The annual MLB June draft continues on Friday and Saturday and I will cover it off with a full wrapup of the Jays' portion of the entry procedure in Monday morning's The Bullpen. The Jays sure do love those lanky, loose bodied high school pitchers. Once again, picking 10th overall on Thursday night, the Jays dropped down the board slightly and took a 17-year-old named Phil Bickford, the second ranked high school righthander, rated 20th overall by the brilliantly prepared Baseball America. When I read that Bickford had attended Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, CA, my mind drifted back to a little side trip I made to that school two springs ago to see Trevor Gretzky play first base, prior to being drafted in the eighth round by the Cubs in 2011. I was in SoCal to cover the Jays in Anaheim, so drove to LA on a sunny Saturday morning for a game vs. arch-rival Valencia. Oaks Christian is a small private school that is tres proud of its athletic teams that have included Joe Montana's son, Will Smith's son and the Gretzky boy. I'm not sure if Paulina ever went there, but if she did she must have majored in social media. In any case, the place was unbelievable in terms of facilities for the students. The baseball field had artifical turf and a high grandstand behind the plate where conversation came to a stop when Janet climbed the metal stairs to find her seat with the other moms. Southern California royalty had clearly arrived. But the personal highlight was going back down to field level, luring Wayne away from a couple of the other dads as the game was being played and just chatting for an hour about our shared passion for baseball and the common problems of parenthood. It remains one of my favourite interviews. On to the Mailbag.
This baseball season has to be the most frustrating and disappointing in memory. I like many other fans drank the "Kool Aid" and bought into the AA rebuild. He took a huge gamble and failed miserably. The experts (you included) said both the Yankees and Red Sox will be rebuilding therefore this is the Jays year. We all know in what place both of these teams reside today.
Do you think the Jays will limp, stumble and play brain dead baseball for the rest of the season or do you think some drastic , owner induced "fix" may be implemented ? I was looking forward to attending more games this year than last, but I've got to be honest I'm second -guessing spending my money on a team that seems not to care. Those lame, excuse filled post game autopsies of every Jay loss by John Gibbons are also very frustrating to watch. His southern drawl and laid back demeanor portray a country club atmosphere and his team plays like it.
Thanks, now I feel better.
Brian Runciman, Oakville
A-I'll admit that I was one that firmly believed that the additions to the Jays roster in the off-season made them favourites to win the AL East. It turns out this division is still the most powerful in baseball, along with the surprising NL Central, but fact is there are no dominant teams in the East and, in fact, in the entire American League. The East division was, in fact, there for the taking all along. Sure, the AL East is deep, with all five teams capable of finishing above .500, including the Jays, but there does not seem to be a 100-win team in the group. Could 90 wins be good enough for the second wild-card in 2013? Quite possibly. The Yankees are starting to settle in and are trending downwards. The Red Sox are riding hot starts by Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and first baseman Mike Napoli. Meanwhile, the Jays have underachieved in all areas. It's been an imperfect storm north of the border.
As for your assertion of AA rolling the dice and failing miserably, that judgment of being a total failure can only be made if he starts a firesale at the deadline and continues in the off-season to quickly turn some of his off-season acquisitions into prospects. He would invariably receive less in return than what he surrenderd to get them and that would turn this into a massive failure.
Recall that Anthopoulos insisted this muscling up on payroll was not just a 2013 roll of the dice. These high-priced veteran acquisitions were to help build a sustainable winner at least for the next three years. Consider the long-term contract control the Jays have over the current 25-man roster. Only Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis, Henry Blanco, Ramon Ortiz and Darren Oliver become free agents post 2013. Melky Cabrera, Casey Janssen, Colby Rasmus, Mark DeRosa and Emilio Bonifacio will be eligible for free agency after 2014. Everyone else is under control for at least the next three seasons, through 2015.
An optimist would point out that the Jays played better in May than they did in April. As for June, the starting performances by Johnson and R.A. Dickey in San Francisco were very encouraging. The return of leadoff hitter Jose Reyes has been accelerated and there seems to be signs of life in the lineup, led by Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion. If by “fix” you mean dumping payroll and trading for younger players, I don't think that's going to happen with possible exceptions, like Mark Buehrle or Darren Oliver, for example. And, yes, the John Gibbons post-game press briefings will continue to be lame.
