Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Deep Deep Depth

Alex is, of course, in the news again today, explaining to the masses what he's up to now. In the interview with Bob McCowan this afternoon he offers some insight into what'a going on with the Jays now and he teases us with the implication that he's pretty much done ("except a minor league deal or two").

First, that disappoints me regarding my Chavez fetish, and second the presumptive lineup of Bautista at 3B and Rivera in RF now seems more likely (not that saying nothing is afoot means NinjaGM won't strike again within the next five minutes.

Beyond that, though, he defended the state of affairs that has the team dripping with pitching options. There are so many, in fact, that I figure a scorecard is needed. Even though the focus of today's deal wasn't the rotation, i might as well be as through here as i tried to be with the offense, since there is some rsisidual impact of one on the other.

Starting Rotation

1. Rickey Romero
2. Brandon Morrow
3. Brett Cecil

That's pretty much set in stone. the other two spots have more or less presumptive candidates, but written in pencil rather than ink.

4. Jesse Litsch
5. Kyle Drabek

In many minds, Drabek is considered the 4th guy because he's the fellow, beyond the Big 3, who seems most likely to be on the staff. But assuming health and a competent ST, Litsch enjoys the benefit of seniority and, in my opinion, the likely holder of "first dibs" on the rotation - and traditionally your rookie (Drabek) will be your #5, regardless of relative talent. As noted, though, these two spots are subject to change should spring inefficiency undermines either guy.

Other candidates include, in what i consider the order of most likely to win an opening day job:

Marc Raepczynski
Jo-Jo Reyes (because he's out of options)
Scott Richmond
Brad Mills
Zach Stewart - who's more talented than anyone else on this list but he'd have to literally cursh his opposition to leapfrog up this list to the top 5 - primarily because he really needs one more season to stretch his max-innings limit. Assuming that the jays didn't lose Reyes on the waiver wire, that would be your Las Vegas rotation. I have to admit I'm not a little troubled that Zep seems pretty much ready but doesn't have a role and has Stewart closing hard on the first one which arises. His major hope right now is that Drabek struggles in the Spring giving him a chance to make himself hard to bypass.

Also, four of those those excess five starters (excepting Stewart) are nominal candidates for the 'pen, although that's an increasingly difficult scenaro to imagine.

Bullpen

Frank Francisco - the favorite to close, IMO.
Jon Rauch - Excellent and obvious option for the 8th inning RH role.
David Purcey - ready for the Downs job and it's crucial to the balence of the pen he fills it.
Octavio Dotel - Still not convinced he stays, but he serves as an alternate to the two righties above and will presumably seldom face a lefty.
Jason Frasor - regulated to middle innings, at least the illusion he can't handle late innings won't be an issue.
Shawn Camp - under-rated, also capable of up to 3 IP so defacto "long reliever"

Those six are all but mortal locks, if healthy and not departed. That leaves one, or possibly two, more spots to fill and so far only one lefty. These candidates, too, are listed in order of the strength of their candidacy A lot of these guys are not really any sort of candidate and are listed because they might be candidates on a less deep team - that is, if things got so bad they had to be called they'd still be at least competent:

Casey Janssen - just as effective Frasor or Camp and under-rated in about every way possible. in a less over-crowded situation he'd be a lock. While I'm unclear on options, I believe the prevailing belief is that he has one left, which hurts his candidacy.
Jo-Jo Reyes - Again, benefits from being out of options and, in this case, left handed. but that alone won't get him in, he HAS to show the team he can be dependable or he'll depart (probably) in the final cuts.
Marc Rzepczyznski - I might be overly optimistic in listing him ahead of the next guy, but I think most teams value the second LH reliever and that, presumably, gives an edge.
Carlos Villianueva - The whole off-season he's been thought of as more or less a lock but the numbers are certainly not in his favor at this point. I'm not sure that he has options but if he doesn't, I expect a late march trade of this guy unless he is most impressive in ST.
Jesse Carlson - Also in play for the "second left hander" position, should the Jays prioritize that role, but Zep is a better pitcher and I'm unclear on his option status. If he has no option either, he might move up into a tie with Reyes on this list.
Josh Roenicke - Would have to be massively impressive to overcome the numbers game.
Scott Richmond - owns RH hitters, but so does Dotel. Virtually no chance.
Brad Mills - an option for the second lefty role, but hard to overcome the guys in front of him.
Zach Stewart - only a candidate in the most technical sense, no way the Jays compromise his development given the number of options available to them.
Alan Farina - no reason to rush him under these circumstances.
Bobby Ray - technically a starter but given the SP depth for the jays, has no real shot and only slightly more of a shot at pitching in relief for the Jays.

That's a total of 22 names mentioned in this article. if we assume that Janssen completes the 'pen in Toronto, then you have Stewart, Zep, Richmond, Mills, Reyes and Ray would be the Vegas rotation and Villianueva, Carlson, Roenicke, Farina, and Ray will be relieving there, along with a couple of other filers such as Luis Perez, Sean Henn and Winston Abreu.

That, frankly, is insane depth. I submit this now, pending revision if I can find out the option status of some of these guys.

EDIT:

Thanks to a comment, I'm reminded that I overlooked Chad Cordero. It's very true that he might be done as an effective major leaguer, but he should be at least mentioned. Also, while I'm speaking of lingering injury recoveries or lack thereof, I'll throw in the name of Dustin McGowan while I'm editing.

The other guys mentioned in the comment I didn't forget, I simply disregarded. Wil Ledzma is major suckage and Abreu can't be as good as his stats or the Rays would have clung to him fiercely given the turnover in their 'pen this winter.

Say hello to the new closer! (Again!)

Now we're talking.

Yes yes, just as soon as we think we can comment on the shape of the roster (as i did last night) Alex pulls another deal out of his hat.

Yes yes, now we have more RHRP than we have ushers. More on that in a bit. for now, though, let's review the breaking news:

The Jays have dealt Mike Napoli to Texas for Frank Francisco. There's some indication they might be getting some cash back in the deal as well. Francisco is the obvious choice now to be the Blue Jays' closer, IMO.

Over the last three seasons, in a very hitter-friendly park, Francisco has posted an ERA of 3.54 but more importantly, 10.9 K/9 and 3.39 K/BB and further, after April 10 last year his ERA was 2.84, "losing" his job to phenom Neftali Feliz aside. Maybe it's my bias towards high strikeout guys but i think you have to close with this guy.

Of course, now you have no less than seven guys who obviously belong in your bullpen who are right-handed - Francisco, Rauch, Dotel, Frasor, Camp, Janssen, and Villianueva. someone has GOT to go. for me, that ought be Dotel, and one of Vilianueva, Frasor, Janssen or Camp as well. not that I have anything specifically against any of those guys (though I have no sentiment for Villianueva and would miss him least) but I'm not comfortable with crowding out ALL the lefties.

Anyway, I'll update this as we find out more but I approve of the deal. So far.

(also, I did say in the previous remarks that the Jays might trade one of these guys to Texas - I just thought it would be the other one)

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.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I Love AA

By request, and with apologies to Randy Newman:

Everybody hated JP,
He was a smart-ass
every move he made caused bitchin'
And don''t get me started on Gord Ash, son
Estiban Loaiza is enough said
but there's a whole lot more

But now we got a bright young man
with ideas and plans for years to come
gonna take us back to the glory days
Man it's been too long

Rolled up his sleeves and got to work
Traded Doc and got a mint
hired a thousand scouts
he's always thinkin', always five moves ahead

From the draft picks, to the Cuban,
Getting Morrow, Dealing Vernon
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the man can't lose, got a golden touch
Wonder what he'll do today?

I love AA (We love him!)
I love AA! (We love him!)

Look over at Drabek
Take a look at Lawrie
Look at the flamethrower,
racking up 17 k's
Look at those prospects
Ain't nothing like them anywhere

I love AA (We love him!)
I love AA! (We love him!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

NinjaGM!


If you can see Alex Anthopoulos, he can see you. If you can't see Alexi, you may be only moments from a surprise blockbuster deal.

Is it too late to get our NinjaGM in the 2011 Hall of Fame class?

Yes, you know by now: Vernon Wells was traded to the Angels for C/1B Mike Napoli and OF Juan Rivera, what you may not have known is - that's it! No prospects included, no "cash considerations," no nothing. The Jays just shaved anywhere from $11.65 to $12.45 mil million off this year's payroll and $21 million apiece off each of the next three (Rivera is a free agent after 2011, and Napoli will be arbitration eligible for one more season before free agency after the 2012 season). That puts the current pay projection at a low of $60.966 (per my previous estimations) and a high of $61.766. There may well yet be a signing (Eric Chavez?) but the big money free agents are gone now.
(Damon and Ramirez both went to the Rays tonight as well - that leaves Vlad Guerrero as possibly the most expensive guy left and he wouldn't be more than $2-3 mil)

That's not to say this is our roster, there are other considerations.

For starters, at first blush Mike Napoli has the potential to make Edwin Encarnacion superfluous. It's true that the jays could, in theory, let Napoli (who CRUSHES LHP) platoon with Lind at 1B (which would be about 25% of games) and start a time or two a week behind the plate and DH a bit but that would still only get him to about 2/3 of the Jays games and that seems a waste. But closer examination reveals that Napoli struggled greatly against RHP in 2010. Over the course of the last three years his production against righties has steadily declined. So perhaps the Jays see him as playing that platoon role here. But if they see him as a full time hitter, then Encarnacion would be the big loser.

In theory, either player might now be flipped in another deal.

Rivera, too, while he has a more clearly defined role, could potentially be flipped. Also worth considering here is that he stands to be worth a draft pick if the Jays offer (and he declines) after the coming season.

It goes without saying that Raji Davis now becomes the starting CF and lead-off man. Jose Bautista is much more likely to start in RF (though if the Jays do come up dry on a 3B, Rivera isn't a completely uninteresting option on an OF corner).

I'm still assuming Chavez is likely to be signed soon. And most people feel it's more likely the Jays extend Bautista now but I still don't think it makes them willing to go beyond 3 years or Bautista any more inclined to settle for only three.

And if you want every last detail, Rommie Lewis was DFA'd to make room on the 40 man roster. I know you're crushed.

One bit of trivia - from the date the jays signed that unfortunate contract until today, the Toronto Blue Jays paid Vernon Wells $45.6 million for 4 seasons, for an average of $11.4 mil per season.

All the foregoing said, there's two points that need making: For years the consensus opinion, near universal, was that this deal was "untradeable." You would think people would learn not to speak in such absolutes. Now many of the same people are saying there is "no way" Vernon will opt out. Perhaps the crow isn't so bad and they are willing to risk another helping? To be clear, I think it is still unlikely he will but since this is mostly my last need to analyze it let me explain.

If Wells and/or his agent think that he can get a longer deal than three years, at a high enough AAV that the total is more than $63 million, then they might see the profit in it. it's not necessary that they be RIGHT about that, only that they THINK it's possible. That almost surely takes a five year deal and yes, you have to be pretty confident to assume you can land one of those at 33. But players have been known to make such mistakes before. Another facotr here is that the emotional bond between Wells and the jays is no longer a part of the equation.

A second possible source of such a choice is a potential desire to return to Texas. Would Wells give up, say, 10-13 million in order to spend the last five years of his career with the hometown team (and playing alongside his best friend in baseball)? If he thinks the rangers would give him, say, $12.5 a year for 4 years, or $11 a year for 5, he just might. don't believe it? Ask Cliff Lee. Ask Roy Halladay. Ask Gil Meache.

The other thing I wanted to say is this: Wells gets a lot of grief for things that are largely out of his control. The deal isn't his fault, and the injuries aren't his fault. Could he have, I dunno, popped up less? Sure, whatever. but he was one of the best human beings in the game, a constant ambassador for the Jays and for the sport, and in the front ranks of charitable contributions. The jays do lose something in this deal - they lose the example that Wells could have provided day in and day out about the sort of role model a professional athlete should be. That deserves our respect and our appreciation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Payroll - Revised

Now that all but two of the arbitration eligible players are under contract, let's take another look:

Under contract as of January 10:
(figures in millions of course)

Wells - 23
Lind - 5
Hill - 5
Dotel - 3.5
Encarnacion - 2.5
McDonald - 1.5
Molina - 1
Romero - 0.75
McGowan - 0.45

Total = $42.7 million

Arbitration-eligible players who've reached agreement:

Escobar - 2.9
Davis - 2.5
Morrow - 2.3
Camp - 2.25
Villianueva - 1.415
Janssen - 1.095
Listch - 0.83

Total = $13.29 million

(got to admit, I was feeling good last night about my predictions after the first wave came in, but I whiffed pretty badly on Morrow and Escobar)

Players set for arbitration, with figures offered and asked:

Bautista - 7.6 / 10.5
Frasor - 3.25 / 3.725

Totals = 10.85 / 14.225

Eight other players at near minimum salary - ~$3.3 million

I wrote Sunday, before the Rauch deal, the following:

Until and unless the Jays sign (or trade for) a significant addition, they are not going to significantly break $70 million for the opening day roster.
Total of the above if the Blue Jays win both arbitration cases = $70.14 million. No a bad estimate, to pat my own back. If they lose it's $73.515 million. Add Rauch and take away the minimum wage guy he presumably bumps off the roster and those figures are $73.416 and $76.851 million.

That might not be the final salary - there's a relatively strong possibility the Jays might yet sign Eric Chavez. But that's it for now. I should note that Adeiny Hechevarria also gets a major league salary but given there's no chance he'll be on the major league roster on opening day, I don't think that properly accounts to the opening day payroll.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Very quick

No time for lengthy exposition regarding today's Rauch signing - I'll expand on this later, but my first impression: too many bodies.

Consider the depth chart-

RH:
Rauch
Dotel
Frasor
Camp
Janssen
Vilianueva
Roencke
Richmond
Cordero*
McGowan*
Ray

LH:
Purcey
Zep
Carlson
Mills
Reyes

* = DL or injury concern.

I've bolded the most obvious candidates to break camp with the Jays. That only includes one lefty, and traditionally a team wants to take two (all the more given Dotel's splits). I'd figured Zep as the leader for the second lefty spot (assuming Litsch is in the rotation) but I don't anticipate an 8 man pen.

An injury solves the problem of course, but my first impression is that someone might get dealt towards the end of ST.

also, it looks like Roenicke steps into the Accardo role of never getting a clean shot again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Payroll Totals w/Arbitration Predictions

Every year I try to anticipate how the Blue Jays' payroll and a big component of that is estimating how much they will spend on arbitration-eligible players. I think I've gotten pretty good at this. Here's an excerpt from last year's version of this post in which I projected payroll showing what my predictions were for the arb guys:

Jason Frasor ($1.45) $2.4 mil
Brian Tallet (1.o15) $1.6 mil
Jeremy Accardo ($900k) $1.2 mil
Shawn Camp ($750k) $900k
Shaun Marcum ($405,200) $750k
Casey Janssen ($413, 900) $650k

Total = $7.6 million

Here's what they actually got:

Frasor - $2.65
Tallet - $2.0
Accardo - $1.08
Camp - $1.15
Marcum - $.85
Janssen - $0.7

Total = $8.43

That's a swing of about 10% over my guess and almost half the difference was from Tallet where I missed by 25% and I think that's pretty good.

I noted a small discussion last week about the Jays' payroll based on a tweet by John Paul Morosi to the effect that the Jays would probably spend $80-85 million in 2011. Unless there's a big acquisition or two coming that's not going to happen.

Here's a breakdown of the jays projected roster as of this writing - with the exception that for the sake of this breakdown I'll include Villianueva in the arb group:

Under contract (9 players) - figures in millions of course:

Wells - 23
Lind - 5
Hill - 5
Dotel - 3.5
Encarnacion - 2.5
McDonald - 1.5
Molina - 1
Romero - 0.75
McGowan - 0.45

Total = $42.7 million

(note here that McGowan will certainly be on the DL so we'll need 26 players in all)

Arbitration eligible. these are my projections, on the latest revision, which I'll include my projection for Villianueva here while noting his actual agreement:

Bautista - 8
Frasor - 3.5
Camp - 2.2
Davis - 1.9
Escobar - 1.7
Janssen - 1.45
Morrow - 1.25
Villianueva - 1.1 (1.415)
Listch - 0.9

Total projected = $22 million

A caveat here, arb settlements always seems to be in non-round numbers (i.e. Villianueva at 1.514 instead of, say, 1.4) but no one can guess to such a fine detail so I round to the closest 100k. Also note for later reference that one agreement has already been reported.

That's 17 of 25 active roster spots. That leaves me to project that the other eight spots will be filled by pre-arbitration players. that might not happen but as of this writing, it's what's next. the 17 players we have (not counting McGowan) fill three of the five projected rotation spots, five of seven bullpen spots, and nine of 13 offensive positions.

We can easily assume, for the other eight, that this group will include Snider, Cecil, Purcey, Drabek and Arencibia. That leaves at least one more reliever which I'm going to arbitrarily assign to Zep, but might be Carlson or Roenicke or someone else - the difference in pay should be negligible.
It also leaves two more bench jobs. These are the toughest calls.

One of these will be a 4th outfielder (assuming the alignment of Snider/Wells/Davis in the outfield) and the other will probably but not absolutely be an infielder. Again, this is as of now - since I can't base my projections on a theoretical Chavez or Ramirez signing.

For the infielder, we'll go with Mike McCoy, since he's already on the roster. The outfielder might be a surprise player like Mastroianni but it also might be a boring re-tread like Cory Patterson. Again, the difference in pay shuld be negligible unless Patterson got more promised if he makes the roster than he should be worth. All that said, don't quibble about the last three guys because it will make well less than half a million difference in the total.

The new major league minimum is #414,000. That figure times eight players is $3,312,000. round that up to $3.5 million to allow for Snider, Purcey, and Paterson making a noticeable amount more than the minimum.

Total all this and you get $68.2 million. Add in Villianueva's extra $3ook and say a guy gets hurt and you add a minimum wage fill in and you are right around $69 million. Until and unless the Jays sign (or trade for) a significant addition, they are not going to significantly break $70 million for the opening day roster. I think that's pretty firm.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Quick Hit: I'm fer it!

About an hour and a half ago, MLBTR linked a report from ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that Eric Chavez worked out for the Toronto Blue Jays.

I like it!

It's true that Chavez has been made of Nick Johnson the last 4 seasons, so it would be a bit of "lightning in a bottle" to get anything above average from him - but on what would necessarily be a very low guarantee contract loaded up with incentives, how could you not give it a try if he LOOKS healthy.

The report quoted one observer as saying "he's moving around pretty well" and the odds are someone will give him a chance to make it through spring training. The one thing that might put the Jays behind other interested teams is whether or not his injury is the sort that turf mght aggravate - or that he might worry turf would aggravate.

I, for one, would love to the the Jays take a chance on him though, if by some miricale he got back to hitting as he once did, even if his once-excellent defense is compromised, he'd be a very valuable player in the line-up.

On another note, Vernon Wells gave an interview to Richard Griffin which has provoked a variety of opinion around the blogoshpere related to his contract (as usual) - particularly when he admitted that he couldn't ever be worth the amount of his contract.

There's several things I'd like to say about the interview and the reaction but I'll try to be terse (for me) for lack of time.

First, I've argued before, and maintain, that within the context of the market at the time, and Wells' production to that point, that the Wells contract was not actually insane as it is often referred to. No one could have known how very badly injuries would impact two of the next three seasons, and certainly no one in baseball was making plans for a major economic recession to alter the market (albeit temporarily). The last previous times the Jays tried to anticipate the results of future events, they misread the post-strike market and therefore lost Robert Alomar and Devo among others.

Second, the above said, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to suggest that making what was in reality an 8 year commitment to Wells wasn't the smartest move - precisely because you magnify the impact of the variables (like injury) and the likelihood that some event will rob the player of value. It's never great to make that long a commitment unless you are getting BELOW market value. The problem with Wells deal was not that it was so big, in the abstract, but that it was a long commitment AT market rather than BELOW market that made it unwise.

Third, Wells, Griffin, and most commentators refer to whether or not he was "worth it" by only talking about the $107 million in the last five years of that commitment and forgetting how little was spent in the first three (yes I know it was a seven year contract, but it started after the 2007 season which was already under contract at an excellent value. Thus, they were contractually committed to 8 seasons). The AAV for those 8 seasons is $16.45 and when you ask "Is Wells worth his contract?" it's THAT figure that's operative, not $21 million. That's not to argue he's worth $16 either, but it's a much more reasonable target.

Fourth, I argued previously that market escalation would make Wells pay of $21 million annually much less remarkable at the end of the contract - which I think was easily demonstrated. When the recession stalled that inflation for a year, that assertion seemed to be in jeopardy, but deals like the ones given to Carl Crawford and especially Jayson Werth have established that that one year was nothing but a blip. So when you are sitting in your room a couple of years from now contemplating whether or not Wells is worth an AAV of $16.45 million, you can at least take comfort in looking at how many players are pulling down an AAV even higher than that, and how few of them can be said to be "worth it." The Jays' gamble was that as Wells' production declined with age, the market would escalate so that the back-loaded deal still looked reasonable at the end. While the gap does not close entirely, the curve DOES exist.

Fifth and finally, in some quarters Wells' acknowledgment of reality was seen as possible complacency. I did not read it as such. Wells certainly signed the deal in good faith (whatever his "maturity level" at the time might have been) and he certainly tells himself (not unjustly) that he'd have been playing up to the deal all along but for injuries which were not really his fault. I think his comment acknowledge that WE as outside observers think his contract pays him more than the value he produces on the field, but I do not think he thinks he's "overpaid" in any extent beyond acknowledging the obvious reality that ALL major league veterans of any real talent are overpaid. If he'd been ask if Doc Halladay was overpaid, then in that context, I'm sure he could have said "Yeah, we all are." I rather took his remarks to (laudably) recognize that the only way to redeem that excess of pay that is common to people in his world is to give back from that largess to those who need help - which he has done far and above almost all his peers.

Wells contract is what it is. And if Alex and Paul are to be believed, the ownership is perfectly willing to spend whatever it needs to spend so it's not a hindrance to team building, so why in the hell are we still talking about it? If and when Wells comes out publically and says - as George Bell once did - I'm not changing positions no matter what" when clearly he needs to, THEN we can talk about him hurting the team.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stacking Up: Tampa Bay

Over on the side I started working on a rather elaborate post but I decided to take my time with that one and do it right, so I needed something else to fill the dog-days (anti-dog days?) of January.

I always hate to write posts like this because inevitably when you do, one team or another pulls off a big transaction that alters the landscape. But still, ya gotta talk about SOME thing, right?

What I propose to do is write four articles, each in turn comparing the Jays position-by-position to one of their division rivals. I might also do one comparing them to other potential wild card contenders, but I haven't decided on that because then you run into disagreement about who is and isn't worthy of being listed a contender. We know who's in the division.

Comparisons like this tend to confirm pre-conceived opinions, so I'm gonna go for full disclosure up front so we can compare and contrast. My starting assumption is that the Red Sox are clearly better than the jays, and the O's are clearly worse - thus I'll save those two teams for the latter two posts. I further asses, on a quick and dirty look, that the Yankees are marginally better than the Jays (not out of reach) and the Rays have lost so much as to be marginally behind Toronto.

I begin, as the title implies, with the Rays. All the following assumes health, except in players with chronic injuries such as McGowan.

Catcher:
The Rays got a bit of a surprise in 2010 when John Jaso stepped up and had a surprisingly effective year and seized the starting role. Jaso, 27, is, at the plate, sort of the Rays' version of Brian Jeroloman. A respectable average and a happy-making pile of walks. He has marginal power, delivering only 26 XBH in 109 games in 2010. His OPS was .750 but it's worth noting he tailed off in September. Nevertheless, his calling card is the base on balls, otherwise he's a negligible force on offense.

For the Jays, JP Arencibia is almost certainly going to step into the starting job and offensively, he's virtually the opposite of Jaso - only marginal walks and promising power. While it's impossible for us to guess how much success JP will have translating his game to the majors, Jaso has not set a terribly high bar to reach. It has been widely assumed JPA will be a John Buck type hitter. It's a given that one shouldn't assume that JP, as a rookie, will equal what Buck did last year, however, when one says "Buck-like" they are thinking primarily of last year.

Conclusion - Jaso is a sophomore with a short track record, JP has even less to go on. If each play up to their skill set, they should make very similarly valued contributions to their team, albeit in very different ways.

First Base:
The Rays have yet to sign a replacement for the departed Carlos Pena and it's difficult to conceive they will go into the season without doing so, but as it stands, 31 year old journeyman Dan Johnson is the nominal incumbent. Johnson is a AAA masher who was a league average guy (103 OPS+) for the A's from '05 to '07, but hasn't done well in the majors since. He is another guy who knows how to take a walk, and in the minors he shows solid power. But he's closer to Randy Ruiz than to, for instance, Lyle Overbay.

Adam Lind
steps into the 1B role for the Jays, you all know about 2009 - and about 2010 - and what's at stake for him as a hitter. Still, it's hard to imagine a world in which Lind isn't an obviously better player than Johnson.

Conclusion - Lind by a considerable margin.

Second Base:
There are a couple of different ways the Rays could go here, but the best defensive lineup was young (25) Sean Rodriguez at 2B. Rodriguez has yet to be any sort of threat with the bat. Even though 2010 was his best year, and first shot at regular playing time, he managed only a .705 OPS and a little bit of speed.

As with Lind, I need not remind you of the ups and downs of Aaron Hill at 2B, but as with Lind, I can't wrap my mind around any healthy scenario in which Hill is not a wildly more productive hitter.

Conclusion - even with uncertainty factored in, you have to give this one to Hill and it's not close.

Shortstop:
For the Rays, young Ried Brignac, once a hot prospect, has had the way cleared for him to be the everyday guy at short. Brignac was solid, not spectacular, in AA at age 21 and marginally worse in the following three years as he progressed to the Rays. Now 25, Brignac is coming off a season in which his OPS was .692 but he's also just now getting to play his natural position.

In Toronto, Yunel Escobar, 28, put up almost exactly the same OPS after coming over from Atlanta - but the difference is his OPS for the previous three seasons was .801 and that's a more likely representation of his talent level.

Conclusion - whatever you think of Brignac's upside, I don't see how you can not go with Esco here?

Third Base:
At first blush, there would seem little point in spending much time on 3B, after all, who wouldn't want Even Longoria manning third for their team? Longoria is still just 25 and has a career OPS of .881 along with the strong vibe that a some point he's going to advance to the next level.

But on the other hand, if the Jays are putting together a starting line up right now, the major league home run leader, Jose Bautista, lines up at the position for Toronto. Of course, no one knows how much of that production he'll be able to sustain, but Joey Bats had a .995 OPS last year and it's not likely he turns back into a complete pumpkin in 2011.

Conclusion - not knowing how much Bautista will regress makes this one of the toughest calls here. In one sense, there legitimate reason to argue that JB wil remain at a premium level and be Longoria's equal next year. But I'm going to let the previous trace record, and Longoria's age, lead me to predict the younger guy wins out here.

Left Field:
One of the Rays best prospects, 24 year old Desmond Jennings inherits the task of filling Carl Crawford's massive shoes. Many think he's ready, but as we know, there's no sure thing when it comes to breaking in rookies. Jennings has doubles power, great speed, and a solid ability to get on base. But he is a rookie, and as with Arencibia, results are highly speculative.

Without adding another player, the Jays would seem to be "stuck with" Raji Davis in left field (one might quibble who's left and who's right but my hunch is that it was Cito who was skeptical about Snider in RF). Davis is a 30 year old player with great speed but an erratic bat. His 2009 would likely be better than Jennings might do, his 2010 probably won't measure up.

Conclusion - too much uncertainty here to call a winner. so I'm stuck with calling it a wash, though my instinct is that one of them will likely be clearly better than the other.

Center Field:
BJ Upton is at a bit of a crossroads. The former high draft pick and mega-prospect is now 26 and his "breakout" age 22 season seems like forever ago. Over the last three years his average season has been, well, average. He's still young enough to recapture the magic of 2007, but there's no way to guess if he will.

That's a position not unlike Vernon Wells was in a year ago. Coming off a three year stretch which featured two injury-plagued stinkers, many were prepared to write him off. In answer he posted the second best season among major league center fielders. The important point here, though, is that the season he had last year is a perfectly typical healthy season for Wells. When he's not hurt, that .850ish OPS is what you can expect.

Conclusion - Upton certainly has the skills to outperform Wells. But until he gets back to the promise he once had, I have to cal this one for Wells.

Right Field:
You want a cautionary tale about Jose Bautista? let me introduce you to Ben Zobrist. Coming into 2009, his age 28 season, Zobrist had about one seasons worth of games played and a .650 OPS. of course, in 2009 he went out and posted an astonishing .945 and anyone would have been forgiven for thinking "late bloomer" and predicting continued success. The clock struck midnight, however, sometime before Opening Day 2010 and Zobrist went on to post a paltry .699 in 151 games played mostly in RF. One can only wonder which guy - if either - will show up for 2011.

Travis Snider
finally seems to have a clean shot at playing virtually every day for the Blue Jays. Snider had a .767 OPS last year and he got in about half a season of at bats. His pace would have taken him close to 40 doubles and 30 homers and, in my opinion, 2011 is going to be the year he introduces himself to the baseball world with authority. Still only 23, what we've seen so far - which is still undoubtedly better than what one might reliably expect from Zobrist, is but a shadow of what is likely to come (with the caveat that Upton illustrates how a great young player can inexplicably not develop according to projections).

Conclusion - how can you not expect a much better season from Snider?

DH:
It's a bit imprecise to call Matt Joyce the Rays DH. In reality he's the guy who stands to be the next most busy. Zobrist is a quite versatile guy and chances are Joyce will play a lot of RF while Zobrist moves around the diamond. But there's not another obvious candidate to be in the line-up on any given day. The 26 year old Joyce quietly was pretty productive in 2010, but his problem is that he can't touch LHP. One assumes that the Rays will, at some point, pull a guy off the scrap heap to play vs. LHP in th DH role, but for now, Joyce is going to be a liability in 1/4 (roughly) of all games.

For all the grief Edwin Encarnacion took for his wildly erratic arm while playing 3B, most recognize that the man has some offensive tools. Relieved of his leather by the Jays, we now get an experiment in what he can do when all he has to do is hit. Encarnacion, at his best (so far) hit's about as well as Joyce, and the now 28 year old doesn't have a pronounced inability to hit either left or right handed pitchers. If he plays and is healthy every day, EE is a legitimate threat to hit 30 homers.

Conclusion - absent a platoon partner for Joyce, I have to give EE the slight edge. This is one place that could swing though.

Overall, so far, three which are a wash due to uncertainty, one goes to the Rays and five go to the Jays.

Starting pitching:

David Price v. Ricky Romero
Price is a year younger, had a full run better ERA in 2010, and a much lower H:IP ratio. I think Rick-Ro will close the margin some this year, but it's difficult for me to imagine he will reach Price's level. give this one to the Rays.

James Shields v. Brandon Morrow
Shields is 29 and has given up steadily more hits and homers over the last three seasons. It's early to say that he peaked in 2008 and is on the decline, but the stats sure trend that way. Morrow is 26 and in his second full year as a SP (I don't need to explain to Jays fans how that happened). I don't think you will find anyone arguing that, if healthy, he has ace - if not Cy Young - ability. His K:9 ratio would have been the highest in the majors had he enough innings to qualify. I don't think you will find a single GM or scout in baseball who'll disagree with it when I say - Morrow by a fairly wide margin.

Jeff Niemann v. Brett Cecil
The right handed Niemann, who'll be 28 on Opening Day, has 66 major league games and a 4.20 ERA over his career. Meanwhile Cecil, 24, 46 games played and a 4.60 ERA. On the surface, pretty similar results. I think most people think Cecil is going to get better, however, whereas Niemann likely is what he is. I'm going to call this a push, even though I fell like Cecil is going to be the better pitcher going forward.

Wade Davis v. Jesse Litsch
Some will argue that Drabek is the #4 but I think comparisons of similarities are important and since each team has a rookie breaking in, we'll put these two together. Davis is 25 and has been a well regarded prospect for the Rays for a few years. Last season, as a rookie, he pushed aside Andy Sonnanstine and siezed a turn in the rotation, acquitting himself fairly well in the process. It was a respectable year, though the Rays would probably like to see a few more Ks and a bit better WHIP. Litsch will be 26 by opening day, and was a largely unheralded prospect. But in his first two seasons, he out-preformed what Davis did last year. He's coming off an injury, and a year in which he was coming off TJ surgery. He has much the same cautionary notes as Davis.
My call here is the opposite of the #3 spot - they are close enough to call it a push, but my instinct is Davis will have a slightly better result.

Jeremy Hellickson v. Kyle Drabek
Hellickson is a year older, and both players have been highly touted prospects who are getting their first full shot. As prospects, it's hard to find anything wrong with Hellickson, he has impeccable control and may already be the Rays second best starter. Drabek lost most of his age 20 season to TJ surgery, so in a sense he's almost two years ahead of Hellickson in terms of speed to the majors. Most scouts probably take Hellickson, but given the vagaries of rookie SP, I don't feel comfortable picking one as a clear favorite here.

On the whole, I make the rotations largely a push.

In the bullpen, the Rays have a guy coming off major injury - JP Howell -as their closer, a guy who was non-tendered as their best set up reliever, and a couple of non-discript rooks they got via trade. Oh, and Sonnanstine. Whatever you think of the Jays pen, I hope I don't need to detail these guys to say that the Toronto bullpen is in FAR better shape.

Overall conclusion?

Frankly, I'm going to have to look closer before I conclude the Rays are even better than Baltimore at this point, let alone Toronto. I think so, based on the rotation, but I wouldn't say so with any confidence. I think a LOT of things would have to go wrong with the Jays for them to finish behind Tampa in 2011.