It's just nine days into the championship season and already commissioner Bud Selig and baseball are under fire. Already, the Marlins, their new, publicly financed stadium, Ozzie Guillen, Cuba, Fidel and world politics have sent ripples through the national pastime.
There is no filter on Guillen's mouth once he starts offering his opinion on any given topic in any area of life. It's part of what makes him beloved by the media. So why was anyone shocked that he was at the centre of the most politically incorrect baseball moment since it was discovered former Reds' owner Marge Schott was proudly displaying Nazi memorabilia in the front hall of her Cincinnati home with no realization of any of the implications?
Ozzie will always be Ozzie, loud and proud. It's part of the reason Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins brought him to South Florida to coincide with a new stadium and contending with a high-priced roster. They wanted to make being a Marlins fan cool for the huge Spanish-speaking population in the area. It was working -- until now.
That the popular Marlins' manager, a World Series winner with the Fish as a coach and the White Sox as manager, a proud Venezuelan by birth, that he may be an admirer of Fidel Castro should not be a shock.
Consider that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Castro are BFF among Caribbean rim leaders. But why did Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria not see that possibiity and head the issue off upon hiring Guillen. Sit him down and explain the roots of the team's local fan base, the people who buy Marlins' tickets. Tell him he can Tweet and pontificate about baseball and pop culture to his heart's content, but for God's sake Ozzie, the people we are trying to bring onboard as high-rolling patrons are largely refugees, or children of refugees, that left Cuba because of Castro and his revolution.
That being said, technically Guillen has every right to his opinions under the free speech amendment of the U.S. constitution. That is why Bud Selig was correct in not suspending Guillen for those poorly-timed political views. Imagine if Ozzie was managing the Blue Jays. Hell, we vacation in Cuba and rank Top 5 among the island nation's trade partners. There would have been nary a ripple if he had been Jays' manager -- at least until the Jays' inter-league series this summer that may have drawn protests outside the ballpark.
That's why the only suspension for Guillen should have come from the Marlins, which it did, five games and an apology to the people of south Florida. It's like I have every right to express an opinion that, say, The Star sucks and I wish I had any other job in journalism. Yeah, I have every right to that opinion, but then who would blame my employer for deciding to slap me down with a suspension. That's their right. So with the Fish.
By the way, I love The Star. Pheww! On to the mailbag.
Q-In recent weeks there have been several notable contract extensions signed (e.g., Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler). In your opinion, which Jays would AA be wise to actively pursuing extensions for this year? The Rays organization has received lots of praise in the media for their very early signing of lengthy contracts for Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, should (and will) AA try to do something similar for Brett Lawrie at this point?
W. Henry, New Wesrminster, B.C.
A-The big question is why would the Jays, at this point in time, feel like they have to extend the contract of any player in his first full year? What's the hurry?
Let's take Lawrie as the prime example from the current Jays. The Langley native is not eligible for free agency until November of 2017. He is not eligible for arbitration until the end of the 2014 season. What would be the Jays' hurry in terms of offering him an extension. Besides, technically an extension would be a deal for 2018 and beyond since he's already tied to the organization for the next six years.
Take that timeline of control into account with the fact the Jays don't as policy, offer deals of more than five years and, also, only offer multi-year contracts that buy out at least one year of potential free agency. Because of this combination of Blue Jays' organizational policies, it behooves the Jays to wait until at least the end of 2013 before beginning to work on a Lawrie extension. Conversely, it is better for the player too. If Lawrie believes he is only going to get better and become more spectacular as a major-leaguer, it behooves the player to wait a couple of years to maximize his multi-year demands.
Just a note on the Rays and their Longoria deal. The truth is Longoria's extension done several years ago was modelled after the contract the Jays had signed with Aaron Hill some years ago. The Hill deal was constructed and sold to the agent and player by Jays' then assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos. So don't tell AA to use Longoria as a model.
Q-Opening day. Oh, what a feeling. Since that first opening day at the CNE with snow on the ground, I love it! I was so disappointed to see Brett Lawrie not singing our national anthem. What gives? I will excuse all other players but there is no excuse for Lawrie.
Karen Maxwade, Toronto
A-I think it's a minor point that Lawrie did not sing the anthem and I think we can cut Lawrie some slack. His first home opening day, the Red Sox waiting in the other dugout, two months of preparation racing through his head. Who knows what else racing through his head. Sometimes he even has trouble translating stuff racing through his head.
