SweetSpot: Toronto Blue Jays

Mariners' next opponent: the road

September, 15, 2014

When the 2014 schedule was planned last year, I wrote how the schedule-makers hosed the West Coast teams in general and the Mariners in particular.

How bad has it been? The Mariners’ schedule has them flying more miles than any other team this season, including five separate trips to the East Coast to play the five American League East teams and six trips to the state of Texas.

Now, with their postseason hopes on the line, they begin another demanding road trip this week, when they must virtually circumnavigate the continent, playing 11 games in three cities (Anaheim, Houston and Toronto), three time zones (Pacific, Central and Eastern) and two countries (U.S. and Canada). When they finish the road trip in Toronto, they fly back across the country and play their season-ending series in Seattle against the Angels, without a day off.

Nice, huh?

Robinson Cano, playing home games on the West Coast for the first time in his career, says the extra travel makes a big difference. He noted that the Mariners' trip to Anaheim after Sunday’s home game was one of the shortest flights the team makes this season, yet it’s about the same length as the longest trip the Yankees make to play a division opponent.

[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesFor Robinson Cano and the Mariners, the playoffs depend on the bends in the road over the next week and a half.

“For me, it’s tough this year, because I’ve never been in this division,” he said. “But I know now what I’m going through. Next season will be easier.”

Next season should be easier for Seattle too, because the schedule is fairer and more reasonable, with fewer cross-country trips (just three to play AL East teams) and more West Coast trips. (Their interleague opponents are the National League West teams.)

As bad as this final long road trip is for the Mariners, it’s possible that it’s actually good for their postseason hopes. On the one hand, it involves significant travel, no off-days and four games against the team with baseball’s best record (the Angels). On the other hand, Seattle is a combined 19-12 against the Angels, Astros and Blue Jays, with a winning record against each one.

More importantly, the Mariners are significantly better on the road than at home this season. They are 14 games above .500 on the road and two games under .500 in Seattle. They are 4-8 at home since mid-August. They are averaging nearly one run per game more on the road than at Safeco Field, while their ERA is virtually the same. In fact, the Mariners have been held to two hits at home six times this year, most since the 1978 Giants.

So maybe this last trip benefits the Mariners. The Angels had won 10 consecutive games until they lost to the Astros on Sunday; maybe they’re due for a bad streak. And the Blue Jays could be officially eliminated from the wild-card race by the time that series rolls around.

Whatever happens, Seattle can’t let all the mileage in the air distract it from what it must do on the field to reach the postseason for first time in 13 years.

“One thing as player is you can’t let that get into your mind and get mentally tired for those flights,” Cano said. “You just have to not put that thought in your mind. If you let it affect you mentally, it will get your body tired too.”

Over/under: Wins for Blue Jays

March, 16, 2012
It's not easy playing in the AL East. Since 2006, the Toronto Blue Jays have won 87, 86 and 85 games in various seasons; if they'd been in the AL Central, maybe they would have won a division title somewhere in there.


Over/under prediction: 81.5 wins for Blue Jays


Discuss (Total votes: 1,935)

But not in the AL East, which means the Blue Jays are one of the franchises that should be happiest about the addition of a second wild-card team. Suddenly their playoff hopes are drastically improved.

Toronto went 81-81 in 2011, scoring 743 runs while allowing 761.

The one major addition in the offseason was acquiring closer Sergio Santos from the White Sox, but the biggest additions will be full seasons from third baseman Brett Lawrie, center fielder Colby Rasmus and starter Henderson Alvarez. The rotation will also be relying on improvement from Brandon Morrow. He led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings last season but posted a disappointing 4.72 ERA. He needs to pitch better with runners on base and go deeper into games. If he develops into a solid No. 2 behind Ricky Romero, the Jays could be surprise wild-card contenders.

What do you think? Some believe the Jays are a year or two away, as they wait for some of their minor league talent to reach the majors. The oddsmakers aren't predicting much improvement, setting the Jays' over/under at 81.5 wins.

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.

Michael Young, Blue Jay?

January, 27, 2011
Is the Blue Jays' next move going to include Michael Young? Richard Griffin thinks yeah, maybe:
    Need a clue that something with the Jays and Young could be in the works? Vernon Wells was asked during a Tuesday conference call where he’d been when Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos called to ask him to waive his no-trade clause, to consent to go to Anaheim in trade.

