The mailbag is back for Week 2. The Jays are looking good and Cito Gaston is relaxed and in charge. This is the best time of the year, before the games start. In the first 10 days at the Englebert Complex, the players are all relaxed, together and comparing winter war stories. There’s more smiling and laughter and you get a good look at the true personalities. Once the Grapefruit League games start, it’s more serious and it all depends on who’s playing that day as to who’s around, but you don’t see everyone together, so you don’t get the same interactions.
But it’s all good because baseball’s back.
Q: Glad to see you are back to writing the Mailbag. Let's play early prognosticator: best and worst case scenarios for the Jays this year? Even in the best-case scenario I forecast the staff to provide 80 wins (Halladay- 22, Litsch-16, Clement-15, Purcey-15, Maroth or Cecil-10 wins). That would be a miracle, but then the bullpen would probably need to come up with about 15 wins to make the playoffs. With the depth in the bullpen this could happen. But will the hitters actually drive guys in with runners in scoring position. What if Vernon Wells returns to his 2003 levels, Rios actually hits 30 home runs and Rolen stays healthy all year? I'm dreaming of a surprise playoff run in 2009, am I going to be disappointed?
Jason Sinnarajah, Singapore
A: There is a very wide range in the victory total between best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Jays in ’09. In the best-case scenario, beyond the glitzy win totals you project for the starters, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells would provide the same type of 1-2 punch as Carlos Delgado and Wells did in 2003 (75 HR-262 RBIs combined). Scott Rolen, whose fine defence is a given, would complete the batting adjustment required by his wonky left shoulder, hitting 45 doubles and 20 homers. Aaron Hill would stay healthy, while Adam Lind and Travis Snider form the best young 1-2 punch in the AL. All that, in a very tough division, could produce 95 wins.
Worst-case is dismal and more likely. Halladay is distracted by his crumbling surroundings and wins 16 games. Litsch can’t handle the pressure of being a No. 2 starter and ends up being farmed out in June to regain his confidence. None of the veteran starters brought in to camp can bounce back in time. Dustin McGowan is not ready until August. The young guys are all rushed and their confidence implodes. Cito Gaston reacts like he did in 1997, the year he was fired from a very bad team. The starters for the season combine to win 45 games, supported by 15 from the bullpen for a total of 60-102.
The reality lies somewhere in between. But, Jason, I think you are going to be disappointed. These Jays can compete for a game, a series, a month, but over the course of 162 games, the relentless depth provided by the bigger payroll of the Yankees and Red Sox and the better young talent of the Rays will prevail.
Q: Hi Richard,
Man am I glad the mail bag is back and ST has started. Now MAYBE there will be other topics besides steroids to talk about. I am going to try two of them. First do you think Brett Cecil might make the team? His scouting report, “devastating fastball and wicked curve” make him sound like AJ Burnett and he just might progress like Jesse Litsch.
Second. I think it will be interesting to watch if Manny signs back with the Dodgers, cause he won't be getting what he wants so they will be getting the unhappy Manny and we know what that can do.
And a statement. I think the Jays are going to surprise this year and be right in the mix. Your thoughts.
Richard Armstrong, Little Rock
A: I second those emotions. In fact, in support of that I am going to try and finish this mailbag without once using the s-word.
With regards to Cecil, the Jays had a master plan at the beginning of last season. They were going to slowly convert their prized left-hander to the rotation by sitretching him out by the end of the year, then in ’09, still in the minors, they would finish the process and have him ready to join the Jays by the all-star break. Cecil had good numbers in the minors last year, but if you’ll notice, he barely averaged five innings per start. They need him to be at least a seven-inning guy when he comes up. He’ll be a good one, eventually, but I think they will stick with their original plan and look to ease him into the majors by May or June. As for Manny’s attitude, I don’t think there will be a problem even if he signs for one year with the Dodgers. The problem would begins if the Dodgers drop out of the NL West race by August. If Manny loses interest and it’s his only year of the contract, that spells trouble.
Q: Hi Richard.
I hope you're enjoying the weather down in Florida. It was pretty chilly when I visited last year, but seeing some baseball really made up for it. Anyway, I have a quick question. Is Jesse Litsch the new Josh Towers? Litsch has already lasted more than a year, so he's not the new Gustavo Chacin. What are reasonable expectations for Litsch's season? Can we expect the crafty right-hander to keep improving?
Francesco Paonessa, Richmond Hill
A: I like Litsch, but it’s hard to tell whether he will have more lasting power than the unfortunate flash that was Josh Towers. Litsch, like Towers, relies on impeccable control, but a positive difference is that Litsch spent the second half of last season adding nice movement to a two-seamer that he is not afraid to throw to either side of the plate against both right and left-handers. Also, already this spring, it’s clear that Litsch has joined the Cult of Doc and takes part in the group runs and watches everything Roy Halladay does. That’s good.
The only caveat with Litsch in comparing him to the Towers saga is that he is just 23 years old and has had quick success and has risen, by default, to No. 2 in the rotation. Looking at his background, there is usually a reason that a player is drafted in the 24th round. That means that 30 teams passed him by 23 times before the Jays got him. There have been many times over the years where that reality steps up after a player has had early major-league success.
But scouts seem to have a bias against bad bodies and in high school, Litsch had one. He’s still no Michael Phelps but he’s working on it. I say 13-16 wins this year.
Q: Hey Richard,
I've been having a hard time finding any kind of scouting report on Matt Bush. I know he was considered a five-tool shortstop but changed positions in a reverse-Ankiel and he apparently has talent in laying a beating on adolescents. What can he do as a pitcher and what is his deal anyways? I see Rich Hill was acquired for a player to be named later. Isn't this the kind of move J.P. needs to be making instead picking up Baltimore flotsam like Brian Burres?
