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It was 4-1.

Archive for the ‘it’s so hard to say goodbye’ tag

Travis Snider: Still a prospect

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I was going to title this post “Wither Snider?”, until I remembered that everyone — including and especially myself — hates with an incredible passion posts and/or columns that are titled: “Whither ______?” It’s the question mark that really pisses me off. Are you asking me, or telling me?

Anyway, Snider’s Vegas vacation. Everyone is, unsurprisingly, up in arms about the demotion. I didn’t bother counting how many “Snider has nothing left to prove in AAA!” tweets I read yesterday. Far too many. Who said Snider was Vegas bound because he has to prove he can hit AAA-pitching? Nobody. Because he’s done that already. As Alex Anthopoulos confirmed Friday morning, the demotion, like Brett Cecil’s, is about fixing mechanical issues. In Snider’s case, his swing, obviously. And, frankly, I don’t care whether Anthopoulos mentioned Snider’s confidence, or lack thereof, as an issue. Does he look confident at the plate? No, he looks the opposite; he looks lost. While I appreciate the notion that Snider should be allowed to struggle and work out of his funk at the MLB level, especially considering the Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere this season, the belief that that’s something that can be easily done in the AL East is foolhardy. What if Snider continues to scuffle? How might an entire lost season — say, for example, an Aaron Hill 2010-type season — impact a young Snider? I’d rather not find out.

Whether people are willing to accept it or not, Snider remains a prospect. He’s only 23-years-old. While the decision Thursday afternoon certainly came as a surprise, it didn’t come as a surprise-surprise, you know what I mean? Not to me, at least. Not after watching Snider over the past month.

Look at his numbers. They’re God awful. It’s not just Snider’s low BABIP (.238), and his frighteningly low ISO (.080). His LD% (14.1%) is approaching Hill territory. His IFBB% is a Vernon Wellsian 20%. There’s something wrong, a combination of confidence and mechanics. So far in 2011, and this is what concerns me most, it’s fastballs that are giving Snider the most trouble. In only one month — yes, a small sample size — Snider’s hitting fastballs for 5.0 runs below average. In 2008 and 2009, when Snider made the jump to The Show, he hit fastballs for 4.2 and 3.6 runs above average, respectively. As has been pointed out in the Blue Jays blogosphere, Snider’s opposite field power has disappeared. Remember: he’s 23. A trip to Vegas is hardly the end of the world. It just feels that way.

Snider was drafted 14th overall in the 2006 MLB draft, out of high school. Below are Snider’s career MLB numbers — his wOBA, wRC+ and plate appearances — compared with those position players that went before and after him in the same draft, along with their current age in parentheses. For those players who haven’t yet made it to the big leagues, their highest level of baseball is stated.

Evan Longoria (25) — 3rd overall, Tampa Bay — 1846 PA, .376 wOBA, 133 wRC+

Drew Stubbs (26) — 8th overall, Cincinnati — 887 PA, .346 wOBA, 110 wRC+

Billy Rowell (22) — 9th overall, Baltimore — No MLB experience — AA

Tyler Colvin (25) — 13th overall, Chicago NL — No MLB experience — AA

Travis Snider (23) — 14th overall, Toronto — 774 PA, .322 wOBA, 96 wRC+

Chris Marrero (22) — 15th overall, Washington — No MLB experience — AAA

Matt Antonelli (26) — 17th overall, San Diego — No MLB experience — AAA

Chris Parmelee (23) — 20th overall, Minnesota — No MLB experience — AA

Maxwell Sapp (23) — 23rd overall, Houston — No MLB experience — A

Cody Johnson (22) — 24th overall, Atlanta — No MLB experience — AA

Hank Conger (23) — 25th overall, LAA — 78 PA, 319 wOBA, 101 wRC+

Jason Place (22) — 27th overall, Boston — No MLB experience — AA

Preston Mattingly (23) — 31st overall (supplemental), LAD — No MLB experience — A+

Emmanuel Burriss (26) — -33rd overall (supp.), San Francisco — 503 PA, .290 wOBA, 71 wRC+

Kyler Burke (23) — 35th overall (supp.), San Diego — No MLB experience — A+

Chris Coghlan (25) — 36th overall (supp.), Florida — No MLB experience — AAA

Adrian Cardenas (23) — 37th overall (supp.), Philadelphia — No MLB experience — AAA

Draft schmaft, right? Longoria, Stubbs, Snider and Burriss are the only four players drafted in the first round in 2006 who’ve had more than 500 MLB plate appearances. Snider’s the youngest of the four, and the only one of the four who was drafted out of high school. One of those guys listed above is no longer playing professional baseball.

