Blue Jays mailbag and the free-agent leftovers team
There can be no doubt that spring training is to baseball fans what Pavlov was to dogs, where sight and sound causes each group to salivate with slobbery anticipation.
The start of another championship baseball season is less than a month away and the 30 rosters are pretty much settled, other than the few invited non-roster veteran free agents that will crack every 25-man roster. But, the fact is there are players still out there looking for work.
If you wanted to start an expansion team, just with the leftover free agents that remain unsigned, here's what that team might look like.
Sure, some of these guys are effectively, if forcibly, retired and, sure, some are battling injury, and, sure, the average age of the team would be the highest in baseball, but this is what the leftover 25-man free agent team would look like:
C-Pudge Rodriguez, Ramon Castro.
1B-Derrek Lee, Ross Gload.
2B-Felipe Lopez, Aaron Miles.
OF-Johnny Damon, Marcus Thames, Xavier Nady, J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordonez.
DH-Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui.
SP-Roy Oswalt, Javy Vazquez, Brandon Webb, John Garland, Chris Young, Scott Kazmir.
RP-Mike Gonzalez, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, Doug Davis, Michael Wuertz, Arthur Rhodes.
Note: We could have considered Jose Canseco for an outfield spot, but he was just thrown out of the AAA-Mexican League on suspicion of excess levels of testosterone. That's tough to do. It's like being thrown out of Clown College because your feet are too big.
I will admit, the timing of the baseball mailbag has become inconsistent, but I am going to try and have it online on either Thursday or Friday of every week as the season moves forward. So keep those questions, comments and critiques coming in. On to the mailbag.
I am getting quite angry at the fans who are mad that the Jays didn't spend like the Yankees or the Red Sox this offseason. Why should Alex Anthopoulos let the way the Yanks and BoSox do business affect the way he does his? Let them give out the 8- to 10-year contracts, I don't care. AA has done a magnificent job getting high-ceiling players and building a strong young core for the future. It worked for Tampa Bay. Let New York and Boston knock each other out. They won't see us coming.
Darryl Mulder, Vineland
A-Oh, don't suggest that last part. Everyone now sees the Jays coming. Toronto is never going to sneak up on anyone. However, when you say the Jays “didn't spend like the Yankees or the Red Sox this offseason” that's a preconception steeped in history but with little to do re the reality of this past winter.
The Yankees had made little impact, except for a one-year deal to starter Hiroki Kuroda, until the Michael Pineda trade, a four-player swap with the M's, sending monster catching prospect Jesus Montero the other way. That was a refreshing, old-time baseball trade, with four controllable contracts involved. Following that, the Yankees had to deal A.J. Burnett to the Pirates in order to clear the $13 million they required to add free agents Raul Ibanez as DH and Eric Chavez as a backup corner guy. That's certainly not the way the old-time Yankees did business, but the truth is they're trying to get below the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014.
As for the Red Sox, they were heralded as the greatest Red Sox team ever before the start of last year. Not much has changed with that roster. They had four great months and two crappy months to knock them out of the playoffs, but they won 90 games. Did they need to make a lot of off-season moves? They lost Jonathan Papelbon early on but made up for it with nice, old-time baseball trades of their own with the A's to get Andrew Bailey and with the Astros for Mark Melancon. The lost Jason Varitek and added Kelly Shoppach. There was not a lot of overspending going on in Beantown.
As for the Jays, the bleating from the bleachers regarding AA not spending on free agency this winter mostly surrounded two men, Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish. In the case of Fielder, two elements came into play, the fact that he wanted a long-term deal like Albert Pujols and the fact that president Paul Beeston believes you need to win first to attract that type of free agent to your city, otherwise your bid is just being used to up the ante for other clubs. In the case of Darvish, the posting fee was not the issue, it was the fact that they found out he wanted six years to carry him into his free agent year and the Jays policy is five, max. The dollars on the contract were not an issue, either – at one time.
Q-It's hard to believe that Anthopoulos has only been at the helm for two years, isn't it? It feels like so much longer. Perhaps we've been rushing him just a bit? It took Gillick how long to make the playoffs? it took Dombrowski how long to make the playoffs with the Tigers? (and they didn't have to compete in the AL East), surely we can cut Alex a little bit of slack?
Rob Buckler, Oshawa
A-It does feel like Alex has been there a very long time. Through the mists of time, it seems the only J.P. that I have any clear recollection of now is Arencibia. Are we rushing Anthopoulos? No.
It's not as if he took over a team of donkeys and had to shape them into Kentucky Derby favourites. The Jays have never really dropped below mediocre since the late '90s, but unfortunately there were years during that time they were propped up just to remain mediocre instead of letting the forces of nature sink them lower, followed by the forces of any strong prospects from down on the farm taking them over the top. For years prior to Anthopoulos, it seemed the financial resources of ownership were spent on the immediate needs of the major-league club rather than drafting and on international free agency. That turn in emphasis has turned the organization around to the point where even if they had reached out this winter for one prime talent like Mat Latos and traded a package of prospects to help the major league team win right now, there would still be enough farm depth remaining wherein winning can remain sustainable for years to come. That is AA's mantra.
