Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The State of the Franchise Recap


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Image courtesy of Minor League Ball
First and foremost, I'd like to say thank you to the Blue Jays for putting together the State of the Franchise. It was primarily for season ticket holders, but luckily yours truly was able to make it in via invitation.

I have to say, the cold desolate winter months are especially taxing on baseball fans, so I was nice to have a brief break from winter's cold grip. Even with the threat of a winter storm outside, it was great to talk about the boys of summer with the Blue Jays fanbase.

Even though some would consider the 2012 Blue Jays off-season to be a PR disaster, there actually weren't that many hostile season ticket holders at the State of the Franchise. To atmosphere was actually very positive, and it seemed there were far more people in attendance this year than last.

There there were a few loaded questions, but as a paying customer, they're more than entitled to be disappointed if their team did anything other than win the World Series.

I'll start off with a few key questions and answers which I thought were the most telling. These came closer to the end of the State of the Franchise, but I thought they were some of the most prominent answers.

Obviously free agents were a hot topic, but it's not as though the Blue Jays have sat idly by while the most coveted free agents signed elsewhere. By Alex Anthopoulos' comments, it sounded like the Blue Jays had offers on the table, but the players didn't want to come to Toronto for various reasons:
"I can't say the names, but there were two players who we offered more years and more dollars to. And we ultimately for other reasons couldn't sign the player.

With a lot of players at times, sometimes they don't want to play on turf no matter what money. Some don't want to DH at no matter what money. And some have health concerns ... and some don't want to change leagues ... even if you offer more years and more money."
Considering that response came directly after a question about Carlos Beltran, one has to assume he was one of the two players Alex Anthopoulos was referring to. The identity of the other player is shrouded in a bit more mystery, but Mike Wilner suspects it was Ryan Madson.

I'm willing to bet it was a reliever, and Ryan Madson and Heath Bell probably would have been excellent guesses. So maybe the Blue Jays had a lot more offers on the table than most thought.

Regarding the turf, it actually played a far more pivotal role than I thought when it comes to attracting free agents. One fan went so far as to call it a "patchwork quilt" and another called it an "eyesore".

Interestingly enough, it turns out the Blue Jays have actually explored the possibility of converting the Astroturf into a grass field according to Paul Beeston.
"We're actually examining the ability of bringing grass in here. This is a multi-purpose stadium, it doesn't mean we're going to do it ... but we've brought grass in here for soccer before, so it will work.

We are looking at it because from our point of view and Alex just brought it up ... this gentleman over here was talking about whether or not we can attract free agents and whether we can bring players here. Some don't want to play on turf."
The big elephant in the room had to do with signing of free agents (or lack thereof), and was addressed right off the top by the Master of Ceremonies, Buck Martinez.

He lobbed a leadoff question to Paul Beeston regarding how long-term contracts might or might not fit into the organization's philosophy:
"We do not want to tie our hands as to what we do in the future ... Prince Fielder was looking for the long term contract that we would not commit to. If it was a one year deal, we would have been there. If it had been a three year deal, we would have been there. If it had been a five year deal, we might have been there.

Once you get over that, that did not make a whole bunch of sense for the Toronto Blue Jays, given where we want to go and what we want to do, and given our options into the future."
I know this sudden "no more than five year contracts" puts the Blue Jays in a tight spot when it comes to attracting free agents who want to sign long term, but I think I'm beginning to understand this strategy.

I think it all comes back to the Vernon Wells contract. The Blue Jays luckily dodged a bullet by shedding that contract, but just think how much money would be tied up in him right now had that trade not gone down.

Vernon would've needed to be one of the elite outfielders in the game to substantiate that kind of money for one player. And even then, it would be a hell of a lot of money annually for just a single player on the roster.

All this makes me feel a little better about the Blue Jays not making a push for Prince Fielder. Even a player of his calibre, history dictates that his production will drop off as he ages. And in the 9th year of his contract when he'll arguably be at his worst, Fielder will be making $24 million dollars.

There's no question AA has built a reputation as a cold, calculated Silent Assassin, and yet despite some shrewd moves over the past few seasons, he assured ticket holders he wasn't merely trying to amass draft picks and/or prospects:
"The plan wasn't to continue to lose good big league players and collect draft picks. Certainly at the time ... having a good sense the CBA was going to change, that was the time to do that. If all we're going to sit here and do for the next 5-10 years is collect draft picks, we're not going to see a product out on the field."
As far as current members of the roster goes, there really wasn't all that much discussion in regards to the depth chart, aside from the battle in left field which John Farrell addressed:
"The one area on the field that we go into Spring Training that's a focal point as far as competition will be left field. Both Travis Snider and Eric Thames will compete head up for the majority of those every day at bats.

