Friday, October 31, 2008

Post Season Roundtable

Recently, the Southpaw crew got together for a secret, highly classified conclave where they engaged in a discussion of the Jays future looking ahead to the off-season and 2009. Three good men and a mediocre guy inconvenienced themselves to bring this revealing and ultimately self-indulgent transcript to the attention of you, the vaguely interested reader.

Each of the bloggers brought 4 questions to the table. Why? Sorry, I can't tell you - that's on a need-to-know basis and you don't need to know.

Be advised, this is a LONG read, hopefully it will be worth it.

*****

J: Before we get to more specific questions, general thoughts on 2008 and how the season gone should affect off season strategy?

W: I've already said that I think that the Jays and Rays were about even in quality—and both behind the Red Sox—as teams that ought to have won 90-92 games. The difference between them is intangible (and likely unrepeatable) randomness. It does have implications for the Jays immediate future that it turned out as it did because the decline of the Yankees and the maturation of the Rays was supposed to have created a window of opportunity for the Jays, when instead they overlapped. Since they did overlap we have a new reality to deal with.

T: I thought the year was pretty disappointing for the team, considering that we all—or at least I—expected the team to win the division or the wild card. With all the injuries and possible free agent losses we have heading into 2009, I think that they should retool for 2010. Not much is really gonna change between 08 and 09… except that we're down 3/5ths of the rotation. McGowan doesn't come back till what, May? June? The lineup will be stronger with Lind playing LF, but I don't think the offensive gains will make up for the loss of several key pitchers. For what it's worth, I think adding Cecil, Snider and Arencibia to the team full time is like adding several key free agents at a fraction of the cost.

One more thing to keep in mind is that the last couple of years our roster was "locked in" because of so many 5-year deals. Now most of those deals expire in 2009-2010, which means they're easier to trade. Not much cash is left on their deals, and the time lengths on the contracts are perfect. Not enough time to bitch about a bad contract, but not a one year rental.

J: I'm definitely of the "wait for 2010" mindset. There are too many inherent unfairnesses, for lack of a better word, to justify going all in next year. I'm talking about currency equalization from the league preventing the team from paying over slot on draft picks, the unbalanced schedule, etc. Hopefully those issues get resolved in the future, but I'm not holding my breath. In general, I wouldn't go for it and splash out cash until I felt the balance of power tipping in my favour. You need Marcum/McGowan back and the infusion of Cecil/Arencibia/Snider for that in my mind.

W: Well, I favor a moderate look towards 2009... not conceding the season, because anything can happen, but also not doing anything that makes roster management difficult in 2010 and beyond. I'm not against spending short term targeted money.

W: First question then and fundamental to the rest: should the Jays be making plans to adjust to the dropping Canadian dollar? Will Rogers kick in more cash next year?

J: The dollar issue is a major handicap for long-term deals. Everyone here has painful memories of the 60 cent dollar. I'd have to expect conservatism from Rogers when it comes to payroll, even though Rogers deals in essential services and isn't likely to lose too much in the economic crunch. And I think ownership views the team as a marketing vehicle rather than an entity unto itself. $100 mil is probably what we're stuck out for the foreseeable future. I'd bet on retrenchment rather than more money getting thrown on the pile.

T: I think the Jays need to adjust to the dropping dollar. This kind of goes along with the fact I believe the Jays shouldn't contend next year. It becomes more important for the Jays to sell guys like BJ Ryan who can be replaced internally at a much cheaper cost. It makes no sense for Rogers to add more money to field the same team that came in fourth, especially when our money isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

W: I think this point does go beyond the economics of baseball and I think the casual Jays fan may not really be emotionally prepared to have a team that follows a more conservative financial approach. I'm not predicting a dramatic payroll slash at all, but more promotion from within and targeted spending, as opposed to big Frank Thomas-type deals. I think it's possible we'd see maybe a small increase, say 5% a year, but relative to the escalation around the league as a whole. That would amount to a minor decrease in relative terms. However, I think the organization is well-structured right now to compete on those terms between what Twitchy noted about expiring deals and the wave of prospects coming on.

W: Is it better to sign a risky pitcher on a one-year deal than to tie up big dollars for 4 years or more—even for AJ?

T: It's better to sign a risky pitcher on a one-year deal because of how much depth we have in the rotation going forwards. By 2010 we could see any of Doc, McGowan, Marcum, Litsch, Cecil, Purcey, Janssen or Davis Romero in the rotation. Most likely Romero and Janssen would be in the bullpen, but the point is more about starting pitching being a strength for the organization. Going out and signing someone who isn't in the CC Sabathia talent range doesn't make much sense in the long term. Then again, I wouldn't really know which one-year pitcher to sign. I wouldn't trust Colon, Garcia or Penny to be useful even for a one-year type deal. I doubt they'd last a month combined. We'd be better off with Richmond, who had pretty good ratios while he was with the big club. At this point I don't see a talent difference between Fatass Colon and Richmond.

J: It didn't work out in 2007, but without a doubt yes, I'd rather root around the bargain bin and avoid a multiyear deal on a 30 plus-year-old starter. The Cardinals had pretty good luck this year with some shit leopards like Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer. The other thing is that the 2009 bargain bin features some guys who've had big success in the past like Pedro and Carl Pavano. It wouldn't be the same with those guys as Ohka, etc.

W: With our depth of near-ready talent, it's not whether AJ can pitch 200 innings that I'm thinking about. I simply do not want him or anyone else on the market signed to a long term deal. I definitely think that IF we sign a FA pitcher it needs to be a one-year high-risk guy like Pedro or Colon, but I also wouldn't be averse to going with only internal options. Even Bullington might be as good as some of those guys. Plus, if McGowan comes back fairly early—by June, say—then we are only talking about the #5 spot.

The idea that, say by 2011, we could have Doc, McG, and Marcum set and followed by any two of Litsch, Purcey, Janssen, Ricky-Ro, Cecil, Mills or even D-Ro is exciting. I don't want that marred by some damned-fool Jon Garland signing.

J: No, guys like him are a dog's breakfast. I'm less bullish on the future of McGowan or Marcum. If they're missing time and have a great deal of uncertainty on the horizon, I'd like to give a look at guys like Ricky Ro. We have to see what we have internally in 2009 before we start looking to 2010, but there will be more good names in the mix then.

W: I am not going to sit here and say that McGowan is a potential perennial all-star, but I think he's got the chance to be as good as AJ...

J: It's probably a good comp, for the wrong reasons. But still...

W: Well, I think Dusty and AJ are good comps both on the negatives and the positives. If you could get AJ, even with his inconsistencies and health issues, for the money we are going to be paying Dusty over the next few years, you'd have to feel good about that. Likewise, Marcum may never win a Cy Young but he could be, for instance, a Derek Lowe-type. We are fortunate in that neither have to be "The Ace" because of Doc.

W: Closely related to the last question: if we are looking at internal options to fill out the rotation, one of the big questions becomes Casey Janssen. How do we feel about Janssen as a reliable and productive SP next season?

J:
Not expecting much. I'd be open to letting him start the year in the rotation, but I have doubts that Cito would be tender enough with him. I'd rather go slow, let him start down in Las Vegas until he gets his footing back, and really limit his innings. 2010 seems more realistic. Davis Romero went through a similar labrum surgery, missing all of 2007, and his arm was crispy after 106 IP this year.

T: I don't think it's an issue "rushing" Janssen or putting pressure on him. If the doctor's say he's healthy to pitch, then let him. They'll have a better idea of his health than we will. I'd like to think if he is healthy, he could produce a line similar to Jesse Litsch's. If he's in the bullpen however, a low 3's ERA would probably be a safe bet.

W: I do think the team has to be cautious vis-à-vis IP and Gaston is smart enough to fight his natural tendencies on that, but Davis Romero is my idea of an example of the opposite point. He threw a lot of quality innings and his current injury is not, I don't believe, derivative of his previous one. Plus, Janssen is a much stronger guy. Hell, if he does break down with some minor strain in July, you have Cecil or other options possibly knocking on the door by then.

Naturally if we signed a Colon or a Pedro as a stopgap, the pressure is lessened. But simply looking at internal players, your options coming out of ST are to rush Romero or Cecil—who has his own innings issue—maybe use Davis Romero, settle for Richmond, or to hope Janssen is ready. I'm fine with D-Ro, Janssen and Richmond in an open competition for the #5 spot. Conversely, in 2010 the rotation may be too crowded for you to ever find out what he can do as a starter if you don't let him try this year. So, for my money, if he shows his previous level of ability in spring I'm for putting him out there. My hunch is he'll be a very popular guy by July.

W: Do you believe Rolen's September is legit?

T: Sorry to be a buzzkill, but no I don't believe it's legit. I think it's a sign that he needs to be given more time off—or more DH time—than a regular 3B. If you play him full time like you would Rios or Wells, his shoulder is going to break down. Yeah, he had a great month, but it's too small a sample size for me to believe he's back to being an 850+ OPS bat. He's been injured what, 3 out of the last 4 years? I don't think anybody can say with any certainty that his injuries are behind him, or that his new stance is reasonable evidence that he's capable of playing at an elite level despite the shoulder woes.

J: I'd go to war with Scott Rolen, he's the Audie Murphy of the Jays. That said, he has a caddy in Batista who's going to have to be used at least once a week. Offensively, I think if you get a .270/.350/.400 line from Rolen you have to be happy with that. His days as an elite hitter are most definitely over. Basically he's someone who hits 6th or 7th and he doesn't have to be the hitter he was to be an asset to the team.

W: Let me qualify my answer by saying that we can only speak in probabilities because there's not a lot of precedent here. That said, Rolen's season is a tale of one very bad month, one very good month, and a couple of respectable-average months I am more inclined to believe the hot month is closer to his level of ability than that the awful month. I don't see him having another month as bad as July was.

J: Yeah, but in his case I you have to look at the 25 games or so he missed in April and wonder if he wouldn't have worn down more if not for the fluke finger injury in ST.

W: I don't think we can assume that the same "wearing down" occurs with the new swing as with the old one. It absolutely might, but it just as easily might not. I'm inclined to think that he's safely in the .800 range based on what we know now which is plenty to justify his being on the team, but I do think there is a chance, call it 40% or so, that he can get into the mid-800s in OPS. I realize I'm probably way out here alone in my optimism regarding Rolen, but to answer my own question, I do believe there's a real possibility he could be back to his old self next season. But yes, he'll need to be spelled something like once a week.

T: Should the Jays spend in free agency to get a couple of bats or arms, or should they retool for 2010 when it's expected that Snider, Arencibia/Jeroloman, Cecil and potentially other prospects (Cooper?) will be major league ready?

J:
Retooling. Well, what could realistically be bought this winter? You'd want to get a DH and a starter who don't really block the young'uns. You do that, if Juan Rivera can be had, you buy him to DH and occasionally play the corner OF spots. If you can get Lowe, he's still an asset in 2010 and not a worry unless you have to add a fourth year. I don't think either will be in JP's pay range, though. Word's out on both.

I think this is in part a question about JP: does he really get his kicks out of picking up Gregg Zauns, Scott Downses or from watching young draftees pan out? We'll get an answer to that based on what he does this winter.

W: Moderate short-term spending, preferably one-year deals. For instance, a risky SP like Pedro or Penny. A guy with something to prove as a DH like Rivera. Maybe a back-up catcher. The thing about a guy like Rivera is he's not so high profile that you couldn't take him out of the lineup if he's under-performing and Snider's kicking the door down.

Maybe a guy like Josh Bard or David Ross to backup Barajas, unless we are prepared to ride out Thigpen. Maybe Ross can be signed on a minor league deal to stand by in AAA. I reserve the possibility that we could get some breaks next season and have a fun year, but you balance that against avoiding the temptation to do something stupid.

T: I agree with the idea that JP is forced to go for it in 2009, but I get the impression he'll get to play out his contract for better or worse. I don't think the Jays can realistically compete in 09 without mortgaging too much of the future, or outspending the other teams, which isn't going to happen. With that in mind the Jays, need to focus on retooling for 2010 around the new generation of Jays—primarily Cecil, Snider, Arencibia, and if we're lucky Cooper. Guys like BJ Ryan absolutely need to be moved.

The trade I'd love to see go down is Ryan to the Mets, who have a need for closer with Wagner out and the worst bullpen in the game. I'd want Wilmer Flores, a 16-year-old prospect who could play 3B in a couple of years in return, who according to various sources has a higher ceiling than Fernando Martinez. I know most people want major league-ready stuff in return for BJ, but I don't see that happening. The O's tried to shop Sherrill for a SS last year, and that didn't turn out so well.

I agree that the Jays need to make low-risk, high-reward signings in 2009 a priority. Guys like Juan Rivera and Josh Bard are my two top signing for 2009. Bard could, and should out hit Barajas, and unlike Rod could post an OBP on the good side of 330. Rivera would make a fine DH as well.

T: Should the Jays move Vernon Wells, even if it's just as a salary dump?

J: I don't think they can, that contract was probably the most bat shit crazy thing JP will ever do as a GM. They're stuck with him. Imagine if they'd waited until after 2007 to extend him? Shiiiiit. I've never really been a V-Dub fan. If there was a taker, anyone, I'd bounce him out of town gladly. But hey, that money could've bought you Barry Zito instead...

W: Preface: they won't; management didn't take over that negotiation to dump him. Answer: I oppose any and all salary dumps at this point. I would trade Wells if it made sense, but don't see an offer coming now. However, in another one of my lone-wolf positions, I maintain that as the free agent market grows there is a real chance we could deal him if we wanted to after 2010 or he could opt out after 2011, assuming he continues to hit.

T: What I'm about to say is very unpopular, but I believe the Jays should trade Wells even if it's as a salary dump. Before I explain how we do it, I'm going to list the advantages to trading Wells. Rios can slide over and play CF, where his glove is above average and his bat would be too. You can spend $10-20 million on a RF who has more power than Wells – so you'd be trading Wells for a superior offensive player.

Fortunately, there is a team who has both a need for a CF, and the ability to take on massive contracts. That team is none other than the New York Yankees. It'll never happen–if JP wouldn't talk to the Yanks about AJ, he won't talk to them about Wells. But it's a pretty bold move, one which could save more than 100 million bucks.

W: Also, don't forget he has a no-trade clause. I would do an under-value deal to move the contract, but I'd hate to get another Scott Wiggins. [ED: he came to Toronto from the Yankees in the 2002 Raul Mondesi and gave us his best 2.7 big league innings before fading off into the sunset.] I just don't think we are that pressed for cash, and we won't be after 2010 because of so many younger contributors. 2010 is the one serious money crunch year.

T: Would Snider benefit more in the long-term from spending a couple of months in AAA in 2009, despite his impressive major league debut?

W: AAA. As much as I'd like to see him go Braun on the AL, there's no downside in going a bit slower

J: I would say definitely. Rios and Lind were both rushed through AAA and it set them both back.

T: The Jays need to send Snider down to AAA. He had an amazing September, more than any of us expected from him. Hell, I thought it'd be a mistake calling him up at any point during 2008. But we all remember Russ Adams and Adam Lind doing well September and then struggling over the next few years at the major league level because they were rushed through AAA. Snider doesn't even have a hundred at bats in AAA! Let him spend half a year in AAA, and make him earn a spot back in the majors. He needs to work on two things: plate discipline, and his defense. He really needs to work on drawing walks, as he struggled to do that in the major league level.

T: Adam Lind—is he traded in the off-season? Would you trade him, and if so what would you try to get for him?

J: People who don't like Overbay's bat at first aren't going to like Lind's any better, if that's where this is going...

W: He won't be traded. I would in the right deal, but not lightly. I'd be looking for a young SS, ideally.

J: My gut feeling is that he's no better than a slightly above average bat and slightly below average glove. I think he needs to establish some value this year because you won't get what you want for him based on 2008. I'd like him to establish more value in 2009 so he could be traded pre-arb. Naw, I wouldn't trade him now, but more because I don't think there's much of a return than that he's an indispensable part of the future.

W: I think Overbay at his best is a very good comp for Lind at his best, which is not a bad player, just not a star. Lay aside Overbay's broken hand and he was a very good hitter. I'd take Overbay's 2004-06 from Lind over the next three years, but I'd hope for a slower decline of course.

J: There seems to be this line of thought that Lind is the 1B of the future, I don't buy that. My 2006 Adam Lind man crush has now been shifted to Scott Campbell, who might play LF in the future. [ED: that last bit is total speculation rather than something the organization has indicated it's willing to consider.]

W: Campbell? I like him but right now I've got visions of Loewen doing an Ankiel impression dancing in my head.

T: After my campaign to get Lind in the majors, there's no way I'm in favour of moving him. I think he's somewhere in between Catalanatto and Ibanez in terms of his ceiling, which is solid, but not spectacular, production. I think he could be moved for a SS or for a guy like Fielder, sure. But I wouldn't be disappointed long-term if the Jays kept him. I'm obviously in the minority here, but I see him being a 300/350/500 guy going forward. And that has plenty of value.

J: Is there a potential DH available via trade (Magglio, Holliday, Huff, etc.) who is both affordable and suitable for the lineup?

W: Of the older veteran types who might be available the only guy that mildly interests me is Jermaine Dye, but I'm more inclined to save my bullets and wait. Sure, there are young expensive guys I'd love to have but most of them have some issue—price in players, impending free agency, whatever—that counts against them.

T: I don't like any of the trade options that are available. I think we're better off spending money on a cheap guy like Juan Rivera instead of trading prospects for a bunch of sluggers on the decline. I'd rather spend some money on guys who're like Carlos Quentin—former top prospects on their down years—rather than trading for Thomas 2.0.

J:
Yeah, agreed. The trade options you read about on MLBTR are guys you'd be up for maybe if they were the final piece of the puzzle. The Jays just need too many pieces next year to justify that sort of play.

J: The DH free agent class: should we be gun shy on the mid-upper 30-somethings after the Frank Thomas experience? Guys like Giambi, Ibanez, Abreu, maybe Brian Giles if available.

W: I would not bark at one year of Giambi, but frankly those guys do nothing for me. Everyone loves Manny—I liked the idea at first—but the price and the drama is too high. I would like to take a flyer on Bradley because his price is much more reasonable. But he has been quoted as saying he wouldn't sign a one-year deal, so there's that.

T: I think the DH argument goes back to whether or not we're competing. I don't think we should spend significant money this year to compete, so I don't think we need another aging slugger. Giambi is apparently a mistake hitter at this point, and Ibanez costs a first round pick. I'd rather wait until 2010 and get a player like Hank Blalock. The advantage with Blalock is that if Rolen's still around you could give Rolen more DH time which would keep him healthier.

W: No way I'd give up a draft pick for a DH this year. None.

J: Milton Bradley is definitely a guy you could go two years on. He shouldn't fall off a cliff before the end of 2010. Even though he's a fucking maniac, I'd rather go with him than someone 35+. Especially DH-ing, forget the notion of having him play the field again. Probably costs less $/yr than the others, too.

J: Shortstops: buy (Furcal), trade, (Hardy, Greene) or hold (Scutaro)?

W:
Definitely not buy. I could see some trades that could work, but I could live with holding, too.

T: Hold. I like Greene but he's a FA after 09 so you can wait for that. Scutaro won't be the defensive whiz he was this year, but he'll be solid defensively. His bat won't be anything special, but I'd be happy with a 650 or higher OPS so long as the glove is good. I'd be happy with a player like Bartlett at SS, a solid defender with a 650 OPS. Years of Russ Adams playing catch with the fans during the game has made defense my main priority at SS, but McDonald isn't the answer either. The only player I'd be interested in trading for is Jeff Keppinger, mainly because he had decent numbers in the minors and can play SS.

W: My big issue on what to do with SS is that there is no good fit on the team to lead off. Ideally you'd get a SS who could lead off, but there's no one out there—save Furcal, who has other drawbacks—who can do that any better than Scoot.

J: I'm pretty much of that mind. Greene is a guy I'd like to see JP sniff out, but I wouldn't be heartbroken if nothing comes of it. Hardy will cost, big time, and I already said I'd like to see the young minor league corps break together in 2010.

W: The Angels have some depth there, but I'm not certain what it would take to close a deal.

J: The Angels are usually assholes about making trades, too.

J: What sort of return might the Beej and Downs bring? Are they worth moving if the right FAs and trade targets necessary to make the club competitive in '09 can't be added?

