11:15 AM Eastern
So it seems as though that mailbag I promised is going to have to wait a few days. With this stuff here and the Mitchell report coming up this afternoon, there’s going to be plenty to blog about today, and the family is heading off to Cancun tomorrow for five days, so there’ll be radio silence after today until Tuesday afternoon or so.
By the way, I have been asked to help out with Sportsnet’s coverage of the Mitchell report today, so make sure you tune in at 2:00 Eastern this afternoon. George Mitchell will hold his news conference then and Bud Selig will have his at 4:30, and I’ll be there with Brad Fay to break it all down for you. Don’t expect a ton that we don’t already know from the report, though I’m sure several “heroes” will be shown to have feet of clay. I’m sure there’ll be a few ex-Jays on the list of about 80 names (including – according to reports – Roger Clemens, who I have suspected for years), but I wonder how many still-active players in their prime there will be. And I wonder how many Red Sox, given George Mitchell’s connection with that club.
Regardless, I’m sure the commish will hail the report and will say that baseball has moved on into a drug-free present and future, and with the stringent testing that’s currently in place, fans can be reassured that it’s all clean now. Which is a massive load of crap. But the truth is, unless it involves Barry Bonds, no one seems to care. I’m interested to see what the uproar will be like if the Clemens report is true. Will people turn on him the way they did on Bonds? I doubt it.
Anyway, more on that later this evening.
It’s the end of an era for the Blue Jays, as Tosh Jowers wasn’t tendered a contract by last night’s deadline, making him a free agent. Personally, I’m happy for TJ. I thought he got a pretty raw deal here in Toronto the last two years, and he served the ballclub well the three years prior. Let’s not forget that he was voted BY HIS TEAMMATES the Jays’ Pitcher of the Year for 2005, when we went 13-12, 3.71 – his best year ever. Of course, since then, he’s 7-20, 6.50, having allowed 270 baserunners (incl. 35 HR) in 169 innings.
What stuns me isn’t that the Jays non-tendered Towers, I thought that was a foregone conclusion from about Spring Training last year. What stuns me is that the Jays had the opportunity to trade him in Nashville, and didn’t. I know for a fact that at least two teams made the Blue Jays offers on Towers, but as J.P. Ricciardi told us at the Winter Meetings, there wasn’t anything in those offers to the Blue Jays’ liking. Unless all those trade offers included the Jays picking up a portion of Towers’ 2008 salary, they should have moved him for any minor-league player they could get, seeing how less than a week later they divested themselves of his services while getting nothing in return.
I’m a big fan of Towers, the person, and I think that in the right situation he could once again be a good major-league starter. I’m really hoping he lands in San Diego, San Francisco or Los Angeles – all ballparks that would really suit his style, and all in the National League, where he would get a break at the bottom of the line-up. I know they’re all in the same division as the Rockies, but the humidor should help out, too.
From a Blue Jays perspective, and no offense meant to TJ, it’s no loss. He would have made at least $2.4 million this year, which would have led the Jays to more than likely keep him on the active roster, as the 12th pitcher on a team that only needs 11 (but will carry 12 anyway) , pitching an inning or two every three weeks or so. Good luck, TJ!
The Towers story is the actual news. The rumour mill is churning as well, and it (or, at least, Ken Rosenthal) is saying that the Jays are on the verge of signing David Eckstein to be their shortstop. I have been in contact with a club official who said that he can neither confirm nor deny anything about the story, which tells me that they’re at least talking, and might be close to an agreement, but they’re probably not “on the verge”.
This is the thing – Eckstein is a much better hitter than John McDonald, but he’s still not a very good hitter. McDonald may very well be the best defensive shortstop in the game. According to a relatively new statistic (or fielding metric, if you will) called “Defensive Plus/Minus”, created by John Dewan, who writes The Fielding Bible, McDonald was the second-best defensive SS in baseball last season, at +26, while Eckstein was the fifth-worst, at -14. Derek Jeter was second-worst, by the way.
Just as a quick explanation, the plus/minus rating is devised by looking at every ball put in play all season long. A player gets a “plus” when he makes a play that at least one other player at his position has missed during the season, and a “minus” when he misses a play that at least one other player has made at his position during the season, though it’s not simply +1 or -1 each time.
This is a counting stat, not a rate stat, which makes it even more amazing that Johnny Mac was second this season, seeing as he played the third-fewest innings of any regular shortstop in the bigs, and by quite a bit. Had he gotten more work, he would have had more opportunity for plusses.
So the question is this – would you rather spend the money to bring in a shortstop who will give you an extra 40-60 points in slugging-free on-base percentage, or stick with the guy who you know is not going to hit as well, but will give you outstanding defense?
My answer is: Johnny Mac. After looking at his defensive contributions as an everyday player last year, I think that he makes the answer easy. As difficult as it is to overlook the fact that Eckstein’s career obp (.351) is 72 points higher than McDonald’s, it’s not like Eck adds even a few extra doubles, let alone home runs, and the dropoff in defense is much greater than the improvement in offense. Yes, Eckstein is hustle-y and grittacious, but so is Johnny Mac, he’s just not as short and doesn’t look like he’s putting every last ounce of his body weight into every throw that he makes.
Look, I don’t mean to beat on Eckstein. If you want solid Eck rippage, there are plenty of great blogs that will provide just that on a regular basis. In fact, the Drunks are doing it right now. Truth is, I don’t think he’s as bad as most bloggists seem to. I think a lot of their reaction is kind of the same way I react about Jeter. He’s just so incredibly overrated that you want to make sure you get the point across, and sometimes it’s harsh. Eckstein’s not bad at baseball, he’s just nowhere near as good as most fans and commentators believe he is. And he does get on base 35% of the time. Only four Blue Jays managed to do that last season (Thomas, Stairs, Glaus, Rios).
So, if the Jays do wind up with Eckstein, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s something they don’t need to do, and will cost them a few runs over the course of the season. Overall, I’d much rather have McDonald playing short every day and hitting 9th than Eckstein playing short every day and hitting 1st. What may wind up happening is that Eckstein plays the first six innings and Mac the last three, but Mac won’t come in for defense if the Jays are behind, which would enable the opposition a better chance to add on runs by taking advantage of the MUCH weaker defense at shortstop.
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