In a recent post-game interview following a less than stellar start at an open-roofed Rogers Centre, R.A. Dickey mentioned that he'd have preferred the roof closed on that particular night. He said the organization knows his preferences, but it's up to them to decide whether the top is open or shut.
We've talked in this space and in the live chat about the non-sensical decision to keep Blanco over Thole on the big league team. And these things now have me wondering whether Dickey's not being treated with the kind of respect he deserves and/or whether the Jays aren't doing enough to provide him with every opportunity and the ideal circumstances to win?
I realize these aren't make or break factors, but his age, experience, and his knuckleball make him an anomaly and I'd be inclined to cater to him. It's not like he's asking for a bowl full of red M&Ms, purple toilet paper, and a dozen bottles of green tea. We want to win and keep our star players happy. Am I reading too much into this?
Matthew McKean, Ottawa
A-Everyone may be reading a little much into this dome open or closed controversy. When Dickey arrived with the Jays last December, he was accompanied by a very small sample size of personal success when pitching in domes. That led to ongoing spring training questions for the knuckleballing Cy Young winner whether he would be prepared to dictate the terms of the roof being off or on whenever he pitched as the season went along. He did not confirm or deny the possibility.
But whatever the reason, whether it was his stiff back and neck, whether it was J.P. Arencibia in Game 1 and Henry Blanco in every game since, whether the roof at the Rogers Centre was open or closed, Dickey's tantalizing, dancing bread-and-butter pitch was getting tonged and leaving the park with alarming frequency. I recall Dickey asking me after he was crushed by the Red Sox in his second start if the ball always carried like that with the roof closed. It sounded like even he was shocked.
It was at that point that he may have been re-thinking his supposed preference for a closed roof. Of course, it didn't get much better in May when the roof began to be pulled back on nice days and Dickey's pitches were still being hammered. The question you refer to that drew the cryptic reply was asked of Dickey following his last home start, May 25, a 6-5 loss to the O's in which he allowed another two homers. What should he have said? Even he was questioning himself and had no answers.
Now, following the last game that Dickey threw in San Francisco that may have been a turnaround start for his season and good health. He allowed just two hits and two walks in 8-1/3 innings with a Bay Area breeze blowing out and his knuckleballer being enhanced by throwing into that wind. Dickey has insisted all along that as the weather heats up his specialty pitch will be helped by the increased humidity. I do believe that if Dickey was to insist that the roof be closed for any start that the Jays would do it and that if it was a night game, fans would go along with it – but only if he pitched well and won the game. The danger lies in the possibility if it's a beautiful summer night and he gets torched. Dickey and his success with the roof open or closed remains a study in progress.
Q-Hi Richard -
Great stuff in your blog and columns, loved your write-up on Brett Lawrie's latest tantrum. You and most other parents will recognize in Lawrie's "death stare" an element of the child who makes a mistake and immediately shouts at whoever's nearest: "That's your fault!" He's obviously extremely immature and unable to accept failure.
My questions: Is J.P Arencibia's increasingly obvious game-calling weakness a key factor in the pitching staff's under-performance? Was Travis D'Arnaud deemed to have better chops in this regard? I always wondered why the Jays had a huge reluctance to trade him when J.P was in the fold but maybe now we're seeing one big reason.
Dave Finn, St. John's
A-One thing I have been impressed with in Arencibia's game is his toughness as a competitor, his tolerance for and willingness to play through pain. Pat Hentgen is a big supporter of Arencibia and recounted the game where Blanco had already been in the game and Arencibia was hit on the hand and people were wondering who would catch if J.P. was forced from the game. It didn't become an issue because Arencibia shook it off even though he was hurt and kept playing. That J.P. realization of the roster situation that day, with Arencibia accepting his need to keep playing, impressed Hentgen.
Now look at the departed Travis D'Arnaud and his history of missing chunks of games through a variety of injuries, first with the Jays and now with the Mets. D'Arnaud is more sound mechanically than Arencibia, but I also was one of those that believed he was some sort of future all-star signal caller and receiver. However, even when still with the Jays, there were key staff members I trust in the club's minor-league system that talked about his stubborness towards change in certain aspects of his game and that his defence was, in fact, still a work in progress. It's clear that Arencibia has shortcomings, but he plays everyday and I'm not sure how much better off the Jays would be with D'Arnaud in the wings.
