What an amazing finish to the World Baseball Classic, with Japan edging Korea 5-3 in 10 innings. The Dodger Stadium location for the finale was perfect, with a large Asian community in southern California. And how about the cut-ins of the packed stadium in Seoul showing a live, closed circuit feed of the game. That visual demonstrates the interest the WBC has generated in other countries than the United States. The improved showings of the Netherlands, advancing to Round 2, and of Italy, defeating Canada, show that the concept of “growing” the game overseas is working.
Canada is now ranked 8th in the world by the IBAF governing body. Australia’s pounding of Mexico in a preliminary game demonstrated their ability to compete. The quality of the Asian game has certainly grown over the past decade. But what is forgotten when discussing whether the Japanese are the true World Champions is that this is not the Phillies of Japan. This is an all-star team with players from many different teams coming together. The WBC has its own niche, as does the World Series. Although the world has expanded, the name will never change. Just stay away from calling the World Champions. I’ve been guilty of it. They are the World Series champions. Starting on Monday in this space, look for a weekly major-league power ranking of all 30 teams. Now, on to the mailbag.
Q: Hey Richard,
What's the deal with Dustin McGowan's recovery? No one mentioned the possibility of him being out a full year after the surgery last July. Early reports had him returning by spring training and being ready by opening day. Now, we hear it may be July/August, if at all this year. Was this procedure more serious than first anticipated? I think I speak for most Jays fans that when we heard he had the procedure done last July, that he would be ready to go come April. Is this another classic J.P. downplaying of injury?
Bentley Potter, Kingston
A: The McGowan surgery on July 31, 2008 was for what was termed a “debridement” of the right shoulder to repair a frayed labrum. Shoulders are not elbows when it comes to estimating recovery time. It’s dicey. I believe the original very optimistic estimate was that McGowan might be able to return some time in May of ’09. I never heard spring training or opening day, after the actual surgery had been performed. Perhaps that was before he was examined by the surgeon.
Very rare are the shoulder rehabs that do not suffer setbacks, whether or not directly related to the original surgery. Just look at Casey Janssen and the stiffness he encountered in the back of his right shoulder following a year off from a fully torn labrum.
It’s tough to accuse the Jays of deception in estimating McGowan’s recovery time, but what they are guilty of every winter as part of their sales pitch to season ticket holders, is they tend to promote the very best-case scenario. With McGowan and Shaun Marcum both having had surgery and with A.J. Burnett on the way out of town, this winter they tried to soften the likely loss of A.J. by suggesting that McGowan would be able to re-join the rotation in May. It wasn’t long into spring training before they realized that this would not happen. Fans could stand a little more skepticism.
To follow up on last week's question about trading Lyle Overbay. Do you think it is an indicator that Overbay Jersey type T-shirts, which are available on the Jays Shop Website, are priced at the same liquidation level as Frank Thomas and Reed Johnson T-shirts? Coincidence, or not so subtle message from the Jays?
Dave C., Toronto
A: I love “grassy knoll” conspiracy theories as much as anyone I know, but I think there’s a reasonable explanation for this fire sale on Overbay jerseys. An example of your theory in action occurred with the Jays in Cleveland when Carlos Baerga was traded during the season and the next day his replica jerseys in the Jacobs Field gift shop were already marked down to half-price.
But this Overbay situation is more like the Chicago Bulls jerseys when Michael Jordan returned with No. 45 rather than 23 and when Kobe went from 8 to 24. Get rid of the old one with deep discounts. In this case, I’m not comparing Lyle to Michael or Kobe, but Overbay has changed back to No. 35 from 17. That was his original Jays number before he handed it over to DH Frank Thomas. Now after a couple of crappy seasons, he wants to go back to his old number when he had his best Jays season. It makes the 17 jerseys sale items.
Q: Hi, Richard. I follow the Jays very closely from Vancouver Isle and I am more optimistic than most about the coming season! Do you see Scott Rolen coming on this year with his new mechanics, or is he a bust at 12 million? Also I believe he is in his final year on contract, who, other than a trade is ready to take his spot?
Dave Kilmer, Cowichan Valley
A: I agree with you about Rolen’s coming season. You can clearly see the adjustments he has made in his spring show of line-drive, extra-base power. He is now driving the ball hard from right centre over to left-centre field.
Is he a bust at $11 million per year for the next two seasons? In this economic climate, anyone is a bust at that price. But it was either him or Troy Glaus and, personally, I would rather have Rolen. He’s a better defender and a bigger fan of Toronto as a city. It’s easier to live with overpaying Rolen.
As far as the organization’s plans at third base, I believe that the guy this season to play third if Rolen is injured would be Jose Bautista. The long-term solutions? The Jays seem to be grooming Kiwi infielder Scott Campbell to the position. The 24-year-old Gonzaga University product, the first New Zealander ever drafted, doesn’t seem to have the power expected from the corner infielders, but he will likely man the position at Triple A. Down the line, they are hoping switch-hitting 19-year-old Kevin Ahrens will be ready by 2011 or 2012. He was drafted 16th overall in June 2007.
