Posts Tagged ‘Alex Anthopoulos’

Former Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi has taken his share of criticism since departing from the team but the franchise does owe him a bit of gratitude for leaving behind two of the best players on the roster, Jose Bautista and newly minted “boss” starter Ricky Romero.  I wanted to focus on the latter today considering you must have been on Mars for the past 18 months if you aren’t familiar with the exploits of one Jose Bautista.

Ricardo Romero was born November 6th, 1984 in East Los Angeles, California and was drafted 6th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2005 MLB amateur draft.  The 2005 draft year in MLB is akin to the 2003 NBA draft that produced Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, among a few other stars.  Taken ahead of Romero that year was Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Jeff Clement (ouch, the Detroit Pistons of this draft) Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun.

It doesn’t stop there check some of the names taken after Mr. Romero: Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Pelfrey, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Chris Volstad, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza,  Blue Jays CF Colby Rasmus, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie.  Ok, forget comparing it to the 2003 NBA draft, or any draft, that is a who’s who of young baseball talent and even a few franchise players.

Considering his home park and division Ricky Romero has been one of the best left handed starters in baseball the past two seasons.  Brandon Morrow has the best stuff on the staff but Ricky Romero is our best pitcher.  Let’s do a quick comparison against another top lefty who most assume is a Cy Young contender annually, let’s see if you can guess his identity based on current stats.

2011 ERA xFIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 BAA GB% WAR
Romero 2.73 3.63 7.5 3.2 2.3 0.87 .242 55.1 2.7
Player B 3.22 3.43 8.7 3.2 2.7 0.97 .231 50.6 2.7

Pretty even across the board although it is clear that Player B is more of a strikeout pitcher while we all know Ricky Romero likes to induce groundball outs when he can.  Player B is Boston Red Sox lefty Jon Lester who is having another very solid season in another tough ball park and tough AL East.  Lester is often among a handful of candidates when discussing best pitcher in the game while it is very rare that Romero will get the same type of praise.

Market and city has a lot to do with the difference in perceived value but Romero is 11 months younger than Lester and performing at a very similar clip over the past two seasons.  Lester was quite a bit better last year overall (5.6 WAR) but Romero held his own throwing 200+ IPs for the first time in his career (4.0 WAR).

His intense demeanour during his starts is a testament to a desire to win and his light hearted banter with teammates on off days make him an ideal leader and role model in the clubhouse for some of the future Blue Jays arms that are being stockpiled in the minor leagues.  Maybe Tyler Beede was too intimidated to sign with the Jays after one glimpse of Romero’s scowl walking off the mound?

Don’t take this as campaigning for a Cy Young and I wouldn’t even call this a breakout season for Romero as most of his peripherals are identical year over year but it is just as nice to see him settling into a dependable workhorse starter for the Blue Jays.  Maybe Blue Jays fans were spoiled all those years watching the legend that is Roy Halladay apply his craft that we don’t appreciate the fact Rick Romero is developing into a true number one starter.

Bonus: Most Valuable MLB Players From 2001-2010

If you haven’t already heard the Toronto Blue Jays were unable to sign their top pick from the 2011 MLB Amateur draft Tyler Beede. The right handed starting pitcher will honour his committment and attend Vanderbilt in the fall. Alex Anthopoulos discussed that and other issues in the video below, I could listen to him all night, what a great baseball mind.

Perhaps I am a bit of a contrarian but I am not as high as most experts are on the overall strength of the Toronto Blue Jays current batch of prospects.  The system is probably in the best shape it has been in quite some time and Alex Anthopoulos has done a masterful job of restocking a cupboard of prospects that was once considered a laughing stock.

But I am just not that convinced that it will ultimately produce any potential star players and there isn’t one guy that I feel is a must have, outside of Brett Lawrie.  The list is deep, which is good and I hope if a potential young cost controlled player becomes available (like a Justin Upton) the Jays wouldn’t hesitate in cleaning out the system a bit to fetch a nice asset.

But depth doesn’t excite me, and after the top two (Brett Lawrie and Kyle Drabek) the list really goes downhill in my opinion.  Even the top two names that have far and away the most potential of the group can leave bit of a sour taste in your mouth.  It’s not to say that any prospect out there is a sure thing, but there are a lot of other teams who have a more exciting basket of potential impact players.

The Yankees have Jesus Montero knocking on the team’s door, and further down their list have extremely promising arms like Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman.  Not to mention a young catcher named Gary Sanchez who would likely rank 2nd or 3rd on the Jays list.  I just don’t see a Jeremy Hellickson, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Santana, Mike Stanton, Starlin Castro or Domonic Brown type in this group.

Top Blue Jays Prospects 2011:

#1 INF Brett Lawrie

Brett Lawrie is a naturally gifted athlete who just happens to play baseball, and play it well.  The kid has moxie and tools that rate off the charts with his hit tool rating the best.  Currently a line drive gap power hitting machine a lot of those doubles should eventually turn into long flies and Lawrie could be a high 20s HRs type of player.

Drafted as a catcher by the Milwaukee Brewers, he was quickly switched to second base at his request and the biggest question mark surrounding Lawrie isn’t if he can hit enough it is where is he going to play on the diamond?  Most feel a corner outfield spot will be his eventual landing spot and the kid does come with a few warts.

 Lawrie while highly touted has shown immaturity and is on his second organization before reaching the ‘AA’ level.  He refused an assignment to the Arizona Fall League this year and decided he would prefer to be a second basemen as opposed to attempting to play catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers.  The reviews are mixed if Lawrie can handle a middle infield role and he has already been shifted to third base to ensure a speedy road to the major league level.

The kid is young, only just turning 21 in January/2011 and judging any of his behaviour without thinking of how I acted at the same age would be short-sighted so I am willing to let bygones be just that.  However, playing a corner infield spot means his bat is going to have to be that much more impactful and power is the hardest skill to project and normally last attribute to arrive.  He is cocky, confident and seemingly brash and I like that, posting a .361 wOBA as a 20-year old in AA might do that for you. 

