The World Baseball Classic gets underway this week at the Rogers Centre. This is an event that deserves our support. The fact is there are thousands of elite young baseball players across Canada that will be watching Team Canada with the realization that, hey, baseball as a career is a possibility for athletes from this country if you put the effort into it. It would be nice on Saturday with Canada vs. USA to have more than 40,000 fans in the building rooting for another upset like Ernie Whitt engineered back in ’06. The stunned press box in Phoenix was a joy to behold as Bob Elliott of the Sun and I turned in the ninth inning and mentally high-fived one another. (Don’t try that at home. We are professionals.) Canada needs to win two of the first three games to advance to the championship and move on to Miami. On to the mail bag.
Glad to see you back. There have been some real bargain signings recently and none by the Blue Jays. How could the Jays not sign Orlando Hudson to the contract that the Dodgers signed him to? It looks like JP is not even trying to do anything to improve this club. There are a lot of free agents left on the market, is JP going to ever get his head out of Worcester and make some moves for our team in Toronto?
Brian M., Barrie
A-It was an amazing winter for bargains, but the Jays refused to participate. They saved $15 million on A.J. Burnett and for a total of $10 million of that savings, they could have inked a decent mid-rotation starter and a serviceable bat at DH or shortstop for just one, painless, bargain-basement year, bridging the gap until their own prospects were ready in ’10…but no!
The two Orlandos, Hudson and Cabrera are examples of what was out there for under $5 million for a single year’s commitment, but one gets the distinct feeling that when ownership led by Phil Lind, Tony Viner and Paul Beeston, told GM J.P. Ricciardi that there was no more money to spend, he lost his will to battle. When Ricciardi had Paul Godfrey at his side, he could walk into Godfrey’s office and explain to his mentor why he needed to spend the extra money. If he could convince Godfrey, then the ex-prez would take the Ricciardi argument to Rogers ownership. Sometimes they would get it. Sometimes they wouldn’t. J.P. has no allies like Godfrey anymore. He has lowered the danger of his own high wire act to just above street level so if he falls, he won’t be hurt. The Great Wallenda he is not.
We all know the failure of Russ Adams as a first round pick, but where are the other J.P. high draftees such as Zachary Jackson, David Cooper, Danny Hill, Brian Pettway, Trystan Magnuson, Kenneth Wilson and giant Brandon Magee? Will we see any of these in the major league, outside of David Cooper?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-Actually, once Ricciardi dropped his policy of selecting only college players with the top few picks and took some chances on talent rather than the proper statistical read-outs, he has been able to pick up some pretty good prospects. But in the meantime, from Russ Adams until his first high school No. 1, Travis Snider, it set the organization back developmentally.
Zach Jackson, who is still a slightly better prospect than his ’04 draft-mate David Purcey, is at Indians’ camp. Jackson had been included in the Lyle Overbay trade with Dave Bush and Gabe Gross.
Cooper, the Jays’ top pick in ’08, has a sweet swing that could produce numbers like Lyle Overbay, but defensively is not as sound. He needs to gain some upper-body strength and work on his D to be a can’t miss prospect.
Danny Hill is a college right-hander drafted by the Jays in ’04 from U. of Missouri who topped out after three years at Double-A with a 7-11 career record – which coincidentally may now be where he is working.
Brian Pettway was drafted in the third round of ’05 as an outfielder out of U. of Mississippi. After a .242 average in three seasons, he tried to convert to pitcher in ’08, appearing at three levels, including AA-New Hampshire. The 23-year old Magnuson is a 6-7 Vancouver native picked 56th overall in June ’07. The nephew of former Blackhawks defenceman, the late Keith Magnuson,
Trystan was 0-9 at A-Lansing in 24 starts, but is still a prospect. He has one pitch, working on two which makes him more of a candidate for middle relief.
Kenny Wilson is a high school outfielder drafted second in ’08 with tools like former major-leaguer Otis Nixon. Like Nixon, he is learning to switch hit and harness his speed to steal bases. If they don’t give up on him, Wilson has a chance in four years.
