Griff's Baseball Mailbag - March 8, 2023
Blue Jays issues, fate of Nate, Canada in the WBC and more
Griff’s Baseball Mailbag … Edition 2
March 8, 2023
Every season, there are some Blue Jays disappointments, but there are also a few pleasant surprises. Last season I would consider (Cavan) Biggio’s year a disappointment considering the fans’ expectations. But we also saw (Santiago) Espinal go from role player to an All-Star. Who or what are a few areas of the team you think could be a pleasant surprise for Jays fans this coming season.
A-As solid as Matt Chapman was defensively at third base, a year ago, I believe that his production at the plate will take a giant leap forward. There is always for Chapman a combination of comfort and motivation that coexists within the former all-star. He seems to have reached a comfort level after a year of adjustment. He has his routine and he sticks to it every day. Last year was not routine. His was a season-long transition starting at spring training. He began as new-kid-on-the-block, reporting from A’s to Jays, from Arizona to Florida, from low expectations to post-season or bust. As an example of the importance of his comfort, I struggled with him on a request in Sept. in Pittsburgh. It was the third game of the series and, in advance, he had reluctantly agreed to do a live interview for Peacock at the top step of the dugout, just 30 seconds before the game. But that same afternoon he found he was batting leadoff for a very rare time and he balked at the interview. He finally agreed, going far outside his comfort zone, to do the 15-second intrusion, but only after I told him that when Mookie Betts had done it for Peacock, he had homered. This time Chapman flied to right and I fled the dugout. As for the motivation part, Matt is a pending free agent. He was not considered for the Gold Glove in ’22 and also felt he was a better hitter. Motivated with a chance to prove he deserves to be considered among the elite.
Happy to have your baseball insights again now that you are back on the writing side of the game. Was wondering what you think the biggest obstacle for the Jays will be this year. How would you propose they overcome it?
John S, Ajax
A-It’s amazing how every off-season, there are at least 20 teams that make roster moves, via trades and/or free agency, then believe they are ready to contend. There are only 10 playoff teams. The biggest obstacle for the Jays, in following up on seasons of 91-92 wins, is this: Can they repeat 2022 numbers and win 79 of the 123 games started by the top four starters, Manoah, Gausman, Bassitt and Berrios? That’s a great baseline of health and success from which to build, but daunting would be the task of winning 23 Berrios starts if he struggles again. That number had the Top 4 at a combined 79-44. It would mean that anything Yusei Kikuchi could contribute would be gravy.
Q-Realistically, can Nate Pearson, at age 26, finally command the strike zone, stay healthy, and become a fraction of the pitcher the Jays expected him to become? I’m getting tired of the hype, especially since his flawless performance in the DR.
A-I have a strong belief that Pearson can open the season on the MLB roster, with Mitch White likely to open on the IL. Nate’s role is finally clear – at least for 2023. He is not a starting candidate. He is a reliever with the ability to record 4+ outs, that flirts with 100 m.p.h. but has logged just 202.1 innings in six pro seasons. For a long time, he talked about ending up as a starter, publicly backed in that belief by the Jays front office. But his 12 appearances in the Dominican Winter League with a 0.00 ERA may energized him for that relief role. Besides, all of a sudden relievers are being rewarded financially and a year in the majors is priceless compared to any time in the minors.
Q-Would the return of the Expos to Montreal be a good or a bad thing for the Blue Jays and do you think this is a real possibility at this point?
Grant C. Brockville
A-Does the existence of the Canadiens affect the mindset of fans of the Maple Leafs? No. The main effect of MLB returning to Montreal would be sharing what is now the Jays’ National television market and would the two broadcast entities be able to play nicely -- Rogers and Bell. In terms of could it happen… with Rays and A’s relocation seemingly off the table, that leaves multi-billion dollar expansion and, recently, with all major leagues enticed by the Siren’s Song of sports gambling, Las Vegas will surely get one of those and an American city east of the Mississippi the other.
Long-time fan! My question is, now that the Blue Jays have shored up outfield defense and the bullpen. What is a potential area of weakness for the team in the first couple of months in the season?
All the best,
A-There are not that many. One area to watch may be the combined contributions of DH, especially if the primary candidate vs. righthanders is going to be Brandon Belt. It is reminiscent of Travis Shaw and the lofty expectations surrounding him in 2020. The other may be the lag-time in April/May before home field becomes a home field advantage. In April, the new dimensions will be new for both teams. But they will work quickly to learn the nuances of the dimensions. Drunk Jays fans over the visitors bullpen will add to the ambience.
1-If I remember, reports from Expos’ spring training in 1990 centred on which of (Marquis) Grissom or (Larry) Walker would make the team. Wise baseball reporters suggested only one would, or could, with outfield returnees (Dave) Martinez, (Otis) Nixon, and (Tim) Raines around. Both seemingly had extra base hits or multiple hits or steals or fine defense every game and, in the end, both made the team.
2-Addison Barger has been a standout this year and I wonder are the powers that be looking at prospect pedigree, off-season development, roster fit, or actual GF league results when making the roster call? How does this shake out, then or now?
A-Good memory. The three young position players that all broke in at the same time with the 1990 Expos signalled the start of a competitive stretch that should have lasted through the ‘90s… except that Expos Express was derailed for good by the ’94 strike. Delino DeShields was a given out of camp at second base and it did seem like one of either Grissom or Walker would head north with the team. But they both earned spots. They had each come up late in the ’89 season and Grissom had outperformed the Maple Ridge phenom, who missed the entire ’88 season at home on his couch rehabbing a knee he injured in Mexico winter ball. Walker was considered a platoon outfielder at best in ’90, so Grissom had the inside track. Martinez was the incumbent in centre, with Raines in left. All three youngsters received rookie-of-the-year votes in ’90.
As for Barger, if he’s not going to play every day, then there is no need to keep him in the majors. His development as a minor-league third baseman will give them a fallback on free-agent negotiations with Chapman.
Team Canada has never advanced beyond the first round of the WBC in four previous attempts. What do you think of their chances to advance past the first round this year, in Phoenix.
Jon B. Calgary
A-It won’t be easy for Ernie Whitt, Greg Hamilton and Team Canada. They need to finish Top 2 in a round-robin, five-day tourney in a tough Group C with USA, Mexico, Colombia and Great Britain. Canada begins on Sunday, March 12 with the Brits, which should be a win. To be safe and move to Round 2, they need to win 2 of 3 vs. the rest, ending with Mexico on March 15. It always seems there’s added drama when Canada plays Mexico. This game could be for the right to move on. Coach Larry Walker described his 2013 standoff with an angry Alfredo Aceves as “looking into the eyes of Satan.”
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