TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers three questions each week. This week, topics cover Ricky Romero's future with the Blue Jays, the quality of Toronto's starting rotation, and the value of MLB's games in Australia to start the season.
1) After a very rough outing on Tuesday, the Blue Jays sent Ricky Romero to minor league camp. Does Romero need a change of scenery at this point, or do you think he's lost 'it'?
Ricky Romero entered Tuesday's game having pitched well this spring. He had a 1.29 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in seven innings. But his implosion on Tuesday in which he walked five, threw two wild pitches and hit a batter effectively imploded his Blue Jays career. That one inning in which he gave up three runs showed the return of the "thing."
What is the "thing" you ask?
It is the inability to throw a baseball where one wants to throw it. It is a voice in a pitcher's head that says, "You are in trouble. You have no idea how hard to grip the ball or when to release it." It is a voice that forces a pitcher to think about throwing instead of just doing what comes naturally. The pitcher feels like he has to aim the ball.
Romero looked like he had quieted that voice for a while. He was a little better at triple-A last year than he had been in the big leagues in 2012. This spring, before Tuesday, that voice was but a whisper.
Unfortunately once a pitcher hears the voice he is susceptible to it coming back. One wild pitch or one hit batter and boom, there it is again. That voice that can make even the strongest of pitchers start to doubt themselves.
On Tuesday that voice screamed into a megaphone and Romero couldn't quiet it. So he heads back to double-A hoping to plug his ears.
The Jays need to do the merciful thing and trade or release Romero. There are just too many things that can trigger the negative thoughts and the increased volume of the doubts as a member of the Jays. He may find a way to quiet the noise in another organization but it won't happen in a Jays uniform.
2) While most observers agree that the Jays have enough hitting, do you think they can get enough from the back end of their rotation to be competitive for a playoff spot this season?
Spring Training is great because every team has hope as they prepare for the upcoming season. Last year is forgotten, as the standings and all of the stats are wiped clean and there is a fresh start. The rosters are changed in large and small ways. Maybe even general managers, managers and coaches have changed.
However, some things never change. Good pitching is the key to success.
Very rarely do great offensive teams win despite their pitching. Far more often teams win with marginal offence and a great pitching staff. We know the Jays are going to score a bunch of runs but their success will be driven by the arms of the pitchers and not by the bats in the lineup.
Even though we wipe the slate clean from a year ago and start anew, last season can give us a perspective on what it will take to win this year. There were ten teams that made the playoffs in 2013: Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates, Braves and Reds in the NL; and Tigers, Red Sox, A's, Indians and Rays in the AL. One thing they almost all had in common was successful starting pitching. In fact the average record of their stating rotations last season was 68-47 and 976 innings pitched. Their starters pitched well and deep in the games.
The Blue Jays starters had a 46-57 record in 2013 and threw only 899 innings. Clearly, a long way away from a playoff-caliber rotation. So, although it is fair to wonder whether the Jays have enough pitching at the back end of the rotation the greater question is do they have enough at the front end?
There is no doubt that if the Jays are going to be a playoff team they will need J.A. Happ to be healthy and throw strikes and they will need production from all of Todd Redmond, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Kyle Drabek and Esmil Rogers. Every team needs anywhere from 16-20 pitchers to contribute during the season. There are certainly questions about what is fair to expect from the pitchers just mentioned but make no mistake about it the bigger question is whether R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and the oft-injured Brandon Morrow can do their part.
Most playoff teams have four starters that reach double-digit wins. With the questions at the back end of the rotation the Jays really need close to 50 wins from their Big Three. Last season only Dickey (14 wins) and Buehrle (12 wins) won double-digit games.
Needless to say the Jays' rotation has their work cut out for themselves.
3) Dodgers starter Zack Greinke stated he wasn't a fan of the club opening the regular season early (this weekend) in Australia. Do you think the MLB brand really benefits from these games?
Not only does the MLB brand benefit from playing regular season games internationally but so does the brand of the teams participating and the brand of the players on the teams.
My 2000 New York Mets team started the season in Japan against the Chicago Cubs. Just like the Dodgers and D-Backs are doing on the trip to Australia we played exhibition games, held clinics and made appearances to promote the games before we took on the Cubs in a two-game series. It was a long flight and we battled jet lag for about a week on the back end of the trip. But it was worth it.
Sure there were challenges but I considered it an honour to represent Major League Baseball. Plus, on international trips, players and executives are treated like royalty. Zack Greinke sounded ignorant and ungrateful.
Almost 50 percent of minor league players are foreign-born players. Over 25 percent of big leaguers are foreign-born and almost 37 percent of the 2013 All-Stars are foreign born. Baseball is an international game. It is critical that MLB continues to develop and grow its brand.
From a club's perspective I always believed there was an advantage to play in front of international fans. Brand recognition for the team is financially beneficial for potential sponsorship deals as well as merchandising. But most importantly, brand recognition among baseball players in other countries is huge. The more professional and amateur players can recognize and connect with the brand of a team the better the chances of that team in landing talented players in the future.
Individual clubs and players don't only have a responsibility to their own organization but they have a responsibility to the game itself. Many players, teams and executives have gone before those of us benefiting today from this extraordinary way to make a living. Today's players need to pay it forward just like those who paved the trail for them.
Opening Day is Saturday at 4am ET. I will be watching. Will you?
So you want to be a GM?
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray...what is a general manager to do? I find myself sympathizing with general managers all around the game. There seem to be so many injuries this spring that have the potential to cripple teams even before the season begins. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy of the Braves, Patrick Corbin of the D-Backs, and Jarrod Parker of the A's are all headed for Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season. The Tigers young shortstop Jose Iglesias, a defensive wizard, is out for months with stress fractures in his shins. Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was drilled in the face by a line drive and needs a plate put in his head and could be out until June. There is no telling how he will be affected mentally by this injury.
The Braves, A's, Tigers and Reds all made the playoffs last year. I would have predicted all four to make the playoffs again this year prior to these injuries. The D-Backs were a sleeper team in the NL this year prior to losing their best pitcher in Corbin.
So what should the GM's do? They will just do what they do. Frank Wren, the Braves GM, moved quickly and stole Ervin Santana away from the Jays and Orioles. But that may not be enough.
Kevin Towers, the Diamondbacks general manager, pushed all winter to land an ace starter but came up short settling for veteran Bronson Arroyo. That pushed Patrick Corbin into the role of Opening Day starter for a team built to win now with the highest payroll in franchise history. With Corbin out for the season and no obvious starting pitching available Arizona may have to go with kids in the fifth spot in the rotation. This will not only hurt the rotation but the bullpen as well since Corbin was a guy who would often pitch deep in the game.
The Reds could not have foreseen the injury to Chapman. His loss though creates a real problem as the physical status of his two most experienced replacements, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, is a big issue. The Reds' bullpen could be a mess at the start of the season. There are no closers available on the trade market. Saves blown in April and May could cost the Reds an October playoff berth.
The Tigers have been a staple of October baseball the past few years. They were once again favoured to win the AL Central. Last August the Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias to be the shortstop for the next 10 years. But that plan included him to be the shortstop this year that is in a "win now" window for the franchise. Stephen Drew, the Red Sox shortstop a year ago, is still available. Scott Boras has had success getting to owner Mike Illitch in the past and making deals. The Tigers have no good internal option to replace Iglesias and my ultimately save Boras by having to make a deal with Drew. But a Drew signing won't come cheap and will include the Tigers giving up a first round draft pick.
So you want to be a general manger. There is no manual that tells you what to do when you have done everything right but circumstances turn against you. It is a long season and these teams have time to plug their newfound holes but it won't be easy.
In one week that has been full of injuries the playoff races opened up in a very significant way.
No one said life was fair.