Home > Uncategorized > The Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF…

The Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF…

A couple of weeks ago a work colleague who knows that I’m a masochist, er… sorry, a Jays fan, asked me what I thought it would take for the Jays to compete again. I thought about it for almost a whole second before postulating, “a new division.”

That is, of course, something of a cop out. Divisional realignment isn’t likely to happen, at least not until MLB expands again (and trust me, MLB will eventually expand, but not while Bud’s still in charge). So, while I dream of playing in the AL Central against the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers, the Jays’ reality is that each and every year they have to compete with the combined 380 million salaries of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Sure, it’d be great if the Jays could have a budget south of 150 million, but that’s just not realistic for a team that is (at best) the second sport franchise in a moderately sized market. Now, having said that, all is not lost. The Rays have shown that it is possible for a low budget team to compete with the bullys in the East, but it takes an exceptionally well run organization.

So what could the Jays have done to make the playoffs this year? They would have to run an organization as well as the Rays are run. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes (the Rays blew it big time by picking Tim Beckham two years ago over Buster Posey), but it means that you have to get most of your decisions right. You have to draft and develop better than the Yanks and Sox; you have to spend you money wisely; and you have to evaluate your own players well, so that you know when to cut ties with players before they disintegrate (cough-scottkazmir-cough). Basically, you have to run a perfect organization.

For instance:

The single best thing that the Jays can do to compete year in and year out is to be better than the Yanks and Sox when it comes to minor league palyer development. Why are the Rays so good? Because over the last five years their minor leagues have graduated:

Evan Longoria
BJ Upton
Reid Brignac
Daivd Price
Jeff Niemann
Wade Davis

Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson also made brief “hello, we’re the future, mind if we hang out for a bit” appearances with the big club this year. Plus, that list doesn’t even include Delmon Young who was dealt to the Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. So, for a team on a budget, the single most important factor to prolonged success is drafting well and then developing those draftees into legitimate major league players.

Look, I’ve done the “I wish the Jays had drafted him in this round” thing and obviously with that mythical 20/20 hindsight you could assemble an all star roster for any franchise, but in 2005 the Jays had the sixth pick in the draft. The overwhelming best player on the board at that spot was Troy Tulowitzki; instead they picked Ricky Romero. Now, over the last two years Romero has developed into a very good pitcher and thus made me stop wanting to bash my head against a wall every time the ’05 draft is brought up (and since that draft produced Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Garza, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jay Bruce, and Andrew McCutcheon, it’s brought up a lot), but Romero’s probably not amongst the thirty best pitchers in baseball and Tulo could make a very real argument as the best shortstop in babseball. So, yeah, that one I’m going to have to flag. The Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they had made the smart move and drafted Tulo.

Now, because I just cannot help myself, I will make one “wish pick” from that same draft. In the third round of ’05, the Jays selected Brian Pettway with the 86th pick. Twenty-three picks later the Yankees selected Brett Gardner. This isn’t like the Cardinals getting Albert Pujols in the 13th round, or the Dodgers using the 1390th pick on Mike Piazza. This is using a late draft pick to get a solid contributer, a guy who will give you a 2-4 WAR for four or five years. Now, Tony LaCava and the rest of the Jays’ scouting department have done a remarkable job finding solid young arms in later draft rounds, but they haven’t had that same success with position players. The Jays would be in the playoff right now IF… they had found a few gems like Brett Gardner.

Obviously the single biggest mistake this franchise made in the last, uhmmm… ever(?) was signing Vernon Wells to that obnoxious seven year, 126 million contract (you know, the one that only paid him like 20 dollars for the first three years and then cripples the franchise for the next eighty years). The worst is that it was a contract that Wells never should have been offfered. Even coming off his career year, he wasn’t a twenty million a year guy, but even if he was, the Jays shoudn’t be spending that much money on one player.

Look, for all the hoopla over what the Yanks are going to pay Derek Jeter this offseason, the reality is… who cares. They can pay him 25 million a year, because with what amounts to an unlimited payroll, it just doesn’t matter. On the other hand, when you have an 80 million payroll and you’re giving 20 million to ONE guy, well you’re going to have problems. Even if that one guy is Babe Ruth you’re going to have problems, but in Wells’ best season he had a WAR of 5.1. That’s basically your normal all star season. Good, maybe even very good, but not great (Most MVP years are around 8.0, when Bonds was at the peak of his “powers” he topped out at 13.0). The bigger issue with Wells is that he’s never been consistent. Look at his WARs beginning in his first full season:

1.5
3.7
3.8
3.2
5.7
1.5
1.5
0.0 (and that’s not because he was injured, Wells had 684 at bats last year)
4.0

What is consistent about that is how often Wells is merely an average baseball player. That was true in 2006 and it’s true today. This isn’t me opining with the hindsight of 20/20, this was obvious to competent observers back in 2006, but the hardest thing for professional franchises to evaluate is their own talent. You see it in basketball, like when the Atlanta Hawks gave Joe Johnson 126 million or the Memphis Grizzlies gave Rudy Gay 83 million. If either of those guys are even the second best player on a championship squad, I’d be shocked. Of course, in basketball if you give that type of money to LeBron James, you’ll probably have a good chance of winning 60 games.

The same is just not true in baseball. When the Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez 25 million a year, he was worth roughly that much, but they still finished last in each of his three seasons with the club. You simply cannot tie a quarter of your budget to one player (and don’t tell me that when they gave Wells that contract Rogers was promising the Jays a budget around 100 million, a fifth of your roster for one guy is not really better). So, the Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they had been smart enough to let Wells reach his walk year and then replaced him with a player from their farm system (say someone like Gardner).

