Richard Griffin's Mailbag: Of Buffalo, Escobar, Farrell and Blue Jays' hope
Well, with the signing of a two-year agreement with the Buffalo Bisons, the Jays have now completed all five suggestions I wrote in my column of Aug. 3 suggesting the five things the Jays needed to do in August.
None were done at the time: Move J.A. Happ into the rotation. Move Brett Cecil to the bullpen. Promote Adeiny Hechavarria. Give Chad Jenkins or Deck McGuire a chance to pitch at a higher level and may they would respond well. And move to Buffalo. You're welcome.
It can't be overestimated how important the move of the Jays' Triple-A affiliate will be from Las Vegas to Buffalo. There can't possibly be more moves between the majors and Triple-A than there were this year, in 2012, but it will be so much easier in terms of travel, logistics and with families.
For instance, it's even possible that if a player is optioned to Buffalo at any point during the season, he might not even need to change their residence. It can be a commute from Toronto, or any points west of the city along the lake. The season is long enough, enough of a grind on players and families without all this three time-zone travel in a hitters' league. It should be a great improvement.
On to the mailbag:
As a former PR director, what do you think of the way the Escobar press conference was handled? Why not release Escobar? It sends a message and dumps the contract of a player who just sabotaged his own trade value.
Nigel Tufnel, Toronto
A-There's not very many good ways to handle a press conference of that siginificance. It was in New York, so perhaps I would have had a podium and invited representatives from MLB (Joe Torre), the MLBPA (Bobby Bonilla or Phil Bradley) and Jays' president Paul Beeston.
Clearly the decision for a three-game suspension was a joint decision by the Jays and MLB, with huge input from the union, so have someone there to discuss why it was impossible for the Jays to go much beyond the three games. I would not have necessarily had GM Alex Anthopoulos at the head table. This was not a baseball matter for AA and his roster. It was a societal matter, a community mater, a fan-base matter, an organizational issue and Beeston should have been there.
I would have started the press conference with Yunel Escobar reading an apology in English and Spanish, followed by a statement from Beeston. The release was out there already with details of Escobar's suspension, fine and future sensitivity training. That was good but pre-emptive statements from the other party's may have defused the prickly Q&A. Plus, there was no real explanation by Escobar of the line of thinking that led him to put Sharpie to eyeblack.
As for the “Why not release Escobar?” that is ludicrous. Athletes are given a second chance for drug addiction, alcohol dependency, various scrapes with the law, etc.
If you release Escobar and pay him the remainder of his contract, $5 million for 2013, then you have established club policy. You have created a second tier of free agency for one organization. You have traditional “six-year free agency” and you have created an “insensitivity free agency.” Any Jays player who was not happy with the organization would merely have to insult a minority group publicly to be released, available to sign with the highest bidder. What, is the organization moving forward going to determine that, “Hey he just did that so we would release him. We're going to teach this guy a lesson by hanging onto him.”
In any case, the public expression from GLAAD and other organizations is that education is the better solution to the problem. The Jays have already indicated a huge leap in their involvement with and support of the gay community in Toronto and across Canada. It seems to me that the Jays had no intention of trading Escobar this winter, so sabotaging his own trade value is a moot point.
I have a question about next year's schedule. Have you looked at it and seen how bad the draws are for the weekend games? I live three hours away and my buddies and I usually go see about three series a year always on weekends since we live out of town. Usually try and see games with good crowds, Yanks, Boston, Tigers or good teams like the Angels or Phillies. Next year the Yanks and Sox only come in April (for a weekend).
The only good draw from May to Auguest is Texas. (Rays are boring to watch as a Jays fan). 23 per cent of all home weekend dates are against the Orioles (no thanks, despite this year's run). Do the Jays have any say in these matters? I don't like their chances of getting me to the park much next year due to this sched and my guess is that the team still two years away from contention but that is a whole other area of frustration.
Scott Sauve, North Bay
A-North Bay in only three hours. Damn, you must be flying down the 400. Some years the schedule does fall like that. The only way for the Jays to make up for that is to put a winning product on the field. The O's and Rays may not be a good draw as far as you are concerned, but if Anthopoulos has been paying attention, this winter, he will have copied the O's plan of attack this season in getting veteran short-term players with talent to fill in at positions of weakness and go for it right here, right now. Rather than sign veteran backups to 1-2 year contracts behind their young talent, the O's signed veteran starters to 1-2 year contracts, ahead of their young talent. If they build it you will come.
