Archive for September, 2012

Ken Rosenthal Says Blue Jays Will Be Aggressive Buyers

According to Ken Rosenthal the Toronto Blue Jays are expected to be aggressive bidders in the upcoming free agency period.  Now I know what you are thinking, haven’t we heard this before?  Well yes, but I don’t see how the team will generate any significant buzz without at least one or two big acquisitions this offseason.

The Blue Jays are unlikely to re-sign Kelly Johnson after a disappointing season from the 30-year-old second baseman, Rosenthal reports. And Yunel Escobar, who recently served a three-game suspension for writing a homophobic slur under his eyes, “is a goner,” according to Rosenthal.

The Blue Jays are short on veterans to guide the team’s younger players in Rosenthal’s opinion. A free agent such as Torii Hunter would be a fit in Toronto, Rosenthal writes. GM Alex Anthopoulos will consider the possibility of adding experienced contributors.

“I don’t think it ever hurts to have as many veteran complements as you can,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s something we’ll definitely look to do if we can.”

Speaking of offseason, AL Eastbound will be asking a ton of questions surrounding the teams future and discussing what it will take to get the team into the forefront of contention.  Some of those questions will include:

 Several questions unanswered after injury riddled 2012:

-Is Anthopoulos capable of sticking neck out?  Perhaps he has tried and failed, or just nervous?

-Where would Jose Bautista’s 2012 stat line finished without injury?

-How much upside is in Brett Lawrie’s bat?  Were expectations too high? Is this insane level of defense for real?

-Can Ricky Romero right the ship?

-Is Brandon Morrow for real and can he stay healthy?

-Who can the Jays land to help battered rotation?

-Sergio Santos, damaged goods?

-Who of Sierra/Cooper/Gose/Hechavarria is capable of giving Jays meaningful ABs in 2013?

-Bullpen seems deep and loaded for next year (knock on wood), which is promising.

-Colby Rasmus & Yunel Escobar – the good and the bad.  Move forward with both/either?

-Is Adam Lind worth keeping around?

-Arencibia still our catcher in 2013 or will d’Arnaud make push for starting gig?

-Middle infield help.  Omar Vizquel cannot take any more swings for a team hoping to contend.  Zero.

-We also need to spend money on boring old depth, we must prepare for the worst injury wise.

-How serious is ownership to turning a budding contender with a deep farm system into a legit annual contender.  Given current composition of roster we will need to dip into FA talent pool to add at least one stud SP.

Blue Jays Move AAA Affiliate to Buffalo

A few weeks ago, AL Eastbound & Down quoted a Yahoo! report mentioning that the Jays were interested in moving their AAA ball club to Buffalo.   TSN.ca has confirmed that the Jays have succeeded the Mets as the Bisons’ parent club:

The team announced a new two-year affiliation with the Buffalo Bisons of the AAA International League on Tuesday. The move ends the Blue Jays’ four-year affiliation with the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League.

The Buffalo franchise traces its history back to the 19th century, playing  as a major league team in the National League from 1879 until 1885.  Following its brief tenure in the NL, it became a minor league club in the International League and Western League.  As the turn of the twentieth century approached, Buffalo was a whisker away from joining the original American League.  The Boston Americans were chosen instead.

Over the next 70 years (until 1970) the Bisons played in the AAA International League, winning four titles along the way (1933, 1936, 1957, 1961).  Through the ’70s, however, the franchise experienced difficulties and was replaced by the Memphis Blues.  The Bisons were resurrected in 1979 as the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.    They rejoined AAA ranks in 1985 and have since been affiliated with the CWS, PIT,  CLE, NYM, and now TOR.

Here’s to hoping that the Jays enjoy a long and productive relationship with the Buffalo Bisons, a team with  a rich history.

Trivia Question:  Which Blue Jays coach managed the Bisons at one time?

