January 2010

McGowan update; State of the Franchise

dustin-mcgowan.jpgSome good news on the injury front for everyone’s favorite enigma: Dustin McGowan.

Chatted some with Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos this morning and McGowan completed a pain-free bullpen session this morning. A small step, but an important one.

“We’re taking it step by step,” Anthopoulos said. “But, we’re not looking too far ahead. We don’t want to build any expectations or timelines or anything like that. He threw off a mound today. He didn’t have any pain or any soreness. It went well and he looked good and it’s a step in the right direction.”

Over the summer, McGowan walked away from a similar mound session with tightness in his surgically-repaired right shoulder. No such turn of events this time around. Dustin is definitely a pitcher to keep an eye on during Spring Training. If he’s healthy, he is a darkhorse for a spot on the pitching staff.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

For those of you who were not following my Twitter coverage or did not see my story covering last night’s State of the Franchise event, I’ll run through some of the highlights on here for you really quick:


SoF2010.jpg–Anthopoulos admitted
that the Blue Jays have talked internally about free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon and that he’s called Damon’s agent,who you may have heard of before, Scott Boras. Damon could fill left field and leadoff, but unless his asking price comes down I’m not sure how serious Toronto’s interest is right now. If the price seems reasonable and the Jays feel Damon could net some assets in a later trade, or by being worth a Draft pick if he qualifies as a Type A free agent again, the club may consider it. Would Damon consider the Jays? Probably not if he has an offer from a team with a better shot at contention.

–Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston basically lobbied for the club to bring Carlos Delgado back to Toronto, even though Anthopoulos has said in the past that he’s not currently a fit for the team. Gaston feels Delgado could be a great asset for the young hitters. That said, he’d have to DH primarily and Anthopoulos said he prefers to leave Adam Lind in that role.

–Gaston and Anthopoulos both said they have confidence in John Buck as the starting catcher. Rod Barajas is still out there as a free agent, but the fact that he is worth a Draft pick when he signs elsewhere is big for the Jays. Had the club not commited to Buck, though, AA said the Jays would be been more serious about maybe bringing Barajas back. Raul Chavez is in the mix as the backup right now, but AA noted that he’s still seeing if he can bring another backup catcher into camp to compete for the job.

–The closer’s job is “up in the air,” according to Gaston. He said there are “two or three guys” who can do that job. That’d be Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and… someone else. Asked about Jeremy Accardo, Gaston got him confused with Casey Janssen again. Then he laughed it off, saying “I get my guys mixed up there sometimes.” Anthopoulos said if Accardo has a strong showing this spring, he should be in a good position to make the cut for the bullpen.

–The lineup? “Right now, if you asked me who was leading off, I would say [Jose] Bautista. Right now, if you asked me who was hitting third, fourth and fifth? I could probably give you some answeres there, but it might not be the truth,” Gaston said. The lineup will be a work in progress all spring. Gaston did say he feels the Jays have potential for a lot of power. “I think there’s going to be some power out there. We’ve just got to get it out of these guys this year,” he said. He said he believes guys like Lind, Hill, Bautista, Encarnacion, Wells, Snider and Overbay all have the potential to hit 25 homers. We’ll see. Cito also sees Bautista as a starting outfielder as things stand right now.

–Gaston noted that the Jays might do some “crazy” things this season in order to score more runs. “We’re going to have some fun this year,” he said. “We’re going to do some crazy things, as far as trying to score some runs. It might look crazy, but it’ll work out.” Later, Cito elaborated, saying the club might play some more small ball — bunting more, maybe stealing more and definitely trying to get better with the hit-and-run, something Gaston said the team did not do well last year. “Hopefully we can execute some of the things we haven’t been able to do in the past,” he said. 

–The main complaint from the fans was in relation to marketing, wanting the club to do more in the community or at the ballpark to add to the entertainment value. President and CEO Paul Beeston said there is a marketing plan in place and admitted that the club needs to improve in that regard. The Jays Care foundation is doing a lot behind the scenes, though, as are the players. Also, “Doc’s Box” will still be at the ballpark, though likely under a different name, run by the JCF. Roy Halladay would host children from Sick Kids Hospital in his private suite throughout each season and that program will continue.

–The turf at Rogers Centre was being ripped up and new long strips were being installed — no more squares of FieldTurf. Some players have complained about the previous playing surface, so hopefully the new stuff will get better reviews. It wasn’t completely installed yet, so we didn’t get a chance to really scope it out.

–Beeston emphasized that the Blue Jays HAVE money to spend on free agents if they need it. The payroll has been trimmed, but funds have been poured into scouting and player development, that’s the focus right now. He said when a young core is established, Rogers is ready and willing to pony up the resources to add high-profile players through free agency if it makes sense. They may have the money now, but the Jays don’t want to spend for the sake of spending.

