Monday, November 28, 2011

The Eternal Internal Conflict over Eric Thames (and What It Means, If Anything...)

There is no player over whom we've agonized more this offseason than Eric Thames. In fact, we've likely pondered the sophomore outfielder more than all other Jays combined since the season's end. It's somewhat maddening.

We've actually begun writing this piece and set it aside a half-dozen times, because we never felt like it was that worthy of being written in the first place. Or we had never quite sold ourselves on the notion that we were expressing ourselves correctly when trying to figure out why we're so fixated on him.

It's taken some time, but we ascribe our exceeding interest in Thames to four things:

1) His position relative in the pileup of players who might get playing time in left field this season: The Blue Jays are going to have to find room for Thames, Edwin Encarnacion, Travis Snider, and Rajai Davis to get at bats this season between the DH and LF. Were we to come into this equation after a year's coma, sorting out who slots in where would be fairly simple, with EE getting the DH at bats, Rajai getting pinch running duty, Thames taking the everyday at bats and Snider plying his trade in Las Vegas or elsewhere.

Of course, we've a five-year history with Travis, and we keep finding the reasons why he makes sense for the future of the franchise. Add to that the fact that Rajai has probably produced more than either of the youngsters, and our dubious view of Thames' defense, and somehow, it still seems muddled.

2) The discrepancy between the general perception and our perception of him: This has more to do with the casual manner in which Thames has been dismissed as a lousy outfielder with a poor OBP who doesn't merit a slot in the lineup of a team that fancies itself as a contender for a Wild Card spot in 2012. (More on that below.) We hope we're not creating a straw man to scorch, but our sense is that Thames doesn't have a widespread base of support amongst the Blue Jays blogging cognoscenti. But when we watch that quick bat go screaming through the hitting zone, and when we see Thames square up the ball and hit it as hard as anyone outside of Bautista, it seems to us though he has the most important tool in his arsenal, and some remaining headroom before he reaches his ceiling.

Thames' .333 weighted on base average was the fourth best among Jays with more than 200 at bats last year, trailing José Bautista by nautical miles, but also trailing Yunel Escobar (.345) and Edwin Encarnacion (.344) by a somewhat slim margin. His isolated power of .193 was third-best, behind Bautista and J.P. Arencibia, and ahead of Escobar, Encarnacion and Lind.

In fact, it is hardly a stretch to state that Thames is the fourth best bat on this team as it stands today. The .313 OBP is not great by any means, but it bears mentioning that Texas corner outfielder Nelson Cruz actually posted a .312 OBP, and we're pretty certain that there would be joy throughout the land if he were to suddenly find his way into the Jays' lineup next season.

3) The Blue Jays no longer have the luxury of lollygagging around waiting to see if some of this potential turns into something tangibly valuable: Further to what we stated above, the Eternal Building Process seems to have been cut short in the minds of many fans over the past few weeks, and there is a greater urgency for 2012 to be a year in which the Jays move to the next level. So to go through a season of bumps and feeling out contenders for a regular spot in the lineup seems antithetical to those ambitions. Taking several months to figure out who fits where and how is not on the agenda for most fans this spring.

4) What about Travis? To chose to go forward with Eric Thames seems like a repudiation of the rosy-cheeked carnivore. If they both break camp with the big club, the Jays will be left to choose between the two left-handed bats on a daily basis. And while injuries will happen and a five-man outfield would still result in 300-plus plate appearances for each, it still seems as though a choice will have to be made between them.

Snider is better base-stealer and a better defensive option, is almost two years younger and his 82-game 2010 campaign (.255/.304/.463, .331 wOBA, 14 HR, 1.2 fWAR in 319 PAs) compares pretty favourably to Thames' 2011 (.262/.313/.456, .333 wOBA, 12 HRs, 0.9 fWAR in 394 PAs). The big distinction between the two at this point, we suppose, is their strikeout rates. Thames posted a not-great 22.3% K-rate to go with a subpar 5.8% walk rate last season, while Snider put up a team-worst (200 PA minimum) 27.7% K-rate and a 5.4% walk rate.

Though we think there are few who can claim to be bigger fans of Travis Snider than us - we spent years giving him nicknames and praising him in spite of his output - it seems to us that if you were to take your affections out of the equation, the choice for the starting left field job seems pretty evident. We're just not sure that we're comfortable with the answer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brett Cecil's New Normal

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Brett Cecil lately (though perhaps not as much as some have in the past). More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what exactly could have happened to him through Spring Training and most of the early part of the season last year.

In March of last year, he told the National Post’s John Lott that his fastball was averaging about 87 miles per hour, although, according to him, “Everybody knows (he) can throw in the low 90s.”

