The Mets announced the other day that they have hired former Jays' GM J.P. Ricciardi as a Special Assistant to the General Manager Sandy Alderson.
From the moment he was hired by the Jays, J.P. always insisted that he didn't have to be a general manager, that he was perfectly happy to go back to the mainly scouting role he had with the Oakland A's before he was hired in Toronto. He said that family was very important, with two young sons, and that he could walk away from the GM's role and still be happy.
Ricciardi is returning to his roots. He was originally hired by Alderson in Oakland and then served under Billy Beane in a player personnel role while living at home in Worcester, Mass. He has done what he said he could do, returning to pretty much the same role he had with the A's. It is a better role for him than being on the firing line.
The biggest mistake he made in Toronto was in underestimating the baseball knowledge of the fans, in believing that his was a missionary position wherein he would be teaching the game of baseball to the great white north. He found that out the hard way, trying to snow the fans about his team's chances and making lame excuses for his team's failures including an obsession with the Red Sox and Yankees operating budgets compared to his.
He is in a good place for himself and his family right now and we wish him the best. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard, I've heard some rumblings about baseball expanding the playoffs, possibly as early as next year. Assuming that this were to happen, would this change the status of the Jays contending as soon as '11? Even if this did not happen, shouldn't the mindset of the Jays be to contend as soon as '11? The Yankees are getting older, Boston seems to be a hurt team (and aging as well), and Tampa seems to be on the verge of losing some key players. If the Jays were to make some wise moves and shore up some issues, then what would stop them from contending in '11 as opposed to '12? The main issue I see with this team is the bullpen, and how quickly it can be rebuilt. This team seems to have a great rotation (although no true stud starter yet), and the offense seems to be well balanced compared to years past (although increasing the on-base % dramatically would help). I do recall a team such as Tampa coming out of nowhere only a few years back, once their players developed, and the Jays, with a deeper farm system than ever before, could make some wise trades to shore up their soft spots (not to mention some great talent available via free agency). Ultimately, what is the real difference between contending in '12 vs. '11 if the nucleus is the same?
Zaki Ameen, Mississauga
A: To contend in MLB even for a second wild-card position, a team needs to believe it can win at least 90 games. The addition of a second wild-card spot would surely encourage many teams and their fan bases as September arrived, but the reality is that unless you're going to be in the 90s for wins, especially if you compete in the AL East, then by October 1 it would be back to reality and the same old “Wait until next year” rallying cry. Researching recent history, even with the proposal that I had made in a column earlier in October, of a playoff field similar in size and format to the NFL, with three wild cards and three division winners -- 12 teams in the mix – the Jays would have missed the post-season for 11 straight seasons dating back to 1999 and before that '98.
The obvious truth is that the Jays and GM Alex Anthopoulos would love to contend in 2011. But he has always said that his team will tell him when it is a contender, not him telling his team. That means he will not make major moves until he sees it happening which means the July 2011 trade deadline once he detects the first sign of contending and then every off-season thereafter. The best thing about the Jays the past two winters, including this one, has been that they are not throwing out false hopes like beads at a Mardi Gras parade and selling hype to fans in order to sell tickets because rash promises of contending in the winter that are broken in the summer do more damage with fans and their ability to trust the team's headed in the right direction, than does a case like 2010 with low expectations followed by a surprisingly high win total.
Overachievement is a wonderful thing.
The Jays' bullpen issue is a real one, but John Farrell's expertise with the Indians in his front office role before becoming a pitching coach was in finding overlooked players, six-year minor league free agents and others coming off down seasons and ready to rebound. A bullpen can be reinvigourated probably easier than any other area of a major-league team. The Jays have had success in that area – see Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson, Brian Tallet, et al.
The AL East is coming back to earth. Sports is all cyclical. The Rays are going to lose some of their star power and their identity. The Yankees are reeling with their failure to launch against the Rangers and the Red Sox don't know what they are because they have good players and a good and expensive rotation, but they don't know who's going to be healthy or back or in the bullpen. Besidees, the Red Sox are always challenged in multiple ways because not only must they compete against the AL, they must compete against the Yankees.
