March 2008

Rained out

NEW YORK — While waiting for the elevator after finishing up in the clubhouse, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman came over and introduced himself to each of the Toronto scribes on hand.

Cashman chatted with us while we all waited and then on the elevator, talking about the rainout today on Opening Day, and as we all walked off and he headed into the Yankees’ offices he left us with this quip:

“You guys are lucky with that retractable roof. We just can’t afford one of those down here in New York.”

Nice.

As I sit here at 4:56 p.m. — why does rain always make me work so slowly? — there ain’t a drop falling on the tarp-covered field. Ah, well. There was a steady drizzle earlier and the forecast didn’t show any signs of letting up. Might as well hold off until tomorrow night. The game is rescheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET and TSN will pick it up in Toronto.

Vernon Wells, always the kidder, had this take:

“I think the thing is there’s going to be so much going on before the game. To do whatever they’re going to do for their festivities, bringing back Mickey Mantle and everything else, I don’t know if you want to start in this kind of weather.”

I wasn’t aware there was going to be a pregame seance to have No. 7 on hand for the final Opening Day in Yankee Stadium history. Can’t wait.

I will say that it was quite a riot to see people literally hugging in the stands when the PA guy announced that the game would be tomorrow NIGHT. They can head to work tomorrow and still catch the train to the Bronx in the evening to see a ballgame.

Not sure what I’m up to tonight. I’ll head back to the hotel for now and go hunt for some dinner. There will be another Final Opening Day in Yankee Stadium history! I’ll be there…

 

Rios nearly locked up

NEW YORK — Go figure that the Baseball Gods would try to force two last Opening Days in Yankee Stadium history. It’s raining here right now and it’s still up in the air as to whether this game will be played or not. As of right now, it’s on, but we’ll see what the clouds have to say about that.

The Jays have juuuust about reached a deal with right fielder Alex Rios. There’s no more deadline. That was supposed to be today, but GM J.P. Ricciardi said the sides are too close not to get something done in the next few days. Just some last-minute details to iron out and some signatures to obtain before the six-year, $65 million pact can be announced.

Matt Stairs is not in the starting lineup today, but he isn’t on the 15-day disabled list, either. The Jays are hoping they don’t need to use him today, and with the off-day tomorrow, are hoping the added rest can help him recover from the sore left hip that’s been dogging him lately.

Come Wednesday, if Stairs still can’t go, the Jays would probably put him on the DL retroactive to March 23. For nowl, Shannon Stewart is in the lineup as the left fielder. Stairs can come off the bench as a pinch hitter, if needed, and he’d be replaced on the basepaths by a pinch runner if he reached base.

Weather permitting, here are…

Today’s Lineups:

TORONTO (0-0) at NEW YORK (0-0)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, C
Hideki Matsui, DH
Mekly Cabrera, CF

PITCHING: RHP Chien-Ming Wang

Weather update from some official types down here. Game is delayed and we have no tentative start time, but they plan on trying to get this game in. More later…

In the Apple

NEW YORK — First day back on the job and the rigors of regular-season travel hit me smack in the face. Hopped on the trusty No. 4 train with about an hour and a half to spare until the Jays’ clubhouse opened. Plenty o’ time for what typically is a half-hour trip from Grand Central.

Well, two hours later, I was walking into the Stadium after a nightmarish ordeal. I was booted off one train at 149th (Yankee Stadium is at 161st in the Bronx), waited about 20 minutes for another, got on another 4 train that informed us (after we were moving) that we were going to be heading three or four stops past Yankee Stadium and we’d have to backtrack for the stops in between. Nice.

Topping it off, before we reached the “first” stop, our train came to a dead stop and stayed that way for a half hour at least. There were construction crews working on the track we were riding on. Awesome. We finally got moving again and when I got out it was another 30 minutes to get another train to head BACK to Yankee Stadium. Unreal.

I was fuming by the time I finally got to the ballyard, but there was one silverlining to all the inconveniencing. Taking the train past Yankee Stadium afforded us No. 4 hostages a sweet look into the new Yankee Stadium, which is going up very fast. Minus seats, it looked like most of the stands were complete and I had a nice view of the pressbox I’ll be sitting in someday.

I did eventually get to the “old” Yankee Stadium, where the Blue Jays were working out this afternoon. The Jays have already submitted their 25-man roster for Opening Day, but the club is still going to wait until game time on Monday to see if Matt Stairs will be available to play. There’s a chance, if he can’t go, that the club will be one man short for the first game.

