On the afternoon of August 14, 2012, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos held a small press conference to announce that catcher Jeff Mathis has been signed to a two-year extension worth three million dollars and a one-year 1.5 million dollar club option for 2015. I initially wondered what the point was given the Jays’ catching depth as well as the fact that Mathis is a great defensive back-up catcher who has a horrendously weak bat (career 48 wRC+, 76 wRC+ in 2012). These numbers go as far as to cement him as the worst hitter (non-pitcher) in baseball since 2005. However, Defensive Runs Saved likes Mathis as an above-average defensive catcher (career 34 defensive runs saved). This is a profile that fits a serviceable, but not stellar back-up who does little more than catch day games after night games, with one extra start every fortnight or so.
Given the team’s catching depth and current needs, this low-cost extension could prove quite useful and open the Blue Jays to great flexibility. Viewing the roster as currently constructed, accounting for the 40-man and disabled list players the Blue Jays have three catchers for next year: J.P. Arencibia, Travis D’Arnaud and the aforementioned Jeff Mathis. Arencibia opened this year as the starter and remained in the role until breaking his hand on July 24, potentially ending his season prematurely. Arencibia’s hitting had marginally improved in 2012 (.316 wOBA and 97 wRC+ vs. .309 and 92 in 2011), but this improvement was driven by a blistering July, where he posted a .345 OBP, .415 wOBA and 189 wRC+. The rest of his year was much uglier as he hit .224/.263/.404 with a .305 wOBA. Arencibia is a poor hitter, even for a catcher, who has greater perceived value largely due to his home run and RBI totals. Travis D’Arnaud is the Blue Jays’ catcher of the future, acquired in the Roy Halladay deal. Ranked 17th in the 2012 Baseball America preseason rankings, he has shot up the list, currently residing at 8th after a strong season at Triple-A Las Vegas. With the major caveat that the Pacific Coast League is a severe hitters’ league and that Las Vegas is the second most affected park; D’Arnaud hit.333/.380/.595 with a .414 wOBA, his best strikeout rate in three years and a 31-point Isolated Power uptick (.262 from .231). Despite the environment, his BABIP only increased nine points from his Double-A year, which would seem to support that his improvement is at least partly genuine. It is quite possible that D’Arnaud could produce Arencibia-like power, but have a league-average-or-better OBP to go with it, making him one of the truly elite hitting catchers in the game. He probably will never challenge for a batting title like Mauer, but a Brian McCann type peak is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Add in the fact that his defense has been projected anywhere from above-average to elite, compared with the average-to-below average defense Arencibia provides now and D’Arnaud has a chance to be the catcher of the mid-to-late 2010s in MLB.
The primary knock on D’Arnaud unfortunately has been his health. He caught 114 games last year at Double-A, but only 71 the year before at High-A, while missing some time mid-season upon injuring his back. This year, he only caught 67 games before tearing his right posterior cruciate ligament (PCL, knee) and he tore a thumb ligament in this past off-season playing in the World Cup of Baseball. If D”Arnaud is healthy and has a strong spring, the Jays could face a log-jam and may end up carrying three catchers. Anthopoulos hinted the D’Arnaud would DH some next year, but I don’t see any logic in having D’Aranaud in as DH, while putting the defensively inferior Arencibia behind the plate. Given John Farrell’s (ridiculous) penchant for carrying eight relievers, having three players who can play the same position and only that position primarily on a three-man bench would be terribly crippling.
The solution is to carry two of the three. D’Arnaud could start the year back in Triple-A, while Mathis backed up Arencibia, but one thing is made certain by the extension – Mathis will make the team. When D’Arnaud gets hot and/or Arencibia struggles, the Jays will be forced to carry three catchers, or trade one of Arencibia or D’Arnaud. D’Arnaud on his own would fetch more value in trade, but Arencibia’s baseball card stats would fetch considerable value either as a stand-alone, or as part of a package.
