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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?
Not much Toronto baseball news out there today, but I stumbled across this report from Seattle. (What kind of a name is Post-Intelligencer for a newspaper?)

Sounds like certified genius GM Pat Gillick's hands are tied. When the owners didn't allow him to do anything but add Jose Awfulman at the 2002 deadline, it was a white flag on the season, and the furious Lou Piniella decided right then to leave. Now we're told the accountants gave permission to wave $7 MM under the nose of a Cuban defector, but that money can't be used to acquire another FA pitcher, because it came from a different pocket.

So all the M's have accomplished is to get Randy Winn (who had a breakout/fluke season at 28, depending on your point of view) as compensation for the skipper jumping overboard, and re-signing two old guys -- Jamie Moyer and John Olerud, who assure us these are their final contracts.
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Most of us who play fantasy baseball are wannabe general managers, but so are a few thousand well-qualified people with relevant real-world experience. ESPN's Rob Neyer has devoted two recent columns to a couple of the better candidates for that demanding position.

Last Saturday, Neyer published an e-mail interview with Tim Purpura of the Astros, named Organization of the Year by more than one respected publication. Today, Rob talks to Mike Arbuckle, assistant GM of the Phillies. Along with Paul DePodesta, who is in J.P. Ricciardi's old job at the right hand of Billy Beane, they are the next wave. It's interesting to compare their philosophies. Arbuckle is proof that "old school" values are still prominent in baseball front offices, while Purpura seems more open to new ideas. He also provides some practical career-path advice, if you really want to follow in J.P.'s footsteps.
Further on the topic of minor-league Athletic outfielders coming to Toronto, here's a stealth Dec. 30 signing -- Mike Colangelo. He's a pretty good defensive outfielder, a pure centrefielder who can also take a walk. That's the good news; the bad news is spelled .212/.331/.253 at AAA Sacramento in 2002 (yes, his OBP and SLG are correctly positioned). He's not that bad, but he's not going to compete for a job with the Blue Jays either. This looks like roster depth at Syracuse to me, or maybe an emergency CF in Toronto; Colangelo has never had a ML_EqA above .265, and has exactly 116 big-league ABs.

The best thing about Mike Colangelo? Say his name real fast and think of the Sistine Chapel.
Just a little something for all you New Year's Day hangover sufferers out there ... an assessment of Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin from Baseball America. If BA were releasing their Blue Jays Top 10 today, they say these guys would rank #5 and #6 behind McGowan, Cash, Werth and Rosario -- which I felt was a pretty insane ranking at the time, and still do. I think, as the high-ceiling pitcher closest to the majors, Arnold merits a Top Three ranking at the minimum, certainly ahead of McGowan and a still-recovering Rosario.
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He's too modest to post it here himself, but our own Craig Burley has penned a terrific piece for Baseball Primer. As part of a series on the eligible candidates for the upcoming Hall of Fame elections, Craig took on the daunting assignment of evaluating Dave Parker. The Cobra was a great RF, hitter and leader, whose personality and lifestyle rubbed many the wrong way, so I don't think the tiny minds of the BBWAA will elect him, but after reading this thorough and enjoyable analysis, you will have a greater appreciation for both the player and the man. Maybe even the author :-)

Awesome work, Craig. I agree with many Primates that it's the best article in the series.

In today's NY Daily News, five people who have known George Steinbrennner well talk to Wayne Coffey about the Boss. Football coach Lou Saban, "magnitude of me" Reggie Jackson, some guy named Bud, PR man Marty Appel and one of GMS III's favourite warriors, Lou Piniella, share their recollections of a man who is underestimated and misunderstood by many.

This is the second of a two-part series; yesterday Coffey had a long interview, 30 Years of George, with the man himself. That's also a recommended read, especially his thoughts on Selig and Larry Lucchino. The Boss is also trying to light a fire under Joe Torre and Derek Jeter.

I knew Steinbrenner in my harness racing days. He talks about winning a Kentucky Derby as an unfulfilled goal, but a decade ago had just as powerful a stable of trotters and pacers, trained by Tommy Haughton at Pompano Park, where I was the senior racing official. On a slow baseball news day, here are a few personal thoughts about the man and the legend.
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Reflecting on the top baseball stories of the year will occur to others, whose evaluations may not be as Toronto-centric as mine, or as personal. Most will agree with the top four, but some may put my #10 on their "worst of" lists. To all Batter's Box contributors and readers, Happy New Year!

1. Labour Peace

This wouldn't have been much of a list, or much of a season, if the threatened strike hadn't been averted at the eleventh hour. I hope that one day, Tom Glavine (with a decent ghostwriter) publishes his autobiography and devotes several chapters to what really happened. My assumption is that he, and some other influential players, persuaded Donald Fehr to accept an unpalatable deal, because they didn't want to be blamed for ruining the game. On the other side of the table, I've portrayed the real dispute as a handful of militant owners vs. the sensible majority, and I'm sure the Commissioner changed sides, bringing at least one of the hawks with him, in order to reach the agreement. While I was relieved at the time, and considered it a return to business as usual for four more years, there were unexpected consequences (see #7 below) to the Luxury Tax. To me, the settlement was obviously the story of the year, for plenty of reasons, including the most important -- it made the next one possible.
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