Archive for January, 2009
Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
12:55 AM Eastern
I might have to reassess my nickname choice for the Blue Jays’ annual meet-and-greet with season-ticket holders, because this year there wasn’t a single question about the food at Rogers Centre, nor was there one about any of the amenities at the ballpark, or the stadium itself, for that matter.
As far as the french fries served at the event, they were OK. A little overdone and kinda greasy, which is an unusual combo.
There were a number of very interesting things about this year’s get-together, not the least of which is that it was held on the same day as Barack Obama’s historic inauguration and that most of the media got stunningly little notice that it was even going on. One wonders if the Jays were trying to fly this one under the radar a little bit, given their inactivity this off-season and the resounding dirges sung by a great many fans this winter.
The spotlight was on Paul Beeston and Cito Gaston, two icons of the Jays’ glory years who have returned to try to help bring the franchise back to those days of greatness. Beeston was greeted warmly, and Gaston with a resounding standing ovation – applause so great that the first thing he did was suggest he should leave and come back in, in order to get some more.
Both Beeston and Gaston got up from the head table to make opening remarks, but J.P. Ricciardi did not. However, once the questions started coming from the audience, Ricciardi didn’t take a backseat at all.
You can hear a few dozen clips from the event and some voicers that I did playing on the Fan throughout tonight and (hopefully) tomorrow, but I can go into greater depth here, obviously, so here we go:
First, Beeston. The “interim” president (he doesn’t expect to have a successor in place before Spring Training, and the list of potentials is still over a dozen) loves the fact that the Jays are in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, believing that kind of competition brings out the best in his team. He said that the Jays’ goal is to eventually be on an even footing with those powerhouses as far as payroll goes, and that Toronto is a big enough city with the fan support to be able to make that happen, but in order to get there, the team has to win first. Beeston said that it’s important for the Jays to be competitive every year, and that he believes in the farm system, in the young pitching and in the front office. He hopes that Ricciardi will stay on as General Manager for “years to come”, but also said that the onus is on J.P. and Cito to get the Jays to win this year.
Beeston said again, as he did on the Fan last month, that it didn’t make sense to him for the Jays’ payroll to be at $100 million. That if it wasn’t going to be $120 million, it may as well be $80 million, which is where it has settled. He did say, however, that taking a step back in payroll this year might allow the Jays to do more financially next year, when they get Shaun Marcum back and young players like Travis Snider, Adam Lind, David Purcey and Brett Cecil (to name a few) have some more big-league time under their belts and the team should be in a far better position to contend.
Beeston said that he’s excited about the season to come, and that he expects it to be a lot of fun – because after all, isn’t that what games are supposed to be?
Gaston said that, like Beeston, he believes the Jays are moving forward, not backward, but that there are a lot of issues to address on the pitching side. He said he is really looking forward to seeing the young arms on their way up come Spring Training – players like Cecil, the Romero brothers (no relation), Brad Mills and Marc Rzepcyznski, among others. Cito mentioned that in order to avoid another mediocre April, he will approach the last week of Spring Training as though it’s the real deal, with starters playing seven or eight innings, getting three or four at-bats per game, as opposed to the more recent day-on, day-off, six-inning stints we’ve been seeing.
He added that the team needs Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen to hit. He says he expects 20-25 homers from Overbay, 25-30 from Rolen and even more from Alex Rios, who Cito said is going to be a superstar. Gaston was asked about Rios’ not-infrequent focus issues, and asked for patience, saying that Rios is young yet.
Gaston mentioned as well that the Jays from 1982-1993 took plenty of rounds of extra hitting, and that this year’s edition will do so as well. He talked specifically about John McDonald, saying that he’s been pigeon-holed as a hitter who has to take the ball the other way to be successful, but that he’s never been taught how to take the ball the other way properly. They’ll work with him on that in Dunedin, and we may see more of Johnny Mac in 2009 than we did last season.
As for Ricciardi, he got the biggest laugh of the night when a questioner went through a few names of available free agents, starting with Orlando Hudson. As the fan continued his list, he added “I won’t even bring up Adam Dunn” and J.P. came back with “Neither will I.”
On a more serious note, Ricciardi said that a lot of time this year will be spent on giving the young kids a good, long look at the big leagues. He said that the Jays didn’t get in on Jason Giambi because they’re committed to playing Travis Snider and so Giambi would have taken at-bats away from Adam Lind, which they didn’t want. He also, surprisingly, said that adding Giambi would have made the Jays too lefty-heavy. Actually, he used the word “dominant”. I didn’t get that, because last I checked, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Aaron Hill, Scott Rolen, Rod Barajas and Marco Scutaro hit right-handed. That would be two-thirds of the regular starting line-up. Also, if Giambi was going to take playing time away from Lind, that’s not adding a lefty, it’s replacing one with another.
Ricciardi also said that the Jays aren’t necessarily done with their off-season moves, that they’re always looking to augment what they have offensively, and if the right guy falls into their price range, they’d move on him. Again, though, he mentioned the desire to add a right-handed bat.
From the pitching side, J.P. said that there is nothing holding Casey Janssen back health-wise, and that he’ll come to camp as a member of the rotation, leaving competition for the fifth spot (behind Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey and Janssen) to a group that includes Scott Richmond, Matt Clement, Mike Maroth and Brett Cecil. I asked Ricciardi if he might hold Cecil back to keep his innings down, and he said no. Cecil will have a chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training, and if he makes the team, he makes the team. He added that Cecil isn’t a candidate to pitch out of the bullpen.
As far as free agent pitchers are concerned, Ricciardi said that he didn’t see any out there (that the Jays could afford) who were any better than the kids could be if they were given an opportunity.
As far as a certain ace pitcher who is going to be eligible for free agency in two years, Ricciardi said the Jays have no plans to trade Roy Halladay. They believe that the team will be a contender in 2010, and that Halladay will be a big piece of that. Ricciardi also said that the plan is to have money available after 2010 to be able to recommit to Halladay, and that the Jays will do everything they can to keep him in their uniform.
I mentioned Beeston’s comment that he hopes that Ricciardi is here as general manager for a long time (while also saying that the onus was upon him to win this year – not a Championship, but to win), but J.P. was non-committal when asked about his future. He said, as he always has, that his family is more important to him than his job, and that his sons Dante and Mariano are getting to the age where they need their father around more. It sounded as though he didn’t think he’d be back after his contract expires, willingly or otherwise.
I want to apologize for not being quicker at posting your comments. I want to have enough time to address each one appropriately. I had planned to do it before this post went up, but it was a crazy day, being swept up in history in the morning, running back and forth to car dealerships in the afternoon trying to figure out whether to buy back my car off the lease or pay the mileage penalty (three grand – I’m an idiot) and give it back. Just crazy. I didn’t wind up getting a good enough deal to mention the dealership here on the blerg. ;-)
The plan is to get to the comments at some point today. Rational, reasonable ones are always welcome!
Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
12:35 AM Eastern
The results of the writers’ ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (hey, don’t we count, too?) were announced today, and Rickey Henderson and
Dante Bichette Jim Rice will be enshrined this summer.
Henderson was the greatest lead-off hitter of all time, baseball’s career leader in runs scored and stolen bases. He lapped the field with his 81 lead-off homers and posted a .401 on-base percentage. Nobody did it better, and the only thing that could have kept anyone from casting a vote for him was his arrogance, which is a stupid reason not to vote a player into the Hall of Fame. Besides, Rickey backed it up. He was one of a very few people who could really walk the walk after he’d talked the talk. Speaking of which, he “retired” as baseball’s all-time walks leader, but has since been passed by Barry Bonds.
Blue Jays fans likely remember the fact that Rickey almost single-handedly destroyed the Jays in the 1989 ALCS (Jose Canseco’s 500-level shot directly over my head notwithstanding). He hit .400/.609/1.000 in that five-game series, stealing eight bases in eight tries. Many Jays fans also remember Rickey as a major disappointment as a Jay after coming over at the 1993 trade deadline in a deal for Steve Karsay and Jose Herrera. Those people, of course, are very wrong.
It’s easy to look at the fact that Henderson hit .215 over those 44 regular season games and call him a failure. Or maybe to remember that he had to miss a few games because of frostbite. But all the other numbers tell the true tale of his value to that last Championship team north of the border. In those 44 games, Rickey scored 37 runs – that pro-rates to 136 over a full season, which would have been his second-highest career total (despite a .356 on-base, horrible for him – thank you WAMCO). He also stole 22 bases while being caught only twice, which over a full season translates to 81 successful steals in 88 attempts – that would have shattered the Jays’ all-time record (Dave Collins, 60, 1984).
He stunk it up but good in the ALCS against the White Sox (.120/.241/.200), and didn’t hit against the Phillies either (.227 average), but he walked five times and got hit once to give him a .393 obp. The last of those five walks came leading off the bottom of the 9th in Game 6, and we all know what happened three batters later.
