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For two straight days, everyone's favourite Toronto Star baseball writer has devoted a column to a Jays' pitcher. No attacks on management, no predictions of disaster. Refreshing. Yesterday, he talked with Kelvim Escobar, who admits:

"I always work hard. But I can get better. I have to be very consistent. Physically I've always been strong, but I have to work harder mentally."

Today, Griffin chats with Cory Lidle, who (along with Rick Reed) will never be completely forgiven for crossing the union's picket line eight years ago as a confused 22-year-old, pressured by his bosses. Like the news about political turmoil in Escobar's native Venezuela, this is relevant, and it's presented evenly, but I'm more interested in Lidle's explanation for his slow start in 2002:

"Me and a pitching coach started messing around trying to throw a different pitch. It backfired."

Cory's second half -- 6-3, 2.69, opponents' AVG .201 -- proves he can make adjustments. Maybe columnists can, too. Even bloggers; anything's possible.
A nice interview with Jesse Barfield by Scott Radley of the Hamilton Spectator.
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Joe O'Connor of the National Post gets up close and personal with J.P. Ricciardi. Alternately thoughtful and funny, the GM, among many remarkably candid responses, finally puts the year-old O-Dog nonsense to rest:

"What upset me was that this was a rookie on our club, and we've got veterans around, and they were allowing him to act like this. I have a lot of old-fashioned values, and when he made that comment, at that point, he had stepped over the line. And I didn't take it personal, but as the GM I had to talk to Orlando about conducting himself in spring training."

I'm sure Hudson got the message. J.P. thinks Canadians "get" baseball; we're flattered. He's right about a lot of other things, including Bobby Orr and the Hulk.
Bob Elliott has another good player profile in the Sun, on Doug Linton:

Each time Tosca mentions the four candidates for his final two spots in the rotation he names Mark Hendrickson, Justin Miller, Pete Walker and Linton.

I've been wondering about that, as I've (optimistically) touted Mark Hendrickson as #4 and assumed a three-man battle for fifth. But the more I think about the big lefty getting 120-140 lower-pressure IP in middle relief, the better I like the idea. Jason Kershner and Scott Wiggins both stand by in Syracuse in case Doug Creek doesn't do the LOOGY job. That would make Linton a lock. When you look at his MLB career it's misleading; this guy has been one of the best starters in AAA for years, and just kept improving in his 30s. He led the International League in strikeouts last year, had a 160/26 K/BB ratio in 174.1 IP, then made 11 excellent starts, with similar command, in the Puerto Rican winter league. His ERAs were 2.53 for Richmond and 2.08 for Bayamon.

To me, Walker and Miller are interchangeable as #5/swing man, and Doug's better than both of them. His return to Toronto is another very practical move by Team Ricciardi, with a sweet nostalgic bonus for those of us who were there. is reporting that the Toronto Sun has indicated that Josh Phelps is going to be doing some catching this spring.

If Phelps does continue to spend some time at catcher through the spring, it will enable him to open the season as the team's third catcher, meaning that the Jays will have roster flexibility to add a backup to Vernon Wells in centerfield.

I haven't been able to confirm the Sun report. Anybody have a copy of yesterday's Sun?
An anonymous BB reader, who happens to work for the Toronto Star, made an excellent point (several, actually) in a recent e-mail exchange. He didn't come to the defence of certain columnists, other than pointing out that the longer someone has been around baseball, the fewer new ideas they have. (Ouch! A middle-aged guy could take that personally). He reminded me that there's more to the Star than meets the eye.

Far superior to its newsprint coverage, the paper's website,, was nominated for a Primey award as the Internet's best, and finished a creditable third with about 23% of the vote. Why? Because of its excellent Baseball Watch feature, and the superb Player Index. For example, here's the career stats -- including the minor leagues -- for the subject of an earlier thread, Chris Woodward.

No, Richard Griffin isn't hunched over a calculator doing all this work for you; it's provided to the Star and many other media outlets by a Canadian source -- Fantasy Sports Services.
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Chris Woodward doesn't get much respect. As fantasy owners prepare for their drafts, and check out the ESPN correspondents' pages, my Inbox gets crowded with Jays questions, and Woody's by far the #1 topic on their minds. (Wells and Hudson round out the top three). There's a good overview of the SS, and a refreshing lack of Jay-bashing by Bob Elliott, in the Sun:

"Last year was a combination of Lopez regressing and Woodward improving," Jays manager Carlos Tosca said. "Woodward was far more ready in all aspects. He was better taking signs whether at the plate or in the field. He has a better understanding of the game."

Since I traded Bartolo Colon for Woodward in the TRHL, you already know how I feel. (It's a salary cap league; I also got Randy Winn and saved some dough). I've told a few people to expect 500 AB -- his durability remains suspect -- and .275-22-75, but you guys may have other ideas.
Ba$eball new$: according to the Star, the Blue Jays aren't even willing to meet Shannon Stewart halfway. J.P.'s comments seem to indicate the team has made its "final" offer, and we can only guess what it might be:

"We've said this is as high as we'll go; and all I'll say there is that it's definitely below the 6.5. We're ready to prove (to the arbitration panel) why we feel our number ($5.5 million) is worthwhile."

Had Stewart's advisors asked for $6.75 or even $7 MM, the Jays wouldn't have the same leverage, but at the $7.5 MM figure, it will be a tough case for the player to win. The latest offer, whatever it is, was more generous than the club needed to be, and if Jeff Moorad is half as smart as he thinks he is, he'll accept it.

Also from today's Star: another ex-Oakland employee, Jim Bloom, is working on the next wave of "Baseball North" TV ads. I can't wait for the one where Tosca is swarmed by black flies in the dugout, waves his arms wildly, and the batter starts cross-checking the catcher. Orlando Hudson's in another, but we're not sure if he'll be eating poutine. Perhaps because they don't want to pay Dave Till a royalty for the idea, no word yet on Timbits.
Since George Steinbrenner is back in the news, I thought you might enjoy this, which I wrote in the fall of 2000.

The discerning reader will note that my contributions to this weblog do not involve actual research. :-)
Vernon Wells took a solid step towards a productive major league career in 2002. He played regularly, handled centrefield with flair and hit for more power than might have been expected. But he didn't walk much, so there is the inevitable concern in sabrmetric circles about his development as a hitter. What can we expect from Vernon in the upcoming years?

To address this question, I needed to identify a comparable group of young ballplayers to find clues about what the future has in store for Vernon. I approached it systematically, paring down the players based on (what I think are) reasonable criteria. First, I looked at all major league position players born 1969 though 1978 and noted their career numbers though their age-24 season (for 1969 players, 1993 is their age-24 season; for the 1978 players it is 2002). It's usually not a good idea to go too far back with age-comparisons - in some cases, what results is a comparison to what players did in very different eras. I chose 400 plus PA as my threshold, since that seemed like a reasonable sample, but still allowed a fairly large number of players to be included in the study. There were 130 such players.
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In this morning's Star, buried nine pages deep in the sports section behind about a million words on the Leafs sale and the excitement of the Canadian cricket team beating someone, is this look at the Jays' brand-new spring training facility.

The "Bobby Mattick Training Centre at Englebert Complex" (imagine the awkward names they rejected to come up with that) sounds terrific -- are any BB readers expecting to be on the Gulf coast in the next six weeks or so? Here's the park info, and the schedule. (Note: even the away games are all pretty close to Tampa-St. Pete). Most of the three years I lived in Florida, I pined for my home and native land, but at this time of year, it's a great place to be.

You're invited to post memories of spring trainings past; in addition to all the great times I had watching the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale and getting to know some of them, my personal favourite was chatting with Felipe Alou for a half-inning, while his Expos played St. Louis (Big Mac went deep -- twice) at the incredible new complex they used to share. I think the Marlins are the Cards' co-tenants now, and it's off the beaten path in Jupiter, just north of West Palm Beach, but worth a visit if you're anywhere in the vicinity.
So, here it is Ė Part One of my magnum opus (or as Baldrick would say, my magnificent octopus) on the Blue Jaysí most interesting A-Ball prospects. For reasons of length (the whole thingís about 7,000 words), Iíve split the project into two sections, batters and pitchers. This shorter article is about the former, and I hope to have the latter ready to go when I get back in the office later next week.

Youíll find that of the total number of 23 A-Ball prospects in these reviews, fewer than one-third of them are hitters. Thatís partly because a number of these teams play in pitcher-friendly leagues, but itís also because the Jays have really stocked up on pitching the last couple of years, and their lower minors are brimming with hurlers whose potential ranges from promising to outstanding.

For those tuning in late who havenít read Part One or Part Two, I want to emphasize that these observations are drawn from the playersí statistical records and insights drawn from research, but involve no actual eyewitness accounts or anything resembling an expert opinion: Dick Scott, I ainít. A-Ball prospects in particular are very hard to judge, and the guy who posts lights-out numbers in Charleston today could be pumping gas in Topeka two years from now. In other words, don't apply for that job with Baseball America based on these columns.

Feedback and suggestions are welcomed warmly, while corrections and criticisms are welcomed more standoffishly, given the uncomfortable chair to sit in, offered some lukewarm tea and maybe some leftover biscuits, chatted with briefly about acquaintances and the weather, and hurried out the door not long afterwards. But welcomed they are nonetheless.
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Allan Ryan of the Toronto Star gets personal with the Blue Jays' skipper in an "Unplugged" interview. Not a word about the batting order or how many pitchers he'll carry, but we get to know him better:

"I read a lot of Ernest Hemingway, maybe because of his ties with Cuba, because of The Old Man And The Sea, a classic. My favourite of his, though, is Death In the Afternoon. I've read a lot of books on leadership, motivational books. Last year, I read a book From Good To Great, by a guy that did a study on all the major corporations, the Fortune 500 or whatever, and what made them great. Myself, I try to gain as much knowledge as I can about guys that have been in leadership roles, biographies on Winston Churchill, Napoleon, just digging for something."
Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News has a new column full of juicy rumours. Lotta stuff here, including Miguel Tejada's future and this keen observation:

If right fielder Ben Grieve doesn't infuriate new Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella with his indifferent body language, then first baseman Travis Lee will. Lee was an odd addition, considering the Rays already were set with Aubrey Huff at first base.

My over/under on Lou's first explosion? April 20. Another "odd addition" -- still just speculation -- would be Kenny Lofton to the Rangers (I had assumed he would end up in Pittsburgh); given the glut of OF in Texas already, that would push Kevin Mench back to AAA.

Rosenthal also points out the Phillies, trying to buy a pennant right now, have committed $55 million to just two players (Thome + Burrell) in 2007 and 2008. Opinion is divided -- is that shrewd, or foolish?
Once again, Iíve been inspired to write a full-length response to a comment here on Batterís Box. Ah, intertextuality. Where would Shakespeare have been without it? Anyway, hereís the quote, from BB regular Jurgen Maas:

But the lesson, again, isónobody is irreplaceable. Other clubs need to take this to heart.

This comment was inspired by the notion the Aís would keep Eric Chavez over Miguel Tejada. I suspect they wonít keep either, and money wonít be the only reason. Part of the decision will be driven by what Jurgen said: weíre all replaceable.

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