Saturday, November 29, 2008

Because I want to . . .


. . . talk about baseball, damnit. I'm sure you've read similar remarks elsewhere over the off-season if not longer, but I want to drag them back to the front burner as the Winter Meetings approach in just nine days.

Rotoworld relayed a report from the Baltimore Sun last week that the Orioles had declined to trade LHP Garrett Olson for enigmatic SS Khalil Greene. The observation was made that while Olson had been a disappointment so far in the majors, the Orioles were not likely to be interested in a SS who was one year away from free-agency. I agree with this but I'm also struck that the price was relatively low this early in the off-season.

What makes Greene an interesting case is that the Padres have to sell him based on his overall numbers, which seem mediocre, even before you look at his awful 2008. But those numbers are deceiving. Laying aside 2008 and a lost year, let's look at Greene's four previous seasons in one key area - road stats. San Diego's Petco Park is the most notoriously pitcher friendly park in the majors.

Greene's combined stats on the road in 2006-2007 (the equivalent of a full season's worth of games) figure out to the following averages: .285 - .332 - .514 - .866, or, if you like counting stats, that's 47 doubles, 24 homers, 85 RBI, and, by the way, only 87 strikeouts. Perhaps more revealing, his Isolated Power average was .229. If you are unfamiliar with that stat and what it means, consider that in the major leagues last year only two shortstops had an IP average over .200 (Hanley Ramirez at .239 and Stephen Drew at .231) and only eight times in the past five years has a shortstops broken .200 in that stat. Was this a fluke? A peak which he is past? Not at all. if you look at the FOUR season preceding 2008 (all the full seasons he has played in the majors) his ISP is .231 and his OPS is .836 in almost 1000 at bats.

While one cannot completely ignore how desperately bad he was as a hitter in 2008, I am increasingly convinced that a team who gets Greene out of Petco is going to find themselves with one of the best shortstops in the game on their hands. As for the price, if they were willing to take Garret Olson, one assumes that Ricky Romero would get the job done easily enough. I'm intrigued by the idea of sending the Tallet and McDonald in the deal as a way to offset a little salary if indeed the Padres wanted something more than Ricky-Ro.

It is, of course, problematic that he is only under contract for one more season. But you have to wonder if the opportunity might be given to try to get him signed now, before closing the deal, to a lower-priced contract. As previously noted, the Jays have at least $18 million or so to work with. Greene is under contract for $6.5 million in 2009. If you were to include McDonald and Tallet in the deal, you'd only be looking at a net increase of about $3.5 million. Where am I going with this? It occurs to me that the Jays, having already said they are not going to spend just to be spending, might be in a position to leverage a lower annual cost to any Greene extension by paying a larger signing bonus out of the "spare" money they have this year. If you could sign him to a contract extension that was 3/$30 with $6 million up front and a 6-8-10 structure in the coming years, you might be getting a significant bargain. That would still leave you plenty of money to make the other move I want to re-address . . .

* * * * *

Milton Bradley.

Unlike the Greene idea, which waxes and wanes in the Jays blogosphere and rumor mill, Bradley's name is never far from the surface. No less an influential voice than Cito Gaston's has expressed an interest and it hasn't been long since Peter Gammons declared he was the Jays top priority when the noise about Burnett dissipated (and for the life of me I cannot comprehend why the Jays don't just admit to themselves and the world that it makes no sense for them to stay in the Burnett hunt and move on to filling real holes before they lose the chance to get the players who fit best - but I digress).

Yes, Bradley has some personality issues - though the term "clubhouse cancer" is inaccurate. His teammates do not have any complaints. Anger management is an ongoing concern, but the counter-argument is that there may be no better manager in the majors to work with that issue than Cito Gaston. Yes, he's an injury risk, but the Jays have short-term and long term options for filling in for him when the injury comes and for the right price, 130 games of Bradley can still be damned helpful.

I believe these two players can be added to the current roster without exceeding $100 million for the 2009 payroll and they will together significantly upgrade our offense.

~WillRain

Friday, November 28, 2008

More on Money and Payroll

The AP reports, via ESPN, that Paul Beeston spoke to the money question at the awards dinner held by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers association. His remarks were in reply to a question about the affordability of keeping Burnett. The pertinent excerpt is this:

Paul Beeston believes the Blue Jays still have a shot at re-signing pitcher A.J. Burnett.

With the economy sinking, however, the team's interim CEO acknowledged Thursday that Toronto might choose to save the $24 million Burnett passed up this offseason rather than spend it on other free agents.

"It's a possibility," Beeston said. "We can spend $100 million, but if it doesn't make sense, why do it?"

Now, while it is just vague enough to not pin Beeston down to any specific course of action, it seems to me the proper interpretation is this:

The Jays HAVE - and CAN spend - $100 million on the 2009 payroll

BUT

If there is not a way to spend it that makes sense, they will not spend on filler just to avoid the perception that they are cutting payroll. Depending on how you count it there is no less than $15 million and possibly as much as $22 million between what it would cost to pay the players we already have, if we added no one else to the 25-man roster and what the Jays spent in 2008.

That's money the Jays can either spend, or bank, depending on the circumstances which are available to them.

That, in my opinion, is an entirely sensible course and one all of us should have been able to figure out without being told. Of course, that would require us assuming the team will act sensibly and admittedly, baseball teams do not always do so.

My guess is that the off-season will be frustrating for fans hooked on big deals and big signings, but will ultimately be rewarding. I expect JP to sit back and wait until he sees an opportunity to address a need at a price (in cash or players) which makes sense. I approve.

~WillRain

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The big disconnect

The Sun's Shi Davidi writes today that the Jays may indeed be looking at the possibility of a payroll reduction. To quote:

The global financial crisis and the loonie's steep drop versus the American dollar appear to have drastically changed things for general manager J.P. Ricciardi and his staff, as hints of a possible slight increase in payroll back when the season ended have given way to a much less rosy outlook.

"The economy is definitely having an effect on us, so maybe our spending has slowed down a little bit," Ricciardi said.

"I think a lot of things are still being finalized, so I don't know if we're going to be able to be as active as maybe we once thought. But we're still trying to sort it all out."

Well, isn't that a fine kettle of fish? Or is it? How many times now, have we been told in all sincerity that things were one way and then they turned out to be something else entirely? Remember how JP "liked his team and was going to pretty much stand pat" last off-season? The speaker here, for all his good and bad qualities, is a well-documented fountain of bullshit. (Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Jays courted Adam Dunn this winter - that's how much I believe what JP says publicly)

There's that, and then there's also this: Rogers (the company) made something like a billion dollars in the last year (per Stoeten last week at DJF). We are supposed to believe that a company overflowing with cash - not a little of it arising from sweetheart broadcasting deals with it's wholly-owned sports franchise - can't afford to even match last year's payroll? Again, that's bullshit by definition.

They may choose to take advantage of the financial crisis to pinch pennies - maybe - but don't be gullible enough to believe they can't afford it. The standard pessimism here is that they have to answer to stockholders who wouldn't like to see the Jays lose money. But the truth is that the Jays lose money, on paper, every year. the stockholders look at the big picture - the overall cooperation - and that makes a ton of money. Any person savvy enough to sweat the losses of a subsidiary unit is also savvy enough to understand the creative deals that benefit the broadcast units while maintaining the illusion that the baseball team loses money. And they are not the only ownership group that employs such creativity.

So before we speculate on what the ownership WILL decide to do, lets dispense with the fiction that they HAVE to cut payroll - they don't. As to whether or not they will, no one can know for sure. The Jays can be remarkably obtuse and are fairly prolific in the employment of the "say one thing and do the opposite" strategy. What we can say for sure is that the above quoted remarks mean next to nothing about what is actually going to happen.

My hunch is this: JP has two things going in his mind - first, listening to see if anyone offers to take a contract like Ryan's or Overbay's off his hands (for which the illusion of a limited payroll helps provide cover both with the fans and with the players) and second, hanging back until a lot of the big names settle and trying to address his needs on the cheap (for which the illusion of a limited payroll serves to dampen fan speculation about, for instance, chasing Manny).

An example: The Brewers would like to re-sign Sabathia and/or Sheets. If they did, pitching would not be a big issue with them. But if they lost out on both, then approaching them with an offer of young pitching for JJ Hardy becomes something they might be more inclined to listen to. That's a totally speculative scenario, mind you, but it conveys the idea.

From the GM's point of few, minimizing expectations under the cover of "bad economy - out of our hands" has to be much more helpful than being in on a lot of big names and coming away empty-handed. What's going to get JP more grief? Saying "We are players for Manny" and losing him, or saying "I don't think we can sign him" and then - SURPRISE! - he lands him?

