Welcome to the first edition of the 2010 baseball mailbag. As we speak, it seems the Jays under rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos are making what on the surface seems like their first personnel misstep in pursuing the overpriced, redundant-to-the-cause bullpen closer, Kevin Gregg. The 31-year-old Gregg has been far from a lights-out closer over the course of his career, with his last three years being in the NL for the Marlins and Cubs. The question becomes is he any better as a closing option for a Jays' team that will be struggling to provide save opportunities than would a Jason Frasor or Scott Downs? In any case, should the deal get done, it signals that there is at least one further transaction on the horizon before spring training involving one or more of the Jays' very deep bullpen corps. The most likely pitchers to be traded from the pen are the hardluck Jeremy Accardo or the less-than-inspiring Frasor. It's not the money, because the Jays have lots of it to spend just to equal last year's payroll, it's what they are spending it on in an area in which they are already deep that seems dicey. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard - I'm a long time Jays fan but I can't help but turn my thoughts more to next season (2011) than this season. After Cito Gaston leaves at the end of the year, do you see the Jays hiring someone new to the MLB level (either internally or externally) or bringing a big name manager?
Josh Turner, Toronto
A: I see the Jays turning to a first-time manager following Cito's retirement in 2011. It will likely be someone from outside the organization, someone that has major-league experience as a coach and someone that has dealt in the past with GM Alex Anthopoulos, assistant Dana Brown or both. In my experience through the years, teams most often follow up one manager with the opposite in style and personality. Look at the head honcho succession for the Jays. The tightly wound traditionalist Jimy Williams was followed by the player-friendly Cito Gaston, followed by the blood-and-guts lifetime coach Tim Johnson, then by the lifetime by-the-book skipper Jim Fregosi, followed by the former Jays' playing legend, media-savvy but starry-eyed Buck Martinez, by the no-nonsense, no-name Carlos Tosca, by the aw-shucks country boy John Gibbons, by the metamorphosized by this time into a non player-friendly but still just let-em-play-ball Cito. Thus the next guy will be a young spunky tactician right for the moment of an emerging, talented, still inexperienced young 2011 team.
Q: With the Jays roster getting younger and younger, how likely will it be that Cito makes it through the season?
Donald Wright, Los Gatos, Calif.
A: Back in 1997 when Cito was fired, he was not yet ready to pack it in as a manager and was also just three years removed from back-to-back World Series wins. It was tougher for him to accept a crappy team that wasn't actually so young yet had a low ceiling. At that time, he could see how managing a bad team, even with huge talents like Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen, could affect his future as a manager. He did not react well. This time he has a more zen-like attitude. Also, the makeup of this coaching staff is better than last year in support of a laissez-play manager like Cito. This time, in his last hurrah, he will have season-long communication with his pitching coach. His other coaches will have one ear in the clubhouse proper to prevent the end-of-season of their discontent. Gaston, with four more years as an adviser to come, will survive the season. The next step for Cito as an assistant to the GM is to be able to differentiate between Jeremy and Casey as he failed to do for season ticket holders last week.
Q: What is Dustin McGowan's status? People talk about Ricky Romero as the projected number one starter, however McGowan seemed to have incredible stuff a couple of seasons ago and seemed well on his way to harnessing it. How would you compare him and Romero?
Eric Emerson, Roslin, Ont.
A: I fear sometimes that expectations for a returning McGowan are going to be more than he is capable of producing. People tend to romanticize his accomplishments before the injuries that put Dustin on the shelf in July of 2008. He was a terrific arm, with electric stuff that, even at that time, had not put it all together yet and was at best a No. 3 starter heading towards No. 2 status. Several days ago he threw from a mound with no pain. That is a far cry from pitching into the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium, having thrown 110 stressful pitches in a major-league game in the middle of the summer. He has missed 19 months and two days of pitching from a mound to live hitters. It is unreasonable to expect that in the next 60 days he can be ready to join the Jays' starting rotation. First of all, there is no need to rush him back with the number of major-league experienced youngsters coming to camp ready to pitch. I can see him remaining on the 15-day DL at the end of camp then remaining in Dunedin to open the season in their rotation and then moving up through the system until he is proven ready top re-join the Jays. He can make an impact eventually at the major-league level, but don't expect too much too soon. As for Ricky Romero being the ace, he needs to show he can handle 200 innings and not run out of gas in mid-August. He will be matched up against other teams' aces and needs to step up his own game. I would rather have a healthy Shaun Marcum start the season facing the best opponents.
