Archive for the 'Free Agent Signings' Category

Riding with the Wind, ’14: Losing the Santana Sweepstakes…

According to multiple sources (www.mlbtraderumors.com, etc.), the Atlanta Braves have signed Ervin Santana to a one year deal to shore up their rotation after Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were hurt.  Gavin Floyd isn’t due to return from surgery until about the middle of the season so the Braves swooped in and snapped up the best remaining free agent starter.

The Toronto Blue Jays, after declaring early in the off season that improving the rotation was a priority, are left out in the cold.  Honestly, there are three observations that I would like to make.  First, Santana made a deal that is MUCH more likely to help his career by signing with Atlanta rather than the Jays or Orioles.  He’s mainly a fly ball pitcher.  The heavy offenses and the band boxes in the AL East would more likely hurt his value.  This seems like a very good move on his part, and I can’t fault him for it.

Second, Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays’ front office (i.e. Paul Beeston) deserve all the criticism thrown at them.  They had multiple opportunities to improve their chances to take advantage of the so-called “three-year window” by using the resources that “will be there if we need them”, and did very little.  I like the acquisitions of Navarro and Kratz but more needed to be done, namely 2B and the rotation.  This latest turn of events even has more of the serious supporters–not just the casual fans–outraged.  Their complacency is bewildering.  Many have picked the Toronto Blue Jays to finish 5th in the AL East this season, based on their inactivity and the glaring holes in their line up.

Third, there’s the message that’s been sent to the players.  After the debacle of 2013, changes needed to be made.  It wasn’t a strong free agent crop outside of Robinson Cano, but there was plenty of value to be had.  The strange thing is that no trades were made either.  All the while, AA was decrying the market: prices were too high for the potential value received in return.  To wit: the Cubs wanted Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman in exchange for Jeff Samardzija.

But even the players believed that signing Ervin Santana would be a positive move–several of Santana’s friends on the Jays lobbied for him to sign with the Jays.  The players have reportedly been watching the various situations very closely to see what management would do.  Since they’ve done nothing substantial, the message to the players is __________.  If the players are jaded by the Jays inactivity and if the Jays acquire a reputation, what effect will this have on future deals?  Sure it’s speculative, but…

Yes, of course, there are still 162 games to play, and everyone (except projected 4th starter JA Happ) seems healthy.  And yes, this is much the same unit that had so many fans and pundits drooling last off season.  But things have changed, and they’ve changed pretty dramatically.  A 74-88 season after such high expectations will do that.  Just like the 2013 season, more was expected of the 2013-2014 off season but very little was delivered.

Wes Kepstro

The Toronto Blue Jays, 2014: Riding with the Wind

Last season we borrowed from the images painted by glam rocker David Bowie in his classic, ‘Space Oddity.’  Major Tom’s tragic mission strangely anticipated the Jays’ own on-field tragedy.  High hopes led to disappointment in a flurry of injuries and poor performances.

Will this season be any different or will it be more of the same, results-wise?  Jimi Hendrix saw beauty at the Monterey Pop Festival.  He wanted to take that beauty and put it to music, so he thought of the experience and personified it in the form of a woman.  “Little Wing” was the result.  If you’re unfamiliar with Monterey Pop, Jimi Hendrix, or ‘Little Wing’, open another window in your browser, do some reading/listening, and come on back.  If you’re not interested, then this isn’t the blog for you.

The lyric ‘riding with the wind’ evokes an image of Jimi’s ‘woman’ soaring free, no longer earth-bound.  Riding against the wind is difficult, wastes precious energy, and often forces a traveller to seek shelter.  ‘Riding with the wind’ captures an elemental force of nature that can’t be controlled, just harnessed.   It’s about time for the Jays to harness the wind and loose the surly bonds of gravity.

The off season has been as quiet for AL Eastbound bloggers as it has been for the Toronto Blue Jays.  This blogger has had a tumultuous winter, but is ready and rarin’ to go for the 2014 season.  Can the same be said about the Jays?  TOR traded Brad Lincoln for Erik Kratz, signed catcher Dioner Navarro, cut ties with JP Arencibia, and they may be on the verge of signing Ervin Santana to a 1-year deal.  In other words the Jays, fresh from a 74-88 season, have inflicted a nauseatingly-inactive (passive?) off season on their fans.

They needed pitching, a catcher, a real 2B, and perhaps another OF.  They got Navarro and Kratz, and then complained about giving Navarro too much money over too many years.  Welcome to Toronto, Dioner.  Wait, wait, wait…after a tough season, we don’t need to start this one by complaining.

One thing we can say categorically about the Jays is that they are deeper, roster- and organization-wise, than they have been in years.  This is a good thing.  If Morrow goes down for a few starts I’d rather replace him with Esmil Rogers or Todd Redmond (or Sanchez or Stroman…drool, drool, drool) than Chien-ming Wang, Aaron Laffey, Ramon Ortiz, or, heaven forbid, Brian Tallet.

Also, a healthy RA and Melky and Rasmus and Bats and Reyes and Edwin are better than an unhealthy group with the same names.  Josh Johnson was bewilderingly bad as well as injured, so expectations coming into 2014 were murky.  Drew Hutchison is strong and healthy, and JA Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dustin McGowan are all talented, somewhat healthy, and competing for roster spots.  Melky doesn’t have a tumour on his spine any longer, meaning LF might not be such an adventure.

That leaves second base.  Last year the carousel included, but was not limited to, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki and Ryan Goins.  Goins was the cleanest of the dirty shirts, ‘tho Mune gave us a lot of smiles while he filled in for Jose Reyes.  He performed passably at 2B.

The Jays plan to go with Goins at 2B (read, ‘it’s his job to lose’).  Ryan Goins is a shortstop, 25 years old, and doesn’t hit very well.  He’s their secret weapon at 2B, because the others proved they couldn’t handle it last season.  Several rumours (Brandon Phillips, Stephen Drew, Gordon Beckham, Darwin Barney, Nick Franklin, Dustin Ackley, etc.), have surfaced at one point or another only to disappear just as quickly.  It’s always come back to Goins.

Ryan Goins probably isn’t as good defensively as he showed in his 2013 cameo; let’s hope his offense is better than he showed in his 2013 cameo.  He’s one in a long line of good-field-no-hit middle infielders, of which the Jays have had a few.  Even in their heyday in the early ‘90s, they were going to run Manuel Lee or Dick Schofield out there and try to win a title.  Other teams have done the same sort of thing, some very successfully.  One key to success is the quality of the defense.  If it can offset significant shortcomings at the plate, then there’s a chance that he can contribute positively.  Other players in this mold include Ozzie Smith (maybe the best of this type), Bert Campaneris, Omar Vizquel, Larry Bowa, Mark Belanger, Bill Mazeroski, and from way, way back, Marty Marion.  Another key is the strength of the team’s overall offense.  If it can compensate for one black hole in the line-up, the chances of success are greater.

One thing that can be said about the 2014 season: it’s a book that is yet to be written.  The promise of so many pristine blank pages is alluring and exciting.  It’s part of what keeps us coming back for more, no?  Play ball!

Wes Kepstro

 

 

 

Blue Jays Sign SP Tomo Ohka

File this under ‘ho hum’.  The Blue Jays strengthened their minor league system (sort of) by adding 37-year old SP Tomo Ohka.  The team announced they signed Ohka to a minor-league contract today and will likely report to Double-A New Hampshire to start the season.

It’s been a very quiet off season thus far for the Blue Jays management team and as I peruse various sites for any news or rumours on the Jays there is literally nothing.

I am still waiting for the return of the ninja…

Blue Jays Trade Brad Lincoln, Actually Receive Value

Brad Lincoln has been a plug, there is no other way to put it.  In 22 games for Toronto last season he had a 7.1 K/9 and a shoddy 6.3 BB/9.  He was essentially worthless to the organization until tonight when Alex Anthopoulos turned him into backup catcher Erik Kratz and reliever Rob Rasmussen.  Kratz was a former long time Blue Jays farmhand and rejoins the team that originally drafted him.

Only a day after appeasing a Blue Jays fan base that had grown increasingly frustrated with catcher JP Arencibia by signing Dioner Navarro the team now adds another useful backstop in Kratz.  Kratz, who will turn 34 in June was actually very underrated in 2012 as he posted a 248/306/504 slash line and 1.3 WAR in only 50 games.  He is known as a solid defender and will be a great compliment to Navarro and a guy who can hit lefties off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

Kratz slipped in 2013 as injuries took their toll but Steamer still projects a .312 wOBA and 95 wRC+ over 165 PAs next season s – probably conservative projections.  It cost us nothing and will definitely help our overall depth and bench.  Two areas that were in dire need of improvement.

Rob Rasmussen is turning 25 years old and has shown some promise in the past however it is doubtful he contributes anything to the major league roster at any point.  He was a starter last season during stints in AA/AAA with mixed results.  Rasmussen combined to post a 4.11 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 28 games (24 starts) for the Dodgers Triple-A and Double-A affiliates.

I think this was a solid addition for the Blue Jays at basically no cost.   Kratz has shown the ability to mash (in small sample sizes) in the past and will compete with Josh Thole for the backup catcher spot.

Blue Jays Sign New Starting Catcher, Name Unimportant

The Blue Jays signed a catcher and JP Arencibia will not be returning to Toronto.  Does anything need to be said?  Well actually yes because the new catcher is actually fairly useful as well, both offensively and defensively.

A rumoured acquisition target has actually come true today when the Toronto Blue Jays announced the signing of catcher Dioner Navarro to a 2-year $8MM dollar contract.  Fans of the team have grown disenchanted with the body of work from former starting catcher JP Arencibia and are glad there is a new sheriff in town so to speak.

My initial reaction was “alright I like this signing” and after looking at the thin free agent market and alternatives I am happy the Blue Jays brought in a serviceable backstop at a reasonable rate.  Navarro, who will turn 30 at the beginning of the season is expected to be the starting catcher in 2014.  Steamer projects a pedestrian 2014 slash line of 254/321/398 in 334 PAs – good for a .316 wOBA.

That isn’t amazing however do not forget he is replacing JP Arencibia who managed to post a horrendous .259 wOBA & 57 wRC+ in a full season of games last year.  I think the projection systems will punish Navarro, deservedly so, for a few putrid offensive seasons prior to last.

Last season Navarro slashed a very fine 300/365/492 in about a half seasons worth of plate appearances (266 PAs) for the Chicago Cubs.  He cracked 13 HRs and walked at an 8.6% clip while only striking out in 13.5% of his at-bats.

Defensively UZR has pegged him as above average every season in the bigs.  Any way you slice it this is a huge upgrade for the Blue Jays.  Hopefully he will have a shiny new starting pitcher joining him over the next few weeks.  Oh and in case were wondering about the future of JP Arencibia, he will not be a Toronto Blue Jay next year according to MLBTR.

Sadly, in the end I think this signing is more about who is not coming back than who was added.  That is just how pathetic JP Arencibia was in 2013.

Mission ’13: Pitching, Pitchers, and ERA

Dave Cameron wrote a good piece about Tim Lincecum re-upping with the San Francisco Giants.  As the Jays head into an offseason filled with question marks (again), this piece should be mandatory reading for Jays’ fans as they consider whomever the Jays acquire.

Take a look when/if you get the chance.  Whether you agree, disagree, or you fall somewhere in between, it’s well worth the time spent.

Wes Kepstro

Blue Jays Sign OF Melky Cabrera

As we await the pending blockbuster trade between the Jays and Marlins to be approved by major league baseball Alex Anthopoulos continues to shake and bake.  According to MLB trade rumours Melky Cabrera has signed a two-year deal with Toronto worth $16 million.

Fangraphs author Jeff Sullivan astutely wrote:

Likewise, the Blue Jays aren’t paying Cabrera to repeat his 2012, and they aren’t even paying Cabrera to repeat his 2011. According to our numbers, the last two years Cabrera has been worth 8.8 WAR over 268 games. If the Blue Jays were paying Cabrera to be that sort of player, they might’ve guaranteed $16 million over one year or $32 million over two years. They’ve opted for half that, and Cabrera has accepted.

Do you know what an outfielder needs to be to be worth $16 million over two years as a free-agent acquisition? Something in the general neighborhood of league-average. Even slightly worse than that, or league-average and injury-prone. Cabrera was that sort of player in 2009 with the Yankees, when he posted a 94 wRC+. He was just kind of average at everything. If Cabrera could be that guy for two years, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have made a bad investment, and if Cabrera could be better than that guy for two years, the Blue Jays would have made a solid investment.

To say nothing of the Blue Jays’ current position on the win curve — extra wins to them right now might be worth more than extra wins for many other teams. The Blue Jays see an opportunity to compete in the AL East right now, and they’re going after it, which makes the Cabrera move a lot more interesting than it would be if Cabrera signed for a year with some cellar-dweller. Cabrera could once again play a prominent role in a pennant race.

Tim Brown at Yahoo! Sports had this to say:

Now they take a chance on Cabrera, who might very well have been National League MVP had the man with the plastic cup not showed up one unfortunate summer afternoon. They can’t have the slightest notion whether they’ve just bought the Cabrera who did very little for the Atlanta Braves in 2010, the Cabrera who lost some weight and added some game for the Kansas City Royals in 2011 or the Cabrera who was among the best players in the league for the San Francisco Giants in 2012.

So, it appears, the Blue Jays will hold open left field, pay him for something in between and hope those unreasonable levels of testosterone weren’t the explanation for the upward trend. He is just 28 years old, certainly has gotten into better shape, and presumably could be a late bloomer. Cabrera went from a guy who, by WAR, cost the Braves a half-win in ’10 to a guy who accounted for five wins in 113 games for the Giants in ’12, which seems like a big jump, but OK. Two years ago, his batting average on balls in play was .288 (.233 from right side) and this year it was .379 (.410 from the right side), but OK. People improve. Players in their primes improve.

More details to follow.


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