1:50 PM Eastern
FIRST THINGS FIRST – CAST YOUR VOTE FOR TOM CHEEK!!!!! The voice of the Blue Jays, of baseball and of summer in Canada is on the ballot to get onto the final ballot for the Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcasting Excellence, an honour that would get him into the broadcasters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. It’s up to us to make sure he gets his due. Go to www.facebook.com/baseballhall, go to the “poll” section and please vote for Tom. Do it every day. Thank you.
Now then……….the Blue Jays wrapped up their wheelings and dealings – or distinct lack thereof – at the Winter Meetings without the big boss. The Rule 5 draft took place this morning in the absence of General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, who took an early flight and got the heck out of Dodge. Chances are, Alex didn’t want to face the hordes of media that would have descended upon him at the end of the draft, when there’s really no way to cut out and just do a private chat with the local scriveners and electronic types.
So the Rule 5 was left in the hands of Alex’s two trusted lieutenants, Tony LaCava and Dana Brown, along with Charlie Wilson, the new director of minor-league operations. The three of them put their heads together and delved deep into Brown’s intimate knowledge of the Washington Nationals’ system, him having just come over from being their scouting director, and selected a pair of right-handed relievers: Zech Zinicola in the major-league phase and Ruben de la Rosa in the minor-league phase.
Zinicola has to remain on the Blue Jays’ active roster (or major-league disabled list) all season or be offered back to the Nats for half the draft price of $50,000 that the Jays paid for him. Zinicola will be 24 on Opening Day and was a 6th-round pick of the Nationals back in 2006 out of Arizona State. He has been clocked from 90-96 miles an hour and features a plus slider, which makes him an attractive commodity. What he doesn’t feature is a whole lot of control – he has walked 103 over 210 innings as a pro, an average of 4.4 per nine innings. He’s no Nuke LaLoosh, the guy who has no clue where the ball is going when it leaves his hand, but he’s still someone who has to do a better job throwing strikes. He’ll get his chance under the watchful eyes of Bruce Walton and Rick Langford. If Zinicola needs a year of coaching and teaching and experience at the major-league level in order to really turn into something, the Jays can definitely afford to have him sit around as the 7th man in the bullpen all year.
Last year, Zinicola started the season at Double-A Harrisburg – his fourth stop at that level – and was very good, save for the nine walks in 20 innings. He was bumped up to AAA for the second time, and for the second time, really struggled. Not with the walks, though – he only issued 10 free passes in 33 1/3 innings. He just got beat up, allowing 47 hits and winding up with a 7.56 ERA. A lot of that was bad luck, believe it or not, as the BABIP against him was a whopping .442 – the norm is supposed to be around .300. Again, while his ERA was 7.56, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was just 2.99, which augurs well. It appears – but only appears, certainly I’ve never seen the guy pitch – that Zinicola wasn’t nearly as bad last year as his numbers would indicate.
De la Rosa is a lot farther away, having been selected in the minor-league phase after pitching about 30 innings in the Gulf Coast rookie league last season. I say about 30 because three different minor-league sites have three different statistical totals for him. Regardless of where you look, though, he was dominant. The native of Bani in the Dominican Republic (birthplace of Erick Aybar – could it be??) will be 23 on Opening Day, so he’s old for his level, but in the GCL last season he put up a 0.96 ERA and1.14 WHIP, striking out 44 in just 28 innings (or a 0.87 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, striking out 47 in 31 innings, depending on who you believe). Opponents had a .318 BABIP against him, which is far more normal than Zinicola’s, and de la Rosa posted a FIP of 1.83. Again, it’s a sample size of very few innings and it’s a low-level league for someone his age.
De la Rosa hits 93 on the gun with a plus curveball and good make-up, and even though he was picked in the AAA phase of the draft, he’s not required to stay on the Vegas roster or be offered back to Washington. The Jays can put him at any level they want. That’s good, because it’s a hell of a jump to go from the Gulf Coast League to the Pacific Coast League.
In other Blue Jays news, there was a buzz around the Marriott this morning because of a report that the Jays had signed Joey Gathright. The speedy free-agent outfielder would be a solid fit for the Jays as a fourth outfielder – he’d be a tremendous pinch-runner, solid defensive replacement and a not-unreasonable lefty bat off the bench. I can’t remember the last time the Jays had that kind of speed on the bench – Tom Lawless, maybe?
But, the report’s not true. LaCava did say that the Jays would love to have Gathright, but nothing is done and there are still a few teams to which he’s talking. Gathright hasn’t been much of a hitter in his big-league career, with no platoon advantages (.626 career OPS vs. lefties, .631 vs. righties) and no power at all to speak of. He’s played 445 games in the big leagues and on September 16, 2006, hit a two-run homer off of Joel Pineiro in Kansas City. That would be his one.
Again, he’d be a good 4th outfielder and pair of legs off the bench, and I expect that the Jays will likely be able to reel him in.
On the Roy Halladay front, there’s been no news today – especially with the G.M. gone. As I said yesterday, it feels to me as though the Angels are now the frontrunners, though their rumoured offer of Joe Saunders, Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos falls a slugging Italian catcher short, if you ask me. There’s a story floating around that the Phillies might be willing to include Cole Hamels in their offer for Halladay. The 2008 World Series MVP is under contract through the 2011 season and under control for another year after that – he’d definitely make Anthopoulos sit up and take notice.
It seems as though the Red Sox are going to deal Mike Lowell and cash to Texas for young catcher Max Ramirez (who they got from Cleveland a couple of years ago in a Kenny Lofton trade). The deal would open up room for them to sign Adrian Beltre to take over at third and give us in Toronto more opportunities to watch the man most call the best defensive third baseman in the game work his magic. The Rays are going to get Rafael Soriano from the Braves and the Astros have just signed Pedro Feliz – maybe moving to THAT hitter-friendly ballpark will help.
For what seemed like a very quiet Winter Meetings, we wound up with seven trades involving players like Curtis Granderson, Kevin Millwood and The Boofinator (second best Boof ever), and 21 free agents signings – the biggest being Randy Wolf’s three-year deal worth almost $30 million.
I leave Indianapolis tonight thinking that before Chanukah is over (teh first light gets lit tomorrow night!), we’ll see the Blue Jays make multiple changes – but it’s just a feeling. The next big day should be Saturday’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Jose Bautista has reason to be wary – but of course, he did last year, too.
I’ll probably get in and answer the comments later this afternoon – keep ‘em coming, rationally and reasonably!