Blue Jays mailbag: Competition with Red Sox will continue into offseason
Suffice it to say the Jays have never had a season quite like the one they are currently having. Season-ending injuries to key players, including the two-time defending home run champ, plus two starters and a closer. Add to that a healthy starting ace who has now lost 12 decisions in a row.
The struggling Jays head to Boston to face a completely different Red Sox team that looked disinterested and listless on their recent West Coast trip. The Sox must be viewed in a different light than ever before. It's like looking in a mirror.
After shedding $260 million in future payroll via a huge trade with the Dodgers, the Sox are setting themselves up to likely be going after the same free agents and the same players in trade as are the Jays in an effort to reload into an instant contender — with different faces to redo the clubhouse culture. They're looking for high character guys with talent that can step in and create an immediate winner.
What?? So, it seems, are the Jays.
Oh, by the way, the Red Sox may also be interested in seeking permission from the Jays to speak to manager John Farrell as a replacement for Bobby Valentine, who is greasing his own skids daily with some decidedly erratic behaviour, including an offer to punch a local radio host in the mouth for asking a question in a phone interview that he didn't appreciate.
Should the Jays even consider letting the Sox talk to their manager with a year left on his contract or should they start negotiating an extension to lock up Farrell for another three years beyond 2013? That's an internal discussion that will continue for the remainder of the season, because that process won't start in Boston while Valentine still sits in the manager's chair.
Recall those same Farrell-to-Boston questions arose last October before Valentine was hired, but at the time the Jays skipper who was pitching coach in Boston from 2007-10, had just made his debut and had two years left on his contract. Plus, the Jays believed they could contend in '12 so they changed their own rules about accommodating their baseball personnel that wanted to leave and now say that they will now not allow their employees to leave for a parallel move. The Jays would love to finish with fewer than 90 losses, meaning they need 12 more wins.
On to the Mailbag:
My problem all year long has been the use of the 25-man roster. Why 13 pitchers which seriously depletes your bench strength? Then on Sept. 1, they recall two more pitchers when the rosters expanded! With no bench strength, the playoffs will be a dream only. You can't just play the same eight (players) game-in and game-out — you're just looking at someone breaking down.
Dave Mulholland, Toronto
A-I agree with you. I have never understood 13 pitchers and 12 players and the Jays insisting that that balance is a necessity. There have been so many games this lost season where it has come down to late innings and the bullpen has six pitchers staring through the fence and the dugout has just one healthy body to play a position. This decade, maybe even this organization, has been ridiculous in terms of babying bullpen arms. Relievers used to pitch 3-4 games in a row several times per year with at least one or two of those being multiple innings. But the Jays have run into situations where Omar Vizquel has had to remain in a game when another player would have been better, but none was available. It's not even just having 12 position players, it's having some of those guys with nagging one or two game injuries that has even hampered the best match-ups against certain pitchers. It's been wrongheaded.
Q-Is there some reason why the Jays aren't giving Carlos Villanueva the respect he deserves? He's only done everything they could have asked and more, and has really stepped up this year. He's a free agent at the end of this season, but if I were he, I certainly wouldn't give the Jays any home discount. Is there something more to the story that fans don't know about? Does he have horrible BO or something? Thanks,
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A-I agree with you that if Carlos Villanueva has not noticed the disrespect he's been getting from the Jays as a future member of the rotation, then he's not paying attention. But he is. If the Jays continue to regard him as the ultimate swingman, rather than as a No. 5 starter, then they will not offer him nearly enough to be competitive with other teams that have been scouting the Jays in the second half. Villanueva is a consistent 6-7 innings, 0-4 earned runs guy that can throw 100 pitches and keep his team in the game every time out. That is the definition of a fifth starter on a good team. I think you may be digging a little deep looking for reasons. I would not be surprised the more starts Villanueva makes the more the Jays begin seriously thinking about making him an offer as a rotation guy for three years.
Q-Hey, Read your column every chance I get. Love to hear your baseball knowledge.
Had an idea on next year. Maybe outside the box a bit, and far from complete but an idea. So. Watching Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose running, wow, love to see both. Like Buck Martinez always says on broadcasts, “look what speed does.” So, Gose in right, Davis in left. Jose Bautista always says he will play where the team needs him. Back at third. Need a second baseman next year? Brett Lawrie works. He played there before. Edwin Encarnacion at first. Yunel Escobar, short. Colby Rasmus, centre. Leaves options for injuries or trade options for pitching? Just an idea. I know Davis isn't perfect defensively but maybe speed on basepaths makes up for it.
Curious to see what you think.
Dan Frook, Fergus
A-I love baseball speed, also, dating back to my NL days. But for baseball speed to pay off, it has to have the ability to reach base on its own and to play defence in order to bolster a pitching staff. At this moment, Gose can play defence, but can't reach base enough to merit a starting role. Davis, for his part, can't play defence well enough to reflect his blazing speed and when he does play on an everyday basis his offence starts to fall off. Gose, I believe, needs another half-season of seasoning. Davis needs to be in the role the Jays imagined, to be a fourth outfielder on a good major-league team, complementing a left-handed hitting starter and coming off the bench as a pinch-runner, a disruptor in late innings.
That being said, if Bautista was going to change positions, I would ask him to shift to first base. First base can be a leadership position if shortstop is not. By leadership, I mean the ability and willingness to walk to the mound and calm a young pitcher down or to make sure everyone is on the same page in defending bunts, etc. It was something Carlos Delgado did. The Jays haven't had that first baseman ever since. If Bautista was at first base, Encarnacion could be the primary DH with the ability to play first base as well. There is no reason to think that Lawrie has not already found his best defensive position at third-base. He is fearless on ground balls and makes beautiful feeds to second base on double plays. However, if Gose is not ready to take a regular position and Sierra is not an everyday right fielder yet, then that change of Jose to first base could wait. As for second base, I would head to spring training and give Adeiny Hechavarria a chance to win the second base position.
Q-Hello Mr. Griffin,
This might be a dumb question, but you have talked about the idea of having two hitting coaches with the Jays as being a good idea. With the Las Vegas season being over do/could the Jays (or any team), call up coaches, like they call up players to be with the major league team until the end of the year? Thanks,
Chuck Giles, Washago
A-Yes, I am in favour of the Jays' utilizing Dwayne Murphy and an associate hitting coach, in this case Chad Mottola, who has been the Triple-A hitting coach the past three years and has worked with virtually all of the home grown players. The Rangers and the Cardinals both had such a setup with two hitting coaches last season and they each went to the World Series.
Mottola has been called up already from Vegas, but will not be in uniform for games. In September, major-league teams are able to add one coach in uniform and this year that will be Luis Rivera, who has been with the team all season. Last September, Mottola was also called up and was in uniform. I think the time has come to add him as an associate hitting coach for the year. Another pair of eyes on the hitters during games could not hurt. They have worked well together for the last three springs.
I love the mailbag and it's the highlight of my (baseball reading) week when it happens. With a few Jays farmhands starting to find time with the big club, I've started to wonder how good these guys will actually become when they're ready for the show. I've heard (Justin) Nicolino called a Tom Glavine in waiting, (Travis) D'Arnaud the next Brian McCann and Gose the next Kenny Lofton. Are any of these projections reasonable or are they far beyond what we should expect? How good are the Blue Jays' top prospects? Which players (current or former) would you say provide the best comparison?
Joseph C, Toronto
A-I think Justin Nicolino would prefer to be compared to Cliff Lee, which is not a bad choice. Nicolino has a full repertoire that needs to be pared down to his four best pitches before he gets to the Show. He's got two- and four-seam fastballs, change, slider and curveball. It will probably come down to the two FBs, the curve and change. As for D'Arnaud, as a right-handed hitter and at his size, a better comparison might be to Buster Posey of the Giants. The Jays hope that D'Arnaud has that same leadership quality as the Giants' star and the ability to provide some solid offence to the mix. The Gose/Lofton comparison has been an obvious one since the first spring training that the Jays' youngster was invited to play in spring games. It's never the right question to ask is a player the next so-and-so. The comparisons are always just guidelines to think about when you first see a player. They will always develop their own personality if they're good enough.
