Archive for November, 2007

Stottlemyre makes Hall ballot

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The 2008 Hall of Fame ballot that was released Monday included a pair of former Blue Jay pitchers — a returnee, Jack Morris, and a newcomer, Todd Stottlemyre.

Though it’s unlikely that Stottlemyre will receive enough votes (5%) to stay on next year’s ballot, the former right-hander enjoyed a great deal of success during his 14-year big-league career. Seven of those seasons came as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that drafted him third overall in the secondary phase of the free-agent draft in 1985.

Stottlemyre made his Major League debut in 1988, finishing with a 4-8 record and a 5.69 ERA in 28 games — 16 starts — that season. In July of 1989, the right-hander earned a full-time spot in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation. In 1991, Stottlemyre enjoyed his best season yet as a Blue Jay, posting a career-high 15 wins and a 3.78 ERA.

He provided Toronto with a big boost in 1992, the year in which the Blue Jays made history by becoming the first Canadian team to win the World Series. With the Jays having lost six of seven, and clinging to a two-game division lead, Stottlemyre hurled a gem against the Chicago White Sox on August 26. The right-hander went the distance, losing a no-hitter in the eighth inning during a 9-0 Toronto victory. The Blue Jays would finish 24-11 over their final 35 games, and Stottlemyre would soon land his first of two World Series rings.

Unfortunately, his time with the Blue Jays came to an end following the strike-shortened 1994 season. “The Jays had been trying to sign Stottlemyre to a long-term deal before the strike, and both sides seemed willing, simply dickering over the price,” noted Stephen Brunt in his book ‘Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball’. However, things changed when Toronto GM Gord Ash acquired veteran pitcher David Cone. “With Cone and his salary on board, Todd Stottlemyre became an afterthought,” said Brunt, adding that, essentially, whatever offer had been on the table was now rescinded.

“Stottlemyre felt a tremendous loyalty to the organization, which had suffered through his ups and downs,” Brunt stated. “He wanted very much to remain a Toronto Blue Jay.”

Blue Jays bigwig Paul Beeston knew the club had treated the Stottlemyre situation poorly, and he felt bad about it. “The only two guys that I think we ever screwed here were Todd and George Bell,” said Beeston “And they’re the two guys who were more loyal to the Blue Jay colours than any Dodger was loyal to the Dodger colours. We know that Todd felt betrayed at the time and I now know why Todd felt that way. And I apologized to him.”

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that mistakes are made and that nobody is perfect. As it turned out, Stottlemyre went on to enjoy a number of strong seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks prior to his retirement in 2002. In a statement to his character, the former Blue Jay pitcher earned both the Branch Rickey award and the Lou Gehrig award in 2000. And in another statement of his character, Stottlemyre now serves as the Board Chair for ‘Caring for Kids Inc.‘, a non-profit organization dedicated to ‘fighting child abuse, abandonment and neglect’.

Wanted: Big league-ready lefty

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fresh off an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League, left-hander David Purcey was added to the Jays’ 40-man roster on Tuesday. In six starts for the Scottsdale Scorpions, the 25-year-old posted a 1.23 ERA and struck out 25 batters in 22.0 innings of work.

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian noted in his weekly mailbag, Toronto is likely to roll out five righties in the starting rotation to begin the season. Gustavo Chacin is in the mix for the No. 5 spot, but that will likely go to either Jesse Litsch or Casey Janssen.

Five right-handers is certainly not ideal in the majors, meaning there would be no better time than the present for Purcey to finally realize his potential and make the jump to the big leagues.

Since we’re talking about left-handers, how about a look at the Top 5 southpaw starters (in terms of wins) in Blue Jays franchise history …

1. Jimmy Key, 116 (1984-92)
2. David Wells, 84 (1987-92, 1999-2000)
3. John Cerutti, 46 (1985-90)
4. Ted Lilly, 37 (2004-06)
5. Mike Flanagan, 26 (1987-90)

Jays acquire Scutaro

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Blue Jays made a deal with the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, acquiring utilityman Marco Scutaro in exchange for minor-leaguers Graham Godfrey and Kristian Bell. The addition of Scutaro provides Toronto with a quality utility option who can play shortstop, second, third and the outfield.

It isn’t out of the question that Scutaro could share a platoon with John McDonald at shortstop in 2008. Though he played second base primarily from 2002-04, Scutaro has spent more time at shortstop than any other position over the last three seasons. Stepping in for the oft-injured Bobby Crosby, Scutaro played 81 games at short in 2005, 69 in 2006 and 43 last year.

