The Blue Jays' sign-stealing controversy is back. In the same week that Men in Black 3 was released in theatres and dominated box office earnings, the baseball version, the Man in White sequel has made its green carpet return to the Rogers Centre.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bleachers... The O's Wednesday loser in the series finale, a sweep by the Jays, right-hander Jason Hammel, brought up the possibility of Toronto's men in blue stealing signs in a none-too-subtle rambling post-game rant in the wake of a 4-1 defeat in which he gave up four solo home runs.
Remember, this is Jason Hammel, for goodness sake.
“I don't know,” a miffed Hammel said. “They were taking some pretty big hacks on my breaking stuff, too, which leads me to believe something else. It is what it is.”
It should be noted the four solo home runs by Edwin Encarnacion, Rajai Davis, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus were all on fastballs. Nobody was on second base to even offer location and 17,754 were in the stands, not too many in centre field.
“I've got to get the ball down,” Hammel continued. “Honestly, with the fastball command, when you're not locating your fastball, you're going to give up some home runs there. But the swings they were taking on the breaking stuff, it was pretty amazing to me. I don't think you can take swings like that, not knowing they're coming. I don't know. That's all I can say. ”
Apparently that was not all Hammel could say because he went on.
“There's rumours and things like that,” the right-hander said. “I don't know. I can't speak on that but they were taking very big, strong hacks on breaking stuff. It's something I've never seen before. ”
That's not quite right. Maybe the 29-year-old right-hander has seen it before –- like in 2011 when he allowed 21 homers, with a 4.76 ERA for the Rockies. Hammel has allowed 93 homers in 794 innings. There must be a whole lot of cheating going on wherever Hammel goes.
If you recall last summer, it was the Yankees that openly suggested the Jays were cheating, giving location and/or pitch selection to the batter in the box. The accusation came up because catcher Russell Martin was flashing complex signs to his pitcher, even with nobody on base.
An ESPN The Magazine exclusive report later suggested that one visiting team had noticed a man in a white shirt seated in the stands to the right of the scoreboard in centre field. ESPN did not send anyone to check it out for themselves. The mystery bullpen informants said the man in white was acting strangely and the feeling was that he was the Jays' spy in the sky(dome). It was later learned that the opposition bullpen that had suggested the unethical Jays' behaviour had been the White Sox pen. Sergio Santos was a member of the Sox at the time, but refused to get into it after becoming a Blue Jay.
Last year in the wake of the controversy, Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos felt obligated to stage a press conference and call it the dumbest thing he had ever heard. He will not repeat the press conference although he likely will repeat the sentiment. The Jays host the Red Sox on the weekend.
I recently read an article speculating about a trade of Edwin Encarnacion by the deadline for a maximum return while he's swinging one of the league's hottest bats.
There also seems to be a lot of online chatter about how the Jays will find a place in the line up for both J.P. Arencibia and Travis d'Arnaud for as early as next year, if not by the end of the season.
So here's the question, what are your thoughts on the likelihood of the Jays easing d'Arnaud into the catching role next year by having JP and d'Arnaud split their time between catching and DH'ing? Perhaps J.P. catches about 100 games, having some off days and DH'ing the rest while having d'Arnaud catches about 60 games and DH's the majority of the rest of games? While the team may not wish to put a rookie into the DH role, it allows for d'Arnaud to ease into the catching role while keeping both of their bats in the lineup. Perhaps in the possible absence of EE's bat and rather than making a big free agent splash to sign a DH, or re-sign EE, this could be a low cost option to allow for money to be spent on a starter or other area of need.
Robert Lynch, Ottawa
A-The change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the provision of no more free-agent compensation for Type A or B talent in the following June draft has changed the landscape of mid-season trades. There is now no advantage for Alex Anthopoulos to hang onto a player like Encarnacion if he is out of contention, over trying to gather young talent in return by the end of July.
But with that in mind, there are still some trade deadline options for AA to weigh. The Jays could keep the red-hot DH/1B and at the end of the season negotiate a long-term deal, which, of course, would be no longer than five years and no more than Jose Bautista's $65 million, just on principle. In order to ensure that they can keep negotiating with EE as a free agent, the Jays would have to make a post-season qualifying offer of one year and $12 million, minimum. Do the Jays want to make that long term commitment to Edwin with all the talent they have rushing up through the system?
As for a trade by the deadline, never say never, but what team will give anything significant for a half season of Edwin Encarnacion and will the Jays be out of the wild-card hunt by then? Likely not. AA always insists there is no player that is untouchable, but you need a trade partner with a fit. Not that easy. The Jays don't need prospects. They need major-league ready talent. Why would teams do that?
