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Ken Rosenthal, the Sporting News's less arbitrary answer to Peter Gammons, is back with another article reviewing the majors in the depths of baseball-free January. A few points of interest and one very intriguing Blue Jays-related observation.

* Raul Mondesi could actually be a good investment for Pittsburgh, especially for only a million bucks. I can see him being motivated by playing Roberto Clemente's old position and having something to prove back in his favourite league. Certainly, Brian Giles could only benefit by having a more impressive name than Craig Wilson batting behind him. The only downside from a Toronto perspective is that the Yankees wouldn't be hurt by having Raul either drag down the offence or complain about not starting. Well, you can't have everything, I suppose. :-)

* Everything we need to know about Robert Fick's defence can be summed up by this line: "His late-inning defensive replacement will be Julio Franco."

* The 2004 Blue Jays will be able to field 3/4 of their infield and their entire outfield for $11 million. The 2004 Rangers will be paying that same amount to three set-up guys. This neatly illustrates why money per se doesn't buy championships -- it's how you spend the money you have. Paying that kind of cash to three guys whose performance could be approached if not equalled by three minor-league free agents reveals a fundamental inability to find talent and judge value. JP Ricciardi, who can do both, is so far ahead of John Hart that it's not funny. Okay, it is.

* Here's the intriguing Jays comment:

Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava is emerging as one of the game's hottest GM prospects. LaCava rejected front-office overtures from the Red Sox and Orioles this winter to continue working under his longtime friend, Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi.

Kent was the first to alert us to LaCava's presence and impact on the Jays' front office, but it seems as if other organizations are starting to pay attention too. I'm glad that like his boss, he wants to stay in Toronto for the time being and finish the job at hand. If anyone comes across a profile of LaCava, please e-mail the URL to me; I'd be quite interested in learning more about this guy.
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Craig B - Monday, January 13 2003 @ 11:06 AM EST (#99415) #
The LaCava file:

LaCava coached and scouted with Anaheim, then worked as a cross-checker for Atlanta and then director of minor league operations with the Expos.

From Gammons, 30 Sept 2000:

There are so many wild stories about what's going to happen to the Expos as they try to succeed as silent actors in Montreal. The rumor that Felipe Alou getting traded is a wild one, although owner Jeffrey Loria and Jeff Torborg do have a close and respectful relationship. Loria's enthusiastic assistant Mike Berger brought in his longtime friend and donut shop partner Tony LaCava as farm director; LaCava was a highly respected scout for the Braves. One player likely to be marketed is Dustin Hermanson, and they have to decide whether or not to pick up the option on Ugueth Urbina or trade him.

LaCava speaks extensively about Brandon Phillips and Ron Calloway in the following articles:

A great blurb on LaCava by John Manuel (Baseball America correspondent) is partway down this chat transcript (the seventh question):

Finally, another trash-job by Richard Griffin, this one from the Sporting News website:

After gutting the Blue Jays' farm system and scouting, general manager J.P. Ricciardi, new five-year contract in hand, has started to add his own people to his front office hierarchy. The most important hiring was of assistant to the general manager Tony LaCava. The new guy, much younger than current assistants Bobby Mattick and Bill Livesy, will be very active in major-league evaluation, feeding reports back to Ricciardi on potential trades or signings. This move comes as a slap in the face to 49-year-old Tim Wilken, who has been with the Jays since 1977. Wilken would have been a leading candidate to replace Ricciardi as GM if he had gone to Boston but now is another notch down on the Jays' totem pole. It would not be surprising to see Wilken offered a promotion with another major-league organization. This is LaCava's fifth organization in the last five years -- he has been with the Angels, Braves, Expos, Indians and now the Jays, all since 1998. The Jays' website attempted to link him with the Angels' current World Series success. "I never signed any of the current players but have seen a lot of those players," LaCava admitted. --Richard Griffin

Anyone who earns the dislike of Jeffrey Loria (who forced LaCava out of Montreal) and Richard Griffin, is good people in my book.
Coach - Monday, January 13 2003 @ 11:36 AM EST (#99416) #
I haven't read any of Craig's links (yet) but the impression I got was that when LaCava and J.P. were both national scouts, therefore competitors, a healthy mutual respect developed. As with others Ricciardi comes in close contact with, it became a friendship.

The duties of interacting with his own bosses, media relations and running his club prevent J.P. from doing what got him here -- personally evaluating talent -- as much as he used to. So he cloned himself with this hiring; Tony even resembles the boss. Presumably, when they were in the field, they agreed most of the time on players, so LaCava's reports will carry considerable weight. If he and Keith Law recommend the same guy, J.P. can be confident.

I don't know Tim Wilken, who is probably an excellent baseball man, but maybe he's a "tools" fan who's not 100% convinced about the team's new direction. If he's one of Griffin's buddies, perhaps they should both relocate.
_R Billie - Monday, January 13 2003 @ 12:06 PM EST (#99417) #
Tim Wilken along with Chris Buckley have been the main men in charge of overseeing the Jays' drafting and scouting, though I'm not sure how long both have been on the job. Under their watch, the Jays system has produced the more currently active major league players than any other team. Although it's debatable how many of them are actually above average players, the list includes people like Delgado, Green, Gonzalez, Halladay, Carpenter, Escobar, Koch, and more.

These guys are mainly old school scouts, but judging by their very good 2001 draft and similarly successful (thus far) 2002 draft, they know what they're doing. I read an article last year about how the combination of Ricciardi along with Wilken & Buckley could help the Jays become a player factory over the next few years. That is if the Jays can keep everyone happy with their roles...I suspect JP is quite pleased with the results of the '02 draft so unless egos play a role then we may enjoy these guys working together for a few years. The only really big changes under Ricciardi would be emphasis on college over high school, performance over tools, and signability over ceiling.

McCleary gives JP support on the adminstrative side including contracts, Law does the number crunching, but there was a vacuum on the talent evaluation side of things where Ricciardi lacked an assistant that appreciated the same things in a player that he did and could do his personal scouting missions in places he didn't have time to go. It looks like LaCava fills that role but it may take some time for his impact to actually be felt.
Coach - Monday, January 13 2003 @ 02:17 PM EST (#99418) #
R B, you're right that player development wasn't the problem under Ash, it was a poor job of evaluating MLB talent, and an eagerness to give mediocrities lifetime security.

Other policy adjustments by the new regime include a reduction of the "needle in a haystack" approach -- major cutbacks in scouting Asia, Latin America and Canada. It makes sense; you don't need to watch thousands of games all over the world to "discover" some unknown kid. Once an Adam Loewen or Jeff Francis emerges, everyone knows about them, and you can send people to take a look.

Getting back to the Rosenthal piece, I love Jordan's summary:

The 2004 Blue Jays will be able to field 3/4 of their infield and their entire outfield for $11 million. The 2004 Rangers will be paying that same amount to three set-up guys.

One of those, our homeboy Jeff Zimmerman, might be through, and the others (Powell and Van Poppel) are incendiary firemen with no-trade clauses. Yikes!

I enjoyed this paragraph, which supports a point I never tire of repeating:

The ice-cold market continues to infuriate agents. The identical Fick and Fullmer signings indicate that teams are "slotting" players at certain positions. "Let's make a wild guess as to what David Ortiz is going to get," one agent says, adding sarcastically, "I'd be really surprised if he signed for $1 million."

The agents had it coming; their squirming is fun. The players are still well-compensated. My objection to the coincidental decision by 27 or 28 teams to come to their senses is that the savings are going into the owners' pockets, while the fans get "dynamic pricing," which I assure you, isn't a marketing code word for a break. Same with the luxury tax. I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for old George, but I know why he's upset -- the Royals, Marlins, and a lot of other hopelessly inept outfits, like the Commissioner's teams, won't spend a dime of the Yankee dough on becoming competitive. Watching David Glass or Jeff Loria count Steinbrenner's money disgusts me. If I lived in K.C or Miami, this would be a boycott blog.
Coach - Monday, January 13 2003 @ 07:27 PM EST (#99419) #
Dual hijack warning -- we had a Batter's Box thread on bullpen committees last week, but since this one's about a Ken Rosenthal column, I thought I'd link to his opinion on the issue, just published today. Jamesians beware -- KR quotes Tony LaRussa at length, cites something about a closer's "aura," and offers this caveat to Theo Epstein and Grady Little:

Perhaps the Red Sox will develop a one-for-all, all-for-one bullpen camaraderie, but undefined roles can poison a clubhouse.

Also from the Sporting News, for fantasy owners, here's their early Player Rankings (MLB, by position) with not much respect for our Blue Jays. I would advise you not to use these lists to prepare for your own draft, but they might give you an idea of who "everybody" likes.

Greg Myers is rated 58th at C, despite being assured of a big boost in playing time. (Kevin Cash is at #44.) Carlos Delgado is #6, with Mike Sweeney and Ryan Klesko ahead of him. Frank Catalanotto and Orlando Hudson are #18 and #19 at 2B -- Cat's multi-position eligibility (he's #91 among OF) and expected 500 AB increase his value. Chris Woodward's at #17, Eric Hinske's a surprising #6, and the highest-rated Jays OF is Shannon Stewart at #23. Only Vernon Wells (#37) is rated higher than I expected. Roy Halladay is #11 among SP, which increases your chance of drafting him in the late second round. Cory Lidle, at #47, is the only other Jay hurler in the top 120 starters. The biggest Jays bargain, not just in stature, will be Mark Hendrickson. TSN doesn't even know he's a starter, let alone an undefeated one with a sub-1.00 ERA, and ignores him at #69 on the relievers list.

There's been sufficient response, in another thread and via e-mail, to the proposed Batter's Box league on Yahoo to declare it a "go." Still plenty of time to join, and we'll discuss the rules later this month. It's free, and the prize is considerable -- bragging rights.
_DS - Monday, January 13 2003 @ 09:26 PM EST (#99420) #

I'm too lazy to check for the Yahoo league thread, but I would be interested in joining the pool. It might be tough to find any sleepers with this crowd though.
robertdudek - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 12:26 AM EST (#99421) #
Giles in centre with Mondesi and Stairs/Wilson at the corners? Man, there are going to be so many balls dropping in, the Pirate pitchers are going to wish they had the Devil Rays defence behind them instead.
Coach - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 08:22 AM EST (#99422) #
MLB Jeopardy: If Raul Mondesi is the answer, what is the question?

The Yankees are the second team in less than a year to realize that it's well worth $6 million to get the self-styled superstar off your team. Here's what they're saying in Pittsburgh.
_R Billie - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 10:07 AM EST (#99423) #
On another note, today ESPN is featuring the Hot Stove Heater and Minor League Report for Oakland. Pretty well done by Gary Huckaby (who I wish would have done Toronto's) and John Sickels respectively. And this just reinforces the notion that Toronto is in good hands...but one thing that Ricciardi trails significantly behind Beane in is the ability to take full advantage of the less knowledgable teams in the league. John Adkins for Ray Durham AND cash. Sheesh.
Coach - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 11:03 AM EST (#99424) #
Here's the link to the A's HSH; great work by Prospectus staffer Huckabay. In the "Closer Look" segment, Gary explains how Billy Beane has built his cost-effective bullpen:

"Two things scouts don't like in a pitcher are average stuff and a lack of height.

"Performance records are a better tool for forecasting future performance than scouting reports, and the A's know it."

Not only is Keith Foulke an improvement over Billy Koch, the A's got Chicago to include Joe Valentine in the deal. As R Billie notes, J.P.'s mentor has had great success fleecing other teams, most notably the Royals and White Sox, whose GM Kenny Williams (warning: don't ever call me Kenny!) was described by Huckabay as "increasingly compliant," and has been called worse.
Pistol - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 04:01 PM EST (#99425) #
"John Adkins for Ray Durham AND cash. Sheesh"

Plus a draft pick, correct?
_R Billie - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 04:16 PM EST (#99426) #
You're right. Not only do the A's get a first rounder from San Fran (26th overall) but since Durham was a Type A free agent they also get a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. Not that the White Sox would necessarily know what to do with those picks anyway...but getting them in addition to renting Durham for next to nothing in return for a non-prospect has got to feel good for Beane.

I wonder if Ricciardi would try trading for any Type A's from another team down the stretch...particularly if the Jays have a reasonably good record. It would give the team and fans a temporary boost in morale as well as more draft long as the trade cost were reasonable of course.
Coach - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 05:32 PM EST (#99427) #
I wonder if Ricciardi would try trading for any Type A's from another team down the stretch

If attendance is up and the team's near .500 at the deadline, I'm pretty sure J.P. would make exactly the same move, most likely for a pitcher. It's another soft second-half schedule, so they could be at least mathematically in the wild-card hunt, excite the fans, and end up with a sandwich pick they do know how to utilize, for a minor-leaguer they didn't want anyway. It's too soon to answer the question you raised earlier, about whether Ricciardi can match his mentor's skill at coercing gullible trading partners, but give him time...
Craig B - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 09:30 PM EST (#99428) #
R Billie, I believe that some of the players like Myers, Catalanotto, and Bordick signed to one-year deals this offseason were signed partially for this reason... not only are they good stopgaps, but if they perform well they can attract draft picks or sandwich picks if they leave as free agents.
_R Billie - Tuesday, January 14 2003 @ 11:45 PM EST (#99429) #
Catalanatto might be such a player. Though the Jays have his arbitration rights so they may attempt to keep him...afterall is Stewart is traded or leaves via free agency (it seems very likely that one of the two will happen) then Catalanatto essentially becomes a left-handed Stewart and he's much better suited to left field anyway. Cat's arbitration eligible (by one day) at the end of '03 so the Jays would have to offer arbitration to get the compensation...which they should be able to do barring a poor showing from him.

In order for Myers or Bordick (or Sturtze) to attract a draft pick they'd have to play a lot and perform at an average or better level. As long as they are judged to be in the top 60% for their position, the Jays will get at least a sandwich pick after the second round. I don't think either has a big enough season in him to warrant that though...unless Woodward goes down, then there's an outside shot for Bordick.
_Matthew Elmslie - Wednesday, January 15 2003 @ 10:12 AM EST (#99430) #
Of course, this assumes that draft-pick compensation for departing free agents still exists next off-season. The only reason we still have it this year is because the owners and players hadn't negotiated it away thoroughly enough yet.
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