Blue Jays mailbag: Pitching depth a hot topic of conversation for readers
It’s only March 1 and they’re at it again. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told Sun-Sentinel writer Juan Rodriguez that Reyes mis-remembers and that he, Loria, never told Reyes to buy a house in South Florida mere days before he was traded. The disputed conversation was at a charity banquet to raise money for ALS research in New York City on Nov. 11. Loria is one of the chairs of the charity and Reyes was being honoured along with R.A. Dickey.
Loria say that Reyes told him he was looking for a house and that when he found out about the possibility of the trade from team exec Larry Beinfest later in the week, that Loria called Reyes’ agent to let him know. Reyes was asked at batting practice on Wednesday about it and repeated that Loria had advised him to buy “a nice house.” There is a chance that the truth lies somewhere in between. On to the mailbag.
Q. Hey Griff,
If the Blue Jays want to field the best possible roster, regardless of options, wouldn’t it be logical to give the long-relief role to J.A. Happ? Brett Cecil has had year after year to try and win a spot on the big league team when the team wasn’t competitive. I don’t know if it’s worth hoping Cecil has a good year as a reliever in the bigs when the only positive sample available is last year’s September, when the quality of the opponent wasn’t that great.
Happ can still be the sixth starter from the ’pen, could log four emergency innings if the need arises, and can get stretched out after that. I’d much rather have the Major League proven Happ than the unproven, shaken up, can’t-outsmart-righties Squints.
Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers, ?? and ?? Who fills out those question marks, in your opinion? Who deserves those spots (if the answer is different)? I would have loved to see Marcus Stroman up, but I guess I have to wait until the beginning of the year.
Love the coverage, Griff! Keep em’ coming!
Alex H, Toronto.
A. The issue with Happ is that whenever it is that he is going to join the rotation — and it is inevitable given recent Jays history — it will likely be as the result of an injury and therefore for at least 2-3 starts. It would be better to have Happ enter for the Jays with significant innings under his belt as a starter at AAA-Buffalo, considering that he has an option remaining. Cecil is out of options.
It is not a career punishment for Happ because the Jays avoided arbitration by signing him to a $3.7 million contract. Happ is right, he is a major-league starter, but pitching long relief for a team with five established starters is difficult. The one reason to keep him on the major-league roster might be as insurance against Ricky Romero’s struggles continuing. But Buffalo is a 90-minute drive from the Rogers Centre. As for Cecil, his visibly increased velocity, into the low 90s, partly as a result of working with Steve Delabar’s heavy ball workout program is encouraging and worth checking out into the season. On Thursday working from the stretch, he was down in the zone and effective. The two hits he allowed were flyballs played into singles by the outfielders and he pitched his way out of the jam.
For me, the two question marks that you left there would be Cecil and Aaron Loup. However, it might behoove the Jays, if Janssen is not ready and caught up physically, to keep him on the DL at the start of the season and replace him with someone on the roster that has options. Make sure Casey is 100 per cent before activating him.
What kind of rope will Gibby give Colby Rasmus as the everyday CF? Two months? All-star break? If he’s hitting .220 with 10 HR by July, what’s the point in him playing over Anthony Gose? Also, what kind of rope will Gibby give Adam Lind? If he struggles, can you envision an OF of Gose in CF and a rotation of Bautista, Cabrera, and Rasmus/Davis sharing the DH?
Andy Frank, Toronto
A. As long as Rasmus is playing a solid defensive centre field, he can remain in the Jays’ lineup. The work he has done this spring in terms of adjustments, lowering his hands, getting ready early, simplifying his approach, with Chad Mottola has been encouraging. Batting seventh in the order, his lower numbers, especially in batting average and on-base, won’t be magnified as much as it was batting in the two-hole. I don’t think there is any thought that Rasmus is on trial, or on any sort of a leash. As for Gose, he can use the ABs at AAA-Buffalo and be ready to fill in at any of the three outfield spots if there is an injury. In the case of Lind, if he struggles, especially against left-handers, I would platoon him with Rajai Davis. There is another dark horse for the right-handed half of any DH platoon and that is Mark DeRosa, if you prefer to have Davis available in late innings as a base-stealing threat.
