Friday, March 30, 2012

The Door of Opportunity Swings Open for Drabek

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Opportunity works in mysterious ways in Major League Baseball. Some players like Brett Lawrie seem destined for greatness. Others such as Jose Bautista have to grind it out for years before they get a shot.

Enter Kyle Drabek ... who's somewhere right in the middle of those two examples. With his father Doug being a Cy Young Award winner, you'd think Kyle would come with a sense of entitlement. But last season, I think he learned there are no such things as handouts in the MLB.

Back to the opportunity thing for a second; not that players ever hope for their teammates to go on the disabled list, but it must be somewhat of a morbid exercise to sit around and wait to see who will get called up in that player's place.

And so the door of opportunity has swung wide open for Kyle Drabek. At the beginning of camp, it seemed like the starting rotation was all but determined. But as what happens during any Spring Training, plans change.

Now that Dustin McGowan is on the shelf for the time being, that vacates the fifth starter's position ... one that Kyle Drabek will be vying to fill. I'd say he not only has a decent shot at cracking the starting rotation, but there's a good chance he could be there to stay as well.

By all accounts, Drabek has looked very impressive in his starts this spring. The coaching staff believes he has really turned the corner, and Kyle even comes with a personal endorsement from Ricky Romero himself.

Earlier this week, Daniel at C70 at the Bat asked a few of us Blue Jays bloggers some questions about the upcoming season, and one of them was which pitcher will make the most strides in 2012. My choice was Kyle Drabek, simply because he really has nowhere to go but up this season.

When Kyle first received his call to the show in late September 2010, the circumstances were much different. Management was adamant about keeping Drabek in the minors the entire season, then for some reason they did a complete 180 and called him up to start three games down the stretch.

That was Kyle Drabek's audition so to speak, and he passed the initial sniff test. Then after the departure of Shaun Marcum, the pressure was on Drabek as the club would inevitably have to lean on him a little more in 2011.

So when he was taking his bumps last season in his first true start to his Major League career, his struggles may have been slightly exaggerated. With expectations so high for Drabek, anything less than excellence might have seemed like a disappointment.

Fast forward one year and the circumstances are much different. Last Spring Training, Drabek was a favourite to crack the starting rotation. This time around, expectations are much different as he'll now be playing the underdog role.

The circumstances might have Drabek in an underdog role now, but I don't really peg him as that kind of guy. He certainly has a world of potential, and I have to keep reminding myself that he's just 24 years old.
 
Judging by all his glowing reviews, Kyle Drabek has a pretty good shot at making the Opening Day roster. The real question is whether he can then perform well enough to stay in the starting rotation the entire season.

Moving forward with the starting rotation, I have much more faith in Kyle Drabek than I do Brett Cecil. Even though Drabek is very much an unproven commodity, I feel like there's a much more likelihood of something incredible happening when he takes the mound as opposed to Cecil.

With Kyle Drabek, it's not so much a question of if he will find big league success, it's when. He took a step backwards last season, but the time is now for Kyle Drabek to really make his mark on this team.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Introducing Really Lil' Bautista

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If you thought Lil' Bautista was cool, wait till you check out really little Bautista.The Blue Jays slugger is now available in Lego form!

The folks at OYO Sports Toys were kind enough to send me one of their Jose Bautista Blue Jays mini figures, and I have to say I'm quite fascinated by the minuteness of the figure.

They receive bonus points for including Bautista's beard and the brand new uniforms on their figures. Pictured is the Jose Bautista mini figure, but there are nine Lego versions of your favourite Blue Jays players; from Brett Lawrie and Brandon Morrow, to Yunel Escobar and J.P. Arencibia.

When I say mini .... I mean mini. The characters themselves are only one and 5/8 inches tall (or just over 4 centimetres for us metric folks).

So now you can recreate all your favourite MLB moments. I decided to relive Jose Bautista's home run of Roy Halladay from Canada Day weekend ... 1/40th the scale of the original.

If you get your hands on the David Robertson cut-out, you can even relive the epic Jose Bautista staredown moment, too. Even though he might be smiling in his mini figure, Bautista's stare is as cold as ever.

Just a heads up; if you're in Canada, the OYO Blue Jays mini figures are only available at the Jays Shop at the Rogers Centre and Lids Locker Room Toronto for the time being.

They aren't available for sale on the Jays Shop website quite yet, but you can call them at 1-877-JAYS-SHOP and place an order over the phone and they can ship within Canada. If you're in the US, the mini figures are available for pre-order and shipping is available.

Update: @DanielJoseph11 has this even better photo of Jose Bautista's mini figure down at Spring Training, just chilling on set.

Thanks again to the folks at OYO Sports Toys for the Jose Bautista mini figure. Check out all the players available at OYOSports.com

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Curious Dustin McGowan Contract Extension

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Under ordinary circumstances, it might seem crazy to sign a player who has appeared in only 29 games in the past 32 months to a contract extension (hat tip to @ArdenZwelling). But Dustin McGowan is anything but ordinary.

It appears as though the Blue Jays are taking a leap of faith by inking Dustin McGowan to a two-year contract extension (plus an option for a third). The timing of the announcement could not be any more confusing, as McGowan left his minor league start on Sunday with a foot injury.

