Spring Training has passed its midway point. The games are starting to get a little bit more serious. The good players are starting to linger on the field a little bit longer. And Toronto Blue Jays fans are... still confused about the team's plans for first base and left field.
This week, in my second installment of this homage to Richard Griffin's old Blue Jays mailbags for the Toronto Star, we take on those question (again), and so much more!
And if you have a Blue Jays question you'd like me to tackle for next week, be sure to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, on with the show...
Who would have the better OPS in 2017: Justin Smoak or Carlos Delgado coming out of retirement?
Jonathan Woof, Hamilton
Woof! What a question!
I have all the time for Carlos Delgado. He was the first truly great player that I got to watch up close, live, on a regular basis, and that it turned out he is a true humanitarian and an activist is just gravy on top of that. Love Delgado. Which is why it was so disheartening to watch his career end the way it did.
Perhaps you don't remember, but I do.
Delgado had a great season for the Mets at age 36 in 2008, as he hit 38 bombs and slashed .271/.353/.518. In less than a year his big-league career was over. Delgado got off to a great start in 2009, slashing .298/.393/.521 over his first 26 games. I'll let his Wikipedia page tell us what happened next:
"On May 18, the Mets announced that Delgado had a bone spur and a torn labrum in his hip, and he would have to undergo surgery. The Mets reported the next day that the surgery was successful and Delgado would be out for approximately ten weeks ... However, he did not play again in 2009. ... In February 2010, Delgado underwent another hip operation, this time to reconstruct the labrum on his right hip; he also underwent a micro-fracture procedure on his hip socket."
Delgado is the Blue Jays' all-time franchise leader in homers, RBI, and OPS. Photo by Reuters
Delgado tried to make a comeback in late 2010, suiting up five times for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox (woof!), but he managed just three singles in 15 plate appearances, struck out six times, then "suffered a setback with his surgically repaired hip."
I guess maybe this is a cute way to point out something we all already know—that Justin Smoak is bad and expectations are low—but holy shit, thanks for reminding me of how we were robbed of a few more great Delgado seasons, the chance to watch him play for a ring as a slugging mercenary, and the ability to walk away from the game on his own terms.
Dear Valued Blue Jays(TM) Content Pusher,
What are your thoughts on the recent changes in the enforcement of blackout restrictions for MLBTV(TM) in Canada? While I wish everyone was a cable subscriber, I think that Rogers Communications Inc.(TM) asking Canadian streamers to use SNNow(TM) to enjoy the Blue Jays(TM) is the next best thing. Now subscribers can rest easy knowing a greater proportion of their dollars will be going directly to the well-regarded owner of the Blue Jays(TM), Rogers Communications Inc.(TM). The best part is that if some of these people enjoy the sport of baseball in general and decide to purchase subscriptions to both MLBTV(TM) and SNNow(TM) to see other teams as well, the Blue Jays(TM)' owner will get paid twice! Everybody wins! I'm confident freeloaders won't be inclined nor able to find a way around this Very Practical New arrangement.
Eddie S.R. III
First off, despite chatter in the previous few weeks suggesting that blackouts were coming, it remains unclear whether or not Jays games will return to being blacked out for all Canadians on MLB.tv this season. Over the weekend the reports I'd seen from fans who'd contacted representatives at both MLB.tv and Rogers suggested that the Jays will indeed continue to be viewable by Canadians through MLB.tv.
So much for keeping a good thing quiet, eh?
As for your sarcasm-dripping letter here, "Eddie," uh... so... you... don't think Rogers should have the ability to use their ownership of the Blue Jays' broadcasting rights to drive consumers to their own product—and, in particular, a product that may just be vital for them as cable TV begins its slow death—rather than letting those dollars go into the league's coffers?
I get that the company almost never cuts a sympathetic figure, and there is a lot I think would be especially dumb about it if Rogers suddenly blacked out all the fans in Canada who have been enjoying unfettered access to Jays games on MLB.tv for the last several years, but I don't think "how dare a company in business try to make money??!?!?" is the right tack here.
Every other team in the league has blackouts of games that are available on cable TV in-market. The point of the service was never to be an alternative to in-market cable TV games, or the companies signing lucrative broadcast rights deals with teams would have never stood for it. Blue Jays fans in Canada have simply been lucky these past few years because Paul Beeston insisted on lifting the blackout (ostensibly because he wanted to broaden access and strengthen the Jays as a national brand, though it was more likely because he wasn't able to watch a game on his iPad at the cottage in Muskoka—the only problem with that possibly apocryphal story being... would Beeston even have an iPad?).
If the blackouts were to return, I'd be offended that Rogers would be trying to force a more expensive and vastly inferior product onto Jays fans, and I'd say it was shortsighted, that the rollout was inept and uncaring, and that it would hardly be the way to win back cable customers they're likely hemorrhaging. But I absolutely don't get acting affronted that they might dare want to be the ones making the money off their own broadcast rights.
Regarding the LF imbroglio. You see more of ST than I do and have access to some of the reporters and so on, but to me I cannot fathom either Carrera or Upton in LF. Carrera as mentioned by many is best in a B/up role and Upton to me just, well, stinks, His approach is poor and I would cut him adrift, pronto. Pompey is hurt so I think the starting LF, if not Pearce, may not even be on the team. Do you feel they would still be looking at Pagan to sign ( ~5m-1m saved on Upton) or perhaps Bruce from the Mets who, despite the BS outta NY will be moved before too long?
I'm with you that I can't fathom either Carrera or Upton being successful as everyday left fielders, but there's a whole lot more to be said about Upton's ability to hit left-handed pitching than I think you're suggesting here.
The sample's not enormous—just 136 plate appearances—but last season Upton slashed .275/.341/.533 against left-handed pitching. I'll grant that his strikeout numbers in that split don't look any better than they do against right-handers, and that his power numbers are a bit of a mirage (his HR/FB rate of 36.0 percent against left-handers is miles away from sustainable), but in 84 plate appearances against lefties the year before he was quite good as well: .254/.369/.423.
For a guy whose bat is probably the worst part of his game, I'll take the ever-loving hell out of that kind of production. Even if it's only against left-handers.
Yeah, left field could be a giant mess for Toronto. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
So unless he demonstrates that those numbers were just a small sample fluke, Melvin's got a job on this team for sure. The big question is who will get the bulk of the playing time against right-handers. I'm with you that Carrera looks like a backup. And he certainly doesn't look like a guy who should ever be tasked with playing against right-handed pitching on a regular basis. For his career, in 726 plate appearances, he's slashed .245/.304/.345 against right-handers, and he was even worse than that in 2016.
That sample is starting to get big enough to believe in, and if that's the kind of hitter he is, he's a fourth outfielder at best. And yet John Gibbons has said that he thinks ol' Zeke has it in him to hit well in this split, and around the All-Star break last year Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs noted that Carrera had become a more disciplined hitter, and was hitting the ball notably harder than in 2015, according to Statcast data on his exit velocities. Zeke's season went absolutely into the shitter at that point (it recovered nicely in late September), but maybe the Jays believe the underlying skill improvements remain, and his putrid .194/.243/.272 line in the second half wasn't representative of how well he was striking the ball.
Whoa. In those last two sentences, I've almost talked myself into giving Carrera a shot—and I suspect that's what the Jays will do, until he makes it clear their faith isn't being rewarded. Then, like you say, there's the possibility of Pearce stepping in—though I'd much rather see him stealing at-bats from Justin Smoak at first base—or Pompey returning to health by then and hitting his way onto the club. Or there's Upton, who has been a disaster against right-handers, but offers speed and defence and is playing on a contract paid almost entirely by San Diego, which makes him a bit of found money... if there's any money actually there.
Pagan would be a better option if the team didn't care about defence, I think (and I don't think he'd cost $5 million—nor, uh, would the money still owed to Upton mysteriously become "savings" if he were to be set adrift—they'd still have to pay him), and similarly Bruce, for the cost of moving him in and somebody else out, probably isn't worth whatever small upgrade he might be over Carrera. He's bad.
Those guys remain possibilities, though, and maybe the club will look to them—or somewhere else on the trade market—if all their internal options fail. And that's really the thing: while you'd hope and expect it to be better, their mess in left field is only as big a mess as they allow it to become. If they keep running guys out there who aren't doing the job, it's a big issue. That they're willing to look a little more closely than fans are at guys like Upton and Carrera probably isn't such a big deal.
Where's Eric Wedge been this spring? And will he be anything more than a backup plan for Gibby
This absolutely baffles me. How is one a plugged-in enough fan to know that Eric Wedge is in the organization, and yet not plugged in enough to know that he's not at all merely just a manager in waiting?
TFW you're fielding questions on Eric Wedge. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
If you look at the Jays' front office directory, you'll see Wedge's name in the Player Development department—it's the third name down, just below Director of Player Development, Gil Kim, and Minor League Coordinator Charlie Wilson. Wedge's title is "Field Coordinator," which places him above Assistant Field Coordinator Mike Mordecai, who served five years as the club's Infield Coordinator before being promoted ahead of 2015 to "Coordinator of Instruction." Which is to say: Wedge isn't just twiddling his thumbs waiting for the axe to fall on John Gibbons.
So, where has he been? He's surely out on the fields at the Bobby Mattick complex in Dunedin, working with minor leaguers. Like he's been doing for a while already, as he told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel back in January that the club had asked him to run their instructional league at the end of last season.
I can't say that means the Jays wouldn't consider him in the event of a managerial vacancy—he's obviously someone that the front office trusts—but my best guess is that they wouldn't have given him such an important role, in a department that's been of such focus for them, if they expected they were going to pull him out of it at some point anyway.