Blue Jays mailbag
Within the space of a few recent emails in the wake of the surprising Zack Greinke trade to the Brewers, I have been accused of labelling Alex Anthopoulos both a genius and an idiot depending on reader interpretation, while I myself have been called just one of those two.
Let me make it perfectly clear, the answer (for both) lies somewhere inbetween. I am told that I promoted the trade of Greinke to the Jays and suggested it was a distinct possibility when in the wake of the six-player deal between the Brewers and Royals, the strong implication from Greinke was that the Jays were never in the mix. First examine the “no-trade-to-Toronto” clause. I have been around the game long enough that when someone says that a team was on his no-trade list, that can be changed in a heartbeat if that ends up being where he wants to go. But Greinke thought the Brewers were closer to winning which makes sense in the shallow waters of the NL Central. The fact is the Jays had called the Royals prior to the winter meetings and asked about the Cy guy and were told approximately what it would cost in terms of players and prospects. Anthopoulos considered it too much, but still had an eye on the Royals. He treated it like any other team, looking for his opening, any chance the Royals would come down off the “Drabek, Snider and two prospects” stance. To paraphrase re the Greinke trade from Monty Python's “parrot” skit. “It's not dead, it's just sleeping.” It never happened and Melvin's call to Royals GM Dayton Moore ended the suspense. Anthopoulos is always aware when young controllable talent is there. The 27-year-old Greinke is talented and signed for two more years. But the price was not right.
One of the apparently objectionable words that I used in a column after the trade was that A.A. was “schooled” by Brewers GM Doug Melvin. That was taken in some quarters as a huge insult towards the Jays GM. Certainly, as a 34-year-old personnel boss, three months into his second season Anthopoulos acknowledges he does not know it all when it comes to his job. On this occasion, he learned something from Melvin about the art of the deal, about persistence, about building and not being satisfied when your goal is to win and win now. Anthopoulos would admit that he has a lot to learn, but he has said as long as he does not repeat the same mistake twice then he is learning. . . or being schooled. His history is of learning. A.A. learned something when trying to deal Roy Halladay and discovering his options were one, the Phillies. He learned something at the trade deadline in July when he couldn't move any of his relievers though he tried. He learned something from the way the Jeremy Accardo episode turned out, wherein he promised his disgruntled reliever in the off-season things would be different that he would have a chance to earn a job in the bullpen and in the end it was more of the same. He learns something every day. Hey, sports is about dealing with human beings and a constanly changing landscape. If your idea of good journalism is being the first to tweet a rumour then that's good. We're into opinion and analysis here. I learned a long time ago that the best way not to fall out of a tree is to never go out on a limb. Even I can admit we're all still learning. On to the mailbag.
Q: I read your article about the Jay's pursuit of Zack Greinke and about how Jay's GM A.A. is a genius by acquiring Brett Lawrie and taking the Brewers out of the Greinke equation. It would have been a good article had you not been dead wrong. As I'm sure you've learned by now, the Shaun Marcum acquisition was a primary factory in Greinke waiving his no-trade clause in a deal with Milwaukee. Looks like A.A. isn't such a "genius" after all. You owe a big apology to all the Jays fans for lack of good observation.
A: Good start. The Brewers have clearly decided to go for it in 2011 in the very winnable NL Central. So the follow-up effect of the Marcum trade with the Jays on Milwaukee — rather than ending their search, rather than filling their needs, satisfying their desire for a top-of-the-rotation starter, instead of ending all those things, the Marcum trade led to the next dramatic Brewers move, the acquisition of Greinke. The Brewers used four more of their minor-league inventory of top prospects to pry the Cy guy away from the Royals. In those two key trades for starting pitchers, the Brewers dealt four of their top nine and five of their top 21 prospects according to Baseball America's 2010 rankings. The follow-up trade after Marcum with the Royals came out of the blue off a Melvin phone call. It was initiated and consummated quickly all within the first few days after Greinke changed agents and it became known that he really, really wanted out -- and not only that he wanted to go to a contender. Royals trade talks with the Brewers had been dormant, just as they were with the Jays after GM Alex Anthopoulos's only call prior to the winter meetings. However a second call from Brewers GM Doug Melvin to his Royals counterpart Dayton Moore, got the ball rolling again. So why not the Jays? It wasn't the no-trade it was the nolo contendo. All no-trade clauses can be worked out as happened with Milwaukee. But the Jays' public strategy has been to downplay their ability to contend in 2011 and just let it flow instead of making promises to fans that they end up not being able to keep. Players can read (uh, most of them). The Jays stance: if contending in 2011 happens, it happens and, make no mistake, they are potentially talented enough to contend for a wild-card led by their young starting pitching and with two other teams the Yankees and Rays struggling in the offseason, it might happen. But there are no promises. However that was not the type of up-front attitude to attract Greinke. That and the fact that the Jays are in tough in the AL East with the Red Sox and Yankees. As for the column in question that suggested A.A. had a solid strategy of eliminating the Brewers from the Greinke hunt, nobody is more prepared going into trade talks than Anthopoulos. He knows what other teams need before any discussion. He knows what they have to offer and he knows what third teams can become involved if he brings them in. But there is the human factor to consider in all of sports and the only thing that is predictable is the unpredictable. Lawrie was a player of interest to the Royals as well as the Jays. Anthopoulos took him off the table as a potential chip. Even the best chess players lose occasionally. The unexpected is what makes baseball's off-season the greatest and most discussed in pro sports.
If regards to the Brewers acquisition of Zack Greinke, if you had to affix comparable Blue Jay players names to the prospects given up by Milwaukee, who would they be?
A. To jump-start any serious conversation with the Royals would have taken Kyle Drabek, Travis Snider then two more top prospects, likely catcher J.P. Arencibia and a top minor-league starting pitcher. GM Anthopoulos was not willing to part with this package for two guaranteed years of Greinke, so the conversation never got off the ground, although interest from the Jays was not dead.
Q. Hi Richard,I love to read your blog and articles. So much knowledge in baseball. I am wonder why the Jays signed EE for 1B/DH instead of a more power hitter and mentor type of veteran like Jim Thome. I think he fits well as a DH and backup for Adam Lind. Also, do you think the Jays will move AA to 3B and bring in a 2B? what's available in the farm system other than the newly acquired Brett Lawrie.
Oliver Chiu, Markham
A. Edwin Encarnacion's problem has never been in catching ground balls. It's after that. His problem has been in throwing the ball consistenly across the diamond. He would make a great play on the third-base line one inning and then short-arm a routine grounder the next, bouncing it for an error or sailing a throw past the first baseman with a rising fastball. With Lyle Overbay gone and Adam Lind still learning the position, the Jays could not bring Encarnacion back as a third baseman without endangering fans in the box seats. But after deciding on Lind as first option at first base, the Jays decided to look for a righthanded hitting complement to Lind that would be a DH first and a first baseman second. That combo of skills left Manny Ramirez out, since he is strictly a LF/DH.
Jim Thome is a wonderful human being and a potential Hall-of-Famer, but he is physically done as a first baseman, especially if he had to play more than half his games on artificial turf. Anthopoulos is now stressing flexibility with the DH position. Part of the reasoning is the nine road games in inter-league play where if your DH can't play a position he is simply a pinch-hitter. That's a terrible disadvantage. As for third base, I assume you mean Aaron Hill to third. Other than Lawrie, who at 20 is still likely a year away from the majors, the Jays have Adeiny Hechavarria also still a year away. It would have taken the acquisition of a free agent starting second baseman to move Hill over to third.
Q. Mr. Griffin
Should Jays fans start being concerned that AA hasn't replaced any of the relievers that have left, especially at closer? I thought any combination of Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier or Grant Balfour would have signed.
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge, ON
A. I am surprised, along with you, that with the entirely predictable contracts for quality relievers and with the Jays' closer role wide open, that they were not able to come to terms with guys like Crain or Wheeler. There are still some free agent relievers out there that may come at bargain prices in the new year. With former pitching coach John Farrell as manager, with Bruce Walton and a slew of pro scouts on board, one would hope the Jays know what they're doing in the bullpen. Maybe not. As of now, Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp would have the best chance to close. They need more.
Q. I was wondering why the Jays decided to bring back Edward Encarnacion, and why it is they are looking to use him as part of a first-base platoon? Why not instead plug him in as the everyday DH and let Adam Lind learn how to field the position, considering, as it is has been said, the Jays don't look to be contenders in 2011 anyway. I would also like to know, based on 2011 being somewhat of another write-off season for the team, why it was that Lyle Overbay wasn't retained? Was it because of contractual reasons? It seems to me that in keeping Overbay for at least one more year (until the much-talked-about 2012 dawn-of-a-new-era that Jays fans are awaiting with anticipation) the Jays would not only have temporarily solved their first-base problem, but wouldn't have needed to re-sign E.E. (not the greatest of fielders), and if you're going to platoon Adam Lind for his first year as a first-baseman anyway, why not do so under the tutelage of Lyle Overbay? Wouldn't Lind ! and Overbay have made a better 1B/DH platoon for 2011? That would also have meant one more left-handed bat in the line-up, which as it stands now is lopsided with mostly right-handed hitters.
Darrell Holtze, Guelph
A. Lind will likely be the everyday 1B and Encarnacion will be the DH, but both men will work out pre-game every day at first, taking grounders and making feeds. When Lind needs a day off or is banged up, or if they determine he can't play the position well enough, or if it's a tough starting lefthander, then Encarnacion will play the position. If Encarnacion was a lefthanded hitter, the Jays would likely have gone in another direction.
As for Overbay, in order to move forward, the Jays could not return the same veteran players and then all of a sudden declare themselves contenders a year later in 2012. The contract was never an issue with Overbay, although I am surprised all he was able to sign for was one year $5 million with the Pirates. But there were a lot of free agent first basemen on the market. Lind is not going to platoon at first base, especially if he improves defensively during the spring. Encarnacion will be the primary DH as of now. The Jays do need one more lefthanded bat for balance, with just Lind and Travis Snider right now.
Q. When the Jays are ready to compete for a title in 2012 (probably 2013), one thing I think we worry about is having a true #1 starter. Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow are fine starters - but probably project more into a #2 type for a championship caliber team. Drabek has great stuff but he probably fits in the same mold. Now that Greinke is off the market, what top of the line starters are likely available in free agency in 2012 and beyond? (Assuming they don't get locked up over the next few seasons).
R S, Toronto
A. Every No. 1 starter had to begin his career further down the pecking order in his team's rotation. The guy with the best chance at becoming a No. 1 for the Jays at the moment is Morrow. He has the best stuff on the staff and if he would show the same bulldog peronality on the mound as Romero and Shaun Marcum, then he would be the man. Anthopoulos said at the winter meetings that his goal for the Jays is to have five No. 3's or better in the rotation. The list of potential free agent starters following the 2011 season is slim, including Mark Buehrle, Gil Meche, Wandy Rodriguez, Edwin Jackson and C.J. Wilson. Not a great list. Starters are a valued commodity, especially after the Giants' World Series win.
Q. Hi Richard,
First off, I just need to re-iterate what has been said many times before: Your blog is entertaining and insightful, and I definitely appreciate the effort you put into it. I've got a few questions for you, hope you're game. (If I'm rehashing old ground on these questions, I apologize).
First question: Now that Alex A. is no longer the 'new kid on the block' in GM circles, could it be a little more difficult for him to make deals? He's made some pretty astute deals (getting Yunel and Gose come to mind), and I'm just wondering if opposing GMs may have developed a sense of "wait a minute.... what's he up to?" when talking to Alex.
Second question: While I agree with AA's big picture strategy which may result in a slight step down in the wins column next season, I'm still a little perturbed by the fact that Marcum's gone with no tangible replacement. And now that Greinke's gone to join Marcum on the Brewers (and not replace him in TO) I'm even more distressed. It seems that one obstacle to acquiring Greinke may have been that TO was on his no-trade list. At this point my Canadian inferiority complex kicks in... why would you NOT want to come to TO as a baseball player? Is there some kinda hidden bad rep? Is it a lack of recent success? Is it the taxes? Is it the unparalleled diversity, relative harmony, gun control and free healthcare?
Thanks for your time,
Hope you and yours have a good holiday!
