|STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR|
|Richard Griffin explains the many things Scott Rolen brings to the table.|
Make no mistake, the Jays have been putting on a good show for the fans, but there are still areas of concern that will require constant monitoring in order to finish with a winning record. Start with Dave Purcey, B.J. Ryan, Alex Rios, the injury to Jesse Litsch, the fact that they have played all but three of their games in domes, with a controlled environment and that they have yet to play a game within the division. These are all reasons for concern, but don’t worry, be happy. the baseball’s been fun. On to the mailbag.
Is it just me or did someone (see Paul Beeston) roll up your newspaper, smack J.P. Ricciardi across the nose and tell him to behave this season? He no longer does the Wednesday post-game Q & A on the Fan590, and has been persona non-grata on TV thus far. It seems that he was told that he's not the show, so step out of the spotlight that his ego clearly craves. Is this the beginning of the end for the slickest G.M. to never lead a team to the playoffs?
DeShaun, Kozak, Uxbridge, Ont.
A: In 2002 when Ricciardi was hired, Buck Martinez and Carlos Delgado were the public faces of the Jays. He fired Martinez in May and chased Delgado out of town after 2004. At that point, Ricciardi became the one and only face of the Jays. They wheeled him out and put a mic in his hands for every major Jays event. Fans were gushing. It was like a six-month pep rally with an assistant GM (now a blogger) and an Ivy League stats guy off on the side waving the pom-poms.
It’s hard to pinpoint the day the music died, but my best guess is the day when B.J. Ryan’s aching sacroiliac turned into Tommy John surgery and lying became an explainable philosophy of dealing with the unwashed fans. Beeston may have had something to do with the lowered public presence, but I think a growing and welcomed humility may have had something to do with it.
Q: Hi Richard,
Imagine the following:
1) A-Rod's hip continues to hurt, Jeter/Damon/Matsui show their age, Wang continues to struggle while Burnett makes his annual non-contract year DL appearance, and the Yankee bullpen reveals its lack of depth outside of Nick Swisher.
2) Big Papi shows he's past his prime while joining Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek, the Penny/Smoltz experiment fizzles out, and Pedroia and Youkilis come back to earth after unsustainable breakout seasons.
3) Pat Burrell is a bust, the Rays’ young arms get figured out by AL hitters, and the kids down south prove last season was a fluke.
4) Baltimore plays to their potential: A team with one good Canadian, a solid CF prospect, and an overpaid second baseman.
5) The Scutaro/Hill combination makes us forget Fernandez and Alomar, Rios and Wells start earning their money, and the league's best bullpen, with mid-season arrivals from Dustin McGowan and trade deadline acquisition Erik Bedard, along with The Doc carries us to our first AL East championship since '93.
Is this possible? Do you realize that we haven't seen the playoffs since people started using the Internet?
Wayne L., Richmond Hill
A: The Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino. The Cubs have the Curse of the Billy Goat. For the Jays, it seems like Facebook isn’t the only Curse of the Internet.
Q: The one thing about 162 games is, what is supposed to happen, usually does. And that means that sports writers are usually right with their predictions. My question is, can you remember in recent history, any teams that completely surprised everyone. I'm not counting Tampa Bay because they were less of a surprise than the current Jays would be if they made the playoffs.
Bruce Robb, Toronto
A: I disagree that Tampa Bay was less of a surprise than the Jays would be this season if they overcame all odds and advanced to the World Series. Consider that the Rays had never ever finished even at .500 in any season before winning the AL East last year. Sure, in hindsight you can analyze and rationalize the Rays’ unlikely rise to the top. Their young starting pitchers came together at once and the long streak of high draft picks finally paid off. But the Jays won 86 games last season and even though they have had to replace three starting pitchers, their team ERA was the AL’s best last year.
As for recent surprise the scope of the Rays last year, recall the Rockies in 2007. They had not finished above .500 since 2000 and had to make a dramatic drive down the stretch to even reach the post-season before being swept by the Red Sox. Or how about the ’06 Tigers who had lost 119 games just three years earlier and had just 71 wins a year earlier. How about the ’97 Marlins? Two of the classics in World Series history, though, are the ’67 Red Sox and the Miracle ’69 Mets. The Jays would not be a bigger surprise than any of those unlikely Fall Classic rags-to-riches stories.