Brett Lawrie won’t be an average ballplayer if he makes it I think he makes it big and if he doesn’t I don’t see him even in baseball in five years.  I am expecting an impactful, solid offensive career for the kid and I think he is the Toronto Blue Jays best hitting prospect to come along in years.  He is our top prospect as a potential top or middle of the order hitter who can play every day, hopefully at a premium position like the keystone corner.

#2 SP Kyle Drabek

Second on the list is Kyle Drabek who for me is one of the most underwhelming “top” pitching prospects in baseball.  Don’t get me wrong I think he could still develop into a solid #2/3 starter but the talk of a potential ace is a bit of a reach based on the numbers he has been putting up in the minor leagues.  In particular the mediocre to poor minor league strikeout numbers are disturbing.

Of course not everybody can be Stephen Strasburg or Clayton Kershaw coming through the system in terms of strikeout numbers but it is a great way to gauge the pitcher’s overall stuff and how they project in terms of future major league success.  I hope for the Jays sake Drabek proves me wrong but he is certainly not taking a typical path to stardom.  Besides 61.2 IPs in ‘High A’ ball (as a 22 year old in 2009) where his K/9 was 10.8 the overall minor league resume is lacking.

Kyle Drabek Age Level IP K/9 BB/9 FIP
2009 22 AA 96.1 7.1 2.9 3.83
2010 23 AA 162.0 7.4 3.9 3.87

 

I am sure some pitchers have gone on to solid careers with mediocre minor league strikeout numbers but the probability isn’t great and the number of examples isn’t plentiful.  For a right handed starter to succeed without high strikeout numbers he would need to have extreme groundball tendencies and play in front of a solid defence.  Drabek has improved in this regard as his groundball ratios have improved over the past two seasons. 

A must inclusion for Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade, Drabek is being counted on to develop into a big time inning eating starting pitcher.  I was holding out hope that the Philadelphia Phillies would have panicked and offered their top prospect in toolsy outfielder Domonic Brown and it is a bit worriesome that Drabek’s name was being thrown around more than a few times for such a highly touted prospect. 

If Drabek were a lefty  I’d be more optimistic but at this point I see a solid #3 starter who will give us innings, a 6 K/9, 2.5 K/BB and a FIP in the low to mid 4.00s – very solid but not ‘ace’ like.  Alex Anthopoulos did well to ensure Drabek was included in the deal that sent the best pitcher in baseball out of Toronto and the future is still very bright for the son of Doug Drabek. 

Kyle Drabek possesses a very solid fastball and can hit the mid 90s on a regular basis so there is room for improvement going forward if the secondary stuff can improve and help him miss more bats.  This is a guy who could end up making me and this scouting report look very foolish with only a few tweaks and subtle improvements.  After all, he already went through TJ surgery so we should cut him a bit of slack I suppose.

Well, those are the two best in the system and after that I feel it drops off dramatically.  Here is the best of the rest as we rank 3-10.

#3 SP Deck McGuire

Drafted out of Georgia Tech in the recent 2010 MLB Amateur draft the consensus around the world of scouting is that McGuire was an excellent selection who possesses a crafty 4-pitch arsenal that projects to be a workhorse type mid-rotation guy.  I think the ceiling here is a poor man’s Matt Garza.  A solid, exciting name but a guy who has never even thrown one professional inning yet he ranks near the top of almost all of the most respected Blue Jays prospect rankings.

#4 C Carlos Perez

The Jays currently have a plethora of solid young catching prospects and I feel the 20-year old Venezuelan Perez has the most upside of all of them.  A potential 10-12 HR guy who can play strong defence and is a strong athlete.  Has shown solid patience in his young career at the plate and he could profile as a solid mid to bottom of the order hitter with a bit of pop.

#5 SP Zach Stewart

Acquired in the Scott Rolen trade from the Cincinnati Reds Zach Stewart’s stock dropped a bit in 2010 as his K/9 plummeted to only 7.0 in 136 ‘AA’ innings as he posted the worst FIP of his career at 4.18.  Stewart will turn 25 years old this summer and the time for him to arrive is now, another guy who likely wouldn’t crack many teams’ top ten lists.  There has been talk he is best suited for a late inning relief role also but I think the Jays will exhaust all possibilities of becoming a starter before that happens.

#6 CF Anthony Gose

I am higher on Anthony Gose than probably any other evaluator so far this offseason but I don’t understand the trepidations with Gose who at worst will provide gold glove calibre defence at a premium position and steal a few bases.  However if the bat develops into even slightly below league average we are talking about a potential 5.0 WAR player who is still only 21-years old who just posted a .363 wOBA in 113 PAs for the Jays ‘AA’ team.

Gose athleticism ranks off the charts and the only question mark with him is the plate discipline and overall bat tool.  Acquired for 1B Brett Wallace I’m rolling with him and I like this type of talent, very toolsy.

#7 C Travis D’Arnaud

Probably the most complete all-around game of the Jays catching prospects, D’Arnaud has the potential to develop into a plus defender who would only need an average bat to provide decent value to his club.  I think he should develop into a useful hitter but a guy who will always bat near the bottom of the lineup but he is still only 22-years old and has time to continue his development.

#8 C J.P. Arencibia

This guy ranks all over the place on various lists, as high as #3 on Marc Hulet’s Fangraphs ranking while down to 8th on Baseball America’s.  I feel the general consensus regarding Arencibia is ‘meh’ and I feel the same way.  Already turned 25 years old Arencibia had virtually fallen off the prospect map after a horrible 2009 where he posted a 236/284/444 slash line in 500 ‘AAA’ PAs.

When the team moved to the little league park in Las Vegas his numbers subsequently jumped with them.  I am not buying it and I don’t think he ever hits enough to justify the worst facet of his game, and that is game calling and defensive skills.  Terrible plate discipline, bad defense and one park/league infused season justifies ranking him so low.

