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From Roch Kubatko of the Baltimore Sun: "an Orioles official denied that the club was trying to send pitcher Sidney Ponson to the Toronto Blue Jays for Felipe Lopez. But the switch-hitting shortstop could be obtained in the right deal. Lopez, who just completed his second season in the majors, batted .227 in 85 games and lost his starting job to Chris Woodward."

The O's make this sound like Toronto's idea. The Orioles also want Rey Ordonez; how funny is that? Here's the full column.

Best baseball article on the Internet today? Aaron Gleeman's Class of 2003 on his blog. There's already a lengthy and spirited discussion on Primer, but if Batter's Box regulars want to take a swing at this one, go right ahead.

I have trouble leaving Bruce Sutter out if Tommy John gets in, and I'm prone to thinking of players from the "wouldn't it be great to have him on my team" perspective, so Mattingly is a hero. And Jack Morris would beat Kaat or Blyleven in any meaningful game; he just would. So it's not necessarily Aaron's conclusions I'm applauding, but it's recommended as an enjoyable read.
The Blue Jays are considering "variable" pricing, where tickets to the most attractive games by opponent, date and/or time suddenly become more expensive. There is no mention in today's Star article of how much cheaper seats might be for matinee D-Rays and Orioles and Tigers and Royals games, but this plan, which scalpers have used for ages, is being spun as an incentive to boost attendance at those events.

About a quarter of MLB teams have already adopted this approach, a clever way to boost revenues. If it costs season-ticket holders more -- a near certainty -- it's also a cash grab from your best existing customers, which won't be very popular. I don't have season tickets, but will vote with my feet at the box office. This type of "marketing" is up there with the famous Rogers "negative billing option" and Sympatico's rude treatment of their core Internet customers, imposing a bandwidth charge. I'll see you at the Dome for the bargain series, and watch the premium games on TV if this ever happens in Toronto.
So much for the Cruz and Lopez-or-Hudson to San Francisco plan; the Giants added Marquis Grissom (is Felipe the GM now?) and Ray Durham yesterday. Their arbitration offer to Jeff Kent seems a mere formality, but JK could move to first or third, and Durham to CF, so temporarily, they have depth where I thought they were most in need of help. Of course, if the plan is to actually play Grissom and Neifi Perez and get rid of Rich Aurilia, the moves may be Sabean's undoing.

Durham and Jim Thome going to the NL has made my AL Roto team better, as I didn't own either, but two rivals lost keepers. It leaves me wondering who the second best fantasy 2B is now, and if there's a bigger gap between the best and the rest at any other position.

The Yankees deciding to let Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza walk was interesting; one is aging but effective (note to Ed Wade: a lot better option than Dan Plesac!) and the other may not be 100% sound, so even the Yankees are getting cost-conscious, and Cashman hasn't exactly committed to the Rocket, merely kept his options alive.

And of course, there's Pudge. The Rangers, in addition to calling Kenny Rogers' bluff and letting "The Gambler" go, have simply turned their backs on a 10-time all-star and future Hall-of-Famer.
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Before the day is out, I would like to send, from all of us, a quick "Happy Birthday" wish to Vernon Wells.

Long may he reign.

I am adding a new feature, since we are both in the furthest depths of the offseason, and rapidly approaching my favourite time of year (even more than Opening Day, I love Christmas). These reviews will be of baseball books, and they will be brief... the intention is to give everyone something to put on their Christmas (or other holiday) lists.

Since it is nearly impossible to write a good book about the Blue Jays (Alison Gordon and Steve Brunt (sort of) have done it... nobody else, to my recollection, has ever managed to accomplish it) but at the same time also nearly impossible to write a bad book about baseball, I will mainly be focusing on non-Blue Jay material here. Also, most of the books will not be new... but they will all be in print.
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In his latest column, Peter Gammons credits Tony Tavares for freezing an already chilly market by announcing the Expos were selling everybody -- not just Vazquez, as discussed in BB #78, but Colon, Vidro and Guerrero.

One interesting tidbit: "The Indians likely will not play on (Sean) Casey now they have Travis Hafner, and while trying to work a three-way to get Felipe Lopez from Toronto (which entails acquiring Tony Armas or some similar pitcher for the Jays)".

I think Shapiro beat his former boss Hart like a rented mule in acquiring Hafner for Einar Diaz (I do not profess to know which side got the better of Myette-Drese, the pitching component of the deal) but this is the first mention of Cleveland's interest in Lopez. As always with P.G., consider the source.
From the Star, here's Eric Hinske's impression of Japan and its place in the world of baseball.

Geoff Baker cites "talk over the years of staging a showdown between the World Series and Japanese League winners to declare a global champion" and is apparently serious: "But the question remains whether individual Japanese clubs have the pitching depth to compete with a World Series champion."

Hinske tried, diplomatically, to provide the reporter with the answer to that brain-twister.
According to this article from the Toronto Star the Expos finally received their 2003 payroll budget from the Office of the Commissioner yesterday.

JPR apparently is interested in acquiring Vazquez, who is arbitration-eligible, if the right package can be found. That seems unlikely to me, given that the Jays appear to be near their own payroll budget (acknowledged to be $45-55 million) and Vazquez will likely command more than the $4.8 million he got last year.

More and more, I think it might be Guerrero who will be traded out of Montreal, since that solves the payroll problem in nearly a single stroke. The lineup of potential buyers will be quite long if that is the case. Would the Jays be interested? Trading Cruz, Hinske and Lopez for Vlad and Fernando Tatis would be a blockbuster deal, but is there any way the Jays could take on an extra $11 million in salary?
Anyway, I am officially usurping Coach's prerogative, and welcoming myself to Batter's Box. Thanks Kent, for inviting me to contribute to one of the best (if youngest) baseball-related sites on the Net.

