Jays mailbag: Travis Snider = Eric Hinske? Plus more on Ryan Braun
It seems the lifting of Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension via the appeal process has not solved anything in baseball's drug-testing conundrum -– except, of course, for the Brewers.
Baseball's reaction was very unusual with Rob Manfred issuing a statement saying that MLB “vehemently disagrees” with the ruling. That in itself is a head scratcher. Why not just quietly accept the decision and move on. It's only the first, maybe the second time they have lost in appeal. Definitely the first time it has been made public. But it's part of the CBA and it doesn't say anywhere that baseball has to win.
Baseball did its due diligence in the process. Ryan Braun, one of the biggest stars in the game, was caught by the testing and, as such, was given the same punishment as any fringe player that would have tested positive.
In the long term, not having Braun suspended is good for the game, especially with the young impressionable fans who look up to these guys and with the young baseball players who may now stay away from experimenting with performance enhancers. So why is the Commissioner's Office so vehemently opposed to the acquittal? There is no recourse for MLB to ask for another hearing.
Braun is reporting to camp and Braun will play on Opening Day. I'm sure deep down Bud Selig is very happy because the Brewers were his former team, Braun was a poster boy for everything good about the game and Selig takes every drug suspension personally.
Sure there are questions about the report that Braun's appeal was based on a technicality on the mishandling by testers of his urine specimen. But that simply means that in the minds of his defence team the most certain avenue of appeal was the mishandling aspect and does not mean he is admitting that the testing results were correct. But that is the assumption that people are making. It's almost like many people want Braun to be guilty, because then they can wag a finger at pro sports and say, “See, you're all cheaters and I'm never going back.” The one thing that I have noticed in the time since the announcement was made is that players are bitter towards the media for creating this whole Braun circus. That too is misguided. On to the mailbag.
Last year at this time we heard how the off-season acquisitions to our bullpen were a strength heading into the 2011 season. They were supposed to be an area that our young rotation could lean on. This sounds very similar to the speech we are being given this year. I love the Sergio Santos trade and I actually do buy into the message that is being pitched. My problem is that I also bought into that message last year. I was wondering if you had a similar optimism about our pen last year and why we should believe that the pen will actually work properly this year?
Mike S., Toronto
A-Of course, we all know that this time with regards to baseball, the start of spring training is always supposed to be about hope. It doesn't matter what the organization is or its recent history has been, there's reason for optimism even in Pittsburgh. The fact is that the Jays' bullpen last season breaking camp had a chance to be pretty good. But stuff happens.
Marc Rzepczynski was to be the next Scott Downs, a specialty left-hander that could eat innings. Zep got traded. Carlos Villanueva was an excellent middle reliever, but with injuries and failures in the rotations he volunteered and became a starter, finally wearing down. He's back in the role at which he's best. Octavio Dotel was as close to a right-handed specialist as you get, but that was not important with the middle of the pack Jays and, besides, he did not have the confidence of his manager. Dotel was traded and called it the least enjoyable stretch of his career. He now has a World Series ring. Jason Frasor was his reliable self, but was traded in July. He's back. Casey Janssen has steadily improved.
But the issue last season was with the two-headed closer, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco. Manager Farrell knew Francisco was a traditionally slow starter, especially health-wise and so Rauch was handed the ball early on. But neither man could sustain and although Francisco finished strong, it was a closing mess. Farrell admits he did not handle his bullpen well. This year, Santos is the closer, with Frasor, Francisco Cordero, lefty Darren Oliver, Villanueva and Casey Janssen as experienced relievers that know their roles. Last year wasn't a bullpen deception, it just didn't work out, but that's sports.
Enjoy your columns but am getting a little of tired of your continual tagging of the Jays offseason as disappointing. You were quite (right) to rubbish the previous GM when he went against his own ideals and threw big money around just for the sake of it, so I'm confused why you seem to be encouraging Alex to veer off his long term plan. I am ecstatic that he's held firm this winter. As for being “disappointing” I've seen some writers class the Santos trade as the best trade of the winter. Time will tell, but it certainly filled a glaring need. 2012 should be an exciting year -- one only has to look at the 25-man roster this time last year to see how much better this Jays team should be.
