Blue Jays could use relievers to rebuild

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

If you want to know what the Blue Jays would want back for one of their top relievers, consider the Orioles’ return for left-hander George Sherrill last July.

The analogy isn’t perfect -- Sherrill had two-plus years of control remaining, while Jays right-hander Jason Frasor and lefty Scott Downs are under contract for only one more season.
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Still, the Jays will seek value in return for one (or both) of their potential free-agent relievers -- and they might get it, too.

The Cubs and Mets badly need setup men. The Twins just lost closer Joe Nathan. The Rays will be without setup lefty J.P. Howell until at least May.

The Jays might not land a prospect as promising as third baseman Josh Bell, the Orioles’ principal return for Sherrill. But they will want at least the equivalent of a 2011 sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, and probably more.

Frasor, 32, and Downs, 34, project as definite Type B free agents next season, and possibly Type As. Thus, the Jays would receive at least one draft pick and possibly two for each pitcher if they offered them arbitration and lost them as free agents.

Alex Anthopoulos, the Jays’ first-year general manager, proved last off-season that he was not afraid to offer arbitration to certain free agents -- he did it with shortstop Marco Scutaro (Type A) and catcher Rod Barajas (Type B), and ended up with seven picks in the first two rounds of the 2011 draft.

The risk of offering arbitration, of course, is that the players will accept. Frasor would get a raise from $2.65 million, Downs from $4 million. But the Jays could absorb those respective increases, particularly when such contracts are for one year and non-guaranteed.

One way or another, the Jays will turn Frasor and Downs into younger pieces as they continue rebuilding. The team’s look is changing rapidly; by this time next season, Brett Wallace could be at first base, Adeinis Hechevarria at shortstop, J.P. Arencibia at catcher.

Wallace was part of the four-team Roy Halladay trade. Hechevarria is a highly regarded Cuban defector. Arencibia, the team’s first-round pick in 2007, is coming off a big spring.

The idea is to keep adding quality young parts. The Jays, if they trade Frasor and Downs, will not settle for fringe prospects in return


Brandon Wood was going to be the next Mike Schmidt. Remember?

An Angels official dropped the Schmidt comparison on me a few years back, sometime after Wood hit 43 homers for Class A Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.

Well, the next Mike Schmidt spent most of ‘07, ’08 and ’09 at Triple A. His 1,364 at-bats at that level were staggering for a highly regarded prospect, but the Angels had players ahead of Wood at both shortstop and third.

No more.

The Angels’ loss of free agent Chone Figgins to the Mariners created an opening at third base. Wood, 25, is the front-runner for the position, with Maicer Izturis the leading alternative.

“The thing I’ve been asked a lot this spring is if there is a lot of pressure on me trying to win a job. I’ve felt zero pressure,” says Wood, who is batting .263 with a .364 on-base percentage in the Cactus League.

“The pressure was the last two years, where I was going to go back to Triple A for the second and third time. That’s when you’re really trying to battle. I’ve felt comfortable, like I belong in this clubhouse, really for the first time.”

Wood admits to pressing in his limited call-ups, “thinking it was my slim opportunity to hit three home runs in a game.” In 236 major-league plate appearances, his career batting/on-base/slugging line is only .192/.222/.313.

Manager Mike Scioscia points to other Angels who had to wait for their chance -- Figgins, first baseman Kendry Morales, right-hander Jered Weaver, catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, among others.

Wood, though, had to be more patient than most.

He hit 76 home runs at Triple A the past three seasons, and some club officials believe he will be nearly as strong as Figgins defensively at third.

Baseball Prospectus says Wood “made genuine headway in taming his swing in three years of Triple A. Last year saw his lowest strikeout rate (18.7 percent) and best strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio (2.4), and while fewer balls left the yard, his line-drive and pop-up rates moved in the right direction.”

The Angels, Scioscia says, never lost faith.

“We see the same potential, the same upside,” the manager says. “Anytime a young player is trying to break into a championship-caliber lineup on a team that has expectations of being a contender, you have to wait for that opportunity to emerge.

“Sometimes it takes a little longer to get that opportunity when you’re trying to break into a team that is achieving. Brandon is an example of that. We had guys performing at very high levels that we knew were important for us. Now Brandon is going to have an opportunity to do that.”

At last.


Ask Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman: Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks looks primed for a big season.

Weeks hit a home run off Chapman to lead off a Cactus League game last Wednesday, answering a challenge from Brewers manager Ken Macha and bench coach Willie Randolph.

“Willie and I were messing with him a little bit before that game,” Macha recalls. “I told him Chapman was out there, throwing 104 mph.

“The first at-bat, he threw 104. Rickie turned that baby around. That just wasn’t over the fence. The wind was blowing in. He hit it through it.

“His next two at-bats were equally impressive. He walked twice, laying off pitches that were out of the zone.”

Chapman recovered nicely, striking out five in three innings without allowing another hit, but Weeks also made an impression on one of his new teammates, catcher Greg Zaun.

“He has some kind of bat speed -- ridiculous,” Zaun says. “It reminds me of Gary Sheffield’s. You can hear his bat cutting through the wind.”

