Thursday, September 29, 2011

That. Was. Awesome.

We hauled our sleepy carcass into work late today, still shaking out the cobwebs and piecing back together the most exciting single day of baseball that we can remember. We're not sure if much of what we think we gleaned from the evening makes sense, but join us as we attempt to make sense of this Game 162 madness.

Love the Narrative. Ignore the Narrative: It's a bit odd as a guy who spends an inordinate amount of time punching out words about baseball to tell people not to follow the storyline of the season. We love the long and deliberate narrative to a franchise, with each season as a volume and each game a single page. At the same time, there are some standard lines that start to emerge that tell a much less interesting story about how this season reached the end of this chapter.

"Choke". "Collapse". "Destiny". Words that make it sound as though the postseason berths were lost or won based on a lack of moral fibre or the good graces of some benevolent overseer of the fates. But in the case of Boston and Atlanta, it was a dearth of decent starting pitching (or a lack of judgment on how best to use the pitching at their disposal) that really led to the teams' decline over the final month. Injuries to Clay Buchholz, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens left both the Red Sox and Braves scrambling to find starters down the stretch, while the Cardinals pitched okay enough and the Rays ran out a seemingly endless supply of strong starters night in, night out.

The Red Sox really seem to have a bare cupboard when it comes to starting pitchers, in part due to trades but also because they haven't seemed to really develop a top flight starter through the draft or their system since Buchholz. They also seemed unwilling to move Alfredo Aceves out of his long-relief role, even though he may have served them better starting some of the games they were doling out to Tim Wakefield (and his historic pursuit of a round number), Andrew Miller or Kyle Weiland. How many games did Aceves enter in the early innings to attempt to patch up the mess that those unworthy starters left ahead of him?

Meanwhile, Fredi Gonzalez had plenty of young starters who could have stepped in down the stretch, but chose to shunt them to the back of his pile while giving more innings to Derek Lowe, because of his "proven veteran" status. Julio Tehran, in particular, started the second half of a double-header on September 8th, then got just two subsequent relief appearances, while Lowe was rocked over his final five starts to the tune of a .985 OPS against and an 8.75 ERA. Would the youngster have been any worse than that?

You Don't Have to Be Rule My World: Staying on the topic of pitching, it's worth noting (especially for Jays fans) that the Red Sox entered this season with expensive free agency acquisitions John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka as part of their starting rotation. Both are locked up for next season at contracts worth about $16 million and $10 million respectively...and Lackey's deal stretches on to 2014. (With an option for 2015, which is just the unnecessary clown horn squeak at the end of the farce.)

And the man who couldn't make the sliding catch in left field to save the game for the Red Sox? Carl Crawford's taking home more than $20 million per year over the next six years as his reward for posting a sub-.700 OPS, which are marginally better numbers than Juan Rivera and Corey Patterson managed for the Jays.

Perception is a funny thing, and in those moments through the winter and spring, people couldn't conceive of a scenario where these Boston Red Sox weren't one of the all-time powerhouse teams, because of the investments they made. We were pounded all season long by fans who called us a shill or a sheep for refusing to wail at the Jays' ownership to spend at the same or a "competitive" level with Boston. In the end, the Jays managed nine fewer wins than the "greatest team of all time" in a transitional season.

It would be nice to think that the manner in which the Red Sox finished the season could tamp down a bit of the disdainful conventional wisdom, and the condescending "you gottas" when it comes to what the Jays do next. We're not banking on it.

Sharing the Impossible: Okay, we apologize for turning the visceral thrill of last night's games into another opportunity for us to be pedantic. Sorry. Because really, after a night like that, we should still be in a mood to bask in the incredible moment for a little while longer.

We listened to the Rays radio broadcast as we watched the game last night, and we're not sure that we'll ever forget the call by Andy Freed and Dave Wills. To hear them caught up in the incomprehensible moments, and to hear the fun that they had from the Longoria three-run shot to Dan Johnson's improbably two-strike, two-out, pinch-hit, game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth, right through to Longo's game-winner in the 12th was a head-spinning experience, especially as they remarked about how different it was to observe all of the simultaneous online commentary from around the world. It was quite possibly the greatest game in the team's history, and we were happy to share with their fans, and with our many friends and followers on Twitter. It really magnified the moment.

The Rays are a rival, and we kinda hate those guys. But just for last night, it was pretty cool to root along with them. And while their success should give us pause for the Jays' chances over the next few years, we actually ended the night feeling a bit hopeful for what can happen when you build your team the right way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September Call-up

Pictured: 2002 Blue Jays September Call-Up

Although apparently nobody knows for sure why they ever started doing it, it has always seemed inherently logical for major league rosters to expand in September. Over the first 130-plus games, injuries pile up and starters wear down. By the stretch run, veterans need breaks and prospects need major-league at bats.

And let’s face it: for most teams (and I’m not telling Blue Jays fans anything they don’t already know), September games aren’t “meaningful”. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still important – as important as any games in April through August – but they are also as good an opportunity as any to try something new with the roster.

Applying the concept metaphorically to this blog, you may have noticed a certain, let’s say, intermittency from your esteemed host Tao. I can’t say I blame him.

