It's that time of year again – autumn in October. It's a beautiful time of year. Some things change, like the leaves on the trees, while some things stay the same, like the Leafs on the ice. What makes it truly special for baseball fans is that the post-season is underway. October is to major-league baseball what March is to college basketball. Only for baseball it's not madness, it's ecstasy. There is another big difference between March and October, and it's the memories that are created. In college hoops the NCAA tournament champs seem compartmentalized, digested, appreciated and spit out, disappearing from an ordinary fan's memory banks in very short order – unless it's your school that won.
In baseball, mental snapshots of random playoffs and World Series seem to be tattooed on the brain, staying with fans forever. Willie Mays' with his back to the plate, Ron Swoboda's diving catch, Billy Buckner's five-hole, Tommie Agee's diving catch, Carlton Fisk waving his ball fair, Joe Carter touching them all, Kirby Puckett leaping against the plexiglass, Jack Morris going an extra frame, Sandy Koufax dominating the Yankees, Derek Jeter's backhand flip, Brooks Robinson stealing the show, Sandy Amoros making the catch, Joe DiMaggio kicking the dirt.
Ever since the advent of the televised Word Series, vivid memories of specific moments define the personal appreciation of baseball in Octobers past. I have a party trick I don't wheel out too often where I can reel off the World Series winners and losers in order from 1960 to 2009 without hesitation. Can anyone do that same thing with NCAA College Basketball? Doubtful. We'll try and keep this conversation going through the World Series and into the off-season. Right now, I'll talk to you from Philly. On to the mailbag.
Q: Good Afternoon, Richard.
Why do I have this terrible feeling that Adam Lind is going to be another Eric Hinske, a one-year wonder? With Cito's retirement he's losing his number one cheerleader, and the one person who seemed to have the greatest impact on his approach to hitting. And then there's this fantasy that he can be converted into a first baseman. I well remember your "love" for another converted-from-outfielder-to-first-baseman, Carlos Delgado. At least Carlos had intensity, something I don't see present in young Mr. Lind. I appreciate he's still a work in progress with regard to the first base position but I just don't see it coming together.
Sharon Perry, Napanee, Ont.
A: The Jays are concerned about Lind because his doldrums at the plate have continued for more than just a month or two at the start, this after giving him the lucrative extension on the eve of Opening Day. The most encouraging thing (and blessings are sometimes small) is that when I was polling players in mid-September about the shattering of maple bats, Lind, who is a user, said that he had broken a bunch of bats earlier in the year. But, he added, he had been using the same bat for about a month, which meant he was swinging better – either that or striking out more. In any case, the Jays have to be worried about Lind. The most concerning stat is the .287 on base percentage with 38 walks and 144 strikeouts in over 600 plate appearances. He was getting into too many pitcher’s counts and swinging at too many balls out of the zone.
Apologists for Lind may note that like many young players who get a whack of guaranteed money earlier than expected or earlier than necessary, he may have been putting pressure on himself to live up to the six-year extension through 2016, but that explains early. The fact the slump went on all year is cause for concern.
The comparisons to Delgado are a bit of a stretch. Delgado started out as a catcher but had a chronic knee issue that caused him to briefly move to the outfield before finding a home at first base. Lind was actually a first baseman in school but shifted to the outfield in the Jays' minor league system. Earlier in the sumer, Lind was working out every day hard with Brian Butterfield. That was just prior to the deadline in late July, but his first start in a game, he almost killed Dave Purcey with a high feed as the pitcher covered first, forcing him to leap ungracefully into the air and come down awkwardly on the side of the bag and onto the DL. End of Lind experiment. If I was Lind – and, yeah, yeah, I know he's getting married in the off-season – I would have asked the Jays if I could go to Instructional League in Dunedin and take as many groundballs at first base, start as many 3-6-3 doubleplays, scoop as many throws in the dirt as humanly possible to try and expand my skill set and my value as a major-leaguer.
