Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Shape of Things to Come

It's still over a week before my periodic Minor League review, but a post at the Tao of Stieb rekindles in my mind some speculation that i often consider, which is what exactly does come next for the building program?

Several times a week I see a poster somewhere on line either grumble that the Blue Jays have yet to spend money, or express their impatience for the money the Jays will spend soon, if not both. The prevailing assumption is and has been that the team will in the middle term open the checkbook and augment what we have her for a run. The thing is, in my view, that might not be what should happen.

Let's walk it through.

At catcher, JP Arencibia has established himself as the best rookie hitter in the AL during the early going (though Hosmer will likely blow by him). At AA, Travis d'Arnaud, who was more highly regarded than JPA before the season despite not hitting like an All-Star to that point, is tearing the cover off the ball and leading the Eastern League in OPS (though he's a few AB short of qualifying for the list). AJ Jimenez his a .911 OPS in the FSL which is almost unheard of for a catcher in that pitcher's league. And Carlos Perez in his first full season at Lansing is considered by some to have the highest ceiling of all of them. There's little logic in assuming any significant money will be spent on an import catcher.

At first base Adam Lind was proving himself defensively and hitting very well (outside of one brief slump he hit as well as any player not named Bautista around). Behind him are David Cooper and Mike McDade and Adam Loewen can play 1B too (more on him later). While the depth here is not as impressive, Lind is good enough that it doesn't make sense to go out and buy an upgrade unless it's Pujols. And even then (despite my off-season discussion) Lind may have recovered enough to make a deal like Pujols will require a bad investment.

At third base, Brett Lawrie will get every chance to succeed. Even if he struggles, we're going to see him have dibs on the spot for a couple of years or more after he comes up.

At short, the Jays have a contender for the title "best in the league" - he slumped for just over two weeks, but outside that slump he's sporting a .938 OPS, it's .945 over the last 19 games. He's a potential All Star and Gold Glover (yea, I know). Want to see the Jays spend? Don't be surprised if Yunel Escobar is a pretty wealthy guy in the near future.

RF? Yeah. Next 4-5 years spoken for. Some dude named Bautista. Maybe you've heard of him?

CF? for another year and a half, maybe two, we'll have to put up with a stopgap. Assuming no one loses their mind and puts a Colby Ramus on the market, it's almost a given the Jays will bide their time until Anthony Gose takes his crack at the job in (probably) 2013. On his heals, no more than a year and a half behind, is the possibly equally talented Jake Marisnick. There's very little chance the Jays will block these guys. There is, as far as I can tell, one realistic potential exception to this: Matt Kemp. If the Dodgers have a fire sale, I could see AA looking into a deal for Kemp. but whether or not they will meet the price to keep him past 2012 is a different matter.

LF is a position at issue potentially between long-awaited brilliance from Travis Snider, or unexpected (by many) impressiveness from Eric Thames. The jays are not going to be anxious to block either man - it will be hard enough figuring out how to get both enough AB if neither fails.
If both do fail, there's the dark horse: Adam Loewen. "What?" you say. "The 27 year old pipe-dream lingering in Las Vegas? Actually that would be one of the best hitter in the PCL in May.
Here's something you probably don't know about Loewen: David Cooper, who's 24, has 1,368 professional AB; Brett Lawrie, who's 21, has 1,186 professional AB; Loewen, despite being 27 - has 960. Remember when JP told us we'd need about 1,000 at bats to really know what Loewen could do?
Further down the chain, there's Moises Sierra a couple of years away, and Michael Crouse and Marcus Kencht along with Marisnick if Gose lives up to his billing. It's true the latter three are 2-3 years away, but it would take the Jays at least another year and a half to sort out the Snider/Thames business and as far as we know now, they fully believe Snider will still be a monster.

That leaves second base. now it's true that the Jury is still out on Aaron Hill (albeit, he's been a perfectly reasonable middle of the pack 2B since mid-April) and it's not unreasonable that the Jays might decline to lock him in at $8 mil a year after the season. BUT, when you speculate about the Jays ponying up a bunch of money on the team, 2B is not a premium place to do that. consider the list of the very best high-dollar 2B available:
(ranked by current OPS)

1. Howie Kendrick - Angels have the need, and the money. why would he go anywhere?
2. Rickie Weeks - signed through 2015
3. Robinson Cano - outbid the Yanks for one of their own?
4. Ben Zobrist - signed through 2015 (if you include options) and invaluable to the Rays.
5. Brandon Phillips - has a 2012 option that will surely be exercised. Might be available after 2012 to highest bidder. But he's had one year where he finished with an OPS over .776 - is this your difference maker?
6. Maicer Izturus - More a utility guy - has never broken .800 in his career.
7. Adam Kennedy - old cheap retread - not your big money target.
8. Ian Kinsler - not available.
9. Freddie Sanchez - just got extended, not available (and not that much better than Hill in the most generous estimation).
10. I'll throw in Chase Utley because he's just that good - but you ain't getting him either.