Pardon me for going all Tampa Bay Rays on you for a second, but: “Trust the process.” Snider’s going to be great. Like you, I firmly believe it. It just might take a little longer than we’d all like.

While I know that all Travis Snider and Roy Halladay share in common is that they’re baseball players who’ve played for the Blue Jays, once upon a time, Roy Halladay was sent to A-ball. He worked out just fine.

Snider, too, will be worth the wait.

Image courtesy Ross McDonnell.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 29th, 2011 at 12:38 pm

NotGraphs: My most favorite baseball players in the whole wide world, Part II

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A cross-post, Toronto Blue Jays heavy, from NotGraphs:

Last week, I gave you those baseball players that make up the latter half of my top 10 most favorite baseball players in the whole wide world. If you missed it, and would like to read my most scientific of scientific reasoning, here’s the post. However, since then, I’ve had to make one change to those very rankings. Here they are, in short order:

10. Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp. It’s a tie. Actually, to be more specific, Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp’s afro.
9. Kirk Rueter
8. Paul O’Neill
7. Tony Fernandez
6. Mark McGwire

Without further ado, I present my top five:

5. J.T. Snow

The more I thought about this most fruitful exercise, the more I thought about J.T. Snow. And I’ve come to the realization that, deep down, I’ve always had an affinity for slick-fielding first basemen. And that love affair began with J.T. Snow. The scoop at first, it’s an art. And Snow was an artist. He wasn’t the greatest hitter, and, even though he spent the majority of his career in the National League, I always kept a watchful eye on Jack Thomas’ career. And, hey, on top of winning six straight Gold Gloves, Snow saved young Darren Baker’s life. That counts. (On an aside, I’ll never forget Dusty Baker’s reaction in the dugout after the incident. Baker knew, as we all did, that when he got home that night, he was a dead man.) In the end, two years after his retirement, Snow’s career ended the way so many players’ don’t: He signed a one-day contract with San Francisco, and left the game once and for all a Giant.

4. Ken Griffey Jr.

“The Kid.” That swing. Along with John Olerud’s, the sweetest swing I’ve ever seen. It’s rare for a player so highly touted — a first overall draft pick — to not only meet, but exceed lofty expectations. Ken Griffey Jr. did, and more. He played with his father, he played with swagger, and he played center field the way I did in my dreams. Junior was the reason I wished I didn’t bat right-handed. Junior was the reason I tried, at the very least, to switch hit.

Last summer, I was in Seattle to watch the Mariners only a few of days after Junior announced his sudden retirement. I spoke to a man outside Safeco Field, who left a written message on a photo of Griffey Jr. that adorned the ballpark’s wall. (I did, too.) The man, this baseball stranger who I’d never met before and will never meet again, was super emotional as we spoke, after I asked him to describe what Griffey Jr. meant to him. “[Ken Griffey Jr.] built this ballpark, man” he said, fighting back tears. “He saved baseball in Seattle.” It was raw emotion. “I wanted one more chance to see him,” he said. We all did.

Junior did it all, from playing with his father, to playing at home in Cincinnati, to returning to Seattle, where it all began. Full circle. If healthy, there’s no doubt he goes down as one of the best ever. Growing up, it didn’t matter where you were from or who you rooted for. You wanted to be like “The Kid.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Guest Post: On Hockey, Winnipeg & the Return of the Jets

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Saturday’s are synonymous with The Ack, weekend editor at The Tao of Stieb. If there’s one thing The Ack writes with, it’s passion. He refrains from “stat-hurling,” as @mererog so eloquently put it, and doesn’t come off the least bit condescending, something I appreciate more and more these days. I mean, I’ve got only so much time to read what people are writing; why bother if I’m going to be talked down to like I’m some idiot? I relate to The Ack. He’s a fan of baseball, a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, and, more than anything else, wants his team to win.

Recently, though, I asked The Ack about his thoughts on the rumours — the rumours that just won’t go away — surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, and how they’re Winnipeg-bound once their season is done. I remember The Ack writing that, once upon a time, he was the biggest hockey fan out there. The biggest Winnipeg Jets fan there could be. I knew it was a touchy subject, but, luckily for me, and us, The Ack obliged.

Thank you, Ack, for your most passionate post on hockey, your first love, Winnipeg, and your Jets. I can’t help but hope the rumours are true. Without further ado …

It comes across like a massive cliché – “When the Jets left, it felt like a death in the family.” But it did feel that way. It really did.

But maybe I should start at the beginning…

*

I don’t remember learning how to skate. I just know that I’ve known how to skate forever. Same thing about loving the game of hockey; I don’t have a “first hockey memory”, per se… I only know that I always did.

Here on the prairie, that’s just the way it goes. I imagine it’s the same experience for a kid in Toronto – or anywhere in Canada – but winters in Manitoba? Forget it. That’s all we had. And I would never have had it any other way. I loved the game and everything about it.

Growing up north of Winnipeg, I played on the local minor hockey circuit from the ages five through seventeen. Practices twice a week. Two or three games every weekend. And that was just the “organized” component of my hockey-playing love affair. There was the “free skating” time when the ice wasn’t booked at the local rink. There was the, um…. “unauthorized” shinny games when the barn was closed… access gained through a back door “mistakenly” left unlocked. Or maybe we’d make a few piles of snow for posts and throw down some road hockey. And the rare treat – scouring back roads for some virgin ice on a country pond. Yes, we really did things like that. That’s not just a bullshit scene made for wintery postcards.

And throughout all of that, there was always one constant.

I was Dale Hawerchuk making moves at centre ice. Sometimes I might have been Paul MacLean waiting to snipe at the side of the cage. Near the end, when you’re supposed to be too old to still dream about these things, I might have been Teemu Selanne streaking down the wing.

I – no, we – loved those Winnipeg Jets. A force in the NHL, they were never. But it mattered little to me (us), because they were ours. That was our team.

*

If my summertime dreams were narrated by Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth (they were), my winter voices were Curt Kielback and Kenny “the Friar” Nicholson. Those names won’t mean much to you, I’m sure, but they meant everything to me back then.

“Heeeeere’s Hawerchuk…makes his move…pass to MullenbacktoHawerchuktoMacLean!…he scores!”

Isn’t it funny how you can still hear those calls in your head some twenty five years later? I listened to every game.  Every game! I’d bet the old man a quarter on each one, him always picking the other team just to let me have my fun. If you know Jets history, you’ll know that means I was out a few packs of gum, but I didn’t care. You have to bet on your team.

*

We always knew the franchise wasn’t the most stable. It was never a preferred destination for the players (and I’m being charitable). More than one talked their way out of town. The old Arena was an outdated mess of a building (but a fantastic atmosphere, especially in the playoffs) with 15,500 seats, of which maybe 13,000 had a halfway decent view of the ice. Local ownership had no money and didn’t even own the joint, and there were really no ways to improve the financial fortunes of the team. Luxury boxes? What’s that? It was a precarious existence, but we never thought, really, that it would come down to this.

And then the “for sale” talk got serious. And we all got nervous. We knew there would never be a local buyer. Actually, I wasn’t nervous. I was terrified.

*

As fans, we did everything we could. We held rallies. We congregated in the tens of thousands. There was a grassroots campaign. People were donating their own money – their own money! And it was in the millions! I’m talking kids emptying their piggy banks to “save the Jets”! That is not embellishment, friends. It really happened. Just pure, heartbreaking stuff, in retrospect.

Of course, it wasn’t enough. It never was going to be, but it was the symbolism that counted. The team was doomed to move, and we all knew it was simply a matter of time. The game hadn’t outgrown Winnipeg… but the NHL had. Goddamnit. We were losing our team.

*

The popular story is that 50,000 people will tell you they were at the last regular season game in that building of 15,500. I’m here to tell you that I really was one of them (courtesy tix from an ex-girlfriend. Thoughtful parting gift, don’t you think?). Watch this clip, if for no other reason than to obey the immortal words of Buck O’Neil: “Son, in this life, you never walk by a red dress.” Just trust me on this one.

I will never forget that game, that night, for as long as I’m alive. Never. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Watch for the emotion on the face of Kris King near the end of the anthem. He got it. Kinger still gets it. He knew (and still does) what the Jets meant to Winnipeg. Having just watched the clip myself, I had the same reaction I did back in ’96.

I choked up. Just now, I choked up. Fifteen years later. It still hurts.

