Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Lind vs. Smoak

So as you probably noticed, the Jays made a waiver pickup this week, obtaining 1B Justin Smoak, former Mariner and former Rangers top prospect.

You may have also noticed some speculation about Adam Lind being on the trading block.   Could Smoak be a viable (cheaper) replacement for Lind?

To be fair, there are some interesting things about Smoak.  He's a switch hitter with far less of a platoon split then Lind.  He's not a great defender, but better than Lind.  And he walks more than Lind, as well.

Unfortunately, all of those positives are outweighed by a pretty major negative:  Adam Lind is one of the top hitters in all of MLB against right handed pitching, while Smoak is pretty much replacement level at the plate.  Bringing in Justin Smoak as a one-for-one replacement for Lind would be a huge downgrade.

It might not be that simple, though.  If the Jays can trade Lind for help somewhere else (like 2B or LF) it might not be a net loss.  If you swap Lind for a second baseman of equivalent value, then Smoak just has to play better than last year's second basemen for this to be a positive move for the Jays.  And as not-great as Smoak has been, that isn't a Herculean task.

The other point to consider is that the Jays might not need to replace Lind, per se. The club might intend to give Jose Reyes 30 starts at DH and to rotate players like Bautista and Cabrera (if he returns) through the DH spot as well, to give them a break from the wear and of everyday fielding.  If that's the plan, and with Encarnacion's bat being in the lineup daily, Smoak might not see 600 plate appearances.   More likely, he'd come to bat 300-400 times.

Finally, there is some reason to hope that Justin Smoak might be able to hit better than he has up to now.  Smoak would be coming to a much better hitting environment if he came to Toronto, compared with the pitcher's park he played in in Seattle.  Smoak is more of a fly ball hitter than Lind - curiously, Adam Lind has a career BABIP over .300 despite being a slow man who hits ground balls 43% of the time.  Smoak, meanwhile, has a career BABIP of just .260, which is the 14th-worst in MLB since 2010.  There aren't any obvious reasons for the BABIP gap between the two - they're both slow 1st basemen with similar line drive rates, and one would think that Lind would struggle with BABIP due to the slowness/ground balls combination.  What I'm getting at is that Smoak might be due to improve a bit, just due to plain old regression to the mean.  Perhaps he can be another reclamation project for the Jays?

I'd be willing to roll the dice on Smoak, IF the holes at 2B and LF get filled via a trade of Lind.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Can the Royals or Orioles be emulated?



In a word, no.  In more words... probably no.

The heartening thing, if there is one, about this MLB playoff year is that the Orioles and Royals found success despite recent histories of embarrassing failure and ineptitude.  In the midst of the angst over whether Jays management lied to the players about money being available, the question of whether Melky Cabrera can be resigned, and whether it’s possible to find a middle infielder and rebuild the bullpen without spending money or prospects, this is good news.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a really easy-to-follow narrative for either team that the Jays could emulate.

How did Baltimore get good enough to win 96 games and reach the ALCS?  Three years ago, we were making “OriLOLs” jokes, mocking them for getting turned down by GM interviewee Tony LaCava, and marveling that Peter Angelos might be a worse owner than Rogers is.  So what worked for them?

Well, you can’t really say that Baltimore has built from a base of prospects.  Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Dylan Bundy, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, and Kevin Gausman were drafted, while Wei-Yin Chin and Jonathan Schoop were international or minor-league free agents.  Machado and Markakis were worth 2.5 fWAR each; Chin, Gausman and Britton were 2.6, 2.1, and 1.1 fWAR.  Meanwhile, the Orioles top 4 hitters – Jones, Peace, Cruz and Hardy – were worth an average of 4+ fWAR each and all came in as free agents or via trade.  David Lough (1.9 fWAR) and Delmon Young (0.9) came in via trade, and Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez (not to mention Ubaldo Jiminez), 3/5 of the O’s rotation, came in via trade or free agency.  And outside of closer Britton, the Orioles’ top relievers (Miller, O’Day, Hunter, Webb) came from outside the organization.

What went well for the O’s on the field?  Well, for one thing, their pitchers considerably outperformed their FIPs and xFIPs.  The Orioles had the 3rd-best team ERA in 2014, but were 5th-worst in FIP and xFIP.  To put that in perspective:

Orioles FIP/xFIP:                       3.96/3.92
Blue Jays FIP/xFIP                    3.97/3.99

In other words, the Blue Jays and Orioles pitching staffs performed pretty much at the same level, if you leave out the ‘random’ stuff like BABIP allowed (Orioles 3rd-best in AL at .280, trailing only the Mariners and A’s who play in notorious pitchers’ parks) and LOB% (strand rate, a league-best 77%).  As it turns out, the Jays didn’t do well at the ‘random stuff’, and finished with a 4.09 team ERA, 12th in the AL

Of course, “FIP” stands for fielding-independent pitching, and the Orioles also finished first in the AL with 50 fielding runs above average, and 2nd in the AL in Fangraph’s defensive rankings.  In other words, not only were the Orioles pitchers’ outperforming their fielding-independent stats (I’m not sure how you could teach that), but they also benefited from having an elite defense.

So to sum up:  for the Jays to follow the same narrative as the Orioles, they need to get better defensively (which might be possible with full seasons of Lawrie and Gose/Pompey in the field, and a new 2B or 3B who can field) and… their pitchers need to be luckier.  Riiiight, we'll get right on that.

Anyway, on to the Royals.  Kansas City won just 89 games this year, but snuck into the playoffs anyway.  Like the Orioles, the Royals have a long history of futility, winning 86 games in 2013 but losing 90+ in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.  But the silver lining behind a decade of losing is a long parade of top prospects, which later turn into young, talented major leaguers.  Right?

Well, so you would think.  Take a look at these rankings:

Org rankings from Baseball Prospectus (top prospects in parentheses)

2009   Royals:  16th (Moustakas, Hosmer)   Jays 10th  (Snider, Arencibia)
2010   Royals: 10th  (Moustakas, Hosmer)   Jays 22nd (Wallace, Drabek, Chad Jenkins)
2011   Royals: 1st  (Moustakas, Hosmer)  Jays 5th
2012   Royals:  5th (Myers, Starling, Odorizzi)  Jays 2nd (D’Arnaud, Marisnick, Norris)
2013   Royals:  7th (Zimmer, Mondesi)  Jays 13th (Sanchez, Tirado)
2014   Royals:  7th (Ventura, Binford)  Jays 13th (Stroman, Castro)

What happened for the Royals this year?  Did one-time hot prospects Moustakas and Hosmer finally blossom?  No, not really (1.1 fWAR combined, this season).  The Royals’ great players this year were Alex Gordon (failed 3B turned all-star LF), Lorenzo Cain (obtained in trade for Zack Greinke), Alcides Escobar (ditto), Salvador Perez (unheralded amateur free agent), Jarrod Dyson (drafted), James Shields (trade), Wade Davis (trade), Yordano Ventura (amateur free agent), Jason Vargas (free agent), Greg Holland (drafted) and Danny Duffy (drafted).

