Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Blue Jays rumours

I love the MLB winter meetings. Every major GM, team executive and agent (and even players themselves) in the same place and the same time trying to make moves and signings that will set them up for at least the next season and perhaps years or decades to come. I've been told by some of my sportswriter friends that it's hardly as exciting as it sounds -- one memorable recounting of the winter meetings was simply, "I spent three days in a hotel phoning the same three people over and over again without ever going outside." Hey, that's no skin off of my back. I love being indoors! I'm indoors right now! I have dark circles under my eyes that no doubt come from both a lack of direct sunlight and an erratic sleeping schedule. I'm evolving into a raccoon.

A few major moves have already been made, including a massive deal between Florida and Detroit that will no doubt have my Tiger fan pal Kyle just about ready to name his first-born Dontrelle and tattoo orange-and-black stripes down his right leg. Boston and the Yankees are exchanging offers with Minnesota about Johan Santana with the Angels, Mets and Dodgers also perhaps joining the bidding if the Cold War franchises can't come up with a package that satisfies the Twins. Star aces like Erik Bedard and Dan Haren may also be on the move to one of these teams that can't land Santana. Two more Japanese stars (Hiroki Kuroda and Kosuke Fukudome) are on the market and will be coming to North America in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays... are getting new throwback uniforms for some home games! Sigh.

Ok, those power-blue retro jerseys are actually pretty awesome, and I will almost certainly be getting one. But it's a little disheartening to hear that for the second straight offseason, Toronto management isn't planning on doing much to improve a team that clearly was not good enough to contend for the playoffs last year. The party line is that the Jays were crippled by injuries last season (which is true, almost half the roster spent time on the DL) and now that everyone is back healthy, the bats will get hot again to go along with the seemingly improved rotation, and Toronto will be in the hunt. This is a good idea in theory. But, as Homer Simpson said, in theory, communism works. If nothing else, last season answered the question of which is more frustrating: a team that can hit but can't pitch (the 2006 Jays) or a team that can pitch but can't hit (the 2007 Jays). The answer is clearly B. You always have a puncher's chance in a slugfest, but man, it is soul-crushing to watch a pitcher like Halladay or Marcum throw a gem just to see the lineup turn in yet another four-hit, one-run outing against some journeyman right-hander.

But hey, no team is really 'inactive' at the winter meetings as long as there are other teams that can make unexpected and promising offers. Here's my take on some of the rumours swirling around the Blue Jays and the likelihood of any of them actually happening.

* San Francisco sends Matt Cain and/or Tim Lincecum to Toronto for some combination of Alex Rios, Adam Lind and/or Troy Glaus

First of all, I have a hard time believing this deal is anywhere close to happening. The Giants aren't going anywhere next season with their ancient roster, and severing ties with Barry Bonds is the first step towards getting rid of some of the veteran dead wood on their team and rebuilding. Dealing two young aces of the future who have already shown skills at the major league level would therefore be the dumbest thing that San Fran could possibly do. Then again, J.P. was already able to somehow get Jeremy Accardo from SF in 2006 for Vinnie "Chulkamania is Runnin' Wild on You" Chulk and noted team player Shea Hillenbrand, so maybe the Jays are Giants GM Brian Sabean's bogey team. You know how some teams just seem always seem to beat other teams or some players just always seem to dominate against certain opponents? Maybe it works that way with general managers, too. Perhaps Sabean is fraught with nightmares about being attacked by a pack of gulls a la Tippi Hedren in The Birds, except these birds all have thick New England accents and are squawking "Five-year plan! Awk!" Or perhaps the universe is doling out some karma after the Giants franchise teased Toronto with a move back in the mid-1970's. Every other deal between the Giants and Jays in history has landed squarely in Toronto's favour. Look at the January 26, 1985 swap that sent Augie Schmidt, Jack McKnight and Jim Gott to the Bay in exchange for lefty Gary Lavelle. A slam-dunk steal for the Jays in that one. Gary Lavelle made the Hall of Fame, built an orphange with his bare hands and saved Toronto from a crime wave headed by the evil Poison Ivy.

