Monday, 15 December 2014

The Melkman goeth.

The writing had been on the wall ever since the Jays traded for Michael Saunders, but now Melky Cabrera is officially gone, having signed with the White Sox for 3 years, $42MM.

You can go back and forth over whether Saunders is a downgrade from Cabrera.  It comes down to this:  Saunders is a better defender and baserunner, and Melky is a better hitter.  In the end, I'd say Cabrera is more valuable - even if they have produced (and project to) comparable WAR totals, Saunders gets a lot of his value from defense, and defense seems (to me, anyway) to be a bit over-valued by WAR.  It's not a landslide for Melky - but it's a tangible downgrade. 

On top of the head-to-head comparison between the two left fielders, you have to consider Saunders' health, his cheaper salary, the fact that Melky is on the wrong side of 30, having to give up the not-totally-useless Jah Happ to get Saunders, and whether the Jays will spend the $10MM difference between the two salaries on much-needed pitching help.   What Melky's signing does do is provide an excuse to go over how compensatory draft picks work.  So, in case you're interested, here goes:

1.  A prospective free agent player who is given a qualifying offer (1 year, at the average dollar value of the 125 richest contracts, about 1 yr/$15MM) by his former team has the option to take the qualifying offer (QO) or decline it.  If he takes it, he returns to his former team at that salary.  If he declines, he becomes a free agent, and his former team gets a compensatory draft pick if the player signs with a new team before the next season's draft day (the following June).

2.  When the free agent that turned down the QO signs with another team, that team forfeits its highest unprotected draft pick in the following year's draft.  The top 10 picks in the draft are "protected" and can't be lost in this way.  Compensatory picks from free agents who signed elsewhere are not protected.

3.  The compensatory pick that a team that loses a free agent receives falls in a round between the first and second round of the draft.  The pick that was forfeited by the team that signed the free agent has no bearing on the positioning of the compensatory pick.  If multiple teams hold compensatory picks, they pick in the same order they would pick in the draft (i.e. in reverse order of finish).  Compensatory picks cannot be traded.

4.  The order in which free agent signings happen is, as far as I can tell, irrelevant.  If a team forfeits a first-round pick and a second-round pick due to signing QO'd free agents and then one of its own QO'd players signs elsewhere, the team gets its second round pick back, but forfeits the compensatory pick, instead.

So:  The Jays lost the 18th pick in the draft by signing Russell Martin.  This pick doesn't go to the Pirates, or anywhere else - it 'disappears', and everyone below the Jays in the draft order moves up 1 spot.  The Pirates get a pick in the compensatory round.  The White Sox then signed Melky Cabrera.   The White Sox hold the 8th pick in the first round, which is protected, so instead, Chicago loses its highest un-protected pick (their second-round pick).  As when the Jays lost their #18 pick, this pick vanishes.  The Jays get a pick in the compensatory round for 'losing' Cabrera.  As it turns out, the Jays compensatory pick is currently the #31 pick in the draft, while the Pirates compensatory pick is #33.  This difference is due to the Jays having a worse record than the Pirates in 2014 - the worse record picks higher.

If more teams lose picks in the first round due to signing free agents, the Jays' compensatory pick would move up one spot for every pick forfeited ahead of them.

If the Jays sign another free agent that received a QO (say, James Shields), they forfeit the compensatory pick they received for losing Cabrera.

Now that I have all that figured out, I hope MLB doesn't go changing the system again for a few years...

Friday, 12 December 2014

Post-winter meetings thoughts

The Jays didn't do anything at the winter meetings.  This is a cause of garment-rending in some parts... but before we start jumping off buildings in despair, let's remember that it's still just December, the Jays have made lots of moves already (upgrading at C and 3B and finding a LF who may be as good as Melky if you consider both offense and defense), and, most importantly, there are still decent players left to be had.  Such as (in descending order of how interesting they are)...