There are some eerie parallels between the 2014 Royals and 2014 Jays:
Failed hitting prospects – check (Moustakas and Hosmer/Snider and Arencibia)
Failed 3B turns into a star in another position – check (Gordon/Encarnacion)
Young pitchers making an impact – check (Ventura, Holland, Duffy/Stroman, hopefully Sanchez, Hutchison)
Veteran pitchers gained from prospect-depleting trades – check (Shields and Davis/Dickey and Buehrle)
All-glove OF gained in trade for former ace – check (Cain/Gose(kind of))

It’s encouraging to see that the top prospects the Royals dealt for Shields/Davis weren’t wasted.  And Ventura and Stroman are nice comparison points.  And I’m surprised the narrativists haven’t seized on the fact the Royals prospect system peaked in 2011, a year before the Jays’ system peaked.  But those parallels aside, it’s tough to see how the Jays could copy the Royals.  The Jays have drafted well and have an enviable set of prospects, as did the Royals, but the top prospects Kansas City had are not, for the most part, the key to their current success.  Kansas City’s team is made up of a mix of draftees, young talent that veterans were traded for, veterans that young talent was traded for, and a judicious amount of free agents… like pretty much most other teams are.  They didn’t get especially lucky with BABIP or strand rates.  They stole a lot of bases, something the Jays might not be able to manage regardless of who plays 2B or CF next year.  And outside of sticking Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris in the bullpen fulltime in 2015, there’s not a lot the Jays could do to look more like the 2014 Royals.

In other words, the Jays can’t expect to stumble into a successful season without putting more effort into fixing the team’s obvious shortcomings.  And as the Orioles and Royals show, that won’t be accomplished with prospects alone.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Is there distrust between the Blue Jays' players and team management?


Hell if I know.  And frankly, that should be everyone’s answer to this question.

As fans, we are bound to speculate about what players are thinking, whether this player or that player is an a****** to play with, whether there is dissention in the clubhouse.  That’s part of being a fan; speculating and obsessing about our team.  Bloggers and sportswriters do the same thing, because we’re fans too, or because we know (other) fans like to talk about this stuff.

But the thing is, we – from Shi Davidi on down – aren’t privy  to the discussions players have amongst themselves, or with management, or to what they’re thinking, except for what they choose to tell us.  And so, we speculate.  Were Casey Janssen and Jose Bautista disappointed with how the trade deadline turned out for the Jays?  Yeah, probably, if we go by what they said publicly.

And frankly, those of us who have been fans for the long haul – who have lived through the apathy of InterBrew and the Roger Clemens experiment, who saw Carlos Delgado walk away without a fight from management, who remember “It’s not a lie if we know the truth”, and who have lived through multiple “5-year plans” and the wild fluctuations in payroll since 2006 – are probably pretty distrustful of team management, ourselves.  We’ve got a lot of reason to distrust them!  It’s probably natural to attribute the same feelings to those who actually work for the organization and deal with management close-up.

And there is an undeniable tendency, among Blue Jays fans, to have a sense of insecurity about the team.  There are a lot of reasons why the team has trouble when competing for players – the undesirable playing surface, the whole living-in-a-foreign-country thing, the vagaries of the Canadian dollar, and the two decades of mediocrity we’ve lived through. And so we tend to blow crap like “the team doesn’t trust AA/Beeston/Rogers” out of proportion, because even though money is the principal factor in an athlete's decision where to play, the Jays don’t need any more reasons – even little ones – for baseball players to shun Toronto.

You know how you resolve the whole “distrust of management” thing?  Go out and get a solid 2B or 3B, or an upgrade at C, re-sign Melky, and pick up a big arm for the rotation (or a couple of those for the bullpen).


Do YOU trust Beeston and AA to get that done?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pet peeve:


When people who disdain sabermetrics in favour of “traditional” stats, make up other stats that are untested and unknown to anyone else, with far less analysis behind them than either sabermetric or traditional stats have... and then proceed to base an argument on these made-up stats.

Case in point:  This latest little attempt at reading tea leaves by Richard Griffin.  The stuff about playoff teams having catchers as managers – well, yeah, there are a lot of managers who used to be catchers.  I guess that catchers have a more strategic view of the game than, say, second basemen or long relievers, and that strategic bent might lead to a career as a manager or coach, when their playing days are over.  But the irritating thing is, Griffin doesn’t say that.  There’s no causative argument (that catchers tend to be good strategizers and thus good managers).  It’s pure correlation.  On that basis, the Jays should incorporate red and pinstripes into their next uniform design because hey, the Cardinals and Yankees have won more World Series titles than anyone else.

Oh, and Griffin favourite Clarence “Cito” Gaston was an outfielder, Bobby Cox was a 3rd baseman, and Tony La Russa, Earl Weaver, and Sparky Anderson were all second basemen.  Just saying.

But that little logical leap pales in comparison with what comes next:  The notion that successful teams should change closers frequently.  The obvious rebuttal is “Mariano Rivera”.  But forget the obvious rebuttal.  Consider, instead, that the Jays tried, three times in the past 3 years, to give the closer job to someone other than Casey Janssen, with no success.  In 2012, the job was handed to Sergio Santos, who got hurt.  Then it was handed to Francisco Cordero, who was awful.  Then it went to Janssen.  In 2014, Santos got the job again, and blew it, again.  So it’s not as if the Jays haven’t tried other options… Janssen just keeps being the better option, against the odds.  And on top of that, Griffin is the guy who advocated trading for Heath Bell and lobbied hard for acquiring “proven closers” like Francisco Cordero.  How can you go from demanding a proven closer to insisting that a new closer every year is a good idea, and keep a straight face?

I recognize that people change their minds, but where is the acknowledgment that what Griffin has been saying for years (get a proven closer) is no longer how he sees things?


Ugh.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

If Melky goes...



So, Jose Bautista seems to think Melky Cabrera is as good as gone.

Let’s say he’s right, and the Jays don’t re-sign Melky Cabrera.  For starters, they would collect a compensatory draft pick – Cabrera is getting a qualifying offer, and if he takes it, the Jays should be very happy to have him back for 1yr/$15MM.  But if he does go, who plays left field?

Well, it’s not Dalton Pompey.  Dalton Pompey in left field means that Anthony Gose is in centre, and much as I like the idea of their defense on an everyday basis, playing an unproven bat (Pompey) and a flat-out bad one (Gose) on an everyday basis would be crippling.  Dalton or ToGo in CF, sure.  Both of them at once?  Not unless the club is punting the season and trading everyone else.

