Less than three weeks until spring training and the Jays' recent State of the Franchise assures us that all is well -- sort of, I guess.
Once again they Jays are hoping for development from players on hand. In other news, we found out: a) there may be real grass at the Rogers Centre soon, b) Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Yunel Escobar will each have bobblehead giveaways, c) there will be more choice added for women in terms of Jays wear, not just pink and girly and includes more players' names, d) former catcher Kevin Cash has been hired as an advance scout for the major-league team, e) manager John Farrell rates himself a C for his rookie year, f) the sixth year and beyond of their contracts scared the Jays off of Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder and g) uh, wait until next year.
There were no fan questions Monday regarding Jose Bautista and, by his own count, the 16 drug tests he has undergone in two seasons since breaking out as a star. It was not a leak, if you'll pardon the pun. He was asked at a charity event in the Dominican by future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez and he replied in matter of fact manner. If it doesn't bother Jose, why does it bother so many of us.
Some fans and media were outraged at his 16 tests, which is strange because for years between 2004 and 2010, guys like Dick Pound and the Olympic people were making fun of baseball for having a toothless drug testing policy, with gaps in credibility because of not enough tests and players sometimes getting advance warning.
Now, you have the top slugger of the past two seasons being tested more times than would be anticipated and not complaining about it, almost saying “Bring it on,” and, now, outside people deem it necessary to step up in his defence. I admire Bautista for his views, because at one point in his breakout year some media suggested that those questions of performance enhancers needed to be asked. It seems to me it has been answered. He's not asking for sympathy.
Nevertheless, it seems an awful lot of random tests for one player.
Upon further review, here are the mandated guidelines as per collective bargaining. Every player undergoes two mandatory urine test seeking traces of any of a total of 58 listed PEDs and a dozen banned stimulants. The first urine test takes place during the team medicals at the start of spring training and one other happens at some point during the season. In addition, for 30 teams times 25 players plus DL, say 800 players in all, there will be 1,200 random tests selected by computer during the season and 375 maximum tests at random during the offseason. That works out to an average of two mandatory tests per player and, using the law of averages, what might be two more in 12 months from the lottery. It seems that Lucky Jose has doubled what might be an anticipated total of eight tests over two seasons. However, there is a kicker to the math.
Extra tests can be administered for “probable cause” as recommended by the Mitchell Report. There does not even need to be evidence, just suspicion, as baseless as anonymous phone calls or the like.
It seems likely, in order to reach that inflated number, that provision may have been triggered during 2010 speculation where Joey Bats was forced to deny steroid use. But that accounts perhaps for a couple of extra tests. Checking further into the penalty portion of the negotiated CBA, we all know that for testing positive for PEDs the first time, the automatic penalty is a 50-game suspension. That happened to Manny Ramirez and, more recently, Ryan Braun. There are a total of 58 PEDs on that list.
However, for testing positive for one of a dozen banned stimulants, some of which may be in weight loss products or in other innocuous pharmaceutical products, the penalty for a first failure is not a suspension, but becomes six more mandatory tests over the next 12 months, above and beyond any other tests. The whole process is absolutely confidential and the only way the current Bautista controversy started is because Bautista himself said something to a peer back home. There will be no more information forthcoming from baseball or the union, but Bautista is comfortable with the facts and for people to know that his 97 homers over two seasons are clean. Good for him.
On to the mailbag.
First of all, I just want to say that I check thestar.com/sports and Drunk Jays Fans as often as I check my e-mail. Thanks for being one of my sources for Blue Jays information throughout the year! I always look forward to reading your mailbag. I often hear mention of Sabermetric baseball measures that I don't have a reference point for: xFIP, DICE, PERA, etc. Which of these, take pitching for example, do you think are really valuable indicators of a pitcher's abilities? Fans debate all day whether wins are a good indication of a pitcher's worth. What would be a "great xFIP" (or another measure for that matter) in the same way people say an ERA around two is great?
Jeff R., Toronto
A-For most of those Defence Independent Pitching stats, like the ones you mention in your question, there is value in knowledge, although they are not my favourites.
It seems to me that all of these stats that try and remove defenders from the equation and isolate the skills of the individual, that the results they produce are more geared towards predicting future performance, which makes me believe they are best for Fantasy Baseball type purposes not for ranking all time pitchers. In a vacuum, these analyses are great, but there are times when “pitching to contact” is what a pitcher is told, even if he is capable of missing bats with the best of them.With a big lead for example and to conserve pitch count.
