Blue Jays mailbag
I apologize for missing out on the mailbag last week, but there were distractions — a weekend side trip to see Trevor Gretzky's high school ball game north of Los Angeles, followed by a 14-inning Jays-Angels game that same night. Then there was four more West Coast games, then finishing the Gretzky piece mid-week and travelling back from Seattle all day Thursday. By that time the moment for last week's mailbag had passed. This week I'll have two mailbags — another one on Thursday.
Funniest story that Wayne Gretzky told? He was asked to make a surprise appearance at a Justin Bieber charity event in the L.A. area because the young Stratford native was a huge fan of the Great One. Gretzky agreed to do it and when he walked out to meet the young singer, the first thing Bieber said to him was, “Hey Wayne, I played in your dad Walter's hockey tournament in Brantford. He's great.” In fact I think every kid in southern Ontario has played in Walter's tournament.
In baseball news last week, it was difficult to decide whether to smile or frown. The smile would be for the retirement of Carlos Delgado, the greatest Blue Jays player ever, who did the right thing after his aging body failed to respond to an intense rehab program. He hung up the spikes. For him to hang around just in an attempt to hit the 17 homers he needed to crack the 500 mark would have been a mistake. He retired as gracefully as he swung the bat.
The frown, on the other hand, would be for the conviction of Barry Bonds on the one count of obstruction of justice and for Manny Ramirez's seemingly forced retirement in order to avoid a second suspension. The Bonds conviction changes nothing about his already damaged legacy and it's doubtful and unecessary that Bonds do jail time. It's just a sad situation for baseball.
It's pretty well been accepted that the alleged turning point for Bonds in terms of a decision to join the ranks of steroid users was when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa stole the spotlight with their home run chase in 1998. In '98 Bonds had a great five-tool season and nobody even noticed. By '99, Bonds had allegedly joined the ranks of the converted. How good a ballplayer was the pre-steroid Bonds already? From 1986 through 1998, the first 13 years of his career, Bonds already had accumulated 411 homers and 445 stolen bases. The guy was already a Hall-of-Famer. That's what separates him from McGwire and others when it comes to the chances that Bonds will be voted in to Cooperstown. It may not happen first ballot, but it says here that Bonds will be voted in. Manny, on the other hand, has reportedly failed two tests for PED since 2004 when mandatory testing with penalties made steroids strictly verboten. It's difficult to rationalize any Hall consideration for those that have failed in testing since 2004. On to the mailbag.
I have two questions relating to John Farrell's decision-making to date (mid-April): Do you think Farrell is extrending the Jays' (young) starting pitchers too far this early in the season — over 100 pitches and seven innings? Playing Rajai Davis (ankle) and Yunel Escobar (a couple of days after being concussed) injured seems very risky and short-term thinking this early in the season. Why risk losing these key starters for longer periods just for a couple of early season wins?
Paul Ufford, London
A-I think for his first half month as manager, Farrell showed that he still has a lot to learn, but what has been obvious is that he is not Cito Gaston. He's not afraid to move guys up and down in the batting order. He's not afraid to have runners on the move even if it's not a full count with two outs. He's not afraid to pinch-hit or pinch-run. He's not afraid to have “personal catchers” for his starting pitchers especially when a young guy like J.P. Arencibia is trying to get his feet wet at the major-league level.
As far as Rajai Davis and his injured ankle – first inning, first game – the big problem was that Corey Patterson, the only other legitimate major-league ready centre fielder, was on the disabled list himself with a head shot from Daniel Bard. As soon as his time was up, the Jays made the move and put Rajai on the DL. It's unfortunate. As for Escobar, the only thing that I was surprised with is that after sliding headfirst into Andy Laroche's knee and laying motionless for 15-20 seconds that they let him go back out to shortstop for the next inning before TV shots revealed a disoriented and dazed young man, blinking heavily and shaking the cobwebs out of his head. Escobar was replaced the next inning by John McDonald and then sat out the next two days, finally getting into the 14-inning game late in Anaheim. But being there in California with the team, I could see that they were doing everything that was mandated by MLB including having two consecutive workouts where the player exhibited no post-concussion symptoms. He passed that in the pre-game on Friday. I asked McDonald about Escobar because he was so much involved in Justin Morneau's concussion last year. Johnny Mac said that in his opinion there was no comparison, because of the difference in the Morneau reaction in the immediate aftermath on the field compared to Escobar's. Aaron Hill said in that half inning Escobar played he was still calling the cover plays at second and Hill was not aware of his problems just by looking over.
As far as the Jays extending their starting pitchers too far early in the season, I don't think there's anything to that. They leave spring training ready for 100-110 pitches. The only thing that is of concern to Farrell is that these guys aren't pitch-efficient enough and expend the 100-pitch total often after five or six innings. That is especially a problem within the AL East. But pitch totals too high, no.