So, unless something bizarre happens (like the Jays bringing back Rasmus or getting a veteran CF instead of a LF in the offseason), the Jays will want, or need, a free agent outfielder.  Luckily, there are quite a few free agent candidates available:

Nelson Cruz.  You know what’s weird?  2014 was an outlier season for Cruz, but it wasn’t that much of an outlier.  Nelson Cruz led MLB in home runs this year, but his .370 wOBA wasn’t that far off his career .356 wOBA.  Cruz also put up a .404 wOBA in 2010, followed by 3 years in which he wOBA’d .353, .335, and .359.  The defense is awful, but the man can hit.  Question is, will the Orioles bring him back?  He’ll certainly get a qualifying offer.

Alex Rios (13.5MM option).  Rios could have his option picked up by the Rangers – believe it or not, that option year is the last vestige of the contract Rios signed with the Jays before being waived by the club.  He isn’t the defender he once was, but is still likely better than Melky in that regard.  Had an off year in 2014 (.309 wOBA, 0.2 WAR) but was a 4.2 and 3.1 WAR player in 2012 and 2013.

Nick Markakis (17.5MM option).  Markakis is a step down from Rios; his defense isn’t quite as good and he’s been about a 2 WAR player since 2008.  Still, he is just 31 and I can’t see the Orioles picking up that expensive option.

Jonny Gomes:  Part time player, but before last season he had put up 3 years of .319, .376, and .338, wOBA.  And he’d come cheaper than Cruz/Rios/Markakis, for sure.

Torii Hunter:  I’m leery of the whole idea of “veteran presents” (sic) that guys like Hunter are supposed to bring to teams.  And he’ll be 40, and may just retire rather than play on Astroturf again.  And his defense is nothing close to what it once was.  But he can still hit (.356/.346/.335 wOBA the last 3 years), probably won’t cost a ton, and won’t expect a deal longer than 2 years, probably.  So he’s an option, at least.

Chris Young and Jason Kubel don’t bear thinking about.  So let's stop here.

So, yes, I’d like Melky back, but there isn’t the dearth of free agent options for LF as there is at, say, 2B or C.  And I suppose if the Jays upgrade at C or 2B/3B, a lesser player in LF would be acceptable.


Not replacing Melky and not upgrading at 2B/3B and C is not acceptable, of course.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

End-of-season thoughts: The management.

Bang?

I was going to make this an “Impressions from the Ballpark” post, but as the season is over, I figured those impressions are moot now, anyway.  In a nutshell, I was at Friday’s game, and the main takeaways are:  Dalton Pompey is impressive, the Jays won, the Skydome in late September is a much more enjoyable experience with the roof open, and don’t get the footlong hotdog that they cook on a griddle.  Assuming they even offer that abomination next year.

The Jays, as you probably noticed, didn’t make the playoffs, and although they weren’t definitively out of the race until mid-September, there will be a call for somebody to be scapegoated.  The first choice in these situations is always the manager, but I think the case for firing John Gibbons is pretty weak.  Gibbons took a team that the experts picked to win 78 games or so and led (if managers even do that) them to an 83-win season.  Gibbons doesn’t pick the players he has to work with; along with Ervin Santana and a real second baseman, I’m sure he would have liked to have a healthy Encarnacion, Lind and Cabrera for a full year, and competent versions of Morrow, Santos, and Delabar.  There were nice surprises, like Melky Cabrera’s bounce-back season and the emergence of Hutchison, Stroman and Sanchez, but as usually seems to be the case, the nice surprises were more than offset by the negatives.

Beyond that?  Gibbons managed the players he had fairly well.  Adam Lind was kept away from lefties, as he should be.  The best OBP guys batted at the top of the order, as they should.  Despite most of the RH relievers falling apart over the season, the bullpen finished 6th in saves and 6th in save percentage, so something had to be going right there. 

Should the Jays sack Alex Anthopoulos?  Man, I don’t know.  

Anthopoulos gets into trouble by being too much of the opposite to his predecessor, the blabbermouth JP Ricciardi.  Ricciardi talked too much – to the detriment of his relationships with players and his ability to get trades done (Brian Sabean reportedly backed away from a Rios-for-Lincecum deal when the Giants’ fanbase got word of it and expressed outrage).  Ricciardi made statements and got into trouble; Anthopoulos says nothing (or the same non-statements over and over) and gets excoriated for it.  Jays fans have sat through several offseasons (2012 excepted) of inaction.  Thanks to AA’s refusal to address rumours, those offseasons have been incredibly frustrating for fans, because AA would and did have us believing that the club was right in there for Ervin Santana.  And Masahiro Tanaka.  And Yu Darvish.  And, and, and…

Point being, it would be nice to find a happy medium between JPR’s loose lips and Anthopoulos’s leave-everything-open-but-nothing-happens approach.  But that won’t get AA fired, of course.  What might get him fired, in a vacuum, is his having built 80% of a championship team and stopped there.  The Jays have all-star caliber players at SS, RF, DH and 1B.  They have guys who would be solid contributors on playoff teams at LF (for now), 3B, and C, and went into last season with a 5 WAR centrefielder.  They have several solid starters and 3 or 4 good relievers.  But they also have gaping holes at 2B and on the bench, and had a desperate need last offseason for a top-line starter.  And AA didn't address those needs.  Instead, the Jays gave 17 starts to Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and Liam Hendriks, and the team went 7-10 in those starts.  And they got a .634 OPS from their second basemen.  I suppose it’s somewhat excusable to be caught off guard when things go unexpectedly wrong (e.g. Brandon Morrow, although arguably injury and underperformance should be expected from Morrow), but it’s not OK to know you have a major hole in your team and address it by crossing your fingers and hoping for a miracle (i.e. hoping Ryan Goins would be competent with the bat, in the face of overwhelming evidence he wouldn’t be).

Thing is, Anthopoulos isn’t operating in a vacuum.  He’s operating as a Rogers employee, which allows him the benefit of the doubt for a lot of the failings he appears to have.  Alex Anthopoulos tells us there is money to spend, but doesn’t spend it.  Is that because he’s not liking players at a certain price (as he says), or because Rogers has shut off the money tap and doesn’t want him to alienate fans by admitting it?  AA says he will be looking at free agents this offseason, and in the next breath tells us that he won’t be offering any contracts longer than 5 years (meaning, he won’t be looking at any elite free agent).  Is the 5-year rule a product of prudent player valuation methods, or a way to justify never spending any money? 

We don’t know, and we can’t know.  And the thing is, if you sack Anthopoulos, you probably sack Gibbons and a lot of the coaches too, as the new GM puts his or her stamp on things.  So, I figure he stays.


