The first Blue Jays mailbag of 2012
Happy Birthday to Jays' catcher J.P. Arencibia who turned 26 on Thursday. The Miami native and Nashville resident, a three-year product of the University of Tennessee, spent the early part of his 26th birthday flying to Toronto for the start of the Jays' second annual Winter Tour, beginning in Ottawa on Sunday. Arencibia participated in the winter tour last year and became a huge hockey fan, developing friendships with NHL'ers Tanner Glass, Logan Couture and several of the Leafs that has shaped his personality as an honourary hoser of MacKenzie Brothers proportions and a leader of the #teamunit movement, a competitive off-the-field/ice link between Toronto's sports teams.
Arencibia will be a key for the Jays not just in 2012, but beyond that, into the club's Wonder Years. With impressive power numbers in 2011, he earned the club's rookie-of-the-year honours from the local chapter of the BBWAA, however Arencibia could just as easily have been voted most improved player as well. In fact the improvement was not just with the bat, but with a ramped up leadership attitude that in his first taste of MLB, late in '10 had showed alarming signs of being combative and contrarian.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. After an unbelievable Jays' debut against the Rays that included four hits and a couple of homers, J.P. had played sporadically thereafter, seemingly facing a steady diet of Cy Young winners in occasional relief of John Buck, who was padding his future free-agent numbers, and Jose Molina. It was a tough diet of pitchers for a rookie, even sporting the Triple-A Pacific Coast League MVP at Las Vegas. He had bristled at the time in September '10 when questioned about his perceived batting slump and he sarcastically blamed media when questioned about his defensive troubles even though the rumblings of his inadequacies behind the plate originated from within the clubhouse. That winter he seemed to come to terms with both the Jays and reality.
At spring training, as the Jays' handpicked No. 1 catcher, after the club's offer was spurned by Rod Barajas who signed with the Dodgers, Arencibia re-invented himself. He formed a solid relationship with new coach Don Wakamatsu, who had even flown to Miami to introduce himself in December and then took him under his instructional wing in Dunedin at camp. He also received some tough love from veterans like Jon Rauch about his receiving mechanics and how he needed to improve as a catcher before ever worrying about his numbers as a hitter. He took all of this to heart and even though he still has trouble in certain areas of receiving, his relationship with his pitching staff and his understanding of his role improved tremendously -- which impressed his coaches more than his home runs and RBIs.
Now, there's a different issue. With the catcher of the future Travis D'Arnaud finally added to the roster and on the immediate horizon, Arencibia is no longer seen as just keeping the spot warm, he has become a fan favourite and a favourite of Paul Beeston who loves how he has embraced Toronto, his fans and the sport of hockey. Now, instead of Arencibia being an automatic trade candidate whenever D'Arnaud is major-league ready, the Jays must seriously consider what to do with him, whether it's a position change to first base, DH or the outfield or even whether they have to make a decision between the two men that are each considered a No. 1 catcher at the major-league level. But those decisions are a year away and in the meantime Arencibia continues to enjoy and to grow as a player and teammate.
Happy Birthday, J.P. and on to the mailbag.
Like most Jays' fans I really enjoyed Brett Lawrie's truncated rookie season last year. I know it's a lot to ask, but I actually believe he may be one of those rare players, like Tampa's Evan Longoria, who becomes All-Star calibre very early in his career. What do you think?
Jamie F., Toronto
A-Brett Lawrie is a rare player indeed who reminds me in many ways of Larry Walker. As a pair of young Canadian players growing up in B.C., both had a shorter outdoor season to work with in terms of actual games and as such had trouble settling on one defensive position. Both Walker and Lawrie show an athleticism, an imagination and an instinct for the game that is fun to watch.
Nobody could believe when Lawrie reported to his first Jays' training camp as a third baseman that he would adapt to the position so quickly, but by the end of camp, rookie manager John Farrell was sold on him as the best third-base option coming out of Florida. Unfortunately Farrell was overruled by GM Alex Anthopoulos who is way too conservative and careful for a man his age, but nevertheless, the 21-year-old Lawrie was shipped to Triple-A Las Vegas where he dominated offensively and improved defensively. He is possessed of a great attitude and snot-slinging enthusiasm for taking centre-stage in the toughest moments on the field. His dugout high-fives and winning celebrations have proved dangerous to coaches and those not prepared for the intense physical contact. If Lawrie can stay healthy and continue to improve his strike zone recognition, he can quickly be an all-star.
