Monday, 23 December 2013

Trading for David Price: Fun With Surplus Value

One of the hottest commodities on the potential trade market these days is the Tampa Bay Rays’ ace lefty David Price, and fans of many a franchise are understandably salivating at the prospect of seeing him don their team’s uniform. It’s not every season that a player of Price’s caliber becomes available while still in his salary arbitration years, which Price will be for the next two seasons. Trade speculation is obviously a favourite off-season pastime of fans everywhere, so there has been rampant speculation in all corners of the media and internet about where Price might end up and what it might take to get him there.

With the winter meetings now concluded without having provided much excitement for Jays fans, I wanted to do a bit of a pivot off some of the analysis I’ve seen recently that is either directly related to the Blue Jays’ quest for starting pitching, or at least very closely related to it. Much of the analysis regarding trades these days has to do with the notion of surplus value, which is calculated by finding a player’s value in $/WAR terms and subtracting their salary ( WAR * $/WAR – Salary ). The difference between the player’s on-field value and their salary is their surplus value. This is significant for obvious reasons. The less you pay for wins from one player, the more money you have to allocate to buying wins from other players. Trades can be analyzed by comparing the projected surplus values of the pieces involved to see which team ended up “winning” the deal from a value perspective. As mentioned, surplus value is at the heart of most transaction analysis, and for good reason.

It’s important to consider surplus value when considering trading close to the majors prospects and their six affordable years of team control for established major leaguers, even very good ones like David Price. For example, in a recent FanGraphs piece, Dave Cameron shows how six years of a top prospect like the Pirates’ Gregory Polanco, projected to provide six years of league average-ish production starting in 2014, provides about $120 million in surplus value against just $30 million in surplus value from Price over his final two arbitration-eligible years for a difference of about $90 million. You can quibble with any of the projections and $/WAR figures, but no matter how you slice it, a prospect like Polanco is likely to contribute far more surplus value over the remainder of his team-controlled years than Price is. Cameron concludes that even in a one-for-one swap, a prospect like Polanco who is ready to step in and contribute for league minimum salary is an overpay for David Price.

That's certainly one way of looking at a trade, but the market doesn't always behave in such a coldly logical manner. In a vacuum, a transaction analysis based strictly on projected surplus value makes perfect sense, but as we know, teams don't operate in a vacuum. Teams have a tendency to overpay in long-term surplus value for players they believe can help them in the short-term, usually when they consider themselves right on the verge of playoff contention. Intuitively, we know this to be true, even without the numbers to back it up. This is where I feel that a lot of transaction analysis based on a comparison of surplus value falls short, in that it compares players as if their values exist in a vacuum. It's a great analytical method, but doesn't necessarily paint the full picture. A team's perception of its own situation, its needs, and the supply of players to fill those needs in any given year all affect a player's value on the trade market in ways that aren't necessarily well accounted for by a strict surplus value analysis.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Roy Halladay Signs With Blue Jays! Promptly Retires...

It certainly wasn't the Roy Halladay signing a certain sentimental (read: stuck in the 2000s) segment of the Blue Jays fan base was hoping for, was it? All snark aside though, there was a certain warm fuzziness about Roy Halladay's decision to retire as a member of the team he began his dominant career with, and I say that as a pretty unsentimental sports fan. So, that even I was a bit moved to learn that Halladay was announcing his retirement, and had signed a one-day contract so that he could do it as a Blue Jay, should say something about the significance of Roy Halladay to Blue Jays fans and the organization.

It would be really easy for me to just stuff a post full of the Doc's career numbers, accomplishments, and great moments and call it content, but quite frankly if you care enough to be reading this I'm sure you know all that stuff already. In fact, many of you probably have more vivid memories of some of them than I do.

Confession time. There was a period in my life when I just wasn't much of a baseball fan. Lacrosse had become my summer sport of choice. Somewhere along the way I decided that when it came to hitting things with a stick I was much better at hitting people than hurled projectiles. If you don't see how this fact is relevant to my baseball fandom, I have a challenge for you. Try to find a minor lacrosse tournament that isn't selling "The Boys of Summer Play Baseball, The Men of Summer Play Lacrosse" t-shirts. Yeah. It was like that.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hijacking a FanGraphs Chat: Pitching, Price, Marginal Wins and the "Dickey Effect"

I'm not sure if this will become something I do regularly or not, but there were a few Jays-related tidbits in last week's FanGraphs Chat with Dave Cameron that I felt were worth unpacking a little bit more. The format of the chat doesn't really lend itself to lengthy responses so Cameron can definitely be forgiven the brevity of some of his answers. I just thought it would be fun, without pretending to know Dave Cameron's mind of course, to expand on what he was saying a little bit. 

Comment From Tom
Shark gets traded or extended? Whats your gut tell you?

Dave Cameron: Traded.

Comment From Jays fan
As a Jays fan am I wrong for not wanting to give up either Sanchez or Stroman for Jeff Samardzija?

Dave Cameron: No. Only two more years of team control.

Obviously these two comments sort of go hand in hand, and if you've been paying attention I'm sure you're already familiar with the trade rumours that have been swirling around the Cubs and Blue Jays. Basically, the Cubs have been having trouble getting a contract extension done with Jeff Samardzija so he may be available in a trade. The Jays were rumoured to be "putting together a package of young players" to land the Shark, which of course sparked a lively debate in Blue Jays circles about whether the Jays should be willing to part with one or both of their prized pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman in order to get a deal done.

I sided with Dave here, pretty much deciding that parting with either of Sanchez or Stroman would be too much for Samardzija. Unlike Cameron though, my primary concern wasn't the Shark's two remaining years of team control.

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Sad Day for Fans of Handsome Catchers...