Back in 2007 the winter before Tim Lincecum went fromm being a freak to being The Freak, Jays GM JP Ricciardi and San Francisco GM Brian Sabean discussed a deal that would have sent the spindly flamethrower to Toronto for underachieving slugger Alex Rios. The Giants needed offense and the Jays needed to trade Rios before he started telling fans to f*** off. It seemed like a match made in heaven. Only, as the rumor goes, JP turned it down, or he was unwilling to include a prospect like Curtis Thigpen (excuse me, I just have to vomit for a minute… Ok, lets get going again) to seal the deal. Since then, Lincecum has won two Cy Youngs, while Rios was so bad last year that the Jays literally gave him away to the Chicago White Sox. So, the Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they had been savvy and tenacious enough to complete a trade for Tim Lincecum.

In a similar vein, in 2006 former Rays number one pick Josh Hamilton was selected by the Cubs in the rule 5 draft. Had they wanted him, the Jays could have acquired Hamilton. How do I know this? Because the Cubs eventually sold Hamilton to Cincinnati for cash considerations. Think about that for a second, the AL MVP favourite was acquired in 2006 for CASH. Obviously Hamilton was considered toxic because of his drug and alcohol addiction, but the 100,000 cash that Cincinnati spent on the former number one pick was a drop of water in a baseball team’s operations budget. Hamilton deserves a world of credit for salvaging his career, and obviously most teams were scared off by his demons, but given their financial restraints, the Jays need to be taking chances on talented players whose star has been tainted for some reason. Thus, the Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they had taken a chance on Josh Hamilton when they could have had him.

The Jays also need to be on the cutting edge of sabermetrics, using them to learn things that don’t seem obvious to the naked eye. For instance, to most observers, Adrian Beltre was a complete bust during his time with Mariners. Coming off an MVP caliber year in 2004 Beltre signed a five year 64 million contract with Seattle. During his five years with the M’s, Beltre never came near the 48 home runs he had in 2004. He never hit above .280, or drove in a 100 runs. Sure he played great defense, but come on, do chicks dig the diving pick and cannon thrown, or do chicks dig the long ball? So, Beltre was a giant disappointment.

Only, Fangraphs‘ player value page estimated that over those five years, Beltre was worth 68 million dollars. So, while he wasn’t a blinding success, he was still a very valuable player who justified his contract. Thus, the Red Sox (a very sabermetrically minded organization) gave Beltre a one year 10 million deal last offseason. Beltre rewarded them with a massive year, valued at 28.3 million. This is the kind of player that the Jays need to be identifying. Guys who the market has devalued for some reason, but who the numbers show are better than their reputation. The Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they had signed Beltre to a 12 million one year deal last winter.

Now, even when you assemble all this talent, it’s important that the guys perform to their abilities. It’s even more important that if they’re going to have “career years,” they all – or mostly all – have them in the same year. So, Jose Bautista had what could reasonably be dubbed a career year this season, but the Jays never really sniffed the playoffs, because two of their best players from last year fell off the face of the earth. Look at the lines of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind from last year to this year:

A. Hill
Last Year – .286 (Avg), .330 (OBP), .499 (SLG), 36 (HR), 3.9 (WAR)
This Year – .205, .271, .394, 26, 1.1

A. Lind
Last Year – .305, .370, .562, 35, 3.5
This Year – .237, .287, .425, 23, -0.2

So, Bautista’s phenomenal season was undermined by the sh*t seasons of Lind and Hill. For the Jays to make a playoff run, they need their guys to have great seasons at the same time. Thus, the Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… their players perform to their abilities.

Finally, it should go without saying, that if the Jays had assmebled this squad together, there’s no reason for Roy Halladay to consider leaving town and covnersely, there’s no chance that the Jays would have traded the Doctor. Thus, the Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they still had Doc.

All told, those moves roughly give them a roster this year that looks like this:

C – J. Buck (r), J. Molina
1B – J. Bautista (r), L. Overbay (l)
2B – A. Hill (r)
SS – T. Tulowitzki (r), J. McDonald (r)
3B – A. Beltre (r), E. Encarnacion (r)
RF – T. Snider (l)
CF – B. Gardner (l)
LF – J. Hamilton (l),
DH – A. Lind (l)

SP – R. Halladay (rh)
SP – T. Lincecum (lh)
SP – S. Marcum (rh)
SP – B. Cecil (lh)
SP – B. Morrow (rh)

CL – K. Gregg (rh)
RP – S. Camp (rh)
RP – S. Downs (lh)
RP – C. Jansen (rh)
RP – J. Fraser (rh)
RP – D. Purcey (lh)
RP – B. Tallet (lh)

That is a playoff team. A solid lineup with a blend of right handers and lefthanders. Guys who milk at bats and guys, guys who get on base and guys who mash the ball. Two dominant pitchers at the top of the rotation, followed by depth and guys who throw hard. As I said, a playoff team. All of those moves were within the realm of possibility, they could have been made by Toronto. Of course, doing so would make them the best run organisation in baseball. Which I guess brings me back to my colleague’s original question about what it would take for the Jays to be in the playoffs right now. Simply put, the Jays would be in the playoffs right now IF… they were the best run organization in baseball. They aren’t, which is why instead of cheering on the Jays, I’m watching the Rays play the Rangers right now…

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  1. Baldy
    October 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    You’re not a sadist, you’re a masochist. Anyone who (like me) cheers for the Jays enjoys inflicting pain on themselves. Great analysis by the way – you should ditch teaching and take up sports management!

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