As for Gillick, he took an expansion Jays team in '77 and reached the playoffs in his ninth year. But that's an expansion team where they were starting off with no farm system and other team's dregs. Sure, the Marlins and Diamondbacks both did it quicker, but baseball gave them three years before they played a game to build a farm system and changed the draft rules so they had access to better players. As far as Dombrowski in Detroit, he took over as president in '03, then bottomed out with one of the worst records in MLB history, returning the Tigers to the World Series in his fourth year there. Yes, this is just Alex's third season in Toronto, but his starting point was a lot better than the '03 Tigers.
My problem with your some of your comments about the Jays' offseason moves are in the implication that AA losing out on trade bids for Latos/Gonzalez/Pineda and the posting for Darvish mean that he didn't understand or underestimated the market. In the case of the trades, first you need to have the players that that team desires (which Alex can't control). And in all the cases, it seems to me the issue is that Alex made the determination "this is what that player is worth TO US" more so than their market value. If someone else is willing to pay more, that's fine. But you've implied Alex should adjust his approach, and to me, if he's determined a player is not worth the asking price, he shouldn't adjust just because other GMs have lost their minds.
Mark Acheson, London
A-Alex really does need to slightly adjust the philosophy that he came to the job with and I believe he is going to. The changes may be something that the media and the public don't really see, but he did miss out on properly gauging the market this winter and adjustments are already being made, internally.
In the case of missed trade opportunities this offseason, the Jays definitely had the richness of assets to deal with anyone. They had the young prospects to entice any team that was looking to unload an arbitration-eligible pitcher as he entered his prime earning years -- guys like Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez. However, part of Anthopoulos' trade strategy ever since he arrived is to pinpoint a player like Latos, to then call the other GM and say “What would it take to get Mat Latos from you?” AA believes that he is placing the onus on a trade partner to name names and potentially make a mistake, giving the Jays what they will consider a great deal. If the GM asks for too much, he merely says no and maybe substitutes a lesser talent to see if that flies.
That's a great strategy if you are the only team that other GM is speaking to, but obviously in the case of Latos and Gonzalez, there were others. Now we can assume Reds' GM Walt Jocketty had gone to the Padres and gave them a solid list of four players that included Yonder Alonso and Edison Volquez. Padres GM Josh Byrnes could then skip the whole guessing game with AA and go straight for the attractive Reds package – which, by the way, likely surprised Anthopoulos at the amount of talent heading to the west coast. I believe if Alex had been more aggressive for Latos, maybe starting at the November GM meetings, naming names to Byrnes and with the stockpile of real talent he has available, that they could have beat the Reds to Latos and set the standard for the rest of the winter.
The Latos deal set the bar high for future trades involving arb-eligible top-drawer starters like Gonzalez. At that point, AA may have believed it was too much to give, especially after his violent internal reaction of near-nausea after he dealt one of his prized prospects Nestor Molina to the ChiSox for Sergio Santos. He said it was one of the hardest things he's done and seemingly affected the rest of his winter.
As for Pineda, the M's reportedly asked for Brett Lawrie. I wouldn't do that either, so there's no issue there. With Darvish, the dilemma was the sixth year guaranteed on the contract that the agents had quietly let it be known would be required. Dice-K got five years from Boston, but six for Darvish takes him into free-agency and another lucrative contract. Six years also put him on the Jays' no-can-do list.
Q-"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." Easily your funniest comment in 2012! (VERY funny)
Bill L, Toronto
A-Thank you. I know I keep me amused.
Q-Why is it you think AA should have pursued high-priced free agents this winter when it likely would not have been enough to push the Jays into the playoffs? Can we call J. P. Ricciardi and ask him how that worked for him?
Kyle Todt, Waterloo
A-I can guarantee that I did not often write this winter that AA should have pursued high-priced free agents. I liked left-hander Mark Buehrle early on because he was a good fit for what they needed at the top end of the rotation. I did also approve of what looked like an aggressive bid for Darvish that never panned out because of his desire for a six-year deal. Darvish comes at a relatively modest $56 million for six years if you consider the posting fee to Nippon Ham as an investment not related to payroll.
As for Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and other high-priced free agents that were out there this winter, I agreed wholeheartedly with Alex in not pursuing those players and was at times criticized for that stance. The problem with former GM Ricciardi's approach from '02 to '09 is that he was signing outside free agents, that at the time were relatively expensive, when the rest of the Jays' team was not yet ready-for-prime-time and the farm system remained shallow. He was plugging two holes in the dam when there were five that needed his attention. It's not J.P.'s fault, but where he is right now, the question of “How's it working for him?” can sadly be summarized in three words – New York Mets.