It’s nice to have another ex-Blue Jay going into the Hall – Henderson joins Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Phil Niekro and coach Bobby Doerr. Next year, though, Jays fans will get a real treat when Roberto Alomar becomes the first Hall of Famer to go in wearing a Blue Jays cap on his plaque.
If you listened to The Bullpen with Mike Hogan and Mike Toth Monday morning (and if you didn’t, shame on you), you heard Hoagie ask me who would be on my ballot. My answer was Henderson, Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines and Mark McGwire.
Jim Rice wasn’t on that list, nor should he have been on at least eight of the ballots that were sent in by the writers (he squeaked in by seven votes). I’m not going to get too upset about his inclusion, because there are always arguments to be made about how deserving or not many enshrinees are and hey, at least it’s not the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the criteria for induction seems to be just playing in the NHL. The fact is, though, that over the past few years, the myth has arisen that Rice was the most feared hitter in the American League over a “decade of dominance” from 1975-1984. You’ll hear people say this as though it is the gospel truth, and it’s just not the case at all.
My formative years as a baseball fan were from about 1979-1985, and I don’t remember thinking that Rice was an incredibly scary guy. That’s one smell test that fails, but the truth is in the performance.
You know how you think Scott Rolen was a major disappointment offensively this season and is pretty much done as a good hitter (see how well I know my readers)? Scott Rolen’s 2008 was Jim Rice’s CAREER away from Fenway Park. Rolen hit .262/.349/.431 this year, for a .780 OPS. Rice hit .277/.330/.459 on the road for his career, for a .789 OPS.
He was a monster at home, and really not that good on the road. Certainly not Hall of Fame good, and to me, if you can’t hit away from your nice, cozy ballpark, you’re not an immortal.
You may have noticed Dante Bichette’s name scratched out at the top of this post. Anyone think of Bichette as a Hall of Famer? I didn’t think so. Dante, though, had strikingly similar home/road splits to Rice’s for his career, most of which was spent with the Colorado Rockies. His extremes were greater than Rice’s, but it’s still a reasonable example. Bichette had a .938 OPS at home and a .730 OPS on the road, compared to Rice’s .920 and .789. Another striking similarity is in tOPS+ (I know we’re getting stat-geeky here, but this is cool). It’s the stat that measures a player’s OPS relative to that of the rest of his team, with 100 being bang-on average.
Rice’s tOPS+ was 115 at home and 85 on the road. Bichette’s was 124 at home and 76 on the road. That means that Fenway Rice was 15% better than his teammates but Rice-A-Roadie was 15% worse than his teammates. Bichette was 24% better at home and 24% worse on the road. Freaky.
As for the rest of my ballot, it remains unbelievable to me that Bert Blyleven, who may have had baseball’s greatest curveball and who retired second or third (I can’t remember, and it’s late) on the all-time strikeout list, is being punished for not picking up 13 more wins over the course of his career. It seems to me that we’re a little more educated now as to how responsible a starting pitcher is for the wins and losses in his column, and yet so many of the writers dismiss Blyleven because he didn’t get to the magic 300-win plateau.
This is a guy with a career WHIP of 1.198, who threw 242 complete games including 60 shutouts. He’s being punished because the teams he pitched for weren’t good enough to get him about an extra half-win a season. Ridiculous.
There’s a simple argument for McGwire. The guy hit 583 home runs with a career OPS of .972 – 62% better than the average big-leaguer over the course of his career. Yes, he far more than likely had some illegal, artificial help to inflate those power numbers, but so did just about everybody else of his era. Regardless of how squeaky-clean somebody’s image is, you just never know who didn’t use steroids. It’s simply unfair to only punish those about whom there are strong suspicions, or even proof, because you know that you’ll be letting in a lot of people who broke those same rules.
If McGwire had appeared in front of the U.S. Congress in 2005 and said “Yes, I took steroids. It was a mistake and I regret it.” He would be in the Hall of Fame right now, and that’s just stupid. And please don’t push the revisionist history of “he was too one-dimensional, I wouldn’t have voted for him anyway” that some argue. Had McGwire not been suspected of using steroids, he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, no questions asked. Anyone who denies this is lying to themselves.
