Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Joey Votto wins Lou Marsh Award

     The accolades keep on coming for Ontario's Joey Votto.  I am very pleased and frankly astounded to tell you that Votto has been named the 2010 Lou Marsh Award winner, which is presented each year to Canada's top athlete by a committee of journalists and broadcasters chaired by former Canadian rower Silken Laumann.  Last year it was won by Sidney Crosby.
     I knew that Votto would be part of the conversation, but in an Olympic year, I didn't think he had a chance.  The award has also only been won by Canadian baseball players on two previous occasions.  Larry Walker won the award in 1998, and hall of famer Ferguson Jenkins in 1974.

     Other finalists for this year's  award were Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Scott Virtue and Tesse Moir, Georges St-Pierre, Alexandre Bilodeau, Christine Nesbitt and Joannie Rochette.

     Once again congratulations on a terrific year Joey.  I hope you have a large trophy case.

Cliff Lee Joins Halladay in Philadelphia

    Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels as your top four?  Not too shabby!  Very early this morning ESPN.com, The New York Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer were all reporting that Lee has chosen the Phillies over the Rangers and Yankees.  The deal is reportedly worth $120 million over 5 years.  Congratulations Clifton, and a heartfelt thank you from Blue Jays fans for NOT choosing the Yankees!

     This does beg the question though, what do the Yankees do now?  Even if AJ can rebound from last year, and Hughes keeps developing as he should, there are still two large holes in that rotation.  If Anyone is concerned that the Yankees may pursue Greinke as a consolation prize need not worry.  The Yankees  don't have the prospects to get Zach to New York.  Even if they did, it's probably a non-issue.  Greinke has a history of anxiety problems and apparently he and the Yankees are both in agreement that they are not a fit for one another.  The Yankees are also on Greinke's list of teams that he won't accept a trade to.

    I'm happy that Lee has joined Halladay and Hamels in Philadelphia.  However is it wrong that I am almost giddy because he DIDN'T sign with New York?  Hee hee hee, Christmas came early!!!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Votto Wins Tip O'neill Award

     Etobicoke Ontario's Joey Votto was declared the "landslide winner" of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's Tip O'Neill trophy for his outstanding season in 2010.  A season for which he has already won the National League's MVP and Hank Aaron awards.  BC's Ryan Dempster was second in the voting posting 15 wins for the Cubs this year.  Third was 27 year old rookie John Axford from Simcoe Ontario, who took over the closing duties in Milwaukee and finished the season with 24 saves.

     The Tip O'Neill trophy is awarded by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame each year to a Canadian player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.  Past winners include Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, and Ryan Dempster to name a few.  The award is scheduled to be awarded to Votto on April 30, 2011 which is tentatively scheduled to be Joey Votto Bobblehead night at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

     Congratulations Joey, well deserved! 

     A Joey Votto bobble head night at the Great American Ballpark on April 30.  I think a road trip may be in order!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crawford to the Red Sox?

According to the Boston Globe, the Red Sox have reached agreement on a seven-year, 142-million dollar deal with free agent outfielder Carl Crawford.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shaun Marcum traded to Milwaukee for Canadian Prospect

    As of  yesterday evening, It's official.  The Toronto Blue Jays have traded right hander Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers for top prospect Brett Lawrie.  29 year old Marcum was Toronto's opening day starter this year, and took on the role of staff ace after the departure of Roy Halladay last December.  In 31 starts this year, Marcum went 13 and 8, with a 3.64 ERA, and a WHIP of only 1.147.  He also struck out 165 and walked just 43.  Marcum missed all of the 2009 campaign while recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  His overall record with the Blue Jays was 37 and 25, with a career ERA of 3.85.

     Brett Lawrie is a second base prospect who was already playing AA ball at age 20 in only his second full minor league season.  During the 2010 season, the Langley British Columbia native hit .286, with a .346 OBP, 36 doubles, 8HR, and 63RBI.  He also stole 30 bases.  Lawrie rated #81, and #59 in Baseball America's top prospects over the last two seasons, and he is likely to start the season with AAA Las Vegas.

