Jays mailbag: Where will Adeiny Hechavarria be in 2012?
It's been an interesting spring training with the Jays widely touted as the up and coming team in the AL East by many gushing U.S. media sources.
Alex Anthopoulos tried over the winter to add helpful-to-the-winning-cause pieces – not Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish – but he was thwarted and is now going with the hand that he has been dealt. That hand, in fact, is deep in talented young prospects, which is the big reason why the Jays are one of the top teams in the Grapefruit League standings.
Their minor-league hitters are mounting late comebacks and their minor-league pitchers are nailing down the final victories. Opening Day is April 5 in Cleveland. The home opener on April 9 vs. the Red Sox and that game has already been sold out. Every team is tied and life is good. On to the mailbag.
Please explain the logic of Ben Francisco. His stats do not impress. He is unlikely to play a significant part of the Jays plans. The organization clearly thinks that Snider and Thames have serious upside, and yet one of them is going to get sent down while Francisco is handed a roster spot uncontested.
I understand that young guys need playing time, yadda, yadda, yadda. But sending Snider back down to beat up on AAA pitching in Vegas is not going to help him at this stage. I'd much rather keep Snider and Thames and get creative about fitting them in -- parsing some DH at bats from Encarnacion against righties, for example. Maybe platoon them in left a bit. Providing a strong left-handed bat on the bench for late innings. To my mind Francisco brings zilch. What am I missing?
Kevin S., Peterborough
A-I agree with you that both Travis Snider and Eric Thames are better players in the long and short run than Francisco. However, in speaking with Anthopoulos this spring it's clear that existing minor-league options on the contract, the ability to send down and bring players back up without waivers, for his players is a very important part of the Jays equation. Snider has one option left and Thames has two. The fact is if one of the two batted right-handed, there might be a chance to platoon or partially platoon, but there is never enough at-bats out there when you're talking three players for two spots.
I don't think Francisco's roster spot is 100-per cent guaranteed all year, but he is an experienced major-league asset and AA doesn't like to just give away his assets unnecessarily. The Jays role is a limited one for Francisco. Play a little defence in left if it's Thames that wins the position. Start occasionally in left or right to give the starter a day off. Maybe pinch hit against lefthanders late in a game –- although how effectively is in question. Snider and Thames are both major-league players. This is a case where options are not your friend.
Travis Snider has been hitting a lot of home runs this spring, but striking out a lot too. Last year Rajai Davis led the team in home runs and he didn't carry that into the regular season. Am I still the front-runner to head north with the Jays?
Eric Thames, Toronto courtesy of M.Siddall
A-Yes Eric you are the front runner and thank you for pointing out the obvious. Sheesh!
Q-Any chance Ben Francisco would be released to free up another spot? What is his contract status, and is his 2012 contract guaranteed?
J. M. ("Mel") Norton, Burlington, ON
A-Francisco has a one-year deal with 4-plus years of major-league service. Francisco is 30-years-old and fills a role right now that might be deemed superfluous by the end of the season. He is a right-hand outfield bat and a defender at the corners. The cost is reasonable.
I've been watching baseball over 50 years. Please tell me why The Jays bring in a demonstrable failure like Rick VandenHurk, following the tradition of bringing in a Brian Tallet (twice!), and other dreck named Bullington, Burres, Reyes, Eveland et al. It was obvious these washouts would fail in Toronto. What a waste of time, effort and money bringing these guys to a pitching-rich organization. I know clubs need “filler " at AAA. This seems to be an affliction AA has inherited from Mr. Ricciardi. What am I missing ? You can't create a silk purse, etc.....
Selby Martin, Toronto
A-I think your negative reaction is a little strong to the former presence of Mr. VandenHurk, claimed on waivers by the Indians, and other non-roster spring training invitees of the past. Oh, and don't forget John Thomson, Tomo Ohka and the less-talented Zambrano -- Victor.
No, the art of signing other teams' released free agents during the winter and then inviting them to your spring training is a time-honoured tradition, usually when you're not quite sure about the back end of your five-man rotation. It's not that expensive an exercise, really, with no cash-money guaranteed if a player is in camp on a minor-league deal. You're just paying his meal money and housing expenses. If the pitcher does make your staff, it's usually for a million dollars or less.
I don't think Jo-Jo Reyes should be included in your group, even though it did not end well for the plucky left-hander. He was, in fact, part of the trade that brought Yunel Escobar to the Jays. Anthopoulos believed that he saw something major league in Reyes. In fact, this spring it seemed like the Jays actually brought in fewer such pitchers as starters. Aaron Laffey and VandenHurk were really the only two with any shot as major-leaguers. This is an internal signal that they feel any extra needs can be filled internally by talented kids that they have developed. Next year will see fewer invitees.
Q-Being a Blue Jays fan all my life, it saddens me to see how the fanfare surrounding the team has diminished over the years. How can the Jays get back to the glory years (1989-1994) when they sold out all their home games and broke the 4 million mark for home games attended in a season?
I think they need to buy some great players to make this team a true contender now. We've been waiting 20 years for a post-season game. Give the city something to cheer about. We certainly can't count on the Leafs for that!
Dean Brunton, Toronto
A-Anthopoulos' belief is that once the Jays reach the anticipated position where they are contending for one of the three playoff spots available – AL East winner or one of two wild cards – for the first time, the theory is that the Jays' contending status will be sustainable for many years to come because of the depth of their farm system. It's a solid philosophy, but hard to stay patient for a fan-base that has been waiting 18 years for a return visit to the playoffs since the World Series years.
Wandering the Mattick centre during the Jays' mini-camp in February, the young talent that was on display there was amazing. In fact there are some Venezuelan and Dominican kids not at that camp that have not yet reached the Baseball America radar because they are too young -- 16-17-years-old. But there are some talented kids – mostly position players -- that need to fill out physically and are 5-6 years away from the majors. The Jays arrived at this point being one of two or three teams that took advantage the last two years to stock up on international free agents, mostly from the Caribbean, and draft choices before the new CBA levelled the playing field with financial restrictions that were rammed through and help the lazy scouting teams.
Throwing money at major-league free agents is rolling the dice, paying for past accomplishments, that rarely works unless you are already building through the farm and have a couple of holes that need filling. The formula of two big ticket free agent stars that you have just outbid someone for surrounded by four iffy major-leaguers at starting positions is not a winning formula. The Jays' reasoning this past winter was more about trading for a starting pitcher. AA tried that route, but it did not work out for various reasons. Without that experienced young starter, they still have a chance to contend, but too many things need to go exactly right.
Can you tell me if Dustin McGowan will be on an innings limit this season?
Marcus Heinrichs, Stouffville
A-McGowan, even if he remains healthy all year, will be on a pitch limit of around 150 innings. The formula actually relies more on pitch count, but at the top end of pitch count that assumes 20 pitches per inning – which is high – or about 3000 pitches. The Jays are already thinking ahead in the case of McGowan. They have decided that young Drew Hutchison will himself be on an innings count. They have Hutch starting the year restricted to 2-3 inning starts so that by August, he will have enough innings left in his personal gas tank that he could possibly come up and finish off McGowan's fifth starter role for the Jays. However, if something was to happen to McGowan early on and he can't make it that far into the season for whatever reason, they have Aaron Laffey as a non-roster possibility, or Kyle Drabek, Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire ready to go and stretched out. But they will ride McGowan as far as he can physically carry them to a max of 150 innings.
With Hechavarria seeming to have solid at bats during spring training could you see him pushing Jays management getting him into the every day lineup this season? I wouldn't think Kelly Johnson has a great amount of trade value, but if he was packaged with Snider or Thames, do you think that would net the Jays a pitcher like, G. Floyd? If not what level of pitcher could a package starting with those players be able to net?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-Adeiny Hechavarria has impressed everyone this spring, but he still needs his Triple-A at-bats in Las Vegas. The plan would be as the season goes along that is there is a disablement to either Yunel Escobar or Kelly Johnson, that Hechavarria would come up and fill in as the starter at that position, while the backup at the major-league level – presumably Omar Vizquel – remains the backup. But by next year, Hechavarria will be on his last option and after the 2013 season, he needs to make the Jays to stay or someone will definitely claim him on waivers. They would probably like to have Hechavarria start the 2013 season as a major-leaguer after a year at Vegas and thus still have one option left. The decision would then come of how to align Hechavarria and Escobar in the middle infield.
