Thursday, December 22, 2011

Asking a King's Ransom for Starting Pitchers


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Is it just me, or has the market for starting pitchers been especially crazy this off-season? And not just contracts delved out to free agent SP's, I mean the market for selling starters as well.

It really has been a seller's market these past few months. If the recent trades are any indication of what it takes to acquire an innings eater, I can fully understand why Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to give up the farm for a starting pitcher.

One name that has been constantly swirling around the Blue Jays blogosphere and Twitterverse has been Felix Hernandez. Sure, he could step in and immediately take the reins as the Blue Jays ace, but at what cost?

If the Nationals gave up their #3, #4 and #9 prospects just to get Gio Gonzalez, you can only imagine what kind of king's ransom it's going to take to pry Felix Hernandez away from the Mariners.

And that's assuming that the Mariners are even considering offers for Felix, because all reports indicate that they're not shopping him whatsoever. But one wonders how many more 60-something win seasons it's going to take for the M's GM Jack Zduriencik to change his tune.

So if it took four elite prospects for Gio Gonzalez, what can we expect in the way of a package deal for Felix Hernandez?

If we're talking just prospects alone and no players with Major League experience, I think it takes at least five of them and maybe even six. We're talking all your favourites: Travis d'Arnaud, Jake Marisnick and/or Anthony Gose, Daniel Norris, and others.

All of those guys would undoubtedly be high on the Mariners wish list. Conversely, if the Blue Jays included a few Major Leaguers, that would thin out the herd as far as prospects goes, but it would mean parting with someone like Brett Lawrie.

Now you can start to see the high price it would take to get Felix Hernandez. The Blue Jays would be getting one of the best starting pitchers in the game, but they'd have to clear the cupboard bare of their best talent to bring him to Toronto.

Not to mention, Felix is only signed for the next three seasons. So after the Blue Jays ship off their top prospects to Seattle, they could just be back at square one come 2015.

The same scenario can be applied if the Blue Jays wanted Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs. If there's any shed of truth to the rumours that Toronto is interested in Garza, it would still take a boatload of prospects or major league-ready talent to get him.

Garza is only under team control for two more seasons, and there's also a danger he could walk away as as a free agent as well if he didn't sign a contract extension.

To be honest, I'm not even all that crazy about Matt Garza anyway. Sure, he made a living as a Blue Jay killer there for a few seasons (2.14 ERA and a .236 OPP AVG), but I don't think that makes him a trade target.

Another thing that doesn't jive with the plan is neither Felix nor Garza have team-friendly contracts. Felix is set to make $58 million total over the next three seasons. Matt Garza is hitting his final two years of arbitration and his salary could jump to over $10 million a season.

There's no question that both these starters have all the talent in the world and would slot in nicely to the Blue Jays starting rotation. But they're the furthest thing from a bargain, and are receiving top-tier free agent money these next few seasons.

Starting pitchers are always a hot commodity, and for whatever reason an even hotter commodity this off-season. I think it's because every team can always afford to upgrade their pitching and there's always a need for innings eaters.

It would be great to watch Felix Hernandez take the mound every five games for the Blue Jays. Subsequently, that would mean not being able to see Anthony Gose play every day, or Travis d'Arnaud behind the plate, or even Kyle Drabek on the mound.

To me, that's way too high a price to pay for one pitcher who would only be around for the next two or three seasons at minimum. Even if only one of the Blue Jays top five prospects pans out, having them under team control long term is worth more than any ace short term.

Alex Anthopoulos' Christmas Wish List


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Have you ever wondered what the holidays were like at the Anthopoulos house? If it's anything like I've ever envisioned, it involves a young Alex stockpiling his crappy Christmas gifts and trading them for an NES and a Teddy Ruxpin.

Fast forward 2012 and Alex is ready to do some holiday shopping (whether he wants to admit it or not). Last Friday AA was asked on TSN Radio what his Christmas Wish List was for the Blue Jays, and he responded with this answer:
"We need to shore up the bullpen, add a front/middle rotation starter, and a middle of the order bat."
None of this is earth-shattering news as Anthopoulos has reiterated these needs several times this off-season. It's not new information, but the timing of these needs certainly couldn't be better.

The Blue Jays are in a very unique position because they can cross all three of those things off the list via free agent signings. The only thing it's going to take is money ... and lots of it. And yet the burning question is "are the Blue Jays willing to spend it?"

Alex could very easily fulfill those needs for some bullpen arms, a starting pitcher, and a big bat. The players that fit the bill are still out there, and a crop of this caliber of free agents might not be available again for a long time.

