Jays mailbag: Should the Jays also start Arencibia at DH?
In the moments immediately after the game in Atlanta on Wednesday, a frustrated John Farrell talked about looking for a “spark” to get his team out of its offensive doldrums.
As usual, Jose Bautista is a part of the solution, moving to third base for the short-term to make room for another bat in the outfield. By signing Yunel Escobar to a two-year deal plus two option years, the Jays have identified another core player for the future. You now have Bautista, Escobar, Adam Lind and Ricky Romero under contol through at least 2014.
The sophomore GM Alex Anthopoulos has said in the past that he only works on one contract at a time when it comes to extensions. So who's next? As soon as Brandon Morrow gets his groove back, which he is on the way to doing, it says here that he will be the next player locked up for at least four more years. On to the Mailbag.
I am very confused about the Jays this year. They say it is a building year, then they go and re-sign EE... they sign stop-gap players for the bullpen in Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, but at the same time they cannot seem to find a DH who can hit above .250 and a third baseman who hits above .200 (I know they are waiting for Lawrie, but that's probably next season). Basically if this year is for building and they don't really care about attendance, then why all these past their time veterans and not let some of the Triple-A guys get some experience here in Toronto?
A-Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos has admitted that he is learning something new every day and one thing he is finally coming to grips with is the fact that you can't orchestrate the rate of each player's development and there are dangers in trying to manipulate service time – see Brett Lawrie. I had no problem with the Jays signing Encarnacion in the winter because at the time they insisted he was simply a DH with some backup duties at first base. The Jays completely lost sight of what they were doing and what they had promised the day they appointed EE as the starting third baseman just as spring training was winding down. As for the stopgap members of the bullpen, I have no problems with that either. They didn't need a lights-out closer in the short term because they weren't ready to compete, but they did need a deep, veteran bullpen to back up a young rotation. If anything they have too many of those guys but it has helped keep the Jays on an even keel.
I think they need to settle on a primary DH and that, at least until the all-star break in mid-July, should be Encarnacion who performs far better at the plate when he's not being asked to field the position. With Eric Thames coming up to play, with Travis Snider's return when healthy, with Lawries's promotion with health, that will give the Jays a healthy dose of young talent under 30, with Arencibia, Lind, Hill, Escobar, Lawrie, Thames and Snider.
Meanwhile, young starting pitchers are another story. They need to be put in positions to succeed on their way to the majors. For any organization, bringing a young pitcher up to the majors and having him fail and continuing to have him fail at the major-league level can set him back, perhaps forever. The Jays mix of young starting pitchers thus far in 2011 demonstrates that. They had identified a pool of 8-10 starting pitchers at spring training and have mixed and matched with them until they have proven they need more seasoning – see Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek. The biggest surprise in that regard has been the competence of middle reliever Carlos Villanueva in a starting role.
With interleague play, I took a quick look at the AL East and who the NL opponents are and noticed a shocking disparity. As of June 16 the Rays, Yankees and Sox played NL teams with a combined won-loss of -3, -2 and -2 below .500. The Orioles play teams with a combined +15 above .500. Alarmingly the Jays play teams with a combined +36. My question is twofold. Why do the teams in say the AL East not all play the same teams in the corresponding NL division - ignoring the couple of "rivalries" with Rays-Marlins and Yankees-Mets? Without this the opportunity for a level playing field is not really possible; as this years plus minus clearly shows. Second, with 2012 negotiations underway will the interleague play be tossed to the trash heap?
Henry, Port Perry
A-The original concept of interleague was for one entire division to play another entire division and to rotate the three opposite-league divisions through every three years so that fans can see every star from the other league, plus there would be one other team designated as a natural rival. That would add up to 18 games total. However not every team has a compelling natural rival like Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, Giants-A's, Dodgers-Angels. Further to that, the concept of natural rivalries in interleague evolved into a home-and-home series eating up six of the 18 games. Add to that when your division is scheduled to play the NL Central, it's a division with six teams. Remove the six games for natural rivalries – which for the Jays this year became the Philles and Braves, not coincidentally their two World Series conquests in '92 and '93. You're left with 12 games or four series. The Central teams that the Jays drew were the Reds, Cardinals, Astros and Pirates. That's not a bad balance with two good teams and two bad, but the Yankees of course get their six games with the Mets who are having a multitude of problems both on and off the field.