We've also added Ben Francisco, Rajai Davis, so there are players in place that could end up with a platoon situation. But through those four players, it gives us enough depth internally to win that position outright in Spring Training".
The bullpen overhaul was the most active front this off-season for the Blue Jays, and Farrell touched on the pen, noting that he would try to establish more defined roles for his relievers this season. Overall in his rookie season as a manager, John gave himself a "C" which is a fair assessment.

For a fanbase that was portrayed by some as being fed up and wanting answers, the season ticket holders for the most part were pretty tame and understanding. There were the odd few who called out AA for not signing Player X or Player Y, but he explained the rationale behind it and that was fine enough for me.

Ultimately, I think most understand that John, Alex and Paul are just trying to do their job and their primary goal is not to shortcut things or to trim payroll ... it's to win. And as fans, it's our job to let them do their job.

There were many lifelong fans that were in attendance at the State of the Franchise, and during this team's history, they've seen it all; from the gong show of those early expansion days, to the Drive of '85, to the Back-to-Back World Series.

Looking back on it all, I don't think they'll ever resent the organization for not signing this player or trading to get that player. What really matters is that the Blue Jays have a plan and don't deviate from it. Just stick with the script, and all should be fine in the long run.

Monday, January 30, 2012

How Many Home Runs Will Jose Bautista Hit in 2012?


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
How does somebody go from being on five major league rosters one year, to being baseball's home run king in back-to-back seasons? How does a player go from a complete enigma to one of the most feared hitters in the game?

How does somebody go from being a scrap heap pick-up to a perennial MVP candidate? If somebody knew the answer to these questions, I'm sure there would be a lot more players like Jose Bautista out there.

There truly is no career arc that is quite as unique as Jose Bautista's. And it all culminated with his unprecedencted 2010 season, one which virtually came out of nowhere. Then something very interesting happened the following season.

After he set the bar so incredibly high in 2010, Jose Bautista actually became a better player in 2011.

The home run total dropped off expectedly, but I don't think anyone could have foreseen that Bautista would actually increase his on base percentage by 69 points year over year.

When I step back and really think about it, it still astounds me how incredible the past two years have been for Jose Bautista.

After two consecutive MVP calibre seasons, what's next for Jose Bautista? More interestingly, how many home runs might he hit in 2012?

Last year, I foolishly underestimated Jose's power and predicted he would hit somewhere in the neighbourhood of 27 home runs. As it turns out, even Zips and Bill James missed the mark, but that's a prediction I'm very glad to be wrong about.

Here is a look at what Zips, Bill James, RotoChamp and FanGraphs Fans are forecasting this season in regards to home runs for Jose Bautista:

Projection Home Runs
ZiPS 36
Bill James 38
RotoChamp 41
FanGraphs Fans 41

RotoChamp and FanGraphs Fans are a little more generous with the tater tots, but ultimately most of the predictions are in the same general neighbourhood. After two straight seasons as the home run king, folks are finally becoming hip to the ways of the great JoBau.

Barring an injury or some sort of freak slump, I think it's safe to say we can count on Jose Bautista to hit at least 37 home runs this season. I would even venture to say that's a very modest projection, considering what Bautista has done versus the competition.

I've always pined for Jose Bautista to move down into the cleanup spot, but he would need some protection in the three spot. It might be too much too soon, but Brett Lawrie seems like the ideal candidate to bat third. Alternatively, it's also a spot Edwin Encarnacion could find some success in.

In the grand scheme of things, I guess it doesn't even really matter how many home runs Jose Bautista hits, it's when and where he hits them. The onus will fall on John Farrell to find the ideal place for Bautista in the lineup as to maximize his potency.

It's a little ambitious to expect Jose Bautista to hit 54 home runs ever again. Even though the home run totals are now fewer and farther between, becoming less of a one trick pony and more of a complete player is an excellent trade-off.

All I'm asking is that Jose keeps the tradition alive and delivers at least one Jose Bautista-patented staredown this season. Bonus points if it comes against the Yankees or Red Sox.

Personally, I'm throwing my hat in the ring for 37 home runs by Jose Bautista in 2012. But if you had to venture a guess, how many times do you think Bautista will round the bases this year?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Building a Bullpen


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Image courtesy of Voltron Central
I'm not exactly sure how one builds a bullpen from the ground up, but I've always envisioned it as a process similar to constructing Voltron (or Megazord for the Power Rangers generation).

Separately, the members all have their very own strengths and weakness, but when they come together as one entity, they form a solid cohesive unit. One that's able to defeat the evildoers of the American League East. That's how you construct a bullpen, right?

