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No Fielder for Jays…

January 25, 2012 1 comment

All offseason, Jays fans have practically been charging up to Rogers Center with pitchforks, clamouring that the team and general manager Alex Anthopoulos should be opening Roger’s wallet and laying down some serious coin for the likes of Prince Fielder (and to a lesser extent Yu Darvish). They’ve taken to message boards, they’ve clogged talk radio with calls, and they’ve even started an online petition demanding that the Jays start spending money or lose what few fans they still have. It’s seemed silly and asinine to me all offseason, and in light of yesterday’s news that super agent Scott Boras had procured his rotund client, Fielder, a 214 million, 9 year contract, it seems particularly obtuse.

Do the Jays need a player at first base who can actually, you know, hit? Absolutely, of course they do, but Fielder was not the options. In signing the offspring of Cecil, the Jays would have paid 214 million for a player who can’t field, can’t run, and may well eat Jose Bautista. Fielder is a phenomenal hitter; he is a 5 win player at his best and that’s all bat, but he has three or four more years in his prime and then he’s going to begin a decline. You want to be paying a 35 year old Prince Fielder, with his body type, 25 million a year?

I think any sane person, or at least any person who isn’t a fan of the Tigers, would prety resoundingly say, no!

And before the proprietors of that lovely Jays-Fielder site try to argue that the Jays should have locked up the burly first baseman earlier in the offseason when the price was lower, uhmmm… no, no, no. That’s not how Boras operates. While fans may revile him, Scott Boras is the best at what he does and it’s not even particularly close. If you are a player and you want to maximize your earning potential, you sign with Boras. And in the year of your free agency, he releases a Dostoevskyian brochure that lists your accolades and makes the case that you’re Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, and Marie Currie all rolled up into one. He then waits, and waits, and waits.

He waits until every other prominent player at your position has signed. Then he waits a little more. He waits until the season is almost upon us, and teams are looking at their roster, and the roster’s of their opponents, and thinking, damn I might be missing… then he starts to pit one team against another, and he always, always talks about that mystery team. After Pujols took the Angels’ money, much was made of how Boras wouldn’t be able to get Fielder a big contract. The big money/market teams were out: the Yankees had Teixeira, the Red Sox Gonzalez, the Angels Pujols, the Dodgers and Mets are in financial disarray, the Cubs and White Sox are rebuilding. There was Texas, but they jumped in on Darvish. So, who was left? The Nationals? The Orioles? Maybe the Mariners? Or, maybe, a 214 million, 9 year deal with the Tigers.

Bam.

Done.

That’s why you hire Scott Boras, and that’s -whatever you might want to think about him because he’s the agent of your team’s best player – why he’s the best.

So, it would be stupid for Jays fans to be upset that Anthopoulos didn’t sign Fielder. He’s a lousy fielder who will probably be a DH in the next four years. And, while I love making snarky comments about his size, because of that size, he’s also a strong candidate to age quickly. Nine years, a lot can change in nine years. The history of 7+ year contracts is not good. Go to Cots’ MLB contracts, look at the highest total contracts, look at the names, think about how those deals ended up. Think about how the Yankees felt about Giambi near the end, or how the Cubs feel about Soriano, or how the Rockies felt about Mike Hampton, or about – as great as Johan Santana was – whether the Mets still want to pay him 60 million dollars. Go to that site and look at three of the 100 million contracts handed out last year and ask yourself how quickly opinions about Joe Mauer, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth changed. You think Prince Fielder is good? He’s not even one of the three best first basemen in baseball. Joe Mauer was one of the three best players in baseball. Now? Who knows.

So yes Jays fans, Alex Anthopoulos didn’t make a big push for Fielder, but that doesn’t mean that Jays’ management aren’t serious about winning. It might just mean that they’re a little smarter about it than the you.

Yu Never Know…

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Baseball’s big Christmas announcement is supposed to come this afternoon; finally, after what feels like a decade of waiting (it’s actually close to that, time in the twitter age is measured differently, like dog years…), Nippon Ham Sandwiches are going to announce who posted the high bid for the latest Japanese pitching sensation, Yu Darvish.

