Takeaways from the Blue Jays State of the Franchise

Thursday, January 30, 2014  |  by 

In previous years, the Toronto Blue Jays State of the Franchise has set the tone for the upcoming season. It really was a great way to get a feel for the fan base and to understand the pulse of the team prior to Spring Training.

In 2012, it was about a young and talented team looking to take the next step towards contention. In 2013, it was all about the team that made some bold offseason moves, and was finally on the doorstep to becoming winner.

This year, I really don't quite know exactly what the tone is supposed to be going into the 2014 season. For some reason, it was a very indifferent experience; I left feeling no better or no worse about this particular team's chances of winning.

It was a quite short affair; the panel of Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons answered questions for about only 30 minutes. In years past, the panel portion would go much longer, but it seemed like it was cut short this year.

While the pre-submitted questions did touch on the key areas of concern on the roster, the answers given by the panel didn't quite quench fans' thirst for any sort of inside knowledge or interesting tidbits.

By design, the State of the Franchise is supposed to address concerns to season ticket holders and assure fans that the organization is doing everything in their power to produce a winner (or at the very least, is moving towards an eventual winner).

The Blue Jays call it the State of the Franchise, but it's really more of a shareholder meeting. In it, the brass attempt to instill confidence and reaffirm ticket holders' decision to come back for one more year

The Blue Jays did not do a very good job of providing a great deal of hope for the 2014 season. It was more like "thanks for supporting us last year, we'll try to be better this year".

I spoke with one season ticket holder who's actually still on the fence about renewing his season tickets for the 2014 season. He felt that the Blue Jays just haven't done enough this offseason to warrant him signing up again for 81 home games.

Frankly, I can't really blame him; the Blue Jays haven't done all that much to improve their team this offseason, and yet they're expecting fans to plunk down significant money on essentially the same product they had at the end of the 2013 season.

The Blue Jays barely spent any money to make the club better, so what incentive do fans have to spend their hard-earned dollar?

If the New York Yankees hosted a similar event, they could boast about their bevy of offseason signings and how they spent significant money to improve their ball club. If I were a Yankees season ticket holder, those moves would warrant a renewal on my part.

In years past, Paul Beeston went to great lengths to sell the team as a World Series contender for many years to come, and despite the horrible results last year, he didn't really pull back on creating lofty expectations for 2014.

"World Series" and "meaningful games in September and October" were phrases which were thrown around, but this is the very same lip service we've heard from Beeston in the past.

Although 2013 was year one of what was supposed to be the Blue Jays string of playoff appearances, Beeston did reiterate it would not be just a one year process to get the Blue Jays to contention.

Alex Anthopoulos gave his typical Anthopoulos answers, but the one thing I noticed is he did acknowledge the Blue Jays are active in free agent talks. Oddly enough, the first name out of his mouth was Bronson Arroyo. Maybe AA has Bronson on his mind?

Anthopoulos reminded us that free agent talks could continue to sign with teams through Spring Training, recalling that Michael Bourn didn't sign with the Indians until late last February, and the same with Kyle Lohse and the Brewers.

Here's my question; why would AA mention that unless the Blue Jays are waiting out guys like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez? It seems odd he would mention those other late offseason signings examples unless he's planning one himself.

If that's the case, this is what I've wondered; if they like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana at 3-4 years and around $40-$50 million, what's the benefit of waiting a couple weeks just to save a couple of million dollars?

It's a dangerous game of chicken that Alex Anthopoulos is playing, and other teams could just as easily swoop in and sign Ubaldo or Santana and leave the Blue Jays to fight for the services of Bronson Arroyo.

As stated earlier, I left the Blue Jays State of the Franchise no more confident or no less pessimistic about their chances in 2014.

Lastly, apropos of nothing, this is the turf that the Blue Jays play on 81 games a year. No, that's not a hay field in the prairies ... that's an artificial playing surface. Just further cementing the fact that the Blue Jays need to get real grass at the Rogers Centre.

For more thoughts from the State of the Franchise, check out Blue Jays Plus and Blue Jays from Away.

The Blue Jays Starting Rotation is in Rough Shape

Wednesday, January 29, 2014  |  by 

Exactly one year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays had arguably the best starting rotation in all of baseball. R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ; it appeared to be the makings of a playoff-worthy rotation.

As we all know, it didn't quite unfold as it was supposed to.

Fast forward one year later, and the state of the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation is in a much more dire situation. Instead of boasting four "aces", their starting five comprises of the following.

R.A. Dickey: a 39-year old knuckleballer who was particularly prone to the long ball last season, and hasn't quite gotten the hang of keeping his signature pitch within the confines of the Rogers Centre.

Mark Buehrle: a finesse pitcher who's entering his age 35 season and whose velocity has been steadily declining over the years. Despite his durability, he's making $37 million dollars over the next two seasons.

That makes Mark Buehrle the fifth highest paid starting pitcher in the American League. Buster Olney described him best as a "plow horse being paid like a racehorse".

Brandon Morrow: a power-pitching right hander who is a true wild card and possesses a world of potential, but just hasn't been able to avoid the disabled list these past few seasons.

J.A. Happ: another guy who missed significant time due to injuries last season, and one whom there are still question marks surrounding whether his repertoire plays in the AL East.

Then take your pick of about another half dozen guys fighting it out for the final spot; some without options, some coming back from significant injuries, others are highly-touted prospects, and others relievers turned starters and turned back into starters.

If you ask me, that just doesn't sound like the kind of starting rotation that's going to help the Toronto Blue Jays reach the postseason.

