Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Stupid Question

I'm sure I'll be called an apologist in some quarters for this, but dude just pissed me off. in Monday nights State of the Franchise event, one of the questions from the floor went as follows:

Jonathan: "I would have bought a shirt tonight, but the name Fielder wasn't found up there so I'm, uh, a little disappointed. In all seriousness, my passion has turned to anger, i've been a long time supporter of the Jays, I can stand here tonight and basically say that I'm not sure I'm going to be back next year as a fan. Because I am disappointed, I would have expected some on-field betterment of this season's club and if it wasn't for Fielder, I don't see why Carlos Beltran wasn't signed to back up Jose Bautista in the lineup. It was only a two year deal at 12 million dollars per, not a lot of money, right? ... You harped on making a bunch of trades and not going the free agent route - I think I've only seen one trade. We've seen the bullpen betterment but where's the young starters? I mean, uh, uh, we've seen Washington add a young starter, we've seen Cincinnati add a young starter, Boston went out and got Andrew Bailey and we...uh...I think we're in the #2 position for our minor league system right now and if we do have all this talent, why aren't we seeing the trades? Where are the guys?"

Jonathan, with all due respect, you're a dumb ass. Or at least you ask dumb ass questions.

Alex and Buck said "good questions" - Bullshit. they were just being nice to you because they have to.

let's break it down:

"I don't see why Carlos Beltran wasn't signed"

Because Beltran gets a say. You can't just go out and pluck a guy like drafting a minor leaguer.

"I think I've only seen one trade."

This off-season, sure. It's easy to say "make a deal" without being specific or realistic. Alex has said he wants to add premium talent when he trades. He did so with Lawrie, he did so with Excobar, with Rasmus, with Morrow, and with Santos. But there's not a premium talent available every week or every month. As good as he is, Alex can't simply call up Seattle and say some magic words and make them hand over Felix. Even Pineda went for a guy who was the equivilant of our dealing Lawrie - is THAT the trade you can't wait for?

"but where's the young starters?"

ON OUR TEAM! Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, Drabek, Cecil? Hutchison and McGuire on the cusp. sure, lust after Gio Gonzalez and Matt Latos - but a roughly equivilant set of Blue Jays to the package that got Latos would be d'Arnaud, Snider, and Drabek. Still interested?

I get the real sense that there's a "grass is greener" narrative. Someone else's young starter is better than our young starter, their young SS is better than our young SS, whatever it is -" go out and bring us fresh meat." Sometimes YOUR young player is the guy you want.

"Boston went out and got Andrew Bailey"

THIS is the one that broke down my resistance and convinced me to write. The Jays traded for a closer two, one who's under team control for SIX more years, while Bailey will be out there looking for the 8 figure contract in TWO years. Our guy pitched for less than 30 innings in the minors, and has only two years in the majors yet he was every bit as good as Bailey (who pitched ~300 innings in the minors) last year. We got the better guy and made the better deal! And what does this have to do with starters?

"why aren't we seeing the trades?"

Basically this is just "trade for the sake of trading" Bring us fresh meat. The reality is that there wasn't a smart deal that really made the team better out there. Six of the nine positions in the field don't need to have a bright young talent added because one of them is Bautista and the other five HAVE a bright young talent (or two). There was no bright young talent at 2B to be had, and the best 1B who was dealt was Anthony Rizzo, who's not considered really a premium guy. The bullpen is packed out with talent, and there are more young pitching that we have spots for. Let's say you go out and deal for Gio Gonzalez and have to trade Henderson Alvarez to get him - is that smart? how much better will Gonzalez be than Alvarez over the next five years? I'll wager he won't be, at all. And that's not counting the other guys you'd have to put into the deal.

Basically, I'm glad Jonathan isn't our GM.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Starry eyed Optimism

This is going to be sort of a rambling, chain-of-thought post, not my highest grammatical achievement. Still, it's on my mind.

I know people will point and laugh, I'm used to it, but here's what I keep coming back to - what might we expect from the Jays next year compared to what was successful in other cities last year? Comparisons are always tricky but still . . . consider this.

I matched up the potential starters as well as i could where direct comparisons were not possible, and the figures cited are xFIP
Front part of rotation RHP -

Shields (age 30) - 3.25 xFIP: His career year, coming off his worst year. The two combined look much more like his career figures except the K's got some higher.
Morrow (27) - 3.53: Has about .4 run higher career ERA, but more stuff, a higher ceiling, and he's 3 years younger. I see no reason why Morrow couldn't take a similar step forward in 2012 as Sheilds did in '11. No one would have penciled Sheilds in for a sub-3 ERA a year ago.
Front part of the rotation LHP-

Price (26) - 3.32: actually pitched better in '11 than in '10 even though ERA went up. True front of rotation high ceiling talent. Can only get better.
Romero (27) - 3.80: As Shields is to Morrow, so Romero is to Price. Producing similar results, but with noticeably less raw stuff and upside.

Taken as a set, though, there's little difference between the talent and ability - and potential for producing similar results - between their set and ours, in my opinion.
Oldest pitcher among those remaining-

Neimann - (29) 3.73: Basically average guy (Jesse Listch has a better career ERA+)
McGowan - (30) 4.38: Injury prone is an understatement, but virtually legendary ability before the injury and Jays people say he's pretty much all the way back. No way to know how long he will last but EVERY reason to think that while he's out there he's noticeable better than Neimann.
Similar age-

Hellickson - (25) 4.72
Cecil - (25) 4.43 [4.03 in 2010]

This is the comparison that a lot of you will scoff at. But Cecil, even in his "bad" year had a better FIP and xFIP than Hellickson, has a slightly better BB/9 and also a better K/9. Cecil had a worse H/9, which cost him last year when he got the ball up, but on actual results they are very close - far more so than the ERA would suggest. Now, the flip side is that Hellickson comes with better scouting reports and shinier clippings than Cecil ever had. One may safely assume he has more stuff and a higher ceiling. but if we pair these last two sets, as we did the first two, it's arguable that on stuff, McGowan exceeds Neimann to a similar degree that Hellickson exceeds Cecil.

The slight edge going to the Rays because one can't assume McGowan can last all year. But assuming health, as with the 1-2 set, the outcome in '12 should display a very marginal difference between their two and our two.
Young and unproven:

Moore - (23) ??
Alvarez - (22) 3.38

Moore is considered the best pitching prospect in the game, Alvarez is quite good but he doesn't carry THAT reputation. The only question here is whether Moore will pitch up to his reputation in the first year. BUT let's remember that the premise here is not what will happen next year, but what happened last year. Moore did not significantly contribute to the Rays record last year. The fifth busiest starter for the Rays in 2011 was Wade Davis. while one has to acknowledge the potential that Moore will out-preform Alvarez, one also has to expect Alvarez will be better than Davis was last year.
sixth option-

Davis - 4.82
Drabek - 5.13

One might argue similar potential as a prospect, they were similarly ranked in the minors, but Drabek has the edge in age (2 years) and Davis has the edge in not having the difficulties Drabek had in his first year. But taking the 2011 results as a reference, it's not crazy to suggest Drabek could rebound to the level Davis produced, if he were in the rotation.

Ultimately, I have no answer for Matt Moore if he pitches up to his press, but Price was every bit as highly regarded and he was just league average in his rookie year so it obviously can happen. Otherwise, where is this vast gap between the Rays staff and the Jays? I think it's quite overstated.
Jumping to the bullpen, let's look at the ERA and xFIP of the Rays' relievers who are still on the team:

Farnsworth - 2.18 / 3.23
Peralta - 2.93 / 3.88
Ramos - 3.92 / 4.85
Howell - 6.16 / 4.35
Gomes - 2.92 / 4.51
Russell - 3.03 / 5.50
McGee - 4.50 / 4.35

compared to:

Santos - 3.55 / 2.69
Cordero - 2.45 / 4.14
Oliver - 2.29 / 3.24
Frasor - 2.98 / 3.94
Janssen - 2.26 / 3.04
Villianueva - 4.04 / 4.48
Perez - 5.12 / 3.79

