I always look forward to the early-season compilation of major-league payrolls and individual salaries published each year in the USA Today. There is so much interesting stuff that can be gleaned. But after the paper published its full page report on Monday, showing that the average player salary had dropped a hefty 17-percent between 2009-10, the Players Association quickly sent out their own release correcting that number. The MLBPA insists that the average salary is actually at $3.34 million, up from $3.26 million in '09. That's a huge discrepancy. The Jays have just five of 30 players (including DL) earning more than the MLB average. GM Alex Anthopoulos insists that there is room to add payroll if the deal fits into the long-range plans. Let's hope so. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hello Mr. Griffin. Love reading your stuff. It's a great game and I love all the insights and insider views you provide. I'd love to have the Expos back...I miss them. I am puzzled though that there is nothing anywhere by anybody on Adeinis Hechavarria. You wrote on March 15th that they are on the verge of signing him. Did they actually for sure sign him? Is he still in the D.R.? do you know what team he'll end up on this season? It's just so odd there is nothing on him, yet he could be their answer at one of the most important positions.
A: The announcement of the Jays signing of the 21-year-old Cuban shortstop Hechavarria could come at any time. There are two levels of government now to satisfy in terms of working papers and visas – Canadian and U.S. It's a process. When Hechavarria does begin his Jays career it will likely be at extended spring training in Dunedin before being placed with an affiliate farm club. He could settle in at AA: New Hampshire but he surely won't be in a position to help the major-league Jays until at least 2011. It will be a significant signing for the Jays estimated at $10 million over four years. But the free-agent investment is different than regular-free agency because of the player's age and controllability moving forward. The silence from both the Jays and the agents since March 14 speaks volumes about where Hechavarria has signed. The most silent team in baseball as a matter of policy has become the Jays. The last thing the agents said was the Yankees were out and the Yankees said the Jays were in. Then silence. The Cuban youngster will instantly move ahead of Justin Jackson, Tyler Pastornicky and Gustavo Pierre on the organization's shortstop depth chart.
Q: Richard, I understand most of the moves the Blue Jays did with their pitching staff as far as available options were concerned. However the Casey Fien saga has me baffled. Why do you claim the guy, demote the guy, and then release the guy, all in the same week telling him the reason was he was a "liability"? Fien never even got a chance to pitch and his AAA numbers with the Tigers were solid, with the minor league option available to the Jays I don't get it.
Ian Campbell, Toronto
A: The word "liability" was used by a disappointed Fien to describe his whirlwind spring of being claimed by the Jays, outrighted, then released. He subsequently was picked up by the Tigers on March 22, from whence he came. The Jays made an evaluation of where Fien stood in the organization's depth chart and realizing that there was not much chance of him getting a shot at the major-league level at any time in 2010 and there were others within the system that needed the roster spots at the AA and AAA levels, let him go. Fien is better off with the Tigers. He did have an option remaining, but that was not a factor. The Jays were projecting how they could use him and decided to let him go.
Q: Dear Richard, Is it reasonable to think Brad Emaus might surface as the full-time third baseman before the end of 2010? He seems to me to have an Aaron Hill-type "makeup" and plate discipline. There appears to be no one else in line and Bautista and Encarnacion are, politely, not the answer.
Thanks and regards,
Selby Martin, Toronto
A: I believe if that was the plan for the 24-year-old Emaus that he would be playing third base in the minors to start the season. However the gritty former 11th rounder in 2007 is listed at second base for the AA: New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Emaus first came to the attention of the card-carrying public at spring training 2009 when he impressed along with Scott Campbell as non-roster invites. Whereas Campbell slipped back in 2009 regular season play, Emaus earned another invite to 2010 camp where he impressed again. As he pointed out, coincidentally, he was sent back to minor-league camp both springs on his birthday, March 28. I believe the Jays see him more as a major-league utility infielder than a starting third baseman. He shows a good approach at the plate, with '09 numbers of 59 walks, eight hit-by-pitch and just 69 Ks in 505 at-bats. Major-league third base continues to be Edwin Encarnacion, with others that could start at the position being Jose Bautista, John McDonald and even Mike McCoy.
Q: Richard, I don't understand the infatuation with Lyle Overbay. He has been one of the least productive 1B's in the AL and yet continues to be designated the starting 1B. He's brutal with runners in scoring position, batting scarcely over the Mendoza line over the past three seasons. While he has a glove, wood beats leather 10 times out of 10. And the observation that he's a doubles machine is a tired worn-out cliche - he's middle of the pack among AL 1B's and in his case, its because he's incapable of putting it out of the park. What is the problem with giving (Randy) Ruiz a full time shot at 1B? He's no spring chicken, but he great minor league stats in '08 and '09, as well as hitting 10 hr's and batting .313 in 115 ab's (just six hr's less than Overbay with 500 ab's). Ruiz must be in Cito's doghouse, because otherwise there's no way one could accept such mediocrity that Overbay offers if one is trying to field the best team possible.
