Jays' general manager Alex Anthopoulos is a hoarder. He collects information and hoards it for future use. One of A.A.'s constant modus operandi is to call a competing GM and ask him what it would take to acquire so-and-so, usually a star.
Anthopoulos may have no interest in that particular player, but the information is like gold for a GM that is constantly trying to bring other teams into three-way and four-way deals, trying to broker complex transactions that can fill the needs of everyone at once. To do that he needs to be smarter than anyone in the room. So when a source close to the Mets indicated that the Jays' GM called New York to inquire about Jose Reyes, that's what it's all about. Information. If there was a poll of sources from every team in baseball, Anthopoulos's name would be in every rumour.
When Alex made the Roy Halladay deal, he immediately moved outfielder Michael Taylor to the A's for Brett Wallace because he knew that Billy Beane liked Taylor and needed an OF. When the Phils and Astros were dealing for Roy Oswalt last summer, as soon as the deal was completed, A.A. was on the phone with 'Stros GM Ed Wade for outfielder Anthony Gose, dangling Wallace because he knew what Houston wanted and needed.
Alex water skis off the back of other people's deals. After calling the Mets about Jose Reyes this spring, he can confidently keep track of the Mets' star shortstop and feel that he is one step ahead of the field. But it does not necessarily mean the Jays have an interest in Reyes for T-O. After all, they are already paying a major-league free-agent shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria who is earning major-league money at AA-New Hampshire. With a total of $5.5 million on the books for the next two seasons, through 2013, the pressure is on to have him in the majors by opening day next year.
In fact it was the signing of Hechavarria and the strong pursuit of fellow Cuban free agent Aroldis Chapman that has re-inserted the Jays into any discussion with the big boys. They are players again, so the mention of Reyes as a potential Jay in 2012 could be seen as a compliment to the current GM, but uncomplimentary to where the Jays are headed as a team and a roster. On to the mailbag.
I've heard that this is the year the Jays will use to see what they have and assess what they need going forward. Seems to me that they can pretty well do that now needing one and maybe two starting pitchers, better players at second, third base and centre field. They need a closer. As well as some help from the bench. Corey Patterson is okay in left but he's not the answer there. Can they address these areas in a year or two in order to contend? I'm not so sure. What's your assessment?
Phoenix R., Brockville
A-The 2011 season is not a wasted one. The Jays have an improving idea of what they currently have in 2011 and what they need for 2012, but without the tools of observing spring training, without the first third of the schedule (54 games) as a gauge, they would be guessing on many things. What have they found out in the first 50 games? They found that major-league catching is in good shape moving forward. J.P. Arencibia just took over as Brandon Morrow's catcher on Thursday. He now has all five starters. At the same time, AA-New Hampshire, Travis D'Arnaud is leading the Fisher Cats in hitting and is a superior receiver. Solid catching continues through the system. They have trade inventory.
What else? The Jays have found out that Adam Lind can, in fact, be the first baseman for a contender. They found out that Aaron Hill's two option years at $8 million per may not be worth picking up. They have found out that Yunel Escobar can be a part of the Jays' future, but whether it's at shortstop here depends on the offensive progress of New Hampshire's Adeiny Hechavarria. They have found out that 21-year-old Brett Lawrie will be their third baseman next year. They have found out they need two starting outfielders, whether one of them will be Travis Snider is still to be determined.
The Jays have found out that if they are to build a winning major-league rotation, it will be anchored by Romero, Morrow and Drabek, while Brett Cecil and Jesse Litsch have stumbled. They have found out that Marc Rzepczynski can be a Scotty Downs clone, but if they don't find a reliable second lefthander in the pen, they will kill Zep. They have found that they don't have the closer of the future in their clubhouse right now. The bullpen will not be the problem in 2012. When the Jays are ready to compete, they will identify a legit closer, whether it be from within, a free agent or in trade. Finally, manager John Farrell is finding out what he can or cannot do in terms of the running game and in terms of continuing to give his speedy players the green light even late in games. Farrell is a rookie, after all.
Offensively, I get the feeling that the Jays have yet to hit their stride, especially without Adam Lind, who seemed to have his mojo back. But I am pleasantly surprised with the all around performance of J.P. Arencibia both at and behind the plate. Is it time to move him up in the order? He hardly scores any runs because no one really hits behind him I suspect. Any thoughts?
Graham H., Manotick
A-The key to the remaining two-thirds of the Jays 2011 season is the return of Adam Lind and the promotion of Brett Lawrie to play third base. If this was my team, I would emerge from the all-star break in July with this lineup: Escobar ss; Davis/Patterson cf; Bautista rf; Lind 1b; Arencibia c; Encarnacion/Thames dh; Lawrie 3b; Snider lf; Hill 2b. I would let that group play out the final 70 games and make my 2012 moves off of what I see and what I can project moving forward. As for Arencibia, he has continued to move forward very quietly. He began the year at the bottom of the order with only three of the five starting pitchers in his camp. He added Drabek in Tampa and now had added the final piece of the starting puzzle, Brandon Morrow. At the same time he has continued to move up in the Jays' order and has responded to thrust himself into any conversation for AL rookie-of-the-year.
