Thursday, 17 April 2014

Heeeeeee's back

Adam Lind’s back.  Had he gone anywhere?  No, but seriously.

Adam Lind remains day-to-day with back pain that is described in various places as being comparable to what put Lind on the disabled list in 2011 and 2012.  Unlike 2011 and 2012, the Jays don’t have David “why didn’t he just tag him” Cooper in the system to fill in relatively efficiently (career .325 wOBA with the Jays, though admittedly over 2 seasons and just 225 PA).

The problem with Lind is that while he’s easy to replace when the opposition has a lefthander on the mound – Moises Sierra, while not great, is better than Lind vs LHP – he’s kind of an all-world guy against RHP.  If you don’t believe me, ask Fangraphs: That’s right: Adam Lind has the 29th-best wOBA against RH pitching since 2010.  Not 29th best in the AL; 29th best in MLB.  That kind of production isn’t easy to find, unless you’re going to up and sign Kendrys Morales – which, like a Stephen Drew signing to replace Izturis, is not going to happen.

What will likely happen is that we’ll see Dan Johnson or Juan Francisco, if Lind winds up on the DL.  Johnson was a nice story in spring training, but his best days are likely behind him – he’s 34, and has fewer than 100 PA at the major league level since 2008.  He hits lefthanded, but doesn’t have much of a platoon split for his career.  Francisco is another lefty bat, but he’s logged a significant amount of MLB time in recent years, with a career wOBA of .317 (.334 vs RHP, .199 vs LHP), and he’s ‘just’ 26.  He’s a mini-Lind in the sense that you have to keep him away from LHP to get any value from him, but in the short term, that fits with what the Jays are doing anyway.

And while Francisco’s defense doesn’t seem to be anything to write home about, he might know how to tag a runner.

Thanks to DJF for creating the .gif I stole there.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Singin' those middle infield blues

"So I like y'all at home to turn on your VCRs so you can learn and study it... the words of God."

I was going to write something about the Maicer Izturis injury, but this post at DJF pretty much says what I was planning to say.  In a nutshell:  Maicer Izturis got off to a hot start, but wasn’t likely to continue to play at that level for the rest of the season, so stop panicking about his being lost for the year.  My only caveat to the points made is that we probably shouldn’t compare Maicer Izturis’s current production to Munenori Kawasaki’s 2013 production; Kawasaki had a good 2013 but a lousy 2012.  A more reasonable expectation would be for 2014 to be somewhere in between.

The middle infield is now composed of Kawasaki/Diaz/Goins until Reyes gets back, which hopefully won’t be that long from now but given the way things work in Jay-land*, might not be until May.  I arranged the names of Toronto’s 3 no-bat infielders that way for a reason; that should be the depth chart, going forward.  As noted, Kawasaki isn’t great with the bat, but he figures to be better than Goins, and perhaps better than Diaz too.  Diaz and Goins both look better defensively than Kawasaki, whose range is nothing to write home about.  None of them have a significant MLB defensive sample size at 2B or SS, so I’m making evaluation defense on nothing more than the eye test, admittedly.

Anyway, for those reasons, I’m advocating starting Kawasaki (2B) and Diaz (SS) with Goins as a defensive replacement in close/late games, or Goins possibly starting instead of Diaz against tough RHP.  When Reyes is back, Goins (and not Kawasaki) should be the one sent down to Buffalo.  Goins and Diaz seem pretty similar defensively, so I don’t think is makes sense to carry both of them.  Of the two, Diaz seems better able to draw a walk (based on his minor-league record and admittedly, a very small MLB sample) and more importantly, he’s righthanded and can therefore platoon with either of Kawasaki or Goins, who both bat left.

All that, of course, is subject to one of the three getting hot at the plate and playing his way into a semipermanent starting job.  Given that they all profile as some/all glove and no bat, going with whoever has the hot hand on a day to day basis is as good a plan as any.

* - don't even get me started on how Colby Rasmus is sitting tonight after being removed on a precautionary basis from Sunday's game with a 'tight' hamstring, despite getting a day off to rest it on Monday.  Given how cold it is in Minnesota, I don't expect to see him until Friday... if it's any warmer in Cleveland by then.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

April 9, 2014: Impressions from the ballpark!

On the hierarchy of rare photos, "Ryan Goins on base" falls somewhere between "Sumatran tiger in the wild" and "contrite-looking Rob Ford"

My first game of the 2014 season was Wednesday, versus Houston.  The upside of missing opening weekend:  no drunken idiots, no lousy service as the Skydome staff re-learns how to deal with crowds over 30,000.  The downside:  a nearly-empty stadium as the Astros come to town under a closed roof.  Not the best ambiance, but hey, even bad baseball watched live is pretty good.

I tend to use these "Impressions" posts to give my take on the mood of the crowd, or the quality of the game experience, or whatever catches my attention at the game.  There's not much to say in terms of the mood or atmosphere at Wednesday's game - it was a typical early April game after the opening series has come and gone.  The crowd was sparse, the dome felt cavernous and it echoed like a public swimming pool, only 20 decibels lower.  The Jays came into the game with a 4-4 record, and the crowd reflected that perfectly:  I didn't hear a lot of cynicism, and it wasn't electric in the dome either (if that's even possible with a crowd of 13,000).

So, what's new, what's different?  In terms of the dome itself, not much.  Last year, there was the new centrefield viewing area; nothing that dramatic was done between 2013 and 2014.  If the turf is new or refurbished, it doesn't look it; it still has the same glossy, slightly motheaten look I have come to know and loathe.  I know, I know, there are logistics involved in putting in real grass, and there are the Argos and lost monster truck show revenues to to think of.  But consider this:  in the last 3 years, we've seen Emilio Bonifacio shipped out of town for basically nothing because he couldn't handle the turf, and we've seen Carlos Beltran turn down a contract because of the turf.  Go back further, and we've seen Troy Glaus traded to get away from the turf that he felt was crippling him, and the Skydome gets blamed for a lot of turf toe injuries.  In short, it's abundantly clear that the Jays' Astroturf/Fieldturf has, over the years, cost the team a lot of playing time due to injury, and has made it harder to attract and keep players in Toronto.  Now think of the financial limits the Jays operate within, and it should be imperative to get grass in the Skydome.  Not in 2016, not in 2018.  Next year - since it's already too late for this year.  If it can be done between 2017 and 2018, it can be done between 2014 and 2015.

So... no new turf.  Just synthetic rubber pebbles that bounce up when a baseball hits them, if you consider that progress.