Can we fire Rogers as team owner? That'd work. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Nothing to see here...



There are a number of plausible explanations for the Jays having gone 2-8 over the 10 games prior to tonight's laugher.  Those were ten ‘must-win’ games; a stretch of games in which a relatively plausible 6-4 run would have put the club 2 ½ back of the wild card, and in position to bury Seattle and catch one of KC or Oakland if they faltered.  Obviously, none of that is going to happen, now.

The 2014 Jays were – or are, if you prefer – a streaky club.  They’ve had winning streaks of 9,6,6,5,5, and 4 games, and losing streaks of 6,5,5,4, and 4 games.  That 6-game losing streak came at the worst possible moment.

Baltimore is (gasp!) a good team, and the Jays never win in NY (7-30 since 2011).

The Jays repeatedly ran out lineups that featured three stars (Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion), a journeyman having a good year (Navarro) and 5 guys (Gose, Pillar, Valencia, Goins, Kawasaki) who would bat 8th or 9th on a good team.

That last one is probably the big one.  The Jays were fortunate to have Juan Francisco play well in place of Adam Lind early in the year, and available to play 3B while Lawrie filled the hole at 2B.  They were unfortunate that he didn’t play well in June and August (July was actually fairly good for Juan).  Beyond Francisco, the Jays had zero depth at the plate once Lawrie/Cabrera/Rasmus were unavailable, and it showed.

To be fair, there is some reason for optimism next year, mainly on the pitching front.  Having a full season of Marcus Stroman will help.  Drew Hutchison building on his successful return from surgery will help.  Having more of Aaron Sanchez and Dan Norris should help.  Having less volatile replacements for Brandon Morrow and Sergio Santos could help… and redeploying their salaries could help even more.

Having 23 year old pitchers get better, not worse, is a must.

Offensively?  Well, Rasmus is almost certainly gone, and Cabrera might be.  Dalton Pompey could help a bit, but probably not soon.  There’ll be a big hole in the outfield to go with the big hole in the infield, and the Jays have to do something to fix those gaps.  Gose-Goins-Navarro should not be an option next year, despite Navarro’s deceptively good year with the bat.


Until then?  See if the Jays can catch the Yankees, finish ahead of Tampa, win more than 81 games, and save Gibby’s job.  I guess.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Nihilism and baseball management analysis.


So, John Gibbons’ job may be in jeopardy.  And I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that.

I have a hard time blaming John Gibbons for how this season has turned out.  The Jays are 6 games out of a playoff berth with 11 to go; I don’t want to get into a post mortem just yet, but a lot of what has happened this year has been out of his control.  The Jays went into this season without a credible second baseman; key players (Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind, Morrow) were hurt for long periods of time; other key players (Rasmus, Janssen, Delabar) regressed significantly.  Gibbons, objectively speaking, couldn’t have prevented any of these things, just as he isn’t the cause of Melky Cabrera’s good health and Marcus Stroman’s breakout season.

There’s a school of thought, to which I generally subscribe, that a baseball manager (or coach) doesn’t have a meaningful impact on a team’s fortunes.  Managers don’t draw up and call plays the way football coaches do; they set lineups and make occasional substitutions, and let the players play.  Gibbons, by most accounts, is pretty good at setting lineups; he understands the value of platoons and pitcher matchups and is creative enough to think a bit outside the box when needed (e.g. moving Bautista to the #2 spot in the lineup).  There have been some odd decisions lately (benching Rasmus, playing Pillar against RHP, throwing Norris and Graveman into high-leverage relief situations), but it’s impossible to say whether those decisions were 100% Gibbons’ call, or whether some of those moves were directives from the GM’s office.

To that last point, I’m starting to think that the non-statements from Alex Anthopoulos are doing more harm than good, but that’s a topic for another post.  What I’m getting at here is that Gibbons hasn’t done anything particularly badly, and he seems to do a few things well.  On that basis, he doesn’t deserve to be fired.  But if you believe that managers and coaches don’t have a major impact on a team’s performance, then why not fire him?  Fire Gibby, keep Gibby – it doesn’t matter, right?

Well, I’m wavering on that a bit.  On one side, the sabermetricians – a group I usually count myself among – will point to the lack of evidence that a manager or coach can significantly elevate a team’s performance.  But on the other hand, look at the 2012 Red Sox – it’s hard not to believe that Bobby Valentine had a significant, negative impact on that team’s fortunes.  John Farrell wasn’t, and isn’t, a great manager, but he looked great after the Valentine fiasco.  And closer to home, look at Colby Rasmus’s comments about Chad Mottola.  Maybe batting coaches don’t really matter, but it sure as hell sounds like Colby Rasmus was a better, more effective hitter under Mottola’s tutelage than under Kevin Seitzer’s.  Or maybe Colby just thought he was better – placebo effect, perhaps.  In any case, the difference between 2014 Rasmus and 2013 Rasmus is dramatic.

The Jays could fire John Gibbons, and they could win 95 games next year after doing so.  Maybe because of the new manager, maybe because their young pitchers turn into Carpenter/Halladay/Escobar v. 2.0, and maybe everyone stays healthy for a change.  Or they could fire Gibbons and win 75 games next year, if players continue to get hurt at league-average rates and Gose/Stroman/Sanchez et al can’t build on this year’s successes.  Same goes for keeping him.

With that in mind, what it will likely come down to is the perception of Gibbons’ “leadership”.  With the sweep in Baltimore, the Jays dropped into a tie for second with the Yankees.  If the club struggles to a 3rd-place finish and doesn’t crack the .500 mark, I suspect he goes.  If the Jays play well through their remaining games (4 in NY where they struggle, and then 7 at home against stronger opponents) and end up with 84-86 wins, I think he’ll stay.


Dumb reasoning?  Maybe, but it gives us, and the team, a reason to pay attention for the next 2 weeks.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Interesting article on Russell Martin...


….and his impending free agency, on ESPN.  Should the Jays be a suitor?

It seems a bit ungrateful to be talking about getting a replacement for Dioner (“Dinner”) (“Reboot”) Navarro.  After all, Navarro has produced a .327 wOBA this year, 11th among catchers with more than 300 PA.  With runners in scoring position, Navarro’s wOBA goes up to .391.  Navarro’s defense has been so-so, but he’s been pretty clutch for the team and scores extremely well on the crucial not being JP Arencibia Index.   Fangraphs has him being worth 2.3 WAR, making Navarro an absolute steal at $3MM.

All of that is true, but it’s also true that Navarro remains a pretty lousy pitch-framer - he’s 29th out of 32 pitchers in the sample.  So it’s at least possible that Navarro is costing the team as many runs with his poor framing as he produces with the bat.  Throw in the fact that this is Navarro’s best offensive season since 2008, and regression starts to be a concern.

