December 2007

Lining things up

Gibbons_7TORONTO – If you were thinking that Jays manager John Gibbons had a clear idea of how Toronto’s lineup is going to skake out, well, think again.

I talked to Gibby last night, and after chatting for a few minutes about Christmas, Texas and George Bush, we got down to talking baseball. Basically, Gibby knows this much: Davis Eckstein will be the leadoff man and Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus will probably bat fourth and fifth, respectively. Beyond that? There’s a whole lot to figure out before Opening Day.

For the second spot in the lineup, Gibby mentioned Lyle Overbay, Reed Johnson, Aaron Hill, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells. Obviously, Gibbons wants to see how Overbay, Johnson and Wells all rebound from injury, too. Overbay and Johnson could spend time there against RHP and LHP, respectively, and it doesn’t look like Hill’s chance as a No. 2 hitter will come this year.

As for Rios and Wells, one will be the third hitter. Gibbons doesnt want to put either guy behind Thomas and Glaus because that would limit Wells’ and Rios’ speed. I floated the idead of them being the Nos. 3-4 hitters, but Gibby said they’d more likely fall into the two-three holes in some order if he were to slot them back-to-back.

Matt Stairs will be platooning in left field, so that throws another left-handed bat in the mix from time to time. My bet is he’d hit sixth or seventh when he’s in the order, depending if Gibbons decides to break up Thomas and Glaus. Johnson could also be the ninth hitter when he’s in. The problem with Toronto’s lineup is they have too many parts that can occupy the Nos. 3-6 spots, and a lack of lefties.

For now, here’s what I gathered one of the possible lineups could look like:

1. David Eckstein, SS
2. Alex Rios, RF
3. Vernon Wells, CF
4. Frank Thomas, DH
5. Troy Glaus, 3B
6. Lyle Overbay, 1B
7. Aaron Hill, 2B
8. Gregg Zaun, C
9. Reed Johnson, LF

But that appears to be a vs. LHP lineup, considering Stairs would be in against right-handed hitters. So another possible lineup could be this:

1. Eckstein, SS
2. Rios, RF
3. Wells, CF
4. Thomas, DH
5. Overbay, 1B
6. Glaus, 3B
7. Stairs, LF
8. Hill, 2B
9. Zaun, C

Again, this is all guesswork on my part. Gibbons didn’t have an answer for anything after Eckstein. I’m sure you Jays fans have an opinion on this. So, what do you think the lineup should look like? Sound off in the comment field.

I’m heading home to Chicago for Christmas tomorrow and will be out of Toronto until after the New Year. I’ll probably blog if something comes up while I’m away, but mostly I’ll be away from my computer, either visiting family or playing my new Nintendo Wii. Yeah, I bought one before all of Toronto sold out.

Merry Christmahannakwanzakah to everyone and a Happy Festivus to the restivus!

Sal's Pals coming back to TO

FasanoTORONTO – Sal Fasano is back. Well, the Jays signed him to a Minor League contract and gave him an invite to Spring Training at least.

It’s the same contract he received with Toronto last season and it means the Jays aren’t done looking for a backup catcher. On a conference call today, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said that the club may look at some free agents or for a catcher via trade. No kidding.

But, Ricciardi did note that Miguel Olivo, who was recently non-tendered by the Marlins, was indeed on the Jays’ radar. Olivo isn’t great defensively, but he has a solid arm and can hit lefties — the criteria Toronto’s looking for in the catcher who will back up Gregg Zaun.

The Jays also officially announced the David Eckstein signing. He will hit leadoff and start over John McDonald at short — sorry Johnny Mac fans. Eckstein is declining defensively, though, so there’s a chance JMac could win the job again during the year, similar to last year when the Jays brought in Royce Clayton.

Zaun responds to Report

TORONTO – Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun issued this response in a club-released statement in the wake of the allegations made against him in the Mitchell Report:

“I am stunned by the allegations set forth in Senator Mitchell’s report. I emphatically deny these allegations but am not prepared to comment further at this time.”

Wells on the Mitchell findings

TORONTO – I spoke with Vernon Wells earlier tonight about the Mitchell Report and he had this to say in regards to players being named, including Toronto’s Gregg Zaun and Troy Glaus:

"I’m in no place to judge what anybody else has done. They’re grown men and they make their own decisions. When you do things that are illegal, people are going to find out about it. Obviously, those guys have to deal with the repercussions of what happens after this report is out.

"People have probably done a lot worse things than doing steroids," he added. "I’m not going to view them any differently. [Zaun and Glaus] are both my teammates and we’re all playing for one common goal, to win. Whatever choices they made in the past, that’s on them."