All that said, there are basically three course which might be taken:

1. Kick up the payroll significantly and sign relatively major deals. You can speculate any number of variations here.

2. Stand pat - if the Jays did that their payroll would drop by some 15-20 million from last year.

3. Actively dump payroll - the Jays could deal Ryan and lose very little in the 'pen (assuming the health of the remaining pitchers); they could deal Overbay, move Lind to first, and sign a low-priced DH like Russel Branyan; I don't think they could - or should - move Rolen because the uncertainty surrounding his elbow would seriously limit the return you could get, plus whoever you acquired to play 3B is going to take up a considerable portion of the savings; they could ditch Frasor and Tallet via trade or non-tender. Theoretically you could drive the payroll down another $15 million or so with such moves. That would leave the Jays with a not-much-worse team for about $60-65 million. Of course, this assumes you find a taker for the whole amount on Ryan and Overbay.

I have said before, and maintain, that this team has decent potential for next year. We are, to be sure, somewhat at the mercy of what other teams do, much as the 2008 Twins came within a hair's breadth of making the playoffs only because the Indians and Twins unexpectedly failed to meet expectations. It would do the doom and gloom crowd well to remember that what happened to those two teams could easily happen to two AL East teams in 2009. To "write off" this season and ignore that potential is, in my opinion, sheer folly. I believe that Jays management is mindful of that reality and I seriously doubt that a big payroll cut is coming. Until and unless there is a formal announcement, I going to continue to assume the Jays have some money and some options. The disconnect between the corporate profits and the poor-mouthing is just too big for me to swallow.

~WillRain

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Ring is the Thing

The AFL season is over and the Phoenix Desert Dogs have their fifth straight championship ring. More attention getting, for our purposes, is that several Blue Jays prospects including slugging catcher prospect JP Arencibia will be garnishing their digits with a bit of the traditional jewelry.

Arencibia went to Arizona with instructions to work on taking pitches and drawing walks and his early work in that area was encouraging. But is the AFL season wore on, he either lost focus on that or simply got tired and was challenged more. In 95 fall league at bats he drew five walks, which is good when you consider he only drew seven in 262 AA at bats. The problem comes in that he drew all those walks in the first 12-15 games of the AFL season and he finished out the last dozen games or so (without being able to see the entire gamelog it's difficult to be precise) without a walk. Still, it's hard to be too troubled given that JPA has played far more games in a year this year than he ever has before.

Overall, he posted a .782 OPS in Arizona. Contrary to popular expectations, I think he'll get assigned to AA New Hampshire to start the season next year with the expectation he'll move up to AAA a couple of months down the line. I, for one, think that if you want him to take more walks, you don't start him out in the PCL where the temptation to swing for the fences will be huge.

Other Jays on the Phoenix team include Scott Campbell, who couldn't get in a power groove but drew 14 walks in 64 plate appearances for a .446 OBP; Ryan Patterson who was struggling early but finished the season en fuego (he hit .405 and slugged .703 in his last 10 games) to finish the fall season with a nifty .831 OPS (compare to the .719 he posted in AA) - Patterson is still a lefty masher who's punchless against RHP though; hard-throwing Kyle Ginley, who was making some progress before getting lit up in his last two appearances to finish with an ERA over eight; non-prospects Mike MacDonald and Aaron Harang who were even worse (while pitching in relief for the Dogs); and relief prospect Zach Dials, whose stat page refuses to load.

Don't sweat the pitching too much. Ginley had nagging injuries all year and just needed some reps, Harang and MacDonald are organizational filler who, in my opinion, had no business in Arizona to start with. Be pleased with how the hitters did against what is, in most cases, AAA pitching.

Meanwhile, further west, the Hawaii Winter League has also wrapped for the season. Hard charging 2b/3b prospect Brad Emaus posted an eye-popping ratio of 17 walks to 7 strikeouts in 98 plate appearances. And that while slugging .494 along the way. If this kid develops just a little more power you can relax about the question of who follows Scott Rolen at 3B in Toronto.

Also playing in Hawaii was raw, but talented, CF prospect Eric Eiland. There's nothing to praise about his Hawaii performance - 3 singles and 7 walks, along with 17 strikeouts, in 48 plate appearances. But don't get too down on the kid, he has to be gassed, and it is worth remembering that he's still a year ahead of where Rios was at this age.

Finally, new project Adam Loewen, in his first real look at professional ball from a hitter's perspective, collected hits in 4 of the 10 games he got into, going 6 for 29 (half of those hits coming on one 3/4 day) but also drew a respectable five walks for a .368 OBP. Loewen will be one of the most intriguing stories of 2009 for Jays fans.

***

While I'm on the subject of winter baseball, minor league free agent 3B Jesus Guzman, late of the A's system, continues to rake the ball (as he did last year in AA) in the Venezuelan winter league. He's posting the following line in 115 ab:

.400 - .500 - .696 - 1.196

And has more walks than strikeouts. Given what has passed for third baseman in AAA for the Jays the last several years, I certainly hope the Jays are paying attention here. Anyone who signed him now would risk losing him in the Rule Five draft but as soon as that event is finished, the Jays need to be first in line for Guzman.

~WillRain

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cheap, Organic Produce

There are few positions less sexy than backup catcher, but there are perils to literally chucking away ABs on no-stick retreads (like Ken Huckaby in 2005 and Jason Phillips in 2007) and running your regular guy out more often than you'd like because the alternative just isn't major league-calibre.

Rod Barajas may have won the starting job for 2009, but he's not durable enough to carry more than 70% of the playing time behind the dish. With cheap, internal options ranging from underwhelming to the extreme (Curtis Thigpen), just plain imprudent (rushing Arencibia or Jeroloman), or desperation (Erik Kratz), enter Quebec-born hard luck guy Pierre-Luc, aka "Pete", LaForest, who was recently given his walking papers by the Phillies after a lost season. (Hat tip to cybercavalier at Batter's Box.)

LaForest, 30, is a prototypical lefty Canuck slugger I've long been interested in. Despite showing bursts of extreme power in the minors (when healthy he slugged .567 and .578 in extended AAA stints for the Rays in the International League and .544 in the 2007 PCL trip that saw him knock 29 dingers in 296 ABs), LaForest just hasn't caught a sustained break in the big leagues. Granted, he didn't acquit himself well in 3 of his 4 short major league tours, but, uh, that doesn't mean you shouldn't see LaForest because of the trees?

More importantly, though, is that Marcel projects him to put up a .267/.345/.411 line in limited duties next year. (BA Barajas hit .249/.294/.410 last year). I'm intrigued by his minor league line to the point that I wouldn't mind seeing him used in a platoon with Barajas, recognizing that the latter has the defensive skills that will lead Cito to give him the lion's share of playing time.

Catchers don't always follow a linear path of development, as we all know. Ernie Whitt was 28 before he became an everyday player in the bigs and didn't become a "good" hitter until 30, Gregg Zaun was 33 when he found steady work in Toronto, just to cite a few local examples. LaForest might not amount to anything--there are thousands before him who couldn't translate god-given talent into a successful major league career--or he might turn out to be a bargain basement surprise for someone in 2009.

There are veteran FA options like Josh Bard and Michael Barrett who do have superior major league track records and might be worth a look for the right money despite poor years in 2008. JR House is another career minor leaguer who is pretty likely to hit better than internal options.

But maybe coming "home" (for the bare minimum, which is key) and getting a shot at finally proving himself at the highest level would light a spark under LaForest.

-- Johnny Was

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dear God, are you listening?

Most of the hot stove chatter we read amounts to nothing as journos crank out copy even though there's not much of substance really happening, so take Mike Rutsey's report in the Sun that JP is willing to go 5 years on a new deal for AJ Burnett with a grain of salt. (Read Bastian recycle the same story if you like.)

Did JP actually really say he'd go down that road? It's pretty hard to tell given that most of what he says has to be run through an Enigma machine for deciphering.

Rutsey's money shot:

Five years may not be the first preference of general manager J.P. Ricciardi either, but it's a concept he hasn't ruled out....

"I wouldn't say it scares me. I'd say we'd be open to talking about frameworks but right now we don't have anything on the table in terms of years or money," Ricciardi said.

Slam dunk, send the UN weapons inspectors home.

Does this really mean we'll see AJ back in town on a ludicrous new deal? No, no it doesn't. For all we know JP's just blowing smoke up Rutsey's ass--I defy you to find any real meaning in anything he was quoted as saying--in an attempt to drive up AJ's price for the Yankees or Red Sox.

I understand that this cloak and dagger shit might be part of the game, but JP's cover as a practioner of the black arts was blown long ago and no one really believes a word that comes out of his mouth anymore. All this sort of thing--be it telling Bastian that there are no big free agent position players on the way or this shit teasing/horrifying us with the prospect of retaining AJ--really does is get people agitated and pissed off. The maxim that there's no such thing as bad publicity doesn't hold here; ticket-buying fans (hi, remember us?) need some reassurance, or, at the very least, no obtuse comments from the GM that stoke our pessimism.

Really, for the good of the community, is it too much to ask that JP impose a media blackout until something is about to happen or actually has happened?

Let us pray.

***

Other shit: No Manny, JP says to Bastian. Move on, guys. Would've been fun, but really the odds of that were never higher than those of me finding myself in the middle of a Naomi Watts-Monica Belluci-Gong Li sandwich.

Some roster moves: LHP Ricky Romero, RHP Robert Ray and LHP Luis Perez were all added to the 40-man roster. Romero, soon to be The Southpaw's resident favourite up and comer, you know. Ray is a guy Will likes who has been making slow but steady progress and put up decent numbers in AA last year. Perez is starter who keeps it on the ground (5 HR in 212 pro innings?!?) and posted about a K an inning in A ball last season.

-- Johnny Was

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An in-depth look at Vernon's contract.

After my misguided trade idea post, it occurred to me that there might be value in really digging into the popular assumption that Vernon Wells is overpaid (relative to the market, of course - every guy in the majors is overpaid in the abstract sense).

There are several factors at work here. First, is the inherent inflation of the MLB salary market. Every year their are shocking new deal which raise the average annual salary. While the AAS is not a perfect indicator of the market for upper echelon talent, I think it's a fair measuring stick because one could argue that the pre-arbitration players serve as a drag on the average and that the inflation of free agent deals (or deal which buy up free agent years) is actually MORE than the rate at which the AAS rises.

Second, there is the difficulty of perfectly discerning a players value based on comparisons to other players when no two players are exactly the same. Admittedly we can only approximate here.

Third is the "projectability" of any player. How will Wells, or any other player, age and what effect will that have on his market value.

So obviously there are enough uncertainties to make absolute decelerations impossible. Still, there is much we can learn. From the start, let's establish the comparables. If you look at the careers of Vernon Wells and Tori Hunter through the year in which they turned 30 (Wells turns 30 next month) you will find a very good comparison. Using OPS+ as a measure:

age - VW - TH
23 -- 96 -- 71
24 - 132 -- 80
25 - 105 - 101
26 - 104 - 124
27 - 129 -- 98
28 -- 85 - 104
29 - 121 - 106

Looking at that you HAVE to conclude Wells is a better hitter to that point in his career, and while his defense has slipped enough that fair minded people would agree it's not on Hunter's level anymore, he does enjoy a good reputation as a defender. Hunter went on to post a 112 and a 122 before his free agent year. That is to say the year he was a free agent he was essentially the exact same hitter Wells was in 2008. and had a lesser history with the bat.

Hunter signed a contract with an average annual value of $18 million, the same as Wells' AAV, by the way. Also the same as Suzuki's and roughly the same as Andruw Jones and one million more than Alphonso Soriano's. If you look at the last three years before the contract signing of each of those players you'll find they are pretty similar offensive forces, albeit with obvious differences in their strengths.

So I think we can say with some confidence that the market for a hitter of that caliber in the current market is an AAV of roughly $18 million.

As for the projectability and aging issue, Hunter signed a five year deal at about 32.5 years of age, Suzuki had just passed his 34th birthday, Jones was coming up on his 31st, and so was Soriano. Not to get ahead of myself, but just to get it on the table, Wells will turn 33 the winter of his option.

Now, with those parameters on the table, let's look at market inflation in baseball salaries.

Here's a chart of the growth in the average salary in MLB over the last seven years, and the precentage increase over the previous year:
(the original, going back to 1989, can be found here)

2002$2,383,2355.2
2003$2,555,4767.2
2004$2,486,609(-2.7)
2005$2,632,6555.9
2006$2,866,5448.9
2007$2,944,5562.7
2008$3,154,8457.1


Now, let's average the annual inflation rate over those seven years. When you do that you get 4.9%. for the sake of simplicity, I'm going to round that up to 5% annually. (nine out of the last 13 years it has been higher than that).

Now, let's take a player who is "worth" (in the current market) $17 million annually beginning in 2008 and see where his salary goes if he stays with a market that's going up at a rate of 5% a year. In the first column is the year, in the second is his market value in that year (all other things being equal of course), in the third column is Wells contract value that year and in the fourth colum is Wells age:

'08 - $17.00 -- $9 - 29
'09 - $17.85 - $10 - 30
'10 - $18.74 - $21 - 31
'11 - $19.68 - $23 - 32
'12 - $20.66 - $21 - 33
'13 - $21.70 - $21 - 34
'14 - $22.78 - $21 - 35
'15 - $23.92
'16 - $25.12

I remind you that after the 2011 season, when Wells can opt out, he will be approximately 5 months older than Tori Hunter was when he signed his 5 year, $90 million deal. According to this math, if he had signed that deal in the winter of 2011, at the same place in the market adjusted for baseball inflation, it would have been worth $114 million (an AAV of $22.8 million).

So, what can we conclude from this information?

First, that the seven year deal, as it stands, is not in point of fact, over-market. On the contrary, a deal which starts in 2008 at $17 million and escalates at the same rate of the overal salary structure in MLB does would - over seven years - total over $138 million (Wells deal is worth $126 million).

Second, if Wells did opt out after 2011, the 4 years that the Jays actually would have gotten out of him would have cost them $63 million (AAV $15.75). Our "market value" for those four years is over $73 million (AAV over $18 million). In that scenario we still somewhat underpay.

Third, and again, all this assume Wells maintains his current level of productivity through at least 2011, when Wells gets ready to make his decision, he'd be looking at 3/$63 to stay, or the potential of a guarantee of $100 million or more over five seasons if he gets a contract that is market value.

So, simply put, if Wells remains a guy who is a 110 or better OPS+ player on average over the next three yerars, he will have a strong financial incentive to opt out and, short of Halladay-esque loyalty, will definitely do so. He could even afford to decline somewhat offensively over that time and the decision would still be tempting. Further, barring a decline to under 100, or a complete lack of ability to play CF by then, the Jays would not be overpaying if he did stay the full seven years (albeit, they may have enough depth that they sould still prefer to see him move on).

The obvious conclusion is that Wells' contract is not too high, but is in fact, at worst, fair market value in the current market.

Now, does that mean it was a good or smart deal? No, I don't think it was (and THAT is what makes it harder to move) for this reason: if you are going to guarantee over $100 million over the next seven years, you should be getting a player at a recognizable discount which offsets the built in risk that the player will decline in productivity. IF Wells continues at his current level of production for three more years, then the Jays signed a deal which paid off. If, on the other hand, he declines significantly, either with the bat or his defense becomes so bad he has to be moved out of CF in that time span, then the Jays are on the losing end of the deal. the point is, that the Jays have assumed ALL the risk and got no significant discount for doing so.

So it's not a "good" deal, but it is far from an overpayment either.

~WillRain

Never Mind!

It was bound to happen sooner or later. It happened last night. Sometimes i get caught up in a wave of explaining why an idea works and don't do my due diligence. One of the comments on my last post made me realize what I had failed to do - check to see if Ryan Theriot is for real (because getting a quality SS was the whole point).

Having looked at his minor league numbers, in my judgment, he's not. His OBP does seem to be marginally higher than Scutaro's, and he is younger, but the rest of his game is so thoroughly underwhelming that he's clearly not a target worth so much effort.

That being the case, there's far less motivation for the big crazy deal.

Plus, as a way of trying to redeem SOME value from this whole sorry exercise (a lesser man would just delete that post and pretend it never happened!), I should say again that i'm still inclined to think Wells will opt out IF he's still playing a competent CF in 2011. Maybe will anyway. To many people who think it's an awful deal forget market inflation. Every year the market goes up, Wells becomes less overpaid.

I'll expand on this thought in my next post.

Anyway, given my new understanding of Ryan Theriot, I withdraw the previous suggestion.

~WillRain

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wild and Crazy!

I have a trade idea.

Now, these sorts of ideas are always wildly unlikely to happen but I had this brainstorm and figured I'd share it with you . . . because this is my blog (in part) and I CAN. So there.

EDIT -

Given i have re-evaluated and recanted this idea, I did not want it taking up so much space on the front page, so I have removed the body of this post. In the interest of integrity, i have added that which I removed her to the comments on this post so you can still find it if for some reason you didn't see it originally and want to see what i'm talking about. The best thing though, is just to pretend this post never happened.

~WillRain

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

Do you remember that year when your dad got laid off from the plant around Christmas time and it was cool at first because he decided to use all the extra free time to finally get around to finishing the basement and he let you cut and stain the wood for the baseboards and actually tried to cook supper for the first time in his life, but then everyone realized that the only thing he could make was "chicken cacciatore"--one can of Hunt's Diced Tomatoes and a bunch of shredded Kraft Cheddar cheese on a few chicken breasts chucked in the oven for a half hour or so--and we all got to wondering when he'd get back to paid work and show some masculine leadership for the goddamn family's sake before everything came apart at the seams?