    “I was at the Mavericks-Lakers game with my wife and, ironically, with Michael Young and his wife,” Wells said. “I got the call at halftime and missed most of the rest of the game.”

    Ironically? Why would Wells use that word for something that was merely coincidental?

    The reality of the financial crisis in Texas is that ever since the Rangers signed Beltre to play third, trading Young and his salary has been a distinct possibility. The Jays, after clearing the decks of the remaining $86 million on Wells’ contract — even including a reported $5 million cash payment to the Angels, even with taking two veteran salaries totalling $11 million off Anaheim’s hands — would have room for Young and his $16 million per over the next three years. If we’ve learned anything from Anthopoulos’s year-plus as GM, it’s that if there is a player of talent and controllability on the market, the Jays will ask about him and kick the tires.

    On Wednesday, SI.com named Anthopoulos baseball’s top winner of the 2010-11 off-season. That’s very nice, but as
    far as Jays fans are concerned, Anthopoulos needs to do far more heading into next season in terms of trying to win now. Should fans simply cancel their 2011 season tickets and come back in 2012 when they are ready to compete?

One, I'm not sure if Griffin is joking about Wells' use of ironically. He must know, yes, that ironically is more often used incorrectly -- synonymously for "coincidentally" -- than correctly?

And two, while Anthopoulos shouldn't exactly forget 2011 season-ticket owners, he can't make every move as if 2012 doesn't exist, either. Not to mention 2013. Which is to say, $48 million is a lot of money for a guy who's going to be worth maybe $30 million over the next three years. At best, considering that he's 34 years old.

As Griffin notes, SI.com's Jon Heyman just named Alex Anthopoulos this winter's big winner ... which is great, except it's still winter. And there's no better way to spoil a winter than commit to overpaying, for multiple years, an overrated player in his mid 30s.

Angels overreact, add Wells

January, 24, 2011
Apparently there really is one born every minute:
    The Los Angeles Angels, shut out in several bids to acquire free-agent hitters this winter, have acquired three-time All-Star Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.


    The Angels were beaten out in efforts to land Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre earlier this winter, but acquiring Wells shows that their willingness to spend money this offseason is in earnest. Wells is owed $86 million over the next four seasons -- $23 million next season and $21 million in each of the following three seasons.

    The Blue Jays had been trying for years to free themselves from the financial weight of Wells' contract. Friday's move could make it easier for the Blue Jays to extend the contract of slugger Jose Bautista.

    Toronto general manager Alex Anthopolous said Anaheim was one of the few places to which Wells would have waived his no-trade clause.

    "It made sense for them and it certainly made sense for us the way this deal was structured," Anthopolous said.

    Wells, a resident of Texas, has played all 12 of his major league seasons in Toronto and had a comeback season in 2010, batting .273 with 31 home runs, a .515 slugging percentage and 88 RBIs.


    The team has had discussions involving leadoff man Scott Podsednik, an addition that would allow the Angels to use Bobby Abreu at designated hitter. The Angels prefer that route to using Abreu, who turns 37 in March, in the outfield on a daily basis.

    Rookie Peter Bourjos could be ticketed for Triple-A or be in a competition with Reggie Willits this spring for a job as the team's fourth outfielder.

    If the Angels can't land Podsednik, they could go after a designated hitter. They have been linked to ex-Angel Vladimir Guerrero.

Man, this is just so wrong on so many levels.

If the Angels can't land Podsednik? Like that's a good thing? The only important roster question left involves Scott Podsednik?

Yes, Vernon Wells enjoyed a nice comeback in 2010 after a lousy 2009 ... just as he'd enjoyed a nice comeback in 2008 after a lousy 2007.

I don't really believe in patterns, so I'm not going to predict a lousy 2011. It's probably enough to point out that Wells is 32 and he's got a .321 on-base percentage over the past four seasons. And that his career statistics don't come anywhere near justifying an $86 million commitment over the next four seasons.

It's like the Angels are doubling down on Torii Hunter's contract ... which, I should mention, has worked out a lot better than I predicted. I don't know, maybe Hunter's what made the organization forget about Darin Erstad, but Erstad's disastrous contract is equally as germane as Hunter's successful one. And it says here that the Angels' outfield is going to look incredibly bloated, salary-wise, in a year or two.

