Jays mailbag: What you see is what you get with Yunel
A lot of the talk in the last week has centred around a Jays' rotation that continues to average under six innings per start, placing a huge burden on the talented relief corps.
The bullpen has by and large been great, with a favourable matchup ready for every occasion. They should know what they're doing with pitchers, with John Farrell, Bruce Walton and rookie bullpen coach Pat Hentgen pooling their knowledge.
As an aid to understanding where the next generation of Jays' starters is coming from, here through May 4 is a list of pitchers that have made starts at AAA-Las Vegas or AA-New Hampshire.
In Vegas: Brad Mills (2-2, 2.03); Scott Richmond (1-1, 7.04); Mike MacDonald (1-1, 7.13); Luis Perez (1-1, 6.89); Randy Boone (1-1, 1.00); Brett Cecil (1-1, 10.64); Willie Collazzo (0-0, 5.52); Chad Cordero (0-2, 10.66) and Jesse Litsch.
In New Hampshire: Zach Stewart (2-1, 2.64); Rei Gonzalez (3-1, 1.38); Chad Beck (3-0, 2.42); Joel Carreno (0-3, 6.56); B.J. LaMura (1-1, 1.80) and Collazzo. Highly touted No. 1 picks Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins are both at A-Dunedin. On to the mailbag.
Q-Yunel Escobar is a great defensive shortstop. I was at the games at Yankee Stadium and he made some great throws and started a few tough double plays. However he seems to have fallen off at the plate, and I'm wondering if it's a matter of concentration. On Sunday, he made a bonehead defensive play that ended up leading to an extra run when Curtis Granderson hit a homer. Do you think Escobar can ever put together a consistent season that is indicative of his immense talent?
Jason S., San Francisco
A-Escobar was 3-for-23 on the New York and Tampa portions of the recent road trip. His ideal spot is in the 2-hole with Jose Bautista batting behind him. When he was forced to bat third in Tampa with no Bautista in the lineup, he saw different pitches because they didn't have to challenge him as much. You don't want to walk him with Bautista coming up. His hitting has been a little streaky at times with the Jays and will likely continue to be, but, physically, his excellent, sometimes flashy fielding abilities have gone under the radar since he joined the Jays.
Mentally Escobar still has lapses as he did on that play in New York where he tried to throw out the speedy Brett Gardner at third base on a tag play instead of taking the routine out at first base that would have been the second out of the inning. It would have made some sense to take that chance with nobody out. If you give him third with nobody out then you have to bring the infield in with a one-run lead. But with two out and Gardner on third they were going to play the infield at normal depth. Give it to him.
Following this Yankee play, a discombobulated Jesse Litsch drifted a fastball back over the plate and Granderson took him deep and the Jays never came back. Escobar has made fewer of those funky decisions this year than he did last. But in terms of a monster, breakout season, at 28-years-old it might be that what you see is what you get and that's not really a bad thing to have on your side.
Heard you on TSN Radio the other day and you were talking about how the Jays need someone to step up in the rotation to have that Halladay-like presence in which you know you will get a win every 5th day. Do you think that when the Jays are ready to compete they will find someone from outside the organization to fill that role? i.e. a Jack Morris or Dave Stewart type move? Or will one of these five guys right now develop into that role (or someone of the farm)?
Thanks for the insight!
Matt S., North Bay
A-The conversation wasn't so much specifically about a win every fifth day as it was a guy that could be counted on for 7-9 innings every fifth day to help schedule your bullpen some rest. We had that same discussion with John Farrell in the dugout in Tampa on Thursday. Until the Jays have someone right here, right now, step up as that workhorse guy, the Jays' bullpen will seem perpetually overworked. No major league bullpen should need eight relievers. Even seven in the pen should be more than enough to get you through a busy stretch with no off days. Farrell pinpointed Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow as the two guys on this current staff that could become that Doc guy – but they haven't yet.
