Monday, March 31, 2008

Everybody has a preview... (Part II)

Continuing with my look ahead at the upcoming season . . .

Roy Halladay - Oddly and disquietingly, some bozo on ESPN's Baseball Tonight (in a fantasy preview special) said that there was word that Halladay's stuff was slipping - but every other source I have seen this spring so I am inclined to dismiss the remark as spurious. I have been saying at least since the acquisition of Rolen that Doc has one more Cy (at least) left in him and in a season when Santana is out of the league and the young horses (Verlander, McGowan, etc) have not quite peaked, the field is ideally situated for him to make his run. He is almost insanely passionate about the time to win being NOW and unless that leads him into some over-work or other stress related consequence, I see no reason to not expect the sort of performance that normally leads to 20+ wins.

AJ Burnett - AJ has come to the point now where the dice HAVE to fall in his favor at some point. Yes, he's clearly never going to be a horse in the sense Doc is, but he showed down the stretch last season what he can do when everything is working. I don't deny the possibility that he takes his annual summer vacation over some little strain, but if we get 28-30 starts out of him at that level, he'll more than have earned his money.

Dustin McGowan - There are still some less well informed baseball fans out there who are not aware just how VERY good Chops was last year. They look at the ERA and dismiss him out of hand as a "good young guy who might do something some day". What they are not looking at is the fact that his ERC was essentially the equal of Josh Beckett, or that in the opponent batting statistic categories, McGowan was in the top 3 or 4 pitchers in the AL. Before long, McGowan is going to be a better pitcher than Doc . . stuff wise he already is. Once he learns the "intangibles" of being an ace (i.e. the things that make Doc Doc) nothing but injuries can keep him from being one of the elite pitchers in baseball. With any luck that era begins in 2008.

Shawn Marcum - I'm not in a position to say how well Marcum's effort to keep the ball on the ground and in the park is going to work this season, and I have to admit that my slight inclination to put SOME brake on my unbridled optimism makes me want to join the "Marcum will regress" common wisdom that seems to be in the air, but at the same time, I don't want to be unfair to a man who has really not given me a reason to be down on him. His ERA as a starter last season was 3.81 and, other than the propensity to give up the gopher ball, he did nothing to make me worry. In fact, if I were to give you a comparison, I think there's a lot of similarity to guys like Pat Hentgen and Brad Radke. So, it is with some mixed emotions that I suggest that Marcum's ERA this season will be within a tenth of a point either way of 4.00. I realize that saying your 4th starter will be that good is painting a pretty rosy picture, but I have to have something other than a "something bad has bound to happen to someone" feeling in order to slam a guy who has done more than we could have asked and done it well.

Jessie Litsch - Jessie, on the other hand, gave us every reason last season to suspect that he will have greater difficulty this year. He DID have much more impressive ratios in spring training, and that bodes well. But still, if you are going to be worried about a Jays starter, worry about Litsch until he shows better ratios in his secondary stats.

David Purcey - I'll say more about him in the minor league preview, but JP seems to think he is poised to be the first guy called. if indeed he justifies that faith early on in Syracuse, then he's gonna be the guy who pinch-pitches for AJ when he has his usual break. The question in my mind is, will Litsch be pitching well at that point or will a good 3-5 starts from Purcey tempt the team to turn the #5 spot over to him? Something to watch . . .

B. J. Ryan - I'm perfectly content to wait until May or so for Ryan to return to activity, longer if necessary. What i am watching for is the first month or two after he's back up to speed. I know he will be an effective pitcher, what scares me is whether the surgical repair job will hold up under the stress of his violent unorthodox delivery. If he comes back well and the Jays play deep into the playoffs this year, and Accardo, and League be what many of us think they will, it would not be the worst idea to sell high on Ryan in the offseason, as much as i like the guy.

Jeremy Accardo - While I have no direct evidence to support it, this is the one guy who really kinda makes me uneasy on the staff. Not that I imagine he will be a "bad" pitcher at all, just that he came so totally out of nowhere that I wonder if he can really come close to remaining at that level of production. if the Jays are going to succeed, he'd better.

Brandon League - Just a hunch, but this guy is going to pick up fans this season faster than that Japanese dude picks up hot dogs. I think that by the time this season is over, League will be the presumptive successor to Ryan when his contract is up, no matter if Accardo repeats 2007 or not.

Scotty Downs - Will almost certainly regress, but can regress quite a ways and still be one of the best LH set-up men in the league. don't expect 2007 again, but don't expect to spend a lot of time cursing the screen while he's pitching either.

Brian Tallett - Underrated guy. One of those sorts who's ERA could move a lot without his actual day to day effectiveness changing much. Keep an eye on the secondaries and don't sweat the ERA.

Jason Frasor - the kind of guy that baseball announcers invoke the word "yeoman" about. Will never get the credit in Toronto he deserves. If you look at the 2007 game log, you will see a guy who fell apart for two, non-consecutive weeks in the whole season, and in between went weeks at a stretch virtually untouched. And for that he gets a mediocre ERA and a manager who lets him rot on the far end of the bench for pretty much the whole second half. Some day, Frasor will move on to another team, will be forced by circumstances into a closer role, and will do a fine job - God knows there are considerably worse talents closing out games in the majors this year.

Brian Wolfe and Randy Wells - One of these guys will go down when Ryan is ready, likely Wolfe. I don't think either of them plays enough of a role to be worth much commentary here. They are filler.

So, what do I think all this says for the season? I think the Yanks could be, for them, quite ordinary...something like 90 wins. I think the Red Sox, on paper, could win 95 or so but also have the potential to repeat 2006. they are not invincible.

I think the Jays are a VERY good team on the front line - better than the Yanks and virtually the equal of the Sox, but that they have a very thn margin. MAYBE Purcey can be the Marcum of this season if we need him; MAYBE Ryan will be his old self for 2/3 of the season and those guys like Parrish were not an illusion if we take some bullpen hits; MAYBE Adam Lind is fully ready to hit like Olerud at the major league level....so forth and so on. Being the optimist I am, I'm gonna say this is our year and that those things do pan out and everyone does what can reasonably be expected of them....if they do, the Jays will be in front of the Yanks and with just a little underachieving in Boston, division champs.
And make no mistake, if we get into the playoffs, it will be on the premise that Doc/AJ/Chops are as good as we think they are...and if they are that's one helluva playoff rotation. what you are looking at here is a team that might - MIGHT - miss the playoffs altogether, but if they do make it, could easily pitch their way to a World Series win.

One thing I would almost guarantee - they are NOT going to frustrate and disappoint you all season. Let's face it, after the decade we have had, just staying in the race all the way down to the latter days of September, having a real chance, will be a very satisfying season even if we do fall slightly short. That said, I want in - I want to see that chorus of JP critics (and Gibbons critics) have to argue something more substantive than "we haven't made the playoffs."

~WillRain

Morning Roundup

Finally!

Opening Day for me is like some magical combination of Christmas, New Year's Eve and my birthday all wrapped into one. Yeah, it's pretty great alright. But the massive highs are so quickly accompanied by crushing lows, as anyone who's been given the gift of white tube socks, drunk Baby Duck over Moet, or never been to Chucky Cheese knows full well.

My optimism for this club is as unbridled as the next guy's and I do sincerely believe that this is the best club the Jays have fielded since 1993. But still, I've never really shaken a modest disappointment that we remain an organization that will rely heavily on luck above all if we're to make a move to the next level.

Money is one thing and there's no question we can't compete with New York or Boston. This doesn't explain, however, our inability to compensate with ahead-of-the-curve scouting and player development (that means going above slot on picks, getting more scout butts in the bleachers, re-establishing our claim to certain foreign markets, just generally being like the Braves, etc.), superior in-game strategy (do we even have one beyond the Theodor Herzl "If you will it, it will come"?), or even the old puffed-chest swagger of the glory years.

I guess what I'm saying is that being a Jays fan is kind of like taking a girl who's a 7 out of 10 to the dance: nothing wrong with a seven even if she doesn't turn any heads, but you'll always be left wondering if you couldn't have done better. (The answer is probably not, just take a look at yourself in the mirror. Seriously.)

I do like this team and I will enjoy watching it this year as I always do. But count me amongst those who forsee an 85-win third place finish and are begging to be proven wrong.

First order of business. Blair is doing a live pregame chat today and I encourage you to drop him a line. Last year he rudely tore me a new one for suggesting that JP trade Alex Rios to the Dodgers for Brad Penny, but that didn't disuade me from trying once again to earn the big guy's nodding approval in 2008.