Q&A WITH HAYHURST: If you haven’t checked it out already, be sure to read my interview with Jays pitcher Dirk Hayhurst from earlier this week, discussing his upcoming book, “The Bullpen Gospels.” A great read. Check the previous post for my review of his book. It’s available for pre-order online and will hit bookstores on March 30.

~JB

Catching up with Jesse Litsch

Litsch.jpgChatted with Jesse Litsch for a bit on Monday evening. There will be a story on bluejays.com today about some of the charity work he’s been doing down in his home state of Florida this offseason. Recovering from Tommy John surgery has provided plenty of down time for Litsch to tackle such endeavors.

On the baseball front, Litsch said he is scheduled to throw in his first bullpen session on Feb. 3. It’ll be his first time up a mound since going under the knife in June. Barring any setbacks, the Blue Jays are hoping Litsch will be recovered and able to help out their young and inexperienced pitching staff come June or July.

“It’s right around the corner for me,” Litsch said about the bullpen session. “I’m just doing everything to work up to it and trying to get back to where I was before, hopefully better. We’ll see. It’s been a grind and I’ve got to grind out these next four months and get back to the field.”

When he does make his way back, though, there is no guarantee that Litsch will have a job waiting for him. And he knows it.

“Obviously, I’m  excited to get out there as soon as possible,” he said. “Hopefully, I have a spot when I come back. If they’re out there beating everyone, there’s always that possibility. That’d be good for the team, so I’m not worrying about anything but my main focus, which is to get healthy and help out any way I can.”

Without Litsch, the long list of rotation candidates includes Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brian Tallet, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Dustin McGowan, Robert Ray, Brad Mills, Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart, Reidier Gonzalez, Luis Perez, Casey Janssen… did I miss anyone?

“There’s no doubt we’re going to be young, especially as a pitching staff,” Litsch said. “But, we have guys on the staff like [relievers Jason] Frasor and [Scott] Downs who have been through it for a while, and they’re going to help us out as much as they can. Tallet, if he’s in the rotation, he’s going to help out, too, as more of a veteran guy.

“It’s all going to be interesting. I think we’re going to make some eyes open if we come out shooting. If we all click together, like we were early in the season last year, we’re going to surprise some people, I’m thinking. Everyone’s working their tails off this offseason.”

As for the loss of ace Roy Halladay…

“It’s obviously tough to see him go,” Litsch said. “But, in the same respect, it opens up a spot for someone else to come up and shine. It’s a matter of going out there and performing. When you’re out there performing, if you step up your game, you might not be like Halladay, but you could be.

“In the future, you never know. Maybe one of these Drabeks, one of the young guys, can come up. They say they have stuff like Halladay. When Halladay first came up, the first couple years, he got sent back down to A-ball. It’s a matter of adapting and finding yourself and going from there.”

–JB

Odds and ends: Arbitration, payroll, etc;

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was fully prepared to head to an arbitration hearing, if necessary. That’s something Toronto has not done with a player since 1997. If any eligible players didn’t sign by Tuesday, negotiations would be cut off and a hearing it would be.

It never came to that.

On Tuesday, the Blue Jays settled the 2010 contracts for arbitration-eligible pitchers Jeremy Accardo, Shawn Camp, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen and Brian Tallet. Shaun Marcum signed on Monday, while Dustin McGowan and Jose Bautista avoided the process earlier this winter.

So, the streak lives on and the biggest winner of the bunch on Tuesday was Frasor. After a career year, Frasor received a $1.2 million raise and will make $2.65 million in the upcoming season. Tallet signed for $2 million, Camp for $1.15 million, Accardo for $1.08 million and Janssen for $700,000.

That brings us to the payroll…

Before the Halladay trade, I wrote more than once that the team’s payroll would likely remain around $80 million. Well, turns out that’s almost $20 million too high. After the Doc deal, and with Rios off the books, the player payroll will probably be in the $60-63 million range for the 2010 season. That’s NOT including the $10 million owed to B.J. Ryan or the $6 million sent to Philly as part of the Halladay trade.

As Anthopoulos says, though:

“We don’t have any needs or financial restrictions or limitations with respect to payroll. It’s really a fluid number and it’s going to be predicated on what we deem — the baseball operations staff, obviously with the approval of ownership — the right baseball moves for this club. There really isn’t a finite number to the payroll. Certainly, everything that we do, every free agent that we look at, trades and so on, we’re just trying to evaluate it with respect to the direction that we are going in and the value of the player.”

Here is a monetary breakdown: CF Vernon Wells ($21 million, including $8.5 million), 1B Lyle Overbay ($7 million), 3B Edwin Encarnacion ($4.75 million), 2B Aaron Hill (4 million), LHP Scott Downs ($4 million), SS Alex Gonzalez ($2.75 million), RHP Jason Frasor ($2.65 million), OF Jose Bautista ($2.4 million), LHP Brian Tallet ($2 million), C John Buck ($2 million), SS John McDonald ($1.5 million), RHP Shawn Camp ($1.15 million), RHP Jeremy Accardo ($1.08 million), RHP Shaun Marcum ($850K), RHP Casey Janssen ($700K), RHP Dustin McGowan ($500K).

