Blue Jays mailbag
All of Wednesday's Hall of Fame excitement and buzz is winding down. Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven are on their way to Cooperstown on July 24, while the blogosphere outrage surrounding who was left out is gradualy subsiding.
It's interesting that two of Robby's career highlights involved fellow Hall-of-Famers. His first hit was off Nolan Ryan and then there's the ALCS Game 4 homer in '92 against Dennis Eckersley.
How long has Blyleven been forced to wait? Consider that when Blyleven was with the Rangers in 1977, his young son used to play on the field before games with a 9-year-old Roberto Alomar, his teammate Sandy's son.
Time to think about next year's ballot. Let the campaigning begin. Consider that the biggest increase in votes this year, other than what was recorded by the two new inductees were Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. Rookie Jeff Bagwell made the biggest impact of the first-time candidates. Consider that five-some the front-runners for next year.
The biggest new name for 2012 will be former Yankees centre fielder, Bernie Williams. From this year's list, Dave Parker will be removed from next year's ballot, his 15 years of eligibility having expired. Also gone, receiving less that 5 per cent of the vote are: Harold Baines, John Franco, Kevin Bfrown, Tino Martinez, Marquis Grissom, Al Leiter, John Olerud, B.J. Surhoff, Bret Boone, Benito Santiago, Carlos Baerga, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Raul Mondesi and Kirk Rueter. Tony LaRussa's attempt to help Mark McGwire's candidacy by returning him to the mainstream, making him the Cards' hitting coach didn't work quite as planned, with Big Mac actually losing votes from previous years. Juan Gonzalez, with 5.2 per cent barely made the cut. On to the mailbag.
Q: Appreciate your blunt comment on the signing of Octavio Dotel. He and Carlos Villanueva are a couple of journeyman punching bags. How will our precious young starting talent deal with a bullpen that constantly turns seven fine innings into losses in the eighth and ninth? Please tell me AA isn't turning into JPR. No, we've not been promised a contender in 2011, but without Lyle Overbay, John Buck and Shaun Marcum, I doubt we'll see a .500 season barring miracles.
A: How do the Jays reach 81 wins and a .500 record in 2011 without a side trip to Lourdes? A few things have to occur. 1) If J.P. Arencibia replaces Buck behind the plate and develops into an offensive threat that reflects his development as a hitter the last two years at triple-A , capped by PCL MVP at Vegas. 2) If Adam Lind's move to first base creates a rebound in his hitting to 2009 numbers. I believe that a hitter of his age thrown into the DH role as he was the past two years gave him too much down time between ABs to dwell on failure. The first year was a novelty and an adrenaline rush. Getting back into the defensive scheme allows him to become a baseball player again. 3) If Aaron Hill is more the '09 Hill than the '10 Hill. 4) If Anthopoulos is not yet done recruiting position players and comes up with a viable third baseman so that Bautista can go to right field. 4) If Travis Snider stays healthy and has a breakout year, which he looks poised to do. 5) If Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow emerge as 200-plus inning workhorses and can total 30 wins between them. 6) If Kyle Drabek is the real deal in a fourth starter role. 7) If John Farrell is a better in-game strategist than Cito Gaston and is not as stubborn at leaving players in their spot in the batting order to play their way out of slumps. 8) If the bullpen can mix and match and cobble together some 8th and 9th inning effectivenes in whatever combination works. The Jays are not done adding pieces to the pen. Dotel and Villanueva are certainly not lost causes but there's a reason that Dotel is now with his 11th major-league team in 13 years and that Villanueva was about to be non-tendered by the Brewers when the Jays picked him up.
Q: Hey Richard, I was reading a question in your last blog about Jim Thome. While he obviously can't play much defence anymore, wouldn't he have been good for drawing fans to the stadium, because he is very near to 600 home runs? Also, just a quick question, what exactly happens in a free agent’s physical exam?
A: Thome has had a great career and is a future Hall of Famer, as distant as he has been able to keep himself from steroid allegations. But as a full-time DH approaching a home run milestone in the twilight of his career, he would just be another Frank Thomas and the Big Hurt did not add fans to the stands in his drive for 500 homers. Thome is a good guy in the clubhouse and a joy to sit down and talk to. But Anthopoulos has said he wants to get away from a strict DH-only player that has handicapped them in the nine interleague road games. Thome is done as a defender.
The requirement that all transactions – trades or free agent – remain unannounced by clubs until physical exams are completed has a Blue Jays connection. Back on January 14, 2001, the Jays acquired Mike Sirotka from the White Sox in a six-player deal for David Wells. The deal was made in good faith by both sides, but when Sirotka turned up it turned out he had a serious left shoulder problem that he had picked up late in a MLB tour of Japan that he hadn't fully reported to the Sox. GM Gord Ash petitioned for the trade to be rescinded but the decision was made to just fill in more players and Sirotka spent the year on the Jays' DL. It was an embarrassment for the Jays and at the end of the year Ash was fired and replaced by J.P. Ricciardi. Since then, full medical exams are a requirement. It's not just a hands-on, balls-out exam by team doctors. Most teams, including the Jays, have a risk management department that every spring details where each player stands physically. It is filed away. Their history of preexisting conditions can be carefully tracked throughout their careers in 12-month chapters. It's an important aspect of baseball that prevents free agents from coming on board and signing, then announcing an injury requiring surgery that must be paid for by the new club. The Jays' risk management director, Suzanne Joncas was a pioneer in the field when she was with the Expos in the '90s and other teams have since followed suit.
Q: What is the difference between how the Jays are being run and how the Expos were run in the '80s? Groom prospects for six years then lose them to higher paying organizations. Fill the gaps with veteran role players on the cheap and hope that all of the young talent can come together for one or two years and challenge for a playoff spot before you lose them to free agency and start over again. Meanwhile attendance drops and drops as fans lose interest and realize that their Jays are nothing more than a glorified farm team for the Yanks, Bosox, Phillies, Dodgers, etc.
A: There are huge differences between the Expos of the '80s and the Jays of the '00s. The Expos and their fans knew they were small market and management even positioned themselves as such and relished it, using the Padres as a realistic role model, with a broadcast area restricted by a foreign country to the south and a monster franchise hemming them in. In the case of the Padres, it was Mexico to the south and the Dodgers as the elephant in to room. In the case of the Expos, it was the United States below and the Blue Jays dominating the market. The Expos and their fans thrived on the underdog role. The Jays and their fans resent it when looking to the Red Sox and Yankees.
*Sports fans in Montreal were buoyed and smiling every spring heading into the season by a significant run by the city's hockey team, the Habs. It was feel-good sports feeling carried over into the arrival of summer. The sports fans in Toronto, on the other hand, are dragged down emotionally each spring by the Leafs, carrying the brooding storm clouds of no playoff/no lottery pick into the baseball season.
*The Expos understood they were running a university equivalency program – rookie, sophomore, junior, senior, then diploma and trade. It was a fact of life. John McHale, Jim Fannning, Murray Cook, Dave Dombrowski, Gary Hughes, Dan Duquette and Kevin Malone carried out the plan with no complaints, competing hard year-after-year, on a budget. The difference in Toronto is that fans are more impatient. Eventually ownership says they are willing to spend more money on payroll. The fact is the franchise, based on population, broadcast reach and Rogers' financial resources, is easily capable of competing with the big boys. It's just they have to be given the signal by Anthopoulos and Beeston.
*The fans in Montreal enjoyed themselves more. There is no French-Canadian equivalent of “angst”. As for attendance, the Expos rode the wave of success of the late '70s-early '80s through 1983, then the mortician-like presence of manager Bill Virdon killed the buzz. It was like having Pope Benedict planning your New Year's Eve party. But in the late '80s and early '90s under Buck Rodgers and Felipe Alou, fans started to fill the Stade again...until MLB came in and took over and killed the buzz forever. Expos fans always looked on the bright side. Jays fans are forever marching towards the darkness.
Q: Hello Richard. Do you know if Edwin Encarnacion started implementing the same hitting approach as Jose Bautista last year? Both showed a significant change to their groundball to flyball ratio (Bautista's being dramatically different). Given Encarnacion's apparent opportunity for regular plate appearances, do you see a breakout 40+hr season for him ala Bautista's 2010? Also, is Bautista a very good low ball hitter? One would think pitchers would've just started busting him low or low and outside once it was clear he was intent on hitting the ball in the air every time.
