October 2006

Molina files, Machi signs, Bastian out

Bengie Molina filed for free agency today, making him the fifth and final of Toronto’s major free agents to send in their paperwork. There’s an outside chance that the Jays would bring him back, but I don’t see it happening. If either Molina or Zaun are back in ’07, it seems more likely that it’ll be Zaun.

Toronto also signed pitcher Jean Machi to a major league contract. I hadn’t heard much about Machi before today, but his numbers look pretty impressive in Double-A last year. His signing a major league contract rather than a minor league contract means he’ll likely be in the running for a bullpen spot in 2007.

In other news: I’m heading on vacation tomorrow morning. My wife and I are leaving on a jet plane and will be back in the GTA in a week. Until then…

Wells, payroll updates

The Toronto Star had an update on the Vernon Wells’ contract talks in today’s paper. Basically, the update is there is no update. Here is what Wells told the paper:

"When we do start talking, that’ll be exciting and something I’m looking forward to," Wells told the paper, "but I don’t think we’re in that big of a hurry right now. I think we have some other things we (the Jays) need to take care of before me. I still have another year, so I just want to see us continue to make the team better. My time will come."

So don’t expect Toronto to ink that much-anticipated extension with Wells right away. It is a priority, but it’s also something that doesn’t need to happen right out of the gates. Also, according to the Star, the Blue Jays don’t have any updated news on their payroll. So it remains at around $80 million until we hear otherwise.

UPDATE: A few hours after posting the above update, I talked to J.P. about a few things and also asked him about the payroll. Here is what he said:

"We have some money to work with and it’ll be defined by the time we get to the free agents. We should know in the next few weeks, but it’s not like we can’t do something."

So basically, by Nov. 12, when teams can start talking money with free agents, the Jays should be able to say what their payroll will be. Stay tuned…

UPDATE PART 2: Gregg Zaun filed for free agency on Monday. Only Bengie Molina is left to file.

Three Jays File

Saturday was the first day that players could file for free agency and Toronto saw Ted Lilly, Justin Speier, and Frank Catalanotto do exactly that. This isn’t really big news — it’s just a formality. It’s a foregone conclusion that players who are eligible for free agency will file. Gregg Zaun and Bengie Molina — after Toronto officially buys out his contract for $500,000 — will be next to file from the Jays.

There are approximately 200 players who are eligible to become free agents who have until Nov. 11 to file. Then on Nov. 12, teams can start talking contracts with those players. Under the new labor agreement, players don’t face any deadlines for re-signing with their former clubs any more. Before the agreement, players had to re-sign by Dec. 7 — Jan. 8 if offered salary arbitration — or else they couldn’t re-sign with their former club until May 1. Those deadlines are no more.

In the Cards

Well, it’s official: the Cardinals made me sound smart. As I pointed out in my last post, a few weekends ago I blurted out "Cardinals over Tigers in six" on the Fan590 in Toronto when asked what my World Series prediction was. Naturally, I’ve been pulling for the Cards this week because my credibility was at stake! OK, so they won it in five games — close enough.

Anyway, congrats to St. Louis for an improbable World Series victory. They were underdogs coming in to the playoffs and the general consensus was that any AL team in the Series would dominate whichever NL team limped to the finish line. Well, it was the Tigers doing the limping.

As soon as the game ended, I left a voicemail on one of my friend’s phones (he is a HUGE Tigers fan), saying, "After 24 years of rooting for the Chicago Cubs, I have four simple words of advice: ‘Wait ’til next year.’" And, yes, as a person who grew up living and dying with every pitch on the North Side of Chicago, it was a little hard to see the Cubbies’ biggest rival — the Cards — celebrating yet another Series win. Ah well, Chicago’s time is coming — maybe they’ll win in 2008, when it’ll be 100 years since their last crown.

OTHER BITS AND PIECES:

–Because a lot of our MLB.com staff were swamped with World Series coverage, and I was one of the few who drew the short straw as far as covering the playoffs this year, I was asked to do a tough assignment last night. I got a call from my editor and was asked if I could write a tribute piece on pitcher Joe Niekro, who passed away on Friday (click the link there to read it). So while my wife and my dog chilled on the couch and watched the World Series, I was busy piecing together a story on Niekro. I knew much more about his older brother Phil, as do most people, so last night was sort of a crash course of Joe’s life for me. I found his career to be pretty interesting and was happy to be the writer tabbed with that assignment.

