Blue Jays mailbag
On Monday afternoon, I made the drive west on the 401 to the wonderfully rustic Langdon Hall in Cambridge, the designated headquarters hotel for the Jays' caravan as the club tries to spread the word across the country and re-establish themselves as Canada's team (although there's no competition).
It may not seem significant, but while the seemingly confused quartet of Vernon Wells, J.P. Arencibia, Jesse Litsch and Travis Snider tried to figure out how to react and what was going on and why they were there, the true significance of the re-invented caravan shone through to those that were there. Recall fondly that when Tom Cheek, Jerry Howarth and Cito Gaston were the centre pieces of the winter tours, the caravan was a key marketing effort worth the expense to reach out and start the ball rolling on ticket sales for the year.
It was all about community identification, group sales, selling sporting heroes and adding radio affiliates. It was always a sign that spring was coming, that the Jays cared about their fans and actually wanted them to come to the games. There was none of that in 2010.
In fact, in the minds of many fans, the Jays in 2010 with the lack of promotions, the removal of discounted tickets and the fiasco of SportsNet ONE seemed to be trying to see how low they could go. It's like a woman trying to discourage a longtime friend and end a relatonship by never returning his calls and treating him like an unwanted stranger (not that I would know how that feels).
If that was the Jays' plan then it worked to perfection. The once-fan-responsive Paul Beeston had watched his franchise hit the bottom of the deep, dry well. Now it's time to start climbing out no matter how slowly it goes.
Hopefully that final escape into sunlight will correspond and intersect with the Jays success on the field when they reach contending status under the system-building Toronto resident, Alex Anthopoulos.
“We want to re-connect with the fans we have from coast-to-coast,” said Stephen Brooks, senior vice-president of Business Operations. Who even knew they had one? “Paul was a big supporter of (the caravan) from Day 1 and certainly saw the value of fans from coast-to-coast knowing who our players are. We think there's a demand from the fans to re-connect with them and certainly this is a sign that we're back and we're Canada's team and if we're going to be Canada's team, these are the things that we have to do. The players are enjoying it and, as an organization, we're pretty excited about it.”
Hey, this might even be a signal for those fans that last year gave up on even letting the Jays know what you thought because they never responded (hello upper deck ushers and your strongarm ticket-checking tactics and your “no-heckling zone” policies) this is a signal to let the Jays know what you think. Maybe this is the year that they start to listen again. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard, I hear Adam Lind recently went down to Dunedin to work on his first base fielding skills. Is there any word on how that's going? I think it's a huge move for the Jays if they can get him out of the DH spot. What do you think fans should expect to see from him at 1B?
A: If Al Oliver, who I love and who makes me smile as a human being, could play an entire season at first base (which he did) and could lead the NL in hitting in 1982, make the all-star game and finish third in MVP voting as a bad first baseman, then Adam Lind can certainly play there as a starter. The 11 games that we saw Lind play first base last year, compared quite favourably to my first-base memories of Scoop Oliver. In fact, Oliver made the sometimes awkward Lind resemble Baryshnikov by comparison. I think Lind would likely have seen even more action at first base in 2010 except for two things:
1. Maybe that the draft-choice addicted Jays were hoping that Lyle Overbay could add enough numbers that he would qualify as a Type B free agent. Then when he signed with the Pirates it would have given them another June pick
2. There was the fact that in one of his first starts at first base, Lind fielded a grounder to his right and lobbed a high, looping feed to a sprinting, covering David Purcey who leaped into the air and came down on the corner of the bag turning his ankle and putting him on the DL. Manager Cito Gaston was not impressed.
But this is a fresh start for Lind at first base. As for his work ethic, yes, he went to Dunedin just after he got married, joining Michael Jackson as the only two guys I know who brought a glove with them on their honeymoon. In any case, Lind worked with former major-league utility man Mike Mordecai, now a Jays' minor-league instructor, on the three aspects – footwork around the bag, taking grounders and receiving throws. Lind worked hard. It's not like he's a complete novice. Lind played 114 games at first base in two years at the University of South Alabama. But when he turned pro with the Jays, there is a reason why they shifted him to the outfield. I think this time the results will be good for the Jays and for Lind. As a young DH in a slump last year, I believe he had too much time to ponder his failures at the plate. When you talked to him in the clubhouse and perhaps pointed out some good at-bats that resulted in line drive outs as a point of optimism, he would counter with a trunkful of negatives about his own year. He was thinking too much. As a defensive participant, he will feel more like a complete player.
Q: I have to ask you about all the talk about needing Bautista's strong arm in right field. I understand that having a strong arm in right is a huge benefit not just for the runners he throws out, but all the times that a runner decides not to take second or third for fear of being thrown out. I see why you wouldn't want to waste his arm by sticking him at first base, but it seems to me that having a strong arm at third base is also a pretty nice weapon to have. Is it really that much of a difference having him in right field instead of third?
A: Right now, Bautista will help the Jays more as a third baseman, but the fact that he himself prefers right field does not bode well for him ever deciding on a long-term deal at any sort of a home-team consideration if he indeed thinks his future as a Jay will be at third base, his second favourite position. To me, the power arm as a deterrent in right field is bigger than people give it credit for. As you point out, it's not just the assists as a right fielder, it's the fact of runners stopping at second base instead of going first to third, or stopping at third instead of scoring from second and maybe dragging the hitter to second base when the throw goes through to the plate, or a guy stopping at first base as the right fielder cuts the ball off in the corner and fires a strike to second keeping a double play in order. That can be the pitcher's very subtle best friend. If the Jays want to sign Bautista to a long-term deal, I think they need to let him know that sooner or later it will be as a right fielder. It's okay for now, but Bautista is in the driver's seat. He's saying all the right things now about playing wherever they need him.
Q: Richard, I know the off-season is only half over. The Jays have been fairly quiet in terms of player acquisition. Do you expect any significant moves? We've had more roster subtractions than solid additions. With the current roster, what would our projected be, and how does that compare to other AL East teams? BTW, how do the prospects that the Rays received for Garza compare to what was received for Marcum (their stats were very similar last year)?
A: Hey, spring training is just a month away so the off-season is more than just half over. Most teams like to head to camp with their basic team on hand and cut down in the 45 days of camp. Jays' young GM Alex Anthopoulos is not like the rest so he will keep talking in March, but he needs a dance partner from among the old-school GMs, so to my way of roster-thinking, any significant moves including free agent signings will be done before Valentine's Day. Anthopoulos is looking at more bullpen help and another infielder, likely third base. There are free agents out there as far as third base is concerned, but there are better options available in trade. He will close that trade door before he dips into the mediocre, stopgap free agent pool. The unidentified free agent would likely be only for a year or two, counting on the fact that Brett Lawrie, obtained in the Marcum deal, will be ready by 2012-13. The confident Canadian, Lawrie feels he will be ready in 2011, which by the end of camp would perhaps allow the Bautista move back to right field without having to go outside the organization.
As for the package of prospects that the Rays received from the Cubs, consider that Garza is considered a more valuable pitcher in trade than Marcum and this was a three-for-five deal that makes it difficult to compare with Marcum traded for the Brewers' No. 1 prospect, Lawrie. Of the two outfielders the Rays got, Sam Fuld, 29, and Brandon Guyer, 25, neither is a difference maker or even projects as a starting outfielder. The shortstop, Hak-Ju Lee, 20, had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow before joining the Cubs organization in 2008. He has had 61 errors in 169 games at shortstop at Class-A. He is still years away. The 22-year-old righthander Chris Archer is a gem, with the opportunity to start or close. A high school draft of the Indians in 2006, he emerged in the past two seasons in the Cubs' organization, going 15-3 at A and Double-A in 27 starts, with more than a strikeout per inning in 2010. The catcher, Robinson Chirinos, 26, is a converted infielder, entering his third full season behind the plate. He throws well and hits like a backup catcher. If Brett Lawrie eventually makes the Jays as a contributing starter, that will likely equal the starting haul of regulars that the Rays end up with. The Jays and Rays went after different fish using the same bait, a top of the order starting pitcher.
Q: Hey Richard, with Roberto Alomar recently being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I had a quick question: I know the Jays have many players on the level of excellence, but are any numbers actually retired? And if not, do the Jays plan to retire Alomar's?
A: There are no Jays' uniform numbers actually retired yet, but because Alomar is their first Hall-of-Famer, I would not be surprised if he became the first. That No. 12 retirement would be an easier decision to make if his current divorce proceedings don't get too messy to sully his reputation and if he ends up working on a more permanent basis in the Jays' organization as a minor-league instructor. They are having a Roberto Alomar bobblehead day and no, when you tap it on the head it does not spit.
Q: What do you think about the chances for Fred McGriff making the Hall of Fame? He was a quiet player, never complained, never held out, always did his job. Really when you look at all the teams he played with, he was always the one providing the protection in the lineup.
A: I do not have great confidence in McGriff ever making the Hall of Fame in a writers vote. His total this year dropped 3.6 per cent to 17.9 per cent. I voted for him this ballot for the first time and he was the last player added to my group of seven. I don't see a huge groundswell or indignation about his total dropping and that is always a bad sign. I feel bad for McGriff. He was in a Catch-22 situation on the ballot. He was one of seven career first baseman up for consideration. On the one hand he receives kudos because his name is never mentioned in the steroid era discussions, but his raw power and production numbers don't match up favourably with some of the suspected cheaters at his position -- making him perhaps wonder what he was thinking when he chose not to cheat. The steroid allegations affect not just the guys under suspicion, but also spin off into the others. It's a mess.
Q: This one's about everyone's favourite Jay, Johnny Mac. At some point in the near future, he will probably retire (hopefully as a Blue Jay). Do you know if he would have any interest in staying with the organization in a coaching role (i.e. infield instructor)? He's beloved by the fans and in the clubhouse. Moreover, the infielders really seem to look up to him (esp. Hill) when it comes to fielding. Maybe he's our next Butterfield...