McDonald has a definite edge on Scutaro defensively, but the latter offers more on offense. In his four full seasons in the majors, Scutaro has batted .262 with 88 doubles, 28 home runs and 162 RBIs. He also has better plate discipline than McDonald, drawing 85 walks compared to 106 strikeouts over the last two seasons. In 2006, he posted a very solid .350 on-base percentage.

McDonald, meanwhile, owns a career .240 average. Over the last two years, the shortstop has drawn just 27 walks compared to 89 strikeouts. He’s also managed just eight career home runs in 1,376 at-bats.

Fasano over Bonds

Friday, November 16, 2007

Baseball certainly has a broad range of personalities. At one end of the spectrum — of course — is Barry Bonds, the rude and ill-tempered slugger that was indicted this week for perjury and obstruction of justice. Now, a man doesn’t become known as the ‘most hated’ player in baseball overnight. Bonds has earned that reputation through years of surliness and general disrespect for those around him.

What will happen to Barry? Sports Illustrated’s John Donovan had this to say today: “We have seen, you have to think, the last of Barry Bonds on a baseball field. Who would touch him now? Who would hire a tainted slugger mired in legal quicksand, facing a high-profile trial with a chance of a decent-sized prison term at the end of it? Who would fork over millions of dollars for an aging and bitter pariah who, even if he clears all those legal hurdles, may yet get stomped on by the big boot of baseball’s commissioner?”

I’ll tell you who: Somebody. As long as Bonds has the talent to make a team better, somebody — unfortunately — will offer him a spot. That’s just the reality of the business.

Luckily, however, Baseball also has some great individuals. Guys that have (and show) the utmost respect for the game, its players, and even the media. I’m talking about guys like Sal Fasano, the 36-year-old former Blue Jay. I say former, but with the hopes that Toronto re-signs the veteran backstop for the 2008 campaign.

Sal Fasano is a career journeyman — there’s no other way to put it. Since entering pro ball in 1993, the man with the Fu-Manchu has played in the following cities: Eugene, Rockford, Wilmington, Wichita, Omaha, Kansas City, Oakland, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Durham, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, Anaheim, Columbus, Ottawa, Baltimore, Clearwater, Reading, New York, Philadelphia, Syracuse and Toronto. That’s 22 cities.

I got a firsthand glimpse of Sal in one of those cities. As a media relations intern with the Ottawa Lynx in 2005, one of my tasks was to ‘fetch’ certain players after games for an interview with the local press. During Ottawa’s first homestand, one of the writers wanted to talk to Fasano about his pitcher’s performance. Without hesitation, Sal left his dinner and came into the corridor for the interview. Without sounding patronizing, Fasano walked the interviewer through the approach that he and the starter had used against the opposing lineup, and talked about key pitches and situations that helped lead to the win. Fresh on the job, I was extremely impressed with Fasano’s courteousness and professionalism.

So, what will happen to Sal? Hopefully, he’ll get another chance with a big-league club. “You try to be a good person and you try to be a good player, and usually those two things combined can usually get you a job,” said Fasano in an interview last year. “Nobody wants to hire a jerk.”

They don’t want to, perhaps, but they will. Take Barry, for example. Let’s just hope that there’s still room in the game for one of the greats, as defined by ESPN’s Jeff Pearlman …

“When I think of Sal Fasano, I think of greatness. Not of Willie Mays or Ted Williams greatness, but of a uniquely excellent human being who, were class and decency the most valued standards of a career, would be the easiest Hall of Fame inductee of all time.”

And the votes are in …

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rookie of the Year honours were doled out today, and Boston’s Dustin Pedroia took home the AL award, while Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun narrowly edged Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki for the honours in the NL.

Though no Blue Jay rookie received any votes, Toronto had a few first-year players contribute in 2007. Adam Lind, who was summoned from Triple-A Syracuse in April when Reed Johnson went down with an injury, batted .238 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs in 89 total games. Curtis Thigpen, meanwhile, played 47 games split between catcher and first base, batting .238 with 11 RBIs and 13 runs scored.

On the mound, Jesse Litsch was a pleasant surprise, going 7-9 with a very decent 3.81 ERA in 20 starts. Brian Wolfe, meanwhile, finished with a 3-1 mark and a 2.98 ERA in 38 games out of the bullpen.

In 31 years as a franchise, the Toronto Blue Jays have had two Rookie of the Year award winners. Alfredo Griffin captured the award in 1979, while Eric Hinske accomplished the feat in 2002. Here’s a look at some of the top rookie campaigns in Blue Jays history …

Bob Bailor, 1977 — In Toronto’s inaugural season, Bailor hit .310 with 21 doubles and 15 stolen bases in 122 games — including 54 at shortstop and 63 in the outfield. For his efforts, he also earned Toronto’s first ever Player of the Year award, as selected by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association.

Alfredo Griffin, 1979 — The Blue Jay shortstop became the first Toronto player to earn AL Rookie of the Year honours, splitting the award with Minnesota’s John Castino. In 153 games, Griffin batted .287 with a career-high 179 hits and 81 runs scored.

Mark Eichhorn, 1986 — Recognized by The Sporting News as Rookie Pitcher of the Year, Eichhorn went 14-6 with an impressive 1.72 ERA in 69 relief appearances. In 157.0 innings of work, the submariner posted 166 strikeouts compared to just 45 walks.

John Olerud, 1990 — In 111 games, the sweet-swinging Olerud posted a .364 on-base percentage (.265 average) with 14 homers and 48 RBIs.

Juan Guzman, 1991 — The hard-throwing right-hander finished second behind Chuck Knoblauch for AL Rookie of the Year after posting a 10-3 record and a 2.99 ERA in 23 starts.

Shawn Green, 1995 — The left-handed hitting Green batted .288 with 31 doubles, 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 121 contests.

Jose Cruz Jr., 1997 — Split between Seattle and Toronto, Cruz finished second (Nomar Garciaparra) in the AL Rookie of the Year race, compiling 26 home runs and 68 RBIs in 104 games.

Billy Koch, 1999 — Called up in May, Koch recorded 31 saves and posted an ERA of 3.39 in 56 contests.

Eric Hinske, 2002 — The third baseman had his best season as a Blue Jay, batting .279 (.365 OBP) with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs en route to winning the AL Rookie of the Year award.

How about Shannon Stewart?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Among the top priorities for Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi this offseason include solidifying the left field position, as well as the leadoff spot in the batting order. This corner asks: Why not do both with one move? In other words, why not sign veteran free agent and former Blue Jay Shannon Stewart?

Stewart, who will turn 34 in February, spent 2007 on a one-year $1-million contract with the Oakland Athletics. In 146 games, he batted a team-high .290 (.345 on-base percentage) with 12 homers and 48 RBIs. That performance will certainly call for a raise in ’08, and Stewart may be looking for a deal longer than one year. Still, the Blue Jays would be wise to have a discussion with the outfielder.

As it stands right now, Ricciardi appears content with having Reed Johnson and 40-year-old Matt Stairs share the left field duties in ’08. There are a number of problems with this scenario, however. First off, there are question marks surrounding Johnson’s ability to regain his 2006 form. After returning from surgery in July last year, the 30-year-old hit just .232 (56-for-241). Even more disconcerting were his 48 strikeouts compared to just 14 walks. Meanwhile, virtually no one expects Stairs to replicate his numbers from last season. Ideally, the veteran should be used for the occasional start in the outfield, as well as at first base.

The additional bonus that Shannon Stewart brings to the table is his ability to bat leadoff, something the Blue Jays sorely lacked in 2007. Alex Rios spent a good chunk of the season in the leadoff spot, but he is better suited for the middle of the order. Not only has he shown the ability to hit for power and drive in runs, but he also amasses the high strikeout totals (team-high 103 in ’07) that come with the territory. Stewart, meanwhile, struck out just 60 times last year. A handful of leg injuries have slowed him down on the basepaths, though that isn’t much of a hindrance, as Ricciardi and the Blue Jays have shown no desire to steal bases in recent years anyways.

With the scenario as it stands today, Stairs would get into games against some right-handed pitchers in 2008. With Stewart, however, there’s no need to sit him against righties or lefties. For his career (12 seasons), he has batted .293 against left-handers and .299 against right-handers.

This, of course, brings up the question: Do the Blue Jays then let Johnson go? After all, he is up for arbitration this winter after making $3.075 million in 2007. That could be money better used to sign the veteran Stewart.

The verdict? Go with Stewart.

Risky business

Sunday, November 11, 2007

When it comes to free agent signings, it’s often a crapshoot for baseball’s general managers. For every successful signing, it seems there are a handful of deals that don’t pan out. Of course, depending on the amount invested, free agent busts can produce a significant negative impact on a franchise.