Takashi Toritani, 2nd base:  The hot rumour of late is that the Blue Jays are very interested in Toritani.  He's a 33 year old shortstop who has compiled an impressive record of durability, on-base skills (over .400 the last 2 seasons) and defense, in Japan.  He'd be looking at about 3 yrs/10MM to come play here.  I like the idea of picking up a player who gets on base to play in the middle infield, and Toritani has shown doubles power in Japan as well.  He would play 2B in Toronto, but could presumably play some shortstop when Reyes is DHing (and someone like Valencia or Izturis could play 2B).  Signing Toritani would also make the infield deeper (Goins/Travis would be in Buffalo).  Toritani would come cheaper than a Jed Lowrie type, too.  What's not to like?

Burke Badenhop, reliever:   A sinkerballing reliever who generates a ton of ground balls, Badenhop has strung together 3 pretty good seasons.  He doesn't walk many and doesn't strike out many, but he produces.  Could be a fit with a Jays team which has improved its infield defense and still plays in a stadium that punishes flyball pitchers.

Casey Janssen, reliever:  Hey, why not?  The Jays know Janssen, he knows them, and if his second-half issues that may have torpedoed his value were all food-poisoning based, he could be a bargain at, say, $4MM/yr. 

Mike Adams, reliever: Hey, remember how good Mike Adams was a couple of years ago?  Well, he had shoulder surgery in 2013, was pitching well on his return from that last year, and then went on the DL again with shoulder inflammation.  He pitched in September without any issues.  I wouldn't build a bullpen around him, but he could be a decent buy-low candidate.

Jason Motte, reliever:  Another rebound candidate, Motte struggled in 2014 after 2013 surgery, but was very effective from 2010-2012.  And he's just 32.

You could also take flyers on guys like Ronald Belisario and Chris Perez to staff the bullpen, or a "proven closer" like Jason Grilli or Sergio Romo.  Even without those names, nabbing 2 or 3 of Badenhop/Janssen/Adams/Motte would provide a fair bit of depth and upside to the 'pen on their own.

Mike Morse, 1st base:  Hey, he's probably better than Smoak... at least with the bat.  Career .359 wOBA (.355 last year) sounds good. Yes, he's righthanded, but he has virtually no platoon split over his career.  He will cost a bit more, though... and his defense is reminiscent of Edwin Encarnacion's.  That's not good.

Kris Medlen, starting pitcher:  Medlen didn't pitch at all in 2014 due to an elbow injury that required surgery.  If the Jays don't want to spend the money or prospects to get a mid-rotation or better starter, they could do worse than to take a flyer on Medlen, who provided 6.3 fWAR of value from 2012-13.

And that's just the free agents.  For the sake of the future, I'd rather see AA pick up some free agents as opposed to dealing upper-tier prospects.  If it doesn't go that way... well, I won't even try to guess what kind of trades might be out there.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Happ, Dirks, Mayberry gone, Michael Saunders here, Smoak gone and here again...

F***!  Is that Astroturf?

Funny thing about writing a sports blog as a hobby - sometimes, events move faster than I can write.

Last night - Tuesday night - the Jays non-tendered Justin Smoak, Andy Dirks, and John Mayberry, and tendered a contract to Marco Estrada.  Let's talk about that last point, first.

I had speculated a while back that Marco Estrada might be non-tendered... and he wasn't.  Estrada's going to wind up costing about $4MM in arbitration, which seemed excessive.  I say "seemed" because the hot rumour now is that top free-agent non-closing relievers like Andrew Miller might cost 4 years and $32+MM.  Right now, the Jays' bullpen is Brett Cecil (who was tendered), Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond, Marco Estrada and maybe Aaron Sanchez.  Subtract Estrada from that mix and you probably can't consider sending Sanchez to Buffalo as a starter - you'd need him for the bullpen.  And in related news, Casey Janssen would be open to talking with the Jays about a return to Toronto.  That'd help, too, at the right (Estrada-sized) price, but even with Janssen back in the fold, I think the Jays would still need another bullpen arm if they plan to send Sanchez to Buffalo.

And then the Jays traded Jah Happ to Seattle for Michael Saunders, which makes Estrada more than a bullpen option, and makes that $4MM arbitration number look better.  If Sanchez doesn't break camp with the Jays in March, Estrada is the 5th starter, as things stand right now.  Hopefully, it doesn't come to that - Estrada's numbers are much better as a reliever than as a starter, and if the Jays are going to have to overspend on pitching, I'd rather they throw money at a starter - if not a Lester, then a Jason Hammel/Justin Masterson type.  Buying 2 relievers with Estrada as a weak 5th starter doesn't sound nearly as good.