Johnson this year would have zero trade value because he was a free agent and nobody made him significant offers the, so why would they look to him now when they have to give up a player. The White Sox want a lot more than that for Gavin Floyd. That's why he's still a Chisox.
There is much discussion in regards to the Jays lack of a 4th or 5th starter. Who might the Jays GM be targeting? Also, will we ever see Scott Richmond at the major league level again?
Gord Robertson, Oakville
A-Right now, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan are the 3-4-5 guys. During the winter the Jays made a run at, or else considered and rejected, all the familiar names that were eventually dealt, like Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez and Michael Pineda, but nothing happened so the Jays are staying in-house for their rotation answers. It's a tough call for the Jays with those final three guys that combined for just five major-league wins in '11. The rule of thumb is you need about 65 wins out of your rotation to contend for the post-season. Jays' starters were 51-61 a year ago, with a 4.55 ERA. The five guys that are starting the year in the Jays '12 rotation combined for a 31-38 record a year ago. Do the math. Tough to make up those wins.
As for Scott Richmond he is the ultimate minor-league warrior. I talked to him at the Team Canada-Jays game and he is healthy and understands that he must rock and roll at AAA-Las Vegas to stay ready in case he ever gets the call, or maybe another team has a need. He knew he was going to start in Vegas, but nothing in his baseball life has ever been given to him. He is the ultimate underdog story and we hope it turns out well. But if not, it won't be for a lack of trying.
I've read in a few places about the 'great vibe' in the Jays clubhouse. I'm just wondering if you can comment on that? Does a good clubhouse translate into wins on the field? Do you think AA tried to create a clubhouse with good chemistry? Finally, fans like me are keen to know more about what the players are really like. Reporters get to see things that fans don't. I understand you have to be careful about what you can divulge, but what can you tell us about the Jays vibe and personalities? Any fried chicken and beer?
Robert Brander, Sydney, Australia
A-The Jays do have a good clubhouse. When the spring started there were 65 players in that clubhouse so it was kind of hard to get a read on what it would be like once it was pared down. But it tells you a lot when a veteran like Francisco Cordero, at 36-years-old and coming in as a free-agent, says that after three days in the clubhouse he felt like he had been there before, that he somehow was at home. The vibe in the clubhouse comes from the lack of cliques based on demographics. You're as likely to see Brett Lawrie over at Jose Bautista's locker, or Kyle Drabek and J.P. Arencibia with Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow sharing a laugh. Then there's the country boys, Jeff Mathis and Colby Rasmus. There's a lot of smiling and banter going on in the Jays' room, rather than slumped over brooding in front of lockers. Off-season social networking among the players has had a lot to do with the fact that when they show up at camp they are already involved in each other's lives. Good vibe going on.
However, that being said, it's a long season and once the season schedule starts, the reverse to your question happens. It won't be a good clubhouse that translates into wins. It will be wins that translates into a good clubhouse. AA has not been worried about building the clubhouse vibe, but he does focus on bringing good people, solid personalities into the organization. He is focusing on the individuals, but when you bring all those solid individuals together, the result is a good clubhouse. As for the chicken and beer question, after a KFC small bucket and a six-pack of Yuengling it's off to work for me.
Re: Jays AAA relocation - Has there ever been any discussion of having the AAA team in the GTA? The fans seem to know about the Jays' prospects so presumably attendance would be good, plus there's such a big population in the region.
D'Arcy Draper, Richmond Hill
A-The fans in Toronto know as much about their own minor-league prospects as any fans in major-league baseball. In fact, I was listening to MLB radio on my satellite car radio on my drive to Kissimmee this spring when the co-host suggested that of all their MLB radio listeners they get more response on fan questions and polls from Jays fans than any other. He suggested it was a cult and there must be a secret handshake. Kind of funny, kind of flattering to Jays fans.
Which leads to the answer to your original question. Say there was a 15,000 seat stadium built somewhere at the corner of 401-and-whatever for the AAA-International League Jays. How embarrassing would it be on a given night for the real Jays to be out-drawn by their local farm team. No, the Jays need to build their major-league brand in Toronto before they can think of bringing in a second product. The Leafs and Marlies is not a good example, because the Leafs sell out every night.
Oh, by the way, the satellite radio is good for listening to MLB radio on those long drives to Jays' road games, but I think I was bamboozled. When I booked the car online, I added satellite radio for $100 for the 34 days. The guy in the parking lot took the zip-up bag and leaned into the front seat and hooked up the radio that sits on the dash and is harder to manipulate than a Rubik's Cube. I started the car and drove away and realized the car had a built in satellite radio. Hmm.
Q-Thanks for your blog, good reading. I was just viewing an article about DH in the NL. Best solution - one, have somebody PH for the pitcher in both leagues, but leave the pitcher in the game if you still need him. Simple and effective. Two -- increase the roster to 27 (and the protected to 42) to cover the added guys needed to PH. Remember, PHs can only be used once. The union will love this, and that will get them onside. PHs are cheaper than DHs -- that'll get the owners onboard. But all of this won't happen, because it is too easy to do... What do you think?
Dean Tudor, Toronto
A-The DH question will not be solved with any compromise. It's either DH or no DH and since every league in the world except the National League operates with the DH, I fear that will be the winner. I hate it because it will take away from a lot of the strategy that makes baseball so interesting to discuss sitting in the stands or the press box. The balance of more offence against more strategy is simple. For true baseball fans, the winner would be more strategy. But there are no fantasy baseball categories that include strategy, so the fix is in for the demise of nine-man baseball. However I already agree that with most teams carrying 12 pitchers these days that it's time to increase major-league rosters to 27 players.
I'm still drinking the AA Kool-aid despite a rather meek winter. Unlike other Toronto teams, you get the sense with the Jays that they're building the right way with high-end talent that they can either bring to Toronto or trade for the final parts. That being said, there's one big concern I have with the Jays ability to compete in 2013 (a more reasonable playoff goal). It seems our talent is lining up where Gose will be the starting CF; Hechavarria the starting SS and D'Arnaud the starting C. All 3 rookies, starting at the most critical defensive positions; right up the middle; trying to adjust to MLB life while making a playoff push. With 3 rookies at 3 key positions in 2013 won't it take until 2014 or 2015 until they and the team have matured together to compete?
David Major, Richmond Hill
A-I believe the Jays were indeed aggressive in trying to trade prospects for major-league players this winter, but AA's problem might be that most of his valuable minor-league prospects were still 2-3 years away and harder for other GMs and organizations to project than those from other organizations that may have been less talented in the long-term but more advanced in the now-term.
I see the question you're asking abut all those rookies at the same time. I can see Gose beginning his major-league career filling both the Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco role as the disruptor off the bench and as the defensive replacement and fill-in for occasional starts at all three outfield positions. As for D'Arnaud, the Giants won the 2010 World Series with rookie Buster Posey behind the plate. And Hechavarria will be 24 early in the 2013 season and his defence he brings will negate his rookie inexperience. That's not to say all three of those things will happen, but the Jays want to contend and will not give up that dream just for the sake of getting the three rookies into the lineup. Having Arencibia and D'Arnaud is a nice problem for the Jays to try and figure out.
Here's one for you: What are the odds we could blow-out the seldom-used 'Windows' restaurant in centre field and pop-in an open air beer garden? How sweet would it be to sit at some communal tables, sharing adult beverages, and shagging fly balls? Best seats in the house as far as I'm concerned. I can only assume that there is some rule prohibiting fans to be sat in dead centre field (distracting hitters - *insert "man in white" comment here*), but a man can dream, no?
A-I think that's a great idea, however considering the location in dead centre field in the batter's line of vision, you're right, there would have to be a dress code at the beer garden of nothing but men and women in black, with nothing but Guinness on tap and no drinking while a pitch is being delivered. Oh wait, that was the rule in the Red Sox clubhouse last year. However, really, if they took your concept and extended a concrete platform down the left field line towards but inside the foul pole that extended from the Level 300 overhang out towards the field and put picnic tables and umbrellas and servers in blue lederhosen and barmaids in Oktoberfest outfits, what a concept. But, of course Jays fans might be confused by the confusing concept of baseball AND October.
Q-I have no question or comment. I am a lifelong Pirate fan. I have no explanation.
Terry Olynik, St. Catharines
A-As they say in Quebec, “Quel dommage.”