Last column, I gave you my picks for the Blue Jays “Franchise Four” – the four best players ever for the team. MLB is apparently going to release the winners for all the teams at the All Star Game, so we have time enough to debate.
As many of you know, besides the Jays and baseball, one of my passions is alternative rock and to me, no one did that better than REM. So it was with interest I found that Mike Mills (the bassist from that now-retired band) is a huge Atlanta Braves fan and read his preview of that club’s 2015 season. In it he mentioned his four all-time fave Braves were Hank Aaron, Phil Neikro, Rico Carty and more than all others, Dale Murphy. It got me thinking about who each team’s four would be- or even more specifically, who the ultimate one player would be for each franchise. I thus put forth for your consideration, my list of
THE FACE OF THE FRANCHISE
the ultimate player in the history of each club. Players marked with asterisks still playing for them…
BALTIMORE : Brooks Robinson
BOSTON : Ted Williams (until someone else hits .400, the argument is on ice)
NEW YORK YANKEES : Babe Ruth (perfect 5-0 record for them on the mound- oh, and he could hit a little too!)
TAMPA BAY : Evan Longoria *
TORONTO : Carlos Delgado (Jays all-time home run and RBI leader, see last week’s blog for more reasons)
CHICAGO WHITE SOX : Frank Thomas
CLEVELAND : Bob Feller
DETROIT : Al Kaline
KANSAS CITY : George Brett (most greats win a batting title in one decade. Brett – three decades.)
MINNESOTA : Harmon Killebrew
HOUSTON : Craig Biggio
LOS ANGELES ANAHEIM : Nolan Ryan
OAKLAND : Rickey Henderson
SEATTLE : Ken Griffey Jr.
TEXAS : Ivan Rodriguez
ATLANTA : Hank Aaron (with apologies to Mike Mills, but 755 homers and 20 All Star seasons trumps 371 homers and seven All Stars)
MIAMI : Giancarlo Stanton *
NEW YORK METS : Tom Seaver
PHILADELPHIA : Mike Schmidt
WASHINGTON : Andre Dawson (as I noted, interestingly none of the Franchise Four contenders for the Nats ever played for Washington. You’re welcome, Montreal!)
CHICAGO CUBS : Ernie Banks
CINCINNATI : Pete Rose (he’ll be voted in their Franchise Four- bet on it!)
MILWAUKEE : Paul Molitor
PITTSBURGH : Roberto Clemente (on merit of his play alone, but one has to wonder what would have been, how historic his numbers would have ended up, had he not been on that fateful flight )
ST. LOUIS : Bob Gibson
ARIZONA : Randy Johnson (one of a handful that could be a Franchise Four for two teams)
COLORADO : Larry Walker (another of a handful that could be Franchise Four for two teams)
L.A. DODGERS : Jackie Robinson
SAN DIEGO : Tony Gwynn
SAN FRANCISCO : Willie McCovey. (There’s no “Bonds’ Cove” at the new stadium!)
Let the debates begin !
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And for the Blue Jays, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Chris Colabello has carried his torrid minor league hitting to the majors in his first week with the big club and backup middle infielders keep being rearranged like deck chairs on the Titanic, but the results are frustratingly consistent. The Jays are a mediocre team in a tiny bit better than mediocre division; no matter how many runs they score, on the whole the pitching staff is going to ensure Toronto loses enough to be out of contention.
On this current road trip, a disappointing trip to Baltimore led to a disappointing stop in Houston, where Thursday Aaron Loup, in no more than 20 pitches, managed to throw away a good Drew Hutchison start and the game then on Friday, RA Dickey fooled no one and spotted the ‘Stros an early six-run lead.
At risk of flogging a dead horse (and man, the flies are gathering around that horse of a pitching staff!) , it is increasingly obvious that the current roster isn’t going to give Toronto enough pitching to have a chance at the post-season. And while it still remains widely believed that the Phillies Cole Hamels is both the best pitcher available right now and also prohibitively costly for the Jays to consider, here are a few thoughts and suggestions.