There are times also when I question the consistency of those recording the types of contact, fly ball, line drive, groundball, that produce these specialized numbers. All of these stats have their place in evaluating performance and kudos to those that have made the effort to analyze, but, you're asking for my own preference. When I'm looking through pages of minor-league stats, the first thing I start with in looking for top prospects is guys with high Ks per IP and among those guys, a strikeout to walk ratio of 3:1. That is solid through all levels of the minors. I used to be a “wins first” old school guy but reasonable arguments through the years -– not those that lash out with condescending anger towards dinosaur writers -- have swayed me and that's ultimately why I changed my mind in the end and voted for Bert Blyleven for Hall-of-Fame, although he still does not seem to appreciate those who finally came around and got him in.
Q-I was wondering what your opinion of free agent starting pitchers Brandon Webb and Jon Garland is and whether they would be a good fit in the Jays starting lineup. I think a stabilizing/mature/ mentor type starter could be helpful with our young starters. Maybe even Roy Oswalt ?
Rob Linton, Espanola, ON
A-Webb, 32, was the '06 Cy Young winner, but has had two shoulder surgeries since then, including last August. The Jays already have one twice-repaired recovering right-hander in Dustin McGowan. The 32-year-old Garland made just nine starts with the Dodgers and had his option declined after shoulder surgery. Rotator cuff and other shoulder surgeries are not as predictable in terms of recovery time and ability to return to previous performance as is Tommy John elbow surgery. Teams tend to stay away from free agents with shoulder history. There are others that I can't understand why the Jays don't pursue with an invite to compete for a rotation spot at spring training, led by Rich Harden.
Thanks for the great columns! I completely agree with you that spring is the best time of the year and I heartily recommend fans getting to spring training, if they can. They won't be disappointed, especially with all the teams clustered around the Tampa area. I attended a week of spring training for the first time last year and loved every minute of it.
I have two questions. First, I am wondering what you think of the Blue Jays outfield situation in the short and medium term. I see a potential logjam. I've always liked Travis Snider and Eric Thames is interesting, but I saw Anthony Gose last year and was impressed by what he brings to the table. Do you think the Jays hierarchy envisions a Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Gose outfield in 2013? Gose looks too good to keep down for long and the Jays lack a basestealing threat among their regulars. Also, last year I was struck by how the Yankees have such a foothold in Tampa during the spring. Does this cause some embarrassment for the Rays since one of their chief rivals has such a successful presence in their hometown?
Roy Parisien, Montreal
A-As for the Jays' outfield, let's just already give a backup role to Ben Francisco at the corners and another bench spot to Rajai Davis if he has recovered fully from his leg injury. Davis can play occasionally in centre field and steal a base off the bench in late innings. With Bautista in right and Rasmus in centre, that leaves room for just one of Thames or Snider. Assuming it is a wide-open, fair fight and that the decision has not already been made, internally, my guess is that if Snider wins the job then Thames would return to Las Vegas and play every day at Triple-A, but if Thames wins the job, then AA might look for a trade for Snider, given the depth in the outfield and the number of prospects coming fast, like Gose and Jake Marisnick.
Just as a side note, the fact that the Jays may carry five outfielders, plus Edwin Encarnacion, reduced the value of super-sub Mike McCoy and allowed AA to invite an infield-only, super glove man in the 44-year-old vintage shortstop, Omar Vizquel. Besides, Vizquel's agent, Adam Katz also represents Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes and goodwill with an important agent never hurts, now or in the future.
The Jays' outfield of 2013 is another interesting question. AA talked recently about the reason for acquiring Rasmus being that it's tough to find 25-year-old quality starting outfielders and that he had to take the opportunity when presented since his own young outfielders weren't ready yet. Not a ringing endorsement for a long future in Toronto. The Jays will have a choice when Gose is ready. They can have him co-exist with Rasmus, or they could trade Colby for other pieces. He still has real value with other teams. It all depends on how fast Gose progresses at Triple-A this year.
Q-I am very disappointed in the Jays offseason moves there is something missing all that has happen is a new closer and spare parts. I think the Jays general manager has missed the boat on getting help for the starting pitching and lethal bat in the lineup.
Sean Morris, Mississauga
A-Every winter, the easiest things to do via free agency is to fill needs at backup catcher and in the bullpen. Nice job, Jays. So the fact that Anthopoulos was able to trade for Jeff Mathis, Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor and sign Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero is like coming back with a boatload of fish from the Grand Banks. But it's the top-of-the-rotation arm and the power bat that were the real challenges and the Jays came up empty on both counts – although there's still time. There are still too many question marks in the rotation, although a lineup that ranked fifth in runs scored, has the possibility of being better in 2012 without the addition of a lethal bat. And the bullpen will be good.
