The thing that surprised me the most at the All-Star Game was to hear the players to a man talk about the importance of Bud Selig's carrot-on-a-stick - the home-field advantage of the World Series - as something that inspired them to play hard.
Maybe Bud Selig has it right. Maybe it's the young players that are dominating the game who aren't yet comfortable enough to coast through a meaningless exhibition like the midsummer classic. Maybe it's the NL teams that are tired of only hosting Games 3-4-5 in the Fall Classic. Whatever it is, this was a play-to-win All-Star Game managed as such by the NL skipper Charlie Manuel. Maybe next year, now that the senior circuit broke its 12-year losing streak, the AL will deign to use the major-league leader in homers, Jose Bautista, as more than just a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, and the game's most expensive player, Alex Rodriguez, as more than just a bench coach and cyber-escort for the uber-hot “God Bless America” country singer.
Highlights of the All-Star weekend and week? The catch-on-one-hop-spin-and-throw to second for a force by Marlon Byrd in the ninth inning when the AL was two runs behind. The moment of silence for the one-and-only George Steinbrenner who passed away in Tampa on Tuesday morning. ESPN host Erin Andrews trying to act like nothing unusual had happened in her life. Being very competitive managing my Midget baseball team at a showcase classic for college coaches in Columbus, Ohio that ended Sunday. We had a plus-6 run differential in three games but were 1-2. The nomination of friend and colleague Bob Elliott for the Spink Award in 2011, meaning if he wins he has a chance to enter the Hall-of-Fame at Cooperstown with Robby Alomar.
On to the mailbag.
Q-Hi Richard, Love your mailbag! Keep up the outstanding work! My question is, what do you think the Jays need to compete either in 2011 or 2012? It seems they have their catcher (J.P. Arencibia), 1B (Brett Wallace), 2B (Aaron Hill), CF (Vernon Wells), RF (Travis Snider). Who do you see them bringing in or bringing up to compete in the near future?
Howard Adler, Toronto
A -I don't believe the Jays can compete in 2011. But because of that struggle they will be ready to compete in 2012. That may sound like a negative or an oxymoron for next season's prediction but the reason is that if they are getting better as an organization – and they seem to be -- they will be getting younger at the major-league level and thus will be taking their lumps on the learning curve. This year has been a case of letting a young starting rotation learn at the major-league level while the position players are a mixture of young veterans and veteran veterans. The players that will be ready to compete in 2012 are in the minors this year and will be in the majors next year, specifically Arencibia, Wallace and Snider and then whichever shortstop is closest to the majors – likely Adeiny Hechavarria. You're forgetting Adam Lind in your list as the DH. Oh yeah, don't forget the bullpen will be younger and less experienced. More lumps. But it will be a fun team to watch develop if you believe in 2012.
Q - Richard, All things considered, the Jays record at this point seems to be where it should be. This was a rebuilding year. The quick start was a kind of tease and it was hard to keep things in perspective but the way I see it is that anything over .500 is a bonus. Just wanted your take on a couple things: 1) Will Lyle Overbay be traded by the end of the month? 2) Will Travis Snider be back this season? 3) Will the Jays be able re-sign Alex Gonzalez? Looks like he will be due quite the raise. Or will they make room for Justin Jackson next year? 4) Are there any young free agents we can sign that will improve our hitting? Thanks as always.
Scott Rambeau, Windsor
A -When fans are passionate about their team that's when it's always difficult to keep things in perspective. The highs always seem higher and the lows are lower. But all that means is the fans care and Blue Jays fans do care. If you recall, last year was also a quick start and an early tease. I think the schedule of opponents has a lot to do with the Jays' tendency to get streaky through different months of the schedule. Just checking the Jays' current schedule coming out of the break, it looks like time for a good stretch of wins and losses leading up to the trade deadline. But don't get too high.
As for the questions: 1) I believe Lyle Overbay will be traded by the end of the month. The best thing for the Jays is that Lyle started to hit consistently. There are teams that could use him for the final two months and if he's not traded by the deadline, he'll be available on waivers in August; 2) Travis Snider is ready to come back before the end of the month, but the Jays would like to know what they're doing with either Overbay or Edwin Encarnacion. That would clear a roster spot and make it easier; 3) The fact is that the Jays hold an option on Gonzalez which they will surely pick up because it is reasonable and he can fill a role for another year. 4) Young free agents are becoming extinct, especially if they are talented, because clubs know they had better tie them up with long-term contracts before they ever reach their free agent seasons. If the Jays are to fill a starting position role in 2011 it will have to be via trade. But they do have the depth in starting pitching to do exactly that.
