Toronto Blue Jays: Early Season Notes

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Considering that the majority of players on the roster have never won anything and that they acquired a vast percentage of one of the most disappointing and dysfunctional teams in recent memory in the 2012 Marlins, there is reason to be skeptical about the Blue Jays. The slow start certainly didn’t help. But to equate this team with the 2012 Marlins just because Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio are on the team as if their mere presence in the problem is searching for reasons to criticize. The Marlins were working for a hair-trigger ownership more interested in the number of fans they’d immediately attract rather than giving the club—and fans—a chance to get to know one another. There was constantly the hovering paranoia of a housecleaning if it didn’t work, with good reason as it turned out.

John Gibbons is not Ozzie Guillen and won’t start savaging the players in the press. There haven’t been the off-field issues with the 2013 Blue Jays that there were with the 2012 Marlins and the Blue Jays’ fans are going to come to the park to support their team. There’s no threat of a dismantling at mid-season.

The backs of the baseball cards are highly relevant with the Blue Jays and R.A. Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, and Jose Bautista will be fine. The key will be how much Edwin Encarnacion can replicate his 2012, 42 homer performance. He’s currently hitting .133. Brett Lawrie has to get healthy. Reyes is on the disabled list.

They’re not deep enough to withstand a litany of injuries and underperformance and there’s still an ominous, “I don’t know if this is gonna work/I hope this works” from inside and outside the organization. The AL East is parity laden so no team is going to run off and hide, giving the Blue Jays wiggleroom to get their bearings. Once the starting rotation gets its act together, Lawrie returns, Bautista starts hitting and if Encarnacion can be 75% of what he was last year, they’ll be okay.

One note regarding Reyes, I’d understand the references to his injury history if he’d pulled a hamstring, but he severely sprained an ankle sliding into second base. It was an impact injury that could’ve happened to anyone at any time and had nothing to do with a history of maladies.

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Red Sox Need To Examine John Farrell Objectively

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Before the Red Sox go crazy in trading players and doling a lucrative long-term contract on their main target to replace Bobby Valentine, John Farrell, they had better make sure that they know exactly what they’re getting. It’s not a matter of, “We’ll hire Farrell and everything will be okay.” That straw man is was erected under the supervision of those who went to the Josh Beckett school of “don’t blame me.” Valentine was part of the problem for the Red Sox this season, but only a small part. Hiring Farrell doesn’t repair the rotation; the bullpen; the pockmarked lineup; and the jockeying for power in the front office.

Because Farrell was popular amongst the players and media and an audible sigh of relief would be exhaled en masse if they hire him is another reason to hesitate. Giving the players, fans, and media what they want is one of the things the Red Sox intentionally got away from when they began rebuilding the organization as far back as Dan Duquette’s era. Considering their brattish behavior when it came to Valentine, the players lost all rights to dictate anything to the front office, let alone whom they wanted in the manager’s office. Many of the players who betrayed the “beloved” Terry Francona are gone; some remain and some undermined Valentine from the start. Now they want Farrell? And the front office is prepared to give them what they want and possibly trade players to do it?

The Red Sox had better look at Farrell objectively, not as a man but as a manager. He’d handle the media better than Valentine and the players wouldn’t overstep their bounds as they did with Valentine, but these are no longer the days in which the Red Sox had such an overwhelming array of talent that they were able to overcome controversies and dysfunction to win regardless of their issues. The team is not very good and Farrell’s managing isn’t much better. Strategic mishaps happen with every manager and they sometimes cost games; but sometimes the mistakes managers make wind up succeeding. I would say that the number of mistakes a manager makes over the course of a game are mitigated by an unknown pitcher having a great game; a hitter doing something he doesn’t normally do; or the opposing manager committing a worse gaffe. There’s a difference between a strategic and a fundamental error and I’m not talking about a shortstop booting a ground ball or the left fielder missing the cutoff man. I’m talking about a manager insisting, “This is the way we play,” when it diametrically opposes what they should be doing and what works.

The Blue Jays were mediocre in 2011 under Farrell, but they had an excuse because they were retooling the organization under GM Alex Anthopoulos. In 2012, they had expectations of playoff contention. Injuries have been proffered as an excuse as to why they’re currently 19 games under .500, but they were a .500 team before Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison got hurt. They’ve gotten a career year from Edwin Encarnacion and are frequently cited as a team with plenty of prospects and money to spend in the upcoming off-season.

When the actual on-field improvement will come is anyone’s guess and a large chunk of their failures have stemmed from the managerial mishaps of Farrell. He allows his players to run wild on the basepaths, stealing bases—and getting thrown out—seemingly at will; they swing for home runs and are over-aggressive at the plate. In short, they don’t play the game correctly.