     I'm a Shaun Marcum fan, and when I first heard that he'd been traded to the Brewers, I was expecting a package of prospects in return.  When it was reported that it was just one prospect coming back, it was a little hard to swallow.  I have always believed that it's never a good idea to trade a pitcher for a position player, and I have always felt that Marcum is a top end of the rotation guy.  Not necessarily an ace, but a solid #2 or 3.  Back when he and Dustin McGowan were coming up together, and both breaking in with the club, a lot of people were excited about McGowan's stuff.  McGowan was dubbed the better pitcher of the two, but I never felt that way.  McGowan did have better stuff, that much was true.  I watched him from the right field seats with my wife, and my dog Sydney on Dog Day in 2007, when he took a no hitter into the ninth inning.  I acknowledge that he had the tools to be a great pitcher, and that he had more raw talent than Marcum.  However I always felt that Marcum was the better pitcher.  He was more consistent, and he's always able to find a way to get it done with the tools he has.  He may only possess a fastball that tops out around 87mph, but he can place it wherever he wants to, and he has a great change up to compliment it.  I remember during the 2008 season, before having to undergo Tommy John surgery, Marcum was statistically off to a better start than Halladay was. 

     This year, Marcum embraced the role as the staff ace when Halladay left, and he immediately took on a leadership role with the pitching staff.  This just doesn't seem like the type of guy you trade away.  Having said that, I understand that he's 29, he'll be a free agent after 2012, and his value may never be as high as it is right now.  Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail, and host of the "Jeff Blair Show" heard mid days on the FAN590 compared this trade to one that JP Riccardi tried to make a few years ago in Nashville at the winter meetings.  The deal put in play was outfielder Alex Rios, for a young pitcher with the San Francisco Giants.  I vividly remember the fan outcry at the time for Riccardi not to do the deal should the Giants GM Brian Sabean accept the offer.  A number of fans called in to the FAN in Toronto and voiced their disapproval of the possible trade.  Blue Jays forums online lit up with posts from fans screaming for this trade not to happen.  The young pitcher?  Tim Lincecum.  I hear he turned out to be alright.  Just a season and a half later, Rios was claimed from waivers by the Chicago Whitesox, and the Blue Jays let him go for nothing.  Although the Rios for Lincecum offer was turned down by Sabean, it was very much the same type of deal that happened this week in Florida.  I realize there are differences.  In that offer, the major league veteran was a position player, and the young player was a pitcher.  Lincecum also had one major league season under his belt.  The Marcum for Lawrie deal has the Blue Jays sending a proven Major League pitcher, and receiving back a very young, very unproven player with a high ceiling. 

     As the day progressed, I felt marginally better about the deal.  Lawrie possesses a broad skill set, and is a highly touted prospect who is a position player.  Something Toronto has been lacking down on the farm.  It is suspected that the Blue Jays long term plans are to have Hill and Lawrie as their second and third baseman.  Who plays where remains to be seen, but this is at least one full season away.

   In an interview this morning, Marcum expressed his love for the city of Toronto, the organization, and the fans.  He also said that he thought the Jays were in a good spot, and "not very far away".  Marcum was initially disappointed when he first heard of the trade, and he and his family are still adjusting from the news.  However he said he understood that this is baseball, this is what Alex Anthopoulos feels is best for the organization, and that he was looking forward to helping the Milwaukee Brewers win ball games next year.

     I really hate to see Marcum go.  I think he'll be great in the National League, and that he'll make the all star team at least once while he's there.  I also think he'll hit a home run in the 2011 season.  Marcum was a short stop first, and he can hit!
    The good news for Jays fans?  Morrow, Romero, Cecil, and Drabek have a lot of upside, and a lot of depth behind them.  You can never have enough pitching, but it sure is nice to have options.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Marcum to Brewers?

     The winter meetings officially start tomorrow, and already the deals are starting to happen.  The Milwaukee Journal is reporting that there is a deal in place between the Brewers and the Jays that would send righthander Shaun Marcum to the Brewers for a package of minor leaguers, including Canadian second baseman Brett Lawrie.  Neither GM would comment on the potential deal.
     If the Blue Jays are really dealing Marcum to Milwaukee I can't help but wonder, are they really serious players for Zach Greinke?  To me, if the Blue Jays were serious about acquiring Greinke, it would indicate that they are intending to make a run in 2011, or 2012, and you would want Marcum there for that.  It's been heavily rumored in the last few weeks that the Jays have been in talks with the Royals about acquiring Greinke's services, but any deal involving Greinke would involve some high level prospects headed back to KC.   Is the Marcum deal a way of replenishing the farm so you can do the Greinke deal?  It depends on what is being packaged with Lawrie.  Who is going to replace Marcum in the rotation?  Is there a prospect in Milwaukee that KC wants?  The heavy rumor is that the Royals want Kyle Drabek, and Travis Snider back in return from Toronto.  Alex Anthopoulos has also contacted KC about third baseman Alex Gordon.  Could he be heading back to Toronto as well?  Time will tell.  Any deal involving Toronto and Kansas City is pure speculation at this point.   Personally, I don't think Alex Anthopoulos would make a trade for Greinke to try and make a run this year if Marcum isn't a part of that rotation.  However, I could be wrong.  Wouldn't be the first time, and certainly wouldn't be the last. 

I just can't see Alex Anthopoulos dealing Marcum unless he knew who was going to fill that role in the Blue Jays rotation.  I don't think Anthopoulos is done.  I think the Marcum deal is just the beginning.

It's going to be a fun week.

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

     Well, of the off season anyway.  It is time for baseball's winter meetings!  Meetings at which we've seen blockbuster trades and huge free agent contracts happen in years past.  Here's hoping for an eventful week.  One in which I expect the Blue Jays to be one of the more active clubs.  I haven't had a lot of time to blog lately, but I will try my best to keep up this week, even if it means quick reports giving the latest news from the meetings.
     On the eve of the winter meetings, before the press room was even set up, one of the bigger free agents of 2010 is off the market.  Jayson Werth, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies, and one time Toronto Blue Jay has signed a $126 million, seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals.  I did not see this coming 5000 miles away.  If you had me guess in order which team would sign Werth, Washington probably would have been about team number 23 that I would have guessed. 
     Earlier this week, Washington lost their slugging first baseman Adam Dunn to the Chicago White Sox through free agency.  This left the Nats with both a hole in their lineup, and money to spend.  Werth will bring speed, power and defense to Washington, and will be the Nationals starting right fielder for the 2011 campaign.  He helps fill the void in the lineup left by Dunn, and he will be protecting Ryan Zimmerman in the order.
      With Werth signing such a lucrative deal in Washington, it really begs the question:  What will Carl Crawford get?  I suspect that Crawford can pretty much decide his own salary at this point.  He is now far and away the best outfield option available through free agency.  I have read that Boston and the Angels are the two front runners for his services.  However, you never know.  Nobody predicted Werth to Washington.
     The Blue Jays made a bit of noise this week.  Fred Lewis and Jeremy Accardo were not offered contracts by the club.  The two of them are officially free agents.  Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, and Miguel Olivio declined arbitration offers from the Jays, and are also free agents.  Jason Frasor accepted the arbitration offer.  He should be back in the Jays bullpen for the 2011 season.  The Jays also acquired reliever Carlos Villanueva from Milwaukee for a player to be named.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Canadian Slugger Joey Votto Wins NL MVP

     Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto captured the National League Most Valuable Player award Monday, becoming only the third Canadian player behind Larry Walker and Justin Morneau to ever win a league MVP honor.  The 27 year old Etobicoke Ontario native finished the 2010 campaign batting .324 with 37 home runs, and 113 RBI, while leading the league in both on-base percentage (.424) and slugging percentage (.600).  His performance helped guide the Reds to their first NL Central Division title, and playoff appearance since 1995.
     Votto received an almost unanimous 31 out of 32 first place votes to give him a total of 443 voter points.  The reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols was a distant second with 279 points, and Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez finished third with 240.  Pujols was the recipient of the only other first place vote.

     Larry Walker won the 1997 National League MVP award, while Justin Morneau won the 2006 American League MVP.  Morneau was in the middle of another MVP caliber season this year, when he suffered a season ending concussion after a collision with Blue Jays infielder John MacDonald in early July.  Had that collision not taken place, we might have been talking about two Canadians winning in the same year.

      Votto has never been shy about his national pride, and has always carried himself as a proud Canadian.  So he didn't think twice when he had the opportunity to represent team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in 2009.  Although he was disappointed that Canada's appearance in the Classic was brief, losing a close one to the USA, then being stunned by team Italy, he enjoyed the experience.  When asked how he felt about the tournament itself, Votto replied  "I think that giving Major League Ball players and each country's best ball players the opportunity to represent their given country is something that every player really appreciates.  You know, we just, we all love playing for our countries and playing in front of our home town fans and representing ourselves and our country but playing as a unit and not really caring so much about money and all that extra stuff.  Just caring about playing for our country and it was such a special occasion for me and it was such a great experience and I really look forward to doing it again."  After his performance in the 2009 classic, I look forward to seeing Joey in a team Canada jersey again as well.  In the opener against the US, Votto went four for five, with a home run, a double, two runs batted in, and a run scored.  I was on hand at Rogers Centre with family and friends to see it happen.  Watching Canada play the United States that day was by far the best baseball environment I've ever been a part of at the Rogers Centre.  But, I also wasn't old enough to drive myself to the post season in 1992 or 1993.  I have a feeling being a part of that may have been a little more intense.

    While Votto was playing in the 2009 the World Baseball Classic, he didn't stay in a hotel with the rest of the team.  Instead, he was staying with his mom in Brampton Ontario, sleeping in his own bed, and riding the GO train down to Union Station to go to the games.  What surprises me, is that a player like Joey can ride the GO train, and not have anyone recognize him.  However I guess that's the price of being a baseball star in the centre of a hockey haven like the GTA. 

     I can't tell you how pleased I am that Votto beat out Pujols and Gonzalez for the MVP this year.  The award comes one year removed from a season in which he missed almost a month while struggling with anxiety and depression that stemmed from the death of his father Joseph Votto Senior, who passed away suddenly in August 2008 at age 52.

     After returning from a week of bereavement leave in August, Votto was able to buckle down and put together a strong finish to the 2008 season.  Strong enough to finish second in National League Rookie of the Year voting to the Chicago Cub's Geovany Soto.  Votto said that he "put that all on the back burner and just played baseball until the end of September."  However the emotions he had been trying to ignore came to the surface over the off season and into 2009.  Votto admitted that "From the beginning of the off-season until Spring Training, I was pretty severely depressed and dealing with the anxieties of grief, sadness and fear and every single emotion you can imagine everyone goes through. I had a really difficult time with it.  I was by myself down in Florida. I just was really looking forward to baseball.  And when baseball started back up in February, I kind of did the same thing I did last August and threw it all on the side, threw all of my emotions on the backburner and just played baseball again." 

     But this only worked for him for a short time.  When a person is depressed for a period of time, the illness can start to show it self by means of physical ailments.  I recall a time in my own life that depression led to shingles, ulcers, and insomnia.  Votto fell ill in May of 2009.  It started with an upper respiratory problem, then an ear infection.  While Votto was on the disabled list, he recalls  "It was taking the time away from baseball and recovering from being sick was when the first time all my emotions I had been pushing to the side, that I had been dealing with and really struggling with on a daily basis in the winter, they all hit me. And they hit me 100 times harder than I had been dealing with all off-season."  Votto experienced anxiety and panic attacks, and went to a hospital for treatment on two occasions, one of which started with a call to 911 in the middle of the night.  He sought out treatment, and was back on the field manning first base for the Reds by the end of June.  Votto still managed to finish the 2009 season with 25 HR, 84 RBI, and hitting for a .322 average.  That speaks volumes for the type of talent he really is.

     The Lou Marsh Trophy is awarded annually every December by a panel of journalists to Canada's top athlete, professional or amateur.  In a non-Olympic year Joey Votto would have almost been a shoe in to receive the award.  However, in a year that saw 14 Olympic gold medals awarded to Canadian athletes on their home soil, it might be a tough sell.  Even though he may not win, you can bet that Joey Votto's name will be in that conversation.