You make a good point though. If the Jays want to compete in 2012, the year of the second wild-card, I could see them reaching out short-term for a veteran free agent for one plus an option or two years, a guy with a track record and one good final bolt of lightning in him. By the time that guy has served his purpose, someone in this generation of Jays' starters – my guess is Morrow – should have stepped up.
I am a long time reader of your mailbag. Over the past couple of years I have felt like player moves and lineup changes seemed to be obvious far before they were ever made. This year I am starting to think that the opposite is true. What are your thoughts on the numerous pitching moves and the Snider situation?
Matt M., St. Catharines
A-I think a lot of times in the past Jays moves have seemed obvious because they have been rumoured beforehand from various U.S. media sources. The difference this year is that Jays moves seem to come out of the blue because the entire organization has a closed-mouth policy. Anthopoulos has made himself the only spokesman for the club in terms of personnel moves and he knows within his own organization who knows what he knows. So if there is a leak, he knows the likely sources.
As for the moves themselves, the Jays this year are high on maintaining inventory. If the choice has been between a player with options and a player without, they have gone with the decision that will keep all players in the organization. Even when they designated David Purcey for assignment after his Seattle meltdown, AA made sure he got a player back for him in former Jays' minor league reliever Danny Farquhar. I asked AA during the winter if he had an ideal roster in mind with three months to go until opening day. He said he did not and instead if there was a move that would make his club better that he would make it. That helps explain the off-season ratcheting up of his closer situation from Octavio Dotel to Jon Rauch to Frankie Francisco. With Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp and Marc Rzepczynski, Dotel's role is diminished, but he can still pitch at this level, so that's not a bad thing.
Travis Snider I believe was the victim of options and service time. He was struggling at the time so it made the decision to send him down easy, but honestly, who would you rather have in your lineup, Snider or Juan Rivera? Snider is still dangerous in hitter's counts and has been in a bad streak of guessing wrong when major-league pitchers gets ahead. He's not going to improve in that aspect by going to the minors and facing pitchers that have no idea how to approach him unarmed as they are from extensive scouting reports. The only way at this point to get rid of Rivera is to designate him or release him, but as a player he has at least some value for Anthopoulos in a year they are not planning on winning – although not the $5.25 million value his contract would suggest. I would not be surprised if since spring training, AA has been looking for some value for Rivera.
But Snider had an option and with 1 year and 126 days of service time would likely have been a Super-2 arbitration eligible player. That's the top 17-percent of players with two plus years. If the Jays keep him in the minors over a month, he would likely lose that status and be under club control in the off-season of 2011-12. This Jays front office has all of the numbers and angles ahead of anyone.
As a continued connoisseur of the A.A. Kool-aid, I continue to marvel at the brilliance of parlaying V.W. at $86 million for 4 years into Bautista at $65 million for 5 years. Now leading every important offensive category in the AL outside of RBI, is Bautista's April the greatest April offensive performance in team history?
Benjamin C., Toronto
A-Bautista's April could have been greater except for the opposing pitchers pitching around him with a plethora of semi-intentional walks. There have been some great Jays Aprils in the past that rival Jose's. In April 1992, Hall-of-Famer Roberto Alomar hit .382 with three homers, 19 RBIs and eight steals. In April 1993, John Olerud hit .450 with three homers, 18 RBIs and 36 hits. In April 1994, Joe Carter hit .312 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. Bautista's month ranks right up there.
The key for Anthopoulos is that he pays attention to every detail of every conversation he has and is constantly trying to organize three-ways so that most times before he picks up the phone, he knows what the other GM is looking for. When the Angels failed to sign Carl Crawford and failed to land Adrian Beltre, he knew that they were still looking for a middle of the order bat and that they had money to spend. It's also how he got Anthony Gose when finally the Phillies let him go to the Astros in the Roy Oswalt deal. He picked up the phone and offered Brett Wallace. Done.
Q-So I just read your mailbag reply to the question of demoting Travis Snider - about how it would make no sense at all. Now that he actually has been sent down, what do you think AA is thinking, and what this means for Snider's future in the Jays organization?
