Thursday, November 10, 2011

Offseason Dispatches - Email Chatter on the State of the Jays

In which the Editor-in-Chief and Blogger Emeritus the Tao of Stieb and weekend intern The Org Guy hunker down at their respective teletype machines, and ponder all of the off season ponderables...

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Org Guy,

Free agent frenzy!!! Woo! Can you feel the excitement? It's been a good week or so since the free agency window opened, and all we can say is thank goodness there isn't a panel sitting in a studio staring at their mobile devices, waiting for the signings to come pouring in. Because those guys would smell pretty rank by now.

We're pretty sure that the way baseball approaches this is a good thing, but in the absence of actual news, we're left making up acquisition lists and checking them twice. What's the craziest thought you've had this week?

Tao

From: The Org Guy
To: Tao of Stieb
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 9:22 am

Tao,

When it comes to free agency, I keep having the same thought over and over again: as much as I’d like to see a big addition to the Blue Jays lineup through free agency, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to break it to Jose Bautista that despite having two of the best back-to-back seasons in team history, he’s not going to be the highest-paid player, despite just having signed an extension. That’s not to say I think Bautista would somehow object – he strikes me as a team-first guy as much as anyone. But the extension itself lays the organization’s cards on the table to a degree, putting a dollar amount and year term on what they believe a truly elite player is worth.

For that completely-pulled-from-my-ass reason alone, I take Alex Anthopoulos at his word that the team isn’t likely to make a huge free agent splash. For an armchair GM like me, it’s more fun to speculate on trades anyway. You want my craziest thought? Like, crazier than the idea I had to wear a paisley tie with a checked shirt? Here it is: with the Twins bottoming out in 2011, a new GM in place there, the Jays with a clear need at first base and prospects they can move, I can’t stop thinking about trying to buy low on Justin Morneau.

I figure I’m either a genius, or a maniac (maniacal genius?). Talk me out of this. Please. I think I need help.

Org Guy

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 9:53 am

Org Guy,

Are you on the bottle again?

Okay, that's a bit unfair, because truth be told, we've wondered about the possibility of taking the overpriced, distressed asset off the Twins' hands and hoping for a recovery. Morneau's got two years and $30 million left on that deal, and while that seems like lottery winnings to us, we're not sure that it would cripple the Jays if they got nothing on the field from him. It's not a smart deal, but it might not cost them a ton in prospects.

Which brings us to the other thought that we've been having: Is the system now sufficiently stocked so that the Blue Jays can begin dealing from it? We've heard how it is one of the top few systems in baseball, but it only takes a deal or two before the future starts to look bleak again. (Ask the Red Sox, since they were left trying to deal used batting practice balls for pitching down the stretch.)

We've never seen Drew Hutchison or Deck McGuire or Chad Jenkins or Nestor Molina throw a single pitch, and yet we feel about them the way that a lot of fans seem to feel about a certain hefty second-generation slugger: Like the Blue Jays need those guys.

ToS

From: The Org Guy
To: Tao of Stieb
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 10:55 am

Tao,

I made my feelings known in my last weekend post about whether we should get attached to the prospects the likes of which you mentioned. We should probably get a head start on the first stage of grief in the K├╝bler-Ross model, in preparation for when the team ships Jake Marisnick to the Royals in a Billy Butler deal.

It’s interesting, though, that you mentioned pitching prospects in particular as players that the team may simply need more. We know, intuitively, where the weaknesses in the batting order are and who’ll be playing where in the field. There are a myriad of possible solutions tossed around to fill the offensive and defensive gaps, all falling somewhere on the continuum between ludicrous and realistic. We don’t know who will be manning the right side of the infield come April 1, but it’s pretty likely it’ll be two guys with fairly significant big-league experience.

But the pitching staff is a different question altogether. Beyond Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, the rotation still has a lot of questions. The bullpen has a new coach, but it’s a real mug’s game guessing who he’ll be coaching – who might emerge, who will be signed, who will be converted from starting, and who might be stretched out to answer those aforementioned rotation questions. There’s a reason why those of us in the baseball business* say you can never have enough good young pitching.

In that respect, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me to see Anthopoulos say near the end of the year that some of the names you mentioned are likely to see some big-league time this year. I know you don’t like making predictions, but if there were a gun to your head, a knife to your throat, and an ACME-brand anvil dangling perilously over your toes, which pitching prospect will break into the big league lineup first? And what the hell is going to happen with Drabek?

