End of the Long Wait

So, it is almost time again.

Time for green grass, and wooden bats, and soft leather and sliding pits and rosin bags. Time see the sun shine down again, time for the bold, solid colours of thirty different teams to pop out in contrast to the green field. Cardinal Red, Baltimore Orange, Pirate Yellow.

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They will line up with their coaches, trainers and manager. First, only pitchers and catchers. There will be soft toss, bullpen sessions, simulated games. Baseball starts slow. It eases the mind and the body into a new season, but an old routine. In the first week, there will be no hard slides, no elbows up, and no pitches ‘with a message’. When everybody arrives in camp, (and it seems more like summer camp than training camp in all the pictures), they feel like this could be the year.

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I’m new here…

…and I hope we get to know one another well.

Hi there, my name is Greg Wisniewski, and I’m flattered to been invited to write for Infield Fly. My twitter handle is @coolhead2010, and I have my own baseball related blog Baseball Is Magic.

I’ve been a baseball fan for 2 different stretches in my life, first  from 1991-1994, when I was a teenager. I watched the Blue Jays in their glory years, and I left when the strike happened, like a lot of other Jays fans. In late 2007 I started to get interested in the team again, and it was then that I became a much more educated fan. I read a bunch of baseball books, most importantly, Baseball: Between the Numbers, from Baseball Prospectus, and it changed the whole way I looked at the game. I have become a year round baseball fan, I read a half-dozen blogs every week, as well as all the mainstream media. I love to talk about stats, plays, rules, contracts, all different aspects of the game. Most important to me though, is watching or listening to the games themselves.

That’s what I focus on at my own blog, the moments inside an individual game, inning, or at-bat that make you want to watch them all over again. What am I doing here, for Infield Fly? For the time being, it will be whatever strikes me as interesting or funny in the baseball world. Looking forward to cooking up something for all the Infield Fly readers very soon.

Blue Jays roundtable, 2009: Part 3

If you’re just joining us now, welcome to the third installment of the 2009 Blue Jays roundtable, in which a select group of bloggers, insiders and fans answers a series of questions about the Blue Jays season that was. The first installment (including info about the contributors) can be found here, while the second installment can be found here. On to the questions…

Oh, Cito. I wish it didn't have to end like this. I really do. But you've given us no choice. The panel has decided you have to go.

Oh, Cito. I wish it didn't have to end like this. I really do. But you've given us no choice. The panel has decided you have to go.

If you could anoint one player as a Blue Jay of the Future, who would it be?

Chris: He’s a Blue Jay of Right Now and will be “of the Future” as well: Adam Lind. I really believe he’s just going to keep on getting better.
Squizz: I’d hope whoever it was, they had a serious case of contagious talent, since this pathetic franchise needs more than one player of the future, that’s for sure. It’s weird to say Aaron Hill, since he’s already been around for a while, but he’s still only, what, 25? There’s a distinct chance his powerful year at the plate could have been a Riosian fluke, but what the hell, you’ve gotta hitch your wagon to some horse. Hill over Lind just because he’s more solid defensively and the man stole home against the Yankees.
Cole: I would like to be saying Travis Snider, but he’s still got a lot of work to do, if this season is any indication. However, then you remember that he’s only still 21 and everything will hopefully be ironed out in a couple years.
.      I just realized you might have meant who is a player on a different team that we might like to see on this team. If that’s the case, maybe Mr. Pujols likes Canada? Perhaps Hanley Ramirez wants the chance to be able to tour the CN Tower before EVERY home game? Hmmm, not so much? One can dream.
Katy: As in a franchise player? Probably Snider. Or Romero. He’s a future ace in the making I think.
Eyebleaf: Travis Snider. He is destined for stardom.
Tao of Stieb: It’s still Snider. He’s still young, and he’ll really hit his stride in the next three years.

A clerical error results in you being GM long enough to make one move this off-season. What move do you make and why?