Meanwhile, Russell Martin does a lot of things better than Navarro.  He (anecdotally) frames pitches well.  He walks more.  Catcher defense is a hard thing to quantify, but Martin has graded out better than Navarro in every full season they have each played, and it isn’t close.  Martin has a career wOBA of .334, which is better than what Navarro has produced this season, and Martin’s worst season for wOBA (.306) is virtually the same as Navarro’s career wOBA.

Going into the last offseason, the Jays had holes in the rotation, at second base, and catcher.  The rotation holes seem to be more or less adequately filled, and a material upgrade there will cost lots of money.  Second base, obviously, is still a problem.  Catcher looks better this year, but Navarro’s skills as a receiver are questionable, as noted.

And the thing is, upgrading at catcher to Russell Martin might not break the bank.  It’s pretty much a given that if the Jays want an elite starting pitcher – a Lester or Price type – it’s going to cost $20MM+ per season, for 5 or 6 years.  A second baseman won’t be easy to find, given that the best free agent options out there are guys the Jays already had (Bonifacio) or passed on at the trade deadline (Headley).  But ESPN’s analysis of Martin as a free agent suggests that he’ll be looking at 3 or 4 years, at $10-12MM/yr.  That’s doable, especially if you consider that the Jays would likely be able to trade away Navarro and his $5MM salary away.  Despite his failings, it’s not as if Navarro has no value; the team might even be able to get something useful back for him, or perhaps include Navarro as part of a bigger trade.

On top of all that, I don’t think it’s likely that the Pirates will make a qualifying offer to Martin – in the first case, $15MM is probably too much for him, and in the second, they’re the chronically cheap Pirates.  

I don’t know if the Jays could sign Martin – there will be some high-profile teams in need of catching help, this offseason – but the Jays should be looking to get better wherever they can.  Catcher is one of the few positions which could be improved without a prohibitive cost in dollars, compensatory draft picks lost, or prospects.  Something to think about, anyway.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled breathless coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays’ quest to be playing meaningful games in the second half of September.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sept 9, 2014 - Impressions from the Ballpark!

Mr. Aptronym warms up.

An open roof and the remote possibility that the game outcome might not be completely meaningless to the home club, made the atmosphere at last night’s Jays-Cubs game surprisingly electric.  Yes, even despite the sub-20,000 crowd.  Here are some thoughts from last night’s 9-2 win:

It’s becoming apparent to me that if you want to catch a Blue Jays game in good seats, you should go to StubHub and look for late-season, midweek games against run-of-the-mill opponents.  I went with 2 friends last night, and we found 3 seats on StubHub directly behind the Jays’ bullpen, row 2, for less than face value.  Could have had 3 just right of the 1B dugout, row 17, for somewhere in the $35 range, too.  Are the sellers season ticket holders trying to unload games they don’t want, perhaps?  Anyway, the seats were a nice change of perspective – the picture above of Buehrle warming up was taken 10 minutes before gametime, from my seat.

What I wasn’t impressed with, while sitting in s. 137, was the overzealous work of the ushers.  If you’re like me, when you find yourself with a person or group in the seat next to you on one side and empty seats on the other, you move over a seat so that everyone has a bit more elbow room (remember the seats are 15” wide).  However, our usher objected to this reasonable behaviour, and she spent the first 3 innings shooing people back into the seats she thought they belonged in (I am pretty sure that the seat to the left of us was empty – we had bought 3 seats, after all).  I recall in the past week seeing reference to a U.S. ballpark that actually invites people to sit in empty seats; meanwhile, here’s the Skydome enforcing seating rules on a night when the park was 2/3 empty.  Way to find new ways to annoy your customers, Rogers.

I was also unimpressed (again) with the layout of the concessions in the 100 level.  The number of food options is terrific, but when you have to walk halfway around the lower bowl to find a booth selling a ‘staple’ (soft pretzel, pizza), something’s gone wrong.  I also miss the “wall of beer” stations from the 500 level – one of my friends at the game was inexplicably drinking Labatt 50, which was only available at one location.  On top of that, I didn’t see even one food vendor enter our section despite it being fairly full.  Considering how much profit the stadium must make on the incredibly overpriced food and drink they offer, this is just inexplicable.

As for the game itself:  Mark Buehrle did Mark Buehrle things, scattering 10 hits over 7 innings, walking nobody, and surrendering just 2 ER.  Buehrle didn’t seem to be getting much help from his defense – Danny Valencia showed no sign of being ready for either a full-time role or a Le Petit Orange nickname, after being late on a grounder to 3B and when covering 3B on a steal in the first inning and failing to make an out after fielding a grounder to 3B in the second.  Valencia did redeem himself a bit by recording 2 outs on consecutive hard liners in the 4th, but… please come back healthy in 2015, Brett Lawrie.

It was a novelty to hear Aaron Sanchez warm up before pitching the 8th – the thwap of his warmup pitches was noticeably louder than Buehrle’s.  It’s nice to be able to go from a lefty starter throwing 85 to a righty reliever throwing 97… except if you’re the Cubs.

Did I say the atmosphere was electric?  Well, yeah.  After scuffling and looking basically befuddled against Jake Arrieta for 6 innings, the Jays finally got into the Cubs’ bullpen, trailing 2-1 in the 7th.  The 9-2 final score is deceptive; I can tell you that for an hour and a half, this looked like one of those games where the Jays wouldn’t be able to get anything going offensively and would end up losing 3-1 or 2-1.  So, when Bautista came up with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 7th, still trailing 2-1, it felt like the game would come down to that one at-bat.  People stood up and cheered when the count got to 3-2, and the ensuing J-Bau double off the base of the LF wall made a satisfying thump.  After that, the Cubs did Cub things, misplaying a Lind liner into a triple in the 8th and adding a couple more misplays en route to giving up 5 runs and turning the game into a laugher.

Jose Reyes better have a sore shoulder, because his defense at SS is in desperate need of excuses.

Colby Rasmus was benched at the start of September.  Since then he has 3 hits and a walk in 7 PA, including 2 home runs, for an OPS of a billion 2.071.  *drops mic*

Did you know that Cubs LF Chris Coghlan is married to a woman who was an unsuccessful contestant on The Bachelor?  I didn’t, but thanks to some effective hecklers in my section, I do now.  Well played, guys.

Lastly – and I could probably write this after every warm-weather game – the TTC was absolute garbage on the way home.  I have a routine (when it’s not raining – if it rains I cab it) after games: Walk up to Queen, catch the 501 east to the Beaches.  As it happens, I watched 3 westbound cars go by the other way before the first eastbound one arrived.  Typical.  When the eastbound car did arrive, the driver announced that he would be stopping at Greenwood, but not to worry as there was a car right behind that would continue east.  Except, of course, the car behind it was short-turning, too, and a car going all the way to the end of the Queen line didn’t arrive for a good 10 minutes more.  Result: It took a little over an hour to get from Queen and University to Queen and Woodbine (a bit under 7 km) by streetcar.  About the same time as a brisk walk.  It’s pretty damn hard to argue that anyone at the TTC should be making more than minimum wage, with service levels like that.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Colby Rasmus: Class act

Jet flyin, stylin' and profilin'

Let’s make one thing clear:  A platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in CF does not now, and perhaps never will, perform better than Colby Rasmus does.  Rasmus is having an off year, but his .318 wOBA and 99 wRC+ are much better than Gose’s .290 and 80 and Pillar’s .255 and 55.  

However, it is also true that the Toronto Blue Jays might be a better team with Gose and Pillar sharing CF in 2015, and team management deploying the ~$9MM savings in salary to pursue a decent second baseman… or a catcher… or… well, any of the needs the Jays figure to have in the offseason (new closer?).  That kind of thinking makes sense to me (assuming, of course, that Rogers doesn’t slash payroll and pocket the savings on Rasmus’s salary) for next season.  Yes, Gose has far less power than Rasmus, and even his career-best .332 OBP this year is lower than the .338 OBP Rasmus had last year or the .361 OBP in 2010.  But hitting aside, Gose’s defense is starting to look noticeably better than that of Rasmus, and Gose is much more of a base-stealing threat.  Hitting is more important than defense and steals, but I can see how Gose could be an adequate-to-good centerfielder next year (even without hitting much), while being substantially cheaper than Rasmus.

But for 2014, Rasmus and his salary are part of the team, and it doesn’t make sense to not play him.  You can’t even argue that you’re going with a hot bat in Gose, who has a .245 wOBA in August and September while Rasmus is at .317 for the same period.  So it’s pretty clear that Rasmus is on the outs with the team.  The Blue Jay Hunter has a nice piece here that covers some of the reasons why the Jays might have soured on Rasmus – many of which are issues around Rasmus’s demeanour.

And to me, that’s an unlikely story.  If Rasmus has a bad attitude, it hasn’t shown up following his benching.  The Jays may have had enough of Colby and he may have had enough of them, and maybe the GM’s office thinks the team is better with him on the bench, though I can’t see why.   What we aren’t hearing, though, is complaining by Rasmus.  The Star spoke with Rasmus before last night’s game, and Colby admitted that he hasn’t been playing well, and that it makes sense for the team to play Gose and Pillar, who likely will be a part of the 2015 Jays.

No rancour, no bitterness.  I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised by this, considering how low-key a person Colby Rasmus seems to be.  Still, consider this:  Rasmus has been benched in favour of (arguably) inferior players, at a time when the games still mean something and the Jays are nominally still in the playoff race.  On top of that, Rasmus is a free agent after the season, and being benched isn’t likely to help his market value.  Consider how the team famously tried to boost John Buck’s free-agent value at the expense of JP Arencibia’s development a few years ago, and Rasmus’s benching in the midst of a playoff race seems like a spiteful move by the front office.

Class move by Rasmus to not say anything negative about the team and the decision (publicly, at least).  The Jays will go with Gose/Pillar, and Rasmus will land somewhere else.  He won’t get an Ellsbury or Adam Jones-sized deal, but he’ll do ok, moneywise.  And Jays fans will once again (see:  Morrow, Brandon) be left wondering why all that talent never translated into sustained onfield success.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Three things


I go away for a week, and the Jays run off a 4-4 stretch, making up no ground on the divisional and wild card leaders while crossing another 8 games off the schedule.  Time’s ticking, guys. 

Anyway, some stuff happened this week:

1.  Derek Jeter’s goodbye:  I can’t help but see these “farewell tours” (which, to this point, only Yankee players have been part of) as an unsettling mix of player narcissism and sheep-like fawning (do sheep fawn, or do they lamb?) by MLB clubs.  Did Roy Halladay do a farewell tour?  Did Frank Thomas and Omar Vizquel get feted this way in their final seasons?  No, no, and no.  It makes no sense to shower expensive gifts (even crappy ones) on people with 9-figure net worths.  And it doesn’t sit well with me that MLB seems to be confirming that there is, in fact, favoritism in baseball, with the Yankees being the favoured club.

Plus, there was the missed opportunity to give Jeter a gift basket.

2.  The Jays have put up some impressive attendance numbers since the all-star break.  You may recall that in April and May, attendance was way down from 2013… probably because the team did nothing to improve itself in the offseason and fans rewarded that behaviour with fewer ticket purchases.  But at the end of May, the team was in first place, and was right in contention at the break, and people started buying tickets.  Lots of tickets.  After drawing 23,808 per game over April and May, the Jays have averaged 37,041 fans in the 22 home games since the all-star break, and overall, they’re less than 1000 fans/game behind last year’s attendance figures.  Lesson?  If Rogers puts money into the club and produces a winner, they’ll be rewarded at the box office.

This offseason, we’ll see if those who control the budget are paying attention.

3.  John Mayberry Jr. was acquired for Gustavo Pierre over the weekend.  The line on Fangraphs says it all:

RotoWire News: Mayberry (wrist) was traded to the Blue Jays on Sunday in exchange for minor league outfielder Gustavo Pierre, John Lott of the National Post reports. (8/31/2014)

That’s right.  Outfielder.  Pierre was drafted as a shortstop, couldn’t stick there, and was moved to third… and now, to the outfield.  I remember being impressed by Pierre a few spring trainings back, and he’s still “just” 22, having joined the organization when he was 17 or so.  However, he makes far too many errors, walks far too little, shows no power, and hasn’t been able to stick at Double-A despite 6 seasons in the Jays’ system.  I can’t imagine why Philadelphia wanted him.

Mayberry, on the other hand, might come in handy.  I was a little surprised when the Jays let Nolan Reimold go, thinking that Reimold might have stuck with the Jays as the righthanded half of a platoon with Lind.  Mayberry is a similar kind of player – for his career against LHP (about 500 PA), he has a .856 OPS and .356 wOBA.  That’ll play… even if his defense in the outfield leaves a lot to be desired.



Thursday, 21 August 2014

A confession


I can’t stand watching RA Dickey pitch.

I’ve felt this way since early last season – that is, pretty much since he became a Blue Jay – and lately, I've been trying to decide if my dislike is rational.  I’ve never met him (nor have I read his autobiography), but by most accounts, RA Dickey is a good guy – he’s thoughtful and articulate, and has been the face of the Blue Jays while raising awareness of human trafficking and child sexual abuse (he is a survivor of the latter).  Hard to dislike the guy based on all that.

