Richard Griffin's mailbag: Fans speculate on Farrell's future
Jesse Hodges of Canada receives high fives after hitting a two-run home run in the ninth inning during the 18U Baseball World Championship Group B match between Canada and Japan at Mokdong Stadium on August 31, 2012 in Seoul. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Sept. 14, 2012It’s been a great 12 months for Team Canada baseball at the National and the Junior National levels. Ernie Whitt’s Team Canada won a surprise gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in Mexico, while the Juniors recently won silver at the World Championships in Seoul, South Korea. But the challenges for Greg Hamilton’s Baseball Canada never seem to ease up or never seem to get any easier.
The latest version of Team Canada is currently in Florida preparing for the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Regensberg, Germany starting on Sept. 20. Why, you may ask, is Canada stuck in a qualifier with the Czech Republic, Britain and Germany when it’s clear that we are one of the Top 16 baseball countries in the world? The shaky and unfortunate reason is that the tournament has been expanded to 28 teams, with 12 of them automatic qualifiers, but since Canada lost to the U.S. and then to Italy in the ’09 WBC, we were forced to qualify along with the three other teams that did not win at least one game in ’09, Panama, South Africa and Taiwan.
Winning that group should not normally be a problem, but the timing of the tournament is the great equalizer with teams that Canada should, on any level playing field, be easily able to handle. The main problem is that with the qualifier taking place in September, no Canadian major-leaguers are able to compete, as well as any top Triple-A players called up with expanded MLB rosters for the final month.
Nevertheless, this should be a win for Canada. There are 14 players on the team that are veterans of the gold medal Pan-Am Games win last fall. That in and of itself should be good enough, but remember how confident Canada was going into the Italy game at the Rogers Centre three years ago. There are two Blue Jays farmhands on the team, pitchers Shawn Hill (Mississauga) and Trystan Magnuson (Vancouver). Other key veterans are catcher Chris Robinson from Dorchester, ON (O’s AAA) and outfielder Nick Weglarz from Stevensville, ON (Indians AA). The coaching staff working with Whitt includes Larry Walker, Denis Boucher, Tim Leiper and Hamilton. They fly to Germany on Sept. 17.
Other countries that have been added to the WBC mix in an attempt to make it a worldwide event, not in the qualifier with the Jays in Germany, include Brazil, Colombia, France, Israel, New Zealand, Nicaragua, the Phillippines, Spain and Thailand.
Good luck to Canada and on to the mailbag.
Q. Maybe the Jays should let (John) Farrell go (to the Red Sox) and hire your old buddy, Tito (Francona). That would certainly add an additional level of spice to the division, wouldn’t it?
Francona was a great manager, has played in Canada and is well liked up here, so might be a good replacement. But if AA is genuinely committed to Farrell, then he MUST extend him right after the season. It makes the Jays look like a Mickey Mouse organization if their staff are always treated as the managerial equivalent of training wheels for a so-called big league franchise like Boston. It demeans the organization, the city and the fans, in my opinion. Thoughts?
Always love your column.
A. If this Jays/Red Sox managerial decision with Farrell was being made in a sporting vacuum, then there is no doubt that the Jays should consider any offer in terms of player compensation from the Red Sox, find the best deal and move forward. Face it, the loss of Farrell as manager would not be an indispensable impediment to winning, whether his replacement is Terry Francona, Don Wakamatsu, Torey Lovullo, Brian Butterfield, Sal Fasano or someone from outside. The difference between what the new man would provide and what Farrell has provided in two seasons would be negligible. The only thing is that GM Alex Anthopoulos went through an extensive interview process and he and Farrell have not yet accomplished the goal they agreed to. That may also factor into Farrell’s decision.
That being said, what harm is there in the Jays setting the bar very high — say right-hander Clay Buchholz — in trade and negotiate from there. Set a Dec. 1 deadline and if an agreement cannot be reached, then begin negotiations with Farrell on a three-year extension through 2016 and move on. The thing to remember about the Red Sox and Buccholz is that back, in 2009-10, the Sox would not even consider a one-for-one swap of Buchholz for Roy Halladay. That’s crazy on the Red Sox part.
