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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Man's Work

Lisa Winston (whom?) at MLB.com just released the officially-sanctioned Jays minor league overview from Bud Selig's jewel-encrusted throne room at MLB headquarters, and I've got to say that all things considered I do much prefer the one found here.

The piece is written for an audience that's broader than Jaysdom and is part of a series that goes around the horn, profiling a different organization every day. Missourians and drunken loaners alike eagerly await the upcoming profile on the St Louis Cardinals.

There are some cons, such as evaluating players on a ladder scale (climbers, slippers and holders) by looking exclusively at counting stats, and some pros: the sweet, sweet mlb.tv quality video of some lesser known prospects.

Being Wednesday, however, there's plenty of other entertaining stuff and such you could be reading to waste time at work instead.

-- Johnny Was

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speaking of wandering eyes...

Not that I would EVER presume to rip off our esteemed colleges at the Tao of Stieb by trying to imitate their latest gimmick...er, uh... feature (yeah, that's the ticket) BUT I am definitely not above the long cherished pastime of proposing some overlooked player that I can make myself look smart by getting ahead of the curve on coveting.

In this case, that player is Juan Rivera.

Ok, so I AM ripping off someone. I probably can't get away with pretending that I didn't see Dave Cameron's write up on Rivera at FanGraphs. Cameron points out that Rivera has solid power (30 HR potential IMO) and makes good contact. More in depth he notes that Rivera's BABIP was extremely low which points to his average going up next year. He's probably not going to be a star, but he's a better bet to deliver next year than Snider, he's far better than crap like Shannon Stewart, and he's better than the Eric Hinske's of the world (whom so many Jays fans seem to think Andrew Friedman was some kind of genius for tripping over). And he might - MIGHT - blossom like Carlos Pena did (though by no means is that small possibility enough to justify the signing alone).

The real value here, to me, is this - the ideal signing for the Jays this year, either as a hitter or a pitcher, is the guy who can be brought in on a one year deal so as not to tie up money and block talent in 2010 and beyond. Likewise, the ideal play for Rivera this offseason is to sign a one year deal with a team that will play him every day and build up value for a longer term contract next year.

That's a perfect marriage of vested self-interest between the Jays and Rivera.

I say we see if we can get him in her for one year and something less than $10 million and forget about throwing 3 years or more at older guys.

~WillRain

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Farm Report: Relievers

And so we come to the last of my Farm Report reviews. I have a lot of fun with these but I have to confess it is not easy coming up with anything fresh when there is so much material out there. What I have tried to bring to these reports is an integration of material from different sources that might give a fuller picture when presented together in one place.

Certainly the hardest of these lists to make is the one for relief pitchers. It is generally true that the preponderance of important relievers in the majors (especially among non-closers) were starters in the minors. It's not that often that you see a guy pitching out of the pen in the minors who's a genuine top shelf prospect, and the stats can often be quite misleading. Even on this short list, there are a couple of guys who relieved this year who might well be squeezed into a rotation next season. Conversely, a lot of the guys on the last list will end up as relievers in the majors.

There probably is no real "correct" order here, and the rankings are the most subjective yet.

1. Tim Collins - 19, 5'7" 155, undrafted

No, that's not a typo. The man is five foot seven inches tall. He's a left-hander with a funky delivery who - for obvious reasons - was undrafted. So how did an undrafted high schooler come to be such a hot item for the Jays? Wel, thereby hangs a tale (which if you are a Jays fan you've probably already heard but what the hell, I'm going to tell it anyway): Collins just so happens to be from Worcester, Massachusetts. The home town of a certain general manager. And this GM's dad just happens to have been watching Tim Collins pitch in HS and American Legion games for a few years now and he told his son "You gotta see this kid" so the GM takes in a game in which young Collins strikes out 12 hitters in four innings - that's called an attention getter.

After scheduling a workout where Collins came through for JP and a Jays scout, he was offered a contract. Now he's one of the best stories to come out of the Midwest League. The little lefty with the big curve held opposing hitters to a .158 batting average, he struck out 98 in 68 innings, and he finished with a 1.58 ERA. Some around the MWL call him a LH Tim Lincecum (5'10" 155) - his pitching coach, Tom Signore, says his delivery looks like Sandy Koufax. He qualifies:

"Obviously he's not Sandy Koufax, but the delivery is very reminiscent of his delivery. Timmy's able to generate every bit of energy within him. And it goes from his feet, through his body to his arm."

Collins was famous for exacting control in high school and his walk rate would, at first glance, seem troubling (32 in 68 IP) but he only allowed 38 hits so it works out to a WHIP slightly over 1.00. He compliments his great curve with a good 93 MPH fastball and he maximizes his height with a straight over the top delivery. There's no doubt that Collins is going to face a lot of skeptics at every level, but he is young enough and good enough to be firmly on the radar.

ETA: mid-2011

2. Robert Bell - 23, 6'4" 195, 2008 18th round

On the surface it's odd to be very impressed with what you get out of an 18th round pick this low in the system. Legion are the late round picks who look real good in rookie and short season ball and then flame out, especially when you are coming out of college and playing against guys who are as much as 3 or 4 years younger than you. But there is a little depth to Bell's story. Bell missed his entire junior year at Rice after Tommy John surgery and came back to his college team in relief as a senior. He was Very Damn Good in that role but teams were naturally hesitant to draft a guy who was already a vet of TJS. As a professional, Bell spent most of 2008 at Auburn where he not only struck out 39 batters in 28 2/3 innings, he allowed only 15 hits and did not walk a single batter. There's a very good chance the Jays will shift Bell into the starting rotation in 2009, probably at Lansing. Expect to hear more from Bobby Bell.

ETA: mid-to-late 2012

3. Alan Farina - 22, 5'11" 195, 2007 3rd round

In the Jays amazing haul of picks in the 2007 draft, Farina is the most overlooked of the higher picks. Of the Jays 10 picks in the first five rounds, eight of them have a good shot at being listed among the top 15 prospects in the Jays system this offseason. Of the other two, one is disappointing Trystan Magnuson, who enjoys the praise of Keith Law, and the other is the virtually unnoticed Farina. Hell, that alone makes it worth my time to list him. Farina is another guy who was expected to be used as a starter by the Jays, given that he has three plus pitches, but for whatever reason (overcrowding maybe?) Farina spent the year in the pen at Lansing. His strikeouts and hits allowed were impressive and his walk rate was a bit higher than you would like. I still think you will see him tried as a starter at some point but given the number of starting pitchers with a real shot in the Jays' system, he could still make the majors as a reliever, or, more likely, if he's a successful minor league starter he could be included in a trade.

