Friday, December 19, 2008

Moving Day

It is with excitement and trepidation that I inform you all, readers and supporters of this blog and my fellow Jays bloggers out there who helped get us off the ground by linking us virtually from day one, that The Southpaw is moving to a new home.

As of today, this will be the last post by me to the blog hosted on blogspot. The new home of The Southpaw can be found at the following address:

http://mvn.com/thesouthpaw/

Many things will be the same, a few things will be a little different.

From now I, WillRain, am the sole owner of The Southpaw and the primary writer, although Johnny and Twitchy have an open door to contribute as a guest writer as they see fit. I'm also working on some other possibilities on that front but most of what you see, for good or ill, will be my work.

The appearance is going to be a bit different. In time I hope to add some resources such as depth charts and pitching matchup projections as well as links to all the crucial sources of information found on publicly available sites.

In the meantime, I hope you'll overlook any bumps in the transition and please, change your bookmarks and links to the new address. One of my biggest worries in this move is that someone who checks in occasionally will find this page un-updated and not know where we've gone.

This seems an appropriate moment to again be clear in expressing deep thanks to all those who've been kind and supportive over the last ten months. This little project has succeeded far better than I had let myself hope.

~WillRain

Gotta love this guy

Back in October the Jays made a little noticed and lightly regarded waiver wire claim. some guy with the unlikely and yet somehow perfect-for-baseball name of Dirk Hayhurst. A quick perusal of the stats at The Baseball Cube showed us that Hayhurst was a guy who'd pitched very well in the PCL in 2008 (3.75 ERA, over 10 K9 and a 3.5:1 K:BB ratio - all quite good for any league and great, actually, for a notorious hitters league) but that really struggled in 16+ innings with the Padres. He was also quite good at AA in 2007.

Thing is, he was 27 and by that time players have often lost the "prospect" tag. Still, Hayhurst had been a starter before and had switched to the bullpen for the 2007 season so maybe he'd found his nitch. As if the Jays needed yet another RH relief candidate. Still, after the wonder that is Jessie Carlson, you think "I might hear something from this guy next year" but you try to be realistic and you move on.

However, all that has changed. Not that Dirk Hayhurst is a better pitcher now than he was in October. No, but Dirk Hayhurst is now one of my personal favorites and I guy I'm rooting for. Why? Let me show you.

Gerry, a regular contributor over at Batter's Box, linked the latest in a series of blogs Hayhurst has been writing throughout the year for Baseball America called the "Non-Prospect Diary" Being half blind, I didn't see the link but I saw subsequent references to "the Hayhurst article" so I started Googling for something on or about Dirk Hayhurst. What I found was impressive - not about Hayhurst the ball player but about Hayhurst the man (and Hayhurst the writer, by the way).

The first link I clicked was an interview posted at a Padres blog called Ducksnorts on October 15 (my birthday, btw) which included, among other things, Hayhurst's reaction to the change of organizations. It's a great read and a great insight into the mind of a man who is clearly a very classy guy. I could quote virtually all of it but there are a couple of things that most caught my eye. In this first passage, Dirk has been ask about his offseason routine and he mentions that it's important to get away from the game for a while...

Honestly, for me, there is a rekindling process in seeing life outside of baseball. I like to do volunteer work or work normal jobs part time. Last year I sold televisions at Circuit City. You may think that’s crazy, but as a baseball player, you miss so much of humanity in your baseball bubble. There aren’t many jobs where people pay to watch you work, where folks just show up to treat you like royalty. Some may boo you but they still respect you. Try selling TV’s, where people treat you like dirt and you don’t make enough to buy the products you’re selling. If that doesn’t make you appreciate your job, even when the media is billing you as a crappy relief pitcher, nothing will. It’s during those moments, when I see life go on around me completely unconcerned with trivial, minuscule issues like ERA that I feel like I can handle another year of baseball, because baseball is nothing compared to dealing with the bigger picture.

Later, he's reminiscing about his time in the minors and particularly about Lake Elsinore and he talks about a chance he had to speak to a class of school kids...

Once, in my later years there, I had an opportunity to speak to a group of grade schoolers during a community appearance. It’s cliche for baseball players to tell kids to work hard and keep chasing their dreams and all that other Disneyland stuff. I didn’t do that. This day I told the kids they should dream of being great writers, or scientists, or doctors, or peacemakers. I said they should dream dreams of changing the world, not just of being famous for some empowering feeling. I said, and I quote, “The world can go on without baseball players — we aren’t that important — but take out the folks who cure disease, write laws, and make peace, and it just may stop. Great people in those fields change the whole world; grow up to be one of them!” I remember it because I couldn’t believe it came out of me — that and a mom videotaped it.

I don't know about you but I find that very impressive. Not only is this a guy with some good thoughts, but he's good at expressing them. On the aforementioned Non-Prospect Diary, the column Gerry linked is well written and fun but my vote goes to this one. I challenge you to read that and remain unaffected.

Two things jump out at me from all this - first, I hope that baseball fortune favors Hayhurst and that somehow, in the midst of all out bullpen arms, he finds a way into a long and productive career with the Jays - both the Jays and the major leagues could use a soul of that caliber. And I wouldn't mind seeing a great deal more from his keyboard, either directly covering the sport or just writing in general - his writing ability may well exceed his athletic ability.

But beyond that --- day in and day out I see, or hear, baseball fans ranting in some public forum about their team, or their GM, or some player they "hate." Whether it's doom and gloom about the future, or intense anger that they have had to "suffer" through 15 years without a championship, or because they can't stand the perceived stupidity of pretty much everyone except themselves...and most especially the people running the team or the sport . . .

All you guys might need to take this opportunity to grab yourself a man-sized dose of perspective, m'kay? It's a GAME. Grown men getting paid to swing a stick at a ball, or catch a ball, or throw a ball - it's supposed to be FUN. Recreation. Relaxation. Most especially for those who watch. As Hayhurst said, there are a lot of important things in the world - and baseball's not one of them. And on those rare occasions when it is important, it's not the occasions when your team wins a championship, it's in the far more quiet occasions when it brings a bit of joy to a kid's life.