As for Happ - the Jays sold high on him (for a change), after Happ cut his walk rate per 9 to a career-low 2.91 and found an extra couple mph on his fastball, en route to what was arguably his best season since 2009.  Happ is probably better than Estrada, and maybe better than we can reasonably hope Sanchez would be as a rookie starter.  But trading Happ saves the Blue Jays some cash - depending on how you look at it, the Jays save $4MM (the difference between Happ's salary and Saunders' salary) or somewhere in the $10MM range (the difference between Saunders' salary and what a free agent LF would cost).

So, Saunders.  In exchange for Happ (under control for 2015 only), the Jays get a 28-year old outfielder with 2 years of control left.  Saunders is lefthanded (filling a need for Toronto), plays good defense in LF, and can hit more than we would expect from Dirks/Mayberry/Pillar - but probably not as well as Melky Cabrera would.  He's a better defender than Melky, a better base-stealer, and obviously, a lot cheaper.  Saunders missed half of 2014 due to injury and consequently fell out of favour with Seattle management, but that's the only major knock against him.

So, what does this mean?  Well, the Jays now have a hole in the back of their rotation instead of in left field.  They have a cost-controlled LF who figures to provide almost as much value as Melky Cabrera did in 2014. They have a few million bucks more to play with.  And they have a draft pick, if and when Melky signs with someone else.  I suppose there is a slight chance they put Saunders in CF (where he isn't very good, fyi) and bring Melky or another LF back, but I doubt it.

Oh, I almost forgot - the Jays re-signed Justin Smoak for $1MM.  As I see it, he's still penciled in for about 300 PA at first base, with the other half going to Edwin Encarnacion.  While Edwin plays 1B, Reyes, Bautista, and others will rotate through DH.

Expect more moves to come.  The Jays still need a second baseman and 2 pitchers (2 relievers or a starter and reliever) and over the past two days, they've freed up about $10MM to go and get them with.

Friday, 28 November 2014


OK, that's some kind of trade.

If you don't follow the Oakland A's closely, you may not know what kind of player Josh Donaldson is.  Be assured that he is a very good player.  According to Fangraphs and Baseball-reference, he's been a better player than Bautista over the past 2 seasons, which are his only seasons as a full-time player.  Donaldson fields his position well, hits for power (20+ HR each of the past 2 seasons) and draws walks (76 in both 2013 and 2014).

Want more?  He's played in all but 8 games over the past 2 seasons.  He's about as injury-free as they come.

More?  He's under control for 4 more seasons.  Donaldson is a so-called "Super 2" player, which makes him eligible for arbitration before this season.  So he'll be getting a raise, but not a backbreaking one, one would think.  My guess is that the Jays try to buy out his arb years and a couple of free agency seasons, but those considerations can wait a bit.

In brief, Donaldson is a middle-of-the-order bat who will give the Jays great defense, and hopefully better durability, at the hot corner.

And the Jays made this trade by giving up just Brett Lawrie - another controllable (if that's ever the right word to describe Lawrie) third baseman, someone who may one day be a great player, but who is clearly not in Donaldson's class, yet - and three prospects.  Franklin Barreto is the Jays' 8th-best prospect according to, Sean Nolin's the #11 prospect, and Kendall Graveman is admittedly a bit hard to rank.  Making a deal like this without giving up the team's best prospects is impressive.

It stings a bit to give up Brett Lawrie, a guy who oozes talent and energy but hasn't been able to put everything together over a full, healthy season.  It may surprise you to learn that Lawrie will actually be eligible for free agency a year before Donaldson will.

My guess is that the A's have made this trade because they don't want to pay Donaldson over the medium to long term, and they figure that they are getting a player in Lawrie who may someday be almost as good as Donaldson, plus 3 not-bad prospects who might help at the plate (Barreto isn't considered a good enough defender to stick at shortstop) and in the rotation in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, the Jays have added a premium player - one who is clearly better than Pablo Sandoval, incidentally - for their incumbent at the same position and three middling-to-good prospects.  And nowhere near Sandoval money.

