Q: Just asking, but what was up with that in-house blog fight between you and Damien Cox and why were you picking on Dave Andreychuk, a solid citizen of hockey?
Alex B., Brantford
A: Just to clear that up, I love Damien Cox and have admired his work on hockey, tennis and soccer through the years. He is what I want to be when I grow up. I did take exception to Damien's blog regarding the purported question that he felt needed to be asked with appropriately raised eyebrow about Jose Bautista and his sudden emergence as a home run hitter. I was watching Sports Reporters on Sunday with Dave Hodge, Damien, Steve Simmons and Michael Farber (my personal favourite sports writer ever). The final discussion was “Is baseball back in Toronto?” Damien's belief was that baseball is not back and may never be back and if you went out on the street and asked an average citizen who Jose Bautista is that they would not know. Then he mentioned the home run surge of Bautista and said that should lead to questions. It was a spontaneous on-air discussion so I believe that when he wrote his blog, I felt it wasn't pre-meditated to stir things up and accuse J-Bau as much as it was something he said on TV that he felt he should be followed up as a blog. I get that.
My response, also in blog form, was about hockey players who have done something incredible late in life, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It was clearly meant as satire, to show the fallacy of just taking a player that steps up his game in any sport and attributing it to cheating – or subtly suggesting as much. I chose Andreychuk and purposely used flawed arguments with skewed numbers because that was the point of it all. I chose him instead of other more suspicious names because of the absurdity that anybody would believe it of Andreychuk (as solid a hockey citizen as has been), and the belief was that once people realized that, they were supposed to notice the exact phrasing and logic borrowed directly from the Bautista blog and actually “get it” and go “oh, yeah.” Unfortunately there are those out there (mostly hockey fans) that have no sense of irony or humour and thus the kerfuffle and the perceived appointment for an in-house throwdown in the office octagon.
Q: Allow me to ask a very hypothetical question. If the Jays had kept Roy Halladay and everything had worked out the way it has (team hitting a ton of home runs, the young pitchers blossoming into bona-fide major league pitchers) do you think this team would be making the playoffs in October and possibly going to the World Series?
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A: That is a very hypothetical question, because keeping Halladay would have meant that one pitcher, likely Brett Cecil, would not have got his chance to pitch in the majors. Thus, Doc's numbers would be merely replacing the lefty's. How good would Doc have had to be to make a playoff difference? Besides, I think the time had come where Halladay needed a change of scenery and if he had stayed, his mindset would not have been as positive as it has been in Philadelphia. I don't believe his numbers as a Jay would have been as good, since pitching is such a mental task and he had suffered a mental beatdown by the end of last season. And there is no way the new general manager and the Jays could have believed at the end of last season that they were on the verge of going to the World Series given the clubhouse dysfunction. If they had kept Doc and made a run at it, even manager Cito Gaston would likely have been moved to senior adviser a year earlier. So many things would be different. Keeping Halladay and last year's Jays team basically intact – then with the assumed off-season additions of Brandon Morrow, John Buck and Kevin Gregg – and even with the emergence of Jose Bautista as an offensive force, it would not have been enough. Be happy with the team you have.
Q: Hi Richard.
Wondering if you can explain how September call-ups work in terms of number of players allowed, affect if any if it has on a player's status (future free agency eligibility, etc.) and philosophies behind it for a non-contending team. I know the Jays will be playing many contenders in September thus would want to field their best team. At the same time I would love to see players like J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Canadian middle reliever Trystan Magnuson and starter Kyle Drabek up for a look to give them a taste of the majors and to give them a feel for the environment before they break for the off-season. Any players you would like to see in the majors for a trial run?
Phil W., Sarnia
A: This call-up period used to be a much more useful tool for major-league teams back in the day. But now, as you sagely point out, you're either involved in a division or a wild-card race yourself or else you are playing a team that is and integrity dictates that you play your best lineup. Basically, this is the call-up concept. At any moment every MLB organization has a 40-man roster of players that are reserved at the major-league level. Prior to September 1, there are 25 players on your major-league team, plus the other 15 guys that are divided between the disabled list and various top levels of your farm system. On September 1 a team may promote all of them to the major-league team and use them in any game at all. Even when there were four MLB divisions and 24 teams right into the early '90s, with two teams (maybe three) remaining alive in each division into the final month, you would still have 12-16 teams playing meaningless games re the post-season. I remember the Expos would often have 33-35 players up and play them to get a first-hand look at the future. I can't remember the Jays since I started covering them ever having more than 30-31 active roster players in September.