My question is about the runner interference call in the 13th inning of the Angels game last Saturday night. Everyone connected with the Jays, from Buck and Pat to the players and managers, thought it was a horrible call. Mike Scioscia thought it was the right call. What are your thoughts? Is Bob Davidson steadfast in his conviction that it was indeed interference? Do umpires ever review a blown call after the game and say “oops?”
Seth Campbell, Sherwood Park
A-Just an anecdote about Bob Davidson, the man that made the call on Jays interference nullifying a run crossing the plate in the 13th inning in Anaheim. With all the bizarre stuff that went on in that game, I sat in the press box and tried to think of the strangest extra-inning game I had ever seen in terms of funky incidents. The one that came to mind was the 23-inning Expos-Dodgers game in August of '89 at Olympic Stadium. I remember in the 13th inning a young Larry Walker, just called up from the minors, leaping against the right field fence to rob Eddie Murray, but the umps ruled he trapped it and it was a base hit. I recall Youppi being ejected from the game because Tommy Lasorda complained when he jumped up and down on the tin roof of the Dodger dugout. Youppi came back in the 20th inning in night shirt and night cap. Now that was funny. But most of all I remember in the bottom of the 16th having Larry Walker score the winning run on an apparent sacrifice fly to right. As the Expos celebrated and the Dodgers slowly trudged off the field, one solitary man remained at his position. It was the third base umpire who stood firmly next to the bag and stared down at it. One of the Dodgers coaches noticed the dead giveaway of body language. The Dodgers hustled back to their positions and went through the appeal process stepping on third and asking for the out. The umpire gave an emphatic out sign and the game continued. I checked the boxscore on Retrosheet.com. The third base ump? Yup, Bob Davidson.
Loves the spotlight. Was it the right call with Escobar and interference? No. The fact is the third baseman Alberto Callaspo hesitated not because of Escobar running towards third but because he thought the shortstop Maicer Izturis was going to take the ball. He took a quick glance and when he realized it was his play, he lurched towards the ball but too late to make the play at first. Yes umpires review their own calls after games and so does MLB. I'm sure there are many times where they know they are wrong, but not very often do they go public with their mea culpas. The latest and most famous exception was Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga after the lost perfect game in Detroit last year.
All through my 20s I was waiting to be wealthy enough to go to a fantasy camp with the Blue Jays in Florida. Now in my late 30s there hasn't been a camp since 2001... Any chance the Blue Jays will bring them back seeing as Boston and New York both run them? I'm hoping for a chance before I'm too old to throw.
Rob Landau, Toronto
A-There was a time when Fantasy Camps were all the rage but I believe that was at a time back in the day when the economy was booming and young urban professionals making lots of money ruled the day. That was also a time when even star players after they retired were looking for ways to supplement their post-career incomes before they started earning their pensions. But now if a player has played six or more years in the bigs, most of them are financially set if they've planned ahead and the thought of participating as instructors at Fantasy Camps for a little extra cash is not necessary. I think the strike of '94 and the Steroid Era also dulled the enthusiasm of fans with disposable income for Fantasy Camps. I don't believe that being jammed into a cluhouse bathroom stall with Jose Canseco as he shows you the proper way to take a shot in your butt has any appeal to most people.
As for the Jays, I think there is a chance. In the last couple of years, former Jays reliever Duane Ward has put together a network of his former Jays teammates and they are trying to get involved in different things. They are starting this summer with a series of clinics across Canada to teach kids the fundamentals. I believe Ward and his friends would likely be interested in re-creating the Fantasy Camp concept in Dunedin or Clearwater if the interest was there.
Love the bag. What do you make of Snider's start to the season? I am not sure whether to be impressed or concerned. At this point (Monday night), he's in last place among left fielders in fielding percentage (.818), but he's made some strong throws. His batting average is weak (.167), but he's 15th in the league in pitches per plate appearances (4.11). I'd love to hear your assessment.
Ben Collins, Toronto
A-I like the way Snider has looked in left field, at the plate and in the clubhouse. He lost 16 lbs. heading to spring training from a year ago and worked hard with coach Torey Lovullo on his outfield defence. What I have noticed is that all the drills have not yet become second nature for Snider and that sometimes as he approaches a groundball base hit or sets up for a throw you can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he tries to remember what he's been taught. Off the field he's more outgoing and more of an equal with his teammates. At the plate he is not as afraid of the good fastball. He'll be okay.
I've been pleased with the work Adam Lind has been doing defensively, I think it will help his hitting. I don't believe young players do well as a DH, it gives them too much time to brood over bad ABs. What do you think is the ETA for Anthony Gose, and what do you project him to be? A leadoff type hitter with Gold Glove capability, or someone who can hit further down the lineup when he fills out more? Also, does his high number of caught stealing stats bother you?
Kevin Layman, St. John's, Nfld.