The determining factor for the Blue Jays will come down to this question: Is the increase in the value of a return on D’Arnaud vs. Arencibia greater than the increase in value that D’Arnaud can provide on the field over Arencibia. If the answer is yes, D’Arnaud will probably be shipped out after showing himself healthy, perhaps around the trade deadline, like Travis Snider this year; but if the answer is no; Arencibia will probably be shipped out mid-season, although a hot September could portend an off-season trade. Consistently rotating between fist base, designated hitter and catcher is no solution for any of the players. D’Arnaud and Arencibia both produce their best offensive value as everyday catchers, are moderately devalued at DH and severely devalued at first base. With only so many innings to go around and Mathis locked in, one of the two catchers must be on the move, as a 50-50 time share does them no good. Given his superiority in all facets of the game, I would project D’Arnaud to stay.
Travis D’Arnaud is the Blue Jays catcher of the future and while Arencibia provides some value, that value is maximized as a trading chip and in that I clearly see a swift end for him in Toronto.
When the 2012 season opened for the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida; the only true “position battle” was for left field – waged between high-ceiling prospect Travis Snider and the incumbent Eric Thames. Thames was favoured in the role because he had played ~50 games there to end the season and been serviceable offensively, while showing poor defensive skills. As a result, it was made known that Travis Snider would have to essentially blow Thames out of the water to win the job. In the end, they had similar decent springs (spring stats are meaningless for a number of reasons, the investigation of which is worthy of a post in and of itself) and as a result, Thames won the job while Snider was shipped out to AAA Las Vegas.
In the month of April, Thames hit a strong .308/.361/.446 with a .345 wOBA and 118 wRC+, he had a passable 16.1 K% although his defense left much to be desired. Meanwhile, Snider hit .400/.477/.693 in 19 April games with essentially no home/road split. Unfortunately, Snider injured his wrist on April 26, ending his month.
This could not have come at a worse time for the Blue Jays as Eric Thames began to struggle in May. Badly. In May, Thames hit .193/.227/.301, with a .231 wOBA and 39 wRC+. Thames suffered a 73-point BABIP regression, but the major cause of Thames downfall was a sharp increase in strikeouts. In the month of May, Thames struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances, the fourth-most in baseball for a qualified hitter over that span. As the month progressed, it became increasingly clear that Thames was simply over-matched in the Major Leagues. However, there was an apparent problem – Snider played seven games in the middle of May, looked awful (.095/.192/.286) then was shut down again with more wrist trouble on May 17, yet to play as of this writing.
After losing 14-3 to the Texas Rangers on Friday May 25 in a game where Brandon Morrow pitched merely two-thirds of an inning and losing 8-7 to Texas in 13 innings the following day, the bullpen was extremely taxed and roster moves were made, as detailed in prior posts, to construct an eight-man bullpen. Further complications arose when Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar suffered hamstring and groin injuries, respectively, in the Texas series that necessitated the recall of an extra infielder. At this point, the Blue Jays made an odd response to their situation – Thames was demoted to AAA and utility player Mike McCoy was recalled.
The oddity of the response stems from the upcoming schedule. The Blue Jays have today off after completing a three-game home sweep against Baltimore, play the Red Sox over the weekend and have Monday off before travelling to Chicago. Despite the lull in the schedule, manager John Farrell has indicated that the rotation will continue on full turns. This means that Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will make their next starts on six days rest, while the back of the rotation will make each of their next two starts on five days rest. This is hardly a situation that necessitates carrying an eight-man bullpen and a three-man bench of a catcher, an infielder and an infielder who is hurting. There is no outfield help on the bench at this point and McCoy is the only true viable option, period. The other downside to the current roster is that the team’s best pinch-runner (who doesn’t hit RHP very well at 78 wRC+ career), Rajai Davis, is now in the everyday lineup with Snider hurt. It would have made much more sense to demote one of Jesse Chavez or Aaron Laffey, neither of whom are likely to pitch; and either stick with Thames until Snider is ready or bench him in favour of Davis, leaving a left-handed bat and OF available.
