Jays mailbag: Jays riding high right now
The Jays are on the rise with their fans heading into the all-star break. The Phillies weekend at the Rogers Centre drew more than 116,000 fans with Ricky Romero on Canada Day, followed by the return of Roy Halladay on Saturday, offering up the same type of gutsy performance they had seen for almost a decade. Finally, there was the Jays defeating Cliff Lee on Sunday, who entered the game with a streak of 32 scoreless innings. And nobody got tasered.
The best thing that then could have happened for the organization after that, did. The Jays ended the homestand on a high note and headed out of town with those heady baseball memories still fresh in the minds of their fans. What if the Jays had a follow-up three-game series at home against the Royals or the White Sox with 15,000 people per night in a suddenly subdued building? But thankfully, they didn't.
Instead, they headed to Fenway Park for three sellouts beginning with a 9-7 win on Monday, then an edge-of-the-sofa loss in which they were foiled by a last out at the plate with the manager arguing the umpire missed the call. From Fenway they head to Cleveland for four games, then into the all-star break.
At the big game in Phoenix, Jays fans will be proudly represented by Jose Bautista, with his record 7 million votes — many of which came online from Canada. With his home run derby invitation and his start in right field, as the first Jays player voted in since Carlos Delgado in 2003. And, oh yeah, Jays manager John Farrell is the AL pitching coach, selected by Ron Washington.
The good news continues for the Jays when they come back from the break — they open the weekend against the Yankees.
For Paul Beeston and Rogers it's the best promotional start for the second half the Jays could hope for. It won't reflect itself necessarily in ticket sales for the final two months, but in terms of GTA interest for the future, many fans that returned to the RC as casual fans for the Phillies series will be paying attention with baseball in the spotlight for a couple of months. The door is open, but the Jays need to play well.
The other thing they are doing right as the second half gets underway is re-populating the field with younger players that fans are hoping will be stars in the future. On to the mailbag.
With Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan on rehab stints, I was curious as to who you think the Jays will keep as their starting 5. I know Carlos V. will go back to the pen, but that leaves Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Jo-Jo Reyes, Litsch, McGowan and even Kyle Drabek and even Zach Stewart. Secondly, how long will Brett Lawrie be out? It seems to me that an infield of Lawrie, Escobar, Lind and (Hill) can be very effective, and the future of the outfield looks bright with Thames in LF, Snider in CF and Jose in RF. Can this line-up compete with the rest of the beasts in the east, if not this year, then in 2012-2013?
A-I don't know why anyone would continue asking about the Jays competing this season and it certainly sounds like that's what your question is hinting at. The Jays would need to go 48-27 in the final 75 games in order to win 90 games. That's the fringe number for a wild-card berth and considering the AL has 10 extra wins floating around from inter-league and that the Jays have not shown an ability to put together a long winning streak, it's an extreme longshot.
As for McGowan, his is a wonderful story of perseverance from a kid that John Farrell sat across the field from as Red Sox pitching coach in '08 and went “Wow!” In two days, McGowan will have been away from major-league baseball for three calendar years thanks to two shoulder surgeries and one minor knee surgery. He is now pitching at Class-A Dunedin and it says here he will remain on rehab and on the 60-day DL the rest of the year. The Jays will allow him to come to 2012 training camp as a healthy roster player and do his best from there. You want to be optimistic, but try and find another player in history that has overcome a timeline like that that didn't include a World War.
Jesse Litsch is pitching at AAA-Las Vegas and is not a sure bet to get back to the majors this year. He has been alerted by GM Alex Anthopoulos not to expect a recall necessarily once his injury assignment is over. I would say that for the remainder of this season, Carlos Villanueva has earned a rotaton spot. I would also say that after handling the Red Sox as he did on Tuesday, by changing speeds and by beng a pitcher, that Cecil has earned the right to stay. He left for Vegas throwing like Jamie Campbell and came back throwing like Jamie Moyer. Okay, maybe that's a slight exagerration on both ends, but you get the picture. In any case, with Carlos V. and Cecil and Romero and Morrow, that makes four. Of course that all depends on everyone's health and one can never predict that part of the game.