The Blue Jays' ownership, management, beat writers and even the national media say that 2010 will be a "throw-away" season, that even a hundred losses will be tolerated. If I were a member of the team's 40-man roster, I'd be coming to spring training feeling mad and humiliated over the situation. If you were the manager of the Jays, what would you tell the players on the morning of the full team's first-day workout? As always, thanks.
Ben Prestianni, Newark, Delaware
A: I beg to differ on your interpretation of what various segments of baseball society have been saying about the Jays in 2010. I do not recall anyone in management saying that it is a “throwaway” season and I certainly do not recall anyone with the Jays talking about 100 losses being acceptable. That's just 62 wins, dude. Management to the best of my recollection has insinuated that a .500 season could be a goal, while most media – national and local – talk about a win total in the 70s. That's like saying about your infant child as he turns one-year-old that the next year, between one and two, is a “throwaway” year because, after all, he starts the year still dumping in his diaper and still staggers when he walks. Hey mom, let's ignore him until he turns four then we can pay attention again. That's not the way it works. There is no such thing as a “throwaway” year in life or sports. Then again, aren't they the same?
Q: How seriously should we take AA's comments that he's "talking" to Johnny Damon's agent? And would he ever come here anyway?
Jim Meehan, Richmond Hill
A: Damon's agent is Scott Boras and, hey, things went so well for the Jays talking to the Great One about James Paxton, the Jays' touted Canadian pick in the sandwich round of last June's draft why not let's do it again. Was Boras or was he not representing Paxton as agent or was he just advising him, because the NCAA wants to know and Paxton is not cooperating? Now Paxton's suspended from his senior year of ball at the University of Kentucky and lawsuits are flying. Then Boras badly miscalculated the market for Damon and with a couple of weeks to go until spring training is grasping at straws – and Jays. Damon needs to create a market for himself and thus the assurance that he would be willing to play for the Jays – of course hoping that at the deadline he would be traded to a contender (i.e. the Yankee). Is that really the kind of “me-first” attitude you want in your clubhouse at spring training infecting your young homegrowns that have nowhere to go at the deadline? Damon, after the Yankees and others spurned him, can't really afford to dismiss any team that makes eye contact, which of course is what the rookie GM Anthopoulos has been doing with everyone. (See: Aroldis Chapman, Ben Sheets, et al).
Q: Hey Richard,
I don't know if you saw Keith Law's ranking of baseball farm systems the other day. He put the Jays at #16. Is that fair? We keep hearing that we're working to build for the future. 16 doesn't sound like too good of a start to me.
Mike Shankley, Toronto
A: Hey, Keith Law has been tough on the Jays over the years since he left the club's employment. I finally knew he had it made as a media member when former GM J.P. Ricciardi dismissively said “it didn't take Keith long to become an a-hole like the rest of them.” That's why we have now welcomed Law into the BBWAA (by the way, neither of those A's stands for a-hole). In any case, Law's ESPN.com ranking of the Jays farm system at 16 is significant progress for the organization, thanks to the acquisition of talented young prospects starting with the Scott Rolen trade last July for Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart and the Doc trade that brought in Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace and Travis D'Arnaud. The Jays' farm sustem might be ranked higher if not for the fact that many of the young pitchers that should by all rights still be at Double-A or AAA were pressed into major-league service last year due to injuries and other factors.
Q: Spring Training - how do some games remain tied after 10, 11 innings, others after 9, and others after 5, 6 innings? Who decides? Were all those games rained out? Curfews in effect?
Mark Roda, Lourinha, Portugal
A: That's a good question that we don't often think about because living in Portugal, all it would say on the website boxscore is that the game ended in a tie with no explanation. The easiest way to explain it is that any official tie game of more than five and less than nine innings is the result of weather. Any tie game after that (9+ innings) is the result of the visiting team running out of pitchers. They all used to be played to conclusion, even if the visiting team had to pitch a position player in extra innings, but no more. I remember the first time it happened when I was a P.R. Guy with the Expos in the late '80s. We got a call in the press box in West Palm Beach from the home dugout that this was the last inning because the visitors didn't bring enough pitchers. We prayed that someone would score in the 10th and end it properly. When it remained tied, we made the stadium announcement that the game was over and you would have thought that we had held the crowd up at gunpoint. It started as a rumble and turned into a roar. The press box at West Palm was just a long, two-row gondola high above the stands. From the top of the grandstands behind the plate was a skinny wooden gangplank with rails at a 45-degree angle. As irate fans started to swarm up the plank, I was forced to lock the door and look through the little glass porthole, feeling like Frankenstein's monster facing the villagers with torches. We made further announcements that the game was official, no money would be returned and people finally went home. The memory still haunts me. In any case, since that time, it has become commonplace for managers to just bring enough pitchers to get through nine innings and then head for the bus.
