Monday, September 30, 2013

The Blue Jays Nightmare Season is Over


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It's official ... the nightmare is over. The season has finally come to a close. There will be no more suffering for Blue Jays fans this year.

And I hate to say it, but I'm kind of relieved it's all over.

As one of 44,551 in attendance yesterday to witness the final game of the season at the Rogers Centre, it was a bittersweet goodbye. But ultimately, it was a season bookended by excitement and disappointment.

When everyone booked their tickets for the final homestand of the season, I think most fans envisioned a much different scenario ... not one in which the Tampa Bay Rays would clinch a Wild Card tiebreaker berth, and the Blue Jays were finishing in last place.

In the Blue Jays season post-mortem presser, Alex Anthopoulos was asked what his overriding emotion was following this season. He gave the classic Anthopoulos ambiguous answer, but I think the answer we're all looking for is "disappointment".

Disappointing, tragic, comedic; these are all words I would use to describe what transpired. But was the 2013 Blue Jays season a tragedy, a comedy, or something else altogether?

At times, the Blue Jays were so bad this season, that it was just plain funny. Just look at the many adventures in the outfield and on the basepaths with Moises Sierra. Or how about Colby Rasmus getting beaned in the face with a ball thrown by his teammate?

It's almost as if the Blue Jays assembled the best team on paper, just like Mr. Burns did in during that iconic Simpsons episode. He coerced All-Stars onto the nuclear power plant's roster, and yet one by one, they all fell off the map. The very same happened to the Toronto Blue Jays. 

You might say that's also say the 2013 season was tragic in many ways; Ricky Romero's fall from grace continued. Brandon Morrow couldn't stay healthy. Josh Johnson made two trips to the disabled list. Ramon Oritz essentially saw his career come to an end after a freak injury.

The list goes on and on and on.

You want the definition of tragic? How about the fact that the Blue Jays had 22 players go on the disabled list a total of 27 times in 2013. How about that they lost 1363 games worth of injuries this season?

Last year, the Blue Jays "only" had 17 players on the DL a total of 18 times and lost a mere 1258 games worth of injuries in 2012.

However, the 2013 Blue Jays season might not be best summarized as a comedy or tragedy. Ryan Oakley (AKA @thegrumpyowl) nailed it by saying 2013 was an unmitigated horror.


He cited the examples with J.A. Happ's horrific injury back in May, and also the discovery of a tumour in Melky Cabrera's spinal cord. One more than one occasion this season, player's lives were likely in jeopardy. That definitely qualifies as a horror in my books.

Like most, I look back to last year as a comparison. But if you line up 2012 and 2013, last year looks like sunshine and lollipops compared to what transpired last year with the Toronto Blue Jays.

I thought it couldn't possibly get any worse than a manager essentially abandoning his team and forcing a trade to a division rival. It actually turns out there's another few levels below "rock bottom".

When all is said and done, the 2013 Blue Jays did in fact finish better than the 2012 Blue Jays, but at what cost? The Blue Jays won one more game than last year, but they did it this time with a payroll of $127.7 million compared to $83.7 million last year.

That's $44 million dollars for one more win ... $44 million for a measly win.

It's true that 2013 was a complete disaster, but I just keep telling myself that things possibly can't be any worse next year. Even with this exact same roster in some alternate universe, there's no way the Blue Jays could have lost 88 games this year.

This year reiterated how truly difficult it is to assemble a winning team. That regardless of how many All-Stars and how much elite talent is brought in, whether it be via trades or free agency, making the postseason is incredibly hard.

This year also reinforced that baseball is also a lot of luck. The Blue Jays were undeniably unlucky this season, and that was reflected in their 74-88 record. Bad hops and bad breaks happened for them anywhere and everywhere.

But Alex Anthopoulos would be a foolish to think this same cast of characters has the makings of a playoff-worthy team. There are obviously improvements that need to be made in several different areas of the club.

2013 was no doubt a nightmare for the Blue Jays, but it is finally over. And I suppose that's the one good thing about nightmares; as bad as they seem at the time, they do eventually come to an end.

For those looking for a ray of hope, fans can seek solace in that things should be better next year. Or at the very least, there will be change; which should ultimately be a precursor for things getting better for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Image courtesy of Yahoo/Reuters/Fred Thornhill

Friday, September 27, 2013

Flashback Friday: Kelly Gruber's Cameo on "Eric's World"


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The final Flashback Friday of the season is admittedly a bit of an odd one; it's a cameo by Kelly Gruber on TVO's "Eric's World".

Eric of course being Eric Nagler, which most will probably remember from the Canadian classic, "The Elephant Show" starring Sharon Lois and Bram.

Now, I don't have an exact date or even year of when this episode aired, but one can only assume it was either during 1991 or 1992. Eric's World was on the air from 1991-1996, and Kelly Gruber's tenure with the Blue Jays ended following the 1992 season.

Anyway, the premise of the episode entitled "The Collectors" is young Max is trying to collect a complete set of baseball cards. The one player that eludes his complete set is none other than Blue Jays third baseman, Kelly Gruber.

To everyone's surprise, Kelly Gruber himself arrives at the trailer park with his baby in tow (for some reason), and saves the day.

If you feel like watching the entire episode for whatever reason, you can do so here here and here, but if you just want to skip ahead to the Gruber cameo, click on the video below.



Max offers to buy the Kelly Gruber card off him, but Gruber counters with a trade. The proposal is quite interesting, to say the least.
Max - "How about for a ... Jose Canseco?"
Kelly - "I think I'm worth about two Jose Canseco's."
As far as I can remember, Kelly Gruber was one of the few Blue Jays to make a cameo on a Canadian television show, let alone a kid's show. Which is somewhat surprising, considering how high profile the Blue Jays were in the early 90's.

Yet thanks to Youtube, these entertaining and sometimes confusing videos from our childhood continue to be unearthed for us to relive all over again.

Hat tip to Erika Gilbert for the unique Blue Jays find. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions for this year's Flashback Friday posts. They'll be back in full force next April.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What the Toronto Blue Jays Can Learn from the Pittsburgh Pirates


By
Courtesy of National Post
For a moment, let's compare two teams; Team A has endured heartache for the past 20 years. Team B has also endured the very same disappointing past two decades. Both franchises have not played in the postseason since the early 90's.

But there's one distinct difference; Team A is going to the playoffs this year.

Team A of course is the Pittsburgh Pirates and Team B is the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates have snapped a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons and will be playing baseball in October. The Toronto Blue Jays however, will not be.

Both teams have seen their fair share of ups and downs over the past two decades, but you could argue the Pittsburgh Pirates have had it much, much worse. At least the Blue Jays have strung together nine winning seasons in that period.

A winning season is great and all, but it's basically all for not if you don't make the postseason. And to think ... some organizations even view a first round exit from the playoffs as a failure.

And yet even after 20 consecutive losing seasons, it's Pittsburgh that will be going to the postseason this year.

Considering they managed to build something out of virtually nothing the past few years, I figured it couldn't hurt that the Blue Jays should mimic what the Pittsburgh Pirates did this past offseason and mirror some of their key transactions.

Sign a starting pitcher to an incentive-laden contract
Pirates sign Francisco Liriano to $1 million with $3.75 million in potential bonuses

Francisco Liriano always seemed like one of those starting pitchers who was always on the cusp of making a comeback, but never quite put it all back together. Then for some reason or another, Liriano hit his stride this season under an incentive-laden contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Francisco Liriano's base salary is a very modest $1 million dollars, but it stands to be closer to $4.75 million total once his incentives kick in. In fact, the Pirates even went as far as to specifically designate the bonuses were related to avoiding the DL due to a right arm injury.

Even with all that factored in, it was a signing that came with tremendous value. Perhaps the Blue Jays would be well served employing a similar strategy on a pitcher who they feel has tremendous upside, but who also has a history of injury troubles.

The first pitcher that comes to mind is obviously Josh Johnson. Considering how badly his 2013 season went, bringing back Johnson on an incentive-laden contract makes perfect sense. If the base salary is low enough and Josh Johnson spends significant time on the DL again, it provides the Blue Jays a failsafe plan without losing very much cash.