I was pleasantly surprised by my cheap flex pack seats (upper deck, 3rd row, behind 3rd base).  You can do a lot worse than those seats - I prefer that vantage point to, say, anywhere in the outfield or in the field level seats towards either outfield corner.  So long as you are on the infield, you're good.  We stuck around in those seats for 3 innings before moving to the CF viewing area.  It was easy to find space at the bar overlooking the field, but I wouldn't count on that during a game with even average (24,000) attendance.  Subsequent to that, we just walked into 100-level seats behind 1st base.  Obviously, that's not something you can count on, on a normal night for attendance, but it was a pleasant surprise that the ushers would turn a blind eye in home game #5.

Concessions are another story, but not a good one.  You probably recall the stir of excitement (hey, it was a slow offseason!) when it was revealed that Pizza Nova was replacing Pizza Pizza as the Skydome provider of cheese and sauce on dough.  It's a matter of opinion whether Pizza Nova is a premium product, but regardless of your views on that, you're now paying a premium price for pizza - a whopping $6.75 per slice.  That's more than a buck over last year's price, and it seems to me that Rogers has chosen to hold ticket prices down while making up the difference in food prices.  A hot dog is now $5.75, and a pretzel is over $5; I'm pretty sure you could get either one for under $5 last year. Beer prices are up slightly - a tall can of Keiths, for example, is $11.75 - but the percentage increase on the snack food is the real shocker.  I have a feeling that an upcoming post will be on the various food vendors on the way to the game (hot dog and chip trucks).

Oh, and the Jays won, 7-3, so the good offset the bad.  But you probably knew that already.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Week 1: The Gang of (up to) Four

What, you were expecting a picture of the post-punk Gang of Four?  I guess my school is older than yours.

2, 4, 3, 2, 3, 4, 4.    If the Jays can’t score more than four runs, it won’t matter what their pitching does.  Mind you, the only game the lack of hitting really cost them was the finale against the Yankees, in which the Jays put the tying runs on base in the 9th but failed to score them.  2 regulars (Bautista and Cabrera) are hitting, as are 2 part-timers (Lind and Izturis).  Lawrie, Rasmus, Encarnacion and Navarro aren’t, nor are Goins, Sierra, and Diaz.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Giving with one hand, taking with another

So the question is:  Why does a company with assets worth around 20 billion dollars, and revenues over $12 billion, have to borrow money from its employees?

Rogers Communications isn't Sherwood Schwarz or some USFL team owner from the early 1980s.  They're not broke; they can afford to pay Ervin Santana - or Masahiro Tanaka, for that matter - with no noticeable impact on the bottom line.   Nonetheless, the news came out on Friday that a number of Jays players (Bautista, Encarnacion, Reyes, and others) had offered to defer salary to free up money to sign Santana to a contract.

This little piece of information answers a number of questions.

For one, I think it's pretty much undeniable now that Rogers has put some sort of fiscal handcuffs on Alex Anthopoulos.  Why do I say that?  Well, if AA was able to go above, say, $140MM, there wouldn't be a need to defer salaries to free up cash - the Jays would just pay Santana (or whoever) the $8MM or $14MM (or whatever) and be done with it, with no need for complicated deferment schemes to cloud the fiscal future.  These fiscal handcuffs are particularly dumb because Rogers isn't actually saving money by deferring salaries - they're just pushing the obligation down the road.  For example, if 4 players were to defer $3MM each, they'd be due something like $3.2MM each in 2015 or 2016.  It has to work this way because the MLB Player's Association doesn't permit its players to give money back without getting something in return (it's a union thing). So, to be clear:  Rogers will spend the money, just not this season.  It makes no sense, unless some bean counter has drawn a fiscal line in the sand which cannot be crossed this season.

As if that isn't dumb enough, by contemplating a deferral scheme the club was showing itself to be willing to mortgage the future to win this year, the way many of us hoped and prayed they wouldn't.  One of the things the Jays have going for them over the next few years is roster flexibility.  They have 2016 team options on Dickey, Bautista, Encarnacion, and Lind, among others, and only have $26MM committed in 2016 salaries at this point.  Assuming that the deferrals would be into the 2016 season, the team would have tied up $12-odd million dollars in players it may not want in 2016.  Yeah, it's just $12MM, but that might have prevented the Jays from making a key acquisition in 2016, the way lack of money prevented them from signing anyone in 2013-14.  Would that be as bad as trading away potentially key 2016 pieces like Sanchez, Stroman, and Syndergaard (argh)?  No, but it's going down that road.

The deferral scheme also tells me that, no, the team wasn't really as high on the likes of Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison as they would have had us believe during the offseason.  Salary deferral schemes aren't unknown, but they're pretty rare.  The fact that the club contemplated doing this shows that they clearly felt a stronger need for pitching than they will admit.  And perhaps, the players (Bautista, Reyes et al.) felt that need too, despite the brave faces that were put on after Santana signed with the Braves.

As a fan, this news is especially disheartening coming as it does on the heels of an offseason when the Jays had a ton of leverage (no 1st-round draft picks at stake), plenty of needs, and promises of available money.  All through the offseason, Jays management doggedly stuck by their player valuations and watched potentially-useful players (Jimenez, Garza, Burnett, all the second basemen) sign with other teams.  And at the very end, with spring training underway, it looked like they would be rewarded for their patience as the market came back to them, before it all fell apart with Santana.  Bad form by Santana if he did walk away from a verbal agreement, but it's pretty clear the Jays were squeezing him to the point where other opportunities would have to emerge.  One did, of course.  And now, it turns out that the Jays were nickel-and-diming Sanchez over money that wasn't even in the 2014 budget??  How cheap does that look?  Really, really cheap?  Yeah, I think so too.

If the Jays fail to win in 2014, the narrative will be that the club was willing to go 90% of the way to building a champion ($135MM in salaries) but balked at the final 10%.  A rant for another day, if this season runs off the rails.  

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Deja vu all over again?

Picture still fits

Frustrating, predictable, and preventable.  Those are the three words I’d use to describe the hole in the lineup that is created by Jose Reyes’ absence from the Blue Jays active roster for the next 15+ days.

Frustrating, obviously.  The Jays were beset by injuries in 2012 and 2013, but aside from some minor issues (Happ, Janssen) were mostly healthy through the early part of spring training.  And now, right out of the starting gate, they lose a star player at a position where they have the least depth.  We’re now looking at 15+ days of a middle infield comprised of some combination of Izturis, Goins, and Jonathan Diaz.  Not exactly the best way to start off a season.