There was a veritable gamut of emotions within 24 hours; at first it seemed like Dustin McGowan might not be on track to make the Opening Day roster. And then the next day, he signs a contract extension. Talk about highs and lows.

From the outside looking in, this might look like a very curious contract extension. However, as Blue Jays fans know very well, there is a much larger back story to the whole Dustin McGowan situation.

I don't believe this contract is really about the money, and it really isn't about the duration of the contract either. It's about the Blue Jays showing their commitment to Dustin McGowan and vice versa.

Much like Travis Snider, Dustin McGowan's journey back to the Major Leagues has been a long and maligned one. He has encountered setback after setback, and yet McGowan is still battling and his long-awaited comeback is nearly complete.

There's no question it's a risky move to offer up two more years and potentially a third to a pitcher who only has one full season under his belt. Occasionally in this business, it's not about making shrews moves, and it's about doing the right thing.

For someone with the moniker of the "Silent Assassin", this was one move by Alex Anthopoulos that wasn't cold and calculated. It might be viewed as a smart signing by the Blue Jays, but this was more about being loyal to Dustin McGowan than it was the bottom line.

As perplexing as this contract extension may be, at least it locks up another member of the starting rotation long term. That means the Blue Jays now have three starters locked up through 2015 (pending they exercise Morrow and McGowan's options).

I don't understand why some folks are being critical of the Dustin McGowan contract extension. This is a no-risk move for the Blue Jays, and at this point they really don't have anything to lose. Frankly, neither does Dustin.

Yes, that money could very easily be spent elsewhere, and McGowan's roster spot could be filled in a heartbeat. With the wealth of starting pitching in the minor league system, there's a laundry list of candidates who could step in to that fifth starter's job.

But you know what? If the Blue Jays were going to spend all this time and effort getting Dustin McGowan back to the altar, they may as well go through the ceremony. They've come this far with McGowan, so why not just take the next step?

For someone who was nearly written off completely, it's incredible just how far Dustin McGowan has progressed these past few years. There must have been instances when he thought he'd never pitch in the Major Leagues ever again, and yet he's persevered and fought his way back.

From Dustin McGowan's perspective, I think he needed reassurance that the club was going to continue to support him. Why go through all this rehabbing if the team is just going to cut him loose at the end of the season?

Dustin now has that security and can focus on his rehab without wondering what might happen six months down the road. This contract extension is now the light at the end of the tunnel for Dustin McGowan.

Image courtesy of Toronto Star

Monday, March 26, 2012

Left Fielders Do Clash

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Two men went in, and one emerged victorious. My heart said go with Travis Snider, but my head said go with Eric Thames. And ultimately, it was logic that prevailed over emotion.

Most predicted that the battle for the Blue Jays starting left fielder's job would be a battle; and up until yesterday, it was a neck and neck race between Travis Snider and Eric Thames. And just like that, the battle for left field was over.

Eric Thames had every reason to win the left fielder's job. He has played incredibly well this Spring Training, and it was his job to lose all along. While Snider did challenge for the position, his efforts came up just a little short.

So that means Travis Snider will indeed start the year in Triple A. His final option year has now been burned and the Blue Jays will be free to call him up and send him down at their will this season, but next year is a different story.

If Snider doesn't break camp out of Spring Training in 2013, he will be exposed to waivers and the Blue Jays risk him being claimed by another team. And I'm sure there are other teams out there that are just salivating at the prospect of adding Travis Snider to their roster.

The journey for Travis thus far has been a long and grueling one. Which is why I think his trip has been especially taxing on not just Travis himself, but the fans as well. We've been emotionally invested in Snider since 2008, and four years is a long time to wait for him to get his big break.

Unfortunately, for several reasons, Travis hasn't received that big break yet. Whether it was Cito Gaston's apparent dislike for him, injuries, or his swing retooling, Snider never really did get the chance to flourish.

I know this post is beginning to sound like Travis Snider's eulogy, but I don't believe his time with the Blue Jays has come to an end. Yet, there are those who believe the Blue Jays should put him on the trading block.

On the contrary, I think this move actually signals that Alex Anthopoulos wants to put Eric Thames on the block. AA may very well just be showcasing Thames as the starting left fielder to be a potential trade target.

It certainly makes sense; starting Eric Thames is like playing with found money. I don't think the club expected Thames to make his way through the ranks as quickly as he did, so they may as well play up Thames as much as possible and sell high.

Since Travis' development has been so many years in the making, I often forget he's just 24 years old. As Jon Morosi noted, if Snider was drafted out of college and put up the numbers he has this spring, then he would be the next big thing.


I guess the one positive side affect of Travis Snider being optioned is the Blue Jays do have the luxury of having two equally talented left fielders to choose from. While most teams would kill for just one of these guys, the Blue Jays have two.

In retrospect, the Blue Jays did rush Travis Snider too quickly to the majors and that may have hurt him in the long run. Part of that had to do with the previous regime and the coaching staff, so there's no sense in holding that against the current front office.

If the Blue Jays could go back to 2008, I'm sure they'd do things much differently with Travis Snider's career. However, that's all in the past and the team has chosen to move forward with Eric Thames ... at least for the time being.

