“You have mail.” Those are the three simple words I've been waiting for all winter. It’s good to be back with my weekly mailbag now let’s “play ball!” Oh wait, I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. That’s not until the Jays start up for real in April after they spend 52 days finding out who’s going to join Roy Halladay and Jesse Litsch in the rotation. In the meantime, we’ll just make do, sitting back and enjoying spring training and the World Baseball Classic. Go Canada. Go Ernie Whitt. Go Stubby Clapp. Go Matt Stairs. It’s nice to be back in baseball mode.
What do you look forward to the most about covering the Blue Jays during spring training?
Jared Weiss, Ocala FL
A: Good first question for the first mailbag of the new year. The “looking forward to Florida” part is not specifically about any one moment with the Blue Jays. Instead I look forward to spring training as the end of winter and the start of another baseball season. But more than that, personally I look forward to spring for the accumulation of lifelong memories that I know will stay with me. There is at least one thing from each and every year that I still remember - often more than one.
The rush of spring memories goes all the way back to my first spring training camps at Daytona Beach with the Expos, 1978-80, through the Expos years in West Palm Beach from 1981-94, to covering the Jays in Dunedin from 1995-2009.
Specific memories? I remember laughing after setting up the spring training press conference for Bill Lee in ’79 in which he claimed he sprinkled marijuana on his pancakes. I remember walking into a Palm Beach Gardens team headquarters hotel lobby in ’81 just after President Ronald Reagan had been wounded by a gunman and watching TV coverage at the bar with Ellis Valentine. I remember sitting in a hotel room in Dunedin working on a column in April of ’95 as the Oklahoma City bombing unfolded. I remember getting lost and driving around Lake Okeechobee twice in the darkness with an ever-patient broadcaster Dave Van Horne as Villanova pulled off an upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Finals. I remember leaving Big Daddy’s on the Beach in Daytona in ’78 with buddy Mike Griffin, now a big-shot with the Brampton Battalion, stumbling to the beach parking area, flipping my rental car keys over my shoulder to catch them behind me (it’s still my only trick) to impress the two college girls we had met inside, dropping and losing the keys in the sand then having the women bail on us faster than Kellogg’s left Michael Phelps, then taking a cab back to the hotel and finding out in the morning the tide had come in overnight and buried the rental car in sand up to the windows. It's funny now. Too many memories, too little time. But it’s all good and today we start again.
I know the Jays are being budget conscious this off-season. But if the management was willing to let J.P. sign (Rafael) Furcal before having to move salary, would it be out of the question that management might allow the same thing now with the free-agent market slowing and having many free agents still out there? Why wouldn't J.P. look at being creative to improve the Jays line-up? Do you think Scott Rolen will be productive this season? If Rolen shows that he is healthy during Spring Training do you think J.P. would trade him to free up some payroll? Why hasn't B.J. Ryan been traded yet? He is perfect trade bait and easily replaceable within the organization -- (Brandon) League, (Jeremy) Accardo, (Scott) Downs, (Casey) Janssen -- and would bring needed parts in return, starting pitching, shortstop or other viable pieces. Is the GM (the) right (man for the job)? If he is these are things he should be doing for the organization to improve the overall team. With the current Jays roster this team will not be in the playoffs. Yours truly,
Scott Cochrane, Toronto
A: That Furcal thing is something I didn’t understand as it was unfolding at the end of the winter meetings. First the Jays insisted that if Burnett wanted to come back for two years then they would spend the Burnett money. Then they said if he didn’t come back, they would not necessarily spend his money. Then they made an offer on Furcal when it became clear A.J. was leaving. Then when Furcal thanked the Jays for their interest and went elsewhere they said they weren’t going to spend the money again. Burnett, to Furcal, to nothing. It made no sense. Where is the plan? Now, as you point out, there are all sorts of bargains to be had in free agency for one or two years as a stopgap to make this team better and the Jays aren’t even trying.
As for Rolen having a good spring and being traded, most contenders have their third base situation where they want it to be. If Rolen is traded – which I don’t think he will be – it would be more towards the July trade deadline. As for B.J., it may turn out to be a mistake hanging on to a primo closer in a year that he may not have much to close. Of all the assets the Jays have and could replace in a season of struggling to compete for .500, Ryan along with Lyle Overbay at first base are the ones that could most easily be traded and replaced. The GM will likely last the season or at least half of it, but I don’t think 2010 is a lock for Ricciardi.
Q: I need your help Richard, please. After decades of cheering for the Jays I'm finding myself beaten down and ready to give in to the Evil Empire. Five players alone on the Yankees are going to be paid in 2009 over $100 million combined. I feel the tractor beam pulling me in. Why/how should I continue my loyalty to all that is Blue Jay? Just on sheer off-season excitement surrounding the Yankees makes it hard not to be a fan.
Mitch B., Toronto
A: It seems that the third dark-helmeted brother Darth Steinbrenner is now in charge of the Yankees as they attempt to take total control of the baseball universe from the forces of Theo Skywalker and his Jedi Sox. The Jays and the other 11 AL teams are mere extras in this Star Wars sequel. The Yankees went out and signed Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett and will open up a state-of-the-art revenue producer, the new Yankee Stadium. The Jays meanwhile counter with free agents Clement, Barrett and Takahashi and return to a half-filled Rogers Centre. ‘Nough said. Enjoy the dark side and may the force be with you.
Q: Oh Richard!
It's so hard being a baseball fan these days what with the big spenders taking all the fun away! It's very hard being a baseball, let alone Jays fan these days! Any advice?
Graham Jack, Ottawa
Q: Hi Richard,
Hope you had a good break and if you're on your way to Florida, well, I'm jealous. Quick question: Why fire Bart Given and not JP Ricciardi? Is Paul Beeston just keeping JP on until the Jays start to tumble or do you foresee him fulfilling this season, if not the rest of his contract? Thanks!
Daniel D., Thornhill
A: The Jays would have us believe that the money being paid to the departed assistant GM is now being spent on a beefed-up scouting system, but certainly they could have done the latter without getting rid of Given’s salary. It was an odd time to let go of an assistant with just a couple of weeks to go before spring training. There is likely a deeper story, but I’ve always been a conspiracy guy, anyway.
It’s amazing the number of scouts, assistant GMs, senior advisors, managers and coaches that have passed through the Jays organization in Ricciardi’s eight years in Toronto but J.P. remains. Like I’ve said before, I believe that Ricciardi is still there in ’09 because the folks at Rogers, with president Paul Godfrey on his way out at the end of the season, did not have the stomach nor the expertise to conduct a GM search, especially in light of the fact that a new president was being hired.
J.P. is there now. Since the payroll was frozen after the departure of Burnett, he has sounded fatalistic about his own future. He has always maintained that he would be fine if he wasn’t GM of the Jays. We may find that out before the end of ’09.
Q: Matt Clement has been identified as a reclamation project. How realistic are such projects in general and for Matt Clement in particular?
Frederick Duquette, Edmonton
A: I like Clement as a person and as a pitcher – when healthy. You never know, but Clement is now far enough removed from his surgery to have you believe that he could bounce back in ’09 and be effective. It was a smart and logical free agent signing for the Jays with no real downside. Clement and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg have worked together with the Marlins and are close friends. In fact the Jays were hot after Clement the first time he was a free agent and went to the Red Sox. It’s one of the reasons Arnsberg was promoted to the major-league staff. I think if healthy, Clement could make over 25 starts for the Jays. If not, then the young guys will get their chance a little early.
Q: Hey Richard, as most teams not named the New York Yankees are in a holding pattern when it comes to signing free agents, this mostly has been attributed to the economic issues in North America. For the Jays, not only do they have the shaky economy to worry about, but also a sinking dollar. My belief is that the Jays are also in a holding pattern concerning the long term commitment of Rogers owning the team now that Ted Rogers has passed away. My questions are this. Do you see the Jays being sold in the next couple years? Anybody you could think of that would buy the team? And finally, does JP Ricciardi really need a contract to sign because it seems like he's the GM until he decides he doesn't want to.
