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A quick hit from the Jays' MLB page on new right fielder Frank Catalanotto. Nothing earth-shattering here, though a couple of items are slightly noteworthy:

- JP says Frank will hold numerous positions in the batting order, including leadoff. This is the first time I've heard him say that Catalanotto could bat in that position -- previously, it's been 2nd, 3rd, 5th or 6th. Given Shannon Stewart's historic reluctance to surrender the leadoff spot, it'll be interesting to see how that gets finessed. I presume Tosca will handle it better than Buck Martinez did.

- JP also indicates that the major deals are done and there's not much likelihood of even smaller deals, but that there are a few lines in the water as we speak. It strikes me that he may want to keep fishing for outfield depth.

We keep focusing on Catalanotto's standout 2001 year, but the fact remains it was his career at-bat high, and that it was the only time in six seasons that he broke 290 ABs. Last year, he played in only 68 games, largely due to injury. Cat's a little fragile -- he has more career HBPs (35) than GIDPs (22), for whatever that's worth -- and if he goes down for several weeks and Jayson Werth isn't ready, it would be nice to have better options than Bruce Aven, DeWayne Wise, Rob Ryan and Howie Clark. But if that's the biggest problem the Blue Jays have next year, they should be pretty happy.
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Craig B - Wednesday, January 08 2003 @ 09:34 AM EST (#99815) #
Jordan, presumably Cat would hit leadoff on days where Stewart wasn't in the lineup, or against pitchers that have given Stewart trouble (a situation where Shannon might consent to a move down the order).

I'd rather have Stewart than Cat as my leadoff man, though.

I would suspect that the Jays would be much more likely to pursue pitching rather than hitting, and if the right pitchers start getting desperate for a guaranteed contract we may see the Jays with yet more one-year deals... the advantage of which are that (1) veteran players on one-year deals are easy to move in summertime for prospects; and (2) if they perform well and leave via free agency, you get compensation picks. It's a neat trick, and the Jays have been smart to exploit it.

What I found very interesting was JPR's comment that Tosca apparently was a help to Stewart in the outfield defensively. Stewart certainly responded well offensively to the regime change; he had an OBP of .398 after the All-Star Break, increased his power slightly, stole 10 bases and scored *61* runs, a fantastic number. The post-All-Star improvement was a change from previous years; in the past Shannon has tended to tail off as the season progressed.
_R Billie - Wednesday, January 08 2003 @ 09:52 AM EST (#99816) #
Stewart has always gotten a bum rap from the media and a certain segment of fans that feel despite the fact he consistently hits over .300, scores over a hundred runs, and gives it his all defensively despite the weak outfield arm, that he just doesn't do enough. Mainly they point to the fact that his steals have fallen off steadily since he swiped 50 some years back.

I think when Tosca took over and told Shannon not to worry about stealing, and not to worry about moving down to a power position like third (which he is ill suited for), he was able to relax and play his game. And actually steal more bases than when Martinez was constantly breathing down his neck about him having to run more.

He's not among the elite left fielders in the game, but he's good, consistent, and reliable. And he fills a role that seems to be rare in the majors these days...having enough onbase ability to leadoff but not so much power that he's wasted at the top of the lineup.
Coach - Wednesday, January 08 2003 @ 10:54 AM EST (#99817) #
Craig, 61 runs scored after the break is even more impressive when you consider the season was divided 86-76 for the Jays, not 81-81. That pace over a full season is a ridiculous 130 runs! A tribute to Shannon's production, true, but also to the guys behind him, who are even better, on paper, with Cat's arrival. If Hudson gets a full season at 2B and hits 9th, or even 8th, the top of the order will get some additional RBI opportunities as well.

I am no fan of Stewart's arm, but even more annoying to me has been his tendency to get a decent jump on a line drive, only to pull up and let it fall in front of him. The poor throws (and a huge number of non-throws) let people take an extra base, but each time he changes his mind on a catchable ball, it costs the pitcher an out. Shannon is pretty good chasing down fly balls to his left and right, so if Tosca can help him on the low ones right at him, I'll be relieved. Do we think he's going to arbitration, or will they settle for something like $4 MM with incentives?

Catalanotto suffered from misuse (under-use?) when he first came up, so until last year, he was a victim of managerial ineptness as much as fragility. The HBP numbers indicate tenacity, but cost him playing time; a Mark Hendrickson fastball ended his 2002 season prematurely, just as he was returning from a more serious injury -- a lower back problem, described as a stress fracture, which everyone hopes will not recur.

I think J.P. will always have ongoing trade discussions, but there are no more emergencies. The pitching staff is deeper and more experienced, so is the bench, and even Syracuse has been upgraded dramatically. The possibility of deadline deals exists, especially with Escobar, and the Jays will take that highly-valued flexibility into next winter, while most of their rivals are still wondering how to get rid of their bad contracts. As Craig says, the one-year signings are a clever trick, which allow an easy transition (if they don't work out) from any of Lidle, Sturtze, Catalanotto, Myers, Bordick, Creek, Tam and whoever else I'm forgetting, to similar bargains a year from now.

The Jays should be negotiating to lock up Roy Halladay before he becomes a 20-game winner and two-time all-star; that's the exception I'd make to a policy of short-term deals, as you don't want him to leave for more security, and you want him to feel appreciated. The sooner it's done, the less it will cost.
_R Billie - Wednesday, January 08 2003 @ 11:56 AM EST (#99818) #
From Slam Sports:

"Joining pitchers Roy Halladay and Kelvim Escobar and left fielder Shannon Stewart on the arbitration eligible list are shortstop Chris Woodward, who has two seasons plus 154 days of eligibility, and reliever Cliff Politte, who has two years plus 153 days."

So five players in total here which should eat any remaining salary room the Jays have left.

I completely agree on Halladay. I don't think there's much left for him to prove. If they wait another year they may lose their window of opportunity to lock him in at reasonable cost. If he gets to within a year of free agency, then the Jays will be on the hook for a big time contract. Right now there's a chance to do something in the range of three years plus an option, which could guarantee his position with the team through 2005 or 2006.
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