It goes on and on. the point is there is no available guy to throw money at for 2B who will be a significant upgrade on Hill, even if Hill is nothing but a .750ish hitter.

Oh, and I didn't mention DH. laying aside that the DH would be valuable for relieving the crowing in the OF, you could in theory throw a bunch of money at a big name DH, right? Well, you could use Thome there this year but he's not going to be around in a couple of years. But there are options. Would Berkman agree to DH? (Is he even for real this year? I've always been a fan but it's a risk); Hafner finally seems to be back - if you want to risk his health; Would Fielder DH? Can Ortiz hold up? Carlos Quintin will be a FA after 2012. There's a lot of question marks but I concede they might be willing to put some money into a DH who could be reliable over the next few years.

But you get the general idea.

On the pitching side, you are almost certainly not going to see a "savior" for the bullpen ala BJ Ryan. The kind of money being invested in Rauch and Francisco are what you expect a sane team to do in the bullpen.

With the rotation, you have two guys with mortal locks on a spot (if healthy) and a third who'd apparently got a real firm grip that immunizes him from expensive imports. you have to assume the fifth spot at least is the "audition" role. Beyond the Reyes experiment you have, in order of seniority more or less, a long train of candidates:
All guys who can train through that spot until someone sticks over the next couple of years. All guys who would be at least partially blocked by a big acquisition.

And the unmentioned spot is where you work out the success or failure of Brett Cecil and jesse Litsch over the next year or two (and by 2013 the wave of approaching prospects will demand room to work.

It's not impossible the Blue Jays would do something like try to pry Josh Johnson out of Florida (which would cost them not a few of those approaching prospects) but free agency? Maybe it's just me but I for one would much rather see what Henderson Alvarez can do for us than import some mid-level guy. If they happen to have the chance to go after, say, Matt Cain, they might. But the problem is for premium free agent starters - the Cole Hamels and Zach Grienkie's of the world - you have to pay a lot of money per year over a lot of years. the Jays can afford to, but the risk of depreciation is quite large.

All that to say this: the coming dynasty may very well be mostly stocked with guys already in the system. Between like of opportunity and lack of need, I don't expct a ton of FA spending and when the payroll does rise, it will be because we are paying out own guys to stay for the ride, like the Yankees did with Jeter, Rivera, et al. and frankly, I much prefer the idea. the thought that the jays might go deep into the playoofs in, say, 2014, with the following team makes me positively giddy:

Gose - CF
Escobar - SS
Lawrie - 3B
Bautista - RF
Snider - LF
Arencibia - DH
Lind - 1B
d'Arnaud - C
Hill - 2B

Bench: Jeroloman (allows JPA to alternate C/DH with d'Arnaud) Jackson (ss/2B/3B/CF) Loewen (corner OF) and heck, Johnny mac doing his best Vizquel "play forever" routine.

SP - Morrow, Romero, Drabek, Cecil, Alvarez
BP - Stewart, Zep, Janssen, Farina, Farquhar, Villianueva and maybe Mills or Carreno

I had MUCH rather succeed with that team than have it littered with overpaid JD Drew type imports. of course, I'm presuming that team would succeed and prospects will break your heart. But still, count me out of the "when are we gonna back up the armored car" conversation*.

*Except that I'm sure I'll have MUCH ore to say about Matt Kemp over the next couple of months.


Anonymous said...

Well said - exactly what I was thinking, but way better articulared.

gabriel said...

While the Jays future looks bright, there are definitely going to be disappointments. Starting pitching is definitely one area where making substantial improvement seems possible - Greinke makes a world of sense.

I also wouldn't be surprised to see AA swing a blockbuster trade, giving up multiple players for an upgrade at one position. I will say that I hope d'Arnaud and Arencibia aren't on the same Jays team in 2013- Arencibia is too valuable as a catcher to have him DH, and his bat doesn't stand up nearly as well as a DH.

Robbie said...

What are your thoughts on Hecheverria? You didn't mention him as a possibility... say Hecheverria at short with Escobar moving to second. As usual, really enjoyed the article.