... but a great day for fans of winning baseball games! We can finally get off the pins and needles, those of you who, like myself, have been nervously watching the catching market grow thinner and thinner without the Blue Jays having upgraded at the position. But now, at long last, this from Ken Rosenthal:

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Ricky Nolasco Signs With Twins, And That's Alright

Well, it seems as though the dominoes may start falling in the free agent pitcher market, with Ricky Nolasco having just signed with the Minnesota Twins. According to Jeff Passan on Twitter:

 There have been rumours the Blue Jays were also talking to the right-handed innings eater, who has been the very model of consistency over his career. I wrote about him back in my free agent pitching piece, saying:
Over his career he's pitched to a 4.37 ERA, but a much better 3.76 FIP. By ERA- he's been 8% worse than league average for his career. By FIP- he's been 8% better. Regardless of how you feel about FIP, that's odd, and it does make me concerned that whatever it is that sees him posting such mediocre ERAs despite such solid peripherals would be exacerbated by a move to the AL East with its elite offenses and band box stadiums.
I mean, if there was anything to the rumours and there were any kind of serious talks going on there perhaps this is a bit of a blow to their off-season plans, but I would hope their sights are set a bit higher than Nolasco at the moment. Whether they were actually after him or not, there might be a glimmer of hope in the Nolasco signing, as at the time I wrote that piece, the word was that he was seeking a contract worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of $80 million. Obviously that was never realistic, but it also didn't sound quite as crazy as it probably should have. Everyone expects this off-season to be a little bit silly, so that he signed for something not far off the Edwin Jackson-style four-year $52 million MLB Trade Rumors projected him for is almost comforting.

Nolasco signed for a little less guaranteed money than Edwin Jackson, who was also younger when he signed his current deal, but Nolasco has a $13 million player option for a fifth year that vests based on innings pitched in 2016-17. It's a lot of money and term for a dependably mediocre pitcher who will be on the wrong side of 30 for the entirety of the contract, but the fact that he was traded mid-season means he wasn't attached to draft pick compensation, and that certainly has a value that might be worth paying a little extra for. It basically pays him to be about a two win pitcher, which he has been by FanGraphs' FIP-based WAR, but not by Baseball-Reference's RA9-based version. Your favourite flavour of pitcher WAR will colour your view of this contract significantly, but either way Nolasco is likely to decline over the course of it.

The point is, it wasn't something completely insane, and given the salary explosion many seem to be predicting this off-season, maybe that can be considered a small victory. It's too early to say that Nolasco's contract will set the market, but maybe it gives a bit of hope that absurd salary inflation won't make wading into free agency any more difficult for the Blue Jays than it already will be. In fact, it's possible that the structure of Nolasco's contract might provide a model for the Blue Jays to look to.

It seems the market is open to some interestingly structured contracts this off-season, as Dan Haren signed an incentive and vesting option-based deal with the Dodgers this week. The Blue Jays will no doubt be hesitant to offer five year deals to any pitcher, given the inherent risk of injury. A vesting player option like Nolasco's might be a way to mitigate the risk, as he at least has to be reasonably healthy for it to vest. It might also be possible to back-load a free agent deal for the sake of the payroll in the short term, until a ton of money comes off the books after 2015. I'm open to some creativity, and I think a bit of it might be necessary for them to help themselves in free agency.

So yes, this deal seems a rich one for a pitcher like Nolasco, but it's probably right about the going rate, and the option year isn't terribly scary to me due to the fact that he has to remain healthy for it to vest. Basically, I wouldn't have been surprised if it was a lot worse,  and it's a model I wouldn't be scared to see the Blue Jays offer to some other free agents out there. Frankly, that's more hope than I was expecting to get when the big name free agent pitcher shoes started dropping.

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Blue Jays Looking to Explore Shark Infested Waters?

So there I was Saturday night, trying to enjoy a 60th birthday party that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be 50’s or 60’s themed, hoping against hope that baseball would cooperate and allow me to ignore it for just one night. However, that was just too much to ask on this particular Saturday, with Brian McCann signing with the Yankees for a potential six-year, $100 million deal depending on what happens with a vesting option. The average annual value is a bit surprising, but might not be by the end of an off-season that will likely be full of surprising contracts. "McCann Signs With Yankees For All The Money" was such a foreseeable headline that I don't even feel the need to spend any time looking at it. Everyone knew it was coming, and if anything is most surprising it's that it even took this long to happen. 

As if that weren’t enough excitement in baseball land though, this also happened:

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts on the Tigers/Rangers Trade, Alex Anthopoulos, and Pandering to the Lowest Common Denominator

Obviously the big news in baseball this week is the blockbuster trade between the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers. With the notable names involved, the enormous sums of money moving around, and the near-immediacy with which it went from rumor to reality, it should be absolutely no surprise that the Twitterverse was abuzz with opinions from experts and amateurs alike on who had "won" the trade, because obviously somebody had to. In today's social media driven climate of armchair analysis there must always be a winner and a loser. If the trade was good for one team it must have been bad for the other. Shades of grey cannot exist in an environment that demands something be either black or white.

That's not my intent here though. I think that trade was perfectly acceptable for both teams. I like it for the Tigers a little bit more, not so much because of the players involved, but because of the domino effect it has on the rest of their infield and the cash it frees up for them to either re-sign core players like Max Scherzer and/or go out and upgrade in other areas through free agency or by taking on more salary in trades. The Rangers needed some offense though, and in that stadium Prince Fielder should provide it in spades. It allowed them to clear a spot in their middle infield for the much cheaper Jurickson Profar to play every day. They even got the Tigers to send $30 million their way to make paying Fielder for the next several seasons a little bit more palatable.

Both teams traded something they had a surplus of (in Texas' case middle infielders, in Detroit's slugging 1B/DH types) for something they needed more of. A lot of salary moved around, but neither of those teams are short on cash or afraid to spend it. It's not my money, and neither of the contracts is likely to cripple the finances of either team, so whatever.

What caught my eye in the midst of the maelstrom of opinion, however, was this little nugget from Toronto Star baseball columnist Richard Griffin:

Monday, 18 November 2013

This Week in Things That Just Won't Go Away: Jose Bautista Trade Rumours

In all honesty I've been trying to ignore this topic all together in the hope that it would just burn itself out and go away. Instead, it just seems to be gaining more and more "traction", if that's even the word for the ceaseless troll jobs we've seen coming from mostly American media outlets in recent months. You know the topic I'm talking about. It's the one where the Toronto Blue Jays, in a fit of hopeless despair after the crushing disappointment of the 2013 season, trade star slugger Jose Bautista and his ludicrously team friendly contract to [insert team of the week here] for a back of the rotation starter and a B level prospect.

The suitors for Bautista are most commonly the Rangers, Mets and recently the Phillies, but make no mistake, there are 29 teams in the league that would all love to get Bautista's bat into their lineup. What's more, there is an incomprehensibly large and vocal segment of the Blue Jays' fan base that seems not only willing to entertain the notion of trading the franchise cornerstone, but are ready to drive the all-star outfielder to the airport themselves. 

Now, I don't doubt for a second that there have been inquiries made on Bautista, as I'm sure there have been on Encarnacion, Reyes, Rasmus, and probably others too. The Jays are a team with several desirable pieces, a large payroll that may not have a lot of room to grow, and multiple holes to fill. It stands to reason that rival GMs might see them as ripe for the picking, and that Anthopoulos might be willing to listen to offers. It's his job to listen. I don't really believe in players being untouchable, should the right offer come along. However, that doesn't mean trading one of the best players in franchise history while he's still under contract for two more seasons with an option for a third should be seen as a desirable or likely scenario.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Free Agent Targets: Position Players

Well it's a good thing this year's market is slow to develop, because I wanted to have this out days ago! Life though, you know? Absolutely no consideration for hot stove season. Typical.

Anyways, the other day I posted my take on some of the free agent pitchers on the MLB Trade Rumours Top 50 list that the Blue Jays may target this off-season. If you missed it you can check it out here. It was pretty much every starter on the list except for Tim Hudson who I just can't see considering the Blue Jays at this point in his career, and Phil Hughes because he's Phil Hughes. For position players I'm going to have to go off the list a little bit, because quite frankly pickings are slim at the Blue Jays' positions of need, which are catcher and second base. 

Like I mentioned in the intro to the previous piece, I don't expect them to be players for the biggest names at those positions, which are undoubtedly Brian McCann and Robinson Cano. Behind them the list gets real short real quick, but there are still some guys that would provide upgrades over the gaping black holes of suckitude they got out of those positions in 2013. It will be important to remember when considering some of these unsexy names that the Jays received -1.1 fWAR performances out of the catcher's position in 2013, and -2.1 fWAR from their second basemen. Those WAR totals are good for 29th and 30th of 30 teams respectively. So, while some of the names I mention might be no great shakes themselves, even replacement level players at each position would be a three win upgrade which, coupled with better health all over the diamond (because it couldn't possibly be worse, right? Right?! *knocks wood*) would be very significant for the 2014 team. 

Also, I'm less interested in seeing them lay out big money to fill their holes in the lineup. If they're going to spend big, I'd rather it be on upgrading the rotation. Given the abject terribleness of the incumbents, I think they should have an easier time making modest upgrades that seem huge, considering the very low bar that's been set, and with far less cost either in dollars or prospect capital. So, it may sometimes seem like I'm favouring lesser players, but it's in the interest of best allocating what are still sure to be limited resources, even if the purse strings are looser than they've been in the past. 

Note: I'll be referring to FanGraphs' Steamer projections in this piece, which I didn't do in my piece on pitchers. It may not be entirely justified, I'm no sabermetrician after all, but I find I put more stock in projections for position players than for pitchers. Obviously hitters' performances can fluctuate from year to year as well, but pitchers are so volatile, and projections have such long memories, that when it comes to evaluating free agents I'd rather look at the differences between their career and recent performances separately rather than rolling it all up into one set of projected numbers. I know not everyone buys into statistical projections, so take them with whatever sized grain of salt you choose. I've just included them as food for thought, not as gospel.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Free Agent Targets: Starting Pitching

The happiest time of the year, at least for those of us that spend time spilling digital ink about baseball, is upon us yet again. Free agency opened up this week, with the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to their pending free agents having passed Monday at 5 p.m. With free agency season comes MLB Trade Rumors' Top 50 Free Agents list, along with Tim Dierkes' predictions of where they might end up signing. It's worth checking out the whole list as a lot of the predictions seems pretty spot on to me, at least in terms of the types of contracts we might expect to see each free agent sign.

I expect there to be a lot of sticker shock on a lot of these free agents this off-season (because there totally isn't any other off-season, right?), if the contracts the Giants dished out to Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum are any indication of this year's market. At this point, it's still hard to know whether the Giants went and blew up the market all on their own by setting a surprisingly high bar that superior free agents will expect to surpass, or if the added revenue from new TV deals would have inflated salaries anyways, with the Giants just being among the first to operate in this new climate. 

So, while I expect there to be some eye-popping overpayments to come, I find myself a lot more okay with the Blue Jays indulging in a bit of free agent silliness this off-season than I ever have been before. In my view, the team has a strong enough core, much of which is under team control or signed to absurdly team friendly contracts for the next couple of years, that they are at the point that supplementing that core through free-agency makes more sense to me than trading away the prospects that will hopefully be the core of the next competitive Blue Jays team. The team has very little in salary commitments beyond 2015, and how underpaid guys like Bautista and Encarnacion are should allow them a bit of flexibility to overpay some other players (*cough* Buehrle *cough*). Basically, if Rogers is willing to open the wallet a little bit more for the next two years, the Jays should be able to take on some salary without hamstringing their future payroll or depleting the farm too much.

That being said, I don't expect the Blue Jays to be players for some of the biggest names on the market like Cano, Choo, McCann and Ellsbury. Barring some pretty significant trades, I don't see that kind of money kicking around, and the fact that all of them will be attached to draft pick compensation will be some deterrent, although I feel that with that level of talent it should be a fairly minor consideration, especially with the Blue Jays being in possession of two protected first round picks. For a lot of the second tier free agents on the market, however, giving up even a second round pick and the associated bonus pool dollars will be a significant consideration, and rightfully so if the goal is to build a competitive team in the present without mortgaging the future.

So, with that in mind, here is the first of a two-part look at some names off the Top 50 list that the Blue Jays might be considering address their needs in the rotation, behind the dish, and at second base. First I'll be looking at starting pitchers with position players to follow. My rankings aren't just based on the quality of the player, but also the likely cost to sign them, whether they're attached to a draft pick, and in some cases the likelihood of the Blue Jays being able to convince a player to take their money.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Could The Josh Johnson Era Be Coming To An End In Toronto?

Today's 5:00 EST deadline for the Blue Jays to extend Josh Johnson a $14.1 million qualifying offer has come and gone without the team making the decision to do so, and I've got to say I'm more surprised with this than I was with any of their decisions regarding contract options. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, with the season Johnson had and with Jon Heyman having tweeted days ago that a qualifying offer was "unlikely", but I was all the same. 

What to do with Johnson had been one of the most divisive topics among Blue Jays fans and armchair GMs since he was acquired from Miami last December. During the off-season and early in the 2013 campaign, the question was whether to try to re-sign him to a multi-year deal as soon as possible or to let him play out the year and either re-sign him or extend a qualifying offer at the end of the season. The thinking was that Johnson would be getting multiple years, so if the Jays couldn't lock him up, the next best thing would be to qualify him and take the draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere.  Somewhere along the rocky road that was Johnson's 2013, however, the comfort that draft pick compensation offered turned to dread that, if qualified, Johnson would most likely just accept it in hopes of rebuilding his decimated value and pursuing a multi-year contract for 2015 and beyond. Johnson's inability to stay healthy had surely cost him that lucrative deal, and now fans were worried that the Blue Jays could end up with $14 million of potentially scarce payroll resources tied up in Johnson's rotation worst 6.20 ERA.

Friday, 1 November 2013

To Exercise Or Not To Exercise, That Is The Option

Well the Blue Jays wasted no time at all in announcing which 2014 options they'd be picking up and which they'd be declining. There is only really one surprise in the bunch, from my perspective at least, and those of you who are familiar with my opinions on various players might be similarly surprised by my surprise. Still with me? Good.

Casey Janssen's $4 million option was an absolute no-brainer. He's been great for a second straight season, posting a 2.56 ERA and a 2.74 FIP while striking out 23.8% and walking 6.2% of the batters he's faced. If you go in for saves (which you don't, because they're kind of silly) he's converted on 34 of 36 opportunities. In short, he's been one of the league's most reliable closers, and given some of the absurd contracts handed out to "proven closers" in recent years, picking up his option was not a decision that Anthopoulos expended much brain power on, I'm sure. It was going to get picked up unless his arm fell off, and while there were times this season that we heard his post-op shoulder was giving him trouble, it remained firmly attached to his torso and never seemed to have much of an impact on his performance. Now that he'll have a presumably surgery-free off-season to rest and recover, paying him $4 million to hopefully do it all over again next year is very appealing, but as I wrote here, I'm not entirely sure it'll be with the Jays. That's not to say I think he will or should be traded, but that salary for that kind of performance will likely be very appealing to other teams as well, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if we hear his name in a lot of trade rumours this off-season.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Masahiro Tanaka, The Posting System, and Crying Over Spilled Milk

Might he look better in a lighter shade of blue?

Much as they were two off-seasons ago, the Toronto Blue Jays are once again being tossed about as a potential landing place for the next big thing out of Japan, should Masahiro Tanaka of the NPB's Rakuten Golden Eagles be posted as expected. In his typical fashion, Anthopoulos is playing his cards close to the vest, never more than hinting at the possibility of the Jays being in play for the Japanese right-hander. However, this hasn't stopped fans and media alike from speculating that they could be one of the clubs to make a serious play for Tanaka.

In a lot of ways, it just makes too much sense not to seem likely. Despite what a certain knuckle-dragging segment of the fan base will try to tell you about the magic of coaching, chemistry, and cut-off men, the 2013 Blue Jays had exactly three glaring weaknesses (when they were healthy, at least). They had obvious holes at catcher and second base, receiving sub-replacement level performances from both performances. Those should be relatively easy to improve at, because even replacement level at both positions would be about a three win upgrade over what they received in 2013. Their biggest problem, and unfortunately the hardest to address in a meaningful way, was the disastrous health and performance of their starting rotation. If the general consensus about Tanaka being among the top free agent starters this off-season is accurate, landing him could go a long way towards shoring it up. What's more, Tanaka is exactly the kind of acquisition that, in a perfect world, I believe Anthopoulos should be targeting right now.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Could There Be Hope Behind The Plate in 2014?

Yes please!
If it's true that last off-season J.P. Arencibia received some sort of assurance that he wouldn't be traded amidst swirling rumours, early signs suggest that he shouldn't be nearly so comfortable in his job heading into 2014. I won't rehash J.P.'s historically woeful 2013 performance here, but suffice to say that only wearers of the most rose coloured glasses could feel good about the prospect of going into 2014 with Arencibia as the club's starting catcher.

So, unfortunately for his many fans that apparently still exist for some reason (but oh so fortunately for those of us that are bigger fans of winning at baseball) it should come as no surprise that the Blue Jays are rumoured to be looking hard at a number of potential upgrades on the trade market. While he may remain with the club in a backup role, I think we should probably get used to seeing a whole lot less of JPA going forward.

Most recently, the Jays have been linked to Angels catchers Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger. A couple of weeks ago, they were also rumoured to be interested in the Washington Nationals' Wilson Ramos. Quite frankly, the only thing that needs to be said is, "Do it already!". Obviously that's an oversimplification of a complex situation requiring in-depth analysis of past performance, clever projection of future performance, and shrewd assessment of the value of various assets, both financial and human, but... nuts to that. Do it already!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Anthopoulos Has His Work Cut Out for 2014

This man's job is harder than your job.
 Tom Maloney at the Globe and Mail wrote a very interesting and enlightening article yesterday, in which he takes a very business oriented look at the challenges facing the Blue Jays this off-season (hat tip to @TaoofStieb for linking it). Upon reading the piece, I got into a bit of a Twitter discussion with @Stivbators and @ericviola_ about just what implications it might have for the team in 2014.

There's a lot of comfort that can be taken from the article, as Rogers Media president Keith Pelley is quoted as saying a lot of the right things about being committed to the Blue Jays as an investment in content for their various media platforms. This makes a lot of sense, as in the age of PVRs and cable cutters, live sports is one of the few types of content that still makes for reliable appointment viewing and the advertising revenue that goes along with it. Pelley and Rogers have obviously come around to the realization that a winning ball club is a much better investment than a losing one, and that has been reflected in the massive jump in payroll last off-season.

What I found less comforting, and the nugget which was the center of our little Twitter round table, was the line from Maloney that reads "observers expect the Jays to seek ownership’s approval on a payroll increase of $20-million to $25-million – up from about $127.8-million (U.S.) this year – without raising ticket prices." That sounds like a lot of money (okay it's a ton of money, but we're talking in baseball terms here), but we were all curious exactly how much flexibility that would leave Anthopoulos to make the kinds of upgrades that will be necessary for the team to reverse its fortunes in 2014.

My calculations were less than encouraging.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Mystery of Melky Cabrera Solved: Has Benign Tumour Removed

Unexpected news in Blue Jays land today as it was announced that left fielder Melky Cabrera has had a benign tumour removed from his spine. According to the story at Sportsnet Cabrera, in addition to his well documented leg troubles, had also been playing through back pain for three or four months without telling anyone. The tumour was apparently pressing on some nerves, causing weakness in his legs and contributing to the difficulty he's had running all season. Doctors expect Melky to make a full recovery and be ready for spring training.

Obviously this is fantastic news for Melky. While it was benign, tumours are always serious business so I'm sure this has been a scary ordeal for him. Additionally, this could be fantastic news for the Blue Jays organization as they head into the off-season with numerous holes in need of filling.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

What's Goin' On With Goins?

Whenever a young player gets his first call to the show, there a thousand and one clichés thrown around about "making the most of the opportunity". If you could bring the clichés to life, you may very well end up with Ryan Goins, the Buffalo Bisons shortstop turned Toronto Blue Jays starting second baseman. Since being called up on August 22nd, he's been on a tear both offensively and defensively, winning the hearts and minds of Jays fans everywhere. Dare I say it, he's even made a number of them reconsider their daydreams of watching beloved mascot Munenori Kawasaki every day in 2014. In other words, he's been making the most of it.

He was always on the outskirts of discussions on the Blue Jays' top prospects, so there's a very good chance that the first time a lot of fans heard his name was when he was called up from the Bisons a week ago. So where did this Goins kid come from? With the black hole at second base all year, why is this the first we're even hearing of him? Most importantly, with as good as he's looked, could he be the answer to the second base question in 2014?

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Starting Stroman?

Recent circumstances have led to a greater focus on the next wave of Toronto Blue Jays pitching. The fact that the 2013 Jays are pretty much a lost cause, the perhaps unsurprising news that Brandon Morrow's season is over, and Josh Johnson's placement on the DL with a forearm strain have led to speculation around which new faces we might see in the Blue Jays' rotation in September if not sooner, as well as what the rotation might look like in 2014.

Currently pitching in AAA are Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, familiar characters that haven't been seen in a while due to their recoveries from Tommy John surgery. By all accounts they're progressing well in their Minor League rehab assignments, though Kyle Drabek seems to be having much better results in the small sample. He's only walked 6 batters in 39 rehab innings, which isn't enough to say the control problems that have plagued him are a thing of the past, but is still nice to see.

Sean Nolin is another pitching prospect, recently promoted to AAA Buffalo, that could get another look by the Blue Jays before the end of the season. Fans probably best remember him for getting absolutely shelled in his Major League debut. In 1.1 innings pitched, he faced 11 batters giving up seven hits, walking one and striking out none. It was ugly. However, prior to his promotion to AAA, he lead AA by FIP at 2.69 and was striking out 26.8% of the batters he faced. So far the left hander he's only allowed 2 runs in his first two AAA starts, so it still appears that there's a lot there to like. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him get another shot with the Jays this year.

The prospect I find most interesting, however, is 2012 first round pick Marcus Stroman. Not necessarily because I think he'll be the one to get the call, or that he'll be the best of the bunch, but because the consensus among people far more knowledgeable than I is that the stocky right hander could be an impact reliever in the Major Leagues tomorrow. In fact, most assessments of him tend to lean towards him ending up as a late innings reliever eventually, and there is a school of thought, admittedly mostly among disgruntled fans anxious for the Jays' once vaunted farm system to yield Major League dividends, that the Jays are just wasting time and risking injury while experimenting with Stroman as a starter.

Monday, 26 August 2013

John Gibbons and the Myth of the Magical Manager

"You can't fire me! I quit!" - John Gibbons
 We've all heard it recently. "They need to fire Gibbons and bring in a proven winner!" they exclaim, usually before naming a bunch of old-school, bunt loving, never-coming-to-Toronto-anyways dinosaurs to replace him. Sometimes it's preceded by an "I know the injuries and poor pitching aren't his fault but...", but inevitably most of the commentary on the Blue Jays' new old manager reaches the same conclusion: he's got to go.

Just in the last couple of days, we've seen plenty of debate in the Blue Jays media regarding Gibbons' role in the debacle that has been the 2013 season. On their main sports page, the Toronto Star currently has no less than 5 articles touching on Gibbons' future, or lack thereof, with the team as we begin looking towards 2014. At the Star, the Gibbons articles range from Cathal Kelly's defense of the skipper to Damien Cox's steaming pile of poorly thought out word vomit calling for another man to lose his job for no other reason than Anthopoulos and Beeston needing to "stop being nice guys and deliver a winning ball club". Sportsnet's Dirk Hayhurst falls somewhere in the middle, twisting himself into knots to make it clear that he doesn't blame Gibbons for 2013's epic disappointment, but that he needs to go anyways.

Now I'm not hitching my wagon to Gibbons to the exclusion of all other candidates. I can acknowledge that there are probably plenty of other managers that can do the job as well or better, just as I'm very certain there a lot more managers that would do a much worse job. Should the Blue Jays decide to give him the axe I would feel it was uncalled for, but I wouldn't shed tears. I sure would roll my eyes and shake my head though. At least if they were to do it this off-season.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Anticipating Anthony Gose

There's a lot of talk about Anthony Gose these last couple of days, and with good reason. While he's expected to get a call up as soon as today after the Bonifacio trade, it's notable that Pillar got the first call when Colby Rasmus went on the DL yesterday. This essentially signals that Gose has, for the time being at least, been passed on the depth chart by Kevin Pillar. The same Kevin Pillar that was drafted in the 32nd round and considered pretty much a non-prospect as recently as this past off-season.

In my own little baseball social media universe, the Gose chatter sort of reached an interesting point last night in a brief Twitter debate primarily between Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans and Mike Wilner of Sportsnet and the FAN590. Here are the highlights from the heavyweights:

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Bon(ifacio) Voyage, Emilio!

We feel you Boni. We don't understand either.

Before we start, I would just like to acknowledge that I too hate myself for that title. Let's just move past it together, just as together we will move on from the Emilio Bonifacio era in Toronto.

That's right Jays fans, those of you clamouring for Anthopoulos to "trade Bonifacio for a bag of balls" have got your wish. Earlier today, Bonifacio was shipped to Kansas City for, well, pretty much a bag of balls. Cash or a player to be named later will be coming back the Jays' way, so this is pretty much a move for a roster spot and a little something of something, which is totally fine under the circumstances.

After Bonifacio beat out an infield chopper in Monday afternoon's game against Oakland, I summed up my feelings on Bonifacio thusly:

Friday, 26 July 2013

Mid-Season Report Cards: The Bullpen


So I wanted to finish these things over the All Star break, but it turns out there's a lot of guys on a baseball team (who knew?) and quite frankly lately they've been sapping my will to live, let alone write about them. As a result the "second half" is already well underway and I'm late with the bullpen piece. Sue me. It's also meant that with Melky Cabrera's return, Neil Wagner has already been optioned back down to Buffalo. I've included him anyways because he had a good long stint with the team and was an able contributor during his time here. His demotion is no reflection on his play, but somebody had to go and he's the guy with options. Baseball is a cruel mistress.

As I touched on in my piece on Casey Janssen's tradeability, the bullpen really has been great as a whole. It took a little bit of trial and error for them to settle on the right guys for the job, but now that they have, what was perceived as a weakness coming into the season has become the team's greatest strength. At least until guys that were untouchable started getting roughed up a little after the break forcing me to redo all their numbers. Not that I'm bitter. As usual, I'm not going to bother with the guys that have just walked through the revolving door from time to time. The team seems to have settled on a pretty consistent unit for a while now and those are the guys I'll be looking at.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Mid-Season Report Cards: Position Players

This will be the second installment of the Mid-Season Report Cards series, in which I will focus on the Blue Jays position players. As mentioned in the intro to the Starting Rotation piece, the original plan was to go around the diamond position by position, but that fell apart pretty quickly. The Jays have had too many injuries that have forced bench players into nearly full time duty at multiple positions for it to have made any sense.

Not to make excuses, but the injuries really have been a thing (again, sigh...) for the Blue Jays in 2013. Even if you ignore the injuries to the rotation, what was projected to be the starting lineup hasn't played a single game together since the season began. First Lawrie started the year on the DL, and by the time he came back Reyes was out. When Reyes came back Lawrie was out again with his own ankle injury, and when he returned it was Melky Cabrera finally taking his turn on the DL for the hamstring and quad injuries that have had him hobbling around left field like it's a geriatric ward. That doesn't even include the injuries to bench players like Rajai Davis, or the injuries to Lind, Bautista and Encarnacion that kept them out of the lineup for a few days even if they managed to avoid the DL. Obviously every team suffers injuries, but usually teams are able to field their starting lineup for at least one bloody game by the All Star break. Just sayin'...

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Mid-Season Report Cards: The Starting Rotation

The New Kids on the Block
If you know me (or are one of the few people that don't, but have bothered to read the About The Blog(ger) page), you know I'm a teacher by day. As a teacher, I just can't resist handing out mid-season report cards, despite being on my summer break. What can I say? It's what I do.

This will be a three part series. I'll start with the starting rotation, because I'm also one of those people that just likes to rip a band-aid off to get it over with. Next up will be the position players, followed by the bullpen, so I can at least go out on a positive.

I think we can probably all agree that the results haven't been what we have hoped for so far in 2013. Injuries have been a huge factor, so much so that I had to revise my formatting for this whole exercise. My original plan was to go position by position, but injuries have pushed so many bench players into full time duty, often at multiple positions, that it quickly broke down and I decided to just go player by player. The list won't be exhaustive as I'll only be focusing on players that have played a significant role on the team so far this year, or who I expect to do so going forward. The occasional AAAA fill in guys will be omitted (with one notable exception) because quite frankly I just can't be bothered, and you probably don't care that much anyways. If you're really that busted up about not being able to read about the likes of Ramon Ortiz, Thad Weber or Andy LaRoche, I suggest you reexamine your priorities in life. You could probably be making better use of your time. Alright, enough with the life coaching. Let's get started.

Friday, 12 July 2013

This Week In Making My Second Base Predictions Look Foolish: Brett Lawrie?

Sometimes when I find myself with the free time to sit down and write something it's a bit of a chore to come up with a topic. This was not one of those times. For days now, the Blue Jays corner of the Twitterverse has been abuzz with just two topics and now that #TheBarHasBeenRaised (my sincerest congratulations to Steve Delabar) it's all about Brett Lawrie. Specifically, it's all about the possibility of Brett Lawrie playing at second base when he returns from his current rehab stint with the Buffalo Bisons during which he has, and will reportedly continue to be, a second baseman. He also spent a bit of time at the two bag while rehabbing from the rib injury he sustained in the spring. While the team maintains that nothing is imminent with either a pending trade or permanent position change, Gibbons has been very supportive of Lawrie's potential at second base, saying "[Lawrie] is an above-average third baseman as it is. But you look at his physical abilities, he's got a chance to be a great second baseman too. You look at the range factor and things like that, and it might be a nice combo, him and Jose up the middle for a few years." Hmm...

Reactions to the potential move have been mixed. On the one hand, the thinking goes, the Blue Jays moved him off second base for a reason and he's developed into an elite defensive third baseman whose cannon of an arm would largely be wasted at second. On the other, the Jays have been suffering an offensive black hole at second base so Lawrie couldn't help but be an upgrade, and the same range that makes him so great at third would also play very well at the keystone sack. Personally, I don't think that either viewpoint does the possibility justice because the move doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's not all about Lawrie and where he would be best, but rather about the team and how they can maximize all of their assets, so let's look at how moving Lawrie to second might help them do that.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Has The Time Come For Casey Janssen To Go?

Dirk Hayhurst wrote a piece over at Sportsnet about his belief that the Blue Jays should trade Casey Janssen. Some of the reaction to this has been pretty vitriolic, and that's really not surprising given the prestige that the closer role holds, not just among fans but in baseball media and management circles as well. The thing is, Dirk is right. Hayhurst may overstate the case for trading Janssen a little, at least while there are still a few weeks left before the non-waiver trade deadline, but he's correct in arguing that Janssen could net them a very nice return while still allowing them to deal from an area of strength. His case hinges on a few points, but you can pretty much boil them all down to one argument: saves are dumb.

I encourage you to read the entire article, as he makes an excellent case himself, but the takeaway quote on the historical impact of the save has got to be:
"In fact, since 1944, when a team has a one-run lead after the eighth, it goes on to win the game 85 per cent of the time. Two runs equals 94 per cent. Three runs makes for 96 per cent. From 1944 to today, it hasn’t changed, closer or no closer. Save or no save."
The save statistic wasn't officially introduced until 1969, so his point is that winning percentages in what are now considered save situations have been the same in the 44 years since the save was introduced as they were in the 25 years before it was even a thing. The biggest difference is, now that the save is a thing, "proven closers" are getting paid boatloads of money for racking them up when there is very little evidence showing they provide anywhere close to the value their salaries would suggest.

The first problem is that they just don't pitch enough to make a huge difference over the course of an entire season. Also, much like pitcher wins, saves have a lot to do with circumstances beyond the pitcher's actual control. They aren't nearly as much a product of ability as they are a product of opportunity. The fact of the matter is that recording a save just isn't that hard. Closers enter the game with a lead and the bases empty. Sure, some of those times will be with a one run lead facing the heart of a good team's order. On the other hand, some of those times will be with a three run lead and the bottom of the order up. No matter what the exact circumstances are, are either more challenging or more important to winning a ball game than, oh let's say coming into a game with the bases juiced in the eighth inning?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

J.P. Arencibia Cares Not What You Think Of J.P. Arencibia

Jesus is his hitting coach.
 More ink has been spilled on J.P. Arencibia and his struggles, this time courtesy of Shi Davidi over at Sportsnet. What's interesting about this piece is J.P.'s response to being asked about how he deals with criticism from the media, something he's faced inexplicably little of in his time as the Blue Jays starting catcher.

There are a couple of money quotes in the piece, but he mostly sums it up when he says “I pay zero attention because I’ve learned more and more how — no offence — how much you guys don’t know.”

Well, he's not wrong about that. There's a lot we don't know. We don't know what his state of mind is when he steps to the plate. We don't know how he works with the coaches behind the scenes, or even really what they work on. We certainly don't know what he's thinking and seeing that tells him to swing out of his shoes on pitches that bounce a foot in front of the plate. But, while there are things we don't know, there are also a whole bunch of things we do know, things that JPA seems not to, or at least is only starting to realize.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Name The Second Baseman! - Midseason Edition

Friends for now, but wait till Reyes is back!
Maybe it's just me, but the long, cold months of this past offseason seemed longer and colder than in years past. Rogers Hornsby once famously answered the question about what he does in the off season with "I stare out the window and wait for spring". Well, with apologies to Mr. Hornsby, we've come a long way since then. Now we have Internet equipped computer screens to stare into while we anxiously await the day we all circle on our calendars (or enter in our smartphones) the second the season ends: pitchers and catchers report. Despite the technological advances, the news worthy tidbits that trickle out during the offseason are still few and far between, especially for a fan base so recently re-energized by The Trade with the Marlins. So we, as fans, must amuse ourselves from time to time with games of our own making.

The two most common this offseason were "Set The Starting Rotation" (we all lost, unless you called Chien Ming Wang, in which case AA would like to offer you a job) and "Name The Second Baseman", and it's the second of these I'd like to re-visit now that we have some data from this season to go off of, and because it's about to be relevant with Reyes' seemingly imminent return. Also, there is a new contender for the role that was on quite literally nobody's radar in the offseason. At that time, it was basically between Izturis and Bonifacio, but since being called up to fill in during Reyes' absence, Munenori Kawasaki has slapped, bunted, bowed and danced his way into our hearts, filling the void left years ago by John McDonald as the batless bench player that we can't help but love. Now there is a sense of anxiety among some fans the Blue Jays' mascot/spirit animal will be back riding buses in AAA once Reyes comes back or, if not then, when Lawrie returns from his latest boo boo.

So far this season, injuries have rendered the offseason deliberations of armchair managers everywhere moot, with all of these players forced into near every day duty to fill the gaping holes in the infield. Obviously more injuries could always crop up, but assuming Reyes and Lawrie are back fairly soon and nobody else goes down who should we expect to see as the every day second baseman from here on out? Who should we hope to see as the every day second baseman? Are the guy we should hope to see and the guy we should expect to see the same guy? I would hope so! Confused yet? Good. Let's check it out.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Esmil Rogers: Hidden Treasure or Fool's Gold?