The diminished velocity, and all-around lack of effectiveness, was well-documented. It got him sent to Vegas, and led to him putting up numbers that were a clear step backward from his previous season. There was a time when smarter people than me would have taken Cecil over Ricky Romero (Keith Law says as much in this chat from only two years ago) . The whole episode makes me wonder how many would do it today.

Lots of theories have been put forward about Cecil’s 2010 issues, from a possible undiagnosed injury, to a mysterious dead-arm problem, to a mechanical issue in his delivery that needed to be fixed.

But one other theory has stuck with me. I don’t even remember where I saw or read it, and it might have only been just one time in a comment section somewhere, but I found myself nodding along with the idea – having been through it myself and seeing the effects in had on my own day-to-day activities.

The theory: Brett Cecil had lost either his conditioning, or his focus, or both, as a result of spending more time last off-season occupied with his new baby.

Absurd, right? I mean, it’s not like Cecil was the first player in history to be a parent. Plenty of ballplayers have plenty of kids (some of them will even admit to being their fathers… hey-o!). I don’t know if any of them ever saw an impact, positive or negative, on their baseball performance.

But anyone that has ever gone through the experience of having a baby in their life for the first time knows that it has an effect. If you’re one of those parents who claims that it never fazed them in the least and your work output never once changed except for the better, then I’m prepared to call you a big fat liar.

When the Org Kids came along, I was pretty much a disaster for a good nine or ten months after each of their births. When you’re a new parent, you don’t sleep at night. You don’t eat properly. You don’t have time to work out.

And you can’t wait to get back home from whatever’s taken you away from those kids to go through more of it.

Cecil at one time had a Twitter account, and his followers got to see just how excited he was to be a new father. There is little doubt that the guy is a committed, doting dad and husband. I followed him, and even though he’s younger than me, I could seriously relate to things he was expressing about his life and growing family.

But even the most enthusiastic and energetic new parents need to re-invent their entire routines around the kids, and inevitably, things get dropped out of the old routines. I don’t know everything there is to know about a left-handed pitcher’s offseason training regimen, but I could certainly envision myself eliminating the 6AM run from the daily calendar if I’d been up four times during the night to calm a crying baby. But eventually, you figure it out. Your life never gets back to the way it was, but a “new normal” sets in and the upheaval subsides – mostly.

I don’t know; maybe it’s a bullshit theory and Cecil never missed a beat in terms of conditioning or focus. Maybe the things that more-or-less suddenly troubled him last spring were as mysterious as they seemed. Baseball is a weird game that way.

Besides, it’s not like there’s any way to find out if the new-parent theory is true. I certainly would never expect a major league baseball player to tell a beat reporter that the reason he couldn’t pick up the spin on a breaking ball out of the pitcher’s hand that day was because he was awake all night washing puke out of his baby’s crib blankets.

All I’m saying is I’m prepared to cut Cecil a break if being a new dad took a toll on him that he wasn’t quite ready to deal with or admit. If he’s like the rest of us, once his new normal is established, chances are he’ll be better than ever.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fresh Starts

There’s really not much to add to what ended up being the biggest Blue Jays-related story of this past week – the new branding scheme and uniforms. I like the new stuff. A lot. The next couple of years of Org Family gift-giving will be predictable indeed.

As is my wont, however, I’m going to use the re-brand as a source for hackneyed symbolism, however tangential you may find it. You all should be getting used to this from me by now.

One of the things that struck me most about the Friday unveiling of the snappy jerseys, caps and associated goods was the level of enthusiasm there was, not just among the fans, but among the players themselves. Twitter was full of the players’ own pictures, with lots of exclamation marks and #BeastMode / #TeamUnit sloganeering. These guys were geeked up about having a new look.

The uniform launch felt like… well, it felt like a launch. The start of something. Especially in an off-season where a whole lot of not much has really happened so far with the Blue Jays, it seemed to put a spring in the step of the faithful.

It got me thinking about how important a fresh start can be. When the Org Kids get up on the wrong side of the bed and catch hell from the Org Wife and me first thing in the morning for misbehaving, we’ll often send them back to their room and have them try it again. Usually works like a charm.

It’s tempting to try to excuse a baseball player’s underwhelming performance by throwing around the old “he needs change of scenery” argument. We can never really get in a player’s head to know whether that’s remotely true. But at the very least, the “fresh start” can be like a bowl of hot chicken soup when you have a head cold: might help; couldn’t hurt.

When they start stretching, sprinting and spitting tobacco juice in Dunedin in a few months, some potentially key pieces of this Blue Jays team are going to be hoping that a fresh start cures what ailed them in 2011, or even before. From where I sit, how those fresh starts turn out is going to be a significant part of the 2012 Jays storyline.

Here are a few of who I mean:

Colby Rasmus

This is fairly obvious, but the very reason the multi-tool talent who will be patrolling centerfield for the Blue Jays is no longer doing it for the St. Louis Cardinals is because someone – Tony LaRussa, John Mozeliak, Alex Anthopoulos, or all of them – thought he needed a fresh start. The start he got as a Jay in 2011 was abbreviated (although long enough to allow Barry from Oakville to bellow his disapproval on the Jays Talk and yearn for the middle relievers he cost to acquire). A full season of the 2010 vintage Colby Rasmus would be a significant piece of an improved 2012 Jays team (again, this is obvious). I hope that starting the season knowing he’s not going to have a manager breathing down his neck with threats to start Jon Jay in his place might make Rasmus a bit more comfortable and a bit more effective.

Travis Snider

Travis Snider is going to turn 24 in February, yet he’s already spent parts of four different seasons with the Major League team. You can argue either side of the more-time-in-the-majors vs. more-time-in-the-minors argument, but one thing the kid hasn’t had at any point in his Jays career is some certainty. A fresh start for Snider can come in Toronto or in Vegas but he should know going in that it’s gong to be a full time job, with an abundantly clear description at the start of 2012 of what is demanded and expected of him, regardless of where he’s plying his trade. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Supernanny, it’s that kids need structure. I’m sure this sounds incredibly condescending. I don’t really mean it to be. These players are all grown-up, professional athletes. But sometimes the most precocious talent is the kind in most need of discipline.

Kyle Drabek

A variation on the Snider theme is applicable to Kyle Drabek. Like Snider, he’s shown flashes of meeting the high expectations so many have had for him ever since entering the organization. Despite his youth, he’s not thought of as a prospect, as much as a promise of All-Star performance unfulfilled. As with Snider, I’m not going to lose much sleep if he goes to Vegas or Toronto out of Spring Training, as long as he gets to tackle whatever has been plaguing him with a knowledge that he’s going to get time to do it.

Spring is a fresh start for everyone, really. There are plenty of others on the roster (for the time being) who could similarly benefit: Frank Francisco, for a chance to start 2012 like he finished 2011; Adam Lind, to start a season healthy, strong, free of expectations that he needs to carry the team offensively and with some confidence at the plate that would come with that.

We’ve seen fresh starts work before. Yunel Escobar is one example of a guy for whom his first day in a Blue Jay uniform was the first day of the rest of his life. I’m really, really hopeful that April 1 will be the same kind of rebirth for some of the Jays who need to capture, or recapture, the kind of performance that we know is in them.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The New Jays Logo

Whomp. There it is.

It was entirely likely that we were going to like these new uniforms by sheer force of will. But there was a gnawing feeling that we had in the lead up to the announcement that there would be something weird or untenable about the new look.

As it turned out, we needn't have turned off our critical faculties to enjoy the rebrand. The uniforms are classic, and look pretty sweet. The font is actually a lot nicer than we had figured after catching a brief glimpse of it in the teaser video, and the player's numbers with the white inline are absolutely fantastic. And the blue! So much blue!

The alternate blue jersey is especially on point, and actually nicer than any dark jersey in the history of the franchise. We can see that a lot of fans will gravitate towards it when making their apparel choices.

The sweet new duds won't be worth much in the win column, and they won't make balls fly over the fence or whoosh past the opponents' bats. But they feel right. They look like the Blue Jays are supposed to look.

And in our mind's eye, we can see players wearing that uniform in a celebratory pile. That's the warmest fuzzy of all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New and Blue! Frame-by-Frame Analysis of the Jays' Teaser Video

Are we a tad obsessive about the Jays' new uniforms? Just a tad. A smidgeon more than a tad.

Time is at a premium, so let us walk you through what we've picked out from the teaser video above, posted on the Blue Jays' site today.

First out of the gate, at 0:01 in, we see Ricky Romero in a blue (BLUE!) jersey, which appears to a light blue. It could be that the flashing strobe effect here has made a royal blue look lighter than it is, but we at least figure that the alternates will be something other than black. Which was probably a given, but a relief nonetheless.

A mere second later, we get a view of what we initially thought to be José Bautista, but we now figure to be Adam Lind, as he is the only Jay who wears Reeboks. (And yes, we notice such things. Also, the Hickory bat.) It's hard to tell because of the dark lighting, but it appears as though the pant striping has two tones of blue divided by a white stripe, which is pretty much exactly the same as the 1991-1996 iteration. Also, blue shoes. Yay.

We're not certain whose arms these are, but you can once again see the striping on the cuffs. From this shot, it appears as though both blue stripes on the cuffs are the same tone, which makes us wonder if we're seeing double-blue on the pants where there is none. Again, a fleeting dark look, so hard to tell.
Skip ahead a bit, and you can see the new nameplate lettering on Adam Lind's back. This appears to be a standard block lettering, which we likely would have expected anyways given the goofy bubbly font that they are replacing.

