Archive for January, 2008
Friday, January 25th, 2008
2:15 AM Eastern
Sorry, I would have gotten to this post earlier in the evening, but I found out that the Blue Jays had signed Rod Barajas while I was on my way to start the last series of the regular season in the Sim league that I run (It’s called THROW, and we’re an owner or two short going into next season). I played the first four games of the series, holding a two-game lead on the final playoff spot with nine games to play, and proceeded to go 1-3, including a 15-inning loss. My lead on the final playoff spot is down to one game, with five to play, and I’m staring my first missed playoffs square in the face. This is the 22nd year of this league, and I’ve never sat out a post-season, but the boys don’t seem to be co-operating. The final five games will be played Friday night, so wish me luck.
It should be noted, by the way, that Rod Barajas is not now nor has ever been on one of my sim teams. Nor has he ever pretended to sign a contract, then backed out at the last minute, then come back just over a year later and signed another one. I leave that to the Blue Jays.
Frankly, I can’t believe they signed him. 14 months ago, after Barajas signed his letter of agreement (I think that’s what it’s called), then bailed on his physical because his new agent (with a big reported push from the MLBPA) wanted to renegotiate the $5.25 million, two-year salary, the Jays were pretty peeved. Among other things, J.P. Ricciardi said “I’m gonna take the high road”, “We don’t want anyone who doesn’t want to be here”, and “We’ll remember this one.” You can’t tell me that Rod Freakin’ Barajas was so much better than all the other back-up catcher options out there that J.P. and the club would swallow their pride and go back and give the guy another shot. Never mind he’s not so much with the hitting.
What does Barajas give the Jays that Sal Fasano doesn’t? Not all that much. They both have great throwing arms, and neither of them can hit at the major-league level. You’d think that The Captain would bring more power to the table than Big Sal, since he’s had seasons of 21 and 15 homers while Our Pal’s career high is 11, but over the course of their entire careers, Barajas’ slugging percentage is just 14 points higher than Fasano’s. Barajas is more of a threat at the plate, though, right? He gets on base more? Actually, he doesn’t. Even after his career high .352 on-base percentage with the Phils last seasons (small sample size warning – just 122 AB), Barajas has a career obp of a disgusting .288 – actually five points LOWER than Sal’s.
(By the way, I’ve been calling Barajas The Captain for years. Because if you pronounce his name slightly differently, it could rhyme with “courageous”, and who doesn’t like Captain Courageous? Sorry, just a brief glimpse into my apparently-damaged psyche for you all.)
Look, it’s not like they’re replacing one all-star for another, and if Gregg Zaun stays healthy, we’re not going to see the guy start more than 40 games this season, but the fact is that the Jays had in their hands a good soldier, great clubhouse guy and coach on the bench, and they have just replaced him with a guy who left them high and dry barely a year earlier, and whom the people in Philadelphia couldn’t wait to be rid of, all for a nine-point bump in career OPS.
Yes, Barajas has been a starter in the past, and has proven that if Zaun goes down for an extended period, he could step in and catch, throw some people out, and not hit well. Fasano hasn’t proven that he can do that, since he’s never even played half-a-season’s worth of Major League games in a single year. Also, Fasano is nearly four years older than Barajas.
After spurning the Jays last year, Barajas signed a one-year (plus an option) deal with the Phillies to be their starting catcher, but he spit the bit so badly early on that he finished the season as the number three guy behind Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste. It’s ironic that early in the season he was walking like a champ (for him). Barajas had 19 walks through the end of June, on pace to obliterate his previous career high of 26, but he was hitting only .210, so he lost his job. He went on the DL early in August with a groin strain, and apparently stayed on after he was healthy enough to return to action because the Phillies didn’t have room for him. He was activated when rosters expanded on September 1st, and got FIVE whole at-bats in the final month as the Phils chased down the Mets and won in the greatest comeback/choke job in NL history.
Granted, the Jays are hopeful that this will only be a half-season gig, and that Robinzon Diaz will be ready for the bright lights by around the all-star break. But isn’t that all the more reason to stick with Fasano?
Maybe The Captain handles pitchers really well. Last year, the Phillies’ club ERA was 4.73. When Barajas caught, it was 5.17. In ’06, with the Rangers, the club ERA was 4.60 and with Rodney behind the plate it was 4.73. No real indication that he has a beneficial effect on his pitching staff. He did throw out 7 of 19 runners who tried to steal on him last year, but I’d be stunned if his arm is significantly better than Fasano’s. Sal has a cannon, as does Barajas, apparently.
It’s not even that the money could be much better spent elsewhere, it’s only $1.2 million. And it’s not the same as when the Jays brought in Bengie Molina at the last minute a couple of years ago – The Captain isn’t here to take Zaun’s job, and has been given no illusions about that, and Bengie, for all his flaws, was one of baseball’s best against left-handed pitching for a few years there, including his season here. Barajas can’t hit anybody particularly well.
I don’t get it.
Comments are welcome, and the e-mail address is email@example.com. There will be a mailbag early next week, I promise.
Friday, January 18th, 2008
1:15 AM Eastern
The Blue Jays got plenty of homework done on Thursday night, settling up with five of their six remaining arbitration-eligibles, and a multi-year deal with Alex Rios (and maybe Aaron Hill, too!) is still to come.
The big shocker in the bunch is Scott Downs getting a three-year deal (worth $10 million). Downs will be 32 by Opening Day, and – the Jays hope – is the classic late bloomer. Miscast as a starter early in his career, the Jays picked him up after he was released by the Expationals in 2004 (they were in the process of moving, OK?) and slowly he found his niche with Toronto in the ‘pen.
Downs was one of only three reliable relievers the Jays had for a long stretch in the first half of last season, along with Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo. The walks (24 in 58 IP) are still a bit of a concern, but he doesn’t give up many hits (.223 opp ba), keeps the ball in the yard and is durable as all get out. He led the league in appearances by pitching in every other game last season, and made a miraculous comeback after missing just ONE day with a case of the gout.
Gout, by the way, is one of my favourite diseases because you get to use a definite article in front of it. Nobody says that they’ve come down with The Bronchitis or The Pneumonia, but you get to have The Gout. Cool. With apologies to those who have suffered from it, because I’m sure it’s a real pain. And evidently you don’t get it by drinking too much wine or eating too much red meat. A lot of it is seafood, vegetables like cauliflower, spinach and asparagus (who knew asparagus did something ELSE to you?) and…….organ meat!
Anyway, the thing with Downs is the same as the thing with any career-inconsistent reliever, especially one in his 30s. You have absolutely no idea what you’re going to get year-to-year. We learned this with the Kerry Ligtenberg-Terry Adams-Jeff Tam experiments back in the day. Downs has had two good years in a row, which may mean he’s going to blow up real good in 2008. It may not. If the Jays get two years like ’06-’07 out of Downs over the course of the three-year deal, it’ll be fine. Remember, he goes back to being the second lefty once B.J. Ryan comes back, used for an out or two in the seventh or eighth. I really hope he starts talking to the media again, though.
Since we’re in the bullpen, Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet got one-year deals. It’s nice to see Frasor jump over the million-dollar mark, because he’s really been jerked around by the team the last couple of years. He’s been like the Josh Towers of the bullpen, except with results. He pitches well, but the leash is incredibly short. He’ll have two or three poor outings in a row and then won’t pitch for three weeks, and when he’s back, he’s terrific again. Despite the fact that most think Frasor had a crappy year in 2007, he allowed only 70 baserunners in 57 innings with 59 strikeouts and allowed 3 homers. To contrast, Downs allowed 71 baserunners in 58 innings with 57 strikeouts and 3 homers. There’s some sort of parallel here, if we could only see it…….
Yes, Downs pitched in higher-leverage situations most of the season, but Frasor can be a very helpful piece as a guy to throw in the 6th or 7th, setting up for Downs/Accardo/Ryan.
That Marco Scutaro got a two-year deal isn’t a surprise. He’s a decent back-up infielder, and a solid if unspectacular bat off the bench with a knack for the big hit. I know, I know, there’s no such thing as a clutch hitter, and I firmly believe that to be true, but it warrants mentioning that over the past four seasons, Scutaro has been the guy at the plate for the final at-bat in NINE walk-off wins. Included among those big hits are game-winning homers off of Mariano Rivera and B.J. Ryan. And this from a guy who’s never even been a regular. Pretty impressive, as is the fact that he hit .348/.464/.565 with runners in scoring position and two outs last season.
