Jays Mailbag: Remembering Neil MacCarl and Brett Lawrie's debut
By Richard Griffin
It was extremely sad news on Saturday to hear that The Star's esteemed and respected former baseball beat writer Neil MacCarl had passed away of pneumonia at the age of 83. He had covered baseball for The Star, from the days of the Triple-A Maple Leafs, to the Jays and their first World Series, from 1949 until Mike Timlin flipped Otis Nixon's bunt to Joe Carter in Atlanta, the first World Series win ever for a team based outside of the U.S.
What a way to go out, a championship for the team that you covered every day. MacCarl always appreciated and smiled at the circumstances of his own departure. Nicknamed Sam, he retired three years before I joined the Star, but I had known him as a gentleman and a gentle man through Ian MacDonald, his BBWAA chapter chairman equivalent in Montreal and from Winter Meetings and World Series, where I encountered him through Howard Starkman, my P.R. equivalent in Toronto.
A constant presence at spring trainings during his retired years, with a winter home in Clearwater, he treated me as a friend and an equal, giving me tips about people I should get to know and tips on Jays stuff he had read, mine and other scribes, on the web. Neil was a great storyteller from his days with the old Maple Leafs, including covering in Havana at the time of the Cuban Revolution and his arrest and departure from the country. Baseball has changed, covering the game has changed, but Sam and his love of the sport was a constant and will be sorely missed.
It has been quite the season for the Blue Jays. At this point, they are pretty much where they were expected to be, even though they took a different route to get here (no one expected an improved Bautista and no one expected the bullpen to struggle so mightily in late-game situations). While this is the year to see what we have going forward, I can't help but think we would be in a pennant race right now if A.A. pushed hard to re-sign Scott Downs and if he decided to keep Marcum. I understand Lawrie represents the future, but it seems to me that Marcum could have represented both the present and the future. I'm excited about Lawrie, no doubt, but in your opinion could Marcum in the rotation (5-7 more wins than Jo-Jo) and Downs in the pen (4-7 less blown saves) put us in a "win now" and a "win later" situation? Thanks again, Richard. I appreciate it.
Andrew I., Dartmouth
A-I agree somewhat about maybe they should have re-signed Scott Downs as a veteran presence to lead the bullpen and at least share the closing role, but the Jays received two draft picks in the top 74 prospects in the June '11 process from the Angels for Downs and that's an AA priority.
As for Marcum, they had him through 2012 before his free agency. They have control of Lawrie through at least 2017. The Jays are, as you point out, pretty much where we expected them to be bouncing back and forth around the .500 mark. I think keeping Marcum and Downs would have perpetuated the same questionable philosophy from the Ricciardi Era that kept the ceiling so low for eight years. Sure it may have meant a few more wins now, but at the expense of 2012 and beyond. The philosophy from '02 to '09 was always about maximizing the present.
I'm sure you've been getting a lot of questions about Travis Snider this week. It looks like his Blue Jay career may be over with the addition of Rasmus. I remember being surprised when he first came up, do you think he was rushed to the majors? Was it a matter of Ricciardi trying prove his draft picks were major league stuff?
Grant P., Guelph
A-I'm not sure that we can say Travis Snider's Jays career is over due to the addition of Rasmus. The fact is that the Jays needed a centrefielder in the short term moving forward and Snider, as willing as he was to leap into that breach, was not the answer. If you believe the manager and the GM back in Tampa when Snider was shipped out for the fourth time in the last three years, then it could just as easily have been Eric Thames and in that case would anyone have been saying Eric Thames career as a Blue Jays was over?
If Thames struggles in the next month and Snider shows increased patience and strike zone awareness in Vegas, then when he returns in September he may actually get more of the left field playing time again. There has been no winner declared yet. And don't forget that Snider is 15 months younger than Thames, making his Jays debut in August '08 at the age of 20.
