February 2009

Locked down

There’s an older security guard named Jim who’s here every year. Today, as usual, he’s parked in a fold-up chair outside the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. He’s been here since 7 a.m., and he’s been guarding a locked door.

Still not much going on in the way of player sightings. I think I might’ve spotted Shawn Camp briefly, but it was from a distance and I could be wrong. Coaches have been coming in and out of the building here, but they’re all headed over to the ballpark to sit down with the front-office types for some meetings.

Bench coach Brian Butterfield, bullpen coach Bruce Walton, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and third base coach Nick Leyva have all poked their heads into the media room to say hello. Just spotted hitting coach Gene Tenace and, hey! Jays closer B.J. Ryan just strolled by. No rest for the Beej.

Walton left only a few minutes after arriving, and before he headed out the door he held up a thin book with a Blue Jays logo on the cover and smiled: “Well, that’s all the work I’m doing here today. I’ve got to go read up on all my new players.”

NEW SIGHTINGS: Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, Matt Clement, Brandon League. Gold stars all around. Day off? Not for these guys.

~JB

Reporting Day



halladay.jpgBack at the ol’ MLB.com condo here after spending the morning over at the Mattick for Toronto’s reporting day for pitchers and catchers. The reporting date is kind of overblown, if you ask me. All this day means is players have to be in Florida — not at camp.

The real action will start on Monday, when all of the invited pitchers and catchers are required to be in camp for the first official workout. There’s plenty of them around already, including Mr. Halladay (pictured right). That photo is from the AP wire — nice shot. I’ll probably begin toting my camera to camp beginning on Monday. So keep checking back here for photos from around camp.

It was a pretty chill day today. Only three reporters and a few new faces around for the Jays. Ken Takahashi made his first appearance, as did GM J.P. Ricciardi and team prez Paul Beeston. I also saw Rod Barajas briefly before heading out to watch some of the pitchers work through drills.

I talked to Shaun Marcum today after he was done playing a light round of catch with one of the Jays’ trainers. Marcum is throwing every other day right now and has been throwing since shortly after the Super Bowl. Seeing him and Dustin McGowan walking around is a constant reminder of what Toronto is missing, and the competition it’s created this spring.

From our short meeting with J.P. today, we learned that the team isn’t going to pencil Travis Snider into the Opening Day lineup just yet. Ricciardi said he could definitely envision a scenario in which the Jays feel Snider could benefit from more seasoning at Triple-A. That’s one reason for the Millar signing, to help build a contingency plan.

If Snider begins the year at Triple-A, Adam Lind would be the starting left fielder and both Kevin Millar and Jose Bautista would likely make the team as well. With Snider and Lind in the fold, it’s not clear whether the club would carry both Millar and Bautista, or if someone like Joe Inglett might be at risk.

As for any more spring additions:

“We’ll see if there’s anybody out there that we match up with in a trade,” Ricciardi said. “I don’t foresee it, because obviously the No. 1 thing we’d want to get is some kind of pitching and I just don’t see that being in excess out there.”

Discussing the rotation, Ricciardi said he’s looking forward to seeing how the battle for the two vacancies plays out, with a mix of prospects, reclamation projects and holdovers vying for jobs. He did say that, on paper, the top five right now are Halladay (no kidding), Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Casey Janssen and Scott Richmond.

As for Scott Downs being considered as a starter? No more. Said Ricciardi: “His heart’s not in it. He doesn’t want to do it, so we’re probably better off keeping him at a comfort level.” I say that’s a smart move, because Downs is a big reason why Toronto’s bullpen is as strong as it is right now.

FUNNY EXCHANGE OF THE DAY:

Bench coach Brian Butterfield: “Hi, Scotty.”

Scott Richmond, walking to the bullpen: “Hey.”

Butterfield: “Hey? I haven’t seen you all winter and all I get is ‘Hey’?”

Richmond (laughing): “How are you doing today Butter?”

(a few minutes later, Brandon League walks by)

Butterfield: “Hi, Leaguer.”

League: “Hey.”

(Butter laughs and throws his arms in the air)

Good to see you. How was your offseason?

That, in a sense, sums up Day 1 at Spring Training for us scribes. Unless you’re Robby MacLeod of the Globe and you’re feeling extra motivated to run around and do interviews, the first day at camp is basically chilling out, chatting with players and coaches and just enjoying the start of another season.

I’m sure Yankees camp is a little different. But, for the most part, the Bobby Mattick is a relaxed atmosphere with a handful of reporters hanging out between the clubhouse and the practice fields. For the beginning of camp, we’ve got myself, MacLeod, Griff from the Star, Sandler from the Post and Elliott from the Sun.

Today wasn’t mandatory for any players to be in camp and tomorrow isn’t either. Tomorrow is the “reporting” date, which means pitchers and catchers just have to be in the area. Physicals are on Sunday and the first official workout will be held on Monday. Today, there were some bullpens thrown, some hitters taking BP and some other light drills going on.

Most of the pitchers are in camp, and a handful of position players have arrived already as well. Off the top of my head, I spotted John McDonald, Aaron Hill, Russ Adams, Curtis Thigpen, J.P. Arencibia, Michael Barrett, Adam Lind and Travis Snider, as far as position players go.

Hill mentioned that I looked “a little beefed up” today, but I quickly corrected him and said, “No, you mean a little puffed up.” I guess taking three weeks off from running — dealing with a right leg issue since my last marathon in january — has helped me pack on a few pounds again. Good thing it’s Spring Training! I’ll be using the next six weeks to whip myself back into game shape, as long as there are so many Minor League deals being tossed around.

Speaking of which, the recently-departed Dirk Hayhurst is back in the fold once again. Hayhurst, if you’ve been following closely, was acquired off waivers from the Padres in October — only to be relased earlier this week to clear room on the 40-man roster for Matt Bush. Today, Hayhurst inked a Minors deal to stick with the Jays after all.

Chatted with Roy Halladay today about the state of the game and the whole A-Rod steroids admission and you’ll see that story up on bluejays.com today. We also discussed the state of the team and you’ll be reading something on that a little later. As far as the rotation, Halladay did say he wouldn’t mind seeing some of the younger arms stepping up and earning those spots.

He also said that, at the end of last season, he thought the Jays were going to be a lot more active over the winter. Halladay said he understands the situation, but he obviously would’ve loved to have seen the club go out and make some big pick-ups, including re-upping A.J. Burnett. As for his contract situation, Halladay doesn’t want to discuss it with the season being underway now.

~JB

Settled In

It occurred to me this morning that being distracted by my BlackBerry isn’t always a bad thing. Take my cab ride to the airport for example. Browsing the web helped me avoid the realization that I was probably a lot closer to my demise than I would’ve desired. It was only when I glanced up for a moment that I realized my driver was drifting in and out of lanes at a very uncomfortable speed.

But, I made it, and after having to connect through Houston, and battling it out with the rental car place in an effort to avoid driving the boat they wanted to give me, I found my way to my condo here in Clearwater. So what if my place here doesn’t have hot water at the moment. Ugh. At least I’m here, and this travel day is over with.

I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m., so I’m gonna hit the ol’ sack here in a minute. I always enjoy the first day in Florida, though. Lack of sleep or not, it’s always fun to drive across the causeway from Tampa, saying goodbye to winter and hello to another baseball season. The grocery shopping is done, I hit up PF Changs for dinner, and now it’s time to get to work.

Talk to you all from the Bobby Mattick in the morning.

~JB

Blue Jays trade for Matt Bush

mattbush.jpgThe Jay Birds swung a minor trade today, reeling in right-hander Matt Bush from the Padres in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. To clear room on the ol’ roster, October waiver claim Dirk Hayhurst was released.

Bush would probably love if he was simply known as the first overall pick of the 2004 Draft. Unfortunately, he’s becoming known more for being a bust as a positional player and for, well, being busted.

The Friars designated Bush for assignment last week to clear room on the roster for Cliff Floyd. But, his dismissal also happened to come while he wound up being the target of a police investigation.

The 23-year-old Bush is being investigated for allegedly assaulting members of a high school lacrosse team in suburban San Diego. According to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, a witness saw an intoxicated Bush throw a golf club at one of the high schoolers and he allegedly shouted, “I’m Matt [Bleepin’] Bush!” before driving over a curb and fleeing the scene.

Not long after he was drafted, San Diego suspended Bush indefinitely after he was arrested at a bar across the street from the team’s complex in Peoria, Ariz. Among the charges: biting one of the bouncers and underage drinking. Bush, who was reinstated a month later after leading guilty to three charges, was also involved in a bar fight last summer.

Needless to say, Toronto is providing a much-needed change of scenery for Bush. Beyond that, Bush is giving the Jays an on-field project as well. He was drafted as a shortstop, but after hitting .219 over four seasons — none above Class A — Bush was converted into a pitcher. The, he blew out his elbow in ’07, needed Tommy John and missed all of 2008.

Bush won’t be in the running for a job with the Jays. He’ll give Toronto another arm for their system and will take time to climb the ranks. Maybe there’s something there, though. Time will tell. It’s a low-risk, potential high-reward move. Maybe a change of scenery is all Bush needs. We’ll see.

~JB

Good move, A-Rod


alex-rodriguez-picture-5.jpgThe best thing Alex Rodriguez could’ve done in the wake of the SI.com report that indicated he used steroids during the 2003 season was simply come clean and admit it was true.

Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi took that route before and have been able to continue with their careers without much controversy still tailing them. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens kept denying and their historic careers will forever be tainted. Mark McGwire made a fool of himself in front of Congress and he’s currently being kept out of the Hall of Fame.

On Monday, A-Rod came clean. He sat down with ESPN’s Peter Gammons and said the SI report was correct, and Rodriguez took it a step further. He admitted to using performance enhancers in each of his three seasons with Texas from 2001-03. Will A-Rod’s rep be tarnished? Sure. But, the game will be able to move on a bit easier now that he’s fessed up to cheating.

When the report came out, I can’t say that I was surprised. Why should any of us be surprised when we hear a player from this era tested positive for PHDs? As Rodriguez correctly points out in his comments, it was a loose era in the ’90s and in the early part of this decade. Things have changed for the better in recent years with the new testing that’s in place.

There’s a good chart in the MLB.com article on A-Rod’s admission. It breaks down his stats before, during and after the period in which he says he was using steroids. From 1996-2000, He averaged a .315 average, 36.8 homers and 114.8 RBIs in 145 games per season. From 2004-2008, the averages were .303/41.6/123.2 in 153.4 games. With Texas, A-Rod went .305/52/136.3 in 161.7 games on average.

You want to strip A-Rod of his tainted numbers? Go ahead. This guy is still a Hall of Famer. You want to strip Bonds of his totals from the point he is accused of using? Fine. He’s still a Hall of Famer. Clemens? McGwire? Even someone like Sammy Sosa? I say put them in the Hall.

They are the product of an era when hitters AND pitchers were using. Put it right on their plaques in Cooperstown: “Achieved these feats during the so-called Steroids Era.” Put it out there. Show what they did and why it was wrong and educate, but don’t try to hide these players from the kids. They’re in baseball’s record books and they’re not going anywhere.

That might not be the popular opinion, but that’s mine. Then again, I’m also from the camp that believes Pete Rose should be enshrined as well. If cheating or character are really deciding factors, there are plenty of players in the Hall who you could make a case for removing. Asterisks could be applied for reasons well beyond steroids.

Bottom line: I was happy to see A-Rod fess up as quickly as he did. Waiting until he arrived for Spring Training would’ve been a mistake, as would denying the accusations. He’s still going to hear plenty of “A-Roid!” chants when on the road and I’m sure Toronto will be one place that gives him a “warm” welcome.

Let’s move on and get ready for this 2009 season. Spring Training is here and the World Baseball Classic is right around the corner. Maybe some of you Jays fans aren’t as excited about this season, but you know what? Another baseball season is here and that’s plenty to be pumped about. I’ll be landing in Florida on Thursday and getting to work on Friday.

Here’s the A-Rod interview for those who haven’t seen it:

 

E-mailbag

Mailbag_art.jpgSome minor news today, with the Jays finalizing the Minor League deal for Japanese lefty Ken Takahashi. Word is that Toronto is also nearing another Minors deal with first baseman/designated hitter Kevin Millar. Jays also claimed reliever T.J. Beam off waivers this week, adding another body to the spring mix.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll get to the second edition of the E-mailbag. We’ve also been given the go ahead to run mailbags again on club sites, but it will now be called “Inbox.” I’ll probably roll out the first one when I get down to Florida for Spring Training next week.

So keep firing questions to jordan.bastian@mlb.com or bluejaysmailbag@gmail.com.

Hey Jordan,
Just wondering what the status is on Aaron Hill? Is he expected to be ready to go for Spring Training, and are the Jays expecting him to be the everyday second baseman? Thanks.
 
Allan, Halifax

Hill should be fully recovered from last season’s concussion and ready to go for spring. That’s what the Jays are saying and that’s what Hill has told me this winter. Of course, we’ll know for sure once we can watch him running through drills down in Dunedin. If he’s healthy, which he should be, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be Toronto’s regular for second — in the field and probably in the lineup, too.

Jordan,
In your opinion, do you believe the ‘Cito effect’ last season was legit, or just a fluke?  I don’t have the numbers with me, but I know the Jays drastically produced a lot more than they did earlier in the year under John Gibbons. Can a manager have THAT much influence over a team? Will that translate into next season with this group?
 
Jeremy, Hamilton

Here are some of the statistics:

Under Gibbons: 35-39 record, .231 with RISP, 49 homers
Under Gaston: 51-37 record, .285 with RISP, 77 homers

The Jays also scored more runs per game and had a higher slugging percentage under Cito, but the on-base percentage went down. Based on the numbers, I think the “Cito effect” was legit. The players all thought it was legit as well. This could be for a number of reasons.

First, a managerial change shows the players that no one is safe — not even a skipper who is a long-time friend of the general manager. That alone could be enough to motivate players to start focusing better and taking things up a level. Beyond just that, though, Gaston and the revamped hitting coaching staff implemented a different philosophy.

It’s been written to death, but Gaston emphasized having a plan at the plate and he also tried to have stability with his lineup. He put players in certain spots and tried to keep them there unless injuries or other circumstances dictated a change. It’s Cito’s view that players are more comfortable when they come to the park knowing they’ll be in the order and where they’re probably going to be hitting.

Will the changes carry over to this season? Obviously, there’s no way to answer that. What I do know is that Gaston is itching to get to work this spring on continuing what he started last year. Rios is a player that Gaston keeps mentioning as one he wants to really work with on his approach at the plate. Gaston is also hoping for more production from the corners.

It’d be hard for Toronto’s offense to be worse than it was last season.

Jordan, we are planning to see the Jays on the road somewhere this summer. Since you have been around baseball a lot, is there one city you would recommend?

Tanya

My favorite cities to visit are Boston and San Francisco, though I usually look forward to the non-baseball related sites. Both cities are beautiful and have great museums and dining. Also, being a runner, these are two great cities to head out on a long run because, while urban, they have great scenery. I love running along the Embarcadero in San Fran or by the Charles River in Boston. I’m also big into history, so Boston appeals to me in that way, too.

Now, moving on to baseball. San Fran still rates high because AT&T Park is gorgeous. I’d also highly recommend Seattle. The city is fantastic and the ballpark is great, and not too far from Vancouver. A lot of Jays fans come to Seattle when Toronto is in town and it’s often a rowdier crowd than at Rogers Centre.

If you don’t want to head all the way to the West Coast, Chicago is great as well, though I’m biased because I’m from there. You could catch the Cubs and the Sox while in Chicago and there’s plenty else to do in town. They have great architecture tours there and the food is awesome. Of course, New York is New York, and you’ve got two new stadiums there this year.

~JB

 

Adding arms

post_brian_burres_throwing.jpgSome minor moves this week so far: Blue Jays agreed to terms on a Minor League deal with Japanese left-hander Ken Takahashi and today claimed lefty Brian Burres off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles.

Nothing too extravagant, but Toronto keeps adding more arms to the mix for rotation and bullpen jobs. Both Takahashi and Burres have experience as a starter and as a reliever. Today, catcher Curtis Thigpen was designated for assignment to clear room on the roster for Burres.

Here’s a scouting report of Takahashi from NBPTracker.com:

“Takahashi has a fairly straightforward delivery with a high kick. … Takahashi throws a fastball, slider, sinker and curve, but I have also have a photo that clearly shows him throwing a circle change. Based on his walk numbers over the years I’d say his control isn’t phenomenal, but he is capable of keeping the ball down.

Here’s a clip from youtube:

~JB

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