Look, I'm not a huge Peter Bourjos fan; he just hasn't reached base often enough as a professional to get me real excited. But if Bourjos hadn't been so awful in the majors last year, the Angels probably wouldn't have traded for Vernon Wells. If the Angels hadn't struck out in their bids for Crawford and Beltre, they almost certainly wouldn't have traded for Wells, if only because there wouldn't have been room for Wells' HUGE contract in their budget.

But both of those things did happen, and the Angels overreacted. Sort of classically.

This might actually work, for a year or two. But the Angels are now inside one of those hamster wheels, and I really wonder if they can keep their little legs moving fast enough to keep from being flung off before long.

Toronto buys a draft pick

November, 5, 2010
Pete Abraham on the Blue Jays' latest canny move:
    Something has to be done about the AL East. There are way too many smart guys in the room.

Did you see what the Blue Jays did yesterday? They traded a PTBNL to Colorado for catcher Miguel Olivo then almost immediately declined his option and paid his $500,000 buyout.

Their plan is to apparently offer him arbitration, which he will decline, then take the supplemental first-round draft choice as compensation as Olivo will be a Type B free agent.

Basically, the Blue Jays are paying $500,000 a draft pick that will probably fall in the No. 45 range.


It's the exact reason the Red Sox traded for Felipe Lopez last year, to get the draft pick.

We already know the Yankees and Rays are run by smart people. Then the Orioles hired Buck Showalter and now Toronto has Anthopoulos making slick moves. A tough division is getting tougher every day.This does lead to an obvious question: Why didn't the Rockies just keep Olivo and do the same thing?

I don't know.

It's absolutely true, though, that the American League East is getting smarter all the time. And eventually they're going to drag the rest of the American League right along with them.

New SweetSpotter on Jays' Lind

November, 4, 2010
Today I'm thrilled to announce the latest addition to the SweetSpot Network: Ghostrunner on First, covering the Toronto Blue Jays and masterminded by the wonderfully named Drew Fairservice.

Today, Drew looks at Adam Lind's awful 2010 numbers and finds ... well, maybe they weren't quite as awful as they look:

    I'm going a long way to say Adam Lind had two crappy months and isn't nearly as awful as he showed in 2010. Lind experienced some criminally bad luck in June both by average on balls in play and home run per fly ball.

    As I stated earlier, "future Adam Lind" is a lot more likely to put up strong (but not spectacular) numbers in the .850 OPS/.360 wOBA neighbourhood. The .390 wOBA we saw a year ago is what the kids call "a career year." It happens.


    Lind's team-friendly, option-heavy deal provides the front office enough rope to bide their time and fairly assess if Lind is the right fit for the Jays and the eventual playoff push. If a cheaper or better option presents itself, so be it. Players with Lind's type of pop don't fall out of trees, but they're hardly endangered species either.

Well, Lind's contract isn't that team-friendly; they're committed to paying him nearly $20 million, regardless. And Lind is 27, so it's not like he figures to get a lot better. It does seem likely that 2009 was his career year, and it does seem unlikely that he'll again rank as the game's top DH.

But, yes: He was up in 2009, down in 2010, and he's likely to settle somewhere in the middle in the coming seasons. And at $5 million per season for the next three seasons, somewhere in the middle is perfectly fine as long as he's not blocking a younger, better hitter.

Making Cito Gaston's case for the Coop

September, 29, 2010
Dave Perkins on Cito Gaston's impending retirement, and his Hall of Fame prospects:
    Gaston is one of 21 men who managed at least two World Series winners. Of those 21, 13 are in the Hall of Fame. The eight who aren’t include Joe Torre (four wins) and La Russa (two), both of whom are shoo-ins someday for their vast body of work. Terry Francona (two so far) likewise is on the path to Cooperstown. The other two-time winners not in the Hall are Ralph Houk, Danny Murtagh, Tom Kelly and Bill Carrigan, a player/manager on the winning Red Sox in 1915 and 1916. Plus Gaston, of course, and can anyone guess which of those was the first black manager to win a World Series? That’s a stepping stone in baseball history, too.Based on the evidence, and notwithstanding that Gaston has a relatively short managerial history (fewer than 1,800 games), it still appears almost inevitable that Gaston will be summoned to Cooperstown by a future veterans’ committee, which handles such things and which has already inducted Earl Weaver and Whitey Herzog (one Series win each).

    Gaston knows the arithmetic on this one. He also can only hope that he is on the right side of the turf if and when the call comes. To turn around today’s starting point, in the bigger picture he’d like to know what he has before he’s gone.

