Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Doc's Last Start?

It appears the Jays have gone past the point of no return regarding the future of Roy Halladay and will likely trade the former (2003) and future (2009? 2010?) Cy Young winner sometime before the July 31st trading deadline.

Or not.

The message is entirely unclear. J.P. Riccardi (rightly) continues to hold out for the best deal possible but when reading between the quotes uttered by Halladay, the indication is that Roy may have already emotionally moved on. Even though the soft deadline Riccardi initially set of July 28 for trading Halladay has already passed, I still think ultimately they'll move him. His value now is infinitely higher than it will be in the winter or at next year's deadline.

That made today's start in Seattle quite possibly the final time Blue Jays fans will see Halladay pitch in a Toronto uniform, and here is the CSJ live blog that followed it...

3:31 - Ouch. Our first look at the broadcast team and today's analyst is Rance Mulliniks. Why can't Rogers throw us a damn bone and give us Pat Tabler for all 162 games?

3:32 - Play-by-play man Jamie Campbell and Mulliniks discuss whether Halladay is the best pitcher in Jays history. As much as I love Doc (and it is indeed a sizable man-crush), Dave Stieb has to sit atop the list. Stieb has the franchise record for wins (176 to Halladay's 142), has the only no-hitter a Blue Jays pitcher has ever thrown, and he won the World Series in 1992. It's not even close.

3:37 - Today's Jays line-up features Kevin Millar. Kevin Freaking Millar. Even with the lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith on the mound for the Mariners, this has to be an F-U move by Cito to me personally. Millar was washed up two years ago and his only current motivation for playing is going back to Boston three times a year to reminisce. Why aren't the Jays trying Lind at first?

3:42 - Aaron Hill hits his 295th line-drive of the season. Ok fine, I made that up, but he continues to hit everything hard. This liner gets caught for the second out, but the point is Hill has quickly risen to the elite-level. He may not be the best second-baseman in baseball, but he's in the discussion.

3:46 - Rowland-Smith retires the Jays in order so I flip over to to see a breaking report that says the team that has been most prominently mentioned as a Halladay destination, the Phillies, are about to land Cliff Lee from Cleveland. Ahhhh, maybe this isn't going to be Doc's last start as a Jay?

3:50 - Doc sits down Franklin Gutierrez for his first strikeout of the afternoon but Jose Lopez pulls a double down the line to ensure Halladay doesn't throw a no-no in his Jays finale.

3:51 - Luckily for every team facing Seattle, Ken Griffey Jr. hits clean-up for the Mariners (and it's 2009 not 1999), and is up next. Inning over.

3:56 - The Jays, most notably Rios and Wells, combine to make Rowland-Smith throw a total of five pitches to get through the top of the second. Sportsnet shows a graphic that shows Mariners right-fielder Michael Saunders is the 10th Canadian to play for Seattle. Then Campbell asks Mulliniks if he could name two more? Then silence. Then Campbell offers a huge hint that results in Mulliniks mentioning former teammate Rob Ducey. I'll help you out here Rance: Eric Bedard.

4:01 - Halladay hits Kenji Johjima with an inside pitch that sounded on TV like it hit the bottom of the bat. But since Roy doesn't argue or complain I assume the ump made the right call. Then Jack Hannahan hits a grounder to Millar at first who bobbles it but still tags him out only the ump calls Hannahan safe. This time Halladay (and Millar) vehemently argue the call which makes me believe the ump got it wrong. The replay shows he did.

4:06 - Former Jay Chris Woodward lines a single to left but Jose Bautista nails Johjima at home with another great throw to keep the game scoreless.

4:09 - Doc k's the Canadian kid Saunders. Still bagels on the board.

4:12 - The Jays catch a break when Lopez drops a Rod Barajas pop-up but an out-of-shape Millar blows it by getting thrown out at second. Mulliniks tells viewers "that was not a base-running error by Millar". Well, I'm here to say that was definitely a base-running error. Lopez was running towards the right-field foul line and dropped the ball towards the stands, then let it roll while shaking his hand before realizing Millar and his cement feet were nowhere near second.

4:19 - Marco Scutaro pops up to end the Jays half of the third. Lost amid the constant Halladay trade speculation is what to do with Marco Scutaro? The 33 year-old short-stop and soon to be free-agent is having a career year and will surely get a significant raise over the $1.1 million he's making this year...but what is he worth moving forward? His defence has been better than expected and his professionalism and grit are desperately needed but his 2009 OBP (.388) is 50 points above his career average (.335) and he's going to set personal bests in almost every offensive category (AB's, R, H, 2B, HR, RBI, SB, BB), giving himself tremendous bargaining power. I am extremely worried about the career-year heading into free-agency syndrome.

4:22 - Ichiro lays down a bunt and pretty much flies to first base, not even drawing a throw from the fielding Halladay. So cheap.

4:26 - Ichiro reaches third base with two out but it's Griffey's turn to bat again. Advantage Doc, who induces a weak pop-up from the former All-Star.

4:33 - With Rowland-Smith continuing his Roy Halladay (or maybe even Mark Buehrle) impersonation the Jays go down in order quickly in the fourth. When the real Halladay heads back out, Shelton leads off the Mariners fourth with a bloop single that leaves Halladay smoldering (four hits but only two balls hit hard combined with multiple errors to create unwarranted baserunners). Of course Roy being Roy, he doesn't let it get to him. He re-focuses and gets out of the jam like he's done a million other times over the course of his career.

4:42 - Vernon Wells swings at the first pitch he sees and pops it up. Shocking. Then Millar swings at strike three and I punch myself in the face.

4:49 - Doc throws five pitches to get the first two outs in the bottom of the fifth but then gets in a battle with Lopez who hits a solo homer on a 3-2 count to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead. Griffey and his .209 average somehow manage to drive a double to left-center but Roy gets Shelton on another strike-out to end the inning.

4:59 - In his 15th start Rowland-Smith has a no-hitter going through six innings as the Jays threaten to make Roy Halladay's potential final start all too similar to so many of his previous starts: A great pitching performance wasted by a lack of offence.

5:07 - Halladay goes 1-2-3 in the sixth but is up to 94 pitches on the day. It'll be interesting to see how many they let him throw, with a deal potentially looming.

5:10 - Hill laces a single to left to break up the no-no and Adam Lind promptly crushes a homerun that quickly put the Jays on top 2-1. Win #143 is on the way!

5:19 - Following an error by Hill (on another cheap bunt by the M's, who obviously know they are overmatched at the hands of Halladay), Ichiro slaps a single to right to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Doc gets Gutierrez to pop up but then the red-hot Lopez (3 for 4) singles to load the bases. That actually sets up pretty well for Toronto because Griffey is at-bat and should be due for a double play.

5:26 - On cue Griffey officially ruins the party, hitting his second consecutive double (unimaginable) and driving in two runs to give the Mariners the lead back, 3-2. Griffey now has a whopping 16 doubles on the year.

5:30 - Doc strikes out Shelton for the third time today and Johjima flies out to end the rally, but the damage is done. And so might Halladay's career as a Toronto Blue Jay.

5:34 - Mark Lowe relieves Rowland-Smith, and the Jays make him throw a total of eight pitches to complete his inning of work. Way to make an effort boys!

5:40 - Roy's day is over, his line: 7IP, 11 hits, 3 runs, 0 BB, 6 K and 115 pitches. Not the normally dominant performance you usually see out of Halladay, but another quality start that was definitely good enough to win with. Brandon League replaces him and since the Jays are not protecting a lead, I would expect League to get the job done in the eighth.

5:44 - And League does. We head to the top of the ninth with the Jays trailing 3-2 and Halladay in line to take the loss.

5:51 - Seattle closer David Aardsma walks Hill to start the ninth, but Lind and Rolen follow with strike outs, leaving Rios as the only thing standing between Roy Halladay and another painful loss.

5:53 - Rios is no longer standing.

5:54 - Game over. Is this the end of the 'Doc' Halladay era in Toronto?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Good-bye Roy?

If it does indeed happen, if he does really get traded, it will be hard to see Roy Halladay go. Very hard.

As Jays fans, we've been treated to watching the best pitcher in baseball the last five years, and our admiration for him - his demeanor, his work ethic and talent - is considerable.

But ultimately, moving him is necessary.

If you want to watch one great start every fifth day, keeping Halladay makes sense. If your goal is to play more than 162 games a year (Hello Playoffs, you may not remember us but we're the Toronto Blue Jays!), trading 'Doc' for multiple prospects is the only way to make it happen.

If the Jays could get Manny Parra and prospects Alcides Escobar (SS) and Matt Gamel (3B) from the Brewers (or a similar-type package from someone else) in exchange for Halladay ( writer Jon Heyman speculates)...that would be awesome. It might even save J.P. Riccardi his job. Seriously. An infield of Aaron Hill, Escobar, Gamel and possibly Adam Lind (after next year when Overbay's contract runs out, or sooner if Overybay is also traded) would be very promising and just as importantly, under contract control the next few years. That means cheap.