On paper, the latest addition to the bullpen in Francisco Cordero doesn't really make very much sense. The Blue Jays already have their closer and a bevy of relievers in the bullpen depth chart.

Occasionally, plans change and you have to roll with the punches. That's why it seems like Francisco Cordero seems like the Blue Jays second choice after Koji Uehara rejected a trade to the Blue Jays.

Both Cordero and Uehara are set to make $4 million this season, but Koji would be the far more coveted asset. Things didn't turn out how AA wanted, so he went with then next best thing in Cordero.

Prior to this news, one would have assumed the Blue Jays bullpen was all but set for the 2012 season. Santos, Janssen, Oliver, Frasor, Villanueva, Litsch, and Perez were slated to be the seven guys that would break camp coming out of Spring Training. Just as plans changed, the Blue Jays changed with it.

From the outside looking in, it might appear as though the Blue Jays were trying to assemble a bullpen for a contending team. But I think Alex Anthopoulos has an ulterior motive here. He's trying to stockpile relievers and parlay them into prospects at the trade deadline.

The new CBA basically rained on AA's parade and now he has to change his entire game plan. Instead of hoping for Type B free agent compensation, he'll be looking to poach prospects from other teams who will be looking for bullpen help come July. Employing the "buy low, sell high" strategy is actually a pretty good strategy.

Relief pitchers seem to be the hot commodity at the trade deadline these past few seasons, and AA can really capitalize on that by signing Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, and others. Come July, I'm sure there will be at least a few managers that will be knocking down his door trying to pry them out of Toronto.

It just doesn't make sense to sign Francisco Cordero for one year (with no option, mind you) if the team is planning on having him ride out the entire season as a member of the Blue Jays. Any one else could just as easily step in and do the same job for far less money.

Now that leaves Jesse Litsch and Luis Perez to battle for the final spot in the bullpen, and I initially thought they easily would've been shoo-ins. Along with Joel Carreno and others, one of either Litsch or Perez will be on the outside looking in come Opening Day.

If the 2011 trade deadline is proof of anything, it's that the Blue Jays are not afraid to deplete the bullpen and leave themselves short-handed in the long-term if it allows them to acquire the talent that allows them to be better in the long term.

In its current incarnation, this is a bullpen that's built to win. It's a relief corp that is constructed to be a contender, but it's not a bullpen that's meant to stay together. Some of these guys are going to be moved at the trade deadline.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Omar Vizquel and the Veteran Presence


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Image courtesy of Omar Vizquel's Twitter profile
Under normal circumstances, a General Manager would be off their rocker for signing a 44-year old infielder. It just doesn't make sense to bring in a player who made his debut a year before Brett Lawrie was even born (hat tip to @ecb282).

But these aren't just any ordinary circumstances, this isn't your ordinary team, and this certainly isn't your run of the mill General Manager.

So I guess when you can't bring back Johnny Mac, you sign his mentor instead. Omar Vizquel is the latest infielder who will get an invite to Spring training in just under a month and will compete for one of the coveted roster spots.

In a vacuum, signing Omar Vizquel does not fit into the plan for this team whatsoever. However, there are other factors at play here ... factors that perhaps are being overlooked. Yes, I'm talking of course about the dreaded intangibles.

It's not something that you'll find on Baseball Reference or FanGraphs, but ask any coach and I'm sure they'll tell you it's a quality that might be just as important as those cold hard statistics: veteran presence, and more importantly ... experience.

If it's not on paper and if it's not trackable, some folks will immediately dismiss its value. If it's not quantifiable or measurable, then how can you determine its importance? With the shift towards the Saber movement, are intangibles like veteran presence being overlooked?

Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos and John Farrell truly see the value of bringing in a 44-year old Omar Vizquel, somebody who's old enough to pass as his teammate's fathers. There has to be some value in that, otherwise why would the Blue Jays offer an invite to Omar Vizquel?

It's not for his bat, it might partically be for his glove, but mostly I think it's to use Omar Vizquel almost as another member of the coaching staff. Except he doesn't wear a windbreaker in the dugout.

In attempting to determine Vizquel's role on this team, some speculated that he might be the perfect mentor to the young Adeiny Hechavarria. It makes perfect sense; he's a work in progress, and I'm sure Omar is a fountain of knowledge and Adeiny would try to soak up as much information as possible.

Then I remembered a piece on Sportsnet from last year on Chris Woodward. He served as a mentor to the young and developing players in Las Vegas, which shows the organization is definitely interested in "clubhouse guys" and father-like figures for their young impressionable players.

