The Jays on Wednesday made their first acquisition of the off-season, trading for speedy outfielder Rajai Davis from the A's giving up righthanded relievers Vancouver native Trystan Magnuson and Dan Farquhar, both from AA-New Hampshire. GM Alex Anthopoulos has stepped up and quickly made his major league team better and more balanced by dipping into his biggest trading strength – an impressive inventory of young minor league pitching prospects. Anthopoulos, on a conference call late Wednesday afternoon, refused to commit to Davis, despite his 50 stolen bases, as an everyday player and a top-of-the-order guy. Why? Because, in addition to an on-base mark that needs work, he's not done dealing and making the team better and he doesn't know in what area future additions will come.
Anthopoulos is like a street juggler with a pocketful of extra balls. The other day, the ball with Dan Uggla's name dropped and bounced away so he reached into his pocket without breaking rhythm, with an array of balls still in the air, and replaced it with another. He believes he can keep that act going all winter. Using an analogy from a different sport, Anthopoulos runs the West Coast offence of trade strategies. Instead of looking for the bomb on every down, he dinks and dunks his way down the field.
His first GM Meetings last November, Anthopoulos spent the week getting to know the other 29 GMs, a wide-eyed grateful novice. This time around, as a sophomore GM, with the huge Roy Halladay deal in his rearview mirror, he's spending the GM Meetings annoying the 29 other GMs with trade ideas, three ways and the like. Anthopoulos understood that he has handed new manager John Farrell a toolbox full of hammers. They're all quality hammers, no doubt, but you can't build a house with just hammers. By acquiring Davis, he has added, say, a screwdriver without giving up any of his other tools. Davis, at 30-years-old and with a shaky on-base average, is clearly not the immediate answer to becoming a contender, but he fits nicely in the Jays' toolbox and it ain't over.
As far as young Canadian reliever Trystan Magnuson and his family tree is concerned, there has been some inconsistent information that was really botched by ESPN at the Futures Game this summer at the All-Star Game in Anaheim. In fact, former Black Hawks defenceman, the late Keith Magnuson is Trystan's great uncle and is his father David's uncle. Dr. David Magnuson, Trystan's dad, is a professor of neurological surgery in spinal cord injury research at the University of Louisville.
On to the mail bag.
What are some closing options for the Jays should they look outside the organization? I see Trevor Hoffman is available, and perhaps he'd be a good one/two-year bridge to an in-house candidate, and could also mentor some of the younger Jays. Thoughts?
Daniel D., Toronto
A-First of all, let's address the internal situation. Looking at on-hand closer candidates, merely gives you the Jays' fallback options and sets the height of the bar that must be cleared if you are going outside for your ninth inning closer. It's not really a hand-wringing priority for a team that you are only realistically building as a contender for 2012 and beyond. Basically you have 162 more games to identify the closer of the future. No rush. Internally, start with the talented righthander Zach Stewart, who was acquired in the Scott Rolen deal and pitched at AA-New Hampshire then add lefty David Purcey and righty Shawn Camp. If there's a dark horse for a setup/closer role, it's Jason Frasor. Why Frasor, you may ask. After all, he's a Type A free agent. Therein lies the issue. In order to receive compensation in the form of a first-round pick and a sandwich pick for Jason, the Jays must offer Frasor arbitration. The question for other teams then becomes why would a major league team sign Frasor to a multi-year deal and give up their own first-round pick in June 2011, plus another pick between the first and second round (even though that wouldn't come from that club's inventory)? Is he worth it? The requirement to compensate the Jays for just a proven setup man is a serious concern. In fact at that point, with a light market previewed for the Type A Frasor, his own best decision might be to accept the Jays' arbitration offer for one year and try again after 2011. The Jays can't really be expecting that a team will give up their first-round pick for Frasor, meaning they may surprise everyone and open up the market for the likeable righthander by not even offering him arbitration. As for outside closers, the biggest mistake is always signing a free-agent closer off his first big year (see B.J. Ryan) or when he's about done (see Eric Gagne). The key is to get one just before his first big year. That's what pro scouts are for. Outside candidates for Jays' closer will include Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg and Chad Qualls. Guys that should not be considered by the Jays in their current stage of development are Trevor Hoffman, Kerry Wood, Rafael Soriano and JJ Putz. As far as mentoring some of the younger Jays in the pen, you have bullpen coach Pat Hentgen in the group now along with Bruce Walton and John Farrell, who are both pitching coaches.
Any chance the Jays go after Jeff Francis this off season with an incentive laden deal coming off of his injury? Forget being Canadian, he can pitch, and having another lefty in the rotation isn't the worst thing in the world. As well, with talk out of Milwaukee that they may not be able to ink Prince Fielder to a long term deal in the near future, do you think the Jays will/should test those waters when the time comes? Thanks.
