It's days like Thursday, with the sad news surrounding the death of two-year-old Ryley Martin bringing out the compelling human drama and genuine emotions of Ricky Romero and J.P. Arencibia towards their departed young friend, that reaffirms all that is good about professional sports and its young stars.
Earlier in the afternoon I had talked to John McDonald for 10 minutes, which is always a feel-good occasion, a slamdunk in combating cynicism. But to then see the 24-year-old catcher from Miami and the 26-year-old pitcher from East L.A., neither of whom is married or has kids of their own, to hear these two young men describe their own devastated feelings when they heard about the death of young Ryley earlier in the day makes you forget, not forgive, all the anti-social behaviour that seems to dominate recent news about pro athletes.
It's not easy for athletes to dedicate a game to someone because that can backfire in the heartbeat of a three-run homer. But to have Romero and Arencibia respond the way they did to the tragedy of Ryley's leukemia, a horrible disease that snuffed out the life of a smiling boy they had played catch with and got to know the family as recently as April 2, to have the two men step up and pretty much combine for the win with seven innings of 3-hit ball and a game winning two-run homer, speaks volumes to the character of the two young Jays. This is a good Jays clubhouse from Jose Bautista on down.
On to the mailbag.
Given the rapid decline of guys like Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, etc. etc. at around the 36 to 37 age mark, I have to speculate at what age you would see a decline for Toronto's late blooming superstar. At 30 years old, it would be sad to think that we really only have 5-6 years and then a rapid decline after that. With that said, given the lack of miles on Jose's body, compared to guys like Jeter and Posada (a catcher no less) who have played since their early 20s plus the post season, would you say he could be productive well into his 40s OR is age the determining factor?
Maresh F, Toronto
A-Unfortunately, steroids had a lot to do with guys being productive well into their 40s. I remember talking to current Dodgers GM Ned Colletti (another Fishel Award winner by the way) when he was an assistant GM under Brian Sabean at the Giants. It was just before Barry Bonds signed his last contract and the Giants had commissioned an off-season study to gauge the declining numbers that could be expected of major-league player after they turned 40.
The study showed a remarkable consistency in players performances dropping off the table after 40. However, the Giants relented and gave Bonds one more huge deal. He turned that study on its ear and now we know why. But, now, with mandatory performance-enhancing drug testing since 2004 and, more importantly, with the rank and file of players in the union disgusted with what went down during the steroid era, you're seeing a return to the normal “best before” dates in baseball, including Jorge Posada and others. That means that at the end of this contract, when Bautista is 36-years-old, he'll likely have one more three-year contract in him. But if he remains at the levels he's playing rigtht now, it will be a great deal for the Jays.
I wanted to know how Brett Lawrie is doing defensively down at AAA recently and if we can expect a call up soon, his hitting stats (.334BA, 9HR, 31RBI) are superb! Also, with Aaron Hill struggling to start the year again (.238, 0HR) it seems like it would not be in the best interest of the team to re-sign him long term. Have they thought about moving Lawrie back to 2nd, having either Hechavarria or Justin Jackson play short (when they're ready) and move Escobar to 3rd?
Josh Cymbalista, Thornhill
A-Lawrie, in his first season at third base after two years at second base in the Milwaukee farm system, made six errors in his fist 10 games at AAA-Las Vegas in April, but has committed just four miscues in his last 30 games at the hot corner. The Pacific Coast League, because of uneven field conditions, constant wind, etc. is not the easiest venue in which to learn a new position. He's adapting well.
As for Aaron Hill, the decision will not be whether to re-sign him long-term. He already has a Jays' contract that, following 2011, contains two option years that must be picked up or declined by the same deadline as any other 2011 free agent, 15 days after the end of the World Series. What you are suggesting is that they decline the options. The numbers for those two seasons are $8 million per year, which for a veteran starting second baseman are reasonable figures, but unless Hill steps it up in the next four months, he might have trouble even earning Type B status which means the Jays could let him go at the end of the year and receive no compensation. Look instead for GM Alex Anthopoulos to explore offers as the summer goes on from other teams that might have faith in Hill bouncing back with a change of scenery. The flexibility that comes with his contract is a positive in making any deal.
I think with all the effort they are putting in towards making Lawrie a third baseman, they would prefer to keep him at that infield position while going with Hechavarria and Escobar up the middle and making the determination of which one plays second, which plays short at a later date.
After watching EE's atrocious performance vs Tampa recently, I am wondering if you can remember a game in the last 20 years that a Toronto player was been worse? Closest I could find was a 6-3 loss to Cleveland on Sept. 9th, 1998 when Alex Gonzalez SO 6 times and left 7 runners on base, but at least he didn't make any errors. Thanks Richard.
Adam Steeves, Kitchener
A-I honestly believe that the Encarnacion game at first base on Wednesday, May 18, was the absolute worst game of first base I have ever seen in 39 years in major-league baseball. In the first inning he went to his right and clanked a groundball with a chance for a force play at second. It was ruled a hit. In the second he charged a squeeze bunt by Sam Fuld, gloved it cleanly, saw there was no play at the plate, turned and underhanded an awkward parabolic feed to first base that pulled Hill off the bag. EE looked like one of those guys whose fingers get stuck in the bowling ball late and he lobs it halfway to the pins. In the third inning with B.J. Upton on first, EE fanned with his glove on a low pickoff throw from Jesse Litsch that bounded down the right field line and gave B.J. two bases. That same inning, Casey Kotchman bounced one to first base that ate EE up. He batted it down and it almost seemed like he wanted to throw himself on the ball like a grenade in case it exploded. It didn't. Finally, in the eighth, John Jaso ripped a hard grounder through Edwin that reminded me of the Charlie Brown grounder that spins the Peanuts character upside down with glove and clothes flying everywhere. He emerged from the game with an oh-for-4 and two errors. Worst ever game.