Anyway, it's unlikely that Lincecum and Cain will be moved, and if they are, it won't be for the package of Rios/Lind/Glaus. Rios is money, but a young pitcher is overall more valuable than a young hitter, especially one like Rios who will be on the open market way sooner than Lincecum or Cain will. Lind has shown flashes of talent but probably won't end up being anything to write home about. Glaus might end up being a victim of the Mitchell report, but more directly, he simply can't handle the rigors of playing 162 games at third base. One of the central reasons why last winter's Frank Thomas signing was a boneheaded move (apart from reason #1, that the Hurt apparently thought you couldn't start hitting for a Canadian team until Canada Day) is that it really clogged John Gibbons' ability to juggle his lineup. In 2006, the Blue Jays actually had a pretty good thing going with Overbay the nominal first baseman, Glaus at third and Hillenbrand at DH. The Jays could put Glaus at DH on some days to give him some rest while Shea played third, or give Glaus days off altogether while Shea played third, Overbay stayed at first and someone like Reed Johnson, Frank Catalanotto, Bengie Molina, Gregg Zaun or even Eric Hinske DH'ed. It was a good mixture that kept everyone fresh, though it did lead to some harsh feelings from Molina, Hillenbrand and possibly Frankie Cat over playing time. With Thomas locked in at DH, however, Glaus was locked in at third, and his body just couldn't take playing a full season on the Rog's turf. He'd be on grass on San Fran, but still, it would be risky for the Giants to take on an injury-prone guy and expect him to play the field every day without even the fallback of stashing him at DH.

If I'm the Jays and there is any chance to get Cain and Lincecum for the aforementioned trio (or a deal like Glaus/Lind for either pitcher, or Rios straight up for either), I'd take it in a heartbeat. J.P. would be doing Frank the Bell Mobility Beaver's yes-yes-yes dance if Sabean offered him this trade. It makes Toronto's 2008 rotation into Halladay, Burnett, Lincecum, McGowan, Cain, with Marcum, Janssen, Litsch and maybe even Chacin as other starting options in case of injury. Good lord. In a league where young pitchers are blue chip commodities, teams would be lining up to send offers Toronto's way. Burnett (who has an option to leave after 2008 and almost certainly will if he has any kind of a good season) could be traded early. There were whispers that the Jays weren't sold on Marcum long-term and were planning to sell high, so if those were true, they could afford to move him. The bottom line is not only that the Jays would have a sick rotation, they'd also have more than enough pitchers to move for a big-ticket outfielder and/or third baseman that could make up for the loss of Rios and Lind. Toronto would afford said OF/3B with the money they'd save on Glaus' contract.

However, like I said, this deal isn't likely to happen unless Sabean knows something we don't know about Lincecum's arm that we don't know --- the combo of his velocity, arm movement and slight frame has long been targeted as an injury waiting to happen. I guess if this deal happened and Lincecum ended up hurt, it would suck on a Mike Sirotka-esque level, but who's to say that Brad Arnsberg couldn't work some of his magic and turn Lincecum into the animal that most scouts say he can be. I mean, 150 K's in 146 1/3 innings?? A K-to-BB ratio of roughly 2.5 to 1? A 111 ERA+ in his first season? Lord have mercy! AL East hitters will tremble at the sight of the, wait. Yikes. Ok, first step, we've got to think up a better nickname.

* San Diego sends something to Toronto for Josh Towers

If 'something' is anything more than a bag of baseballs, the Jays should probably take it. If J.P. is somehow able to convince a team to give up something of value for a pitcher who has either totally lost it or simply isn't able to pitch in Toronto any more, Ricciardi might have made the sharpest move of his tenure. Honestly, though, I can't help but wonder if Towers might actually return to form if the Jays just stuck him in the pen and left him there instead of constantly jerking him between starting, relieving and the minors. Then again, when the name 'Josh Towers' becomes synonymous among Jays fans for crappy pitching, you know the bloom is off the rose.

