Thursday, 4 September 2014

Taking Stock for September

As we have now flipped the calendar to the final month of baseball's regular season, it seems like a good time to take a look at where the Blue Jays stand with regards to an ever-elusive playoff berth. Spoiler alert: it ain't real pretty, but it also isn't as hopeless as all the ridiculous #GarbageClowns out there would have you believe. 

As of this writing, the Jays' record is 71-67 and they are 10 games back of the Orioles for the division lead and 5.5 back of the second Wild Card. It's not quite time to stick a fork in their season and call it done, but one bad week is all they need to torpedo their unexpectedly strong 2014 campaign once and for all. 

That being said, it's September and watching the standings is not yet a futile endeavour. 5.5 games with 24 remaining is a lot of ground to make up, but it's not impossible either. However, where once the Blue Jays were masters of their own destiny, they will now be at the mercy of what the teams ahead of them do as well. It's not a comfortable position to be in, but let's remember that it's a much better one than most would have predicted when the season started. 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Blue Jays Make Immediate Improvement with Danny Valencia

Well the trade so many were hoping for was hardly a blockbuster, but it was definitely something. In Danny Valencia, the Blue Jays have hopefully acquired the lefty masher they have needed since the beginning of the season. He should be able to slot in at third base or designated hitter against left-handed pitching, providing Gibbons one more piece to work with when setting up the infield platoons he's employed to great effect this year.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Friendly Reminder: Things Are Still Pretty Okay

So it's been a while, eh? To anyone that cares enough to check in regularly (hi Mom!), my apologies for the longer than usual layoff. The frantic conclusion of a school year leaves little time to spend hours writing about such inconsequential things as your FIRST PLACE TORONTO BLUE JAYS! At least that's what the principal keeps telling me. Besides, as exciting as all that winning was, it's much easier to find things to write about when things are going poorly than when they are going so well. Now that things aren't looking quite so rosy, I feel the need to wade back into the fray. I'm not sure what that says about me. I'll let you decide.

You see, I've been noticing some near-hysteria creeping back into the discourse around the team, and I think a little bit of perspective might do a few folks some good right about now. All the usual disclaimers about it still being early apply, and yes the Jays have done a fine job of squandering a chunk of the lead on the division that they held a few weeks ago, but they still sit in a far better position than anyone had a right to expect before the season. 

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. It seems to be all anyone wants to talk about, besides mostly ludicrous trade scenarios at least. Since running roughshod over baseball for a month or so, the Jays came back to the pack rather quickly with a disappointing few weeks. Their winning percentage peaked on June 6th at .613, but since then they have gone 6-12 for a winning percentage of just .333. There have been cases of regression and a couple of injury scares along the way, but the way some fans and media folk seem ready to press the panic button and are begging for some sort of farm system depleting, win now trade deadline move that is like... totally, super seriously, 100% critical for the Blue Jays to remain competitive strikes me as just a little bit premature.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Goins Gone, Chris Getz a Shot

In a somewhat shocking display of good sense, the Blue Jays organization seems to have realized what right-minded Blue Jays fans have been saying for some time now. Ryan Goins is not a major league starter. Having finally come to this realization, the Blue Jays sent him packing to Buffalo with Chris Getz getting recalled to take his place. 

Goins had to go, that much is clear. Despite the talk from the front office and all the fans that swallowed it, no glove is good enough to carry a .218/.243/.302 batting line, which has given him a 45 wRC+ since the Blue Jays called him up last August. If you only look at what he's done in 2014 it's an even uglier picture, as that batting line falls all the way to .150/.203/.217 and a pitiful 14 wRC+. That is the very definition of a black hole in the lineup, and the Blue Jays had to do something to wring more production out of second base, especially with the slow starts some of the bigger bats have been experiencing. 

Well they did something, but it's uhh... well at least it's something. Just last week I was stumping for Munenori Kawasaki, who is already on the 40-man roster, and has at least one stand out skill (his ability to get on base against right-handed pitching) that the Jays could leverage to get something more than the absolutely nothing Goins was providing from the second base position. However, I can get with the decision to go with Getz instead of Kawasaki.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Case for Kawasaki

Photo by James G via Flickr

Jose Reyes is back you guys! That's fantastic news for for the Blue Jays' middle infield which, since Maicer Izturis' unfortunate run-in with the dugout steps, has consisted of various combinations of Ryan Goins, Jonathan Diaz and fan-favourite Munenori Kawasaki. It's a pretty unspectacular trio, and that's if I'm being generous. Reyes' return certainly helps the cause now that he'll be manning shortstop pretty much every day, but that still leaves Ryan Goins and Jonathan Diaz as the only keystone options now that Kawasaki has been sent back to Buffalo. Quite frankly, I'm still not convinced that Muni isn't the best of a bunch of pretty unpalatable options.

I know I'm going after some pretty low hanging fruit by continuing to harp on the club's second base situation, but it remains the blackest hole in the lineup and the one for which we should have the least hope of positive regression riding to the rescue. For whatever reason, the club seems insistent on riding out the Ryan Goins experiment for the time being, with all indications pointing to him remaining if not the every day second baseman, at least the "strong" side of a platoon. I just can't help wondering how much rope he'll be given when there's a potential upgrade (as underwhelming as it may be) toiling away in AAA.

Friday, 4 April 2014

What the What?: Players Willing to Defer Salary for Santana Signing

A disconcerting Blue Jays story made the rounds on Twitter last night, courtesy of the very credible Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. In it, Rosenthal writes that:

"Several Jays players discussed deferring portions of their salaries to clear payroll for Santana last month, according to major league sources. 
The discussions, which apparently did not progress past the conversation stage, raise new questions about the Jays' payroll flexibility for 2014."

I'd bloody well say so! Now, I don't know if it really raises "new" questions about payroll flexibility, but it certainly suggests a few answers to the questions that fans have been asking all off-season. Specifically, why did the club seem so disinterested in pursuing upgrades on the free agent market despite having such obvious needs and supposedly occupying a commanding position in comparison to other teams? Was Anthopoulos unwilling to exceed his own valuations of the available players and spend money that was available to him (as he and Paul Beeston have always claimed it is)? Or had Rogers, as we've seen them do in the past, yanked the purse strings shut, forcing the front office to resort to shuffling around the clubhouse with a battered Tim Horton's cup hitting the players up for whatever they could spare?

I'm probably going a bit too far with that last question because:

"It is not clear whether the impetus for the talks about deferring money came from the players or from the Jays' front office. The players, however, likely would not have engaged in such discussions unless they believed the team was unable or unwilling to pay Santana $14 million."

And yes, it's really, really, really hard to believe that the topic of salary deferral would have been broached by management, although given Rogers' previous willingness to hang the team out to dry by withholding the financial resources necessary to hold a competitive window open longer than a single season it might not be as hard to believe as it should be.

Obviously the situation is worse if the front office were forced to ask players to restructure their contracts than if the players proposed the idea themselves, but the PR implications of this story getting out are pretty disastrous either way. 

The generous reading of the situation might be that core members of the team (John Lott has reported it was Edwin, Bautista, Reyes, Dickey and Buehrle) believe so strongly in the team that they selflessly volunteered to put some of their own skin in the game in what can only be considered the ultimate team-first move. How's that for "chemistry"?

The less generous and probably more realistic reading is that the players were just as frustrated by this off-season as fans were, and when it seemed the team was on the brink of landing Santana the players threw up their arms in exasperation, turned to the faceless corporate monolith that is Rogers and shouted "Well if you're not willing to do what it takes to make this thing happen we'll just do it ourselves!" Obviously that's bleak enough without even considering the possibility that the front office has been put in such tight spot with regards to payroll that they were forced to consider rolling a hand grenade into whatever remaining free agent appeal they have left and blowing it all to smithereens by asking the players to shoulder more than their fair share of the burden of putting a competitive team on the field. 

The list of disadvantages that Blue Jays general managers must overcome to acquire free agent talent is already long enough; playing in a strange frozen land, having to deal with customs every road trip, the turf, the twenty year run of achieving little but A.L. East also-ran status. Pile on yet more evidence of a corporate owner with only an occasional interest in actually winning baseball games, and the uphill climb the team already faces every off-season gets just a little bit steeper.

I really hope that Andrew Stoeten is onto something when he suggests here and here at Drunk Jays Fans, that the front office is letting this stuff to get out there in hopes of shaming Rogers into investing a bit more into fielding a winner, not that we have any reason to believe that the soulless corporate entity that owns our favourite ball club has any capacity to feel shame. It would give me great comfort to believe that the people making baseball decisions are as frustrated by this kind of crap as fans are, because even with their missteps I still believe Anthopoulos and Beeston are too smart to have knowingly put themselves in this kind of situation when they shoved so much money and prospect capital into the pot last off-season.

Whatever, though. I'm not going to let Rogers ruin what should have remained a day of optimism and excitement for Jays fans. It's the home opener! Ol' Dusty McG back on the bump as a starter for the first time since... well it's best not to think about it anyways. We get to witness Masahiro Tanaka's major league debut, and for reasons I've yet to really put my finger on I'm still more optimistic about these Blue Jays that most. This is supposed to be fun, and it should be. So for now let's forget about a bunch of Rogers bean counters doing their damnedest to once more shatter the dreams of Blue Jays fans everywhere.

Enjoy the game everyone.

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Monday, 31 March 2014

A Couple of Mostly Meaningless Predictions

WARNING: Dubious statistical pseudo-analysis ahead!

'Tis the season for boundless optimism, and it's often delivered in the form of predictions based on tiny samples of spring training performance. We all know that spring training is all but meaningless when it comes to predicting a player's regular season performance, but that doesn't stop us from trying anyways does it? It's just too tempting for fans (and content starved writers) to find meaning in the meaningless, and as long as it's presented as exactly what it is, mostly unfounded guesswork, I don't think there's anything wrong with giving in to the urge from time to time.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Making Lemonade Out of an Eight-Man Bullpen

It's seemed for a while now that the Blue Jays' search for a fifth starter will go right down to the wire, with Drew Hutchison likely having secured one of the two available spots, but with none of the other candidates for the rotation really having done much to separate themselves from the pack. It is also appearing as though, due to a number of pitchers' lack of options, the club may again start the season with an eight-man bullpen. Let me be clear. I don't like the eight-man bullpen. I think the Blue Jays are a better team with a fourth bench player than with an eighth reliever. That being said, I was watching Todd Redmond's start against the Tigers on Saturday and I started thinking that carrying an extra pitcher might be exactly what the Blue Jays need to squeeze every last shred of production out of that fifth starter's spot.

If you recall the game in question, Todd Redmond cruised through the first five innings without allowing a run. In the sixth inning he allowed a lead-off home run to number nine hitter Ezequiel Carrera. As the lineup returned to the top, Victor Martinez hit a double and was pinch run for by Hernan Perez. A fielding error allowed Steve Lombardozzi to reach, and advanced Perez to third. The next batter, a young upstart by the name of Miguel Cabrera, scored Perez on a sacrifice fly. Clean up hitter Don Kelly smacked a double that advanced Lombardozzi to third, and then Tyler Collins smacked another double that scored both Kelly and Lombardozzi. Redmond retired the next two batters to get out of the inning, having allowed four runs on six straight batters reaching base, albeit one on an error. He was replaced by Steve Delabar in the top of the seventh.

I'm not faulting anyone for this situation. It's spring training, so it makes all the sense in the world that they would allow Redmond to try and pitch his way out of trouble in the sixth inning. I'm sure that in a game that actually counts for anything there would have been a much quicker hook. In any case, drawing conclusions from one spring training start would be idiotic. Still, it got me thinking, and led me to tweet this:

Friday, 14 March 2014

Belated Thoughts on the Santana Saga

Well that was fun wasn't it? Feeling, for one Saturday afternoon at least, as though the Blue Jays might actually land one of this off-season's most sought after free agent pitchers? And on a one-year deal? And for just the same $14 million that they must have had earmarked in the budget for qualifying Josh Johnson, and which they still thought long and hard about offering him despite a 2013 season that was even worse than Ervin Santana's 2012?! Sigh...

