Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Enough With the Bautista Trade Rumours Already

By
Courtesy of Zimbio
Stop ... please stop. Enough already. The Blue Jays are not trading Jose Bautista.

I know some people are going a little nuts because the trade deadline is tomorrow afternoon, but let's be realistic here ... it's extremely unlikely the Blue Jays move the face of their franchise any time soon.

I understand that guys like Jeff Blair have to fill airtime and beat writers and newspaper columnists have to write about something. Heck, even blogging around here sometimes is spitballing to some degree.

Drew and Stoeten spoke about this at length on the DJF podcast yesterday, but Jose Bautista is not going anywhere. Even if another team were to magically come along and replenish the Blue Jays farm system with elite prospects, Toronto can't make that trade.

Even if the Texas Rangers offer up Jurickson Profar and perhaps a couple of other elite prospects, the Blue Jays should not pull the trigger on that deal. Why? Because at this point, trading Jose Bautista would be like waving the white flag.

If the Blue Jays trade Jose Bautista this year, you may as well write off the rest of the 2013 season. Heck, you might as well write off next year and maybe even 2015 as well. Because losing a cornerstone like Bautista would be detrimental to the success of the Blue Jays. 

If they're going to trade Jose Bautista, then trade Edwin Encarnacion too. Trade R.A. Dickey. Trade anybody whose last name ends in "N" or whose first name starts with a "C". Blow the whole damn thing up. 

You could make an argument 2013 has been written off already anyway, which would give the Blue Jays motivation to move some of their star players. However, 2013 was not the "go for it" year; it was never intended to be a one-shot deal.

This team has a two to three year window to contend. Okay, so maybe year one of the plan didn't go so well. That doesn't mean Alex Anthopoulos should just dismantle this team a la the Miami Marlins and stock up on prospects. 

Bautista is the cornerstone of this Blue Jays franchise. He is locked up through 2015 and has an option for 2016. That means the possibility of three more seasons of Joey Bats in a Blue Jays uniform. That kind of control for an elite player simply cannot be understated.

It's funny ... I was looking back at some posts around the 2010 trade deadline, and it's interesting how the trade rumours were swirling about Jose Bautista back then as well. Except in 2010, they were much more feverish as most wondered whether AA would cash in on Bautista's expected success.

Ultimately, the Blue Jays made the right decision that year and hung onto Jose Bautista. In fact, they surprisingly signed him to a five year contract extension, which at the time was admittedly a little perplexing. But Joey Bats has been worth his weight in gold since, and will likely continue to outperform his team-friendly contract.

Your friend and mine Navin had this to say about the Blue Jays dynamic Dominican duo, and I can't really argue with him:


It really is a shame to see star players like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have the best years of their career on what have otherwise been forgettable Blue Jays teams.

The thing is, the Blue Jays are either going to ride into the sunset with a World Series trophy with players like Jose Bautista, or they're going to go down swinging with players like Jose Bautista.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Flashback Friday: The Legendary Tom Cheek

By
Courtesy of CP24
Many say that radio is theatre of the mind; it's all about painting a picture for the listener. It's about transporting them to a place or time somewhere else in the universe. And there is no man who painted that picture more vividly than broadcasting great, Tom Cheek.

In honour of his induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend, for this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays - the legendary Tom Cheek.

As many fellow fans can attest to and as Bob Elliott mentioned, Tom Cheek was the voice of summer. He has the familiar voice that lulled many young fans to sleep at night, with the radio close by. Cheek was a faithful companion to Blue Jays fans, always there for over 27 straight years.

Tom began his broadcasting career in New York in 1962, and for the next decade or so, bounced around from a few radio stations and nearly became the voice of the Atlanta Hawks in 1968.

Tom made his way up the ranks, eventually earning a spot in the booth on the Montreal Expos radio broadcast team in 1974 until 1976. At the time, Tom and his wife Shirley lived in Burlington Vermont, and he made the 100 mile trek to Montreal for the Expos broadcasts.

Tom noted he even recorded his Expos broadcasts on a tape recorder, and would listen back to them on the ride home to Vermont and critique himself along the way. 

When it was announced Toronto was awarded an expansion team for 1977, Tom Cheek stepped in as the new Blue Jays commentator along with Hall of Famer and 300 game winner, Early Wynn.

The two would call Blue Jays games for the next three years until Tom Cheek met his famous broadcast counterpart, Jerry Howarth. Howarth actually applied for the initial Blue Jays job in 1977, but the Blue Jays opted to go with the combination of Cheek and Wynn.

However, four years later, the Blue Jays called upon Jerry Howarth ... and so the duo of "Tom and Jerry" was born, becoming the familiar voices of Blue Jays broadcasts for the next 23 years.

There's a great video below of Tom Cheek speaking about his storied broadcasting career. It's about 30 minutes long, but it's definitely worth a watch as Tom speaks about his broadcasting history, all the way from his beginnings as a radio DJ, to his days with the Blue Jays.



There's a couple of great quotes that really stood out from the video.
"The thing about this game is, you will never live long enough to see it all.

