Friday, June 20, 2008

Blue Jays Midseason Report Card

So I'm going to a Jays game next week with an old friend from grade school, and between the two of us hanging out and Cito Gaston in the home dugout, I had to isn't 1991, right? We didn't fall through a wormhole? We won't have to rush back to London after the game in order to get home in time for Mrs. Dalton's grade four homeroom the next morning?

I was going to write a Blue Jays midseason review article next week when the team actually hit the 81-game midway point of baseball season, but this Cito hiring demands an early comment. First of all, I'll have to retire my John Gibbons impression, which got so many laughs during last year's ball trip. It is somehow fitting that Gibbons finished with an exact .500 record (305-305) in his tenure during this, the most listlessly mediocre era of Toronto's history.

On the bright side, the Jays kept Brad Arnsberg, who I'm half-convinced should have a statue built in his honor outside the Rogers Centre for the work he's done in coaching the best pitching staff in baseball. On the downside, this is the last gasp of a desperate general manager. J.P. must know he's gone at season's end unless Cito somehow swings a replay of 1989 and turns around an underachieving Jays team after taking over in midseason. As has been detailed before on this blog, I haven't been a big fan of most of Ricciardi's moves. To use a poker analogy, he reminds me of a player who keeps going all in with 3-3 or 4-4 because he has a slight statistical advantage, but then couldn't understand why he often lost. I don't doubt that J.P. is having the most frustrating time of his life in watching this team that is good on paper continue to fail, but before the year started, this was simply a team that wasn't ready to contend. Maybe in any other AL division or in the National League, but not in the AL East. Perhaps this frustration is the reason that J.P. inexplicably had a rang on Adam Dunn on the radio the other night. Some better writers than I have already pointed out the ridiculousness of J.P.'s comments, but let me just add that it's a good thing guys like Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Mench, Shannon Stewart, David Eckstein and Rod Barajas are great humanitarians in addition to being some of MLB's best players. Wait, what's that? Those guys all couldn't carry Adam Dunn's jock? Oh. I'd add in a comment about Toronto not going after Barry Bonds either, but that looks more and more like an unspoken decision handed down from the commissioner's office, not from Jays management.

Maybe Frank Thomas didn't like baseball either. That move still baffles me. I was no fan of the signing in the first place, since I thought the Hurt would regress after his comeback 2006 season, and getting a full-time DH would mean Troy Glaus would have to play the whole year in the field (which unsurprisingly led to an injury-filled season for Glaus). But I hated the release even more. If Thomas had reached a certain number of at-bats, his option would've been automatically guaranteed for 2009, so it seems that the release was based solely on money. Thomas' traditional slow start gave management the excuse it needed to cut him, and Thomas' reaction to being told his playing time would be cut due to this slow start was the icing on the cake. Now, riddle me this: what did Jays management think was going to happen here? That Thomas would smile at the idea of riding the pine, while he rode through his usual early-season slump? This whole thing must've been in the back of the heads of Ricciardi and company in the off-season, but what puzzles me is that once things came to pass, there was no backup plan in place. One would've thought that Adam Lind would've been called up and given a shot, but instead, it was a cavalcade of mediocrity taking that ninth spot in the lineup. Joe Inglett, Barajas (in one of Gibbons' favourite moves, putting both his catchers in the lineup at the same time, which never failed to amaze me), eventually Wilkerson and Mench....meanwhile, Lind got 20 at-bats and was sent back down to Triple-A. Ghuh? Lind is only hitting .330/.396/.537 down on the farm, so you'd think he's ready to go. But Ricciardi kept dismissing calls to bring Lind up, which leads to two schools of thought. One, the Jays think there's something preventing Lind from being a good major leaguer, which isn't good news given that he's the team's top prospect. Two, Ricciaridi doesn't know what he's doing with Lind, similar to how Dustin McGowan struggled after being yo-yoed around for several years before finally being called up and made a full-time starter. Neither option is a good thing. If the plan was to release big Frank and save a few bucks, fine, but at least have a plan B once that happens.

So the Jays release arguably their best hitter. Great. That's okay, Vernon Wells can pick up the slack....oh, no, wait, he's injured for a month and when healthy is the king of double plays. Well, fine, there's always Aaron Hill....wait a tick, he's hurt too, and was playing like garbage even before his concussion. All right then, what about the third of Toronto's stars, Alex Rios? He's been healthy as a horse all season....but has been playing like a dog. These are Toronto's long-term cornerstones, folks. The fact that they're all either regressing or having problems staying on the field is a bad sign.

