Q: Hello Richard,
I appreciate your writing, particularly since your appearance on the DJF podcast.
While I respect Cito Gaston and have a deep nostalgia for the World Series Jays of my childhood which he managed, I don't see him as a viable major league manager anymore. His comments at the Season Ticket holders event, his tardiness getting to spring training and his speculation about keeping Vernon Wells at cleanup have convinced me that he is not even viable as a short-term stopgap. Can you imagine a scenario in which AA successfully moves Cito into an advisorial role during the season? Or is Cito's position cast in stone given Paul Beeston's, past and present, ardent belief in his abilities?
Matthew Hills, Kingston
A: I honestly believe that all things being equal, Gaston, while retaining the final year of his salary, would have no problem jumping into the advisory role ahead of schedule. I do like Cito as a man and do feel he deserves to catch up on years of missed salary compared to other managers that continued to work during the 11 years he was shut out of the game, but this is not the type of setting and the type of roster on which he thrives. I believed at the end of the season when everyone was leaving Baltimore after the revolt was suppressed that Beeston and A.A. would make the change at manager while keeping Cito on board, but it didn't happen. It's never too late for that move though, and if Gaston finds as the season goes on that he's not enjoying it, he may get the ball rolling himself. But in the meantime there is still room for individual development of pitchers and that will still be interesting to watch as the season unfolds.
Q: I have a question regarding James Paxton, the 2nd round pick from 2009 that the Jays couldn't sign. Can the Jays pick him again? I've read that he's ranked in the Top 10 of Collegiate pitchers but right now can't pitch because of issues regarding his negotiations with Paul Beeston. Even if the Jays can draft him, do you think they would want to go to the bargaining table with his agent (ahem advisor) Scott Boras?
Jason Sinnarajah, Sydney, Australia
A: I have seen the rankings that have listed Paxton in the Top 10 of draftable prospects, but I find it strange that his draft value could rise without pitching his senior year at Kentucky. Star colleague Morgan Campbell has been all over the story that sees Paxton refusing to cooperate with an NCAA investigation as to whether uber-agent Scott Boras was an advisor or a representative when dealing with the Jays this past summer. If Boras advised the family then he's alright, but if Boras was in fact in contact with Beeston and the Jays on behalf of the young Canadian, then he becomes ineligible. Nobody is saying and Paxton will not testify therefore the NCAA and the school have suspended him from the team. It doesn't seem right somehow, since hockey players can continue to play with their schools even after being drafted and receiving bonuses (I believe). Yes the Jays could pick Paxton again and if he is available at No. 38 when the compensation for Paxton comes up, they may very well choose him again.
Q: Richard, love your columns. Can you comment please on Vernon Well's approach to hitting? From my perspective, each at bat (starts with) a first pitch fast ball down the middle of the plate with bat on the shoulder. Second pitch, flail at a low outside curve missing by a foot and a half like Casey at the Bat. Then scowl at the coaches in the dugout. Does any other major leaguer take this approach at the plate? Have the Jays ever actually plotted his at bats relative to other major leaguers and shown him the error of his ways? Let's get this fixed before another slow start by Vernon. Thank you.
Larry Dart, Haliburton
A: There is no joy in Mudville...I believe I saw the exact at-bat that you described – or maybe it was just one of the many other at-bats that was similar. It sometimes seems like Vernon has no real plan when he goes to the plate. Like with bases loaded or runners at second and third, where he'll take a hack at the first pitch and pop it up to end a rally. Of course, when a player is going badly we tend to remember the 70-percent of the bad, but the fact is that I cannot remember a dramatic game-changing hit from 2009 for Wells. That's why I believe it might help Wells to bat leadoff instead of fifth or sixth (definitely not fourth). Lyle Overbay was describing on Tuesday how when he batted second for a while, he found the pitchers more aggressive with the strike zone early in the count but that because his style is to work deeper into counts that he was falling behind early and often. If Wells could be aggressive and see more good pitches early in counts it might help him get off to a good 2010 start.
Q: I don't seem to be getting much talk about Randy Ruiz. He seems to be a hitter to me. With Lind being to young to DH all the time it seems Ruiz might fit the bill. Look forward to your comments.
Ted Jackson, Gore Bay, Ont.
