Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What to Make of the Blue Jays Claiming Justin Smoak

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It didn't take very long for the Blue Jays to make their first waiver claim of the offseason, did it?

In a somewhat surprising move, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed Justin Smoak off waivers from the Seattle Mariners yesterday. I say surprising because the roster currently has a glut of first basemen and DH's; acquiring Smoak just adds another to the heap.

It's difficult to say whether this move is just the first in a chain of events to come, but the timing of it might indicate that's the case. Is it just a waiver claim or is it part of something much larger?

All we can do is speculate, and since there's ample time to speculate during the offseason, I'll do exactly that.

Justin Smoak's career is kind of symbolic for how highly-touted prospects can break your heart. He was selected 11th overall in the 2008 draft by the Texas Rangers and at the time, Smoak was widely regarded as the prize piece in the Cliff Lee trade of 2010.

During the past four seasons, it was a slow and steady decline for Justin Smoak. If I had to liken Smoak's career path to someone from the Blue Jays, it would be J.P. Arencibia.

Both guys were given ample rope as starting position players, and both guys effectively ran themselves into the ground during their time with their respective organizations. That's some fault of the players, but also the management for continuing to parade them out there every day.

For those looking for some semblance of good news in the Blue Jays' latest acquisition, unfortunately not even Lookout Landing can provide a ringing endorsement for Smoak.
"Smoak ends his Mariner career as one of the worst first basemen in baseball over the past 25 years, relative to the massive amount of rope he was given."
In that respect, I can't really think of any positives in this claim by the Blue Jays, other than the fact that they might be trying to save some cash. Moving one of their existing first baseman and bringing in Justin Smoak would certainly accomplish that goal.

Even though Paul Beeston has remained adamant that the Blue Jays' payroll will increase in 2015, this move is indicative of a team trying to save money.

Earlier this week, Joel Sherman reported a trade involving Adam Lind could be the first big move of the offseason. It may just be a coincidence that the Blue Jays claimed Justin Smoak a day later, but there's the possibility something is in the works.

If trading Lind and making Smoak the everyday first baseman is simply a cost-cutting measure, then it works. Lind has a $7.5 million dollar club option for 2015, and Smoak has a $3.65 million dollar option. However, the Blue Jays could very well just decline the option and go to arbitration, where he's likely make less.

Of course, the quality of hitter between Lind and Smoak isn't even close. Both are less than admirable hitters against lefties, but Adam Lind has been one of the best hitters against righties the past few seasons. Smoak has been mediocre at best.

Alex Anthopoulos is notorious for picking up players off the waiver wire who are out of options, and Justin Smoak is no different. So if there was any inclination Smoak might just be minor league depth at first base, that theory goes out the window.

So at minimum, that would make Justin Smoak a bench player. Aside from his ability to hit the odd home run, I can't really think of what he brings to the Blue Jays that they don't already have in droves.

There is a remote possibility that someone in the Blue Jays organization feels they can sprinkle some of their magic pixie dust on Justin Smoak and hope he develops into the next Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion.

Be that as it may, it's hardly the kind of experiment that should take place on a team who's vying for a playoff spot in 2015.

There's also a chance moving from a pitcher-friendly park to a hitter-friendly park proves beneficial for Justin Smoak, but I can't imagine the bump would be so great that it suddenly vaults him into an everyday first baseman's job on the roster.

In a vacuum, claiming Justin Smoak doesn't really make sense. As a precursor for a potential Adam Lind trade, it makes sense, but it's not a deal that moves the needle for a team that's trying to make the playoffs.

Image courtesy of Joe Nicholson/USA Today

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who Has More Trade Value: Dickey or Buehrle?

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For the first time in a long time, the starting rotation is one area which the Toronto Blue Jays won't have to address this offseason.

With the rise of their young starters like Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and to some extent, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, the Blue Jays suddenly have an embarrassment of riches in the starting pitching department.

That could make one of the veteran members of the rotation like R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle suddenly expendable if the Blue Jays chose to do so. Coincidentally, The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported the Blue Jays will soon make Mark Buehrle available.

Cafardo speculated Buehrle might be actually be the more attractive trade chip of the two starters in any potential trades engineered by Alex Anthopoulos this offseason.

While I'm not exactly in agreement with that sentiment, it got me wondering ... who has more trade value right now: R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle?