*

There were a few more home playoff games, and that was that. They were gone. I kept all the local newspapers from that day. I still have them tucked away, somewhere. Thought I might frame them to preserve the memory. But who wants to remember that?

*

For a long, long time after 1996, I decided that I hated hockey. The game turned its back on me, so I was done with it too. Of course, hindsight tells me how foolish that was. The game didn’t leave Winnipeg… the NHL did. It took me a while to realize that, but I’ve yet to re-embrace the league. I can’t. I don’t have a team. I’ve tried adoption and it just didn’t work out.

I know that I still love the game. Canada vs USA in Vancouver? Forget it. Heart-attack city morphing into bliss. I know the passion is still there, but it would be nice to unleash it more than once every four years.

*

And now comes word that we, in this forgotten part of the country, just might have another chance. You have to understand what this means to us. Winnipeggers are used to the comments. I refuse to be baited into defending against the same old same old – “Winnipeg is a wholesale town; they can’t afford it; it’s not big enough; there’s no corporate support…” – even if I can acknowledge that some of it might be true.

Go ahead and fire your slings and arrows. We’re a hearty bunch. Another cliché, but living where we do, you have to be. Keep telling us that it will never work. You very well might be right.

We just want that chance to prove you wrong.

Image courtesy Sharon Hayes.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 16th, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Since you’re gone the moonlight ain’t so great

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You can also find what’s written below, my goodbye to Tomas Kaberle, at Pension Plan Puppets. Thanks for the platform, gents …

I wanted to wait a few days before writing the post I never wanted to write at all. In the meanwhile, a week has passed, the Leafs remain on fire, and, let’s be honest, there isn’t much left to be written about Tomas Kaberle that you haven’t already read. Hell, there wasn’t even any time to reflect on, or to mourn, Kabba’s departure. A few hours after the trade was announced, there was Tomas, in Ottawa, having ditched blue and white, the only colours he’d ever worn, for white, black and gold. Twenty-four hours later, the post-Kaberle era was underway in Toronto, with the Leafs and Ottawa Senators doing their best, through 65 agonizing minutes and a shootout, to slap hockey in its face.

“[Tomas Kaberle] did not want to leave. He asked for an extension several times.”

- Brian Burke

While I remain — first, foremost, and always — a supporter of the logo on the front of Toronto’s sweater, it’s impossible, over the years, to not become attached to certain names and numbers on the back of the jersey. Kaberle and his 15 were one of those names and numbers.

By now, you know how I feel about Kaberle. I wanted him to remain a Maple Leaf. More than that, I wanted him to retire a Maple Leaf. I believe he’s got years of elite hockey left in him. Another contract’s worth, at least. While Kaberle’s game is not without its obvious shortcomings, I thought he was the perfect mentor for Luke Schenn. I certainly didn’t find it a coincidence that Schenn was enjoying a rebound year while playing alongside Kaberle. And if there’s one area where Schenn drastically needs to improve, it’s with the puck. Who better than to mentor Schenn, the future captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, than Kaberle?

Don’t get me wrong: I found the return for Kaberle nothing short of astounding. Phil Kessel was traded for two high first-round picks, both potentially top-10 picks, and a second-round pick. In exchange for Kaberle, Brian Burke received a 2008 first-round pick, 16th overall, in Joe Colborne, a late to-be-determined first-round pick in 2011, and a conditional second-round pick. Two firsts, and potentially a second. It’s impossible to be unhappy with that haul. Not when it was known that Kaberle’s list of teams he’d waive his no-trade clause for was one team long. Not when Joe Colborne’s scored three goals in three games, plus one rather filthy marker in the shootout, for the Toronto Marlies.

Kaberle didn’t have to agree to leave. Frustrated by the fact Burke did nothing about his advances, Kaberle could have used his no-trade clause and stayed put. He didn’t. It became a meme on Twitter after the trade to Boston was announced, and remains just as important today: Thank you, Tomas.

Life goes on. Kaberle wears #12 now, and plays for the rival Boston Bruins. The Maple Leafs have officially embarked on their yearly quest for the promised land: Eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But in the days since the trade, since Burke announced that Kaberle wanted nothing more than to remain a Maple Leaf, I’m having a hard time buying in. Even as the Leafs slowly climb the standings. I understand why Kaberle had to go, why assets desperately needed to be recouped. But the fact Kaberle was never a Burke-type player, or a Ron Wilson-type player, while Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda are, just doesn’t sit well with me, even though I believe the Leafs, as a franchise, are headed in the right direction. I’m so confused.

