It was devastating to hear the horrible news about Hall-of-Fame catcher Gary Carter and his ongoing battle with inoperable Stage 4 brain cancer. Gary remains a good friend.
I joined the Expos organization as a summer student handling the team's specialized statistics and daily game notes at Jarry Park in 1973. Gary arrived as a gift to the majors on September 16, 1974. He has been a contemporary and absentee friend all the way though the 38 years of my baseball life, along with Expos' pitcher Steve Rogers, who arrived in June of '73.
I always remind Gary that he is 22 days older than me, but despite the silly banter, like all fans of professional sports, even when you know these athletes personally, you can't help but think of them as invincible, as stronger than you, as The Kid forever.
This news brings home the mortality that we all face as we get older. If it can happen to The Kid... Every time I've seen Gary recently, I'm looking for the same brash kid who in his rookie year, in fact throughout his career, bounced around behind the plate, schmoozed umpires, opponents and media, smiled his way through every day, played the outfield like a puppy chasing a Frisbee, sprinted to first on every walk or routine single and pissed off teammates who didn't see the game the same way – as a game.
Gary wasn't cool. He was a kid playing a kid's game. Now Gary is on the cusp of the battle of his life and for his life that begins soon with the best medical help available through the Duke University medical centre. Our thoughts and prayers are with you Kid, your wife Sandy and the three kids.
Q-Richard. With all the talk surrounding Brett Lawrie and why he hasn't been called up, why has Alex Anthopoulos taken the lower road in his explanations of why Lawrie hasn't been called up? Up until now A.A. has been pretty straight forward with the media in asking questions, why has he been playing mind games when it comes time to discuss Lawrie. The guy is an offensive beast, someone that if he was in the Jays lineup could potentially win games for them vs. the other five third baseman that have manned the corner to date. Can you explain your thoughts on this and why Lawrie has really been delayed in being called up. If it is to avoid free agency one year earlier why hasn't A.A just stated that?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara on the Lake
A-When Anthopoulos met with media at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday, he sent tremendously mixed messages in discussing Lawrie and why he had not yet been promoted to help at a position where the Jays in the majors had been struggling mightily for at least a month. The Jays insisted they wanted Lawrie to understand and master the subtleties of third base. A.A. then immediately admitted that roving instructor Mike Mordecai was impressed that he had improved tremendously and was ready. The Jays wanted him to be more selective at the plate and not chase sliders out of the zone. Then A.A. immediately admitted that Lawrie had made those adjustments. In April, Brett's walks to strikeouts were 4-23. In May the BB-K ratio improved to 16-17.
“He's getting to the point where he's really done everything that we asked,” A.A. said. “It's a decision we really need to make. He's done everything we've asked so far. I can't sit here and tell you Brett hasn't done everything we've asked. In my own mind I was interested in seeing how he would do that first month. I was happy, but his walk-strikeout ratio was not very exciting. We wanted that addressed. It was addressed. To be honest, we needed him to play well. He did play well. We're hopeful he's going to come sooner rather than later.”
Hey, Alex, there does not need to be hope of his arrival soon when you are the person controlling the decision to promote. Just do it. If he's done everything you asked of him at Triple-A, just because he's 21-years-old and three years out of Canadian high school don't pinch yourself and use that as a rationale for hurting your major-league team's chances to be better than it is.
The determining factor should be that he's better than what you have and getting better. Former major-leaguers like Mordecai say he's ready defensively. He's dominating the Pacific Coast League. This guy at spring training hit a routine ground ball that took Derek Jeter a step and a half towards the hole. Jeter fielded and made a strong throw to first base. Lawrie was already a full step past the bag with a dragster's parachute seemingly coming out his butt to slow him down but he was called out by the ump because the play seemed so routine.
At the Jays vs. Team Canada Junior game in March at Al Lang Field in St. Pete during Jays batting practice, the JNT youngsters gathered around the cage with eyes sparkling as Lawrie, who was one of them three years earlier, crushed a pitch into a stiff wind that left the park halfway up a light pole in right centre field. During the spring, yes he was confused on some fundamental plays at third, a new position, but his feeds to second on a half-dozen double plays or foirce plays were impeccable. Even then, his routine to prepare for games was already major-league.
