Monday, 18 May 2015

Brainstorming solutions

[Update: some of the assumptions below have been altered somewhat by the Blue Jays decision to bump their rotation back a day. I trust my readers - both of you - to be able to  sort through those implications. Damned if I'm going to edit the thing. I will, however note that if they are going to take this step to rest the starters, it's markedly less likely the use the upcoming off days to juggle in the manner about which I speculated if it means costing too many of them the extra rest]

I'm still remaining calm, but I admit to being a bit morose. I suppose it's too much to hope for to be a powerhouse over the course of a season when you're just hoping for your first October in over two decades, but constant mediocrity grinds you down in a way that just being obviously awful wouldn't. And despite having lost 15 of their last 22, this isn't a BAD team. If it occurs to you at some point that I'll sound like Wilner in my position on this team, that's understandable because on this question, I think he's right.

So what's wrong with it? Let's narrow the possibilities. As of this writing the Blue Jays are still the most prolific offensive team in the game. They are the first and so far only team in the majors to 200 runs, and only one AL team is even close. This despite getting no offense at all form SS, little from CF, and playing two AAAA place holders in the outfield (albeit both contributing a lot with the bat). Asking the team to improve by scoring even more runs isn't rational, nor is quibbling about the timing of said runs (i.e. only scoring 2 today to name just one case). It is true that the team potentially gets better still on offense when everyone is where they were intended to be. But adding in Reyes, Saunders, and whoever is playing 1B today isn't necessarily going to be a ton better than Colabello, Carrera and the hapless Goins have been collectively. They just have a more reliable track record.

So then if it's not the offense then what? Fielding? let's don't be silly. Donaldson, Goins, and Travis make up an excellent infield (EE isn't an embarrassment) and Pillar is a well known magician. Martin I don't even have to defend. Colabello is a liability but we're not five games under because of LF defense.

That leaves pitching. The much disrespected bullpen? Not really. There have been some ugly moments, to be sure, however by most measures they compare well (4th in the AL in K/9 for example, 7th in OOPS, OOBP, and WHIP). Not lights out or anything, but serviceable enough  Speaking in particular of the guys currently on the team, there's really only one issue - Jeff Francis. I think we're all mystified how he's still on the team. Loup? Nah. Six of his nine runs allowed came three apiece in two outings, with five weeks between them. He's fine.
ETA: As I was writing this, Francis was thankfully DFA'd and Todd Redmond was recalled. Redmond was good enough in 2014 to make me slow to read too much into his 4.1 innings in 2015. We'll see how it goes. 

It's not a Hitchcockian twist that I have arrived where you knew i was going all along. The rotation.

Drew Hutchison - 6.17 ERA
Hutch has the worst ERA of the current five, but he's been fine in his last two starts (3 ER over 11 IP) other than the need to economize his pitches and go deeper. My brainstorm which inspired this post was the idea of demoting him but you can't really do that coming off two good starts.

Mark Buehrle - 5.36 ERA
Practically speaking, you can't do anything with Buehrle anyway. If he's not part of the solution then there is no solution. Beyond that, almost 1/3 of his runs allowed came in one of his eight starts. Take away that one start and his ERA otherwise is 4.22 which is not good enough but it's major. Take that one and the one immediately prior to it and we're down to 3.65 which is slightly better than his career ERA. We're going to have to hope that starts #4 and 5 were just a horrible blip and that he'll be fine from now on. It's not an irrational hope at all but our collective nerves are jumpy, right?

Aaron Sanchez - 4.26 ERA
Channeling Wilner again on this point - we can't fairly say what Sanchez's baseline is. We know he has the stuff to get far better, but we have no idea when or if he turns it on. Someone pointed out on Twitter the other night the example of Chris Archer. Archer is a monster now, at the age of 26 and has been well above average for three years with a BB/9 of 3.1 as a major leaguer, yet from 2008 through 2011, at A and AA, his collective BB/9 was 5.25 and ranged as high as 6.6 so great talent can overcome control issues. Not to say it always does. His last start was his worst, and it can't be ruled out to give him the Norris Maneuver and see how it goes - particularly if he's still inconsistent when Norris is ready to return. Still, they'll likely give him at least two more starts before deciding anything. His third turn out falls on an off day so that wold be a natural point to maybe make a move.

Marco Estrada - 5.52 ERA (as starter)
Has gotten better results start to start but if he can't economize and get beyond the 5th inning, he's not going to have the job long. It's not a matter of being stretched out, he's thrown almost 100 pitches in the last two outings and still only went five. With a rotation otherwise struggling and a bullpen that's soft towards the back, you can't have that. He's got two more turns before the Jays come to a 15 day stretch with three off days. If he doesn't step up in that time I expect some rotation changes while they have some flexibility.

RA Dickey - 5.76 ERA
I was worried about Dickey before the season started, and was saying that I didn't think his option would be - or should be - picked up. But I didn't see this coming. Still, if I make an effort to parse things out and be fair, I could argue that five of his first six games were fine - 3.15 ERA n those five games and a not insane 4.38 with the bad one. But the last two have been hideous. You have to hope it's a blip - remember Buehrle had two awful games and recovered - because this team is NOT going to be quick to do something different with him for the very reason that the knuckleball is a recipe for inconsistency. If he, and the team, don't feel he's gotten it together in two more starts, they have the opportunity to do some jugging with the off days in order to let him skip a start, but it's kind of a tricky thing because there'd be a start that, well, let e show you.

As it stands, the rotation from May 24 goes like this:
Hutch > RAD > Estrada > Buehrle > off > Sanchez > Hutch > RAD > Estrada > Buehrle > Sanchez >off

Now what you can do is flip RAD and Hutch, giving the latter a 7th day start (he pitches much better on long rest) while RA goes on his normal rest but also lines up his next turn with an off day. Cool except - if he pitches well in that start do you still want to skip the turn? Me, I'd flip them anyway just to have the option - but the Blue Jays haven't been known for such maneuvering. And of course, there might be other ways you'd prefer to use the off day - say to line Estrada''s turn up with the guy you anticipate replacing him with. Still, all you can do with Dickey in the most radical extreme is let him pitch in long relief and i don't think that they would anticipate that as the best role for recapturing some measure of consistency.