It almost seems like a foregone conclusion that the Blue Jays won't extend a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson. But there were however some rumblings they s may be entertaining the idea of bringing Johnson back on a low-base salary two-year deal. 

At this point, I'd even be leery of signing Josh Johnson to a two-year deal because it gives him the cushion of two guaranteed years. Structuring a contact similar to Francisco Liriano's would force Johnson to stay healthy if he wanted to receive as much money as possible, otherwise a second option year would not be guaranteed.

Outside of Josh Johnson, other potential starting pitcher targets might include Johan Santana. The Mets will almost certainly decline his $25 million dollar option for 2014, so he'll likely hit the open market this coming offseason.

Or how about Tim Lincecum? For a guy who has quite an unorthodox delivery and questionable pitching mechanics, Lincecum has remained relatively healthy as he's never spent any time on the disabled list in his seven year career and has been good for 30+ starts the past six years running.

Durability isn't really a question when it comes to Lincecum, unlike many of Toronto's starting pitching candidates. The increase in walks and home runs is a bit of a concern, but at 29 years old, there's definitely still something there with Lincecum.

I don't think the Blue Jays would or should expect Tim Lincecum to magically return to his Cy Young ways, but even with his struggles these past few seasons, Lincecum has been a serviceable arm for the San Francisco Giants.

And who knows ... maybe the weighted ball program that's worked wonders for Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan might rub off on Lincecum and add a few MPH to his fastball velocity as well. 

And if all else fails and none of those options pan out, why not ask Roy Halladay to come back home for one final tour in Toronto?

Trade their established closer
Pirates trade Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt for Mark Melancon and others

At the time, it may have appeared to be a shrewd move by the Pittsburgh Pirates front office; trading their All-Star closer for another reliever and a couple of other prospects. But it was actually one of their best offseason transactions.

Last winter, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Joel Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox along with Brock Holt. As far as the prospects go, it's basically a wash, but the Pirates ended up far ahead due to the re-emergence of Mark Melancon as an elite reliever.

It was an astute move by the Pirates to not only recognize that Joel Hanrahan would be in line for a hefty raise in arbitration, but also deeming that Jason Grilli could fill his shoes at a savings of nearly $5 million dollars.

Earlier this season, I was dead set against the Blue Jays trading Casey Janssen. But as the season progressed and the bullpen became less and less of a concern, I've warmed up to the idea of selling high on Janssen this offseason.

The Blue Jays have proven there are a bevy of arms in the bullpen who could likely step into the closer's role; there's as many as four internal candidates, including Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Sergio Santos and even Dustin McGowan.

Considering the glut of bullpen arms the Blue Jays will likely be faced with next season, the Blue Jays may even entertain the idea of moving Ricky Romero and Kyle Drabek into the bullpen. 

One would think the departure of Casey Janssen wouldn't leave too much of a void in the Blue Jays bullpen, so he may be worth more in return on the trade market than by playing another year in Toronto.

So if the Blue Jays can parlay Casey Janssen into any sort of Major League players in return or high-level prospects, it serves them well to do so. As we all know, the closer position is one that's in constant turmoil, so it seems like there are always buyers for closers.

Bring in an established starting catcher (preferably defensive-minded)
Pirates sign Russell Martin to two-year/$17 million dollar contract

This should be no surprise; virtually any other starting catcher in Major League Baseball would be an upgrade over J.P. Arencibia. Anybody. And not just offensively, defensively as well. Arencibia ranks dead last in nearly every category imaginable.

This year, J.P. Arencibia's weaknesses became glaringly apparent in nearly a full season behind the plate, so perhaps his skills would be better suited as a backup catcher who could pick up the occasional start here or there.

Watching Arencibia flounder day-in and day-out this season, I learned to really appreciate the often underrated skill set of defensive-minded veteran catchers; handling a pitching staff, calling a game, pitch framing, the ability to block a pitch, as well as to hold and throw out baserunners.

Case in point, Russell Martin. The Pittsburgh Pirates went out and made one of the most underrated signings of the offseason; inking Martin to a two year/$17 million dollar contract. 

Offensively, Martin and Arencibia's career numbers are somewhat similar; they're both low-average hitting catchers, but have the ability to hit 20+ home runs. But that's where the similarities end and it's apparent Martin is a much more well-rounded backstop.

