Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Quick Hit: Starting pitcher depth?

Conversations rumble about how thin the Jays are behind the Front 5 starters, with reference made to past years and how many pitchers got at least 1 start (9 in 2014, 13 in 2013 for example) for the big league club. Keeping in mind that for some of those guys it WAS just one start.

I won't bore you with a regurgitation of the circumstances which led to those often sub-standard substitutions - it wouldn't be a Quick Hit then now would it?

So here we go - a rough order of priority, in a circumstantial vacuum, in which we might see starters beyond the projected Opening Day rotation. This attempts to strike a balance between number of starts they'd be allowed and the order in which they'd be turned to.

Tier 1
6. Marco Estrada - truth is, they are six good options deep at a minimum;
7. Roberto Osuna - they could stretch him out if it looked like the need would be long-term;
8. Todd Redmond - he's shown himself capable before and he's not the only long man now;

Tier 2
9. Randy Wolf - if he does well once the season starts he could potentially jump to #7 only because  if the need is really long term, Osuna probably couldn't hold up to accumulate more than 100 IP so Wolf might be a natural fit if he proves worthy; Possibly he could really such and drop down to around #15 too;
10. Liam Hendricks - they are clinging to him for some reason, but if you get to him, for more than one or two spot starts, you have to pray the team knows something you don't. So far he's struggled to turn good AAA stats into MLB results;
11. Chad Jenkins - he's been better than Hendriks in spot start opportunities, despite poorer AAA stats;
12. Andrew Albers - has the virtue of having started and exceeded expectations for the Twins a couple of years ago

Tier 3
13. Jun Pablo Oramas - not likely on your radar, he's better than you think he is. No, really. Maybe a sleeper in terms of potential major league contribution.
14. Johan Santana - kinda of an odd placement, if he shows anything like a measure of his previous ability he's top tier, maybe #6 or #7 - but not before June at the earliest;  If he doesn't show much but is still able to pitch at all, this is about right - he can't do worse than ...
15. Jeff Francis - okay NOW you can start to worry;
16/17. Matt Boyd/Taylor Cole - If they pitch in AA this year like they did in Dunedin last year, they have to be on the radar if things get bad enough they have to consider giving Francis a start. They are not A-list prospects but they do have good arguments. Boyd is a LHP who shows up on some Top 30 lists (Including Sickels at #16, MLB at #22, and Fangraphs at #29); Cole led the entirety of minor league ball in strikeouts and while technically old for the level, is not old in terms of experience after taking time off for a Mormon mission. They could either of them get some Graveman like helium.
18. Rickey Romero - I know I know, but I can't make this list without mentioning the non-zero possibility he finds his stuff again. Like Santana, if  he really does get it back, this is far too low, but unlike Santana, we can't be certain all his issues arose strictly from health issues so a higher degree of suspicion is warranted.
19. Scott Copeland - mentioned only because the team made specific mention of having him stretched out for added depth, something you wouldn't normally bother to comment on for an Org Guy (which he surely is, though I wouldn't rule out a future as a fringey reliever)
20. Jeff Hoffman - should be crazy to contemplate this, but you can't rule out him coming together so well that he blasts through the system for an August debut. Which could be very good news or a sign of complete unmitigated disaster in Toronto.

Last year, the guy with the 8th most stars was..Hendriks, with 3 (Norris had 1 but being a September gift isn't really relevant); in 2013, the #8 guy was Chin-Ming Wang with 6 (5 others combined for 11 beyond him) and Hendricks projects AT BEST to be the 10th option this year and could readily be considerably lower.

I'll argue we have deeper depth this year than last.
Stroman stepped in when an early opening came up and was excellent - let's imagine Osuna could play that role (again, innings limitations may apply);
Happ was promoted as the first internal option - that's Estrada;
Hendriks was the emergency plug-in  - Rednond has demonstrated solid results Hendriks can't cite;
Norris only had the one meaningless start but maybe that's Hoffman?
Looking at 13, Wolf CAN'T suck as bad as Wang did I don't imagine; Ditto Albers (just to try to compare vaguely similar status) in relation to Romon Ortiz; Jenkins was #10 that year with 3 starts, he falls at a similar spot on the depth chart this year; I won't belabor the comparison further for folks who got less than 3 starts.

In short - our depth is just fine. Sure, if they can stock up on guys like Chacin or Maholm on minor league deals, it can't hurt to add more - but the depth is no thinner than it ever is, and no more so than it is for almost any team around.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Minor League Roster Previews

[Edited to reflect Drabek loss]
[Edited again 3/29]
[Edited again after roster announcement 3/31]

It's still two weeks away from Minor league opening say, and a lot can still change, but with the increasing likelihood that one of us Blue jays bloggers will be plotting to write on a subject only to look up and see some other fine blogger has beaten them to the punch, iI choose to get out in front on this one.

Today's surprising,if not shocking, demotion of Steve Delebar illustrates what a fool's errand such prognostication is (clearly i laugh in the face of danger, right?) and if I'd finished this post last night when I started it I'd have taken less than 12 hours for it to have been rendered at least a little obsolete. Nevertheless, fools rush in and all that - I live to roster-bate.

Be advised of the predictable caveats:
a. Injuries can happen (especially those lightly reported and seldom understood minor league "injuries");
b. you can never be completely sure what the internal decision makers will decide regarding keeping or releasing marginal players(!), in that respect I'll project a roster for every player that, to my knowledge, is still in the system and projects to play for a full season team. You can bet some of them will be release within the next two weeks;
c. given the above, some rosters will have more names than will actually fit on the standard roster. The roster limit for AAA and AA is 24 at the beginning and end of the season, but 23 most of the season and there are currently 30 or more players who would seem to make sense nowhere but AAA. By the way, the limit at A ball is 25. In short season it's 30 and rookie ball allows 35.
Nothing for this overcrowding until players start getting cut, but designating projected starters among fielders will help clear the picture a bit; I'll acknowledge that in some cases a player will be one level below where he clearly ought to be once actual rosters are set.

Projected starting rotation and starters at each position bolded.
For the purposes of this exercise, the following  players are projected to be on the Blue Jays
Hutchison, Dickey, Buehrle, Sanchez, Norris / Cecil, Castro, Loup, Redmond, Estrada, Osuna, Hynes
Martin, Encarnacion, Smoak, Travis, Reyes, Donaldson, Bautista, Pompey, Pillar (Saunders, Izturus on DL)  / Navarro, Goins, Tolison, Valencia

Drabek is was a bold call here, but I choose chose to see hanging on to him as the explanation for Delebar's demotion. I am was stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the possibility they are taking Osuna north along with Castro as it's an idea I REALLY don't like - it's probably the call I'm most likely to be getting wrong here. [Yup. Took less tan a day. I'm conceding the point. I'm really frustrated about the Osuna decision. I LOOOVE the guy but I don't see the sense in it. But it is what it is]

[Edit: Alex implied today that they won't commit to the bullpen until the very last second and certain players who are currently assumed to make the team might not if the opportunity to acquire a reliever they like arises. As such Osuna might NOT make the team and, Stoeten relays from somewhere that he would open in Dunedin in respect of the winter weather at AA which is what I was thinking in the first place! Hopefully it plays out just that way. He also commented on the need to have someone who could be shuttled after long games or bow-outs.]

 Potential losses to waiver claims for out-of-options players ignored below. However, those OOO players are designated with a (*) on the AAA roster below. DL players in italics; Players on my Top 30 in Blue, Sleepers in Green.

Randy Wolf, Ricky Romero, Andrew Albers, Juan Oramas, Liam Hendricks*, Jeff Francis
Matt West, Rob Rasmussen, Chad Jenkins, Ryan Tepera, Preston Gulimet, Bo Schultz, Scott Barnes, Steve Delebar, Wilton Lopez, Bobby Korecky, John Stilson, Luis Perez
AJ Jiminez, Josh Thole, Sean Ochinko / Andy Wilkins, Daric Barton, Chris Colabello / Jon Berti, Munonari Kawasaki, Jon Diaz, Ramon Santiago / Matt Hague Chris Dickerson, Ezequiel Carrera, Caleb Gindl, Andy Dirks

Comments: Here's a good place to point out that there are too many candidates to be precise, obviously  the Bisons won't have 15 active pitchers, (along with 15 hitters no less!) comments taken with appropriate grain of salt ... As of now I'm theorizing that Drabek is only up long enough to sneak through waivers and one of these guys - likely Delebar - will be recalled in his place the first misstep he makes ... If Hendricks is claimed, Francis would start since there's too many pitchers here anyway ... Vicideo probably ought be in majors but where? ... Berti benefits from having Travis in the majors ... Hague hits well enough to start, best option for 3B ... Vicideo DH? ... all relievers on each team listed in order of age ... [Edit] Wilkins claimed from White Sox after losing Drabek. He's a fine "trade" return for the pitcher and has a solid track record in the minors, no idea why the ChiSox didn't want him. Figures to be the starting 1B in Buffalo which in turn makes me think that Barton and/or Calebello may be released. Also possible Vicedeo has an out clause if he doesn't make the Jays.

[Edit: Vicideo didn't have an out-clause but apparently they had a handshake deal so he's moved on, which helps a bit with some of the crowding at Buffal]

New Hampshire: 
Matt Boyd, Taylor Cole, Scott Copeland, Casey Lawrence, Austin Bibens-Dirks, Michael Lee
Dustin Antolin, John Anderson, Arik Sikula, Will Browning, Brad McFarland, Cory Burns, Greg Infante, Tiago Da Silva, Rafael Cova, Greg Burke
Derrik Chung, Jack Murphy / KC Hobson / Dwight Smith, Jr. Jorge Flores, Andy Fermin, Kevin Nolan / Andy Burns,  Ryan Scimpf / Matt Newman, Melky Mesa, Brad Glenn,  Jake Fox

I had projected Osuna for Dunedin as recently as a month ago, as I said, I'm going to put him on the farm as a starter until the officially say different ... another overcrowded 'pen ... no word contradicts the previous reports DSJ would be converted to 2B, Travis in the majors clears the way for him to get full time work at the position for the Fisher Cats ... Fox and Schimpf have no business in AA but the roster is light otherwise and neither are prospects so org players can be moved about to serve the organizational needs.

Jeff Hoffman, Chase De Jong, Shane Dawson, Starlyn Suriel, Brad Allen, Ben White
Jeremy Gabryzwski, Brady Dragmire, Jayson Aquino, Francisco Gracesqui, Jimmy Cordero, Chad Girodo, Griffin Murphy, Danny Barnes
Jorge Saez, Peirce Rankin, Chris Schafer / Matt Dean, LB Danzler / Christian Lopes, Emilio Guerrero, Shane Opitiz / Mitch Nay / Marcus Knecht, Anthony Alford, Derrik Loveless, Ian Parmley

Osuna and Castro no longer here breaks up what might have been crazy-good rotation ... AA mentioned Vancouver for Hoffman but I suspect he'll be game ready before mid-June ... more crowded 'pen ... Guerrero may be outgrowing SS, could end up in OF but won't supersede the top prospects  and he'd need to hit like an outfielder ... aggressive placement for Alford, but his length of time in big league camp suggests he's on special track, plus avoids collusion with Davis over who plays CF in Lansing

Jario Labourt, Matt Smoral,  Ryan Borucki, Adonys Cardona, Tom Robson
Yefry DelRosario, Jose Fernandez, Andrew Case, Justin Schaffer, Alonzo Gonzalez, Chase Wellbrock, Matt Dermody, Scott Silverstien
Dan Jansen, Justin Atkinson / Rowdy Tellez Ryan McBroom / DJ Thon, Dewel Lugo, Gunner Heidt / Jason Leblebijian / Roemon Fields DJ Davis, David Harris, Chaz Frank

If Cardona stays healthy and Robson recovers well, this will potentially be the strongest rotation top-to-bottom of these 4 teams ...Jansen leapfrogs Max Pentacost because of the latter's injury - Pentacost won't be ready before the short-season teams start ... McBroom might stay in Vancouver just because there's no obvious replacement for him there ... I picked Heidt to promote over Locastro but the organization could make the opposite choice ... interesting how they will handle Fields, whom Mel Dider calls the best CF in the organization, and DJ Davis, who can't afford the distraction of changing positions, in the same outfield - but you can bet few fly balls will get down.

It's too early to project short-season rosters, but here's a guess at where some of the more prominent guys will probably end up:

Vancouver - Max Pentacost, Sean Reid-Foley, Alberto Tirado, Clint Hollon, Lane Thomas, Richard Urena ... this should be, as usual, a helluva team if someone fills the gap left by McBroom

Bluefield - Jesus Tinoco, Evan Smith, Nick Wells, Jacob Brentz, Patrick Murphy, Angel Perdomo, Matt Morgan, Yeltsin Gudino, Freddy Rodriguez ... I highlighted Perdomo who's actually my #31 because it's crazy the system is so deep he didn't make the top 30, but by mid-season potentially five guys (or six?) will graduate off the top of the list so I cheated a bit there. In similar fashion, it's not that the team here is so thin it's just that by the tie you get this deep there's not room YET for too many of these guys.

 Now, I'll sit back and wait for the Blue Jays make dozens of choices I didn't anticipate.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

At The Turn, Part 2

Continuing last nights update by reviewing the pitchers, there's probably less to say about the rotation than any other facet of the team. Barring further injury it stacks up like this:

Drew Hutchison - the (unofficial but widely projected) Opening Day starter. The intuition of almost everyone around the team who's commented is that he's ready to step up into the void left by Marcus Stroman. Even before the injury he was turning up on various list of potential breakout candidates and he's done nothing this spring to dispel this thinking. By starting game one, he gets to start against Baltimore, whom he owns, in his second start.

RA Dickey - Is what you see, there's not really much to say. Likely to start second game of the season so that he misses the Orioles (who regularly pound him) and starts the home opener.Also, that puts 3 of his first 4 starts indoors, which he prefers, and if the rotation held (it likely won't) 7 of his first 10 (assuming the Dome won't open before June).

Mark Buehrle - Like Dickey, there's not much to comment on, except to note that he likely won't start the third game because the Yankees have his number.

Aaron Sanchez - John Gibbons confirmed he's in and lingering doubts about whether he has the pitches and the skill at mixing them to be effective in that role this year seem to be more and more yesterday's conversation. With Martin supervising his work, expect pretty impressive work for a 22 year old.

Daniel Norris - technically still in competition with Marco Estrada, good luck finding much of anyone close to the team who thinks it won't be Norris. On sheer ability alone, it's an easy call but there is one bit of roster maneuvering - which I'll get to during the bullpen discussion - that would modify that just a bit which is worth considering but which almost certainly won't happen. Mike Wilner and others speculate he'll get a start n the third game in New York in order to combat the Yankees' lefty-heavy line-up. You might see the team move to break up the two lefties later on, but initially they probably like this order out of the gate.


Brett Cecil - presumptive closer, assuming recovery continues. Remember, Casey Janssen dealt with shoulder soreness last spring and was virtually untouchable in the first half. They might lose some on leverage by doing so, but Gibbons has always been an apparent fan of the traditional roles and if you are going to have a regular "closer" then Cecil has earned the job. Also, he was a closer in college so he's no novice.

Steve Delebar - has options and can theoretically be sent down, but he's going to have to fall apart for that to happen. Both velocity and control have returned and they need him to be a reliable late inning RHP

Aaron Loup - Good enough against both righties and lefties to be the go-to 8th inning lefty, no reason to doubt him.

Miguel Castro - You'd have an easier time finding a snowman in Dunedin than you would finding someone who's betting the kid won't make the team. There are ongoing debates about what it might mean for his future as a starting pitcher (it's an unusual track but it's been done successfully before) but with the depth of young SP, it's a risk worth taking. If it does stunt that development you still likely get a helluva closer for half a decade or so (before presumptive free agency).

Marco Estrada - Likely he won't be in the rotation but will be the sixth starter so he'll do long work in the 'pen to stay moderately stretched out. I've spoken before about how his stats last year were badly skewed by a relatively brief period of ineffectiveness, but he was nothing but excellent as a reliever last year, while throwing 2 or more innings in 13 of 21 appearances.Take away his August 29 appearance (the last game in which he gave up a run at all) and his ERA over that stretch was 1.94

Marco plays into the maneuvering I mentioned above but I'm holding off just a bit more on that.

Todd Redmond - Some professional writers are implying he's not a lock, but given that he's out of options I think he''s been a lock from the jump. He's done nothing but good things in a Jays uni including this spring, in which he's allowed a single earned run. No way Alex tries to slid a guy this effective through waivers and we can't afford to trade him.

With a standard 7-man pen, that leaves but one open job. The 7th guy could be a number of different pitchers but the bias here is towards LHP since it's no secret that any manager would prefer to lefties who are not the closer. Here are the remaining candidates-

Scott Barnes - Logically, should be his to lose. He's on the 40-man roster, also having a good spring, and 2 years younger than Hynes (27 vs 29).  He was pretty good in his first go at the majors in 2012 (at 24) but stumbled in a very brief 2013 appearance.He sucked at AAA when he was sent back down too and 2013 was a lost year. Still a very viable possibility. He has no options which, all things being equal, makes him probably the front-runner, but could pitch his way out of that situation.

Colt Hynes - as it currently stands, he's reported by some to be the leading contender. He, like Barnes,  has the benefit of being already on the 40, left-handed, and having a good impressive spring. Also, in over 108 minor league innings between 2013 and 2014, he walked only 13 against 99 Ks.  However, unlike Barnes, he has options. He struggled during his first major league call-up in 2013 so he still has to prove himself.

 Jeff Francis - He's 34, Canadian (if that matters to you) and reduced to guile rather than stuff. The big drawback for him is that he's non-roster 2014 was is first year as a reliever, and n 20 major league innings, his counting stats were fine with the exception of the one that counts - earned runs. He was a perfectly capable starter (for 8 starts) n Louisville, but we have no way of knowing if he can be a capable major league reliever and it's unlikely the Blue Jays will risk losing someone on waivers to find out unless other options fail.

Chad Jenkins - the best reliever who hasn't made the team, his right-handedness and available option work against him. He definitely won't make the cut barring injuries ahead of him.

Roberto Osuna - hasn't forced their hand yet, despite being very impressive. Really no reason not to keep him as rotation depth at AA. Maybe the first guy who get's called if there's an opening in the rotation.

Kyle Drabek - Right handed, so there's that. Has pitched pretty well but there's no buzz about how impressed everyone is yet. Probably no one has any more riding on the next two weeks among bullpen candidates because like Barnes he's out of options. Which brings us to the aforementioned maneuvering.

Alex Anthopoloulos has already alluded to the possibility of opening with an 8 man pen (which he acknowledged was "not ideal") in order to avoid losing some players, and it doesn't take much speculation, given his track record on this subject, to suspect the guy he's worried about losing is Drabek. He has three options to do this:

1. the 8-man pen: more than being "not ideal" - if they open with 3 catchers it's functionally impossible. Even without it is very difficult to imagine. If Saunders opens on the DL and if the Blue jays are willing to lay with only three outfielders on the roster, they might use that; If Izturus is on the DL to start the season the same applies, the only way that helps is if there's no reserve middle infielder. The other presumptive bench players don't have options either. The only way the 8 man pen is even tolerable as an idea is if both Michael Saunders and Macier Izturus open on the DL and you count on one player to be the reserve for both infield and outfield - more on that in a second.

2. Let one of the other relievers with options, likely Delebar, open the year in AAA just long enough to get into the season where waiver claims are less likely, then try and sneak Drabek through waqivers while recalling Delebar. This is the most likely work-around barring a trade.

3. This is the one I like, though like the Thole Maneuver I described yesterday, may not get considered. In this choice, Daniel Norris starts the year in Buffalo while Marco Estrada gets the April 11 start. Norris is recalled on April 15 while Drabek hopefully slides through waivers. Why is this the best choice? it solves the waiver issue while also shortening Norris under a full season's work this year buying the jays another year before free agency. I can't think of a single logical reason not to do this.

That's how I'd do it, based on current information.

Speaking of roster maneuvering options and how I'd do it, I would absolutely open with both Saunders and Izturus on the DL and carry Ryan Goins and Steve Tolison on the Opening Day roster. Tolison is also out of options and could benefit from the "sneak through" attempt, as they would hope to do with Drabek, while Goins is the obvious candidate for the other spot. Anyone else (among hitters) would have to be added to the 40-man roster.

Before April is over, you can with luck have farmed out Drabek and Tolison - valuable depth - recalled Norris, activated Sanders and Izturus (no way around him being at least a bench guy unless they find a trade partner and he'll have to prove he can stay healthy first) while demoting Goins (unfortunately).

And the only guy you have to put through waivers before Opening Day is Liam Hendricks.

This is all subject, of course, to injury or the performance collapse of any given guy, but with available info, that's what it looks like right now.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

At the Turn

more or less?

With this weeks games we're now past the halfway point in the spring season and the media buzz is that this is when things get serious. Some initial trends have solidified, and some questions have come into sharper focus but with the important games still to play there is room for both resolution and disaster. So nothing that I'm about to write really proves anything as Marcus Stroman's knee can attest.

Still, a position by position inventory of the situations is worth speculation. In two parts, I think.

Outfielders: There's really nothing much to say here, so far. You'd be foolish to believe the rhetoric that Kevin Pillar and Dalton Pompey are in direct competition for the CF job but both are set to make the team. Jose Bautista needs no explanation of course and that leaves only to take note of Michael Saunders and whether or not he'll miss any portion of the early games. There's still a possibility he's back by Opening Day but given some of Alex Anthopoulos' recent remarks, on other related topics, let's pencil him in as returning for the first home game on April 13.

Infielders: Josh Donaldson and Jose Reyes need no elaboration, but the other two spots are sources of considerable uncertainty. At 2B the sort of default position is that Macier Izturus by dint of his $4 mill obligation would be given every chance to provide some value as the starter, but a couple of factors make the decision more and more problematic. Devon Travis has displayed his advertised bat but also a satisfactory glove, and Ryan Goins has paired his well-known excellent glove with a possibly improved bat. Both are building a case to win the job, contract be damned. BUT now Izturus comes up lame with a groin injury that, depending on severity, may solve the problem or make it far worse. If the injury is severe, then the path becomes fairly clear - Travis starts and Goins in reserve, given that the latter can play both middle infield positions (and third, I suspect). If Goins can hit even to a John MacDonald level he's well worth the roster spot, and they can sort out what to do with Izturus later.

However, if the Injury sidelines him for, say, a week, or 10 days then it confuses the answer of whether or not he can be serviceable AND it undermines the one thing that would have solved the problem: Trading Izturus.

Yes, they might have to eat some money, or take some in return, but he is not without value. For one possibility, the Angels having traded Howie Kendrick and replaced him with a younger and less certain player, and having intimate familiarity with Izturus may well have a decent interest in bringing him back. But a mild injury makes that more difficult.  The news from the MRI will be important.

Speaking of potential trades, Alex acknowledged on the radio that it's at least on the table that they may have to consider outside options at 1B. Despite good offensive days on Friday, neither of the leading candidates - Justin Smoak and Daric Barton - have taken the lead in proving they will hit well enough to win the job. Both and excellent defensive reputations in terms of flagging down (or scooping out) errant throws, for which both Donaldson and Reyes have a propensity. The thing is, there's not a lot in terms of options out there. The Red Sox might entertain offers for Alan Craig, but not from their chief rival. One could maybe speculate about other players but it's just wishcasting. Still, let me cast just one:

Justin Morneau. It's not entirely crazy. The Rockies could make good use of Dioner Navarro, you could throw in Smoak (if there's anyplace he might maximize an offensive game that only really has one thing going for it - some power) and right there you offset $6 million of the 9  owed to Morneau. The Rockies can use Wilim Rosario who's a butcher behind the plate as another option at 1B as well. Meanwhile, the Jays can platoon the new acquisition with Danny Valincia to excellent result. Of course, you'd have to include prospects to make it work. I submit the possibility of Mitch Nay who can bring the prospect of a good offensive and defensive game to one of their corner infield spots by the next time they have the talent to contend. Throw in one of the second tier pitching prospects like Matt Boyd or Chase De Jong (if you must) and and why not?

Do this and an already great offense gets even better, and you can protect EE's back as the primary DH. Speaking of Dioner Navarro, that brings us to the overcrowded catching position. The team really doesn't need to carry 3 catchers, and the clock is ticking on solving that problem. Let's lay aside the foolishness of Navarro as a regular DH. Tolerate it as a very temporary solution at most but not even that if you can avoid it. Trading Navarro is the obvious solution and if it can be leveraged to address another need so much the better.

In the absence of  that, one alternative is to send Josh Thole to Buffalo (he has an option) until things pan out, letting Russel Martin catch Dickey a few times in the interim. There's discussion of how you rest Martin but that's easy - you let Navarro catch Buehrle as that went fine last year and he's the one least in need of Martin's wisdom. This isn't something I'd want to see happen all year, but it is certainly a workable solution to the looming implications of carrying three catchers.

That being, of course, who's on the bench? You need a reserve who can play the outfield (Pillar), one who plays the middle infield (Goins), and a reserve catcher beyond the starting nine and that's 12 of 13 spots. Practically that last spot needs to be a corner infielder (Valencia) - so the problem of having a third catcher is obvious: you can't spare either of those. So either you trade Navvaro or you farm out Thole until you can.

Yes, Saunders will maybe open on the DL but, even if the Jays don't use that moment to protect Kyle Drabek from passing through waivers until he's less likely to be claimed, if you carry another hitter he has to be capable of playing in the OF - probably Steve Tolison in this scenario since he's already on the roster (and he too may slip through waivers unclaimed a week into the season). I'm not sure why no one else is discussing this yet (demoting Thole), but it seems to me that it pretty much writes itself.

In the next couple of days I'll wax similarly verbose (we, not really, there's less to say) about the pitchers.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Brave and the Bold

This time of year baseball fans and sometimes managers too toss out unusual suggestions about how the personnel on hand might be arranged for the best of the team so it's in that spirit that I offer two thought experiments. The first has only the most microscopic chance of catching us by surprise, the second more possible but still - I think - a pretty bold move.

The Brave

The problem: What the hell are they going to do at first base? Smoak and Barton flash the leather with the best of them and both apparently aspire to be the 1B version of John McDonald this spring. Others, like Vecideo or Navarro might give you some offense but do you dare trust them to field the position. Of course, Edwin can play first but if the back goes south that's a big issue. There's really not any obvious candidates to hit the waiver wire out there and the Jays don't seem to be making as much noise about dark horse candidates like Chris Calabello as you'd hope.

The Brave Solution: Move Jose Bautista to 1B! We all know it's going to happen at some point anyway, his arm being his only above average tool in RF, and if you do it in the face of desperate need it's "do it for the team" rather than "we don't think you can cut it in RF anymore." If Bautista is your everyday 1B, then Keniv Pillar is your presumptive RF (he'd be a betterfielder other than having a lesser arm) and Caleb Gindl (also capable of playing RF) likely makes the team as the reserve OF Say what you will about them, they will look better in the line-up than Smoak and Barton have this spring. Plus, you are more likely to find an OF on the late-spring trade market than a first baseman (Alan Craig could well solve either but one assumes the Red Sox have no interest in fixing our problem).

The Bold

The problem: It's twofold actually. First, many worry about what jumping a 20 year old to the major league bulllpen from A ball will do to his development as a starter, I'll get to that in a second.v Secondly, something I've only seen mentioned once. By Gregor Chisolm. I'll let him explain:

Todd Redmond: The right-hander is known to be a favourite of Gibbons, but he might be facing an uphill battle to make this year's squad. The decision on whether or not to carry Redmond on the roster likely will come down to whether the club makes it a priority to add a third left-hander to the bullpen. If Toronto is fine with two lefties, Redmond should have a spot after posting 3.24 ERA as a long reliever last season. Redmond is out of options on his contract and would have to pass through waivers before getting sent to the Minors.
The third lefty: Gibbons has mentioned that it would be "ideal" if the Blue Jays had three left-handed relievers, with Cecil seemingly set for closer duties. Veterans Jeff Francis and Colt Hynes are currently receiving the most consideration. Francis was added on a Minor League deal, and he continues to transition from a starter to the full-time reliever role. Hynes was added on a waiver claim. and both pitchers currently appear to be ahead of Redmond on the depth chart because of situational needs.

This is bad.  Losing Redmond to waivers to carry Francis or anyone else he might be competing against as the third lefty is simply unacceptable. Todd Redmond has been a not inconsiderable asset for the Blue Jays over the last couple of seasons. A team hurting for good relievers doesn't let this one get away. Now, to be fair, the easy solution to Chisolm's dilemma is to carry Redmond over Wilton Lopez (or more precisely, to carry Miguel Castro over Lopez) but that's not Bold, now is it?

The Bold Solution:  Make Castro the closer. Then you have Cecil ready to put out the biggest fire wherever it arises, another lefty in Loup - and your seventh reliever is the best candidate regardless of handedness. Castro has given us no reason to think he couldn't dominate every bit as much as Sanchez did last year, and his dominate two-pitch combo could make him a ROY candidate and more in the ninth. But, you ask, what about his development as a SP? Aren't starters more valuable? They are. But we are operating from a position of strength. Assuming the two Veterans left next fall, next years ST could see the following young candidates for a rotation spot: Stroman, Hutchison, Sanchez, Norris, Osuna, and Hoffman (to say nothing of lesser lights like Matt Boyd or other potential helium guys like Jario Labourt). Castro can rejoin that competition if the team sees fit or continue as closer if they have five healthy and ready young guns. If five of those six guys are your rotation over the next 5-6 years you are going to be just fine with Castro closing.

Full disclosure, from an emotional point of view I'd be bummed for Cecil if he didn't get-to pump up his future payday be raking up saves, but i try to lay that emotional investment aside and look at on-field considerations.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Looming Mistake

It's about time this ugly bit of business was dragged out into the daylight. I've never been one to bash ownership but on this point, I'm inclined to drag out a nine pound hammer and start winging. My complaint?

The idiocy that if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs in 2015 Alex Anthopoulos will be fired.

Now, the disclaimer must be made: i do not KNOW whether or not the chatter is true, but it's discussed as common knowledge in the Toronto media and give the Dan Douquette debacle, it's all too easy to believe - but it is, in my view, an utterly misguided plan if it is indeed true.

First of all, let's consider historical context. Gord Ash was hired to replace national hero Pat Gillick in the fall of 1994 when Gillick retired from the position. Ash oversaw the team through seven season. Four of those were sub-.500 teams and the best result was an 88 win season helmed by a manager who talked himself out of the job. Overall the team was just under .500 on his watch.

He was replaced in the fall of 2001 by JP Ricciardi. For whom I had (full disclosure), at the time, tremendous enthusiasm. JP had the job through eight seasons. In four of those the team finished under .500, the best season was 87 wins in 2006, though they also reached 86 in two others. To be fair, though, JP was operating on very harsh salary restrictions during the first two years. Overall, the Jays were just slightly under .500 during his term. He lost his job, I expect, at least as much because the pressures of the position seemed to magnify some negative aspects of his personality, as because of his record.

For comparison, Alex Anthopoulos is entering his sixth season on the job.The success record is similar to his predecessors.

My major complaint is this: Alex essentially started fresh, boldly attempting to stock the minor leagues with talent to build a long term, sustainable, pipeline of talent to lay a foundation for major league success. He stated on the front end that you first build the foundation and then add selected expensive players when the team was ready, so like JP, one shouldn't put much stock in the results of the first 2-3 years. It's no secret to anyone when Alex decided to "go for it" nor is it a secret that in the first go at contention the engine stalled. I'll leave it to others to analyze 2013. Last year it seemed to be on track until August hit and the team went into a crazy tailspin. Still, a nine win improvement and 3rd place for the first time since 2007.

Now, to be sure, 2015 SHOULD be a year of further improvement, the trajectory clearly points in that direction. But even so, I contend that six years, three of which they were not even trying to contend, is in no way long enough to properly evaluate a GM's ability. When you need 3-4 years to develop even the best of your draft picks, that's a very short time frame.

The draft history alone argues for patience. It's been said that if you get one really good player out of a draft you did well and another contributor or two and you did real well. [following edited to correct a stupid mistake on my part]
If you look at the typical prospect development curve for a guy who's considered an above average pick and a frontline contributor in the majors, though there are very rare exceptions (Stroman for one obvious example) players drafted in 2010 should only just be arriving and making a dent THIS year. Sure enough, 4 players from the jays 2010 draft have already appeared in the major, with two of those set to be key contributors to the 2015 squad, and another - the since traded Noah Syndergaard - is banging down the door for the Mets. (I won't mention the unsigned Kris Bryant, I might cry). Not only that, two more players from the 2011 class are here, and one from the 2012 class (injury aside).

What kind of sense does it make to hire a guy, charge him with rebuilding your system to create a winning tradition and fire him six years into the job when the best fruits of your labor can only be expected to contribute 5 years later? Now, yes, if the team goes completely south and struggles to win 75 games then yeah, you might figure it's time to pull the plug - but that's something you decide AFTER it happens. You don't let the rumor mill run wild, unanswered, describing the big fucking sword that's hanging over your GM's head before the season even starts. You don't set a fairly arbitrary goal before the season and take no consideration of circumstances. What happens if the team wins 92 games (4 more than they have won in a single season since Carter hit the biggest homer of his life) and yet miss the playoffs by one game? Fire the GM? if you did you'd be certifiably insane. if you say no, then why not get out there on Bobcat;'s show and deny emphatically that it's a "do or die" season?

It's time someone put a stop to the madness.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

What next?

There's a scene somewhere in Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge" in which his character, Gunny Highway, tells the recruits under his command how a marine meets difficulty - "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome."

Apparently that's a motto that is worthy of a place in the Blue Jays clubhouse after today's emotionally devastating injury (and if you don't know what injury I mean, I'm uncertain why you are reading this blog). The loss of Marcus Stroman of course prompts a thousand writers to offer facts and opinions on how this will present a challenge to Blue Jays' management to address, but I'm going to take the position that the only practical reaction is to stay the course. We are told repeatedly that necks are in the noose if the team doesn't make the playoffs this year (an absurdity, BTW, more on that in another column coming up soon) and that sort of pressure might in theory lead to reactionary actions. I hope it does not. First of all, let me take a moment to put something on the record. For most of the winter the "Let's analyze just how awesome Marcus Stroman is" meme has dominated Jays' related commentary but there's another, less noticeable but still vibrant stream of discussion: Drew Hutchison might be pretty damned great too. Don't be surprised if Hutch turns out to be the big story of 2015. Now, about those openings.

It's well understood that the Jays were running a 3 way competition for the #5 spot, with other dark horse options lingering on the fringes. That's still true, though the dynamics of the situation have shifted.  Let's look more closely.

Aaron Sanchez - Barring a very surprising trade, the great shift starts here. Sanchez likely slots right into the 4th starter role right out of camp. This has bullpen implications, of course, and is not without risk, but ultimately, if not now, when? It was only ever the bullpen issue that prevented it being a virtual lock he'd be in the rotation in the first place. He will need careful nurturing by Martin and the risk of underperformance is significant, but he does enjoy the benefit of a best friend at his elbow to provide insight into the potential rookie pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Daniel Norris - on sheer ability, he'd be the favorite for the #5 spot and there's certainly no reason to be unhappy if he gets it. Like Sanchez, he'll require constant supervision but there's no better catcher in the game to serve as a tutor and perhaps no better rotation-mate mentor for him than Mark Buehrle (who'll also no doubt exercise that role for Sanchez as well). If you HAVE to break two rookies into the rotation at once, it's not possible to be better equipped to deal with it from a personnel perspective.

Marco Estrada - That said, no matter how well-equipped, it's simply not ideal to plug two rookies, even two this good, into a rotation at the same time.  It would be a better, or at least more stable, situation to let one get their feet under them for a couple of months. Estrada isn't a top-shelf talent the way the kids are but by no means is he chopped liver. The casual observer might be a bit panicky abut that - isn't he the guy who gave up tons of homers last year?  It's true he did give up 29 in 150 IP, BUT he gave up half of those in one five 33 day stretch covering seven starts. In that one very atypical period he gave up slightly more contact and a LOT more homers than he had previously. He corrected himself and had three nice starts leading into the ASB before being shifted to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Over that period his HR rate normalized to just what it had been before.

Oh. Before? Before that one awful month, he had started 53 games in 52 appearances over two plus calendar years. Here's what his stat line looks like for those 53 appearances:

309.2 IP, 273 H, 127 ER, 69 BB, 300 K, 46 HR, 3.69 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
- pro-rate that to 32 starts and -
186.0IP, 164 H,  76 ER, 41 BB, 180 K, 28 HR, 3.69 and 1.10

All of you would would not be ecstatic to get THAT out of your #5 starter (or #4 for that matter) are kindly invited to GTFO. So, as always assuming no untoward Spring developments, I'd be in favor of Estrada at least starting the season in the rotation unless it is judged by the staff that the bullpen simply can't stand the absence of both he and Sanchez. Meanwhile, Norris gets a chance to consolidate his gains in AAA and stands as a very nice first option when something else goes sideways.

Johann Santana - see my last previous post for my thoughts here, but in brief, if Santana looks like a real contributor, then either of Sanchez or Estrada (depending on performance and need) can be shifted to the 'pen to make way for Santana for ever how long he can hold it together and provide value.

Todd Redmond - Don't laugh. Discounting his last start of the season, Redmond stepped into the 2013 rotation as an emergency replacement and reeled off 13 starts with a 3.80 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and slightly more than 1 K per IP. He's not the guy I'd be certain of over a full season, but as a guy who could serve to give Norris some time in AAA, you could do a lot worse.

Liam Hendricks - Kicks ass in AAA, including an outstandingly low walk rate, gives up too much contact in the majors. He's still only 26 and you have to think that there may be something there yet to unlock (another thing where fresh eyes -Martin's - may help?) but he has to be considered a very dark horse.

Juan Oramas - Here's your sleeper. The lefty did fine work through the Padres system, and not pitching to younger kids or any such caveat, until he got to AAA. The notoriously-hard-on-pitchers PCL had their way with him and Alex grabbed him on a waiver claim over the winter.  It's not practical to suggest he could beat out Norris for a rotation spot, but in terms of the depth chart, he's perfectly viable and may well generate some nice buzz in Buffalo. He'll still be 24 on Opening Day.

Andrew Albers - Imagine of one of those guys the Jays picked up as an Org guy, say Casey Lawrence or Scott Copeland, reached the majors at a "too old to be a prospect" date and proceeded to pitch well anyway? That's Andrew Albers.  He was plucked out of Indy ball by the Twins after having disappeared from the associated minor leagues for two years and moved up their ladder always being "too old for the level" to be considered a prospect. In 2013 he pitched well as a 27 year old at AAA and found himself recalled by the parent club. He started 10 games, respectably, and then was allowed to sign with a Korean team for 2014. There's no denying that if a contender has to resort to Albers for very long, it's a good sign things have gone very very wrong. But you might see him get a tiny bit of buzz at some point (I think Wilner is fond of him).

Chad Jenkins - Another unexpected and, as far as I know, unmentioned by others, possibility. He's a smoke & mirrors guy who's in relief for a reason, but he does have starting xperience and I'd as soon trust him with the job as, say, Jeff Francis.

Ricky Romero - Hell, if I can mention Jenkins why can't i mention the ever so tiny possibility that RickyRo somehow remembers who he is? If Scott Kazmir can do it . . . don't tell me you wouldn't love a good feel-good redemption story on the way to October, we both know you'd be lying.

So, there ya go, 10 names deep. Not 10 GOOD names (who as that, exactly?) but at least a cheat sheet on the possibilities.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Best Case Scenario

As usual, I'll try to do something different tan just report information readily available all over the Toronto sports media. Everyone knows by now that Andrew Stoeten, for example, reliably offers a link to all the best stuff. Just check the sites in the sidebar for good stuff. Speaking of that, once I get moved I'll be adding a couple of other great resources. One is an excellent idea by the great Marc Hulet filling  a need for the obsessive roster-bater (i.e. people like me) - it's called the MLB Prospect Market. 

There you will find charts with info compatible with the outstanding info found on Cott's. They have depth charts listing all the important players in the Blue Jays system with info about Rule 5 eligibility, roster status, and option years.You can find this info for every team in the league. There are also notes with info that might be otherwise hard to find. A similar resource, one that's Blue Jays specific, is hosted by Bluebird Banter. There you'll find a chart for players in camp, 40 man roster and non-roster, with service time, options used, and the player's choices if/wen they are cut.

Now, on to today's exercise. What would it look like over the coming months if we had the benefit of several best case scenarios (BCS) playing out? No, I'm not going to indulge in stating the obvious like "Jays win World Series" and "Stroman wins Cy Young". No, I'm thinking more about those places where there are question marks.

So let's look at the presumptive roster:
Starters - Stroman, Hutchison, Dickey, Buehrle, ???
Relievers - see below
C - Martin and ?
RF - Bautista
CF - Pompey
LF - Saunders
3B - Donaldson
SS - Reyes
1B or DH - Encarnacion

For the rest, we'll get to it below.

So question one - 5th starter. The BCS here is that Santana's comeback is for real. Let's face it, it doesn't take much to be an average #5 starter in major league baseball. In 2013 the average 5th starter had an ERA of 5.00 so one has to assume if Santana gets the job the Jays think he'll give them more than that. No, it's not reasonable to expect he'll be back to his peak form, but if he can, even for a string of 15-20 starts before breaking down again, be better than your average #5 that helps the team. Yes, he can't break with the team but that's easy enough. Plug Marco Estrada in for the first 3-5 starts.  That too has potentially positive repercussions.

Let's say Marco gets the three turns in April an Santana's first turn is May 1, 14 starts would take him through the ASB and anything more is gravy.

Which brings us to Question 2 - the bullpen. I've come around to the position that Cecil ought get a full chance to close. I agree with the principle that Gibby ought to use him in the highest leverage spot and have other pitchers he trusts to follow him. But I'd say that about any closer. It seems to me he can handle it and the Jays can handle giving him the role and not messing with Sanchez's mental game. To me Cecil as closer is the BCS for both he and the Jays.

So if Cecil is closing and Estrada is temporarily in the rotation, what does the rest of the April 'pen look like:? Here's my speculative prediction for those six spots.
1. Aaron Loup - needs no explanation.
2. Todd Redmond - has an option but unless he has a miserable spring he'll break with the Jays
3. Wilton Lopez - again, pending  spring performance but you can tell Alex has a strong interest in the guy. Best case is that he is as good as he was in Huston and justifies that faith.
4. Rob Rasmussen or Scott Barnes - the Jays will want to have another lefty available of Cecil is promoted. If either of these guys (or, for a dark horse, Luis Perez) show reasonable competency one of them will have the spot. My guess is Rasmussen. Best case is not he brings that talent that made him a high draft pick and establishes his place in the majors.
5. Steve Delbar - he has an option, so he has the opportunity to lose this spot during ST, but he has a nominal edge. It would definitely be a BCS if he proved to be the guy he was in the first half of 2013.
6. Kyle Drabek - remember how the jays broke with Jeremy Jeffress and gave him a chance to prove himself before they lost him (and he went on to prove himself after he got to Milwaukee)?  Same deal here. He might look sucky in ST and if so they may try to slip him through waivers, but if he shows ANYTHING they can hang their hat on, they will be inclined to take advantage of Estrada's spot to see how he does or if they can maybe get a little something for him. Don't sweat it, he probably won't get enough leverage to affect the outcome of any game early on.
Next in line: perpetual shuttle rider Chad Jenkins. His one remaining option is the bane of is existence, but he will be a key player as injuries and such cause the wheel to turn.

Let's chase this one a bit further. How will the Buffalo bullpen stack up, as ordered by the likelihood of being useful to Toronto at some point? Beyond Jenkins (and the alternate lefties mentioned above), here's who to watch:
Matt West - Watch this guy closely, the Jays really like him and if there's a few breaks on the depth chart he could be pitching key innings in August and beyond.
Ryan Tepera - his shift to the 'pen showed the Blue Jays some potential. Still getting a read on whether he can optimize that.
Preston Guilmet - he's definitely on the outside right now, but he is at least on their radar.

It would be a BCS if it turns out the Jays have a deep surplus of quality bullpen options. Don't rule out the possibility that AA starters Matt Boyd and Taylor Cole might sneak in at some point,  or Miguel Castro towards the end of the year when hes nearing his IP ceiling.

By now you are very curious what I figure to do with Sanchez and Norris. Well I'm going to argue they are at the front of the Buffalo rotation until someone breaks down. The seasoning, particularly for Norris, can't be a bad thing and every team needs significant SP depth. If we find a way to squeeze either or both onto the Opening Day line-up, that makes guys like Liam Hendricks (no option, might be lost) and Jeff Francis your first line of defense. Unless Ricky Romero suddenly finds his past. If/when Santana (or someone else) breaks down ten the two young guns stand ready...in a BCS.

Turning to the field, let's make the 2B question short and sweet - BCS is that Izturus isn't awful and he does well enough to give Travis some breathing room in AAA. If all goes well, by May Travis will be pounding the door down. The bench implications are too numerous to parse. If there are four spots and one goes to a reserve catcher, one goes to Valencia, and one goes to Pillar (don't give me all the Dickerson/Dirks baloney) that leaves one spot (which will eventually go to Izturus if Travis takes over 2B) to go to either Goins, or Tolison, or Santiago or Kawasaki. Of those, the latter two are non-roster and it would be strange if they stayed. Goins has an option and Tolison doesn't so early on, Tolison probably breaks camp with the big club.

Back-up catcher? The BCS is that Navarro is dealt for value and that sometime in June or July Jimenez takes Thole's job from him.  Thole does have an option, so the Jays can park him in Buffalo if Jimenez emerges. The sooner this transition happens (on merit) the better.

That leaves the 1B/DH situation. There's a good bit of buzz around the alternatives here, but there's a pretty clear BCS. Edwin prefers to play DH, according to reports, and Donaldson (sometimes Reyes as well) has a throwing accuracy issue. You need a good receiver at 1B. That would seem to rule out Dyan Vicedio who has no 1B experience o speak of. Justin Smoak and Daric Barton are both quality defenders, so the BCS here is subject to who aids the team offensively more.Honestly, I can't see how that could possibly be Barton, as disappointing as Smoak has been so far. Either one has the potential to be the worst bat in our line-up on any day which Martin plays, but if either is going to be surprisingly adequate, it's Smoak.  Before you scoff, I remind you of the way that the Rays have a history of trotting a guy out that everyone figures will be a bum and he ends up being a boost (Lee, Pena, Kotchman, Loney). It could happen. In a BCS.

Finally, my own personal BCS: That Michael Saunders impresses enough to be slipped into the #2 spot in the order. The idea of only having two lefties and hitting them back to back is insanity, IMO.