Iain Carey, Manchester, U.K.
A-There was no encouraging Alex to veer off his long-term plan. All winter, I was quite adamant that he should not sign Prince Fielder, because it's likely by the end of the contract you'll be eating salary.
As for Darvish, the AA philosophy is to acquire young, controllable players with an upside. Darvish fits that philosophy in that he is major-league ready at 25-years-old and is under team control for the next six years. Plus, he can help you to the next level. The posting fee should be seen as an investment, while the player's salary is salary.
The disappointment for the offseason stems from AA's own words at the end of the season wherein he stated that his offseason goals were to upgrade the bullpen, find a closer, obtain another power bat and find a top of the rotation starter, preferably through trade. He did the bullpen and the closer, but failed at the two other stated goals.
But overall, AA's three years have been very different than the previous GM in that Alex has stayed the course and not been swayed by the W-L record of the previous year to go for it with short-term veterans just off of an above-.500 finish. Plus, AA has invested heavily in the draft and international scouting which has set him up for sustainability once he decides to bulk up at the major-league level, which he did not do right now.
Looking forward to the mailbag from you reporting from Dunedin. I just watched a small clip from Sportsnet about Travis Snider and Eric Thames "battling it out". Do you think the decision is already made? I believe Snider should be given a long last look at the major league level while Thames can improve his overall performance in the minors though I liked what he did last year. When Snider was first brought up, I thought of him as the next Carlos Delgado. I still believe that but I assume this is his last chance. Where do you see Lawrie in the batting order for the first half and the second half of the season? Any projection of stats Richard?
Thank you and enjoy the weather down there!
Kam H., Richmond Hill
A-I think as in most things, there is a frontrunner, an early favourite in the minds of the Jays' brass that will make the decision. I believe at this stage, the odds-on favourite is Thames. But that does not mean the decision has been made.
All things being equal, given good health by both men, they bring very similar skills. I can see Thames winning the job because of what he showed last year and the Jays seeing that as a promising upside.
Snider has been used and abused and that might be an indicator of what they think of his immediate future. Strangely, of the two men, Snider would probably have more trade value for the Jays as the loser in the LF battle.
Someone suggested the other day that Snider reminded him of Eric Hinske and that's not a bad comparison. Hinske got bumped from third base by Corey Koskie and then got bumped off first base by Lyle Overbay. He has since been to the playoffs four times in five years with four different teams. Snider's success may have to come elsewhere.
Q-Am I nuts in thinking that if these five things happen the Jays will make the playoffs?
a) Adam Lind needs to be an .850-.900 OPS guy (.350 OBP, .500 SLG) . b) Colby Rasmus needs to put an .800-.850 OPS season like he did in 2010. c) Brett Cecil needs to pitch 200 innings, win 13-15 games and have a WHIP around 1.20. d) Travis Snider needs to hit 20 HRs which means he will be healthy and am able to stay with the big club all year. e) Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez, Dustin McGowan have to combine to give the Jays 400 innings.
Jason Sinnarahjah, San Francisco
A-That's quite a wish list. I agree with you, the Lind and Rasmus OPS numbers, or something very similar, being necessary for Jays' success and pretty much Brett Cecil needing to log 200 innings and win 13-15 games. But in point d) Snider could be Thames, or anyone else that might play the third outfield spot. Snider at the moment is the best defensive option in left field, but that won't be enough to earn him the starting role. If the starting rotation bottom two spots could combine for 400 innings, that would be good. McGowan has much to prove about his health. Drabek has a lot to prove about his mental fortitude in order to be able to treat success and failure, personal highs and lows, those impostors just the same. But throw Drew Hutchison into that mix with Alvarez, Drabek and McGowan and 400 innings would be good. So much more needs to fall just right for the Jays to contend.
I always enjoy reading your opinions on all things Blue Jays, and baseball in general. Although I am disappointed that the Jays did not acquire an additional 2/3 starter during the off season, I am still quite optimistic about them playing meaningful games in September. They may not make it to the playoffs, but I think it will be close. Am I being delusional?