Nick Phillips, Toronto
A: The Jays are trying to build up the young starting rotation and be able to evaluate what they have. The best way to do that is to play defence behind them to build their major-league confidence. Having your best defender at first base is part of that strategy. Overbay is not a middle of the order hitter in a good major-league lineup, but he has never claimed to be. He is a support hitter that has extra base power and should be batting 6-7. He is keeping the position warm for Brett Wallace as the latter develops at Triple-A. As long as Overbay is here he will remain the starter, but, personally I would try and platoon Ruiz more against certain lefthanders. It might happen. In fact Gaston likes Ruiz a lot, but Cito does have a loyalty to veteran players in their free agent year like Overbay who can declare following the season.
Q: Hi Richard: I'm quite looking forward to start of the MLB 2010 season and how the young Jays progress this season which bring me to my question. Arguably, the core offense over the past 4 seasons was based around V.Wells, A.Rios, L.Overbay and T.Glaus/S.Rolen. Moving forward, A.Lind, A.Hill seem to be cornerstones, but do you have a feel on how the organization feels about T.Snider. He has obviously excelled at the AAA level, but has had mixed results at the MLB level. What expectations do you think the club has for him over this season and moving forward?
Brendon Campbell, Ottawa
A: They are riding close herd on Snider, paying less attention to his statistics and more attention to his at-bats. If Travis has a good at-bat, sees a lot of pitches, fails to offer at balls out of the strike zone and strikes out on a good pitch, they like to see that more than a first-pitch broken-bat single on a pitch six-inches outside. Snider's history is one of allowing a series of bad games to send him into a deeper funk. They know it. He knows it and Snider is confident he is past that. Time will tell, but the Jays still believe he can be an everyday outfielder with tremendous power. Among Hill, Lind and Snider, that's three guys at 28-years-old or younger that are locked up at least through 2014. Oh yeah, they also have Vernon Wells that long. Those are the four pieces.
Q: Richard, What do you hear about Jesse Litsch these days? Did he even report to Dunedin this spring to be evaluated by the Jays? Any updates on the recovery from Tommy John operation? I just haven't heard a lot about him since the surgery and wondered if you knew anything.
Jared Weiss, Ocala, Fla.
A: Litsch reported to camp in February, but when the major-league team moved over to Dunedin Stadium, Litsch stayed at the Mattick Centre to continue his rehab. He re-surfaced from time to time at the stadium, including the two mornings of Players' Association meetings. He had June 12, 2009 Tommy John surgery, so under the Jays' policy of erring on the side of caution, look for June 12, 2010 as the earliest sign of stirring from Litsch. As such he is on the 60-day disabled list which takes him into June in any case. He will need some minor-league rehab starts once healthy.
Q: Richard, How is it that good players like Kevin Youkilis and Jonathan Papelbon dropped so low in the draft and then how is that Boston is so smart to draft them both? Is it just luck or is it scouting?
Junior Gutierez, Montreal
A: Youkilis was a slow, patient third baseman at the University of Cincinnati selected in the 8th round of June '01. He was the prototypical Moneyball hitter at a time when on-base percentage was just coming into vogue as a future indicator. Since then, every organization is now looking for the same thing. He would not slip as low anymore. The draft is a crapshoot. Two picks ahead of Youkilis, the Jays selected LHP Sean Grimes. Papelbon was the Sox' fourth rounder in '03 out of Mississippi St. University. Four spots ahead of him, the Jays selected LHP Kurt Isenberg. The Red Sox are more than lucky. They're good. Starting with the arrival of Dan Duquette as GM in the early '90s and into Theo Epstein, the Red Sox organization placed a new emphasis on scouting and player development to go with their large major-league payroll. It began to pay off in the early 21st century producing more revenue, allowing for ballpark additions, producing more revenue and two World Series wins. All the while, they continue to draft well. The Jays have bolstered amateur scouting and are shooting for two above average major-leaguers from every draft. It's a good plan but we'll see.