When Snider was originally brought up and took over in the outfield at the start of '09 the then-GM J.P. Ricciardi believed he was ready. But he wasn't. Today, Snider is a better defender, is more mature and is in better physical shape than he was back then. He still struggles for consistency at the plate and that's what earns him the constant junkets back to Vegas.
It's silly to think that Ricciardi was trying to prove his draft picks were major-league stuff, but his outfield options were rather thin at the time because of his drafting. Also recall that Thames is also a Ricciardi pick and a shrewd one since he had been projected as a late first or second round pick at Pepperdine University but was coming off injury and was still available in the seventh round.
A thought about the fallout from Brett Lawrie's call up...My theory is that AA wants to keep Encarnacion in the lineup because his (waiver) trade value is only rising during his current hot streak. Someone might need a solid bat off the bench for a playoff run, or to add a piece in the offseason. I think AA's comment about E-5 having a club option for next year is a subtle effort to boost his stock even further. Am I way off base?
A-Certainly AA's not-too-subtle reminder to media and fans that the Jays have a club option on EE for 2012 is being heard by other GMs, but any club interested in the 28-year-old DH already knew that. That's the first thing other GMs check is contract status. One of the main reasons that AA wants to keep EE in the lineup is that, as he constantly reminds us, his word is his bond and a handshake is as good as an extra paragraph in a contract. When he signed EE to his contract in the off-season, Anthopoulos told him and his agent that he would get his 600 at-bats, just not at third base. AA told them that he would DH and back up at first base and get his daily at-bats. It's the same promise he made to catcher John Buck to get him to sign last season so when J.P. Arencibia debuted last summer with a four-hit, two-homer performance against the Rays, the Arencibia Era had not arrived. The catching job reverted to Buck and stayed with him through the end of the year. He cashed in with a nice contract with the Marlins. On the other hand, if someone came calling and asked about EE in a waiver-trade, AA would listen, but he would need to get something back since extra salary is not an issue. Besides, EE with a hot streak has an outside chance of earning Type B status and as a free agent would earn a draft pick.
First of all love the blog. My question comes down to the pitching after seeing the bullpen blow 2 saves last night and then taking a look at some alarming pitching stats. The Jays are 23rd in ERA (4.22) 25th in WHIP (1.37) 7th in most Runs given up with 510 and 22nd in Opp BA (.260) and converting 23 saves out of 42. In my opinion we have 2 starters maybe 3 depending on if Cecil can continue like he has since coming back from the minors. So we need at least one solid starter coming in and hopefully one coming from the minors, like Drabek, Alvarez. In the bullpen right now Janssen is the one who I hold the highest, Camp can be there as well the rest is nothing special, I think we need to revamp the bullpen to have any chance to contend in 2012. What is your take on the Jays pitching?
Alexander T., Malma, Sweden
A-That's a pretty fair evaluation of the club's pitching. The Jays pen would be better if it hadn't had to pitch so many innings through the first half of the season. But now that you have Romero, Morrow and Cecil expecting to go seven or more innings, it allows for a lighter workload from the pen. The statistic of 19 blown saves is slightly skewed in that there are two games with two blown saves and the BS stat includes middle relievers that lose a lead in the sixth inning and beyond where the starter would have earned a win, when clearly the middle reliever with the blown save was never going to pitch the ninth. For example, if the Jays have a 3-2 lead after five and don't score again and the opponent scores two in the seventh, that's a blown save. The Jays' two closer-guys, Rauch and Francisco have 21 saves and nine blown saves between them. That's the stat that should be examined when comparing to other closers. Of course even that is not very good, but not as mind-numbing as 19 team blown saves.
Rebuilding a bullpen given the huge number of free agents relievers on the market in the offseason is probably the easiest exercise for a GM. Finding the right closer for a contending Jays team will be the challenge, especially as loath as AA is to give up the compensatory picks from signing a Type A player.
Q-Brett Lawrie is finally come up. I suppose it's way too early to start the parade route, but with expectations sky high for Lawrie I wanted to ask you what a good first year would be for him. I'd be happy if he made less than 10 errors at third and had an OPS of .750.