Scott P., Burlington
A-That question is answered above and I believe if the Jays were able to carry two more bench players instead of a full roster of bullpen pitchers, they could have worked with Snider at the major-league level with Dwayne Murphy fixing any flaws. But they can't afford that so they cleared him off the deck for a short period of time. I believe he still has a bright future with the Jays, especially if they don’t have to go to arbitration with him until after the 2012 season.
The one thing that really sets me off is when I see overweight baseball players and they are referred to as an "athlete". I was watching Jesse Litsch pitch against the Rangers the other night, and I was quite alarmed by his girth compared to what I remember him from the past. I know that there have been (and there still are) highly successful overweight players (David Wells, CC Sabathia, Babe Ruth, both father and son Fielders, etc.), but in this day and age of athletic conditioning, it seems moronic that teams do not implement a system where players are forced to come into camp in peak physical condition such as in basketball and hockey (and to a certain extent football). If say Jesse Litsch and Jo-Jo Reyes were in better physical condition, would this not help their performance that much more, especially from a stamina perspective as they're pitching late into games? Do the Jays not enforce conditioning upon its athletes?
Zaki A., Milton
A-I for one am relieved to see the return of everyman bodies to the major-league scene. It means steroids are in hasty retreat. Certainly guys that are carrying a little extra weight could not play in the NHL (where by the way they don't have mandatory testing for PED) but in basketball, you can play eight minutes a game carrying extra poundage. What about Oliver Miller? For pitchers it's more about cardiovascular fitness and with some guys like Litsch and Boomer Wells, Rick Reuschel, Fred Gladding and many others, as long as their legs and heart can support the weight, teams are fine with it. You want an example of a guy that became trim and muscular and lost his sport's mojo, how about David Duval on the PGA Tour. Ranked No. 1 in the world as a chubby golfer, he went to the fitness trailer and the gym and came away an Adonis, but one with a five handicap.
Thanks for keeping us informed, love the mailbag. My first question has to do with the seemingly stubborn decision to keep Jo-Jo Reyes in the rotation. I know it’s only the end of April, but how long will they stick with him? There are clearly better options available (Brad Mills, Zach Stewart, Scott Richmond) and the Jays have been talking about the need for a second lefty in the pen. If they want to keep their 'assets' so bad, why not put him there? Second, EE has become close to unbearable at third. Why have the Jays flip-flopped so many times so far on what to do with him? He has cost them more than one game with his glove. That to me is not fielding your 'best team' as they promised.
Isaac O., Thornhill
A-Reyes is the classic example of a guy forever teetering on the brink of losing a roster spot. If he had arrived at spring training with a minor-league option remaining, he would be pitching in AAA-Las Vegas right now. But they wanted to keep his arm in the organization and felt he would not clear waivers from 29 other teams. Then Morrow was disabled at the end of camp and the decision was easy. Each major league start is an audition for Reyes and he has tantalizingly jumped back and forth between bad starts and good starts. Every time he has a start that has him with one foot out the door, he comes back with an encouraging outing. If Jo-Jo knew what was coming next he'd be psychic.
As for the second lefty in the pen, that's what I would do as soon as one of the young guys down on the farm is ready to contribute. Rzepczynski is going to be worn out by August unless they get another lefty out there to help him and the obvious choice is Reyes.
Q-With the Jays' pitching woes and Cincinnati Red's pitcher Homer Bailey out of options in a competitive rotation, do you see A.A making a move for a former promising prospect a la Brandon Morrow?
David W., Toronto
A-You throw the term “pitching woes” around pretty loosely. Bailey has a lot in common with the assortment of pitchers the Jays are currently going with and nurturing on the farm. Bailey is 25-years-old, a former first round draft pick, has had an up-and-down minor-league career and is coming off of recent shoulder woes that put him on the DL. He made a successful six inning start for the Reds on Wednesday and is in the rotation of the defending NL Central champs. I think the closer you pay attention to any one team, the more critical you are of what you've got. Morrow was a case of a player being used in the wrong role and needing a fresh start. He made adjustments and is on the rise. The M's eventually ended up with a closer in Brandon League. Besides, A.A. likes guys with options.