I love the Yunel Escobar extension. I think he's going to continue to improve and the contract will look like a steal two years from now. That being said, what implications does this have about Adeiny Hechavarria? The Jays "future" shortstop? His BA in AA is down around .235 and his OBP is only .263. Is this guy the player the Jays envisioned him to be or is he a bust? How long until he at least gets a shot in the big leagues? Thanks,
A-The reason the Escobar extension works for me is the way that it's structured. We were talking about it the night before in Cincinnati with John Lott of the National Post and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.com. Coincidentally, the question arose about whether we would consider giving Escobar a long-term deal like was given to Bautista, not the same dollar amount of course. But I thought that it would be risky to guarantee five years as it is for many young players who tend to let down in the first couple of years either through being self-satisfied or by putting too much pressure on themselves. But the way the Jays did it, Escobar is playing out his two arbitration years for slightly above market value, but must perform at his best because the next two seasons, the first two of potential free agency are club options. There is no opportunity for “long-term letdown.” If he performs it will look like a steal in a year or two.
As for Adeiny Hechavarria, the Jays are already paying him a major-league salary of $10 million over four years from 2010-13. As such they will move him along and stay with him as quickly as possible. He has four options and won't have to pass through waivers until spring of '14. For me, Hechavarria's future is at second base with the Jays, at least until Escobar moves on to another club. Look at a guy like Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians, who started at second base and now is a fine starting defensive shortstop. Hechavarria surprised me at spring training with his size and strength. He does not get overpowered by pitchers but he has a long way to go offensively. He will be in the majors at least by the end of 2012.
I was curious to know why Farrell isn't DH-ing JP Arencibia on his days off? Giving him days off at the plate has more to do with the grind of catching then it does with complete rest...no? Wouldn't JP be a better option then EE as DH? JP tends to have a great game and then sits the next one out - why not let him continue his hot streaks? Thanks!
A-I agree with the way Arencibia has been worked in. He's still a work in progress.
Catching is the most physically demanding position on the field and Arencibia has been nicked and battered, with his left hand hurting more than he lets on. His hot streaks lately are few and far between and that may have to do with the mental challenges of handling a young starting staff while at the same time grasping the concepts that catching coach Don Wakamatsu is trying to instill.
My belief is that the days off from catching are important for Arencibia. If he was to DH, that would not quite be a day off for him and besides, his bat doesn't demand that he be in the lineup every day. The other factor, of course, is that J.P. as DH, if Molina gets dinged and has to come out of a game then Arencibia goes into the lineup and the pitcher must go into Molina's spot. The Jays have shown in this interleague swing through the three NL cities that they do not perform well with the pitcher hitting. Now consider the Jays' pitcher hitting AND the opponent having the DH. Not a fair fight.
Love the mailbag. Quick question: in light of Brett Wallace's strong performance to date, should we start re-evaluating the Gose trade?
A-It's a little too early to re-evaluate the Gose trade. In terms of who has the higher ceiling, Gose is the one. In terms of who has done more thus far in his career, it's Wallace. Nobody expected Wallace to be a complete stiff, otherwise the Astros would not have made the deal and Wallace would not have been a first-round drat pick. But the fact is he is not a power hitter at a position where you would like power. If you believe that Adam Lind has a long-term future with the Jays at first base, then the deal is worthwhile for the Jays because of Gose's potential as a Kenny Lofton-type impact centre fielder.
I read one of Farrell's quotes stating how he may have put too much emphasis on a small sample size when it came to Rzep facing two right-handed batters. They had both faced him less than 10 times. For me, there is no point looking at any sample less than 50 at bats. Why do managers place so much emphasis on 15 or so at bats which most likely carry zero statistical significance as any researcher would probably agree?