Toronto's minor league affiliates are blessed to have a bevvy of very talented coaches and training staff members. But if I'm a player, I'd probably retain more information from somebody who's in the trenches every day than somebody who's coaching on the bench.

Me personally, I'm more likely to listen and look up to a cooler older brother who listened to Motley Crue and drove a Mustang than my old man who drove a Taurus and listened to Hall & Oates.

And I think that's partially why the Blue Jays recently signed veterans like Darren Oliver and Omar Vizquel. They're both talented players, but they also have a lot to offer in the way of experience and knowledge.

People might scoff at that notion, but I think that's partially why players like Oliver and Vizquel continue to play the game well into their 40's. It's not just because they can still pull it off, it's because they are teeming with valuable intangibles ... ones that can't be found in the box score.

If Omar Vizquel can mentor Adeiny Hechavarria and Yunel Escobar and help them become that much better, then his contract will be worth its weight in gold.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Randy Johnson Almost Traded to the Blue Jays


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BJH Artist's Rendition
In 1948, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck said: "sometimes, the best trades are the ones you never make".

Midway through the 1948 season, the Indians nearly sent their star player Lou Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns. Due to an uproar by the Indians fans, the team didn't pull the trigger on the trade and he remained with the club.

Keeping Boudreau would prove to be the right move as the Indians went on to win the 1948 World Series and Lou Boudreau picked up the AL MVP Award.

While it's true that occasionally the best move is no move, isn't it fun to wonder what might have happened if certain trades actually took place while others didn't?
 
The Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter is the prime example of a trade that changed the course of the franchise. Ultimately it led to the Blue Jays winning two World Series, but what if they didn't do that trade? Or what if they did pull the trigger on another blockbuster trade?

This all stems from a post I a stumbled across over at Cooperstowners in Canada. Kevin tipped me off to a piece by Mike Zeisberger in the Toronto Sun which revealed arguably the biggest trade in Blue Jays history that never happened:

Randy Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays for Steve Karsay and Mike Timlin.

It could have been a veritable powder keg that may have altered the Blue Jays timeline entirely, but instead it just fizzled out. Had Seattle Mariners GM Woody Woodward not gone golfing on August 1st 1993, perhaps Randy Johnson would have been a part of the 1993 World Champion squad.

Peter Gammons echoes Mike Zeisberger's sentiments in this piece centred around last year's Hall of Fame inductions. Miraculously, the Randy Johnson trade has somehow remained quiet for all these years.
"Gillick had two deals going, one with Oakland for Rickey Henderson (Steve Karsay and a player to be named later), one with Seattle for Randy Johnson (Karsay and Mike Timlin). 

He wanted the Johnson deal, but Pat couldn't find Woody Woodward (Mariners GM), who was playing golf. Sandy Alderson called and took the Henderson deal. 

Problem was, Rickey being Rickey, he wanted money to waive his rights. While that was being negotiated, Woodward called and said he'd take the Johnson deal. 

Pat Gillick felt he had given his word to Alderson, even if the deal hadn't been finalized. So he put the Seattle deal on hold."
Despite losing out on Randy Johnson, the Blue Jays ultimately fared very well in 1993, but one wonders what might have happened had Woody Woodward been at his desk that day to answer the phone when Pat Gillick called.

Ricky Henderson didn't really do very much in the 1993 ALCS and World Series, but he was more of a rental player to help the Blue Jays solidify their spot on the playoffs, whereas Randy Johnson could have been a new building block for the franchise.

Might the Blue Jays horrible stretch during the mid-90's have been avoided with Randy Johnson in the starting rotation? Knowing what we know now, obviously trading for Randy Johnson would have been much more lucrative in the long term that getting Ricky Henderson for the home stretch.

But can you imagine what the 1994 Blue Jays rotation would have looked like? Randy Johnson, Dave Stewart, Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen and Al Leiter.

Or if history played out as it did in the late 90's, how about a 1998 Blue Jays rotation comprised of Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen? It's mind-boggling to think that could have been a possibility.

Unless we see Doc Brown around these parts with a time machine, that's one alternate time line that will remain untraveled. But it's still fun to ponder what could have happened.

Monday, January 16, 2012

THe BJH Guide to the Blue Jays on Twitter


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My, how things change over the course of one year. In December of 2010, I put together a post of all the Blue Jays on Twitter. Back then, there were only seven players on Twitter and that number has ballooned to ten just one year later. 

And that doesn't even include the multitude of minor league players and Blue Jays alumni that are also on Twitter. Much like Twitter itself, there are more players on Twitter and they're tweeting more than ever before.