Chris: FIRE CITO. Because he insisted on using Millar far too often. And he doesn’t really know how to do any in-game managing. but mostly because of Millar.
Squizz: I move myself to Sweden and change my identity.
Cole: Wow, that’s pretty serious business and the move would be different depending on a number of things (if Scutaro and/or Barajas have already resigned, for example).
.      I’m a little concerned in the outfield, since at this point we have Vernon Wells who is obviously going to start, Travis Snider who is likely going to start but hasn’t really proven much, Jose Bautista who I like as a super utility but definitely not as a starter and Adam Lind, who I suppose will be DH, or perhaps 1B, as Cito seems too frightened to play him in the OF.
.      That being said, we need a starting OF-er, so I loosen the old purse strings and go bring J. Bay into the fold. It would do wonders for the marketing with the whole Canada bullshit, but more importantly, he’s good at baseball. However, I’m still not convinced the Red Sox will just let him walk. Everyone is talking as if he’s automatically a free agent, but I don’t necessarily see it that way.
.      Realistically though, all of this hinges on the Jays having more payroll. So I suppose I go to Tony Viner or Nadir Mohammed or whoever calls the shots with Rogers and try to get the payroll closer to Red Sox/Yankees level.
.      Oh, if Kevin Millar is still on the team, I also make sure that’s not happening anymore. Thanks for the memories MR. MILLAR, but your ‘veteran presence’ is no longer needed – in the middle of our lineup, or anywhere near a 25 man roster that could even try to begin to convince its fanbase that it is competing.
Katy: I’d fire Cito and get a coach that actually works well with the players. The change in that dynamic alone is enough to pull the best out of what we already have, so it’s probably the cheapest solution to maximize the playing potential of everyone currently on the team.
Eyebleaf: Only one? There’s too many to make. Jason Bay. Oh Canada. Get the best players available, period.
Tao of Stieb: Fire Cito. Because I don’t know that I’m going to make it another year with him as the Manager.

Is there anything not addressed by the above questions that’d you like to say about the Jays?

Chris: This was one of the most frustrating seasons I can remember enduring. From the steep drop after the amazing start to J.P. apparently abandoning plans of competing in 2010 and watching Cito consistently mismanage games… it was a bit much. But it can only go up from here, right? Right??
Squizz: While it’s seemingly all doom and gloom, in the “little details that mean nothing but still kinda make you smile” department: Johnny Mac set an all-time career high in round-trippers this past season, with four. And he only played in 73 games! Had he been our full-time shortstop, he could have hit 8 1/2 dingers! As for the Jays in general… they frustrate the shit out of me and make me wonder why I bother caring at all… but then again, so do most other things in my life, so I think this team and I are made for each other.
Cole: I’m excited about the Alex Anthopoulos era. I am however feeling that it’s quite unlikely the Jays will field a competitive team in the next two or three years. Still though, there’s a lot to cheer for on this team and a lot of your promise.
.      The 2009 Toronto Blue Jays were an awful team, but I’m still a proud Blue Jay fan. I know I’m alone and a lot of people hopped off the proverbial bandwagon this season, but hopefully once spring returns to the air we can all enjoy once again hoping and wishing that the stars align and we can return to Toronto post-season glory.
Katy: Act like you want to win. I know it’s not entirely their fault, management sucks and ownership is more concerned with making money than winning. But if you play everyday like you’re going to get fired if you don’t perform, I think you’d see a big change. Players just need their management to believe in them, coaches and owners included. The fans already love them.
Eyebleaf: Believe. It’s a new era. The Alex Anthopoulos era. $120 million payroll!!1 Playoffs!!1 Who knows, perhaps even a pennant. Dare to dream…
Tao of Stieb: I know it is hard to conceive of this now, but I really believe that the Blue Jays have some of the pieces that will make them a winner in the coming years. (I guess I’d have to think that, or I’d go a little crazy.) Even with the crappy season that they had, one extra win every two weeks this year would have made the Jays a playoff contender. With a little luck and some smart moves to fill in the gaps, I think they can find those extra wins…and still finish third in the AL East.

And there you have it. The mammoth three-part wrap up of the Jays’ 2009 season is done. Thanks again to our wonderful contributors: Squizz, Cole, Katy, Eyebleaf and Tao of Stieb. This wouldn’t have been possible without your help.

Check back next year for the next edition of the roundtable, something which the team will hopefully force us to hold off on until November. Of course you can always come back before then if you’re so inclined.

Blue Jays roundtable, 2009: Part 2

If you’re just joining us now, welcome to the second installment of the 2009 Blue Jays roundtable, in which a select group of bloggers, insiders and fans answers a series of questions about the Blue Jays season that was. The first installment (including info about the contributors) can be found here. On to the questions…

Adam Lind -- biggest letdown among players on the 2009 Blue Jays roster??

Adam Lind -- biggest letdown among players on the 2009 Blue Jays roster??

Who was the best Blue Jay of 2009?

Chris: Aaron Hill. Adam Lind was the best hitter, but Hill’s defensive contributions tip the scale.
Squizz: Aaron Hill. All-Star, Comeback Player of the Year, so on and so forth. I mean, when’s the last time the Jays had a slick-fielding, 30/100-slugging second baseman? Oh yeah, never.
Cole: Adam Lind. Everyone gets all horny about Aaron Hill’s season, but the fact of the matter is Lind did about the same things offensively Hill did, but with a much higher OBP.
Katy: Aaron Hill. Unquestionably.
Eyebleaf: This one’s a 3 way tie between Lind, Hill and Doc. Lind because he became the hitter we all hoped he would become; Hill because he bounced back from a devastating concussion in fine form; and Doc because we should never take him for granted.
Tao of Stieb: Lind and Hill had great years, but it’s pretty hard to wrest the crown of “Best Blue Jay” from Roy Halladay’s hands.

Who was the biggest letdown?

Chris: Alex Rios. Dude’s got so much talent, yet it feels like letting him go (for nothing!) was a great move.
Squizz: Adam Lind. If you recall, after the season opener, he was on pace for 162 homers and over 900 RBI. He didn’t even come close to delivering. Shameful.
Cole: I think it’s pretty obviously Vernon Wells. I’m not big on the ‘trash Wells at every turn’ mentality, but he was a huge letdown for the club this year and it’s scary to think how good the Jays would have been in the beginning if Wells and Rios were both hitting too.
.      Regardless, if the Jays are to have success, Wells needs to be a part of that. I’m really hoping he bounces back next year. As much crap as he takes and as below par as he was this year, I’m really pulling for the guy and I do believe in him. I’m calling it here. Comeback player of the year in 2010 – Vernon Wells.
Katy: How about BJ Ryan?
Eyebleaf: Vernon Wells. Who else? What a nightmare of a season. I figured he’d get it going eventually, but it never happened. Nevertheless, I defended him until the end. I don’t think it’s possible for him to be that bad again. I believe in Vernon Wells.
Tao of Stieb: It’s probably unfair to say this, but I had really high hopes for Travis Snider this year. He’s still young, and I still believe that he’s going to be great, but his season was a bit of a letdown.

What does the future hold for Marco Scutaro?

Chris: A few respectable seasons that don’t live up to what he did in 2009. Hopefully those seasons are played in Toronto, because who’s going to take his place?
Squizz: McCain Fruit Punch commercials?
Cole: Hopefully a nice career-ending contract that will take care of all the next generation of Little Scutaro’s. Is that contract coming from the Jays? I’m not sure. Honestly though, I could throw Scutaro into the ‘big surprises’ category too, as this guy was just a workhorse this year and did a phenomenal job.
.      I think everyone was shocked with how good his everyday defence was at SS (I still don’t understand how he plays SS with such a huge glove. Looks like a CF-ers mitt, but I digress).
On top of that he gave us a semi-legitimate leadoff guy. His patience was just great (hardly ever seemed to chase balls out of the zone) and it seemed he really took to being an everyday player and to having a role as a leadoff guy.
.     I’d say it’s probably 50/50 on whether or not the Jays resign him. I don’t think he’ll command THAT much of a deal, but I assume he’ll want at least two to three years, maybe $4 to $6 million per? That isn’t anything more than speculation, but if he does the job he did this year, I would be happy to pay that.
.      The fact he got injured at season’s end could perhaps play in the Jays’ favour, as he might be a less valuable commodity now due to concern over his health.
Katy: I think if the team wants a chance they need to re-sign him for next year. His offence unfortunately means more to the team right now than Jonny Mac’s incredible defence, which Scoot isn’t bad at either. Therefore he’s more valuable. (Please learn to bat this off-season JMac, and you will be a legend!)
Eyebleaf: He’ll be back in Toronto, patrolling shortstop and batting at the top of the order. What a season. Viva Venezuela.
Tao of Stieb: Two more years where he puts up about 85% of last year’s numbers, and then a few years in the National League to end his career.

Who will be in the Jays’ five-man rotation in 2010?

Chris: Assuming they keep Doc and that McGowan is healthy, I’m hoping to see Halladay/Marcum/Romero/McGowan/whichever of the young arms wins the fifth spot in spring training.
Squizz: Well, they operated on a 38-man rotation this year, so this question is a bit restrictive. Halladay will start the season, since he’s been so devalued as to make any offseason trade pointless. We obviously have to pray for Marcum and McGowan to come back. Romero looks like he’s booked his spot. And then some patchwork of Litsch, Janssen, Tallet and, I dunno, Josh Towers?
Cole: Hmmm, let me be optimistic that the Jays will actually ‘go for it’ and spend some money next year, and that that will mean Halladay stays:
Halladay/Arm acquired via trade or FA – Wilner’s plan mentions Felix Hernandez… yes please! / Marcum / McGowan / Romero
.      Okay, I guess I’m also counting on injuries not playing an issue and everyone being healthy. Ummm, that is a pretty sexy rotation.
.      Now, let me be more realistic on what an opening day rotation could look like, presuming they aren’t going for it and Halladay gets traded:
Romero / Arm received back from Halladay / Marcum / Cecil / Zep-chin-skee.
Katy: Doc, Romero, Marcum, Rzep, and Cecil, although those last 2 spots are really up for grabs.
Eyebleaf: Doc, Romero, Marcum, Cecil and R-Zep. We can’t wait for Dustin McGowan forever, and Brian Tallet is best suited to come out of the bullpen.
Tao of Stieb: Marcum, Romero, Rzepczynski, Cecil and whoever comes back in the Halladay trade.

And so ends the part two of the roundtable. Come back Monday for the exciting conclusion!

Blue Jays roundtable, 2009: Part 1

 

The best game of the Toronto Blue Jays' 2009 season.

The best game of the Toronto Blue Jays' 2009 season.

 

Back in the fall of 2007, I was asked to participate in a season-ending roundtable to wrap up the Blue Jays’ season. Since that blog is now dormant, I decided to steal the idea.

So what follows is the first of a three-part post featuring a few people who know their stuff answering 10 questions about the Toronto Blue Jays. Your panelists, other than myself, are:

Squizz: driving force behind one of Canada’s top soccer blogs, occasional poster to the site you’re looking at right now and author of the dormant blog from which I stole the roundtable idea.
Cole:
Reporter from Atlantic Canada and Blue Jays optimist who has been saying “this is the year” every season since Toronto last reached the playoffs. Also a member of the original panel.
Katy: A former Jays employee. Check out her tumblr — fun baseball stuff keeps popping up.
Eyebleaf: Ever-optimistic blogger behind the excellent Sports and the City. Curious about the Jays, Leafs, Raptors or how much you should hate Vernon Wells? Check out his site.
Tao of Stieb: Proprietor of the best Blue Jays blog that ever did grace the Internet, the Tao of Stieb.

And now for the questions…

What was the best play / moment / game of the Jays’ 2009 season?

Chris: Scutaro stealing second on a walk. I have never seen anything like that before, and I doubt I ever will again.
Squizz: It was not so much a single moment as a period of time — the first month and a half of the season when the city seemed willing to delude itself into thinking this was a legitimate playoff team. It’s tough to remember now, but the excitement was palpable. I was too cynical to be sucked into the hype — and for being right, my reward was another shitpile of a season and a frightening city-wide descent into pessimism, apathy and hostility.
Cole:
Surprisingly, for such a poor season, there were actually many great moments. Obviously, the walk off wins at the beginning of the season were nice and a welcome change from past years when it seemed the Jays would never win walk offs. Although, they were kind of spoiled by the end of the season when the Jays GAVE UP a number of walk offs, including more than one to the Yankees.
.      There weren’t any walkoff winners quite as poignant as Gregg Zaun’s grand-slam last season (I have no shame in admitted I was teary-eyed), but there were some good ones for sure – Overbay’s two-run bomb in the 12th inning back in April and Hill’s walkoff double late in the season (if for nothing else than to restore a little joy in Blue Jay Land).
.      The whole Yankees bean-ball brawl also was kind of a highlight, as it was nice to see Jesse Carlson stand up for his teammates. On the topic of bean balls, Halladay beaning Ortiz in retaliation for Papelbon ending Lind’s season was also pretty nails too. Man, I hate Papelbon. I originally wrote this before his choke job in the ALDS, but now that that has happened, joy is once again restored. I like to think in some way this was karmic retribution for him ending Lind’s season, but, perhaps (and hopefully) it’s just a sign of a new suckier Papelbon who we can mock without mercy when he looks in with that douchey glare and then quickly has to turn over his shoulder to watch ropes through the infield.
.      I would have to say overall, however, that nothing beat the excitement (and eventual result) of AJ versus Doc at the Dome. The season was young, the Jays were atop the division, it was a hugely anticipated showdown and it worked out just how everyone hoped. I’d say that’s my number one.
.      It’s funny because it was a dreadful season, but I still have a lot of great memories of it. I suppose that’s mostly from the 27-14 part of it though.
Katy: That’s a tough one…when you are there for every single home game you have a lot to choose from. I’m going to say Doc vs. AJ was insane this year.
Eyebleaf: It happened early, when the Jays were the kings of the AL East; A.J. Burnett’s return. Doc handled it, as we knew he would, and the atmosphere at the Rogers Centre was nothing like I had ever experienced. It felt like playoff baseball.
Tao of Stieb: The Doc-A.J. showdown is the one thing that clearly stands out in retrospect. Maybe that reflects bad on the state of the team, but it felt like a playoff game with the way that the Dome was packed and the Jays were the focus, even in the midst of hockey playoffs.

What was the biggest surprise of the 2009 season?

Chris: Aaron Hill. I think every expected him to be respectable, nobody (that I know of anyway) expected him to have a season quite like that.
Squizz: The fall from grace of Cito Gaston. He rode back into town on a white horse last season, reigniting the passions of even the most casual baseball fans… of course, once the bubble burst, we realized he was riding a wave of nostalgia more so than competence. Still, the virulence directed at this formerly-beloved Toronto sporting figure by season’s end was depressing — it’s always a shame when a local hero has their great victories overshadowed by late-career events (see Favre, Brett).
Cole: I think the emergence of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind would be a pretty easy choice here.
.      We always assumed these two guys would blossom into good ballplayers, but the numbers they put up were kind of foolish. It will be quite interesting to see if they can continue that sort of production and I’m actually going to be a bit of a pessimist and say I think it’s doubtful we’ll see both these players hit over 30 homeruns next year. I’m hoping though.
.      Honestly, I think Aaron still has more development as a hitter. Dude just doesn’t walk and if he could learn to be more patient, the numbers he put up would have been amongst the best in the entire league (they already were in many cases, I know, but his OBP isn’t exactly mind-numbing). I know it’s a catch 22 though, as if he’s not aggressive as he is, perhaps he doesn’t hit as many homeruns. Hey, I’m selfish, I want his 35+ homeruns, 100+ RBIs AND a .400 OBP.
Katy: Scutaro.
Eyebleaf: I’d have to go with the immense failure that was Alex Rios. If you would have told me at the start of the season that Rios would struggle so badly and eventually be claimed on waivers, I’d never have believed you. Oh Alex, what was supposed to have been…
Tao of Stieb: Adam Lind’s emergence. I had figured that he’d possibly contribute 20 homers and 75 RBI if he had a good year, but he really reached a whole other level this season.

Where did the season go wrong?

Chris: I didn’t think it was a bad move at the time, but the season went wrong back in 2008 when Cito was brought in.
Squizz: When I started almost letting myself believe all of the hype that was constantly swirling around me. Then boom, rotation explodes, bats get silent(er), losing streaks and another long, languid summer of meaningless baseball. It may be a little narcissistic to think the sporting gods have it in for me, but I can’t come up with a better explanation.
Cole: I’m going to go ahead and say it went wrong during that faithful series against Boston where the Jays got swept, en route to their nine-game losing streak. Damn you Wakefield. That much is obvious though, I suppose.
.      Really though, even with that nine-game slide, the Jays had built themselves up enough of a cushion that they weren’t even in bad shape at that point. So really, I don’t think there’s any one place you can pinpoint. The season probably went wrong when the team went north with the 25 man roster we had, because it obviously wasn’t good enough to win – the only kick to the nuts was that we were deluded into thinking they were good enough to win by the boner-inducing 27-14 start.
Katy: Complacency in player attitudes and in ownership. It’s supposed to be a sports team first, business second, but not everyone sees it that way and make decisions accordingly.
Eyebleaf: The season went wrong right from the get go. The 27-14 was the last thing this team needed. It wasn’t a contender to begin with, and the hot start put pressure on everybody. It all went wrong when Snider got sent down, and Litsch got hurt, and Wells and Rios became black holes in the lineup, and Millar played so much, and when Cito couldn’t put together a lineup to save his life. It went wrong in every which way after the salad days known as the 27-14 start.
Tao of Stieb: The night that the Jays faced Tim Wakefield and suddenly stopped hitting for the next two weeks. Basically everything fell to pieces after that.

And so, after 1514 words, you’ve reached the conclusion of the first installment of the 2009 Blue Jays roundtable. Come back on Saturday for part two to find out who the biggest letdown of 2009 was (it’s not who you think!) and Monday for part three to see what one move each of our panelists would make in the coming off-season.