Reading stuff like this--again--gets me wondering whether JP Ricciardi has the stones to be the man of the Blue Jays family. Let me plagiarize liberally from this short Bastian post:

If the Jays don't retain Burnett, Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told MLB.com that he doesn't think "there's anybody else out there that, for what you'd probably have to get involved with from a money standpoint, that we would feel comfortable getting involved with. I think we'd probably stay in-house."

As for Toronto's search for more offense, Ricciardi denied that the Jays are targeting free-agent slugger Jason Giambi, or that free-agent Milton Bradley is a top priority. If anything, Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays hope to find what they're seeking through the trade market and not through free agency.

"We're still going to keep listening and seeing what's available to us," Ricciardi said. "But right now, I don't see us getting involved with anybody. Something is going to have to really make sense for us and the best way would be via trade."

That includes a possible search for a shortstop, too. Ricciardi said the Jays don't plan on getting involved with any shortstops through free agency, nixing the rumors that have pegged Toronto as a suitor for Rafael Furcal.

The Jays don't have an excess of spending money this winter, though Ricciardi didn't rule out using trades to possibly free up some more payroll.

"We'll be open to anything," Ricciardi said. "We're not in a slash payroll mode, but we're in a situation where if we can make ourselves better via trade we'll look that way. But, if we can't, this is the team we have and we'll just be creative with what we've got here and try to plug in our holes internally."

I appreciate that sometimes it makes sense to set off a few smoke bombs for the sake of strategic deception--yes, yes, we've all read and enjoyed the works of Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz--but I do take these words at face value and don't think JP is planning much of anything this offseason. A pinch of injured Brad Penny and a dash of, well, someone like Royce Clayton or Brad Wilkerson.

Leaving aside the farcical notion that the Jays would actually bid competitively on AJ Burnett, none of the "hole fillers" on the FA market really fit with the JP M.O. Furcal? So far as we know JP didn't even pick up the phone and call Julio Lugo when he was a free agent at the end of the 2006 season. (That was sensible, though.) I'd love to see Milton Bradley here, but do you expect JP to sign a guy who was unceremoniously dumped midseason by Billy Beane for "character" issues? It's not even worth the humiliation of tendering Derek Lowe an offer if the Yankees are going to offer him a contract that's 150-180% of fair market value. Giambi or Randy Johnson won't come here with more attractive (read: richer) options on the table.

Some of JP's relative prolifigacy is now coming back to haunt him as Dick Griffin reports that a payroll freeze or minor retrenchment is probably in store. Griffin, you've heard of him? But noting corporate payroll decisions isn't a political matter per se where a hack could grind his axe against the GM, even if he does predictably take it down that route later in the article.

If JP is crying poverty (ad nauseum), then he has to look in the mirror when it comes time to lay the blame for the doom and gloom ahead in 2009, which is looking like a third kick at the can with the same crew that couldn't get it done in 2007 or 2008. He signed off on a bat shit crazy extension for Vernon Wells (yes, yes, I know that he doesn't get ridiculously expensive until 2010 and we can fantasize about him opting out after 2011...), authored handcuffing-if-not-entirely-bad deals for BJ Ryan and Lyle Overbay, and wasted a few million for good measure on redundant UTIL guys like Johnny Mac and Jose Bautista.

You can't portray yourself as a victim of circumstance when you in fact are faced with the consequences of your own decisions. At some point ownership is going to have to pull the chord on this guy. His constant self-portrayal as a captive of wider events shows a lack of leadership that makes me hope that day comes sooner rather than later. Imagine Chairman Mao saying, "well, it's a bit nippy out, let's postpone the Great March for a few months, comrades..." Ridiculous bullshit, you don't lead by being a pussy who gets pushed around, you write your own history.

But for now, we wait as the hot stove season continues to offer up about as much satisfaction as a Pot Noodle and a wank.

****

Everyone's endorsing shit these days, eh? Well, since Nickelback's new album and McDonalds are already taken, let me just say here and now that Esquire is a fine read, Brotherhood is a fine television program, The Hold Steady is a fine band, ZUBAZ makes a fine pair of pantaloons, and Sleeman Honey Brown Lager is still the finest beer this country has to offer. Now send me my cheques, corporate motherfuckers.

Is it just me or do the Team Canada World Baseball Classic t-shirts look like something you'd see for sale in the convenience store of a 401 rest stop? Lloyd the Barber at GROF would very much like you to CUSTOMIZE one for him as a thoughtful Christmas gift

-- Johnny Was

Bargain Hunters


So the Jays made Milton Bradley a primary target? Can't say I have a problem with that. The Jays need pitching, but as we found out last year pitching and defense isn't enough to get you into the playoffs. Bradley would have led the Jays in most of the meaningful categories, including HR's with 22.

Some people will point to Bradley's injury history, and yeah, it's pretty significant. Even as a DH last year he only had 414 at bats, and I don't think you could expect much more than that next year. Which just makes the Jays offensive issues all the more glaring, that a guy with 414 at bats outproduced nine other guys who had 500-600 at bats.

There's also Bradley's "clubhouse issues", which I find as amusing as Eckstein's grittiness or Derek Jeter's clutch factor. I don't think it'll be a significant issue, and outside of using it to drive Bradley's contract price down (both in dollars and years) I don't really care if he's an angel or threatening to beat up Alex Rios. Anybody who gets on base and hits like he does can play on my team.

The final problem with Bradley is that he "hit in Texas", so you can't take his offensive numbers seriously. Alright, I might buy that, if he was going to Oakland or San Fransisco. But this is the Rogers Centre we're talking about, it's not exactly a pitcher's park.

Would I make Bradley my top priority for free agency? Not a chance. It's not because he's a clubhouse cancer, or because he's injury prone. I just don't think the Jays need to lock someone up long-term to be a DH. The Jays just need a player who can come on a one, maybe 2 year deal. Bradley most likely is looking for a multi-year deal, which is why I'd avoid him so I could grab....

Jim Edmonds.

Yes, Jim Edmonds. He was left for dead with the Padres, but he turned up in Chicago and had a real nice CF platoon going with some guy named Reed Johnson.

After the Frank Thomas experience, I'm sure some of us don't want the Jays to sign an aging slugger to another multi-year deal. But just cause the Jays got burnt signing one 39 year old doesn't mean the Jays shouldn't try to do it again with Edmonds.

Edmonds still does one thing very well - hit right handed pitching. There's no question he needs to be platooned, but last year he had an 883 OPS vs RHP, and overall he had 20 HR's in 340 at bats. Those 20 HR's would have tied him with Wells for the club lead in HR's, by the way. If Edmonds got 450 at bats, he would have hit around 26 HR's.

If you you want to ignore what he did with the Padres, he hit 19 homers in 250 at bats with the Cubs. That's pretty damn good if you ask me.

I think Edmonds still has another good year in him. He got off to a slow start with the Padres, but that was due to an injury. So it's not like he needed 250 at bats to get warmed up like Thomas did. The issue with Edmonds, like so many others, is staying healthy.

One roadbloack with Edmonds could be that he can't play CF if he signs with the Jays. Which is for the best really, because he's no longer the gold gloved outfielder he used to be. He could slide into LF, but at this point it would be safer making him the DH. I don't know if he's set on playing in CF for a team, but I don't see it being a huge issue.

Alright, so what's Edmonds going to cost? He's probably going to look for a one year deal, as a 39 year old coming off a season where he didn't have 400 at bats doesn't have much leverage. I'd say anything around 1 year with 6 million would be reasonable, with incentives of 500K for every 50 at bats over 300.

What's the advantage of Edmonds over Bradley?

Edmonds won't want a multi-year deal like Bradley will. He's capable of playing in the outfield, which is something that Bradley can't do at this point in his career. He'll come significantly cheaper, and he won't break the bank. Odds are you could still get Edmonds and a solid pitcher, whereas Bradley is probably going to cost 10-14 million a year thanks to his terrific 2008 season. More importantly, since it's a short term deal the Jays can get rid of Edmonds quickly if he shows that he can't hit. With Bradley, you might be stuck with him for a few years.

There's no guarantee Edmonds is going to want to play for the Jays, but I think he'd be a perfect fit if he did.

Twitchy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Question of Manny

Stoeten over at DJF made note earlier in the week of the persistent mention - particularly by Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman - of the Jays being part of the discussion of where Manny Ramirez suits up next season.

Now comes Jay Onrait blogging at TSN on this subject and the case is a compelling one. Now, since I have stated publicly that they Jays, given their 2010 salary obligations, need to avoid long-term high-dollar contracts but Manny is in a special category.

On an emotional level, without any consideration of budgets, 98.7 percent of Jays fans would be thrilled with the signing of Manny. The reasons why he would be willing to join the Jays have been discussed at length and the transformitive effect he would have on the Jays line-up are so obvious as to make a discussion of them unnecessary. Suffice it to say he would instantly become the best hitter in the history of the franchise.