Predictable?  Well, yes.  Jose Reyes has a history of leg problems.  That history may not necessarily indicate future leg problems, but it’s not as if he’s Cal Ripken out there, either.  And on top of that, Reyes missed several games towards the end of spring with a ‘tight’ hamstring, which he has now aggravated.  Reyes, Morrow, Bautista, Lawrie, Lind, Hutchison… the Jays’ hopes for 2014 rest on these guys, all of whom have had trouble staying on the field in recent years, and behind whom there is precious little depth.  An injury like this wasn’t a certainty, but it was certainly probable.
Preventable?  Well, you can’t implant bionic hamstrings in Reyes and thereby turn him into a 160-game player, but yeah, things could have been done to prevent this.  Not playing him in the meaningless exhibition games in Montreal would have been a good idea, in retrospect.  But even more than that (and yes, you’ve heard this before), a 3 WAR shortstop was and still is available on the free agent market, in the person of Stephen Drew.  It would have been a good idea to sign Drew to play second base instead of the underwhelming Goins.  And it sure would be nice to have Drew’s bat in the lineup right now, which would mean just having one giant hole in the offense (Goins), not two.  As I said, the Jays have precious little MLB-calibre depth at a lot of positions.  Getting Drew (or Kelly Johnson, or any number of other free agent middle infielders) would have addressed that. 

I hope this is just a 15-day injury and that Reyes returns mid-April at 100% health.  And I hope that in the interim, the Jays can hold their own.  But the Jays needed to get off to a good start in a month where they play AL East opponents 15 times, and that difficult task just got harder.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Projecting the Blue Jays in 2014

What the crap is that thing?

It’s all well and good to evaluate 5th starter candidates, or the likelihood of bouncebacks by players who were walking wounded in 2013.  But at the end of the day, do all the pieces add up to a winning team?

A useful place to start is this Fangraphs table .  This assessment, done by the Steamer projection system for Fangraphs, projects the 2014 Jays to total 36 WAR, well ahead of the 28.2 WAR the team actually amassed in 2013.  Obviously, that’s good news.  Last year’s team won 74 games, so if the players are expected to perform better, they ought to win more games.  1 additional WAR does not equal one additional win, but 8 WAR ought to push the team into the 80+ win area at least.

The obvious counterpoint to the Steamer projection is to ask where those 8 WAR are coming from.  The 2014 Jays team is the same group as the 2013 Jays, minus JP Arencibia, Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis, Mark DeRosa and Darren Oliver (and a few others), with the only outside additions being Dioner Navarro and Erik Kratz.  So why the improvement?  Well, the thing that jumps out at me is the lack of negative-WAR projections.  The Jays had a lot of bad players in 2013 who totaled  -6.4 WAR.  Fangraphs/Steamer only projects Todd Redmond (-0.2 WAR), Ryan Goins (-0.1 WAR) and Kyle Drabek (-0.1 WAR) to be worse than replacement level next year.  So, that’s 6 of the missing WAR right there.

Otherwise, the delta between 2013 actuals and 2014 projections is as follows:
Rasmus:  - 2.1 WAR
Bautista: + 0.2 WAR
Encarnacion: - 0.5 WAR
Buehrle: - 0.4 WAR
Reyes: + 0.7 WAR
Dickey: + 0.6 WAR
Lind: - 0.4 WAR
Delabar: - 1.1 WAR
Janssen: - 0.2 WAR
Lawrie: + 2.2 WAR
Kawasaki: - 0.7 WAR
Happ: + 0.3 WAR
Cecil: -0.5 WAR
Santos: + 0.3 WAR
Redmond: - 0.5 WAR
Loup: - 0.6 WAR
Rogers: + 0.5 WAR
Goins: - 0.5 WAR
Izturis: + 2.4 WAR
Cabrera: + 2.3 WAR
Thole: + 1.1 WAR
Gose: + 0.4 WAR
Morrow: + 2.1 WAR

On top of those changes, the Jays lose 1.2 WAR from Davis, -0.6 from Arencibia and 0.5 from Josh Johnson.  Yes, Josh Johnson was judged to have positive value in 2013.  I’m shocked, too.  They gain 1.6 projected WAR from Navarro and 0.1 from Kratz.

Any issues with those projections?  Not for the most part.  I tend to think Rasmus will perform closer to how he did in 2013; it’s a contract year and Colby’s 2013 numbers were already knocked down because of lost playing time due to injury.  The whole bullpen seems to be projected downward; perhaps that’s a reflection of the view that bullpen performance is random, but I wouldn’t expect almost all of them to be worse.  And I’d like to think that Dickey and Buehrle could collectively be better than they were last year (they project to be just 0.2 WAR better in 2014).  Otherwise, the projections are hard to complain about, as a Jays fan.  If Morrow, Cabrera, and Lawrie are be a collective 7 WAR better than they were last season, the team will have a much stronger batting order and rotation.

Using the sort function on the Fangraphs page, it’s easy to see that the Blue Jays project to have the 10th-best team WAR total in the AL in 2014 (4th best in the AL East, ahead of the Orioles).   It’s also easy to see that the Jays project to have the 6th best offense, the 6th best bullpen, and 11th-best rotation in 2014, by WAR.  The problem areas are obvious, and if we drill down further on the offensive side, the Jays are expected to be especially awful at 2B (0.1 projected WAR) and LF (1.0 projected WAR).  Stephen Drew would be an upgrade at 2B, but there are no FA options available for LF at this point (and Stephen Drew is not happening, FYI).

Starting pitching is the other obvious area of weakness, and at this point, the fixes all look to be internal.  Yes, there were a lot of options on the table through the offseason, but the Jays weren't interested enough to land any of them.  That may be because they don’t want to spend the money, but a more optimistic interpretation would be to say that the Jays think their internal options – Hutchison, Stroman, Happ, Redmond, Rogers, and, err... Dustin McGowan?! – have a chance to be better than Santana et al.

And that may well be the case.  Ervin Santana’s failings are well documented – for example, by me here.  Jeff Karstens (the best still-available pitcher) can’t stay healthy, which makes Fangraphs’ (Steamer, 1.2 WAR) projection for him to set a career high in innings with a better than average (for him) ERA a dubious one.  Meanwhile, Fangraphs is also projecting Hutchison to be worth 1.5 WAR in 2014, and hopes are high for McGowan to hold himself together for more than half a season (Fangraphs projects 0.9 WAR over 110 innings).

The temptation is to extrapolate from those limited-inning projections to come up with a duo of pitchers that produce 5 WAR out of the 4-5 slots in the rotation.  And frankly, that would be fantastic.  Add in a bounceback season from Brandon Morrow (which may or may not be likely) and you have the makings of a solid-to-good rotation - if it can stay healthy.