A rotation featuring any five of Ricky Romero, Sean Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Brett Cecil, Scott Richmond and Manny Parra (again all are under team contract control) would offer depth to protect against injury, and on paper appears very solid overall.

Obviously Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, because of their contracts, are going to be in Toronto for the foreseeable future (2014 if you're actually counting, but I wouldn't recommend it) and have to factor into any equation, but it's not like they aren't talented players. Both still have the potential and ability to bounce back, to perform like they did prior to receiving a combined $196 million. No really, they do. It could happen.

Even with the Pop-Up artist (Wells) and the Strike-out artist (Rios) eating up over $30 million a year going forward, the group discussed above along with Travis Snider completing the outfield, makes the Toronto roster look a lot like the Tampa Bay team that began developing a couple years ago.

And that is a good thing. A very good thing. The Rays have shown fellow A.L. East fodder (hello Baltimore and Toronto) how to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, and guess what? It's not by trying to spend with them! After years of wasting money on free agents in hopeless efforts to keep up with their free-spending big brothers, throwing away millions on players who were never going to be the difference between making or missing the playoffs, Tampa finally tried something different. Of course all the top-end draft picks helped them, but still, they proved the way to sneak past the Yanks and Sox and into the playoffs isn't by spending. It's by developing. Push through as many high-end prospects and break them all in at the same time. Let them build and grow together, experience the ups and downs of Major League baseball, and then cross your fingers it works out.

Oh, and maybe hire a new-age goofy-looking but strategically sound manager to run the team. Just a hunch.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

And We're Back!


Let me start by saying, 'Thank You'.

Thanks for reassembling what was a shallow and one-dimensional roster and thanks for being unafraid to make a big splash.

But mostly thanks for making the 2009-10 Toronto Raptors interesting and possibly even relevant. When you joined the Raptors in February 2006 you instantly gave the organization credibility and many of us sensed the opportunity to move from a middle-of-the-pack franchise to one in the upper echelon. No, it wasn't going to be easy building a contender up here in the Great White North, with our so-called tax issues and cold weather, but with your body of work as GM of the Phoenix Suns there was reason to believe things were looking up for the Raptors for the first time since Vince-sanity reigned supreme in the early 2000's.

That first offseason you brought in nine new players to transform a team that was coming off a 27-win season into the Atlantic division champions. Sure, the division was about as tough as a Jonas brothers concert, but still, we were the third seed in the playoffs and our stock was definitely on the rise.

However, the two years that followed the somewhat shocking 47-win campaign put the franchise right back to square one. A first-round beatdown courtesy of Orlando in 2008 took just about all the steam out of our engine, and a 13th place Eastern conference finish in 2009 threatened to put us in Clipper-ville.

And that's where we were at the beginning of free agency this summer, when the Hedo Turkoglu signing looked like it was going to be a straight-forward unrestricted free-agent deal that pretty much hand-cuffed you from altering the rest of the roster. The starting five (Jose, DeRozan, Turk, Bosh, Bargnani) was decent but the bench was horrible--like worst in the NBA horrible.

Then somehow you convinced Orlando and Memphis to join a complicated trade already involving Dallas that allowed you to not only add Turkoglu, but completely revamp the bench and turn a one-string team into a nine or ten deep roster. Bravo!

Now, with the (rumoured) return of Rasho and Delfino, the addition of bruising forward Reggie Evans, and the insurance provided by Devean George and Antoine Wright, the Raptors have depth. And size. And options. We can throw different looks at opponents. We can withstand potential injuries.

We can once again contemplate not only making the playoffs, but even winning a round!

Turk takes all of the late fourth quarter pressure off Bosh and becomes the guy who can create his own shot in tight situations. If Bosh is hitting his jumper and getting to the line Toronto can continue feeding him, but on the nights he isn't and the Raps need a bucket, Turkoglu will be the guy to take it. And history tells us he can make it.

And now to top it all off, you've gone out and added Jarret Jack ('from' the Indiana Pacers but more importantly 'of' Georgia Tech University, where he was a former teammate and good friend of Bosh) as a legitimate back-up point guard and (another) reason for Bosh to consider signing an extension that would keep him in a Raptors uniform beyond next season.

**Sidenote** This is a whole different story, but quickly the two other reasons for Bosh to stay are: 1) The Money. In case you haven't heard, the economy isn't all that strong these days and the NBA salary cap just went down for the first time ever this offseason. Next season revenue is expected to be worse, perhaps significantly. This could benefit the Raptors because instead of turning down say $10-15 million over the life of his new contract, Bosh might be turning down as much as $20-30 million (including the extra year only Toronto can offer). 2) The Money. That's a lot of money to turn down.

In three short weeks you've totally changed the feeling surrounding the franchise and again given the fanbase reason to believe.

For that, we thank you.

Much Love,

The Canadian Sports Junkie

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Season Over

Eighty-six games. That's how long the fun and excitement lasted in what was the most fun and exciting start to a Blue Jays season since the team went to back-to-back World Series in '92 and '93.

Sure the 2006 edition was 49-39 at the All-star break and finished with 87 wins but they never held a playoff position, division or wild card, after the first two weeks of the season. Other than that, it's been a long and painful grind for Blue Jay fans over the last 15+ years.

With the emergence of the prospect-loaded Tampa Bay Rays last year, the playoffs went from being an extremely difficult but not totally impossible proposition for Toronto - hoping either the Yanks or Red Sox have an off year and no other team runs away with the wild card, to indeed becoming an impossibility. Beating three teams in your own division that are very clearly better than you, perhaps even the top three teams in all of baseball? Not going to happen.

That's why on May 18th, at 27 -14 and sporting the best record in the majors, Blue Jays fans were varying degrees of delighted, ecstatic, and shocked. The hitters were knocking the cover off the ball, a no-name pitching staff (outside of Doc Halladay) was racking up quality starts, Cito Gaston was baseball's winningest manager in the previous 100 games and the fans were enjoying a different, and foreign, feeling. A winning feeling. A first place feeling.

Boy was it sweet. Continuosly playing with the lead. Repeatedly getting the two-out hits when they mattered. Waking up everyday and poring over another winning box score. Checking and re-checking the standings and always seeing Toronto at the top. It was completely unexpected and altogether unlikely to continue, but it didn't make it any less painful when it stopped.

Following last night's loss to Tampa, the Jays are all the way back to .500 on the season and are considerably closer to last place than first in the AL East. Seven teams are ahead of them in the wild card race and it might as well be all of them. It feels like the wind has been knocked out of me, like my dog ran away. It's nice to see that key positional players, guys like Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, are also taking it personally. (Sarcasm alert.)

The bats predictably cooled off, the rotation features several guys nobody has ever heard of and changes on a daily basis, and the bullpen has completely imploded. The ride is officially over.

Earlier in the week J.P. Riccardi publicly stated his willingness to deal the most dominant pitcher in the game, the same guy who also happens to be the only current reason anyone would bother tuning in to the Blue Jays, Roy Halladay. Every fifth day could be the time Halladay throws the second no-hitter in Toronto history, he's that good.

It just doesn't matter. Halladay could win 25 games a year and throw multiple perfect games and it still wouldn't matter because a middle of the range payroll will never compete with New York or Boston in the AL East. At least not the way this middle of the range payroll team is constructed.

The Rays have provided the blue-print: Stockpile young prospects and then hope they develop.

Until Toronto does, a 41 game start and an 86 game ride back to .500 is the best Blue Jay fans can ask for. But what if we want more?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Best and Worst of NHL Free Agency

The Worst

1. Bob Gainey & The Montreal Canadiens - If Gainey's plan was to make his team smaller and easier for his fans to hate while completely ignoring chemistry...well then, mission accomplished. The trade for Scott Gomez and his horrific contract (anytime you can get a 15 goal scorer for $7 million a year you have to do it) kicked things off and it only got worse from there. Brian Gionta got $25 million for a great season that happened to come four years ago. If you throw out that one big year (48G, 41A in '05-06), Gionta has averaged 22 goals and 25 assists since he became a full-time NHLer. Decent numbers, but certainly not worthy of $5 million a year. Mike Cammalleri is three years younger than Gionta and definitely a more legitimate sniper, but he has yet to post back-to-back solid seasons and should be forced to give a third of his $30 million to Jarome Iginla. To top it all off, Gainey signed Jaroslav Spacek, a 35 year-old defenceman who normally misses 15-20 games a year due to injury, to a three year contract for only slighlty less than it would have cost the team to keep Mike Komisarek. I have December 10th 2009 circled as the day Gainey is fired but wouldn't be surprised if it happend before then. Like...say, tomorrow.