A player's path to the Major Leagues doesn't come without a few bumps in the road ... and Travis Snider has certainly seen his fair share of setbacks. But this latest demotion for Travis is just another bump in the road.

Eric Thames has experienced some hardships as well; he tore his quad right before the 2008 draft and subsequently missed the entire summer of '08. Then he only played 59 games in 2009 because of a torn meniscus.

The difference though is since Snider was rushed to the show so quickly, his struggles were heavily publicized and in the public eye, while Thames' hardships stayed relatively under the radar.

It's hard to believe it's been nearly four years since a rosy-cheeked Travis Snider made his big league debut at Yankee Stadium. And the fact that Travis has been able to keep his head held high after all these years just goes to show you how much character he has.


If Travis Snider can continue to focus on his game and persevere as he has these past four years, it won't be too long before we see him back with the big club once again. I'm willing to bet a steak dinner on it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Violating the Five Year Policy for Votto

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
When it comes to MLB free agents, they're only looking for three things: money, years, and a shot at winning a World Series ring. So it should come as no surprise that Joey Votto is also seeking that highly coveted trifecta.

What it really boils down to money. Joey Votto has been one of the best players in the Major Leagues these past few years and in turn he wants to be paid like one.

Votto wants the cash that first baseman like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder commanded this offseason. Frankly, you can't blame him. There's a reason why Jerry Maguire didn't shout "show me the city!" ... and that's because it's all about the Benjamins, baby.

Despite the hopes of him coming back to Canada, I don't think Votto has the Blue Jays on his short list of potential destinations. As enticing as it might be to suit up in his former hometown, the chance to play in Toronto is trumped by the almighty dollar.

Quite simply, he fact that the Blue Jays are in Votto's hometown means next to nil. Jon Heyman went right to the source, and it sounded like he will not be taking a hometown discount any time soon:
"It would be tough for a position player to sign for five years. No matter how fond a person is of the city, players have to maximize the number of years."
Even though it makes perfect sense for the Blue Jays to sign Joey Votto, he isn't giving any preference to his hometown team. If anything, he's basically all but ruled the Jays out because they won't sign contracts in excess of five years.

Earlier this week, TSN 1050's Cybulski & Company were debating whether the Blue Jays should renege on their five-year maximum contract policy. I believe it was Dave Feschuck who made the point (paraphrasing here) that the Blue Jays are handcuffing themselves by adhering to this policy.

Perhaps they should make an exception for this special case? I mean, how often do players with the offensive and defensive calibre of Joey Votto come along? Not very often.

It feels like we're having the same discussion about Joey Votto as we were with Prince Fielder. Both would shore up the first base situation for many years to come, and all it would take to sign them is cash ... but lots of it.

Unless Adam Lind reverts back to his 2009 self or David Cooper or Mike McDade develop into the team's first baseman of the future, the Blue Jays are going to have a serious problem at first base in the next few years.

Which is why the prospect of signing Joey Votto is so tantalizing; he fits the exact requirements that the Blue Jays are looking for right now. Still relatively young, solid defensively, and an incredible offensive weapon at the plate.

Not to mention, Joey Votto could finally provide the Blue Jays with some stable lineup protection for Jose Bautista. Just for a moment, imagine the 1-2 punch of Votto and Bautista. That's the kind of stuff dreams are made of.

Unless the Jays act on that impulse, they'll have to explore other avenues when it comes to the right side of the diamond. Knowing Alex Anthopoulos' affinity for acquiring players via trade, there are really only a select few up and coming first baseman that might be on his radar.

Scouring through the list of potential suitors, the only name that really stood out to me was Mitch Moreland. Barring a trade with the Texas Rangers for the first baseman, the Blue Jays will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to first base.

Do they give Adam Lind the benefit of the doubt? Do they hand the reigns to David Cooper or Mike McDade? Do they trade to get Mitch Moreland? Or do they do the unthinkable and pony up the cash and sign Joey Votto?

I don't know how much Alex Anthopoulos hands are tied when it comes to long-term contracts like ones Votto will be gunning for, but it sounds like the powers that be aren't giving him very much wiggle room.

If the Blue Jays were willing to make an exception for their five year contract policy to sign Joey Votto (or any other top tier first baseman for that matter), not only would it solidify the position, but it would be a huge upgrade offensively.

At this point in his career, I think it's safe to say banking on Joey Votto is a pretty safe bet. So although it would be a huge chunk of change to sign Votto, it would hopefully be money very well spent.

And if AA wanted to get creative create a loophole in the five year policy, maybe the Blue Jays could offer a five year contract with 2-3 player options? If they gave Jose Bautista a sixth year with an option, then that doesn't necessarily mean contracts are five years maximum ... no exceptions.

The funny thing is I didn't see anybody harping on the Detroit Tigers for signing Prince Fielder. Was that because they're the odds-on favourite to repeat as AL Central Champions? Perhaps. But I suppose it's all about perception, right?

If the Blue Jays perceive that they're extremely close to contending, then signing Joey Votto could push them over the top. Whereas if they still have a few more leaps to make, then undertaking a contract of Votto's magnitude might not seem that wise.

The problem is the Blue Jays don't have that luxury of sitting around and waiting until they're on the cusp of contention. They need to be proactive and foresee how their roster will look in the next 2-3 years.