Q-Even if Brett Cecil isn't ready to come back to the major league club, hasn't Brad Mills done enough to deserve a call-up? I keep hearing about how Las Vegas is a great hitter's park and so we should take the batting numbers we see coming from there with a grain of salt (i.e. Dewayne Wise flirting with a .400 average). If that's right, doesn't that make Mills's performance even more impressive?
Neil P., Toronto
A-Mills, the friendly 26-year-old lefthander, leads the impressive Jays' farm system in innings pitched and strikeouts. The thing about the University of Arizona product is that the Jays know what they have. Mills has already been in the major-leagues for two short stints previously with mixed results. To my mind, his current solid year at AAA-Las Vegas is making him valuable inventory in a future trade. If there was a need for a starter later this year, there is still a chance for Mills, but I do think that his eventual major-league home as a 4-5 starter will be somewhere else.
Q-The Jays seem to have ongoing auditions for both positional and pitching prospects. Are we in for a season of this?
Peter T., Elizabeth City, NC
A-Yes. Don't forget that next year there will be a second wild-card spot up for grabs. I for one believe the Jays for the most part have been very entertaining in 2011, even if it's just to see the unique and creative ways teams are finding to pitch around Jose Bautista. There was Joe Maddon's intentional walk with a runner on first ahead by two runs. The Rays' skipper said he would have done the same thing even if Corey Patterson had walked to put two runners on with one out. Then there was the 3-1 count on Thursday with a steal by Patterson that resulted in a routine intentional walk with the Jays trailing by two runs. Until Adam Lind returns, opponents will continue to take the bat out of his hands. Meanwhile, the auditions continue. It's like the first couple of weeks of American Idol, with Edwin Encarnacion's glove playing the part of William Hung.
It seems that there needs to come a time, sooner rather than later, when the Blue Jays brass needs to make a decision on what the status of this team will be this year - contender or rebuilder. Normally it makes the most sense to continue to develop this team, however, with the AL East seemingly up for grabs this year, perhaps the management team needs to decide if they should go for it this year sooner rather than later without compromising developing talent. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch are not the answers and the Jays need to get a closer. EE cannot continue to play. They need another bat in the order and need a developed starter. They shouldn't waste a memorable season by Bautista, and once Lind comes back, hopefully his numbers will be even better (if that's possible). But it makes no sense to me how a team can be rebuilding, when they continue throw out aged arms from the bullpen, and play aged players such as EE and Rivera. I think fans at this point deserve to know what the true direction of this team will be.
Zaki A, Milton
A-The Blue Jays brass has made the decision to contend in 2012 and have stayed the course as to what they have told fans all along through the winter. That has been frustrating to those fans that see a wide-open division and say “go for it.” The word rebuilding is no longer valid. The Jays are building. They are building off of 2010 towards 2012. The problem with the J.P. Ricciardi regime was that they did exactly what you are suggesting Anthopoulos should do now and that is the equivalent of building and decorating the penthouse on this Jays' highrise condo complex before they had finished the floors below. Every time Ricciardi saw an opening, or a perceived weakness in the division or anywhere in the AL, he would race towards the light, pulling wads of cash from his pocket as he ran. When ownership finally caught on and stopped his repeating pattern of kneejerk contention without a plan, he left and on the way out the door sniped that ownership was not willing to spend in order to compete. The truth is that ownership is willing to spend but not with J.P. as the paymaster.
My question is about the Jays bullpen. I keep hearing / reading how good it is but I just don't see it. In the last week they have blown a game against Houston and one against the Yankees. And the games they do close out are shaky at best. I can't remember the last time a Jays reliever came in a close game in the 9th and went 1, 2, 3 to close it out. Am I missing something?
D. Murphy, New Mills, N.B.
A-Bullpens are often judged by their closer. If that's the case with the Jays, then you're right. The Jays do not have that classic closer. The most dangerous time for this pen may be with a one-run lead headed to the ninth. The rest of the time they are rock solid. Shawn Camp and Casey Janssen in the middle, with Marc Rzepczynski showing he is beyond being just a lefty specialist, able to pitch to right-handers as well. There's Jason Frasor in a setup role, but when you get to the three-headed closer. Rauch and Francisco have both pitched well at times, but there are too many lapses and if you're going to go with the hot hand, as manager John Farrell suggests, that means there will be a lot of guessing and back-and-forth with the added pressure of every ninth-inning being an audition. To me Octavio Dotel is not a closer, he's the guy you want coming in to face two righthanded batters when a strikeout is needed. You're not missing something, but the failure to post clean ninth innings is not just the Jays.
What's up with Aaron Hill at the plate? When he steps up there I see someone who looks a little off balance and can only pull the ball. Can't remember the last time he lined a ball the opposite way, see a lot of pulled ground balls, and that back leg of his is moving a lot during and after the swing.
A-Aaron puts on a good show of personal bravado, but he must be worried abut his lack of ability to use the entire field and his inability to leave the yard. He goes opposite field a lot, but always a popup or a lazy flyball to right. He seems tight and static at the plate. He needs to relax his lower half and get it more involved in the swing. He needs to have what in golf we call a “waggle” so that his swing is less of a twitch and more in a flow. He needs to relax at the plate. There's a lot of pressure on him now.
Once the Jays' golden boy, their bright hope for the future along with Alex Rios, as a player with less than two years service, he potentially knew where his money was coming from through the year 2014. He was comfortable. Buy a home. Start a family. Play ball. Now the Jays have already turned down his $10 million option for 2014 and have another decision to make at the end of this season for $8 million each in 2012-13. If Aaron hits the open market next winter with numbers close to what he's got now, what will his prospects be? He needs to turn his season around and soon.
Q-On the Jays broadcast last night when Bartolo Colon pitched for the Yankees Buck and Tabby mentioned Colon's stem cell surgery that was used to improve his shoulder problems. Is this procedure something the Blue Jays have explored using to help Dustin McGowan's rehabilitation?
James D., Holyrood
A-This will become a huge ethical question, as the stem cell elbow surgery on Colon was performed in the Dominican Republic using his own DNA to regenerate his pitching elbow. Is this any different than taking a tendon from one wrist and inserting it into a pitcher's throwing elbow, a procedure popularly known as Tommy John Surgery. Well, yeah. The Colon-oscopy is not approved in the U.S. or Canada and even if it is in the future, will baseball put it on a banned procedure list in the next basic agreement?
Well, yeah. The problem is that Human Growth Hormone has routinely been incorporated into this Dominican surgical procedure in the past, but apparently, according to the doctors, not with Colon in 2010. Baseball wants nothing to do with anything that remotely is connected to HGH. By the way, I have put in a request for some of the late columnist Red Smith's DNA to be inserted into my brain.
Everyone is saying the Jays need a guy to protect Jose and while Lind is out nobody seems to be willing to step up. If Jays are in contention near the end will they make a move? And who do you see available. Even with Lind coming back and protecting him, they could always use someone to protect Lind as well couldn't they? Thanks as always for the insight! By the way, GREAT article on JP and Romero's "dedication game" to that young fan.
Matt S., North Bay
A-In the absence of Lind, the Jays have tried a variety of cleanup hitters including Hill and Juan Rivera. Neither of those guys is a legitimate deterrent to pitching around Bautista. His average and RBI opportunities will continue to dwindle until Lind returns swinging a hot bat.
If the Jays are in contention in August, Alex Anthopoulos will explore adding a Type A bat to the roster as long as it's a contract that expires at the end of the year. For A.A. that's the ultimate wet dream come true. A major-league star to help for two months and boost the Jays' fortunes, then two compensatory draft picks in June 2012 when said player signs somewhere else as a free agent. He won't necessarily get that done because players of that stature usually have input as to there they land. But A.A. will try.
Many are happily surprised at the success of the hapless Tribe in Cleveland. What can you say about Pittsburgh's chance of staying out of the cellar this year. And, what is needed for them to break into a winning season?
Kevin G., Toronto
A-The Bucs have not had a winning season since Sid Bream of the Braves lay flat out on home plate beating a wide throw from Barry Bonds to head to the World Series against the Jays in 1992. That's a long time and that stretch of futility is not about to change because of Clint Hurdle as manager and Lyle Overbay at first base. The Bucs no-name rotation of Morton, Maholm, Correia and McDonald sounds more like a bad injury law firm in the Steel City. The Pirates have one of the best ballparks and one of the worst teams in MLB. By the end of the year, even the Astros will have passed them.
Q-Do you think Jo-Jo Reyes suffers a bit from following Ricky Romero? Both pitchers have similar stuff and pitch off the changeup. Same goes for Kyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow. Both are power pitchers with curveballs as their main offspeed. Wouldn't it be better if the opposing hitters weren't seeing similar pitchers on back to back nights?
Jason S., San Francisco
A-I'm sure Farrell agrees with that. When the rotation was set up coming out of spring training it was supposed to be Morrow in between lefties Romero and Cecil and Drabek in the fifth spot heading back into the contrasting Romero. But rain and injuries have messed that up. It would not be difficult to get the staff back into that sort of contrasting mode. They should do it right away.