Lastly, Tim Raines, who has gotten incredible short shrift from the voters. 417 people left Raines off their ballots. What are these people thinking? While Henderson was the greatest lead-off hitter ever, Raines was right on his heels, hitting .294/.385/.425 (an OPS 10 points higher than Rickey’s) and stealing 808 bases at a success rate of 84.6% (higher than Rickey’s 80.8%). He didn’t get 3,000 hits, which Rickey did, but Henderson had 2,987 more plate appearances. I think Raines might have pounded out 400 more hits given that many extra opportunities. Or half that many. Hopefully Henderson’s election wakes up quite a few writers as to the merits of Raines’ candidacy. 22.6% in favour reflects very, very poorly on the baseball acumen of those who are supposed to have the greatest baseball acumen.
Before I go, I just wanted to give you an example of how I serve my public, you fine folks who take the time to listen to me on the radio and come and read this blog. Or actually, how I serve the people who may not do either thing. I read a comment on the Drunks site from someone who insisted that Alex Rios must have flied out to the warning track 100 times this past season and wanted to know if someone could tell him what the exact number was. Well, it just so happens that when I score a game, I have four different notations that I use for the distance of a flyout. “S” for shallow, “D” for deep, “WT” for warning track and “W” for a ball caught at the wall. Nothing for a routine fly, so maybe that’s five notations. I know, it’s a really complicated system. What can I say? I’m a really complicated guy.
Anyway, I checked, and Rios hit 15 fly balls this past season that were caught on the warning track or at the wall, 10 of them coming at home. Happy to help!
As always, rational, reasonable comments are welcome.
Monday, January 5th, 2009
I hope you all had a better time ringing in 2009 than I did. I was struck down by a stomach virus that was just beginning to go away on New Year’s Eve, so I kind of just sat there with no energy and no appetite as we watched the ball drop. The three-day technicolour yawnfest was followed by some sort of throat thing that has caused me to lose my voice (which always spells trouble in my industry – good thing it’s wintertime), so it was neither a good send-off to 2008 nor a pleasant welcome to 2009 around these parts. Which is to say I’m sorry for not posting anything for a couple of weeks.
I’m glad my stint of hosting during xmas week was well-received. I enjoyed it a lot, especially the December 24th show (The Game Chair). That afternoon I had my brother on talking movies, as well as Parminder Singh, who does play-by-play for Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi and the World Long-Drive Champion, Alberta’s own Jamie Sadlowski. To top it off, Vernon Wells was willing to be pulled off the golf course to do a segment. It was a good mix, good show with good guests and it really stood out for me. I hope you enjoyed it as well.
It was the day after Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees, and Vernon said that he wasn’t surprised. He didn’t think that the Yanks were going to walk away with the A.L. East (in truth, they’re only marginally better now than they were last year, and only if A.J. Burnett stays healthy, which is a longshot), and he didn’t think the Jays were going to be horrible in 2009, which is what you’d expect to hear. By the way, for those rending their garments at the news of the Yankees’ spending and the portents of doom for the game that follow – their payroll has actually gone down from last season. They cleared $81 million in salary after 2008, what did you expect them to do?
I agree with Vernon, as you know if you’ve been listening or reading. There are still moves to be made by all parties – I don’t think anyone in the A.L. East is done with their off-season shopping – but as it stands, I think the Jays will have their typical third-place finish with between 83-88 wins in 2009 with a chance to surprise people the way the Rays did last year (but for a different reason). The pitching will be worse, but the offense will be better and frankly, they’re due for some things to go their way.
Since we last met, the Jays have added four players, signed to minor-league contracts with invites to Spring Training. They’ve been discussed, hashed and re-hashed on the air and throughout the Jays fans’ corner of the blogosphere, so I’m not going to go into great detail, but here’s what I think:
Michael Barrett just turned 32, is only two seasons removed from a .307/.368/.517, and has had only one year in the last four in which he hasn’t obliterated left-handed pitching. Not a bad guy to get for basically free to compete for a back-up catcher’s job.
Raul Chavez is a strong defensive catcher without much of a bat whatsoever, but he keeps the Jays from having to call up one of J.P. Arencibia or Brian Jeroloman too early in case one of Rod Barajas or Barrett goes down with an injury. Chavez’ presence also allows the Jays to move Curtis Thigpen out from behind the plate and see if that will re-ignite his bat.
Randy Ruiz is a career minor-leaguer who has spent his last four years between AA and AAA in six different teams’ systems. His OPSs those four years have been 1.074, .870, .894 and .902. He could maybe compete for a job as a bat off the bench, or with Jose Bautista to be Lyle Overbay’s platoon-mate. At worst, he rakes in Las Vegas and gets called up when anybody gets hurt.
