Griff's Baseball Mailbag is Back
Questions on improvement, the rotation and the loss of Teo and Lourdes
Griff’s 2023 Baseball Mailbag – Edition I
Greetings from the Maritimes. Over the off-season, the Blue Jays front office seemed able to fill most of the team’s apparent weaknesses. That being said, (GM Ross) Atkins seemed to come up short when it came to filling out the rotation with a reliable fifth starter. Every season, it seems teams need at least 10 starters. In your opinion, what does the Jays rotation depth chart look like and is it deep enough?
Hedley, Millville, NB
A-Very rarely does any team, no matter how much money it spent in the off-season, enter spring training with every position filled and success guaranteed, secure in the knowledge that there is no more to be done. With regard to the Blue Jays and the upcoming ‘23 season, the main concerns have obviously become the back end of the rotation, good health in centre and right field and a harder throwing bullpen that misses more bats. To steal a phrase from Ontario: “Yours to Discover”.
I vividly recall, as a Star columnist, the first day of full-camp spring training 2005, crossing the overhead bridge at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, looking down at five mounds where the projected Yankee rotation was all warming up, at the same time. It was intimidating. The Pinstriped Fab Five consisted of Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. My thought was “Who’s ever going to beat this team?” Wright was the recently signed fifth starter. He was coming off a 32-start season for the Braves, posting a 15-8 record and a 3.28 ERA. Bottom line is that Yankees squad was loaded. However, consider that in the end that starry 5-man group made just 107 starts, combining for a 43-34 record and 642-1/3 innings (an average of 128 IP per man). The Yankees by the end of 2005, needed a total of 14 starters (about the norm), including an aging Al Leiter and a forever mediocre Tanyon Sturtze. Yet they won 95 games. They figured it out over 162 games.
Right now, the Jays have a sturdy Top 4 in the rotation. Yusei Kikuchi and his guaranteed contract own the pole position for the fifth starter derby. He has not put a full season together in years.
Prediction here is that over six months of the regular season, beyond the current rotation of five, Jays fans could see starts from any or all of RH Mitch White, LH Ricky Tiedemann, RH Bowden Francis, RH Drew Hutchison, RH Thomas Hatch, RH Casey Lawrence and RH Zach Thompson.
Will MLB have robot umpires eventually? Your thoughts on them?
Trevor, Saskatoon, Sk
A-Hate them. Hate the idea that the arrival of robo-umps is inevitable. To me, baseball is the only sport right now where, with the approval of the league office, its officials have the chance of being publicly embarrassed on every pitch. That is thanks to the omni-present on-screen strike box and the super slo-mo replays from every direction on checked swings and safe/out calls on the bases and at the plate. Imagine if the NBA held its officials up to the same scrutiny. Imagine if NBA broadcasters pointed out every uncalled three-second violation or first step travel on dribbles, or obvious stroll of five crooked and rule-bending steps down the lane leading to a highlight-reel slam. Baseball’s on-screen strike box distracts and ruins the enjoyment of baseball on TV. That being said, the soon-to-be re-directed focus on robo-umps will do the same. As an umpire, Jocko Conlan was likely no better than Bruce Froemming, but Jocko is a hall-of-famer. Bruce? Because of replay, not so much.
Q-Hey Griff –
Long time (Andrew) Stoeten Mailbag Reader, first time Griff Mailbag submittor (signed up for your substack as well, can't wait to read all your answers this time!).
My question: What's the inside scuttlebutt on the Teo (Hernandez)/Lourdes (Gurriel, Jr.) trades this offseason? (Mark) Shapiro definitely hinted in his interview with the Toronto Sun (Rob Longley) that "maturation" of the clubhouse culture was a priority, and that fun and joy were a big part of the team last year, but they wanted to balance that with more... I guess seriousness and intensity.
I'm dying to know what the inside story is on Teo and Lourdes if it was writing on the wall that they'd be traded this offseason, how the rest of the clubhouse felt - especially more outwardly serious guys like Bo and Chapman, if Schneider coming in had anything to do with it, etc. etc. etc. WHAT'S THE INSIDE SCOOP!
Eric A. Toronto
A-The Jays have won 90+ games, two seasons in a row. In pro sports, to continue winning one must continue evolving and moving forward. For proof, look at the changes the 1992-93 Blue Jays World Series teams made. One might suggest that they won in ‘92 so why not bring back the same group and go for it again, yet GM Pat Gillick and President Paul Beeston did not. This ’22 Jays group was good but obviously came up short, so changes were to be expected.
Teoscar and Lourdes were eligible for free agency at the end of ’23, but the Jays have other long-term contract priorities, especially with Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and Alek Manoah. In terms of whether the Gente del Barrio and the fun and camaraderie that group showed every night at the end of the dugout had any adverse effect on the team’s performance, the answer is no. I was in the dugout for a YouTube game in Kansas City setting up a fourth inning manager interview. Vlad’s second at-bat, he made a soft out in the midst of a personal slump and came back to sulk in the Barrio. Immediately Gurriel pinned him to the back wall and got in his face, along with George Springer, lecturing him to snap out of it, shake off the failure and get ready to play the field. So, no, it was never the too-much-fun those players were having that was the main factor. Television cameras preferred to focus on the sunflower seeds and the home-run jacket, but this group wanted to win. It just didn’t happen in 2022. Schneider does not have that power. He plays the cards he is dealt.
Long-time reader when you were with The Star and happy to have you covering the game again. I feel the last couple years have been the same hype and the same (unfortunate) results. In your opinion, what can we expect to be different this season?
Cheers and looking forward to following your stuff this season this season.
Mark C. Kingston, Ontario
A-Let’s see. Things that will be different this season? First, there’s the balanced schedule wherein the annual, grinding AL East intramurals with 19 games against each foe will no longer drain the September energy from any of the five division rivals. That seems like not much but means a lot, when you see a team like the AL West Astros clinch early and be able to set up the rotation, rest key players down the late-season stretch and win the World Series.
What else? There’s the expected improvement, as they hit their mid-20s of Bo Bichette and Vlad, Jr. Combine that with a better understanding of what pitchers are trying to do to them and a Rogers Centre configuration with shorter power alleys and it’s something to watch for. I believe, also, that the bullpen is deeper and harder-throwing, especially at the front end in middle innings. In fact, it says here because of depth, the bullpen that ended the ’22 season will not be the same group by May 1.
From all indications, the Blue Jays have upgraded their defence, especially in the outfield. But as wonderful a player as Bo Bichette is, his defence remains the weakest part of his game. Should Jays fans looking for a pennant be concerned?
Rob M. Montreal
A-Rob, being from Montreal, you will surely remember the Expos shortstops Hubie Brooks and Wil Cordero, neither of whom was Ozzie Smith or Baryshnikov in the field, but made up for it with strong offensive production and by making all the routine plays. There are reasons to believe that everything Bichette needs to do to improve defensively is in his head. It’s not more groundballs. You can see some of the out-of-your-seat plays he makes in the hole shuffling and racing to his right and those are all instinct and athleticism. It’s when he has time on balls hit directly to him that errant throws tend to occur. He works hard with infield coach Luis Rivera every day, never missing a pre-game session with the machine that spits out hard grounders to a fielder on his knees about five paces away. Bo is a solid athlete with great motor skills. He had a chance to be a nationally-rated junior tennis player growing up. It’s not the main reason for giving him the contract, but maybe being secure and wealthy for the next three years will free up his defensive skills. Otherwise, one could do worse than comps to Brooks and Cordero.
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