ETA: 2012

4. Zach Dials - 23, 6'2" 200, 2006 28th round

Dials was a reliever in college and the Jays, naturally, were quick to try him as a starter in the professional ranks. His first full season in 2007 was mediocre across the board and after 15 starts the rotation experiment was ended and he was back to the bullpen. As a full time reliever in 2008, Dials was able to focus on his better pitches and, as is often the case, 'dial' up his velocity. A fastball-slider-change pitcher, the big red flag on Dials is that he gave up entirely too many hits for the number of innings he threw (45 in 36 2/3) which is something he'll need to work on. He's pitching in the Arizona Fall League now and, as of this writing, he's not fairing well as opposing hitters are hitting over .400 against him.

I expect the Jays will start him back in AA again next year and let him achieve some more polish before he has to pitch in the notorious PCL.

ETA: 2011

5. Joe Wice - 23, 6'4" 210, 2004 22nd round

For the second year in a row, the big lefty is a little-noticed guy who just keeps racking up the numbers. I recognize that there's always the possibility that a guy who looks great in the lower minors can't keep it up as he climbs the ladder - I remember Clayton Andrews. But still, some guys just catch your eye. Take a look at Wice's combined stats for the last two seasons (at Auburn and then Lansing)

2.37 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 91 IP, 73 H, 12 BB, 102 K

You gotta like those ratios. Wice's best pitch is a curve, a solid average slider and a fastball that reportedly sits just shy of 90. He's said to be, despite his size, more of a "crafty lefty" who has a good feel for pitching and working with change of velocity and deception. He has a smooth repeatable 3/4 arm delivery. Having spent this long in relief, the Jays apparently don't see him as a potential starter. Look for him to move one level at a time as an organizational soldier who's shot at the majors will come - if it comes - when a team needs a so-called "non-prospect" to step up (not unlike Jessie Carlson in fact).

ERA: 2012

* * * * *

Before I close, let me mention some guys who are not on my lists but are worthy of notice. Obviously the newly signed Loewen and Bullington rate notice. But most of these guys are going to be new draftees, guys who are coming off injury, or lower level standouts. I'll start with some relievers who didn't make the cut:

RH Nathan Starner, LH Cody Crowell; RH Chad Beck (from SD for Eckstein); LH Fabio Castro (from Phillies for Stairs); LH Edger Estranga; RH Brian Pettaway

2008 draftees: LHP Evan Crawford; C Antonio Jimenez; LHP Ryan Page; LHP Chuck Huggins; LHP Matt Wright; RHP Dan Farquhar

International signings: RF Moises Sierra; RHP Joel Cerrano; LHP Luis Perez; RHP Castillo Perez; LHP Jose Vargas; 2B Oliver Dominguez


So, there ya go. 70 names in all. Sometime soon the three of us will put our heads together and come up with a Southpaw list of the top...well...we'll decide how many then too. But when we figure it out, you'll know!

~WillRain

Friday, October 24, 2008

Newbies!


Robert MacLeod informs us that there are two new Blue Jays today! Yay!! Not only that, but they are high draft picks to boot.

To your right you see Bryan Bullington. The just turned 28 right hander who was selected #1 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002. Looking at Bullington's minor league stats and history is informative here. His age 23 season at AA in 2004 was unimpressive for a #1 pick, but not a train wreck, the next year at AAA he pitched well in 18 starts but only appeared once for the Pirates after developing an elbow injury that forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2006. Recovering in 2007 he suffered the typical control issues and his K rate, which had been decent but far from impressive, sharply declined. He opened 2008 back in AAA and his ratios were improved (7.20 K/9, 3.00 BB/9) but he was giving up too many hits. Still, it wasn't THAT ugly. Somehow the Pirates managed to lose Bullington to the Indians on waivers and he gave them 10 fairly good starts in AAA before being called up for two September starts. In those starts, he gave up 15 hits and only 2 walks in 14.2 innings while striking out 12. The downside is he gave up 4 home runs. The Jays claimed Bullington off waivers today and waived Kevin Mench to make room for him. What he signed for is uncertain but they were not officially on the hook for Loewen's $700K salary because they did not claim him on waivers.

Bottom line: I think this is an excellent pick up. No one should expect Bullington to necessarily live up to the #1 pick billing of course, but he'll be added to the mix of guys competing for the back of the rotation next year and there's at least a possibility that one of the Jays' pitching gurus will find the key which unlocks Bullington's talents. At worst, he's quality AAA depth and more to be noticed than the likes of Bill Murphy.

To the left, above, is once heralded pitcher Adam Loewen who is a pitcher no more. The contract that the 4th overall pick in 2002 signed with the Orioles demanded that at this point in his career he be paid $700,000 and be placed on the 40 man roster if they retained him. The O's tried to sneak the 24 year old lefty through waivers but the Jays were able to attract Loewen to sign with them after he cleared waivers. Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, widely recognized as a top guy when it comes to talent evaluation said this:

“Hopefully this is the start of something really good, We're really excited to see him come into spring training and see what he can do.”

Cito Gaston had a much more intriguing quote:

"They tell me he was like that kid down in Texas -- Josh Hamilton -- as a hitter"

LaCava said the Jays will bring Loewen, who hasn't been a hitter since 2003, to spring training and work him out as a 1B and/or corner outfielder to see where they think he plays best. It's uncertain where the rusty hitter will begin his re-invention but if Rick Ankiel serves as the model, probably Dunedin or Lansing depending on how the Jays other established prospects are assigned. Ankiel got about 700 minor league at bats before he got back to St. Louis so if you see Loewen wielding a bat in Toronto before 2011, be impressed.

~WillRain

Hot Stove (In)action! Part Deux

I had a mini solo road trip of sorts this morning and was looking for something appropriate for a 90 km drive on a brisk, overcast, autumnal Southwestern Ontario day and was pleased as punch when I found a dusty copy of Slint's Spiderland in an old CD bin from the later 1990s. My heart was gladdened; the day was off to an auspicious start. And then the cruel bitch goddess fate intervened as I would later discover that this treasured and near irreplaceable album from days of yore is now scratched to the point that "Good Morning Captain", the most hauntingly emotional song of one of the finest decades in the history of music, is completely unlistenable. On the off chance that anyone reading has Spiderland and would be willing to burn me a copy, well, I'd owe you an eternal debt of gratitude.