Q: Hi Richard, If I'm not mistaken, when AA first took over the job last year, he had mentioned that he wanted to infuse the offense with more speed and power, similar to the Rays. But taking a look the current lineup, this team seems to be extremely slow. There's no great base stealer on this team, and I'm not sure how consistently the baserunners will be able to go first-to-third on base hits. If you look at the cornerstone of this offense for the next 3-5 years, you're potentially looking at Lind, Snider, Wells, Wallace, and Hill. That's more than half the lineup that has, at best, "ok" speed. In addition to that, I haven't read of any real prospect that the Jays have in the farm system that provides this combo, in fact, when is the last time the Jays had a superstar type offensive player waiting in the wings? Perhaps we have to go back as far as Delgado (and he wasn't exactly Crawford on the basepaths) I know that the Jays have been focusing a lot of their attention on pitching depth, which is great, but at what point do they start thinking about developing a potent lineup, which can help them steal games from time to time simply through running more?
Zaki Ameen, Mississauga
A: The last superstar offensive player the Jays had waiting in the wings was Alex Rios. You can't rewrite history. This guy was going to be a five-tool star. He turned into just a tool. Don't confuse base-stealing speed with the ability to go from first to third. Third base coach Brian Butterfield insists that all of his runners think first to third on a single and as such he feels that Snider, Wells, Alex Gonzalez, Hill, Bautista, Encarnacion and even Lind have the ability to go first to third and second to home. No, the Jays don't have any "in-your-face" base stealers which cuts down on what they are able to do offensively. The best major-league base-stealer is utility infielder Mike McCoy. The best baserunners on the way are outfielders Jake Marisnick and Kenny Wilson. Lack of speed definitely hurts the Jays.
Q: Richard, I have two quick questions for you. First, with the final pitching decisions sending Brett Cecil and Josh Roenicke to Las Vegas, the bullpen is left with one lefthander (Downs). I don't understand this when you have Jesse Carlson in Las Vegas (why?) and Tallet starting. I am totally against Tallet as a starter, as I think the "kids" should be getting this role - Zep or Cecil should have this spot - and Tallet should be in the pen where he has excelled for years. Do you think it will take long for Carlson to be recalled, and/or Tallet to move back to the pen? My second question is about spring training - when will baseball realize it is too long? The season is already 162 games, with expanded playoffs going to November. Realistically, for professional athletes, can't the pre-season be just a little shorter? Thanks Richard!
Jon Empringham, Woodstock, Ont.
A: As for question No. 1, I believe that Carlson will be back sooner rather than later. The slender lefty had exactly two years of major-league service going into 2010. By making sure he was healthy at the end of the spring and then optioning him to Vegas, as soon as his service time for the current season drops to less than 172 days, that is if he stays in the minors on option for 10 days or more, then the Jays will maintain control of Carlson through 2014 rather than 2013. More and more teams are using player options to affect free agency and arbitration time for their players. Tallet is in the rotation so as not to force feed any of the young prospects. If Cecil comes back it would likely be if Dana Eveland struggles or if there is an injury in the rotation.
As for spring training being too long, there is no doubt about that. More and more the players come into camp ready to pitch and ready to hit because of their own off-season training and conditioning. What's becoming ridiculous at spring training is the insulting lineups that all teams are now sending on the road for Grapefruit League games. The batting orders are full of scrubs and minor-leaguers so the stars don't have to ride the bus for an hour. That is where spring training is losing its appeal.
Q: Hi Richard, Why hasn't former Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi ever resurfaced with another team? I quite liked his management style while he was in Toronto and his W-L record - though it perhaps didn't look good at the time – is certainly better than many who followed after his dismissal. Is there any chance he might be considered as a successor to Cito?
Scott C, Halifax
A: Fregosi has never disappeared. He is currently a senior advisor in the Atlanta Braves organization and with Bobby Cox retiring after this season, who knows if Fregosi won't be in the running to take over in their dugout. He was one of my favourites with the Jays. He was never reluctant to discuss his job – or in fact our jobs as reporters. He knew everything about everything and would let you know. Think Foghorn Leghorn. There's no chance he could be a successor to Cito because Alex Anthopoulos needs space to breathe and Fregosi uses a lot of oxygen. He's one of the best and knows it.
Q: Richard, I am always disturbed at how personal issues override team results in baseball. After Downs threw a few pitches in a 1-2-3 8th inning why was Frasor brought in? Surely Downs could have thrown another inning. Why do teams need a "designated closer". Surely common sense should prevail over personal contracts? Cito's weakness continues to be pitcher selection. Too bad that a great effort was ruined by having to use the "closer".
Spencer Lanthier, Toronto
A: This issue is not going to go away, but it's also not going to change. Pitchers are not one-dimensional. They know their roles and are comfortable with it. They need to know their roles if they are going to perform over the course of 162 games. Going with the hot hand means that you are expecting failure before you go to the next hot hand and so on. The bullpen that has roles rather than hot hands is looking for 100-percent success all year. Nobody gets that perfect result, but that's the plan. I can't think of a successful manager that has the "hot-hand" philosophy of handling his relievers.