Jason S., San Francisco
A-I don't think errors should be in the mix when evaluating Lawrie's final two months with the '11 Jays at third base. They will be watching closely his development as a defender via his reactions to certain plays on balls off the bat, whether he has a third-baseman's instincts and anticipation. Roving infield instructor Mike Mordecai has seen a lot of Lawrie this summer and was impressed. I would say .750 is fair as an OPS, but he will add some steals and run the bases aggressively which carries a lot of weight with this manager and this team in terms of fitting in with their style of play moving forward.
With Thursday's meltdown in the bullpen was just the summation of the season for the Jays bullpen. The Jays had leads in two innings in the 10th and 11th, both of which were squandered by the bullpen. How much more can Jays fans take these late inning losses, what is it now 18 or 20 blown saves? If A.A. had started the season out with a top-of-the-line closer where would the Jays be right now in contention for a wild card? Even with winning 15 of those blown saves the Jays would be in contention. Why was this not addressed either at the trade deadline or earlier in the season? I am a very strong Jays fan but these blown saves are easily fixed aren't they?
Scott C., Niagara on the Lake
A-The answer to the earlier mailbag letter explains the skewed stat of 19 blown saves. Rauch and Francisco have combined for nine BS. Most AL closers, even the best ones, have a handful of blown saves and even when a team blows a save, it doesn't necessarily mean they lost the game. A lights out closer for the Jays from opening day might have meant an extra 3-4 wins but the acquisition of such a player would have mixed the message of where this team was meant to be headed this year. A No. 1 MLB closer with a young starting rotation and a developing lineup is Gucci shoes with Gap jeans.
Q-Any word on whether the Jays are going to be in on the Yu Darvish sweepstakes? It would be a great way to show fans that the Jays are ready to spend some cash on the team by over-spending to get him. It may also bring more fans to the Rogers Centre, bring more electricity to home games.
Leif M., Vancouver
A-The Jays will participate in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes whenever he becomes available from his Japanese League team, but, as they always do, the Jays will have a well-thought-out number in mind and will not go beyond that dollar figure. The Jays were in the final three on Aroldis Chapman and won out on Adeiny Hechavarria with $10 million for four years and are always in the mix on international free agents that can help them win. The 24-year-old Japanese right-hander is one of those free agents that can help them win. He is charismatic and talented and would be a good but expensive addition to enter into a Top Three of the rotation with Romero and Morrow. The Jays would be a long shot.
Enjoy reading your blog, and always enjoy your Q & A session. When do the Blue Jays have until to sign the picks from the 2011 draft? Should we be worried that we have only signed 3 of our top 10 draft picks? I was excited when we took some high ceiling players with risk then to draft "safe" picks. However, we need to sign more than we have. When should we start getting worried? Lovin' the way the Jays are playin' ball now. Thanks for your time.
Andrew S., Alberta
A-To me — and this has not been verified by the club as they are very close-mouthed about such things — the reason that many of the top picks have not been announced is because the Jays are going far above slot for their high-school-player-but-college-committed guys and the goal is not to set the bar too high for other picks from other teams that are waiting to ratchet up their own negotiations. There is a bit of selfishness in there too, because if their generous contracts raise the ante with others at the same level of the draft then it affects next year's negotiations. I would not be surprised if the Jays have a long list of signings on August 14-15. I would start worrying at the deadline if they have no announcements.
Q-Now that the trade deadline has passed, and the closer situation still seems "fuzzy", at least from my couch, what do you see as the plan in this area? Who are the potential free agents that might come into play this offseason? Within our own system, I noticed that Dustin McGowan may be back in September — a potential closer audition? He is certainly mentally tough, coming back from injuries. And prior to injury, his stuff was awesome - but it may not be anymore.As always, appreciate your thoughts!