Recalling an infielder was a necessity but the manner in which it was done, not only seems illogical, but hurts the team in its’ current state.
UPDATE: Aaron Laffey was sent back to Las Vegas after tonight’s game. Prior to Friday’s game the Blue Jays will make a corresponding roster move, they announced. Adam Lind, who has hit .343/.442/.657/.467/183 in 43 plate appearances in Triple-A is a possible recall candidate, as is Vladimir Guerrero; although Alex Anthopoulos indicated he would see time in both AA and AAA to adjust to velocity and off-speed pitches, respectively.
UPDATE: A third candidate for recall is SS Adeiny Hechavarria. It has been thought that he is not ready offensively (.316/.358/.458/.367/118, but inflated by the league and park) and that he would not be brought up only on a long-term basis. However recent comments by Alex Anthopoulos that a visa issue had been resolved, thereby allowing Hechavarria to travel to Canada, coupled with the fact that he did not play tonight for Las Vegas are potential indicators that it could indeed by Hechavarria on his way to Toronto.
This Christmas has become something of a disappointment for Jays fans. For several days and especially for a few agonizing hours, there was hope that we would receive a great gift, the talents of Japanese ace Yu Darvish. Unfortunately, the Texas Rangers won the bidding for Darvish’s rights with a record bid of $51.7 million. We also hoped that a Prince would come to save us, but according to Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston, fans can forget about that too. Something about not giving contracts in excess of five years to hitters and three years to pitchers. However, the team has several good pieces in, or not far from The Show and could surprise many people in the next two years. That said; here is my Christmas list of the top ten Blue Jays desires in 2012:
10: Production from Kelly Johnson
When Aaron Hill put forth another putrid season with the Jays for four-and-a-half months in 2011, it was clear that the Jays needed to make a change. Since hitting 36 homers in 2009, Hill has never been the same. Keep in mind, the 36-homer,, if extrapolated over a full season would have put him 4.1 fWAR season came AFTER his concussion, indicating that the concussion seems to have little impact on his performance drop, contrary to what some have suggested. Hill was packaged with John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson, who enjoyed a 128 wRC+, 5.9 WAR 2010, but was struggling in 2011 with an 87 wRC+ at the time of the swap. He went on to post a 114 wRC+ in 33 games with the Jays and 0.8 WAR after playing 113 games with Arizona for 1.1 WAR. Hill posted 104, 61, -0.8 with Toronto and 33, 134, 1.6 in the desert. All the best to him. Johnson ‘s 114 wRC+, if extrapolated over a whole season would have had him seventh in the Majors at his position, right between Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips – decent company. Johnson is somewhat cost-controlled through his acceptance of arbitration and his solidification of a perennial weak point for the Jays could be a key factor in 2012 success.
9: Emergence of Colby Rasmus
Colby Rasmus came to the Jays at the trading deadline as part of a three-team deal with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox. While the Jays did give up pitching prospect Zach Stewart and lefty killer Marc Rzepczynski, who each proved their worth at times with their new clubs (The Cardinals won the World Series thanks in no small part to the duo of Octavio Dotel and Rzepczynski who proved to be stellar antidotes for the Milwaukee Brewers duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, respectively, along with neutralizing Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers in the World Series) , if Rasmus blossoms into the star he was projected to be when he was drafted, the trade will end up going down as a heist. Rasmus struggled mightily in Toronto with a .517 OPS, .225 wOBA, 34 wRC+ and -0.5 WAR over 34 games, although he did have a hot streak in August that was interrupted by a wrist injury. He posted a .859 OPS, .366 wOBA, 129 wRC+ at age 23-24, so there is a lot to like, especially at a premium defensive position. A return to those numbers or beyond isn’t out of the question and could allow Anthony Gose to marinate properly in the minor leagues into a true five-tool player.