There are others to be at least mindful of but they are either still too young or just drafted to give them a meaningful scouting report or ranking.  Among them are:

 OF Jake Marisnick – toolsy, big ceiling, big risk.

SP Asher Wojciechowski – between him and scrabble the Jays are doing their best to empty ink cartridges.  Strong upside from the College right hander.

SP Aaron Sanchez – strong high school righty, just drafted in 2010.

SS Adeiny Hechavarria – suspect bat tool but legit glove.

OF Eric Thames – the bat is exciting.

SP Chad Jenkins – stock fell a bit with pedestrian K-rate in advanced ‘A’ ball.

SP Adonis Cardona – top 16-year old Venezuelan signing in 2010, years away.

The Jays system has depth again and the Alex Anthopoulos plan and era are in the early stages so I fully expect given him competency that the Blue Jays farm system and draft excellence will continue to be at the very forefront of the plan.  Even in 2-3 years a lot of the names will start to look more exciting as they reach higher minor league levels and the system starts to hopefully do its job and churn out big league regulars.

Right now though I feel the system is solid but a tad on the overrated side.

As the Toronto Blue Jays embark on their 35th season in major league baseball there is a renewed sense of optimism and hope resonating through Blue Jays nation.  General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has taken the reigns as new leader of the team and has shown himself to be quite capable, even shrewd. 

The Blue Jays surprisingly finished the 2010 season with an 85 win season in the super tough AL East division and again showed they are one of the better teams in baseball when considering strength of schedule – a major crutch for the team over the past decade, and certainly an ongoing challenge going forward.

Heading into 2011 the optimism isn’t necessarily only for the current roster and chances for a playoff run but the overall direction of the team.  Simply put the Toronto Blue Jays are poised to join baseball’s elite in the next 2-3 seasons given the new commitment to player development, draft resources and controlling costs with young assets.

Ownership has given the team the needed resources to ensure the Blue Jays are competitive in the international free agent market and the Jays were among the final few teams to nearly land Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman (and his 105.1 MPH fastball).  The Jays were able to land a Cuban of their own in 21-year old SS Adeiny Hechavarria.  It continued last summer when the Jays landed top Venezuelan teenage pitching prospect Adonis Cardona, a right handed pitcher signed for record 2.8 million dollar bonus (in Venezuela). 

The Blue Jays have told fans that money will not be an issue if and when the team is ready to compete at the highest level (playoffs) and have gone on record as saying the payroll will easily eclipse $100MM if needed.  With a few big name free agent hitters hitting the open market at the end of this season (including Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder) the Jays could be in a prime spot to land one of the big free agents.

This past offseason saw Alex Anthopoulos pull off one of the biggest heists in recent memory when he managed to unload the entire Vernon Wells contract to the Los Angeles Angels, saving nearly $90MM over the next few years.  Notice I do not even need to mention if a player was returned to the Jays for this to be an unbelievable deal for the Jays, Wells’ contract was that horrifying and crippling.

The Blue Jays also dealt their best pitcher from 2010 (stat wise) when they moved SP Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers for their top prospect 2B/3B/OF Brett Lawrie.  His bat and being a Canadian are the makings of an instant fan favourite.  His suspect defence, lack of position and questionable facebook pictures are the detriments at this point. 

My money is on a solid, if not spectacular Blue Jays career and Lawrie was considered the best prospect moved in an offseason that also saw Zack Greinke and Matt Garza moved you have to be happy hearing that if you are a Jays fan.  Shaun Marcum will be missed mind you but on a pure talent basis he was likely our fourth or fifth best pitcher, and oldest to boot.

The Blue Jays decided that Jose Bautista was for real and signed him to a five year contract worth $65MM ensuring the top HR hitter in 2010 remains with the team.  I like the contract as Bautista is more than just empty HRs, he plays defence, gets on-base and has proven to be a solid clubhouse influence.  I reviewed his massive 2010 campaign against the best in Jays history, who had the best all-time Jays offensive season?

There have been more than a few reviews of this contract if you want a more thorough evaluation, here and here.  There is no trade clause attached so if the Blue Jays are so inclined, they could potentially move Bautista if the market dictates.

Other key departures:

RP Scott Downs, C John Buck, RP Kevin Gregg, LF Fred Lewis

Other key arrivals:

RP Frank Francisco, RP Jon Rauch, LF Juan Rivera, CF Rajai Davis, LF Scott Podsednick, RP Octavio Dotel.

The Blue Jays also said goodbye to a familiar face as manager Cito Gaston stepped aside as the team’s skipper and the Jays hired Boston Red Sox pitching Coach John Farrell to be the new manager.  The consensus around baseball is he will make an excellent manager and is a great leader for a young emerging ballclub like Toronto.  If only the Blue Jays could have brought back Dan Schulman to do their play-by-play on a nightly basis, this would have been a stellar offseason as opposed to only a good one.

Overall it is hard to argue against a solid offseason as the Jays saved a boatload of money, added a top Canadian prospect and really didn’t weaken their current team all that much in my mind.  The last bonus is with some of the shrewd moves made by AA the Blue Jays hold a ton of picks in the top 3 round of the upcoming 2011 Amateur MLB draft, one of the strongest drafts in recent memory.

Let’s take a look at the current 2011 team:

Catcher – JP Arencibia & Jose Molina.

Synopsis – There has been a lot of pressure placed on JP Arencibia heading into 2011 and more than a few people worried he might crack under it.  Arencibia lit up Las Vegas and AAA in the ultra-friendly hitters paradise (301/359/626 – .412 wOBA) and after Blue Jays fans enshrined him in Cooperstown after a 5-hit debut he struggled at the major league level. 

Arencibia is 25 years old and just sniffing the show now and unlike a lot of folks I am not sold that he is our catcher of the future.  I would give him every opportunity this year to prove me wrong but I am excited about the depth at catcher the organization has amassed with Travis D’Arnaud and Carlos Perez.  But he is a concern for me, as well as for Drew at Ghost Runner on First (great blog).

Jose Molina is our backup catcher with the required skills for that position.

This spot could be a real weakness for the Jays in 2011.

First Base – Adam Lind

Synopsis – Lind is hitting his prime offensive years (he will be 28 in July/2011) and after lighting up MLB pitchers in 2009 (.394 wOBA) he came back to earth hard in 2011 (.309 wOBA).  His BABIP was down 30 points compared to his career average, his HR/FB mark was down 6 percent but he also showed less patience and more hack-tastic tendencies at the plate.  I like the fans projection (at Fangraphs) of 278/333/487, around 25 HRs and below average defence.

Second Base – Aaron Hill

Synopsis – Hill is hitting his prime offensive years (turning 29 this month) and after lighting up MLB pitchers in 2009 (.357 wOBA) he came back to earth hard in 2011 (.291 wOBA).  His BABIP was down nearly 100 points compared to his career average, his HR/FB mark was down 5 percent but he also showed less patience and more hack-tastic tendencies at the plate.  I like the Bill James projection of 260/319/446, around 20 HRs and average defence.

Yes, eerily identical as both Hill and Lind struggled mightily in 2010 after tearing it up in 2009, both are being counted on to rebound in 2011 and both should.

Third Base – Jose Bautista

Synopsis – Possibly the most discussed player in baseball heading into 2011 with the widest range of projections and expectations.  One of the better seasons in Blue Jays history in 2010 the 30-year old Bautista heads into 2011 as the everyday third basemen and a guy the team will lean on heavily in the middle of its order.

I’m going to take Bill James projection again (251/355/509, 34 HRs) and I wish the Jays could play him in RF because his defence isn’t exactly stellar at the hot corner based on past reviews (-24 UZR for his career at 3B).  His patience will be highly valued in this line-up of mostly hackers, the Jays could be poised

Shortstop – Yunel Escobar

Synopsis – Another solid move by Alex Anthopoulos was managing to get a guy who some considered one of the best up-and-coming middle infielders in baseball only a few years ago.  Escobar is 28 years old and coming off a subpar offensive season in 2010 (.301 wOBA) but he plays an excellent SS (4.3 UZR in 2010) and should rebound with the stick.

Marcel projections look most reasonable (273/350/378, possibly 10 HRs) with excellent SS defence and a definite asset for the Jays in 2011.

Left Field – Juan Rivera

Synopsis – Though not often discussed Rivera does provide an intriguing option at the plate.  Looking at 2009, Rivera was basically Vernon Wells 2010 with a slash line of 287/332/478 to go with 25 HRs.  The 32-year old provides a veteran presence in the line-up who has a career .834 OPS versus left handed pitchers (an area the Jays struggled with last year).

He is below average defensively and provides little value outside of his bat, if that doesn’t rebound he could be one of the least valuable players in the game (WAR).

Centre Field – Rajai Davis

Synopsis – Acquired by the Blue Jays in the offseason the 30-year old Davis will be counted upon to play the majority of innings in centre field.  UZR was not kind to him last season (-7.1 in CF) however he has been an above average defender at the premium CF spot for most of his career, hopefully 2010 was the outlier.

Davis is another hacker in the sense he isn’t keen on taking the walk (career 5.9 BB%) like most of the Blue Jays line-up this year.  Davis biggest contribution will be on the base paths as the speedster has stolen 41 and 50 bases in the past two seasons.  Expect 280/325/390 with good CF defence and a lot of SBs as new manager John Farrell said he wanted to be more aggressive in this regard.

Right Field – Travis Snider

Synopsis – Here is the real wildcard for me heading into 2011.  Few remember that Snider is only 23-years old and was an extremely highly touted prospect – could this finally be the season he shows us why?  He’s another guy who won’t walk much but Bill James projects 274/338/499 with 22 HRs in 2011, numbers most Jay’s fans would accept.

Scott Podsednick and Corey Patterson could see some time in the outfield and each brings a little something to a team, whether it is speed, bench help or defence.

Designated Hitter – Edwin Encarnacion

Synopsis – If there ever was a candidate to not own a baseball glove, Encarnacion might be near the top (though in fairness it is his arm that is most erratic).  Say what you want about his porous defence but EE can do one thing well, hit for power.  He cranked out 21 HRs in only 367 PAs to go with a solid .482 SLG, .238 ISO and .339 wOBA. 

He fits right in with the rest of the Blue Jays hitters in the fact that he doesn’t appreciate ball four nearly enough (career 8.9 BB%) and this could be a real issue for the Jays again this season if the HR/FB ratio dries up.  EE will spell Lind at 1B occasionally and should provide some decent value as the teams DH this year.

Starting Rotation – Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch

This is a pretty solid group again for the Blue Jays with Romero anchoring the young rotation.  Brandon Morrow has to prove 2010 wasn’t a fluke and continue to build on his solid peripherals.  Brett Cecil might emerge as the ace of the staff by the end of this season if he continues to develop.  Kyle Drabek will be on a strict pitch/innings count but he has the promise to develop into a solid #2 or 3 pitcher.  Jesse Litsch isn’t flashy but when given the chance he has shown the ability to get hitters out consistently.

Here are the “Fans” (at Fangraphs) projections for each of our starting five for 2011:

  IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB
R. Romero 212 3.75 3.77 7.5 3.4 2.2
B. Morrow 175 3.97 3.71 9.8 3.9 2.7
B. Cecil 186 4.16 4.11 6.6 2.7 2.2
K. Drabek 149 4.23 4.12 7.0 3.0 2.4
J. Litsch* 113 4.38 4.58 5.2 2.2 2.3

*Bill James projection (fans projection not available)

Marc  Rzepczynski  is another candidate for the fifth starter spot but I have to think that if Jesse Litsch is healthy the Jays will hand him the job.  Litsch could provide a decent trade return for a team looking for an arm at the deadline if he can establish his 2008 form (a league average starter).  With a staff as young as the Jays there are sure to be some hiccups along the way and health is always the big unknown from season to season.