A few sample comments from scouts on Weeks: “Strong wrist . . . quick bat . . . short swings . . . can’t get a fastball past him.”


Every year at spring training, with little prompting, Ken Griffey Jr. gives me a full update on his children -- Trey, 16; Taryn, 14 and Tevin, 7.

Griffey, 40, talks excitedly about their athletic and academic progress, speaking at length, barely taking a breath. I always enjoy our talks; Griffey’s devotion to his children is touching. And eventually, he allows me to ask him a question or two about baseball.

The other day I wanted to know: Did Griffey think that in his prime he was a better center fielder than his current teammate, the Mariners’ Franklin Gutierrez?

Griffey declined to engage in such a comparison -- different eras, different parks, different players. But he absolutely raved about Gutierrez.

“The most impressive thing about him is that there is everything you want in a center fielder,” Griffey said. “He can hit home runs. He can hit for average. He can do the small things. He can go get ‘em. There’s nothing this kid can’t do.

“We saw that when he was in Cleveland when he played right field. We were sitting there thinking, ‘He should be playing center. They should flip ‘em.’ (then and now, Grady Sizemore was the Indians’ center fielder).

“A good center fielder, you don’t realize how good he is until you’ve got somebody else out there. Then you’re like, ‘Damn.’ I watched him all year. He made all the right throws. There was nothing he (didn’t do correctly). He was fun to watch.”


Brewers general manager Doug Melvin says that manager Ken Macha recently told center fielder Carlos Gomez, “I don’t care if you hit one home run.”

Macha says Melvin misquoted him.

“None,” he said. “I don’t care if he hits none.”

Macha wants Gomez, 24, to maintain a level swing and improve his .292 career OBP. Melvin believes Gomez could follow the examples of the Mariners’ Gutierrez and Astros’ Michael Bourn, two other speed-based players who needed time to mature.

“He has instincts, but everything is fast-twitch,” Melvin says. “You look at (Jim) Edmonds, everything is so easy. He glides to the ball. Gomez is just so aggressive. And when guys are aggressive, they’re going to make mistakes.”


The Reds, among other things, need a bounce-back season from right-hander Aaron Harang, who went 6-14 with a 4.21 ERA in 2009 before undergoing a season-ending appendectomy in August.

Such a turnaround could happen, and not simply because Harang was unlucky last season -- his opponents batted .331 on balls in play, 32 points above the league average.

Harang, who turns 32 on May 9, is excited about a mechanical change he made in the off-season, one that both his physical therapists and new Reds pitching coach Bryan Price recommended after watching him on video.

“The first thing (the physical therapists) saw is how short my stride was, that I was really trying to force the ball instead of being nice and free,” Harang says. “We started working on that.

“Then I talked with Bryan Price. He said you need to work on stretching that stride out. It was like, ‘Bingo. I’m already doing that stuff.’”

So, how is Harang taking to the adjustment?

“Right away, you could see a big difference,” he says. “You go in and they’re like, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ I was kind of leery. I’ve been doing what I’ve doing for so long. It worked in the past. But I think in the long run, it will help decrease the chances of more flareups in my arm.”


* Talk persists in scouting circles that Gary Sheffield is talking to a National League club, but that team is difficult to identify.

Sheffield is not on the Nationals’ radar despite the team’s recent release of right fielder Elijah Dukes. The Giants could use another right-handed bat, but they’re already concerned about their lack of speed in their outfield with Aaron Rowand in center and Mark DeRosa in left.

For that reason, Jermaine Dye also does not appear to be a good fit.

* Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski on center fielder Austin Jackson: “The thing that has impressed me the most -- and it’s spring training -- is that he has shown a real good feel for the strike zone.

“He doesn’t chase pitches. Look at his (high) strikeout numbers in the past, and that doesn’t necessarily correlate. But he made an adjustment in his swing, cocking his leg, going back to what he was before.”

*A’s right-hander Ben Sheets, who allowed 10 runs without retiring a hitter in his previous start, was much better Saturday, allowing one run in four innings in a split-squad game against the Cubs.

“He threw his curveball wherever he wanted it,” one scout said.


* DeRosa on his surgically repaired left wrist: “Awesome. The first two weeks, it was cranky, fatigued. But I don’t even think about it anymore.”

* A scout on Nationals right-hander Drew Storen, who will open the season at Double A: “He can pitch in the eighth inning right now.”

* A’s manager Bob Geren on the possibility that his team might run even more after finishing fourth in the AL last season in stolen bases: “We’ve never been against the stolen base. We don’t like caught stealings. That’s what we’re against.”

Tagged: Orioles, Angels, Brewers, Athletics, Mariners, Blue Jays, Cubs, Reds, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Giants, Rays, Aaron Rowand, Ben Sheets, Mark DeRosa, Scott Downs, Aaron Harang, Chone Figgins, Jeff Mathis, Jason Frasor, George Sherrill, Rickie Weeks, J.P. Howell, Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Napoli, Brandon Wood, Carlos Gomez

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