The R.A. Dickey Trade Part III—Desperation or Progression for the Blue Jays?

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Since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as Blue Jays’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos has done many things that garnered him credit for running his club the “right” way by combining old-school scouting with new age stats; for showing aggressiveness when the time called for it; and for being fearless. The Blue Jays, in that time, were rebuilding and reloading; clearing salaries and planning for the “future.” They had John Farrell, a stat-based manager with a sterling reputation; they’d accumulated prospects that were just about ready to take the next step forward and, if everything went well, would contend in 2012.

But again, as is the possibility with a club that doesn’t spend a lot of money and is relying on the development of young players, the 2012 Blue Jays were ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, fell from 81-81 to 73-89 and sat by impotently as the Orioles came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After so many years of building for the “future,” when was that “future” going to come? For so long, the Blue Jays have been frozen in place or moving backwards, shoving the rock up the hill only to see it come tumbling back down again, many times right on top of them.

With a bolt of lightning, the Marlins’ latest fire sale led to the Blue Jays acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and prospects. After that, with the decision to try and win now essentially made, they surrendered two more top prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, to the Mets to get reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Dickey to a contract extension worth $25 million to complete the trade.

This isn’t a spending spree for its own sake nor is it a drastic philosophical deviation from one strategy to the other, but it’s more of a realization that the time to go for it is now. The Yankees and Red Sox are shells of what they were. The Orioles overachieved in 2012. The Rays are still fighting payroll constraints. With the extra Wild Card, the door is wide open for a team like the Blue Jays to move up.

Farrell was the equivalent of a replaceable teen idol—he was there because he fit the suit, the fans screamed when they saw him, and he couldn’t actually do any of the things a manager needs to do well. His results were disastrous in every respect and there’s a palpable relief that he’s gone. He’s been replaced by the former Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons who was horribly underrated for his strategic acumen and is a sound, unexpected hiring.

Having seen firsthand the risks of trading a star pitcher Roy Halladay and, in the subsequent series of deals, winding up with Kyle Drabek (having just undergone his second Tommy John surgery), Anthony Gose, and d’Arnaud, they are rightfully dubious of prospects and their projections.

They didn’t alter strategies on the fly and make panicky maneuvers for Anthopoulos to try and save his job. Nor did they show desperation and haphazardly try to take advantage of the weakness in their division. They’ve made a natural progression based on opportunity and availability.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ winter refurbishing and a Marlins-type spending spree designed to validate a beautiful new ballpark with an owner, Jeffrey Loria, elusively hovering in the dark ready to pull the plug and backtrack on promises and commitments.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ flurry of acquisitions and the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, reportedly on orders of ownership, in order to take some of the spotlight away from their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays being decisive and the Dodgers new, endless amounts of cash netting Zack Greinke as a free agent and providing them the ability to absorb the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.

What these clubs and the Blue Jays have done are totally independent of each other.

The simple narrative is that the Blue Jays have chosen to spend with the big boys, but the reality is that they built up the farm system to give themselves the assets to acquire players when they were ready to win. Did they expect it to happen this quickly? Probably not, but Athopoulos was allowed to take on those contracts—many of which are heavily backloaded—and for the first time in 20 years, they have a viable chance to win. The waters parted to open a path and they took it. It’s not a change in the blueprint, but adapting to the situation. Now they’re ready to contend.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their second straight World Series win in 1993. They have a rabid and loyal fanbase and now they now have the goods to make another run—with similar star-level talent to their title-winning teams—two decades later. If they pull it off, the only people who are going to care about the money they spent are the same constituency whose metrics aren’t about winning, but about doing it cheaper than the other guy to prove how smart they are. That faction has become increasingly marginalized into what it truly is: a small, fringe group that shouts loudly into the wind. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, the money they spent or the prospects they surrendered will be irrelevant because, in the end, it’s about winning. Now the Blue Jays have the goods to do it not just on paper and with best case scenarios, but with superior on-field talent.

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The Marlins: Promises, Lies and Complaints

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The Marlins name should be changed to the Merlins given how quickly and completely they made their entire 2012 roster disappear. In the aftermath of the trade (still pending approval) that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects, Giancarlo Stanton said the following on Twitter:

Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple

Stanton’s understandable reaction turned viral and has been analyzed, dissected, and repeated as an entity unto itself. He’s said nothing since.

Now Reyes and Buehrle are saying that the Marlins broke a verbal promise that they wouldn’t be part of a housecleaning as has happened in the past.

