Jays mailbag: St. Patrick's Day and the 12th anniversary of Johnson's exit
Happy St. Patrick's Day which, by the way, marks the 12th anniversary of Jays' manager Tim Johnson's spring training firing following his 88 win debut season with the Jays and the anniversary of Jim Fregosi being hired in 1999.
GM Gord Ash had continued to back his beleaguered manager all winter, including an uncomfortable week at the winter meetings in Nashville where Johnson's one-hour manager's interview session devolved into an embarrassing mea culpa.
Johnson had admitted to exaggerating his degree of service in the Vietnam era claiming in some clubhouse bull sessions with players that he had gone overseas.
His role, in fact, had been at Camp Pendleton training mortar artillerymen. But the whole thing wasn't going to work.
It got so bad at spring training in Dunedin with snide comments behind Johnson's back both in the clubhouse and on the road, including Jays' newly acquired lefthander David Wells going on the Bubba the Love Sponge Morning Show and regularly ridiculing his skipper that Ash decided that the change had to be made in a St. Patty's Day Massacre.
Major League Baseball umpires like officials in all pro sports are looked upon as a necessary evil.
However, I have known a lot of umpires personally through the years and away from the field in relaxed social settings, most of them are funny, charming, smart and family oriented. Of course we don't want to generalize because there are others that are total pinheads — probably in the same ratio as in any other segment of life.
MLB umpires are currently trying to get the word out about their online auction that they are conducting on behalf of their charity, UMPS CARE.
The online auction began on March 9 and goes until this Sunday, March 20.
There are some great items, more than 200 up for bid that include a ton of signed memorabilia, VIP experiences, golf, hotel stays and more.
All of the money goes to fund the UMPS CARE initiatives, which benefit children (hospital visits/Build-a-Bear workshops for children with serious illnesses and VIP game experiences for children awaiting adoption are two). Visit: http://www.umpscare.com/index.php for more information.
Now, to the questions:
With Brett Lawrie showing his natural ability on the ball diamond what are the chances he leaves spring training as the starting 3B and move Bautista back to RF? If Lawrie is as talented as we think, doesn't he seem to be of the same breed as A-Rod, Pujols, Heyward, with that being said, age shouldn't come into play as those 3 examples all started the careers at a young age like Lawrie. I know he will probably start in AAA but wouldn't our lineup be stronger with him at 3B and Bautista in RF?
A-Sure, the Jays could easily make the decision to begin the season with Brett Lawrie at third base and live with the learning curve that he requires at third base from a positioning, react-to-the-ball-off-the-bat, still-needs-his-reps type thing. But they likely won't. Manager John Farrell is a huge and important supporter of Lawrie in the majors. The rest of the non-uniformed organization is more cautious. He has made some nice plays at third base, including flawless feeds right on the money to start double plays and many going to his left. Part of the reason for sending him to Vegas, of course, is that three weeks in the minors would ensure that Lawrie remains under Jays' control through 2017 instead of 2016. A player needs six full years to earn free agent status. A full season is 172 days of accumulated time. The 2011 season is 181 days long. Another part of the reason for farming him out is that they need to find a landing spot for current right fielder Juan Rivera, the Jays' version of brown shoes with their opening day tuxedo.
Rivera does not fit the Alex Anthopoulos criteria. He is not young, he's not controllable and the reason they even have him is that the Vernon Wells transaction needed to be made in order for the Jays' financial flexibility moving forward and Rivera's $5.2 million 2011 salary was part of what the Angels insisted the Jays take on. Currently the Jays starting outfield of LF Travis Snider, CF Rajai Davis and RF Rivera may rank 14th among 14 AL outfields. Check out any Fantasy Baseball preview magazine and look for Jays' outfielders in their 2011 rankings. As soon as you moved Bautista back to right field, with the Lawrie move to start at third base, the outfield rank would rise considerably.
It's probably unfair at this stage to Lawrie to compare him to A-Rod, Albert Pujols and Heyward at the same age. None of those three players was changing positions in the year they reached the majors and by the time they were 20 or 21, due to where they grew up, I would safely estimate they had far more repetitions on both sides of the ball than has Lawrie has, even growing up in the baseball hotbed of British Columbia and participating in the various Baseball Canada programs. If you're asking what I would do, I would send Rivera to another team and pay a large portion of his salary and I would install Lawrie at third base and bat him ninth. We've all at one time or another had to learn on the job.
Much has been made of the Jays selection of Romero over Tulowitzki- including DiManno's recent article. How would the first 7 or 10 picks in that draft look today based solely on the player and not the selecting team's needs?
A-Here's one man's rankings, using the advantage of 20-20 hindsight, of the Top 12 first round picks from the 2005 draft. I'll put an asterisk next to the guys that were selected after Ricky Romero: 1-*Troy Tulowitzki (Rox); 2-Ryan Braun (Brewers); 3-Justin Upton (D'backs); 4-Ryan Zimmerman (Nats); 5-*Clay Buchholz (Bosox); 6-*Matt Garza (Twins); 7-*Jacoby Ellsbury (Bosox); 8-Romero; 9-*Colby Rasmus (Cards); 10-Jay Bruce (Reds); 11-Andrew McCutcheon (Bucs); 12-Alex Gordon (Royals).
