Monday, January 31, 2011

Giving Frank Francisco a Fair Shake


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My apologies to Frank Francisco because I think we got off on the wrong foot. Let's wipe the slate clean and start all over again as I don't think I gave him a fair shake.

Lost amongst the initial shock of trading away Mike Napoli was the acquisition of a great right-handed reliever from the Texas Rangers. Jonah Keri calls Frank Francisco "criminally underrated" and I'd tend to agree with that statement.

Francisco has posted a K/9 north of 10 for the past three straight seasons and he brings a lot to the table as far as relief pitchers are concerned. His fastball and split-finger fastball are two dangerous weapons he can deploy to coax those numerous strikeouts.

Fantasy Baseball Insiders had a great look at the Blue Jays three-headed closer situation and not surprisingly Frank Francisco ranked at the top or close to the top in many of the categories they examined.

Even without looking at all these numbers, I'd happily cast my vote for Frank Francisco to fill the vacant closer's job on the Blue Jays Roster. That strikeout rate alone is just too domineering to ignore.

After watching countless nervous ninth innings with Kevin Gregg in 2010, there's nothing I'd love to see more than to somebody like Frank Francisco who can come up with a big strikeout out when the game is on the line.

While it would be great to have that kind of power pitcher to close out games, I almost think Frank Francisco might be better suited for the role that Scott Downs occupied the past few seasons, and that's the team's setup man.

Save situations dictate you go to your closer to hold the lead, but before managers were pigeonholed by the save statistic, they opted to use their best reliever when the game was on the line. When they needed somebody to stop the bleeding, that's when managers brought in their best relievers.

Frank Francisco could be that guy and it's a role I can see John Farrell bestowing upon Francisco. He could be the bridge to Jon Rauch in those save situations, but Frank Francisco could also be a late-inning stopper in games in which the Blue Jays are tied or behind.

Comparing the four of Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel, take a guess at who had the lowest percentage of inherited runners score last season? Frank Francisco whose inherited score percentage was a mere 15 percent.

Frank Francisco has pitched the better part of five seasons in the major leagues and over the course of his career he's only allowed 19 percent of inherited runners cross the plate.

Actually, now that I think about it ... I take back my vote for Frank Francisco as closer. Not because I don't think he's up to the tast; the reason is Frank Francisco would be underutilized as the closer.

He is meant to be a stopper, not a closer.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The State of the Franchise Recap


By
Image courtesy of BlueJays.com
Let me begin by saying a huge thank you to none other than Captain Latte for inviting me to the Blue Jays State of the Franchise meeting.

I myself am not fortunate to be a season ticket holder, but it was great to crash the party and pretend like I was one for one evening.

They called it the "State of the Franchise" but essentially it's a shareholder meeting where the shareholders are season ticket holders. It's purpose is to get everyone excited about the upcoming season and it did exactly that.

What was said by Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston was a lot of what we've heard in the past about building a winning franchise, but last evening those things were said with such strong conviction that I got goosebumps.

First it was Paul Beeston on putting together a winner:
"We're not here to be a competitive baseball team. We're here to win the World Series. And we're here to win the World Series on a sustainable basis. How long that's going to take, I'm not sure. But I do know one thing; we're absolutely headed in the right direction."
In his introduction, Alex Anthopoulos echoed the same sentiment as Paul Beeston when he spoke on getting the Blue Jays back to their winning ways:
"We want to get this there as fast as we can. What we won't do is shortcut it, because when we do get there, it's not going to stop, it's going to be a freight train that's going to keep going."
In contrast to J.P. Ricciardi's "5 year plan", Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos didn't fill us up with empty promises of making the playoffs. They did however convey the Blue Jays want to build a sustainable winner, something I would hearken back to the Blue Jays of the late eighties that were always in contention.

As a former pitching coach, John Farrell touched on the starting pitching staff and had nothing but good things to say. One notable thing he mentioned was Brandon Morrow would likely only be stretched out another 20-25 innings this year (which would put him somewhere around a 170 inning cap).

Farrell has already mentioned in previous interviews about how he wants to step up the running game for the Blue Jays, and he talked about what it was like to face the Blue Jays last season:
"In preparing against this team, it was one that seemed to be one dimensional and a little predictable. I'd like us to become a much more aggressive team on the basepaths. That doesn't mean we're going to try to make Jose Molina a base stealer.

But it does mean that there are opportunities where we can turn guys loose ... to make us that much more unpredictable so as an opposition in preparing against us, there are multiple ways we can beat that team. We can't sit back and wait on the home run only."
Despite AA's reputation as a calculated assassin, Anthopoulos reiterated that when doing trades with other General Managers, in the end he wants both teams to emerge as winners. He doesn't want to "fleece" other teams because that could burn bridges in the future:
"From a trade standpoint, the win/win component is important because I only have 29 people to deal with. I know it's a cliche to say, but if somebody wins a trade, somebody's going to lose.

That's ultimately going to cut off the hand that feeds both ways, so you do want both trades to work out and you want for both teams to get what they want out of the trade.

