I’m starting to think that the most important player in Blue Jays history is not Joe Carter or Robby Alomar, Lloyd Moseby, Tony Fernandez or Dave Stieb. It’s Tommy John.
Once again, the Jays have been hit by the news that another of their pitchers, Jesse Litsch, needs the tricky reconstructive elbow surgery first performed on the former Dodgers left-hander by Dr. Frank Jobe wherein the good doctor took a tendon from John’s right wrist and transplanted it into his left elbow. The operation has become more sophisticated and more successful over the years, with a shorter recovery time, with some people actually seeing it as a way to prevent future elbow issues by having it done at the first sign of trouble. Sobering Trivia Question: Which pitcher has recorded the most career wins following Tommy John surgery. Answer: Tommy John.
Why are so many Jays pitchers having elbow problems? Could it be the cut fastball? A healthy Litsch worked on adding the cutter to his repertoire last year, being able to throw it to both sides of the plate at any time. Before that he was a healthy No. 4-5 starter. After adding the cut fastball he became a 2-3 starter, but went down with what was called a forearm strain extending into the elbow in his second start in April.
Congrats to the Jays for taking two Canadians in their first three picks. The 98 m.p.h. throwing James Paxton from the University of Kentucky via B.C. has a nice little slider and is close to being ready for a major-league bullpen. High-schooler Jake Eliopoulos from Newmarket, Ontario is a long-term project. Was the fact that Order of Canada holder Paul Beeston was in the Jays war-room last night a factor? Yes. On to the mail bag.
Q: Hi Richard,
Can you please tell me what is happening with Alex Rios? First he is struggling then he embarrasses the fans and club by having an exchange with a fan. He has too much talent and I think brains to be caught up with the fans that help pay his salary. I can understand the frustrations but answer them back on the field with your play.
Bahama Tonn, Bahamas
A: I agree with you. That was an embarrassment that would not have happened with a mentor like Carlos Delgado still on the team for the young players, especially the Latin kids. Earlier in the day of the incident, Rios had struck out five times and was still stinging from the crowd reaction and the personal failure. But when you attend a charity event, you have to expect autograph seekers and interaction with fans, some of whom enjoy disrespecting players in ways that would not normally happen in normal social situations. But the Jays did not do enough. In addition to the scripted apology that he issued, the team should have suspended him for one game and donated the money from that suspension to the Jays Foundation. This was not the famous “Blue Jay Way”.
Q: Hey Richard,
I know (or think I know) your opinions of J.P. Ricciardi and agree that he's no Pat Gillick, but I've always kind of thought that the job itself (as Blue Jays GM) is a real tough one. What are your thoughts of where Toronto ranks in difficulty for a GM to be successful?
In Toronto's case they have to convince/overpay players because they're in a Canadian market, they have to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox (not to mention that they can't trade their stars to these teams - we can't fleece the Yanks in a trade like other teams can) and they've got a decent but by no means high salary cap.
Expectations might play a factor in that I don't think fans here ever really think we'll be in the playoffs any given year anymore, but aside from that, I don't think there's a more difficult market to win in.
Hmmm, maybe these are excuses for J.P. I just don't think that if Theo Epstein stepped in as Toronto GM that we would necessarily see success in five years. Maybe it was JP's arrogance in setting expectations that is doing him in.
Steve S., Vancouver
A: I think the problems of being a GM in Toronto are over-stated in your question. The Jays did fine luring players to Toronto in the early ‘90s. The secret was in winning. The other secret was in treating the players and their families with respect and affection. The Jays have strayed from those principles over the years.
They fell into the trap, for a while, of throwing in escape clauses to seal deals like the ones they gave to Roger Clemens, Ricciardi and A.J. Burnett. Before he left office, ex-president Paul Godfrey insisted they would never do that again.
Do you think it’s easier to sell a player on Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland or other towns just because those teams are in the States?
As for being in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees and not being able to trade with them, when was the last time J.P. fleeced anyone in a trade?
Ricciardi’s job should be easier now than when he arrived because his payroll budget is now mid-pack in the major leagues and that is good enough to compete - if the money is spent wisely. I think fans every winter believe that the Jays can and will compete for the wild card, but it’s difficult when the front office, as they did this past winter, downplays their own team’s chances of reaching the playoffs. When you speak of no expectations for the playoffs, maybe you’re thinking about the Leafs.