So I approached him, to see if he’d be interested in some organizational depth – a replacement-level blogger who can take some platoon blogging at-bats and spell the seasoned but fatigued veteran from time to time.

The above-linked post points out that Lou Gehrig was a September call-up in 1923 and 1924. I ain’t Lou Gehrig, not from September of 1923 or any other time. Maybe Willie Bloomquist of 2002? I come in with a bang in my first crack at the blogging bigs, and then level off into a competent journeyman? That would be pretty cool.

In any case, I’m hoping to make an occasional contribution, ideally with a fresh perspective on the Blue Jays and maybe on baseball in general. I’ve been following the team for many, many years. For the last four or five, I’ve gradually grown into a pretty devoted Blue Jays enthusiast, learning more with each passing day about the team from top to bottom. I’m not a guy who can walk you through advanced statistics or how they’re developed, but I appreciate others who do, because they’ve helped inform my own thinking about the game.

I may not have paid my blogging dues, but I try to write as much as I can, professionally and just for shits and giggles too. I’ve taken my share of criticism, tried to learn from it, and tried to produce better writing as a result. If you like it, don’t like it, think it’s way off base, or pisses you off, let me have all of it in the comments. Consider it the September hazing. So zany!

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Tao for letting me in on this space. It’s among the best of a very strong group of Blue Jays-focused blogs, and I’m going to do my best to drive it into the ground in return for a massive cash payoff from Dustin Parkes at keep it that way.


The Org Guy

PS. If you want to follow me on Twitter, you can do that too, but it's a nascent account. I'll have more to say there soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where It All Changed - A Prelude to the Season's End

You'll have to pardon the gratuitous Grateful Dead reference, but what a long strange trip the season's been. And somehow, it's still going.

We're working up to a piece that wraps the season up into a few pithy paragraphs, which we hope to have for you by the end of this week. But given our recent fits of delinquency on the blog, we figured we'd pull out a couple of the lesser strands from that piece for their own post. It's a little like watching the deleted scenes before you see the movie.

The most notable thing about looking back this season is that it's hard to find the beginning point of this year versus the closure of last year. In all likelihood, it went back before pitchers and catchers reported, and we suppose you could figure that the calendar truly flipped when the Jays named John Farrell as their manager on October 25th. But truth be told, we're still not sure after almost a full season what Farrell is as a manager, or what he brings to the mix. A strong jaw and a willingness to abide baserunning outs? But what more than that? We're still trying to figure that cat out.

As we look back, we keep settling on that day back in January, when Vernon Wells was traded out of town. We can still picture the restaurant where we had just walked in for a meal with Mrs. Tao, and the feverish exchange of tweets and messages as the details came to the surface. (Also, the indulgence of the missus as we lost our mind and ignored her for the entire meal. Sorries.) We suspect that the magnitude of that transaction has been lost somewhat over the past few months, to a point where we even saw tweets and heard JaysTalk calls which wondered about how good a trade it was, usually after a bad outing by Frank Francisco or a good night by Mike Napoli.

(Hopefully, Mike Wilner could back us up on that. We listened to A LOT of JaysTalk this year. It wasn't always like an exchange of discourse among gentleman and scholars at the Acropolis.)

But with almost 10 months' distance since the trade was announced, it's still worth remembering what a momentous change for the franchise that single transaction represented. It wasn't just about riding the team of a middling bat (though that helped) and a heap of cash (that was pretty nice as well). It wasn't just about opening up the middle of the diamond to a younger player with more upside, nor was it about reworking the middle of the lineup. The point is that a franchise with Vernon Wells as it's begrudging centrepiece does not make the deal for Colby Rasmus, and the Jays don't take the hyper-aggressive approach to drafting amateurs and signing international free agents this year if they are still trying to find a dance partner for the Wells Jubilee.

There's a touch of unease in personifying all that has gone right with this franchise around Wells, because we fear that he's been made to be more of a villain than he deserves. Many have filled in their own notion of how Vernon's intangible presence might have detracted from the team, but we wouldn't suggest that we know what occurs behind the closed doors of the Jays' clubhouse. Though it's hard to conceive of Wells' presence in the middle of the raucous, Delta House atmosphere that we've seen in the dugout as young stars with out-sized personalities made their way into the lineup.

Regardless, the $25 million per annum that the Jays would have had to pay out to him through the end of the 2014 season would have cast such a shadow over all other moves that they made that the team and its wunderkind general manager wouldn't have had the flexibility to take the calculated risks that they have since.

There's going to come a day when we write the book on how it all came together for the next great Toronto Blue Jays championship team. We have a notion that the Wells trade will not only provide the jumping off point for that narrative, but that it will weave its way through many of the other strands. The elasticity of the Jays' plan going forward depended on that single transaction.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Tao's Tweet Bag - Extra Special Answers to Especially Good Questions

Oh, hi. Remember me? It's your delinquent baseball blogging pal. We've been tied up with solving all the problems in the world over the past week, and a little behind in writing up some whims and notions on the Jays. Luckily, you've done the work of several yeomen in filling up the Tweet Bag this week with great questions to fuel the discussion. Let's get to it.