Late last week, word spread – I want to say like wildfire, but the internet’s more like wildfire mixed with napalm – that the Jays had posted the high bid for Darvish, which would make him my fourth favourite Japanese import after: sushi, everything David Chang learned about Ramen, and Mr Miyagi.  It also, frankly, makes me a little squeamish, as the history of Japanese pitchers (Nomo, Irabu, Dice-K) isn’t exactly the Kobe beef of baseball.

But, the interweb being what it is, over the weekend the tide started slowly ebbing away from the Jays.  Rumors, innuendo, and whispers of executives assistant’s dog walkers have permeated the national consciousness and made conclusive evidence as eavasive as a puddle in the desert.

What we are left with, are tweets like the following ones from Buster Olney:

Something else being seen as possible clue that TEX is winning bidder (again, this is speculation): TOR stayed in Latos conversation late.

And then this re-tweet:

@Buster_ESPN saw bobby v at his restaurant on Saturday. He said its not toronto. Gm told him they weren’t big bid. Also thinks tex.

Retweeted by Buster Olney

Now, I’m not picking on Olney, he’s a legend in the field and does tireless work compiling information for baseball lovers.  It’s just that his tweets came in this morning and were so emblamatic of how rediculous (and awesome) awaiting breaking news on Twitter can be.

Starting with the first tweet, the idea that Toronto staying in the Latos conversation is a sign of anything is patently absurd. Do you what it’s a sign of?  That Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos loves acquiring high upside players who still have service time remaining.  Latos is four years away from free agency, which makes him a perfect addition for a team on the cusp of making a three or four year run of contention.  There’s no real reason that should be affected by placing a bid on Darvish.

And then there’s the second quote: now, I have no idea who @howrhee, so I have no reason to doubt his honesty, but… There has been no leak about which team placed the winning bid. None. So, howrhee is telling us that the Boston GM Ben Cherington knows who won the bid and has told his skipper? Seems plausible that a GM would tell his skipper, except that if Cherington knows, then other people within the Boston franchise know (Larry Lucchino and Tom Henry at the very least) and, well, this isn’t an organization with a recent track record of keeping secrets.

Or maybe it’s not that Cherington knows who the high bid was, but merely that the Jays didn’t bid that much? And how would he know that?  AA’s reign as Jays GM has sort of been the antithesis of Boston’s peach schnapps induced blabfest.  Nobody knows what AA’s doing until it’s done.  But @howrhee’s tweet would have us believe that the Jays’ GM is telling secrets out of bed to one of his division rivals?  Hhmmm…

Besides, if the Sox brass know, then other teams know and with any secret, the more ears that hear, the mouths that wag.  Which again, isn’t suggesting that it’s Toronto, not Texas, just that, perhaps, as Jim Bowden tweeted,

Blue Jays GM, Rangers GM, Agent for Darvish have all told me that NO ONE KNOWS except Commish Office, Japaneese League & Nippon who won bid.

As hard as it seems to believe in this day and age, we have to accept that we just simply don’t know.  And, frankly, I don’t know why that’s such a surprise, I mean MLB’s commissioner’s office is awesome at keeping secrets, well, unless they’re about dubious failed drug tests…

The Wild, Wild, Wild Card…

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

This is it, mark this day on your calendar… May 21st 2011.  The end of days, the day that everything we’ve known that is good and pure will come to an end.  The beginning of the end for all… The last day that the Boston Red Sox will not be the atop the American League East.  Ok, ok, I jest; surely it’s possible that the Rays defeat their Florida neighbors to hold off the Sox for another day and I guess it’s somewhat (albeit far less) plausible that the Cubs actually defeat the Sox, but you don’t need to scour the bible and use complicated mathematics to see that the Sox are finally performing as we thought they would and that the AL East is theirs for the taking.

As for the Jays, for a season in which they’ve lost Bautista for 8 games, Lind for 12,  Hill for 17, Jayson Nix for 20(ish), and in which Halladay has yet to pitch for them (what? Some people think the moon landing was staged, I can’t conveniently forget that Doc was traded?), you have to be happy to see them sitting only 2.5 out.  As I said above, I think the Sox are about to grab the East crown from the Rays’ head and run away with it.  Like a big brother bullying his little sister, I expect that the Sox are going to run farther, faster, leaving everyone else in the division standing in the mud crying for Mom.  What the Jays can hold out hope for, is that the Wild Card looks to be exceptionally winnable this year.

Here are the Wild Card standings through last night’s games:

American League
AMERICAN W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA DIFF STRK L10
Boston 24 20 .545 15-9 9-11 201 194 +7 Won 7 8-2
NY Yankees 23 20 .535 .5 13-12 10-8 219 179 +40 Lost 1 3-7
Detroit 22 22 .500 2 11-8 11-14 193 192 +1 Lost 4 6-4
Kansas City 22 22 .500 2 17-11 5-11 200 206 -6 Won 2 4-6
LA Angels 23 23 .500 2 10-10 13-13 181 177 +4 Won 1 3-7
Toronto 22 22 .500 2 10-10 12-12 199 189 +10 Lost 1 7-3
Oakland 22 23 .489 2.5 11-12 11-11 165 157 +8 Lost 3 4-6
Seattle 20 24 .455 4 11-12 9-12 153 171 -18 Won 3 4-6
Baltimore 19 24 .442 4.5 10-14 9-10 171 218 -47 Lost 4 5-5
Chicago Sox 20 26 .435 5 8-13 12-13 177 197 -20 Lost 1 6-4
Minnesota 15 28 .349 8.5 4-11 11-17 145 227 -82 Lost 1 3-7

Every team in the American League, save the surprisingly atrocious Twins, is within five games of the playoffs.  That’s remarkable.  Last year for instance, only three teams on May 21st were within five games of the Wild Card leading Yankees.  In the last decade, only 2004 and 2008 had anywhere near as many hopeful teams on this date.  In 2004 the White Sox, Yankees, Twins and Rangers were all tied for the Wild Card lead, with Oakland, Detroit and Baltimore all within four games.  Of course, by season’s end, the Yanks and Twins had won their divisions, the Red Sox had won 98 games to take the Wild Card in a walk and the A’s (7 games back) Rangers (9), White Sox (15), Orioles (20), and Tigers (26) were all left wanting.

2008 was less dramatic, the Rays led Baltimore by a game and a half, Oakland by 2.5, the Twins by 3.5 and Minnesota, Texas, the Jays, and Cleveland by 4.5.  By season’s end, the Rays had pulled off the decade’s most shocking upset, the Sox were again the Wild Card, and the fast starting Orioles were once again more than 20 games out (26).

Of course, the difference between those years and this year?  Well, in 2004 the Red Sox and Yankees were absolute, no doubt about it, great teams.  In 2008 the same could be said for the defending champion Sox and – even if we didn’t know it at the time – the Rays.  This year?  Who’s great this year?  If we look at those Wild Card standings and replace the Sox with the Rays, then tell me who is going to run away with the Wild Card?

I don’t expect there to be nine teams within five games of the WC by year’s end: The Royals’ bubble is about to burst; the Orioles are better, but not that much better; the Mariners intrigue me because they can defend and in King Felix, Michael Pineda and Erik Bedard (if he’s healthy) they have the arms, but… come on?  They’ve hit Adam Kennedy cleanup three times this year (and Miguel Olivio cleanup 17 times… I can’t decide which is worse); all of which leaves the Rays, Yanks, Tigers, Angels, A’s and White Sox.  Are any of those teams capable of winning 65% of their games the rest of the way to approach 95 plus wins?  I don’t think so.

As we all saw last weekend, the Yanks have started their long, slow decline and it’s not going to be pretty.  The names that made them great: Jeter, ARod, and Posada are showing the signs of age (the exception of course is Rivera, but we can’t predict exactly how he’ll age, aliens might have longer lifespans than humans).  If you thought the Posada debacle was ugly, just wait until Jeter’s On Base Percentage is still mired around .313 in July… Plus, it’s hard to see the Yanks as a juggernaut when their starting rotation is: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia.  Baseball’s a funny game, but if those five pitchers are the backbone of a 95 win team, then Arnold Schwarzenegger’s an upstanding gentleman.

The Rays are obviously very well managed (both on the field and in the front office) and today they would be my guess to win the Wild Card, but they do have a sketchy bullpen, Johnny Damon batting 3rd and Matt Joyce hitting about a 100 points better than anyone could reasonably expect.  They will be there at the end, but I doubt that end is the 96 games they won last year.

As for the other teams, the Angels acutally thought it was a good idea to pickup all of Vernon Wells’ contract and he’s rewarding them with a .527 OPS (Nobody predicted that one… cough-sarcasm-cough).  The Tigers are being hauled to .500 by the shear greatness of Justin Verlander, but they look very much like a 85-87 win team (which might ultimately win the AL Central, sorry Tribe fans).  The White Sox are hard to predict, because Kenny Williams is so proactive that you never know when he’ll pull off a deal for Hanley Ramirez, but the problem with parity is that nobody’s selling off assets if they think that they can contend.  And the A’s, well the A’s are like a glorified version of the Mariners.  They have better arms, which is what keeps them in the conversation, but Josh Willingham is their cleanup hitter.  I think National fans can tell you how that works out.

All of which brings me back to the Jays.  Right now, it looks as though 90 wins might actually take the Wild Card, are the Jays capable of winning 90?  Well, no probably not.  To get to 90, they would have to win 68 of their remaining 118 games, or 57%.  Since they are exactly .500 today, that’s a tall order, but then if Lind were to get healthy, Hill start hitting the ball over the fence, Brett Lawrie come up from AAA and perform like the young star he is, well… Like I said, baseball’s a funny game.  I don’t think the Jays are truly in contention, but I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if in the middle of July they were only 3.5 out, and at that point, well at that point it only takes one really good run; one stretch of games where every bloop hit finds a hole, where every line drive off the opposing team’s bat hits leather, where every hitter starts to feel good and every pitcher’s locked into the zone.  A stretch of games where you rattle off 15 wins in 17 games, or 17 wins in 23, or something that propels you from booking exotic holidays in October to playing meaningful September ball.  It’s possible.  It might be almost as surprising as the World ending today, but it’s possible.

Jays Trying to Fly Higher Than the Sun(s)…

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m going to make a strange comparison.  This weekend, while watching the Jays take two of three from the Twins, I could not help but marvel over how much I like their team this year.  They’re young, which I always like in a baseball team.  They have solid arms in the rotation – in the opening three games, their starters went 18.1 innings, with 17 Ks and only 5 earned runs – and play good enough defense (well, except at third…). And they can hit the ball… far.

Jose Bautista has looked good thus far, as has Arencibia behind the plate and Snider in left.  If you think that Adam Lind and Aaron Hill can rebound to something near their 2009 numbers, then there is little reason to think that the team cannot be solid.  Contenders though?  No, no I don’t think so. They are just missing something.  As I watched on Sunday, what I was struck by, isn’t their lack of talent, but rather their lack of blue chip talent.  That upper level talent that propels a team from good to great.  It’s the sort of talent that Mike Lombardi ranks in his NFL coverage. Guys who are in the upper echelon at their position. The Jays have all the pieces to be good, but they lack those blue-chippers to make them great.

This reminded me of the Suns.  As their season imploded after that triple overtime loss to the Lakers a couple Tuesdays ago, I was struck by the same thing: the Suns are a really good team. In Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic (until that idiotic trade that cost the Suns a first round pick this year), Mikael Pietrus, and Robin Lopez (since Gortat always played starters minutes anyhow), the Suns have one of the leagues best benches.  In Grant Hill and Steve Nash, they have two veteran warriors, whose games so perfectly translate to wins, and in Marcin Gortat they have that rarest or rare NBA entities: a center.

What the Suns don’t have, is any blue chip talent.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Nash is amazing, but there are two things to consider with him: first, he is 37 years old, which in athlete years makes him ready to start collecting his pension and in NBA point guard years makes him ready to be dug up, dusted off and immortalized in an exhibit somewhere.  This isn’t a knock on Nash, rather a commentary on how remarkable it is what he’s accomplished this year.  No other point guard has been as good this late in their career, not even John Stockton, but that said, Nash IS 37 years old and thus asking him to be your team’s best player is asking your team to be .500.

