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Bauxites made quick work of the previous Hijack Central; feast your gently smiling jaws on a new thread.
A very charitable Richard Griffin calls the Jays the best team in the East, dollar for dollar, and talks with J.P. about the game's changing fiscal landscape.

"I flew down with all the Red Sox guys," Ricciardi said of his flight from the family homestead in Boston. "They all looked miserable, to be honest with you. All these guys being talked about as being dealt are all the big-money guys. Teams are finding out that outside of the Red Sox and Yankees, who can handle those contracts? They strap you so much financially. Maybe they'd rather have the flexibility more than one player. You can ask (Yankees GM Brian) Cashman and Theo (Bosox counterpart Epstein)."
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Recently, mlb.com began offering a waycool new feature: for $3.95 (US), you can download a complete baseball game and watch it on your own computer. Most of the games are recent, but there's a few blasts from the past on there, including the now-legendary Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Recently, I watched the entire game, and took a few notes.
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The Lou Marsh Award, named for a former sports editor of the Toronto Star, is the highest honour for Canadian athletes. A committee will deliberate on Tuesday among the deepest field of candidates in memory. Some of our amateur athletes had remarkable accomplishments; Marlene Streit winning the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur golf tournament at the age of 69 was amazing, while Perdita Felicien excelled on the track, Charmaine Hooper on the pitch, and Melanie Turgeon on the slopes. Hayley Wickenheiser playing pro hockey against men would be enough to warrant the award some years. The NFL's best placekicker, Mike Vanderjagt, is a mere afterthought in this field.

In almost any other vote, Paul Tracy would be honoured for his CART championship, but he figures to finish a distant third in 2003. It's a foregone conclusion that Masters champion Mike Weir, the first Canuck ever to win a golf major, will relegate NL Cy Young winner Eric Gagne to second place. Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette may be expressing both a regional bias and a passion for baseball when he complains that golf "barely qualifies as a sport." In the Star, Dave Feschuk makes an impassioned plea for Gagne, while Doug Smith argues the case for Weir.

Gagne was tremendous, but his Cy came in a season when no NL starter was an obvious choice. Now, if Eric had pitched 250 innings, gone 25-3, struck out 300 and led the Dodgers to a championship, it would really be close. Even then, Weir's unique individual accomplishment would stand out as the greatest single sports memory of the year for this Canadian. What do other Bauxites think? I'm especially interested in the perspective of our friends from other nations. Who was "our" best athlete this year?
by Leigh Sprague

We have a Pinch Hit today from Leigh Sprague, who will be familiar to you all from his posts on Batter's Box. Welcome Leigh! He writes "suffering a horid case of BWS (Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome), I decided to dive headlong into the Manager Stats on Baseball-Reference.com..."

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Well we've hit the mystical 116 comments in the old HC thread, so I'm opening another for discussion of today's events from the Louisiana swamps.
USA Today reports that Dan Plesac has decided to retire. He went out on top: the Phillies wanted him back, and were about to offer him salary arbitration.

Something I didn't know: he was the last pitcher to record an out at Veterans Stadium (the Phils are moving to a new park in 2004).

Plesac goes out of the game the way he did everything else - with class. I, for one, wish the two-time Blue Jay the best of luck in everything he does after baseball.
According to reports first broken on The Score and ESPN, now confirmed by The FAN 590, the Jays got their man. Miguel Batista becomes the nominal #2 starter in a vastly improved Toronto rotation.

The former Diamondback righty, a capable replacement for the departed Kelvim Escobar, brings a very different presence to the clubhouse. Financial details haven't been announced yet, but it's supposedly a three year deal, and you can be sure that it's for a few million less than Escobar received from the Angels.

In a series of clever moves that began last summer, J.P. and company have also bolstered the bullpen, brought a popular former Cy Young winner home, added a promising lefthanded starter and scored a couple of high draft picks. The net cost? Shannon Stewart, who wasn't going to return anyway, considering the wealth of outfield talent in the system. Just two more minor moves are expected; another reliever and a backup infielder will be signed with the remaining $2-3 million in the budget.

