The Blue Jays’ (59-58) week has seen Sign-Gate ‘steal’ the headlines, LawrieMania hit T.O., the debut of Henderson Alvarez and some tensions arise between a pair of 1992 ALCS rivals. Oh, and some baseball, too. A three-game set vs. Oakland included a loss in a pitcher’s duel, an emotional win and a sloppy, series-costing afternoon defeat.
A Closer Look
The Man in White: I’m no conspiracy theorist and I certainly don’t take the word of the Worldwide Leader as gospel, but shouldn’t some local media cover ESPN’s allegations beyond ridiculing them? I mean, it’s one thing to be sceptical of the findings in the Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating report and another to openly mock it, as the Star and Drunk Jays Fans did. The report’s argument is a thought-provoking one: that dramatic offensive statistical anomalies, plus on-going whispers by visiting clubs and a specific accusation by the White Sox suggest some illegal tactics either being or having been practiced at Rogers Centre. It’s disappointing, then, to see team reps like Alex Anthopoulos dismiss the claims with little more to defend themselves than to suggest their home record isn’t that good. I’m not sure I buy the report (more below), but it doesn’t seem completely baseless and deserves to be properly addressed. That being said, Casey Janssen’s paper cup binoculars on Wednesday were fantastic.
*A couple more random thoughts:
- In his press conference, Anthopoulos made specific reference to the possibility that the accusations may stem from a beef that bitter ex-Jays have with the club. With Chicago being revealed as the team in question, could he be pointing a veiled finger at Alex Rios?
- While the data cited by ESPN is compelling, there are two points that greatly support the Jays’ perspective that the whole controversy is much ado about nothing. One, the team’s pitching has had a similarly abnormal spike at home over the past season and a half, suggesting a simple home field edge rather than a sign-stealing man in white. Two, how do you explain an entirely different coaching staff from one year to the next? I suppose John Farrell and co. simply agreed to go along with the amoral con?
- The issue isn’t currently being investigated by Major League Baseball and likely won’t result in any disciplinary action, so what does it all matter? Well, perception is everything and if there is a league-wide perception of cheating tactics taking place in Toronto (it’s hard to suggest that the Jays don’t merit some suspicion), then that could affect the team’s status as a free agent destination and Anthopoulos’ ability to engage in trade talks with other clubs.
- Amidst all the ink spilled (okay, keys typed) on the issue, the oft-heard refrain I’m most perplexed by is the expression that stealing signs from 400 feet away is impossible. Fact is, there are any number of possibilities on how this could be pulled off, be it Bluetooth or radio transmission with another individual located closer to the catcher or even binoculars. It seems a little paranoid, but not so far-fetched as to be impossible.
New Guard Arrives: Make no mistake about it – the Jays are showing that they are determined to turn a corner and transform themselves from up-and-comers to viable contenders through their still-developing nucleus. However, the promotion of Alvarez raises the question of whether this developmental push might be moving too quickly. Brett Lawrie? Indisputably ready. But Alvarez, he of the sinker / fastball repertoire that he clearly isn’t yet comfortable using? I’m not sure he couldn’t use more seasoning and the kind of big-game experience that he’d get as a part of a playoff push in either New Hampshire or Las Vegas, particularly with his role undefined once Carlos Villanueva returns from the DL. If the club is in developmental rush mode, it speaks to much bigger issues than just Alvarez for a franchise that has a checkered recent history in bringing young pitchers up to the majors (Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan come immediately to mind as youngsters that may have arrived too early). I was stunned to hear Buck Martinez opine that more young players should be on their way up once rosters expand, as neither pitchers like Deck McGuire, Aaron Sanchez or Rey Gonzalez nor position players like Anthony Gose or Adeiny Hechavaria seem anywhere near ready.
Draft Deadline Looms: That sound you hear of 30 MLB GM’s sweating it out has less to do with the August heat than it does with Monday’s pending deadline to sign 2011 draft picks. Anthopoulos still needs to get plenty of names on contracts, with just three of the team’s top ten picks under contract, with top choice Tyler Beede (who has reportedly committed to Vanderbilt and won’t be signing), Jacob Anderson and Daniel Norris among the remaining holdouts. However, he has to know that this down-to-the-deadline scenario was likely. Toronto employed a deliberately high-risk approach to the draft, nabbing players past their projected slots due to perceived signability issues. But the commitment of ownership to Anthopoulos’ developmental vision could be the team’s ace in the hole. The Rogers-owned franchise has shown a willingness to pay above slot and outspent every other major league team at the 2010 draft. The swollen budget helped the club land a pair of hard signs in McGuire and Dickie Thon Jr. and could suggest that Anthopoulos and co. will wait until the deadline to announce signings in an effort to not let their above-slot contracts set the bar for other picks.
The Other Guys: The A’s might be a team to watch on the trade front this winter. Oakland has pitching to burn but lacks a single impactful bat on their roster. The team has tried to get by on a makeshift line-up with a decent power bat (Josh Willingham), a young second baseman (Jemile Weeks), a past-his-prime Hideki Matsui, a solid right field platoon (Ryan Sweeney and David DeJesus) and not much else. Sure, it was enough to post 10 runs on Thursday, but Billy Beane and the rest of the front office can’t count on any consistent production from the current group. Top prospects like SS Grant Green and 1B/OF Chris Carter will help eventually, but bringing that coveted impact bat aboard may cost them a prized arm (Brett Anderson? Gio Gonzalez? Andrew Bailey? Blue chip farmhand Ian Krol?).
Vernon Wells will be in the Rogers Centre visiting clubhouse for the first time this weekend, as he and his Angels’ teammates arrive in Toronto. Brandon Morrow faces white-hot Ervin Santana in Friday’s opener before a battle of the aces on Saturday between Jered Weaver and Ricky Romero.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher