Blue Jays mailbag: Colby Rasmus changing perceptions on and off the field
I am usually a huge admirer of Rays manager Joe Maddon, but his reaction to Nationals' manager Davey Johnson's obvious gamesmanship in calling out Rays reliever Joel Peralta on his pine-tarred glove is baffling to me. If I was Johnson, armed with the knowledge that Peralta, a former Nationals reliever, always pitched with pine tar on his glove, I would have done the same thing. It's all about winning. Even Charlie Sheen can tell you that.
The rulebook states that a pitcher may not “apply a foreign substance to the ball, or have a foreign substance in his possession.” Pine tar is clearly such a substance. The rule was broken. Umpire Tim Tschida had no choice but to eject the Rays' middle reliever. Maddon lost it on Johnson after the game. Johnson responded by telling Maddon to “read the rulebook” and calling him a “weird wuss” and “the guru over there.”
Great stuff in a sport that needs more characters willing to show some emotion.
However, the result, an eight-game suspension for Peralta, is something I'm sure Johnson was not angling for. That's a little excessive from baseball and Peralta is appealing to have the penalty reduced. The lesson, one guesses, is that bouncing a helmet one-hop off an umpire like Brett Lawrie did with Bill Miller, is only half as offensive in games missed as a little pine tar on the glove. That's dumb.
The strange thing is that Peralta was not necessarily cheating. He apparently sweats a lot on the mound and when his hand gets slick, he touches the tar with his fingertips and gets a better grip on the ball (or that's the story he's sticking to).
In a way it makes it safer for hitters that might be injured if a slick ball gets away from a pitcher. Recall left-hander Kenny Rogers in the '06 World Series and the extremely black brim of his pine-tar slathered hat that was zeroed in on by Fox TV cameras and the subject of mush discussion in the booth.
Rules change and maybe this one needs to. Up until two years ago, a pitcher on the dirt of the mound could not touch fingers to mouth or a ball would be called. Now he can do that as long as he makes a wiping move to his uniform. It's all about pace of the game.
Maddon is a smart guy. Maybe he was just deflecting attention away from his pitcher and his team, relieving some pressure on his reliever by going on the offensive against Johnson.
Maddon blustered this is one of those things where you have to “read between the lines” of the rulebook and allow the players to regulate themselves. The next time out, with his suspension under appeal, Peralta pitched again against the Nats, but this time using Jeremy Hellickson's glove. What? Pine tar can't be applied to that? In any case, Maddon said he was going to check every Nats reliever that came in, but umpires put the kibosh on that idea.
I like the whole brouhaha. Two really good managers playing mind games.
The fact is that Johnson was right. It wasn't about the glove. If you can throw an opponent off his game, all's fair. I remember managing against Whitby in a minor bantam tournament. A Whitby player was not seriously nicked and the manager came on the field to check on his kid. As he trotted off back to the third base dugout, he turned his head and said to his pitcher, “You okay?” I raced onto the field and made the umpire count that as a mound visit. Was I being unfair? Well, yeah. But the guy was really mad at me and may have missed a key decision later on.
Hey, maybe on his next road trip the brilliantly innovative and colourful Maddon can give his players the theme of dressing like “Sport's greatest cheaters.” That would be fun. There could be David Price as Boston Marathon cheat Rosie Ruiz. Or Ben Zobrist as Bronx 14-year-old Little Leaguer Danny Almonte. Or Carlos Pena as '36 Olympic high jumper Dora Ratjen, the German who turned out to be a guy named Hermann. Or Jose Molina as figure skater Tonya Harding. Or Evan Longoria as Hand of God soccer cheater Maradona.
In summary, Johnson was right, Maddon was right for covering for his players. Baseball was wrong for handing out eight games and maybe the rules need to be modified. On to the mailbag:
With Rasmus starting to look like the keeper we hoped he would be and with the continued development of some of our top prospects in Las Vegas, I started putting the pieces together for 2013. What I realized is that aside from a potentially potent offence, we may have the best defensive team in the majors next year. The Jays could potentially have a starting OF of Rasmus, Gose and Bautista, an infield of Lawrie (3B), Escobar (SS), Hechaverria (2B), D’Arnaud (C) and your pick between Lind, Cooper, Gomes, Arencibia, or Encarnacion at 1B. That's a lot of youth in a starting side but would I be right in saying this would be the top defensive team in the league if you believe all the reports on Gose, Hech, and D'Arnaud?
