Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
As the GM meetings get underway in Tucson this week, everyone and their Furby agrees that the Blue Jays need pitching; more specifically, a #2 or #3 starter to provide some meat to a rotation with filet mignon at the front end and Quarter Pounders at the back. The consensus appears to be that these meetings will mostly be about laying groundwork, and that trades and (less likely) free-agent signings will take place at the winter meetings next month in Nashville.

Thereís not much more to be said about Roy Halladay, and Iíll leave the subject of potential trade acquisitions to a later column. This article is going to take a brief look at the in-house candidates to fill the five-man Toronto rotation next year -- the Royales with Cheese, if you will -- and inquire into whether any of these guys are likely to step up sufficiently to provide around 200 useful innings.
[More] (1,509 words)
If you're as starved for box scores as I am, you can follow the exhibition series in Japan, where Eric Hinske is the lone Blue Jay on the MLB all-star roster.

Hinske, in the familiar role of backing up Eric Chavez, might not play a lot, but sharing a dugout (and the entire experience) with the likes of Barry Bonds and Robbie Alomar is a great opportunity. Not that he lacks confidence or maturity at this stage of his career, but this can only help Eric's development.

The MLB team left a few decent pitchers at home (Johnson, Schilling, Martinez, Zito...) and the series matters more to the Japanese all-stars, so it's not like the outcome of these games is significant. Last year's Olympic hockey tournament was more compelling than any NHL series, so I would welcome a "real" World Cup of baseball. Team Canada, if everyone participated, would need a superb effort to finish in the top six, with the U.S. and Dominican Republic fielding star-studded teams, and Japan, Venezuela and Cuba among the more serious contenders for a medal. By the time (if?) young Canadian prospects like Adam Loewen, Jeff Francis and Justin Morneau are ready to compete at such a level, "our" superstar, Larry Walker, will be reduced to coaching and/or pinch-hitting.

An open tourney would keep baseball in the Olympics, and it's fun to speculate on the rosters if MLB extended its all-star break every four years, allowing the world's best to represent their countries.
Welcome, from your Batter's Box lineup: "Coach" Kent Williams, Jordan "Gideon" Furlong, Sean "Shrike" Whittaker, Craig B, Dave Till and Mick "MED" Doherty. We invite your comments; to join the ever-expanding roster and post articles, send an e-mail.
The free agent frenzy continues for the Blue Jays, who today announced the signing of 30-year-old journeyman OF Bruce Aven and 25-year-old righty Josh Towers to minor-league deals, with invitations to spring training. Aven has bounced around several organizations; his best year was 1999 with the Marlins, when he appeared in 137 games (more than half his career big-league total) and hit a solid .289-12-70 with an OPS of .814. It's hard to imagine him displacing a Toronto regular, but he should add to the depth in AAA and the spring competition for jobs.

Towers, more of a finesse guy than a thrower, had a frightening 7.90 ERA and gave up 11 HR in just 27.1 IP for Baltimore in the first few weeks of the 2002 season, and his AAA numbers weren't much better. On the other hand, he ran into seven innings of 1-hit ball by Derek Lowe in his debut, a Mark Buehrle 2-hitter through 7 IP in his next outing, and faced a sharp El Duque, who allowed just one run, in his third (and last) 2002 start. In a 15-3 pounding by the Red Sox May 1, Towers was hung out to dry, absorbing 10 earned runs in a 5-inning relief stint, then demoted. The 165-pounder did have a respectable 2001 with the Orioles, going 8-10 as a rookie with a 4.49 ERA in 24 games, 20 of them starts, so maybe he can recapture that form with a new organization. Don't hold your breath; neither of these acquisitions by the surprisingly active Jays will have an impact anywhere but Syracuse.
The first half of this entry, down at #32, provided an in-depth review of the 2002 seasons of Toronto's infield positions, using Baseball Prospectus-inspired statistics to measure the Jays' performance in the context of all other regulars at their position. In this concluding part, I take a look at the outfielders and DH. Explanations of the various statistical methods and terms are in Part 1. For various reasons, including the fact that most of the 2002 pitching staff will be parking their Camaros elsewhere than at Skydome next year, I won't be looking at the pitchers, other than to say that Roy Halladay rocks.

I'll also repeat my caveat from Part 1, which is that I'm about as mathematically adept as the chair you're sitting in. So I'd be happy to hear from you about errors in the calculations, or about any agreement, disagreement, movie deals or libel claims you might have related to these analyses. Allons-y:
[More] (2,401 words)
What is going on in the "minds" of the Orioles front office? Nice work by J.P., who is conducting a pre-emptive raid on selected free agents, to sign Howie Clark, a career .300 hitter in the big leagues. That's .302, to be precise, over 53 AB in a 14-game callup to Baltimore last year, 26 points better than any of their regulars. How's his batting eye? Try 41 walks and just 28 strikeouts in AAA Rochester, where he hit .309 in 418 AB, with "only" 7 HR and 43 RBI, but 21 doubles and 4 triples.