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman has compiled his list of the 10 worst free-agent contracts in the last 10 years, a list that includes Albert Belle, Kevin Brown and Mo Vaughn, to name a few. Fortunately, there are no Toronto Blue Jays’ signings on that list. Make no mistake, though — When it comes to free agent deals, the Blue Jays certainly aren’t without their own horror stories. Consider the following …

Ken Dayley — Jays GM Pat Gillick was looking to bring in a left-handed reliever for the 1991 campaign when he began discussions with Dayley, who had spent the previous six seasons as the setup man for the St. Louis Cardinals. Dayley was perhaps the most appealing reliever in the 1990 free agent class, and Gillick landed his services with a three-year contract worth $6 million. Unfortunately, that was the start of Dayley’s demise. The left-hander was hit by a number of injuries and ailments during his time with the Blue Jays, including an ear infection that caused vertigo. Dayley pitched in only eight games in 1991, missed the entire ’92 season, and appeared twice in ’93 before the Blue Jays released him on April 15. Though he was signed by the Dodgers shortly thereafter, Dayley never pitched in the majors again.

Danny Darwin — Coming off a dismal final season with the Red Sox, the 39-year-old Darwin signed a one-year deal to be the Blue Jays’ fifth starter in 1995. It should be noted that Toronto got the veteran for just $300,000 — though that doesn’t necessarily excuse his performance. In 13 games (11 starts), Darwin went an awful 1-8 with a 7.62 ERA before the Jays released the struggling hurler in mid-July.

Erik Hanson — Gord Ash landed another ex-Red Sox hurler prior to the ’96 campaign. This time it was Erik Hanson, who was coming off a career year (15-5, 4.24 ERA in 29 starts). Ash tabbed him as Toronto’s new No. 1 starter, dishing out $9.4 million for a three-year contract. The right-hander made a career-high 35 starts for the Jays in ’96, but finished 13-17 with a disappointing 5.41 ERA. In the process, he set a new single-season franchise record by allowing 129 earned runs. And that was pretty much all she wrote for Hanson. Because of injuries, the ‘ace’ right-hander made just 14 appearances (10 starts) over the next two seasons, going a combined 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA to end his career.

Who’s on first?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Curtis Thigpen currently finds himself in a unique situation. The Blue Jays believe that the 24-year-old prospect will be ready for a full-time role with the big club in 2009. However, the same can be said of Robinzon Diaz, another 24-year-old catcher in the Jays’ minor league system. Because of this, J.P. Ricciardi & Co. are discussing moving the athletic Thigpen to another position.

“The most important thing is we like the way Thigpen hits and we have to try to find a way to get him in the lineup,” said Ricciardi in a recent interview with MLB.com. The youngster has already played 14 games at first base for Toronto, doing so last year for the injury-riddled ball club. There is also talk of trying the youngster at third base. Though it is rare, this won’t be the first time a Toronto player has made a position change. Consider these …

Dave Stieb — Prior to being drafted by the Blue Jays in the 5th round in 1978, Stieb played centre field for Southern Illinois University. The following comes courtesy of ‘Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball’, written by Stephen Brunt.

“Stieb was a pretty good centre fielder,” said scout Al LaMacchia. “He could run, throw. Go get the ball. But we didn’t particularly like the way he hit.” LaMacchia did, however, like the way he pitched. The problem was, Stieb saw himself as an outfielder only. “I’m a centre fielder,” Stieb told LaMacchia. “I’m going to be selected as an All American centre fielder in the NCAA.” Knowing full well that Stieb was better suited as a pitcher, LaMacchia told Bobby Mattick, “To get him, we have to give him a chance to play centre. But I think he’ll fail. There’s not any doubt in my mind that he’ll fail. And then we will make a pitcher out of him.” Of course, the plan worked, and Stieb quickly realized that his future lay on the mound.

In 15 seasons, Stieb, the winningest pitcher in franchise history, posted a career record of 175-134 along with a 3.42 ERA. He also remains the lone Toronto pitcher to toss a no-hitter, doing so on Sept. 2, 1990 against the Cleveland Indians.

Carlos Delgado — Signed as a catcher by the Blue Jays in 1988 (as a 16-year-old), Delgado was blocked at the big league level by Pat Borders. Eager to get his bat in the lineup, the Jays tried Delgado in the outfield in 1994. After another short stint in the outfield in ’95, Delgado was given a full-time role as the designated hitter in ’96. With the departure of John Olerud at the end of that season, Delgado was moved to first base, a position he would play for the remainder of his career with the Blue Jays.

In 11 seasons, Delgado amassed 336 home runs and 1,058 RBIs. He remains the franchise leader in those categories, as well as runs scored (889), doubles (343), walks (827), total bases (2,786) and slugging percentage (.556).

