Friday, December 31, 2010

How will you remember 2010?

Addressing a week's worth of inactivity - sorry friends. Between Christmas and holidays and kids and seasonal illness and mandatory visiting and.... well, you get the picture, I assume. Believe me, I'm with you - hoping Tao returns sooner than later to end this amateur-hour shitshow I've been (sporadically) running.

I mean.... I could have addressed the Octavio Dotel signing, musing (ineffectively) that Dotel is just a low-rent version of Kevin Gregg (is that even possible?) - a one year Type-B hedge until a more worthy, long-term, homegrown solution at the almighty closer position can be found. David Purcey? Josh Roenicke? Zach Stewart? Asher Wojciechowski? Remains to be seen.

Or I could have arrogantly pointed out that this is what happens when you let the market "sort itself out" before jumping into the fray.

But no, it is what it is, and perhaps Dotel will borrow some of that magic pixie saves dust that allowed Gregg to wriggle out of so many nervous ninths. Or maybe he completely implodes and loses the closing job by June. Either way, it's a one-year deal for reasonable money that gives Anthopoulos & Farrell another year (yeah, I know...) to find The Guy.

But enough about that
Let's talk about 2010.

Is there any reasonable argument against calling the calendar year set to expire an unqualified success for the Blue Jays organization? For the fans?

2009 ended with many among us in the depths of despair - Doc was gone and so was much optimism. A new GM, another rebuild - er, "build" - a system whose best prospects had just arrived in trade, and a lame-duck season by a manager not looking to do much of anything new.

But then.....

The rotation, opening the season full of questions, closed the year full of possibility.

Jose Bautista never cooled off and blew shit up for 162 games.

Vernon Wells had a nice season.

Bargain-bin free agents John Buck and Alex Gonzalez both became best-case scenarios: outstanding play for 2010 parlayed into future assets.

The organization as a whole continued to get stronger, to the point of being ranked #4 (from #28 - h/t Bob Elliott) by Baseball America in their upcoming Prospect Handbook.

As a team, the Jays hit more bombs than any other. Sure, a few walks and singles here and there would have been nice....but HOW MUCH FUN WAS THAT?

A new manager with a much-respected pedigree bought into The Plan and came aboard, promising to change the same-old way of thinking from the bench.

.....and as we stand today, not much has changed from the major league roster. Good thing or bad , take your pick. But make no mistake, the organization is well-positioned. The debate as to whether or not the mother corp will allow for the next step (playyyyoffffs) is for another time..... but for now, bring on 2011.

Can't wait.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who really holds the keys?

I have to admit - even I'm getting sick of my subtle (?) pissing and moaning concerning the lack of improvements made to the big league roster this winter, following up on a season full of promise. It's easy to get caught up in the daily talk and innuendo surrounding each and every player available through free agency - or made available via trade.

With the Jays tied to them all and coming home with none, I fell into a solemn state of acceptance that improvements to the big league squad would likely come later rather than sooner. Surely with this young club, the logic went that every step forward is likely to be countered by a step back.

And while every conversation surrounding the team's potential success in 2011 invariably includes some variation of a throwaway line on the re-emergence of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind... have we ever really - I mean, really - considered the potential impact there?

Aaron Hill 2009: .829 OPS (seems like it should have been higher...)
Aaron Hill 2010 : .665 OPS

Adam Lind 2009: .932 OPS
Adam Lind 2010: .712 OPS

Look at those numbers for a moment. The dropoffs are staggering, and it's hard to believe an 85 win team ran those two statlines out for 600 plate appearances each. Begs the simplest of questions:

What in the fuck happened?

While it's fair to say that Lind's 2009 season was his likely high-water mark, a return to .850 seems entirely reasonable. Aaron Hill will likely never hit 36 home runs again, but neither is an OPS hovering around .800 with great defense a reach.

Think about those numbers again & their contributions to the '10 Jays. Now think about the '10 Jays with numbers approaching "reasonable" from each. Of course, nobody expects Jose Bautista to lead the league in home runs and beard growing again (OK, maybe beard growing), but I don't expect just 14 longballs from Travis Snider either. Shaun Marcum's 13 wins and post-game quips won't be easy to replace, but 2011 should see full seasons from Kyle Drabek and New Brandon Morrow.