Magee, 25, was 7-13 at AA-New Hampshire in ’08 and with 66 walks and 69 Ks in 163 innings, has slid off the depth charts for Jays’ prospects.
Q-I have heard that in Baseball Prospectus John Perrotto wrote:
"The Nationals, according to multiple industry sources, are strongly considering firing general manager Jim Bowden and replacing him with Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava." The article that reported this quote also suggested that Tony LaCava would be an excellent GM to have. Why wouldn't the Jays hold on to him so they don't have to look very far if things don't work out so well this year? Thanks for answering my question.
Greg Wilson, Longlac
A-Bowden, of course, resigned last week because of the scandal surrounding the skimming of bonuses to Latin prospects, which he denies happened. Nats’ team president, Stan Kasten, often mentioned as a future president of the Jays, named himself interim GM.
LaCava is a 47-year-old who has done everything in baseball front offices from scouting to running a farm system, to his current role in major-league personnel under Ricciardi. LaCava would be a good choice for someone’s GM because he has contacts all over the game that respect him and he listens to advice from his peers. He also has a chance to be a GM because he once worked in the Expos’ front office.
But what if Kasten hired LaCava then came over to the Jays and then began looking for a replacement for Ricciardi. Hey, if he knew he was coming here and thought LaCava was the man in Washington, why would he not leave him and then name him Jays’ GM when he arrived. There is a tangled web here somewhere.
I shake my head with disbelief when the Jays say they are "worried" about Mike Maroth's wonky knee. I mean, come on. Does the well-coiffed G.M. really think that the savvy baseball fans in this market don't do any research on his annual attempt to catch lightning in a bottle? If they are worried that losing Maroth - a 21-game loser in 2003, 6.89 ERA last season, and 17 games under .500 on his career - will keep them from contending this season, then things are way worse off than previously portrayed. Sorry if I don't run you over trying to get to the box office.
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge, Ont.
A-If ol’ Ben Franklin has been as sketchy at catching lightning in a bottle as has been J.P., we’d all still be dancing in the dark.
As for Maroth’s knee injury, the alleged meniscus tear is a terrible blow personally for a likeable man trying to make a career comeback from injury, but as far as affecting the Jays’ winning efforts in ‘09, the loss of Maroth has as much impact on Jays’ victory as would Lichtenstein withdrawing its support of the U.S. in Iraq.
Now Matt Clement, that’s another story. He’s the Luxembourg of non-roster free agents. Charge!!
Two pitching questions: Brandon League was lights out at times last year but is in a battle for the last 1-2 spots in the bullpen. Why isn’t he guaranteed a job rather that four lefties being sure things? Second question, where does Casey Janssen fit in this year? Starter or bullpen? Any chance he doesn’t break with the club?
Jonathan Spain, Toronto
A-I can’t understand the questions surrounding League. He did everything that could have been expected in coming back from last year’s off-season surfing (??) injury. He worked his velocity back up the ladder, reported to AAA-Syracuse then earned his way back to the majors. He has shown the ability to set up and to even fill in as closer now and then. I honestly believe that there is no question inside the clubhouse that League will be there on Opening Day.
I also believe that the Jays have one left-hander too many in the pen and that Tallet is being showcased for a trade at the end of the spring. They would rather keep Carlson, who makes less money and is more of a lefty specialist to go with Scott Downs and B.J. Ryan. If they are planning on saving Downs for the eighth inning, then earlier in the game when they are looking for a clutch out vs. a power hitting left-hander, they would rather have Carlson than Tallet.
Which brings us naturally to the case of Janssen. The Jays need at least one inning-eating relief pitcher that can carry a game from the third to the sixth every now and then. If Tallet is not there, then that guy should be Janssen. We already know that pitching coach Brad Arnsberg prefers Janssen out of the pen, even when he was healthy last spring. He has always succeeded as a major-league reliever and seldom succeeded as a ML starter. Why test the Peter Principle when you already have a need that he can succeed at. As for Janssen coming back from surgery, it’s easier to give a middle reliever an extra couple of days of down time than a member of your starting rotation.