Of course, it’s pretty clear now that the RA Dickey the Jays received in trade from the Mets is not the 2012 Cy Young award winner, but he’s pretty close to what he was in 2010-11:  A 2 or 2.5-WAR pitcher.  His K rate is up from 2010-11, but so are his walk and HR rates.  FIP and xFIP are up from what they were in the NL, but that’s somewhat to be expected.  The RA Dickey we see now is a #3 starter, and not the Cy Young winning pitcher with FIP and xFIP in the low 3’s that he was in ’12.  Did the club overpay for him by dealing D’Arnaud and Syndergaard?  Yeah, probably… and that rankles.  But I don’t think that’s what bothers me about Dickey.  After all, the Mets and Blue Jays made that trade, not Dickey – the Mets sold high on him, and good for them.  RA Dickey wants to be the guy he was in 2012 as much or more than we as fans want that, and it’s not really his fault that he’s not as good a pitcher as the club made him out to be (this is pretty much the same reasoning that absolves Vernon Wells of blame for his $120MM contract).

What bothers me is his actual pitching.  And when actually watching him pitch, I think it comes down to three issues:

1.  The knuckleball is uncontrollable, meaning that in counts where one would want to throw a strike (1-0, 2-0, 2-1) it appears that Dickey can’t get one over.  Even during the flight of the ball from the mound to the plate, it’s frustrating to see a pitch that looks good, dive or juke at the last second into a not-good location.
2.  Dickey seems to have a knack for giving up runs right after the Jays score runs.  Apocryphally, that's a letdown for teammates, and is definitely a letdown for fans.
3.  Dickey struggles after the 5th inning (or in the 3rd time through the batting order), meaning lots of late opposing rallies and/or extra work for a bullpen with the 4th-worst ERA in the AL.

Are these criticisms fair, or are they just perceptions on my part? Let's look at all 3, to see if I'm being irrational.

Let’s start with the last complaint – the struggles in mid and later innings.  Dickey has a 2.50 ERA in innings 1-4 in 2014 (a total of 108 IP).  From innings 5-9, the ERA jumps to 6.86 (covering 61 2/3 IP).  Interestingly, in 2013 Dickey was so-so in innings 1-3 (4.41 ERA), good in innings 3-6 (3.65 ERA) and bad in innings 7-9 (5.62 ERA).  Ace or not, you’d like your starters to be effective past the 4th inning.  Dickey hasn’t been that in 2014.  FAIR.

The uncontrollable knuckleball is harder to quantify – I haven’t been able to find any stats that show how often Dickey throws a ball on a 2-0 count, or 2-1.  However, Fangraphs shows that in 140 at-bats where Dickey went to a 3-ball count, he issued 61 walks.  Dickey’s also gone 2-0 to batters in 106 PA, and issued 33 walks after going 2-0.  I can’t get find anything more specific, but it sure looks like there’s something to my sense that Dickey can’t get throw a strike when he needs one.  PROBABLY FAIR.

One of the things that old-school baseball types like to say is that a good starting pitcher will shut down the opposition in the inning after a rally by his team.  The effect a failure to do this has on teammates is anecdotal, but it bothers me when I see runs given up right after a Jays rally.  And it feels like Dickey has done this a lot:

May 3, vs Pirates – staked to a 5-0 lead in the top of the 4th, Dickey gives up 2 in bottom half.  Bullpen ultimately lost the game 8-6.
May 13, vs Cleveland – staked to a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 6th, Dickey fails to get an out in the 6th and gives up 3 runs.
May 18, vs Rangers – Jays take a 1-0 lead in the top of the 4th; Dickey allows 2 runs in the bottom of the 4th.
May 29, vs Royals – Jays take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st; Dickey gives up a run in the top of the 2nd.  After the Jays pull ahead 4-2 in the 4th, Dickey gives up 3 runs in the top of the 5th.  The Jays would go on to lose the game following Jose Reyes’ throwing error with 2 out in the 9th.
June 4, vs Tigers – Jays go ahead 1-0 in the first and Dickey allows the Tigers to tie it in the bottom half of the inning.
June 27, vs White Sox – Jays score 2 runs in the bottom of the 6th to tie the game 2-2, and Dickey faces 3 batters in the top of the 7th before departing – all scored.
July 3, vs A’s – Jays score 1 in the top of the 2nd, and Dickey allows 2 in the bottom half.
August 2 vs Astros – Jays score 1 in the top of the 2nd, and Dickey allows 2 in the bottom half.
August 8, vs Tigers – Jays score 3 in the bottom of the 2nd to take a 4-0 lead, and Dickey allows 2 in the top of the 3rd.
August 20, vs Brewers – down 2-0 in the top of the 5th, the Jays tie the score before Dickey allows a run in the bottom of the 5th.  In the 6th, the Jays score 5 runs to take a 7-3 lead, but Dickey gives up 2 in the bottom of the 6th to let the Brewers back in it.

There’s almost certainly some confirmation bias in that stretch of games, and objectively speaking, it doesn’t matter when runs are given up – they all count the same when the game is over.  I’m not about to go out and see how many times Buehrle or Happ or anyone else gives up runs right after the Jays score, as a benchmark.   The bottom line is that in 27 starts this season, Dickey has given up runs 12 times in the half inning that followed an inning that the Jays scored runs in.  In 7 of those 12 situations, the runs Dickey allowed either tied the score or gave the opposition the lead.  That's not enough of a sample to base a trend on, and probably isn't much worse than the league average.  UNFAIR PERCEPTION.

So... I feel somewhat vindicated.  The very nature of the knuckleball makes it hard for me to watch, and there's some evidence that Dickey can't command it when he needs to.  Dickey definitely falls apart in the middle innings of games, and that's hard to watch too.  Does he hand runs to opponents every time the Jays score?  Probably not.  So I'll try to cut the guy some slack, and remind myself in 2016 to think of Dickey not as a maddening #1 starter, but a #4 (behind Stroman, Hutchison, and Sanchez or Norris) that most teams would be glad to have.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The end?


Pennant races remind me a bit of elections, in that they both generate an apparently irresistible impulse in some people to “call” the race before it’s over.  As far as I can tell, many of those making the early call hold themselves out as “experts” who expect to be able to pat themselves on the back when their early prediction turns out to be correct.  Sure, if it’s not correct, an incorrect prediction is embarrassing when documented, but these experts tend to conveniently forget their predictions when they’re proven to be incorrect.

As I type this, the Toronto Blue Jays sit in 3rd place in the AL East, half a game behind the Yankers and 7 ½ behind Baltimore.  They’re 4 games back of the wild card, with 2 teams between them and the last playoff berth.  With 37 games to go, the Jays have a tough task ahead of them to make the playoffs, no question.