2. Mattias Ohlund - This contract (7 years, $26 million) is Chapter 25 in my new book titled "How Oren Koules and Len Barrie destroyed the Tampa Bay Lightning". I understand and applaud the fact that you want to invest in the development of a young stud defenceman (Victor Hedman) you just drafted #2 overall, but do you really need to commit seven years to it? Wouldn't three or four have been enough? Ohlund's goal scoring totals have decreased five straight years as has his overall effectiveness.

3. Jay Bouwmeester - At his introductory press conference yesterday, when asked what made Calgary his choice destination, Bouwmeester answered "Ahhh, well, ahhh, ya, I just talked to a lot of the guys that play here, and ahhhh, ya, just ya, seems like a good place to be". He's a great skater and extremely good defensively in one-on-one situations, but seems to be about as intense as Vernon Wells. And he looks like he should be on 'The Hills'. And he's never played a single minute of playoff hockey, ever. Not in four years of junior and not during his six year NHL career. Not exactly the credentials you look for when it comes to winning.

4. Marian Gaborik - Absolutely one of the most talented players in the league but also one of the most injury-prone. His games played stats over the last five years read like this: 65, 65, 48, 77 and 17. In case you're wondering, it's an 82 game schedule. Handing Gaborik a five-year deal would be like a movie studio inking Lindsay Lohan to a multiple-film contract - totally inexplicable and potentially disastrous. Are we sure Glen Sather was the mastermind of those great Oiler teams in the 80's?

5. Nik Antropov - He didn't quite get the five year $25 million salary he reportedly asked the Rangers for, but the Thrashers came close (four years/$16 million). Another player who routinely spends time on the sidelines nursing injuries and often hurts his team with careless stick penalties. At his best, Antropov is an average second-line center. At his worst, he is Nick the Not-so-Quick who generally floats through games and is certainly not a difference-maker. Fortunately for Antropov, there is no need for a difference-maker in Atlanta, where the team is hopeless.

6. Vernon Wells - True, he doesn't play hockey but his numbers are so terrible (.301 OBP this year, .330 for his career) that I just couldn't resist pointing out how absurd his contract is. Following the 2006 season in which he slugged 32 homers, J.P. Riccardi signed Wells to a seven year extension that kicked in before the 2008 season. It earns him $10 million this year, $21 million next year, $23 million in 2011 and then back to $21 million for each of the final three seasons (thru 2014). In the 337 games Wells has played since signing the extension, he has 43 homers. That's one good month for Albert Pujols.

The Best

1. The Sedins - How Mike Gillis got the Sedin twins to sign for less than half of what they originally wanted (5 years/$30.5 million a piece rather than 12 years/$63 million each) is borderline incredible and he deserves considerable praise. The passing Sedin and the scoring Sedin are two of the most consistent point-producers in the NHL and Vancouver has them locked up at an un-outrageous price. They aren't the guys that will lead them to a Cup because they lack the grit and intangibles to do so, but what they do provide isn't easily replaceable either.

2. Scott Niedermayer - Nothing shocking about Niedermayer returning to Anaheim on a one-year $6 million contract, but it is an excellent signing for the Ducks. The best or second-best (to Nick Lidstrom) defenceman in the game will be only the 11th highest paid player at his position and leaves ample room to re-sign Francois Beauchemin and work out an extension for Bobby Ryan.

3. Craig Anderson - Slowly managers are catching on to the fact that it is idiotic (outside of Brodeur and Luongo) to pay a goalie big-time money. Anderson posted the third best GAA in the league last year when he (at times) wrestled the #1 job away from Tomas Vokoun. His two year $3.6 million contract will prove to be very rewarding for the Avalanche.

4. Mike Knuble - A consistent 25 goal scorer to play on the opposite wing with either Ovechkin or Semin for only $2.8 million a year? Yes, he's 37 years old but the contract is only two years long and Knuble has always been a 'stand-in front of the net and bang home rebounds' type of player, it's not like his game relies on speed. Well done Mr.McPhee.

5. Nobody - Honestly, I tried to talk myself into putting the Marian Hossa contract here, reasoning that the final four years of the twelve year contract he signed with Chicago only pay him a total of $3.4 million. So it's really only an eight year deal with an excellent cap-hit of just $5.2 million a year. But then again, IT'S STILL AN EIGHT YEAR DEAL! I also considered the contracts given to Havlat (too much injury history), Khabibulin (disappearing act), and Komisarek (over-hyped by the Montreal media) but quickly poked holes in each. In my opinion, the majority of free agent contracts handed out yesterday (and last year, and the year before, etc.) are somewhere between stupid and ridiculous and will cause the teams that awarded them more pain than gain.