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Time for the first intermission. "Two Minutes In The Box" is for hockey and hockey-related subjects. No butt-ending.
According to a published report in today's Toronto Sun, but first broken by watchful Bauxites in the Hijack Central thread, Pat Hentgen is returning to the Blue Jays in 2004 on a one-year contract, rumoured to be in the range of $2.2 M. If confirmed, this is terrific news for the Blue Jays, for a number of reasons. First, Hentgen, while not the Cy Young winner of his youth, is still a pretty solid pitcher who's steadily recovering from surgery and should be counted on as a reliable #3 or #4 guy. Second, he's a fan favourite who, while he won't sell any extra tickets, will generate very positive feedback and warm-and-fuzzies among both fans and sportswriters. Third, he's from all accounts a stand-up guy who should function as an additional mentor to the younger pitchers. And finally and perhaps most important, he had several suitors but chose the Blue Jays -- and that should send a message to both the current players and the other free agents out there. The off-season has gotten a terrific start in Toronto.
Breaking News! The Blue Jays have acquired Ted Lilly from Oakland for Bobby Kielty. See below for an extended discussion.

The Padres and Athletics swung a medium-sized deal today, with Oakland shipping Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez to San Diego in return for Mark Kotsay. This seems to be a reasonably good trade for both teams: Kotsay is a superior defender who had an off-year in 2003 caused by a back injury, while Hernandez is one of the best offensive catchers outside the Piazza-Rodriguez-Posada neighbourhood. Long is one of Billy Beane's biggest mistakes, signing an extra outfielder to an expensive multi-year deal, and getting rid of Long alone probably makes the deal worthwhile for him. For the A's, Adam Melhuse can hold down the catcher's position till Jeremy Brown is ready; for the Pads, Long should really be an expensive bench bat and nothing more, which means San Diego still needs a true centerfielder. The Padres took on more total salary, but only through 2005; Kotsay is signed through '06. Close enough to break-even as makes no difference, maybe a small advantage to the A's.
Barry Bonds has become the first player ever to win three consecutive MVP awards and now owns twice as many as anyone else. He got 28 of the 32 first-place votes, with Albert Pujols (3) and Gary Sheffield (1) rounding out the top three as expected. Eric Gagne did very well, finishing sixth in the voting.
Leigh Sprague, who you will all rememebr from his August pinch-hit appearance ("Concerned About Hinske?"), steps into the Box again today with his new piece, A Civil Action. Thanks, Leigh.

I think it's fair to warn everyone that all events portrayed and quotations ascribed in this piece are fictitious and the views represented herein are Leigh's own and do not represent the views of the persons portrayed.

Also, a piece of special pleading in advance... *some* of the credit for the Jays' current group of terrific prospects must go to Gord Ash. But I think it's safe to say that most of us remember him in a different light... and so over to Leigh. :)
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Anything could happen. Without leaking the results, Jack O'Connell, the secretary of the BBWAA, told Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News that ten different players received first-place votes, just the third time in the MVP award's history (and the first in over 25 years) there has been such disparity in the voting.

"This is even more of a question mark than in '99," O'Connell said, referring to when then-Ranger Pudge Rodriguez edged the Bosox's Pedro Martinez, despite not having the most first-place votes. "You're going to have people first on some ballots who won't be on other ballots.

"This is unique."

Obviously, some writers insist on overlooking players whose teams miss the playoffs, but on the other hand, that impressive RBI total, awesome first half and 4-HR game might have made the difference for Carlos. It's sure to be a controversial decision.

So the Blue Jays would like to have a reliable closer in 2004. This doesn't mean they're going to sign Roberto Hernandez to a multi-year deal, but it does mean that they'd like to have someone who can be counted on to shut down the opposition late in the game. The ideal candidate would be affordable (probably no more than $3 million for a one-year deal, preferably less) and resilient (the Jays are not devotees of the exclusively ninth-inning reliever, so someone willing and able to enter with two on and one out in the 8th and finish the game would be welcome). Here's an article detailing the best closing candidates on the market; lower-priced names like Tom Gordon, Latroy Hawkins, Rod Beck, Tim Worrell and even Armando Benitez have been tossed around by Jays fans. With such a bumper crop available, the odds of bringing in a solid pitcher for a budget price seem promising. Even if not, there are reasonable in-house candidates like Aquilino Lopez, Jason Kershner and, in a pinch, Cliff Politte. Longer-term solutions at Triple-A include flamethrower Adam Peterson and perhaps even dark horse Jason Arnold. So here's our question: who do you think will lead the Jays in saves in 2004, and how much will he cost?
Thanks to Steve Z for this entertaining interview of Roy Halladay by Denver Post sportswriter Adam Schefter. Among the highlights:

AS: Single most memorable moment from this past baseball season?

RH: It wasn't one moment. It was three from the last week of the season. We had Vernon Wells set a hits record for the franchise, Carlos Delgado had a four-home run game and I was able to get my 22nd win the day after that. Those three days were unbelievable.

AS: Why do you suppose the murder rate in Canada is so low?

RH: Probably because they're all drunk and in fistfights. They go for hockey fights instead of for the violence that we see. That'd be my guess.

The first quote reinforces what an amazing team player this guy is; the second demonstrates that there's a pretty funny young man lurking behind that polite, polished exterior we see in post-game interviews. Halladay would probably be a great guy to go drinking with.
Due to popular demand, we're starting up a new feature here at Batter's Box. This thread, Hijack Central, will be the place to post word of breaking news stories in baseball, particularly those that concern the Blue Jays: trades, signings, hot rumours and other off-season developments. If the news is significant enough, one of the administrators will create a new thread specifically to discuss the transaction, and post a note to that effect in Hijack Central. So in future, if you've just heard of a report of great interest to Bauxites, post it here with a link, rather than in the nearest thread. And keep watching the "20 Hot Topics" down the left-hand side of the page to see if Hijack Central has recently been updated -- that's where you'll find the latest news!
The good folks at Baseball America have begun their annual off-season review of the best prospects in each of the 30 major-league organizations. They began with the National League East, which means that the Montreal Expos were among the first clubs profiled. Here's the list of the 'Spos Top Ten prospects (non-BA subscribers can only access the first one on the list, Clint Everts), and here's a Q-and-A session with the writer, Michael Levesque. Aside from the fact that most of the questions seem to have been posed by Dave from Maryland, it's quite a good read.
I keep hearing rumours about Pat Hentgen going hither and going thither. Some of those rumours appear to have him heading back to Toronto. So: do you think the Jays should sign him?
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Hey, it's something. Also, the Giants traded pitcher Joe Nathan to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski, possibly opening the Joe Mauer era in Minnesota. The Twins also picked up Boof Bonser, who had been passed by Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, and Kurt Ainsworth on the Giants depth chart, and Francisco Liriano, a pitcher who I know nothing about. Maybe I missed some stuff, but that about sums up the GM meetings. Is it me or did these kinds of meetings used to be fun? Now it's Questec, steroid/drug use, and far too much Bud Selig and Don Fehr, whereby "far too much" means "any."
A while ago, Twins blogger Seth Stohs wanted to identify which players had the best stats at the lowest cost, so he divided OPS by salary. That article got so much response, it spawned today's Bang For The Buck - The Remix, featuring tables like Win Shares per Million and RARP/Million. Seth, who admits he's no sabremetrician but welcomes feedback, then combines four different metrics for his final tally. The biggest bargain? Marcus Giles, by any yardstick. Vernon Wells earned his salary, too. Fun stuff; I'd like to see the team numbers.
And so does the Score Bard, the funniest and most creative blogger on the Net. If you haven't read his Random Diamond Notes Generator or his playoff haiku, then you've been missing out on some amazing baseball-related wordplay that does more than just border on genius. His latest creation, the Periodic Table of Blogs, includes our very own Batter's Box! We're indexed under beryllium, which I'm told is a metallic lead-grey element whose metal can be obtained by electrolysis of molten beryllium dichloride containing some sodium chloride. Remarkably, that was also how I was described in my high school yearbook. Visit the Score Bard today and forward his URL to friends who'll appreciate his work.