It should be pointed out that Lawrie's six-year free agency has had nothing to do with his delayed recall. As of the end of April, the Langley, B.C., native became bound to the Jays through the 2017 season, so they could have brought him up at any time from May 1 on with no change in his status. However there is the issue of “Super Two” in terms of being able to file for salary arbitration, a process that is in some ways more lucrative for the players than free agency. Arbitration was designed for players with three to six years of major-league service time, plus the top 17-percent of two-plus service time players. The problem for the Jays comes in trying to estimate where that number will stand after Lawrie's two-plus season in 2013. If all clubs are trying to control playing time that number will continue to drop. If Lawrie was called up today and never returned to the minors, his service time after the '13 season would be 2+118 days. Nobody knows if that will be Super Two. Suck it up, Jays.
Q-Hi Richard. As an Australian ex-pat keeping up with the Jays, you're source #1, love the mailbag. It's a highlight of the week. My question I think is timely, with the imminent arrival of Lawrie. For all the concern of being Bautista-centric, and for all the injuries, the Jays have managed to post respectable, mid/upper runs for totals. Runs against not so. Yet the Jays sit a finger’s breadth outside the wild card. If we undid the Lawrie-Marcum deal... are the Jays post-season bound? Thanks.
Richard Elton, Melbourne, Australia
A-I think the runs allowed by the Jays' pitching staff has been subtly and not so subtly influenced by a team defence that is not as good as it was a year ago. With Rajai Davis in centre and Corey Patterson in left, the left-centre power alley has become a boulevard. Vernon Wells was so sublime as a centre fielder you didn't notice how good he was until he's gone. The other night, Brandon Morrow was totally frustrated after the game and used code to describe balls that “just cleared the infield” or “found holes”. When a ball leaves the bat, as a major-league pitcher, you already have expectations of whether it can be caught or is a sure hit. Thus, it's jarring to turn and see your outfielder already with his back to the infield, with happy feet waiting to field a ball off the wall as it hits the warning track and one-hops the fence or hits half way up. The Jays' current rotation has done remarkably well, all things considered.
Undoing the Marcum for Lawrie deal is a stunningly short-term question to ask. It's like watching the Kentucky Derby and wishing you had bet the 12-horse as he takes the lead at the first turn. There's a lot of race, a lot of track left. The Jays would have won a few more games with Marcum in the rotation, but the Jays' master plan, to which they are sticking, doesn't care about wins in April-May '11.
Q-Hi Richard. I love reading your columns always as well as the mailbag. Is it possible that Thames has moved up on the depth charts over Snider (he has one of the quickest bat speed I've ever seen)? I think he'll run into bumps less than Snider. Do you think A.A is trying to polish Jo-Jo Reyes and Rivera as trade bait? Because, Super 2 or not, Lawrie should be here now, as well, I thought that Zach Stewart should've gotten the spot starts than Villanueva. Final note...Jose Reyes can make this team a contender. Your thoughts Richard?
Kam H, Richmond Hill
A-The problem for young position players with the Jays is that after they reach the majors, there's nowhere to go but down. When you reach the Jays at 23-years-old you had better continue to develop or else the stampede of young talent on the way up will crush you. That has happened to Travis Snider. The Jays have never been patient with Snider the major-leaguer, but until now they have not had many outfield options behind him to pressure him. Now they have Eric Thames, Adam Loewen, Anthony Gose, Darin Mastroiani, Jake Marisnick, Marcus Knecht and others on the way. Is Snider becoming inventory for A.A. in terms of future trade? Maybe. Does he have a chance to return to the majors with the Jays? Yes. It's the kind of flexibility with which the GM thrives. Jo-Jo Reyes is not trade bait. Juan Rivera is trade fodder. Reyes fills a certain role. I would not be surprised if at some point that Villanueva stayed in the rotation with Reyes joining Marc Rzepczynski as a second lefty in the pen. But would another team give up a prospect for Reyes? Not likely.
Q-With the Astros looking like they will be in the dumpster for a few years shouldn't the Jays be making a play for Hunter Pence. When he was here he commented on how much he likes TO and he is the type of hitter that would be great hitting fifth. He is under team control for a few more years and with the Jays having the positions of Adeiny Hechavarria and Travis D'Amaud already covered, those two along with Zach Stewart would be good bargaining chips to land a player that would help them now and in the future.