Daryl Humes, Seattle
A. First Answer: Yes, I do believe that opposing GMs have changed their attitude from a year ago when dealing with Anthopoulos. It started with the way he handled the Halladay negotiations, ending up with a nice package of prospects when the Phillies were basically his only landing strip. He keeps his dealings and discussions behind closed doors and insists that his trading partners do the same. When he enters a room he knows not only what you want from him, but what other major-league teams have to offer you in that same category. If he has a specific player that he covets but does not have a proper fit in terms of a trade, he is constantly looking for a third team become involved in order to satisfy all sides. In his second year, veteran opposing GMs no longer pat him on the head like a kid, they pat their back pocket to see if he's stolen their wallet. The first noticeable change in the way other GMs dealt with the 34-year-old Jays' boss was at the July trade deadline. He believed he could move one or more of his relievers, but could not get a deal done. My belief is that other GMs were steering clear of him because of the intensity with which he approaches the job. Hey, nobody does three-ways in July.
Second Answer: The Jays have lost from an 85-win team in 2010 their first baseman, catcher, third baseman, opening day starter, the closer and primary setup man. Can they repeat 85 wins? That's a good question and one that will be answered only if Lind and Aaron Hill bounce back, if Jose Bautista and Wells can repeat, if Snider breaks out and if Romero, Morrow and Cecil can take the next step in terms of starts and innings pitched. Then there's the open closer's role. As for Marcum being traded, nowhere in the organization are the Jays' deeper than at starting pitcher. Nowhere are they more shallow than in the infield. The Marcum deal cannot be properly evaluated until Lawrie's potential is reached. The Langley, B.C. native is still only 20 years old and even though he believes he's ready for the majors, will probably start at AAA-Las Vegas. As for why Toronto is still a tough sell to free agents, the former GM from 2002-09 was not exactly a candidate for the T-O chamber of commerce. Hello Adam Dunn. The ignorance of today's young American players in using taxes, weather and the annoyance of clearing customs as excuses can be overcome by winning and treating players right.
Q. Hey Richard,
Throughout this winter friends of mine have come to question some of AA's moves and decisions. I drank the AA koolaid long ago and said to them I fully trust him and feel he knows what he's doing. I still believe this but the first non move has me at least questioning what's going on. To me Orlando Hudson would have been a great signing. Yes his offensive numbers have declined three straight years but his defense is still top notch and he is still liked by Toronto fans. What is your take on this? What left handed third basemen or second basemen are out there? and Finally, any chance Man Ram signs with us?
Marc Oliver, Toronto
A. I'm with you. I would have signed Hudson for two years this winter in a heartbeat. It would be short-term for a reasonable amount. Instead he tiook the same offer from the Padres. The guy, since he left Toronto, has been to the post-season the last two years with the Dodgers and Twins. That would have meant moving Aaron Hill to third which is where I think he's going to end up anyway. And this is the year for making those switches. Hudson is loud and opinionated, but his teammates love him. In Minnesota on the final weekend, Wells was laughing to a group of writers on Sunday morning talking about an attempted steal where the ball arrived at second even before VW began his slide. All he could hear as he was still running was O-Dog chirping about how out he actually was. Thern the tag. That's O-Dog. It's a personality the Jays have missed. As for any lefty swinging alternatives at second or third, you've got guys like Alex Cora, Adam Kennedy, Felipe Lopez, Willy Aybar and Aaron Miles. Give me Orlando Hudson. As for Manny Ramirez, I believe that window closed when Encarnacion re-upped at a much cheaper rate ($2.5M with an option for $3.5M) with an altered job description of DH/1B.
Q. I agree with last week's suggestion that the Rogers Skydome is in need of some improvement. Stadiums are a big part of the baseball experience, I actually make a point to see at least one new MLB ballpark every year. The Blue Jays home is pretty limited to change since it is primarily an entertainment center sharing duties with football games, concerts, monster truck rallies, Dalai Lama visits etc... But I have a couple of suggestions.
1) Lower the fences. I know it is already a hitters park, but seeing some home runs robbed would be incredibly exciting. Since the fences are removable, that would probably make it an easier job.