Should the Blue Jays make a play for Joey Votto, or should they just stay the course and avoid the rat race for his services? As you can tell, it's an issue I'm very conflicted about.

If the Blue Jays had a viable long-term first base solution in place, then I'd feel a little more safe. However, the position is in flux at the moment and there's no better way to solidify it than by signing the best potential free agent first baseman.

I just hope the door isn't completely closed on signing Joey Votto, because it would be a huge mistake to not at least consider it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Futility of Spring Training

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Image courtesy of @DerekHingle
At its core, Spring Training is just a month-long exhibition. Sure, you could argue about the innate futility of these games in March. And as cliche-ridden as they may be, springtime baseball is a necessary element to prepare for the Major League season.

The thing about Spring Training records (and statistics even) is that they may be a little misleading. On the surface, the Blue Jays 13-4 Spring Training record looks impressive, but it's also something that should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

It's incredibly difficult to gauge in March where the Blue Jays might end up in September. There really is no set pattern that dictates how they'll finish the season. A team that tanks in the Spring might go on to win the World Series, and vice versa.

Some of the best springs in Blue Jays history have lead to successful regular seasons. Looking back at the Blue Jays Spring Training records, they fared best in 1985 and 1989 with 19-10 and 21-19 records respectively. Both of those teams went on to win AL East division titles.

On that same token though, the 1992 and 1993 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays went 13-18 and 11-19 in Spring Training. So you can see why most experts don't put very much stock in these Spring Training games.

It's also hard to get excited about individual Spring Training results because there are enigmas from year's past like Jason Lane and Gabe Gross. They tore it up in Spring Training, and yet they did next to nothing in the majors. Lane hasn't even taken an at bat in the big leagues since 2007.

On paper, it looked like Edwin Encarnacion had a banner game last Wednesday when he went 3 for 3 with two home runs and four RBI's. Then you'll see one of those home runs came off Manny Banuelos; a pitcher that spent most of 2011 playing for the Yankees double A affiliate.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise when the Blue Jays starters beat up on minor league pitching from other organizations. Frankly, that’s what they should be doing … and I wouldn’t expect anything less.

I think these Spring Training contests start to get really interesting towards the latter innings of the game. That’s when the lower level prospects emerge from the darkness and get their time to shine in the spotlight.

While he started the game outright, Yan Gomes is one name that has garnered quite a bit attention as of late. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know who Gomes was … and here he’s played in nine games in March already.

As the Tao of Stieb would say, March is when springtime mancrushes are born. And after that 3 for 3 performance yesterday with three doubles, I think I can safely say Yan Gomes is the latest apple of the collective Blue Jays fans’ eye.

But once again, one cannot get too caught up in these “inflated” Spring Training statistics. Looking at the battle for left field purely from a statistical standpoint, it might appear as though Travis Snider has the slight edge over Eric Thames.

Alex Anthopoulos has said they’re looking for “quality at bats” from both of these guys. So whether Snider finishes Spring Training with four home runs or ten home runs is almost irrelevant. What it will really boil down to are the intangibles the coaching staff is looking for.

Spring Training is fun and all, but just take it for what it is. It’s not a barometer for success in the regular season; Spring Training is merely a warm-up for the grueling 162 game schedule that’s on the horizon.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Blue Jays finish their Grapefruit League schedule with a 27-4 record or a 13-18 record. For the most part, Spring Training is a futile exercise, but it certainly helps occupy our time until Opening Day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Scouting Sergio Santos' Slider

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Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
An interesting thing happened the other day while I was flipping through Brooks Baseball's Player Cards. I stumbled across Sergio Santos' page, and I have to admit I was blown away.

You could say the Blue Jays have lacked a solid closer since the heyday of B.J. Ryan in 2008, and the key to being a dominant closer is having the one true "strikeout pitch".

B.J Ryan had that devastating fastball/slider combo, which is very similar to the next generation of Blue Jays closers in Sergio Santos.

Now that the Blue Jays have finally found their closer, perhaps John Farrell can now feel a little more safe about handing the ball to his closer in a save situation. And Farrell has plenty of reasons to feel at ease.

I'm not usually one to get all googly-eyed about a pitcher's repertoire, but I have to admit that I am extremely excited to see what Sergio Santos will bring to the table for the Blue Jays. More specifically, what that slider of his can do.

Last July, ESPN rated Sergio Santos' slider as baseball's top out pitch.The Chicago White Sox colour commentator Steve Stone also had heaps of praise for Santos, declaring his slider "unhittable".

Not surprisingly, that comment came from one half of what might be the biggest homer TV commentators in all of baseball, but it's still a nice compliment.

So when I stumbled across all the data on his Brooks Baseball's player card page, it made perfect sense that it all matched the glowing reviews of Sergio Santos' slider.

The first graph that really stood out to me was Santos' pitch locations. The break on his slider to right-handed hitters in particular might be as Stone indicated ... unhittable.

All Pitches vs. LHB All Pitches vs. RHB
Take that one step further with two strikes, and opposing batters might as well just pack up and leave the batter's box before the pitch is even thrown.

0-2 Count  vs. LHB 0-2 Count vs. RHB
But it's not just Brooks Baseball's pitch locations that show the filthy factor of Sergio Santos' slider, it's also very apparent in the heat maps as well from ESPN and FanGraphs.