Second, is that Nash should never be a team’s primary offensive option anyhow.  He’s not that style of point guard.  His game works better if he’s feeding a primary scorer, finding other options, and then hitting open jumpers when the ball comes back to him.  Obviously that’s what made him and Amare so successful.  And there’s the piece that is missing: Amare Stoudemire.  Last year when the Suns made their surprising run to the Western Conference Finals, they had Amare as their leading scorer, while Nash was a distant second and Jason Richardson a close third.  Thus, no matter how good the Suns are from players 3-12 on their roster, they lack that blue chip punch at the top.

I’m not even saying it needs to be Amare and Richardson, imagine how different this season would be if you swapped out the 17.3 million the Suns are paying Vince Carter for the 17.2 the Mavericks are paying Dirk Nowitzki?  What then if you replaced the money they are spending on Josh Childress (6.5m) and Hakim Warrick (4 m) with the money San Antonio’s paying Manu Ginobili? *  Those are two no doubt about it blue-chippers who would fit in with the club and their style of play.  Sure, suddenly the Suns would be starting four white guys, which is frightening, but adding those two pushes Frye to the bench where he belongs and removes three deadweights (Vince, Warrick, and  Childress) from the roster. The Suns would have a rotation of:

C – M. Gortat
PF – D. Nowitzki
SF – G. Hill
SG – M. Ginobili
PG – S. Nash

 

Bench: G. Dragic, J. Dudley, M. Pietrus, C. Frye, and R. Lopez.

That’s what blue chip talent does for you, it allows your good players to show their stuff in the roles they were meant to play.

*( Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting these as trades, obviously Dallas and San Antonio wouldn’t make these deals even if they were drugged… I’m suggesting them as an example of squandered value and how better resources at the same price would make the Suns dramatically better.  Obvious, I know, but that’s sort of what we’re about here at Sports on the Brain…).

The blue chip idea is stronger in basketball than any other sport.  We all know that basically if you don’t have one of the seven or eight best players in the league (LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Howard, Dirk, Durant, probably Rose, possibly Carmelo, Paul before his knee went), then all the bright moves in the world, will still leave you the Houston Rockets.  Yet, while not as dramatic, the same still applies to baseball.

Yes, the Giants won last year’s title with Tim Lincecum as their only clear blue chip talent, but Matt Cain is borderline and Buster Posey is in the process of establishing himself in the club. Plus, if you look back at the last decade’s worth of winners, you will see a preponderance of big names:

WS Champ Season Blue Chip Hitters Blue Chip Pitchers
New York Yankees 2009 A. Rodriguez, M. Teixeira, D. Jeter C. Sabathia, M. Rivera
Philadelphia Phillies 2008 C. Utley, J. Rollins, R. Howard C. Hamels
Boston Red Sox 2007 D. Pedroia, M. Ramirez, D. Ortiz J. Beckett, J. Papelbon
St. Louis Cardinals 2006 A. PUJOLS, S. Rolen C. Carpenter
Chicago White Sox 2005 P. Konerko (?) M. Buerhle
Boston Red Sox 2004 M. Ramirez, D. Ortiz C. Schilling, P. Martinez
Florida Marlins 2003 D. Lee, M. Lowell J. Beckett
Anaheim Angels 2002 D. Eckstein I’m kidding…
Arizona Diamondbacks 2001 L. Gonzalez R. Johnson, C. Schilling
New York Yankees 2000 Jeter, B. Williams R. Clemens, Rivera

The baseball playoffs are a funny endeavor, unlike the NBA, any team can get hot and win once they are in the dance.  You saw that last year with the Giants and you saw it in 2005, when the White Sox capitalized on the Sox and Yanks having beat the tar out of one another for two straight years.  But still, each of those World Series winning teams, save the Angels, had at least two blue chip players.  Most had three.  You can win without stars, but you have to be very, very good.  That Angels team didn’t have any blue chip talent, but they were strong enough top to bottom to win 99 games.  I’d hate to be a cliche, but they were scrappy.  They played defense, ran bases, pitched well across the board, had a great pen, had Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon on the bench…

Plus, the other seven playoff teams that year were Atlanta (Chipper, Andruw Jones, G.Sheffield), St. Louis (Pujols, J. Edmonds, M. Morris), San Francisco (B. Bonds, J. Kent, and B. Bonds’ head), Arizona (see 2001), New York (Jeter, Williams, J. Giambi, M. Mussina), Minnesota (no idea?), Oakland (M. Tejada, E. Chavez, T Hudson, B. Zito, M. Mulder).  You know what I mean?  While you can argue that you can win in the playoffs by being really good and getting on a roll, to get there, you basically need those blue chip guys.

To bring it back to the Jays, how would their chances look this year if you gave them Evan Longoria, Josh Hamilton and, oh I don’t know, lets say… Roy Halladay?

Suddenly, this is their batting order:

1) Y. Escobar (r), SS
2) T. Snider (l), LF
3) E. Longoria (r), 3B
4) J. Hamilton (l), CF
5) J. Bautista (r), RF
6) A. Lind (l), 1B
7) A. Hill (r), 2B
8) J. Rivera (r), DH
9) J. Arencibia (r), C

With J. Molina, E. Encarnacion, R. Davis, and J. Nix (or J. McDonald) making up the bench. Aaron Hill’s no longer being asked to be a middle of the order presence, Encarnacion and Davis become excellent bench pieces, Mike McCoy bolsters the Las Vegas 51s and the Jays are suddenly contenders.

Similarly, the starting staff looks far more impressive:

R. Halladay
R. Romero
B. Morrow
B. Cecil
K. Drabek

As with the Suns, this just pushes guys back into roles they should be. Romero isn’t a number one starter, he’s just not. Kyle Drabek’s a stud, but he’s also a baby, lets let him grow as the fifth starter, rather than throwing him into the fire as the number 2. And while every Jays’ fan has a soft spot for that redheaded, left handed step child, Jesse Litsch, it’s hard to see him having any meaningful success this year. Having a blue chipper at the top would mean that Litsch could be an insurance policy, rather than him being counted upon as part of the rotation.

Unfortunately, just as the Suns don’t have Dirk or Manu, the Jays don’t have Longoria or Hamilton; and, despite what I tell myself every night as I fall asleep, they don’t have Doc. So, rather than competing for a title in 2011, they are fighting to be respectable, to keep things interesting through the summer, and maybe, just maybe, to fly a little higher than the Sun(s).

162 and Oh Baby, Whoo…

April 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, because school became busy at just the wrong time, I haven’t written anything in two weeks.  Fortunately, though it’s not like in that time March Madness went from 68 to four, the Suns’ playoff chances burned up, Barry Bonds’ balls became a subject of conversation, and there was corruption in college football (Serisouly?  I’m shocked, shocked I say…).  And, it’s not like baseball finally stole its way back into our lives… What’s that?  Each of those things DID happen?  Wait, what are you saying, baseball’s back?  Really?

Thank Ghandi, bring on the Boys of Summer…

For the Jays, the season could not have gotten off to a better start.  We are on pace for 162-0 and J.P. Arenciba is on pace for 324 home runs and 162 triples… Realistically, the Jays are a work in progress.  They are a hard team to predict, as their success this season will have much to do with the progress of young arms (Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and even “Ace” Ricky Romero), young position players (Arencibia, Travis Snider, Brett Lawrie) and vets trying to rebound (Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and I guess Edwin Encarnacion).  Then there’s Jose Bautista who will spend the entire season playing to justify his contract and show people that last season was not a fluke.  To that end, last night was a gosh darn good start, but of course one Swallow Does Not a Summer Make.

Like all fans with a predilection to view their team through a half empty pint glass, I am naturally bracing for a 75 win season.  Rajai Davis has a career OBP of .329, so despite his 50 stolen bases last year, I’m hardly jumping for joy at the thought of 500 at bats from our new leadoff hitter.  We don’t have an Ace and aren’t likely to have one develop this year.  The bullpen is a little bit of a patchwork quilt, and Encarnacion is playing third… An optimist might say that IF Hill and Lind rebound to their 2009 numbers, and IF Bautista makes a reasonable approximation of his 2010 season, and IF the kids develop, and IF… of course, if IF and BUTS were candy and nuts…

What we do know is that GM Alex Anthopoulos has steered the ship with exceptional poise over the last year and a half.  Starting your GM tenure by trading the best pitcher in franchise history, can’t be easy.  However, AA made a deal that will start paying dividends this year, as Kyle Drabek steps onto the mound and Anthony Gose makes a push for the center field job.  A farm system that just 16 months ago was viewed as one of the four worst in baseball has now been restocked and was ranked 4th by both Baseball America and ESPNs Keith Law.

