The best news that could have unfolded for the Twins this week and for all of Major League Baseball is that Joe Mauer agreed to terms on an extension through 2018 to remain with his hometown, small-market team as they move into a sparkling new outdoor stadium in downtown Minneapolis this year.
The worst news would have been if negotiations between the Twins and Mauer had been cut off and he had played the '10 season as a virtual farewell tour. Then, following the season, as would be expected, he had signed with the Yankees. What a way to welcome a new stadium.
In the wake of the Mauer's signing, there is renewed hope for small-market fans everywhere. Now the Twins' challenge is to generate enough revenue using the stadium and Mauer as the centrepieces of the franchise to get their hands on the payroll cash to add other winning-type players. It could be tough but it had to be done. It may have saved the Twins' franchise in the long-term. Nice job. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hey Richard, I'm a huge Blue Jays fan in Ottawa, a couple of weeks ago the Blue Jays were said to have signed some young Cuban star, and recently I haven't seen anything? Has contract talks stalled? Or what's going on?
Aaron Sheridan, Ottawa
A: The news about 21-year-old shortstop Adeinis Hechavarria, back at that time on March 14, did not come from the Jays' camp, meaning the details of any contract were likely still being worked out. The news came from the Yankee camp that had been notified by the player's agents that they were no longer in the running for the young defector. An educated guess re the delay is that there were more details than previously imagined to be worked out having to do with the US government, the Canadian government and the fact that Hechavarria had been cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Committee to sign with MLB clubs. The question becomes was that specifically U.S. Based MLB clubs and is there an equivalent Canadian process that needed to be satisfied? In any case, news of Hechavarria has been non-existent since that moment when the Yankees bowed out. Silence fits in with the Jays' new modus operandi. It's just a matter of time for the announcement at which time the young Cuban will probably work out at extended spring training before being assigned to a Jays' farm team.
Q: I'm wondering if the Jays may have to use Jose Bautista at third, since Edwin Encarnacion is injured and has yet to play this spring!? John McDonald could also fill in at 3rd for a game or two per week. In that case, outfield (where Bautista) has played most of his career is weakened defensively, as Travis Snider will have to step in. Has there been anyone else who has caught your eye as an outfielder!? Thanks as always for your dedicated coverage!
Frank Dixon, Kingston
A: The Jays looked earlier in the spring like Bautista might have to play more third base than expected. The fact is that in his MLB career, Bautista has made 273 starts at third base and 170 in the outfield. Third base was his primary position with the Pirates. But Encarnacion's injured hamate bone in his left hand has healed and he is cleared to play. He had five at-bats in a Triple-A game on Monday and will play in another minor-league game before re-joining the major-league club. If Encarnacion can't make it to start the season, then Bautista goes to third and, yes, there is a defensive problem in the outfield, which would be maximized if Adam Lind and Snider were forced to flank Vernon Wells. If Bautista plays third, they would prefer to leave Lind at DH and insert either Joey Gathright or Jeremy Reed in the outfield. That battle is still a tossup. As for other outfielders that have impressed, the simple answer is there have been none. Chris Lubanski, brought in from the Royals, can swing the bat but his arm is a liability, close to Shannon Stewart calibre. Mike McCoy can play out there too but has been hurt. McCoy is like a faster, better defending Joe Inglett.
Q: Richard, Can you please educate me regarding the ten million dollars the Blue Jays have awarded to Adeinis Hechavarria? How does this work, as I cannot imagine they just hand over the money now, rather than over a period of time. Once he has the money how do the Jays protect themselves against ensuring he meets their requirements.
Brian Seddon, St.Catharines
A: The $10 million (U.S.) is paid over four years and that is the guaranteed time the Jays have to develop him into a major-league player. Once he is in the major-leagues, Hechavarria would be governed by normal timeframes, including three-year (plus super-twos) arbitration and six year free agency. Hechavarria is said to have rejected the Yankee bid because he saw a likely extension to Derek Jeter as blocking his short-term path to the major leagues.
Q: How far along is the Cuban SS Hechavarria and how accurate is the Soriano comparison?
Tony Aitas, Toronto
A: If the Hechavarria deal is consummated, the young Cuban suddenly becomes the Jays' top prospect at SS ahead of Justin Jackson, Tyler Pastornicky and Gustavo Pierre. There is no clear view of how far along he is since he had not played a lot of international baseball with the Cuban team. The Alfonso Soriano comparison is based purely on physical attributes and the way he carries himself. Baseball scouts are always using comparisons to current players in trying to describe prospects. Not many scouts have seen him play in game action.
Q: Hi Richard, I strongly believe, Jays will win 70 to 80 games in 2010. I disagree with your comparison with 2003 Detroit. Also believe Jays will win more games than the Orioles. The current Jays have more powerful line-up than any other team in the AL east. They scored more runs/home runs towards the end of 2009. They lost Roy Halladay but will bring Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, and Dustin McGowan to the mound. I want your opinion on Jays' plan to move Brett Wallace to 1B. He played 3B in his career and Jays can bring him to 3B after this season. Jays have Brian Dopirak and Randy Ruiz both can play IB and DH.
Nesan Thambi, Toronto
A: There has been much misunderstanding of the comparison that was made with the '03 Tigers. It was not to say that the Jays are as bad as that Tigers team that went 43-119. The comparison was in philosophies that first you bottom out, second you avoid the temptation to add five wins in the current lost season if it costs you any part of your future, third you use this season to identify those players that will be a part of your winning future, then over the next three years you supplement with players from the farm, minor-league free agent signings, free agent signings and shrewd trades. The Jays no doubt were starting the process from a higher plateau than the '03 Tigers. As for the loss of Halladay to the rotation, Marcum missed an entire season and is jumping back in as Opening Day starter, Morrow has not started over a full season and has a slight shoulder problem and McGowan has been set back due to “dead arm” which is basically just a fatigue situation that requires complete rest. But he also has not pitched in a major-league game since July of 2008. The Jays want Wallace to be their first baseman, replacing Lyle Overbay. If the Jays are to contend then it won't be with Brian Dopirak and Randy Ruiz as their 1B/DH combo.