Okay, a quick couple of shots of Bautista, which give you a much clearer sense of how blue the Blue Jays will be. This appears to be exactly the same colour as the classic Jays look. And then...

Boom! There's the new logo font, with a sharp serif coming off the "T" in "Toronto". (A sincere blue cap tip to Chris Creamer for pointing this out on Twitter.) We're not sure that we're crazy about the serif font, but we'll reserve judgment until we see the final product. In any case, there will be a newish look across the team's chest next season, and not just the old font recycled.

And if you're learned nothing else this afternoon, you should have learned that 1) we have have dodgy photo editing skills and 2) we're a little too enthusiastic about this rebrand. But then again, we've never claimed to be all that objective when it comes to the home team.

Above all, we're a fan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cheering for Laundry - In Anticipation of the New Unis

If you've been reading this blog for awhile or follow us on Twitter, you know that the aesthetic considerations weigh heavy on our pointy head. The look and feel of the team's brand matters to us. The proper execution of high socks - one which doesn't lead to the ridiculous pantaloons like those Shawn Camp has sported for years - matters to us. Having a blue ball cap - any shade will do! - matters to us.

So the news that the Jays will unveil a brand new brand this week ranks as a high point in the offseason for us. Finally! We can say goodbye to the absurd Black Jays lids, and goodbye to the black alternate jerseys. We can set aside the Angry Jay logo, and the Toothpaste T-Cap. The cartoon-ish, Comic Sans-like sparkly numbers and names on the back of the jerseys will have taken their final bow as well.

And not a moment too soon, because we had begun to get accustomed to some of the lousy design of the previous iteration of the team's playing duds. (A couple of moments of weakness popped up, where we almost considered a black cap. Almost, not quite.)

There's a cycle that we recognize across baseball of teams changing aspects of their uniforms every few years. Teams will introduce a new uniform - often referring to a "modernizing" of the look and feel - with a minimal amount of input from the fans. This strikes us as the brand managers within the organization getting bored with what they see on the field, or attempting to impose their vision onto the team's work wear.

And while some of these rebranding exercises work - like the Miami Marlins' vibrant new South Beach influenced look - there are many cases where they simply fall flat or leave fans clamouring for a return to the old look. On the other hand, a team who does it just about perfectly when it comes to its uniforms is the Boston Red Sox, who never radically change brands, but who add on features (such as the red and blue jerseys or the "hanging sox" caps) that seem germane to their historical look.

The branding cycles of teams seem to have become shorter in recent years, with teams introducing the "new modern feel", only to bring back the "retro feel" at the behest of the fans within four or five years. It should have surprised no one that when the Blue Jays reintroduced their powder blue uniforms a few years ago, the fans adopted it almost immediately as the primary colour scheme for their merchandise purchases. If you looked through the Rogers Centre over the past few seasons, you would find far more powder blue in the stands than black, and far more retro caps than the new and allegedly improved black ones.

(BTW, if you were curious to see just how delighted we were by the return of the powder blue unis, check out this piece that we wrote for Big League Stew at the time.)

The journey of the Jays' brand over the past two decades has been an interesting one, in that there have been numerous changes and adaptations and tweaks and reformatting, and yet the logo and look to which the fans innately relate are those that the team sported in the World Series years. The new uniforms introduced in 1997 never seemed to gain much of a heartfelt following, even as the team tweaked them for the better in subsequent years. We not-so-secretly loved the 2003 version, which was the only season in which the T-Bird acted as the primary logo for the team. While we've generally heard nothing but guff about the T-Bird, we fully attribute Roy Halladay's Cy Young that season and Vernon Wells' best offensive performance to the plucky determination and cartoony muscle of the T-Bird.

(If you want a full rundown of all the permutations of the Jays' uniforms over the years, Chris Creamer's has an exceptional accounting of all the elemental changes over the 35 seasons.)

So what do we hope to see when the new look is fully revealed? We know with some certainty that the logo leaked a month back will likely be the main emblem going forward, and it seems just about right to us: A smart update on the classic 1992-1996 look. We'd like to see an blue alternate jersey, which could be powder blue, though a darker royal blue would be fine as well. We'd like to see a font that evokes the old school script with the white inline, but does not absolutely revert back to it, as we find it a bit flat and sparse by the time it makes it onto the chest of a player.

But mostly, we're dreaming of blue. Lots and lots of blue.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Offseason Dispatches - Email Chatter on the State of the Jays

In which the Editor-in-Chief and Blogger Emeritus the Tao of Stieb and weekend intern The Org Guy hunker down at their respective teletype machines, and ponder all of the off season ponderables...

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Org Guy,

Free agent frenzy!!! Woo! Can you feel the excitement? It's been a good week or so since the free agency window opened, and all we can say is thank goodness there isn't a panel sitting in a studio staring at their mobile devices, waiting for the signings to come pouring in. Because those guys would smell pretty rank by now.

