The drawn-out saga of Adeiny Hechavarria began on March 14 when it was announced the 20-year-old Cuban shortstop had spurned the Yankees in favour of an offer and an opportunity to play from the Jays. Finally, after much silence, several false sightings and premature pennings, a full 30 days later, the announcement of the signing was made official on Tuesday. The Jays don't talk about things until they are done deals, but the impact of the Hechavarria coup will resonate far beyond just the one player, one team as the rest of baseball, player agents, free agents, other GMs and baseball fans realize that the Jays are becoming true players for international free agents for the first time ever.
There are mixed reviews on Hechavarria as a defender, but the fact is he is now on the clock, having been signed and optioned to the minors. The Jays paid him an up-front signing bonus of $4 million, with $500,000 for 2010 and the rest staggered over the next three years (2011-13). The $4.5 million will count as major-league payroll pushing the Jays' 2010 total up over $66 million. Using his first of three options this year means that he is being fast-tracked to the majors. He needs to be on the 25-man roster by Opening Day of 2013 or he will have to be placed on waivers and likely claimed. But by all reports that is not going to happen. The more likely scenario is that he is the Jays starting shortstop early in the 2011 season with John McDonald as his tutor.
The $10 million may seem like a lot for an unproven 20-year-old but he is under the team's control for as few as six years and as many as nine before he can become a free agent. The bar was set by the Red Sox when they signed a Cuban shortstop named Jose Iglesias for $8.2 million. Since it was the fact of the arrival of Hechavarria into the Cuban national team program that caused Iglesias to have to move from shortstop to second base, it also made sense that Adeiny's agents would suggest that he was worth more money than his fellow countryman. Hechavarria will remain in Dunedin at extended spring training for the moment. The club has assigned 25-year-old righthanded pitcher, Kenny Rodriguez, born in Havana, living in Lima, Peru, rehabbing in Dunedin, as Hechavarria's Designated Friend. He has registered for English courses and may be assigned to Double-A New Hampshire as early as June. If he gets homesick, Adeiny can always take the four hour drive to Montreal from Manchester to buy some Cuban cigars. His buddy Kenny made 13 starts for the Fisher Cats last year and knows the area. On to the mailbag.
I am curious what the ceiling is for guys like Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Both are young players and were extremely high draft picks. Normally with the 5th and 6th overall picks in a draft, teams would expect to get superstars. Yet it doesn't appear that either is that highly regarded. In Morrow's case, one team has already given up on him...Your insight would be helpful. Thanks.
Tanome Mchale, Toronto
A-If you check back through various drafts for various major-league clubs since 1968, you may notice that not every Top 10 overall pick becomes a star much less a superstar. Many never even make it to the big leagues. In baseball more than any other sport, the draft remains a crapshoot. Reasons? Teams are forced to compare and evaluate position players at eight different positions and pitchers from a variety of areas where the competition against which they are being evaluated varies dramatically and the ages, ranging from 17-22, are all at various stages of physical development. I can tell you firsthand from my scouting assignment for the Jays in Florida to see Lakeland High School's shortstop Yordy Cabrera for one game that it ain't easy when the player is dominant against his peers and gets just three swings in four plate appearances.
It's merely a coincidence that this question leads off the mailbag the day after Romero pitched what is undoubtedly the best major-league start of his brief career. The guy was fabulous. He fanned 12 Sox hitters in the first six innings using his changeup as the hammer. He made a lot of the Sox hitters look bad and if he can continue to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters with all his pitches, he has a chance to be the Jays' ace. It's funny because he took so long to develop, which is unusual for a college pitcher of his status at Cal-State Fullerton going to the College World Series and all. As for Morrow, he was drafted by the M's on the basis of his stuff and not his mental maturity which is now just catching up to his body. Morrow needs to stay healthy and adapt to his full-time starter's role. He had always been bounced back and forth between bullpen and rotation. He will likely never be a superstar, but he can be a serviceable major-league starter. The M's may not have given up on him as much as give him a change of scenery trading him for Brandon League, who also needed a change.
So, based on the Jays' start, they finish first, with a 135-27 record, right? Isn't that a new MLB 'most wins' record? Seriously, since the Jays will be sellers at the trade deadline, who are your top five 'likely to be traded' Jays this year?