The bullpen should be fairly strong again even with the loss of Scott Downs who has been consistently our best reliever during his Blue Jays career.

The group should consist of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, David Purcey and Jo-Jo Reyes.  AA is apparently enamoured with Reyes, enough so to keep Reyes on the roster as opposed to losing him to waivers as he is out of options (thank you reader Adam, Reyes was acquired in the Escobar trade from the Braves).  The Blue Jays have a ton of depth in the pen and this should serve them well come trade deadline day or again qualifying them and hopefully receiving compensatory draft picks.

Final Outlook:

It appears 2011 will be a year of transition as we prepare and groom some of our minor league prospect (more on that below) to hopefully turn the Blue Jays into full fledged contender in 2012.  This season won’t be embarrassing and the Jays have some surprise to the upside this year but I think Jays fans are willing to take a step back in the win column when considering how much long term ground is starting to be gained.

I think the Jays will be a .500 baseball club.

Join the ongoing conversation about the Toronto Blue Jays, Kyle Drabek and the world of baseball on TWITTER, follow me @tdotsports1

Up next: Top 10 Toronto Blue Jays Prospects

Most (or all) of the top prospect guru’s and sites and ranked or handed out grades to the Blue Jays group of prospects including Baseball America, Keith Law, John Sickels, Fangraphs and B-Pro and I have read nearly every scouting report, ranking and grade known to man.  I have participated in deep minor league drafts, have a keen interest in the top young ballplayers due to my active role in a DMB based simulation league and have basically been addicted to prospect porn for the past decade or so.

Alex Anthopoulos is a shrewd baseball man, plain and simple.  The Blue Jays recently added Miguel Olivo for a player to be named later and will immediately buy out Olivo for a cool half million.  Why would the Blue Jays make such a move you might ask?  The reasoning is simple, yet brilliant – to have the potential to acquire a valuable compensation pick in the upcoming MLB amateur draft.

You see in the draconian MLB compensation system a team can offer a player arbitration and gain a draft pick (anywhere from a first round to an early second round pick) if the player rejects the arbitration offer in the hopes of landing a more lucrative (and longer term) contract.  According to Victor Wang’s research from 2009, a 1st round pick is worth about $5.2 million, a supplemental pick around $2.6 million and a second round compensatory pick worth $0.8 million.

The Jays hope that all of their potential arbitration eligible players (Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, John Buck, Kevin Gregg, and Miguel Olivo) will not only turn down the arbitration offer but also net them a draft pick in the process.  A calculated risk, read Jack Moore’s excellent piece at Fangraphs for more on this move and the Blue Jays motives for such a move.  The 2011 draft is supposed to be absolutely loaded with great talent and promises to be (on paper) one of the deeper drafts in recent memory and ideally the Jays (if things go to plan) could end up with eight picks in the top fifty – huge.

I wanted to dive into the Blue Jays winter plans a little deeper and come up with what I thought would be the absolutely ideal offseason for the team.  First, the chances of all of these moves coming to fruition are pretty slim and we aren’t sure what type of budget increase AA intends to try and push to the suits at Rogers Corp or if he even feels the Jays are close enough to contention to make it worth his while. 

But let’s assume the Jays were legit in 2010 and really aren’t all that far from being a true contender in the AL East.  With the New York Yankees suddenly looking older and vulnerable (though still deep pocketed), the Boston Red Sox seemingly stuck in neutral and the Tampa Bay Rays potentially losing Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and (rumoured) Matt Garza – the time for the Jays to strike could be and maybe should be now. 

Coming off an unexpected (for the most part) 85-win campaign the Blue Jays head into 2011 clearly a team on the rise and I contend had they played in any other division in baseball would likely have made the playoffs.  With that, what moves do I feel the team should make if the budget allowed, let’s take a look at one realistic, one hopeful and one long shot potential offseason move.

1)      Re-sign reliever Scott Downs.  Reliable, tough on lefties and a guy who doesn’t break in pressure situations Downs has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past three seasons.  His FIP during the past three seasons have been phenomenal (3.39, 3.33 & 3.03) and he likely could be signed to a fairly team friendly contract if the team strikes early.

2)       Take a run at free agent 3B Adrian Beltre.  Beltre would give us instant improvement in infield defense and make our pitching staff that much more effective while providing a solid power bat in the middle of the order.  He is an intense gamer who plays hard every at-bat and every inning in the field – a throwback.  He will likely see a drop in batting average (.331 BABIP in 2010) and he doesn’t have much patience (6.9% career BB rate) but the combination of his power bat, slick glove while also presumably weakening the rival Red Sox make him a valuable commodity for the Jays.  He could command upwards of 4-5 years on a deal that would pay him 14-16 million annually, maybe more, so he comes with a price tag.

3)      Trade for Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke.  Before you laugh this one off hear me out, Greinke is not a New York/Boston big baseball market kind of guy and rumours circulate the team and player both want a potential trade to happen and I say why not Toronto?

We have a near perfect environment for a guy like Greinke (who battled depression and anxiety issues in the past) with a young, improving group of players and ownership’s supposed commitment to fielding a competitive team, no matter the cost.  More importantly we have the young pieces to get a potential deal done should the opportunity present itself.

An offer centred on Travis Snider with the potential of adding guys like Zach Stewart, Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, Deck McGuire and a host of other intriguing names in the finally viable Blue Jays farm system would at the very least get the Jays “in the mix”.  And though the competition for the services of a young and talented arm like Zack Greinke will be fierce and the price very steep I wouldn’t count out the Blue Jays as a potential suitor like most of the baseball pundits, sites and publications – it could happen.

Well that is my ideal offseason and if coupled with a few other minor moves to solidify the bullpen and our bench could go a very long way in turning the Jays not only into a contender but a potential favourite in one of the harder divisions in sports.  It might be a pipedream but I think reality is the Jays are becoming closer to a team that could be fighting for division titles and have championship aspirations in the not too distant future.

UPDATE: My Maple Leafs content and pieces can now be found at the best Toronto Maple Leaf site on the net, visit it now!  Maple Leafs Hot Stove

Manny Ramirez would be one of the most popular Toronto Blue Jays of all-time should the Jays decide to take a chance on the 38-year old DH.  Toronto loves its big names, in all forms and in all sports.  This is exactly the move a leisurely fan would instantly approve of because “it’s Manny Ramirez”; he has to be good because his name says so.  Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Rickey Henderson were all enormously popular during their brief stays in the great white north and I feel Manny would trump them all.  Normally I would be totally opposed to a move like this but under the right circumstances (read, incentive laden contract) this might not be the worst move out there.

Now it would have to be a bargain basement base salary, probably something Ramirez would never accept to play for manager John Farrell and the Toronto Blue Jays.  I am not sure if Ramirez would even know what “bargain basement” meant and ultimately this feels like marketing to me (something Ramirez is excellent at) and I think he is simply trying to create markets when none might have existed in hopes of garnering one last ‘decent’ contract.   Of course Manny is interested in Toronto, he is unemployed, isn’t that where all of us go when we are out of work?

In 90 games in the 2010 season, split between two teams Manny slashed 298/411/460 with a respectable (though career low) .162 ISO and .382 wOBA.  With his extremely poor defensive tendencies and adjusted for playing only left-field Manny posted another career low with a 1.6 WAR.  A pretty rough season overall in terms of ROI for the Dodgers/White Sox but his average and on-base percentage would have led the Blue Jays and his penchant for hitting lefties hard over his career could come in handy to a team that was brutal against them last season.

Manny is still patient (14.4 BB%) and has always been a consistent producer with the bat so being a DH in the AL East against teams he has had success for and against in the past might bring out at least one more great season from the aging slugger.  But again there has to be value in it for the Blue Jays and an annual salary of 20 million is not even close to fair value.  If the Jays could get him to sign for a low minimum base of 3-4 million (again, a pipe dream) with the chances of Ramirez earning upwards of 10-12 million with a great season I would be amicable to the idea of bringing in a charismatic and likely fan favourite for one to two seasons. 

Anything that breaks the bank doesn’t help us now or later and I doubt our respected GM Alex Anthopoulos would be moved by any sentimental or fan appeasing motives to pull the trigger on a player-friendly contract when the Jays are inching closer to becoming a borderline contender in the ruthless AL East.

Food for thought? Will the Jays kick tires on acquiring Prince Fielder?

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I was reading a piece at Fangraphs regarding Prince Fielder and his imminent departure from the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason given the impasse between management and Fielder’s agent, the vaunted Scott Boras.  Rumours peg the asking price for Fielder’s next contract between 120-150 million over 6-8 years and I am not going to argue that a defensively challenged overweight first basemen is worth that type of long term investment because very clearly he is not and even more clear is the Jays would never be able to sign a player to that type of contract.

My argument today is that Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays should at the very least inquire into the asking price (from the Brewers) to bring in the powerful left handed hitting home run machine for the 2011 season.  I am not sure what the cost would be but one would have to assume it would likely be fairly high and it could ultimately cost the team their top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek.  Although everybody is extremely high on this kid I think this could be a move worth considering.

Consider me a contrarian in the valuation of Drabek but I am not a huge buyer of his stock and I think his value will never be higher coming off a successful (at first glance) minor league season.  The 23 year old posted a 2.94 ERA in 162 ‘AA’ innings in 2010 allowing 126 hits, walking 68 and striking out 132 while improving his ground ball tendencies slightly.  Like I said, at first glance it appears to be one heck of a season for a kid his age.

But glancing beyond the shiny ERA there are some red flags underneath the surface in terms of future success, at least for me.  Drabek posted a pedestrian 7.3 K/9 (for a top rated pitching prospect) while his BB/9 rose to nearly 4 walks per nine (3.78 BB/9) giving him a mediocre 1.9 K/BB.  Drabek was slightly aided by a low BABIP (.260) and his FIP was a more telling number of his actual season, coming in at a respectable but not spectacular 3.87. 

Now you would have to be a fool to think he is even close to a finished product and chances are he will improve, and could possibly improve a lot but at this point I don’t feel the peripherals match the expectations or scream ‘future star’.  Not that every pitcher requires a strikeout an inning to be successful (think Halladay, Roy) but the minor league strikeout numbers for a young pitcher are normally one of the indicators of future success in the big leagues and I think the jury is out on Drabek developing into a true number one or two starter.

Another reason I wouldn’t be too hesitant if Milwaukee were warm to this type of deal is the Jays would be dealing 100% from a point of strength as they are currently fairly loaded with a plethora of major league ready arms under the age of 28.  Their current rotation is among the best in the game with Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whoever they decide to slot in at the number five spot.  There is a chance Drabek never develops into the type of big league starter who is capable of usurping one of the top 4-5 starters the Jays currently possess and the more he is exposed at the big league level without a lot of success the more his overall value takes a dive.

Another motivation for a move like this is Prince Fielder would instantly give the Jays there first legit power threat at 1B since Carlos Delgado left town, no offense to Lyle Overbay but he is barely a league average bat at this point in his career.  Fielder will be entering his 27 year old season (historically one of a hitter’s best overall years career wise) and even with a slightly off year (for his standards) Prince has still been a beast in 2010.  Currently slashing 267/403/486 with 32 HRs, 80 RBI and a cool 106 BBs, Fielder has still managed a .388 wOBA and .218 ISO.  For those curious Lyle Overbay in 2010 currently has a .335 wOBA.