The Jays offense was worth 16.1 WAR last year, they're projected to be at 22.9 WAR in 2014.  To my mind, most of that expected improvement can be attributed to not having negative-value players in 2014.  If anyone is as awful as Cabrera, Arencibia, and Izturis were last year, they're sunk.  Add in better health (which also helps keep negative-value players off the field) and I can see the team eclipsing 22.9 WAR offensively, easy.  Rasmus/Bautista/Reyes/Encarnacion could hopefully be 16+ WAR by themselves, with Lawrie, Cabrera, and Lind adding up to another 8 or 9 WAR, assuming proper use.  Everyone else would just have to be not completely awful.

The bullpen is the bullpen.  Some of the relievers will be better, and some will be worse than last year.  6th-best in the AL would be fine with me.  6th-best offense seems low, and while the Jays won't have a top-4 rotation in the league (they barely have that in the division), they have the talent to be average at least.

A very good offense, a good bullpen, and average-or-so starting pitching sounds like an 85 win team, if everything breaks right.  For the Jays to top that mark, lightning would have to strike the team (in a good way) again.  Think Juan Guzman in 1991, or Jose Bautista in 2010.  Yeah, that's not likely... but hope is what keeps us watching.  

Monday, 24 March 2014

MissingBJ answers your roster questions

How disappointing an offseason has it been for the Jays?  Well, I caught myself looking at Fangraphs yesterday to see whether the newly-released Jeff Francoeur could be the righthanded half of a DH platoon with Adam Lind.

(short answer:  No, he can't.  I don’t think a baseball problem exists for which Jeff Francoeur is the solution, anymore.)

The Jays have lots of problems/questions remaining – who DH’s with Lind, who’s the 5th starter, who makes the bullpen and is it a 7 or 8 man ‘pen, who’s the second baseman, who’s the backup catcher.  And maddeningly, most of these problems/questions should have been addressed/answered several months ago.  A 5th (hell, a #2, for that matter) starter could have been had on the free agent market.  A second baseman could have been had and is still available on the free agent market.  Better righty bats than Moises Sierra and Matt Tuiasosopo are and remain available on the FA market.

Even more frustratingly, the Jays’ management team (Gibbons/Anthopoulos/Beeston) keep saying stupid things.  One of the things that went well last year was the platooning of Adam Lind.  This year, Lind ‘won’t necessarily’ be strictly platooned, according to Gibbons.  Now, this may be the sort of thing that managers say to keep their options open, or to boost a player’s confidence.  And it’s true that the righthanded DH options, Sierra and Tuiasosopo, aren’t the offensive threats that Mark DeRosa and Rajai Davis were last year (then again, nobody expected Mark DeRosa to hit at all in 2013, either).  But, regardless, Adam Lind should not face lefthanded pitching on a regular basis.  Adam Lind is great against RHP, and it’s okay if that’s all he is.  Period.  The Jays should try Tuiasosopo or Sierra (or someone better) as the RH DH until that player shows that he can’t hit.  Only at that point should Lind be called on to bat against samehanded pitching.  

OK, other stupid things the Jays came out with recently… let’s see.  Well, there’s the “McGowan won’t necessarily be in the bullpen” thing.  A few days ago, McGowan was going to be a reliever.  Now, apparently, he might not be.  By now, it’s pretty clear that of McGowan/Happ/Redmond/Rogers, McGowan has the most upside, and he’s also the most fragile.  But here’s the deal:  Dustin McGowan is owed $1.5 million this year, and the Jays have a $4MM option on him next year.  They’ll never know whether that option is worth accepting until they know whether he can pitch a full season (there’s no way that option gets picked up if McGowan is a reliever or hurt this year).  The team gave him that contract as… actually, I don’t know why they gave him the contract.  Point is, they owe him nothing.  Stretch Dustin out, and if he can pitch a full season, great.  If he only pitches 70 innings before his arm gives out or he plays himself out of the job, oh well.  At least we’ll know what we have in him.  And 70 innings from now, Stroman or someone else may be ready to step in.

So, what to do with Happ?  Short answer:  Send him down.  Sure, he can refuse, and elect free agency… but Happ makes $5MM a year, and I’m not sure anyone else would give him that.  So Jah Happ might well decide he’s better off making $5MM in Buffalo as opposed to an uncertain amount somewhere else.  And if he decides he’d rather go somewhere else, the Jays will have eliminated that salary obligation to a guy who’s one of about four #6 starters the team has.

On the heels (or maybe ahead of the heels) of the McGowan is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-reliever statement by Gibbons, came word that Ryan Goins isn’t necessarily the Jays’ starting 2B.  That seems like it might be good news (Stephen Drew!  Dustin Ackley!) or bad (Maicer Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki).  More likely, it’s more managerial posturing.  Ryan Goins didn’t hit last year, he hasn’t hit in the minors, and he hasn’t hit this spring.  This would suggest to me that he can’t hit.  His defense gets a lot of talk based on a small sample size last season, but I don’t know if he has that reputation through his career in the minors.  And even if he did, people raved about Adeiny Hechevarria’s D for years and Hech was awful last year for Florida.  Nonetheless, it looks a lot like we’ll be getting Ryan Goins.  At least if he’s terrible, the club can freely ship him down to Buffalo and bring up Kawasaki, who might be marginally better with the bat.  But the bar is set very low, here.

It’ll be an 8 man bullpen because the Jays hate losing marginal bullpen arms on waivers more than they hate losing Matt Tuiasosopo.  That means a bullpen of Janssen, Santos, Cecil, Loup, Delabar, Rogers, Jeffress, and Redmond.  McGowan will be in the rotation, and Jah Happ will be stewing somewhere.  That also means a bench of Sierra, Izturis, and a catcher, with Gose and Kawasaki in Buffalo.

And the 2nd catcher?  Sorry, Kratz fans (I am one of you), but I think Thole gets it.  Yes, Kratz has had a better spring, but even though Erik Kratz has power and no walks while Thole has walks with no power, their career wOBAs are very close.  Tiebreaker goes to the guy Rah Dickey prefers, and Thole is that guy.  We all remember how JPA looked catching knucklers last year, and Kratz would be learning on the job in the same way, if he got the backup catching job.  Besides, the Jays want Dickey to be comfortable; it’s more important for Dickey to have a good year than to have a marginally better offensive performance out of a catcher who probably gets fewer than 60 starts next year.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

If you will indulge me... a short rant.

I don’t like the way the Blue Jays do business.

That’s not to say that I necessarily disagree with their drafting, trading and other player acquisition moves, or their on-field play.  Yes, the team has no good results to show all for their player moves (well-reviewed and otherwise), but it’s hard for me to fault the effort made to rebuild the minor league system, the renewed emphasis on Latin American players, and the rationale behind last offseason’s moves that were made with the aim of contending in 2013-14-15.  It can no longer be said that the club isn’t willing to spend money to contend.

What bothers me is the way the organization seems compelled to cloak every issue or potential transaction in a blanket of unfulfilled promises, noncommittal statements, hypotheticals, hyperbole, and half truths.  It’s gotten to the point where I look at every statement from the Blue Jays with a cynical eye.

I can understand the need for subterfuge when it comes to player transactions.  It doesn’t make sense to tell the world what your budget is for free agents, because that will just push the price of your target player(s) to match the budget (if not exceeding it).  And I get the idea that a player has a certain value, and that the team doesn’t want to overpay for that player.  But in a hot market – as the baseball free agent market usually is – you sometimes have to overpay to get what you need.  The Jays don’t overpay on the free agent market – in fact, they barely even "pay" at all, with their biggest signing in the last 5 years being Melky Cabrera, for 2 years and $16MM. 

The Jays were “in on” Aroldis Chapman.  They didn’t sign him.
They were in on Yu Darvish.  They didn’t bid enough for him.
They were in on Carlos Beltran, but he didn't want to play on Astroturf.
On the trade market, they were in on Mat Latos.  And Brett Anderson, and Ian Kinsler.  They wanted to be in on Doug Fister.  They would have been in on Masahiro Tanaka, except for the 5 year contract limitation.  Which isn’t really a limitation, it’s more of a guideline.  Except that it’s effectively a limit, because if you can’t bring yourself to go to 7 years on a 25 year old pitcher, when would you ever go to 7 years on another free agent, considering that most free agents are 3 or 4 years older?

Now, they're in - I guess - on Ervin Santana.  Trouble is, spring training is underway, and every day that goes by without a Santana signing means (a) one less day for Santana to get his spring innings in and get accustomed to whatever team signs him, and (b) one more day in which teams (Atlanta, Seattle) can lose pitchers to injury, thereby upping the the number of potential bidders for Santana's services.  Frankly, I don't know how useful Santana will be to the Jays, but if the club does think he will be useful, and they know the market for him will be $14MM or so, why are they wasting time? Offer him $16MM and be done with it.  Or decide that he's not useful, and don't bid at all.  The middle ground - dragging out the process deep into March - benefits nobody.

The Jays ask about every player, or so we’re told.  Nobody works harder than Alex Anthopoulos.  And nobody misses out on more deals than Alex Anthopoulos, because he's in on everything and everyone.  As a result, we're subjected to an endless stream of rumours and innuendo which the Jays usually refuse to address until after they've been blown completely out of proportion (see: Yu Darvish). 

The “grass in the dome” issue is another example of Jays doublespeak.  In 2012, the issue of grass in the Skydome was raised at the State of The Franchise event .  The idea was subsequently pooh-poohed as infeasible due to the lack of natural light.  Then light wasn’t the issue, it was drainage.  And then that wasn’t the issue, it was the Argos.  And now, despite having heard timelines of perhaps 2016 for a grass field (after the Pan Am Games) or after 2017 at the latest (and earlier if the Argos move earlier), it’s now 2018.  At best.  Should this be a priority?  Well, considering that it's contributed to the Jays not getting players like Beltran, and to players like Troy Glaus wanting out of Toronto, yeah, it ought to be.  And yet, it's going to take 6 years (from January 2012) for the Jays to put grass in the Skydome.  Six years.  And by the way, it took a little less than 3 years to build the whole Skydome, in the late 1980s.

I don’t know if it’s just Beeston, or Rogers, or some combination of the two, but I’m getting sick of the bait-and-switch.  The Blue Jays consistently overpromise and underdeliver.  Remember Beeston’s “playoffs 3 times in 5 years” pronouncement?   Nobody can guarantee playoff appearances; not even the Yankees.

So why do they say stuff like that?

Saturday, 8 March 2014


...the Jays have apparently signed Ervin Santana, the worst bet (in my estimation) among the then-available free agent pitchers.

Before I go any further:  This isn't automatically a bad thing.  No, Santana isn't an ace; in fact, on this Jays team, he isn't even a #2 or #3 starter.  But the drop-off in talent between Mark Buehrle (the #3 starter) and the candidates for the #4 and #5 starter spots is huge.  And if nothing else, Santana's performance floor is a lot higher than that of Happ/Redmond/Rogers/Hutchison/etc., and his ceiling might be higher than that of any of those pitchers, too.  After all, Santana was a 3 WAR pitcher last year, and has a 6 WAR season to his credit, a few years ago.  Yes, it's unlikely that 6 WAR Ervin Santana ever resurfaces, but it's not likely that Hutchison or Stroman put up better than 3 WAR this season, either.

And there are other points besides his being better than last year's AAA retread rotation filler to support a Santana signing.  He's been mostly healthy for the last 4 seasons, posting 30 starts each year.  He adds useful depth to a team that has had terrible luck with injuries.  And he's likely going to be signed for a 1-year deal, meaning (a) if he's terrible, the Jays aren't on the hook for years of salary, a la Ricky Romero, (b) he'll be motivated to perform well to make big bucks as a free agent next offseason, and (c) if he does play well, the Jays can make a qualifying offer and get a first round pick if he signs somewhere else in 2015.

That's assuming everything goes well.  As much as there are reasons to support this signing, a lot could go wrong:

Santana could pitch really badly, especially considering he's been a homer-prone pitcher his whole career, and will now make half his starts in the hitter-friendly Skydome.

Yes, Santana has been healthy for the last 4 years, but he now apparently has elbow problems that have been concerning to potential suitors.  If Santana's elbow explodes, the Jays will have blown $14MM and a second round draft pick for nothing.

The scheme to turn a second-round pick this year into a first-round pick in 2015 (qualifying offer followed by Santana signing elsewhere) sounds good, but you might remember how, last offseason, we all felt pretty confident that even if the Jays didn't re-sign Josh Johnson, they'd make him a QO and get a draft pick when someone else signed him.  That didn't happen, despite Josh Johnson being a vastly better pitcher than Ervin Santana (and 2 years younger).  If Santana is awful or injured, forget about the draft pick.

Lastly, and as I wrote about last week, the Jays have a lot of pitchers without options who they were going to struggle to find spots for on the 25-man roster.  With Santana on board, the Jays will have a harder time squeezing Happ, Redmond, Jeffress, McGowan and Rogers into the pitching staff.  And if these guys don't make the opening day roster (and can't be hidden on the DL), they may well be lost on waivers.

Soooo... there you have it.  The Jays would make themselves better, but not a lot better, by signing Ervin Santana.  And despite it being a 1-year deal, there'd be a decent chance that this signing blows up in their faces.  Cross your fingers, everyone.

One last consideration:  If the Jays can sign Stephen Drew to a 1 year deal, he would only cost them a 3rd round pick (and money, of course), if the second rounder has been forfeited for Santana.  Drew is a much bigger upgrade on Goins than Santana is on Hutchison et al.  So do it, AA.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The coming roster crunch

"The ship is sinking!"

