My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- An outstanding article written by stats guru Ryan Spaeder on why Montreal Expos legend Tim Raines is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown was published on the Sporting News website on Wednesday. I’ve long been advocating for Raines’s induction, but this article includes accomplishments that even I was unaware of. For example, Raines is the only player in baseball history with at least 100 triples, 150 home runs and 600 stolen bases. I also didn’t know that Raines is the sole player to enjoy consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases. He had five such campaigns in a row, from 1982 to 1986. You can read Spaeder’s article here. The results of this year’s Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame voting will be announced on January 18.
- You could argue that there are four ex-Montreal Expos (including Raines) on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot that deserve to be inducted. Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker is on the ballot for a seventh time, while slugger Vladimir Guerrero makes his ballot debut. Closer Lee Smith, who’s in his 15th and last year on the ballot, pitched his final big league campaign with the Expos in 1997. This week I came across an excellent article by Colorado Rockies blogger Eric Garcia McKinley that compares the Hall of Fame cases of Walker and Guerrero and ultimately concludes that both deserve enshrinement. I agree with his conclusion.
- Reason 10,001 why I’ll never be a big league general manager: When I was blogging for CBC Sports in 2011, I wrote an opinion piece stating that the Toronto Blue Jays should sign Langley, B.C., native Brett Lawrie to a pre-arbitration, Evan Longoria-like contract. If you can remember back to 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays inked Longoria to a six-year, $17.5-million contract just six games into his first big league season. At the time, it was the highest contract handed out to a North American player with less than one year of big league experience. The deal ended up saving the budget-conscious Rays a lot of money. Fast forward to late in the 2011 season, I, like most regular Blue Jays observers, thought Lawrie was the team’s most exciting and productive player and undoubtedly a cornerstone of the club’s future. He posted a .580 slugging percentage and .953 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 43 games that season. Obviously, I was wrong. Lawrie, who missed the last 10 weeks of the 2016 season with hamstring and knee injuries, settled for a one-year, $3.5-million deal to rejoin the Chicago White Sox on Friday. This represented a pay cut from the $4.125 million he earned last season. The sparkplug infielder hit .248 with 12 homers in 94 games for the Sox in 2016.
- Another week and another former Blue Jays reliever signs an exorbitant contract. On the heels of left-hander Brett Cecil’s four-year, $30.5-million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals and right-hander Jesse Chavez’s one-year, $5.75-million pact with the Angels, southpaw Marc Rzepczynski has landed a two-year, $11-million contract with the Seattle Mariners. The left-handed specialist, who pitched for the Blue Jays for parts of three seasons from 2009 to 2011, posted a 2.64 ERA in 47-2/3 innings last season, split between the Oakland A’s and the Washington Nationals.
- Congratulations to Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp, who has been named manager of the St. Louis Cardinals triple-A Memphis Redbirds. Clapp returns to the city where he starred and became a fan favourite as a player from 1999 to 2002. His No. 10 was retired by the club in 2007. The Canadian baseball icon has spent the last two seasons as the hitting coach of the Blue Jays’ double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. A 36th round pick of the Cardinals in 1996, Clapp defied long odds to play 23 big league games in 2001. He has been elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the 1991 National Youth Team that won gold at the World Youth Baseball Championships in Brandon, Man., in 1991 and as a coach on the Canadian Senior National Team that captured gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
- The Blue Jays are reportedly interested in switch-hitting outfielder Dexter Fowler, who possesses a strong combination of power and speed. While I was watching him with the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, I kept thinking to myself that he reminded me of Blue Jays great Devon White. And sure enough if you go to Fowler’s Baseball Reference entry, the eighth-most similar player to Fowler through age 30 is White. Both are long-legged switch-hitters, but Fowler is not the Gold Glove fielder that White was and doesn’t steal as many bases, but their power numbers are similar and Fowler is a more patient hitter.
- Late great Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Fanning made many astute trades during his tenure as the Montreal Expos general manager, but I was around him a couple of times when he discussed what he considered to be the worst trade he ever made. That happened on this day 42 years ago, when the Expos dealt Ken Singleton and pitcher Mike Torrez to the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Dave McNally, outfielder Rich Coggins and pitching prospect Bill Kirkpatrick. While Singleton evolved into one of the best hitters in O’s history and Torrez won 20 games for the O’s in 1975, McNally and Coggins spent less than three months with the Expos and Kirkpatrick never cracked the big league roster.
- This week’s trivia question: Tim Raines holds the Expos record for most career stolen bases with 635. What player recorded the second-most stolen bases in Expos history? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1984 O-Pee-Chee Ozzie Smith and a 1985 Leaf Dave Winfield card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who were the two former Blue Jays or Expos on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot that also played with the Pacific Coast League’s Edmonton Trappers?) was Casey Blake and Matt Stairs.