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I've been thinking a lot about Gord Ash's tenure with the Blue Jays. (It must be the indigestion. Note to self: don't eat the chili for lunch any more.)
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Every March, I look forward to the arrival of my favourite spring baseball annuals: Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and the Baseball Prospectus. One of the reasons I prefer these annuals to the other stuff on the market is their nasty, or sometimes strange, sense of humour.
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$33 million for two years' work? I'll take it!

Aaron Gleeman and I had a long conversation not too long ago about Randy, trying to project him forward into the future, and whether he would get 300 wins. I think it's a good bet that he will still be a productive starter when this contract is up at the end of 2005.
I apologize for the headline in advance. As mentioned yesterday, former Rule-5 acquisition Corey Thurman is headed down to Syracuse for the 2003 season, there to work on both his mechanics and his curveball. Richard Griffin paints a picture of a disappointed young man, which I'm sure he is, but I would have to disagree that Thurman's road back is a long one.

When JP looks to the future, he sees an everyday lineup that's pretty settled for the next few years. Barring injury, he's set at catcher (Cash), first (Phelps), third (Hinske) and center (Wells) for the next four years. He has four good young candidates (Hudson, Woodward, Adams, Rich) for the middle infield and two excellent nominees (Werth, Griffin) for the corner outfield spots. DHs are not hard to come by, so the starting nine can reasonably be forecast through the middle part of the decade. Bullpens are even easier to assemble, and the Jays have some great relief prospects on the way in a hurry, so the relief corps also seems secure.

Not so the starting rotation.
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Woo-hoo! Clemens named to face Halladay at the opener! As opposed to a tough LH (Pettitte or Wells) or the knuckle-curvemeister (Mussina) it's an ideal matchup for Toronto's best hitters. Josh Phelps has to be as excited as I am; last time the Cy guy was in town, Phelps hit a ball as far as humanly possible, and added another mammoth HR for good measure; Delgado also went deep, and O-Dawg tripled, as the Jays pounded good old Rog for 10 hits in 5 innings. Here's the box score from that memorable contest.

Even as a premium-priced game, this one's a bargain. You get your Hinske bobblehead (first 25,000 fans in what is shaping up as a sellout) and you get to root for the good gunslinger against the bad one. Plus, it's a show of support for the amazing improvements J.P. & Co. have made to this club in less than a year and a half. There will be many Japanese fans and media on hand for Godzilla's MLB debut, and the usual boisterous Yankees fans scattered through the crowd. Let's make some noise!

BB readers who plan to attend can weigh in here; I have a front-row upper balcony seat, so anyone else on the 500 level who wants to say hello or meet for a beer, e-mail me. T-minus eight days for the Rocket launching.
...and don't come back to Florida for the next two weeks, because I'm flying down there on vacation next Saturday. But the rains did come today to Bradenton, washing out the Jays-Pirates game and setting up the possibility of a rare spring training doubleheader between the Blue Jays and Bucs tomorrow in Dunedin.

The other noteworthy item in today's abbreviated report from Spencer Fordin is that as Opening Day draws closer, Carlos Tosca is going to start using his bullpen the way he would in the regular season: Escobar to close, Politte to set up, Creek and Tam as seventh-inning relief, and Trever Miller/Pete Walker in the long-man roles, with Aqualino Lopez the wild-card reliever.

Not only will it be interesting to see these usage patterns play themselves out, we can also look forward to seeing the team generally start to bear down as the time draws near when the results matter. The Jays' spring-training record up till now has been highly pleasant but essentially meaningless; the next week of games, however, will provide a more accurate barometer of this team's readiness to compete.
I stopped buying USA Today's Sports Weekly when it became a football publication. I miss reading the old Baseball Weekly, but still visit the Web site. Fantasy guru John Hunt has published his best guesses for AL regulars, complete with batting orders. He loves your Toronto Blue Jays:

It probably won't take long for the Jays to drop Hinske down to the sixth spot and put Catalanotto at No. 2, but the Jays were clicking with Hinske in that second spot last year. No matter where Hinske ends up, this could be the best lineup in the league, and you should bid accordingly.

