* RHP Tomo Ohka, equipped with his new knuckleball, is headed to spring training with the Blue Jays after pitching indy ball in Japan with the Toyama Thunderbirds. ....
By Bob Elliott
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. --Fear not, Blue Jays fans.
Your team did not come up empty at the 112th winter meetings at the Disney Dolphin resort this week.
The Tomo Ohka era phase II, not to be confused with Jerry Seinfeld’s Del Boca Vista, Phase II, has begun.
The Jays have signed Ohka to a minor-league deal with an invite to major-league camp. He will likely head to double-A New Hampshire for the start of the season.
But it won’t be the same Ohka, who went 2-5 with a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts for the 2007 Blue Jays and has not pitched in the majors since Oct. 4, 2009, when he was with the Cleveland Indians.
Now Ohka has a knuckleball, which he picked up pitching for the mighty Toyama Thunderbirds (est. 2007) of Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge
League of Japan facing the Niigata Albirex, Shinano Grandserows, Gunma Diamond Pegasus, Ishikawa Million Stars and, of course, the Fukui Miracle Elephants.
Now, general manager Alex Anthopoulos says he can get away from the jammed lobby, crowded suites of the winter meetings and use his weapon of choice -- the phone at 1 Blue Jays Way -- and “get back to work.”
He still has an eye on “three or four starters” he can obtain via the trade route.
“There are some things we can do, there is so much going on here, so many people, you can get paralyzed,” Anthopoulos told writers after the Rule V draft. “We’re trying to divide our assets, rather than to use too many to get one starter.”
Anthopoulos said that the Jays had a chance to go for the home run.
Could that be Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, former wide receiver with Charlie Weis’ Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2006?
Samardzija was 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA in 33 starts for the Cubs this season, striking out 214 in 213 2/3 innings. Unlike R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, his best velocity is better than 85 mph.
All the Cubs want are top prospects Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and a third player.
Would you do that deal?
Would that be a home run, or a Hail Mary?
Fans thought the Jays hit a pair of home runs in deals with the Miami Marlins or New York Mets the previous off-season?
Well, it would be better than Ohka, fresh from the mighty Toyoma Thunderbirds. Ohka was 7-7 with a 3.73 ERA, walking 25 and striking out 59 in 111 innings facing the Albirex, Grandserows, Diamond Pegasus, Million Stars and, of course, the Miracle Elephants.
It was a Miracle he retired any Elephants at all.
“He’s a strike thrower and repeats his delivery,” said Anthopoulos. “There is no such thing as a bad minor-league deal. We’re not guaranteeing one penny --other than his flight.
“I remember Pat Hentgen telling me once that Brett Cecil had a heck of a knuckleball after watching Cecil’s bullpen. But guys don’t like to throw it in a game. They prefer the conventional way.”
The knuckleball is a last resort.
And at this resort, Ohka sounds like the last resort using a last resort.
Not as safe as the gaited Del Boca Vista, Phase II community.
Remember when the Jays used to have Flashback Fridays?
Someone from the glory years would be introduced in the fifth inning atop the third-base dugout to cheers.
Well, now the Jays appear to be reverting to the 2007 when the they went 83-79 under John Gibbons, finishing third, 13 games behind the New York Yankees.
Roy Halladay, who made 31 starts in 2007, was signed on Monday and retired as a Blue Jay. He was not taken in the Rule V draft.
Dustin McGowan, a member of the Jays bullpen last season, made 27 starts, while A.J. Burnett and Shaun Marcum, both free agents, each made 25. Jesse Litsch, now out of the game, made 20, and tower of power Josh Towers made 15.
Gustavo Chacin made five, Victor Zambrano two, while Ty Taubenheim and Josh Banks made one each.
“I’ll tell you who else has a good knuckleball,” said Anthopoulos. “Josh Banks. And we’re inviting Banks to spring training.”
Banks has not pitched in the majors since June 26. 2010 with the Houston Astros and hasn’t pitched since 2011 when he started at triple-A Fresno and finished with the Atlantic League’s independent Long Island Ducks.
Mamas let your babies grow up to throw knuckle balls.