Q. Even if J.P. Arencibia is not chosen to be Dickey’s regular catcher, a vote of confidence in their No. 1 catcher would be nice. Opening Day, he should be in the lineup either as a catcher or as a DH. What are your thoughts?
Bob in Kuwait
A. That’s ridiculous. Earning a playoff spot is not about stroking egos, it’s about having the best team on the field to help you win. Arencibia does not need a vote of confidence. He already understands and has come to grips with the fact that Dickey’s 34 starts will likely fall to someone else — and that should include Opening Day. If Dickey is out of the game and the Jays are trailing the opener vs. the Indians, Arencibia could always pinch-hit and stay in to catch some relievers. But if the Jays play and compete as expected in the AL East there should be plenty of other full houses for Arencibia to impress.
Q. Hey Rich,
What do you think John Gibbons brings to the table as a manager? He came off as a straight-shooter who was fierce and eager to win. I’m curious as to whether you believe he has the right mantra to keep younger players in line and get the veterans to buy in to his program. Fans are optimistic, what are your thoughts?
Humber College Journalism Student
A. Two interesting endorsements for John Gibbons came from the two most recently arrived players, right-hander Michael Schwimer and first baseman Lars Anderson. Schwimer said he was impressed with the clubhouse atmosphere of working hard and liking each other. Anderson said he was immediately hit by the good vibe of a bunch of players that wanted to be here. Keeping the younger players in line is the job of the more veteran players like Jose Bautista, Jose Teyes, Mark Buehrle, Darren Oliver and others. The right mantra is all about winning.
Q. Hi Richard,
I read a piece recently about Brad Lincoln potentially starting the season as a starter in Buffalo, but that all things being equal he would rather have a bullpen spot in Toronto. I understand all players would rather be in the bigs than minors, but wouldn’t Lincoln be happier to get another chance as a starter in Buffalo? After all the earning potential for major league starting pitchers is much higher than for bullpen arms. I’ve always wondered how pitchers feel when their organization decides they don’t have starter “stuff” and are relegated to a life in the bullpen. Wouldn’t every pitcher (other than the very few superstar closers) rather be a starter?
Simon Elliott, Toronto
A. All starters can be relievers, but not all relievers can be starters. It all depends on the depth of their repertoire. Traditionally, the feeling is that if a pitcher has two different pitches that he can throw for strikes and command, then he can be a solid relief pitcher, having to go no more than one time through an opponent’s batting order. However, in order to be a starter, you traditionally need three pitches that you can command. So sure, there’s more money available to pay top-of-the-rotation starters, but just asking to be a starter is not going to earn you that money. Bad starters are a dime a dozen.
Lincoln, when he was with the Pirates, debuted as a starter, but was thrust into a bullpen role because his commandable repertoire came down to “fastball-curve.” When he arrived in Toronto last July, GM Alex Anthopoulos insisted that the shift to the ’pen was what was needed and that was his best role. Now, it seems, the organization is re-thinking that, maybe wanting to have a look at him as a starter at AAA-Buffalo to see what they’ve got for the future. The worst that could happen is that he gets innings under his belt and eventually returns to the majors in relief. The best that could happen is that he emerges as a viable starter for 2014 and beyond, giving AA more flexibility in personnel decisions.
Q. Hey Rich,
I know it’s spring training but I was wondering what are your thoughts on the Jays re-signing Josh Johnson to a long term deal? Johnson originally was the centrepiece of the deal with the Marlins so if we don’t re-sign him would AA feel he gave up too much to the Miami? I’m sure a lot depends on how well Johnson pitches this year and how the team does but with Dickey signed for the next few years as the staff ace, do you think it could be a one and done in Toronto for Josh Johnson?
A. Johnson was not so much the centrepiece of the original deal as he was the starting point. AA was inquiring about Johnson at the GM meetings in November when he realized the Fish might be interested in expanding to include some of their big-ticket items.