We're pretty sure that the way baseball approaches this is a good thing, but in the absence of actual news, we're left making up acquisition lists and checking them twice. What's the craziest thought you've had this week?


From: The Org Guy
To: Tao of Stieb
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 9:22 am


When it comes to free agency, I keep having the same thought over and over again: as much as I’d like to see a big addition to the Blue Jays lineup through free agency, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to break it to Jose Bautista that despite having two of the best back-to-back seasons in team history, he’s not going to be the highest-paid player, despite just having signed an extension. That’s not to say I think Bautista would somehow object – he strikes me as a team-first guy as much as anyone. But the extension itself lays the organization’s cards on the table to a degree, putting a dollar amount and year term on what they believe a truly elite player is worth.

For that completely-pulled-from-my-ass reason alone, I take Alex Anthopoulos at his word that the team isn’t likely to make a huge free agent splash. For an armchair GM like me, it’s more fun to speculate on trades anyway. You want my craziest thought? Like, crazier than the idea I had to wear a paisley tie with a checked shirt? Here it is: with the Twins bottoming out in 2011, a new GM in place there, the Jays with a clear need at first base and prospects they can move, I can’t stop thinking about trying to buy low on Justin Morneau.

I figure I’m either a genius, or a maniac (maniacal genius?). Talk me out of this. Please. I think I need help.

Org Guy

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 9:53 am

Org Guy,

Are you on the bottle again?

Okay, that's a bit unfair, because truth be told, we've wondered about the possibility of taking the overpriced, distressed asset off the Twins' hands and hoping for a recovery. Morneau's got two years and $30 million left on that deal, and while that seems like lottery winnings to us, we're not sure that it would cripple the Jays if they got nothing on the field from him. It's not a smart deal, but it might not cost them a ton in prospects.

Which brings us to the other thought that we've been having: Is the system now sufficiently stocked so that the Blue Jays can begin dealing from it? We've heard how it is one of the top few systems in baseball, but it only takes a deal or two before the future starts to look bleak again. (Ask the Red Sox, since they were left trying to deal used batting practice balls for pitching down the stretch.)

We've never seen Drew Hutchison or Deck McGuire or Chad Jenkins or Nestor Molina throw a single pitch, and yet we feel about them the way that a lot of fans seem to feel about a certain hefty second-generation slugger: Like the Blue Jays need those guys.


From: The Org Guy
To: Tao of Stieb
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 10:55 am


I made my feelings known in my last weekend post about whether we should get attached to the prospects the likes of which you mentioned. We should probably get a head start on the first stage of grief in the Kübler-Ross model, in preparation for when the team ships Jake Marisnick to the Royals in a Billy Butler deal.

It’s interesting, though, that you mentioned pitching prospects in particular as players that the team may simply need more. We know, intuitively, where the weaknesses in the batting order are and who’ll be playing where in the field. There are a myriad of possible solutions tossed around to fill the offensive and defensive gaps, all falling somewhere on the continuum between ludicrous and realistic. We don’t know who will be manning the right side of the infield come April 1, but it’s pretty likely it’ll be two guys with fairly significant big-league experience.

But the pitching staff is a different question altogether. Beyond Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, the rotation still has a lot of questions. The bullpen has a new coach, but it’s a real mug’s game guessing who he’ll be coaching – who might emerge, who will be signed, who will be converted from starting, and who might be stretched out to answer those aforementioned rotation questions. There’s a reason why those of us in the baseball business* say you can never have enough good young pitching.

In that respect, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me to see Anthopoulos say near the end of the year that some of the names you mentioned are likely to see some big-league time this year. I know you don’t like making predictions, but if there were a gun to your head, a knife to your throat, and an ACME-brand anvil dangling perilously over your toes, which pitching prospect will break into the big league lineup first? And what the hell is going to happen with Drabek?

Org Guy

*Yes, I consider anonymous Blue Jays blogging “being in the baseball business.” I also saw the Moneyball movie, and when I was nine, I put a whole pack of Big League Chew in my mouth at once.

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 1:34 PM

Org Dude,

We don't like being cornered into making predictions during the season, but during the offseason? It's like the Mardi Gras of postulation. You get beads! You get beads! You get beads! Woo! Show us your Low-A pitchers! Get us another Hurricane!

Our best guess is that Nestor Molina would be the most likely of the Four Aces (that's what we're calling them now!) to get the call in 2012. He's old enough that he wouldn't be completely out of his element, and there's a decent argument that he put up the best numbers out of the four last year. Based on the fact that he'll be 24 at the start of next season, we'd guess that Chad Jenkins might get a look at some point in the season, though his low strikeout numbers don't give us that much confidence that he'll stick in the bigs. McGuire will have to drop his walk numbers, but we'd guess that we'll see him in September of next year. Hutchison will likely get a full year of Double-A seasoning, given his youth.