Learning to deal with failure is the success of a baseball player".
Tom Cheek was there for an unprecedented 4306 consecutive games. I'm not sure if there's some sort of baseball broadcasting Iron Man record, but Tom Cheek's streak certainly has to rank up there. He was with the Blue Jays for Opening Day at Exhibition Stadium on April 7th 1977 all the way until June 3rd 2004.

Tom Cheek called every single milestone on the radio for the Toronto Blue Jays. From the very game in franchise history, to the Blue Jays first postseason berth in 1985, to their first World Series win in 1992, and of course, his signature "Touch 'em All Joe" call from the 1993 World Series.



The streak of 4306 consecutive games came to an end on June 4th 2004, as Tom Cheek attended the funeral of his father Tom, a World War II fighter pilot.

Sadly, Tom was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004 and passed away the following year in 2005. However, the legend of Tom Cheek lives on as this past summer, Cheek received two of the highest accolades for a baseball broadcaster.

He was enshrined into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in June, and this weekend, he'll officially receive the Baseball Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence.

It's been a long time coming, but Tom Cheek will finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown along other Blue Jays greats like Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick.

Tom Cheek even has a musical tribute by Saskatoon rapper Rational called "A Swing and a Belt", which you can listen to below. It features a sample of Cheek's famous call in the hook, and is a fitting tribute to the late Blue Jays legend.



It's an honour well deserved, and it's only fitting that the greatest voice of the Blue Jays lives on in the home of the greatest baseball legends ... in Cooperstown. Congratulations, Tom.

Info courtesy of Wikipedia, HomeTown Cable

Thursday, July 25, 2013

This is Rock Bottom for the Blue Jays

By
Courtesy of @MassF
You thought back on April 12th, the possibility of losing Jose Reyes until the All-Star break was rock bottom? You thought rock bottom for the Blue Jays was back on May 11th when they were 11 games under .500?

You thought the night after a 14-5 drubbing and a season-high five errors was as low as it could go for the Blue Jays? You thought a players-only meeting combined with a late-game collapse after holding an 8-3 lead was the worst?

No ... this is rock bottom.

This is the low point of the 2013 season for the Toronto Blue Jays. Seven straight losses, ten games below .500, 14.5 games back of first place. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, they have.

And just in case this week wasn't soul-crushing enough, word is Brandon Morrow (the Blue Jays Opening Day number two starter) is done for the season.

Baseball is supposed to be an escape, right? People watch baseball to get away from their daily stress for a couple hours. But how bad is it when you need an escape from your escape?

In many ways, this series against the Los Angeles Dodgers has truly been a microcosm for the entire season. The Blue Jays got blown out and perform horribly on the field in nearly every aspect of the game on Monday.

Then the very next night, they seemingly have the game under wraps, only to let it all collapse. Repeat that scenario again on Wednesday, and that's been the series (and season) in a nutshell for the Blue Jays.

At first, one would think it's the bullpen that's coughed up the last few losses and to some effect that's true. But they also were forced to pick up seven innings of work the night prior after Josh Johnson only managed to pitch through two innings on Monday.

So Dustin McGowan, Brett Cecil, Juan Perez and Dustin McGowan all pitched in consecutive games, and as Gregg Zaun noted, the Blue Jays bullpen is running on fumes and beginning to show signs of fatigue.

Here's the scary part; if the bullpen is beginning to fall apart, that's when you know things are bad. If one of the few things that has been consistent for the Blue Jays all season is suffering because of an increased workload, then what the hell else is there to look forward to?

One can't expect the team to dig themselves out of this mess immediately. But unlike previous years, the problem is the Blue Jays don't have the liberty of time on their side. This team is built to win now. And the Blue Jays need to produce now.

Here it is July 25th, just past the midway point of the season and it already feels like the disaster that was the end of the 2012 season. It also somewhat resembles the "clubhouse mutiny" situation at the end of the 2009 season, when the players had seemingly turned on Cito Gaston.

Maybe we're just making this out to be a hyperbole of discourse and blowing it way out of proportion. But one can't argue the impact of raising expectations to an astronomical level, and then having them shattered mere months later.

This is a very concerning precedent that's been set for a team that for the most part, is going to be with each other for the next two to three years, too. These are the very much the same 25 guys the Blue Jays are going into battle with next year.

So if it's the very same cast of characters, can you really trust them to perform better next year? If they can't get it together now, who's to say they will next year or even in 2015?

I think most people's hopes of ending the 20 year playoff drought this year have already been dashed. A lot would have to happen for the Blue Jays to even have a flicker of hope to contend this year.

At this point, virtually nobody is counting on the Blue Jays to pull a 2012 Oakland Athletics and complete the second half Cinderella story. Frankly, as a fan ... it's a dark, dark day when you know your team has next to no chance at making the playoffs.

Really, all anybody can ask the Blue Jays now is to provide some semblance of hope for next year. The season itself isn't anywhere close to being over, but it's a sad reality that in some ways ... it is.

