Posts Tagged 'second base'

Why Not Blow It Up?

The Jays-related rumours continue as the offseason market heats up.  The market was slow to develop but has picked up speed recently as there have been several significant free agent signings and one blockbuster trade.  Of particular note to Jays’ fans was Josh Johnson signing an incentive-laden deal with the San Diego Padres.

The Landscape

The free agent market for pitching, catching, and middle infield is pretty thin right now, making upgrades difficult, if not impossible.  That leaves 2 main options: the farm and trades.  The farm isn’t deep enough to provide an answer for any of those positions, leaving trades as the primary means of improvement.  Is gutting the farm even more than they have already–in exchange for a 74-88 record, no less–the answer?

The Latest Rumours

No one knows yet what form any moves will take, of course, but it needs to be considered.  The latest rumours to hit the fan in Toronto are instructive.  Apparently, the Jays have varying degrees of interest in OF Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, free agent starter Ricky Nolasco, and starter Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs.

The rumours swirling around the Blue Jays’ interest in Jeff Samardzija focus on the Cubs receiving one or both of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, the Jays’ top 2 prospects, in the deal.

Jeff Samardzija is a good pitcher (good K-rate, K/BB ratio, ground ball ratio) who struggles somewhat to keep runners off base (higher walk rate) and to keep the ball in the park (HR/9 rate north of 1).  An average 9-inning start will yield 3 walks and 9 hits, one of which will leave the park.  He’s 28 and under team control for 2 more seasons.  His WAR over the last 2 seasons–his only 2 seasons as a starter–is unimpressive.  That the kind of market the Jays are scouring to find the hidden gem: a market that sees Jeff Samardzija as being worth at least one top pitching prospect plus other valuable young players.

At A Glance: Some Completed/Pending Deals

Jason Vargas signed with the Royals for 4 years/$32MM, 38-year old Tim Hudson signed with the Giants for 2 yrs/$23MM, and Dan Haren received a 1 yr/$10MM deal from the Dodgers.  These are mid-to-back-end-of-the-rotation guys.  The Giants also signed Tim Lincecum to a 2 yr/$35MM deal.

The St. Louis Cardinals just addressed their middle infield need by signing PED abuser Jhonny Peralta to a 4 yr/$53MM contract.  Apparently his 50-game suspension (Biogenesis) didn’t deter the Cards one bit.  He replaces Pete Kozma because someone should.

The best remaining shortstop on the market is Stephen Drew, who was given a Qualifying Offer by the Boston Red Sox.  He declined it.  I mention this because the Jays would like a shortstop to play 2B.

The Phillies, under the inspired direction of Ruben Amaro, Jr., re-upped with catcher Carlos Ruiz for 3 yrs/$26MM, and the Yankees locked up Brian McCann for 5 yrs/$85MM.  The best catcher remaining on the free agent market is Jarrod freakin’ Saltalamacchia.

But…

What about the other option?  What about hitting the reset button and blowing it up?  The Jays, given their situation and their needs, seem desperate: do they have to make a bad move?  Why not sell between now and July 31?  Let’s think about it for a bit.

The emotional position against selling is powerful, but not particularly compelling.  Who cares if people cry and wail and gnash their teeth if the Jays blow it up.  Also lacking teeth is the AA-is-trying-to-save-his-job argument.  As a matter of fact, it works in favour of blowing it up.  No, there are too many unknown variables in this option.  We don’t know what his relationship with Paul Beeston is like, we have no idea what the new guy will do when he starts in January, etc., etc.

Toronto Has Players with Value

In a market where the value of the positions that the Jays are trying to fill is ridiculously bloated, why not turn the tables on the game and find a loophole or inefficiency?  Alex Anthopoulos actually has a history of doing this and he has some (very) valuable chips to play in this game.

Pitchers:

RA Dickey

  • RA’s a top-end starter with a good contract and a history of overcoming adversity;
  • To Chavez Ravine if they lose Nolasco and Beckett continues to decline?  How about Dickey and Thole to PIT?

Brandon Morrow

  • He has good ‘stuff’ and a nice contract, but is durability driving down his value?
  • His skills play in almost any venue in either league;

Mark Buehrle

  • His contract isn’t bad in this market, not for a guy who offers 2+ WAR and 200+ IP;
  • Could TEX use his durability and reliability?

JA Happ

  • He’s a serviceable starter and he’s left-handed: his value is similar to Jason Vargas, whom the Royals are now paying $32MM until 2017–Happ doesn’t cost near that much;
  • The Angels want pitching and have a pitcher-friendly park–Happ’s also better than the pitchers they acquired last year;

Casey Janssen

  • His numbers and that contract?  The line forms at the rear…;
  • DET?  Nah, re-unite him with Jason Frasor in TEX;

Steve Delabar

  • Some contending teams need his swing-and-miss stuff desperately;
  • DET is calling;

Brett Cecil

  • An All Star season highlighted by several substantial improvements mean Cecil has value as the #1 LHRP out of the ‘pen, LOOGY, or possibly even as a CL;
  • Package him together with Delabar to DET and see what shakes loose.

Infielders:

Jose Reyes

  • Similar to Buehrle‘s, Reyes’ contract isn’t nearly so bad in this market;
  • With money to spend, a hole to fill and Peralta in STL, Reyes could return to a place where they lamented his departure and he’s still popular: the Mets;

Adam Lind

  • A LH veteran hitter who torches RHP with a pretty friendly contract who returned to form in 2013;
  • SEA?  PIT?  NYY?  Is Mark Teixeira still injured?  The short porch beckons…;

Edwin Encarnacion

  • A premier slugger who’s become a student of hitting, has versatility (DH/3B/1B), and has one of the most team-friendly contracts in all of MLB: who wouldn’t want this guy?

Outfielders:

Jose Bautista

  • Another premier slugger with a terrific contract, versatility, but who is one of the top RF in MLB when healthy;
  • SEA is looking for a real OF, and they have pitching prospects;

Colby Rasmus

  • A young player with team control remaining who provided >4 WAR for the Jays in 2013;
  • I bet the Jays could have their pick of PHI‘s prospects if they wanted to move him;
  • I also wonder if the Mets’ interest could be piqued…

Catcher(s):

JP Arencibia

  • There are rumours that teams are interested in his services–I know, I didn’t believe it either, but the rumours persist;
  • Find one of those teams and deal him, pronto;

Josh Thole

  • His value is linked to RA Dickey, dictating any prospective destination.

So keep Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow, but the rest of these guys help to re-stock the farm pretty well with enough surplus value to get decent roster players too.  Filling out the remaining positions would be relatively simple, as there are plenty of mid-to-low-end FA’s available.  Heck, James Loney can play 1B…

Who cares what Joe Schmo in the 5th level or Billy Blogger say on their mobile?  Sure, it’s probably a PR nightmare and an on-field disaster in the making but, seriously, they’ve won 73 and 74 games in each of the last 2 seasons and missed the playoffs 20 years running.  Would we even notice the difference?  We’re used to it.  Besides, it’s an opportunity to get some reasonable value out of this market rather than giving up your 2 top pitching prospects for Jeff Samardzija, and then hoping to make more trades to fill other needs with prospects you no longer have.

Wes Kepstro

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Mission ’13: Why I Would Choose Eddie Collins over Rogers Hornsby

ALEastbound and Wes Kepstro have started a discussion about some of the great second basemen in MLB history.  I wanted to expand the format so as to include anyone else who has an opinion on the matter.   The opening salvos can be found in the comments section of our Ryan Goins piece.

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most interesting ‘Best Ever’ discussions.  It involves two of the all-time greats who were contemporaries and whose careers spanned the transition from the Dead Ball era to the Live Ball eras of MLB history.  There are also very few, if any, eyewitnesses remaining, meaning we rely almost exclusively on the stats pages for our understanding and subsequent opinions.

This is one of baseball’s versions of the Wilt Chamberlain/Bill Russell debate.  Wilt had the incredible numbers (100 points and 50.4 ppg in 1961-62?!?), played on 2 of the greatest teams ever, and won a couple of rings.  Russell just kept winning MVPs (5) and titles.  Russell won 2 straight NCAA titles, then an Olympic gold medal, then 11 NBA titles in a 16-year career.  I always seem to favour team players over individual accomplishments.  The other significant debate from MLB history that parallels Collins vs. Hornsby is Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays, the 2 supernova CFs of the 1950s New York baseball scene.  It’s hard to believe that Duke Snider went relatively unnoticed playing in Flatbush for the Dodgers.

Rajah’s offensive brilliance is undisputed (by me), but it’s overall impact is questionable.  Rajah’s peak was extremely high, perhaps second only to Ruth.  As a result, he did well in the MVP vote, winning 2 and finishing 2nd and 3rd on 2 other occasions but by age 33, his career was pretty much finished.

Collins won 1, and finished top 6 on 6 other occasions.  Some of these came in the days when (1) only 1 award (the Chalmers) was given for both leagues, (2) during the tumultuous days of a rival league (the Federal league), and (3) when players could only win the award once.

Then there are the 3 times he finished top 5 in the AL MVP voting from 1922-1924, when he was 35, 36, and 37.  In 1922, George Sisler hit .422; in 1923, he was sandwiched between Babe Ruth’s 14 bWAR and Harry Heilmann (who hit .403); and in 1924 he was edged out by Walter Johnson, a 7+ bWAR pitcher and maybe the best pitcher ever.  His defense and base running made a significant impression on his contemporaries.

The next argument is post season appearances and success, and the gap is significant.  Hornsby made the postseason twice, winning once.  His performance in the WS was less-than-ordinary (3 xbh in 53 PA; .245/.288/.327).  Collins made the postseason 6 times, winning four times.  In 3 of those WS appearances Collins was brilliant, batting over .400.  In one of those appearances, the Chicago White Sox were probably the best team in baseball but his teammates conspired to throw the WS, so he didn’t have much of a chance.

Offensively, he’s still: 13th in bWAR (10th among position players); 11th in offensive bWAR; 3rd in singles; 12th in triples; 8th in SB; 12th in OBP; 10th in hits; 17th in runs; and 16th in MVP shares.  He had two discernible peaks in his career, during which times observers believed he was one of the top 6 players in the game.  The game included such players as: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, George Sisler, Harry Heilmann, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Sam Crawford, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Home Run Baker, Smokey Joe Wood, and Big Ed Walsh.

This was his competition for baseball (WS) and individual (MVP) supremacy: Collins acquitted himself extremely well, without the stats that came because of the helium-inflated balls.  Certainly Hornsby’s stats page is a sea of bold black ink, but Collins got on base an awful lot, stole an awful lot of bases, scored a lot of runs, and played good defense in a time when few others did.  This made an impression in the MVP award voting and in the run for the postseason, and Collins ran away from Hornsby in both areas.  I also think that Collins’ skillset translates very well to any era in baseball history.  Collins was a dead ball era superstar, then a live ball era superstar.  In spite of gaudy stats Hornsby didn’t receive a single MVP vote during the dead ball era which, I believe, is significant.

As far as I’m concerned, Eddie ‘Cocky’ Collins did more to help his team win and the other team lose than any 2B in baseball history.  Many similar things can be said about Joe Morgan, too.  This is why I consider them to be the 2 top all-round 2B in MLB history.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Toronto, Ryan Goins and a Culture of Desperation

The Jays have found a new player to love. Earlier this season, Jose Reyes was hurt sliding into second base. That in itself isn’t surprising. What was surprising was how well Munenori Kawasaki played for an extended period of time. He didn’t provide the value that a healthy Jose Reyes provides, but he did provide positive value. Aside from that, Munenori is really, really likable. Jays’ fans needed his likability: it was a shot in the arm. So, it was win-win with Munenori. Then, of course, mini-Mune was born in Toronto…

When he was sent down in a series of roster-related moves, we were apoplectic. How could you send down Mune when he was better than at least 2 other players on the 25-man roster? Easy, said Alex Anthopoulos: he has options. Now that injuries are a factor, he’s back. But he’s not playing, and people aren’t saying much. Why? There’s a new kid in town, that’s why.