Image courtesy of ESPN
Slider vs. LHB (Fangraphs) Slider vs. RHP (Fangraphs)
If I were a right-handed batter facing Sergio Santos and behind in the count,
I would fear for my life.

Hitters are pretty much dead in the water against Santos with two strikes (.102 OPP AVG) at which point he's more than likely to deploy his weapon of choice: the slider.

Much like Samuel L. Jackson's character in the cinematic classic Deep Blue Sea, righties must surely know it's only a matter of time before they're eaten alive by a genetically modified shark.

What frightens me a little bit is when Santos spoke about wanting to work his changeup back into his repetoire to accompany his fastball and slider. I'm all for diversity, but why mess with a good thing?

If Santos does in fact incorporate a changeup in with this fastball in slider, his changeup is clocked in around 87-90 MPH ... just slightly faster than Brett Cecil's much-maligned fastball velocity.

The one criticism that comes with the incredible movement is the inherent wildness of that pitch. Having a slider as deadly as Santos' is somewhat of a double edge sword; with the devastating factor of his slider also comes the wildness and unpredictability of it.

Santos doesn't even need to throw his slider for strikes to induce a swing, but J.P. Arencibia and Jeff Mathis better be prepared for that movement outside of the zone to avoid wild pitches and passed balls.

However, I think that's just one small drawback to what is an otherwise lethal pitch. One that some will say is the best strikeout pitch in all of baseball. And one Blue Jays fans can look forward to watching for many years to come.

Pitch F/X courtesy of Brooks Baseball, Heat Maps courtesy of ESPN 
and FanGraphs

Monday, March 12, 2012

The BJH Blue Jays Fantasy Baseball Draft Primer

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This Sunday is the BJH Fantasy Baseball Draft. And much like Paul Rudd, I'll be waiting in anticipation of assembling a worthy team while also watching the season finale of The Walking Dead (multitasking!). This year I vowed to stop screwing around and finally put together a fantasy team worthy of victory.

For whatever reason, I feign interest in fantasy hockey and yet excel at it. In the two hockey leagues I was a part of this season, I finished the regular season first and third respectively ... so perhaps the key to winning fantasy baseball is to check all your emotions at the door and just draft.

Since the BJH is littered with Blue Jays fanatics, it can often be difficult to try to snag a Blue Jay on the cheap. In fact, most of the time that actually drives up the price of players from the hometown team.

Case in point: in last year's draft, Travis Snider was bought up for $38 dollars. Just a mere $7 dollars less than Jose Bautista. So much for the hometown discount.

Here's a list of Yahoo's rankings of every single Blue Jays player, along with their projected auction value and the average cost.


Bank on Bautista

If there's one player I would break the bank on, it's Jose Bautista. His eligibility at third base and the outfield makes him an especially valuable commodity to your fantasy roster.

Since there is a glut of stud outfielders, I'd be more inclined to stash Jose as my starting third baseman and leave the outfield positions wide open. The sheer number of great outfielders to great third baseman makes the decision a simple one.

Not to mention that when it comes to home runs, Jose Bautista is your safest bet. Taking the Major League leader in home runs the past two seasons is a great contingent plan to win your HR category.

And now that Jose Bautista has rounded out his game with a great on base and average, he'll be even more highly coveted going into this year's draft.

Be Leery About Lawrie

Nearly every Blue Jays fantasy primer I've read (particularly this one from Yahoo) urges managers not to reach for Brett Lawrie and instead go for proven commodities at the hot corner.

Most pundits have Lawrie pegged as a 20/20 candidate for 2012, and even one publication I read actually penciled in Lawire as a 30/30 possibility. Brett Lawrie may be a very tempting pick, but I think the fact he was able to put up 2.7 WAR in such as short span actually works against him in fantasy baseball this year.

Yahoo has Brett Lawrie ranked as the seventh best third baseman, just slightly ahead of Alex Rodriguez, and several picks ahead of Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young, and Aramis Ramirez. For a player who only has 43 games under his belt, that's kind of crazy.

As a Blue Jays fan, I hope Brett Lawrie has a banner season. But purely thinking from an objective standpoint, I don't think he has enough experience to warrant being picked ahead of Alex Rodriguez. 

And I think that's part of the key to a fantasy baseball draft; disconnect from your fandom and think purely from a strategic standpoint.

That being said, it's easy to say now that I won't make a play for Brett Lawrie during the draft, but it's another when the clock is ticking, I'm under the gun, and Lawrie is in the cue.

Pitching on the Cheap

Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow appear to be good value picks at 109 and 141, and both are valued at under $10 dollars a piece. Romero or Morrow can help fill out your rotation without breaking the bank.

I'd be more than happy with either of these guys on my roster, but I wouldn't depend on either of them to anchor your fantasy team's pitching staff.

There are a couple of other Blue Jays you can afford to take a flier on, and those would be the potential 3-5 starters in the Blue Jays rotation. Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan don't even have an average value, so they can probably be bought on the cheap.

They might be a little more sought after in AL only leagues and very deep leagues, but outside of Romero and Morrow, I would probably just steer clear of the Blue Jays starting pitchers because you can more than likely pick them up on the waiver wire afterwards anyway.