All I can say to the 2013 Blue Jays is prove me wrong. Please ... prove me wrong.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Maybe the Blue Jays Are Overrated

By
There are many words people would use to describe the 2013 incarnation of the Toronto Blue Jays. Now the word "overrated" is at the top of the list.

It all stems from some rather frank comments made by Mark Buehrle over the weekend, following yet another frustrating loss by the Blue Jays. He didn't pull any punches when it came to expectations about this team:
"Maybe we're overrated, maybe we're not as good as we thought we were ... as a team, we're not playing good all around. With bases loaded we're not scoring, we're not pitching good, it's just one of those things that it seems like nothing is clicking for us."
It's harsh, but it's true. The Blue Jays are underperforming. This team is a big departure from the very same club that rattled off 11 straight wins in mid-June and got themselves within 3 games of the Wild Card. But it's been all downhill since then.

On June 24th, the Blue Jays came into Tampa Bay riding an 11 game win streak and were actually slightly ahead of the Rays in the standings. It was a tale of two completely different teams going in two completely different directions.

But since then, the Blue Jays have gone 7-16 while their counterparts the Tampa Bay Rays have gone 19-4. Not to mention, the Rays are now a game out of first place while the Blue Jays are 13 games back and in last place in the division.

Even look at the Los Angeles Dodgers ... who up until recently, were in the very same boat as the Blue Jays. L.A. was an underachieving team littered with huge contracts, and yet had very little to show for it in the win column. Now they've won seven straight and are 21-9 in their last 30 games.

It's incredibly frustrating because this Blue Jays team is arguably in much better shape roster-wise right now than they were during the win streak. The Blue Jays now have staples like Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera back in the lineup, and yet the team continues to underperform.

For those who have kept a close eye on the Blue Jays these past few years, it's a familiar story. Not unlike last season, injuries took their toll on the roster and the team found themselves playing catchup for most of 2012.

However, there is one big difference this year; this team was not supposed to fail. In fact, they were the odds-on favourites to win the World Series. The Blue Jays were not supposed to underperform in 2013 ... they were supposed to lead the pack. 

It pains me to say this, but Mark Buehrle was right. In that aspect, the Blue Jays are overrated.

This roster certainly has the talent to be a contender, and yet here they are in last place in the American League East. Somewhere along the way, something has gone horribly wrong.

Most of these struggles have very little to do with the manager John Gibbons ... but if the Blue Jays continue on this path, I feel like his job could be in jeopardy going forward. Maybe not this year, but he could be the sacrificial lamb if the team keeps underperforming.

A lot would have to go wrong for John Gibbons to get the boot. By no means do I think he's responsible for this mess, but as we all know, the manager is often the first one to go when a team fails to live up to expectations.

After losing three relatively close games to the Tampa Bay Rays, one would think that the lack of offense is the problem here. The Blue Jays did strand a roster's worth of runners in the three game series, but it's the starting pitching that's plagued the Blue Jays all season long.

For a team that's paying its starting rotation a total of approximately $41.45 million dollars this season, the Blue Jays certainly aren't getting their money's worth. And to think, that total will jump to $43.2 next year ... and that's only for four starters (Buehrle, Dickey, Morrow, Happ).

Throw in the $7.5 million owed to Ricky Romero next season, and the total salary of the 2014 starting rotation will easily exceed $50 million dollars ... which is just a little more than the Houston Astros' and Miami Marlins' 2013 payrolls combined.

The problem is the Blue Jays are paying for premium talent for their starting rotation and they're receiving league-average results. In fact, they might actually be getting below league-average results out of their starting rotation.

Most were expecting this would be a championship calibre starting rotation, and instead it's been quite the opposite. What was thought to have been a strong suit for the Blue Jays is actually their most glaring weakness.

It's unfortunate, but anything less than a playoff berth this season would be viewed as a disappointment for the Toronto Blue Jays. As they sit 45-52 and 13.5 games back with 65 games left to play, that seems less and less likely.

If the Blue Jays fail to make the playoffs in 2013, all will not be lost. Most of this cast will be around next year as well. At least on the surface, this roster doesn't need a major overhaul in order to transform it back into a contender.

All the Blue Jays need is those high-paid players to perform to their ability. It sounds so simple, and yet it's the very same struggle every other team in Major League Baseball goes through every single year.

The difference is the Blue Jays were built to win. They were constructed to contend. And when they don't, pure and simple, that's the definition of being overrated.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Flashback Friday: Carlos Delgado's Excellence

By
Courtesy of The Star
Often times, we look at people, places and experiences from the past through rose-coloured glasses. We build them up in our minds to be much greater than they actually are.

That is not the case with Carlos Delgado.

If anything, Carlos Delgado is actually quite the opposite. Much like a fine wine, his era with the Toronto Blue Jays has gotten much better with age. And he will be deservingly enshrined onto the Level of Excellence this Sunday to honour his contributions to the franchise.

Regrettably, I missed most of the Carlos Delgado era during my brief hiatus from Blue Jays fandom. So I don't even have any anecdotes or memories about what King Carlos did for this franchise. All I can do is look back at his statistics in awe.