But are they “out”?  No, not any more than they were “in” at the beginning of June.  Sure, ESPN and sites like the somewhat-defunct coolstandings.com will tell you that the Jays have a 7% chance of making the playoffs now, but their playoff chances were in the 80% range in June.  And the same sources told us that the Red Sox would win the AL East in September 2011.  Statistical projections, as far as I can tell, are based largely on extrapolations.  If the Jays play at their current pace, they’ll obviously miss the playoffs… but if they play the way they did in May, or June of last year, they’ll have a good chance of getting in.  This is a streaky club; the .700 win percentage in May was sandwiched between a .462 April and a .444 June.  Meanwhile, Seattle had a lousy July, while Detroit’s record has worsened with every month of the season.  Four games can be made up by having a 6-1 week while your opponent loses 2 series.

Let’s put it this way:  ESPN says that Oakland has a 98.8% chance of making the playoffs.  If you believe that, email me – I’ll happily put up a dollar against them, if you’ll give me the 82-1 odds ESPN has them at.

Or, if you prefer… what were the odds of the Leafs missing the playoffs with a month left in the season this past spring?  Ooops.


So, the Jays probably won’t make the playoffs… but they might.  There will be plenty of time for blame and second-guessing after the season, so save your post-mortems for when the season is actually post and mort.  None of the “experts” know the Jays are going to miss the playoffs – right now, they’re just guessing.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Pessimism, meet reality


The Jays are now 6.5 games behind the Orioles in the race for the AL East, and the math is starting to look a bit scary:  If the O’s play .500 ball from here on out, they’ll finish with 90 wins.  If they continue on their current pace, they’ll have 93 wins by season’s end.  The Jays are currently on pace for 84 wins.  To get to 90, they need to finish 27-14.  To get to 93 wins, it’d take an incredible 30-11 finish.  The Jays do have 2 advantages:  They don’t have any teams between them and the Orioles, meaning that they don’t have to leapfrog anyone else or pray for slumps by 2 or more teams (like the Reds and Cardinals do in the NL).  And they have 6 games left with Baltimore; winning 4 or more of those would be very helpful.

That said, the Blue Jays need to string together some wins, and fast, or the Orioles will disappear over the horizon.  Upcoming games look like this:
Jays:  1@Seattle, 3@White Sox, 2@Milwaukee, 3 Tampa Bay
Orioles: 1 Yankees, 3@Cleveland, 3@White Sox, 3@Cubs

That schedule favours Baltimore, on paper.  It’s still early for things to be getting late, but I think it’s fair to say that if the Jays lose any more ground over the next 10 days, the division race is over – barring some Red Sox-esque collapse by Baltimore in September.  Could happen, sure, but that can’t be counted on.

Meanwhile, the Jays are 2 games behind Seattle and Detroit for the last wild card spot.  We’d all prefer that the Jays win the division, but the wild card is eminently attainable.  A loss tonight in Seattle, however, would make that a lot harder – being 3 games back of 2 teams might be almost as hard to overcome as being 5 back of one team, at this point in the season.


So, it’s all well and good to talk about how the Jays have hung tough while Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion were all out, but even having “hung tough”, the club is pretty much up against it, now – and Lawrie probably won’t be back in time to be any help.  So let’s hope that EE can play like it’s May, when he gets back Friday.

Monday, 11 August 2014

So this is weird...



I’m one of those odd people who look at their cable TV/internet/phone bill every month before paying it.  Call me crazy, but I’m coughing up north of $2000/yr on these services, so I’d like to be sure that I’m not being dinged with some hidden fee that I might be able to avoid.

Last month, I noticed that my bill had gone up by about $60.  Sure enough, I had negotiated a 1-year discount on my Rogers services last year, and that discount had now lapsed, accounting for the sudden increase on my bill.  Naturally, I called Rogers to see whether I could get the same discount again for another year.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how my call was routed – if you have dealt with Rogers (and Bell is probably the same), you can probably guess that I was routed to sales, and then to ‘inside sales’, and then to ‘loyalty’ in order to negotiate my fees (interesting fact: I could not be routed to ‘retention’, which apparently gives the best discounts, because I’m not the primary holder on the account – Mrs. Roberto is).  Naturally, the discount I had last year is no longer available, so I threatened to switch to Bell, and back and forth we went.

Eventually, we settled on a discount – close to what I had last year, within a couple of bucks monthly, anyway.  And I thought we were done.

But then, out of the blue, the Rogers rep mentioned that I showed up on his system as a Toronto Blue Jays Flex Pack holder.  That was a new line – I didn’t think that ticket information was tracked at the cable/phone/internet group, but whatever.  He asked me if I was enjoying the baseball season, and I complained about the lack of deadline moves, and the lack of spending in the offseason.

And that’s when it got weird.  “Listen,” he said, “We have a special promotion going on now involving the Blue Jays, if you are interested.”

“What’s that?” I asked, naturally a bit intrigued.  Falling right into the trap.

“Well,” (and his voice dropped to a conspiratorial hush) “you’re saving $60 by bundling your services with Rogers.  By being a Toronto Blue Jays Flex Pack holder, you’re entitled to the Jays Bundle:  Get 2 500-level tickets to any non-premium* game between now and the end of the season in exchange for deferring your $60 bundling discount to 2018… uh, 2028, I mean.”

I was momentarily outraged.  “But… those seats are practically free!  They’re barely worth the $1.25 that you used to charge the Toronto Star Season Pass holders for them.”

“Yes, sir” the agent replied smoothly.  “But those tickets are part of the incentive to this special promotion for Blue Jays fans who want to support the team.  By voluntarily deferring your bundling discount, we at Rogers will take that money and apply half of it to re-signing Melky Cabrera after this season.  If 100,000 subscribers defer a $60 discount monthly, and half of that is applied to Cabrera’s 2015 contract… that’s a 2 year, $36,000,000 contract offer that might not otherwise be made.”

This time, my outrage lasted longer than a moment.  “You’re a multibillion-dollar corporation!” I shouted down the line.  “Aren’t you the least bit ashamed to be passing the hat around to get players signed?”
“Well, sir, aren’t you ashamed to not be supporting your team?  RA Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista offered to defer millions to get a mediocre Ervin Santana last offseason.  Millions, sir.  For a player nowhere near as good as Melky Cabrera.  You sound like a loyal fan – don’t you love your team more than do a bunch of players who’ll basically go to whoever pays them the most?  Which won’t be Rogers, incidentally, unless you and other fans give the Jays your *cough* financial *cough* support.”

I said I’d think about it, and hung up.

************* 

* - i.e. No weekends, holidays, Yankees or Red Sox

Note:  Everything after the fourth paragraph might have been something I dreamed after falling asleep while waiting on hold for someone to pick up my call.