You're going to need to continue to have that dialogue, and I've seen it as well, there's not a good relationship and that's another trade partner you've cut off and you never know when you might need that trade partner going forward."
J.P. Arencibia's name was brought up a few times, and I got the impression the Blue Jays are ready to roll with JPA behind the plate this year 100 percent. AA had some strong words for anyone suggesting the team isn't committed to J.P. Arencibia moving forward:
"We really don't want to get in the way of J.P. Arencibia because we do believe he's an important component of this team. He's been in Las Vegas two years in the row ... he has nothing more to prove down there. He needs to get an opportunity to play up here."
Regarding last year's catching situation, somebody had the stones to ask why J.P. Arencibia didn't receive more playing time in the latter part of the 2010 season. Alex Anthopoulos' answer was that he simply gave his word to John Buck that the catching job was his:
"When John Buck was signed to a one year deal, the promise was made to him that he'd be an everyday player from start to finish."
Following that, AA opened up about the way Blue Jays do business with players and how they are working to distinguish themselves as a respectable ball club with a great reputation around the league. It's a distinction that Alex Anthopoulos is very adamant on building to not only maintain players, but attract new ones as well:
"From a negotiating standpoint, your word is paramount. It's something that we won't break ... in the long run that's what this organization is going to be about. When we give our word to someone assigning a player, that's part of our brand.

I cannot tell you how many times we've been able to acquire players, get them to waive no-trades or things like that because of the way we handle ourselves. People in the game are starting to realize the way that the Toronto Blue Jays operate, they're men of their word."
I'm sure you heard by now that the special guest in attendance was none other than Roberto Alomar. It was great to have him there and the Blue Jays paid tribute by showing a very special video montage of his storied career. Robbie was also very gracious to sign baseballs for everyone.

By the time I left the Rogers Centre around 10:00pm, he was still signing baseballs which he started signing around 9:00pm. That was very generous of him and I think a little unexpected on the part of the PR staff there, who had to quickly scramble find hundreds of baseballs.

Of course no evening like this would be complete without a little bit of comic relief. After about a 3-4 preamble leading up to his question, somebody asked John Farrell if he though Manny Ramirez would be a good fit for the Blue Jays.

I guess this older gentleman doesn't check MLB Trade Rumors as furiously as most of us do, as he was completely unaware that Manny had signed with the Tampa Bay Rays already.

And then there was a strange case of mistaken identity when one woman questioned the character of Juan Rivera since it was reported he stole Derek Jeter's glove from back in his days with the Yankees. Sam Cosentino promptly corrected her saying it was Ruben Rivera she was referring to.

All in all, it was a very positive experience and it's a damn shame that all fans couldn't attend the State of the Franchise because I feel this is something that every Blue Jays fan should have access to.

Needless to say, when you hear the President, General Manager, and new Manager speak so highly about this team, it's easy to get excited about where the Blue Jays are going in 2011 and beyond.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Did Wells make the money, or did the money make Wells?


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It's been nearly a week since the trade that stunned virtually everyone in the baseball world. The Vernon Wells deal was so unprecedented that the ripple effects are just now beginning to dissipate.

After seeing him patrol centre field for so long, part of me still finds it hard to believe that Vernon Wells will make his new home in sunny California.

Although he's with an entirely new team, one thing that won't change is Vernon's reign with the Blue Jays. It wasn't exactly what you'd call a storybook romance, still his time in Toronto came along with many great moments.

On the other hand, just because he was the longest serving member of the Blue Jays roster doesn't necessarily mean he was one of the best. Wells spent 12 seasons in Toronto and amassed a total WAR of 25.2.

Compared to Blue Jays legends Roy Halladay (55 WAR), Dave Stieb (49.5 WAR), Tony Fernandez (38 WAR), and even Carlos Delgado (37 WAR). Just check out this super cool WAR Grid courtesy of FanGraphs.

He may be held in very high regard, but in actuality Vernon Wells career as a Blue Jays is on par with players such as John Olerud (25 WAR) and Ernie Whitt (25 WAR).

Maybe not great enough to be on the "Level of Excellence", but certainly good enough to be included on the "Level of Greatness" of "Level of Very Good".

I'll admit I was guilty of holding him to a precedent that his contract set rather than his abilities on the field. Like most of you, my justification was "he was paid like a superstar, so he better play like a superstar, dammit".

In that regard, there was no way Vernon Wells could have ever lived up to his contract. He could put together an MVP calibre season and carry the Blue Jays to a playoff birth and he would still be overpaid. In a way, it was almost unfair to expect him to live up to those expectations.

Due to his astronomical contract, Vernon Wells was basically shoehorned into the role of "face of the franchise". By signing him to a $126 million dollar 7-year contract, the organization veritably pinned all their hopes on Vernon Wells.

We'll never know for sure whether J.P. Ricciardi was mastermind behind this contract, or if it was Paul Godfrey and the front office that pressured him to lock up Vernon Wells at all costs. I just know that Vernon Wells was not the player he was paid to be.