Always enjoy your column! The Blue Jays coaching staff preaches 'pitch to contact' with its starters. How common is this among MLB teams? Is this a philosophy based on the talent you have available? Does the philosophy extend down through an organization into the minors? How effective of a strategy do you think it is? It seems the most effective starters for the Jays — Carlos Villenueva, J.A. Happ and Brandon Morrow — seem to get a lot of Ks.
Mitch K, Toronto
A-I don't believe the Jays' coaching staff ever has preached “pitching to contact” as the be-all and end-all of pitching philosophy. They actually prefer “big arms with swing-and-miss ability,” guys like Steve Delabar. What is perceived as encouraging “pitching to contact” is when a pitcher constantly has a pitch count at, or over, 80 pitches through four innings, in that area of inefficiency. So what the Jays are looking for is establishing strike one and getting into pitcher's counts, meaning ahead in the count 0-1, 0-2, 1-2. When Brandon Morrow earlier in his Jays career was struggling with pitch count, they encouraged him to pitch to more contact earlier in counts and in the game in order to go deeper, but when the key moment comes, with runner on third and less than two out, they still prefer pitchers with swing-and-miss ability that are able to get the key strikeout when needed. For guys like Alvarez and Villanueva, guys that don't have that big arm, pitching to contact with quality strikes is the key.
Unfortunately it's that time of the year again to start thinking about next year's roster and I was wondering what your thoughts would be about having Adam Lind move to LF. That would free up the DH spot for the Jays to test the free agent waters. Also, seeing as the FA crop for 2B is pretty thin and the homegrown talent cupboard seems frightfully bare, would the Jays entertain the thought of re-signing Kelly Johnson? Always appreciate your insight.
George O'Hagan, Guelph
A-It is indeed the time of year to start thinking about next year's roster, but one of the keys for the Jays, one of the mantras of GM Alex Anthopoulos' recent roster building has always been to become more athletic at every position. Moving Lind to left field would not be a step in that direction. He is a hitter. The most athletic first baseman on the current roster is Edwin Encarnacion. In order to remain on the team, Lind's best role would be as a DH with the ability to fill in at first base occasionally.
As for second base in 2013, Farrell and AA talk in a good AL lineup of being able to carry one bat that is less than level, as long as you have eight major-league hitters. If the Jays can bolster the offence with one more major-league bat, they could afford to start the season with Adeiny Hechavarria at second base and Yunel Escobar at shortstop. Re-signing KJ to play second would not seem to be in the Cards. See the above criteria of athleticism, which second base falls under that same requirement.
I know that the Blue Jays young pitcher Henderson Alvarez is just that, young. He is a pretty good pitcher but although some commentators said that he has "ice in his veins" i.e. that nothing bothers him, I think that he has not too much going on upstairs as well because in spite of the fact that every one praises him and his pitching, they say that he should keep the ball down, but he repeatedly leaves a few up and those are hit for home runs and those are the runs that causes him to lose games.
In time he will be a great pitcher but it does not take age to learn from one's repeated mistakes. Any thoughts on this?
Tony D'Souza, Toronto
A-I don't think it's fair to say “he has not too much going on upstairs.” He's a young, 22-year-old Venezuelan who has not yet grasped his necessary second language, the bane of many young Latinos when it comes to public perception of their baseball smarts.
The reality with Henderson Alvarez is that he's going to have to earn a spot in the starting rotation in 2013. He needs to separate the velocity on his fastball and slider by more than he currently does. He needs to locate his sinker where the catcher sets up and not elevate it and leave it in the middle of the plate. He is one of the Jays most relaxed pre-game pitchers on days that he starts. He often has friends outside the clubhouse that he hangs out with. Everyone is different. I think the 95 mph fastball and a good changeup make him a solid pitcher, but he needs a quality third pitch, the slider to step up. If Alvarez does not make the starting five coming out of spring training the Jays will be pretty good.