Wells also talked some about his offseason rehab. I may write something up on that later. He’s scheduled to start swinging a bat at about 50-percent strength next week and expects to be ready to go this spring. So, good news on that front.

Looks like Zaun and Glaus are  declining comment for now. Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey has a conference call in a few minutes. Stay tuned for more…

Zaun, Glaus named in Mitchell Report

ZaunDirect from the report…

"Gregg Zaun is a catcher who has played with seven teams in Major League Baseball since 1995, the Baltimore Orioles (parts of 2 seasons), Florida Marlins (parts of3 seasons), Texas Rangers (1 season), Kansas City Royals (2 seasons), Houston Astros (parts of2 seasons), Colorado Rockies (part of 1 season) and, most recently, the Toronto Blue Jays(4 seasons).

[Former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk] Radomski believed that Jason Grimsley referred Zaun to him when they bothplayed for the Royals in 2001. Someone else (Radomski could not remember who) called and ordered steroids for Zaun. Although Radomski never spoke to Zaun about the transaction,Radomski received a check from Zaun for the steroids. Radomski produced that check, a copyof which is included in the Appendix and is shown below.

Radomski confirmed the payment was for Deca-Durabolin and Winstrol. He also stated that hesent the drugs to Zaun at the Kansas City Royals clubhouse. The address for the Royals ballparkwas found in Radomski’s address book.

Radomski’s statement that he sold steroids to Zaun is not the only allegation of
use by Zaun. As discussed earlier in this report, in September 2002 Luis Perez, a bullpen catcherfor the Montreal Expos, was arrested for possession of a pound of marijuana. In January 2003,he was interviewed by investigators from the Commissioner’s Office. Perez told those investigators that he had personally supplied anabolic steroids to Zaun and seven other majorleague ball players Tony Muser, Kansas City’s former manager, recounted an incident in which Zaundenied steroid use.

According to Muser, while he was managing the Royals he once discussed
the dangers of performance enhancing substance use with Zaun while the two were sitting on the bench before a game. Specifically, Muser told Zaun the story of how Don Rowe, a pitchingcoach for Muser in the minor leagues, had used steroids and developed serious health problemsas a consequence. Muser explained to Zaun that he was not accusing him of steroid use, andZaun denied any such use.

In order to provide Zaun with information about these allegations and to give himan opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me; he declined."

Continuing…

"Days before its article about [Jay] Gibbons, Sports Illustrated reported that the name of Toronto Blue Jays infielder Troy Glaus also had been in Signature Pharmacy customerrecords. According to the article, between September 2003 and May 2004, Glaus reportedly purchased nandrolone and testosterone from the pharmacy through the New Hope Health Center, a California anti-aging clinic, using prescriptions written by Dr. Ramon Scruggs, a California physician who was suspended from practice as of March 2007 for issuing prescriptions over the internet. The drugs were shipped to Glaus at his home in California. Glaus declined to comment on these allegations. Glaus reportedly met with officials from the Commissioner’s Office in September 2007. On December 6, 2007, the Commissioner’s Office announced that there was insufficient evidence of a violation of the joint program in effect at the time of the conduct in
question to warrant discipline of Glaus."

Jays add Eckstein

EcksteinTORONTO – The Blue Jays have reached an agreement with shortstop David Eckstein on a one-year deal worth $4.5 million.

Eckstein, who took home Wolrd Series MVP honors for the Cardinals in 2006, will likely move into the Blue Jays’ starting shortstop role, which was filled by veteran John McDonald. Toronto signed McDonald to a two-year, $3.8 million in September, and the club gave no hint that they were looking for a new shortstop this winter.

With Eckstein in the fold, McDonald — better known for his defensive gems than his bat — would probably return to a reserve role. The 31-year-old Eckstein would also be a candidate to move into the leadoff spot for the Blue Jays, who cycled through various players in that spot last year.

Last season, Eckstein posted a .309 average with three home runs, 31 RBIs and 10 stolen bases for St. Louis, which signed him to a three-year deal worth $10.25 million prior to the 2005 campaign. Eckstein, who is a two-time World Series champion, owns a career on-base percentage of .351.

Jays part ways with Towers

Towers_2 TORONTO – After publicly saying they were considering bringing Josh Towers back, the Blue Jays opted instead to cut ties with the right-hander on Wednesday night.

Toronto non-tendered the 30-year-old Towers (5-10, 5.38 ERA last season), who is now eligible to become a free agent. Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi was not available for comment.

Towers was chilling in his hot tub in Las Vegas when I got him on the phone to talk about his newfound freedom. He said he had "mixed emotions" when Ricciardi delivered the news, but obviously Towers knows this move could be a good move for him:

"I get a new opportunity, just like I did when I came to Toronto. I get to go start over and prove myself to a whole new organization and a whole new bunch of people that I don’t know. I kind of like that situation. Maybe I can try to go to the National League. You never know where I’m going to end up, but it’s just a new opportunity, being a free agent in a not-so-good pitching market."

That "not-so-good pitching market" was one of the reasons Ricciardi talked about bringing Towers back. Then again, Toronto would’ve had to shell out at least $2.4 million to retain the righty. The Jays could still bring him back, but only if he’d accept a Minor League contract.

Towers sounded more keen on testing his worth on the market. He said he’d love to pitch in San Diego, which showed interest in him at the Winter Meetings. Towers’ style might work well in Petco Park and he said he’d love the chance to be teammates with Greg Maddux.

"Just about every National League West team I’d like to play for. Obviously, San Diego would be ideal. They’ve got a huge ballpark and that West coast weather at night and I’d get an opportunity to play with Greg Maddux. That would be pretty unbelievable. I think I could learn a lot from him."

Towers said he would’ve liked to come back to Toronto to try and redeem himself after a 7-20 showing with a 6.50 ERA over the past two seasons. But, he’s a realist and being the type of person he is — one never known to bite his tongue about himself or the team — Towers worked in a shot at himself.

"I haven’t really done much the last two years. So, I understand why. I would’ve parted ways with me, too.

"I believe it’s a good thing. But in the end, I think I really would’ve preferred to stay. I’m not too happy about the way I left Toronto. I really didn’t feel like I did them justice and I kind of wanted another crack at it. That’s not how it’s going to be."

Towers has been working out this offseason with Reed Johnson, who did receive a contract offer along with Toronto’s other unsigned players. Exchange of arb figures comes in January and the arb hearings are later in February.

CATCHER WATCH: Ricciardi indicated that the Jays wanted to see what catchers were non-tendered on Wednesday and if they might figure into Toronto’s quest to find a backup backstop.

Well, the Marlins parted ways with Miguel Olivo and the Mets non-tendered Johnny Estrada. Olivo, 29, made $2 million last year and Estrada, 31, made $3.4 million — both as starting catchers for their respective clubs (Estrada with the Brewers).

With the Jays, Toronto needs someone who can backup Gregg Zaun (switch hitter), who is better as a left-handed hitter. So, ideally, the Jays could use a right-handed hitting catcher with a decent arm to help snuff out the running game.

Olivo (.237 AVG, 16 HR, 60 RBIs in ’07) threw runners out at a 33-percent clip last year and hit .295 vs. lefties, but he had 12 errors and 16 passed balls — yikes. Estrada (.278-10-54 as a switch hitter) hit .313 vs. lefties and had six errors and five PB, but had a 13-percent caught-stealing average — not good.

Of the two, Olivo would probably fit into the picture. Sal Fasano is still an option, too. Ricciardi said there could be news on the topic by the end of the week.

Now, about that Mitchell report…tomorrow should be fun. Goodnight all.

Nats ink Lo Duca

LoducaTORONTO – It’s been a quiet few days since all us writers bolted out of Nashville. There was a flurry of talk and rumors and then the Winter Meetings ended and the Jays’ front went quiet again.

And for all the talk about closing in on a deal with catcher Paul Lo Duca, the Jays fell short. Lo Duca has signed with the Nationals. Toronto was reportedly offering $3 million and wasn’t willing to budge beyond a one-year deal. Lo Duca was seeking $5 mil and probably more playing time than the Jays had to offer.

In Toronto, Lo Duca would’ve been in a split role with Gregg Zaun, who was signed last offseason to be the Jays’ starter. Bringing in Lo Duca, who has been a starter for years now, might have created some playing time issues. In the end, it might be better for the Jays and Lo Duca that he opted to head to D.C. instead.

So, where does that leave the Jays’ backup catcher situation? Sal Fasano is still out there. Toronto could certainly sign him and hope Robinzon Diaz is ready during the season. We’ll see what happens. Paul Bako’s name has been mentioned in rumors, too.

As for all those Giants and Jays trade rumors…to be continued. I’m heading to NYC tomorrow for a day, so knowing my luck something will go down then. Also, Wednesday is the last day for teams to tender contracts to unsigned players. No offer, and they become free agents.