But things change. Clearly, it’s not a vacuum in which the Jays are now operating and, as you rightly point out, the last thing Toronto needs, if they are intent on trying to compete for the post-season in 2013 is the perception that they are merely a training ground for future World Series managers — in other cities — as Farrell would head to Boston and an obviously intent on reloading franchise.
That’s why the Jays cannot just let Farrell go, especially to a division rival. That’s why they changed their internal rules last October, preventing their baseball personnel from accepting lateral moves. It was the same situation then, only Farrell had been with the Jays one season with two years left on his deal, instead of now, where he has just one season left on the contract.
And yes, it would be deliciously ironic if the Jays could convince Terry Francona to step in as the new manager in Toronto. But Francona is in the driver’s seat. He sat out the final year of his Red Sox contract and collected their money while doing a nice job in the ESPN broadcast booth with the redoubtable Dan Shulman. He wants to manage again, but he will be much in demand, both as a manager in a major media market and as a broadcaster, with less stress and more of a personal life.
Q. With the N.Y. Mets apparently ending their affiliation with the Buffalo Bisons after this season, wouldn’t it make perfect sense for the Jays to move their Triple A team there from Vegas?
All everyone both inside and outside the organization talk about is how you can’t measure hitters or pitchers in Vegas because of the park and/or altitude so why not move them to a beautiful ballpark an hour and a half away and just over the border so we southern Ontarians can go see them. I’m sure their attendance would improve dramatically.
Rick Fokken, Port Colborne
A. That’s exactly the positive way the Jays feel about the differences between being in Las Vegas and Buffalo and is a deal that many believe has already been agreed to. There is a stumbling block in that there are a finite number of 30 affiliate franchises out there and it’s a domino effect.
If the Mets leave Buffalo and the Jays leave Vegas and the Jays take Buffalo, who will align with the Mets and then who is willing to move into Vegas. The 51s franchise has a long and continuous history in the PCL, so when the Jays announce they are in Buffalo, there must be other moves around the Triple-A landscape in both the Pacific Coast League and the International League.
Geography has been a tremendous impediment for the Jays, especially in 2012, with all the quick callups and injuries that took place. For instance when they needed an emergency pitcher in Milwaukee because of injuries, they had to contact Vegas in Tucson and, with a two-hour time difference from where the Jays were in Wisconsin, Joel Carreno took a limo to Phoenix and caught a red-eye to Milwaukee, pitching a day game with little or no sleep. He lost the decision and was sent back. Not fair to the pitcher or the team. The Jays won’t admit it, but it was a terrible AAA setup. There were 16 players that were called up from Vegas in 2012, several multiple times. That’s a lot of air miles.
The Jays had previously been in Syracuse, a much better geographical setup, but the previous GM’s regime let that relationship deteriorate through benign neglect. The Jays were booted out. Jays’ fans are enthusiastic about the Bisons being a Jays’ farm team. There is a huge market in southern Ontario for the Jays’ top prospects being nearby. With all the money they save in airfare sending players up and down, they might even be able to afford a top-tier free agent starter. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but it will be a terrific step forward for the Jays if Buffalo does align with the T-O organization in 2013.
I have a question regarding injuries to players. When a player is injured and requires surgery, who covers the cost of the surgery and the rehab? I imagine the team takes care of it, but what if the player in question was minor-leaguer or an aging veteran with a questionable future with the club. Can the team discharge itself of their responsibility?
