The Jays have come out of the break like gangbusters, as predicted in an early-July mailbag, thanks to the very favourable schedule. But the fact is you have to take advantage of those opportunities and beat the teams you should beat because when the schedule gets tough again you need a buffer to .500. It's funny listening to Jerry Howarth on radio and Buck Martinez on TV pronouncing the name of the new kid on the block, Yunel Escobar. Buck goes with the way it reads, Yunel, while Jerry, who obviously asked the kid himself, says Ju-nel. It reminds me of when Ozzie Guillen first came to the majors and the broadcasters asked him and he said ‘Gui-jenn’? They went with that for a while until he corrected them to ‘Gui-yen’ even though he himself pronounced it the other way. It's like the old Get Smart routine with the hilariously insidious villain called ‘The Claw’. The only problem was that as a person of Chinese heritage, for the comedic effect, he would call himself ‘The Craw’. Max would invariably confront him and say ‘Ah, my old friend The Craw’ and the villain would then get mad and say, ‘Not The Craw, The Craw’. At Griff's baseball mailbag, for the new shortstop we'll stick with Yu-nel. Otherwise we'd be calling the L.A. baseball team the ‘Doy-errs’ and the New York team the ‘Jankees’. It seems every language has its quirks and special pronunciations. On to the mailbag.
Q: I don't understand the Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez deal? Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky seemed like good organizational prospects that might have helped the big club in a few years. Gonzalez had an affordable option at $2.5M, versus the $3+M that Escobar is going to get in arbitration next year and the Jays have a shortstop prospect for 2012 in Adeiny Hechavarria. So why not trade Gonzalez for a guy who can play third in the future or even a corner outfielder?
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo
A: On the contrary, it's quite easy to understand the Escobar deal. You have to remember the basic philosophy of GM Alex Anthopoulos is to acquire younger, controllable players whenever the option and opportunity presents itself without giving up a big part of the club's future. As such, he has Escobar for three more seasons after this. In his first year of arbitration, Escobar will max out at about $1.5 million. Gonzalez was there as you pointed out for one more season As for Pastornicky, the 20-year-old can be a decent major-league utility infielder eventually, but is that the type of player that prevents you from making a deal that can help the major-league club right now and moving forward? Pastornicky has been pushed back on the depth chart at shortstop by Adeiny Hechavarria and in the middle infield they still have Ryan Schimpf (22), Ryan Goins (22), John Tolisano (21), Gustavo Pierre (18) and the perennially underachieving Justin Jackson (21). The lefty reliever Collins may make it to the majors, but there is a built in prejudice against short pitchers and the 21-year-old Worcester (MA) native, discovered by J.P. Ricciardi's dad is listed at 5-7 but is more like 5-5 — a less scary Jason Frasor.
Q: Hi Richard,
Really enjoy the mailbag. With all the talk about potential players to be traded at the deadline, one of the last names to be mentioned (if mentioned at all) is Kevin Gregg. I am writing this fresh on the heels of Gregg's giveaway on Monday night against the Royals, which followed his meltdown on Saturday night. I know he is 4th in the AL in saves, but that does not tell the story. When you look at the top 5 in the AL in saves, their WHIPs range from 0.80 to 1.16, EXCEPT for Gregg who has a 1.47. Every time he goes out there it's a nail-biter (and too often, the nails aren't the only thing lost). I would put out any of Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Jeremy Accardo, David Purcey before Gregg. (In fact, I would put out Sal Fasano before Gregg.) Do the starters have confidence in Gregg? How likely do you think it is he will be traded before the deadline? I would trade him for a bucket of chicken if another team was willing to take him.
Thanks very much,
Patrick Bedard, Ottawa
A: That's a little harsh. But whatever the Jays do with Gregg before the deadline, or whether they end up keeping him, he has done pretty much what was expected of him after Anthopoulos signed him this past off-season. At training camp the 32-year-old was brought in with a chance to win the closer's role or be the setup man for Frasor or Downs. After Frasor stumbled, Gregg stepped in and solidified the role for a while. When Gaston strode to the hill and yanked him after walking the bases loaded the other night in Baltimore and he had some nasty words with his manager on the way to the dugout, that may be it for his permanent foothold on the ninth inning role. Recall Boomer Wells throwing the ball down the foul line when Cito yanked him in '92. Gone by the next spring. If Gregg is traded, it will be to be a setup man for a contender like the Tigers who need more depth in that role for Jose Valverde. The Jays would not be asking for much in return with Gregg a free agent at the end of the year.
Great blog, really like your insight into all things baseball. A couple weeks ago you posted what the 'Jays' ideally see' as the starting lineup come 2012, and Jose big bats Bautista was listed at 3b. I was surprised. His new found power added to his versatility make Bautista a steal for the price, but I didn't think the Jays were looking at him as a long term starting piece. Is Jose Bautista for 3b in 2012 really the buzz in the Jays organization?
