Odd Weather And Odd Man Out

Well, it’s been a good, if frustrating week for the Blue Jays, even though we are lagging 3.5 games behind the red-hot Red Sox. So far the Jays have shown a lot more resilience and “character” than they did last season. One gets the sense this year that if they’re trailing after 6 innings, they still have a good shot of putting a “W” on the board. That is the feeling we had back in 1992-93… and totally missed last year!

Luke Maile certainly is trying his darndest to prove nay-sayers (like me, and many many others) wrong. We all knew he was adequate behind the plate, but nothing he’s done in the past suggest he could hit at a major league level. That’s changed so far this year. Let’s hope he keeps it up!

Also trying to prove nay-sayers (of which I wasn’t one) wrong and earn his permanent place at the MLB level is outfielder Teoscar Hernandez. Thus far he’s 9 for 24 in 5 games, a .375 average, and has driven in 6 very timely runs. I said here he should have made the team coming out of Florida, but where I was wrong was thinking Steve Pearce should be made redundant by him. Pearce is off to a good start, and it’s noted, a good platoon hitter against southpaws. In reality, the odd man out is Randal Grichuk.

That’s not just because he’s been awful so far – appearing in all 18 games so far, he’s hitting all of .088 . That’s 5 for 57, with 22K’s. His .413 OPS is lower than some hitters’ batting averages at this time of year. His strikeout rate is now at about 40%, up from the 31% of the time he whiffed last year. One thing I notice in the advanced stats for him is that his “exit angle” this year is 23 degrees- double his career norm. I don’t usually pay much attention to that number, but here it might be meaningful. He’s lifting his hits way higher this year, presumably in an effort to hit home runs at an Aaron Judge pace,doubtless trying to impress the fans and accomplishing the opposite.

Now, I’m sure he will lift his average to well over .100 soon, and if he plays all year will post reasonable, if not good, numbers. Maybe hit 30 homers, which is just as possible if he goes back to hitting line drives like he seemed to do in the past. But the problem is- he’s just not needed around here.

The Blue Jays have a potential Gold Glove CF in Kevin Pillar, who also adds speed to the lineup. He’s a given. Teoscar seems the real deal, or at least worth a tryout of say 75 or so games to see if he is. Curtis Granderson is a (relatively) high-priced free agent who’s off to a decent start and is my all accounts, as good a mature teammate as you’ll find. We want him to stay. Then there’s the aforementioned Pearce, who works well in tandem and is probably un-tradeable in today’s baseball economy anyway. That leaves one Randal Grichuk taking up space on the roster unnecessarily. It’s time to try to trade him off. Not every team is as loaded in the outfield as Toronto, and he’s a Colby Rasmus like “multi-tool” outfielder who could bloom into a star. There are bound to be teams who’d jump at the chance to have him around and take the chance he’ll be more Justin than Melvin Upton down the road. Toronto could perhaps add a reliever, as decent as the bullpen already is, or a solid prospect in return.

But wait, you might be saying. What if injuries occur? And Granderson, even Pillar could be gone next year (though I’d think re-signing Pillar would be a high priority for the team this fall if not sooner.) Well, the good news is that Toronto has a trio or quartet of good young outfielders waiting to come on up. Anthony Alford is listed right behind Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette among the team’s top prospects and might have made the team if not for a spring injury. He was just activated off the DL and is in Buffalo, as is hometown boy Dalton Pompey who has great speed and some promise. Even Dwight Smith Jr. might be an upgrade over Grichuk. In a very limited sample of 12 games last year, he was 10 for 27 with Toronto, and he had a better than .350 on base percentage, while driving in 46 in fewer than 400 AB with the Bisons. And, let’s not forget that while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems a sure-fire star of the near future, his position isn’t. Although he’s played third so far, scouts suggest he might be a bit big and sluggish to stay there and should Josh Donaldson actually re-up here, well don’t be surprised to see Guerrero patroling left field.