I suppose what I'm trying to get at here - as awkwardly as ever - is that we don't need the Big Splashy Move to have hope for another step forward for this Jays club.

Stable does not necessarily equal stagnant.

And since I'm here.....Early Season's Greetings
Sincerely wishing every one of you who takes the time to read this page a very safe and happy holiday season. With the Tao off gallivanting (fun word) across the land down under and this dude unlikely to be back until sometime after the 25th, here's hoping you all enjoy the break with those you love.

Happy Holidays, everybody.

Monday, December 20, 2010

...Or maybe your expectations

I'll say this about the "fuck this offseason" crowd....they have an arguable point. Perhaps not a defensible point per se, and certainly not one I'm ready to concede, but they do have a point.

Now the disclaimer, as always, remains that three months of offseason remain, and you never know (radio silence!) when the other shoe will drop with this cloak & dagger regime. But it does seem faiiiirly safe to assume that we likely won't see the "impact" move many of us (read: me) predicted we'd see in an effort to firm up the roster on the path to contention.

Sure, there was the big trade - Marcum for Lawrie - but that was quite obviously not a move designed to strengthen the team now. It was a deal Anthopoulos felt he had to make for a player long-coveted (just like Ricciardi & Mencherson, natch) towards contention, uh...sometime? And there's no arguing that smartly offering arbitration to free agents Downs, Buck, Olivo, and Gregg will ultimately benefit the organization through the stockpiling of draft picks. But again - when?

When will these moves position the major league roster as contenders? Certainly not with an eye toward 2011...but 2012? 2013? Is there a set timeline - beyond the now-standard "the players will tell us when we're ready" fall-back?

I believe there to be. But as usual, AA ain't tellin'. Except with regards to 2011. It's not setting up to be the year we (yes - we!) bring the Evil EmpireS to their knees. And as per usual - with us - it's hurry up and wait. Be patient.

But that's the rub, isn't it? Was there really ever another way? Could it have possibly gone differently this offseason without pulling an Orioles and throwing money at middling veterans in a vain attempt to not finish last? What other outcomes could we reasonably - reasonably - have expected?

Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth were never going to sign here.

Justin Upton was never going to be traded here (or anywhere).

Zack Greinke - apparently - was never going to be a Blue Jay.

Now now, angry commenters, lest I be accused of having, uh, intimate relationships with Alex Anthopoulos, like many a blogger have been accused of this winter, there are scenarios which make a whole lot of sense to me which very likely will never be considered.

For example, let's talk about Adrian Beltre. He's still out there. He's theoretically been rejected by many of the winter's largest suitors, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California United States of America notwithstanding. He wants a shit-tonne of money and 4 or 5 years to be sure - but what impact free agent - this offseason, or next, or the one after that - won't? And if "the money will be there when we need it", and the club is poised to make a push in the next two (or three, even) seasons..... why not make that free-agent play now? Check off that gaping hole at third base on next season's to-do list this offseason?

And it's not even that I'm pro-Beltre, but it's this certain logic of not spending that I'm trying to unravel.

As usual, we wait. And that's not half bad. This team is fun. It's a good ballclub. The organization, as a whole, is now walking a straight-line path towards respectability, and maybe even envy.

That's the part we have to wait out.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It all depends on your perspective...

Offseason blogging can be a tough racket, given the paucity of news surrounding these Toronto Blue Jays of late. Once tied to every player available and many who aren't, the search term Toronto+Blue+Jays won't get you a whole hell of a lot on google (or even MLBTR) these days. And what news there is can leave the most ardent of fans scratching their heads.


Item: Toronto re-signs Edwin Encarnacion to play 1B/DH
The optimists among us will point to Encarnacion's obvious power, and the fact that his worst attribute (his, um, inaccurate arm, to be charitable) is minimized with the stated intention of banning him from the left side of the infield. Plus, he hits lefties well and comes cheap. Plus plus, we get another year of milking this (paying attention, Blue Jays in-game promotion staff?). What's not to like?