Scoop Sergio Santos

There is no position in baseball more volatile than a team's closer. And that's even more apparent in the fantasy baseball world. One day you could have three closers, the next you could have none.

While nobody is ever truly assured their closer's role, I think you can safely say that Sergio Santos will hold down the fort as the Blue Jays closer in 2012.

So while other managers are reaching for closers in the seventh or eigth rounds by picking Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, you can sit back and wait until many rounds later and scoop up Santos.

Instead, use those picks on an ever-valuable position player like Brian McCann or Rickie Weeks, or a starting pitcher like Madison Bumgarner or James Shields.

Sergio Santos is the 18th ranked closer by Yahoo and sits at pick 162 on average and is going for about $5-6 dollars in auction drafts.

Not only will Sergio Santos get you saves, but he'll also rack up lots of strikeouts as well. Santos ranked 2nd in the American League in K/9 for relievers at 13.07, just slightly behind David Robertson at 13.50 K/9.

In Conclusion ...

Please take this advice with a grain of salt, as I'm not exactly the consummate expert on Fantasy Baseball.  I've placed 12th and 14th respectively these past two years in the BJH Fantasy Baseball League.

This time around though, I'll try to follow my own advice and at least aim to make it into the postseason. Much like the Blue Jays themselves, 2012 looks to be an uphill battle.

However, if all the chips fall into place, then there's at least a chance for a postseason berth. Happy drafting, everyone!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Enigma of Edwin Encarnacion

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Over the past year or so, he's affectionately become known as "EE". But you might want to add another E to that moniker, because frankly ... Edwin Encarnacion is quite the enigma.

There was nearly a mutiny when he spent several games at the hot corner last season, but that was merely a band-aid solution. I don't think John Farrell anticipated having Edwin start so many games at third, but he really didn't have any other options.

Last season, Alex Anthopoulos beamed about how Edwin Encarnacion was going to have a stellar season in 2011, and in some ways he did.

That two month stretch from June to August was phenomenal for Edwin, as he hit .297, got on base at a .375 clip and knocked in 21 doubles and hit 14 home runs. Most players would be ecstatic to put up those numbers in a season, let alone a two month period.

Along with the highs comes the lows, and Edwin Encarnacion has his fair share of lows as well. I think the quintessential word to describe EE is "streaky". At times he's flashed moments of brilliance, and then there are others where he committed two errors in a single game.

Or how about the fact that Edwin didn't hit his first home run of the 2011 season until May 29th; a mere 141 at bats into the season.

I think part of the reason why AA is placing so much stock in EE is that perhaps be believes Edwin is going to be the next Jose Bautista. A player that is just on the cusp of becoming a superstar, but just needs the opportunity to show that potential.

Now that EE can focus solely on the offensive aspect of his game by DH'ing, maybe that lofty prediction initially set by Alex Anthopoulos can finally come to fruition.

I would love to see Edwin Encarnacion have a breakout year, but what happens beyond 2012? He's  currently on an option year, and at 29 years old, he could certainly hold down the fort as the Blue Jays DH for the next few seasons.

The problem here is I feel like we have this conversation every year with Edwin Encarnacion. He has worlds of talent, he just needs to needs to harness it. I don't doubt that that's true, but I'm not sure the Blue Jays have the liberty to sit around year after year and wait for EE to have a career year.

On the other hand, what harm could Edwin Encarnacion pose to the Blue Jays roster? It's not like he's taking up his old post at the hot corner, and subbing the odd game at first for Adam Lind might not be the worst thing in the world.

The fact that Encarnacion has received some work in left field is just further proof that the Blue Jays want to keep his bat in the lineup. The club must truly value EE's offense if they're willing to explore the avenue of having him in the outfield.

I guess what I'm trying to say is Edwin Encarnacion's spot on the roster is safe ... for the immediate future, at least. He really isn't taking any at bats away from anyone else of superior skill at the moment.

However, the minute someone with a little more offensive upside and defensive flexibility starts knocking on the door, then I think the Blue Jays will need to reevaluate where they stand with Edwin Encarnacion.

Sure, we could keep hoping and keep waiting for Edwin Encarnacion to have that breakout season. It could very well come with the Toronto Blue Jays, it could come with another team, or it might not even happen at all.

The thing about enigmas is you eventually have to decide whether you want to keep traveling further down the rabbit hole no matter what, or whether you just want to cut your losses and just head back to the surface.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

MLB 12 The Show Review

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Image courtesy of GameRant.com
Next to the Home Opener, the release of MLB 12 The Show is probably the second most anticipated day on the 2012 calendar for Blue Jays fans such as myself.

Truth be told that I played a lot of MLB 11 The Show last year. So much so that I wore out the right analog stick on my PS3 controller. That's how many virtual at bats I took last year, so having this year's edition of the game is just feeding my addiction for baseball even further.

Now that I've had a little time to play the game and comb through most of the new features, I've compiled all my thoughts into one cohesive review of the game. I haven't had a chance to explore all parts of the game quite yet, but here's my take on what I have played.

Hitting

The operative word when it comes to hitting in MLB 12 The Show is "control". There is a multitude of options when you step into the box; you can have complete control with the new zone analog batting, or you can just stick with the traditional one-button batting mode.