But that's the starting rotation they have right now: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and one of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Dustin McGowan, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman or Sean Nolin.

Just for fun, I looked up FanGraphs Steamer projections for the current version of the Blue Jays starting rotation. Not that projections should be treated like gospel, but they don't exactly paint a picture of a solid starting five for Toronto.

R.A. Dickey121033203.
Mark Buehrle1112301925.532.31.054.564.192.2
Brandon Morrow98231347.623.
J.A. Happ6617967.353.971.174.564.51
Esmil Rogers6617966.433.450.94.594.21
Todd Redmond338487.322.951.264.264.350.6
Marcus Stroman5513777.853.230.974.13.881.2

The projections here look eerily similar to how the Blue Jays rotation fared last season. And notice how there isn't a single starter's ERA under four? It's doesn't exactly strike me as "playoff calibre".

It's no surprise that many of the teams that made the postseason in 2013 did so on the backs of impressive starting rotations. Many of those teams had one, and in some cases even two "aces" in their rotation.

Forgive me if this criticism seems harsh, but the Blue Jays starting rotation is more like a couple of threes (Dickey and Buehrle), potentially a two if he can stay healthy (Morrow), and then a handful of fives and sixes.

The Blue Jays are somehow expected to compete with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays with a rotation anchored by a 39-year old knuckleballer and a 35-year old finesse pitcher who tops out at 84 MPH.

Maybe it's just because the Yankees went a little nuts this offseason, but I'm beginning to get really worried about this Blue Jays starting rotation. I don't doubt that they could have a solid year, but I'm afraid there are just too many variables where things could go wrong.

Keep in mind, Dickey and Buehrle are the two best bets that the Blue Jays have when it comes to starting pitchers in 2014. They're the only two guys guaranteed to claim spots in the starting five, which doesn't instill a lot of hope in this pitching staff.

Signing one of Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana doesn't miraculously transform the Blue Jays rotation into one of the best, but what it does is it takes away starts from the bottom tier pitchers. It prevents the Blue Jays from depending on Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers or somebody else to make 30 starts this season.

The other benefit of inking Jimenez or Santana is it gives Toronto even more wiggle room in the depth department. It's a buffer for any eventual injuries, because it will almost certainly happen to at least one starting pitcher.

Not that I'm trying to jinx it, but say a starter sustains a freak injury (which happens way too often around these parts), then the Blue Jays don't have to reach quite as far down the depth chart as they were originally anticipating.

The upside with guys like Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin is pretty huge, but they are still unproven commodities. They're lottery tickets, essentially. While Stroman could be the next Michael Wacha, there's just as much if not more of a chance that he won't be (at least not right out of the gate).

Not that I'm anti-Marcus Stroman, but it seems like a big jump for someone who's never pitched above AA to be suddenly expected to throw 150 big league innings. I'd much rather give those innings to a known commodity, like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

It would be great to see Stroman break camp, but the Blue Jays should really be keeping him in their back pocket for later in the season ... not the onset of the 2014 campaign.

Alex Anthopoulos stressed the importance of having starting pitching depth, and this time around the Blue Jays have ample arms to choose from. But it seems like they have quantity in lieu of quality in the starting pitching department.

For whatever reason; whether it be budget constraints, an unabashed confidence in the starting pitching depth, or just an overall unwillingness to sign a free agent pitcher, the Blue Jays will officially report to Spring Training in just over two weeks with the rotation they currently have.

And in its current form, the starting rotation is already in pretty rough shape. Admittedly, it's an extremely cynical perspective to have ... I just think the cold, boring offseason has made me particularly unoptimistic about the Blue Jays rotation.

Images courtesy of Toronto Star, National Post and Jays Journal

Which Blue Jays Could Breakout in 2014?

Monday, January 27, 2014  |  by 

In many eyes, 2014 is a "make or break" year for the Toronto Blue Jays. Another disappointing season may not necessarily equate a rebuild, but one thing's for sure; what happens on the field in 2014 will have a huge impact on what happens going forward.

In order for the Toronto Blue Jays to succeed in 2014, not only will they need big years from their heavy hitters, they're going to need contributions from a few dark horse candidates. The Blue Jays will definitely need that one breakout star.

Last week, I came across an interesting post on the Blue Jays Reddit page, where the user "BettyWhiteOnSteroids" (I guess "BeaArthurOnPEDs" was taken) breaks down how the Blue Jays have had a breakout player every other season dating back to 1996.

It's actually a pretty interesting formula, and true to form the Toronto Blue Jays have benefited from over ten breakout seasons in the past 16 years. I guess the term "breakout" is loosely defined as at least a three wins above replacement (WAR) improvement year over year.

Going by this formula, the last breakout player for the Blue Jays was Edwin Encarnacion, who posted a 1.1 WAR season in 2011 and improved 4.1 WAR in 2012.

So who is poised to be the next breakout star for the Blue Jays in 2014? Here are a few candidates that could make the jump to superstar status, with Steamer, ZIPS and Oliver projections courtesy of FanGraphs (although the Reddit post used Baseball Reference WAR, or rWAR).

Brett Lawrie

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)

You could argue Brett Lawrie's breakout season has been three years in the making, but due to a cavalcade of injuries, Lawrie just hasn't been able to live up to the hype that was set by his incredible debut in 2011. Remember how he put up 2.5 wins in just 43 games?

There are indications Brett Lawrie could be trending upward, as the adjustments he made to his swing mid-season made a profound change on his game. Lawrie hit .204 in the first half compared to .283 after the All-Star break.

