Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Spring Training Story Lines


Love is in the air and various other stomach-churning cornball sentiments. I've always wondered why some clubs have pitchers and catchers report to camp on Valentine's Day, which seems like a cruel measure designed solely to deny married and LTCR (long-term commited relationship) players one final full-on shag with the partners they'll be separated from for a good chunk of the next 8 months. The Jays are civilized enough not to start their camp until the 15th. Good on them.

If you're curious, this Valentine's Day I'll be receiving a cruel and unusual punishment in the form of a trip to the movies with the Mrs. to see Step Up 2 The Streets, which is bound to be a 82-minute cinematic tour-de-force on how a troubled urban teen healed himself through the power of dance. How do I know this? Because that's exactly the same plot as the first one, which I also shamefully admit to having been forced to watch. One hopes that there'll at least be a few fit birds in tight-fitting leotards, otherwise my mind will likely end up wandering back to baseball, as it typically does when I find myself in similarly unpleasant situations. But if St. Valentine taught us anything, it's that sometimes a man has to suck it up and take one for his woman.

Some Spring Training story lines as the first Jays start to trickle in to Dunedin in the coming days:

a) the 5th starter:

This is the one everyone's been talking about. The plan is for a battle royale between last year's incumbent Jesse "Ginger" Litsch, beardless set-up man Casey Janssen, and Venezualan drunkard Gustavo Chacin. Expect Chacin to bow out early early due to injury or extreme suckage. Forget 2005; his lethal combination of walks and homeruns will limit his usefullness to the club. Litsch somehow managed to get'er done last year despite some pretty alarming peripherals, but I like the prospects of a sinkerballer with a strong defensive club like ours behind him. That being said, he's still only 22 and has a mere 15 IP at AAA under his belt, so I'd rather have him stick in the minors until he forces his way up or is needed as an injury replacement. That leaves it to Janssen, who is guaranteed to be one million times better than any of the departed shit-balling trio of Tomo Ohka, Josh Towers and Victor Zambrano--may they all not rest in peace--that we broke camp with last year.

b) health of last year's walking wounded position players:

V-Dub, Zaun, Overbay, Reed Johnson, and the newly acquired Scotty Rolen all suffered horrid, injury-plagued seasons and will have to rebound to career norms if the Jays are to succeed in '08. What we heard from Rolen at his press conference sounded encouraging, but he's the sole member of the bunch who's suffered from chronic problems for a decent chunk of the past three years. Still, I'm willing to be optimistic that some errors with the original surgery to his non-throwing shoulder have now been resolved with a follow up trip under the knife. Zaun and Overbay had broken bones which should be fully healed; expect them to return to form. Reed was a shadow of his 2006 self after returning (prematurely?) from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and will be fighting for playing time this year. Not enthused about his prospects... V-Dub says his rehab for his torn labrum has been proceeding well over the winter, but the greater concern remains that he just might not be that good of a hitter. Injuries aside, I've got a nagging doubt that his true nature is something along the lines of the .270/.320/.460-ish lines he put up in '02, '04 and '05. Prove me wrong, Moneybags!

c) bullpen roles:

There's really no need to rush $10 mil/per closer BJ Ryan back from Tommy John surgery with Jeremy Accardo doing a solid job as his injury replacement. Some 'pen guys from '07 who'll likely end up duking it out for spots on the 25-man roster are the Brians, Tallet and Wolfe. If BJ's back in April, brass might think Tallet's expendible as a third lefty. That would probably be a mistake because he knows how to Take Care of Business despite looking like the night shift clerk at your local Adults Only outlet. Wolfe appeared to finally break through and have a pretty solid age 26 season, but his K rates were alarmingly low and he was lit up by lefties to the tune of a .348/.400/.623 line. He might not be any more than a ROOGY (not to be expose to lefties under any circumstance), in which case he probably hasn't put Syracuse in the rear view mirror quite yet. Also competing for perhaps the finally 'pen spot as longman will be Rule V pickup Randy David Wells. No seriously, another David Wells. He kind of stalled at AAA the last 2 years, but JP must've seen something he liked (probably a pretty solid K rate and his ability to start or relieve).

I'm just guessing we'll go north with the following, in no particular order:

Accardo
Downs
Tallet
Frasor
League
Wells
Wolfe

d) playing time in LF:

It's going to be a platoon of some sort and let me be the first to coin the Reed Johnson/Matt Stairs duo "Johnstairs" in honour of past platoons such as Mulliniorg and Johnsonalanatto. But how strict will the platoon be? I wouldn't bet coin that Gibby will always have Stairs starting against righties and Reed starting only against lefties/coming in as a late game defensive replacement as a prudent man would. Reed's scrappy, y'see, and that counts for something (apparently). I expect Reed to be starting alot more than he should, which is somewhat disappointing because I don't think there's a snowball's chance of him coming anywhere remotely near his '06 line again. And Matt Stairs was absolutely studtacular last year, the Team MVP in my estimation. What of young Adam Lind? If he absolutely tears the cover off the ball in spring training proving that he doesn't need any more seasoning in the minors, what do we do then? It'd be a nice dilemma to have, but i think the more likely outcome is a 50-50 split on PT between Reed and Stairs(y).

--Johnny Was

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