Some readers will know me from Baseball Primer as Craig B. (If you don't, what are you waiting for? "Primer" is the perfect accompaniment to Batter's Box, like donuts to our coffee. Mmmm... donuts...)

This Hamiltonian (as in the city, not as in physics) will be posting Blue Jays-related material as well as analysis and commentary on baseball as a whole... with maybe a few tirades at MLB thrown in. Having recently lost my favourite team (les Expos, nos amours) I have been in a raging mood of late.
Our friend Jayson Stark is back with another Rumblings column, kind of like Peter Gammons' Diamond Notes but without quite as many pulled-from-a-hat trade rumours. Jayson is still pretty pumped about his hometown Phillies, but he had a few words about the Blue Jays:
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I like dropping into the baseball boards at FanHome and ESPN now and again, if only because there's almost always one thread about trading Carlos Delgado. Usually it's along the lines of "what culd we get for Delagdo" (if you've been to these boards, you know the ones I mean), and is founded on a quick glance around baseball for a team with an opening at first base, a lot of money and some pretty good prospects. These days, those two teams are usually identified as the Indians and Dodgers.

Setting aside for a moment that each team has alternatives available (an inexpensive Ben Broussard in Cleveland, a has-to-play-somewhere Todd Hundley in LA) and that cheaper free agents (McGriff, Floyd) are on the market, these idle and ultimately harmless discussions overlook some important facts: (1) Delgado has a no-trade clause, (2) he has it for a reason and he'll use it, (3) his contract, even most of it, is virtually untradeable, and (4) Ricciardi doesn't intend to deal him.

It's this last point that's the most significant, and which is brought out more fully in a Sun column this morning. JP makes the point that Delgado is the only player in the lineup capable of filling the cleanup spot right now, and that what he brings to the table -- triple digits in runs, RBI and walks -- is not that easily replaceable. He's a pillar in the lineup around which players like Phelps, Wells and Hinske can lean and develop. The Jays are a better team now, and will be a better team in three years' time, by keeping Delgado happy and on the payroll than they would be otherwise.

Now, of course, JP would be even happier if he had Delgado's services for about $9 million less per season, and if he had the complete flexibility to trade him if a stupendous offer came along. And he also wouldn't mind if Carlos were a little more devoted to defence and baserunning. But I'd like the local Blockbuster to carry a copy of the original Die Hard, not the two execrable sequels. Life's not perfect, so you do what you can with what you have. Accepting that his salary is unchangeable and unmoveable till mid-2004 at the earliest, JP realizes that he has an asset in Delgado and he's going to make the most of it.
It's Blue Jays Week at Baseball America. Not only is the publication about to release its Top Ten Prospects in the Jays' farm system, but this week's issue includes a detailed article about JP Ricciardi, with a specific focus on the restructuring of the farm system.

I would encourage you to pick up the current issue at the newsstands, on sale till Dec. 22, and read the JP piece. It's not the easiest paper to find here in the frozen north, but a good local newsstand should have a copy. I usually find BA at (of all places) the Relay outlet at the Ottawa Airport, as well as at a marvellous periodicals store here in town called (I kid you not) Mags & Fags (they also sell cigarettes, you see). I'm not sure whether the Top Ten list is in the print edition, but it is available online. A year's subscription to the Net version is US$42, about half what you'd pay for the print edition for a lot of the same material.

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Just in time for the Winter Meetings (well, okay, two weeks in advance of them), here's the first instalment of a series of analyses of the Blue Jays' more interesting minor leaguers. Over the course of this off-season, leading up to the start of spring training, I'll provide capsule summaries of Jays prospects who posted noteworthy 2002 stat lines, as well as a few who were expected to but didn't. The series starts here with the Syracuse Skychiefs and will drill downwards through the system in the weeks to come.

First of all, the usual caveats. Your humble correspondent is no John Sickels, and I claim little first-hand knowledge of any of the players listed here. These observations are drawn largely from the numbers they posted, supplemented by delving through various accounts of their accomplishments, and are entirely my own long-distance assessments. Mainly, they're intended to update you on the players' performance and stimulate discussion on where their careers are headed within (or without) the organization. Feel free to agree emphatically or disagree profoundly as the mood strikes you.
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Forgive my weak attempt at word-play in my inaugural authorial entry. Wire services are reporting that ex-Jay Billy Koch and two Grade C prospects from Oakland's minor league system have been sent to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson and some cash.

Koch, who is arbitration-eligible and expected to command a salary in the 4M+ range for the next two seasons, is arguably a worse closer than Foulke, whose 6M contract concludes after this season. Predictably, Rob Neyer at ESPN (who wrote a well-researched column last year claiming that Foulke was in fact the most valuable relief pitcher in all of major-league baseball during the past three years)and Derek Zumsteg at BP have both commented negatively on Kenny Williams' acumen yet again, which inevitably leads to the further deterioration of Gord Ash's already-tattered reputation as a baseball executive. Wait, isn't he currently employed by the Selig mafia in Milwaukee?

It appears that Billy Beane has again made a shrewd transaction to earn the A's the best possible return from a deal where they gave up an expendable third baseman named Eric Hinske to the Jays. I suggest that all Jays fans should give thanks that the A's already employ the services of Mr. Chavez.
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