To start, we should get out of the way one question that was asked by many of you over the past day, including : What do you think of the new Jays logo??

We can't seem to find out Jump to Conclusions mat, as it's buried at the back of our closet with our Doc Martens and our zipper ties. So we can't jump to any conclusions about the validity of this logo, nor does the alleged logo tell us much about the look if the entire uniform ensemble. But if you want me to look at this picture and pass judgment, we'd tell you we like it a lot. It's not exactly the old logo, but it's a nice new iteration thereof. But still, we'll need to wait until we see the team working the new duds on a catwalk before we can adjudicate the execution of the new branding.

Next, (who always contributes questions and who we shamefully overlook) asks: If Lawrie profiles as corner OF long-term, crazy to look into Aramis Ramirez this winter? Likely fewer yrs/$ than Prince/Pujols.

Indeed, Aramis will certainly cost less than either of the major free agents, though he may look for an increase over this year's $16.75 million. Still, over the next three years, we can see Ramirez putting up numbers similar or vaguely equivalent to those of Fielder, while providing more defensive value.

There's still the matter of who moves where and plays what next year if the Jays were to make a move for a third baseman, and there's a larger philosophical question as to whether if you move to get the best players you can find in free agency or trades and figure out their spot on the diamond afterwards. It seems to us that the Jays are set on Lawrie at the hot corner, but a move to the outfield or even to first base in order to accommodate Ramirez isn't the craziest idea we've heard.

Let's keep talking about the corners. Two questions (from opposite perspectives) on a Jays-Reds deal in the offseason.

asks: With Votto's contract rising to $17M in '13 and Y.Alonso waiting in CIN, will AA make a play? Cooper/D'Arneaud/Thames for Votto?

While asks: You think a guy like Yonder Alonso fits the Jays? Seems like a high-ceiling guy without a spot to play...

To the first question, we don't think that package comes anywhere close to getting you Joey Votto. For starters, you've suggested sending back a first baseman and a left fielder to help them deal with the 1B/LF glut that they currently have. That's ain't going to play. To get a player like Votto, it's going to hurt. You know that crazily amazing rotation that the New Hampshire Fisher Cats rode to the Eastern League Championship? Start with those names, adding a couple of them into the mix, and you've got the start of a Votto deal, and none of that even begins to factor in that he'll be looking for a Pujols/Fielder/Howard deal very soon. (Plus, you've also got the start of your future holes in your rotation, but we digress.)

To the second question, yes, we think that Alonso would come with a more reasonable price tag, and could be a decent solution to the Jays' lack of production at first base. Alonso may even profile to be more of a DH in the long term, so he'd fit better with an AL team anyways. We're not sure what they'd have to give up to get him, but we'd be all for a move that brings in a player on upswing of his career. Buy low, sweet GM.

More offseason talk, before we even reach the end of the year! asks: Is a better bullpen AA's main priority this offseason?

We're not going to say that the bullpen won't be part of the process this Winter, because it surely will. Just as last year, the Jays went out and signed three players who had previously served as closers, we can see them again looking at low cost arms on short deals with a team option attached. We're not sure that it will necessarily be the main priority, or the most important aspect of the roster reconstruction, if by that you mean "Are they going to spend a lot of money and make big deals on players who have big names." In part, this is because we think that some of the arms that will pitch from the bullpen next year are already in the system. But with four or five slots to fill, there will certainly be new bodies added. Just don't get your hopes up for a proven closer for hire.

Speaking of which, asks: Jonathon Broxton - Proven Closer for hire! Yay or nay?

Nay! A thousand times, NAY! (We suspect that Drew may have served us up a meatball, not unlike what the rotund Broxton might do to batters on a regular basis.)

Mind you, if you were to ask us if we'd toss a cheap, one-year deal at a 300 lb. pitcher with a history of injuries, but also the occasional dominant season (114 Ks versus 29 BB in 76 innings in 2009), we might take that gamble. If you slot him into an undetermined role in the pen (i.e. not necessarily as the closer), and you don't treat him as a bullpen saviour, you may well convince us. Would Broxton sign for one year under those circumstances? That might be a tough sell.

More bullpen queries! asks: Cecil next year = rzep this year. Converted starter who had lots of chances, turned into expendable bullpen arm?

See? This is what we were saying about bullpen solutions from within. Yes, we understood the old argument that Cecil had too much of an arsenal to be relegated to bullpen or closer duty. (And yes, for a starter, the closer role is a demotion.) But given diminished velocity, diminished effectiveness of Cecil's secondary pitches and a delivery which keeps falling out of sorts, we don't think his spot in the rotation is remotely guaranteed next year. On the other hand, Cecil is tough on lefties (.190 batting average,.283 OBP,.246 slugging against in 145 plate appearances versus left-handed batters this season), which might be an asset out of the pen.

If the Jays don't have better options in their rotation, then we wouldn't be in a rush to move Squints into a bullpen role. But if Cecil isn't looking to be a sub-4.00 ERA starter, then, y'know...why the heck not?

And it all comes full circle. asks Do you see the adding another piece to their starting rotation in the off-season?

While we don't know if the Jays will add someone to help improve the state of the starting rotation, our notion is that a) Only Ricky Romero and maybe Brandon Morrow have guaranteed starting jobs to begin next year and b) you can never have enough good starting pitching. If there is a player out there that can be had without emptying the system or overpaying in the free agent market, then the Jays ought to pursue that. Anyone in mind?

Apparently, maybe. asks: What do you think of The Jays going after CJ Wilson?

We haven't expended a lot of time thinking on Wilson up until recently, in part because we presume that the Yankees are going to pursue him so vigourously that the Jays won't get a shot at him unless they wildly overpay. Which is ridiculous, right?

Maybe we've just been worn down by too many conversations about "proven veterans" and all that nonsense, but the idea of a gaudy four-year deal for Wilson actually is starting to make sense to us. To keep him away from your AL East rivals, and you would have to accept some additional financial risk, but if there is a reason to sign a borderline bad contract, it might be to keep pace in the chase for good starting pitching.

Let's get a move on. Here's the rapid-fire portion of our semi-weekly exchange of ideas.

: You think Lawrie plays so hard that he'll always be an injury risk? We've had exactly this thought on more than one occasion since he was recalled. His injuries this year have been mostly flukey ones. But a player who plays at max effort levels as often as Lawrie does is a candidate for strains or tears.

: Correct response to being told to sit down during 9th inning rally at RC? A) Why don't you STAND UP? or B) Forearm to jugular? Depends on who was behind you (little old lady? mother with children?) and how you approached the situation (were you a jerk about it?) Generally, we'd suggest option A. Be nice.

: Why do pickles taste better then cucumbers and whats this team gotta do to get to the next level of good teams? In both instances, we'd offer the same answer: "Dill and brine."

: What do you think the chances are that Snider gets traded this winter, or will they wait until he re-establishes his value? If they have a notion that he's not going to turn things around ever, then we suppose it's possible that they'll look for a deal. But we think the Jays will give Snider another opportunity to prove himself, because his upside is likely better than anything they could extract in return for him.

Finally, : What are your thoughts on the Zooey Deschanel vehicle New Girl? We thought we were getting to a point where the whole cutesy fey thing that Zooey had going on would wear thin. Turns out, it hasn't yet. We kinda hate the show, but we can't not watch it. She's a peach, and it's fun just to watch her be a goofball.

And that's all you wrote. (Well, not exactly, but it's all we figured you'd read.) We're always happy to hear your thoughts, feelings and aspirations. Share with us in the comments, and please, enjoy the conclusion to the season. It's a long, long winter ahead.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Conundrum Out in Left Field

Some folks spend a lot of time trying to imagine the Blue Jays bullpen next season. For us, the item of greater interest is in whose direction the members of the 2012 bullpen will be spitting their sunflower seeds.

Somewhere along the line, the Jays' left field situation got really interesting. At the beginning of the year, we would have figured that Travis Snider would have locked it down and settled into a full-time, long-term role with the team as the Eternal Rebuilding Plan came closer to fruition. But as the season played out, the situation in that corner of the outfield was muddied by the emergence of some and the rejigged roles of others.

By the time next March rolls around, some of the names and faces may well have changed or moved on. Regardless, we've enumerated the long list of candidates for the left field job based on what they've done this year and our view of the likelihood that they'll assume the role at the beginning of next season.

1. Eric Thames: By the end of the weekend, Thames will trail only José Bautista in plate appearances by outfielders this season. He's also second in OPS among Jays outfielders with an unspectacular .770 mark. He's had plenty of opportunity to nail down the position as his own, but a less-than-convincing defensive performance will mean he'll still have to fight his way onto the big league roster next season. His performance at the plate (.314 OBP) doesn't make up for his defensive liabilities, though we get the sense that his aggression (51.3% swing rate, highest of anyone not named Corey Patterson with 100 PAs) is not contrary to the team's philosophy. Apparently, you don't walk your way out of Vegas.

He has options, and if the Jays are squeezed to find room on the 25-man roster, we wouldn't be surprised to see him parked in in the PCL to rake at the start the season.

2. Travis Snider: Were it not for his history with the Jays and his role as the perpetual prospect on the cusp, we'd slide Snider further down this list. If you were to try to resolve this quandry with a cold-eyed statistical approach, there's at least a marginally better argument for Rajai Davis, who bettered Snider in OBP (.273 to .269), and slugging (.350 to .348).

By the eyeball test, Snider is a better fielder than Thames who improved that aspect of his game greatly last year. (If you must, his UZR/150 is 11.4, while Thames is a -18.8 and Davis is a -12.) If they Jays feel as though they can place Snider at the bottom of the lineup and let him work his way through a full season of playing with the big boys, then he's likely to start the season with the team. But his late season injury and his remaining option (yes, he apparently has one for 2012) gives Alex Anthopoulos a fairly legitimate rationale for starting him in the minors.

3. Rajai Davis: The Jays have Davis signed for $2.75 Million next year, with a $3 Million option ($500K buyout) for 2013. That's not a monstrous contract, and it would be easy to move if the Jays were so inclined. But Davis' long list of health issues means that he'll likely have to get at bats in Toronto before he'll be enough of a marketable asset. (Plus, the temptation to have a "prototypical" lead-off hitter might be too much for John Farrell to resist, even if he has toned down the relentless running game through the later part of the season.)

