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That's what Richard Griffin calls the "statistical seamheads" who approve of the J.P. Jays.

In today's column, Griffin proposes that Raul Mondesi's "deterrent" arm is more valuable than Frank Catalanotto's bat. Of course, if and when it suits him, Rich will notice the difference in run production, and praise Cat's positive influence in the clubhouse, compared to the distraction of Mondesi (and his posse). How long do you think it would take Brian Cashman to agree to a Cat-for-Mondesi deal? The scary thing is, the baseball columnist for Canada's largest paper would make that offer. Appalling ignorance.

Second-guessing the decision to carry just three OF (Griffin, taking another swipe, calls Cat an infielder and says it's only two) is appropriate -- it's an unusual strategy that could indeed backfire. However, there will be changes made; the Jays have simply selected the best 25 for the opening series or two, not carved the roster in stone for the entire season. I'm still advising Ken Huckaby and Doug Linton to rent by the week in Toronto.
A picture is worth a thousand curse words -- part of me wishes they'd let Doc mess up Larry Bowa, but I'm glad there will be no suspensions, and that Halladay didn't hurt his pitching hand on the Philly manager's head, which is made entirely of rock. A nice team spirit-building exercise; cross off the only remaining item on the spring training agenda.

Feel free to take your best shot at my stubborn insistence that Ken Huckaby wouldn't survive the final cut, but nobody predicted Berg and Wilson as the extra OF, so the third C isn't such a liability. For now, the stability of the roster depends on Frank Catalanotto's wonky back -- there's no way Berg or Wilson is capable of playing RF in the majors on a regular basis. If the Cat needs any significant time off, the Jays will need to acquire or promote a real OF, and once again, the Huckaby/Linton debate will reverberate between the dugout and front office. I am very happy for Kenny and Doug; they deserve this.

Fantasy impact -- Cat (2B eligible!) will be in there against RH every day, and more often than I thought vs. LH; they must be confident that he's ready. Myers and Wilson still have more value than Huck, but Tom's AB just took a (temporary) hit; he's the main PH and spot starter against lefties. Only when Halladay starts vs. a righty (like the opener) will Huck cut into Myers' time; Greg should still start about half the games.
Shocker of the spring so far: the Houston Astros have waived Shane Reynolds. Recovering from surgery or not, this is a guy who won 14 games in 2001, and has a 19-win and two 16-win seasons to his (relatively) recent credit.

Before any Blue Jay fans get all in a tizzy, though, take this to the Bank of Mortal Locks: Reynolds, who has made his home in Texas since leaving the Longhorns a dozen or so years ago, will sign a contract offered by another UT alum who owns that other Lone Star team ... Tom Hicks' Texas Rangers.

Either that, or Reynolds will go all Emmitt Smith on everyone and sign with Arizona (the Diamondbacks, not the Cardinals ... um, NFL Cardinals, not MLB's St. Louis ... oh, never mind).
We've all agreed in this space that the Blue Jays have not been built with a goal of competing for the 2003 world championship; rather, we've enjoyed watching a new organizational philosophy transform the Jays from a middle-market club saddled with costly, mediocre veterans to a young and promising club that should consistently contend, perhaps by 2005.

But hope springs eternal, and just five days hence your Toronto Blue Jays will wake up on game day, tied with the mighty Yankees and powerful Red Sox for first place in the A.L. East -- and, in all likelihood, a half-game ahead of the Texas Rangers in the wild card chase. So, as we adjust our rose-coloured glasses, how might the 2003 Jays compete for a postseason birth? An assessment of the schedule, series by series, is instructive. The Jays' opportunity lies in Catch(Up)-22.
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OK ... this has been hinted at on Da Box previously, but it's time to make it happen. The first annual (usual disclaimer: nothing can really be "first annual" until after the second year) Batter's Box Predictions Contest.

No complicated "pick the order of finish of every team in the majors plus project the Toledo Mud Hens' team batting average" stuff. It's simple. Name the playoff teams, eventual champs and award winners, earn points for each correct prediction.

Everyone is invited to participate. All nine members of "The Lineup" are especially encouraged to cast their lots, and though not a requirement, those who don't will of course be considered a massive wuss.

And prizes? Oh YES, there are prizes. How would you like to be the proud owner of ...
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An upbeat column from Richard Griffin in today's Star, though nothing terribly new or exciting: the third-catcher debate, a roundup of Opening Day starters, etc. But the column is noteworthy for this hidden gem of a quote from JP:

[W]e were so aggressive in the six-year (minor-league) free agents, the Rule 5 draft, some of the trades we made and the free agent signings, that we felt coming into spring training, we were done. I don't think spring training is a place you make decisions. I think you put your team together and let them come down here and play.

He is, of course, 100% spot on.
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The Blue Jays will open the SkyDome doors this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. for the public to view batting practice. A $2.00 donation to the Jays Care Foundation is suggested. You can watch the Yankees take batting practice at noon, then at 3:00 p.m., the home team gets the field. J.P. Ricciardi will be on hand to answer questions from fans, and there will be autograph and photo opportunities. Sounds like a great deal for families.

Tonight's game has been a masterpiece for Pete Walker so far; he needed about eight pitches to get three groundouts in the first, and retired the side on six pitches in the second. The woeful D-Rays can't even hit a fly ball off Pete, and their latest retread pitcher, Rob Bell, got rocked in the third; it's 6-0 Toronto, with Stewart and Hudson contributing, as usual. Mike Wilner just said "this is starting to get sad." The season won't really begin in Tampa until Lou Piniella throws out the first base.

According to Tom and Jerry, the final 25-man roster, and the rotation, will be announced after tomorrow's game against the Phillies. Mark Hendrickson may pitch the third game of the Yankees series or be reserved for the first one in Minnesota. On Thursday, starting at 1:15 p.m., you can watch the Yanks-Jays game, as there's a free Webcast on MLB.com -- it's also a chance to see if the new package is worth buying.
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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