The regular season is now less than a week away and some teams are starting to get younger by banging veteran contracts. The Tigers dropped DH Gary Sheffield one homer away from 500. It was a surprising move, but Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi was already burned badly in a similar situation in ‘07, signing the washed up future Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas to a two-year deal as he approached 500 homers. That may have been the straw that stirred the stink as far as Ricciardi’s tenure with the Jays goes. The Jays won 86 games last year, but the last time they won 86 under J.P. in ’03, they followed it up with a 67-win effort. That could happen again, unfortunately, unless two of the young starters step up and blossom. The next mailbag will be three days into the season. I can’t wait.
Q: Hi Richard,
I have a couple questions regarding the Jays youth movement. If the Jays are building for 2010 why would they not get some of these young position players into the lineup this year? Guys like Raul Chavez, Lyle Overbay, Scott Rolen, and Marco Scutaro are probably not going to be around when the Jays are contenders again. Does it not make more sense to get J.P. Arencibia (C), Brad Emaus (2B), and David Cooper (1B) a chance at the big league level now rather than go with these aging veterans that are under performing? Is it just the fact that they are not ready? My second question involves Emaus. How do you see him and Hill fitting together? Will Hill eventually be a shortstop on the Jays? Or will it be a trade that clears up space? Thanks for all your work. I love reading your columns and blogs.
Andrew Clark, Kitchener, Ont.
A: What the Jays are trying to do as an organization is get the youngsters ready for 2010 and beyond without investing money in any outside help in the meantime. They are willing to sacrifice this season (sorry season-ticket holders) to the gods of development.
The fact is some Jays’ youngsters could handle being in the major leagues right now, while others need to develop out of the line of fire – in the minors at either AAA-Las Vegas or AA-New Hampshire. We’ll find out which is which. Choose wisely Cito. You cannot just throw all your young guys into the major-league fire and consider that as development. Some will drown.
There are two theories on teaching your own young children to swim. One is to just toss them in the pool and they will learn to swim out of necessity -- or drown. The other theory is to sign them up for swimming lessons. The Jays have clearly chosen the latter for most youngsters.
As for Emaus, the guy has had a spectacular major-league spring, but he never played above Class-A. He could be ready in 2010, but more likely 2011. Yes, when he is ready I could see Hill moving to shortstop like Michael Young did for the Rangers when A-Rod went to the Yankees.
Q: Hi Richard,
I've recently moved to Sydney, Australia for work. It got me thinking about who the best player to come from Australia was. I'd say Dave Nilsson, the former catcher with the Brewers. Would be curious on your thoughts?
Jason Sinnarajah, Sydney, Australia
A: I might have to agree with you on Nilsson. In his nine years with the Brewers he hit .284 with 105 homers. Rounding out my Top 5 Aussies in the majors would be 2) Graeme Lloyd, former relief pitcher with, among others, the Jays; 3) Craig Shipley, an infielder whose best years were with the Padres in the mid-‘90s; 4) Grant Balfour, a reliever with the Twins and Rays and 5) Ryan Rowland-Smith, currently a Mariner.
The Jays have dabbled in the Down Under. GM J.P. Ricciardi chose the duck-billed platypus of Australian major-leaguers, right-hander Luke Prokopec (instead of Eric Gagne) in a trade for Paul Quantrill and Cesar Izturis back in ‘02. Prokopec was 2-9 with a 6.78 ERA. Crikey!
Q: Hi Richard,
Will the Blue Jays pick up an additional starting pitcher prior to Opening Day? Having one of Mills/Richmond/Romero in the rotation is scary enough, and the fact that it appears two of them will make it is downright horrifying (excuse my hyperbole) considering the potent lineups they'll face in the American League. Are the Jays hoping that some combination of the hurlers mentioned above can hold the fort until one or both of Wade Miller and Matt Clement are ready to contribute? I can't believe there won't be better options out there once the other clubs have decided on their rosters.
David Musgrave, Niagara Falls
A: The Jays’ rotation took a big hit this winter, with the loss of A.J. Burnett to free agency and the ongoing injury woes of Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan. Matt Clement has not pitched in the majors since 2006, while Wade Miller, who was invited to minor-league camp in mid-March, has worked less than 40 innings in the past three years. With Romero having charged past the other prospects to grab a rotation spot, it leaves the drive for five to Mills and Richmond, neither of whom seems to want it.
I couldn’t understand the Jays’ inactivity in the off-season. There were plenty of free agent pitchers out there primed to accept short-term deals for reasonable dollars, yet the Jays remained on the sidelines. They knew they weren’t going to re-sign Burnett.
I was optimistic about some of the kids going into the spring, but they have not stepped up to the challenge. The Jays seem content to sacrifice this season, so it’s likely other teams’ castoffs as opening day approaches won’t change their minds about going with the young guys.
Q: Hi Richard,
Even though his salary is more then they want to pay, would it not have made sense for the Blue Jays to try Jason Fraser as a starter? I know he at one time had four pitches but dropped a couple once he was switched to the bullpen.
Mike Davies, Cambridge, Ont.
A: Frasor has made 353 straight relief appearances since 2002. It would be very difficult to stretch him out and regain command of his other pitches in time to make him a reliable starter in ‘09. Even in his final season as a starter, in 2002, he averaged fewer than five innings per start. I think the best thing for Frasor’s career would be not to make him a starter, but to trade him to another organization where he can get a fresh start. He has the talent, but the Jays don’t seem to trust him in game situations at the moment.