As for the Arencibia-D'Arnaud conundrum, the cliché is that it's a nice problem to have, but the reality is that it's a problem nonetheless. Arencibia is a former PCL MVP. D'Arnaud is a former Eastern League MVP and is heading in that direction this season in Triple-A Las Vegas. Why can't a rookie be the No. 1 catcher for a contender? See Buster Posey and the '10 Giants. The Jays will have to make a decision. If they do as you suggest and have both men catch and DH then you would need to carry a third catcher full-time. That would not seem likely. Therefore the Jays will have to make a decision for 2013 between the two players. If both men stay, D'Arnaud will catch and J.P. would have to learn to play first base. That is a possibility, but he needs to show improvement in his on-base ability. Four walks and 42 Ks, with a .245 average and a .273 OBP won't cut it for a starting first baseman.
I used to live in Toronto area and became a Blue Jays fan. Still I follow what is happening with the team. It looks to me the pitching staff is not very strong in left-handed pitching. I can see a prospect in Dunedin, named Sean Nolin who is 22-years-old, big guy and has pretty good numbers. My question is how much chance has he to pitch in the majors and how far along is he. The other question: What happened to Daniel Norris?
Elek Vaszko, Budapest, Hungary
A-That's sort of misleading to say the Jays are not very strong in left-handed pitching. The current ace is Ricky Romero and there are two talented left-handers in the pen, with Luis Perez and Darren Oliver. Lefty Evan Crawford has been up and down three times, while Aaron Laffey is at AAA ready in any emergency. That's it for major-league ready southpaws, but the pipeline is full. At AA-New Hampshire is Brett Cecil. At A-Dunedin is the aforementioned Nolin, with his 5-0 record and 2.25 ERA. At A-Lansing are Justin Nicolino and David Rollins, while at extended spring are Daniel Norris and Griffin Murphy. If there is a veteran lefty starter available, the Jays would surely be interested – excepting of course for the recently DFA'd almost-50-year-old Jamie Moyer. As for your specific question about Nolin, the 2010 Jays' sixth rounder, a native of Seaford, N.Y., has the size and stuff to make an impact, but likely in about two or three years. And there is stiff competition internally.
Q-Trying to get my head around recent dealings with reliever Ryota Igarashi. Called up. One poor outing. Demoted. Claimed on waivers by Yankees. Granted he failed in a previous ML stint and he didn't pitch well this time BUT he apparently throws in the high 90s and has been lights out in a Triple-A hitters' park in a hitters' league. I realize injuries etc. have started a carousel, but isn't AA's approach to this player short-sighted? There is nothing in the short-term position player quandary that couldn't be fixed short term by the Thames-McCoy switch. Maybe Laffey and Chavez provide more short-term versatility but at the cost of what could be a dominant late-inning reliever -- something the Jays could certainly use. Love what AA has done with the franchise but I certainly don't fathom this . The Yankees aren't giving him a shot for nothing. What are your thoughts?
Eric Emerson, Roslin
A-First of all, Igarishi just turned 33 years-old and the Jays' investment in his future was very short term to begin with. After a successful career with the Yakult Swallows, he had great numbers at Mets' Triple-A in 2011 and not-so-great numbers with the Mets. He had great numbers at Las Vegas for the Jays and they used their minor-league inventory as any team should, calling up a veteran with a live arm in a time of need. What happened then? They tried to clear him through waivers to get him back to Vegas and he was claimed by the Yankees. Que sera sera. You're AA, you roll the dice. Ryota's not Dice-K. Besides, it was two poor outings on consecutive days. He is not a Yankee right now.
Q-Lind, Gomes, Cooper, Igarashi, Laffey, Chavez,etc. I'm curious as to the rules regarding call-ups or 'sent downs' (I'm assuming there are guidelines). How many call-ups is a team allowed? Does it depend upon contracts, injuries, etc?
Jan Bortoski, Belleville
A-If a team actually had a 40-man roster with every player having minor league options remaining, you could move all players up and down to the majors as often as you wanted in one calendar year and it would only cost the team one option each. Evan Crawford is an example of that, up and down three times so far in '12. When a player is optioned to the minors he must remain for 10 days unless he is replaces someone being disabled. That's why Yan Gomes has not been able to return, though he could have been useful. A player needs to be added to the 40-man roster to be called up the first time and if the team is at 40, they must designate someone from the current roster to be removed or can transfer a DL'd player to the 60-day list where he remains on the roster but does not count against the 40.
Talk about a roller coaster! Still, I'm loving it and imagining what it will be like as all this pitching talent matures. On to the question: Perhaps a silly one, but I keep seeing all these players (and coaches!) eating mountains of sunflower seeds. When Rasmus comes to the plate he has a huge wad of them in his cheek. Several players do. They seem to work on shelling them and spitting the seeds as they go along. Seems like they put half a package in their mouths at one time. Two-part question ... Is this a uniquely 'baseball' skill to split, swallow and spit the seeds and shells? And isn't there a danger of someone falling and choking--they are athletes engaged in strenuous activities.
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A-Sunflower seeds serve a purpose, other than feeding the birds post-game at outdoor stadiums. Baseball is a game of relaxed intensity. It's not football. If you see a hitter in the box with a hard-set jaw, that's not a good thing. The tension from the face usually indicates tension through the rest of the body. The twitch-muscles are affected adversely. Chewing gum or working on seeds helps to relax everything. As for the choke factor, the body is a wonderful thing. Put a handful of seeds in your own mouth and try and swallow them in a bunch. Your body will not allow it. Contact or collision would end up at worst with a mouthful of seeds sprayed onto the ground. The skill is pretty much a baseball skill. Hockey players spitting seeds on the ice or basketball players onto the court would not be good.
Q-Could you please explain the mandatory option year affixed to Adeiny H's rookie contract? Did he negotiate that he must be placed on the 40-man roster at the start of 2012, was it required that he reside there or have the Jays lose him in a rule 5 (or similar) draft, or was it simply the Jays choice?
Mel Norton, Burlington
A-There is no such thing as a mandatory option year. What happened was that when Hechavarria signed with the Jays as a highly coveted international Cuban defector free-agent, he was much in demand. The Yankees wanted him to be the eventual Derek Jeter replacement. His Jays' contract was four-years, $10 million with immediate inclusion on the 40-man roster, armed with four options, I believe the extra option was because he was not a college player and also because he was signed on April 13, 2010, with the championship season already underway. I have a feeling they waited until then to officially ink the deal in order to ensure that important extra option year through 2013.
Basically, the Jays have options on Hechavarria this year and next.
On Opening Day 2014, if he is not on the Jays' 25-man major-league roster, he would have to pass through outright waivers and would surely be claimed. As for the other CBA rules like arbitration and free agency, there is no change from any other player. He could be renewed by the Jays for 2014 at a maximum 20-percent cut from his 2013 salary -- $1.75 million plus the pro-rated $1 million of his signing bonus -- if the Jays so desired – which they wouldn't. They will negotiate a fair deal when that time comes. But once his major-league clock starts, he is just like any other player except his salary floor starts at a higher level. If Hechavarria made the Jays' opening day 2013 roster, he would be eligible for free agency only after 2018. Good deal for both sides.
Have you noticed any empty beer cans or fried chicken containers in the Jays' clubhouse? It seems that they have a disciplinary problem that's spilling all over the field, particularly in the direction of umpires. Rogers won't want it spreading into the box office. Is this the proverbial Litmus test for Farrell - to tame the so-called 'passion' and play disciplined baseball?
Chris McKee, Collingwood
A-It's less of a Jays' discipline problem than it is a self-control problem and an understanding of what's best for the team concept. The Jays play a very disciplined game in terms of the way the game is played. They bunt when asked, they go first to third and second to home. They pay attention to the coaches and respect each other and the game. The one issue they have is allowing their natural passion to spill over into demonstrations of unhappiness with certain umpires and their calls. The solution? Simply direct the passion and joy of playing the game into the dugout and towards their own side of the field and everything would be good. Umpires are human and not always right. It's part of the game. When a strike call is made that you disagree with or an out call is made on appeal, glare, ask a question, let them know that you disagree, then move on. The men in blue always have the last word. But it's not a discipline problem as much as anger management.
After seeing the Jays get schooled by the Rangers I believe all the major trouble areas for the Jays were exposed. Everywhere except for defence. By your next mailbag the Jays will be under .500 All the hoopla and the hype has now settled into reality. I'd like your thoughts on this matter. One major question I have that I've tried to ask you before was about Thames (.243/3HR/11RBI/9BB) and his lacklustre defence. How much longer do you believe the Jays will give him. Clearly he's a waste of a roster spot. Also does it concern you that the Jays top two hitters are hitting just over .270? (EE, Lawrie)
Kam H., Richmond Hill
A-Okay. It's my next mailbag and the Jays are three games above .500 and back in the hunt. They are 6-0 in games that they enter at .500 or on opening day at 0-0. Thames is gone. Rajai Davis has always felt he should be starting and leading off. He's starting and seems to be correct about that – but not about leading off. The Thames lack of defence was a major factor in the change being made. The Jays' defensive breakdowns seemed to snowball, creating doubt in the pitchers, leading to control issues. Decent Jays' starting pitching was made to look mediocre. The Jays need to put a team on the field that can make the plays defensively because they are not going to overpower teams on a nightly basis. The general rule of thumb seems to be, whenever it looks like the Jays are about to go on a roll, bet on them to tank for a little while. When it looks the bleakest, look for them to start a win streak.