So have a bit of Christmas joy, dial back on the stress, and remind yourself - sixty days until pitchers and catchers report!

~WillRain

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Modest Proposal

Yes, I know, JP has specifically said he is not interested in dealing BJ Ryan. Ok, I'm going to dispense with that right now. JP has a long and proud history of doing exactly the thing he's said publicly he has no interest in doing. We already know that he's dealing with budget restrictions and most of us are savvy enough to survey the marketplace and figure out the obvious answer to the question of which contract makes the most sense to deal, both in terms of the market and in terms of how well the team carries on without the player.

Don't get me wrong about Ryan - I love the guy. I believe in him, iu have every confidence he'll be a great closer in 2009. If they Jays were not making so much noise about money woes, I wouldn't even be talking about moving him. But all things considered, his contract is the glaringly obvious one to dangle.

Now, it so happens, as all this is going on, in another MLB city there's a team which the Jays had dealings with not too long ago. Despite having a couple of promising young relievers, they are flirting with Brian Fuentes whom they would like to sign for a two year deal at something like $9-10 million per (co-incidentally, just what Ryan is under contract for) but who is growing more frustreated that Fuentes wants to play for the Angels and is waiting on them, and by Fuentes insistance on a three year deal. That team, the St. Louis Cardinals, provide what is, in my opinion, possibly the best match for the Jays on a Ryan deal. The idea is at least on the radar of Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel though he seems unsure about the potential return, but I have a suggestion.

Ken Rosenthal reported something a couple of weeks ago (per MLBTR) which is worth noting - the Cardinals apparently offered Rick Ankiel (and a prospect) to the Mariners in a deal for JJ Putz.If Ankiel is worth Putz, and if the Cardinals are willing to spend $10 million a year over the next two years for a closer, then the Jays need to make a deal happen.

Rick Ankiel for B.J. Ryan

I won't go into proving to you that Ryan meets the Cards' needs as well as Fuentes or Putz would, but you may be wondering about how Ankiel makes sense for the Jays. After all, he's one year away from free agency and he's represented by the dreaded Scott Boras (ruling out the possibility of an extension). Well, let me explain it.

First, Ankiel is a legitimate CF defender who would, along with Wells and Rios, give the Jays one of the best defensive outfields in the majors. He would allow Adam Lind to DH and Travis Snider to stay in AAA to start the season, or, alternately, give the Jays the depth to trade Lyle Overbay if a suitable deal arose. His OPS+ was virtually identical to that of Vernon Wells in 2008 - the best on the Jays - and he probably has a bit more upside yet to tap. Yes, he had trouble with LHP last year, it's difficult to asses how big an issue that will be going forward given how little opportunity he's had as a hitter. Furthermore, he made only $900,000 last year which means his salary this year will, despite being in his last year of arbitration, be far less than that of any of the reliable names who are free agents. Only two left fielders in the AL hit better than Ankiel did in 2008.

It would be good if the Jays could manage to sign him to a 2 or 3 year deal but knowing Boras they would pay a premium to do so. it would, of course, be even better if we could persuade the Cards to give up Ryan Ludwick for him - who had a better year but is less certain to maintain his level of performance. but even as it stands, if the Jays feel the need to lose a significant chunk of payroll, Ankiel is a good return and it clears out $10 million out of an overburdened 2010 payroll. Finally, if Ankiel performs to that level or higher in 2009, he could hand us a couple of solid draft picks in the 2010 draft (as opposed to the 2011 draft).

Yes, in an ideal situation the Jays could persuade the Angels to give us Brandon Wood, or we could find in some other place a young, talented shortstop who's under control for several years - I would certainly ask the Angels before making any other deal - but there is no indication such a deal is likely to occur. I happily concede that getting young cheap high-upside talent is better than getting a guy in his walk year. And with the Brewers insisting JJ Hardy is off the market, the options to add a younger talent from a team willing to invest considerable money in a closer seem to have dried up.

Any time you make a trade your gambling the opportunity costs of doing something else with the player you traded, so I can't argue there's not a better opportunity out there, unreported. But the way the pieces fit together here - Ankiel having been offered, what they are willing to pay Fuentes, what Ryan makes, the Jays money woes - all these factors say to me that there's a natural match here.

~WillRain

Monday, December 15, 2008

Target: NOT Furcal

According to Jordan Bastian, and other sources the Jays have been pushed out of the Furcal market. Please, do yourself a favor (and me too) and don't start ruminating about Orlando Cabrera or some other veteran bum. There is NO free agent option better than what we have here. I could hope that maybe we'd kick the tires on some youngsters via trade, but that's for another day.

~Will

Update-
Rosenthal reports that the Braves are making a late hard push for Furcal and he's listening. It would, IMO, behoove the Jays to make an inquiry about Yunel Escobar. Not sure what the asking price would be but if I were the Jays GM I'd want to know.

Dealing with Reality

Before I say anything let me doff my cap in the direction of Stoeten at DJF from whom the theme of this post is entirely ripped off. But it's such a very good point that I cannot resist the temptation to wax verbose on the point.

On Friday Uncle Dick made the case for the concept that it's "only fair" that the Jays trade Roy Halladay. His thesis is summed up early on thusly:

the time has come for the Jays to trade Roy Halladay to a contending club and get a combination package of ready-for-prime-time and future players. The current market shows that there are clubs with needs that would be willing to pony up a nice package.

This, of course, has provoked the usually frenzy of fantasy baseball geeks spinning glorious visions of raping competing GM's in a violent and brutal fashion. I've seen deals proposed up to and including Halladay for Prince Fielder AND JJ Hardy. Now, don't get me wrong, I fully support the notion that IF we were ever going to trade Doc (and that only by his request) we should squeeze the very best return possible out of the transaction. But there is a point at which someone has to say, "this is not a video game."

Stoeten's insight was to learn that lesson from the extended soap opera surrounding the availability of Jake Peavy. Now, granted, the analogy is not perfect only in that Peavy will only accept a deal to certain teams. But it's still very very informative.