Plus, on the defensive side, just imagine how many runs Brett Lawrie could save with a full season under his belt at third base. The defensive metrics would only add to the long-awaited breakout campaign for Brett Lawrie.

Although his breakout has been a long time coming, it's incredible to think Brett Lawrie is only entering his age 24 season.

Colby Rasmus

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)

At first glance, I thought Colby Rasmus was poised to put together a bounce back 2014 campaign. But it turns his 2013 season already set the bar pretty high; a 4.8 win season by Rasmus was an impressive feat for someone who only played 126 games.

Even if Colby Rasmus does remain healthy this season, one wonders whether he's due for a bit of a regression in part to an unusually high .356 BABIP last season.

Colby's offensive numbers may take a bit of a dip, but playing solid defense a premium position like centre field will likely still keep him on track for another 3-4 win season.

Edwin Encarnacion

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)

Is it possible for someone who's already broken out to break out even further? That's the question when it comes to Edwin Encarnacion. He's finally gaining some respect around the league, but for the most part he's still one baseball's most unsung heroes.

Encarnacion's walk and strikeout rates were phenomenal in 2013 (82 walks compared to only 62 strikeouts), and one has to think that kind of plate discipline is something that carries over year-to-year and isn't something that just evaporates overnight.

A curiously low .247 BABIP in 2013 by Edwin points toward a potential offensive bump in 2014, and Encarnacion also cut down on his fly balls (43.3%) and increased his line drives (21.6%) which may point towards further progression.

Edwin Encarnacion is very close to eclipsing Jose Bautista has the most dangerous hitters in the Blue Jays lineup, and many would argue EE already has. I think most now are finally seeing the potential Encarnacion had all along.

Melky Cabrera

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)

As far as 2013 goes, I'd say Melky Cabrera gets a pass. No one knows exactly how much the spinal tumour affected his play and when the ill effects exactly began, but surely the 2013 iteration of Melky Cabrera was an outlier and not a true reflection of his potential.

Going into last season, I had a great deal of trouble figuring out where Melky's baseline season was. His injury in 2013 has now fogged the measure even further, but is it really all that unreasonable to expect a 2-3 win season out of a healthy Melky Cabrera?

If Melky Cabrera is fully recovered from his tumour, I wouldn't expect Melky to suddenly become Anthony Gose out there with his improved ability; but if the side effects continue to linger, the Blue Jays could always potentially look at moving Melky to DH.

Brandon Morrow

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)

Much like Brett Lawrie, a lot of people are waiting on Brandon Morrow's eventual breakout season. Yet due to a series of injuries the past few years (some fluky, some related to his throwing arm), it just hasn't happened yet for Brandon Morrow.

When healthy, there's no question Morrow has the potential to be a front-line starter. And as I wrote about a few weeks ago, the primary concern is Brandon Morrow's ability to make 30 plus starts this year and avoid significant time on the DL with nagging injuries.

Maicer Izturis

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)

I know it seems crazy to consider Maicer Izturis as a breakout candidate, but hear me out on this one. Much like the Blue Jays themselves, Izturis can't quite possibly be as bad as he was in 2013.

His defense was the main sticking point last year, and if he does in fact push Ryan Goins out of the starting second baseman job, hopefully Maicer Izturis will be much more accustomed to the Rogers Centre turf in 2014.

Defensively speaking, 2013 was the worst season of Maicer Izturis' career, so there's belief last year may have just been an anomaly and his numbers will somewhat stabilize and return to career normals in 2014.

After a -2.1 win season (yes, negative), Maicer Izturis really has nowhere left to go but up. Also don't forget, the Blue Jays have him under contract through 2015, with an option for 2016.

Image courtesy of Zimbio

Anthopoulos: Five-Year Policy is More of a "Guideline"

Friday, January 24, 2014  |  by 

Well it seems like the five-year policy has been the topic of the week in Blue Jays Land. And just when you thought you've heard enough about it, the "policy" rears its ugly head once again.

Alex Anthopoulos spoke with reporters earlier this afternoon at the Vancouver Canadians 4th Annual Hot Stove Luncheon (where the Canadians unveiled a uniform update, by the way).

At the luncheon, Greg Balloch of Sportstalk AM650 in Vancouver managed to get these interesting quotes from the Blue Jays GM on the five-year policy:

Mixed messages, much?

So let me get this straight; the five-year policy is only a "guideline" and it's really more about the money more than it is the years. That's what many have suspected all along, but it's good to finally hear it from the horse's mouth.

But then Anthopoulos goes ahead and completely contradicts himself and says the Blue Jays stood firm on their five-year policy when it came to bidding on Masahiro Tanaka. Wait, the Blue Jays stood firm on a flexible policy ... is that even physically possible?

The Blue Jays simply can't have it both ways; the front office can't use the five-year policy as an excuse, but then reiterate that the very same policy is flexible. If it really is about the bottom line cost of the contract rather than the years, then just say that.

So it sounds like there could in fact be some budget constraints in place going into 2014 for the Blue Jays. Judging by Alex Anthopoulos' remarks, it sounds like AA's hands are tied when it comes to signing the big name players in the free agent pool.

These comments could not have come at a worse time as the Blue Jays State of the Franchise is set for next Wednesday. Unless the Blue Jays go out and sign a shiny new free agent pitcher by next week, I have a feeling there will be a lot of angry ticket holders there.

And frankly, I can't blame them.