Q-I would like to know your thoughts on having Brett Lawrie in the lead off position. This is on the understanding that Rajai Davis does not make it as the starter in left field. I believe with his speed and his ability to hit and take walks this would help the Jays more so than hitting anywhere else. Where would you put Yunel Escobar if it turns out that he won't be hitting leadoff? Lastly, with the year J.P. Arencibia had in 2011 would you not think that he might be the better choice in hitting behind Jose, if Lind once again shows he cannot do the job?
Have a good New Year.
Peter R., Guelph
A-First of all, Davis will not be the starting left fielder for the Jays. He showed that his best role is coming off the bench with speed and as an occasional starter against some lefthanders. As for Lawrie, I believe that as the roster stands right now, his best spot in the order would be batting second behind Escobar. Escobar is not an ideal leadoff hitter, but in this current mix is the best option at the top of the order. His on-base is solid and he is a good baserunner, although not a base-stealer. Lawrie hitting second is not scared with two strikes and has the ability to be a 20-20 man. He hits the ball hard and will make contact when the Jays choose to have a runner on the move. My lineup as the team exists right now, would be Escobar-Lawrie-Bautista-Lind-Encarnacion-K.Johnson-Arencibia-Rasmus-then the left fielder. I think Lind can do the job a year after his life and his position changed dramatically.
With Carlos Quentin being traded to the Padres to fill their hole in LF for 2 lesser prospects, this would seem like a clear sign that AA is content with his current LF options, would this be a fair assumption?
It would have seemed that Quentin would have been a strong bat to have protected Bautista. 2nd Question-AA seems to have found a favourite trading partner this offseason Kenny from Chicago, what are your feelings about Jake Peavy in a Jays Uniform? It would seem he has the talent to be a 1-2 starter to fill in before or after Romero. If you like Peavy, what type of package of prospects would it take to grab him? AA has already made 2 trades with Williams why not make it a trifecta?
Scott C., Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-The White Sox accepted in trade from the Pads, young pitching prospects RHP Simon Castro and LHP Pedro Hernandez for the former all-star outfielder Carlos Quentin. The 23-year-old Castro was ranked third among Padres' prospects in 2011 by Baseball America, but took a step backwards. Hernandez is a squatty 22-year-old Venezuelan who projects as a situational left-handed reliever. His best pitch is a changeup that relies on gravity for its sink. The equivalent in trade from the Jays might have been something like RHP Deck McGuire and LHP Luis Perez. That is comparable, if not superior. Anthopoulos had indeed spoken to Sox GM Kenny Williams at the winter meetings in a wide-ranging conversation that included Quentin, but the key for AA is whether or not he believed the oft-injured Quentin was a significant enough upgrade for the price on what he already had in left field. Clearly the answer he gave himself was no?
As for RHP Jake Peavy, sure he is under control for the next two years at $39 million, with 2013 being a club option for $22 million, but that's a lot and the White Sox would have to pay a chunk of that for anyone to accept the 30-year-old righthander who has not pitched more than 112 innings in any season since 2008. When healthy, Peavy is an elite pitcher, but worth the risk for prospects? Not really.
Q-I have been reading the Charlie Finley Book this Christmas. Published in 2010, there is a reference in the first few chapters that Finley was entertaining offers from a Toronto group to buy the A's in 1970. Do you know who that group would have been? ( Labatt?). I was not aware of this situation. I know that Toronto nearly purchased the Giants in 1976 from the Stoneham family....
Vin M., Oakville
A-When looking for the answer to who may have been seeking a major-league team for Toronto between 1968 and 1977, only follow the trail of Don McDougall and Labatt breweries. When Montreal was granted a National League expansion franchise in May of '68, the search for a team of its own began for McDougall and Labatt. It reached the most serious levels in '75-'76 when the Giants franchise was on the market. Toronto was heavily involved before the Giants stayed put with the sale to a Denver meat packer, but the quest for MLB goes back to '70 with the A's.