Take a look at these lists.

Players with option(s) remaining*:

Options with optional waiver*:

Players with no options remaining*:
The Jays have a lot of good-or-could-be-good players to fit on their 25-man roster before the start of the season, and a lack of places to put them.  And no, this isn’t one of the situations in which the ‘nice problems to have’ cliché can get trotted out by the manager or GM.  As things stand, the Jays will be faced with a conundrum before April:  Put what might not be their best players on the 25-man roster, or risk losing potentially useful players on waivers.

If the Jays want to avoid losing any players to waivers, their bench will look like this (assuming Goins is the starting 2B):  Izturis, Sierra, Kratz or Thole (with Navarro as the starting C), and possibly a 4th player (Gose?).  A 3 man bench would be tough to swallow because none of those players can play CF, and only Izturis can pinch-run effectively.  For that reason, I expect to see Anthony Gose (and not Munenori Kawasaki) make the team, leaving them with a 7-man bullpen.

And that bullpen is an even bigger puzzle.  To avoid potentially losing players on waivers, the ‘pen would have to consist of:  Janssen, Santos, Cecil, Jeffress, McGowan, and Rogers, plus 1 or 2 others.  You’ll notice Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup, two of the Jays’ best relievers from 2013, aren’t on this list.  Neither is Neil Wagner.  You could bring one of those three up, or two if you’re willing to go with a 3-man bench offensively.  Would I be happier with McGowan and Jeffress in Buffalo and other, more consistent players in the bullpen?  I sure would, but they can’t be sent there without possibly losing them.

In this model, the 4th and 5th starters would be Happ and Redmond.  Hutchison or Drabek (or Stroman) might be better for one of those spots, but to bringing one of them north for the regular season would risk the loss of Happ or Redmond (unless they wind up in the bullpen, thereby putting someone else on the bubble).

So to recap:  You can pick 2 of Kawasaki, Hutchison, Gose, Delabar, Stroman, Loup, Wagner, and Drabek for the 2013 team.  Any more than that, and you risk losing 1 or more of Happ, Redmond, Jeffress, McGowan, Rogers, Sierra, and Izturis.  Or other, presumably even less expendable players.

Personally, I don't think we will see any waiver losses this spring.  As has been said many times, Alex Anthopoulos doesn't like giving up assets for nothing.  More cynically, if the Jays were serious about putting the best possible team on the field in 2014, someone better than Ryan Goins would have been acquired to play second base by now.

* - Players with an option can be sent to the minor leagues automatically without risk.  Players with an “option with optional waiver” can be claimed by another team when sent down to the minors (the ‘waiver claim’), but the original team can then pull the player back to avoid losing him.  In practice, players with this status are almost never claimed, so for the purposes of this exercise, we can treat them as if they have options.  Players without options can’t be sent down to the minors without exposing them to being irrevocably claimed by another team.  So if the player is at all useful, he's likely gone.

Hat tip to BluebirdBanter for the list of players with and without options.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Tale of the tape: The 5th starter candidates

The Blue Jays didn’t add a free agent pitcher this offseason, and it now appears that any improvement to the rotation will come from within.  Fine, already.  Enough with the endless speculation on how crappy Ervin Santana might be; on to the guys who could actually be Jays next season.

As I see it, there are 4 candidates for the job of 5th starter.  I’m discounting Marcus Stroman, who would be in this discussion were it not for the likelihood of the Jays not wanting to start his service clock just yet.  And I’m excluding Dustin McGowan (too fragile), Jeremy Jeffress (too wild), Chad Jenkins (too limited) and Tomo Ohka (too old) from my candidates list as well, although some of these guys (Stroman and McGowan, in particular) will get probably be talked about as being considered for the job.  And notably, McGowan and Jeffress are out of options, which may lead to the team trying to find a way to slot them into the 25-man roster somewhere.  Those considerations aside, the contenders are:    

Drew Hutchison:  Hutchison is 23, and tops this list for 2 reasons:  His decent showing back in 2012 before arm surgery, and his impressive work in the Arizona Fall League.  That’s not much to go on, is it?  Well, no… but what he has going for him is youth and the fact that he has performed well in the past.  Small sample size, yes, but Hutchison strikes out a fair number of batters, doesn’t walk many, and gets groundballs (1.49 per flyball) at a decent rate.  He was a bit unlucky with HR/FB in 2012, but again, sample size.  If he has a good spring, he should make the journey north with the team.

Todd Redmond:  Redmond’s 28, and a guy who until last year, looked to be a career minor leaguer – triple-A filler.  Then he came up with the Jays and was actually pretty effective.  He struck out almost a batter per inning, while walking fewer than 3 per 9 innings.  He didn’t go deep into games (14 starts, 69 innings) but he pitched to a 4.32 ERA (4.40 FIP, 4.16 xFIP), which was better than any of the Jays’ other 2013 fill-ins.  Trouble is, he’s 28, and doesn’t possess outstanding stuff.  Apparently he hides his fastball well, which is great and all, but when hitters figure out that trick, it’s just another 90 mph fastball.

Kyle Drabek:  Kyle Drabek is 26.  26, and coming off his second Tommy John surgery.   Once considered the centerpiece of the group that came back for Roy Halladay, he’s now no longer a prospect.  Drabek has been plagued with wildness (walks) for his entire career, and the “stuff” that made him a top prospect may not be the same after his latest surgery.  If he pitches well this spring, he’ll be in the mix, but don't hold your breath.

Esmil Rogers:  Like Redmond, Esmil Rogers is 28, but unlike Redmond, he has an established track record in the majors.  That’s a point in his favour, especially when you consider that his career FIP (4.40) and xFIP (4.06) are virtually the same as Redmond’s 2013 numbers.  Rogers has better career numbers as a reliever than as a starter, though, and with the number of 5th-starter options the Jays have, it may make sense to let him stick with what he’s best at.  Of note: Rogers is out of options, meaning that there’s a good chance that the team will put him on the team to avoid losing him.  Could be the bullpen, might be the rotation.  

And somewhere, Ervin Santana is saying, "How do you like me now?"

Friday, 21 February 2014

Every player has a price...


By all appearances, the Jays aren’t going to make any more significant additions to their roster before the season starts (I’ll be charitable and call the Navarro acquisition “significant”).  Does this signal a change in the team’s long-term strategy?  Or as some are asking, do they even have a long-term strategy?