Acknowledging that McGee has the potential to get dramatically better, I still contend the latter set is superior to the former. And the idea that cumulatively they could match or exceed what the Rays got in relief last year is easy to accept.
Now the offense:

Catcher - the Rays are going with the 37 year old guy who's career OPS+ going into 2011 was 62. The Jays are going with the guy who, for all his offensive flaws, posted a 90 as a rookie (and who's not an "out of left field" fluke like Jaso was). I like our chances of getting better results in 2012, but on the point of whether this Jays team can do what the 2011 Rays did statistically, JP was way better than Shoppach was. Here's the collective line JP and Jeff have to best:

.194 - .274 - .333 - .607 - I'm going to say that's in the bag.

First - Adam Lind brings a 106 into the season, which seems short of matching Kotchman's 128 last year. Except when you consider that Kotchman brought a career mark of 91 into last season. CAN Lind throw up an OPS better than .800 this year? Sure he can. Will he? Who the heck knows. Here's the cumulative like for 1B for the '11 Rays:

.288 - .357 - .388 - .745 - Move 50 points from OBP to SLG (I know that the higher math says one is more important than the other) and there is no reason at all Lind can't be expected to do that well, and likely better.

Second Base - Ben Zobrist put up a 132 last year, which is better than Johnson's career mark. I'm not going to pretend Johnson can do anything like that this year. However, Zobrist wasn't the only fellow playing 2B. Sean Rodriguez spent some time there too, and that drug the cumulative line down to something more reasonable:

.262 - .343 - .451 - .793 - now go look at Kelly Johnson's career line.

Shortstop - the combination of Ried Brignac (abysmal) and Sean Rodriguez (average) fell far short of what Yunel can reasonably be expected to do. In fact, the combined offense of TB shortstops in '11 is a line John McDonald could challenge:

.193 - .256 - .282 - .539

Third - Longoria wasn't himself for most of the year, but it's the year he had in the season in question and Lawrie is certainly capable of matching it's value. Certainly he MIGHT regress, but I'm speaking here of reasonable optimism. it's not unreasonable to suggest lawrie could throw up an .850 OPS. I think Lawrie is our Longoria. and of course, Longoria was hurt for the first month or so of the season, so the cumulative production at 3B for the season was an easier bar for Our Hero to reach:

.231 - .335 - .466 - .801 - anyone NOT want the over on that?

Right - Matt Joyce had a fine little year, but Jose ran-roughshod over it, more than enough so to make up for any minor negative elsewhere.

.261 - .338 - .436 - .774

Center - B.J. Upton's OPS was .759, in 2010 Rasmus' OPS was exactly 100 points higher. No one can say for sure he WILL return to those levels but he certainly CAN.

.257 - .341 - .440 - .781 - I, for one, am very confident Rasmus will out-do that line.

Left - yes, the future is Jennings, and it's an open question whether snider will step up and contest him on who is better (I think he's at least his equal in talent, but whether he can overcome the effects of having been rushed...) BUT this comparison is with last years Rays, for whom the primary FL was good old Sam Fuld, who finished the year with a .673 OPS. Thames can easily beat that, let alone Snider.

.241 - .313 - .406 - .720 - not a high bar to clear.

DH - EE already did better in 2011 as a DH than Damon did for the Rays.

.260 - .320 . 424 - .744

The 2012 Jays are not just better than the 2011 Rays offensively, they are WAY better. The counter argument being that the team totals for the 2011 jays are not much higher, but this is a different team: Hill is gone, Lawrie and Rasmus will be with them all year, and since I'm arguing "possible" and not "guaranteed" - it's reasonably possible snider busts out and not inconceivable that Lind rebounds somewhat.

I think the bullpen, if, on average, they pitch to their abilities, is clearly better.

Which brings us right back around to the rotation.

