Archive for December, 2011
Friday, December 30th, 2011
11:39 PM Eastern
It appears as though the Blue Jays will make another addition to their bullpen early in the New Year, having agreed to terms on what is apparently a one-year contract with a 2013 club option with lefty Darren Oliver who, at 41, will become the oldest player on the team and the only one who shares a birth year with me.
How long has Darren Oliver been around? He was once traded for Todd Stottlemyre. The full deal was Oliver, Fernando Tatis and Mark Little from the Rangers to the Cardinals for Stottlemyre and future Blue Jay Royce Clayton.
It’s easy, of course, to make the old-man jokes and write this guy off as just another retread the Blue Jays have brought into their bullpen – unless you look at, you know, his actual performance.
Oliver was a mediocre starter for a long time in the big leagues who looked all but done after the 2004 season. He’d split that year between Houston and Florida and finished up with a WHIP of 1.486 and an ERA of 5.94. That season actually lowered his career WHIP to 1.544, as sad as that is.
That off-season, Oliver signed with the Rockies, who released him at the end of Spring Training. He hooked on with the Diamondbacks, who sent him to AAA and released him a month later. The Cubs then gave him a shot, but he lasted less than two weeks at their AAA affiliate before being cut.
Three times released in less than two months, it appeared as though at 34, Oliver was at the end of the road.
But he gave it one more shot and signed with the Mets the next winter, where he resurrected his career. Oliver moved to the bullpen and, with the help of then-Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson tweaked his delivery so that he was better able to keep the ball down in the strike zone. Ironically, Peterson’s father once managed Oliver’s father – on the 1966 AA Asheville Tourists.
The results have been extraordinary.
Oliver, who had only once in his career posted a WHIP under 1.453, allowed just 91 baserunners in 81 innings out of the Mets’ bullpen in ’06 – a WHIP of 1.123 – and his strikeouts per nine innings went up by one and a half. And for the past six seasons, that’s where his numbers have stayed.
Since the beginning of the ’06 season, working exclusively out of the bullpen, Oliver has posted a WHIP of 1.151 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 3:1 (7.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9) and has allowed just 0.8 homers per nine innings.
And, while this has a lot more to do with his teammates than anything else (but it’s nice to note nonetheless), Oliver’s teams have been to the post-season six years in a row.
He’s not a mere lefty-killer, either. Oliver held right-handed batters to a paltry .594 OPS in 2011 (lefties were even worse, at just .587).
His story really reminds me of a guy like Scott Downs.
No, Oliver won’t be part of the core of the Blue Jays as they move towards what they hope will be perennial championship contention, but rarely is the bulk of the bullpen, which can change drastically from year to year. But he’s definitely a solid addition, someone you don’t have to use as just a lefty specialist and who you’d want in the game in the late innings – another good arm in a bullpen that has a few of them, including Casey Janssen, Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch and Joel Carreno, working towards closer Sergio Santos.
He’s also someone who becomes a reasonably attractive chip in trade deadline dealings, if the Blue Jays find themselves out of the race in mid-July.
Once Oliver passes his physical, the deal will be made official – likely sometime early next week. Alex Anthopoulos is still very active on the trade front, looking for both a big-time starting pitcher and a big bat for the middle of the order, and there are still seven weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report. So far, he’s managed to replace Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch with Sergio Santos and Darren Oliver, and that really can’t be seen as anything but a huge step forward.
I hope you enjoyed listening to (or watching) me on Prime Time Sports this week. I had a great time, it’s always fun to be in there with Jeff Blair and to have Stephen Brunt co-host with me on Wednesday was especially a treat!
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Monday, December 26th, 2011
11:55 AM Eastern
So here I am in Ottawa, having driven up here yesterday with the kiddies to surprise my lovely bride (not to stalk the Tao of Stieb or anything – at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), and as we prepare for the long drive home, I’m inspired to throw down some words about the state of the Blue Jays and their fandom.
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve been pretty vocal here on the blog, on the radio and on Twitter that things are just fine as far as the Blue Jays are concerned. I’ve always tried to be the voice of reason amid what usually seems to be a cacophony of panicked shrieking that the world is ending, and for some reason that tends to make a lot of people angry.
So, as the risk of making a lot of people angry again, my message to you this holiday season is this:
The sky is not falling. The world is not ending. The Blue Jays are not consigned to decades of mediocrity. And, in fact, the Blue Jays are a much better team right now than they were 12 months ago.
Does saying these things make me an apologist and a corporate shill? I certainly don’t think so, but I can’t stop a lot of you from thinking that.
No, they didn’t get Yu Darvish, having lost out in a silent, one-shot bidding process. The notion that not bidding significantly more than the $51.1 that it took to get Daisuke Matsuzaka meant that they weren’t serious is ludicrous, though. If that were true, then it means that no one was serious, since the winning bid was barely half a million dollars more than that. I’m not sure why those who put that theory forth have such a hard time understanding this.
No, they didn’t get Gio Gonzalez, who is a good-not-great starter who cost the Washington Nationals three of their top five minor-league prospects. Nor did they get Carlos Beltran, who wound up getting a full no-trade from the St. Louis Cardinals over his two-year free-agent contract.
It’s been argued that the fact that Beltran got a no-trade is irrelevant because the contract was only for two years, but I don’t agree. The ideal is that he signs and is great for two years, lifting the Blue Jays into contention with his greatness. But what if he’s great and the team isn’t? That’s when you can make your team better by moving him and you need to maintain the flexibility to do so.
Those who believe I’m never critical of the Blue Jays would have had their minds changed if they’d paid the same price for either Gonzalez or Beltran.
And no, unless his demands change drastically, they’re not going to sign Prince Fielder, either.
But it remains true that as we stand here, a few days away from the dawn of 2012, the Blue Jays are a much, much better team than they were when we were a few days away from the dawn of 2011.
Brett Lawrie over Jayson Nix. Colby Rasmus over Corey Patterson. Kelly Johnson over Aaron Hill. Henderson Alvarez over Jo-Jo Reyes. Sergio Santos over Frank Francisco. Along with the addition of another bucketload of talent, both through the draft and internationally, that bubbles too far beneath the surface for most observers to see. Some of that talent may very well be used over the next six weeks or so to bring in major-league help – and I firmly believe that it will.
Could this be a 90-win team in 2012 as currently constituted? Maybe, but a whole lot of things would have to go right. Is it a team that continues to take the right steps towards building a perennial contender? Absolutely.
I know a lot of people got very excited when Paul Beeston said that the Blue Jays’ payroll could easily move into the $120 million range because they thought that meant it was going to happen right away. I know there’s been a ton of buzz around the team, and I love the passion that has re-emerged. I don’t love the anger, though, or the feeling that if they don’t make a huge splash right now then all is lost, everyone should be fired and no one should ever go to a Blue Jays game anymore.
You’re all entitled to your feelings, of course, and your opinions. Just try to take a step back every once in a while and see the larger picture of what’s been going on since Alex Anthopoulos took over. You’ll find a remarkable run of consistency in both words and action, and you’ll find that the message has never changed.
Things are looking up in Blue Jay land, and it really is a great time to be a fan of this ballclub.
I’ll be back on the radio all this week, co-hosting Prime Time Sports with Jeff Blair at 4:00PM Eastern on Sportsnet590 The Fan and on Sportsnet (not sure which channel) on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and moving into the host’s chair while Blair heads to the Raptors home opener on Wednesday. Also, you can always follow me on Twitter @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
1:40 AM Eastern
Well, that was a fun night!
I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on the air in the middle of December and done almost four hours of nothing but Blue Jays calls, but that’s what happened tonight as we awaited the results of the Yu Darvish bidding, then found out at 11:11 PM Eastern time that the Texas Rangers had come in with the high bid, reported to be at $51.7 million.
Remember, that’s the cost just to talk contract with Darvish – there’s likely another $70-75 million or so to come over the next five years, should the Japanese phenom choose to sign with the two-time defending A.L. champs.
We know that the Blue Jays were involved, and made a bid, and we assume it was a pretty good one (though we have no knowledge of that at all). What we also know is that their bid wasn’t high enough. Alex Anthopoulos didn’t believe that he would be getting value out of Yu Darvish if he had to bid $52 million or more just for the right to talk to him. Maybe the Blue Jays bid $51.6 million, maybe they bid $42 million, maybe it was $12 million, though I’d have a hard time believing that. We may never know what the bid was.
So as we sit here right now, with Blue Jays fans across Twitter up in arms at the Jays’ failure to win a completely blind, one-shot bid, the team is really in no worse shape now than it was before this whole process began.
The Jays are still a very young and supremely talented collection of players, and that’s at the major-league level, with one of the best minor-league systems in the game. They have five starting pitchers with stuff that makes scouts drool, they have big time young bats and they play very good defense. The process of hoping to see it all come together continues.
Would they have been better with Darvish? Probably. As much as so many would like to believe that it’s a sure thing that Darvish will step into the bigs and immediately be a successful top-of-the-rotation starter, bigger talents than he have failed miserably. It would have been a lot of fun to see what he could do as a Blue Jay, though. Now we’ll have to watch from afar (if the Rangers can sign him).
And that’s the thing, I think. It would have been a lot of fun. I was as excited as anyone else at the prospect of the Blue Jays winning the posting on Darvish and having him come here and pitch for the next five years (I just didn’t believe the unsubstantiated reports and unconfirmed rumours – none of which turned out to be true). It would have been a blast to see how good this guy can be, to watch the hordes of Japanese media following his every move, to get some notoriety south of the border and to have the fanbase stay all abuzz because the Blue Jays had landed one of the most sought-after free agents on the market.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. The Blue Jays had one chance to make a bid that they thought would be enough, and theirs wasn’t. They didn’t know what the Rangers (or anyone else) would bid, but there’s no question that they came to their number through a methodical, well-thought-out process. Some have said that any team that was serious about Darvish should have known to bid more than the $51,111,111.11 that the Boston Red Sox paid for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka back in 2006. That answer to that is simply this – the winning bid for Darvish, if what’s being reported is true, was barely half a million dollars more than the Matsuzaka bid which wound up being a massive waste of money. So only one team thought that Darvish was worth more, and no team thought he was worth significantly more.
Did the Blue Jays make a mistake in not bidding more? Was this an epic failure? Are the Jays now doomed to another decade of mediocrity? I think things probably went a little too far tonight, but that’s likely a product of the Twitter era in which we find ourselves.
Be disappointed, sure. Again, it would have been really cool had the Jays been able to land Darvish. But angry? There’s no point in being angry. You can’t have lost something that you never had, and anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure as G.M. of the Blue Jays knows he never throws all his eggs in one basket. He’s always got a lot of balls in the air, and the fact that Darvish got scooped up by somebody else just means he’ll have to make something happen with one of the other ones.
I firmly believe that the Jays will make a big splash in trade this winter, either for a starting pitcher, a big bat or both. And we won’t know a thing about it until a couple of minutes before it happens.
The Blue Jays broke camp this past year with Jo-Jo Reyes in the rotation and with Jayson Nix, Corey Patterson, Juan Rivera and Aaron Hill all playing significant roles. Those guys have been replaced by Henderson Alvarez, Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames, Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson – each one a real upgrade. Things are still looking up in Blue Jay land.
Please follow me on Twitter – you can see how many people hate me over @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Friday, December 16th, 2011
12:45 PM Eastern
As I write this, we’re a couple of days past the deadline to submit bids for the rights to negotiate with the next great pitcher to come out of Japan, Yu Darvish, and we’re a few days ahead of the deadline by which Darvish’s NPB team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters must decide whether to accept the winning bid.
Our society being what it is, there’s been a long list of reports, rumours and the like, with dozens upon dozens of people falling all over themselves to be the first one to report the high bidder, despite the fact that no one really knows.
All the buzz around the industry, though, points towards the Blue Jays having been the team that blew everybody out of the water with their bid, and that they soon be awarded exclusive rights to negotiate with Darvish over a 30-day period that begins on Tuesday, December 20th.
George King of the New York Post has reported as fact that the Blue Jays made a bid in excess of $40 million, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News said the same thing, and former Reds GM Jim Bowden - who now works for ESPN – tweeted that he has multiple sources that have confirmed to him that the Post report is true. Of course, Bowden did use the word “cooberating” in his tweet. I’m sure he meant corroborating. At least I hope he did.
The thing is this, though: Nobody knows.
Even the Ham Fighters have no idea as to who made the high bid – all they get is a number from the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, that’s it. They don’t know who made the bid, they don’t know how many bids there were, they don’t know what the next-highest bid was, nothing.
The only one who knows who won the bidding is whoever in the Commissioner’s Office is in charge of handling the bids and shipping them off to Japan.
Neither Alex Anthopoulos nor Paul Beeston knows whether the Blue Jays’ bid was the highest. Nor do any other of the executives across the majors who are saying that the Jays are the favourites in the race.
I know that a lot of Blue Jays fans want to believe that the Jays will win the bidding, and a lot of you are upset with me for not jumping on the bandwagon and saying that I think the Jays will be getting Darvish, but I can’t do it. It’s so easy to fall for unsubstantiated rumours and unconfirmed reports, and so often, they wind up being not true.
If you say you know something, whether you do or not, and it turns out to be true, you can always crow from the top of the mountain that you had it first. If it turns out to not be true, people rarely remember that you said it.
All that said, I don’t necessarily believe that the Blue Jays won’t be the team that winds up with the exclusive negotiating rights for Darvish.
I don’t think that the Blue Jays would make a bid just for the sake of making a bid. If they’re in, they’re serious about it, and they’re definitely in. But we won’t know if they came out on top until there’s an announcement as to whose bid was accepted by the Ham Fighters – if they even do accept the bid.
To answer a few questions that have been thrown my way on Twitter over the last few days:
-I don’t think that the Blue Jays would make a high bid with no intention of actually signing Darvish (in which case they’d keep him away from their rivals and be refunded the amount of the bid). The problem with doing that is that if they do, they would ruin their reputation with Nippon Professional Baseball and might never be seen as negotiating in good faith again, eliminating their opportunity to sign Japanese players in the future.
-I also don’t think the Blue Jays would make a high bid if they weren’t prepared to pay Darvish what he wants. That is to say, if the Jays win the bid, I don’t think we’ll hear something like “we tried our best, but we couldn’t come to an agreement with the player” after the 30 days are up. They know what they’re getting into, they’re aware of the salary area in which Darvish wants to be, and they’d have to have prepared a package that includes a bid and a contract that was within their means.
-I continue to believe that the Blue Jays aren’t going to make a play for Prince Fielder, regardless of what happens with Darvish, unless Fielder’s price comes down to the point where he’d be available for five years or less at less than $20 million per year. There’s more room for improvement for the money in the starting rotation than there is at first base.
-If the Blue Jays do wind up with Darvish, he would join Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez in the starting rotation, with the fifth spot to be decided between Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan if everyone stays healthy throughout the spring. McGowan is out of options, so he either makes the team or starts the season on the disabled list – the move to add Darvish may well kick both Cecil and McGowan to the bullpen, potentially solving the Jays’ needs for another lefty reliever and an 8th inning set-up man for Sergio Santos.
-I don’t think the acquisition of Darvish would necessarily be a win-now move, as many seem to have decided. It’s only natural to believe that it might take Darvish a while to find his footing in the majors, dealing with much better hitters, a different baseball and a huge culture shock. The Blue Jays would have Darvish under control for six years, and he’s still only 25. He’d be a core piece that would be timed well to grow with the rest of the Jays’ core.
-I’m hoping that the Blue Jays don’t want Gio Gonzalez anyway, but I don’t think them getting Darvish will make them more likely to trade for the Oakland lefty, especially since the A’s are apparently looking for a package similar to the one they pulled in for Dan Haren.
To sum everything up, I’m not going to believe that the Blue Jays – or anyone else – have won the bidding for the rights to negotiate with Darvish until I hear it from MLB, the Ham Fighters or the Jays themselves, so every new report and rumour that comes out in the next couple of days will elicit the same reaction from me.
That said, I do think it would be pretty cool if the Jays did land Darvish. He would definitely create a buzz around the team unlike any we’ve seen in the last 20 years. He has a chance to be a terrific, top-of-the-rotation guy who goes deep in games, and would just be another addition to the bucketload of talent that the Jays have on the mound. Rogers Centre would be nuts, at least every five days, overwhelmed by a barrage of Japanese media. It would be a lot of fun.
There are no guarantees that Darvish will be a success in North America, though. Many have come over before him, and most have failed – even absolute “can’t-miss” guys like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu. There really hasn’t been a successful starting pitcher come over from Japan since Hideo Nomo. But I trust in Alex Anthopoulos and his lieutenants. I don’t think they’d pony up a big whack of dough unless they were pretty sure that the guy’s skills would translate well to the big-league game.