There are some key factors of playing time that teams are always careful of. 1) if a player has not reached the point in his career where he must be protected and added to the 40-man (either 3-4 years post draft or post-signing) then you do not want to being him up in September no matter how big a minor-league hotshot he is. If you bring a player up before he has to be protected under the rules of baseball then his major-league clock starts then and there and it clicks once for every year after that you send him to the minors. Three options is the max, then you have to place player on waivers at the end of his fourth spring that he is on the roster if he does not make the team. It's all about roster control and flexibility. 2) If a player is not going to get significant playing time, then either send him to Instructional League or the Arizona Fall League, both of which begin in September; 3) If a player has accumulated enough days of service wherein the 30 September days of service time on the roster will help him reach his free agency or arbitration a year sooner, then don't do it.
As for which prospects the Jays may promote in September, if they go according to form, it will be fewer than you think. We do not know how rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos operates yet in this regard, but if it was me I would say Arencibia, Drabek, reactivate David Purcey, give Adam Loewen a look as a reward, bring up a roster middle infielder and also reliever Josh Roenicke. That would be 31 players.
Q: What's with the Yankees attitude where they can hit as many of your guys accidentally but any toss towards a Yankee is intentional? And will we see Jesse Carlson vs. Posada round 2?
John Harris, Toronto
A: I like the cocky Yankee attitude of we can throw at your guys (I don't like when it's at the head) but if you throw at one of ours, there will be retaliation. It's not the Yankees fault if many other teams don't share that attitude of team aggression, or if many other teams are intimidated by the tradition and the pinstripes and the arrogance and the ghosts. Former Jays starter Pat Hentgen was my favourite pitcher in this regard because he would forever defend his own players without being asked, if someone was thrown at or if someone played the “embarrass-my-teammate” card. Hentgen would choose his own time and place within the game and it would be obvious what was happening. He would scowl, plunk, smile and deny after the game. Carlson is another who has no qualms about dusting a millionaire. Josh Towers would do it (although his fastball wouldn't hurt you) and many others that I admire. Intimidation used to be an integral part of the game when they didn't even wear batting helmets, but political correctness and wussy boys on both sides of the ball have made it less so. Just not the head please.
Q: Hi Richard,
I just happened to notice the stats of Alex Rios as a Chicago White Sox and wondered what the impact of his "pretty good season" thus far would have been had he remained with the Jays. Money aside, he has hit some home runs and showed some speed on the base paths. Was the saving of his contract worth the departure or could the current staff been able to work with him to realise his potential?
thanks and I love your column.
Carrie Conlon, Clarkson
A: I have always liked Rios as a player and a potential star. I am one who believes that a player's comfort level and peer support in the clubhouse contributes to his playing ability. To me, if Rios was still with the Jays and surrounded by this current solid Latin community of coach Omar Malave, Jose Molina, Bautista and Alex Gonzalez, now Yunel Escobar, that he would have thrived on and off the field. The thing that still strikes me about his near all-star season with the White Sox as a centrefielder is that the Jays gave him away for nothing and insisted it was a good deal. This after not dealing him at the July 31, 2009 deadline when there were actual player offers on the table. The GM should be fired...oh wait, he was. The bottom line is the Rios move was best for Rios, even though he struggled in Chicago early on. The trauma of a player's leaving his first organization is always tough, but it's over and he has shown his 30-30 possibilities as many had predicted. Should the Jays have received something for him? Yes. Is he better off there? Yes. Have the Jays moved forward and is their outfield future bright? Yes.
Q: My question has to do with the Jays' current and past managing of their pitchers, specifically their arms. While pitch counts seem a modern day phenomenon, when did they really begin to factor into coaching decisions on use of the bullpen or altering their starting rotation? And, the real question, do the Jays have an average problem with pitching arms compared to other teams or are their troubles -- McGowan, Richmond, Litsch, Morrow, Marcum, some twice, etc. -- evidence of past bad managing of pitching arms? The current team seems to be paying the price -- Morrow sits out two complete rotations and comes back ill-prepared to pitch.