Only 28, and capable of filling in as a corner infielder or outfielder, Clark gives the Jays a decent lefty bat off the bench if he makes the club, and makes Syracuse more competitive if he doesn't, getting on base in front of Gabe Gross. Howie will go to Dunedin, out-hit Werth and Wise and see what happens. He can't be any worse than Shannon Stewart in LF, and could find himself in the DH mix if they ever let Josh Phelps carry a glove. My idea about Orlando Palmiero and Jordan's about Matt Stairs just lost a little urgency, unless (until?) Ricciardi trades Jose Cruz. Pedro Swann is the only one I can think of who shouldn't be pleased about this development.

Also signing a minor-league deal was Rob Ryan, ex-Sacramento River Cat (A's) who had a couple of cups of coffee with the Diamondbacks, and is almost certainly ticketed for Syracuse. Another lefty-swinging OF, he hit just .249 in the PCL last year. Just wondering; does J.P. ever take a day off?

Further to Kent's observation (#40 below) about the full-page newspaper ad congratulating Hinske on his award while also promoting Opening Day 2003, here's an interesting related piece from today's Globe & Mail. It talks about some unorthodox and innovative sales efforts by the team's (new?) VP sales and marketing, Paul Allamby.

Two of the campaigns mentioned are a free flight to Dunedin and BBQ with Ricciardi and the players if you buy a season's ticket before Dec. 2, and a June Skydome sleepover for dads and their kids during the Cubs (Sosa) series. I like them both, because they're aggressive and fun, thinking differently about incentives to bring people to the park. The former is a whole lot better than a wine-and-cheese with Paul Godfrey in an dark empty Skydome, which would have been the kind of thing I'd normally expect, and the latter is a little wacky and very family-oriented. Best of all, there'll be no more of those awful 2-for-1 ticket giveaways that undermined the fundamental value of the product.

I like the freshness that this approach brings with it. It's designed to send the message, "You really are important to us. You're the reason we're in business, and we want to give something back that makes you feel special." I think that will tap into a nerve, especially in the Toronto sports market, where often fans are at best taken for granted and at worst taken for idiots. Just wanted to point to this as another, significant way in which the organization is finally starting to get things right.
As Steve Nash prepares to toe the Canadian hardwood on Dr. Naismith's birthday, here's some Great White North "base ball" nostalgia from today's Star.

I used to pay 50 cents (for a doubleheader) in '66 to watch the Maple Leafs, a championship club. Reggie Smith, George Scott, Joe Foy, Mike Andrews and others graduated to the Red Sox the following year and helped win one of the most unlikely AL pennants, but we lost "our" team. I loved that park; it resembled Tiger Stadium in a better neighbourhood.
I think we can now officially call this trade a bust. Luke Prokopec has signed as a free agent back with the Dodgers, an unusual two-year minor-league deal. The first year, of course, will be rehab and recuperation as Prokopec recovers from his arm surgery. After that, who knows? Once the arm goes under the knife, it's anyone's guess. I'm a little surprised the Dodgers didn't wait to see whether Prokopec can even throw the ball next spring. At the same time, the decision not to keep Prokopec on the 40-man roster has to be questioned. I trust that his place on the 40-man wasn't taken by a thoroughly replaceable commodity like, say, Doug Creek. For an organization that needs young pitching, the Blue Jays certainly seem to be a little cavalier with it. (Brandon Lyon, Luke Prokopec, will Chris Carpenter be next?)

In the result, Toronto effectively dealt Paul Quantrill and Cesar Izturis for Chad Ricketts, who himself hurt his arm this season and underwent surgery; no word as to his status. So is there any upside to the deal? Well, Quantrill was making way too much money for a setup man (thanks again, Gord), so it was nice to unload that contract on Rupert Murdoch. And Izturis, though undeniably brilliant with the glove, still doesn't project as a much better hitter than his current platoon mate, Alex Cora. So it's not like the Dodgers acquired any real talent from the Jays in this trade. But both Q and Cesar were attractive trade commodities last winter, so the sting lies in the fact that two valuable chits were given up for not a hell of a lot.

Is there reason to get one's nose out of joint over this? Not really. I won't second-guess the 40-man roster decision -- not yet, anyway. Re the injury: the reality is that trading for young arms is always something of a risk, and injuries like Prokopec's simply can't be anticipated. I chalk this one up to lousy luck, which means you swallow your disappointment and move on. The raft of serious arm injuries among Jay hurlers lately -- Carpenter, Prokopec and Francisco Rosario (not to mention a fellow named Sirotka) -- would make anyone gun-shy, but I trust the front office will keep on trying to find and develop good young arms. This kind of thing, unfortunately, is an occupational hazard.
Congratulations to Eric Hinske on being named top freshman in the American League. Before the season began, I was touting him to my ESPN readers as "Corey Koskie lite," but the Wisconsin kid may be even better than the Canadian. The vote was about as expected, with righty Rodrigo Lopez of Baltimore finishing a respectable second. Lopez might have won the NL award (it went to Jason Jennings) so a strong case can be made for Hinske as the best 2002 rookie in either league.

Blocked in Oakland by Eric Chavez, who is in a tier above other 3B, along with Troy Glaus and Scott Rolen, Hinske must be extremely grateful to J.P. Ricciardi for his opportunity. He established himself from Day One as an intense competitor and a tough out. Coach Brian Butterfield's arrival coincided with a dramatic improvement in Eric's glove work, which had been alarmingly erratic the first three months.

Forget about a sophomore slump for this guy; #11 will hit 25-30 HR and steal 15-20 bases, and I will be surprised if he isn't around .290 in 2003 -- his approach is so consistent, and his eye so advanced, he's not going to endure long slumps, and he knows the pitchers better. He must get smoother at third; still double-clutches a lot. Hinske should play almost every day, maybe resting three or four times against the toughest lefty starters. I love this kid; he's worth the price of admission and a SkyDome beer.
With several more expected to declare before the November 12 deadline, here's the free agent list so far. No tears will be shed in Toronto to see the last of Heredia or Loaiza, and few of us will miss Steve Parris. Obviously, the Jays won't be shopping for the high-ticket items (Jim Thome, Pudge Rodriguez, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and the Big Pain, I mean Hurt.) But J.P. has suggested he's targeting a few guys, so let's speculate.

Pitching is at the extremes of supply and demand. Not only will the Braves have to dig deep just to maintain their aging staus quo, somebody is sure to give the likes of Ismael Valdes, Omar Daal, Jimmy Haynes and Paul Byrd long-term, guaranteed deals. Not that any of them wouldn't be an improvement over Mike Smith, but why overpay or over-commit? I would at least talk to Byrd, whose 3.90 ERA and 7 complete games were probably not a fluke, just a matter of arm soundness. Ramiro Mendoza is an intriguing possibility for a team willing to risk converting him to a starter, and won't be as expensive.

Outfielders aren't as likely to break the bank, so I would invite a guy like Orlando Palmiero to town. As a fourth OF, lefty pinch-hitter, occasional DH and potential starter, he's worth a million-five. DeWayne Wise may fill that role, or turn out to be a 5-tool AAA guy who never hits or slugs enough in the bigs.
[More] (276 words)
JP Ricciardi is way ahead of the rest of baseball in picking up below-the-radar free agents, and his early-bird approach has paid dividends so far. Apart from the early acquisition of Doug Creek which, like the queens we use, does not excite me (my original, tres embarrassing misconstruction of this lyric has been corrected by a kindly reader), this has been a busy and largely productive week for the Blue Jays front office.

Hereís a quick run-down of the latest signings.

[More] (1,421 words)
Here's a link to Kevin Goldstein's Top 10 Prospects Blue Jays assessment. Obviously, it's not in order of proximity to the majors, but on a "how high is the ceiling?" kind of scale, similar to Baseball America's lists.

Kevin dismisses the Toronto organization as lacking a superstar prospect, without mentioning the slight vacuum in the farm system created by promoting Phelps, Hudson and Wells last year. It's an interesting list, but I disagree with the rankings. He's obviously a big Dustin McGowan fan, and has Francisco Rosario still rated third despite elbow surgery at this early stage of his development. Goldstein is more taken with Kevin Cash than I am. Jayson Werth is the closest to full-time big-league employment of anyone on this list, and by that yardstick, Gabe Gross remains "ahead" of Alexis Rios.

In one of my fantasy leagues, we draft five prospects (I took Phelps and Joe Crede last year) but I admit, I'm unlikely to take a Toronto farmhand for 2003. I like Brandon League as the guy with the best chance to eventually become a 'special' pitcher, and have heard great things about David Bush's arm.
Jordan Furlong, who shares this space with me, is a regular on my favourite baseball blog, posting as "Gideon Clarke" or (as is the custom there) under a variety of other pseudonyms, used to enhance a joke. Click Baseball Primer for a hilarious discussion of pronunciation ('primmer' or 'prymer') that leads to the vagaries of the English language (#35) and Jordan's classic reply (#56.) I'd never call him a Primm-ate, but "Gideon" deserves a Prime-y award.

Maybe when they get rid of 'funny' aliases at Primer, more people will comment here, which may (or may not) help our fledgling Blue Jay blog spread its tiny wings. If you want to contribute, it's about anything to do with baseball, from a Toronto perspective. E-mail the Coach to post articles for discussion.
To begin by restating the obvious: the Toronto Blue Jays need pitching. Outside of Roy Halladay and Cliff Politte, there are very few locks for the 2003 pitching staff, so shoring up the hurlers -- both for the short-term and the long run Ė- is a Ricciardi priority. Most of the off-season will be bent towards this priority (though we also hope the team can somehow acquire control of the Skydome -Ė Iíll have a whole lot to say about that in a future entry).

In the first few days of the free-agent signing period, therefore, it wasnít surprising to see the Blue Jays active in this market. But the first three names they brought in probably wonít overwhelm the season-ticket phone lines. So who are these guys, and will they help next year? Letís take a look.
[More] (1,102 words)