The Blue Jays were one full run (of ERA) behind the Rays in this department in 2011, and not even I would deny they have some stepping up to do. But I, for one, think they are capable of it. That doesn't necessarily imply that they will be better than the Rays in 2012. A full season of Jennings and Moore make potentially a great difference, as does a rebound from Longoria and the return of Carlos Pena (though I'm not as impressed with Pena as many are). I wouldn't be terribly shocked if both teams passed the Red Sox, however. I expect all three teams to land somewhere between 87 and 92 wins and that could be in virtually any order (and the best of those could be 8-10 games behind the Yankees).

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Wisdom of the Ages

By now you know, of course (when do I ever actually break news?) , about the two items of news (and a couple of odd rumors to boot) originating out of Jays-land on Monday. on the two items of news, I don't think I could express my view any better than Richard Griffin(!) did here.

Omar Vizquel will be 45 this year, and last year he saw his hitting drop to the levels occupied for years by his defensive protege, John McDonald. contrary to the popular assumption, it's not completely inconceivable he could rebound a little from that to the mid-to-high .600's (OPS) range he lived at for the previous two years. In 2010 he played in 2/3 of the White Sox games and was a reasonably respectable hitter for an aging SS (.673) but it's too bad for the Sox he was actually playing 3B most of the time. in fact, he's not been used exclusively at SS since 2008.

Still, all he has to do is be better than Mike McCoy and Luis Valbuena and that seems likely. I'd be mildly surprised if he didn't make the team. To repeat Grif's opinion, in part, and elaborate a bit, the value goes like this:

*Vizquel will surely be an on-field personal instructor for Adeiny Hechevarria. Hech needs no schooling in terms of ability to field the position, but Vizquel can provide valuable expertise in the intricacies of playing the position with refinement at the major league level, as well as general conduct and expectations, and do so in Hech's own language and comfort zone.

*Vizquel can also serve as (though it's less required) a solid mentor (alongside Jose Bautista) for Yunel Escobar. one of the thinks Esco is sometimes accused of is being a tiny bit lackadaisical in certain spots such as base-running. if Vizquel can add some refinement to Esco's already impressive game, that pays off down the line.

* unless he's degraded significantly, Vizquel can be at least as competent as the other guys as a reserve/emergency SS and also provide depth at 2B and 3B. I've said all along I didn't se the jays entrusting that critical spot to either of the in-house options.

*unmentioned elsewhere, to my knowledge - don't underestimate the influence Vizquel can and will have on Brett Lawrie. Lawrie has shown himself to be highly respectful of the history of the game and veteran wisdom, Vizquel has played enough 3B and enough on that side of the infield to provide invaluable insight that Lawrie can't get from any other player on the team (even Bautista). This will serve to refine both his defense (where Butter, is, of course, always at work) and his growth as a major league player in general.

*if he, for some reason, doesn't make the cut, he will have the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere, but if the jays somehow manage to convince him to accept assignment to Vegas then he will be in essence an extra coach and continue to school Adeiny.

*finally, the Jays are establishing a professional relationship which may well lead to an offer of a coaching position in the organization if Vizquel concludes there's no major league opportunity out there.
the other bit of news is the pending announcement of a 3+! deal for Brandon Morrow. Shi Davidi tweets that the expectation is that the deal will be worth ~$20mi over 3 years, with a $10 mil option (which has a $1 mil buyout). This has been the expectation here and elswhere since this time last year, and it gives the Jays control over Morrow beyond the two seasons he had left before free agency.
The expectation here is that the deal is likely structured along the lines of 4-6-10 and, in my opinion, this will be money incredibly well spent. i wrote on these pages last year that i feel Morrow is a Cy Young contender in waiting, with all due respect to Romero he's the most gifted starter on the staff, and has the potential to explode into a true ace-type #1. if i'm right, this will be yet another deal which makes Alex look very very good. I'f I'm wrong, it's still true that worse pitchers are making more money.
The rumors suggest the Jays are in talks with the Rangers regarding Koji Uehara. Now I'm of the opinion that the current bullpen is flush with solid options and there's little need for an addition, but Uehara is very very good (the tiny tiny playoff sample notwithstanding) and would be an obvious exception to that stand, assuming the price is not ridiculous. One would have to assume that such a deal would result in the exit of some player currently ticket to the bullpen since there's no real flexibility to send anyone down. My guess would be someone who still has work for Jesse Litsch as a starter, likely in the NL.

