In this week’s edition of Blue Jays Central: Ask the Insiders, they are asked about the September plan for Ricky Romero and if there is an offseason plan to improve J.P. Arencibia’s catching skills.
Kyle asks: What are the Jays plans for Ricky Romero these last few weeks? Do you agree with the move to call him up?
Buck Martinez: Kyle, Ricky will pitch when the opportunity presents itself and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches in the Angels series this week. The fact that he had a tough season in the minors and two bad starts with the Jays in May, should keep Gibbons from using him against the Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox and Rays as they are all playing for a berth in the post season. I think Ricky is capable of bouncing back, but until we see him succeed in a couple of outings here in September you have to pick his spots.
Shi Davidi: They haven’t outlined a clear plan publicly yet but it sounds like they’re going to give him a start at some point. They’re treading carefully on this one, as they don’t want to undo the progress that’s been made. As for the decision to bring him back, I believe it’s the right thing to do simply for their own planning, taking a first-hand look at him on the big-league stage, as well as for his piece of mind. While people are disappointed in him, Romero has been through a lot this year and offering him a bit of a reward makes sense.
Jamie Campbell: Word is Romero will get a start at some point, and why not? You're paying him a bundle... you might as well find out if there's something there. If he was just another late-round draft pick, his minor league numbers would not have warranted a call-up.
Carly asks: I understand it is perhaps unfair the amount of criticism he gets, but is there any sort of offseason plan for J.P. Arencibia to work on his defensive responsibilities? For example, continuing to work with Sal Fasano? I'm just not sure between October 1 and February 1 what the plan is for him to improve. What would you suggest?
Buck Martinez: Carly, J.P. Arencibia has been given every opportunity with the Jays as an everyday catcher and has power that few catchers possess, but he has to be a better catcher. He is near the bottom of baseball in most offensive categories for catchers over the last couple of years in batting average, on base percentage, and strike out rate. The most important role of a catcher is just that, catch. He has shown improvement whenever Sal Fasano is around and maybe an offseason program and an extensive spring training routine could improve his skills behind the plate. But he has played three seasons with the Jays, played over 360 games and hasn't shown much improvement. He like Dustin McGowan is a first class person and a fine representative for the organization, but he needs to do a better job of catching.
Shi Davidi: The Blue Jays are still working on their off-season plans, most players take a month off after the season regardless, so nothing is firmed up yet. The areas in need of work are obvious -- blocking, honing his receiving, steadying his throwing. Much of that needs to be done during spring training, but the key for him will be to recognize what he needs to do and put in the time to get better at them, something he's done in the past.
Jamie Campbell: J.P. takes his job very seriously. I assume he'll do whatever is necessary to get better in the off-season.
Steve asks: What do you think of Dustin McGowan's hope of trying out for the starting rotation? Is it too much of a risk given his injury history or is there no real downside to trying?
Buck Martinez: Steve, I think this is a real slippery slope. It is too bad that Dustin has been injured so much because he has tremendous ability, but he has thrown only 86 innings since 2008 combined in the minors and majors. Starting may be the most physically demanding position on a team, and to expect Dustin McGowan to stand up to the rigors of being a starting pitcher is too much to ask. I think he could be a very valuable long relief man out of the pen in 2014, but if you look at the recent history of pitchers going from starting to relieving back to starting there are more disappointments than success stories. Daniel Bard, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are three recent examples. Dustin is a terrific person with top notch stuff who has worked very hard for a long time to make it back from serious injuries, but I think he should stay in the pen.
Pat Tabler: Steve, I read about Dustin McGowan talking about returning to the starting rotation for next season. He said he is going to train in the offseason with the thoughts of being a starter next year. There's no question the Jays need more depth at starting pitching. I just don't know if Dustin would hold up physically. Too many injuries in his career. I really like the idea of Dustin coming out of the bullpen throwing "smoke". He is a tremendous asset as a reliever. Keep him in the bullpen. That is one of the strengths of the Blue Jays.
Shi Davidi: At this point there's no harm in trying, it's something he badly wants to do, and if successful, would dramatically alter the value of the player. The risk of injury for McGowan is there regardless of role, and perhaps with his new training regimen, his shoulder will continue to respond to the added volume of work. But it's something that can be pulled back from at the first sign of trouble, with him returning to the 'pen.
Jamie Campbell: I don't mind it, since the Jays don't seem to have a lot of depth in that department anyway. Still, he's found some success in the bullpen. Perhaps his focus should remain there?
Rob asks: Looking back on the season, what part do you think the artificial turf played in the Jays early season woes as none of the players acquired had much experience with it?
Buck Martinez: Rob, I don't think the turf had much to do with the play of the Jays early on except for the possible impact it had on Emilio Bonifacio's three error game. He was caught off guard by the speed of the balls off the turf and was shaky for a while after that. Then I think Gibbons lost confidence in him and Emilio felt like he had to have a big game every day to earn more playing time. As for the rest of the team, as bad as the turf is, I don't think it was a major factor in the team's poor start.
Pat Tabler: Rob, I really think the artificial turf was a big problem for the Jays new players at the beginning of the season. It's fast and there are not a lot of true bounces out there. The infielders/outfielders coming over from the National League had a hard time early on figuring out how to play on the turf. Now that is not the only reason the Jays had their problems early in the season. The defense just wasn't up to par. Too many plays not made, missed cutoff throws and not turning the double play were the biggest problems. The Jays seemed to have straightened the defense out. They are playing really well now.
Shi Davidi: In chatting with some players, they believe the turf can be a significant adjustment for some players since the ball gets on a defender much more quickly. That being said, Ryan Goins has had little trouble adjusting to it, and has made a series of terrific plays despite no substantial experience with the turf before. So, ultimately, if you're a good defender it shouldn't be a major problem to overcome.
Jamie Campbell: Yes, some of the new Jays had trouble adjusting (Bonifacio, in particular), but to suggest this was the reason for several early season losses is foolish. They lost early for many reasons, most of it due to ineffective starting pitching and lack of execution.
Patrick asks: Kind of surprised that Bisons second baseman Jim Negrych didn't get a September callup. While he may not be in their full time plans for next season, what sort of message does it send to those in the minor leagues if a player who has had a solid season, done everything asked of him, does not get a reward at the end?
Buck Martinez: Patrick, Jim Negrych is in his fourth organization and was used as a utility man in Buffalo. He played 70 games at second and 25 at third. He had a decent season in triple-A but I do not think the organization sees him as a "prospect". With Ryan Goins playing second and Lawrie at third, Negrych would not have had many opportunities to play in September. Jim Negrych is a good player to fill out a roster in the minors but I don't see him as a fit in 2014 for the Jays.
Pat Tabler: Patrick, Jim Negrych had a great season for the Bisons but in the big picture he isn't considered a prospect by the Blue Jays. Calling him up in September would have meant taking someone off the 40 man roster to clear a space. That means the Jays would lose someone to waivers who fits into their plans. I understand your point about rewarding players for their season. If that is true then Mauro Gomez should be here. He was Buffalo's MVP. He was claimed off waivers by Washington and is now not even in the organization. The Blue Jays need to protect their best prospects. That, simply put, is the reason Negrych didn't get the call in September.
Shi Davidi: Negrych's play tailed off badly in the second half of the season, and the player he was at the end of the year didn't deserve a September call up. A better question is why didn't he come up earlier in the season when he was hitting .400 and perhaps been able to translate some of that hot streak into the big-leagues? One key factor is that Negrych isn't a very good defender and the Blue Jays wanted defence at second base (not that they got it). If they were wary about whether his bat would play, they needed to at least know his glove would, and they didn't think that was the case.
Jamie Campbell: Negrych hit under .200 in both July and August. The only message being sent is "let's see you do it over a full season." Unfortunately for Negrych, rosters expand at the end of the season, not the beginning. Otherwise, he'd probably have been in the big leagues.