Jays mailbag: Lawrie shows he's close, very close
The Jays have had a relatively injury free spring thus far and that has as much to do with youth as it does anything else.
John Farrell on Wednesday insisted that he feels he has a solid offensive nucleus at every position and that allows flexibility, meaning that he could afford to carry one or two light-hitting or slumping bats in the lineup.
That being said, there is thankfully room for the classy John McDonald on occasion filling in around the infield, or room for a struggling J.P. Arencibia out of the chute even combined with the ever-light hitting Jose Molina.
They can afford to be patient with one or two slumps.
An interesting exercise, though, is to go around the diamond offensively and ask the question: Who would the Jays miss the most if he was injured or disabled for a significant period of time.
At catcher, Molina could take over from Arencibia and they would eventually find a way to promote Travis D'Arnaud, depending on how far into the season it was.
If Lind went down at first base, Edwin Encarnacion could handle it.
If Jose Bautista was injured it would speed the promotion of Brett Lawrie.
If any of the outfielders or the DH went down, that means Scott Podsednik or Corey Patterson could step up, or else they would do the Bautista/Lawrie position/promotion shuffle again.
But right now, the toughest Jays to replace for any significant length of time are the two guys up the middle in Yunel Escobar and Aaron Hill. Johnny Mac could fill in but eventually they would need to find an option that can provide more offence and still play major-league D. There is talent in the minors at the middle infield positions, but is it ready for prime time?
On to the mailbag.
Q. Hey Richard! I am really enjoying being able to read the boxscores again!! Spring is in the air!
I read a piece today that Kevin Slowey might be on the trade block in Minnesota. I also seemed to remember that they had been kicking tires on Jason Frasor last year. Any chance of the Jays going after another young (26), controllable (2 more years of arbitration) starting pitcher?
Also, have you heard any rumblings on a possible deal for a third baseman, or a new home for Juan Rivera?? Enjoy the Florida sun!
Jon Empringham, Woodstock
A. As for the case for acquiring Slowey, see the blog item I posted on Wednesday evening.
Sure the Jays have an overabundance of bullpen guys, but remember that the Twins did not value Jon Rauch enough to re-sign him during the winter, so now would he be among the type of guys that they want to give up their sixth starter for.
The 26-year-old Slowey is a guy with major-league credentials, but in the long term is he even a better fit with the Jays than some of the guys fighting for the fourth and fifth starter's spots right now?
As I say in the earlier blog posting, it would make some sense for the Jays if it was setting up another move for GM Alex Anthopoulos involving another current starting pitcher.There are no fresh rumblings about a trade for a third baseman.
I believe that the coaching staff is really high on Brett Lawrie's future and the future is near. I believe that Juan Rivera is merely keeping the right field seat warm for the day in mid-season when Lawrie is promoted to play third base and Jose Bautista is shifted back to right. That is the alignment that Jays' fans want to see sooner rather than later. That is the alignment that will be part of the contending Jays in a year, moving forward.
Forget about trading for a third baseman. The future of the position is already here.
Lawrie has been impressive this spring, making plays that nobody thought he was prepared to make, yet.
Q. Hi Richard. So one of the guys that seems to be getting a lot of play and doing well with the Jays this spring training is Eric Thames. What do you think his chances are of filling the hole at first base at some point this season?
Jon Weier, Toronto
A. Eric Thames has opened eyes this spring and is etting a lot of playing time. The northern California native had a great year at AA-New Hampshire in 2010 and then worked on his own with an unusual batting coach, YouTube, over the off-season, checking out videos of Jose Bautista and J.P. Arencibia among others watching for an improved timing, getting prepared earlier, the key to J-Bau's tremendous power surge.
He is not the fastest runner, the most powerful hitter, hit for the highest average, the best defender or have the best arm, but he does everything well enough to play in the majors at some point.
I don't see him as a first baseman, but he will make it as an outfielder at some point. Nice kid too.
Q. How patient are the Jays going to be in regards to Hill's poor hitting average?? One month? Two months? Or the entire season?
Brian Saville, Peterborough
A. The key with Hill will be whether the Jays decide to pick up his options for 2012-14, which they have to decide by Opening Day.
If they wait until the season starts, then they must decide by the start of next year's free agent deadline whether they want to pick up 2012-13 options. If not he becomes a free agent after 2011.
My personal belief is that the Jays will let this year's deadline pass and then they will watch Hill as if it is a free agent year for him. The pressure, albeit a positive pressure, will be on the player and therefore, I believe they need to stick with Hill as a starter all year, no matter the struggles, and see what they have moving forward.
If they benched him in a season in which they are trying to find things out, that would be counter-productive.
Many players take a deep breath and play their best when they know they are playing for the next contract. Basically that is where Hill would find himself if the Jays decided not to pick up all three years of the option by April 1.If he plays well, they can lock up the reasonable option years through 2013 and play it by ear after that.
Q. How has David Purcey looked? Everyone seems ready to annoint him as the Scott Downs replacement, but Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco fare pretty well against left-handed batters too. Is Purcey going to be consistent enough to be counted on over the course of a season?
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco
A. People should remember that at 29, which is the age Purcey will be pitching at this year, not even Scott Downs had become the replacement for Scott Downs. It wasn't until he was 31 that Downs became the reliable lefty specialist and part-time closer that he became.
