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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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August 4, 2007 2:28 PM

Chemistry experiment?

Posted by Geoff Baker

Some of you have asked me about my rant below. It's in response to some pretty off-the-wall comments about "American values" that were again threatening to derail the day's debates in the previous thread from last night. We've deleted most of the posts associated with it, but I can't let that stuff go unchallenged...so, right below, here goes...

Glad I could take a Saturday morning off for some pre-game brunch without the previous thread disintegrating into a mess. American values? Are you kidding me? Which America are we talking about? The one that welcomes people from all walks of life? The one I signed up for? Or the one that hides behind its own borders afraid of venturing out into the world and exploring new ideas?

I'm really curious, because I can tell you that if you espouse the latter from a baseball perspective, your team is really going to stink. As an example, I can point to the Toronto franchise I just covered for nine seasons. Back in 2003, some colleagues and I noticed plenty of "American values" going on with the 25-man roster of the club. The Blue Jays used to be chalk full of international players from all over Latin America. Became famous for it in the 1980s and early 1990s when that franchise actually won stuff.

But then J.P. Ricciardi took over as general manager in 2001 and slowly, but surely, the Latin American presence on the Blue Jays dwindled down to a trickle. And it has stayed that way ever since, at a time when the Latin American presence in baseball has exploded. How can this be, you ask?

Well, one major reason is that Ricciardi, to impress his new bosses with his budget cutting ability, told them to chop their international scouting. And so they did. The Blue Jays became a non-factor internationally. Walk down the streets of Santo Domingo, or San Pedro de Macoris, or Bani in the Dominican Republic and talk to scouts and street agents at ballparks, as I did two years ago, and they laugh when the topic of the Blue Jays comes up. Used to be big, they said, now they are not present to any serious degree in that country.

Same thing in Venezuela. Oh sure, the Blue Jays are trying to recover somewhat as baseball enters the new global age. Even they finally figured out you can't stick to players from one country when everyone else -- even the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- is spending on big ventures internationally. Bucking trends worked in "Moneyball'' for a few chapters and for Billy Beane. For everyone else, in certain areas, trying to do it can be lethal.

The Blue Jays woke up in 2005 and realized they were lagging behind most AL teams in power. They would look at the leader boards each day and see Latin Americans disproportionately filling up the home run and slugging categories. Toronto eventually had to compensate by trading Miguel Batista and Orlando Hudson to Arizona for Troy Glaus, bringing in his huge contract because there were no Latin American power hitters developing in their own system as Carlos Delgado once had.

Alex Rios? He was a draft pick, pre-Ricciardi. The Jays also traded away two promisisng young starting pitchers to acquire Centralia product Lyle Overbay for some more power after 2005. They continue to pay the salary of Corey Koskie, a free agent signed out of desperation for power in 2005, nearly two years after his final game for the franchise.

Good thing the Blue Jays saved all that dough on international scotuing.

You know what? What they do is their business. I can tell you that I like the business the Mariners are doing internationally. They have their fingers in every corner of the globe as the global era expands. They are positioned for several years if they choose to take advantage of that position. I like Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays, but that team used up a No. 1 pick on him. This isn't only about power. There is no Jose Lopez, or Yuniesky Betancourt about to lead the Blue Jays to a division title. I'll take Seattle's middle infield over Hill and Toronto's any day of the week.

Is that what you want for Seattle? An All-American team? Don't believe the hype you read about the Blue Jays being an injury-prone playoff darkhorse. In six years under Ricciardi, they are now spending upwards of $90 million (hidden signing bonuses factored in) for a team that is arguably worse that what it had under the reviled Gord Ash a decade ago.

Is it all about international scouting in Toronto? No, it isn't. But all the money that team has been forced to throw at power hitters (hello Frank Thomas) the past three years because of a lack of pure hitting depth in their system has been a waste. Seattle has had its problems as an organization, to be sure. But trying to be too "All American'' isn't one of them. They've spent to go get the best players, no matter where they happen to hail from. They haven't limited themselves to only one local talent pool.

That's my rant. Now, since we're on the subject of players of all different stripes, what does "clubhouse chemistry" mean to you? Is there some real formula at-play here (and I don't mean ethnicity or country of origin, but purely a baseball-playing, personality driven formula) that determines wins and losses. John McLaren thinks chemistry is very real. To him, he said yesterday, it means 1995 and 2001, two seasons the Mariners actually did something worth remembering. He talked about the clubhouse feel on those teams.

Go to certain fan websites and they will tell you it's all bunk. That chemistry is a myth that only shows up when a team wins. What do you think? Does Jose Guillen actually bring something to the clubhouse chemistry? Does he take away from it? Or does he change nothing? Is it all a myth? Does Ichiro have to go out drinking beers with Richie Sexson for there to be clubhouse chemistry?

If you believe in it, define it for me please. What does clubhouse chemistry mean to you?

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