It’s almost time for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training (that day is officially tomorrow, February 14), but there has been a flurry of news over the past few days that is very pertinent to Blue Jays fans.
The most poignant of these is the announcement by the Toronto Blue Jays that they would honour the late Roy Halladay by retiring his number 32 on Opening Day of 2018 in addition to wearing a patch with his number 32 throughout the season.
Join us Opening Day, as we pay tribute to the late Roy Halladay and retire his uniform number.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 12, 2018
The Blue Jays are showing a ton of class by honouring the legacy of this great pitcher and, by all accounts, a great man. The tribute to Halladay at WinterFest in January was very well done and this is another gesture by the club. 32 will be the second number retired by the Blue Jays following the retirement of Roberto Alomar‘s number 12 after he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Speaking of retirements, Jerry Howarth announced his retirement from the radio after 36 seasons with the Blue Jays. Citing issues affecting his voice, his health and stamina, Howarth decided to hang it up after working in baseball broadcasting since 1974. Howarth made the announcement on the Jeff Blair show on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 (with Blair reading Howarth’s statement) this morning.
Jerry, along with his previous broadcasting partner, Tom Cheek, was the voice that I heard listening to the Blue Jays on the radio as I was growing up. After Tom’s retirement and premature passing due to cancer, Jerry’s voice lived on alongside a variety of different partners. He was there for the World Series wins in 1992 and 1993 as well as the playoff runs of 2015 and 2016, and all things in between and going back to 1981 when he joined the Blue Jays. I noticed some cracking and other difficulties that Jerry was having with his voice last year
The question now is who replaces Jerry? Will the Jays go with the waiting-in-the-wings Mike Wilner? Or do they cast the net further afield?
The Blue Jays have also made a few minor league signings, bringing in Canadian John Axford, lefty Craig Breslow, lefty Matt Tracy and righty Jake Petricka to minor league deals with invitations to major league spring training.
Petricka has parts of five big league seasons on his resume, all with the Chicago White Sox between 2013 and 2017. The 29 year old has a cumulative 3.84 ERA and 1.49 WHIP over 178 innings in that span, pitching extremely well over the 2014 and 2015 seasons as a regular bullpen arm. He only threw eight innings in 2016 due to a hip injury and last year, he struggled (with a 7.01 ERA in 25 2/3 innings with the White Sox) and underwent elbow surgery (specifically a nerve transposition and flexor tendon Debridement procedure, according to MLB Trade Rumors). He was non-tendered by the White Sox and signed to a minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training. The contract includes $500 in incentives with a $1.3 million base salary if he’s on the big league team.
The deal with Craig Breslow is a similar deal to Petricka, featuring a $1.25 million base salary, other incentives are in the deal as well as an opt-out near the end of spring training. Breslow, 37, has pitched in the majors for parts of 12 seasons with a 3.45 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over 211 innings. He’s pitched with San Diego, Boston, Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland, and Arizona and split last year between Minnesota and Cleveland. It was noted that injuries in Minnesota forced the Twins to use Breslow against more righthanded hitters than he should have seen and his ERA was elevated because righties “clobbered him” at a .330/.393/.542 slash line despite holding lefties to a .196/.294/.286 line.
The Jays signed Simcoe, Ontario native John Axford to a deal. The righty, who will turn 35 on April 1, has been trying to come back to the dominance he enjoyed with the Milwaukee Brwers early in the decade. He led the NL in saves in 2011 with 46 and a 1.95 ERA and 1.14 WHIP that season and despite striking out 93 batters in 69 1/3 innings in 2012, his numbers started to slide in the wrong direction as his ERA jumped to 4.67 and WHIP jumped to 1.44. Since then, Axford has bounced around to St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Oakland, where he spent the past two seasons, with a cumulative 4.57 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, striking out 81 and walking 47 in 86 2/3 innings. Released on July 30 by Oakland last year, Axford is attempting to return to the majors with his hometown team.
Finally, in the least-publicized signing, it appears that the Blue Jays are going to sign lefty Matt Tracy to a minor league deal, according to Chris Cotillo (although the Jays haven’t announced it officially yet).
Ex-Yankees LHP Matt Tracy has a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) February 12, 2018
Tracy, 29, was drafted by the Yankees in the 24th round of the 2011 draft and made one appearances with the Yankees in 2015, giving up three runs (none earned) in two innings of work, walking two and striking out one. Tracy looks like he was injured and only appeared in 18 games last year after joining the Minnesota Twins on a minor league deal. In 62 1/3 innings (including nine starts) with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, he posted a 4.04 ERA, 1.36 WHIP with 53 strikeouts and 22 walks. In Triple-A Rochester, he struggled with 15 runs against him in 17 2/3 innings, striking out 15 and walking eight.
My feeling is that Axford, Petricka and Breslow will all have legitimate shots at breaking camp with the Blue Jays while Tracy (who we don’t know yet if he’s been given an invite to big league camp) is almost certainly headed for Buffalo or New Hampshire.
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