Incredibly, the Blue Jays have not signed one single free agent at all this off-season. Almost all of the player acquisitions have been via trade, with a few arbitration offers sprinkled in for good measure.

So to help out Santopoulos a little bit, I've conducted a list of free agents who fit the criteria the Blue Jays are looking for. If AA wants to do a little last-minute Christmas shopping, he should get on the phone.

Bullpen Help
Top Tier: Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero, Dan Wheeler
Middle Tier: David Aardsma, Chad Qualls, Mike Gonzalez, Brad Lidge

The Blue Jays already have their closer in Sergio Santos, but a little more back-end bullpen help couldn't hurt. Madson, Cordero and Wheeler are three of the best options still out there, but they would undoubtedly also command the most money.

Perhaps if the closer market cools off considerably in the next few months and the Blue Jays can get one of them to sign to a similar deal like Kevin Gregg did in February 2010, then it's safe to take a pass.

The market for middle tier relievers is still very saturated with the likes of Qualls, Gonzalez and Sherrill. Chad Qualls might be a good addition for the Blue Jays, but it all boils down to the right price. Anything around $2 million would be reasonable for Qualls.

Front/Middle Rotation Starter
Top Tier: Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, Hiroki Kuroda
Middle Tier: Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, Joe Saunders, Jon Garland

Originally I had Yu Darvish penciled in as the number one free agent target for the Blue Jays, but we all know how that ended. So rather than rehash those memories, let's look at some alternatives.

Edwin Jackson is a perfectly acceptable consolation prize in the Yu Darvish Sweepstakes. In fact, I'm a little surprised a team hasn't signed him already, unless he was just waiting to see what was going to happen with the Darvish posting.

The feature I really like about Jackson is his durability. His past five seasons, Edwin Jackson has averaged 195 innings pitched per season. I wouldn't expect him to have a career year, but one thing Jackson would certainly do is eat up innings.

The rest of the field of free agent starting pitchers doesn't really excite me at all, as most come with a history of injuries. Oswalt, Harden and Francis are three prime candidates, and Saunders and Garland have been mediocre starters who always command top dollar for some reason.

Middle of the Order Bat
Top Tier: Prince Fielder, Carlos Beltran
Middle Tier: Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, Vladimir Guerrero

Much like the field for starting pitchers, there is one player here who fits the bill perfectly for what the Blue Jays need: Prince Fielder.

On paper, a middle of the order comprised of Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder would be one of the deadliest in the American League. With Fielder, you're getting a player with a proven track record and he's arguably in the prime of his career right now.

As a Scott Boras client, it would come at a hefty price and a long-term contract. I can't see Fielder wanting anything less than 7-8 years, and as much as I like the prospect of Prince Fielder in a Blue Jays uniform, I'm not certain what a 35 year old Fielder is capable of.

The next best bat on the list is Carlos Beltran, who oddly enough has been connected to the Blue Jays as well. At 34, Beltran would really only be a band-aid solution and would command a shorter-term contract, but likely a higher salary.

Carlos Beltran would be a nice toy to have, but like the bratty kid who's going to get a billion gifts for Christmas, it's a toy the Blue Jays don't really need. Beltran only adds to the logjam in the Blue Jays outfield, and if he were to DH he would then push Edwin Encarnacion to the bench.

As inconsistent as EE was in the first half last season, I'd much prefer his $3.5 million salary to potentially $10 million for Beltran for the same offensive results.

The middle tier hitters is an area where the Blue Jays can afford to take a flyer, as Pena and Kotchman could potentially ink one-year deals. The same problem arises though, as signing one of these guys either pushes Lind or Encarnacion off their position.

In conclusion

By no means am I endorsing the Blue Jays head to the open market to fill all these positions and sign the best players available; that's just not Alex Anthopoulos' style. However, if money suddenly weren't an issue, the team could very easily fill these voids and set up the roster nicely.

With the exception of Prince Fielder, I think the internal candidates to plug these gaps would be much more cost effective and potentially just as good as any other free agent. And they could do it for just above the league minimum salary.

Why sign Chad Qualls when you have Joel Carreno? Why sign Edwin Jackson when you have Kyle Drabek or Henderson Alvarez? Why sign Casey Kotchman when you have Edwin Encarnacion?

If it makes sense to spend they cash to land a free agent, then I don't think the fans will show much resistance. After losing out on Yu Darvish, I think everybody might be a little too anxious to spend the dough just for the sake of spending it.