I agree with AA that there is no hurry to get that long-term deal done. See how Johnson’s back is, how he fits in, if he can pitch in the AL East, if he likes Toronto. At some point during the season, if the answers to all those questions are positive, then begin discussions with the agent. Then there become three options. Trade him at the deadline if the Jays are out of contention, sign him to a long-term deal or finally, at the end of the year, make a qualifying offer — the average salary of the Top 100 players in baseball — and either he accepts or he leaves and you get draft pick compensation. The four other starters are under control for the next three years, at least. If Johnson departed after a year, the Jays would not feel they were robbed in the Marlins trade.
Q. This is not a Blue Jay question. You will get lots of questions about the starting rotation, who’s on second and who’s the closer so I am interested in your thoughts on another topic. With Tim Raines’ induction to St. Mary’s (Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame) I’d like to know your thoughts on baseball’s future in Montreal. Will it ever happen again? Even AA or AAA. I know that a group let by Warren Cromartie has been looking at the possibility. Will we ever have a Pearson Cup again?
A. With all the talk about baseball returning to Montreal, there has never been a potential owner step up and declare himself with real money ready to pursue a Double-A or Triple-A franchise. Plus, unlike Ottawa, the city government has never stepped up to back the project. Montreal, if it was to be a minor-league team, would need a stadium with a good location. They could not play at Olympic Stadium. Ottawa is ahead of Montreal in that regard too. The Cromartie group was looking for a major-league franchise which at this point is not going to happen. I would love to see baseball return to Montreal and Ottawa and Calgary and Edmonton.
Q. Hi Richard,
I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a long time; it concerns Omar Vizquel — a player I’ve always admired for his defensive skills and plucky approach at the plate — and a player who’s probably a hall-of-famer. Nothing can tarnish Vizquel’s legacy as a player at this point, I would think, but given he’s often hinted at wanting a coaching career post-retirement, do you think the disaster in Toronto in the 2012 season will hurt his future? He was brought in to provide leadership, especially to the team’s Latino players, and was reportedly a divisive influence in the clubhouse on a team that appeared to be a rudderless ship; moreover, one of his charges, Yunel Escobar managed to offend an entire community with an absolutely bonehead move and when Vizquel was asked about it he basically said he didn’t see anything wrong with it.
So . . . did “Coach Viquel” just set his career back in your opinion?
Geoff Read, London, Ont.
A. That’s a pretty solid read on the Omar Vizquel situation. In hindsight, Vizquel was never interested in mentoring the Jays’ young Latin-American players. He was interested in putting a cap on his career, wherever he could find a job, and recording it for posterity on a video that is still in production.
Omar spent more 2012 time with his biographers than his teammates. He was the last to arrive and the first to leave. He was a great player, but the Jays did not get what they believed they would get and the end of the season mess, with Escobar, followed by his comments about lack of coaching leadership and his subsequent apology set back Vizquel’s managerial aspirations. Word gets around.
Q. Hi Richard,
Good to see your link to send questions is up and running again.
My concern is about the Jays bench. Not that I’d expect Gibby to do a lot of pinch hit strategy but Davis, Bonafacio/Izturis, Blanco, and DeRosa are light hitters and no lefty on the bench. Competitive teams generally have a diverse bench with position flexibility (which the Jays have), but not having one “power” bat and/or no left-handed hitter it begs to question the balance. Any concerns there? Never mind a pinch hit HR but I can barely expect a gapper in the clutch from this bench.
One last thing, on the Jays site DeRosa is not listed in the depth chart. Does that mean that AA is leaving the door open if he finds a suitable bench replacement? I believe Sizemore and Abreu are still on the market.
Kam H, Richmond Hill
A. I believe that this could be the best bench that the Jays have had in years. Having a “power” bat on the bench is overrated. This group is more about providing a speed threat off the bench in late innings when you need a run and about having the versatility to give a regular position player a day off and still have a major-league quality defender and hitter in the lineup. As you point out, how often are these Jays going to pinch-hit in a game. Davis, Bonifacio and DeRosa will all give you major-league at-bats.