What? You thought I'd have answers?
My long-distance judgement is that Hutch is likely to be fine going forward, as is Buehrle, and that you're stuck with Dickey. If I'm wrong about Hutch, and if he really looks bad for, say, three consecutive starts, he does in fact have an option.
Sanchez? I don't think they will let him go all year walking this many. How much rope he gets may well depend on internal evaluations of progress that we won't be told about unless he's optioned. It's maybe 40/60 he's given a visit to Buffalo before the end of the month (here i disagree with Wilner, I don't think they just punt him to the bullpen. There's some short term gain there but if you want him to eventually be a top-shelf starter you have to resist that.
Estrada? Yeah, unless he pulls out a 7 inning start with good stats, he's got two more turns - three at most to try. Because the options made be as good at it as he is and quite possibly better.

Options? Yeah, here's the top of that list:

Daniel Norris - only the internal observations can really tell us if he's making the progress in Buffalo that they are looking for. The BB/9 ratio is virtually identical, the K's are up a tick, the contact down some - but this is AAA after all. His longest outing, 6.1 IP on 103 pitches. Slightly better than Estrada on efficiency, likely to get better results. but ENOUGH better to justify recalling Norris if you aren't satisfied he's in the groove? I'm not sure. One factor, if you aren't down for 20 days you don't use up an option - he has three days left on that clock, if he's still in Buffalo on Thursday it cold be a while.
On the other hand, we're gaining an extra year of control in 2021 so that's fun!

Randy Wolf - Yes, he's owning the IL right now. He ran off a string of 22 scoreless innings, and he's given up more than 1 earned run (3) in only one of his 7 starts. He's hot. He's also not really this good. He's a 38 year old soft-tosser who's using a lot of guile and a little stuff. He could be the equivalent of Francis against big league hitters (which is exactly what he's been since 2011). Still and all, he has a June 1 opt out and if Estrada (or Sanchez) doesn't firm up their grip before the next off day the Blue Jays will have to at least consider seeing if he can give them a band-aid that will at least buy the kids some more time. Let's say for the sake of argument Sanchez holds on and Estrada doesn't.  If you plug Wolf into Estrada's turn and push it back every time an off day allows you to, then three starts (enough to draw some conclusions) would string it out until June 21 before you had to make a call on Norris or some other kid. He's on the same rotation day as Estrada, FWIW.

Felix Doubront - Has made only one appearance for Buffalo, but coincidentally his third turn out from now aligns with Sanchez's day to pitch (if they don't skip him on the off day). He enjoys the advantage over Wolf of being 11 years younger, but his one good year (at 25) was just slightly below average, so unless they see something the stats don't sow he's no savior. He's probably better than Albers and definitely better than Francis but otherwise - who the hell knows?

Scott Copeland - At 27 (same as Doubront) he's sort of an org-guy clawing his way onto the radar. He's a ground-ball machine who really impressed them in the Spring and he's already been up once. Don't expect a miracle, but like Wolf, he might be a guy who could buy them 4-6 weeks to see if the kids are going to pull things together.  give Sanchez 4 more kicks at the can and Copeland's turn lines up with his for the fifth turn out, on June 9.

Matt Boyd - a 24 year old LH college kid who's owning the EL on the AA level and really probably is gonna need to be challenged. He's a bit of a fly ball pitcher but he gets a lot of K's and gives up - at least at this level - not many baserunners. As long as the Jays are hoarding veterans (Wolf, Doubront, Albers) at AAA there's not a lot of room for him there (if we count Castro's developmental turns, they actually have six starters their now) and if they think he can handle the jump i wouldn't be at all surprised to see Boyd make the jump to the majors in the right spot - though I'd be mildly surprised if it was more than just a patch-over 2-3 start thing. If Wolf opts out at the end of the month, Boyd will surely be promoted. He's another guy, by the way, who projects to start in close parallel to Sanchez's start days (outside the vaguries caused by off-days).

In summation, while I'm not down on Estrada if he's the fifth guy based on his career, I'm not sure he's a good fit for a sometimes struggling group and see nothing lost if any of these guys get a trial in that turn (other than not wanting  Norris to be yoyo'ed). They may or may not be better, but it might save your 'pen a bit at least. As for Sanchez, we simply can't know without internal info what they are thinking with him. I suspect that if at least three of the others get in a reliable quality groove they will give him a lot of rope, but if Dickey continues to flounder, Estrada stays short, and/or one of the others goes backwards then Sanchez may become the change to make just out of an urge to do SOMETHING.  The old-timers in his spot would be a come down, as the potential for a dominant start pretty much disappears, but I'd as soon see either of those young lefties in his spot as see him remain.

None of this, by the way, should be read as me giving up on either Hutch, Sanchez, or Norris. I love dreaming on the future with those three along with Stroman, Hoffman, and Osuna and consider these growing pains part of the process. But sadly, they are backed into a win-now corner so a balance has to be struck.


Thursday, 7 May 2015

Monthly Prospect Progress and Stuff: 1 of 5

I'm kind of feeling unnecessary again. In the Jays' blogosphere there's so very much good work being done by those well equipped to address virtually any angle that there's really almost no room for some little long distance casual blogger like myself to contribute anything more than an occasionally interesting (I hope!) opinion. Does anyone read sports blogs for opinions, really? They're looking for actual facts and information they didn't already have - and they all pretty much follow the same sources I do, the ones who don't have some sort of inside contact in the organization and know more on any given day that I do.

I could list off a dozen blogs that any half-interested Blue Jays fan really ought to be following religiously. But I can't honestly say mine would be one of those. No sooner than I thought I'd found a niche doing weekly updates than i realized some 3 or more other bloggers were doing it as well, and generally better (either via deeper analysis or better connections). I'm probably not going to bother with that anymore.

Still, in previous seasons (last year's unfortunate events notwithstanding) I'd done updates at the end, roughly, of each month of the minor league season. I need to be plugging away at SOME thing or their won't be enough content here to make it worthwhile to post at all so I'll see how this works. I had previously done these reports more in relation to player status and performance than by team (be honest, do you REALLY care who's in first place in the Midwest League on May 1? if you're not a fan of the Midwest league team first - no you don't, and maybe not even then) and I'll continue that pattern, but slightly modified in that I'll format it a bit more toward the Top Prospect list.