Probably a question better put to Elias Stats, or perhaps covered in todays game summary so consider
me embarrassed if this is the case. Blue Jays as a team in todays 4-0 shutout of the Giants, went an entire game without a strikeout. This would be impressive if it were just Colby Rasmus. How rare is it for a team to avoid even a single strike out?
A-There are other major-league teams for which a zero-K game might not be so rare, but for the free-swinging Jays, having no strikeouts as a team offensively has been very rare. In fact the last time the Jays played an entire game without a strikeout was May 1, 2008, more than five years and 843 games ago in a 3-0 win at Fenway Park in Boston. The opposing pitcher that day was knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and John Gibbons was the Jays manager. Coincidentally, on Wednesday, the Jays starter was a different knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and Gibbons was again the manager. Oh yeah, just 45 games after the lasy zero-strikeout game, Gibby was fired and replaced by Cito Gaston. Shwing battuh!!
I may be totally off here, but it seems that Gibbons has come up with an interesting albeit taxing (especially when you have 17 inning games) way to overcome the annual starting pitching injury problem. Using 4 or more relievers each going 2 innings and a closer, may just be the answer as it seems to keep the opponents offence out of sync. The combinations are endless, you can play with the left righty combos, specialty pitch combination, to keep the whole lineup off balance. Essentially have a pitching lineup much the same as a batting lineup.
The question is has anyone every used such an approach, how did such an experiment fair? Do you think such an approach is at all viable in the long run, in terms of injury, arm/manpower? Can pitchers work efficiently on 2 days rest on a consistent basis assuming low pitch count per outing?
I enjoy reading your insight into the game.
A-Today's relievers are babied by their organizations, including the Jays' relievers. Guys rarely pitch on back-to-back days anymore and, perish the thought of working three days in a row. My poster boy for what relievers can do if you give them a chance is former Expos and Dodgers bullpen ace Mike Marshall. Consider that from 1971-76, Iron Mike threw 440 games in six seasons, all in relief, going 63-57 with 120 saves. That's an average of 73 games per season. Over that time the eccentric Michigan native pitched 823 innings, an astounding average of 137 innings in relief per season. A graduate of Michigan St. in kinesiology, Marshall believed the more you threw the stronger your arm. In 1974 with the Dodgers, Marshall won the Cy Young Award with 106 appearances and 208-1/3 innings as closer.
The rotation/bullpen concept that you suggest in your question was loosely copied by the 2012 Colorado Rockies, who experimented for a long time with a starter on a low pitch count and then a bunch of bullpen guys. Consider that Jeff Francis that year was the only Rox pitcher to top 100 innings, with 113. There were 14 different Colorado starters and 27 pitchers overall. The Rox had a staggering 16 pitchers throw between 50-98 innings in 2012. It was a plan forced upon them by the fact that, well, they were just not very good and their rotation was not very deep. The staff's leader in wins was lefty reliever Rex Brothers with eight. How did that work out in the long run? The Rockies were 64-98 and after the season, manager Jim Tracy was fired. I don't think the concept has a chance to be winning or sustainable. Pitchers would need to get used to it from Class-A on, with more than one team at a time.
I believe baseball is unique in that a spectator can legally and directly affect the outcome of a game. I'm talking about the high and foul flyball that lands in the first few rows of seats and is reachable by a defender. I don't know the rule book text, but common knowledge seems to indicate that the fan has as much right to try and catch the ball as the fielder. If this is true, it seems a good fan in this situation would try to jostle the opposing defender a little. Is this acceptable? I know we Torontonians are too polite and usually give the opposing player some space, but are there other parks where it's known that you'll have a hard time going into the crowd for a catch?
A-You're correct about balls in the stands being literally up for grabs. If a fan reaches out of the stands onto or over the field, an umpire can and often will call interference if he or she prevents the catch. But Moises Alou and Steve Bartman is the classic example of what can't be called as interference. To this day I'm convinced that Alou would have made the leaping catch vs. the Marlins in the NLCS that would have sent the Cubs to the Series, but since his glove was over the brick wall, reaching into the stands, there was no interference called. Bartman remains in Chicago's witless protection program.
Are there ballparks where fans purposely break up a catch attempt by assaulting a player? No, not really. It's more that some parks are filled with fans that aggressively compete for foul balls or home run balls and when they reach up and have a ball in their sights, they don't care who they're bumping and interfering with, even players in uniform. The assault is not intentional, but the fans in those parks are not backing down. I may be criticized for this comment, but it seems to me the expensive seats, the field side seats at the Rogers Centre are populated more with patrons that are not really ingrained in the culture of baseball and therefore when a foul ball heads their way many will cower and whimper as if under mortar attack. There can be no interference from under a seat. There, I've said it.
Q-Brett Cecil seems to have regained his 2010 form. His numbers say he's better. Why not move him back to the starting rotation?
Eduard Guerra, Sudbury
A-The Peter Principle is one solid reason for letting Cecil stay put. I do believe that if a player has found a perfect role for himself after struggling with other roles, then why try and put him back in the same spot in which he failed. Maybe Brett has reached the level of his competency. It's not like there's no value in the role Cecil is in. He is not a mopup lefthander. The Jays' bullpen has been solid and is the only reason the club has been able to tread water since the end of April, instead of drowning.
Love the mailbag. I have a few questions for you, if you have the time and inclination to answer them.
First, could you explain minor league rosters to me? Are minor rosters 25 man? When a player gets called up, where does the minor league team fill the new vacancy from? When a player rehabs, where does the guy go who's spot the rehabber takes?
Second, How much more rope does JPA get? He has power, but that's about it. He can't really hit well outside of that, he can't take a walk, and his defence is spotty, at best. Does the club try to deal him at some point - and would anybody really be interested in him?
Third, I've always loved Brandon Morrow. To me, he's seemed like he has / had the ability to throw a no-hitter for the Jays, and it really sucks to see him injured again. I wish he was healthy - don't you wish he was health?
Fourth, do you ever read Stoten's answers to your mailbag?
Tim, St. Catharines
A-First answer: Tony LaCava, Charlie Wilson and Doug Davis do a great job juggling the Jays' minor-league rosters and making sure that pitchers and players are at a level at which they can compete, develop and succeed. Yes they are supposed to be 25-man rosters, but there is a 7-day disabled list that has made it easier to make sure that minor-league teams have enough players to play games. It's a constantly shifting picture, minor league rosters, with players called up to the majors, players sent down, players in over their heads, etc. To simplify the concept, right now there are four minor-league teams in action, 100 players. There are 20 Jays' minor-leaguers on the 7-day DL. In terms of where do they get the extra players, the Jays have an extended spring training at the Mattick Centre in Dunedin at which there are over 100 players under contract either waiting to be assigned to a short-season team, rehabbing or available to move up to one of the teams currently in action.
Second answer: The Arencibia question is one that the organization has to really think about moving forward. AA has a verbal commitment to Arencibia, especially after D'Arnaud was dealt to the Mets. There are no internal, minor-league options on the immediate horizon. Would AA trade Arencibia? I think he would but only in the off-season when he could bring in a quality replacement.
Third answer: Yeah, I'm also a big Morrow fan and have been disappointed by his failure to launch. I keep saying every off-season that he's young and ready to take the next step. Well he's now reached the Baby Huey stage of his development (for you kids, Google it). So Brandon, just do it.
Fourth Answer: A.S. says he doesn't read my answers -- so why should I read his. Besides, as I've often explained in this space, I've been told my answers are funnier.
I read your last mailbag with interest. I think people forget that you actually see what is going on in the clubhouse and they should respect the fact you go beyond what most sports journos report...and that you are entitled to your own opinion. Keep it up! My question is this : why is Brett Lawrie not hitting? Are the Jays concerned?
Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia
A-Not only am I entitled to my opinion, I am paid for my opinion.
As for Lawrie, there are too many moving parts...and I'm not just talking hitches in his hands and bat waggle. I'm talking floating lower body, twitchy opening up hips and shoulders early, a head and brain that may be swirling with an internal maelstrom of extraneous thoughts and a focus that needs to be intent on the one act of seeing a baseball and hitting it. Lawrie needs to see baseball as more of a graceful ballet and focus more on the choreography of Swan Lake than Flight of the Bumblebee.
