Sunday, 20 April 2008

Fast Times

Well, Well, Well.

That certainly developed quickly. All over the Jays-centric corners of the net this afternoon Jays fans are buzzing over the sudden exit of Frank Thomas from the team. So much has happened so fast and there are so many unknowns that it is almost impossible to comment rationally on the matter instead of just react emotionally.

First, let me touch just a second on the assumption that JP has crassly and classlessly put the financial consideration above the good of the team. I just don't read it that way. That's not to say that I don't think money was an issue, certainly if the other negatives potentially in play here are legitimate, then you don't want to be holding the bag on a guaranteed contract for more of the same next season. But the timing of this is very wrong if you are assuming there's nothing at work here but money. After all, Rolen is still some days away and the obvious call-up (Adam Lind) is not 100% at the moment. If there was cold calculation regarding the option year then the same sort of calculation would have waited a couple of weeks to pull the trigger.

Is this a manifestation of, in essence, panic on the part of JP and or Gibby? Maybe. At least in terms of the benching which led to this chain of events. A sort of extreme reaction to a lineup which is lately not living up to expectations but has a limited number of ways in which it can be significantly modified. But these are questions that will always be a source of disagreement among the fans - everyone assuming things based on their previously held opinions of the people involved - because there is simply too much we simply do not know.

The two big questions here that the fans simply are not privy to are these:

1. Has Thomas' bat speed permanently declined to the point where he simply can't get around on enough hittable pitches any more? We might get an answer on this one when Thomas catches on with Seattle or some other team willing to give him a chance. If Thomas goes elsewhere and continues to struggle then the Jays look much better on this call.

2. Was he indeed a clubhouse cancer? Wilner suggests that indeed he was. If this is true - and don't expect the players to have a lot to say on the record about it - then that totally mitigates the negative impact on a "public relations" front that we might otherwise worry about. It's crucial to this year's success that the other players feel that the Jays handled this properly. And it's critical to the future because that perception will be communicated to other potential signings.
Our only insight so far into that world was Thomas' reaction publicly to being benched. The automatic allegation that it was a money decision, the allusion to "other things" he was unhappy about (not hitting cleanup is likely one of them) his challenge to the team to let him go if he wasn't going to play every day, and most glaringly, his refusal to be on field with his teammates after yesterday's win - whatever your beef with management you DON'T let it affect your relationship with your teammates - are all signals that the legendary Thomas ego is back in full flower.

Assuming that either of these are true - and all the more so if both are - then this move is entirely defensible on the field and in the clubhouse, before you even get to the ledger.

Many fans are calling for Bonds - the reportage suggests JP is NOT looking to go outside the organization for Bonds and I think that is the smart play. What sense does it make to cut loose a clubhouse cancer with a massive ego and go out and sign a guy with even more narcissistic qualities. Yes, we assume bonds can still swing a mean LH bat, but the baggage would take a supertanker to deliver. Maybe you do that if you have no other options, but we do.

Adam Lind is nursing a stiff neck but that's a very short term difficulty. There was some suggestion that the Jays might call up Diaz instead but soon enough Lind is going to be in LF most every day.

The other close option is Scott Rolen. If the Jays think he can get in the proper work on his throwing on the side, as opposed to doing so in rehab games action in the minors, then there is a decent possibility that Rolen be getting at bats as the Jays DH as soon as this week. When both men are in Jays uniforms, our offense stands to be just fine. I have already heard scoffing that Lind will be as productive for us as Thomas would have been. I really hope Thomas catches on somewhere so that that assumption can be put to the test.

One thing for sure, the next couple of weeks should be very interesting to watch.


Post script - appearing briefly via phone (can one "appear" by phone? oh well...) on Baseball Tonight, Thomas told host Chris Berman that he has no anger or hard feelings about the release, that he understands the "business of baseball" and the implications for the Jays of letting him play his way out of his issues. He seemed to be saying that it was the prospect of riding the bench and only playing 3-4 times a week that angered him, more so than the perceived evasion of the option year itself. His having the ability to be an everyday player on SOME team was his paramount concern and he insisted he had no animosity towards the Jays organization at all.

Take that as you will.

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