Tuesday, 22 December 2009

New Sheriff in Town?

Watching the story of the Does Brandons deal unfold last night on MLBTR was high comedy. Armchair Experts, confident that, Seattle's talented GM Jack Z-somethingorother could do no wrong and was, in fact, likely to fleece any team he dealt with, was about to steal anyone from Brett Wallace right up to Adam Lind himself from the Jays.

Whenever some negative nelly tried to present the possibility that Wallace - nor Drabek nor Snider nor Lind - was going to get anywhere close to being dealt in a trade for Brandon Marrow, they were shouted down as Blue Jays fans placing an unrealistically high value on their team's talent (something which, of course, Mariners fans would never do).

The counter-speculation included names like David Cooper, Brad Mills, Brian Jeroloman and, at the peak of this group, JP Arencibia. To which we were roundly assured, such dregs of the Jays' pathetically weak farm system were beneath the notice of a talent evaluator like Jack Z and his ever-well-informed followers.

Imagine then, my stunned surprise when Jordan Bastian informed us that the prospect that would be accompanying Brandon league to the Seattle organization was slugging Lo-A ball outfielder Johermyn Chavez! I had Chavez listed as the 14th best in the Jays system AD (After Doc) but he's been ranked both higher and lower. The Batter's Box crowd had him at 12, but that was before the Halladay trade. The Hardball Times ranked him #1 (again, before the trade) but they seem off the curve a bit.

In any case, he's a guy that attentive Jays fans knew about, and thought reasonably well of, but for whom Mariners fans could only say "Jo-WHO?"

So that left them in a precarious position - admit that there Golden Boy GM muffed a trade got schooled by the new sheriff in town - or admit that the pathetically empty Jays system might have a desirable prospect in it who didn't make their top 10. Tough choice. Here's my take: Jack Z IS a good talent evaluator and DOES have a short but impressive record of bringing in talented players to the Mariners; so the takeaway here, both for Mariners fans and for disheartened Blue Jays fans is this - Don't place too much faith in the "experts" that tell you that the Jays farm system is a train wreck devoid of talent (apart from the recently acquired). It hasn't been true in previous years and it's not true now.

***If you need another reminder of how smart the experts are, check out Will Hill's latest column in which he references Baseball America's Top 10 Jays list from 2002 - in a year in which they lavished heavy praise on the Jays' system. ***

So, while I like the deal for the Jays for various reasons, I do not believe we fleeced the Mariners. They get more certainty between the Brandons, we get a higher upside. Additionally, they get a guy with a very nice upside but who's raw enough to make it not a little uncertain if he'll reach it. Trades always look different in retrospect, so you can ask me again in four years (at least) but for now, no one should be ashamed here.

Now, beyond mocking self appointed experts who don't even know the basic facts of the players involved (such as the guy who was unhappy the M's dealt a thrice-injured pitcher for League who had, according to him, a "major shoulder problem" in 2007 - and if you don't know why that's funny then look it up) what else do I have to say here?

Brandon League

Well, for starters, Brandon League is a lot better than most folks outside Toronto fans think he is.

Casual fans (and armchair experts) glance at his 2009 ERA and see "mediocre reliever" but that's where they fail. League's FIP was actually half a run LOWER in 2009 than in 2008, despite his ERA being two runs higher. Other stats which got better include K/9, BB/9, K/BB, and WHIP. An unusually high (for him) BABIP is almost certainly to blame for his higher ERA.

A check of his 2009 game log reveals something even more fascinating. Look at three stretches with me:

April 12-17: 3 GP, 4 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 1K
June 12-18: 4 GP, 4.1 IP, 9, H, 9 ER, 3 HR, 1 BB, 7 K
Aug 16-21: 3 GP, 2 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 1 BB, 3 K

16 days, 10 GP, 10.1 IP, 22 H, 22 ER, 6 HR, 5 BB, 11 K, 19.16 ERA, 2.61 WHIP

The rest of the season?

164 days, 57 GP, 64.1 IP, 50 H, 16 ER, 2 HR, 16 BB, 66 K, 2.24 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Yes, admittedly your top-shelf closers don't have those sort of blow-ups so there's room for more consistency but if you give me a guy who mops the floor with the league all but two weeks or so (collectively) out of a six month season and I'm pretty happy with that guy.