Here's the catch 22 when it comes to payroll; if the organization goes out and spends a bunch of cash and fails to deliver results, then the naysayers will have a heyday. It's a very fine line that AA has to ride and I definitely don't envy his position.

Regardless of when or even if the Blue Jays sign any free agents at all, here's wishing you all a safe and happy holiday and may Santopoulos be good to you all. I'm wishing for one of the new flashy alternate Blue Jays jerseys myself.

Happy Holi-Jays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yu Darvish Negotiating with Texas, Not Toronto


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After rampant rumours and speculation, the decision on which team Yu Darvish will negotiate was revealed: it turns out he'll likely be taking his talents to Texas (pending negotiations), not Toronto. 

Are you a little disappointed the Blue Jays lost out on the Yu Darvish Sweepstakes? You have every right to be. After all, it seemed like Toronto had a legitimate shot at Darvish and were heavily favouredfrom the onset of his posting.

My initial reaction was one of disappointment, but then it was quickly followed up by a huge sigh of relief. An elation that the Blue Jays wouldn't have to shell out $50+ million just for the negotiating rights with Yu Darvish.

It turns out losing out on Yu Darvish might actually be a blessing in disguise for the Toronto Blue Jays. Heck, we don't even know how close or even if the Blue Jays were any where within earshot of the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers put up.

We know the Blue Jays put in a bid on Darvish, but maybe it was just a feeler bid at $30 million. Maybe they went up to $40 million, or maybe they just narrowly missed at $51 million. Unless Alex Anthopoulos is willing to share, we'll never know whether Toronto had no shot whatsoever or were on the cusp.

Again, after the reality check from Bruce Arthur's Yu Darvish piece on Sunday, it all makes sense with what Alex Anthopoulos is trying to build. I don't believe he pinned all his hopes on signing Darvish, and rightfully so.

The funny thing about the whole Yu Darvish thing is it doesn't really change AA's game plan. Sure, Darvish would step in as a great top/mid-rotation starter, but the farm system is stocked with talented starting pitchers.

I'm not saying Deck McGuire, Justin Nicolino, Drew Hutchinson or even Kyle Drabek are going to turn out to be superstars. But odds are, the more high ceilings prospects the Blue Jays have, the better the odds at least one of them will turn out to be successful.

As others have indicated, it makes much more sense to add a piece like Yu Darvish when your team is close or at the onset of turning the page rather than a few years away still.

It might have taken the Blue Jays 3-4 more years for the Blue Jays to work out the kinks and put themselves in a good position to contend, and by then Darvish would be the final years of his contract. Then it's back to square one trying to find the next Yu Darvish, and now the wallet is $120 million dollars lighter.

So where do the Blue Jays go from here? I think they take the money they would've spent on Yu Darvish, deposit it back into the bank and get back to business as usual.

The Blue Jays don't need to spend that money like a hole burning in their pocket. There's no point in spending money just for the sake of spending it, that's not what successful organizations do.

Some think Toronto should allocate that Yu Darvish money towards a Prince Fielder contract. If the Blue Jays were truly serious about Fielder, I think they would have signed him already. A deal for Fielder would not necessarily hinge on one for Darvish ... it's not like there was only enough money to sign one or the other.

Yu Darvish likely would have helped the Blue Jays shortcut their plan, but it would have come with a very hefty price tag. And with a dollar amount like that attached to one player, very rarely does a player ever live up to a contract.

The Texas Rangers may have won the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish, but that doesn't immediately make the Blue Jays chopped liver. Nothing changes the fact that Toronto is home to a fairly good, young team.

The one thing I really noticed in all this hype about Yu Darvish coming to Toronto is there is a ton of Blue Jays fans out there, a lot more than even I thought. There are a lot of passionate fans who really want to see this team return to the glory days of the 80's and 90's.

After all this, I just hope those fans are just still as excited about the 2012 Blue Jays season. Because even though Yu Darvish won't be on the roster, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and many others still will be.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Playing Devil's Advocate On Yu Darvish


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Image courtesy of CBC.ca
Up until yesterday, it was full speed ahead on the Yu Darvish Express. I was all for the Blue Jays signing the Japanese phenom. But then something planted a seed of doubt that sprouted some thoughts of apprehension.

It all stemmed from an article Bruce Arthur of the National Post wrote on Yu Darvish. After getting wound up in the Yu Darvish hype, I found this article to be a big reality check and really brought me back down to earth.

Essentially, Arthur said that fans should be surprised if the Blue Jays land Darvish, because it doesn't really fit in with the model that Alex Anthopoulos has been building since he took over the helm.