Ultimately, the Jays have decided to stay the course on completing the rebuilding process and allow things to play themselves out. The fact is that if A.A. decided to change course and accelerate 2012 into 2011 because of the surprising 85 win total in 2010, he would merely be J.P. Ricciardi Lite.
Q: Anthopolous has stated that he is focused on the trade market rather than free agency. If our new manager is looking for high AVG/OBP guys - what sort of outfield help of that nature is available? Do you foresee a Dodgers firesale? Do you consider Marcum to be a good trade chip (you can get a lot for good young pitching, and he is the least "controllable" of all the Jays young pitchers)
James Scott, Toronto
A-It distresses me that the new manager's first statement at his press conference was that he did not like the way his players swung the bats from the ass with the longball and prefers a team that has a better feel for situational hitting and on-base percentage. It sounds like a case of a guy trying to make chicken salad out of...a seafood restaurant. You have to maximize what you actually have and unless the Jays are going to change personnel, they cannot force this team to be an on-base team over a slugging percentage lineup. I recall when Ricciardi took over, his mandate handed down the line to minor league teams was that each of their players needed to draw at least one base-on-balls for every 10 at-bats, no matter what else they brought to the table. I am sure that because of that guideline, they lost some good players hearts and souls. If Jose Bautista gets his way, he will be the right fielder, Travis Snider will be in left and Wells will be in centre. That means any changes will be at first, second and third base. There is flexibility because Hill could always be moved tio third if they think they find an answer at second or he could stay at second if they trade for a third baseman. As for the Dodgers maybe rebuilding and making guys like Matt Kemp available for prospects, I don't see it happening. They compete in a market with the Angels and neither franchise can afford to be seen as rebuilding. As for Marcum, yes I see him as the most tradeable starter in the rotation. Farrell hinted as much when he answered a question of his opening rotation by naming Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow as his top two starters.
Q: Richard, Last year there was extreme angst among seam heads that Vernon Wells' defense was indefensible. This year, not so much. A turnaround offensively seems to have quieted that crowd. Wells still seems to make most of the plays you expect a cf to make. His arm still seems adequate. All of which leads to a few questions -- do you get any sense as to how long it will be before the Jays brain trust plans to move him out of the middle, possibly to right? Are the new 'improved' defensive stats as reliable as offensive ones? How much will a club rely on them as opposed to personal observation?
Eric E., Roslin
A: Of all the modern stats, I believe the ones that involve the quantification of defensive range and ability are the ones most patently ignored by major-league clubs. They have professional scouts that see hundreds of games and those reports when ranking players defensive abilities are more important than “range factor” and the like. Amazing that when Roy Halladay was the ace of the Jays rotation, Vernon Wells had lost his range. Hey, how about the fact that for 230 innings, all Doc did was serve up groundballs? Wells range improved when Doc went to Philly. Go figure. For a long time MLB defence was largely ignored by seam heads who were baffled on how to judge whether a guy was a good defender compared to history. Then they placed 30 geeks in 30 press boxes to determine that when a ball went in the air off the bat whether it should have been caught or not and whose responsibility it actually was. Sun? Lights? Wind? Funky hops? No problem, no factor. In answer to your question of any defensive stats being as reliable as offensive ones. No!! In answer to when I think the Jays will move Wells out of CF. At the latest, in the two or three years when Anthony Gose is ready to play major-league centre field. At the earliest when A.A. finds someone in an appealing trade that is a better centre fielder and is young and controllable. Until then, Vernon is not a horrible option.
Q: Hey Richard, Love the blog. Just wondering what you think of the Jays chances next year if the playoffs do expand. Would that change the GM's philosophy a little because it would make it slightly easier to make the playoffs and the Jays would have been in contention this year? Secondly why do so many people think the Jays would be better off in the National League. Yes they usually end up with a better record, than some of the NL East teams, but they don't have a great record against NL teams head to head-thoughts?
Matt Sookram, North Bay
A: Like I said above, it would have been since 1999 that the Jays made the playoffs under any expanded wild-card format. The other caveat when accelerating the Jays ability to contend next year with an extra playoff spot is that in the last decade there has been no non-contending major-league team that plays as hard in September as do the Jays. The franchise philosophy has always been “win as many games as we can”. Under manager Cito Gaston the explanation was “the integrity of the game” under GM Ricciardi it was to “protect my legacy.” But the fact is that if there is a second wild-card carrot on the end of a second wild-card stick, then even more AL teams will be in contention in September and they will all have their pedal to the metal as the Jays have done for years. The Jays will no longer be able to take advantage of teams playing their prospects down the stretch to see which of the kids are alright. Additional wild-card spot or not, the Jays will always be in tough when it comes to reaching the AL playoffs. And any team that points at the wild-card as their goal before the season starts is not a true contender. It's like horseplayers betting Place. Woo-hoo. Try to win the division, settle for a wild-card.
As for the Jays saying they'd be better off in the NL, I don't think I have heard too much of that. The Jays as an organization have always favoured having the designated hitter and would hate to see their pitchers hit. I think the NL references you're talking about are all those whiny front-office types that over the years have pointed to the NL Central or the NL West and said, “If we were in that division we would have been in the playoffs x times in the last x years.” That doesn't mean they want to be there.
Q: Hi Richard: I also would love to see Carl Crawford in a Jays uniform but I don't see it happening. My question though concerns Colby Rasmus. I heard he and Tony La Russa had a dust up of some sort last year. He would seem to be the type of player the Jays are looking for. Young, lots of upside and locked up for a few years. What do you think it would take to get Rasmus. I've heard they like Aaron Hill. Could that be the basis of a trade?
Stan Grossman, Toronto
A: If the Jays could work a deal for Rasmus it would be great. The guy is a real player, but the asking price, even if he and his Cards' manager are in conflict, would be very high. It would not just be Hill, but would have to involve young pitching as well. The Jays have a terrific inventory of young starting pitching and Rasmus is controllable for four more years before free agency. Manager LaRussa has had run-ins with players before, most notably Scott Rolen, so since LaRussa re-upped as manager, there is a solid chance Rasmus will be moved. What is the basis of the conflict stays within the clubhouse but since there is a history, one would have to point a finger at LaRussa. There are many teams interested and the cost in trade might be more than A.A. is willing to give up. But Rasmus is a five-tool outfielder.
Q: Lyle Overbay and Zach Stewart. Do you see either with the Jays in 2011? Jays were prone to southpaws in 2010 and given Overbay can't hit left handed pitching, would you rather see a Derrek Lee at 1b in 2011? We have Snider, Lind and Lewis as left handed bats, if we keep Overbay be four bats all from power positions that are weak hitting LHP. On Stewart he has a great arm for a closer, given our depth with young starters ahead of him in majors and behind him in low minors, do you think he could be ideal closer?
George Nickerson, Wood's Harbour, Nova Scotia
A: I would be surprised to see Overbay return to the Jays in 2011 because that would not be a case of the Jays moving forawrd as much as it would be a case of the Jays treading water. Bring back all the same position players and where is the forward movement? Would you be left relying on the improvement of the youngsters? The truth is the only real youngsters in the lineup would be J.P. Arencibia, Yunel Escobar and Travis Snider. And even then, Arencibia is not guaranteed anything. It would be a mistake to re-sign Overbay or Buck.
As for Stewart, he is sureley a big part of the future of the Jays' bullpen. The reason he started at AA-New Hampshire last year was to get him the innings, the reps, the ability to work on his pitches in preparation for the next step. The reason he wasn't in Vegas was because the Jays didn't care about the statistics, they cared about seeing each of his sinking fastball, his slider and, to a lesser extent, his changeup develop. If he is a bullpen candidate in 2011 and a closer candidate as time goes on, then it will be his 94 mph sinker and his swing-and-miss slider that get him there. There again this is another reason to point at 2012 over 2011 because in 2011 Stewart will be honing his skills. The Jays have a lot of talented young starters, but Stewart has off-and-on with the Reds and Jays and in college been groomed as a closer. That should be his ideal role.
Q: Hi Richard, There was a report that Kerry Wood has been let loose by the Yankees. Would there be any interest from The Jays? Perhaps in the same role as set-up man or trying him out at closer?
Rod Salloum, Vancouver
A: Kerry Wood would cost a lot of money for three years. If not for his success with the Yankees in a setup role in the second half of the 2010 season, he would have been lucky to get one guaranteed year from anyone. Now he is going to be overpaid for what he brings to the table. The Jays don't need a setup pitcher of his type for the price it would cost them this year in 2011. By 2012, they should have better homegrown options. By 2013 they would regret signing him. Not worth it.
Q: Dear Richard, I’ve been tired of reading the same material about the Jays interest in bringing back John Buck and putting J.P. Arencibia in limbo. What’s really going on? My guess is that A.A is trying to work a trade with Arencibila to fill other offensive holes. What doesn’t make sense is that the Jays are supposed to be developing their young stars. The only ready-to-go position player (youth) is him and no one else on the radar for 2011. Can you share your insights on this matter once and for all? Much thanks Richard.
Kam Hooshmand, Richmond Hill
A: The Giants winning the World Series with rookie catcher Buster Posey behind the plate proves that going with Arencibia behind the plate doesn't necessarily doom the 2011 Jays to rebuilding. However I do think that Posey had his head screwed on straighter than Arencibia. Just in speaking to pitchers, the other catchers and coaches last September it seemed that in the case of Arencibia, his ego is bigger than his id. Arencibia has to realize that what he doesn't know about catching is far more important to the Jays than what he does know. Yes he was the MVP of the Pacific Coast League but so was Randy Ruiz and by the end of April the slugging first baseman was headed for Japan. Arencibia shoud be given the right to earn the role of everyday catcher for the Jays, but it's as much up to him as it is to Anthopoulos and Farrell. The manager will have a chance to form his own opinion on his young catcher in the spring. He may like what he sees. As far as Arencibia being a trade possibility, other teams would likely view him the same way as do the Jays, so the return would be equally as iffy.
Q: There's been a lot of talk about Bengie Molina being guaranteed a World Series ring after being traded to the Rangers part way through the season as he has played for both teams this year. Who determines which players/coaches receives a World Series ring? Does everybody who has put on the uniform in a season get one? What about call-ups and players left off of the post season roster?
Cliff Strabac, North York
A: The players vote on World Series shares – full, half or partial – and then the team's pool of money is divided up accordingly. Callups late would get quarter shares or less. Players there all year but left off the WS roster like Barry Zito would get a full share because the vote is conducted in September. Travelling secretaries, trainers, equipment guys would get shares. The Giants would likely have voted Molina at least a half-share. As for the World Series rings that is purely an ownership decision, including the ring design and how many diamonds and how much they spend on each bauble. Normally the players and coaches get the expensive rings with gold and diamonds and front office and support staff get the ones with glass diamonds and brass.
Q: Richard, You mention something to the effect that the Jays are not ready to win a championship. The question therefore is how does one know when they are ready? It is not as if other teams are ready to lose, if you get my drift. We were not expected to have won 85 games this year but we did, Help me out here!
Lindy Coswell, Toronto
A: The 85 wins was real in 2010. But the Jays reached that total with the help of some veterans that are not going to be a part of it when they make the playoffs. The 85 wins would encourage the Jays to re-sign Overbay and Buck and several members of the bullpen and go out and sign a free agent No. 2 starter. But that's not the plan and A.A. swears he will stick to the plan. The way that Anthopoulos has explained it, the team's performance will let him know when they are ready. There are a lot of smart baseball people on board with the Jays so leaving spring training next April they will have a pretty good idea to get ready and start looking for in-season help. If in July they are within striking distance of the division and if the front office believes it's not just a mirage, they will make the moves to add parts to take a run at it. Money is not a problem. Just check your Rogers monthly bill.
Q: Enjoy your articles and your suggestion about extended playoffs How about this: Keep 162 games, start April 1st and finish Sep 28 using Sunday doubleheaders to get them in. Two wild cards from each league play 1 game "play-in" on Sept 30. DS starts Oct 1 and is the same format as today but is 7 games, no off days except travel days for all series and 2 days between series. This would make it more important to win the division and allow more teams in the playoffs and finish by Oct 30.
Richard Armstrong, Little Rock
A: Even though I like my revamped playoff format idea better, what you are saying here with two wild cards and a one-game play-in is pretty much going to be the short-term answer for Bud Selig. It's not the right idea but it will become the fact. The only thing that won't happen is the arbitrary April 1 to September 30 and the condensed games with off-days as you describe.