Saturday, August 27, 2005

SPORTS: If I was GM of the Blue Jays

J.P. Ricciardi didn’t ask me, but I’ve come up with a plan to spend the $30 million or so dollars Ted Rogers will give him extra next year to populate the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster.

I’m not going to go crazy in the free-agent pool. It’s going to cost close to $9 million next year, but I hire Kevin Millwood to give that extra boost to the starting pitcher roster. I’d prefer to give the money to Matt Morris, but you don’t win bidding wars with the St. Louis Cardinals. On the other hand, Millwood’s turn this season in Cleveland means he’s over the AL Introductory Phase that hurts a LOT of ex-NL’ers.

The other low-cost hire is Mark Bellhorn, to come in as a back-up second-baseman and disciplined pinch-hitter. If Bellhorn goes elsewhere this season and gets a contract next year for joining up this year, then I go after ex-Blue Jay John Macdonald.

Now, I remodel the roster with a couple of trades that involve taking on salary. The first one is the big one: Reliever Jason Frasor and Triple AAA prospects John Haddig (3B) and David Purcey (LHP) going to the Cincinnati Reds for Ken Griffey.

The Reds want to move an outfielder and big-ticket Griffey is part of a four-man outfield that suffers from only having three spots to play regularly. He’s been injury-prone and the contract makes him risky to any team, including the Reds. In Haddig, the Reds get the Future’s Game World 3B starter in case fellow kiddy hot-cornerman Edwin Encarnacion falters, and a first-round, big-potential left-hander in Purcey. Frasor could even end up being the Reds’ closer, a role he did last season in Toronto. At worst he helps out in the bullpen.

Griffey represents a gamble to the Jays. He’s earning eight figures and he’s got that aforementioned injury bug. About this stage in the career of Paul Molitor, he was similarly unblessed. And Molitor bounced back really well. While Griffey isn’t the best player in baseball any longer (and he WAS at one point), he’s a tonic to the Blue Jay batting order.

Power, which Griffey represents as much as anything else, is also needed in the form of Pat Burrell, who comes over from Philadelphia, along with Class A OF Jake Blalock, for OF Alexis Rios and reliever Brandon League. Philly makes this trade because Rios has the potential to be better than Burrell and he’s almost as good now, for a lot less money. He’s also a significantly better outfielder, which helps the Phillies defensively. League is that proverbial power arm who might or might not ever harnass it. The Jays get Burrell because he’s a mature power-hitter who can hide in the DH slot and then play outfield in a pinch. Blalock is a future major-league outfielder.

Lastly, the Jays move perennial prospect Guillermo Quiroz to the Tampa Devil Rays for Toby Hall. Quiroz still holds allure as a starter while Hall has to get out of Tampa and away from Lou Piniella (Who might move out at the same time anyway).

So let’s see how the Blue Jay roster takes shape in 2006. Across the outfield, we have Frank Catalanotto/Reed Johnson in LF, Vernon Wells in CF and Ken Griffey in RF. The infield starters are Corey Koskie 3B, Russ Adams SS, Orlando Hudson 2B and Shea Hillenbrand 1B. The catcher combo is Greg Zaun and Toby Hall. The DH is Pat Burrell, who covers off the fifth-outfielder spot. The IF backups are Aaron Hill on the left side, and Mark Bellhorn on the left side. The 14th offensive spot goes to PH Eric Hinske, if he can’t be disposed of. Otherwise, John Ford Griffin probably gets the nod over Greg Gross, who needs to keep playing full-time. Griffin’s a future DH, if he ever gets to the majors. If Hinske does stay, then he’s the backup 1B. Otherwise, Koskie or Burrell might occasionally have to pick up a first-basemen’s mitt.

The batting order goes Adams, Catalanotto/Johnson, Griffey, Burrell, Wells, Koskie, Hillenbrand, Zaun/Hall, Hudson.

The pitching staff sees Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood, Gustavo Chacin and Scott Downs produce a decent mix of experience and youth. The long man in the six-man bullpen is Pete Walker. The middle men are rookie Lee Gronkiewicz, Justin Speir, Vince Chulk and the lone lefty, Scott Schoeneweis. The closer remains Miguel Batista. It would be nice to find a second lefty, but he would have to be at least as good as the man he replaces. Alternatively, the Jays could go with one of the Syracuse-bound youngsters in the fifth slot and move Downs to long relief. That might cost Walker his spot, or more likely free up Speir or Chulk for trade.

Down in the minors, Gross would be the top offensive prospect, along with first baseman Kevin Barker. The pitchers itching to get to Toronto would include Dave Bush and Dustin McGowan, currently 40 per cent of the Blue Jay starting staff, as well as Chad Gaudin, Francisco Rosario, Shawn Marcum, Spike Lundberg and Zach Jackson. That seems to be a decent pool of pitching talent to handle the inevitable injuries.

The one weak spot would be finding a couple of veteran MIF types to play in Syracuse to cover off any injuries to Hudson, Adams and/or Hill.

There you have it. The Blue Jays, 2006 playoff contenders.

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