Last night, for example, the final result of the game looks to be an 11-4 Yankees blowout, but in the bottom of the eighth inning, the score was 9-4 when, with one out, Rajai Davis singled off of David Robertson. Anthony Gose came up, the count went to 2-0, and Gose swung at the next pitch grounding out to the first baseman.

The Blue Jays were down 5 runs with a pitcher who has the propensity to walk people and has been shaky of late, and Gose—a speed player who has shown occasional pop in the minors—swings at a 2-0 pitch. Why? Even if he’d achieved the best possible on-paper result and hit a home run, then what? The score would’ve been 9-6. And the likelihood of that happening, with Gose having hit 1 homer in 151 plate appearances in the big leagues this season, was nearly nonexistent. Had he gotten on base with Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus behind him, there was a chance that one of them would run into a pitch and hit it out of the park to get the Blue Jays back in the game. The proper baseball move was to tell Gose to take a strike. Is it possible that Farrell did that and Gose swung anyway? I suppose. But given the way the Blue Jays play with trying to hit home runs and overaggressiveness on the basepaths, and their overall underachievement, does Farrell deserve that benefit of the doubt?

No.

It’s similar to him not deserving to be anointed the Red Sox manager just because he was a coach on the team when they were contending for World Series wins and that people like him. The Red Sox need to think long and hard before making a desperation move on Farrell because there’s a chance that he might actually make things worse.

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American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Let’s look at the current construction of each club and make an honest appraisal of their 2012 status and 2013 future. We’ll start with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

As an excuse to justify how brilliant they are and that their numbers are never wrong, it’s en vogue for the stats-obsessed to repeatedly reference how “lucky” the Orioles are because of their negative run differential and that their record under the shaky metric of the Pythagorean Win Theorem has them 12 games worse than their actual record.

The Orioles have three major attributes: they hit the ball out of the park; they have a deep bullpen; and they have a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to push the right buttons. Bullpens fluctuate so there’s no guarantee that will continue into 2013; they’ll still have players who hit the ball out of the park; and Showalter is discussing a contract extension.

Their starting rotation are all in their mid-20s and they have young players Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado set to make contributions. The Orioles may take a step back next year, but they’ve turned the corner from a laughingstock where no player would choose to go unless they’re overpaid or without options to a viable destination with a plan and a chance to win. And they have a great shot at the playoffs this season.

New York Yankees

Anyone speculating about Joe Girardi’s job security is looking for a scapegoat and trying to distract from the real culprits in the team’s inconsistency and age: Brian Cashman and, to a lesser extent, the Steinbrenners.

If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re going to have to make structural changes to the roster. The constant discussion of their 10 games lead in July is glossing over the fact that they’ve had one good month—June when they went 20-7. Aside from that, they’re around a .500 team and making the playoffs in 2012 is in jeopardy. They’re old, expensive, and worn down. It remains to be seen what this veteran crew is going to have left in the tank even if they do make the playoffs

All of a sudden criticism has been extended to hitting coach Kevin Long for the slide of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, among others. Long might be gone, playoffs or not. The Yankees minor league system is dwindling in stature and legitimate prospects, thereby limiting what they’ll be able to acquire on the market; their open decision to try and reduce payroll to prevent luxury tax implications will also reduce their options to improve the team on the fly.

If they fall from the playoffs or are a one-and-done scenario, I’d fire Cashman not just for his incompetent trade for Michael Pineda and failure to address needs at the trading deadline, but also because I still have an issue with him having written a reference on team letterhead for either his girlfriend or a woman that was blackmailing him. His judgment on and off the field is highly questionable.

Maybe it’s time for Billy Eppler to get a chance or to even bring back Gene Michael for a 2-3 year run as GM.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are loaded with young pitching, aggressive in making trades, and build a different bullpen every year with the refuse of other clubs. Because they are operating under severe financial constraints and the scrutiny around them is limited, they can do what they want and live with a season of 83-79 or worse to get back to 95 wins the next season. This is what they are and how they’ll remain under the current management.

Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion hit his 40th home run last night. He joins Jose Bautista as a journeyman player who suddenly starting hitting the ball out of the park with a ridiculous frequency for the Blue Jays. But they’re still the same team that discovers a player for whom it clicked in his late-20s, and winds up with a win total between 75-83 and is in third or fourth place in the division.

Their manager John Farrell is in demand to take over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays don’t sound all that bothered about it. Their entire starting rotation has spent time on the disabled list for one malady or another. Their offense is flashy, but as inconsistent as their would-be star pitcher Brandon Morrow.

