Blue Jays mailbag
Parity seems the key to the American League for 2010 and in that regard, if the first month of play is any sort of indicator, the free-spending AL East no longer seems to be the monster it once was. It's, in fact, a division that may send just one team to the post-season dance. No wild-card? The defending AL East champs, the Rays replaced most of their bullpen including closer Rafael Soriano and lost one third of the batting order, led by Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. The Yankees rotation ended up with A.J. Burnett back in the two-hole behind CC Sabathia, almost by default. Phil Hughes is gone for a while. The Red Sox, who were projected as the monster team to beat in all of baseball, have thus far been simply another team to beat. The Jays with an emerging young starting rotation have said they are looking to 2012 and beyond while the O's under Buck Showalter are building something competitive but had a long climb. The fact is that headed into Thursday's MLB action only four games separated the five AL East teams. The division, as a whole was a combined one game under .500. That's very un-AL East like. Consider in 2010, the AL East combined to go 52 games over the break-even mark. In fact, the two best major-league divisions in the month of April 2011 have been the NL East (+10) and the AL West (+3). Parity demonstrates itself through Wednesday's MLB action, in terms of winning percentage, there were just two teams under the .400 mark. By comparison, the NBA had eight of 30 teams finish the 2010-11 schedule under .400, while the NFL featured 13 of 32 franchises in '10 suffering a similar hopeless sub-.400 fate. The two sub-.400 teams are the Padres and Astros. A second wild-card entry in each league will create tremendous fan interest in many cities. On to the mailbag.
Q-How long will AA watch Travis Snider struggle? It's obvious he has lost his confidence. Eric Thames is hitting .417 in Las Vegas. He's fantastic against righties. Like Snider he's a left handed batter. Can you send Snider down without putting him on waivers? Is the delay a question of controlling Thames' arbitration rights?
Sean Murphy, Bowmanville
A-Enough with the "controlling the arbitration rights" whine. I am so tired of that argument. It is such a trendy catch-phrase but truly a non issue with can't-miss major-league star prospects. The performing players are going to be locked up well before their 5-6 year plateau is attained. The Super-2 status of service time is the actual issue you refer to when someone brings up the controllable arbitration question. Originally, it was a full three years of major-league service that meant a player could take his salary to arbitration, freeing him from team subordination, allowing him to be compared to others with similar numbers and production. Usually that is the stage at which players can become millionaires. But because teams were trying to cheat time, a couple of Basic Agreements ago it was decided by the union that many teams were trying to make sure that players fell just short of three years by keeping them in the minors unnecessarily. Thus, in the MLBPA wisdom, the arb-qualifier became a negotiated two years of service, plus the top 10-percent of players that came up just short of three years. A full year is 172 days of accumulated service. Under those normal circumstances the Super-2's usually came out to anyone with 2+150 days or more (approx.). But if now it's every team doing the same hold-em-back thing with their controllable players, still trying to screw them, the actual qualifying number is obviously going to go down and be impossible to calculate because it's fluid and relative. So stop it.
As for the Jays' Travis Snider, the kid needs to find himself at the major-league level. Nowhere else. He has been farmed out every year since that devastating demotion at Fenway Park in 2009, a punishment that he took so very poorly. What else can he prove in Vegas? He's been a great Triple-A player. They call it Triple-A-Plus. He now needs to prove it in the majors. Sending him down would merely be clearing him off the Jays deck and washing your hands of a problem and would have nothing but a negative impact on his career. The Jays need to stay with Snider until that time when he stops staying with himself. As long as the effort is there. This is not a championship year for the Jays but they do need to find out if Snider will be a part of a championship run in 2012 and beyond or if they need to look to Thames or others for next year. Snider is the kind of player on the brink where if he finds what he's looking for from a mental standpoint can become an impact player. He's not going to discover anything back in Vegas. The Jays aren't going to discover anything with him at Triple-A.
My question is about the first and third base coaches. How much interaction is there between them and a player on their base? For instance at first base if a player has taken a few steps and the pitcher starts to throw to first, does the first base coach yell at the player to get back? Or do they let the players make their own decisions. Thanks Anne Guenther, Toronto
A-The third-base coach, Brian Butterfield gets the base-running and hitting signs from the manager in the dugout. He then flashes them to the batter, any runners on base and the first-base coach Torey Lovullo. The newest Jays coach, the important Lovullo has a stopwatch at all times and in his back pocket has key numbers on file cards that he has compiled on the catcher's pop times (throws to second base) and the pitcher's times to the plates. Butterfield and Farrell have those same numbers, but certain players have a green light to steal and Lovullo talks to them at first base all the time looking for the right pitch. Butterfield and Lovullo are constantly talking to their players, reminding them of stuff like outs, game situation, reminding them to tag up, freeze on line drives, off on contact with two outs or if the pitcher has a great pickoff move. And, yes, if the pitcher spins to throw, the coach warns the runner, but if he's reacting to the coach's bark, then it's going to be too late. Right, Jose Bautista.
