Blue Jays mailbag: Baseball has truly become a year-around newsmaker
The baseball Winter Meetings have come and gone and clearly Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos is not a big fan of the process, unofficially threatening to boycott next year in Orlando because it’s too busy and he’s competing with too many other GMs and the volume of information is deafening.
But it would be a mistake for Anthopoulos to overlook the P.R. benefits to major-league baseball and to his own team. Baseball, by moving free agency up to three days after the end of the World Series at the end of October, has become truly a year-around newsmaker. That’s huge for the sport. The winter meetings have ended and all of a sudden Zack Greinke signs with the Dodgers and baseball is preparing for another wave of free agent signings now that the bar has been set for starting pitchers.
Of course maybe the fact that there’s no hockey has lent high-definition to baseball’s big picture. Nevertheless Anthopoulos should reconsider his stance and realize how much he actually accomplished in terms of setting up future trades in Nashville. Even though most of the moves at the meetings were free agent signings and player agents dominate the lobbies, AA’s trade with the Marlins in November has set the tone for the off-season. It’s not often the Jays have had as much of an influence on the way things have unfolded in the majors.
On to the mailbag.
Q. Hey Richard,
I understand AA’s wish to keep Jeff Mathis as a defensive catcher and someone to manage the young pitchers, but I’m also wondering if people aren’t underestimating John Buck. Most of the knock on him seems to be (a) payroll, and (b) his low batting average. The payroll is irrelevant at this point — it is what it is and was part of the deal. As for the batting average, I believe I read that the Marlins’ new stadium is more of a pitcher’s park than the Rogers Centre. If that’s true, then we might see Buck once again have a career year, or was he just not making contact at all?
The other thing I’d like to ask about is R.A. Dickey. Given AA’s inscrutability, and that the Jays are rumoured to be interested, that would seem to negate the possibility, but it seems to me that having a knuckleballer in the mix to screw with batters’ timing would be great, do you think AA would be interested in trading with the Mets? I mean Dickey is 38, but knucklers also tend to have longer careers. Finally, any thoughts on Canada’s chances at the Baseball Classic?
Thanks for the insights, as always.
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A. Nobody ever suggested that the $6 million and one year for Buck was a problem in the deal. The original trade report was that the Marlins sent over $4 million in cash to the Jays. Then it became $8 million and finally when asked directly, Anthopoulos suggested it was more than $8 million, so the difference between the salaries of the swapped backup catchers is meaningless. The only thing that it seemed the Marlins wanted was the upgrade defensively with Mathis as they head into a season with a very young rotation. Buck is tall for a catcher and is not as proficient as Mathis at blocking pitches in the dirt, plus Mathis is locked up for a couple of years and is a Florida native.
As for Marlins Park being labelled a “pitchers’ park,” it’s kind of early after one season to say that. The reason may be that the Fish weren’t a very good hitting team overall in the first year of their new home while their pitching was stronger. Check back on the rep of the park after three years of play, after Henderson Alvarez has hung a few dozen changeups for bombs.
Buck’s role? As long as J.P. Arencibia is with the Jays and as long as he is healthy, it will be difficult for Buck to have another career year in 2013. Look at Buck’s final season in Kansas City as an indicator of his likely 2013 role. He played 59 games that season, with eight homers and 36 RBIs. The last time he was here, AA had to promise a starting role all season just to get him to sign for one season. Hey, remember, there’s a J.P. Arencibia Bobblehead giveaway on July 7 and you don’t do the head thing for just anybody. Of course, the caveat is that since every bobblehead I’ve ever seen is so generic and so facially inaccurate, it could be anyone, if Alex did happen to trade J.P. before July 7, they could just paint in a “4” ahead of the “9” and call it Brad Lincoln Bobblehead Day.
Then there’s your question of R.A. Dickey and if the Jays should be in on him. I say yes. Apparently, in addition to the $5 million for 2013, he is asking for $26 million for two extended years, meaning the total value would be $31 for the next three seasons. Even if the Jays were coerced into bumping that number because he’s coming to another team, another country, even if the bump was to $35 million for three years, I would consider it if I was AA if the price was Colby Rasmus or J.P. Arencibia, not both and not Anthony Gose and Arencibia as was rumoured. I would also ask for a negotiating window to ensure Dickey would take the three years before I made the trade.
