There is serious talk that Stephen Strasburg should be added to the NL team for the All-Star Game. The answer from MLB, the Nats and Strasburg himself should be an emphatic “No.” There is no reason for rushing one of baseball's future stars into participating in the Midsummer Classic before he has earned it. He will have plenty of opportunity. There are pitchers that have worked hard at their craft for years and one of those would be bypassed for a pitcher with less than a half-dozen major-league starts. Sure many fans would like to see him at the game, but then why not invite Bryce Harper who has not even signed a contract yet? As for the Jays, they will likely have only Vernon Wells as a reserve outfielder, although with the expanded 34-man roster, there would be room for the versatility of Jose Bautista and his 20 homers. None of the Jays' good young starting pitchers has jumped out with a performance that says: “Pick me, Joe Girardi!” On to the mailbag.
Q: Richard as usual an honour to talk to the guru of Baseball in Toronto and maybe even the world. With that out of the way my question involves interleague play. I personally don't enjoy it and find it to be very boring. Does MLB still think it is worthwhile and do the gate receipts back that up? Back in the "olden days" (when you worked for the Expos) you would wait all year to see the World Series just to have a chance to see the players from the other league. Do you think interleague play takes something away from playoff baseball? What is the Jays record against the N.L. and have the Jays over the years played every N.L. team? As usual thanks for allowing me the chance to ask my question.
Brian Runciman, Oakville
A: My powers of anticipation allowed me to write a column earlier in the week addressing the issue of interleague play, never having before seen your question. The current concept elicits more whining than anything else because some teams are playing the NL Central and racking up wins while others are facing the tres tough NL East and struggling. Because MLB is so New York-centric, well yes they think it's worthwhile because they get healthy doses of Sunday Night baseball featuring the Mets and Yankees and think all's right with the interleague world. I agree with you about the mystique of the World Series being damaged, especially if the Fall Classic is a rematch of an early season interleague series. Also, one of the arguments for interleague play was to allow for fans in one league to see the stars from the other league. Hey, Dodgers fans, head south in your car and take the Slawson Cutoff and head east and boom, there's your Angels. The time has passed. Those games would be better served as intra-division late season additions.
Q: Both Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are struggling at the plate, and look very uncomfortable. Both are expected to be the future of the franchise - should management be getting concerned?
Clary MacDonald, Nova Scotia
A: Yes, management should be getting concerned, not for the future but for this season. Hill had the excuse of a) rebounding from a breakout season and perhaps having had pitchers make their early season adjustments, b) a tight hamstring that put him on the DL and since he returned being a little off in his timing. But the time for those excuses is over. Compared to Robinson Cano and other elite second basemen, Hill looks more like Mike Weir hitting those old gutta percha balls at the driving range standing next to Tiger Woods hitting those Titleist VI rockets. Hill is making contact but the ball leaves the bat and as it heads to the power alley, a chute comes out the back and it drifts down into a waiting outfielder's glove. As for Lind, perhaps his final destination as a player is somewhere below last season's DH-of-the-Year numbers and this year. But that is a reason for concern, because at his age he should still be making adjustments to the pitchers as quickly as they make adjustments to him. As Cito loves to say: “Where's the plan?” The Jays have a lot of money tied up in Hill and Lind, but nothing as ridiculous as the contract remaining for Vernon Wells. Yes, they are concerned.
Q: Alex Rios (Yes that's not a misprint, Alex Rios) Troy Glaus and Scott Rolen are being mentioned in at least one reputable media outlet as possible MVP candidates in their respective leagues. With hindsight being 20-20 any reflections on the decision by the Jays to send that trio away? Which one surprises you most/least in terms of the seasons they are having? (Here's the link to reference I made above.)
Phil Winch, Sarnia
A: When Rios was dispatched to the White Sox last August, I went on radio in Chicago with Chuck Swirsky (another Toronto sports figure that got away) and I ventured to say that Alex Rios was going to be a pleasant surprise for Sox fans that may have believed he was a stiff. As the '09 season wound down and Rios continued to stiff out, I felt a little bit like an idiot, but his turnaround this year has not surprised me. This guy's a player, albeit a flighty one with issues. I am not surprised he's doing what he's doing.