Well, for starters....bringing back the artist formerly known as E5 doesn't exactly ring the bell on fresh starts and upside. Given 400 AB, we'll see 25 HR and not much else. And that cheap price tag? Well, it's exactly that. Edwin is a low-cost alternative to a veteran free agent and saves Anthopoulos from dipping into the minor league stocks to acquire a long-term solution at either infield corner.

The jury's out on this one. I like the move, but 6 months from now Edwin could be clearing waivers and here we go again....

Item: Jays lose Downs, Gregg, and sign.....?
Yeah, Frasor is back on an arbitration gamble. And Tallet's innings have been replaced by Villanueva. But word from the front office is the club is happy to let the market "sort itself out", leaving the Jays to leverage the arms not yet invited to the dance.

Cost-effective bullpen management, or frugal decision making?

This scene, I'm not so rosy on. Seems to me that filling the 'pen with picked-over stocks does not a contender make.

And that's the heart of all this, isn't it? Should the fans expect the Jays to be making moves this offseason to transform the club into a 2011 contender? Or is the prudent move to bide (at least) one more year of time and let the club mature?

To the disappointment of many, I'm's becoming clear that seems to be the way management is leaning. Forget Manny, forget Derrick Lee, forget any veteran FA looking to cash in. That's not the current m.o., and I suppose it never has been.

Does that mean all is lost - another year of flailing away in the middle of the AL East, devoid of enjoyment for fans craving a winner? Pardon me, but fuck no.

I expect the comments to reflect anger & impatience, but this is where the club is. Barring an unforeseen blockbuster, the names making up the Jays of 2011 will be much the same as those of 2010 (bullpen notwithstanding). The worst possible scenario is a step back from the veterans such as Wells, more of the same from Hill & Lind, and a lack of a step forward from the young rotation and Travis Snider.

And maybe this offseason is the hedge. Answer some of those questions and then make the definitive move. And hey - last year was fun, right?

Or maybe Anthopoulos pushes his chips to the middle and pulls off a Greinke/Upton/Rasmus deal before this post is cold.

That might be fun too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cables and mea culpas from Down Under

So, I guess we couldn't have been much more wrong about Cliff Lee's mindset, huh?

Rather than showing Roy Halladay and his bride who's who and what's what, we're presuming that Lee will soon make his way to Doc and Brandy's to fry up a mess o' fish that his new rotation pal has just caught.

Which just goes to show you that the rest of the world isn't nearly as petty and mean spirited as yours truly. And bully for that.

Other stuff from the other side of the world - Oprah!
We're here in Sydney as Oprah has brought her roadshow to town. And while we haven't managed to meet up with "O" yet, we did bump into her gal pal Gayle King in the markets at The Rocks, not far from the Opera House. And had we been more brave, we would have struck up a conversation with her and the burly man walking with her. Instead, we just snapped photos of her for future conversation starters.

(Incidentally, Gayle literally bumped into me, and I've gotta say that she's a bit of a bruiser. Like, we've gotta hope that after all the BeestMode workouts that the Jays are engaged in this offseason, they come back with big burly arms like hers.)

Searching for baseball news in Australia
There's precious little information to be found about our beloved game down here, so the Jays could trade Travis Snider to the Yankees for a pine tar rag, and we wouldn't hear about it until we get back. Which drives us a little crazy.

Also, we have yet to see Graeme Lloyd or Luke Prokopec down here. If we do, we plan on buying Lloyd a tasty beverage, and punching Prokopec in his Aussie balls. (Ok, probably not. But that's okay, because the chances of actually seeing them are pretty remote.)

A consoling word for you all before we slip back off the grid
As we were leaving the country, the news of Carl Crawford's signing hit and we heard Jays fans start to throw up their hands in frustration. Certainly, that signing combined with the Adrian Gonzalez deal and whatever is sure to come from the Yankees is enough to make you fret over the seeming impossibility of ever getting over and succeeding with such insurmountable behemoths there to tamp out every little ember that begins to glow from our side.