What follows then will reflect a consensus prospect list which results from combining the rankings by myself and nine other bloggers (technically more than nine since it uses the Batters Box list which is itself a compilation of the minor league contributes there). The list tracks fairly closely to a consensus list of nine leading professional sources (BA, BP, Kieth Law, John Sickels and others)  - each list has the same 10 players in the top 10, although in slightly different order from 5-10 - but four of the pro lists only go to 10, while every blogger went to at least 20 (and most to 30 or beyond. This allows me to get a consensus list 20 deep, and I'll also look at other players of note at the end, particularly guys who might end up in the Top 20 by years end. As per the old format, they are divided into pitchers and hitters.

Pitchers

1. Dan Norris  / LH / Buffalo - Given his work to this point has been in the majors, you know the deal. Beat reporters have noted that the team thinks the issue is mostly mental (i.e. struggling with shaking off a bit of adversity, and/or trying to be too perfect) and over-dependence on the fastball.

2. Aaron Sanchez  / RH / Toronto - Tantalizing and frustrating for reasons I'm sure you've noted. 

4. Jeff Hoffman / RH /  (extended) - drawing rave reviews before he even gets into game action, he's probably less than two weeks away from being assigned (my money is on Dunedin) and the talk suggests he's rise as fast as his production dictates ala Graveman, Norris, etc last year. Legit possibility the jays see him in September but one must be careful about assuming too much.

5. Roberto Osuna  / RH / Toronto - so far so good. A busy reliever's standard workload is just about right as he builds up his IP, the real question is whether they trap him in relief or let him spend part of a year back on the farm in 2016 adding to those 80 or so innings so that he's an option for the rotation if the need arises. I never heard anyone say he projected as a reliever anyway until late spring so I wonder if that's a bit revisionist.

6. Miguel Castro  / RH / Toronto Buffalo - Conversely, I have little problem envisioning Castro on track to be the closer long term rather than being re-tracked into a starting role next year. I'm not sure I can explain completely why I view the two so differently. But basically, Castro was the guy with the devastating fastball while needing  lot of work on secondary offerings - one upgrade, to the change, turned him into a guy with two above average pitches but no one really describes the others as  ready (though the slider gets some buzz). OTOH, Osuna was described as a guy with an arsenal and the pitchability of one much older back when he was 15. But given the depth of young stud pitchers, it's not a bad thing at all if he ends up closing. All that said, I don't figure anyone is stunned to see an A-ball guy take a minute or two to adapt to being in the majors. I would worry over much about the demotion.

10. Sean Reid-Foley  / RH / Lansing - If one could overlook the wildness, they'd find his line astonishing. For someone who was still in his last days of high school a year ago and already in A Ball, you have to like it.

 13. Matt Smoral / LH(extended) - Shi Davidi helpfully provided some insight here into the as-yet-unassigned pitching and Smoral was one mentioned. Most of us amateurs were puzzled he didn't break with a full-season squad but the dirt here is that he had a minor injury they chose to be cautious with. Now that he's getting read to get into real games, there's a bit of a crowding issue. This applies to others on the list as well so let me g on a bit of a tangent here.

The current Lansing starting staff has six guys, four of who appear elsewhere in this post. In Dunedin there's less crowding and three veteran free agent organization filler guys (Allen, Santos, and Smith) on hand. Hoffman figures to kick one of those guys aside and logically, one or two of the Lansing guys ought to be on the verge of doing the same to the other two. One would assume that when this happens, there'll be room for Smoral in Lansing.

14. Jario Labourt  / LH / Dunedin - Last year he was aggressively placed to Lansing, he was a mess and after a mere 14 IP (in which he walked 20!) he was dropped back to extended before being assigned to Vancouver where he pitched great (albeit still wit more walks than ideal, but that's not shocking for younger guys). He earned an assignment to Dunedin this spring, skipping the cold of Lansing, but it hasn't been all sunshine anyway. He went great start awful start, great then awful again. Now he's on the 7-Day DL.(That's what happens when you write a post a week before you plan to publish it)

18. Alberto Tirado / RH /  Dunedin - Same as above, he started 2014 in Lansing along with Labourt, and was awful - walking almost a batter an inning until they pulled the plug after 40 IP and sent him down to Vancouver, where he improved somewhat but still walked too many initially. He never made it back to Lansing but showed enough this spring for another aggressive promotion (albeit this time as a reliever) to Dunedin. In the early going, he's not stumbled this time. Davidi quotes Jays' Farm Director Tony LaCava in reporting Tirado may eventually be tried as a starter again, but needed to have some success.

19. Ryan Borucki / LH /  (extended) - Disabled after an elbow clean-up, there's no fresh news which implies he's not on the mound yet.

Beyond the Top 20, in order of how I ranked them:

Jesus Tinoco / RH  / (extended) - Pitched well enough in extended that when Lansing needed an arm for the duble-header the found themselves in this week, he got the promotion. He wasn't immediately sent back out after so maybe they are going to give him an extended look.
Case DeJong  / LH / Lansing - Re-bounding nicely from last year's struggles, should be on the countdown to make the move to Dunedin soon (as discussed above). Of course, I'm only looking at the stat line as with many of my comments.
Clint Hollon  / RH  / (extended) - When/if DeJong (or someone else - see below) moves up, Smoral is in line to replace him - this guy, an almost forgotten by many 2nd round choice,  would then be next in line, although it's possible that he'll be held back long enough to get a taste of Canada in Vancouver (something Alex talked about a few weeks ago as something the team would factor in when making assignments) 
Matt Boyd  / LH / New Hampshire -  Dominating so far, LaCava told Davidi he still needed work on his secondary pitches. Still, a lot of observers feel like that he might be a guy who could push his way into a late-season bullpen appearance. If he can overcome the logjam of relievers the Jays have stockpiled in AAA of course. Which is not to say they will not continue to view him as a starter for as long as possible. Also could be one of the more attractive trade candidates.
Adonys Cardona / RH /  (extended) -recovering from yet another injury that shortened 2014, LaCava reports he's hitting as high as 97 again. To try and keep him healthy, he'll work from the bullpen as what LaCava called a "priority reliever" which I take to me, he'll get his innings on a regular schedule regardless of situation, and then they will re-evaluate his future as a starter f he stays out there all year. Should be activated by Lansing soon.