All the best,
Aaron Hickey, Sydney, Australia
A-I must say I was wrong about Colby Rasmus. I have maintained that he doesn't fit in the Jays' clubhouse and might never ... but that was last year when he was struggling at the plate and having trouble finding close friendships. This year, since Day 1 of training camp, he found a kindred spirit in catcher Jeff Mathis, a central Florida kid with similar interests. They speak the same language. This has spun off into solid relationships with other teammates.
He has even showed a wry sense of redneck humour that includes making fun of media as they wander through the clubhouse. He has loosened up everywhere including his signature two-out, arm wheel and flourish to his fellow outfielders after he makes a catch. His dad, Tony, was in Toronto on Father's Day and noted Colby's new ability to be himself, which apparently was discouraged under Cards' skipper Tony LaRussa.
Manager John Farrell was asked if he thinks of himself as the anti-Tony LaRussa: “More than anything, you deal with people as they are -- differently. I'm not saying you take a custom approach. You've got some basic elements that you try and get across to everyone. Everyone has their own personality and you try and bring out the most in each guy. Thankfully, he feels good about himself and where he's at right now.” Farrell has much to do with that. By the way, Tony Rasmus looks like he would be fun to play golf with.
As for the potentially potent defensive Jays lineup, I agree that if that was the rotation, it would be pretty good, especially in the outfield and up the middle of the infield. However, you're talking about three rookie starters – Gose, Hechavarria, D'Arnaud -- in a lineup that must be constructed to compete. It can be done, but it would be a giant leap of faith in some unproven youngsters.
Q-If the Jays continue to have bullpen issues, and can sign Marcus Stroman before the end of the month, do you foresee them bringing him up to the big club in August. Of all the college pitchers in the draft, Stroman supposedly is the most major league-ready.
Vladimir Guerrero seems to have overvalued himself. No other team has wanted his services ever since he decided to just leave and quit on the Jays. Do you think his career is over?
Why don't the Jays call up Deck McGuire and/or Chad Jenkins? At the very least give Scott Richmond another shot. Jesse Chavez, Carlos Villanueva and Aaron Laffey are all guys who are better suited to coming out of the bullpen and being the long guys. You might as well see what you have with McGuire and Jenkins even though they have struggled in Double A. AA really messed up this offseason by not signing a veteran innings eater like Kevin Millwood or Hiroki Kuroda.
Jason Sinnarajah, San Francisco
A-With regard to Marcus Stroman, even though the right-hander had a good season at Duke and is a mature college pitcher, if they do sign him, he would need to be seen at the minor-league level and, besides, bringing a pitcher to the majors right away has never been the Jays' style. First of all, it gets the major-league clock ticking and what if he does not succeed right away in the first two months. Then they send him down next April and that counts as a first option. The Jays would prefer to start 2013 with any of their first-year pitchers, including Stroman, on a regular minor-league contract so that they can start his major-league clock on their sked and maximize the control they have down the road.
Vlad definitely jumped the gun and overvalued himself. Of course we all think we're better and more valuable than we are. In Guerrero's case, I truly believe he surprised his own agent, Bean Stringfellow (love writing that name) by giving the Jays an ultimatum. AA never ever includes an out clause in any of his minor-league invites for veteran major-leaguers.
The AA agreement is always if you want out just tell us and we'll give you your release. He feels that word of mouth among players and their agents that the Jays are men of their word and that a verbal agreement with Toronto is all you need is better. He feels that this trust inside the walls of the industry is important to establishing the Jays as major players in free agency. Whether that's right or wrong, he sticks to his guns. I agree with him.
As for who should be called up to start, I would take a chance with Chad Jenkins. The Jays at the major league level play better defence and have better scouting reports and some pitchers thrive in the majors when they struggled – at least statistically – in the minors.
“I thought Chad threw the ball very well at spring training and yet he's somewhat, I don't want to say plateaued,” Farrell said. “He's kind of going along at the Double-A level. We're in a situation where need might necessitate that faster development track and some guys may respond in a favourable way. I'll tell you this, if needs continue to arise because of unfortunate circumstances, we may just put ourselves in a position to say 'You know what, let's give them the ball, give them the opportunity and see how he fares'.”