Do they have a right to complain, or is this a combination of self-importance, naiveté, blissful “don’t ask/don’t tell” ignorance, and after-the-fact allegations?

Stanton’s tweet was a reaction and nothing more. As a player entering his fourth year in the big leagues, he has zero recourse. He can ask to be traded and the Marlins can say no. He can express his unhappiness—as he did—and the fans and media can use it as Exhibit A as to what the Marlins players think, but under full team control, Stanton has no options. In fact, the Marlins might sign Stanton to a long-term contract as a conciliatory gesture to placate MLB and their few fans by putting forth the impression of “trying”. Of course that doesn’t mean Stanton won’t be traded once he starts making big money, but it’s slightly more palatable to Stanton and everyone else than Stanton’s visceral response and the Marlins saying, “Yeah? So?”

Big money and contracts are the keys to the silly laments made by Reyes and Buehrle. Did they really—really?!?—believe Jeffrey Loria and David Samson when they promised that they wouldn’t trade them if they signed with the Marlins? You can say anything you want about Loria, Samson and the manner in which they’ve used technicalities and gray areas to behave as baseball robber barons and get a new ballpark; convince players to sign with them under the pretense that this time it would be different; that they’re in it for the long-term; but don’t be surprised when they’re exposed as having said what they needed to say to get the girl in bed, promised to call the next day, and never did.

If there were clear indicators as to what the Marlins planned to do, it was: A) that they made these promises, yet refused to put the language into the contracts to guarantee they stuck to it; B) that they backloaded the contracts to the degree that they did.

Reyes’s contract is as follows: 2012: $10 million; 2013: $10 million; 2014: $16 million; 2015-2017: $22 million; 2018: $22 million option with $4 million buyout.

Buehrle’s is similar: 2012: $6 million; 2013: $11 million; 2014: $18 million; 2015: $19 million.

Huge escalations of salaries, no no-trade clause, and the Marlins history place the onus squarely on the players for believing the “guarantee” for which there were no legal means to make sure it was adhered to. If there was this guarantee that they wouldn’t be traded, why couldn’t it be written into the contract? Here’s why: the Marlins had it in mind that they were going to do this at some point. It might not have been this quickly, but there was always that overwhelming likelihood. The Marlins policy of not giving out no-trade clauses is an excuse, not a reason. Players with multiple options and the ability to tell the interested clubs that the no-trade clause will be in the contract or else they’re not signing get the no-trade clause. Both Reyes and Buehrle knew or should have known precisely what they were signing up for. They got their guaranteed money, but invited the risk that the Marlins could turn around and trade them to a place like Toronto where they had no interest in going. It was a gamble against the house and they lost. The promise isn’t the relevant factor. That the players were stupid enough to believe it is.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part III—Sidelights

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Let’s look at the the Marlins-Blue Jays trade from the perspective of those affected by it, positively or negatively, and those who insert themselves into it.

Social media experts and critics

The self-proclaimed experts on social media reacted with shock and disdain not only that the Marlins did this, but that they didn’t get Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the deal as if they knew who he was. He’s a recognizable name to them and nothing more; if they did see him, the vast majority of them wouldn’t know what they were looking at, nor would they be able to interpret his statistics to determine how truly viable a prospect he is. Perhaps the Marlins asked for him and the Blue Jays said no; perhaps the Blue Jays preferred the lower level players they got in the deal; or maybe the Marlins are happy with the young catcher Rob Brantly whom they acquired from the Tigers in the trade that also netted them Jacob Turner in exchange for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

To a lesser degree, it falls in line with fans watching games and reacting to strategies with descriptive histrionics like, “*FACEPALM*” when Jim Leyland plays Delmon Young regularly; or Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild choose leave Boone Logan in to pitch to a righty; or during the NFL draft when a guy sitting on his couch wearing his team’s jersey declares that he’d take Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck and throws a fit when the opposite happens—the people actually doing the jobs know more than you do. For the guy on his couch, it’s a diversion; for the ones running the clubs, if they don’t make the correct (or at least explainable) decision, they’re going to get fired.