Great to have you back, I love the stories. You are not just an excellent sports journalist, but an excellent writer, in general. My question is more an appeal for hope. Can you search your memory bank for another time either the Jays or the Expos had a roster similar to the 2009 Jays who exceeded all expectations (and maybe made the post-season)? I'm talking about a couple solid, "count on me" type players, a couple who need to step up, some decent bench depth, some untapped rookie potential and a few bouncing back from injury. I need something to bank my hopes on. If you can say "the X-year Blue Jays did more with less" you'll give me something to point my detractors to, as I steadfastly support My team in 2009.
Andrew Illsley, Halifax, NS
A-Thank you. I am blushing. A lot of people (my wife included) think I must write my own questions, or that I only run ones that are complimentary, but the fact is that my handler, Spencer Walsh at thestar.com sends me the questions and I never touch them. I have asked for him to include ones that disagree or that are nasty, but until then, I glow in the feedback).
As for the history of the Jays or Expos previewing a successful season for this year’s local nine, consider that for the Jays to contend in ’09, they will need to add 10 victories to the total of 86. The Jays from ’84 to ’85 went from 89 to 99 wins. The key was adding Jimmy Key to the starting mix and an incredible 11-0 mark from reliever Dennis Lamp. From 1986 to 1987, the Jays went from 86 to 96 wins. The big difference was Jeff Musselman’s 12 wins and George Bell’s MVP season with 47 homers and 134 RBIs. Jesse Barfield and Lloyd Moseby gave them one of the most productive outfield trios in modern history. The Expos went from 76 wins in ’78 to 95 in 1979. They key was one 15-day disablement all season.
From ’91 to ’92 the Expos went from 71 to 87 wins, but that was with the emergence of Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Delino DeShields and Marquis Grissom and the first year of closer John Wetteland. None of those Jays or Expos teams that took the next step entered that season losing a starter that had 18 wins like A.J. Burnett. Consider also the bad news that the 29 available pitchers in Jays major-league camp (excluding Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan) combined for 51 ML victories in ’08. That means to reach 96, the Jays need to find 45 extra wins from these guys that weren’t there in ’08. Not gonna happen.
Q-Why haven't the Jays picked-up Pedro? He's a perfect fit. Getting Millar was brilliant. Signing Bautista wasn't.
Matt S., Toronto
A-Pedro Martinez is listed on the Dominican Republic World Baseball roster. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the tournament, Pedro and others that are currently without a job, sign new contracts.
As for Millar and Bautista, I’ve said it before but it resembles the Reed Johnson-Shannon Stewart situation from last year. The veteran Millar is less talented than Bautista but is making less money. The Jays can cut Bautista loose at the end of March for one-sixth of his $2.4 million deal for ’09. It is a strong possibility if they can’t deal him. Millar does all of the same things with the glove, but not with the bat. It could come back to bite them like Johnson did with the Cubs.
Q-Great blog Richard...must read each morning. As a former East Coast "guest" journalist on a number of occasions at Olympic Stadium, watching you at work in the press box always made me think what a great job you had. Question: What makes a good baseball PR rep? Is it as enjoyable as many of would believe, and who are some of the better reps in the league?
David Harrigan, Halifax
A-What makes the best PR directors is if they can juggle their responsibilities quietly wherein a) players can do their media functions without it affecting their on-field performances, b) the front office believes you’re doing too much for the media, c) the media believes you’re keeping too much information from them and d) the players respond to requests for pre and post-game appearances regardless of whether it’s for a two-homer or three-error performance. It keeps the clubhouse free of media riff-raff and minimizes any adversarial relationships over the grind of 162 games. It’s a great job as long as you have a management with an open mind. The Expos had just that under Charles Bronfman, who realized that playing in Canada required an extra PR effort. Some of the best I’ve known are John Blake, Mike Swanson, Bob DiBiasio, Rick Vaughn, Larry Shenk, Ned Colletti, Rob Matwick, Jim Trdinich, Robin Carr and, of course, the Blus Jays’ Howie Starkman.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space. **Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Richard. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**