The Lind contract is, in fact, a pretty manageable one for the Jays in that it is $37.5 million total for the next six years, with the final three being club options that can be bought out. Not only is it manageable for the Jays, but it is also very tradable since the player is locked up at a reasonable price for whatever team is interested. If the Jays don't see Lind as an everyday left fielder or as a future first baseman, then they can and probably would listen to offers and if the proposal improves the team into the contending years, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that at some point before the Jays win anything again Lind could be dealt.
Q: Hi Richard,
Why is it that MVP's are picked based on individual stats AND overall team performance while the Cy Young award is solely based on individual stats? I was reading a Ken Rosenthal write up and he admitted that he's biased to picking an MVP based on the team making the playoffs yet he chose Felix Hernandez as his Cy Young pick? Shouldn't this go both ways? Yes, I'm a Jays fan but I feel that Jose Bautista deserves the AL MVP award. Robinson Cano and Joe Mauer have been great, but Josh Hamilton has had one foot in the DL all season.
Paul Miller, Waterloo
A: I think it's the word Valuable that clouds voters mind when it comes to choosing MVP. If the award for players was named after a person like the Cy Young is, say the MVP was the Babe Ruth Award, it might over time have changed the criteria for voters. They would be looking for the “Best Player” rather than the not-very-clear definition of Most Valuable. For instance, under the current guidelines, a pitcher like David Price could finish higher in MVP voting than he does in the Cy, which seems counter-intuitive. If the MVP was based solely on individual performance, then Bautista and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers would be at the top of the list, but since team performance always enters the picture for MVP, then Cano, Hamilton and Evan Longoria are right there. I can see Bautista being Top 6 on every voter's ballot (28 BBWAA members pick 1-10) and I can see Jose finishing fourth overall which would be a great reward for him. My Cy Young pick (and I don't have a vote) after checking out the numbers and the standings would be Price who had to face the Jays, Yanks and Red Sox all year while King Felix faced a whole lot of A's and Angels. Jon Lester and CC Sabathia are there.
Q: Hi Richard,
Just wanted to thank you for another fine season, you always offer a deeper perspective. Do you believe Aaron Hill has lost a step playing second base and might be better suited being shifted to play at third base? Also, would you characterize Aaron Hill as a good teammate, because he sure did not look like a team player at the last game of the home season, by refusing to put on the Cito-stache. Is it safe to say he can't wait to see Cito leave?
Punji Panicker, Woodbridge
A: I believe Hill did lose a step in all directions and he would be a better third baseman than he has become a second baseman. Nobody was talking about Gold Glove potential this year. Now whether the diminished second-base skills came as a result of worrying about his offence is another question or whether he had some sort of a physical issue that we weren't aware of is yet another factor. The Cito-stache issue is not an issue. It's an individual thing and whether or not he's looking forward to another manager being in the dugout is a non-starter. As far as being a good teammate, he is well liked and relates easily with all groups in every corner of the clubhouse. He just stunk for most of the year. That can play on your mind and did. The Jays have a decision to make before next year. They can pick up three option years for 2012-13-14 or the can let him play 2011 and then make a decision after that for the 2012-13 options.
Q: What do you think the Jays are going to do about the closer's role? They can't go with Kevin Gregg again.
Douglas Marcelle, Brampton
A: The Jays have a $4.5 million option for 2011 or an $8.75 million option for 2011-12 so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Gregg will be back. And there are worse things than to exercise the '11 option because it doesn't mean he has to be the closer. Recall that entering the season Jason Frasor was the closer and Gregg and Scott Downs his primary setup guys. In this day and age, $4.5 million is not really overpaying for a good setup man. Recall also that as a free agent last winter, Gregg did not have many bites and the Jays won out because they had a possible closing role. As far as options other than Gregg, it seems counter-productive these days to actually trade for an established closer. You either sign one from free agency or find one in your own system. The answer to who will be the Jays' 2011 closer is far down GM Alex Anthopoulos's off-season priority list.