The main point that Arthur mentioned that really clicked with me is the Blue Jays spent $70 million dollars total on player payroll in 2011. If there's any truth the rumours, the Blue Jays could have paid $50 million plus just for the negotiating rights for one player.

If you take that payroll information into consideration, then it really puts things into perspective.

Why would AA take close to an entire year's worth of team payroll and bank it on merely a posting fee alone? Then factor in the potential contract and the price for Yu Darvish completely eclipses the entire team's payroll.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see the Blue Jays sign Yu Darvish. Judging by the buzz around the blogosphere and Twitterverse the past week, I think it's safe to say most fans feel the same way.

Nothing's even set in stone with Darvish, and yet there has been a buzz with fans that I haven't experienced since the 2006 off-season. When the Blue Jays signed A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, and acquired Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay.

The caveat is none of this fits in with "the plan". It goes against everything Paul Beeston has ever said about the posting process, and it contradicts the model which AA has built since day one.

Alex Anthopoulos painstakingly worked to create a lean mean payroll and acquire players with high ceilings. We just witnessed him trade to get a closer in Sergio Santos with a team friendly contract, when he just as easily could've found one on the open market.

Also, this whole Yu Darvish thing doesn't jive with the recent comments about payroll parameters. If the Blue Jays are truly holding back, why would the payroll restraints suddenly become nonexistent?

As a quick aside, as @ChrisArnold33 pointed out to me on Twitter, if the Blue Jays were actually in on Mat Latos "to the end" as Peter Gammons reported, why would they bid high on Yu Darvish?

The Blue Jays would have had to send a boatload of players to San Diego in return for Mat Latos. A move like that seems much more feasible and follows the pattern of what Anthopoulos has done in the past.

Admittedly, I'm just as anxious as any of you are about the Yu Darvish news, but the unique thing about this whole situation is the Blue Jays are in a great position no matter what happens.

Either they get the rights to arguably one of the best pitchers on the market, or they put that money back in their pocket and Alex Anthopoulos sticks with the blueprint and marches forward.

Assuming the Blue Jays don't win the Yu Darvish bidding process, the first reaction might initially be a little disappointment, but that will be followed up by a huge sigh of relief.

If the Blue Jays get Darvish, it might put them over the top, but if they don't get him it's not like Toronto immediately plummets to the bottom of the AL East. This is by no means a "make or break" situation for the club.

In this whole Yu Darvish situation, it helps a little bit to play devil's advocate. On one hand, it would really send a message that the organization is willing to pony up the cash when necessary. But on the other hand, why risk that much money and deviate from the plan?
 
No matter which stance you have on this issue, I think we can all agree the framework is there for the Blue Jays to become contenders.

Getting Yu Darvish doesn't necessarily change the framework of "the plan", it just advances the timeline for when it will hopefully come to fruition.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is the Price Right on Yu Darvish?


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I don't know about you, but as a kid, one of my favourite things about staying home from school was getting to watch the Price is Right. There was something special about Bob Barker and how he corralled those hysterical people on stage.

Perhaps it was because the Price is Right was the forbidden fruit of midday television to youngsters, but it was always a treat to forget school work for a day and catch the gameshow gambit with the Price is Right and Family Feud.

How on earth does any of this pertain to Yu Darvish? For entertainment's sake, I picture the bidding process like an episode of the Price is Right; except once contestants place a bid, they have to wait four business days for the results.

The similarities between the Price is Right and the Yu Darvish bidding process are few and far between, but I'll just stick with my game show theory for the time being. At least it helps the time pass by until the winner is revealed.

Until then, we can only speculate as to which team had the winning bid and exactly how high that dollar amount was, but you can be sure the Toronto Blue Jays at least made some sort of play for Darvish.

While I'm all for bidding on Darvish's services, it's a little contradictory to the comments that Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos have made over the past few weeks when it comes to payroll. Beeston isn't a fan of the posting process, and AA won't confirm or deny anything ... about anything.

I'll agree the whole posting process is a bit contrived, but unlike MLB free agency, there are no biases or player preferences involved. It's all about the Benjamins, baby.

It must make executives extremely anxious as they're going in completely blind, not sure whether their bid blew the rest out of the water, was in the middle of the pack, or a completely lowball offer.

It wouldn't shock me if the Blue Jays placed the highest bid, but I don't think they were planning to go for broke on Yu Darvish. An offer of say $50-$60 million sounds reasonable, but anything beyond that would be in the realm of overpriced.