It’s just off in Toronto. They do noticeable things like make aggressive trades, hit homers and steal bases, but they don’t win. I don’t hear people referring to GM Alex Anthopoulos as a genius much anymore. What are they thinking North of the border when they spent so many years jumping at the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays like a child trying to recover a confiscated toy, then see the Red Sox come apart, the Yankees vulnerable, and the Rays beatable and that it’s the Orioles and not the Blue Jays who are taking advantage?

I thought the Blue Jays would take the next step this season, but that belief has been prevalent for a decade and they’re frozen in place. I’m not picking them again unless they make significant changes on and off the field.

Boston Red Sox

On some level, I understand what they did when they hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona. I’m not one who’s seeing their atrocious season as validating Francona is some bizarre way. He and Theo Epstein take as much responsibility if not more as Larry Lucchino and Valentine in 2012. They were trying to move forward with the roster as it was, make a few tweaks here and there, and see if it got better. It didn’t and it’s not Valentine’s fault.

They got rid of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, saved money and bolstered the farm system. But if you think they’re going to hire Farrell or whoever; sign a few free agents with the available money or make a big trade and they’ll be back to where they were as World Series favorites, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s a lot of work to do in Boston and it’s not going to be a short-term process. If they go half-in/half-out and try to straddle the line as they did last winter, expect more of the same in 2013.

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The Blue Jays Keep—At Worst—A Pretty Good Player

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The Blue Jays’ signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 3-year, $29 million contract could be viewed as either a smart move to avert losing him to free agency or they just paid for a player having his career year.

Objectively, it’s very reasonable for both sides.

Encarnacion has always had this ability and although he’s never harnessed that talent to this degree, the Blue Jays can be reasonably certain to get 20 homer production from him even if he reverts to the player that has led every single manager he’s ever had to, at one time or another, want to strangle him.

Could Encarnacion had gotten more money than that on the open market? Probably. It doesn’t hurt that he’s versatile and can play a difficult-to-fill position of third base.

This is similar—though not on the same scale—to the preemptive, 5-year, $65 million contract extension the Blue Jays gave to Jose Bautista before the 2011 season. Following his shocking 54-homer season in 2010, there were questions about how a journeyman player who’d bounced around baseball for over a decade was suddenly able to generate that kind of power. This wasn’t a player who got an opportunity to play every day and hit 30 homers. Bautista hit 54 homers. Clearly there was the chance he was a one-year-wonder or he’d get caught using some kind of substance to boost his numbers.

So far, those questions have been answered as Bautista hit 43 homers last season, has 27 this season and has become one of the premier sluggers in baseball. He’s also passed every drug test he’s been given.

The Blue Jays were faced with a quandary before the 2011 season. Were they going to tell Bautista to wait for a new contract as he was entering his free agent season? Were they going to trade him with the Red Sox avidly pursuing him? Or would they sign him?

They chose to sign him and now it looks like a brilliant decision.

With Encarnacion there were some suggestions that they trade him now; that he’d already established himself as a player who was great at times, mediocre at times and just plain bad at times. In addition to that, there were the mental gaffes that pop up on and off the field.

There’s a logical basis for the idea that teams sell high on players they can’t trust to maintain performance; players who have had career histories such as Bautista and Encarnacion. Recently I read that a “talent evaluator” from an organization other than the Mets suggested that the club trade R.A. Dickey at his high value. Of course it’s easy to make such a statement anonymously while not responsible for the fan, team and media reaction in the present and the aftermath in the future. In theory, it wasn’t such a terrible idea. The gap between expressing an insulated business plan and having all the pieces in place to put it in motion is vast.

With Bautista it was as if the Red Sox mere interest in him served as validation that he was for real; that the young and callow GM Alex Anthopoulos should take solace in the Red Sox thinking Bautista had figured it out and therefore he could sign Bautista to a pricey deal and not be criticized for it. In reality, it was a risk and the risk worked out.

Will that be so with Encarnacion?

Hitting the lottery again as they did with Bautista is highly unlikely. I wouldn’t expect Encarnacion to maintain an OPS .142 above his career average. But he is an established and consistent player who happens to be having a great year. If he reverts back to what he was before 2012, that’s still pretty good.

It’s not a massive outlay for the Blue Jays. In fact, in comparison to other deals that are signed to pretty good players in which they’re compensated like great players (Jayson Werth for example), it’s a paltry sum for someone who has all the attributes listed above. Not even his negatives are enough to say this is a mistake, before or after the fact.

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American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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We can tick Edwin Encarnacion off the board of potentially available players as the Blue Jays signed him to a 3-year, $29 million extension. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post. Now let’s have a look at the AL West and which teams should buy, sell or stand pat and what they should be looking for.

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

I’m not discussing any Cole Hamels rumors from now on. He’s going to be the hot topic and used as an easy “news” story designed to garner webhits. But the Rangers are absolutely going to pursue him and will make the decisive move to get a starting pitcher from somewhere. Roy Oswalt’s had two bad starts and two good starts; Neftali Feliz is on the 60-day disabled list. It’s no wonder they’re pursuing Hamels, Zack Greinke and will undoubtedly be in on Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and anyone else who’s available or not available like Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

They’ll also try to bolster their bullpen with an extra arm or two like Grant Balfour, Jose Mijares or Joe Thatcher.

Los Angeles Angels

Talk of another starting pitcher, on the surface, sounds like overkill. But it was put logically recently (I’m not sure where I read it) that since Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options at the end of the season and neither have pitched very well, they’ll have the money free to go after Hamels or Greinke. The Angels like pitching.

If I had to guess now what they’re going to do at the end of the season, they’ll decline Santana’s option and exercise Haren’s if he’s healthy.

Since they’re 8th in the American League in runs scored, the on-the-surface suggestion would be that they’ll need a bat. But the early season horrible hitting cost coach Mickey Hatcher his job and they began to score once Mike Trout was recalled and Vernon Wells got hurt. The Wells situation will have to be resolved when he returns from the disabled list. I would think the last and possibly only resort is to eat the $42+ million remaining on his contract and dump him.

They could use a lefty specialist like Mijares or Thatcher and if the Brewers make Francisco Rodriguez available, a reunion with his former team would be a positive for both sides.

Oakland Athletics

Who would’ve thought the A’s could legitimately consider being buyers at mid-season? Certainly not me. Credit goes to Billy Beane for getting solid youngsters from the Diamondbacks and Nationals in off-season trades. Yoenis Cespedes is another matter since he’s supremely talented and injury-prone.

They’re not going to buy and they’re not going to clear the decks of everything from the roster to the light fixtures to the sinks.

Balfour will be in demand; perhaps they can get a couple of minor leaguers for a team that needs a back-end starter in Bartolo Colon (how about the Mets?). I’d probably find a taker for Daric Barton. It’s not going to happen for him with the A’s and he does have some attributes.

Seattle Mariners

According to Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, “…the Mariners do not appear to be gearing any efforts towards contention before 2015.”

Jeez.

Baker’s column was in reference to the suggestion that they pursue Justin Upton, but if they have no intention of contending until 2015 they not only shouldn’t buy, but they should look to trade Hernandez. What good is going to do them if they’re not going to contend for another two years?

Whether it’s ownership interfering with GM Jack Zduriencik or not, it can’t be ignored that the Mariners’ offense is historically awful with four regular players batting .203 or below and all four—Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins—were brought in by Zduriencik.

2015? The Mariners have a loyal fanbase, money to spend, a horse at the top of the rotation and young pitching on the way.

If this is true, then they should sell any player making significant money and that includes King Felix. As it is, they’ll look to move Brandon League and listen on Jason Vargas. Anyone want Figgins? I thought not.

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American League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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You’ll see all the “rumors” floating around, published in newspapers and discussed on blogs, websites and shows. Most of them are fabrications, blown out of proportion or strategically placed factoids by owners, GMs, player agents, players, media members and anyone else with a stake in getting a story out there.

Starting with the American League East, here’s a realistic analysis of what teams should do at the upcoming trading deadline and which players might be available.

New York Yankees

Of course the Yankees are buyers, but what they’re buying and are willing to sell is still unknown. GM Brian Cashman has said he’s not going after any big name starting pitchers. Is that because they don’t want to trade prospects or because their prospects have lost luster throughout baseball?

The Yankees have crafted a case study in diminishing the value of their lauded minor leaguers. They managed to sell their one big asset—Jesus Montero—for a lemon in Michael Pineda and a bent “key” Jose Campos. (Still no updates on the condition of Campos’s elbow, by the way. Have they buried him somewhere?)

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances was demoted from Triple A to Double A because he couldn’t throw strikes.

Teams would take both, but not as the centerpiece for a notable veteran player. As part of a package? Absolutely.

They’d be foolish not to at least check in on Cole Hamels. They’re a more likely suitor for Ryan Dempster. I’d steer clear of Jason Vargas and Wandy Rodriguez (not good ideas for Yankee Stadium); Matt Garza is intriguing buy costly.

They need bullpen help with Grant Balfour, Rafael Betancourt, Brandon League and Joe Thatcher targets to consider.

If I were Cashman, I’d call Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers (a former Cashman assistant) and tell him to hold off on trading Justin Upton in-season because the Yankees will want him over the winter to replace Nick Swisher.

Baltimore Orioles

They should stand pat making only negligible and cheap additions.

While it’s a great story that the Orioles are 45-40 and the doubters of some of the moves made by Dan Duquette have been proven wrong (Jason Hammel has been one of the great, under-the-radar pickups this season), they have to weigh the chances of a playoff spot vs surrendering too much to get mid-season help.

Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy are off the table in trades.

If they can get a starter and an outfielder simply by taking on salary and not giving up much to get them, they should do it. Carlos Quentin for the outfield and Joe Blanton to eat innings. Apart from that, they shouldn’t go crazy for a longshot.

Tampa Bay Rays

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for the Rays this year. They’re banking their hopes on Evan Longoria’s return—whenever that’s going to be. The starting pitching that was supposed to be an embarrassment of riches that the rest of baseball envied has fizzled. I expected B.J. Upton to have a massive statistical season in his contract year, but he’s continued being B.J. Upton: aggravating, inconsistent, lazy with flashes of brilliance.

Comebacks such as the one they pulled off last September don’t happen very often.

They should stand pat and listen to offers for Upton.

Boston Red Sox

Fan demand might force them to do something drastic and it’s not going to sell if Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino pull the old Theo Epstein trick of being in on ginormous deals that never come to pass. The media and radio talk shows are going to want something significant done.

They need to ignore the pleas and stand pat.

This team, bottom line, isn’t very good. They’re dysfunctional in the clubhouse; there’s a leadership vacuum in the front office with multiple voices vying for influence; and their veterans haven’t performed. Trading prospects for a rental starting pitcher or even one that they’ll be able to keep in Garza makes no sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

There’s talk that they’re buyers. There’s talk that they’re sellers. There’s talk that they’re both.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is in on everything and they have the prospects to do something major. Desperate for starting pitching and holding out hope for a late-season playoff run, it’s something to consider when making a move on Garza or Wandy Rodriguez. They’re not far away from being a legitimate contender now and definitely in 2013 and beyond.

But they’ve been on that verge multiple times for the past 10 years and nothing’s happened.

I don’t get the impression that the Brewers are all-in on cleaning house and dealing Zack Greinke. In fact, I’m thinking that unless they totally come apart over the next three weeks, they won’t move him. They Blue Jays would probably be better off shifting focus toward a Randy Wolf or bringing Shaun Marcum back because they’re cheaper.

I’d try to get rid of Adam Lind now that he’s hitting again.

Edwin Encarnacion’s name popped up as being in play. He’s having his career year and still makes mental gaffes that can aggravate the most patient manager. If someone is willing give up a pitcher for him, then do it in a mutually advantageous deal. The Pirates have extra pitching and could use a bat, but I’d be concerned about messing with their current chemistry.

I’d buy or sell within reason with nothing too explosive.

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Time For The Blue Jays To Move Up

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The Blue Jays are looking for a closer. They also could use another bat and definitely need a starting pitcher to function as an anchor for the young starting rotation.

Let’s take a look at what they could and should do.

Closer.

With the top tier closer off the market as Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies and the Blue Jays reluctant to spend that amount of money on a short-reliever anyway, they have to look at the other options; these options might not be as splashy as the Papelbon signing, but they would fit into the Blue Jays budget and serve their purpose in the regular season.

The names of a lower tier/cheaper variety include the affordable, warted veterans Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan.

Then there’s Heath Bell, who’s not young (34) and won’t demand as much as a Papelbon, Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez.

The Blue Jays could wait and see if the market crashes on Madson or K-Rod; or they could try and make a trade for Joakim Soria, Huston Street or Carlos Marmol.

The prices for Soria and Marmol are likely to be exorbitant; I’d steer clear of Bell, Madson, Broxton, Capps and Street—they don’t fit for the Blue Jays.

That leaves Nathan and Lidge.

Lidge has had his highs and lows in the post-season; his confidence is hair-trigger and his injury history concerning; he’d be cheap and might be very, very good or very, very bad.

Nathan pitched well once he regained the job as stopper from Capps and in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, he’s a good gamble to regain his form at a highly affordable price.

What I would do: Sign Joe Nathan for 2-years, $11 million guaranteed with incentives to push it to $15 million and a mutual option for a 3rd year.

Starting pitcher.

In the summer when it looked like the Cardinals were going to clear salary to keep Albert Pujols, I suggested that the Blue Jays bring back the pitcher they drafted but non-tendered when he got hurt—Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter was signed by the Cardinals, allowed to recover, had his motion torn apart and rebuilt by Dave Duncan and developed into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade.

But Carpenter signed a contract extension with the Cardinals.

What the Blue Jays need is a horse. Someone to eat innings and set an example for the talented youngsters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez and current ace Ricky Romero.

There are pitchers like this available.

Mark Buehrle is team-oriented; can show the youngsters how to get by when they don’t have their good stuff; and when he’s on, he pitches no-hitters. He’d probably prefer to stay in Chicago (with the White Sox or Cubs); go to the Cardinals (who don’t have room for him barring a trade or three); or stay relatively close to the Mid-West. That shouldn’t dissuade the Blue Jays from pursuing him.

Hiroki Kuroda has wicked stuff and is mean, but it’s hard to see him leaving the West Coast.

Edwin Jackson is represented by Scott Boras and the Blue Jays won’t want to pay him—nor should they.

Roy Oswalt isn’t looking for a long term contract and won’t be interested in the pressure-packed, big city atmospheres of Boston or New York—he’d like to go to Texas or the Mid-West, but maybe he’d also listen to the Blue Jays.

Like Jackson, C.J. Wilson will cost more than they’d like to spend on a starting pitcher.

Javier Vazquez had major success in Canada with the Expos and was one of baseball’s best pitchers over the second half of last season for the Marlins; he has yet to decide whether he’ll pitch in 2012 (I suspect he will) and he’s had bad experiences in the American League overall and the American League East in particular with two hellish stints with the Yankees.

Trade candidates include Bronson Arroyo; Francisco Liriano; Trevor Cahill; Gio Gonzalez; Mike Pelfrey; Brett Myers; Wandy Rodriguez; and Joe Saunders.

All have positives and negatives. Of the group, the ones I’d serious pursue are Arroyo—he’s an innings-eater, is signed for $13 million through 2013, and has guts and experience in the AL East; Cahill—a sinkerballer who pounds the strike zone and has succeeded with a bad Athletics team; or Rodriguez—terrific stuff and an underrated competitor.

What I would do: Explore a trade for Arroyo and go after both Oswalt and Buehrle—see what the asking prices are, who wants to come to Toronto and will be the most reasonable.

A bat.

I would stay away from the massive financial commitment to Prince Fielder; I wouldn’t touch David Ortiz.

If Joey Votto is put on the market, any team would have to try getting him, but he’s going to cost a chunk of the farm system.

Here’s the best strategy: let Kelly Johnson leave; sign Carlos Beltran to play right field; shift Jose Bautista to third base; and move Brett Lawrie to second. When Beltran is the DH, they can play Edwin Encarnacion at third and have Bautista in right.

Beltran’s contract demands are no longer going to be Borased because he and Boras parted ways in the summer; he won’t cost any draft picks because it was inserted into his contract he can’t be offered arbitration by his prior club; and he could DH when his knees aren’t feeling up to playing the outfield—it might be more often than it would normally be due to the artificial turf at the Rogers Center.

He’d be a more athletic, versatile and cheaper alternative to Fielder; and is a quiet leader who has performed in the big city and during pressure-packed moments. The big concern I’d have with Ortiz is that there’s a chance he’s a “Red Sox player” who won’t perform when removed from the venue where he made his name and became the Big Papi character. That “character” is also an issue—while the Red Sox are used to him, his outspokenness might be seen as an intrusion for a new, young club.

What I would do: Sign Beltran for 3-years, $40 million and make the position switches listed above.

The above maneuvers would fill the Blue Jays needs; leave them financial room to add as they need to at mid-season; and put them in a legitimate position to contend for a playoff spot rather than hope that if everything goes right, then maybe they’ll hang around the outskirts while knowing that they had little-to-no chance.

They have the talent now; the Red Sox are vulnerable; the Yankees are aging.

It’s time to move up.

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Viewer Mail 5.1.2011

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Nicole writes RE my review of the Joe DiMaggio book—link:

Paul – bravo! That is one of the best book reviews I’ve read in a long time. You are an excellent writer. Thanks for lending your reviewing talents to Jerome’s book and for hosting a stop on the blog tour. We appreciate it.

Nicole was my contact when Tribute Books asked me to review the book.

Dunno if I’ve ever gotten a “Bravo” before!

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Roger McDowell:

What an embarrassment. Kids don’t belong at a ballpark? WTF!?!?! If it weren’t for kids at the ballpark no one would give a rat’s ass anyway.

You’re right.

Dude’s gotta go.

Never underestimate the power of blowback against the complainant and the power of “treatment”. The “damaged” family hiring Gloria Allred might wind up eliciting sympathy toward McDowell based on the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

He did something stupid, but if he goes through some sort of anger management course to “understand” why he behaved that way and—most importantly—if the Braves want to keep him on, he might hold onto his job.