8: Stability in the ninth inning
The Jays bullpen blew 26 saves last year (part of that was due to the gutting in the Rasmus deal) and the duo of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco struggled with save opportunities at times. Both left as free agents and AA wanted to find a dominating closer for the ninth inning. The price of free agent closers has been ridiculous (Jonathan Papelbon signed for 4 years/$58 million with Philadelphia) so he decided it would be best to go the trade route. He acquired right-hander Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox for pitching prospect Nestor Molina who put up a 2.45 FIP in 108.1 IP and a 0.47 FIP in 22 innings at Single- and Double-A respectively as a 22-year-old. Steep price it would seem, but as Kevin Goldstein put it: the numbers don’t match the stuff and the numbers tell a rosier story.
Santos, a converted shortstop and former Jay, recorded over 13 K/9 last year, closing some for Chicago. His number one pitch is a wipeout slider, generating memories of B.J. Ryan, although Santos will throw from the right side. If he can have a season somewhat close to Ryan’s 2006 in Toronto, Jays fans will be very happy and his club-friendly deal negotiated by Chicago could easily set him up for six years of reasonably priced service north of the border.
7: A full-time left fielder
When the Jays drafted Travis Snider in 2006 out of high school and brought him to the big leagues as a 20-year-old, the idea is that he would stick and go on to become one of the best young hitters in the league. However, things have gone according to plan. Snider has played parts of four seasons at the big league level, struggling in all of them to a degree. During this time, Eric Thames (drafted in 2007 (39, 1191)) shot to the majors, taking over when Snider struggled in left this year, posting 12 HR, .313 OBP and a .333 wOBA in 95 games. Now with two left fielders both performing poorly, although Snider is 23 and could be age-appropriately at Double-A, it is up to one of them to seize the job. Snider is younger and has much greater potential, while Thames has the greater recent results. This spring training will be a key time for the Blue Jays organization as they choose which player they want to travel forward with as their left fielder, while potentially trading the other.
6: Prospect Development
With the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos and trade of Roy Halladay in the winter of 2009, the Jays entered a temporary rebuild. However, this was different. AA did not want to just build a one year winner, but a team that could perennially contend. He started on his vision by almost doubling the size of the scouting department and acquiring Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis D’Arnaud from the Philadelphia Phillies and through a series of trades ultimately outfielder Anthony Gose by way of the Houston Astros. Drabek saw time in the Majors this season, struggled with his control and spent most of the year in Las Vegas, battling what seemed to be emotional problems with a newfound lack of success. D’Arnaud and Gose were part of the Eastern League Champion New Hampshire Fisher Cats at the Double-A level. Gose hit more home runs in 2011 (16) than in his three previous minor league seasons combined (9) thanks to some swing tweaks, but still stole 69/85 bases (81.2%) on the year. He also flashed a plus, plus arm in centre field and decent range. If Gose keeps on his upward development path, a Gose/Rasmus confrontation could be inevitable and interesting in a few years. D’Arnaud was named Eastern League MVP and Keith Law called him, “the real deal”. He tore some ligaments in his thumb playing in the World Cup of Baseball, but should be ready to go for Spring Training. Of course, the focus is on a speedy recovery.
5: Brett Lawrie Avoiding the Sophomore Slump
Brett Lawrie arrived in the Majors on August 5, as the most hyped Jays prospect in recent memory by a long shot. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat, homered the next day and hit a grand slam at home on August 10. He also had a walk-off homerun for the first 1-0 extra inning walk-off win in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Red Sox on September 5. Although he did not win Rookie of the Year, he led all American League rookies with 2.7 WAR (4th in MLB) despite only playing in 43 games totalling 171 plate appearances. As with any data sample, one must be cautious of the small sample size here. Expecting Lawrie to duplicate these numbers over a full season is clearly unrealistic, but if he can put together a 5.0 WAR season, he could become the Jays long awaited answer to a #5 hitter.