Q: I'm trying to decide the best stat to measure ballplayers. I've decided that OPS is the best stat to rank offensive players but I'm finding it trickier to find a stat to rank pitchers, I've been looking at OPS+ / WHIP / ERA+. What stats do you look at to determine how good a pitcher is?
Anthony Ball, Mississauga
A: I'm like Al Davis. “Just win, baby!” No, actually, as an old school baseball guy, I'm actually beginning to like some of the SABR generated stats for pitchers, but to me, for a starting pitcher, I find it hard to consider anyone among the elite at his profession (i.e. Hall-of-Fame) if his win total is not at least 50-percent of his games started. Also, when I'm looking at the Jays' farm system for example, I like to find pitchers with more than one strikeout per inning pitched. Then I take those pitchers and find their actual SO/9IP and then subtract their walks-per-9 innings pitched. The higher that remaining number the better chance I rate them of moving up in the system. I use that because at the lower levels of the minors, on balls put in play there is the un-eveness of field conditions and defensive support. Plus, young starting pitchers on a pitch count don't get many chances to win games going five innings.
Q: Hey Richard,
I bet you're sick of Delgado e-mails already, but I've been at work for a while and I've missed the beginning of the Delgado rumours, and I just read about AA's denial. I understand what they're trying to do, and as a fan I'm willing to be patient. But they've got to throw us a bone here. I loved watching Delgado play. He remains my favorite Jay in franchise history, and I'm sure there are a lot of Blue Jay fans who feel the same way. If Delgado was in a Jay uniform and at the plate, I wouldn't change the channel. Besides, he can't be worse than Lyle Overpaid.
A: The rumours of Delgado being a player of interest for the Jays refuse to go away. My belief is that Delgado still is gimping around in Puerto Rico and needs to improve physically before anyone can consider him. I believe that if the Jays trade Overbay then they would revisit the Delgado signing. I think that the first baseman of the future would become Brett Wallace but that the Jays would not want to just hand him the job, which is where Delgado in the twilight of his career would enter the picture, allowing the Jays to ease the new guy into the role while at the same time having one of the team's all-time greats go out with dignity in the team's uniform. The question becomes can Delgado still play any first base or would he have to DH platoon and with Overbay gone who would play first. The Jays definitely do not want corner outfielders to be Lind and Snider but they want both those bats in the lineup. Would Lind make a temporary move to first base until Wallace was ready?
Q: Hi Richard,
Two part question: 1) If this is it for Delgado's career, is he a hall of famer? 2) If his stats do make him a hall of famer does he suffer because he played in the steroids era? Will the writers think that it's not a coincidence that his career peaked during the steroid years and started to falter after steroids became illegal to use?
Vsem Yenovkian, Toronto
A: I love Delgado as a player and in his Jays' career as a positive clubhouse presence, but I have trouble seeing him as a Hall-of-Famer. He will be a Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Famer at St. Marys, but Cooperstowen I believe is beyond his grasp. The steroids era will have nothing to do with it.
I understand the concept of having guys like Travis Snider, Jose Bautista, Joey Gathright and Jeremy Reed competing for 3 of 4 outfield positions on the roster. They should have signed Reed Johnson to also come compete for a spot in the outfield? He has experience as a leadoff hitter, can play all three outfield positions and wouldn't have taken time to adapt to the atmosphere in the clubhouse.
Jesse Neary, Markham
A: Johnson recently signed a one year $850,000 deal with the Dodgers and that is a great move for Reed and for the Dodgers. He really is a NL type player, with the ability to play defence, run the bases and hit the occasional line-drive as a spot starter in all three outfield positions. With Manny Ramirez in left, Reed will finish every game in which the Dodgers have a two-run lead or better in the eighth inning or later after Manny's last at-bat. He may play 120 games in L.A. Johnson is an Angelino who is a legend at Cal-State Fullerton starting there in centre field ahead of Aaron Rowand. He's at home and will have a great season but at this stage he was no longer a for the Jays.