Rick Prashaw, Kanata
A: The Jays may have a slightly above average problem with pitchers and their arms, but there are extenuating circumstances for the organization and others like them. Because of the financial strain of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox the Jays have to take chances on pitchers with a history of surgery, or on pitchers with deliveries that might lead to arm trouble. For instance, check players like A.J. Burnett, Jason Frasor, Shawn Hill, John Thomson and others that the Jays have signed or acquired through the years because the price for damaged goods is less and the potential if they remain healthy is great. Some have worked out. Others haven't. The advent of 12-man pitching staffs has led to frail relief pitchers that can only be expected to work two days in a row and to starters that when they reach 100 pitches start looking longingly to the pen to see who's warming up. In the last three years, there have been studies that show that young pitchers that accumulate say 200-plus innings early on take a step back a high percentage of the time. That has led to the Jays among others, instituting an organization-wide innings count for their pitchers. It led to both Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil being shut down in early September last year even though they were healthy and has led to talk of a six-man Jays' rotation in September. As for the seemingly growing list of arm, especially elbow surgeries, check out other teams and you'll see much the same thing. It seems with improved techniques of elbow surgery that more teams are willing with young players to give up a year in exchange for a career.
The greatest relief pitcher in history was Mike Marshall, who won the Cy Young Award for the Dodgers in 1974. Even though he was somewhat of a prick, he pitched 100-plus innings in relief five years in a row (1971-75) and in back-to-back seasons 1973-74 was 29-23 with 52 saves in 317-1/3 innings over 156 games – all in relief. At least twice Marshall, who has a doctorate in kinesiology from Michigan State, pitched six games in a row. His greatest relief performance was a bases-loaded appearance against the Padres on June 13, 1973. Marshall threw one pitch and got a triple play off the bat of Jerry Morales. He finished the game, two more innings, and picked up the save in a 3-2 win.
As someone who has never been to Fenway, I am curious about the green monster. Would most HRs in Fenway be homers in other stadiums? Would MLB allow the stadium to be built today with the wall the way it is? Final question and it scares me to write this, is Cito actually a candidate for Manager of the year? (yikes)....
Brian M., Barrie
A: The other day in Boston, Bautista smoked a line drive, hitting the ball as hard as it can be hit. It resembled his game-winning homer against the Yankees at RC with the infamous 28-second trot. Only this time the ball hit two-thirds of the way up the Green Monster and bounced back to Bill Hall. High flyballs that might be warning track outs in other parks are the ones that are considered cheap homers at Fenway, but there are a lot of balls like the one Bautista hit that would be homers in other parks that are singles and doubles at Fenway. It's a hitter's park, but not necessarily a home-run hitter's park.
The point is moot about anyone building a park like Fenway today. Back in the day when Fenway opened – seven days after the Titanic sunk – ballparks were built on city blocks and therefore were forced into their dimensions by the shape of the block on which it was built. Check the right field wall at Ebbets Field or the deep centre field in the Polo Grounds or the deep alleys and centre field at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. With the huge plots of land stadiums today are built on, there is no need for such dimensions.
Realistically, Cito has done maybe his best managing job this year, but manager of the year should go to Ron Washington, Ron Gardenhire, Ozzie Guillen or Terry Francona.
Q: There will be talk in the off season on ESPN or MLB about moving the Cleveland Indians into the AL East. The Jays would go to the AL Central. Would this be a good move for the Jays? Also, as a Twins fan, I hope that the Twins have clinched the AL Central pennant before we close out our season against the Jays at Target Field. Toronto always gives the Twins trouble.
Bob Keegan, Coon Rapids, Minn.
A: The Jays front office has hoped for that move for years, but in talking to Jays' president Paul Beeston, who is on MLB committees to study both realignment and a balanced schedule, changes are years away. The likely time to re-study all this stuff is after 2012 at the same time as the new Basic Agreement is negotiated. There is no doubt the Jays would be competing hard for the Central division, but I believe that a balanced schedule is the answer with reduced inter-league play and more of an intra-division emphasis down the stretch in September. The Jays get the attendance bump when the Yankees and Red Sox visit and that's hard to replace with the Royals and Twins. Besides, just win baby. The first thing you have to do in any division is reach 90 wins and from there, as September winds down, it's game on. The Jays are still working on that part and haven't been there since Joe touched them all in 1993.
Q: Hi Richard,
Hope you have endured the heat well - my condolences to you Easterners!
My question is about the catching situation. I've been impressed by how John Buck and Jose Molina have complemented one another, worked well with a young and green staff, and have even tried to mentor J.P. Arencibia. It almost seems too good to be true! I read recently about how Buck was impressed with Kyle Drabek in his minor leage re-hab, and he sounded very enthusiastic about the club's prospects. I know it has been tossed around - by you, among others - that Molina would be a good mentor next year for Arencibia. Is it realistic to think of Buck in that mix? Would he be interested in staying and playing half the games while mentoring J.P.? And then, what to do with Jose - perhaps hire him as a catching coach?