A: I like the idea of Ruiz as a bench player for the Jays. He had a terrific year in the Puerto Rican Winter League after impressing with the Jays down the stretch last year. Since the Jays play their starting nine most of the time, it would make it interesting to have different skill sets available to come off the bench in late innings. Ruiz could bring a power bat, Joey Gathright could bring speed if you need the tying run to score from first on a double in the ninth. Johnny Mac could bring infield defence and Jose Molina a catcher if you had to run for John Buck. Ruiz is 32 years old and a bench role as a professional hitter is pretty much as good as it will get for him.
Q: Hi Richard,
I noticed that Feb 13th is your anniversary with the Toronto Star. Congratulations! I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your columns, mailbags and blogs. The references you make to the Expos makes for some interesting baseball history in Canada. Since your beginnings with the Star what would be a couple of your favourite baseball stories?
Charles Adam, Manitoulin Island
A: My all-time favourite project was the two-page spread I did on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's arrival in mainstream pro ball, not in Brooklyn, but in 1946 with the Montreal Royals. Meeting and interviewing Rachel Robinson was amazing. I also enjoyed covering the Cal Ripken streak breaker, the Mark McGwire 61st home run, the Ted Williams coming through the gate at the All-Star Game at Fenway Park and every World Series that I have been at – which is all of them since I arrived. I was emotionally touched at the final Expos game at Olympic Stadium. That's 16 years at the Star and 38 years working around major-league baseball and I am not close to being tired of doing this.
Q: What is your view on the 3B situation? Over the years it has always been a position that has provided both sure hands and a relatively intimidating stick (e.g. Gruber, Batista, Glaus, Rolen) ... until now. This Edwin Encarnacion is a temporary solution, I hope. His defence is questionable, to go with a so-so bat. Is there no one in the farm system rising in the ranks that could fill this spot more adequately than this ML pseudo-talent? Are we stuck with this guy for the duration of the year? Do you see management going out at some point and picking up a better third-baseman providing there is better talent available? And would not John McDonald be a better plug-in at the hot corner considering he plays much better defence? It's not as if the team would be missing a whole ton of offence if E.E. is the best that the Jays can come up with.
Darrell Holtze, Guelph
A: The Jays were stuck with the 2010 contract Encarnacion in order to secure pitching prospects Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart. If the Reds were going to take Scott Rolen's salary, the Jays had to take Encarnacion. They are stuck with it. The closest third base prospect to being ready for the majors is Brett Wallace, acquired from the A's in the Doc three-way, but of course the plan there is for Wallace to hone his skills as a fulltime first baseman. Last spring a couple of homegrown middle infielders, Scott Campbell and Brad Emaus looked pretty good. But they aren't in any long-range plans. The future of third base is supposed to be Kevin Ahrens, from the '07 draft, but he stalled at A-Dunedin last year and likely will have to repeat, so he is a couple of developmental years away still.
Q: Is it true the Blue Jays are replacing the FieldTurf at the Rogers Centre with AstroTurf? I thought we were done seeing that playing surface for good, and don't the players hate AstroTurf even more than FieldTurf?
Jason Sinnarajah, Sydney, Australia
A: Once again, Morgan Campbell is all over the turf story, having written about the replacement of the Rogers Centre surface on Tuesday. The Jays and Rays are the only turf fields left and AstroTurf is putting on a push to get into more university and community field. They have improved the surface and need to make it work with the Jays as a sales tool. If not for all the shows that Rogers wants to put in there, I would be all for natural grass in there.
Q: Hello Mr. Griffin,
Love the insights on the Jays, looking forward to watching this young team this year. In response to your article on J.P. Arencibia on Feb 23/10; what do the jays really have to lose by using him in a platoon with one of Buck/Chavez/Molina....they already have a young team that may be line for a tough year in the W/L column....how about getting him in there to see what he can do? Judging by all of the obstacles he had to go through last year and still ended up with decent numbers in AAA, isn't this the year to give the prospects a chance at the major league level? Looking fwd to the 2010 season, keep up the insights!
A: Personally, I would rather see a healthy Arencibia start the season at Triple-A and succeed, then bring him up sometime during the season. Neither Jose Molina nor John Buck are starters behind the plate, so I believe there will be a window of opportunity for Arencibia in 2010, but to see him start with the Stars is probably the right thing. Besides, the young starters could use some experience calling pitches as they get their feet wet.