If Davis has a role with the Jays beyond May of next year, our guess is that it will most likely be as a fourth outfielder.

4. Adam Loewen: The Jays won't be able to park Loewen in the minors next year, which means he either makes the 25-man roster or they risk losing him on waivers. Loewen's versatility (he can play all three outfield slots and first base) might earn him a bench role next year, and if the battle for the starting LF job falls between him and Davis, we could see the Jays opting for his bat over Rajai's feet.

In his limited time in the Majors thus far, he hasn't looked out of place (five hits in five games), though the value of September performances are tough to quantify. Still, he's started to make a believer out of us. His Canadian passport means that he'll be the choice of the chattering class, for whatever that's worth.

5. Mark Teahen: It's entirely possible that the Jays choose to eat his $5.5 Million salary for 2012 and move on. If letting that much coin sink to the bottom of Lake Ontario is the cost of getting Colby Rasmus, then so be it. But if they somehow decide to bring him back, he'd be as likely to get plopped into left field as anywhere else. It's a long shot, but then again, he is sorta-Canadian.

6. Moises Sierra: The 22 year-old Sierra has had a decent year at New Hampshire (.342 OBP/.436 SLG/ .778 OPS, 18 HR and 16 SB in 133 games), posting numbers that were marginally better than those of Anthony Gose (who's still just 21.) Will likely merit a promotion to Las Vegas, where the typical PCL inflation will have tongues wagging by June over a possible callup. Unlikely to start the season with the Jays (barring a slew of trades and injuries), but will be on the far outer edge of the conversation.

7. Anthony Gose/Jake Marisnick: Included here because, you know, why not? Both will be in their 21 year-old seasons next year, presumably with Gose in Vegas and Marisnick in New Hampshire. Neither is likely to see Toronto before September at the absolute earliest. But you know you'll be asking about them all year long.

8. Edwin Encarnacion: Allegedly, this is happening. We have yet to see him play the outfield, though we've seen some brief video of him tracking fly balls from a machine. (He looked like he's able to catch soft fly balls shot directly towards him, though for that matter, we'd probably be able to pull that off.) Farrell has said that he'll get some innings out there at the end of games before the season is out, though sometimes we think he makes those sorts of comments to entertain the beat writers.

The Wisdom of Solomon?
Our interest was piqued by a tweet last night from the New Hampshire Union Leader's Kevin Gray, who is covering the beat as the Fisher Cats play for the Eastern League Championship:

Fisher Cats owner Art Solomon told the players before the game: "The way you played (in Game 1) was embarrassing."

This followed a game which the Fisher Cats lost 10-9 in the ninth inning to start the series. (Did we mention that this was the League Championship that they're playing for? We'll probably mention this again.) We were left gobsmacked at the notion that the Jerry Jones of some third-level market could take it upon himself to scold the Jays' prospects as though they were his players. Gray assured us via Twitter that Solomon feeds the boys steaks and looks after them whilst in New Hampshire, but we can't get past the fact that he has no authority to lecture the Jays prospects.

If there were speeches that needed to be given, there's a manager in Sal Fasano who can do the talking.

If Solomon wants to tear a strip off the ushers, or tear into the marketing department, or yell at a popcorn vendor, then have at it. Those are his employees. The future Jays? He should probably keep away and enjoy the fact that these players who have embarrassed him so have managed to get four additional home gates for him. A little less scolding and a little more gratitude might be in order.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Epic Tweet Bag! So Many Questions, Not Enough Answers!

We asked for your questions, and you provided them in abundance. (Even with our caveat that we wouldn't answer anything to do with the growing obsessions for Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.) So without any further dithering about, it's your Tweet Bag column!

asks: Do you think Lind can be fixed? And if so, how? And what about Aaron Hill being able to hit in the desert?

To the first part, we continue to wonder if there isn't something that's gone from nagging to chronic in Lind's back as the season has progressed. He missed a month, came back and raked for two weeks, then basically fell off a cliff for the remainder of the season. (He also appears to be swinging with his arms as opposed to his whole body, which is why we have our suspicions.) As for why he'd continue to play through it, we figure that he (and the Jays) though that it was a manageable injury...But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. But if it is injury-related, hopefully some rest will help to put him straight.

As for Hill? It's amazing what staring into the abyss will do to a player's motivation. Also, he's playing against lesser teams right now. Let's not assume too much.

Onward ho! asks: Do you think Farrell will replace either the pitching coach or the hitting coach in the off season?

A couple of things: First, we don't think that John Farrell makes that call himself. But second, we think that there will be turnover in the staff over the winter. Nothing overly dramatic, but we think it is entirely within the realm of possibility that one of the Jays' coaches gets snatched away by another team, which will mean that the roles of the remaining members of the staff get tweaked, and maybe Luis Rivera gets to sit in the dugout.

More along these lines from : How much should we read into the Mottola "call up"?

Chad Mottola has (according to the players who've come through Las Vegas) done a stellar job in helping to identify subtle tweaks to their mechanics that have helped them to thrive this year. So maybe he deserved a call-up, just as David Cooper or Adam Loewen did. But should his presence in Toronto mean that he should size up Dwayne Murphy's locker space? Not necessarily.

