The hot, sweltering, annoying, nerve-fraying Dog Days of August have officially arrived to the major leagues as exemplified on Tuesday in Cincinnati with a bench-clearing brawl precipitated when Reds' leadoff man Brandon Phillips innocently tapped Cards' catcher Yadier Molina softly on the shin-pads as he stepped into the box. Yadier, clearly the most feisty of the catching Molina brothers, basically told Phillips to do something impossible to himself and it was game on. The Reds and Cardinals are the two dominant teams in a weak NL Central that despite being 44 games under .500 as a group, may end up with a division champ and the wild-card. But that was incidental to the brawl. There's something about Cards' manager Tony LaRussa that irritates his opponents. Former Cardinal and current Red, Scott Rolen can't stand the man and feels pretty much the same about his former mate Albert Pujols. Dusty Baker is not the biggest fan of LaRussa either. That race and those games bear watching the rest of the way. And how about August's effect on sure-fire (??) Hall-of-Famer Stephen Strasburg? The Nats' team-proclaimed saviour came off the DL on Tuesday and made his worst start of the year, allowing six runs in 4-1/3 innings. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? But while all this is going on, the Jays in the course of one weekend in August had fans standing and cheering with back-to-back, franchise-energizing performances. First it was rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia making his debut on Saturday with two homers and four hits. Then on Sunday it was Brandon Morrow within one out of a no-hitter, ending with a one-hit, 17 strikeout gem. The Jays don't care if it's August and they're supposed to be tired. They just seem to be having fun. Looking around baseball, they are currently the greatest show on turf. Doesn't mean they're going anywhere in the standings, but certainly worth the price of admission while ploughing through the toughest 28 days of their schedule.
Q: Hi, Richard. Thanks for reading my question. I'm contemplating Morrow's one-hit shutout on Sunday, and I have a couple of questions. Right now (Monday morning) the Jays are eight games back of the AL Wildcard. Considering the Rays seem to be stumbling at the moment, and the Red Sox still have injury problems, at what point would you declare the Jays to be in a pennant race? Secondly, you have stated in the past that you believe early success for J.P. Ricciardi derailed his long-term building plans for the team. What affect do you think the Jays success this year (assuming they can keep it up) might affect Alex Anthopoulos as he goes forward this off-season?
Chris Penney, Ottawa
A: Let's just look at the numbers. In their last 50 games, the Jays would need to play 35-15 (.700) ball to finish with 94 victories, the minimum of what it might take to capture the wild-card. To arrive at that same win total, the Rays need to go 25-24, the Red Sox 29-19 and the White Sox 31-18. The Jays have done astoundingly well in this, the toughest 28 games of their schedule, the month of August. The major-league season is 162 games of ebb and flow and right now they are making inroads against the Rays and Red Sox, but their time will come where the Jays stumble a little and they can't afford even one stumble to win the wild-card. Great season, highly entertaining but a win total in the 80's would be amazing enough.
The second part of the question is a solid one. Judging from the way Anthopoulos has reacted to the Jays' unexpected win total this season, I think it unlikely that the Sirens of early success will lure him onto the rocks of 2011 destruction. Unlike Ricciardi, A.A.'s game plan for building a contender is not linked to the length of his own contract. And unlike Ricciardi's hero-worshipping boss, Paul Godfrey, the current president has two World Series rings and a solid belief in scouting and player development being the keys. I would even see it as likely that the Jays are willing to take a step back record-wise in 2011 in order to give the stage over to some of the young position players of the future.
Q: Hi Richard,
I love your Q&A blog. After J.P. Arencibia's first game, I heard a couple of national sportcasts say that he almost hit for the cycle in his debut. Considering that his last hit was a homerun instead of a triple, shouldn't baseball recognize these feats as a cycle? After all, 2 hrs, a single and a double is a better day at the plate compared to a cycle. Thx,
Marc Elliott, Halifax
A: It is indeed a great debut for the young Jays' catcher and a stats line that is better than the cycle. I think the cycle is recognized more as an oddity than as an accomplishment. As such, it will always be single, double, triple, homer and let's play ball tomorrow. There have been plenty of four hit games over the years that add up to more than the 10 total bases that a cycle offers. Besides, the triple is probably the toughest part of the cycle to record and that's the one that Arencibia was missing. The over-emphasis on the cycle can be embarrassing too, as with Jeff Frye in August 2001 stopping at first base instead of going to second on what was clearly a double in order that he become the second Jay in history with the cycle. That's not respecting the game.
Q: Hey Richard,
I have a question for you in regards to Adeiny Hechavarria's contract. He signed for 4 years at $10 mil. Do those 4 years start counting instantly, or is that 4 years once he hits the majors? Do you have a feeling as to when he will hit the big club? Also, who do you project the Jays bringing up in September for call-ups? Thanks as always, love the mailbag!