Russell Martin alone has been worth 16 defensive runs saved for the Pirates this season, while Arencibia has been worth exactly zero.

When it comes to veteran defensive-savvy catchers on the open market, obviously Brian McCann will be the most sought out for catcher this offseason. He seems destined to sign with the Yankees, but the Blue Jays could always make a play for McCann.

But that also leaves guys like A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz and Kurt Suzuki who could also provide the Blue Jays a huge upgrade at the catching position over J.P. Arencibia. Each of these catchers excel in the defensive aspects of the game, and any offensive contributions would just be a bonus.  

Acquire a veteran starting pitcher via trade
Pirates acquire A.J. Burnett from Yankees for two prospects

Technically, the Pirates acquired A.J. Burnett in February of 2012, but Pittsburgh has reaped the benefits if this transaction not only in 2012, but this season as well.

Although the Yankees had him locked up for $16.5 million per for 2012 and 2013, the Pirates only ended up paying $5 and $8 million for two seasons of A.J. Burnett with the Yankees paying the difference. So the Pirates essentially snagged a $33 million dollar starting pitcher for $13 million.

So I guess what the Blue Jays need to do here is seek out a starting pitcher with an albatross contract, preferable one where the other team would be willing to pay a good chunk of the remaining salary.

Not that the White Sox would be willing to deal him, but John Danks strikes me as the type of player that fits the descriptions. Chicago is in a state of constant rebuilding anyway, so shipping off one of their starting pitchers would not be surprising at all.

They may be less desirable options, but Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Jonathon Niese are a few options who are at least under contract in 2014, if not longer. Again, there's only value in these contracts if the other team kicks in some significant cash.

You could argue whether one of Danks, Gallardo, Lohse or Niese would provide much of an upgrade over the current starting pitcher candidates have internally. They're not the sexiest names out there, but neither was A.J. Burnett a few years back ... and look what happened to him.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Flashback Friday: Vernon Wells' Walk-Off Home Run Against Mariano Rivera


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By all accounts, Mariano Rivera will wrap up his career at season's end as the greatest closer of all time. A surefire Hall of Famer, Rivera's career stands as the very best when it comes to relief pitchers.

Mariano Rivera has made a career of cutting up the Toronto Blue Jays; 54 career saves, a 1.81 lifetime ERA, and 107 strikeouts in 104.1 career innings versus the Blue Jays.

Over the course of his career, Mariano Rivera's mistakes have been few and far between. For the most part, he's been untouchable. But there are select few who have gotten the better of the Yankees closer on the rare occasion.

One of them just so happens to be a former Toronto Blue Jay and Rivera's current teammate, Vernon Wells.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Vernon Wells' walk-off home run off Mariano Rivera.

Let's set the stage; it's July 20th, 2006. The Yankees and Blue Jays are very much in the thick of the Wild Card hunt, with Toronto trailing New York by four games in the standings. And 42,336 fans were there to witness history that day at the Rogers Centre.

Both Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina started the game and posted solid efforts as they handed things over to the bullpen in the eighth inning. Although Toronto held a slim 4-3 lead, John Gibbons elected to bring in his closer B.J. Ryan to face the middle of the Yankees order in the top of the 8th.

However, the move backfired as the Yankees tied the game and it eventually went into extra innings. Joe Torre subsequently brought in his closer Mariano Rivera in the 10th inning, and he retired the side and came back to pitch the 11th.

Apparently, Torre flew a little too close to the sun in asking his closer to get six outs. Frank Catalanotto led off the 11th by reaching base via a single, but he was promptly thrown out the very next pitch trying to steal second base.

So with the bases clear, Vernon Wells came to the plate ... and he made history.


Vernon Wells cranked Mariano Rivera's signature cutter to left field for a walk-off home run, and in doing so the Blue Jays accomplished the unthinkable; they slayed the dragon that was Mariano Rivera.

According to Baseball Reference, Wells' walk-off home run was just one of five regular season walk-off home runs surrendered by Mariano Rivera in his entire career. Quite an impressive feat, if I do say so myself.

Date Batter @Bat Score Inn Out RoB Pit(cnt) bWPA Notes
2002-07-14 Bill Selby CLE behind 6-7 b 9 2 123 6,(2-2)  72% Walk-Off
2004-07-24 Bill Mueller BOS behind 9-10 b 9 1 1-- 5,(3-1)  76% Walk-Off
2006-07-20 Vernon Wells TOR tied 4-4 b 11 1 --- 2,(1-0)  41% Walk-Off
2007-04-15 Marco Scutaro OAK behind 2-4 b 9 2 12- 3,(0-2)  91% Walk-Off
2009-09-18 Ichiro Suzuki SEA behind 1-2 b 9 2 -2- 1,(0-0)  86% Walk-Off

In fact, only four Blue Jays have ever hit home runs off Mariano Rivera: Mike Stanley, Ed Sprague, the aforementioned Vernon Wells, and Edwin Encarnacion.

And the timing of Wells' walk-off home run could not have been better for the Blue Jays; as they mere in the midst of the Shea Hillenbrand controversy, and had just designated him for assignment the day prior.

The walk-off home run was one of the more memorable moments of Vernon Wells tumultuous career in Toronto. The one thing I'll never forget is the image above of him rounding first base with his fist in the air in celebration.

Vernon Wells may not have got a chance to play in the playoffs during his time with the Blue Jays, but at least he hit a walk-off home run off Mariano Rivera. And depending on who you ask, that might be just as good.

Hat tip to Ian Denomme from Yahoo! Sports for the inspiration for this week's Flashback Friday post. Check out his piece on Wells walk-off home run.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Green with Playoff Envy


By
Courtesy of National Post
It seems to happen every year right about this time; as other teams around baseball are playing meaningful games in September, the Blue Jays are left on the outside looking in.

While these other teams are fighting for their lives to reach the postseason, I'm left wondering why it can't be the Toronto Blue Jays. For the 20th consecutive season, the Blue Jays will not be there to play baseball in October.

This year, it's especially apparent because there are so many teams in the American League in the hunt for the playoffs. Many teams that people did think would be there, and many teams people didn't think would even be close.

There's the Tampa Bay Rays; who for years were the forgotten weaker brother of the AL East, and have now grown to be a perennial contender thanks in large part to their stellar farm system.

Enter the Baltimore Orioles, who have supplanted the Rays as the new proverbial thorn in the side of the Toronto Blue Jays. Once the punching bag of the Blue Jays have now become the punchee.

Or how about the Boston Red Sox? It's not enough that John Farrell is likely going to coast into the postseason, but it's that he's doing it performing his "dream job" in Boston. And he's likely going to receive a great deal of credit in turning the Red Sox around. 

And then there's the New York Yankees. The very same Yankees that were essentially billed as walking corpses, have now risen from the dead and are still very much in the playoff conversation.

All on the back of baseball's greatest villain, Alex Rodriguez. Yes, there's a conceivable scenario where a player in the midst of appealing an 211 game suspension could carry his team into the playoffs. Incredible.

Plus, take the two representatives from the AL Central: the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. Two teams who retooled in the offseason by making key signings and trades and have seemingly been successful where the Blue Jays have failed this year.

Much like the Blue Jays, the Kansas City Royals drastically shifted to a "win now" mode by getting James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie to stabilize their perennially bad starting rotation.

The Cleveland Indians signed Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher and they're one game out of the second Wild Card spot. Their total payroll is just under $74 million while Toronto's is just over $117 million.

Not to mention, the team with the second longest postseason drought in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates, have surely punched their ticket to the postseason for the first time since 1991.

That would leave the Blue Jays with the second longest postseason drought at 20 years and counting. And if for some reason the Kansas City Royals do the unthinkable and capture the second Wild Card spot, that would leave Toronto as the sole team in baseball to not make the playoffs in the past two decades.

So with all this in mind, once can see why it's especially difficult this year to see nearly every other team in the American League have some glimmer of hope for the playoffs, while the Toronto Blue Jays have none.

The crazy thing is every team in the American League with a record over .500 still has a shot at making the playoffs right now. And normally that wouldn't seem like a completely untenable goal, but for a myriad of reasons ... it was for the Blue Jays.