Andrew G., Toronto
A-The Jays should consider inking B.C. Native Jeff Francis and giving him his opportunity to re-establish his career at home in Canada, just like they did with outfielder Adam Loewen and with the recently released Shawn Hill. The Canadian righthander, Hill, with his late-season recall, has at least been able to show 29 other teams that he is healthy again and for that he can thank GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays. The fact that he is not with the team any more merely reflects the reality of the Jays' long inventory of potential starters that was too much of a roadblock for Hill moving forward. As for Prince Fielder, he comes with baggage in the form of agent Scott Boras. I love Fielder as a personality and as an old-school slugger, plus a career .919 OPS, but with one year to go before free agency, there is a lot of posturing going on as far as his negotiations with Milwaukee for a longterm deal. As a franchise, the Brewers need to re-sign him as a cornerstone for their fans. They likely will before any trade avenues are explored as he has a year to free agency.
Your blog is so helpful and clear - it's my favourite. The buzz about who the Blue Jays keep, who they let go, and what position they play is abuzz. However, one of the players is above all the conjecture - and that is John McDonald. I think he must have a bigger fan base than any other "utility player" in baseball. This is attributable to his stellar character as well as his excellent skills in almost any team position. He is the heart of the Blue Jays and a very unusual superstar.
Jay Scholton, Sorrento, B.C.
A-Every organization should have a player on its roster like John McDonald. A huge date on the 2011 calendar coming up for Johnny Mac is May 24. That is the day he will officially have compiled 10 years of major league service and will max out on his MLB pension plan, setting his family up for life. It hasn't been easy for a man that has never gone to spring training as a starting player. It was a tough season in 2010 with the passing of his father. The most compelling moment was when he returned to the Rogers Centre after his dad's funeral in Rhode Island and emotionally fulfilled a Father's Day obligation to speak to fans that he had planned with his dad. Then, entering late in the game that afternoon, John slammed a line drive homer to left and looked skyward as he crossed the plate. It's a promise he had made at the bedside of his dying father that he thought would take a lot longer to accomplish. As a bench presence, he's the best. As a man, he's better.
Q-Hi...I been following your stuff back to the Expos days and find you to be very informative and reliable. I like the idea of Aaron Hill at third base,but I think Vlad Guerrero might be a better fit at DH. Possibly cheaper than Manny, less baggage and of course an ex-Expo!! What are your thoughts on Guerrero? Adam Lind at first is a no-brainer.
Paul Robinson, Kingston
A-I still prefer the idea of a short term deal with Manny instead of Vlad. The Texas Rangers DH tailed off in the second half of the season and looked old in the World Series, going 2-for-22 after his four-hit game against the Yankees in the ALCS. Both men are better clubhouse presences than you might imagine with Manny's attention to detail as a hitter being second-to-none. Because of Vlad's raw numbers from 2010, his contract would likely be more expensive. Manny is trying to re-establish himself in order to score one last big contract. Even in two crappy, partial seasons, 2009-10, his on-base was over .400 each year which easily betters the Jays' 2010 leader Jose Bautista (.378).
Love the mail bag. With recent Jays hirings, can you highlight the main tasks of each coach? And how does the pitching coach and bull pen coach work together, or do they just report to the manager?
Mia Matthews, Waterloo
A-The Jays have a lot of baseball grey matter on the bench to assist first-year manager John Farrell. Don Wakamatsu, the bench coach, will organize spring training and as a former major league manager himself, will be beside Farrell during games, reminding him of upcoming decisions and acting as a sounding board for Farrell before he makes a move. He is also responsible for working with the catchers. First-base coach Torey Lovullo is the one coach with a previous friendship with Farrell. He will be important between games as a confideant, travelling and discussing and rehashing games. Brian Butterfield at third base brings a bridge, a consistency, a history that will be important in making the manager comfortable with his roster from Day 1 of spring training. Butter is the infield instructor and has done a great job in that capacity. This is his fourth Jays' manager which is unheard of for a coach. Bruce Walton and Pat Hentgen will work closely together, establishing season-long roles and comfort levels at spring training where there are always two different venues going on for pitchers, especially once the spring games start. Hentgen will learn in a hurry and with his history as a Cy Young winner and with his annual visits to spring training as guest instructor, will be easily incorporated. Dwayne Murphy is back as hitting coach in the say-so of the Jays' hitters. Gaston was a co-hitting coach. Murphy will have more of a personal touch with Farrell. He has already won a World Series as a hitting coach even without Cito's advice in '01 with the Diamondbacks. He works with outfielders as well. As for Luis Rivera, the Jays wanted to be able to address the needs of all their players and with a growing Latin influence inside the clubhouse and with Adeiny Hechavarria on the way at some point, Rivera will be able to act as a first-language liaison as well as being a solid baseball man with major league experience with the Indians. He replaces Omar Malave in that role.
