Jay K., a frequent commentator around these parts, is an old associate of mine with a rabid enthusiasm for wiffleball and an unquenchable thirst for Busch tall boys. Every time he reads a new installment of Checkin' in With Josh at DJF we end up reminiscing over MSN Messenger about simpler times-- specifically 2006, aka The Summer of Lakeport--when it was clear to all and sundry just what was wrong with the Jays (Josh Towers) and want was needed to make them better (the public execution by firing squad of Josh Towers).
In his own words, Jay reflects on happier times:
Yeah, I miss the days in the way back file where we had a direction for our blind rage. Every fifth day that Shit Leopard went out there and wore his spots with pride.
Just to refresh your memory, JT went 2-10 with an 8.42 ERA in a season that saw the Jays win 87 games and finish 8 back of the Tigers for the Wild Card. His constant, specultacular suckage was pretty much the exact margin separating a very good team from a playoff berth, making him a wonderful scapegoat for more than a decade's worth of frustration with the Jays and life in general. It was simple being a diehard fan back then because it was all so obvious. We needed him to make sense of the world just as the happy denizens of George Orwell's 1984 needed to work themselves up into a Two Minute Hate when the government showed them images of Emmanuel Goldstein. Frankly, I kind of miss the guy.
These days there's really no decent explanation as to why a collection of good to excellent pitchers and a lineup with enough average to very good hitters just can't seem to win. Some of you want to blame Eckstein, but he's come exactly as advertised. Dislike him or no, we got the man JP paid for, and yes, J-Mac should be his defensive caddy without a doubt. Shannon Stewart? His suckage has been noteworthy, but he's now no more than a platoon DH who should be occassionaly seen but not heard over the rest of the summer. Ditto Marco Scutaro. Vernon Wells? There's a growing movement to label him the 2008 scapegoat, but he could very easily have a hot week and silence the naysayers. Temporarily. There's just no single player on the current roster half as detrimental to the club's success as JT was back in '06. And that confuses the hell out us, which is the core of the Josh Towers Thesis.
Regardless of what happens tonight in Boston, there's no denying that the first month of the season has been an unmitigated disaster. The rational side of my brain wants to agree with those who argue that it would be silly to chuck in the towel at 4.5 games back with 5 months left to play. Yet the emotional side that says things clearly aren't working and heads must roll is winning out. I've been reflecting on the state of the franchise (and daydreaming about boobies, as per the norm) for much of the day and have come to the conclusion that if JP doesn't want Gibby to be the scapegoat for the team's failures to date--which I think is honourable of him-- then both men should go sooner rather than later.
There's nothing particularly wrong with either in their respective roles, it's just that they're not good enough to succeed in this environment. Both have learned much in their time here, but they haven't learned it fast enough. I've sung JP's praises before: he's excellent at identifying scrap heap talent and getting ML production from it (Zaun, Cat, for a time, Towers), he's skinned a few GMs in one-sided trades (getting Overbay and Accardo most notably), and stuck with slumping young prospects (Rios, McGowan) who went on to become elite talents after quite a few other so-called experts wanted to run them out of town.
But he's made a good number of mistakes, too. There's no way he should've run the current payroll up so close his $100 million ceiling if the consequence was running the risk of being locked into a series of bad baseball decisions. The cheapo move to hold Adam Lind, a superior player to Shannon Stewart in every respect, back in AAA for a week to save Super 2 money in 2010 was partly responsible for the horrid week the Jays just had. Going north with Stewart over Reed Johnson to save cash was also a lamentable move.
JP's had to cheap out and make bad baseball decision because of some ill-thought out deals he made in the past. The $126 million Vernon Wells contract may have been dictated to him by Paul Godfrey and the marketing department, but JP should've had the courage to argue tooth and nail against it. He knew well that Rios could have been shifted to centre and a cheap corner OF or platoon could've brought a similar level of production at a fraction of the cost, but signed off on a reckless contract nevertheless. (Any contract worth more than $100 million is reckless in my mind). We should've let V-Dub walk, or traded him on a high after his great 2006. Going multiyear on a rapidly decling Frank Thomas was obviously a similarly bad move, as many predicted at the time he was signed. Even Scott Downs could've and should've been traded in the offseason when he was at peak value rather than given a 3-year $10-million extension. Who has four lefties in the pen, all capable of handing higher leverage innings?
Is this enough to warrant his firing under normal circumstances? Hell no. But things are just going so horribly wrong at present that we might as well make a change for changes sake even if what comes next isn't necessarily a sure thing to be any better.
It's not you JP and Gibby, it's us.
This post is dedicated to Jay and Lakeport breweries, both of whom were integral parts of my oh so very drunken summer of 2006.
-- Johnny Was