2) Get rid of the empty outfield restaurant. I go to 25+ games a year and never see it open more that twice. Open it up, replace it with some greenery, get some plant life in the park so it's not so sterile. There needs to be statues! Get an artist to do a series of statues for the guys on the level of excellence, at least that's a starting point. Memorabilia, plaques, 30+ years is enough time to begin celebrating our franchise history and start our own Monument Park. Can you see Rogers and the Blue Jays making changes along these lines? Ultimately I'd like to see a new baseball exclusive stadium with real grass, when do you think those talks start, seven years from now?
Diego Bergia, Toronto
A. Did you suggest a Monster Truck rally with the Dalai Lama? It has potential. I believe the folks that make the decisions at the Skydome should take a month during the summer and visit all 29 other major-league ballparks and take notes. Ther eyes would be opened. The best in-stadium scoreboard and information is the Diamondbacks. The worst is the Jays. The best concessions and food is the Giants. The worst is the Jays. The best centre field landscaping is the Angels. The worst is the Jays.
Following up on your suggestions, the problem with lowering the fences all the way around is that with the Jays' artificial turf, even though this surface plays more like real grass than the old turf, you would get balls up the alley bouncing out for ground-rule doubles, the least exciting play in baseball, when the triple is the most exciting. There is a solution. They could lower the fences from each foul line to the end of the bullpen from 12 feet to eight feet because balls hit down the line are mostly doubles anyway with runners mostly just advancing two bases. Now, you could have a high fly ball hit down the line and the left fielder drifts over and times his leap pulling a home run back into play for an out. That would not affect the triples total but would create what you suggest some highlight outfield play.
As for Part 2 of the question, yes, hanging gardens, statues and fountains instead of an empty restaurant. I love it. As it is now the RC is very sterile and unappealing as a baseball venue. I would also put in the all dirt infield instead of just the sliding pits. A Monument Park for great moments and great players in Jays history is good but it would be too inaccessible in the hotel backdrop. You'd have to add a statue of the first couple making out in an open hotel window. Maybe it could be in the back of the Jays' bullen with tours every afternoon when the gates open. And, that reminds me, how about telling ushers to lighten up when it comes to fans switching sections in the late innings of a blowout.
New facility? Since the Jays own the whole thing, I can see them making major renovations inside before they ever think about building a new retro stadium. There is no taxpayer money to be had in this day and age unless, of course, you named the new place Ford Field, but I believe that's already taken.
Q. Hey Griff!
My buddy and I are thinking of heading down to Cooperstown in July for the induction of Gillick, Alomar, Van Horne. Do you have any tips for where to stay and tickets for that weekend? I've been down there a few times, but never for a big weekend like this, and info on the HOF website is scarce.
Stuart Stark, Toronto
A. If Robby gets in on January 6, this would be a great year to make the trek. Pretty much both of the main Cooperstown hotels are booked by now, so any hotel would be in Utica or one of the neighbouring boroughs about an hour away. Still worth it. E-mail Brad Horn, the director of information at the hall and he will let you know about ticket details for the events and a description of the access on induction day.
Q. Hi Richard.
I really enjoy your column, especially since I'm an expatriate with only online media as a resource to stay informed on the Jays. One of your readers asked about any improvements planned for Skydome. Following up on this theme, do you know anything about how the concessions are awarded at the stadium? I have been really disappointed with the lack of variety available in my recent visits. One of the great things about AT&T Park in San Francisco, aside from the breathtaking views and 2010 World Series trophy, is the diversity of food vendors. Many of them offer unique items with a regional flavor. (Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear George Bell saying that 'Toronto fans just go to the game to eat'.) Still, a tired slice of pizza that I could buy a few blocks from the stadium for half the price adds little to the fan experience.
Dave Sorokowsky, California
A. We were just discussing this issue a few questions above. The concessions need to be updated, no doubt. It's not as if there is no diversity in Toronto from which to draw. Here's an idea. Imagine if two years from now when the Jays are contending that every 100 metres along the main concourse at field level there was a unique food concession from a different culture around the city, resulting from open bidding for restaurants in each ethnic neighbourhood, supplying their own chefs and menus for the 81 home games. The way to a fan's heart is through his stomach. That would be a start to making the baseball crowd more reflective of the city's diverse population than it is right now. Hopefully the Italian food stand would not include that tired old pizza.
Until the new year, happy holidays.