Q: Hi Richard,
I know this can be answered with a simple “they have committed to not adding salary” but Pedro Martinez is still out there and with Litsch's injury and the 'promising start' could he be had?
Jon Freir, Toronto
A: It seems to me that the window of opportunity for signing Pedro Martinez has slammed shut on the Jays. It would be a no-win situation to give him a contract at the moment. He would need a full, personal spring training that would carry him into June. After a certain number of minor-league starts for Pedro, a decision would have to be made on calling him up. If the Jays had faded by that time from this jackrabbit start, his presence in the rotation for 18 starts would likely not be enough to get the Jays back in the race. If he joined the Jays major-league staff in June and they started to run in reverse, it would be blamed on disrupting the chemistry. No win.
Besides, Martinez at this stage of his career is looking for a team that can carry him to another World Series, not a team that he can carry. That was the Roger Clemens modus operandi when he chose the Yankees after leaving the Jays in ’99.
Q: Hi Richard,
I am an avid reader and could not wait until the season to get your insight on all things Blue Jays. So far the Blue Jays have played outstanding baseball and I am impressed with the hitting. Do you think we can keep up with the hitting and how much credit does Cito and his deserve in changing batting stances and most importantly the culture in the clubhouse?
Thanks and I hope we can continue to win.
Anton Forde, Freeport, Bahamas
A: It already looks like the Jays’ hitting is settling in to a more realistic level of production. It was silly to expect the Jays to stay as hot as they had showed through the Twins series. Beginning with the A’s series, the Jays heading into Wednesday night had averaged 3.5 runs per game for the last four. That’s a little low by about a run, but more like what we’ll see for most of the season.
Gaston and his staff deserve credit for improving the approach of the hitters, but there was never anything wrong with the “clubhouse culture”. This has always, always been a Jays’ clubhouse full of guys that get along. It may be a little like the criticism of the Raptors where everyone is too nice with one another and there is not enough of a visible “edge”. What Gene Tenace and Cito have corrected over the Gary Denbo and Gibby era is that instead of working deep into pitch count as the first option, the new philosophy is to look for the best pitch to hit, the one mistake, that you are going to get in every sequence and jump on that pitch. Sometimes it will be the first pitch. But if you are going to go after the first pitch, you had better have a good swing at it and hit it hard. Otherwise you shouldn’t be swinging at it.
Q: Hi Richard,
Though I'm sure it won't last, it's sure been fun watching the games this year. What do you think about locking in Travis Snider to a decent contract (but potentially cheaper than in the future) now like the Rays did with Longoria? I always worry about keeping these assets long term with bigger clubs eventually buying our prospects out. Is it not a better strategy to invest early once you know you've got something good (though maybe 10 games is a little too early to tell)?
Steve S., Vancouver
A: It would be a mistake to lock Snider up to a long-term deal, even this winter. He is under the Jays control through 2014 and is not eligible for arbitration until after 2011. The proper course of action if Snider continues to progress is to lock him up to a long-term deal following the 2010 season.
Don’t point to the Evan Longoria deal as the benchmark. Give credit where credit is due. The Rays stole the framework of the Aaron Hill deal that was constructed by Jays’ assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos as their prototype. The Hill deal was signed at the start of the ’08 season (exactly corresponding to the end of ’10 for Snider). It replaced his final four years before free agency, bumping up his early years in return for making years 5-6 of his Jays tenure more reasonable. In addition there are two option years for a total of $18 million covering the first two years of what would be Hill’s free agency. Very fair, very smart, very classy.
Q: Hi Richard,
First of all love the mailbag. I have a question regarding Jason Frasor's change up. Is it circle change or is it a splitter? I also seem to remember in his rookie season he had a curve a nasty one at that. Am I mistaken? Also why is it do you think Roy does not use his devastating curve ball as strike out pitch that often any more?
Sean Heffernan, Sunderland
A: Good question. It is a circle change that he worked on on his own this past winter, replacing the splitter that he threw the past couple of years. He is having good success with it. The problem with the splitter is that Frasor has small hands and had trouble spreading his fingers enough and getting full control of the pitch. Jason is generously listed at 5-10 in height. He’s more like 5-8. If you saw him on the street and somebody said he was a pro athlete, you might think harness racing or darts.
Q: Hi Richard, I'd like to get your opinion.
I can understand not wanting to pinch hit a rookie for a veteran, but when the rookie is Travis Snider who hit two home runs in his first game against the Twins, and the veteran is Jose Bautista, why wouldn't you? Why would Cito not want to see how the rookie reacts to being inserted into the ball game to break a tie in the eighth inning?
I think for Snider's development he should be placed in to all sorts of situations, especially when it's relieving a utility fielder with the game on the line.
Andrew Stewart, Oshawa, Ont.
A: I agree with you 100 per cent. After that game in the Metrodome, I went back into Cito’s office to ask him if he had considered batting Snider for Bautista trailing by a run in late innings. He said at the time that he didn’t want to do it then for the reasons you mention, but also that he might have done it the next time up in that same game of the situation arose again. I don’t see why the next time up (which never happened) was any more important than having Snider represent the game-tying run in late innings vs. a right-hander when there was no left-hander warming up in the pen as a deterrent. My honest feeling is that he regretted not doing it at the time and just couldn’t say so.
Q: Hey Richard a couple of things I just wanted to touch on.
1. Does it bother you that David Wells still holds a grudge?...Check out Sportsillustrated.com where he gets interviewed about his new job with TBS, he takes a big time shot at you even after all these years! Any Boomer stories you would care to unearth?
2. At what point do the Jays get serious about the ’09 season? I know that 7-3 isn't a HUGE deal but with a guy like Pedro Martinez a free agent and Jake Peavy on the trade-block, how far into the season do we need to get before that magical payroll increase Godfrey spoke of becomes reality?
3. If you were the owner of the Blue Jays how long ago would you have fired JP? Personally I would have canned him right after he released Frank Thomas or at the latest when Gaston was brought back.
Looking forward to an answer, especially on the Boomer front. Thanks for the great column/mail bag and keep up the good work
Christian Robinette, Toronto
A: The David Wells thing I find amusing. I was alerted to his SI.com rant by a couple of readers. My daughter Shannon called me in the press box from her dorm room at Guelph University and she couldn’t stop laughing. She had just read the Boomer interview and couldn’t believe that nine years later, he’s still obsessing about her father.
The thing about Boomer is he couldn’t stand anyone making reference to his ample girth, even in jest, especially in print. It seems that in Boomer’s world he is the only one allowed to be flippant and insulting in a humourous way. As evidence see his best (kept in the) cellar autobiography in which he disses Jays’ fans, media and the city in very unflattering terms. This is a guy that liked to present himself as a broad-minded renaissance man, yet was a regular guest on Florida shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge’s radio show. In one of those sessions, he made fun of his manager, Tim Johnson, and his sad lies about Vietnam in his first Jays spring training, from the training room in the clubhouse at the Bobby Mattick complex. That was Boomer’s boss and there were no repercussions, but when I said he “emerged from the shower wearing an extra large towel” he got bent out of shape. As for his association with Bubba, his regular shtick was to make fun of and humiliate four groups - women, the mentally challenged, minorities and those that didn’t agree with him. Sponge was eventually fired for slaughtering a wild boar in studio. Boomer is more of a Dark Ages Man and good luck to TBS.
As for part two of the question, we’ve covered the Pedro situation and unless there’s another team that steps up for Derek Lowe to A.J. Burnett type money, it looks like the Cubs would be the logical Jake Peavy landing strip.
As for Ricciardi’s past and future with the Jays, there were plenty of opportunities to let him go, but when the Jays decided to cut payroll by $15 million this year and without a full-time president and CEO, there was no way to convince a primo candidate that this is where he wanted to be. That and the fact that there was nobody, other than Paul Beeston (who is still convinced he is interim) to conduct the GM search and interview. Look for the end of this current year to be the moment of truth for J.P. There will be candidates available. There are a couple already here. A new president will be in place. The payroll should be going up. The team looks like it’s headed in the right direction. Simply, with all GM skills of the position aside, Ricciardi is the wrong guy in the wrong town.
