Blue Jays Confidential: Would Guerrero Jr. spice up home run derby?

Each week Blue Jays Confidential will ask a panel of Sportsnet Blue Jays Insiders and personalities to weigh in on issues big and small with the team, and around Major League Baseball.

1. San Francisco sure does look pretty on TV. What’s your favourite MLB ballpark to watch and/or cover a game from?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
PNC Park is miles away the best park in baseball. So is the pressbox – as in miles away. True story? They forgot about the pressbox when the original design was submitted. Walking over the Clemente Bridge on a summer afternoon? Just the best thing ever.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
I’ve been to fewer than half of the 30, so my scope is somewhat limited — but PNC Park in Pittsburgh was a really nice place to watch a ballgame. Whoever designed it made great use of the city’s skyline. And Wrigleyville on a beautiful Saturday afternoon is pretty great, if more for the extracurricular fun to be had before and after the game

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
The newly christened Oracle Park in San Francisco and PNC Park in Pittsburgh are my 1 and 1A in terms of ballparks. Both absolute gems with beautiful sightlines and a picturesque field configuration. If you’re a fan, it’s hard to do better. From a work perspective, I love the pressbox view from SF. It’s low, right behind the plate and you really feel in on the action. Camden Yards in Baltimore remains a classic and also has a terrific pressbox, although one in which you’re completely exposed to the steaming hot or freezing cold. I’ve experienced both extremes there. A great place to work is Tropicana Field. It always gets dumped on, deservedly so, but the Rays really make the best of it, and from our perspective, the set-up makes the logistics of the job really convenient.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
This week I covered games in San Francisco for the first time and it was awesome. Definitely one of my favourite parks. Also in that group are Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, PNC Park and Camden Yards. Just below that tier, Kauffman Stadium and Comerica don’t get as much love as they deserve, in my view. Of course, I haven’t been to Dodger Stadium or Safeco, but by all accounts, they’re incredible spots to watch a game, too.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
San Francisco really is pretty. Gorgeous ballpark, beautiful view of McCovey Cove and the Bay Bridge, but it’s not top of the list for me to work because my seat in the broadcast booth doesn’t allow for a view of the left-field corner and the scoreboard that shows exit velocity, which is why I didn’t know how hard Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. hit that rocket foul ball Tuesday night until Ben Nicholson-Smith tweeted that it was 120 mph. Often my favourite parks to work in correlate directly with how close the broadcast booth is to the ice cream machine, but sightlines are important, too, as is booth accessibility and size (and proximity to the washroom). Factoring all those components together, the top ones for me in the American League are Yankee Stadium, Detroit and Houston. All pretty ballparks, too.

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2. Should Major League Baseball attempt to add some extra sizzle to this year’s home run derby by inviting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to participate? And if they do, should Guerrero and the Blue Jays accept?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
If he gets to double-digits by then? Yeah. And if he’s asked, he should absolutely go.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Yes and yes. And while we’re here, how about we overhaul the derby entirely? Let’s get nuts. Introduce scoring based on distance and exit velocity. Let hitters call their shots and give them bonus points if they succeed. Invite MLB’s best defensive outfielders and scatter them around the warning track so they can try to rob homers that just clear the wall. Give me juiced balls, aluminium bats, pitching machines, a microphone under the jersey of every player. And how about for the final round, the two opponents pitch to each other and get penalized for not throwing it over the plate?

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
Inviting Guerrero wouldn’t add any extra sizzle for me, and I don’t think it would on a wider-level, either. But if he does get invited and wants to do it, I don’t feel there’s any reason not to go if he wants to.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Yes, Major League Baseball should absolutely invite Vlad Jr. That would make for great TV. Whether he’d accept is another question, and I strongly suspect the Blue Jays would prefer he pass, but the $1 million in prize money will surely appeal to pre-arbitration eligible players, even those who signed for significant bonuses like Guerrero Jr.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Yes and yes. I see no downside at all. The myth of the home run derby ruining players’ swings is just that, a myth. Seeing if Vlad can hit the drummer at the top of the stands in left-centre in Cleveland, or even Quicken Loans Arena would be a lot of fun.

3 A couple weeks back we discussed Danny Jansen’s offensive struggles and how much rope the team should give him. With him currently mired in a 3-for-27 slump and owning one of the worst OPS (.449) among hitters with more than 75 at-bats, have you changed your stance one way or the other?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Nothing’s changed on that front, although I remain surprised that the Jays didn’t add a superior catcher to Luke Maile in the off-season.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Jansen’s offensive numbers are rough, but we’re still only talking about 100 plate appearances — he could turn it around pretty quickly. Remember, last season Randal Grichuk had worse numbers through his first 100 trips than Jansen does now. Two things that stand out to me in Jansen’s numbers are a 42.4 per cent hard-hit rate, which is good, and a 49.2 per cent groundball rate, which is bad. That suggests some adjustments could be needed to help Jansen get the ball in the air more often and raise his .231 batting average on balls in play. But it’s difficult to carve out time to make real progress on those tweaks when you’re a rookie catcher being counted on to impact the team in so many other areas.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
I wrote this last week and I still feel the same way. You can’t look at a rookie catcher’s offensive performance in isolation. Now, should the Blue Jays play Maile a bit more often to give Jansen more time to focus on hitting? That’s a discussion worth having. But Reese McGuire isn’t forcing the issue, either, and Jansen is defending well. Let him play.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
My stance then was let him play, and that remains my view now. He’s dealing with a lot as he handles a big-league pitching staff for a full season, so he deserves some slack even as he starts slowly at the plate.

That said, Jansen’s offensive struggles can’t simply be dismissed, especially as the sample grows. The Blue Jays need him to hit, and he’s not doing that. We’re midway through May now. If we get to June and he’s still not hitting, I’d expect the club to think seriously about Reese McGuire.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Nope. Jansen is really taking care of things on the defensive end, ranking among the top framers in the game. He’s got a lot on his plate – more than he ever has before – as far as game-calling and receiving are concerned, so I continue to be willing to give him a mulligan for the offensive stuff this season. He’ll get some hits, though.

4. The Miami Marlins enter play Thursday at 10-31 with a minus-96 (!) run differential. How much damage is being done to Derek Jeter’s reputation inside and outside the game by presiding over this mess?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
It’s less the performance of the team than it is the stories that are coming out about how the organization is mistreating past and present employees. Makes the Loria group look positive by comparison. The team stinks, but so do a dozen others.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
As Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson and many others have demonstrated, sometimes a great player isn’t suited to be a great executive.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
The on-field mess is bad but when you rebuild in a deep division, and the AL East is certainly that right now, the bad baseball is part of the deal. To me, the real damage to Jeter’s reputation has already occurred in the way he handled the Giancarlo Stanton deal, along with some crass dismissals of longtime staffers once he took over. The Marlins’ current play seems to be underlining his lack of touch as an executive, but that needs more run to become the definitive evaluation.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Unless I’m missing something, there hasn’t been a lot of damage to Jeter’s name. Nothing in Miami changes his reputation as a Hall of Fame player, a winner and someone who stayed above the fray. Maybe he’s not as great a businessman as he was a shortstop, but that doesn’t hurt his reputation.

If the Marlins are still a mess five years from now I suppose his legacy could take a small hit, but unless Jeter says or does something truly regrettable, his accomplishments as a player won’t be diminished by his off-field pursuits.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
I think people are good at separating the player from the executive, much like Michael Jordan’s failures as an owner haven’t tarnished his reputation as the greatest hoopster ever. When Jeter is unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame next year (thankfully, Mariano Rivera got that honour first), I’ll guess that 95 per cent of the coverage will be Yankee and not Marlin-centric. It really is a mess in Miami, though.

5. The MLB draft is creeping up (June 3-5), with tanking en vogue and teams valuing draft picks more than ever, should MLB consider moving to a lottery system like the NBA and NHL? Granted the stakes aren’t nearly as high, but lotteries are always great TV and one might give fans another reason to read up on some of the potential top picks.

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Forget a lottery system. Let teams trade a draft pick – not just compensatory picks – and institute a separate international draft. Can’t prevent tanking.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
I don’t think that would do much to address tanking in MLB, where the goal is more to be somewhere near the top of the draft in order to possess a larger bonus pool rather than targeting a single, exceptional player like Zion Williamson. You’re generally drafting players that could impact your roster in three to five years, not the next season, and a single player doesn’t have as big of an impact on a team’s results as they would in the NBA.

Mike Trout is baseball’s LeBron James and the Angels have only been to the post-season with him once in seven years. And there are plenty of gems to be found beyond the first pick of the draft (Trout went 25th overall, remember) so teams would still try to get as high in the order as possible even if their odds of being awarded the first pick were diminished. The larger bonus pool is the biggest thing you’re after. And if I’m looking to fix the draft, that spending cap is the first thing I’d get rid of.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
No draft incentivizes losing quite like the baseball draft thanks to the signing-bonus pool system. The higher you pick, the more you can spend and if you have a big pool, you can manipulate it to steal elite talents in the lower rounds. To me, that’s the bigger concern, and it needs a holistic solution and a draft lottery could be a piece of that. Personally, I’d love to see teams be able to trade any draft pick, not just the competitive balance picks a handful of teams get now, as part of the package, too.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
A draft lottery sounds great. In what other industry are the worst performers rewarded so generously? I get the push for competitive balance, but I suspect we’d see teams think twice before doing a complete tank if they no longer had assurances of securing the top pick in the country and accompanying bonus pool space.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
I go back to one of my answers from last week’s Blue Jays Confidential, when we were asked what changes we’d make as commissioner. I don’t want a lottery, I want to blow up the system. Stop tanking by encouraging teams to try to win. I believe that there should never be a situation in which a team feels it’s a better idea to lose a game than to win it, so how about handing out draft picks to the best non-playoff teams first? Ten teams make the playoffs, the team with the 11th-best record overall gets the first pick, and so on down the line so that the team that finishes dead last picks 20th and then the playoff teams choose. Want to get out of the murky middle? Don’t play to lose, start winning some games!

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