We won’t know where he’s going, though, until we know.
Please follow me on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590 where I’ll be telling people that nothing is official until it’s official for the next few days.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Monday, December 12th, 2011
2:32 PM Eastern
Another out-of-nowhere trade by the Blue Jays this afternoon – they dealt minor-league lefty Frank Gailey to the Phillies for outfielder and non-tender candidate Ben Francisco.
This is the second deal the Jays have made this month in which they picked up a player who was likely to have been made a free agent by his team, Jeff Mathis being the other, which indicates that the Blue Jays see something in both guys that they like, and they were willing to give something up in order to secure their rights and not have to bid against anyone else.
Francisco is an odd acquisition, though. He gives the Jays a sixth major-league outfielder, and the fourth of those whose primary position is left field (though he has played all three spots). He’s a right-handed bat, something of which the Blue Jays already have too many, and he’s decidedly average.
Francisco’s career OPS+ is 103, which means he’s been just 3% better than an average big-leaguer over his career. He’s a lifetime .260/.332/.430 with 45 home runs (averaging 16 per 162 games). While he’s been primarily used as a platoon outfielder, starting against lefties, his career OPS of .768 against southpaws is only nine points better than his career OPS against righties.
Again, there has to be something that the Blue Jays have seen in Francisco that indicates to them that he has more to offer than he’s shown to this point. He’s 30 years old, is going into his second year of arbitration eligibility, and the team controls him for two more years.
Beyond Francisco, though, this trade has to be about something else. You can’t go into a season with four left fielders, even though both Travis Snider and Eric Thames have options remaining. Everyone’s spidey sense is tingling right now, and it’s because the only way to see this trade is to see it as one that was made to set up something else.
Whether that something else is a trade for a front-line starting pitcher or a trade for a middle-of-the-order left-field bat or both, there’s no reason to make a trade like this in a vacuum.
I’m not saying the Blue Jays are on the doorstep of getting Gio Gonzalez or Matt Garza or Carlos Quentin. Again, knowing Alex Anthopoulos, he’s got something cooking at which most of us haven’t even guessed. But something is most definitely cooking.
It could happen today – which is why I was reluctant to even write this post, for fear it would be obselete within seconds of being posted – it could happen next week, it could happen next month. But this deal indicates something is brewing, indeed, and it could be something pretty big. It’s no longer Snider or Thames that can be dangled in trade, along with all the big-time prospect arms in the Blue Jays’ system. It’s Snider and Thames.
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome – there are a bunch that are still waiting in the hopper from the last day in Dallas, and I’ll get to them soon!
Thursday, December 8th, 2011
1:31 PM Central
The Winter Meetings started with a big bang and finished with an even bigger one, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stole the Miami Marlins’ early thunder by throwing around some huge money of their own.
The Marlins started things off by signing closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes and starter Mark Buehrle for a total outlay of $191 million, which is more money than they’d spent in free agency from 1997 to 2010 – combined. But the Angels came out of nowhere to ink Albert Pujols to a 10-year deal worth somewhere between $250 and $260 million and then snap up the top starting pitcher on the market, C.J. Wilson, to a five-year deal that will pay the lefty $77.5 million.
The Angels took away the ace of the team they’re chasing in the A.L. West and they also nabbed the best player off the defending World Series champions – and Wilson falls into the third or fourth spot in their rotation, behind at least Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and maybe Ervin Santana, too.
The Angels’ moves make them the clear favourites in the A.L. West, while the Marlins’ are still not as good as the Phillies in the N.L. East. But watching those two teams over the last four days sure has been a lot of fun.
What do these moves mean for the Blue Jays? Well, as far as Miami is concerned, it likely makes Hanley Ramirez available, but as we discussed in this space before, the reason Ramirez is available is because he wants to play shortstop, and the Blue Jays already have someone there who’s a pretty good hitter and a much better defender than Ramirez, so there’s not really a fit.
The Angels’ signings likely make Kendrys Morales available, at the very least, if not Santana, too, and those are a couple of guys in whom the Blue Jays should have a lot of interest. Morales broke out in 2009, hitting .306/.355/.569 with 34 homers, but broke his leg early the next season leaping into home plate to celebrate a walk-off homer and hasn’t played since. The switch-hitter is only 28 years old and is under control for another couple of years, though he’s obviously a pretty huge risk given all the time he’s missed and all the trouble he’s had coming back from the injury.
The Wilson contract (and the 6-year, $100 million offer he turned down from the Marlins) isn’t about how good a pitcher he is, but about how he was the best available starting pitcher on the market, so it’s a deal the Halos will likely regret down the road. I’m not as convinced about Pujols, though. The outlay is tremendous, and since nobody really believes that Pujols is only 31 years old, as he claims, it would seem apparent that the last few years of the contract aren’t going to provide anywhere close to the level of performance that would be necessary to make that outlay worthwhile. But he’s Albert Pujols. A slam-dunk Hall of Famer who is probably one of the 10 best hitters ever in the history of the game. In 11 years in the majors, Pujols has finished in the top 5 in MVP balloting an astounding 10 times. His most similar hitter at age 31 is Jimmie Foxx, and the list of top six similarity scores includes Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle. That’s some serious company.
Out of all of the crazy long-term deals that have been signed over the last decade or so, Pujols’ would certainly seem to have a good chance of working out. But then again, I can only think of a couple that have – the eight-year deal Manny Ramirez signed in 2001 (when he was 28) and the ten-year deal that Derek Jeter signed the same year (when he was 26). Look at all the others – the deals that Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito signed in the winter of 2006-07 all wound up being complete failures. Yankee fans are trying to convince Brian Cashman to get out from under Mark Teixeira’s eight-year deal with five years left on it, and they’re also not excited about being stuck paying Alex Rodriguez another $148 million over the next six years.
Certainly, though, looking at the history of long-term big-money deals should make one wary of diving into that pool, and we know that Alex Anthopoulos definitely is.
Anthopoulos addressed the media following the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, in which the Blue Jays neither selected nor lost any players, and he believes his sojourn here in Dallas was ultimately a successful one. He added a core piece (Sergio Santos) without parting with any, filled a hole at second base with the best available player and picked up a pair of sandwich picks with Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch leaving for the New York Mets.
There are still holes to fill, no doubt. Anthopoulos says he’s going to scour the trade market to try to find an 8th-inning guy to set up Santos. That’s not an indictment of Casey Janssen’s work so much as it’s a desire to get even better in the back of the bullpen and maybe push Janssen back to the 7th inning, making it a six-inning game for the opposition. There will also be a free agent reliever or two added, because right now the bullpen behind Santos consists of Janssen, Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villanueva, Luis Perez and Joel Carreno. And besides the fact that Anthopoulos has indicated he’d rather have Carreno start in AAA to provide depth (maybe as a starter), that bullpen isn’t good enough.
Anthopoulos also indicated a desire to add a front- to mid-rotation starter and a middle of the order bat, but he doesn’t know how realistic either of those wants are. If they don’t add a front-line starter, then the Blue Jays would be OK going with a rotation of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez and two of Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan and Villanueva. Anthopoulos said that the Jays “have a lot of depth in young starters, but they’re young, so there’s an unknown there. But there’s value in getting them innings and they all have the ability to click and do very well for us.”
Alex said that he’s pleased with the fact that Kelly Johnson accepted the Blue Jays’ offer of arbitration, but wouldn’t let on if he was interested in signing him to a multi-year deal. The Blue Jays weren’t happy with what the free agent market had to offer as far as second basemen were concerned, so had Johnson left, they’d have had to have dipped again into their minor-league system in order to make a trade. Anthopoulos said that the cost of acquiring a second baseman in trade would have been some of their top young players – likely having to deal more value than what they would have gotten with the two draft picks had he declined.
He also talked a bit about Yu Darvish, the Japanese-Iranian phenomenon who is expected to be posted today by his club team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. One Darvish is posted, teams will have four days to make a silent bid to the Fighters, and after those four days, the team that wins the bid will be revealed. The winning team will then have 30 days over which to negotiate a contract with Darvish, and if they can’t come to an agreement, Darvish would go back to Japan and try again another year.
We know Anthopoulos went to Japan last fall to watch Darvish pitch in person and about that, he said that he “wouldn’t have gone to see him if we weren’t going to do our homework. I think it’s one thing to do your homework in North America, but to fly over and do your homework is certainly something else. But it’s part of the job and also (about) learning the Asian market. Beyond the one player, there’s a lot of value in going over there.” Alex wouldn’t say whether or not the Blue Jays will submit a bid for Darvish, and would only say that he’s a very talented player, much like a lot of free agents here in North America are very talented players.
I suspect the Jays will put a bid in on Darvish, but not an outlandish one, and certainly nowhere near the $51.1 million bid the Red Sox submitted that won them the rights to talk to Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Here’s the complete audio of today’s media scrum with Alex Anthopoulos, for your listening pleasure:
I know a lot of Blue Jays fans expected their team to come out of Dallas with Prince Fielder at the very least, if not also C.J. Wilson and one of Heath Bell or Huston Street, and those fans are both disappointed and angry that those moves didn’t happen, but realistically, they were never going to happen.
Alex Anthopoulos has been completely transparent as to how he thinks a winning team should be built, and he believes that’s by acquiring as much high-ceiling, controllable talent as possible, generally by trade or through the draft, and waiting until the core shows that it’s ready for prime time before making the big free-agent splash. That’s likely how it’s going to happen, no matter how angry it makes you.
Remember that even when the Blue Jays had the highest payroll in the game and were winning World Series, they never made a Fieldersque free agent splash. The longest contract any free agent got was three years, and that was Paul Molitor. Dave Winfield got one year, Jack Morris and Dave Stewart two each. It’s not Paul Beeston’s style, and it doesn’t seem to be Alex Anthopoulos’, either.
As the Blue Jays leave Dallas, they hit the road a much more talented team than they were a year ago, with the additions of Santos, Johnson, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie. With the emergence of Henderson Alvarez, the return of Dustin McGowan and the continued positive strides made by Ricky Romero and Jose Bautista.
They certainly didn’t make as much noise as the Angels and Marlins, but the off-season hasn’t even reached the halfway point. There’s certainly potential for eye-opening moves as the winter continues, but odds are high those moves will come via the trade front. As we parted ways, we asked Anthopoulos if we were going to see him again before the New Year. He said he certainly hopes so. After all, that would mean that the Blue Jays have something to announce.
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – I’m trying to catch Shi Diggity and his over 10,000 followers. You can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
5:50 PM Central
The big news that came out of the Day Three media sitdown with Alex Anthopoulos is that the Blue Jays’ G.M. believes that Kelly Johnson will accept the Jays’ offer of arbitration by tonight’s Midnight Eastern deadline, returning to the team for which he hit .270/.364/.417 in a five-week stint after coming over from Arizona in a trade for Aaron Hill and John McDonald.
That likely closes the Jays’ opening at second base, though Anthopoulos floated that Johnson may be headed for left field, saying he hasn’t ruled out that move if the Jays can acquire a core piece to play second base (Gordon Beckham? Jason Kipnis? Jemile Weeks?). It’s not terribly likely, though, and though it would be very unlike Alex, it might have been a hint to Johnson that he might be better off not accepting the Jays’ offer, giving Toronto a couple of extra picks in next year’s draft.
Anthopoulos also talked about Thursday morning’s Rule 5 draft, in which teams can select eligible players who are not on the 40-man rosters of other clubs, but must keep them in the major leagues for the entire season or offer the back to the team from which they were drafted for half the price. It’s the final event of the Winter Meetings. The Rule 5 draft has unearthed such gems as Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana and Joakim Soria, and the Blue Jays have used it in the past to pick up George Bell, Kelly Gruber and Manuel Lee, among others. Jose Bautista was taken in the Rule 5, but didn’t stay with the Orioles for very long, and the most successful Rule 5 pick, without question, was Roberto Clemente.
The Blue Jays have an eye on a few players in the Rule 5 draft, but their 40-man roster is full (and Johnson’s addition later tonight will mean they’ll have to drop someone). If the Jays feel as though one of the players they like will fall to the middle of the draft, where they can snap him up, they’ll clear even more room from the 40-man. Candidates to be attempted to be snuck through include Luis Valbuena, Drew Carpenter, Jesse Chavez, Brian Jeroloman and Darin Mastroianni.
The largest, and most spirited part of the day’s discussion, though, was about the fallout from Anthopoulos’ comments while talking about the Sergio Santos/Nestor Molina trade about the payroll parameters within which he has to work. It was the first time Alex had ever mentioned such things. Most of us believed that the Jays’ had no payroll limit, that things were fluid and that Anthopoulos could pretty much spend whatever he felt necessary to build the team he wanted to build. Some felt that the shift in message indicated that that Anthopoulos was upset, perhaps by finding out that he wasn’t going to have as much money to spend as he thought. Others (including me) believed it was his way of calling off the dogs, of trying to stop the incessant bleating of the agents and the non-Toronto media that the Blue Jays were going to be in on every big-name free agent available because they had truckloads of money to spend.
For his part, Anthopoulos said that he was neither upset nor frustrated about his payroll in yesterday’s news conference. He did say, though, that he was tired and that he was still upset about having had to trade Nestor Molina. He said he’s very happy to get Sergio Santos, no question, but that he didn’t feel good about trading Molina, and that it took him quite a while to bring himself to do it.
As far as the payroll parameters – or boundaries, which was decided today was a better word – Anthopoulos said this:
“My job is to put a team on the field that can win and I have boundaries. I believe, if I do my job and we as a front office do our jobs and the team gets better, there will be greater interest in the club as we win more games and greater interest should drive revenues even more and, as such, I think those boundaries will rise.”
When asked if the boundaries he has to work within are enough for him to do all the things he wants to do this season, he answered “We’re still in the middle of it, we’ll find out. If there are things that come up, I’ll have a conversation with Paul (Beeston).”
Anthopoulos said that he’s certainly not calling out the fans, telling them to show up so that the Blue Jays will spend money. He believes in building his team the way the Texas Rangers built their ballclub that has been to the World Series the last two years. Small signings, one- and two-year contracts, and then when the team came together and was playing well and in first place in early July, they went out and traded for Cliff Lee to get them over the top. Then, the following off-season, after they’d established themselves as a very good team, they made the big free agent splash and brought in Adrian Beltre.
Anthopoulos went on to say that he doesn’t believe that a team can transform itself over the course of one winter to know for certain that if it does A, B and C, it will be a definite playoff team. And he’s right – despite what the Marlins are doing right here in Dallas, having already brought in Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and maybe even looking at Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson, too – there’s no guarantee that the team will stay healthy and all the players will perform to their capabilities. Or that even if they do, they’ll be able to beat out the Phillies and some other wild card team. Heck, almost all of us thought that the Red Sox were a slam-dunk to win the A.L. East, if not the World Series, after they picked up Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez last winter.
It can be frustrating, to be sure, but it’s how Alex believes you build a winner, and that’s how he’s going to do it.
And as for a timeline as to when the Blue Jays are planning to contend, here’s a final quote from Anthopoulos: ”I never want to pinpoint. I don’t know when it’ll all come together and we’ll win. Just keep adding talent and it’ll come together.”
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590. Check in at Midnight Eastern for the official news about Kelly Johnson.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
10:07 AM Central
One of these years, I’m going to get to write an article that celebrates Tom Cheek winning the Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcasting Excellence, and that describes the excitement of all Blue Jays fans in anticipation of seeing him inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York the following summer.
Not this year, though, as the Frick committee – in its infinite wisdom – decided to bestow the 2012 honour on FOX television broadcaster Tim McCarver. It’s the third time in four years that the award has been won by a high-profile national broadcaster, the only exception being last year’s deserved win for Dave Van Horne, who I thought was going to add some sanity to the voting process (and to his credit, he’s probably trying – he only has one vote out of 20).
As time passes, it seems apparent to me that the Frick Award should be renamed the “Ford C. Frick Award for Excellence in Broadcasting for a team based in the United States” because it remains ridiculous that Tom Cheek has yet to be honoured. Would any U.S.-based broadcaster who was heard from coast to coast, had a streak of 4,306 straight games (plus Spring Training and playoffs) and called post-season and all-star games for at least 10 straight years not have been honoured by now? The answer has to be a pretty obvious yes.
Still, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that Tom’s time will come, that it’s just a matter of waiting until his turn comes up. Just no one seems to know when that will be.
I’m a little conflicted by my disappointment, though. The time to give Tom the Frick Award was 2004, when we all knew that he was dying and when he’d have been around to enjoy it. If you know he deserves it, and he’s going to get it eventually, then it borders on cruel to bypass a dying man, much like the Hockey Hall of Fame did with Pat Burns. If he didn’t win it then, it almost doesn’t matter when he wins it – except, of course, for Mrs. Cheek and the kids and grandkids, and the entirety of Blue Jays Nation that waits patiently and votes passionately every year.
I guess it’s nice that since Tom passed away, there hasn’t been a posthumous winner of the Frick Award, that each winner has been able to go to the induction ceremony at Cooperstown.
Tom Cheek meant so much to so many for so long. His was the voice that brought big-league baseball to Toronto, that brought summer to an entire country year-in and year-out for 28 years. He never sought accolades, he was modest to a fault, and he saw himself as just another guy who went to work every day. An entire country of Blue Jays fans loved him for that.
Even though it feels as though we’re just tilting at windmills, we will continue to fight the good fight again next year and try just as hard as ever to make the Frick committee see the light and finally give Tom Cheek the recognition he deserves. I hope you’ll all be with me.
And hey, at least with Bob Elliott winning the Spink Award yesterday, we’re batting .500!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
6:10 PM Central
Part of every Winter Meetings is a half-hour media sit-down with every big-league manager – the Yankees even participate in this now! – and John Farrell sat down to discuss all things Blue Jayic (and some things Red Soxal).
Before I get to the highlights of our conversation with him, though, I want to touch on something Alex Anthopoulos said at least half a dozen times this afternoon while we were talking to him about the Molina-Santos trade (see previous blog post). For the first time ever in his career as the Jays’ G.M., Anthopoulos mentioned payroll parameters. He talked about the fact that he has a budget within which he has to work, and this was a bit of a surprise.
We had always thought that the Blue Jays’ payroll was a fluid thing – that they spent what they spent and if they needed to spend more, that was fine. We know now that this isn’t the case. Anthopoulos was very clear that there are parameters within which he has to work, though if the right opportunity presents itself, he can go to Paul Beeston and request the additional funds and Beeston would go to ownership on his behalf. Apparently, Alex wanted to quiet the voices that are screaming that the Jays have no ceiling on their payroll and that they could go to $120 or $150 million this winter. They can’t. I can’t think of any other reason that Alex would bring this up, there was no need for it, no question asked. It remains, as Paul Beeston has always said, that the payroll will rise as the revenues rise. Maybe that will finally stop the Prince Fielder talk, but somehow I doubt it.
On to the skipper! Farrell touched on a wide range of topics, and the audio of the full session is presented below for your listening pleasure.
-Farrell was thrilled by this afternoon’s acquisition of Sergio Santos. He loves the dominating stuff, the power arm with a well above-average slider. He added that if one was to try to draw up a profile of what you would want in the 9th inning, this is the kind of stuff you would have.
-Farrell wants to add some left-handed depth in the bullpen, though he appreciates Casey Janssen’s ability to get left-handed hitters out.
-There are two keys that Farrell mentioned specifically as far as helping the Blue Jays move from a .500 team to a playoff contender: An increase in the number of quality innings provided by the rotation, and an improvement in outfield defence. To me, that means that Travis Snider has a slight edge on Eric Thames in what’s being called an open competition for the left field job.
-Farrell said that he believes both Snider and Thames have every ability to be regular major-league players. He noted Thames’ natural confidence at the plate and said he did a very good job for his first year, and he talked about Snider’s polish as a defender and baserunner, but said he needs to let his talent and ability play out. The two of them had 2011′s that are comparable, which makes Spring Training that much more important for them.
-As far as the rotation goes, Henderson Alvarez comes to camp with a spot to lose, and Dustin McGowan comes to camp as a member of the rotation, with the Jays watching his progress to see if he can be healthy and ready for Opening Day. A normal, healthy off-season is key for McGowan. Kyle Drabek will also come to Spring Training to compete for a spot in the rotation – he has to learn to trust in his fastball when he gets in hitters’ counts, not to overthrow it, and to get some contact. Farrell said that the Jays have to remain patient and objective when evaluating their young pitchers, because they all develop at different rates.
-Farrell believes Brett Cecil will be a key part of the rotation improving in ’12. He’s very impressed with Cecil’s off-season work so far; he’s lost weight and seems committed to getting into much better shape.
-Farrell wants his hitters to be more committed to getting on base. He said they need to value the base on balls more – not to go up to the plate looking to take a walk, but to “understand that there’s a relentless approach towards a strike zone discipline that we’re all striving for.” He wants to develop the kind of offense that forces pitchers into high pitch counts early and, therefore, get to the soft underbelly of middle relief more often.
-On Adam Lind, Farrell believes that next year, he’ll have a better understanding of the volume of work there is in Spring Training. He was trying to play catch-up with groundball work early in spring last year and it likely taxed him physically. Farrell believes that there’s still another step forward in Lind’s overall production at the plate, pointing to the fact that Lind missed over a month on the DL and had a lengthy slump in the second half, but still hit 25 home runs. When asked if Lind was still his clean-up hitter, Farrell answered in the affirmative, but without enthusiasm: ”Yeah, Yeah. Unless something….somebody else comes along.”
-Farrell is very happy to have Jeff Mathis, an athletic, aggressive catcher. He loves the way Mathis throws and how he takes charge behind the plate. Farrell believes that there’s something to Mathis’ relatively low catcher’s ERA and the fact that the Angels had a better winning percentage with him behind the plate. He said that when a pitcher has confidence in the game that’s being called, he can move into a mindless state where he just throws what the catcher puts down, almost robotically, and when that happens, a better game is often thrown.
-Farrell made sure to note that the acquisition of Mathis doesn’t indicate that the Blue Jays are displeased with J.P. Arencibia in any way. Not only would he sign up for 23 homers and 78 RBIs out of his catcher in 2012 right now, but he believes that Arencibia will develop into an all-star catcher.
-Lastly, he addressed the relentless October speculation that the Red Sox wanted him to be their manager and he wanted the job by saying “I’m a Toronto Blue Jay. It’s humbling when your name is associated with any potential opening, but I’m completely happy here and committed to the Blue Jays. To think about any other place or position while you’re doing your own is a disservice to where you are. I’m excited about being here and look forward to putting this team together and winning a World Series here. I’m happy to be doing it here.”
The full audio of the Farrell session is right here, for your listening pleasure:
That should be it for tonight, though I’ll be on the Twitter on and off, you can find me @wilnerness590. And of course, if any other Blue Jays news breaks, I’ll try to put the pieces together for you here.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
3:27 PM Central
Alex Anthopoulos said last night that he could see the Blue Jays leaving Dallas with a closer, and then he made it happen. Not one of the deals that was on the five-yard line on Sunday, this one came together very quickly Monday night when White Sox G.M. Kenny Williams finally said yes to trading his closer after saying no to Alex 85 times.
The price was high indeed, as the Jays parted with one of their top prospects, righty Nestor Molina, in exchange for Sergio Santos, the 30-save man in Chicago who was once a shortstop prospect in the Blue Jays’ system.
Santos was a first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and was traded to the Jays in December of 2005 along with Troy Glaus in exchange for Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista. He didn’t work out as a shortstop – wasn’t a very good hitter, as it turned out – and though the Blue Jays suggested to him in 2007 that he might try pitching, he hit 20 home runs that season and felt he was too young and too good to give up the stick. Eventually, the Jays waived him – he was hitting .183/.224/.237 at AAA Syracuse the next May when they did it. The Twins claimed him and kept him at short in AAA the rest of that year, after which he left for the White Sox as a minor-league free agent. The Sox traded him to the Giants that spring, but got him back less than two weeks later, and he finally accepted that his path to the big leagues was going to take him to the mound, thanks to the good advice of Buddy Bell. He really hasn’t looked back since.
Santos made his major-league debut in 2010, and in 56 games struggled to a WHIP over 1.5, but kept his ERA under 3.00 and struck out 56 in 51 2/3 innings. In 2011, he emerged from a pack at the back of the Chicago bullpen to become the closer, and had a terrific year. His WHIP dropped to 1.105, he struck out an incredible 92 in 63 1/3 innings, and he held the opposition to a .181/.282/.314 mark. That opponents’ OPS of .596 ranked him 4th among American League closers – and that was in his first year as a closer. Santos had 30 saves in 36 opportunities.
As I mentioned, the price the Blue Jays paid was pretty high, with Molina being one of their top pitching prospects. The Jays have a boatload of good young pitching prospects who finished the season at AA – Molina was part of a group that includes Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins and Drew Hutchison (and there’s another wave behind them), but Molina had the best year of the bunch in 2011.
The 22 year-old righty (he turns 23 next month) tore up the Florida State League, going 10-3, 2.58 for the Dunedin Blue Jays, posting a WHIP of 1.071 and striking out 115 in 108 1/3 innings. Molina was then called up to New Hampshire where he was completely and utterly dominant in five starts, allowing just one earned run over 22 innings of work, striking out 33 while walking just two and allowing a dozen hits. Seriously, those numbers are sick, and anyone who only saw him pitch for the Fisher Cats probably believes that the Jays just made a huge mistake.
But it was only five starts, and only 22 innings, and there’s so much that can happen to a guy between A-ball and the big leagues.
That’s not to say that Molina might not wind up being a star, he might. Anthopoulos says he projects him as a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues with the chance to be a lot more, others project him as a future closer. But as it’s often said, you can’t get something for nothing. If you want a 28 year-old with a dominating 30-save season under his belt who is still under control for six years (and who’ll make less money over the next three seasons than Heath Bell will make in 2012), there’s a price to be paid, and Molina is that price. It’s very easy to fall in love with prospects, and I know there are many people who have never seen Nestor Molina throw a baseball who believe that the Blue Jays just gave up an ace in the making and will regret this move for years, but so many prospects struggle, or get hurt, or simply fall by the wayside. Someone who has succeeded in the major leagues is almost always a better bet than someone who hasn’t even come close to that level yet.
Santos isn’t going to be perfect, no one is – heck, Mariano Rivera blew five saves last season – but he’s coming off an incredible season and the great baseball-reference.com says that the most similar comparison at the age of 27 is some guy named Tom Henke.
Is this a win-now move by the Blue Jays? Not necessarily. The fact that Santos has six years of club control (if the Jays want them – there are three years of team options after 2014 that can be picked up individually, year-by-year) is a huge factor. He’s not a rental player and in fact, Anthopoulos said he wouldn’t have traded Molina for someone who came with three or fewer years of control. Santos will be a Blue Jay for a while, and this may well be simply a matter of picking up a guy when he’s available even though you may not really, really need him for a year or two.
For his part, Santos was shocked to be traded – he signed the three-year plus three options contract barely two months ago – but he’s excited to be coming back to the Blue Jays. He’s already been in touch with Ricky Romero and J.P. Arencibia, and looks forward to continuing to develop and improve as a big-league pitcher, and being a big part of the Jays’ planned return to prominence.
The Blue Jays have their closer, and now they’d like to continue to improve the bullpen – they’ll find out tomorrow night whether Frank Francisco and/or Jon Rauch will accept their offer of arbitration (Anthopoulos thinks Francisco will say no and isn’t sure about Rauch) – and make a move in the starting rotation, as well. I don’t know if they’ll make another move before they leave Dallas on Thursday afternoon, but even if they don’t, they’ve accomplished quite a bit with this one.
Manager John Farrell is going to meet with the media about five minutes after I post this, and I’ll have the breakdown of what he has to say coming up later this evening.
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!