I do believe that people are looking for any positives in support of the eight years of Ricciardi. So they point to his drafted guys on the 25-man roster like Ricky Romero, Casey Janssen, Adam Lind and Shaun Marcum; they brag of free agent bargains like Scott Downs, Brian Tallet and Jesse Carlson and they shake a fist in the general direction of those that doubt the direction of the program. Dude, if you’ve been there eight years, you should have guys on the roster that can play. But can they win?
Q: Hi Richard,
By the time this question is posted, Tom Glavine and his 305 career wins may have hooked up with someone already. What's your take on this Jays taking a chance on this future Hall of Famer? Having a seasoned veteran like Glavine will buy time for Ricky Romero to develop in Las Vegas for one more year. In two starts since his return from the DL, Romero has not exactly been impressive. Assuming there are still some miles left in the tank, a rotation of Halladay, Glavine, Janssen, Tallet and Richmond gives the Jays a nice righty/lefty balance. Furthermore, the presence of Glavine will also take some spotlight off from Doc, which is not a bad thing as it seems right now all hopes for the Jays to have any chance this year are squarely pinned on Doc's shoulders. What is Glavine's contract situation, should the Jays decide to pick him up?
Henry Wang, Hong Kong
A: Tom Glavine is a great guy and formerly a great pitcher and this, some time ago, was a great notion, but the window of his AL opportunity closed on Glavine about three years ago. He’s become a total finesse nibbler and needs to finish his career in the NL.
Even if Glavine was on board with the Jays, they would still have room for Romero in the rotation.
I don’t think Doc needs our help in removing the spotlight from himself. In fact, the others in the Jays’ rotation perform better in the dimly lit shadows just outside the spotlight’s glare. Glavine is a total free agent and would require just the pro-rated major-league minimum to sign. It’s totally up to him where he wants to go and the only way he earns more than the minimum is if there are multiple bidders. I would still rather try and sign Pedro if I was looking for one veteran arm to shore up the rotation for a playoff run.
With Ricciardi's recent comments regarding the Jays position come trade deadline, that being if they are in a standings position that ownership will allow him to add a player with substantial salary, he made mention of 10 million. So, my question would be what players or type of players would JP trade for? Are we talking a Peavey/Oswalt type or an Esteban Loaiza addition?
Secondly, would JP make a trade with his best trading partner Billy Beane for say Matt Holliday? What do you foresee JP doing if the Jays are in a strong position for the division, or more realistic the wild card?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A: Ricciardi was only re-stating something that Paul Beeston had talked about a month ago. There is money available. There was also money available this winter that had been earmarked for A.J. Burnett, but ownership under Beeston looked at J.P.’s track record of spending big money on frivolous, new big-ticket items and decided to keep the money in their pockets instead of risking J.P. potentially squander it.
Recall that Ricciardi was hired back in 2001 with the mandate to save old money not to spend new. That was never his expertise when he was hired and he proves it time after time. After a few years he sold the Rogers ownership on the fact that he could win if they would only give him more money. They did and he didn’t.
Ricciardi pulled the $10 million figure out of the air. Remember that cash is pro-rated for the final two months (about 33-per cent). As the trade deadline approaches check out: 1. veteran starters with five-plus years of service; 2. veteran left-handed power bats (either DH or outfield) with free agency on the horizon or with young players pushing them for full-time duty with their current team.
Q: Hey Richard,
I Love reading your column and you do provide some good insight. I was just wondering as a fan how I can try to get an autograph from any of the players? I would love to get an autograph from Roy Halladay. Now I know it is hard to approach them when they are warming up. Any tips would be great!
Benjamin Low, Richmond Hill
A: I would suggest that to get Halladay’s autograph, you would need to run into him on the street. At the ballpark, he’s more reclusive than Howard Hughes. Otherwise, plan a trip to spring training in March and just hang out during the morning workout and again during the game down the right field line at Dunedin Stadium near the Jays’ clubhouse. At some point, the whole world wanders by. Most guys will stop and sign or come back out and sign – if you are polite. If not, blame it on Rios.