Others to watch:
Shane Dawson  / LH / Lansing - Soft-tosser is fooling everyone and needs to be challenged with a promotion which one would think would be coming quite soon, P
Conner Greene  /  RH / Lansing - 2013 draftee (7th round), just past his 20th birthday, posting tasty ratios in the early going which bodes well for continued success.
John Anderson / LH / New Hampshire -The Dustin McGowan of the Jays minor leagues, he has good enough stuff for them to stick with him, but enough injuries to make everything uncertain. He's accumulated less than 300 IP in the system since 2008. LaCava says he has "probably the best stuff" on the AA team but he just needs consistent work. Given the org depth among SP, that window of opportunity may have closed for him but a power lefty in the 'pen is a valuable thing if that's where he lands.

Reliever-polooza:
In no particular order, other than being grouped by level, the following guys have rocked it so far - minor league relieving being what it is, who can say which of these might offer major league results at some point. (Not nitpicking here about what constitutes actual "prospect")
Buffalo - Colt Hynes, Ryan Tepera, Rob Rasmussen, Preston Gulmet, Bo Schultz (apart from one bad inning from Luis Perez, the whole 'pen here really)
New Hampshire - Matt West, Danny Barnes, Blake McFarland, Dustin Antolin, Tiago Da Silva (just promoted)
Dunedin - Will Browning, Chad Giordo, Jimmy Cordero


Hitters

3. Dalton Pompey / CF /  Buffalo -  You know at least as much as I, there hasn't yet been any in-depth reporting on the demotion but one might suppose that this is one of those "how will you react to failure?" moments that high-character payers will come back from just fine.

7. Max Pentacost / C /  (extended) - Technically listed on the Dunedin roster, and on the 7 day DL, but the originally mentioned recovery times dovetails nicely with the beginning of the short-season teams' season, and I'm inclined to think the Jays might give him a little run through the Northwest League before moving him back to A ball.

8. Devon Travis / 2B /  Toronto - Really nothing to say here, right?

9. Richard Urena / SS /  Lansing -needs to start getting that K rate down but for a Dominican playing in the cold for the first time, some grace is warranted. Not enough data yet.

11. Mitch Nay / 3B / Dunedin - LaCava explains they've made adjustments to Nay to see if he can pull the ball more to capitalize his in-game power (most think he has significant power potential but it doesn't manifest in games, the team thinks, because he tends to hit to the middle of the field. As such, you can't make too much of his stats so far.

12. Dwight Smith, Jr. / LF / New Hampshire - If he had more power, or speed, or glove, he'd get a lot more notice. For me, he's still a "tweener" who lacks a clear major league path, but he can hit ad draw walks and that's not nothing. Might be helpful in a trade to a less ambitious team.

15. Anthony Alford / CF / Lansing - Has done nothing to dim the high praise he's now getting from all quarters. It's not a crazy claim to suggest he's already the best position player prospect the Jays have.  Still, it's early and adjustments - and counter adjustments - are yet in the future.

16. Rowdy Tellez / 1B / Lansing -.899 OPS since April 15, like Urena, too many K's but pretty easy to overlook if he's producing. Put it down as a goal, more than a concern.

17. Dawel Lugo / SS / Dunedin - he's just 20 and at A+ which buys some grace, but I seriously worry whether he'll ever hit and the stat line does nothing to convince me I'm wrong so far. LaCava says they are happy with him though so...shrug?

20 AJ Jimenez / C / Buffalo - Just promoted after spending some time in AA when he came off the DL (presumably because Thole being in Buffalo would have regulated one of them to the bench). He's done nothing in 2015 and he's in danger of losing what tiny sliver of prospect status he has left unless he has a pretty remarkable rest-of-the-season.

Beyond the Top 20 (as I ranked them):
Lane Thomas / IF-OF / (extended) - It's not that they don't list him as a 2B, it's that he's so good they can't decide where his bat plays best. He probably doesn't have the pop traditionally associated with 3B, so it's here or CF and it's probably easier to move out later if needed than in.
Matt Dean / 1B / Dunedin - Some occasional homers can't disguise the horrid BB/K ratio. That would take massive power he hasn't shown. Averaging a strikeout per game at 22 without it tends to kill your prospect status.
DJ Davis / CF / Lansing -Really seemed to have figured things out for a secnd, then hit a 1 for 17 over 5 games that suppressed his rates. You know how early season slumps can kill a player's line. Bears watching.
Dan Jansen / C - Lansing -It's like most of the Lansing squad wasn't ready for Michigan in early April and took the first week off. Jansen was 0 for 14 in his first five games. Unlike some of the other slow starters, he hasn't gotten untracked yet. Time will tell if the progression was too aggressive or if he finds a way to get his swing going.

Others to watch:
Andy Burns / IF / Buffalo - More "sleeper" than prospect by the most generous of estimates. But his some versatility and maybe enough bat to cling to the end of a major league bench. Maybe. Probably not but...maybe.
Christan Lopes / 2B / New Hampshire - very well regarded when drafted, Lopes has mastered the art of mediocre as a pro. He seemed to show some significant breakout potential in winter ball down under but it was more of "pretty okay" for Dunedin in April. Still, maybe the Jays see something - he was just promoted to NH - or maybe it was just the best they could do when the AA squad found themselves short-handed.
 Roemon Fields - / CF / Dunedin - first (almost) week was a disaster - a .167 OPS in the first six games - but since April 15 his OPS is .760 which, given his inexperience, is pretty okay.
Dicke Joe Thon / IF-OF / Dunedin - Kicked ass at Lansing - but was some 2 years (at least) two old for the league, off to a slow start in five games in Dunedin but I'm sucker enough for the feel-good story that I'll give him a minute.
Ryan McBroom / 1B / Lansing -He's a 1B, DHing only because Tellez is on the same team. He's hitting well, and he's 3 years older than Tellez so obviously much impacted by that in terms of prospect status.


In the future, I'll address actual news, good and bad, and not include guys just because they were on a pre-season list.




Monday, 27 April 2015

Highs and Lows - 3 Weeks In

Sweep Orioles? Yay!
Get swept by Rays? Awww.