Q: Hi Richard, You wrote recently about how the potential weak spot of the Jays in 2011 might be the bullpen. Who do you see in the 'pen starting next year? Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen and David Purcey should be locks. Can Jesse Carlson rebound to his outstanding 2008 form? Is Frasor willing to take a "hometown" discount? Would you see Toronto picking up Gregg's option, then flipping him in a trade? Any chance that Scott Downs is still in the plans for 2011?
Patrick Bedard, Ottawa
A: There are plenty of names as far as the '11 bullpen is concerned. I believe Camp and Purcey wll be key members. I believe they will pick up one year of option on Gregg. I believe Carlson, Janssen and Josh Roenicke can have roles. That leaves about one spot open. I believe Frasor desperately needs a change of scenery to a National League team and I believe he can be an above average contributor to a contender. As for Downs, I would see what his interest is in coming back but he knows the Jays situation and he knows that teams were looking at him at the trade deadline. He would be a nice fit in New York with the Yankees or in baseball hotbeds like St. Louis. Downs will be 35 by Opening Day next year and though situational lefties are ageless, he will be asking for a lot for a Jays' team that may not contend for a couple of years.
Q: Dear Richard, Thank you so much for all of your hard work with the mail bag and your articles throughout the whole exciting Jays season. What will the Jays payroll be (let’s assume none of these guys are coming back) with Frasor, Downs, Brian Tallet, Gregg, and John Buck when they come off the books? And who do you think the Jays will go after in terms of free agents?
Thanks for everything.
Kam Hooshmand, Richmond Hill
A: The Jays under Paul Beeston and Anthopoulos don't operate with an exact payroll budget. They evaluate each additional expenditure or potential acquisition case by case. The exciting thing for the Jays is that their $78.7 million payroll in 2010 (which by the way was fourth highest in club history, according to the fabulous Cot's website) will be reduced by $10 million with B.J. Ryan's contract expiring and by $6.0 million as payment for Roy Halladay to ensure the Phils would include Kyle Drabek in the package. Add to that $16 million the $17.65 million coming off the books for Frasor, Overbay, Downs, Buck and Tallet (assuming non-tender) and the Jays, even assuming the same payroll figure around $80 million, have some money to work with.
In both cases, Downs and Buck, I don't believe the Jays are a good fit for the player. Buck might be if the Jays now have their mind set on waiting for Travis D'Arnaud to reach the majors, but if Arencibia is at all in their plans then Buck needs to go somewhere he can start for the three years of his contract. The Jays will aggressively work the phones for trade possibilities rather than pursuing free agents. By definition, A.A. prefers young, controllable players and in the majority of cases players that have reached their six-year free agency are 30-something guys. Besides, it seems to me that the free agency process has changed. If you're young and talented most teams choose to lock you up long term well before free agency. If you do reach free agency before the age of 30, unless your team was small market and couldn't afford you then there must be an issue where the buyer should beware.
Q: Hello Richard,
Throughout the course of the year the drums have been beating that Lyle Overbay was going to be a free agent and that Toronto had very little if any interest in re-signing him. First, we were told that Brett Wallace would replace him. Then, when Wallace was traded we were encouraged to believe that Lind would take over. My question is why not re-sign him in that he has left the door open for that to happen.
Four ratings systems (ESPN, Elias, Inside Baseball and the Encyclopedia of Baseball) have only two or three people rated ahead of him (Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis and Carlos Pena) and on two of the above lists he is third and Pena is fourth. So who is available to replace him? If you listen carefully to our TV announcers I think the answer is nobody at this time and that the young pitchers need his steady defence at first. However, given that you are with the team just as much as they are what do you say about offering him a contract and deal with Lind as a separate issue?
Paul Bertils, North Bay
A: That is an interesting and certainly an intriguing question. I can only recall the first two months of the season where Overbay at the Rogers Centre and on local radio talk shows was being hooted off the field and made fun of for his slumping bat and soft-spoken personality. That slap cannot be overcome with the player by a three-month resurgence after he was moved down in the order and fans responded politely. He was personally upset and so was his family. I believe Overbay would take equal money to go elsewhere and get a fresh start. Somewhere like Seattle, where he's from and where they had the AL's worst offence. There are many teams that will look at him over the winter and see a .270 hitter who can give you 40 doubles, 20 homers, 75 RBIs and a neice glove at firs base and would probably sign for 3-4 years at $8-10 million per. The Jays can afford that but it takes two to tango.
