September has arrived and the Jays, despite ending the month with 12 position players, added just Joe Inglett. Unless they add more players after the Las Vegas seasons ends in Portland on September 7 it could be the shortest September bench in major-league history. As an aside, the Vegas ’51s end their home schedule tomorrow with the first pitch thrown by Peep Show star, Holly Madison. Ms. Madison is described as “an American model and television personality, best known for appearing as Hugh Hefner's number one girlfriend with Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson on the reality TV series The Girls Next Door. She has appeared in nude pictorials with her Girls Next Door costars and fellow Hefner girlfriends Marquardt and Wilkinson”. Go you ‘51s. On to the mail bag.
Q: How does one market the Jays for next season? Halladay will likely be gone, taking with him his connection to Jays fans. It’s painful watching him lose games now. He deserves a team that's competitive. Popular players such as Rolen and Rios, suddenly raptured out of Toronto, leaving others like Vernon Wells anchored to the turf by the cherubic girth of his contract. I would argue that the owners will keep J.P. around for another year because there's no one else. Who wants to be the fall guy for an inevitable bad season waiting on a possible sale? I wouldn’t blame Cito Gaston if he called it a day after this season, looking forward to a team treading water next year. He'd rather be coaching his grandkids in little league. Is there something to be excited about next year?
Frederick Duquette, La Mirada, CA
A: That is a very good question. How do the Jays market themselves for next season if and when Halladay is traded? Here are the Top 5 most marketable Jays for the upcoming off-season, if all the potential free-agents go free.
1. Aaron Hill
2. Adam Lind
3. Ricky Romero
4. Scott Richmond
5. Travis Snider.
Notice that Vernon Wells is not on the list. As far as the GM situation is concerned, I think ownership has come to the realization it would be a mistake not to buy out the final year of Ricciardi’s contract. He has become very defensive about his role in the current debacle and another season would be painful for all involved.
As for Gaston, recall that his final season the first time around, 1997, resulted in a 76-86 record, fired with a week to go. After back-to-back World Series, he was frustrated in the post-strike Jays’ world, handed a combination of unpolished youngsters and bad veterans to go with Rogers Clemens and Pat Hentgen. Consider that Clemens and Hentgen combined to go 36-17. The rest of the staff was 40-69.
This time around, any decision not to come back is entirely in Gaston’s own hands. Gaston has already indicated that 2010 will be his final season as manager, but the feeling here is that he will finish out his contract. The fates of two of his coaches, Nick Leyva and Gene Tenace, also hinge on his decision to stay or go.
As far as something to be excited about next year…hmmm! How about a comeback year from Shaun Marcum?
Q: Am I the only one who believes in Edwin Encarnacion? I am a true baseball cynic, but this guy hurt his wrist, which makes hitting the rest of the season difficult (Just ask Overbay), because your timing is off. He's got great potential, and if we obviously can't compete next year, give him a chance. It's not like we have the next Mike Schmidt in AAA, so we can wait it out. Your thoughts?
Michael Lawson, Brampton
A: Encarnacion is making $4.75 million in 2010. The Jays were forced to take him to help the Reds balance their own books if they wanted to make the Scott Rolen deal with Cincinnati, getting back the two good young arms they actually coveted. The best-case scenario with Encarnacion is that he plays winter ball in the Dominican and proves he is healthy, attracting the attention of a National League team that makes the Jays an offer. They would take a mid-range prospect straight up for him as long as they didn’t have to pay any 2010 salary. The Jays’ answer at third base – because they truly don’t have anyone close down on the farm – would be to sign a free agent at the position, someone like Chone Figgins of the Angels. If they re-signed Scutaro for a couple of years, the top of the order could be: Figgins, Scutaro, Hill, Lind. Not bad.
Q: How can you say Scott Rolen moved comfortably into the cleanup role? OBP of .370, SLG % of .476, 43 RBIs … those are numbers for a shortstop who is about to go the minors, not a third baseman hitting fourth. But he must be a nice guy to deal with, so that excuses him, huh Rich.
A: Reader Isaacs is referring to an offhanded observation in a column about trading Rolen to the Reds. Clearly fans that spend most of their time with their heads buried in statistics fail to see much of the beauty of the game. It’s a shame.
Rolen did not ask to bat cleanup for the Jays and in a perfect world would have stayed in the six-hole with Rios and Wells batting 3-4, but it is not a perfect world. Rolen accepted the assignment and handled it seamlessly, not putting extra pressure on himself and changing his approach in clutch situations. As for being a nice guy, Rolen arrived in Toronto with a reputation from his previous stops of being somewhat of a prick-ly character. He does not go out of his way to ingratiate himself to media, but he does appreciate writers that do their job.
