Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Does the Future Hold For Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston?


On the field, the Toronto Blue Jays are still very much in the thick of things this season. But in recent days, the focus has shifted towards what may lie ahead for the club from a front office perspective; most notably for the two biggest figureheads, Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston.

Steve Simmons reported (and not surprisingly so) that Alex Anthopoulos will return as the Blue Jays General Manager for the 2015 season. Although this has not been confirmed by the front office as of yet, one has to think AA is safe regardless of how the season ends.

Paul Beeston however, is a different story. One wouldn't assume his job was on the line, but Shi Davidi's latest indicates his position could potentially be in jeopardy next season.

With a dwindling inner circle and many of his cohorts retiring, perhaps Beeston's time with the Blue Jays is soon coming to an end.

Although Anthopoulos is relatively young when it comes to executives in baseball, 2014 is his fifth full season at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays. That would seem like sufficient time to put together a contending team, especially now with the advent of the second Wild Card team in the playoffs.

AA has undeniably been very active in attempting to do what his predecessor couldn't do, but as the years pass, I'm beginning to notice that the J.P. Ricciardi era is beginning to look eerily similar to the Alex Anthopoulos era.

Both GM's have employed some Moneyball tactics, and both had that one big push from ownership and saw a significant increase in payroll during their tenures.

While it appears the two are invariably tied together, I could picture this team without Paul Beeston as the President of the club next year. Conversely, I'm not sure I could picture this team without Alex Anthopoulos as the General Manager.

That's not to say Anthopoulos is devoid of any blame or responsibility here, but if there had to be one "fall guy" at the end of this season between the president, the general manager and the manager, my vote would be for the president.

I'm not certain whether there's some sort of list somewhere about who takes care of what, but it seems like Alex would be the one to take care of the baseball operations and the day-to-day transactions of the club. Paul on the other hand, seems more like the conduit to ownership.

Any time a General Manager is shown the door, it often times signals a rebuild. Although the position of President is technically higher, a new President wouldn't necessarily set off a complete dismantling and restructuring of the Blue Jays.

Frankly, it wouldn't make sense to pull the plug on AA while most of the key players are still under contract for the next two seasons. Unless an impromptu fire sale is ordered, Alex Anthopoulos should stick around until the end of next season at the very least. 

Although Anthopoulos was fairly inactive during the offseason and at the trade deadline, I don't believe it was entirely his fault. I've long suspected that AA's hands have been tied with budgetary constraints, whether it came from Beeston or ownership.

So in that respect, regarding the elements Alex has been able to control the past five seasons, I'd say he's done a pretty amicable job. Drafting, development, trades and free agent signings have overall been fairly successful.

It has been Alex's job to assemble a winning team, and for the most part he has done that the past two years. It just so happens that due to a number of mitigating factors, the Blue Jays haven't lived up to the lofty expectations.

If we're looking at the Toronto Blue Jays strictly from a business standpoint, the current regime under Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos has been quite successful.

Attendance is up, TV numbers are up, merchandise sales must certainly be on the rise, and it's safe to say the appetite for Blue Jays baseball is higher than it's been since the early 1990's.

But the Blue Jays as a business is only one aspect of how the team can be successful. The public perception of a successful team is one that's a perennial contender, something the Blue Jays have not been for a very long time.

Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston's time with the organization will both eventually come to an end, but the million dollar question is whether they will stay on beyond the 2014 season and possibly even 2015.

I think it's only fair to give these guys one more crack at ending the Blue Jays' 20 year (going on 21) playoff drought. Pulling the parachute now after all this work would be counterproductive, and just put the team back at the precipice of another rebuild.

If this team really was built to contend for the next "three to five years" as Paul Beeston has stated in the past, it only makes sense to see it through until year five. But with that, again ... this is sounding eerily similar to J.P. Ricciardi's "five year plan".

And we all know how that ended.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Flashback Friday: The Edwin Encarnacion/Scott Rolen Trade


Looking back, it's incredible to think about the circumstances in which two of the most prolific hitters in Blue Jays history came to Toronto. Jose Bautista's story is a tale in itself, but this time it's Edwin Encarnacion's turn.

This week's Flashback Friday focuses on the trade from 2009 that send Scott Rolen to the Cincinnati Reds for none other than Edwin Encarnacion among others.

Heading into the 2009 trade deadline, the Blue Jays were 49-54 and a full 13 games back of the division-leading New York Yankees. Although Toronto started off the season strong, close to the end of July, the essentially waved the white flag.

In 2009, the Blue Jays traded several of their cornerstone franchise players; Alex Rios, Roy Halladay, and on July 31st, their third baseman, Scott Rolen. During the 2007 offseason, he requested a trade out of St. Louis and Toronto provided him a safe haven.

His 2008 season with the Blue Jays was met with mixed results, but Rolen proceeded to put up incredible numbers the following year; Scott Rolen owned a slash line of .320/.370/.476. And with another year on his contract, Rolen suddenly looked very good to prospective teams in the playoff race.

So as the Blue Jays began to come with grips that 2009 would not be their year to content, they began to listen on offers on their best players, one of the main ones being Scott Rolen. It was also revealed that he approached management and requested a trade to be closer to home in Indiana.

Considering how well Rolen was playing and that he essentially forced J.P. Ricciardi's hand, I'd say the Blue Jays got a pretty decent haul in return.

And while some were left sobbing playing "Viva La Vida" on repeat for hours on end, Scott Rolen's departure would open up an opportunity for one of the players on their way coming back to Toronto.

The full trade was Scott Rolen for third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and pitchers Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart. The Blue Jays also kicked in another $4 million dollars for the Reds, which was essentially the remainder of Rolen's 2009 salary.

The trade was somewhat curious by the Reds because they were in a similar position in the standings as the Blue Jays; fourth place in the NL Central and 10 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the division lead.

At the time, Edwin Encarnacion was a maligned third baseman, but pitching prospects Zach Stewart and Josh Roenicke were viewed as the real steals of the trade from the Reds.

Stewart was projected to be a starter while Josh Roenicke was looked upon as a potential late relief arm or closer of the future. Edwin Encarnacion was the forgotten man in the deal.

For the Reds, the acquisition of Scott Rolen was a clear upgrade at third base for them both offensively and defensively. Encarnacion struggled mightily at the hot corner that season with 73 errors in his first full four seasons in Cincinnati.

The Reds had signed Edwin to a two-year/$7.6 million dollar contract to buy out his first two years of arbitration, and after the results of his 2008 and 2009 campaign, they were more than happy to dump the remainder of the contract on the Blue Jays.

Because Edwin Encarnacion hit 26 home runs during his 2008 campaign, I think the Reds (and to some extent the Blue Jays as well) overlooked his defensive shortcomings for his potential to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

Encarnacion projected to be a power bat by posting 15 or more home runs from 2006-2008, but he was clearly a liability at third base; perhaps that's the main reason the Reds opted to go with the slick-fielding Rolen at third base.

In retrospect, the trade was a clear win for the Blue Jays as Edwin Encarnacion eventually developed into one of the best power hitters in all of baseball, but that was before he was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays following the 2010 season.

The Oakland A's acquired Encarnacion shortly thereafter, but they also jettisoned him and the Blue Jays wisely brought him back on a one-year deal with an option.

The Reds also made out fairly well in the trade, considering the following year, Cincinnati captured the NL Central title. But even then, the trade was viewed as a win for the Reds because they still had the best player in the deal: Scott Rolen.

Josh Roenicke was immediately put into middle relief with the Blue Jays and it was met with mixed results the following season as well. He was eventually let go by Toronto, but enjoyed some brief success with the Colorado Rockies.

Zach Stewart was touted as a blue chip prospect, and in 2009 he rocketed through the ranks by starting the season in Single A and eventually finishing his campaign in Triple A with the Las Vegas 51's.

Stewart was called up to the Blue Jays in 2010 but struggled at the Major League level. At the 2010 deadline, he was involved in the three team trade which saw him shipped to the Chicago White Sox and Colby Rasmus came to the Blue Jays.

Judging by how dominant Edwin Encarnacion has been these past few years, you'd think he was the type of player that was drafted and developed to be born into a star like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. But Edwin's path to stardom was not a linear path.

Encarnacion was essentially a throw-in player of the Scott Rolen trade and a salary dump by the Cincinnati Reds. And after a couple of chances with the Blue Jays, he's become one of their most feared hitters in recent memory.

Not too bad for a guy who was cast aside by not one, not two, but three organizations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Starting Rotation of Question Marks


With many of their key hitters on the disabled list, it's no surprise that the Toronto Blue Jays have struggled to score runs since the All-Star break. But one aspect of the team that has been surprisingly consistent is the starting rotation.

Going into Opening Day, the starting five was not without its warts. Back in January, I even went as far as to say the rotation was in pretty rough shape. And after failing to improve the rotation at all in the offseason, things looked pretty grim for 2014.

However, due to a number of factors, the rotation remained relatively consistent during the first few months of the season. Currently the Blue Jays starting staff owns the ninth best ERA in the American League at a respectable 3.99.

Many teams have the luxury of an ace to anchor their starting rotation, but the Blue Jays don't really have a "stopper" in their arsenal the likes of Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw or even Adam Wainwright.

Again, I say an "ace" is a luxury because while it's great to have somebody like that in your starting rotation, they only pitch once every five days. The other four guys still have to take the ball those games in between.

And in order for any team to have a shot at the postseason, the entire starting rotation needs to be well-rounded. One thing I will say the Blue Jays rotation has is they have a good mixture of different types of starting pitchers.

Now it may be the long and grueling 162 game schedule and now the dog days of summer have finally arrived, but the Blue Jays' starting rotation has been scuffling. Save for Marcus Stroman and possibly even J.A. Happ and R.A. Dickey, Toronto's overall starting pitching has been on a steady decline.

A quick look at the comparables from the first two months of the season up against the June/July/August numbers paint a picture of an overall starting rotation that is trending downwards.

PitcherApr-May ERAJune-Aug ERAApr-May AVGJune-Aug AVG
R.A. Dickey4.33.720.2390.242
Mark Buehrle2.334.260.2590.315
Drew Hutchison3.885.250.2450.261
J.A. Happ4.14.250.2650.264
Marcus StromanN/A2.68N/A0.214

R.A. Dickey continues to be the enigma that he's been the past season and a half in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. The knuckleball itself tends to be an inconsistent pitch, which in turn has made Dickey an inconsistent pitcher.

He may have been acquired at an ace-like price tag, but R.A. Dickey is settling more into the third or fourth starter's role on this ball club.

For whatever reason, the seventh inning has been a huge hurdle for Dickey this season. His ERA skyrockets to 10.80 in the seventh inning and beyond, which has likely created an itchy trigger finger for John Gibbons once R.A. gets late into a game.

Mark Buehrle was the quoted "ace" of the Blue Jays staff the first half of the season, and to his credit he was one of the best starting pitchers in the league heading into the All-Star break. Most thought Buehrle was on the decline, and since then ... he has been.

Despite a less than stellar second half, Buehrle's ERA is still remarkably 3.31, and perhaps that's because his worst outings of the season really haven't been that incredibly bad.

Mark Buehrle is notoriously a pitch-to-contact pitcher, and I wonder if the deterioration of the Blue Jays defense has had some part in that. Come season's end, Buehrle will likely still cross that 200 inning threshold and accomplish what he's always done; eat up innings.

Again, Mark Buehrle is really more of a third or fourth starter, but because he was pitching so far above his career norms in the first half, perhaps expectations were set to high for the veteran lefty.

Drew Hutchison supplanted Brandon Morrow as the hard-throwing right-hander in the Blue Jays rotation, and it seems like he's suffering from a similar ailment that plagued Morrow the past few seasons; the Jekyll/Hyde syndrome.

Brandon Morrow was guilty of having incredibly stark home and away splits, and Drew Hutchison has followed that trend this season. At times, Hutchison has matched the league's best hurlers pitch-for-pitch; at others, Drew's inexperience has been clearly evident.

Which means that every fifth day, the Blue Jays aren't really quite sure which iteration of Drew they're going to get that particular game; the good Drew or the bad Drew.

With all his upside, the potential is certainly there for Drew Hutchison to become a front of the line starter. But without any sort of consistency, one wonders whether he can be relied upon down the stretch if the Blue Jays are playing meaningful games in September.

J.A. Happ is perhaps the most curious arm here out of the entire bunch. For whatever reason, Happ has experienced a recent surge of success which could be related to the sudden increase in velocity on his fastball.

Prior to last night's start in Seattle, Happ was on a four game run in which he didn't surrender more than two earned runs in each outing. Not to mention, he struck out a career high 12 batters in his second last start.

Happ has performed a tightrope act for most of his tenure as a Blue Jay, and while the results of his starts may be unpredictable, he's a fairly suitable back-end starter that would be a welcome fit on virtually any team. You could certainly do worse than J.A. Happ.

Marcus Stroman has quickly risen through the ranks to become arguably the Blue Jays best and most consistent starting pitcher. Of the 13 starts he's made this season, Stroman has been great in all but three of them.

Moving Stroman into the starting rotation at the end of May was the best thing the Blue Jays could've done to shore up the starting five. Stroman has performed better than any trade deadline acquisition likely would have for the Blue Jays.

Although he's pitching well beyond his years, Stroman is still a rookie; which means he is also a bit of a question mark. The main concern right now is his innings cap, and despite what Alex Anthopoulos has said, the Blue Jays are likely monitoring them closely.

If the Blue Jays had to choose one starting pitcher to head to the mound for a potential tiebreaker or Wild Card playoff game, one has to think the first choice would be Marcus Stroman. But again, can you trust a rookie when your season is on the line? I would.

Pitching in a high pressure situation like that would be a baptism by fire for Marcus Stroman, but he's answered the call multiple times this season ... so what's one more?

Monday, August 11, 2014

3 Up 3 Down: 19 Innings, Jenkins and Dickey's Kiss


One of the best things about baseball is there is no time limit; on any given day, a game could be finished in less than two hours (if Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle are on the mound), or it could seemingly go on forever.

When a game takes six hours and thirty-seven minutes to play, it suddenly becomes less of a game of baseball and more of a game of who can simply survive the longest. And after 19 innings of utter craziness, the Blue Jays walked away with the victory.

19 Innings of Craziness

Source: FanGraphs

Although the game didn't feature any position players taking the mound, that game had just about everything else; two completely depleted bullpens, three starting pitchers entered the game, Marcus Stroman came in as a pinch runner, and both benches were used up.

The first nine innings of the game featured some sloppy plays from both the Blue Jays and the Tigers, but innings 10 through 19 was some of the most exhilarating baseball that's been played all season long. 

There were several stellar game-saving catches and defensive gems in the latter ten innings of the game. It actually defies logic because you'd think the sloppy plays would take much later in the game ... not early on.

Not to mention, kudos to not only anyone who stuck through the entire 19 innings and 6 hours of baseball, but also to the folks who stuck around at the ballpark for the equivalent of two consecutive games in one day.

And considering that beer sales were cut off by the seventh inning, that meant the last 11 innings of the game were alcohol-free in the stands. So whichever fans were left after six hours and thirty-seven minutes of baseball probably left very, very thirsty.

Chad Jenkins Pitches Like a Boss

Of all the players to suit up for the Toronto Blue Jays this season, Chad Jenkins has unfortunately been the one who has racked up the most miles traveling to and from Triple A Buffalo.

I think it's fair to say the front office has kind of jerked Jenkins around a bit this season, and at times the rationale for his demotions to the minor leagues have been worthy of a few head-scratches.

However, yesterday's six innings of shutout relief may have finally solidified his position in the Blue Jays bullpen. First of all, the optics of sending down a guy who just pitched his tail off and saved the game would qualify as a cruel, cruel punishment.

Just consider this for a moment; hat tip to @James_In_TO and Brendan Kennedy for pointing out that if we're going by WPA (win probability added) in a single game, Jenkins pitched the equivalent of a complete game shutout.

Also, considering that many of the Blue Jays young arms approaching innings caps, Chad Jenkins could always fill in as a member of the starting rotation and even pick up the odd spot start or two in the coming weeks.

I'm So Happy, Jose ... I Could Kiss You Right Now

Not much to say here, but this might be the very best screencap of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season thus far. Here's the GIF of said embrace for your viewing pleasure, as well.

I'm not sure if R.A. Dickey was grateful to Jose Bautista because he secured the game-winning hit, or because that meant Dickey didn't have to pitch the 20th.

And again, after 19 innings of baseball ... I'm sure most fans would duplicate R.A. Dickey's gesture of appreciation if given the chance.

Image courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Sport
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