Thank you for the timely and incisive article on the relief pitchers especially the focus on Cecil. They have worked themselves into being both 'effective and consistent', two words that have been elusive or evaded by other units of the team this season. Cecil's enlightened mindset about what defines success in a team sport shows a wisdom and Zen quality well beyond his years that invariably has influenced his ready ability to adapt and be effective right from the get go of the season. When I read his comments I thought we had his age wrong. That is billboard material for not only sports but also for other forms of work and life endeavours. He makes the old maxim 'there is no I in team' relevant. I remember watching him in 'Awful April' and how focused, balanced and energized he was each time on the mound. It read difference maker. It was a 'relief' to see him being quite a relief ... pitcher given the absence of relief from what was going on elsewhere on the team. With his mindset he should be able to weather the season well.
Wild Card Walkaway - Your wording about a wild card comeback position avoided delusion by your added words , "sometime in the future" . However, referencing who are actually in a wild card hunt it goes beyond their own division. It is actually worse then when I wrote this time last month about the need to change managers - The Cito Gaston Case.
The Blue Jays are done and so should be their manager if not for the GM's attachment to his out of box retro choice, team play aside. We will see how this plays out in fan attendance and revenue over what will be a long slow Summer once again.
As you know, baseball is a business first and foremost and the GM who put out huge amounts of money to secure this roster has been willing to put significant fan revenue at risk or lets be real, loss, makes no business sense and will make next season an even higher end pressurized one to produce and if not there will be a player sale if not a semi fire sale at some point to unload payrolls.
"Outstanding" .... ? - I remember, he was asked by Maloney a couple of weeks how he thought Gibbons was doing and he aid" outstanding" - really? It sounds more like a self defense response or '" I am trying to convince my self this is working out still". Maybe a contextualized response like " he is doing the best he can under the circumstances".
Rankings - Your ranking list is both informative and underlines the disparity of just how under performing the Jays have been based on expectations of so much added talent, it made the koole aide so strong that intoxicated most so that negative or doubting factors were missed. After the suffering of 20 years, Spring heresy would not be acceptable or tolerated by most.
NL Central - good work on both the focus and content. As to the Cardinals lets face it every year most of the MLB writes down or off the Cardinals who simply in turn quietly go about their business of finding ways to win games and series. and remain in contention and Post season play as their prairie roots would define. They remain one of if not the best story of baseball in even just this century as well as sports in general from both a sustainability and a success factor... Jays take note.
Of course, other teams have aided and abetted them, like the Jays giving them Carpenter, one of the worst moves of their organization but no ned to review that failure form the past when there is one unfolding in front of us right now.
A-I'm still looking for a question here. But I appreciate the rant. Oh and I agree on Cecil.
While it seems that the experiment of moving Melky Cabrera to the leadoff spot and Bautista to second in the order has generally been a success, do you think it's time to move Arencibia further down and move Lind to the cleanup spot with Rasmus batting 5th? JP has been been putting a lot of rally killing whiffs recently.
A-Melky is not a leadoff hitter. He's batting first, but he's not a leadoff hitter. He seems to have worse hamstrings than I do and I, also, am not a leadoff hitter. A leadoff hitter should be able to turn singles into doubles, not the other way around. The Jays truly need Jose Reyes to return and then Melky can settle in at No. 2, with Bautista, EE, Lind and then I would go Rasmus and Arencibia seventh. When Lawrie returns, I would even bat him seventh ahead of J.P. with either Maicer or Bonifacio ninth.
Q-My name is Rabbi Zev Icyk.
Bob Elliot wrote an article about me just before the Jays made the big trade in November. I am 25, 6’2 180, newly married, played college baseball in the states for three years (I pitched and threw a no hitter), born and raised in Toronto, know the game of baseball inside and out, and am poised and determined to become the next manager of the Jays. If Anthopoulos would have made the right choice for manager back in November, the Jays would not be in the predicament they are currently in. It is because of the lack of motivation and brotherhood that is in the clubhouse that has caused this 23-33 start, and this problem must be fixed.
In my five years of college I have compiled a 3.7 GPA while playing college ball and being an observant Jew (a very demanding workload). I know what the Jays need and I will provide the motivation and leadership that will bring us to where Anthopoulos wants us to be. I am a passionate, intelligent, full of energy, and positive young man that has the drive to lead the Jays back to the top. When Gibbons gets fired this week or next, please call me.
A-In the words of Carly Rae Jepsen:
Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe?