Blue Jays mailbag: Tough second-guessing manager John Farrell on handling of pitchers
The Jays have signed 25 prospects from their June draft, including Tuesday's announcement of RHP Marcus Stroman, a 5-9, 185 lb. 21-year-old from Duke University.
The Jays are also believed to have just signed Canadian OF Nathan DeSouza, from Milton, Ontario.
That would be 26 out of 44 under contract. DeSouza played this spring for the Junior National Team and was Canada's best hitter in the Florida portion of the tour. He was drafted by the Jays in the 26th round and was ranked seventh among Canadians in the pre-draft.
The remaining 18 unsigned selections all have slot values of $100,000 and the Jays have saved $341,339 that they can spread around without surrendering a draft pick as penalty. The Jays have pretty much wrapped up their key June signings, still 10 days in advance of the July 13 deadline.
On Tuesday, the 22nd overall selection, Stroman tweeted that he was thrilled to be a Blue Jay and the club followed up with a release. He was the compensation pick for Tyler Beede last year's No. 22 who chose to attend Vanderbilt University. Stroman signed with the Jays for slot value of $1.8 million, not holding out for perhaps a few dollars more because that amount would be insignificant compared to getting his major-league clock started. It's a brave new draft world unkind to the Scott Boras's of the world.
A Duke University star and Team USA closer in the summer of '11, Stroman has the stuff and the big-spotlight experience that many scouts say translates into a major-league bullpen as early as September. Why would he not sign and report to Dunedin for assignment to a minor-league club and get the process rolling. Maybe he starts his career at A-Dunedin or maybe at AA-New Hampshire. In any case, the Jays did it their way, which in some way is ridiculous and against the spirit of the draft, but in other ways worked for them. From Rounds 4-10 they chose college seniors that inked deals for a total of $31,000.
That is not a misprint -- six players at $5,000 and a Naval Academy 10th rounder for $1,000. They all just wanted a chance to play pro ball. The Jays were able to stockpile slot money for the first seven picks that they really, really wanted and signed them all. The Jays now have Not all clubs had this approach. Brewers' AGM Gord Ash said their policy was to pinpoint talented players with each pick they they felt were worth exactly that slot amount and then draft them. They also signed all their top guys. We'll see in four years which approach worked best.
On to the questions.
Q-Hi Richard, Thanks for the weekly mailbag. I have a question that has been bothering me for quite some time. When will someone call John Farrell out for his selection of pitchers? As a fan it bothers me to watch games where starters are brought out after the Jays have fought back and gotten a lead only to give it up the next inning. Also what is Farrell's love affair with Francisco Cordero? The guy gives me the jitters every time he comes in the game. Also will the Jays be sellers or buyers at the trade deadline. I read an article on Fox Sports where Bautista asked for more arms to replace the ones lost for the year. Thanks again. Go Jays. Antonn Forde, Freeport, Bahamas
A-Unfortunate timing in the handling of innings for a major-league pitching staff is one of the easiest areas of second-guess for any fan or media member. That's why, personally, I will never mention a pitching screwup in print or online as being a bad decision unless I had first-guessed it at the time. If as a manager I would not have made a move, then I feel okay suggesting it could have been handled differently. That being said, there have been only 3-4 times this season where I thought a starting pitcher maybe shouldn't have gone out the next inning because it seemed he had enough. Get him out before things get bad. There are other easily second-guessable times where a reliever has, let's say, a breezy nine-pitch inning and he's been yanked, instead of staying for a second frame. Then the guy after him gets shelled. The unseen dilemma in this case is that even the mere act of a reliever getting up and warming up hard in the bullpen as if he will becoming into the game is the equivalent of him actually pitching that day, so if you warm a guy up you might as well use him. Pitchers don't like getting up and not being used. Back in '98 with manager Tim Johnson, Dan Plesac and Paul Quantrill were warming up in the pen almost every day and by September Plesac needed three days off in a row a couple of times just to finish the year. Plus he claimed he needed help wiping his butt. I don't know that for a fact. There is room for a manager to be creative however, like the other day with the Angels. They had a three-run lead in the eighth inning and brought in closer Ernesto Frieri, instead of saving him for the ninth and the save. The reason was that the Jays in the eighth had the top of the order starting with Colby Rasmus and the ninth was going to be an easier part of the order that could be handled by Scott Downs. That's a case of ignoring the “save situation” and looking at the “game situation.”