The late Charles O. Finley was a Chicago insurance magnate who was basically an absentee owner in Oakland. Charlie once had a clubhouse kid that helped out with the equipment, who later went on to become hip-hop star MC Hammer, as his de facto GM, phoning him in Chicago with inside reports on his team. Finley was the Al Davis of baseball. The A's, despite competitive teams at the time, consistently drew less than 800,000 fans per year at the damp, cavernous, foreboding Coliseum. McDougall had been named Labatt president in 1973. After the Expos came into existence one of his passions was in bringing baseball to Toronto. It did not work out with the A's who went on to win three straight World Series between '72 and '74, nor with the Giants who remained in San Francisco with the help of MLB, but when the next round of expansion arrived in '76, Toronto was granted a franchise along with Seattle. Labatt and McDougall were front and centre in the bid and the rest is history. McDougall is a deserving member of the Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Fame in St, Marys.
I'm wondering if there is anything in the rules that would allow the Texas Rangers to trade the negotiating rights with Yu Darvish to another team during the 30 days window. And if there are such rules in place, could a team like Toronto come in and offer the Rangers a significant package of players/prospects once he has been signed (assuming they don't sign him with a no-trade clause)?
Kevin S., Milton
A-The posting system with Japanese baseball as it is written does not allow for trading the signing rights to another team during the 30-day negotiating window. As for the possibility of the Rangers trading Darvish once they have signed him, that would make no sense, since there is the bidding fee of $51.7 million to consider. Would the Jays have to send money over as well as prospects, or would the package of prospects have to be sweetened considerably to offset the money, or a combination of the two. Besides, in examining the contract of Dice-K Matsuzaka, there was a “full no-trade” clause included as well as a provision that even prevents him from being sent to the minors. Since Darvish has the same representative in Don Nomura, it's likely he will negotiate all the same contract protections.
I love the Jays so I will always watch them, but unless they win, ratings will not go up. I ask you two quick questions. 1-Why would the casual fan now watch the Blue Jays? 2-Has AA failed this offseason? I truly believe he has, we may be no worse off, but The Yankees and Red Sox have spend less then 9-million combined on free agents. I don't think that has happened in the last 15 years. This seems like a ripe offseason where we could make ground on both of them.
Marc O., Toronto
A-I think there is a huge marketing gap between the casual Jays fan and the fanatical baseball fan. The difference is that a casual Jays fan, as you define it, may need “winning” to be attracted to Jays' telecasts and to going to Jays games. A good baseball fan would simply need an entertaining home team with a few compelling personalities. I think that win or lose, there are still many good baseball fans who will go to a game at the RC to see, for example, Jose Bautista when he is hot. They will watch the Jays on TV or attend games at the ballpark if they are presented a solid three-hour baseball package. Some of the best Jays games I've seen over the past few years have ended up being Jays losses, but have been great baseball entertainment. Sure the Jays need to appeal to the casual Jays fans in order to succeed. MLB teams have an inventory of 40,000 seats times 81 home games. That's over 3.2 million seats to sell. Here's a suggestion to attract more casual Jays' fans. Make the in-stadium experience as close to watching the game on HDTV at home by showing more replays and using the scoreboard to its maximum potential. Why should fans at home know more about what's going on at the ballkpark than fans at the ballpark? Yes, that includes close plays that make umpires potentially look bad.
If the Jays were to add Prince Fielder what would the chain effect be for Lind and others in the field and at the plate? Since both bat left and play first, would this mean hasta la vista for Adam, or back to left field where there already enough players to field a team?
Jeff H., Markham
A-That's a good question but one that is hypothetical. Although it looks like Fielder's expectations in terms of length are coming back to the five-year range for slightly more than what Albert Pujols averages with the Angels, with maybe an opt-out for anything beyond that, it's still impossible that the Jays would ever enter the Prince-ly fray. How would a Fielder signing affect Lind? Lind and Edwin Encarnacion could not co-exist. Neither man plays left field well enough to be the starter and there is not room for two fulltime DH. Either he would have to become DH and Edwin traded or the other way.