Franklin Rabon writes RE batting orders:

I think one thing that managers drastically confuse is base stealing and base running. You want your leadoff hitter to be a good baserunner, because he’s going to be running the bases a lot, but you don’t necessarily want him stealing a lot of bases unless he almost never gets caught. Yet, a lot of managers will put a guy in the leadoff spot who steals a lot of bases, but gets caught a lot, when that player would better be utilized down in the order in front of slap hitters that need him to steal second and/or third in order to get a run across. Alex Gonzalez needs a guy on third much more than Dan Uggla does. Dan Uggla mostly just needs a guy on base, any base.

The propriety of basestealing is en vogue now more than ever with certain teams who are using it to their detriment. The Blue Jays have been running wild under new manager John Farrell and I don’t think it’s a good thing.

Yesterday Juan Rivera tried to steal third with the Blue Jays down a run and one out with 2 strikes on Edwin Encarnacion; Encarnacion struck out; Rivera was nailed by a wide margin at third.

The risk-reward was non-existent. Yes, on third Rivera could score on a wild pitch—which A.J. Burnett has the propensity of throwing—but it was a stupid idea.

In fact, off the subject, the Yankees-Blue Jays game wasn’t a case study in proper managing and execution. The Blue Jays don’t approach their at bats correctly. Why was Yunel Escobar hacking at the first pitch from the mentally fried Rafael Soriano before giving him a chance to implode? I understand it’s Yunel Escobar and he doesn’t listen or think, but it was beyond discipline; it was something you don’t do.

And Joe Girardi yanked Joba Chamberlain after he threw six pitches in the sixth inning why?

The insipid “formula”? I don’t want to hear about any formula. If any manager simply adheres to some absurd set of tenets, there’s no point in him being there at all.

In fact, this all ties in with the manager’s decision on whom to bat leadoff—many managers don’t think, nor do they lead; they follow which is the opposite of what a good manager is expected to do. With me anyway.

Mike Luna in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Michael Kay:

In what capacity does this Michael Kay person work for the Yankees? Isn’t he the TV play-by-play guy or something?

Why is he so far out front, then? He seems to act as spokesperson a lot of the time, like he’s head of their PR department. It’s just a little odd to me that he seems to need to speak for the organization, defending them where there might not need to be any defense.

Maybe I’m thinking of someone else, but is he the one that took shots at Cliff Lee during the playoffs, accusing him of cheating by touching his hat too much?

Very odd, indeed.

He’s the play-by-play man on the YES Network; host of Centerstage; has his own afternoon show on ESPN radio.

Nobody with a modicum amount of baseball knowledge goes to Michael Kay for analysis; he’s a Yankees fan with a forum and has taken his own private feuds public as he did with Joe Torre, ripping the former manager at every opportunity due to a personal and poorly concealed vendetta.

He’s not even entertaining as radio man John Sterling is; but Sterling’s act is tongue-in-cheek and he doesn’t pretend to be a reporter or analyst—it’s shtick.

Kay portrays himself as an insider with a breadth of experience from being a former sportswriter, broadcaster and radio host while still maintaining fealty to the Yankees organization.

YES has an agenda of Yankees support and Kay is the frontman.

I don’t remember if he took shots at Lee; the main distraction with Kay during the playoffs was his declaration that the ALCS was over…after the first game.

Expertise is relative and Kay is an orphan.

John Ogg writes RE my posting about Mike Francesa—link:

Just wanted to let you know I loved your article, that’s dead on about Francesa.
I belong to a site called themikefrancesa.com & thechrisrusso.com . With those names, you’d probably think it was a site dedicated to their greatness. Most use it now to complain about Mike and how horrible his show has gotten since Mad Dog left. They complain about how Mad Dog just isn’t the same with Francesa. We discuss sports in general and WFAN NY 660 AM.

Again, spot on about Francesa. Great article. I’m going to check out your book as well. Have a nice day. – John (Johninga at themikefrancesa.com)

I appreciate the compliments John.

Truthfully, I rarely listen to Francesa anymore and wonder about Russo’s listenership since he moved to satellite radio. I totally understand their need to go off on their own, but something about the duo worked; they needed each other. Neither man’s ego will allow them to openly admit this fact, but somewhere underneath the arrogance, egomania and self-importance, they have to know it.

I don’t understand Francesa’s need to be considered omnipotent and never wrong—to the point where picks are altered and he uses outside sources for fact-checking but claims to have “thought” about statements and corrected them.