If Stairs (left hip flexor) is in need of a 15-day disabled list stint, manager John Gibbons said infielder Joe Inglett would be the likely callup to fill the roster spot. Gibbons added that Rod Barajas’ right shoulder was feeling better, though the catcher was wearing a hefty ice pack on said arm after the workout. Not surprising, no, but worth mentioning.

Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi gave us the daily Alex Rios Contract Extension Update, which basically was that there was no update. The deadline for finalizing the six-year, $65 million deal remains up until game time. Ricciardi did note, however, that contract talks with Aaron Hill will be postponed until next offseason. If Rios doesn’t give the go-ahead before the first pitch, it’ll be the same wait til’ next year deal with his deal.

That’s about it for the first workout happenings. I did chat with Randy Wells for a bit and he made sure to tour Monument Park in center field and took some pictures there after showing up at the park. That’s the first thing I did when I visited Yankee Stadium for the first time.

I showed up extra early, when it was just me and a guy watering the field in the ballpark, and I went to see the monuments. One of my favorite parts of this job is being in a stadium when there is no one there. Not a lot of people get to experience that.

Heading out to P.J. Clarke’s for some dinner and perhaps a brew. I’ll catch you all from Opening Day tomorrow.

Gibby shows his hand

TORONTO – Checking in briefly from my pad here back in TO. Just browsed the Star’s baseball blog, where Cathal Kelly has an item about Jays manager John Gibbons telling the scribes on hand what Toronto’s Opening Day lineup will look like.

March 31 vs. Yanks RHP Chien-Ming Wang:

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

Obviously, the only change could be with Matt Stairs, who has been nursing a sore hip. If he’s unable to start, Shannon Stewart will slot into the No. 2 spot. Against lefties, Hill and Overbay will apparently switch spots in the order.

Kelly, as well as the Globe’s Rob MacLeod, also point to an item in the Wall Stareet Journal that has Gibby ranked as the sixth-best manager in baseball. Gibby should print that out and use it for negotiation purposes when/if it comes time to talk extension.

OK, going to watch the No Country for Old Men DVD I just bought and getting geared up for Michigan State’s Sweet 16 game againt Memphis tonight.

Later all…

Bring on the Bronx

CLEARWATER, Fla. – One final blog entry for 2008 Spring Training. After this, it’s off to bed for a quick bit of sleep before I get up in a few hours to catch a flight back to Toronto. Come Saturday night, I’ll be in the Big Apple gearing up for Opening Day.

Spring didn’t go exactly as the Jays would’ve hoped. Losing Casey Janssen (torn labrum) was a big blow to the pitching staff, having Scott Rolen (broken finger) possibly sidelined until May hurt the lineup and B.J. Ryan (coming back from Tommy John) wasn’t able to meet his goal of breaking camp with the club.

The offense didn’t look fantastic, but Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Aaron Hill jump out as guys who did look great at the plate this spring. In Grapefruit League play, Toronto finished 11-16, but it’s worth noting that in 1992 and 1993 (the Jays’ two World Series title seasons) the team posted 13-18 and 11-19 spring marks, respectively.

"You can throw our record out the window," Jays manager John Gibbons said on Thursday. "I think you can do that. We saw a lot of good things. We’re banged up more than we would’ve hoped, that’s for sure, but overall I saw a lot of good individual things, though our record doesn’t indicate that."

So Toronto heads north with a slightly bruised roster, but as of right now, the injuries — aside from Janssen’s — don’t appear to be major blows. It’s possible that Ryan is back by mid April, which would be a boost to the bullpen, and in a perfect world, Rolen could be back in April, too (seems unlikely, though).

The only real question mark I see right now, besides the obvious wait-and-see with the offense, is a lack of depth behind the starting rotation. Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch are a formidable five, but the depth chart is rather thin behind that group. Toronto is one pitching injury away from uncertainty and the Jays are pinning a lot of hopes on repeat showings from the M&M boys and Litsch, as well as full seasons from Doc and A.J.

This should be an interesting year for the Jays. They look like a club that could either seriously contend for a playoff spot or just float to another near .500 finish. One thing is for sure, if the Jays get off to a slow start, there could be some decision-makers who find themselves on the hot seat pretty quick. But let’s not put the cart ahead of the horse — as pitching coach Brad Arnsberg loves to say. Let’s just get this thing rolling. Enough of this spring stuff…

Catch up with you from Yankee Stadium in a few days. So long, Florida.

Rolen update

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Quick update on Scott Rolen, who just held court with us scribes in the classroom down in the Jays’ clubhouse a few minutes ago. Rolen said that he was told by his doctors that he would likely miss 4-6 weeks from the date the operation took place.