I can barely even bring myself to feel feelings about this to be perfectly honest, but if I could I'm sure they'd be of the darkly negative variety I'm almost constantly railing against here and on Twitter. I'm still trying really hard not to let myself go down that rabbit hole by focusing on all the reasons that I didn't want anything to do with Ervin Santana back in November when the entire free agent market was the Blue Jays' oyster. It's doesn't seem to be working though, because pretty much all of those reasons went right out the window the second it became clear Santana would sign a one-year pillow contract to try to build up his value and cash in on a multi-year deal next off-season.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Winter of Our Discontent

"What're we doin' here Paul?"
"Apologist" has become my least favourite word in the English language, and I'll tell you why.

Many sports fans see the world in black and white. Every team decision is either brilliant or indefensible. Every trade must be won or lost. Every contract is either a "good contract" or a "bad contract". Fans are also very fickle. Their judgment on the moves teams make is often passed with the benefit of hindsight, which is of course unavailable to the front office executives who are required to make decisions without the benefit of the crystal ball we all wish we had, but which none of us really do. Outcomes are pointed to as proof of good or bad process, as if a series of sound decisions have never before been rewarded with nothing but disappointing results.

As someone who often tries to navigate the shades of grey and layers of nuance in the types of decisions front offices make, and who considers it a public service to point out the flaws in this kind of hind-sight empowered, dichotomous thinking, I get called the A-word all the time. No, not that one (but sometimes that one too). I'm talking about "apologist". As though a willingness to consider the pros and cons of any particular move and, even if I don't always agree with the final decision, at least acknowledge the thinking behind it as defensible makes me some sort of propagandist (been called that too) for the Blue Jays, Rogers, and most commonly the Alex Anthopoulos regime.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Fillin' Holes Free Agent Style

It's been an odd hot stove season this year, in that it's dragging right on into spring training with some of the biggest names on the market remaining unsigned. Now that Ubaldo has signed with the Orioles (which probably sucks for more reasons than just necessitating a re-write of this post's preamble), the list of players still wondering where their next pay cheque will come from includes Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz, and Kendrys Morales. There are some serviceable ball players still out there, but so far nobody seems to have been willing to offer them a contract in line with what they feel their services are worth. In these cases, the draft pick compensation their previous clubs saddled them with is definitely hurting their value

Of that group, the only players remaining that might fit with the Jays are Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew now that he's reportedly open to playing positions other than shortstop. The Blue Jays haven't been shy about letting their desire to upgrade the rotation be known, but they also have a gaping black hole slated to start at second base. If the season started today the Jays would be going with some combination of Ryan Goins, Maicer Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, Chris Getz, and Brent Morel. According to FanGraphs' projected depth charts, all those names project to provide a big fat pile of replacement level "production" (0.4 fWAR to be precise) which, while still an improvement over last year's -2.1 fWAR from the position, is not exactly what any team with competitive aspirations should be willing to settle for.

Basically, all of this got me thinking about where the Blue Jays could make the bigger upgrade if they are only able to sign one of the remaining free agents that seem to fit. It's been taken for granted that their biggest need is in the rotation, but they are much deeper in back end starters to fill in behind Dickey, Buehrle and Morrow than they were last season. Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek are both back from their Tommy John surgeries, and Marcus Stroman is by all accounts ready for prime time in either the rotation or bullpen. J.A. Happ, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers are also still around and can presumably still be counted on for some solid if unspectacular innings. Could it be possible that the team would actually be better off making an improvement at second base and standing pat in the rotation? I clicked on over to those same FanGraphs depth charts to see what I could see.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Three Blue Jays Make Baseball Prospectus' Top 101

The fine folks over at Baseball Prospectus released their list of the top 101 prospects in baseball yesterday, and for all the talk of the Blue Jays' decimated farm system (albeit mostly among the uninformed, irrationally negative set) they do fairly well. Three Jays cracked this year's list. Two of them will be no surprise, but the third is a new name that many fans will no doubt start paying more attention to due to his inclusion on lists like these.

I'm sure you've already guessed the first two nominees, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, but right-hander Alberto Tirado has been getting more and more buzz this year, and made it onto the BP list at #76. He's still a long way off, and a lot could happen between now and us ever seeing him in the bigs, but if you follow the excellent work of Jason Parks at all his presence on the list shouldn't be a shock. The Professor is very high on the young Dominican and has been singing his praises for months now. 

Without lifting too much pay-walled material (go get a BP subscription!), let's take a closer look at the trio of Jays prospects and BP's scouting reports on them.