Delgado came to prominence during a time in which there was a changing of the guard with this team. Gone were childhood heroes like Alomar, Carter and Ward, and they were supplanted by the new generation; spearheaded by Delgado, Gonzalez and Green.

For the longest time, Carlos Delgado was one of the few bright spots for the Toronto Blue Jays. On what was otherwise a mostly uneventful era in Blue Jays history, Delgado was the new hope for a new generation of Blue Jays fans.

All that considered, it makes me appreciate what Carlos Delgado did with his time during the Blue Jays even more. Although he may not have been a prominent part of the ensemble that won back-to-back World Series, he should still be held in high regard.

Below is a grocery list of the franchise and single season records that Carlos Delgado holds. In total, Delgado holds 15 Blue Jays franchise records. From these numbers alone, it's quite easy to see why he was one of the best bats in Blue Jays history.



But it wasn't just about what Carlos Delgado did on the field, it's about what he did off the field as well. In an era that was littered with performance enhancing drugs, Delgado was one name that was never linked to steroids.

It gives a whole new level of appreciation for what Delgado did when he was playing amongst guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and many others who have either admitted to using PED's or it was almost proved without a shadow of a doubt that they did.

Then there are stories like this one over at Mop Up Duty which prove how great of a guy Carlos was to the fans. I'm sure Kirk's story wasn't the first one like that, and it certainly won't be the last. You get the sense that Delgado was grateful to play the game he loved for a living, and he was grateful towards the fans that came out to the ballpark.

Aside from his astounding body of work in Toronto, there are the single standout moments of Carlos Delgado's career that will never be forgotten. The greatest perhaps which was his four home run game.



Every time I read about the narrative from that game, the story gets better and better. It wasn't enough that Delgado went yard four times that game, he did it while under the weather. And two ... yes, two of his home runs went off of the space formerly known as Windows Restaurant.

I can't recall exactly what the dynamics were with the catching situation back in the early 90's, but it's funny to think Carlos Delgado contributed to a catching conundrum on the Blue Jays roster when they had Pat Borders, Randy Knorr and Delgado all on the catching depth chart.

So you can see why the Blue Jays converted Delgado to a first baseman, and fans are surely grateful they did. One can only imagine what Carlos' career path may have been had he remained a backstop.

Courtesy of The Star
This is one topic that will eventually arise when it comes to reflecting on Roy Halladay's career with the Blue Jays, but it 's unfortunate Carlos Delgado never had an opportunity to make a run at the playoffs during his tenure in Toronto.

In fact, Delgado only made it to the playoffs once in his entire 17 year career. However, it's interesting he did receive a World Series ring in 1993 since he did make an appearance on the big league roster; even if it was for only two games and one at bat.

Delgado and Halladay may have been proverbial ships passing in the night during the Blue Jays timeline, but whether he knew it or not, Carlos was effectively passing the torch onto Doc as the new face of the franchise.

Carlos Delgado is one of those extremely rare figures in Blue Jays history who is beloved by nearly everyone. Fans adore him, teammates have nothing but good things to say, and coaches have always spoken very highly of Delgado.

This Sunday, Carlos Delgado will rightly take his place among the Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre. Congratulations Carlos ... I can't think of a player who deserves the honour more than you.

Editor's note: this is a repost from December 22nd 2012, "Recognizing Carlos Delgado's Excellence". It basically says everything I wanted to say about Delgado's illustrious career, anyway. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Uncertain Future of Josh Johnson

By
He towers the mound at 6'7". He weighs in at 250 pounds. His fastball velocity clocks in at 93 miles per hour. He possesses a wipeout slider. He's a former NL ERA champion and two-time All-Star starting pitcher.

Josh Johnson certainly has all the makings of an ace, but for whatever reason, he just hasn't been able to put it all together with the Toronto Blue Jays this season.

Perhaps more than any other pitcher on the Blue Jays staff this season, Josh Johnson has been the most perplexing arm of the bunch. He came into Opening Day as one of the most promising offseason acquisitions, but at this point he's looking more like a lost opportunity.

At the beginning of the season, Josh Johnson was one of the players I thought the Blue Jays needed to sign to a contract extension immediately. Admittedly, it was sign unseen, but if he pitched well this year, it was only a foregone conclusion that JJ would be out the door by season's end.

Now with everything that has transpired this season, that may not be the case.

Given, injuries have hampered Johnson in the first half, allowing him to make just 12 starts prior to the All-Star Break. However, in the handful of games he has taken the mound, Josh Johnson has offered a mixed bag of results.

Not surprisingly, Jeff Passan reported yesterday the Blue Jays have no interest whatsoever in trading Josh Johnson. I don't believe the Blue Jays are insistent on hanging on Josh Johnson, I think it's because his value could not be lower than at this very moment.

What exactly could the Blue Jays fetch in return for Josh Johnson right now? A fringe prospect? A player to be named later? Cash? Another player with a bloated contract? All of those don't seem like very appealing options for the Blue Jays ... a team that's in "win now" mode. 

Josh Johnson appears to hold far more value for the Blue Jays by remaining in the starting rotation and contributing in the second half than whatever he would fetch on the trade market. Even if that means Johnson walks at the end of the season.