Org Guy

*Yes, I consider anonymous Blue Jays blogging “being in the baseball business.” I also saw the Moneyball movie, and when I was nine, I put a whole pack of Big League Chew in my mouth at once.

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 1:34 PM

Org Dude,

We don't like being cornered into making predictions during the season, but during the offseason? It's like the Mardi Gras of postulation. You get beads! You get beads! You get beads! Woo! Show us your Low-A pitchers! Get us another Hurricane!

Our best guess is that Nestor Molina would be the most likely of the Four Aces (that's what we're calling them now!) to get the call in 2012. He's old enough that he wouldn't be completely out of his element, and there's a decent argument that he put up the best numbers out of the four last year. Based on the fact that he'll be 24 at the start of next season, we'd guess that Chad Jenkins might get a look at some point in the season, though his low strikeout numbers don't give us that much confidence that he'll stick in the bigs. McGuire will have to drop his walk numbers, but we'd guess that we'll see him in September of next year. Hutchison will likely get a full year of Double-A seasoning, given his youth.

As for Mr. Drabek, we're coming to have a sense that this is pretty much what he'll be: A guy who throws sorta hard but doesn't really know where it's going, and gets knocked around. We'd usually be the first to try to nuance such a thought and emphasize that there is still upside to the player, but the thoughtthat we keep coming back to is that baseball is a really hard game at this level, and if you don't show that you've got it early, you probably won't become a great player through force of will and time.

Maybe it's way too early to give up on Drabek or Travis Snider, but having seen what we've seen from them so far, there's precious little that demonstrates that they will be transcendent stars of the future. They might be able to be good, serviceable parts of a team, but we're more likely to think of them as the Danny Cox or Derek Bell of the future World Champion Jays, and less likely to see them as the Pat Hentgen or Joe Carter.

That's a bad analogy, isn't it?

Tao

From: The Org Guy
To: Tao of Stieb
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Tao-er of Power,

Given that you’re well known for hating Joe Carter with the heat of a thousand suns, should we not be glad that you don’t envision Travis Snider following in his footsteps? Also, I don’t think I realized until just now how good, and how important, Danny Cox was for the 1993 team (though I suspect you pointing it out meant you understood his value already). Most relief innings, a strikeout an inning, and an almost 3:1 K/BB ratio? With Mark Eichhorn and Duane Ward waiting in the wings? MOAR PLZ.

Frankly, this might even increase the aptness of your analogy. I understand completely the extra value a pitcher brings to an organization as a starter as compared to working from the bullpen. But it seems like Drabek may be in a strange sort of limbo (and Brett Cecil may be joining him there). Due to his struggles as a starter, a trade would not return anywhere close to what the team would like, so a move to the ‘pen may actually increase his value, if not on the trade market, then at least to the big league roster.

Fretting over the possibility the Jays may overspend on a relief pitcher this offseason has become a cottage industry. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think the organization will do it. What I don’t know is how seriously they might be considering moving some arms from the rotation into the bullpen. A great deal depends on Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, it would seem. Sustained health and tangible steps forward from each of them would provide so much flexibility, either to trade arms or move them into relief roles. Maybe the Jays can do the pitching staff version of Tampa Bay’s “shortstop at every position” – every pitcher is a starter, or could be.

I know that isn’t really how the world works, though. There’s far too much invested in these guys to just shuttle them back and forth to the ‘pen like you would in a video game. But it would seem a waste to let pitchers with big-league arms just get shelled in the Vegas sun all year. Unless they move the affiliate to Ottawa!

Org-ie Dougie

From: Tao of Stieb
To: The Org Guy
Date: Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 3:21 PM

We refuse to let you pull us back into the light. The cynicism has overtaken us, like we're Anakin Skywalker bitching about the Jedi Council's vice-chairmanship (or whatever the heck it was that led to him blowing up Dantooine.)

You mentioned a name that we've been thinking about a lot lately, and that's Mark Eichhorn. Part of what made his two spectacular seasons with the Jays so noteworthy was the fact that he pitched well over 100 innings in both of them. (157.0 and 127.2 respectively in 1986 and 1987.) It strikes us that in an era of unnecessary 13-man pitching staffs, there should really be some consideration given to having a pitcher or two on hand who you intend to throw out for 120 innings or more out of the pen. We love what the Red Sox did with Alfredo Aceves for about 25 out of the 26 weeks of the season, and we'd be interested in seeing either Cecil, Drabek, or McGowan take on that role.