Hat tip to @GregBallochST for the Alex Anthopoulos quotes. Image courtesy of Toronto Sun

Enough with the Five-Year Policy

Thursday, January 23, 2014  |  by 

Alex Anthopoulos

First it was the phrase "payroll parameters"; now the term "five-year policy" is the latest phrase in Alex Anthopoulos' lexicon to have the Blue Jays fan base's eyes rolling.

Yesterday, it was announced that the New York Yankees were the winners in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Frankly, the news wasn't all that shocking; it would have been more surprising if Tanaka didn't go to the Bronx.

While there was some faint hope the Blue Jays may be a dark horse candidate to sign Tanaka, most had come to grips that he would likely land with the Yankees or Dodgers.

But here's where the plot thickens; a curious tweet from the National Post's John Lott that changed everything:

Yepp, there's that five-year policy rearing its ugly head once again. And that's the worst part of it; not that the Blue Jays were necessarily outbid, but because one of their own club policies prevented them from negotiating any further. 

If the Toronto Blue Jays did in fact bid on Masahiro Tanaka, did they not think the five-year policy would be a sticking point? Did they really think they could cap their offer at five years and no other team would top it?

Making a play for Masahiro Tanaka with a five-year policy in place is like bidding one dollar in a silent auction. Sure, there's a chance that item might go for a buck, but there's a much likelier chance there are dozens of people who will bid much higher.

My main issue here isn't the five-year policy itself; I respect that Alex Anthopoulos has managed to adhere to this policy after all these years. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to compete when the Yankees have the ability to surpass every other team in dollars and years offered.

No, the issue I have is the Blue Jays reportedly targeted Masahiro Tanaka, but didn't do absolutely everything in their power to sign him. That's the equivalent of lowballing Tanaka or just tabling an offer for the sake of tabling one.

If the Blue Jays weren't serious about signing Masahiro Tanaka, then they really shouldn't have bid on him at all.

If they weren't willing to go beyond five years and violate their self-imposed club policy, and if they weren't willing to shell out $150 million or more for the services of Masahiro Tanaka, then I don't even know why they showed up to negotiate in the first place.

Dan Toman of GameReax had an interesting theory on the five-year policy, which the more I think about it, I'm definitely beginning to subscribe to; that the policy is just a facade to save face.

Think about it; when ever have you heard news about the five-year policy come up? In most instances, it's whenever the Blue Jays missed out on signing a big name free agent (see Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, and now add Masahiro Tanaka to that list).

Maybe it's not about the five year maximum for contracts after all, maybe it's about the money. Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos does have a hard cap on what he can spend and Tanaka simply was out of the budget ... but why doesn't he just say that?

Using a five-year policy as a scapegoat is a much easier explanation to digest, rather than trying to explain why it seems like ownership with near limitless cash at their disposal won't spend on elite free agents.

The five-year policy is suddenly becoming a crutch for Alex Anthopoulos. It's an excuse that's designed to deflect any criticism because it's a number that's seemingly set in stone. The policy is meant to limit spending, but it's now become a roadblock in negotiations.

It's not as though it's a hard five-year policy, either. AA has noted there could be some wiggle room if the right comes along. And by bidding on Masahiro Tanaka, that effectively made him a candidate as one of those players who were the exception to the rule. 

I mean, there are loop holes around everything these days. And adhering to the five-year policy doesn't win the Blue Jays some sort of award; all it does with potential big name free agents is make the Blue Jays look like they aren't serious, regardless of the dollar figure they offer.

In the long run, the policy may be protecting the Blue Jays from repeating the Vernon Wells contract all over again, but at the same time it's also preventing them from signing and big name free agents; especially free agent pitchers, which they need desperately.

Not to mention, how bad are the optics on this situation from an outsider's perspective? How bad does it look to other teams, players and agents when they see that a self-imposed policy prevented the Blue Jays from improving their team?

By all indications, the Blue Jays could have matched the Yankees dollar-for-dollar on Masahiro Tanaka. But where they missed out was the duration of the contract; two more guaranteed years and a no-trade clause is what stood in the way of Tanaka coming to Toronto.

Another sticking point with the Blue Jays in the negotiations with Tanaka was apparently a no-trade clause as well. His deal with the Yankees also includes an opt-out clause after the fourth year.

Not surprisingly, Alex Anthopoulos has never allowed a no-trade clause in a contract, and hasn't allowed for an opt-out clause either. Those two things may have also been huge stumbling blocks in negotiations with Masahiro Tanaka, because it gave the player a great deal of control, not the club.

So I implore Alex Anthopoulos to officially abolish the five-year policy ... or at the very least, to stop using it as an excuse to not better this ball club.

Image courtesy of TSN

The Masahiro Tanaka Waiting Game

Friday, January 17, 2014  |  by 

In many ways, this particular offseason has been one giant waiting game for the Toronto Blue Jays. People have been waiting for them to do something ... anything to improve the club.

Aside from signing Dioner Navarro and non-tendering J.P. Arencibia, the Blue Jays have remained relatively quiet this winter. Under ordinary circumstances it wouldn't be all that concerning, but for a team like the Blue Jays in dire need of pitching ... it is.

But are the Toronto Blue Jays truly quiet, or are they merely a sleeping giant?

For all we know, Alex Anthopoulos has been feverishly working the phones attempting to land one or even two starting pitchers. Indications point towards a few deals that fell apart, but ultimately the Blue Jays pitching staff is mostly unchanged.

The big linchpin in all of this is Masahiro Tanaka; he's the reason why big name free agents like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and even Matt Garza haven't signed contracts yet; because they're waiting for the Tanaka shoe to drop.

Not only are the Toronto Blue Jays waiting, but seemingly every other team in Major League Baseball is as well. It's all hinging on what happens with Masahiro Tanaka before next Friday's deadline at 5:00pm.

For a team that's been as quiet as the Blue Jays have this offseason, I found it somewhat surprising that they've had multiple discussions with Masahiro Tanaka. All signs point towards the contrary; AA standing pat this offseason and actually tempering expectations for 2014.

Considering how crazy things got around Yu Darvish in Toronto a few years back, one can understand why Anthopoulos would want to downplay any sort of interest in Masahiro Tanaka.

Back then, most deemed the Blue Jays as the favourites to land Yu Darvish. And when Toronto didn't land him, all hell broke loose. This time around is a stark contrast as there's been very confirmation whatsoever from upper management about interest in Masahiro Tanaka.

But every indication is that Toronto won't be in on Tanaka, and they might not even make a play for Santana, Jimenez or Garza either.

The whole situation is a little complicated because there is still a slight chance that even if the Blue Jays are out on Masahiro Tanaka, they could be in on Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

Until those guys are officially off the board, there's always a possibility (albeit a small one) that either could come to Toronto, which is drawing out this offseason waiting game even further.

Obviously, Masahiro Tanaka is the most coveted player still out there on the market, which makes him the first domino to fall. Once he goes, the others won't be too far behind. But if the Blue Jays are waiting on Tanaka, they could be waiting too long.

If anything, I think missing out on Tanaka would invariably drive up the asking price for Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. The rumoured annual $14 million asking price on Ubaldo seems a little low, considering $14.5 million was the going rate for a qualifying offer.

The other problem I foresee is the Blue Jays missing out on Santana and Jimenez simply because they'd get outbid by whoever becomes the bridesmaid in the Tanaka sweepstakes. That team could very well just use the money they earmarked for Tanaka, and throw it at Santana or Jimenez instead.

You have to believe their prospective agents will exploit that as well; so if the Yankees miss out on Tanaka, don't think Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez' agents won't be on the horn with Brian Cashman shortly thereafter.

Also, don't forget there are other teams probably just waiting to put their starters back on the trade block. It's no coincidence the Reds reportedly pulled Homer Bailey back off the market; they'd be wise to listen to offers on Bailey after the Tanaka situation is resolved.

The same goes for the Jeff Samardzija and the Chicago Cubs as well; coincidentally, they haven't come to an agreement on a contract extension yet, and Samardzija is just another starter who could be shopped once the dust settles from the Tanaka sweepstakes.

There is of course also a remote possibility that waiting out the market on Masahiro Tanaka could eventually drive down the price of the starting pitcher that Anthopoulos are seeking. But I seriously doubt that tactic will prove beneficial for the Blue Jays.

If that is in fact Alex Anthopoulos' plan, then he could be stuck with someone like Bronson Arroyo, or compromising and signing a guy with reportedly red-flagged medicals, Matt Garza.

Because getting involved with someone who possesses a spotty injury history is the last thing the Blue Jays need to do this offseason.

Image courtesy of Bleacher Report

The Colby Rasmus Contract Conspiracy Theories

Tuesday, January 14, 2014  |  by 

People say that Alex Anthopoulos has a tough job, but you want to know who really has a tough job? Whomever is in charge of planning the Toronto Blue Jays giveaways.

They somehow have to possess the foresight to predict who will be on the Blue Jays roster some six to eight months in advance. It truly is a tough task, one that must surely involve some sort of advanced prognostication skills.

What does this all have to do with Colby Rasmus? Well, some interesting events have transpired in the past week or so that could potentially signal a contract extension with the Blue Jays' centre fielder.

So let the conspiracy theories commence!

It all started just over a week ago when the Blue Jays sent out this tweet that Colby Rasmus had to cancel his appearance on the Winter Tour.

Ordinarily, it wouldn't be all that much cause for concern, but considering that Colby Rasmus' contract status with the Blue Jays is somewhat in limbo, the tweet sparked rumours that Rasmus could be on the trade block.

Then a subsequent tweet by Colby's father Tony Rasmus added fuel to the fire (but has since been deleted). It insinuated that Colby was told he should be prepared to be traded this offseason. He later clarified that message was not from someone within the organization.

And yesterday the Blue Jays made a pair of perplexing announcements that may or may not be linked together; that two of the three bobblehead giveaways in 2014 would be Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey, and that Colby Rasmus would be back on the Winter Tour.

First of all, why would they unveil two of the three players and not all three at once? Is the reason why the third is to be determined because the front office is waiting to finalize a potential contact extension or trade for a marquee player?

As innocent as it seems, it's just very curious that there's still one player who has yet to be announced as being immortalized in bobblehead form.

Secondly, why is it that suddenly Colby Rasmus is able to rejoin the Toronto Blue Jays Winter Tour again? I mean, from a fan's perspective that's great news ... but how is it that he suddenly was unavailable and then available again?

For those keeping track, Rasmus' arbitration deadline is this week, and is scheduled to appear in Mississauga the day after salary arbitration figures are exchanged (hat tip to @Minor_Leaguer for that one).

So the natural assumption with these new developments is that Colby is either in Toronto to hammer out contract details or it's to announce a new contract in person.

As we saw with Jose Bautista, contract negotiations can go all the way down to the eleventh hour. Just because the Blue Jays and Colby Rasmus can't come to an agreement this week, doesn't necessarily mean arbitration is a foregone conclusion.

Bluebird Banter has a full breakdown of the potential scenarios, but once the figures have been submitted this week, Colby Rasmus will either let the arbitrator decide his salary of the Blue Jays will table a multi-year contract.

The Blue Jays have instilled a club policy of not negotiating once the arbitration exchange deadline has passed, as indicated by Alex Anthopoulos in 2012:
"The policy hasn't changed. All one-year deals need to be completed by the exchange date. If not, the only way we avoid a hearing is a multiyear scenario."
Keep in mind the Blue Jays haven't gone to arbitration with one of their players since 1997, the last one being Bill Risely some 17 years ago.

There's been a lot of debate this offseason as to whether or not the Blue Jays should sell high on Colby Rasmus or to table a contract extension, but I think these latest developments are indicative of a new deal rather than a trade.

Admittedly, a side effect of the Alex Anthopoulos era is a tendency to overthink things when really a simple explanation would suffice. Perhaps Colby Rasmus is back on the Winter Tour because whatever he was busy with (hunting, curling) is no longer an issue.

And here's a thought; the Blue Jays might be waiting to announce that third bobblehead giveaway as a Blue Jays alumni player, which will be voted on by the fans (that would be cool, right?).

However, the much more compelling storyline in all this is Colby Rasmus being back in Toronto to solidify a new contract extension and possibly be there for a press conference.

Maybe these conspiracy theories are just a byproduct of having little to no information to go on from AA himself, but this is what bloggers do during the offseason; hypothesize, speculate and come up with harebrained schemes to occupy themselves.

By the way ... is it Spring Training yet?

Blue Jays in the Wild: Adam Lind at the Raptors Game (with Jesse Carlson and Steve Paikin!)

Thursday, January 9, 2014  |  by 

You know it's been a particularly slow offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays when yours truly is devoting a blog post to this, but here goes ...

Ahead of the Blue Jays Winter Tour kickoff today, Adam Lind made an appearance sitting courtside at the Toronto Raptors game last night. Under ordinary circumstances, that probably wouldn't be all that newsworthy, but there's multiple layers to this one.

First off, Adam Lind's beard. Earlier today, I mistakenly described it as "flawless", but your girl @mererog corrected me, and on second thought it resembles something a little more "rustic" and it's very Boston Red Sox-esque.

Also, Lind's outfit choices are quite fitting for a man who's set to travel across Ontario. Bonus points for sporting what appears to be a Calvin Johnson Megatron toque (thanks @meechone).

Here's where the plot thickens; Adam Lind was at the game with former Blue Jays teammate Jesse Carlson. Many will remember Carlson for the famous brawl with Jorge Posada at Yankee Stadium.

One wonders whether Jesse Carlson might be living in Toronto, as he hasn't played in the Majors since 2010. Carlson had a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox AA affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs in 2012.

Oddly enough, Jesse Carlson is wearing the cap of his alma mater club, the Toronto Blue Jays. Frankly, I don't think I've ever seen a baseball player wear the cap of their current or former team out in public.

And lastly, to the right of Lind and Carlson is none other a recent recipient of the Order of Canada, TVO's Steve Paikin. Although, he openly admits he was sporting gear adorned by the Toronto Blue Jays division rivals.

Adam Lind, Jesse Carlson, and Steve Paikin ... that's a motley crew if I've ever seen one.

Hearty tip of the cap to @mikerheostatics for the image.

Brandon Morrow: The Ultimate Wild Card

Monday, January 6, 2014  |  by 

If there's one player who the Blue Jays' success in 2014 is hinging on, it's none other than Brandon Morrow. And if there's one player who embodied the disappointment of 2013, it's oddly enough ... also Brandon Morrow.

Last season, the team was depending on him as their number two starter. Instead, he took the mound a mere ten times before being shut down midway through the 2013 campaign with a radial nerve entrapment.

In lieu of a solid year, it was more of the same of what we've seen from Brandon Morrow during his last four seasons in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform; flashes of brilliance combined with a multitude of injuries (details below courtesy of Baseball Prospectus).

YearTransactionDaysGamesSideBody PartInjury
201360-DL124110RightForearmRadial Nerve Entrapment
2013DTD1210-Low BackStiffness
201115-DL2917RightForearmRecovery From Inflammation

In total, Morrow has missed 215 games since 2009 due to a laundry list of injuries, mostly associated with his right shoulder and forearm. And for a right-handed power pitcher, those are about the two worst places to sustain an injury.

Whenever projecting how Brandon Morrow will fare, it usually comes with one giant caveat; "if he can stay healthy, he's a Cy Young calibre pitcher".

Again, that giant caveat is "if"; which makes Brandon Morrow the ultimate wild card for the Toronto Blue Jays.

There's no denying Morrow's talent. At times, he's show the ability to be one of the best starting pitchers in the league. But over the past two years, that caveat has gotten so incredibly bloated that it's hard to pencil Brandon Morrow in for anything anymore. 

The problem now is the very same as it was last season; the Blue Jays are not only depending on Brandon Morrow to give them 30 plus starts and 200 innings, they're hoping he'll recapture some of that magic he displayed prior to his oblique injury in early 2012.

It's a tall order for a guy who has only made 31 starts and logged 176 total innings the past two seasons. And since Alex Anthopoulos hasn't bolstered the starting rotation, the Toronto Blue Jays will be relying on Brandon Morrow now more than ever.

Blue Jays beat reporter Gregor Chisholm spoke to Alex Anthopoulos back in early December, and he seemed confident Brandon Morrow would be good to go for 2014:
"It looks like he is completely healthy ... he has thrown a simulated game. He has thrown two bullpen [sessions]. He has thrown every pitch -- fastball, curveball, slider -- at 100 percent. He feels great and he's going to be a big boost to our rotation."
The operative word here of course being "looks". Here in early January, things may appear to be all well and good with Brandon Morrow, but a lot can change between now and Opening Day on April 4th.

The success of the starting rotation really does hinge on his health. But remaining healthy is a skill. It might not be listed among the five tools, but it's a grossly underrated tool.

And if ever there was a player who has perfected the art, it's Mark Buehrle; with 13 consecutive seasons of 30 plus starts and not a single trip to the disabled list.

If Mark Buehrle spent as much time on the DL as Brandon Morrow has, he wouldn't be making $37 million dollars over the next two seasons. Mind you, the Miami Marlins were crazy enough to give Buehrle that kind of money ... but I digress.

At least with Brandon Morrow it's not a case like Ricky Romero's, where there are serious doubts whether he'll ever pitch in the Major Leagues again. Brandon Morrow can contribute significantly to the Toronto Blue Jays, but again ... only if he can stay healthy.

Unfortunately, I think Alex Anthopoulos might be slow-playing his hand a bit too much when it comes to the starting rotation, and it sounds like the team will heavily rely upon Morrow's contributions this upcoming season.

This is contrary to the evidence that suggested the Blue Jays would solidify the starting rotation this offseason with some much-needed reinforcements.

I hate to say it, but the Blue Jays almost need to think worst-case scenario with Brandon Morrow and plan accordingly.

Not that the Blue Jays should anticipate Morrow will get hurt this season, but they shouldn't be surprised if he does.

It's imperative that they have a backup (or even two) in place. If the Blue Jays don't have a Plan B, C or even D, they could be right back where they were last season; pulling virtually anybody off the scrap heap to take a spot in the starting rotation.

That means Alex Anthopoulos needs to ask himself if he can envision a winning Blue Jays team without Brandon Morrow in the starting rotation; and if he can't, he needs to remedy the situation.

The easy way to fix that is simply sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, which would automatically put a contingency plan in place for Brandon Morrow's health, and also leave the Blue Jays with a surplus of pitching.

And if Morrow does stay healthy, the addition of a top tier starter just makes the team that much better. But without some sort of a safety net to plan for a potential injury, it seems like Alex Anthopoulos is setting up this 2014 squad to fail.

The Blue Jays shouldn't view Brandon Morrow as the lynchpin of their starting rotation. Rather, the equivalent of picking up a starting pitcher at the trade deadline to help put them over the top. But once again, only if he can remain healthy.

Ultimately, here's the only bit of advice I can offer when it comes to Brandon Morrow; hope for the best, plan for the worst, and pray he doesn't get hurt.

Image courtesy of CBC

Seven Years Later: The Vernon Wells Contract

Thursday, January 2, 2014  |  by 

It's hard to believe, but 2014 marks the final year of Vernon Wells' 7-year/$126 million dollar contract. Originally inked just over seven years ago, the deal made Wells the richest player in Toronto Blue Jays franchise history.

Now the contract which was once the bane of the existence of the J.P. Ricciardi era will finally come to an end this coming season. It's officially the end of an era, even though the contract and Wells himself left town long ago.

The contract truly encapsulated the free-spending ways of the early days of Rogers ownership of the Blue Jays, as Wells' contract was just one of many high-dollar deals on the Blue Jays roster.

At the time of the signing, even Vernon Wells himself thought the Blue Jays overpaid for his services:
"I personally thought they were crazy, but that's what they get paid for, to know these things."
That doesn't bode well when the player signing the deal even things the organization is off their rocker for giving him to a 7-year contract extension.

The Details

At the time, Vernon Wells' 7-year/$126 million dollar deal was the sixth largest in baseball history. Wells was coming off his best season, a 5.7 win season by FanGraphs standards and the second 30 HR/100 RBI/.300 AVG campaign of his career.

Here are the full contract details, originally signed on December 15th 2006 as per Cot's Baseball Contracts:
Vernon Wells OF
7 years/$126M (2008-14)
  • signed extension with Toronto 12/06
  • $25.5M signing bonus ($8.5M payment each March 1, 2008-10)
  • 08:$0.5M, 09:$1.5M, 10:$12.5M, 11:$23M, 12:$21M, 13:$21M, 14:$21M
  • full no-trade clause (waived 1/11)
  • Wells may opt out of contract after 2011
  • award bonuses: $0.25M for MVP, $0.2M for WS MVP, $0.15M for LCS MVP, $0.1M for most All-Star votes in league
  • Wells to donate $143,000 annually to Blue Jays charity
Like many players before him, Vernon Wells inked his contract extension immediately following his best season, and his performance steadily declined afterwards. Ultimately, the Blue Jays paid for 2006-like results, and what they received was anything but.

The funny thing is most pundits viewed the Vernon Wells contract as a good deal for both the player and the Blue Jays. At the time, no one was really crying foul as Wells was poised to make $20 million per year as a free agent following the 2007 season anyway.

Alfonso Soriano's 8-year/$136 million dollar contract and Carlos Lee's 6-year/$100 million dollar deal set the precedent for free agent outfielders just one month prior in November of 2006.

So at an annual average value of $18 million dollars, Vernon Wells' contract wasn't all that egregious and was actually on par with others inked around that time period.

The Honeymoon Ends

However, it didn't take all that long for the Vernon Wells contract to become a burden on the Toronto Blue Jays payroll. Wells very quickly became the poster boy for the ill-fated albatross contract.

Two months into his brand new deal, Wells suffered a left wrist fracture and played just 108 games that season. The ill effects of his wrist injury were felt the following season as well, as his power took a sharp decline in 2009 despite playing an entire season.

To demonstrate just how dramatically Vernon Wells power numbers fell off from 2009 compared to 2006, his slugging percentage tumbled 142 points (from .542 to .400), and his home run total was cut in half (from 32 to 15). 

So with that in mind, it didn't take long for Vernon Wells' contract to rank up there among the worst in baseball. It's high average annual value and total years combined with Wells' lack of production made it one of the most unappealing deals in all of MLB.

At the time, I remember there being a lot of contempt from the Blue Jays fanbase directed towards Vernon Wells. It wasn't necessarily because Wells was one of the worst players in baseball, it was because he was being paid like he was one of the best.

Spearheaded by Ricciardi or Ownership?

It has long been rumoured that the Vernon Wells contract was not spearheaded by J.P. Ricciardi, but rather by President Paul Godfrey and Toronto Blue Jays ownership.

That certainly makes sense, as the team payroll increased dramatically from $45.8 million in 2005 to $84 million dollars in 2007. In fact, the news of Wells' contract came mere months after Ted Rogers announced the Blue Jays would increase payroll.

The previous offseason, the Blue Jays signed free agents B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett to sizable contracts at a total of $102 million. So much like the current Blue Jays regime, the window for contention back then felt like it was rapidly closing.

In a vacuum, the Vernon Wells contract didn't make all that much sense. But given the set of circumstances, J.P. Ricciardi may have felt he was handcuffed and had to lock up their apparent franchise player to a long-term deal.

We'll never know for sure if ownership influenced Vernon Wells' contract extension or not, but one has to assume the front office had a heavy hand in it.

While the dollars per annum still seems incredibly high, it's the contract length that's the most perplexing part of the deal. Why did the Blue Jays feel the need to give Vernon Wells seven guaranteed years?

Were they afraid Vernon's hometown Texas Rangers were going to pony up a sizable contract, and they needed to blow any potential counter-offers completely out of the water?

The Blue Jays cleverly back-loaded the final four years of the seven year deal; the first three years would technically only account for $24 million of the total contract, while the final four years would balloon to $89 million.

So the way the contract was constructed, the Blue Jays were technically able to secure Wells' services at a fairly low salary for the first few years, and were hoping his production early on would pay for his incredibly inflated salary later down the road.

The Beginning of the End

It wasn't until late 2009 when the wheels were actually set in motion to find a more cost-effective replacement for Vernon Wells. Alex Anthopoulos reportedly attempted to acquire Anthony Gose in the Roy Halladay trade in December of 2009, but failed to do so.

Prior to that, the Blue Jays didn't really have any centre field prospects in the pipeline, so locking up Vernon Wells was really the only viable option, and his contract extension solidified the position of centre field for many years to come.

AA eventually got his man the following year in a subsequent trade with the Houston Astros to acquire Anthony Gose in exchange for first base prospect Brett Wallace. Arguably, that was the beginning of the end of Vernon Wells' time in Toronto.

In retrospect, I don't blame Vernon Wells for his contract, I blame ownership and management. It was their idea to sign him to a 7-year extension, and Wells would be silly not to take that kind of guaranteed money.

For whatever reason, they deemed it necessary to overpay in dollars and years to keep Vernon Wells in a Blue Jays uniform for an unnecessarily long time.

The Albatross Flies the Nest

In their 36 year history, the Toronto Blue Jays are guilty of letting a lot of incredible players get away: Jeff Kent, Chris Carpenter and Carlos Delgado just to name a few. But Vernon Wells is one that they probably should have let walk out the door. 

Thankfully, Alex Anthopoulos proved that virtually no contract is untradable. He somehow managed to unload close to $90 million remaining on Wells' deal, and actually received a few players in return (Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera) from the Los Angeles Angels. 

It was right place at the right time for the Blue Jays as the Angels seemed overly desperate to acquire an outfielder. They missed out on signing Carl Crawford, and Vernon Wells was the next best option.

Armed with a highly-touted centre field prospect now in their system in the form of Anthony Gose, the Blue Jays were happy to oblige.

The Ripple Effects of the Wells Contract

Vernon Wells may be long gone from Toronto, but the impact of his contract extension is still being felt within the current Blue Jays regime.

Wells' contract not only was long in duration, but it essentially gave him all the control. Vernon had a no-trade clause, an opt-out clause, performance bonuses built in, and seven guaranteed years with no buyout or club options.

In fact, Vernon Wells may be the very reason why Anthopoulos instilled a "five year policy" in the first place. So in that respect, Wells' contract is the antithesis to any subsequent multi-year contract delved out by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Since taking over as General Manager in 2009, Alex Anthopoulos has not signed a single contract which included performance bonuses, incentives, player options, no-trade clauses or opt-out clauses.

After the Vernon Wells contract, the dynamic has shifted within the organization. No longer do long-term contracts allow players to have most the control; contracts are now structured much differently.

Also, the timing of any significant contracts given out by the Blue Jays no longer takes place at the height of the player's value. Anthopoulos has done a great job of locking up guys like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to team-friendly deals.

Most contracts are now structured with some sort of exit strategy like club options, whereas Vernon Wells' deal left the Blue Jays at the mercy of his decision to opt out or waive his no trade clause.

It was a lesson learned by the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and an expensive lesson at that. One which they surely won't repeat any time soon.

Images via USA Today, NY Daily News and The Score

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