So, first lets be clear about who we are comparing. Peavy is probably a notch below Doc in sheer ability and results but that's only because of the level of competition. 4 of the last 5 years his ERA has been 2.88 or below and in three of those years his road splits (away from the pitcher's heaven he calls home) were just as good as those in Petco. He will turn 28 early next season and he is signed to a total salary of $60 million over the next 4 years - $78 if the option is picked up.

I won't bother to recite Doc's abilities but he's 4 years older and signed for the same annual rate as Peavy ($15 million) but only for the next two seasons. So, for the acquiring team, relative age and length of contract almost certainly would make Peavy the slightly more appealing target.

Griffin says the current market shows what teams would be willing to pay - and in this he is correct - so exactly how much is that price?

Helpfully, Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune had an article Saturday breaking down the failed attempt to send Peavy to the Braves. According to the Krasovic, SS Yunel Escobar and CF Gorkys Hernandez were agreed upon. Beyond that, the Braves were offering SP Jo-Jo Reyes and RP Blaine Boyer. The Padres were asking for those two to be upgraded to SPs Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke (or possibly catching prospect Tyler Flowers as the fourth player).

So what kind of a return is this?

Escobar is a solid young defensively talented shortstop with an above average, but not elite, bat. He's 26 years old and in his second year in the majors. Given relative ages and so forth, he's probably not quite the player Aaron Hill is but they are in the same neighborhood.

Gorkys Hernandez is a speedy outfielder said to have very good tools who played in the lo-A Carolina League as a 20 year old last year and posted a .734 OPS. On Baseball America's newly released Top 10 list, Hernandez is #4. So let's say he's a similar talent to our own Justin Jackson.

Jo-Jo Reyes is a 24 year old LHP who's had two tries at the bigs in Atlanta and hasn't blown anyone away. In 32 starts over two seasons he's posted a 5.94 ERA and has demonstrated control issues. Reyes was a second round draft pick and pitched well in the minors though. Charlie Morton is actually a full year older than Reyes, was a third round pick, and has noteably worse ratios in the minors than Reyes did. He also got 15 unimpressive major league starts in 2008. I assume that the reason both teams prefer Morton has something to do with "stuff."
There's not a Jay who precisely compares to Reyes. The best I can think of is a slightly more advanced Ricky Romero.

Blaine Boyer is a 27 year old RH relief pitcher who threw almost 38 pretty good innings out of the Braves pen in 2005, missed most of 2006 with injury, and has been ordinary since. He was quite good in the first half of 2008 but from July 1 on, his ERA was over NINE. He's a fringe guy, Brian Wolfe is probably better at this point. Jeff Locke was listed by BA as the Braves' #7 prospect. He's a 21 year old LHP who reached Lo-A in 2008.

So, the Braves - who were willing to pay AJ Burnett $16 million a year, don't forget, were willing to pay, at the most, the rough equivalent of Aaron Hill, Justin Jackson, Ricky Romero, and Brian Wolfe for a pitcher with marginally more value than Roy Halladay. And were willing to forgo that deal rather than upgrade their offer.

Now, don't get me wrong, no one has a man crush on Jackson more than me, and I love Aaron Hill to bits....but is THAT the deal that's going to make your mouth water to trade the best player on our team? Is that deal anything like all the Kershaw & Kemp & more speculation that you hear from Jays' fans?

Is THAT what Richard Griffin meant by "a nice package"?

Not from where I sit. Don't get me wrong, if Halladay tells JP that he's not inclined to resign after 2010, I'd listen for the next year and see what I heard. But this whole bullshit about caving in to inevitable mediocrity is just that. But the last word we have from Doc is this:

"There's no chance if I have anything to say about it that I'm going anywhere. I can understand maybe disappointment with the way we're going. But as long as it's up to me, I'm staying."

That's the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned. As long as that remains true, I'm not interested in any deal. Roy Halladay is our George Brett, our Robin Yount, our Cal Ripkin. We have no business even flirting with the idea of dealing him until that opinion changes.

~WillRain

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The "Off" Season - Act II

For those of us like myself, for whom the sport of team building is as fascinating as the actual baseball played on the field, Major League Baseball really has no "off" season. The off-season is just another act in the continuing drama. In fact, if you really break it down, MLB consists of six distinct "phases" throughout the year. Spring training, the first half of the regular season, the post all star break trade season and stretch run, the post season, and the off-season - divided neatly into two "Acts."
With the close of the winter Meetings and the passing of the non-tender deadline, we have moved from Off-Season Act I, to Off-Season Act II.

The big names have begun to fall into place, even those unsigned mostly have narrowed the field of contenders. For the next two months then, the not so fortunate teams and players begin to see how they can patch together some sort of positive outcome from the off-season. Good but not great players like Braden Looper and Brandon Lyon and Sean Casey and Mark Kotsay have their agents trying furiously to find a match for the best deal, while coming to the realization that this year especially, the mid-market price is not going to be as high as they might have hoped.

Mid-to-low income teams like the Twins and D'Backs and Jays have to figure out how to balance competitiveness with cost . . . and that's to say nothing of teams like the Padres for whom cutting payroll is the only goal.

The Jays' task is made no more pleasant by the continual challenge of the free spending Yankees and Red Sox. The debate seems eternal among Jays fans concerning to what extent we blame our predicament on the relative budgets of the teams in the AL East. Certainly it IS possible to be a Rich Fool and still fail to find success (the Orioles of a few years back being the most obvious of examples) but there is no fool in Boston and even though Cashman in NY is no genius, the Yankees have so much money that they can afford quite a few errors, though Mr. Cashman seems determined to test that proposition this winter in signing a 300 pound pitcher to a very long and expensive deal and following that with five guaranteed years to the fragile AJ Burnett.