Gus Bolin, Peterborough
A-Hunter Pence is a really good player, but as a homegrown Astro with three more years before free agency and as a consistent 25-homer guy with RBI ability and 10-20 stolen base skills, he's the kind of guy the Astros can rebuild or build around. Yes the Jays could use Pence, as could many other teams, but they are committed to Bautista as one OF and are waiting for Anthony Gose with the outfield depth listed above in a previous question. There is no way that the Jays give up D'Arnaud, Hechavarria and Stewart for Pence. All three of those players figure large into the major league plans by 2012-13.
Q-Hi Richard. With the catching situation at AAA looking a little gloomy when (if at all) would you expect the Jays organization to promote Travis D'Arnaud from AA since he appears to be dominating at that level. Do you expect him and Arencibia to be the future tandem for the Jays or do you think they will deal one of them for some immediate or future talent? Thanks.
Adam M, Waterloo
A-It's kind of harsh to label the catching situation at AAA as gloomy. They have the veteran Ryan Budde there in case of an injury at the major-league level and Brian Jeroloman, renowned for his ability to handle pitchers, a former Top 30 prospect in the organization and a solid receiver. There is no hurry to promote D'Arnaud quickly. He is handling more of the Jays' future pitcers at Double-A than he would be at Vegas. He needs the at-bats and the Eastern League is an easier loop in which to gauge offensive progress. As for the future of Jays catching. Despite what the Angels did for years and year with Mathis and Napoli as a tandem, it would be difficult to have both Arencibia and D'Arnaud on the same team. It's likely that when D'Arnaud is ready for the majors, one of them will be traded.
What are Carlos Delgado's hall of fame chances? You do see him as the greatest Blue Jay ever, so I hope they would be decent.
Mark D'Souza, London, Ont.
A-I do not think that Carlos Delgado will have enough support to get into the Hall-of-Fame. His 473 homers, .929 career OPS and the six-year stretch from 1998-2003 with the Jays are certainly Hall-of-Fame worthy, but the way his career ended won't help. I always deny it when fans argue that the New York influence can affect the yearly award voting like MVP and Cy. The fact is that each city for those awards gets two votes from BBWAA members so there can be no Big Apple bias. But the Hall of Fame is different because long-time members, 10 years or more, all get a Hall vote and there seems to be more New York members active and retired because of two teams and many newspapers, than other cities. As such, Delgado's final four years in New York with the Mets has influenced many NYC writers that I have spoken to. Carlos was apparently not the same Carlos he was in Toronto. He was struggling with health issues and was not the same clubhouse influence he had been as a Jay. In fact, rightly or wrongly, many writers saw him as a negative influence in the Mets clubhouse. That will affect his Hall chances. I wish him well and I will vote for him, but I fear for his chances.
Q-Hi Griff. I am sitting here watching this game (Saturday against White Sox) and proud of the fight the Jays have in them. Bautista is the real deal and Hill and Rivera finally helped out. Please tell me when we will sit Frank Francisco because he is costing us games. As a fan, it pains me to watch games when I know he will find a way to blow it. Frasor pitched well so I am guessing he can be the closer until we decide who will close. This is frustrating to watch us lose games we take are leading in the ninth inning.
Anton Forde, Freeport, Bahamas
A-The closer situation is more alarming than the overall bullpen situation. It's ironic that the most questionable aspect of rookie manager John Farrell's managing has been his handling the bullpen since he was a former pitching coach and major-league pitcher. His latest closer choices have come down to Francisco, Rauch or Dotel (??) with Frasor and Rzepczysnki sometimes pitching in the ninth. It all depends on matchups, availability, like pitching two days in a row, and the hot hand. Francisco began the season as the choice at closer whenever it was he got healthy. In the meantime Rauch had done a decent job. But since Francisco's return and his four homers allowed in 15.2 innings and the closer conundrum, the back end of Jays' games have become a crapshoot. I would go back to Rauch and stick with him for a while. Otherwise you're guessing and guessing poorly.
Q-Hi Richard. I would like your opinion on the Jays rather miserable team batting average and their current batting coach. I remember the players "pounding the table" last year to keep him on as the batting coach but with the team batting average where it is do you think the current batting coach is overrated ?. Thanks, I look forward to this Q&A every week.
Douglas Cooper, Powell River
A-Toronto has the fourth highest batting average, the fourth highest run total and fourth best OPS in the majors. Dwayne Murphy gets credit for Jose Bautista's meteoric rise as the game's best hitter. That should be enough for a lifetime contract.