(And we understand that everyone thinks that McGowan is now made of bone china, but if he's going to stick with the team, they shouldn't have to reorient their pitching strategy around his delicate physique. Either he can pitch, or they get his head measured for Ace the mascot's costume.)

The player who might fit best into that role is Joel Carreno, who had a pretty nice run with the Jays (1.15 ERA, 14 Ks / 4 BBs in 15.2 innings), and who pitched starters' innings for most of the year. Carreno name rarely gets mentioned in the mix of starters, but he could be a very useful "long man" for them, especially if they have a lot of 5th, 6th and 7th innings in which their starters aren't pitching.

(And isn't it funny how the term "long man" rarely gets used anymore? It's like no reliever is ever supposed to go more than two innings, ever.)

We should wrap this up, because most folks are snoring and drooling on their tablets at this point. But suffice to say, this doesn't strike us as a boring offseason ahead. By the time we hit Dunedin, no one will be talking about Corey Patterson/Scott Podsednik platoons. If we're lucky, we'll be talking about guys we like deservedly getting more time in the minors.

Sincerely,

The Taofather.

7 comments:

Devin Z. Shaw said...

Tao, do you still feel the love for Aubrey Huff? He could take 1B for the Jays, since the Giants have 3 firstbasemen at this moment. You just have to believe the alternating season theory and it would be a great deal.

Ty said...

I think Carlos Villanueva is a good option as the long guy out of the pen. He was most effective early this year when that was his role (it seems like there was a span of about a month where he would come in and throw 5 shutout innings at least once every turn through the rotation), then got overexposed when became a starter and eventually ran out of gas. But he pitched 107 innings last year so it's pretty reasonable to expect a similar number (and hopefully improved endurance) this time around if they decide to go with him in the long-relief role.

Ty said...

Here's an interesting note, too: Villanueva was worth 1.1 WAR last year. The only Blue Jays players who were better than that: Bautista, Escobar, Lawrie, Arencibia, EE, Molina(!), Morrow, Romero, and Janssen. There are a LOT of guys behind him on that list.

Peter DeMarco said...

"I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to break it to Jose Bautista that despite having two of the best back-to-back seasons in team history, he’s not going to be the highest-paid player"

On the flip side, I wouldn't want to be the guy to break it to Jose Bautista that the team isn't going to add any significant pieces, therefore another great season from him will likely be all for not.

Tao of Stieb said...

Devin,

Oh, my complicated history with Aubrey Huff. Just when I think he's worthy of my affections, he proves himself to be an inveterate hacker.

(Though this is the year that he's scheduled to post a .900 OPS...so there's that.)

If the Giants didn't want anything in return for him, I'd find this tempting. Though it would only add to the glut of 1B's that they already have.

Ty:

I liked how the Blue Jays used Villaneuva early on this season, and it just slipped my mind. I hope that they can get 90+ good innings out of him this year, with a few starts tossed in.

Steve said...

I'd like to see Cecil and Villy work as long guys out of the 'pen. Trick is the Jays will have to fill out the starters, and my guess is they may need one (or both) in the rotation.

As it sits, the Jays don't have any quality lefties in the 'pen. That tells me Cecil will be our new Zep.

Jays should be trying to get Fielder. He may not want to come, but the Jays will need their young arms in the future and signing Prince would allow them to improve without having to hand over any of those young guns.

I fell safe that we know what we will get from Prince, even for 7 seasons. The Jays never could surround Delgado with enough quality players to win. I would hate to see them wait out on signing guys, until Bautista is no longer a top of the league player.

Anonymous said...

"Is the system now sufficiently stocked so that the Blue Jays can begin dealing from it?" ... I'm surprised that this hasn't been a topic of more discussion . I believe that they would be jumping the gun to start the process now . They would be selling low on the low level guys of the AA drafts. I think we'll see more at the August trade deadline when the players have further solidified their positions and allow AA to sell high. Also 3mo in LV will give a boost to the NH grads and the warm weather of Dunedin will be a welcome change for the Lansing crew plus some of the ML team questions will be answered (Thames/Snider, Rasmus, Lind, Arencibia, Escobar, Morrow )