Word to depressed Mariners fans (including Dave Cameron who's a lot smarter than me): Brandon League is GOOD.

If David Ardsma reverts to the pumpkin he's been the rest of his MLB career, you guys still have a ass-kicking closer.

What about Morrow?

Well, there's plenty of analysis out there so I won't be redundant and repeat it here, except to say this: Morrow has a power fastball (sits around 95, can get into the high-90's with ease) and a heck of a curve(reortedly gets into the low 90's). He has serious control issues (probably aggravated by the fact that the Mariners shamefully rushed him to the majors) but also the ability to dominate. He's also shown a propensity for the DL.

If you are thinking "Sounds like a young AJ Burnett" - you're not the first to make that comparison. That's what we are getting here, both in terms of talent and potential frustration. another (unfortunate) comparison - Dustin McGowan. If you want to know why M's fans are upset, remember what we thought we had in McGowan a couple of years ago. Marrow could be AJ, he could be Dusty....or something in between.

Pitching Depth

AA has done a really nice job here, relative talent aside, in managing the depth of the pitching staff, and no doubt there are more moves to come. by turning a good reliever who resided in an overstocked pen into a high upside starter, he made a classic deal-from-strength move. Here's how the 2010 depth chart stacks up right now (in my opinion of likelihood to make the Opening Day Roster):


Shaun Marcum
Ricky Romero
Brandon Morrow (talent to be #1 if he breaks out)
Dustin McGowan (MAJOR health concern, this is if he is - surprisingly - healthy)
Marc Rzepczynski
Brett Cecil
Scott Richmond
David Purcey
Brad Mills
Kyle Drabek (most talent here but prob not quite ready)
Bobby Ray (if healthy)
Zach Stewart (better than many above him but needs to build up innings)
- Jesse Litsch returns in June at the earliest

You have to get to the eighth guy on this list before you start to worry someone is going to suck badly, and for a rebuilding team, you really don't have to worry unless you see them forced to call on Stewart too early. What's more, with Morrow on the team and Drabek on the horizon, by the time it matters there's a solid chance that the guys at the front of the rotation will have plenty of credibility in that role.


Jason Frasor (looks like the closer for now)
Scott Downs
Jeremy Accardo (big winner in League deal if Cito will use him)
Jesse Carlson
Josh Roenicke (another potential beneficiary of this deal)
Brian Tallet (if not traded)
Shawn Camp (ditto - he'll make more than he should for this role. Really should be dealt)
Casey Janssen (needs some other guys here to move on)
Zech Zinicola (I don't see any room for the Rule 5 choice)
Scott Richmond (if/when he's squeezed out of rotation, he'll make a fine reliever - like Janssen, he needs some guys shipped out)
Bobby Ray (again, if healthy - similar ceiling to Richmond)
Dirk Hayhurst (I LOVE this guy but there's a lot in his way given his limited ceiling)

There you have, folks, an impressive list. If the Jays broke camp with almost any seven of the thirteen relievers mentioned here, they'd be just fine, especially for a re-building team.

The pitching, folks, is in good hands and signing anyone else would be in the way. The next issue on Anthopoulos' plate - as everyone and their ill-informed grandmother knows, is trying to move Lyle Overbay. when that happens we'll take a breath and try to figure out how Cito is going to mangle right field.

One last tidbit - I now estimate the Jays payroll for 2010 at $63 million (not counting the $6 mil going to Phily or the $10 mil going to Ryan for a grand total of $79 million). I expect dealing Overbay and another arbitration eligible reliever to take that down another $8+ million and it's possible a downs trade could save 4 more.

(note - edited to revise League's statistics)


Gil Fisher said...

If Scott Carlson gets anywhere near the bullpen this year for the Jays, I'd be shocked. Who's going to feed our new play-by-play voice timely stats?

The Southpaw said...

Heh. Nevermind. Nothing to see there. it never happened.

Anonymous said...

Hope you keep this blog running, Will. I've always enjoyed your commentary, both here and on da box. On the pitching, the Jays look in pretty good shape. I really like what AA is doing.