    On the smaller scale, he leaves his uniform job in a little more than a week, thoroughly deserving of the respectful and heartfelt sendoff he is sure to receive.

No question about that.

I'm not so sure about his Hall of Fame chances, though. Gaston began his managerial career on a Hall of Fame path, for sure. In his first five seasons, his teams won four division titles and two World Series. But then came four non-playoff seasons, a decade-long break from managing, and now three more non-playoff seasons. It's an exceptionally short career, not balanced by an exceptional amount of winning.

Ralph Houk won three pennants and two World Series in his first three seasons, then never again reached the postseason again. But Houk managed many more seasons than Gaston, with almost exactly the same winning percentage.

Unlike Houk, Billy Southworth is in the Hall of Fame. Southworth managed just slightly more games than Gaston. Like Gaston, Southworth reached the postseason four times and won two World Series. But Southworth's .597 career winning percentage ranks among the best ever. Oh, and Southworth wasn't elected until 57 years after he last managed.

Might Gaston make it someday? When it comes to the Hall of Fame, almost anything is possible. But he's 66 years old. If it happens, he probably won't be around to enjoy it.

Astros flip prospect for prospect

July, 29, 2010
Well, that was quick: Immediately after getting Anthony Goss in the Roy Oswalt deal, the Astros flipped Goss to the Blue Jays for young first baseman Brett Wallace. From the
Toronto Star:

    Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos knows giving up Wallace was a steep price, especially since he had been penciled in as the club’s first baseman of the future, but says top-flight centre fielders are next to impossible to trade for at the big-league level. To acquire one, he says, you need to gamble.

    In this case it means betting that Gose, who was hitting .263 with four home runs at Class-A Clearwater, will give the Jays more in the long run than Wallace, who hit .301 with 18 home runs and Triple-A Las Vegas.


    The GM says Gose has Gold Glove potential and that the Jays originally tried to acquire him last December in the Roy Halladay trade. When that didn’t work out they tried again earlier this season.

    While Wallace’s departure means the Jays have no full-time first basemen under contract beyond this season, Anthopoulos isn’t ready to panic. He acknowledges that Adam Lind is an option, but points out the club has until next spring to develop a first baseman or acquire one.

Gose has tools, no question. As Baseball America noted last winter, "Gose earns 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for three tools: his arm, his center-field defense and his speed."

They also said, "He led the minor leagues with 76 steals in 96 attempts, and he'll be even more dangerous as he gets on base more often and refines his base stealing instincts."

Really? More dangerous than 76 steals in 96 attempts, in 131 games?

In the event, Gose has stolen only 36 bases in 103 games this season ... and been caught 26 times. My guess is that he's grown out of his base stealing body, and the Jays should forget about getting a guy who steals bases like Carl Crawford and plays center field like Michael Bourn. My guess is that while Gose will still be fast, two or three years from now, he'll have to hit to justify an everyday job in the majors. You know, because the most important tool -- or if you prefer, skill -- is hitting.

And whether he'll hit is a wide-open question. Again, Baseball America: "He gives away too many at-bats and lacks a two-strike approach ... he may need 2,000 minor league at-bats."

Here's John Sickels (also last winter): "Like many of the raw tools players collected by the Phillies in recent years, Gose has trouble with the hitting. His plate discipline is poor, and for a guy who hit just two homers last year, he takes big cuts at the plate and is prone to strikeouts."

Has Gose made any progress this season? His power's up a notch, but so are his strikeouts. He's only 19 and maybe he'll figure it out. But at this point, he's little more than a gleam in the scout's eye.

Wallace is different. He's almost 24 and has played nearly a season's worth of Triple-A games, with a .299/.357./484 line. Also, he was the 13th pick in the June draft just two years ago. So the pedigree is there, and the performance isn't bad. Presumably he'll take over at first base next spring, upon the departure of (free-agent-this-November) Lance Berkman.

We shouldn't expect the next Jeff Bagwell (or Berkman), though. Wallace doesn't draw many walks and his power is just decent for a first baseman; his Triple-A numbers aren't brilliant, considering his home ballparks and his league. But this does make the Oswalt trade look a little better, as it now seems the Astros got a guy with a decent shot at becoming a solid major league hitter.