(Free?) Agents?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

With the Blue Jays expected to have a salary budget of around $90-million for 2008, it’s not likely that the club will be able to afford any of the top free agents this offseason. This, of course, is a change from the past two winters, where J.P. Ricciardi parlayed an increased budget into a handful of key free agent signings.

Ricciardi and the Blue Jays brass stole the show at Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in Dallas, TX in 2005, signing the top two pitchers on the market — A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan. The club also added catcher Bengie Molina and reliever Scott Schoeneweis via free agency. Last winter, Ricciardi was busy again, this time getting slugger Frank Thomas to sign on the dotted line.

Heading into the 2007 offseason, the Blue Jays had signed a total of 80 players via free agency during the team’s 30-year history. Here are some memorable ones …

1992 — Jack Morris & Dave Winfield

Pat Gillick & Company managed to grab the best free agent pitcher available following the 1991 season, signing World Series hero Jack Morris to a two-year deal (plus an option) worth a total of $10.85 million. Morris, who became the first Blue Jay to win 20 games in a season, played a major role in getting Toronto to the postseason again. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays also brought in veteran Dave Winfield to be the club’s designated hitter in ’92. At 40 years of age, Winfield batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs. Of course, he also drove in what turned out to be the winning run during Game 6 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, giving Toronto its first ever championship.

1993 — Dave Stewart & Paul Molitor

Former nemesis Dave Stewart joined the Blue Jays prior to the 1993 campaign, signing a two-year deal worth $8.5 million. After posting a very average 12-8 record and 4.44 ERA, the man with the menacing stare was lights out in the ALCS, going 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA against the White Sox. Stewart also made the start in Game 6 of the World Series against the Phillies. He settled for a no-decision in that contest, and watched from the bench as Joe Carter delivered the Series-winning homer in the ninth. Paul Molitor, meanwhile, was brought in to replace Winfield as the designated hitter for the ’93 campaign. In 160 games, Molitor batted .332 with 22 homers and 111 RBIs, finishing second — to teammate John Olerud — in the American League in hitting. As an encore, the 37-year-old took home World Series MVP honours, batting .500 (12-for-24) with a pair of home runs and eight RBIs for the series.

1997 — Roger Clemens

The Rocket landed in Toronto prior to the 1997 season, signing a two-year deal worth $17 million. Though the Jays failed to contend in either campaign, Clemens certainly held his end of the bargain, winning the American League Cy Young award during both seasons. He also earned the unofficial ‘pitcher’s triple crown’, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA in back-to-back campaigns.

Video replay on the way?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thanks in large part to Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday, Major League Baseball is now taking a close look at whether the league should institute video replay as an aid to umpires on close calls. In a poll at the GM meetings in Orlando, FL yesterday, 25 out of 30 respondents voted in favour of the new technology. Perhaps no one put it better than White Sox GM and former Blue Jay Ken Williams, who said the following: “All anybody is interested in is getting it right. It will be a lot easier and less time to get that right than some of these arguments that ensue when a call is disputed.”

As an Associated Press article points out today, the use of video replay would be ‘limited to boundary calls — whether potential home runs are fair or foul, whether balls go over fences or hit the tops and bounce back, and whether fans interfere with possible homers.’ While I agree that certain calls — like balls and strikes — should never be handed over to technology, I feel there are others that could truly benefit from having ‘another look’. Of course, Holliday’s play at the plate is a prime example.

The Star’s Dave Perkins offers a good example of why — because of continuous action — certain plays simply cannot be subject to video replay. But what about other isolated plays? After all, as Perkins points out, “When technology is available to get something right, why not use it?” I’ll defer to Paul Godfrey, who offered his opinion to the Globe’s Robert Macleod: “I think you should have at least one opportunity to ask for a replay on a play like a close slide at the plate or on a play that changes the complexion of the game.”

It seems to me that the Blue Jays could have really used video replay when this happened …

Oct. 20, 1992 — With runners on first and second and no one out in Game 3 of the ’92 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, Toronto centre-fielder Devon White makes a spectacular catch at the wall to rob David Justice of extra bases. White then relays the ball into the infield, where third baseman Kelly Gruber chases Deion Sanders back to second. With Terry Pendleton having already passed Sanders on the basepaths, Gruber dives and tags ‘Neon Deion’ on the heel. However, second-base umpire Bob Davidson gets the call wrong, taking away what would have been the first World Series triple play since 1920.

As an aside, the great Vin Scully had this to say about White’s catch: “I saw Mays’ catch. And this one, to me, was better.”