Fear not, even if that is the case, the Blue Jays could always send a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson after the World Series. The Blue Jays stand to benefit either way it goes; if Johnson accepts, then he comes back next year at a little more than the $13.75 million he's making this year.

And if Josh Johnson declines, then the Blue Jays receive a compensatory first round pick. As Steve Adams noted over on MLBTR, that sets Toronto up quite nicely in the 2014 draft.
"Because the Jays were unable to sign 2013 first-rounder Phil Bickford, Johnson declining and signing elsewhere would give them three picks in the first round of the 2014 draft - the same scenario their division rivals, the Yankees, enjoyed in 2013."
Knowing Alex Anthopoulos' propensity for draft picks, the possibility of having three selections in the first round of the 2014 must be very intriguing. Really, there isn't a scenario in which the Blue Jays don't benefit; whether Josh Johnson sticks around next year or not.

Perhaps Josh Johnson does in fact accept the qualifying offer in an effort to rebuild his value on the open market. Seems like a smart strategy for a pitcher who was poised to garner a multi-million dollar contract as a free agent at the end of this season.

I suppose what it all boils down to is does Josh Johnson want to get paid, or does he want to win? If it's the former, then there's bound to be some team out there that wants to sign him to a multi-year contract.

If Edwin Jackson received a 4-year/$52 million dollar contract from the Chicago Cubs, then anything is possible. There's always a team out there like the Los Angeles Dodgers that seemingly have money to burn.

However, if it's a chance at a World Series ring that Josh Johnson desires, that opens up his options to quite a few more teams. Does he instead sign with a perennial contender like the St. Louis Cardinals or Texas Rangers? Heck, why not the New York Yankees?

Or perhaps Josh Johnson feels his best chance to win is to stay with the Toronto Blue Jays. Considering how poorly the first half was, they're surely poised to fare much better in 2014 with the bulk of the roster returning next year.

If the Blue Jays are going to bounce back in the second half, Josh Johnson will undoubtedly be one of the keys to their success. Primarily, they'll need him to merely stay healthy; but secondly, the Blue Jays will need him to channel some of the magic from when he was with the Marlins.

At the start of 2013, I couldn't imagine this starting rotation without Josh Johnson as a pillar in the rotation. But considering that Dickey, Buehrle, Morrow and Happ are all under contract next year, there are plenty of options to replace Johnson if he walks.

Josh Johnson is by no means irreplaceable in the starting rotation ... but one wonders where the Blue Jays would find an arm like his for the 2014 season without having to overpay in dollars and over-commit on years.

The future of Josh Johnson and the Toronto Blue Jays is unsure at this moment, but what is certain is Toronto is in a position to benefit whether he sticks around in 2014 or not.

Monday, July 15, 2013

8 Storylines from the Blue Jays First Half

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Last place in the American League East. 45-49 at the All-Star break. 11.5 games back of first place. Suffice it to say this was not how it was supposed to go down. This isn't what was supposed to happen to the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.

With the season more than halfway complete, many are looking for answers as to what went wrong with the Blue Jays in the first half. The truth is, it's a number of things ... but amongst the disappointments, there were also a few bright spots as well.

Whether it was the starting rotation, the bullpen, or even Munenori Kawasaki, there were many storylines that emerged from the first half of the season, but these ones stood out the most.

The Starting Rotation


Going into Opening Day, the Blue Jays boasted one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball ... on paper, at least. But within the first five weeks of the season, that piece of paper was scratched off, crumpled up, and run over about seven or eight times.

It's baffling how starting pitching was thought to be a strong suit for the Blue Jays in 2013, and yet it's arguably been the most disappointing aspect of the season to date. Even with the perceived depth in the minor leagues, the starting rotation was a virtual revolving door. 

The Blue Jays employed a total of 13 different starting pitchers in the first half of the 2013 season. To put that in perspective, the 2012 Blue Jays used a total of 12 starting pitchers the entire season. And that's the year when the starting rotation suffered huge losses.

The first somewhat shocker of the season was that Ricky Romero would not be making the trip north from Spring Training, and instead J.A. Happ would supplant Romero as the fifth starter. Ricky would get the call however, but only for two very brief starts in May.

Of all the new acquisitions in the offseason, Mark Buehrle has surprisingly been the most consistent of the bunch in the starting rotation. R.A. Dickey has been hot and cold, the jury's still out on Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow has battled injuries, and J.A. Happ remains on the DL.

It's odd how Esmil Rogers blossomed into a great starting pitcher, because his place in the starting rotation was born out of necessity. He was merely thought of as a spot starter and a short term solution.

But at this point, one can't envision a scenario where the Blue Jays would ever want to take Esmil Rogers back out of the rotation. He has proved to be a valuable arm in what has been an otherwise disappointing starting rotation. 

The Legend of Munenori Kawasaki


It was the postgame interview heard around the world; his name is Munenori Kawasaki. He is from Japan. He is Japanese. And not many people knew the name Munenori Kawasaki when the 2013 season began, but most of them certainly know who he is now. 