I'm surprised it was Jesse Litsch who was sent down. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember hearing the no options situation would only be used to determine who stays in the rotation if that was the only factor separating two pitchers. In your opinion, did Reyes outperform Litsch?
Ben Collins, Toronto
A-So was Jesse Litsch. I am unable to correct you because it was certainly expressed by Alex Anthopoulos at spring training that if there was a tie at any position, then the tie-breaker would be the player with no options being kept on. It's all about inventory. And no, Reyes did not outpitch Litsch by that point of mid-April when he was sent down. So therefore it was not a tie. But once again, it comes down to the fact that Jays fans are more hellbent on each and every 2010 win more than is the Jays front office. Moreso than current victories, the Jays brass is concerned about future depth. The true depth at the major-league level is on the way but has not yet arrived. Until then, guys like Reyes are important. The fact is that if Reyes had been or is ever designated for assignment or placed on waivers, he would have been claimed. Reyes is also a personal project of the general manager. He first noticed Reyes when the lefty faced Roy Halladay and the Jays in an interleague matchup. When he made the Braves trade of Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar, AA insisted Reyes be included and in hs first call to Reyes encouraged him to "get back to where he was as a starter." It's not a case of Reyes outperforming Litsch. It's a case of the GM still having faith and not wanting to lose Reyes – specifically.
A loyal blog/mailbag reader with a general question. I keep hearing references made to position players and production expectation. For instance statements like "you expect power from the first baseman"
I don't understand the connection. Seems like power etc. can come from any field position and the place in the lineup is made depending on that fact.Is it just tradition or am I missing something?
Richard Armstrong, Little Rock, AR
A-You are right about those criteria being more tradition. Back in the day it used to be that the traditional power positions were first base, third base and the corner outfield spots and that the strength of the up the middle guys – catcher, second base, shortstop and centre field – came mainly in the form of solid defence. If you did receive power and RBIs from one or two of those up-the-middle guys, it was a happy bonus. But that time has passed. Now, as you point out, power can come from anywhere. You can carry a Lyle Overbay if you have an Aaron Hill (when he was hitting homers). The fact is that with modern workout regimens and nutrition your average shortstop or second baseman (even without cheating) is more physically imposing than Henry Aaron or Willie Mays in their primes. Yes, the thought of traditional power positions is an antiquated concept.
I have some concerns about this new found aggression on the base paths. I like the style but I think it should be tempered a little bit. What is with the head first slides into first base? And do you think it is wise for Aaron Hill to be stealing bases (even if successful) based on his leg issues over the past two seasons?
Ryan B, Toronto
A-What's wrong with you, dude? You don't like your best hitter being picked off first base in the ninth inning when your team is two runs behind? You don't like your catcher aggressively going first to third on a looping single to right and coming up with a perfect slide and a hand-clap only to find his buddy the DH standing right next to him -- when they were four runs down in the eighth? They're the go-go Jays. Think about it this way. Every out on the basepaths helps raise team batting average. In any case, regular readers know I have always loved that style of baseball since that defunct Canadian NL team of the early '80s some people accuse me of being still hung up on. My feeling is that Station to Station should remain a David Bowie album title. But it's easy to see that the Jays players themselves are still adjusting to pressure offence. Should we stay or should we go? It's tough to quantify, but I would say, even with no numbers to back it up, that the outs that this style of Jays play costs, balances out pretty much with the runs that it creates. When they can cut out the unnecessary and embarrassing baserunning gaffes, then this will be a much better offence for the pressure that they can put on defences and the distractions they cause pitchers and catchers and constantly moving infield defences.
As for any head-first slides into first base, hey, Robby Alomar is in the Hall-of-Fame with it. But honestly, the head-first slide is a personal decision, not taught by any team and you can argue whether it gets you to first base any faster or whether sliding actually slows you down. However, I honestly believe that it changes the umpires' perception of the traditional bang-bang out call at first base. It seems like so many umpires are ready to call that play an out, no matter what the naked eye and video evidence may quickly show. But when a guy suddenly dives at the bag and slides through the base or rolls off into foul territory, it makes an umpire re-consider what he thought he saw. Plus there is no chance of the head to the knee situation that plagues guys sliding into second (Justin Morneau) or third (Yunel Escobar). In addition, if someone always approaches the dash to first with the option of leaving his feet, he can use it to avoid the sweep tag off a high throw from an infielder. I'm a fan.