Alex Martin, Guelph, Ont.
A: Bush was considered a five-tool shortstop when he was drafted first overall in the ’04 draft, but just a “tool” when he was released this January after allegedly assaulting a varsity lacrosse player at a competing high school back home. That was the last straw for the Padres.
Actually, after three pro seasons as an infielder, the only thing considered major-league about Bush was his arm. In high school he was a pitcher/shortstop with a 95 m.p.h. heater. In the pros, they found his fielding range, lateral movement and foot speed were all average. The constant nagging injuries through the minors indicated a lack of dedication to conditioning. He likely needed a fresh start in a new environment However, Triple-A Las Vegas might not be the right destination for a guy with his background and reputation as a party animal.
Q: Do we fans really know anything? Am I missing something? I have been following the Jays since watching that first snowy game on television. I have been to the CNE stadium, the Sky Dome and Rogers Centre. I have enjoyed the highs and lows and real fans should. I do not bail on my teams. But what I don't get are the rants I read saying that we need a shortstop. Sure, he doesn't hit well, but John MacDonald is probably the best fielding shortstop in the game today and last year, Marco Scutaro was surprisingly good. From my viewpoint, it isn't a case of what we need to get but a need for the players who are getting the big bucks to start hitting like they can hit. For the past two years, they have underachieved as a team, and if the everyday line-up, sans shortstop, starts hitting like they can and should, we will have a good year.
Looking forward to it.
Rev. Tim Hayward, Trenton, Ont.
A: For a while there I thought your letter was a script for a new Molson Canadian TV ad. I agree with you about being a baseball fan, rather than just a Blue Jays fan. We are all fixated on the wild-card and the division when in fact all we should ever want out of our attendance at the Rogers Centre is three hours of solid sporting entertainment. That’s getting your money’s worth.
As for the Jays’ shortstop situation, if the remainder of the Jays’ batting order can produce as expected and if Aaron Hill is healthy enough to play 135 games, then they can afford to carry the best fielding shortstop in the AL as the No. 9 hitter. But McDonald’s playing time diminished last year as the rest of the lineup slumped and they needed more offence from every position.
Roy Halladay loves having Johnny Mac in the lineup when he pitches. I would rather have him as the everyday shortstop than Marco Scutaro, but the plan obviously is that these are the guys. For the price with Scutaro at $1.1 million and J-Mac at $1.9 million, that’s a pretty good deal. It looks at the start of the year that Scutaro will get more playing time, but if Rolen, Rios, Wells, Overbay and the young lefty sluggers are producing, then McDonald may start playing more.
Q: Hi Richard,
Enjoy your columns and also your rare appearances on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet. While I am like most and think there are just too many "ifs" for the Jays to contend for a playoff spot, I am interested in your opinion on Adam Lind and Travis Snider. I feel for the Jays hitting to significantly improve on last season one of these two youngsters needs a significant break out season. What do you see from the pair and who is more likely to break out like I am hoping for in 2009?
Mike Davies, Cambridge, Ont.
A: I can see Lind having the breakout season, with Snider either struggling at the start of the season or being sent back to Triple-A for a little more seasoning. Making contact more often is something he needs to work on. He walked 66 times struck out 177 times in 560 at-bats at four levels including the majors in ‘08. He is just 21-years-old. As for Lind, his nurturing under Cito Gaston improved his mental outlook tremendously and allowed his physical talent to come out. He’s the one of the two to watch at the start.
Q: Hey Richard, 60 days! Woo!
In your recent blog you mentioned the Reed Johnson/Shannon Stewart fiasco in relation to the Millar/Bautista roster spots. What's your read on that situation? Who's got the inside track between the two? Did Snider play winter ball? Thanks a lot, sorry for the barrage of questions,
Diego Montadore, Calgary
A: It’s a similar scenario except for the fact that Bautista, the younger guy in this pairing, doesn’t have the same history with Jays fans as did Reed Johnson. Bautista can be released at the end of the spring and paid one-sixth of his $2.4 million contract, or $400,000 for a buyout. Then Millar would be the corner utility man and right-handed DH. If Millar is let go, he is on a minor-league contract anyway, so it wouldn’t cost the Jays anything. However, the fact that Millar came to Jays’ camp indicates that he believes he is the man. If that unfolded, it would be similar to the Johnson/Stewart debacle. I think the right man to keep is Bautista. If Travis Snider is sent to the minors, then there might be room for both guys with Bautista being a fourth outfielder.
A completely non-baseball related message for you. Have you ever ventured down to St. Pete Beach area and visited Woody's Waterfront Restaurant? Place has the best grouper nuggets on the coast. The place looks like a complete hole from the street that you wouldn't get caught dead in but it is literally one of the best little social places to visit. Mostly a local hangout but longtime and frequent visitors to the area find it and go often. We always grab the grouper/fish nugget basket but all their grub is quite good for the look of the venue and the price. Oh ya, drinks are pretty good too! Trust me. Try it sometime. Take a trek down US19 and find Pasadena Ave South. Go across Corey Causeway and head right to the water, turn left and it's right there.
Ian Eggleston, Newmarket
A: Thanks for the tip. In fact after last night’s A-Rod beat down in Tampa, I headed right from Steinbrenner Field to St. Pete’s Beach because after having read your question that was delivered earlier in the day by my Web mailman, I checked the menu online and had a hankering for grouper nuggets and the u-peel ‘em shrimp. It wasn’t that long a trip crossing the causeway on I-275 and getting off just before the Sunshine Skyway. A couple of Coronas and some nice ambience and I had completely washed the A-Rod thoughts out of my mind. It was like taking a mental shower. Good recommendation.
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