As for Canada’s chances in the World Baseball Classic in March. I can see Canada getting out of the first round this year as a top-two and moving on from a group with Italy, Mexico and the USA. Canada has a score to settle with Italy from ’09. The second round is a Western hemisphere thing in Miami and if the Jays pitch well in the second round and advance to the final round, it would be a hugely successful tournament. Canada at all levels of Greg Hamilton’s national baseball program, has been on a roll lately. One of my favourite moments as a Star writer was in 2006 when Canada beat the U.S. in Phoenix and in the middle of a stunned press box, Bob Elliott of the Sun and I stood up and high-fived.
What do you think of the hiring of John Gibbons, who they fired just four years ago? Boggles my mind. Seems to me he was essentially fired because he alienated the team by his aggressive nature. Hiring Gibbons is an overcorrection in my mind to the issues of the past year, way too far to the other extreme, and likely to produce the same result. And somehow I can’t believe that Gibbons chose DeMarlo Hale, as your article says, as bench coach, since he has been coveted by the Jays for the last two years. Seems to me this is AA and Beeston’s choice and Gibbons is going along with it. Hopefully Hale will balance off Gibbons’ approach. I think his hire is key and gives me faith again after I lost it when they hired Gibbons back.
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A. If you believe that a good manager can win about two games and a bad manager can lose approximately four via his in-game strategies, then Gibbons surrounded by a solid veteran team like the Jays has suddenly become acceptable and not an obstacle to contending. Gibbons could be like Cito Gaston with his Jays teams of the early ’90s. The difference between Cito and Gibby is that Gibbons rep is that he has a feel for the bullpen and managing late in games.
Anthopoulos is very comfortable with Gibbons in terms of being able to call him on the phone and suggest a pending player move, comfortable in terms of walking into his office right after a game with both of them venting freely after a tough loss and comfortable in terms of getting a solid report on the game from his manager when he is not with the team. AA trusts his new manager’s player evaluation skills from when he was here before and AA was an assistant GM and was, in fact, originally going to hire him for pro scouting before being hit by the manager-lightning-bolt of inspiration.
Often hiring a new manager is all about the polar opposite of the old manager in important ways. In this case, by hiring Gibbons, Anthopoulos is subconsciously admitting he was not comfortable with a Type A personality like Farrell and his ambitious plan to return in triumph to Boston like Caesar to Rome.
I would not have hired John Gibbons, myself, but AA has been very convincing in explaining why a guy who was fired four years ago and has not been seriously considered as a manager by any of the other 29 teams in the majors, is now the right guy for the job. I find it funny that in two stints as manager of the Jays, Gibbons has never actually applied for the job. It’s easy to accept the move because it’s hard not to like John Gibbons. Even Shea Hillenbrand in conversation with the Star’s Brendan Kennedy, seemed happy for Gibbons, showing much respect despite the fact that the former DH/3B was one of the main events in Gibbons heavyweight career with the Jays.
DeMarlo Hale is a good hire and will be the man who organizes spring training for Gibbons. He said he knows Hale from managing against him in the Mets system and from being a roommate somewhere in their background. Let’s see, Gibbons was a roommate of Billy Beane and Beane was a roommate of J.P. Ricciardi and Gibbons and Ricciardi roomed together. Now Hale and Gibbons. The next time a coaching or managerial position with the Jays opens up I’m going back and looking for old hotel rooming lists. Cherchez le roomie.
Q. I’m curious to hear your opinion on the two recent Red Sox signings — Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. To me, while they are both pretty good players, they are neither pieces the Sox can build around, nor are they good enough to make the Sox contenders in the short term. It just feels like they are building toward the middle. Is this simply the Red Sox trying to make their team less terrible during their rebuilding phase?
Jonathan Maile, Toronto
A. The Red Sox appear to not really have a building plan since last summer when they traded a bunch of salary and name players to the Dodgers for prospects and James Loney who they let leave as a free agent. As you point out, Napoli and Victorino are not players who you build a championship team around, but the two similar contracts — three years and $39 and $38 million seem not too cumbersome and even tradable at some point. For a team with the sort of revenue the Bosox possess, the two new deals are not bad contracts. But, really, they had Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford as first baseman and outfielder before they were traded to the Dodgers. When all four men are healthy, are Napoli and Victorino a better option? Personally, I would rather have the two who got away if I want to win.
Napoli, 31, is going to primarily be a first baseman for the Sox and should be able to produce solid power numbers at Fenway Park. He must have believed that his breakout as a catcher in the post-season of 2011 with the Rangers would make his career, but he failed to follow up on it, due to injuries and inconsistent performance at the plate in ’12. His offensive numbers across the board were down significantly as he entered free-agency.
