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Steve Phillips

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I don’t know if you heard, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wasn’t in the Toronto Blue Jays lineup on Victoria Day. 

I bet he’ll be in the team’s lineup on that holiday Monday in May next year. 

The firestorm has cooled down, but it won’t soon be forgotten. The ill-advised decision to sit the Jays’ young star for a key matinee matchup against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre will certainly chase a number of fans away for a while. But no doubt about it, they’ll be back when Guerrero leads this team to the postseason in 2022.

Jays’ manager Charlie Montoyo made a mistake. Guerrero should absolutely have been in the lineup. He was coming off a road trip where his bat had erupted – hitting .333 with four homers and nine RBI. In fact, on Monday it was announced that he had earned American League Player of the Week honours. He is red-hot.

The team arrived home late Sunday night/early Monday morning and had to get right back into it with a day game against the Boston Red Sox. Montoyo had decided earlier to make Monday Guerrero’s scheduled day off and he followed through with his plan. The club is in the midst of a stretch of 16 games in 16 days and he wanted to give every player a break at some point during this run of games.

“We got a set deal that he needs to get a day off,” Montoyo said on Monday. “Everybody’s going to get a day off anyways. Sixteen straight days. So today was Vlad’s.”

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins admitted that his first-year manager was not armed with all of the appropriate information when making his lineup decision. The GM explained on Tuesday that the lineup decisions all belong to Montoyo and that the front office provides him with all sorts of information to help make his decisions: player performance, matchup information, fatigue, workload, travel, night game, day game, etc. 

Atkins also admitted that attendance expectations never factor into the information he gives the manager. He also said he regrets not explaining the importance of Victoria Day to Montoyo. 

This was an organizational failure. Bad input leads to bad output. Montoyo didn’t understand what Victoria Day means to Canadians and clearly didn’t understand what Jays’ fans expected. Of course, players need days off. That has become more and more evident as clubs have studied the impact of fatigue and travel on players. But context matters. It is never as simple as “this is your day off “and that is his day off.”

In a 16-game span that includes six road games followed by seven home games and then three road games, Guerrero shouldn’t have his off game at home. Montoyo could have easily not played Guerrero in the Sunday game in San Francisco so he would have been available for Victoria Day on Monday.

Atkins made it clear he never includes information about potential fan numbers for home games when he arms Montoyo with info for his lineup decisions. Clearly, he should have. It actually matters at the major-league level. Guerrero is the only player to get Jays fans excited right now. He should play every home game and enjoy his off days on the road. 

This was a big deal. Heck, when I was general manager of the New York Mets I always made sure my manager knew when we had a bobblehead giveaway for a certain player. The player needed to be in the lineup on those days. Obviously, Victoria Day qualifies as a bigger day than any bobblehead day. The way I would describe it to my manager is to treat it like Opening Day.

 

Biggio gets the call

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The rebuilding process continues in Toronto with the Jays calling up Cavan Biggio on Friday.

The left-hand hitting second baseman is the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio and started the season ranked as the No. 9 prospect in Toronto’s system.

Biggio was hitting .307/.445/.504 with six home runs and five steals at Triple-A Buffalo. He has sustained the growth in his development from last season when he won Rookie of the Year and Eastern League MVP honours.

He was one of six players in the minors who had 20 homers (26) and 20 stolen bases last season.  Biggio also has great plate discipline – he was one of only three batters in the minors who had 100 walks last season and has more walks than strikeouts this year. He’s an adequate defender who is primarily a second baseman but can also play first and third.

The Jays will make history once Biggio joins Guerrero in a Toronto uniform as it will be the first time that sons of Hall of Famers have ever been teammates at the major-league level.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will also be called up on Friday for his return to the majors. He managed to get himself back on track at the plate in Buffalo after a slow start to his season in Toronto.

If not for his broken hand, No. 2 prospect Bo Bichette may have been part of this wave of call-ups to the Jays. The shortstop still recovering from his injury, but it is just a matter of time.

 

Stroman pitches with chip on his shoulder

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Marcus Stroman battled his way through his start on Tuesday and came away with a win against the Red Sox. He threw six innings, only giving up one run even while allowing five hits and six walks. He was aided by three double plays behind him.

Stroman also benefited from throwing off the timing of some of the Red Sox hitters with his quick-pitch technique.

That didn’t go over all that well with the Red Sox dugout and manager Alex Cora. The Sox didn’t particularly like Stroman’s energy on the mound that he seemed to bark toward the defending World Series champions’ dugout. In effect, they weren’t pleased with Marcus being Marcus.

“It’s the same thing with him every day. He competes a certain way and people don’t like it,” Cora said this after the game. “It seems like whenever a team comes in, somebody screams at him. I don’t know; that’s the way he acts. He’s a good pitcher. He gets motivated in different ways. Some people like it, some people don’t, so whatever. It is what it is.”

“I compete. That’s it,” Stroman tweeted in response. “[I] didn’t know I had to cater to opposing teams to like me. Everyone messes with timing, deliveries and pitching mechanics these days. Everyone. Get over it. I’m going to keep that dawg mentality always. Pops raised me right and approves of it all!”