Stu Royal, Erin, Ont.
A-Sarcasm does not become you. The Jays are off to a fast start, but it's like squirrels storing up nuts for the winter. As Rocky once said to Alvin (yeah, yeah I know he's a chipmunk) "A nut in November counts as much as a nut in February." As for being sellers at the trade deadline, that will not be necessary for the Jays because of monetary reasons but simply if a player does not figure in the future plans of the club – the Gospel according to Alex. The Jays' may not have an official list of five players most likely to be traded, but here's a list of several that could be moved to a contender looking for mid-level help. First-baseman Lyle Overbay, catcher Jose Molina, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (Jays could pay salary), outfielder Jose Bautista and pitchers Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, Jeremy Accardo and Scott Downs (could be very valuable). I guess that's more than five. Never mind.
There's been a few questions about Travis Snider already on your blog but I've got one more. If the team has already come out saying that they are in a rebuilding phase and pretty much any fan realizes anything better than 4th in the AL East would be a great finish, why is Travis hitting 9th? Give the kid some confidence by batting higher in the order and showcase the future of the franchise by putting him in 5th. He's got the pop for it. He's not going to get good pitches batting in the bottom half of the order where pitchers can go right after him because no one's on base. At least he moved up to 8th yesterday against the Orioles in a game where he had two intentional walks with runners on. What are Cito and Alex thinking?
Phil Charles, Halifax
A-Well that brings up the question of how do you protect a hitter? Do you do it with the hitters behind him or by getting runners on base in front of him. It's a much-debated question, but for a young guy like Snider, say you bat him in seventh place in the order. It's sort of like the DMZ between North and South Korea, a no-man's land where the only protection is the elements (philosophical, n'est-ce-pas?) What I'm trying to say is that if he's in the seventh spot in the order and the 8-9 guys behind him are struggling or not that good, why would anyone pitch to him and boost his confidence. Make him chase your pitch – which he is already wont to do. Then again if nobody is getting on base in the 5-6 spot ahead of him it compounds the protection problem. At least by batting him ninth the hitters behind him are Bautista, Hill, Snider, Wells and the rest. Cito would argue that is the best protection for a young guy. However, that being said, I would still bat him seventh after Overbay and Encarnacion to go L-R-L. But that's just me. By the way, Travis does not lack for confidence.
I know it's extremely early on in the season, but 3 homers in 2 games(at the time I'm sending this) sure is an auspicious start for Vernon Wells. I know you believe he is the likely comeback player of the year for the Jays. My question is this: can Vernon opt out of his deal at the end of this season? If so, and assuming he has a nice year (say 30 hrs and around 100 rbi), do you think he'll walk? And would Wells opting out be a good or bad thing for the Jays? Despite the exorbitant contract, you would think he could be part of the core - he's not that old and certainly has a few years left in him.
JP Mercieca, Vancouver
A-I don't know why you suggest that I ever said Vernon was the likely comeback player-of-the-year. The only reason that anyone would suggest him as a comeback player candidate is because of his contract and I don't think anyone gets teary-eyed for a guy making $20 million and racking up 66 RBIs in the same way they did for Josh Hamilton (drugs) or Aaron Hill (concussion). Being overpaid will never be the right vehicle to sell a made-for-TV movie to Hallmark. As for the opt-out, if Vernon could and did opt out of his deal the Jays would surely build a statue to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Actually Vernon can really opt out of his deal after the 2011 season -- which is as likely as Elin Woods telling Tiger all is forgiven and keep the cash. When Vernon signed the deal back in the heyday of free-spending on Manny and A-Rod and Alfonso, it looked like it was a bargain, thus the opt-out clause to protect Wells. No chance now as salaries for baseball's underachievers head south faster than Capistrano swallows on Red Bull. Wells is a really good guy and does not deserve to be booed because of a Jays' management mistake that allows him to do rich-guy stuff like fly from Ft. Myers to Clearwater/St. Pete after a road game at spring training. That is totally wack and part of what is wrong with the game. As for the final part of the question, sure with his talent he can be a part of a winning team taking money out of the equation, but when the Jays have that much salary wrapped up in one player, their hands are tied. GM Alex Anthopoulos does not do his best work when his hands are tied.