Q-Three starters gone in one week. Totally unheard of and two of them won't be back until the 2014 season. AA is stuck. Getting a good ML starter for prospects isn't going to happen so do you try and move Escobar and Arencibia for pitching because you have two top prospects waiting in the wings to take over their spots. I would rather see them rush them up than watch young pitchers not ready for prime time get battered about. Guys in the clubhouse will lose their will to win if they have to score more than 6 runs a game. So does AA have any other choices?
Dave Walker, Scarborough
A-Three starters on the DL in one trip through the Jays rotation is something I have never seen in my 40 years in baseball. But it's a leap of lack of faith to say that two of them won't be back until 2014. The Tommy John procedure has reached the point where 12 months is a pretty good estimate to have a pitcher back on the mound. Of course it all depends on the individual effort that any pitcher is willing to put in. But we're not even sure yet that Drew Hutchison is going to undergo the procedure, while Kyle Drabek could be back by next year's all-star break if everything goes well. Granted, for Drabek it is his second Tommy John surgery. Dodgers' starter Chris Capuano is an example of a pitcher that came back to pitch in the majors after two such operations.
Also, how can you make that sweeping statement that “getting a good ML starter for prospects isn't going to happen.” Think Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Randy Johnson, Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos, the list goes on and on. In fact, that's the No. 1 way to get ML starters is with prospects. As for guys losing their will to win because they have to score six runs a game. That's the most ridiculous statement of the bunch. When a player puts on his uniform, he's not thinking about giving up on even one game, one at-bat, one pitch. It's his livelihood and pride takes over and a vision of his personal future as a professional baseball player is most important. You can't just rattle off your opinion as fact.
I am surprised that this question hasn't been asked yet, but here goes nothing...During the offseason AA and Beeston made mention that Rogers wouldn't have a problem supporting a larger payroll, when the players and fans show the support. It would seem to a fan that the players are really showing that they are ready to compete even after the loss of three starting pitchers in under a week, they have battled day in and day out for wins, and even when the lose they are right there in battle. So that is one point down, the players have shown they are ready to compete, AA has to stand up and now make his commitment to the team to take it to the next level. The second is the Fans. Aren't the Jays 5th in the largest attendance rate increase in all of baseball? The Fans are supporting the team at the stadium, and one would think the TV ratings have dramatically increased, oh and by the way, how about Jays merchandise, I read somewhere they are in the top five of merchandise sales now. The Fans and Players have stood up and showed that Baseball in Toronto is ready to compete, when will AA and Beeston show their end of the deal? Let's Go Blue Jays.
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-Those are good points about Beeston's off-season explanation of fans support leading to increased payroll, but the optimum time to add intelligent payroll is next off-season. Any Blue Jays payroll increase right now would likely be for expiring contracts for veterans from other teams poised for free agency. There are other, rare, opportunities for a guy like, say, 1B Justin Morneau if the Twins choose to go in that direction, trying to open a permanent position for Joe Mauer. Morneau has $14 million left for 2013 and I would do that if he proves he is healthy. But for Beeston and AA to respond moving forward properly to the promises they made, they must add new talent heading into 2013. To overpay now in 2012 yielding huge prospects for short term contracts, just because fans are calling them out, would be short-sighted. But let's keep your point in mind heading into the offseason.
Q-I have a sort of off topic question - Cito Gaston. I have had heard many people wonder why he hasn't managed another MLB team since his World Series years in Toronto. Even Cito seems to wonder why this is. I remember during his first tenure with the Blue Jays as manager. In interviews and articles, he would always say that he never wanted to be a manager - always downplayed his desire to be a manager. Didn't seem to care if he was fired or not. Do you think his attitude is what kept him from managing another team? What team would want to hire a guy that did not seem to care if he got the job? I have always viewed Cito as a guy that wanted to manage again - but never showed a strong desire. He never was a great strategic manager, but his handling of players (especially the veterans) was excellent - he would always bring out the best in his players.