If we could offer one word of solace, it's this: We think that Alex and the new administration are demonstrating a commendable patience in the face of these developments, and that this team is being built with a process that will allow them to consistently have a full pipeline and a strong Major League team. And while it's never going to be as easy as winning any of the other divisions, it will be infinitely sweeter when the time comes and this team makes it to the next level.

(Is it just us, or did we just write the marketing line for a pro-abstinence group right there? Yikes.)

One thing that we'll have to recognize, though, as the Jays proceed through 2011 and beyond in trying to compete with the Yanks and Sox (and possibly still the Rays) is that we have to recalibrate our sense of what constitutes a meaningful game. We've been locked into this old notion of "games whilst in contention against other contenders in September" as what we consider full of meaning. But given the dogfight that we're going to see in the next few seasons, we think that meaningful games in the AL East are going to start much earlier in the season, and we have a fair bit of confidence that the Jays will be playing those games this June, July and August against those opponents.

And how fun is that going to be.

(Mind you, this might all just be the heat stroke talking.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

If Patience is a Virtue....

.... then Alex Anthopoulos is a saint.

Unwilling to recklessly respond to the Big Splashy Moves of the AL East superpowers (barf), the Jays front office seems content (at least outwardly) to continue the slow & steady accumulation of long-term assets whose ceilings - theoretically - rate far beyond "league average".

The Red Sox trade for one of the steadiest & most prolific sluggers in baseball? "We don't need Manny that badly." Oh, you don't? Well, how about if the Sox then go scoop the Angels by signing Carl Crawford? "We won't give in to daydreamin' Dayton Moore's outrageous ask for Greinke."

And the Greinke decision is the right one. He's one of the most coveted arms in the game, but coughing up future top of the rotation arm Drabek along with middle of the order bat Snider, PLUS more highly rated prospects? Lunacy. And I recognize the potential to be tarred & feathered as a prospect-porn hypocrite here...... but there's a difference between this situation and last winter's Halladay affair. Drabek and Snider are ready right now. They aren't seasons away and they've already flashed success in the major leagues at tender ages.

Would I swap out Drabek in a package for Greinke? Yeah, I probably would. But that's no knock against Young Kyle (h/t - Jamie Campbell), it's an acknowledgement that to trade for an ace, you probably have to give up a (potential) future ace. Plus, the Jays system is now suddenly loaded with high-ceiling arms that could potentially be the next Drabek (Aaron Sanchez), or a reasonable facsimile (Stewart).

Snider's the dealbreaker here, for me. There's nobody else in the system, or even on the major-league roster (prove me wrong, Jo-Bau) like him. Sure, he might never progress further and settle into a career as a .260 hitter with 30 HR power and a strikeout rate closer to 200 than 100. But he also just might develop into a high OBP masher consistently knocking 40 laser shots out of the park per year. Those are the kinds of players you build around.

So wait Moore and the Royals out. See if the price comes down. And if the eventual loser of the Cliff Lee sweepstakes gives in? So be it. Let them pay that price. And if they don't? You know Anthopoulos will be on the phone.

(but until then, can you at least throw us a bone with a Manny signing? C''ll be fun!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An irrational argument for Cliff Lee

Okay, so seven years is entirely too long for a pitcher (in spite of how free and easy Cliff Lee's delivery seems to be), and on that level, we shouldn't even go where we're about to go.

And moreover, Lee is an Arkansas boy, and we'd presume that moving to Canada until sometime in 2018 isn't high up on his bucket list. For someone who grew up that far from the 49th parallel, we would imagine that Toronto might just as well be Nome.

But if the much coveted hurler were here before us, we'd offer him this reason to consider looking at a deal to come to the Blue Jays:

You remember that guy who got traded from the Jays to the Phillies? Which precipitated you being moved from the Phillies to the West and then to the South, so that they could make room for their new shiny staff remember him?

You remember how the day that you got shipped off, how that dude's wife was all like: "Cliff Lee wasn't even supposed to be here...we were supposed to be here all along, so he was just keeping the uniform warm for us until we got here." Ring any bells?

You know how many times that guy brought Toronto to the playoffs? None. And how many big games did he pitch in here? None.

And you know what you can do? You can come to Toronto, take a team that's about the emerge into a contender, take them where That Guy never could, and shove it right up his ass.

Now would that (along with seven years and $155 million) be something that interests you?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The dominoes begin to fall

Personally, we blame the Ack.

There we were, totally ready to settle in for a snoozy offseason, with nothing but marginal moves and the odd pickup of a guy on a short deal for little money. It wasn't going to upset nobody's apple cart.

And then our Weekend Editor (who will - to his surprise - be taking the reins around here for much of the holiday season) goes and starts writing about dominoes and splashy moves and goddamnit! Say goodbye to Shaun Marcum. We halfway considered going into the Ack's post from the weekend and switching out any mentions of "Travis Snider" for "Eric Thames" and "Kyle Drabek" for "Brad Mills", just to see if we could avoid any further stress and strain.

( our mind, this offseason is like an episode of the Twilight Zone where whatever The Ack thinks comes true. So be prepared to make the trek westward to see the Winnipeg Blue Jays starting next year. On the plus side, they'll be in the Central Division! Playoffs!!!1)

Okay, enough of the tomfoolery. A few quick thoughts:

The Marcum Trade
There are some who figure that the Marcum trade is just the start of the moves, and that the Zack Greinke acquisition is sure to follow. The longer we had to think about it, the more that we figured that someone might have grabbed their Jump to Conclusions mat and started hoping around like a mad man.

So setting aside what comes next: We'll give our blog bro hug to Marcum later this week, and we're sad to see him go, but he seemed like the most obvious piece to move. He'll be 29 this year, and likely has a few good seasons left in that arm. But the Jays were getting close to a point where they would have to commit to him, and it was better to move him early rather than late.

Also: We were totally wrong about Marcum's delivery, which we use to think was easy and effortless. But now we look at that pronation, and it kinda scares us. So we can live with that being another team's problem.

As for who's coming back: We're all probably a little too invested in Bret Lawrie as Canadian baseball fans. Strip the maple leaf off his chest, and tell us that the Jays just acquired a guy who has been moved from position to position, hit eight homers last season and posted an OPS below .800 at Double-A, and refused to report to the Arizona Fall League, and we probably would have spent most of the day scratching our heads over this. It would have made the Anthony Gose deal seem obvious.

Still, Lawrie is well-regarded by at least a few scouts out there. We hope. And he's only 21. So there's time for him to pull his stuff together.

(Also, one report noted that the Jays may have been after Mat Gamel, which made us wonder who we'd prefer. We'd lean towards Gamel at this point, with the notion that he'd be ready to take over at third immediately. But we're open to being proved wrong.)

BREAKING! Pat Gillick in the Hall of Fame!
This is not unexpected, but is still great news nonetheless. A trifecta of Gillick, Robbie Alomar and Tom Cheek would make for a hell of a Canadian contingest at Cooperstown this year. But again, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

One thought on Gillick, which we've stated here before, but which bears repeating: There was a time where he was in the sights of the Canadian sports media, who tore into him for not doing enough to put the Jays over the top. "Stand Pat" they called, and they were pretty much ready to run him out of town in 1988.

So to the GMs of Toronto franchises, we offer this bit of solace: It gets better.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Big Splashy Moves

I usually try to avoid quick-reaction posts when one of the AL East SuperPowers parlays their financial (and organizational) means into transactions designed around crushing the spirit of their "rivals" & those who live and die by them.

But there's just something about the Gonzalez acquisition - and subsequent Blue Jay-Greinke rumblings - that got me to thinkin'.

Should the Jays counter with an organization-changing move of their own? Let's focus on Greinke...

By all accounts, Toronto seems a perfect trade partner for Kansas City. The Royals have an Ace for sale - one who is adverse to the daily grind of the "big" markets - and are looking for a prospect package headlined by front-line pitching in return.

The Jays match up, both in terms of destination and potential return, almost perfectly.

So what's the catch?

Well, from the perspective of this (amateur) "blogger" (I use the quotes because I'm uncomfortable with the label), the rumored ask is exceedingly high. Potential future ace Kyle Drabek, plus stud-in-training Travis Snider, plus prospects? Whoah. Big, big ask.

I realize the personal hypocrisy of it all. For those of you diehards following along on Twitter, I openly admit that dealing a pair of 'potential' all-stars for a bonafide all-star is a no-brainer (financial considerations ignored). But does that really apply to players as close to "making it" as Drabek & Snider? These are players, widely heralded as "can't miss" by scouts who've seen success at the major league level. The probability of success is much increased, I'd think. Do you take that risk if you're Alex Anthopoulos? Should the Red Sox (&Yankees) moves provoke the response?

Short answer - it's complicated.

No doubt, Anthopoulos dictates his franchise building strategy along a timeline. It can't help but be affected by moves of their rivals. Even ignoring often does the opportunity to acquire Grienke come along? Every three seasons? Five? Does such an event, coupled with the rich continuing to get richer, necessitate a response?

Here's what I think. I think that if Anthopulos was intent on acquiring Greinke, the price doesn't change. I think future 1/2 starter Drabek + potential middle of the order bat Snider + prospects (d'Arnaud? Perez? Marisnick? Gose? Hech?) is too steep of a price to pay.

But my opinion doesn't matter. Good thing, because it's largely emotional and uninformed. If the front office determines it needs Greinke, it will have Greinke.

Winter meetings take place December 6th through 9th. Stay tuned, friends....

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Remember this team...

... because a week from today (or thereabouts), it might not look the same.

The evolution of the roster has already begun, with the departures of John Buck (he got paiiid), Edwin Encarnacion (released, claimed, non-tendered, in therapy), Freddy Lewis (good luck finding those everyday AB's, Fred), and Brian Tallet (who will be serviceable in 2011 for the Cards). Those certain to find new homes in the days ahead include arb decliners Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg - who apparently didn't appreciate the lack of fan support for his white-knuckle ninths. The nerve of Blue Jay fans!

Who's new? Rajai Davis takes the at-bats Freddy Lewis left behind and Carlos Villanueva will eat up the hipster's innings - both low cost upgrades at their respective positions, but hardly the game-changers we've all been speculating are ahead.

So which is it - the calm before the storm, or a much quieter offseason than previously anticipated?

Anthopoulos has made no secret of the the fact he's more willing than ever to take calculated gambles in assembling a roster poised to contend for seasons to come. That means dealing quality players & top prospects at positions of strength to fill perceived areas of weakness. Hardly proof positive, but the Jays have been "tied" to every high-upside player bandied about the hotstove thus far. So is a big move inevitable?

On the other hand.... is it prudent to shake up a roster of players already seen as "on the rise", especially given a new on-field coaching staff? Would simply adding solid veterans and capable major-leaguers to fill the roster holes during another year of team maturation be a reasonable strategy?

Quite frankly, I waffle back and forth on this. It's a talented team with questions at the core (Hill, Lind, Snider, Arencibia) that need answering. Is now the right time for a Big Splashy Move? I really don't know, but Anthopoulos does. And we're probably pretty close to finding out.

Jason Frasor will be a Blue Jay....
... and I'm OK with that. A complete bullpen overhaul consisting of mostly unproven arms is terrifying. Frasor might not be Duane Ward, but he's no Frank Wills either. And let's not sweat the salary he's sure to land in arbitration, all right? It's a one year commitment that won't break the bank for 7th or 8th inning work. Frasor's decision to accept or decline arb was a win-win. So we win!

.... and AJ Pierzynski will not be
Two words: thank fuck.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Tweet Bag! Your tweeted questions answered blogically

Because we like for you to do the thinking, and because we are auditioning to take over Griff Mail Bag (should we get the call from One Yonge Street), here's some pithy answers to to your questions delivered via Twitter. Tweet Bag!

The Tweet Bag's biggest fan, @PdcD asks: Any predictions or pre-indicators of what a full season of Yunel Escobar as the Jays SS may produce in 2011?

We know that by now, you've all figured out that we're a worrier and that we fret about everything with this team. But Yunel is one of the pieces that concerns us most headed into next year.

While his behind the back glove flips and drag bunts were enough to keep us all excited through the last half of last season, his trend line after arriving in Toronto led gradually downwards. His OPS from July 16th (his first game with the Jays) through August 16th was a respectable .784, with three homers and 10 RBI. The next month (August 17th to September 17th) saw him put up a .748 OPS with one homer and six batted in.

By the time that the last two weeks of the season (September 18th to October 2nd) were finished, Escobar fell off a cliff, posting a .397 OPS, eking out just six singles in his final 54 plate appearances.

The Bill James predictor figures him for a .748 OPS over a full season next year, but with a solid .366 OBP. Which sounds about right to us. We think it's possible for him to be productive out of the number two spot in the lineup, even if he's not crushing the ball. But we have a sneaking suspicion that the more the fans in Toronto see him, the more that they will begin picking away at some of the perceived flaws in their "flashy" shortstop.

NEXT! @a_rebolledo asks: Spose the Jays make minimal changes. Rajai in LF, JBau 3B, JP at C. Say even Lyle comes back at 1B. Are they better next yr?

The way you frame the question, we'd say: "Nope".

We're not convinced that JPA has a Rookie of the Year campaign (though we're open to that eventuality, of course). We don't think that JoBau puts up the outrageous offensive numbers that he did last year (and really, how could he?) Rajai? Well, we like him as a fourth outfielder, and we wouldn't be averse to seeing him get lots of PT. But is he an upgrade? Not really. And Lyle would be welcome back in our mind, because he was sneakily productive (so sneaky, that the advanced metrics don't even notice!), and we love his glove.

Does that mean that we don't think the Jays will improve on last year's showing? Not at all. But you're looking too much towards the offense, and not enough towards the state of the pitching staff. The Jays' offensive numbers could go down next year, and they could still man up and compete based upon their pitching staff (particularly the starters) taking their game to the next level.

Late entry! From our favorite man in Lotus Land, @dlbrows: Is this a make/break year for the plan? No playoffs is fine but can THE plan handle no bounce back from Hill/Lind break out year for Snider? Take the team from the cusp to too much to upgrade?

The short answer is "no". This is not a make or break year for the plan because from what we understand of Alex Antopoulos' direction for the team, the plan isn't about hitting higher peaks, but rather, about raising the level of the plateau.

If this team takes a step backwards this season (80 wins? 76 wins?), and the decline is in part attributable to disappointing years from Hill, Lind and Snider, there is still capacity for the team to make smart acquisitions (like the Yunel trade, in spite of our sour response above), and continue to develop, build and trade from a strong base of prospects.

We've never been a big fan of the "tear it down to build it up" approach, because we actually think that there is a false dichotomy built into that line of thinking. So if 2011 turns out to be something less than stellar, we wouldn't call for the franchise to be stripped down and for the Eternal Building Process to begin anew from a couple of rungs down.

(Plus, we actually don't think that you can tie a team's progress to its win-loss record if you are taking a longer view.)

One more! Punk Rock Icon @DrewGROF asks: Seriously, why would anyone drink a Canadian red wine?

Oh sir. This is an entirely regrettable position you've taken. And while we understand that your South Ontario baco noirs aren't for everyone, to paint all of Canada's vinters with a broad brush of shame is quite unfair.

It's true, however, that those of us in the middle of the country aren't always given the opportunity to get our hands on some of the finest product out of the Okanagan Valley in B.C.. And so maybe Mission Hill's fine products have eluded you in recent times. (And you have yet to come to the realization that John Simes, Mission Hill's winemaker, is a bit of a genius.) But if you have the time and inclination (and a spare $75 to toss around), we'd highly recommend you try a bottle of the 2006 Oculus, a truly outstanding Bordeaux-inspired wine. It's probably the best wine experience that we've ever had.

Also from B.C.: Quails Gate's Pinot Noir, which has a fantastic dark cherry and oak flavour. Also: It gets you drunk.

Finally, a plug for an Ontario wine: Inniskillin can be hit or miss, but their Reserve Series Meritage is great. A nice combination of dark fruit and spiciness. Plus, it's on sale at the Wine Rack this week! (And this post was not paid for in any way. Consider this plug a public service.)

And if none of these recommendations satisfy you, Drew, then I'll keep an eye out for a case of something tasty and suitable for you as I spend the next month in Australia.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What the potential MLSE purchase means for the Jays

When we first heard the story that Rogers was kicking the tires on the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund's share of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, we probably had the same reaction that an only child would have if they found out their parents were going to have another kid. And adopt another kid on top of that. And bring in a foster child. And buy a dog.

What about us? Does this mean we're less special?

(And you have to appreciate our perspective, which is that we have little or nothing invested in MLSE as a sports fan, so that side of the equation really doesn't matter to us. Is this good for the Leafs/Raptors/Marlies/FC? We don't especially care. Your campaign to fire the GM and coach of all of those franchises can continue unabated.)

There will be plenty of time to hash out the implications on this deal (should it come to pass, which is no sure thing), but here are the two biggest implications that we can identify after having 24 hours to think on it.

What it means for the Jays
The main takeaway for us as a Jays fan is this: Rogers must be happy with the Jays' performance if they are willing to leap in headfirst to a bigger and broader interest in sports properties. If the Rogers board of directors or investors were unhappy with the money being sunk into the Jays or the lack of a true return on their investment, it's hard to imagine that Nadir Mohamed and his executive team would envision a solution that involves going even further into that arena.

There's been much speculation since Ted Rogers left us that the company would be tempted to divest of the baseball team. Frankly, much of the noise that we heard from the chattering classes involved a sale in the other direction, with MLSE buying out the Blue Jays and SkyDome.

And that was the best case scenario. Because the worst case was a Jeffrey Loria carpet-bagger type buying the Jays and stripping it down before haul up stakes for Albuquerque/Portland/Las Vegas/Wherever. (Not that we thought that was likely, but when the seats are increasingly empty at Rogers Centre, you start to hear the beginnings of a defeatist narrative from some of those same members of the chattering class.)

All that we've heard publicly (and privately) would seem to indicate that Rogers is happy with the Jays, and is interested in continuing to enhance every aspect of the product. A competitive and compelling team on the field has already shown to be a winning TV property (even if the turnstiles aren't churning), and can help to provide exclusive content across all of Rogers' platforms.

The Jays matter to Rogers. If they didn't, the company wouldn't be looking to find more siblings with whom they could share all of their sports business love.

What it could mean for Rogers
A man don't walk on the lot unless he wants to buy, so we're assuming that there was more than casual tire-kicking happening here. (And Richard Peddie's impending retirement may speak to the fact that there are changes in the offing.)

Even still, a billion-and-a-half dollar (and then some) purchase is no small deal. So what's in this for Rogers?

The deal would give Rogers control over three of the ten most valuable sports properties in Canada, with an ability to leverage from them an incredible amount of exclusive content (both the games and everything around them). It would also give them a significant leg up on Bell/CTV/TSN and Shaw/CanWest in terms of controlling the output from these essential sports properties. And as an added bonus, there's very little here that would require any regulatory oversight, a sweet blessing in this particular sector.

(On second thought: There is the matter of Leafs TV, Raptors NBA TV and Gol TV which would require a certain degree of CRTC scrutiny. However, we don't think that the Commission would object that greatly to the acquisition of those channels, and if they did, we would imagine that Rogers wouldn't be overly upset at the notion of either divesting of a majority piece of them, or shutting them down. This deal is far bigger than a couple of marginal spots on the dial.)

This deal would in no way be the end of TSN. We're not even sure that it will knock the perennial sports leader off its perch. But in an era where these channels are going to have to increasingly negotiate their carriage fees with other distributors (who just happen to own their programming competitors, just so you see the adder chomping away at its tail) , Rogers' acquisition of significant chunks of Canada's can't-miss live sports content would make a deal like this make sense.