Last year they won 81 games with a team that largely underperformed. With a young roster that should improve I don't believe that 88 -90 wins is unrealistic. Very few players had what could be considered very good/excellent seasons. These players would be Bautista, Escobar, Romero and Alvarez. Arencibia and Encarnacion were fine, but slight offensive upgrades are reasonable expectations. I haven't included Brett Lawrie as he only played 43 games. If he only comes close to last year's performance, then a full year of Brett Lawrie will be a huge upgrade at 3B. All other positions underperformed significantly.
I think that the bullpen is a bit better, plus John Farrell has stated that he will do a better job of handling his relievers this year. This area is a plus. Other than Romero and Alvarez, the starters underperformed, so I expect one or two more to step forward and help the rotation go deeper into games. Thereby reducing the pressure on the bullpen. As for the other positions CF, LF, 2B, 1B, all were very disappointing. The bench will be much better than what they started with last year. To expect improvement from at least some of these areas is reasonable, and should more than compensate if the performance of some of the above referenced positive players slip somewhat this year. Is there any merit to this analysis? Thank you,
Kevin L. , Mississauga
A-There is a wide range allowable in predicting how many games this 2012 Jays team will win. You could make arguments for anywhere from 75 to 95 wins and not be wrong. When you say many players “underperformed” you are talking production against expectations. Maybe the expectations for some of these guys was too high last year for their true abilities. Baseball is all about adjustments, so the only way to expect improved performance from year to year is for a major-league player to be intelligent enough to make the necessary adjustments to what a pitcher is trying to do to him or what hitters have learned about his pitching patterns. Just because you are a year older doesn't make you automatically a better player unless you have learned to make the necessary adjustments during that year.
The other point is that this Jays roster is no longer a young roster. On the 40-man, there are just eight players that have realistic chances to make the opening day team that are 25-years-old or younger. They are Alvarez, Carreno, Drabek, Cecil, Lawrie, Rasmus, Snider and Thames. The average age of the Jays 40-man roster is 27.1 The average age of the Rangers is 27.3 and for the Red Sox it's 27.5.
The bullpen is experienced and that will help with a younger rotation that will likely all be under 30 again and Farrell has indeed promised to have players more aware of their roles and stay with them. Like I said, you could argue anywhere from 75-90 wins and not be ridiculed.
I just read your piece on Johnny Mac/Omar. It was awesome. I have always heard how great Johnny Mac is and that he says those things about the Jays and Omar and Yunel really drives that home doesn't it? No real question here but I sure hope that the Jays will have him on staff when he retires. He is just such a positive guy to have around they would be fools not to.
Victor Tanti, Ottawa
A-John McDonald will make a great minor-league manager as soon as he is done with his playing career, but he will have options. He has friends and admirers all over baseball. He lives in New England and is a real family man, so the guess is that he will take a couple of years at home, maybe keeping a hand in it as a spring training instructor somewhere, before getting back in as a manager.
During the winter we were fortunate to have three members of the Blue Jays in Saskatoon for a sold out youth baseball fundraising dinner, Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie.
First, it was nice to see the organization backing up its position as Canada's team and having the players travel to cities they may not consider as big supporters. The truth is I see kids everywhere here wearing Blue Jays hats and the lineup for autographs after the dinner was proof of the interest the fans have. It was fascinating to be in the room with these athletes to observe them in a different situation than on TV.
I don't think Brett stopped talking to J.P. for one minute the whole evening! It got me wondering about Lawrie, his energy just sitting there was like it is on the field, endless. He seemed like a dog that just wanted to be let off the leash to run. Can you compare him to another past or present player with regard to his 'enthusiasm'? Could focus be an issue over a long season or through inevitable slumps?
Trevor Brown, Saskatoon
A-This Jays clubhouse, especially among the homegrown core players, is very close, year-round. They communicate on social networks all winter and the friendships flow seamlessly into the clubhouse at the start of the spring. Even Jose Bautista with his Joey Bats persona is a part of it.