On taking the GM job with the Jays, Alex Anthopoulos made it clear that he planned to rebuild the team’s minor league system, with a renewed emphasis on scouting and the draft.  And for three years, he did just that.  The Jays went from having one of the worst minor league systems to one of the best, with AA adding draft picks anywhere he could by astute gaming manipulation use of the compensatory draft pick system that was then in place in MLB.  The Jays were active in signing Latin American prospects and aggressive in their pursuit of high-upside talent in the draft.  Those were all good things, and a lot of people, myself included, bought into the slow-and-sure approach to building a contender out of talented players that the Jays would draft and develop.

What the Jays didn’t do much of, during the early part of AA’s watch, was take on big risk or big dollars on the major-league roster.  The Jays didn’t outbid Cincinnati for Aroldis Chapman.  They didn’t outbid Texas for Yu Darvish.  They didn’t threaten to break the bank in pursuit of any free agents.  Alex Anthopoulos has a price for everyone, beyond which, apparently, he will not go.  And again, that was fine, if the approach was to build a contender out of talented draftees.  Call it the Tampa Bay model, but with deeper pockets.

And then last (2012-13) offseason, Anthopoulos abruptly changed course.  The Jays apparently abandoned the build-from-within approach and traded away a slew of highly-touted prospects for some highly-regarded (and expensive) players and signed a discounted free agent in Melky Cabrera, with the aim of taking advantage of a perceived weakness in the AL East.  Obviously, things didn’t go as planned last year, but after 2013 happened, the logical next move would be for the Jays to continue to add players in an attempt to contend.  Otherwise, they’d have traded away a lot of future talent with nothing to show for it.  Confoundingly, the Jays didn’t add players this past offseason, and now the team that was expected to contend last year is now a year older and missing some pieces (Davis, DeRosa, Oliver, Johnson) who either contributed or were expected to contribute to winning in 2013.

And the thing is, when a team is already north of $130MM in salaries with a fast-closing window in which to contend, it can’t afford to stop at what it Alex Anthopoulos considers the intrinsic value of a particular free agent, the price beyond which he will not go.  If Baltimore is offering Ubaldo Jiminez $13MM a year for 4 years and the Jays feel Jimenez was worth $9MM for 3… the Jays need to bite the bullet and pay the man.  Jimenez might not be great, but he was one of the few available players who would make the 2014 team better.  And if the 2014 team isn’t better than the 2013' one, that’s $130MM and several top prospects wasted, for want of a mere $4MM/yr.

For many years, I have tagged blogposts with “Free Agency is a scam”.  And frankly, it usually is.  Most big-name free agents are approaching or past age 30 and looking for a long term deal.  A long term deal would carry a 30-year old well past his prime producing years.  On top of that, free agents don’t cost a reasonable price, they cost just over what the second-highest bidder will pay.  Given the scarcity of top players, there’s usually a lot of competition for the best free agents, meaning that the winning bidder is forced to pay more than the player is actually worth (see: Pujols, Albert, and Hamilton, Josh).  In short:  when you sign a big-name free agent, you’re usually doing so in the hope that he will perform well in the first couple years of his contract, and resigned to the idea that the player will be providing little value (at great expense) by the end of the deal.

So why do (presumably rational) teams sign free agents?  Because they’re in this to win, and when you’re trying to win, there are no half measures.  Which brings me back to the Jays, and what their strategy is supposed to be.

The 2013-14 offseason looked to be tailored for the Jays to make a move.  They had a protected pick in the draft, meaning the pick they lost for signing a FA would be relatively painless (losing a second-round pick is a lot more palatable than losing a first-round pick).  They had about $20MM coming off the payroll with the departures of Johnson/Davis/DeRosa.  They had a roster with an expiry date 2 years away, when virtually every impact player besides Reyes becomes a free agent.  They had a surplus of relievers to trade, and a semblance of depth in CF to trade from, too.  But for whatever reason – salary constraints, trades that were scuppered by injury reports or no-trade clauses, or a lack of agreement on the value of free agents, nothing happened this offseason.

If the Jays had been willing to spend, Jimenez was available.  Kendrys Morales is still available (which would make a trade of Lind feasible).  Stephen Drew is still available.  None of those players are as good as Jose Reyes or RA Dickey, but they’re better than what the team has now, and they’d make the team better in 2014.

Fans are unhappy, and the sports media are down on the team – there are plenty of predictions for another 5th place finish.  Yes, both groups might be wrong about the 2014 Jays, the way they were wrong about the 2013 team.  Maybe AA is right; maybe Drew Hutchison will step forward and add as much value as Jimenez would, at a fraction of the cost.  Maybe JA “Jah” Happ’s late-season mechanics change will pay off in 2014.  Maybe this is the year when the Jays’ 7th and 8th starters won’t be called on to start 20 games.  All of that could happen, I guess.  But… if there was ever a year that the Jays could have been players on the FA market, this was the year, when they had needs, money, and an advantage (protected pick) that other teams didn’t have.  If the Jays can’t find value in the FA market this year, I’m not sure how they ever will.  And again if they’re not going to go all-out for the playoffs now, what was the point of dealing D’Arnaud, Syndergaard, Marisnick and Nicolino?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Ranking the pitching options

We’re coming down to the final days before spring training, and the Jays still haven’t landed a free agent pitcher.  The top options remaining are:

AJ Burnett:  Those who lost track of Burnett after he opted out of his Blue Jay contract and was subsequently run out of New York might be shocked to learn that AJ Burnett has been a pretty good pitcher since then.  Burnett has made 31 and 30 starts the last 2 years (and they were the fewest starts he made since he had 25 starts in 2007 with the Jays), with 3.51 and 3.30 ERAs and excellent peripherals.  Burnett still strikes out a lot of batters (8.0/9 innings in 2012, 9.4 in 2013) and induces ground balls at a high rate (56%), two things that make him pretty well suited to the homer-prone Skydome.  Burnett’s been worth 7.0 fWAR over the past 2 seasons, tops on this list, and at age 37, he wouldn’t be expecting a long deal with all the attendant risks attached for the team offering such a deal (he also doesn’t come with a qualifying offer attached, meaning that he can be signed without forfeiting a draft pick).

On the other hand, Burnett is 37, and at some point, he’s going to lose some zip on his fastball and/or break down physically.  It may be a mistake to make too much out of the way he left town (and the way he was booed on his return) when pondering whether Burnett would sign with the Jays, but it still seems likely that if Burnett signs anywhere, it will be with Baltimore, or some other team close to Baltimore, where he makes his offseason home.  Despite the caveats about his age and the (un)likelihood of him wanting to play here, Burnett is the best candidate to be added to the 2014 rotation.  There’s no Roy Halladay on the team for him to play second fiddle to, and Burnett might be a good fit on a team with 3 (Dickey, Buehrle, Morrow) pitchers of comparable track record and/or ability, rather than having to be the #2 guy behind St. Roy.