I don't know what your feelings were when, back in November, the Blue Jays traded utility infielders Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes to the Cleveland Indians for right handed relief pitcher Esmil Rogers, but mine could probably best be described as optimistically indifferent.  I found it pretty hard to get too worked up about the trade one way or another.  At the time, it fit in with an apparent organizational focus on acquiring big armed relievers, and was notable only because it fit that trend.  The players sent to Cleveland were really just bit parts.  Yan Gomes had been a bit of fun in 2012, but was pretty terrible overall.  Mike Aviles was, infamously, the piece that came back from Boston in the John Farrell trade and had been tentatively penciled in at second base by fans since at the time there weren't really any other options.  To some it seemed curious that the Jays would trade their only second base option (Izturis hadn't been signed yet, but would be about a week later) for yet another hard throwing reliever.  While it was a little odd, we were still talking about utility infielders and low leverage relievers so there were only so many cares I could be bothered to give.

Now, I keep referring to Rogers as a relief pitcher, but that wasn't always the case.  The Rockies had used him as a starter in 2010 and 2011, giving him a combined 21 starts over that time, but the results were, well... pretty terrible.  He made 13 of those starts in 2011, posting an ugly 6.66 ERA, although playing in Colorado was likely something of a factor as his xFIP was a better but still not great 4.91.  His biggest problem was his control.  That year as a starter he walked 11% of the batters he faced, or 4.77 per nine innings.  Home runs were also a problem (but when aren't they in Colorado?) as he was giving them up at a rate of 1.63 per nine innings.

In 2012, however, he pitched exclusively as a reliever and had significantly better results.  After a  mediocre start to the season with Colorado, he was traded to Cleveland in June and became a whole new guy.  Both his walk and home run rates got under control, and he pitched to a second half ERA of 3.40 and FIP of 2.84.  Given his poor results as a starter, and his relative success in relief, nobody would have been surprised if the book on Rogers' starting career had been closed.  The Blue Jays certainly seemed determined to keep him as a reliever, opting to give starts to a revolving door of nobodies before Rogers got his shot May 29th against Atlanta, and did well enough to earn himself two more starts since.  What should we expect from him going forward?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Things to STFU About: Bautista, McGowan, and Bautista (Among Others)Again

Just a frank exchange of opinions between two guys who make a living calling balls and strikes.

So I could have sworn it was just a good old fashioned rainy day out there in Toronto, with nothing but harmless rain water falling from the skies. Imagine my shock when it turned out to be a full blown stupidity storm, with pure, unadulterated idiocy cascading down upon us and infiltrating the discourse surrounding our beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Now that I've dried off a little, I feel up to being your umbrella, protecting you from getting drenched by dimwittedness, soaked by stupidity, or inundated by ill-formed ideas. Let's get started!


I mean seriously, has a dumber hash tag ever existed anywhere outside of Brett Lawrie's Twitter feed? Seriously, think about that. "Let's punish our best player for taking himself out of a game by taking him out of a game!". Ugh.  No matter how small but vocal the #BenchBautista movement has been, it needs to stop now. It's not going to happen, nor should it.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

#TholeFreed - What Now?

Josh Thole is also happy about less playing time for Arencibia.

After two months of watching the offensive black hole that is Henry Blanco (.184/.262/.263) getting run out there as Dickey's personal catcher every fifth day, proponents of the #FreeThole movement have finally got their wish. He makes his debut today against the Rangers after being recalled on Friday.  It's almost a certainty that he will take over the duty of catching Dickey, and as a replacement for Blanco in that role he can't help but be an improvement.  Thole sports a career .260/.330/.332 line so he should be an offensive upgrade, and he caught Dickey's Cy Young season so he should be capable behind the dish as well.  What will this mean for Arencibia though?  Could his playing time be in jeopardy? Let's hope so!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Who Are You and What Have You Done With Adam Lind?

This man claims to be Adam Lind. I'm not so sure...

I've always been torn when it comes to my belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.  I find it hard to believe that in the infinite vastness of the universe intelligent life doesn't exist somewhere.  However, most reports of human contact with aliens are somewhat less than credible and, having never had such an experience myself I've found it hard to fully commit to belief.  I guess I think it's probable that they exist, but am skeptical that they have visited Earth.  Or at least I used to be...

I watched Men In Black II last night, and have now spent the afternoon watching Adam Lind collect 4 hits and a walk against Yu Darvish and the Rangers, and I think I have finally been convinced that aliens do indeed exist.  I have concluded that, much like in Men In Black, the Adam Lind-like life form we have been observing for the first 2 months of the 2013 season is no longer the Adam Lind we all would have gladly fired into deep space these past three seasons.  Rather, it is an extraterrestrial visitor that has taken human form, impersonating Adam Lind in order to live and work among us.  It's a clever plan really.  You can hide in plain sight, and if you're an alien visitor to Earth you can do worse than the lifestyle of a Major League ballplayer.  The likeness is quite believable, and its plan might have even worked if not for a fatal flaw in the disguise.  It can't be Adam Lind, because Adam Lind sucks, and this alien impostor is absolutely raking.

The only other possible explanation is that Lind has completely overhauled his approach at the plate, becoming more selective on pitches both inside and outside the zone and showing a willingness to take a walk that has been completely absent for the previous three seasons.  

I'll leave it up to you to determine which is the more likely scenario.  In the meantime, let's examine the evidence shall we?

Friday, 7 June 2013

On Melky Cabrera and Double Jeopardy

In case you happen to be the person out there that hasn't heard, BioGenesis, its shady founder Tony Bosch, and his stable of famous (and not so famous) "clients" are back in the news this week following reports that MLB intends to go hard after those linked to PEDs in previously uncovered documents. I don't intend to get into all the specifics here, so I encourage you to read the linked article above for the back story.  You know... in case the rock you live under lacks cable television or an internet connection (in which case I guess you wouldn't be here, but I digress).

The list is headlined by superstars Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, but also includes a number of other players ranging from familiar names to fringe major leaguers to players that have yet to play a single game in the bigs.  I also don't intend to wade into the fray that is MLB's PED policy.  It's been done to death and I'm sure there will be no shortage of opportunities to do so in the near future.  I would like to focus on the Blue Jays' connection in this case.  Also named on the list is our shiny new left fielder Melky Cabrera who (and I'm talking to the rock dwelling among you again) served a 50 game suspension last season for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.