Randy Fisher, Toronto
A. I was curious about the Tommy John surgeries so I asked Alex Anthopoulos how much such a surgery costs. He had no idea, which I found amusing. But clearly, it’s an insurance thing that the Jays have and that cost of the operations is covered. The Jays have a fabulous employee working for them in the role of Director, Risk Management, named Suzanne Joncas. She basically invented the position when she was with the Expos back in the early ’90s. Most organizations have copied her plan of action when it comes to protecting their MLB team from liability. Based in Phoenix, Joncas comes to spring training every year and basically gets a medical snapshot of every player in the organization and his precise health status as of March 1. That way it can be ascertained exactly when an injury occurs, no argument, and if there was any pre-existing condition that led to said injury. Joncas is very thorough and very tough when it comes to dealing with insurance companies, doctors and surgeries, negotiating costs and insurance liabilities, etc. Basically, if a player is under contract to a team, at any level when an injury occurs, the club covers the cost of any surgery, but insurance is the key. Obviously premiums are very high, but it’s the cost of doing major-league business.
Q. Hi Richard,
I really enjoy your mailbag and want to take the opportunity to ask you about Ricky Romero. Everyone seems flummoxed about his terrible year but I am just wondering what the process is trying to figure out what has gone wrong. Can’t the Jays simply analyze film footage of his delivery last year frame by frame and compare it to this year’s delivery frame by frame and get him to correct whatever he is doing differently. Obviously this might be hard to do on a consistent basis but some of his starts this year it seems like he has no clue from start to finish.
Patrick Mulholland, Stettler, Alta
A. At one point earlier in the season, John Farrell threw up his hands and said “We just want to see the tough kid from East L.A. come back” Well, first of all, I don’t think Ricky’s “a tough kid” in any sense of the word. Romero is very much family-first which is an endearing quality as a human being, but his lack of ego has seemed to easily and inexorably lead to self-doubt and an inability to work his way out of his own slump. The best thing about it is that there’s no physical issue to explain his slump. The worst thing about it is that there’s no physical issue to explain his slump.
Nobody wants to go there, but another difference between last year and this year is a stable relationship that he had a year ago with the reigning Miss U.S.A. That was a romance fans were able to and almost invited to keep track of through Twitter and other social media which made it a public matter, open to my current speculation. The relationship ended last off-season and seemingly has not been replaced. Add to that when the three other starting pitchers were injured and left the clubhouse, perhaps Ricky was left on his own without a sounding board like Brandon Morrow off of which to bounce his personal angst. These are just ideas, but nobody has really come up with a better logical explanation.
Q. Hi Richard,
I’m wondering what you think of the idea of bringing up RHP Sean O’Sullivan to finish the season with Toronto, in the wake of J.A. Happ’s season-ending injury. The Jays had a plan of using six starters for the remainder of the season, but Happ is now unavailable, and O’Sullivan, a former big-leaguer who is only 25, had a very nice run with AAA Las Vegas since joining that club mid-season. Thanks for your great coverage again this season!!
Frank Dixon, Kingston, ON
A. Sure, O’Sullivan had a decent time of it in Vegas, but he’s not a guy that produces swings and misses, which is something the Jays admire in their major-league pitchers. O’Sullivan is more a 4A type of starter, stuck between Triple-A and major-league ability. He has always allowed more hits than innings pitched and also had a WHIP of over 1.3 even in Vegas. O’Sullivan is not part of their future.
Q. What is significance of the different colored rope necklaces that some players wear.
John Felker, Osoyoos
A. The generic term for those necklaces is “phitens” and they are titanium, health-promoting accessories that were originally invented in Japan and were copied by American companies. Players really believe in their medicinal powers and, besides, they look pretty cool.
It’s probably unfair to judge John Farrell’s performance after such an injury-filled season. But since we haven’t exactly improved under his stewardship, it’s easier to remain unattached and listen to the rumours that he’s bound for Boston. In other words, Farrell’s not what’s wrong with the Blue Jays, but it wouldn’t be heartbreaking if he left. The out-with-the-old-in-with-the-small, move-the-runners-along kind of baseball has yet to fully materialize and I wonder whether a different kind of manager might have more luck. Which brings me to my question: Omar Vizquel has expressed an interest in managing after this season. He won’t be, like previous Jays’ managers, a former catcher, pitcher, or swing for the fence kind of player. Rather, he plays the kind of baseball that next year’s team might be well suited for. Plus, he’s essentially had a year-long, in the dug-out interview. What would players and Blue Jays’ brass think of giving Vizquel a shot, if Farrell ends up heading back to Boston?