The circumstances seem perfect: The Minnesota Twins are a horrible, small-market team with a huge commitment to a resurgent Canadian Player (Morneau) who plays at a position where another player to whom they owe even more money (Mauer) may soon have to play. The Blue Jays need a power hitting corner infielder, are in the race, and would surely love to add another member of the Baseball Canada commercials to the clubhouse. So Richard, is there any possibility of a Morneau to Blue Jays trade this year?
Cory Snyder, Cambridge, ON
A-The Twins financial commitment to Morneau is not really that huge. Since they moved into beautiful Target Field three years ago, they have been around $100 million in payroll, topping off at $113 million this year. The Twins have the B.C. native Morneau signed this year and next for $14 million per season. It's likely that they will try and eventually create room at first base for the physically-challenged-to-catch Joe Mauer, who is the face of the franchise, being a Minnesota native. But there is no desperation to make a Morneau trade this summer. They have a commitment to the fans that came along with the new stadium, to put a winner on the field and trading Morneau for prospects would work against that promise to fans, at least in the short-term. The Jays might be better served to pursue Morneau, if he is completely healthy, in the off-season. Imagine Jays' Canadian infield corners of Lawrie and Morneau.
When the DH rule came in, I was against it. I preferred the National League style of play, the strategy involved in that league was more intricate. However, I find that a split league of DH and no DH is not a good idea. Obviously, with the money invested by the AL in developing players for the DH role it appears they will never give that position up. Although I prefer no DH, I would rather both leagues use it for the sake of continuity. Besides, this game has changed so much now that using a DH is no longer so radical - heck, most fans today have grown up with the DH. What are your thoughts overall on the DH?
Kevin Layman, St. John's
A-I'm like you. Originally I was a baseball purist that the game should be played with nine men against nine men, the way the game was drawn up by Alexander Cartwright. But I have given up the ghost that both leagues will ever go back to the NL rules. Therefore, like you, I feel it's only fair for MLB to be played under one set of rules. It's like if the NBA Eastern conference had no three-point line. They'd be playing the same game when a West team came in, but the results would be dramatically different. Pitchers aren't taught to hit and even though most of them were position players as well as pitchers when they were kids, for most of them swinging the bat is an embarrassment.
Q-Sorry Richard but I can't let this one go. What did Baltimore do right in the off-season that the Jays didn't do? We keep getting told to wait for next year, year after year, and then we will challenge for first. We keep getting told that our players have to develop, be patient. We have a lot of new players, still waiting. And yet the O's jump from finishing last place every year to first place, all at once, over the off-season. If the Jays had picked up a couple of those veteran players.....
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A-It's May 31 and the Jays just swept the O's and the O's have lost eight of their last 10. I would hold that feel-good O's thought for another couple of months then re-submit the question to the mailbag.
Wonderful column --- much appreciated. My question relates to the situation recently where the Jays are away and batting first in the inning, We are in the ninth inning with the score tied --- the Jays send their "closer" Janssen to pitch. Would it not be better to hold Janssen in reserve until they scored a run, as it was, Janssen pitched a good inning, but was done. To me, I think the Jays wasted their "closer" this game. What am I missing.
William Scott, Fenelon Falls
A-On the road, when you get to the ninth inning in the other team's park and the game is tied, it's like a save situation because if you pace yourself and send out a less talented pitcher that allows just one run the game is over. In the game situation that you pointed out, the thinking from Farrell was that if Janssen gets though the inning on a low pitch count and the Jays take the lead in the top of the 10th, he has the option of sending Janssen back out for another inning. But since the Jays didn't score, the manager rolled the dice with another reliever. It's hard to preach the strategy of saving your best for later when later may never come.
Let's assume that Alvarez, Drabek and Hutchison continue to pitch well during the season and start to pile up innings. Given the trend to limit young starters' overall innings pitched, what do you see the Blue Jays doing with these three? Who would they replace them with and what would happen if we were in a playoff position?
Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia
A-Apparently Hutchison will be limited to around 160 innings, while Alvarez and Drabek are both being given a longer leash. There are specific things that can be done. As the season moves along, they can use off days to limit Hutch's starts and if not that, then by August, they would have to make a decision on who is most major-league ready from among the minor leaguers. They may also make a move at the trade deadline or in August for a veteran if they feel strongly about their ability to contend. That would be a nice problem to have.