Jays mailbag: Signings will dictate club's stance for 2012
By Richard Griffin
Maybe it's because I've had a rooting interest in amateur baseball in Canada for years, what with having one son that manages the baseball team at Guelph University and another that is looking to play ball at an American institution, plus having managed OBA teams myself since 1997, I am forever thrilled to see perceived progress when it comes to young Canadian ballers.
For instance, watching Brett Lawrie and the converted Adam Loewen with the Jays at the same time is great. Seeing the A-Lansing outfield in the Jays' system with two promising Canadians, Michael Crouse and Marcus Knecht, with Crouse's 38 steals setting a Jays' organization standard for a Canadian, that's nice.
Then there's outfielder Dalton Pompey and many more homegrowns in the Jays' organization, including several prospects out of this summer's June draft.
They don't just appear out of thin air.
Baseball Canada does a great job under its director Greg Hamilton and should get more financial support from corporate Canada than it does. The support it does get is well deserved.
I was sitting in the press box last Saturday after the Jays played at the Rogers Centre and witnessed a group of more than 60 young prospects at the invitation-only Mizuno Camp run by Baseball Canada. There was at least one player from each province in attendance. If the Jays were to ever reach the World Series again, interest in kids' participation would skyrocket. In the meantime, where it is in terms of the quality at the national level is nice to see. On to the mailbag.
Q-I love reading your Weekly Blue Jays mailbag. Where has it been lately? I need my weekly mailbag read! Lol! Do you think the Blue Jays could be solid contenders next year? I think if they got one veteran Starter, Closer and trade Lind for a more consistent player at 1B, they could be in the hunt.
A-This seems to be the question du jour and can only begin to be answered by the Jays' actions this off-season when it comes to free agency and an aggressiveness in exploring trades at positions of need. G
Alex Anthopoulos can continue to develop a team for the future, simply using 2012 to further determine who fits into a winning rotation moving forward. That's passive-aggressive.
He could simply give another shot at spring training to Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Luis Perez and others while asking fans to be patient...or else he could say “This is it, boys” making a strong run at Japanese star Yu Darvish and then add another three-year veteran starter with huge cojones.
That would cost big money, of course, but trust us, Jays' ownership has big money. After all, the Jays play 162 games in a championship season and that's all programming for Rogers. How would doubling the TV audience for the Jays across the country affect the bottom line? Very positively, it says here. The Jays need a closer and an assortment of bullpen middle men, but that market will be brimming with potential signees. I would say that the Jays cannot afford to ask their customers to be patient for another year.
Q-Long time reader of the blog. Congratz on the awesome work! My question surrounds rookie of the year voting. I know it is naive to believe that Brett Lawrie has a real shot at the title, but I'm sure he'll at least get some votes for the honours. I was wondering, of the position players that have won the award, the lowest amount of games played? Has anyone ever won the award with the amount of service time that Brett will be expected to put in this year?
Dan Szczepanek, Kingston
A-The problem with believing that Lawrie will get some votes for rookie-of-the-year is that each ballot asks voters for only the top three candidates. In the AL you reasonably have Michael Pineda of the M's, Mark Trumbo of the Angels, J.P. Arencibia of the Jays and Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays. Each AL city has two ballots to submit. So how does a voter put Lawrie ahead of two of those four guys that have spent an entire season in the bigs and have performed well.
In terms of the fewest games played by a position player in winning the RoY award, the leader is Willie McCovey of the Giants in 1959 who played in just 52 games, batting .354 with 13 homers, 38 RBIs and a 1.083 OPS. Only two other position players ever have won rookie of the year with fewer than 100 games played. First baseman Ryan Howard of the Phillies played 88 games in '05 and third baseman Bob Horner played 89 games with the Braves in '78. Lawrie could now max out at 51 games this year. However, I don't think Willie McCovey ever wore a pink tutu at any point in his rookie year.
I love the work you do covering the Jays, keep up the awesome work!! I'm super excited about the Blue Jays with Brett Lawrie playing the way that he has and I'm sure every other Jays fan agrees!! I want to know if Brett Lawrie will be eligible to be considered for Rookie of the Year next year in 2012, or will he have played too many games this year to qualify?
Shawn Ghazie, Toronto
A-Related to the previous question, Lawrie unfortunately will not be eligible in 2012 for rookie honours. The cutoffs are 45 days of service prior to the 40-man rosters, which he would qualify as a rookie for since he was brought up August 5, but the other maximum that a player can have before losing rookie status is 130 at-bats to disqualify a player the following year. Lawrie on Wednesday recorded his 132nd AB and then was hit by a pitch, crashed into Jason Varitek at home plate trying to score and was removed with a bone bruise on the outside of his left knee. I wonder how upset Varitek would have been to know he got bowled over by a guy that flew home to Toronto in a pink tutu? Pitcher Henderson Alvarez won't qualify for 2012 RoY either.
How does J.P. Arencibia stack up to other rookies for the rookie of the year? Is there a set criteria for the number of games played etc? Does a catcher or pitcher get greater consideration then say an outfielder considering the importance of these positions?