Marc Oliver, Guelph, Ont.
A: Back when Ted Rogers bought the Jays, there wasn’t exactly a rowdy lineup of suitors at the door of Interbrew headquarters in Belgium fighting to take over the team. The difference now is that the stadium would be part of the package, making it a more attractive purchase. Recall that Paul Beeston was part of a consortium that lost out to Ted Rogers. The revival of that group would be the only way the Jays would be sold.
Despite what the accountants say about the Jays’ operating losses, Rogers never in his life made or held on to for long a bad investment. The cross-promotional ties and the programming that the Jays provide for Rogers is priceless. The Rogers brand name was nowhere near as iconic before the Jays were purchased as it is now.
Ricciardi is the GM until further notice. Who from outside the organization would even want the job under the current constraints? J.P. is in no immediate danger of being replaced because of the Jays “also-ran” perception from the outside.
Q: Hello Richard,
Thanks for answering my last question to the mailbag. My current question is really a request for you to discuss Jason Frasor. When the 2008 season ended, I had naturally assumed Frasor could discard his Blue Jays uniform. While he didn't strike John Wasdin-esque fear when he came out of the bullpen, he was clearly pretty low on the totem pole. The contracts given to Accardo and to League imply that they're expected back in our bullpen next year. Even assuming Janssen is back in the rotation for 2009 (which may not be a given) are we expecting Frasor to play a significant role next year? Why did we bother re-signing him? Does this mean Shawn Camp is done as a Blue Jay?
David Wencer, Toronto
A: Nice Wasdin reference. As for Frasor, the little right-hander has good stuff and good numbers but does not have the confidence of anyone in the Jays organization. He would be better off with a fresh start as a setup man for a National League club. The Jays are so deep with Frasor-like talent in the middle of their bullpen that, given his recent history of not looking good in game-altering situations, he may not get a fair shake at spring training. Hopefully scouts from other teams are paying attention in March and he can move on with his career.
As for the salaries of Frasor, Accardo, League and Camp, these guys were all arbitration eligible in terms of close to three years of service up to five-plus years and because of that, their salary ranges are pretty much spit out of a computer after inputting their data. As such they reflect service as much as ability. To not offer Frasor a contract this winter would mean losing him for nothing. At least now they can showcase him in the spring and maybe get a minor-leaguer back in return. If not, then none of those one-year contracts are guaranteed and the Jays can walk away for one-sixth (17-per cent) of the money if they release any of those guys before Opening Day.
Q: Here is a piece written by Jon Heyman from CNNSI.com:
The Blue Jays have fielded a few trade inquiries about star outfielder Vernon Wells, league sources said. It appears Toronto has financial constraints, and it might consider trading Wells, who has six years remaining on his seven-year, $126-million contract. It isn't necessarily to the point where the Jays are shopping Wells. But they may have financial concerns. The Jays' star closer, B.J. Ryan, also is thought be available at the right price - though there's no evidence the Jays would entertain trading franchise pitcher Roy Halladay. Wells is a terrific all-around player, but he's missed some time the past two seasons. He hit .300 with 20 home runs and 78 RBIs last year after a dreadful 2007 campaign in which he .245 with 16 homers and 80 RBIs. He is a much better player than that, although his contract may make trading him difficult in these economic times.
Shouldn't you be writing about this, if this is a credible story?
Jeff Stal, Toronto
A: Read what Heyman writes very carefully and it’s clear there is no substance. The Jays would trade Wells but who would take on that deal in this economic climate. Ryan is available at the right price, but every contender that needed a closer found one. The Jays won’t consider trading Halladay until he asks out and he hasn’t asked. There is no story in what Heyman writes that hasn’t been dealt with by Toronto media.
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