On a college hoops weekend, this is mainly for those who are still drafting, but I'm curious -- among the many Internet sites featuring depth charts and lineups, which are the best? Hunt makes some guesses I don't agree with, and misses some injuries; Dan Wilson won't be the M's #1 C for a while, and I suspect Greg Vaughn's going to be released. ESPN disappoints, as it's not updated often enough to reflect last-minute changes, and often has stale -- Dewayne Wise? -- info. Roto Times isn't bad, but I've yet to locate the definitive (free) source. Any suggestions?
The Hall of Merit is a fascinating project being run by my friend Joe "Scruff" Dimino and is being hosted by Baseball Primer. We are re-voting for the Hall of Fame "as it ought to have been done", and are beginning with a first vote in 1906.
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The Saskatoon Legends of the Canadian Baseball League have announced that former MLB star Ron LeFlore will be their manager this season.

With LeFlore in Saskatoon, and Willie Wilson managing the London Monarchs, the CBL may have more basestealing talent in the dugouts than on the field!
Josh Phelps played nine "uneventful" innings at 1B in yesterday's 4-3 "B" team loss to the Twins. Carlos Delgado is having a scar tissue problem on his knee, "nothing major" according to his manager. Phelps walloped a pitch the opposite way for a HR to put his team in front, but after four solid innings from Doug Linton, Corey Thurman, Aquilino Lopez (5 K in 2 IP) and Scott Wiggins couldn't seal the deal. Here's the box score.

The O-Dawg played five innings the night before, but is nursing a tender wrist, also not considered serious. Frank Catalanotto walked twice as the DH and says he's feeling great after missing more than two weeks:

"I'm just happy because my back felt great. There was no pain at all," he said. "I think we're on the right track. Hopefully, tomorrow, I'll get 3 at-bats and progress from there. Maybe even start playing the outfield soon. If it's not tomorrow, I think it will be the day after. I don't think I'm far away from getting back in the field."

Excellent news, unless you're Rob Ryan or Bruce Aven. Finally, while checking out the latest spring stats at USA Today, I noticed a headline: "Broad seeking Dodgers." Kind of a man-bites-dog story, don't you think?
From Baseball America -- the free part -- here's a brief synopsis of all MLB front offices, according to their player development philosophies. BA has lumped the Texas Rangers in with Oakland, Boston and Toronto as the teams relying most on the statistical model. At the other end of the spectrum, relying on traditional scouting practices, are a couple of successful teams (the Braves and the Dodgers) with deep pockets, and a few disasters.

That's just a sidebar to "The Great Debate" -- a fine look by Mike Bernardino at the infiltration of sabremetrics into baseball management. It's met with great resistance from plenty of skeptics:

"You can talk all you want about this newfangled OPS bull****, but I just sit there and laugh," one old-school personnel man says. "Look at Miguel Tejada and (Alfonso) Soriano and what their OPS is. If thatís the answer, donít talk to me about the exception."

That could have been a former Blue Jays scout talking, and it's scary to think it could be the "logic" of a high-ranking decision maker in any number of organizations. However, it explains why not all of the old-fashioned teams return phone calls from the more enlightened -- I sense a lot of resentment.

Rob Neyer's latest column--at http://espn.go.com/mlb/columns/neyer_rob/1527210.html--discusses the Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske signings. It's worth a read, but I'd have to say that it doesn't break new ground or contain any special insights. In particular, the John Hart analogy in my opinion weakens the piece, because holding Hart up as a good role model while saying that Cam Bonifay made poor choices as the GM of the Pirates obfuscates the context of the Jays decision-making.
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Gwyn made Vladimir Guerrero the first pick ever in the BBFL a few seconds after 9:55 pm last night, and a mere three hours later, Spicol took John Stephens to end the proceedings. We drafted 500 players and cracked a few one-liners along the way. I hope everone had as much fun as I did. The file bbfldraft.xls is on the server, and if you can't download it, e-mail me for a copy.
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The baseball content on ESPN.com just improved dramatically with the latest column by Darren Rovell: http://espn.go.com/mlb/s/2003/0320/1526812.html.

A very good columnist who writes about the business of sport, and baseball in particular, he hasn't succumbed to laziness or poor research in his latest effort (please note the plethora of quotes from good sources like Dave Dombrowski, president and GM of the Detroit Tigers; Jerry Colangelo, managing partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and Larry Baer, executive VP of the San Francisco Giants). Rovell appears to be, based on what I've read of his work so far, an acceptable mainstream writer delving into the same material so ably analyzed by Doug Pappas (at Baseball Primer and SABR).

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The New York Yankees are talking about signing Pasqual Coco. Derek Jeter needs someone to play hide-the-glove with.

Okay, fine, make up your own punchline, then: