Monday, 29 December 2014

The Countdown.

In the past I've tried various creative formats to write up top prospect posts, hoping to distinguish my opinions from the plethora of other lists out there, many of which are offered by those far more qualified to express their views. But ultimately, someone else is always going to have a better resume, more stats, a first hand view, or something. Me, ll I've got is having read all those articles that I could and tried to synthesize them into an informed opinion flavored with intuition and maybe seasoned with a tiny pinch of wishcasting. Also, I love my extra long lists, I'll limit myself to 30 for the extended comments though, as the post will already be massive.

Obligatory disclaimer: far more of these will fail than succeed. I mentioned sixty names in 2011, 27 of those have at least appeared in a major league game (7 actual plus contributors, another 6-7 still with upside) and 4 others still well regarded prospects. Anyway, here's my Top 40 countdown:

[player (age as of  6/30/15) position - level]
*level reflects projected 2015 level

40. Dan Jansen (20) - C - Vancouver - New to catching, but has natural aptitude
39. Evan Smith (19) - LHP - Bluefield - 6'5" lefty, not injured. Waiting on an opening in packed Vancouver rotation.
38. Chase Mallard (23) - RHP - Lansing - great results, a bit old for the level. We'll see.
37. Juan Meza (16) - RHP - GCL - Jays' international top signing in 2014.
36. Yeltsin Gudino (17) - SS - GCL - '13 IFA struggled in first North American action, still great upside
35. Rob Rasmussen (26) - LHP - Buffalo - seemed to take a step up after move to 'pen, if Cecil closes he could break camp with Jays
34. Adonys Cardona (21) RHP - Lansing - I still believe. But he has to stay healthy to have a shot.
33. Andy Burns (24) 3B - Buffalo - stumbled after late start last year, but from May 30 on he went .286/.332/.502/.834
32. Tom Robson (22) RHP - Vancouver - won't be ready to break camp in April after TJ last spring.
31. Jake Brentz (20) LHP - Bluefield - only dropped due to signability

30. Jesus Tinoco (20) RHP - Bluefield - His fastball has been described as reminiscent of Henderson Alvarez's for the combination of impressive velocity and groundball-inducing sink. However, his mechanics are still quite raw and his control is a long way from where it will have to be for him to advance.

29. Taylor Cole (25) RHP - NH - Still the best story in the system, Cole has climbed back to the point where he's fully on the radar. Cole, you will recall, gave up all athletics for 2 years to preform a tour as a Mormon missionary. He came back lighter, due to lost muscle mass, and with a fringy fastball.  The Blue Jays took him in the 26th round of the 2011 draft. Three years later, with some help from the weighted-ball program, his plus fastball is back and his pitching savvy is nicely developed, as evidenced by his leading the minors in strikeouts. While he's old for the level and the list, the two years off can't be discounted. Cole may very well challenge for AAA if an opening arises.

28. Matt Boyd (24) LHP - NH - Like Cole, it can be argued he's too old for this list, but he was so very dominate at Dunedin in his first full pro season that he can't be ignored. Still, if he's as good as that implies, he'll be banging on the door of AAA by mid-season.

27. Clint Hollon (20) RHP - Bluefield - Missed all of 2014 after TJ surgery, so he only has 17.1 innings of pro experience. His tiny sample in the GCL after being taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft was exceptional, but his future is closely tied to whether the organization can clean up the mechanical issues that many suspect let to the injury, while not losing effectiveness.

26. John Stilson (24) RHP - Buffalo - by now you now the pedigree (first round talent before labrum surgery) and caveat (had to have a second labrum surgery last August). If healthy he'd have been squarely in the mix for the late inning jobs this spring. He's been throwing for almost three weeks now, but may not be fully recovered by opening day. Even if he is, probably looking at a couple months at least to re-establish his command in AAA

25. Nick Wells (19) LHP - Bluefield - He's a 6'5" and a lefty so that's a start. The Jays took him in the 3rd round in '14 so he's a legit prospect. But we don't have much more experience to judge. Coming into the draft he was reported to have a high ceiling but also to be somewhat raw. He already possess an impressive curve and a solid fastball. Refinement of a seldom used change will be key to developing to his potential.

24. Chase DeJong (21) RHP - Lansing - Coming off a dominate performance in Bluefield in 2013, the Jays jumped him to full season play at Lansing but they may have been too aggressive. DeJong had a wildly inconsistent season in '14. No doubt he'll repeat the level and try to get his grove back.

23. AJ Jimenez (25) C - Buffalo - He's ready, and then some, defensively. He'll probably never hit enough to start regularly but can likely be better than Thole has been for the Jays. His only problem is two veterans in front of him.

22. DJ Davis (20) CF - Lansing - on raw physical tools, he belongs in the top 10 of the system, but "raw" is a word that really doesn't capture the gap between his physical abilities and his baseball skills. Depending on how much he closes that gap, he could be spectacular - or a total flame-out.

21. Alberto Tirado (20) RHP - Lansing - Like many young live-armed Latin pitchers, his control still needs a lot of work, but the tools are very promising. He pitched mostly out of the 'pen last year but the Jays still see him primarily as a starter. If he shows good command in ST he might break camp with Lansing (as he did last year) or may hold back in extended for a month to avoid the cold.

20. Lane Thomas (19) (3B/2B/CF) -Vancouver - Drafted as a SS, he played CF in his first pro season but word now is that the Jays will play him at 3B in '15, which some in the organization consider his best suited position. He could also end up at 2B eventually. These moves are not because he lacks talent but because he has so much. Short might be too much for him but he looks to be a plus defender wherever else he might settle. And signs suggest his batwill play. Could be one of the breakout players in the system next year.

19. Ryan Borucki (21) LHP - Vancouver - some may overlook after e was drafted in the 15th round and then missed all of 2013, but he was dominate in '14  and is one to watch. He's walked NINE and struck out 62 in 63 pro innings. And he's a lefty. And he's 6'4". Got your attention yet?

18. Dwight Smith Jr. (22) LF/2B? - NH - Spent his entire pro career so far in the outfield, but the word last fall was that he'd begin the process of learning 2B in the AFL. He doesn't really show the arm for CF, nor the power typically expected for left. However, the acquisition of Devon Travis may have changed the plans. Another factor is that there's only one OF in the system that projects as belonging in AA other than Smith. Spring well decide much. One thing he's shown, his bat is ready for AA.

17. Dewal Lugo (20) SS - Lansing - He's not over-matched at SS, but give his size and below-average first-step quickness, some scouts figure him for a move to 3B (which, if Urena develops, becomes an easier decision). Offensively, he has good hitting instincts and above-average raw power, but he's yet to completely tap in to either. He ran out of gas last year and had an awful August which depressed his stat line, but even before that he wasn't on fire. Of all the talented prospects in the system, this is the one I'm most willing to trade.

16. Mat Dean (22) 3B/1B - Dunedin - This guy was one of my favorites from the day he was drafted. He's a very god hitter who's beginning to find his power potential. When his doubles start going over the fence, he'll jump up the list. He's at 1B because of Mitch Nay, but likely could still be a solid 3B and either of them might make the majors in the outfield depending on the available opening. He's not at first because of any lack of athleticism.

15. Jario Labourt (21) LHP - Lansing - The big (6'4") Dominican lefty has been remarkably under-the-radar given the upside he possesses. He shows a live fastball with good natural movement and a developing change but he's going to need to find a solid off-speed offering to remain a starter at the upper levels. Still, two pitches thrown well is enough to be an important reliever at a minimum.

14. Rowdy Tellez (20) 1B - Lansing - Like Dean, this is a guy I had a crush on from the day he was drafted. I remember when the Blue Jays drafted Kris Bryant out of high school and failed to sign him - only to watch him go at the top of the draft a few years later. I'm not going to predict Rowdy will end up being the best prospect in baseball but I do think that there's a sense in which the situations parallel. Tellez only fell out of the upper rounds on signability and is, in my view, one of the players most likely to explode this year.

13. Matt Smoral (21) LHP - Lansing - The advancement to full season ball is aggressive and will need to be justified in spring training, but there's a bit of a logjam for the Vancouver staff and that will work in his favor if he seizes the moment. He posted impressive ratios in Bluefield but the control still needs a lot of work. They can afford to advance him slowly.

12. Devon Travis (24) 2B - Buffalo - after a massive 2013 (.936 OPS  over two level of A ball), he started a bit slow in 2014 thanks to an oblique injury that cost him a month of playing time and saw him only 5/39 on the morning of May 26. His line for the rest of the season was .317/.379/.496/.875 so we can assume his bat plays. Opinions are mixed about his glove, but if the Jays don't make an acquisition,  there's every chance he has the job in Toronto by June.

11. Richard Urena (19) SS - Vancouver - He's a good-to-excellent fielder, a high-contact hitter without over-the-fence power. He displays a good eye at the plate, especially given that young Latin players often are free swingers. With Baretto out of the system, he has a much clearer path to the major league job.

10. Mitch Nay (21) 3B - Dunedin - there are a lot of similarities between Nay and Dean. Both have plus hit tools and big raw power that has yet to push some of the prolific doubles over the fence. Nay is apparently better regarded as a defensive 3B, though between fringy range and Josh Donaldson, he might not play their in the majors unless traded. Scouts are sold on his power bat either way.

9. Anthony Alford (20) CF - Lansing - if he impresses in ST, he may very well break camp with Dunedin so that both he and Davis can play CF everyday. On the other hand, the two are great friends and the organization may decide he'll be good for the younger player's development. In any case, Alford s arguably the most fascinating player in the Blue Jays' minor league system.  It's difficult to quantify just how good he can be until he gets sufficient reps. Despite a couple of 5 or 6 games slumps, he's shown very well for a player with so little pro experience in Australia this winter, particularly in the crucial skill (which Davis lacks) of pate discipline.

8. Sean Reid-Foley (19) RHP - Bluefield - Ranks solidly with the Blue Jays other recent HS starter picks. He has four solid pitches with a fastball that sits in the low nineties. He has a repeatable delivery and controls both sides of the plate. With his polish, he could move quickly. I predict he'll get at least a cup of coffee in Lansing in late August.

7. Miguel Castro (20) RHP - Dunedin - That's a slightly aggressive placement, but Alex is already name-dropping him as a guy who could come fast, and for good reason. The big (6'5") righty has gotten stronger and can now run his FB into the high 90's. Like Labourt, he has a change up that serves as an effective second pitch but hasn't yet mastered a quality off-speed offering. The Jays can continue to work on that, or decide that with the available SP depth they can move him into relief where he will likely dominate. If they do, he could be the second half-boost that Sanchez was last year.