A-Like Sunday's game, for instance, sometimes Lind has brain spasms that are inexplicable. He seemingly gave up on the groundball over the bag that he may have thought was foul but either went right over the bag or was ticked by his glove in fair territory for a two-base error. However, other than one low throw earlier in the season that he mishandled, his soft hands on balls in the dirt have been superior. That, in fact, is the aspect of his game that A.A. and J.F. analyzed in the winter to determine if the experiment with Lind at first base was wortth it. I have always agreed with you about young guys that are DHs, especially if they are in a slump. In '09 Lind was a DH and excelled offensively. That's an easy situation. But last year he was horrible and had 30 minutes between each plate appearance to think about his failures. That's no good for a young player shy on confidence and bravado to begin with.
Anthony Gose to me is a lot like Kenny Lofton in terms of plate approach and potential. The only thing is he has a superior arm and more potential power than Lofton. They can both run like deers. He will be an impact player in the majors, but he needs this year at Double-A and next year at Triple-A, maybe 1,000 plate appearances. His high number of caught stealing was a result of the Phillies organization challenging him to steal as many bases as he could and not worry about it. His 12-foot lead was too much against major-league teams and it didn't take him long to become more conservative. Through 10 games at New Hampshire he was hitting .225 with two steals and one caught. When he fills out, I might bat him second because he's more of a put-the-ball-in-play and run like hell sort of guy.
I know it's a small sample size but J.P. Arencibia has 12 hits, six of which are for extra bases. He's got the most total bases on the team and has played five fewer games than the other regulars. It's a shame to lose his bat when Jose Molina plays personal catcher to Reyes, Drabek, and Morrow (when he gets back). Any chance the Jays would move JP to DH when Molina catches or would that mess him up somehow? Or JP doesn't want to DH. What's the deal?
Jason Godfrey, Hong Kong
A-The Jays are trying to ease Arencibia into becoming a major-league star. He is starting at the shallow end of the at-bat pool and easing down to the deep end rather than doing a cannonball off the high board in his first full year. He has enough on his plate with learning the subtleties of being an on-field defensive leader. More importantly, the only way they could possibly use Arencibia as a DH when he wasn't catching is if they brought up Brian Jeroloman to be a third catcher off the bench. Because if Molina was ever injured or they wanted to pinch-run for him, then Arencibia would have to catch and the pitcher would have to enter the game as a hitter in Molina's spot. And the only way they could carry three catchers is if they had 11 pitchers and that's not about to happen. Arencibia just wants to play but in speaking with him he fully understands why he can't DH.
The season is young and already EE's performance at 3B is painful to watch. Even my girlfriend, who doesn't follow baseball, recognizes him as "that guy who makes a mistake every time". I appreciate that the Jays like to keep promises to players re: playing time but at what point will they promise to stop giving me a heart attack every time there is a ground ball to 3B?
Austin N, Toronto
A-You should pray that the Jays keep EE at third base because that keeps the heat off you in the eyes of your girlfriend as “the guy that makes a mistake every time.” They only promised Encarnacion 600 plate appearances if healthy. They did not promise where he would get those at-bats. I have a feeling that as soon as they settle into the roster they really want, without Juan Rivera and with Brett Lawrie that Encarnacion will be able to return to DH with Lawrie and Jayson Nix handling the hot corner. The only reason there was approval from this quarter of the move of re-signing Encarnacion this winter is when it was revealed that he was promised he would NOT play third base. It will happen again.
Love the mailbag. It is something I look forward to each week. Last week you touched on a huge pet peeve of mine, the availability of scorecards at the Rogers Centre. My wife and I have been to a number of big league parks and they all have scorecards available for $1. Rogers Centre seems to be the only one where you have to buy the $5 program just to score the game. It seems like a waste of $10 just so we both can get a scorecard.
Matt Daly, Waterloo
A-I agree with you completely. I don't think that the people making that decision understand what real baseball fans want and what enhances their enjoyment of the game. A simple four-page cardboard insert that can be sold separately with an ad on the back to pay for the production costs and the visiting team roster on the left hand page with a scoresheet and the home team roster on the righthand page with a scoresheet. Simple and perfect. Print 5,000 each game and sell them for a buck. It's not that tough and veteran fans have been neglected long enough.
Hoping you can help me with something: I thought I understood how type A free agency works, but now I see I really don't. My impression was you get the first round pic, and a compensation round pic, unless that team also signs a better type A free agent, then you get a compensation pic and a second round pic, and the other team gets the first round pic??? The jays lost type A Downs, but they only seem to get the second round and compensation, and the Angels keep their first round??? I don't get it. What am I missing here??
A-You pretty much have it down pat except that the first 15 picks from Round 1 overall are protected meaning the lowest 15 finishing teams from the year before can't lose their first round pick. The reason it doesn't come up that often is that usually the Type A's are signed by teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Braves and others that finished higher in the standings and are looking for that one veteran star to put them over the top.