Always look forward to your insights, especially off-field things we'd have no other way of knowing. Two questions: First, have the Jays considered inviting Jimmy Key as a guest instructor? He'd be great with some of the left-handed starters, especially if he could teach them his borderline-legal pick-off move! Second, everyone always says Johnny Mac is a lousy hitter, but in about 150 at-bats last year he had 23 RBI. In 600 ABs, my simple math projects this to 92 RBI. Or, combining the last three years and extrapolating those 489 ABs up to 600 would give about 66 RBI. It's not great, but it's not terrible. Is he really that bad a hitter? He's certainly a great human being and a wizard fielder. Thanks!
Richard W., Toronto
A-As for former Jays' lefthander Jimmy Key, I have never heard his name mentioned around the Jays as even being interested in the prospect of teaching the organization's young pitchers. He had a great pickoff move which helped him control the opponent's running game, but whenever John Farrell looks for an example to teach his young lefthanders, especially Brett Cecil, in terms of a lefthander being in total control of the game, he points to Andy Pettitte. It's probably a better idea that a young pitcher has seen the guy pitch and Jimmy retired in '98. Some guys just have no interest in coaching.
John McDonald is a much better hitter now than when he first joined the Jays from the Indians. A lot of credit for his early improvement should go to former Jays' hitting coach Mike Barnett. McDonald is what he is. That is a guy that can fill in nicely off the bench for a game or two, but that you don't want starting for a prolonged period. He reaches 10 years in the majors sometime in May. That's a pretty good career for a guy with his limited hitting ability. That's really good for him and his family and he's a great human being, one of the best...but, he's not a good hitter.
Q-I know it's just Spring Training but Brett Lawrie has looked really good so far, what is the chance of him making the team in April or is he looking like a September call-up? I have a friendly wager with a buddy that he will be called up after July 1st, am I going to lose $100?
Matt S., Toronto
A-For his chances of making the team out of the spring see the first question today. As for your bet on being called up after July 1, you might have a better chance of winning if you specified “before July 1.”
Why would the Twins give up a good young starter such as Kevin Slowey?
Stu, Erin, Ont.
A-They haven't. The problem in a lot of major-league camps is that outside observers look at a club's areas of depth and ask themselves how their club could possibly use that perceived depth to shore up another perceived weakness on the roster. So when the Twins had what seemed like six major-league-ready starters in the rotation and a lack of experienced relievers in the bullpen and when two Jays' pro scouts showed up at a B Game in which Slowey was getting his work in, 2+2 became 5. Six starters is not depth. Ten starters is depth. There are injuries and failures to launch that occur every year in the majors and if you don't have guys in the minors ready to step in, then you aren't going to compete. The Jays currently have three top starters, plus four guys competing for the final two spots. That's seven starters, plus in the minors they will have pitchers on the rise like Zach Stewart, Henderson Alvarez, Chad Jenkins, Deck McGuire, plus holding-tank guys like Brad Mills and Robert Ray. That's more like the depth required to trade a starter for bullpen help. If a Slowey deal ever happened, good for the Jays, but unnecessary.
Love to pick your brain on M.L.B. rules involving player movement, so here we go again. This young Dominican pitcher that A.A. is trying to find a way to hang onto has 'run out of options' at the ripe old age of 22. I presume that's because Boston signed him at 17? Are these kids that teams sign from countries not subject to the draft subject to the same rules as U.S./Canadian kids (i.e. after 5 years go on the 40-man roster or be exposed to waivers? Will the same thing apply to the two Venezuelan kids the Jays signed last year. Why didn't the Jays go that route with Hechevarria?
I was in Dunedin last spring, partly because you made it sound so good (and it was!), & this year I'm in Phoenix. With the exception of not getting to see my beloved Jays, this is even better!
Bruce S., Courtenay, B.C.
A-Young lefty Cesar Cabral did not run out of options with Boston, but as you point out, since he had not been added to the Sox' 40-man roster after he had been a professional for five years he was eligible for the Rule 5 in December. The three options are just for roster players. If Cabral had been on the Red Sox roster, he would not have been eligible for the Rule 5 from which he was plucked by the Rays. But if he had been on the Sox' 40-man, as soon as they sent him to the minors this spring that would have become his first option. He could move up and down all year and it would still only be one option.
As far as the Jays' Venezuelans are concerned, it depends upon the signing dates when the clock starts. My understanding is that they have until the end of the 2015 season and then they must be protected on the 40-man or exposed to the Rule 5. Hechavarria is a different story. He was signed to as major-league contract due to the fierce competition for his services. He is signed for four years, through 2013. The club has already used one option and now having optioned him to AA-New Hampshire have exercised a second. If they send him to the minors again in 2012, then he's out of options for 2013 and must make the major-league team or be exposed on waivers. Once he starts playing for the Jays, then his service time accumulates just like any other player in terms of arbitration and free agency, but because of his original major-league contract, he's had a head start in terms of being held down in the minors.