Was it really all that unreasonable to expect this cast of characters to win somewhere in the neighbourhood of 85 games this year? Most penciled them in for even more wins than that, but 85 wins would be the most under the Alex Anthopoulos era.

The fact remains the Toronto Blue Jays have not played a meaningful game in September in 15 years. Not since September of 1998 were the Blue Jays even within a distance of sniffing a playoff spot.

This cruel reminder of failed seasons past may be painting a bleak picture for the Blue Jays, but moving forward I believe things still look positive for 2014.

First of all, things can't quite possibly go as horribly wrong next year as they did next year. So if the Blue Jays can simply keep their heads above .500 going into the second half, it gives them a decent chance at staying in the pennant race come August and September.

The pitching staff aside, the bulk of the starting lineup will likely remain the same in 2014. While there are still a few key positions that need to be addressed in the offseason, offensive contribution shouldn't be an issue for the starting nine next season.

I think all Blue Jays fans can agree they want the same thing; for the team to simply have a shot at making the playoffs. A chance ... that's all.

And with a team that's built to win right now, that's not too much to ask, right?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Flashback Friday: Paul Quantrill - The Ultimate Workhorse


By
Courtesy of CBC
A rubber arm. A workhorse. Paul Quantrill was the proverbial rubber arm pitcher. He was also a Canadian pitcher who played for one of Canada's only Major League baseball teams at the time.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Paul Quantrill's impressive career with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Paul John Quantrill came to the Blue Jays in December of 1995 by way of a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was swapped for third baseman Howard Battle and reliever Ricardo Jordan.

In his first season with the Blue Jays in 1996, Quantrill swapped back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Paul made 17 starts to begin the season, only to see his role change in early July as his bloated 6.20 ERA signaled a move to the bullpen.

Quantrill scuffled a bit as a reliever initially, and then was moved back into the rotation at season's end. That was the last time Paul Quantrill would ever start again, and it turns out it was the decision that turned Quantrill's career around for the better.

What Paul Quantrill accomplished the following year out of the bullpen was nothing short of spectacular. He made 77 appearances in relief for the Blue Jays pitching a total of 88 innings, and in 26 of those games he was asked to pitch more than one inning.

Quantrill actually spent most of 1997 as the Blue Jays setup man to Kelvim Escobar, but in many ways Paul Quantrill was the far superior pitcher. Not only could he pitch multiple innings, but runs were hard to come by off Quantrill since he sported a 1.94 ERA.

Once again, Paul Quantrill came out in 1998 and put forth a very similar season, racking up 82 appearances with the Blue Jays and pitched 80 innings. Although his ERA was a slight bit higher in 1998 (2.54), Quantrill was still one most dominant setup men in baseball.

Courtesy of MSN
In 1999, Quantrill was sidelined with the quintessential Canadian injury; he broke his leg in a snowmobile accident. Paul initially said it was a tobogganing accident, but later confessed he broke his leg on a snowmobile.

After undergoing surgery and missing the first 64 games of the season, Paul rejoined the Blue Jays mid-June and still managed a solid second half of the season.

Paul Quantrill spent two more seasons in a Blue Jays uniform, and in 2001, his final year with the club, he led the league in appearances. And although wins for a reliever may be futile, Quantrill  racked up 11 wins, which ties a Blue Jays franchise record.

In fact, from 1997 to 2004, Paul Quantrill made an astonishing 609 appearances. That was by far the most by any reliever in baseball; only Steve Cline came close at 588 appearances during that eight year span.

In 2010, Paul Quantrill was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and this past winter he was hired on as a pitching consultant to the Blue Jays.

When I look back at Paul Quantrill's tenure with the Blue Jays, I liken him to someone like Jason Frasor; someone who had a very underrated career, but who racked up innings and was a crucial piece to the bullpen.

If you're every looking for the definition of a rubber arm pitcher, look no further than Paul Quantrill.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Should the Blue Jays Sign Masahiro Tanaka?


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Stop me if you've heard this one before; the Toronto Blue Jays should make a play for a young Japanese phenom pitcher that will likely be posted in the offseason.

