
A-That’s a good question. I think that for the next winter or two that the asking price for top free agents like C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez will go up. But I do think that there will be a leveling off in the asking price for middle echelon free agents of the type the Jays need to pursue. My belief is there is nothing wrong with a huge drop-off between top-drawer free agents and others. For too long, the crappy free agents have been dragged upwards merely by waiting for the big guys to sign. That’s not right. For instance, when Johnny Depp signed his $56 million deal for Pirates of the Caribbean IV: The Search for Keith Richards’ Liver, it doesn’t mean that every other pirate on the Black Pearl got a raise too. They shouldn’t even though they could claim that Depp is not 200 times better than them as actors. “Arr-ghh. The seas are angry, Cap’n Jack…and so are we.” The economic slowdown, if it continues will hit baseball in the winter of ’09-’10. As for the series of arm problems, Brad Arnsberg and the Jays’ training staff do nothing different than other teams in terms of spring training, off-season or between starts. It’s a coincidence and also the fact that the Jays have always been forced to take chances on talented players with previous health issues in order to sign good pitchers.
With Brad Arnsberg back for next season, what is the chance for the Jays keeping Burnett? Also now Paul Godrey is leaving, what is Jays plan for the vacant position and what will happen to JP? I know you mention the Jays should get a mid-rotation guy this winter, but with so many big name pitchers available this winter, the bidding war may not be that bad. Maybe the Jays can land one of the prime time guys. What do you think? Any chance?
Davy P, San Jose
A-It says here that if Burnett has to choose between his pitching coach and his family as to his landing spot for the next five years that his family will win out. Burnett gave it his best shot. The Jays are the ones that gave him the historically unprecedented opt-out clause. He asked for it, but they didn’t have to give it. In fact, outgoing president Paul Godfrey swears that it was a mistake and that the Jays should never again include that type of escape. Instead he thinks they should throw more money into the deal to sweeten the pot. Burnett’s wife three years ago wanted to go to St. Louis or would have loved Baltimore but they weren’t biting at the time. Now, if the O’s are in the mix, if the Cards jump back in and if the Yankees and Dodgers join the fray, those are all better options for Burnett than the Jays – even with the continued presence of Arnsberg, his friend and coach. As for the Godfrey replacement, if they decide to not give me a chance to be president, then I would suggest that they will stay in Canada and will bring someone with connections to Ted Rogers like John (Red) Tory. They don’t need someone with huge baseball knowledge since Ricciardi’s knowledge and ego leave no room for other input. As for free agency, Sabathia is too expensive and wants to win. Ben Sheets is too much like Burnett in terms of injury time. Derek Lowe is just right, has already won a World Series, and that could be their target. They also might re-visit the idea of trading Alex Rios for a starter like they explored with the Giants and Tim Lincecum last year.
Q-Many happy greetings:
The Jays’ No.1 priority is to re-sign A.J. Burnett, probably for more than the team wants to pay. Failing that, (it is) to sign a free agent pitcher of an equal to or better value for much more than the team wants to pay. Who fits this bill? The Jays' No.2 priority is to sign the biggest, scariest DH bat the team can find. This will cost too much as well. It will help if playing a position is possible, if needed. Who fits in here? The Jays’ No.3 priority exists at the gaping hole at shortstop and at leadoff. I don't know if both spots can be filled with one person. Who can be available? The Jays’ No.4 priority is to re-sign Roy Halladay to a 3 to 6 year extension, paying 17.5M to 20.0M per year. If he must be traded, you’ll never get enough for him. The team can do two of the above and must trade for anything else. If A.J. re-signs, can Toronto trade a starter? Is the bullpen good enough to trade a reliever? What other players can be used to make this team better? Is our GM good enough for THIS OFF SEASON? I don't think so. Have a good day.
Richard Spackman, Lethbridge, Alta.
A-Let’s go point by point. They Jays with Burnett will put an offer on the table and will not remove it, but also will not sweeten it. The Star reported that the offer is a two-year extension at $15 million per year, meaning a total of $54 million for four years. Given the current free-agent market, he will likely receive an offer from another team of about five years for $75 million. That would be leaving $21 million guaranteed on the table for the privilege of returning to be with his friend Brad Arnsberg. Even friendship has a price. Derek Lowe would come closer to accepting the four years and $54 million the Jays have on the table. Point No. 2, the DH. Available as free agents are Frank Thomas (yikes), Jason Giambi (too many issues), Richie Sexson (summer breeze), Mark Teixeira (a league of his own), Raul Ibanez (needs to play a position) and Manny Ramirez (double-yikes). I think Ricciardi might target a guy like Jack Cust for whom he’s always had a man-crush. Point No. 3, at shortstop, I would target Orlando Cabrera – slick defender, has played in Canada, good with fans, can steal a base, extra-base power and can bat at the top of the order. Point No. 4, with Halladay. The good doctor won 20 games and will never be in better position to negotiate an extension, especially if Burnett bails. If the Jays negotiate an extension with Halladay it will be a good indicator of their near-future intentions – whether they want to compete now or build for the future. If they want to build, then Halladay would not want to be a part of that. The bullpen is good enough to trade Ryan. It will be musical chairs in the off-season for contenders and top-flight closers. The polar opposites of the Phillies with Brad Lidge and the Mets with Billy Wagner proves the importance of an effective ninth-inning stud. There will be a market for B.J. since he’s tied up for $10 million for each of the next two years. As for the GM, anyone can get better and improve if they recognize their past failures and learn from them. Ricciardi has never acknowledged any past failures. As O.J. said recently, “The jury is still out…and so am I.”
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