Congratulations and all the best on the award, Joey.  Now do me a favor please:  Stop talking contract extension and come home would you?  I think you'd look good in blue and white.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

AL Cy Won By the Right Guy

     King Felix was given his crown today.  24 year old Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners was named the American League Cy Young award winner for 2010.  I'm very happy for him, but at the same I'm also very surprised.  Don't get me wrong, I believe that Felix should have won the award hands down over his competition.  I was just impressed that the members of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) who vote for the AL winner, were able to look past his win loss record and reward him for an outstanding performance this season despite the lack of support he received from his teammates.  In his 12 losses this year, Hernandez received only 7 runs of support from his team while he was on the mound.  I'm sure Blue Jays fans will remember that Jose Bautista's 50th home run of the season was hit off of Felix Hernandez on September 23 of this year.  But do you remember Felix's line that day?  He went the distance, allowing just that one run on only 2 hits.  The Mariners had seven hits that day off of five Blue Jays pitchers.  But they couldn't manage to score a single run for him.

     With a record of just 13 wins and 12 losses, I thought Hernandez would be overlooked for either CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA) of the New York Yankees, or David Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA) of the Tampa Bay Rays.  But he wasn't.  Hernandez led the American League in ERA (2.27) and in innings pitched (249 2/3).  He also struck out 232 batters, one behind the Angel's Jared Weaver for most in the league.  King Felix received 21 of a possible 28 first-place votes and finished with 167 voting points.  Price finished a distant second, receiving 4 first-place votes and finishing with 111 voting points.  Sabathia had 102 voting points with 3 first place votes.

     The 13 wins by Hernandez is the fewest for a Cy Young winner in a full season.  The previous record was set by Tim Lincecum last year when he won the award with just 15 wins last year in San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blue Jays Acquire Rajai Davis

    After missing out on Dan Uggla yesterday, the Blue Jays moved forward today acquiring Rajai Davis from the Oakland Athletics in a deal that sent two minor league pitchers the other way.  For the first time in a long time, the Jays have a speedy player who hits for average.  A player they could easily bat out of the lead off spot if he makes the starting roster.  Drafted by the Pirates in the 38th round of the 2001 amateur draft, 30 year old Davis has been in the big leagues since 2006.  Davis spent time in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Oakland before landing today in Toronto.  In 525 at bats last year, Davis batted .284, with a .320 OBP, 5 HR, and 50 stolen bases in 61 tries.  In 2009 he hit .305 with a .360 OBP and 41 stolen bases in 390 at bats. 
    Davis can play all three outfield positions, and he brings to Toronto a threat on the base paths that this team has needed, and fans in this market have been craving for quite some time.  He also seems to fit the mold for the type of player John Farrell wants for the way he's planning on running the team. Trying to make the Jays a team that can produce offense by creating and taking advantage of more scoring opportunities, rather than relying on the long ball to score runs.  During his first press conference after being hired as the new manager, Farrell indicated that there was work to be done to make the Jays into "a more complete offense that can take advantages of opportunities that present themselves inside of each and every game."  In other words, getting more guys on base and finding ways to get them home.  The Blue Jays may have led the Majors in home runs last year with 257, but they were ranked 25 in batting average (.248), and 28 in the majors in stolen bases (58) which was good enough for last place in the American League for thefts on the base paths.  Davis helps them improve in both these areas.  I also think that if he's hitting atop this lineup, Davis has a great opportunity to post a career high in runs scored next season too.  If the season were to start tomorrow, I think we would see Davis playing in the outfield everyday, and Jose Bautista starting at third.  This, of course, will depend on what Alex Anthopoulos and his staff can get done throughout the rest of the offseason.

    Danny Farquhar and Canadian Trystan Magnuson are the players headed to Oakland in the deal.   In 53 relief appearances at AA New Hampshire this season, Farquhar was 4-3, with an ERA of 3.52, and a 1.200 WHIP.  He picked up 17 saves, and struck out 79 in 76.2 innings pitched.  Farquhar was drafted by the Jays in the tenth round of the 2008 Amateur Draft.  Vancouver native Magnuson was drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft.  Also in New Hampshire as a reliever this year, Magnuson was 3-0 with an ERA of 2.58, a 1.091 WHIP, and struck out 63 in 73.1 innings of work.  Magnuson was expected to be in the running for a bullpen spot with Toronto next spring.

    The Blue Jays also announced today that Mississauga native Shawn Hill has cleared unconditional waivers and is now a free agent.  Hill, after recovering from a second Tommy John surgery, started four games at the end of the 2010 season for Toronto.  He went 1-2 posting a 4.74 ERA.