With regard to the injured Aaron Hill and if excess running contributed, he was so excited by the newest speed aspect of his game, Lovullo said that every time he reached first base, he was constantly talking about stealing second. For a player that has struggled recently to find joy in his game, that's a great thing to hear. Should he have been exerting himself like that? The thought here is if he's playing, he should be healthy enough to run. The hamstring that has him sidelined is different than the quadriceps that kept him out this spring and from the leg injury that plagued him a year ago.
Is it just me or does Bautista hit way too many solo home runs? Where is the ideal spot in the line up for his power? I know the Jays have had a few early season injuries that have not helped with the line up order. To make matters worse we have no real DH. Yesterday's boxscore showed Rivera as DH batting .210. Any chance of Alex pulling the trigger on a deal by July to shore up this problem?
John Sutherland, Petrolia, ON
A-No, Bautista does not hit too many solo home runs and if he does that's more a result of the guys ahead of him in the order than it is his own problem. Also, consider the fact that pitchers approach a hitter differently with men on base. Our own Canadian Hall-of-Famer, Chatham's Ferguson Jenkins did not care that he led the NL in home runs allowed all during his streak of 20-win seasons for the Cubs because he bragged that the majority of those blasts were solo. Nobody on base, challenge the hitter. Runners on base, keep the ball in the park. Nothing has changed with modern hurlers in that regard.
The ideal spot for Bautista in the lineup is batting third. That should be your best hitter, especially if he is a solid baserunner like Bautista (pickoffs aside). You want to make sure your best hitter comes to the plate in the first inning and if there's runners on base even better. Bautista is the Jays best hitter.
As for the Jays' DH issue, I believe that Edwin Encarnacion will wind up there for the most part and do a good job. Right now, with the injuries and with EE's own wonky wrist, the DH has been in flux. Hopefully Rivera has been hitting well enough lately to draw the interest of another team in need of a righthanded bat. By the end of the year, the Jays lineup should have Lind at first, EE at DH and Brett Lawrie at third base – and please don't bring up that Super-2 argument about why the Canadian super-prospect is still in the minors. It's not that I dislike Rivera, but it is just obvious that his combination of salary, age and baseball skills does not fit in with this current group and where they are headed.
Q-At what stage do the Jays simply call Juan Rivera a write-off and waive him? Eat the sunk cost of, I believe, $5.25 million, and give his at bats to any of their other options (Call up Lawrie, DH EE more often, or any other OF option). He is killing the Jays with his lack of production, and he also must have killed whatever trade value he had. Why is he still out there 4-5 times a week?
Jonathan Maile, Vancouver
A-At this stage, there is really no reason to eat the Rivera contract. It's not like he's a clubhouse cancer or anything. The fact is that if the Jays were to waive Rivera, as soon as he became a free agent, there would be a team that would go out and sign him as a righthanded bat off the bench. That being said, the job of AA is to find that particular team and squeeze them for a minor-league prospect and offer to pay the majority of the contract. That will likely happen when the Jays are ready to bring up Lawrie. The amount of money the Jays will be forced to absorb is incidental. They are already saving $23 million on Vernon Wells, balanced against $5.25 million for Rivera, $4 million for Frankie Francisco, an alleged $5 million paid out to the Angels and a reported $1 million received from the Rangers.
I haven't been particularly impressed with the way Adam Lind is swinging the bat this year. It appears the troubles from a year ago (lazy fly balls and weak ground outs) are plaguing him again. Is it possible that the Jays have another Eric Hinske on their hands? By that I mean a player who had one above average season but who is actually a below average player? At what point should AA and the Jays start worrying that Lind is never going to return to his 2009 ways?
Terry Lonvell, Toronto
A-You're not alone. I believe that even Adam Lind has not been particularly impressed with the way Adam Lind is swinging the bat. However, he has started to come around and the difference to me, talking to him earlier in April is that he, this year, has never exhibited that palms up shoulder shrugging resignation of a guy that doesn't know what's wrong. Last year that was the case and a large part of it may have had to do with the amount of down time as designated hitter he had during games to think about his woes and never be able to come up with an answer. Now playing first base and being able to contribute with the glove has helped his hitting or at least his attempt to return to his form of '09.
As for the Eric Hinske comparison, after being named 2002 rookie-of-the-year, he had a jinxed sophomore season spoiled by a couple of hand injuries at which point the Jays gave him one more year at third base as the starter before they began to give up on him. They signed Corey Koskie and moved Hinske to first base via phone call in 2006. They traded for Lyle Overbay and moved Hinske to the bench in 2006. He became a free agent after that and played in three consecutive World Series with the Red Sox ('07), the Rays ('08) and the Yankees ('09). Coincidence? Then he went to the playoffs with the Braves in 2010. The Jays, of course haven't been to the post-season since 1993.