When the Blue Jays traded longtime ace Roy “Doc” Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies, they gave a crystal clear signal to the rest of the league. We are rebuilding, but we want a core to form a perennial contender, they said. The trade netted the Jays outfielder Michael Taylor (who was subsequently flipped to the Oakland Athletics for Brett Wallace), and Travis D’Arnaud, a catcher who looked able to provide stability to the position in a few years, which has been a major problem in the organization’s past. However, neither of these men were considered key components of the deal. The centrepiece of the deal – the part that made the trade click – was a right-handed pitcher named Kyle Drabek.
Kyle Drabek was considered by many to be the best pitching prospect in the Phillies’ organization. He comes from strong pedigree, being the son of 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek and while hdoesn’t project to be quite as talented as his father, he is a valuable pitcher in his own right. Many scouts predict that he will be a #2 starter on a contending team if he can stay healthy (Tommy John surgery, missed 2008) and in view of his age, he could become even more.
Drabek is healthy now and pitching in Double-A for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Jays’ affiliate. However on the Fourth of July 2010, Drabek had a performance that had to make fans wonder, “Will he be in New Hampshire very long?” Drabek threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in Fisher Cats history (a seven-inning no-hitter was accomplished by a Fisher Cat several years ago), blanking the New Britain Rock Cats 5-0 while striking out three and walking two. He recorded another 13 outs on the ground and only allowed three line drives. A few more groundballs would have been nice, but overall the outing was extremely solid for Drabek, easily the best of his career.
However, the dominance did not end there. Five days later he went into Binghamton and shutout the Mets over six innings, fanning five and walking one. This extended Drabek’s scoreless streak to 19 1/3 IP. His record improved to 9-8 while his ERA fell to 3.03.
The only thing keeping Drabek in AA right now is Las Vegas’ nature as a severe hitter’s park. a few more starts like this though, and Drabek will force the Jays’ hand, with an eye on a rotation spot in mid-2011.
A few weeks back, the Jays sent relief pitcher Brandon League and outfield prospect Johermyn Chavez to their expansion cousins, the Seattle Mariners, for pitcher Brandon Morrow.
Initially, I was disppointed in the move, given Morrow’s abuse at the hands of the Mariners, bouncing him back and forth between the rotation and ‘pen like a ping-pong ball. Trading Chavez initially appeared to be a mistake too as he hit .283/.346/.474 with 21 home runs and 89 RBI in A-ball as a 20-year-old. However, upon further inspection, the deal actually seems better for the Jays than I originally thought. At worst, it should be a classic even baseball trade.
I was disheartened by the fact that the Jays were giving up on League and his 98 mph sinker as well as that split-change that was swung on and missed 35% of the time (most for any one pitch in baseball in 2009). I was also concerned that letting Chavez and his great arm (rated #3 in the Minors) go would rob the Jays of one of the few strong prospects they had. That was until I looked at the numbers in closer detail.
Morrow has walked 5.83 batters/9 IP in his Major League career and will be 26 at the end of July, but is much younger developmentally and definitely has room to improve. The key for the Jays will be to settle on a role for the young right-hander. The Jays see him as a starter and providing that his diabetes does not get in the way, he should turn out to be a good #3 or serviceable #2 in most rotations. Ultimately, this is where Morrow’s future lies. His walk rates are too poor to be an effective late-game reliever. The Jays should use him as a starter and commit to that (whether in the Show or minors) regardless of the outcome. Every role switch is a leap back in his development and the time has come where all strides must take place in the same direction – forward.
Chavez did put up good numbers but stikes out a ton (27% in 2009 in A-ball)
League arguably had his best year in 2009 with a 3.16 xFIP, however this simply amounted to 1.0 WAR. This seems right as top relievers rarely reach 3 WAR (Jonathan Broxton led the way in 2009, being worth 2.9 WAR). 3 WAR is what you would expect from a #2 or #3 starter (A.J. Burnett, Randy Wolf, John Danks). That’s right, the top relievers are worth about the same as #3 starters. That’s not the greatest advertisement for relievers. League will all but never have a chance to close in Seattle given the presence of David Aardsma and his penchant for wildness (3.25 BB/9) would also preclude him from being considered as a backup plan. This will provide a career path of a decent, to above-average setup man, really not that much. 1.0 WAR last year was the approximate value of Ross Ohlendorf or Jeremy Guthrie and this is around where League will likely peak.