Q: Ok, granted I am more a Bill James disciple than an old-school type but still ... why is Scott Richmond the one getting the fifth starter treatment? His WHIP, at 1.29, is easily better than any starter but Doc (at least anyone with any innings) and 91K in 101 IP is a pretty nice ratio. And he's still under 30 so it's not like he couldn't be around for 4-5 years. Why trot Cecil and "Zipper" out there every 5-6 without fail when, at least, the former is clearly fatiguing? Is Richmond's injury holding him back? Honestly I think he's been a better hurler than Romero this year - but because he's older and was never considered a prospect it's been under-reported (and not just by The Star).
Conor McCreery, Toronto
A: There’s no need to apologize for being a Bill James disciple. I remember as a P.R. man with the Expos receiving the stapled together 8-1/2” x 11” James pamphlets annually and being fascinated by this unique approach to baseball statistics. I am a big fan of Bill James but I also feel no need to apologize for being an old-school type. Every team in baseball now incorporates the two sides of talent procurement, the traditional scouting and the data evaluation. It’s those close-minded types (and they exist on both sides) that insist one or the other is the only way to go that will be left by the side of the road.
As for Richmond, as a starter, he is to Roy Halladay what Michael Buble is to Frank Sinatra. Although, come to think of it, thanks to the flat-lining of the Jays lately, Halladay’s nickname in that Sinatra analogy would have to be “the Chairman of the Bored.” Richmond has been better than anyone expected coming out of a spring training where he struggled to secure a starting spot. It’s been a real feel-good story in what has become a feel-bad season. Richmond’s fate as a swingman, missing several starts due to off-days and Halladay’s need to pitch every fifth day, are as a result of Scott’s experience and his ability to pitch in relief. By the end of the year, his numbers will rank third to Halladay and Romero, right where they should be. He has a chance to be a useful 4-5 starter for the Jays for the next several years.
Q: Hi Richard,
Please help me with some math. John McDonald is acknowledged as an excellent defensive player and poor offensively. A good batter hits .300 and a poor hitter hits .200 which means the good hitter gets one more hit every ten at bats. Hitting 9th in the order would mean it would take John McDonald over two games to get his ten at bats and one less hit and therefore one more out. If he can get one more of the other team out than would have happened otherwise in every other game, doesn't that put his team ahead by playing him all of the time?
Tony Bibbings, Hamilton, Bermuda
A: That makes sense to me…and obviously it’s starting to make sense to Cito also because Johnny Mac seems to be getting more and more playing time heading into the final month. I would venture to say that using your very simple analysis, McDonald is worth more than one out every two games on the defensive side of things, while being far better than a .200 hitter. Like I’ve often said, this guy will have a meaningful role on someone’s major-league roster until he’s ready to hang up the leather.
Q: Good Morning Richard:
What are your thoughts on Cito Gaston and will he still be here in 2010? I realize his contract runs until the end of 2010. I know you have to be gentle when answering a question like this. I was just as thrilled as anyone when I read that he was coming back this year but I guess I forgot why I wanted Cito fired in 1994. He doesn't like pitchers, rookies, (Bob McCown), bunting or pinch-hitting for veterans. What he does like is pulling the ball, and I guess that’s it. Cito wants Scutaro to pull the ball more, but he doesn't want Hill to be so aggressive at the plate. I wonder what some of the managers in the other dugouts think of Cito's moves, or non-moves.
Jim Gosleigh, Newcastle, Ont.
A: I am sure Gaston has had some second thoughts about accepting an extension through 2010 when he did last August. But as long as he enjoys his time in the clubhouse, he will finish his commitment. The Jays will not be competing for a playoff spot in 2010, but it will be a season of development with ownership looking ahead to 2011. Using Cito as a bridge to the future is a comforting thought for the GM, because since he has already announced he is leaving after this deal runs out, he will not be trying to prove how good a manager he is by actually trying to win games at all costs in 2010. He will go with the flow of the program as he is doing this year by shutting pitchers down and by playing Travis Snider regularly despite his struggles. As long as he does not lose interest, Gaston is the perfect man for 2010.
As for his likes and dislikes, Cito aired me out for a column earlier in the season that suggested he didn’t like pitchers. I can respect that scolding, but the fact is that he doesn’t like pitchers. In all the spring training visits that Gaston made as a guest coach while he was in managerial limbo, he admits that the only pitcher he ever spoke to was Halladay. As for not liking rookies, he just doesn’t like any player that doesn’t know how to play the game. That could include many veterans. As for McCown, who can blame him. As for not pinch-hitting, the fact is that with 12-13 pitchers all year, Gaston has the shortest, weakest hitting bench in the AL with no special skills. What’s a manager to do? As for wanting Scutaro to pull the ball more, I have never heard that said and concerning Hill, Gaston told him at the start if spring training that he would be his full-time two-hole hitter, but not to hit like a two-hole hitter. He wanted him to be aggressive and attack the ball as he would anywhere else in the batting order. Obviously good advice.
