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!