Chris Hiuser, Tecumseh
A-The most obvious response is that Cito was never given credit for what he did with the Blue Jays, because of the offensive talent on these two teams. The perception was that Gaston was a good batting coach reluctantly taking over a highly-paid, supremely talented Jays team as manager in '89 and just posting a line-up and watching them win. It was not a fair assessment. However, I guarantee one thing. If Gaston was white he would have managed again even after being fired by the Jays in '97.
Cito came close to managing with the White Sox. It came down to Ozzie Guillen and him. He had lunch with Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf at the Tampa Airport and Gaston recalled that it was a very positive get-together. The next day the Sox announced Ozzie as manager. The edge may have been in Guillen's history as a player with the White Sox.
After that, Cito interviewed with several other teams including the Brewers. At the last minute he withdrew his name from the Brewers' candidacy and from that point on he refused to just interview with teams. His feeling was that the commissioner's “affirmative action” mandate that every team needed to interview a minority candidate before naming a new manager – except, it seems, the Jays, when they hired John Gibbons full time. It made it seem like teams were just calling him in as a token interview to meet the requirement.
Gaston felt that his two World Series rings spoke more eloquently than any two-hour sit-down interview about personal philosophy ever could. “If you want me, just hire me.” Cito's not the only African-American to come to that conclusion. Hal McRae also stopped going to interviews.
As a Canadian who moved from Canada between the Blue Jays World Series wins, I really enjoy your column and insight. With divided loyalties, I was fortunate to be at Miller Park last night for one the wildest games I can remember since game 4 of the 93 World Series. I was hoping to see Lawrie face Shaun Marcum, but it was still good to see Garth Iorg coaching first base. Aside from the 5 lead changes, 3 walked in runs, 1 hit batter run, a grand slam, consecutive home runs (3 and then 2), a strike out/passed ball to keep an inning going, there was lots of Canadian content.
Well everyone is familiar with Brett Lawrie (who played in Appleton), John Axford, Gord Ash and Doug Melvin, there were also pinch hit appearances by George Kottaras and Taylor Green. That makes 4 Canadians to play in a major league game. Do you know if that is a record? I am looking forward to the Lansing Lugnuts coming to Appleton next month to showcase the Jays upcoming talent. It's a nice park and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are a community owned team, similar to the Packers up the road in Green Bay. Let me know if you come to town and I'll buy you a cold one at the Leinie Lodge.
Scott Fraser , Appleton, Wisconsin
A-The Leinie Lodge looks like a great spot to meet for a cold Leinenkugel and a brat. I agree with you about the craziness of that Tuesday Jays-Brewers game at Miller Park. The whole series reminded me of the series in May 2010 at Chase Field in Phoenix when Edwin went crazy in that high-scoring three-game interleague series against the D-backs. In fact the weather in Milwaukee this week was very Phoenix-like as well. As for the four Canadians in one game. I was asked that question in the press box by the irrepressible Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. My recollection is that there had been other games with four Canadians in the same box score. I think the day Lachine, Quebec's Denis Boucher made his debut for the Expos back on September 6, 1993, his catcher was Windsor's Joe Sidall and his right fielder was Maple Ridge's Larry Walker I looked it up. There were no Canadians for the Rockies that day, but as the P.R. guy I had to do the research on most Canadians in a game and I believe it was four. I just misplaced my notes from 19 years ago. Forgive me.
I want to thank you for including my daughter's question about Brian Jeroloman and Koby Clemens in Mailbag. She was thrilled. I've never been a fan of Paul Beeston, not sure what he brings to the table. It is repugnant to read he is friends with a creep like Clemens, who has laughably escaped prosecution. And what ever happened to the story that Clemens was dallying with the underage girl? Good message to the youth of the country. Barry Bonds, LeBron James, Dany Heatley, etc.....
Selby Martin, Toronto
A-The legal process is what it is and the case against Clemens of perjury and obstruction of justice, for which he was found not guilty, was weakened considerably when Andy Pettitte remembered that he had mis-remembered his conversation with the Rocket from the early '00s. That left the prosecution as a he said/he said with Brian McNamee. I'm not sure how necessary it was for Clemens to be found guilty and spend any time in jail. The Rocket's legacy has been tarnished forever.
