Blue Jays mail bag
Make no mistake about it, I love Tom Cheek. Some of my favourite spring training moments in Dunedin were when Tom would make his first trip to the Englebert Complex about two or three days in to pitchers and catchers. It always meant to me that another Jays season had officially arrived. Then during the 45 days of camp, there was inevitably a couple of days when I would turn around at the ballpark and Tom would look at me and give the double-hand waggle, the universal sign of all golfers. I would nod and we would go play golf, spur of the moment and always an experience to be remembered.
Tom was always a good friend. Even when I was in the doghouse with the Jays for something I wrote, the legendary Cal Ripken of radio men would approach me and discuss the offending topic, never afraid that someone in the upper front office would see him as talking to the enemy. He didn't have to worry. He was god. He was on a game streak that would never be matched. Besides, he was his own man and always interested in the opinion of others if it could be explained. Each spring since, on a cool February morning, I now drive by and visit the memorial site his wonderful wife Shirley created for him. But the truth is that he is Dave Van Horne's protege and before Tom ever got in the Hall-of-Fame it would only be fitting that the legendary Expos radio and TV man, now with the Marlins, would get in first. In my mind it's like Andre Dawson getting to Cooperstown before Tim Raines. Without the Hawk, the Rock would not have had a chance. On Wednesday, Dave Van Horne was named winner of the Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. That does not mean in any way that Mike Wilner, the Fan590 and Jays fans should be frustrated and give up on Cheek, it means that they should believe their goal is closer and that the online push should continue into 2011.
“Tom Cheek obviously deserves to be in the Hall-of-Fame,” Van Horne said at an emotional get-together on Wednesday. “Not only a terrific broadcaster, but a terrific person. Tom and I go way back. I knew Tom Cheek as the guy who used to do the University of Vermont basketball games on a little station in Burlington. During the winters we would go down with the baseball caravan and I would always see Tom. He would emcee a lot of the events the Expos took part in down there. I got to know Tom and once I was given the television job in addition to the radio job in Montreal, they asked both (radio partner) Russ Taylor and myself, who could go into the booth and work with Russ while I was on TV with Duke Snider. The name came to both of us immediately, Tom Cheek. He began his baseball broadcast career by coming from Burlington up to Jarry Park in 1974-75.”
I will preface these next remarks by saying that working for the Expos from 1973-95, Van Horne became one of my best friends in baseball...make that in life. When I finally viewed the finished product of our Expos' 20th Anniversary Highlight Film that former Expos TV procuder Brian Schecter and I put together, narrated by the great Donald Sutherland, the opening scene is a simple black-and-white shot of a young teen riding a bicycle down a busy street with a transistor radio on the handlebars. The voice of Dave Van Horne is heard calling a game from early in that first season. My initial and lasting reaction as the guy who wrote the script for Sutherland to read back in 1989? I cried. The voice of Van Horne from 1969-76 was the voice of baseball in Canada. He brought the sport back to a country that had not seen it at the Triple-A level since the Royals left in 1960 and the Toronto Maple Leafs disappeared in 1968. Even though Dave has worked for the Marlins for the past 10 seasons, when asked on Wednesday about his favourite players ever to cover and describe, this was his answer.
“I liked watching Rusty Staub play the game,” Van Horne began. “I liked watching John Boccabella walk to the plate so I could hear (P.A. man) Claude Mouton say John Boccc-a-belll-uh. But it was Rusty in the early years and then the farm system that produced all these great players, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Warren Cromartie, Steve Rogers, Bill Gullickson, Larry Parrish and on and on. They came togeher in the late '70s and were actually joined by Tony Perez (in the room) and really made their mark. In 1979 it was the first year they competed for anything, won 95 games and, oh, those players were a joy to watch on an everyday basis, none moreso than Hawk. Because I knew what it took to get Hawk out on the field and playing at the high level that he played. But all of those players were such a joy to watch all through the late '70s and into the early to mid-'80s. They were the halcyon days of the Montreal franchise. Vladimir (Guerrero) was fun when he first came up. Played totally out of control. They were concerned that he wouldn't survive physically long enough to stay in the game playing it the way he did. He'd bang into walls and he'd jump and he'd slide and he'd leap and he'd dive. They had to tone Vladdy down so he could stay healthy and stay in the games. He was a lot of fun to watch. One of the best pure baseball players I ever saw in uniform was Larry Walker. A young man who never played high school ball, didn't play organized baseball till his late teens and had as good instincts for the game of baseball as anyone I ever saw play. If you stay around long enough you've seen a lot of people like that. I'm leaving a lot of people out, but they jump to the forefront of my mind.”
Van Horne was stunned by the phone call from Hall-of-Fame president Jeff Idelson on Wednesday morning. About 30 seconds in, he even said to Jeff, “You're kidding, right?” After the realiztion sunk in, Dave and his wife Josee, a native Montrealer, drove to 10-year-old daughter Madison's Timber Trace elementary school in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, pulled her out of class and gave her the news. At first she thought she was in big trouble, then she broke into a big smile, gave her dad a hug and off he went to Orlando to meet the press as the first full-time play-by-play man of Canadian major-league baseball games to pass through the portals of Cooperstown. There is no doubt Cheek should be next. Favourite Van Horne call? “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” Favourite Cheek call. “Touch 'em all Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” With joy for DVH in my heart, on to the mailbag.
Doug Drabek and Travis Snider plus others for Zack Greinke? Come on. AA's plan was (in theory) to go after young, controllable players with very high ceilings. The idea was to patiently wait so that you would end up with a roster consisting of several bonafide stars who would form the nucleus of a team for many years to come. As a regular starter, Greinke had one outstanding year, one very good year, and two poor years. He's under contract for 2 more years at $13.5M per year, and then is a free agent. Toronto was, at least, until now, on his no-trade list. Drabek is projected to be a staff ace. Snider is still only 22 and, now that Cito is gone, Travis will presumably be sent out to left field every day. His upside is likewise huge. Based on Greinke's history, it wouldn't be surprising if over the next 2 years, he had a great year and a mediocre year. And then he would move on. And then we would be watching Drabek and Snider making headlines from KC. Come on. Richard, make some calls and do something about this.
Patrick Bedard, Ottawa
A-The only upside to trading for Greinke is if they believe thay can sign him to a long term deal before he goes free agent aftert the 2012 season. He's certainly young enough to fit in with the Jays' talented rotation going forward to the goal of contending in 2012 and beyond, but at what cost would he be obtained. Yes, I would give up Drabek for Greinke in a heartbeat, but I believe Snider is about to have a breakout year. He now gets it. He's always been grounded in the right way to act by his father and high school coaches, but he has tried to be someone he's not to please them. He's now himself and that's good enough and confident enough to be an everyday left fielder with a huge upside. If they trade him that's a mistake. If the Greinke deal was fror Drabek and two other top prospects from a deep inventory I would do it. By the way, I wrote a column on this and put the kibosh on it. They listen.
I'm enjoying the mailbag as always; it's excellent to have it available in the off-season as well as during the year. Glad to see Pat Gillick elected to the Hall of Fame. Can you please explain the Shawn Marcum-Brett Lawrie trade? The Jays traded this past season's starting day pitcher for a second baseman. Last time I looked, the Blue Jays had a second baseman named Aaron Hill, and PROVEN starting pitching is a very valuable commodity, especially on a young starting staff, and with the bullpen undergoing significant changes. Is there some intangible that I'm missing?
Thanks in advance, and keep up the good work!
Richard Fine, Toronto
A-Okay here's the deal. The Jays are not contending in 2011 with the Sox obtaining Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and the Yankees about to obtain Cliff Lee. Unless of course there is another wildcard-team added in each league the Jays are done. Marcum could help them finish above .500 for the next two years but so what. They are looking beyond that. Versatility is a key moving forward for the Jays. For instance, Adam Lind is a designated hitter-first baseman, Aaron Hill is a second baseman-third baseman, Jose Bautista is a right fielder-third baseman and Lawrie before he arrives in the bigs can play anywhere. Honestly, I remember another lost young Canadian hitter who could not find a position. I looked at daily minor league reports in Montreal for Larry Walker in Utica in the late '80s that said first, third outfield and can't find a position. All of a sudden, the Expos and Walker found out he could play an instictive right field, eventually becoming the best at his position of his era. Lawrie?
Love the insight into the world of Major League Baseball. I am curious why teams don't explore the concept of a "sign and trade" with arbitration eligible free agents like other sports. Specifically with Type A free agents like Jason Frasor. While there appears to be interest in players like this, teams stay away due to his Type A status and the player is basically stuck on a one year deal with a team that could take him or leave him. Granted they could be traded at any time, but that also never seems to occur with these players. Do teams ever discuss this option of the player signing with his original team, only to be flipped to another team for a more reasonable return of prospects?
Jon K, Hamilton
A-I don't think it's the “sign and trade” concept that will change the process for guys like Frasor, who really did get screwed. I believe relievers, especially middle relievers need to be removed from the Type A mix because few teams will give up a No. 1 pick for a reliever. The sign and trade at least provides an advantage in basketball for the original team, but in baseball the “trade” half of it is the draft pick and most GMs would rather have their own fresh prospect than someone else's failed one.
It FEELS as though Alex A makes more daring trades than his predecessor. As far as the Lawrie-Marcum trade is concerned, which JP transactions do you view as most comparable? I'm guessing Hinske from Oakland.
Stu Royal, Erin
A-Apparently, according to the Jays' GM, the turning point in his own thought process regarding iffy trades was when Dodgers GM Ned Colletti (who won the Fishel Award the year before I did) told him. “Hey Alex, if you're scared get a dog.” The Lawrie-Marcum trade is certainly daring although I have heard there are Marcum moments that might have ended on Deadspin if the social networks were in vogue a couple of years ago. As far as daring Ricciardi trades are concerned, most of the time his moves were the equivalent of Evel Knievel jumping over the Humber River with a rocket bike. As far as JP equivalent deals to AA's Lawrie trade, you're absolutely right with Hinske for Billy Koch in '01.
With the non-tender deadline passing by, which non-tender free agents do you think the Jays will go after? In particular, what is your opinion on a one-year incentive-laden contract for Russell Martin? This would not only allow J.P. Arencibia to gradually grow into a major league catcher by serving as a backup but if Martin performs up to his capabilities he could prove quite the asset for the Jays by next year's trade deadline.
Matthew Lee, Toronto
A-I think that any non-tender free agent will either be a reliever or a DH-1B. As far as Russell Martin is concerned, I really like the idea of signing him as catcher No. 2-1/2 to go with J.P. Arencibia and Jose Molina. The point of that is that Martin has had hip surgery this off season, so you play him more at third base at spring training while Arencibia tries to get over the hump of attitude that prevents him from realizing that in any game a pitcher's line is better than his own two hits. If Arencibia fails, then Molina and a continually rehabbing Martin give you the experience in handling a staff. Even though many are down on Arencibia's attirude and understanding of what it takes to be a frontline catcher, I think that they need to find out by throwing him in the deep end of the pool.
Q-Has anything been announced yet for next year's TV deal? There were a lot of angry fans at the end of the season.
Joe Glionna, Montreal
A-No one more angry than yours truly, a faithful Cogeco subscriber with no Sportsnet ONE access. In fact there were some days when I wasn't on the road and had a scoresheet out where I assumed the Jays game was ONE and so didn't bother looking for it...but it was on regular TV. I think by making knowledege of access day-to-day they make viewership day-to-day.
One observation I have made as a baseball fan is the number of teams in the AL West and NL Central. From what I understand, baseball is the only sport out of the big four that has uneven number of teams in two separate divisions. I assume this is the case as baseball requires an even number of teams in each league to ensure proper scheduling and match-ups, although inter-league play has mitigated this somewhat. From what you know and who you have talked to in the baseball world, has there ever been any complaining or official filings done by teams in the NL Central in terms of this apparent issue in competitive advantage (consistently 1/6 chance in winning a division versus 1/4 chances) compared with the AL West. If not, do you have any suggestions to properly address this in the future - I am sure Bud and team may have come across this topic already.
Frank Chiu, Toronto
A-I agree with you that it's nuts to have 14-16 in AL-NL instead of 15-15, but the Brewers who were AL for so many years after they stole the Pilots from Seattle, decided under Bud Selig that they wanted to go back to the NL. So when expansion to 30 teams happened, Bud took advantage and messed with the game's equilibrium. Baseball is an everyday sport averaging more than six games per week. If you have 15 teams in a league then there's always going to be one team in each league that is idle. I wrote a column years ago that baseball should go 15-15 but always have one inter-league game every day during the season. That would work but someone would have to move to the DH league. Hey, if I was an owner I would pay to move to the NL Central with six mostly crappy teams where you get 54 games against the Bucs, Brewers and Cubbies. The biggest thing I believe is that at the June draft the NL gets 16 of the top 30 draft picks. That advantage has been showing up lately with NL young talent.
Q-What's the word on Dirk Hayhurst? Is he an option in the bullpen or is his future now in the media?
Duncan Alexander, Burlington
A-Check his website Garfoose.com. He has no chance of pitching again for the Jays. He is an author. It's like imagining J.D. Salinger playing for the Knicks.
Q-I fell off the Jays bandwagon a number of years ago, but the excitement of last year kind of pulled me back on. With the promise of the future, I looked forward to this off-season to see how the Jays progress and move forward into the upcoming season. Now with the trade of Marcum, I’m confused.
Maybe there is another shoe to drop, but I don’t get it. Why trade your opening day starter for someone who is still a few years away from being a significant part of the team? I know that you always plan for the future, but this is giving me a signal that the future is not as close as I hoped or was led to believe. We keep hearing on a daily basis that there is money available for the Jays to get who they need, but so far it doesn’t sound like that comment is actually in play. I’ve heard on the Fan 590 that the Jays really don’t have a budget to adhere to (spend what they need!), but I don’t find that particularly comforting. What does spend what you need mean? Contend or just field a team? For some reason, with the contracts they have shed, I have this feeling we’re in for another low-budget season. And more frustration and disappointment taking away from last year's warm, fuzzy feeling! If I’m wrong or just pessimistic, please tell me. Maybe it’s just impatience, but I keep hearing that the Yankees and Red Sox have never been more vulnerable, but if we’re still a couple years away, I’m sure the Yankees and Red Sox will have reloaded by then! I’m not doubting AA, maybe just curious what the plan is!
A-Forget that last part about the Red Sox and Yankees being more vulnerable. They're not and the Jays are already 90-win toast in the AL East. The Jays have always been looking at 2012 and beyond as making a run. That's why they called it rebuilding. Fans are the ones that have pushed the envelope, but it still has no stamp. Nobody in this current regime ever promised you a 2011 rose garden. Marcum was likely gone in 2013. Lawrie may be long-term solution at a position yet to be determined. The Jays strength is young starting pitching, several of whom may be ready to step up by 2012. One has to admire the Jays for sticking to their guns from October 3, 2009 until today. The Jays may in fact win between 80-84 games and be closer to a World Series than their 85-win team of 2010.
I didn't play pro ball, but I played up to Triple A in the Etobicoke Ranger system and I have to ask you, is playing first base in the majors really that difficult? I've been saying the entire time they should put Lind at first. I could play first base defensively in the majors. All you have to do is catch the ball. It shouldn't be that complicated, especially for a guy like Lind who played the position in college. Where is "range" required? When does a first baseman ever "throw"? It's the easiest position in the game. Plus, he’s left handed! It’s a no-brainer. Is it me, or is everyone over analyzing this?
David Ritchie, Toronto
A-First base looks easy as you describe it, but not so much. A guy like Lyle Overbay saved the rest of the infield countless errors. The big game for Lind as far as Cito Gaston was concerned was his second start at first base when he fed a high ball to David Purcey sprinting off the mound, made him leap and come down awkwardly on the corner of the bag and sprain his ankle for a DL stint. Helll-oh! Range is subtle when examining a first baseman and if it's there allows the second baseman to position himself more up the middle if the first baseman has it. I am confident Lind can learn to play first at spring training. He should have decisively volunteered to do it in the off-season but that's another story.
Read your column about Lawrie this morning, excellent as usual. If the Jays need a backup catcher if JP doesn't work out, are they going to re-sign Chavez to a minor-league deal? He wasn't that bad when he was here.
Daniel Cude, North York, ON
A-Raul Chavez is not getting any younger and at 38 next season there are younger options on the free agent market, even if the date rolls around to late-February. They cannot wait around until spring training, but now that Miguel Olivo has agreed to terms with the M's, they will be looking at late additions like Russell Martin, or if he gets a better offer, Josh Bard or Gerald Laird.
Do you think the Marcum trade sets the Blue Jays back in their ability to contend for a playoff spot in 2011? Is this clear indication from the GM that they are not thinking playoffs until 2012 or 2013?
Mia Matthews, Waterloo
A-They are not thinking playoffs until 2012-13, but that's better than the streak between the 1993 World Series victory and now. They do have a bunch of 22 and under prospects that will be ready by 2013. Can you wait that long? Marcum would have helped them win 85 games again, but the ground floor for the playoffs according to Anthopoulos is 95.
I was getting excited about the next few years of Blue Jays baseball until I saw what the Red Sox did this week. First they brought in Adrian Gonzalez and then Carl Crawford. Their lineup has just been upgraded from very good to ridiculous. Until the Jays begin spending big money I feel as though they will always be competing hard for third place. Do you see it any differently?
Dan Usten, Toronto
A-My early prediction for AL East standings: 1-Red Sox; 2-Yankees (WC); 3-Jays; 4-O's; 5-Rays. The Red Sox lineup is unbelievable.