Wes Kepstro

Yunel Escobar’s Message

Yunel Escobar is in hot water again.  This time he’s accused of using a homophobic slur written in white in the eye black he used during a game against Boston.  The message, written in Spanish, is “tu ere maricon”.  When translated one possible meaning is “You are a faggot”.

There are other possible translations, according to Cathal Kelly of thestar.com.  In an interview, University of Toronto Spanish professor Maria Cristina Cuervo said

“It is derogatory, but it’s not necessarily homophobic,”.

Yes, it can mean ‘You are a faggot’. But according to Cuervo, context is everything. The word is a derivation of the proper name Maria del Carmen. The diminutive form of that name has morphed into an effeminizing epithet that has a clear gender component, but not necessarily a sexual one.

“I would take it as, ‘You are like a girl. You’re weak’,” Cuervo said. “I don’t curse much, so I don’t know the appropriate level in English. It has to be something like ‘wuss’.”

Whether Yunel Escobar was “trash talking” or making a slur is unclear.  What is clear is that his actions are unprofessional and need to be addressed.

Escobar also found trouble during his time in Atlanta, which was a factor in his departure.  Blue Jays team officials are investigating and will deliver a statement this afternoon before the series opener against the New York Yankees.

*UPDATE* Yunel Escobar has been handed a three game suspension from Major League Baseball.

Wes Kepstro

A Mortal Lock for Cooperstown?

Lately I’ve read a lot about Omar Vizquel being a Hall of Fame shoe-in.  I confess to being mystified by it, and I don’t mind telling you why.  First, there are no objective standards employed by voters.  We try to apply some  (300 wins, 3000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 saves, etc., etc.), but they don’t distinguish between positions or eras very well.  It’s hard to be a ‘lock’ for anything that has no clearly defined standards.

Second, the subjectivity can be polarizing.  Why does Player A get in, while Player B doesn’t (even though some of his stats may be much better)?  Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax present some difficulty here.  Are they in because of what they might have accomplished, had they not been injured?  If so, then Ray Chapman should be considered.  He was a very good shortstop before a pitch from Carl Mays killed him.

Third, defense is very difficult to quantify and the numbers we get from quantifying defense tend to be less meaningful and reliable.  If we don’t have numbers, then the only things we have to go on are impressions and opinions.  Bill Mazeroski is the key name here.

This brings us back to the great cloud of unknowing: Omar Vizquel doesn’t meet any of the non-standards that we haven’t established.

In my mind I use a fourfold distinction that Bill James suggested a couple of decades ago to rate a player’s suitability for Cooperstown:

1.   Was he considered the greatest player of all time?

2.   Was he considered the greatest player of his generation?

3.   Was he considered the greatest player at his position?

4.   Was he considered a good player for a long time?

Here are examples of players who fit these four categories: (1) Babe Ruth; Willie Mays; (2) Joe DiMaggio; Ted Williams; (3) Rollie Fingers; Johnny Bench; (4) Bert Blyleven; and Enos Slaughter.  To these I’ll add the usual ‘objective’ standards mentioned above, like 300 wins or 3000 hits.  I also consider players already enshrined, focusing on players of similar talent, position, and impact.  The playoffs are factored in as well.  As you can tell there’s still a great deal of room for subjectivity, leaving plenty of room for disagreement.

I like Omar and think he’s headed for Cooperstown, but he’s hardly a shoe-in.  He falls short of almost every perceived HoF benchmark.  3000 H?  No.  500 HR?  No.  1000 RBI?  No.  He’s been excellent defensively (11 gold gloves), but the lack of standards for defense regarding HoF suitability is problematic.  He’s never been considered the best player in history, the best player of his generation, or even the best shortstop of his era.  He’s never won a World Series.  He was a great playoff performer thrice (’95; ’98; ’01), but he’s no Mr. October.  He’s never been the greatest player on a great team.  He’s never been the greatest player on a bad team, either.  His value has always been qualified by the word ‘defensive’: he’s been a very good defensive player for a long time.  That’s his big credential.  That leaves us with little other than nostalgia, sentimentality, and lateral comparisons to fill in the gaps.

