(Yes, I'm four days late, what of it?)
It's customary in the wake of the All Star Break to take a look at how the first half went in anticipation of the second half. Rather than do grades and stuff, or drown you in stats, i just want to kind of give you my brief take on the team by positions, both in terms of looking back and looking ahead.
Catcher: JP Arencibia was, for a while, on a pace to have the best offensive season anyone has ever had at this position in a Blue Jays uniform, then through a combination of slight injuries, and the league adjusting to him, he went into a notable offensive tailspin (he hit .135 over 26 games mostly in June). Anytime you are on the down cycle of the adjustment process things look bad but I'm as confident as is rational that JP will adjust in reply and have a productive second half. Reports about his defense are mixed, and the common assumption is that Travis d'Arnaud will yet take his job, but that's probably 2013. in the mean time, the Jays will have a fine catcher.
First Base: Adam Lind is back to being Adam Lind. At his peak this year he was among the 2 or 3 best hitters in the league. He, too, went through an extended slump which is, in fact, ongoing. don't worry about it. Such corrections happen and he'll have another hot streak soon. His defense has been, by most accounts, surprisingly good given his lack of pro experience there.
Second Base: Sigh. Aaron Hill gets on a little roll, nothing major, just kind of signs that there might be hope, then it falls apart again. At this rate, they might as well park him at #9 until the off-season and look elsewhere. I've loved the guy since he came up and defended him often when others ripped him but for whatever reason, he's just not finding the results and he's beginning to carry his frustration into the field.
Shortstop: Yunel Escobar is on pace to rival the best offensive year even posted by a Toronto shortstop, Tony Fernandez '87 if you were wondering, and playing solid and sometimes spectacular defense.
Third Base: has been a train wreck and I refuse to look at the blood and gore. if things go well we've a little more than 2 weeks before Brett Lawrie (i.e. the Savior) gets here. I'm going to keep looking ahead to that happy day.
Left Field: coming into Saturday's play, Travis Snider was hitting .400 with an OPS over 1.000 since his return from Vegas. obviously that will not continue, but one could hope he's turned the corner. if he has, he'll be a monster. Oh, and he's a solid and potentially above average LF too.
Center field: Rajai Davis has been a crashing disappointment and really, on a decent team he's the 4th or 5th OF. There's not a lot of opportunity to improve this situation out there (the jays actually toyed with giving Snider a shot at the job) but fan's patience (and likely management's) is wearing thin.
Right Field: Jose Bautista, duh. Yes he's playing 3B right now, but that's only for a few more weeks. in the mean time we've seen a lot of Eric Thames out there. Technically Thames is no RF, he barely has the arm for left - Snider ought to be over here, but for whatever reason the team hasn't often done it that way. So far Thames has been a monster offensively, which WON'T last. But when he comes down he's still going to be better than a lot of "experts" think he's going to be. The challenge will be to find a way to get him on the field. Coming into Saturday's game, his OPS since his last recall (in 7 games) is 1.055, but his BABiP is .404 and that will almost certainly cool.
DH: Edwin Encarnacion continues to redeem his "lost" season when he doesn't have to worry about the leather. In his last 17 games he has an .884 OPS and as a DH, on the season, it's .832 but the kid procession will hurt him. Eric Thames will cut into his AB when Lawrie arrives, it's inevitable. Don't be shocked if you see EE traded in August if he continues to build credibility as a DH.
The Bench of Molina (having a career year at the plate) McDonald (an invaluable vet with so much youth around) and Corey Patterson (who really needs to lose his job to Adam Loewen in August) is reasonable and two of the three are valuable.
By late August I'd think it would be perfectly reasonable to be running this lineup out to see how it worked in anticipation of next year:
Escobar - SS
Lawrie - 3B
Lind - 1B (break up lefties better, let him take advantage of the "protection" factor)
Bautista - RF
Snider - LF
Arencibia - C
Thames - DH (LF)
Hill - 2B
Davis - CF
Bench - Molina, Loewen, McDonald
Ricky Romero - In a bit of a reversal at the moment, as will happen over the course of the season for 95% of all pitchers. He's had basically three bad games all year. Don't worry about him. unless he's going against the Red Sox.