And I'll say it again:  The Jays pulled off this trade without giving up any of their top young players/prospects (i.e. Stroman, Sanchez, Pompey, Norris)

Exciting stuff.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pipe dreams

Rob Ford jokes are already passe.  Sorry.

So... rumours are swirling around our Toronto Blue Jays.  Some exciting, some troubling.

According to Bob McCown via (if you haven't figured out that Drunk Jays Fans is now Stoeten's eponymous site, that's the scoop.  Go check it out), the top brass at Rogers are looking to repair the company's reputation by not being liars   having a consistent approach to the team budget  building a winner out of the Jays.

Meanwhile, there are other rumours (from Jeff Blair via The Blue Jay Hunter) that suggest that Rah Dickey might not be the best teammate out there.  Considering that there were rumours about Rasmus's aloofness, and Adam Lind seemed to complain a lot, and those two are both gone or as good as gone... Dickey might be on the outs as well.  It's a little disturbing to think that the guy the Jays built their 2012 renaissance around (and who they traded two top-50 prospects for) might be persona non grata, only 2 years later.

But nevermind that - it's daydreaming time, and there might be money to spend!  Put those two points together, and let's look at some deals that would have seemed impossible 2 weeks ago.

1.  Jon Lester to Blue Jays. 


No, seriously, it could kind of work.

Two weeks ago, "Bahaha" would have been the end of this post.  But if there is anything to Bob McCown's image-burnishing rumour, maybe the Jays could be in on Jon Lester and other expensive free agents.  Which would be pretty exciting, to say the least.

Jon Lester has a lot of things going for him.  He's pitched in the AL East, obviously.  He's been durable - 30+ starts for 7 seasons.  He's been effective - 33 fWAR in those same 7 seasons.  And while his strikeout rate was on a slow decline prior to a resurgence last season, his walk rate has been dropping as well.  The downside for Lester is his age, and the years he wants.  He'll be 31 next season, and is apparently looking for a 6-year deal, at around $20MM/season (the Red Sox reportedly offered him 5/$100MM to come back, already).

So how could this work for the Jays?  Well, they'd have to count on Lester being effective into his mid-30s, the way they're counting on Russell Martin to do the same, and the way Mark Buehrle has.   Yes, it's a lot of money, but not that much if you can subtract Dickey's salary after signing Lester.

Trade Dickey?  Sure.  Dickey and Lester have carried similar workloads over the past 4 years, so Lester could effectively replace Dickey's innings.  Lester also looks like a fairly significant upgrade to Dickey, by fWAR.  And if you trade Dickey, you free up about $12MM for the next 2 years (assuming Dickey's 2016 option gets picked up) and you also free up a roster spot that won't have to go to Josh Thole.  And finally, Dickey has some trade value attached to him - at $12MM/yr, he's a relative bargain for a pitcher who is capable of throwing 200+ above-average innings, and he could bring something half-decent back in trade.  So, yeah, swapping Dickey out for Lester could be a big upgrade, at a net salary increase of only $8MM or so (until we get to 2017, but let's pretend not to think about that).

2.  Pablo Sandoval to Blue Jays.

No, no, no. 

I think Sandoval is a pretty fun player to watch, but he's another guy looking for 5 years and close to 20MM/yr.  And consider this:

Sandoval, 2011-2014:  13.4 fWAR,  .383/.338/.331/.323 wOBAs
Chase Headley, 2011-2014: 17.9 fWAR, .340/.378/.330/.316 wOBAs... and better defense.

Yes, Headley is 30, and Sandoval is 28.  Headley is an injury risk, but I'd argue that when playing on Astroturf, the 5'11, 250-lb Sandoval is too.  So if Sandoval wants 5 years, offer 3 years and the same AAV to Headley.  I bet he signs. 

And for that matter, if you sign Jed Lowrie or Stephen Drew, both of who are expected to go for 3yrs/30MM or so, you can keep Brett Lawrie at his preferred position (and his best defensive position).  Best case for everyone?  The Panda goes back to San Francisco.