Braves bet against youth

July, 14, 2010
Another trade nobody saw coming, this one essentially a swap of two shortstops. One's fairly young and one's fairly old, and what's odd is that the fairly young shortstop (Yunel Escobar) might actually be better than the fairly old shortstop (Alex Gonzalez). Are the Braves getting ripped off? Joe Pawlikowski isn't so sure. Joe's big finish:
    After further examination, this trade doesn’t seem nearly as bad for the Braves as it did at first glance. Toronto still won their end, but that doesn’t preclude the Braves from claiming victory as well. They’ve gotten rid of a player whom they clearly do not like, and replaced him with a player who, if nothing else, will provide value on defense. The prospects also help out, and while neither projects as a future star both can be useful pieces in a year or two. Maybe it’s a win, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. But it doesn’t look like the clear loss I had imagined when digging into the topic.

For me, the obvious takeaway is the Braves have become really, really, really disenchanted with Escobar, who for three seasons was considered one of the game's best young shortstops. Has he suddenly forgotten how to hit? He hasn't forgotten how to field. Or at least his numbers are solid, which mildly suggests he's not playing (badly) hurt.

We've got a mystery on our hands. The Braves think they've already got it figured out. The Blue Jays must think so, too. They can't really both be right. While it's a five-player deal and we're all optimistic about Tim Collins, essentially this is a classic "challenge trade": our shortstop for your shortstop and next year we'll figure who was right.

My money's on the Jays. But as Pawlikowski points out elsewhere, the Braves have done this sort of thing before and they've usually been right.

Blue Jays looking for a new third baseman

June, 21, 2010
The Blue Jays, still on the fringes of playoff contention, have sent Edwin Encarnacion, their No. 1 third baseman, to their No. 1 farm team. The gory details:

    After going 0-for-4 against San Francisco, Encarnacion saw his season average drop to .200 to go along with nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 37 games for Toronto. Over his past 22 games, Encarnacion had hit at a .145 clip. In the field, the third baseman had seven errors, including one in Sunday's loss.The Blue Jays acquired Encarnacion, who is under contract for $4.75 million this year, as part of the four-player trade that sent third baseman Scott Rolen to the Reds on July 31 last season. Encarnacion struggled with left wrist and right shoulder issues this season, but [Blue Jays general manager Alex] Anthopoulos noted that the third baseman is healthy now.

    "It's just a move we felt we needed to make to improve the club," Anthopoulos said. "We still believe in Edwin as a player, but it's something we've been talking about the last little while just to get him going. Certainly he was disappointed in the decision that we made, but we told him this wasn't permanent.

Maybe it's the American League, or maybe it's playing for the Blue Jays and embracing their swing-first, answer-questions-later approach to hitting. But Encarnacion, who turned 27 last winter, posted a .345 on-base percentage while playing for Cincinnati but just .303 with the Blue Jays.

At .345, Encarnacion can really help you. But at .303, you start noticing that he's a pretty lousy defensive third baseman; particularly when it's his second straight poor season. To this point anyway, Encarnacion seems to have peaked in his early 20s, which does happen sometimes.

Meanwhile, as Rolen plays brilliantly for the Reds, the Blue Jays are reduced to hoping that reliever Josh Roenicke solves his control issues at some point soon, or else this trade may soon look like a complete bust.

Also, the Blue Jays need a third baseman. There's talk about Jose Bautista (who's been playing right field) and Jarrett Hoffpauir, who's taken Encarnacion's roster spot after doing reasonably well in Triple-A. The problem is that neither of those guys can really hit, and the Jays are still left without a long-term solution at the position.

Update: Encarnacion has now been designated for assignment and his tenure with the Blue Jays is apparently over.

Are the Jays really this good?

May, 19, 2010
From the ol' mailbag today:

    Rob- any thoughts on the Jays? They have been one of the hottest teams the past month yet it remains a struggle to get any air time from ESPN. I recognize that it is early, and they will likely not end up contending by season's end but what does it take to at least get a blog?? Some great stories here around some young pitching, Wells re emergence and Cito all of a sudden looking like a genious again.

    - Regan (Toronto)

The Jays' hitting is full of bizarre anomalies, not so surprising considering that we're still in May. John Buck, Alex Gonzalez, and Jose Bautista are all out of their minds, while Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, and Adam Lind are all hitting below their weight (which essentially works only if you play first base for the Brewers). I should probably throw Vernon Wells in there somewhere, too, if only because .627 seems like a fairly high slugging percentage even for a player with such obvious talents. Travis Snider might be the only guy in the lineup who's reasonably close to pegging his projections.