So, where do the Jays go from here? What course of actions balances realism with hope with the budget on hand? Probably that question cannot be fully answered until Furcal makes his decesion. The reports indicate that he spurned Oakland only out of a desire to give the dodgers every chance to retain him - that would seem to make the Jays, at best, a third option. Still, whether you think it's wise or not that the Jays target him, all their eggs are in that basket at the moment. There are a lot of other possibilities to speculate about, since so many players remain unsigned, but with a payroll so much lower than last year, they can't really move until Furcal comes off the board. At least not on major league deals.

Still, we can go ahead and note that most everyone concedes that 2009 is going to be a season in which the best we can hope for is to be the Dark Horse. I've said since the end of the regular season that I don't think 2009 should be written off as hopeless - there are a lot of things that can go right yet and I think the Jays owe it to their fans to take reasonable steps to maximize their chance of success. But obviously, this is not the year we'll be signing Manny or anyone else so pricey.

So, to move the previous question: What now? Well, the Clement signing is a sign the Jays will flirt with other veteran starters who might be had on a minor leage deal, but that will likely come late in January (and for those who predictably drone "Okha/Zambrano/Thomson" I remind you that Thomson never even pitched for the Jays and Zambrano barely did and none of them cost us anything of any significance....why is repeating such a low-risk gamble a bad move?). Their interest in Michael Barret is a good sign they will try to find a veteran reserve catcher in the same fashion.

Beyond that, I think it's the trade market that will produce the most results. There are a few young players blocked on other teams around the league who could be just what the Jays need. I can't do them justice here given the length of this post but next time I'll probably offer up a list of the players I would target that, I think, would do wonders for the Jays in 2009 and beyond.

The point is - there are other ways to improve your team than by throwing big stinking piles of cash at questionable investments. For most fans, the mantra will be "JP sucks because he hasn't signed anyone!!" but in my opinion, the smartest play any GM could have made for the Jays this offseason was to NOT get tied into an expensive long term deal for a player at a position where you don't have a long term problem. I don't think the Jays ever seriously intended to bring back AJ but if they had, THAT would have been something to criticize. Committing yourself to $60 million or more over 4 years in order to sole a one-year problem would have been insane.

And if you are NOT one of those teams who chase the mega-stars in Act I, then the sensible thing to do is to keep your ears open and your powder dry and wait for the lower tier market to develop - which is exactly what the Jays seem to be doing. To decide, by mid-December, that the Jays offseason sucks is to fundamentally fail to understand how the process works. There's plenty of time to bitch and moan in early February - but it's not time to yet.

~WillRain

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Target: Furcal

Jordan Bastian sums up the Jays accomplishments, meger though they were, at the Winter Meetings and the take-away is this: The Furcal story isn't dead.

Bastian quotes JP:

Ricciardi said he has ownership's approval . . . for adding Furcal, who is reportedly seeking a four-year contract. Toronto would need to free up some payroll in order to sign the shortstop, though Ricciardi was told this week that he can sign Furcal first, if the opportunity arises.

"That was probably more of a change during the week," Ricciardi said. "Probably more so that in order to do what we want to do, we have to get the player. There's only a certain time period that you have to deal with the player. So we'll see."

"I think we're in there [on Furcal]," Ricciardi said. "But we've been through free agency before. You never know until you get the player. Right now, we'll just keep going like we're in there."

So, ostensibly, the Jays are in on Furcal and can sign him without first moving payroll. If they succeed, then they would presumably do the math and see how much they had to shed in order to come in under payroll - we as fans can only guess at this because we don't know from official sources what the payroll target is, only that it's low enough that Furcal doesn't fit under it.

If you assumed $85, and assumed Furcal would make $10 million in 2009, then there's $6-7 million minimum that would need to be cleared. As I've noted before, you can save a couple of million by moving Tallet and Frasor, but it seems that you are looking at Overbay or Ryan going if the Jays sign furcal. And JP's protestations aside, Ryan is the guy most expendable.

Other points of interest in the piece -

* JP states flatly that doc will not be traded in any sort of rebuilding effort, and goes on to say that he will talk to ownership and to halladay in spring training regarding the future and the potential for an extension. If Doc were as pessimistic as manyy fans seem to be, he'd say "get me out of here" but thankfully, there's no indication he is so misguided.

*JP expects there to be some lingering unsigned pitching help in late January which can be had for a lesser investment. Magic 8 ball says "signs point to yes" on that one. Jon Lieber, Orlando Hernandez, Bart Colon, and Freddy Garcia are among the names I wouldn't be surprised to see still unemployed a month from now.

*There's no news on Michael Barrett but last reports had the Jays fairly confident they could sign him. It's a good signing. If Barrett finds the form he had a couple of years ago he could take the starting job and perhaps make it less necessary to rusy Arencibia, and if he flops we lose nothing significant (except Thigpen's one big shot).

*Jays lost a couple of guys who will never make the majors in the Rule 5, and drafted a couple of guys who'll never make the majors. Nothing to see here except for the totally obsessive (like folks who write blogs for instance).

Meanwhile, I'm trying to decide if it's worth 17 draft places to me to see AJ break down in NY and give Hank Stienbrenner an anyerism or not. The Tao notes quite correctly that Yankees spending sprees do not always end well - for the Yankees.

~Will

Meet the newest Jay, Matt Clement

After years of trying to sign Clement, JP finally got him to agree to play for the Jays. It's only a minor league deal, which is good because there's no way in hell Clement should be guaranteed any money.

Clement hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006, where he went 5-5 with a 6.61 ERA for the Red Sox. He had some sort of shoulder surgery in 07, and tried to rebound with the Cards last year. He was pretty good in A ball, but he got worse as he jumped from AA to AAA.

Marcel projects Clement to pitch 60 innings next year with a 4.61 FIP. I think that's a little optimistic, but given his injury history I'd say that's a best case scenario.

Clement relies on an 89 MPH four seem fastball while mixing in a slider and a cutter. He has a change up, but uses it about as often as Burnett did.

This move won't make the Jays playoff contenders, but given the uncertainty in the rotation it can't hurt to give Clement a shot. At worst, he'll be injured and the Jays relive the days of Ohka, Thomson and Zambrano. At his best, Clement will eat some innings and let Cecil stay in the minors to gain some valuable experience in AAA.