***

I said it’s been a frustrating week for Toronto. It has for many teams. The JAys got rained out both days last weekend in Cleveland and then, making headlines around the world, got iced from a home game on Monday when ice fell through the Rogers’ Centre roof. Who saw that one coming? Toronto’s not unique of course; as of yesterday some 25 games had been postponed around the league, largely because of snow. Minnesota’s missed 4, games have been missed because of cold in KC, there’s been snow on the field in Cincinnati, and games that have been played have included the coldest temperatures on record (for a ballgame) in Baltimore and Cleveland. All the while, attendance is down in most cities. MLB is concerned but not sure if the two are connected.

Well of course they are, but of course there are other factors too. Weather’s been fine in Miami, for example, but what incentive is there for their fans to really flock to the park to see a team Derek Jeter has made a public point of stripping the talent from? Likewise, Pittsburgh fans are doubtless disgruntled by the trading of their franchise player and their best pitcher. Certainly that gives them good reason to stay home when it’s snowy outside. And in Toronto, the dome is closed (except for when ice says otherwise!) but the weather’s been miserable, making it less attractive to go out for a night on the town, and the beloved Maple Leafs are in the hockey playoffs for just the third time in 13 years. As much as Toronto does love its Blue Jays, the Leafs are still king in the city if they’re hot. Look for attendance and TV ratings to rise if Toronto ML lose another game to the Bruins and are golfing soon.

Baseball needs to do something about it. This should be a priority for Rob Manfred. I don’t want to launch a big poltical debate here but it seems that A) the climate is changing even if only on the short-term, and B) not as Al Gore had predicted in his big movie. Maybe summers are getting hotter, but this decade, winters have been getting harsher and longer across our continent. We’re seeing more and more snowstorms in April – just when MLB pushes back the opening day into March!

I don’t have all the solutions to it. I don’t like the idea of making a shorter season; the 162 game sched is as much a part of the game as cleats or pinstripes on Bronx unis. You can bet neither owners nor players would go for it either, if it meant (as it would) reduced box office and TV revenue (duh! 70 or so home games = less money than 81) and in turn, smaller contracts.

A few ideas might help a bit. I think Spring Training is too lengthy right now. If it was trimmed by a week even, perhaps players might look more kindly at giving up two or three of the extra days off they won recently. The season could open in early April again, and they’d still get a few more days off , albeit at the end of their winter. No one’s too anxious to bring back lots of double headers, but with the bad weather, many are having to take place anyway. My idea- why not have two big double-header days during the season. Maybe Mother’s Day and Father’s day. Every team would play a DH, and it could be a big splash. Big giveaways, maybe special uniforms if the clubs insist (to add to merchandise sales) … and event. Each team would host one, and be on the road for one. Yes, the owner’s lose one home game therefore (80 vs 81 because of the double header) but the crowds for those DH’s , if marketed right, might be so big as to make up for the lost game. That saves another couple of days on the sched, so maybe now we could look at about April 6 or 7 for opening day. And if the year still seems too long, maybe the playoff Championship series could be made best of 5 as the Division series are too. That’ll knock about four days off the end of the year and make November games improbable.

Finally, baseball could put in a rule of “52”. Going forward any new franchise, should they expand, any city a team moves to (aka where the A’s and Rays end up) and any new stadium replacing an existing one would have to have a roof – retractable is fine- if the city has an April average temperature of 52F or lower (11C.) That would cover existing cities like Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Denver (colorado) and Minnesota, as well as such rumored destinations as Portland, Oregon, Montreal and Columbus, Ohio. It wouldn’t effect Baltimore or Cinci, but at least we’d see less Target Fields begging for snow cancelations in years to come.

No, I don’t have all the answers, but if the big minds at MLB put their heads together and make it Job 1 instead of knocking two seconds off a pitchers’ delivery, we might have a lot fewer missed games in the future.

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