As for the mystery woman you ask about in Roger's past, that was country singer Mindy McCready who was linked romantically to Clemens in an explosive New York Daily News piece in '08. McCready has recorded five country albums, but when she is alleged to have met Clemens, it was as a 15 or 16-year-old karaoke singer in a Fort Myers bar in '92.
McCready tearfully confirmed the sexual relationship to the paper in April of 2008, two months after the Rocket had appeared in front of a congressional committee on performance enhancers, a tough stretch for Clemens. Clemens, through his lawyer Rusty Hardin, threatened the Daily News with a defamation suit, claiming the relationship with McCready was as a family friend and that his wife Debbie was aware of the friendship. McCready apparently mis-remembered, according to Hardin. And, hey, what did LeBron ever do except leave Cleveland and win an NBA championship, proving he is one of the Top 10 players in NBA history?
Q-What does the recent spate of arm injuries mean for the Jays' incremental arm development plan? We've been so careful not to overwork the arms, yet it doesn't seem to matter, eh?
Tony Baer, Baraboo
A-That's a very good question. The Jays are perhaps going to have to review their minor-league methods. The Jays traditionally take draft pick signees and nurture them in their first few years as pros. A kid may have been over-worked as a high school or NCAA stud, but the Jays send them to spring training and have them on strict inning and pitch counts as the season goes on.
For instance the Lansing staff is loaded with pitching talent, but for the first two months they piggy-backed at a maximum of three innings up to four, five etc. Then after they've been in the system a couple of years, they give each pitcher a total innings limit in the minors and again when he reaches the majors.
Major league pitches are considered more stressful. For example, the Jays had planned on limiting Hutchison to 150 total innings this year. A couple of years ago, they shut down Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil in September and sent them home as healthy scratches. The options are like teaching a baby to swim by either giving him or her lessons for months or by throwing them in the deep end of the pool.
Two questions from me: 1) In my view, the team pile-on walk-off celebrations are getting out of hand. I thought streaming out of the dugout and jumping on each other was reserved for clinching a playoff spot, but now a Rajai Davis single in June will spark one. Is there an old guard vs new guard feeling about them in the baseball world? 2) The Blue Jays voted to contract the Expos in 2001, and when they moved to Washington I boycotted MLB and the Jays by not buying game tickets. Will the Blue Jays ever apologize to Expos fans for that vote or should I see a therapist about learning how to let go? Thanks!
Seth Bernstein, Toronto
A-I agree with you on walk-off celebrations. I think the thought process in all things on the baseball diamond should be “What would Henry Aaron do?” If the Hammer hit a game-winning home run during the regular season, I have trouble in my mind seeing him taking a giant leap onto home plate and then bouncing around with teammates like Hannibal's troops going through the Alps on pogo sticks. I have trouble seeing Mr. Aaron delivering a shaving cream pie in the face to Eddie Mathews as he's sitting for a TV interview. So, no. Don't do it.
As for your displeasure with the Jays on voting for contraction back in '01. I too had a huge problem with that and have written as such through the years. It would have been a stand admired by other major-league owners if the Jays had stuck with the other major-league Canadian team. Bud Selig wanted a unanimous vote, well, other than the Expos. Carl Pohlad who abstained in Minnesota. But he stood to get a big payoff in contraction and he couldn't get approval for a new stadium, since built. Yeah, I hate the Jays for that one moment, but if you love baseball, let it go. Enjoy the game.
After a Jays game I go to their website and scroll through the box score. A batter that is hit by a pitch, or walks, or gets on due to catcher interference does not get credit for a base on the total bases line. But if the bases were full when this happened, he'd get an RBI. Someone like Bautista should be credited with over a hundred bases a year. Isn't a walk as good as a hit?
No one should feel bad about Vladdy being released. Talk to the Orioles about the rally-killing, inning-ending double plays that he grounded into. This has been a bad year for former stars. Vladdy, Moyer, Ramirez, and Matsui doing little with the Rays. Even Thome is not earning his salary.
Art Hilderman, Winnipeg
A-That's why a stat like OPS (On-Base plus Slugging) is an important gauge for offensive contribution. It gives much credit to walks as part of the on-base and for power as a calculation of total bases divided by at-bats. It's not perfect, but if you go online and sort any team by OPS or career Hall-of-Famers, it comes out in a pretty meaningful order.
Vlad was not going to put the Jays over the top and I had already started to hear that inside the Jays' clubhouse, which is a very good environment right now, there was not a lot of sentiment to parachute Guerrero into the mix. That was even before Vlad quit I was hearing that. The last guy that came to the Jays because he needed some home runs for 500 was Frank Thomas and how did that work out?
Q-If Chad Mottola is so great at fixing broken Blue Jay swings (e.g. Lind, Snider, Encarnacion), why don't we just make him the hitting coach? Lind's recent statement to the Star that, when he gets recalled: "Chad won't be there and I'll have to be able to adjust by myself -- is kind of sad, no?
Tony Baer, Baraboo
One consistent pattern for the Blue Jay minor league hitters is that, on going from AA to AAA, they almost always hit better, often significantly. This year's examples include D'Arnaud, Gomes, Gose, Hechavarria and Sierra while in the recent past, others were Arencibia, Lawrie and Thames. While there may be a 'Las Vegas' factor at work, I also wonder if the Blue Jays might improve by promoting Mottola to be the major league batting coach. What do you think? Also, in all the discussion of possible promotions, why isn't Moises Sierra mentioned? He is reported to be an excellent outfielder with good power and is currently batting over .300.
Bill Reynolds, Toronto
A-I thought back at spring training when Dwayne Murphy went home for a couple of weeks for some family issues and Mottola stayed in major-league camp, I believed that the Jays might be thinking about adding Mottola to the major-league staff as an associate hitting coach. In fact, both World Series teams last year, the Cards and the Rangers had already stumbled upon that process. Think about it, the pitching coach has the bullpen coach to bounce ideas off. The hitting coach as 13 players and one cage and one pair of eyes and ears. I think they should add Mottola as an associate. He came up last September and he and Murph are on the same page, with some differences. That's a good thing.
I'm already thinking about next year and was wondering if the best route for the Jays to put plus players in every position would be to move Bautista back to third and move Lawrie to second base. I have to think that finding an outfielder with a left handed power bat would be far easier than finding a quality second baseman. I also foresee the possibility of a very flexible line-up with multiple options at OF/1B/DH and catcher however without Lind we are still in need of some left handed bats.
Andrew Blakeney, Toronto
A-I disagree on pretty much all of that. Bautista does not want to play third base and he is your best player. I might try and convince him to play first base. Lawrie is going to be a Gold Glove third baseman. If he played second base I could see him on a double play pivot where a guy slides in hard, with Brett descending to sit on his chest and chew his face off. (sorry I'm in Miami and distracted) You would have to keep three catchers to have both D'Arnaud and Arencibia if J.P. was to move around other positions. That's the one with three catchers that may not be as problematic for me.
Q-When JP Riccardi came in he tried to implement an offence that had players work the count in hopes of getting to the middle relievers early. It failed miserably and Cito had to be brought back to fix things. Now Farrell comes in with the same mantra and look what has happened to the offence.This type of offence may work in Boston, New York or Texas where you have six all-star type players in your line-up but it has been shown that with our collection of castoffs it doesn't work here.
Don't you think it's time to go back to a Cito-type of offensive approach because everyone is sick of constantly watching Jays players take first pitch fastballs down the gut and then striking out on a curve in the dirt. Yes the Jays may get to the bullpen earlier but usually they are losing 4-0 by then and the fans have either left the building or turned off their TVs and radios.
Gus Bolin, Keene, ON
A-I've never been a fan of taking strike one and getting yourself into a pitcher's count right away. And when opponents know that a team philosophy is to work the count they become less reluctant to pound the strike zone on the first pitch. If they are aware, however, that you are looking for a certain pitch, certain spot and that even on first pitch you will crush it, they make a mistake, they become more careful and are more likely to miss on first pitch and all of a sudden the hitter is in charge.
Another problem for the Jays' young hitters is that under Cito, batting coach Murphy was delivering a message of controlled aggression. Then a year later, the same Jays guys step into the batting cage and Murph is suddenly preaching working the count and having 7-10 pitch at-bats to get the starting pitcher out of the game. It's like when Bob Dylan went through his Christian phase. “Say what, Mr. Zimmerman?” Don't think that mixed message is confusing? Ask Adam Lind.