Something tells me a sleeping giant like the Washington Nationals offered some crazily stupid amount. Heck, if they can afford to pay Jayson Werth $126 million, they can easily afford the Darvish posting fee.

However, if the Blue Jays were in fact the ones who won the bidding on Yu Darvish, it would definitely be sending a message that they want to win sooner rather than later. I wouldn't necessarily consider it a blockbuster signing, but it would definitely be up there.

But is Yu Darvish the kind of pitcher that could push the Blue Jays over the top? I want to say yes, but the realist in me says no. Sure, his stats look great over in Nippon Professional Baseball, but how would Darvish fare against major league hitters? I'm not so certain those numbers would translate over the American League, especially the AL East.

If the bid on Yu Darvish is "sky-high" like MLBTR is reporting, then that means either one of two things; the Blue Jays either got blown out of the water (which is fine), or they are so sold on Darvish that they're willing to do whatever it takes to get him.

After all, Alex Anthopoulos was only one of two General Managers to make the trip to Japan to scout Yu Darvish earlier this season. AA could have just as easily sent a scout to gather intel, but he went himself and I think that speaks volumes as to how serious the Blue Jays were about Yu Darvish.

The interesting thing about the whole bidding process is once we finally find out who actually won this thing, that's when the real fun begins in contract negotiations. So whichever team wins the bidding rights, if they don't work out a deal, then it's null and void and Yu Darvish goes back to playing for the Nippon-Ham Fighters.

And just in case you're wondering ... yes, Plinko is hands down the best game on the Price is Right, and yes, for some reason the music from Cliff Hangers scares the crap out of me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Crowded Outfield


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures


"Outfielders here ... get your outfielders here!" The Toronto Blue Jays don't have and old-timey vendor hocking outfielders down on Bremner, but with the surplus of players who can patrol the outfield, they may as well have.

With yesterday's puzzling acquisition of Ben Francisco, that now makes six outfielders on the Blue Jays roster: Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Rajai Davis, Jose Bautista and Ben Francisco.

But if you add up all the guys with big league experience in the outfield, that list actually balloons to 12 players. Needless to say, the Blue Jays have a bevvy of bodies to cover only three positions in the outfield.

In his conference call with the media yesterday afternoon, Alex Anthopoulos reiterated his plan was to go with five outfielders for 2012. That might seem like overkill, but considering the injury woes Blue Jays outfielders have sustained these past few seasons, that might not be such a bad idea.

AA also said the trade for Ben Francisco won't precipitate another move, which I find hard to believe. Francisco was a non-tender candidate by the Phillies, and why would you acquire a backup outfielder unless another one was on their way out the door?

All signs certainly seem to point to one of the Blue Jays outfielders being dealt, the burning question is which one? Bautista and Rasmus are immediately out of the question, which makes Travis Snider and Eric Thames the top two candidates.

After the news broke of the Francisco trade, some thought this all but signaled the beginning of the end for Travis Snider. There have been plenty of rumours this off-season about the Blue Jays possibly shopping Snider, and now those fires have been stoked once again.

Even though the writing may appear to be on the wall for Travis Snider, I actually think it's Eric Thames that has a far better chance of being traded and could possibly fetch more in return on the chopping block.

We've endured the Travis Snider saga for the past four years, and nothing would set my soul ablaze with satisfaction that to see Snider do well. Of the two, Snider still has the higher ceiling ... even after all the injuries and trips to the minors.

At this point though, the Blue Jays would be selling low on Travis Snider. His potential is limitless, but Eric Thames just barely nudges ahead of him on the depth chart. So it doesn't make sense to trade away a player the Blue Jays have invested in since 2006.

Snider comes with more upside, but Thames just put in a decent rookie campaign during 95 games in the majors. So which of these two outfielders looks more attractive to potential trade partners?

As great as a season that Eric Thames had, if I'm a rival executive I'm gunning for Travis Snider. He's the diamond in the rough with a ton of upside and lots of service time left in his career.

Ideally, I'd like to see the Blue Jays hang to Travis Snider and include Eric Thames in some sort of package deal. One could argue that we've seen the best that Thames has to offer, and while I don't claim to be Miss Cleo, I can't foresee Thames improving upon his rookie campaign.

There's always the possibility trading Thames could come back to bite the Blue Jays, but that's the cost of doing business. Pure and simple, you have to give up talent to get talent.

The Blue Jays have much more time and energy invested into Travis Snider than they do Eric Thames. While Thames' journey to the majors seemingly came out of nowhere, Snider's story has been under the microscope and heavily publicized since day one.

Maybe they would be more willing to part with a nice surprise like Eric Thames than a highly-touted prospect such as Travis Snider? Which means perhaps the time is now to cash in on Eric Thames while his value is at its highest, and to hang on to Travis Snider while his value is at its lowest.

As it stands, that outfield is only big enough for three full-time outfielders, and there's six guys who could all take those spots. All I have to say ... is may the best men win.

Friday, December 9, 2011

If You Come, They Will Build It


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Image courtesy of Canada.com
"Payroll parameters"; it was a phrase that was dropped by Paul Beeston earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, and it's a phrase I have a feeling we'll be hearing quite often these next few years.

What exactly does payroll parameters even mean? I'm still not quite sure, but the gist of it seems to be that even though the Blue Jays could spend up to $120 million in payroll, they aren't going to.

Alex Anthopoulos is usually pretty tight-lipped about things like this, but Paul Beeston's comments in Dallas were a little disconcerting:
"We’re still capable of going to the US$120 million payroll once we start drawing the people."
Some might have taken Paul Beeston's words out of context, but what I got from it was "if you come, they will build it".

AA typically shies away from mentioning anything about payroll, and maybe that's just his nature or perhaps it's more of Paul's area as the team president. After all, Beeston has reiterated a few times that the money was there if the Blue Jays needed to boost payroll.

As exciting as it is to hear the president of the Blue Jays feed us this news, the key thing that Beeston said was "once we start drawing the people". Which means that it's in the hands of the fans to help bring up the payroll?

Whether it's in print, on the radio, TV, or any corner of the blogosphere, there's nothing that irritates me more as a fan when people call my (our) fandom into question. Citing "real fans would come down to the ballpark and support this team" just makes by blood boil.

Trust me, the people that truly support the Toronto Blue Jays are going to the Rogers Centre. They're the season ticket holders, they're flex pack holders, they're Toronto Star pass holders, they're 20 ticket pack holders, and they're even the single game ticket buyers.

These folks are there game-in and game-out, and have been for a very long time. In the media, we don't hear about all the fans that were at the Rogers Centre watching the Blue Jays, it's about the fans that weren't.

If Paul Beeston insinuated the Blue Jays would be more aggressive in the pursuit of free agents if more fans came down to the ballpark, that's backwards thinking. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way; fans won't flock to the Rogers Centre in hopes that payroll will increase.

If the Blue Jays want to boost attendance, it's very simple; they have to win. And I'm not just talking one season of making the playoffs, I'm talking the Blue Jays need to be perennial contenders. 

Look at the heyday of the Blue Jays in the late 80's and early 90's; they were favourites year-in and year-out, and the attendance numbers reflected that. The Blue Jays were the hottest ticket in town because they were a successful team.

I always chuckle when people say "player X would bring more fans to the ballpark". I'm sorry, but one solitary baseball player doesn't drive attendance numbers through the roof. Sure, it's a bonus to see your favourite player in action, but ultimately fans go to see the team.

The latest example of this can be seen at JaysFansWantFielder.com, whose proprietor suggests that fans would to go X amount of more games if the Blue Jays signed Prince Fielder. It also suggests fans should cancel their Rogers services if the team doesn't pony up the money for Prince.

While the site has accumulated over 1200 "signatures", let me ask those people this; if the Blue Jays signed Prince Fielder but then the team tanked, would you still attend all those extra games to promised to go to? I highly doubt it.

What it all boils down to is a winning team on the field puts fans in the stands. The segment of the extremely loyal fan base will always be there, but the market the Blue Jays are trying to capture are those casual fans. And right now, they might not see the value in going to the Rogers Centre unless the Blue Jays are in contention.

Maybe the Blue Jays hands are tied when it comes to payroll, and maybe they have an endless supply of cash at their disposal. Only the top executives know the truth, but it's not right to dangle a figure in front of the fans and then take it away.

Most folks can see past the arbitrary $120 million dollar payroll amount Paul Beeston lobbed out there and realize what really matters is building a solid foundation and then filling in the pieces later. But the casual fan might see it as "if they can spend up to $120 million, why don't they?"

Those are the exact same fans that the Blue Jays are trying to get down to the ballpark, yet it's also the exact same fans they're alienating by saying they have cash, but aren't spending it.