Leaving all that aside, the Jays are second in the league in scoring but have the 10th-best on-base percentage, and I'm not real sure that's a combination with much long-term viability. Which means the Jays' overall performance probably isn't sustainable, either. The big story has been Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero, and there are certainly good reasons to think they both are (or will become) fine major league pitchers. But the rest of the rotation is loaded with question marks, as Dana Eveland doesn't strike out enough guys, Brandon Morrow walks too many guys, and Brett Cecil feeds too many gophers (so far, anyway).

I wish I had better news, Regan. But I just don't see these Jays as better than a .500 team, and I think they're probably more likely to finish below than above.

These Questions 3: Dirk Hayhurst

April, 16, 2010
This spring, Citadel Press published The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran, written by Dirk Hayhurst, who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2003 and reached the majors near the end of the 2008 season, when he was 27. Hayhurst, a right-handed relief pitcher, was waived by San Diego and claimed by Toronto, and he pitched in 15 games for the Blue Jays in 2009. This winter, he suffered a serious shoulder injury and is currently on the 60-day disabled list. On a happier note, The Bullpen Gospels has hit the New York Times bestseller list. What follows is an e-mail interview conducted today.

Citadel PressDirk Hayhurst's "The Bullpen Gospels" is on the New York Times' bestsellers list.
Rob: Before we get into the book, I have to ask ... How are you doing? After kicking around in the minors for so many years -- yes, years about which you write so movingly in the book -- you pitched well for the Blue Jays last season, with a 1.31 ERA in 21 innings before a rough outing the last weekend. This winter, you must have felt like you had a pretty good shot at making the big club's Opening Day roster for the first time in your career, right? And then the shoulder surgery ... What went through your head in February when you learned that you'd miss most of the season, recovering from an injury that's somewhat notorious for being hard to come back from? And is rehab as awful as we've heard?

Dirk: I don't mean to seem arrogant, but yes, you're right: I did feel like I had a shot at making the team on Opening Day. And that hope is an integral part of a baseball player's life, the chance to do something great or finally carve out a niche for yourself in the game you love. In the minors, coaches would tell us, "You (players) shouldn't just want to make it there; that's the easy part. It's sticking that's the hard part." I don't know, it was pretty hard for me to make it there! Yet, this off-season, not only had I made it and done well, but I thought I had a chance to stick.

So when the arm started barking at me, it came as especially bad news. Playing baseball for a living is a gamble, and this turn of events was rather like watching all my winnings get snatched from me on one really bad hand.

As for the surgery itself, it's definitely not a fan favorite. Estimated dates of return optimistically slated me as back and competitive by the All-Star break. Well, tell that to my arm when it squeals just reaching across my body to scratch the other arm. I don't know what my ETA is now, but I know it's not the same as when I started ... They say baseball is 90-percent mental. I agree. I am technically still a baseball player even though I can't play right now, but some of my biggest baseball challenges have come during these times of inactivity. It's hard to wake up in the morning and know that you aren't earning your keep and, in the worst case, you may never take the mound again. That's the defeatist attitude talking about stuff that probably won't happen, but the mind tends to wonder when unoccupied. I do my best to remember that being a competitor transcends simple physical limitations.

Rob: There are moments in the book of real comic genius, and some of them might be credited to your teammates except none of it would be funny if the words or the timing were different, and those were decisions that you made, as author. I always tell kids that if they want to write well, they have to read voraciously. Am I right? Or did the Gods give you that 90-m.p.h. fastball and the ability to write funny scenes like Richard Russo?

Dirk: I have never read a baseball book, except one about Ron Guidry when I was eight or nine years old. "Louisiana Lightning," I believe it was called ... Anyway, I don't read much about baseball, mainly because I play it all day and I really enjoy escaping it when I can. Literarily speaking, I'm a huge Alexander Dumas fan, love Cormac McCarthy's style, the tone of Salinger, and the candid wit of David Sedaris.

People hear "baseball book" and they immediately think of Ball Four. I didn't read it. Not because I couldn't have learned something from it, but because I didn't want to steal his voice or ideas. I wanted my book to be my book. If I imitated his style, I really wouldn't be doing something original, and that was important to me; after all, no one is going to out-Bouton Jim Bouton.

Thanks for the "comedic genius" compliment. A lot of the credit does go to my teammates who consistently did things you can't make up. But humor has to be put in context and team humor is an extremely contextual thing. A lot of clubhouse humor is "in group" stuff. We work, live, travel, eat, and shower with each other. Over time, we develop our own language with its own definitions. I think if you want to really bring a reader into the fold, you have to show this process in a way the reader can grasp. That is one of the things I'm most proud about in the book: I feel like I present everything in a way that makes readers feel they are part of the team, rather than just observing with curious amusement.

Rob: You're careful to avoid painting teammates in a negative light, but there's some pretty personal stuff in the book about your grandmother (which I'm guessing was exaggerated for comic effect) and about your more immediate family (which I'm guessing was not). Did your family know you were working on a book? Did your teammates know? Were you taking notes during the season, or was the book written mostly from memory? Sorry, I know that's a lot of questions. Mostly, I'm just interested in the writing process, and wondering if you've had any reaction yet from the people you wrote about. Oh, and I'm wondering if you're working on another one ...

Dirk: I am careful about teammates because I am a teammate. I don't want to end up cast from the game because I used someone's name the wrong way. Furthermore, I don't think a story, even one about baseball, has to have names to sell. If a writer is worth his salt, he should be able to tell a tale worth reading without resorting to scandal and exposé. If I was to pull the cover off things, the persons exposed would be crushed and so would those who believe in them. I think we live in an age where we understand that young men, especially in sports, do juvenile and risqué things.

Funny but true: More people have been upset with me for using nicknames than for describing our juvenile behavior. I take that as a good thing and I think you can thank nicknames for it because as soon as you attach a name to a circumstance it seems to become an attack and ceases being story telling. Since nicknames are such a common part of baseball lore, it made sense to use them and I think it helps more then it hurts.

As for my dear grandmother, the tone may be comedic but the facts are not exaggerated: She is a real piece of work. Living with her is truly an adventure; you've got guns, dogs, bloodthirsty neighbors, killer squirrels, the Antichrist ... it's a Michael Bay film. It's one of those moments where facts are stranger than fiction. And then right around the corner you've got my family, falling to pieces as alcoholism and depression tears through them. I didn't have to add anything.

My family did know I was working on the book, and they read and OK'd all the chapters before it went to print. I know that some of the early chapters are raw. I had to show it. I could not, for my own conscience, hide the truth. For the story to work, I had to show that baseball can't fix everything. Dreams can change our lives, but they can't fix them. This approach pays off at the end of the book, but would not have been possible without the stark chapters at the beginning. My family is proud of all the book has accomplished, and they're in knowing their story may help others, as am I.

To create the book, I took longhand notes during the season the book chronicles. I actually wrote in little Mead journals while I sat in the bullpen. By then I had seen enough minor-league games that a little hobby style writing wasn't going to hurt me. Besides, I was pitching the best I ever had, so the coaches encouraged me to keep doing this "part of my routine." Naturally, teammates were worried I was writing down their life stories as some form of literary bomb, set to detonate upon publication. But now, after the book has landed on the NY Times bestseller list two weeks in a row, they're contact me to offer congratulations. That may be the most vindicating thing about the process, as I've gone from death threats and promises of being fired to having a bestseller without one mention of 'roids or cheating on girlfriends and wives.

And yes, Rob: I am definitely planning a sequel.

Rob: Thanks a million, Dirk. Good luck with the book, and with rehab.

For much more about Dirk Hayhurst and The Bullpen Gospels, visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Coming soon: the Caracas Blue Jays?

April, 16, 2010
Joe Cowley writes about baseball in Toronto, and some of my Canadian friends -- who still haven't recovered from losing one team -- have been moved to drop f-bombs on Twitter. What's got them so incensed?

    Baseball is failing in Muddy York, as it was once called, and failing miserably. And while Major League Baseball has more than a few issues that need addressing, somewhere in that list should be getting a team out of Canada.

    Forget the obvious in failing attendance and a shrinking Blue Jays payroll. You can flip on the hotel television and skim through the stations to get the pulse of what's going on. It's NHL, junior hockey, college hockey, high school hockey, Justin Bieber, Canadian Olympians, and more hockey.

    Somewhere between celebrity Texas hold 'em tournaments and MuchMusic videos, you might, just might, get a Jays highlight.

    After Tuesday's game, a fan asked a local talk show host if building a new stadium would help. Even the host -- Canadian, I'm guessing -- admitted that no one would care after a year.


    But is it really on the fans to have a sport forced on them that isn't their own? It would seem like it's up to Major League Baseball to move the product to a place that really wants it.