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A: That “heat” crack would be the same sentiment I sent to you around, oh, let's say the Olympics when snow in Vancouver was a mere rumour. But I must say you guys bounced back and did a great job even minus the white stuff. That question about John Buck has often been asked, but when I say that Jose Molina is the likely one of the two to remain, there are solid reasons. First of all, Buck has worked hard to establish himself as a viable No. 1 catcher on the cusp of his free agency. His next contract will be his personal pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He needs to be a starter at this stage of his career and at the same time if Arencibia is on the Jays he needs to be the starter at this stage of his career. Never the twain shall meet. You can argue that maybe J.P. needs another year of seasoning, but Buck will be getting a multi-year contract this winter and that does not mesh with the Jays and their hopes for their homegrown guy. Molina, on the other hand, is a career backup catcher, a true student of catching who has helped even the veteran Buck reach potential he only guessed he had. Molina has a club option for $1 million for 2011 and that is a perfect match for the Jays moving forward with one more developmental year on the horizon before they compete hard in 2012. Molina's not ready to be a coach when MLB minimum is over $400,000. Arencibia needs to start in 2011 and he needs a mentor and that's Molina.
Q: We all remember how Giants fans came to the defense of Barry Bonds when his PED problems were front-page news. Now that Roger Clemens is back in the spotlight for similar problems, I was wondering if there's anybody out there who's defending The Rocket. I know Red Sox fans can't stand him. I don't know anyone in this city who has fond memories of his tenure with the Jays, despite winning two Cy Youngs in his two seasons here. I'm not sure about Yankee fans, but I doubt they're too warm & fuzzy about him. That leaves Houston, where the Texan ended his career. Does he have any fan support out there?
Patrick Lannon, Toronto
A: Roger is a very hard man to feel warm and fuzzy about. That stuff that came out of Boston about his insistence that his favourite bar as a Red Sox play Elton John's “Rocket Man” whenever he entered the building is kind of creepy. Maybe he can continue with a variation on the theme and when he enters the courtroom for his various charges of interfering with Congress, etc. they could play Elton John's “Have Mercy on the Criminal” and when his wife takes the stand, he could ask for Elton John's “Don't Trust That Woman” and when Andy Pettitte testifies, Elton's “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” and finally, as he addresses the bench and seeks forgiveness Mr. John's classic “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” And yes, Clemens has support in Houston, where he is still a hero. But Hall-of-Fame? “I guess that's why they call it the blues.”
Q: Hi Richard,
What position do you believe Dicky Thon Jr. will end up playing, if he makes the majors? 3rd? Will we see Drabek this year as a call up?
Sean Heffernan, Sunderland
A: Thon's dad was a shortstop and the family seems intent on him remaining at shortstop. He, like many others at what is becoming the Jays' deepest position, is still four years away from the Majors, so a lot can happen between now and then. It's amazing how a year ago, the underachieving Justin Jackson was the main hope for the future at shortstop and now he is far down the list behind Yunel Escobar, Hechavarria, Thon, Ryan Goins and Gustavo Pierre. Drabek needs to be added to the 40-man roster after the season, so he may be rewarded with a September stint in the majors to see what it's like, although as the son of a major-leaguer he's been around enough clubhouses.
Q: Without suggesting a smear against Jose Bautista, how do you explain career years deep into a career? Long before the steroid era, I remember one year Norm Cash hit .361, Bob Porterfield won 22 games, Bobby Avila won a batting title and never came remotely close before or after. Even Hall of Famers such as Al Kaline or Robin Yount had many good years, but only one or two great ones statistically far out of the norm for their careers.
Nick Martin, Winnipeg
A: I hate to sound like I'm watching guys coming out of the shower, but Jose Bautista is 200 lbs. of solidly bunched, sinewy muscle just like the home run hitters of the past that took good care of themselves and, like those guys, that given a solid athleticism, has found a swing and a groove that allowed him to become a sultan of swat – at least for a while. Bautista is on a pace for 51 homers, while second-place perennial slugger Albert Pujols is on pace for 42. To me those numbers are a tribute to baseball's strengthened drug policy that involves mandatory random testing a couple of times per season and a rank-and-file players backlash to lining up on the field of play with the cheaters through the years. Most players don't want to play with drug cheaters. Further, it's a stretch to say that at the age of 28, which he was last September when Bautista began this streak, and after just 1,700 major-league at-bats that it can be construed as “deep into a career.” Face it, there is always the chance that anyone is cheating, but of the 13 major-league position players suspended by baseball for PED as the result of mandatory testing since 2005, only Raffy Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez are home run hitters of note.