Total: $58.33 million

Other contracts: OF Joey Gathright will earn $550K is he makes the Major League roster. C Raul Chavez is also signed to a Minors deal and will likely have a similar salary when/if he is placed on the Major League squad as well. McGowan and Jesse Litsch will count against the payroll even if they aren’t on the OD roster. Litsch, at least, will be on the DL. That leaves roughly eight spots for players who make the Major League minimum.

FALSE: A rumor quickly spread online today that the Blue Jays had signed veteran slugger Carlos Delgado. I wrote last week that Toronto was not pursuing Delgado and Anthopoulos went on the record to shoot down the latest rumor on Tuesday. Delgado’s agent was also quick to shoot down the rumor.

“There’s no truth to it,” Anthopoulos said. “Normally, I don’t comment on rumors, but I have come out and said that we have gone to see him play and so on. This is the exact reason why I don’t comment on rumors. I’ve spent the past 30 minutes getting hammered with this.”

MINOR SIGNINGS: The Jays also signed OF Jeremy Reed and RHP Steven Register to Minor League contracts with invites to spring training on Tuesday. Anthopoulos said Reed, like Gathright, will be given a chance to compete for a backup job or a full-time job in the Jays’ outfield.

The main reason for Reed and Gathright? They play center. With Rios gone, the only backup to Wells in center right now is Bautista. Reed and Gathright could provide depth at the position and one will probably be on the roster come Opening Day. Snider and Bautista are also in the mix for starting roles in the outfield.

ROLES: Anthopoulos said that manager Cito Gaston will determine who will be the club’s closer during Spring Training. Last year, the duties were split between Frasor and Downs. Frasor seems to be the top choice right now, but that could change in the preseason. Anthopoulos also noted that Tallet’s status as either a starter or reliever has not been decided yet. If the club doesn’t feel some of the young arms are ready, Tallet could open the year in the rotation.

~JB

 

The honeymoon is over

WaterPhone.jpgCaught up with Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tonight as he was making his way back from Toronto Pearson, following a trip to Arizona for the MLB owners’ mettings. AA returned from his honeymoon in Hawaii on Tuesday, flew to meetings on Wednesday and back to Toronto tonight.

And he sounded tired.

“You’re not going straight to the office are you?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied with an exhausted laugh. “I’m going home. But I’ll be at the office early in the morning.”

While on his honeymoon, Anthopoulos said he was still keeping in touch with a handful of other GMs. “I probably talked to six GMs while I was there,” he said. AA added that he was working on three separate trades, but they just didn’t come to fruition.

I’ve got to say, Anthopoulos must have a very understanding wife. When I finally take my wife to Hawaii, I’m pretty sure my Blackberry will wind up in the Pacific Ocean if I’m on it during our vacation.

I just read this paragraph to her, and she nodded and said, “Basically.”

JAYS TO SCOUT SHEETS: Anthopoulos noted that he’s always looking for rotation help, especially considering the youth and inexperienced of his projected starting staff. AA confirmed that the Jays will have someone in attendance on Tuesday, when Ben Sheets will throw for interested teams.

“We’re going to take a look at him,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s like what I’ve talked about before — no stone unturned. It’s the same reason why we’re watched other guys work out. … We’re not doing out job if we don’t at least take a look. Things change. Trades occur. Someone might surprise us. It doesn’t do us any harm to do our homework on all these players and to be really prepared if an opportunity presents itself.”

This also explains why reports surfaced that the Blue Jays had watched Carlos Delgado playing in the Puerto Rican winter league. Delgado isn’t a fit for the Jays right now, but Anthopoulos has majorly upgraded his scouting staff and he’s making sure he’s exploring as many avenues as possible.

NEW ARBITRATION POLICY: One thing that former Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi was known for was his streak of avoiding arbitration hearings with his players. Anthopoulos hopes to do the same, if possible, but he has altered the organizations approach to the arbitration process slightly, hoping to create earlier negotiations.

The deadline for arb-eligible players and teams to exchange salary figures is Tuesday. Anthopoulos has implemented a “file to go strategy.” If the club has not reached an agreement with its arb-eligible players between now and Tuesday, they will go to an arbitration hearing rather than continue negotiations.

“I made a change this year,” Anthopoulos said. “The thought was really it’s hopefully to encourage more dialogue in negotiations with the goal of continuing to avoid arbitration and continuing to try to get deals done and maybe bring both parties to the table a little bit sooner.”

Arbitration-eligible players from the Jays who remain unsigned include Shaun Marcum, Brian Tallet, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo and Shawn Camp. Jose Bautista and Dustin McGowan have signed, Brandon League was traded and Raul Chavez declined arbitration and signed a Minor League deal.

~JB

 

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