Q - Hi Richard, How worried should we be when we hear that Shaun Marcum is experiencing pain in his surgically repaired elbow? Chris O'Leary who writes the Pitching Mechanics blog points out that Marcum's mechanics (what he calls the "Inverted W") will lead to nothing but future arm problems. Your thoughts?
Scott C., Halifax
A -It's always a cause for extreme concern when additional arm problems follow a year off taken after elbow surgery. But the dilemma of what to do with him arises when everyone in baseball has access to the same information and after that what can you possibly get worthwhile in trade for someone that people feel might break down at any time. Personally, I think this is a normal arm issue for someone following a year off of pitching that has been used every five days and has taken the ball without complaint every time he's asked. Personally I feel Marcum can be a nice part of the Jays rotation as long as they continue to go at least eight deep into the minor-league system and can injury fill when needed. Pitching is an unnatural motion in any case no matter what letter of the alphabet you're using.
Q-Richard, I am hoping you as the foremost Blue Jay authority can shed some light on when the Jays will begin their search for a new manager. I applaud Cito for the job he did in the early '90s, but the game has passed him by and it has become excruciating to watch his ineptitude. It is sad to say, but he is a dinosaur in baseball terms. He practically photocopies the lineup daily and he is very predictable as he employs next to no strategy. I would love to see someone from outside of the organization so that a new energy and strategy can inject some life into this team. Managing a pitching staff, a bullpen and the bench, including stealing bases are essential to a team's success. Have you heard any names at this stage beyond the obvious in house names.
Dan Kerr, Oshawa
A-Here's the chronology of Alex Anthopoulos's first calendar year as GM. From January 1 to Opening Day Alex was busy putting together his Opening Day roster and scouting amateur prospects. From April 1 up to the draft, the GM was busy scouting amateur prospects and putting together his draft board. From June 1 to July 31 Anthopoulos is busy trying to hornswoggle other GMs into taking his chaff for their wheat. Now comes the answer to your question. From August 1 until October 1 he will be putting his list together of potential managerial candidates. The great thing about the Jays' search is that they are not doing it behind the back of the current manager Cito Gaston. On opening day 2011, Cito plans to be on the Riviera with his wife. The consulting job is flexible. As for his current shortcomings as manager, the Jays and Paul Beeston are repaying him for being screwed for 10 years by baseball for winning two World Series with very good teams. That's not held against other managers as much as it was held against Cito. The money that he lost during his 10 years of being ostracized as manager will not be made up in his two full seasons with the Jays in 2009-10, but $4.5 million helps ease the pain. The names that are available now aren't the names that will be at the top of the list later.
Q -Vernon Wells is an all-star this season. Last year there was considerable angst among the stat heads about his atrocious defence. Does that mean that no one cares about defensive ability in a centrefielder or that, like last year, he is still a pretty good defensive centrefielder?
Eric Emerson, Roslin, Ont.
A -I'm sorry, the correct term is “seamheads”. There are some stats that I have never been able to figure out in modern baseball and that crazy convoluted fielding range statistic that compares outfielders on their range factors arbitrarily using the judgment of 30 different guys in 30 different press boxes to create a season-long number makes no sense to me. Give me the personal visual of a ball being struck and the centrefielder reacting at the very same moment – something that I know has just happened -- and I'll take that stat any time. Whenever Roy Halladay pitched it seemed Wells would have 1-2 chances in the field and that would be balanced against 1-2 broken bat singles that parachuted to the turf in centre field and were counted against Vernon's range. No wonder his numbers sucked. I do believe that his defence suffered in 2009 for other reasons like his wrist and worrying about his hitting. But to me the number doesn't mean squat.
Q - Considering the Jays have yet to sign 2010 first-rounder Deck McGuire, is it possible that the Jays may have drafted him without the total intention of signing him? Due to alterations to MLB drafting rules, teams now receive compensation (same pick #) in the subsequent draft if they are unable to come to terms with a player, which in this case, would award the Jays with the #11 pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. When one considers that the 2011 draft is projected to be head and shoulders better than the 2010 draft, in terms of both hitting and pitching talent at both the HS and College levels, would not signing McGuire, and in turn, cashing the pick in on an potentially higher impact prospect, be a savvy baseball decision?