Twitchy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Michael Barrett?

Jordan Bastian reports the Jays have talked to Michael Barrett about the back-up catcher job and would like to bring him in on a minor league contract. Even though he's two years removed from his last good year, I'd be cool with that - enthusiastic even, especially if we can get him without a guarantee. With any luck he'd hit well and take the job away from Barajas when RB doesn't. (You may have guessed I'm not a Barajas fan).

Speaking of minor league contracts, there's a note on MLBTR that the agent for Mosies Alou approched the Reds (and got nowhere). I had assumed the 42 year old Alou had retired, but if he'd be willing to come to spring training as a non-roster invitee, I'd give him a look. His last four seasons with the Mets, Giants, and Cubs (before missing virtually all of last year to injury) he posted an OPS+ over 130. What could it hurt to see if he could at least start the year at DH? Certainly it shouldn't comst much money.

There's been talk connecting the Jays to Ty Wigginton and he's a good hitter who'd help the Jays but it's anyone's guess what it means to the current roster (other than the fact that, if the payroll claims are true, it guarantees someone wouldbe leaving). The question I have, though, is this - at one point the Astros actually considered non-tendering Wiginto (according to reports) so he can't be that pricey - so why wouldn't the team who might be trading for Overbay or Rolen (assuming the most obvious choices to be replaced by Wigginton) not simply deal for Wigginton themselves?

~Will

What a day for a daydream...

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Cardinals offered Rick Ankiel and a prospect to the Mariners for JJ Putz. Of course, all such reports should be taken with a bucket of salt but it got me thinking.

Putz will be 32 next season, he's under contract for 2009 with a 2010 option, for a total of about $13.6 million, and he had injury issues last year.

BJ Ryan will be 33 next year, is over a year removed from his injury and is under contract for $20 million over the next two years.

If they are even talking about Ankiel for Putz, why can't we get them interested in Ankiel for Ryan? Even if we had to kick in a few million? Ankiel in LF would be a very nice defensive upgrade, and would make it easier to deal Overbay if/when we wanted to go with Snider. Sure, he's a FA after 2009, but Ryan's probably going to have to come off the books before 2010 anyway unless the finances get better.

It goes without saying that if you could get a young player you'd have for years for Ryan then you do that but if not, Ankiel would be worthwhile.

~Will

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First word on the '09 budget?

Hat tip to The Drunks who picked up on this item from Joel Sherman:

See the Canadian economy is in freefall, as well. As recently as October, the Jays thought they would be able to preserve their $97 million payroll, maybe even inch above it. They have won 87, 83 and 86 games the last three years. But now they are targeting an $83 million payroll.

There's actually a lot about the Jays in the column but I'll stick to the money issue for now.

*
Edit: Just to be clear, I have no reason to assume this report is accurate, or that the source Sherman heard it from is accurate. Lord knows misdirection is an art form in the Jays' front office. What follows is based on the assumption, for the sake of discussion, that it might be true.
*

I've reviewed the Jays' payroll situation before and without plowing that same ground, I can tell you that $83 million is almost exactly right on what the current roster would project to (with Snider on the LF/DH I make it as just a hair under $82 million).

Now, the common assumption among Jays watchers is that Jason Frasor won't be on the team next year and that Brian Tallet is a leading candidate to be dealt. Between the two of them, that's about $2 million in savings (combined they will make about $3 but you have to pay their replacements around $400,000 apiece). So let's take as a working figure that right this minute, they have about $3 million to play with.

Here are other players who have some potential of not being with the Jays by Spring Training:

1. Jose Bautista: Should make around $2. 5 million at arbitration (or via settlement) - Once you replaced him on the roster, you are saving about $2 million here as well. Bautista has two things he brings to the Jays. First, versatility - he can play 3B, 2B, the outfield corners and, I expect, would get schooled at 1B during spring training. That said, Joe Inglett can do al that too. The second thing is much more intriguing - he pounds LHP. For an offense strapped team that will potentially have two young LH hitters in the line-up, along with Overbay who most years struggles against lefties (last year his OPS splits were .865 vs RH and .540 vs LH), that is a skill well worth $2 million.
If you went with a straight platoon of Overbay and Bautista at 1B next year and they replicated their history, you'd be looking at a guy - we'll call him Overtista, who looks very very much like Joey Votto last year, who had the ninth best OPS among qualifying 1B in the majors last year. So he's not a commodity we just kick to the curb - we'd have to be using that money in an important way.

2. B.J. Ryan: $10 mil per over the next two seasons - JP strictly denies it is an option he's considering, and the market is flooded with closers at the moment so you'd be selling in a buyers market. But if you seriously were going to play for someone like Furcal or Bradley, this is the deal that you'd most easily be able to compensate for internally. My guess here is that Ryan won't be moved in a buyer's market unless JP has a signing lines up which demands it.

3. Lyle Overbay: $7 million each year over the next two - A deal of Overbay virtually guarantees Snider opens 2009 in the majors. Even at that, the Jays would have to be signing a free agent DH or outfielder so that would be a sideways move, and not one that would facilitate someone like Furcal (unless the Jays find a way to trade for a cheap DH like one of the excess 1B/DH types in Kansas City - I'll take Kila please!). There's a relatively thin market for a league average 1B (albeit one with excellent defense) - Giants, Orioles, Mariners maybe. I could come up with multi-move scenerios which I would like but honestly, I don't see any of them playing out.

4. Brian Tallet: Arbitration eligible, probably looking at around $1.2 million - i mentioned him above, not a huge savings here but quality LHRP are in demand and he might produce a nicereturn. The market is good enough that giving him away or non-tendering him would be foolish given the relatively small savings. Frasor, otoh, will get close to $2 million and RH pitchers are not so in-demand. We'd be VERY blessed if we could trade him.

5. Scott Downs: $7.75 total over the next two years - this is a very team friendly deal which makes a guy who's already one of the best even more valuable. I can't see the Jays dealing him unless the return is VERY impressive (for instance, suppose the Royals would deal Avilas and Kila Ka'ahulie for him).