Matthew McKean, Ottawa
A. There is no doubt that Vizquel wants to manage in the majors and there is no doubt that Vizquel does not want to wait. But I don’t think the Jays would be his best destination. There is more of a likelihood for a place like Cleveland, where he spent the peak years of his career.
I really haven’t seen Vizquel, a future Hall-of-Famer, throw himself into the mentorship role that everyone believed he would with guys like Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria. He played in Toronto this year like he was just playing out the string and adding to his stats, rather than priming the pump for a managerial future with the Jays.
Q. Mr. Griffin
I was at the Jays disaster sitting in left field and watching (Rajai) Davis — more interested in watching the planes of the Air Show — and now many balls did he not even try for with some energy? Then shortstop did not help Romero in the disaster inning. They all (most) make big money under big money contracts and get that big money whether they play well, or try or just mail it in. There is no performance rewards except for the odd contract e.g. making all star Team; winning MVP etc. Have you even thought about, or had discussions on, or has the industry ever considered Performance Based Compensation? You may have a $10 million dollar contract and get paid it no matter how you stink up the joint but what if players were paid a base salary calculated based on the number of years on the Majors. eg — Rookie gets based of $250,000. Then all second year players get a base of $500,000, Third year players get $700,000 etc. like in business where there are base salaries and then performance bonuses. You put in extra effort and huge achievements you get bonuses. You do the minimum and mail it if you get your base. In other words you play the game and perform your position like a professional you get rewarded above your base contract. You just mail it in you still get good bucks but you get what you are worth. An average producer. Baseball has stats about stats so maintaining all of this would not be too difficult — most probably available. With performance-based compensation you would not see such lacklustre performances like I saw by some of the Jays. Fans deserve better. Has this concept ever been thought of or discussed at the higher up levels (forget the union)?
K D Butler, Toronto
A. What you suggest would be ideal in terms of motivation, but your last three words are the key, “forget the union”. That’s something that is impossible and all of your suggested contract changes, for performance and for years of service, smack of “salary cap” and that is something that the Players’ Association would fight to the death over.
Besides, being paid bonuses for statistics would tend to promote selfish play and take away from any attempt to move runners along and give yourself up for the sake of the team. It has been considered through the years but has never been acceptable to the union, which is the strongest in all pro sports.
Q. Hi Mr. Griffin,
Watched the game a couple of weeks ago and saw the Expos fans out in good numbers. I immediately thought of you. Wanted to know if the mailbag was cancelled for the rest of the season much like the Jays’ playoff chances? I submitted a question last week and wanted to submit another. (What is the hold up with the Jays offering Carlos Villanueva a team friendly contract i.e. 4 years with the last two years as option at maybe $3-4 million per year?)
Anton S. Forde, Toronto
A. The Mailbag will be back Fridays through the rest of the year. Please continue to send questions. It’s one of my favourite features. As for the question of the Jays’ fifth starter, I am a big fan of Carlos Villanueva and your suggestion is a good one. I think they would be willing to offer two years plus two options, but I’m not sure if Villanueva would be willing to take it. The Jays would be paying him as a swing-man/fifth starter, while Villanueva believes he can be more than that. I sort of side with the player on this and if Villanueva finishes strong, Anthopoulos may have to re-consider his pending offer. Villanueva has consistently thrown between 90-105 pitches and keeps the Jays in games with quality starts. That consistency and his maturity and ability to be a positive influence on younger members of the pitching staff makes him a serious candidate for a long-term deal. Someone will give him starter money and if he is a fifth starter the Jays must fill in with at least one more 1-2 guy to have a solid look going into next year. I think they would have to offer Carlos three guaranteed years to get a deal done.
Q. Hey Richard,
Your evaluation of JF and the situation is dead-on and I think if all parties in management have their brains on, they’re on it like flies to pine tar. What an opportunity! Once the smoke clears, AA will trade Farrell (I wonder who they’d be willing to give up?) and snatch Tito from limbo.