As I watch this team I can't help but see a group a few hitters away from contending. Where could AA find a spot in our lineup for another bat? I'm guessing Prince Fielder is too much to ask for, but what about Nick Swisher? Lastly, despite all the '2012' talk, would AA try and grab a rental on someone like Fielder if we were within reach of the playoffs?
Ray S, Toronto
A-The Jays could use a few more hitters, specifically at second base, third base, in left field, centre field and at DH. Could they build a winner with a base of Arencibia behind the plate, Lind at first base, Escobar at shortstop and Bautista in right field? Yes. As for a rent-a-player concept this yeart, the Jays might do it but only if the contract was about to expire and there would be Type A compensation on the way back with a first round and a sandwich pick. Fielder qualifies in that regard. Swisher does not. In fact Swisher is no better than Eric Hinske. Under those conditions, the mid-season acquisition of a star falls inside the Jays' master plan from which they have not deviated thus far. However, the Red Sox and Yankees are not going to stand still either. Their money pit is deeper. My guess is that the Jays will hang around the .500 mark all season and the issue of contending in September does not arise.
Q-My question is the Jays need a 3rd baseman, so what about a 28-year-old David Wright who is under team control for 2 yrs (club option)? It will cost a ton of prospects which the jays can afford. They can afford him salary-wise and when his contract is up the team should be good, and the chances of him re-signing would be good and other top-tier free agents may come.
Scott MacDonald, Tilbury
A-Brett Lawrie has a chance to be as much of an impact player as David Wright and he's seven years younger. Besides, Wright on May 16 went on the DL with a lower back stress fracture. To me the most impressive moment of Brett Lawrie at spring training came at Steinbrenner Field against the Yankees. He smashed a hard grounder three steps to the right of Derek Jeter, who moved over, gloved it and made a strong throw to first base. But by that time Lawrie was already well past the bag with an explosive burst. The quickness of the big man stunned the first base ump who called him out. In the seventh inning in the Jays clubhouse (media is allowed in during games in the spring) Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia were getting ready to go across the street to a Kenny Chesney concert and Lawrie was asked about the play. Matter-of-factly, even though he was trying to make the team and had been screwed, he shrugged and said "step and a half." Without protestation or invoking the malice of the baseball gods, he gathered up his teammate and headed for the Big Sombrero II. He's going to be a big leaguer soon.
With a semi-platoon at catcher between Jose Molina and JP Arencibia and an obvious weakness at DH spot, would it not make sense for the Jays to bat Arencibia as a DH when Molina is the catcher? While his average isn't great, he has loads of upside and is showing good power and would be a better option than Rivera. It would also allow him to develop more consistency at the plate knowing he's at least getting regular at-bats?
A-It was never a strict platoon with the two catchers. At spring training, the idea was that Molina would have the youngest of the starters, Kyle Drabek, plus his prized peronal project from 2010, Brandon Morrow, with whom he had worked so well when John Buck was the starter. When Morrow was disabled at the end of the spring, Molina was handed Jo-Jo Reyes. When Morrow returned, Reyes went to the J.P. camp. The feeling was that with Arencibia having three of the five members of the rotation, he could ease his way towards more playing time. When Romero missed a start in Tampa and Drabek was moved up, that start came the afternoon after Morrow threw in a night game. It's difficult to conceive of the veteran Molina catching a day game after a night game. Arencibia stepped in behind the plate for Drabek and the two rookies worked well enough that they did it again five days later. Now it seems Drabek is also Arencibia's guy, and other than Morrow, Molina's schedule behind the plate will be determined more by schedule than by pitcher. The truth is that four of five days in the lineup is easy enough for Arencibia. Besides, DH'ing isn't really a day off. The Jays want Arencibia to be more concerned with guiding his pitchers than with what he contributes offensively. And teams with two catchers on the roster don't really like having one of them DH just in case the starter is nicked up and the DH must then enter to catch, meaning the pitcher must hit in the lineup for the rest of the game. Managers don't like being embarrassed.
Q-I'm not sure if you noticed how unbalanced the interleague play is: of the Jays' 6 series, Toronto plays 4 NL teams playing over .500 ball. Boston plays one! Yankees play 2. Toronto's already in tough being in the AL East, now this. They can pretty much kiss a playoff berth goodbye, if they ever had a chance to begin with....
A-There cannot possibly be a tougher inter-league road trip than the Jays have in June where they fulfill their entire 9-game interleague obligation, totally DH-less, starting in Cincinnati against the defending NL Central champs, then on to Atlanta to face one of the game's best starting rotations, finally to St. Louis against the perennially powerful Cards. Remember that's nine games with only eight hitters in the lineup. At least the Jays don't have a DH like Frank Thomas that can't play a position. Manager John Farrell can use the matchups and still manage to get at-bats for anyone because they all play a position – some of them two positions, not all of them well. By the way, those may be three of the six hottest ball parks in baseball mid-summer. I'm going to go to Brookstone before that trip to see if they've invented a small fan I can put in my shorts.