When Glaus disappeared from the Toronto scene, skulking off into the night from Tampa for the season's final week amidst allegations that he was involved in that online pharmaceutical operation in the early '00s, I thought his career as an effective power hitter was over. He came back and, when healthy, contributed to the Cardinals offence for two seasons. But still I thought he was on the slippery slope to retirement. Now, with the Braves, he has been re-invented as a first-baseman on a first place team and likely headed to the All-Star Game. I am surprised by what he's doing, but I'm happy for him.
When Rolen left for the Reds, I believed that he still had a lot of baseball left in him. Cito Gaston still talks about his defence even to this day and Aaron Hill talks about him as the best teammate he ever had even to this day. When he hurt his shoulder in '08 and adjusted his hitting to compensate for what is a permanent tightness (as opposed to some guys that have a permanent stiffness) he bounced back in '09 and when he was traded back to the NL was on top of his game. His being mentioned as an MVP does not surprise me. However, none of these guys fit into the direction the Jays are headed and I don't blame the Jays for not having any of them still on the team, except I still am convinced they could have got something back for Rios had the GM at the time handled it better.
Q: Hi Richard,
I read that the Yankees will be skipping Phil Hughes' next start because they want to limit him to about 170 innings this year. Interesting move for a team in the middle of the pennant hunt. I also noticed that Ricky Romero, who has a similar amount of experience to Hughes, is on pace to throw about 230 innings (and Shaun Marcum, not long removed from Tommy John surgery, is on pace to throw about 220). Do you know if the Jays have any plans to skip starts or shut these guys down early to avoid wear and tear? If not, do you think they should?
Duke Leduc, Toronto
A: Hughes missed one turn in the Yankee rotation heading into Tuesday's matchup against Cliff Lee. Pitching on his 10th day for the first time this season, he yielded seven runs in 5-2/3 innings. It didn't work that night but will serve him well in the long-run. The Yankees have the right idea in trying to limit Hughes' inning totals. His career high as a pro is 146 innings in 2006. The Yankees always plan as if they are going to the post-season (good call Yankees) and as such, not only will Hughes be asked to pitch 170 innings in the regular season but there is the month of October with maybe 30 more innings. It's a different situation for the Yankees than for the non-contending Jays. The Bombers have veteran guys CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnet and Javier Vazquez that like to go on their fifth day, allowing Joe Girardi to do what he did this time around, using off-days as an excuse. The Jays, on the other hand, have five guys on an equal footing as far as experience and their policy with starting pitchers is just to keep wheeling through the rotation, giving extra rest whenever off-days are involved. Romero won't reach 230 and Marcum won't reach 220. If they are that high in September and the Jays are not in the wild-card hunt, Gaston will start guys like Marc Rzepczynski and others. Smart.
Q: Hey Richard, appreciate your work on the Jays. My question is regarding Shawn Hill. Call me a bit of a homer, but I try to follow Canadian players in the league and when he first started with Montreal Hill seemed like he had a pretty bright future. Played for team Canada, etc. Then injuries happened and from what I can see he bounced around a bit. I know the Jays signed him this summer and I was happy when they did, thinking if he got healthy, he could be a nice addition. Was hoping to find out how he's doing and where/if he might fit into the Jays plans this year or down the road? There seems to be a lot of young guys ahead of him now, if he gets healthy, where does he fit into that depth chart? Thanks.
Blake M, Toronto
A: Shawn Hill is another reclamation project with low expectations and no pressure from GM Alex Anthopoulos. I like what they do in terms of spending a little money on players trying to work hard and come back. Hill fits into that category. A former Bishop Reding High School star in Milton, Hill was expected in the spring to be ready to throw at some level in a game in the month of August. There is little likelihood that he would be a September addition to the Jays' 40-man roster because he is not protected right now and they would need to clear a spot for him. If he just makes it back onto the mound some time in 2010 it will be an accomplishment – for Hill and for the Jays. As for the Jays' depth chart, even when he gets healthy, he will have a lot of work to do to move up the ladder in an organization very deep in starters. Maybe another team will like what they see and he will get an opportunity elsewhere, but the Jays are providing the vehicle.