The question is, as it has always been - money.

Manny and his agent Scott Boras dismissed the Dodgers' offer of 2 years and $45 million and don't seen any more impressed with the suggestion of a third option year that takes the deal to $60 million. Boras had earlier implied a 5 year/$85 million deal was a reasonable goal. That's $17 million a year, so let's see if we can work with that.

As I noted Wednesday, if one assumes the jays payroll will not be allowed to exceed $100 million over the next 3-4 years, the Jays have about $19 million in hand right now and will likely add a couple more when Frasor and Tallet are moved along. In 2010 they only have about $3 million to spare. After 2010, several high value contracts come off the payroll. if we assume Halladay is extended before then and make some reasonable guesses about the shape of the roster, it seems likely that they would be somewhere in the low 80's (albeit with no obvious internal option for shortstop unless Jackson is rushed through the system). After 2011, it's useless to speculate except to note that in general terms a lot of positions will be filled by inexpensive players. One may note in passing that Wells' opt-out is in play after 2011 too (and don't assume he won't exercise it).

So, here's the deal I propose to work with:

Four years plus an option for a fifth (since Boras seems hung up on five years). $19 million a year for the first four years, and a $4 million buyout of the fifth year, or $10 million in the fifth year. That's at least $80 million and potentially $86 million.

What does it take to afford this? Well, let's assume that a natural normal progression of payroll on a "static" budget (i.e. all payrolls - except the Marlins - have a slight upward drift) would be about 5% year-over-year.

2009: A 5% increase over 2008's $98 million would be a $103 million budget. With $81 million projected for current players, and the opportunity to gain a couple million by moving Tallet and Frasor, that puts the money available at $24 million. Give $19 million to Manny and you have about $5 million to work with for other needs.

2010: A 5% increase over 2009 sets the budget at $108 million. A reasonable projection of the current roster, plus Manny making $19 million, would total $116 million. But as noted in the previous article, Overbay and Ryan are easily replaceable players who could and should be dealt before spring training 2010 begins. That saves $17 million and gives the GM $9 million to work with should the team have other needs (and frankly, the needs between 2009 and 2010 should be very minor barring a big injury).

2011: Add another 5% and you are at $113.5 The presumed low-80's figure, plus Manny, equals about $100 million. That team would project, as of what we know right now, to have a rookie 3B and continued uncertainty at SS but again, it doesn't project to be a payroll that is exorbitantly more expensive than 2009 and 2010. There is some uncertainty in this projection (the further out you go the more guesswork is involved) but not $13 million worth.

2012: Another 5% takes you to $119 million. for the sake of this discussion, I'll assume Wells doesn't opt out after 2011 ( I won't go into the reason here why Wells might opt out, but it's very much more possible than most people assume). As a VERY rough guess, looking ahead to who the Jays will try to retain through their arb years, having Manny here would lead one to think that the payroll for 2012 would have to be somewhere in the $120's. That would be somewhat over budget if Wells stays.

Quibble the numbers a little either way - take out your calculator and run it again with a 3% increase or a 7% increase if you want - the point is that if Rogers is willing to commit to a 5-7% annual increase in salary, the jays can afford to give Ramirez and Boras what they want.

Now, the calculation is over my head but, will Ramirez drive enough revenue to wash out that payroll increase? Will he put enough more fannies in the seats and etc to account for some $40 million more in payroll (over that hard $100 million cap) spread over 4 seasons? My hunch is that the answer to that question is yes. If not all of it, enough of it so as to make the difference negligible.

So, bottom line? Yes - the Jays can afford it. They can afford to outbid the other mentioned contenders for Manny Ramirez without much payroll gymnastics at all. And they should. Even if one argues he'll decline in the out years, he's a guy who's OPS+ routinely runs in the 150-170 range. If you get two years of that, and two years in the 120-130 neighborhood, your money is well spent. Of course there is a chance that he'll fall completely off the table by 2012 and you'll have $19 million (plus the buyout) tied up in an unproductive player - but you might have won a World Series in the meantime too. The Jays ownership risk more annual salary in 2012 and beyond on a much lesser hitter when they signed Vernon Wells - it would be criminal if they blinked on doing so for a hitter of Manny's caliber.

Note well, though - this is NOT an argument for spending big money on any other free agent. throwing an eight figure salary at a Burnett or a Ben Sheets or a Derick Lowe would be insanity. no one else out there on the market can change the completion of a team the way Manny can.

Once the pretense of perusing Burnett is thankfully finished, the Jays should step to the front of the pack on Ramirez and get it done.

~WillRain

UPDATE: I don't want to steal anyone else's good idea - so rather than edit it in I will only say, read the comments on this one as Ari has really added to this idea in his comment.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What the fucking FUCK??!!

See THIS is the stuff that pisses me the fuck off!

Brian Cashman just horribly raped Kenny Williams out of Nick Swisher with no hint the Jays ever made a call. I mean, obviously we can't KNOW that the Jays didn't try but this shit is just insane - any tram in baseball should have been able to beat this deal.

The Yankees get Swisher AND an thrown in minor league reliever for Wilson Betimit, Jeff Marquez, (who's probably not as good a Scott Richmond even) and Jhonny Nunez!!

This is the equivalent of the Jays dealing Scott Richmond, Kenny Rodriguez, and Joe Inglett for Swisher.

Damn.

Just fucking DAMN.

It's bad enough you let a chance like this go by, I could live with that - but it drives me fucking NUTS that the team that benefits is the gorram YANKEES!!!!!!!

Swisher could have been a BIG piece for the Jays but even if he was a disappointment, for THAT price, no big loss. Watch him go to the Yankees and crank 35 homers next year while we throw half again more money at Giambi and he comes here and falls apart by June.

ARRRGH!!!


~WillRain

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thinking Big

With the buzz around the Jays seemingly all about whether or not they are players for the big stick wielded by Manny Ramirez, I believe I'll be a non-conformist. Why not take advantage of a rare opportunity to sign a big time starting pitcher on a one-year deal?

No, I don't mean rehab cases like Pedro Martinez or Brad Penny (not that cheap fliers are a bad thing), rather, I propose a more imposing figure:

The Big Unit.

Yes, I know, he likes being in the southwest, he likes being in the NL, yadda yadda yadda.

Randy Johnson needs five more wins to reach 300 and he's definitely going into his last year. He's thought to be seeking something in the neighborhood of $10 million and the D'Backs don't have that to spare. Certainly the dodgers and Astros will sniff around, but I think the Jays ought to be proactive and get him up here, even if they have to be creative. Hell, I would not be adverse to signing him to something unseen so far based on Roger Clemens late-start deals with the Yankees - a Half year contract!

Think about it - sign Johnson to a contract that pays him $6 million through the All-Star Break. He gets about 17 or 18 starts to get past 300 but he has the option of going home to the sunny southwest after the first half. The contract would include a $4 million player option with a proviso that the Jays hold his rights the rest of the season if he decides to play (no fair jumping to the Yanks for the second half).

that would mean your first half rotation starts off as:

Doc
RJ
Listch
Purcey
Janssen/Richmond/Romero

When McGowan comes back he makes it:

Doc
RJ
McGowan
Listch
Purcey/Janssen/Richmond/Romero

And if/when Johnson retires, you should have a well prepped set of pitchers to choose from to replace him (whichever of Purcey/Janssen/Richmond/Romero aren't in the fifth slot already, plus Cecil and the other Romero and maybe Mills).

What's not to like?

A deal like that leave plenty of options financially to adjust the offense. Let's rock the boat people!!

Hard Times?

Every year in the off-season the obsessive fan like me wonders and speculates on what kind of budget their team has got to work with. As in most years, the Jays are being fairly tight-lipped about that but they have done nothing to dispel the idea that the budget will remain in the same general neighborhood as in 2008. That figure, depending on the source you choose, was right at $98 million (All my figures are from the invaluable Cott's Baseball Contracts).

So, let's assume that the team is going to want to stay on the low side of $100 million - what does that mean for off-season spending?

Here's a list of the Jays guaranteed contracts for 2009:

Halladay - $14.25 million
Rolen - $11 million
Ryan - $10 million
Wells - $1.5 million ($8.5 million bonus payment)
Overbay - $7 million
Rios - $5.9 million
Downs - $3.75 million
Hill - $2.59 million
Barajas - $2.5 million
McDonald - $1.9 million
Scutaro - $1.1 million

Total: $61.49 ($69.99 with the bonus)

Right away you, like me, are asking "What the hell is the deal with Wells' pay?"

Good question. Truth is, no one outside the front offices of major league baseball teams really knows. Every time salary discussions come up it's said that the bonus doesn't count, but if you add up the 2008 payroll without the $8.5 million bonus scheduled for last year, it doesn't add up to the total team payroll reported everywhere. That being the case, I will henceforth count his bonus as part of his salary except for one bit of speculation I'll get to at the end.

This year's arbitration eligible Jays are Bautista, Accardo, Frasor, and Tallet. If all these players were to remain on the roster (and speculation is heavy that Frasor definitely won't and Tallet will be floated as a trade chip) that's about $7 million, in my opinion.

That leaves 10 open spots, plus Marcum who will receive a major league salary but won't be on the 25 man roster. Fill in Lind, Inglett, Carlson, Janssen, Litsch, Purcey, and McGowan at pre-arbitration salaries (along with Marcum) and you have roughly $4 million at most.

All told that's about $81 million. And there are three other spots. Reserve catcher, DH, and probably another outfielder. So if you wanted to throw in a big money FA like Giambi or some such . . . you are doing so against an available budget of $17-19 million.

That said, if you get Frasor and Tallet off the roster, you pick up a couple more million (when you adjust for having Wolfe and Romero or someone in their place at league minimum), if you make the Overbay rumors come true that's $7 million more - find a taker for Ryan and that's $10 million. So in theory you could double the available case to $38 million.

Sounds pretty good, eh? But you can't do a proper job of understanding this without looking ahead to 2010. In that season the commitments to those already under contract add up to $82.45 million (including Wells' bonus) and arbitration eligibles include Accardo, League, Janssen, Marcum, Bautista and McGowan (again, assuming Frasor and Tallet are gone). My guess is that Bautista won't be on the 2010 roster either. So that will take the team over $90 million for 12 players. If every other player on the team was pre-arbitration you'd be right around $97 million.

What does that mean? it means that the $19 million which is in play in 2009 is only available (short of a pay raise in 2009. Now, I am of the opinion that the payroll will trickle up 3-5% just on natural inflation from year to year, but even with that you are only looking at maybe a $5 million cushion in 2010.

So if the Jays sign a Bradley or a Furcal or some such to a multi-year deal one of two things must be true - either the 2010 payroll is going up, or Overbay and Ryan will not be on the 2010 roster. Maybe both will be true depending on the amount of commitment made. They don't have to be dealt this off-season, unless the team has some impressive plan to sign Manny or something, but they would have to go before 2010.

Simple, huh? Try reconciling all that with the "attempts" to keep AJ in the fold.

Well, there's one more complication which puts a lot of what I just said in potential doubt - that signing bonus mystery. When the Jays signed Frank Thomas they paid him a small base and a big bonus. Wells had a big bonus paid out in 8.5 million installments over three years (do you realize his official salary in 2008 was only $500,000?). The implication of that is that you could, in theory, sign a player like Milton Bradley (just to use him for an example) to a deal like this:

2009 - Bonus $1 million, Salary $7 million
2010 - Bonus $7 million, Salary $ 1 million
2011 - Salary $8 milion

Such a deal would help avoid payroll pressure in 2010 according to the mythology that the signing bonus isn't salary. The problem with that is, as I observed earlier, when you see a team's total payroll listed - it always includes the signing bonuses. Confused yet?

I think that's the goal.

So I'm going to boil it down to a bottom line, now that you have seen the information that informs my assumptions:

The Jays have up to $19 million available as of this minute and likely at least $21 million as of the tender deadline. They have, at a generous estimate, $6 million in flexibility in 2010. so they cannot sign big multi-year deals unless they expect to shed some of the multi-year deals they already have. The most likely being Lyle Overbay and BJ Ryan. Expect to see both players available this off-season, and if not dealt even more available in July and next winter. It's almost a certainty nether will be on the team in 2010 unless the Jays get a significant payroll increase from Rogers.

~WillRain

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Ever Popular Top Prospect List!

'Tis the season and all that rubbish, eh?

Anyone who spends their time writing about baseball teams marks as one of their high holy days that time of the year when you get to make your own list of top prospects. I realize I'm not unique in doing that (I tried to be original with the positional reports) but it's a given that I had to do it. It's not the first or the last. Batters' Box had theirs up over three days in early October, Bluebird Banter posted their top 30 just this week, and the grandaddy of them all, Baseball America gets around to the Jays next Friday. So it's as good a time as any for me to put my spin on the subject.

I'll spare you the gimmick of a reverse order listing since I've already given you a pretty good idea of what I think of most of these guys. What I'm taking into account here mainly is two factors - first, how good a player will be at his ceiling, and second, mainly as a tie-breaker between two similar guys, how close he is to helping the major league squad. With just a couple of exceptions, I tried to stay away from young players new to the organization that had low-level playing time. Preliminaries out of the way then:

1. Travis Snider - RF: I can't wait to see where Snider ranks on BA's top 100. He could possibly be a top 10 player, the Jays first since Vernon Wells was #4 in 2000.

2. Brett Cecil - LHP: Given the fact that he matched potential #1 overall prospect David Price stat for stat this year, it will be interesting to see how much recognition Cecil gets. He might be a step behind Price in pure stuff but he has gotten results.

3. JP Arencebia - C: JPA is still pounding the ball in the AFL and he's drawn almost as many walks in his 80 Arizona plate appearances (5) as he did in 269 PA in New Hampshire (7). There is almost as much excitement among Jays fans to see him in the majors as their is Snider.

4. David Cooper - 1B: The 2008 first round pick sailed through the minors all the way to Hi-A Dunedin this year and looked to be the "advanced bat" JP described him as. His glove work is below-average, but he looks like he's going to be an impressive hitter, albeit there's some uncertainty whether he'll have mid-range power (say in the mid-20's) or exceptional (30+) power.

5. Justin Jackson - SS: It's difficult for some people to grasp why Jackson turns up so high on so many lists. Jackson is still a bundle of raw skills which don't always translate into pretty stats at 19. But there's a lot about Jackson that reminds you of Alex Gonzalez - that would be Gonzalez the one time #4 prospect in baseball (in '94, Delgado was #5 that year), not the Gonzo who thought he was a power hitter and pissed away a promising career swinging for the fences. Hopefully Jackson avoids the same mistakes.

6. Ricky Romero - LHP: Keith law said this week that he could see Romero breaking camp with the Jays and that he liked Romero's future better than Purcey's.

7. Brad Mills - LHP: Could this guy finally be the next Jimmy Key?

8. Kevin Aherns - 3B: Like Jackson, the overall stat line did not impress, but Jays personnel say he's right on track for a 19-year-old in A ball. Jays fans would love to start seeing a hint of what justified the Chipper Jones comparisons, though.

9. Scott Campbell - 2B: Said to be a work in progress with the glove, his bat is probably major league ready now and his bating eye certainly is. He was getting some appearances at 3B in the AFL, which he might have the tools for, but he doesn't have the power that is traditionally associated with the hot corner. If he were a SS he'd be maybe #5 on the list but I assume if the Jays thought he'd work there it would have been tried already.

10. Marc Rzepczynski - LHP: An early season injury and a bit of a traffic jam held him in Lansing all season while others got promoted. Should move quickly in '09.

11. Eric Eiland - CF: Like Jackson, the casual observer has to wonder at this ranking. But as I've pointed out before, Alex Rios didn't impress anyone statistically until he hit AA at age 22. Eiland has mad tools, don't write him off.

12. Brad Emaus - 2B/3B: Emaus improved month to month all season long and hasn't stopped yet. During the regular season he had more walks that strikeouts . . . in Hawaii he has a ratio of 13:5. In 59 at-bats in the HWL he has an OPS of .986. He has more power than Campbell, and is a better baserunner. My guess is that this is the man who takes over for Scott Rolen unless the Jays bring in someone from outside the organization before 2011.

13. Brian Jeroloman - C: He's never going to be an exciting hitter. But guys like Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, and Brian Schneider stay in the majors for 10 years or more with defense like Jeroloman's.

14. John Tolisino - 2B: One of the Jays "great eight" 2007 draftees, Tolisino was mostly a disappointment this year, but Jays player development people still think highly of his bat. He is going to have to hit though, because his future is probably in LF.

15. Balbino Fuenmayor - 3B: as an 18-year-old the international signing found his bat and lived up to his clippings. He may have just scratched the surface. JP mentioned on JaysTalk late in the season something about moving him to 1B next year. The reviews of his defense have not been that bad (though he is raw) and the move might have something to do with crowing at 3B in the low minors (2008 draftee Rob Sobolewski is three years older and normal progression for both players would have them at Lansing in '09. Hopefully the Jays don't write off the idea of Balbino playing third this early.

16. Adam Loewen - OF/1B: A recent report on Loewen's joining the Hawaiian Winter League mentioned Loewen at 1B, but a look at the system depth chart would one to believe he has a clearer path to a major league job in the outfield. Nevertheless, Loewen is a legitimate prospect as a hitter and towards the middle of 2010 we should have an idea just how promising.