Purcey in his last appearance walked all three batters that he faced, but that is the battle that he always has. He needs to be more consistent so that in game situations the manager can rely on him to come in and throw strikes.
Manager John Farrell addressed the Purcey question on Wednesday: “It comes down to consistency. You can look back to a number of different relievers. If they become an everyday reliever or more established reliever it can happen at all stages. Some come later. Some come earlier. We're not near the spot where we're going to turn the page and give up on him. We just have to get him in a position to deliver more consistent strikes.”
Regarding having a second lefty Farrell said: “It would be helpful, particularly when you look at our division. To go in without some depth left-handed is a little bit of a naked feeling. That doesn't mean we're going to take left-handers just for the sake of taking left-handers. We'll take the best pitchers, but with some balance we're probably a better team.”
As for righties that get lefties out, Francisco is one but he's going to close. Carlos Villanueva and Shawn Camp are pretty good, also. As for a second lefty, maybe Marc Rzepczynski or Jo-Jo Reyes. The other plethora of lefty guys have been pitching themselves out of the picture as time goes by.
Q. I wish that MLB would go to the DH everywhere, as pitchers never hitting in the minors makes them extra useless in MLB.
Drop The Gloves, via Twitter
A. I believe that as long as Bud Selig is the commissioner that the DH will never be a part of NL play. But of course he's leaving office as early as next year. The next guy in that office may consider it but not before the next Basic Agreement is negotiated, not the one that expires in 2011.
I used to be a NL supporter of no DH all the way, but after being in the AL covering the Jays and the World Series for 17 years now, I have turned around and believe one set of rules is the only answer and since the union will never allow the DH to be banished (they are usually high-priced veteran guys that help set the salary bar at a higher level) then I am all for the DH everywhere.
Most pitchers are athletes, but the fact that from high school through the minors has the DH makes it silly to make them hit in the majors.
Q. Hi Richard. When anyone brings up the benefits of the Blue Jays being in the AL Central you always point out that the Blue Jays would lose out on revenue by reducing the number of home games against the Yankees and Red Sox.
While this is true, I feel that the reason for the terrible attendance at Rogers Centre is not only the lack of playoffs since 1993 but also the lack of meaningful games in August or September since that time. It appears that fans have simply lost hope with the Blue Jays and it is hard to argue against that.
If the Jays were in the Central I find it difficult to believe that they would not have made the playoffs at least a few times in the last two decades.
Every year games would actually mean something as it would not be a foregone conclusion that they would miss the playoffs. Give the fans hope and I would think that instead of having crowds of 11,000 against less desirable teams the crowds would probably at least be in the 20,000 or above range thereby more than offsetting the effect of having the Yanks and Red Sox here 6 less times per year. Do you agree that Jays fans have lost hope (remember it has been two decades)?
Greg Huzel, Winnipeg
A. Jays fans have not lost hope. Hope is just hiding out in the witness protection program.
Fans were brainwashed under the J.P. Ricciardi/Paul Godfrey regime into blaming the Red Sox and Yankees and their huge payrolls for the competition woes that the Jays have had.
In the meantime, other medium payroll teams have gone on and advanced to the World Series from the American League.
The new regime of Alex Anthopoulos/Paul Beeston believes that if you've got to beat these guys anyway to get to the Series, why not play in the same division and just outwork, outscout asnd outsmart them. It can be done. The problem with believing that being in contention in August will increase attendance significantly is that historically it's never happened before.
The Jays need to reach the playoffs and then they will be able to sell tickets in that next offseason and have 1.6 million sold by Opening Day. You can never rely on the walkup crowd to make your attendance; it's the pre-sales, season and groups, areas that the Jays have struggled with since the '94 strike.
Q. Richard, A comment and a question. I spent a week at spring training this year and I'm sold. I want to do it every year.
I recommend checking out the Jays (meagre) practice facility. Fans can really get up close and interact with the players. In fact I snuck into their gym and got the clubbies to give me some free Jays paraphenalia. But that's a long story. Great trip all around.
Do you see the Jays giving Lawrie the third baseman gig? He's done nothing but impress thus far at camp, and he looks like the hardest working guy on the roster.
Peter Maslow, Hamilton
A. Hey, I have never been able to sneak into the gym. I am jealous.
As for Lawrie, I have a feeling there is a significant voice in the coaches room and front office that would love to see him in the majors sooner rather than later.
He is a pure athlete and so the transition to third base has seemed effortless. He makes that quick feed to second base as well as anyone I 've seen in a while and has good baseball instincts. He works hard and prepares hard.
So what if one time somebody duct taped huge vats of liquor to his hand. Who hasn't had that happen? My thinking is that will let him get his feet under him at AAA-Las Vegas and then bring him up and move Jose Bautista back to right.
Q. Dear Richard: My family will be vacationing in southern New Hampshire and Boston in August. We have already purchased Fisher Cats and Red Sox tickets. Do you know of any restaurants or other attractions in and around both Manchester, N.H., and Boston, Mass., that we should experience?
Paul Raphael, Mississauga
A. The best idea is to log onto a website like www.HelloManchester.com and see what strikes your fancy. Eric Thames spent last summer there and described it as “like Boston in the woods”. Thames said everything is “wicked this and wicked that with a lot of Sam Adams beer.” As for Boston, the Paul Revere Trail and Harvard University are can't miss. The original Cheers bar is disappointing. Fenway Park and the surrounding neighbourhood with its famed restauraunts and bars are wicked.