Q: Hey Richard, What's the back-story on Randy Ruiz? He's 32 years old, and has bounced around the majors and the minors, but his track record reads like he's the second coming of Crash Davis. I mean, how do ML clubs discard or outright someone who hits .293 with 22 home runs and 80 RBI, as happened to him 3 years ago? Why hasn't he caught on in The Bigs before this? There must be more to the story than we're hearing. Is he an ax-murderer in his spare time or something?
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A: Randy Ruiz is a really charming guy, easy to like and easy to root for, but once you leave the comfort and support of the first team that signs you as a pro, you're on your own. Top draft picks and bonus babies always have someone in their initial organization to protect them in internal meetings. Guys like Ruiz that were signed as non-drafted free agents have nobody with a vested interest in their well being. Ruiz was always considered an out of shape one-dimensional, one position player. Those guys can easily be replaced at Double and Triple-A because there's plenty of inventory that fits that description. After signing with the Reds after the '99 draft in which he was not chosen, Ruiz has signed as a free agent nine times and been sold for cash once. The 32-year-old New York City native has trimmed down, worked hard at learning to play the outfield and is in a good position with a team that needs some offence and a back-up first baseman and righthanded hitter to take some DH at-bats.
Q: Hi Richard, Who usually wins more games: the manager who plays the percentages or the manager who takes risks? Who, in your opinion, were the greatest managers of all time, and who is the best in the game today? What kind of manager do you see fitting in with the Jays in 2011?
Chris M., Collingwood
A: First question is easy. The manager who plays the percentages wins more games because the manager who takes risks is fired. As for the greatest managers of all time, that's tough because the game has changed so much since free agency was brought in the '70s. So we'll just go back to the '70s for this one. Top 5 managers since 1970? In no particular order, they would have to include: Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre, Whitey Herzog and Earl Weaver. Cox is the best in the game today followed by Terry Francona. As for the Jays' in 2011. The Tigers waited until they were on the cusp of winning before they reached out and grabbed Jim Leyland in 2006. The Jays could do worse than sign current third-base coach Brian Butterfield to continue the team's development in 2011 and then have the option of switching to a big-name whenever they believe they're ready to win.
Q: Hi Richard, Do you know if the Blue Jays have remained in contact with Doyle Alexander? He impressed me as a wily veteran and a real battler out on the mound, someone with big game experience who could tutor younger pitchers. I always thought he has the makings to be a solid minor league pitching instructor or a major league pitching coach. Back when he pitched for the Jays he won some big games for them (such as the '85 AL East Division clincher vs the Yankees) and he also won a lot of games -- 17 in both '84 and in '85 and his 9-0 record in 87 helped get the Tigers into the playoffs.
Fred Vance, Calgary
A: Some guys with all of these attributes just want to chill when their careers are over. The Jays usually stay in touch and at least have an address or phone number for their former players, but there has been no mention of the 59-year-old Alabama native in any retro or flashback festivities.
Q: Richard, Do you think the Jays will be stronger at pitching this year than hitting? It seems that they have done fairly well stocking pitchers but other than Wallace there do not seem to be any new strong-looking hitters. Are they counting on Wells post-surgery to rebound? If the hitters don't get the pitchers out of jams like they did last year it could be a long season. And will Aaron Hill continue to be a top hitter or do you feel the other teams will be on to his style moreso this year?
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A: They have indeed done very well with pitchers. Rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos had a deep base of starting pitchers, but still went out in the off-season and added more. The only problem with the starters is that they are all young (except for the inexperienced Brian Tallet). There will be too many cases this season where a pitcher will look really good for most of his stint but make just enough mistakes to lose. A bad pitch here, a bad decision there, a loss of focus here, a momentary meltdown there. It's all part of the learning process even if you have the basic talent. Offensively, the Jays rank fifth in the AL East. There is little speed in the lineup and replacing Marco Scutaro in leadoff will be tough. If Vernon Wells bounces back. If Lyle Overbay puts on a personal contract drive. If John Buck has a career year. If Aaroin Hill repeats. If others step up. Too many ifs. Hill is more likely to go .280, with 20 homers and 80 RBIs which are still good numbers for a middle infielder, but a comedown from his fabulous .286, 36HR, 108 RBIs of a year ago.
Q: Hi Richard, I don't understand why it's a big deal that Adam Lind isn't a good left fielder. He can't be worse than Manny Ramirez, Jason Bay and Johnny Damon's arm can he? Poor defense in LF doesn't seem to be an impediment to a successful team. Besides, surely both Lind and Snider could become adequate OF's with experience and coaching or am I delusional? Keep up the good work. Thanks,
Rob MacKay, Calgary
A: Taken on his own, you're right. There have been a lot of bad defensive left fielders that have had great careers. Lind can move back into the outfield at some point. He's too young to be considered just a DH. However in context, this is a bad Jays' situation to have a bad left fielder. The Jays have a young rotation that needs all the defensive help it can get, especially from outfielders. Even last September, manager Cito Gaston said it would be tough for him to have Lind and Snider flanking Wells in the starting outfield. Snider, even though he makes too many bad decisions, is still a better outfield choice than Lind. The young slugger will eventually move back into the outfield, but not this year. As for learning to play the outfield, yes, Snider and Lind can be taught better decisions, better positioning, better focus for better jumps and reads. They can become adequate. But not this year.