Q: Hey Richard,
Just wondering if we might ever expect to see this Brian Dopirak fellow in a Jays uniform. He's been tearing it up in the minors for the last year and a half and is formerly being a highly-touted prospect in the Cubs organization. He's still fairly young too. Could this guy eventually replace Lyle Overated?
Demian R., Vancouver
A: Dopirak cut an impressive figure at spring training, at 6-4, with distinctive tattoos and major-league swagger. Unfortunately that’s where it ended. At 25-years-old, he has bounced back and forth the last seven seasons between low-A, high-A and Double-A for the Cubs and Jays’ organizations, racking up 129 homers and a slugging mark of almost .500. However, he seems like a career minor-leaguer, useful in putting together a minor-league winner, but stepping aside when there’s a hotshot prospect to be looked at in the same position. He’s a product of Dunedin High School in the Jays’ backyard. It makes his travel expenses a bargain for the Jays to keep him around.
Q: Yo Griff.
What's this I hear that Travis Snider is being platooned at Las Vegas and not facing left-handers? How is this going to improve his development and get him back to Toronto? Nothing against Jose Bautista, but he was designated for assignment by a bad Pirates team last season.
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge, Ont.
A: At 21-years-old, Snider is just undergoing the natural growing pains of a hot prospect. Burned into my brain are the images of watching Snider take B.P. at the Metrodome in April, peppering the upper deck with home runs, including two in a real game – one off the upper façade and one down an entrance ramp in the upper reaches. That exhibition of power tells me he’s for real. He just needs to find the same truths that Adam Lind did between going 1-for-19 and being shipped out under John Gibbons, to what he is doing under Cito right now. Of course, Lind is four years older than Snider.
If he is being platooned at Vegas it’s a “one step at a time” thing. Figure out how to hit right-handers and then we’ll start you against left-handers. Figure out how to hit right-handers and left-handers and you’ll be back in the bigs. As for the Pirates, maybe it’s decisions like that which keep them a bad Pirates team.
Q: Joe who? Joe Inglett. Please tell me what this guy brings to the table that Travis Snider did not? At least with Snider, you were guaranteed of a dinger, on average, every third week or so. Is it because Inglett's a better fielder? Was this guy tearing it up in the minors? Is this the best the farm system has to offer at this point? Instead of demoting Snider, why didn't the Jays just take some of the pressure off him by simply moving him into a back-up role behind Bautista, until he gets things sorted out, the role that the "hot-hitting" Inglett currently occupies? I mean, we're talking the LF position here. When are we going to see some pop out of that spot? Maybe through a trade? Bautista is not the long-term solution, either.
Darrell Holtze, Guelph, Ont.
A: It’s funny how major-league organizations work. Inglett may not have quite reached his talent ceiling but if he stands on his tippy-toes he can touch it. Meanwhile, Snider’s talent potential ceiling is more like a soaring cathedral-like open space, with a Sistine Chapel paint job still very possible.
Since you already know how good Inglett is ever going to be and this is close to it, then why not bring him up to fill a role as a backup for a month or two? It won’t hurt his development because he’s arrived at the final destination station of his career. The reason it’s Inglett up from Vegas is that you don’t want to bring up a better long-term prospect and have him sit on the bench behind Bautista. Guys like Inglett, Chris Woodward, Tom Lawless, Casey Candaele, Ryan Freel and others of that ilk can forge long major-league careers by accepting that role, learning many positions and not pricing themselves out of the market. Everyone can use guys like that. It’s a role that former No. 1 pick Russ Adams is trying to learn.
Q: Hi Richard,
I was at the Jays game on Sunday and noticed that every time Kevin Millar came to the plate the song Tiny Dancer by Elton John was played. I was wondering if this is a regular occurrence or if maybe he had lost a bet with one of the guys on the team.
Thanks and I love the mail bag,
Brian R., Orangeville, Ont.
A: Yes, unfortunately Tiny Dancer and Kevin Millar will be forever linked. Millar has a tremendous, self-deprecating sense of humour that has served him well over the years. The team at spring training always asks the players for their preferred theme song. For instance, Scott Rolen has Coldplay. For Millar, the rumour is that it was a tossup between Elton’s Tiny Dancer, The Safety Dance by the Canadian mega-group, Men Without Hats and Disco Inferno by The Trammps. He settled on Captain Fantastic.
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