Mike Maroth is another reclamation project on the mound. If he’s healthy, he either fills out the rotation in Vegas or competes with Scott Richmond, Brian Tallet and Casey Janssen for the 5th spot in the rotation until Dustin McGowan gets back.
The important thing to remember for those disappointed by these signings (and it seems as though there were quite a few fans out there who were) is that NONE of them were primary targets of the Blue Jays’ this off-season, and NONE of them are expected to make significant contributions to the major-league team, with the possible exception of Barrett. These players cost the Jays nothing to acquire, and they’re all fine gambles to take. These are the kinds of guys who teams scoop up every off-season, and who rarely make a difference. Every team picks up players like this all the time.
There are better guys still out there, like Freddy Garcia, Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, Chuck James, Glendon Rusch and Mark Mulder, at whom the Jays may yet take a run as they attempt to fill out the rotation. There are better bats out there, like Bobby Abreu, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Jason Giambi, Jonny Gomes, Kevin Millar and Daryle Ward, whom the Jays would be happy to have if and when they’re still standing alone when the music stops. Signing the minor-league four doesn’t mean they were the only ones at whom the Jays were looking, nor does it mean the Jays are no longer looking.
I’m getting very tired of the “why should we watch if they’re not going to compete” chorus that has arisen since Rogers decided to cut payroll. I don’t agree with the decision, nor do I agree with Paul Beeston’s assertion that if the Jays aren’t going to spend $120 million, they may as well spend $80 million. But that’s the unfortunate reality we’re facing.
Why should fans still come out to watch? Because they love baseball. It costs less to go to a Jays game than it does to go to a movie and there’s not a player on the Jays who makes as much per season as Tom Cruise does per film. If you’re a fan, if you love the game, then you go to a game for the game. If you only want to see a team that you believe has a good chance to win the whole shebang, you’re not a baseball fan, and that’s cool. Just don’t pretend to be one.
Also, there is no blaming J.P. Ricciardi for the lack of activity this winter. His employers have cut his budget by 20%, and that’s out of his control. It seems as though he’s content to sit back and play for 2010 (possibly to make a new G.M. look really, really good), and I don’t know if I agree with that. I’m sure he’s tested the trade waters, dangling B.J. Ryan and Lyle Overbay, among others, and hasn’t been happy enough with what he’s heard back. I believe that a guy like Ryan is a luxury a team in the Jays’ current payroll position can’t afford, and that he should be moved if they’re going to be a lower-payroll club. But the time to move him may be closer to the trade deadline in July, or maybe even next off-season. Of course, by next off-season, the payroll will have to be back up around the $100 million mark, if not more. Maybe they’ll use this year’s savings towards the 2010 payroll, who knows?
Before I go, one last story about my early December trip that I neglected to tell earlier. We got to spend a day in San Juan before the cruise left, and I wanted to at least check out Hiram Bithorn Stadium, if not see a Puerto Rican Winter League game. It turned out that there was a game on the night the cruise left, but I had to be on the boat by the time it started. Alex Rios’ team was in town.
That afternoon, I took the family to the ballpark, and it was all locked up. We saw a guy in a truck in front of the entrance and I had my wife, a native Spanish speaker (extraordinarily helpful in San Juan, and also with putting together the BJADPPGS – she’s had lovely chats with Rios’ and Guillermo Quiroz’ mothers and Marco Scutaro’s brother, among others) ask him if there was any way we could get in. He had no clue, so we went around the side of the building and saw a guy coming out and getting in his truck to leave. He was one of the concessionaires, and was pulling the gate closed behind him. My wife told him who I was and asked if he knew how we could get in to take a look at the stadium. His answer was something that you’d never hear at a professional ballfield in Canada or the States. He said something along the lines of, “Go ahead. Just lock up when you leave.”
So we did. We went into the stadium and looked around. It was really nice, reminding me of one of the newer Spring Training parks, but with twice as much seating. We could have gone on the field, taken some grounders, hit some B.P., whatever, but before we had a chance to do any of that, Jose Oquendo popped out of the dugout and started running laps around the field. He said hi without stopping, but didn’t ask what the hell the six of us were doing at field level when the stadium was supposed to be closed.
We locked up when we left, and I have a picture to prove it, along with a couple of other pictures I took of the stadium. In the shot of the whole ballpark you can see Oquendo jogging at the 375 sign in right-centre.
Rational, reasonable comments are welcome, as always.