Nigel Baker, Toronto
A: The Hechavarria contract began right away and not when he hits the majors. If he gets to the majors and arrives at an arbitration-eligible position during the four years, he has the option of going to arbitration or else keeping the terms of the original deal. Hechavarria responded well to a promotion to Manchester, New Hampshire where he is teamed up with a Latin manager in Luis Rivera. He is betting .296 with a .743 OPS. The 21-year-old is developing quickly, but still needs another minor-league season before reaching the majors. I would say some time late in 2011 Jays' fans might expect to see him in the majors. At which position is another question.
As far as September call-ups, they will likely go to a rotation of at least six pitchers including Marc Rzepczynski and may give a chance to Kyle Drabek since he has to be added to the 40-man roster anyway. But since he will likely have reached his preferred inning total, he may just be brought in to absorb the major-league atmosphere for a month. Maybe Adam Loewen as a reward for hard work, Mike McCoy and Josh Roenicke. John Buck will be active by then giving them three catchers.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love your mailbag. It's the hi-lite of my lunch hour on Wednesdays. My questions is about Jose Bautista. Everyone says he's a one season wonder and pitchers will adjust to him. However, as I write this, from September of last year (when he hit 10 homers for the month) through Aug. 3 he has hit 43 homers in less than a full major league season. If he hits 7 more in August he'll have hit 50 homers for a full major league season. Seriously, all Brady Anderson comparisons aside, how long does it really take for pitchers to notice a hitter and adjust. They must have noticed by now? Can Jose be one of those rare guys who blossoms late and becomes a consistent 30 homer guy for the next 4-5 years?
Howard Adler, Toronto
A: Bautista has survived at least two layers of adjustments and has made his own adjustments back. In late June they began to feed Jose a steady diet of breaking stuff in fastball counts. By July he was back again with his home run stroke. He insists the change is all about getting prepared earlier, the over-riding emphasis of Cito Gaston's and Dwayne Murphy's hitting lessons. By getting the foot down before the pitcher gets his foot down, it allows a hitter to get the bat out in front of the plate with the maximum power stroke at point of contact. I believe the Jays need to hang onto him at least through next season in order to determine if he can be a consistent 30-homer guy for the next 4-5 years. I don't think even Jose himself knows the answer to that one yet.
Q: Hi Richard,
Thanks as always for the mailbag. On the PTS with Bob recently you mentioned the Jays would maybe be looking for a 3 team trade if they were going to get rid of anyone between now and September. I'm just wondering how 3-team trades are constructed? Do teams generally know what other teams are looking for and go from there, or would Team A see that the Jays need a 1st baseman, find a player team B wants from the Jays, and then go like that?
Thomas Turniawan, Antigonish, N.S.
A: Anthopoulos is an information hoarder. He knows what every team in baseball is looking for and he knows what he is looking for. Not every GM has that passion for being on top of every other team's business. A.A. Likes to use his imagination and act as a broker for other teams as long as he can get something he needs out of it. I think it is more difficult at the trade deadline in July than it is in the off-season where there is more time for other GMs to consider what Anthopoulos is selling. Be assured that for every major trade made, Anthopoulos had a way in his own mind that he could have been involved. The art of the three-way is impossible in August because of the “trade waiver” rules of awarding contracts in reverse order of standings meaning that it is virtually always a one-on-one negotiation. I think I said on PTS that he like the three-way but would not be able to do it in August.
What ever happened to Jesse Carlson?
Barry Hope, Timmins
A: The wispy 29-year-old lefthander went from consecutive seasons of 69 and 73 games in the majors for the Jays to being cut from the roster at spring training in what many considered a shocking move. The 6-1, 160 lb. lefty specialist is 3-1, with four saves and a 4.32 ERA in 44 games at AAA-Las Vegas. He has a bloated 1.34 WHIP with 56 hits and 11 walks in 50 innings. In his great rookie season he allowed 65 baserunners in 60 innings. The next year he allowed 91 runners in 67.2 innings. It is unlikely that he will be recalled in September.
Q: Hi Richard,
I'm still trying to understand the trail of events that led to the trade of Brett Wallace for Anthony Gose. The theory on letting Wallace go is that Adam Lind is too young to be a full-time DH and should be able to become a decent first basemen. But it's the timing of that theory that I don't follow. It seems like it has just been over the past two months, for the first time, that the Jays have been seriously trying to get Lind ready for the position. But the Jays used Lind at DH for almost all of last year (and a large part of 2008), while knowing that Overbay's days with the Jays were coming to an end. So why not have started getting Lind ready at first base at least last year? If that had happened, then in the Roy Halladay deal, the Jays would have not been so anxious to get Wallace and instead could have kept Michael Taylor, who was flipped in order to get Wallace. As between Taylor and Gose, who do you see as having more upside? The prospect rankings seem to be very keen on Taylor, but in fairness he is almost 5 years older than Gose. It seems like Taylor could have been a solution in right field in the near term, whereas Gose is years away.