6. Vernon Wells: $10 mil in 2009, as much as $107 million over the following five years if he doesn't opt out after 2011 - The common wisdom is that Wells is too expensive to deal in this market and that's likely true, but a team which seems to have no money worries like the Cubs or the yankees might bite - you wouldn't get full value for him though. if the Jays are serious that they intend to play to win in 2009 and not write the season off, Wells doesn't get dealt this winter. Maybe next year if the bad economy seems to have no end in sight by then.

7. Scott Rolen: $11 mil each for the next two seasons - a lot of fans talk about "getting rid of" Rolen. That's the most foolish possibility on this list. Casey Blake, who is a marginally worse player when Rolen is struggling, and a vastly worse player when Rolen is right, is about to make $6+ million per year - that's the market for a league average hitter with a mediocre glove. It's also what you'd have to spend if you had to sign a replacement for him. Even laying aside the difficulty in finding a team that will gamble that his recovery is for real, the savings isn't remotely worth the downgrade.

8. John McDonald: $1.9 mil in 2009 - I don't expect this unless the Jays did land a new candidate for SS, be it Furcal or some younger and cheaper option, but if such were to happen, a deal which would shuffle McDoanld off to a team with a hole - to the Padres for Scott Hairston for instance (who's arb eligible and would have a similar contract) but the savings, if any, would be negligible.

9. Alex Rios: $5.9 in 2009, $65.6 million over the next 6 years - JP downplayed this possibility and while I find his explanation silly, I tend to agree. if Rios plays to his ability, his contract is a bargain and you'd have to get a real prize to deal him.

Mix and match until your heart's content. There are real possibilities there, and more far-fetched ideas. As I said least night, I'd be happy to see some smaller less-noticed deals that didn't remake the roster.

More on the meetings later tonight I'm sure.

~Will

Monday, December 8, 2008

A real honest-to-gosh RUMOR!

Yeah, ok, so it's Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown, (yes, "Tim" Damnit!)still, gosh darn it, it's a JAYS RUMOR! I quote thusly:

Another suitor has entered the picture, however. The Toronto Blue Jays believe they might be able to swoop in and sign Furcal with money they had earmarked to re-sign pitcher A.J. Burnett, a source said Monday at the winter meetings.

Rafiel Furcal? Yeah, sure, why not?

I mean, yeah, I could break out the analyst hat and worry about his back injury of late, I could note that while he wears the label "true lead-off hitter" his OBP in 2007 was way off his career average (let's call that a fluke for now) but given the lack of other options at SS, I won't.

But there's an entirely different reason why I have a soft spot for this rumor, even if it turns out to be false - if the Jays did throw 10 or 11 million dollars a year at Furcal, it would in one stroke put the kibosh on both the collective moaning about the Jays lack of off-season activity and the collective hand-wringing about not having any money to spend.

Both sad songs I am exceedingly tired of hearing re-played. That alone is enough to make me happy about a Furcal signing.

I don't want to get your hopes up because rumors are quashed as fast as they arise at the Winter Meetings but, just as an intellectual exercise, what would such a deal look like? Well, Furcal is said to want a four year commitment, and the A's were said to have a deal on the table at, or close to, $40 million. It's unclear if the fourth year was guaranteed though. So using that as a benchmark, equaling or beating that might involve a big signing bonus on the front end (5, 6 million?) and a somewhat lower annual amount (9 per?) or possibly some other creative device like deferred money or a fifth year option that had a nice buyout (essentially like putting a bonus on the end) or the fourth year being an option year but with a prohibitive buyout price.

Still, whatever the case - RUMORS!! WHEEE! Someone's talking about US!

I'm sure there will inevitably be an update.

~Will

Update: Jordan Bastian quote JP:

"Anybody we add, we're going to have to subtract," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told reporters on Monday at the Winter Meetings. "I don't think we're able to take on a lot of payroll. So if we want to do some things, we're going to have to eliminate some payroll."

Bastian, contradicting Brown, indicates that JP was speaking of his post-AJ payroll. Maybe there's something he heard beyond that quote which indicates that - JB is generally quite reliable - but those words don't make that clear and JP is notorious for deceptive quotes.

Still, taking Bastian's interpretation, the most obvious way to lose payroll remains B.J. Ryan, albeit if teams know we MUST trade him it weakens our position in what is already a buyer's market for closers. Another possible option is Overbay, but since we'd have to sign a bat in his absence that makes little sense.

One thing that's not often considered though, if the Jays traded Brian Tallet, and non-tendered both Frasor and Bautista, that would amount to a net savings of over $5 million with little discernable impact on the team (basically none save for the value Bautista would have as a platoon hitter vs LHP)

Also, if you are interested, Bastian has an article noticing the Jays are in on Carl Pavano. I'm not so torqued on that one.

Update, the second: DJF links us to a Jeremy Sandler story which agrees with Bastian that JP was specific that AJ's money is only for AJ and not free payroll. He also quotes him as not foreseeing a BJ Ryan deal. But before you go putting too much stock in what JP said, consider this response to a question about listening to offers on Rios:

"I think we'd be open to talk abut anybody, but if you trade a guy like Rios, how do you replace him, too?" he said. "We're not actively shopping Rios. Last year it made sense because we knew Burnett may leave and Lincecum would have stepped right in. But I don't know if there's that type of deal out there that would make sense."

Now, think that through for a second. One year ago, when AJ was still here for another year and the Jays had no viable option for a new RF in the system, it made sense to trade Rios for a SP. But now, with AJ gone and Travis Snider rap-rap-rapping at the major league door (he's a right fielder, didja hear?) NOW it somehow would make LESS sense to trade Rios for a SP.

THIS is the guy you're going to believe about the payroll?

Last Update for the night/early morning:

Here's another JP quote from Bastian, expanding a bit on what's been said earlier:

"We're trying to do something right now," Ricciardi said. "But, obviously, anybody we add we're going to have to subtract. I don't think we're able to take on a lot of payroll. So if we want to do some things, we're going to have to eliminate some payroll.

