Thursday, November 12, 2009

The case for impatience

It's felt strange over the past few weeks making the case against Alex the Ant's very rational and deliberate approach to building-not-rebuilding the Toronto Blue Jays. On the face of it, The Eternal Building Process seems like the thoughtful and prudent approach at this time.

You take your time, you build from within, you increase your scouting capacity, you draft well, you make good trades and you avoid crazy free agent contracts. You bide your time and you let your players develop until you've got a core that can compete with anyone, including the Yankees and Red Sox. And when the time comes, you add a veteran via free agency or trade to fill in the last spots to take you over the top.

How can you argue against that? How can you dismiss such a well-conceived plan and side with the braying ninnies in the cheap seats, calling for the team to sign every free agent and trade for every Canadian and spend a gajillion dollars today to compete and an extra gajillion next year to mop up the mess?

But the problem we have with that theory is that it doesn't account for the fact that the performance and health of players are such ephemeral things.

Just take a look at the last forward-looking plan for contention: It was based on a notion that Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and B.J. Ryan would all be healthy contributors, and that Vernon Wells would be healthy and not play like horseshit through injuries and that Alex Rios would at the very least play something resembling baseball. It might have even considered that you would get some semblance of contribution from Gus Chacin or Jesse Litsch, depending on where you were when you looked ahead.

The point is that AA and the newish brain trust should be cautious about what they assume about the performance of Adam Lind or Aaron Hill or Travis Snider or Marc Rzepczynski or Brett Cecil two or three years down the road. If you are building with the notion that those guys are the foundation of the future, you should be prepared for the fact that some or all of them may give you less than you expect in 2011 or 2012.

Frankly, how the hell can you even know what to expect that far down the road? Anyone wanna place bets on who'll be closing games in Toronto in September of 2011? Or who will be the Opening Day starter in April of 2012?

Players are wildly inconsistent and fragile assets. To plan deliberately as though they will provide you with a dependable level of service well into the future is to set yourself up to be constantly refilling cracks in your foundation that you thought had been patched.

32 comments:

Kevin said...

This is completely irrational. It's like you're looking for reasons right now to doubt what's going on with the Jays. Are you arguing that they shouldn't build from within because down the road someone MIGHT get hurt? That their performance MIGHT fall off? Of course these things MIGHT happen, but thats exactly why you build a strong core of players from within - to be able to withstand such incidents. Building a superficial structure for what MIGHT be temporary gain at the expense of your future is exactly the wrong road to go down, and is exactly why the Jays are in the situation their in right now.

You could have written the exact same blog post for any team, in any sport. Don't build from within, because some of your players might get hurt or might decline in a couple of years! Beware the future! Live in the now! What rubbish. Fact is, the great teams in any sport (Yankees excluded, for obvious reasons) are the ones built with a solid foundation, superior management and deep player resources.

The Tao might as well replace their logo with a big picture of Eeyore at this point.

eyebleaf said...

Great post, Tao. It's amazing how much shit changed in only a year and a half. The departure of Burnett and B.J. McGowan. Marcum. Rios departing on waivers. WAIVERS!!!1 Unbelievable, really. Who knows what Marcum will be like upon his return. Who knows whether McGowan will ever pitch again. Who knows what will become of the portly Litsch.

The case for impatience, indeed.

I'm not ready for another off-season of watching free agents sign everywhere but Toronto. And it looks like that's exactly what's going to happen.

A guy like Figgins, why would his agent even take Alex's call when the Angels want him back, and the Phillies want him in the NL?

Fuck.

Peter D said...

My biggest concern regarding the rebuilding process is the lack of prospects currently in the Jays minor leagues. Check out Harball Times top 10 Jays prospects list released today, there isn't a guy on that list that I really like.

Therefore this team needs to get creative in order to add talented prospects, and can not just depend on getting guys through the draft.

B said...

I agree with the last paragraph, to the same degree that I wholly disagree with the Mike Wilners who preach about "regression to the mean." If you assume players behave like statistical machines, fine; but with every average comes a standard deviation.

Ty said...

I think one of the main advantages of having a strong minor-league system like AA wants is that, when some of your big-league guys inevitably get hurt or start playing like Vernon Wells, you'll have the resources to replace them as needed, which is something the Jays have been seriously lacking for the past few years.

Darren Priest said...

At this point, I'm just really impressed you can come up with this many words about the Jays. An article about how tidy the staff keeps the sidewalks outside the Rogers Centre might be equally interesting.

On the other hand, here I am reading it and commenting about it, so keep up the good work!

TH said...

You actually just made his (AA) case for his strategy without even knowing it.

You are right - no one knows who is going to work out and who isn't. So isn't the best way to deal with it to build the most solid foundation you can, to provide some depth?

You could go out and sign 2 or 3 top free agents (assuming they could get them - which they probably can't) and they could bust as well - then you are many millions in the hole with nothing to fall back on.

As for Lind and Hill - no one knows if they will be any good or not in 2-3 years (and quite frankly I think the restocking of the system is going to take a lot longer than that)but how would trading these guys now - when they are young and cheap, and locked up for quite a while - make any sense? There is a better chance that these guys will be there to contribute in 3 years than the prospects they could be traded for.

I don't know if your arguments are irrational (as the first commenter points out) but they are certainly illogical.

Tao of Stieb said...

Since I might have talked my way around in circles, here's my argument laid bare:

Don't think that you've got time to put a team together to compete down the road.

Go get it now.

Don't wait.

Don't think that tomorrow will be a better time than today.

Don't think that the slow build is a safer strategy than going for it now.

That's not to say that you get yourself bogged down with bad long-term contracts for players older than 30. But you should put together a team that you think can win at minimum 85 games and if it breaks right, 95.

Don't sit on your wallet and minor leaguers and hope that everything breaks right next year or the year after.

I don't think that's illogical or irrational.

Tao of Stieb said...

Also, going after the glory today and planning for tomorrow aren't mutually exclusive ideas.

I'm saying do both. AA is saying do the latter.

So who is the real nutbar?

Gil Fisher said...

I'm firmly in Kevin's court. Except a little less cheek. Though I'm a big fan of Eeyore and any site with him in the Banner is a winner in my books.

Kevin said...

Given the talent that's available on the FA market and all of the non-tradeable assets the Jays currently have, how would this team make the jump from where they were last year to where they need to be to truly compete??

Also,

"But you should put together a team that you think can win at minimum 85 games and if it breaks right, 95."

Isn't that what the Jays did for the last 4 years of JP's reign? How'd that work out? What did fans think of those teams?

Tao of Stieb said...

Actually, I'm reading (not re-reading) Kevin's comment, and I like this part:

"You could have written the exact same blog post for any team, in any sport."

You are correct sir, because I speak only in universal truths.

Kevin said...

Sorry - should have read, accidentally sent before my full thoughts were laid out:

"Given the talent that's available on the FA market and all of the non-tradeable assets the Jays currently have, how would this team make the jump from where they were last year to where they need to be to truly compete and not mortgage the future?? the only tradeable assets (outside of Halladay - who you'd need on your roster to take the leap) the Jays have are young players who should the the "core" going forward."

TH said...

First off, I think this is a good blog - and I appreciate you responding to my (and others) comments).

But how exactly do you think you can win now?

I was born and raised and now live in Toronto again after living in the UK and the US, and half of my family are Americans. And as much as I hate to slag my home town, Toronto isn't as great as its own citizens think it is. Its a nice city - but its not a destination like Chicago, NY and LA. And it doesn't have the culture of the Green Bay Packers that makes it attractive for professional athletes despite it (being Green Bay area) not being a large city. And unfortunately the fact that it happens to be in Canada - hurts its appeal as a destination for American baseball players. We can argue all day long about how stupid that is - but its the truth.

This is a long way to say that the only way - at this current time, with the current state of the team - to bring in good free agents, is to overpay them with the long-term contracts that you don't seem to want to do. Even then you are still not getting top-tier guys.

Only in fantasy land can you "build for today and tomorrow". Why spend 1 dime on any free agents this year when it won't get you any closer to your goal?

Tao of Stieb said...

Well, Kev, the Jays were over .500 and put together half-decent teams that - if things had broken right - could have made a run.

And then last year, they threw in the towel before the season started and went nowhere fast.

The point, again, is that building from within (through smart trades and good drafts) is not mutually exclusive from competing now (through maximizing your existing assets).

People seem to have this notion that the Jays have no chance to compete because the cupboard is absolutely bare. Which is horseshit.

The Jays are a good bat and a top two starter away from being a top three team in the AL.

Believe that.

Tao of Stieb said...

@TH

The Jays, regardless of which side of the border they are on, have 25 spots on their big league roster. Players want to play.

And the Jays have rarely had problems bringing in the players that they have wanted to over the years. A.J., B.J., Clemens...the Jays have gone out and gotten the top guys on the free agent market more than a few times.

And beyond that...you don't have to bring in one of the top two or three guys. If you are a smart organization, you can wait it out and get an Orlando Hudson-type for a one-year bargain.

And contrary to what you say, there are a lot of guys who couldn't wait to get the fuck out of Green Bay. Ask Sterling Sharpe how fun it was to be a young black football player in the middle of middle America.

TH said...

@ Tao. Your whole post is full of straw man arguments and nonsensical arguments.

"The Jays, regardless of which side of the border they are on, have 25 spots on their big league roster. Players want to play"

Sure, players want to play. Do you want just any old player? Because players with leverage want to play in other places.

"And the Jays have rarely had problems bringing in the players that they have wanted to over the years. A.J., B.J., Clemens...the Jays have gone out and gotten the top guys on the free agent market more than a few times."

Right, and they massively overpaid to do so, and at least in the past 5 years, NONE of them worked out. Burnett's career in Toronto wasn't exactly stellar until his contract year. The Jays just released BJ and paid him a lot of money to sit at home. Without overpaying (which you said the Jays shouldn't do) these guys never come to Toronto.

"And beyond that...you don't have to bring in one of the top two or three guys. If you are a smart organization, you can wait it out and get an Orlando Hudson-type for a one-year bargain."

On the surface, a fair comment, if the Jays were 1 or 2 players away from being a contender, instead of a team with holes at: C, 1B, SS, 3B, CF and either DH or or a corner outfield spot - take your pick because Lind and Snider shouldn't be on the field at the same time. For that matter, Snider may turn out to be a good player, but has yet to do much, so you could say that's a hole as well for now.

"And contrary to what you say, there are a lot of guys who couldn't wait to get the fuck out of Green Bay. Ask Sterling Sharpe how fun it was to be a young black football player in the middle of middle America."

Well, since we are going to use anecdotes, Reggie White loved it in Green Bay. My point is that its a storied franchise that can draw players to an undesirable city (sorry Milwaukee) because of the history of the team. The Jays squandered that opportunity as the 15K fans in attendance each night are a testament to.

plain_g said...

i'm a big supporter of the play for today approach, especially in the al east. tampa had their crack last year when the yanks kinda sucked, and they were ready. this year, the yanks reloaded and tampa got creamed in the last month of the season because they had to beat nyy and boston to get to the playoffs - which they couldn't do.
toronto needs to be ready every year for that chance when lady luck turns on the yanks and sox. there are plenty of good suggestions as to how the jays could go for it, if they'd just open the wallet. and the fact that rogers is the wealthiest owner in baseball ought to mean something.

wilner puts together a hypothetical dream team by adding 40m:
http://blog.rogersbroadcasting.com/mikewilner/2009/09/26/its-not-a-rebuild-its-a-remodel/

Tao of Stieb said...

I wouldn't say that the Jays massively overpaid to get their free agents. They paid a dollar more, which is what EVERY team (even the Yanks and Sox and Cubs) have to do to get a guy signed.

And what they got out of A.J. for what they paid wasn't that bad at all. (Would have liked to see him pitch full seasons, but whatever.)

As for the number of holes that the Jays have: You seem to be saying that they are not a perfect team. But here's the thing: No team (not even the Yanks) is.

The Yankees had holes in a World Championship team. The Phillies had a lousy bullpen.

You don't have to add an all-star in every open position.

The Jays have to fill holes at RF, C, SS and shore up the rotation. That's not an impossible task, and it won't get any easier to do if you rip the team apart and build it back up.

Kevin said...

"it won't get any easier to do if you rip the team apart and build it back up."

I'm not of the mind that this is a team that needs to be ripped apart either... and from what I understand neither is AA. Rather, with a core of Hill, Lind, Snider, Romero, Cecil, Marcum, Zep and some others, it's a team that (I feel) could be retooled (rather than rebuilt) in a relatively quick fashion. If the Jays are able to trade away Overbay and Halladay and get some young, tangible assets for them, then looking to have this team compete in 2011 or 2012 and beyond with smart FA signings to compliment those players isn't unreasonable. And this plan still allows for them to field a competitive ball club well into the future through picks and trades.

TH said...

This "wealthiest owner in baseball" stuff is starting to get amusing.

With a market cap of ~$20bn, or a book value of ~5.7bn (which is how they would be judged vs individual owners that do not have a market cap)I don't know whether they are or are not the wealthiest owners in baseball. By the first measure, probably, by the second, I doubt it, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Jays are part of the Rogers Media division, which for the 3 quarters ended September turned a profit of ~$43mm, with revenue of ~$1bn. This compares to operating profit of ~$3.2bn for the whole company and revenues of $8.6bn for the whole company.

This makes Rogers Media (of which the Jays are a very small part) 1.3% of Rogers as measured by profitability, and 11.6% as measured by revenue.

Again - the Jays are a relatively small part of the media division let alone the entire company, and probably more unprofitable than the majority of the media group, which largely consists of TV stations that do OK.

I recently met with senior Rogers management through my job, and to say that they don't care about the Jays would be incorrect, but to regard it as meaningful that they are the "wealthiest" owner in MLB in terms of what they could contribute to the team, is probably also incorrect (to be clear, this is me talking, not them).

Basically they use the team as a source of cheap advertising and filler for Sportsnet. I agree with the fact that they would pony up if they were convinced that there was a chance to really make a run, but it would appear that only the most delusional among us believe that to be the case at present.

Darren Priest said...

In other words, the middling payroll budgets will continue until fan appreciation improves.

Yeah, this is going to be fun.

Are the Jays the only team with an ownership group that makes no distinction between a baseball team and a cellphone tower?

The Florida Marlins approach that AA is taking makes a lot of sense, but it would easier to stomach if the last 16 years hadn't been so uninspiring.

With Ted dead, I guess we shouldn't expect much from a family that goes cheap even when hiring a butler.

Peter D said...

Trying to compete every season only works if you have an unlimited payroll, otherwise it is a sure fire way to achieve mediocrity every season.

The only time the Jays should consider signing free agents is if they feel they are a couple of players away, or a free agent becomes available at a below market price due to the lack of demand.

The exception to this is when a stud free agent becomes available, and I'm only talking about the top 5 or so players in baseball. Guys like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Tim Lincecum, Hanley Ramirez. If there are low injury concern issues, getting a guy like this goes a long way to making your team great, however the Jays used their franchise player money on Vernon Wells, so there goes that idea.

plain_g said...

not an unlimited payroll, just a top 10 one.

Darren Priest said...

I wonder if Gaylen Weston wants a baseball team? Think of all the delicious and inexpensive President's Choice items they could feature at the concession stands!

They could maybe form a partnership with the Molsens and slash the price of beer while they're at it.

Of course, with the way Rogers played hardball to get the Skydome for a song, they are clearly not to be trifled with. That's why I propose some Russians are hired to kidnap a couple of Ted's grandchildren until a fair deal can be brokered for the stadium.

Have I been drinking? What would make you ask that?

Anonymous said...

I agree with TH and Kevin, in that this post is a bit absurd. Still, I do like this blog.

The fact that the future is uncertain shouldn't be the basis to focus on today, the fact that it is uncertain should make one focus on acquiring the resources to best deal with that uncertainty. The acquisition of resources best needed 'to deal with' takes time, money, and the right people. Can theJays acquire all these things in an off season? Can the Jays really do that?

Look, they didn't plan on competing this past season but were actually first in the AL East before a few ill fated road trips sent them down from their perch and sealed their fate. What do you make of that then? Was it just dumb luck, or was it

The wonder and misery of sports is that it can't be entirely predicted, like human behavior. What can be predicted is that the Yankees will outspend you, and in order to beat that financial largesse you need the ability to find undervalued resources, i.e., undervalued players. Do you honestly think AA can find enough of those in a season, no in an off season, to compete now?

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to add to sentence in third paragraph thing.
Should read: "was it dumb luck, or was it an example that the team didn't have enough good resources too cope?"

Anonymous said...

if i may be so bold, i think that those that think the argument is illogical, irrational, or absurd are not really paying attention. or maybe this post just makes more sense when taken within the context of previous posts (the gist of which may be summed up as the blue jays have to hope to advance in years that both the red sox and the yankees shit the bed and i) that won't happen that often because they have more money than god and ii) you can't predict which years it will be that they will under-perform). So . . . you need to be ready to pounce by being close every year.

What if you are the crackerjack GM and you carefully lay out your 5 year building plan and at end of year 5, both the yankees and the red sox are completely awesome (blech). Do you blow it all up and start with a new 5 year plan? What if the yankees have a down year on year 3 of your building plan. oops. too bad, you weren't ready yet.

all that said, i'm pretty sure the tao is still a fun suck.

Tao of Stieb said...

We'll see who sucks the fun out of what. It's Friday, and I'm feeling like Good Time Tao tonight.

Brace yourself.

Anonymous said...

mmmmm, barb's.

Your conscience said...

Good time Tao has probably decided to reward himself with a pack of cigarettes. I'd rather be there for the regret tomorrow morning.

There is something life-affirming about a man staring guiltily at his trucker's breakfast -- especially if it was prepared by a real trucker!

Tao of Stieb said...

It has been 8 days since my last cigarette.

(Which should explain why I've gone a little goofy over the past week.)

My plan is to hold off on smoking tonight. Which means twice as much booze.