Archive for January, 2011
Saturday, January 29th, 2011
2:40 PM Eastern
As I’d mentioned in a couple of earlier posts, I was going away last week. The lovely wife and I took a few days of R&R on the Mayan Riviera, and had a swell, relaxing time.
That having been said, it’s very hard to understand the level of venom in the comments section to which I came home for not having posted anything about the Mike Napoli-Frank Francisco trade that the Jays made with Texas this past Tuesday (I think).
I guess, to those of you who simply couldn’t bear the fact that I would dare to take a vacation, I apologize. I hope sincerely that in the future I’ll be able to make sure that when I go away, there will be no activity in the transactions column – I’ll have to work on my relationship with Alex Anthopoulos so he better understands that.
Funny, too, was the one commenter who suggested that I should have waited to go away until I was heading down to Spring Training – as though that’s a vacation!
Anyway, while I was gone the Blue Jays added yet another one-time closer to the mix. They have four now, in Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor. Both Francisco and Frasor were their respective teams’ closers going into the 2010 season, but both lost the job a week in. Dotel was a closer in Houston, Oakland, Kansas City and, most recently, Pittsburgh, and Rauch was the closer in Minnesota in ’10 until the Twins traded for Matt Capps at the deadline.
By the way, Frasor avoided arbitration yesterday by agreeing to a one-year deal with an club option for 2012 that will pay him $3.5 million in ’11 and, in the highly doubtful situation in which the Jays pick up the option, he’ll get $3.75 million in ’12. The 2011 salary is very, very slightly higher than the midpoint between what Frasor asked and the Jays offered when arbitration filings occurred a couple of weeks ago.
Francisco, the other Type A free agent to accept arbitration this winter, asked the Rangers for $4,875,000 while Texas offered $3.5 million. Those are the numbers the Jays have to deal with now, but they could still come to an agreement with Francisco on a one-year deal before going to a hearing.
So I guess you can forget all that stuff I wrote last week about how much Mike Napoli would help the Jays in 2011. It seems that Anthopoulos preferred the strong right arm of Frank Francisco plus the extra couple million in cost savings to Napoli’s lefty-killing bat. The Rangers have wanted Napoli for a while, and this trade may be a bit of a face-saver for the Angels, who would have looked bad dealing a perennially under-used potential big bat to the defending champs of their own division. What likely happened is that everyone wound up getting the guy they wanted in the first place.
But what does the addition of Francisco do to the bullpen? Well, it’s even more crowded now – and it was too crowded before. If everyone stays healthy, there’s the foursome of Francisco-Rauch-Frasor-Dotel at the back end, with Carlos Villanueva, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen, David Purcey, Jesse Carlson, Josh Roenicke, Scott Richmond and maybe Marc Rzepczynski fighting for the remaining three spots.
Options will come into play during the spring, with the Jays not wanting to risk putting a pitcher through waivers if they don’t have to, and potentially losing him for nothing. Of the group I mentioned, Janssen, Carlson, Villanueva, Roenicke, Richmond and Rzepczynski all have options.
In an ideal scenario, though, how should the bullpen look? I don’t think there’s any doubt that the four guys who have serious closing experience should all be in there. Francisco, Rauch, Frasor and Dotel give the Jays four very strong pitchers in the back of the bullpen, and they’re almost completely interchangeable. Problem is, they need to “know their roles”, so you might have to have one guy be the closer (Francisco), another be the “set-up guy” (Rauch) and then have Frasor and Dotel be available to work the 6th and 7th, if need be. At least this way, Dotel can very easily be kept the heck away from anyone who hits from the left side.
That leaves three spots, of which Camp and Janssen deserve two and you’d think that there would be a place guaranteed for Villanueva, who was the first reliever for whom the Jays traded this off-season.
So that’s seven guys, all right-handed, with no real long guy in the group. That’s probably not going to work. The Angels have had success in the past with an all-righty bullpen, and all seven of the Jays’ guys are good pitchers, despite all being right-handed, so they could be OK with some creativity from John Farrell, but then you look at the options list and see that David Purcey isn’t on it.
Not wanting to lose Purcey on waivers, he likely makes the team, which pushes either Janssen or Villanueva out, since they both have options left. Then there’s the long guy thing, which is why I included Richmond and Zep on the list. But they have options, too, while Jo-Jo Reyes doesn’t.
You might remember Reyes as the young lefty who came over from Atlanta as part of the Yunel Escobar deal, and then in his debut in the Jays’ system (at AA New Hampshire) almost threw a no-hitter. He made one more start, hurt his knee, had to have surgery and missed the rest of the season, but he’ll be 100% ready to go for Spring Training.