Perhaps a key reason why Omar’s considered to be Cooperstown-bound is Ozzie Smith.  Ozzie was enshrined primarily on his ability as a defender and Omar is strongly reminiscent of the Wizard.  That said, I’ll enjoy watching Omar Vizquel tie the great Babe Ruth’s career hits total.  I’ll also leave you to chuckle about the incongruity of Omar Vizquel and Babe Ruth being mentioned together on the basis of a fairly significant offensive achievement.

Wes Kepstro

A Cautionary Tale

On July 25, Los Angeles Dodgers’ owners began what seemed like a two-headed process.  First, they seemed to desire to distance the franchise from the chaotic ownership of Frank McCourt.  Second, they appeared to want to make a run at the playoffs this year.

It’s hard to fault them on the first point.  They need to deal decisively with the bad taste left by the McCourts.  Television deals, then no television deals, a messy divorce carried out on the public stage, then there was a sharp decline in team fortunes.  A once-proud franchise declared bankruptcy and was in disarray.

The second point stands as a beacon in a dark period for a flagship franchise of the National League.  After all, who wouldn’t want to make a run at the playoffs if given the chance?  LA has a good manager in Don Mattingly.  They have two bona fide young superstars in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.  There’s also good support staff in Andre Ethier, Kenley Jansen, and A.J. Ellis.

They decided to go for it.  Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate were acquired from the struggling Miami Marlins.  Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton were acquired from the struggling Philadelphia Phillies.  Then a trade on August 28 was the coup de gràce.  The Dodgers acquired Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto from the Red Sox.  Minority owner Magic Johnson said publicly that they needed to spend to win in this league.

But the Dodgers have played poorly.  They’re record is 22-24 since the trade with MIA and 6-12 since the trade with BOS.  Compounding LA’s struggles the Giants have played well, stretching their lead in the NL West and relegating the Dodgers to wild-card hopefuls.

The Dodgers weren’t really ready to make these moves.  They didn’t have enough depth on the major league roster to catch the Giants unless the Giants stumbled badly.  The also gave up a number of the organizations’ higher-ranked prospects to make these deals, but received no youth in return.  They’ve risked their future on a return to form by several under-performing or injured veterans (Victorino, Beckett, Crawford).   The season isn’t finished yet, and they might make a successful run at the playoffs but this can’t be what they expected.

The same sort of tale can be told about the Miami Marlins, who tried to capitalize on several good young players and a new stadium by spending like a trophy wife last off season.  Their season started poorly and they’re more than two dozen games behind the Nationals.

The Toronto Blue Jays are in a position somewhat similar to the Dodgers and Marlins.  A young manager, some good young players on the major league roster, and a farm system that’s been re-stocked have fans champing at the bit.  But General Manager Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t made a decisive move to fill obvious holes despite the availability of some very good players.  Looking at the Dodgers and Marlins, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.

 

Wes Kepstro

Should the Jays re-sign Carlos Villanueva?

The Blue Jays’ most effective pitcher over the last two seasons, Carlos Villanueva, is a free agent when the season ends.  Several comments have been made publicly by both pitcher and GM over the past week or so, and it hasn’t been as pleasant as one might hope.  MLBTradeRumors.com quotes GM Alex Anthopoulos as saying,

“When you’re looking at a starter you’re looking at 32 or 34 starts, 200 innings, durability, things like that, that’s part of the equation,” Anthopoulos told reporters, including Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. “There’s no question when he’s taken the ball he’s done a great job. But his [durability] is obviously part of the equation. That’s not to take anything away from him. But that’s the unknown with Carlos, he’s never had 200 innings, he’s never had 32 or 34 starts. I think we all would say you love what you see, what he’s done for us and he’s a great teammate and all those things. But again we’ve only had bits and pieces of him starting.”

Carlos Villanueva’s reply has an ‘eyebrow-furrowing’ feel to it: “Its a little disappointing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he told Sportsnet’s Tony Ambrogio. “I definitely don’t love the advertising of that being put out there.”

