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"I like it,'' says Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi flatly. "I think they're on to something.''

"I think it's great,'' adds Oakland GM Billy Beane.

The most innovative MLB front office minds agree that Theo Epstein is doing the right thing in Boston by not employing a Proven Closer. This report, by Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal, mentions the biggest reason most teams won't change:

(Grady) Little may find he will have to manage egos as well as innings as the experiment unfolds. Today's players are notorious for their need to have specified roles and the inherent uncertainty of the committee approach is bound to unnerve some.

Are you listening, Kelvim? If it can be "sold" to the pitchers involved, it's not only a more flexible approach, it's less expensive. Here's J.P. again, on baseball's reluctance to break with tradition: "We get afraid to do something because conventional wisdom tells us it can't be done.'' The new and improved Blue Jays are fearless.
And a few foul balls off the end of the bat: Boston signed Bill Mueller (a generous $4.5 MM over two years) to play third and bat second, but won't that make Shea Hillenbrand suitors, if any exist, lower their offers? Also in the "take my 3B... please" department, it looks like everyone is telling the Expos that they won't accept Tatis, no matter how enticing Colon or Vasquez would make the package. Joe Randa is still free to a good home; that is, K.C. would accept a "C" prospect from anyone willing to pay him, and Jose Hernandez or Tyler Houston are FA options, but Tampa prefers Chris (insert devilish joke here) Truby, while the Rockies signed long-ago Jays draftee Chris Stynes, who will need a huge Coors effect to make a significant contribution at a power position.

Albie Lopez is the Royals' answer to their abysmal pitching? "We see him as a guy who can bridge the gap for our young starters to the tail end of the bullpen," general manager Dullard Baird said. If that's true, expect Albie (43-56, 4.73 career) to pitch four or five innings, every game.

What else is new? The Sporting News believes that George Steinbrenner is the most powerful person in sports. Bud Selig (#3) does not.
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That's Brad Fullmer and Robert Fick elbowing Dave Justice out of the way up front. Fullmer accepted $1 M for one year, from a team that would have been forced to offer him at least 3.5 times that amount -- and might have had to pay him over $4 MM -- in the arbitration process. He "stays" with his world champion teammates (and took a home-town discount; he might have held out for $200,000 more from someone) while Fick, a very similar player, having accepted his value in the new economy, jumped at the chance to hit for a winner. He told the L.A. Times the Braves made the same offer to all three lefty DHs and waited for one to accept.

I've been rebuked here before for saying the "C" word, and because only about 26 teams are participating, and that-which-must-not-be-named must be unanimous, I guess it isn't happening. I'm not complaining, either. 1) I've railed for years at arbitration being the single most inflationary factor in the game and B) it's about time owners came to their senses.

My previous little joke about rolling back ticket and beer prices bombed, but even if you think Disney should put the entire $2.75 million in Fullmer savings into its pocket, are MLB fans ready to insist on a freeze?
At long last, it's official: the Blue Jays welcomed the prodigal John-Ford Griffin today. The outfield prospect was dealt to Toronto from Oakland in exchange for long-time Blue Jays farmhand Playertoo B. Namedlater.

Opinions vary on Griffin -- mine is probably the least positive, since I see his top upside as Paul O'Neill (hopefully without the personality), and his downside as the guy Paulie was infamously traded for, Hal Morris. That's not a range that gets me excited, but he still should be a useful player for the Jays, at least. And if he outstrips this projection, so much the very better.

Who will head west in return? No indication yet, but no doubt that will be released soon. One more detail out of the way, and the reconstruction continues apace.
The results are in: Eddie Murray and Gary Carter will enter the Hall of Fame this summer. Both richly deserved the honour. Bruce Sutter topped the runners-up with 53% of the vote, while Jim Rice scored 52% and Andre Dawson exactly 50%. Ryne Sandberg, surprisingly, only garnered 48%.

I wonder: whose cap will Gary Carter wear to the Hall of Fame? His best years were as an Expo, but his World Series ring was as a Met. Or do the players even have that choice anymore, after Dave Winfield auctioned his cap to the highest bidder?

Fun fact: though Carter was a lifetime NLer and Murray will always be identified with the Orioles, these guys were teammates on the 1991 Dodgers.
ESPN's Hot Stove Heater turns its sights on the Blue Jays today, and I have to tell you, it's a bit of a dud. There's little here in the way of incisive commentary, just a summary of the year gone by and a restatement of the obvious about the team. The "in-depth" section is on Ricciardi, and provides nothing that we haven't heard or seen before.

Whereas the two previous Hot Stove subjects garnered top-flight analysts (John Sickels for the Twins, Gary Huckabay for the Diamondbacks), the Blue Jays evidently drew the short straw and got Kieran Darcy, a writer for ESPN Magazine. I don't read that particular publication, and based on this turgid sample of the quality of writing, I'm not likely to start soon. It's neither exaggeration nor hubris to say that better Jays analysis can be found on this site any day of the week. Thumbs down.
First, apologies for not writing more here at Batter's Box, something I hope to rectify in the coming weeks.

Second, since Coach has advertised for openings in his fantasy league, let me abuse my vast array of power in this forum to advertise for prospective owners in my sim league, the Three Run Homer League, which is heading into its eighth year of operation.
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It's that time again ... the 2003 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced tomorrow. There are 33 eligible candidates on this year's ballot, ranging (alphabetically speaking) from Bert Blyleven to Todd Worrell. Who gets in? Or, more specifically, who gets your vote?
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Good old USA Today -- is anyone else furious about the destruction of Baseball Weekly? -- has their first Power Rankings of the new year, as always featuring plenty of questionable rankings: the panel is very impressed by the Phillies, and the annually-overrated Mets apparently improved while I wasn't looking.

