Opening Day is at hand!!
All right, we know. The A's and M's have already opened their seasons with a two-game series in Japan, but for most of us, Opening Day arrives the middle of this week and the excitement is building in the form of quickened pulse and racing heart.
If the final weeks of spring training are any indication, there already seems to be a certain edge to baseball entering 2012. On Sunday there was the ugly bench-clearing between the Indians and Rockies precipitated by Ubaldo Jimenez drilling Troy Tulowitzki in the elbow, an act called cowardly and classless by Rockies manager Jim Tracy.
How about Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and his grating personality. You know he's going to be in the middle of some ugliness before too long. Or loose cannon Ozzie Guillen as manager in Miami. Ditto to his effect on the NL East. In any case, even if it's just straight-up MLB baseball without the WWE extras, we're looking forward to the Jays on Thursday afternoon in Cleveland at the field formerly known as Jacobs.
On to the mailbag.
I want to get an understanding of the McGowan's contract. Kudos to him for showing such determination and "no quit" attitude. Did AA sign him so that he wouldn't possibly botch or pull a Ricciardi like losing Chris Carpenter? Also, with the guaranteed contract can he still be sent down (options)? That's what I really want to know. When and if Dustin makes his first start this season I'll be there to give him a standing O!
Kam H, Richmond Hill
A-There are some solid reasons why signing McGowan to the contract the Jays offered makes sense for everyone. Both McGowan and the Jays realized that they owed each other a degree of loyalty after three years of the pitcher's intense and single-minded rehab, but how would that mutual admiration be translated into reality? It has always been a nice sports sentiment, but what form could it possibly take?
It turns out this two-way street has been paved by two guaranteed years, 2013-14, for a total of $3 million, plus a club option for $4-million in 2015. McGowan, because he was on the major-league disabled list for the entire length of his string of injuries, starting in 2008, had been accumulating major-league service time and, thus, would be eligible for his six-year free agency following the '12 season. The Jays understood this and basically gave him a contract the equivalent of a fourth-and-fifth-year arbitration-eligible player, plus a $4 million non-guaranteed year that will depend on health. Fair.
The Jays pre-empted McGowan's free agency instead of waiting until the end of the '12 season, a year for him that would have clouded the issue, because it will really be a success simply if the right-hander completes it in good health. They offered the contract now instead of having to negotiate the free agent deal at the end of the season and having any pesky, non-representative stats and results that probably won't be that impressive, stand in the way. The Jays decided to take all doubt out of the equation and get the deal done now. A load has been removed from McGowan's shoulders and he can go about his most recent rehab from the plantar fasciitis back in Florida with a clear head and a singleness of purpose, with the goal of getting back into the rotation ASAP.
Yes, the McGowan situation can clearly be compared to the way that the Jays mishandled Chris Carpenter, refusing to guarantee him a 40-man roster spot while he was rehabbing from a shoulder injury, then allowing him to go to the Cards as a free agent, seeing him overcome his injury and go on to win a Cy Young and World Series. The new McGowan contract does not add any minor-league options. He's all out. So if the Jays ever want to send him to the minors, he would have to clear waivers, which likely would not happen.
Why has there been no movement on MLB Network coming to Canada? It would be such a benefit to the popularity of both MLB and the Blue Jays here in Canada... and would be especially great for those of us who don't want to sit through 25 minutes of hockey coverage to see a few minutes of baseball highlights on the major sports networks. I know there are CRTC regulations to consider, but the NFL Network has been able to make its way here. When will they show us baseball fans the same respect?
Ian Murray, Toronto
A-I have wondered about that ever since the MLB Network debuted. It seems to me if it hasn't happened yet that we can purchase a feed of the MLB Network on cable in Canada, that it can only be because Rogers does not want it to happen because its content night serve to diminish the Sportsnet brands – ONE, Ontario, East and Pacific and all its already included baseball programming. Otherwise, it seems it could have easily been added to cable's monthly sports package. I'm not a CRTC expert, but Canadian content? Hell, when they started out three years ago, Toronto-native Hazel Mae was one of the stars of their news desk and don't Canadians always litter the on-field landscape. Then there's the Jays. Of course, I've been wrong before, but otherwise why wouldn't it be available.
