Ask The Experts: 2014 Archive

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (Nathan Denette/CP)

Complete archives of the 2014 Ask the Experts questions with responses from Sportsnet’s TV, radio, web and Magazine contributors. Plus, you can submit your questions below.

Ask the Experts: 9/19/2014: Which call-up has impressed?

When rosters expanded on September 1, the Toronto Blue Jays responded by calling up nine players, including some of their top prospects. While familiar faces such as Anthony Gose and Ryan Goins have received plenty of playing time, the likes of Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Daniel Norris haven’t had tons of chances.

We haven’t seen much of the Jays’ call-ups so far, but which one has impressed you most?

– Harry

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

We have not seen a lot of him but Kendall Graveman could be a real sleeper in terms of impressing the Blue Jays.  The other names get mentioned more (Norris, Nolin, etc.) but Kendall has really impressed me with the combination of his sinker and slider.  I believe because he was a college draft pick he is a bit further along in his development.  That power sinker really moves down and in on those right hand hitters, then he has that slider breaking away to work both sides of the plate.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

I’ll go with Daniel Norris. He hasn’t been perfect, but from the moment he struck out David Ortiz looking it’s been clear that his stuff will play against MLB hitters. I think an off-season of preparation and rest will do him well after a long year that’s seen him climb from Dunedin to Toronto. By the time the Blue Jays need him to contribute in 2015, he should be ready to make a difference.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

Assuming you mean the September call-ups (which would exclude Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez) I’ll go with Brandon Morrow. The 30-year-old’s fastball has been downright explosive, sitting in the high 90′s and even touching 100 mph. He’s been throwing strikes, keeping the ball in the yard and, although we haven’t seen him really unleash his slider as he’s been careful with his injured finger, his offspeed stuff has made hitters look foolish.

He really showed me something in the ninth inning against the Cubs on September 10 when he gave up a full count leadoff double to Luis Valbuena and then promptly struck out the next three batters he faced on just 12 pitches, with only one of them called a ball. Sure, you could say it was just the Cubs and that the game was long over at that point, but dominant pitching is dominant pitching. It’ll be interesting to see if Alex Anthopoulos tries to keep Morrow in the fold for next season as a high leverage reliever, or even a starter.

Ask the Experts: 9/12/2014: How should Jays use the bullpen?

The Blue Jays know as well as any team that the last three outs of the game can be tremendously tough to come by. It’s been a rough second half for Casey Janssen, but Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez are pitching extremely well. That leaves the Blue Jays with some tough calls to make…

What do you make of the Blue Jays’ closer situation? Casey isn’t doing well which makes me worry. Sanchez looks good but I want him to start in the future.

– Jayden

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Jayden, Casey Janssen had a great first half with very few hiccups, but the second half has been a different story. As you probably know, Casey dealt with food poisoning during the All-Star break and lost a significant amount of weight. That sapped his strength and robbed him of his command as well. Janssen isn’t overpowering and needs to be spot on with his command and that was off. As for Sanchez, he can close as we have seen, but he should compete for a starting spot in the rotation next year. Down the stretch you will see Janssen, Sanchez, Cecil and maybe even Brandon Morrow close out games if needed. They are all capable and it is way too early to start thinking about next year’s ‘pen.

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Jayden, Casey Janssen is the Blue Jays closer. Case closed!!! Get it?? Not bad, huh?? Case(y) closed. Never mind!

Casey has the experience and I want him in the game when the Jays are winning and it is the ninth inning. Aaron Sanchez is going to be really good but he will be a starting pitcher so no need to even go there now. Sanchez for the eighth and Janssen for the ninth. Sounds like a winner to me!

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Most closers go through stretches where they struggle. In fact, every player in baseball experiences struggles at some point during a season. The issue when closers fail is that it usually costs their team a game. Casey Janssen has been very good as the Blue Jays closer the last few years. That should not change now. He is also human. I like the fact that John Gibbons went to Aaron Sanchez since Casey was not sharp, however, it is important to go back to your guy that has done his job very successfully. I see Sanchez as a starter as well. The Blue Jays will have to address the closer situation if Casey leaves as a free agent.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

The closer’s situation looks to be a significant issue moving forward, as the plan is for Aaron Sanchez to be in the rotation and there are no obvious internal alternatives. Brandon Morrow is an intriguing possibility for the role, but a lot has to happen for that to take place. Regardless, key will be finding a real solution for the role because otherwise there’s risk in yo-yoing Sanchez back and forth, which would be detrimental for him.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

In the short term, this question will take care of itself based on matchups and availability. Casey Janssen can be tremendously effective when he’s on, and should be in the mix. But if you’re facing the top of the Yankees’ batting order — Jacoby Ellsbury (L), Derek Jeter (R) and Brian McCann (L) — then you’d want Brett Cecil for his left-handedness. If you need a ground ball or a strikeout, Aaron Sanchez will be an appealing choice. I don’t think you want to over-rely on any one arm or lock yourself in to particular patterns.

As for next year, I expect some changes in the bullpen over the winter, but 2015 is a long way off.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

Currently? I think John Gibbons will go with whoever is well rested and matches up best with the batters due up in the ninth, regardless of arbitrary titles like ‘set-up man’ or ‘closer.’ I see little sense in taking one relief pitcher and assigning him the ninth inning every night when there are often situations with far higher leverage and consequence at stake in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. If you blow a slim lead in one of those innings while saving your best arm for the ninth, that best arm isn’t going to have the opportunity for a save anymore.

In instances where a relief pitcher is required, I think Gibbons should use the pitcher with the best chance of success against the scheduled opposition batters. That decision can come down to a number of factors, including arm rest, batter-handedness and past results. Don’t be surprised to see any of Casey Janssen, Aaron Sanchez, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup or ever Daniel Norris pitching in the ninth.

As for next year? We’ll see. If they can bring him back on a more reasonable deal than the $10 million option they hold on him for 2015, I think Brandon Morrow could be a very valuable, high-leverage, late-inning reliever for the Blue Jays.

Ask the Experts: 9/5/2014: Buehrle’s future in Toronto?

Mark Buehrle has been a steadily effective presence in Toronto’s rotation this year, but with a $19 million salary in 2015, there’s some speculation that the Blue Jays might consider trading him:

A lot of talk about the 2015 starting rotation, i.e. all the young guys, but I am sure the Jays will need a veteran pitcher to guide and assist the youngsters over the course of a season. My view is that Mark Buehrle would be the perfect man for this assignment. He’s not an ace but he is a total professional and I think he would thrive in that environment even though he is due to make $19 million. Why does everybody want to trade him?

– Oscar

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

I think the Blue Jays’ 2015 starting rotation will be full of young up and coming starting pitchers and that bodes well for the future. Sanchez, Stroman, Hutchison and possibly Norris could make up four fifths of their rotation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jays try to move one of their older starters to create an opening for them. I am not one to think that they would need a “veteran” to lead them. I believe the young pitchers will push each other in a friendly competition just like those Atlanta teams did starting in the 1990′s. This will be very interesting to watch this offseason.

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Oscar I agree with you that if the Jays go with a few young guys on the pitching staff, they could use a veteran presence to help them with the transition. Mark Buehrle has been a good pitcher for a long time and has a great work ethic but if you think about how he goes about his business he may not be the best mentor for the young guys. Now bear with me and hear me out. Buehrle is different than any pitcher I have been around as he doesn’t look at scouting reports, doesn’t throw side sessions and doesn’t shake off pitches. While that has worked for him, I don’t think it works for everyone. Buehrle will be around next year as he has another year on his deal, and he will be a positive influence on anyone that wants to listen, but the challenge for these young pitchers will be handling the ups and downs that will happen. We have seen Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez all dominate at times, struggle at times and make adjustments to get back on track. This has been a great season for those three and they may be the best “teammates” for the next wave of pitchers to use as sounding boards.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590

Oscar, there are a few reasons that many people seem to be leaning towards trying to trade Buehrle in the off-season, but the biggest ones are that going into next season he’ll be on the wrong side of 35, making over 10 times more than Stroman, Sanchez and Hutchison combined and, as of right now, he’s posted an ERA closing in on 5.00 over the last three months and has the team trying to find creative ways to ensure he gets to 200 innings pitched because his performance thus far makes it look like he’s not going to make it by simply taking the ball every fifth day.

I agree with you that Buehrle is a total pro and a great teammate, a smart pitcher and a great asset to show the young kids how to be a big leaguer.  Is that, combined with a bottom-of-the-rotation performance level, worth $19 million?  It’s probably not.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

Oscar, not everyone is in a rush to trade him but in order to create some financial wiggle room this off-season, moving Mark Buehrle might make sense for the Blue Jays. To be sure, his professionalism, poise and continuing on-field contributions have a place on any big-league team, but Alex Anthopoulos might need the $19million he’s due to upgrade elsewhere. Throw in that Buehrle is well into his decline years and that a repeat of his strong season in 2014 is unlikely, and you have many good reasons to at least kick around moving him.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

The future seems bright for the Jays starting rotation but only time will tell. Mark Buehrle will most likely stay next season unless the team can trade him for some younger talent and they would probably have to pay some of his salary.  R.A. Dickey seems easier to deal since his salary is more manageable and he is pitching rather well.

If Buehrle stays, he will be the elder statesman in the rotation and will certainly be a good sounding board for the youngsters.  I believe you hear from people that want to trade him because of his salary and the fact that he had a rough stretch beginning with the second half of the season and questions arose that he may be fatiguing due to his age and workload over the years.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Alex Anthopoulos frequently says no player is untouchable and it’s worth remembering that refrain here. Buehrle’s a good pitcher and he helps the Blue Jays win. You want him on your team. Yet he earns $19 million dollars. There are plenty of ways to spend that kind of money, even as salaries rise around baseball.

The way I see it, the Blue Jays must determine these things before deciding whether they want to trade Buehrle:

1) will he produce in 2015? (my guess: yes)
2) what can they get in return? (my guess: full salary relief and a role player or partial salary relief and a quality big leaguer)
3) how could they spend $19 million? (my guess: one starting outfielder and a role player or the flexibility to take on salary in a trade for a second baseman).

There are lots of variables in play so it would be over-simplifying things to say that the Blue Jays should or should not trade Buehrle. I think they should listen and, if the alternatives are good enough, trade him. They have the depth to withstand it, and other needs to address.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

There’s been absolutely no indication that the Blue Jays front office is considering trading Mark Buehrle. Personally, I would be surprised to see it happen. But if it did, it would be less about his ability and more about giving Alex Anthopoulos financial flexibility. So far, the Blue Jays already have $86 million committed to seven players for 2015 (Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, Dioner Navarro and Maicer Izturis). If one of Melky Cabrera or Colby Rasmus is re-signed, it would likely add $15-million or more to that figure and bring it over $100-million for just eight players. If the Blue Jays are working with a 2015 payroll budget in the $130-million range it was this year, they may feel the $19-million Buehrle’s owed next season is better utilized elsewhere. But again, there’s been nothing to suggest the club is looking at moving the uber-reliable veteran.

Ask the Experts: 8/29/2014: Who’s the biggest surprise on the Jays?

The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season hasn’t turned out the way most expected. They exceeded expectations in a big way early on before losing their grasp on first place and seeing their chances of reaching October diminish. Still, there have been plenty of memorable moments along the way.

What’s the biggest surprise on the Blue Jays this year?
 – Carl

Mike Cormack, Sportsnet News Editor| @MikeCormack

How about how bad Colby Rasmus has been this season, in a walk year, no less? Ok, so Colby hasn’t exactly been the most consistent player throughout his career, but coming off a 27 home run (in 113 games), .840 OPS in 2013—with a potential $100 million carrot awaiting him in free agency—you had to figure he would come close to repeating those numbers in 2014. Instead, injuries (93 games entering Friday) and poor performance (.285 OBP) likely mean Rasmus will leave T.O. after the World Series without so much as a qualifying offer.

Honourable mention: Dustin McGowan. Who would have bet on him avoiding the DL to his point (did I just jinx him?) while providing the team with 75 mostly-effective innings?

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

I’m tempted to say Dustin McGowan, who has stayed healthy and managed an impressive 75 innings. I considered Marcus Stroman, whose emergence as a possible frontline starter (3.88 ERA) counts as a major positive for this Blue Jays team.

But I’ve got to go with Melky Cabrera. After a dismal, injury plagued 2013 season, Cabrera has rebounded in a huge way. He’s batting .308/.359/.465 with 15 home runs and has re-established himself as an All-Star caliber outfielder. I have to admit it: I didn’t see this coming at all.

Ask the Experts: 8/22/2014: What’s Bud Selig’s legacy?

Rob Manfred will be MLB’s next commissioner, but before we look ahead to the challenges facing Manfred, we should look back at the assorted shortcomings and accomplishments of Bud Selig, who left an undeniable mark on the game over the course of two-plus decades of leadership.

Now that a new commissioner has been named, we can look back on Bud Selig. I’ll never forgive him for the strike, but what legacy does he leave behind in your opinion?

– Kathy

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

The strike is the first thing that comes to mind for everyone. I think we should consider the revenue sharing that he implemented for Major League Baseball, as most notable under his watch.  Some owners were not necessarily on board feeling that this could be horrible, however, here we are in 2014 and baseball is in its best financial state ever.

Also, the extra Wild Card has made for some exciting baseball down the stretch for many teams. Lastly, although the system is not perfect, at least the whole PED issue has been addressed to try to clean up the game.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

It’s a mixed legacy, one tilted toward the positive but with significant black marks. The strike in 1994 is certainly a primary example, as is years of looking the other way during the steroid era. At the same time, he deserves credit for helping transform the industry financially (the debt-cap rules have made franchises healthier, revenue-sharing has helped level the playing field), introducing the Wild Cards and altering relations with the players association for the better. The years of extended labour peace are an important point of progress, especially given how troubled the relationship with the union had been.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

It’d be tough to find many events in the last half-century that have damaged baseball more than the 1994 strike, and available evidence suggests Selig played a significant role in that work stoppage. That being said, I really like much of what he has done. Interleague play and the expanded postseason are significant positives in my view. Then — let’s give credit where it’s due — there’s the recent history of labour peace and the skyrocketing revenues around the game. Selig’s legacy isn’t spotless, but the game is as strong as ever, which is a pretty big endorsement in itself.

Ask the Experts: 8/15/2014: What are the Jays’ chances?

For a while the Toronto Blue Jays were okay, then they were unbeatable, then they were unwatchable and now, with 40 games remaining, they’re 63-59. That’s not good enough for a playoff spot at the moment, but they’re close enough to make a late push for that elusive post-season appearance.

How realistic are the Jays chances?

– Quentin

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Hi Quentin, the Blue Jays’ chances have taken a hit, there’s no question about it. But with one quarter of the season remaining, the Blue Jays still have a shot. They were in first place 40 games ago with a 45-37 record and if that seems like a long time ago, that should be reminder enough that there’s still plenty of time. Are they likely to make it? Statistically, no. But they have a realistic shot at the playoffs, even if they aren’t as likely as teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

Of making the playoffs? Until the team is statistically eliminated, the chance is very real. And the fact that the team is just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot with 40 games left to play means there is plenty still to be decided. We simply don’t know what will happen. At this time of the year, it’s foolish to make grand proclamations about any team being a sure thing or dead in the water. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played and far too many potential results from here until the rest of the season for anyone to be assured a team will finish one way or the other. We’ve seen massive division leads evaporate in September. We’ve seen teams that looked like they were out of it at the end of August surge back into the postseason. We’ve seen a 163rd game needed to decide who makes the playoffs. I appreciate that fans like to have some certainty about their team’s chances, but that’s simply not how sports work. Until you’re statistically assured/denied a playoff spot, anything can happen.

Ask the Experts: 8/1/2014: Revisiting the trade deadline

The Blue Jays stayed quiet at the July 31 trade deadline, but they can still make deals in August, and Alex Anthopoulos says he expects to be busy. Blue Jays players and fans seem to agree that a move would help this team’s chances. That being said, there’s plenty to like about a club that just won six in a row and now holds the second Wild Card berth.

I am a longtime fan living in Dearborn Michigan and I have been through the ups and downs with this team. What does this team need to make a serious run at the playoffs?

– Mohamad

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer

I believe the Jays need a bullpen arm as well as a pitcher in the starting rotation to make a run. The bullpen has had its ups and downs and a veteran arm would really solidify things after the addition of Aaron Sanchez. If the Jays make the playoffs, they need to be armed to take on the likes of the A’s, Tigers, etc. I would not have given up a Sanchez or Stroman to get a frontline starter like Lester or Price, but perhaps some lower level minor league prospects can acquire a solid arm to bolster the rotation. Drew Hutchison may not be able to pitch into September and/or October since he did not pitch a lot last year following surgery. I think once Lind, Encarnacion and Lawrie return, this lineup is good enough to win if they pitch well but it all starts on the mound. The future looks bright with a potential starting rotation including Stroman, Sanchez, Norris and Hutchison.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer

Mohamad, the biggest thing this team needs is to get healthy. The Blue Jays are right in the middle of the playoff race, and none of their competitors will be adding players the calibre of Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind down the stretch. Those returns from injury, which may even include Brandon Morrow in September, will be huge, as might a return to form for Sergio Santos.
As far as trades, certainly a starting pitcher and a big-armed right-handed short reliever could help. An infielder would be nice, too, but if the Blue Jays are all hands on deck, they could certainly live with Ryan Goins or Munenori Kawasaki at second base.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor
The Blue Jays have a strong enough roster to make the playoffs, but to get there, they’ll need the combination of health, continued breakouts and good luck that separates winners from losers every fall.To be specific, the Blue Jays need Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie to return to health. They can’t afford an injury to a key pitcher. They need continued production from unheralded contributors like Ryan Goins and Nolan Reimold along with continued breakouts from young arms Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. And a little luck wouldn’t hurt. A two-out hit here and a favourable call there would help, especially if their main rivals happen to face a little unwelcome adversity from here on.

It’s a lot to ask for, but it’s not crazy. The Blue Jays are now on an 88-win pace. Improve ever so slightly and they’re going to have a great shot at ending that unpleasantly long playoff drought.

Ask the Experts: 7/25/2014: Who should Jays pursue?

From Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Huston Street and Joakim Soria, the trade chips have already started moving. The Toronto Blue Jays hope to add before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and they have many potential needs, which leads us to this week’s question…

Who would be a good target for the Blue Jays before the trade deadline?

– Owen

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

I think it will be difficult for the Jays to add an impact player before the trade deadline without giving up the farm. If you are the Jays, you can’t take any one off the Major league team as they are already thin because of injuries. If you could acquire a player, I would like to see a left-handed hitting infielder who could play 2nd or 3rd. I would also like to see another right-hander in the pen. I don’t think you will be able to improve on your rotation with so many other teams looking to do the same, especially since Tampa Bay has played their way back into the picture. David Price might just stay put in St. Pete for the rest of this year. The Jays are going to have to live with the roster as is until Edwin, Lind and Lawrie return.