Exactly zero hitters have picked up the slack. Lyle Overbay has sandwiched two horrible slumps around a 20-game stretch of being red-hot. I have no real issues with Overbay --- he at least gets a number of walks even when slumping, but he is the Fortinbras to Wells' Claudius as the king of the DPs. Matt Stairs is a cult hero because he's a big Canadian slugger, but there's a reason why this guy hasn't been a major league starter in almost a decade. Scott Rolen has actually been terrific, though in a slump as of late. I love the guy's glove, however. I've already discussed the other mediocrities, which oh by the way have comprised as much of two-thirds of Toronto's lineup at various points this year.

Pitching's been great. Of course, about an hour before I wrote this, Roy Halladay had to leave tonight's game after being hit in the head with a line drive, a play that made every Jays fan shit themselves, but apparently he'll be alright. I'm still mulling over which number to get on my Jays throwback jersey, but trust me, #32 is high on the list of options. Anyway, yeah, the pitching. It's been so good I have really little to say about it. McGowan is great at home and terrible on the road, Burnett seems just the opposite, Litsch is maybe starting to show some cracks, but Marcum and Halladay have been great, and should be Toronto's two All-Star reps. The bullpen has been very solid, and perhaps even a bit underrated given Ryan's propensity for blowing saves in bunches, which gives the impression that he has pitched worse than he actually has (guy was almost perfect in May). In short, if you're a sculptor in the Toronto area, contact me about preliminary designs for the Arnsberg statue.

So that's the Blue Jays. A team still three or four players away from being considered real contenders. A team that in all probability needs the shift in planning that comes from getting a new general manager. Maybe the change at manager will turn things around, but as I write this, the Jays just lost a 12-inning, 1-0 game to the bottom-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates. Sigh. If Cito doesn't work out, maybe the next move is to get another former Jays manager....Tim Johnson. I believe he's over in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.


Chad Nevett said...

I've got to agree with most of what you've said. I was a fan of the Thomas release, at first, because I think him demanding to be played during a slump like that was a bit too much. He could have played a few games a week while working his way through it--but he put himself above the team. However, you're right, there was no plan to fill that void, which made the move pretty worthless. They only did half of the necessary job.

I've been really liking Marco Scutaro when he's been given a chance to play. He's really just been used as a fill-in guy, but he's great on defence, has some good speed on the base path, and gets on base a fair amount. I'd like to see him used more than he has been.

What I'm hoping is that Gaston (whose hiring for the job shocked the hell out of me) gets the team into a more set line-up. The line-up has been in such flux that it's no wonder the team can't get anything going. And I don't blame Gibbons for that since there's been some injuries and guys not playing at the level expected, but still... part of getting into a winning pattern is some consistency and the Jays have lacked that this year. It seems once a game I'll ask "Who the hell is that and where is [*insert player*]?"

Out of curiosity, with the current players, what would your starting line-up be? I think mine would be Barajas (C), Overbay (1), McDonald (2), Eckstein (SS), Rolen (3), Scutaro (LF), Wells (CF), Rios (LF) and Stairs (DH).

Mark P said...

Scutaro is a good OBP guy, but he's not a very good overall hitter. He's perfect as a supersub, playing every day he becomes a liability.

Okay, my lineup....

1. Overbay. I know, weird, huh? But he's the most consistent OBP threat on the team.
2. Rolen
3. Stairs
4. Rios
5. Wells
6. Hill
7. Barajas/Zaun....both have their ups and downs, I have no preference either way and would the Jays just got someone good
8. Whoever The Shitty Left Fielder Is
9. Eckstein four days a week, McDonald on days that Halladay starts

Mark P said...

Actually wait, screw #8, I'd call up Adam Lind.

Chad Nevett said...

Since Scutaro has speed, I forgive his lacklustre hitting, especially since he does have a good OBP.

I didn't include Hill in my line-up right now because of injury. When he's back, I'd rotate Eckstein and McDonald. As for batting order, I think I'd go:

1. Eckstein
2. Overbay
3. Rios
4. Wells
5. Stairs
6. Scutaro
7. Rolen
8. McDonald
9. Barajas