Ubaldo Jimenez:  You may remember Jimenez from his great 2010 season, in which he threw 221 innings, racking up a 2.88 ERA (with a 3.10 FIP and 3.60 xFIP, both exceptional numbers) and 214 strikeouts.  Unfortunately for Ubaldo, he followed up that great year with off-years in 2011 and 2012, years in which he was healthy but couldn’t crack either of 190 innings or a 4.50 ERA.  2013 was a bit of a bounce-back season, in which he made 32 starts (but only pitched 182 innings) and managed 9.56 strikeouts per 9 innings and a 3.30 ERA (3.43 FIP, 3.62 xFIP).  Jimenez, like Burnett, has a knack for striking batters out and he keeps fly balls in the park, skills which will play well in Toronto.

On the other hand, Jimenez doesn’t have a great track record.  Yes, he had that 2010 season, but that was 3 years ago.  2013 was nice, but really, he was only effective for the last 4 months of the season – April and May were pretty horrid.  That makes him a bit of a gamble, but considering that he’s just 30 and has been healthy his whole career, he’s a better fit for the 2014 Jays than the ones that follow.  He’ll cost the Jays a draft pick (2nd round or lower, considering the Jays’ first-rounders are protected) if he signs here.

Bronson Arroyo:  The poor man’s Mark Buehrle.  A righthander (yeah, Buehrle throws from the left… it’s still a good comparison) who doesn’t throw hard and makes a lot of starts.  Arroyo has thrown at least 200 innings every year since 2005, except 2011 (he threw 199 innings then).  Doesn’t strike out many, doesn’t walk many.  The last 5 years, his ERAs have been 3.84, 3.88, 5.07, 3.74, and 3.79.  His results have been remarkably consistent.

On the other hand… he’s 37 this year, and has benefited from low BABIPs for quite a while, which may not be sustainable.  He’s been worth a total of 5 fWAR over the last 5 seasons, in large part due to poor peripherals.   He gives up lots of home runs (1.46 per 9 innings, 7th in the majors since 2010) and doesn’t strike anybody out.  So why does he belong on this list?  Because he'll be cheap, he won't cost a draft pick to sign (no qualifying offer) and he'll likely stay healthy.  The Jays need some of that stability.  He's also a better bet than...

Ervin Santana:  I admit it:  I'm uncomfortable with Ervin Santana.  

Santana is 31, and a very inconsistent 31.  He's had 1 great season, 2 pretty good seasons, and 2 seasons with an ERA over 5, in the last 5 years.  He's posted ERAs lower than his FIP for the last 4 years - FIP is a better predictor of future performance than ERA, so it feels like he hasn't been as good as his ERA suggests.   Santana also gives up a lot of home runs (1.26 per 9 innings, 16th in the majors since 2010) and, like Bronson Arroyo, has benefited from low BABIPs allowed, which can't be counted on.  Both players have, in other words, a lot of the same flaws.

On the other hand, Santana does strike out a lot more batters than Arroyo, though not nearly as many as Jimenez and Burnett do,  He's also younger - which, oddly, counts against him in this assessment.  Santana's almost certainly going to be more expensive than Arroyo, and is probably be in a position to demand a 3 year contract instead of, perhaps, 2 years or 1+option.  If I'm the Jays, I'd rather commit for the shorter term.  And finally, Santana comes with draft pick compensation attached, so if the Jays sign him, they forfeit their 2nd-round pick.

At the end of the day, any of these pitchers would fit well in the 2014 rotation, considering that the rotation now consists of Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle, Happ, and TBD.  Jimenez and Burnett could be #2 or #3 starter material, Santana's an expensive 3 or 4, and Arroyo and Happ could play "who's the better pretend hipster" to see who's #4 and who's #5.  Just because Arroyo and Santana aren't great, doesn't mean they wouldn't be better than Hutchison, Drabek, Stroman or whoever else would have to be penciled into the #5 rotation spot if the season started tomorrow.  It'd be more helpful, of course, to sign a pitcher who's actually good, as opposed to one who's better than a AAA emergency starter.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Platoonmates for Lind

This will be me, if the Jays give Adam Lind 200 AB against lefthanders next year.

Lost in all the current talk about the Jays’ pressing need to find a starting pitcher (and, ideally, a second baseman) before the season starts, is the question of who will platoon with Adam Lind in 2014.  Lind looked pretty good last year, partly on his own merits and partly because John Gibbons kept him away from lefthanded pitching, which has almost always been Lind’s Achilles heel.

When Lind sat against lefties last year, the at-bats went mostly to Rajai Davis and Mark DeRosa.  As we know, DeRosa’s retired, and Davis is a Detroit Tiger.  Somebody has to be found to take their place as Lind’s platoon buddy(ies), as letting Adam Lind play full time isn’t an option anymore.  (I hope.)

Here are the candidates, as I would suggest them:

Moises Sierra:  Sierra's a candidate due to his having a career OPS of .804 against lefthanded pitching.  Yes, it’s only over 98 PA in the majors, but Sierra is a cheap, already on-hand solution to the problem, which makes him the frontrunner for the job.  He’s also out of options, meaning that the Jays need to find someplace for him on the 2014 roster, or risk losing him, something Alex Anthopoulos has proven to be loathe to do.  The Jays have reportedly been getting Sierra some work at 1st base, but he’s likely better suited to be half of a DH platoon.  As a plus (??), Sierra can play some (bad) outfield, in a pinch. 

Jeff Baker:  Who’s Jeff Baker, you ask?  He’s a utility infielder (listed as a 2B-1B-DH) who can hit lefthanded pitching and is passable defensively.  He can even play some 3B and outfield... technically speaking.  If the Jays want a more seasoned alternative to Sierra who kills LHP (1.073 OPS last year, .875 career), he’s the guy.

Kendrys Morales:  A longshot, admittedly, but a big improvement over what the Jays had in 2013 and over what the likely options are for 2014.  If the Jays signed him, he’d probably replace Lind, altogether.  Will be more expensive than the others (and would cost a draft pick), but on the other hand, he’d make Lind into a useful trade commodity and free up a roster spot.  While he isn’t a great defender at 1B, he hits fairly well against LHP and quite well against RHP.  Unlikely to happen, but if some kind of trade came up that involved Lind, he’d become almost a necessity.

There were other candidates as well - guys like Mark Reynolds and Ty Wigginton, who are horribly flawed as everyday players but passable as the RH half of a platoon.  They're signed now, and it's likely that Baker and Morales will sign before long, too.  Even if they stop being available, though, the model solutions remain the same: 
(1) Sierra
(2) a cheap free agent utility player
(3) replace Lind altogether.