Fielder’s career slash line is impressive to say the least at 281/385/538, to go with a career .258 ISO and .389 wOBA.  Fielder has patience (career 12.9 BB %), power and could help energize a city that is slowly starting to come around on the young and promising Blue Jays.  I liken this situation to what Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s did when they traded for outfielder Matt Holliday at the beginning of 2009. 

The A’s hoped Holliday would be the answer for a moribund offense and place them squarely in contention in the AL West, however when it didn’t quite work that way, they flipped him again to St. Louis to recoup some of their losses in prospects (unfortunately they dealt Carlos Gonzalez to acquire him) though they could have just let Holliday (like the Jays could with Fielder) play out the season and leave in the winter and receive two highly valuable compensation draft picks for the next Amateur draft.

The A’s got unlucky that they dealt a big package of Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith and Holliday’s value took a hit (only due to playing in one of the worse offensive environment’s in baseball) but I have no doubt that Fielder would flourish at the Roger’s Centre in an improving and powerful Jays line-up.   I am not sure what the price would be but if it is only the cost of a player who is not a guarantee (say a Kyle Drabek) and a couple additional fringe prospects I might be intrigued.

Worst case scenario Fielder doesn’t put the Jays over the top in the AL East in 2011 and Kyle Drabek develops into an ace starter, seems unlikely but nothing in baseball is guaranteed.  However, the Jays would at least be able to start over with the two strong draft picks or attempt to flip Fielder to a contending team looking for a 2 month rental and regaining some of the lost youth and prospects it took to acquire the Prince.

On the flip side the potential upside to having one of the top young 1B/DH in your line-up for 162 games and rolling into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park with another powerful left handed slugger is truly appealing.  Renting Prince Fielder for 2011 could be a win-win for the Toronto Blue Jays and I wonder if it has sparked any curiosity or interest within the Blue Jays brain trust and the wonder kid Alex Anthopoulos?

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The Jays would still need to address a longer term solution at third base (preferably not E5) although it doesn’t appear they have any real in-house candidates (Jose Bautista should remain in the outfield) and as much as I would love to see Adrian Beltre bring his magic glove and trusty bat (and strange quirk of killing any man who dares touch the top of his head!) the competition for his services will likely be fierce and I see the Boston Red Sox doing everything in their power to retain him.

The Toronto Blue Jays have come to terms with their 1st round selection Deck McGuire for a reported $2 million dollar signing bonus, MLB recommended a $1.863 million dollar bonus for the 11th-overall selection so again the Blue Jays paid “over slot” to get the signing consummated.  Blue Jays scouting director Andrew Tinnish used the first selection the Jays owned to draft the 6’6” right hander out of Georgia Tech who has been described by most prospect mavens as a safe-ish selection who has an advanced feel for pitching considering his age and could be a potential workhorse down the line with ‘solid command of his 4-pitch arsenal’. 

However as we have learned projecting the potential career path for a 6’6” righty (or any prospect) has never been an exact science and I think it is a great move that we got McGuire signed before the deadline passed.  Not every scout is sold on his potential and some see him as a number three starter at best, there was even some talk making the rounds that the Blue Jays would simply walk away from McGuire and take their chances in next year’s stronger 2011 draft class however I think in this case the Jays made the smart play as according to my math two is normally greater than one.

If the Jays were holding a top 5-7 pick and they could project with some confidence what player would potentially be available at their selection for next year’s draft they might have taken that road but the draft is supposed to be extremely deep so I think they went with a sound strategy to sign their top selection Deck McGuire and add him to the ever growing stable of quality young arms (you can never have too much pitching in baseball) and you never know what type of development you can expect or how long it will take for each different player to reach the major leagues, if at all.

Furthermore, while looking ahead to the 2011 Amateur draft they will still be picking somewhere in 20s next draft anyway and if it is as deep as most pundits have claimed they will likely not see much of a drop-off in quality (or any) sliding from #11 to #20+, especially with a lot of teams letting more quality prospects slide in favour of picking a player who is more ‘sign-able’, aka cheaper.  All in all the Blue Jays made the best decision for the franchise going forward, whether or not Deck McGuire ever makes a huge impact for the ballclub it is essential to restock your minor league system annually and this is something that has been sorely lacking for the Blue Jays under the JP Ricciardi regime. 

The Blue Jays spent a big but necessary sum of $5.4 million on deadline day to ensure they signed most of their top selections, “I would think strictly for the sheer number of picks in such high areas, that alone, even at standard signing bonuses for every single pick, we were going to reach new highs,” said Anthopoulos. “I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m fairly certain it would be a high-water mark for us.”

According to TSN the first firm offer to McGuire was tabled at around 10:30 p.m., and the sides worked from there, eventually settling at a bonus of $2 million. Griffin Murphy (2nd round) ended up with $800,000, Sam Dyson (4th round) $600,000 and Dickie Thon Jr. (5th round), who was seeking first round money to pass on a scholarship to Rice University, got it $1.5 million. Zak Adams (15th round) and Myles Jaye (17th round) each got $250,000.

“It was definitely right to the last minute,” said Anthopoulos. “Minute might be an understatement. This definitely is the latest we’ve ever gone in terms of a negotiation. Glad to have it done, and glad to have it behind us.”  The players were to be assigned within the organization Tuesday.

This is a huge development for a club that has for the most part obeyed MLB’s slot recommendations and while there is no ‘hard slot’ rule, the team hadn’t veered off that path too often in the past few years.   However to continue competing with the big boys of the AL East (Red Sox and Yankees routinely spend over slot to get top prospects) it is imperative they continue to place an emphasis on scouting and development with the overall focus squarely on the best talent and not just sign-ability.  This year the Blue Jays were able to sign 36 of their 56 picks and Alex Anthopoulos was given the green light to spend as much money as he deemed necessary and the Jays spent a record amount on this draft class.    