17. Kyle Ginley - RHP: The hard-throwing starter battled through a series of nagging injuries which slowed his progression this year but he's got plus stuff when he's right.

18. Robert Ray - RHP: Blossomed in 2008 for his best minor league season yet, Ray has a plus fastball and good overall stuff, but given the Jays pitching depth, his best bet to make the majors as a starter is a trade. Still, he could be a fine set-up reliever for the Jays when he arrives.

19. Tim Collins - LHP: Plenty has been written already about the Little Giant and a lot of it implies his future is as a SP. I confess I'm pretty skeptical that a guy this size is going to hold up as a major league starter. But he sure looks like he has the stuff to make an impressive reliever. We'll have to see how it translates to higher levels.

20. Robert Sobolewski - 3B: Still a bit rough around the edges at 3B but said to have the raw ability. At his age, he needs to play full season ball which prompts a bit of crowding at the position in A ball. Has the potential to skip over Aherns with a strong performance.

21. Davis Romero - LHP: A victim of the numbers game, in some systems it would be a given that D-Ro would be penciled into the major league staff, but between the wealth of potential LH starters around him, and the surprise emergence of Jesse Carlson, the opportunities are less obvious. One hopes that Romero would have some good value as a second or third players in a package trade.

22. Johemyn Chavez - LF: Had a "write off" year with pretty much nothing good to say for it, the guy still has a ton of tools and can't be totally dismissed yet. But he needs to break out in '09.

23. Tyler Pastornicky - SS: Like many of the Jays prospects, Pastornicky is said to have intangibles that are off the chart. Great baseball instincts and a passion to succeed. He also displayed a pretty good bat for his first taste of pro ball and he's said to be a talented defender.

24. Andrew Leibel - RHP: Taking this one mostly on faith and draft position. We'll know more about his future a year from now.

25. Kenny Rodriguez - RHP: This is probably the only top prospect list you'll see with the Cuban refugee on it. A year from now this ranking will either look stupid or genius.

Honorable mention: Three players who are older or have a spottier history but who could turn heads further this season...

Scott Richmond - RHP: May get a notable number of innings for the Jays in '09
Brian Dopirak - 1B: If he shows he has figured out higher minors pitching, he could regain legitimate prospect status
Bryan Bullington - RHP: Old to be called a prospect, but it's the second year back from surgery so he'll impress this year or be completely regulated to bust status.

Other names to watch for potential inclusion next year: Eric Thames (CF), Kenny Wilson (CF), Jon Talley (C/1B), Joel Collins (C), Joel Cerrano (RHP), Robert Bell (RHP), Jon Del Campo (2B), Alan Farina (RHP), Luis Perez (LHP), Zach Dials (RHP)

* * * * *

A shoutout this week to the re-booted Mopupduty blog. Not only did Mathias go great lengths to provide profound insight into the history of the Jays' best manes, but he created a video illustration to drive home the point. You just can't find analysis like that anymore!

~WillRain

Friday, November 7, 2008

Taking a Flier

Baseball America has the new list of Minor League Free Agents (561 of them! Plus 84 others who had already been granted free agency by their teams) and given JP's talent for occasionally nicking the under-appreciated guy on minor league deals, it's only natural to peruse the list and see what catches your eye. In doing so, it's worth considering that the AAA rotation is pretty much full already (depending on who out #5 is on opening day, it seems likely Cecil, both Romeros, Bullington, and possibly Scott Richmond or Bill Murphy will fill it out) and several of the recent acquisitions will be in the Las Vegas pen along with whoever is crowded out at the major league level.

On the other hand, there is little that is certain about the AAA lineup. Now that free agency has been granted, there are only three hitters still listed on the AAA roster (Brian Jeroloman, Kevin Mellilo, and Chip Cannon). Presumably 40 man roster players Buck Coats and Russ Adams will be back, and it's fairly easy to speculate that Scott Campbell and Ryan Patterson will move up from AA. Potentially, Travis Snider and Curtis Thigpen would be there too depending on how the major league roster shapes up.

That leaves a complete void at SS and 3B, a failed prospect at 1B, no reserve catcher (which should probably be a veteran if Thigpen gets a shot in the majors) and possibly the need for one more OF and a DH.

So, with all that in mind, I looked over the list of free agents and came up with a few intriguing names.

1. Joel Guzman (3B) - The one time top prospect (BA ranked him fifth in the majors in 2005) is still only 24 years old. But he was stuck at AAA for the Rays the last two years, largely because he has lost what little ability he once had to get on base. He reached AAA in 2006 in the Dodgers system by the age of 21 and posted an impressive 85 games for a player who was so young. Since being traded to the Rays that July for Julio Lugo he has gone right off the cliff. He still shows about as much power as he ever had, but his batting average has dropped from .297 in 2006 to .248 in 2008, and his number of ABs per walk almost doubled (from 12 to 23).
Still, at his age, and given our need both for a 3B in AAA and to have a potential near-term solution if Rolen flames out again, I think Guzman has to be the obvious #1 target on the list. JP ought to have him signed within the next week.

3. JR House (C) - The Pirates #1 prospect in 2002, House will be 29 next year and he's never gotten a full shot at major league playing time. But he's got nothing else to prove at AAA offensively and he'd be a much better bet than Thigpen on the Jays roster on opening day. Unless his defense is horrifying.

3. Tim Raines Jr. (OF) - Ok, I have to admit their is some sentiment to this one. Raines will be 29 next season and the chances of him ever doing anything of note in the majors are minuscule. But looking at his career stats does make you wonder what went wrong. Raines last shot at the majors was in 2004, and admittedly he did nothing to raise eyebrows. The next two seasons in the minors were so mediocre that it was only his name and his speed, in all likelihood, that kept him employed.

However, his last two minor league seasons have been much more impressive. His averages are eye catching, even though these are PCL stats:

'07 - .333 - .368 - .519 - .887
'08 - .311 - .346 - .530 - .876

And he's 49 for 59 in stolen base attempts over those two seasons.

4. Jesus Guzman (3B) - The A's inexplicably failed to add Guzman to their 40 man roster and allowed him to become a minor league free agent. The 24 year old Venezuelan posted the following averages in the AA Texas League in 2008:

.364 - .419 - .560 - .979

No idea what his glove is like but he's still at 3B so he's not a future DH. He's certainly a more promising player than Russ Adams or Buck Coats at this point.

5. Ryan Wagner (RP) - the Reds 14th overall pick in 2003 and #1 prospect in 2004 was rushed to the majors and perhaps permanently damaged by the experience. After an impressive 21 innings in 2003 his control began to slip and with it his effectiveness. He had injury issues in 2007 with an inflamed rotor cuff and it may be that he'll never regain any effectiveness. But given the Jays wealth of pitching coaches, I can't see any harm in sending him to Las Vegas and seeing if we can figure him out.

Other names you might be interested in - Sluggers Garret Jones and Victor Diaz, one time top prospect pitcher Jerome Williams, former Jay shortstop Rey Olmedo, onetime Jay reliever Vinnie Chulk, and sometimes slugging 1B Chris Shelton. Oh, and Chris George, who is among the Jays own minor league free agents but who might be worth spending some more time with.


While I'm on the subject, here is the complete list of Jays farmhands who are free agents according to BA:

RHP: Eduar Acosta (DSL), Rick Bauer (AAA), Jonah Bayliss (AAA), Chad Blackwell (Hi A), Jason Burch (AA), Lance Carter* (AAA), Jordan De Jong (AAA), Grabiel Diaz (DSL), Jared Gothreaux (AA), Samuel Medina (DSL), Julio Pinto (AA), Gus Chacin
LHP: Chris George (AAA), Mike Gosling (AAA), Jo Matumoto (AA), Dieudone Paul (DSL), Carlos Rojas (DSL)
C: Adair Betegon (DSL), David Corrente (R), Erik Kratz (AA), John Schneider (Hi A)
1B: Brant Colamarino* (AA)
3B: Andrew Pinckney (AA), Hector Luna (AAA)
SS: Pedro Lopez (AAA), Danny Sandoval (AAA)
OF: Eduardo Caraballo (DSL), Wayne Lydon (AAA), Erick Medina (DSL), Chad Mottola (Hi A), Luis Rivera (SS), David Smith (AA), Matt Watson (AAA)


Other than George, there's really nothing there you can't let go without a second thought.

~WillRain

Grading the 07 offseason

With no real Jays news to talk about, I thought it'd be interesting to see how JP's moves in the past offseason turned out. We usually address the moves at the time they occur, but we never really look back and see how good or bad they truly were. So with that in mind, I'm going to go through every major transaction that occurred between November of 07 and April of 2008.

11/18/07 Acquired INF Marco Scutaro from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for RHP Graham Godfrey and RHP Kristian Bell

At the time, Scutaro was thought to be the backup to John McDonald at short, as well as a valuable utility player. He was solid defensively at third and second, but his play at SS combined with his solid bat (697 OPS) gave him a starting role towards the end of the season. He's likely the SS heading into next year, and as long as he remains a 700 OPS bat with solid defense he'll be a huge asset to the Jays.

Godfrey showed little to no improvement during the year in A+, where he had a 5.10 ERA. Bell wasn't much better in limited time.

Picking up Scutaro was a great move by JP, and as of now neither player traded amounted to anything.

12/14/07 Signed SS David Eckstein to a one-year contract

I'll be honest, I expected Eckstein to play a bigger role for the team. The fact that he could play the position meant he was an upgrade on whatever we had.

Except, he never really played like we expected him too. The defense was pretty poor, and he was not a good leadoff hitter. He eventually would ruin Aaron Hill's season, and would be traded as journeymen like John McDonald and Marco Scutaro took the starting job from him.

Eckstein was traded for Chad Beck, a starting pitcher from Arizona. He's a bit old for his level (23 at A+), but he had solid results. He had 89 strikeouts to go along with 25 walks in 95 innings for a 3.98 ERA. He was much better as a RP - a 1.65 ERA compared to a 4.46 ERA as a starter. But the sample size is quite small as a reliever, so I wouldn't get too excited.

The signing looked solid on paper, but Eckstein clearly had a decline in grittiness while having his dirtbag status exposed in the Jr. circuit. Few players can make the switch from the NL to the AL without having their dirtbag status exposed, we should have seen it coming.

12/12/07 Did not tender a 2008 contract to RHP Josh Towers, making him a free agent.

This may rival the Scutaro trade as the best move to date. It seems like only yesterday that Towers was pitching for the Jays, throwing his 55 MPH fastball and just trying his hardest to get out of the first inning without giving up 8 runs.

12/6/07 Released RHP Ryan Houston and selected RHP Randy Wells from the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft.

Houston was picked up by... Houston. I can't make this shit up - the Astros signed Houston after the Jays released him, but he was awful in AAA with a 7.59 ERA in 45 innings. Meanwhile, Randy Wells pitched in 1 inning for the Jays, before being returned to the Cubs. This is a really bad move, cause the Jays had to offer him back to the Cubs and they took him back. So for one inning, the Jays are out about $ 25, 000. A really pointless move in hindsight. Sometimes JP's fetish with the waiver wire pays off, but this wasn't one of those cases.

1/24/08 Signed C Rod Barajas to a one-year contract with a club option for 2009; Designated INF Ray Olmedo for assignment.

I'm in the minority here, but I think the Barajas signing was a bad move. Yes, he was dirt cheap and he posted a 704 OPS. But he had a 294 OBP. Think about that, he's making outs more than 70% of the time, and the team rewards him by accepting his team option for 09. Unless Barajas is the Yadier Molina of defenders, there's no way Barajas should have a starting job with a 294 OBP.

For most people, the signing worked out because he was a solid defensive catcher, and he did come very cheap. He stepped it up in Zaun's absence, but outside of that one month Barajas was awful. I don't think Barajas is a good starting option heading into 2009, specifically because of the lack of OBP. Hopefully one of the kids can step up, but if not I'd like to see Josh Bard get a shot on a minor league deal.

As for the DFA of Olmedo, this is another poor move from a roster management point of view. Olmedo is cheap, and has little service time. He's a perfect utility player because he can play different spots around the IF with solid defense. I'd rather pay Olmedo the league minimum to do the same thing McDonald does for 1.9ish million a season.

1/15/08 Re-signed LHP Jesse Carlson, RHP Jeremy Cummings, RHP Jamie Vermilyea and OF Wayne Lydon to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training; Signed RHP Kane Davis and OF Matt Watson to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training; Invited C J.P. Arencibia, C Brian Jeroloman, 1B Chip Cannon, OF Ryan Patterson and OF Travis Snider to Spring Training.

Most of those signings are pretty irrelevant, except one - re-signing Jesse Carlson. Nobody cared about it at the time, but Carlson was brought to the majors and dominated right from the start. In 60 innings, he struck out 55, walked 21, had a 1.03 WHIP, a 190 ERA+ and a 2.25 ERA. The Jays will have another 5 cheap years of Carlson, which is very important to keep in mind. Brian Fuentes will probably get 3-4 years at 8 or more million to do the same job that Carlson does. JP's been excellent at finding cheap and dominant relievers, and Carlson is no exception.

1/14/08 Acquired 3B Scott Rolen from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for 3B Troy Glaus.

At the time, nobody knew what to expect from either player. Glaus was coming off an injured season in Toronto, and couldn't handle the field turf. Meanwhile, Rolen had another down year thanks to injuries, and was fighting on and off with Tony La Russa. Both players needed a change of scenery, and they got it. Glaus worked out great for the Cardinals, who provided them with his tremendous power, and some surprisingly good defense. Rolen provided a high level of defense from the Jays, but his bat just disappeared.

The Jays ended up with the worst case scenario for this trade - Glaus succeeding in St. Louis, and Rolen struggling to produce in Toronto. Maybe his hot September is a sign of things to come, but nobody can really say with any certainty if he'll be a consistent 850 OPS bat going forward. I wouldn't bet on it though.

1/7/08 Signed RHP Shawn Camp to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

A very under the radar signing, Camp was a solid addition to the bullpen. In 39 1/3 innings, he had a 4.12 ERA. I wouldn't mind if the Jays keep him in the pen next year, but considering the depth he probably won't be needed. Hopefully the Jays can trade him for something rather than lose him on waivers or just DFAing him.

1/2/08 Signed OF Reed Johnson to a one-year contract; Signed RHP Lance Carter, LHP John Parrish and LHP Ryan Ketchner to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training.

Signing Johnson here was a huge mistake. Yes, the Jays should have kept Johnson over Stewart. But if the plan was to get rid of him for a cheaper option, they should have just non-tendered him right here instead of losing him in March and paying him to go away.

Carter and Ketchner were pretty irrelevant this year, and Parrish was a huge addition to the Syracuse staff. Unfortunately, he was pretty shitty when he came up here. Don't let the ERA fool you, as he had a 4.74 FIP, meaning he got really lucky. Not a bad signing though, since we needed him to spot start due to all the injuries we had. You always need players like Parrish.

2/24/08 Signed OF Shannon Stewart to Minor League contract with invitation to Spring Training.

A terrible signing at the time, and a worse one in hindsight. Stewart couldn't hit water if he fell into the ocean, and he was released after he injured himself later in the year. Stew's pretty much done playing at the major league level.

3/11/08 Signed RHP Armando Benitez to a Minor League contract with an invite to Spring Training;

Maybe if this was 1999 the Benitez signing would have been alright. But Benitez hasn't been good since 2004, and the signing just turned out horrible. All I can remember is Benitez giving away game after game before being released, after 6 or so innings.

Well, that's pretty much it for the 2007 offseason, so some quick thoughts:

JP missed on just about everything last year. Eckstein, Rolen, Reed Johnson, and Shannon Stewart were all terrible moves in hindsight. The Scutaro trade worked out better than we could have hoped, and getting Carlson looks like a good move now. I'm sure someone will tell me the Barajas signing was great, but I've never been a fan of sub 300 OBP players. It's why I hated when anybody brought up Mike Jacobs as a potential trade option, and it's why I still don't like that Barajas is the starting C.

Quick Thoughts on Overbay

Yesterday the Tao argued that the Jays should trading Overbay in the rumored deal to Seattle, and that we'd be a better team for it. I disagree, mainly because he's been very good against RHP (865 OPS in 2008), and losing him would really hurt the team against RHP. The biggest problem is that he just cannot face LHP, as he had a 540 OPS against them.

If Bautista, who had an 885 OPS against LHP last year, was platooned with Overbay, we'd have the makings of an above average first basemen. Considering the average 1B had an 838 OPS, I think the Jays would be in pretty good shape if they combine Lyle's 865 OPS (and good defense) against RHP with Bautista's 885 OPS vs LHP. They'd probably be around an 870 OPS, which is fine with me.

The other issue with trading Overbay is that his value is at it's lowest - so you'd get nothing in return for him. If the Jays platoon him, and let him build back some value during the season they can still move him in July. Injuries do happen, and Overbay could be a valuable piece to move IF he's platooned and is having a solid season.

One more thing - we can't assume Snider is ready to play fulltime. I'd love to leave Snider as the 1B of the future, but there's no guarantee he outproduces Overbay in 2009. Keeping Overbay gives the Jays a legitimate excuse to keep Snider in AAA where he can work on his plate discipline, and his defense.

Overbay had a brutal season - I'm not going to argue with that. But he does have value as a platoon guy vs RHP. I think you have to give him a couple of months in 2009 to see if he can at least build up a little trade value. I just don't like selling low on players like this, when there's not much incentive to do so.

Twitchy.