I’m emotional, obviously. Kaberle was the last link to days gone by; to better days. To Maple Leaf Gardens. To the playoffs. To winning. To the end of my teenage years, and my youthful early 20s. When everything — even home-ice advantage in the first round, and division titles — was possible.

As ardent a Kaberle supporter as you’ll ever find, I found comfort in what was written, tweeted, and said about #15 in the aftermath of the trade. He was appreciated. His accomplishments, available for one and all to see in the Leafs’ record books, were applauded. Kaberle came out of nowhere to have a stellar Maple Leafs career. He goes down as one of the greatest offensive defenceman Toronto has ever seen.

The post-Mats Sundin years have done wonders for Sundin’s legacy. As the Maple Leafs continue to struggle to score goals, and struggle to find elite talent up front to play alongside Phil Kessel, more people are beginning to understand what a truly special and game-changing talent Sundin was.

I’m confident the same will happen with Kaberle, and the legacy he leaves behind. With time, more people will come to appreciate the way he was able to rush the puck up ice, and his ability to make that first pass. Kaberle’s vision, patience, and innate hockey sense were extraordinary, and will be very difficult to replace. While Toronto’s power play has struggled under Wilson (what hasn’t struggled under Wilson?), Kaberle was never what was wrong with it.

Tomas Kaberle was always going to leave. The writing had been on the wall for years. But that didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Come playoff time, other than the Maple Leafs, I’ll be watching and rooting for the Boston Bruins. And until Kaberle signs a new contract with Boston, or another team on July 1, I’ll be hoping against hope that he returns. The door’s always open, until it’s closed.

Let nobody tell you otherwise: Kaberle’s a winner. He wanted to win in Toronto. Like you and I, Kaberle knows that winning the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs is as good as it can possibly get.

Image courtesy Per Englund. Life does indeed go on.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 25th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Slightly above average

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It hasn’t sunk in yet. It won’t, until Spring Training. Until Vernon Wells isn’t in centre field for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Over the past few days, when I thought about the Blue Jays, and thought about centre field, Devon White and Vernon Wells were the only two names that came to mind. I missed the Lloyd Moseby era; I was too young. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who played in centre before Wells. In my mind, there was White, and then there was Wells. Devo, then Boo. And there would be Vernon, until his mammoth contract expired. Or so the entire universe, save for a couple of crazies in Anaheim, thought.

My point is: Two years of Otis Nixon, and three years of Jose Cruz, had completely faded from my memory.

Drew at Ghostrunner On First writes:

Ultimately, I think this town will forget Vernon Wells in a hurry. Despite logging thousands of innings in the middle of Rogers Centre, his legacy will not last. Other insane contracts will shove his from the memory, other affable & well-adjusted athletes will attract our undeserving scorn.

I don’t buy it. Wells won’t go the way of Nixon and Cruz. Partly because he was a Blue Jay for so goddamn long, and, as The Tao writes, partly because he did represent an era, a decade, one that’s now officially come to an end. And because of his bloody contract. Really, how much more insane can a contract get? There should be two larger-than-life portraits hanging on the walls of the Blue Jays’ front office: One of Vernon Wells, and one of B.J. Ryan. Those contracts, those mistakes, must never be forgotten.

Actually, make it three larger-than-life portraits. This one is a must.

Looking at Wells’ numbers, shit, he was far from great. Worse than I, obviously, a devout believer, remember him. Wells’ career 108 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) proves that, offensively, he was only slightly above average. Jesse Barfield, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Shawn Green, even Shannon Stewart and Rance Mulliniks, all sport higher weighted on-base averages (wOBA), and wRC+ averages, as Blue Jays than Wells. All of them.

Defensively, according to ultimate zone rating (UZR), in the history of the Blue Jays, only Carlos Delgado was a lesser fielder than three-time Gold Glove-winner Vernon Wells. And that blows my mind. I mean, I’m still, weeks later, having a hard time reconciling the fact Roberto Alomar, according to UZR, was a below-average second baseman. My entire worldview was shaped on the belief that Alomar was one of the greatest defensive second basemen. Ever. Now this, Wells’ -38.0 UZR rating? It’s hard to swallow. I can believe Joe Carter’s -32.0, and Russ Adams’ -25.1, career UZR ratings as Blue Jays. But not Alomar’s -26.0. Not Wells’ -38.0. I don’t want to believe I was deceived by my own young eyes.