As for Mr. Drabek, we're coming to have a sense that this is pretty much what he'll be: A guy who throws sorta hard but doesn't really know where it's going, and gets knocked around. We'd usually be the first to try to nuance such a thought and emphasize that there is still upside to the player, but the thoughtthat we keep coming back to is that baseball is a really hard game at this level, and if you don't show that you've got it early, you probably won't become a great player through force of will and time.

Maybe it's way too early to give up on Drabek or Travis Snider, but having seen what we've seen from them so far, there's precious little that demonstrates that they will be transcendent stars of the future. They might be able to be good, serviceable parts of a team, but we're more likely to think of them as the Danny Cox or Derek Bell of the future World Champion Jays, and less likely to see them as the Pat Hentgen or Joe Carter.

That's a bad analogy, isn't it?


From: The Org Guy
To: Tao of Stieb
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Tao-er of Power,

Given that you’re well known for hating Joe Carter with the heat of a thousand suns, should we not be glad that you don’t envision Travis Snider following in his footsteps? Also, I don’t think I realized until just now how good, and how important, Danny Cox was for the 1993 team (though I suspect you pointing it out meant you understood his value already). Most relief innings, a strikeout an inning, and an almost 3:1 K/BB ratio? With Mark Eichhorn and Duane Ward waiting in the wings? MOAR PLZ.

Frankly, this might even increase the aptness of your analogy. I understand completely the extra value a pitcher brings to an organization as a starter as compared to working from the bullpen. But it seems like Drabek may be in a strange sort of limbo (and Brett Cecil may be joining him there). Due to his struggles as a starter, a trade would not return anywhere close to what the team would like, so a move to the ‘pen may actually increase his value, if not on the trade market, then at least to the big league roster.

Fretting over the possibility the Jays may overspend on a relief pitcher this offseason has become a cottage industry. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think the organization will do it. What I don’t know is how seriously they might be considering moving some arms from the rotation into the bullpen. A great deal depends on Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, it would seem. Sustained health and tangible steps forward from each of them would provide so much flexibility, either to trade arms or move them into relief roles. Maybe the Jays can do the pitching staff version of Tampa Bay’s “shortstop at every position” – every pitcher is a starter, or could be.

I know that isn’t really how the world works, though. There’s far too much invested in these guys to just shuttle them back and forth to the ‘pen like you would in a video game. But it would seem a waste to let pitchers with big-league arms just get shelled in the Vegas sun all year. Unless they move the affiliate to Ottawa!

Org-ie Dougie

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 3:21 PM

We refuse to let you pull us back into the light. The cynicism has overtaken us, like we're Anakin Skywalker bitching about the Jedi Council's vice-chairmanship (or whatever the heck it was that led to him blowing up Dantooine.)

You mentioned a name that we've been thinking about a lot lately, and that's Mark Eichhorn. Part of what made his two spectacular seasons with the Jays so noteworthy was the fact that he pitched well over 100 innings in both of them. (157.0 and 127.2 respectively in 1986 and 1987.) It strikes us that in an era of unnecessary 13-man pitching staffs, there should really be some consideration given to having a pitcher or two on hand who you intend to throw out for 120 innings or more out of the pen. We love what the Red Sox did with Alfredo Aceves for about 25 out of the 26 weeks of the season, and we'd be interested in seeing either Cecil, Drabek, or McGowan take on that role.

(And we understand that everyone thinks that McGowan is now made of bone china, but if he's going to stick with the team, they shouldn't have to reorient their pitching strategy around his delicate physique. Either he can pitch, or they get his head measured for Ace the mascot's costume.)

The player who might fit best into that role is Joel Carreno, who had a pretty nice run with the Jays (1.15 ERA, 14 Ks / 4 BBs in 15.2 innings), and who pitched starters' innings for most of the year. Carreno name rarely gets mentioned in the mix of starters, but he could be a very useful "long man" for them, especially if they have a lot of 5th, 6th and 7th innings in which their starters aren't pitching.

(And isn't it funny how the term "long man" rarely gets used anymore? It's like no reliever is ever supposed to go more than two innings, ever.)

We should wrap this up, because most folks are snoring and drooling on their tablets at this point. But suffice to say, this doesn't strike us as a boring offseason ahead. By the time we hit Dunedin, no one will be talking about Corey Patterson/Scott Podsednik platoons. If we're lucky, we'll be talking about guys we like deservedly getting more time in the minors.


The Taofather.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Bird in the Hand

As the Texas Rangers made their postseason run, a friend of mine asked me, in all seriousness, whether the Mike Napoli – Frank Francisco trade was going to become the second-most regrettable Blue Jay trade in history. Now, given the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that stemmed from that deal for the better part of 2011, I was almost relieved to hear that he would only consider it the second-most regrettable.