Is it just me that notices that Miguel Cabrera of Detroit is close to the Triple Crown? He is first in average, RBI and second in HRs. I haven't seen a word written. This is a major achievement if he does it. I can only think of Carl Yastrzemski of Boston that won it a long time ago. Do you have a list of players who have achieved this milestone?
Dave Mulholland, Scarborough
A-Actually there is much being written now about Cabrera and whether he will win the AL MVP even if he does go ahead and win the Triple Crown. The more popular MVP choice in 2012 seemed to be Mike Trout, because the rookie embodies everything good about baseball's game changing back to the “five-tool” concept. It's tough to ignore a Triple Crown winner for MVP but it's been done before. Just ask Ted Williams' head. Following is a list of Triple Crown winners, since 1900:
1901 Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia A's
1909 Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers
1922 & 1925 Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals
1933 Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies
1934 Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees
1937 Joe “Ducky” Medwick, St. Louis Cardinals
1942 & 1947 Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox
1956 Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees
1966 Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles
1967 Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox
Q-Thank you for your thoughtful article on Escobar's punishment. I am glad the team is taking this seriously. I find his punishment satisfactory but I would like to see one thing added. Make him walk onto the pitcher's mound with a microphone and have him state his apology directly to the crowd before he can play again. That would have meaning.
Richard Paris, Cripple Creek, CO
A-I'm not so sure that would mean anything more than what he said at the press conference. I think something away from the park, like going to certain events representing the ballclub, events sponsored inside the gay community would have more of an impact. Just your phrasing of “make him walk onto the pitcher's mound” sends the wrong message. If you have to make him do it, then it's not worth it.
While Brett Lawrie has real talent, and was a breath of fresh air when he first arrived, there seems to be reasons to be concerned. As the season has progressed the 110 per cent enthusiasm he showed earlier is turning more and more to arrogance, bad judgement and in some cases petulance. I know it's early days but maybe someone should remind him that he is not exactly Scott Rolen yet. Should we be concerned?
Frank Taker, Ottawa
A-First of all, Brett Lawrie is a tremendous talent and is just 22-years-old. I don't mind young athletes with attitude –- in any sport -- as long as they move forward in learning to play the game the right way. But for players to make a mistake and then say it wasn't a mistake and that's just the way I play the game and I'm not going to change, that's when you start to worry. Lawrie has made some bonehead plays on the basepaths, in the field and with regard to umpires. On not many of those occasions has he admitted anything was a mistake. That's the only concern I have, because just on talent alone he could become a Gold Glove third baseman and a key top of the order hitter. The other concern is just the nine home runs for a player of his size, strength and bat speed is puzzling. If he was racking up 45-50 doubles, with 10 triples, that would be one thing, but he's not.
Two part question with a similar theme. It seems that there have been a number of baserunning and fielding gaffes this year that have left John Farrell with a confused or exasperated look. Combined with the recent Lawrie post-game comments that seemed to contradict Farrell's take on baserunning, it appears that Farrell is not completely in control of this young team - from Sierra's goofy fielding, Lawrie/Davis/Rasmus running into outs, Escobar still fighting with umpires, Romero's... well, whatever is wrong with Romero. Here are the questions: Is this a Bosox clubhouse in the making in its lack of discipline? Is this lack of a firm hand the major difference between the young O's and the young Jays?
Andrew Ponsford, Surrey, BC
A-There had been definite mixed messages in the transition from Cito Gaston to John Farrell. Some of those messages have led to some of the looks of confusion on the manager's face that you allude to. Players are on their own in many areas, but are they ready to make those key in-game decisions?
Under Cito it was go to the plate with a plan. Attack the first pitch if it was a pitch you are looking for. Damn the bases-on-balls, full speed ahead. Much of the offence was station-to-station unless you were a player that had earned Gaston's trust and there weren't many Robby Alomars in the 2008-10 dugout.
Under JF in his first year the philosophy was that it was the middle relievers that are the weak point of most opponents, so work the counts early and build up the starter's pitch total so the Jays can get into the opponent's bullpen in the middle innings. But to do that you need good two-strike hitters with a knowledge of the strike zone. Also confusing in 2011 was it was the same hitting coach, Dwayne Murphy delivering a modified hitting philosophy. Pitchers took advantage and constantly got ahead in the count, as the Jays' young hitters chased pitches when the strike zone expanded with two strikes.
Then in JF's second year it became a combination of the two philosophies. That leads to being able to second-guess any failure, plus it didn't help with injuries and their young replacements. There were safety squeezes and sacrifices, bunting for hits, stealing third with two outs and taking an extra base at the wrong times, sometimes resulting in key outs that did not fit the game situation. The young players understand that Brian Butterfield is aggressive, but Butter understands specific game situations, when to take a chance and when not to. The young players are aggressive without that same understanding of game situations. As such, there is a lot of teaching done after the damage is already done. Farrell at least has learned which players need to have their green light taken away. Hopefully.
Romero's woes have been the most interesting failure this season, because there is no apparent explanation. Farrell at times has let his frustration show in terms of explaining to the media his ideas on why Romero has struggled (e.g. Where's that tough kid from East L.A.?) This, at times, has not sat well with Romero. You can see the great divide when they walk past each other in the clubhouse, when Farrell goes to the mound to remove him from yet another game. Two starts ago, Ricky strode off without looking at his manager and even failed to complete the handoff of the game ball because he was in such a hurry to leave. That drew a glare from Farrell. But that will change with renewed success on Romero's part. When will that be? That's a separate question.
I enjoy your column very much. My question is: What's your opinion on the Jays' poor on-base percentage? The current roster features six regular players (LF, CF, SS, 2B, 1B/DH, C) who will finish 2012 with an OBP of around .300 or below, which resembles anything but a championship-calibre offence. Most of these players will return in 2013 as core players and this really worries me. On a separate note, what is your opinion on a trade proposal involving Rasmus and Arencibia for Yankees' LF Gardner and one of their better 2B/infield prospects?
Henry Ip, Toronto
A-Whenever I get a chance to watch the Jays on TV, specifically games I am not covering, I can't help but marvel, from the centre field camera, at the Jays' propensity to chase pitches out of the strike zone compared to the opposing team's hitters that always seem to show more discipline. If Ricky Romero was able to face the Jays, he may have a winning record.
That is a huge problem with all of those positions you mention in the question. The two players that show any knowledge of the strike zone and an ability to hit with two strikes are Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. It's not just a question of taking pitches to run up an opponent's pitch count, it's a case of making sure you are swinging at strikes to run up an opponent's pitch count. If you make him throw a strike, you have a better chance of getting in a hitter's count, of finding a good pitch to hit, of reaching base and of running up an opponent's pitch count. Simple to explain, tougher to do.
I don't like to speculate on trade suggestions because that's all fantasy league stuff. But dealing your starting catcher and your starting centre fielder for a guy that's been injured all year and has had one good season when healthy and a prospect does not seem like a great idea to me.
Q-I'm rather interested in the idea of the Buffalo Bisons being the Triple-A affiliate for Toronto. I'm looking for an affiliate introductory lesson. When Toronto players are there, who pays the players salary and expenses? Financially speaking, are the owners of Triple-A teams in it for the love of baseball (like many Junior Hockey Team owners) or is their opportunity for the owners to make some decent money? Is there a financial benefit for Buffalo to pick team A over team B, or is that regulated by Major League Baseball? Who pays for Triple-A spring training? As you can see, I'm looking for a little schooling about down on the farm.
Kevin Anyan, Bowmanville
A-For instance, with Buffalo next year, the Jays will supply the players, a combination of members of the 40-man roster, minor-leaguers on the rise that don't have to be protected yet, or six-year minor-league and released free agents to fill out the 25-30 man roster. The Jays will take these players to spring training and foot the entire bill. The coaching staff and trainers are all Jays employees.
The Bisons organization is responsible for finding housing for the players, of selling tickets, planning promotions, transportation on road trips, etc. There are a finite number of AAA, AA and single-A franchises registered with the Natioal Association of Baseball Clubs. For instance there are 30 AAA franchise between the International League and the Pacific Coast League. A city like Ottawa, for example, can't just announce that we are forming a minor-league team. They need an existing franchise to decide they need to move to a new city. That has nothing to do with major-league teams or affiliatons, that has to do with local ownership purchasing a franchise frm existing ownership. So even if the Jays would like to put a AA team in Ottawa they need a franchise to be in place.