Let’s be clear at the outset: being the most effective pitcher does not mean he’s their best pitcher.  That said he’s done pretty well.  What should the Jays do?

Avoid him like the plague

Carlos was a ‘pen piece in Milwaukee, starting 27 times in 230 games over five seasons.  This raises questions of durability, which, of course, is the heart of the issue.  He doesn’t have a starter’s durability because, for the most part, he hasn’t been a starter.

In Toronto Carlos has been used primarily out of the ‘pen, getting starts only when another starter has been injured.  Toronto brass knew this when they acquired him.  He made 13 starts in ’11 and then was shelved with a forearm strain.  This season he’s made 13 more starts.  He’s remained healthy but his performance has declined over time.

The Jays’ injury woes this year aren’t significantly worse than you’ll find on other teams, but their impact has been substantial.  What do the Jays risk on a starter who doesn’t have a starter’s stamina?  They risk injury to him and potential setbacks for the team.  He’s versatile but he’s pushing for a starter’s role, which means a starter’s contract.

Get a pen…quick!

Carlos Villanueva’s numbers suggest he’s an above average pitcher.  Looking at the pitcher-related plate discipline trends of the past decade, CV holds his own and is improving.  Topping out at about 89 mph, he’s not missing bats because of velocity.  However, he uses the 13+ mph differential between his fastball and change-up effectively, causing batters to swing and miss at a greater rate than league average.  Carlos is an above average pitcher with four decent-to-good pitches (six if you include an eephus pitch or two and a two-seam fastball) who misses bats.  In other words, he’s a solid #5.

So, sign him or take door #2 (the matched luggage)?

Baseball lends itself to numbers, so let’s look at some numbers.  This is Carlos Villanueva by (some of) the numbers culled from his 13 starts in 2012:

 Starts IP ERA Hits/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 Pitches/Start IP/Start
1st 5 28.1 2.54 6.99 3.18 9.21 0.95 95.8 5.67
Next 8 49.2 4.17 8.33 1.81 7.97 1.45 92.5 6.21

The grouping is unbalanced, but offers a glimpse at Villanueva’s effectiveness.  One thing is clear: he’s declined after his initial five starts.  The decline can be attributed reasonably to several factors (quality of opponent; scouting reports; fatigue; etc.)  It’s also worthwhile to note that the Jays were 5-0 in his first five starts, but 3-5 in his next eight starts.  The Jays’ reservations are well founded, but overall he’s pitched well and been the consummate professional.  Again.

I see two competing perspectives.  On one hand, the Jays don’t need another fourth/fifth starter.  They’re relatively easy to find so if he wants more starts, then let him go.  His decline is troubling, and the Jays don’t need another starter on the DL.  This year’s been something out of a Stephen King novel, injury-wise, so let’s not ‘tempt fate’ any further.

On the other hand, as fifth starters go he’s pretty good.  He’s versatile, he’s pitched better this year than last, he does what he’s asked and he does it pretty well.  Spreading out his starts is a reasonable solution.

Sign him.  If the Jays have plans to acquire two other starters, Carlos may become redundant.  But even that’s no reason to let him go.  This season has demonstrated pretty clearly that the Jays need pitching depth.  Worst-case scenario?  He’s a long man out of the ‘pen.  Give him 15 or so starts sprinkled throughout the season, and it helps keep everyone fresh.  Unless there’s an undeniably better option out there, signing Carlos Villanueva would be wise.

Wes Kepstro

Blue Jays Prospect Report – September 10, 2012

Hitters:

MAJ (RF) Anthony Gose, 2-4, .223, SB (14); hit first career HR at Fenway this weekend
MAJ (SS) Adeiny Hechavarria, 1-3, 1 RBI, .237, BB (3)
SS (LF) Dwight Smith, 0-0, 1 run, 2 BB, SB
SS (3B) Kellen Sweeney, 3-4, 2 RBI, BB (3)


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