4: Brandon Morrow Gaining Efficiency
Brandon Morrow showed his electric potential this past year by leading the AL (2nd in MLB) in K/9 for qualified pitchers at 10.19. Unfortunately, this also came with a 3.46 BB/9, which capped his average outing length to just less than six innings per start. He allowed two earned runs or less in 14 starts, allowing one or zero in nine of them. However, in eight of them he allowed five or more earned runs, capping out at nine in a game against Boston. Eight of his starts lasted 5.0 IP or fewer, while he completed seven innings ten times. By cutting his walks, he can maximize efficiency and hopefully gain some consistency, as he has the stuff to challenge Romero for the role of team ace.
3: Ricky Romero Becoming Elite
Ricky Romero won a career-high 15 games, while finishing sixth in the AL with a 2.92 ERA, a number that has improved for him every season in the Majors. Unfortunately, this masks a less attractive 4.20 FIP and 3.80 xFIP. He needs to cut his walks (3.20 BB/9), increase his strikeouts (7.12 K/9) and elevate his strikeout to walk ratio to at least 3.00 as opposed to the 2.23 where it sits now. He seems to have figured out a solid gameplan against the Rays, but needs to find ways to be more efficient against the highly patient Red Sox and Yankees, who seem content to allow Romero to work himself into jams. Due to his best weapon being a changeup, left-handed hitters gave him much trouble to a FIP/xFIP line of 5.47/4.87 compared to 3.7/3.42 line against righties. Improvement of command, especially of his curveball and slider would help to straighten out his split. Beating the Red Sox and Yankees more frequently will be key for the Jays to climb in the East and Romero will have to be a big part of that, an answer to the big lefties: CC Sabathia and Jon Lester.
Jays used the DL 21 times for 19 players and lost 706 man-games. Jesse Carlson missed the entire season after a labrum tear, so discounting that, the Jays deal usage was 18 for 20 and 544 man-games. Still staggering. Bautista struggled with injuries in the second half and Adam Lind’s back broke a six-week hot streak and he wasn’t the same after that. Keeping the middle of our lineup healthy and our pitchers on the mound (Romero and Morrow each 30+ starts) will be key to our success in 2012, especially against aging New York and Boston rosters.
1: Fan Support
Paul Beeston made it simple: when more fans come, more money will be spent. If the fans are truly serious about wanting a winner, they need to come out support the good, exciting young team we have now and allow Alex Anthopoulos to gain permission to chase the final pieces.
Christmas Dream: Prince Fielder
We all saw Prince work in Milwaukee and putting him behind Bautista would make the best 3-4 combo in all of baseball.
Merry Christmas Blue Jays fans! See you in April!
The Blue Jays got their season started on a positive note over the weekend as they inked designated hitter Adam Lind to a four year, $18M deal. The deal includes three options that could push the value to $38.5 M over seven seasons. Visions of Vernon Wells’ albatross and the Rios disaster which the Jays escaped (give J.P. credit) initally crossed my mind, but this deal is intelligent and has me excited. Alex Anthopoulos has charted a great course for his franchise. Build a core and supplement with free agents, not the other way around. It may take some time, but when success comes, it will be lasting.
The guaranteed portion of the deal runs through his age 29 season. The options are exercisable as three seperate options each covering one year. The scale of $1 million in 2010 and three years of $5M each make this friendly for a budget conscious team. The options are worth $7M, $7.5M and $8M and can be bought out at any time for no more than $2M. The options would bring him through his age-32 season (he would be 33 at the end, July birthday). At this point he would be entering his decline and the Jays would have had him through his entire prime. If they were to part with him at this point, they would not be losing much. They could also sign him for a contract of similar, or lesser value.
Since Lind’s entire value comes from his bat as a DH (he is a terrible defender), he will need to produce to make this deal worthwhile. While he may not get up to 35 homers again, a .290/25/90 line makes this contract acceptable in my opinion and he should easily eclipse those numbers for at least the guaranteed portion. Combine this deal with Hill, Snider and the Halladay prospects and there is a lot to like for this team’s future.
Thank you Alex, for such an incredible piece of negotiation and management. Moves like this could bring a winner to Toronto in relatively short order.
Keep up the good work.
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.