Alex Rios! Oh ya! Nothing to report, sadly. Well, nothing good. Or maybe, it's hard to read. McLeod says "The deal to lock up Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Alex Rios long term is close to getting done" this morning. M'kay, sweet.

But Jeremy Sandler of the post says this:

Rios said he and his agent remained undecided about signing away his ability to hit the free agent market as soon as after next season in exchange for a contract reported to be worth US$65-million over six years, with an option for a seventh year.

Bingo. There's a much bigger pay day awaiting young Senor Rios--perhaps even from these Jays--to be had by playing the waiting game. Also take note that Kinzer is Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez's agent and talks between those two and the Angels are at a similar impasse. The ship may be headed for the rocks, ladies and gentlemen.

ELSEWHERE:

*
And sometimes even the alley-dwelling drunk shows he still has a shred of self-respect. The O's made a very smart and costly decision to dump half-goblin OF and HGH user Jay Gibbons, eating almost $12 million in the process. I will refrain from mocking Bal'mer for on full week as my own little tip of the cap to this nifty little roster move..

* ESPN Sunday Night baseball kicked off last night with a quick and dirty 3-2 Nats win over the Braves in the inaugural game at Nationals Stadium. Ryan Zimmerman socked a game winner in the bottom of the ninth and the place went nuts. P.S. I really like Jim Bowden's offseason roster moves (especially bringing in Lastings Milledge) and am silently cheering for the Nats, and NOT because they used to be the Expos.

Enjoy the game, folks!

-- Johnny Was

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Everybody has a preview... (Part I)

So despite my earlier long-winded pontification, the time arises for me to elaborate on my previously expressed optimism.
Somewhere out there on the internet tubes are a couple of posts in which I make statistical projections for our lineup. Usually they are derided as way too optimistic but I took pains to make them "average" performances with only very obvious adjustments for injury effect and age. I won't go over the details again but, in essence, Rios and Hill were given totals slightly over their averages over the last three years, Zaun and Stairs were given lines slightly worse...and Rolen, Thomas, Wells, and Overbay were given a line which reflects an average of their last 4 healthy seasons. Eckstien I gave exactly his last three year average.

That team, with that production, can be expected to perform, offensively, very much like the 2006 Jays. It has been observed often enough that if we can field a 2006 offense and a 2007 pitching staff, we will have a very good team - I think we have the potential on paper to do just that. Here's my take, position by position (for the sake of length and time, I'll do hitters today and pitchers tomorrow - along with a bottom line of how I expect the team to do this year - and minor leaguers on Tuesday):




Catcher - Greg Zaun is the most unpredictable hitter on this team, not because of any uncertainty in his past performance, but simply because of Greg Myers Syndrome". Once a catcher gets past 35, in any given season he might simply disappear offensively. I have seen no evidence of that, and short of any proof, it's not out of line to assume he'll post an OPS of .730 or a bit better. Along with that he'll do everything else you want from a catcher except throw out runners which is a wildly over-rated talent anyway. Rod Barajas is the reserve and I may be the only one who thinks that was money thrown away. Thigpen or Diaz may not be the answer (and I don't believe in Diaz at all) but we are not going to find out by bringing in someone like Barajas.

1B - Overbay had the second best spring of any Jays and there is not one single reason to think he can't do what he did in 2006. Stairs will get the ABs if he goes down to injury, although one might consider Adam Lind a very dark horse as a long term replacement.

2B - Hill is, in the opinion of all Jays fans and not a few others, apparently on the verge of becoming an elite 2B in the AL. The only difference in his rates last year and Cano's was a handful of singles (nine IIRC) and while Cano was better in 2006, there's every possibility Hill is his equal in 2008.

SS- I know the popular wisdom, from Jeff Blair on down, is to be cynical about the whole "scrappiness" cliche, but while I agree that the statistical results of that sort of hustle are marginal (which is to say, Scrappy Eckstien surely preforms better than Ordinary Eckstien but that doesn't make him notably better than - or even as good as - ordinary Orlando Cabrera for example) I DO believe in the power of "leading by example" and I do think any team profits from having an attitude like Eckstien's in the clubhouse.

One of the more bittersweet considerations about the future of the Jays roster is how one reconciles being enamoured with Eckstien as a person while, at the same time, recognizing that you really would like to see a better player at SS next year. And that's gonna be all the more tough to deal with if the man you bring in is a player with question marks of his own (think Felipe Lopez) rather than a guy who obviously deserves the job. I, for one, hope Eckstien finishes his career as a Blue Jay...but I would hope that after this year that's done off the bench.

3B - I have already waxed eloquent and at length about Scott Rolen. Again, here's a guy I want to see finish his career here and wear a Jays hat into the Hall of Fame some day. Obviously I am quite perturbed about the finger injury, and the loss of a month, but that does not change my enthusiasm for what he brings to the team. I still think that he's gonna be at or near a .900 OPS by the end of the season and win the comeback Player award.

RF - No point in me echoing the chorus of opinions about how this is likely to be the year Rios steps up to the next level, the only debate is what constitutes the next level for him? Is he the sort of guy who threatens to trip past 1.000 in OPS? As much as i would like to see that happen (and admit the possibility) my guess is something between .925 and .950 is his ceiling, though even in my "optimistic" predictions I did not go nearly that high. Here's another plug, though, for getting that deal done before the price goes way up.

CF - My projections for him were low-to-mid .800s, certainly he has shown himself capable of more, but he has also been maddening in his inconsistency. I will not predict 2006 over again, but he should make 2007 a fading memory.

LF - Rather than state the obvious about Stairs (that age can only hamper him and having an "arthritic" hip condition is scary stuff) and Stewart (that it's not 2004 anymore) what can I say about LF? If Stairs is healthy and plays 2/3 of the games out here we're gonna be fine at this position - probably easy to assume at least an .800 OPS from him. If Stewart is our near regular, well, that's different. I don't see any way he cracks .750 anymore and would be pretty shocked if he even threatened it. Plus, I think he's an injury risk if he plays a lot. On the other hand, I'm on the edge of my seat for Adam Lind to claim an everyday job with the Jays, so I'm not entirely disappointed with the notion that Stewart is a pulled Hammy waiting to happen. In my opinion, once Lind gets the job this time, there won't be any more doubt about who is the future in LF.

DH - I can't fathom why folks like Jeff Blair are so anxious to see Frank Thomas not vest his 2009 option. Last year, even in what was for him a somewhat off year, he was still one of the better DH's in the league and better than what one might expect to be able to pick up for that role in the next off-season. The only real candidate who might challenge him is Carlos Delgado and one of two things will happen with him...he will rake again and the Mets will exercise their option, or he will suck again and will not be an obvious choice over Thomas anyway. In fact, he'd be the obvious candidate for a one year value-rebuilding deal which still situates him as a potential Jay's DH in 2010. Eh? What's that? OH! 2008! Right! Well, my guess is that Thomas has a moderate April and begins to really rake towards the end of the month and those who wish he were not her next year now, will be swooning with praise in September.

~WillRain

I beg to differ . . .


Perhaps not so violently as the Cap'n here, but still, I have some venting to do. Over at a certain forum, I'm know for wasting hours researching and compiling rebuttals to remarks which I take exception to - especially when those remarks perpetuate a line of thinking that has a lot more "street cred" than it is entitled to. Well, the remark that sets me off today did not come from that board, but from another. I have the greatest respect for the work that goes into battersbox but I'm just arrogant enough to disagree with some of the remarks there, and in this case, the one I quote here:

"I would have liked to see more discussion of the team's policy of avoiding high school players--a near-ideological policy until 2006 that has really hurt the organization."

Discussion you want, brother? Discussion you got.
Now, let me be careful to say that this statement in itself is hardly radical, but it is a nice one-sentence encapsulation of one of the verses in that tired old song about how poorly the Jays draft. It is my contention that there is a huge and largely unjustified mythology about the results of the Jays draft strategy over the years, built largely upon the observation that Adams was a bust, and the supposed failure (in itself a rash judgment) of Purcey and Romero (more on this at the end).
Even I am not masochistic enough to do a real deep study of this matter for free (however, if someone wants to pay me to do such things I'm all ears!) but perhaps a relatively brief illustration of how easily such opinions are shaky at best can be offered.

To do this, I took the most easily accessible prospect list of the best prospects in baseball, the one published by Baseball America. Admittedly there are many good sources for rating prospects and BA is not the final word as much as it once was, but we are just doing a "quick and dirty" analysis here.