Within a few days of being called up by the Blue Jays, Munenori Kawasaki became an overnight sensation. For some reason or another, his mannerisms captured the attention of Blue Jays fans everywhere.

Really, Kawasaki was brought in as a band-aid solution at shortstop while Jose Reyes was on the disabled list. And for a while, Kawasaki's antics provided welcome distraction from what was otherwise a disappointing first half for the Blue Jays.

And it's not as though Kawasaki was a liability on the roster on the absence of Jose Reyes, either. Munenori Kawasaki owned the sixth highest on base percentages on the roster, and his defense was adequate, whether it was at shortstop or second base. 

I think a lot of fans gravitated towards Munenori Kawasaki because he embodied what the game of baseball should be all about: fun. There's no question that every time he took the field or stepped into the batter's box that he was absolutely having the time of his life.

A great deal about baseball is about highly-touted prospects, and young players coming up through the ranks and doing what they're supposed to do. But then there are pleasant surprises like Munenori Kawasaki who bring some of that fun and unpredictability back into the game.

The Bullpen


If someone told you at the start of the season that Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar would be going to the All-Star Game, they'd probably think you had a few too many $10 dollar tall cans at the Rogers Centre.

But lo and behold, the two Cinderella story relievers are in fact heading to the Midsummer Classic. Cecil and Delabar are just two pitchers in what has evolved into a dominant bullpen for the Blue Jays; one of the pleasant surprises for the club in the first half.

Here's the true testament to the success of the Blue Jays bullpen, or at the very least, their late relievers; the Blue Jays are 33-0 when leading after seven innings. That's right, they were undefeated in the first half when they had the lead late in the game.

Combined with Casey Janssen, Aaron Loup, Darren Oliver, Dustin McGowan, and newcomers Neil Wagner and Juan Perez, Toronto has boasted one of the more impressive collection of relievers in baseball.

One could argue that the reason why the bullpen has been so dominant is because John Gibbons, whose reputation as a bullpen savant precedes him, as managed to extract the most out of his relief corp; assigning proper roles and using his relievers in proper situations.

The weighted ball program may also have something to do with it, as Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan are reaping the benefits of the program. In fact, the Blue Jays believe in the program so much that they hired Jamie Evans (the creator of the program), as a consultant to the team.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


If ever there was a mantra for the 2013 Blue Jays in the first half, this would be it; "one step forward, two steps back". Just when it seemed like the Blue Jays started to gain any sort of momentum whatsoever, that's when they would slide backwards.

For the first two months of the season, the Blue Jays slowly tumbled further and further down the standings, and at one point were a season-high 11 games under .500 back on May 11th.

But thanks to an incredible 11 game win streak in mid-June, the Blue Jays managed to vault themselves back above .500, and at one point were 3 games out of a playoff spot. At their high water mark on June 23rd, the Blue Jays were a season-high two games above .500.

However, true to the mantra, with that large step forward in mid-June, the Blue Jays took another two steps back. Since the win streak, they went 7-13 and own a 45-49 record going into the All-Star break.

Certainly not as bad as it could be, and not an insurmountable deficit for a team with this much talent on the roster, but it's nowhere near the lofty expectations that were set in the offseason.

One could label injuries as the scapegoat for the Blue Jays first half disappointment, but really that excuse can be used for virtually any team. Heck, the New York Yankees are arguably a shell of a Major League team, and yet they're still somehow seven games above .500.

Adam Lind's Comeback


Like a phoenix emerging from the ashes, Adam Lind came back and enjoyed a new lease on life with the Blue Jays in the first half of 2013. However, Lind wasn't the same player as he was back in 2009, he evolved into a much different animal this time around.

Adam Lind's resurgence can be largely attributed to much better plate discipline this time around. Lind has started taking more pitches, and thus walking and getting on base more than he had in the past two previous seasons.

The power numbers may not necessarily be that of 2009, but Adam Lind has seemingly transformed into a singles specialist. He's finding holes all over the infield, which may be a sign that his .306 batting average and .351 BABIP won't be sustainable after the break.

The Ballad of Brett Lawrie 


Much like the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays themselves, hopes were extremely high for Brett Lawrie to start the season. Many were expecting him to recapture some of that magic when Lawrie stormed onto the scene in late 2011.

But unfortunately, Lawrie struggled at the plate for the first two months of the season, and then an injury sidelined him for basically the rest of the first half. Perhaps the Blue Jays rushed Brett back to quickly in April, and his problems at the plate simply compounded themselves.

If the Blue Jays are going to be successful after the All-Star break and even in the foreseeable future, they are going to need Brett Lawrie to contribute. There is no question he's impeccable with the glove, but in the first half, it was glaringly obvious Lawrie needed more work at the plate.

The latest development in the Brett Lawrie saga is that the Blue Jays have shifted him over to second base (at least in the meantime). It's somewhat of a perplexing decision as it doesn't really provide the Blue Jays a much better defensive figuration than before Lawrie went on the DL.

Colby Rasmus Comes Into His Own


Here's someone who nearly nobody's talking about; Colby Rasmus. He's very quietly having an impressive 2013 season and  on pace to set new career highs in home runs and RBI'.

It may be a few years later than expected, but Colby Rasmus appears to finally be coming into his own as the Blue Jays everyday centre fielder.

With the pressure off and the lack of mixed messages from his coaches, Colby Rasmus has blossomed into the player that everyone has been trumpeting for the past three years. Statistically speaking, Rasmus has actually been one of the best centre fielders in the AL.

The Emergence of Edwin Encarnacion


Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout year in 2012, but for most of his career, he's been somewhat of an enigma. A player with all the tools to become a star player, and yet for some reason another, Encarnacion just wasn't able to put it all together. That all changed in 2012.

Much like his counterpart Jose Bautista and his breakout 2010 campaign, there were many questions as to whether the 2012 season was a one-off for Edwin Encarnacion. But with his successful first half, EE has silenced most of those questions.

One could actually argue that Edwin Encarnacion has had a stronger first half than Jose Bautista, but both are deserving All-Stars and will represent the Blue Jays at the Midsummer Classic.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Flashback Friday: The 1991 MLB All-Star Game at the Skydome

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Courtesy of SportsLogos.net
The Midsummer Classic; it's where baseball's brightest stars all shine for one evening, under one roof. In 1991, the MLB All-Star Game took place under the world's first fully retractable roof, to be specific.

With the 2013 Midsummer Classic just around the corner, for this week's Flashback Friday we take a look back at the 1991 MLB All-Star Game at the Skydome in Toronto; the home of the Blue Jays.

In 1991, the Toronto was selected as the host city of the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby in the newly-minted Skydome. Keep in mind, this was the first time the Skydome and the Toronto Blue Jays were truly on display for the entire word.

The Skydome boasted the world's first retractable roof, as well as the Jumbotron; which at the time was the largest video display in North America, and the second largest video display on the planet.

Looking back, it's funny how people on the broadcast marveled at how advanced the Skydome was back in 1991. In every right it was one of the most technologically advanced ballparks for its time, but today it's just one of seven stadiums still standing that were around in 1991. 

The festivities started off with the Home Run Derby, which interestingly enough took place during the afternoon, the day before the All-Star Game itself. And the afternoon belonged to none other than Cal Ripken Jr.



Cap Ripken Jr. easily captured the Home Run Derby title, as he swatted 12 home runs over the course of two rounds. The next closest contestant was Paul O'Neill with 5 home runs, but what most people will remember is Cecil Fielder's towering shots in the Home Run Derby.



Two of Fielder's four home runs traveled over 450 feet, sailing over top of Windows restaurant. That's right ... over top of Windows.



Those in attendance included President George Bush, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and even Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio made a special appearance.



There was a bit of a snaffoo as the announcer introduced Joe Carter first and yet Jimmy Key was lined up first. Key tipped his hat to the crowd, and yet the fans were cheering for Joe Carter. So Carter stood there with his arms crossed, as the announcer eventually introduced Key.

Roberto Alomar was the lone starter for the Blue Jays in the 1991 All-Star Game, voted in as the starting second baseman by the fans. He played alongside his brother Sandy Alomar Jr., and the Alomars actually batted eighth and ninth in the lineup.

It marked just the second time in franchise history that a Toronto Blue Jays player started the Midsummer Classic. Alomar, Carter and Key were the lone representatives from the Blue Jays at the 1991 All-Star Game.



The game itself featured a lot of new faces, as there were 18 first-time All-Stars in total. One of them included Joe Carter, who made it in for the first time in his nine year career up until that point.

The American League would go on to win the All-Star Game 4-2, and hometown favourite Jimmy Key was awarded the win ... even though he pitched just one inning, following the American League starter Jack Morris.

To this day, the 1991 All-Star Game banner still flies high at the top of the Rogers Centre, and is a reminder that baseball was truly at its peak in Toronto during the early nineties.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Burning Questions: Johnson, Lawrie & Janssen

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Courtesy of Yahoo/AP
Hypothetical baseball question; would you rather have your team lose a close 10-9 game in extra innings, or one similar to last night where the Blue Jays were blanked 3-0? If given the option, I'd prefer the former ... but a loss is still a loss.

At least in a 10-9 loss, there is some semblance of offense, but last night there was nearly none at Progressive Field for the Blue Jays. Sometimes you can really focus in on the turning point in a game, but it was a bevy of missed opportunities for Toronto.

The Blue Jays were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and they managed to strand a total of nine baserunners. That basically tells you everything you need to know about their 3-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

Who is the real Josh Johnson?

I get the sense that people's patience is growing very thin with Josh Johnson. To be fair, he has spent time in the disabled list, and he hasn't exactly been the benefactor of spectacular defense behind him, but he has yet to string together a pair of decent starts.

Much like R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson appears to be suffering from the Jekyll/Hyde syndrome.

Johnson looked impressive enough to start the game by retiring the first 10 batters. But then after a walk and a trio of singles, that was all the Indians needed to secure the way. It wasn't really even one bad inning by JJ, because frankly it could've been much worse.

However, the most telling thing about that inning in particular was John Gibbons visit to the mound. Typically, the pitching coach would head out to calm down his starter, but in this instance Gibbons came out and talked to Johnson.

I can't tell for sure what exactly Gibbons said to Johnson, but it looked like he was straight to the point ... because whatever he said, worked. Gibbons has noted that JJ has been guilty of "nibbling" lately, and perhaps that's what it was all about.

Early in the game, Josh Johnson's fastball velocity was touching the mid-nineties and his slider and curveball appeared to have a lot of break on them. But in the fourth inning, perhaps that's when he tried to rely too much on finesse rather than raw power.

Lawrie at second?

Some interesting musings from Blue Jays land, as Brett Lawrie played second base in his rehab assignment with the Buffalo Bisons last night. Could this perhaps signal a shift back to Lawrie's natural position at second base?

Let's face it ... virtually anybody would be an upgrade at second base for the Blue Jays right now. With a .216 batting average between Izturis/Bonifacio/Kawasaki, Toronto ranks last in the American League and second last in all of baseball when it comes to offense from their second basemen.

But the inevitable issue about shifting Brett Lawrie to second base is that it creates a hole at third base, and who would occupy the hot corner? Maicer Izturis has started 30 games this year at third, so obviously he would be the natural choice.

But would swapping the two really warrant a position change for Brett Lawrie? I think not. But the position flexibility would be great, and Lawrie's rehab stint is certainly the time to try it out for size.

Unless the Blue Jays were planning on moving Jose Bautista to third and then having an outfield of Melky Cabrera (when he comes back), Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis, that's the only scenario for me where putting Lawrie back at second base makes sense.

Either that, or a trade for a new third baseman in the works. Let the speculation begin!

Cash in on Janssen?

Yesterday, Dirk Hayhurst declared now is the time to sell high on Casey Janssen and to move him at the trade deadline. While I agree with his sentiments on the save statistic itself, there's no way the Blue Jays should trade Casey Janssen.

I feel like Janssen is much more valuable to the Blue Jays as a member of this roster moving forward rather than as a trade chip. Besides, I'm not really sure what Casey Janssen could fetch in return that would help the Blue Jays this year anyway.

Hayhurst said the bullpen is basically solidified with Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar in the back end of the bullpen, but as we've seen in years past, reliever arms are very volatile. And a bullpen is something that is constantly in a state flux.

Sure, the Blue Jays relief corp right now is one of the best in baseball, but will it always be that way?

There's no guarantee Sergio Santos will ever come into his own as a power reliever. Darren Oliver almost certainly won't be back next year. Who knows what's going to happen with Dustin McGowan. So the reliever landscape could still look incredibly different for Toronto in 2014.

As good as the Blue Jays bullpen has been, there's no guarantee they will be this good again next year. And subtracting Casey Janssen, arguably the best arm in that bullpen, would be counterproductive for the Blue Jays right now.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Flashback Friday: Rickey Henderson & Bob McCown's Commercial

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Whether good or bad, I'm a sucker for Blue Jays commercials. No matter who the player is, no matter what the service or product, so long as there's an affiliation with the Blue Jays, I'll watch the video at least 2-3 times on YouTube.

Case in point ... the focus of this week's Flashback Friday post - the above commercial for The 1430 starting Rickey Henderson and Bob McCown.

Considering that Rickey was only a Blue Jay for about three months during the 1993 season, the timing of the commercial is somewhat curious. It had to have been filmed and released sometime after August 1st, when Rickey was acquired from the Oakland A's

Three things stand out to me about this commercial. First of all, the blue jay club cover in Rickey Henderson's golf bag. If that piece of Blue Jays memorabilia is somehow still floating around somewhere, one can only imagine what it would fetch on eBay.

Secondly, the timeless Bob McCown. I swear, he hasn't aged in over 20 years. His hair and beard are still impeccable nearly two decades later. And yet he's somewhat unrecognizable without his signature sunglasses on in this promo.

However, my favourite part of all is Rickey Henderson's stoic look at the end of the commercial. This is the smile of a Hall of Famer, folks.


Thanks to @TheMattRoss for sending in this week's Flashback Friday request. If there's anything you'd like to see from the Blue Jays vault in an upcoming Flashback Friday, send me an email to bluejayhunter@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Miguel Cabrera Gives Credit to R.A. Dickey

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For the most part, the best part about baseball is the big moments; the walk-off hits, the towering home runs, the clutch strikeouts. But other times, the best part about baseball is its little intricacies ... the small moments.

There was one of those rare and yet small moments during yesterday's contest between the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays. It won't ever show up on the boxscore, but there was a very brief and yet definitive instant from the game.

In the top of the fourth inning, R.A. Dickey struck out Miguel Cabrera on an 80 MPH fastball. That accomplishment in itself must have been a small victory for Dickey to strike out one of the best hitters in baseball.

And what happened next was an extremely rare salute from any hitter, let alone Miguel Cabrera. He essentially tipped his cap to R.A. Dickey, nodding his head in acknowledgement after the strikeout as if to say "good pitch, you got me".

GIFs and more after the jump.

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