Q-Happy Holidays, Richard, and please keep up your good work in 2012! One of your answers in this week's blog makes me think: AA sets his own price for players and works accordingly. Isn't it the flexibility of GM to recognize changing values and markets quickly and act accordingly? While I have some more patience for AA due to his inexperience, I question a lot of his moves more and more (see left fielders) and am afraid he will accumulate junk again. When will senior management and ownership step in?
Peter K., Vancouver
A-The history of Jays ownership and chief executives is that they will never step in to interfere on player personnel decisions – with the possible exception of former prez Paul Godfrey. During the '80s in the years when the Jays were building towards the World Series, Paul Beeston gloated that for him and GM Pat Gillick it was like owning their own team without any of the risk. Then when the Belgians stepped in, they knew that they knew nothing at all about baseball and they allowed Gord Ash to make the baseball decisions. Now, with Rogers ownership, they began by relying on the decisions of J.P. Ricciardi and Godfrey. Now it's Anthopoulos and Beeston. Beeston will advise AA but not step in.
As for Anthopoulos, the man is in just his third season as GM and is still learning. His early history is he does like to enter any negotiation with a maximum value in mind and he does not chase above that. As you point out that philosophy can work against him, but it is part of the learning curve.
A perfect example of what you correctly term “changing market values” could be seen this winter with Mat Latos of the Padres and then Gio Gonzalez of the A's. AA was interested in both, but the asking price in terms of prospects was amazingly high and the Jays refused to chase. Did he learn anything? Now, the next time a similar talent comes available will Anthopoulos have made the adjustment and maybe add a player. Hopefully, but in those just-completed trades, would it have been better for the Jays to have been flexible for either Latos or Gonzalez and chase. That's subject to debate.
I know it's not very sportsmenlike but why wouldn't teams (e.g. Yankees) put in a significant posting bid that would likely win them the rights to negotiate and the low ball an offer to the player every time? The main objective would be to block other teams from getting the Japanese player and when your offer is likely to be rejected you eventually get the posting money back and the player is out of the majors for another year. That way the Red Sox or other teams in AL east will never get an opportunity to upgrade from Japan. Of course if the player accepts the offer you get a decent player for a low price. Thoughts on using the posting process/refund to your advantage?
Ameet K., Stamford
A-The reason it can't happen like that is that there is a provision in the posting agreement about bargaining in good faith and if a team is a serial under-bidder then that would not go over very well. I believe what happens then under the agreement between leagues is that the agent can accuse the team of not bargaining in good faith and the Japanese team would then have the right to accept the second highest bid. It's never happened. Besides, the goal of baseball as an industry is to get the best players in the world playing in MLB. That aggressive-passive strategy would seem to be counter-intuitive to that goal. Besides, I believe in sports that there is always a karma when you try and manipulate the system to your own end that will invariably come back and bite you in the ass. Good faith is never a bad thing.
I am a long time Blue Jays fan and about to lose my mind, the time to put up and shut up is now. We have endured JP and his arrogant ways and now AA and his promises, the honeymoon is over we have heard 2012 for the past 3 seasons. We have seen salary shed with Wells, Rios, Haliday and others with little free agent spending. Its time to re-capture our excitement. Give Fielder 250 million, trade for Hanley Ramirez get that one impact top 3 rotation starter pitcher. These moves are do-able, its not fantasy; sign the check for Prince, send Hecheveria, Lind and a young high touted prospect pitcher to Florida for Ramirez....can you imagine that line up? Instead what do we get? Ben Francisco and whoever that guy from Chicago is....are you kidding me! Time to put up.
Scott S., Sudbury
A-I agree. The AA honeymoon may just about be over as he enters his third season as decision-maker, but I think more of the pressure to take the next step will come from inside the clubhouse not in the stands. It will either become that the current group of players demonstrates on the field that it is on the verge of being a legitimate contender, likely by the end of May, in which case Anthopoulos will be encouraged to take that next step and bolster the lineup and pitching staff in areas of short-term need, or else the impetus will be another failed start in the standings with Joey Bats carrying the offensive load. Frustrated, that will encourage Bautista to pressure for a re-negotiation or trade to a contender. That is the type of pressure that may cause Rogers' ownership to glance momentarily away from the Maple Leaf towers long enough to decide whether they want to make the Jays a success on the field.