Thanks, keep up the stellar work.
Jay Godfrey, Hong Kong
A: Bautista at 3b in 2012 is far from being the Jays' organization buzz, but it is also far from the worst thing they could do in terms of committing to a talented ballplayer that they pulled off the scrap heap and revived his career. Bautista's power, his on-base percentage and the fact that there is nobody at that position on the farm-system horizon make it a feasible scenario. If the jays are going to have to fill that third-base spot via trade or free agency as they enter into their contending years in 2012-13, why not have it be someone they are already familiar with and who has some versatility and loyalty to the Blue Jays' brand. Aaron Hill will still be at second base and Brett Wallace will likely be at first, with either Escobar or (they're hoping) Hechavarria at short.
Q: I'm very skeptical that Brett Wallace and Hechavarria will ever be good major league players. Bill James noted in his early research that you can't teach hitting...scouts are forever looking at athletes and thinking they will teach them how to hit. Doesn't work.
Wallace's 1.5 years of pcl batting equate to roughly a 230-240 hitter with a .300 ob and .370 slugging pct in the majors. Hechavarria didn't hit in Cuba (reports were a .240 average) and so far in A and AA he's a .210 average with .244 ob, and 314 slugging.
J. Maron, Richmond Hill
A: That's all mumbo-jumbo. Keep studying those numbers and tell the late Charlie Lau, Rudy Jaramillo and Walt Hriniak that you can't teach hitting. I'll agree you can't teach instinct, intelligence and fearlessness. As for Hechavarria, much of his first three months as a Jays' farmhand has gone into cultural transition and getting comfortable with his new environment. Check back with me next July on both men.
Q: Hi Richard.
If every infield in the majors is a full dirt infield, except Toronto's, how is playing on turf bad for the knees or back of an infielder? I'm pretty sure dirt infields are much harder than spongy, rubber-pelleted turf. I'm thinking back to one of the reasons Troy Glaus wanted out of town.
Don Zentner, Oakville
A: Running and changing direction on dirt infields is much like playing tennis on clay as opposed to hardcourt surfaces -- much easier on the joints. We're talking ankles, knees and hips as far as the wear and tear of the artificial turf is concerned. When you change direction on the fake grass like at the Rogers Centre, spikes catch and hold firm and the stress goes to the joints. On grass or dirt, a jarring stop or turn is likely to bring up a divot or at least some amount of forgiveness and give. If baseball was just leisurely jogging in one direction then I might agree about the turf, but it's not. Besides, the busiest sections of artificial turf as time goes on get worn down and lose the spongy forgiveness, the seams get wider and more dangerous, leading to the ‘playing on concrete’ effect like they had in Montreal for those Olympic Stadium years.
Q: Given that the starters are all coming off major injuries or are young and really only pitching their first full season in the majors, what do you think of going to a six man rotation the rest of the way? This would hopefully see all the starters get just enough rest that they remain healthy while continuing to build innings. Cito never uses the bench so getting rid of a bench player to keep an extra starter around is easy enough to do.
Mike M., Cobourg, Ont.
A: It's not the worst idea in the world, in fact this time around the rotation, with both Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski earning a start post-all-star break, it leaves Gaston with just three bench players. Has anyone noticed? The problem becomes with the injury to Escobar that if he can't play and you need to hold your second catcher back in case of injury to the starter, that leaves just Dewayne Wise on the bench. I think the solution in the next basic agreement is to expand everyday rosters to 14 players and 13 pitchers and designate 25 each game as being active. That would help teams that are forced to make bogus disablements like Shaun Marcum's around the all-star break just to miss one start using the four days off for the All-Star Game as DL time.
Q: Hi Richard,
What is your opinion of Kevin Ahrens's lack of progress. It looks almost certain that he is a complete bust of a first round pick. Since drafted, A ball has been completely over his ability. As poorly as Russ Adams has done, he at least made it up to the bigs before the mental aspect of the game sent him into a tail spin. Ahrens is being blown away by 18 year olds. As always, thanks for your efforts,
Craig Hicken, British Virgin Islands
A: At this point Ahrens must be considered a bust. The 21-year-old switch-hitter is batting under .200 in his second year at A-Dunedin, with a .524 OPS. A Texas high-schooler, he was selected 16th overall in 2007 and received a $1.44 million signing bonus. Asst. GM Tony LaCava last year admitted that the mistake the organization made in 2009 was advancing him from A-Lansing to the more challenging Dunedin when he had proved he wasn't ready for the next step in 2008. The one-time third-baseman of the future should not be written off yet. If LaCava was right, then this year is about Ahrens trying to re-adjust mentally. If he reports to spring training 2011 and fails again, then he can officially be declared a first-round bust. But he is only 21 and maturity is a very individual thing.
Q: Hi Richard,
The Mailbag is one of the few articles I genuinely look forward to reading each week, thanks so much! Quick question for you: It seems to me that while all professional sports teams draft players at roughly the same age, it's much more likely to see an 18, 19 or 20-year old playing in the NHL or NBA than the MLB. The average age for rookies in MLB seems to be around 22 (a semi-educated guess). Any insight into why players take longer to develop in the MLB than in other sports?
Daniel D., Toronto
A: Blame Branch Rickey, the inventor of the modern farm system. Back in the pre-Jackie Robinson days, teams used to sign prospects off the farm and needed a place for them to play, so Rickey signed working agreements with pro teams in smaller towns and let his players play there. Rickey was hoarding, but his concept was right. The fact is that baseball is a game of subtlety and nuance. Hockey and basketball have basic plays and assignments that stay the same from Tyke to the pros. In baseball, a pitcher or hitter is physically ready for the majors long before he is strategically or mentally capable of playing at the highest level. I would say that the estimate of 22 as the average age of major-league rookies is low. I think it's more like 24-25. Most high school players need 4-5 years in the minors, while college players need a solid three down on the farm — unless you're a Stephen Strasburg type stud.
What is the plan for Kyle Drabek at AA. While not dominant, he has one of the better ERAs in our minor league system and has shown flashes of brilliance (i.e. throwing a no hitter). Do the Jays have any intention of seeing him pitch in the majors this year, perhaps in September, or is it the plan to let him stay at AA and then be given a chance to crack the major league roster next year?
Jeff Smith, Toronto
A: Drabek is not being babied like many young pitchers. The 22-year-old Texan has made 19 starts and is averaging over six innings per outing. He is on the verge of being ready for the bigs and his being at Double-A instead of Triple-A is not a sign that he needs to take another step before reaching the majors. The Eastern League is more of a pitchers' development stop than is Las Vegas in the Pacifica Coast League. Jesse Litsch jumped from there and Marc Rzepczynski only needed two AAA starts. Drabek may be one significant injury to the Jays' rotation away from being in the majors. His walk total is a little high, but that's like saying Charlize Theron's eyebrows are too hairy.
Why is Brian Tallet still in the Majors? And with Cito rarely using the bench, should Nick Green be replaced by another reliever? Thank you, have a good second half.
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge, Ont.
A: Tallet is still in the majors because Cito Gaston has a loyal streak for guys that do everything he asks without complaint. Tallet is a good guy and an interesting personality. However sometime his fastballs come in looking like beachballs which is when he gets in trouble. Every team has to have a Brian Tallet. And on the subject of Green, I guess Cito was listening.
Q: Why aren't catchers the best hitters? They catch a variety of over 100 pitches per game knowing the spin/rotation of what each type of pitch entails, yet they are generally near the bottom in batting average, home runs, and RBIs!
Michael Sutton, Burlington
A: Why aren't talk show hosts the best politicians if all it takes is the powers of observation? The pundits sit back in their studios and watch councillors, mp's, mayors, premiers, prime ministers and world leaders screw up yet if they were asked to step in and actually do it, they would be about the same — or worse. Think about your question like this. When catchers were kids growing up they were the smartest kids on the team but not necessarily the best athletes. The glamour boys took the other positions where they don't have to squat all the time and be hit by foul tips and block balls in the dirt. So the catcher knows how to explain hitting but not necessarily how to turn around a 95 m.p.h. fastball. That's why so many managers are former catchers. Fast of mind, slow of bat.
Q: Hey Richard,
With Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago (Cubs) and others looking for managers for next year, what are the odds A.A. gets his man? Also, who are the frontrunners on the market for the next Jays manager & who would you like to see in the hot seat next year?
A: There are so many old managers on their farewell tours right now that it looks like the summer lineup of rock bands at Casino Rama. Cito, Bobby Cox, now Lou Piniella. Sure there are major-league teams with higher profiles than the jays looking for managers at the end of the season, but I don't believe there will be any shortage of quality candidates for Anthopoulos to choose from. What the Cubs need, what the Braves need in their markets and with their rosters is not necessarily what the Jays need. Remember that in most cases, teams go for the opposite of what they've got at the moment. In that case, Bob Elliott's suggestion of Don Baylor to replace Cito is a longshot. They have pretty much the same qualifications and backgrounds and the Jays will likely be going for younger, teach-ier, more modern tactician. If you're asking me what I would do, I think that the jays will not be ready to compete next year, so I would give a two-year contract to coach Brian Butterfield and if they are ready in 2012 to win, then I would have the option of staying with Butter or like the Tigers did in '06, bring in your high-profile, track-record guy to lead them to the promised land. The Tigers hired Jim Leyland only when they were ready to win. There will always be those ‘reputation’ Guys available but if 2011 is going to be another teaching year why not go in that direction first?