Q: Hey Richard,
As you know, in 1999 Bobby Mattick was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Over the years many have wondered why legendary scout, Al LaMacchia was not granted the same honour. His impact on the success of the Toronto Blue Jays during the 80's and 90's was paramount.
Just wondering what your thoughts are?
A: When you think of Jays scouting from the early years under GM Pat Gillick, you think first and foremost of Bobby Mattick, Al LaMacchia and Epy Guerrero. Mattick had the advantage of also managing the Jays and being a higher profile among fans. But LaMacchia was key to signing core players like Dave Stieb, scouting him as an outfielder but imagining him as a pitcher. Good call. He is a wonderful storyteller and a great scout and certainly deserves Hall recognition.
Q: Hi Richard,
You are going to hate this but another steroids question. I always hoped and thought that A-Rod was the as close to perfect Baseball player you could get. But he is a cheater like everyone else. Now my question, Of all the players you have seen play who is the most complete player now or from years gone by that you know is clean and a non-cheater. I am hoping there is at least a couple.
Brian Runciman, Oakville
A: I think “cheater like everyone else” is a little harsh. However you’re right about the increasing number of players being revealed as cheaters as time goes by being a little depressing for those that love the game. Now, every time you look at a player and see a change in body size and shape, your first thought is “steroids”. You look at a guy whose offensive numbers have steadily decreased since 2004 (when drug testing became mandatory) and your first thought is “he’s off the juice”. That’s not fair, but I also don’t believe that the other 103 names on the list along with A-Rod’s should all be released. That wasn’t the properly negotiated deal when the players agreed to that testing procedure in 2003.
In any case, three guys that stand out as complete players that I am virtually certain were not on performance-enhancers are Ted Williams, Andre Dawson and Ken Griffey, Jr. If you’ve ever seen photos of the Splendid Splinter with his shirt off, you know he didn’t cheat. His arms in his prime were like pipe cleaners. As for Dawson, I spent the first 10 years of his career in the same clubhouse with him on a daily basis and I can vouch that his is simply “Body by Hawk”. Of the current generation, I’m pinning my last hopes for the authenticity of offensive stats on Junior.
Q: Hi Richard,
Curious to know, am I the only one not sold on the Rays? I get the young hitting talent. However I am not sold that their rotation is the second coming of the Braves circa 1991. Wasn't their pitching staff more of right pieces falling together at the right time? With has-been bullpen guys and no closer? I guess I'm just still not buying in to the Hype.
Thanks for your time.
Matthew Fox, Toronto
A-I’m with you. Often a young team coming out of nowhere can have a letdown season the next year. In my MLB rankings, I have them second in baseball because of their World Series appearance, but you’re right about the pitching staff, especially the bullpen. This team sneaked up on a lot of people last year and, to their credit, they did not fold down the stretch. Remember when the Jays went into Orlando early last year for those games vs. the Rays at the Braves’ spring park and got swept. Everyone was questioning the Jays and how embarrassing it was. That was everyone’s reaction until after the all-star break when people began to realize these guys were actually good.
Q: Hi Richard,
Some would say that a half decent southpaw is worth more than a decent right-hander. If that's true, should the Jays go with Mills over Richmond?
A: The question becomes “Is Richmond a decent right-hander?”
It’s clear that Mills has a far higher ceiling than does the Canadian righty, but will early failure in the big leagues retard Mills’ long-term development as a major-leaguer? My own personal belief, not shared by many others it seems, is that when the Jays sent Richmond to the WBC for Team Canada and told him “Don’t worry, we know what you can do,” and since he was at that time solidly in the mix as one of the starting five, that they now owe him the right to pitch himself off the team in April. Mills will be the better major-leaguer, but neither man will come out of the April gate on fire. So take Richmond.
A: I see that Cito is planning to use Scott Downs as the closer if B.J. Ryan is not ready. What happened to League? There were comments earlier this spring that he could develop into a closer.
Howard Rose, Concord
A: Downs is not the long-term solution as closer. But I would understand Gaston handing the opening day closer’s role over to the eighth-inning setup man to see what he can do. Downs is a veteran who does not change demeanour in game situations. If that then made League one of the main eighth-inning setup men, it would allow him to succeed in lower stress situations before finally taking over as closer. Ryan’s fastball will not be back up to 90 by Opening Day. Gaston is going to have to make that decision with B.J.
Q: Howdy Richard,
Just had a look at the Star's depth chart for the Jays and noticed Travis Snider in left and Adam Lind at DH. From what we saw last season, Lind looked pretty good in left. Is Snider that much better an outfielder? Thanks for keeping us wet-coasters up to date on the Jays.
Paul Rudan, Campbell River, BC
A: It’s more a question of who’s the “least worse” outfielder. Snider looks like he’s least worse so far. Certainly Lind at his age doesn’t want to become a full-time DH. When it comes time for free agency down the road, it basically cuts half the teams (the NL) off his speed dial. Lind may become the Jays’ short-term solution at first base filling any gap between Overbay and David Cooper. Lind will hit better than Snider this season and those two left-handed bats are needed to balance the Jays right-leaning batting order.
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