With the first three rotation slots filled by Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil. Who do you see taking the final two slots? I know it's still early to make such a prediction, but with the tremendous upside Kyle Drabek has and the material Dustin McGowan has along with Farrell's support. I know Henderson Alvarez and Drew Hutchison are also strong contenders for the slots too.
Anthony Simms, Toronto
A-The problem for all these guys you mention – Drabek, McGowan, Alvarez and Hutchison – is that they're like guys lying on their surfboards waiting for their chance at a nice ride on a big wave. But way out on the horizon is forming one of those big tidal wave, tsunami type things and as they turn to look out in the distance they can see other guys riding towards them on that bigger wave, guys like Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Justin Nicolino and Adonys Cardona. The advice to Drabek, McGowan, Alvarez and Hutchison? You better find your wave soon, because these other guys are coming fast to swamp you. With that “Griff's Fable” out of the way, here's a right-now evaluation.
After the Top 3 starters, in my mind, the current pecking order would be: 4-Alvarez, 5-McGowan, 6-Aaron Laffey, 7-Hutchison; 8-Drabek, 9-Chad Jenkins, 10-Deck McGuire. The rest of the youngsters are struggling for position on the Big Wave out on the horizon. When it arrives, look out.
Is this the last season for a AAA franchise in Las Vegas, Nev.? This was a poor option, but really the only option as the BJs wore out their welcome in Syracuse. Has not having a better AAA option hampered the development of the kids coming up?
Dean Germano, Redding, CA
A-My guess at this time is that the organization's deep down desire would be that this is the final season of the Jays farm team in Las Vegas. It's a pinball game out there. The Jays can't send their best young pitchers there without risking deep cuts to their psyche from the inflated ERAs of a Triple-A league built around hitting. Sure, it's great for AA-New Hampshire to always have great pitching but it's not the standard way that players rise to the major leagues without a significant stop at Triple-A.
The Jays never really wanted to leave Syracuse, but the Chiefs ownership had been suffering from benign neglect by the previous regime and tossed them out. The Jays wanted Buffalo, but Buffalo wanted the Mets. The contract with Vegas ends this year, but they need to find another city that is closer to Toronto and plays real baseball, treating pitchers fairly. Of course, just as they did with Vancouver in short-season A-ball, Anthopoulos and Beeston would favour a Canadian city. Ottawa is hot for a AA-Eastern League franchise but the Jays are very happy in the woods of New Hampshire.
Q-I'm really digging it. Definitely a Modern spin on the Retro logo. Trying to give it an edgier look without Going TOO hard like the futuristic angry bird we've had for the last few years. I’m also really digging the Strength of the Blue. It's Rich like the pride of Toronto. Furthermore, even greater emphasis on the leaf. Not being afraid to let you know that we're from Canada and we're proud.
Mary Jo, St. Stephens
A-The difference in the new logo, the new look, the Blue look, shows up nicely at spring training. Used to be you would look up from typing in the press box and the team with the black jerseys was hitting and the team with the black jerseys was in the field. Now there are no such issues as the Jays are back to where they belong. Try purchasing the new Wind Jacket as a spring wardrobe basic. Really nice.
Q-Listening to the Expos in 1982 one of Dave van Horne's most common phrases seemed to be '...just out of Speier's reach and into centre field'. A good shortstop unfortunately past his best. Do you think there's a danger that the Jays will play Vizquel and suffer similar consequences?
Tony Bullen, Crail, Scotland
A-I do remember those Chris Speier days, but the difference is that Speier never had great range or quickness. He depended on reading hitters, knowing what his pitchers were about to throw and cheating to that spot. There comes a time when even positioning can't make up for limited range. For a Gold Glove Hall-of-Famer like Vizquel, he may now have to do more cheating than he did in the past, but he still will have more quickness and range than Chris Speier ever had. Besides, Vizquel, should he make the team, will never have to start more than three days in a row. If there is any significant injury to Yunel Escobar or Kelly Johnson, the Vegas pipeline is ready to feed recent U.S. citizen Adeiny Hechavarria to Toronto for the duration of any disablement at either middle-infield position.
Great to see Tony Fernandez back in the game, but why is it with the Rangers and what's he going to do for them as a "special assistant"? As one of just five players in the Jays hall of fame (oops..."level of excellence"), seems to me he ought to have had a standing invitation to work with the team if/when he wanted to get back in the game. Did the Jays drop the ball here or does Tony have a special relationship with someone over at the Rangers?
Jab Along, Hong Kong
A-There is no rift between Tony Fernandez and the Jays. He seems always available and in town when there is a special event held surrounding nostalgia and a Jays home game at the stadium. The Jays already have senior advisors in Roberto Alomar and Cito Gaston. My understanding is Tony has been busy taking care of his family and in studying to become a religious minister. He has accomplished that. The Rangers connection is not clear to me, however in their press release they did emphasize the religious degrees and that he is an ordained minister. It's only an uneducated guess on my part, but perhaps having someone around like Tony as an assistant to Daniels with both a successful baseball career and a spiritual side might help the Rangers with the ever-broadening issues of Josh Hamilton.