Craig Calcaterra

John Gibbons

2015 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: Is it going to be all-mash, no-pitching for the Blue Jays once again?

The Blue Jays made some intriguing additions this past offseason. They signed Russell Martin. They made a couple of key trades in acquiring Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders and, according to some, made some additions by subtraction in getting rid of Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind. Now, leaven your excitement at least a little here given that (a) Melky Cabrera also left, and he’s been a big contributor (as was Lind last year for that matter); (b) Russell Martin’s 2014 was his best offensive season ever and, coming as it did at age 31, it’s not likely to be replicated at age 32; and (c) Saunders has battled injury all spring and, frankly, all career, so expecting him to be an impact player is not the safest bet ever. But those caveats aside, this is a team that should, once again, be one of the most mash-happy offenses in baseball. As it has been for the past several years.

The knock on the Jays those past several years, however, has been that the pitching staff has been mashed in return. Toronto had one of the worst AL staffs in runs allowed and homers allowed in 2012 and 2013 and, while it took a moderate step forward in 2014, it was only moderate. And the most promising part of that improvement came from Marcus Stroman, who tore his ACL early in spring training and will be gone for the year. Add that to a bullpen which was near the bottom of the ladder last season and didn’t really improve in the offseason, and it seems like the Jays, for all of their changes, stood mostly still this past offseason.

Not that that keeps them out of contention, of course. They won 83 games last year in a league where 88 wins got you into the Wild Card Game. The AL East, as we’ve noted several times this spring, is something of a crap shoot. And, as we’ll note below, the Jays have a couple of intriguing dice they’re getting ready to roll.

But if you are a betting man, it’s hard to look at the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays and see anything radically different than what you’ve seen in the past: some big bats, some holes in the bottom of the lineup and a lot of question marks with the pitching staff. That’s the sort of thing that makes a gambler want to hedge his bets.

What else is going on?

  • The impact of the Stroman loss is so, so big. With R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle getting long in the tooth, Stroman’s electric stuff looked poised to put him at the top of the Jays’ rotation. Now his transition into ace-hood is delayed a year, and the bottom half of the Jays’ rotation is filled with uncertainty. But it’s worth noting it’s not without promise: Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris are two rookies with oodles of talent and each will get a chance to stick there all season. Still, rookies are rookies and sometimes rookies take some time to adjust. If Sanchez and Norris do — or if innings limits or what have you limit them at some point this year — the starting pitching depth available to John Gibbons is less-than-stellar.
  • The bullpen has some issues of its own. Saying bye-bye to last year’s closer Casey Janssen is no big tragedy — the guy was falling off — and replacing him with strikeout machine Brett Cecil is an upgrade. Beyond him, though, it’s not a scary bunch of relievers. Marco Estrada and even Johan Santana could be contributing here. That is if they aren’t pressed into duty as starting pitching reinforcements. Not exactly encouraging.
  • For all of the thump (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson), on-base ability (Russell Martin) and table setting skills (Jose Reyes) near the top of the order, there are some question marks farther down. Another pickup from Seattle was Justin Smoak. He and his career line of .224/.309/.380 is the starting first baseman. There is some promise at second base with Devon Travis — picked up in a steal from the Tigers last year — and center field with Dalton Pompey slated to start. But each are young and unproven, so you have to expect some sort of growing pains here.
  • Indeed, there are all kinds of youngins being paired with oldins here. Norris, Sanchez, Travis and Pompey as mentioned, but also some bullpen arms like Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro are all embarking on rookie seasons. Sometimes youth can inject vitality. Sometimes youth can induce some frustrating slaps to the head. John Gibbons’ biggest job this year will be getting out of the way of the former and limiting the damage from the latter.

Prediction: It’s not hard to write a story of the 2015 Blue Jays in which Reyes and Martin are on base for a lot of those Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson homers, Dickey and Buehrle show that they still have something left in the tank, the young arms of Norris and Sanchez surprise and the young bats of Travis and Pompey don’t embarrass themselves. It’s not hard to tell another story, however — a quite familiar story, actually — in which the Jays mash but the pitching stinks and they find themselves in either third or fourth place, depending on whether the Yankees crater. I’m going to take a pessimistic approach here, because the Jays have not exceeded expectations in some time and say Fourth Place, American League East. It’s up to some young guys to prove me a fool.

Is spring training “horribly, utterly broken?”

Equipment Bags
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Over the weekend Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wrote that spring training was “horribly, utterly broken” and made suggestions of how to fix it. He suggests changing the schedule, reducing the time veteran players need to be there and allowing for expanded rosters in April to make up for evaluation time missed in March.

But here’s the thing: who, exactly, is making the complaints Grant is making in the article? Who is claiming that spring training is “horribly, utterly broken?” I have heard players, both on a first hand and second hand basis, complain that spring training is boring for them at some point. But none of them are quoted here, let alone quoted for the idea that, rather than merely boring, spring training is actually broken or counterproductive. Nor are any coaches or managers, scouts or executives quoted to this effect. At the same time, I have heard a lot of people say in the past that pitchers do need 5-6 appearances in order to stretch out for the regular season. Indeed, when pitchers miss even one start, even in this longer-than-it-used-to-be spring training, there are concerns that they won’t be ready for the regular season. And often they aren’t.