Some may think Twitter is just a bunch of digital noise about mundane happenings, but I think it's a great way to gain some insight into the lives of our favourite players off the field.

It also allows fans to interact with the Blue Jays where they might otherwise get the opportunity to. After all, if it wasn't for the internet and social media, how would be ever have found out that Travis Snider is the quintessential carnivore?

So just in case you aren't following all these guys already, here's the BJH Guide to all the Toronto Blue Jays on Twitter.

J.P. Arencibia (@jparencibia9)

By now, everyone knows that J.P. Arencibia is the preeminent Twitterer on the Blue Jays roster. He's a proponent of multiple hashtags, enjoys long walks on Miami beach, and sharing pictures of his dog Yogi.

He tweets about anything and everything, and one thing that's very evident in his post-game interviews as well as his tweets is J.P.'s sense of humour. He'll even toss out a little self-deprecating humour every once in a while, which just goes to show how down-to-earth Arencibia really is.

J.P. also uses Twitter to interact with his fellow #TeamUnit members, which is the Blue Jays/Maple Leafs supergroup spearheaded by the Blue Jays catcher. Heck, they even have their own line of merchandise for sale.

Out of all the Blue Jays on Twitter, I think J.P. Arencibia uses the medium to its full potential. J.P. truly gets what it's all about, and always makes the most of his 140 characters.


Brett Lawrie (@blawrie13)

I'm not quite sure what the standards are for one to be a "beauty", but whomever is one of the lucky few to be followed by Brett Lawrie must surely fulfill that requirement.

What must have began as an inside joke within the Blue Jays clubhouse found its way to the internet thanks to the power of Twitter. It seems like J.P. and Ricky rag on Lawrie the most about it, but it's all in good fun.


Jose Bautista (@joeybats19)

With over 145,000 followers and growing, Jose Bautista stands as the most popular member of the Toronto Blue Jays on Twitter.

Jose takes the bilingual approach to his tweets, often times tweeting in both English and Spanish. He's also very supportive of his teammates, and frequently complimented them on clutch performances during the season.

Bautista also enjoys hanging out with Scottie Pippen, watching the Steelers, and returning to his homeland in the Dominican Republic and doing some fishing with his fellow countryman Edwin Encarnacion.

And how cool is it that Jose Bautista has a screencap of himself from MLB 12 The Show as his avatar?


Ricky Romero (@rickyro24)

Ricky Romero has not only evolved into a leader on the field, but the clubhouse as well. He's a strong but silent type, and his Twitter feed reflects that persona.

Ricky is undoubtedly a big family man, and very humble for a guy who came from a modest upbringing. He seems very grounded for a guy who just signed a $30.1 million dollar contract extension this past season.

But he hasn't let the success go to his head, as Ricky just bought his parents a new house and he even surprised his mom with a a shiny new Benz for Christmas.

Growing up in East LA, Ricky was in very close proximity to a wide range of pro sports teams. Which explains why he grew up a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, LA Lakers, and his beloved San Francisco 49'ers.

RR must be on cloud nine as his 49'ers will be partaking in their first NFC Title game since 1997. For those counting, Ricky was 14 years old the last time the 49'ers had a shot to advance to the Super Bowl.

Oh, and his dog Ace is pretty cool, too.


Travis Snider (@Lunchboxhero45)

I can't recall if Travis Snider was the original Blue Jay to start sending out his thoughts 140 characters at a time, but he certainly was one of the first. Travis has very quickly learned how to make the most of that very short character limit.

Perhaps the most entertaining thing was Snider's Christmas dinner power rankings, complete with pictures of every appetizer, side dish, and main course. Those bacon-wrapped little smokies sound and look incredible.

I have to give credit to Travis for displaying the patience of a Tibetan monk with some of his followers. He tackles his haters head-on and prefers to take the "kill them with kindness" approach to any naysayers.

Snider is very active on Twitter and does a great job of interacting with his followers and answering their questions. Considering all the turmoil he experienced in 2011, Travis has remained incredibly upbeat and optimistic.


Brandon Morrow (@2Morrow23)

A few years back, there was an interview with all the members of the Blue Jays starting rotation, and Shaun Marcum made a comment about how Brandon Morrow wasn't a chatty fellow, but when he did pipe up, Morrow's one-liners were gold.

I get that sense from Brandon Morrow's Twitter feed as well; he doesn't seem like a talkative guy, but when he does speak, people pay attention.

Morrow is probably most well known for his exchange with Casper Wells, in which he apologized for on Twitter. It was the social media equivalent of a bro hug.


Edwin Encarnacion (@Encadwin)

Currently, Edwin Encarnacion only has 37 tweets to his name, and only about half of those are in English. I'm considering taking up Spanish just so I can translate the remainder of EE's tweets.


