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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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Now that Jim Thome has finally made his choice of employer for the rest of his career, we can officially drop the green flag on this year's free-agent season. And not a moment too soon: not only were front-office executives throughout the game getting antsy, with the arbitration deadline of Dec. 7 and the Winter Meetings (Dec. 13-15) looming, but us kibbitzers in the underground baseball press have had almost nothing to talk about. :-)
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Inspired by Geoff's and Kent's recollections of how they came to be baseball and Blue Jays fans, I thought I'd start a separate thread where visitors could chime in with their own "Origins Of..." story. Guys, if you'd like to copy-and-paste and/or expand your stories to this thread, please do; or if you're satisfied with the links I've created, that's cool too.

Here we go....
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Decent summary here (from the Jays' official site) of the now-completed Arizona Fall League season and Toronto prospects in the winter leagues of Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Lefty reliever Scott Wiggins might have piched his way back onto the 40-man roster, and Gabe Gross partially salvaged a frustrating 2002, but the news about the young catchers isn't as good, as both Kevin Cash and Guillermo Quiroz are not hitting -- yet.

In BB #38, we discussed Kevin Goldstein's assessment of Toronto farmhands in The Prospect Report -- this link is to an ongoing summary of all MLB teams' Top Ten, and his AL analysis is complete.

I admit to parting with half a buck most days for the Toronto Star, despite Richard Griffin. And I like the Saturday Globe for the features. I refuse to buy the paper that claims to be "National" (and is, if the nation is Bay Street and Alberta) or the annoying tabloid, but sometimes people leave them on the subway, and I'll look anywhere on the Web for baseball news.

This link to Bob Elliott's latest Sun column is provided for a couple of reasons. Elliott, although his prose is mundane and his facts are occasionally wrong, seems to have good connections. He rarely resorts to commenting on rumours started by other reporters (the tactic that feeds baseball coverage in the Big Apple) and has often scooped his local rivals.

Although today's trade-gossip piece completely ignores the Jays, the stuff about the Giants, if true, throws cold water on some of the previous speculation in this rectangle.
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I notice with some amusement that our "own" Gideon Clarke sent his comments on the latest Peter Gammons column to Clutch Hits. I'm guessing that's because Jordan's point, about P.G. being one of the few "mainstream" journalists who even acknowledges sabrmetrics, will stimulate more discussion there than here. (And my feelings aren't hurt; it's true.)

I agree with Gideon's aside that the Gammons list of free-agents-to-be is "wildly premature," and it's no doubt less than 100% accurate, but since it's the first concise list I've seen of the impending talent glut, I include it here for BB readers. Some of us regularly indulge in premature speculation, even if our wives don't appreciate it.

One of the truly fun things about being a baseball fan is trades: proposing hypothetical ones, anticipating rumoured ones, reading about the real ones (Who did they get? Who did they give up?), and debating for weeks afterwards about whether they were smart ones or dumb ones. Good times.

For the players, though, it's a different story. I don't think I'd enjoy being called into my boss's office and told I'd been dealt to a trucking magazine based outside Louisville in exchange for an art director and an advertorial to be named later. But that's life for major-league baseball players, and has always been so, well before they were making six figures a year, let alone seven. I don't care how much money you make: some things suck, and being made to change employers against your will is one of them.

This article, from the Blue Jays' MLB page, goes into interesting detail about the effect of the Cory Lidle deal on his family. I liked it because it's a pretty fresh angle on the same old "How are you dealing with the trade?" story. It's not much fun for the player, but it can be brutal on his wife, who likely has made friends, put down roots and established the family in the community while hubby is on the road six to eight months of the year. And speaking as someone who hates, hates moving, I have a lot of sympathy for Melanie Lidle. I also think a little more highly of Cory after hearing how he talks about his family. A nice little piece.

I don't quite as much care for the writer's cheap shots at Toronto weather. You know, Oakland isn't exactly Maui either, fella. When Dorothy Parker and Jason Giambi both diss your city, you shouldn't be casting stones.
Much of the attraction of fantasy baseball (for me, at least) is testing my talent evaluation skills against fellow baseball fans. Many people sincerely believe they could do a better job than the GM of "their" local major-league team, and if they live in Denver or Kansas City, they might be right.

Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin hates all general managers, it seems. Rich has a short memory, though. He led the mudslinging against former Blue Jay honcho Gord Ash, but now that his cross-hairs are trained on J.P. Ricciardi, has begun to praise the previous administration. In today's asinine column attacking the Red Sox for hiring 28-year-old Theo Epstein, Griffin actually suggests Dave Stewart would have been a better choice.

In another BB thread, Craig B posted his thoughts on Griffin's dubious "logic," and here's my response. I've resisted the obvious temptation to make "Epstein's Mother" jokes, but Griffin isn't kidding. Whatever credibility the man once had, he is systematically destroying with his transparent jealousy and irresponsible vendettas. Count me as one "rotisserie dweeb" who has had enough.
Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun devoted his weekend column to the "feel good" story of a 22-year-old pitcher from Mississauga who became the first Ontario college player, and just the second from a Canadian university, to be signed by a pro team.

Angus Roy played in the NCAA but went undrafted, and returned home to attend teacher's college at U of T. Of interest to me is that he was "discovered" by the Red Sox, and even more curiously, by a scout who was hired after a chance meeting at a college game in Florida. (Note to self: start chatting up strangers more often.)

Batter's Box contributors could be self-appointed "bird dogs" for the Blue Jays, whose Canadian scouts, according to Elliott, are significantly outnumbered by several other organizations. I suggest RHP John Lockwood of the Toronto Maple Leafs as a potential pro, but while he was dominating the Intercounty League this year with a 92 MPH fastball and nasty slider, it was the Braves holding the radar gun. Kids like Roy and Lockwood will be CBL stars if they stall at A or AA, but they deserve at least a chance in an MLB system.
Just to further the off-season trade talk that fills the restless days until the GM meetings -- here's a piece from Ken Rosenthal's latest column:

Blue Jays CF Jose Cruz Jr. is drawing trade interest from the Giants, Astros, Rangers and Diamondbacks. Cruz hit 83 homers the past three seasons but likely will earn below $5 million in 2003.

The Giants possess the young pitching the Blue Jays crave. The Astros aren't sure it would be a good idea to pair Cruz with his father, Jose Cruz Sr., the team's first base coach. The Rangers and Diamondbacks could turn to Cruz if they fail to sign free-agent CF Steve Finley.

First, the usual provisos about any trade rumour circulated by a sportswriter, even if his initials aren't PG. Until verified by at least one more source, this is 100% speculative. That stated, here's a few thoughts arising from this item:
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A few years ago, I had a high school SS and leadoff hitter who quietly did a lot of things right. On the same team was a younger kid who hit for a higher average, with more power, and was gifted with a laser-beam arm, but was prone to emotional outbursts and selfish play. I asked the latter which "team" would win if we cloned nine of him and nine of the other guy, and he responded, with the confident swagger I expected, that it would be no contest.

"Wrong," I told the budding superstar, "nine of you would collide on every fly ball, have fistfights with each other in the dugout, and infuriate umpires; nine of him would cooperate, make each other better, and kick your butt." I'm happy to say the young man got the message; he's added the previously-missing intangibles to his impressive skills, and become the best player I've ever coached.

Applying this fantasy yardstick to big-leaguers has been an enjoyable pastime for me for decades. Nine Babe Ruths would be awesome because of the pitching thing, if they all showed up at the park and were willing to share the spotlight. Nine Randy Johnsons would lose a lot of low-scoring games; nine of Pete Rose would be very tough to beat if they bet their money, and so on.
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Arizona, already mortgaged to the brink of bankruptcy, is "stuck" with Matt Williams, a once-great player who has every right to put what's left of his career in perspective with his disingegrating personal life.

Colorado is "stuck" with one of the greatest right-fielders of all time, but they have many other problems to address (like Denny Neagle) and may have lost their best chance to dump Larry Walker and his enormous contract. If that doesn't happen, the Rockies have a very unhappy camper, now that Larry's feelings are hurt.

He's made statements already about feeling unwanted in Denver, and he resents the implicit suggestion that his lack of "leadership" is to blame for the Rockies' woes. Most of us have another culprit in mind: the bozo in the front office.
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Here's how the Star covered the CBL launch, and here's the Clutch Hits discussion that (not surprisingly, given the timing of the undiplomatic "Bush is a moron" slur) kind of wandered away from baseball in Canada to a political debate that nearly went nuke-you-ler.

I did a little market research last night. One of my best friends is a musician, who doesn't "get" sports. When he attends a Jays game or two with me every year, he likes the JumboTron and the dancers and the vibe of a decent crowd, and he roots for the home team, but doesn't know, or care, whether a player is a star or a bum. He likes fun; the baseball is irrelevant. This guy, if he lived in the Niagara Region or London, is the customer the CBL needs to survive. When I promoted tiny Orangeville Raceway in the giant shadow of Woodbine, I knew my "regulars" by name and didn't need special events to get them in the door. So I did wacky things to attract -- and entertain -- newcomers. My suggestion to the new league and each of its teams is to follow the Veeck blueprint and sell the sizzle; the steak figures to be a bit tough.
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If the newspaper editor's adage is true (one letter's a crackpot, two a trend, and three an avalanche of opinion) then my Inbox was snowed under today with queries about a possible Orlando Hudson trade. Despite the sources (including Peter Gammons in a slow news week) this one is fun to contemplate.

2B, with the exception of the Alomar years, has been a revolving door of mediocrities in Toronto. We actually remember the hackmeister Damaso Garcia as a good one, because we've suffered through Danny Ainge and Joey Lawrence and so many others best forgotten. So why, just as the O-Dog seems ready to make an impact, would J.P. trade him?

Two reasons: Russ Adams and Dominic Rich. Adams, not your typical draft-and-hope selection, was a first team All-American at North Carolina, and was voted #1 prospect (those are Mark Mulder's footprints) in the Cape Cod League, which has also produced decent players like Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton. The SS, who is expected to end up at second, tore up the NY-Penn League in his pro debut (.464 OBP!) and will see plenty of time in AA New Haven this year.
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