3.  Hanley Ramirez to Blue Jays.

Same objections as Sandoval, really, with the added negative of having to ask him to move off shortstop (or ask Reyes to move, which could be just as big of an issue).  12.3 fWAR and .317/.328/.442 (small sample)/.362 wOBAs over the last 4 years.  Better bat than either Sandoval or Headley, but a suspect glove, and more injury prone than either one.  Seriously, just get one of Lowrie/Drew/Headley.

4.       Andrew Miller to Blue Jays.

Well, the performance of relief pitchers is supposed to be volatile (therefore making them risky investments) and the Jays made a point over the last few years of acquiring cheap bullpen arms (Delabar, Santos)… who didn’t work out.  And now the Jays, having said goodbye to Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan, may have come full circle and are apparently in the market to overpay for a reliever.

The first rumour I saw was Francisco Rodriguez to the Blue Jays.  Kinda makes sense on the surface - the man once known as K-Rod is a so-called "proven closer", coming off a 44-save season in Milwaukee.  Trouble is, his peripherals are lousy:  declining strikeout rate, tons of home runs (1.85 per 9 innings), an unsustainably low BABIP (.216) and unsustainably high strand rate (93%).  In short, Rodriguez's stats scream "Regression candidate!"  So, overpaying for that closer seems like a bad idea.

Andrew Miller, on the other hand, has been pretty awesome.  Since being made a full-time reliever in 2012, he's posted huge K rates, unpleasantly high walk rates that he seemed to get under control in 2014, and ERAs that aren't luck driven.  He doesn't have significant splits between righties and lefties.  He's the best free agent reliever out there who isn't David Robertson.  MLBTradeRumors guesses that Miller will get a 4-year, 32MM deal.  That's closer money - no, it might actually be starter money.  Miller has been worth 3.5 fWAR over the last 4 year (including the 2.3 fWAR he produced last year).  4yrs/$32MM is an overpay at that performance level.  In fact, Miller's 4 best years for his career only add up to 5.2 fWAR.   Sure, he was great last year, but there's a good chance that he winds up a 1 WAR/yr kind of guy.  If that happens, the only way to justify it is with a lot of saves.

So that's 4 dreams, 3 of them bad.  But at the end of the day... it's not my money.  So go ahead and try to buy our love, Rogers.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Why Russell Martin is a great pickup for the Jays

No, Snider ain't coming back.  But this is definitely an upgrade on Adam Lind....'s beard.

Well first and foremost, this is big news.  The Jays spent money on a free agent!  The club raised ticket prices last month, and the cynic in me wondered if they'd do that without making meaningful changes this offseason.  This move makes the double-digit price increase a little more palatable.  And it's a welcome change to see the team competing for a top free agent, and actually winning*. 

But aside from being a possible signal of a much-needed philosophical change in the Jays' front office, why is this a great move?

Because Russell Martin is, hands down, the most complete position player available on the free agent market.

I can hear some of you saying "Wait - catcher wasn't a problem last year, Dioner Navarro was pretty good".  But as I said a while back, I think it's more that Dioner Navarro only looked great when compared with JP Arencibia.  Navarro had a .315 wOBA last year, which was a lot better than JPA's .259 in 2013.  Navarro also plays better defense than JPA. 

No question, Navarro provided value last year - he got on base at a decent clip, provided a little pop (12 HR) and wasn't awful defensively.  Martin, however, does all of these things better than Navarro (and better than JPA did, of course).  Martin's career wOBA is .334.  He walks at a 12% clip, helping to produce a career OBP of .341 (for perspective, Martin's career-worst OBP is .311.  Navarro's career average is .313, and he was at just .317 last year).  Martin grades out better defensively than Navarro - in fact, he grades out as elite.  But what many people can't see is the pitch-framing advantage Martin brings:

Martin's framing was worth 1.4 wins last season.  Navarro's was worth -1.4.  That's almost 3 wins based on framing alone.