–Players can start filing for free agency, so in the next week or so you could see Ted Lilly, Justin Speier, Bengie Molina, Gregg Zaun, and Frank Catalanotto filing the proper paperwork. Stay tuned for more in that department.

–I am going on vacation from Nov. 1-7 with my wife, so the blog will likely be dorment during that period. If any Jays news happens while I’m away, I have people filling in for me and I’ll comment on any moves or news when I get back to Toronto.

Congrats

Yes, congrats are in order for both the Tigers and Cardinals. My congrats are belated to Detroit and its fans on making it to the World Series for the first time since 1984. After first picking the Yankees, and then the A’s, I received plenty of flak from my Tigers-loving friends back in Michigan. I guess the kid in me — the one that grew up a diehard Cubs fan — just didn’t want to hear all the gloating from his friends about their team getting to the Fall Classic.

As for the Cardinals, they made me sound half smart! They weren’t my original pick to go to the Series, but last weekend on the Fan590 in Toronto, I was asked to make my World Series prediction, and I blurted out Cardinals over Tigers in six. I don’t know how smart that prediction was, but at least I was the only one of the three on the show to get the matchup correct.

JAYS TIDBITS:

–Josh Towers was removed from the 40-man roster on Thursday. Toronto outrighted him to Triple-A. He’ll get another crack at making the club in Spring Training, but he’s going to have to prove a lot after his disastrous 2006. I can’t say that seeing the Jays bump him off the 40-man was much of a surprise, but the reality is he’s still going to be paid almost $3 million next year. That’s a lot for a Minor Leaguer with a slim chance at making the rotation.

–Toronto also tried to outright both Pete Walker and Kevin Barker, but they declined their assignments and became free agents. I guess that means it’s unlikely we’ll see Pete in Dunedin, Fla. this spring, but you never know. Pete is a good guy and hopefully a team will give him an invite come Spring Training.

–The Jays also outrighted John-Ford Griffin to Triple-A, bumping him off the 40-man roster as well. Griffin had shoulder issues all season. When Walker went on the 60-day DL in September, he was removed from the 40. So minus Towers, Barker, and Griffin, the roster dropped to 37 players. Toronto upped it to 38 by purchasing Tracy Thorpe’s contract. Thorpe is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League and will probably be at Triple-A next season.

Part of the Job

One reason I wanted to get into sports journalism was the fact that the events you covered were games. Right or wrong, I didn’t want to be a reporter who covers war, crime, or the "real" news that happens on an everyday basis. I have a ton of respect for those journalists who do encounter tragedy and have to write about it. Heading to someone’s house or picking up a phone to talk to someone about losing a loved one just wasn’t for me, though — I’d rather head to a clubhouse after a team’s loss. Thank God there are reporters who chose the other side of news than I did, though. We need them.

I’ve been fortunate enough — from my perspective — to never have had to work in news, either. From my first days at the Lansing State Journal during college, I was put right into the sports department, covering high schools, college sports, and Minor League baseball, among other things. When I moved to another paper in Michigan, I was a sports writer and a part-time news copy editor. I had to lay out news pages, including the Obituaries page a couple times a week, but that was the extent of my life in news coverage.

Why am I writing about this? Well, news doesn’t always stay on it’s side of the tracks. Sometimes it does head into the sports department — it’s an inevitable part of the job that we have to deal with from time to time. When news started to spread that Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle was in the plane that crashed into the 50-story building in New York, us sports reporters were thrust into a world we weren’t used to.

My part in the coverage wasn’t big. Lord knows how hard some of the leg work must have been for writers in New York or Philadelphia, who had the bulk of the calling and interviewing to do. It’s our job to get reaction, and sometimes we feel like jerks calling people to ask them about someone who just died. We are jerks for calling so soon after something like that happens, but it’s part of the job. It’s what we have to do — not necessarily what we want to do.

In my case, I had to call a few players who knew Lidle from his time with the Blue Jays. I got in touch with a handful of players, some who were willing to talk about it, and others who chose not to, which was perfectly fine. It was definitely tough, though, to think about what I should say on the phone, trying to find a way to see if the person on the other line had heard the news already — and if not, how was I going to break it to them? I didn’t run in to anyone who hadn’t heard, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a difficult subject to bring up.

When a few of us reporters were trying to figure out how to approach the issue, one writer said to me, "I don’t know how to handle a story like this." That’s the reality of being a sports writer, but the truth is we do have to deal with such stories from time to time. It definitely helps put our job into perspective — how lucky we are to simply cover a game. It shows you how unimportant some of the things we write about really are — even if we blow them up to be of some huge significance.