6. Max Pentacost (22) C -Vancouver - Said to need refinement on defense, but he's already regarded as one of the best catching prospects in the game. There was talk before the Martin signing that he'd move fast through the system, now they can afford a much more leisurely pace. Still, ideally he'd be up in time to learn from Martin towards the end of the latter's contract.

5. Jeff Hoffman (22) RHP -Vancouver - But for his 2014 surgery, he might have debuted in Lansing and will likely arrive there by mid-season. If fully recovered he's regarded by many as the highest ceiling pitcher in the Blue Jays' system. Already he features a plus-plus fastball, a monster curve and a solid improving change.

4. Dalton Pompey (22) CF -Toronto - some fear he's not ready to be the everyday CF in Toronto. I'm not one of them. There were no hint last year as he blazed through the system that he had serious holes in his game. That's not to say he's a finished product, but he has a firm foundation and thrives on being challenged. Often overlooked is his tremendous speed and base-running skills. Him hitting just in front of (or eventually behind) Jose Reyes should be a helluva lot of fun to watch.

3. Roberto Osuna (20) RHP -Dunedin - No need to revisit the track record n this guy, he's been on my radar from the jump. Even having lost a year to TJ, he's till going to be among the youngest players in the upper majors. There's a lot of speculation he'll open in AA but I'm inclined to think he may get 4-6 weeks in Dunedin until things warm up in the Northeast. But I agree he'll be in NH by mid-season.

1b. Daniel Norris (22) LHP - Buffalo - OTOH, there's a slightly better argument for Norris consolidating his gains at AAA while he waits for a clear opening in Toronto. Not that he showed any weaknesses sprinting through the system last year. In fact, most people chose him in the contest with Sanchez for the #1 spot. I copped out a bit by essentially declaring a tie, but there's really very little to serve as a tie-breaker. The major argument in Norris' favor is that he showed excellent command and control in '14, something Sanchez still can have trouble with.

1a. Aaron Sanchez (22) RHP - Toronto - I gave him the tiniest of edges here for one reason - the remaining possibility the Jays will decide to let him close in '15. The fact that he's had major league success already gives him the edge, in my mind, but it's impossible to predict which will ultimately have a better career. You already know everything you need to know about Sanchez, but remember: if you are ever feeling down about the Jays, think about a Jays rotation which will include the best five of Hoffman, Sanchez, Norris, Stroman, Osuna, Hutchison, and Castro to say nothing of the talent a bit further away.

And there are still other names worth mentioning (don't scoff, I once ranked Yan Gomes #42, Pompey #59, Ryan Goins #78) so here is a sampling:
Ryan Tepera, Christian Lopes, Sean Ochinko, Derrick Chung, Ryan McBroom, Patrick Murphy, Roemon Fields, Matt Morgan, Freddy Rodriguez, Yefry Del Rosario, Grayson Huffman, Chase Welbrock, Gunner Heidt, Daniel Lietz, Eziquel Carrera, Bake get the idea.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Bullpen Imports?

It's beginning to look like the Jays' view that Dusty McGowan's $4mm option was too much for a set-up reliever may have been a misreading of the market. Jason Motte - who missed almost all of the last two seasons - Just got $4.5mm for one year from the Cubs and a lot of middling players are getting pretty nice money.

Looking out at the increasingly unimpressive assortment of free agent relievers, more and more I'm hearing the music from Back to the Future in my head. I'm sitting here looking at Fangraphs ranking of Steamer projections for free agent relievers and it inexplicably doesn't include the one guy guy who's still out there that I have higher expectations for than anyone who is on the list. And that man (obviously) heads my list of potential signings:

1. Casey Janssen - If you consider Gregerson/Neshak the floor, and Miller/Robertson the ceiling, then Janssen should make between 6.5 and 9.5 AAV on his next deal for at least three seasons. If the Jays could get him to agree to 3/24 they ought just go ahead and do it unless they think they can do better by trading mid-to-low minors prospects.

2. Sergio Romo - I've seen commentators express lukewarm enthusiasm for Romo, noting his numbers went backwards last year and he lost the closer job at mid-season. His results DID go backwards. For two weeks. Between June 13 and June 28 he had tree bad outings in five appearances, giving up 9 runs in a collective 4.1 IP. Outside that stretch, his ERA was 2.52 and there was no good reason for him to have lost the closer job. In fact, take out June 13 alone and (5 ER in 1/3 IP) and his ERA drops from 3.72 to 2.97.

Like Janssen, I'd be happy to go ahead and sign him for a similar number, only preferring Janssen under the "devil you know" rubric. OTOH, that might be the very reason they'd prefer Romo for all I know. Less than a week ago Benny Fresh tweeted the Jays apparently hadn't checked in on him and AA is quoted as saying he's looking more to trades but I remind you how long it took after "I can't envision trading a starter" to turn into "We traded JA Happ."

3. Francisco Rodriguez* - talent wise, you might even prefer his stuff to Janssen's but he comes with a lot of off-field baggage the Jays presumably want little part of.

4. Rafiel Soriano -  slightly older than K-Rod, ratios not quite as good, but tends toward fly balls fairly heavily, which tends to make him a less attractive fit for Skydome. OTOH, he doesn't beat his wife apparently.

5. Jason Grilli - entering his age 38 season, which means you don't have to guarantee three years or even two in order to have a shot. Four good years in a row, excepting the portion of last season which occurred before the trade to the Angels.

6. Dustin McGowan - I don't think last year necessarily indicated the start of a downward spiral, but if you could get him for a year and an option, at around $3mm for the first year, he's probably gonna be better than the rest of the scraps left on the market.

7. Carlos Villianueva - Remember this guy? Turns out he's much better out of the 'pen than starting, pitches best in high leverage situations, and has consistently good rates  until he approaches 50 pitches then he goes south in a hurry. Used correctly, the Jays would do well to have him back.

8. Tim Stauffer- If you get the 2013 guy, great, if you get the 2014 guy, that's trouble. The former had fine home/road splits and pitched well in pressure situations, the latter...didn't.

9. Burke Badenhop - Steady, unspectacular RH who has good control, ordinary K rates but  an unusually high GB rate.

10. Jesse Crain - if healthy, would be a solid pick-up and true asset, whether he'll be healthy I can't say.  Not to mention the passport skill ;) - oh, but he is flyball prone so there's that too.

Also out there: Alexi Ogando(health?), Joba Chamberlain (perpetual under-achiever),Tom Grozalanny (best LH left), John Axford (He used to be a closer?), Scott Downs (minor league deal with invite just to see if he's done or not)

To me, if you can get Crain and Downs into camp ad see what they got, it's a no-brainer, whatever else you do.

Trades? Sure, but who the hell can predict trades? Start with this: Norris is only available if he brings an Ace SP with multiple years of control. Basically, Hammels. So if you take him out of the equation, is there someone with a closer you can reasonably expect to trust that you can get without dealing Norris? I dunno. I droll over Chapman but...I just don't know. Navarro might get you something, but there's only so man teams he works for. White Sox, D'Backs, Pirates, Dodgers? Braves? Rays? At least we can look them over I guess.

Tampa - Come up with a couple of enticing prospects to go with and try to pry lose Jake McGee?
Atlanta - David Carpenter? Yes, one we let get away.
LA - they are dying to trade Brandon League, JP Howell had a better year. But if you couldn't get better elsewhere, and they would kick in $5mm or so...
Pittsburgh - Melancon and Watson both look like closers (one already is of course) but either would need an infusion of good prospects to pry away.
Arizona - Evan Marshall or Randall Delgado would be a promising acquisition.
Chicago - If they had a closer, he'd have taken the job from those who attempted it in '14 (you ca see why they wanted Robertson!) - if there's any pitcher here to ask for, you might try getting still-young Daniel Webb back and see if you could teach him to command the zone. He would be in the majors ar 24 with that walk rate unless he had a live arm.

Looking ahead. . .

I still owe y'all a prospect list in some form, and I have unexpressed views about the moves so far.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Bullpen and other Meeting thoughts

So, while I await whether or not there's any fire to the smoke leaking out regarding the Blue Jays and SS(potential 2B) Takashi Toritani it seems the subject on everyone's lips and keyboards is the bullpen. So let me see if I can reel off one of my old school omnibus posts looking over the possibilities.

Lately there's a sudden wave of chatter that the Blue Jays don't have nearly as much to spend as previously estimated. My take on that is (obviously) ill-informed since I'm not privy to how much they react to exchange rates and such, but the whole conversation strikes me as a bit of an over-correction. I don't think that the very-recent trend towards not acting is as much a function of money as it is a wise estimation of the level to which signees are being overvalued, either in AAV or number of years.

This is a team, remember, that declined to bring back Janssen and McGowan for around the same cost next year as Andrew Miller got (and Janssen's track record over the last 4-5 years completely annihilates Miller's - the last half season notwithstanding). There's more in play here than a payroll ceiling. That said, they are sitting a tic over $124mm by my estimation, and it's pretty clear Navarro and his $5mm are going somewhere - more on that later. It's true, as Stoten and others have mentioned, that there are $5mm in pending buyouts at the end of the year, but there's only 1 or 2 mil tat even remotely likely to be paid out. I'm still sticking with ~$20mm to go (assuming Navarro), at least, which would be a paltry 3.6% raise over 2014.

So, taking a long look at the situation, what do we find? First, let's note well: If they wanted Janssen on the team as a person or a ballplayer, they should have picked him up. The cost compared to his track record was good value. Either they saw troubling issues with his abilities, or there was some clubhouse red flag we don't know about. Laying those aside, there are still FAR worse plays than bringing him and McGowan back, although that will cost more now than it would have to have picked up the options. (As an aside, wouldn't it have made sense to pick up Janssens and traded him like they did Lind if they didn't want him? Seems ike an opportunity lost...)

Second, the internal options are not as depleted as has been portrayed. There IS a distinct hole at closer (albeit not without untested internal options) and one would like an import there and perhaps a more high-powered RH for the 8th, but it's worth a closer look at what's here.

1. Brett Cecil - damn skippy set-up man (and not just against lefties) and the leading (depending on how you use Sanchez) internal candidate to close. He'd be a pretty good option at the latter but would leave a significant hole at the former.

2. Aaron Sanchez - few doubt he could be a star as a closer assuming he could muster the "closer mentality". As things stand, he is (rightly) penciled in as the 5th starter but if the ays hit march without a closer option, and with a reasonable alternative (Norris, Estrada, someone else?) for that spot, they may decide to go a year with Sanchez and re-evaluate next winter.

3. Aaron Loup - Anyone remember that Loup wasn't high on anyone's top prospect lists in 2012? Or before? Coming into 2012 he'd been mentioned just a little as a guy with good upside who was probably a couple of years away. By mid-season he'd been promoted from AA and would never see the minors again. Just goes to show that good bullpens are not just made up of big money free agents or costly trades. Like Cecil, he's a home-grown mainstay.

4. Todd Redmond - very under-appreciated by the fans after last year's fine job. A waiver claim from the Orioles in March of 2013, Redmond demonstrates another road to quality bullpen acquisitions. Redmond played a crucial role in '14 as a middle/long reliever and sported a 1.98 ERA on August 14 before his worst outing of the year. He gave up runs in 7 of his last 9 outings and either he was running
out of gas or maybe hiding some mild injury. In any case, he's a key part of the '15 bullpen.

5. Marco Estrada - Above average Starter in '12-'13, and quality reliever in the second half of '14. Much has been said about the 29 homers he allowed last season - but he only allowed TWO of those after the break. The first half seems to be a rather obvious outlier.

Laying aside the possibility Daniel Norris can't be denied, either Estrada or Sanchez will be in the rotation and the other in the 'pen - so other than the occurance of injury, you have 4 spots filled. You need three more in the majors, lus depth.

6. Steve Delebar - the Jays got him at the 2012 trade deadline for a guy they were done with (full disclosure, I really thought Eric Thames was better than that) and who hasn't played in the majors for two years. He was consistently good until May 23 of last season. Then his control went sideways and he found himself back in AAA 4 weeks later. There he did excellent work in all respects except that the walk rate was still too high. There is every possibility he becomes the RH set-up man we need. We just can't afford to presume he will.

7. Chad Jenkins - another Rodney Dangerfield, cursed with too many options (he still has one remaining). Demonstrating the third alternate method to filling a 'pen - the minor league starter who's not good enough to start in the majors. Not possessed of great strikeout ability, all he does is get outs. If not for the option he'd be a lock to break camp in the Jays bullpen.

8. Kyle Drabek - out of options, this is his make or break spring. Take out one bad outing (the next-last of the season) and he posted a 2.45 ERA over the last two months pitching in relief. He recorded 4 walks and 14 K in 18.1 IP. Despite the fact that the Jays inexplicably left him off the September roster, this might be your best dark horse candidate to play a key role.

For all the hand-wringing about the '14 'pen, that's a solid group. It's true the bullpen collectively ranked poorly in the last season, BUT that figure include the Santos implosion (take him out alone and the bullpen ERA drops from 4.09 to 3.88) and several others no longer in the picture. The collective ERA of the players still in the Jays' possession (along with Estrada's relief work and minus Stroman's) is 2.73!

But depth, you say? Much more untested. But here we go:
1. Rob Rasmussen - Lefty looked good in tiny major league sample. Quite good in AAA, solid minor league history. Legitimately goodd enough to fill in in the majors at least.
2. Liam Hendricks - dominant at AAA, still only 25. There ought to be a way to translate that to at lest a replacement level reliever.
3. Ryan Tepera - did good work after being shifted from starting to the bullpen for 2014.
4. Cory Burns - got hittable when he hit the PCL (for the Rangers) but his track record in previous organizations looks excellent. A serious dark horse candidate.
5/6. Bo Schultz/Colt Hymes - I dunno. The Jays thought enough of them to carry them on the 40 so they will be in the major league camp at ST. Can't see the attraction myself.
7. Blake McFarland - no pedigree (a lot of good major league relievers don't bring one with them) but he dominated in the AFL after a fine season split between Dunedin and New Hampshire. He's put himself on the radar.
8. Tyler Ybarra - pegged by some observers as a breakout candidate, the LH pitcher dominated Hi-A ball in 2013 and took a step back in '14 at AA. Said to be the sort that could put it together at any time.
9. Ricky Romero - yeah I know, but he did finally get the knee fixed and it would be a helluva story wouldn't it?
10. John Stilson - recovering from shoulder surgery, probably a lost season ahead but his name ought to appear here somewhere.

Potential second half stories?

Alex has mentioned Miguel Castro more than once. Like most young hard-throwers, his control needs continued refinement, but he will start the season in A Ball and if the Jays think he can help the bullpen this year - as Alex seems to - then they may fast-track him ala Norris/Graveman so long as he isn't overwhelmed. Others who might come fast include Roberto Osuna, who will be far enough removed from his TJ to be back to his old self. He may begin the year in the warmth of Florida but should arrive in AA in early-to-mid may at the latest. Speaking of Graveman, Matt Boyd and Taylor Cole are both lower profile prospects who dominated at Dunedin a stumbled in brief tries at AA. They should open in NH this time and fit the profile of starters who might better serve the team in relief (particularly in that there are so many very good young starters higher on the list than they. For a much longer shot, lefty Jario Labourt might be your sleeper.

