The Bullpen: R.A. Dickey is in a world of his own
YEAR II VOLUME I, February 11, 2013
THE BULLPEN — YEAR TWO
Last year, we began the experiment of an extensive Monday baseball roundup and that young tradition will continue again this year. With spring training officially underway on Tuesday, with the Jays reporting a day later and with the World Baseball Classic in March, it should be a busy spring for the Bullpen and with the Jays listed as Las Vegas favourites, the buzz is palpable. Here we go.
It’s hard to ignore the phenomenon that is R.A. Dickey. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner was brought on board in a stunning trade pulled off by Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos, sending two of the organization’s top prospects, Travis D’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, along with catcher John Buck, for the 38-year-old knuckleballer and catcher Josh Thole.
Recall when Dickey made his first official visit to Toronto, he spoke of his pending trip to Mumbai, India, on behalf of the charity, the Bombay Teen Challenge. He was taking his two young daughters, Gabriel and Lila, as part of their education in terms of becoming better human beings.
A week ago, Dickey was available nationally for a conference call from Mumbai, covered in a nice piece in the Star by Brendan Kennedy. But on Saturday, he further to that offered a heart-wrenching first-person account of the time in Mumbai with his daughters. It was written exclusively for The Daily News, because of the fact that most of the contributors, the $130,000 he had raised the year before for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, were Mets fans and he wanted to thank them.
I cannot think of another athlete with a world view and personal priorities quite like this pitcher that is arriving in uniform with the Jays on Wednesday. There was debate about whether he was a clubhouse leader or was just looking out for himself in the Mets’ room. That point is moot.
I believe that Dickey’s importance to the Jays’ clubhouse will not be in a traditional leadership role as much as it will be in acting as an unintentional, but effective lightning rod for media, deflecting attention away from other members of the club that will not be accustomed to the Jays’ status as pre-season favourite and the accompanying attention it will attract this spring and into the season.
Anthopoulos suggested that Dickey’s contract — $30 million for the next three years — was as much of a gamble, because of his age and late-blooming excellence as was the Jose Bautista deal following his breakout 54 home run season in 2010. Jays fans were in need of this team taking some risks and just like it’s hard to criticize the Bautista signing even after his 2013 season-ending injury, it will be equally difficult to second-guess the Dickey trade even if the kids are all right for the Mets.
Dickey is a unique athlete with a social conscience and no ulnar-collateral ligament. The Jays’ Opening Day starter is already a clear and deserved fan favourite and has not yet thrown a pitch.
On most occasions, when push came to shove, I have more often backed the position of the major-league players’ association when it comes to clashes with ownership. But in the current cases of unsigned free agents, outfielder Michael Bourn and right-hander Kyle Lohse, I have no sympathy.
An important change in the last CBA was written in jointly by owners and the union modifying the rules of draft-pick compensation and basically taking the imagination of GMs like Blue Jays’ Alex Anthopoulos out of the equation. No longer would there be Type A and B free agents and no longer would teams losing free agents be able to accumulate Top 100 draft picks that strengthen their futures.
Instead, any free agent that received a qualifying offer from his original club, those players would be the only ones to affect the amateur draft the next June. There is a formula in place to determine the amount that the club offer needs to be — the average of the Top 125 salaries in baseball. For instance, this year the qualifying offer was $13.3 million for one year, of which 13 players including Bourn and Lohse received the needed offer from the Braves and Cards, respectively.
It seems no coincidence that all 13 free agents, in concert, dismissed the club offers and confidently put themselves out on the free agent market. Once they refuse their incumbent club, any club that signed them to any contract would lose a first-round draft pick that would not be awarded to the other team, but would just disappear into the atmosphere. The catch was that the first 10 draft picks would be protected so teams that were really bad still got their picks. The team losing a player would get a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds.
Well, Bourn and Lohse, and their agent Scott Boras have clearly made a huge tactical mistake and with a day to go before spring training, neither player that could have accepted $13.3 million in November has a job. My reaction? Well, that’s just too bad.
In the case of Bourn, the Braves went out and immediately obtained B.J. Upton to play centre field. They never made another offer to Bourn. Worse, Boras used the Upton numbers as his floor figure for negotiating with other teams for a long time. Let’s see, now. Your former team does not want you and signs someone younger and your strategy is to seek more than that elsewhere?
Boras was not able to come to terms with the Braves but has come to terms with reality. The Mets now seem the likely landing spot for the speedy Bourn, but while Boras was asking $60 million for four years, the Mets might go as high as $40 million for four according to New York media reports.
What’s worse is that both Boras and the Mets are claiming foul on the CBA. The Mets think since they were one of the worst 10 records in baseball in 2012, that the rule should protect their first-round pick. The league’s alternate picks, no matter the comparative records. But, unfortunately for the Mets, the rules doesn’t read like that. As for Bourn, he needs the Mets to win their challenge or else his man may not have a job. The Lohse issue is just one of future value and the loss of a pick.
This time, I can’t feel any sympathy for the players and the union. Live and learn. Maybe next year you’ll see some players seriously consider the qualifying offers, instead of arrogantly dismissing them.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN—FINALLY
The familiar voice of Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons could be heard on the other end of the phone connection as the clock approached midnight in the Courtyard Riverwalk in San Antonio. It was a welcome sound after having merely texted back and forth most of the day as I made my way, first from Albany, N.Y., to Buffalo, to Detroit, to my eventual destination deep in the heart of Texas.
The trip to bag an interview with the Jays’ new/old manager on his home turf before the pressures of spring training, started in Albany, after dropping my son Patrick off at school for his second semester as a freshman at College of St. Rose.
The brilliant idea of being dropped off at Buffalo airport on the way home to Oakville saved a load of money on the flight, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. The only thing that I forgot to check was the pesky two hour and 15 minutes layover in Detroit, before connecting to San Antonio.
Seemingly one of the last flights arriving in Texas’s third-largest metropolitan area, bigger by far from the air than I had imagined, a car rental shuttle took me from the almost-empty main terminal to a remote parking lot with two bare bulbs still lit, guiding me as I did a virtually blind inspection of a nice little mini-SUV that proved to be a really smooth, reliable ride for the next two days.
Unfortunately, this was my first trip to the hometown of Gibbons and Cito Gaston and Al LaMacchia and Tommy Lee Jones, like most men my age, all I had was a hotel address near the Riverwalk and the idea that I needed to head due south on the interstate that splits San Antonio in two. We don’t need no stinkin’ maps ... and I don’t even know what GPS stands for.
An hour later, on what should have been a 20-minute ride, I had passed the Alamo three times and still couldn’t remember it. Finally I stopped at another competing hotel and got directions. Old dog, new trick, I guess. I had just checked in when the Jays’ manager called. I finally was able to relax.
It was left up to me to find us a spot for lunch on Tuesday, the idea being that John would swing by the hotel and park nearby and we would do lunch and a major portion of the interview, then head to the Alamo for some photos, as well as on to the home field of the San Antonio Missions where Gibbons had managed in 2012.
That 11:30 a.m. planned meeting allowed me time to scout out the old city downtown area before John arrived. I used the time wisely, finding the Alamo again, on foot, then scouting out some good photo locations at the old mission as background. The idea was for a stern-looking and combative Gibbons, who is most remembered by Jays fans for standing his ground in the face of overwhelming odds, to be photographed for the feature in meaningful, but ultimately tragic locations.
Right on time, a huge F-150 pulled up in front of the Courtyard and I hopped in. This was Gibby’s home turf. Surely he could find a nearby parking lot and we could head to The Esquire Tavern, the spot I had picked out for lunch because of its big privacy-promoting wooden booths as I wandered the streets earlier in the day. Plus it billed itself as the oldest tavern in San Antonio.
Fifteen minutes later, the manager still was looking for a parking spot getting farther and farther away from The Esquire. Finally, as he called dibs on a street parking spot, I looked to the left and there, once again, was the Alamo. I felt like I had scouted out this old fort in 13 hours more than the busiest of General Santana’s front men. With a slight change of plan, Gibby and I headed to the Alamo.
A couple of pics with the Alamo looming sadly behind him. A photo with Gibbons looking stern sitting on a window ledge outside what I imagined was the room where Jim Bowie had been gunned down as he unleashed his last Bowie knife at a shocked Mexican soldier’s abdomen. Then the one that made Saturday’s paper with two proud flags of the State of Texas billowing behind him.
But it was the 15-minute walk back to the restaurant that impressed me the most in learning the true personality of the Jays manager. For a guy that lived in the area, John seemed to have no idea where he was going. In the space of that quarter hour, he stopped to ask a strolling tourist, three city-worker guys that seemed to be dragging the river for drunks that may have fallen in the night before, a woman setting up her desk by the river for the soon-to-be-arriving lunch crowd and a policeman on the Riverwalk. He treated them all with quiet respect, giving no indication that he was in any way special. When he guided me to the back door of the Esquire down by the river, I said we needed to go around front. Gibbons said, “Richard, if you’re right I’m going to say you know more about getting around San Antonio than I do.” A strong rattle of the padlock and we were doing it my way.
Three hours later (the transcript of the complete interview was posted on my blog on Sunday) we were heading down the highway for a meeting with Missions’ GM Burl Yarbrough. The entire Double-A staff greeted Gibbons like a long-lost brother. He promised some Jays swag for their charity.
Some more sightseeing later on the way home and then I was back at the hotel. The next morning was a scheduled meeting with Gibby at Douglas A. MacArthur High School, at the ball diamond where teammate Matt Foley remembered the 18-year old catcher clubbing home runs over the science building. I took some more photos, although somehow these never turned out.
Then I was on my own for the rest of the day. I drove back out to the Missions ballpark for an interview. On the way I stopped at a Latin copycat of Hooters for lunch, but, truthfully, I was only there for the wireless. After checking in to an airport Courtyard, I found a place to eat and then a nightcap in a joint I had spotted across the street from the hotel called the Texas Boiler Room.
Ah, my kind of place. Wide-open ground floor warehouse, dark and noisy with a huge music selection on the jukebox, pool tables in the back and a selection of interesting locals seated at the long bar. The Lone Star tall boy cans were $1.50. The waitress was young and typical.
She stopped in front of me as I watched the Spurs thrash the Grizzlies on TV and was dripping blood on the bar as she pulled out a handful of Band-Aids. “Are you OK?” I asked. “Oh yes, my boyfriend turned 21 last night and he had a few and tried to ram his head through the window,” she said. “I put my hand out to stop him and I cut my hand.” I suggested she go to the hospital. She said, “No, it’s all right. I’m a nurse.”
Good to be back on the road again.
MLB POWER RANKINGS — Feb. 11 (Last Week)
1. San Francisco Giants (10)
World Series champs must be ranked No. 1 until further notice
2. Atlanta Braves (7)
Either B.J. or Justin will likely become second Upton in ’13 to make SI cover
3. Toronto Blue Jays (22)
Gibbons philosophy is to stay out of the way; good move with this talent
4. Washington Nationals (1)
Young and getting better — these guys are good and won’t sit Strasburg again
5. Los Angeles Dodgers (14)
Dodgers are the NL equivalent of the Jays in marquee upgrades
6. Texas Rangers (2)
Have something to prove to themselves after ignominious finish of a year ago
7. Detroit Tigers (9)
Ended the year with question marks in the bullpen; closer issue still there.
8. Oakland A’s (3)
Dangerous to be counting on so many first- and second-year starters at 24-25
9. Cincinnati Reds (6)
Votto and Phillips still the key, with Chapman taking his 100+ heat to the rotation
10. Tampa Bay Rays (8)
Counting on development of young starters Moore and Cobb and healthy Longoria
11. Baltimore Orioles (4)
O’s bullpen will have trouble repeating last year’s magic, but bats are better
12. Los Angeles Angels (12)
The Achilles heel despite the hoopla is the bottom three in the rotation
13. St. Louis Cardinals (11)
Some great young arms are ready to go, but will offence be as powerful
14. New York Yankees (5)
This team has bludgeoned opponents with 10 players at 14+ HR
15. Philadelphia Phillies (18)
Phils’ window of opportunity has slammed on their fingers in tough NL East
16. Boston Red Sox (23)
Many Jays fans have marked the first weekend on their calendar — Farrell fever
17. Arizona Diamondbacks (16)
Even though trade looks bad now, Aaron Hill would never have rebounded with Jays
18. Kansas City Royals (19)
The veteran rotation gives them cred, but too much else needs to come together
19. Chicago White Sox (13)
The ChiSox looked good at times last year, but in a shallow division
20. Cleveland Indians (28)
Tribe has made a lot of short-term moves trying to be this year’s O’s
21. Seattle Mariners (17)
No so fast on the King Felix coronation — needs a show of arms before cashing in
22. Milwaukee Brewers (15)
Brew Crew quietly has a chance to rebound after an off season a year ago.
23. San Diego Padres (20)
Pads can be much improved, but still won’t get them above .500
24. Chicago Cubs (27)
Theo’s great uncle in Casablanca wrote: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon ...”
25. Colorado Rockies (29)
The Rox have been down for a few years, and that trend will continue
26. Minnesota Twins (25)
Mauer and Morneau can’t do it by themselves
27. New York Mets (21)
Mets host all-star game this year — that could be the highlight
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (24)
Two years in a row the Bucs have had fast starts and walked the plank after break
29. Miami Marlins (26)
This franchise has seen better days with fans still steamed
30. Houston Astros (30)
And first prize is a transfer from the horrible NL Central to the powerful AL West