Victorino, 32, is a charming guy with a catchy nickname, The Flyin’ Hawaiian. His career on-base percentage, .341, is not really top-of-the-order worthy. As long as Jacoby Ellsbury is still around, Victorino is expected to handle the difficult right field at Fenway, which manager John Farrell suggests is best handled by another centre-fielder. Victorino is a three-time Gold Glove winner with solid base-stealing ability. He’s a good complementary player. The Red Sox must still have other moves in mind, otherwise it’s just a case, as you suggest, of being “less terrible during their rebuilding phase.”
Q. With Atlanta’s apparent interest in Emilio Bonifacio, is there a possibility the Jays make a deal for Dan Uggla?
Joel Hardy, Calgary
A. At one time, the Jays and GM Alex Anthopoulos were interested in signing Uggla as a free agent, but he chose the Braves and then AA used the Uggla contract as a model for signing Jose Bautista to his extension. Do you really want to add $39 million for the next three seasons (hmm, those numbers sound familiar) for a second baseman whose range is now below average and whose OPS decreased each of the last three years. He is a low batting average, high strikeout hitter, prone to streakiness and will earn $13 million in ’13. Even if it was a possibility I wouldn’t do it. Catcher John Buck insists that Bonifacio can start in the majors at more than one position, including second base.
Q. Years ago we used to get regular updates on minor leaguers in winter ball leagues. Do we not cover this anymore?
Allan Robertson, London
A. Hey, the Winter Leagues aren’t what they used to be. The Arizona Fall League has become the more popular destination for top prospects, players that are within a year or two of their major league club. There are no revolutions and kidnappings in Scottsdale. It’s convenient. The AFL season takes place in October-November in the Phoenix area and the scouting of player progress and development and the control of at-bats and innings pitched is easier for MLB teams.
As for the traditional winter leagues, for instance, the Jays, this winter, thus far, have nine position players and 11 pitchers listed as playing in the Caribbean winter leagues — Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico — and four prospects, including Toronto-native Marcus Knecht, in the Australian Winter League. The only four Caribbean League players that appeared in the majors in 2012 include Moises Sierra, Bobby Korecky, Jeremy Jeffress and Esmil Rogers. The Caribbean teams are stocked mainly with native Jays’ players who are still young and far down the minor-league system. Another factor in what seems to be less coverage is that The Sporting News used to be known as The Bible of Baseball and they used to have a weekly section for winter league statistics. No more.
Q. Hi Richard,
I’ve left comments about this on numerous sites and I’d like to read your response on this matter. I think it’s crucial to have at least two solid LHP in the pen that can get guys out. Grandpa Oliver is taking forever to decide if he’ll play and Aaron Loup was good but he might have a Jesse Carlson-like second season (disaster) and Brett Cecil can’t really be counted on. AA hasn’t mentioned LHP for the pen but do you think he’s overlooking this situation?
Rasmus’s name hasn’t been mentioned in a long while which would indicate to me that he could be on the move. Could this happen? Lastly, do you think AA might surprise MLB again with say . . . signing Hamilton to a 4 year +2-3 year options?
Thanks Richard and happy holidays!
Kam H, Richmond Hill
A. I can never understand. There often seems to be a pessimistic undertone to many conversations with Jays fans. For instance, to suggest that Loup “might have” a second season like Jesse Carlson is based on nothing but fear and fatalism. Loup made huge strides in 2012 after the Jays and minor-league pitching coach Dane Johnson changed his delivery to make it tougher on southpaw swingers with the specific goal of making him a left-handed relief specialist instead of a struggling starter.
Whether Oliver decides to pitch for one more season is not a major concern for Anthopoulos. He met the 41-year-old father of two boys face-to-face in Texas prior to the winter meetings and was assured that it’s the Jays or retirement and is based strictly on family concerns. He insists that it’s not a ploy to get traded to the Rangers, near his home. But if he decides to retire, the Jays will not panic. They will give Cecil a chance at spring training to strut his lefty-specialist stuff and will look at other options, including Evan Crawford. Don’t forget, Luis Perez is coming back from injury and may be ready some time during the ’13 season. Plus, there will still be plenty of LH relief options on the free agent market whenever Oliver makes up his mind.