I actually really enjoy the new zone analog batting feature because it forces your eyes to follow the path of the baseball as it travels from the mound to the plate. If you've ever played any of the Ken Griffey Jr. baseball games for N64, you'll be very familiar with this style.

I kept switching back and forth between pure analog batting and the zone analog batting simply because I was so used to pure analog from last year, but I really enjoyed the new style for MLB 12 The Show.

With so many options (zone, zone plus analog, timing, or pure analog), the control is completely in our hands when it comes to hitting. I think even the biggest baseball enthusiasts and casual gamers alike will enjoy the selection.

Another new thing you'll notice about the hitting is there is real-time feedback after every swing. So you no longer have to tap the L3 button to see if you were early or late on your swing, and how far off your swing was.

All that information is all displayed automatically for you in a on-screen hud either to the left or the right of the batter after every single pitch. It's a very useful feature that is a welcome addition to MLB 12 The Show.

Pitching

Much like the hitting side of the game, pitching in MLB 12 The Show received a little bit of tweaking as well. Pulse pitching is the brand new feature this time around, and I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of it.

Maybe it's because I couldn't quite master the timing of it, but it just seemed to have a mind of its own. You need to be extremely precise with pulse pitching, as I found myself missing my spots by huge margins.

I personally much prefer the meter pitching or pure analog method of pitching simply because it feels like you have a lot more control of your pitcher as opposed to using pulse pitching.

A few little things I noticed is that you can actually have your starting pitcher take warm-up tosses before the game. This is a good way to get a quick feel for your pitcher's repertoire before the game actually starts.

You can also have your relievers take long toss rather than warm up in the bullpen. Since you can only warm up two pitchers at a time, this allows you to get some of your other pitchers warmed up as the game progresses into the later innings.

Road to the Show

This is where I spend the bulk of my time with this game, and Road to the Show is just as great if not a little better than last year's version.

This time though, you start off as a starter in your organization's AA team. I think this gives you a much better semblance of where you need to go and how you need to progress to make it to The Show.

I only have about 4 series under my belt in my player's journey in Road to the Show, so it's hard to fully evaluate this aspect of the game at this point. So far I don't have any qualms and my coach hasn't asked me to put on a hit-and-run yet ... one thing that really bugged me in MLB 11 the Show.

It also seems like stealing bases in Road to the Show (and in general) is much easier this year. In previous versions, I struggled greatly with swiping bags in training sessions. Now it seems like a much more fair fight against opposing backstops.

Jose Bautista's Beard

Now that Jose Bautista is the cover athlete of MLB 12 The Show, it's nice to see the programmers paid extra special attention to one very important aspect of his character ... his beard.

No longer does Jose look like he's sporting a five o'clock shadow, he now has a full-on beard ... which is undoubtedly the source of all his home run-hitting power.

Overall

I've had a few people ask me if the upgrades to this year's edition of the game warrants a purchase of MLB 12 The Show. As silly as it sounds, I would've bought the game just for the new Blue Jays uniforms and Jose Bautista on the cover alone.

If you're a Blue Jays fan, then this one is a no-brainer; go out and buy this game and play it to death until Opening Day, and then maybe play it a tiny bit less as the Blue Jays season gets into full swing.

However, if you already own a copy of MLB 11 The Show and aren't concerned about Jose Bautista or the new Blue Jays uniforms, then you might be less inclined to purchase MLB 12. I'm not sure if the new features this time around warrant a purchase if MLB 11 is in your PS3 library already.

Last year's version definitely did because of the introduction of the pure analog control scheme. This time, it was more of just a tweaking of the controls rather than an a complete overhaul.

By no means is that a knock on MLB 12 The Show. It's just that it's tough to improve upon a model in MLB 11 The Show which was very good in the first place. Why reinvent the wheel when you don't have to, right?

Overall though, MLB 12 The Show is a much more polished version of its predecessor and The Show remains the preeminent baseball game out there. I've played the MLB 2K12 demo and I don't think it comes anywhere close to The Show.

MLB 12 The Show is simulation baseball at its finest. As you can tell by the screenshots, the graphics are ultra-realistic and the brand new ball physics add an entirely new level of realism to the game.

That being said, The Show is not one of those games you can just pick up and start mashing home runs from the get-go. There is a bit of a learning curve especially when it comes to hitting, but once you've gotten the hang of it, that just makes hitting those home runs all that more rewarding.

The presentation of MLB 12 The Show is solid, the controls are great, and Blue Jays fans are going to love seeing the new uniforms and finally having one of their own on the cover of the game. Happy gaming, everyone!

Overall rating from MLB 12 The Show: 9 out of 10

Monday, March 5, 2012

Photoshop Fun: An Exhausted Kyle Drabek

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
A few weeks ago, the fine folks at AP posted this photo of Kyle Drabek exhausted from a wind sprint workout. I couldn't resist the urge to use this picture to Photoshop Kyle Drabek into a few compromising positions. Enjoy!

Madness? This is Clearwater!

Poor Kyle ... the guy can't seem to catch a break. First he's on the receiving end of a drop kick by King Leonidas, then he gets an elbow drop from Shawn Michaels.