Baseball-wise, there's nothing like the pure comedic gold of the Toronto Star's senior Jays writer and mailbag answerer, Turd Ferguson. The high and low lights:

* we used to shit on JP for not being Dave Dombrowski, but now let's shit on him now for not being Rays GM Andrew Friedman; oh, and we're totally fucked on payroll in 2010 when Wells becomes a $21 million albatross and warm bodies like Scott Rolen and BJ Ryan are each costing $10 mil plus

* signing recently-released and ?injured? Orioles SP turned OF Adam Loewen just because he's Canadian is a pretty stupid idea, even for a mailbag questioner; but yeah, the Blue Jays should replace the Canadian government as the primary social services provider in this country

* Scott Richmond, Olympics rabble rabble, is a AAA grade beefcake, whereas Rickey Romero can suck JP's fat one; and, finally...

* the distinguished writer used to work for the Expos, who were God's gift to baseball in case you hadn't heard

The Sun's resident cigarette muncher, Bob Elliot, is, however, predictably enthusiastic about signing Loewen. Cito Gaston's even working the phones! Loewen would have to be paid $700g per and require a spot on the 40-man roster? He hasn't had an AB since 2006? Meh, he's Canadian, suspend logic and giterdone!

Some payroll clarity from Cathal Kelly: the Jays have $82.4 million committed to 11 players for next year and JP's saying he's counting on a $100 million payroll next year. Let see, that means... less than $17.6 million to play with? I can't fathom the stupidity of even considering allocating pretty much all of that money to AJ Burnett, but I've been on this so much you wouldn't be out of line calling me a broken record.

JP's playing coy, but let's face it: the Jays really can't afford to keep BJ Ryan and dumping Overbay on someone (like the Mariners?) would create a bit more flexibility. Call it a yard sale rather than a fire sale if you like, but some roster changes need to be made over the winter. Mark it down, Donnie.

Further confirmation that baseball is far down Jeff Blair's priority list.

PSA of the day: just got a cheque for $204.26 from the federales for my day of work as a registration officer in South Sarnia on election day. Sure, a couple of crusty old people told me to go fornicate myself when I wouldn't let them vote with just their bus pas and one of those old red and white health cards with no photo as ID, but it was a pretty easy gig on the whole. Call Elections Canada before the next one (spring? summer? fall? your guess is as good as mine) if you're interested in tapping this semi-lucrative source of income.

-- Johnny Was

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bullet: Dodged

ESPN is carrying an AP article which reports that the Seattle Mariners have chosen Milwaukee special assistant Jack Zduriencik (what a name! Brother.) as their new GM. That's outstanding news for the Jays as that means Tony LaCava is still in their employ. Now that the impending decision is past, it is time - as Twitchy noted a few days ago - for the Jays to get proactive on this situation. Whether that means kicking JP upstairs to the President's chair, or whether it means paying LaCava like a GM and giving him some titles or perks (or an under the table promise to succeed JP if/as/when) in order to keep him in the fold or something else entirely, Paul Beeston needs to step up to the table and resolve this before another GM position opens up.

~WillRain

Hot Stove (In)action

There's really no joy in passing along some news that pretty much quashes the hopes of the eternal optimists who wanted to see Manny Ramirez in a Jays uni in 2009, but one must face the facts, keep your chin up, maintain a stiff upper lip, and so on.

Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports quotes JP saying:

"Manny is not priority No. 1. I can't even say he's priority No. 2," Ricciardi said Wednesday. "It would really be a long shot for us to bring him to Toronto. He's on our radar, but maybe not on our radar like some people will report.

"I don't see us getting involved in unbelievable, astronomical numbers. We would not go down that path."

In actuality, priority no. 1 is pretending to do other things that make it look like you're trying to improve the team, while priority no. 2 is secretly praying that you fail to accomplish priority no. 1.

Rather than add the best available free agent hitter (at an exorbitant cost), Ricciardi will instead focus on re-signing AJ Burnett (at an imprudent cost for someone with his injury track record and age) and a lesser DH like Raul Ibanez (sure to re-energize the fan base). You are forgiven for being underwhelmed.

Also of note:

The Jays' current plan is to use Adam Lind and Travis Snider in the left field and DH spots. Ramirez could alternate at those positions with one of those players, perhaps enabling the Jays to trade the other.

Oh yeah? As is sometimes the case with Rosie's pieces, it's hard to tell whether he's paraphrasing JP or just offering some informed speculation of his own. If you spend more than 3 seconds pondering that, you really need to get back to whatever it was you're supposed to be doing before you came here.

Personally I really don't think it's a great idea to have Snider pretty much skip AAA and pencil him in for the big league roster in the spring, but then again surveying the divisional landscape I'm really not too hopeful about the club's chances next year, so it might not matter.

Ricciardi said he is "not convinced" that the Jays will even need to spend heavily in the free-agent market. The team needs a shortstop and leadoff hitter, but Ricciardi said that he was happy with Marco Scutaro at short and would "really need to be knocked over" to replace him.

I think most of us have all pretty much given up hope of finding a "real" shortstop, whatever that means, in the short term and would rather go with the status quo than spend bad money on an over-rated oldster like Orlando Cabrera. I know some of you are gay for Rafael Furcal, but just like the Manny thing, you're going to have to let it go. And Aaron Hill's not changing positions so Inglett can man second, either. So brace yourself for more of the same, but slightly worse.

I'm not at Tao-levels of depression quite yet (seriously, should we be calling the Suicide Watch?), but I can very easily see this offseason shaping up as one where AJ is lost and not replaced and no showtime DH brought in so Rogers can line the pockets of its wool gabardine trousers with the millions of dollars left over. Yes, I know that that was technically a run on sentence.

-- Johnny Was

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Farm Report: Starters

As much as I get tempted to wander off topic and get into other things that are on my mind, I do have a goal of wrapping this up before the end of the Series because we have some specials we need to get to here once play is finished.

This particular post is going to violate something I'm a bit compulsive about. I like my lists to be multiples of five... I have a bit of an obsession about not making a list of 17, or 8, or 4, or... eleven. It is true that the last two lists have been seven, but I felt I could not in good conscious either cut two I wanted to mention, or add three that I felt were non-prospects.

