Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Battle in Left Field: Snider vs. Thames


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
There may be 60 feet of turf to cover at the Rogers Centre, but there's only room enough for one left fielder on the Blue Jays roster. Two men will go in, but only one will emerge in the battle for left field.

There are many story lines going into Blue Jays Spring Training, but none more compelling than the left field showdown. Will it be Travis "Meat Sweats" Snider or Eric "Chocolate Thunder" Thames who wins the spot?

Were this scenario to play out a few years ago, there might be enough room for both Travis and Eric to coexist on the roster. However, due to Snider's stunted development and Thames' fast track to the majors, here we are at an impasse.

It's a veritable logjam with a total of seven possible players who could potentially patrol the outfield. But there are only so many spots on the roster for the three outfield positions. And with two of them already spoken for, the most hotly contested battle will be in the left corner.

There really is a lot on the line here, as I believe Travis Snider will be the one playing for his life. And I don't think there's enough room for both corner outfielders on the roster. It will likely be either one or the other: Travis Snider or Eric Thames.

So who is the favourite? As Alex Anthopoulos said back in January, Snider is the more complete player but Eric Thames has a leg up on him going into Spring Training. AA also reiterated that if Travis doesn't hit, he won't be with the club this year.

Thames did tail off in the second half quite a bit, but he has a much larger and recent Major League sample size to work with compared to Snider's. In a "what have you done for me lately" world, that's where Eric Thames has the huge edge over Travis Snider.

The window for Snider to play his way onto the Opening Day roster is very short. He'll have to make a big impact in Spring Training if he wants to have a fighting chance at the starting left fielder's job. And if Travis Snider doesn't get the bat going during Spring Training, then he could very well start the year off in Las Vegas.

The other deciding factor at play here is Travis Snider only has one more option left to use. If the Blue Jays send Snider down to Las Vegas to start the season, that will burn his last option and he'll have to make the club out of Spring Training next season or he'll be at risk of being exposed to waivers.

Purely from a business standpoint, it makes the most sense to keep Snider on the roster. Using up that last option on a player with just over two years of service time puts the Blue Jays in a compromising position moving forward.

Ironically, if the Blue Jays send Travis down to AAA to start the season, they'll be commiting to keeping him on the big league roster in 2013 and beyond. Either that, or there's the risk of another team claiming him off waivers.

The alternative is Travis Snider breaks camp and stays on the 25-man roster the entire year. Then the club that last option year on Snider in their back pocket just in case. It's an out that could be worth its weight in gold.

Unlike the enigma that is Travis Snider, for the most part what you see is what you get with Eric Thames. He's going to strike out a lot, he's not going to take very many walks, but he will get a hold of a pitch every so often and remind us of his home run power.

I know it sounds like I'm completely writing off Thames after just one season, but here's the problem; unless he's the starting left fielder, I don't think Thames will find those everyday at bats he needs to improve here with the Blue Jays.

That being said, I would love for Eric Thames to prove me wrong. If he can put those brand new 20 inch pythons to work and lock down the left fielder's job, then all the power to him.

One of the things Thames has going for him is he has lots of room for improvement. He could be better defensively, and one way to do that is to learn the ropes day-in and day-out at the position.

Eric Thames bounced around between DH and the corner outfield positions last season, so some semblance of consistency at the position would probably help.

If I had to bet on a horse right now, I'd put my money on Travis Snider over Eric Thames in a short Spring Training stint. But we all know the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.

In order to hold down that job the entire year, these guys will need to have consistent results. Because if they don't, I'm sure the front office won't hesitate to make the call down to Las Vegas and get the other man on the red eye to Toronto.

I definitely don't envy John Farrell and the coaching staff because they have a tough decision ahead of them. Eventually, they'll have to pick one or the other between Travis Snider and Eric Thames.

Were the decision up to me, my head says Thames, but my heart says Snider. Now may the best man win.

12 comments:

  1. I personally don't see this as an either or situation. My preference would be to have a 4 man rotation of Lind, Encarnacion, Thames and Snider, over three positions (LF, 1B and DH).

    Some other thoughts:
    - If Snider doesn't hit this year, I don't want him around next season, so I'm not worried about burning his last minor league option.
    - I know I'm in the minority, but I think Eric Thames is and will continue to be a better hitter than Snider, it just appears he has a greater work ethic and willingness to learn.

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  2. Pro- Snider plays better defense in left field and can also play center.

    Con- Snider has a history of wrist problems.

    Pro- One could imagine a scenario where Snider shifts to first base. He is athletic enough and has the right kind of power. If Lind struggles this year then keeping Snider- just in case- might make sense.

    Pro- Thames may have huge pipes but if a player is rounding third and coming home- hard- I would pick Snider over Thames any day.

    Con- Until Snider proves to everyone that he can't play in the Major Leagues he probably has more trade value than Thames. If Alex wants to work a trade odds are that that Snider will be first to leave.

    Personally I am hoping that Snider rises to the occasion. He has the kind of effortless power that you hate to give up on. He showed last year that his arm in left field is much improved and he fields his position much more naturally than Thames.

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  3. Nice article and one of the more rational on this subject. I don't understand why others want to annoint Snider the role just because he has stud potential. No one should be above the team and MLB time should be earned. I hope as much as anyone that Snider is knocking covers off the balls come spring and all season and for seasons to come. But until (and if) that happens, let the best man win.

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  4. Peter, I'd love a world where Snider and Thames could co-exist on the roster, but I just don't think it will happen. A platoon could be an interesting option, but it sounds like they just want one or the other.

    Kevin, interesting idea about shifting Snider over to first base, I never thought of that. It would certainly open up a corner outfield spot, and with the bevy of up and coming outfielders in the minors, that could be a possibility in the foreseeable future. For a big man, Snider is surprisingly agile out there in the outfield - he has a great throwing arm as well.

    Steve, by no means should Snider get the job simply because he's been around longer. He'll have to earn that spot over Thames. Like I said, I'd love for Snider to finally get in a full season's work and blossom, but so long as the Blue Jays have a great left fielder, I'm a happy camper.

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  5. The idea of shifting one of these guys to 1B is right on. Personally I think EE and Lind are stop gaps where we can upgrade. I think that if Lind started the year slow and Snider makes the turn we could see a deal and position change. The only other thing to consider is that JP is not long for the starting catcher as DArnaud is nipping at his heels. There may be a nice package of talent that we may be able to unload in the next offseason.....

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  6. I know they are completely separate hitters/players with different mechanics, but I seem to remember Lind muscled up like Thames (albeit less so) a couple of years ago and it actually made his hitting worse I read.
    He couldn't follow through on his swing or something cause of his larger chest muscles or something.
    Anyhow, I'll be curious to hear how Thames thinks it will help him and the reality of whether it does.
    Of course he could just be trying to get action with the ladies.

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  7. Anon, the future of Lind and EE are really in question going into 2012. Who even knows if Eddie will be back next year, and depending on how this season goes for Lind, he could be trade bait (that's if any other team will want him).

    I wonder about what's going to happen with J.P. as well once d'Arnaud is ready. Does that mean Arencibia shifts to first base, or does he become the full-time DH? Or maybe AA trades him ... these are all good problems to have.

    Otto, I wonder if jacking up over the off-season is like upgrading from a Civic to a Ferarri - it's such a change of pace in power that you're not entirely sure how to handle it.

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  8. Bluebird in BoulderFebruary 10, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Arencibia's bat doesn't play anywhere but catcher, unless he takes a major step forward this year in terms of getting on base.

    I don't like the idea of Snider at 1B too much as I think going forward, unless Lind shows his 2009 chops again, that 1B will belong to Bautista starting in 2013.

    I want Snider to do well. He's the kind of player that AA would pluck from another organization. He has bags of potential, but sadly he hasn't put it all together, yet.

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  9. hi guys
    first post I am in the Snider: heart Thames: brain category. I believe that Snider is still a possible superstar, but I think he is too much "in his own head". I also think its going to be a moot point because at least two out of the three of Rasmus, Snider and Thames will be gone by late 2012 or spring 2013 either way when Marisnick and Gose arrive.

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  10. Bluebird, J.P.'s OBP is horrible and maybe he'll improve upon that this season. I like his 20+ home run power, but he does need to learn to draw a walk every now and again if he is going to be transitioned over to DH if d'Arnaud takes over behind the plate.

    Anon, welcome! I can't blame Snider in that situation ... it sounded like he had the backing of the organization no matter what, then they sent him down to Vegas after a mere 25 games.

    Looking forward into the next few years, I'm really curious to see what the outfield will look like. I think you're right that at least 2 of 3 of those guys will either be out of the outfield or just gone entirely - we'll see what happens!

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  11. JPA actually does have a slightly above average walk rate, you can even see this in the difference between his AVG and OBP.

    The reason he has a low OBP is the same as his low AVG - he strikes out too much. I remember seeing a piece durign the season that showed him swinging far too much at sliders down and away - he couldn't adjust to pitchers adjustments after his torrid start. No doubt his busted thumb also contributed to a higher K rate.

    If he can be healthy and lay off some of those sliders (much easier said than done), JPA could show a marked improvement next year

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  12. Dave, J.P.'s sophomore year in the majors will be an interesting one to watch. Most are projecting he'll be about the exact same mark or just a slightly higher OBP this season (Bill James says .281, Rotochamp says .293, ZIPS says .281).

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