Q: J.P. Arencibia is on fire at Triple A. He hit his 17th HR for Las Vegas on Sunday night, and now sports a .303 average, with 44 RBIs and an OPS of around .950. I've read that he's taken big strides defensively. What are the odds the Jays will move free-agent-to-be John Buck at the trade deadline to make room for Arencibia? Buck is only making $2 million this year, and it seems to me he would be very attractive to a team such as the Rangers with a need for an upgrade at catcher
Richard Barton, Vernon, BC
A: Arencibia is coming back strong after corrective eye surgery in September for astigmatism and a corrective operation on his kidney, a problem he had from birth. The former all-America at the University of Tennessee and Jays' first round draft pick has re-asserted himself as the Jays' catcher of the future, separating himself from Brian Jeroloman and others. Travis D'Arnaud is still a couple of years away. The Jays could go either way with John Buck, but heading into next season, a combination of Arencibia and Jose Molina would be pretty good. Buck would definitely be available at the deadline in July, but moving him is not a priority as the young starting staff is benefitting from throwing to a couple of experienced receivers and what Anthopoulos would get back for Buck would not be a major-league prospect.
Q: Hi Rich: The Jays' team batting average and on base percentage is dreadful -- worst in the AL, I believe. It's nice that they hit some home runs but when the long ball dries up they kind of look at each other as if to say, "OK, now what do we do to score runs?" We know they don't bunt, run, hit and run or anything besides wait to get moved up a base or 2 or 3. We're almost half way through the season and I don't envision improvement on the horizon on the batting/OBP average front. Is it all on the players or is Dwayne Murphy not the man for the job or do they miss Gene Tenace or is it just a reaction to Cito's last year and the players know that they may as well wait til next years' coaching staff is in place to change what isn't working in 2010?
Thanks for providing my regular baseball fix!
Richard Bridgman, Mississauga
A: Or...maybe they're just not that good. Jose Bautista is at the stage where he is what he is. He has benefitted from Cito and Gene Tenace and Dwayne Murphy's instruction in that he gets his foot down early and is prepared to meet the ball in front of the plate with full power. But he has never hit for average. Vernon Wells is back to where he was a couple of years ago, which is a bright spot. Alex Gonzalez had a career .294 on-base-average coming into the year. Lyle Overbay took hittable strikes through the first two months and is slowly coming around. Hill and Lind are scuffling. Third base has been a black hole. Fred Lewis has never seen a first pitch he didn't like. John Buck is having a career year but had a .298 lifetime OBP coming in, while Cito has asked Jose Molina why he can't hit like brother Bengie. Not exactly the description of the '27 Yankees.
Q: Hi Richard. Before he passed away, my Dad (a huge baseball fan - Stan Musial his favourite player) would take my brother and me on annual baseball trips. I would like to continue that tradition with my two sons, who are 8 and almost 5. What ballparks and baseball-related things do you suggest we see on a short road trip of four or five days? I'm particularly interested in some of the new "retro" ballparks. Thanks, Richard.
Phil Rossel, Barrie
A: I love it. Of course it depends on the schedule, but a great summer car trip would involve a drive down to Detroit for a game at Comerica Park. Stay overnight in Greek Town at the Atheneum Hotel which is walking distance from the park. Then a drive around the lake to Cleveland for a game at Progressive Field. There's a Residence Inn right across the street. After a morning visit to the Rock and Roll Hall-of-Fame (yeah that's for you, not the boys), a drive to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play at one of my favourite new ballparks at the confluence of the three rivers. There's a Springhill Suites right at the ballpark. Then a drive the next day to Cincinnati to Great America Park another of my favourites and walking distance from many downtown hotels. From there, a trip west and north to Chicago and either the White Sox, the Cubs, or both if you have a couple of days and one team leaving for a road trip and the other coming back. Then the short drive north to Miller Park in Milwaukee and the Brewers. There is a ferry across the lake to the upper peninsula in Michigan, a beautiful drive down through Sarnia and London and back home. Sounds like about an eight-day trip from heaven.