I took the 2008 list, and I filtered it with a literal application of the claim made. That is, since the critics contend the choice of Snider signaled the end of the anti-high school problem, I eliminated the 34 players on the list chosen in 2006 and 2007. Since we are speaking specifically of draftees, I dropped the 19 players who were international signings. I also eliminated any player taken between 2002 and 2005 who was drafted before the Jays first pick (5 players), those who were taken before 2002 (3 players), and those taken so low the Jays had already taken a HS player that year (also 3 players), and finally I dropped the players that we might arguably regret having passed on but were college players and thus, not relevant to the complaint (8 players). Out of the 99 players in question (Snider obviously not included) that leaves 27.

Of those 27, we can eliminate 13 more on slightly more complex grounds. It is not a matter of debate that, if the Jays had not drafter Rickey Romero, they would have drafted Troy Tulowitski. I believe it's fair to say that no one in Jays fandom would be criticizing that pick as an unwise prioritizing of a college player over a high schooler. Therefore, I think it's fair to say that we can accept the loss of those players in this group chosen between Romero and the Jays second pick that year - Maybin, McClutchen, Bruce, Volstad, Rasmus, Escobar, and Bowden. These are players in that group of 27 which we would not have drafted over Tulo and thus not really supportive of the complaint that eschewing high schoolers has "hurt us greatly."

Beyond that, there is the drafting of Aaron Hill. I believe you would have to search pretty hard to find a Jays fan who's unhappy with Aaron Hill. So, let us look and see what high school players were denied to the Jays by the selection of Aaron Hill. These are:
Brandon Wood
Chad Billingsley
Daric Barton
Jarrod Saltamacchia
Adam Jones
Adam Miller

On the whole, while somewhat covetous of Billingsley, I don't think it's fair to say that the selection of Hill over him, and even less so the others, has "hurt us greatly." We will have to look elsewhere.

So, we are down to 14 players on that top 100 list who make up the body of evidence against the "no high school players" strategy. Lets look at them from the most recent, all the way back to Russ Adams.

After Romero, the Jays did not pick until the 3rd round when they took Brian Pettaway. He hasn't worked out as an OF and was listed on the Lansing Roster this spring as a pitcher. Between our third and 4th rounder, one player - Jordan Schafer - meets our criteria. BA rates the Braves OF as the 25th overall prospect. Unless Pettaway turns into a nice pitcher this one looks like a point scored for the opposition.

In the 4th round the Jays took Ryan Patterson, who is their #10 prospect and has been somewhat hampered by injuries. Behind him we "missed out" on Austin Jackson, Daniel Cortes, and Bryan Anderson. They are 41, 57, and 85 respectively. Given the fact that once you get out of the top third of the list the success rate for players on this list is relatively low (something like 1 in 4 live up to their press) I'm not too disturbed by this. I also note that Jackson is a Yankees prospect and thus, over-rated by definition. I don't think there is a player here - even Schafer - who has embarrassed us yet.

When we took David Purcey, we passed on Phillip Hughes due to money, so the reports go, and also on Eric Hurley and Scott Elbert. While Hughes has arrived at least a year early and enjoyed the usual garlands at his feet that a young Yankee regularly receives, I have not yet been convinced Purcey will not be his equal, so much the less the other two. I will not "cook the books" in my favor - admittedly having Hughes at this point would be nice. but the argument here is we have been "hurt greatly" - I don't think that there is a compelling argument either way with this group of players yet.

Our next pick was Zach Jackson, and this cost us Gio Gonzalez (who, like Jackson, is well traveled now) and Reid Brignac. Before you argue how cool it would be to have Brignac closing in on our major league SS job, remember that Jackson (along with another JP draftee) helped bring us Lyle Overbay. One of the arguments against our weak system is that we don't have the prospects to make that sort of deal, and yet, with two college draftees (three if you count Gross) the Jays did just that. Beyond the first round, Thigpen cost us Wade Davis (looking like a loss for JP) and then we took Lind at the expense of Lofgren and Balester (I make that a win) and Janssen instead of McGee and Patton (I'm happy here too).

For the critic of JP who emphasizes HS players, we might have Drafted Scott Elbert (who went one pick later to the Dodgers), Brignac, Davis, Lofgren, and McGee and not drafted Purcey, Jackson, Thigpen, Lind, and Janssen. It's only fair to assume Davis in Jackson's place in the Overbay deal, and otherwise, I'm not terrible convinced the college players have failed us here.

One year earlier, after we took Hill in the first round, Josh Banks cost us current major leaguer and once highly regarded prospect Ryan Sweeney - since I consider both marginal players, I make this comparison an irrelevant one. In the third round we took Shawn Marcum ahead of a plethora of high school players who have not been held in high regard since. I don't think there is a scrap of evidence in 2003 that our system suffered from the emphasis on college players.

Which brings us to the infamous draft of 2002. To do this one justice, we need to move beyond the Top 100 list and look at current major leaguers. The Jays selected Russ Adams in the first round and then watched the following high school players go off the board before their next pick:
Scott Kazmir
Cole Hamels
James Loney
Jeff Franceour
Matt Cain
Joey Votto
Micah Owings

That was a fuck up, ok? no amount of rationalization about how much Adams has fallen short of expectations, or moaning about the evils of Scott Boras (without which Kazmir would never have fallen that low) can paint a pretty picture here. Any one of those other players would have been a big boost to the Jays fortunes, Hamels/Kazmir in particular hurts very deeply. but, it must be noted this is ONE player. We could have drafted Hamels or Franceour or Votto but we could only have drafted ONE of them. Don't let your eye fool you into imagining more than one of them in our system.

After Adams we chose David Bush over John Lester, Brian McCann, and Zach Dukes. I don't think Lester is significantly better than Bush, and none of us want Dukes here. As for McCann, while he would certainly look good in a jays uni, it bears repeating that he was a late second round pick so obviously a lot of teams failed to see his upside twice. And, again, without Bush, no Overbay.
After Bush we took several useless players but there's no one else in that draft to make us regret that.

So, best case scenario, if over those 4 seasons we identify and take the best player of the group that eventually went before our next pick, college or high school, who would we have taken?

Adams - Kazmir/Hamels
Bush - McCann
Hill - Hill
Banks - Sweeney?
Marcum - Marcum
Purcey - Hughes
Jackson - Brignac
Thigpen - Davis
Lind - Lind
Janssen - Janssen
Romero - Tulo*
Pettaway - Schafer
Patterson - Jackson

No defending Adams, and while I don't think Romero can rightly be called a bust, I can't argue the Tulo decision...I do point out, however, that it does not support the "draft high schoolers daminit" thesis.
For fairness, we assume two pitchers in the Overbay deal - Davis and Marcum.

So, laying aside the two conceded bad decision (one of which is irrelevant anyway), and the players who did not change, what we have from these four years in the system now is-
Banks, Marcum, Purcey, Thigpen, Pettaway, and Patterson.
What we might have had is-
McCann, Patterson, Hughes, Brignac, Schafer, and Jackson

Banks v. Sweeney? who cares?
Marcum v. Hughes? Debatable, but not an argument for a greatly damaged organization..

McCann v. Thigpen?
Purcey, Pettaway and Patterson v. Brignac, Schafer and Jackson?

There it is. Beyond that Adams fiasco, there's the sum total of your "damage to the organization."
Let me be clear, it would be insane to not agree that choosing Adams was a massive blunder (odd though, that the Genius of Detroit never gets flack for choosing Scott Moore one pick in front of Jeff Francis but I digress) and it boggles the mind what it cost us. but that's ONE decision, not an overall philosophy. Once you get past that one pick, the claimed negative impact of avoiding high school players is far more marginal than the popular mythology would suggest. Why? Because the insane unpredictability of the Major League draft overall leads every team into at least that degree of error and poor choices (again I point out that if any team had known what McCann would turn out to be he would not have lasted so long).

As in so many other situations, it is not that I object to reasoned criticism of JP and his decisions, it is that some of the legends that have grown up around the Jays in the last five years just don't stand scrutiny. I think we are all better informed if we think about those things that "everyone knows" just a little bit harder and see if they turn out to be true.

One need look no further than the great chorus among Jays fandom dismissing Romero as a bust simply because he's still in AA at the ripe old age of 22. YES Tulo came to the bigs fast and YES he would look good in a Jays uni tomorrow in Yankee stadium. We can all agree on that easy enough without making the false assumption that Romero will never be what JP thought he was getting in 2005.

