Jays' Rios a valuable commodity

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

Given the ridiculous price tags attached to mediocre pitching these days, it's not hard to appreciate the tight spot J.P. Ricciardi is in as he attempts to deal for at least one more acceptable starter.

That said, if the price is going to be Alex Rios, then whatever starting pitcher the Blue Jays get in return needs to be better than mediocre, with a bit of upside potential toward very good.

After years of patience and more than a little second-guessing, we got a short glimpse last year of the kind of ballplayer Rios can be. In April and May, he suddenly blossomed as a power hitter and a decent man in the clutch, with 15 homers and 53 RBI. When he contracted a staph infection early in July, it effectively laid him low for two months because when he came back in August, he hit only .198 with one homer. By the time September rolled around, he was starting to return to form.

It would be a true shame if, after waiting for Rios to realize his huge potential, that the Jays were forced to trade him for somebody's extra arm, only to see him arrive as the big-time run-producer they've been expecting to see at some point. The kicker with Rios is that he's a superb defensive player who may one day be every bit as good as Vernon Wells.

HIGHER, NOT WIDER

If, indeed, the National Hockey League decides to go to an enlarged net to juice up scoring, they would do better to leave the posts six feet apart and do the enlarging by moving the crossbar a few inches higher than the standard 48 inches. The reason rests with the evolution of the butterfly style among goalies during the past 15 years, a style that has made the lower part of the net virtually impregnable.

In most cases, the goalies simply dare players to try to beat them high because, under pressure, it's a tough shot to make, especially in close.

But if the goal opening was another three or four inches higher, it would become much more of a gamble for the netminder to simply abandon the top of the net to the hockey gods.

We're guessing that taller nets wouldn't just produce more goals scored on the top shelf but would also produce more goals down low as goalies become more reluctant to go into the butterfly on every scoring thrust.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

It has been a brutal schedule for the rebuilding Raptors through November and December, but they've survived it in better shape than even the most optimistic observer could have expected.

By the time tonight's game in Seattle is over, the Raps will have played 18 of their first 28 games on the road, having faced many of the top teams along the way. After tonight, Toronto will play 15 of their next 22 at home. Just as important, 15 of the next 22 games are against teams playing below .500.

With Chris Bosh expected back in the lineup against Minnesota two days after Christmas, it will be interesting to see how the Raps are able to once again adapt, having made some successful adjustments to make up for the gaping hole that Bosh's absence created.

It will certainly take some creativity on coach Sam Mitchell's part to keep the team chemistry intact when Bosh starts eating up big minutes again, minutes that have been used so effectively by players like Andrea Bargnani, Rasho Nesterovic, Kris Humphries and P.J. Tucker.

LUCK OF THE DRAW

Speaking of Bargnani, it's becoming clear with each passing week that he's going to be the real deal, a big man who can bring it inside with authority while at the same time maintaining a feathery touch on the perimeter.

Given that he was not a clear-cut No. 1 choice at the time of the draft last June, imagine the quandary the Raps would have been in if high-schooler Greg Oden had been available? Oden is a 7-foot, 280-pound behemoth who was born in Buffalo and went to high school in Indianapolis.

Given his potential as a once-in-a-decade NBA centre, Oden probably would have been the No. 1 pick last June if the NBA had not changed its rules regarding the drafting of high school players.

He's at Ohio State instead and has just debuted with the Buckeyes this month after recovering from wrist surgery. In four games at the NCAA level, he's averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks a game, shooting at a torrid 73% despite still wearing bandages on both hands.

The sting of missing out on that kind of franchise big man is being felt rather less around Raptorland, however, because of Bargnani's rapid development.


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