The owners can make decent money, but it's the same as anything else, it needs to be run well. The Jays are a natural fit with Buffalo, in terms of concessions, jerseys, marketing to southern Ontario and putting a winning team on the field. It should be an affiliate match made in heaven.
With all of the talk of Boston going after John Farrell in the offseason to manage the Red Sox, I would like your opinion on whether JF is a guy who can take this team to the next level? Without specific early season example, I see JF as a guy who makes decisions like a front office person or GM rather than a manager trying to win. Is that how he is running things or is he being micromanaged by AA?
Matt Meisner, St. Catharines
A-I am not quite sure if Farrell can take this team to the next level, but this was a bad year to truly judge. I think as big a question is this. Is Alex Anthopoulos the GM to take this team to the next level. He seems to admit more and more through the adversity that is 2012 that he is learning the position. He approached it at the start like he was re-inventing the role of GM. Other GMs have caught on to his techniques. For instance, phone rings, it's Alex. Is he really interested in your player or just the knowledge of what your player will bring in trade? Now other GMs believe the latter.
I think he is ready to do a lot more traditional things this winter, like signing short term veteran free agents, like trading packages of prospects for one solid major-league talent. When this team is in place and healthy, it will be easier to judge both JF and AA. In the meantime, when you are not playing for a post-season berth, it sometimes may look like you are not managing to win every game. Sometimes the Jays are managing to learn. Frustrating for fans but a reality.
Q-Hi again -
I wondered if you would take a moment and answer a question of curiosity but of absolutely no importance to the Blue Jays future chances, namely are the bat boys hired by the team? sons/relatives of team personnel? Do they travel with the team or does the home team provide a bat boy for the visiting team? Always wondered, never asked.
Eleanor Pakoz, Port Colborne
A-The bat boys are approved by the team, but hired by the clubhouse managers. For instance, the Jays' bat boys would be hired by Jeff Ross and Kevin Malloy, with other duties inside the clubhouse pre and post-game. During the game they hustle bats and bring the umpires new balls, etc. But otherwise they are there for a 10-hour work day. It's not all glamour. They don't travel with the team, maybe once in a while as a reward and sometimes at home there are honourary batboys or someone won a contest, etc. But those duties ar one day and in-game only. The home team provides the visiting team batboys.
I read the blog religiously and I anxiously await the mailbag every time. Keep up the good work. I was wondering if anywhere in the Jays organization has room for Omar Vizquel? Do any of the farm teams make sense for Omar? Does he have other organizations in mind? His intentions for coaching are clear but I haven't heard where or how. He does help our young Latin players a lot and a hall of famer in the organization would be great.
Thanks Again ,
Martin Aguirre, Owen Sound
A-I don't believe there is any room for Vizquel in the Jays' organization next year. Omar has himself on the fast track and is looking for a major-league managing job right away. His heart is not with the Jays' organization. His first love is Cleveland, but if any other jobs are available, you can be sure he will be involved in the interview process. The Jays farm system, as well as it is stocked with players, is also stocked with highly regarded minor-league managers with major-league potential like Marty Brown, Sal Fasano, Mike Redmond and John Tamargo, Jr. Then you have the major-league coaching staff with managerial candidates Don Wakamatsu, Brian Butterfield, Torey Lovullo and Luis Rivera. The Jays gave Vizquel a chance to do some nice things in his final active year, but the association stops there.
Long time reader, first time writer. A lot of people, especially those in the media, talk about this being a "lost season" for evaluating the 2012 Blue Jays squad given all of their injuries. But I think a lot of people are confusing evaluating talent with evaluating team success.
I have heard a lot of folks say we have no idea what to expect in 2013 based on this year. I would beg to differ. Many of the injuries this summer were to players to whom we know what we can expect. JPA and Bautista to name two. Outside of Perez, the others were mostly to young starting pitchers that were never going to be real difference makers in the near future.
I think what the injuries only proved is that you can never have enough veteran starting pitching, and that in order to compete, this team is going to need to upgrade starting pitching regardless of injuries. We also learned, Kelly Johnson is a not a long-term solution at second, and that Gose and Hech are still a year or two away from being consistent productive hitters in the majors.
All I think we didn't get to find out this year was if we had been able to stay healthy for most of the season, could we have made a similar type of run for the divison/wild card like Baltimore with the team that broke spring training given Boston falling off this year. What do you think?