But this particular list is going to be eleven. When I started this exercise I promised 70 players, but since that time some have been traded, some have been cut, some have turned out to be free agents . . . and a few finished so poorly that their tenuous claim to a mention evaporated. So I've thinned the list to 50. There may be a few guys lurking around that don't get mentioned who turn out to be something special - particularly in the very low minors, but I just happen to be compulsive enough to want it to be 50 instead of, for instance, 53. The implication of that is that I have 16 to go. And since I'm going to have one odd player anyway, I like the 11th starter on my list better than I did the guy who would have been my sixth reliever.

So, now that what would have been a nifty one paragraph introduction has run on to a three paragraph digression, I'll get started.

1. Brett Cecil - 22, 6'3" 220, 2007 1st round supplemental

Coming out of Maryland, Cecil had spent most of his college career as a reliever and it was said his slider was major league ready to the point that he probably could have stepped into a major league pen and done adequate work right out of school. But the Jays saw him as a starter and have been using him in that role from day one. It looks like a helluva choice. Besides the great slider, he has a plus fastball and a developing curve, and he's said to have a super pick-off move. Fourteen months into his pro career, Cecil arrived at AAA having faced no real adversity at all. In 35 starts from Auburn to New Hampshire, Cecil posted an ERA of 2.03 and a K:BB rate of 4.27 and struck out more than one batter an inning.

Want to see something interesting? Check these minor league totals:

Brett Cecil - 118 1/3 IP, 2.41 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.90 K:9
David Price - 109 2/3 IP, 2.31 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.98 K:9

If you've been living in a cave, Price is, of course, the much ballyhooed #1 overall pick of the Rays in the same 2007 draft in which Cecil went #38 overall. He's also over 10 months older, if that matters to you. Now, you can quote me scouting reports and talk about stuff all you want, but the results are there. The caveat about Cecil is workload. The rule of thumb is that you don't want to increase a young pitcher's innings by more than 30 over his previous high. Cecil's high before this year was 112 and the Jays were super cautious and in the process only pushed him to 118. I still felt like they erred by not sending him to Arizona, but perhaps they are getting him some more work in the Instructional League of which I am unaware.

As it appears now, though, you are looking at only getting about 150 IP out of him next season, which limits how much he could be a stretch run boost for the Jays if needed. One assumes they will continue to hold him to five or six innings at AAA as they did this year. If you ballpark a guess of 15 starts averaging 5 IP and he comes up around mid-season, then you could only expect to get maybe 12 starts (at an average of 6 IP per) in the majors. He'd be out of gas by Labor Day. Those missing 20 innings from this season could be important. It will be interesting to see how the Jays handle that situation next year, to stretch him as far as they dare and still not risk injury later.

ETA: 2009

2. Ricky Romero - 24, 6'1" 200, 2005 1st round

Romero, like David Purcey before him, is engaged in the arduous process of proving nay-saying Jays fans wrong. Romero was always a controversial choice to some degree, but one that was considered arguable at the time. Considered by many to be the best lefty in the draft, and by some to be the best available pitcher who didn't have signability issues, Romero was still scorned by some as a bit of a reach and a poor choice as opposed to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who went to the Rockies on the very next pick.

At the time, one of the selling points of Ricky-Ro was that he was one of the most complete and close to major-league-ready players in the draft. Witness these reviews from various sources as quoted by Batters Box:

MLB.com: Fluid, easy delivery. Has two kinds of fastball: a slider-like cutter and a nasty sinker that drops late. Can change speeds on 12-6 curveball. Features a sharp slider. Very intense on the mound, keeps hitters off-balance. Potential front-end starter.

BA: Romero has three solid, major league-ready pitches that he can throw for strikes almost at will, including a fastball that sits at 90-91 mph and touches 93-94. He also has an excellent curveball and a better feel for a changeup this year after he reduced his reliance on his curve. But Romero gets his highest grades for his makeup, temperament and competitive zeal. He is an excellent student of the game who understands the science of pitching, and is a master at controlling the tempo of a game.

So what went wrong? Why did Jays fans so easily lose faith and why isn't Romero already in the majors winning even more praise? Well, part of it was the combination of the collapse of Russ Adams and the ascendancy of Tulowitzki. Observers ignored the fact that Tulo's 2007 numbers were greatly aided by his home park and dreamed of what he might do for the Jays in their infield. Part of it was the growing discontent with JP's drafting, but part of it lies with the fact that Romero did the one thing no one expected from a guy with such a highly praised make-up:

He lost his confidence.

Ricky-Ro started his minor league career with flair, he finished 2005 strong and started 2006 with an aggressive promotion to Dunedin where he breezed through 10 starts in dominating fashion. But then he was promoted to AA and tasted his first setback and, according to reports, began to doubt his abilities. A series of nagging minor injuries didn't help, but it was mostly a matter of maddening inconsistency. Romero would run off 2 or 3 good starts and seem to have found the handle and then get shelled and it would all seemingly fall apart for him. Back at AA in 2007, Romero continued in the same pattern. He managed to lift his strikeout rate, but his control slipped along with it, and again the pattern of 3 steps forward 2 steps back continued.

By this point, the rush for the exits of the Romero bandwagon was in full panic mode and many were already writing him off as a bust. In 2008, early in the season, Romero seemed to be in for more of the same. But as May was giving way to June something clicked with Romero. Suddenly he found some consistency and with it, his confidence grew with every start. He finished the year with seven starts in AAA with mixed results. He seemed to pitch better when his strikeouts were down and that's not a recipe for long-term success, but he was dominating in some starts as well. Brian Jeroloman, who was his main catcher for most of the last two seasons, probably said it best:

He wants to win more than anyone else on the field, he will do whatever he can to win the game. Catching him is very easy, it is easy to get on the same page as him, he doesn't realize how good he is, I wish he could face himself and that could make him understand how tough it is to hit against him. He has such dynamite pitches that sometimes he tries to do too much, sometimes he gets in his own way. I love catching him, he is a bulldog, catchers love that....Once he realizes how good he is, that's when things are going to start falling for him.

2009 is crucial for Romero though. No one stands to be more negatively impacted by the Jays now having a PCL affiliate than Romero. He MUST be able to mentally endure the rigors of pitching in that notorious hitter's league and still make progress.

ETA: late 2009/early 2010

3. Brad Mills - 24, 6'0" 185, 2007 4th round

There's something to be said for your top three pitching prospects (legitimate prospects at that) being left-handed. Mills is a guy who might have gotten little notice in the loaded 2007 draft (which may yet be the single best draft in franchise history - eight of the top 10 picks in that draft will be found in most rankings of top 20 Jays prospects), but in the minors he has announced his presence with authority. His minor league ERA? 1.96; K/9 IP? 9.81; WHIP? 1.13. The only real difference between him and Cecil, in terms of results, is that Mills didn't quite make it to AAA.

Of course, Mills is 16 months older than Cecil, and he's a more "typical lefty" in that it's his off-speed pitches that are more refined and his fastball is only said to be average, but his control has been greatly refined as a pro and neither have yet faced a setback since leaving college. Mills will probably get a running start at AA this year, but as soon as there's an opening in Las Vegas he would stand, at this point, to be the first man promoted.

ETA: 2010

4. Marc Rzepczynski - 23, 6'3" 205, 2007 5th round

Did I say top three? Make that the top FOUR pitching prospects are left-handers. Zep is 5 months younger than Mills, but was crowded off the rapid promotion train. After a short impressive stint in rookie ball in 2007, he spent the whole 2008 season in Lansing where he was as impressive as Mills or Cecil all year. A four-pitch pitcher with a solid average fastball and a standard curve/slider/change repertoire, Rzepzynski turned the corner when he gained the command to throw all his pitches for strikes.

Like Mills, he projects as a middle of the rotation starter at best (as opposed to Romero and Cecil who have perhaps #2 starter stuff), but both are the sort of "plug them in and forget about them" consistent pitchers that any team would covet. I expect Zep will get on that promotion train in 2009, starting the year in Dunedin and could very easily reach AAA before season's end.

ETA: late 2010, early 2011

5. Kyle Ginley - 22, 6'2" 225, 2006 17th round

The right-handed Ginley probably has more physical ability than the two men above him. He boasts a mid 90s fastball and the potential for other good pitches but he is considerably more raw and has a lot to learn. He will develop and fulfill his potential to the extent he can develop secondary pitches that set up his plus fastball. In 2007 he showed improved control but gave up way too many hits at Lansing. Starting off there again this year he dominated early and earned a promotion to Dunedin where he encountered the same difficulties he experienced in 2007.
Ginley will repeat Dunedin next season and will be promoted if he demonstrates progress. Still, he may be the sort of pitcher who'll encounter a setback upon his first promotion to each new level as he learns to adjust to higher-quality hitters. Look for him to be on a slower track than the pitchers ranked above him.

ETA: 2012

6. Robert Ray - 25, 6'5" 190, 2005 7th round

Considered by some to be a steal when he was drafted in the seventh round (some mentioned him as a sleeper candidate for the first round) Ray had impressed in the Cape Cod league and in his final year at Auburn. He showed a plus curve and a solid change and had good velocity on his pitches. He roared through rookie ball in 2005 and seemed to be well set for rapid promotion. But that was followed by two seasons hampered by minor injuries, inconsistencies, and struggles getting LH hitters out. He had probably slipped to the fringes of the radar, at least from a fan's point of view, as a legitimate prospect.

But in 2008 things clicked for Ray. His WHIP improved noticeably and, upon his promotion to AA New Hampshire the overall line reflected the improvement. He posted a 3.16 ERA at AA (as opposed to pushing 5.00 in the two previous seasons at Dunedin). This seems to be primarily due to figuring out how to deal with lefties. He came into the season with LH hitters batting .358 off of him in 2007. At New Hampshire they hit a paltry .233 against Ray. His WHIP was still higher than you would like, but he's now back in the mix. He projects as a back of the rotation starter or a quality reliever, depending largely on how well he handles left-handers as he moves up.

ETA: Late 2010

7. Davis Romero - 26, 5'10", 160, undrafted free agent.

Little D-Ro was signed by the Jays almost 10 years ago as a 16-year-old out of Panama. Injuries have always been an issue for the slightly built lefty. He missed all of 2004, but he came back and pitched so well in 2005 and 2006 that he came all the way from Dunedin to make 7 appearances in the majors. But then he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder which cost him all of 2007. For those of you concerned about the recovery of Casey Janssen or Dustin McGowan, you need look no further than D-Ro for encouragement.

In 2008 Romero started 25 games in AAA and went long stretches putting up dominating numbers (game by game breakdowns are difficult to find, but his overall line is marred by just a few very bad starts scattered among quite a few outstanding ones). Some might question putting a 26-year-old pitcher ahead of some of those who come lower on the list, but Romero has the look of a quality major league pitcher. He has a solid change and a plus curve and enough velocity to present a credible moving fastball. He may not have the physical build to hold up long-term as a starter (though look for him to make a strong case in Spring Training), but he has the stuff to be more than a situational bullpen lefty too. He should be in the mix (along with Janssen and Scott Richmond) to fill out the Jays rotation in April depending on who comes in from outside the organization.

ETA: 2009

8. Kenny Rodriguez - 24, 6'3" 200, signed as an international free agent.

This may be the only prospect list on which you will see Rodriguez's name appear. I admit the Cuban defector is a bit of a hunch play for me because the scouting reports are so inconsistent on him. Rodriguez has a major-league change and his other pitches are said to be average or a tic below. He seems to have effective control and a good idea how to pitch. He was excellent at Dunedin this year, but when rewarded with a promotion to AA in July the wheels completely fell off.

After six starts in New Hampshire, only one of which was any good at all, he went back to A ball in August where he was even better than he had been before (batters hit .214 off him in August). I'm going out on a bit of a limb without having seen extensive scouting on his 2008 performance but my gut reaction is that having done that well in his first turn at pro-ball in a relatively high league, the man has some potential. His future is probably in the bullpen, and he'll have to prove himself all over again when he moves up, but he's not to be overlooked.

ETA: mid-to-late 2011 as a reliever, later as a starter.

9. Trystan Magnuson - 23, 6'7" 210, 2007 1st round supplemental

Keith Law loved this guy, saying he might have been the best value out of all the great prospects the Jays took in 2007. But his first year as a pro was a rough one. The big right-hander saw his greatest success as a reliever in college but, as is their custom, the Jays tried him first as a starting pitcher (a strategy that worked successfully with Shaun Marcum and David Bush and seems to be working with Brett Cecil). But what Law and some scouts see in Magnuson is physical potential, more than polished results. For instance, one of the first thing the Jays did was adjust his mechanics to get more velocity on his fastball.

