Sunday, December 2, 2012

Music City Mundanity

For as many years back as I can remember, the annual Major League Baseball Winter Meetings were something I anticipated with a sense of both optimism and dread.  Optimism, because even if the actual track record says otherwise, the impression that the meetings are where the off-season dealing takes place can give the fan looking forward to roster improvements a reason to think they may be coming soon.  Dread, because a lot of the time (at least for the Toronto Blue Jays), the rumours and speculation flying around the Twitter-sphere and whatever southern town was hosting the meetings usually ended up bearing little to no fruit for my team of choice.

As the buzz around the team confirms, though, this year is a little different, with so much of the off-season dealing seemingly already done and roster holes fairly nicely filled going into 2013.  Alex Anthopoulos has already been a busier GM than most would be in an entire off-season, in keeping with his well-cultivated industry persona as a enthusiastic, thorough, and diligent baseball man.  But it's that same persona that leads most to believe he isn't about to coast into Nashville this week just to sit in a corner booth at the Bluebird Cafe, sip Jim Beam and pat himself on the back.  Most of the flapping jaws and twittering thumbs that feed the baseball rumour mill from November through March believe that AA isn't done, and that there are at the very least details left to attend to.  So what could our man be up to in Music City this week?

More Pitching

Much to AA's credit, the scrambling for major-league bullpen arms that is likely to preoccupy some of his colleagues is not on his to-do list.  But more pitchers that can carry a larger load than the 60, 70 or 80 innings the team would ideally ask from its confirmed stable of relievers would remain a welcome addition.

Much of the talk of starting depth has boiled down to whether the team can land an arm that would push J.A. Happ to 6th-starter status.  But slipping into AA's brain for just a minute, I don't think he would be entirely dissatisfied opening the season with Happ in the rotation.  I have a feeling Anthopoulos acquired Happ for a reason, and that he has been keen on him for a long time, if the rumours we heard around the time of the Roy Halladay trade have even a kernel of truth to them.  And frankly, at this point, are there that many reasonably-priced pitchers out there, at least in the free agent pool, that would without question be upgrades on Happ?  I suppose it depends on what you'd consider to be a reasonable price, but with the payroll the team has already added, I'm guessing they're shopping at Dollarama for now, as opposed to Holt Renfrew.

That doesn't preclude another out-of-nowhere trade going down that brings back that fifth member of the 2013 rotation (and perhaps beyond).  Speculation persists that Toronto matches up well with the Mets in a potential deal for National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, for instance.  I think the uncertainty about whether Josh Johnson will be a Blue Jay beyond next season might preclude the team from acquiring another pitcher who comes with some-assembly-required from a contract point of view, however.

Besides, we need look no further than the words that actually came out of the GM's mouth in the above-linked article, where he says that he's more likely to be looking for Buffalo-type depth via the minor-league free agent route, as an insurance policy against injury to the current batch of Johnson, Happ, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and Mark Buerhle (not necessarily in that order).  If there's anything one might expect as a signing out of Nashville's meetings this week, I'd bet on an Aaron Laffey type like that.

Platoon Partner at DH

To put things charitably, Adam Lind has been not good against left-handed pitching for the better part of his career.  I mean, over the last couple years, he hasn't exactly been a superstar against right-handers either, with sub-.800 OPS numbers in 2011 and 2012.  But barring a more expensive 1B/DH acquisition before spring, he's notionally still penciled in as the every-day guy at one of those two positions.  I'll restate the blatantly bleedin' obvious here and say that the words "Adam Lind" and "every day" shouldn't find themselves in the same sentence anymore, and having him face left-handed pitching in anything but an emergency should be avoided at all costs.

Thankfully, with the re-installation of John Gibbons as manager, there's evidence that the smart use of platoons will once again enter the strategic picture in Toronto.  Now they just need the personnel to make it happen.  But cheap lefty-mashers don't necessarily grow on trees -- while there are some out there who could be useful, those that are most useful tend to get snapped up for seemingly more prominent roles (Jonny Gomes) or have questions about age, health and/or bat speed (Andruw Jones).  Scott Hairston would seem to be a reasonable fit to partner with Lind in the DH spot and take some reps in the outfield occasionally.

But it's also not as though there aren't right-handed bats on the roster as currently constructed that would make the old "half-day off" routine a viable route for Gibbons to go when facing southpaws.  The added positional and switch-hitting versatility that the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis bring could make it feasible, for instance, for the likes of Jose Bautista or Brett Lawrie to cycle through the DH spot, with one of Bonifacio and Rajai Davis moving to the outfield, or one of Bonficacio and Izturis moving to third base.

All of this is to say that there's really very little pressure for Anthopoulos to get something done in Nashville beyond poking around for what might be available and checking on price tags.  It's a nice situation for him to be in, I'm sure, and it's definitely a change of pace for fans like me.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised at how little talk there has been about Rajai being that platoon partner with Lind. He was s a 280/345/435 hitter against LHP last year

Ty said...

Regarding Lind's status as an everyday player, I think a recent transcript of a chat with AA over at Gregor Chisholm's blog includes some interesting quotes:

"If you look at his left-right splits, if you look at him as a player that doesn’t face the left-handers, he’ll only face right-handers, close to an .800 OPS, which is a pretty good player ... if you use him only against right-handers, I still think he’ll be a very good player."

This is the first time I've heard someone from the organization explicitly admit that Lind is basically a platoon player at this point in his career. Combine that with the fact that they now have a platoon-friendly manager and I can't imagine that we'll be seeing him in the lineup vs. very many left-handers.

Also interesting to note that Gibby used Lind very sparingly against LHP the last time he managed him, in 2006-2008.