The ninth-inning win by the U.S. in last night’s elimination game against Puerto Rico is what the World Baseball Classic needed to re-invigorate the concept.
The Americans, to make the buzz perfect, will have to win their semi-final match-up at Dodger Stadium and then lose the championship game to create a buzz for 2013. Look out for Canada in four years.
As for the Jays, the starting pitching situation is working itself out, with Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey guaranteed spots and with Scott Richmond, Casey Janssen, Brad Mills, Matt Clement and Rickey Romero still in camp and, thus, in the mix. Nineteen days left until Opening Day. On to the mail bag.
Q: Hi Richard, Quick question for you on the importance of spring training. I hear commentators say all the time that a spring training record and statistics are completely insignificant. If a team goes 15-0 or 0-15, it does not account for much. Personally, I never understood this logic. Spring training is the most critical time for a team such as the ’09 Blue Jays.
This year, spring training is being used to determine the number 3-5 starters, finalize the batting order, and finalize any fights for positions. Usually, all of these items are determined through spring training statistics, and although I have no proof of this, surely a winning spring training will result in positive vibes entering the season.
Is there truly no impact on an 0-15 spring training season vs. one that is 15-0? I know I’m talking about individual stats here, but one example that bears to mind for me is that great spring training season that John Olerud once had, which he carried into the season and allowed him to bat .400 into August. Thanks!
A: I agree with those commentators that say that spring training records and statistics are completely insignificant. What is, instead, significant about spring training games is the ability of an organization — its manager, coaches, GM and pro scouts — to watch spring games and interpret what they see. I believe that any manager any year could manage his team to a winning record in spring training on purpose if that is the goal. That should not be the goal.
Sometimes, if a team had a bad season the year before, if a team has a lot of young players and needs to sell tickets to fans back home, a winning record is an unannounced team priority. It can be accomplished by giving your veteran regulars more starts, by giving them extra at-bats within games, by saving your closer for the end of the game, by pinch-hitting, especially right-left, in game-changing situations. But what’s the purpose?
You want to allow Roy Halladay to get ready at his preferred pace, not throwing changeups or cutters early in March, taking his lumps making sure he reaches his pitch-count that he wanted to that day. You want to bring B.J. Ryan into a game for his one inning in the sixth instead of the ninth. Many times, your Triple-A hitters that come in to play the final four innings are facing the same Triple-A pitchers they faced the year before. Should their .350 spring average mean they should make your team?
Spring training is important for the Jays this year in determining the 3-5 starters, but the games are just a small part of that. There’s the work ethic, the bullpen sessions, the training room reports on health and bounce-back ability and finally the game results.
In 1985, the year that the young Jays broke through as a playoff team, they were 19-10 in the spring. In 1989, with SkyDome sales on the immediate horizon, they were 21-10. But in 1992-93 when they won the World Series, Grapefruit League marks were 13-18 and 11-19.
Q: Hey Richard, just a quick question. Do you believe the Jays were motivated to send down Brett Cecil to the minors to keep down his service time and foreseeing a good start for him in the minors do you see him as a call up in June along the lines of what Baltimore will most likely do with Matt Weiters? The same goes for Brad Mills; do you see the Jays keeping him down until June for the same reasons? In my opinion it makes sense considering we have next to no chance at contending this year.
Marc Oliver, Paris
A: The service time for players sometimes comes into play as it did with Gustavo Chacin the year the Jays tried to activate him from the disabled list (where he was accumulating ML service time) and option him to Syracuse (where he would not get service time). A grievance was filed and they weren’t allowed to do that. Every day of service time gets a player closer to arbitration and free agency. But in the case of Cecil, it’s not a factor. However, money did come into play, because by sending Cecil to minor-league camp this early they don’t have to pay him major-league meal money and other perks, while still being able to monitor his progress at the Mattick Complex.
As for when he might be called up to the majors, consider the timing of Jesse Litsch. He was called up on May 15, 2007, after 12 successful minor-league starts. If it’s Scott Richmond and Matt Clement at the back end of the rotation, then the competition will be between Cecil and Mills for first guy to be called up. If it’s Richmond and Mills at 4-5, then Cecil should be ready for promotion if there’s an injury or if Richmond fails. If Casey Janssen is in the rotation, with Richmond or Mills, then there will be an opportunity for Cecil by June.
Q: Richard, You mentioned in your last mailbag that Alex Rios has the potential to be a 30-30 hitter (at least if he bats leadoff). Isn’t that a bit like saying AJ Burnett has the potential to be a 20-game winning ace? Sure, it could happen, but how realistic are the chances? Something always seems to get in the way of Rios’s development, so why should this season be any different? I’d just like to hear your rationale, because whenever I think "Alex Rios," I also think "Almost traded for Tim Lincecum," and it makes me weep.
Francesco Paonessa, Richmond Hill
A: Rios doesn’t need to bat leadoff to be a 30-30 player. Batting third affords the same opportunity for that success, but at the moment, the Jays don’t have a true leadoff man. There are some legitimate comparisons between Rios as 30-30 and Burnett as a 20-game winning ace, but pitchers are a different breed of athlete.