First off, if the Blue Jays want to receive any sort of value or Mark Buehrle, they absolutely need to kick in some salary relief to get a deal done. Although he's about as sure a thing as there is in baseball, the $19 million dollar price tag makes Buehrle almost unmovable.

However, if the Blue Jays were willing to pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of say $5 to $8 million of Mark Buehrle's salary, he suddenly begins to look like a reasonable prospect for a team in need of reliable starting pitching.

Even if they have to throw in some cash to get the deal done, trading Mark Buehrle would still free up some much-needed salary relief for the Blue Jays. It could also net them a decent return; dealing away a veteran who's all but guaranteed to throw 200 innings in 2015.

And if the Blue Jays could parlay Buehrle into an upgrade at second base or the outfield, then it not only gives them wiggle room on payroll, but it would also potentially shore up a spot in the lineup.

The prospect of trading away R.A. Dickey is a little more complicated. On the surface, his $12 million dollar salary for 2015 and subsequent $12 million dollar option for 2016 seems like a fairly good deal for any potential suitors out there.

Much like Buehrle, Dickey can basically be penciled in for 30 starts and 200 plus innings when healthy. However, R.A. Dickey essentially comes as part of a package deal with Josh Thole.

Not that Thole is the only knuckleball catcher in all of baseball, but it would behoove any potential suitors to get Thole as a throw-in when they trade for Dickey.

Having Josh Thole play once every five days and take up a coveted bench spot may not be a beneficial proposition for those teams, though. Unless those teams can find another knuckleball receiver, they'd be stuck with Josh Thole as well.

It's odd to think that a 35 or 38-year old veteran pitcher may still have some upside, but if either of them do, it's R.A. Dickey. Although he came to Toronto following a Cy Young Award season, he's been a bit underrated during his tenure in Toronto.

Admittedly, the initial expectations for R.A. Dickey were high when he arrived during the whirlwind 2012 offseason, but for the most part, Dickey has stabilized and returned to his career norms.

Also, strictly from a financial standpoint, R.A. Dickey's contract is much more palatable than Mark Buehrle's. But factor in his $1 million dollar buyout for 2016 and Josh Thole's contract, and another team could be on the hook for close to $15 million for Dickey's services.

Considering how relatively unproven the Blue Jays' young starting pitchers are, it's somewhat of a scary thought to let a starter as stable as Mark Buehrle or R.A. Dickey go and expect another arm to pick up those 200 innings.

However, if Anthopoulos' hands are tied related to payroll once again and the Blue Jays either need that cash to sign prospective free agents or need to trade assets to fill other positions, then dealing Dickey or Buehrle is the way to go.

Is one starter more tradable than the other? Straight up, I'd say R.A. Dickey is the better buy, but if the Blue Jays eat some of Mark Buehrle's $19 million dollar salary, then they're essentially both on par.

Images courtesy of BlueJays.com

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Blue Jays Have Increased Their 2015 Ticket Prices

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It wasn't really a question of if the Blue Jays were going to eventually hike ticket prices, it was a matter of when. So it wasn't all that surprising to learn the Toronto Blue Jays are increasing their ticket prices for 2015.

The team recently unveiled their pricing structure for their 2015 Season Tickets and Flex Packs on their website and indeed there are increases across the board (save for one section).

2015 Blue Jays Flex Pack Prices
40 Game20 Game 15 Game10 Game
200 Infield$2,400 $1,320 $922.5 $630
Field Level Infield$2,400 $1,320 $922.5 $630
200 Level Bases$1,770 $970 $682.5 $465
Field Level Bases$1,770 $970 $682.5 $465
100 Level Outfield$1,100 $645 $450 $305
200 Level Outfield$1,050 $575 $405 $275
500 Level$440 $260 $180 NA

There is no confirmation yet from the Blue Jays that single game prices are on the rise, but with season ticket and flex pack prices increasing, that invariably means single game tickets will go up as well.

By comparison, here are last year's prices for the very same Flex Packs.

2014 Blue Jays Flex Pack Prices
40 Game20 Game 15 Game10 Game
200 Infield$2,320 $1,280 $915 $625
Field Level Infield$2,320 $1,280 $915 $625
200 Level Bases$1,540 $880 $615 $425
Field Level Bases$1,540 $880 $615 $425
100 Level Outfield$960 $560 $395 $265
200 Level Outfield$950 $500 $360 $245
500 Level$302 $200 $120 NA

By the looks of things, there are price increases all across the board; in some cases the difference is minimal, but in some instances there are astronomical increases.

If you used to purchase a 500 Level 40 game Flex Pack, what used to cost $302 dollars now increases to $440; a hike of 45%. And with the status of the beloved Ballpark Pass still in question, life just might have gotten much more expensive for the 500 Level fans.

For 500 Level 15 game Flex Pack holders, the price jumps 50% from $120 dollars to $180 dollars. Although those packs might not be that much in the first place, it breaks down to an extra $4 per game.

Again, I'm not completely sure how these increases will exactly affect single game tickets, but there may only be a nominal hike, especially at the lower-priced tickets. The increases also affect Season Ticket holders, which have also seen price hikes for 2015.

Blue Jays Season Ticket Prices
20142015Increase
In The Action Seats$16,200 $17,010 5%
Premium Dugout$4,293 $4,617 7.50%
Field Level Infield$4,078 $4,536 11%
200 Level Infield$4,078 $4,536 11%
Field Level Bases$3,103 $3,321 7%
200 Level Bases$3,103 $3,321 7%
100 Level Outfield$1,907 $2,187 15%
200 Level Outfield$1,907 $1,863 -3%
500 Level$635 $810 27.5%

Once again, the 500 Level fans are the ones who take the biggest hit, with season ticket holders seeing a 22% price increase compared to last year for their Blue Jays tickets. Depending where you sit, you could see anywhere from a 5 to 22% price hike.

The only price decrease fans will find is with 200 Level Outfield season tickets, where the price has actually dropped 3% from $1,907 to $1,863 compared to this past season.

Not many would have questioned a price increase had the Blue Jays made the postseason, and this news will likely irk many faithful fans who haven't seen their team make they playoffs for the past 21 years. A price hike was inevitable, the timing is just unfortunate.

I'll give credit to the Blue Jays, they've managed to keep ticket prices frozen for the last several years. As far as I can tell, tickets have been the same price since 2010.

For most fans, I don't think a few bucks here or there is really going to make much of a difference. Even with the impending price increase, tickets to a Blue Jays game are still one of the best values in Toronto when it comes to professional sports.

A family of four can still easily attend a Blue Jays game for less than $100 dollars. Tack on concessions and parking, it's still just a little over $100 dollars for an afternoon or evening of entertainment.

Note: DJF also has a great roundup of the Blue Jays' ticket price increase.

Image courtesy of Don Teody Deguzman Jr.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What the Toronto Blue Jays Can Learn from the Kansas City Royals

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The Kansas City Royals are without question the Cinderella story of Major League Baseball in 2014. Regardless of how they perform in the Fall Classic, a team mired in mediocrity for decades is now heading to the World Series.

The Toronto Blue Jays can definitely sympathize with an organization that hadn't made the playoffs for the past 29 years. Many Blue Jays fans likely share the same sentiment as they watch as the Royals play for a World Series title ... "that should've been us".

The Royals could've have picked a better time to play their best ball of the season, and yes ... lady luck may have a little to do with Kansas City's impromptu postseason run. Despite those lucky bounces, the Royals are a fundamentally sound team that's thriving in the playoffs.

Not that the Toronto Blue Jays should attempt to completely emulate the Royals, but there are a key few lessons they can learn from the 2014 American League Champions.


Don't Be Afraid to Sign Free Agents


Aside from Dioner Navarro's deal last offseason and Melky Cabrera's two years ago, Alex Anthopoulos has been seemingly adverse to signing free agents to multi-year contracts.

This past offseason, the Royals made a few key acquisitions in Omar Infante and Jason Vargas. They had to overpay in the way of four-year deals, but ultimately they both panned out in year one of their respective contracts.

And it seemed like an odd move at the time for a team that didn't appear to be on the cusp of contention, but the Royals inked Jeremy Guthrie to a three-year/$25 million dollar contract back in 2013.

The past two offseasons, the Royals didn't kid themselves; they felt like they needed help in the starting pitching department, and they filled those voids via trade and free agency. And these contracts were fairly modest enough so that they didn't handcuff the Royals down the road with payroll.