A-Farrell is 48-years-old but he is a rookie nonetheless. To his credit, after the Jays lost that game, as you indicated, he admitted that he may have lent too much importance to such a small sample size. The problem is that in most cases coaches have no idea what kind of hits they are, whether it was a bad scorer's call, a bloop, a bleeder or a rocket off the wall. And in most cases with relievers you are not going to have a huge number of at-bats from which to make a decision. Sometimes one thinks that there is too much information out there. But Farrell will not repeat that mistake.
Q-My question concerns philosophy and is not a trade suggestion. There are rumours that the Mets might be willing to trade K-Rod and the Padres Heath Bell, both excellent closers. My question is whether you think that one of these closers would be a good acquisition for the Blue Jays at this time assuming of course a trade could be made. I have heard some people say that a closer is the last piece to worry about. What are your thoughts?
A-The shelf life of many closers is very short. There are exceptions, like Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith. The Jays do not need to line up their real “we're going to be a contender” closer until they are ready to spend the $120 million on payroll as they have promised and they are ready to win.
A classic example of what can be done through luck and hard work or what can surprise you is Canadian closer John Axford of the Brewers. Axford was signed as an undrafted player in August of '06 and released a year later. The hitting coach on my current Oakville A's midget team, Tyler Moe recalled playing against Axford in Intercounty ball and recalled him being lit up regularly. All of a sudden, one surgery and a few breaks later and he's taking over from Hoffman for a Brewers team that shows it wants to be a contender. For the Jays to be at least a year from contending and to go get a K-Rod or a Heath Bell would not be the most intelligent use of resources. There will be free agent closers, guys in off-season trades, plus they may stumble into an Axford.
Love the mailbag. What would I do without it? My question is about the Blue Jays catcher of the future. J.P. Arencibia is really having a nice season. It looks like he could be a .250/.300/.500 guy (AVG/OBP/SLG). Not all-star calibre but nothing to sneeze at either. In the minors the Jays have Travis D'Arnaud who is their top catching prospect. He could possibly be ready next season after the all-star break (if he has no setbacks). What do you think the Jays will do? Do they stick with J.P. Arencibia and trade D'Arnaud, or do they go back to the beginning of the learning curve with D'Arnaud and trade Arencibia? I don't believe the two can co-exist. Would love your thoughts and what you think either of them could bring the Jays in a trade.
Howard Adler, Toronto
A-Think Mathis and Napoli of the Angels in the last decade. They co-existed for a few years in which the Angels were a playoff team, with one being recognized more for his bat and the other for his glove. I truly believe that in the long run, D'Arnaud will be the starting catcher for the Jays, but Arencibia will be the man in 2012 and maybe into 2013. That is a great problem to have for the Jays who have not developed a starting catcher of their own, pretty much since Pat Borders. D'Arnaud impressed the Jays' coaching staff this spring because he was on a lot of road trips even as a non-roster player because they only bring one of the regular catchers for Grapefruit League games. He impressed them because through most of the early part of the games he was at he would sit right next to the manager and pitching coach, listening attentively, asking about strategy and what they were thinking. Impressive.
Q-Kyle Drabek, do you think he is currently uncoachable? With an all-star dad and great record in the minors he seems to lack humility and his poor record in the majors is "just a little bad luck". His response to a demotion will be telling. I hope he comes around and returns. His potential is A-1.
A-His immediate reaction to being demoted was a 3-2/3 innings start at Vegas throwing 106 pitches. Not good, in fact really bad. Since then, the Jays have taken away his cut fastball because he was using it as a pacifier. He needs to command his two-seam and four-seam fastball before he throws his cutter, which he went to because he could throw it for quality strikes more than his regular fastballs. But the Jays are into high ceilings and Drabek's high ceiling is as a power pitcher not a finesse guy with five options.
Let's see. Humility? Hmm! Here's a kid who grew up in major-league clubhouses with his dad, played high school ball at a Texas powerhouse where he was not just the best pitcher but also a power-hitting shortstop, is a good looking kid with mischief in his smile, who looks like the life of every party, was drafted in the first round and traded for the best pitcher in baseball, was a Double-A pitcher of the year and came to the majors touted as a rookie of the year candidate. Humility is a four-letter word. But this adversity of being shipped out and failing will only help him gain perspective and equilibrium.