The media and the Marlins

The glaring response amid the outcry came from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Unlike the Red Sox-Dodgers trade when Sherman made a fool of himself by turning that blockbuster salary dump by the Red Sox into another indictment of the Mets, he actually made some legitimate points with the following:

Yet this was a deconstruction the Marlins needed to enact. Their roster, as constructed, was a science project gone wrong. Now they have created a layer of young talent with all of these trades — in this latest deal, executives particularly like center fielder Jake Marisnick (some Jayson Werth comps) and lefty Justin Nicolino, and anyone who saw Henderson Alvarez pitch against the Yankees knows he has a big arm.

How much of this is based on deeply held beliefs and how much is another, more subtle shot at the Mets to be true to his narrative is known only to Sherman, but given his history it’s a contrarian viewpoint with a winking dig at the Mets more than a true belief that the Marlins did the right thing. But the fact remains that, overall, he’s right. They did do the right thing.

No one with a brain is shocked by this Marlins housecleaning

Ignoring the litany of lies and managers hired and fired by Jeffrey Loria, that the Marlins gave heavily backloaded contracts to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle made them mid-season trade candidates in 2013 since their escalators kicked in by 2014. They chose to trade them now rather than wait and see. John Buck and Josh Johnson are both free agents after the 2013 season. Buck isn’t very good and Johnson was going to cost a fortune to re-sign. The charade of being built for the long haul was obvious with the Marlins from the start. The players knew what they were walking into when they didn’t get the valuable no-trade clauses and received guaranteed money they probably wouldn’t get elsewhere in exchange for the likelihood of being sent to a locale they would not have selected if they’d had a choice. Buehrle and Reyes are going to get paid; Johnson, if healthy, will receive a massive contract for his services.

The perception of chicanery and Loria’s blatant disregard for anyone other than Loria is what’s grating the masses. It would’ve been more palatable for observers—chief among them the politicians in Miami who pushed through the stadium deal and baseball itself—had the Marlins tried to win in 2013, but rather than further the sham, they pulled the trigger now. That it’s going to make/save more money for Loria is part of the equation.

The Marlins baseball people have always gotten the right names in their housecleanings. In some cases, it succeeded when they received Hanley Ramirez and Sanchez for Josh Beckett; in others, it didn’t as they received Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as the centerpieces for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is the risk when trading for prospects. Getting talent is controllable; developing that talent is the variable. The Marlins foundation is young, cheap and quite good once we get past the messy way in which it was laid.

The rest of baseball

The balance of power has shifted drastically. The NL East was a monster before the 2012 season started, but the Phillies age caught up to them; the Mets weren’t as bad as expected; the Nationals took their leap faster than most anticipated; and the Marlins were a disaster. Now that they’ve gutted the place, the Marlins are widely expected to be a punching bag in 2013, but truth be told with a group of young players fighting for playing time and jobs, they’ll be at least as competitive as the 69-93 apathy-tinged monstrosity that played out the string for most of the summer.

The American League saw the balance of power shift East to West. While it was supposed to be a two-team race for supremacy between the Angels and Rangers, the Athletics stunned both by winning the division. The Mariners young pitching and money to spend will make them a darkhorse in 2013. The Tigers just signed Torii Hunter for their star-studded lineup. There’s no longer a waltz into the playoffs for 2-3 teams from the AL East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in moderate to severe disarray with the Yankees having limited money to spend and now three teams in their division that have a rightful claim to being better than they are. The Red Sox purge excised the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. At the time it was an acknowledgement that the construction of the team wasn’t going to work and they intended to start over. It’s eerily similar to the situation the Marlins found themselves in, but the Marlins didn’t give it another try as the Red Sox did following their winter of 2010 spending spree and subsequent 2011 failure, and the Red Sox are going to take the money they saved and put it back into the team while the Marlins aren’t.

The Yankees have done nothing thus far in the winter and are trapped with contracts like that of Alex Rodriguez clogging up their arteries. Brian Cashman is getting what he wanted and learning that being the would-be genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He chafed at the notion that the Yankees teams he helped build were creatures of financial might and longed to be seen in the industry in the category of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as architects of winning franchises under a budget and with intelligent acquisitions rather than raiders of resources for those that could no longer afford them. Well, he’s getting what he wanted and the results are not good. Under the mandate of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014, he can’t take on the contracts that the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos just did. The pitchers he’d hoped to develop to provide low-cost production have either been mediocre or busts entirely. They’re waiting and hoping that Andy Pettitte returns and has another year in him; that Derek Jeter can recover from his ankle injury; that they get something from A-Rod; that Mariano Rivera can rebound from knee surgery at age 43; that Hiroki Kuroda will take a one-year deal to come back (he won’t); that they get something from Michael Pineda.