In fairness, the Jays have won one series in Tampa in . . . ever? . . . s losing at least two of these, particularly when Archer was in the mix, isn't crazy - but letting the Saturday night game slip away was a huge downer. That said, I still contend it's very foolish to get all bent out of shape about the bullpen. Stuff happens. To everyone. I remain calm, it's just too early. So - system review time!

Toronto
Pitching wise, you have to be encouraged by Hutch and Norris but there's a ton of inconsistency in he staff as a whole. As much as I'd love to think that those two, at least, have found their happy place, I'd just as much like to hope Castro's last couple are only a blip but I have no objective argument to prove it's not the reverse.
Offensively you still have to be pretty happy about where they are with only half (less than, really, since he's benched the busier half of his personal platoon) of Reyes, and only one of the expected key bats raking (along with one gigantic surprise - Travis - and one mild one - Smoak).

Buffalo
The Bisons remain En Fuego - before Sunday's loss they were on an 11-1 run. The offense has caught up, nearly, with the pitching, with a team OPS good at .721 for 3rd in the league (.729 leads) though with such a veteran roster that should be expected. Chris Colabello has taken over the team lead in OPS with his league leading 5 home runs but Matt Hague remains right there with him.  Nothing to say about the pitchers except more of the same excellence.

New Hampshire
You may remember my praise of the bullpen last week, Matt West and Luis Perez still haven't surrendered a run and the next three best relievers have given up four, collectively, in 25.1 IP - the line for all five reads: 42.2 - 31 - 4 - 18 - 54. Matt Boyd finally saw his ERA budge off zero but it was my no means an ugly affair. On the offensive side, apart from noting that DSJ continues to perform well, i have to mention KC Hobson. He's blocked about 4 different ways at AAA, and he's been around this circuit too long (having been promoted mid-2013) but he's having his best season yet in the early going. It's unwise to assume so much from such a sample but even if he kept this up there'd still be a lot of questions.

Dunedin
At the start of play on April 18, Roemon Fields sported a BA of only .167 and an OPS of .461 - since then he's gone 15 for 31 and has a 1.110 OPS. Better keep your eye on him. Christian Lopes is also 7 for his last 17. Dawel Logo is 6 for 19, and Matt Dean is also clawing back from an awful start. On the pitching side, reliever Jimmy Cordero is hitting as high as 102 on the guns and so far fooling everyone. Prospect Alberto Tirado is doing solid work, while Jario Labourt seems to be getting in touch with his inner Aaron Sanchez, mixing dominating stuff with a shaky feel for the strike zone.

Lansing
Where to start with this bunch? After 5 games Anthony "The Legend of" Alford is OPSing .917 and seemingly leading the team in stories told about. Dicke Thon (again, too old for the Midwest) is demanding promotion (.945). DJ Davis is bidding to be taken seriously again (OPS of .842). First Baseman/DH Ryan McBroom (whom broadcaster Jessie Goldberg-Strassler reports is very much on the radar of organizational power brokers as a guy with legit major league potential at the plate) is trying to elbow his way out of Rowdy Tellez's considerable shadow. Oh, and Danny Jansen seems to have shaken off his 0 for 14 start. On the mound, ultra-soft tosser Shane Dawson is fooling everyone, but it's uncertain how that will play as he moves up. College draftee Justin Schafer has looked good and Chase DeJong has done nothing to dim his luster.


It's not impossible that I find motivation to post more than once a week.  Sometime. It could happen.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Keeping Calm - 2 Weeks In

So it's been over a week without a post but I wasn't really comfortable with the "Random Notes" model, not that I might not use it again, and I see no point in just being one more voice in the throng just repeating every news item as it pops up. I'd rather try to provide at least a little original content.

That said, two weeks in it's reasonable to take stock through the system and see what things look like.

Toronto
A lot of nervousness going on but, as Stoeten might say, simmer the fuck down. The Blue Jays lead the major leagues in scoring, and that with Bautista, Encarnacion, and Martin well below any reasonable expectation for output and only Devon Travis (among the starters) possibly a bit higher than you might have guessed (though he's changing a lot of minds in the early going). That should be cause for some excitement on that side of the ball. Plus, today's throwing error notwithstanding, the defense has gotten a lot of praise.

The pitching is another story, but there's some complexity there too. The team ERA is 14th in he league at 4.54 but take away Todd Redmond and it's 4.03 good for 7th in the league. Under the same selective calculation, the bullpen ERA - which is 4.14 and 12th in the AL would, without Redmond, turns into 2.68 which would be 4th in the AL.  I'm not saying such a calculation is exactly fair but it's key here because Redmond is gone (and may well be claimed, but even if he's not being off the 40 means he won't be at the front of the line to come back. It's also been suggested he may have the right to declare free agency rather than accept the assignment.

Of course, this doesn't help the rotation results so far. Buhrlie and Dickey have done what they do (albeit RA has to be concerned about those walks) and Norris, despite not having the life on his pitches he wants (he said after the game today that he's going through a "dead arm phase") but even so, until today he had numbers that, extrapolated to a whole season, would be a fine rookie season. But you really want Hutchison to step up to the expectations soon and everyone is watching Sanchez.

But still, one Tweeter (who's name I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look up) inspired me to look up his claim and elaborate. There was another Blue Jays team that started off slow. The were 7-6 after the games of April 20 and they would go on to be 11-12 over the next (almost) month and sat at 18-18 on May 15. By the way - that team went on to win the World Series in 1993.

Also - Gibby said post game that he "Hopes and thinks" that Reyes and Travis will both play Tuesday, and barring a further setback Michael Saunders should return in the next week sometime. So there's that.

Buffalo
The Bisons are riding a six game winning streak and the veteran roster is doing mostly what you'd expect. The pitching has been uniformly excellent apart from one Jenkins start and Scott "Groundball Machine" Copeland apparently has caught the eye of management. The pitching staff sports a collective ERA of 2.01, and that's how you run off a winning streak. The offense hasn't been as impressive, noticeably Caleg Gindl has cooled a bunch from his hot spring. But Andy Burns was promoted when Goins left for the majors and was 4/4 in hi first AAA game. He's now about the only semi-prospect among the position players on this otherwise veteran team.