W: I would not say either is untradeable, but the cost/return ratio on Downs is very high compared to what he might pull in a trade. Ryan is, in my mind, the most obvious guy to dangle, on the entire team, as we've already discussed. I'd be open to dealing Ryan now, or in July, or even next off-season. As I said before, I would not want to give the impression there was a deadline. There is no pressure to settle for less than the best return. If I move Ryan this off-season, I want a major league-ready return, almost certainly a shortstop. If it's July or next winter, then prospects are more of an option. I think I'd definitely like to see Ryan capitalized upon in the trade market before the 2010 season starts, though. My fantasy deal is Ryan to the Angels for Brandon Wood (even if we had to sweeten the deal some).

T: I wouldn't trade Downs. He's probably the guy you get the most value for, but he's the MVP of the bullpen. I'd like to move BJ Ryan for a SS, and if not then for a high ceiling prospect. Considering K-Rod wants 5/75, BJ is a bargain with just 2 years and 20 million left. Closers are extremely overrated, so it's time to take advantage of that market.

J: Personally, I'd like to see BJ moved BY mid-season next year. Downs is a guy I would dangle this off-season, see if you could get someone desperate to overpay. You look at his body of work over the past two years and that team-friendly contract, he should demand a handsome return for what is essentially a 70 IP reliever. No impetus to move him like BJ, to clarify. I'd just want to dangle him and seriously weigh the return.

W: That's four apiece, summation?

T: The Rays are going to add Price, the Sox could add Tex or another big FA, the Yanks could add CC, and we're looking in the bargain bin aisle. I think our window has closed, and it's time to retool for the next run in 2010.

J: I think some Sun Tzu is appropriate here: "He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious." I think this group has pretty much peaked and I'm bracing for a .500-ish team in 2009, but I do think we've got an exciting new core coming up fast in the rearview mirror. The key will be for Cecil/Arencibia/Snider to make an impact while Doc is still an elite-level pitcher. I'd be glib to say there's always next next year, but really, keep in mind that we could be talking about the most dynamic infusion of young talent since the early '80s.

W: As the Greek God of Optimism among Jays fandom, it does not sit well with me to concede 2009 in November of '08. When I compare where we are right now to the halcyon days of Joey Hamilton, I still like this team a lot. That said, it is a very tough division to compete in at the moment. My point of reference is that in March, there seemed to be a low level of uncertainty. Sure, you worried a bit whether guys who were hurt in '07 were ready to rock, and you might have wondered if Litsch would blow up, but most of the team seemed projectable.

This year, not so much. Rolen is a complete mystery, how much pitchers like Janssen, Purcey, and McGowan will step up is uncertain, and neither Lind nor Snider can be considered sure things. If everything breaks well, and we get the kind of luck the Rays had this year, we could be right in it. But there is undeniably a much larger uncertainty factor than there was 7 months ago. I can't conclude my remarks without echoing the hope for the future, though. If it's handled right the next decade should easily promote comparisons to the glory days when we went 11 consecutive seasons without a losing record.

*****

For the 2 or 3 of you that managed to make it all the way through that, now you are more informed than your peers and you may laugh at them scornfully.

Look for my overall ranking of the Jays' prospects in the next week or so.

~WillRain

7 comments:

Lloyd the Barber said...

Good work fellows.

Khalil Greene in 2010!

Gil Fisher said...

Nicely done, lads.

Hey, I'm sure I read (maybe in a BA Chat) somewhere that type B free agents no longer require an Arb offer from their former clubs to entitle the club to draft pick compensation. Is anyone else under this impression? I can't find it in the CBA.

The Southpaw said...

I'm unsure on that, but if you are thinking in regard to a signing, a type B would not cost us a pick in any case. If you are thinking in terms of our free agents, the Jays no longer have a type B free agent to lose.

Anonymous said...

Zaun is a type B, no?

The Southpaw said...

Zaun is a type B, yeah. AJ ended up being a type A, so now I hope they don't extend him.

Twitchy.

The Southpaw said...

yeah, no sooner did I get that out of my keyboard than it comes out Zaun made the cut. Be interesting to see whether they offer him arbitration and whether he takes it.

Even the max cut might be more than the Jays would want to commit to him.

~W

Ian H. said...

Great job gents, what a fine read!