Q-In all the trade talk and speculation I don't see much about Yunel Escobar. Although he does play good defence he is 30 years old and has had more mediocre years than good ones at the plate. As I understand it he is not interested in playing second base which means we either have an unhappy second baseman or he continues to stand in the way of Hechvarria playing shortstop. I may be dreaming but it also seems he is not a favourite of Farrell. In one game earlier this year (and I do not get to see many of them) he was glaring and making comments to the home plate ump over balls and strikes. When he got back to bench he walked by Farrell who would not even look at him. I just get the sense he is more selfish than team oriented. His trade value is quite likely as high as it is going to be so why not trade before the deadline and bring up Hechvarria. Re-sign Johnson to play second where he has done a good job. What do you think? Also interested in your thoughts about J.P. Arencebia. He seems like a good guy and a good player but I was put off by the incident earlier in the year when Vizquel pinch hit for him. Regardless of whether he agreed with that move or not (and in my view the move made a lot of sense in the circumstances) he should have happily (at least until he was in private with Farrell) accepted it. He was hitting squat at the time. He holds himself out to be a team leader but his response was anything but. Because it appears he does carry some leadership swagger, his petulent response had the potential to undermine the authority of and respect the other players have for Farrell. The incident had me swing from liking him to thinking maybe they should trade him to make room for d'Arnaud. Jamie Goodfellow, Vernon, B.C.
A-The Jays under John Farrell talk about “length” in the batting order and that means having decent offensive production at least one through eight in the lineup. Escobar gives them that, as well as pretty good defence at the most difficult position on the diamond. I can't see the advantage in trading Escobar even if he is 30-years-old with inconsistent focus. As for not being interested in playing second base, that question has never come up. Obviously a guy that has played shortstop his whole career would rather play shortstop, but I believe that if Hechavarria was to make it to the majors, that he is the one that would be asked to play second base right away because of Escobar's incumbent status. That's ot to say Escobar is the better defender between the two, but they're both pretty good. As for the Farrell brush-off of a petulant Escobar, I remember the incident, but managers are human and I can identify with being mad at a certain player at a certain moment and ignoring him, but it never lasts. I would not re-sign Kelly Johnson for 2013 and beyond. They didn't plan on having him back this year and he has done a nice job for them, but I think they see him as a one-year plan. If either guy is traded at the deadline, I think it's more likely to be Johnson than Escobar. The Arencibia incident in Oakland was not that much of a negative as far as I'm concerned. I don't think his reaction would have been so violent if he had not already been stepping into the batter's box when Farrell called him back and replaced him with Omar Vizquel for the purpose of a safety squeeze – that, by the way, was unsuccessful. It's a huge area between dugout and home plate at the Coliseum, so maybe the communication at the moment was not there. But for a guy to be upset about being replaced at a key moment in the game is normal. I must say that after the game I headed astraight for his locker looking for something because it seemed by his body language on the field that he was not happy. So blame me. If anything happens and the Jays do make room for D'Arnaud when he regains his health, it will not be because of that incident. Sure Arencibia was bothered by being pinch-hit for at the time, but that's normal for maor-leaguers with self-confidence and ego. For me, not a problem.
Q-Richard, With the season seemingly looking like another .500 one, why don't the Jays call up Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire to see what the two pitchers have at the Major League Level. The 2 of them are underperforming at AA but down there their defence behind them isn't what it would be at the Majors, and maybe the 2 of them are just trying to pitch too "perfectly" each outing. If the season is stikll sitting at .500 after the All Star Break wouldn't it make a lot of sense to bring up those 2 too see what the Jays have going into the 2013 season and beyond? Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-I think the better chance is that you will see Jenkins sooner rather than later. And it's more because of injury and attrition on the staff than having anything to do with being at .500. Of the two men, Jenkins, who had dropped weight between last year and this, looked more prepared for the majors at spring training and has started to turn his season around at New Hampshire. I agree with you that either pitcher would benefit from better defence and better information about opposing hitters.
Q-Hi Richard Just wanted to get your thoughts on the Home Run Derby at the All-star game. It seems to me that its been responsible for messing up the swings of several Blue Jays like Vernon Wells, Alex Rios and Jose Bautista. Wonder if you agree and if it's had a negative affect on others players as well. Bo Buczko, Toronto
A-There have been some prominent examples of players that have left it all on the field at the Home Run Derby and been unable to replicate the power in the second half and beyond. The most famous example I can think of is Bobby Abreu of the Phillies. At the break in 2005, he had 18 homers and 58 RBIs and was invited by the NL to participate at Comerica Park in Detroit. My press seat at the Derby was in deep right-centre field and I was attempting to write a column as Abreu rained down home run after home run into my section. Guys were jumping over seats and crashing into my back as the home run barrage continued. It was an amazing display of raw power. Abreu by the finals of the competition had run out of gas and lost, but I always have remembered being bombed with Abreu for an hour. However, in the season's second half he hit just six homers, dropped to 15 the next season and has never hit more than 20 since. Others, including Wells, Carlos Delgado and Bautista have not done well in the Derby and blamed it for messing up their stroke. Others like Griffey, Jr. and Ripken, Jr. have thrived on workout Monday. My opinion is watching it on TV is more entertaining than in person.
Q-Hi Richard, With Houston moving over to the AL, what are the chances of a reshuffling of all the divisions and teams? With the AL East the way it's going compared to the AL West, the Jays would have a much better shot at keeping within striking distance of the leader, say in the West. And it's not fair with all the tough competition all in the AL East! Surely the bigwigs would love a Boston vs New York ALCS? Thanks, love the weekly mailbags. Alvin Lee, Ottawa
A-I believe the Texas Rangers have the best record in the AL, so it would seem it's in fact easier to stay closer to the leader in the East. Besides, the last time I looked the Jays are in the Eastern third of the North American continent. The Jays' best attendance draws are the Yankees and Red Sox and that's important. One fact that nobody considers is the start times if you switch divisions, especially to the West, where Rogers Sportsnet, who do a wonderful job at promoting their much-prized sports property, would have three times as many road games starting at 10 p.m. Not good for advertisers. Thank God for Sportsnet-One that could then carry the live Jays games while the hockey panel discusses Steve Ott's impact on the Sabres on all other RSN outlets. “Hey, catch Jays games live on The Ocho.”
Q-After listening to Rasmus' father on Father's Day, I wonder what it is about Managers and Coaches that makes them want to change the approach of young players that got them to the majors in the first place - are they trying to recreate a better version of their own careers in the younger players (much like father's do with their own children)? Mike Tremblay, Vernon, B.C.
A-I think maybe you're thinking a little too deep on this issue. I got a kick out of listening to Rasmus's father on Father's Day. He took over the TV booth with Buck and Tabby for a full inning. He was honest about Tony LaRussa and very complimentary towards John Farrell, recalling that “When Colby calls home, it's 'John Farrell this and John Farrell that.'” As we all do, Tony Rasmus cares about his son's success and having been a part of it growing up, has strong opinions. Obviously he and Colby were right and LaRussa was wrong. The Cards moved Colby back in the box and away from the plate so he could wait longer on pitches and use the whole field to spray the ball around. Finally, this year, working with Dwayne Murphy and Farrell, Rasmus' toes are tickling the inside chalk right up next to home plate and at the front of the batter's box. He is more upright and is now crushing the ball. He has dropped the facade of being an all-fields hitter, instead peppering the facade of the 500 Level in right.
Q-Hey Griff, With the recent string of injuries to the starting rotation in the past few weeks, would this be the push the team needs to be aggressive this offseason in the free agent market? As someone who was against pursuing players like Fielder and Darvish this past offseason, the logistics given the current situation with the team seems to suggest that free agency is the best route for immediate help... 1-To make a trade for an arm now, most clubs would want high-level, MLB ready prospects. The three that come to mind are Travis D'Arnaud, Anthony Gose and Adeiny Hechavarria and I don't see AA making a move unless getting a high level arm that is controllable for multiple years. 2-The next glut of top level arms in the minors are still a few years away. We're seeing now that the arms in the system that are in either New Hampshire or Vegas aren't going to cut it. Would the above factors finally force Rogers to open the purse strings and go hard after a pitcher like Greinke? With Beeston's playoff prediction of multiple playoff births in the next five years, I can't see the Jays standing pat again this off season. Dan McKinnon, Toronto
A-The problem with free-agency is that the Jays have boxed themselves into a Catch-22 situation of their own making. They would like to compete for the most-talented free agents, but the most talented free agents want 6-10 years and the Jays have a policy of not offering more than five. So they can't compete. But if they acquire a player with two years remaining before free agency, they feel they can convince the very best of those to sign an extension for five years which technically ties them up for 6-7 years which technically is against their own policy. There's a little fudging of honesty going on. The Jays just need to drop the hard policy of nothing more than five and judge every case individually if they really want to take the next step. If they trust AA's judgment why do they need that policy? As for the problems with making a trade for a high quaity mnajor leaguer, Anthopoulos said when he arrived as GM that the draft is to develop star players for your team and to create inventory for trade. Well the inventory is there, but they must choose wisely about guys they keep and guys they trade. The problem I have with obtaining Greinke is that it's like choosing Eeyore the donkey character from the Winnie-the-Pooh series to lead the Charge of the Light Brigade. With Romero struggling to dig his ego out of the rubble, sure Greinke is a quality major-league starter, but he is a free agent next year and is more of a follower himself than a leader in the clubhouse.
Q-Richard, When you lose three/fifths of your starting rotation at any level of a ball club's organization, there's presumably a domino effect. Yet, it doesn't feel like that happened with the Jays. It seems to me, a lot of relievers got shuffled into starting assignments in Toronto and Las Vegas. But outside of the elevation of Brett Cecil, we didn't read about too many other pitchers moving up a level. Is that because Las Vegas is an unkind graduation present for upcoming AA hurlers? Or did it happen and I just never read about the transactions? And shouldn't the dominant Single A pitchers, both high and low, be moving on up after dominating through Spring? Thanks, Gary Mugford, Brampton
A-Yes, Las Vegas is an unkind graduating present for AA hurlers. But it can be useful and served its purpose with a guy like Kyle Drabek, a young pitcher that they were trying to teach to face adversity and not be affected by it. In that situation late in '11, Vegas was the perfect place because you always know there will be adversity to face. As for the lack of minor league movement, there's been plenty of it that we just don't hear about. For instance, there have been 15 different pitchers start at least one game in Vegas and six pitchers that have played both in New Hampshire and Las Vegas thus far. That list includes: Joel Carreno, Brett Cecil, Evan Crawford, Clint Everts, Yohan Pino and Ronald Uviedo. As for the young studs in A-ball, they are in the process of working their pitch count and inning counts up to dominate at their current level before being moved up. With all the injuries to the Jays' major-league staff, they have also supplemented the organization with short-term veteran signings like Shawn Hill, Jamie Moyer and Sean O'Sullivan.
Q-A scoring question for you: a lot of teams are now using shifts when pull hitters come to the plate. For example, the Jays move Lawrie into RF when playing the Red Sox and Ortiz is batting. If Ortiz hits the ball to Lawrie and is thrown out at first or Lawrie catches a fly ball, how is that scored? Doesn't shifting defensive players around the diamond screw up scorekeeping? Ken Cuthbert, Kingston
A-Wherever it is that Lawrie makes a play, it's scored as a third baseman. Like the rare 5-6-3 double play from short right or the 5-3 from a grounder fielded in front of Bautista. Thankfully most stat services provide accurate spray charts to show where the ball was actualy hit.
Q-It's pretty apparent that Henderson Alvarez cannot at present pitch in the majors. If the Jays didn't need a starter, any starter it would seem, so badly would he have been sent down by now to try and work things out? What do you see as his problem(s) and his future as a big league pitcher? Thanks, Eleanor Pakozdi, Port Colborne
A-I have seen plenty worse pitchers than Alvarez starting in the majors. Problem? He is basically armed with a two-pitch repertoire in a four-pitch job description. His sinker and changeup are the two pitches he can command and throw for strikes consistently. The problem there is that there is only a 7 miles-per-hour separation in velocity between the two on most nights, which means you can have a hitter guess wrong and still hit a line drive in fair territory. Henderson needs a third pitch, like a curveball that is 15-20 m.p.h. different from his two-seamer. As an example of separation see Zack Greinke who throws fastball at 94 and curveball at 69. Farrell says there is a physical problem for Alvarez because the good sinker, the way he throws it and fades it, torques his wrist one way and a good curveball works the hand the other way and it's not easy to combine the two. In my opinion, he might forge a solid career MLB out of the bullpen as a 1-2 inning guy that can get you out of a jam with a double-play grounder. But he is not the worst starter in the majors and still deserves to be here.
Q-Hi Rich, In your last mailbag you praise coaches for showing emotion, and also mention that you think 8 games is too much for pine tar compared to Brett Lawrie for chucking his helmet. I hear where you are coming from but have to disagree. In my opinion, the pine tar incident was a direct attempt to cheat. The same way steroids are direct attempts to cheat, for which you get 50 games. Lawrie lost his red bull temper but wasn't attempting to cheat or break the rules of the game. He just showed too much emotion for a short time frame. Also, can the league suspend pitchers by starts instead of games? It doesn't make sense to suspend Hamels earlier this season for 5 games cause he didnt even miss a start. Wouldn't it make more sense to suspend him for one start? Thanks, Jeff I., Haliburton
A-I think when MLB is handing out suspensions, they're thinking more about the salary being lost than the statistics being lost. There would have to be a pitcher's suspension that would be 10 days of play but five days of pay. That could work. As for comparing pine tar to steroids, I think that's a bit silly. But bouncing your helmet off a person of authority and then not even pausing to apologize once you realize it happened, that's a loss of personal control that cannot be acceptable in any area of life. Lawrie has settled down tremendously in terms of enthusiasm and spontanaiety since he first arrived in the majors, thanks to the manager, thanks to Jose Bautista and others, but he still has an edge and an obvious love of playing the game that you still like to see in a professional athlete.
Q-Hi Richard Griffin, What is your opinion on the following idea? For the Jays to implement a Moneyball type system, that I call Injuryball, regarding starting pitchers by making a series of trades or call-ups from their farm teams, whereby three good relievers or farm team starters equals one good MLB starter, with each of those relievers or farm team starters only scheduled to pitch 2 to 3 innings every fifth day. The A's managed to do that kind of thing regarding a few of their top batters after they lost Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to free agency, by signing and trading for overall lesser batters who nonetheless excelled in certain situations and when their stats were combined, equaled or neared the stats of one star batter.
Under such a scenario, the Blue Jays' Injuryball starting rotation might look something like this: Day 1: Romero Day 2: Alvarez Day 3: Cecil and Jeremy Guthrie (three innings each) Day 4: Aaron Laffey, David Pauley and Sean O'Sullivan (two innings each) Day 5: Shawn Hill, Joel Carreno and Jesse Chavez (two innings each) For the Jays bullpen pitchers of Villanueva, Perez, Frasor, Cordero, Oliver, and Janssen to continue as the team's bullpen pitchers for the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, and any extra innings. Of course, having put forth that idea for discussion, it should definitely be noted that the Blue Jays are not a small market team, and without the richest owner in MLB; as such, it is a shame that the Blue Jays in the off-season were not willing to spend what was required in order for them to have signed any free agent starting pitchers such as Yu Darvish, CJ Wilson, Edwin Jackson, and Roy Oswalt. Chatardio, Canada
A-That's 16 pitchers by my count. That leaves nine position players to man nine positions. Hmm. Some mail in my mailbag I just have to run because it's so bizarre. Congratulations.
Q- In your bio it says you've taken part in all or part of every world series since 1978, can you tell us why you/ve only taken part in some, and how many players wished you only took part in less than some and can you give me an example of a metaphor for chicken using a home run ball? Wang Roxbury, Oakville
A-In some of the early years in public relations with the Expos, I would only go to the NL hosted games at the World Series, because I had already worked the Championship Series before it. As for combining “chickens and home runs”, how about “that man just served up a heapin' helpin' of Chicken McBigFly.”