Despite a payroll that may be less than 25% of what the Yankees will spend, the 2004 Jays could make their AL East rivals very nervous. I can't wait for spring training.
This just in -- Mike Wilner will be joining Bill Hayes to take baseball calls on The FAN 590 for an hour, starting in just a few minutes at 8:00. It's 416-870-0590 or 1-888-666-0590 to call in with your questions, and according to R Billie, there's a breaking report on The Score that the Jays have signed Miguel Batista! Let's hope Mike has the details.

If you can't get the station, you can listen live on the Internet by clicking the above link.

Geoff Baker confirms some of the rumours that have been floating around in a few threads here : The Jays are trying to sign Miguel Batista before this weekend's baseball winter meetings.

Apparently J.P phoned Batista's agent just before his appearance on The Fan yesterday and has "has offered the Batista camp deals ranging from two to three years in length and varying in annual salary", Batista is looking for 3 years and $12m +.
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Matthew Elmslie, an astute Jays fan and frequent visitor to this site, takes a thoughtful look back at the Gord Ash era in his latest column at Blue Jay Way. This isn't entirely about the ex-GM; it's an entertaining recap of the highlights and lowlights, on and off the field, during his tenure. There are many other great lines I could have quoted, but this summary of Ash's weaknesses had me nodding in agreement:

Gord Ash does not understand certain realities about how baseball games are won and lost. He doesnít understand the importance to an offense of plate discipline. He doesnít understand how playersí talents decline with age. He doesnít understand how talent is distributed among ballplayers. He hasnít shown any special ability to identify real prospects. And he doesnít understand that rebuilding has different stages, and that the stages canít be skipped over.

I had given up on the Blue Jays ever returning to Gillick-era glory under the man Elmslie calls "out of his depth," only to have my optimism rekindled when Paul Godfrey made his best decision as team president. Though there's been a positive, exciting change in direction over the past two years, it's too soon to put the Ricciardi plan in a similar box -- I hope Matt doesn't write that piece for quite some time.
The Winter Meetings in Nawlins (that's "New Orleans," for those of you unfamiliar with the Cajun of Loozyana) are just 24 hours away, and all signs are that it's going to be a barn-burner. A probable new Boston home for Alex Rodriguez, the predictable subsequent eruptions from Mount Steinbrenner, and a Guerrero-centric shopping spree in Baltimore figure to be the backdrop of one the busiest and most entertaining meetings in years. It will not be lost on Bauxites that all three of these developments concern the AL East -- but them's the cards the Jays have been dealt. By the time these meetings end, Toronto should have come away with one or two free-agent pitchers, perhaps conducted or laid the groundwork for trades, and generally should have all but completed their roster construction for 2004. Hang on to your collective hat, folks -- the Mardi Gras of Winter Meetings oughta be a whole lot of fun.
It's almost that time of year again: the Rule 5 Draft takes place this Monday during the Winter Meetings in New Orleans. Baseball America gives us a preview of the proceedings and highlights four organizations -- including the Blue Jays -- who could lose multiple players. For myself, I wouldn't consider any of the listed players to be irreplaceable, so if they go, no real harm done.

In terms of acquisitions, the consensus seems to be that this year's crop isn't nearly as talented as last year's, when the Jays had two legitimate keepers in Aquilino Lopez and Jason Dubois (and potentially a third in Gary Majewski) but could only keep one (the right one, as it turned out). Moreover, this year's Toronto roster is stronger than last year's, so the chances that a 25th man could stick around unnoticed all year are fairly minimal anyway. Unless the Jays snag a real keeper -- someone worth either stashing on the roster or working out a deal to acquire full-time -- don't expect to see a whole lot coming out of the Rule 5 this year.
Spencer Fordin (along with Tony LaCava and Dick Scott) looks at Alexis Rios in his newest article on MLB.com.

Thanks to Homsar for the heads-up!
This would not be a good day to cross George Steinbrenner's path. Not only is the handshake deal betwen George and Gary Sheffield in serious jeopardy, making a Yankee run at Vlad Guerrero a sudden possibility, but now comes news that lifetime Yank Andy Pettitte is about to sign with the Astros. If confirmed, this would be a serious hit to the one area that the Yankees have spent the winter trying to upgrade: the pitching staff. And it comes just one day after Bartolo Colon, a possible Pettitte replacement, went off the market. A Jeff Weaver-Kevin Brown deal would seem very likely, and who knows what else the Yankees might do on the eve of the Winter Meetings (Kevin Millwood? Sidney Ponson? Miguel Batista?) Hang tight....