Reyes is the wild card here, since he’s out of options, has major-league experience and can fit into the long relief spot in which Brian Tallet should have been used last season. He’ll fight for a job in the starting rotation this Spring, and could potentially beat Kyle Drabek out of a job if the Jays decide that Drabek needs a little more seasoning, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely. Reyes’ inclusion in the bullpen, though, knocks both Janssen and Villanueva to Vegas, since I can’t imagine that they won’t have a use for Camp given the terrific job he’s done for them the last couple of years.
So at the moment, I’m seeing a bullpen of Francisco, Rauch, Frasor, Dotel, Camp, Purcey and Reyes breaking Spring Training. That’s assuming, of course, that there are no other trades in the offing (which is a huge assumption given who’s running the show for the Jays), and that everyone comes through the month of March healthy, which is another big assumption.
As for Spring Training performances, I don’t put too much stock in that, if any. They know what they have and if a guy has a bad seven innings while he’s getting ready for the season, it probably doesn’t mean too much as far as a spot on the team, no matter how much they talk about competition throughout camp. It could mean something, though, as far as who breaks as the closer. I’d say Francisco has a leg up on the competition right now, but Rauch could steal the job away from him if their springs look radically different from one another.
So to seal up this rambling, make-good post – the big question is did the Jays need to go out and get Francisco or would they have been better off with Napoli? I think, given how crowded the bullpen looks right now and how well Napoli’s bat likely would have played here, that Napoli was probably the better play. I like his pop and love how well he hits lefties – something the Jays desperately needed the last couple of years. He also could have provided insurance at a number of spots in the line-up – catcher, first base and DH.
However, it appears as though Napoli was just a means to an end, a way to get Francisco, who was the guy the Jays wanted all along. Kind of like last year with the Michael Taylor/Brett Wallace/Anthony Gose thing.
By the way, make sure you tune into the Fan590 (or right here on fan590.com) tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon, because they’re sticking me back in the hosting chair for a nice, long show. I’ll follow the degenerate gamblers, starting up at 12:30 pm Eastern, and take it all the way through to 5:00 pm, and there’ll be all kinds of baseball talk. I already have Scott Downs confirmed for 3:40, and have feelers out for Ricky Romero, Jason Frasor, Adam Lind, John Farrell and Don Wakamatsu. Shi Davidi will hop on as well to talk Jays, and we’ll do some phones about the value of all-star games, given that the NHL’s big show is on tomorrow afternoon. Talk to you then!
Monday, January 24th, 2011
6:55 PM Central
This post was orginally written in the departure lounge, but I didn’t quite finish it before I had to turn off all electronic devices and stuff. Then the wireless connection in a Mexican airport was unreliable (who knew?) so I had to wait until now to publish it. Apologies! I’ll be back on Thursday night and will be hosting a LONG show on Sunday afternoon, from 12:30 – 5:00 pm Eastern, featuring tons of baseball talk!
Now then…….there was quite a bit of discussion over the weekend about one of the biggest trades in Blue Jays history, some opinions formed by truth, some not so much, so I figured I’d dive in and try to get a little more in-depth than Friday’s post which was more about just getting the trade up and giving my initial thoughts.
And by the way, I’m glad you’re here reading this – now you know where you should go for the most up-to-date info. Remember, it was your intrepid reporter who had the full, completed deal first. Wells for Napoli and Rivera, no cash. I was seeing tweets from national writers in the U.S. hours after I went on with the deal suggesting that there may be other players, and that there had to be cash moving. Nope. Just listen to me, and you’ll get the info!
So the Blue Jays save a grand total of $75 million in committed cash with this trade and they also don’t really get worse for 2011. That seems to be a win-win. Most people talk about Mike Napoli as the big piece coming back, and there’s a ton of potential for him to turn into a huge Three True Outcome power plant. As I mentioned in the last piece,even in his worst career season of batting average and OPS, he still managed to torch lefties to the tune of .305/.399/.567. Against righties, he was basically Rod Barajas with a bit more pop.
Napoli never got a fair shake under Mike Scioscia because Scioscia, the former defense-first catcher, preferred the strong glove of Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Mathis couldn’t hit, but that wasn’t Scioscia’s speciality, either.
Freed from the Disneyland Doghouse, Napoli might just flourish. He’s likely set to catch a couple of times a week, play first a couple of times a week and DH a couple of times a week. That’s the plan, but if J.P. Arencibia turns out to need some more seasoning or if Adam Lind winds up not being able to hack it at first, Napoli is available to step in as the full-time solution at either spot.
It’s wonderful, too, that the Blue Jays now have a manager who is willing to move players around on the field and juggle the line-up without an injury having to force him to do so.
As far as Rivera is concerned, he’s more than a throw-in. He’s a change-of-scenery candidate who is likely pencilled in as the everyday right fielder. Rivera doesn’t have Jose Bautista’s arm out there, but his is pretty good. He doesn’t have Wells’ pure power, but over the course of his career, he’s been almost exactly the same hitter as Vernon Wells.
In his 12 years in the big leagues, Wells has put up an OPS of .804, with 223 homers in 5470 at-bats. That’s one home run every 24.5 at-bats. He’s had three seasons in which he’s hit at least 30 home runs.
In his 10 years in the big leagues, Rivera has put up an OPS of .789, with 112 homers in 2693 at-bats. That’s one home run every 24 .04 at-bats. His career high in home runs is 25, and he’s only had two seasons with more than 20.
Those numbers are striking, because they mean that Wells and Rivera are basically the same hitter. An insignificant difference in OPS and an almost identical home run rate. The difference is that Wells’ peaks are much higher than Rivera’s, but Rivera hasn’t plumbed the depths the way Vernon has.
Also, Rivera not being Wells, there’s no pressure to stick him in the middle of the line-up every day or to allow him to determine whether he’s healthy enough to play.
With Rajai Davis there to take over centrefield on a daily basis, the defense in centre is improved. I saw Davis referred to in one of the papers as a poor defensive outfielder, which I thought was astounding. Davis is an upper-echelon defender who will remind you of Vernon Wells at his peak, and maybe even of Devon White. Corey Patterson is not going to be the Jays’ everyday centrefielder – there’s a reason Davis has a two-year deal and Patterson has a minor-league invite.
The biggest thing about the deal is the money the Jays save, and what they’re going to do with it. Many seem to be suggesting that the thing to do is to use it to lock Jose Bautista up long term, and that’d be OK to do with some of it, on a three-year-plus at a reasonable rate, but I can’t understand why so many who are so thrilled to get out from under the Wells deal are so anxious to get into another one with a guy with far, far less of a track record than Wells had when he signed his.
There’s no big-name free agent left on the market to go after now, but now isn’t the time to go after the big-name free agent. It’s about taking a good, hard look at guys like Arencibia, Snider, Cecil, Morrow and a few others, and what do you know – there’s a ton of money available for their use next off-season, when Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and others dive into the free agent pool.
I brought up the question on Friday that if the money’s there like the Jays say it is, then why necessarily make a move to clear a big whack of salary? It shouldn’t matter if “the money’s there when they need it”. But maybe it’s because they don’t need it now, and they’re going to need it later and want it to be available, rather than to be going to a declining asset who isn’t earning half of that with his production. Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you should overspend it.I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen across the interwebs with regards to: “Love the guy, like the player, hate the contract.” That’s fair. Vernon Wells the man will most assuredly be missed in the Jays’ clubhouse, Wells the player will be missed on the field (but probably not as much as you would expect), the contract will not be missed at all.He was a great player for the Jays for a really long time, and as I mentioned before, his name dots the Jays all-time record book, almost everywhere. His career and contributions here should be celebrated, and not just because the Jays got out from under that contract.
I’m sure I’ll repeat this plea as the season goes along but please, when the Angels come to town, don’t boo Vernon. All he did was accept the Jays’ massive contract offer and then pridefully show up to play on many occasions when he was too hurt to contribute. He never asked out, never wanted out, and as recently as a week before he was traded, spoke glowingly about how proud he would be to spend his entire career with just one team. He should be applauded for his contributions, then treated just like any other member of the opposition.
Oh, and in that Friday night post, I stated that Wells will be in centre for the Angels. It now appears as that’s not going to be the case. Chances are Wells moves to left in order to keep ridiculously-gloved youngster Peter Bourjos in centre. Torii Hunter will play right in what’s easily going to be the best defensive outfield in the game.
Friday, January 21st, 2011
8:00 PM Eastern
They said it couldn’t be done. Heck, I said it couldn’t be done. But it has been. Vernon Wells has been traded.
I can’t tell you how many times I went on the air this season and said that, even with a successful 2010 under his belt, Wells was untradeable without the Blue Jays picking up a massive amount of money, but there were the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, looking to get something done after missing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, among others. The Halos will stick Vernon in centrefield, and in the middle of their line-up, as they try to regain what was their rightful place atop the A.L. West standings.
This is a deal that the Angels wanted to make a few years ago. Remember, the hottest rumour right before Wells signed his seven-year, $126 million contract was that J.P. Ricciardi had a terrific offer on the table from the Halos, but trading Wells would have been seen by the fans as another indicator that the Jays were becoming the New Expos, after they’d made a piddling offer to Carlos Delgado a year or two before.
In return, the Jays get Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Napoli has big-time power and crushes left-handed pitching, but his catching deficiencies are such that Angels skipper Mike Scioscia never wanted to give him a real opportunity behind the plate with Jeff Mathis around. He played a lot of first base after Kendry Morales went down with a broken ankle, and could fit nicely into a platoon there with Adam Lind this season, if that’s how the Jays choose to go. Napoli can also catch a couple of days a week, behind J.P. Arencibia, and do some DHing, as well.
The 29 year-old is coming off his career high in home runs (26) and doubles (24), but a career-low in OBP (.316), and his batting average and slugging percentage were lower than they’d been since his rookie year of 2006. Even with the overall weak numbers though, his OPS was still better than the league average, and he raked lefties to the tune of .305/.399/.567.
Napoli is still under control for two more years, and he filed for arbitration with the Angels, submitting a demand of $6.1 million. The Angels countered with an offer of $5.3 million, a number that the Blue Jays are now stuck with. It’s expected the Jays will try to sign Napoli to a multi-year contract.
As for Juan Rivera, he’s a 33 year-old, strong-armed corner outfielder who is just OK. He doesn’t get on base particularly well, nor does he have a whole lot of power. Rivera is going into the final season of a three-year, $12.75 million deal, and he’ll make $5.25 million this year before becoming a free agent. Alex Anthopoulos is familiar with Rivera from his days with the Expos, so I’m not sure if he’s a guy the Jays really wanted or if he was just thrown in there to balance the money, as Edwin Encarnacion was in the Scott Rolen deal.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that it’s a new era in Blue Jay land. A guy who has been a Blue Jay ever since he was a teenager is gone. As much as people got on Wells for not living up to the massive contract, his name is all over the Jays’ all-time record book – in the top 5 in almost every category. He spent parts of a dozen seasons in Toronto, the last nine as the everyday centrefielder and usual third- or fourth-place hitter. Some fans will celebrate the Jays getting out from under the rest of the contract, but if you buy the company line that “the money will be there when it’s needed”, then it really wouldn’t have mattered how much he was making. The bigger story is that one of the longest-serving Blue Jays and, yes, one of the most productive players in Blue Jays history has been dealt.
Wells didn’t deserve the vitriol he got from so many on the fans on a regular basis for the last three years. He was a very productive player when healthy, which wasn’t often enough recently, but the contract he signed four years ago didn’t change the kind of player he was. He was never going to be an offensive superstar, putting up Pujols/Rodriguez numbers, and that’s what was expected once he signed that deal. It’s too bad that his contract coloured so many people’s view of him.
I have known Vernon for a dozen years, and even though I don’t really “know” him, I know that he loved it here and didn’t understand why the fans turned on him so hard in 2009. I know that his teammates always respected and deferred to him, and once Delgado left, they all saw him as the team leader, even if he wasn’t especially loud and demonstrative.
So what happens now? Well, the Jays are definitely better in centre field now, defensively, with Rajai Davis out there everyday. Wells was one of the best in the business once, but a combination of the pounding of the turf and that hamstring injury a few years back took their toll. One wonders if there’s a move coming for a third baseman to allow Jose Bautista to stay in right, which would put Rivera on the bench, but it’s probably more likely that Rivera plays right and Bautista goes to third, as planned. And John Farrell doesn’t have to worry about making room for Wells in the middle of the line-up because that’s “where he’s supposed to hit”, which is a good thing.
Also, with that $86 million off the books, one would think a multi-year deal with Bautista would become a lot more palatable to the bean-counters.
I wish Vernon luck in Anaheim, I think he’ll do well there, though I wonder how long he’ll stay in centre with the presence of Peter Bourjos, and I look forward to seeing him when the Halos come to town. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new guys fit in with the Jays, there are a lot more options for Farrell now with Napoli joining Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion as part of the 1B/DH combo, and if they’re willing to let Napoli be the back-up catcher then it might really open up the roster since they won’t have to carry Jose Molina.
UPDATE: One thing I neglected to mention in the original post that just occurred to me: I’m going to miss seeing Vernon out on the field after every Saturday afternoon game, before the Junior Jays came down but after the field had been set up for them, running the bases with his sons Jayce and Christian. I always liked seeing that.
More to come as things progress, I’m sure!
Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
11:00 PM Eastern
The deadline to file arbitration numbers came and went this afternoon, and before it arrived, a rush of Blue Jays signed on the line that is dotted. The news came fast and furious, starting with Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch last night, then Shawn Camp, Yunel Escobar, Rajai Davis’ two-year (plus an option) deal, then slightly after the 1 pm deadline, Brandon Morrow. That left just Jason Frasor and Jose Bautista unsigned, and that’s where we stand right now.
Escobar, by the way, got the biggest raise (until Bautista gets his) – his salary of $2.9 million represents a jump of $2,465,000.
I was the most surprised by the Davis deal. Two years at $5.25 million, with an option for a third year at an additional three mill. If he’s the Rajai Davis of 2009 (.305/.360/.423), then it’s an absolute steal, and he’s the leadoff man setting new stolen base records for the Blue Jays. If he’s the Rajai Davis of the rest of his career, then you get a terrific defensive outfielder with tons of speed who is a good hitter out of the ninth spot in the line-up and probably still sets a single season SB record for the Jays. Decent bang for the buck either way, but his signing furthers the apparent commitment to have Bautista play third base. With Davis getting that contract, one would think he has to play, and so too do Vernon Wells and Travis Snider.
The biggest deals were Frasor and Bautista not signing. Frasor first, with the two sides failing to come to an agreement despite a piddling difference in money. Frasor is asking the arbitrator for $3.725 million, the Jays are offering $3.25. That’s less than a half million dollars in between them, you’d think they would have been able to meet in the middle and get a deal done. They couldn’t, so Frasor will likely be the first Blue Jay to go to an arbitration hearing since Bill Risley back in 1997. Gord Ash’s Jays won that case, by the way – paying Risley $380,000 (he’d asked for $550,000).
In an afternoon conference call, Alex Anthopoulos made it abundantly clear that negotiations on one-year contracts are done with Bautista and Frasor, because they didn’t agree by the deadline to file numbers. That doesn’t mean that Bautista is going to a hearing, because the sense is that the Jays would love to get him to sign a three- or four-year deal, but there’s almost no way they go beyond a year with Frasor. First off, Anthopoulos believes that there’s huge volatility in relievers’ performances year-to-year, and little predictability as a result. Second of all, Frasor wasn’t even a part of the Jays’ plans for the coming season – they’d expected him to leave as a free agent and were planning to collect a pair of draft picks as compensation. Frasor’s going to a hearing.
I said he’s likely to be the first since Risley because Bautista might make it before an arbitrator, too. The Jays would love to lock him up, and he wouldn’t mind being in Toronto long-term, but it’s a matter of numbers.
Bautista is asking for $10.5 million for 2011, the Blue Jays are offering $7.6 million, and those will be each side’s starting points in discussing a multi-year deal. It really depends on how much of a gambler Bautista is. After all, despite his incredible 2010, the truth is that he’s been an average player at absolute best over a six-year major-league career but for five months. If he hits as many as 32 home runs in 2011, he’ll double his career high in homers going into 2010.
However, if Bautista has another strong year in ’11, he could cash in with an eight-figure deal on the free agent market. After all, Jayson Werth just got $126 million over seven years with only three above-average big-league seasons under his belt, none of which were close to as good as Bautista’s 2010.
So, does Bautista want to take an exceedingly fair offer of, say, three years, $40 million plus a generous option for a 4th year, or does he want to bet about $70 million on the fact that he’ll be an all-star again in 2011? Interesting gamble, and I have no idea how it’ll play out. I should note that I completely made up the 3/40 thing. I’m just thinking that’ll be in the ballpark for what the Jays might be interested in ponying up. Given Bautista’s pre-2010 track record, though, that’s an enormous risk for the Jays. ANd an enormous risk for Bautista if he doesn’t take it.
We’ll find out over the course of the next month how that negotiation will play out, but I certainly don’t expect that Jose Bautista will wind up in an arbitrator’s hearing room.
By the way, I guess you have figured out that I’m not on vacation this week, as had been planned. My daughter got sick, nothing huge, but we didn’t want to go away and leave her with relatives, so we’re hoping she’s better by next week, and that’s when we’ll take the trip.
The plan for now is to leave you with a mailbag for your reading pleasure to greet you on Monday morning, so get those questions and comments in. The best of the best will make it to the mailbag!
Monday, January 17th, 2011
5:30 PM Eastern
On the eve of the arbitration filing deadline, the Blue Jays took another dip into the free agent pool and pulled out the guy who is going to be their closer in 2011, the enormous and enormously intimidating Jon Rauch. The Jays had been talking to Rauch all off-season, but negotiations really picked up steam on Friday night and they got the deal done over the weekend. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Oakland emerged as the destination for Brian Fuentes over that same time frame.
Rising to a height, as they say, of six feet, eleven inches, Rauch will be the tallest Blue Jay ever, and his acquisition ends Octavio Dotel’s brief run as the frontrunner for the closer’s spot, though GM Alex Anthopoulos wouldn’t admit as much on a conference call with the media. He said instead that both Dotel and Rauch are the frontrunners and that handicapping the race wasn’t fair. So I’ll handicap it for you – Rauch will be the closer so long as he’s fully recovered from off-season knee surgery, and he passed his physical this afternoon.
Rauch was a trade deadline acquisition by the Twins in ’09 and started last season as their closer in the absence of the injured Joe Nathan, holding the job until the Twinkies dealt for Matt Capps at the deadline. As closer, Rauch picked up 21 saves in 25 opportunities, pitching to a mediocre 1.356 WHIP, allowing the opposition to hit .283/.321/.395. He was far better when he went back to being the set-up man the last two months of the season.
Rauch is coming off a slightly better year than Kevin Gregg had for the Jays in 2010. He allowed 11.7 baserunners per nine innings, striking out 7.2 per nine and allowing 0.5 homers per nine, as opposed to Gregg, whose numbers were 12.5, 8.8 and 0.6.
The best thing about Rauch, as opposed to Gregg, is that he doesn’t walk people. He has walked 2.8 hitters per nine innings for his eight-year career, a number that hasn’t been higher than 3.0 in any season since 2006. Compare that to Gregg’s 4.6 last year, and there should be an end to the constant nibbling that we saw in so many ninth innings last year.
I like the signing – it’s an Anthopoulos special of one year plus an option, at a reasonable cost ($3.5 million with the option being $3.75). It doesn’t cost the Jays a draft pick, but could net them one as soon as next season, and it’s a clear upgrade at the back of the bullpen over Dotel. Rauch won’t make anyone forget about Tom Henke and Duane Ward, but he should wind up doing a solid job and lead to far fewer nervous ninths than the Kevin Gregg Era provided.
The bullpen picture is slightly more muddied now, with Rauch, Dotel and Carlos Villanueva joining returnees Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen, Josh Roenicke, David Purcey and Jesse Carlson. There’s not a pure long man in that group (and only two lefties), so you’d think there’d be a spot open for one of Marc Rzepczynski or Scott Richmond. In my mind – though I probably have more confidence in Frasor, Camp and Janssen than most – Dotel now seems like an unnecessary add. But he doesn’t cost much and destroys right-handed batters – and it’s not as though everyone is going to stay healthy all year long, anyway.
Rauch, like Dotel before him, is there to keep the seat warm while the Jays’ next closer develops, be he Purcey, Roenicke or somebody else.
Next up, arbitration filings! The Jays have eight arb-eligible players left with whom to deal, since they’ve already agreed to terms with Dustin McGowan ($450,000) and Villanueva ($1,420,000). Still unsigned are Camp, Frasor, Janssen, Jose Bautista, Rajai Davis, Yunel Escobar, Jesse Litsch and Brandon Morrow. Last year, Alex Anthopoulos said that any player who goes as far as submitting numbers (the deadline is tomorrow at 1:00 PM Eastern) will go to a hearing – he reiterated in the conference call that “for now” the same rules apply this year. So expect a whole bunch of contracts to get done over the next 19 1/2 hours or so.
The Jays haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since 1997 with Bill Risley.
Saturday, January 15th, 2011
10:45 PM Eastern
This evening was the annual Baseball Canada Awards Banquet, a terrific event for professional and amateur ballplayers, coaches, scouts and administrators to get together and celebrate Canadian baseball. It was another good year, as Canada qualified for the 2012 Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, led by Royals farmhand Jamie Romak, who was named tournament MVP and was the Senior Team’s player of the year. Brewers closer John Axford won the Alumni Award – he had an outstanding rookie year in Milwaukee, with 24 saves in taking over for Trevor Hoffman early in the season, a 1.19 WHIP and 76 strikeouts (and only one home run allowed – darn that Ryan Doumit) in 58 innings.
National League MVP Joey Votto became only the third player to be placed on Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence, joining Larry Walker and Justin Morneau, but Votto was sick and couldn’t attend.
I got a chance to talk to quite a few of the people in attendance, notably Axford, Russ Martin, Scott Richmond, Jeff Francis and Chris Leroux. All those interviews can be found in the audio on demand section.
Blue Jay first, Richmond says his shoulder is ready and that he will go to Spring Training in Dunedin prepared and able to compete for a job. He wants to start, but will go to the bullpen if asked. Truth is he’s in tough for a spot, with Kyle Drabek and Jesse Litsch the frontrunners for the final two jobs in the rotation. Richmond could be a very useful bullpen guy with his killer slider that righties simply haven’t been able to handle, but there’s a big hill to climb there, too – he’s likely to compete with Marc Rzepczynski for the spot filled by Brian Tallet last season. It was good to catch up with Richmond, he’s easily one of my favourite people in the sport – extraordinarily genuine and down-to-earth.
Francis says he’s healthy, too, and expects to be in the Royals’ rotation from day one. He said that opportunity, more than anything else, led him to sign with KC, and that’s the same reason Martin signed with the Yankees. The Bombers were the most aggressive on him, Martin told me, and the least concerned with his hip injury, but what pushed them over the top was their being in position to be a playoff team and their willingness to hand Martin the starting job behind the plate, with Jorge Posada shifting to DH.
Axford, a Port Dover, Ontario native and southern Ontario resident in the off-season, had battled arm problems for years, starting back in his days at Notre Dame. He found himself as a 26 year-old in A-ball in 2009, but told me that with the help of a couple of coaches with the Brewers’ single-A team in Brevard County, he refined his delivery to the point where he cut down on his walks a ton, from 6.9 per nine innings in 2008 to a reasonable (though still not great) 4.2 per nine in 2010.
Leroux, a Mississaugan (how about that – three of the five guys I talked to were from Ontario! The B.C. contingent is going to get jealous.), is getting his first legit opportunity this year with the Pirates. In a wide-open bullpen, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. He started last season allowing just two runs in his first seven outings in Florida, then had two crappy games in a row and got buried, sent down and eventually waived. With the Pirates, one hopes he’ll get the chance to not have to look over his shoulder all the time waiting for the next shoe to drop and go on to have big-league success. Like all of them, I’m rooting for him.
Again, you can find all the interviews in the audio on demand section of the website.
I’m off on vacation for a week starting Monday morning, so I’m likely to miss all the arbitration filings, if there are any. The Jays have settled with Carlos Villanueva, so that leaves seven more players eligible. If Alex Anthopoulos sticks to the same plan he had last year, anyone who files is going to a hearing - but that’s something the Jays haven’t done since Bill Risley took them to arbitration in 1997. Tuesday is the deadline to file numbers. Remember, the player puts in a salary offer and the team puts does too, and the arbitrator must choose one or the other on a one-year deal, no incentives, and neither side is allowed to walk away from the decision.
Before I go, the Jays are rumoured to be in on Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes, and neither one would be a bad choice. I’d rather have either of them at the back of the bullpen than Octavio Dotel. We’re hearing more Manny Ramirez rumours, but don’t hold your breath, and the fact that the Jays are looking at Eric Chavez is kind of cool. If he can be healthy, he could be a nice piece at third – certainly the defense is outstanding over there. But that is a massive if. Chavez’ bad back knocked him out of the Oakland line-up at the end of July back in 2007, and since then he’s played a total of just 64 major-league games – only 24 of them in the field – hitting .222/.265/.330.
I’m sure there will be lots up on which to catch when I come back, but shoot me some mailbag items as well and I’ll see if I can post another one of those!
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
9:10 PM Eastern
The inductees into Cooperstown’s Class of 2011 will be announced Wednesday morning, and I wanted to share with you all the ballot I would have submitted had I been allowed to participate in the voting process. Only members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with at least ten years under their belts as card-carrying members are allowed to vote, so I’ll likely never get one. Anyway, if I had one, here’s how it would look:
Roberto Alomar – Please. One of the greatest second baseman ever in the history of anything. Only idiocy (on the part of the voting body) prevented him from getting in last year.
Jeff Bagwell – A lifetime OPS of .948 speaks volumes. That, and the fact that he probably lost out on at least a hundred home runs playing in the Astrodome for more than half his career. Also, he invented those nifty pads that go on the outside of batting gloves.
Bert Blyleven – Still not sure why the fact that he played on a bunch of crappy teams has been held against him for over a decade.
Edgar Martinez – A DH, to be sure, but the greatest in the history of the position. American League pitchers are allowed in the Hall of Fame, right?
Mark McGwire – Revisionist historians step aside. McGwire was far from a one-dimensional home run machine who would have been nothing without steroids. And most of the pitchers he was facing were equally juicified.
Tim Raines – Quite possibly the second-greatest lead-off hitter of all-time.
Larry Walker – Jim Rice doesn’t care about Walker’s home/road splits.
B.J. Surhoff – Just kidding, though I’ll be trying to get Barry Stanton on my show this Saturday afternoon.
That’s it, seven people I believe are worthy of induction to the Baseball Hall. I’ll admit that since I don’t actually have a ballot, my studies of some of the players I have left off haven’t been as intense as they otherwise would have been, so I might still be able to be convinced on someone like Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell, but I’m a firm no on Jack Morris and Rafael Palmeiro, among those being campaigned for. And don’t even get me started on Don Mattingly.
Morris just simply doesn’t pass the smell test for me. He was tough as nails, a bulldog and a real ornery cuss, but he wasn’t one of the greatest pitchers ever. I don’t buy the whole notion of “pitching to the score” or the mythology of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Yes, he may have been the author of the greatest post-season pitching performance ever, but the Hall of Fame isn’t about big games or even big seasons. Roger Maris never made it.
If Mattingly hadn’t played for the Yankees, he wouldn’t even be in the conversation. And yes, I will cast an imaginary vote for Derek Jeter when his time comes.
As for Palmeiro, he was a bubble guy even before he failed a steroid test, and people were talking about him as a test case even with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, given the offensive production in the era in which he played. That’s why Fred McGriff doesn’t make it for me, either. His avoiding the taint of steroid scandal seems to have strengthened his case in the minds of some, but it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s funny how people seem to equate never having been mentioned in steroid suspicion as innocence. That’s not to say I believe McGriff (or anyone in particular) was dirty, it’s just to say that no matter how much anyone thinks they know about anyone – nobody has a clue. Judge them on their merits, not whether you think they were or weren’t ‘roided up.