Kyle Drabek (@kyledrabek4)

I've never met Kyle Drabek in person, but judging by his online persona, he seems like a very quiet and reserved young man.

Scanning through his feed, the majority of Drabek's tweets are centred around football and food. Naturally, those two things go hand-in-hand, but other than that, there isn't much insight into Kyle's extracurricular activities.

Much like his pitching career, I think Kyle Drabek is still trying to discover himself both on the field and online. It's a bit of a work in progress, but Kyle has lots of time to learn the ropes of social media.


Eric Thames (@EThames14)

Eric Thames is the latest member of the Blue Jays to sign up for Twitter, and it didn't take him very long to make a huge impact.

Just to further substantiate that Eric Thames is the second coming of Shaft, he tweeted a picture of his latest off-season project: his beard. He is definitely one bad mother ... shut your mouth!

Thames also wins bonus points for his infatuation with early 90's wrestling references, quoting Hulk Hogan and discovering Bret Hart headbands on sale.


Darren Oliver (@southpawDO28)

And lastly, we have the latest addition to the Blue Jays roster: Darren Oliver. Up until a few days ago, I didn't even know that Oliver had an account until Ricky Romero alerted me to it.

One very cool thing that Darren Oliver used his Twitter feed for last season was he gave fans the chance to play against him in Words with Friends for a chance to win Rangers tickets.

In a related story, I think Dave just found his new favourite Blue Jay. Make that two admitted Words with Friends fanatics on the Blue Jays roster, the other being Colby Rasmus.

For a full list of current Blue Jays, minor leaguers, and Blue Jays alumni, check out my Blue Jays Players Twitter list. Or for more information on the Blue Jays on Twitter, visit the Blue Jays Social Media Clubhouse.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Something or Nothing? Anthopoulos on Prime Time Sports


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Image courtesy of Fan 590
Alex Anthopoulos is a tough nut to crack ... probably the toughest. He's like the Macadamia Nut of General Managers. That must make AA a very tough interviewee, because he never really gives that juicy sound bite folks are yearning for.

Bob McCown tried his best on Prime Time Sports last night to pry answers out of Alex Anthopoulos. Most of the interview was a lot of the same we've heard in the past, but it got very interesting close to the end.

McCown finally nailed AA on specifics on who is the favourite for the starting left fielder's position, the starting rotation, and J.P. Arencbia and Travis d'Arnaud among other things.

17 minutes into a 20 minute interview, things finally started to get juicy. There was something close to the end that Alex Anthopoulos said which really perked my ears.

I'm not sure if I'm making something out of nothing here, but when Bob McCown asked Alex Anthopoulos if this was his team today, this was AA's response:
"Right now I would say yes, but I'm hopeful something will break in 2-3 weeks, but as we sit here today I think this will most likely be the team going into Spring Training."
When I heard this the first time, I interpreted this as Alex has something on the backburner that he's hoping will materialize in the next few weeks. Whether that's a trade or a free agent signing, I can't be sure.

I wouldn't expect Alex Anthopoulos to suddenly depart from his strict "no commenting on players" policy, but perhaps after 20 minutes of Bob McCown berating him over and over about Yu Darvish, maybe AA let something slip.

The way Alex nonchalantly brushed it aside leads me to believe it could be something, as if he knew he said something he wasn't supposed to and tried to move on from it very quickly.

Was AA perhaps just throwing the fans a bone to gnaw on after a dubious off-season? I hate to speculate on something that was only three seconds long, but with Alex you can't leave any stone unturned.

It would be very out of character for the Silent Assassin to hint that a deal is in the works, because then it contradicts his entire philosophy. Then again, it's live radio and anything can happen. Remember "Wednesdays with J.P." and how Adam Dunn doesn't even like baseball?

Take a listen to the interview on PTS here, and the clip in question begins around the 20 minute mark. Again, it could be something, or it could very well be nothing at all. I guess we'll know for sure in 2-3 weeks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Penciling Brett Cecil into the Starting Rotation


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Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
Last week, John Farrell remarked that Brett Cecil is one of two players (the other being Colby Rasmus) that the club is really counting on to contribute to the team's success in 2012.  

While most fully expect Rasmus to improve on his roller coaster 2011, I'm not so sure the same can be said about Brett Cecil. He may be one candidates to take one of the three remaining spots, but I really only feel comfortable penciling Brett Cecil into the Blue Jays starting rotation.

In my eyes, Brett Cecil is like a left-handed version of Shaun Marcum minus the control; a soft-tosser who strikes out his share of batters with a changeup, but who has trouble leaving pitches up in the zone.

Brett Cecil's starts in 2011 had a "buckle-up, brace for impact" vibe to them. A "plan for the worst, hope to escape out of the fifth inning" quality.

Whenever I sat down to watch a Brett Cecil start, I had no idea what to expect. Suffice it to say, I guess that makes me a poor choice to be the president of the Brett Cecil Fan Club.

John Farrell has lofty expectations for Brett this year, but frankly I feel like we've already seen the best we're going to see out of Brett Cecil. 2010 was a career year for Cecil aided by a favourable win-loss record, but maybe that season was his peak.

I'm in the camp that an eventual move to the bullpen would likely benefit Brett Cecil the most. Working in short stints a reliever rather than long outings as a starter could help keep his control ... under control. Heck, if it worked for Jesse Litsch, why not Brett Cecil?

As time has progressed, it's beginning to become evident why the Blue Jays made the decision to transition Jesse Litsch from the starting rotation to the bullpen. Litsch was seemingly a guy the Blue Jays could count on for 5-6 innings, and that's why the move seemed like a bit of a head-scratcher at the time.

I think the key here is Listch was "okay" as a starter, but he wasn't "great". After Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, the Blue Jays could very easily find three "okay" starters like Litsch or Cecil to occupy the back end of the rotation.

In order to be a 90-win team though, they're going to have to raise the bar and rely on "good" starters. It's one thing to have a back-end rotation comprised of innings eaters, but it's another to have starters who can throw quality innings.

That's why if I had to fill out the depth chart for the starting rotation today, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek get my vote ahead of Brett Cecil. There's a huge amount of upside with both of those guys, and I just can't imagine Cecil ever pitching better than he did in his sophomore campaign.

I don't actually mind Brett Cecil in the starting rotation for the interim. Barring any injuries or trips to the minors, the Blue Jays can probably depend on him for 150 plus innings this season. Cecil's experience should also give Farrell a semblance of some familiarity in the back end of the rotation.

That being said, the ideal starting rotation that I envision over the next few seasons does not include  the services of one Brett Aarion (no, that's not a typo) Cecil. The potential exists for Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek to quickly eclipse Brett in the Blue Jays depth chart.

All this may be asking a bit much of the number four or five starter, but frankly ... if the Blue Jays want to make a run in the next few years, they need to know whether Brett Cecil can handle the workload and put forth quality innings.

And if he can't, there are plenty of other starters they could use to fill the void.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

AA's Suggested New Year's Resolutions


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Image courtesy of the New Year's Resolution Generator
Far be it from me to tell anybody else what their own New Year's resolutions should be, but I at least wanted to offer my resolution suggestions for the Toronto Blue Jays.

They aren't your typical "go to the gym" or "quit smoking" goals, for Alex Anthopoulos I have to create a special list of resolutions. Knowing his reputation as the Silent Assassin, I'm sure these have been on his radar for years anyway.

Resolution One: Sign Brandon Morrow to a Contract Extension

Outside of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow is really the only other mainstay in the starting rotation who is all but guaranteed to keep his spot. Romero was awarded his contract extension last summer, and Morrow is certainly next in line to get his.

Brandon Morrow is entering his fifth year of team control, meaning he could very well walk away a free agent by season's end 2013. That's a dangerous proposition for the Blue Jays, which means AA should lock Morrow up sooner rather than later.

If Alex Anthopoulos was hoping this past season would provide answers as to whether they should sign Morrow long term, he probably walked away with more questions than anything. A Jekyll/Hyde 2011 instilled a few doubts about Brandon Morrow, so the Blue Jays should approach this situation with cautious optimism.

With his history of injuries, I'd be less inclined to give Brandon Morrow a five-year contract like Ricky Romero's, but would rather buy out his two final years of arbitration and tack on a few extra years to make it a four-year deal at most.

The potential for Morrow to be a dominant starter in the AL has always been there, it's just a matter of everything clicking for him at once, and more importantly staying healthy.

With so many question marks surrounding the Blue Jays starting rotation, they're going to have to take a bit of a calculated risk and extend Brandon Morrow. It's far better than the alternative of letting him go for nothing and losing a solid number two starter.

Resolution Two: Figure Out What to Do With Travis Snider

This resolution has actually been a few years in the making, but 2012 is the year that this will all hopefully come to a head. This time around, AA needs to figure out what the Blue Jays are going to do with Travis Snider.

Unlike the Brandon Morrow dilemma, there isn't as much of a sense of urgency to resolve the Snider matter, but it's quickly creating a log jam in the outfield with the bevvy of outfielders and really only one full-time position available.

The key to 2012 will be trying to find out how to utilize Travis Snider to their full potential. Should he just be the starting left fielder outright? Or perhaps John Farrell should platoon Travis Snider and Eric Thames in left?

I'm not saying Snider's name needs to be handsomely written in calligraphy on the lineup card every single game, but there's no sense in having Travis Snider on the roster if he isn't going to get consistent at bats.

If they can't find a way to get Travis into the lineup, then I'm sure another team will gladly take to the task. If Snider finds himself on the bench more often than not, then you can sure Alex Anthopoulos' Blackberry will be ringing off the hook with offers.

Resolution Three: Find a Second Baseman

As of now, the Blue Jays do have a starting second baseman for the 2012 season in Kelly Johnson. Beyond that, it's anybody's guess as to who will slot in up the middle infield next to Yunel Escobar.

Judging by AA's aversion to signing free agents, it's pretty evident the Blue Jays won't be dipping into the free agent pool to find a second baseman. Which means it's either going to come down to a Kelly Johnson extension, or a trade for a new second baseman.

I assumed the Blue Jays were just going to sign Kelly Johnson to a 2-3 year contract extension at season's end, but maybe they really only see KJ as a band-aid solution.

There's no telling which second baseman would be tops on AA's wish list, but you can be sure he'll be trying his best to bring them to Toronto. Getting all this done before the 2012 off-season really puts the Blue Jays under the gun to find a long-term second baseman.

One other faint possibility is the prospect of shifting Yunel Escobar over to second base, and giving the reins at shortstop to Adeiny Hechavarria. However, most reports indicate Hech is nowhere near ready to make the leap to the major leagues, and he'd need to be ready to start by Opening Day 2013.

Adeiny only made the call from AA New Hampshire to AAA Las Vegas in mid-August, and 116 plate appearances is not nearly a big enough sample size. Not to mention, Hechavarria's defense up the middle as well.

Again, that really puts the club in a tight spot to find a long-term second base solution, so perhaps keeping Kelly Johnson around for the next couple of years is the safest bet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bolstering the Bullpen


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Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
After five months on the south side of Chicago, Jason Frasor is now back in familiar territory with the Toronto Blue Jays. For his family's sake, I hope he didn't already sell his place in Toronto back in July.

Bolstering the bullpen was one of Alex Anthopoulos' top off-season priorities, and with the acquisition of Jason Frasor and pending a physical of Darren Oliver, AA can safely cross that one off the list.

The miraculious part of all of this is the Blue Jays were able to plug the holes in the bullpen by means of just a few trades. All it took was three prospects to get two major league relievers in Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor.

Even though the Darren Oliver signing isn't official yet, one can assume the terms will be pretty reasonable as well. When all is said and done, it's a very small price to pay to assemble a team of high calibre relievers.

When it  comes to Frasor, I think it was a case of "you don't know what you've got till it's gone". Jason Frasor was a mainstay with the Blue Jays bullpen for so long that I think I just took him for granted.

During his eight year tenure with the Blue Jays and 465 career appearances, Frasor quietly developed into one of the most unheralded and underrated relievers in the club's history. I think part of the reason for that is he never really settled into a defined role until his final few seasons.

It's incredible to think Frasor had two different test drives as the Blue Jays closer; once during his rookie campaign in 2004, and another in 2009. Then there were a few successful stints as the setup man, proving that Jason really has bounced all over the bullpen.

All I can say is it's very reassuring to have a veteran right-handed weapon like Jason Frasor back in the arsenal, and I'm sure John Farrell will thoroughly enjoy his presence back in the bullpen.

So with the recent additions of Jason Frasor, Sergio Santos and Darren Oliver, the Blue Jays have shored up a good looking bullpen (on paper at least). There's no question there is now a great deal of bullpen depth on Toronto's 40-man roster.

Assuming the Blue Jays go with a four-man bench and seven-man bullpen, that means the relievers will likely be comprised of Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch, Darren Oliver (pending) and Luis Perez.

That leaves Joel Carreno, Chad Beck, Aaron Laffey, Jim Hoey and others on the outside looking in. Personally, I'd consider Carreno a favourite to crack the Opening Day roster, but even if he doesn't, it's a luxury to have him in Las Vegas waiting in the wings just in case of an injury.

After a bit of a disappointing season in regards to relief pitching, Alex Anthopoulos has quickly remedied the situation and bolstered the bullpen quite nicely. What used to be a bit of a weakness on the roster will hopefully be a strength.

There will undoubtedly be some question marks on the roster this coming season, but at least relief pitching is one aspect of the Blue Jays game that we won't have to worry about very much in 2012.

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