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

The Jays could use some more offence so maybe a player like Martin Prado,who can play multiple positions, would be a good pick up. You would have to look at his contract situation and see if it fits into the Blue Jays salary parameters. If it does, I don’t think he would cost you much in terms of prospects.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

There are so many factors involved when discussing a good trade target before the deadline. When the Blue Jays get healthy, it will be like acquiring three new players (Edwin, Lawrie and Lind). That will help this lineup immensely. It is very difficult to compete without the middle of your batting order. The unfortunate reality is that the Jays need several additions to compete for a playoff spot. They need help in the bullpen, an infielder to join Lawrie when he returns and a front line starting pitcher. If the plan is to make the playoffs, don’t forget you will be going up against the best in the American League (Athletics, Tigers, etc.) so you better be equipped with a front of the rotation guy.

Those three areas need to be upgraded unless some of the existing players really step up and make an impact. So, with those needs in mind, how about bullpen, infielder (Adrian Beltre) and starting pitcher (David Price)? Not very realistic because they may not be available anyway and even if they were, it would cost every prospect the Jays have to acquire them and then some.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Ben Zobrist would be ideal for many teams, the Blue Jays included, but it’s starting to look less likely that the Rays will move him.

If they can do so without giving up an elite prospect, the Blue Jays should acquire Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets’ All-Star second baseman. Admittedly, Murphy is a worse defender than Ryan Goins, he’s not going to wow you offensively and it’d take a significant prospect or two to acquire him. Still, he’d make the Blue Jays better.

Murphy’s career batting line of .289/.333/.420 shows you he can offer much more offence than Goins, Munenori Kawasaki or Steve Tolleson. He’s under control through 2015, so he’s more than a rental. And he’d allow Brett Lawrie to stay at third with Tolleson and/or Kawasaki shifting to a bench role that would deepen the Blue Jays’ overall roster.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

A versatile player who plays multiple positions and produces consistently at the plate would be a great addition (basically, what the Blue Jays thought they were getting in Emilio Bonifacio). Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado both fit that mould and have been rumored to be on the market.

You can never have too much starting pitching, which is why Anthopoulos may want to investigate the market for second tier starters. If an out of contention club has a veteran No. 3 or 4 arm on an expiring contract, they may be happy to jettison the player for a minimal price and open up a rotation spot to give a younger arm some experience.

An intriguing starter whose name has recently surfaced as possibly being available is Tommy Milone of the Oakland A’s. Milone has reportedly asked for a trade after being demoted from Oakland’s rotation and is exactly the kind of young, high-upside, controllable player that Anthopoulos covets.

Ask the Experts: 7/18/2014: How should Jays handle Rasmus?

Colby Rasmus entered the season as the Toronto Blue Jays’ everyday centre fielder, but after an up-and-down start to the year, manager John Gibbons decided to run a platoon with Rasmus hitting right-handers and Darin Mastroianni and others mixed in against left-handers. There’s no denying Rasmus has struggled, but does that make it the right call?

Do you agree with John Gibbons’ decision to consistently sit Colby Rasmus against left-handed pitchers in favour of minor league callups?

– Kate

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Rasmus struggles against left-handed pitching, so I see the value in giving him days off against tough lefties like David Price and Chris Sale. It’s a chance to get Mastroianni into the mix and let Rasmus rest his legs.

That being said, Mastroianni is a career .214/.276/.292 hitter, which is considerably less than what Rasmus gives you against lefties. Because of the expected dropoff in performance from an experienced big league regular to Mastroianni, this should not be a platoon, but rather an opportunity for the Blue Jays to rest Rasmus and mix in their right-handed bench bats.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

Here’s Colby Rasmus’ career line against left-handers in 754 plate appearances: .212/.286/.355 with a strikeout in every 3.8 plate appearances and a walk in every 11.8.

Here’s Colby Rasmus’ 2014 line against left-handers in 52 plate appearances: .159/.288/.318 with a strikeout in every 2.6 plate appearances and a walk in every 6.5.

Aside from the walks, which Rasmus has been able to take with more frequency against left-handers this season, there is a clear trend of the 27-year-old failing to produce against left-handed pitching. Adam Lind (career .213/.258/.332 in 887 plate appearances against lefties) and Juan Francisco (.168/.215/.224 in 135 PA) suffer from the same struggles, which is why you’ll frequently see all three of them sitting against lefty starters. As a manager, it’s your job to put your players in the best position to succeed, for the betterment of your ball club and your players’ careers. John Gibbons wouldn’t be doing either of those sides any favours by letting Rasmus flounder against left-handers. Rasmus’ line against southpaws is well below replacement level, which is what you should be able to expect from the “minor league callups” taking his place. There’s no problem with him sitting against lefties and providing a solid left-handed bat off the bench once the starter is out of the game.

Ask the Experts: 7/11/2014: Should Jays trade Sanchez?

Aaron Sanchez opened the season as one of baseball’s top prospects, and the Toronto Blue Jays now view him as a player capable of contributing at the big league level. He’s not a finished product with 57 walks in 98.1 innings this year, but at 22 years of age he just reached the upper minors and still has time to develop. The Blue Jays don’t have any untouchable players, which means Sanchez’s name has surfaced in more than a few trade rumours…

Should the Blue Jays trade Aaron Sanchez in the right deal?

– Jason

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Jason, I do not think the Jays should trade Aaron Sanchez. He is young. They Jays control his rights for six years. He can pitch at the front of your rotation. And the most important…..he is talented! The Blue Jays have a few very good arms in their farm system and from what I have learned in baseball this is the foundation of your team. It would be very hard to give up a talented player like Sanchez for a player you might have for just a year and a half. Tough decision for any general manager.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

I would not trade Aaron Sanchez. For me, the ‘right deal’ would have the Jays acquire players that can help them not only win the AL East division but move on and have success in the playoffs (against the A’s, Tigers, etc.).  If that was possible, I would be all for it. I see too many concerns with the Jays’ roster despite the hot streak that they enjoyed earlier this season. Injuries have now taken their toll and their offensive struggles, particularly against left-handed pitching, are apparent. They may not have their desired lineup back together for quite some time with the absence of Lawrie, Edwin and now Lind.  I believe that you build with starting pitching and the Jays have a future rotation that may include Stroman, Hutchison, Sanchez and Norris. That is an exciting future. I realize that you cannot be guaranteed those players will pan out but there are no certainties that making trades will net a playoff spot either. If they decide to trade a number of prospects, they will need to get a top infielder (2B or 3B), frontline starting pitcher and a reliever to compete for that playoff spot now since the AL East is really up for grabs.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

In the right deal? Yes. Now we just need to settle on what the right deal would be. Personally I’m inclined to think that if you’re getting an impact player under team control beyond 2014 then it’s a worthwhile move. So if Adrian Beltre, David Price or Ben Zobrist is on the table, the Blue Jays should listen. While there’s no guarantee the Blue Jays will win in 2014, a deal for a controllable player would also help them address needs they face in 2015. But if elite players aren’t coming back in the deal, then Toronto should hold onto Sanchez, who has the potential to become a frontline big league starter.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

That completely depends on what would be coming back to the club in the trade. No player is untouchable and every player has a value that can be matched, no matter their pedigree. Sanchez’s value is high at the moment, considering he has a good track record of health, is under team control for at least the next six years, and is thought by many scouts and talent evaluators to profile as a top of the rotation arm. That means the Blue Jays would need to be adding a significant piece in return for him, or would risk losing value in the deal. There are certainly many deals Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos would make that include Sanchez; the trick is convincing the other team to part with a useful piece.

Ask the Experts: 7/4/2014: Would Samardzija be a fit?

With less than one month before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, contending teams are looking for ways to improve. Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t disclose much about the Blue Jays’ trade targets, which leads to plenty of speculation…

There has been a lot of talk about Jeff Samardzija and the need for an infielder. Why doesn’t AA make a trade for Samardzija, a middle infielder and a reliever for the prospects the Cubs want and another nothing throw in? Is it not enough to get the Cubs to bite or is AA feeling gutless after Dickey, Johnson and Bonifacio all busted so hard?

– Cole

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590
I have to say that “gutless” is an interesting choice of words. Especially for someone who is asking us a question on the internet. But I digress. The prospects that the Cubs are asking for represent too high a price for a pitcher like Samardzija who, while he’s having a very good year, hasn’t shown the track record over his career of the top-of-the-rotation arm that the Blue Jays could really use. Also, Darwin Barney and Luis Valbuena wouldn’t exactly be the infield panacea for which the Jays are looking. And Dickey hasn’t been a bust. Give your head a shake.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe
Making trades is not nearly as easy as some may think. Both sides have to agree on what they want and what they are willing to give up. When you say ‘and another nothing throw in,’ do you think the other team is interested at all in that player? You have to let another team know who you are interested in while also getting a feel for what player(s) they may want in return. One team may clearly identify their needs before the trade deadline but that other team (Cubs) will have many teams making many offers for some of their prized possessions. They will wait to see what the best return will be for them to maximize their own club’s future. The Cubs will not ‘bite’ on any package that does not benefit them greatly.  Remember, both sides want to be very happy after a deal is done.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi
Cole, I don’t think this has anything to do with AA being gutless, but making a deal isn’t always as simple as calling up another team and saying let’s make it happen. A GM must carefully manage his prospect capital, much in the same way you would manage your own finances, and while Samardzija is a great pitcher, I’m not certain you’d be happy in a couple of years time when Aaron Sanchez may be just as good. Would you buy the first house you could, regardless of price, or wait for one you wanted at a price you could handle? The Cubs’ asking price may also change between now and the deadline, and other pitchers and infielders the Blue Jays might prefer could become available in the interim. How would you feel paying that price now when James Shields or David Price might move for something similar in a few weeks? If there was a defensible deal to be made with the Cubs, I’m certain the Blue Jays would have already made it.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith
Even though many Blue Jays fans (and scouts) have had an eye on Samardzija for much of the last year, their current rotation has been solid for long enough that the Blue Jays might want to turn their attention to other areas. Like you say, the Blue Jays might have interest in adding a reliever or an infielder, and those areas are pressing needs for Toronto. An infielder who bats from the right side would have real appeal to the Blue Jays since they aren’t getting much offence against left-handed pitching these days. But one thing that you can count on is that it’s easier to contemplate trades than it is to make them.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling
No one knows for certain what the Cubs are asking in exchange for Jeff Samardzija, but it has been rumoured that they asked Alex Anthopoulos for both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. Anthopoulos has made it clear that price is too steep for him, as it should be. He would be giving up two talented young pitchers who he controls for the next six years in exchange for one talented pitcher who turns 30 in less than a year and could leave as a free agent after the 2015 season. That’s not a good exchange of value.

The trade scenario you are presenting is preposterous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it would be impossible to acquire that many quality pieces from the Cubs without giving up significant capital from the major league roster. Some prospects and “another nothing throw in” is not going to do it. Even if they decided to sell the entire farm and go for broke in hopes of raising a banner this season, the Blue Jays don’t have enough quality prospects to demand the sun, the earth and the moon from trading partners.

If acquiring the pieces he needs to improve the Blue Jays major league roster was this easy and came without significant cost and risk, don’t you think that Anthopoulos would have already done it by now?

Ask the Experts 6/27/2014: Are the Jays inconsistent?

The Toronto Blue Jays have already reeled off a nine-game win streak and a six-game win streak. Yet they’ve scuffled at times, looking hopeless for days at a time.

Why is it that when the Jays are winning everyone contributes and when they’re losing everyone seems to be in a slump at the same time?

– Kirk

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

That’s not so unusual — it’s to be expected that when teams win multiple players are performing well and the opposite when they lose. Over extended periods, one thing to keep in mind is that when some players are going real well they create opportunities for players behind them in the lineup, increasing the pressure on pitchers. When players are cold, things become easier for pitchers and it’s more difficult to generate offence.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

It may seem that way but it is not entirely true. When a team is winning and getting contributions from throughout the roster, it seems as though everyone is chipping in.  Likewise, when the Blue Jays lineup began to struggle, it seemed as though all hitters went cold.  Hitting can be contagious in baseball. When a team is hitting well, confidence is high and that good feeling permeates the entire lineup making everyone feel like they can contribute. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. I would not consider a hitting slump being a week or two. All hitters, even the great ones, have a bad week or two on occasion.   Baseball is a long season and teams have to ride those bad streaks out.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

To me it’s just baseball. I’m not looking to cop out here, but in all honesty the best teams are not always going to out-score the worst teams over the course of a nine inning period. Talented players sometimes go into mini-slumps at one time, and while it’s frustrating to watch the team you root for scuffle, it tells us more about the unpredictability of baseball than it tells us about the Blue Jays’ character or skill level.

Ask the Experts 6/20/2014: Do the Blue Jays need three catchers?

The Blue Jays use three catchers behind the plate in Dioner Navarro, Erik Kratz and Josh Thole. Though it’s unconventional, it has worked so far this year, allowing Navarro to stay fresh while Thole and Kratz contribute regularly. But few teams opt for a three-catcher system, which leads us to this week’s question:

How long can the Jays run with three catchers? I know Kratz is here as he is another right-handed bat, but should the Jays be looking at the possibility of dealing for a right-handed bat or do they run the course with three catchers?

– Scotty

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

The three catcher set up is working well right now but there are some long term issues that may prove problematic. The most glaring one is the lack of true backup shortstop behind Jose Reyes, which while not critical, makes it more difficult to rest him from time to time. Steve Tolleson can play the position, but he’s become the backup everything. The flip side is that the three catchers helps ensure Dioner Navarro gets the rest he needs to stay fresh and effective, something that’s been of great benefit to this point.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

I believe they should run with three catchers until there is a desperate sign to make a change.  This has worked very well for the Blue Jays.  Right from spring training the Jays knew that they had to protect Navarro by not overusing him behind the plate.  It has been awhile since he played everyday.  Thole will catch Dickey and he does a great job of that.  It is much harder than he makes it look.  Kratz is the key for me.  He shuts down the running game with his arm strength but I also believe he calls a great game, regardless of who is pitching.  Plus, he provides a power bat that is always nice to have.  Navarro can DH on occasion as well so this three catcher system is just fine because they all bring a strength to help this club.  It is not a system that anyone would have envisioned leaving spring training but it is working very well for the Blue Jays right now.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

The issue, really, is R.A. Dickey. The knuckleballer requires a personal catcher and, although he hasn’t said so much publicly, it’s evident that the Cy Young winner wants that role to be filled by Josh Thole. But Blue Jays manager John Gibbons seems to have little use for Thole other than trying to corral Dickey’s floaters. Thole has been with the club since opening day, yet he’s started just four games this season that Dickey wasn’t pitching. And even when he starts as Dickey’s catcher, Thole is usually lifted from the game as soon as Dickey’s day is finished.

It stands to reason that Gibbons would rather carry Erik Kratz as the club’s backup catcher, even though the 34-year-old veteran is currently fighting through a mighty slump at the plate. But as long as Dickey is with the Blue Jays, Thole will be too. So expect the team to continue forward with the current scenario, using Kratz behind the plate now and again to allow Dioner Navarro to rest his legs as the designated hitter without removing his bat from the lineup. It’s not ideal, but this is the reality you face when you carry a knuckleballer.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

It’s pretty rare for a team to carry three catchers, and though the Blue Jays have done so for most of the season, GM Alex Anthopoulos recently hinted that he’s losing patience with the system, since it limits the team’s bench.

I think the system works as long as Kratz and Navarro are hitting, and both have shown that they can be useful contributors as designated hitters or pinch hitters. That being said, we’re talking about three pure catchers here. If the Blue Jays can upgrade their roster by going back to a two-catcher system they should absolutely do so.

Ask the Experts 6/13/2014: Are the Jays too reliant on homers?

The Toronto Blue Jays lead MLB with 91 home runs thanks to the production of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and others. But the team has scuffled at the plate of late, leading some fans to wonder whether they could be too reliant on the long ball.

At the moment the Blue Jays have five players with at least ten home runs. Don’t get me wrong I like seeing the home runs, but we can’t rely on it. Do the Blue Jays rely too much on the home run?

– Pat

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Pat you are right to think the Jays lean heavily on the long ball because they do. But when you look at how they put up the monster numbers you can rest easy that this early season trend will not lead to problems down the road offensively. Kevin Seitzer, the hitting coach, has never told the guys to hit home runs, he has only encouraged them to hit strikes, lay off the borderline pitches until two strikes and use the middle of the field. What this has done is turn a power hitting lineup into a patient, focused, selective group of hitters that hits home runs. The way the Jays lineup works a pitcher is beautiful as they force them into throwing strikes and making mistakes. This is a very good hitting team that can beat you in many ways besides knocking it out of the yard.

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

The biggest difference between last year’s Blue Jays offence and this year’s offence is the Jays DON’T rely on just home runs. Kevin Seitzer has done an outstanding job in coaching the players to use the whole field and thus they have become better hitters. The Jays are still a very powerful team but they can find different ways to score runs this year. I also think the team has more overall speed and this will help them to score runs by running the bases hard and taking the extra base. Any way you slice it….this is a very exciting team to watch! ​

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Once the playoffs roll around we usually see good pitching beat good hitting, especially power hitters, since teams are throwing their top three in their respective rotations. I think it is a great problem to have for the Blue Jays but many of their guys hitting home runs are good hitters as well. I like the way their lineup is constructed because the first goal is to get to the playoffs. Once there, they can worry about how they will win in the post-season. This is a solid lineup that can carry the Jays to the playoffs if the pitching holds up. I don’t think they rely on the home run too much because most of the guys hitting them are not just sluggers.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590

Pat, I’m not sure it’s possible to rely too much on the home run. Home runs are wonderful things – instant runs. It’s the best. It’s not a negative that the Blue Jays have a lot of guys who hit a lot of home runs, it’s not as though it’s a team of Dave Kingmans (or, for you younger readers, J.P. Arencibias). Of the five double-digit home run hitters on the team right now, only one of them is an all-or-nothing type, and that’s Juan Francisco. As I write this, the Blue Jays also have four players with an OBP over .360, and five hitting over .280.  It’s a very good, very balanced offence, and the more home runs, the merrier!

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

You know you’re having a really great season when fans are concerned you’re hitting too many home runs. What, exactly, do you have against them? We’re talking about the most effective way of scoring runs in the game. You are literally guaranteed at least one run per home run. And sometimes more! No other action in the game of baseball can make that guarantee. Seeing as the objective of baseball is to score more runs than the other team, it stands to reason that hitting a lot of home runs would be an immensely positive thing. If the Blue Jays rostered players like Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds whose only two outcomes at the plate seem to be hitting home runs and striking out, I could at least understand your concern from an on-base percentage standpoint. But the Blue Jays top home run hitters are Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, two on-base machines (Bautista leads the AL in OBP; Encarnacion is 22nd) who regularly take walks and exploit holes in the shifts teams use against them for hits. So, no—the Blue Jays do not rely too much on the home run. The appropriate response to a home run, rather than concern, is enjoyment.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

The Blue Jays are not too reliant on the home run. You win by out-scoring your opponents and there’s no better way to score than by hitting home runs. While it’s frustrating to cheer for a team that’s slumping, home runs are a positive outcome and they correlate strongly with scoring runs (it’s no surprise that the Jays rank third in MLB in runs).

That’s not to say that the Blue Jays are a perfect team or a perfect offence, of course, but we wouldn’t fault a hockey team for scoring too many goals or a football team for scoring too many touchdowns.

Ask the Experts 6/6/2014: What should Jays do in centre?

The Toronto Blue Jays have been playing so well of late that it’s easy to forget they’re missing one of their key players. Colby Rasmus has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since the middle of May, and Anthony Gose has stepped up in his absence as the Blue Jays have kept winning.

Once Rasmus returns, he’ll start in centre field, which gives the Blue Jays some enviable depth that prompted this week’s question…

Do you prefer Gose or Rasmus at centre field?  Offensively, what would help the Blue Jays more, the speed of Gose or the power of Rasmus?

– David Francisco

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

Though both are very good defensive players, it looks like Anthony Gose’s range is better in centre, making him the preferable option in the field. From an offensive perspective, Colby Rasmus’s bat is far preferable to that of Gose, who is much more inconsistent at the plate. Rasmus is able to carry teams during his hot streaks. Gose’s speed is a weapon but he may struggle to get on base. Ultimately, the decision comes down to what the team needs more and while the Blue Jays have plenty of offence at the moment, they’re a dry spell away from missing Rasmus’s power.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Anthony Gose and Colby Rasmus are two different players.  Gose still has to prove over a longer term that he can handle big league pitching with some sort of consistency.  His outfield play is fantastic and that certainly makes up for any offensive shortcomings.  He has certainly shown an ability to get on base and make things happen this season.  Rasmus has shown he can hit for power over the course of a full season and play a good centre field.  With the Blue Jays lineup as potent as it is, the speed of Gose is rather intriguing to have at the bottom of the lineup.  The problem is if you are thinking of trading Colby, I cannot imagine a team that wants him in a pennant race that is also willing to give up a piece of their plans.  Either way, this is a nice problem for the Blue Jays to have.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590

David, I prefer Gose over Rasmus in centre field and Rasmus over Gose at the plate.  Gose is a phenomenal defender, one of the best I have ever seen play centre, but he’s not nearly the hitter Rasmus is.  I believe that Rasmus’ offensive advantage outweighs Gose’s defensive advantage, because the difference in the two of them as hitters is larger than the difference between the two of them as defenders.

I love watching Gose take away multiple extra-base hits every game, but Rasmus is a pretty good centrefielder as well, and it’s easy to forget how good a hitter Colby is because of his strikeouts, but when he gets hot he can carry a team for a month.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

First, let’s establish this—Anthony Gose is a better defensive centre fielder than Colby Rasmus. They’re both very good in the field, but Gose is next level. Yet, in spite of that, any defensive upside Gose brings is easily nullified by Rasmus’s bat. We’re talking about a 27-year-old who was worth 4.8 wins above replacement last season (the ninth-highest among all outfielders in the game) while playing just 118 games. If Rasmus had played a full season he would have likely been closer to (or even surpassing) Jacoby Ellsbury’s 5.8 wins above replacement, which he leveraged into seven-year, $153 million deal with the New York Yankees last winter. Gose, for all his defensive upside, has never done anything even close to that at any level of professional baseball. Based on that alone, Rasmus is the far superior option.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Gose has done an excellent job filling in for Rasmus, and the Blue Jays are pleased with what they’ve been getting from the speedy 23-year-old. He puts his legs to good use in the outfield, and his .348 on-base percentage is more than respectable, even taking into account his recent slide.

That being said there’s no real question about whose job this is. Once Rasmus returns — he could play in rehab games next week — he’s the everyday centre fielder, end of story. The overall package of power and defence trumps Gose’s skillset, especially since the Blue Jays can be much more certain of what they’ll get from Rasmus.

Ask the Experts 5/30/2014: Who’s Toronto’s biggest threat?

The first-place Toronto Blue Jays are now playing as well as any MLB team, but there’s still four months of baseball remaining. They have a long way to go, even if none of their division rivals are dominating so far in 2014.

The American League East has typically been baseball’s toughest division, but injuries and poor performances have conspired to keep the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays at or below the .500 mark. Any of those teams could unseat the Blue Jays atop the division, not to mention the perennially competitive New York Yankees. So who should the Blue Jays be worried about?

Who is the biggest threat to the Blue Jays in the AL East?

– Mason

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

I think the division is a long way from being decided before but is fun to see the Jays in first. Most of the teams in the division have key players out with injuries which is all part of the game but the division is topsy turvy. Baltimore is without Matt Wieters, their catcher, and you can’t replace his game calling or his leadership behind the plate. Tampa Bay has lost Matt Moore for the season, Hellickson until July and Cobb has been out for a while. David Price hasn’t been dominant for a while now and his velocity appears to be down. New York has a patchwork lineup and they too have lost three pitchers, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova.

Boston has dug an early hole for themselves and I am not sure they have the pitching to work out of it. Buchholz hasn’t been healthy going back to last year and he looks bad. All of that being said the Jays are relatively healthy, despite losing Morrow and Santos, now that Janssen is back at the end of the bullpen. This team is starting to believe in itself and they might be able to hold onto the lead for a while. I would like to see them add a couple of arms, one starter and one reliever but that might be a little further down the road. As for the team the Jays should worry about? The Jays!

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

The biggest threat to the Jays in the AL East is the team with the pitching. For me that team is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have a chance to go on an extended run because they have shut down pitching. The team that can avoid injuries this summer is the team that is going to win. The Rays have the experience and can play under pressure. They also have one of the best managers in all of baseball,so keep your eye on them this summer.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

This is an interesting question, with the answer subject to change quickly. Right now I would say the Baltimore Orioles, who have a comparable offence to the Blue Jays but perhaps more pitching questions, and the New York Yankees, who are hanging in despite needing the likes of Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley in the rotation. The beauty of this season for the Blue Jays is how flawed their rivals all are, and while I may be wrong about this, my guess is the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox will have trouble overcoming both their injuries and the gap in the standings. Still, regardless of all that, the Blue Jays simply must worry about themselves, and let the rest sort itself out.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

That is a good question, and an even bigger mystery. The AL East is so crazy this season that the Blue Jays just need to keep doing what they are doing and worry about themselves. Health will always be a key issue for all teams, including the Jays. For some reason, the Red Sox pitching still makes me feel that they will have a chance with Lester, Lackey and Peavy. With the addition of Drew at shortstop and moving Bogaerts to third, that should solidify some things. Tampa Bay will keep getting better with Cobb back and Hellickson returning soon. The Yankees are the Yankees and should never be counted out. Baltimore just seems to tread water.  To answer your question – the Yankees.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590

Mason, I really think every team is a threat. I said before the season, and still believe, that any team in the A.L. East could finish anywhere from first to fifth. It’s going to be tougher for the Rays without Matt Moore, the Yankees without CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova and the Orioles without Matt Wieters. Also, the Red Sox have dug themselves a nice hole out of which they have to climb. The Blue Jays have been remarkably healthy this season, and hopefully it lasts, but I believe the whole division will be a dogfight to the very end.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Even though the Red Sox are five games under .500, they represent the biggest threat to the Blue Jays. Led by staff ace Jon Lester, they have excellent pitching as evidenced by a 3.45 team ERA. Their 24-29 record stems from their injuries and their struggles at the plate. Once Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino return to form, their offence will resemble the lineup that led MLB in scoring last year and start supporting Boston’s run prevention. Don’t count this team out yet.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

I’d say the Yankees. New York has kept pace with the first place Blue Jays better than any other team in the division, despite seeing three starting pitchers go down to injury. Once those arms return the Yankees will likely continue to be the force that they seem to annually be. It’s also hard to count the perpetually-in-win-now-mode Yankees out of making significant additions to their roster as we get closer to the trade deadline, whether it’s signing Kendrys Morales or trading for Jeff Samardzija. And we can’t forget that the Blue Jays have played the Yankees just three times so far this season (they’ve played Boston, Baltimore and Tampa at least six times each) which means there are 16 crucial games with the Bronx bombers still to come. You may recall that the Blue Jays went 5-14 against the Yankees in 2013, a record that practically sunk Toronto’s season all on its own. A repeat of that performance this year could seriously derail Toronto’s postseason chances.

And it’s worth mentioning that the dark horse to challenge the Jays could be the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s hard to believe that a team with that much talent can be eight games under .500 a third of the way through the season and it likely won’t last for long. This is a team that has won 90 games of more in five of the last six seasons with rosters that were worse than the one they’re fielding today. The Rays have also owned the Jays for years (especially at Tropicana Field) going 25-12 against Toronto since 2012. The Blue Jays have so far taken five of seven from the Rays this season, including a three-game sweep at Rogers Centre. But history tells us that record may not hold steady.

Ask the Experts 5/23/2014: Is Romero’s future in relief?

It was just three years ago that Ricky Romero posted a 2.92 ERA in 225 innings. He was seemingly poised to lead the Toronto Blue Jays’ rotation for years, but he struggled in 2012, spent most of 2013 in the minors and continues battling command issues this year.

Romero’s under contract for $7.5 million per season in 2014 and 2015, and it’d be nice for the Blue Jays to get something back from that investment. He’s starting at triple-A Buffalo now, but a move to the bullpen isn’t out of the question, which leads some to wonder about a potential role change.

Have the Blue Jays even considered turning Ricky Romero into a closer? He has good stuff but cannot keep it going more than a few innings.

– Reg Alward

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

I don’t think Ricky Romero would be effective as a closer because he doesn’t throw enough strikes. When you think about late-game relievers you want pitchers that throw strikes and give you quick innings. As a hitter facing the set-up man or closer you would like to see a few pitches and get an idea of what you are dealing with.

Casey Janssen is a perfect example of how a pitcher who doesn’t possess electric stuff can succeed in the closer’s role by pounding strike zone. Hitters have to be aggressive with Janssen on the mound which leads them to chase borderline pitches. Romero has to iron out his command issues as a starter not  a reliever.

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Reg, I don’t think the idea of making Ricky Romero into a closer has ever crossed the minds of the Blue Jays. Nor should it. Ricky has problems throwing strikes. That is the last thing you want from a reliever when the game is on the line. The Jays will keep him as a starter and cross their collective fingers and hope for the best. We are all pulling for Ricky to resume his career with success.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

The Blue Jays are considering all their options with Ricky Romero, including converting him into a reliever. But before they do that they’ll likely exhaust all the possibilities of reviving him as a starter. Factoring in also is that Romero himself also wants to remain a starter. Another thing to keep in mind is that relievers need to come into the game and throw strikes. Romero’s inconsistency in that regards are problematic, but locking in on one or two innings my simplify things for him.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

It does not matter how good a pitcher’s stuff is if he cannot throw it for strikes.  icky has more walks than innings pitched. A closer has to be a strike thrower at the back end of a game. Until he begins to reduce his walks, he will struggle to pitch effectively at any point in a game.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

There is absolutely no way they’ve considered it. Ricky Romero’s biggest issues over the last two seasons have been confidence and throwing strikes. The last thing you want your closer to do is to enter a ballgame unsure of himself, struggle with his control ​and put runners on base. You want your closer to be like Casey Janssen–a consistent strike-thrower who can put batters away. The best place for Romero to work through his struggles is in a minor league rotation because he’ll be afforded a wealth of innings to try to rediscover his ability and find some consistency. He has too much talent (and the Blue Jays have too much invested in him) to give up on his future as a starter now.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

I get the impulse to salvage value from a player who was once viewed as a key piece of the franchise’s future. But Romero has 32 walks in 29.2 innings this year. That figure alone tells you he’s unable to command his pitches. And while some closers are effectively wild, it’s virtually impossible to succeed while walking a batter per inning. Romero needs to improve his command before he can succeed in triple-A, let alone MLB.

Ask the Experts 5/16/2014: Where should Lawrie play?

The Toronto Blue Jays were hoping Ryan Goins would take the second base job and run with it this year, but that didn’t happen, so they continue seeking answers at second.

The Blue Jays’ current plan has Brett Lawrie playing second base against right-handed pitching. While Lawrie feels more comfortable playing third base, shifting him to the right side of the diamond allows the Blue Jays to get Juan Francisco’s powerful bat into the lineup.

Many are wondering if it’s worth the trade-off, which leads us to this week’s Ask the Experts question:

Should Brett Lawrie be moved to second base with the emergence of Juan Francisco?

– George Smith

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

George, the Jays have to figure a way to get Juan Francisco’s bat in the lineup everyday. He is a force when he is batting. If that means moving Brett Lawrie to second base then that has to be considered. If it makes the Jays a better team than they have to do it. This would all take care of itself if Brett went to the Jays and said, “I’ll move to second base if it helps the team win more ballgames.” What a very deep lineup the Jays would have. Maybe the best in the American League!

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

Shifting Brett Lawrie back and forth between second and third is far from ideal, but while Juan Francisco is delivering hits it makes some sense. The Blue Jays can certainly use the significant offensive upgrade Francisco provides over any of the current second base options, but if he’s not providing offence the defensive drop off with him at third instead of Lawrie is significant.

The risk here is in how the shuffling affects Lawrie and whether he’s at risk turning two because of his lack of reps. He seems fairly steady there thus far, although extended time at second will ultimately settle that.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Yes, because that is the best lineup for the Jays at the current time. You sacrifice defence a little by having Francisco at third and Lawrie at second, but I will take that trade-off right now. Juan has done an adequate job at third thus far and Brett is such a good athlete he can play anywhere on the field and do it well. Any time you move players around defensively, the risk is that they do not perform as well because they are not in their comfort zone.

I feel the Jays have to have Francisco’s bat in the lineup, at least against right-handed pitchers. The main issue is that the Jays do not have a regular major league second baseman. All teams have holes but I believe the guys that have filled in there are utility, or back up type major league players. Steve Tolleson is a good guy for that role. He can play second base against left-handed pitchers and have Lawrie at third since Francisco struggles against lefties.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

Temporarily, yes. Permanently, no. Brett Lawrie will be the Blue Jays third baseman for a long time. Don’t worry about that. But at the moment, having the 23-year-old play second is simply the best way to fit the Blue Jays roster puzzle pieces together. Which is why Lawire will likely continue playing second until Juan Francisco’s production returns to planet Earth or one of Adam Lind or Edwin Encarnacion gets hurt. Francisco’s put up a .986 OPS through his first 22 games and more than earned the right to start against right-handed pitchers with his bat. But with Encarnacion and Lind firmly entrenched at first base and DH, there’s nowhere else to put Francisco but third.

Having too many good hitters to fit into a single game’s lineup is ostensibly a good problem to have. But it’s still a problem. The crux of the issue is whether the Blue Jays assign more value to the runs added from having Francisco’s bat in the lineup or the runs saved from having Lawire playing third. And it’s pretty clear so far which way they lean as Francisco has started 12 of the team’s last 15 games at third, while Lawrie has spent five of his last seven starts at second.

It’s not an ideal scenario for Lawrie, who’s made it clear he would rather play third than second. But he’ll surely be back at third as soon as one of Encarnacion/Lind/Francisco is out of the lineup for either injury or performance issues. And with the Blue Jays pitching staff giving up five runs per game since the start of May, the team needs as much offence in the lineup as it can get.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Let’s look at the Blue Jays’ choices. The one constant here is Lawrie’s bat. What the Blue Jays must weigh is the offensive upgrade Francisco offers against the defensive questions raised by shuffling the infield around.

So how much of an offensive upgrade are we talking about? Francisco is a righty masher with 37 home runs and a .262/.326/.486 batting line in 740 career plate appearances against right-handed pitching. That’s far more production than Steve Tolleson or Jonathan Diaz could offer at the plate. It requires the Blue Jays to concede something on defence, which hurts. Defence can win ballgames.

But this kind of offensive upgrade makes the trade-off worthwhile for John Gibbons. If the Blue Jays had an average to above-average MLB second baseman they wouldn’t even consider this idea, but they don’t. The way their roster is currently composed, shifting Lawrie to second against right-handers should help the team win.

Ask the Experts 5/9/2014: How should the Blue Jays use Stroman?

Marcus Stroman has joined the big club, but he’s a reliever — for now. From here the Blue Jays must decide whether to continue easing the 23-year-old rookie into the mix as a reliever, or ask him to start sooner, rather than later.

He showed that he has the stuff to succeed out of the rotation during spring training and then posted a 1.69 ERA in five starts at triple-A. He can pitch. That being said, the Blue Jays’ bullpen has faltered this year and adding a dynamic arm at the back of the ‘pen would sure help.

What do you think about just letting a couple of the young guys such as Stroman go at it, have them jump into rotation and see what happens?

– Ken King

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Ken I would go with all three of the young pitchers in the rotation, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin and Aaron Sanchez. When you are in the position the Blue Jays are in, with free agents not wanting to sign in Toronto at this time, then you had better develop your own pitching.

I think you should push the young arms and challenge them at the highest level. I know people say “what if they have a rough time and can’t handle the pressure.” Well then you’ve got the wrong guys. There has never been a wider gap in competition from the minors to the majors than there is now and why not challenge your best talent to  learn against the best players in the world.

Don’t you think it would be more beneficial for Sanchez, Stroman and Nolin to sit next to Mark Buehrle during games that Max Scherzer, Jered Weaver, David Price and Justin Verlander are pitching than trying to pick up something out of a minor league? If these guys are the “next rotation,” why not start the process?

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

I am all in when it comes to playing our young players. To really build your foundation the team needs its minor leagues to produce players every year. You have to constantly develop players in your farm system. If the player is major league ready (this is where your scouts and talent evaluators come in) then by all means bring them up and use them. You never know when a pitcher is going to go down with an injury. Might as well be with your major league team.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Ken, people have to understand that triple-A is very different than the big leagues. Stroman had very good numbers in Buffalo, but that does not necessarily mean he is ready to step in and dominate at this level right away.

I believed what was best for his development was to stay in Buffalo most of this year to continue to gain command of his fastball and polish his off speed pitches. Due to the injury to Morrow, he is here now. Is he ready? Probably. But, remember the hitters he will be facing here are vastly different than what he saw in triple-A.

This goes for others that are pitching well in the minors also. The best case for the Jays is that the guys up here do the job, however, if they continue to struggle, the time for the youngsters will come sooner rather than later.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

In Stroman’s case, I’m with you. Plenty of baseball people who have seen him pitch believe his stuff is major league ready and he has what it takes to be a frontline starter. He crushed double-A last season and was tearing up triple-A this year before getting promoted to pitch out of the bullpen. He should absolutely be given the chance to start for the Blue Jays at some point in the near future.

But who are the other “young guys?” Aaron Sanchez is the club’s most highly touted prospect but he’s just 21 and in his first season above High-A. He likely needs more seasoning (and some serious work on limiting his walks) before he’ll be ready to face major league hitters. Sean Nolin is an intriguing name, but the club will likely be looking for him to demonstrate consistency at triple-A before promoting him, especially after his disastrous outing for the Blue Jays last season. Roberto Osuna is recovering from Tommy John surgery; Daniel Norris is still in High-A and is only just now demonstrating the promise he’s believed to have; Chase DeJong is just 20 and hasn’t even reached high-A yet.