Brandon Morrow - All the higher metrics like him better than Romero, his FIP is 10th in the majors, and over his last six games he's posted a 2.68 ERA. If last year is any indication, he'll roar through the second half. One of these years he's going to put together a season like Verlander is having.
Brett Cecil - The sample is small, but the last two games have been most impressive and the opposition was not easy. I'm optimistic he's found his groove but it's more hunch than evidence right now.
Jo-Jo Reyes - I continue to be mystified, though not surprised, at the constant call to DFA Reyes. it's true his results are wildly inconsistent, but he did run off a nine game stretch in which his ERA was 3.65 which is entirely respectable. It's also worth noting that in all games against opponents other than NY and Boston his ERA is 3.87 (IIRC). Which is not a defense of his presence in the Jays rotation, but a an acknowledgment that he DOES have value. Value that i'm hopeful AA is about to cash in within the next two weeks. Because even though he's not a train wreck as some imagine, the Jays have other pitchers who need to be taking that turn more than he does. Hes got talent, he needs to find a way to use it consistently, but if everyone is healthy, he's no better than the sixth best option here by years end and those behind him wouldnt be very far behind.
Carlos Villianueva - He's had a tremendous run of nine starts (he got beat up today but I'm talking about the first half) and you cant not be impressed but you have to remind yourself - it's NINE starts. He's going to be facing the risk of fatigue soon as it's been some years since he's pitched this much. With three other guys who may well need to find major league work, you have to assume at some point he comes out of the rotation. But it's impossible to predict when.
Jesse Litsch - His rehab assignment is up today and the word is he'll be optioned to AAA tomorrow. Jesse is a hard case to diagnose. His K rate was up noticeably this year which is normally a sign of growth and progress, but he's had more trouble staying healthy than anyone should be comfortable with. By most measures, he deserves to be recalled if (when!) Jo-Jo is traded, which would save his option as he'd be down less than 20 days, but it might be that the numbers game works against him.
Kyle Drabek - left his last AAA start with a muscle strain which makes prognostications concerning his return problematic. for now I'm going on the assumption that he won't be back until rosters expand in September, but if he ran off 4 or 5 impressive starts he might change that. If he doesn't miss a turn he'd have nine starts in Vegas before September 1 - that's not an eternity.
Dustin McGowan - His 30 day rehab ends August 2 and we are told that it's possible for the Jays to deactivate him for 7 days and re-start that clock, but maybe they don't do that. Everything I say about McGowan, OF COURSE, comes with the caveat "assuming no setbacks" but with that said - It's not a minor thing that his rehab ends right after the trade deadline where Reyes (or possibly Villineueva) could very well be traded. He's up to roughly three innings now, and he has time for three more starts before the end of the month. If he con comfortably go five or six IP without problems, the Jays face a choice.
McGowan has no options, and although with the ability to restart the rehab clock that's not a major concern THIS year, but what about 2012? There's a good argument that the Blue Jays would profit greatly from seeing McGowan do major league work outside September in 2011 in order to have a better idea about the 2012 rotation. I, for one, think that would be a very sound strategy if they think they can manage his work load in the majors as the comeback continues.
All things considered, I'd like to see McGowan get the first opening when Reyes is dealt and I wouldn't object to sending Villianeva back to the pen if (when?) a reliever is dealt so as to save Listch's option. That doesn't make room for Drabek before September but that seems to me the best management of assets. particularly in that you probably want to build value for Litsch so you can shop him in the off-season.
If all goes well, I could see a 2012 rotation of Romero - Morrow - McGowan - Cecil - Drabek and I could see that being a very very good group.
Frank Francisco - No one is any more mystified here than I am. Normally in a situation like this you say "he must be hurt" but basically he's just having the pitcher version of Adam Lind's 2010. It makes no sense, it shouldn't be happening - but there it is. The root of the problem though, is control. His walk rate is way up over what he had over the last three years coming into the year, and when you pitch behind, you tend to give up untimely hits. You'd like to say "this cant continue" but we're speaking of relievers, who the hell knows really?
Jon Rauch - Lots of dissatisfaction with Rauch, and most of it unjustified. It's true he's pitching a bit worse than his career norms, but nothing disastrous. His biggest weakness is, he just doesn't give off the closer "vibe" (much like Frasor has always felt) and when your closer is tanking, the natural emotion is to look around for another and Rauch doesn't seem like it. We complain about managers being locked into the closer-myth, but a LOT of fans are too. I expect he'll keep cruising along at about this level, being neither the villain or the hero.
Jason Frasor - the new all time appearance leader among Jays pitchers as of today, Frasor has been perfectly fine. He is, for all the grief he's gotten over the years, the rock of this group. And the one guy out of the five potential free agents that really does need to be back next year. As with any reliever, he could blow up, but don't hold your breath.
Octavio Dotel - You all know how I've been counting the days until Dotel was traded since he was signed. I didn't like the deal and it wasn't so much whether or not he pitched well, he just seemed unnecessary. And all the more so as other veterans were added. I still think he's probably the first relief pitcher out the door when deals start happening. But credit where due, lately he's been anything but a negative. In his last 19 appearances, spanning 16 IP, he's given up exactly 2 earned runs. In his last 17 appearances he's walked ONE batter. I expect this level of work won't last, and I won't feel any remorse if he's dealt. But you have to tip your hat.
Shawn Camp - Camp had three quietly impressive seasons for the Toronto squad but that might be winding down. his K rate in particular is down while his H/9 rate is up. i don't think he's going to be a problem over the rest of the year, but I'm less happy to see him in tight spots than I used to be. I have a feeling someone is going to overpay this winter.
Casey Janssen - Expected back Monday after missing a month to injury, Janssen was pitching the best he ever has and looking forward to the second half and to 2012, he really should be pushed more and more into a prominent role. in fact, I'd be perfectly happy to see him given the ninth inning. Take away one apperance (the next to last before he hit the DL, and possibly influenced by pain) and his ERA is 2.00 and that's way better than Rauch and Francisco can offer. I don't know what John Farrell is thinking, but with Frasor and Janssen from the right, and Dotel where appropriate, and Zep and Perez from the left, he's got a fine back of the bullpen - if he just used them in the back instead of the bigger name guys.
Marc Rzepczynski - He's settled into the Scott Downs 2.0 role pretty seemlessly, apart from the very occasional off day. In three appearances, he's allowed more than one ER, going 1.1 IP over those with 7 ER allowed. outside those, he's got an ERA of 1.26 over 35.2 IP and, with the above stated caveats always in mind, I have every confidence such work will continue.
Luis Perez - Okay, I totally whiffed on this guy. More than once over the last couple of years I asked "why are we burning a 40 man roster spot on this bum?" Well, I sit corrected. for a second lefty in the pen, you could do (and many teams do) a lot worse. Still, he's young and the sample size is small so i don't want to overstate the situation.
That's a cram packed bullpen, and if Villianueva were to be sent back from the rotation, someone would have to go. Between the lines, that's obviously a sign to trade Camp, or Rauch, or Francisco - but all of these guys mean draft picks next year and are by no means guaranteed to bring back a similar return this month. Dotel being on a roll might bring a similar return (plus, he might just accept arbitration this winter) and that makes him seemingly the most likely to be traded. Once you get past those, if there were a rash of injuries or something, Danny Farquhar or Brad Mills seem the obvious choices to plug in from AAA.
On the whole, I really like the potential for this team to max out the youth movement soon and ride that pony into the new year. Looking ahead, I only see one potential free agent that makes me go "Hmmmm" - and that's Lance Berkman (because you can keep the deal short) - assuming he's down with being a DH which is probably not the case. You'll here a whole lot of griping over the next nine months about how the jays are not spending enough money on major league acquisitions. I, for one, had rather seen as many home grown players carry the load as possible. these are exciting times for me.