Is winter ball the remedy for Blue Jays’ Goins?

Ryan Goins (AP)

A Canadian pitching in September in a pennant race at the Rogers Centre? A Toronto Blue Jays draft pick? Pinch me, right? Thing is, the pitcher in question never was with the Blue Jays: he’s James Paxton of the Seattle Mariners, by way of Ladner, B.C., and he gets the start against Toronto on Monday night.

Paxton, 25, has an earned run average of 1.91 through his first 15 starts. That is tied for the fourth-lowest ERA over that span in major league history, along with Tiny Bonham of the 1940-41 New York Yankees. Steve Rogers of the Montreal Expos was 1.32 in 1973, while Zach Duke (1.79 at the end of 2005 through to 2006) and Cal Eldred (1.85 in 1991-1992) are ahead of Paxton.

Paxton must be getting quite a chuckle. The Blue Jays drafted him 37th overall in the 2009 draft, as a compensatory pick for the loss of free agent A.J. Burnett, but were unable to come to terms. Paxton wanted to return to the University of Kentucky for his senior season but the NCAA ruled him ineligible because it determined his relationship with super agent Scott Boras violated its hazy guidelines delineating a “paid agent” from a “family advisor,” basing much of its argument on public comments from Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston. Paxton pitched for the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs before the Mariners picked him in the fourth round in the subsequent draft, and both Paxton and his family have said the matter is settled.

In these parts, we will focus on the impressions left by young pitchers Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez in this final week. Their development has likely saved jobs. But Paxton’s a reminder of the Blue Jays failure to sign other highly drafted pitchers (Tyler Beede and Phil Bickford.) At least the compensatory draft pick for Paxton was used on Noah Syndergaard, who was traded for R.A. Dickey.

WINTER WORK

Ryan Goins is in the middle of throwing away an opportunity – or, rather, grounding out weakly. His glove is sorely needed in the Toronto Blue Jays infield; his bat is useful only out of the ninth spot if the team has addressed its other position needs in a manner that provides required offence.

I’ve seen this before, sort of. And I’ve seen the prescription, which is why I hope it’s more than lip service when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons says the team wants Goins to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

In 1998, after hitting .220 in 83 games, Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou sat down Jose Vidro and told him to play winter ball and come into camp in shape ready to win a job — or else. Alou wouldn’t even guarantee the switch-hitting Vidro a bench job. Point taken: Vidro played all winter in his native Puerto Rico and, in 1999, hit .304 as a regular before going on to a career that saw him earn three all-star selections and finish with a .298 career average over 1,418 games.

It’s true that at his worst, Vidro was at least three times the hitter of Goins. But he was also about a third of the athlete. All Goins needs to do is become less of an easy out to play a role in 2015 – at the very least, a bench-player capable of spelling off Jose Reyes at shortstop. Playing winter ball is no longer viewed as a cure-all, but in Goins’ case it might be a start. Given the winter workload facing general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the odd miracle wouldn’t hurt.

WHAT I LEARNED

What you learn in a week of hosting a sports call-in show:

“We have the best pitching we’ve had in many years — since 1979, we haven’t had a staff with this much depth and quality. That’s been the big difference for us.”

Dan Duquette, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, believes his team’s starting pitching is the foundation for the 2014 AL East title. The Orioles’ team ERA is the lowest since … 1979.

“I’m not saying he’s Peyton Manning, but he does a good job at the line of scrimmage. They put a burden of responsibility on him and he’s very capable of getting them into good plays at the line of scrimmage.”

Dave Lapham, former offensive lineman and Cincinnati Bengals radio colour commentator, discusses the development of quarterback Andy Dalton.

“He says he wants to show them a couple of defensive tactics and offensive things – that’s kind of Mike Johnston’s goal; to show them something new everyday, and not kill them with everything at once. Us hockey guys can only take in so much in one day.”

Pittsburgh Penguins TV analyst Bob Errey describes the approach of Penguins coach Mike Johnston, who is running his first camp replacing Dan Bylsma.

QUIBBLES AND BITS

• Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports makes an interesting point as he looks ahead to this winter’s free-agent pitching market: James Shields and Jon Lester’s power stuff might put them ahead of Max Scherzer on some priority lists, but Scherzer (who will pitch next season at 31 years of age) has more than 350 innings less than Lester (who will also be 31) and just less than 700 innings fewer than Shields, who will pitch at 33.

Scherzer’s teammate David Price, who will be eligible for free agency after next season when he will also be 31, went into the weekend having thrown 28 innings less than Scherzer. Those three free agents will only make the task of Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos more difficult this off-season. He needs to trade pitching for position players, but the market’s timing will be determined by the free agent’s haste to sign.

• The start of Winnipeg Jets training camp was time once again for the ‘Is this city big enough for Evander Kane?’ questions. Nobody seems to think it is, but the fact that head coach Paul Maurice says he will keep Kane on a regular line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Schiefele ought to at least alleviate the on-ice stress.

• Politics be damned: as someone who has lived and worked in Montreal, I’ve just assumed that having a captain who could speak English and French a matter of expediency in the toughest hockey market in the world. But absent a dominant French-speaking personality, the Canadiens are on solid ground in selecting Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec. Some saw it as a slight directed at Subban, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Prediction: Subban learns a few bon mots and is captain in 2015-2016.

• Rick Langford, the Blue Jays roving pitching instructor who was given a special assignment this season by mentoring the organization’s advanced pitching prospects, says there was one position player he noticed in his travels who was able to match the Blue Jays young pitchers when it came to meeting the new challenges provided by rapid advancement through the organization. “Dalton Pompey seemed to put better swings on pitches the higher up we moved him,” Langford said of the Blue Jays outfield prospect from Mississauga. “He was better at triple-A than double-A or single-A.”

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