Do you see 1B/OF as a possible future destination for J.P. Arencibia?
Good hitting catchers have been moved in the past to save their knees (Biggio, Delgado)
Jamie N., Brooklin, Ont.
A-The Arencibia question is a good one. The Jays have some good catching prospects coming up through the farm system led by Travis D'Arnaud who is slated to start the year at Double-A New Hampshire. If Arencibia's bat is for real as demonstrated by his PCL numbers at Vegas in 2010, then they will have to find a place for him to play. It's not a bad thing having a catcher with that offensive capability – see Mike Piazza. It's not bad having two catchers with major-league ability on your team – see Anaheim Angels. But at some point you have to make a decision. Trading one guy is possible. It's too early to predict for Arencibia and the Jays, but first base would be more likely than outfield if they decided to keep both he and D'Arnaud with a third catcher brought in to back up.
What is the latest update from Dustin McGowan?
Tom Z., Richmond Hill, Ont.
A-I wrote about McGowan's latest mound session at minor league camp on Monday. He is on the 60-day DL but that makes no difference to his status. He can still stay at extended camp in April and continue to work at coming back. He can pitch in all the minor league games he needs but if he pitches for one of the affiliates his rehab-option time starts to add up. McGowan if he ever returns will come back as a reliever and has accepted the organization's decision. The thought being that the pitches from 80-110 as a starter are more fatigue-inducing, maybe damaging than 10-20 pitches in one inning, even doing that every two days. McGowan is a gamer who won't give up the dream and to the Jays' credit they have not given up on him as they did Chris Carpenter, which came back to haunt them as he won Cy with the Cards. McGowan had elite stuff before the injuries, but the results were not that elite even when healthy so expectations if he is able to complete his unlikely comeback should be tempered. Just seeing him on the mound in a major-league game again would be emotional, because July 8 will mark the third year of not pitching in a regular-season pro game at any level. That's tough.
Expanding on a question from last week, is there any minor leagues that play without a DH as does the National League? Or is the NL the only professional league that doesn’t use the DH?
Jeff Jay, Haliburton, Ont.
A-The Japanese Central League and the National League are the only pro leagues that have pitchers in the batting order. The Golden Baseball League (Independent) based in California did, but they have merged with other independent leagues and have been swallowed up by the DH rule. I used to be a big NL supporter with no DH, but it's becoming ridiculous to have kids come to the majors because of their arms and then be handed a bat. It's sad to lose the purity of the game, but it's time.
I'm discussing the Kevin Slowey from the Twins possibility you made the point that if the Jays did acquire him it would be to set up another deal in moving one of their starting pitchers. My question is why are you so comfortable with Romero (ace not doubt), Morrow (170 inning pitch limit), Cecil (a good 3rd at least for sure), but then 2 huge questions marks in Kyle Drabek (never done anything in the show before), Litsch, Z, Reyes? In my opinion they have 3 good starters but I am worried that one will end up on the DL at some point, and then many question marks beyond them.
Mike, Cambridge, Ont.
A-I'm comfortable with that five-man rotation because the Jays as an organization are continuing to insist they are setting up for 2012 and beyond and really need to find out about Drabek, Zep. Jo-Jo and Litsch. It's not to say they're tanking in 2011, but if they replaced one of those back-of-the-rotation guys with Slowey, having to give up solid parts because the Twins aren't going to give him away, what does that accomplish. However if the Jays keep Slowey in the rotation and then move a guy like Cecil for something good, then it makes sense. I would not make the Slowey trade if I was running the Jays.
What's your take on Eric Thames? He seems to be an under-the-radar young talent who's developing quickly. Could we see this guy make an impact with the Jays anytime this year? The outfield is probably the weakest area for the team right now, is there an opportunity for him to see some time?
Colin W., Mississauga, Ont.
A-Eric Thames has been an eye-opener at camp this spring, so much so that heading into the weekend he leads the Jays in Grapefruit League at-bats. Defensively he's a work in progress and can only play left field, but with just two left-handed bats in the starting lineup and with only Corey Patterson as a projected bench player from the left side, I could easily see Thames spending some major league time at some point this season. In his second year at Pepperdine, the most beautiful campus in America, Thames was being heavily scouted by the Red Sox and Yankees and should have been at least a second-round pick. He had torn a hamstring in Junior College and late in his next draft year tore a quadriceps that dropped his value down to the 7th round where to his credit, J.P. Ricciardi's Jays took a chance. Thames is now a yoga freak for flexibility and strength, cutting back on his weight training, and it has paid off. This past winter, he studied YouTube video of Jose Bautista and others to get prepared for his swing earlier and has been great this spring.