Kyle B., Toronto
A -I believe that the Jays drafted Deck McGuire with the intention of signing him. But the new rule that saved their bacon after the disaster of the 2009 draft is a good cushion to fall back on. If that had been the Jays' intention, Anthopoulos would not have bragged so openly about their intention to sign all of their top picks. In fact, I believe that rookie GM braggadacio rather than a conspiracy theory might cost them the signature of their top draft pick. Any good agent or advisor follows the media surrounding the team that drafts their client. When McGuire's people read that A.A. said he would not be governed by slot money and that he wanted to make sure he signed them all, what else would they do but wait until closer to the August 15 deadline and pressure the Jays to stick to their guns of not being shut out. It's a fallback not a primary plan.
Q-Hi Richard, Love your work. I just sat through the 14 to 3 pasting the Red Sox gave the Jays and my mind started to wander then wonder about the wall of excellence. I know the two were not so related at the time. But, who do you think will be the next couple of names added to the wall? My choices would be Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay when he retires. Second question is about Brian Tallet. Up until recently he has been a very useful lefty. Is his very rough spell going to end in the majors or minors? Sincerely,
Charles Adam, Manitoulin Island, Ont.
A-The Wall of Excellence does not need names just because another year goes by. I believe Delgado should be up there as soon as he announces his retirement. I believe Pat Hentgen should be the second name. I spoke to both Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay at the All-Star Game and both mentioned Hentgen right off the bat as a major influence in their careers. As for Tallet, he was not thrilled to be relegated to the bullpen and it seems to have affected his performance. I think his rough spell is going to end in another organization. There are some guys that need a change of scenery to succeed and Tallet is one of them. I love Tallet as an interview. He is thoughtful and truthful, but his cerebral talent often exceeds his physical.
Q-I think the Mariners committed highway robbery with trading Cliff Lee. First of all, they got better prospects than they initially traded for. And second of all, it seems like they received just as strong of a package that Toronto got for trading Roy Halladay, who had a full year on his contract plus an extension. If the Jays kept Roy until the trade deadline, do you think we could have received a similar package? I mean, the Yankees were about to send Montero, who they were so reluctant to trade for Roy.
Werner Ott, Thunder Bay
A-Only time will tell with regards to the relative quality of the players, including Phillipe Aumont, that the M's traded to obtain Lee from the Phils, and the quality of the players they obtained from the Rangers, including first baseman Justin Smoak. This is all opinion on your part, but the three-man package the Jays got from the Phillies seems in the long run to be better than the Rangers package to the M's. The key is in the long term. The difference in your question with regard to Halladay is that he still would only have accepted a trade to the Phillies at the trade deadline so the question is academic. Whatever anyone else had to offer would not have been done. They would have received less than they got with half a season remaining and no competition – no Drabek.
Q-Why don't the Jays want to bring Snider back until he has shown he can contribute at the plate but they are willing to let Litsch roll out there every five days with no indication he is able to contribute at the major league level? Is there a different standard for hitters and pitchers?
Zack Farrar, Toronto
A-They are bringing Snider back shortly. Meanwhile Litsch is hanging on by a thread. The Snider delay is to show that he is 100 per cent healthy.
Q-Hi Richard, Like most Jays fans, I am troubled by Aaron Hill's struggles this year. For the most part, this has been blamed on a nagging injury, sagging confidence, and pitcher's adjustments.
But I have been worried since last year about the effect his surprising power campaign would have on his hitting. Up until last year he was thought of as a solid guy for average with enough pop to put out 15-20 in a year. Last year his power far exceeded expectations, but I'm wondering how much of an outlier that result was. My concern is that both for fans AND Hill himself, an expectation got built up that he was now a middle of the order power bat. There's no question that Hill's timing is off, but he also looks to me like everything's a big cut. So is Hill's slump this year partly a product of a regular hitter trying to be a power hitter?
Mark Acheson, London
A-I don't think the problem is that he believes he's a power hitter now. I think the problem is that he doesn't know what he is. He's caught in between. Most players don't want to set statistical goals for themselves, but I think Hill should see himself as a .285 hitter, with 40 doubles, 15 homers, 80 walks and 75 RBIs. Maybe Hill is a sixth place in the order bat and should be put there and left there. His timing is off. He is too static and failure leads to angst which leads to tightness which leads to more failure. He has time to save his season.