Was it a smart move at the time? Probably not. But just a few years prior, the Blue Jays watched their franchise player Carlos Delgado simply walk away as a free agent. Signing Vernon Wells to a long-term contract ensured that would not happen for the second time in a row.

Look backing at Vernon Wells and his time as a Blue Jay, I don't think I'd associate him with the players in the upper echelon of this team. That being said, his tenure in Toronto was one that came with it's fair share of highlights.

So did Vernon Wells make the money, or did the money make Vernon Wells?
I'd tend say a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Now Departing: Mike Napoli, Now Arriving: Frank Francisco


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During his short tenure as General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, I think it's pretty safe to say that most of the trades Alex Anthopoulos has made have been slam dunks thus far:

Brandon League for Brandon Morrow? Check.
Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar? Check.
And AA7's latest triumph, Vernon Wells for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli?
86 million checks.

As crafty as the Silent Assassin is, I'm not so sure of this latest venture and am having great difficulty understanding the logic behind trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco.

It makes sense that the Blue Jays would be motivated to deal Mike Napoli because they're essentially playing with house money. Napoli and Rivera were bonus offers after the real prize was unloading Vernon Wells contract.

Mike Napoli brings much more upside to this team than Frank Francisco, in my opinion. Napoli is an extremely valuable asset who can play multiple positions and hit for power, albeit his defensive reputation as a catcher precedes him. Napoli is also under team control for two more seasons.

At best, Frank Francisco is just a great reliever for the Jays who could walk away as a free agent at the end of the season. He could net a couple of draft picks if he becomes a Type A free agent, but the same scenario is true for Mike Napoli in two years.

It's all very puzzling as this feels like the quintessential anti-Anthopoulos trade: trading away a young player with upside for another with very little upside. I can only see two reasons why AA would make this deal in the first place:
  1. He's stockpiling relief pitchers in hopes they will achieve Type A or B free agent status and thus netting the Blue Jays a boatload of picks in the 2012 draft. With the increased scouting budget, maybe AA has been alerted to a bevy of talented prospects coming up in the 2012 draft. What better strategy to land those players than by grabbing as many picks as possible.
  2. The Silent Assassin is working on something much larger at hand. This is just my own personal conspiracy theory, but I think the Blue Jays are acquiring a multitude of relievers so they can package them for either a position player or a highly touted prospect.
Bullpen depth is important to a degree, but at this point the Blue Jays roster contains four different pitchers who all have closing experience. Add up the career saves between Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor and there's 220 saves.

With a bullpen littered with veteran arms, it prevents players like Josh Roenicke, Jesse Carlson and even Jo-Jo Reyes from logging big league innings. More importantly, it delays us from discovering whether they have a future with this club.

If this trade had been made prior to the Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch signings, then it would make perfect sense. However, bullpen depth is not something the Toronto Blue Jays need right now and yet they continue to stockpile pitchers like they're on sale during Moonlight Madness at Zellers.

I don't say this very often about Alex Anthopoulos, but I think he lost this trade. I'm not a fan of this deal ... yet for the time being, I'll consider that it could be part of something much larger at hand.

Ultimately, trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco is not going to make or break the Toronto Blue Jays; it's simply a means to an end.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Roster Ramifications of the Vernon Wells Deal


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    It might feel like we all woke up from a Charlie Sheen-sized three day bender, but what transpired on Friday evening did in fact happen ... the Blue Jays managed to free themselves from one of baseball's most immovable contracts.

    Lost in the shuffle of the Blue Jays moving the $86 million dollars remaining on Vernon Wells contract were the players that were received in return: Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

    Now that I've had a few days to digest this information and do some sober thinking, things appear to be a little clearer in the picture of the Blue Jays roster ... or do they?

    Let's begin with who fills the shoes that Vernon Wells left behind in centre field. Naturally, the top candidate for that job would be Rajai Davis, and as others have indicated, that 2-year deal suddenly makes much more sense.

    They may not be ready by 2013, but those two years with an option are to bide some time until guys like Anthony Gose or Jake Marisnick will be knocking at the door and ready to play centre field.

    Next we have Mike Napoli: if he were a free agent this offseason, Alex Anthopoulos likely would've gone after him anyway. Napoli's ability to play multiple positions makes him very valuable on this team which will go some rough patches defensively this season.

    I'm not exactly sure where Mike Napoli fits in, but in my opinion he probably pushes Jose Molina off the roster entirely and Napoli becomes to the go-to catcher.

    Prior to this trade, the Blue Jays were committed to handing J.P. Arencibia the starting job. However, things have changed and now there's a possibility we could see something like a 50/50 split between Napoli and Arencibia.

    Although Napoli can play multiple positions, he'' probably be situated primarily behind the plate and I can't foresee the Blue Jays carrying three catchers on the roster. That's why having Jose Molina doesn't make sense unless Arencibia is going to start the year in Las Vegas.

    Of course there's also a possibility that Mike Napoli becomes the de facto designated hitter, which would then relegate Edwin Encarnacion to the bench. Wow ... so many scenarios and only so many roster spots.

    With the Silent Assassin as the General Manager, there's always a chance Mike Napoli gets dealt before Opening Day anyway, but he seems like the kind of player that really fits the overall direction of the "New Jays".

    Napoli is under team control for three two more seasons, but it's just that his incremental salary hike could become quite pricey down the road if he performs very well with the Blue Jays.

    So just to reiterate, here are the options for what to do with Mike Napoli:
    • 1.) Napoli starting catcher, Arencibia backup catcher, Molina gone
    • 2.) Napoli/Arencibia split catching duties, Molina gone
    • 3.) Napoli/Molina split catching duties, Arencibia starts in AAA
    • 4.) Arencibia/Molina split catching duties, Napoli as DH, EE on the bench.
    Wow, so many scenarios and only so many roster spots.

    Juan Rivera is another intriguing case in this deal. I personally don't know very much about him, but from what I've gathered on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, he has the ability to play first base, but is best used in one of the corner outfield positions.

    With these changes to the roster, it looks like the Blue Jays Opening Day outfield would comprise of Travis Snider in left, Rajai Davis in centre, and Juan Rivera in right. Rivera might be better served in left field though, as his range factor was one of the best amongst AL left fielders last season.

    Rivera is on the final year of a three year contract and stands to make $5.25 million in 2011. I really only see him as a replacement player to keep an outfield spot warm until somebody from the minors is ready or AA picks up another outfielder.

    I wouldn't have expected the Los Angeles Angels to reciprocate with any players in return with that trade, but the addition of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera will certainly be welcome additions to the roster. It's just a matter of figuring out where to fit them in.

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    The Silent Assassin Strikes As Vernon Wells Gets Traded


    By
    Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
    Ladies and gentlemen, the Silent Assassin has struck.

    Honestly, I was (and still am) completely and utterly shocked that the Blue Jays traded Vernon Wells. It still hasn't sunk in, and the aftermath of this trade probably won't settle for a few days ... and it might even take a few weeks.

    This just proves that Alex Anthopoulos is truly the quintessential Silent Assassin of General Managers. As a side note, he's also been deemed Double A 7 or "AA7" for short, in honour of one of her majesty's finest secret service agents.

    After this trade, I've also learned that if things are strangely quiet in Blue Jays Land, then AA is probably working on a massive deal. That and absolutely nobody on the roster is untradeable ... even players with $86 million dollars left on their contract.

    Right off the bat, you have to think the Blue Jays are much better long term for wiping this contract off the books. They do have to absorb the new contracts of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, but escaping the Vernon Wells contract was nothing short of a Houdini act.

    Alex Anthopoulos somehow orchestrated an escape from one of the worst contracts in baseball ... and all of it without a peep of it being leaked to the media beforehand. And now for the next four years, the Blue Jays have an extra $20 million or so per year to play with.

    There are other working parts to this deal such as Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, but surprisingly those details are secondary compared to the $86 million dollars of Vernon's salary the Jays just took off the books.

    Regardless of how well Vernon Wells performs with the Angels, this is an automatic win for the Blue Jays. Vernon could put up four straight 30 home run/100 RBI plus seasons in Los Angeles, but having alleviated $86 million dollars from the payroll is so much more valuable.

    Even if the Blue Jays received nothing in return like they did when they traded Alex Rios, there would still be a tremendous amount of upside because now the Jays have the financial flexibility to sign other players who can do the very same job for far less money.

    I'm very curious as to why Vernon agreed to waive his no-trade clause in the first place, because it's not like Anaheim California is much closer to his home of Arlington Texas than Toronto is.

    Some are speculating he waived his no-trade clause to get the opportunity to play with his buddy Torii Hunter. Maybe it's because Vernon thinks he has a better chance to win in Anaheim ... even though the Angels finished 10 games out of a playoff spit this year.

    Vernon Wells took a lot of ribbing across the Blue Jays blogosphere (from myself included), and I can't speak for everyone else, but I can truly say it didn't stem from a hatred or disdain for him. It was simply because we expected a lot from Vernon and we knew he was a great player.

    He was a class act with his charity and was very visible in the community, and even tagged along for the Blue Jays Winter Tour when he didn't have to. Vernon Wells was a great ambassador for the  organization and all things considered, I will miss Vernon and wish him nothing but the best with the Los Angeles Angels.

    This trade just reiterates Alex Anthopoulos is so tight-lipped on transactions, that by the time you hear a whisper ... it's already too late.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Separate Ways (Worlds Apart in Salary Arbitration)


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    "Here we stand, worlds apart, hearts broken in two, two, two."
    It's not every day that a Journey lyric leads off a blog post here, but I thought this one was rather poignant regarding the Blue Jays arbitration cases.

    Before we get to the focus of this post, let me start off with my two cents on this song. I don't care what anybody says about Journey; the guitar riff and keyboard solo on this track are amazing.

    And although Steve Perry is the centrepiece of this video, my favourite character is the keyboardist; Jonathan Crain. Not only does he perform the long lost art of air keyboarding, but at the 54 second mark Crain is demonstrating a move which resembles that of a cat playing a keyboard.

    Anyway, back to the matter at hand ...