Just watched Edwin Encarnacion let a groundball go between his legs (game 2 of the season). How is he in the big leagues and when will the Jays willgive up on him and release him (or try to find someone dumb enough to trade for him)? My guess is that by June 1, we won't have to watch the worst defensive 3B in the league anymore. His initials do suit him though, don't you think? Thanks,
Jess Bechard, London
A-Last trade deadline GM J.P. Ricciardi did Scott Rolen a favour in trading him closer to his midwest home, to the Reds and his former St. Louis GM Walt Jocketty. However as part of that deadline deal, the small market Reds made the Jays accept Edwin Encarnacion and his remaining year-and-a-half of salary. He will make $4.75 million this year and by the July 31 trade deadline that amount will be down to about $1.5 million owing. If he has a first-half that includes more game like he showed in support of Ricky Romero on Tuesday night, then they have a chance to trade him for a prospect even if they have to pay the remainder of his 2010 contract. They would do that in a heartbeat.
Q-The Jays remind me a lot of the Leafs in that the new administration comes in and talks about rebuilding (reloading, whatever), but initially sticks with the same players for the most part. Not until near the end of the hockey season did the Leafs gut the roster and bring up the young guys. I understand there are risks to bringing players up to the big leagues early, like possibly loss of confidence, but as a fan, I'd have a lot of patience for them and would much rather see young guys with potential, than veterans with little potential (which defines the Jays hitters, minus Snider, Hill and Lind). I'd much rather see the likes of Wallace, Arencibia, and any other young star, and not have to wait until the All-Star break or later to see these guys. I'm happy to tune in nightly and watch young guys fail (and learn from their mistakes), but won't suffer with a bunch of Bautistas, Bucks and Gonzalezes who won't be around when it matters. Your thoughts?
Adam Green, Toronto
A-I think it's unfair to compare any professional Toronto sports team to the Leafs. Baseball is such a different sport. In hockey, the spotlight does not shine five times per night, six days a week on any one player like it does when a rookie regular steps into the batter's box. For instance, I thought as a casual hockey fan that Christian Hanson was doing okay after he was called up by the Leafs -- until he scored two goals vs. the Habs on the final Saturday of the season and they said it was his first two goals. You're kidding? You couldn't fly under the radar like that in baseball. If Kevin Ahrens came up for the Jays and played third base every day, sure he could make plays defensively, but that harsh, unforgiving spotlight would shine on him five times a night and his Interstate batting average would not allow for a spirit of Christian (Hanson) forgiveness. Failure at the plate and on the mound in baseball can be crushing. That's why Brian Tallet in the rotation has a place instead of bringing up a younger guy to fail right away and Encarnacion has a place keeping the position warm.
Nice to have the mailbag back - thanks for your insights and humour! I'm excited by the great start we're seeing from the Jays, and I'm wondering if part of that reflects a strong team chemistry and ethic of supporting one another. I see Alex Gonzalez, Mike McCoy and John McDonald 'competing' for time on the field, but also seemingly very quick to back one another up. John Buck and Jose Molina seem to complement one another well, though they are not interchangeable. The pitchers all seem to be cheering for one another, and by having three potential closers in Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg and Jason Frasor, we will be the envy of many teams over the course of the season. My question is, what is your take of the chemistry of this bunch? Are they really that supportive of one another? Do they put the team ahead of their personal aspirations, as it seems they are doing right now? It appears to be an impressive effort at team building by AA and Cito.
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A-The fact is that nobody puts their team, their company, whatever, ahead of themselves.That's very un-human-like. We're all basically selfish. But as far as it goes, this is a really good group for chemistry. The young guys know they are the future of the organization. The older guys know they are not the future but can secure their next job with another club by staying prepared and helping out if they mentor and do their job as team builders for the Jays. The fact of the matter is that they really do like each other because there are no superstars and the ones that may actually be, like Hill and Lind, are humble and normal. McDonald has already mentored McCoy and Mac admires Gonzalez. It's a better group in the clubhouse than it actually is on the field. But still the wall awaits and an under .500 record.
Q-Richard, I think I can pinpoint a moment when the jays had a real chance over the last two years and blew it. If JP had of been able to pull off the trade of Alex Rios for Tim Lincecum that was a highly publicized rumour we would be set. If that trade happens we never move Roy and we come into this year with a Top 4 of Halladay, Lincecum, Marcum and Romero. That would be the best top 4 in baseball. With Lind and Hill moving forward and hopefully Vernon Wells showing at least a minor improvement we would be one or two pieces away. I would also have to think if this were the case we would have been more actively pursuing Chone Figgins giving us a bonafide leadoff man. I know this is all fantasy but if that trade happened I think this is where we would have been. What are your thoughts on my thought?
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A-If Lincecum for Rios had happened then J.P. Ricciardi would have been extended and Brian Sabean (Giants' GM) would have been fired by now. But my understanding of circumstances at the time is that Lincecum was just one of the Giants starters being mentioned in any trade. Sure, he may have been the one the Jays wanted most but he is also the one the Giants wanted to give up least. I recall at the time Rios was considered a superstar in waiting, a five-tool player and an adequate replacement in the outfield was not on the horizon in the Jays' farm system (still isn't). That trade would surely have changed the direction if not the fortunes of the franchise. But it didn't happen. I think it's a little harsh to say the Jays "blew it."
Q-Hey Richard, I was reading your article today and seen that Vernon Wells was spending the off day with his foundation. So I looked at his site and what I noticed is that all his charity work is done in Texas. My question is does Vernon do any charity in the T.O. area other than the obligatory golf tourney or sick or underprivileged kids sky box? I mean in Texas he's breaking ground on a housing project. Has he done anything like that in Toronto or is it just checkbook charity for us?
Dave Miller, Mississauga
A-When Vernon signed his huge contract with the Jays he committed to handing over $1 million to the Jays Care Foundation over the length of his deal. He is involved with MLB's RBI (reviving baseball in the inner city) initiative in Toronto and offers his time in other areas. But the majority of his Perfect 10 charity work is in Texas where he grew up and where he lives in the off-season.
Q-Did you think Cito should have pulled Marcum after he gave up his first hit to the Rangers on opening day? He had pitched well to that point and had brought the Jays to the 7th inning which is a pretty good outing for someone coming back from Tommy John surgery. Wouldn't Casey Janssen be better at that point?
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A-Personally, I would have replaced Marcum with a hearty backslap and a handshake after he gave up his first hit in the seventh on Opening Day. He has a long history in his short career of games started in which he works six shutout innings and then gives up runs. Gaston acknowledged after the game that he just found that stat out after the game himself, but given that six-and-trouble history and given a fresh bullpen with Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs and Jason Frasor to handle the last nine outs, that would have been my thought. Nothing like a second-guess on the first day.
Q-Dear Mr. Griffin: I believe that Cito Gaston, otherwise a brilliant manager, has some obsession with incompetent closers. How can he pick Frasor to be a closer when this bloke is one of the least reliable pitchers on the Blue Jays' roster? Remember his disastrous start in spring training when he went through almost the entire lineup of the opposing team without retiring anyone? Again, in his first game against Texas, he faced six batters, retiring only one and putting the other five on base (one intentionally). He put the first batter he faced on base in every single game he pitched so far. And against Chicago he blew another one. Closers should be the most reliable pitchers, not the least reliable ones. Without Frasor the Blue Jays would now be 7 and 0. Fans are getting very frustrated with Frasor (and Cito's love affair with him) The Blue Jays must choose between getting rid of him or thousands of fans. Regards,
Andrew Elek, Toronto
A-It looks like your wish has been granted – at least for the moment. When Gregg came in to Tuesday's game in relief of Romero and dispatched the Sox 1-2-3 it likely signalled that he will become the ninth inning option with Downs setting up and Frasor back in the seventh inning mix with Janssen and Shawn Camp. It's not Gaston's fault that since he took over in June of '08 he has been handed shaky closers like B.J. Ryan, then Scott Downs, then Frasor. You seem to be forgetting Tom Henke then Duane Ward who closed for Cito back in the glory days. I believe Cito had a love affair with those guys that resulted in back-to-back titles. Besides, I do not believe that it ever came down to a choice between keeping Frasor as the Jays' closer or losing thousands of fans.