I hear that the Jays are interested in Zach Greinke and I hear rumours that the Jays may consider moving Shawn Marcum. Since Shawn is from the KC area, it might be a natural trade. Do you think the Royals would take him straight up? What about including Adam Lind as well for Alex Gordon? That might even it out since Gordon has fallen off in recent years and might be perceived by the KC brass as a steal for Lind.
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A-As one of my mail bag contributors pointed out earlier this week, his letter late in the season asking if the Jays would be interested in Greinke and Gordon may have been where this rumour started. The fact is Greinke, a Cy winner, is two years younger than Marcum and is locked up through 2012 for $27 million. Marcum is also locked up through 2012, for a lot less money. The Royals are looking to spend less money, while the Jays are looking for young, talented and controllable. A potential deal certainly fits for both sides, but as for Gordon, why? The guy has underachieved his whole career and that seems to be why you are giving up on Lind. A Greinke deal could be expanded but not to include Gordon and Lind. The question of taking Marcum straight up for Greinke comes down to the perception of Greinke as a Cy Young Award winner and of Marcum being just a season, albeit a fine one, off elbow surgery. Would replacing Marcum with Greinke make the Jays that much better over the next two seasons?
Love your column and appreciate the chance to offer my two cents. I'm a little surprised at all the hype surrounding Travis Snyder. To me he's a 20 HR hitter who strikes out every second time at bat. In the field he turns routine flyballs into firedrills and drops half the balls he has to run for. I can't think of a Jays fielder in recent years who has been worse on defence. I think Fred Lewis did far more for the team all-round in 2010, and I hope he gets the chance to play fulltime in '11. Thanks again.
Rob Brooks, Callander, Ont.
A-I think you're being a little tough on Snider. He is a better left fielder than Lind. He is better than Lewis, better than Shannon Stewart, Joe Carter, Manny, Vlad, Greg Luzinski and many others that have had long and productive outfield careers. As for his hitting, he is still only 22 and returned from injury in better shape than he has ever been. He needs more plate discipline and a better plan. But to dismiss him at this stage is not right. If he had gone to college, 2009 would have been his draft year and, in just his second spring training as a pro, you'd be calling him a young stud and the right fielder of the future.
With the departure of Edwin Encarnacion to the Athletics, do you think the Jays will push hard for Pablo Sandoval in a "buy low" trade scenario? If not, what other third basemen could the Jays possibly pursue on the trade market?
Matthew Lee, Toronto
A-The Giants would not put Sandoval on the field defensively in October when it came to crunch time in the World Series because of the adverse effect his fielding would have on their young pitchers. At third base, he is no better than Encarnacion and if it wasn't for the cute nickname, Kung-Fu Panda, he would not be regarded as highly outside the game. I'm not sure they are ready to “sell low” when it comes to the 23-year-old Venezuelan. The Jays are not done dealing for upgrades with Rajai Davis on board, but they are already better with Davis in right and Jose Bautista at third than they would be with Sandoval at third and J-Bau in right, with Davis as a fourth outfielder.
Great interview with Farrell - I'm looking forward to how things shake out, especially with pitching and hitting coaches! Meanwhile, we have a new coach, and an almost-new GM, so there's an opportunity to change the culture of the organization. My question is: Why don't clubs emphasize fundamentals more (bunting, hit-and-run, hitting the cutoff man, etc.)? The Twins organization is famous for doing this right from Day One in the minors, so I would think it would be a cheap, and important building block in any organization - but it doesn't seem to be. Why not? And do you think that AA and Farrell are likely to push for this throughout the Jays organization?
Thanks, as always, for the insights.
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A-I have been to Twins spring training camps all the way back to Tom Kelly and you're right. This is a Twins culture even in major league camp where they constantly repeat the fundamentals of fielding, throwing from the outfield and base-running. Every time I write a column about being more like the Twins, the Jays go out and thrash Minnesota and out-execute them and readers e-mail and mock me mercilessly. I think I'm safe right now. It seems like the new guy, Farrell is keen on more bunting and hit-and-runs and stolen bases to create runs in tight games, but time will tell. You have to have the players that are able to execute all those little things and have done them in practice. Otherwise you're giving away outs and giving away strikes and futilely putting your home run hitters in bad counts to fail at what they do best. When GM J.P. Ricciardi arrived in 2002, he wanted to put together a team of patient hitters, but he didn't have many so it collapsed. J.P. loved guys that could take walks and hit the ball a mile. In his eight years as GM he was looking for big-man skills and body type with a seemingly similar admiration for big meaty thighs as Colonel Sanders.