As for Brett Lawrie, it's amazing how even handicapped by the short season in Canada, he showed up as prepared as anyone to play in the majors at the age of 21. His enthusiasm is part of what he brings to the table, but we do need to see how he reacts to slumps. His enthusiasm reminds me of a young Gary Carter who showed up for those early training camps of the Expos in the '70s and followed the veterans around like a kid, smiling and talking all the time. By the time he reached the majors he had already been nicknamed “The Kid”, by the major-league guys. Lawrie reminds me of this generation's Kid.
As for the Jays and Saskatoon, it's just another example of how Paul Beeston wants to re-establish the Jays' brand from coast-to-coast. They are doing it quite nicely.
Why does the Toronto sports media seem to be so against the idea of the Jays doing a complete rebuild? The rebuild is still a few years away, and while jumping the gun could get us into the playoffs a year sooner, it could come at the cost of a title. If waiting means we get to be in the playoffs longer than one year, I'm all for waiting.
A-For my thoughts on rebuilding see Friday's column in The Star. But the fact of the matter is that the playoffs now and Jays sustainability in the future are not mutually exclusive because no one is asking the Jays to strip the farm system for short term pieces to win right now. That's the danger, that's the difference.
Love the mailbag! Last year the Jays finished 6th in runs scored, but 18th in OBP. Given that Jose Bautista was pretty much a one-man wrecking crew last year, and it's generally accepted that a high OBP drives runs scored, what do you see the Jays doing to drive up that OBP this year? After Chad Mottola was called up last year, do you think Dwayne Murphy is on a short leash?
Gregory Stoen, Toronto
A-Certainly Dwayne Murphy made slight adjustments to his teaching philosophy of hitting after the departure of Cito Gaston and upon the arrival of John Farrell. Cito's philosophy is that the best pitch to hit in any at-bat could very well be the first one and that when you get it you should attack it.
Last season, the coaching staff tempered that with a desire to see more pitches and get an opposing pitcher deeper into a pitch count earlier in the game. They became more aware of situational hitting. As for Chad Mottola, the hitting coach at AAA-Las Vegas, every year the Jays reward one of their minor-league coaches with a promotion to the Jays in September. Mottola was the coach rewarded for his work with guys like Thames, Snider, Lawrie and David Cooper.
As the month of September wore on, Murphy and Mottola started to mesh in terms of what they are going to teach in '12. I don't think it was any signal that Murphy is on a short leash. I thought that maybe the Jays would do what the Rangers and Cardinals do in terms of having two hitting coaches on staff. But not yet.
Q-Chapman Cespedes and Darvish
Could be on anyone's team .
It made Paul and AA quite nervous
To lay out substantial long green.
So Darvish, Cespedes and Chapman
Went to Rangers and Reds and the A's
While fans in Toronto were wondering
How come it is never the Jays?
Peter Thomson, Elizabeth City, NC
A-Must have been a slow day in Elizabeth City.
I want to know how good you believe the Jays BP can be this season. I have a tough time finding a better pen in the league than the Jays if they remain healthy and pitch at the high level they have proven they can in the past. Am I overrating what Santos, Cordero, Oliver and Janssen are capable of? What other teams would you add to the list of the top 3-5 pens in the MLB?
Josh Cymbalista, New York
A-I would not be so generous so early as to say Top 3 with the Jays bullpen. Santos has a lot to prove as a closer over a full season, while the primary lefty, Darren Oliver is 41-years-old. The Jays have much depth in the pen with the additions of Frasor and Francisco Cordero. Janssen and Villanueva are solid. That's where they earn their ranking -- depth. In all of MLB I would put the Jays in the Top 10 with a chance to move up. Other bullpens that remain impressive are the Braves, Giants, Yankees, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Brewers, Red Sox and Diamondbacks.