Everything about Lawrie races at 160 kilometres per hour. The fact that he did not sing the anthem is excusable even for other proud Canadians that belted it out. Maybe he was humming or singing in his head.
I think it's more important that the Langley Flash in the long term ends up like another B.C. major-leaguer, Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, wherein through the starry course of his major-league career he never forgot the Maple Leaf and wore his Canadian heritage proudly. Walker was the poster-boy for Canadian baseball for a decade and even when he moved his off-season home to the States, was an ambassador for the country in a good-humoured way while carving out a near Hall-of-Fame career.
Nice to read your stuff again this year. Like to hear your take on Sergio Santos. Don't want to judge too quickly but the hype presented regarding Santos after the terrible closer record last year led a lot of fans to really look forward to this year. Were we sold a bill of goods or can this guy pitch better than he has shown. The hits were bad enough but the walks were worse. What a disappointment for the other pitchers in the game.
Bob Leatham, Ilderton
A-There is no doubt that Santos has a big arm. His slider is devastating and his fastball crackles, but the big issue for me is what happened at the home opener. It requires a look at history. The 28-year-old Los Angeles native was a shortstop all the way through school and the first seven years of his pro career. He only began pitching in 2009 and threw 28-1/3 innings TOTAL before he made his first major-league opening day roster in 2010.
This is not a prediction, but instead is a concern. On Opening Day at the Rogers Centre, it seemed that a big issue for Santos in falling to the Sox was losing his release point on his fastball, on overthrowing and yanking pitches into the ground as he fell off the side of the mound. The paucity of repetitions he has had as a pitcher because of his late start at the art could contribute to periodically losing his delivery points in moments of high stress.
As for any other concerns, again history. Santos began the '10 season with 20 consecutive scoreless innings. After that he allowed 25 ER in 43-1/3 innings down the stretch. Santos is still a work in progress as a pitcher despite his age. He will get better and more consistent, there is no doubt, but the fact is Santos has less experience as a pro pitcher than even the 21-year-old Henderson Alvarez.
Q-Why didn't Santos get a save in the opener?
Larry Hawken, Nashville, TN
A-When Luis Perez sprinted out of the dugout across the foul line to start the bottom of the 16th at Progressive Field with a 7-4 lead on April 5, it muddied the save waters for Santos. Someone would have had to tackle Perez before he reached the line, but since nobody did, under a new rule, he had to face one batter before being removed – unless manager Manny Acta had pinch-hit, then Santos could have entered right away.
Perez retired the first hitter and Santos got the last two outs – and no save. The save rule in layman's summary states: pitch one inning with no more than a three-run lead or pitch less than a full inning when inheriting a situation where the tying run is either in the on-deck circle, at the plate or on-base. If Perez had recorded an out but then had walked a batter, then Santos gets a save, or if the first batter had reached base, Santos save. But he didn't and he didn't. They should be able to credit Perez with a blown save for Santos.
I've noticed in the first few games, the Jays have done a great job using their bench and versatility of their players by moving guys around and having them play different positions. My question is, if a player starts the game off as the DH, is he ever allowed to come into the game and fill a defensive position? Thanks.
Matt Hazel, Antigonish, N.S.
A-I agree with you. I love watching a manager actually manage. Last year the Jays' bench was sketchy at the start of the year. You had John McDonald and other guys that were variations of John McDonald. You had a fourth outfielder in either Cory Patterson or Juan Rivera that was worse defensively than the starters in the outfield. And you had backup catcher Jose Molina.
When you only have a four-man bench, when carrying 12 pitchers, you need each of them to have one specific, superior skill so you can use them as weapons in late innings.
Versatility and specific skills are the key to the Jays bench this year. Already at first base the Jays have used Lind, Encarnacion, Bautista and Vizquel. The Jays carry five outfielders, while the DH Encarnacion can play first, third and left field. Rajai Davis coming off the bench is a huge threat on the bases in late innings and can play all three outfield positions. Their best player, Bautista can play first, third, right and centre field.
As for the DH rule, it's very simple. If your DH enters the game at a defensive position, then the name of whoever is on the mound at the time must be inserted into the lineup in place of the defensive player that was removed. At that point, you have lost your DH for the rest of the game. So when that spot comes to the plate, you either would have to have the pitcher hit, which you don't want in the AL, or you must pinch-hit.