"Obviously, that means a trade, and that's what we're trying to do right now to make the club better."

So, if he's to be believed, JP is or was working on a trade, not a signing. Let me conclude the days festivities based on that to take a slightly different tack.

As interesting as it can be to anticipate a big free agent signing, if we are really a team with payroll issues after all, then the player acquisition move you get really excited about is a quiet little trade that sends, for instance, Davis Romero off for Jaquin Arias or some such - i.e. a deal which addresses the same need with a young under control, inexpensive player instead of a big shiny free agent.

Don't get me wrong, I could get jazzed about Furcal, even with the lingering worry I'd have about his health - but I could also get pretty stoked about Arias, even if the rest of the baseball world was busy chasing down the latest buzz on AJ.

Three more days of the Silly Season remain, stay tuned.

Prospects!

John Sickels has his Top 20 Jays prospect list up and it makes for great reading. While the order is somewhat different, his to 5, top 8, and top 10 are the same guys that are on my list and 9 of 10 match up with Baseball American's Top 10 list. There seems to be a pretty strong consensus about who the top guys are.

Sickels does have a few ranking worth noting-
* He has David Cooper #3 which is the highest I've seen him;
*He thinks Justin Jackson will hit;
*He has Eric Thames at #12 which is a very impressive ranking;
*Luis Perez at #13 surprised me;
*Andrew Liebel at #14 is encouraging;
*Chad Beck, the pitcher acquired from Arizona for David Eckstien, comes in at #19 which shocks me (in a pleasant way);

If you are a prospect hound, you probably already know about Sickels site but if not, check it out.

~WillRain

Meeting Demands

Ah! It's that time of year again! It's it a nice cosmic joke that baseball's winter meeting fall right in the heart of the Christmas shopping season? While little children everywhere are perusing every catalog and store shelf in sight saying, in so many words, "Want dat!" likewise, the whole baseball world is consumed with the same phrase. Players want x number of years or dollars or guarantees, agents want, the Union wants, teams wheeling and dealing players want and want and even more than all that, fans WANT!

With a level of maturity higher than that of the child mentioned about (by a microscopically detectable amount) fans of various teams demand action, damnit! Like that annoying toddler we've all seen in the toy aisle lying on the floor kicking and squalling until his spineless parent caves and buys him the treat he demands, so fans grumble and moan and complain that their GM doesn't somehow magically transform B.J. Ryan into Prince Fielder or make some other fantasy-league move.

JP waxes at length about the poor economy and "not doing much" and heads explode. As if JP hasn't said he was "not doing much" pretty much every winter before going out and doing something. Now, MAYBE it's true this time in light of the economy - but you certainly ought not to be bitching about it until AFTER you see it come to pass. The striking thing about all this, though, in my opinion, is that if there was ever a winter to keep your powder dry and lie in wait, it's this one. Sure, i think we missed a great chance on Khalil Greene and Nick Swisher both, but I also recognize that the smart GM has to be looking at the slowness of the market right now and all the teams obviously restraining spending and realize that come mid-to-late January there's the potential for some significant discount buying. Already, someone is going to get Rafiel Furcal a whole lot cheaper than Furcal had intended, for just one example.

The way I see it, one of three things is going on here:

1. JP is telling the truth and there isn't any money to spend, in which case his hands are tied and there's no point carping about his inactivity. If that's the case all he can do is wait until spring training approaches and see what's left in the bargain bin;

2. JP is lying as usual and moves will come when the time is right. If this is the case then he'll make all your whining about how we aren't going to do anything look foolish because you spoke too soon;

3. The Jays are not letting him act because they intend to leave as much flexibility as possible for the new president, including whether or not JP remainse employed. in that case, those among you who think JP needs to go will have to accept the trade-off of him not making any significant moves until you get your wish and he's gone.

Either way, what is called for here, as tough as it is (and I want new news as much as anyone) - is calm patience. Especially during the meetings. Just today one reporter breathlessly reports that JP is discussing Ryan with the mets and within a few hours another reporter says it's utter baloney. You can expect this sort of thing for the next four days. So do your blood pressure a favor and don't expend a lot of emotion on a rumor that is quite possibly a total lie. We can't change things anyway, so why not just enjot the ride instead of pitching a tantrum?

~WillRain

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A chance to right a wrong?

I don't want to read too much into this but, there's an article in the Chicago Tribune that suggests that the Cubs might non-tender Chad Gaudin and mentions a "mysterious" back injury which occurred off the field in September. While I have no information on the injury, I have to take some notice of this assuming, for the sake of discussion, that it's not anything major.

The column mentions the fact that the Cubs have bullpen issues, particularly from the left side. What if, then, we dealt them Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet for Gaudin?

They get a solid lefty and an underrated right-hander and we get a guy who can provide another candidate to start.

The great value for us in Gaudin is that he can do both things fairly well, so he can start in the absence of a better option, and then should McGowan recover, or should Cecil, Romero, Janssen, or even Richmond force the issue, he can relieve just as well for us as Frasor did.

And the difference in Gaudin's projected salary and the combined salaries of Tallet and Frasor would be under a million. I'm sure some of you will go look at his stats and see his outrageous 6+ ERA while in Chicago - but look deeper. If you check his gamelog 10 of the 19 earned runs he allowed occurred in only two appearances. For the rest of his work with the Cubs his ERA was 3.24 and his BB:K ration was 7:26.

Now, maybe the writer speculates out of turn and there's no chance Gaudin would be non-tendered...but if it's even remotely possible, then perhaps he's available. After all, the Cubs have some seven pitchers, if not more, in front of him as a starter - that's a waste to stick him in the pen when you can turn him into something you need.

And hey, JP already acquired him once so clearly he's familiar with the guy (and sadly gave him away to Oakland too but that, my friends, is the mistake he might have a chance to fix).