In a few days I'll take a look outside the organization to see what, in my estimation, makes sense. But don't despair too much. There's a solid core here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ins and Outs

I had decided that, barring some action in between, I'd wait until after the tender deadline to comment again, reacting to whatever the Jays decided to do last night. Of course, it being Alex, what he decided to do today was more interesting. Alex waits for no (wo)man or meeting. So we have another full plate of implications to sort through.

As you might have heard, the Jays shipped JA Happ off to Seattle a few hours ago for Michael Saunders. A mere two days after mentioning on live radio that he didn't envision trading any member of his rotation. At first blush, as I tweeted to Andrew Stoten, I didn't like it - I figured Happ was worth more than that. But upon further consideration, several factors jumped out.

  • The market is skewed.  There's an abundance of mid-rotation SP options, a dearth of OF options. That makes the former less valuable, relative to the market, and  the latter more so.
  • The financial savings are significant.Saunders makes $3.8m less than Happ in 2015 (and has an extra year of control Combined with the fact that it also takes them out of the picture on Melky Cabrera - whom they had already reportedly offered 3/39 without success and the swing is over $14m.
  • the defensive upgrade is significant. Saunders actually projects to a HIGHER WAR than Cabrera in 2015, thanks largely to the glove. That's before any rivision for home park.
  • Speaking of home park, that stands to make a not inconsiderable difference in theoretical offensive expectations. While my initial lack of enthusiasm was based on the fear that 2014 was the offensive outlier of his career, Mike Wilner points out that Saunders' road OPS over the last three seasons is .780 - and in a depressed offensive environment, that'll play.  Among qualifying AL left fielders, that would have come in at #4 last year.
  • Kevin Pillar stands ready to protect him from LH pitching if need be.  AA anointed him the "everyday left fielder" but his splits show weakness versus lefties so it would behoove the Jays to keep that in mind. 
  • Saunders just passed his 28th birthday and most observers feel he hasn't yet approached his talent level. Cabrera will be 30 next year and we know what he is
  • In 62 plate appearances at Skydome (yeah, I said it!) his OPS is .888 (SS caveat of course)
So...yeah...a Saunders/Pillar set in LF (not  strictly a platoon maybe but...) projects to- defense included - every bit the value Cabrera would give and at around 1/4 the price. All that before we discuss the opening in the rotation that now presumably falls to Sanchez or Norris - unless AA surprises us again.

In other news...

The Blue Jays shaved $6.5m off their projected payroll next year by non-tendering Justin Smoak, Andy Dirks, and John Mayberry, Jr. last night.  Then spent one of those to bring Smoak back with an apparent intent to commit to him as the most-days first baseman in 2015. I'm not prepared to argue that the Jays can release the hitter that scouts saw when he was one of the 10 or 15 best prospects in baseball, but apparently they think the see something. AA says his analytics people think they can get a lot of offensive upside out of him. Let's hope they are right.

Looking ahead towards potential lineups, there's a couple of obvious options:

1. Reyes
2. Martin
3. Bautista
4. Encarnacion
5. Donaldson
6. Smoak
7. Saunders/Pillar
8. Izturus/Tolison (Travis?)
9. Pompey

or plan B

1. Reyes
2. Saunders/Pillar
3. Bautista
4. Encarnacion
5. Donaldson
6. Smoak
7. Martin
8. Izturus/Tolison (Travis?)
9. Pompey

The latter in the situation in which Saunders shows himself maximizing his OB skills while Martin goes back to hitting more like a catcher, OR if Gibby decides he wants the best use out of Saunder's speed.

As always, of course, so far...

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Oh My!

By now you know what happened and have gotten fairly acquainted with the basic details. I waited a day to post on the subject in order to ear all the comments from AA and the players come out to get the whole context.  I've also, of course, heard a lot of commentary from folks who get paid to do that sort of thing and those who don't. Therefore, let me distill all that noise into  those facts which seem to me to be most salient.

First, let's notice what Oakland gets:

Brett Lawrie - Honestly, I had MASSIVE expectations for him. In my mind, he'd spend 15-20 years in a Jays uniform and would be our George Brett/Cal Ripkin type cornerstone. Probably no Blue Jays fan had a higher view of him than me. But due to injuries and some lingering issues with swing mechanics, he's not that guy yet. Of course, he may never be though, and that's the sole reason he was expendable. In essence, the A's got a guy who may end up better than Donaldson or may always be a great glove with a frustrating offensive game. The Jays paid the other guys to the A's in order to shift that bit of risk in exchange for more certainty.

And the thing is, he's only three years from free agency so there's every possibility he'll be dealt again in a couple of years. Maybe we could get him back to play 2B?

Franklin Barreto - He is, to use one of Wilner's favorite terms, a lottery ticket. But in this case the prize if you win is rich indeed. He currently plays SS to mixed reviews - LaCava says the jays were very impressed with his improvement over the course of the season - but whether he ends up there, or 2B, or CF, that bat plays. He's likely to be a consensus top 100 prospect this off-season and if he continues that sort of hitting he'll shoot up that list. No one is calling him a replacement for Addison Russel yet, but there's a decent chance the will in a year or two.

Sean Nolin - the most under the radar guy in the deal and...
Kendell Gravemen - considered together...

Here are the Blue Jays starting pitchers already ahead of these two:

These are other Jays SP prospects with higher ceilings:
arguably Smoral, Labourt, Tirado, and Borucki

Other SP prospects similar to, but further away, than those two:

Then there are swing guys who can spot start:

So while they are both good pitchers they are, in the long term, unlikely to be part of the starting five (even eliminating the veterans, they are no higher on the list than 7 and 8) and in the near term, they have 7 good options and five emergency options - and Ricky Romero, technically. Nolin was on track to be another Brett Cecil (because of the depth, not his talent level) and Graveman could have been a reliable middle reliever getting tons of ground ball outs, in a role similar to what Redmond had this year. That has value but not as muc as they do to Oakland.

For the A's, these are guys who have a legit shot at winning rotation spots for the A's - and preforming well. Particularly Nolin who has constantly been in the shadow of sexier prospects in our system. BA slots them in as Top 10 prospects in their system and the two BEST pitcher prospects.

On my ongoing (as yet unpublished) list, I had Barreto at #4, Nolin at #13 (7th pitcher) and Graveman at #23 (11th among pitchers) which is lower than most have him. 

The Blue Jays get, in return, the certainty Lawrie could not (yet?) provide. Seen in the context of the overall off-season, this is widely described as a complete culture change. To some it might look like AA is constantly changing direction but it seems to me to be a perfectly straight-forward program, adjusted for circumstances that didn't work out.

First, acquire a ton of minor league talent via a well thought out acquisition plan taking advantage of "exploits" in the system. When those were patched, use that talent to acquire veteran talent while modifying the acquisition process. Realize the first year might have been a "gelling" issue but after the second year, identify problems and re-mediate them. The trope afield online is that many of the exiting players were either complacent, or somewhat immature and it's hard for the fans to be certain what to believe.

BUT we do know that Martin is considered the king of clubhouse leadership and Donaldson has also got a very strong "winning atmosphere" reputation. Expect that pursuit to continue. Oh, and by the way, Donaldson will cost ~$3m more than Lawrie this year, and significantly more over the following three years of control - but the revenue from playoff baseball helps  with that kind of investment, no?

One other point-
Wilner commented on the Blue Jays This Week podcast that with two big subtractions (actually 3 if you count Rasmus) and two big additions they are short of last years offense, however...what does the WAR projection (via Steamer) say now about the Jays in 2015 vs. those who've left?

CA: Martin: 3.9
1B: Encarnacion: 3.7
2B: Izturus/Tollison: 0.6
3B: Donaldson: 5.6
SS: Reyes: 3.0
LF: Pillar: 1.4
CF: Pompey: 0.4
RF: Bautista: 5.4
DH: Dirks: 1.5
(Pompey, Dirks and 2B pro-rated to full season)\

Cabrera (LF) - 1.7
Lawrie (3B) - 4.0
Lind (DH) - 1.6
Gose or Rasmus (CF) 1.4 (Both have same projection)
Kawasaki (2B) - 0.0
Navarro (C, presumably gone) - 0.6

So comaring those cone to those replacing them, the total is 9.3 gone and 12.8 in and it's safe to say Dirks won't be the everyday DH. Not that projects like this are a guarantee, but at least they are objective.
Less objectively but not completely homerish:
Martin is pretty clearly the best catcher in the AL as it stands (w/respect to potential McCann rebound)
Encarnacion is no less than top 3 in the league
Reyes is the best SS in the AL (even with shaky D)
Donaldson in no worse than top 2, depending on how much you like Beltre
Bautista is clearly the best RF
And of the players who could contest these claims, no two of them play on the same team.

Looking ahead: The winter meetings begin a week from tomorrow and the Jays are not yet complete (even though they are arguably as good as any team in baseball already) - so I'm not going to invest the time in a prospect list until after the dust settles.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Money, Roster, and Juan Gone

I'll refrain from crowing over predicting Francisco's departure because, well, who didn't? Amiright?

I will casually note that I have repeatedly mentioned (mostly in other places obviously that DickeyThole was a tradable commodity which seem to be growing into a potential thing but to clarify, I do not mean "dump" - he has real marketable value. My suggestion was a re-allocation of resources concept.

In previous years I'd have gone 3,000 words or so refining the details of the presumed roster but those details are so much mainstream part of the conversation anymore that it would be redundant. Cotts Baseball Contracts, linked in the sidebar, is the go-to reference for salary commitments and it shows$108.55 million in guaranteed contracts (10 on the roster plus Ricky Ro) for 2015 (not including any buyout clauses except for Romero's). Likewise, MLBTR has scooped up what has become te accepted standard model for projecting arbitration-eligible player salaries (not that I don't reserve the right to quibble). The current total there is $17.3mm for 7 Blue Jays. That leaves room for 8 pre-arb guys who will collectively earn between $4 and $4.5mm. Pending future roster moves which begin, potentially, tomorrow (more on that in a sec). That totals just ever so slightly more than $130 million (notwithstanding every DL trip of course adds to the actual payroll)

That put them $7mm from last year's total, 13 from the widely assumed 150 working budget, and with theorized but unconfirmed room beyond that. My suggestion to deal Dickey for a good offensive player (one year of Justin Upton? five years of Matt Kemp?) presumes there is, in fact, a ceiling this year and it's better to fill one of the remaining holes via trade than free agency.

About that potential roster movement, here's my guess at the top 5 players mst likely to leave the Jays' 40 man roster tomorrow:

1. Bo Schultz (RHP) - most fungible
2. Matt Hague (1B/3B) - should go unclaimed
3. Cory Burns (RHP)- great control, but good day to sneak a guy through
4. Colt Hynes (LHP) - ditto, except he's also a lefty
5. Liam Hendricks (RHP) - Again, they want him, but with teams setting rosters you might sneak him through.

And the top 5 that need to be protected:

1. John Stilson (RHP) - he's coming off injury so drafting team would have flexibility; has highest upside; is closest to major league ready
2. Taylor Cole (RHP) - assuming Jays don't think his breakout was low-minors illusion
3. Blake McFarland (RFP) - AFL work put him on rival teams' radar, relievers are easier to carry through the first year.
4. Andy Burns (3B) - best position player in need of protection.
5. Sean Ochinko (C) - like McFarland, AFL raised profile. Threshold for catcher's bats are lower. Ghost of Yan Gomes looms.

As Ben Balder tweeted, it's sort of a baseball geek holiday.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Here. We. Go.

Talk about timing, eh?

As you surely know by now the Jays have, this morning, announced their presence with authority. They've sign catcher Russel Martin to what, assuming reports are accurate, the longest and richest free agent deal they've ever given to a non-incumbent. Moreover, despite Martin being only an average offensive player (which is above average for catchers) before last season, the deal has been initially met with almost universal praise from the "experts."

The reports say 5/82 which is, in a vacuum, something of an overpay. Ideally probably something like 4/52 cor 5/65 is more sensible BUT in a game flush with money driving up salaries around the game, and for a team with no previous commitments in the last two years of the contract, an extra 3 mil in overpay is NOTHING. As for 2015, the projected payroll - full breakdown coming soon - stands at just about $131 million which is about $6m short of last years payroll. That's before any other moves which seem certain to come, such as non-tenders and trades (I already assumed Francisco is gone).

As others have noted, Martin's value is more when he doesn't have a bat in his hand. He's regarded as a master pitch framer (one report has him bringing +1.4 wins in that regard compared to Navarro bringing a -1.4 figure), a master at handling the staff which can't be overstated with the wave of young pitching that will roll in over the next five seasons, and one of the best clubhouse leaders in the game - key for a team constantly whispered about in terms of clubhouse chemistry.

Martin may be fairly described as the best possible target for the Jays in this years off-season market.

The consensus, with which I concur, is that this is the first in what is likely to be a series of moves.. The discussion off Navarro getting at bats as a DH is pretty silly, because an average starting catcher in a thin market at a mere $5 mil salary has plenty of trade value and they still have 2-3 holes in the lineup and a closer job to suss out. I still think, even though the Braves having dealt Hayward kind of ruins my Upton idea, that Dickey/Thole (NOT Buehrle) are on the market for a player than can fill one of their holes. Navarro for Luis Valbuena for example? You get the idea.

An unequivocally positive move and positive indicator for the balance of the off-season.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

This may not end well

I swore I was done. After 2013, my highest expectations having been well and truly crushed, I quit. Walked away. I had plenty to do and other things to write about and baseball was just too damned irrational for me to write about. Even this summer when things looked good for a while, I was prevented by having been too severely injured to type more than a couple hundred characters at a time (I'm still constrained to 2-finger typing or a Psychotic Dragon program).

Still, I allowed myself to pay attention. Then I paid attention to the (very good) draft. Then to Pompey and Norris and Barreto.God help me to the playoff chase. So here I am. Once again so enamored with my own opinion that I have to put it on the internet in quantities larger than 140 characters.

Be advised: my typing is worse and my desire to proofread has not improved. I waste entirely too much time online plus I've a passion for debating about equality issues that are actually important so content may (or may not) be sporadic. I'm not ever going to be breaking the latest news, nor plowing into the shadowy depths of sabermatics and beyond. Mostly, it will just be my opinion with a bit of rational for why I hold it. Oh, and the sidebar is hopelessly out of date.

There was a time I imagined myself to one day take my rightful place next to Tao and DJF and the other Jays bloggers of the first rank. But frankly I never worked hard enough to earn that and I have no business in that company. Still, a few dozen of you kept reading (plus, if you believe the stats on the dashboard, a sizable number of bots) so we'll see how it goes.

Here, then, to kick it off, are some random snippits of baseball content:

1. I have an entirely irrational degree of hope that martin is signed, even if the contract isn't sensible (the 5/72.5 mentioned at MLBTR? I'd totally do that)

2. Love the Gose deal because I love Pompey and really like Kevin "Reed Johnson" Pillar.

3. Fine with losing Melky, fine with the 3/39 rumored. But have a better - IMO - idea (see below)

4. Wonder if Travis won't start in AAA for a couple of months unless he ius crazy good in ST so they can go through motions of not stepping on Izturus? Or are they past such posturing? (Fun fact: From May 27 until end of his season, Travis hit .321/.385/.506/.891)

5. reports are Braves need pitching, might trade OF. Proposed - Dickey/Thole for Justin Upton. Salaries almost wash, Jays fully replace Melky without long-term commitment, Braves get quality guy who'll probably do better in NL plus an option on him for 2016, Dickey gets close to home. In fact, I'd probably try to get them to kick in one of those relievers they can spare in consideration of that second year.


Ready to rock and enough salary left to sign K-Rod to close. What's not to like?