Tagged: Hall of Fame

A Blue Jays Decade In Five Shots

A decade comes to a close and while Blue Jays fans have had a number of things to grumble about – 26 years and counting since the last championship high among those – there have been highlights and things to cheer of course. No World Series but at least we hit the post-season in back to back years which automatically makes it a bit better decade than the one it followed.

For a little recap, here’s my Top 5 Moments To Remember for the team this past decade.

5. 2011

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Maybe he was the best Blue Jay yet, maybe not. He certainly had charisma and took the town by storm in his brief five years here. And got under the skin of opposition pitchers in a way no one else until a certain rightfielder two decades later. Not to mention being a cornerstone of the two Blue Jays World Series teams. So seeing Roberto Alomar Inducted Into The Baseball Hall Of Fame , the first player to do so representing the team, was pretty special.

4. 2015

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The diving catches on line drives. The big home runs. The 123 RBI and .568 slugging percentage. Getting the team to within a couple of games of the World Series. That interesting haircut. He made fans forget about homegrown Third Baseman Brett Lawrie. Josh Donaldson winning the AL MVP was a decent consolation prize after the Royals stopped the team in October. Kansas City had its first World Series in 30 years but at least Toronto had its first MVP winner since George Bell in 1987.

3. 2019

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The season passed was in many ways a total flop. there’s no way to put a very positive spin on 95 losses, nor disguise the fan reaction shown by the second straight year of league-high drops in attendance. However, on April 26 when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his long-awaited MLB debut, fans had reason to watch again and to feel some optimism at least. For years the team sported a lacklustre farm system and unrealistically-promoted low-level prospects as “the next BIG thing” but this time, VG2 was being touted by the league itself as the “next BIG thing”… and had the minor league numbers to back it. His season might not have been quite all expected, but he smiled a lot, was darn good for a 20 year old and was soon joined in the infield by two other sons of stars with close-to as good credentials : Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette. Real reason to think Toronto has a chance at a much better decade ahead than behind.

2. 2019

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A woman speaking on a lawn as a top baseball moment? It was for Jays fans this past summer and there was nary a dry eye on the lawns in Cooperstown that day as widow Brandy accepted the induction of Roy Halladay into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Few, if any players have worked so hard and been so popular with the Blue Jays as “Doc” so even if his family didn’t want to have him illustrated in either a blue “bird” or a red “P” cap in the Hall (so as not to alineate fans in either of the cities he played in) it was a huge moment for Toronto fans everywhere. Not to mention a good finish to the great story of his which got cut so prematurely short in a plane accident.

1. 2015

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Hard to believe this was so spark-provoking only four years back, now that MLB itself does things like rank the “best” ten of the year,many of which take place in meaningless situations and games. But that blast in Game 5 of the ALDS against Texas was anything but meaningless. the team felt the umpires were blatantly biased against them, the Rangers were arrogant and convinced they had pulled off a huge comeback after scoring a run when the ball appeared to be dead and not in play. Number 19 had different ideas. Always a clutch performer, Jose Bautista’s Bat Flip is as iconic an image in Canada as soldiers raising a flag in Iwo Jima in to the South.

Well, bring on the 2020s! Maybe ten years from now I’ll be posting a photo of Vlad hoisting that World Series trophy!

 

Reasons To Watch: A Cooperstown Trio In The Making

Let the games begin. Almost.

Well here in the south, the Blue bonnets are up, the swallows and flycatchers are arriving back by the day , which is good as the bugs they snack on are coming out by the hour. Spring is here. In places like Minneapolis, Detroit, and my old Toronto stomping grounds, not so much. Nonetheless, MLB is about to kick off the 2019 season… with an asterisk… (*) because two games already took place, of course, in Japan between Oakland and Seattle. For those of us over on this side of the Pacific, action will begin before the weekend.

The two games in Japan weren’t of huge importance for the most part. After all, it was only two games and neither the A’s or the Mariners are widely expected to be playoff contenders, although that said, Oakland sure fooled everyone last year. What the fan really got to take away from it though was one last chance to see a future Hall of Famer play. In front of his home crowd no less.

The great Ichiro Suzuki, who essentially retired as a player mid-season last year was back in a Seattle uniform one last time, to thrill both the Mariners faithful and his fans back home in Tokyo. Alas, he didn’t do a whole lot in the two games. If it was a Disney film, his last at bat would have been a walk-off homer or else a single, with him stealing second, third then home to win the game. Instead Ichiro went hitless and to no one’s surprise announced his retirement following the second game.