Should we be worried about Colby Rasmus' spring? BTW, I can't help but notice a change in your optimism. You know it's just spring training, but the kid in you seems to think this team may just compete!
Ryan B., Toronto
Q-If Colby Rasmus continues this spring as he did last year, will he be the Jays' centre fielder for the whole season? Would Anthony Gose be ready to replace him?
Tom Lurvey, Winnipeg
A-The common thread in the above questions is Colby Rasmus. Any prediction of how he will perform once the bell rings for the regular season would be a guess. He's a hard read. Can all the scouts that predicted stardom for Rasmus as a Cards' prospect be wrong? But it's now up to him.
However, there is no doubt that he will remain the centre fielder throughout the year unless he is injured or traded. They value his defence. The Jays in the first half of last season had a horrible outfield defence that set the young starting rotation back tremendously. Rasmus's glove helps the pitching move forward.
As for Gose's arrival, when the Jays acquired him from the Astros they believed he needed 1,500 more minor league at-bats. He has about 1,000 since then. They will let Gose complete the year in Vegas.
Finally, as per my added optimism regarding the Jays, other readers have noticed the same and commented on my seemingly increased belief regarding the Jays ability to compete.
After much self-pondering I have arrived at the belief I have been afflicted by a sort of sporting Stockholm syndrome. I believe I have spent so much time in close Jays' confinement at spring training, arriving early in the morning to the clubhouse and leaving late at night, that like a kidnap victim that absorbs and starts to sympathize with the plight of his captors, I believe I have become a reluctant convert much like Patty Hearst back in the day taking on the alias of Tania and robbing a Wells Fargo bank shoulder-to-shoulder the Symbionese Liberation Army in the '70s. It's now “Let's go Blue Jays, let's play ball.”
Patty Hearst (Google it, kids).
Q-What year did the Blue Jays have their last winning Grapefruit League season? Please tell me it was in the early 90's, if you catch my drift.
Ronnie Lucas, Belleville
Hope this isn't a dumb question but I'll ask it anyway does the current spring training record mean for the Jays with respect to the regular season? Are they peaking early or is this a good thing and what are the benefits? I asked my buddies the question, it has us all scratching our heads.
Alex Glowach, St. Albert
A-This is another popular question, the significance of the Jays' stunning spring training record. There are two main reasons for a fab spring record.
1. An organization that may feel it needs to win games in the spring in order to sell tickets at home. That usually follows up a disappointing regular season the year before and an ownership that applies the pressure on the manager and GM.
2.An organization that is deep in talent, especially young pitching, all the way through the upper levels of the minor leagues.
The latter is the explanation for the Jays' spring. It usually doesn't mean anything to the regular season.
The Jays in their first year under John Farrell were 16-14 in Grapefruit League play last year. The second-year manager swears he's not trying to win all these games this spring, that the goal is getting the individual players ready for the season and staying healthy.
The Top 4 previous Blue Jays' spring records: 21 wins in '89; 19 wins in '85; 18 wins in '88 and '00. In two of those four seasons that followed the most successful springs, the manager was fired – Jimy Williams in '89 and Jim Fregosi after the '00 season and in a third year, after the '85 schedule, Bobby Cox quit to go to the Braves. As for the World Series years, the Grapefruit League records were 13-18 in '92 and 11-19 in '93. The Jays in relation to .500 marks in the spring have been 13-19-5 in 38 years.
Q-Long time reader, and I will throw a few short thoughts to you.
If Lind isn't the guy at first, why not move one of the two catchers over a la Delgado, then you wouldn't have to lose either and both can become integral parts.