Q-Great content in your blog. I'm confused for the last 3 years the Blue Jays have not had a problem scoring runs fifth over all last year I believe and if pitching is the most important part of a team's success shouldn't we be more concern that we didn't get a starter than a big bat and isn't it more prudent to find out what the Brent, J.P., Colby and left field can contribute before we spend big money.
Brian Sharp, Chatham, ON
A-That is a good question that relates to the previous question and answer. I truly agree with the concept of the offence perhaps being even better. A healthy Bautista will be able to maintain his status as one of the top power hitters in baseball. I believe Adam Lind will bounce back because of his second season at first base, with better conditioning and his second year being married and settled down as a father. Arencibia is more comfortable defensively and can now turn his focus back on hitting. Lawrie is at third base for a full season and Escobar is an underrated offensive player. Kelly Johnson, Rasmus and the starting left fielder will all have a full season to settle into the role. Encarnacion can hit.
Heading to Dunedin in March with a couple of friends, it's dream come true! Any recommendations on food, drink, or attractions while not at Dunedin Stadium? Much appreciated,
Giuseppe L., Toronto
A-Let's see. On game days, find a free parking spot on Main Street Dunedin around 9 a.m. Walk down Douglas to the ballpark in time to see early batting practice. You don't need tickets for that. They will kick you out around 11:15 a.m. The Jays make everyone leave and come back through the turnstiles. At that point, head across the street for breakfast at Iris's. The right field corner is where the Jays clubhouse is located and guys coming out of the game in the fifth inning and beyond will stop and sign. After the game, wander back north on Douglas to Main Street about 2 km and have a post-game libation at any of the wonderful bar/restaurants along the street. Perhaps the Chica-Boom Room attached to Kelly's. Martinis are their specialty. Uh, please appoint a designated driver.
If you get a chance during your week also go to the Phillies ballpark along Highway 19 and watch the game from the outdoor Tiki Bar beyond the left field fence, especially if it’s during March Madness. The hoops will be on TV. You can wander over and lean on the rail over the bullpens and talk to the guys or farther out, lie down on the grass above centre field and get some sun. The Tiki Bar stays open a couple of hours after the game. Appoint a designated driver. In the evening, at least once you should go to Clearwater Beach and drive to the north end along the main street. There will be a huge parking lot on your left, right on the beach with Frenchy’s at one end and the Palms at the other. Both bars back onto the beach and after going for a long walk in the surf, you will have surely worked up a thirst. Other destinations, at the end of Gulf to Bay, just before the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Tampa is another series of bars and restaurants. Tips? Stay away from Hooter’s, even though it is the original location. I believe they have some of the original staff. However Pete and Shorty’s, right next door has a great pub menu and is where George Steinbrenner had lunch with David Wells cinching a Yankee deal over a plate of sliders his second time around with the Bombers. Right next door is Razzel’s, with a live DJ on weekends and sketchy clientele, but the beer is cold and it’s where Cole Hamels got in a fight in the spring of ‘05, breaking a bone in his hand punching a local. If you want to hang out with the “swells” then go to Liquid Blue on Ft. Harrison near Clearwater Beach and smoke cigars next to a great dance floor with throbbing music that precludes conversation balanced by plenty of visual distractions.
Across the Tampa causeway, a visit to the Yankee ballpark is a must. It's clearly the Mecca of spring training with a great baseball gift shop. Close to Steinbrenner Field are Mons Venus and the Pink Pony, two player approved gentlemen clubs that are iconic spring training watering holes. In fact Mons is where fellow Star reporter Mark Zwolinski and I went on a reconnaissance mission to find Boomer Wells for quotes after he was traded to the Jays from the Yankees in the spring of '99. War is hell! Do you know how tough it is to get a receipt for a lap dance? At least once on your trip, make it to Ybor City in east Tampa just off Highway 4. Great party venue for major Spanish-American Holidays – like St. Patrick's Day. It's where Todd Stottlemyre and Dave Stewart were arrested on bogus charges so be careful. Check out the Lightning schedule for home games at the downtown arena. There is a great outdoor March Blues Festival in St. Pete. Tampa Bay Downs has thoroughbred racing. Culturally, check out Ruth Eckerd Hall for live music and the Tampa Aquarium for live fish. Enjoy your trip.
