Jays mailbag: Nice call by Johnny Mac
It was never a slam-dunk that John McDonald would return to the Jays for a third go-round to finish his career in Toronto. But, before the Jays had even had a chance to enter the bidding process, before Thursday's open bidding for free agents even began, Johnny Mac had re-upped with the Diamondbacks for another two seasons.
It followed the late-season deal and his euphoric first trip to the post-season with the Snakes in the Valley of the Sun. That's what players dream of. But even on the way out, as he closed the door behind him, McDonald did it with class.
There was no professional need, but before the D-backs announcement, before he signed and removed a Jays option, Johnny Mac picked up the phone to call GM Alex Anthopoulos and let him know what was going on and to thank him for what he had done for his family and his career. The bottom line is that Johnny Mac is better off in the NL where the bench remains an integral part of the game. There are double switches and pinch-hitters for the pitcher; defensive replacements, pinch-runners and days off for the starters. That's his game. All we can do is wish him well and thank him for the way he played the game, the example he set for our young players, always ready to come off the bench at full speed and always giving 100 per cent.
For a pictorial tribute to one of the most popular Jays of this century see the Star's photo blog.
Q-Hi Richard. What do you think of the 2012 starting rotation? Do you think it is time to sign Morrow to a team friendly long-term deal with a couple of team options? A good No. 2 starter who can survive in the AL East is very hard to get via trade. With depth in pitching, catching and OF in the system, which team would seem to be a match in trade with the Jays?
Thanks and keep up the good work!
James Ho, Burnaby
A-I really like Morrow as evolving steadily into a solid No. 2 starter. And if they brought in another potential No. 2 in the rotation to match Morrow's potential, along with Romero that would be a great decision for the Jays moving forward. However, as a former reliever, the Jays have been building on Morrow's innings total year-by-year — to 146 in 2010 and to 179 in 2011. AA's strength is as a communicator and if Morrow understands that with hard work his day will come in terms of being rewarded with a long-term deal, I can see the Jays beginning discussions with the Morrow camp next spring, then as he shows he can stay healthy and his inning total mounts, on pace for 200+ frames, building off his strong finish this year, I can see them rewarding Morrow some time during the summer like they did this year with Yunel Escobar in June.
Morrow has two years remaining before free agency. The Jays would prefer not to finish next season without a long-term deal if they feel Morrow is indeed in their plans moving forward – which I believe he is. As for a team match in trade with the Jays, that's something we will discuss in future mailbags as team's needs and early signings begin to unfold.
Q-Rich. Quick question for the myth, the man, the legend: With rumours of the Rays being unable to afford James Shields, to the Blue Jays swoop in and grab him?
Thadius Selick, Guelph
A-Shields is a solid No. 2-3 pitcher of the type that the Jays have expressed an interest in adding to the rotation mix. He had one completely dominating start against the Jays last season that demonstrated what he is capable of, changing speeds and toying with the Jays' aggressive young hitters. Can it happen? I never thought the Rays would trade Matt Garza last winter and they did, so I'll never say never about the Rays trying to create a market for Shields.
Make no mistake, if he is being dangled at any point this winter, Anthopoulos will have spoken to Andrew Friedman and will know what is required to pry him away. The problem for the Rays is that it's inside the division and the Jays are at the point now where division opponents don't just give them a fatherly pat on the head and make a deal anymore. They must be concerned about helping the Jays to the point where they push past them in the standings. Shields will make $7 million in 2012 and will be pitching as a 30-year-old. The last 30-year-old that started a game for the Rays was in 2007. If that streak is to continue, they must trade Shields.
Q-Richard. With second base looking like a hole to fill during the offseason could you see the Jays signing Clint Barmes? He is the kind of versatile player that AA loves to have, he can start at 2B and also fill in at SS and 3B when Yunel Escobar and Brett Lawrie need rest or do you see the Jays offering arbitration to Kelly Johnson (Type-A free agent) and Johnson taking the deal due to the fact that no team will want to give up a draft pick for Johnson?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara on the Lake
A-Clint Barmes, to me, would not be as attractive an option as signing either Kelly Johnson or Aaron Hill — and I don't think that either of those men is a priority for the Jays. Barmes will be 33 when the '12 season starts. He has a career .302 on-base average. His highest home run total was accompanied by a low batting average and his highest batting average included low power numbers. Sounds like the bad Hill.
Barmes' best seasons came at altitude in Colorado and even though I know that's a cliché because only half those game are home, by now Barmes is a glorified utility man and as a free agent he'll be looking for a starter's salary.
As for Johnson, he is a Type-A free agent that would gain a first- or second-round draft pick and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds – but only if the Jays offer him arbitration by the midnight deadline on Nov. 23.
Judging from their past history, the Jays will do that. However the decision to offer a one-year contract through arbitration opens the door for Johnson to actually accept that offer and rejoin the Jays for 2012 for a pretty-much-guaranteed raise. Nobody ever takes a pay cut if they played every day.