It’s no great accomplishment to never be wrong—I certainly don’t want to be right all the time; it only enhances credibility to admit a mistake and be somewhat humorous about it, but his pomposity and desire to be relevant stops him from seeing or accepting it; perhaps it’s the sycophants who treat his every utterance as if they’re profound, but it all ends with the same result—a desperate desire to present this image that couldn’t exist in anyone, specifically someone who’s totally wrong as often as Francesa is.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s good for your Fantasy Baseball needs.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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The Remainders

Hot Stove

As spring training approaches, the Rays weekend signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez diminishes the number of remaining free agent “names” available in star power and financial obligation.

But that doesn’t mean these names can’t help.

In certain cases, their presence could make the difference between a playoff spot and going home for the winter.

Let’s have a look at some of the recognizable players and where they could and/or should wind up landing.

Vladimir Guerrero—DH/very part-time OF

Guerrero proved he can still hit last season and it wasn’t a creation of Rangers Ballpark because his numbers were similar at home and on the road—link.

What does he want? Is he looking for more than a 1-year deal? Does he want to go to a specific place?

He’s hindered in that he can’t play the outfield anymore, eliminating the entire National League.

He could go back to the Rangers if they decide they don’t want to play David Murphy every day; don’t trust Chris Davis or Mitch Moreland at first base and shift Michael Young there; or are concerned about Josh Hamilton‘s injury history. But these are not guaranteed at bats and Guerrero proved he still deserves to play regularly.

It’s a comparable situation with the Angels as they appear intent on at least giving Peter Bourjos the chance to play center field every day with newly acquired Vernon Wells in left and Bobby Abreu as the DH. Guerrero is still a fit if they determine that they’d be better overall with Wells in center, Abreu in left and Guerrero as the DH.

I understand why the Orioles would consider Guerrero because of his still productive bat and that he’d be a great influence on the young players like Adam Jones and Felix Pie. One would assume Vlad’s mother would be accompanying him wherever he goes; it can’t be discounted how important that influence and home cooking was to both the Angels and Rangers young Latin players.

But do the Orioles need Guerrero and, at this stage in his career, does he want to be a pure babysitter for a team that has literally no chance at contention? Manager Buck Showalter would love to have Guerrero as a conduit to the players, but to me, it’s not the right fit.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The Blue Jays could use his bat and maybe—maybe—Guerrero could get through the thick skulls of Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar.

The best place for Guerrero could be the Tigers. They don’t have a pure DH; it would be a short-term deal so they wouldn’t have to be concerned about clogging up the DH slot for Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez and they’re a legitimate contender.

Most importantly, it wouldn’t be because of off-field leadership; they’d be getting Guerrero to try and win now. And they can.

Joe Beimel—LHP/Ron Mahay—LHP

Contending teams are missing an opportunity with Beimel or Mahay. Every year they’re floating around looking for work as a lefty specialists and are generally the last ones out there, signing right before spring training.

Inexpensive and wise for clubs who are smart enough to foresee the future, they’re necessary.

The Yankees have three lefties in their bullpen with Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan and Damaso Marte, but Marte is a question as to whether he’s going to be healthy. If the Yankees truly intend to go with a bullpen-based pitching staff, get what they can out of the starters after C.C. Sabathia and mix-and-match depending on the situation, they’re going to need all the arms they can get and an extra lefty could mean the difference between making the playoffs and not. Joe Girardi’s bullpen machinations aren’t trustworthy and if he’s entering the season with it in mind to micro-manage on his micro-managing, it could be a problem.

The Red Sox are going to be coming at them with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew—the Yankees are going to need the extra left-handed arms.

The Phillies also only have J.C. Romero, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski as lefties—none of whom is going to scare anyone. they do have Dan Meyer in camp, but Meyer is historically better against righties than lefties.

Looking ahead to possible post-season matchups with the Braves and Red Sox isn’t paranoia, it’s forward thinking and another reliable lefty is going to be a necessity.

It’s not that Beimel or Mahay are frightening, but they’re good at the role of lefty specialist.

Jorge Cantu—1B/3B

If I thought he could still play second base, I’d say the Mets should have a look at Cantu, but I doubt he can.

Cantu didn’t hit for the Rangers after they got him from the Marlins, but he has a habit of disappearing for a year or two and coming back with a big year. He fights through at bats and has good power. If he’s looking for a starting job, he’s going to have trouble finding one, but if he wants a backup role, the Phillies and Yankees could both use him. If he hits, he might be the Angels best option at third base on a cheap deal.

Teams will sorely regret missing a playoff spot or championship because they scrimped and saved where they didn’t have to. Lefty specialist, power bat off the bench and on/off field positive influence are valuable; with the above players, they’re not costly either.