So, my writing the other day that he could potentially miss the season’s first month seems about right. Rolen is scheduled to have the pin removed from his finger on April 7 and it’s unclear how much time he’ll miss after that. He said the doctors believe throwing will be the main issue after having the pin removed, considering his right middle finger is integral to making strong throws.

Rolen did not, however, lose his fingernail. Apparently, Rolen thought he was going to lose the nail at first because it looked like it was bent at a 45 degree angle. It turned out that it was actually the broken tip of his finger that was bent at a 45 degree angle. Ouch.

The freak accident happened on a line drive hit to Rolen during fielding drills. Rolen thought the low liner was going to be played like a short hop and the ball didn’t drop, drilling his finger at an unfortunate angle. When asked if bench coach Brian Butterfield was the culprit behind the line drive, Rolen smiled and joked:

"No, it wasn’t Butter. It was @!&#&@$ Butter."

I’ll have more on this on bluejays.com in a while.

One More Sleep

DUNEDIN, Fla. – I’m leaving on a jet plane tomorrow morning, heading back to Toronto for a day before scooting over to New York for the season opener. Until that moment arrives, I’m here in Florida gathering up some Spring Training bits for one final day.

This morning, manager John Gibbons let us know that Matt Stairs (hasn’t had an at-bat since March 20th) is nursing a sore hips. He was over at a Minors game today to get some at-bats. Having him play there is a precautionary way for the Jays to guard against possibly having to DL Stairs.

If Stairs opens on the DL, the Jays could backdate his stint to his last game appearance. Gibbons was quick to point out that there had been exactly zero discussion about putting Stairs on the DL. And judging by his recent BP showings, I think it’s doubtful he’s going to the DL, too.

Gibby also noted that he’s going to use the left-field platoon guys (Stairs/Stewart) in the second spot of the batting order. B.J. Ryan threw a bullpen session today and Scott Rolen was back in camp. We’re still waiting to talk to Rolen, who will likely give us the finger at some point during the interview.

More spring recap later. For now…

Today’s lineups:

HOUSTON (12-16-1) at TORONTO (10-16)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park

ASTROS
Michael Bourn, CF
Hunter Pence, RF
Darin Erstad, 1B
Ty Wigginton, 3B
Jose Cruz Jr., LF
Mark Loretta, DH
David Newhan, 2B
Tomas Perez, SS
Humberto Quintero, C

PITCHING: Brandon Backe

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Rod Barajas, C

PITCHING: Dustin McGowan

Farewell, Knology Park. It’s been real.

Your 2008 Toronto Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Nice night for a game here at Knology Park, where manager John Gibbons informed us this evening that the Jays had set their roster. No official transactions yet, but reliever Randy Wells and outfielder Buck Coats have won the two vacant spots.

So, barring injury, here is the Opening Day roster:

STARTERS
Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsh

RELIEVERS
Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Brian Wolfe, Brian Tallet, Randy Wells

INFIELDERS
Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, David Eckstein, Marco Scutato, John McDonald

OUTFIELDERS
Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Matt Stairs, Shannon Stewart, Buck Coats

CATCHERS
Gregg Zaun, Rod Barajas

DESIGNATED HITTER
Frank Thomas

Scott Rolen and B.J. Ryan figure to open the year on the DL and the lot of reliever who were in the mix for jobs are ticketed for Triple-A. The decision for the final bullpen spot came down to either Wells or Jesse Carlson, according to GM J.P. Ricciardi.

Ricciardi also added that there’s no update on the contract talks with Rios. The Jays have also not yet obtained the proper working visa for Armando Benitez, so he’ll be headed to the Minors to begin the year. Ricciardi aid Benitez has an opt out in his contract that he can exercise on May 1 if he chooses to do so.

Today’s lineups:

CINCINNATI (14-14) at TORONTO (9-16)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park

REDS
Ryan Freel, CF
Jeff Keppinger, SS
Scott Hatteberg, 1B
Joey Votto, DH
Jolbert Cabrera, LF
Andy Phillips, 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr., RF
Andy Green, 2B
David Ross, C

PITCHING: RHP Aaron Harang

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch

*Thanks goes to burgess for pointing out that I didn’t include the DH in today’s lineup for the Jays. And judging by watching Stairs launch homer after homer in BP this evening, he’s doing just fine. Not sure why he hasn’t been in the lineup. Could just be resting "some nagging stuff" like Zaun was this past week

More later…

Bastian's 2008 Predictions

Considering the Red Sox and A’s have already completed two "real" games in Japan, I guess I should roll out the second annual batch of preseason predictions. If any of you recall my picks last spring, well, I ain’t exactly Nostradamus. But, really, who is when it comes to these things?

