Matthew Pouliot

John Gibbons

Blue Jays to bring back John Gibbons as manager

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While all indications were that the Blue Jays planned to bring in a retread as John Farrell’s replacement on the bench, who knew it’d again be one of their own? John Gibbons, who managed the team from 2004-08, will reclaim the job, the Toronto Sun reports.

Gibbons had a 305-305 record in three full and two partial seasons in his first stint at the helm of the Jays. It was his only gig as a major league manager. When he was fired after a 35-39 start in 2008, he was replaced by another former Jays manager, Cito Gaston.

The hiring, expected to be officially announced Tuesday, will come one day after the team officially acquired shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buehrle in a 12-player deal.

Gibbons’ original Toronto stint is best remembered for his confrontations with players Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly. Hillenbrand was traded just a few days after taking on Gibbons, while Lilly and Gibbons made up not long after their blow-up.

Still, the bigger problem with Gibbons was his tendency to stick with underperforming veterans. Part of it was the hand he was dealt, but he always seemed to be most comfortable sticking with his veteran role players.

Maybe that won’t make much of a difference now, since the Jays have assembled a high-payroll team and don’t have a bunch of prospects knocking down the door (they still have some talent, but much of it remains at least a year or two away from the majors). How he handles the bullpen will be a big key for him, particularly if the Jays fail to acquire an experienced closer. They have plenty of talented arms, but it remains to be seen whether Gibbons will favor experience over talent. After all, this is a guy who once let Miguel Batista rack up 31 saves.

Tigers broadcasters also have no use for WAR

Drew Smyly
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The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association has been handing out a Tigers Rookie of the Year award since 1969, counting Mark Fidrych, Lou Whitaker, Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander among the previous winners. On Monday, they announced the 2012 award, giving it to outfielder Quintin Berry over left-hander Drew Smyly.

Berry hit .258/.330/.354 with two homers, 29 RBI and 21 steals in 291 at-bats for the Tigers last season. He did have a nice run when he first came up, but he hit just .218/.270/.293 in 147 at-bats after the All-Star break.

Baseball-reference puts him at 0.2 WAR for his performance.

Smyly likewise started off better than he finished, but in his case, it was a couple of midseason DL stints that really held him back. He went 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA and a 94/33 K/BB ratio in 99 1/3 innings overall.

That was good for 1.5 WAR at Baseball-reference

Fangraphs WAR does have the two players closer, as it gives Berry a bit more credit for his baserunning and defense. Still, Smyly has a 1.7 to 1.0 lead there.

And I think that’s about right. Berry was a liability after his fast start and struggled in the postseason as well, if the DSBA is taking that into account. Smyly also made most of his impact early, but that impact was more valuable than Berry’s. Also, he pitched well in a couple of late spot starts while the Tigers were putting away the White Sox, allowing just an unearned run over 9 2/3 innings in the team’s 152nd and 157th games of the season. Not that it should matter to anyone outside of Detroit, but Smyly deserved this award.

Tony La Russa turns to Kickstarter for new phone-based baseball sim

Tony La Russa
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At least, it sounds like it will be a sim.

Tony La Russa’s Baseball with Fans” is the concept being pitched by Don Daglow, whose design credits include Intellivision World Series Baseball and Earl Weaver Baseball from the 1980’s, the Tony La Russa Baseball series from the 1990’s and the RPG Neverwinter Nights in the 2000’s.

The game is being planned for the iOS and Android platforms. And here’s the pitch:

A new kind of Baseball game that lets you challenge your friends to see who really knows how to handle those tough calls in the dugout.

An interface and design created “from the ground up” just for touchscreens, not re-purposed from existing mouse or console systems.

On-field play that’s based on a physics-driven 3D engine, but displayed in a way that makes the action easy to follow on a smartphone screen.

A single-player option that lets you prove your managerial prowess by challenging Tony La Russa, with AI that Tony himself designed.

A game that kids and casual baseball fans can play and enjoy, but that offers depth and subtlety for sophisticated Baseball experts.

Stat and roster displays designed for fans, not CPA’s, with more detailed data a tap away.

A game that includes links to exclusive video coaching sessions where Tony shares his philosophy and experience from over 30 years as a big league manager.

So, it’s a game for everybody that is going to appeal to, well, who exactly? Will there be any touchscreen bat-swinging at all? A modern-day Earl Weaver Baseball would be neat, but that doesn’t seem likely. A lightweight OOTP hardly seems appealing when the real thing has gone mobile. It’s being marketed to families, but it has a 68-year-old curmudgeon on the “cover.” And there’s a little shot at any statheads who may want to try it.

Still, while skepticism seems warranted, it does have a baseball-design legend behind it. It will be interesting to see what Daglow comes up with if the prospect is funded.

As things stand now, there’s still a ways to go. The Kickstarter, which was posted earlier this afternoon, has received $1,180 in pledges toward a $249,000 goal at the time of this writing.

New York or Japan for Hiroki Kuroda

Hiroki Kuroda
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That’s the feeling FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal is getting from talking with executives around the league. Although reports have suggested that free agent Hiroki Kuroda could return to SoCal with the Dodgers or maybe even the Angels, Rosenthal says indications are that Kuroda will remain with the Yankees or head home to Japan.

Kuroda, who was content to sign one-year deals in his first two goes at free agency, may prefer a two-year deal this time. Even though he’ll pitch next season at 38, Kuroda seems like a good investment for two years. He’s averaged over 200 innings the last three years, and his ERAs have ranged from 3.07 to 3.39 during the stretch.

Kuroda won a career-high 16 games last season, his first in New York. If the Yankees can keep him for $30 million for two years, he’ll still look like a bargain compared to the likely $22 million-$25 million per year that Zack Greinke figures to get.

Agent Gary Sheffield getting plenty of calls on Jason Grilli

Jason Grilli
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If you hadn’t already heard, Gary Sheffield went into the agent business a couple of years back.  His client list doesn’t include many major league veterans at the moment, but he does have one rather popular free agent: former Pirates reliever Jason Grilli.

“We’ve got eight teams interested right now,” Sheffield told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.  “We have three offers right now.”

One of the teams interested is believed to be the Red Sox.

“We’re not in a hurry,” Sheffield said. “There are some things we want to look at a little further. We’re not sure the market has fully developed for Jason.”

Don’t scoff: Grilli is hardly a big name but he struck out a whopping 90 batters while amassing a 2.91 ERA and 32 holds in 58 2/3 innings for the Pirates last season. Throwing better than average at 35 (he turned 36 this month), he seems likely to command a two-year deal worth at least $3 million per season. It’ll be a nice payday for a reliever whose previous high salary was $1.1 million.