Charles Adam, Manitoulin Island
A-This is clearly a rookie of the year oriented mailbag thus far. No, there is no minimum for number of games played to qualify for rookie-of-the-year. Yes, I think that catcher should be weighted more heavily especially for any rookie handling the rigours and mental challenge of leading a major-league pitching staff. Staring pitchers also get a serious look, especially if they have electric stuff right out of the chute like the M's Michael Pineda showed this year.
If I had a ballot, I think I would go Pineda, Arencibia and Hellickson as my three choices. Mark Trumbo has interesting numbers as a first baseman, but among position players, Arencibia as a catcher and with his power numbers, has been more impressive. The only chance that Arencibia has though is if Trumbo and Pineda split the west coast votes and if Hellickson and Pineda split the pitcher vote. Then J.P. might slide through for the win. I predict he finishes third.
Q-How important is a bullpen coach? Don't get me wrong I love Pat Hentgen as a player and as a person, but I am wondering why I haven't heard anyone call him out for the dismal performance of the Jays ‘pen this year. Does he deserve some of the blame?
Mike S., Toronto
A-That's like calling out the babysitter for your son's crappy report card. No, the dismal performance of the Jays' pen has more to do with the dismal performance of the Jays' rotation in going deep into ballgames than it does Pat Hentgen. The Jays and Red Sox lead the AL in relief innings. When that happens, you have pitchers pitching in innings in which they should not be asked to perform. You have pitchers stretched out to get extra outs in a game facing hitters that they don't match up well against. You have seven or eight relievers when you really should only need six. You have some not-ready-for-primetime pitchers bumping up the bullpen ERA by, for instance, not getting anyone out at Fenway Park while allowing four runs. You have some pitchers working too many days in a week because they have to...and if a team then sees a pitcher worn down, they option him back to Triple A and bring up another, fresher-armed not-ready-for-primetime reliever. Don't blame Hentgen. All he can do is make sure that failure doesn't crush the spirits of these young guys and that they willingly run through the door the next time he opens it for them to enter another game they shouldn't be in. As for the failures of some veterans, maybe there's a reason they were available at the time of the off-season and for the price that they were signed. These were not the guys that Anthopoulos had in mind when it's time to win.
Is the N.L. West so weak that the addition of Hill and McDonald to the D-backs — a playoff team — actually improves their team? These are two below-average hitters (granted above average defenders) that were disposable on an easily non-playoff A.L. team. With them in the lineup one third of the D-backs batting order consists of Hill, McDonald and the pitcher - bleccch!
J Coopers, Hamilton
A-I emerged from a strong National League background and when I arrived at the Star, I was greeted by an American League bias and arrogance that I found quite annoying. Guys like colleague Dave Perkins and the Globe's Larry Millson constantly referred to players coming over from the senior circuit as “National League stiffs.” I resented that, but in hindsight it was not 100-percent an exaggeration. You look at the Brewers and realize that the NL Central is almost 50 games under .500 as a six-team grouping and you check out the success of some starters in the NL that couldn't cut it in the AL and you have to wonder, especially offensively. And it's not just the lack of a DH. But the fact is that the NL has won two all-star games in a row and two of the last three World Series and you see balance again and your faith in balance and equality is restored.
The thing about the Diamondbacks this year is that the NL West seems to be going through a lull, especially offensively. The Giants took a huge hit when they lost Buster Posey. The Dodgers have been in tumult for over a year with the McCourt divorce proceedings. The Padres accept that they are not going to score a lot of runs and build around pitching and the Rockies have been a disappointment at the plate. So add Johnny Mac and Hill to a D'backs team that was already in first place and you can see what has happened happening. The Jays do have a history of sending players to the post-season – somewhere else. Eric Hinske is the poster boy of ex-Jays in October – '07 Red Sox; '08 Rays; '09 Yankees' '10 Braves. I hope Johnny Mac and Aaron go deep into the playoffs.
Missing the regular mailbag big time as I'm sure many readers are. My question to you is this: what happens if the future potential of the Blue Jays team circa 2012-2014 doesn't pan out? What AA has done with trades and the farm system seems fantastic in terms of setting up the future and there seems to be a frothing fan base out there (including me) lapping it up, checking up minor league stats and scouts reviews and believing playoff teams are on the near horizon. But what if it doesn't work out?
Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia
A-The regular mailbag is back. I had a busy summer away from the Jays managing my Major Midget A's in Oakville. My baseball season on the home front is over, my managerial career, spectacular as it was over 15 years, is over and I am retiring my number 52 – even if nobody else is.
As for the Jays. If the future potential everyone thinks they see does not pan out as fans and the GM are expecting, blame it on the inability of Alex Anthopoulos to use the inventory of young talent to create a winner at the major-league level. It's all well and good that the Jays' organization sent five farm teams to the post season, but Jays fans should be asking “What about us?” This organization is brimming over with talented starting pitchers from 18-26 years-old. There are too many of them to ever all pitch for the Jays, thus the secret is to parlay the strength of the system into key parts that can help your major-league team make it to the playoffs. Turn young starting pitchers into needed position players and more proven starters. It's not about fielding winners at Las Vegas, Manchester, New Hampsire, Dunedin, Lansing, Bluefield and Vancouver. It's about turning that surplus of organizational talent into a winner at the major-league level. What if it doesn't work out? Then blame it on the GM.