If there is something to read into this move, we'd point to the depth that the Jays are creating in their coaching ranks. The Jays already have more coaches than they can fit into uniform on any given night, and if they find individuals who are able to help, why not keep them in the system? Why not have the single largest coaching staff in the league? And why not offer a bit of enticement for minor league instructors to stay within the fold?

We're guessing that whether if his future is in Toronto or Las Vegas next year, Mottola is feeling the love. And when you feel the love, your interest in sticking it out rises, and your interest in seeking the next best opportunity might not be as strong.

Next up, fantasy baseball guru asks: WAR is wins above replacement, by definition, wouldn't this indicate the league's most valuable player?

Oh...if only it were that simple. On the one hand, a stat like WAR isn't going to speak to the narrative that some writers like to use in order to fill out their ballots. It might contribute, but it's amazing how the traditional markers (played for a contender, RBIs, stolen bases) still matter for a lot of people in the discussion.

On the other hand, there's a growing issue that we have with that specific metric, specifically around how it integrates defense into the equation. Increasingly, we're becoming uncomfortable with Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) as a precise measurement for a player's defensive output in a given season. Players seem to jump up and down dramatically from year to year, though we understand that more data (several seasons worth, apparently) can help to make this metric more meaningful. Having said that, it seems wrong to give it as much weight as it seems to have in the current configuration of Fangraphs' calculation of WAR, especially when discussing a single season performance.

There's an illusion of precision that WAR presents, because this player is 0.5 wins better than that player, and so on. But as ESPN's Keith Law notes, that's tantamount to a rounding error. We're not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and we still feel pretty good about the calculation of offensive WAR, to which we often refer. In the interim, we're working hard on our new metric: The Cut of his Jib Above That Other Dude (COJATOD), which should be ready any year now, and will be absolutely bullet-proof.

Nextly, asks: Does Loewen have a place with Jays in 2012? If so, how do Jays juggle him with Snider & Thames?

As nice as the story is with Loewen reshaping himself and coming back as a position player, we don't think there's going to be room for him on the roster. The Jays not only have Snider and Thames to consider, but also Rajai Davis for their outfield spots next year. Certainly, some of those bodies might move in trades over the offseason, but there's still a few too many players ahead of him to figure on a spot for 2012. Our guess is that the Jays allow Loewen to test the market, and someone sees enough in him to offer him a minor league deal with a better chance of cracking the 25-man roster.

Our next contestant, has this: Two questions from the UK: Opening Day rotation using available pitchers/current roster, second base next season: KJ or AH?

How could we not answer a question from another continent?

There were a few rotation questions that came through this week, which we understand given all the extra arms kicking around the team this week. We could spoil the fun by saying that it's almost impossible to know. But we're not that much of a spoil-sport, so here's what we can figure: Ricky Romero (for sure), Brett Cecil (pretty sure), Brandon Morrow (uneasily unsure), Henderson Alvarez (optimistically unsure), and...well...from here, it's a crapshoot. We'll have a better sense after Sunday's outing from Dustin McGowan, but we'd lean towards him as the leading candidate to at least break camp with the team.

This all supposes no player movement, which is why asks: What are the odds the Jays go after CJ Wilson or Harden in the offseason? Also possible trade targets?

We'd figure Harden would be a better bet than Wilson, if only because we're reasonably certain that the Yankees will just keeping stacking thousands of $100 dollar bills in front of his house until he says yes. We'd probably prefer to give Harden a whirl in the bullpen, but we suspect that he might prefer a rotation spot. If no one else is offering that assurance, the Jays might have a shot. (And that has nothing to do with his being Canadian.)

As for trade targets, it's far too early to even guess. There's a lot of baseball to play yet, and many moves to be made between now and the winter meetings. Ask us in four months.

Also, relatedly, asks: Which current prospect not yet with the team will have the biggest impact in 2012?

Experience seems to indicate that the players who unexpectedly sneak into the mix tend to be pitchers, because you need a lot of them to get through 162 games. The playoff rotation of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats is as good a place as any to start your search, as four very good hurlers have landed there by season's end: Chad Jenkins (23), Deck McGuire (22), Nestor Molina (22) and Drew Hutchison (20) have all advanced through one or more minor league levels, and all have looked good (at least according to the numbers) in doing so. Jenkins would seem to have reached the age where he's ready to ascend, although he misses the fewest bats amongst that group (6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 2.74 K/BB rate).

The other three put up drool-inducing numbers through this season.

-McGuire (at high-A Dunedin and AA New Hampshire): 8.9 Ks/9, 3.14 K/BB
-Molina (Dunedin/NH): 10.2 Ks/9, 9.25 K/BB
-Hutchison (Low A Lansing, Dunedin and NH): 12.6 Ks/9, 10.5 K/BB

Based on his experience at the higher levels, we'd guess that Molina is the most likely of that group to slip through and make an impact next season, though don't completely forget about Hutchison. A debut at 21 isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

Let's wrap this quickly. You've all got things to do this weekend, right?

: In what capacity, if any, do you see Johnny Mac coming back to the jays next season? At most, 25th man to start the season. Regular pinch-runner. Backup SS/2B/3B. Possibly transitioning into a coaching role.

: Do you think MLB should allow trading of draft picks? No, absolutely not. Did you see what the Pirates did down the stretch? Dumb teams would trade their picks to smart teams, who would stockpile them and...wait...this might work out well for the Jays!

: Scott Parker: Great Spur, or Greatest Spur? *Shakes fist* Why you. (This is a soccer thing. Gord is making me cry.)

: OK! I have decided that the Jays need Brett Gardner. Am I nuts? How do we make this happen? You are nuts. Why would the Yankees let a good player like that go? Back to the video games for you, son!

Finally, on a happy note, this from @: If you could drink a beer with 1 current Jay, 1 former Jay, and 1 other mlb player, who would they be? We'd grab José Bautista, Carlos Delgado, and Miguel Cabrera and a case of Presidente, and just listen to them talk about hitting jacks all night long. (Of course, we wouldn't understand enough Spanish to know what they'd be saying, so we might need to rethink this.)

As always, thanks for all of your questions, and we'll do one more of these before the end of the season. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Five Other Guys Who Could Play First

Somewhere along the line, the idea that the Jays could take a run at Prince Fielder (or to a lesser extent Albert Pujols) or could try to pry Joey Votto loose has evolved in the minds of Jays fans from a flight of fancy to an absolute necessity. We fear that even musing about those players has amped up Jays fans to a point where they can't help but be disappointed when none of those players come to Toronto in the offseason.

(And though we think that Alex Anthopoulos is a magical creature who makes the impossible occur with some regularity, we feel pretty comfortable saying that none of those guys will be Blue Jays anytime soon.)

But because we hate to see people disappointed, we offer up the following list of players who we think could be had at a minimal cost, and who could provide the Jays with a decent solution for a year or two at first base/DH, should they decide that Adam Lind is not the best option.

(For a point of reference going forward, Lind's numbers are: .297 OBP, .442 SLG, .739 OPS, and an offensive WAR of 0.4 according to Baseball Reference.)

Carlos Lee: Lee has a year left on his mega-deal with the Astros, worth $19 million. That's a lot of dough, but Houston might be just as happy to let it go for cheap, while the Jays wouldn't be locking themselves into anything onerous in the long term. Lee has posted a not-terrible .330 OBP to go with a .444 SLG this year, and has played 62 games at first with positive UZR numbers (for whatever they might be worth).

Todd Helton: The Rockies' first baseman is in the twilight of his career, having just turned 38. Still, he's managed to post an .859 OPS (.387 OBP/.472 SLG) this year, which slots him just ahead of Mark Teixeira in that "dumber" metric. He has three years left on his long term deal with Colorado, but at $4.9, $5.0 and $1.31 million through 2014, that's a very manageable number. With Ian Stewart looking to get another shot at a full-time big league job, the Rockies might be inclined to let their franchise's most beloved player go.

Carlos Pena: After signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs last off-season, Pena has battled back from slow start and is now putting up numbers that you'd pretty much expect from him (.355 OBP, .461 SLG, .816 OPS). Pena is represented by Scott Boras, so no one should expect a sweetheart of a deal to be forthcoming. But for a guy whose offensive WAR is at par with that of Ryan Howard (2.3), it wouldn't be a terrible idea to see if a reasonable one- or two-year deal isn't a possibility.

Logan Morrison: Morrison's probably better suited to play first base than the outfield. (We have lots of questions about UZR, but LoMo's -15.9 UZR/150 number for his career at least indicates that it's not all bouquets and fruit baskets out there.) His offensive year hasn't been as superb as one might have hoped (.328/.451/.779), but those are still better numbers than Lind's. Also, given the all the ruckus around him, his demotion and his outspoken defense of former batting guru (John Mallee, who was fired by Florida but subsequently hired by the Blue Jays to serve as a roaming instructor), it could be that he didn't have his full focus on the game. He's just 24, and we think he'd benefit from the proverbial change of scenery.

Adam Dunn: Is Adam Dunn really this bad? Does he really not like baseball? Is he really a guy who posts a .576 OPS? Whose uninspiring OBP (.295) is actually higher than his SLG (.285)? Given that over the three previous seasons, Dunn posted a cummulative .380 OBP/.526 SLG/.906 OPS, we be willing to bet on some sort of comeback, especially if he were given the chance to play the field again. Is that bet worth the $44 million remaining on Dunn's contract over the next three seasons? That's probably up for debate, but he'll certainly cost the Jays less than any of the other names being bandied about.

Was there anyone we missed? Any other 1B/DH types who the Jays should consider for next year and beyond? Drop us a line in the comments, and we'd love to hear your take.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Notes from the Notebook: Scattered Thoughts from the Long Weekend

After a long weekend of reflection and scribbling the most profoundly obscure, yet thoroughly sagacious baseball insights into our Moleskin notebook, we scanned the pages, ran them through optical character recognition software, and six hours later, we gave up. (Our teachers were right: We really do have atrocious handwriting.)

