State of the Franchise
It’s only second year on the Toronto beat, but I’m already getting used to the signs of spring. The annual State of the Franchise event took place on Thursday night downtown. After the function concluded, the reality that Spring Training is practically here hit me. I get on a plane on Wednesday morning, land in Tampa that afternoon, and the marathon that is the 2007 season will begin.
First things first, though, I’ll fill you all in on some things that came up tonight. As usual, there were some minor tidbits that didn’t make it into the general story.
ZAMBRANO WATCH: Maybe the biggest "news" of the night, which wasn’t earth-shattering by any means, was that Victor Zambrano could be available sooner than expected. This doesn’t mean that he’ll be ready to jump into the mix for a rotation spot this spring, but Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi did indicate that the righty could potentially be ready by May.
"I think Zambrano’s a little further ahead than maybe even we thought," Ricciardi said. "I’m not saying he’s going to make the team in April, but he may be closer to pitching in May than we thought. He’s got great work ethic and he’s really pushing himself. We’re probably going to have to pull the reigns on him a little bit."
If healthy, Ricciardi said Zambrano could be the guy they’ve been looking for to replace the 180-odd innings that Ted Lilly provided out of the No. 3 spot of the rotation. Consider that Zambrano is 45-41 with a 4.45 ERA in his career, and won 12 games for the ’03 Devil Rays team that finished with 99 losses. Lilly is 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA in his career.
ROGER THAT: One season-ticket holder at tonight’s event asked Ricciardi if the Jays had any interest in Roger Clemens. Here’s what the GM had to say on the subject:
"He’s 44 years old. At some point, the train comes to a stop," Ricciardi said to a mixed reaction from the crowd. "He’s a great pitcher, and could he help us? Definitely. There’s no doubt about it. But I don’t think Toronto is on his map. I think he wants to go to either New York or stay in Houston, where he lives.
"The other thing is it’d be really hard for us, with the good young players that we have, to bring a player in and allow him to go home on weekends and not travel with the team. Not that he hasn’t earned that, but I think in our environment, it wouldn’t set the greatest example. And I dont think he’s as interested in us as maybe we would be in him."
2B OR NOT 2B: Just because Toronto found a temporary way to keep Aaron Hill at second base this season — signing shortstop Royce Clayton to a one-year deal — doesn’t mean playing short is out of the young infielder’s future. Ricciardi said that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Russ Adams could become Toronto’s second baseman in 2008, moving Hill back over to shortstop.
Adams was Ricciardi’s first pick as Toronto’s GM during the First-Year Player Draft in 2002. So, when Adams became the Jays’ starting shortstop in 2005, he was in his fourth professional season. Ricciardi said on Thursday that, if they had been more conservative with Adams, this year might’ve been his first in the Majors. So while Toronto believes Hill is a better defender at second, he might have another position switch in store come next season.
MINOR MATTERS: Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan have an outside shot at starting jobs with the Jays this spring, but Toronto’s plans are for both pitchers to be in the rotation at Triple-A. Joining them should be right-hander Ty Taubenheim, who Ricciardi said could be a long reliever/spot starter in the future.
The Jays also plan on having catching prospect Curtis Thigpen start at Triple-A, and Ricciardi noted that the club hopes to have him team with Zaun at some point in the Majors. Consider that Zaun is under contract for the next two seasons.
FEELING A DRAFT: Toronto has 10 of the first 150 picks in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
–The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair touches on Toronto manager John Gibbons’ current contract situation. Gibbons’ contract expires after this season.
That’s all for now. I’ll probably be wearing shorts and enjoying some Florida sunshine when I post next. I’ll catch you all down in Dunedin. Stay tuned for more…