I agree that the best teams are in the AL, but I think the Twins got dissed, as did the Giants. 16th is reasonable for the Jays, as I'm an optimist who thinks 88-90 wins is possible, but that still makes them about 7th best in their league and no better than 13th overall. At the bottom, as much fun as it is to ridicule a team associated with Selig and Ash, I think Detroit or Tampa or K.C. (quick, for 500 points, name a Royals starter) could finish behind the Brewers if they played the same schedule.

Another chewable snack; the entree tomorrow is the HoF election, with the ESPN Blue Jays Hot Stove Heater as an appetizer.
Pardon me for linking to an absolute piece of garbage like this, but on a great weekend for football (the Fiesta Bowl was awesome and so is Michael Vick) and hockey (I'm pumped for Canada-Russia tonight) Bob Elliott was the only local scribe to even mention baseball. Too bad.

It's a column from Saturday's Sun that examines what we don't know about the 2003 Jays, which in Elliott's case is quite a lot. He can't tell Dave Berg from the long-gone Homer Bush, for one thing: "Hudson will play more often than the injury-prone Bush and is better than Bush with the glove." The theme, that J.P. & Co. have done nothing to change the team except weaken the defence, is typically unsubstantiated by anything except the opinion of a hack. With Richard Griffin mercifully quiet for the last couple of weeks, I guess old Bob felt he should pick up the slack.
Love it or hate it, we're stuck with it. I don't mean the DH, or the car salesman Commissioner/multiple team owner with the world's first successful charisma bypass, or the slush in Toronto, at least this time. I'm referring to June baseball, which can skew the standings and alter pennant races, with no semblance of fairness. Last year, for example, the Oakland A's went 16-2 in interleague play, providing their entire margin of victory in the AL West over the 11-7 Angels. The Athletics defeated their cross-bay rivals 4-2, and swept the sad-sack NL Central in 12 games. But they didn't have to play the division's best team, the Cardinals, at all, while St. Louis took 2 of 3 from the Angels.

The Blue Jays were a respectable 9-9 in 2002 against the much tougher NL West; this year they get six with the Expos, as usual, but the Cubs, Pirates and Reds (collectively 11-25 last year vs. the AL West) should improve their record. Oakland gets Atlanta, Philly and Florida this year instead of Milwaukee; combined with opening the season a week early on the road -- way on the road, vs. Ichiro & Co. in Tokyo -- the A's path to 100 wins will be quite a bit steeper.

Here's each team's 2002 record against the various divisions in their own league, and in interleague play:
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The retirement of a favorite (or at least favored) player is always bittersweet. Back in '80, my favorite player (and I still can't really tell you why he ever earned that title), one Ken Henderson, stepped away from the game after 16 seasons split among seven teams.

Today we learn that the greatness of ex-Jay Dave Martinez, after 16 seasons with eight teams (what it is I have about journeyman outfielders who never quite lived up to early billing, I don't know) has doffed his cap for the last time as a major leaguer.
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The Blue Jays designated lefty reliever Jason Kershner for assignment yesterday, bringing the roster numbers down to exactly 40. Kershner, picked up on waivers by Toronto from the Padres late last season, pitched well down the stretch and looked like the second southpaw out of the pen after Doug Creek this year.

Why designate him for assignment now? Well, maneuvers such as these are necessary before trading someone -- and there's that small matter of John-Ford Griffin yet to be resolved. And Scott Wiggins is always available to be the second lefty if required. Let's see how this works out: I'd be surprised if Kershner is simply ticketed for AAA with nothing more.

At the moment, then, the Blue Jays' 40-man roster looks like this (likely 2003 destination in brackets):

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Toronto is snowed in today, and spring training is more than a month away. The stalemate continues between the agents of most free agents, and the newly-responsible, budget-conscious GMs who are more concerned with dumping their worst contracts on each other than filling their needs.

Fortunately, there's fantasy baseball to amuse a guy. The last time I posted something here, it didn't attract a lot of comments, but a couple of people e-mailed and joined me in leagues. So here's another heads-up. Shrike has already expressed an interest in Roto Junkies, an AL-only, 5x5 keeper league, and I've put him in touch with our Commissioner. Now there are two spots open, so here's an opportunity to join a well-run league of friendly guys. RJ has features like the Prospects draft, where you can "stash" five players who don't break camp on a 25-man roster, and trading of future draft picks. There's a $35 US annual fee, and transaction fees, even if you're a compulsive FA shopper like me, might be another $25 for the whole year, but all the money is awarded in prizes. One of the available teams has a cornerstone (A-Rod) and a stockpile of high draft picks, including my #2. The other has Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko and other excellent keeper possibilities.
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I'm conceding baseball's weakest division to the defending champs, and with the experience of last year's playoffs under their belts, this young, talented team could be even better next October. A couple of ESPN columnists agree. In the first of a series called Hot Stove Heaters, John Sickels takes a detailed look at the 2003 Twins, and raves about lefty Johan Santana. Best known for his excellent minor-league analyses, Sickels also rates the Minnesota farm system highly. Up next on Monday, it's the D-Backs on the Hot Stove, then Your Toronto Blue Jays will be dissected January 7.

Less thorough than his colleague, but usually more entertaining, Jim Caple calls Scrooge Pohlad's decision to increase the payroll to $50 MM, "as unexpected a move as if he drove up to a Minnesota farm and told the family not to worry about their late mortgage payments, he wouldn't even think of foreclosing." Caple also points out a problem they share with the Jays -- the Twins were 23-29 against LH starters and 71-38 against righties last year. If you're reading this, Art Howe, why didn't you start Barry Zito in Game One of the ALDS?