Another rumor, much less believable, connects the Jays to erstwhile closer Francisco Cordero. I simply don't see this being possibly true. Cordero has value, but it muddies the established closer meme that seems important to the Jays, and seems unlikely to be accomplished for a reasonable price given there are other suitors.
No word yet on a deal for Casey Janssen, but it says here (see what I did there?) that we'll soon be noting a deal that's either 1 or 2 years plus an option before the end of the month. Per Griffin, the Jays want the longer-terms deals to buy up at least one year of free agency, and of course Alex is on record as not negotiating for one year after the arb offers are announced. But the offered figures have such a clean and easy middle ground that it's easy to see how such a deal would work. Something like 2/3.5/4.5 option with a .5 buyout would be reasonable.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

As you rise from your bed in the morning it will be 34 days until pitchers and catchers report. One of the magical things about the sport is not only that fans collectively hope that this is "the" year when their team puts it all together, but many teams have the individual story of hope, the singular narrative which makes you root not just for the team, but for the human being filling a particular uniform. Last year, it was Dustin McGowan (and in some ways, still is, because you want to see him get back to the results he was having before, not just be on the roster) and to a lesser extent, Adam Loewen.

This year, the story with the most potential for magic is a guy who, even if everything breaks right, likely won't wear a Blue Jay uniform in a real game before September at the earliest, a player who's been on the sidelines long enough that most fans have forgotten he's even in the system. I speak of the man who still holds ambitions of being the first native of New Zealand to play in the major leagues: Scott Campbell.

In his first three years in the Jays system, Campbell, who's the subject of a video feature by a TV outlet in his home country which you can view here, showed steady improvement. Building on an excellent eye at the plate (he walked more than he struck out each year), he added solid doubles power with the potential for more and worked to improve his fielding at 2B. In 2009 the team shifted him to 3B, partly as a function of where the team had, and didn't have, minor league depth. But Campbell was plagued by injuries which cost him about 1/3 of the season in all. Between the injury and the positional shift, Campbell plateaued in his development.

But the injury issues were just beginning, as a chronic hip condition sidelined him for every bit of the last two seasons. A year ago, as you can see in this video, Campbell had high expectations of getting back on the field, but it was not to be. Again this spring, knowing he's probably facing his last chance, he will try again. As of this writing, the Blue Jays control 2B Kelly Johnson for one more year. I, for one, would feel pretty warm and fuzzy of Scott Campbell won that job next spring. Baseball might indeed be about winning ball games and not sentimental emotion, but I don't think we'd enjoy the former quite as much if we didn't occasionally get a dose of the latter.

Also worth your notice is Shi Davidi's piece on up-and-comer Drew Hutchison, with a bit of background (which I've mentioned in passing in the past) on why a guy so good was still available in the 15th round.
Tomorrow is the deadline for teams and players to exchange arbitration offers, and the Blue jays still have five players with terms unannounced. As is well known, the Jays almost never go to arbitration (it's been 15 years) and Alex has a firm policy against negotiating 1 year deals after figures have been exchanged. So expect announcements on the deals early tomorrow, and if someone isn't announced (Morrow? Janssen?) place your bets on the potential for a long term deal to be in the works.

For the record, I missed badly on Rasmus - hope I do better on the rest.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Arbitration Station

Two weeks from now the deadline will have passed for players and teams to have submitted figures for arbitration. As we learned in 2011, Alex Anthopoulos does not negotiate one year deals after figures have been submitted, so one may safely assume a high likelihood that all Blue Jays arbitration eligible players will be signed by then and we will know within les than a million what the payroll cost for the current roster will be.

It is my custom to try to predict what the agreed upon deals will be, and i've gotten pretty good at it. Here are m guesses for 2012 (note I have a predilection for rounding the numbers to no more than one decimal place, while the agreements are often not so well rounded):

Kelly Johnson: Made $5.85 in 2011, accepted the Blue Jays offer of arbitration. Anticipated 2012 salary - $6 mil

Brandon Morrow: $2.3 in 2011, 2nd year of arbitration eligibility. Anticipated salary - $5 mil

Carlos Villanueva: $1.415, 3rd year. Anticipated - $2.4 mil

Casey Janssen: $1.095, 3rd year. Anticipated - $2.23 mil (strong possibility of multi-year deal here)

Ben Francisco: $1.175, second year of arbitration. Anticipated - $1.5 mil

Colby Rasmus: $0.443, first arbitration year. Anticipated - $1.43 mil

I wouldn't be shocked if Morrow was negotiated with on an extension, I'm uncertain whether he'd be willing to sign one at this point (as opposed to holding out for a breakthrough season first)

That's a total of $18.56 and in the past, my estimates were about 10-12% too low (in the aggregate). so that could go some $2 mil higher but we're in the general neighborhood.

Using my anticipated results, the current salary projection stands at approx $72.7 mil

EDIT: Oliver's contract, revealed today, makes it $76.7

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

It's all good

So, Frasor is back. I seem to recall someone suggesting that possibility a couple of times last month (and also the day after he was traded away) but i can't quite put my finger on it.

Oh well, anyway - so with him and the imminent oliver signing, what do we have? we have a pretty damned good idea what the opening day bullpen will look like, with only potential movement in the rotation creating any doubt (barring stunning ST failure).

first, briefly, on the rotation: I've become more and more convinced that unless there's a Ninja Trade, the team WON'T acquire a high profile SP before the season starts. i'm positive we won't seen any Paul Maholm types drug in to fill out the bottom of the rotation, and the top end guys are wildly too expensive. If AA could convince a rival GM to do something completely nuts for a young guy (like Michael Pineda just to name a name) then yeah but otherwise, we're set.

Now, what we are set with looks like this:

(Ignore rotation positions, these are listed in order of most likely to be in the rotation on opening day)


If Drabek makes the rotation, he will either push Cecil to the 'pen, or Alvarez back to the minors (pretty unlikely). the only other reasonable alternative is McGowan going to the bullpen. Which is to say you have a non-zero chance that one of Cecil or McGowan displaces someone currently ticketed to the bullpen.

If there is a rash of injuries or failures in that group, Villianueva, Listch, Carreno and Perez (in that order) stand in line to sub early on. McGuire, Jenkins and Hutch are a few months away at best.

Now, with that caveat explained...

1. Santos - Closer. Full stop.
2. Frasor - RHSU on any day he's physically available and needed.
3. Oliver - LHSU on any day he's physically available and needed
4. Janssen - 7th inning pivot man, on any day he's available and needed

that's the heartbeat of the bullpen.

5 & 6. Villianueva and Listch - both capable of multiple innings, both capable of stepping up when some of the above are over-worked. Both out of options.

7. Perez - LOOGY first but capable of more, also out of options.

the lack of options on the lesser guys here means we pretty much know who the seven are unless something happens. if a starter falls to the bullpen, then things get interesting as to how they manage the roster vis-a-vi the option issue. which most likely means that even if both pitch real well in ST, one of Alvarez or Drabek will go down rather than the team lose a valuable asset on the waiver wire.

Bullpen depth looks like this:
1. Joel Carreno - starts in the minors, first call to the pen.
2. Chad Beck - based on raves last year, has a slight edge on rest of the field.
3. Andrew Carpenter - intriguing rations once he shifted to the 'pen
4. Jesse Chavez - good control in AAA, disappears in the majors
5. Trystan Magnuson - respectable in high minors
(also Aaron Laffey, Jim Hoey, Danny Farquhar, Scott Richomond, Jerry Gil)

But, again, it takes injury or disastrous work to get any of these guys in the door (although
Carreno could probably do fine work from day one if there was an opening).

I'm prepared to stipulate the entire pitching staff if you can tell me what Drabek and Alvarez will do in ST.

The other side of the roster is pretty packed out too, as it stands - though I think we need a better middle infield reserve than Mike McCoy - but that's a discussion for another day.