What are your thoughts on Edwin Encarnacion? I think it's interesting to note that his stats this year are very comparable to Jose Bautista's last year and we all know how Bautista turned out when he got some more playing time. Should the Jays sign Encarnacion next year and hope for a dream season? I'm starting to think he could be a worthy low risk gamble to take, at worse giving the Jays league leading production in the ninth spot.
A: For Encarnacion, there were two series – one in Arizona and one in Minnesota – where what he hit was red hot and hammered 10 of his 21 homers with 18 of 51 RBIs. Too bad he didn't handle the Eastern Time Zone as well as Central and Pacific. He's a very streaky guy. To me, Edwin reaching 20 homers at the end of the year made him easier to trade, even if it's for just a mid-range prospect. He has one arbitration year remaining before free agency and was making $4.75 million in 2010. He does not have $7.0 million value to the Jays. Defensively, he was as streaky as he was at the plate. He'd make a great play going across the line into foul territory then the next inning he'd fire a two-seam fastball into the dirt on a routine play. The general consensus of the contributors to this week's mailbag seems to be that everyone should come back, which is, to me, not taking the next step to becoming a contender. Trade or non-tender Edwin.
Q: Hi Richard
I noticed that Jays' hitting coach Dwayne Murphy once won six consecutive Gold Gloves as a centrefielder with Oakland. Does Murphy also offer fielding advice or does he stick to hitting? Speaking of Jays' coaches, is it possible that some coaches have already been guaranteed major league positions for next year, even though Alex A. is publicly saying otherwise?
Stu Royal, Erin
A: Maybe not quite that many awards, but he was a Gold Glove outfielder and a very practice-what-you-preach Jays-like hitter — high power, average. Murphy, Cito Gaston and in fact any of the other Jays' coaches take an interest in the defensive play during games. Especially routes to the ball, throws to the correct base, hitting the cutoff man, etc. All of which are foreign concepts to Fred Lewis, by the way. To answer your question, they are all able to offer fielding advice although Brian Butterfield was focused mostly on the infield.
As to whether Jays' coaches have been guaranteed jobs, I would not doubt that Bruce Walton knows he will be back. Anthopoulos has guaranteed all the coaches a place in the organization and Walton is willing to wait even though his value on the open market is quite high off of his success with the Jays young starters. Not so with Murphy who is actively going to be looking for a major-league hitting position elsewhere. As he said, “These jobs are few and far between.” Nick Leyva will interview if asked, but he is not going to ask. Leyva will either retire or take an off-field position with another organization. Omar Malave was a fine addition to the staff, but there are rumours that Double-A manager Luis Rivera will be promoted to the major-league club because of his work with some of the important Jays of the future. Brian Butterfield has thrown his hat into the ring for Cito's job. He will be a manager somewhere, but sometimes it's best to get that first big break away from a place that you had success as a coach. Too many players think of Butter as a friend first and a coach second. That would make the transition to manager difficult. It says here that Butter ends up on good friend Buck Showalter's staff in Baltimore. As for bullpen coach Rick Langford, he did a fine job, but a new manager will have a couple of coaches that he wants to bring wth him and bullen coach is always one that the GM will concede.
Q: Hi Richard,
Have you ever seen Travis Snider smile?
Chris Rose, Markham
A: A Snider smile is a rare thing. He is like the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland Fame. It's not a toothy grin and is never accompanied by a laugh or a guffaw. But when you spot it, usually in the company of his teammates when he thinks nobody in the media is looking or at the end of a media scrum as he walks away, if the final question was a good one-liner, it's a nice tight smile. His dad told him not to be cocky or gloat or arrogant, so when he's on TV his visage does not strut even after contributing a walk-off hit or a tape-measure bomb. He also, in his time away rehabbing this summer, has become a master of the sports cliche. But I'm sure he'll loosen up as time goes on.