Q: Hi Richard,
I would guess that having to write about what's been going on lately with the Jays is no more fun for you than it has been for us fans to watch (or not watch). True, you get paid for it, but you also have to run your nose in it every day. For either of us, what a letdown this season has been.
Two questions. First, at the beginning of the season, everyone thought that this team would hit a ton, but that pitching would be the problem. Yet, even though there have been a lot of pitching injuries, the pitching has been surprisingly good. Early in the year, the hitting combined with the pitching produced magic - for a time. Now the lack of hitting (and lately the lack of defence) is wearing the pitchers down, and we've got a vicious cycle of losing going. The real key, in my mind is: What happened to the hitting? Especially with Cito at the helm, I would have expected it to hold up better. I was away for the month of July and the record just turned to crap. What happened?
Then the second question: what can a poor, hopeless Jays fan do to get J.P. canned? I've stopped going to games, and can't stand to watch any more, and the horror show they inflected on Doc Halladay was inexcusable.
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A: Guys in 2009 that performed above expectations: Hill, Scutaro, Adam Lind, Rod Barajas, Raul Chavez, Romero, Jason Frasor. Guys that performed below expectations: Wells, Rios, Snider, B.J. Ryan, David Purcey. The first month and a half was when the Jays needed to build a buffer, playing most of their games vs. the AL Central and West. They shone. After that, the schedule got tougher and the lack of offence from the middle of the order killed them. Gaston is slow to make adjustments when it comes to veteran players and he left Rios and Wells in run-producing spots too long.
Consider that all winter the Jays sold their fans on a contending rotation of Halladay, Jesse Litsch, Purcey, Richmond and another youngster. The closer in a deep bullpen was Ryan, with Downs as the setup man joined by Frasor, Brian Tallet, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson and Brandon League. The first-half defence propped up the young, improvised pitching staff, but with the departure of Rolen and Rios the D suffered, bringing down the pitching house of cards. But the real problem for the pitching staff has been the disappearance of Halladay in terms of wins. He won eight of his first nine starts and had 10 wins in the Jays’ first 59 games. He has won only three decisions since that time, in 72 team games. Halladay’s season from hell was born on the 4th of July when Ricciardi let it be known he was available if the price was right. He has been miserable in the clubhouse ever since.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love the mailbag. Two things seem obvious - Doc will be traded, and none of our current Doogie Housers have Doc-like stuff. So starting pitching next year will be mediocre at best. But let's accentuate the positive. Hill and Lind are 30+homers/100RBI guys. Snider is a slugger, Arencibia has great power potential, and if Wells starts drinking Red Bull we could retool the Jays into an offensive powerhouse. If ownership peeled off 10 million or so of the sixty-five million they've saved, wouldn't that be enough to buy a couple of big bats to fill third base and right field? In my unscientific research, it seems to me that teams that get early leads tend to win the ball game. And wouldn't it be fun to see some offence again?
Mark Weatherley, Stratford, Ont.
A: Without Halladay next year, if he is not replaced with an established presence, the Jays staff will be in trouble. As even Todd Palin knows, every Iditarod sled needs a good lead dog. When the hounds are all working together in sync with a good bitching coach, you hardly notice the leader as a leader. But take that lead dog out of the harness and you have a bunch of direction-less pooches. They may be good, strong dogs on their own, but…well you know what I mean.
How does a 2010 rotation of Marcum, Romero, Richmond, Cecil and Rzepczynski sound? Consider that in a full season of 162 games, you’re hoping a major-league rotation can eat up over 1,000 innings. If the five starters mentioned were to match their career highs as professionals, it would only add up to about 800 innings. They need a lead dog.
Consider this payroll scenario for 2010. If the Jays let McDonald, Scutaro, Barajas and Kevin Millar go to free agency and trade Halladay, Encarnacion and Overbay, moving Lind to first base, they would have guaranteed salary commitments for 2010 of $39 million committed to Wells, Hill, Downs and B.J, Ryan. Add arbitration eligible players Bautista, Frasor, Tallet, League, Casey Janssen, Marcum and Raul Chavez. That’s now about $50 million for 10 active players, plus Ryan. How about these eight players, Carlson, Richmond, Cecil, Zep, Snider, Joe Inglett, Randy Ruiz and Romero are all under control for well under $1 million for 2010. That’s potentially 18 players plus Ryan for $57 million. If they cowboy up and match this year’s payroll, the Jays could have $23 million to spend on seven players. They could certainly do something creative with that.
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