Adeiny should get a look with the big club if Johnson stumbles in April, let him have a month and see if there is anything he can adjust in June in Vegas.
Good to limit the innings of the kids in the minors so that they have bullets, will they do this for Kyle as well?
Snider or Thames? Who will be a Jay in 2013 if you only keep one.
Ian Serota, Thornhill
A-The question of first base and having two catchers is one the Jays are going to have to address very soon.
For now, Adam Lind is locked in at first and Arencibia is the catcher. When D'Arnaud is ready for the majors at the end of 2012, first base might become an option for Arencibia. He developed well as a receiver last year, but J.P. must show similar progress in his hitting and on-base abilities in '12.
Hechavarria, once he gets his legs under him at Triple-A will be ready to come up on option and fill in should either Johnson or Yunel Escobar be forced onto the disabled list. The 22-year-old Cuban's defence is already magic. But if Johnson and Escobar stay healthy, they will play unless traded.
Drabek has pitched 153+ innings in each of the past three seasons, but not at the major-league level. If it turns out that Kyle is in the majors all year, they will likely limit him to about 170 innings because the stress level is definitely higher at the major-league level. But he is further along than McGowan.
As for Snider or Thames in 2013? I think that will take care of itself and sometimes it becomes who the other team wants or the quality of the player they offer. Anthopoulos is flexible in terms of listening.
Just got back from Tampa after spending 4 days there watching the Jays, getting some sun and the occasional adult beverage (the 99 cent beers at the Tilted Kilt is no joke). Even saw you a couple times and was thinking I should say hi, but decided against it. Hard to believe someone has to work in that stadium when it is so amazing just to be a fan.
Is Rasmus going to pick it up? He seemed to be the only guy who wasn't hitting the ball the past 4 days, and as we sat there and watched him he reminded us of Rios, seems like he has potential, but has defintiely not put it together. Any chance he flames out this year and the team makes a move, to either Gose or someone else to fill the gap? Love your writing, thanks,
Bryan Chandler, Ottawa
A-It seems to me that Rasmus's spring performance remains the biggest concern among Mailbag contributors this week.
Colby will likely get a full year to prove himself offensively before the Jays make a decision on his long-term future, or not, with the team. With Gose on the rise, with Thames and Snider still on board and with other talented young outfielders like Jake Marisnick, in the hopper, Rasmus, unless he turns it around, could only be short-term in centre field.
And yes, the Tilted Kilt at Happy Hour is a wonderful thing. Prior to the start of the Grapefruit League schedule, I went over to the Kilt, hard by the Phillies ballpark in Clearwater, for their 50 cent wings, 99 cent domestic pints and a very strong wireless signal, perfect for a hungry blogger in late February. It was great and cheap. Feel free to say hello at the stadium next spring...and thank you for calling what I do “work.”
Love the blog! Two questions. First, I loved the way Snider and Thames performed this spring, and I'm sure the brass was too. Everyday I check the papers thinking that I am going to see one of them traded. I'm even more worried that it will be Snider. Is one of these guys trade bait right now? Second, I also love the McGowan signing, but is this more of a reward for the work he has put in during comeback, or his he really poised to be a contributer over the next couple of years?
Colin W, Ottawa
A-In the Snider/Thames case, the Indians are one team currently looking for a viable starting outfielder, but unless a significant prospect was to be coming back in return, why would Anthopoulos consider doing it. It's a long season and it's likely that Snider will get his chance back in the majors at some point during the schedule.
Snider is 24, Thames 25, but Snider is now using his final option. As for McGowan, yes it's partially about the reward and yes, he can be a contributor if healthy, but if not, the guaranteed money is easy to absorb in the grand scheme of things.
Other players, future free agents and their agent representatives, always tend to notice the little things that any team does to define itself. The McGowan signing is one of those things. It's a return to the values under Pat Gillick and Peter Hardy.