Like all tall pitchers, he has some difficulty accomplishing smooth mechanics and thus his location suffers. In 2008, his walks were too high, his K's far too low, and his stuff still raw in most every respect. Still, there are signs of progress. In his first 41 innings at Lansing, his ERA was 6.80 with 23 walks. In the 40.2 innings which followed, his ERA was 3.98 and his walks totaled only 12. At this point you have to be skeptical that Magnuson can succeed long term as a starter but he's going to have to start missing more bats to make the majors in any capacity.

ETA: uncertain. Not before 2012 unless he makes a major breakthrough.

10. Andrew Liebel - 23, 6'1" 195, 2008 3rd round

This is probably the guy on the low end of this list who is most likely to take a big step towards the top next season. Like Magnuson, Liebel was considered in some quarters a "signability" pick, with solid average stuff across the board. But one of the consistent themes in the Jays drafting under Ricciardi has been the pursuit of guys with outstanding makeup. Having a high "baseball IQ" and a highly competitive nature is something that the team considers of real value and Liebel is such a player.

Liebel turned it up a notch in his senior year after having gone undrafted as a junior. His best pitch is a tailing change and he compliments it with a low 90's fastball and a solider curve and slider and he found himself at the front of a talented rotation. After the draft, the Jays let him finish his year in relief because he was nearing the safe limit on number of pitches. But the overall impression you get from reading about Liebel is that he's a guy with good mid-range stuff, but who has the makeup to get the best from what he has. If you are thinking that this is vaguely reminiscent of David Bush or Shaun Marcum at this point, well, I am too.

ETA: Difficult to say this early, he could be a fast riser. I'll call it 2012.

11. Scott Richmond - 29, 6'5" 225, signed as an undrafted free agent.

The story goes that when the Jays were sending scouts to the farm team to check out David Purcey and assess his readiness for the majors, the minor league coaches kept insisting that the scouts take the time to have a look at Richmond. By now you know the other stories about Richmond, how he took a long and curious route to the major leagues, and how he acquitted himself very well in 27 major league innings.

It's very difficult to find specifics about Richmond's abilities, and few are the pitchers who make their initial impact at 29 or later (it does happen), but I'm not prepared to argue against the feel-good Canadian story. He could step in and have a long career in the back of a major league rotation (think Woody Williams) or he could be a decent but unspectacular reliever (Pete Walker for example) or he could disappear by this time next year as nothing more than an interesting footnote in Jays history.

ETA: N/A

Next time, last list, Relief pitchers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Baseball and Economics?

Thanks to Tim over at MLBTR, I've been introduced, of late, to the fine work of Atlanta economist J.C. Bradbury on his blog sabernomics.com where he looks at things baseball from a unique point of view. Now, I confess, just the word "economics" tends to give me a bit of a headache and I can get out of my depth pretty easily, nevertheless, I am finding the column's that Bradbury has written to be often fascinating and definitely a refreshing change of pace from the usual mixture of emotion and cliched thinking that all blogs have to some degree .

The particular piece that provoked me to recomend the site is not, as you might assume, the one where he calculated that the Jays' reported offer to A.J. Burnett was very close to what his market value should, economically speaking, be. Rather, I was attracted to the referance to, and recomendation of, the book The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives which he relates to the game we love with the following anecdote:

Few things annoy me more than when people insist that an outcome must be attributable to some easily-identifiable cause. Life is full of randomness, why can’t people admit this? It may not satisfying answer, but it is frequently the correct answer.

A few weeks ago I was watching a baseball game, when a historically-bad relief pitcher entered the game. Instead of giving up a walk and a few hits, capped off with a homer, he recorded three straight outs. No doubt, this performance was well within the range of expected outcome for this pitcher: outs are common in baseball, and even the worst pitchers frequently record three straight outs. But, this couldn’t have been the answer to the announcer, oh no. “That extra side-work he’s been doing with the pitching coach must have paid off,” we were told.

Bradbury goes on to tell you a bit about the book including noting that the author uses some baseball examples to illustrate his point, but it's that first paragraph above that sums up something I have been saying, I think virtually alone, about the 2008 season: stuff happens.

There seems to be great sturm und drang among the Jays fan base about the fact that the Jays are stalled in the 80's and the Rays have blown past them into the ALCS, but the simple fact of the matter is, as unpalatable as it may be to those among us who want to analyze and define every result, is that almost the entire difference between the results of the Rays season and the result of the Jays season can be attributed, in my opinion, to randomness. Dumb Luck. Stuff happens. Use whatever phrase suits you. Yes, you can dig into the stats and presumably find some esoteric "hitting with a runner on third and two out after 8 PM on a Tuesday when humidity is over 70%" stat in which the Rays schooled the Jays, but in all the obvious ways you would compare two teams, there's very little difference - except in number of wins.
Random. Chance.

It sucks when that randomess cuts against you, it's fun when it cuts for you (and we see some of each all season long this year and every year game-by-game) but it's real, and it matters, and there is virtually nothing you can do about it. That's why I think the whole "OMG! we have gone X years without making the playoffs!!" panic is so much ill-advised drama. The multitude of things that can go wrong and keep a team out of the playoffs is so large that simply missing the playoffs, as a fact viewed in isolation, tells you almost nothing. Yet that kind of thinking can lead to paniced decisions. Thankfully most GM's have less tendency towards that sort of panic than fans do.

So, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, I will say this again - I'm NOT AT ALL worried that we are suddenly doomed to 4th place in a division with three powerful teams in front of us. I am still worried that two of those teams can buy there way out of any mistakes, but that's a different discussion. The Jays are not as far away as many seem to believe. i may be the only one willing to argue that point this winter but I have no intention of conceeding it.

Oh, and I'll be adding Bradbury's blog to our blog roll for my convenience and, I hope, yours.

~WillRain

Thursday, October 16, 2008

LaCava - is he worth keeping?

For those of you who don't know, Tony LaCava is the director of player personnel. He's one of the assistant GM's on the Blue Jays.

I bring him up because he's one of the candidates left in the Mariner's search for a new General Manager.

So what if he goes? It's probably no big deal, right?

Well, as I'm sure you've all noticed, the Jays farm system has improved by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. In 2006 we grabbed Snider, and the Jays got into the habit of signing players who had 1st round potential but had slipped for various reasons. In 07 the Jays got some more quality players, nabbing Arencibia and Cecil to name a few. This continued in 08, when Cooper was drafted - and so far it looks like a successful pick. JP has been criticized early on for some of his poorer drafts, and rightly so. But something has changed over the last couple of years.

Some of that credit has to go to Jon LaLonde (scouting director) as well as the other scouts employed by the Jays. They've done a phenomenal job over the last couple of years. But I honestly believe that LaCava has been instrumental in the Jays' recent success at drafting.

Will Carroll of BP has even suggested that LaCava would make a tremendous GM, and has this to say about him:

5. Tony LaCava (Assistant GM, Blue Jays)
When you meet Tony La Cava, you learn two things. First, he knows everyone. Second, everyone loves him. La Cava might rightly be known as the nicest guy in baseball, and his extensive connections will be among his biggest asset when a team finally decides to give him his shot. With a scouting background, La Cava is known as one of the most savvy talent evaluators in the game, making him a perfect candidate for a team that needs to build through development. Most of the questions with LaCava focus on his team. Teams tend to hire from success, picking off the underlings of winning teams rather than the best of a mediocre bunch. At 46, LaCava is both young enough to have the energy to take on a rebuilding project and the experience to handle any situation. He'd be perfect for a team coming off a disappointment, says one insider. "He's a guy that can find a bright side in any thing," one journalist noted. "He could probably get more leeway on a cold start than any guy this side of Omar Minaya." It's a different style of charisma, but LaCava has "it."

I really don't think we can afford to lose "one of the most savvy talent evaluators in the game". I think keeping him should be made priority #1. This could be done through the promotion of LaCava to GM (with JP sliding over to president), or even a contract extension for LaCava.

If the Jays want to be a successful team by building from within, then they'll need to keep LaCava to get it done.

Twitchy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Heads Up

One of the great things about Batters Box is that these guys have connections. Few Jays sites that are purely fan sites and not tied to a media organization can deliver info "straight from the horse's mouth" about the Jays and maybe no one does it better when it comes to the minor leagues. The latest example is a fresh interview with Jays Farm Director Dick Scott. Lots of juicy bits of insight there, and I won't steal their thunder by quoting any of Scott's comment on a myriad of Jays prospects except for what follows on from this one bit which qualifies as not just a scouting report but actual transaction news:

BB: Do you want to bring back Brian Dopirak?

DS: Yes we have already resigned him for next year, we will send him to AA and hopefully to AAA sooner rather than later. He was a bit of a reclamation project which is a bit odd to say for a second round pick. He is a guy who had 39 home runs in the midwest league a few years back but I think he just lost his stroke. He lives in Dunedin and when we heard he had been released we called him up and he came in for a tryout . . . and took him to the cage and guys were saying this guy has unbelievable power which we all knew and they thought his swing could work. So we revamped his swing a little bit . . . This guy, potentially, could be a real nice find for us if he continues to improve.

It's very good news, IMO, that the Jays have nailed this down and here's hoping Dopirak lives up to his potential. You can find a lot more tasty prospect tidbits tat the link.
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On another note, if you were one of those who were certain John Gibbons would never work again in the majors, Jeff Blair reports you called it wrong. Gibbons is the new bench coach of the Kansas City Royals.

WillRain

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Farm Report: Outfielders

I'll try to be more concise, this time, since there are more players on the list. Other prospect lists are starting to trickle out and it's less likely I'll tell you something you haven't read elsewhere, but for those who are not chasing down every syllable on minor league prospects, this might give you a decent overview.

One thing to remember here, after the top name on the list, there isn't a clearly defined pecking order when you look at stats alone. Among all positions this is probably the one that's most dependent on reports from scouts and "project-ability" of tools.

1. Travis Snider - 21, 5'11" 230, 2006 1st round

What can I say about Snider that hasn't been said? He's so good he may well be in Baseball America's Top 5 next year, certainly the top 10. He's a solid average corner outfielder who's come up through the system playing a good RF. He has a ton of power in his bat and he has "intangibles" that scouts call "off the scale" in terms of drive and leadership. The Jays have an interesting situation in that he was not over-matched in a late season call up and the temptation surely exist to go with him as a member of the team next year. But the more prudent course would be to patch for a year and then bring him up for good in 2010. Along with that, there is the question of who is going to be the DH, long term. A player with Snider's intensity should be in the field.

In my opinion, Adam Lind is likely going to be our 1B if he's here for years to come, Snider will be in LF, and Cooper, if/when he arrives, is your DH. In any case, the Jays will have to work it out soon because Snider's minor league career is almost over.

ETA: depends on other roster movements.

2. Eric Eiland - 20, 6'0" 200, 2007 2nd round

To really understand the excitement about Eiland, you need to look back to a previous Jays prospect. As a 19 year old in low-A ball this year, Eiland posted an OPS of only .640 and didn't hit a single HR. This other fellow, as a 20 year old in low-A ball, posted an OPS of .650 and hit only 2 HR. He also had a much worse walk rate - but then, as now, everyone understood the tools were there. That player was Alex Rios. Eiland is slightly shorter, more filled out, but also has a better eye at the plate and much better base-running skills (he was caught once in 24 stolen base attempts this year). I've not seen a bad scouting report on his skills yet, all he needs is time and work. He probably doesn't have the quite power potential of Rios, though he has good bat speed and won't be a singles hitter. He has the potential to be a solid lead-off hitter, perhaps in a similar vein to Johnny Damon, at his best.

ETA: as soon as 2012 if he learns well.

3. Johermyn Chavez - 20, 6'3" 220, signed as UFA in 2005

I might get some negative feedback on this one because Chavez had an awful season by any standard this year. But this is a guy who was playing at 19 and who opened last year as a top 10 prospect in the Jays system on more than one respected list (Baseball Prospectus had him #7, John Sickels #8, for instance) and I simply don't see that he's played himself out of prospect status.

Chavez was decent in April and July and McDonald-esque otherwise. But he's rated to have impressive power potential and good all around hitting skills. He's not as impressive defensively and LF is where he has to play with the glove. All that said, this is a crucial year for Chavez and he definitely needs to turn a corner in his second stint in Lansing.

ETA: 2013, probably in the second half.

4. Eric Thames - 22, 6'0" 195, 2008 round 7

Rank Thames, and the two which follow, in any order you choose. At this point, until we see them in pro-ball more extensively, there are only marginal differences. Thames was a guy that many considered a real steal in the 2008 draft. A guy who some projected to go as high as the first round, he tore a quad muscle shortly before the draft and scared many teams away. He missed the entire 2008 pro season as a result and so the Jays will not see him on the field in their system until the spring. Given his age relative to others here, it seems important he get off to a strong start.