The Jays are taking the right path to future contention.  They are stockpiling assets, filling roster gaps with cheap, one year options, pouring money into scouting and supporting those scouts with a large draft budget.  They are taking measured steps.  It is an optimistic time to be a Jays fan, just don’t expect them to challenge the Sox for the AL East title this year.

Jose Bautista, really? Him?

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Last month, when word started to leak out that the Jays had managed to move Vernon Wells to Anaheim, I leapt in the air, fist pumping madly, as though I’d thrown the final pitch in a no-hitter.  Then, a week or two later, ESPN’s Keith Law released his organization prospect rankings and placed the Jays fourth.  That fourth place finish is all on Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos.  When he took over, tasked with the onerous responsibility of trading the best pitcher in baseball, AA inherited a system that was ranked in the bottom third of baseball (KLaw has said that prior to the Halladay trade, he would have ranked the Jays last in 2010).  In his first few months, AA moved Doc for a package that seems as though it will start paying meaningful dividends this season.  He also significantly boosted the Jays scouting operations, and made small signings (John Buck, Miguel Olivo) that paid off with extra picks in this year’s draft.  In short, what I’m saying is that AA was making me weak in the knees and I was thinking about moving to Toronto and holding up one of those signs that read “Marry Me.”

The Jays were a solid team on the field last year, which is nice, but with each of his moves, Anthopoulos has clearly had an eye and a half on the greater prize of building a sustainable organization capable of making a Rays-like ascension to the top of the AL East.  His moves have been nuanced, they’ve been thoguhtful, and they’ve had a clear purpose.  Culminating with the exceptional Wells trade, AA has yet to take a wrong step…

… Until this week that is.  I admit that it’s a tricky situation, Jose Bautista did smack 54 home runs last year.  And yes, he did finish fourth in the MVP voting and Fangraphs did estimate his value last year at 27 million, but before last year he had never had an OBP above .350.  He’d never had a slugging percentage above .420.  He’d never posted a WAR of 2.0.  He’s also 30 years old, so it’s not exactly like he’s a kid just breaking out.

Sure, much has been made about the change he made to his swing, but was the change really a 65 million dollar change?  Because right now, that’s what it amounts to.  Bautista was a fringe player, destined to bounce around once his arbitration years expired.  Instead on Thursday he put his John Hancock on the dotted line of a 13 million per year deal.  On its face, this just seems to be another contract that two years from now the Jays are going to be trying to offload on the White Sox or Angels.  It has Alex Rios written all over it and the initial blow back from pundits has not been kind.

Of course, it’s possible, that given AA’s track record, I’m wrong.  And no less than Dave Cameron is sitting counsel for Alex arguing his case,

While Bautista hit .260/.378/.617 last year, he did it while posting a .233 batting average on balls in play, the third worst mark in the Major Leagues. Now, BABIP for hitters is not like BABIP for pitchers, where the outside factors swamp the player’s ability to control whether his balls in play go for hits or not, and as an extreme fly ball hitter, we’d expect Bautista to post a lower than average BABIP. But even accounting for the fact that most of his hard hit balls went over the wall – and thus were not deemed to be “in play” – a .233 BABIP still seems really low.

Could Bautista have been unlucky last year?

Looking through history, the evidence is pretty clear that Bautista should be expected to take a big step back in home runs next year, but there’s also some evidence that improvement in his non-HR results could serve to cancel out some of the coming regression.

There’s of course more.  Cameron compares Jose to other players, some of them hopeful (Gary Sheffield), some of them not (Andruw Jones), but the point is that Cameron is arguing that despite an inevitable power outage, Bautista should more than justify this deal, even if it isn’t the way we all expect him to do so.  I hope so.  I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong and I hope that in five years I look back on my reaction to Bautista’s signing and say, “damn, I was wrong AA knocked that one out of the park.”

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