~WillRain

Weekend Roundup

Today is Alex Rios Contract Extension Day--JP's arbitrary deadline for a deal--and it is with great fear and trepidation that I check the news to see if this thing has got done or what. At the bargain price Rios has apparently agreed to extend for, 6 years at $65 million, it would be a Shakespearean tragedy to see this thing get caught up on some form of no-trade clause. If Rios does in fact end up going year to year until declaring free agency, rest assured that he will not be had for so little...

McLeod reported yesterday afternoon that JP had yet to hear back from Rios' people. Yesterday Bastian reported that Our Great Leader was getting pretty chippy on the subject:

"We've talked about this enough," Ricciardi said Saturday when asked about the Monday deadline.

If a contract extension is not reached by Monday's pregame meeting, the deal won't get completed until the end of the season. When asked about the status of talks, Rios was uncertain.

"They're still talking," he said of the negotiations. "I guess we're close ... I think."

Weak. Doesn't he know that the unwashed masses of Jays fandom need a piece of good news to make up for the loss of Casey Janssen and the flukey injury to Scott Rolen? So selfish, JP, never thinking of us.

Fidlin at the Sun checked in this morning and still nuthin'. If it doesn't get done today, JP is still saying he won't reopen talks until after the season.

(Fidlin also notes that Stairsy is still bothered by a sore hip and will not be playing in the season opener tomorrow at Yankee Stadium. It'll be interesting to see if that means Shannon Stewart hits in the two hole against Chien-Ming Wang, a prospect that displeases me for some reason. And Shaun Marcum, the starter for Friday's home opener, absolutely stunk up the joint in his final spring tuneup against the Yankees AAA affiliate.)

Tony Massarotti at the Boston Globe wonders why the Jays are offering Rios so much money in the first place (say what?), but then presents the rather curious observation that there was a precipitious decline in homerun production from AL outfielders last year. Seriously, not a one hit 30 dingers. Have we turned back the clock to 1989, when 36 Fred McGriff dingers was good for the league lead? Well, not exactly. More likely just a blip in the radar, but still, interesting.

So there you have it, folks, absolutely nothing to report on the Alex Rios front. I'll check in later tonight if there's any good news to pass along.

The weekend series against the Phillies gave us an idea of what lineup Gibby will use until Rolen gets back. Take it from here Jeremy Sandler:

David Eckstein and the left-field platoon of Shannon Stewart and Matt Stairs, Alex Rios will bat third, Vernon Wells fourth and designated hitter Frank Thomas fifth.

Against right-handers Lyle Overbay will bat sixth and Aaron Hill will bat seventh, with the two flip-flopping against lefties while Scutaro will hit eighth and the catcher’s spot will be ninth.

If you didn't catch it in yesterday's Globe, here's Blair's season preview. McLeod curiously picks the Rays to finish second in the AL East (whatever!). Here's Griffin's crappier, wronger preseason prediction article. He too thinks the Rays could pass our side this year, too. Seriously, fuckers, what are you smoking? What, you want more Griffin? Ok, here you go. And this, in Wilner's soothing dulcet tones, is a more agreeable read.

ELSEWHERE:

* Not content with North American domination, the Bosox are apparently cooking up some sort of business arrangement with Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. Long story short, the deal would give the Beantowners even greater access to Japanese manpower to further butress the cash advantage they already have in the amateur draft and the crooked, inherently unfair posting system. Never fear, though; Bosox brass will be the second ones up against the wall after the revolution begins. Guess who's first?

-- Johhny Was

Friday, March 28, 2008

You can virtually HEAR the heads exploding...


So, McLeod makes note that a study published in no less an authoritative source than the Wall Street Journal has concluded that our very own John Gibbons ranks as the sixth best manager in all of baseball!

Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth that must be going on across the semi-thawed north at this news! Don't those fools know that Gibbons is the very epitome of the Peter Principle in action? Don't they know he can't get along with players and makes boneheaded moves and is generally in need of firing for a multitude of reasons which should be so obvious as to not need listing?

What do we expect from a non-sports publication anyway?

Oh well, let's suck it up and take it seriously just for the sake of discussion, eh?

[/sarcasm]

There are several fascinating things here, some you file under "so suspicious it tends to invalidate the conclusions" (like finding Jim Leyland at #19) others you react with "well no shit Sherlock" (Bobby Cox being #1 in the third category springs to mind) but since this is about Our Man Gibby, I'll confine my remarks to his line.

Number six, overall. You need to read the page linked to get the full grasp of the methodology, but in it's briefest form the study used three measures, from reliable sources, and combined those to get the final ranking. The first of those three, and the one most sure to set of the Gibby-bashers, is that he ranked #1 overall in his record in close games. The internet and call-in critics of Gibbons notoriously rail about his in-game decision making being lacking, yet in this study, he's not only just good at it but the best. Here is how the article explains the ranking in the "Close Games" category:

For the close-games category, we subtracted each manager's overall winning percentage from his winning percentage in games tied after the sixth inning, thus determining whether he performs better or worse in close games.

Now YES, it is certainly true this is a narrow category - a one run game is "close" too, after all. But even allowing for that, when you say that over the last five seasons the Jays have the BEST differential in all the majors among the managers ranked . . . that has to give you pause if you have an open mind on the question at all.

So, for all you negativists out there who rail for the firing of John Gibbons upon the conclusion of every jays loss, let me just say with a great sense of humility and respect . . .

SAWK EET!


~WillRain

The Morning Round-Up


I almost sprayed a moutful of coffee all over the monitor this morning when I saw the headline "Toronto Return Eyed By Josh" in the Boston Herald. This was a nearly tragic over-reaction, of course, since this Beantown paper was referring to one Josh Beckett as I was soon to discover.

But to me there's one Josh that stands at the head of the queue: Josh Towers, the Original Shit Leopard (tm). That Josh has just been placed on waivers by the Rockies, who have chosen to go with fellow shitballer and general bringer of bad mojo, Mark Redman, as their fifth starter. JT will probably end up sloshing around the minors for a few weeks or months before reemerging somewhere (San Diego?), as shit leopards tend to do.

I reiterate: Josh Towers is NOT coming back to Toronto.

Blair checks in on the injured Scotty Rolen and there's good and bad in the tea leaves. His doctor (and Blair) figure he won't be back playing until May, but Rolen himself is hinting at a much earlier return to game action:

"In 14 days, we'll take the pin out and we'll move on," Rolen said. "Dr. Graham seemed to think it would be a bigger problem throwing [than hitting] because the middle finger would be the last finger the ball would leave. The first four or five days after rehab, he's talking about picking up a bat to see how it feels. At the three-week point or more [after surgery], he thinks I should be ready to pick up a ball and see how it feels.

"He gave a four to six-week window from the time of surgery. Hopefully, we can be optimistic and cut it down the right way, the smart way. I don't want to be throwing my finger across the diamond."

Cathal Kelly sees him returning April 21 at home against the Tigers at the earliest (Wilner says the 25th), which makes me somewhat sheepish of my earlier boasts that he'd be back by the 15th... Note to self: expunge all Scott Rolen records from the archives.

Matt Stairs
did his minor league tune-up yesterday and it appears that his hip woes will not force him to miss Opening Day. Don't be surprised, however, when he ends up playing less at the expense of Shannon Stewart in the early going. And maybe the middle going, too.

Brad Arnsberg is talking of an April 11 return for the Beej. This is, as always, not set in stone. But still, cautious enthusiasm.

Rance Mulliniks and Will are on the same page: these Jays are serious contenders. Chris Zelkovich of the Star also notes that Sportsnet's ratings for Jays games were down 19% last year. Ouch, perhaps that's some explanation as to why Uncle Ted has seemed like a gold-hoarding troll in regards to a payroll hike this offseason.

TV notes: the Jays-Phillies exhibition game at Chase tonight is indeed on TV and The Season: '08 Jays is on Sunday night at 7:30. Both on Sportsnet.

The painful wait until real games start is down to its final three days...

ELSEWHERE:

*
Bosox RF JD "Nancy" Drew, who missed the entire season opening series in Tokyo due to tightness in his lower back, is still in discomfort but aims to be ready for real games next week. We'll see. Last year Bosox GM Theo Epstein invested $70 million (5 years) in Drew and $36 million (4 years) on Julio Lugo. Both sucked intensely last year and it's a pretty safe bet that neither will play up to his salary in '08.