Of course, before last season, his career average with runners in scoring position and two outs was .207, but we don’t need to bring that up, right? He’s a clutch hitter! His career OPS with runners in scoring position is almost 50 points higher than it is the rest of the time! So what if it’s not really statistically significant. Anyway, he has had a few big hits in his day, he’s about the same against righties or lefties, and he’s a better back-up option at third than last year’s Jason Smith/Johnny Mac/Howie (say it ain’t so) Clark combo. And he’s only making $1.325 a year. Not bad.
That leaves Tallet and Gustavo Chacin. It’s nice to see Tallet get a little bit of security ($640,000 worth). He did a very good job for the Jays in that long/middle relief job last season, and he managed to cut his walk total while raising his innings pitched, despite not making the team out of Spring Training. He’s as solid an 11th man on the staff as you’ll find. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not, by the way.
And what can we say about dear old Gus? At least he continues to smell good. And it tells you all you need to know about baseball’s messed up salary arbitration system that Chacin can throw 27 1/3 well below-average major-league innings, not pitch outside the month of April and still almost double his salary. If he’s healthy, he will get every chance to unseat Jesse Litsch or Casey Janssen as the 5th starter, but he’ll best serve the team as injury insurance in Syracuse. And if he pitches well down there, hey, everyone can use a lefty starter, maybe they can get something for him.
As always, your comments are welcome, and the e-mail address remains firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
11:00 PM Eastern
Everyone is more than nice at their introductory press conference. They all say the right things, they’re patient, answer all the questions, and maybe even crack a joke or two. But Scott Rolen brought it all and then some.
It’s dangerous to take too much from that first gathering with a new city’s media, hell, Albert Belle said he was going to be gracious and do his best to work with the press when he joined the White Sox, and it only took about half an hour for that promise to go WAY off the rails. Barry Bonds was happy and approachable when he first went to the Giants, too.
But neither of them brought a stand-up act. Rolen was cracking wise from the get-go, ragging on J.P. Ricciardi for not wearing a tie, taking a shot at John Gibbons’ accent, about his shoulder problems (“I can’t BELIEVE I passed my physical”) and the playing surface at Rogers Centre (“You guys have turf??”). What got me, though, was that he maintained his sense of humour when he was asked about his departure from St. Louis and his relationship with Tony LaRussa. He stayed happy when he talked about the bridge he burned with Larry Bowa in Philly, and when he was asked about the danger in moving from the AL to the NL (“seems as though I’m destined to fail…..that’s not my plan.”). That’s not something one often sees. A touchy subject comes up, and a lot of the time the smile fades.
I had heard from people in St. Louis that Rolen is a pleasure to deal with, and it really appeared to be confirmed in the 45 minutes or so we all spent with him. He even let me dig myself out of the hole I made when I messed up his age a few times (“You’re 35……ummm, gonna be 35…….ummm, 35 when the contract’s up” “There you go!”). Not everyone would have been so gracious. Of course, that may all change after a couple of weeks of half a dozen people sticking a microphone in his face every day once we all get to Dunedin, but his history seems to suggest it won’t.
Of course, most of you could care less about how a player is with the media, but it does make life a lot easier when the people you’re trying to talk to are at the very least co-operative. When you get a guy who’s more than that – a John McDonald, a Lyle Overbay, a Reed Johnson, a Jason Frasor, a David Eckstein, just to name a few, well, that makes going to work a lot more fun. And Rolen seems like a fun guy. He let his three year-old daughter pick his uniform number (“Firty-fwee”), and he says his family will be coming to Toronto a lot, led by his parents in their RV, and they’ll “storm this place and tear a lot of stuff up.” So batten down the hatches, the Rolens are coming.
As far as the more important stuff – you know, the baseball, Rolen again said all the right things. He was told by the doctors that his physical was completely normal, and said it was the first time in years that’s happened. He said that he’s doing all his workouts, including hitting and fielding, with no restrictions at all, and that he’d be fine to start the first game of Spring Training if John Gibbons was inclined to put him in the line-up that early.