One can argue the big caveat of the J.P. Ricciardi era was all the big money contracts he shelled out during his tenure as the Blue Jays General Manager. I'll agree they may not have been the best contracts in the world, but there's no questioning J.P. wasn't going full tilt to build a winner.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning whether Alex Anthopoulos is going about things the right way, because I believe he is. What I am questioning is the organization's willingness to spend money ... or at least their public stance on increasing payroll.

I'm willing to chalk it up to a slip of the tongue by Paul Beeston. Perhaps all those questions at the Winter Meetings about Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish finally got to him and his comment was a way to deflect any more questions about spending.

If the money is there and it makes sense to spend it, then do it. But don't dangle a number in front of fans like a carrot and promise them if they buy more tickets, the Blue Jays might just buy that shiny new free agent.

If you build it, they will come ... not the other way around.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kelly Johnson, Will You Accept This Arbitration Offer?


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In just a few mere hours, somebody could walk away with an arbitration rose, or they could just walk away.

Except if it's the latter, there won't be a limo waiting with a camera inside waiting to film that quintessential single tear rolling down the cheek. Come midnight tonight, we'll know whether Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and
Kelly Johnson will accept salary arbitration.

Note: I probably shouldn't have waited until the 11th hour to post this, as Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco have now signed contracts with the New York Mets. Kelly Johnson is the sole player left to either accept or decline arbitration.

Kelly Johnson

Will he accept arbitration? Definitely ... maybe.

With the plethora of multi-year contracts being dealt out to middle-of-the-road infielders, it seemed all but certain that Kelly Johnson would test the free agent waters. But now, I'm not so sure.

If Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, and Jerry Hairston Jr. were all awarded multi-year deals, then a second baseman of Kelly Johnson's calibre would have no problem getting a deal.

Most thought that Kelly Johnson's modified Type A status would make him a much more attractive option, and they were right. But why is he still undecided ... is KJ waiting for the Blue Jays to table a multi-year offer before he declines?

Judging by the way Alex Anthopoulos likes to work, I don't think tabling an offer is at the forefront of his priorities at the Winter Meetings. He's likey looking to pick up a second baseman via trade.

But if nothing pans out via the trade route, then the Blue Jays do have Kelly Johnson as a backup plan. The only problem is an offer from Toronto has to look more attractive than any other possible offers Kelly Johnson has out there.

I can't recall where I saw it on Twitter, but someone suggested that Kelly Johnson should just accept arbitration and the Blue jays should bring him back for one year. KJ could then build off a better season in 2012 and hit free agency and go for a better deal next off-season.

It's a bit of a risky strategy, one employed by Carlos Pena this past off-season. By his standards, Pena had a down year in 2009 but then signed a $10 million dollar one-year contract with the Chicago Cubs in hopes of rebuilding his stock.

Pena had a better 2011, but nobody's beating down the door now to bring Carlos Pena to their team. The Cubs have an arbitration offer out on Carlos Pena, and much like Kelly Johnson, he has yet to accept or decline.

If I'm Kelly Johnson's agent, I'm not necessarily taking whatever offer I can get, but if it makes more sense to just accept arbitration from the Blue Jays and take a $7 million dollar one-year deal, I'm doing it.

On the other hand, if a 2-year $15 million dollar offer comes up, then I'm taking that too (this is why I could never be an agent, I'm a horrible negotiator). I guess it all depends on how much Kelly Johnson enjoys that extra year(s) of security that comes with a multi-year contract.

If KJ is a betting man, then he'll accept arbitration and try to have a career season and go for the big money next off-season. However, if Kelly Johnson wants to play it safe, then he should go with whoever offers the biggest/longest contract.

The funny thing is the Toronto Blue Jays could be the team in both of those scenarios. We'll know before the crack of midnight tonight.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sergio Santos Swapped to the Blue Jays


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Well, the search for the new closer of the Toronto Blue Jays has come to an end; it will be Sergio Santos.

In typical Silent Assassin style, Alex Anthopoulos pulled off yet another blindsided trade, shipping prospect Nestor Molina to the Chicago White Sox for Sergio Santos.

At first, I was a little puzzled by the move because it was just a few weeks ago that John Farrell stated the club had internal discussions that Nestor Molina might be the closer of the future. Having worked with him first hand in Lansing and then New Hampshire, Sal Fasano sung the praises of Molina as well.

Perhaps that was just the Blue Jays talking up their prospects, but then they turned around and traded away their "closer of the future". I'm not sure how serious those discussions were about Molina as closer, but something must have changed since then.

Sure, Toronto could've given Nestor Molina the ball out of Spring Training camp as the closer and gone the rookie closer route. It certainly would've been a cost-controllable option, but there would have been questions about Molina's ability to jump to the majors.

Was that just the Blue Jays trying to add more value to one of their highly-touted prospects? If it was, that was a genius move, but one would think a team's scouting report wouldn't be influenced by what another team says in the media about said prospect.

After the initial puzzlement wore off, I looked at Sergio Santos' contract details and suddenly this swap started to make much more sense. Santos is under contract through 2014 and has three options tacked on to the end of the contract. So if they wish, the Blue Jays can control Sergio Santos until 2018.

That being said, unless Santos transforms into one of the elite perennial relief pitchers in the league, I highly doubt the Blue Jays will be exercising all three of those options for $6 million, $8 million and $8.75 million respectively.

Having a reliever of Santos' calibre for six years is a very valuable commodity, and one I'm sure Alex Anthopoulos prefers to signing Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell or Ryan Madson to ridiculous amounts of money.

Judging by the way the closer's market has boiled down this off-season, the price for signing free agents has been very steep ... maybe even much steeper than Alex Anthopoulos anticipated.

Trading one of your top prospects for a reliever is always risky business, but this is not something AA isn't accustomed to. Molina was highly-touted as a starter, but he must have been projected at best as a reliever. In that case, the edge goes to the Blue Jays.

With Sergio Santos, the Blue Jays get a good compromise; a reliever who has two seasons of experience in the big leagues, and who can close out games if need be. He doesn't even necessarily need to be the closer, but he more than likely will take the closer's reins for now.

Now with Zach Stewart and Nestor Molina moving from Toronto to Chicago, I'll have to keep a close eye on the White Sox starting rotation the next few seasons. It will be interesting to see what comes of both of those young arms.

In the meantime, Sergio Santos will take his post at the top of the depth chart in the Blue Jays bullpen. He will no doubt be a pleasure to watch as he misses opponents bats.

And here's a fun fact about Sergio Santos: he didn't give up an earned run on the road all season until September 3rd. In total, he only gave up five runs on the road. Talk about a road warrior!

Santos also held opponents to a .129 AVG on the road and had a 1.47 ERA away from home. Again, I might just be cherry picking stats here for the sake of making this trade look great, but Sergio Santos looks to be a fine addition to the Blue Jays bullpen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Prince Fielder's Premium Price


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Are the Toronto Blue Jays in on Prince Fielder? Are they not in on Prince Fielder? After what happened on the weekend, I'm a little confused.

The initial "report" out of Cleveland saying the Blue Jays were the frontrunners to land Fielder seemed a little odd to me. Why would an Indians beat writer have the scoop on what the Blue Jays were doing? Unless of course it's Jordan Bastian ... former super Blue Jays beat man.

Then of course it seems like Alex Anthopoulos is adamantly denying any reports. Which makes sense because from the very beginning AA said they were not looking to make any big splashes in the free agent waters this off-season.

Even though my brain tells me the Blue Jays want no part of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, my inner fanboy is teaming with excitement that Fielder in Toronto might be a faint possibility.

And this is exactly why I think folks on the outside looking in believe the Blue Jays are one of the best fits out there for Prince Fielder; ramping up the payroll is not an issue with Toronto, and he Blue Jays have a need for Fielder.

With the new Blue Jays regime spearheaded by Alex Anthopoulos, I feel like I've been conditioned to detest signing any free agent to a long-term contract. Locking up Jose Bautista was one thing, but paying for Prince Fielder is another.

Players of Prince Fielder's calibre will unquestionably come at a premium price, but the question Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the Blue Jays front office have to ask themselves is "is it worth it?".

If the Blue Jays truly feel like they have all their ducks in a row and are very close, then by all means they should go for it. Somebody like Fielder doesn't come around very often, and if he's the final piece of the puzzle then it definitely makes sense.

I can't speak on behalf of the organization, but I'd think it's safe to say they aren't quite there yet. One could argue that starting pitching is actually more of a question mark than offense for the Blue Jays, and the team should be looking to upgrade and develop their pitchers further.

While it would be great to get Prince Fielder at his peak with a 5-6 WAR season for the next few years, if the starting pitching continues to be a concern than it will be all for not. I think the team needs to get that in order first before adding any additional pieces.

It's like going to the Pizza Hut buffet and just piling up your plate with breadsticks; sure, the breadsticks are tasty and you could probably eat a million of them, but you need to balance out the plate to have a proper meal. Throw a couple slices of pizza and some salad on there too to even things out.

And now suddenly I have a craving for the Pizza Hut buffet. 

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