I've been enjoying details of your pub crawls on the road via your Bullpen, but couldn't you combine them with pumping out some more mailbags? Seems to me that might be a good combination. Here's my question: in this crazy, disappointing, seemingly train wreck of a season, please give us fans five positives to take with us into 2013 based on on-field performance this year.
Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia
A-We'll see what we can do about more mailbags.
Five Jays positives. Hmmm!
1-Edwin Encarnacion discovering that he can be a second Batman in the Jays order; 2-Steve Delabar challenging to be the closer at spring training with a 96 mph fastball and a nasty, nasty splitter; 3-J.A. Happ establishing that he can be a very useful 4-5 starter in a winning rotation; 4-The emergence of Aaron Loup added to a late season tryout by Brett Cecil, giving the Jays a chance to make an intelligent decision on picking up the option of Darren Oliver for 2013; 5-Marcus Stroman.
If you were told back in Feb. of '95 when you joined The Star as a baseball columnist that the Blue Jays — coming off a World Series championship two seasons prior — wouldn't make the playoffs at all until 2013 at the earliest, what would your reaction have been?
Terry Bridge, Waterloo
A-First of all, I would not have believed that the Jays would not get back in all those years. Second, I would have thought that maybe it was me. The low point for me personally in terms of World Series and post-seasons came early in my time with The Star. I had, of course, spent 22 seasons with the Expos and the closest we came was the '81 NLCS loss to the Dodgers. “Monday, Monday, don't love that day.” Then in my third year with The Star there are the Marlins and Indians playing in the World Series. I travel down to Florida to cover the Series and the PR guy is a nice kid named Ron Colangelo who four years earlier had been interning for me at spring training in West Palm Beach, carrying my beer to the press box and printing and delivering my press notes on game days. He dreamed of getting a job in baseball and now here he is with the Marlins in his first year as a PR guy and he wins a World Series ring. Life's not fair. It took me a while to get over that. Ron's now a v-p with the Tigers.
I don't envy you having to watch this unfortunate season. My question concerns Monday's game in NYC. Russell Martin laid down that terrific sac bunt and clearly ran on the inside of the baseline. He was thrown out and no damage was done, but do you think the umpire would have noticed and called him out if the throw had been bad?
Ralph Levenstein, Thornhill
A-I honestly think that umpires in that situation, where it is so clearly obvious that a guy is running down the line in fair territory, that if a throw drills the runner in the back or is air-mailed into the right field corner that an umpire is more likely to call a player for the infraction and send the runner back to first base because of interference. If the catcher makes the play routinely, the ump doesn't bother calling it. Of course who's going to take that chance and intentionally hit a guy in the back or airmail the throw to keep the runner at first. In any case, the answer to your question is yes. I do think they sometimes are waiting before making the call.
Q-Dear Mr. G,
How disappointing to see Brett Lawrie is further desecrating his body with more tattoos; what a symbol of the dull-witted conformist underclass. I am among the few that hasn't anointed Lawrie for the Hall of Fame. He has room to grow, yes, but so far he looks more like a future utility infielder than a star. Pretty immature for 23.
Thea Varley, Toronto
A-I think he's pretty much already far more than a future utility infielder. I don't know about the tattoos. I have four children and the most mature of the quartet, third on the totem pole of life, 22-years-old and wanting to save the world once she gets out of Guelph University, is the only one of the four with ink. I'm not sure, even in my most upset moment that she would be described as “dull-witted, conformist.” So I'll cut Lawrie some slack on that one. If he stays at third base and if he cuts down on some of his ill-advised adventures, both offensively and defensively, he has a chance to be an all-star player for years to come. And yeah, he's got room to grow in terms of maturity, but nothing to do with tatts.