A: If by implementing the same hitting approach you mean joining the cult of Murph and Cito, then yes. Gaston always believed that you need to go to the plate with a plan. With a fresh count, look for a certain pitch in a certain location and if you find it, drive it. Until you get to two strikes, you don't go out of your zone. At two strikes you have to expand and it's a whole new story. You're still anticipating and going on the history of the pitcher and more specifically you against the pitcher. Cito is a believer that in any pitch sequence, any at-bat, a pitcher will make a mistake. You have to hit that mistake and if you swing first pitch if it's not your pitch then you're not allowing the pitcher to make that mistake. Gaston always points to A-Rod and the number of times that you'll see him take a fastball right down Broadway for strike three because he was looking for something offspeed. His argument is if it's good enough for A-Rod, it's good enough for E.E. Or J-Bau. As for Bautista being a good lowball hitter, I would suggest that when he is in a good groove, Bautista is a good low strike hitter. It's clearly not the pitch he's looking for early in the count and he won't chase low or low and away if it's out of the zone.
Q: A question about the HOF rather than the Jays: I read an article about Rafael Palmeiro's chances, in which the writer said he was a four-time all-star. I looked it up, four all-star games, one as a DH. Any idea what the fewest all-star appearances by a HOF is, especially one with those kind of stats? With those career stats, why was he left off the roster so often? Anyone else of his calibre remotely in that situation whom you can recall?
A: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Wee Willie Keeler...zero all-star games. Of course the all-star game was not invented until Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward suggested it as a one-time event at Comiskey Park in 1933. But yes, Palmeiro's total of four all-star games is low. He was never voted in by the fans because he was mostly an under-the-radar power hitter at a position that was populated by more popular bashers in his era. Palmero hit 95 homers in his first 3,270 at-bats with the Cubs and Rangers, then broke out with real power numbers in 1993, hitting 99 homers in his next 1,587 at bats in Texas over 1993-95. But by that time, in the minds of fan voters, he was a secondary star. For the rest of the '90s, the starting first base job at the ASG went to John Olerud, Frank Thomas, Tino Martinez, Jim Thome and Jason Giambi. Yes, four is a low total for Palmeiro but not a big factor in Hall voting.
With the Royals trading Greinke and stocking up with more young talent. Do you think A.A. has approached them on the availabilty of Alex Gordon and one of their young first base prospect Butler, Kila Ka'aihue and Eric Hosmer, with the Jays lacking a true 1st and 3rd base prospect in the minors what would a package of Gordon and one of the 1st base prospects cost the Jays?
Niagara on the Lake
A: I am pretty sure that Anthopoulos has investigated with the Royals on all the young, talented, controllable players that they have. He does that with every team and takes notes just so that he has a gauge on every team when he talks to them. He also uses that info when trying to bring other teams in for his popular “three-ways”. It's impossible to say what to would take to get any of those players, but it's clear that the Jays' major inventory is in young pitching and that the Royals like young pitching.
Q: I see that the Yankees were hit with an $18 million dollar luxury tax. Is that like NATO dues where the U.S. says yeah, yeah, we owe but they don't pay? Is there a due date on that tax? Where does the luxury tax money go? Does it get shared with the "have not" teams? I wouldn't mind a bit of it myself (good glove, no hit).Thanks Richard.
A: Do you have your own “small-market” problem as well? Then you qualify. Yes, the Yankees have paid up their taxes and yes the money is distributed to the have-nots. The luxury tax is baseball's equivalent of a salary cap and it's the best formula that MLB has ever been able to get as a concession from the uber-powerful players union. I'm not a big salary cap guy anyway. Rich teams in NBA, NHL and NFL are always trying to cheat the system and I'm not a big fan when the most important employee has to be a cap-ologist. No, give me the classic baseball stretch battle for a division between a team stocked with high-priced free agents vs. a team of homegrowns. David vs. Goliath. Good vs. Evil. Even the Red Sox and Yankees have changed and believe in strong farm systems more than in throwing money across the landscape to build a winner.
Q: Just wondering what you think of the following free agents that can potentially help the Jays and won't cost a great deal. Since Jose Bautista prefers staying at his RF position, why not consider a veteran guy who got some power/versatility like Pedro Feliz? Also, should the Jays give Canadian Jeff Francis a shot? He's not going to cost much right? Lastly, for the Closer role, should they bring back Miguel Batista? He's had decent numbers last season.
A: Just in examining the remaining free agent list, I would prefer to remain with Jose Bautista at third base and go with a Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson platoon in the outfield, alongside Vernon Wells and Travis Snider. Ideally, Bautista in right with someone else at third is best, but that may be best achieved in trade and that could be for either a quality second or third baseman. Hill could move to third. Jeff Francis would be a nice signing but there must be a problem with years and guarantees. Lastly, Miguel Batista is not a good choice to close at this point in his career and the Jays moving forward. He's a poet, an author, a flake, simply a literary Dotel. Just stick with Dotel and others.