I just finished reading a piece by a Toronto sports writer basically inferring Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos would ‘make a better accountant than GM’ because he is too focused on ‘next season’. The writer wasn’t convinced about the short term direction of the franchise as he feels the business of sport is about winning games and selling tickets.
He even felt Vernon Wells was an all-star because he hit well in his games at the Rogers Centre – yeah, it clearly helped in the attendance figures last year. He also felt the team has been playing the next-year game for far too many years and while I can’t argue that just who were the Blue Jays going to acquire in the past offseason that would’ve guaranteed success?
Shaun Marcum was traded for Brett Lawrie who is the best player traded in the offseason for any pitcher, including Zack Greinke and Matt Garza. Shaun Marcum on a pure talent level going forward is the Jays fourth best pitcher behind Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and some might even say behind prized rookie Kyle Drabek.
The Jays are becoming one of the best run organizations in baseball with an improving minor league system, about 8 picks in the first three rounds of the next MLB draft (called one of the best in recent years) and an ownership group stating when the time is right, the money will be there.
Trading the most overpaid player in baseball doesn’t make them worse now or in the future, but that is another story and I think the Jays pitching will still be top-tier assuming good health but I wanted to do a little digging and ask the question, are the Jays actually better without Vernon Wells, immediately?
The Toronto writer seemed to think it was only about money and on the surface I agree but I don’t feel we received two bad contracts for one as Juan Rivera is a free agent after this coming season and if the Jays don’t want to pay Mike Napoli, they can simply walk away from his arbitration ruling. However I don’t think the writer follows baseball too closely to so quickly write off the value of the players they received.
Could the Jays actually be better on the field, immediately next season? Let’s take a closer look.
Vernon Wells had a solid bounce back campaign last season for the Jays as in 157 games he slashed 273/331/515 good for a .362 wOBA and .242 ISO. He cranked 31 HRs and drove in 88 runs and it’s hard to complain about that production however Wells also gave back quite a few runs with his declining defense (-6.4 UZR which would’ve been worse if not for his stellar error rate, his range factor was abysmal). Still, a 4.0 WAR is hard to argue against.
A quick correction to the writer who claimed Torii Hunter will be the CF for the Angels in ’11 and is a great defensive player. Hunter is showing signs of aging and is no longer considered elite in CF, not even close, and Peter Bourjos will likely be the everyday CF and this kid can shag flies with the best of them. Even Bourjos is just a placeholder in CF until super prospect Mike Trout is deemed ready.
Taking over for the Jays in CF will be the speedy Rajai Davis who in 143 games slashed 284/320/377. Davis is not known for his power but will supply a good deal of speed (50 SBs) and should play slightly better defense. UZR wasn’t kind to Davis last season (-7.9) but the year previous in 113 games showed very solid range and a 12.1 UZR/150 rating in CF.
Mike Napoli will provide a punishing (though one-dimensional) bat at C/DH and since 2008 has accumulated 8.2 WAR compared to Vernon Wells (5.5). The Jays 1B/DH situation last season was pretty anaemic with Adam Lind seeing the most time there (237/287/425) so Napoli should improve on those numbers with Lind moving to first. Napoli is also a lefty masher, an area the Jays struggled with last season.
The Jays will very likely get better production from the C/DH spot with Napoli, Encarnacion (and others). Depending on how Arencibia handles a bigger load and whether Napoli plays catcher versus lefties there will likely only be a small drop off (if any) as while Buck hit HRs (20) he also had a lousy OBP (314), BB rate (3.7%) and was lucky (.335 BABIP).
Adam Lind was one of the best hitters in baseball in 2009 and Bill James projects a big bounce back in 2011 with a 281/338/497 slash line with a .362 wOBA. Consider the production Lyle Overbay gave us last season (243/329/433) the Blue Jays will be hard pressed not to show improvement at 1B also.
Second baseman Aaron Hill should bounce back, shortstop Yunel Escobar is another bounce back candidate to hit for good OBP and a wildcard power source – he isn’t a step down from Alex Gonzalez. Third base is slated to be Jose Bautista currently and he will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion.
The outfield might see some regression with the loss of Vernon Wells to LA and Jose Bautista to 3B but this should also be the season that highly touted rookie hitter Travis Snider starts to really show why the league was so high on Snider. Rajai Davis will provide similar OBP and more speed than Wells (though less power) and Juan Rivera in 2009 produced basically the exact same season Vernon Wells did in 2010 (287/332/478 – 25 HRs).
All in all I just don’t see the Jays offense as any worse off and with a break or two and some bounce back seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind (key 2009 contributors) it could actually even be better.