Ryan Goins was playing shortstop down in Buffalo when the call came; after more than 500 games in the minors since 2009 Goins was getting a shot. Emilio Bonifacio, bad and then traded, and Maicer Izturis, bad and then hurt, didn’t play inspiring ball. Mark DeRosa wasn’t really signed to play 2B. Then the Jays, for good or for ill, tried moving Brett Lawrie to 2B. Munenori also played 2B after Reyes came back and Mune was re-called from AAA. Some played well, some played poorly, but the overall result of the revolving door was a defensive weak spot. Goins had the opportunity to grab it by the neck and throttle it.

That’s exactly what Goins did. What’s been especially impressive during his brief call-up has been his defense: in 16 games his 5.5 Fld jumps off that stat sheet at us. Offensively he’s done well with 16 hits (3 2B) in 60 PA, as he rides the crest of a modest BABIP wave (.327). In a manner reminiscent of goaltender James Reimer’s first taste of the big time, Toronto has embraced Ryan Goins. And why not, I ask? A young player (Goins will turn 26 in February) who wasn’t really even on the radar has burst on the scene and turned a negative into a positive and, coincidentally or not, the team has played better. We liked Mune, but he’s 32 so his potential contributions are sort of cloudy. We love this kid if for no other reason than the (much) greater potential he offers.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. We love our stars in Toronto and we’ve had our fair share of them, but we LOVE the ‘little guy’, the ‘underdog’, the ‘overachiever’ out of proportion to their contribution and impact. Years of being treated to John McDonald has contributed to this attitude, I think, and Ryan Goins fits the mold.

Goins has come to Toronto and played well: his 0.4 fWAR ranks 9th on the team, behind Mune’s 0.7 fWAR. His triple slash is .271/.283/.322: a quick interpretation tells us that he’s hitting the ball okay, but not for power and he’s not getting on base by other means. That tells us pretty much all we need to know at this point, as he has 3 2B and 1 BB. It’s a small sample size and it’s now fallen below what he’s done in the minors so far.

But there are 2 things that nag at me about Ryan Goins, 2 things that give me a slightly-irrational impression that he might be better than merely ‘okay’ in the big leagues. The first thing is his defense. As mentioned, he’s a transplanted shortstop playing second base and he’s playing it very well (5.5 Fld). His range and arm have been terrific, as he’s made plays not made since before Orlando Hudson used ‘JP Ricciardi’ and ‘pimp’ in the same sentence.

The 2 most important contributions that a player can make are offense and defense, in that order. Defense is, of course, a more important consideration up the middle so we need to take that into account. In the middle infield, I don’t need the second coming of Joe Morgan or, more appropriately, Roberto Alomar. What I want is for a 2B to do at least one of those things—offense or defense—very well, to the point of excelling. Goins is unlikely to contribute much offensively but if he can continue to play defense at this level, or somewhere close to it, then he might be a keeper.

The second irrational thing is his minor league record. Much has been made of his minor league record. And when I say ‘much has been made’, what I mean is that his career minor league triple slash line has been offered. That’s it. Goins wasn’t a well-known prospect and we lack anything substantial upon which to form opinions that help us to make sense of this kid who’s burst onto the scene. I’m not sure offering his triple slash will cut it so when I looked at his MiLB career, I thought I noticed a trend or two. Here’s a brief summary:

  • There’s nothing spectacular about his MiLB career (except, perhaps, a full season K-rate of 12.6% at AA in 2012);
  • Several things are notable:
    • he’s had modestly high K totals on occasion (rising to 20.9% in a full season); and
    • he’s a slasher with line drive power (consistently 20+ doubles in full seasons);
  • disregarding rehab stints, he’s progressed steadily through the minors:
    • 46 games at 3 levels in ’09 (R, A-, A);
    • 124 games at 2 levels in ’10 (A, A+);
    • 101 games at 1 level in ’11 (A+);
    • 136 games at 1 level in ’12 (AA); and
    • 128 games and counting at 2 levels in ’13 (AAA; MLB).