Ichiro was great. He had it all. He hit for contact like few others in the game, had speed on the bases and in the outfield, a good throwing arm and although not often on display, a decent amount of power. It was refreshing seeing a “throwback” player like him in the era immediately after the Steroids era, leading into the current era of Rob Deer or Dave Kingman wannabes. Ichiro showed that talent was talent. The Japanese pro league may not be the equal of MLB but a great player there is still a great player here. Most of all, Ichiro played with class. He set an example for young players watching the pros.

That Ichiro will be a first ballot Hall of Famer should be a no-brainer. Consider for a moment just his American totals. Parts of 19 seasons played. Ten Gold Gloves. Ten All Star teams. 2001 Rookie of the Year. Over 3000 hits and 500 stolen bases, a combination only equaled by Lou Brock, Paul Molitor and Rickey Henderson in modern times. Ranked in the top 40 all-time in at bats, hits, steals and runs. Ten straight .300 or better seasons to start his career. That’s quite a resume in itself… and that puts aside the fact that he was already an established star in Japan before coming across the ocean. There he hit .353 over 951 games, and actually clipped one more homer there (118) than in the MLB. Worth noting since it is the Baseball Hall of Fame,not just the MLB Hall of Fame.

With Ichiro gone, that leaves by my reckoning, two sure-fire, carved in stone, Hall of Famers to watch and appreciate this season as they approach their sporting twilight: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols.

Cabrera may be the only thing to really make people want to watch the Tigers this season (particularly after, not if but when they trade Nick Castellanos) Miggy, surprisingly is still only 35  but you can be forgiven for thinking him older. He’s not exactly the picture of athleticism anymore and this will be his 17th season to boot. It makes it easy for the ADD crowd to forget that in 2012 he won a Triple Crown … and that wasn’t even his best season, if going by the all-encompassing OPS. Four batting titles, 11 All Star games, two MVP awards. three years with a .600+ slugging percentage. 465 career homers and 1635 RBI, to go with a .316 career average putting him just behind Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and Kirby Puckett among players who have graced the diamonds in the past three decades. While he might not get to 500 longballs this season, with just 13 he can pass Adrian Beltre to move into the top 30 all-time… and don’t utterly discount his chances of getting to 500 before 2020. Although he only hit 16 in a disappointing 2017 and 3 in a much-abbreviated (due to injury) ’18, reports are that he looks rejuvenated this spring and he’s launched 5 with a .739 slugging pct. in spring training. Get practicing those intricate “D”s for the cap, plaque carvers… Cabrera will be Detroit’s next inductee.

Even more of a shoo-in for Cooperstown, Albert Pujols gives you something to do when a certain outfielder whose name sounds like a fish isn’t at the plate for the otherwise rather run-of-the-mill Angels.

Although no longer the superstar he was in his prime, and now often pointed to as an example of the perils of large, multi-year contracts for teams , Pujols’ career has really been something. Three MVPs, 10 All Star Games, two Gold Gloves (even though he’s never been one to come to mind for most when thinking about great defensive players), ten 100 run seasons, 8 years with an OPS over 1.000 and a career begun with 12-straight 30 or better homer seasons. Add it up and he’s got a .302 career average (despite diminishing returns of late), 3082 hits, 633 homers and 1982 RBI. By the time the summer heats up, every at bat of Pujols could be an event – just 18 more RBI and he’ll be only the fourth player of the post-WWI era to notch 2000, putting him on the same footing as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and, umm, A-Rod. Speaking of the future Mr. Jennifer Lopez, Albert can top him with 105… a longshot, it would seem when looking at the last few years (in 2018, he hit just .245 with 19 homers, 64 RBI and struck out more than twice as many times as he walked) but if he gets slotted in behind Mike Trout in the lineup and keeps up his torrid spring pace (a .571 slugging percentage with 3 homers this spring in the cactus league) and don’t put it past him. And when he clips his 28th next homer, he’ll pass Willie Mays for fifth all-time. Mind you, last time he hit 28 HR in a year was 2016, but if not this year, don’t doubt he’ll get there. Los Angeles Anaheim have him signed through 2021, at no less than $28 million per season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll be there with Hammerin’ Hank and the Bambino as the only 700 home run hitter not tainted by PED scandal. Pujols is a no doubter, Hall of Famer five years after he retires, although whether he goes in wearing the St. Louis red cap, the Anaheim red cap, or as seems the current trend, no team emblem at all, remains to be seen.