* Baltimore sends Erik Bedard to Toronto for....wait....

Yeah, this one isn't happening. The O's should work harder to get their star pitcher signed to a long-term deal, not put him on the market at the first hint of stalled negotiations. If they do end up moving Bedard, it almost certainly wouldn't be to a division rival unless the Jays offered a jaw-droppingly ridiculous offer that would probably end up leaving the Toronto roster and farm system worse off than it currently is. It's likely that the Jays wouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as Bedard trade rumours were it not for the fact that Bedard is Canadian. Yeah, that would sure bring the fans in. Who can forget the 50,000+ crowds that packed the SkyDome in the early 90's to watch Denis Boucher and Rob Butler?

* Cleveland sends Franklin Gutierrez and Cliff Lee to Toronto for Alex Rios

Remember when I was listing off all of those Toronto pitchers earlier? None of them (save Chacin, who's a longshot to even make the roster next year) are left-handers. Now I don't think this matters as much as some people think, but it would be nice to have one strong southpaw to wreak havoc on one of the powerful left-handed bats in the AL East like Big Papi, Abreu, Matsui and notorious Jay-killers Carl Crawford and Jorge Posada. Cliff Lee is NOT that pitcher. He has badly regressed from his breakout 2005 campaign and hit rock bottom last season. Lee is like a higher-profile version of Josh Towers at this point. If the Tribe are interesting in moving Lee, he might be worth a mild offer as a reclamation project to see if Arnsberg can fix him, but he isn't nearly valuable enough to deal Rios for him. Gutierrez is a well-regarded prospect, but again, you would need a lot more than he and Lee to get Toronto's best offensive player in return. Ricciardi flatly denied any sort of deal like this was actually proposed, so hopefully this one was just a product of the rumour mill. I think it may have been started by my friend Cliff Lee, who would love to see his namesake pitch for the Jays. Sorry, Cliff. If you feel like changing your name to Dan Haren, we can try this one again.

* Toronto has shown some interest in free-agent catcher Paul Lo Duca

The idea here is that Lo Duca and Gregg Zaun would split time at catcher while the club waits for Curtis Thigpen or Robinson Diaz to develop. I don't mind this move provided that PLD signs for a reasonable price. Zaun, god bless him, is a team leader and calls a good game (and probably deserves some credit for the development of these Jays pitchers last year), but he can't hit, can't field and he throws out fewer people than I did in my year working as a bouncer. In my defense, it was a pretty calm bar. The only person I had to physically remove was a drunken girl that threw her beer at another drunken young lady in a minor melee near the coat-check area. This, er, menace was an imposing 5'1 and maybe 100 pounds in size, but I managed to remove her from the premises by simply picking her up around the waist and carrying her to the door, as she screamed obscenities over my shoulder at the victim of her beer-toss. The way I see it is, if I had been a really good bouncer, my livelihood would've been threatened by the town millionaire that lived across the pond from me, and my mentor Sam Elliott would've been murdered. That was my favourite of the many hilarious parts of Road House --- that Swayze and Brad Wesley lived literally 50 damn yards away from each other. Road House is perfect as it is, but it would've been even more perfect with more scenes of Swayze and Wesley shaking their fists at each other across the pond.

Anyway, I seem to have gotten way off-topic. Lo Duca would be an upgrade. I might argue that he isn't necessary and that it's time to just elevate Thigpen into a full-time platoon with Zaun, except the Jays have talked about moving Thigpen to first base or the outfield. Also, given Toronto's recent history at developing catchers, I'll believe Thigpen and Diaz are good when I see it. Kevin Cash! Angel/Sandy Martinez! Guillermo Quiroz! Josh Phelps!

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