We’ll have to watch his hands. Rolen said the reason that his power dried up last year (just 8 homers for a guy who had hit 25 or more six times) was that the range of motion in his left shoulder was severely limited. He couldn’t get his hands back far enough to “load up” his bat, and then he couldn’t get his hands away from his body when it came time to swing. If he’s really fine, then we should be able to tell just from his hands.
Lastly, he also said a couple of other things that made an impression on me. He talked about accountability and about leadership. I asked him if he’s the kind of guy who would go up to a teammate and say something to him if something needed to be said, and he gave the usual answer of “not in the first few days at Dunedin”, then talked about having to earn respect in the clubhouse. It was the nice, modest answer, like Scott Rolen doesn’t know he comes into the clubhouse and demands instant respect. This guy was on an easy track to Cooperstown before the shoulder started giving him problems. But what he said next struck a chord. Rolen followed up the textbook “earn respect” thing by saying that “people that believe they’re given respect, I don’t think that they hold weight when they do open their mouths.”
Comments are welcome, as always, and the e-mail address remains email@example.com. There’s going to be a mailbag coming soon!
Saturday, January 12th, 2008
9:00 PM Eastern
Sorry for the cliche-y post title, but it’s pretty well bang-on this time, since I learned of the proposed Rolen-Glaus deal (which is all done but for physicals and the Commish’s rubber stamp on the money the Jays are getting) while I was at a curling event, broadcasting for Rogers Television – you can see it on Sunday afternoon at noon and 2, I think (if you’re in Ontario). Me and the Wrench!
Anyway, this seems like a straight-up my-problem-for-your-problem sort of trade, and it looks like a good one for all parties involved.
For the Cardinals, they get rid of Rolen, who can’t co-exist with manager Tony LaRussa anymore. Who knows, maybe it’s because I hear Rolen has this crazy habit of actually staying awake at red lights. They also improve their power production at the hot corner, and one would think that Glaus is more likely to stay healthy on the grass at Busch. If he does, he’s good for at least 30 homers and a .365 obp or so, which is a nice addition to a Cards’ line-up that already has a very good right-left punch in Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan. Also, he and Rick Ankiel can trade strength tips, which is good.
For the Blue Jays, they get rid of the massive distraction that Glaus and his as-yet-unanswered steroid connection will be come Spring Training, and for the drop-off in power production (when healthy) they get a MUCH better glove in Rolen, who combines with Aaron Hill to make David Eckstein OK defensively at shortstop, a better attitude in the room (so I’m told) and, believe it or not, a better bat against right-handed pitching (when healthy).
For the last few years, Glaus has made his living by beating the living tar out of lefties and being an average or a bit better hitter against righties. To wit: In 2007, Troy had a 1.235 ops against lefties, .728 against righties. In 2006, it was 1.048 against lefties, and .806 when facing a right-hander. For his career, the big, scary robo-3b is almost 180 ops points better against lefties.
Rolen, on the other hand, has hit righties better over the course of his career than Glaus has, though he hasn’t hit lefties nearly as well. He actually belongs in the middle of the line-up when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, although he probably won’t be there.
This is to say that the offensive drop-off between Glaus and Rolen isn’t as much as most would think, at least not against right-handed pitching, which is what is out there most of the time. Against lefties, the Jays lose a huge bat, but they still have Thomas, Rios, Wells, Hill and Reed Johnson, all of whom have piggy banks back home full of lunch money that they’ve unapologetically stolen from southpaws over the course of their careers.
For the improvement the Jays get in defense and speed, it’s an easy choice to take the difference in bats.
Now, the injury issue. The one thing I say on the radio that makes most callers say “Seriously?” is this – Troy Glaus is only 31 years old. That’s because it looks like he’s a lot closer to 50. He has knee problems and heel problems and moves around like he’s auditioning for “Dancing With The Stars” in the “Do The Robot” category. Can he stay healthy? Maybe, and there’s probably a better chance on grass, but maybe not. That said, he missed a grand total of just 22 games in 2005 and 2006 combined before sitting out 47 last season.
Rolen has had surgery on the same shoulder twice, and the recovery from the surgeries cost him 106 games in 2005 and 50 more last season. Can he stay healthy? Maybe, but at least his injuries won’t take a toll on him defensively or on the basepaths, where he immediately becomes one of the Jays’ fastest players, though he’s not a base-stealer.
The Blue Jays already have Rios, Thomas, Stairs, Wells and Overbay to hit in the 3-7 spots (not necessarily in that order), if they so desire. Rolen can hit in there, or he can hit second if John Gibbons wants. He’s a more versatile offensive player than Glaus because he’s not all walks, homers and strikeouts, and he can actually help out on the bases. He’s a year older than Glaus, but 32 is far from over the hill, and if the shoulder is right, he’ll be a very productive player in Toronto.
I guess the next topic of discussion among JaysTalkers will be: “Would you have traded Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista for Scott Rolen”? Oh, well.
Comments are welcome, and the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, January 11th, 2008
9:25 PM Eastern
The esteemed writer for bluejays.com tells me I need to put a new post up. His wish is my command, though it’s going to be a short one.
First of all, those of you interested in seeing me on TV doing a different sport should tune into Rogers Community 10 this weekend and next (Ontario only, I believe) – I’ll be doing play-by-play of a couple of curling tournaments. Ed Werenich will be doing colour, which is pretty freakin’ awesome.
Second of all, just a quick comment about this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. I was very happy to see Goose Gossage get in, and sad to see Bert Blyleven and Mark McGwire miss again by so much. I was also pleased that the respective myths of Jim Rice and Jack Morris weren’t firmly ingrained in the minds of enough voters to get those two in, because they’re not Hall of Famers.
I love how the longer Rice’s stay on the ballot has lasted, the more feared a player he’s become. If he was one of the most dominant and feared hitters of his era, then why did he have fewer intentional walks than Alvin Davis? Yes, he generally had good bats behind him, and David Ortiz doesn’t get passed much because of the presence of Manny Ramirez, but even Big Papi has 35 IBBs the last two years combined, which means he’d surpass Rice’s career total in three more years.
Also, Rice was in large part a Fenway creation. His career OPS on the road is four points better than George Bell’s overall career OPS. Monster in his massively hitter-friendly home park, George Bell away from Fenway – does that belong in the Hall? I just don’t think Rice meets the requirements.
And Morris? Oh, but he pitched to the score! Give me a break. He may well have pitched one of the single greatest games in baseball history in Game 7 of the1991 World Series, but I don’t see Don Larsen in the Hall of Fame. Morris was a very good pitcher on some very, very good teams. I wouldn’t take him in his prime over Blyleven, though. And what a travesty it is that Rik Aalbert still isn’t in. For shame, voters.
Also, with regards to McGwire – get over yourselves. It seems as though people are trying to find reasons to keep him out, because they’re still gonna vote for Bonds and Clemens when they come up. Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs in an era where a LOT of people, pitchers and hitters, were enhancing their performance by less-than-legal means. McGwire also got on base a WHOLE LOT, even though a lot of the times he got on, it was because he drew a walk. For his career, Big Mac only got out 60.6% of the time that he came to the plate, I could care less if he hit .235 (which he didn’t by the way, it was .266). He has to be in. Hopefully, the Mitchell Report and other things to follow will open some eyes to just how rampant the drug use was, and McGwire will find his way in in the next few years. Shame that his acceptance speech at Cooperstown will be “I’m not here to talk about the past” though.
As always, comments are welcome, Roger Clemens’ pants are still on fire, and the e-mail address is email@example.com. Fill up that inbox and you get a new mailbag!
Monday, January 7th, 2008
12:10 AM Eastern
I just finished watching Mike Wallace’s “hard-hitting” interview of steroid user Roger Clemens on 60 minutes (I PVR’d it – you know, so I could spend time with the kiddies while they were awake), and I have to say that I’m thoroughly unimpressed by one of the greatest investigative reporters in the history of anything. Wallace, who considers himself a good friend of Clemens and who the disgraceful righty specifically requested for the interview, called Clemens on absolutely nothing for the duration of the 20-minute segment.