For many, it reminds us of that long December night when we were huddled over our keyboards waiting with bated breath to see if the Blue Jays did in fact land Yu Darvish. Despite multiple reputable sources insisting Toronto had the winning bid, they did not. 

So if this is starting to sound like Yu Darvish 2.0, it's because it is.

Masahiro Tanaka is the latest phenom from Japan that has everyone abuzz. And it just so happens the Toronto Blue Jays are in desperate need of not just starting pitching, but elite starting pitching.  

Even though he has seven years experience in the Japanese Pacific League playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka is incredibly just 24 years old. He embarked on his JPL career at the ripe young age of 18.

As a comparison, Blue Jays rookie Kevin Pillar is also 24 years old with not even one month of big league experience under his belt.

The posting of Masahiro Tanaka presents a very unique opportunity for the Blue Jays; they have the ability to sign a young elite pitcher with a tonne of upside. All they simply have to do is be the highest bidder.

The Blue Jays don't have to worry about their reputation to the prospective player, or overcome any sort of preconceived notions about playing in Toronto. It all comes down to dollars and cents. 

If the Blue Jays could sign Tanaka, that means they wouldn't have to dip into the relatively shallow free agent pitcher pool this offseason, and wouldn't have to overpay starters that may be on the decline like Matt Garza or even A.J. Burnett.

Of course there's is still an inherent risk with signing a relative unknown to folks in North America like Masahiro Tanaka. But they're the very same risks that came with signing Yu Darvish as well.

And he may just be pulling the classic Anthopoulos "due diligence" line, but word from Bob Elliott is the Blue Jays have already been over to Japan to scout Masahiro Tanaka in person.

These are the very same reports leading up to the Yu Darvish posting as well, so it shouldn't be any surprise the Blue Jays front office is at least checking in on Masahiro Tanaka.

Frankly with these career numbers, how could they not? These stats are enough to make anybody salivate, with the caveat of course being that Tanaka pitched in the JPL and not MLB.

YearAgeWLERAGSCGSHOIPHRERBBSOWHIPSO/9
2007181173.822841186.11838379681961.3479.5
200819973.492452172.21717167541591.3038.3
2009201562.332463189.21705149431711.1238.1
2010211162.502081155.01594743321191.2326.9
2011221951.2727146226.11713532272410.8759.6
2012231041.872283173.01604536191691.0358.8
2013242001.242372181.01422825271550.9347.7
7 Seasons95352.3216852181284.0115636033127012101.1118.5

Obviously the million dollar question here is ... will Masahiro Tanaka end up being the next Yu Darvish, or will he be more like the next Daisuke Matsuzaka? Or will he be somewhere in the middle?

If you asked the Texas Rangers front office, I'm sure they'd say they're very pleased with the results from year one and two of Yu Darvish's 6 year/$60 million dollar contract. Then again, in retrospect the Red Sox would probably say the same about the first two years of Dice-K's deal as well.

The jury's still somewhat out on whether Yu Darvish has a long career ahead of him as a successful pitcher in the major leagues, but he has definitely made a big impact for the Rangers in the short term.

And that's a similar position the Blue Jays find themselves in with the possibility of signing Masahiro Tanaka. There are no guarantees he'll be the "ace" they're looking for, but he could very well pull a Yu Darvish and carve up American League hitters to start off.

I say "start off" because like any new pitcher, it seems like there's an adjustment period for opposing hitters. The initial advantage usually goes to the pitcher; but as the league continues to cultivate footage and Tanaka begins to develop a reputation, hitters will adapt.

Even if that's the case, if his results in Japan are any indication, Tanaka is bound to have at least a few successful seasons playing in North America ... if not a few more. And he'd likely do it for less per season than Yu Darvish, as well.

So here's where the Blue Jays are at a crossroads; do they attempt to make a play at Masahiro Tanaka or do they just stay out of it altogether?

Judging by how much of a PR nightmare the whole Yu Darvish situation went for the Blue Jays, I can't blame Alex Anthopoulos if he didn't even want to get tangled up in the whole bidding process this time around.

After all, it's a great deal of money to spend on a pitcher who they'd know relatively very little about. And Masahiro Tanaka is not a pitcher which the Blue Jays can use traditional scouting methods on.

But my thought process is the Blue Jays should at least make a bid. It's easy for me to say because it's not my money, but the fact is the Blue Jays are going to have to spend money on starting pitching in some shape or form this offseason.

Whether that's acquiring it via trade and then paying the subsequent salary, or signing a free agent, Toronto absolutely needs to upgrade their starting rotation. And dropping $100 million or so on Masahiro Tanaka would be a step in the right direction to bolstering the pitching staff.

Just so long as Masahiro Tanaka's results are more like Yu Darvish and less like Daisuke Matsuzaka's.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Flashback Friday: Kelly Gruber and Cecil Fielder Switch Places 18 Times


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18 times. Yes, 18 times.

It almost seems like a comical arbitrary amount someone would casually throw out there. But seriously, this actually happened. Kelly Gruber and Cecil Fielder swapped places on the diamond 18 times in one game.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at one of the more interesting platoons in Blue Jays history; a game in which Kelly Gruber and Cecil Fielder did the proverbial dance between second and third base a total of 18 times.

The day was May 2nd, 1988. The Blue Jays kicked off a seven game road swing with the opener at the Kingdome in Seattle. And for those in attendance that day, they were about to see something truly unique.

Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams opted to use Cecil Fielder and Kelly Gruber intermittently at second and third base throughout the entire game. Here's a brief look at the boxscore below:

Play Description
Bottom of the 1st, Mariners Batting, Tied 0-0
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 2nd, Mariners Batting, Tied 0-0
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 3rd, Mariners Batting, Behind 0-1
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 4th, Mariners Batting, Ahead 2-1
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 5th, Mariners Batting, Ahead 2-1
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 6th, Mariners Batting, Ahead 7-5
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 7th, Mariners Batting, Ahead 7-5
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B
Bottom of the 8th, Mariners Batting, Ahead 7-5
Cecil Fielder moves from 3B to 2B
Kelly Gruber moves from 2B to 3B
Kelly Gruber moves from 3B to 2B
Cecil Fielder moves from 2B to 3B

There were a few reasons for this unorthodox platoon by Jimy Williams. For one, the Blue Jays starting second baseman Nelson Liriano was sent down to the minor leagues just days prior. And secondly, Manuel Lee was suffering from an injury.

So under those circumstances, Jimy Williams worked with what he had, and so he moved Gruber and Fielder back and forth depending on ... get this, where he thought the Mariners would hit the ball.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up, folks.

Going into that game, Cecil Fielder had never played second base throughout his entire minor league and big league career. Kelly Gruber however was much more familiar with his alternate position that day, as he spent the better part of his career at the hot corner.

Although it's extremely unorthodox for position players to swap places 18 games in one game, what was even more perplexing is the situations in which Cecil and Gruber switched spots on the diamond.

Not only would Jimy Williams have them change places mid-inning, in one instance he actually switched them during the middle of an at bat. After Jose Nunez uncorked a wild pitch to Mike Cotto in the fifth inning, Cecil Fielder moved from third to second, and Kelly Gruber moved from second to third.

After Nunez eventually walked Cotto, the two then switched back the very next batter. In total, Fielder and Gruber would switch positions four times in the fifth inning alone.

Interestingly enough, this extreme example of position swapping was not an isolated incident for Jimy Williams. He employed a similar strategy the following day; swapping Kelly Gruber and Pat Borders at second and third base a total of 13 times.

Much like Cecil Fielder the night before, Pat Borders had no experience whatsoever at second base. But it didn't stop there; two days later, Williams would once again platoon Cecil Fielder and Kelly Gruber back and forth between second and third base late in the game.

It was only after these three unusual platoon attempts that Jimy Williams would abandon this interesting strategy and go back to playing his players at his natural positions.

So for all the unusual plays some managers employ these days; extreme shifts, five man infields, or a suicide squeeze, just remember there was only one man who ever swapped his second baseman and third baseman 18 times in one game: Jimy Williams.

Remember, if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

Hat tip to @James_in_TO for sending in this week's Flashback Friday request. If you have anything you'd like to see from the Blue Jays vault in a future edition, please email bluejayhunter@gmail.com.

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