With seeing the A's signing Yoenis Cespedes at 4 years, $36 million ($9 million per), why weren't the Jays in on him? With having him in the fold to play LF that would be one less big IF to worry about. All the scouting reports are that he is ready to step in and be able to play at a high level. With Cespedes on board the ability to trade Thames or Snider for a front-line starter would be more plausible. The flip side I guess would be AA is waiting to see if Thames and Snider can increase their trade value and flip one for a front line starter? A Jays fan not pleased to be back in the Great White North.
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-The Jays' modus operandi in terms of international free agents is to put a value on said player and not to chase if the bidding goes higher than that number they have in mind. Anthopoulos like to recall how they had a $25 million value on Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman and he had the go-ahead from ownership to go higher, but when the bidding reached $30 million he backed off. With the bidding on Cespedes at four years and $36 million, it was clearly more than Chapman and too rich for the Jays who have a couple of young outfielders in Gose and Marisnick that are in the same stratosphere of prospects as is the Cuban star. Plus they already have Thames, Snider and Colby Rasmus onboard at 25 and younger. Your suggestion of Thames or Snider for a frontline starter is never going to happen.
While I kind of understand where the Blue Jays are coming from in terms of their stance on signing free agents for more then 5 years, let me propose a scenario for you. Let's use Brett Lawrie as an example and say he turns out to be every bit as good as we all hope and want him to be. Let's say he turns out to be an annual all star and impact player, maybe even a future hall of famer, just for arguments sake. Let's assume he doesn't have any major injuries and is healthy come free agent time. What do you think the Blue Jays would do under this scenario if Lawrie was able to be on the open market and could sign anywhere and asks for an 8 year contract. He would be in his late 20s at that time and obviously the face of the franchise. Do you think they would sign him to it or watch him walk away because of principles? How would the fan base react to a "homegrown" free agent signing elsewhere? It's one thing not to sign an overweight Prince Fielder but your own guy? Thoughts?
David Morris, Thornhill
A-That's another good question. Lawrie if he stays on the roster, would be eligible for free agency following the 2017 season at the age of 28-years-old. That's the same age as Fielder is. The Jays are surely able to make adjustments in philosophy, but in the case of Fielder and even Darvish, they had already negotiated in good faith with Jose Bautista on a five-year deal and told him that's all they do. He agreed and signed and if he continues what he's been doing, that's a steal for the Jays. But I have a feeling that if the Jays change their philosophy it will be because of Lawrie. It's not like his free agent date will sneak up on them. As it approaches they will make sure they don't insist on a five-year deal with anyone and won't tell them “Hey, that's all we do.” The Jays will be prepared when the Lawrie moment arrives. By then, Beeston promises they will have been to the playoffs two or three times and who knows what other free agents will be wanting to play in Toronto blue. They used to not offer contracts longer than three years and that changed. Life is a series of adjustments and compromises.
I think the installation of a grass field at Rogers Centre would be an outstanding move. It would benefit current players, recruitment of free agents and it would improve the ambience at the stadium for the fan; essentially, the Jays would be transforming the stadium into a baseball park. In this spirit, do you think the Jays would consider other changes: i.e. altering the dimensions in the outfield to be more asymmetrical? The current configuration, in my mind evokes, the multi-purpose era of the 70s a little too much.
Rory Parisien, Montreal
A-The Rogers Centre just dumped the Bills exhibition game for next year and have one more Bills game on the current contract. Will they renew? I wouldn't. The Argos are still RC tenants but for how long? Grass and an all-dirt infield are most definitely the way to go at the Rogers Centre. You think the Rolling Stones care if they play a concert on grass? In fact they probably prefer it. As for the outfield configuration of the ballpark, maybe the Jays could change the current cookie-cutter feel by adding something to make the stadium more immediately identifiable as downtown Toronto. Maybe they could build a high-rise condo in centre field.
Q-Thank you for your excellent article about Rusty Staub. I was raised in Quebec and was a die-hard Expo fan. I was at the Big O the night Rusty returned to that great ovation. I remember you as statistician for the Expos (a job I coveted) and the pleasure you got at the job. I moved to Toronto in 1985 and was thrilled when you started writing for the Star as I knew what a truly dedicated Expo and baseball fan you are.
Best of luck always.
Fred Braley, Markham