On the surface, the trade seems rather odd. However, the question truly becomes, “Would you trade Ohlendorf or Guthrie for Morrow?” That requires a one word answer:
Recent reports indicate that the Blue Jays are discussing a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that would send Lyle Overbay to the desert is exchange for catcher Chris Snyder (Thanks to MLBTradeRumors.com and Jordan Bastian for that one). This is seen as a method of replacing Rod Barajas and Lyle overbay, both of whom Cito Gaston apparently feuded with throughout the season. Unfortunately for the Jays however, beyond resolving personality clashes this deal makes little to no sense.
Lyle Overbay has one year remaining on a 4 yr/$24M deal. He has been our first baseman since being acquired from Milwaukee before 2006. He is not your typical slugging first baseman, but he has shown to be a great fastball hitter (1.26 Runs Above Average/100 fastballs in 2009, 0.93 career). He hits plenty of doubles and reaches base well (albeit he was in the bottom third of starting first-baseman in 2009 according to wOBA).
His broken hand seemed to bother him for the latter portion of 2007, and 2008, but in the first half of 2009, he showed glimpses of his former self. He mashed for 162 game averages of 20 HR, 92 RBI and 40 doubles prior to the All-Star Break, despite a ridiculously low .250 BABIP. He definitely faded in the second half, but ended up with hitting of .292/.395/.509 against righties while struggling badly against lefties (.190/.256/.278), indicating that his role is clearly as a platoon player, although a very strong one on his good side.
Chris Snyder was one viewed as the D-Backs’ catcher of the future, but injury and simple deterioration have reduced him to a backup or marginal starter skill level at best. Wins Above Replacement does not factor in defense for catchers, but offensively he has been just awful. He has been worth approximately 6.7 wins in his career. Not that impressive for a career that has lasted six seasons and cost his team 24.8 runs (2.5 wins) in his career (with his bat) compared with an average catcher during that span.
Another issue is that the Jays have no one else available to move into a starting role at first base. Randy Ruiz is an idea, but his numbers were clearly inflated by the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League and the fact that he swings at 40% of pitches outside the strike zone in his major league career is a cause for concern in terms of strikeouts. This cause is legitimized by his career strikeout totals (28% of plate appearances in ML, 23% professional). Until Ruiz gains more plate disicipline he will constantly be hampered by his strikeouts which will limit his effectiveness as a hitter. He hit southpaws moderately well as a big-leaguer but anything in that department is an improvement over Overbay. Brian Dopirak is a top prospect and another idea for a righty side of a platoon, but a disappearance of power in AAA, along with a severe drop of wOBA in only a 52-game sample makes me think that Dopirak neess more time and should not be rushed onto the scene. It would be much more developmentally beneficial to allow Dopirak a full year in AAA to see if his power re-emerges nd if he can correct the strikeout issue as opposed to bringing him up and thrusting him into a situation where he is clarly not ready.
These situations are hard on teams. Do we keep the clubhouse happy? Do we do what is best for the team? How much of a factor is money? These are all questions that need to be considered. With all of this in mind, the best option seems to be to keep Lyle in town, let Ruiz take the righty side of a platoon, and move Overbay if all of a sudden he starts to hit very well and we find ourselves out of the race by a long shot.
UPDATE:SUNDAY, 17:25 ET: The Toronto Blue Jays called off the swap because of concerns about Snyder’s surgically repaired back, according to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic.
Yesterday, the Toronto Blue Jays allowed Alex Rios to go to the Chicago White Sox after they claimed him on waivers. They did not receive anything in return for Rios which has drawn some criticism. However, even though no players were directly acquired for Rios, the move may benefit the Jays much more than anyone would think.
Sending Rios to the White Sox forced them to assume the bulk of his contract, worth up to over $72 million through 2015. Rios has averaged 16 HR and 79 RBI per 162 games. Those are fine numbers, but not worthy of the contract that Rios was given. He may perform slightly better in a hitters’ park and better lineup in Chicago, but this was a worthy sacrifice. Rios, at times, seems disinterested and often had mental lapses on the field. He has tremendous talent, but the Jays simply tired of waiting for him to blossom.
Meanwhile, top rpospect Travis Snider has been terrorizing the AAA Pacific Coast League with a 1.063 OPS over 43 games. To avoid him becoming a Super Two player, he will be held in Vegas for the next week or two (sorry Bethany). In the mean time, Joe Inglett and Jose Bautista will platoon in right field.
The addition of Snider and whatever bat we can get for the money that is saved could be enough to put us over the top in 2010 and beyond. The money can be spent on a power-hitting designated hitter, preferably right handed, to round out our lineup. A portion of the money could also be used to fund a Roy Halladay extension. Keeping Halladay is paramount to any success the Blue Jays will have in the foreseeable future.
Even though, the loss of Rios hurts in the short term, the principle of addition by subtraction applies. Hopefully, the Jays can use the money saved wisely, and improve the team instead of overpaying an underperformer.