A: McDonald has one more Jays season left on his contract and, in fact, some time in May 2011 will reach his long-coveted goal of 10 years in the majors that will max him out on his major-league pension. That's a big moment for a guy that has always come to training camp as a backup infielder. At the end of this contract, he is not necessarily done as a player. His hero is former teammate Omar Vizquel who played into his 40s in a mentor role to young infielders ahead of him and as a backup shortstop for some decent teams. Johnny Mac is familiar with that role and can keep playing as long as he wants to. As far as staying with the Jays post-playing-career, he may take a year off when he retires because of his strong family commitment but at some point he will want to step back in as a coach and work his way up to become a major-league manager. I have no doubt that he is capable of reaching the top. But as far as it being with the Jays, this guy has friends and admirers around baseball and he will get multiple offers to step in and begin his coaching career. As far as J-Mac being the next Butterfield, there is no one that is the next Butterfield. A career minor-leaguer who knew early on he should be doing something other than playing, Butter can fog up the clubhouse bathroom mirror without turning on the hot water. His intensity and love of the game is what inspires young players. Johnny Mac brings more of a low-key love to the coaching role. Same result.
Q: Hey Richard, just wanna get your opinions on a couple of players. Do you see Manny Ramirez a good fit for the Jays given that they do need a power hitter at DH and the fact that his presence will help generate more ticket sales! Also, do you think Brett Lawrie is good enough to get a spot for 2B/3B?
A:I used to think Manny would be a good fit in Tornto in 2011 much the way Frank Thomas was a good fit as a DH for the A's back in '06 when he was trying to re-establish himself, but became a bad fit for the Jays the next year when all he was doing was going for a milestone home run. The power hitter from the right side at DH was filled in by Edwin Encarnacion and signing Manny would just muddy the waters with two guys you don't want in the field. His presence would not generate ticket sales. It would generate a certain buzz but right now the Jays significant buzz on the Internet and the blog sites does not translate into buzz in the Rogers Centre. The in-stadium ticket buzz can only be generated by winning. As for Lawrie, as a second baseman he thinks he's Joe Morgan but maybe he's more like Joe Lawrence. Only time and spring training will tell.
Q: What's the story with Accardo? it seems to me that the Jays have given him a raw deal. The trading of Marcum really bothers me. I had the feeling that he was the leader of the young starting pitchers. They appeared to be really close and I am concerned that the remaining guys are going to be upset.
A: Jeremy Accardo was surely given a raw deal by the Jays, but he didn't help himself the last two years. The club had a certain perception of him that included perhaps sulking and not working as hard as he should and other than a lot of bitter talk, he was never able to change their minds. Some guys take the demotion to the minor leagues and work harder than ever to get back. Others mope and complain and put in their time. We can't be sure, but Accardo was presented by Jays management as being of the latter persuasion. The Jays did screw him by manipulating his service time using the minor leagues to keep him under control and away from arbitration and free agency. Accardo and his agents were well aware of it. Jeremy thought when Anthopoulos came on board that his situation would automatically change. He was promised he would be allowed to compete for a job, but the first chance they had to send him to Vegas they did. Again, he didn't help himself there. By September it was mutually agreed upon that he would not be brought up. He was not offered a 2011 contract, making him a free agent. Accardo now has a chance to re-establish himself with the Orioles.
As for Marcum's departure, I believe that the likeable righthander was traded only after the Jays tried to sign him to a multi-year deal and it could not be worked out. The new leader of the starting staff already is Ricky Romero who has the respect of all his fellow young starters and is very close with the new catcher J.P. Arencibia. The Jays will use 2011 to identify the Nos. 4-5 starters moving forward into the contending years. The true fact of the matter regarding baseball clubhouses is that no matter how important a player may look to clubhouse chemistry one year, they all know that trades are part of the game and the remaining players move on quickly. The friendships remain forever.
Q: Hi Richard, love the bloggage. You mentioned in (last week's) blog that Dave Parker's name will be removed from next year's HOF ballot. In my estimation, Parker had an awesome, HOF calibre career. Consider he had over 2700 hits, 339 HR, and almost 1500 RBIs plus played great defense. In your years covering the Expos, what did you think of the Cobra?
A: When I worked with the Expos and Parker played for the Pirates, I saw Cobra play 18 times per season when he was with the Pirates and 12 times per year with the Reds. To my mind he was the greatest right fielder of his era. When Roberto Clemente died in a tragic mission of mercy plane crash, the Bucs filled in in right field with Manny Sanguillen, Richie Zisk and others for two years, before Parker grabbed the position for himself in 1975. Unfortunately for his reputation, he was front and centre in the Pittsburgh drug trials of the early '80s and as we are wont to do, Hall voters seem to have had trouble getting over it. These were not performance enhancers, by the way, but it makes no difference. The guy was a great ballplayer, but by the time I had earned my vote following 10 years in the BBWAA, Parker was already flying under the Hall-of-Fame radar. Power, speed, average, arm, defence, charisma. He had it all. Great player.