If this new draft strategy marks a permanent shift in organizational philosophy going forward I for one am excited for the future prospects (no pun intended) of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, today was a step in the right direction for the team.

The best I could find for McGuire:

A solid clip of our 2nd round pick Aaron Sanchez:

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On the surface the Toronto Blue Jays decision to move Roy Halladay when they did made perfect sense, aside from losing the best player to ever don the Jays uniform it was widely agreed upon that this was going to be a year of rebuilding and to get some tangible assets for Doc going forward was a no-brainer.  Like I mentioned in my piece about Jose Bautista at the trade deadline, the improvement (or arrival) of a team is not linear in the sense that you can almost never anticipate with any degree of certainty when a team has officially turned a corner, or arrived.

Playing in the AL East certainly makes that prediction or projection that much tougher and this piece isn’t meant to be a criticism for the Blue Jays trading Halladay but rather a look at a franchise that is clearly on the rise and what this season could have looked like if the Jays just hung on to their ace.  First, I think the Jays definitely made the right decision and I applaud the due diligence and determination of our rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos for leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit to get the best possible deal for our franchise pitcher, but today we will have a little hypothetical fun.

The Blue Jays by most respected baseball insiders got a solid package of talent when they acquired SP Kyle Drabek, C Travis D’Arnaud and Michael Taylor Brett Wallace CF Anthony Gose and I would have to agree with that consensus.  The lack of a dominating K-rate for Drabek is slightly disconcerting and I think his stock has dropped ever so slightly since the beginning of the season though the kid has pitched a no-hitter (who hasn’t this year?) and his minor league splits show a very solid ground-ball rate, maybe it is fair to say he is now rated to be a potential Matt Garza as opposed to Josh Beckett.

Again, the package we received was fair and D’Arnaud and Gose are both very intriguing young hitters with Gose having the potential to be a fairly high-impact defender in centre field, always a valuable commodity in today’s game.  This isn’t to dissect or discuss the Roy Halladay trade but to determine what type of season the Jays could have had with Halladay still on the team given that the three assets we received for him are not likely to make much (or any) impact to our team for this current season.

Roy Halladay continues to pitch like a man possessed as he is ranked #1 in terms of WAR accumulated this season on Fangraphs, are we (as Jays fans) surprised in the least that Roy is the best pitcher in the game?                                                

Halladay IPs ERA xFIP K/BB BB/9 WHIP WAR
2010 193 2.24 2.82 7.9 1.03 1.01 6.3
MLB Rank 1st 3rd 1st 2nd 2nd 5th 1st

 

Pretty much par for the course for our beloved Halladay but the category we will focus on for this piece will be WAR, where Halladay is currently ranked at the top of the league (in the year of the pitcher part deux) with a very impressive 6.3 mark currently.  WAR of course stands for ‘Wins above replacement’ so the number of wins that said player contributes over and above a replacement level player (think Vicente Padilla) it is a great way to see how much value he would truly add (well, close enough anyway) without giving ridiculous claims of 18-20 wins because Roy even on his off days helps us pitch complete games. 

Toronto’s record currently sits at 62-55 which is impressive considering the league and more specifically the division we play in, take away our 12-0 record vs. Baltimore and our record vs. AL East is a paltry 12-24.  I think Roy Halladay could have helped us some in that regard given his strong track record against even the toughest AL East foes.  Our starting rotation for most of the season has consisted of the impressive quartet of:

2010 Age IPs GS W-L ERA xFIP
Romero 25 160.0 24 10-7 3.43 3.64
Marcum 28 135.0 22 10-6 3.87 3.95
Morrow 25 127.1 22 9-6 4.45 3.68
Cecil 23 125 20 9-6 3.96 4.14

 

Hard to complain about that group so far this year and the worst ERA of the bunch Brandon Morrow actually has some of the best stuff and peripherals on the staff and definitely possesses a bright future for the team.  However, all season the weakness of the Blue Jays staff has of course been the fifth starter spot, where Jesse Litsch and Dana Eveland have provided little to no value, or better yet ‘replacement’ level pitching.  Ahh, maybe you see where this is heading.

2010 Age IPs GS W-L ERA xFIP
Litsch 25 46.2 9 1-5 5.79 5.46
Eveland 26 44.2 9 3-4 6.45 5.69
Totals – – – 90.4 18 4-9* 6.17 – – –

*Eveland inexplicably had 3 wins while posting a 6.45 ERA so the record should be even more ghastly for the fifth starter spot all things considered.

Roy Halladay has made 25 starts this season and has been worth 6.3 wins above replacement level so for the fun of this exercise we will kindly and optimistically round up to 7.0 (we’ll call it a few extra points for saving the bullpen extra mileage) and we will adjust the Jays record to 69-48, 4 games up on the Red Sox and only 2 games out of a playoff spot, saying Roy Halladay adding 7 wins to the bottom line is not ridiculous, it might even be the low end.

This is of course a rather elementary way of making an adjustment to the Jays overall record as there are a million different factors in play here including who did these 7 wins affect in terms of opponent which potentially could add additional losses to the top teams in our division but it does give you a solid grasp of the knowledge that the Blue Jays with Roy Halladay are most definitely a serious playoff contender.  You could also assume that the Jays would have been buyers, maybe even extremely active buyers at the deadline to shore up any weak spots and add depth for a stretch run further solidifying the roster.

This was all hypothetical (and fun) but it does beg the question: Were the Jays with Halladay a stronger team/contender than the Phillies with Halladay this season?  Perhaps the Jays should have just let Halladay play out his contract year at the risk of losing him for valuable compensatory draft picks at season’s end, though a part of me thinks he likely would have been excited and rejuvenated by the success and buzz the franchise has produced in 2010 thus far.  Another could argue on the other hand if the Phillies would have kept Cliff Lee and still added Roy Halladay that they might have had the greatest 1-2 combo in the history of baseball.

But this is all highly speculative.