Anyway, I know this isn’t really a blog post about the Blue Jays — it’s more about part of the life of being a reporter. When I started this blog, I mentioned that I may delve into such topics on occasion. Being a young reporter, I’m still learning different things about the job as I go (not that older reporters don’t learn knew things every year, either).

Today I read about the runway mishap by Alex Rodriguez’s plane, too. One thing that I also found interesting was an article that appeared in the Toronto Sun. Apparently, Roy Halladay wanted to add a clause into his contract in 2004 that allowed him to fly a small plane, but the Jays wouldn’t allow it. After Lidle’s accident, Toronto’s caution is understandable.

That’s all for now. Hopefully you all didn’t mind my rambling on this subject. On another note, picking the A’s isn’t looking so smart right now, huh. All my Tigers fans friends from Michigan are going to let me have it for sure. Well, if Detroit does indeed make the World Series, I’ll be picking St. Louis or New York to win it all. For some reason, I can’t pick the Tigers. It’s worked for Detroit up to this point for me to go against them, so I know my friends will be glad to hear I’m still picking their opponent in the next round.

Overbay going Overseas

Lyle Overbay is one of 24 players on the Japan tour roster, which was released on Tuesday. Overbay might not get a TON of playing time, though, considering he will be backing up Ryan Howard at first base.

CLICK HERE to read about the rest of the roster

Wow

I’ll admit it, I didn’t see this one coming. I thought if the Tigers escaped the first round with one win over the Yankees that’d be a success. I really didn’t see how any team could shut down New York’s offense. But as the old saying goes, good pitching beats good hitting. That’s even more true in a short playoff series.

So here we are, looking at a Detroit-Oakland ALCS. It only took a few minutes after the Tigers beat the Yankees in Game 4 for my wife’s phone to ring — one of her friends from Michigan calling to talk to me, to rub it in that the Tigers won. Good for them. It’s a great story — I just wouldn’t have predicted it, and I doubt many people did.

As far as the next round, I’m going to adjust my picks (I guess I have to with the Yankees bring out ) and I’m going to still go against Detroit. I like Oakland to go to the World Series. I’m sure all my friends in Michigan won’t mind me picking them, since picking the Yanks worked out so well for me.

Bastian's 2006 MLB Awards

Here they are, my picks for this season’s awards. A few posts ago, I gave my opinion on who might win, but now that the year is over, I feel it’s time for the final votes to be cast (not that I actually have a vote). I’ll give my top three choices for each honor:

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Most Valuable Player:
1. Justin Morneau, MIN — .321 AVG, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 37 2B
2. Derek Jeter, NYY — .343 AVG, 14 HR, 97 RBI, 39 2B
3. David Ortiz, BOS — .287, 54 HR, 137 RBI, 119 BB, 115 R

Cy Young Award:
1. Johan Santana, MIN — 19-6, 2.77 ERA, 233.2 IP, 245 K, 47 BB, CG
2. Roy Halladay, TOR — 16-5, 3.19 ERA, 220 IP, 132 K, 34 BB, 4 CG, 13.85 P/IP
3. Chien-Ming Wang, NYY — 19-6, 3.63 ERA, 218 IP, 2 CG, 407 GO, 14.01 P/IP

Rookie of the Year:
1. Justin Verlander, DET — 17-9, 3.63 ERA, 124 K, CG, SHO
2. Jonathan Papelbon, BOS — 4-2, 0.92 ERA, 35 SV, 59 G, 68.1 IP, 75 K
3. Francisco Liriano, MIN — 12-3, 2.16 ERA, 121 IP, 144 K

Manager of the Year:
1. Ron Gardenhire, MIN
2. Jim Leyland, DET
3. Joe Torre, NYY

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Most Valuable Player:
1. Ryan Howard, PHI — .313 AVG, 58 HR, 149 RBI
2. Albert Pujols, STL — .331 AVG, 49 HR, 137 RBI
3. Lance Berkman, HOU — .315 AVG, 45 HR, 136 RBI

Cy Young Award:
1. Roy Oswalt, HOU — 15-8, 2.98 ERA, 220.2 IP, 166 K, 38 BB, 2 CG
2. Brandon Webb, ARI — 16-8, 3.10 ERA, 235 IP, 178 K, 50 BB, 5 CG, 3 SHO
3. Chris Carpenter, STL — 15-8, 3.09 ERA, 221.2 IP, 184 K, 43 BB, 5 CG, 3 SHO

Rookie of the Year:
1. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS — .287 AVG, 20 HR, 110 RBI, 47 2B
2. Dan Uggla, FLA — .282, 27 HR, 90 RBI
3. Hanley Ramirez, FLA — .292, 17 HR, 59 RBI, 46 2B, 51 SB

Manager of the Year:
1. Joe Girardi, FLA
2. Willie Randolph, NYM
3. Grady Little, LAD

Let the arguments begin.

As far as the playoffs go, I know the games have already started, but I’ll give you my ALCS and NLCS picks anyway. I believe it will be Mets-Padres in the NLCS and A’s-Yankees in the ALCS. My World Series pick is Yankees vs. Padres. Call me crazy for picking the Padres to win the NL, but I like their pitching staff — and that’s what can carry teams through a short series (yes, I saw the Cardinals beat up on Peavy yesterday, but I’m sticking with the Friars).

It’s actually been nice to kick back and take in some playoff baseball from my living room. Sure, I’d like to be working in the pressbox at one of these parks, but the time off sure is nice, too. I’ll be posting more throughout the playoffs.

Over and Out

So that’s it. It’s done. Over. Turn the page, put the cat out, or whatever else you wanna say. The Blue Jays 2006 season is complete, and so is my rookie season on a Major League beat. So for those of you aspiring journalists out there, here are a few things I’ve learned in year No. 1:

  • I know what an ulnar collateral ligament is, where it’s located, what it’s for, and I can type it with my eyes closed. Thank you A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin.
  • Shower shoes are a must. This we learned from Alex Rios and Ty Taubenheim, who each suffered a staph infection. Toronto’s clubhouse wasn’t actually the source, but the team disinfected it anyway.
  • You should always congratulate someone on adopting a baby. Otherwise, it could lead to an angry outburst. Advice courtesy of Shea Hillenbrand (not to say that was the only issue involved with that incident).
  • Chewing tobacco can sometimes look like blood. We learned this from John Gibbons and Ted Lilly, who got into a shoving match in August. There were reports that Gibbons received a bloody nose, but it was probably just some of his chew.
  • Throwing up in the pressbox bathroom in the Rogers Centre is NOT a good way to end a season. I found this out during Toronto’s last home game, and wound up at home in bed, sleeping off the flu before having to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Detroit.
  • The tunnel between the visitor’s clubhouse and the dugout at Fenway Park is one of the scariest places on Earth. There are puddles in there that have existed since the 1920s.
  • Bars in The Big Apple are open until 4 a.m. I learned this while visiting my old college roommate during the first trip to New York. It’s all well and good, that is until you’re out eating a slice of pizza at 4:30 in the morning and you have to cover a day game in a few hours.
  • If you want to go see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, arrange for a cab to pick you up ahead of time. I waited by that stupid red bridge for over an hour before I could get the cab company to send a guy to pick me up. I got to Oakland just in time to do my pregame work
  • When a homeless person in Atlanta offers to walk you to your hotel, say no. When he offers to protect you "from the other bums," say no with more emphasis. When he says he got beat up by other homeless people and wound up in a hospital, and has the hospital bracelet and a bottle of pills he in his hand as proof, start thinking about running. When he asks you for some money, tell him you only have Canadian cash. That’s when he’ll leave you alone. Atlanta homeless guys can’t use loonies.
  • There are PF Chang’s Chinese restaurants in Denver, Tampa, Seattle, Boston, and Kansas City. And they are all just as spectacular in each city.
  • Finally, I learned that it IS possible to wake up in Florida, grab lunch in Canada, and meet up with friends in Grand Rapids, Mich., all in the same day. That’s the life of a sportswriter who is asked to stand up in a wedding a day after covering a Blue Jays-Devil Rays game.

There are plenty more little tidbits I’m sure I could write, and many which I probably don’t remember at the moment, but might share some time later. For now, that’s all I’ve got.

Toronto finishes in second place, winds up with the most wins in a season since 1998, and heads into the offseason with playoff aspirations for 2007. If you thought expectations were high coming into this year, wait till next season. Tomorrow is the annual conference call with Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. I’ll be blogging more on here tomorrow.

GOOD IMAGE OF THE WEEK:

There was talk about a minor celebration that took place inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night. The word is that Troy Glaus sat and watched the end of the Orioles-Red Sox game, and when Boston lost, he and some of Toronto’s trainers popped open a bottle of champagne to honor the Jays’ second-place finish. If that doesn’t show that placing second did mean something to Toronto’s players, I don’t know what else would.

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