Q-Can the Jays offer (Zack) Greinke $100 million for 4-5 years? I don't think he would sign but if possible it would solve the starter problem. Also, is Hechavarria our new starter at second base next year with Johnson obviously leaving? I also don't believe an offer could go out to David Ortiz because AA will want the DH spot open for Lind/D'Arnaud and the possible Gose/Sierra platoon. Do you agree?
Martin Aguirre, Owen Sound
A-The Angels will probably be interested in re-signing Greinke, to go with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. If they do, that could mean Dan Haren and/or Ervin Santana will be available because of expensive club options, but any which way, any one of those three Angels pitchers I would pursue, if he becomes available. Greinke would be nice at the right price because he's only 28-years-old at the moment and has pitched most of his career in the American League. It will be interesting to see what he demands and what he commands if the Yankees don't pursue, or other large markets that could shy away because of his well-documented mental health issues, dealing with large crowds and stress. I'm not sure why he would avoid at least listening to what the Jays have to offer.
Q-While watching a London, Ont., team play a team in Michigan during the first half of July, a batter with a full count swung at a vicious curve ball and missed, but the ball hit him in the lower stomach. He was called out. Why was he not awarded first base for a hit by pitch? Incidentally, he was in such agony that he had to be carried off the field by his managers without the benefit of a stretcher! This game was being televised by a London TV station, which I watched on Rogers Cable in my son's house in London.
James R. McGillawee, Oshawa
A-I believe my Oakville team that I managed in 2011 played in that same tournament, the All-American Baseball Classic tournament in Novi, Mich. as Major Midgets. We lost in the championship game because the umpires did not want us as Canadians to win. (N.B. That's the whiney manager in me coming out). In any case, if a player is judged to have swung at a pitch then even if he is hit, it's a strike. Usually that comes into play with pitches that hit the arms or hands, not full force in the stomach. The ball is dead and no runners can advance.
Q-Blue Jays have a history of keeping a "clean shop" regarding illegal matters and their players. In the past it usually is a ticket to be shipped out of Dodge. Do you think this will now happen because their pitching draft pick got caught and suspended 50 games? (These days I can't believe he did what he did and did not know what he was doing.)
Dave Butler, Toronto
A-The Jays for years have prided themselves on character and integrity on their players at the major and minor league levels. They had a second minor-leaguer suspended for 50 games on Thursday, this one a Dominican youngster in the Dominican Summer League. My guess is that when his suspension is over he will be released. As for Marcus Stroman, his suspension was for a stimulant that if he had been on the 40-man roster would have warranted merely a warning from baseball that no one would have heard about, but because he falls under the tougher minor-league testing program, not protected by the players' union, it became very public. The Jays are confident that Stroman is a youngster of character and made a mistake. Plus, they gave him $1.8 million to sign. If he ever makes another mistake, however, they need to make a decision. I can say that when AGM Tony LaCava was talking about the Stroman suspension in the Jays' dugout at Tropicana Field, he seemed very genuinely betrayed by the Jays' second selection in the '12 draft, 22nd overall, who was projected to be almost major-league ready.
Enjoyed your Bullpen and especially the Rant this week. It raised a question for me: Presumably, steroids and HGH have been developed for specific medical uses. Certainly some medical procedures have been developed that employ them (see Bartolo Colon). So if there is a legitimate reason to use such recuperative aids, then wouldn't it make sense to say that using them is appropriate for rehabbing players? They could easily put in a stipulation that they must document with MLB all such uses, and then they would be ineligible to return to the field for a reasonable period of time afterwards.
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A-Yes there are medical reasons for the use of some illegal substances on MLB's banned list, but the Colon surgery in which his own healthy fat and bone marrow was surgically implanted back into his shoulder and elbow in a stem cell procedure was an experimental operation that has not been approved in the U.S. and had to be performed in the Dominican. So nothing about the Colon surgery in the areas of steroids or HGH would have been cleared or acceptable for MLB.
The Jays should write off this year and send all of their sickly birds to the Vet. It's probably the bird flu that they are all suffering from.
Tony D'Souza, TorontoA-And it looks, at least in September thus far, that it's Jays' fans that have flown the coop. Good way to end the mailbag.