Q: I noticed the other day that Lane was playing at SS. Given his very solid spring, is there any chance he could make the team at that position and provide a (potentially) substantial offensive upgrade from Marco Scutaro there?
Graham Harvey, Toronto
A: Jason Lane has only ever played first base and the outfield. He is a rare player that bats right and throws left. Hal Breeden, a former Braves and Expos first baseman was another one. This non-roster guy has been amazing in other areas of offensive mayhem this spring, but, of course, there have been plenty of spring pheoms through the years for every organization. Recall Mitch Webster. But there is no room on the major-league roster for him. Snider and Lind are the third and fourth outfielders. Bautista can also play out there. Lane is a mature 32-year-old, with four years and 49 days of service with the Astros and Padres. He’s good insurance should one of the starting outfielders be hurt.
Q: My question pertains to the bullpen. I know that B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Brandon League, Jesse Carlson, Brian Tallet and perhaps Jeremy Accardo are locks to make the team. Who do you think the last 1 or 2 will be to round out the pen to start the season?
John Kanstein, Groton, CT.
A: The Jays’ pen is going to have an awful lot of work to do, especially in April. Every outing for David Purcey, Brad Mills, Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond this spring has been an adventure, walking the highwire of mediocrity. With a 12-man pitching staff, there is room for seven relievers. Of that group that you mention above, maybe Accardo is the one on the bubble that might have a struggle making the opening day staff.
“If you get five innings out of your starter at this point and give up two runs, we’d be happy in a big-league game,” Ricciardi said on Tuesday. “A guy like League can give you two innings. We might end up using League more like Anaheim uses (Scot) Shields. Our pen will probably get a little bit more action. Tallet will probably be the long guy.”
Ricciardi then reeled off what he felt could be his inventory of relievers at Triple A: Brian Burres, Dirk Hayhurst, T.J. Beam. If Accardo is indeed a question mark that would leave two spots open. It looks like Brian Wolfe is on the outside looking in, with a shoulder issue that has held him back. Shawn Camp is still in camp and could be one of the final two guys in the pen. I get the feeling that Jason Frasor will be moved off the roster due to salary considerations. That leaves Camp and Accardo to make it.
Q: Hey Mr. Griffin,
Love the Blog/Q&A, I read it every week. I'm curious why the Jays, who have a very deep bullpen again, haven't looked into moving some of them for a starter. There are some contenders with shaky 'pens that I'm sure would love to add a Downs or Tallet type pitcher.
Jonathan Rosenberg, Toronto
A: That is a solid theory. But the window has closed in terms of obtaining a serviceable mid-rotation starter for any of these guys. If I were the GM, I would have entered the off-season dangling B.J. Ryan, Brian Tallet and Jason Frasor as bait. There is a point of diminishing returns with regard to B.J. Without a solid rotation, there will be fewer save opportunities. With fewer save opportunities, he gets less work. With less work, he is less effective. When he’s less effective, you get fewer wins. With fewer wins, who needs a stud closer?
As for Tallet, his role as a long reliever could be filled by a right-hander, with Jesse Carlson and Scott Downs ahead of him on the late-innings depth chart. And Frasor has legitimate major-league stuff, especially if he could pitch in the NL, but he needs a change of scenery from the Jays, who have never seemed to show confidence in him.
Mike Maroth used to be my neighbour in Detroit, and I see that he has been sent to Triple-A. Do you see him going to AAA Las Vegas and working on his pitches and helping the Jays later this year? He was always a pretty good finesse pitcher who needed pinpoint control. If he got back to his normal self, couldn't he help the Jays? Tom in metro Detroit.
Tom Rady, Beverly Hills, Mich.
A: Maroth was not sure whether he would take his assignment to the minors, but eventually decided that was his best course of action in getting back to the majors. Consider that if the Jays were the only ones that were willing to give him a chance this winter, when his agent went looking, the landscape obviously had not changed. Maroth was set back by his knee problem early on and, as you pointed out, needs to have pinpoint command of his pitches to finesse his way through starts.
The Jays last season used eight different starting pitchers. In ’07, they used 11 starting pitchers. Over the course of 162 games, if Maroth stays healthy and gets it together he will have his chance. As former Expos’ manager Gene Mauch said of his own pitcher Steve Rogers and the Padres’ lefty Randy Jones back in the mid-‘70s after they each lost 20, “You have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games, to have your manager keep running you out there every fifth day.” Maroth is in that club. He is coming off of labrum surgery to his left shoulder on May 15, 2008. He also had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in 2006. He needs to stay the course.
Q: Richard, always enjoy reading your insight into all things baseball and Blue Jays. I noticed that Ben Sheets is still hanging around the free agent world. Is there any reason no one has signed him yet and considering the woes of the Jays rotation, would he be worth the effort of signing?
Howard Averell, Barrie
A: Sheets spent the winter looking for work as a free agent, then had surgery on February 13 to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. His best-case scenario for a return to pitching is late July. Sheets has been rehabbing in Texas and the Rangers are interested. If the Jays could not afford to match the Astros’ million-and-a-half for one year for Pudge Rodriguez, they are not in the running for Sheets or, for that matter, too many other experienced major-league players.
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