Thanks very much,
Patrick Bedard, Ottawa
A: One thing that I have admired about GM Alex Anthopoulos is that he is not embarrassed to change his mind and is willing to admit he has a better idea now than he had back then, no mater if it's a player that he himself acquired and now wants to replace with what he feels is an upgrade. I believe that the acquisition of the 19-year-old Gose is looking ahead to the moment when Vernon Wells is replaced in centre field. Gose as a potential major-league centre fielder and leadoff man is light years ahead of anyone in the system. Wallace was not light years ahead of anyone in the system and with the depth and the traffic jam the Jays had when Snider returned from the DL, it seemed easier to replace Overbay in the long term than it did to replace Wells in the long term. Gose runs like a deer and threw 97 m.p.h. as a pitcher in high school. Michael Taylor, while a good outfield prospect, was not the Jays' answer in centre field even if they had hung onto him. In fact, both deals involving Brett Wallace, coming and going, are examples of A.A.'s propensity for the three-way. While not exactly classic 3-ways, he took a player from the Roy Halladay trade and immediately turned him around to a third team and when the Phils trade Gose, a player he had long coveted, he then chased down Astros' GM Ed Wade with a piece in Wallace that he could use after trading Lance Berkman to the Yankees. Gose might need two full seasons before he's ready on Opening Day 2013. He'll be 22.
Q: Why should I spend $100+ to take my family to the ballpark to see a bunch of journeyman like Dewayne Wise and Jose Molina. It might be worthwhile to spend that to see the future of this team develop. But Travis Snider and Arencibia ride the bench. What is Cito thinking?
Larry Sommers, Toronto
A: Maybe you would go because you like baseball. I'm tired of hearing the money excuse for not attending games. Choosing Wise and Molina to not go to Jays games is like taking Francisco Cervelli and Marcus Thames and saying I'm not going to Yankee games because those guys are on the roster. Arencibia is up because of an injury to John Buck. Snider will play as much as anyone else in that awkward rotation. Snider and Arencibia will be starters in 2011.
Q: Hi Richard:
I think the Jays were lucky that no team picked up Edwin Encarnacion when he was sent down to the farm earlier this year. I think he has a good chance to be a very good player. He has only played in 65 out of 110 games and has 12 home runs. This would mean in a full season he would hit 25 to 30 homers. I know he makes errors on some routine plays, but he also has made a lot of very good plays on difficult chances. What are your thoughts on Encarnacion? Also what do you think about Johnny Damon as a future Hall of Fame member? I think he definitely should get in not only because of stats, but he always seems to be thorn in the opposition's side whether it is with his speed or a key hit (in other words he is a pesk). True he is not the greatest fielder in the world, but most Hall of Famers are judged mainly on their offense anyway.
Marv Rose, Toronto
A: I have been surprised by Encarnacion's performance, especially defensively, since his return. But he is erratic both offensively and defensively and if A.A. Had a chance to trade him then I think he should. He is a major-league player, but his best fit is not with the Jays in 2011.
As for Johnny Damon, I do not believe he will ever get serious Hall-of-Fame support unless he reaches 3,000 hits and even then, it will be iffy. His defence is not good. His 214 homers and 381 steals are both lacklustre in terms of Cooperstown.
Q: Hi Richard,
Two questions. I wondered if you know what happened to Brian Dopirak? Two years ago, he was tearing the Pacific league. I understand at one point, the Jays have let him go. Now when I look at his stats, he is not doing well at all. Is he in Jay's plan at all? My second question is Shawn Bowman, the third baseman Jays have in the minors. His stats look good. He hits for average and hits well with men in scoring position. Where is he in Jays depth chart
Francis Hardy, Whitby
A: Dopirak currently sits on the Las Vegas disabled list, having not played since July 15. The first-baseman is hitting .274 with 11 homers, 53 RBIs and a .763 OPS. The 26-year-old Dunedin native still must be considered a prospect, but not as much with the Jays as somewhere else next year.
As for Shawn Bowman, that was a nice pickup for the Jays this season. The 25-year-old New Westminster native, with 20 homers and 66 RBIs, has solidified third base at New Hampshire, a position at which the organization is not deep at the top levels. However, in terms of the Jays' depth chart, he would be behind Brad Emaus at Las Vegas. The Jays are still hoping that Kevin Ahrens, a first-round choice in 2007, develops into a major-leaguer. It's been a slow process.