I like your blog and columns, and, like you, I'm a former Expos fan. I'll keep them in my heart for quite a bit still, I'm sure. I'm wondering about the somewhat bizarre trend in your columns and blog posts lately of avoiding to name the Dunedin stadium by its current name at any cost (the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium I think it's called now).
Do you have a specific gripe about the current sponsor? Are you going to start naming Rogers Centre the "stadium formerly known as Skydome"? Let's see how long it will take Rogers to get nasty with you after trying that kind of stunt a couple of times.
Patrice Maltais, Scarborough
It's nice to have the vicarious thrill of hearing all Spring Training when we can't make it to Florida. Thanks for the rich commentary. But I'll bite on one issue: What's the deal with all of the mentions of "the stadium formerly known as Grant Field"? Is this your personal reference to losing out on the Prince Fielder sweepstakes?
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
Why do you keep mentioning the Jays are playing in a stadium formerly known as Dunedin Stadium? It is akin mentioning the stadium formerly known as the Skydome. Thanks,
Martin Hugh, Toronto
A-Who knew that my daily spring tribute to “the artist formerly known as Prince” would cause such consternation among readers. The three questions reprinted above are mere examples of the righteous indignation and head-scratching confusion that my “stadium formerly known as Grant Field” daily designation of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium produced.
Here's how the tradition came about.
First, admit it, that's not an easy name to remember and when the Jays moved their spring operations from the Mattick complex to the stadium, as they do at the start of March each year, it became a frustrating daily question. “What the hell's the name of this place again?” I would ask Gregor Chisolm of MLB.com.
The daily frustration was compounded by the fact that in most spring parks, the stadium name is proudly displayed on the scoreboard, but at FAES the only place it's visible is on the concrete wall behind home plate which, frustratingly, is right under the press box window and not visible from where I sit. I got tired of asking every day.
Besides, have you ever driven by the Florida Auto Exchange on Main Street Dunedin?
It looks like a ramshackle white shed with a bunch of abandoned cars parked in haphazard fashion. How and why did they decide it was a good idea to sponsor the Jays' ballpark. How could they afford it?
It makes me want to buy my own spot on the outfield fence next year promoting Richard Griffin's Mailbag with a big sunburned headshot of me smiling out at Jose Bautista as he patrols right field. Maybe the eyes could be made to move back and forth. That would be nice. How much could that cost, really, if FAE can afford to sponsor the whole park?
By the way, I like that reader's idea of “was it a reference to not signing Prince Fielder.” I wish it was.
Something that has bothered me for months is people, some reporters included, talking about Blue Jay starting pitching depth.
While I will concede maybe by 2014 I see the type of depth I like evolving, let me pose the following to you, I will give you Romero (Cy Young candidate I believe). I will also count Morrow although he sure reminds me of a younger A.J. Burnett at this stage of his career. And I will even say Henderson Alvarez appears to be the real deal but what is the track record of big seasons by 21-year-olds?
However Cecil will not make it through the entire season throwing the way he is and I think the Jays know this. McGowan is a great story but best case scenario is he does well and gets shut down at 150 innings and worst case is he blows his arm out.....sadly this can't be ruled out.
Who is next in line after these two? Kyle Drabek still seems to be struggling with control and I am not even counting mentally. Drew Hutchinson is young and all seem to agree he needs more seasoning?
As much as I love this team I just can't consider them a serious playoff contender and don't understand why they were so steadfast that they needed to acquire a number 2 quality starter when frankly I would have been happy acquiring a guaranteed "innings eater" with middle of the road ability?
Mike Davies, Hespeler
A-The Jays' pitching depth is real but not yet fully arrived. There is no Jo-Jo Reyes on the depth chart this year, which is the real sign of progress over where it was a year ago. The opening day rotation is simply the starting off point.
The Jays have averaged 12 different starting pitchers over the past three seasons. Here is one man's depth chart of pitchers that could realistically be ready to be among this year's dirty dozen: Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, Cecil, Drabek, McGowan, Aaron Laffey, Chad Jenkins, Deck McGuire, Joel Carreno, Drew Hutchison. That's a solid 11. The 12th is always a surprise.
