It was a tough week for major-league baseball. First of all, condolences to the family of Keli McGregor, president of the Colorado Rockies, who passed away on Tuesday in Salt Lake City at the age of 48. In terms of the state of the game, commissioner Bud Selig, always with the ability to find a silver lining in every dark cloud, will have trouble making this year look good. In addition to alarmingly low attendance totals all over baseball, MLB announced the suspension of Reds' pitcher Edinson Volquez for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. I guess that shows the drug-testing program is working. In any case, the Jays catch a break from their nightly flirtations with record attendance lows, heading to Tampa for a weekend series and then returning to face the Red Sox on Monday, a series they should manage to attract between 20-30,000 per night. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love your writing and your perspective on the Jays. Esp your piece on the Alex 'Mr Credibility' Rios kerfuffle of last week. Anyway, I want to ask you about attendance as an indicator of whether fans in some markets are done with being sold a game that's ruled by forces other than the talent on the field. ie. Why would anyone pay to see the Jays and KC? These forces in particular: front office indifference/ineptitude in fielding a competitive team (KC, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, maybe Toronto) plus the well-documented payroll disparities and gun-to-the-team's-head draft rules. It's like trying to climb a mountain of sand while the Yanks take an escalator, isn't it? Not a new argument, I know, but surely this ridiculous economic climate encourages people to spend their money and time on quality products and not the threadbare legacy of the JP Ricciardi era or other organizations with a similar commitment to mediocrity? How can anyone expect attendance to do anything other than decline?
Sean C., Vancouver
A: I don't believe that total attendance is the best indicator of whether a sport is viable in any given market ...like, f'rinstance, Toronto. I think that the biggest enemy of any pro sport is apathy and apathy is not, I repeat not, the reality of a mere 10,000 people in the ballpark. No, apathy is nobody paying the slightest attention to your sporting enterprise. It's nobody caring about you, listening on radio or watching on TV. It's nobody caring enough to argue about whether your sport is dead. None of those apathy definitions apply to Toronto and the Jays. Attendance at the ballpark is a product of consumer rights and customer savvy. Fans don't owe a franchise anything in terms of attending games, especially at 21st Century prices. If an organization builds a winner fans will come. Being a sports fan isn't like being a patriot. It's not “My sports team, right or wrong.” That being said there are baseball markets where apathy is a bigger issue than Toronto and that is something baseball needs to address immediately in the next basic agreement with stuff like expanded playoffs to keep more cities engaged in the later stages of the regular season.
This certainly is an interesting and far-reaching e-mail to get the ball rolling. I believe payroll disparity will always exist because of the differences in local broadcast revenues. There will never be a salary cap. It doesn't mean the Yankees and Red Sox will always win. It means the Yankees and Red Sox will always be the teams to beat. There's a huge difference. As for the June amateur draft, I believe at some point the rule about not trading draft choices will have to change so teams not willing or capable of spending the money to sign and develop players properly on the farm can get players closer to being ready for primetime even if they have been developed by another organization in exchange for top draft picks. That will wait for another column or two.
Q: Hi Richard,
Fantastic mail bag! Keep up the great work! A quick one for you that I'm sure is on many minds: Is Dustin McGowan's career done? In stretching my memory to remember another player who has come back from 2+ years and counting on the DL. Is there one I'm forgetting? As a fan being sold on the promise of Dustin returning, I must admit I'm feeling like a fish in the water who is trying to grab the bait, but the worm keeps getting pulled out of the water just before I can bite. Your thoughts are appreciated!
Best, Tim Anderson, Copenhagen
A: If McGowan misses the entire 2010 season the odds will be against him coming back to pitch in the major leagues. McGowan's issue was a bad shoulder and that is always dicier than an elbow. On April 15 they had Jackie Robinson Day celebrating his debut in major league baseball with the Dodgers, integrating the modern game. Here's an idea. Tommy John Day wherein on the anniversary of the Dodger pitcher tearing up his elbow in Montreal back in 1974, every major-league pitcher that has ever had Tommy John surgery would wear his uniform number in his honour. But unfortunately there is no shoulder equivalent to T.J. or Dr. Frank Jobe and that's why the McGowan questions linger. But you must remember that it was never the Jays organization that kept moving up the projected return date for Dustin and amping up the optimism. It was McGowan himself that started throwing in November (maybe a little early) and then came to spring training throwing hard and projecting he would be ready for opening day. The club never thought he would be. McGowan may be done but it won't be because he gave up on his comeback. The guy wants it more than anyone and will keep working.
Q: Why won't Gaston replace Overbay with Ruiz? It's seems obvious that Overbay has nothing again this year.
Cap Roberts, Mississauga
A: This seems to be the most common early-season question from Jays fans. Overbay is a proven commodity and you know that no matter how low his numbers are and no matter how bad his swing has looked for most of the early season, his numbers will rise close to his career figures. It is the universal rule of baseball projecting. That is with all things being equal in terms of health. That can be the deal-breaker, but Overbay is healthy. He just sucks right now with no confidence. But there are positive signs in the last few days. As for Ruiz, at 32 there's a reason he has never been a major-league regular. I love the guy and I am delighted that his long journey from the minors has ended with a shot in the majors, but rarely to never have all 30 organizations been wrong about a player for 12 years wherein he finally breaks through as a starting position player. The next everyday first baseman for the Jays will be Brett Wallace. In the meantime it's Lyle.
Q: Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports has stated that Shaun Marcum is available in a trade? While all general managers generally say everyone is available, how much truth is there to this? Trading a guy like Marcum seems to contradict the strategy of keeping young controllable players in a Blue Jays uniform. Marcum still is cheap and is a few years away from free agency so why would they trade a potential long-term #3 starter?
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A: I like Ken Rosenthal as a person and a journalist and he's pretty damn good, but the modus operandi of Jays' rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos has been since Day 1 that he will never say “Player x is not available” or “we are interested in player y”. In that case of cautious non-commitment from the GM, it would be easy for a national-media type to interpret an unwillingness by A.A. to designate a player as untouchable to be a tacit admission that he is available. You are exactly right about Marcum. He is a young (in terms of experience) controllable player with an upside – and a history with this Canadian team that is hard to duplicate bringing someone in from the outside. Marcum is not an untouchable, but he is also not going to be traded. Anthopoulos is to major-league GM's what the Sphinx is to the seven wonders of the ancient world. Hard to read but easy to appreciate.
I was just wondering if you could elaborate on how 'player to be named later' or cash trades are typically structured. That is, does the other team get a list of players they could choose from or take a cash value. Are they conditional based upon the acquired players' performance. That sort of thing. Thanks!
David Smith, Ottawa
A: The PTBNL or cash deals are the baseball equivalent of NFL, NBA or NHL teams trading lower-round draft choices for players since trading draft picks is not allowed in baseball. There is no hard and fast rule about what it means, but many times a teams will give a list of 5-7 minor-league prospects mutually agreed upon and then give them a deadline by which they must make their pick. That allows the team obtaining the named player to quickly get him into the system and allows the other teams to have their scouts check out the players coming back and make an educated choice. Many times a player designated for assignment to remove him form a 40-man roster needs to be moved by a certain date and there is no time to work out final details with a team that may want him so they remain vague. The 30 GMs are actually quite civilized and not at all cut-throat when it comes to dealing with one another. The “or cash” designation is thrown in just in case the player thing falls through. The best of these deals was John McDonald traded by the Jays to the Tigers for a player to be named later. After the season, the player to be named later turned out to be....John McDonald. Pretty even deal.
Q: I buy the Star every day and I look forward to reading your opinion of the Jays all year long. I wanted to know what you think of the Jays new ads? I think the costumes of the bird men are awesome and well made but the content of the commercials is weak. What is the message they are trying to send? Is it the jays are run by out of touch bird brains? They might as well used Turkey outfits. Thank you for your time.
Adam Carter, Clinton, Ont.
A: I have an opinion, but yours is actually very funny (funnier than mine) and mostly bang on. I would love to get one of those bird costumes in time for Halloween. I could make it sing. To me, the ads were written to satisfy egos of the advertising executives since they have nothing to do with actual ideas that the Jays are doing in-season. To cut the Jays some slack, I think that in general society today takes itself way too seriously. Like f'rinstance the Frank Thomas ad where he ended up slamming a couple of kids in the head with a pillow. Child abuse? Stop it. Chill and enjoy.
Q: How many times do you think the Jays will go through the rotation before a pitching callup is made? Who do you think would be first to get the call from Las Vegas? Thanks heaps,
Marcus Heinrichs, Stouffville
A: It's funny how much a player's service time is suddenly becoming a factor in terms of many teams calling up players from the minors. Lefty reliever Jesse Carlson had exactly two years of service in the majors with the Jays. Six years of service makes you a free agent and 172 days of accumulated time gives you a year. The Jays sent Carlson down at the end of the spring because he had an option remaining and they have now left him there long enough that he will not have 172 days if they called him back up today, which means they may very well recall him at any time. In terms of who the Jays might call up first as a new starter, I worry about Brian Tallet's health. It's the same initial diagnosis (forearm tightness) that they announced for Jesse Litsch last year -- and he went on to have the T.J. elbow surgery. If anything happened to Tallet or another starter, it would likely be Brett Cecil first up who matured this spring and got a better grasp on his repertoire. There are others ahead of Cecil on the projected depth chart for 2011 and beyond but they all need minor-league innings. There are usually eight or nine starters in a season, so there are other Jays that will be up later.
Q: As you are probably the greatest baseball sage Hogtown has ever had, please explain this to me Richard. Why in this day and age of small division ball do the Jays have to wait until a third of the season has passed until they face the Yankees, and then get pounded into the dust (hopefully not) by them and Boston very often during the last 6 or so weeks of the sked? Seems a bit lopsided to me. My main point is that late in the season the "big boys" will have reloaded a bit and we (the Jays) will be sort of coasting to season's end. Do you think it's a set-up or is it done by some computer – like HAL?
Ken Moore, London, England
A: That's one way of looking at it. I don't necessarily agree. The Jays are rebuilding and coming out of spring training may or may not have made all the right personnel decisions and been ready to take on the Yankees. By the time they face the Yankees they may have got it figured out. Meanwhile the Skanks are older now, still running against the wind. The rebuilding Jays should be better in June than they are now. Advantage Jays. Besides, usually the East teams all play each other in a row and with the Jays undervalued as serious competition for the big boys, the Yanks and Red Sox will be setting up their rotations for each other with the dregs facing the Jays in the heat of summer.
Q: Hey Richard,
I love your blog. Every Wednesday morning, I wait for your blog to get updated so I can get more insider news of the Jays and baseball in general. Question for you: Alex Rios came to town. I heard on the radio that Rios has all the tools to be a superstar. And he is supposed to be a five-tool player. What are the five tools? Are there any player that looks to process the five-tools in the Jays organization today?
Charles Lo, Markham
A: The five tools that Rios and other young major-league studs are supposed to possess are: 1) running speed; 2) fielding ability; 3) arm strength; 4) hitting for average; 5) hitting for power. Vernon Wells was supposed to be a five-tool player when he was drafted but over the course of his development fell short in speed and arm and from time to time, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power. Wait, that's all five. The closest the Jays have to a five-tool player in the minor-league system right now (and he could be very close) is outfielder Jake Marisnick, drafted in the third round of June 2009.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love the column and I'm a faithful reader. I spent almost the past decade overseas (South Korea), but I'm back in T.O. now and anxious to get out a see a few games. Lots of attention on the closer lately, with Gregg officially taking over. I know the Jays are in a rebuilding stage right now, and my question is about the long term prospects at the back of the bullpen. Certainly, none of the three options right now are long-term solutions and the guy who everyone seemed to have pegged as the "closer of the future" was traded to Seattle in the off season (I'm still not convinced that was the right move). When you look at the teams that compete for the postseason around the majors, most have a reliable guy to get the job done in the 9th. So, do the Jays have a plan for this role in the future? Is there an arm in the minors being groomed to take over as closer, or is this a spot maybe best filled by a free agent (we all know how well that worked out last time...)?
Colin Wetmore, Mississauga
A: The last option should be to have your team's closer be a major-league free agent. By the time these guys become available in that role, they've often used most of their bullets. The best option, as far as I'm concerned, is to convert a minor-league starter with electric stuff but questionable command of secondary pitches into a two-pitch closer at the major-league level. That way he gets enough inning as he comes up to be ready to close. I don't like closers in the minors turning into closers in the majors because if they're closers already in the minors then it's likely because of limited repertoire. In one category, the closer being groomed already in the system, is Dan Farquhar, in the other, for me, is David Purcey. Closers need to be able to forget their failures. Those guys qualify. The other option is Josh Roenicke who has been off to a great Vegas start and has enough swagger to do the job.
Q: What's up with BJ Ryan? Can't find him on anyone's roster. Is he just sitting at home, collecting his money from the Jays and when that runs out will he formally retire?
Jon Tamblyn, Lindsay
A: Funny you should ask. Interesting story. It seems colleague Dave Perkins was covering The Masters for The Star and he ran into B.J. Ryan in the crowd of “patrons”. Remember this was the second week of April when the Azaleas and baseball are both in full bloom. Ryan spoke tentatively to our man in Augusta, admitting to Dave it was his first Masters experience. After a few furtive minutes he said he had to go. So, yes, he is sitting at home collecting his money, but that's not to say he's ready to retire.