    That brings up the argument of South America.

    Baseball already has shown it won't play in Puerto Rico, but the Dominican Republic is an option. The best option? Caracas, Venezuela.

I suppose I shouldn't dismiss Caracas out of hand, since I don't know anything about Caracas. I don't imagine getting a stadium built would be a problem, if Hugo Chavez thinks it's a good idea. I'm imagining some pretty hellacious road trips, though, for both the Caracas squad and the visiting teams. If I were going to dismiss the idea, it would probably be because I have never, in 20 years of reading about expansion and relocation possibilities, seen Caracas mentioned even once. San Juan, yes. Mexico City and Monterrey, yes. But never Caracas.

What I will dismiss, at least for the moment, is the notion that Major League Baseball would give up on two huge markets. There are 5.5 million people in the Greater Toronto Area, which would rank somewhere between sixth and ninth in the U.S. But that's not even the half of it. Not close. The Blue Jays are Canada's team, and there are 34 million people in Canada. While hockey is Canada's sport, it doesn't take a huge percentage of 34 million to get you where you want to be, in terms of TV revenues, licensed apparel, etc.

Granted, the Blue Jays play in an awful building for baseball (and frankly, last time I was there the people who run the sound system and video boards seemed bent on driving away anyone who actually enjoys the game of baseball, but then that's true in most of America's ballparks these days). Last year they ranked 22nd in the majors in attendance, which 1) wasn't good, but 2) was better than eight other franchises, none of which are moving to South America anytime soon.

There are definitely some teams that face big challenges, ballpark-wise and attendance-wise and otherwise. Maybe the Blue Jays belong on that list. They're not in the top five, though. For now, let's keep them on this continent.

Pierzynski cheats, Romero loses no-no

April, 14, 2010
Andy Behrens on what happened just moments before Ricky Romero lost his no-hitter last night:
Romero skipped a pitch in the dirt to Pierzynski leading off the eighth inning -- not a terrible pitch, mind you, because AJ had been hacking at similar offerings all night. But late in the game with his team trailing 4-0, Pierzynski resisted the urge to swing. When the ball hit the ground near his feet, he began hopping as if an anvil had landed on his toe. But in fact, nothing had landed on his toe. Replays were clear. He had not been hit.

Nonetheless, Pierzynski turned and ran toward first base. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland failed to stop him. It's not the first time AJ has deked an ump, and it likely won't be the last. Jays manager Cito Gaston argued and McClelland's crew huddled, but no one overruled the original call — which, again, appeared to have been made by Pierzynski. Thus the Sox had their third base-runner of the game.

Romero found himself pitching from the stretch, and he soon fell behind Alex Rios, 2-1. That's when he made his only real mistake of the night. Romero placed a changeup on a tee and Rios deposited the pitch over the left field wall, ending the no-hit bid. The next three Chicago batters were retired on groundouts, then Romero yielded to Kevin Gregg in the ninth.

I went back and watched, and even the White Sox broadcasters knew he was cheating, which led to this amusing exchange as Pierzynski headed toward first base while making his case:

Steve Stone: And McClelland's looking at him, saying "Just go to first, I believe you. I know you wouldn't lie to me."

Hawk Harrelson (watching replay): It hit something, I know that.

Stone: Well, now the question is, McClelland's going to ask all the umpires, "Did you see it?" Let's watch it again.

Harrelson: No.

Stone: It hit McClelland.

Harrelson: It hit McClelland [chuckling].

Stone: But A.J. did a nice job of hopping. I think he's hopping on the wrong foot, though. You gotta hop on the foot that, you're trying to convince the umpire you got hit. But it seems to have worked.

Harrelson: He's the best.

Then, Alex Rios. A couple of off-speed pitches, a low fastball, then a hanging something and boom goes the dynamite (and the no-hitter).

I don't want to get into the awesome logistics that would be involved here ... but, ethically speaking, isn't there an argument to be made for punishing Pierzynski? He cheated.

In soccer, don't officials have the power to levy discipline against players who feign injury?

In the aftermath, Steve Stone said, "It's just one of those things." As if cheating (and getting away with it) is like an earthquake, or a tornado that formed quickly and touched down before anyone could sound a warning.

No. It's not just one of those things. It's cheating, and in some quarters there are rules against such things.

p.s. McClelland, again, missing something right in front of his nose. I hope someone's keeping track.