So what else does Martin do for the Jays? Well, at 5.3 WAR (which doesn't include framing, incidentally), he outclasses Navarro, but Navarro's 2.0 WAR wasn't awful.  So Navarro could become meaningful trade bait, perhaps for part of a second baseman or LF.  Or instead, the Jays could keep Navarro after dealing Dickey (the best trade bait among the starters) which would allow the club to ditch Dickey's catcher, Thole.  If flexibility is the Jays' goal this offseason, finding a way to get the subpar Thole off the team should be a priority.

On the downside, signing Martin probably ends the Jays' pursuit of Melky Cabrera.  But considering that Martin is a better player than Cabrera (Cabrera 9.9 WAR since 2011; Martin 14.1 WAR over the same time frame), it's still an upgrade, overall.  The Jays lose a draft pick by signing Martin, but would gain one if Cabrera signs elsewhere.

And frankly, a platoon of Andy Dirks (.328 career wOBA against RHP) and Mayberry (.391 career wOBA against LHP) in left field could work out to be not far off the .354 wOBA Melky gave us in 2014.  Make no mistake, this is a significant win for the Jays.

* assuming, of course, that this deal actually gets confirmed.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

ToGo goes from T.O.

There'll be some new asses getting bumped in 2015.

Or, if you prefer a less wordy title, “Gose Goes”.

This move took me by surprise, when it really shouldn’t have.  The Jays have 3 young centerfielders.  One of them (Pompey) played well in his MLB debut in September.  One of them (Pompey again) is a switch hitter without an ugly platoon split.  And another one – whoops, no, it’s Pompey again – has been talked up by his manager and GM as a possible opening-day starter in 2015.  So it makes sense that one of the other two (Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar) would be trade bait.

Meanwhile, the Jays have a dearth of upper-minors 2B prospects.  Devon Travis is a 2B prospect that some (i.e. Fangraphs) think could be a league average hitter.  League average hitting is great for second base, so the Jays may have something here.

In losing Gose, the Jays give up a player with a reputation for above average defense and baserunning and below-average hitting.  There is, perhaps, some room for debate on the first 2 points – advanced stats didn’t really like Gose’s D or baserunning in 2013 – but the sample size being what it is, we’ll assume the Tigers are getting a plus baserunner and fielder.  As for hitting – well, it was encouraging to see Gose’s walk rate at 9.1% this year, and he walked at a 9% rate in 2012.  Except for one season (2012 in AAA Vegas, a hitter’s league) Gose has never been more than a .250-.260 hitter in the minors or majors, so his OBP will likely be walk-driven in future.  But even at 9% BB%, Gose’s OBP last year was just .311, and it was .303 in 2012.  Gose is 24 now and has spent the last 3 seasons in either AAA or the majors, making me think that what we see now is who Gose is, as a hitter:  A no-power guy who struggles to make contact, striking out a lot (20% or more in every season) and not walking enough to make up for that.

With Gose gone, the outfield picture looks like Bautista in RF (for sure), Pompey in CF (his job to lose, anyway), Cabrera (or a free agent replacement) in LF, and John Mayberry as 4th outfielder.  I don't know about you, but I had almost forgotten about Mayberry, a righthanded bat who can (sort of) play all 3 outfield positions and has no options left.  Given that the Jays won't want to lose Mayberry (who is a formidable hitter against LH pitching), Gose would likely have started 2015 in Buffalo.  Now, it'll be Kevin Pillar in Buffalo as the 5th outfielder, and I don't think there is a vast difference between him and Gose, overall.  Pillar walks and strikes out less than Gose, has a bit more power, and is above average defensively and as a baserunner (though not at Gose's level in either case).  Bottom line - you don't need both Gose and Pillar as depth pieces.

Meanwhile, Devon Travis played AA last year as a 23 year old with a slash line of .298/.358/.460.  To this point (3 minor league seasons), he's hit for average with decent power (29 HR and 50 doubles over 1124 PA) without relying overmuch on batted ball luck.  He walks about as much as Gose does, but with fewer strikeouts.  Minor-league defensive stats are hard to evaluate, but I haven't seen anything especially good or bad written about his fielding.  Fangraphs loves Travis, projecting him for 2.3 WAR at the major league level in 2015.  That would be very, very nice, but even if that's optimistic, Travis should compete for a job in spring training with Goins and Izturis... if the Jays don't find a second baseman elsewhere.