I think Rios, with his .290-plus average the last three years, combined with 15-plus in both homers and steals, has a better chance to put it all together under a more nurturing coaching staff.
As for the “almost” trade, don’t lose any sleep over it. It never was going to happen. Lincecum was the object of the Jays’ affections but the Giants were always ready to “bait-and-switch” hoping to reel the Jays in so deeply that when they substituted one of their secondary starters for Lincecum, that the Jays would do it anyway. To GM J.P. Ricciardi’s credit, he held onto Rios and the Jays went on to post the best team ERA in baseball.
Q: Russ Adams always hits well at the top of the order, I believe. Why don’t we just make him the DH and bat him leadoff? I mean, it would be a little untraditional to use a DH as a leadoff hitter, but the rest of our lineup consists of home run hitters who don’t have power (anymore); we don’t need another one as our DH.
Robert B., Oshawa
A: Russ Adams as leadoff and DH would be a waste of two positions. Marco Scutaro is not the answer at leadoff, but Adams has a .314 major-league and a .355 minor-league on-base percentage. The problem for Adams is that, at 28-years-old, if he is sent back to Triple-A Las Vegas, he will be seen just as a veteran fill-in guy making way for any of the Jays’ hotshot prospects on the scene. He has no primary position at this point.
What Russ needs is a change of scenery with another organization. A similar type player, Chris Woodward cobbled together a decent major-league career, leaving the Jays, his original drafting team, at the age of 28 having played just one season of 100-plus games — the same as Adams. Russ is having a good spring at the plate and scouts are at every game.
Q: Hey Richard. Got a quick little scenario for you. Can the Jays sign Pedro, providing the price is right? Look at the situation. Pedro wants to pitch, the Jays need pitching, and a veteran like Pedro in this rotation would be a great help to the young guys. I’m not sure what he’s asking, but from what I saw in the WBC game it looks like he can still be a serviceable starter. I’m not sure of his asking price, but aside from the possible money issue Pedro to Toronto makes sense for both sides, at least from my point of view. So could it happen?
A: I was an early promoter of the Jays signing Pedro Martinez (as long as he was healthy) from among the glut of veteran free-agent pitchers. He has pitched in Canada. He has the incentive of getting his career back on course and making 30-plus starts. He would allow the Jays’ youngsters to develop at the proper pace. The going price of $5 million for one year is within reason. The most likely landing spot for Pedro is now the Dodgers — or else back with the Mets. The Jays’ window of opportunity has slammed shut.
Q: Hello Richard, I was wondering what exactly is going on with Johnny Mac? We all know he is a top-level fielder, so why not let him have the starting job? Is his hitting really holding him back that much, is it his age, or is Scutaro just that much better (or is it something I’m missing)?
On another note, with less than a month to opening day, has anyone competing for a spot in the rotation really taken hold of the opportunity? Also, do you think B.J. will be back to his shut down ways anytime soon?
Adam Allison, Banff, AB
A: The only way that John McDonald becomes the Jays’ starting shortstop again is if Lyle Overbay, Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells bounce back to the offensive levels they have shown in the past and if Rod Barajas provides a consistent offensive presence near the bottom of the order.
An AL team needs at least eight productive bats in the order, because of the DH. Last season, it became clear that McDonald’s notoriously weak bat was at least one hole too many in the batting order. If everyone else rebounds in the Jays’ order, that would allow Johnny Mac’s particular talent of saving runs with his glove, instead of producing runs with his bat, to become more valuable.
Marco Scutaro was never signed to be the starting shortstop. But he is the shortstop and leadoff hitter by default.
As for the rotation, Brad Mills, who is in fact four days older than Jesse Litsch, looks like he has grabbed his opportunity and run with it. B.J. Ryan had a nice efficient inning vs. the Red Sox the other day and should be okay for opening day. The question is how many opportunities will he get to save games in April and May. But he should be alright.
Q: Hello, Mr. Griffin. I keep hearing that the Jays are looking for a trade to get rid of Lyle Overbay and replace him with Adam Lind at first. Should we be concerned with Lind’s defence at first base? He is not known for his glove in left field, and learning a new position may be too tough at the major league level. I also wonder what the Jays hope/expect to get in return for Overbay? Perhaps a shortstop who can bat lead-off, to compensate for the mysterious loss of Russ Adams, I hope.
P.F.H.Lai, North York Ont.
A: Lind was a second-team all-American first baseman in 2003 at South Alabama and was switched to the outfield in ’04. He has never been Baryshnikov in the outfield in any case and a switch, if such a thing became necessary, should be able to work.
If they were going to trade Overbay, it should be for a legitimate DH, or a mid-rotation, mid-20s starting pitcher.
The Jays’ two young guns, Travis Snider and Lind, should be playing a position at their age, rather than settling in already as a DH. That’s a bad career move, eliminating National League teams from their futures. If the right deal for Overbay could be made, I would do it. Before that happens, Overbay needs to prove he is healthy and back to being a doubles-hitting machine. But if he proves that, the Jays may keep him.
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