For Lawrie, it looks like his left hand has healed and he had begun the road back, starting with tee work, then soft toss, then cages, then live b.p. then minor league games, then the majors. I would estimate a return between the end of the all-star break and right after the trade deadline July 31. The question of the Jays' lineup moving forward will be addressed throughout the rest of this mailbag.
Q-Do you see a trade market for Juan Rivera, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch or even Frank Francisco? I think Rivera would be a good fit for the Phillies who need a RH bat? He can play both corner OF positions and has shown an ability to play first as well. Also what about Aaron Hill potentially going to the Giants who could use a second baseman. Hill's contract gives them some flexibility if they know Freddy Sanchez will return next year.
Jason, San Francisco
A-Here's the thing. If the Jays hang on to all their current players, next June they'll have more sandwiches than Quiznos. The Elias Sports Bureau produces the official rankings of Types A and B free agent players that demand draft pick compensation. An A player signed elsewhere gets the signing team's pick, plus a sandwich pick between the first and second round. A Type B gets you just the sandwich, no combo. Right now, the Jays' potential Type B free agents at the end of '11 are: 1-Aaron Hill; 2-Jason Frasor; 3-Jon Rauch; 4-Octavio Dotel; 5-Shawn Camp and 6-Frank Francisco. That would give the Jays at least eight picks in the first 100. That's a GM's equivalent of Pavlov's Dog and I can already see AA slobbering at the prospect of that draft bounty. The Jays could add to that number if there are any players from the first three rounds of this year's draft that they can't sign by August 15. The ever-ongoing Elias free agent rankings came out within the last month and perhaps the Jays were hoping to get Juan Rivera and Cory Patterson enough playing time to rank as Type Bs. But the rankings show there is no way for them to reach that level, so what happened? The Jays designated Rivera and have decided that while he's still here, Patterson will have a role coming off the bench. In answer to your question about trades, unless the Jays can get the same type of premium prospect in trade for one of those six players that they would get in the draft next year, they'll hang onto them. The likely trade candidates at the deadline are Patterson, Davis, Jose Molina, Litsch and Encarnacion. I can't see another team giving up a top prospect from their system for two months of any of those Type Bs.
You are the Maharajah of the Mailbag. Submit any question and all will be answered. So, here's my question. Do you think there is any chance Jose Bautista will stay at third permanently? If he does, Brett Lawrie can switch back to second base and Eric Thames AND Travis Snider can co-exist in the outfield giving the Jays three left-handed bats (along with Lind). Obviously I am not banking on Aaron Hill being here after this year and giving way to Lawrie. If Bautista moves back to right field, the only way both Thames and Snider play is if Snider plays centre field. This might be ok for the short term but when Anthony Gose is ready (2012 or 2013) someone will have to be traded. What are your thoughts? Is this a pipe-dream or do you think the Jays are already discussing this possibility?
A-The Jays discuss every possibility. There is no scenario that Jays fans come up with that has not been discussed by AA, Tony LaCava, John Farrell and the trusted front office group. It's a reasonable question to ask whether Bautista will stay at third base, but it's similar to the end of spring training where he spent all spring at third yet was moved back to right field to make room for EE at third base — yikes. When Bautista was signed by the Jays to a five-year deal, the loose promise from AA was that they would do everything in their power to let him be an outfielder. He is a team guy so he currently has agreed to play third base until Lawrie is ready, so to make his third base move a permanent after previous conversations and promises would not fly. You do not want the face of the franchise to be seen as a frowny one.
In terms of Lawrie moving to second base, he has spent much time making the adjustment to third base and has done so very well at figuting out the position, it would be a step back to ask him to move again. The Jays have Hill at second base with two option years to consider. They have not made up their minds on Hill and his $16 million for 2012-13. Hpwever, they also have Adeiny Hechavarria toiling at New Hampshire earning major-league money with two years left after this. They would like to see him earn that second base spot. As soon as Lawrie is ready, Bautista will move back to the outfield.
Q-Hi Richard. ,
Last week's games featured some pretty embarrasing outfield play. So here's a question about who plays where: When the 3rd base problem gets solved (August?), would it make sense to move Bautista to centre (he says he grew up admiring Jr.), Thames in right and Snider in left?
Bill Cooper , Kingston
A-That's a good observation and a great question regarding outfield alignment. The Jays after being swept in Atlanta have decided the future is now. They brought up Eric Thames and have now designated Rivera for assignment. I believe that in this new alignment, if Rajai Davis is not going to be an everyday player, which was the idea of him as a fourth guy when the trade was made with the A's, that Bautista should play centre field, if the other two outfielders are Snider and Thames. Bautista knows he is in charge of this team and is the lead dog on this Jays sled. As such, as the take-charge guy, he has already crashed into a cowering Patterson in Cincinnati when the ball was up for grabs and on the last stand did not give way to Patterson on the collision at third base. Joey Bats is undeniably the main man on this team and that means he should play centre field over the other two. The rest of the OF alignment should be Snider in right field and Thames in left. Patterson or Davis, one of the two should be traded by the deadline with the other one coming off the Jays bench. With Encarnacion getting the majority of DH at-bats, there is a chance to use Thames at DH from time to time with the speedy extra outfielder getting his weekly at-bats in those moments.
Q-Do you believe the Jays are playing .500 ball because they are, in fact, a .500 team or because there is no one on the team who can boost them to the next level (for example, no Paul Molitor or Dave Winfield)? And if it's the latter, how do you see the GM addressing this given his penchant for signing younger players?
Eleanor, Port Colborne
A-At the moment the Jays are in fact a .500 team, but they are watching this roster very closely to identify those players that they will take with them in becoming contenders. Recall that Molitor and Winfield were not part of the Jays building process, even back in 1992-93. They were added when the team was poised to win a World Series. The Jays at this point look like a .500 team. If, after adding the young players from the farm like Thames, Snider, Cecil and Lawrie for the final two or three months, if at that point they can bump the win total up to 83-85 victories for 2011, that would be an exciting finish for the front office. That bulge in Paul Beeston's pocket would be the $40-50 million in cash influx that he claimed he has ready to spend on payroll whenever the Jays are poised to win. That's when the equivalent of Molitor and Winfield would be asked to come on board short term. That modest goal of mid-80s in wins for this year is a possibility but everything would have to fall right.
Love the blog, long time reader, first time contributor. Please enlighten me on the following - why is it so imperative to have a power hitter at 3B and 1B? Does the position of where the power comes from really matter? I honestly don't care where my Jays get the homeruns or the RBIs as long as they win. looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Thanks for the great job, keep it up!!
A-That rule-of-thumb regarding the traditional power positions is one of those old rules that has changed in terms of reality over the years but is still cited. The confusion is that those old-schol fans still have thumbs, but times have changed. You're right, it doesn't matter now where your RBIs and homers are coming from, but it's because the first base and third base positions were traditionally manned by taller, thick-legged players with less quickness, but more strength. Cal Ripken helped change all that, then A-Rod, then Jeff Kent, then steroids made everyone a slugger, now it's a little more back to the way it was. However traditional conditioning and weight training have improved and still make a significant difference for the little guys, even without cheating. In the AL you can only afford to carry about two players in a nine-man batting order that don't have 50 extra-base hit potential. That means you need extra-base power from half among your second-base, shortstop, centre field and catcher. That “first-base, third-base power hitter” rule really no longer applies, but like all old baseball axioms it lives on. You just couldn't go with corner-men Cooper-Nix-McCoy-McDonald.
My question is regarding the 2012 Blue Jays...with many of the highly touted prospects for 2012 having difficult years at the major league level (Snider, Cecil, Drabek) in 2011, has this changed the organization's plans for next year at all? Barring trades and free agent signings for next year (which there is no way you or I could predict right now) what do you see the Jays' opening day line-up and rotation being for next year?
A-I do not believe the Jays' front office has changed its mind on competing in 2012, but I do know that AA's self-confidence has been shaken. You can't re-invent the GM position after all these years and there was some resentment from other GMs that the perception was that this 34-year-old Montrealer was trying to. His strengths are threefold: 1- in listening to people that know more than he does in their areas of expertise; 2-in his person-to-person relationships with players, both coming and going – he got a Cartier watch from Vernon Wells after he was traded to the Angels – and 3- in building the farm through trades and accumulated draft choices. The Jays have seven key position players under control through '14 and beyond – Arencibia, Lind, Escobar, Lawrie, Thames, Bautista and Snider, a good start.