As for Rasmus, you’re right, the fact that his name has not been mentioned publicly in trade rumours means he may, indeed, be in play on the swap market. That’s the way Anthopoulos operates and it has been a solid indicator in the past. If Rasmus does stay, an indicator of AA’s intent will be whether they extend his contract before the season starts. As far as the free-agent Hamilton is concerned, I would say the Jays are not there and have never been in that picture. The risk/reward is very high for anything beyond four years and there are those within the Jays’ organization that are not high on Hamilton being able to hold up physically into his late 30s given his past history of personal and substance abuse.
Q. Howdy Richard,
It’s been one of the most interesting Jays’ off-seasons in decades and fans should be looking forward to the 2013 season. One nagging concern is Adam Lind’s bat. When he does hit well, and it’s been a while, he drives the breaking ball to the opposite field and pulls the fastball, like good hitters should. However, in recent years, I see Lind standing far off the plate and constantly chasing breaking balls or off-speed pitches. If Lind isn’t swinging the bat well in spring training, do you see Encarnacion spending more time at first?
Paul Rudan, Campbell River, B.C.
A. Encarnacion is the Jays’ first baseman, with or without Lind swinging the bat well at spring training. Lind came back in the second half after a trip to AAA-Las Vegas and even hit better against left-handers upon his return. The new hitting coach Chad Mottola seemed to work well with Lind. However, my guess is that the Jays wil be looking for a team that would take Lind and his $5 million contract off their hands by the start of spring training. The return for the Jays would be minimal, as long as the new club takes on the entire salary. Otherwise, if he’s still there with the Jays on Opening Day, I could see a Lind/Rajai Davis platoon at DH.
Q. Mr Griffin,
Long-time reader and I hope to see you in Dunedin some year! My question is regarding Freddy Sanchez. I haven’t been able to find any information about whether he is finally healthy but if he is I wonder if he’s a good fit for the Jays. He could be the starting second baseman and bat ninth and DH against tough lefties . . . thoughts?
Patrick Moloney, Toronto
A. Freddy Sanchez is 34 years old and in 2012 played just three games for A-San Jose in the Giants system before being shut down and undergoing back surgery. He has played just 282 MLB games since 2009 when he was an all-star second baseman with the Pirates. He played 111 games in 2010 for the Giants but was their starting second baseman for the World Series run. The California native at this point would be a huge risk and a reclamation project for any team and even though his career numbers are decent and he is a free agent, he would have to be signed as a minor-league project for any team that would choose to do so. Prior to the back issues, in ’11 he also had surgery for a dislocated left shoulder. The Jays are in more of a hurry to win.
Q. Hi Richard,
I like the new clout that is in the top 4-5 of the jays rotation but I don’t see where it goes from there. I believe that the Jays need starting depth that can both be kept in AAA or as long relief in the pen until needed. We saw guys like Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva do it last year and Pete Walker in years past, but I was wondering if you see the Jays being able to fill that role with players like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan or if you think they need to find something on the market?
John Roszell, Princeton, NJ
Q. Hey Richard,
I love your columns. I wanted to ask that with Alex wanting to shore up the starting rotation and adding depth to the bullpen, how do you feel about re-signing Carlos Villanueva, who has been one of the most consistent performers the last few years, and can address both issues in case of injury?
A. The thing about Anthopoulos is he doesn’t just say things about players unless he means them, because he feels that once he says something on the record, then his word is his bond. That, according to AA himself, is why he seemed so down on Carlos Villanueva’s future as a starter with the Jays and is why Villanueva was so upset at the lack of encouragement from the Jays. With three months behind them, AA checked in with a phone call to Villanueva after the Marlins deal and they talked things out. Villanueva is not seeing a lot of interest as a starter on the free agent market. Two years ago, recall, the right-handed swingman joined the rotation in June and was DL’ed in August with tired arm syndrome. Then last season, he joined the rotation again and faded again. Carlos liked the moves the Jays made so he is a possibility to return to his role with the Jays.
The thing about AA’s philosophy, his goal of having major-league capable starters 8-9 deep in the system with a reserve at Triple-A is that if they’re good enough to start in the majors, why would they settle for non-guaranteed MLB money at Triple-A. You will always end up with guys like Jesse Chavez and Robert Coello at Triple-A. That’s why one MLB-veteran swingman is important on the major-league staff and one of the best the Jays have had in recent years is Villanueva. If the best offer he is going to get is as a long-man in the bullpen, then the Jays should offer and he should come back.