    The Blue Jays didn't come to terms with Jason Frasor and Jose Bautista, and thus they will go to arbitration if they cannot come to an agreement before the hearings. From what I understand, deals can still be signed before arbitration, which basically negates the whole point of having a deadline ... doesn't it?

    Jose Bautista's case is pretty straight forward: he and his agent Bean Stringfellow (no, seriously, that's his name) believe he's worth $10.5 million, and the club believes he's worth $7.6 million. I truly believe if this goes to arbitration, they will rule in favour of the Blue Jays.

    Jason Frasor's arbitration case however, is much more complicated. There are some interesting conspiracy theories out there, one such proposed by the Tao of Stieb that this is merely setting the Blue Jays up to trade Frasor this offseason.

    I can definitely see that as a possibility, as it doesn't make much sense why the Blue Jays and Jason Frasor couldn't bridge the gap for a paltry $500,000 dollars. Much like Parkes said over at Getting Blanked, there's no reason why the club couldn't concede that cash.

    If the Jays can inexplicably give Yunel Escobar a raise from $435,000 to $2.9 million, then they can afford to shell out an extra 500K for Frasor. It's the least to ask from a guy who's spent his entire seven year career with the Toronto Blue Jays thus far.

    There must be an ulterior motive here, whether it's sending a message to players that the club isn't afraid of going to salary arbitration anymore, or if it's just that the Blue Jays are biding time to find a suitor for Jason Frasor.

    Alex Anthopoulos already said that the door has closed on working out a one-year contract, so either they're negotiating with Jason Frasor on a multi-year deal, or they're anticipating the arbitrators will rule in favour of the club, and then the wheels can be set in motion for a trade.

    Again, this is entirely just speculation on my part, and maybe we're just fabricating a scenario that AA hasn't even fathomed. I'm definitely guilty of tending to overthink things in the offseason due to the fact that there's a surplus of time to ponder about these scenarios.

    Whether or not the Blue Jays do in fact work out a contract with Jose Bautista and Jason Frasor remains to be seen. But by ending the arbitration streak at 13 years, Alex Anthopoulos has set a new precedent for negotiations in the future.

    For any players wishing to play hardball at salary arbitration, it seems that AA has echoed this message which can be found within the lyrics of Separate Ways;
    "If you must go, I wish you love. You'll never walk alone,
    Take care my love, Miss you love".

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    The Manny Dance


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    Will they or won't they?

    It's been a very carefully orchestrated dance this offseason between the Toronto Blue Jays and Manny Ramirez, and I think it's about time the two just got it over with and got together already.

    The latest update from Jon Heyman suggests that Manny is still on the Blue Jays radar, and one could argue that's actually been the case for the past two seasons. Rosters may have changed since then, but it just feels like Manny Ramirez is the perfect fit for Toronto.

    While the idea of Manny in Toronto seems like a great idea itself, the problem at hand is there are so many other working pieces to this team now that signing Manny may not jive with "the plan".

    However, let's look at what happened last offseason; was John Buck part of the plan? Was Alex Gonzalez part of the plan? Was Kevin Gregg part of the plan? The resounding answer would be no.

    And yet the signing of those players netted Yunel Escobar and a couple of draft picks. Buck, Gonzalez and Gregg were not part of the plan, but they were parlayed into other players who have become part of the plan.

    No one has to be worried about Manny Ramirez blocking any prospects from coming up or taking at bats away from anybody else because the only player Manny would be supplanting would be Edwin Encarnacion. And at $2.5 million, it's perfectly acceptable to have EE as a bench player or fourth infielder.

    I'm not trying to be naive and think that Manny in a Blue Jays uniform would bring more fans to the ballpark. I just think that rebuilding can be such a painstaking process, that you need to throw the fans a bone once in a while.

    Not that the Blue Jays owe anything to the fans, but when it comes to laying the framework for a winning franchise, sometimes it's hard to see the forest through the trees. And a big doe-eyed deer like Manny Ramirez would be the perfect distraction within said forest.

    If anything, signing Manny would be a love letter to the fans that would read as follows:
    A couple of Scott Boras' clients have already signed lucrative one-year contracts to re-establish their value, so I can't see why Boras wouldn't want Manny Ramirez to do the same. Especially in a city that Manny is extremely fond of in the first place, and for a manager he has a great relationship with.

    It might cost upwards of $5 million a season, but I'd gladly welcome Manny's career .379 OBP, 27 home runs and .940 OPS at the Rogers Centre to come play 82 games inside the dome this season.

    There's no questioning that Manny Ramirez does not fit in with the long term plans of this team. However, there's nothing wrong with being entertained by his antics in the short term.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Vouching for the Jon Rauch Signing


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    Baseball is filled with colourful characters, both literally and figuratively; and now the Toronto Blue Jays have added one of their own to the roster.

    After watching the parade of multi-year contracts being delved out to relievers, the Blue Jays just sat back and watched everyone else dig their own graves before Alex Anthopoulos swooped in and picked up Jon Rauch for a cool $3.5 million.

    One would think that Rauch becomes the de facto closer, but I'm sure that management will spin the same old story that "all guys will have an equal chance to compete for the job". Apologies to Octavio Dotel if he got his hopes up about closing in 2011.

    From what I've gathered, Rauch seems like a pretty decent bullpen addition who commands a low 90's fastball and boasts several secondary pitches in his repertoire (slider, curve, changeup).

    His career average 7.34 K/9 is pretty promising, but that 47.7 career fly ball percentage scares me a little bit. However, Dotel's career fly ball percentage is 50.2, and it's just one of the many categories that Jon Rauch has a leg up on Octavio Dotel over.

    Interestingly enough, the Blue Jays have now acquired both the setup man (Jon Rauch) and closer (Chad Cordero) from the 2006 Washington Nationals roster. There's virtually no chance that back-end bullpen combination will reincarnate itself on the 2011 Blue Jays roster, however anything is possible.

    One could argue signing Jon Rauch only relatively bolsters the Blue Jays bullpen , but it sure beats paying $3.25 million for Kyle Farnsworth or $5 million per year for Brian Fuentes.

    During the course of the season, I vow to keep the neck tattoo jokes to a minimum, but you can't argue that this signing by the Blue Jays immediately creates a golden opportunity for Jon Rauch Temporary Neck Tattoo Giveaway Day.

    For Bautista the Salary Arbitration Bell Tolls


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    Soon the bell will toll for the six remaining players on the Blue Jays roster who have yet to work out a deal prior to Tuesday's deadline.

    I'm certain Alex Anthopoulos doesn't want to end the 13 consecutive years without a workplace injury of avoiding going to arbitration, but I think it's more so about keeping the players happy than keeping the streak alive.

    I've never been to salary arbitration court, but I'm willing to bet it's about as exciting as a root canal. All I can imagine is Judge Judy presiding over the courtroom and deciding over the fate of player's salaries.

    All of the Blue Jays remaining arbitration cases are fairly straight forward, except for one; Jose Bautista's. Back in October, yours truly estimated that $5 to $6 million dollars would be a reasonable raise for Jose Bautista, but some are speculating he could fetch as much as $10 million dollars.

    While most baseball players prefer to avoid salary arbitration like the plague, I can imagine Jose Bautista is welcoming it with open arms. After that milestone year in 2010, he'll want to get every single last penny he deserves, even if it means showing up to the hearings himself (in his snappy  suits from Gotstyle, nonetheless).

    This was alluded to on Pitcher's Best Friend post on Jose Bautista's 2011 salary, but I honestly think if the Blue Jays were working on a contract extension for Jose Bautista, then they would've done it by now.

    Rather than let the arbitrators have the power to decide what JoBau would make this year, the Jays could maintain control of the situation by signing now to a lower base salary for this year, but provide the guarantee for multiple years.

    However, Rob made a good point saying that AA is very unpredictable and one can never truly predict what the Silent Assassin is up to until the deadline has arrived.

    If the Blue Jays do not reach an agreement with Bautista prior to the deadline, I think we can pretty much wave bye bye to Bautista, whether it be him walking via free agency or a move at the trade deadline.

    I can't see them coming to an agreement mid-season, and leaving contract negotiations until the end of the season is extremely dangerous. The temptations of free agency combined with the vultures overhead might just be too seducing for Jose Bautista to say no.

    Money is not an issue on the open market, and the Blue Jays will not be able to compete with offers from other clubs promising riches, championships, and full access to a personal beard trimmer at all times.

    I can understand the logic behind waiting to see just how much of an outlier year for 2010 was for Jose Bautista. If he comes back down to earth this coming season, then his value comes down. But if he puts up numbers that were even half of what he achieved in 2010, then he will be a highly touted free agent.

    Trust me, I want Jose Bautista to stick around in Toronto just as much as the next guy, but if the two sides can't work out a deal before the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, then we might not even be left with a pumpkin to remember Jose Bautista's Cinderella season by.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    How Many Home Runs Will Bautista Hit in 2011?


    By
    In 2010, Jose Bautista went yard an unprecedented 54 times. He circled the bases on 54 occasions and made franchise history by hitting the most home runs in a single season by a Blue Jay.

    No matter how many different ways you put it, for me it still hasn't sunk in that Jose Bautista rewrote the record books this past season.

    This is especially true for someone who was projected to hit 15 home runs, and instead Bautista hit a Paul Konerko season's worth of home runs more than he was expected to

    There's no question Jose Bautista is going to have an uphill battle trying to duplicate that power in 2011, but just how many home runs can we expect from the bearded one? First off, let's take a look at his projections for this upcoming season courtesy of ZIPS and Bill James:

    Projection Home Runs
    ZiPS 32
    Bill James 34
    FanGraphs Fans 35

    At the bottom end of these projections, Bautista's home run total is expected to drop off by as much as 41 percent. While that's a fairly large statistical descent, I'd say those are still fairly generous expectations for Joey Bats.

    One thing that could contribute to Jose Bautista's home run drop-off is that opposing pitchers will be ready for him in 2011. They tried to change their game plan against Jose by feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls, but Bautista adjusted and ended up either crushing off-speed pitches or drawing a walk.

    You know that managers around the league and especially within the AL East will be furiously studying the tapes of Bautista's at bats, searching for some flaw or weakness in his game. If they're smart, opposing pitchers will be weary of feeding inside fastballs to Jose.

    Now while these things may attribute to Jose Bautista's home run total going down this year, let's take into consideration what might in fact help him this year. How about the fact he played a good chunk of the season with a nagging sports hernia?

    A lesser man would cower in pain, but Jose Bautista used the pain as motivation to hit even more dingers. If I'm the opposition, I'd hate to see the kind of power Bautista has when he's 100 percent healthy.

    Making accurate predictions about certain players is a crap shoot. This is especially true when trying to estimate Jose Bautista's home run total because 2010 was such an outlier year which makes it extremely difficult to gauge what we can expect in 2011.

    Perhaps a more intriguing question to ask rather than how many home runs Jose Bautista will hit in 2011 is how many walks will he draw? Or can he effectively boost his batting average while still maintaining a decent on-base clip?

    Maybe we'll see a transformation by Bautista in 2011 similar to that of Billy "Downtown" Anderson from Major League: Back to the Minors (I know, not as great as the original ... but just bear with me on this one).

    In the film, Anderson is a one trick-pony that only has one weapon in his arsenal: the long ball. After falling into a slump, the character realizes he needs to become a more complete player. So he begins to work to break the mold of a home run hitter and tried to become an on-base machine by going opposite field, hitting the gap, and legging out extra bases.

    I'm not saying life will necessarily imitate art in this instance, but depending on how the first few months of the season unfold for Jose Bautista, he may need to make some adjustments just like Downtown did. And if that means Bautista only hits one more opposite field home run than 2010, then I'm all for it.

    If all we have to go on are Bill James, ZIPS and FanGraphs projections, I'd venture to guess the over/under on home runs for Jose Bautista this year is 27. Not that I'm trying to sell him short, I'll just take 2010 for what it was and will try not to let it cloud my expectations for JoBau this coming season.

    The fans may dig the long ball after being witness to so many Bautista Bombs in 2010; but in the long run ... even if Jose Bautista's power drops off significantly, I think they'll dig the on-base percentage just as much.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Monday Morning Malestrom of Links


    By
    First off, our beloved Toronto Blue Jays are in the midst of their Winter Tour across the true north strong and free.

    After signing autographs and kissing babies in Toronto over the weekend, today the Blue Jays stop in Kitchener-Waterloo before heading east and hitting Calgary next Wednesday and Vancouver next Friday.

    By all accounts, it sounds like the Winter Tour events have gone really well, and it's great to see the organization helping us get excited about baseball in the dead of winter.

    More importantly, the Winter Tour is helping a younger generation find a love for the game of baseball. I can't recall if they had the Blue Jays Winter Caravan when I was a kid, but I certainly would have been there to see Pat Borders show kids how to lay down a bunt.

    Now, on to the news!

    Just when you thought the Blue Jays had finished creating their bullpen of misfit arms, MLBTR is reporting the Blue Jays and Rays are the finalists to sign Brian Fuentes.

    Mat from Jays Journal for one pined to sign Fuentes a few weeks ago, and I'm all for it so long as they can get Brian Fuentes for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million a season. Fuentes killed lefties last year, and his career splits versus left and right-handers are basically even.

    Chris Jaffe at The Hardball Times reminds us of the most embarrassing loss in Blue Jays history. Shockingly, it wasn't the game from 1987 when the Blue Jays lost the division on the final day of the season.

    The fellas at More Hardball sent me a link to this interesting Blue Jays centric license plate. Why do I have a feeling that this mom in particular is a fan favourite in her neighbourhood? I bet all the kids love getting a ride from BJ Mom.

    I guess when the initials for your team are "BJ", it makes for some unfortunate yet hilarious interpretations.

    And lastly, a couple of my friends just returned from vacationing in Jamaica, and look what they found ... a Jamaica Jays hat! Nice to see they are catering to the Blue Jays fans in the Caribbean.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    The Bullpen of Misfit Arms


    By
    If you’ve ever seen the holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer (and by now, who hasn’t?), you’ll notice there was something very endearing about the Island of Misfit toys.

    Despite their flaws as a group of unwanted and defective toys, the Misfit Toys embraced their deformities and banded together to work cohesively as one unit.

    While there were endearing qualities about the Misfit Toys, I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about Alex Anthopoulos’ similar creation, The Bullpen of Misfit Arms.

    The latest relief pitcher acquisitions by the Toronto Blue Jays certainly weren’t mean to bowl anybody over by any means, and with a rebuilding team with plenty of young talent in it’s farm system, these moves scream of a band-aid solution.

    Remember back in 2007 when J.P. Ricciardi signed the trio of scrap-heap starters John Thomson, Victor Zambrano and Tomo Ohka? Well, these recent relief pitcher signings mirror those moves made back in 2007, except this time it’s with relievers instead of starters.

    If 2011 is supposed to be another year of rebuilding anyway, why not hand the reigns over to the young guys like Josh Roenicke, David Purcey and Rommie Lewis and let them get plenty of big league experience?

    I really don’t see the downside in keeping those players on the big league roster, other than the fact they’ll log service time. And if they have a poor showing in the first few months of the season, then maybe the team can reevaluate and see if somebody like Chad Cordero or Wil Ledezma should take their place.

    Who knows … maybe Octavio Dotel, Chad Cordero and Wil Ledezma will turn out to be great additions to the bullpen. With a combined salary of around $4.6 million, it’s certainly a great price to pay to get three bullpen arms.

    However, I’m willing to bet that two of three of these guys won’t even crack the Opening Day roster.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Roberto Alomar is Vindicated in Vote for Hall of Fame


    By
    It may have come a year late, and despite all the controversy and heartache,
    it was certainly worth the wait.

    Roberto Alomar was finally vindicated and received his vote into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It should come as no surprise that Alomar received a resounding 90 percent of the vote, surpassing the 73.7 percent he garnered last year.

    I think some voters either realized the error of their ways in not voting for Roberto Alomar last year, or their colleagues convinced them to change their mind. Either way, a vote is a vote, and now the very first Toronto Blue Jay player will officially enter Cooperstown this summer.

    Robbie had some of his best years in Toronto, and admittedly I often overlook his incredible seasons afterward in Baltimore and Cleveland. He played in tandem on the middle infield with Cal Ripken Jr. and Omar Vizquel, combining to become some of the best defensive duos of their era.

    Not only did Alomar make back to back playoff appearances in 1992 and 1993 with the Blue Jays, he was part of the Baltimore Orioles squad which made two straight appearances in the ALCS, not to mention trips to the postseason in 1999 and 2001 with the Indians.

    During is time as a Blue Jay, Roberto Alomar amassed a total WAR of 17.4. In nine seasons following his tenure in Toronto, he was worth 34.6 wins above replacement, which averages out to about 3.84 WAR per season.

    All of these accolades considered, you can see why the writers had an extremely tough time make a convincing argument to not vote for Roberto Alomar.

    It's been a long time coming, but it's great to know that Roberto Alomar will finally get his due and hopefully we'll get to see him on a plaque in Cooperstown wearing a Blue Jays cap.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Roberto Alomar's Second Chance at Cooperstown


    By

    "This kid has a chance to be a Hall-of-Famer.
    I think Roberto's getting better every year."
    - Cito Gaston

    "I think you're looking at one of the greatest who's ever played the position."
    - Luis Rosa

    "You just take Robbie Alomar's name, and then put three dots after it. He just has unlimited potential. Right now, he's the best all-around player in baseball."
    - Joe Carter

    "If Alomar doesn't get injured, he's on a direct line to the Hall of Fame."
    - Jim Fregosi
    It's incredible to think that's what Roberto Alomar's mentors, teammates, coaches, and opponents were saying about him as a 24 year old who was just hitting his stride in the major leagues.

    The quotes are borrowed from Stephen Brunt's book "Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story" which was released all the way back in 1992. But those words are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the storied career of Roberto Alomar.

    It was all supposed to culminate last January when Alomar was poised to be the very first Blue Jay to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was supposed to be Roberto Alomar's time to enter Cooperstown.

    Folks were so confident Alomar was a lock for the HoF, that a camera crew went to his house the day of the announcement in anticipation of capturing that exciting moment on film. Unfortunately, all we saw were the tears of little Robertito Alomar and the look of disappointment on his father's face.

    Now here we are one year later, hoping that one of the greatest second baseman if his era will be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility.

    Alomar's credentials haven't changed since last January, but I guess some writers like Jay Mariotti felt they needed to "punish" Robbie by preventing him from becoming a first ballot Hall of Famer.

    Maybe after having another year to consider things, those writers (at least the ones who still have a ballot) can put their grudges aside and do the right thing.

    This year however, it appears as though most of the controversy surrounding the Hall of Fame vote is focused on the players from the steroid era becoming eligible for induction into Cooperstown.

    While some are busy debating whether guys like Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro should be inducted, a true talent like Roberto Alomar should have no problem garnering the necessarily votes.

    If anything, I think the steroid controversy will work in Alomar's favour because there has never been any question as to whether Robbie had anything other than natural talent help him during his career.

    Also, those few incidents in Roberto Alomar's past will seem pretty insignificant compared to the allegations of steroid use on the part other players such as McGwire and Palmeiro.

    What's done is done, and if the Baseball Writers Association of America feels that Roberto Alomar deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame ... so be it. And if not, then I sincerely hope they will come to their senses eventually.

    There's a reason why people like Cito Gaston, Luis Rosa, Joe Carter, and Jim Fregosi said the things they did about Roberto Alomar - because even they knew back then that Alomar was destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    When it comes to ranking the second baseman of his era, Roberto Alomar is second to none. I guess that just means it will take a second time around to prove he's worthy of that title in Cooperstown.

    Can't wait until Wednesday to find out the results? 
    Check out Chris Jaffe's Hall of Fame predictions over at The Hardball Times.

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