-- Johnny Was

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Roundup

Now that the roster has been set and there are still three more real fake games left to be played, it's getting kind of anti-climactic around here. So here's just a bunch of random thoughts in no particular order:

* Blair checks in on League and Randy David Wells. Expectations for the former are high, the latter got his job by default. I hope RD likes crossword puzzles, because he's going to get bored as hell during the week-long stretch between appearances. JP hints he might be stretched out for use as a spot starter, and you know what? That's a really smart idea if he's just gathering dust otherwise. Wilner does NOT like my nickname R-Dub, which stung a bit, to be frank. I wish I could make up stuff like "Litsch slapped", but then again I'm not gainfully employed in the business (or in any business, really).

* Dave Perkins of the Star likes the Jays' pitching this year, but that's kind of like saying local children enjoy ice cream. You know what I like? Just randomly generating numbers like this:

If Burnett throws up an 18-7 season, he will use his opt-out clause to depart and take someone else's $20 million a season. If he visits the DL and ends up 9-8 in 21 starts, he'll stay here for his $12 million. The Jays could surely live with the first scenario.

Uh, ok.

* Bastian makes his preseason predictions, as do the dudes at ESPN (84-90 wins, only Olney really likes us but still doesn't think this is a playoff team). Rest assured folks, we are still a dark horse contender.

* As a pseudo-stat geek, I'm openly admit to being a fan of Billy Beane and the A's, so it was quite nice to see them come away with a split with the Bosox in Japan. Yesterday it was all Rich Harden, who will most likely be traded at some point this summer if healthy (to us?), and they put up 5 runs in an exciting season opener. Don't be surprised if the A's rebuilding period turns out to be quite short, which would please me to no end. (I hate the Angels NL-style of play). And with yesterday's Bosox loss were back in a tie for first place! Woohoo!

* It's looking grim for ex-Jay whipping boy turned stud Kelvim Escobar, who may end up losing the season. He always drove me crazy as a Jay because he seemed to lose focus and suck Josh Towers-style whenever he had a lead. He didn't transistion to the bullpen well, either, and seemed destined for bust status before resurrecting his career with the Angels. One more reason to dislike them.

* Now it seems as though the Orioles are backing away from trading Brian Roberts to the Cubs, which seems counterproductive. A team that won't see .500 again for three years at the least surely doesn't need a highly-paid and somewhat scandal-tinged 30-year-old second basemen, even if he is all-star calibre, right? Nevertheless. Another step backward for a once proud franchise.

* In an ominous sign of things to come, the hapless, antique-riddled SF Giants lost 4-3 yesterday. To their AAA affiliate. Brian Sabean is simply one of the worst GMs in the sport (trading away Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, Jeremy Accardo and Boof Bonser away for magic beans, compiling the most ancient and crappy collection of position players imaginable, etc.) and his continued employment defies common sense. His handling of the Rios-Lincecum talks was embarassing, just embarassing, and I will take pleasure in seeing his team lose 100 games this year.

* Sexual harassment scandal in Deeeetroit, but it has nothing to do with any players, coaches or management. There are two parts to the story. There were very sombre accusations of innappriate touching/comments directed at one female employee by a male coworker (bad). And then there were claims that Tigers photographers shot "softcore videos" and displayed them on the centrefield scoreboard. What this really boils down to is someone prudishly objecting to a cameraman zeroing in on some fine young thing in tight/revealing clothing in the stands (frivilous), which is a time-honoured baseball tradition. And cameramen also zero in on people doing goofy dances. And people with babies. And couples. And the aged. Really, come on... do you want to ban hot dogs because you find them too suggestive? And for the record, Comerica Park is a wonderful place to watch a game, even if it is in one of the most godawful cities in America and it's near impossible to get tickets anymore.

-- Johnny Was

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Simmer down, ya'll!

This being the laptop/internet era, word travels fast and crazy rumours (started by irresponsible fantasy writers at ESPN, for example) can be quashed almost as soon as they start. Thanks Wilner!

Chalk the story Twitchy brought to your attention earlier today up as a "humourous misunderstanding" that resulted from a pretty bold assumption from said writers. Neither Marcum nor Burnett will be missing any time due to phantom injuries. Collective sigh of relief.

And, in other sweet news the roster has been "set". Cutting and pasting directly from Wilner's blog we have...

Pitchers (12 - what can I tell you):

Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, Brian Wolfe, Randy Wells

Catchers (2): Gregg Zaun, Rod Barajas

Infielders (6): Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, David Eckstein, Marco Scutaro, John McDonald, Frank Thomas (I guess this is where you put him)

Outfielders (5): Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Matt Stairs, Shannon Stewart, Buck Coats

Disabled list (3): Casey Janssen (60-day), Scott Rolen (15-day), B.J. Ryan (15-day)

NOTE: by using italics I am signalling that yes, I have copied this material from another source, but no, this somehow isn't plagarism.

No surprises here. Coats gets bumped when Rolen comes back and probably Wolfe does so later to make way for the Beej. Things are unfolding as they should.

I'm kind of interested in Randy "R-Dub" Wells, who's a high energy guy and naturally pretty pumped about the prospect of tasting (?) his first taste of big league action. Buck Coats won't make us forget Scott Rolen (did we even get to know him?), but I guess that is a pretty cool name. I'm just saying nice things about everyone now, aren't I?

-- Johnny Was

Say what?


I was checking out ESPN's site as I always do in the morning, when I found some potentially disturbing Jays news:

Rumor has it that although the Jays haven't yet made it official, they also will leave A.J. Burnett and Shaun Marcum back when the team returns north for the season. Burnett suffered a torn fingernail this spring and Marcum is recovering from knee surgery. Both still need more work to get ready for the season. No word yet on whether either of them will miss a start, but be prepared for it to happen, just in case.

What the fuck? I realize it's just a rumour, but why is this, in some random ESPN fantasy baseball news article, the first I'm hearing that Marcum & AJ may not come up with the club? You know, that's probably the first clue that these guys don't know what they're talking about. My bet is that this is some bullshit article because the fantasy experts are worried that Marcum may not be a good pick because he had knee surgery last year, and not because Marcum may actually spend time on the DL.

But just to cover my bases, in case they actually are right - the Jays wouldn't need a fifth starter (Litsch becoming the fourth) until April 10th or 12, so if it's a minor thing it's not the end of the world. But if this goes longer, our SP becomes a bit of a liability. Banks, Parrish, Wolfe...the internal options aren't great at this point.

I don't expect AJ to miss his start, and after re-reading the article I don't expect Marcum to miss much time. Quite frankly, ESPN should stick to letting these guys make up the rumours around here.

So yeah, I don't actually expect this to happen, but I figured since nobody brought this up it was worth pointing out.

The ESPN article also brings up some other Jays news, specifically on the health of Rolen & Ryan. With Rolen, it's the same ole two weeks and pain tolerance stuff. Oh boo hoo Rolen, it's just a nail and a fractured finger. Get over it. I have wrist tendonitis but you don't see me issuing a press conference getting someone else to cry on my behalf. Hell, I've been blogging for over 2-3 weeks with this damn thing and it hurts like a bitch to type. If I can do my job, you can still do yours. Suck it up.

Here's what they say about Ryan though:

Ricciardi also said injured reliever B.J. Ryan is out until "at least mid-April, in the best-case scenario" because of pain in his surgically repaired left (throwing) arm. The Jays intend to keep him in Florida as the team heads north to begin the season. Ryan is throwing on the side and "making strides," according to Ricciardi. Look for the Jays to be cautious with him, and even mid-April sounds optimistic to me.

Nothing really new here, shouldn't be back till mid-April. I still don't see him coming back till May at the earliest.

Twitchy.

Morning Roundup

The pending Alex Rios contract extension is as of yet unofficial and it's sounding like it won't get done for a few days at least. Sorry folks!

Now, you're probably expecting some sensitive quotes from JP on these delicate negotiations with the team's budding superstar. Cathal Kelly reports that "Ricciardi seemed tired out by the process" which has been ongoing since October:

"It's taking probably longer than we thought it would. It's creeping toward getting done," the GM said, later adding, "I was in Oakland when we traded (Mark) McGwire and we actually prospered after that. But (Rios) is a good player and we're trying to be proactive to keep our good players."

Ah, nicely timed: another trade threat. Stay classy, JP!

Apparently the sticky wicket could be a no-trade clause. Rios understandably wants one since he's been shopped aggressively the last three off-seasons. JP has only given them to Doc and V-Dub and is resisting heavily. NTCs often end up being a poisoned chalice for GMs, so my sympathy is with the club here. Yet, if it ends up as a 6-year deal (concluding when Lexi is 32-33) with a club option for a 7th year, a NTC here probably isn't the end of the world because the odds are likely to extremely likely Rios stays productive for the duration of the pact. Git'er done!

The Tampa Bay Rays absolutely pwn'd Doc yesterday (with some extraordinarily cruddy d behind him) and he should probably abandon the "pitch to contact" philosophy with these aggressive hackers. They're a young team that posted a collective OBP of .336 (8th in the AL) and SLG of .433 (4th) last year, which means that they're relatively impatient and can rake. Chucking even A stuff right down the gullet isn't going to work with these up and comers.

What happens when the baseball writers at the National Post lug in a couple of cases of Lakeport up to the newsroom and order an extra large pepperoni pizza? A mildly entertaining conversation like this.

Wilner notes that tonight's Jays game against the Reds will be webcast. Yes, indeed.

And Sal Fasano was released, if you care. I'm sure there's some cop drama filming somewhere that needs a stand in. Zaunnie is kind of, but not really, hurt. Hamstrings.

So, what bees do you expect to find in the bonnets of Richard Griffin mailbag questioneers this week? The must be happy about dumping Reed Johnson, right?

Around the horn:

* Jose Canseco is back with a new comedy album and will be appearing at your local Yuk Yuks from April 13-18. In addition to his crowd-pleasing drug humour, Jose has added new material on cuckolding and Alex Rodriguez. Four drink minimum!

* The best thing about Miguel Cabrera's $141 million dollar extension with the Tigers is that he won't become a free agent end up a Yankee. Yep, I went there.

* Andy Pettitte has thrown a measly 8 innings this spring, but he says he'll start the first week of season. Wanna bet a dollar?

* What do really, really old southern racists think about the Bosox-A's season-opener in Japan? Click here if you're dying to find out! Hint: there are Pearl Harbor references...

* Over in Cubdom, Reed Johnson and his awful facial hair are being touted as remedies to the legendary Curse of the Billy Goat that has prevented those lovable losers from the winning the World Series in a million jillion years. Cubs GM Jim Hendry considers himself a long-time Sparky fan and claims to have tried to pry him away from the Jays at numerous junctures over the past 4 to 5 years. If true, for shame JP on not trading him when he had market value! For shame! Sparky himself can't be too chuffed about the $1.5 million pay cut he just took, but he seems to be genuinely enthused about his new digs. And that, my friends, is the last time you'll hear about ol' Reed Johnson until the Cubs come to town in June. Peace out!

-- Johnny Was

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I.M.N.S.H.O.


Pardon the obvious excesses of my ego, but given that my compadres have already covered all the big stories of the day, i am reduced to reactionary bloviating (look it up) rather than breaking news and since my opinions are diverse and wide-ranging I figured why not collect them in an actual post rather than just comment on the others.

So, with no semblance of order or reason, here are some quick takes on the points in the news today concerning the Jays:

Rios (almost) signed!

If the deal is as reported, it's out standing news, both for the commitment and the price. Sure, it's an illustration of how overpaid Wells is going to potentially be (although I may be the only one who thinks the market is getting so insane that Wells will profit by opting out after 2011) but that only reinforces just how good a deal it will be to lock in Rios long term for well under $15 mil per on average. Even those among the Jays' fan base who are, shall we say, a tad under-enthused with JP will have to tip heir hats to this one.

Sparky a Cub!

As much as I always liked the guy as a tailor made 4th OF and teammate, I have to say that I think the Cubs situation is about as perfect as you can get for him to maximize the rest of his career. Center fielders are more valuable on the market than left fielders, he has the chance to steal time from a very-likely unready kid, he's in a league where "grit" is at a premium among journalists and fans. I'll go on record right now as saying that there's a good chance Johnson finishes the year with a better OPS+ than Stewart unless one is skewed by lack of plate appearances.

Rolen the dice!

Let the pool begin for when our man Scott is back in the Jays lineup. Johnny has gone on record with "by April 15" so I might as well put myself out there - though without the ill-advised commitment to inappropriate dining choices - and say that a quick glance at the schedule makes me think April 18 is a good target date. The Jays are on the road April 11-15, then have two games hosting the pitching poor Rangers. Beginning on the 18th, the Tiger are in town and that's a good place to go all in - not only on Rolen, but on Ryan as well. After the opening six games (about which we can do nothing regarding the injured players) there comes a relatively "soft" run of ten games before the Tigers come to town. I can see the logic in trying to get Scotty in on the 16th if you think he needs live game action before the Tigers get here but he's not the sort of man who is unprepared and a couple more days before he tests the finger would have to help.
Put me down in the pool for April 18.

The 2008 Jays are....

Johnny alluded to his opinion of the Jays chances this year as his own, so let be toss in mine here - even though there may well be a more extensive exposition of this opinion in the coming days. In My Not So Humble Opinion, the Jays are legitimate World Series contenders. They are, on Paper, perhaps a step behind the Red Sox and Tigers over the course of 162 games (acknowledging of course that injuries can sink any ship - theirs or ours) and that the Angels having the amazing depth they do makes them a team to be reckoned with. But of those teams who would be widely considered Wild Card contenders, it is my opinion that the Jays are every bit as good as, if not better than, their rivals. I'd go so far as to give them a puncher's chance of catching the Sox.
BUT, here's the thing - if the Jays do make the playoffs, the picture changes. Then you have the opportunity to throw Doc, AJ, and Chops in six games out of seven in any given series. I'll happily argue that no team in the AL can - as far as what we know on March 25 - better that. If we assume the playoff teams are Boston, Detroit, LA, and Toronto, I think the Jays are as capable of emerging as the AL representative as any of the other three. Yes, I'm an optimist . . . but I don't think unreasonably so.

~WillRain

From The Hadn't Even Filed for EI Yet File

Reed Johnson wasn't even unemployed long enough to catch up on Season 5 of The Wire, which should make his cabal of ultra-loyal fans quite happy. MLBTR reported around 12:30 that the Cubs were about to bring him on board and those lovable losers have just issued the official press release.

Sparky gets a one-year deal, dollar terms have yet to be disclosed, and will suit up for the club this afternoon. He'll likely end up platooning in centre with left-handed hitting Felix Pie, who stunk worse than cow dung in his first tour with the club last year. There was some understandable trepidation amongst Cubs' brass over handing the job over to an unproven sophomore. Early fan reaction to Sparky's addition is positive.

Cubs fans are angsty about Pie (pronounced Pee-Ay), a highly touted prospect for the past few years, and rightly so. He steals his fair share of bags, but has awful success rates. He probably doesn't have any more power than Sparky. He walks enough, I guess, but not as much as an AL team would like. His .792 OPS at AAA in 2006 in the ultra hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League is unimpressive, though he was only 21 at the time. His CubsHub scouting report is here.

Where am I going with this? Oh ya, don't be surprised when Sparky gets 400 ABs this year and makes his first trip to the playoffs. His scrappiness will be praised to the heavens by NL fans who'd never seen him play before.

-- Johnny Was

Great signing, or the greatest signing?


A little late on the blog-draw, but Rios is close to signing a long-term deal with the Jays, as Rosenthal reports. The deal is thought to start in 09, and be a 6 year 65 mil deal with a 15 mil option in 2015.

That in itself is pretty interesting, as I thought JP was only allowed to sign guys through 2010, Wells being the exception. So it's nice to see Rios get an extension beyond 2010.

Still, this is a terrific deal for the Jays. I think part of it is based on the final year of the recently signed Brad Hawpe contract, which has a 10 mil club option when he would be in his first FA year. Rios' deal adds another .8-.9 million more annually, so I'd have to think that extension by Hawpe played a part in the Rios deal. Even if it's not, it's still a terrific deal for the Jays as Rios definetly would have averaged more than 10-11 million per year as a free agent.

With this signing, Travis Snider should switch over from RF to LF in the minors ASAP. Snider is probably the LF of the future, with Lind being the 1B/DH. Hopefully Lind wins the LF job by mid-season in 2008.

Rios' best years are ahead of him, and we got him at a huge discount if and when this deal becomes official. Kudos to management for getting it done.

Twitchy.

Morning Roundup

Colour me baffled by Sportsnet's decision not to air this morning's Bosox-A's season opener from Tokyo in Ontario while it was on the network's West and Pacific channels. If I was willing to get up at 6 a.m. for it there must've been others who'd have preferred the game to a half dozen-odd consecutive repeats of last night's Sportsnet Connected, right?

No, a tape-delayed version of the game is not on later today at a more reasonable hour. The Hockey Team That Shall Not Be Named is playing the Bruins tonight and there are as always hundreds of thousands of morons out there who constantly set themselves up to have their hopes dashed across rocks. Sportsnet does have a nice little 1-4 p.m. block this afternoon that it's filled with the following: FIS SBX World Cup Lake Placid, USA (skiing? figure skating? darts?), Drive-Thru Europe (some sort of car driving event?), and best of all, Best Damn Sports Show 2008. At least I know what the latter is: a clip show that just couldn't wait for a dead spot in the sched.

I was actually planning on being a bit angry about this until I realized that I have as yet to inform mlb.tv that I was not renewing my subscription this year. They sent me an email last week to let me know that they'd taken the liberty of assuming that I would and have billed my credit card appropriately. At the very least, I can go back to watching three games at once while only being moderately distracted from the work I'm supposed to be doing. Haha, fellas, well played; I guess I have to let it slide now.

Incidentally, tomorrow's Bosox-A's finale in Japan is on Sportsnet Ontario at 7 p.m. There you have it, a bone has been thrown to the baseball-starved masses of central Canada.

Things are looking neither grim nor rosy for recently injured third bagger, Scott Rolen. Cathal Kelly reports that he's had surgery to have a screw inserted in the banged up middle finger on this throwing hand and a second visit to the doc to have it removed is scheduled for two week's time. The bad news is that he will not be playing in any capacity until this thing comes out, but the good news is that his return thereafter will be determined by his pain tolerance level. We all know it's high, so expect him to come back raring to go.

So confident am I that this will be a short-term injury that I told my buddy Jay that I'd eat the January 2008 copy of Diplomatic History currently sitting on my desk if Rolen wasn't back playing by April 15.

With Rolen set to miss at least the first six games of the season (3 game sets against the Yankees and Bosox), Marco Scutaro will fill in as the regular 3B in his absence. It seemed to quite a few of us that he'd become redudant with the acquisition of David Eckstein, forcing J-Mac back into a backup infield role. Kelly reports that JP now seems more than a little pleased with himself with the move:

Asked if the loss of the team's biggest off-season acquisition is a major blow to the new campaign, Ricciardi answered quickly.

"No, we've got (utilityman Marco) Scutaro. Our bench is as deep as it's ever been. A major blow would be if we lost someone of that calibre for the year."

I will concede that one. A week's worth of ABs to Scutaro is definitely not the same as a week's worth of ABs to the three-headed suck monster of Howie Clark, Hector Luna, and Russ Adams.

Blair is in mid-season grumpy form today. Why?

* if Rolen could at least DH we could deny ABs to Frank Thomas and help keep him from reaching the 376 plate appearances he needs for his $10 million 2009 option to kick in
* he's skeptical that Rolen's return could come as soon as fortnight from now; the loss of Rolen means a huge hit both offensively and defensively
* he's skeptical that AJ Burnett is capable of change/showing maturity
* Casey Janssen
* BJ Ryan's forearm soreness means he will be held back until mid-April at the earliest
* The Big Hurt has looked awful at the dish this spring and is probably going to fall of a cliff this year
* there are a bunch of no-name retreads vying for the final bullpen spot or two

I certainly don't disagree that there have been a considerable number of unfortunate developments in recent weeks, but I think making the assessment, which Blair seems on the verge of doing, that our "ship has sunk" is highly premature.

Some counterpoints:

* Overbay, Wells and Zaun are all healthy and seem poised to rebound from awful years
* Shaun Marcum is mixing in a sinker, which might well prove to be a weapon that helps him cut back on the long ball, his achilles heel
* Burnett is throwing his curveball again after the fingernail incident
* we still have the solid Jeremy Accardo to close until BJ comes back
* Brandon League is back in 2006 form
* Jesse Litsch is showing growth as a starter
* for good or ill, the LF log jam has now been solved and Adam Lind's place will be adequately held warm for the next few months
* we still do have depth at pretty much every position and guys like Scutaro or Barajas won't embarass you if they're needed for any length of time

As much as I do like Blair's work (and the sense of humour that shines through in the Globe's baseball blog) I think it's fair to point out that he has a tendency to make the most pessimistic of assumptions on most occasions. I know he's not employed to be a cheerleader for the club, but still...

I can't speak for my co-writers, but I'm fully prepared for another third place finish this year. That said, I do accept that things just might break well enough for this group to sneak into the playoffs. It's a longshot, a real longshot. I know.

In a more positive development, the Star is reporting that Alex Rios is "on the verge" of signing a 6-year, $65 million extension. Yes, I will be dancing naked in the streets when that happens.

ELSEWHERE:

* JD "Nancy" Drew is injured already, Josh Beckett goes on the DL and Andy Pettitte is looking extremely unlikely to make his first start. Teehee.

* Is Jason Bay more excited about the 2009 World Baseball Classic that his upcoming season with the Pirates? I'm going say yes.

-- Johnny Was

Monday, March 24, 2008

Morning Roundup

Cue up the Dawson's Creek theme song (I don't wanna wait, for my liiiiife to be over....) because there's a slate of "how sad to say goodbye" stories about Reed Johnson this morning.

Mr. Cathal Kelly has V-Dub near tears (again), Stewart kind of expressing remorse at taking Sparky's job (buy American!), and JP professing to have a heart (? you've got me).

This is how Blair reports JP's justification for his decision to dump a former favourite "who played like his hair was on fire":

"We're going to miss Reed's defence and grittiness, but at this point, we decided to go with offence over anything else," Ricciardi said.

"The best way to describe it and from our end is that every time we play the [New York] Yankees and [Boston] Red Sox, you see those lineups and they're just prolific. And if something happens and we're not in a platoon, Shannon's a guy who can run out and hit right-handers."


Ok, fair enough. I'm getting weary of this whole thing already so I'll let that slide. To his credit Sparky took the whole thing maturely and was actually the one who informed Stewart that he'd won his job. Buck up, son. You'll land on your feet.

Not only does Scott Rolen's tragic finger injury leave the Jays with a potentially gaping hole at third, but it also grossified the club's spring training facility. Blair(sy) notes:

There were droplets of dried blood on the sidewalk leading to the Toronto Blue Jays' clubhouse at Knology Park, the route taken by Rolen after he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his finger (he broke the bone above the top knuckle) — ripping the nail off in the process — during a fielding drill on one of the back fields.

Hrm, that's kind of gross. Oh yes: when will he be back playing again? Rolen was dispatched to Baltimore yesterday to see the same hand specialist who dealt with Gregg Zaun last year; JP says he doesn't want to speculate on an injury timetable, but it's not going to be six weeks. A bit of a contradiction, no? It's going to take a few weeks.

Frankly, things could be worse. I googled the injury yesterday and discovered at the Fox fantasy site that Alfonso Soriano suffered a similar problem this spring (though he didn't lose a nail), missing only a week's worth of fake games. The fracture didn't have any effect on swinging the bat, though throwing was more difficult as is to be expected. So, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Rolen will indeed be in playing shape by the home opener, perhaps only in a pinch hitting capacity, but nevertheless. Think optimistically here, people.

John Lott at the National Post notes that it would appear as though Randy David "R-Dub" Wells has played his way onto the 25-man roster. Well finagalled (sp?) his way on at least. Is that even a real word? As a Rule 5-er R-Dub would surely be lost to back to the Cubs if he didn't go north and JP would be out a cool $50 grand. And, yes, more importantly, it's starting to click for R-Dub after working with Brad "Arnie" Arnsberg this spring:

“The ball’s been sinking for me, and that’s been a big part of the puzzle for me to be successful,” said Wells, who started pitching near the end of 2003, his first pro season. “I’ve always been a four-seam, straight fastball kind of guy, and when I’m not throwing strikes, I’ve [had to] come in with that and I gave up a lot of hits. Now that I’ve got that sinker going, it gives me added confidence. When I fall behind in the count, I throw that sinker in there and hope for a ground ball.”

It also doesn't hurt that the boss likes his moxie, too. Note to JP: "Wellsie" is a lame nickname.

Richard Griffin's latest mailbag was posted online almost a week late. It's like someone stole the funny pages out of my morning paper (the Globe and Mail, by the way).

ELSEWHERE:

* Matt(y) Stairs(y) will be suiting up for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic next year when he's a ripe old 41. “Whenever you get 25 Canadians in one locker room, it tends to be quite fun,” Stairs said. Presumably this is a reference to getting drunk and eating chicken fingers? If the WBC is your bag, here's Blair's piece on the political machinations with the Olympics, bringing games to Canada, and so on.

* The Yankees are still pretending that they're not concerned about Andy Pettitte's wonky back, which may force him to miss his first real real game of the season. Ok, whatever... Yesterday I implied that time lost to injury for Pettitte is key for the Jays leapfrogging the hated Gothamites in the standings this year.

* You can probably take Brewers lefty Chris Capuano out of the rumour mill. It looks like he's headed for a second Tommy John, which would probably be a career killer. But you're saying, "hey wait, didn't Victor Zambrano successfully come back from two TJs?" No, you're not saying that, are you? And John Patterson signs with the Rangers.

-- Johnny Was

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cue in 5...4...3...2....


Blair is reporting that Scott Rolen injured his finger during infield practice today:

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen was en route to Baltimore Sunday to see a hand specialist, after suffering a non-displace fracture of his right middle finger during infield drills on the backfield at Knology Park.

Rolen also ripped the nail off his finger.

While this stinks on a deep and abiding level, I am not well versed enough in this sort of injury to discuss (a) what effect it will have on his hitting long term and (b) how long it will take before he can take the field again.

What I do know is that the inevitable chorus of pessimists will sing with one voice "SEE? We TOLD you he was injury prone!!"

They will whine and moan about what an awful decision it was to trade Glaus for Rolen and predict three years of missed games at 3B. All because a bad hop causes an injury wholly unrelated to any thing that has ever happened with Rolen before. It goes without saying the Jays can't afford for this trend to continue, and that we need Rolen on the field and productive with all possible dispatch. As an admittedly huge fan of Rolen, I will be particularly anxious to see the reports in the coming day or two, that said, if you encountered any self styled expert, either around the water-cooler or writing for a major metro newspaper, who says anything at all about this being a sign of being "injury-prone", you can dismiss all future commentary from said person as unworthy of your attention.

Shit happens. Whatayagonnado?

~WillRain

Broken down vets? A non-ace ace? Three snotty little brats?

Everyone in Yankeedom is being all smiles and optimism when it comes to the health status of Andy Pettitte, who's been bothered with niggling back pain all spring long. You guys know he can't use HGH to speed recovery this time, even if it is for the noble goal of 'helping the team', right?

My gut tells me two things: 1) grab some Twizzlers and 2) the Yankees' patchwork rotation just has to implode this year. I've been having loads of fun with Fangraphs of late, so I thought I'd have a look at what's being projected for the Yankees rotation this year to test my assumption. Rather than do a composite, I'll just base this on ZiPS, which is usually middle of the road when it comes to computer projection models.

Neither Wang (who stunk to high heaven against Cleveland in the ALDS last year) nor Pettitte is a true ace. Mussina is very near the end of what was/has been a wonderful career and the Hughes/Kennedy/Chamberlain troika has a combined 115 IP of big league experience. How do the numbers play out? Celine Dion ugly, right?

Here's how the Evil Empire's rotation looks:

Andy Pettitte: 16-9, 4.06 ERA in 213 IP (33 starts)

Chien-Ming Wang: 15-8, 3.92 ERA in 200 IP (30 starts)

Mike Mussina:
11-10, 4.74 ERA in 174 IP (29 starts)

Phil Hughes:
12-5, 3.70 ERA in 141 IP (26 starts)

Ian Kennedy:
N/A, CHONE and Marcel predict > 100 IP

Joba Chamberlain:
9-8, 4.43 ERA in 134 IP (24 starts)

Kei Igawa:
9-10, 5.20 ERA in 168 IP (26 starts)

Disclaimer: If you actually added up the number of starts on this list and got 168, your calculator is not broken.

Those results from this group of broken down vets, a non-ace ace and three snotty little brats? It saddens me to say it, but this is a group you can work with. And by work with I mean win a division. Handily.

4.61 was the average ERA for AL starters in 2007 and all but Igawa, the $46 million Japanese import who sucked his way into a demotion to AAA last year, are projected to be at (-ish) or better than that mark. This probably explains the Yankees unwillingness to sell the farm for Johan Santana over the offseason. Well, the computer projections and Hank Steinbrenner's league leading dickishness. If Pettitte doesn't get hurt and a 39-year-old Mussina does actually rebound from the worst season of his career, this looks to be a formidable group.

And there's the rub: does Pettitte, with more rings than a Serbian human trafficker and a potentially fragile mental state from Mitchell Report fallout, really have the stick-to-it-iveness to get through 2008? I hope not. And a rebound from the warmed over corpse of Mike Mussina? Come on!

I'm at a loss here people. I was trying to inject a ray of sunshine into an otherwise grey Sunday afternoon.

-- Johnny Was

Sunday Miscellany

R.I.P. Reed Johnson, 2003-2008

Reed Johnson was a beloved leftfielder, teammate and Shelby Cobra owner who always gave his scrappy 110%. He broke relatively late (age 26), which shrouded him in a perpetual underdog status even after he'd won a full time job. I'll never forget the game in 2006 when he got beaned three!?! times. He always put the team ahead of himself. He was good to great with the glove, and alright with the bat, which means he ways at least an average ballplayer all things considered. And there's a certain pride to be taken in that. You will be kind of missed, Reed, by some of us, I mean.

*****

So, we have an offseason where JP seemingly takes the lesson of 2007 to heart (injuries can derail the best of plans) and does everything cautiously, aiming to give the club depth enough to get through the bad times that will inevitably come over the span of a 162-game season. Eckstein replaces Clayton, Scutaro replaces Howie Clark (ya, him), Barajas replaces Phillips, and Buck Coats is a Show-ready OF to be stashed in Syracuse alongside Adam Lind. But going with Stew over Reed doesn't really fit the plan.

I'm going to jump to the conclusion that JP's stated aim of going with a LF platoon of Matt Stairs + warm body was untruthful from the beginning. You simply don't make the decision--to dump the superior defender and hitter against lefties--they did today (or the earlier one to pass on Kevin Mench) that being the case. One injury to Rios or V-Dub and we're going with the defensive nightmare of a Stairs/uninjured regular/Stewart OF? Someone will be called up, of course, but neither Lind nor Coats defends like Reed.

It's the peanuts involved that really stick out about the move. Reed has to be bought off for roughly $500 grand, so Stewart will ultimately end up costing about 2/3 of what he would've been paid. The savings to the club from this move is around $1 million.

If the club is so strapped, why did they give J-Mac (2 years, $3.8 million) and Scott Downs (3 years, $10 million) the deals they did? The latter was the more baffling of the two; Downs definitely should've had trade value--Scott Linebrink brought in three players at the deadline last year--or could've been allowed to walk at the end of the year for draft pick compensation. J-Mac could've been signed for less, and for one year for that matter. And now I get to wondering how we're supposed to raise the cash to sign Rios and Hill long term if we couldn't afford $1-ish million for the superior player in LF?

It all sits ill with me right now for so many reasons. And Marco Scutaro should get to dusting off his outfielder's glove, because I have a sinking feeling he's going to need it this year.

Rotoworld's take on the whole affair:

I'm surprised by the way the Jays have gone about things in left field this year. They brought back Matt Stairs, who can pretty much only play left since Frank Thomas and Lyle Overbay own the DH and first base spots. They've got a seemingly Major League ready (and cheap) outfielder in Adam Lind. They decided to tender a contract to Johnson, something I did not expect. And then they signed Shannon Stewart on top of it all. What are the Jays going to do with all these guys?

Indeed.

Wilner wasn't surprised and notes the Reed had been preparing himself for this moment since Stewart was brought on board. The club's aggressive attempts to trade him in recent weeks were compromised by the fact that everyone knew they'd have to drop either him or Stewart by the end of March.

Randy Wells did well in a rain-shortened start against the Yankees yesterday. Good for him. That's pretty much it for today, folks.

ELSEWHERE:


* If you care about the Joba Rules, apparently he's officially slated to transition from the bully to the rotation mid-season unless injury/intense suckage forces it earlier. Really, this Yankees rotation is held together with gum and paperclips, people.

* Jose Cruz Jr. is still employed? Ya, he is.

-- Johnny Was

End of an era


Bad news, which I'm sure you've heard by now. ESPN and several other news outlets are reporting that Reed Johnson has been cut. Hit the showers Johnson, you're done...

As I've said several times - unless Reed is too injured to play, this is a terrible move by the Jays. A cheap move, I should add, as one of the reasons they cut him was $$. The worst part is, the writing was on the wall that he was going to be cut, and because all the other teams knew that, they weren't going to give up any talent to acquire him when they could just get him for 500K or a MLC when JP and crew inevitably cut him.

I really hope this move doesn't backfire down the line. I know it's just a fourth OF, but I don't feel confident giving the job to Stewart at this point in his career.

Twitchy.