Q-The Jays need to fill the hole at second base and add another high quality pitcher, if they are to compete in 2012. Would you be able to provide us with a little more in insight on AA's recent trip to Japan and his scouting of Yu Darvish. Do you think he's worth the $100 million or so that it will cost the Jays to buy him out and sign him to a deal? How would you feel about the jays throwing money at Jose Reyes in order to fill the hole at 2nd?
Umar Hussain, Jefferson City, MO
A-The Jays under Alex Anthopoulos have proven that they are serious players when it comes to the international market. See Aroldis Chapman, Adeiny Hechavarria and other talented Caribbean free agents. It should be no different when it comes to the pursuit of 25-year-old Japanese starter Yu Darvish. When AA and his right-hand man, Tony LaCava, were spotted at a Nippon Ham Fighters game, it was a clear signal. The expensive steps start when a Japanese team posts a player, usually at the request of the player who wants to play in the major leagues. There are sealed bids from major-league teams in October that want the right to negotiate with said player. The envelopes are opened and the highest bidder has 30 days to negotiate a deal with the player and his agent. The Red Sox paid $51 million in posting fees to negotiate with Dice-K Matsuzaka. That money stays with the Japanese team and does not count against payroll. Negotiations with the player are separate. The sealed bid by the Bosox was reportedly $10 million higher than the next highest bid. So say, it requires $45 million in posting fees to Nippon Ham, if after 30 days a player and his MLB team can't reach agreement, the MLB team gets its money back and the player stays in Japan. There is leverage on both sides, depending on how badly a player wants to leave Japan and how badly a team wants to add said player. Darvish apparently is major-league locked and loaded and ready to go. Just guessing, but say he signs four years at $8 million per and the posting fee is $45 million. That's a $77 million investment for one player for four years. The Red Sox say they made a lot of money off Dice-K and they reached the post-season, but they likely would have done that anyway.
I am really missing the mailbag. It is my favourite part of the sports section. I understand that Dustin McGowan wants to start, but I don't see why the jays are giving in. Our rotation is going to be so deep in the future with younger, less fragile arms. Why not get some value out of Dustin in the pen? I understand the Jays want to be loyal to the player, but isn't loyalty a two-way street?
Ryan Brooks, Toronto
A-Because McGowan is starting at the moment does not mean the Jays are committed to having McGowan start at all costs. This September run is a feel-good comeback story that has nothing to do with how he will be used moving forward. McGowan will come to spring training next season having to stay healthy and having to earn a spot on the Jays' major-league pitching staff. If he is one of the five best starters, he will start. If he is one of the 12 best pitchers, he will be on the opening-day roster. But from now on he has to earn whatever he gets. The issue is that he will have no options coming out of camp and there are enough other teams enamoured with his stuff that there is no way if he is healthy that he clears waivers. But Dustin has already indicated that whatever the Jays want him to do he will do. It's just that coming off two shoulder surgeries and three years off of major-league pitching, the certainty brought on by the every five days routine of being a starter was clearly the best thing for him on both sides. Loyalty has been a two-way street.
I enjoyed your take on the Jays all last season but have been away for much of this season. Tried to follow your Blog but can find only stuff from August 8th. I wrote to you and understand that you can't answer all questions but I would like your opinion regarding Bautista's seemingly continuous coaching of fellow players. Is it an asset or does it cause trouble?
Bob Leatham, Ilderton
A-When Bautista was signed by Anthopoulos and the Jays to an extension last winter, it was with the unstated understanding that he would continue to reach out and influence his teammates. He is more of a counsellor than a coach to guys like Yunel Escobar and Edwin Encarnacion. What has been his influence? Just check out the public perception of Yunel as a Braves player and in his rebirth with the Jays. That improvement has a lot to do with Bautista in the clubhouse. At spring training, every day for stretch or batting practice, when Joey Bats came out the clubhouse door with his bats and glove, he was always accompanied by his two amigos. They were inseparable. It's nice to see and totally genuine. Bautista has been a sublime influence in the Jays' clubhouse the past two seasons and his seemingly continuous coaching is looked upon as a necessary part of the Jays' culture.
I have a general question for you. Why don't catchers use a regular glove or a first basemen's glove when catching for a knuckleballer? I think that this would cut down on the passed balls by a large margin. I have caught with a catcher’s mitt in soft toss and it is not easy. Catchers’ hands would not be in danger at 65 mph.
Andrew Marsh, Whitby
A-There used to be a phenomenon that seems to have disappeared from the game as the number of knuckleballers has dwindled. When Hoyt Wilhelm used to pitch and when Phil Niekro was in his prime, their catchers used to have oversized gloves that in Wilhelm's case when he came in to relieve, would be flipped out of the dugout to the catcher. But these days with hinged catcher's gloves that very closely resemble a first baseman's glove. There's really no need. You still have to be able to find the ball inside the glove to be able to control baserunners. Besides, if you're going to whiff on a dancing knuckler, you can still whiff with the bigger glove. I haven't seen anyone use that in a while.