After a less-than-inspired effort to talk him off the ledge, I started to wrap my head around the trade he considered to be the most regrettable, which also happened to involve the Rangers: Michael Young for Esteban Loaiza.

Even if you rightfully believe Michael Young has been overrated for a large part of his career, it’s still tough to defend the trade from the Blue Jays’ perspective (though it can be done, based on the fact that they were only 1.5 games back of the first-place Yankees, and thought they might catch them with another arm in the rotation to complement David Wells, Kelvim Escobar and Chris Carpenter, while a 23-year-old Roy Halladay sported a 10.90 ERA. There’s a fine recap of the trade here). A great many fans have pined for a decade over the All-Star, batting champion middle infielder the team let get away for a second-rate starting pitcher that never helped them reach the postseason promised land.

The Young deal is probably just the most glaring example of “the one that got away” for Blue Jays fans. It’s hardly the only one. In the above-linked article, it’s pointed out that the Jays traded away three other middle-infield prospects in the system at the time in Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, and Brett Abernathy. There’s obviously been varying degrees of big-league success amongst those erstwhile Jays prospects, but the returns were indisputably slim, including the likes of Steve Trachsel, Mark Guthrie and Luke Prokopec.

I think my friend who still rues the Young trade to this day uses it as a proxy for what he would perceive as the team’s tendency to get very low value back for its prospects. Young is his talisman, representing the what-might-be for every Jays prospect past and present, the upside realized, every last drop of value squeezed from the talent the player possesses.

I can pretty much guarantee you, though, that in 2000, my friend wouldn’t have had a sweet clue who Michael Young was. The fact is, even today when minor league stats, scouting reports and video are more readily available than ever, most fans have a familiarity level with their favourite team’s prospects that’s comparable to my grandparents’ familiarity level with programming the clock on their microwave.

But if hindsight is 20/20, then prospect hindsight is, like, 20/10 – and everybody has it, even Frank Costanza. That’s because prospects develop actual track records over time, across whatever organizations hold their rights, and we can see perfectly how they developed and what they accomplished after the fact. But the ones we remember are the ones that actually develop into big leaguers. Fans can be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen way too many of them go on to bigger and better things for other teams, even if it’s just patently not true. We still don’t want to let ours go.

It does seem that at least among a more modern generation of Jays fans, the tendency to overvalue the team’s own prospects is beginning to wane. We can be forgiven for harbouring an unhealthy prospect infatuation here and there, but many of us are coming around to the idea that some prospects just aren’t going to be Blue Jays.

Maybe our added peace of mind with trading prospects comes from knowing that it’s Alex Anthopoulos who will be doing the trading. Before he’s done as General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, he’s going to make some bad trades (and it can be argued he has done so already). But for now, he seems to be pretty good at it, and he gets the benefit of the doubt more times than not.

That might be something we should all bear in mind this offseason. One thing I’ve noticed about Anthopoulos is that, while his forays into the media are occasional and vague, he usually does what he says he’s going to do. If he says he’s not going to break the bank for a top-tier free agent, I’ve seen nothing in his work as GM that should lead a fan to not believe him. Conversely, if he says he’s going to explore the trade market, and that not all the elite prospects in the system are going to be Toronto Blue Jays at the big league level, I believe him there too. He’s already shown he’ll make those moves. So we better not get too attached to those prospects as we get ready for more deals.

It’s entirely possible that this off-season, Alex Anthopoulos will trade another Michael Young out of the Jays’ farm system. Some fans, two or five or ten years later, are still going to have big problems with that. That’s fine – second guessing the GM is part of the fun of being a fan. But we should probably at least mentally prepare ourselves for the possible departures of our prospect man-crushes, and even the guys that we didn’t think would amount to much (the same way the Jays saw Michael Young back in 2000), and be reasonably comfortable that the Jays’ GM isn’t going to move any of them for another Esteban Loaiza.

Friday, November 4, 2011

No Johnny Mac Comeback, and Other Offseason Mumbo-Jumbo

We're a couple of days late in posting something on the news that the Jays' emergency backup catcher for life and alternate mascot John McDonald opted not to return to Toronto. We're sure most everything has been said that needs to be said about it, but allow us to redirect the conversation in our own verbose manner.

Mostly, we hope that Jays fans see this as a good thing for all parties. Johnny Mac gets two more years of employment, and on a National League club, he'll have more opportunities to enter games as a pinch hitter/bunter/pinch runner/defensive replacement/double-switched-in warm body. And depending on the dodgy health of Stephen Drew or the D-Backs' ability to find a decent second baseman, he might get to start far more games than he would have playing in the guts of the American League East.

Given the level of competition the Jays face, the sentimentalism that might have brought McDonald back on a one-year deal would clearly not have been enough to get him the second year. The competitive imperative is dictating that the Jays improve on the four or five bench/utility players, and McDonald's tremendous defensive gifts could not overshadow the weakness of his bat.