Grant is correct that, even if baseball officials did want to reduce the length of spring training they couldn’t, practically speaking, given how big a business it has become and how the towns that built those complexes have basically demanded the number of games they play. But again, no one here is complaining about that. And, when we’ve seen them complain elsewhere, it has focused on their boredom rather than spring training, as it is, being “horribly broken.”

I dunno. I’m guessing there is a better way to do spring training because there is a better way to do a lot of things. But, at least insofar as it’s presented in this article, it all seems a lot more like a set of solutions in search of a real problem. And, perhaps, includes a small amount of projection from the party claiming the existence of the latter and need for the former.

Mariners pitcher David Rollins suspended 80 games for PEDs

David Rollins
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David Rollins was a Rule 5 pick by the Mariners from the Houston Astros this past winter. And, as such, was getting a long look at the M’s 25-man roster, where he’d likely be the second lefty in the bullpen. If he didn’t make it, Seattle would have to give him back to the Astros. So far on the spring he has tossed seven innings while allowing one earned run and striking out seven.

Now they don’t have to sweat it: Major League Baseball just announced that Rollins has received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Stanozolol, which is a PED. The suspension will be effective for the first 80 games of the 2015 regular season.

 

Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial?

David Ortiz
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Here’s something fun to think about: David Ortiz Players’ Tribune editorial in which he said that “nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” may be an admission of more than Ortiz realizes.

Under the Joint Drug Agreement, all players are, at the outset anyway, tested twice a year. According to Section 3(A) of the JDA, your urine is tested (a) once in spring training; and (b) once randomly during the regular season.

In addition to those mandatory drug tests for all players, there are additional random ones set forth in section 3(A)(2). Specifically, (a) 3,200 urine specimen collections of randomly-selected players at unannounced times in-season; and (b) 350 urine specimen collections at unannounced times during each off-season.

So, what that means is 2-3 and, if you’re unlucky, four drug tests a year. Plus the new HGH blood tests, which happen once a year for all players, in spring training.

Unless, that is, you have tested positive for something in the past. In that case, section 3(D) comes into play, and that involves up to six additional unannounced urine tests during the season and three additional blood tests:

A Player who is disciplined under Sections 7.A, 7.B, 7.C, 7.E, 7.F or 7.G, or has otherwise violated the Program through the use or possession of a Performance Enhancing Substance, Stimulant or DHEA, shall be subject to the following mandatory follow-up testing program, administered by the IPA . . .

People inside the game refer to those players who have the stepped-up, post-discipline testing as being “in the program.” Just yesterday the Daily News referred to this in the case of Alex Rodriguez, who is now subject to stepped-up testing.

So let’s go back to David Ortiz. He claims he’s been tested 80 times in the decade or so there has been drug testing. That’s an awful lot of testing, especially when you consider that the blood testing just started last year. And that, until last year, the number of in-season random tests was less than half of what it is now. Given that a player not “in the program” gets, at most, four tests a year and more likely 2-3 (less before last year), what possible basis could there be for Ortiz to be tested as often as he claims he has been other than a previous positive test?

“But wait!” I hear you claiming, “He’s all but admitted that he is on the list of players who tested positive in the 2003 survey testing, so this isn’t news.” True, but no players were put in “the program” as a result of the 2003 survey tests. Indeed, the very existence of the 2003 survey testing was premised on their being no discipline for anyone at all. That’s why it was called survey testing. And, at any rate, the rules for stepped-up testing weren’t even written yet by then. No, to be “in the program,” Ortiz would have had to have another positive drug test, after the survey testing began.

“But wait!” I hear you saying, “Ortiz has never been suspended!” Also true. He has not been. But, until very recently, players were not suspended for first offenses for amphetamines. They were put into mandatory drug counseling, not suspended. And their names were not released to the public. They were, however, subjected to “the program” and its stepped-up testing. It says so right there in Section 3(D).

So, we’re left with two explanations. Either Ortiz is grossly exaggerating how often he has been tested — possibly by a factor three or four — or Ortiz is telling the truth, he has been tested as often as he claims and the reason for it is that he is or has been “in the program” for previous drug offenders and we just didn’t know about it.

If neither of those is the case there is a third possibility, I guess: that Ortiz is being singled out by MLB for multiple times more testing than anyone else. If so, he should call his union rep immediately and file a grievance rather than spending his time writing editorials about how ho-hum all of this stepped-up drug testing he has been subjected to really is. Really: if he’s not lying about how often he’s tested and he hasn’t had a previous positive test for amphetamines, then Major League Baseball has singled him out for significantly more testing than anyone else and he doesn’t seem to mind too much.

Now go back and read Ortiz’s editorial — and go back to other instances in which Ortiz has felt that he was treated unfairly — and ask yourself if he’s a guy who doesn’t seem to mind too much about anything.

The AP Stylebook updates sports guidelines — outlaws “dingers, jacks and bombs”

press hat
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Well this is just sad. The Associated Press stylebook updates are taking all of your yiketties away:

Yes, it says “avoid hackneyed words and phrases, redundancies and exaggerations.” Which is kind of scary. I mean, we don’t follow AP style around here, obviously, but if we were forced to, that’d take away 95% of our material.