If there’s a debate to begin over these selections, let’s have at it!
Monday, January 3rd, 2011
10:52 PM Eastern
We all know that ABC stands for “Always Be Closing”, but there seems to be an alphabetical connection to the Blue Jays’ plans for the back of their bullpen, as well.
We’re trying to figure out what Plan A is for the Jays’ ninth inning this coming season, because last year’s closer, Kevin Gregg, is being allowed to leave as a Type B free agent so the Jays can secure a sandwich pick in this year’s draft.
That leaves C and D, which just happen to begin the surnames of a pair of candidates to take over for Gregg as the closer in 2011 – Chad Cordero, who signed a minor-league deal this afternoon, and Octavio Dotel, whose signing will be made official any day now.
Not exactly Ward and Henke, but Cordero and Dotel are a couple of low-risk potentially good arms who could help out both now and later on.
Dotel, coming off a 22-save season with three different teams, appears to be the frontrunner in the closer competition, and he won’t make things any easier on the collective fingernails of the fan base than Gregg did last year.
Dotel walks too many people, gives up too many home runs and generally doesn’t get left-handed hitters out. Not a good combo, though he’s REALLY good against right-handed hitters. However, there’s a chance the Jays catch lightning in a bottle again as they did with Alex Gonzalez, John Buck and, to a lesser extent, Gregg in 2010 and Dotel goes out and has a strong year. He does strike out a bunch of people, and even at his advanced age of 36 this past season struck out 10.8 hitters per nine innings, which is only a hair below his career average of 10.9 strikeouts per nine. He did, however, walk a guy every other inning, which is slightly higher than his career average of 4.1 walks per nine.
For comparison, Gregg walked 4.6 hitters per nine innings in 2010.
2011 will be Dotel’s 13th season in the big leagues; the Blue Jays will be the 11th team up for whom he has suited. Will he be a successful closer for them? Don’t ask.
At the very least (should he win the closer’s job, as expected), Dotel will be keeping the seat warm for a year – or less – buying the Jays time to further see what they have in David Purcey and Josh Roenicke and maybe even Zach Stewart if they decide his future isn’t in the rotation, though I’m betting it is.
Like Gregg before him, Dotel isn’t costing much money, and there’s a high likelihood that he spends a year here and then leaves for yet another destination and the Jays net yet another sandwich pick.
Cordero is the far more intriguing signee. He’ll be 28 by Opening Day and already has a shoulder surgery under his belt, but his signing carries exactly zero risk, and there’s potential for a high reward.
This isn’t Francisco Cordero, the established closer in Cincinnati, it’s Chaddrick Cordero, the one-time Expos closer (he notched the final save – and final win – in Expos history) who had consecutive dominant seasons for the Nationals in 2005 and ’06.
In ’05, Cordero led the majors with 47 saves, had a WHIP of 0.97 and held opponents to a line of .198/.248/.306. The next year, his WHIP went all the way up to 1.11 and he allowed opponents to hit .215/.279/.416 – the jump in slugging is concerning, but the home run totals went right back down the next year (1.1/1.6/1.0 per 9 IP over ’05,’ 06 and ’07) and the season after that he went under the knife.
Cordero pitched all of 14 1/3 innings in the minors in ’09, but had a strong season last year in AAA for the Mariners and Mets, combining to allow 43 baserunners in 35 2/3 innings while striking out 36. He gave up only two home runs.
On a minor-league deal with no commitment whatsoever, Cordero is like found money, and could very well wind up paying off. While shoulder surgery is tougher to rebound from than elbow, Cordero is farther removed from his injury than a guy like Taylor Buchholz, who I liked (while the Jays had him) to be a possible impact guy in the back of the bullpen in ’11. I like Cordero more. A fly in the ointment is that he’s a free agent after the 2011 season, though there are a number of ways to get future value from him if he does wind up coming back strong, which is admittedly a longshot.
Cordero and Dotel, Jason Frasor, Carlos Villanueva and Shawn Camp are likely to fight it out for high-leverage innings at the end of games. Purcey and Roenicke are in the bullpen mix as well, as are Casey Janssen, Jesse Carlson and Marc Rzepczynski. That’s ten names for seven spots though again, Cordero is a longshot to make it out of spring training. John Farrell has his hands full in his first camp as a big-league skipper.
On another note, I enjoyed the handful of hosting gigs I got over the last week, and I hope you did, too. I’ll be hosting again on Saturday afternoon, January 8th, and the Blue Jays will be having their mini-camp down at Rogers Centre over that weekend. Hopefully I’ll be able to line up a bunch of them to guest on the show that day – I’ll be on from 12:30 – 4:00 pm Eastern, ahead of our coverage of NFL playoff action.
Comments and questions are welcome – you never know when a mailbag will pop up!