Jon E., Woodstock
A-You've got Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Cordero, K-Rod, Jose Valverde, Joe Nathan plus others a notch below. We will know if the Jays are serious about contending in 2012 if they make serious overtures for any of these guys and sign one of them. If they try and find an option from within or else settle for second tier closers like Rauch and Francisco again, then you know they are looking towards 2013. What I would do if I was AA and I was going to contend is just what the Yankees did in '95 when they signed John Wetteland as a free agent and had homegrown Mariano Rivera as his setup man, then in '96 won the World Series. The year after that Wetteland was gone and Mariano took over and they kept winning. I would sign one of the above closers, then look for a homegrown setup man as his eventual successor. For me it would be Henderson Alvarez currently working as a starter at Double-A New Hampshire with a 97 m.p.h. fastball, a devastating changeup and a breaking ball in progress.
As for Dustin McGowan, the Jays announced at spring training that he was being converted to the bullpen, but a week later changed their mind when Dustin balked. To me, the Jays intent in bringing McGowan up in September and getting him in a game is to reward his unbelievable perseverance and give him an achievement he will never forget even if his unlikely comeback stalls again. Face it, it is still a long shot for a pitcher to have two shoulder surgeries, miss more than three calendar years and then come back to a normal career as an every fifth day starter on a winning team. You can only hope because he deserves the best for what he has done with his work ethic.
You're the man and my main source of insight into the Jays. Where has the mailbag been? Hope to get a new one soon. I figure I might as well get a question too. With the promise of the Jays competing with the likes of NYY and the BoSox in 2012, do the Jays have enough pieces now where they can go out and get a big price/big talent bat or another starting pitcher via free agency to put together the final pieces? Also, is Bautista's injured ankle effecting his power at the plate? It seems he's not hitting as many home runs as we're used to.
Shan M., Detroit – Toronto native
A-They do have enough core pieces, but they do need another starter. I would not go free agency, instead I would trade for a 3-4 years of service guy that is pricing himself out of a small market. I think less than the ankle, Bautista is being affected by the back-and-forth of pitchers that are changing speeds and looking to hit their spots, spots where if Bautista hits the ball hard, it won't leave the yard. Besides, don't tell me you were expecting him to hit more than 33 home runs by August 8.
Q-Hello Mr. Griffin,
Long time reader of the column. I love it! I look forward to Fridays so that I have something to read at work. Anyways enough brown nosing for me.What are your thoughts on the Rasmus trade? are the Jays projecting that Gose will take longer than expected to make the big jump? How will this move affect Snider or Thames? Anyways I look forward to your insight. Cheers,
Adam Meger, Niagara Falls
A-The Rasmus trade was merely the addition of another core player under control through 2014 and beyond. He will not be the one to lead them to the Promised Land and is not going to take anything away from Jose Bautista as the leader of this team. However when you add Rasmus to Lind, Escobar, Bautista, Arencibia, Lawrie, Romero and Morrow, plus Thames, Snider and Cecil you have a reasonably priced core to build around and add on to.
As for Gose, he still needs a season of 500 at-bats to be ready for major-league pitching. But if they want to compete in 2012, Rasmus is the man. Rajai Davis is a nice fourth outfielder.
Not only does Brian Tallet have a pretty gaudy ERA this season, it seems he is on the disabled list due to an injury sustained through violent sneezing (not exactly Glenallen Hill's spider nightmares, but still an embarrassing way to injure yourself). Apparently tests in his rehab have revealed some sort of kidney problem. Is Tallet okay? Is he likely to pitch for us anytime soon?
David W., Toronto
A-Talked to Tallet in Florida last week and he had just thrown a bullpen session at the Mattick Complex. He is looking forward to re-joining the Jays when he's healthy which won't be until September. Yes it was a sneezing accident. Dumb, but the dumbest disablement I've seen was catcher Bobbie Goodman, selected in the draft the round ahead of Gary Carter by the Expos. He was at AA-Quebec City re-stringing his catcher's glove when the leather thong let go and he stabbed himself violently in the middle of the chest with an awl.