AA is all about seeking out “value” in trades and FA; AA is also all about having “options” regarding players on his own roster. In your opinion, when is the right time to abandon this value/option equation and to go for it? The best pitching prospects in the system are Daniel Norris and Noah Syndergaard in the low minors, and they are at least 2-3 yrs away from TO. If AA is to adopt the Rays way of building a rotation from within, do you really see a stacked TO rotation until these 2 are ready for the majors? Is it time to build up (or not torch) the trade value for Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins, Drew Hutchison as possible trade baits much like Molina? Thanks and please keep up the good work!
James Ho, Vancouver
A-For me, this year would have been the right time to abandon the “building” policy and begin going for the gold. But somewhere along the line, spending money to get better was replaced by Rogers ownership needing a “guarantee” for the playoffs. Since this is pro sports and a team game, guarantees don’t exist so the Jays can excuse themselves for all their inactivity. It’s an easy out. It’s a chicken and the egg argument where the egg is winning and the chicken is Rogers.
I got to thinking about why the Jays are sitting on all this very deep and very talented inventory of young starting pitchers. The only thing I could think of was that since most of the inventory is two years away from being able to contribute to anyone’s major-league effort, that perhaps other GMs are waiting to see what 2012 brings for youngsters like Justin Nicolino, Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Asher Wojo, Norris, Hutchison, Jenkins, McGuire, Evan Crawford and even Kyle Drabek. I think if the Jays had actually landed one of Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez or Michael Pineda, they would have accelerated the search for a bat and would have gone for the gold this year, but the first domino didn’t fall so the policy of seeking out value and making decisions based on remaining options continues.
Q-Lost in the rhetoric of “spending money when the time is right” is the question of what does Rogers do when that moment arrives? I think it is safe to say that no matter what the hype, attendance will not increase without more winning. 2012 will probably be a lost season with fans waiting on results and Rogers waiting on fans. Is it reasonable to expect the Jays to win at least 85 games in 2012? Will 85 wins be promising enough or do the Jays have to win 90 and contend before attendance increases? How many tickets do the Jays have to sell before Rogers authorizes a competitive budget? And why must budget increases be predicated on absolutely increasing attendance. I always thought it was a synergy thing for Rogers since they own all the parts of the Jays’ revenue stream. Surely the broadcasts alone make a substantial profit? So what happens when the moment arrives and attendance is still abysmal. As the team gets better, will Rogers spend what is necessary to keep it together? Or will the Jays find themselves in an unending cycle of developing players for other teams?
Vilip Mak, Etobicoke
A-There is a universal truth in major-league baseball that attendance reflects the previous year’s finish. Bank on it. Most ticket purchases of a serious nature, whether season, groups, or mini-packs take place in the off season and reflect the success or failure of the previous season. In that case, you are right about 2012 being an attendance write off even if the Jays manage to win 85 games. That’s why the Jays’ off-season mantra of “come and we will win” is misguided to the max. Sure, they have since backed off of that logic, at least publicly, but have not promised a timetable of investing in a winner.
The Jays will be spending about $85 million and that should, in fact, be a competitive budget, but won’t be. The Yankees and Red Sox spend their extra money on depth and are able to absorb injuries better than the Jays. The Rays are unbelievable in their ability to compete on less money, but their rotation is young and talented and homegrown which the Jays can match but to a lesser degree in each category. That is the Jays true chance moving forward to become like the Rays, is for their rotation to become more defined and developed. Romero, Morrow and Henderson Alvarez is a good start.
I’m concerned about the Jays payroll moving forward. They’re not yet in the competitive range, yet their payroll this season is already around $85 million and if you consider internal raises without adding any free agents, they will surely be in the $90s next year with only 2 established/bona-fide starts in Romero and Bautista. AA has always cited the Rays as being an excellent model to follow yet the Rays payroll will be half that of the Jays with two legit stars (Longoria and Shields). I also don’t like the fact that the Jays have all these young prospects and relievers in the minors that they really aren’t giving a chance to. Carreno, Farquar, Magnusson, and Beck all seem to have the stuff to compete in the pen. Yet, the Jays stack their pen with veterans or guys with some experience (Janssen, Zep, etc.) leaving no spot for any raw youngster to develop. Perez only came up last year due to injury. Most teams tend to leave room on their roster to carry 1-2 young relievers and let them learn/develop. That’s how the Braves and Angels found their stud closers and the Yanks, BoSox, Brewers, A’s etc. found very serviceable Rps.