In other words: If you love Johnny Mac, set him free.

The other side of this story is that given a clear-eyed look at it, it's surprising the extent to which we all took it as a fait accompli that McDonald would waltz back to the Jays following the season. One of the adjustments that will need to be made by Jays fans (and frankly, the media who cover them) is not to read too much into the some of the nicely bland assurances that come from Alex Anthopoulos or Paul Beeston. This new regime has a nomadic approach to their operational logic, which is to say that on principle, they refuse to settle on anything until they've settled on it, and they're not going to provide you with a self-imposed orthodoxy to which they can be held.

On a certain level, that's really pretty brilliant.

Other Off-Seasonal Greetings
The Blue Jays did about as well by Adam Loewen as a franchise could, allowing him to build himself into a position player with Quad-A abilities, and showcasing him at the major league level at the season's conclusion. We're not sure that the Jays owed him a spot on the 25-man roster, nor an opportunity to clutter the left field equation for 2012. The Jays might be able to re-sign him as a minor league free agent and put him on the Mike McCoy Shuttle Program, though we're sure that Loewen will want to exhaust all other avenues first.

The news (gleaned from Bob Elliot's Twitter) that the Jays are looking to bring in Chuck LaMar as a senior scout is good news from our point of view. Though his work as the GM in Tampa Bay at the dawn of the Devil Rays could be criticized, there's at least some evidence (especially in Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%) that the ownership of the team imposed itself on baseball operations to the detriment of the franchise.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Farewell 2011 Season, Welcome to 2012

After a roaring end to the 2011 Major League Baseball season, the finality of it all has just started to strike us.

The season is long and intense, densely packed with 162 games over 26 weeks, plus the four weeks of postseason. The days without baseball between the spring and fall are few, and the season proceeds so relentlessly that there's barely time to digest the previous night's game and contextualize it. (Try as we might.) We all tend to get a bit lost in the moment.

So it follows that the moment they stop playing the games, the silence gets deafening. The vacuum that is created from the lack of games to discuss hisses and wheezes and begs to be filled. We would be better served to take some of the downtime to relax, recover and salve some of the injuries, including the repetitive stress on on clicking finger as well as the imagined bruises to our ego. But given the fact that being a Jays fan means fixing your gaze to the future on an almost perpetual basis, the start of the wintertime sabbatical is the time when we'll probably kick our hindsight-fuelled recriminations and unfounded speculation into overdrive.

Oh, the fun we'll have.

Thankfully, we haven't had any frost settle on us in advance of the long winter whinge, as the business of baseball cranked up the machine first thing Monday morning, in a hurry with a flurry. (The other flurry, you know.)

The Excercism of Edwin's Option - It was a no-brainer that the Jays should pick up the 2012 option on Edwin Encarnacion, whose bat carried the team for significant stretches in the second half. From June 1st onwards, EE posted a .858 OPS (.360 OBP/.499 SLG) and hit 16 of his 17 homers in the final four months of the season. As a full-time DH, occasional 1B and emergency 3B, Encarnacion could be a steal at $3.5 million for next year. (And apparently, he might possibly play left field, but more on that below.)

We couldn't be happier to see Edwin come back, as we thought that he endured an unfair onslaught of snarkily cynical scorn through much of the first few months of the season. We can't remember who called him "garbage" on Twitter, but we hope that person feels shame that eats away at their soul every day for such denigration.

We don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, but we still figure that Edwin could be a 30 homer, .850 OPS guy in the middle of the Jays lineup next year, even though we said the same thing last year. But this year, we really and truly believe it. For realsies, this time.

If You Like Tony LaCava, and Getting Caught in the Rain: So on the one hand, we hope that the casual fan appreciates the fact that other teams within their highly competitive division are looking at the non-player personnel of the Blue Jays enviously. Boston's potential interest in John Farrell (which we figure was nothing more than someone saying "Sure wish Johnny was still around") and the Orioles' pursuit of Jays GM Tony LaCava should indicate to one and all that the team is not administered by a bunch of nincompoops who stumbled accidentally into their position. These guys know what they're doing.

Moreover, the news from NBC Sports' Aaron Gleeman that O's Meddler-in-Chief and Chief Mediocrity Officer Peter Angelos was unimpressed by LaCava and thought his desire for greater authority over the baseball decisions in Baltimore was overstepping his bounds is a triple shot of happiness because:

1) It means LaCava might return to the Jays;
2) It shows that bad organizations don't appreciate smart baseball people;
3) Baltimore is looking for some stooge with shallow charisma and a desire to be Angelos' hand-puppet through another decade-long cycle of basement-dwelling.

That, kids, is what we in the business (which business?) call a "win-win".