~WillRain

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why it matters who signs AJ

I know that readers of this blog are, from the feedback we get, well informed fans. But I notice that not all baseball fans who voice their opinion on-line are so well informed. One of the examples of this I note from time to time is the occasional reference to where AJ will sign and what difference it will make to us (for instance, "I hope he signs with the Yankees and then breaks down like Pavano did")

So I thought I'd do a small educational moment here and walk through, for those who don't know, why it matters where AJ signs.

The conditions which prevail are these:
1. A team which finished with one of the 15 worst records CANNOT lose their first round pick
2. If a team signs more than one Type A player who was offered arbitration, the first round pick goes to the team with the higher ranked player.
3. Three players ranked higher than AJ in the Elias rankings - CC Sabathia, Mark Texeria, and Manny Ramirez.
4. Six teams have been mentioned prominently as potential destinations: the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Orioles, Nationals, and Braves

Now, with that said, here's the draft order - with the blank numbers being compensation sandwich picks for free agents signed. This is an estimate on my part because some undetermined amount of the offered players will re-sign with their former team. I have assumed here that 15 of the 24 offered players change teams. That may of course not be accurate.

Protected First-Round Picks
1. Nationals (59-102)
2. Mariners (61-101)
3. Padres (63-99)
4. Pirates (67-95)
5. Orioles (68-93)
6. Giants (72-90)
7. Braves (72-90)
8. Reds (74-88)
9. Tigers (74-88)
10. Nationals (compensation for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Aaron Crow)
11. Rockies (74-88)
12. Royals (75-87)
13. Athletics (75-86)
14. Rangers (79-83)
15. Indians (81-81)
16. Diamondbacks (82-80)
Unprotected First-Round Picks
17. Dodgers (84-78)
18. Marlins (84-77)
19. Cardinals (86-76)
20. Blue Jays (86-76)
21. Mariners (compensaton for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Joshua Fields)
22. Astros (86-75)
23. Twins (88-75)
24. White Sox (89-74)
25. Mets (89-73)
26. Yankees (89-73)
27. Brewers (90-72)
28. Phillies (92-70)
29. Yankees (compensation for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Gerrit Cole)
30. Red Sox (95-67)
31. Rays (97-65)
32. Cubs (97-64)
33. Angels (100-62)
34.
35.
36.
37. Sandwich pick for AJ
38.
39.
40.
41.
42.
43.
44.
45.
46.
47.
48.
49. Nationals
50. Mariners
51. Padres
52. Pirates
53. Orioles
54. Giants
55. Braves
56. Reds
57. Tigers
58. Rockies
59. Royals
60. Athletics
61. Rangers
62. Indians
63. Diamondbacks
64. Dodgers
65. Marlins
66. Cardinals
67. Blue Jays
68. Astros
69. Twins
70. White Sox
71. Mets
72. Yankees
73. Brewers
74. Phillies
75. Red Sox

Now, watch what happens - Because the Nat's, O's and Braves finished in the top 15 picks, they would lose a second round pick regardless. So if one of those three signed him our picks would fall like this:
Nats: 20 - 37 - 49 - 67
O's: 20 - 37 - 53 - 67
Braves: 20 - 37 - 55 - 87

Whereas, if AJ was signed by the Yankkes, Phillies, or Red Sox - and the signing team did not sign CC, Tex, or Manny - then the picks would be:

Yankees: 20 - 26 - 37 - 67
Phillies: 20 - 28 - 37 - 67
Red Sox: 20 - 30 - 37 - 67

So, we can see right away that we have a vested interest in where AJ signs. This is further compounded by the legitimate possibility that the Yankees would sign both AJ and one of the players ranked higher than him. In that unfortunate circumstance our picks would become:
20 - 37 - 67 - 72
The worst possible outcome for our draft prospects (well, technically the Red Sox could sign both AJ and Tex but Lowe is such a natural fit there and has such an interest that I discount that as a real possibility).

MLBTR is reporting a story that the Braves are ready to meet AJ's five-year demand. This is bad news, from where I sit. I'm rooting for the Phillies to step up to the plate and match the offer. Seeing as how I prefer the 28th pick to the 55th.

Stay tuned.

~WillRain

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Black Tuesday

On the same day that news arrives about the passing of team owner Ted Rogers (which news I will let my Canadian co-authors speak to) comes THIS disturbing report that the Jays have laid off 20 front office workers - many if not all from the sales department.

Now, at first blush my reaction was "Twenty? Big deal." But the article goes on note that it was the biggest single lay-off by a sports franchise ever.

Yikes.

A note of caution - the reporter here is Marty York who's reputation for accuracy rivals JP's reputation for honesty. I don't think he could possibly get wrong the fact that there WERE layoffs...but the bit about it being the biggest ever - or that little nugget about the Christmas party being canceled - harder to believe.

That said, IF all this IS true, I can't think of any spin to put on this that sounds good for the major league team. I suppose it's good news for Travis Snider and you young starting pitchers but otherwise - I'm out of answers. We can rationalize all we want about why the economy shouldn't cause the Jays much difficulty given the profitability of Rogers Communications overall...but...you can't really dispute the fact that it looks like they are going into a cost-cutting mode. One of the laid off workers noted, the combined salaries of all these people "wouldn't even make half of what Burnett would get for one year". In fact, it's worse than that. Pay each of those people $100K a year (which is likely more than they actually make) and figure that much again for the benefits and such that go along with employing a person (again, too much) and you still come up with less than the Jays paid David Eckstien in 2008 - less than a third of what AJ made.

In reality, these people MIGHT have cost the Jays $2 million a year, max. If times are indeed that hard for the Jays, then all bets are off when it comes to the team on the field.

Hold me...I'm a'scared...

~WillRain

Update: it comes to my attention that Jordan Bastian has a new article up looking forward to the winter meetings in which he quotes Paul Beeston thusly:

"We're not going down to [a payroll of] $40 or $50 million," Beeston said. "It's either status quo or you're going to add to it. If we don't get [Burnett], we're not pulling back. We're not going to be selling players."

Unlike JP, Beeston doesn't have a reputation for intentionally misleading the public. Let's hope he's as good as his word again and the suits don't make a liar our of him.