Kyle just chilling on Kirk Van Houten's prized possession: his racecar bed.

In fact, Kyle enjoyed it so much, he decided to get his very own racecar bed. He appears to have the same reaction, though.

Update: we have confirmation from Kyle Drabek's mother Kristy Drabek that he did in fact have a racecar bed as a kid. That just adds an entirely new level of hilarity to this whole thing.

After the fact, he headed to the therapist to talk about his issues. Turns out there's a lot of pressure being the son of a former Cy Young Award winner.

Link tried his best to wake Kyle Drabek from his eternal slumber. It turns out Kyle was just looking for a comfy place to crash until Opening Day.

Kyle Drabek's day off. One of the worst performances of his career, and they never doubted it for a second.

This is what happens when internet memes clash: Emo Kyle Drabek meets
Emo Juan Uribe.

Kyle Drabek: the forgotten victim of the Vancouver Riots. Of course, the "kissing couple" got all the press while Kyle was left to suffer.

The seven dwarves are a little but confused as to why Kyle Drabek decided to take a cat nap in the middle of the forest.

Since Kyle spent some time down in Las Vegas last season, naturally he stumbled onto the set of "The Hangover".

And lastly, the ill effects of one crazy night finally caught up with Kyle in the hot Las Vegas desert. Luckily, they're the four best friends that anybody could have.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What Another Wild Card Means for the Blue Jays

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Out of all 30 teams in the Major Leagues, probably the team most exited to hear about MLB's decision to expand the playoffs are the Toronto Blue Jays. After years of dogfighting in the AL East, their chances of playing October baseball are better than ever.

The Blue Jays have always had to contend with the beasts of the AL East, and what used always to be a two horse race has recently turned into a three horse race with the prominence of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Now, potentially three of those horses in the AL East could find themselves in the playoffs. As encouraging as the expanded playoffs news was, it seems like the bar to make it into the postseason just keeps on rising.

That coveted playoff spot is not necessarily designated for the bridesmaid in the AL East either, as the prominence of teams like the Rangers and Angels over in the West could threaten as well.

Just for the heck of it, I thought it would be run to play revisionist and see how the expanded playoffs would have affected previous Blue Jays seasons.

Interestingly enough, since the Wild Card format was adopted in 1995, the only season where the Blue Jays would have qualified for the second Wild Card spot was 1998. That's just once in the past 16 years.

So, those who think the dogfight is about to get much easier for the Blue Jays will be sorely mistaken. If anything, the requirements to make the playoffs have actually been trending upwards.

I crunched the numbers and took the winning percentages from the last 16 seasons of the AL East division winner, the Wild Card winner, the winning percentage of the would-be second Wild Card team, and of course ... the Toronto Blue Jays.

This just goes to prove how stiff the competition is not only in the American League, but within perhaps the toughest division in all of sports: the American League East.

I also averaged out what the win total of all these teams from the past 16 seasons, just to give you a sense of what the Blue Jays should be gunning for if they want to make it into the playoffs.



Nine wins might not seem like that much to close the gap, but that fine line is what has separated the Blue Jays from the playoffs since 1995. Last year alone, that gap was as many as 10 games.

Picking up a few extra wins here and there seems like a reasonable goal for 2011, but manufacturing an extra 9-10 wins seems like a very daunting task for this team.

I'm not saying it's impossible, but the Blue Jays definitely have an uphill battle ahead of them. To some, that gap might only seem like a small crack in the pavement, but it may as well be as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Perhaps that's why Alex Anthopoulos opted not to make a big splash in the free agent market this off-season; because the addition of one or even two key players might not even bring the Blue Jays that 10 or so extra wins they'd need to be a playoff contender.

The inherent problem of adding another Wild Card team is that squeaking your way into the playoffs via the Wild Card is no longer good enough. To ensure their spot in the playoffs and avoid the one-game tiebreaker, teams need to secure the division title.

While the Blue Jays would love to return to the postseason, the last thing they want to do is have a "one and done" playoff scenario. If the Blue Jays are going to make a run at the playoffs, they need to gun for the top spot in the AL East.

If they shoot for the stars and end up on the moon, so be it. But no team should aspire to merely squeak their way into the postseason. And I think that's the philosophy the Blue Jays are trying to instill not only in the locker room, but amongst the fanbase as well.

If Alex thought the team was on the doorstep of contention and they only had to make up 2-3 wins, then securing a big name free agent would certainly help put them over the top. But they're not quite that close just yet.

Realistically, if the Blue Jays want a shot at making the playoffs, they need to shoot for at least a 90 win season. And even that might not be enough with the expanded playoffs, so it would be a safer bet to raise the bar to 92-93 wins.

I guess that just goes to show you how slim the margin of error is in the American League East. And like I said, making up ground with a couple more wins shouldn't be much of a problem for the Blue Jays this season. The uphill battle will be trying to somehow accumulate those 9-10 extra wins.

Unless six or seven position players put up career years this season, that's just too much ground to make up in one season. I see the Blue Jays journey as more of a slight progression; this year it's an extra two wins, the next year it's another two, and the following is another two or three.

For the Blue Jays, it's all about chipping away little by little. And by adding another Wild Card team, that cracks open the door of opportunity for them just a little bit further.
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