New Hampshire
Here the story is really mostly about the two prospects on the team (recovering AJ Jimenez notwithstanding) and the unheralded residents of the bullpen. On offense, the one everyone is watching is Dwight Smith, Jr. Despite reports the Blue Jays had designs on trying him at 2B, he's played left exclusively in this young season - possibly because of the continued presence of Jon Berti, or possibly to avoid magnifying the pressure that comes with the leap to AA - but his hitting hasn't suffered. Prospect status aside (he was well regarded when drafted but hasn't impressed since) 1B KC Hobson is off to a nice start.
On the mound, LH starter Matt Boyd seems to have shaken off the hiccups he experienced in AA last season. He's pitched 9.1 innings in two starts so far and struck out 18 batters. Falling in the mid-low 20's on most prospect lists (notably, John Sickels had him at #16) Boyd will force some re-ordering if he keep this up. The rest of the AA rotation has been more shaky. The bullpen on the other hand has been lights out. Except for Corey Burns. He's given up 6 ER in 7.2 IP, the rest have allowed but 4 in a combined 44.1 IP - that works out to a bullpen ERA of 1.73 with Burns and 0.81 without. Among the featured players are waiver claim and sleeper prospect Matt West, old friend Luis Perez, and finally healthy Danny Barnes along with AFL surprise Blake McFarland. Arguably each of these men really ought to be at AAA and if they keep it up some tough decisions will have to be made.

Dunedin
The story here is much the same. The .500 (pending the results of today's rain-delayed tie game) team features uncertain hitting and praise-worthy pitching. It is a team, however, with more prospects to watch. Every position in the infield features a player who's been highly touted at some point (being perhaps too generous to Christian Lopes) - none of them are particularly disappointing or impressive in the early going. Among pitchers, Jario Labourt and Alberto Tirado are the two that bring the press clippings with them. Probably the observation most worth making is that Tirado, who's had some control issues, has only one walk against eight strikeouts so far.

Lansing
The 8-3 Lugnuts are also the beneficiaries of a lot of excellent pitching. Other than one stumble by Conner Greene, it's hard to find a fault, and Chase DeJong along  with unheralded Starlyn Suriel are already pushing for their ticket back to Florida. Prize draft pick Sean Reid-Foley, only 19 this season, hasn't been dinged yet in two starts but has been a little more wild than ideal. At the plate, the player that has stood out from the rest is one-time prospect Dicke Joe Thon who's off to a blistering start with a 1.159 OPS. It would be a great feel-good story if he put himself back on the map, but he's 23 and taking his second go at Lo-A ball (at least one if not two levels lower than a real prospect his age ought to be) so he's got a lot of work to do.
The potential big bopper on this team is Rowdy Tellez who was 0-7 in his first two games but has heated up nicely, witness his .825 OPS in the nine games since (in which he's been on base in all but one of them). On the other hand, he's striking out at an alarming rate. DJ Davis is also off to an encouraging start, having reached base in every game before today's 0 for 4 effort.

So there ya go, if I know it now you know it.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Random notes...

...many of which you've already heard about or figured out for yourself.

Item: Winning a series a Yankee stadium is always the most important news of the day

Item: Castro is the closer, and that may possibly be true for years to come

Item: Max Pentacost has been assigned to Dunedin. This may have to do with his recuperation from surgery, or may be where he's going to play when he's healthy.

Item: Jeff Hoffman tweets he's got a two inning start in extended tomorrow. The reports on him have been a bit nuts, and he may make an appearance in Toronto by the end of 2016 if all goes well.

Item: Michale Saunders made his first rehap start tonight, but reports are he won't be ready for the home opener.

Item: Mitch Nay Matt Dean, and Dewal Lugo homered for the D-Jays tonight.

Item: I got no more items, but I wanted to at least notice these.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Observations on Minor League Rosters

Let me not miss the opportunity to extend two thumbs WAY up to the major league squad for their impressive Opening Day win before I wax verbose about minor leaguers. Castro, Travis, Pompey and Pillar certainly scoffed at the whole "pressure of Yankee Stadium on Opening Day" thing, eh?

So the format here is just to take a quick look at each of the rosters announced today and just do a stream of conscienceless reaction to each. Keep in mind that they might stil change before these teams play their first games later in the week.
 (most of the starting fielders are obvious but sometimes I'm guessing)

Buffalo Bisons-
SP: Randy Wolf, Jeff Francis, Chad Jenkins, Andrew Albers, Scott Copeland
RP: Steve Delebar, Rob Rasmussen, Ryan Tepera, Bo Schultz, Preston Gulimet, Scott Barnes, Greg Infante, Austin Bibens-Dirks, Bobby Korecky
Lineup:Josh Thole, Daric Barton, Mune Kawasaki, Ryan Goins, Matt Hague, Chris Dickerson, Ezequiel Carrera, Caleb Gindl, Andy Wilkins
Bench: Sean Ochinko, Chris Colabello, Jon Diaz, Brad Glenn
DL:John Stilson, Felix Doubront, Wilton Lopez, Johan Santana, AJ Jimenez, Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks

This team is overflowing, literally, with major league and "4A" experience....expect liberal use of the "DL"...Jenkins in rotation is interesting...nice to see Copeland rewarded...Hendriks, Doubront and, hopefully, Santana will push a couple of those guys to 'pen at some point, but Santana will no doubt have to start recovery in Dunedin...so much depth here that a few guys had to get shoved to AA despite having no real business there - expect more of these guys to get squeezed in similar fashion, or released...not sure where Juan Oramas lands once (if)  he clears waivers  

Compared to my projection: Pretty close, can't forcast DL, surprised West was squeezed out, Goins demotion affected Berti's placement I assume.

New Hampshire FisherCats
SP: Matt Boyd, Taylor Cole, John Anderson, Casey Lawrence, Mike Lee
RP: Dustin Antolin, Danny Barnes, Matt West, Arik Sikula, Blake McFarland, Cory Burns, Luis Perez, Greg Burke
Lineup: Jack Murphy, KC Hobson, Jon Berti, Jorge Flores, Andy Burns, Dwight Smith, Jr., Melky Mesa, Matt Newman, Jake Fox
Bench: Pierce Rankin, Shane Opitz, Kevin Nolan, Ryan Schimpf
DL: Ricky Romero, Derrik Chung

Assuming Romeero on this team is just an overflow issue from the loaded Buffalo DL...Boyd getting a lot of buzz but promotion may be difficult to win...Anderson is becoming the McGowan of the farm, they keep sticking with him so he must have something... Smith in LF reflects lack of OF options (as I mentioned in the preview post) and the presence of should-be-in-AAA Jon Berti...

Comparison to  my projection - Fox and Schimpf squeezed out of AAA as I predicted, a few consequential org guys a step up or down, usually because of crowding or positional needs


Dunedin Blue Jays
(secondary sources - official roster not updated  yet)
SP: Jario Labourt, Jayson Aquino, Jeremy Gabryszwski, Matt Dermody, Brad Allen, Luis Santos*
RP: Alberto Tirado, Brady Dragmire, Jimmy Cordero, Chad Girodo, Scott Silverstien, Will Browning, Tiago De Silva
Lineup:  Jorge Saez, Matt Dean, Christian Lopes, Dewal Lugo, Mitch Nay,David Harris, Roemon Fields, Derrik Loveless
Bench: Mike Reeves, LB Danzler, Emilio Guerrero, Jason Leblebijian, Ian Parmley
DL: Griffin Murphy, Chris Schaffer, Seth Conner

Labourt apparently blew them away in the spring...Aquino is the guy they got for Ybarra...Luis Santos is a guy I never heard of until I saw him listed on this roster at Bluebird Banter - was released by the Royals - he physical is pending...Look for Hoffman on this roster when he's activated...Tirado is another one that forced their hand in the spring...De Silva and Browning are crowded out of AA by the surplus of pitching there...Lopes is a possible break-out...Fields showed enough, plus age being a factor, to be jumped to High-A...at least one report suggest Conner may be moving into a coaching role?

Compared to my projections - I pretty much whiffed on the rotation, save for Allen (albeit White suddenly retired) but I was fairly close otherwise. I had hoped Alford would show enough to land here to avoid the CF conflict but it's not illogical that Fields, being 4 years older, would be the one pushed.


Lansing Lugnuts
SP: Chase De Jong, Shane Dawson, Chase Mallard, Starlyn Suriel, Justin Schafer, Alonzo Gonzalez
RP: Mark Biggs, Jose Fernandez, Andrew Case, Tim Mayza, Chase Wellbrock, Francisco Gracesqui, Colton Turner, Phil Kish
Lineup: Dan Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, DJ Thon, Richard Urena, Gunner Heidt, Boomer Collins, DJ Davis, Josh Almonte
Bench: Justin Atkinson, Michael De La Cruz, Ryan McBroom, Tim Locastro, Chris Carlson
DL: Adonys Cardona, Tom Robson, Anthony Alford, Jon Davis

Biggs must have shown them something this spring because he looked like a bust last year...Jansen i on everyone's sleeper list...Rowdy Tellez is the one here I'm most fascinated by...Heidt isn't an ideal 3B but there's no better alternative on this roster...Atkinson is being converted to catcher...when Alford is ready, there will be a conflict as both he and Davis are natural CF, but my guess is Alford will play RF when they play together...Cardona and Robson are both prospects if healthy.

Compared to my projections - Borucki had clean-up surgery on his elbow so he was held back, Smoral is yet unexplained but presumably they wanted to keep working on some of his shortcomings. Yeyfry Del Rosario was released so I was badly wrong there. Urena possibly provided enough upward pressure push Lugo up to Dunedin despite mixed results.

Over the next few days, sources close to the teams wil no doubt have conversations with some of the more well connected sources liike Charlie Caskey and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler and Gerry at Batters Box and we'll get more insight into why these various choices were made and what the organization felt it learned in camp. Fascinating stuff for those addicted to prospect porn.

Not as fascinating, perhaps, as games like the Blue Jays played today but not every game will be so enjoyable I'm sure. Which reminds me, I don't think I've made my prediction this spring. I'm going to be bolder than most (no surprise since I'm a compulsive optimist) and cal this a 90 win team (+/-3) and a division winner. So there, I'm on the record now.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Head to Head

Apparently the consensus of the various people who do predictions Have the Red Sox as the division favorites, with the Blue Jays and defending champ Orioles well back. I'm thinking maybe take a little closer look at that, in my own homerish fashion. I'll admit to being wary of dismissing the O's since i dismissed them into the early days of August last year and they still won 96 games, but I'll admit that on-aper they don't look like they belong in this discussion. I'm also worried about overlooking the Yankees, so let's do a 4-way head to head look at these teams and see where I think the consensus might be wrong, as we await the first pitch in the Bronx tonight. No, scratch that - let's include the Rays too.

To simplify things, since I'm not a math-whiz in advanced baseball metrics, I'm going to stick to projected fWAR as found in the Positional Power Rankings at Fangraphs. On occasion, I'll finesse some points I feel are not well reflected n the numbers (playing time, or some situation that's changed since the projections were made) but those numbers are the jumping off point. Also, I'm separating starter from bench and consolidating all of one players total under his primary position. I recognize that skews the numbers a tiny bit due to positional defense adjustments but screw it. You want meticulous detail you ain't readin' my stuff anyway.

Catcher
Martin - 3.8
McCann - 3.1
Weiters - 3.0
Hannigan - 2.2
Rivera - 2
Big change here is that Hannigan steps in for the injured Vazquez in Boston, all I can do is pro-rate the PA but when I do, the Red Sox actually gain ground (make of that what you will). Jays and O's get biggest contributions from reserves. O's entertaining injury risk.

First Base
Napoli - 2.7
Davis - 2.5
Texeria - 1.6
Loney - 1.2
Smoak - 0.6
I could point out the flaws in the other guys but that'd mean I was buying into the air up my skirt about Smoak having potential for more. Not sure I do. But everyone here except Napoli is soft so it wouldn't take much to climb the list.

Second Base
Pedroia - 4.3
Franklin - 1.7
Travis - 1.5
Schoop - 1.4
Drew - 1.0
This was calculated before Franklin looked like he was going to spend around 1/4 of the season on the DL, but since they didn't credit him with a full season of PA, there was no easy way to calculate an adjustment. By contrast, Travis was projected only 175 PA and I took the liberty of tripling that. I don't know that he won't fail, but I'm making an executive decision based on the results of the spring.