A-I don’t believe that the payroll drifting north of $90 million next season is an issue for Rogers. It’s not going to stand in the way of taking the next step which they keep promising to do when ready. In terms of the Rays, recall that in the second half of ‘07 then ‘08 when they surprised the baseball world by going to the World Series, they completely rebuilt the bullpen, adding veterans to go with their young starters. Given that model, I don’t begrudge the Jays choosing to add veteran relievers now. The teams that you mentioned, specifically the Braves and the Angels, yes they added young relievers, but specifically those farmhands were mostly studly guys that could tickle 100 mph on the radar gun. These are the types of high-ceilinged youngsters that can come in raw and blow three hitters away in middle relief without worrying about sequences or the art of changing speeds. The Jays with Farquhar, Magnuson and Beck as your examples, have guys that don’t throw as hard and need to learn how to pitch in the minors before being moved up. However, that being said, the next generation of Jays pitchers are all long and lean and hard-throwing and mean. That’s when you’ll see some young starters, maybe with only two major-league pitches in their repertoire, brought up early to work out of the pen and maybe stay in the majors in bigger roles as they learn how to pitch at the highest level.
Q-Hi Richard -
AA has created high expectations through some great work over his first 2 years. I’ve noticed a lot of people grumbling about this offseason and where hopes have not met expectations (yet). Other than the Napoli trade, I don’t think AA has been bested in a deal yet. Now to my question - how do you see the team’s middle infield situation unfolding over 2012? Escobar and KJ are locks to start, but where does Adeiny fit in? It would seem that he is a player who has the defence to push for a job sooner than later, and his offensive trajectory appears to be coming along. Do you see the Jays looking for a new 2nd baseman in case KJ bolts after this year, or letting Escobar and Adeiny settling that?
Dan Olson, Port Moody, BC
A-There has been a lot of grumbling, but if there was no grumbling then there would be only apathy and the Jays should appreciate the interest that fans and media are showing in their unfinished symphony. Anthopoulos is still on a learning curve. You don’t come in and re-invent the role of GM – uh, unless you’re Billy Beane. Track record? Let’s see, now, in his first two seasons, AA traded away a Cy Young winner, a playoff MVP and handed over three key members of a world series champion pitching staff while managing two fourth place finishes. Lucky he hasn’t been bested, right?
As for the middle infield situation, the Jays will begin with Escobar and Kelly Johnson, with Hechavarria getting comfortable at Vegas – which, karma-wise, is very much like Havana before the revolution. If either Jays’ middle infielder is injured, Adeiny gets the call and provides great defence while batting ninth. At some point over 162 games that is likely to happen. If Hech takes advantage of his opportunity and with KJ a free agent at the end of the year, the Jays will have options.
Q-It seems that AA is trying for a cheap 500 season: bullpen help, but no starters, reserve position help, but no starters. Ben Francisco? Either he vastly overrates the kids or he knows something he’s not telling. Seems to me it’s 81 wins and “ wait till next year”!
Peter Thomson, Elizabeth City, NC
A-Alex always knows something he’s not telling. In any case, I’m predicting 81 wins.
Q-Hi Mr. Griffin,
Thanks for all you insight over the years, I look forward to checking your site daily in hope of finding a new column. Looking for some advice with this question. I will be attending my first spring training game this year on March 11 when the Jays SS are playing Atlanta at the Disney Complex. I am looking for some advice on how to get the most out of this experience for my family, specifically my 6 and 8 year old boys. They told their mom that they would be willing to take a few hours out of their Disney schedule to take Dad (me) to the Blue Jays game as “Dad would love to see the Blue Jays”. I’m happy to just sit in the sun with them and watch the game, but is their anything in particular we should try to do? I realize that an away SS game will not have many of the regulars, but my boys will not know the difference, and I am just has happy to see some of the young guys I read about all the time. Anything you could offer would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!
Jason MacDonald, Amherst, NS
A-The Jays Disney dugout is on the third base line. If you buy tickets get them on that side. For BP you can get right down to the rail at the outfield end of the dugout and some of the young guys will come over and sign for the kids. Maybe you could just crouch down real low so they only see the boys. During the game, I’m not sure if it’s just open seating but behind left field has grass that you can sit on and watch the game and get some sun. It will be very hot. If you get there early, before going into the park, wander around the complex and there is always something going on whether it’s soccer, football or cheerleading competitions. There is a pub-restaurant right outside the turnstiles with sports on TV and, importantly, air conditioning. It would probably be someone like Don Wakamatsu managing, with a lot of the young players that will be stars by the time your boys grow up. Have fun.
Please give us another mailbag soon. Hope you are feeling well.
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A-I’ll do my best with the mailbag. But I’ll be feeling better when Air Canada 903 touches down in Florida with me on it in a couple of weeks.