Jays land Wells, eye another Leroy

Bwm_header_07_3NASHVILLE – Toronto picked up another Wells on Thursday, when they snatched Randy Wells away from the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft.

Wells will be in the mix for a bullpen spot, and he can serve a variety of roles, considering he’s started and relieved. Last year, Wells went 5-6 with a 4.52 ERA in 40 games, including nine starts, with 101 strikeouts versus 41 walks over 95.2 innings.

More importantly, his name is Randy DAVID Wells. I mean, that has to be worth something, right? Along the same lines, Tim Lincecum’s middle name is Leroy. Harry Leroy Halladay anyone? This all can’t be a coincidence, can it?

To clear room on the 40-man roster, Toronto released righty Ryan Houston, who moved slowly up the farm system over nine years since being drafted by the Jays in 1998. Houston, 28, went 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA with Triple-A Syracuse last year.

The wait continues on the potential signing of free-agent catcher Paul Lo Duca and the potential Lincecum-for-Alex Rios trade with the Giants. Sounds like the Lo Duca thing may take a few days to happen, if it does, and it sounds like San Francisco might take longer to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.

Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said that the team is still talking to right-hander Matt Clement, but that Toronto doesn’t have its sights on any more "reclamation projects" for the time being. I don’t expect much else to happen for the rest of the day, but if it does I’ll let you know.

Day 3: Deal or no deal

Bwm_header_07_2NASHVILLE – My bad for the lack of blogtivity today. No excuses — just me taking one thing off my plate on Day 3 here at the Meetings. But, after downing some PF Changs and working the lobby some late tonight, I return to my keyboard at 2:23 am ET with the latest:

Talked to one Major League source tonight who indicated that there is indeed a straight-up Alex Rios for Tim Lincecum deal tabled. The only hangup is on the Giants end. If San Francisco agrees to this trade, all indications are the the Jays will pull the trigger. Then again, it’s looking more and more like Giants GM Brian Sabean isn’t going to swing the trade before the teams book it out of Nashville on Thursday.

If the Jays don’t complete the trade for Lincecum, which would mean the Giants realize they’d be crazy to give that arm up, Toronto is still willing to explore an extension for Rios. One rumor had the Jays discussing a six-year extension, but a source with knowledge of the negotiations said a four-year pact was more likely. That’d take Rios one year beyond free agency, keeping him with the Jays through 2011.

The Jays have talked to the agent for free-agent catcher Paul Lo Duca and have reportedly offered a one-year deal. Lo Duca has a few more suitors, some of which might be able to offer more playing time. One report had the two sides close to a deal Wednesday night and Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said the situation might be resolved before the Meetings end. Considering Lo Duca would be in a platoon-type spot with Gregg Zaun, my guess is he’ll weigh his other options before signing with Toronto.

There were reports that had the Mets contacting the Jays about A.J. Burnett and the Dodgers asking about Troy Glaus. Ricciardi quashed both rumors, saying he’s had zero inquiries about either player. I find it hard to believe that no one’s at least asked about Burnett, but the Jays won’t move him for package of prospects — Toronto would want a big-league ready arm in return.

Ricciardi admitted to asking the O’s about Erik Bedard, and there’s certainly a chance he’s also inquired about Oakland’s Dan Haren. In both cases, it’d be really hard for the Jays to pull off a deal. Toronto’s best bargaining chips are at the Class A or Major League level, and it’d be difficult to form a package that would convince the O’s or A’s to take any potential Jays offer over what they could get elsewhere.

The Jays did make one minor move on Wednesday, acquiring outfielder Buck Coats from the Reds for a player to be named or cash. Something tells me cash will suffice at some point. Coats can vie for the 25th spot and fill in as an outfielder or maybe around the infield. He’s hit well in the Minors and has some speed, which would help off the bench. Think Cody Haerther, who the Jays claimed and lost to waivers earlier this offseason, but possibly a slight upgrade.

The Rule 5 Draft is at 10 am ET on Thursday and the Jays could be in play. Toronto’s roster is at 40 after picking up Coats, so the club would have to clear room by 9 am if it wants to make a pick. The Jays may take a chance on an arm to compete for a bullpen job, or they may just stick with the internal options already in place.

That’s all for now. I have to hit the sack so I’m filled with energy for the always riveting Rule 5 selection show. Come tomorrow night, I’ll be the lone body left in the Opryland. I’m not bolting until Friday afternoon, so I can meet up with a relative that lives near here. Good times. Let’s just hope the Johan Santana deal doesn’t go down tomorrow night, because I’ll be the only MLB.com soul occupying the joint.

Later…

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