Monday, January 24, 2011

Machinations!

Might as well chime in on the implications of the Wells trade since it's pretty much the obviously thing to do in the wake of such a major shift the makeup of the team. You have to start by saying up-front that there are WAY too many variables to be firm in any projection. The most you can do is look at the potential outcomes. So what follows is by nature highly speculative, but I'd still like to consolidate what I feel like are at least the higher-probability scenarios.

I want to approach this by position, so that we can dismiss those with the most certainty about them.

Second Base - Aaron Hill. Whatever might have been considered about his shifting to 3B, whenever Alex discusses 3B he always implies that the fall-back position if no one is added there is Bautista.

Shortstop - Yunel Escobar. No real discussion needed.

Center Field - Raji Davis. Short of another acquisition, no one else is a reasonable candidate.

Left Field - Travis Snider. There is one possible variation here - if Bautista plays 3B and no other outfielder is acquired, the assumption is that Rivera will play RF and Snider left, but it's not entirely impossible that would be reversed.

Right Field - if the Jays acquire a 3B, this wil be Bautista and both the player and the team would prefer that. I really think they will. If, however, they don't make an acquisition then Bautista will be at 3B and Rivera would be a starter in the OF, presumable in RF.

Third Base - I still think the Jays are in play on Chavez, though whether or not they will see fit to outbid the Dodgers remains to be seen. There's also Felipe Lopez and some other marginal guys out there. Barring that, or a trade, Bautista is the presumptive 3B with the caveat that there's a non-zero chance that Brett Lawrie will be so impressive in the spring that they will chance skipping him to the majors from day one. As much as I love the kid, you can't rationally project the cautious (with prospects) Jays will do that.

Catcher - make no mistake, unless JP Arencibia is a complete disaster in Spring Training, he's going to break camp as the "full time" starting catcher. Whatever speculation you might have heard about Napoli getting in the way of that is, in my view, entirely misguided. The (negative) defensive reviews regarding Napoli are so ubiquitous as to be un-ignorable. Napoli MIGHT get some starts catching in the "day game after night game" role (with Molina warmed up for a defensive relief appearance) but barring injury, he's not going to be busy back there. On a similar note, to the extent that Napoli might get starts as a DH,I don't think Molina's days are numbered, since burning your backup catcher at DH is a bad move.

First Base - Assuming he doesn't bungle his way out of the job in ST, Lind will be the regular 1B. the major question is, how much rope will they give him vs. LHP? Lind was steadily improving in that regard until last year, but in 2010 his numbers vs. LH would embarrass John McDonald. Was that a fluke? if he rebounds to a reasonable level he'll play full time, but if not, Napoli or Encarnacion will act as a platoon partner to spare Lind further embarrassment. also, if Lind proves unteachable on defense (pretty unlikely) in ST Napoli might open the season as the regular 1B.

DH - I had oringinally assumed, based on Napoli's struggles vs. RHP in 2010, that he would get most of his AB against lefties spelling Lind and that EE would get a lot of time at DH. Upon review, however, one can argue that both Napoli's impressive (v. RHP) 2008 and his 2010 were outliers and that he's competent as a full time hitter. If this is the Jays' view, he'll supplant EE and if they do think he has real platoon splits, then EE will be the primary DH (assuming Lind sticks at 1B).

However, there's another interesting consideration which was pointed out by Magpie on Batter's Box. You might be aware that Mike Mapoli's career year was 2008, in which his season ending OPS was a robust .960 (albeit in 274 plate appearances). What you might not be aware of is much more remarkable.

As late as September 16, 2008 this was Napoli's slash-line stats: .220/.337/.485/.822

After that, in the course of eight games Napoli hit .667 and boosted his final totals to the numbers we've all been so impressed by. in other words, apart from one incredibly hot two week stretch, his 2008 looks much less impressive than his 2009. Now, there's something to be said for the benefit Napoli will gain from moving from a pitcher's park to one which is more firendly to hitters - that alone should stall what otherwise looks like a decline. Still, what you are getting is a guy who's gonna hit about .245/ .335/.485/.820 if he's handled right (i.e. starts against EVERY LHP and sits vs the tougher RHP) and gets around 400 plate appearances.

My GUESS is that for the opening six weeks or so, the Jays will start JP/Lind/Napoli most every day and EE will plug in at DH or 1B on occasion as he fits into the days game. If either of those three show a weakness that needs compensating for, the EE will get more playing time.

One other caveat - both Rivera and Encarnacion are potentially subject to still being traded. The Rangers, for instance, are said to be in the market for a RH bench outfielder. Especially if the presumed 3B addition comes to pass, the Jays might decide they can fill the 4th outfielder role on a more cost efficient basis.

Finally, while we can confidently suggest that the 10 players mentioned so far will be joined by McDonald and Molina in reserve and that leaves (presumably) one other bench job open. If that's the missing 3B, then the team is set barring a departure. If no 3B is added, then they other player must needs be an OF. preferably one who can play CF. Nominally, Corey Patterson is at the front of that line (barring another miuor league deal) but don't be stunned if Darin Mastroianni forces their hand in ST. He's likely already a better player than Patterson.

***

One last aside regarding the Wells deal. Richard Griffin has an article up which I'm too lazy to find a link to which says, in so many words, that as good a guy as Wells is, perhaps his presence had a negative drag on the team in much the same way that Pat Gillick has suggested Bobby Abreu once had a drag on the Phillies. The reading of this article seems to be leading people to the conclusion that there was something lacking in Wells as a leader and role model for the younger players.

I don't think there has to be anything WRONG with Wells or his intensity or whatever for a culture shift to happen in the wake of the departure of a long-time "face of the franchise" Certainly there was nothing "wrong" with Doc's intensity or attitude and yet the culture of the pitching staff took a positive turn (by all reports) in 2010.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see something similar among the offensive players, and Hill does seem well suited to play the role of Marcum this year (I believe it's been said Bautista has leadership qualities as well, but that probably depends on his anticipated tenure). But that expectation shouldn't be seen as slagging Wells' contributions. It's simply a natural result of the culture shift that follows the coming and going of prominent players.

1 comment:

Andy Mc said...

It's Blair that wrote on Vernon's being too "comfortable" in Toronto...

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/baseball/why-the-wells-trade-makes-sense/article1880252/



The roster looks great right now, IMO. They don't need much more. This is my depth chart:


Davis CF/OF
Escobar SS/2B
Lind 1B/DH
Bautista 3B/RF
Snider LF/RF
Napoli 1B/C/DH
Rivera RF/LF/1B
Hill 2B/3B
JPA C

Encarnacion PH/DH/3B/1B
McDonald SS/C/2B/3B
Patterson OF/PR
McCoy IF/PR

Romero
Morrow
Cecil
Drabek
Stewart (Litsch, Richmond, Mills)

Rauch
Dotel
Camp
Frasor
Purcey (Carlson, Reyes)
Villanueva (Janssen, Roenicke)
Rzepczynski (Ray)