Johnson earned $5.85 million in 2011 and by accepting arbitration, he would be assured at least $6.5 million. The solid reason he might consider that one-year option for his career is that as a Type A free agent, any team that negotiates with him in their own minds would be treating it as a trade – Kelly Johnson for a first-round draft pick in June '12. And the danger is that pick may turn into a future star.
More teams are becoming more careful in that regard and, especially, on the part of fringy-type A's like Johnson, it is becoming a major problem.
On that final weekend in Chicago, Johnson was so concerned that he might be a Type-A that he said to me, “Maybe I should go hitless the next two days.”
Of course he was being facetious but the situation had affected Jason Frasor last year to the point where the right-handed middle reliever did accept arbitration rather than go through the process. Another guy this year that has that same problem is Octavio Dotel who pitched his way into Type-A status and whose best option now might be returning to the Cardinals for one year.
Q-The Hot Stove Season is upon us and there are a lot of excited Jays fans wanting to see what AA is going to do. As fans, we have our opinions (cue the laughter) and here is mine that I would love your opinion on: Lawrie is a terrific athlete and played better at third base than I ever dreamed he could, however, I have a nagging suspicion he could be slightly injury prone, and that worries me...what if we moved Lawrie to LF, where he could easily play and be very good, and looked at trading for either David Wright or signing Aramis Ramirez, both of whom are good fielders and hitters? With Lawrie, Rasmus (if he develops...Gose in a year if not) and Bautista, you have a great OF that would be set for a long time and free up some players like Thames to be included in a trade... just a thought and would like your input.
A-I think in baseball that sometimes we overthink the short term and panic about the long-term. As for Lawrie and a possible position change, I think all of your reasons and arguments are unnecessary and over thought. There is absolutely no need to move Lawrie before you think about trading Eric Thames or Travis Snider or anyone else in the second tier of major-league ready prospects. Just trade them if it's what makes you better.
And as far as thinking about Lawrie being injury-prone, yes he plays hard, but if that's the case, it's just as easy to be injury-prone as a corner outfielder as it is at third base. Larry Walker played hard and found ways to get hurt in the outfield. There are walls all around and pesky warning tracks and dives with awkward shoulders, wrists and elbows at risk and there's hustling collisions with teammates. Besides, finding outfield help in the future is easier than finding a major-league solid third baseman, which is where Lawrie is quickly headed towards as an all-star.
The Jays have lined up some pretty good outfielders in the system including Gose, Thames, Snider, Jake Marisnick and Moises Sierra. Even if Rasmus cliff-dives to obscurity as some suspect he might, they are in good shape into the future, but they need Rasmus to step up if they are going to compete in 2012.
Long time fan of your writing and your opinions... left the bright lights of T.O. behind for the sun and sand of the wild, wild west, but you know the old cliché: 'you can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy' or something to that effect... was curious to see this comment attached to a photo of Michael Cuddyer in the Star's photo essay on 10 free agents the Jays should consider: "If you go in for this sort of thing, one of the pieces the Jays lack is a vocal, veteran clubhouse presence. You know, the kind of thing that destroyed the Red Sox. Since the departure of Vernon Wells, the Jays room is slightly rudderless.".... Excuse me ?? I kind of thought that Joey Bats has instilled a new culture of lead-by-example, quiet dignity that effectively shows youngsters and newcomers how to be professional while also mentoring other Latin players... all while maintaining his own high level of play, completely deserving of his latest Hank Aaron award... your comments please... and who wrote that caption ??
Richard Rafton, Kelowna, BC
A-I'm with you. I do not subscribe to that evaluation of the Jays' room as rudderless. That Michael Cuddyer free-agent blurb was likely written by one of those effete national baseball analysts for one of those big sports websites who was musing about potential landing spots for Cuddyer and tried to fit the Jays size 12 clubhouse foot into a Size 8 Cuddyer shoe. Yeah, how did that veteran leadership thing work out for Boston? At Fenway, as it turns out in the bright glare of hindsight, the true leadership mantle fell on the guy with the phone number for Popeye's delivery and the fresh keg on his shoulder.
I always believed that Jose Bautista could be the glue to the Jays' clubhouse fabric because of his ability to cross over and relate to all segments of this sport's societal structure. It resembles the closeness in the room I had seen in Montreal with the young-veteran leadership of Moises Alou and Larry Walker. But one thing that surprised me here was how quickly Romero was able to step up and grab the leadership role of the Jays' pitching staff. No, if Michael Cuddyer ever signed with the Jays it would be for his baseball ability and not for his leadership. That blurb was written by someone that has been in the Jays' clubhouse not very often. Bautista's MVP credentials are not all left out on the field.
Q-There's a lot of rumours about the Jays going after Yu Darvish. While I'm not really a fan of spending 100+ million on a pitcher whose never pitched in the majors before, does it not make sense for the Jays to place an insanely high bid in the posting auction? From what I understand if they place the highest bid they win exclusive negotiating rights, and if they don't reach a contract agreement he must return to the NPB league. What is stopping the Jays from making an outrageous bid, only to not offer a large contract and thus just ensuring he doesn't go to the Yankees?
Rylan Stolar, Sudbury, ON
A-That catch-and-release scenario with regard to Darvish is one of the first things I thought about when I read the rules of encounter for the posting system with regard to Japanese players. Sure the Jays could bid $60 million, win the auction, cut a cheque to Nippon Ham — making sure the company knows they're not actually ordering ham — then fail to sign Darvish and have him remain in Japan and pitch for the Fighters, but that borders on unethical.
Besides, Darvish two seasons down the road becomes a total free agent from his Japanese team, I believe after the 2014 season, at which time he'll be in the majors anyway without compensation, so you'd just be postponing the inevitable.
Instead, I think if the Jays win the sealed bid for Darvish, that Rogers ownership should consider the posting fee as an investment towards expanding their communications empire into the Asian marketplace. The rest of it, the negotiations for the contract of Darvish the pitcher, would be considered as the only portion that counts towards the Jays operation as a baseball entity. That would likely be around $12-15 million for 4-5 years. Darvish has a few adjustments to make, the first one being to get used to pitching every fifth day, but talent-wise he is major-league ready with more of an awareness of the differences between where he's going and where he's been than Dice-K, who became slightly disoriented in Boston with the unique physical requirements and between starts routine of MLB.
Really like the column. Glad you're back. Interested in your take on a comparison of the Jays and the Rays. Similar dough available but the recent success of the Rays outshines the Jays. Where lies the difference? Thanks Bob.
Bob Leatham, Ilderton
A-I always think that the story of the Rays rapid rise into contention should give the Blue Jays their inspiration for believing they can contend in 2012, despite finishing 81-81in 2011. Recall that the Rays went from 66 wins in '07 to 97 victories and a trip to the World Series in 2008.
How did they do it? They rebuilt the bullpen, made a couple of fortuitous trades, signed a couple of key, role-playing free agents to fill specific needs and counted on the development of their homegrowns and voila!
In terms of further comparison, consider that in the past 10 seasons the Jays have won 808 games. The Rays have won 750. Over the past six seasons the Jays have two more wins than the Rays, 497-495. However, the key complaint for Jays fans is that the Rays have been to the post-season three times.
I think the biggest difference for the Jays, the reason for fan optimism as they move forward, is that when they finally do reach the post-season, they will have the financial wherewithal with Rogers ownership and the deep pockets to sustain and build off of previous success rather than what the Rays have to constantly do in dealing their high-priced home-grown players, scrambling to remain on budget. The Rays revenue streams are not as solid as the Jays. Of course that scenario of sustainability all depends on making good talent decisions which is not always a given in Major League Baseball.
Q-We need a second baseman, a front-line starting pitcher and a closer as per as per our GM. I do agree. I'm not particularly very happy with Travis Snider and Eric Thames in the left field. Do you see any one really good coming through the system? And what about our middle relief?
Tapan Chatterjee, Brampton
A-Middle relief and backup catching are areas that can be filled through free agency and filled very easily using good judgment. There are 49 free agent relievers not including the list that will be added from non-tendered contracts. There are 15 catchers on the free-agent market. Many of those will still be available in the new year. As for the outfield, I agree that at this stage of their careers, Snider and Thames are not good enough to be key contributors on a contender. The outfield picture looks bright in 2013 and beyond with Marisnick, Gose, Bautista, Rasmus, Sierra, Marcus Knecht and others. However that does not address 2012. I think there was a clue to where they are going short-term when AA said that Edwin Encarnacion was going to play some left field in Winter Ball. If Encarnacion could play the outfield at even a Thames level, he could become the starter out there and provide more consistent offence, opening the need for a designated hitter. That is just a short term solution, but EE is only signed for 2012 anyway. That may be what the Jays are hoping for in terms of 2012. But in 2013, with another 600 ABs under his belt, Anthony Gose will be ready to take his place in the Jays outfield.
Why do baseball players spit so much. Even when they are not playing they spit. A TV camera zooms in on a player in the dugout and most times he is spitting. Hockey players do the same. It's gross. Basketball and soccer players don't seem to have this problem.
Tom Davis, Pickering
A-Chewing tobacco and dipping has been a long-time baseball tradition but is now being outlawed. However that has not stopped dippers and chewers from continuing the vile habit that always results in great expectorations. It always seems a greater problem, a blight on the game, than it actually is because there are more cameras, more televised games and more close-ups of players in dugouts. The guys using the seeds in the dugout only spit seed husks, but the horking and dribbling of dippers and chewers is really unpleasant to watch. Most of the time, if tobacco is not involved and if there are no seeds, I think it is merely a nervous habit carried over from youth baseball and watching their heroes.