3 Toronto Blue Jays The new skipper comes from TV land. He may find his pitching hard to watch

March 26, 2001

Television is about preserving an illusion, and Buck Martinez is
a TV guy. The new Toronto skipper spent the last 18 years as a
Blue Jays' broadcaster, and it's clear that he intends to wear a
little emotional makeup in the manager's office from time to
time. "I've talked to the team about staying calm," he says. "You
don't want to see the pilot walk out of the cockpit and ask,
'Jeez, what the hell is going on?' We may be going to hell in a
handbasket, but I'll be cool about it."

Martinez is managing for the first time at any level--in fact,
he's wearing a baseball uniform for the first time since his
17-year career as a player came to an end, in 1986. He's
determined that nothing will ruin his joyride. "Buck is like a
kid in a candy store," says first baseman and MVP-in-waiting
Carlos Delgado. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm to the ballpark
every day. And he's been around this team for a long time, so he
knows us well."

Which means that Martinez should be aware that his club isn't the
feel-good, after-school special he appears to be tuning into. To
those who bemoan the disparity between the game's rich and poor,
we present the Blue Jays, stout representatives of baseball's
struggling middle-class. There are trappings of success--the
Yankees, the Indians and the Red Sox are the only other American
League teams to have won 80 games in each of the last three
seasons--but it's like the shiny Lexus in the garage that was
bought with a credit card: There's serious debt to pay. Toronto
hasn't been to the postseason since 1993, which has created a
steady decline in attendance and financial losses that were
estimated to be approximately $20 million in 2000. That figure
will likely increase this year thanks to a payroll that has grown
from $56 million to more than $70 million.

The entire lineup returns intact--good news because it led the
American League with a franchise-record 244 home runs and had
four hitters crack the 30-homer barrier. Delgado finished among
the league's top five in each of the Triple Crown categories.
Leftfielder Shannon Stewart, one of the league's most dangerous
leadoff hitters, continued his upward career arc. (His batting
average and RBIs total have increased in each of the last three
years.) So fearsome is Toronto's lineup that its projected number
8 hitter, centerfielder Jose Cruz Jr., outhomered 10 teams'
cleanup spots.

"It seemed like we had to hit all those homers because we were
always behind," says Delgado. "The most disappointing part of
last year was that we didn't pitch well enough."

And that was with disgruntled but dangerous David Wells, who was
sent to the White Sox in the disputed trade that brought
sore-shouldered lefthander Mike Sirotka to Toronto. Sirotka
didn't pick up a baseball until March 9 and is unlikely to join
the rotation until June at the earliest, leaving the new manager
without a starter who has won more than 12 games or pitched 200
innings in either of the last two seasons. Righthander Joey
Hamilton made just six starts last season after 1999 rotator cuff
surgery. How much he can contribute is a mystery. Equally
mysterious are Roy Halladay, 23, and Chris Carpenter, 25,
talented young righthanders around whom the Blue Jays have been
trying to build a rotation since 1998. Last season, his second
full year in the bigs, Halladay had the highest ERA (10.64) in
history among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings. Carpenter,
who fought elbow problems for most of 2000, had a 6.26 ERA and
missed two starts in September after being hit in the face by a
line drive off the bat of the White Sox' Jose Valentin.

During spring training Martinez and new pitching coach Mark
Connor worked hard to resuscitate the pair. They tinkered with
Halladay's delivery, and the youngster dusted off a knuckle-curve
that he hasn't thrown in three years. ("It's nasty," says
Stewart.) Connor also had Carpenter, who lost more than 10 pounds
over the winter, working on a changeup. "I don't think it's a
make or break year for these guys," Connor says, "but I do think
it's time for them to pitch like they're capable of pitching."

It will be difficult for Martinez to maintain his sunny
disposition if they don't. It's likely that the Jays will again
be an entertaining show that draws just enough viewers to stay on
the network schedule but not enough to earn that coveted
Thursday-night slot. "We haven't pushed players this spring
saying we gotta win, we gotta win," Martinez says. "We say we
have to play the game correctly."

Now the players have to follow the script. Take One.

--Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE The franchise's bottom line may scream poverty, but Toronto's lineup is still rich with sluggers like Triple Crown threat Delgado.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS KOCH

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Blue Jays

"The Blue Jays have a great bullpen duo with Kelvim Escobar and
Billy Koch, but otherwise their staff is questionable. I'm a big
Esteban Loaiza supporter. His fastball is there when he needs
it, and he throws a very good cut fastball to righthanders. He
should win 15. Steve Parris reminds me of Woody Williams. That's
not a compliment....I never liked Homer Bush, and I was right.
He can run, and he can bunt for a hit, but he's not a good
hitter. He's utility, at best....Tony Batista is so underrated.
He can hit the ball out of any park, and he's a good third
baseman. He's a guess hitter, but he guesses very well. If you
pitch him away, he hits it over the rightfield fence....Darrin
Fletcher handles a staff very well, but he can't throw. Unless
the pitcher gets the ball to him in less than 1.0, Fletcher has
no chance to throw anyone out. Alberto Castillo has a much
better arm, but he's throwing funny this spring. His balls are
fading. As a hitter, he thinks he's a home run hitter, so he
gets under a lot of balls....Jose Cruz Jr. can be a star, but
it's all about his head. He has home run power, and he can hit
.280, but he has to stay focused for a full season....Vernon
Wells is a better defensive centerfielder, but he has to stop
trying to hit home runs, start swinging down on the ball and
learn to bunt....I love Raul Mondesi. He has great power. Don't
throw him a first-pitch fastball. He'll kill it. But he's not a
good hitter because he's always trying to hit the ball over the
moon. If he used a little more common sense, he'd be a .300
hitter."

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 83-79 (third in AL East)
Manager: Buck Martinez (first season with Toronto)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

LF Shannon Stewart R 58 .319 21 69 20
SS Alex Gonzalez R 168 .252 15 69 4
RF Raul Mondesi R 21 .271 24 67 22
1B Carlos Delgado L-R 15 .344 41 137 0
3B Tony Batista R 23 .263 41 114 5
DH Brad Fullmer L-R 71 .295 32 104 3
C Darrin Fletcher L-R 107 .320 20 58 1
CF Jose Cruz Jr. S-R 123 .242 31 76 15
2B Homer Bush R 234 .215 1 18 9

BENCH

IF Jeff Frye*[1] R 324 .307 1 16 5
OF Brian Simmons[1][2] S-R 333 .230 4 17 4
IF Ryan Freel[3] R 384 .286 10 30 30
C Alberto Castillo R 398 .211 1 16 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Esteban Loaiza 121 10 13 6.2 1.43 4.56
RH Chris Carpenter 138 10 12 5.8 1.64 6.26
RH Joey Hamilton 125 2 1 5.5 1.21 3.55
RH Steve Parris[1] 195 12 17 5.8 1.55 4.81
RH Roy Halladay 263 4 7 4.7 2.20 10.64

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Billy Koch 20 9 3 33 1.22 2.63
LH Dan Plesac[1] 232 5 1 0 1.50 3.15
RH Kelvim Escobar 237 10 15 2 1.51 5.35
LH Lance Painter 274 2 0 0 1.37 4.72
RH Paul Quantrill 297 2 5 1 1.49 4.52
RH Kevin Beirne [1] 310 1 3 0 1.41 6.70
LH Mike Sirotka[1] 160 15 10 0 1.38 3.79

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Combined AL and NL stats
[2]1999 stats
[3]Triple A stats

"Batista is so underrated. He's a guess hitter, but he guesses
very well."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)