The toughest question that was asked (other than the ridiculous “Swear?” – what are we, in Grade 2?) was why would Brian McNamee have lied to George Mitchell’s investigators, when he knew that being caught in a lie would have enabled the FBI to reinstate federal charges against him. Clemens’ answer, “To stay out of jail, I guess”, at the very least cried out for further digging. Instead, Wallace asked him why McNamee needed to stay out of jail – when we already knew he was facing federal charges if he was found to NOT be telling the truth. Clemens answered by saying that he heard McNamee was in trouble for selling steroids. And how did Clemens find out that his former trainer was facing federal drug charges? Must have been because he’d been hanging out with this guy for 10 years and knew a little bit about him and his life. Ahhh, wrong again – Clemens knew this because he’d read it in the Mitchell Report, which, of course, WAS FULL OF HORRIBLE LIES, though only about Roger Clemens.
Aside from a very disappointing performance from an 89 year-old journalistic icon, Clemens didn’t do horribly, but I wouldn’t say he did especially well. Watching him shake his head to all the accusations, hearing him stay on his obviously well-coached talking points (“never happened”, “quick fix”, “why would I want to shorten my career”), I kept thinking that he was pretty shifty-eyed. I don’t know what was going on off-camera, but something that was to his left really seemed to be distracting him a lot. He did look right into Wallace’s eyes when giving his answers, though, which is what you’re supposed to do if you want people to think you’re telling the truth.
Funny, though, that the whole quick-fix thing kept coming up. It’s true, steroids shorten a player’s career. Unless that player is Clemens, who played 24 years, or Barry Bonds, who has played 22 seasons, or Gary Sheffield, who’s heading into his 21st. Rafael Palmeiro played 20 years before being forced to go into hiding – he wasn’t necessarily going to be done after ’05 if he hadn’t been outed. Heck, Jose Canseco played 17, and would have made it to 20 had he not been blackballed. Yes, tese are only a few examples, but they’re the best of the best of the players we know about, and Clemens certainly has to be counted in that stratosphere.
By the way, I do believe Canseco was “retired” from the game early because of his outspokenness and general arrogance about his place in the game. In his last season, at 37 years of age, he had an .843 OPS (117 OPS+) and 16 homers in 76 games. Tell me somebody couldn’t have used that.
Anyway, back to Clemens. Obviously, the steroids don’t shorten everybody’s career. And did anyone else find it funny that Clemens said that if he had been doing ‘roids, he’d have grown a third ear out of his forehead or be pulling tractors with his teeth? Cute, very funny, Roger. Excellent comparisons to say how stupidly strong the cheaters get. You know what would have been another good one? How about having the best ERA, best ERA+ and second-best WHIP of a career that might already have been the best of all-time AT 42 FREAKIN’ YEARS OLD? That could never happen, right? Right? Swear?
A couple of other things before we go. At one point, Clemens said, “My body hasn’t changed”. I direct your attention to the following link, because I don’t know how to put pictures up in this thing yet:
Also, the whole Andy Pettitte thing really bothered me. Wallace completely glossed over the two pitchers’ relationship, how close they were, how Pettitte followed Clemens to Houston and Clemens followed Pettitte back to New York. The only mention of Pettitte was to say that he’d confirmed McNamee’s statement that Pettitte had used hGH (only twice, though, and only to rehab an injury, and because he had this killer headache and besides, he had a note from Epstein’s mother), another place where McNamee was telling the truth about something in his massive web of lies.
And the lawsuit question came up, though it was Clemens who brought it up. He said that he needed to figure out whether it was worth all the time and money and hassle of suing McNamee in order to clear his name. Time is a tough one. At the very least, Clemens is semi-retired, even though he said we would likely “never see him pitch again”, so where will he find the time? Money? Well, who has the kind of money to put together a massive lawsuit in an effort to clear up a name, which could be argued is the most important thing a person has in this world? Surely not someone who has made about $150 million in salary alone over the past 20 years. Hassle? Well, that’s a whole other story. It is one hell of a hassle. Maybe Clemens is right, it’s just not worth doing.
The problem is, it’s nearly impossible to prove that someone didn’t do something. Thing is, it’s also very easy to prove that someone did, and I’m thinking that McNamee might have some sort of proof that what he’s said is true. We’ll see. McNamee has said that he would sue Clemens for defamation if he was called a liar during the 60 minutes spot. Clemens never actually used the word “liar”, but he did say “never happened” a lot.