Here we are at the major league level, watching a player that arrived with little or no fanfare, but it’s the adjustments he made to each level that give me pause. When he was sent up to the next level mid-season, he regressed a little: his strikeouts increased, his walks decreased, there was a slight power outage, etc. None of these regressions were dramatic, but they’re noticeable.

However, if he stayed at that level until the next season, his output surged beyond the previous lower level almost across the board. This happened in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 before he was promoted to AA in 2012 and AAA in 2013. His numbers in AA New Hampshire were career bests, while his numbers this year in AAA Buffalo were consistent with the rest of his career. There is a tentative conclusion that we can draw from this: Ryan Goins adjusts well and quickly to new challenges. Will that continue in MLB? It remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: his defense plays at the major league level.

Toronto fans are starved for a winner, but when you’re starving even McDonald’s food will do. Unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves. We’ve latched onto Munenori Kawasaki and Ryan Goins this season, a season that’s been very disappointing. Kawasaki and Goins aren’t the answer. Can they contribute meaningfully in the future? Yes, but it’s likely to come in a smaller role. You can’t have holes in the offensive line up and hope to succeed in the AL East. If Goins plays well enough defensively to earn a starting role, then (serious) upgrades are needed elsewhere. Goins’ play at 2B can solidify the defense up the middle, and if he adjusts and hits well it’s a bonus. Otherwise, this has just been a very good and very welcome cup of coffee sort of like Munenori Kawasaki was when Reyes was injured.

Wes Kepstro

Re-Signing Kelly Johnson Makes Sense Now

The trade between Miami and Toronto yesterday is a defining moment.  It will define Rogers as an owner.  It will define Alex Anthopoulos as a manager.  It is consistent with how Jeffrey Loria was already defined.  It has also defined those of us who write about the Jays.  Very little of what I wrote or speculated about is relevant anymore, even though it was fun.  The trade has now defined how I perceive the Toronto Blue Jays and their remaining needs because, despite the influx of high-quality players, Toronto still has some needs.

Kelly Johnson can meet one of those needs.  Some of you may be snickering already and asking yourself,  “after the season he just had, are you nuts?”  You’re right to ask, so I’ll try to explain myself.

KJ had a bad year at the plate and a bad year in the field.  He’s 31 years old and, like the rest of us, he’s not getting any younger.  He’s not very athletic, but he’s not very ‘steady’ either.  ‘Mercurial’ may describe him best.  Across the board, KJ’s defense suffered.  His RngR and UZR were the worst of his career, and his DPR was poor too.  His UZR/150 was the worst mark of his career by a country mile.  Offensively, the story was similar.  His numbers with ARI are among the best of his career.  Conversely, his numbers last season are among the worst of his career.  2009 is the only season when he was as poor offensively as he was in 2012, but he missed 56 games that year.  He’s also inconsistent: great one year with the glove, but average offensively; great with the stick the next year, but subpar with the glove.  And so it goes throughout his career.

I’m not making much of a case, am I?  But here are three reasons why I believe that signing him would be a good move.  First, there aren’t many quality middle infielders available.  He may be the best of the bunch, and we saw him play. Perhaps someone like Skip Schumaker could be acquired in a trade, but we’ll chase that rabbit another day.

Second, his 2012 numbers were so far below his career marks that he’s a strong candidate for a pay cut.  I’m not sure how concerned the Jays are about payroll commitments right now, but perhaps Kelly could be signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal for $4.5MM plus an option.  It’s reasonable, based on his performance.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, his 2012 numbers were so far below his career marks that he’s a strong candidate to bounce back.  The addition of Jose Reyes and a LF/1B means he won’t be expected to offer more than he’s capable of contributing.  2007 and 2010 were the best years of his career, and in both cases there were four other players who carried a greater load offensively.

Re-signing Kelly Johnson makes a lot more sense after the trade than it did before the trade.  The bench would be strong, with new acquisitions/recent signings Rajai Davis, Maicer Izturis, and Emilio Bonifacio.  The problem is that with so few IF available, he may get an unreasonable offer elsewhere.  If TOR acts quickly and Kelly Johnson plays to his capabilities in 2013, the Blue Jays line-up would be very potent indeed.

Wes Kepstro


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