Q: Hi Richard,
When Jesse Litsch got injured and was put on the DL, I was a bit disappointed. That’s three of our top four starters on the DL but then I got excited because I thought this would mean Brett Cecil would get an early call up to show what he's got! Why didn't the Jays call him up? Should I expect him to get a call up this year?
Michael P., Toronto
A: I would expect Cecil to get a call-up later this year. But there are technical reasons in the Basic Agreement for holding a guy back other than the fact that his first start in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Consider that a full season of major-league service is anything that adds up to 172 days in the majors, whether you were on the roster the entire year or not. If the Jays had called either Cecil or Brad Mills up the day after Litsch was hurt, the new kid’s service time on the roster for the balance of the year was 174 days, through October 4. That would mean that unless you shipped him out for a period later in the year - and if he was pitching well that might be tough - Cecil or Mills would earn a full year of service and be eligible to become a free agent a year sooner. Thus, in that light, it became easy to bring a guy like Bill Murphy up and throw Brian Tallet into the rotation. If and when it’s determined that Litsch’s injury is longer-term than first thought, then that will be the day that Cecil or Mills gets the call.
Q: Mr. Griffin,
A couple of baseball quirk questions:
1. After a runner(s) is/are stranded, and knowing that many athletes are superstitious, is there any rhyme or reason as to who brings the stranded batter his hat and glove? (Hopefully it's not as boring as simply who’s closest to them in the field)
2. Follow up on the around the horn after the strikeout (which you answered last season). Why is the 1st basemen left out of the fun? (I think I've seen the opposite vs. lefties where the 3rd basemen is left out)
Ian Donnelly, Toronto
A: Usually if a middle infielder is the final out, his double-play partner brings him his glove. If it’s an outfielder, another outfielder brings his glove. If it’s the first or third baseman, it may depend on which dugout you are in, first or third base. Make no mistake, the guy’s glove is never forgotten. Somebody is always on it. That’s teamwork.
There has to be a routine for the “around the horn”. If it’s a routine groundball, which the majority of outs are, then the first baseman receives the throw and fires it to the shortstop to begin the sequence. He turns away and goes back to his position. After a strikeout, the throw usually is snapped down to third base and ends up at third base so the pitcher can consistently get the ball back from the same player. It’s an important part of routine, walking off the mound to the third base side to receive the ball back, that pitchers like Roy Halladay require.
Q: Hey Richard,
In last week's mailbag you note that Scott Rolen has rebounded. As I've watched him this spring, I have been very impressed with his seriousness - he has a look of fire about him when fielding and hitting. What a great example for Adam Lind and Travis (Boom Boom) Snider. Do you see a difference in him this year, besides his obvious return to good health?
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A: In Minneapolis, Snider cited Rolen’s influence on him as far as how to play the game right, as in not watching his upper deck home run, flipping his bat and strutting around the bases. Rolen obviously seems more comfortable and relaxed in the clubhouse because in addition to being his second year around these guys, he is also contributing with the bat. There has never been a Jays’ third baseman with a more accurate arm. Every throw no matter Rolen’s body position when fielding, arrives at the same spot. Amazing.
Q: Dear Mr. Griffin,
I feel like the batting approach put forward by Cito and Gene Tenace has worked very well for the majority of the players. Being aggressive and looking for a fastball to drive as opposed to working the count has improved the batting of many Blue Jays this year, most notably Aaron Hill. However, I feel with regards to Alex Rios, that he hits best when he works the count. He was extremely good at working the count, and you were confident even if there were two strikes on him, that he'd find a way to foul off enough pitches, until he got a good pitch for him. He just seemed to get more comfortable as the count progressed.
I just really feel like this new approach does not work for him, and has made him a much worse hitter this year. Obviously part of it you could say that he's struggling, and he'll snap out of it, which is true. But the bottom line, I just feel like Alex Rios needs to ignore the new batting philosophy of Tenace and go back to doing what he did best. Do you agree?
A: I think that the philosophy worked for him last year when the new coaches arrived, so it’s not what they are telling him, but how he is implementing it. If you are going to swing at the first pitch, it had better be the pitch you were looking for and you had better hit it hard. Rios is not doing that. His timing is off and that is how slumps happen. When he break out of it, he will get his numbers back up to reasonable levels.
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.**