Jason Meller, Toronto
A-I agree wholeheartedly with you that the Jays were in fact able to learn a lot this year. I agree with you about knowing what many of those other injured guys can do already. Even Farrell agreed that many of the young players that came up and had mixed success have, on a positive note, skipped an essential step in the development process and are that much closer to being ready.
As for the part of the question about whether these guys were ready to compete a la Baltiore if they had remained healthy, the fact is nobody remains healthy and that's something AA now understands. He is ready to move forward in the O's mode and get some talented mercenaries with their own bullets for a year or two to help win here and now in 2013. He's not looking for the home run as he heads into the off season as he is the four consecutive hits in an inning. Not every deal has to be a blockbuster.
Q-In The Star, Alex Anthopoulos, the GM for the Toronto Blue Jays, stated that Carlos (Villanueva), the pitcher that has been helping the Blue Jays out for a few months, will probably not be a starter next year for the Blue Jays as he does not think that he could play all of the innings required and does not know about his endurance. I am very upset. I think Carlos is excellent compared to their opening lineup, especially Ricky Romero who has been dreadful. Is the real reason for the above that Rogers does not want to pay for Carlos so he will probably get rejects like the rest of the Blue Jays?
Linda Chousky, Toronto
A-I think the injury to Villanueva back in 2011, with tired arm and significant time on the DL coming out of the pen for two months as an emergency starter, hurt him in terms of the organization's perception of him as a full-time member of the rotation. But I think the organziaton made a mistake in labelling him publicly as a good swingman earlier this summer –- and in fact still. Their minds are being changed with every Villanueva start, but there are other organizations that will show him the love as a starter in the off-season, even teams like Milwaukee where he began his MLB career. He would be a great NL starter. I think the Jays blew it with him and he will never forget the public disrespect and doubting he got in 2012 when it comes to signing his next contract this winter. I hope I'm wrong.
I read AA's interview in The Star, and his wish list sounds depressingly like last year's: starting pitching, a reliable mid-lineup bat, and a quality left fielder. He apparently didn't pay attention to his own pronouncements last off-season. Oh, and by the way, are we so pitching-rich that he can afford to waffle on Villanueva and how many innings he can pitch?
How about all the young, up-coming pitchers whose innings are so carefully guarded and counted? Try not to blow hot and cold at the same time, eh. To that we now add a second baseman (KJ will be gone -- is Hechavarria the answer? TBD).
Beyond that, though, I have a wish list about which I'd be interested in your thoughts: First, re-sign Omar Vizquel, either as a utility infielder again, or, even better, as an assistant coach in the organization. He's a class act, and would be a valuable addition. If we don't re-sign Omar as a player, find an upgrade to Mike McCoy. No knock on McCoy -- he's been a really great utility defender, but he doesn't hit well enough for a contender.
Send Ricky Romero to some kind of pitching specialist in the off-season. He still has the arm of an ace, but I think his problem is simply that he's lost his confidence, reminiscent of when he struggled in the minors. We need him badly, so let's get him some help somewhere.
Give Alvarez an ultimatum: either learn how to throw a quality off-speed pitch in the off-season (which may not be a slider) or we'll move you to the bullpen. He could prosper there with what he has, but has proven he can't make it as a starter.
Tell Lind he's on the bubble in Spring Training, so be fit and ready. He can be so good - and so maddening when he's not on. We need him to produce consistently, or else we need to find someone to fill his place.
Beyond that, tell all the young studs that making the team is no longer enough. they've got to prove that they can be more than just pretty good players. Here I'm particularly thinking about Rasmus, Escobar, Lawrie, and Arencibia. Send them home with the thought that they need to get even better in the off-season if they want to help the team get to the post-season. No coasting! Finally, and this is a big one, AA needs to do a Halladay with John Farrell. Ask point blank if he wants to go to Boston. If not, negotiate a contract extension now so the players (and the fans!) know he's going to be around. If he wants to leave, trade him now and get something good in exchange rather than lose him a year from now. Then promote Brian Butterfield on a one-year contract rather than go through all the upset of doing a complete manager search. Butter is (probably) good enough (you never know until you try), and certainly deserves the opportunity if JF is not the man.
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A-Obviously a lot of thought went into that. Many of those suggestions are slam dunks. Many are already being incorporated in the organization's off-season planning. The only one that is a definite not is bringing Vizquel back. He's not going to play anymore and he wants to be a manager.
Thanks, until next week.