Do you really expect all of this to happen in a division made even tougher by the Blue Jays’ trades; the Orioles’ improvement; the Rays’ talent; and the Red Sox money to spend and determination to get back to their basics? The Yankees are in a worse position than the Marlins and even the Phillies were because if the season is spiraling in July of 2013, they’ll be trapped by those contracts and the fan anger that they won’t be able to make those conceding trades for the future. This is the team they have and the division they’re in and neither bode well.

Cashman wanted it and he got it. He’s so arrogant that it’s doubtful that he regrets it, but he should. And he will.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part I: For The Blue Jays

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YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

After my posting yesterday entitled Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink wondering what the once-celebrated and now questioned Blue Jays’ GM was doing, he turned around and made a blockbuster trade to, on paper, place the Blue Jays squarely in the center of playoff contention for 2013. There must be a connection.

All they need now is a manager.

Here’s the trade breakdown:

Marlins trade RHP Josh Johnson; LHP Mark Buehrle; SS Jose Reyes; OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio; C John Buck and $4 million to the Blue Jays for SS Yunel Escobar; INF Adeiny Hechavarria; RHP Henderson Alvarez; C Jeff Mathis; and minor leaguers LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.

The Blue Jays had a payroll of around $84 million n 2012 and for 2013, with these contracts they just absorbed, that rises by around $30 million based on the additions and subtractions. Over the life of the contracts with Reyes’s and Buehrle’s deals backloaded, they’ve just taken on a lot of money. That’s before calculating the addition of Maicer Izturis and raises/contract escalations for existing players.

The Blue Jays are now a $100 million+ team and their roster implies that they have to contend. They gave up a lot, but are now relevant in the AL East as something other than a building, growing, and hoping entity.

The American League East is in flux. No longer are teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles sentenced to preseason relegation as a moderately annoying inconvenience that might put up a fight early in the season with the pretense of trying to contend only to be slapped down in July and raided for players by true contenders. It’s turned upside down. The Red Sox are a mess; the Yankees are trying to learn to function with payroll constraints and ancient, declining, expensive stars; the Rays are pinching pennies; and the Orioles and Blue Jays have legitimacy.

The afterglow still holds questions. Johnson is one of baseball’s best pitchers when he’s healthy, but has had shoulder issues. Reyes is surely going to be unhappy at having been moved from Miami to Toronto and having to play half his games on turf. Buehrle can pitch on Mars and provide 200 innings. Buck is a feast or famine part-timer. And given the redundancy of Bonifacio and Izturis and that they have nowhere to play him, Bonifacio might be making a brief stop in Toronto and be on the move again relatively soon.

On paper, the Blue Jays have jumped ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox; the 2012 Orioles were a creature of circumstance that will need to get better to maintain. The Blue Jays’ rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and J.A. Happ is already one of baseball’s best. The lineup is invigorated by a healthy Reyes to join Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Their questions are the bullpen and who’s going to manage the team. (Willie Randolph would be a good, under-the-radar consideration. He wouldn’t put up with the fundamental mistakes evident under John Farrell and Randolph deserves another chance.)

24 hours ago, I posed the question of where the Blue Jays are headed. They answered it with a flourish. They’re trying to win. With this collection of talent, there’s no excuse for them not to do that in 2013. In fact, they don’t have much of a choice.

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American League East Predicted Standings

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American League East Predicted Standings:

1. New York Yankees                        94       68         —

2. Toronto Blue Jays                         87       75           7

3. Tampa Bay Rays                            85       77           9

4. Boston Red Sox                             81       81          13

5. Baltimore Orioles                           65       97          29

New York Yankees

The Yankees benefited greatly from the lack of decisively bold movements and drastic improvements of their rivals. While they’re repeating prior mistakes with paranoia and pitcher-babying, they have the offense, abundance of starting pitching and deep bullpen to again rise to the top of the division.

The bench is something that will have to be addressed as the season moves along because Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones aren’t suitable backups regardless of the Yankees’ propaganda machine unequivocally stating that they are.

Expect Alex Rodriguez to have a comeback season and hope that the overwhelming pressure they’re putting on Michael Pineda doesn’t haunt them.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays needed a name arm or a name bat to be a preseason favorite and didn’t get either.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t contend; it means that they’re going to have to get big seasons from young players Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Henderson Alvarez. Sergio Santos must prove he can close for a full season and throw strikes; Brandon Morrow has to develop into a trustworthy top-tier starter without restrictions.