Thames grades out above average in every tool except his arm, which is said to be definitely left field caliber. His power potential is still developing, but he has an excellent swing and great bat speed and most see solid power from him and, like Eiland, he's an excellent runner.

ETA: a "normal" progression would take 3-4 years but it seems likely Thames is a candidate for an aggressive promotion plan. Call it sometime in 2012.

5. Marcus Brisker - 19, 6'4", 192, 2008 6th round

Drafted 4 rounds after the man who follows him on this list, Brisker got out of the gate far faster. Brisker closed hot with an OPS of .862 in August (a small sample) to bring his overall OPS past .700. Brisker has good speed and a good eye at the plate for his age but is very raw. He has time though, and he got off to a good start.

ETA: 2014

6. Kenny Wilson - 19, 6'0" 165, 2008 2nd round

Wilson is an example of an odd drafting pattern for the Jays of late. Picks in the second or third round some consider to be reaches, picks in the 4th round or later widely regarded as steals. Wilson did nothing (save have a nice run in the last ten games) to make you feel comfortable about him as a second rounder, but, like Brisker, he's very raw and young. Wilson's best tool is his speed, he stole 25 bases having only made it as far as first base 54 times. He doesn't project to have a lot of power and you might be thinking of him as a Juan Pierre-type CF except that he doesn't have a true CF arm.

I think that the odds are pretty good that at some point Wilson will be a trading chip more so than a guy you can expect to see patrolling the outfield for the Jays.

ETA: 2014-2015

7. Ryan Patterson - 26, 5'11" 205, 2005 4th round.

This (2008) was the year Patterson was supposed to step up and for the most part, he didn't. He spent the full season at AA (which was not the plan) and had mixed results. What we do know is that he rakes against LHP (how well I can't tell you since MiLB.com has AFL stats on the player profile instead of the full season) and that he is one of those "high intangible" guys the Jays love. In short, Patterson has a pretty decent chance of being another Reed Johnson. But he's probably never going to be much good against a righty.

ETA: 2010

Next time: Starting pitchers

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Check out the hot start by Jays 2B prospect Brad Emaus in the Hawaii Fall League.

WillRain

Friday, October 10, 2008

AFL Brief II

Swell news: JP Arencibia took a walk(!) and singled in three trips as the Desert Dogs fell 6-4 to the Peoria Javelinas yesterday. Scott Campbell came in off the bench to pinch hit, drawing a walk and scoring a run... then played short? For a guy who allegedly needs to work on his D he's spending enough time away from his natural home at second.

Pitching-wise, it got a bit ugly for Zach Dials (this year's Fisher Cats closer, pictured at left) in the bottom of the 6th, when he surrendered a triple and three consecutive singles before striking out the next two hitters to leave with a line of 2 R (1 ER) in 2/3 of an inning.

Elsewhere, I encourage you all to pay a visit to The Blue Jay Hunter, where fellow Sardinian Ian Hunter does his year-end Jays recap. I don't want to steal his thunder and will leave it by saying that it's well worth your while to check out his Tim Dierkes interview, where various offseason moves are hashed out with the MLBTR guru, and his chat with the always entertaining Mike Wilner.

Good hunting, lads.

-- Johnny Was

Playoff Predictions - Griffin style

So I was reading The Toronto Star when I came across another brilliant Griffin article, in which he eventually makes some position by position comparison of the Rays & Red Sox. I didn't have a problem with some of his results - Navarro beating out Varitek, Rays winning out in the corners infield, but after that it started to take a turn for the worse. I'll let him explain.

Middle infield: The Sox have Jed Lowrie and MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia, while the Rays duo is the reliable Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura. Advantage Rays.

Say what? You just said that Pedroia's an MVP candidate, and Lowrie was solid - and they get beaten out by Bartlett and Iwamura? Bartlett had an 85 OPS+, and Iwamura had a 96 OPS+, while playing solid defense. The Sox duo had a 123 OPS+ (Pedroia) and 91 OPS+ (Lowrie), while also playing very good defense. So how exactly did Griffin's own suggestion for MVP of the league get beaten out by John McDonald Jr. and a solid but unspectacular 2B?

Outfield: The Sox have Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew vs. the Rays trio of Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Gabe Gross or Rocco Baldelli. Advantage Sox.

I'll give them Jason Bay, but Ellsbury isn't that impressive and it's unknown if Drew is going to play because of back injuries which means more time for Crisp. Meanwhile, CC is healthy, Upton's finally showing some power because his shoulder isn't hurt, and Gross/Baldelli make a solid tandem in RF. Normally a Bay/Ellsbury/Drew outfield would win here, but Drew is injured and I think the edge has to go to the Rays here.

Starters: The Sox trio – Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Dice-K Matsuzaka – has been there before. The Rays trio of James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir is very talented but inexperienced in October. Advantage Sox.

Normally I'd agree, but Lester is pitching in game 3, so he's going to make at best 2 starts in the playoffs. Beckett is coming off a rough start, and hasn't shown he's the dominating force from last year. And Dice-K just isn't very good. And with this being a 7 game series, I think you have to include Wakefield & Sonnanstine. Once again, depth and health for the Rays gives them a bit of an advantage in the rotation. If Beckett was healthy and productive it's a different story, but he's an unknown at this point.

Bullpen: The back end of the Sox pen is rock solid with Jonathan Papelbon, set up by Hideki Okajima and Justin Masterton. Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and Chad Bradford must steel their nerves to succeed, although Wheeler did set up for the Astros in October a couple of years back. Advantage Sox.

First off, one of the key relievers for the Rays is JP Howell, and not Chad Bradford. Howell and Balfour pitched the Rays out of some huge jams against the White Sox (especially that bases loaded escape job by Balfour), and outside of the Jays I think the Rays have one of the best bullpens in the majors. Hell, during the regular season the Rays bullpen ERA (3.55), WHIP (1.26) and opponents OPS (669) was much better than the Sox were at 4.00, 1.35 and 707 respectively.

Based on these stats, I think it's really hard to argue the Sox have a better bullpen here. Masterson was a nice addition, but I don't think he's a shutdown set up man, and he wasn't very strong during the series against the Angels. So if anything, the Red Sox bullpen will be a liability, and not the Rays.

The Sox had a better run differential this season, but I think the Rays have a big advantage now thanks to their health. If Beckett, Lowell, Drew and even Ortiz are all healthy I think the Sox win. But with so many injured guys, the Rays have a real shot of making the World Series.

Damn, I never thought I'd say that....

Twitchy.