If you’re looking for a young, impact arm to join the Blue Jays rotation sometime soon, Stroman is your best bet. Past him, there aren’t many players ready to jump in to a major league staff.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

While I understand that the Blue Jays want to give Dustin McGowan and J.A. Happ every opportunity to succeed in the rotation, Marcus Stroman has out-performed them both in 2014. For me that’s reason enough to allow Stroman a chance in the rotation. It’s not to say that he’d be a frontline arm from day one, simply that he’d give the Blue Jays the best chance to win. That’s what it’s all about, especially at a time that the American League East seems winnable.

That being said, I don’t see the need to rush Sean Nolin or Aaron Sanchez to the big leagues. The numbers suggest Sanchez’s fastball command still needs work, and the time will come for him and Nolin. In my view the best course of action would be to keep developing them in the minor leagues so that they’re ready if and when injuries occur later on.

Ask the Experts 5/2/2014: What’s behind the Jays’ strong defence?

The biggest difference between the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays and last year’s team might be their defence. The 2013 club scuffled defensively, making errors that led to runs and taxed the pitching staff. But the team is playing much better now, and has allowed the fewest errors in MLB.

Some players have stepped up their game on defence and others have simply stayed healthy. Pinning down one reason for the improvement is no easy task, which leads us to this week’s Ask the Experts question:

What’s the biggest factor behind the vast improvement in the Jays’ defence this season? Is it the removal of certain players from last year or is there a new approach to coaching defence this season?

– Kevin Duff

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Kevin, there are many factors to the improved defence and you hit on a couple of them. Health is first and foremost in left, third and shortstop. Melky Cabrera worked hard this off-season to overcome the effects of his back surgery last year and he is playing very well in the field. Poor outfield play costs you games when poor infield play can simply extend innings. That’s one.

Lawrie and Reyes didn’t play together until late June and the subs weren’t up to speed in the field. Second base was a black hole for the Jays a year ago that was plugged up dramatically by the promotion of Ryan Goins. As you know now, Goins has been sent back to triple-A and keep your fingers crossed that the position doesn’t become a concern without him around the bag.

The Jays have committed the fewest errors in the American League at the start of the current run trip and let’s not forget Rasmus has three outfield assists and Bautista is playing as well as he ever has in right. Overall the “D” has kept the Jays close to .500 while the pitching and offence sorts itself out.

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

No difference in coaching theory. The Jays have just been able to stay healthy. Remember, no Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes together on the same field until July 21st (game No. 97) because of injuries. That alone has made a huge difference. Also, Melky not healthy at all last season as he tried running around in left field. That is your whole left side of the field!

Not hard to figure out why they suffered defensively last year and why they are so good this season.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

While the Blue jays did place more emphasis on fundamentals and their drill-work during spring training, personnel changes have made the biggest difference. Ryan Goins, while he was up, and Jonathan Diaz are huge upgrades over Maicer Izturis (who was better this year before his injury) and Emilio Bonifacio last season, while Chris Getz is also an improvement.

As well, Melky Cabrera is much stronger in left field now that the tumour is out of his spine, and he no longer looks like he has a piano strapped to his back. Throw in that Brett Lawrie is healthy and in the lineup at third base, which he wasn’t at the beginning of last season, and you have a much improve defence.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Kevin, I am the new guy here in Toronto so unfortunately, I did not see the defence last year. What I can say is that I do not believe teams use a new approach from year to year. The key to playing good defence is primarily to have good fielding players at their respective positions. The next most important thing is to have them healthy and playing the vast majority of games.  Injuries cause a lot of issues. First, they force backup players into regular roles.

The other thing injuries do is cause some players to play positions in which they are not most comfortable.  This is usually a recipe for disaster. This season, the outfield play has been great (especially with Melky healthy) and the infield play the same. Lawrie is a highlight reel, Edwin is very good at first base.  The middle guys have filled in admirably in the absence of Reyes early in the season (Diaz, Goins, Kawasaki). Defence can be contagious, just like hitting, and it also gives a team nice momentum.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590

It really is mostly about Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera being healthy and second base getting fixed. Both Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis were a nightmare at second last season, and with Lawrie missing so much time and Cabrera hobbling around with a benign tumour in his back, that all combined to take a huge bite out of the defence.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

Frankly, it’s way too early to make a judgement on how the Blue Jays fare as a fielding team. The club has only played 25 games which doesn’t give you enough data to work with. For instance, the Blue Jays currently have a 10.4 ultimate zone rating, which is 10th in the MLB and has them on track to improve on last season’s -25.1 which was in the bottom third of the majors. But in terms of defensive runs saved the team is sitting at an even zero, which is right in the middle of the pack at 13th in the majors. Last year, Toronto finished with 15 DRS, which was good for 12th. So, you could currently make a fair case that the Blue Jays are both better and the same in terms of fielding, which doesn’t help anyone. Defensive numbers are very fluid and if a Blue Jay at a premium position made two errors in a game this week it could affect their outlook a great deal.

We simply haven’t seen the team play enough to really gauge how good they are with their gloves. We need more time for the numbers to stabilize.​ What will be interesting to watch play out over the rest of the season will be the Inside Edge fielding data available at FanGraphs. Last season the club was able to make just 23.4% of the plays that Inside Edge determined they had a 10-40% chance of converting and just 55.5% of the plays they had a 40-60% chance of making. So far this season (remembering that the sample size thus far is rather small), those numbers have risen to 33.3% on 10-40 plays and 69.2% on 40-60 plays. If the Blue Jays are able to maintain those percentages on tough plays over the course of the year, then we can say with certainty that they are a much better fielding team than they were in 2013.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

A year ago this time, Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes were battling injuries and Melky Cabrera was playing with a tumour in his back. Improved health on the left side of the diamond has been the biggest reason for the Blue Jays’ defensive success in 2014. If they can stay healthy, they’ll be able to continue bolstering a pitching staff that needs any help it can get.

There’s still room for improvement, though. Overall the Blue Jays are converting 69 percent of batted balls into outs, which ranks 22nd among the 30 MLB teams.

Ask the Experts 4/25/2014: Do teams rush injured players?

Injuries are part of the game, as we’ve been reminded this spring. Many prominent pitchers have had to undergo Tommy John surgery from Matt Moore and Josh Johnson to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.

And it’s not just pitchers. Injuries play a huge role in determining the outcome of an MLB season for arms and bats alike. There’s no avoiding them… right? Sportsnet’s Experts weigh in this week:

Hey Guys, do you think that injured players are pushed by baseball teams to come back too early? It seems that there are a lot of players who come back and re-injure themselves a few games later.

– Louise Saulnier

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Louise, if anything the ball clubs are more cautious now than ever before. Players are so valuable and difficult to replace,  teams listen very carefully to the individual players when they speak of injuries. There is a huge difference between being injured and hurt. If a player is injured he has to be given time to heal, if he is in pain and hurting, he play be able to play with the pain and still be productive. Dustin Pedroia tore a thumb ligament in the first game last year but played the entire season all the way through the World Series. He had the injury addressed in the off season. It happens a lot, players playing in pain without risking further injury. But as far as team rushing players back too soon, I think the players rush themselves quite often

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Louise, I don’t think teams rush their injured players back too soon.

Teams have so much invested in the players that they really try to make sure they are 100% before they come back from injury. The players have their time on the DL and then go on a rehab assignment. By then everyone should have a good idea if the player is ready to come back. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

That’s a difficult question to answer because only the player knows what they’re feeling but I’d point to the amount of money teams have invested in their talent and suggest that wouldn’t be the case. A key consideration too is that players are often the ones pushing to come back faster and the team slows them down. They hate missing games. So it’s not only teams who want to rush players back. Ultimately, both players and teams try to play things smart, but healing from an injury can be an inexact science.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

No, I actually believe the opposite is true. Teams realize that players, especially the star players making a lot of money, are valuable assets. These players are investments to the club. They do not want to bring them back too early from an injury and risk losing them for more time.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

There’s no sensible reason for a team to push a player to come back from injury before he’s ready. The player would be at a heightened risk for re-injury which could mean losing the player for even longer than he’s already been out. Outside of the postseason, why take that gamble? Plus, many players, especially pitchers, can’t be effective if they are attempting to play while carrying an injury. Baseball players play through plenty of minor ailments throughout the season—but soreness is one thing, and injuries are another. Every situation differs, and there can be a lot of factors that go into when a player comes off the disabled list. But more often than not, you won’t see a clearly injured player asked to go out and perform.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

Some players definitely do rush back. But I don’t think that’s the fault of teams. In general teams are pretty cautious. Most managers and GMs can afford to wait a few extra days or weeks while a player recuperates. But they’d all be scrutinized if they rushed a player back. That means patience in most cases.

Even so, some players will be injured soon after returning partly because it’s hard to replicate game conditions. Sometimes that extra strain can be enough to send a player back to the disabled list. Hopefully for the Blue Jays’ sake they can avoid debilitating injuries in 2014.

Ask the Experts 4/18/2014: Should the  Jays play small ball?

From Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus, the Toronto Blue Jays have a whole lot of power. They rank third in the American League in home runs, averaging more than one per game so far.

But there’s more than one way to put runs on the board, which leaves some fans wondering if the Blue Jays should rely less on the home run. Here’s this week’s Ask the Experts question:

Why do the Blue Jays never play a little small ball to scratch out some runs?
– Rick

Buck Martinez, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

Rick, for the most part the Jays are built for power and they don’t have a lot of speed. There are players that can play small ball as we saw on Sunday. Dioner Navarro had a good at bat to drive in the go-ahead run with a ground out and then Jonathan Diaz did a terrific job with the squeeze bunt. Kevin Seitzer is playing up “team at bats” but you and I both want to see the big boys go deep.

Pat Tabler, Sportsnet TV broadcaster

The Jays have been built to be a high scoring team. When you play in the AL East you need a high powered offence. Having said that, the Jays are doing a better job early on this season playing for one run. No better example than Jonathan Diaz’s beautiful suicide squeeze play in Baltimore. When the time calls for some “small ball’” Gibby has delivered.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590

I think the Blue Jays do more of that than you think, what they don’t do is give away outs very often.

There seems to be this idea that the sacrifice bunt is a phenomenal weapon that must be used whenever a team needs a run. That it always works and that the runner said bunt moves 90 feet always winds up scoring. It’s not true. In addition to giving away a precious out, a sacrifice bunt often decreases a team’s chance of scoring a run and almost always decreases the chances of a multiple-run inning.

So the Jays rarely bunt, as it should be. They do hit-and-run quite a bit, though, which is a very effective (and fun!) way to get things moving without giving up outs.

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe

Each manager has a different philosophy on small ball. Many in the American League do not like to give up an out by bunting whether it is early or late in the game. They feel by giving up an out, they now only have two outs to work with to score the run. By not bunting, they have all three outs to work with and a chance to have a big inning. Depending on the situation, some managers like to bunt early in the game and try to score first to get their team on the board. It also depends on who is up to bat, who is on deck, and whether those hitters are swinging the bat well or not at that time.

By the way, the Jays scored a run Baltimore on a squeeze bunt. Also, John Gibbons had Izturis sacrifice bunt in the first inning against the Astros because he wanted to try to score first with Bautista and Encarnacion hitting next.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

The Blue Jays will, depending on the situation, play some small ball, the way they did Sunday in Baltimore in putting the suicide squeeze on with Jonathan Diaz at the plate. But as a matter of course it’s not a featured part of their repertoire. The reason for that is two-fold: first, they don’t generally like surrendering outs; and second, they don’t really have the personnel for it.

Jose Reyes is their only real threat to steal, and they’re not going to ask any of their sluggers to drop one down. Manager John Gibbons does like the hit and run, and in close and late situations he becomes more likely to call for a sacrifice bunt, but for the most part this lineup isn’t designed to play that style of game.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling

John Gibbons isn’t the kind of manager who likes to give away outs—never has been and never will be. Plus, his lineup isn’t constructed for small ball. With solid hitters like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, Melky Cabrera and Dioner Navarro populating the batting order, it would be criminal for the manager to ask them to bunt. These players are at their best when they’re allowed the swing the bat. It simply wouldn’t make sense to play small ball with them.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

There’s a saying that if you play for one run that’s all you’ll get. And in the high-powered American League East you’ll need need much more than one run to win with any kind of frequency. It’s with that concept in mind that John Gibbons steers clear of sacrifice bunts for the most part.

There’s a place for bunts of course. But generally speaking your offence will score more runs if you stay away from bunts early in games and when your best hitters are batting. If you need one run in the ninth inning and Ryan Goins or Jonathan Diaz is batting, that’s the ideal time to break out a sacrifice. I’d expect the Blue Jays to continue bunting on occasion while generally staying away from small ball.

Ask the Experts 4/11/2014: Do the Blue Jays have enough pitching?

Toronto Blue Jays pitchers have a respectable 4.30 ERA with more than one strikeout per inning so far in 2014. That’s some solid production, especially compared to last year.

But a six-month season will take a toll on any pitching staff. Do the Blue Jays have enough depth to make it through a six-month season? Sportsnet’s experts offer their thoughts:

Joe Siddall, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @SiddallJoe
The Blue Jays will need everything to go right to have enough pitching depth in 2014 to win.  Anchored by R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, who have to be their best, the following three in the rotation all need to have remarkable seasons. Drew Hutchison, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan all are returning from injury which poses big question marks for me in terms of counting on them for six months.  All three will need to be talked about in September as ‘great stories’ if the Jays wish to be playing meaningful baseball late into the season.

Mike Wilner, Blue Jays Sportsnet 590 The FAN radio announcer | @Wilnerness590
I think they do. Sort of.  I think the Jays’ starting pitching depth is as deep as most teams, and deeper than some, but a lot of that depends on how long guys like Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan can stay healthy and how much longer Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman need to percolate in the minor leagues.  At least this year there won’t be any Chien-Ming Wangs and Aaron Laffeys getting starts for the big club.

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi
The Blue Jays have far more pitching depth this year than they did last year, but the question is whether they have enough quality. Beyond their current five man rotation they have the rehabbing J.A. Happ, long men Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers, minor-leaguers Kyle Drabek and Ricky Romero plus prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. So that’s far better than Ramon Ortiz, Dave Bush, Justin Germano and the rest of the crew they had in 2013. But  they’re no lock to be good enough to keep the Blue Jays competitive in the AL East.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling
Any general manager will tell you there’s no such thing as having enough pitching depth, but the Blue Jays are actually in decent shape. Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers, both currently in the Blue Jays bullpen, have both started in the past and could step into the rotation if needed. Meanwhile, J.A. Happ is currently working his way back to the majors from injury and has been a starter his entire career. At triple-A Buffalo, Sean Nolin and Ricky Romero are both available if needed and have started throughout their careers. Kyle Drabek and Chad Jenkins also have starting experience and could be called upon in a pinch. And that’s not even to mention top prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez who showed during spring training that they aren’t far off from being major league ready.

None of these pitchers are going to anchor the staff but any of them could be called on at a moment’s notice for a spot start if there’s a need at the major league level. It’s a reassuring feeling for a general manager; and a motivating one for the five men currently in the Blue Jays rotation.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith
For now they have enough depth. Their starting rotation is relatively healthy, which means they haven’t had to rely on the spot starters and journeymen that we saw so much of in 2013. Within a few months prospects such as Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman could be ready to contribute, too. That’s encouraging for the Blue Jays and their fans.

But I’m still not convinced they have quite enough. The average MLB team has relied on ten starters per season since 2011, and while the Blue Jays are better-positioned than they were last year, they’re a bit of bad luck away from having to do some scrambling.

Ask the Experts 4/4/2014: What does McGowan offer?

The Toronto Blue Jays sure surprised some people by naming Dustin McGowan to their opening day rotation.

The right-hander  battled shoulder injuries for years before returning to the Blue Jays’ bullpen in 2013. He posted a 2.45 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 25.2 innings thanks to an electric fastball that regularly exceeded 95 m.p.h. An impressive comeback without a doubt.

But pitching in relief is one thing, and throwing 100 pitches once every five days is a lot to ask of a pitcher with a long injury history. Which leads us to this week’s ‘Ask the Experts’ question: What can the Blue Jays expect from Dustin McGowan in 2014?

Shi Davidi, Sportsnet baseball columnist | @ShiDavidi

That’s a great question, and really, no one knows. Over the past seven years, his annual innings total between the majors and minors has been: 191.2 in 2007; 111.1 in 2008; 0 in 2009 and ’10; 56.1 in 2011; 0 in 2012; and 37.2 last year. Given that, it’s probably unrealistic to expect 30 starts, perhaps even 20. If he can effectively bridge the gap until one of Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman is ready and then transition back into the bullpen, that may be the best case scenario.

Arden Zwelling, Sportsnet Magazine, | @ArdenZwelling
It’s so easy to be negative about Dustin McGowan. The 31-year-old’s career has been all promise, no product. It’s existed more in the realm of what could be than what actually is. That’s because his time in professional baseball has been defined by a calamitous string of injuries and failed comeback attempts that would be unbelievable if they weren’t true. He hasn’t pitched more than 25.2 innings in a major league season since George Bush Jr. was president. That’s not good.

So when most are asked what the Blue Jays can expect from McGowan this season, they’ll tell you not much. They’ll tell you he’ll get hurt again; they’ll tell you he can’t be trusted. It’s easy to be negative. But the fact remains that McGowan is the Blue Jays fifth starter and he’ll take the mound on opening day versus the Yankees with everything he has left after all those injuries.

And if recent results are any indication, there seems to be quite a bit left. McGowan still throws his fastball at 94-95 mph and his out pitches—a slider and change up—still have plenty of life. He looked great in spring training and last season, in an admittedly small sample of 25.2 major league innings pitched, McGowan induced a swing and miss on 11.5 percent of the pitches he threw and struck out a batter an inning. That’s really good.

He’s clearly still an effective pitcher and you can bet there’s no one more determined than him to stay healthy. Whether he can do that or not remains to be seen. But instead of taking the easy road and being negative about his chances, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a little belief. Because if there’s one thing you can expect from Dustin McGowan, it’s that he’ll try as hard as he can to prove everyone wrong every single time he takes the mound this season. And there’s not much more you can ask of a guy than that.

Ben Nicholson-Smith, Baseball Editor | @bnicholsonsmith

If McGowan makes 15 starts, he’ll surprise a lot of people. After all, the last time he started that many games was in 2008. Let’s face it: an objective observer would say the chances of McGowan lasting in the rotation seem slim.

That being said, it’s not hard to see why the Blue Jays decided to give McGowan a shot in the rotation. He throws hard — his fastball averaged 95 m.p.h. last year — and generates plenty of swings and misses. When he’s on the mound he’s tough to hit, as he showed again last year. While he’s not expected to be an innings eater in the R.A. Dickey mold, he should be able to provide five solid innings as long as he’s healthy. Not bad for a fifth starter.

At the very least, it makes for a great story and gives Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez time to develop in the minor leagues.

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