I picked Jose Bautista as the AL MVP.

Tampa Bay Rays

Again forced to scrounge around the bargain bins, they reunited with Carlos Pena to increase their power at first base. The Rays have been good and lucky in finding bullpen arms who fit into their system and rejuvenate stalled careers—running a club that way is rife with risks that eventually it’s not going to work.

B.J. Upton will play like a maniac all season as he heads for free agency.

With their young starting pitching, they could make it to the World Series or falter and be out of contention to put such stars as Upton, James Shields and David Price in play for a trade at mid-season.

I’ve got them somewhere in the middle.

Boston Red Sox

It’s chaos.

Who’s running things?

Is there any cohesion between John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine?

At least when Theo Epstein was there—like it or not—you knew there was one person mostly in charge; now with Theo gone and Lucchino grasping for power; Henry providing self-protectionist alibis; Cherington marginalized; and Bobby V being…Bobby V, there are going to be voices, whispers, Machiavellian power plays and rampant dysfunction the likes which have not been seen in Boston since 2001.

Are they making the types of moves that laid the foundation of their annual championship contending teams from 2003-2010 or are they desperately trying to patch holes and find “name” people to replace the “name” people who are gone?

I like Valentine, but his polarizing personality can go both ways. The Red Sox starting rotation is short and they have black spots in their lineup at shortstop, right field and possibly catcher.

It’s a time bomb with Valentine and Josh Beckett.

Baltimore Orioles

I don’t hear much about Buck Showalter’s status as a miracle worker after the team came apart last season.

Following a hot start, they reverted to being the Orioles of the past 15 years.

Dan Duquette has received unfair criticism and there’s a lack of context in the good work he did as the Expos’ and Red Sox’ GM, but a lack of talent is a lack of talent; an impossible division is an impossible division; and until they develop their young arms and stick to a strategy for the long term, there’s not much that will change in Baltimore.

Duquette must be allowed to take the marketable players—notably Nick Markakis and Adam Jones—and see what types of offers he can get for them to replenish the system with multiple players. They’re not going to do the Orioles any good as Orioles.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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American League Fantasy Sleepers

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These names jumped out at me as I’m working on my book. (See the sidebar. Available soon.)

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

Upton is probably one of the most aggravating players in all of baseball to fans, teammates and everyone else. So talented that he can do anything—-anything—on the field, his motivation and hustle are contingent on the day and his mood.

But he’s a free agent at the end of the season and wants to get paid. Expect a big power/stolen base season and a return to the high on base numbers from 2007-2008.

Carlos Villanueva, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He won’t cost anything and was under-the-radar impressive when the Blue Jays put him in the starting rotation last season.

They have starting pitching, but with Kyle Drabek a question to make the team and the limits still being placed on Henderson Alvarez and Brandon Morrow, Villanueva is a veteran they could count on as a starter they don’t have to limit.

As a starter, he was able to use all of his pitches including a changeup. Strangely, he gets his secondary pitches over the plate consistently, but not his fastball.

Jim Johnson, RHP—Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles haven’t specifically said what they’re doing with Johnson. They’ve implied that he’s staying in the bullpen, but the acquisition of Matt Lindstrom frees them to make Johnson a starter where he could be very effective.

Either way, he’s not a “name” closer or guaranteed starter who’d be overly in demand.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Detroit Tigers

As the Tigers proved with Rick Porcello, they don’t let a pitcher’s inexperience dissuade them from sticking him in the rotation.

Turner has far better stuff than Porcello—a good fastball and wicked hard curve. He throws multiple variations on his fastball, has great control and is poised and polished.

Adam Dunn, DH—Chicago White Sox

I have trouble buying that a veteran who hit 40 home runs annually and wasn’t a PED case suddenly lost it all at once.

The not-so-witty line, “Dunn is Done” is a cheap shot and inaccurate.

He was terrible last season to be sure, but he was also unlucky (a .240 BAbip vs a career number of .292).

Dunn still walked 75 times and in comparison to his absurd .159 average, a .292 OBP is pretty good.

The combination of the new league; the expectations and pressure from a big contract; and a raving maniac manager in Ozzie Guillen put Dunn out of his comfort zone. A year in with the White Sox and a more relaxed and understanding manager, Robin Ventura, along with the diminished team-wide expectations will let Dunn be himself—a gentle giant who walks a lot and hits home runs.

Hisanori Takahashi, LHP—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were kicking the tires on Francisco Cordero and Ryan Madson and it wasn’t to be a set-up man.

If Jordan Walden is suffering from shellshock after the way his massive gack against the Athletics late in the season essentially eliminated the Angels from contention, they might have to pull him from the closer’s role sooner rather than later.

Manager Mike Scioscia is loyal to his players and doesn’t make changes like this until he absolutely has to, but the Angels can’t afford to mess around with the money they spent this off-season and the competition they’re facing for a playoff spot.

Takahashi can do anything—start, set-up, close—and is fearless.

Worst case, if your league counts “holds”, he’ll accumulate those for you.

Fautino De Los Santos, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Don’t ask me what the A’s are planning this year because as the trades of their starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes signing prove, they’re flinging stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Although Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour are on the roster, they might be willing to look at a younger, inexperienced closer at some point. Fuentes is hot and cold and Balfour has never been a full time closer.

De Los Santos has an upper-90s fastball and as the season rolls on, it’s likely that both Fuentes and Balfour will be traded. They’ll need someone to rack up the saves and De Los Santos is as good a choice as any.

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B—Oakland Athletics

His minor league on base/power numbers are absurd and the A’s first base situation is muddled at best.

The Royals kindasorta gave Ka’aihue a chance for the first month of 2011, but abandoned him when he got off to a bad start. The A’s have nothing to lose by playing him for at least the first half of the season and, if nothing else, he’ll walk and get on base.

Hector Noesi, RHP—Seattle Mariners

Noesi doesn’t give up a lot of home runs and has good control. These attributes will be magnified pitching in the big ballpark in Seattle and with the Mariners good defense. He also strikes out around a hitter per inning, so that all adds up to a good statistical season if you’re not counting wins.

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Oswalt as the 6th Man

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When the Blue Jays were one of the frontrunners for—and in fact were widely expected to get— Yu Darvish, I wrote that their intention might have been to use Darvish in his familiar 6-man rotation to both make him comfortable and manage his workload while holding down the innings counts of their young pitchers Henderson AlvarezKyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow.

The Blue Jays missed out on the Japanese/Iranian righty and the Rangers eventually got Darvish.

After shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation and signing Joe Nathan to take over as closer, the Rangers’ rotation appears set.

But their interest in Roy Oswalt lends another option into the mix along with questions as to why they need another established starter.

Could it be that the Rangers are also considering going with a 6-man rotation, but for different reasons?

Because the Rangers have gone so far against the new conventional orthodoxy of babying their starting pitchers and are telling them as they make their way up through the minor league system that six innings and 100 pitches (whichever comes first) aren’t going to cut it, they’ve been the subject of resistance from the Rick Petersons of the world who are invested in the “scientific” study of pitchers (along with selling their theories to information-hungry and desperate amateurs).

What would a team that specifically pushes their starters deeper into games have to do with a 6-man rotation?

If they implemented such a plan, the Rangers would be diminishing the workload of their pitchers in a different way than limiting their innings and pitches. The extra day of rest would allow the pitchers to go even deeper into games than the 7-8 innings and 120 pitches that are now seen as extreme. They’d be able to rest their bullpen periodically while not putting forth the perception of abusing their pitchers in some random experiment that has no basis in the hard (and ineffective) data that has led the Yankees to placing the likes of Joba Chamberlain in a plastic bubble and simultaneously destroying any chance he ever had of fulfilling his potential.

The Rangers, staffed by Hall of Fame former pitchers Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux along with the highly respected pitching coach Mike Maddux, can look at a pitcher and use their own experiences to say, “his back leg is dragging”; “he’s not following through completely”; “his hips aren’t turning with the same force they were earlier in the game”; or “he’s not showing the same ferocity” and determine that the pitcher is tired because of fatigue, not because he’s reached a previously prescribed number that they pulled out of the air and are referencing a series of studies to justify their paranoia.

Thinking one is tired and being tired are two different things. If a pitcher knows beforehand that he’s only expected to put in a certain amount of work, that’s how his mind will focus and he might think he’s got nothing left when he does have something left.

Not everyone is a Roy Halladay and wants to finish what he starts.

As pitchers, Greg Maddux and Ryan weren’t babied and stayed out on the mound in good health and effectiveness to a remarkable degree.