Q-Are Alex A. and John F. entertaining the idea of Dustin Mcgowan being our closer of the future?
Martin, Owen Sound
A-In March the Jays told McGowan they were converting him to the bullpen. That lasted a couple of months while he continued to get himself ready for game action, but in conversation with him, he has convinced them that he wants to be a starter again. His first start at Dunedin was not a success in terms of results but was a huge success for him mentally in terms of being back on the field after just under three years. You gotta love the guy, but the odds are against him. No he's not the closer of the future.
I liked (and miss) the Expos, but they are long gone so maybe can you limit the Expos love-in questions in future mailbags? (I'd rather read about something Blue Jays related or MLB related instead of some gushy trip down memory lane about how 20 years ago so-and-so did this or that) .
A-Hey, if you go to Morton's, Ruth's Chris or Harbour Sixty for a steak, do you insist that they take all the seafood items off the menu because you like steak. I spent 23 years working for the Expos and am in my 17th year at The Star covering major-league baseball. The Expos years are a large part of my life's experience and I find it hard to ignore what I learned there. Returning to the steakhouse analogy, perhaps my Expos anecdotes are the “blackened mahi-mahi dinner” of Griff's Mailbag.
I have noticed that Adam Loewen has played center field in Las Vegas and I am wondering if defensively he can handle the position in the majors. With Rajai Davis struggling at the plate and Corey Patterson seeming uncomfortable in center, would Loewen be someone the Jays could use there until Anthony Gose is ready? Or is there someone else in the system closer to the majors than Gose? I assume Loewen has the arm for the position, so it's more does he have the range and take the proper routes.
A-I love the Adam Loewen story and it would be great to see him complete the rise to the majors from MLB pitcher turned OF. More Rick Ankiel than Babe Ruth, of course. Can he do it? If I was the Jays, I would give him that chance to succeed in September to play some outfield and at least complete the story with a month in the majors. Where it goes from there, whether it's with the Jays, or more likely with another major-league team that needs outfield help, the Jays and AA will have been a big part of getting the 27-year-old Vancouver native there. Can he play centre field in the majors? He's more naturally a corner outfielder. He's even behind Snider in the CF pecking order.
I realise this is pie in the sky dreaming, but do you think the Jays have any chance to sign Prince Fielder this offseason. In my fantasy world, Fielder could split 1B/DH duties with Lind, then the Jays renegotiate the contract with Hill to free up some money, put Lawrie on 3B and then still have a cupboard full of prospects to possibly make a deal for a frontline starter. One last bit 'o fantasy. With the Dodgers in bankruptcy, and Kershaw entering an arbitration year, do you see any scenario where he is either traded or rejects a lowball offer?
Thanks for a great column.
A-It's amazing how many Jays' fans are asking about Prince Fielder. The Jays have Adam Lind at first base for the next three years, plus. Fielder will be a $23-30 million player for 5-7 years. Can that money be better spent elsewhere? Yes. Even though his dad, Cecil, starred in Toronto, Prince is still not talking to his dad so that's not a selling point. Fielder would not want to split 1B duties with anyone. As for Hill, the Jays do not need to re-negotiate because his remaining contract is options and they have the money availabe. They don't need Hill cash to be freed up. Kershaw, or someone in that same arbitration situation with a team looking to dump payroll is even more attractive for AA than a free agent because you can obtain a better player via that route and because of the tremendous inventory of prospects he is building up as trade fodder.
Q-Hi Richard, What is up with the Snider 'stache? Is it a baseball superstition thing similar to a playoff beard? It seems like he started growing it right after belting a homer in his first at bat while wearing the fake Cito stache at Cito's farewell game.
A-That's exactly the scenario with Snider's moustache. He pasted one on for that Cito tribute game and has had one of his own on and off ever since. When he had the mullett -- which he only cut because it was so damn hot in Vegas – he looked like an extra from the classic movie Boogie Nights. Right now he just looks like a young kid with a paste-on 'stache in place for Cito Gaston Night.