When the Jays were in extra-innings in Cleveland, Farrell wasn't sure how long the game might go on, so he didn't want to bring Encarnacion into the game defensively and then have his pitcher in the lineup. For example, with the four innings Luis Perez worked in during the 16-inning contest, that meant he would have had to swing the bat for sure without having taken any b.p. since last summer prior to inter-league.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Joey Bats play a bit of 1st base in Cleveland. Any chance he ends up there permanently sometime over the next few seasons? Do you think he adds anything by being able to chat with the pitcher and infielders on the mound during high pressure situations?
Mike Patton, St. John's, NL
A-Anything is possible. If, in a few years, the Jays discover that they have too many quality outfielders lined up that can help them win and that Bautista, with his additional ability to play a solid first base, can be more valuable at that position, then I could see the switch being made. But Bautista would have to be a big part of that decision.
Jose is eligible for free agency following a club option year in 2016 and in a couple of years from now, maybe even after this season, will be looking ahead to the next contract. I think that's a solid observation that you had about his increased leadership as a first baseman where he can bring a calming influence to the infield and real leadership to the younger guys. Imagine a 2014 infield of 1B Bautista, 2B Adeiny Hechavarria, SS Escobar, 3B Lawrie. Joey Bats is decent in right, but not exactly Roberto Clemente.
I was hoping for some help to settle a bet. A co-worker and I were talking about Adeiny Hechavarria and it is my understanding that he signed a major league contract as a pro free agent so that once his 4-year deal is done (I am not sure there are any options) he becomes a free agent again. My co-worker argued that he would be under team control and arbitration eligible instead. I thought that Cuban free agents are different and not signed as amateurs like players who sign from the DR and Venezeula for example and therefore do not come through the system with the same team control rules (ie. arbitration). Care to help settle this one?
Rio Mitha, Toronto
A-You lose. There are no exceptions to major-league rules for Cuban refugees. He does not become a free agent after the current deal. The Hechavarria contract was a major-league guaranteed deal, $10 million for four years. The special nature is that he was added to the major-league roster right away, so that to be sent to the minors the Jays needed to use an option right away. He was given four options like a high-school draftee. That worked out to one for each year of the original contract that was signed in mid-April of 2010. After his fourth and final option year in 2013, he must then remain on the Jays' opening day roster, or else they would have to pass him through waivers and there is a 100-percent chance someone would claim him. He will be here before that ever happens. The guy can play.
Q-Liked your 5 question marks but I think you covered the real big one in your blog: who is Santos and why was he "stretching" instead of pitching in the spring? did Chicago dump him and are the Jays hiding him because he has a flaw or tell in his game? Can't see that getting by the Yankee or Boston scouts. A closer means everything to the season
A-There's nothing physically wrong with Santos. At spring training whenever a guy's not pitching in games and is getting treatment you will normally see him wandering the clubhouse with ice wrapped around whatever the ailing body part is. He is often mopey and alone. Santos was never like that even when he was not pitching in games. He was either in the weight room, or throwing bullpens or warming up before exhibition games with his teammates, always with a smile on his face.
The Jays weren't hiding anything, but they did feel that as an inexperienced pitcher that maybe he was burned out in the final month of 2011 with the White Sox and they could keep him fresh by holding him back in the spring. It may be a flawed thought process, who knows, but at least it's a thought process. Oh, by the way, when you say “can't see that getting by Yankee or Boston scouts”. There is absolutely nothing special about Yankee or Boston scouts that any other scout does not have. They are all good at what they do.
Two questions: Is Cecil the kind of pitcher other teams look at and say OUR pitching coach can fix him? And, would it make sense for the Jays to make a pitch for Wandy Rodriguez (and I hope that Cecil can play into that move)? Obviously, not-so-young Rodriguez has a big ticket for two seasons and might be redundant as early as this September. Plus, I imagine Houston's price went up after the winter's ransoms paid for young pitchers in the way rising waters raise all ships. But a package of Cecil, one of the Single A guys and the salary relief would have to enticing to the new Astro GM, shouldn't it? Assuming the answer to the first question posed was yes ... at least as far as Houston's concerned. Toronto gets an innings eater to fill the third slot. Alvarez will be fine holding down four and the pitching tidal wave, starting with Drabek, should be able to handle the tail end.