This isn’t to suggest that the pitchers should be told to toughen up and stay out on the mound if they’re not feeling right—Greg Maddux was criticized late in his career for pulling himself out of games after a certain number of pitches—but it’s understanding what they’re looking at and taking into account everything that goes into throwing a baseball in a repeated and stressful manner every 5 (or 6) days.

These men are in a unique position to say what they’re doing and why without adherence to outsiders telling them they’re wrong.

Shunning the armchair experts like Keith Law, who vomit scouting terminology and say things to make it sound as if they’re insiders when they’re only putting forth a pretense of such; or looking at the specious and self-indulgent reasoning behind writer Tom Verducci’s so-called “Verducci Effect” aren’t indicative of resistance to an ever-changing reality, it’s actual analysis without cowering amongst the masses in an effort to avoid criticism if it doesn’t work.

Calculating an individual on a chart, graph or by sputtering randomness because it sounds good and having the hypnotized sheep take every word said as gospel doesn’t make one an expert. For all of his down-home, country simplicity in a pleasant Southern drawl and known old-school Texas conservatism, Ryan was one of the first pitchers to lift weights; he paid close attention to his mechanics and was willing to listen to others like the late Angels coach Jimmy Reese, who showed him the value of vitamins and good nutrition. Ryan trusted his own instincts and understanding of his body and he’s transferred that to his work as an executive.

In certain circles, a 6-man rotation would be seen as a concession to the times. Some would probably twist it to validate themselves. But if the Rangers consider it, it will be because they have a method behind doing it and not because they want to place their pitchers in a sealed sarcophagus and protect them from the war of attrition known as pitching, preferring failure to the risk of injury and a misinformed public’s vitriol.

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The Sixth Man in Toronto?

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If the Blue Jays win the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish and sign him, could they make a concession to what Darvish is accustomed to while simultaneously protecting and limiting the innings and workload of their young pitchers by using a six-man rotation?

It makes sense for several reasons.

The Blue Jays have taken a conservative approach in rebuilding Brandon Morrow from his damaging days with the Mariners; they’re developing Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez; with Darvish, they would have a young rotation anchored by Ricky Romero and permeated by arms in the early-to-mid 20s with substantial ability, but still under careful watch.

Since Darvish is accustomed to the extra rest, it wouldn’t affect his command or preparation; Morrow is only next year going to close in on 200 innings for the first time; and Drabek/Alvarez will be in the Morrow position of 2011 with a limit of around 170-180 innings.

As Red Sox pitching coach, Blue Jays manager John Farrell experienced the Daisuke Matsuzaka transition first hand;  Matsuzaka’s complaints about the Red Sox training regimen for pitchers and his attempts to hide injuries sabotaged his production and damaged his relationship with the club—they enabled him; Farrell’s not going to make that mistake with Darvish. If the Blue Jays are making a strong commitment to Darvish, they’ll have learned from the common-denominator mistakes made with Matsuzaka because Farrell was in the middle of them.

With the pitching depth they’ve accumulated, they have the arms to do it in the rotation and bullpen. A six-man starting rotation of Romero, Morrow, Darvish, Drabek, Alvarez and some combination from Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villanueva, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan would work with the odd-men out functioning as relievers.

The concept has been criticized, but given the way pitchers are babied today and the advent of bullpen roles and rosters carrying 13 pitchers, why not take advantage of the manpower while protecting the young arms?

A six-man rotation would also put a damper on pitch counts and innings limits. The pitch counts wouldn’t be an issue because 120 pitch outings would be mitigated by the extra rest; the innings-pitched would be reduced as a natural byproduct of the fewer starts made by the pitchers.

It could be tweaked as was the similarly criticized change to a five-man rotation in the 1970s and 80s. Back then the top starters were used for 36-38 starts and there was the “swing man” who pitched out of the bullpen, but also took the extra starts when the top four pitchers needed an extra day; eventually the five-man rotation became the norm.

Romero, as the ace, could get his 30-32 starts and the other pitchers would be shielded from overwork.

Pitchers are being babied today but the innings and pitch limits are hindering their growth as they’re punished for pitching deeply into games.

A six-man rotation is a legitimate and workable strategy for the Blue Jays if they land Darvish.

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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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Farrell’s Choice

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It’s not as painful as Sophie’s Choice, but has the potential to be as tragic.

Blue Jays manager and former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has been mentioned as a possibility to take over for Terry Francona as Red Sox manager.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has said that the club doesn’t have a policy of keeping employees against their will, so the door is open from their end to let Farrell leave if that’s what he chooses to do.

There are reasons for Farrell to go. The Red Sox have more money to spend and it’s familiar terrain for him with the way things are run; he knows the players and the media.

But there are compelling reasons to stay in Toronto.

Let’s take a look.

The known vs the “I think I know, but don’t really know”.

We can get into the romantic idiocy of the “rich tapestry of history” with clubs who’ve been around as long as the Red Sox; but the Blue Jays have a pretty good history of their own and a surprising worldwide loyalty.

Would he have the stomach and the wherewithal to walk in and be a different person that who he was as Francona’s pitching coach? To discipline those that need to be disciplined?

Familiarity with the landscape is fine, but Farrell was the pitching coach and not the manager; it’s a different animal to be the man who has to stand there and answer the questions after the loss rather than one of the lieutenants who has authority, but not total authority.

And if he makes the mistake of thinking, “oh, I’ll get through to those guys; they love me”, then he’s walking the plank before he starts.

Strategy, money, and power.

Farrell handled the pitchers well with the Blue Jays, but as has been the case with other pitchers/pitching coaches who became managers like Bud Black, his strategies were questionable when it came to the offense.

The Blue Jays lineups were oddly constructed and didn’t maximize the awesome production of Jose Bautista; Farrell let them try to steal bases at will, running themselves out of innings.

These types of mistakes wouldn’t be allowed to pass in Boston; the front office demands a large say in how the on-field decisions are made; the fans and the media would latch onto one gaffe and let it drag on for a week.

If he thinks the Red Sox are going to pay him more to be their manager than the Blue Jays, he needs to look at the facts surrounding his predecessor and the way the club feels about their managers. The details of Farrell’s contract with the Blue Jays have never been disclosed; this could be residue of the perceived mistakes made by former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi letting it be known how lowly paid his managers were, thereby limiting their authority with the players because there would be no hesitation for fire them due to financial obligations.

Here’s news: the Red Sox don’t want to pay their managers either; Francona’s salary didn’t break $1 million until he was with the team for two years and had already won a World Series; he didn’t start making truly big money along the lines of other managers with his accomplishments until 2009.

Francona had moderate say-so in personnel to the tune of “we’ll listen to what you have to say and then do what we want”; Farrell would function under the same constraints and probably less at the start.

The stomach to do what must be done.

Would Farrell have it in him to crack necessary heads in the Red Sox clubhouse? To confront Josh Beckett when he pushes the envelope? To tell Kevin Youkilis to quit whining? To advocate the dispatching of Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield? To hit back against the media?

There’s something to be said for the unknown. Not only do the Red Sox need to clear out some of the poison in that clubhouse, but they have to bring in an outsider as manager who won’t have any interest in “we don’t do it this way here”.

Farrell knows how things were done and would be expected to maintain that template.

Just like Francona couldn’t alter his personality to be the guy who flipped the food table or ripped people in the media, the players would know what they’re getting in Farrell and that would be a negative.

The innocent climb vs the establishment.

The obvious choice would be to jump to the Red Sox, but examining their respective rosters and circumstances in an objective way, the Blue Jays are in far better shape than the Red Sox.

They’re younger; they have a load of young pitching with the underrated Ricky Romero; the Cy Young Award-caliber talent Brandon Morrow; plus Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez.

The media expectations aren’t as stifling; the fans aren’t as expectant of success; there’s not a crisis-a-day atmosphere nor the suffocating aura and underlying anger of what went wrong.

The Red Sox are old; they’re in absolute disarray; the media is still picking clean the bones of the rotting corpse of their 2011 collapse and subsequent departures of Theo Epstein and Francona; and there are painful changes that must be made to the clubhouse culture that would render it unrecognizable from what Farrell was a part of for four years.

The dynamic isn’t what it was when he started as Red Sox pitching coach and it grew more infected as the core group and the same management team was kept together.

It’s easy to survey the situation from the safety of Toronto; to speak to people from the Red Sox to find out exactly what happened—the players and his former bosses—and to come to the conclusion, “it wouldn’t happen with me there”; but it might’ve happened with Farrell there.

The Blue Jays are younger; they have some money to spend; they’re hungry; and they’re ready to win.

The question Farrell has to ask himself is does he want to be the obstetrician and oversee the birth of something that could be special?

Or does he want to be the hospice doctor/coroner and dismantle and dissect what may already be dead?

I’d stay in Toronto.

And that’s what Farrell should do.

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