Of the eight teams that made it to October baseball last year, I picked three (Yankees, Angels, and Phillies), and I only correctly predicted the Halos and Phils as division winners. I did, however, have the Rockies finishing second in the West, but not making the playoffs (almost had it!).  I had no award winners right, but came close by picking Rox SS Troy Tulowitski for the Rookie of the Year.

World Series? Man, I had the White Sox beating the Cardinals. Chicago placed fourth in the AL Central with 72 wins and the Cards were third in the NL Central with 78 wins. D’oh. Needless to say, this isn’t exactly an exact science. So, with that stellar history in my back pocket, here’s my ’08 predictions:

AMERICAN LEAGUE STANDINGS

EAST
1. Boston
2. Toronto
3. New York
4. Tampa Bay
5. ———–
6. Baltimore

CENTRAL
1. Detroit
*2. Cleveland
3. Chicago
4. Minnesota
5. Kansas City

WEST
1. Los Angeles
2. Seattle
3. Texas
4. Oakland

NATIONAL LEAGUE STANDINGS

EAST
1. Philadelphia
*2. New York
3. Atlanta
4. Washington
5. Florida

CENTRAL
1. Chicago
2. Cincinnati
3. Milwaukee
4. Houston
5. St. Louis
6. Pittsburgh

WEST
1. Los Angeles
2. Arizona
3. Colorado
4. San Diego
5. San Francisco

*Indicates Wild Card

WORLD SERIES
Detroit Tigers over Chicago Cubs

AL MVP Award: Manny Ramirez, Boston
AL Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay, Toronto
AL Rookie of the Year: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
NL MVP Award: Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
NL Cy Young Award: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Chicago
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Torre, Los Angeles

So there you have it. I will be wrong again — just like every prognosticator out there. I’m going sentimental this year and sticking with my hometown Cubbies, because this marks the 100th year since they won the World Series. But I just simply won’t ever believe they will win it all until I see it happen.

I think I went pretty safe in the AL, so I strayed somewhat from the general consensus with my NL picks. Everyone’s picking the Mets and there will be a lot of folks saying the Rockies will be there again. I say Jimmy Rollins predicted an East win last year and he made me look smart by agreeing. Go Phillies.

After reviewing my choices, Mike Wilner of FAN 590 suggested I have the Orioles finish sixth in the East — fair enough. I gave Toronto and Halladay some love, but I knew you all would just love it if I named John Gibbons the Manager of the Year. So how about Maddon? Rays could make a run at third place this year.

All right, debate away…

Rios nearing deal

Dsc01288DUNEDIN, Fla. – While us scribes circled Alex Rios to discuss the extension he’s apparently near signing, catcher Rod Barajas stood in the background, sporting a wide smile and flipping through a wad of hundred dollar bills.

Rios indicated that the online report that has the figures at six-years, roughly $65 million, with an option for 2015 that could push it to around $80 million, was accurate. He also told me he expected the deal be be finalized in the next few days.

Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi didn’t make it sound like he was any closer to signing Rios than he was yesterday. He said the deal was not done, Rios concurred, and Ricciardi reiterated that there’s a "deadline" for getting the contract done before the first regular season game. I’ll have more on bluejays.com on this in a bit.

Other notes: The Blue Jays granted catcher Sal Fasano his unconditional release. … Catcher Gregg Zaun is nursing a sore right hamstring. … United States Immigration apparently lost Armando Benitez’s paperwork and the Blue Jays have to resubmit the application to obtain a proper working visa for the pitcher. … Word is that Reed Johnson is close to signing with the Cubs.

QUOTABLE: I was standing by Frank Thomas this morning, watching the Red Sox-A’s game in the clubhouse. There were some players down the hallway, watching the game inside the weight room. We could hear those guys react to a play before we saw it happen on our TV. I said to Hurt, "Those guys must have more of a live feed than we do." He quipped: "What, they’re closer to Japan?" Nice.

Today’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY (16-5-2) at TORONTO (9-15)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park

RAYS
Elliot Johnson, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Carlos Pena, 1B
B.J. Upton, CF
Cliff Floyd, DH
Eric Hinske, 3B
Jonny Gomes, RF
Dioner Navarro, C
Andy Cannizaro, 2B

PITCHING: Jason Hammel

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Alex Rios, RF
Frank Thomas, DH
Rod Barajas, C
Hector Luna, 3B
Buck Coats, CF
John McDonald, SS
John Tolisano, 2B

PITCHING: Roy Halladay

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.