The two players to watch to be able to tell future generations of fans, or Cooperstown visitors, “I saw them play.”

Yes, if Mike Trout keeps up even a fraction of his productivity for another three or four years, he’ll be in. Maybe Pujols’ former teammate Yadier Molina will make it. If little Jose Altuve is half as good over the next two or three years as he’s been for the past half dozen, he’ll represent Houston in that building in upstate New York. Perhaps a future blog will look at the careers of CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander and how they stack up compared to Hall of Fame pitchers… but for all that, mark it down. Pujols and Cabrera are guaranteed Hall of Fame players on the field this month. The list starts, and ends with those two.

Next up, we start to look at the predictions for the 2019 season…

The 2019 Hall of Famers

I was overjoyed, but not surprised, yesterday when Roy Halladay was honored by Major League Baseball and its writers, winning induction into the Hall of Fame on his first try. Presumably, the late great “Doc” will be the second player to go into Cooperstown representing the Blue Jays. I say congrats to him, and of course, his wife Brandy and his sons, seeing the love and respect their husband/father commanded in the sport.

Congratulations as well to the other trio announced as being Hall of Famers yesterday – Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez. All rightful recipients.

I made the numeric case for Halladay’s induction here before (here’s yet one more bit of trivia to back his status as a Hall of Famer: since 2009, Roy leads MLB in complete games.Yeah, the deceased guy who hasn’t pitched since 2013has tossed more CGs over the past ten years than guys who have been at it through the whole period!). Rivera is a no-brainer; the best “closer” in baseball history who somehow got better when the pressure was on in the post season. Mussina is overdue, with 270 career wins, 5 All Star Games, over 3500 innings pitched and a remarkable 17 straight years after his rookie campaign, of winning double-digits. That’s consistency! Often overlooked with “Moose”too, his 7 Gold Gloves. Having him out on the mound was almost like adding a defensive infielder.

I’m glad Martinez made it in, but a little surprised. The knock on him had always been he was mostly only a designated hitter. True he didn’t add much “D” to his team but his hitting…. in another class. .312 career average, 309 HR, .418 career OBP, two batting titles, 7 time All Star, 6 100+ RBI years (including a league high 145 in 2000). Martinez wasn’t the flashiest hitter of the ’90s and early-’00s, but he might have been the best one in the AL at least. Or at least the best one not tainted by PEDS.

So the questions left behind are interesting. Will Mussina go in as an Oriole or a Yankee? He had great runs with both, and I have to admit when I hear his name I instantly think “New York.” But he did 10 years in Baltimore to 8 in NY; won more games with the O’s (147) than Yanks (123) and most surprising, was never an All Star with New York. He should have an orange bird on his Cooperstown plaque.

The other big question is will next year’s prime inductee candidate, Derek Jeter, be unanimous? His teammate, Mariano Rivera just made history by being the first unanimous selection. This was a surprise to me. No argument whatsoever that he should have been in there unanimously, but I’m surprised since nobody else had ever floated in that easily. I expected, somewhere some writer would leave him off the ballot because either A) they were a diehard and dumb Red Sox fan and vowed never to vote for an enemy operative, or B) they were tyring to make a point that he was good but not that good. I’m glad I was wrong, and expect Jeter will follow in his footsteps next winter.

Which leads to one final question: what the hell were the writers who didn’t vote for Babe Ruth back in the day thinking? Mr. Baseball. Career 162 WAR. 714 home runs, a record that would hold for some 40+ seasons. .690 slugging percentage … can you name a player playing now who had a .690 for one year… let alone a whole career. And then there was that 94-46 record with a 2.28 ERA as a pitcher on top of that. Yet somehow, only 95% of voters picked him in the 1936 ballot! He wasn’t even the leading vote-getter that year. Bottom line – players might not be getting better these days in baseball, but the credited writers certainly are!

Start Carving Doc’s Plaque

This coming July should hold a special moment for Blue Jays fans, no matter how the team is faring on field. It should mark the second time we see someone inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a Blue Jays cap on. Because folks, in 2019, the late great Roy Halladay should be in.

When I first started working on this piece, I actually wasn’t entirely sure of that last statement. Don’t get me wrong. Halladay was my favorite Blue Jay in his dozen years with Toronto and made me cheer on Philadelphia when he was traded. I’d say few were as elated as me when “Doc” pitched that no hitter in the NL playoffs in his first year there (2010) , but in fact I bet half of Canada was. We all loved Halladay.

That said, did his numbers really merit being in Cooperstown? If he gets elected will it be merely a pity vote due to his unfortunate and accidental death last year? The answer to those questions is A) yes he does, and B) no it wouldn’t be. Let’s examine that. And let’s keep in mind some of the starting pitchers likewise voted into the Hall this decade – Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Jack Morris – and one who missed out last year (with about 63% support), Mike Mussina.

To recap Roy’s career, he pitched in 16 major league seasons, pitched 416 games, 390 of them starts, with a 203-105 won-lost record. He hurled 2749 innings, with 2117 strikeouts to a measly 592 walks (which one notes, is fewer than 2 per start.) He completed 67 games and had 1 save to boot. Career ERA was a stellar 3.38. And of course there was the Phillies magnificence with the regular season perfect game and playoff no-hitter, only the second one of those ever tossed. In the limited time he got to appear in the post-season he was 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA over 5 starts. To point out the obvious there, big-game star that he was, he pitched more effectively (lower ERA) in the post-season than in the regular. He led the league in the K:BB ratio 5 times and innings pitched four. All that added up to 8 All Star game selections and a pair of Cy Youngs, one AL, one NL. Baseball Reference company calculate his career WAR (wins above replacement) at 64, or 4 per season.

So how do those numbers compare? Well, his career .659 winning percentage bests the likes of Greg Maddux (.610) and even Randy Johnson (.646). It was even more remarkable when you consider that Toronto, in the Halladay seasons, never made the playoffs and were basically just a .500 team – 977 wins, 966 losses. Take out his atrocious 2000 year (in which he had an ERA of over 10, leading to his demotion to single-A the beginning of the next season and a rapid ascent to the top afterwards) and his career ERA drops to 3.20.

He averaged 6 2/3 innings per start, essentially identical to Maddux and Johnson. And let’s not forget those 67 complete games. It will be a long time ,and require many changes to prevailing managing  strategies for us to see the likes of that again. For comparison, Justin Verlander, as fierce a competitor as one’s likely to find on the mound these days, has 24 over 15 seasons. “Doc” went out there with the mindset that he was starting the game, he was finishing the game and his team was going to win.

His 3.6 strikeouts to a walk is a better ratio than Maddux’s or Glavine’s (Glavine was only 1.7). But perhaps the crowning achievement was the 3.38 ERA over those 16 years, most of them years when longballs and offense-is-everything philosophies were king. That number falls right between Randy Johnson (3.29) and Tom Glavine (3.54, despite pitching in the “easier” National all his career.) What’s more, his adjusted “ERA+” is 1.31, meaning his number was typically 31% better than the league average , which worked out to 4.42 during the seasons he was active. Glavine was only 18% better, Morris a piddly 5%. If you’re thinking, “well, that’s good but it’s not Bob Gibson –good” well guess what? Over his 17 years, the Cards’ superstar posted a 2.91 ERA which was only 29% better than average. Clearly all of Halladay’s stats point towards being very much Hall of fame-bound.

Is there an argument against Roy? Yep, two…and we’ll deflate both.

First, the “yes he was good, but he didn’t pitch long enough” one. I must admit, I thought this could be true. Greg Maddux pitched 23 seasons, Johnson went 22, hanging up the glove at age 45. But that old grinder Jack Morris lasted only 2 seasons more (18) and as just mentioned, one of the all-time greats, Bob Gibson only had one extra year on Halladay. And among recent position players, catcher Mike Piazza had 16 years as well and Blue Jays infield inductee Roberto Alomar, 17. We would have liked to see him hang in there for a couple more years if he felt up to it, but it’s clear 16 seasons is enough for a player with such a high level of success during them.

Last but not least, an argument I imagine many Bronx and Baltimore fans might make: Mike Mussina was good too, and missed out by about 12% of the vote last year. Mussina logged 18 seasons, going 270-153, an average of 15 wins per season and he went the distance 57 times. He’s the only recent pitcher to match Halladay in the strikeouts to walk category and had an OK ERA of 3.68, pitching exclusively in the tough AL East (an ERA we add that was .22 better than Jack Morris’). Basball reference cite Mussina for an 83 career WAR, or better than 4 wins added to his team every season.

Yes, those numbers are impressive. But when looked at in context, all it really tells us is that Mussina was likely ripped off. Somehow he didn’t have the image of a “Superstar” and enough voters must have looked at it that way to exclude him. In time, he’ll probably make it to Cooperstown… as should the late Roy Halladay.

Mariano Rivera should be in unanimously with this winter’s ballot; there are good arguments for the likes of Todd Helton … but whomever is there, we should see Brandy Halladay up on the podium next summer, representing her departed husband, and the Blue Jays organization.

A Hall of a Career for Ichiro and Albert

 

One of the many ways baseball is best of the four “main” team sports in North America is how they keep fan interest high in the off-season. Example A, nothing livens up a dull off-season month like Hall of Fame announcements and subsequent debates. so in keeping with that theme, I’ll take a moment to consider the Hall. Not so much this year’s inductees- Ken Griffey Jr., his 630 home runs and scandal-free career was a no-brainer and few would really argue Mike Piazza didn’t belong – but by thinking ahead. Not ahead to 2017, but years down the road. I tried to consider which active players were assured of a spot in Cooperstown when they retire and came up with just two. And no, A-Rod isn’t one of them.

The only shoe-ins that will be hitting fungoes and jogging in the outfield in a month’s time are Ichiro (like music’s Madonna, no last name required!) and Albert Pujols. Now, that’s not to say that some other current players won’t make it in, just that they still need to work a bit more on their resumes to be assured.

Ichiro Suzuki would be a done deal even if he’d only played here. 15 seasons, two batting titles, ten All Star games, just shy of 3000 hits (he needs 65 to crack that elite club, something that’s going to be “hit” or miss playing as a backup for Miami this year) , ten gold gloves and that magical 2004 season when he set a record clipping 262 hits. Add in a .314 career average and 498 steals and you’d have a rather strong case for his inclusion. But factoring in how big a star he was with the Orix blue Wave in Japan before coming to America (seven batting championships , over 1200 hits with a .353 career average there) and he ranks favorably with the best of all-time. Granted, it may be fair to equate Japanese pro ball with AAA, or something a rung below the majors, but being the best there is over there for seven consecutive seasons has to count for something… as does the job he did opening doors for more Asian players to come to MLB. Before Ichiro, there’d been a decent Japanese pitcher or two in the bigs, but many doubted the Asians ability to hit or play positions. No more .

Pujols, like Ichiro, has 15 stellar big league seasons under his belt, but unlike the wiry Japanese outfielder, he’s only 36. It’s not unthinkable to imagine Pujols playing out most of his current ten-year deal with the Angels, which would put him at 41. And quite possibly the undisputed all-time home run leader. Even if that doesn’t happen, even if he chose to walk away from it all right now, he’d still be representing the Cardinals in the Hall in five years. A .312 career average, .977 OPS, 2666 hits… right now his 560 homers is 14th best-ever, but another two dozen this year will move him into the top 10. Ten 100-run years, seven 40-home run years, three MVPs, ten All Star games. No question about it, or him.

Perhaps more interesting though, are the players close to being in. the players who’d generate debate and probably (but not necessarily) fall a wee bit short were they to retire now. Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre, I’m thinking of you- and don’t expect either to retire anytime soon.

Cabrera’s career so far has been one for the record books. A .321 career average reflects his 4 batting championships and ten .300+ seasons (he last missed that mark in ’08). Almost 31 homers a year is a pretty respectable clip as well and like Ichiro and Albert P., he’s already been put on ten All Star squads. What is marginal however, are the career tallies. His 408 HR ranks him only 52nd all-time, and well behind Carlos Delgado (473) and Fred McGriff (493) who are on the outside looking in. His 2331 hits is a final total for 13 years, but doesn’t even put him in the top 100. All this should be somewhat irrelevant soon though; as much as he seems to have been around forever, Miggy is only turning 33 this spring. Another three or four years is quite reasonable to expect and assuming decent health, a Cabrera sporting 500 homers, 2750 or more hits and his tractor-trailer full of awards and titles should ensure him passage into Cooperstown, circa 2023 or so.

Adrian Beltre is a bit more of an enigma. At 37 this spring, he’s older than Pujols and younger than Suzuki, but he’s already logged a remarkable 18 seasons. When the umpires yell “Play Ball” in a little over two months time, Beltre will be joined by Bartolo Colon as the only players who heard the same call back in the last century. Watching Beltre handle the hot corner fo r the Rangers in the last few seasons and seeing the regard he’s afforded by teammates and opponents as well would make him seem a sure thing too. But one doesn’t have to turn over too many rocks (or bases) to find someone who recalls a younger, West Coast Beltre who seemed to lack the same work ethic he has now and who seldom posted the big numbers we expect of him. Bottom line is that over a long career of 2567 games, he has a career .285 average, .814 OPS, 2767 hits and 413 home runs. He has five 175 hit seasons and six 90-RBI campaigns, and of course his prowess with the glove is legendary. Twice he has won the “Platinum Glove” award for best overall defensive player, but he’s only got two extra Gold Gloves on top of that. I’d probably vote for him, but I’d also have likely given the nod to Alan Trammell- another great infielder with four Gold Gloves and a .285 career average to show for it. To the dismay of Michigan fans of course, Trammell hasn’t come close to being voted into the Hall. My guess though is that Beltre still has fire in his belly and another two, maybe three good years at third left and maybe another season or two as a DH somewhere. It will be hard for voters to ignore a Beltre with 3000 career hits, 475 or more homers and five or six Gold Gloves.

Following the march towards Cooperstown should make watching Texas and Detroit all the more interesting this season. Perhaps with a bit of luck, I can be writing a similar column three or four years from now about Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion!

Anyone I’ve forgotten on the list? Let me know…

What you see is what you get? welcome to the ’12 Jays

What you see is what you get. Or so says Alex Anthopolous who is quoted in today’s Toronto Star as telling the increasingly disgruntled fanbase that the “team as it stands now is likely the one fans can expect to see when camp opens in Florida.” Or to put it another way, if you really thought he was going to live upto his declarations of a month or six weeks back, when he was saying the Jays had to beef up their starting rotation and they had the resources to do so, well , tough. On the other hand, if you’re Roy Halladay, it’s looking like you were perceptive when asking to be traded away from the only big league home you’d ever known if they weren’t going to make an effort to compete before you signed into an Old Age Home. What you see is what you get. Or so says Alex Anthopolous who is quoted in today’s Toronto Star as telling the increasingly disgruntled fanbase that the “team as it stands now is likely the one fans can expect to see when camp opens in Florida.” Or to put it another way, if you really thought he was going to live upto his declarations of a month or six weeks back, when he was saying the Jays had to beef up their starting rotation and they had the resources to do so, well , tough. On the other hand, if you’re Roy Halladay, it’s looking like you were perceptive when asking to be traded away from the only big league home you’d ever known if they weren’t going to make an effort to compete before you signed into an Old Age Home. It’s been another astonishingly frustrating off-season for Toronto fans who have been promised the moon only to be , effectively, mooned by the Blue Jays office. Granted, they did listen to me and a myriad of other fans and finally ditch the ugly black unis and hats and bring back something reminiscent of the colours of the winning editions of the team. Unfortunately, they not only ignored the even louder din of the masses asking for some minor upgrades to be made to the roster. And to make matters worse, they allowed the fans (the same ones they scolded for not buying enough season tickets) to be toyed with more than a nymphomaniac in a sex shop. Anthopolous has a well-publicized policy of not commenting on any negotiations involving free agents or other clubs, and the result is that the media has been quick to assure Canadian fans that Toronto was this close to signing Prince Fielder… and Joe Nathan… and to win the rights to Japanese star Yu Darvish, only to be disappointed at every turn. As Richard Griffin, the Star’s senior baseball writer put it recently, the team cone of silence “leads to Jays participation being exaggerated.” he believes the team “would benefit from total transparency” and that “media support is turning to frustration and anger.” Nevermind that he is one of the leading causes of that switch from support to anger, the point still remains that if the team hasn’t talked to Fielder, or put in a Mickey Mouse bit just for the practise, it would behoof them to quickly deny it when Cleveland on-air jocks say that Prince was being fitted for blue caps with feisty bird heads on them. There might not be as much resentment when the inevitable happens and we see him smiling and donning a red Washington cap… or blue cap with a capital “C” on it … or a red cap with white intertwined letters on it, or for that matter just about any cap that isn’t Toronto’s. As it stands, looking forward to 2012, the Blue Jays seem perhaps marginally better than they were at the end of the ’11 campaign (I did say “perhaps”) but probably not as good as they were at last year’s All Star break. They have improved their bullpen marginally since St Louis went on parade with a carload of former Blue Jays. Darren Oliver may be long in the tooth (only Arthur Rhodes and Tim Wakefield among current pitchers are older) but has done a solid job consistently, was respected in the Rangers clubhouse and can be relied upon to deliver 60-odd tidy appearances and get out some tough lefty bats. He more than makes up for Jesse Carlson who walked away to our rivals in Beantown. Likewise, it’s great to see Jason Frasor repatriated. The all-time games pitched leader for Toronto seems happy to be back, noting his wife (a Torontonian) was thrilled and that he “can’t wait to put on those new uniforms.” He gave a strong thumbs up to Sergio Santos too, whom he set up late last year in Chicago. I’m not sold on Santos as a closer, but the numbers suggest he will do at very least as well as the duo of Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch (both now Mets) did in ’11. With Casey Janssen coming into his own, the bullpen looks adequate and poised to not blow 25 saves again. Yet, even that must be tempered with the knowledge that last year’s pen didn’t look too bad, nor was it terrible until it bowed to the weight of trying to pick up a horrible starting staff four nights out of every five. And there perhaps lies the biggest problem with the Jays big talk / little action off-season. The 2011 rotation was atrocious, Ricky Romero excepted. Consider that Jo-Jo Reyes, gone from the roster by mid-summer and the butt of countless jokes due to his lengthy winless streak, was the rotation’s third winningest pitcher with all of five wins. Not exactly the stats to make the Phillies (where Cole Hamels is the third best starter), or LA-Anaheim (where Ervin Santana was, but with the signing of CJ Wilson, is now fourth behind Wilson, Weaver and Haren) quake in their boots. Granted, Brandon Morrow ended the year on a high and is certainly capable of being dominant. The question to be answered is if he has the physical and mental wherewithal to do so; to not try to out-K Nolan Ryan every time he visits the mound and thus get into the sixth inning once in a while. Henderson Alvarez looked promising but to everyone who thinks that a young starter is a guaranteed superstar based on ten games (of which he picked up exactly one “w”, a 13-0 blowout of the Orioles in August), I’d say “Mauro Gozzo”, and then throw in a “Chris Michalak”. The Jays management team also assume that Brett Cecil’s surly fall from 15 wins (with an only so-so 4.22 ERA) to 4 wins and a dour 4.73 ERA, coupled with his loss of velocity on his heater was a mere anachronism rather than the start of a career trend which if graphed might look more like the trajectory of a bobsledder than a ballplayer. And of course they assume that Kyle Drabek can’t miss, despite the fact that he missed the strike zone about half the time he let fly last season. Toronto is lucky that the Yankees seem to be snoozing contentedly and the Red sox have been more interested in creating a public shaming of the management, rather than the players, who let the playoffs slip out of their grasp than in upgrading or even shaking up their roster. The bar for teams to chase hasn’t been lifted for the Jays in 2012. Which makes it all the more frustrating that they haven’t shown a willingness to even try to make the jump. ^^^ ^^^^ Congratulations to Barry Larkin, voted in to the Hall of Fame. While his actual numbers might be marginal for the HofF … 18 years, .295 average, 198 home runs, 2300+ hits etc., nor did he dominate the game even at his peak (though he was 1995 MVP and the first shortstop to hit 30 HR and steal 30 bases in a season), he was a character player, was largely resposnsible for his Reds surprising 1990 World Championship. He was second to only Ozzie Smith among SS during most of his playing time so a strong argument could be made that he is indeed worthy of the honour. However, couldn’t the same be said of Jack Morris? Morris was the winningest and most durable pitcher of the 80s, the ace of the 1984 World Series winning Tigers, the number one pitcher for Toronto’s first World Series and the standout of the 1991 Series, pitching perhaps the best game ever in baseball playoff history to win the deciding game 7. It’s hard to imagine that in a big game, there would be any pitcher back in that era a manager would rather have given the ball to. Although he “only” pitched a little over 17 seasons, compared to the 22 years of Bert Blyleven, his winning percentage was better than the recent Hall honouree and he averaged better than 15 wins a season compared to 13 a year for Blyleven. Unfortunately, Morris seemed a gruff and often unlikeable sort, and that will probably be the factor that keeps him from being honoured in Cooperstown.