Conversely, you could argue the Blue Jays have taken the "wait and see" approach when it comes to addressing needs on the roster the past few years. And often times those needs are hastily filled by guys off the waiver wire or minor league players.

There's an inherent risk with signing any free agent, even when it comes to the most consistent and proven talent (Albert Pujols, anyone?); but the hope is that they peak at the right time during their contract.

Infante, Vargas and Guthrie didn't carry the Royals to the postseason by any means, but they did supplement and complement the strong young talent that was already on their roster.

Ever since the introduction of the "five year policy", Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston have displayed a tendency to use that as an excuse for not targeting free agent. As arbitrary as the five year policy is, there are a slew of free agents to Blue Jays could sign without going beyond five years.

The Blue Jays could very easily fill some holes on their roster this winter by simply signing free agents, rather than giving up talent in a trade or sifting through the waiver wire or minor league free agents.

With money coming off the books, the team can very easily afford it; but whether the Blue Jays will actually dust off the pocketbook and sign a mid-level free agent this offseason remains to be seen.

Put a Premium on Defense


The Royals are known for three key aspects; their speed, their bullpen, and their defense. Of the three, defense is the one that seems like the most sustainable over the course of a 162 game schedule.

It didn't help that for much of 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays were a team with in identity crisis.

To begin the season, the Blue Jays initially began as a defensive-minded team, but as the injuries began to mount, that philosophy quickly flew right out the window. And with Kevin Seitzer at the helm as the new hitting coach, it seemed like he was going to instill a more well-rounded offensive approach to the team.

Instead, the Blue Jays just reverted back to their old ways and for the most part relied on their "all or nothing" offense. And defense quickly took a backseat to simply finding bodies to fill the voids left by injuries.

Although defense may not be as sexy as the long ball, it can be just as crucial to success. According to FanGraphs, the Royals amassed 40 defensive runs saved (good for second in the American League) while the Blue Jays had -31 defensive runs saved this season.

Speaking of FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan wrote a great piece on the Royals and the importance of defense, with this money quote: "The Royals have made me sense defense. The feeling I get is that every ball in play is doomed."

The Royals have cornered the market in run prevention, and defense is an area which the Blue Jays could greatly improve upon next season.

The problem is many mainstays on the Toronto Blue Jays roster aren't exactly the most stellar defenders. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes; they all know how to hit, but aren't quite the best fielders at their respective positions.

So save for suddenly instilling a "defense-first" philosophy, the Blue Jays' front office should place a little more stock in acquiring or signing defensive-minded players this offseason.

The outfield and the middle of the diamond are two key areas which the Blue Jays should address this offseason. One of the decisions is a simple one and yet not so simple; moving Jose Reyes off shortstop and potentially moving him to second or the outfield.


Give the Kids a Chance


It's incredible to think the Royals are heading to the World Series on the backs of contributions from young players like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Yordano Ventura and Mike Moustakas.

These are all guys who have virtually no playoff experience and yet are thriving in the high pressure environment known as the playoffs.

For the most part the Royals have played these guys out of necessity; because they have no other choice. However, it's also allowed Kansas City to discover whether their high draft picks would develop into franchise players.

When it comes to position players, the Toronto Blue Jays don't really have that liberty. Dalton Pompey is really only the highly-touted position player prospect which could make an impact on the big league roster in 2015.

The Blue Jays kind of already employed this strategy late in the season by patrolling Dalton Pompey, Kevin Pillar and Anthony Gose in the outfield. But in order to see if these guys really have what it takes, the Blue Jays need to give them ample playing time.

Of the three aforementioned outfielders, Dalton Pompey seems to have the most upside. Anthony Gose has had umpteen chances to win a starting spot and Kevin Pillar still needs some work at the plate.

There's at least one outfield spot for grabs, and if he has a decent stint in the Arizona Fall League and does well in Spring Training, I'd be inclined to give one of the spots to Pompey.

Again, the emphasis in young talent carries over into the starting rotation as well. The Blue Jays relied upon contributions from Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez this past season, and hopefully that continues in 2015.

In doing that, there will surely be growing pains with these young players; but the potential upside of having them occupy everyday spots on the roster could pay dividends down the road, just like it has with the Kansas City Royals.

Images courtesy of Getty Images/Toronto Sun
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