Comments are welcome. E-mailically, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008
8:30 PM Eastern
The first order of business for the Blue Jays for the new year seems to be extending their 10-year streak of never going as far as a hearing room with an arbitration-eligible player. I think the last player they actually took all the way to arbitration was Bill Risley – those were the days.
Reed Johnson was the first of seven to sign up, and it shows you just how sick the arbitration system is that he could get a raise after the year he had in 2007. Johnson came into the season as the leadoff man and everyday LF, coming off the best year of his career, and had to have surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back after the season was less than a week old. He was out until the all-star break, and was really a shadow of the player he was before when he did get back into the line-up, struggling to a final line of .236/.305/.320 with two homers, though he did hit .325/.381/.532 against lefties.
And he got a raise. Not much of one, I’ll grant you, just a hair short of $200,000, but come on. The right thing to do would have been a one-year deal at the same salary as last year, basically saying, “OK, Reed, we’ll give you a mulligan. Let’s pretend 2007 never happened.”
Truth be told, I’m still a little surprised that the Jays didn’t non-tender Johnson when they said goodbye to Tosh Jowers last month. Not that Reed isn’t a good player, and not that he isn’t someone you want on your team. He is both those things, but $3 million is a lot of scratch, and he more than likely could have been had for quite a bit less if he’d been a free agent. On the other hand, if you do non-tender, the chances are greater that someone ELSE winds up getting him for a lot less than $3 million, so I guess it’s the cost of doing business.
Let me be clear about one thing up front. Many of you who have listened to me over the years may believe otherwise, but I am a big Reed Johnson fan. I love the way he plays the game, I think he’s terrific defensively and a very good bat to have against left-handed pitching. I have said many times that he’s the perfect 4th outfielder, and I continue to believe that.
There is a thought out there that Reed made some sort of leap in 2005, and that he established himself as an everyday player and great lead-off man by hitting .319/.390/.479, but let’s not get carried away. Johnson had an incredible start to that year, as did a few Jays. He was hitting .365/.451/.507 at the all-star break, and then reverted to the guy that he had been almost his entire career up to that point, going .283/.338/.457 the rest of the way. Solid second-half numbers, to be sure, but just solid, and certainly not deserving of a spot at or near the top of the line-up.
Lifetime, Reed has hit .267/.328/.383 against right-handed pitching, which is why it’s a terrific thing that the Jays are saying that, as of now, he’s in a strict platoon with Matt Stairs in left field. Reed should start against lefties (hitting second behind lefty-killer John McDonald – OK, lets’ not get carried away, but I’d like to see Reed hitting 2 against lefties), and play defense for Stairs at the end of games in which the Jays are leading, and that’s it.
The other arb-eligibles are Gustavo Chacin, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Alex Rios, Marco Scutaro and Brian Tallet – expect them all to get done well before any scheduled hearings are set to begin. Rios will probably get a multi-year deal, if the Jays don’t trade him for a good, young starting pitcher.
The Jays also signed three pitchers to minor-league deals with invites to Spring Training. One of them, Lance Carter (Warlord of Mars – I don’t know why,but that always pops into my head when I hear his name), pitched in the All-Star Game in 2003, when he was the D-Rays’ closer. Of course, Jack Armstrong started the All-Star Game in 1990, so we all know what an all-star selection means, but Carter did have a couple of good seasons for T-Bay, combining to allow 191 baserunners in 159 1/3 innings over ’03 and ’04. He had some issues keeping the ball in the park (24 HR) and hardly struck out anybody, though, so don’t think that he’ll contribute too much beyond providing some back-up for the Accardo-League-Frasor-Wolfe gang behind B.J. Ryan. Oh, and he’s 33 and played in Japan last year.
The other of the trio who has big-league credentials is John Parrish, though those credentials aren’t especially strong (169 walks in 229 1/3 innings). He was an ineffective situational lefty for the Orioles and Mariners last year (.293/.353/.403 vs LHB) after missing all of 2006 recovering from elbow surgery. His hits allowed and strikeouts, career-wise, are very good, but he just can’t throw the ball over the plate – the walks are atrocious. Parrish will compete with Tallet for that third lefty spot in the bullpen behind Ryan and Downs, but likely spend most of his time providing injury insurance at Syracuse.
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