As for DeRosa, the website updates on depth and roster are random — unless it’s one of the New York teams. The updates are not done by the teams themselves. There are many head-scratchers.
Q. Hey Richard:
Help me out with the logic on all of this. I was disappointed when the Jays flipped Mike Aviles & Yan Gomes (a personal favourite) to Cleveland for Esmil Rogers, who had been a huge disappointment as a starter in Colorado, but seemed to have resurrected himself in the Indians’ bullpen. Aviles would look a lot better as the 25th man than Mark DeRosa. Now it seems the team has pretty much guaranteed Rogers a spot in the ’pen (based on 35 innings in Cleveland?) over Brad Lincoln, another guy with mixed results as a starter, but much better as a reliever over a FULL season, while telling Lincoln to go back to being a starter, obviously in Buffalo. Putting the poor guy in a position to fail.
I would much prefer Aviles on the bench (or even starting at second base) and Lincoln in the ’pen, to DeRosa on the bench and Rogers in the pen. Is Rogers that good? Is Lincoln that bad as a reliever? I heard fans in Pittsburgh last year advocating the team trading Hanrahan and installing Lincoln as their closer!
Help me out here.
A. DeRosa is going to have fewer than 100 at-bats as the 25th man. Rogers may get 60 games in relief. You are overrating Aviles and I too like Gomes as a person and a player. He may have been useful as a possible third catcher in case you needed to use Arencibia as a hitter in games he didn’t start. The Jays were looking for relievers that can miss bats and Rogers has the type of power arm to fit that bill. As for Brad Lincoln, I am a little surprised at the direction Jays management is pointing him. I thought his future was in relief and now they are talking about him starting at AAA-Buffalo. I disagree about Aviles and Lincoln over DeRosa and Rogers. If DeRosa can have a positive influence on Brett Lawrie and help move his career forward and has 100 at-bats for the year, it’s a good move.
Q. Hi Richard
Thank you for your insights on the Blue Jays. I thoroughly enjoy your articles and blog. I think it is important when considering the Jays farm system to include those young players that are no longer considered prospects because of service at the major league level. This is a much better reflection of the depth and opportunity that the Jays have for the future. In particular, Anthony Gose, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek and Luis Perez are all still youngish players with enormous potential. The injured will begin at AAA most likely when they return and help to make the farm system if not the prospect list quite strong.
A. I agree with you that Baseball America is not considering Gose, Moises Sierra, Hutchison and others that had too much major-league time, but will be returning to the minors to strengthen the system and that may skew the strength of the Jays’ farm. However many teams have similar situations so it balances out. The Jays’ new Top 30 prospects list by BA includes 22 players born in the ’90s which is a good sign that the lower levels are still healthy, even if the inventory of almost-ready-for-primetime prospects was depleted over the winter, It’s a farm. It will grow again.
Q. Mr. Griffin
Is there a player on the Top 10 Prospect list that wasn’t expected to be there?
A. Not necessarily surprises, maybe just in the speed of their progression as top prospects, the biggest two jumps in the Jays’ Baseball America Prospect Rankings were by 17-year-old Mexican right-hander Roberto Osuna who went from 30 to 4 and right-hander John Stilson who jumped from 26 to 5. Osuna is a heavy kid but has a fastball in the mid-90s and helped Vancouver’s championship run. He’ll pitch at A-Lansing this year. Stilson was a top college prospect but had shoulder surgery and dropped in the ’11 draft to the third round. He’s in major-league camp and has impressed John Gibbons.
Q. Hey there,
I’ve been following
your blog for a long time but my question is unrelated to baseball.
Just wondering why you look so angry in your new byline picture? You should be happy that the Jays will be contenders this year!
All the best,
A. I’m trying to change my image. For years, I’ve looked like the smug professor. Star colleague Cathal Kelly points out that the new mug shot is more “angry biker.” I can live with that.