Instead of those momentous thoughts, we offer the vague whims that came to us just now. Enjoy.

The Ongoing Epic History of Brett Lawrie
We live in an age where baseball is increasingly appreciated through the analysis of various and sundry points of data. (Which is totally fine. We get that thing. We don't judge. Some of our best friends are stat heads.)

But in the midst of all that poring over columns of numbers and arguing as to the validity of the your numbers over ours and fretting over which version of the stat you're about to quote is the one that is de rigeur this week...well, there's something refreshing about sitting back and viscerally appreciating the sight of Brett Lawrie playing baseball.

It's not just that Lawrie plays with intensity (which he does), or seems to legitimately love what he's doing. It's not the dirt on his jersey or the blood on his pants, or his somewhat local provenance. The thing that's so awe inspiring about Lawrie is the simple fact that he plays the game well. Extraordinarily well.

There are things that he does on the diamond or at the plate which are just so impressive to watch that it legitimately reminds you of why you like the game in the first place. For instance: Seeing the 21 year-old let pitches that break just out of the zone float by without a flinch leaves us astonished. These are pitches that entice swings out of successful veterans with a decade of experience under their belt, but because someone in the Jays front office told Lawrie at some point to be more selective, he just figured it out and did it. This is to say nothing of his defence, which seemed shakey when he first arrived in Toronto. But a bit of presumably well-received instruction, and now we're reaching for superlatives and to remember who has ever patrolled the hot corner for the Blue Jays as skillfully as he has.

It takes effort to turn down the noise of the chatter about value and free agents and September callups and men in white and next year's rotation and compensatory picks and, well...all of it. We're grateful that Brett Lawrie has shown up to occasionally wow us with the game he's crafted for himself. It makes us feel 21 again.

Red Sox Pitching Torture
Between Josh Beckett's interminable dull-eyed stare into the catcher's groin and the infuriatingly protracted time that Jonathan Papelbon takes to throw the ball, we're amazed that anyone can even pretend to enjoy watching the Red Sox.

Sure, we get that there's an abiding affection for the team that's held by New Englanders or some of you kids out in the Maritimes. But you can't tell us that you enjoy watching the games. It's just such an onerous demand on your patience to sit and watch Papelbon take 24 minutes to throw 27 pitches. Who has that sort of time all summer long?

A four-hour game that ends with a single run being scored just baffles us, and should frankly be more of a concern to the MLB's brain trust. There are rules in place to guard against these sorts of excesses, and the league shouldn't be waiting until sometime after a Red Sox/Yankees ALCS where every game lasts well beyond 1 a.m. to do something about it. It's contrary to the best interests of the game.

As we joked on Twitter: Whichever player decides to charge the mound in the middle of one of Papelbon's endless ponderings will instantly become national hero.

(Apparently, we weren't alone in our antipathy, as NESN Red Sox analyst Dennis Eckersley called the display "sickening to watch" according to a tweet from ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes.)

Lind Provides Bitter Relief
The end of that endless 10th inning came on three wild and ugly swings from Adam Lind. The strikeout only served to further our opinion that he should slide down (way down) the Jays lineup soon for the good of the team. The Jays may not be "playing for something" at this point, but that doesn't mean that they should continue to undermine their offence by waiting for the ghost of a chance that Lind's 2009 form will return.

After returning from a back injury in June, Lind put up two solid weeks of walloping the Royals, Orioles and Reds. But from his OPS apex of 1.019 at the start of play on June 18th, his performance has plummeted, with his OPS sitting at .745 through September 3rd. In the intervening time, Lind has put up a .199 batting average to go with a .241 on base and .322 slugging. He's struck out 57 times in those 287 plate appearances, while drawing just 14 walks.

Perhaps most shocking of all is that Lind hit just six doubles in that time, which is one fewer than the number of times he's hit into a double play. Over the full course of the season, he's hit 24 homers, but that number only serves to obscure just what a feeble offensive season this has been for Lind, given that he's managed barely half as many doubles (13). (In case you're wondering, Lyle Overbay has 18 doubles through his horrible season with Pittsburgh and Arizona.)

It could be that the back troubles that landed Lind on the DL in the first place have nagged at him all year long, and perhaps when he is healthy and rested at the beginning of next Spring, he'll rebound nicely. If there is some injury that is impeding him from playing the game to his fullest, the Jays might be willing to show some patience and see him through part of the remaining three years on his contract. What they should not do is continue to subvert the achievements of the others in the lineup but waiting for those tarnished skills to suddenly reappear this season. It isn't happening.

Three Happy Thoughts!
So that your pallet isn't offended with the acidity of any of the observations above, we leave you with three happier notions to brighten your day:

1) Henderson Alvarez faced the most fearsome offensive lineup in baseball and walked away unscathed. Moreover, the hard sink and movement on his pitches left some pretty impressive hitters looking like statues cast to convey befuddled apprehension.

2) Five of the Blue Jays' minor league affiliates made the postseason this year. Vince Lombardi said that "winning is a habit". It's nice to think that some future Jays are developing that habit early on in their careers.

3) Dustin McGowan is back, and he brought his lambchops with him. It's nice to see him, and we look forward to seeing him pitch again.