Gary Mugford, Brampton
A-This is a hugely random suggestion of names for a trade that does not need to be made. That moment has passed. During the winter, the Jays were involved in trying to get that 2-3 type starter. They explored Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos and Michael Pineda, but it did not work out. At this stage, any of the Jays' premium Class-A pitching prospects is too much to give up for Rodriguez, 33, who has forged his career in the NL Central instead of the high-pressure AL East. Nobody is looking at Brett Cecil in trade right now. You are right about one thing. The Astros asking price did go up after what hapened this winter, which is why they still have Rodriguez.
Q-In an interview on SportsNet, Prince Fielder was asked how much of an option the Jays were as an off-season destination. His answer was that he was looking for a team that wanted him long-term, which in my eyes pretty much means it came down to money and years. As a Packers fan, I am a strong proponent of building through the draft, but even they splurged on a free agent in Charles Woodson. My question is if Anthopoulos or Rogers too stubborn with money to build a contender? I would think that with Lawrie's explosion onto the scene and Bautista's general brilliance Prince Fielder would have been that elusive "player to put us over the top" who AA always talks about when referring to budget.
Shawn Bank, Toronto
A-I am sure Prince Fielder knows that the Jays were never in the conversation which made his answer to SportsNet come out vague and slightly inclusive. The Jays never approached Scott Boras once it was clear Prince was looking for in terms of years. The constant inclusion of the Jays came from Boras himself, to whom the benefit is always never to exclude anyone when asked. That agent strategy annoys club president Paul Beeston much more than it does Anthopoulos, but it's why, historically, Boras is not one of the Jays' favourite agents to deal with. As for the Jays going over the top by signing Fielder, Prince has been to the post-season one time and, in fact, Jose Bautista has as many WS rings.
In regards to the final question in your last mailbag, you stated that Colby Rasmus would have needed to have had a really, really good season in the past to be considered for comeback player of the year. Colby had an .859 OPS as a 23-year-old in 2010. That's a really, really good year... no? I think a lot of Jays fans just don't realize how good this guy has been in the past or could be in the future. Blue Jays fans all (rightly) love Devon White, but Devo never had an OPS like that. If Rasmus puts up another year like 2010, he runs away with Blue Jay comeback player of the year and nobody will be asking when we're going to see Gose.
Dave Vigon, Guelph
How can you say in your last mailbag that Colby Rasmus hasn't had a great season yet? In 2010, he put up a .859 OPS as a CF.
Scott T., Toronto
A-I can't agree. That 2010 Rasmus season was far from “great” and certainly not a standard that would earn anyone comeback player of the year consideration -- unless the award was for "OPS Comeback Player of the Year".
Really, if you think the 2010 Rasmus stats of 128 hits, 66 RBIs, a .276 average, 144 games and 148 Ks in 464 at-bats is a good enough season to aspire to get back to in a comeback conversation at a still-young 25-years-old, then we're watching different sports.
I can't seem to find a definitive answer on this. Is the Rogers Centre air conditioned? I remember in years past it wasn't, hence it's very muggy under the dome. Has Rogers installed air conditioning since they bought it?
Harry L., Markham
A-The Rogers Centre is not air-conditioned per se, but they do have the ability to move the air around inside to at least create some feel of air circulation. It is very muggy and humid with the roof closed at RC in the heat of the summer, but for many years starting in '95, the Jays found a time-worn solution, a way to make the Dome far less steamy and uncomfortable. They realized that by playing bad, bad baseball, they could keep the level of body heat down and make it more comfortable for those few fans that actually showed up. Thank God the Jays have decided fans prefer winning and sweating to losing and cool.
Q-Everybody is trying to make the wrong correlation between spring training success and success of the big league club. A good spring training means a good big league club sometime in the near future. 19 spring training wins in 1985, 2 years later the Jays win 97 games. Great spring in 88-89, the Jays win 90+ games from 91-93. The Jays may or may not be in the hunt for the wildcard this year, but I expect them to be at/near the top of the division in 2014.
Joe Miller, Mississauga
A-That's a solid analysis, but what it confirms is what we've been saying this spring, that if the Jays go 24-7, as they did this spring, management can brag that “Our minor-league system is deeper than your minor-league system.” Which translates well and optimistically into the immediate future, as you point out. However, it's not a guarantee of success two years down the road.
Now it is up to Alex Anthopoulos and his staff. They must decide as major-league ready players start to get churned out of the farm system. “Do we integrate the new guys on this Jays team or use them as inventory to obtain other parts that we need around the diamond to create a winner.” It's a nice problem for AA to have but there are still chances to make a mistake. It also bodes well for their goal of competitiveness on a sustainable basis.