Blue Jays get in the game with four new twenty-somethings
Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
In the Atlanta Braves' record run of 14 consecutive division championships, seven teams have finished in second place. In the Yankees' American League-record romp of eight successive first-place finishes, only one team, Boston, has finished second. This is the predicament the Toronto Blue Jays face - supplanting the Yankees or the Red Sox to get to the postseason from the AL East.
"We're still third until we show we can move up the ladder," said J.P. Ricciardi, who has been among the most active general managers this off-season. "We've always enjoyed the season, but it's going to be nicer this year because we feel we have better matchups than in the past."
The Blue Jays have finished third in seven of the Yankees' eight championship seasons, missing only in 2004.
"I thought we were good last year," Ricciardi said, "and if we play with the same intensity next season, we can be even better. I think we're a better club, but you don't know until you play the games."
Making no predictions and being careful not to raise unreasonable expectations, Ricciardi says he likes his team. In the past five weeks, he signed two free-agent pitchers, closer B.J. Ryan and starter A.J. Burnett, and traded for first baseman Lyle Overbay and third baseman Troy Glaus.
Toronto signed Ryan to a $47 million contract and Burnett to a $55 million deal and took on $32.75 million left in the last three years of Glaus' contract. The moves demonstrate the enthusiasm behind the additional $25 million or so the club's owner, Ted Rogers, has authorized Ricciardi to spend.
"We knew we needed another bat or two and a big starter behind Roy Halladay," Ricciardi said. "An ideal closer would be perfect. We sat down and said, 'Here's a list of players out there; who can we get?' "
Securing the services of Burnett and Ryan was a matter of persuading them to play in Canada. That's never been an easy task and usually means outbidding teams from the United States. Dealing for Overbay and Glaus required other methods.
"We've always liked Overbay," Ricciardi said. (Overbay, a 28-year-old first baseman, hit 19 homers and drove in 72 runs last season.) "He's the kind of hitter who makes our lineup deeper. He sees a lot of pitches, gets on base and hits the ball in the gaps. And we knew we'd have him the next three years."
Milwaukee had the luxury of being able to trade Overbay because Prince Fielder, the highly regarded son of Cecil, was waiting in the wings.
"We had something they needed - young pitching and controllable players," Ricciardi said. "My first four years here, all we've done is drafted pitching and developed it. You never like to trade pitching, but you have to give up something."
The Blue Jays gave up Dave Bush, a starting pitcher last season; Zach Jackson, a top-flight pitching prospect; and Gabe Gross, a young outfielder.
For Glaus and a minor league shortstop, Sergio Santos, the Blue Jays gave Arizona more experienced players, their Gold Glove second baseman, Orlando Hudson, and their closer, Miguel Batista.
"They asked us about Hudson at the winter meetings, and we didn't have a match, or some of the guys we wanted to give to them we couldn't do," Ricciardi said. "We hadn't asked about Glaus. We didn't think he was going to be moved. After the meetings, I called Josh Byrnes and asked, 'What are you doing about Glaus?' He said he has a no-trade to Toronto. But he said he was someone they'd talk about."
After the call with Byrnes, Arizona's general manager, Ricciardi called the commissioner's office and received permission for a 48-hour period to talk to Glaus.
"We gave him an extra year, a player option," Ricciardi said. "We had asked every other team about getting a bat, but we hadn't been able to do it. In a matter of 48 hours and a lot of phone calls, we did it."
Besides their talent, Ricciardi likes that all four players he has acquired are under 30. The addition of Glaus and Overbay also gives the Blue Jays a glut at two positions. Last season, Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenbrand played first base and Corey Koskie and Hillenbrand third.
Overbay, Glaus and Hillenbrand will be in the lineup, Ricciardi said. Hinske will most likely move to the outfield. Koskie will probably be traded.
Bush league, indeed
The Blue Jays' trade with Milwaukee broke up the wonderfully named pitching tandem of Bush and Brandon League. Five times last season Bush started and League relieved him, creating box scores with pitching summaries that read Bush League. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the tandem didn't work well. They lost all five games.
Clark's chance to shine
Arizona's trade of Glaus to the Blue Jays should prove beneficial for the Diamondbacks' Tony Clark, who has not been accorded proper recognition for his production in recent seasons.
In 130 games and 349 at-bats with Arizona, Clark batted .304 and had 30 home runs, 87 RBIs and a combined percentage of 1.002.
Nevertheless, Clark started only 70 games at first for the Diamondbacks, sharing the position with Chad Tracy. With Glaus gone, Tracy will move across the infield to third and Clark should play first more often. On the other hand, the Diamondbacks have a rookie first baseman, Conor Jackson, who has hit .324 in four minor league seasons.
Honesty is the best policy
Nearly 30 years ago, Rich Gossage established a standard for free-agent candor that few free agents followed. At the news conference announcing his signing, Gossage was asked why he chose the Yankees.
"Because my agent told me to," he said.
Kevin Millwood is the latest free agent to be less than candid in explaining his decision. "The biggest thing for me was going to a place where I felt I had a chance to win," he told MLB.com upon signing with Texas.
Maybe Millwood, 31, hasn't been paying attention, but the Rangers have finished last or third the past six years, while the Boston Red Sox, the other finalists for his services, won the World Series in 2004 and have been in the playoffs the past three years. The Red Sox, with or without Millwood, should be in a better position to win next season than the Rangers with Millwood.
What Millwood should have said was, "I signed with the Rangers because they offered me more money than the Red Sox."
The Rangers gave Millwood $48 million for four years with a chance, if he stays healthy, which he often doesn't, to make $60 million over five years. The Red Sox offered the same $12-million-a-year average but for only three years. There's nothing wrong with taking the most money; just be honest enough to admit it.
Jon Daniels, the Rangers' under-30 general manager, can only hope that his signing of Millwood will turn out better for the team than the signing by his predecessor of Chan Ho Park to a five-year, $65 million contract.
Exactly one month after John Hart became the Rangers' general manager in 2001, he signed Park as a free agent. During Hart's four-year tenure, Park epitomized the Rangers' pitching problems, going 22-23 with a 5.79 earned run average.
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