What I don't understand, however, is your suggestion that an innings-eater with middle-of-the-road ability would have been better than acquiring a No. 2 starter. If they had obtained a guy like Mat Latos or Yu Darvish, it would have been a nice fit, albeit at different cash values, and people would now be talking about the Jays having a legitimate chance to contend in the bold, new, two-wild card world. But they will really need someone that is already here to step up big time like Morrow or Alvarez in order to contend this year. It remains a possibility if Morrow is indeed not A.J. reincarnate – which he's not.
Big fan of your work and I was wondering If I am the only Jays fan who wants to see Rajai Davis get the bulk of playing time this year over Colby Rasmus.
My only concern here is fielding because we know Rasmus is the much better option defensively. My point is we already have what Rasmus can give us on the team but nobody else offers what Davis has in terms of changing a game with his speed.Also he is a career .274 hitter. I do believe and had an injury-plagued down year last year but also hit .280 and over .300 the previous two seasons in Oakland... I'll admit there is just something about Rasmus I don't like. I agree that it was worth taking a chance on him with the trade where we gave up very little and will gladly eat my words if he lives up to his potential but how long of a leash will he get this season because he was absolutely brutal last year even before he hurt his wrist or hand or whatever. Maybe I'm way out to left field on this one you get to see the guys in Spring Training so what are your thoughts...
Chris McMillan, Marsvilles
A-I believe that Jays' outfield defence is one of manager John Farrell's biggest personal concerns at the start of '12 as a way to make this pitching rotation as good as it can be...or at least to give them the opportunity to prove what they can truly do when given outfield support. Recall last season's start with an opening day injury to Rajai Davis that brought into play Juan Rivera and Corey Patterson on a daily basis until the Rasmus deal.
Even when Davis returned, it was not contributing to an optimum defensive situation. His major defensive asset is being able to outrun his mistakes.
Farrell loves Davis off the bench. As a fourth outfielder, Farrell is guaranteed that in the 8th or 9th inning Davis can be available as a weapon to disrupt pitchers and maybe advance to scoring position in a close game. If he's in the starting lineup, you can't always choose when he comes up or reaches first base in a close game to become “the disruptor.”
As a player off the bench, you can always make that decision. Davis will get a number of opportunities to start games in centre field against tough left-handers or when Rasmus is a little nicked up or needs a rest. Davis is now in his best role, the one that was described for him when he was first acquired, even before Vernon Wells was dealt to the Angels.
I have had just about enough of Adam Lind, especially against left-handed pitching. Is there any indication that if his hitting is not improved by the all-star break that we will see David Cooper, Mike McDade, or Yan Gomes in that position.
Craig Armstrong, Toronto
A-The first step would be to move Lind out of the cleanup role as the first line of protection for Jose Bautista. That move down the order is already going to happen against left-handers, with Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie going 3-4-5 in the platoon lineup. Whether Lind bats down in the order or gets the day off vs. lefties will be the only early question.
Against right-handers, Lind came on late in the spring and despite being sidelined briefly with back woes, began swinging the bat much better. He will be given plenty of rope against right-handers, which is the majority. If Lind is DL'd, Cooper would be the first player called up and Encarnacion would likely get the majority of reps at first base. The only way Yan Gomes sees the majors is as a backup catcher if Jeff Mathis is forced to the DL.
I just finished reading your Q&A from Feb 23 and would like to respond to one of your comments. You had respond to a listener at the time that Encarnacion should be the full-time DH and nothing but that beg to disagree with you but have you ever looked at his career statistics? They are horrid! Have a look at his career statistics from BaseballReference.com and you will see a player who has never had more than 3 good months out of six each year during his 7 years in the Majors. If he was a pitcher I would consider him to be the Josh Towers or Jo-Jo Reyes from the world of DH's or crap infielders. Please take the time and look then explain to me why you would consider him for something full-time? FYI yes it is friggin cold here in the really far south. I get to have a 20 month straight of winter....Fun Wow!!
Petr Von Rolt, The South Pole Station.
A-Our views on this issue are polar opposites. You likely would have been opposed to giving Jose Bautista the opportunity to play every day back in 2010 because of his previous history. Look what you would have missed out on.
I look at Encarnacion's splits last season between right-handed and left-handed pitching and his offensive performance as a DH and first baseman compared to his horrible stats as a third baseman, which is at least understandable because three days before the start of the '11 season he was parachuted into the hot corner so that Bautista could move back to right.
Watching Edwin swing the bat every day last year, the potential always shone through in terms of power and hitting the ball hard. He is a free agent at the end of the season and is in the right place to succeed as a full-time DH and reserve at first base, third base and in left field. He can be a very useful player.
The Jays are reluctant to send their best young pitchers to Las Vegas for fear of hurting their confidence because the PCL is such a hitters' league. However, wouldn't it make sense to at least send their college grads (e.g. Jenkins and McGuire) to Las Vegas to see if they can handle the pressure? In any case, they better find a new AAA site soon since within a year or two they have far too many good young arms to leave them all at AA .
Bill Reynolds, Toronto
A-I agree. I'm not so sure they need to send Jenkins and McGuire to Vegas to see how they handle pitching inside a pinball machine, but I get your point. The future problem is they do have too many good young starting pitchers coming up from behind to maintain the same policy of Double-A or bust.
The Vegas affiliate contract is expiring at the end of the year and they would love to find a place like Buffalo that is closer to T-O and easier on starting pitchers. Maybe Ottawa, but the International League would need to transfer an existing franchise or else add two teams.
The Jays don't own their affiliates. Once again this year, they have tried to avoid exposing their young studs to Sin City, with Jenkins, Carreno, Hutchison and McGuire all starting out in the forests of New Hampshire. Meanwhile, at Vegas are guys like Nelson Figueroa, Tim Redding, Scott Richmond and, likely, Aaron Laffey.
I totally understand the concept of options on players and making sure they are managed properly so talent isn't needlessly lost.
Where I have trouble with AA on this is when he has those conversations with players and tells them that if they were out of options and fighting for a job, they have the inside track. I think that does a disservice to players with options and also doesn't motivate the ones without options.
I know that in the real world where you and I work, a strategy like that wouldn't fly.
Whatever happened to putting the best team you have out there? If a player is out of options and there is no place for him, then trade/cut him so that 1) you have the best team on the field, 2) you make the player who worked the hardest to win the job happy 3) you give the player without options another chance to catch on with another team. Your thoughts?
Mat Saturn, Toronto
A-If you take the uniqueness of the messages in baseball out of the equation, there is not much to criticize about sitting your employees down and outlining for them a no-holds-barred summary of where they stand professionally.
The CBA's system of “minor-league options” doesn't exist in many other occupations.For instance, The Star would never sit me down in January and decide that if there was no room on the baseball beat they might send me to, say, the Oakville Beaver for more seasoning.
Just because Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell told the players where they stood prior to camp did not guarantee them jobs. They still had to work hard in the spring to win the position, while the guys behind them on the depth chart had to work just as hard to maintain their “we got next” status.
It's those kids that come to spring training and think they have a chance with a good spring training, it's those kids that are devastated by their demotions that need to be spoken to realistically at the start of camp. If anyone actually stops working hard because they know where they stand, you don't want them.
Me, Adam Lind, and Kelly Johnson have a bet going for who you think has the best shot at winning comeback player of the year this year based on what you've seen at spring training. It is me right?
Colby Rasmus, Toronto courtesy of M. Siddall
A-Sure Colby, but in most cases there has to have been one really, really good year in your past to come back to in order to be a comeback candidate. Maybe you can be a breakout candidate instead.