Shortstop
Reyes - 2.7
Hardy - 2.6
Bogarts - 2.5
Cabrera - 2.0
Gregorious - 1.2
IF Reyes' D  IS improved by his health (big if granted) he might put some space in here

Third Base
Donaldson - 5.5
Machado - 5.0
Longoria - 4.8
Headly - 4.0
Sandoval - 3.4
Strongest position in the division, last place here higher than 1st place at shortstop and 1B

Left Field
Ramirez - 3.4
Gardner - 3.3
Saunders - 2.6
Jennings - 2.0
De Aza - 1.6
Pretty remarkable that for the vast difference in reputation and contract, there's less than 1 WAR between Ramirez and Saunders

Center Field
Jones - 3.8
Elsbury - 3.8
Betts - 3.3
Kiermaier - 2.8
Pompey - 1.4
I've inflated Pompey by 100% (which is still a bit shy of his ZIPS projection - ZIPS likes him much more than Steamer) for the simple reason that the power rankings show him a below average defender which is just damned silly. Also, as weak a hitter as Anthony Gose which also seems quite crazy. I compared him to Cleveland's Michael Bourn, who himself only projects to a .667 OPS and a slightly above average fielder, adjusted for fewer plate appearances, and came up with 1.4 WAR - still last on the list but not crazy, certainly the projection is easily within Pompey's abilities.Also, I don't buy in on Betts. I want to see him do it again (well, I don't WANT to but you get the idea).

Right Field
Bautista - 5.3
Peirce - 3.0
Souza - 1.8
Victorino - 1.6
Young - 1.4
Pierce is spread all over the place on the rankings, I just consolidated him into RF (though if Davis fails again he'd be at 1B) - the guy busted out at 31 which isn't unheard of but I'm skeptical. Souza may well be better than this projection.

DH
Encarnacion - 3.2
Ortiz -2.6
Jaso - 1.3
Beltran - 0.9
Snider - 0.8
Snider's just the guy with the highest total among O's bench players. There's nothing here that allows for A-Rod accumulating anything above replacement as I'm confident he will.

Total starting lineup
Blue Jays - 26.6
Red Sox - 26.0
Orioles - 23.7
Rays - 19.6
Yankees - 19.3

Bench
Red Sox - 3.7
Yankees - 2.4
Blue Jays - 2.2
Rays - 2.2
Orioles - 1.5

Total offense
Red Sox - 29.7
Blue Jays - 28.8
Orioles - 25.2
Yankees - 21.7
Rays - 21.8
(giving the Yanks a cushion here due to aforementioned A-Rod factor)

Starting pitchers
NYY: Tanaka (2.9 Sabathis (2.2) Pineda (2.1) Warren (1.8) Eovaldi (1.3) et al (1.3) - 11.6
TBR: Archer (2.2) Cobb (1.9) Smyly (1.9) Odorizzi (1.3) Karns (0.7) et al (1.4) - 9.4
BRS: Porcello (2.4) Buchholtz (1.5) Miley (1.5) Masterson (1.1) Kelly (0.5) et al (0.3) - 7.2
TBJ:  Buehrle (1.9) Hutchinson (1.7) Dickey (1.6) Norris (0.8) Sanchez (0.3) et al (0.8) - 7.1
BO: Chen (1.7) Tillman (1.3) Gausman (1.2)  Norris (1.0) Gonalez (0.5) et al (0.8) - 6.4

 Buehrle is as much as a full win too low, based on his track record and there's no reason I can see to project a regression from Hutch. Give the two of them just a repeat of last year and they jump from #25 to #18 on the Power Ranking list. The Yanks have injury concerns throughout and the Rays have already been hit by setbacks (I know, I know, Stroman - le sigh). The spread between #2 and #5 here is anyone's game.

Bullpen
TBR: McGee (1.7) Boxberger (1.0) Jepsen (0.1) Balfour (0.1) Frieri (0.1) et al (-0.2) - 3.0
NYY: Betances (1.6) Miller (1.4) Carpenter (0.2) Warren (0.2) et al (-0.5) - 3.0
BO: Britton (0.5) O'Day (0.5) Matsuz (0.3) Hunter (0.3) et al (-0.2) - 1.5
BRS: Uehara (1.5) Tazawa (0.7) et al (-0.9) - 1.3
TBJ: Cecil (0.8) Loup (0.4) Redomond (0.1) et al (-0.8) - 0.5
Let's first acknowledge that bullpens are insanely volatile and further acknowledge that the gap between a middling bullpen (Baltimore) and one of the "worst" (by this measure) is only 1 WAR.

That said, there's some nuttiness with the Blue Jays projections. Marco Estrada at -0.1 makes little sense to me - his track record suggests much better, but the uncertainty concerning where his innings will come from (rotation or 'pen) likely suppresses the result. Worse, they rate Castro -0.4 which, if he pitches that poorly he won't be on the team long enough to accumulate (ditto Osuna at -0.2 for that matter)

Total pitching
Yankees- 14.6
Rays - 12.4
Red Sox - 8.5
Orioles - 7.9
Blue Jays - 7.6

Grand Total
Red Sox - 38.2
Blue Jays - 36.4
Yankees - 36.3
Rays - 34.2
Orioles - 33.1


Closing remarks -
I feel okay about the difference between the Red Sox and Jays because of my confidence that the projection metrics can't capture the potential contribution of rookie players, of whom we have more in starting roles than the other teams combined. On the other hand, I'm worried that I, as many others, are underestimating the Yankees and I'm forced to cling to the hope that they will get beat up by injuries. I also don't buy the O's falling into last place though I'd be totally cool with that.

All in all, it looks pretty much like the "eye view" impression looks - not much of a gap from top to bottom, fairly evenly matched teams, the winner reliant as much on "breaks" as anything else, and every team facing the imperative of doing all the little things right because the margin for error is almost non-existent.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Quick Hit: Starting pitcher depth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 27 March 2015

Minor League Roster Previews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Sunday, 22 March 2015

At The Turn, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullpen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 21 March 2015

At the Turn

more or less?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Brave and the Bold


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

The Brave

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

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

The Bold

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

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


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

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


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

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Looming Mistake



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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