While Hamels is not going to be wearing a blue, bird-adorned cap anytime soon, a trade with the Phillies is still a viable option. Reliever Jonathan Papelbon is an unnecessary luxury for a last-place team, and is an expense Philadelphia would rather not pay for. He’s off to a dazzling start, being 8 for 8 in saves and limiting opponents to a sub-.200 average and is about as consistent as any reliever presently playing. He’d anchor the Toronto bullpen nicely and let Brett Cecil resume his role as a middle-inning guy or a left-handed batter specialist … things Aaron Loup is looking less capable of. I might guess Loup’s not done anything particularly wrong – other than being too successful too early. His weird sidearm delivery seemed so odd when he first arrived in the majors, it was sure to throw hitters off their timing. But with each passing month, there seems to be another lefty reliever tossing from the hip in the AL, (Alex Claudio of Texas being a new current example) and hitters are getting “hip” to seeing balls come at them from that trajectory.
Nonetheless, a better bullpen can only go so far if the starters remain so inconsistent. Suggestions to shake it up: first, why not put RA Dickey in the bullpen? Yes the philosophical knuckle-baller wouldn’t take it so philosophically, and he is staying on the mound for a decent number of innings, but he’s not winning. Won-lost isn’t always a comprehensive determinant of a pitcher’s ability, but 1-5 is seldom good , and when coupled with an ERA of 5.76 and rising, it might be just that. And while he has a good ground ball out ratio, the 9 homers he’s allowed is alarming… too many fly balls that he gives up fly too far! Much like Tim Wakefield did late in his career, Dickey could give his team a long man out of the bullpen who could easily come in and throw five or so innings if the starter gets blown out early, and with his rubber arm and low-stress pitch, do the same the next night if need be.
Dickey in the ‘pen would mean Marco Estrada could get a longer look in the rotation, since his role (long relief) would be filled, although if the team added two starters to the rotation, he could be shuttled back there.
Two starters, you say? Not as unlikely as it might seem. First off, let’s look down the QEW to Buffalo. There we have a pair of starters with Major League experience thriving for the Bisons. Andrew Albers, the Canadian, got short-changed in his one day stop with the Jays. Although he unfortunately shares Dickey’s W-L (1-5) he’s done so much more effectively, with a solid 2.29 ERA over six starts there. Even more worthy of a look is… Randy Wolf.
I know. Regulars here remember I said not long ago that Wolf hardly seemed a solution to the Blue Jays woes. However, since then the Toronto pitching has gotten worse and Wolf has continued to shine on the shores of Lake Erie. Currently he’s sitting at 3-0 in six starts with a tidy ERA of just 1.00. A crafty southpaw with over 100 MLB wins and riding high in AAA seems worth a look-see.
Add Wolf to the rotation for at least three or four starts (more of course, if he seems to still have big league stuff) is a no-brainer, given the lack of success the pitcher he’d replace is having. And there’s still the trade option to improve the team quickly.
As mentioned here previously, old Aaron Harang is another Phillie that doesn’t factor into their long-term plans. He’s pitching like he wants out of Pennsy; so far he’s logged over 53 innings in 8 starts and has a 4-3 record with 2.03 ERA and a nice 37/10 K to BB ratio. Numbers he might not keep up with a new team, but it’s worth a gamble. Even if he dropped off to his typical level of success, we’d gain a guy who over the past four years averages about 30 starts, 175 innings a year with an ERA barely over 4– an upgrade over what RA or Marco are delivering right now. One would think there’d be no need to dig too far into the vault of young talent to acquire him from Philly.
A little more expensive perhaps, but also more intriguing, Scott Kazmir. No, there’s no word that Oakland is trying to get rid of him, But, considering the A’s last place standing, their solid rotation of Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez and soon to return AJ Griffin, Scott’s $11M salary coupled with Billy Beane’s bean-counting ways… I’d wager that Kazmir could easily be a Jay for the cost of perhaps Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez, maybe even less. Kazmir at 31 is coming into his prime and so far is off to a 2-1, 2.78 start; his ERA since the beginning of 2013 is 3.65. Give him 6 runs of support a game and he could easily be a 20 game winner here. Make the call, Alex — you must have Oakland’s front office on speed dial already!