I love how competitive Stroman is. He always gives his best effort and battles. He pitches with a chip on his shoulder. He needs an antagonist. Sometimes that’s easy to find and other times it’s not. When it isn’t clear who it is, Stroman creates it. Sometimes it is the opposition, the umpires, the front office, the media or the world. He always has to prove people wrong. It drives him. And it works for him. 

Stroman’s style can have one unexpected consequence: he may create enemies in other clubhouses. As a potential Blue Jays trade chip, he doesn’t want to alienate any potential suitors.

He has liked tweets from media members who have suggested he may be dealt at the trade deadline. It seems like Stroman would like to be traded. If that is the case, he should keep in mind that those opposing players he’s upsetting may be future teammates. He would be better served to find his antagonists somewhere other than in the opponents’ dugout. 

 

Jansen finding his way at the plate

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Just when it seemed like catcher Danny Jansen was going under at the plate, he has new life.

Jansen recently made an adjustment to close his stance a bit at the plate and it’s leading to results. It is allowing him to stay on the pitch on the outer third of the plate. His pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning on Wednesday night against the Red Sox was a great example of the benefits of his change. He has six hits in his last 18 at-bats, including two home runs and six RBI.

I still believe that Jansen is going to be a solid two-way catcher for years to come in Toronto. He just lost his way a bit at the plate but his mental toughness is helping him find himself again. 

 

SPITTING SEEDS

Embedded Image-Last year, the Atlanta Braves drafted a young pitcher named Carter Stewart with the eighth pick in the first round of the MLB draft. A physical identified that he had a wrist issue that caused the Braves a level of concern. Instead of offering him slot value of close to $5 million, the Braves offered about $2 million. The young man and his agent rejected the Braves offer and he went to a junior college instead. He regressed a bit this season and was slated for a second- or third-round selection.  So, instead of waiting for that, his agent, Scott Boras, cut a six-year deal for $7 million with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. It is a bold move and a smart move for the player. The 19-year-old right-handed pitcher will be a free agent at the age of 25 and will be able to come back to the majors as a free agent. That’s a much faster path to freedom than if he opted to sign with a team here in North America. 

-Major League Baseball has long had an agreement with the NPB (Japanese Professional League) to not pursue Japanese amateur players. The quid pro quo was that Japanese teams wouldn’t poach MLB draft prospects. It seems like we could be headed for a bit of a turf war unless the two commissioner’s offices can negotiate an agreement. Without an agreement, this could throw a monkey wrench into the draft in a significant way. The better that Stewart performs in Japan, the tougher it will be to reach an agreement. 

Embedded Image-The Baltimore Orioles are on pace to surrender approximately 340 home runs this season, shattering the single-season record of 258 set by the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. The New York Yankees have been the Orioles’ biggest nemesis as they have hit 34 homers in 11 games against them, including 25 homers in the six games played in Camden Yards. Infielder Gleyber Torres has 10 of the homers while catcher Gary Sanchez has nine. In fact, Torres has four multi-homer games – all against Baltimore.  It is clear that the Orioles are not a good team, but they can’t be that bad. The young pitching staff may never recover from this beating that they are taking. If they don’t start making hitters feel uncomfortable by pitching inside, the home run numbers are only going to grow. I am not suggesting that the Orioles’ pitchers hit Yankees batters with pitches, but they better throw inside enough to move their feet in the batter’s box. 

-My former team, the New York Mets, had quite a week. GM Brodie Van Wagenen proclaimed they were the team to beat in the NL East in the off-season, yet the Mets have looked like anything but a playoff team so far. There was plenty of speculation that manager Mickey Callaway’s job could be in jeopardy, but Van Wagenen addressed his club and made it clear that the manager had the full support of him and the team’s ownership. Since that proclamation, the Mets are undefeated, having swept the Washington Nationals this week. Yes, they are now 4-0 in the “Mickey Callaway Vote of Confidence Era.” Maybe it’s just what they needed. 

-Mets’ second baseman Robbie Cano caught a lot of flak in New York last weekend after not running out two batted balls that turned into double plays. His lack of hustle was a big part of what was bringing Callaway down. He was benched on Monday. On Wednesday, he tried to leg out an infield hit and strained his quad. I guess hustling really is overrated.

Embedded Image-In addition to this mess, the Mets got news that outfielder Yoenis Cespedes broke his ankle in an accident on his ranch in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The agent made it clear that Cespedes did not injure his ankle while riding a horse but rather after he fell into a hole. When asked about whether he believed the story behind the injury, GM Van Wagenen said, “That is the story we were told.” He hardly seemed convinced. Because the player’s agent made it clear the injury did not occur while riding a horse, it sure makes me think that he indeed was riding a horse. The reason it matters is that the standard contract that all players sign forbids horseback riding along with other potentially dangerous activities. If a player is injured when participating in any dangerous activity, the club may be able to stop paying the player during the recovery period. We may never know for sure what happened in this case.