Rod Salloum, Vancouver
What’s all the fuss? Why don’t we trade John to Boston, get back some pitching, and then hire Tito to manage here? Tito would look great in the Blue. Has anyone asked Alex about Tito?
Dave Ritchie, Toronto
A. These two questions/suggestions are an example of the trending Jays fan sentiment out there when it comes to John Farrell and Boston. I just don’t think that any MLB team is really anxious to trade a top prospect for a manager. Look at how little the Sox got back for GM Theo Epstein and that was after weeks and weeks of disagreement. I think if Farrell really wants to go there will not be a significant return. But I don’t see him really wanting to go. I think after the season, after discussion with Farrell, that Anthopoulos will extend him for two or three more years after 2013, his final current year.
Q. Good morning Richard,
The Jays speak about doing a lot to build up a contending team “they will spend, over-spend etc.,” first you have to open the purse strings before you can reach in to get money out — perhaps spend a little to fix the retracting roof of the Rogers Centre that refused to close last night. Then do some serious work scouting and bring in good, solid baseball players who can form the pieces that are necessary to contend. The young chap at 3rd is unable to stop anything headed his way and Rajai Davis — may be good in stealing bases but he is no good in anticipating where the ball is going to come down and is either way ahead and has to turn and chase it down when he is too late and then he is crawling around trying to get to the ball. Oh boy, do the Jays need a good left-fielder — quick on his feet who can patrol his territory well and has a strong and accurate arm and good with the bat — Rajai has a habit of chasing balls outside the strike zone and getting struck out. The Jays have lost 2 of three games to the O’s and look lifeless with no desire to play. This is a team that should be putting up a fight as spoilers and showing their fans that they are a team, irrespective of all the injuries, to the end. Have a good day.
Tony D’Souza, Toronto
A. Your evaluation of the third baseman is way off. Brett Lawrie is a future Gold Glover. But the Jays surely need a left-fielder that can field his position and contribute in the middle of a winning lineup. When Romero made his last start, it was a clear sign that John Farrell agreed with you on Davis, when he put Gose in left field and Sierra in right to give Ricky every chance to break out of his funk. Unfortunately it didn’t work. When young players get shut down by good pitching it gives the impression they are not trying. Young guys don’t care about the standings. They are trying to establish their own credentials, so effort is not an issue, talent and being prepared for the majors is.
Q. Hi Richard,
After just reading about your travel exploits getting to Jays games, I’m pretty sure that there must be times when you end up watching them on TV. So, perhaps you have a perspective on SportsNet’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme music — new for this season, and hopefully only this season. For some reason that I cannot understand, it is always so loud and broadcast over top of the commentary that it is not possible to hear anyone speaking. I figured they would have figured that out by this point in the season, but it has not changed. My 20 cents worth.
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A. Not Captain Jack Sparrow, but an annoying bird of a different feather I suppose. I really hadn’t noticed the music, but since I read this letter I can’t ignore it now and it’s almost as annoying as the way they are playing. Maybe the theme from Titanic or M*A*S*H would be more appropriate right now.
I read with interest the AL/NL pitcher comparison, but what about the fielding? Seems to me that the NL must have some sluggers that are not really the best fielders in the world but are there for their bats only. While I realize that it’s a stretch to figure out, this lack of fielding skills must have SOME kind of result.
Peter Thomson, Elizabeth City, N.C.
A. That’s an interesting observation, but a pretty astute one. When you think about it, the NL, in order to compete with the Al for some really good hitters, has to find a position for them to play — see Carlos Lee, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, etc. This certainly would help opposing NL teams in terms of their offence but I don’t think it’s quantifiable in terms of statistics, but certainly real. Nice observation.
Q. I have a trade suggestion: How about John Farrell, Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson for Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Also maybe throw in Adam Lind for Mauro Gomez. Then go after Francona. ?????
Frank Brown, Thornhill
A. This is so crazy that it’s a good place to end the mailbag.