And that's the thing. The Jays have 5 holes that need fixing this offseason - second base, left field, center field, bullpen, and catcher (I see catcher as a hole, anyway).  Getting free agent fixes for all those holes would cost $60MM annually, and knowing the Jays as we do, spending $60MM is probably not in the cards.  Pompey is penciled in at CF, and if the Jays could somehow land Russell Martin, 2 relievers, and either Melky or Nori Aoki for LF, I'd be ok with Goins, Travis, and Izturis competing for 2B.  Even if Travis isn't ready to start the season, there's a chance he'd be able to take over 2B by midsummer, or in 2016.

And in the land of payroll parameters where there isn't money to fix everything, that's better what we had last year.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Lind for Estrada

No, your choice of pictures is predictable.

Marco Estrada for Adam Lind only makes sense as part of a larger picture.  The dissatisfaction among Jays fans with this trade stems from either a failure to see that, or from an entirely justifiable suspicion that there will be no larger picture.

The “larger picture” hopefully looks like this: Lind gets dealt to free up 2 roster spots (because he needs a platoon mate), to open up the DH position to a rotation of position players who need occasional days off from fielding, and to save about $3MM.  With those roster spots and that $3MM (plus several more $MM), the Jays add a kickass second baseman or third baseman and a talented bat or bats off the bench.  Meanwhile, Marco Estrada provides 60 innings of effective relief as a righthanded setup man and maybe makes a spot start or two.

If the Blue Jays were run like the Giants, Cardinals, or Red Sox, that would be how the story would go.  But they’re run by Rogers, stuck in payroll parameter-land, which accounts for the justifiable suspicions I mentioned before.  If Andy Dirks and Justin Smoak are the bench bats and Maicer Izturis is the second baseman, then the Lind trade looks like nothing more than an attempt to cut salary at the expense of competitiveness.  And if Estrada winds up with a rotation spot due to Buehrle (for example) being traded, you’re just adding injury to insult.

I thought about this trade a lot, and what it says about the expectations of fans who (like me) expected a better return for Adam Lind.  The prevailing assessment of Adam Lind (expressed clearly on Drunk Jays Fans) is that he is an elite hitter against righty pitching… and, frankly, he is.  But on the other hand, he can’t hit lefthanders, he doesn’t run or field well, and has chronic back issues which have forced him to miss significant time in both 2012 and 2014.  As great a hitter as Lind can be, he’s not much good if he can’t make it to the plate.  We may be guilty of the classic error of overvaluing our own players/prospects, when it comes to Lind.

And yes, at the end of the day, the Jays do have a real need to rotate players through the DH spot, as opposed to reserving that spot for whoever of Lind or Encarnacion isn’t playing first base.  Figure 20-30 DH starts for each of Bautista, Cabrera, and Reyes, and there’s no need for two fulltime 1B/DH’s.  Caveat:  It should not be forgotten that when those guys are playing DH, the Jays will need decent bench bats (i.e. not Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar) to replace them in the field.  Otherwise, you’ve effectively replaced Lind’s bat with some replacement-level hitters in different positions.

I don’t like writing cynical stuff on here, but the fact that the Jays would have nontendered Lind – let him go for nothing, basically – is pretty disheartening.  Lind was worth 1.6 and 1.8 WAR the last 2 seasons.  Are the Jays’ payroll parameters so tight that they would consider let a valuable asset (their 11th-best player last year, by WAR) go for nothing?  It appears that the answer is yes.  And if the team decides that Marco Estrada is either too expensive or doesn’t fit their plans, they could easily cut him loose, too, without having to pay a buyout fee… thereby saving the entire $7.5MM it would have cost to keep Lind.  If I were a betting man, my money would be on that outcome - a non-tender for Estrada.

If that $7.5MM (or $2.5MM, or whatever it turns out to be) saved goes into a badly needed fix at 2B (or the bullpen… or C… or LF), all well and good.  But right now, it’s hard to credibly make that argument in light of how last offseason, and July’s trade deadline, went.

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?


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.


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.