Depressed by his numbers, I’d have to say no, Wells’ name and number don’t belong on the Level of Excellence. Had he played out his contract in Toronto, there’d probably be no debate; Wells would have owned too many team records not to go up. But now that he’s gone, it’s pretty obvious Wells wasn’t excellent. He was slightly above average. There are other, more worthy candidates to be honoured. Like Jimmy Key.

I’m going to be honest: I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this. I think I might have convinced myself that Drew’s right; perhaps Wells, to some extent, will be forgotten. Not forgotten like Otis Nixon, or Jose Cruz, but not remembered like Roy Halladay, or Carlos Delgado. And that’s how I wanted Wells to be remembered. Like Doc, and Carlos. But as much as I wanted him to be, he was never as good. And as has been pointed out, once he signed that contract, it became his legacy.

I can’t say, though, that I ever thought of Wells the baseball player as complacent, or comfortable. I always thought of V-Dub as someone who busted his ass day in and day out; someone who tried to lead by example. Who dove for balls when he probably shouldn’t have, and who tried to play through injuries, to the detriment of both himself and the team. I saw Wells’ even-keeled approach and attitude to success and failure as ideal for someone who tries to hit a baseball for a living.

After writing this post, I think I feel even more melancholy about Wells’ departure. Slightly above average. I don’t know, it just leaves more to be desired. Like Vernon Wells. With four years and $86 million left on his contract, I guess I never thought Wells and the Blue Jays would have unfinished business.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ecstatic about said unfinished business. The Blue Jays gave up more cash when they traded Doc. And Wells’ departure puts the onus on Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider. Vernon was never going to be one of the feared hitters in the Toronto lineup when they were finally ready to contend.

It’s a fascinating time to be a Blue Jays fan. Halladay and Wells traded in back-to-back off-seasons, along with another Opening Day starter. Yet baseball boners abound. There’s the Red Sox inquiring about the availability of Jose Bautista. Mike Napoli acquired and dealt in less than a week. Hey, I thought Napoli was a great fit for the Jays, too. But I like that J.P. Arencibia is being given his shot. Edwin Encarnacion, too; I just can’t quit the bastard.

Whether it’s to stock up on potential compensatory draft picks, or help support a very young starting pitching staff, Alex Anthopoulos has revamped the Toronto bullpen. I’ll take Octavio Dotel’s awful splits, the personable Jon Rauch, along with “criminally underrated relief pitcher” Frank Francisco, over Napoli, and, say, Manny Ramirez, and any relief pitcher signed to a long-term, rich contract. The bullpen wasn’t strong last season. Anthopoulos set out to improve it. The kicker: John Farrell. I can’t wait to see the new manager run the bullpen. Hell, the whole ball club.

Anthopoulos always maintained that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be active in free agency. That the Jays would look to improve through trades. Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum. Rajai Davis for a couple of arms. Wells for Napoli and Juan Rivera (who’s my starting right fielder, with Bautista at third base). Napoli for Francisco. It continues. There’s no point in speculating whether Anthopoulos is done, because on a Friday evening in January, he pulled off the unthinkable.

It all comes full circle. Slightly above average. That’s how I’d describe Vernon Wells. And how I’d describe, of late, the Toronto Blue Jays. Slightly above average isn’t good enough.

Image of a sleeping Blue Jay courtesy Kimberly Robyn.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 26th, 2011 at 4:25 am

Thank you, Vernon …

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I think as a special tribute, the Vernon Wells Hatred Advisory System should be permanently set to “Low.” - @BlueJayHunter

Brilliant idea.

To the Toronto Blue Jays: Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

To the Anaheim Angels: The untradeable; Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his contract. Along with no cash to pay for some of that $86 million, and the Vernon Wells Hatred  Advisory System. We won’t be needing it anymore.

I spent a lot of time over the past couple of years arguing, and writing lengthy blog posts, about  Wells. He was my guy. He was never going to live up to his contract, and I hated, absolutely hated, that he was booed so mercilessly at the Rogers Centre.

It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss Vernon Wells. I wish him nothing but success out in SoCal. By every single account, he is a fantastic human being. And I’ll argue until the end that he’s a damn good baseball player. Like me, like all of us, Wells was a lifer. But for Alex Anthopoulos, a living Greek God, to rid the Blue Jays of his contract, well, it’s nothing short of a celebration.

I’ll remember Wells as an ambassador for the Toronto Blue Jays. As an all-star. I’ll remember his home runs to left field, and the professional way in which he always rounded the bases. I’ll remember the Gold Gloves; all the incredible catches in centre field.  The grab that comes to mind right now is the one that at the time saved, albeit only briefly, Brandon Morrow’s no-hitter against Tampa Bay. I’ll remember Wells as a leader. And I’ll never, ever forget his 11th inning, walk-off home run against Mariano Rivera, only the greatest closer in baseball history.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll remember the infuriating middle-infield fly balls, the cursing that followed, and all the injuries, too. And I’m truly excited for the post-Wells Blue Jays era, and the — wait for it — financial flexibility it brings.

But one more time, for the road: I believe in Vernon Wells.

Image courtesy of my man Ian. Read and bookmark The Blue Jay Hunter. And buy a Meats Don’t Clash t-shirt.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 21st, 2011 at 9:10 pm

The week that was

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We have officially begun week 50 of 52. It’s about the time of year when I curse my immigrant parents for choosing Toronto and not, say, San Diego, and when I try to remember where another 12 months have gone. Time flies when none of Toronto’s pro sports teams make the playoffs.

Goodbye

Scott Downs joined the Toronto Blue Jays almost six years ago to the day as an afterthought. He became so much more than that. Today, he’s an Angel. And he will be sorely missed. Oh, Snakeface. Where do I even begin?

Signed to a minor league contract by J.P. Ricciardi in December 2004, Downs did it all for the Blue Jays. He came out of the bullpen. He mopped up. He made spot starts. He even closed. Through it all, and to very little fanfare, he became one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Left-handed or right, it didn’t matter to Downs. He made outs, while seldom walking a batter.

What I enjoyed most about Downs was that he wasn’t a flamethrower. He was a pitcher. Fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. Nothing overpowering, yet always effective. That curveball; I’ll never forget it.

Over the years, Downs shared the bullpen with the likes of Miguel Bautista, Vinnie Chulk, Josh Towers, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Brandon League, B.J. Ryan, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Josh Roenicke, Brian Wolfe, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor, and Kevin Gregg. Save for B.J. Ryan’s freakish 2006 season, I was never as calm as when Downs was on the mound. Above all else, Downs was reliable, and it’s that reliability I’ll miss most.

By signing with Los Angeles, Downs nets Toronto a supplemental draft pick, and the Angels’ second-rounder. That could change, though, and Parkes has you covered on the details. In the end, Los Angeles isn’t Boston or New York, and you’re damn right I take solace in that. Unless Jose Bautista has something to say about it, and, believe me, I hope he does, I’m quite certain Downs will go down in history as Ricciardi’s best acquisition as general manager of the Blue Jays.

Thanks, Scott Downs. Was a pleasure. Enjoy Orange County, and may you write the initials of your children in the pitcher’s mound’s dirt forever.

Winter Meetings

As much as Brett Lawrie wants to begin his Major League Baseball career, there’s no chance that’s happening in April 2011. Lawrie will start the season with the Las Vegas 51s, which means we’re probably in store for more colourful pictures of his time spent away from the ballpark. I can’t wait. Because Lawrie’s the first 20-year-old to have ever been photographed in a compromising situation. In all seriousness, it’s the right move, especially if he’s taking up a new position …

Chalk one up for sanity: Alex Anthopoulos won’t be trading Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek for Zack Greinke. Personally, I don’t believe Anthopoulos considered it. Not even for a second. If we learned anything last week, it’s that Dayton Moore, the man who targeted Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, should be getting Anthopoulos coffee, not putting together a Major League ball club …

I’m now more intrigued about the prospects of Magglio Ordonez in a Blue Jays uniform than Manny Ramirez.

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

I’ve watched the video countless times. If only Brett Favre was on the field, alone, at the time.

In the aftermath of the Metrodome’s collapse, I couldn’t help but wonder: Imagine Toronto was hit with the mother of all snow storms, and our very own SkyDome caved in on itself. Rogers would be forced to build a ballpark. And if they’re serious about buying MLSE, lord knows they can afford a new stadium. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, would spend a season playing in Montreal. Everybody wins.

Make it happen, Mother Nature. As much as I’m a Rogers Centre apologist, I wouldn’t mind some new digs, and this scenario is the only plausible one I can think of.

Saving Bryan Colangelo

On the evening of December 7th, based on Andrea Bargnani’s and the Toronto Raptors’ stats up until that point, here’s what C_R_Black at T.Jose Caldeford concluded:

In summation: Toronto’s offence is 3 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; Toronto’s defence is 12 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; and Toronto’s rebounding is 3 percent better when Bargnani’s on the bench. …

In another (final) summation:

1st point: Despite being the team’s focal point on offence, Bargnani is not a good passer.
2nd point: Despite being a 7-footer (and having a pretty soft touch inside), Bargnani remains a jump shooter.
3rd point: Toronto is better offensively with him on the bench.
4th point: Toronto is better defensively with him on the bench.
5th point: Toronto is better on the glass with him on the bench.

On December 8th, Andrea Bargnani scored 41 points. In one game.

On December 9th, The Globe And Mail’s Michael Grange wrote:

The extension [Bryan] Colangelo signed [Bargnani] to in the summer of 2009 might have looked rich then, but now? The four years and $42-million Bargnani has remaining on his contract look like spectacular value. … It might even make up for signing Hedo Turkoglu.

Conflicted? I’m not. For all his faults, I love the lanky Italian. Nothing would please me more than for Bargnani to be the best player to come out of the 2006 draft. Bryan Colangelo told us to give it five years, at the very least. While Brandon Roy paid early dividends in Portland, Bargnani might have been the best long-term option. I look forward to finding out …

Back to the timeline: On December 11th, Saturday night, after a 1-for-9 performance the night before, December 10th, Jerryd Bayless couldn’t miss. Making his second start at the point, Bayless scored 31 points to lead the Raptors to their largest ever come-from-behind victory. Stuck 25? No sweat. (The Detroit Pistons are AWFUL.)

Bayless for Jarrett Jack might be Colangelo’s Brandon Morrow for Brandon League. Like it or not, Colangelo’s getting an extension. And for the record, I like it. Colangelo’s entertaining. The roster turnover year-to-year in Toronto is nothing short of amazing. So many years later, and I’m still impressed at how immaculately Colangelo dresses. He still exudes confidence. And if the past seven days were any indication, there’s never a dull week.

Road Trip

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season could have effectively ended Saturday night, after a stretch of fives games against the Eastern Conference’s five best teams. Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. I figured they’d win one game, and lose another in a shootout. Three out of a possible 10 points. Instead, they picked up six. Of course they did. The misery must be prolonged. Heading out west, the Leafs find themselves nine points back of Atlanta for the coveted 8th and final playoff spot. Once again, if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, the playoffs will take place in mid-December, and early January …

Regular season playoffs!!!1 It’s just not the same …

If the Leafs are serious about making a run towards the promised land, the 8th and final playoff spot, their road record must improve; 3-8-1 just won’t get it done. And we’ll find out just how serious the Leafs are about turning around their season Tuesday night in Edmonton. The Leafs need to take this one. By any means necessary. I’m thinking 8-0. Or 3-2, in the shootout, using double and triple spinoramas. Hell, if the game is decided by penalty shots, I’m all for Phil Kessel skating backwards from centre ice on his attempt. The Oilers need to be embarrassed on home ice the way the Maple Leafs were. Period. And if Ron Wilson’s players don’t come out ready to play, that’s not on Wilson, that’s on each and every Maple Leaf on the ice. I’m so sick of excuses …

Speaking of excuses: Mike Komisarek. He is one. To quote a good friend of mine, Komisarek’s “THE WORST!” …

Mea culpa: I take back every bad thing I ever said about Colby Armstrong. Money well spent …

Waffles: The worst of our many humiliations …

Moving forward, do you go with J.S. Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson? In 15 starts, Giguere’s faced 406 shots, and stopped 363 (.894). Gustavsson, in 14 starts, has faced 407 shots, and stopped 367 (.902). I guess the difference is negligible. And that’s a shame …

Was that Clarke MacArthur/Jaroslav Spacek fight not one of the strangest altercations you’ve ever seen? …

One day, Nazem Kadri will score a goal. There might be a parade in celebration …

Thursday night, in Dion Phaneuf’s triumphant return to Calgary, do you think Flames fans have a “Sloppy Seconds! CLAP-CLAP-CLAPCLAPCLAP” chant in them? Props to them if they do.

Image of our frigid city courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto.