Saturday, December 10, 2005

SPORTS: Is there a GIGANTIC big step still to go?

J.P. Ricciardi has been spending money and making moves. Not the moves I suggested back in August () But some interesting moves anyway.

Instead of Pat Burrell, the Blue Jays finished the winter meetings by acquiring Lyle Overbay. Cheaper, more consistent, less powerful. But with the chance to bang a few more homers as he matures. Plus, he's actually a first baseman, meaning he'll be better defensively. Earlier, the Jays signed the needed pitcher. I'm still not sure Kevin Millwood wouldn't be a more consistent better second man in the rotation than A.J. Burnett. But, Burnett does have the chance to be a whole lot better.

I wrote my piece in August, prior to Miguel Batista's meltdown. Getting B.J. Ryan was far more a necessity than many people think. His teammates had lost confidence in Batista, and big league sports is all about the 3 C's, Capability, Concentration and Confidence. Batista was more fire starter than stopper. And he had to be replaced. Money availability made Ryan, not Billy Wagner, my preference for a new closer. Good for J.P. to grab him.

Sooooo, what to do about my suggestion at getting Ken Griffey to make the power upgrade complete and finish off the major acquisition budget? Obviously, with the Reds ditching Sean Casey this week, the pressure to bounce one of Cincy's outfielders has lessened greatly. Would an offer of Alex Rios, Brandon League and farmhand John Haddig get Griffey? No. Would throwing in Batista? Still no, but a lot closer. Ultimately, no cigar for either Griffey or Adam Dunn. And I'm not so sure Rios by himself isn't better than Austin Kearns.

Sooooo, what to do? I'm nothing if not ambitious and able to change points of view. How's this to float the Blue Jay boat of good hope? Batista, Eric Hinske, Russ Adams and Brandon League to the Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada.

Now, before you jump up and down and say I'm foolish, let me point out Tejada's request to bail, issued to the press this week. When a team leader type like Tejada explodes than it might be very difficult to bring him back on board. The Orioles face a couple of years of rebuilding and paying Tejada 12 mill per year to help them finish fourth might not be prudent. Batista gives them a year to school Chris Ray, the closer of the future. He'll be tradeable at the deadline with his modest 4M stipend. Adams becomes the long term replacement for Tejada. Hinske joins the DH/1B team with Javy Lopez. League gives the Oriole another bullpen option. The quartet's bill comes in at around 8M, a savings immediately of four million a year. Within a year, the savings are at 6M a year. That's money that can be spent on a power-hitting OF when the time to contend comes again.

Can the Jays live with Tejada? The salary hit is $4M, but it does clear power and playing time problems off the to-do list. All it creates anew is a lead-off issue.

How about RF-Rios, LF-Catalanotto/Johnson, CF-Wells, SS-Tejada, 1B-Overbay, DH-Hillenbrand, 3B-Koskie, C-Zaun, 2B-Hudson. There's 35-homer capability in Wells and Tejada. Overbay, Hillenbrand and Koskie can pass 20. And Hudson is the only one of the others (assuming the LF platoon is one player in effect) that won't hit double figures. There's plenty of speed in the top four and Hudson. Aaron Hill leads a slim bench. Maybe John-Ford Griffin, the backup catcher and another spare IF. Hudson's not indelicate.

This group can be decent offensively and pretty good defensively. Left field would be the only clearly sub-par defensive position, and that's only when Catalanotto is out there. Add in the definitely better pitching and the Blue Jays feel like a 92-98 win team.

That means a trade at the deadline will be needed. A go-for-it trade in August to bring in a replacement for a corner outfielder isn't far-fetched. Rios, Hillenbrand and a kiddie pitcher for a ticket might be the route to 100 wins and the playoffs. That would allow Catalanotto to DH, Reed Johnson to play one corner and the new guy to go to the other field.

But that's just me daydreaming about a GIGANTIC step forward. Realistically, Hinske to Baltimore for a minor prospect, Batista and Hillenbrand to Pittsburgh for Craig Wilson and a reliever, and the signing of Reggie Sanders and Mark Bellhorn sounds a lot like the finish to the Blue Jay off-season.

No comments: