Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, My Babies

May you all be safe and happy in the company of family and friends this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Transcendental Blues - On Losing Darvish, and Reclaiming Perspective

We can't say that we blame you if you went to bed or woke up disappointed with the news about Yu Darvish. A week full of groundless-yet-enthusiastic speculation had led all of us to the precipice of something that we thought would be great, but turned out to just another opportunity to feel your heart sink.

Still, it's worth remembering that the Darvish posting process was a far from perfect way to acquire a player, and while the Jays may have put forth a very aggressive bid, the shortfall shouldn't be held up as an exemplification of the team's unwillingness to get better. Things happen. It's a competitive marketplace, and the Jays are - as we've just found out - just one player among many trying to improve.

While you're swallowing hard and trying to keep a stiff upper lip today, keep these three things in mind:

1) The 2012 Blue Jays were already an improvement over last year's model. A full year with a focused Colby Rasmus, a bullpen that is a lot more settled than many of you give them credit for (Villaneuva-Perez-Litsch-Carreno-Janssen-Santos, with more to come), a full year with Edwin Encarnacion at DH (where he posted an .855 OPS last year), and a full season of Brett Lawrie is something that we want to see, and that we still contend can win 90 games without any further additions.

2) There are no guarantees. Maybe Darvish could have been the difference between the Jays running away with the East, or another third or fourth place finish. But it's unlikely that one player who had never so much as thrown a pitch in North America would be that difference-maker. Maybe he catches a spike in Dunedin, or maybe he'd only have been great in the Texas heat. We'll never know, and we shouldn't posture as though we do.

3) The offseason isn't over yet. There's still moves to be made, and you have to know based on recent events that Alex Anthopoulos will be working hard to bring another arm and another bat to the Jays before they congregate in Dunedin this February. Maybe there will be something marginal coming, or maybe there's a big deal to be signed or consummated before then. Either way, this is not the end of hope.

And that right there is the thing. Hope. It's as enthralling as it is infuriating. It's the thing that's kept us awake all night, blogging at 2 AM, trying to sort out what comes next. The trouble is that we can't pretend to know, as much as we want and feel like we need to.

But that's also the fun of being a baseball fan. If you need guarantee of meaningful games next year before you'll commit to coming along for the ride, you may well miss something extraordinary. We tweeted late last night that there is a certain amount of suffering that is implicit with being a fan, but that this is one of the great things about the game. As Bob Dylan sang: For those that lose now will be later win.

Transcendence - shedding what you are and becoming a greater version of yourself - is a painful process. It hurts. But the pain is there as a future reminder of what we've gone through, and what makes the greater moments all that they are.

After last night, we've all got one more scar. One day, we'll all compare them, and celebrate them, and recognize them as a signpost on the road in our rearview mirror. And this one will barely register as much of anything at all from that perspective.

This is all prologue.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Few Things About Yu

We were always told that there's a treacherous distance between a cup and a lip, so we've spent much of the past two days bringing down our heart rate and bracing ourselves for bad news on the Yu Darvish front.

In the absence of leaks or information upon which to report, virtually every story over the past week has taken it as a given that the Jays were going to be aggressive in their bid for the Japanese hurler, and likely more so than anyone else. Those comments are mostly just baseball's chattering class spouting off conventional wisdom, but Blue Jays fans (yours truly included) have let the possibilities dance about our heads like so many visions of sugarplums over the past week.

As apprehensive as we have been to give into it completely, Yu-mania has been a welcome respite from the offseason of anger and recriminations over the perceived lack of commitment on the part of Rogers to empty out their bottomless buckets of cash for this guy or that one, and mostly, the fat expensive one. Getting excited about the possibilities with Darvish in the fold is undeniably fun, and incredibly contagious.

Making the speculation all the more compelling is the fact that even a blowout deal for Darvish could be less expensive than Fielder, and a smarter investment for the Blue Jays. It's possible that Darvish might find North American umpires less in awe of his pitches on the edges of the strikezone, or that his fastballs up in the zone get hit harder than he could ever have imagined. But even if that is the case, the posting fee paid by the Jays will be a front-end sunk cost, and the contract won't be so onerous as to impede them from either moving him should the need arise.

You see what we did there? We don't even have Yu Darvish, and already, we're speculating on moving him. That's the insanity of this moment.

Mini-Tweet Bag: Answers to a Few of Your Tweeted Questions
Because it's been awhile, we figured we'd answer a few tweeted questions, especially since there are so many pertinent questions to be answered.

asks: If the Jays land Darvish, do you think they should go all in on Fielder?

No. We don't think the Jays should go all in on Fielder, regardless of what happens with Darvish. Fielder wants too many years, and we don't want to see the Jays as the team paying him $25 million six or seven or eight years down the road. If something under five years for Prince were to pop up, we'd consider thinking about it. But we're beyond exhausted with this discussion.

asks: What's a reasonable amount of years/dollars for this guy?

Assuming "this guy" is Darvish, we'd think five-to-six years at $12-to-14 million per year. Somewhere just under the money that C.J. Wilson received, though we think that Darvish will be the much better purchase.

asks: In 30 days, will Prince still be available?

We'd guess that a deal gets done before then, but not by much. If the Jays get their man in Darvish, we'd guess that the Rangers may take a run at Fielder. But we think that Scott Boras will keep Prince out on the market as long as possible to make him some team's last desperate gasp this winter.

asks: Who hits more home runs next year, Kelly Johnson or Colby Rasmus?

Barring injury, we'd say Rasmus by a fairly comfortable margin. People forget what a coup it was acquiring him, and he'll be a significant contributor to the Jays' success this year.

asks: If the get Darvish are they done improving the team this off season?

No, we think there is still another deal to bring in a bat, either by free agency or by trade. And there will be a few additions to the bullpen which we think will be marginal, but who knows. We've been shocked by Alex Anthopoulos before.

Mood Music for the Yu-letide
Fox Sports' Jon Morosi noted that the announcement of who's bid won should come this evening, perhaps around 9 pm. In the interim, we'll be blasting Europe's The Final Countdown all day to get psyched for the hopefully positive news.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Darvish-mas

It occurred to me, as the last weekend before Christmas flew by in a blur of sugar cookies, Bailey’s and Pot of Gold chocolates, that this was likely going to be the last time I rapped at ya for 2011. I’m probably not going to get to a weekend post over Christmas, nor over New Year’s. You’ll have to find something else to occupy yourselves. Family, maybe. I dunno.

(Thankfully our host the Tao has improved his labour practices ever since the Ack filed that grievance over being chained to a radiator and forced to blog every weekend under threat of having his legs crushed the same way Kathy Bates did to James Caan in “Misery”. My punishment for taking the Christmas season off will be limited to a standard bullwhipping.)

Besides, it would be a bit anticlimactic for me to post something on the Christmas weekend when we’re all finding out by Tuesday whether we got just what we wanted, no? The Yu Darvish posting. It’s the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle of this Blue Jays offseason. It’s the one piece of news for which we are all waiting and salivating, like a pack of pathetic dogs.

Of course, there are always a few party-poopers. The rational part of me wants to nod knowingly with those who are trying to warn me about a Darvish let-down.

But the fan part of me – and I am a fan, first and foremost – wants to see the team get better. And this is what has me so conflicted about the Darvish thing. As excited as I am about the prospect of a potential ace joining the Jays’ rotation, the fact that the ace in question is shrouded in such mystery has rendered me somewhat unsure. In my gut, I think the team would be a helluva lot better with Yu Darvish toeing the rubber every fifth day. But I don’t know that.

If the team were looking to add a CC Sabathia (or reacquire a Roy Halladay), I would know, based on reams of facts, that those players would improve the team. I would pencil in a certain number of wins, just based on their expected contributions. But for a player who has never played Major League Baseball, those facts are less copious, and by extension the expected contributions are more of a guessing game. So I have a lot more trouble getting that kid-before-Christmas feeling for Darvish as I might for an established major leaguer.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t loads of fun, though. There’s really no comparison in any other sport to this enigmatic posting system. Yes, for me, the secrecy of the process and the unfamiliarity with the player create a certain ambivalence. But all the same, it’s pretty damn riveting to follow. I didn’t pay much attention to the Daisuke Matsuzaka posting when it happened so I don’t now what the rumour mill was like around that, but holy cripes has this Darvish thing been a hoot to watch – and we still don’t even have a result.

Tuesday is going to be another crazy, exciting day, whether the Jays land the rights to Darvish or not. A hundred different storylines will spring from it, depending on what happens. As a blogger, and a baseball fan, that’s the kind of early Christmas present I’ll always put at the top of my wish list.

Two more sleeps.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ben Francisco Is...Something?

Life in the Era of Alex Anthopoulos is a stitch, isn't it?

The Jays acquired outfielder Ben Francisco from the Phillies yesterday afternoon for pitcher Frank Gailey. (And seriously, who on Earth is Frank Gailey?) Before we'd even made it through 50 characters of the tweet officially announcing the transaction, we were short of breath, dizzy with the possibilities of what the next move in the sequence might be. Was this Travis Snider's final moments in our laundry? Was Gio Gonzalez on his way to walk 90 batters in a Blue Jays uniform next season?

By the time 5 pm rolled around and Alex Anthopoulos' conference call comments began getting tweeted out, and it was clear that there were no subsequent moves to come, we were more than a little confused. So, Ben Francisco is really here to stay?

In trying to wrap our heads around the move, we thought for a moment about Earl Weaver, and his notion that a team needn't have more than nine pitchers, including four starters. That's a tough sell now, but having six position players on the bench so that you can work platoon advantages in your favour is not the worst idea we could think of. Sure, you might wish that Travis Snider would learn to hit lefties, but let's pretend that a pool of rabid gators is going to be let loose on your meaty posterior unless the Jays win 94 games: Would you run Francisco out against left-handed pitchers? Yer darn tootin' you would!

(Setting aside, of course, the bizarrely even platoon splits that Francisco himself has, he would be a better option against the southpaws than Snider, Thames, or maybe even Rasmus.)

Not that we think that any of this actually happens. We're still doubtful that Francisco - supposing he even makes the team - plays as often as Corey Patterson did last year, and we're still assuming that John Farrell would prefer more choice in the bullpen than on the bench. But the notion that the team might work in some regular platoons at first, second and in left appeals to us. If that's where this outfield pileup nets out, we'll be happy to see it.

Scrap Heap Dreaming
There were 29 men set loose and left untendered at the deadline, tender. It's an inauspicious list, though if we had to pore through it (and why wouldn't we?), here are a few notable names that we might consider.

-Hong-Chih Kuo: Sky high walk rates (7.0/9) and injury derailed him in 2011, but for a modest contract (something under the $2.75 million he made last year), we'd think he'd be a decent fit towards the back of the Jays' pen.

-Ryan Spilborghs: Because who couldn't use one extra outfielder in the mix? We like the .360 OBP in 2010, and wouldn't mind him as a bench player.

-Eli Whiteside: Not so much for his bat or his ability to handle pitchers. But he couldn't be that much worse than Jeff Mathis, and he has the most awesome surname-to-hair relationship in the Majors. He could be a Bond villain.

-Joe Saunders: Or as we'll affectionately refer to him, "Joe-Joe Saunders". (Incidentally, Jo-Jo Reyes IS available. But let's not go there.) Saunders is a classic innings-eater, and wouldn't be much more than a fifth starter, but he wouldn't be a bad option to have around given the questions around Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan going into the season.

-Jeremy Hermida: We'll always advocate for Jeremy Hermida. We always add him in deep fantasy leagues and on video games, and we'll always remember the year he hit 84 homers for us in a season of 2K baseball. Sign him up, because we can't quit Hermida.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Money on the Bench

In the mass panic and outrage surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays' obstinate refusal to improve their team by dropping a pallet of Robert Borden-emblazoned bills in Prince Fielder's backyard this past week, a few folks put their pitchforks and torches down long enough to pop over to the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts, where they discovered (or were reminded) that Mark Teahen remains the second-highest paid player in the organization. (He can be expected to fall behind Kelly Johnson once his compensation is settled either through arbitration or another contract.)

I was half-joking when I tweeted, "I always forget about that guy", but the fact is, for a player slated to make $5.5 million this year, he's not exactly top-of-mind.

Teahen's presence as a Jay, of course, is part of the price the team was willing to pay to acquire Colby Rasmus at last year's trade deadline, along with having to sit through a certain number of excruciating outings from the likes of Brian Tallet and Trever Miller. Teahen had been having an abysmal season with the Chicago White Sox, a team that faced no shortage of highly-paid underperformers. Teahen wasn't (and isn't) getting Adam Dunn or Alex Rios money, but he'd played himself out of a full-time job despite his contract. He didn't have a full time job awaiting him in Toronto either. This was a straight case of the Jays taking on a not-so-good contract to grease the skids in acquiring the player they really wanted.

Yet surprisingly, in some circles Teahen's salary was highlighted last week as an example of just how unwilling the Jays' ownership is to "spend to contend". How, the thinking goes, could a team with a true commitment to winning make such a cast-off its second-highest paid player? Surely the dollars are there if they're willing to spend so many of them on a glorified bench player like Teahen.

To me, though, this is yet another obvious illustration of an INCREASED willingness to spend in order to get the players that the team feels it needs to set a foundation for that Holy Grail of "sustained success". It jibes completely with sending extra money to Philadelphia to get premium prospects back in the Roy Halladay trade; being aggressive and spending big in the draft; beefing up the entire scouting department and going hard after international free agents.

I don't intend to get into an argument here about whether I'm right about the team's willingness to spend. That ground has been well covered by plenty of smart people.

Regardless of how much any team spends, it's never a good investment if the money doesn't see the field. Even Yankee and Red Sox fans get a little bent out of shape over big-money deals that don't produce on-field results, and if you don't believe me, ask a Sox fan what they think of the John Lackey contract, or a Yankee fan to chat over coffee about the AJ Burnett contract.

So what do the Jays do, now that they've got another ugly contract on their hands for Teahen? Well, on the plus side, it doesn't look much like the guy's been promised anything, and the contract runs out at the end of this year. He can play a few positions; he seems reasonably healthy; he's only 30 years old; he's had a decent amount of big league success. There are plenty of teams with far worse bench options than him.

Still, it would seem to be at odds with the Jays' broader modus operandi to have a rather bloated price tag attached to such a marginal player. But the saving grace is that were he on the roster at this time last year, there's a fair chance he would have been seen as an everyday player at some position -- which speaks very highly of the upgrades the team has made since.

Just trading the guy is easier said than done. The reasons he's not filling any gaping needs in Toronto are the same ones that make it hard to find a match elsewhere. Moreover, if the Jays were resigned to simply DFAing him and eating the rest of the contract, I have a feeling they would have done it already.

As fans, it might be best to shift gears from fretting about this depressed and overpriced asset, toward hoping he can rebuild some value. Andruw Jones, for instance, acquitted himself nicely as a part-time player in New York, to the point where bringing him back in a similar role seems more like a value play than a scrap-heap guessing game.

When those guys start eating into playing and development time for younger and more promising players (see Patterson, Corey), that's a problem. But maybe we shouldn't mind if the team keeps a veteran bat like Teahen around, even at $5.5 million, to spell the ultra-intense Brett Lawrie from time to time, or grab some DH at-bats. Maybe he embraces a new role and provides a certain spark in the action he gets. Maybe he becomes a useful throw-in for one of those mid-season trades that Alex Anthopoulos loves so much.

Why not find out? You're on the hook for the money anyway.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On Payroll, Mixed Messages and Marginal Improvements

Coming at it purely from the fan's point of view, it's hard to make heads or tails of this week's Winter Meetings.

The Blue Jays certainly were able to address the two primary areas that required tending when they made an astute trade for closer Sergio Santos and had Kelly Johnson accept arbitration, presumably to fill their hole at second base. In a vacuum, we'd be happy with those developments, and look forward to perhaps another deal or two to come to fruition before pitchers and catchers report. But in the wake of a Winter Meetings which returned to its former glory as a jamboree of signings, we've been flooded over the past week with angry tweets and notes focused on what the team didn't do, and how through their reticence to engage in the free agent market, they've failed to keep pace.

Our primary interest in the Blue Jays' success remains on the field, and we want to see the team built into a perpetual contender. This is not just about wanting to see "meaningful games" one year, but about building the foundation for a team that is always in the mix. That means spending on scouting, buying lots of lottery tickets in the form of draft picks and international free agents, and signing those emerging stars to club-friendly deals early on. From our perspective, the long term success of a team comes from within, and not by adding big contracts to demonstrate a "commitment to winning" to the fans.

But tied into the team's fortunes is its success off the field, and what frankly scares us going into the 2012 season is that a step back on the field could be disastrous to the team's conversational capital in the inherently cynical and nasty Toronto sports market. The smart moves made by the new regime and some exciting play on the field has brought back a set of fans who had checked out over the past decade or more. But spending money - BIG money - on free agents still seems in the mind of so many fans to be the exemplification of commitment, and a demonstration of the team's readiness to compete.

For those who had made the signing of Prince Fielder to be a moral imperative for the Jays, any step back,status quo or even gains that are too modest will constitute an abject failure to capture the moment. "You gotta spend if you want to compete with the big boys", they tell us.

(This morning's announcement that Rogers will buy a portion of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment only serves to further muddy those waters, and leave Jays fans apprehensive about the ownership's interest in the baseball team's success.)

It bears a mention here that the Boston Red Sox have made more splashy big offseason moves than any other team in baseball, and yet, they have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and haven't won a playoff game since 2008. Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez, J.D. Drew, Bobby Jenks, Marco Scutaro...all were considered big deals when they were acquired, but none of them have contributed to the team's relative success as much as the homegrown core of talent, including Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lester and Kevin Youkilis. And none of the acquisitions were enough to "guarantee" success, as many have attempted to convince us that the signing of Fielder clearly would for the Jays.

To be a bit less charitable to the Jays front office, we'd point out that they are beginning to reap the fruits of a media and fan relations strategy that is elusive at best, and illusory at worst. The desire to keep the team's budget a mystery is understandable from the point of view of the competitive marketplace, but the artfully dodgy allusions to growing the Major League player budget leads to an increased appetite to see that growth happen sooner. If you tell the fans and media that you can and will increase payroll when needed, the message that is sent when the payroll is not expanded is: "We're not ready to win yet."

We're not sure that giving a hard, self-imposed cap number would necessarily be more beneficial, as it might just feed the cynicism by making the gap between the Blue Jays and the bigger payrolls more obvious. But floating the $120 million figure, as Paul Beeston has on numerous occasions, has only served to create a desire to hit that number as soon as possible, whatever the consequences for the team.

Spending like sailors on Fleet Week is not the path to long-term, sustained success. We'd far prefer for the Jays to sign deals like the five-year, $14 million deal that the Rays just signed with Matt Moore as opposed to the five-year, $77.5 million deal that the Angels signed with C.J. Wilson. This isn't just a matter of being cheap, but it's a matter of maximizing every dollar spent for a team that doesn't have unlimited resources.

The deals that the Blue Jays have made over the past week were astute, and make the team better. So why the misery?

On "Parameters": The payroll elusiveness mentioned helped to fuel the parsing of the word "parameter", when it was dropped by Alex Anthopoulos earlier this week. We'll defer to some of the reporters who were on site, because they look the GM in the eyes when he talks about these matters and probably have a far clearer tableau from which to read than we do. But our initial take on the use of the term was this: The Blue Jays have several interwoven budgets, which include all aspects of the team's operations and which have clear dollar figures attached. However, they also have the ability to come back and make budgetary adjustments throughout the year if they can make a case that a modest investment in mid-stream could provide a short-term return.

In plain English: They'll be able to add a player with a large salary in mid-season if it provides a reasonable expectation of added playoff gates to the bottom line.

This is why we think Anthopoulos tends to punt discussions of bigger acquisitions to the trade deadline. It seems like an entirely defensible policy, though it won't do much to warm the hearts of Blue Jays fans through the Winter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Observations on the Winter Meetings from a Distance

(From a we all have the sounds of hoary Bette Midler treacle assaulting our brains now? Awesome...)

We're miles and kilometres and then some away from the action in Dallas, so all of our Winter Meetings observations are being made through eyes that are straining to keep up with every tweet and bleep that pops across our screen. Most of this is conjecture and speculation at this point, but we'd offer a few thoughts that have coalesced here, far from the action.

Big Deal! Jays trade Nestor Molina for Sergio Santos: This deal popped up just as we were about to joke about the lack of action, so it goes to show what we know.

The curious aspect of this deal is the fact that Santos is returning to the Jays after having been in the organization as the prospect thrown into the Troy Glaus deal. We remember subsequently seeing Santos as a SS-converted-to-3B with the Syracuse SkyChiefs, and thinking that while he had a great build, the finer skills (infield footwork and strikezone judgment) eluded him.

In his new role as a power reliever, we'll confess to having a twinge of jealousy having watched him evolve into a big nasty hurler who throws mid-to-high 90's with a nasty slider. So there is some satisfaction in repatriating him. We love those crazy strikeout per nine numbers (13.01!), though the high walk totals (4.12 per nine) might have a tougher time playing in the AL East. (Where umpires defer their decision on close pitches to the Red Sox and Yankees' batters. Bitter!)

The cost - 22 year-old Nestor Molina - is probably a little higher than we'd have liked, especially since we'd started to consider him as THE pitching prospect in the Jays' system. Still, Santos is signed to a very club-friendly deal (three years, $8.25 million with club options that could make it six years and $30 million), and we'd guess that in spite of an all-out delivery, his arm doesn't have that much wear and tear on it. Yet.

Mostly, though, this is the "proven closer" deal for which the casual fans clamoured. Are you happy?

And now, second base: The main observation that we'd had before the Santos news broke was how many potential second base names were being floated as possibilities for the Jays.

We'd mentioned the White Sox' Gordon Beckham as a possibility last week, and part of our subsequent reaction to the Santos deal was that it likely closed the door on more dealings with the Southsiders. However, intrepid Fan 590 radio reporter Mike Wilner tweeted that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos mentioned that other deals between the two teams are still being discussed.

Aside from that, the names of the Braves' Martin Prado and Angels' Alberto Callaspo have been mentioned as possibilities through the digital scuttlebutt. We've got a soft spot for both players - they often make their way onto our MLB The Show franchises - and both are cheap and controllable, which is something for which Anthopoulos has a sweet spot. Callaspo made $2 million last year, and has two more arbitration years remaining, while Prado is in the same situation and made $3.1 million. (All contract details come from Cot's Baseball Contracts. Much thanks and praise to them.)

Another aspect of their games that Prado and Callaspo share is that they are jacks of all trades in the field, though masters of none. In fact, both do quite poorly in UZR/150's assessment of their work up the middle, with Callaspo posting a -6.8 for his career and Prado even worse, at -8.4. (Callaspo had great numbers at third base, but given how antsy we feel about UZR in the first place, we're not certain whether if that is as a result of a flaw in the formula,for better or worse.)

The other name popping up was the Mets' 26 year-old Daniel Murphy, who posted a very respectable line of .362 OBP/.448 SLG/.809 OPS in 2011. On the other hand, it seems as though the Mets have tried to hide him all over the diamond, and might we remind you that they thought so highly of Murphy's second base word last year that they started the season with Brad Emaus as their everyday option?

All of this discussion is academic should Kelly Johnson accept arbitration by midnight tonight tomorrow. But suffice to say that even the decent options at second are flawed, and another year of Johnson might not be the worst chioce for the Jays.

Because we know you're obsessed, a thought on Fielder: We'd actually started to cave earlier this week, and started to make the argument for going to get Prince Fielder. For the right deal, we supposed, he might just be worth the risk. And with it possibly being a buyers market, couldn't the Jays manage to get him on a shorter (i.e. five-year) deal?

But where this falls apart in our mind is that we suspect that any deal that the Jays could make, the Brewers could and would match. We're finding it hard to imagine the Jays finding the minute point of distinction that would be within their means and their philosophy but above the Brewers' capacity.

And besides, the Cubs and Cardinals might both be looking for a big first base bat, and we suspect that both would go six years or more at top dollar for the big man.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smart Shopping

Before the Org Wife and I got married and had kids, I had a different view of what I was willing to spend for things I wanted, based on the reasons I wanted them. For instance, in those days we could pack up for a cheap-ish Caribbean holiday and not worry too much about how many stars the resort had. As long as there was a beach, an all-inclusive food and adult beverage plan, golf, warm weather and transportation to and from the airport, we didn’t require much else.

When you have kids, though, the calculation changes. Your quick, last-minute jaunt down south isn’t so easy, and to find a vacation that meets your needs, you can’t skimp on the extras you didn’t need six years ago. We’re way more willing now to spend some extra cash on a freakin’ Disney cruise, because it seems like a better way to manage the rugrats than leaving them in a Dominican “kids club” that may or may not be a cover for a child-trafficking ring.

As the Winter Meetings kick off, it remains an open question as to whether the Toronto Blue Jays are in the mindset of the carefree young couple, willing to pay the minimum just to be a part of things, or if they’re maturing and becoming more discriminating in their tastes, matching their specific needs.

If you judged by their most recent acquisitions, you’d guess that they haven’t quite moved up to shopping at Holt Renfrew after years at the flea market. They needed a second baseman; they paid next to nothing to get Luis Valbuena out of the Indians organization. They needed a backup catcher; they gave up a Quad-A lefty soft-tosser to get the much-maligned Jeff Mathis (much-maligned because he is, by most reasonable assessments, a horrible baseball player).

They had gaps to fill, so they filled them with a couple of the cheapest passable options available. To further torture the domestic metaphor, their old IKEA end table had a leg break off and the lamp that sat on it fell and shattered, so they went back to IKEA and bought a cheap new table and lamp. The new table is too short and the new lamp is kind of ugly, but they’ll work fine until they break and they need new ones again.

In a lot of other ways, though, this team has been buying like grown-ups. They’ve spent their biggest money in smart ways – on players like Ricky Romero and Jose Bautista. When they’ve taken on riskier players, the money and terms have been aimed at mitigating that risk (see club options on extensions signed with Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar), making the players more easily tradable or otherwise expendable.

Alex Anthopoulos has said on more than one occasion that he’s not inclined to force things when it comes to making a deal for any one player that the organization somehow becomes convinced it must have, because that’s a recipe for bad deals. Anthopoulos has a well-known reputation for being interested in every single player, checking in on them and knowing that there’s a top-end price he’d be willing to pay based on what their talent level is, and what they might bring to the Jays. Smart shopping, in other words.

That doesn’t mean that signing a guy like Prince Fielder would somehow be dumb shopping. The Jays wouldn’t necessarily be shelling out too much money for too long, taking on too much risk. It’s just that you don’t shop for guys like Prince Fielder at garage sales or funky little consignment boutiques. You’re shopping in the swankiest stores on the High Street, and dealing with commissioned salespeople. And they’re not offering you a ten-year warranty if you make the purchase – you’re on the hook for better or worse. So you better be sure of what you’re getting, and comfortable with what you’re paying.

Teams shouldn’t let those kind of higher stakes push them into a mode of perpetual bargain hunting, though, and I don’t think that’s all Anthopoulos will be doing at the Winter Meetings and beyond. As cynical as I am about the rumour-mongering done by agents through the media, it’s impossible to say that the team isn't in on the biggest names out there.

But the criteria for acquiring elite talent have to be, in the end, fairly simple, and the same as the ones used for picking up cheap replacements: the right player, and the right price. That’s a pretty good motto. Hope the Jays stick to it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Winter Wonderland! Tao's Wish List for the Winter Meetings

You may disagree for your own reasons, but we happen to think that we've been a pretty good boy all year long. As such, we feel well within our rights to make our wish list for theWinter Solstice Baseball Festival of Signings and Meetings a long one this year. So with the meetings starting this weekend, here are a few of the little goodies that we'd like to find in our stirrup socks, currently hung by the mantle with such care.

(And by the way, did you realize that the original Santa Claus was Greek, just like our beloved GM? Nikolaos of Myra. You can look it up.)

As we are avoiding a discussion of some of the larger free agents - quite literally larger! - we'll confess that some of the names here come off more as though we were spitballing over late round picks in our forthcoming rotisserie draft. Still, with so many of the starting slots on the roster mostly occupied, the name of the game remains finding under-appreciated assets and getting maximum return for them.

This list is in no way intended to be predictive of what will happen, but merely a few of our humble requests.

Trade for Gordon Beckham - This is probably a reiteration of last year's "trade for Alex Gordon" request, but the rationale remains the same: Beckham is reaching the bottom of his value, with declining returns over the past few seasons. It's hard to parse through his stats and find the upside, but on the other hand, he's still just 25, and his worst output an OBP of .298. He'd be a 10-15 homer guy who could play the field well and as a number 8 or 9 hitter in the Jays' lineup, there would be little pressure on him to live up to any "top prospect" reputation. We'd give up two sacks of magic beans for him.

Trade for Howard Kendrick - We've always had a soft spot for Kendrick, and as he enters his final season in his current contract with the Angelenos, we wonder if the Jays may be able to pry him loose for something in the range of two and a half sacks of magic beans. He emerged last year as a bit more of a power threat (18 dingers), and UZR loved him as a second baseman this year (19.7, after a -7.3 the year before). Second base is pretty thin, and his output would rank him in the top third for the next few years. Can also play first and left field in a pinch.

Trade for Andrew Bailey - There's something that we don't trust about pitchers in Oakland, given the number of times they are saved by foul balls that don't make it to the stands. (Argue of you must, but we're absolutely convinced that this shaves a full run off their ERAs.) Nevertheless, Bailey still strikes out close to a batter per inning, keeps his walks down and slings it in the mid-90's. If the Jays need to rebuild their bullpen, going with a 27 year-old option might make more sense than an aged "proven" closer.

Trade for Huston Street - For some reason, we were convinced that Street was an old geezer, perhaps because he's been around so long. But when the season starts, he'll only be 28 - if you can believe his Texas birth certificate - though his price will likely be higher than Bailey (four satchels of pixie dust?) Street's numbers stand up pretty well 8.49 K/9, 1.39 BB/9 last year, throwing a fastball with an average velocity of 90.1 MPH, which is about on par with the rest of his career. And he's managed to do well for himself in Coors Field, for whatever that's worth.

Sign Joel Zumaya - Zumaya's 2010 was vaguely disastrous, when he lost all control of his pitches and began walking 6.39 batters per nine. But the 27 year-old came back to respectability last year with a line of 7.98 strikeouts, 2.58 walks and 0.23 homers per nine. As a power arm (his fastball still averages 99.3 MPH), Zumaya would be a decent pick up, provided the market doesn't push him into the three-year contract territory.

Sign Relievers to One-Year Deals - David Aardsma (29) can still hit the mid 90's, and might not merit a two-year deal. Mike Gonzalez (34) held lefties to a .574 OPS last year, though he is repped by Scott Boras and the Yankees are apparently interested. LaTroy Hawkins (37) isn't the worst idea we could think of. Chad Qualls might be worth a cheap and short deal as well. Really, they could just walk the streets of Dallas and look for someone who wears their pants better than Shawn Camp.

Sign a Backup Catcher- Chris Snyder seems to be the preferred option from what we've seen around the other Jays blogs, and his career .333 OBP is probably worth a year-plus-option offer, supposing the Jays want to go that far. Otherwise, Kelly Shoppach looked like one of the cast of extras from The Walking Dead last year, though without all the walking. Ivan Rodriguez hasn't really had a good season at the plate since 2004, but as a one-year option to step in be a catch-and-throw guy, we wouldn't mind him as the short-term solution.

So you see: We're not asking for much. No big blowout signings and no trades to empty the system of our lottery tickets for the next three years. Just a few parts here and there, just to fill the team out for the first few months of the year.

Now feel free to launch your litany of tirades over our lack of interest in the shiniest of the holiday toys. We understand their appeal, but we're simple folk around here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Eternal Internal Conflict over Eric Thames (and What It Means, If Anything...)

There is no player over whom we've agonized more this offseason than Eric Thames. In fact, we've likely pondered the sophomore outfielder more than all other Jays combined since the season's end. It's somewhat maddening.

We've actually begun writing this piece and set it aside a half-dozen times, because we never felt like it was that worthy of being written in the first place. Or we had never quite sold ourselves on the notion that we were expressing ourselves correctly when trying to figure out why we're so fixated on him.

It's taken some time, but we ascribe our exceeding interest in Thames to four things:

1) His position relative in the pileup of players who might get playing time in left field this season: The Blue Jays are going to have to find room for Thames, Edwin Encarnacion, Travis Snider, and Rajai Davis to get at bats this season between the DH and LF. Were we to come into this equation after a year's coma, sorting out who slots in where would be fairly simple, with EE getting the DH at bats, Rajai getting pinch running duty, Thames taking the everyday at bats and Snider plying his trade in Las Vegas or elsewhere.

Of course, we've a five-year history with Travis, and we keep finding the reasons why he makes sense for the future of the franchise. Add to that the fact that Rajai has probably produced more than either of the youngsters, and our dubious view of Thames' defense, and somehow, it still seems muddled.

2) The discrepancy between the general perception and our perception of him: This has more to do with the casual manner in which Thames has been dismissed as a lousy outfielder with a poor OBP who doesn't merit a slot in the lineup of a team that fancies itself as a contender for a Wild Card spot in 2012. (More on that below.) We hope we're not creating a straw man to scorch, but our sense is that Thames doesn't have a widespread base of support amongst the Blue Jays blogging cognoscenti. But when we watch that quick bat go screaming through the hitting zone, and when we see Thames square up the ball and hit it as hard as anyone outside of Bautista, it seems to us though he has the most important tool in his arsenal, and some remaining headroom before he reaches his ceiling.

Thames' .333 weighted on base average was the fourth best among Jays with more than 200 at bats last year, trailing José Bautista by nautical miles, but also trailing Yunel Escobar (.345) and Edwin Encarnacion (.344) by a somewhat slim margin. His isolated power of .193 was third-best, behind Bautista and J.P. Arencibia, and ahead of Escobar, Encarnacion and Lind.

In fact, it is hardly a stretch to state that Thames is the fourth best bat on this team as it stands today. The .313 OBP is not great by any means, but it bears mentioning that Texas corner outfielder Nelson Cruz actually posted a .312 OBP, and we're pretty certain that there would be joy throughout the land if he were to suddenly find his way into the Jays' lineup next season.

3) The Blue Jays no longer have the luxury of lollygagging around waiting to see if some of this potential turns into something tangibly valuable: Further to what we stated above, the Eternal Building Process seems to have been cut short in the minds of many fans over the past few weeks, and there is a greater urgency for 2012 to be a year in which the Jays move to the next level. So to go through a season of bumps and feeling out contenders for a regular spot in the lineup seems antithetical to those ambitions. Taking several months to figure out who fits where and how is not on the agenda for most fans this spring.

4) What about Travis? To chose to go forward with Eric Thames seems like a repudiation of the rosy-cheeked carnivore. If they both break camp with the big club, the Jays will be left to choose between the two left-handed bats on a daily basis. And while injuries will happen and a five-man outfield would still result in 300-plus plate appearances for each, it still seems as though a choice will have to be made between them.

Snider is better base-stealer and a better defensive option, is almost two years younger and his 82-game 2010 campaign (.255/.304/.463, .331 wOBA, 14 HR, 1.2 fWAR in 319 PAs) compares pretty favourably to Thames' 2011 (.262/.313/.456, .333 wOBA, 12 HRs, 0.9 fWAR in 394 PAs). The big distinction between the two at this point, we suppose, is their strikeout rates. Thames posted a not-great 22.3% K-rate to go with a subpar 5.8% walk rate last season, while Snider put up a team-worst (200 PA minimum) 27.7% K-rate and a 5.4% walk rate.

Though we think there are few who can claim to be bigger fans of Travis Snider than us - we spent years giving him nicknames and praising him in spite of his output - it seems to us that if you were to take your affections out of the equation, the choice for the starting left field job seems pretty evident. We're just not sure that we're comfortable with the answer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brett Cecil's New Normal

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Brett Cecil lately (though perhaps not as much as some have in the past). More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what exactly could have happened to him through Spring Training and most of the early part of the season last year.

In March of last year, he told the National Post’s John Lott that his fastball was averaging about 87 miles per hour, although, according to him, “Everybody knows (he) can throw in the low 90s.”

The diminished velocity, and all-around lack of effectiveness, was well-documented. It got him sent to Vegas, and led to him putting up numbers that were a clear step backward from his previous season. There was a time when smarter people than me would have taken Cecil over Ricky Romero (Keith Law says as much in this chat from only two years ago) . The whole episode makes me wonder how many would do it today.

Lots of theories have been put forward about Cecil’s 2010 issues, from a possible undiagnosed injury, to a mysterious dead-arm problem, to a mechanical issue in his delivery that needed to be fixed.

But one other theory has stuck with me. I don’t even remember where I saw or read it, and it might have only been just one time in a comment section somewhere, but I found myself nodding along with the idea – having been through it myself and seeing the effects in had on my own day-to-day activities.

The theory: Brett Cecil had lost either his conditioning, or his focus, or both, as a result of spending more time last off-season occupied with his new baby.

Absurd, right? I mean, it’s not like Cecil was the first player in history to be a parent. Plenty of ballplayers have plenty of kids (some of them will even admit to being their fathers… hey-o!). I don’t know if any of them ever saw an impact, positive or negative, on their baseball performance.

But anyone that has ever gone through the experience of having a baby in their life for the first time knows that it has an effect. If you’re one of those parents who claims that it never fazed them in the least and your work output never once changed except for the better, then I’m prepared to call you a big fat liar.

When the Org Kids came along, I was pretty much a disaster for a good nine or ten months after each of their births. When you’re a new parent, you don’t sleep at night. You don’t eat properly. You don’t have time to work out.

And you can’t wait to get back home from whatever’s taken you away from those kids to go through more of it.

Cecil at one time had a Twitter account, and his followers got to see just how excited he was to be a new father. There is little doubt that the guy is a committed, doting dad and husband. I followed him, and even though he’s younger than me, I could seriously relate to things he was expressing about his life and growing family.

But even the most enthusiastic and energetic new parents need to re-invent their entire routines around the kids, and inevitably, things get dropped out of the old routines. I don’t know everything there is to know about a left-handed pitcher’s offseason training regimen, but I could certainly envision myself eliminating the 6AM run from the daily calendar if I’d been up four times during the night to calm a crying baby. But eventually, you figure it out. Your life never gets back to the way it was, but a “new normal” sets in and the upheaval subsides – mostly.

I don’t know; maybe it’s a bullshit theory and Cecil never missed a beat in terms of conditioning or focus. Maybe the things that more-or-less suddenly troubled him last spring were as mysterious as they seemed. Baseball is a weird game that way.

Besides, it’s not like there’s any way to find out if the new-parent theory is true. I certainly would never expect a major league baseball player to tell a beat reporter that the reason he couldn’t pick up the spin on a breaking ball out of the pitcher’s hand that day was because he was awake all night washing puke out of his baby’s crib blankets.

All I’m saying is I’m prepared to cut Cecil a break if being a new dad took a toll on him that he wasn’t quite ready to deal with or admit. If he’s like the rest of us, once his new normal is established, chances are he’ll be better than ever.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fresh Starts

There’s really not much to add to what ended up being the biggest Blue Jays-related story of this past week – the new branding scheme and uniforms. I like the new stuff. A lot. The next couple of years of Org Family gift-giving will be predictable indeed.

As is my wont, however, I’m going to use the re-brand as a source for hackneyed symbolism, however tangential you may find it. You all should be getting used to this from me by now.

One of the things that struck me most about the Friday unveiling of the snappy jerseys, caps and associated goods was the level of enthusiasm there was, not just among the fans, but among the players themselves. Twitter was full of the players’ own pictures, with lots of exclamation marks and #BeastMode / #TeamUnit sloganeering. These guys were geeked up about having a new look.

The uniform launch felt like… well, it felt like a launch. The start of something. Especially in an off-season where a whole lot of not much has really happened so far with the Blue Jays, it seemed to put a spring in the step of the faithful.

It got me thinking about how important a fresh start can be. When the Org Kids get up on the wrong side of the bed and catch hell from the Org Wife and me first thing in the morning for misbehaving, we’ll often send them back to their room and have them try it again. Usually works like a charm.

It’s tempting to try to excuse a baseball player’s underwhelming performance by throwing around the old “he needs change of scenery” argument. We can never really get in a player’s head to know whether that’s remotely true. But at the very least, the “fresh start” can be like a bowl of hot chicken soup when you have a head cold: might help; couldn’t hurt.

When they start stretching, sprinting and spitting tobacco juice in Dunedin in a few months, some potentially key pieces of this Blue Jays team are going to be hoping that a fresh start cures what ailed them in 2011, or even before. From where I sit, how those fresh starts turn out is going to be a significant part of the 2012 Jays storyline.

Here are a few of who I mean:

Colby Rasmus

This is fairly obvious, but the very reason the multi-tool talent who will be patrolling centerfield for the Blue Jays is no longer doing it for the St. Louis Cardinals is because someone – Tony LaRussa, John Mozeliak, Alex Anthopoulos, or all of them – thought he needed a fresh start. The start he got as a Jay in 2011 was abbreviated (although long enough to allow Barry from Oakville to bellow his disapproval on the Jays Talk and yearn for the middle relievers he cost to acquire). A full season of the 2010 vintage Colby Rasmus would be a significant piece of an improved 2012 Jays team (again, this is obvious). I hope that starting the season knowing he’s not going to have a manager breathing down his neck with threats to start Jon Jay in his place might make Rasmus a bit more comfortable and a bit more effective.

Travis Snider

Travis Snider is going to turn 24 in February, yet he’s already spent parts of four different seasons with the Major League team. You can argue either side of the more-time-in-the-majors vs. more-time-in-the-minors argument, but one thing the kid hasn’t had at any point in his Jays career is some certainty. A fresh start for Snider can come in Toronto or in Vegas but he should know going in that it’s gong to be a full time job, with an abundantly clear description at the start of 2012 of what is demanded and expected of him, regardless of where he’s plying his trade. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Supernanny, it’s that kids need structure. I’m sure this sounds incredibly condescending. I don’t really mean it to be. These players are all grown-up, professional athletes. But sometimes the most precocious talent is the kind in most need of discipline.

Kyle Drabek

A variation on the Snider theme is applicable to Kyle Drabek. Like Snider, he’s shown flashes of meeting the high expectations so many have had for him ever since entering the organization. Despite his youth, he’s not thought of as a prospect, as much as a promise of All-Star performance unfulfilled. As with Snider, I’m not going to lose much sleep if he goes to Vegas or Toronto out of Spring Training, as long as he gets to tackle whatever has been plaguing him with a knowledge that he’s going to get time to do it.

Spring is a fresh start for everyone, really. There are plenty of others on the roster (for the time being) who could similarly benefit: Frank Francisco, for a chance to start 2012 like he finished 2011; Adam Lind, to start a season healthy, strong, free of expectations that he needs to carry the team offensively and with some confidence at the plate that would come with that.

We’ve seen fresh starts work before. Yunel Escobar is one example of a guy for whom his first day in a Blue Jay uniform was the first day of the rest of his life. I’m really, really hopeful that April 1 will be the same kind of rebirth for some of the Jays who need to capture, or recapture, the kind of performance that we know is in them.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The New Jays Logo

Whomp. There it is.

It was entirely likely that we were going to like these new uniforms by sheer force of will. But there was a gnawing feeling that we had in the lead up to the announcement that there would be something weird or untenable about the new look.

As it turned out, we needn't have turned off our critical faculties to enjoy the rebrand. The uniforms are classic, and look pretty sweet. The font is actually a lot nicer than we had figured after catching a brief glimpse of it in the teaser video, and the player's numbers with the white inline are absolutely fantastic. And the blue! So much blue!

The alternate blue jersey is especially on point, and actually nicer than any dark jersey in the history of the franchise. We can see that a lot of fans will gravitate towards it when making their apparel choices.

The sweet new duds won't be worth much in the win column, and they won't make balls fly over the fence or whoosh past the opponents' bats. But they feel right. They look like the Blue Jays are supposed to look.

And in our mind's eye, we can see players wearing that uniform in a celebratory pile. That's the warmest fuzzy of all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New and Blue! Frame-by-Frame Analysis of the Jays' Teaser Video

Are we a tad obsessive about the Jays' new uniforms? Just a tad. A smidgeon more than a tad.

Time is at a premium, so let us walk you through what we've picked out from the teaser video above, posted on the Blue Jays' site today.

First out of the gate, at 0:01 in, we see Ricky Romero in a blue (BLUE!) jersey, which appears to a light blue. It could be that the flashing strobe effect here has made a royal blue look lighter than it is, but we at least figure that the alternates will be something other than black. Which was probably a given, but a relief nonetheless.

A mere second later, we get a view of what we initially thought to be José Bautista, but we now figure to be Adam Lind, as he is the only Jay who wears Reeboks. (And yes, we notice such things. Also, the Hickory bat.) It's hard to tell because of the dark lighting, but it appears as though the pant striping has two tones of blue divided by a white stripe, which is pretty much exactly the same as the 1991-1996 iteration. Also, blue shoes. Yay.

We're not certain whose arms these are, but you can once again see the striping on the cuffs. From this shot, it appears as though both blue stripes on the cuffs are the same tone, which makes us wonder if we're seeing double-blue on the pants where there is none. Again, a fleeting dark look, so hard to tell.
Skip ahead a bit, and you can see the new nameplate lettering on Adam Lind's back. This appears to be a standard block lettering, which we likely would have expected anyways given the goofy bubbly font that they are replacing.

Okay, a quick couple of shots of Bautista, which give you a much clearer sense of how blue the Blue Jays will be. This appears to be exactly the same colour as the classic Jays look. And then...

Boom! There's the new logo font, with a sharp serif coming off the "T" in "Toronto". (A sincere blue cap tip to Chris Creamer for pointing this out on Twitter.) We're not sure that we're crazy about the serif font, but we'll reserve judgment until we see the final product. In any case, there will be a newish look across the team's chest next season, and not just the old font recycled.

And if you're learned nothing else this afternoon, you should have learned that 1) we have have dodgy photo editing skills and 2) we're a little too enthusiastic about this rebrand. But then again, we've never claimed to be all that objective when it comes to the home team.

Above all, we're a fan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cheering for Laundry - In Anticipation of the New Unis

If you've been reading this blog for awhile or follow us on Twitter, you know that the aesthetic considerations weigh heavy on our pointy head. The look and feel of the team's brand matters to us. The proper execution of high socks - one which doesn't lead to the ridiculous pantaloons like those Shawn Camp has sported for years - matters to us. Having a blue ball cap - any shade will do! - matters to us.

So the news that the Jays will unveil a brand new brand this week ranks as a high point in the offseason for us. Finally! We can say goodbye to the absurd Black Jays lids, and goodbye to the black alternate jerseys. We can set aside the Angry Jay logo, and the Toothpaste T-Cap. The cartoon-ish, Comic Sans-like sparkly numbers and names on the back of the jerseys will have taken their final bow as well.

And not a moment too soon, because we had begun to get accustomed to some of the lousy design of the previous iteration of the team's playing duds. (A couple of moments of weakness popped up, where we almost considered a black cap. Almost, not quite.)

There's a cycle that we recognize across baseball of teams changing aspects of their uniforms every few years. Teams will introduce a new uniform - often referring to a "modernizing" of the look and feel - with a minimal amount of input from the fans. This strikes us as the brand managers within the organization getting bored with what they see on the field, or attempting to impose their vision onto the team's work wear.

And while some of these rebranding exercises work - like the Miami Marlins' vibrant new South Beach influenced look - there are many cases where they simply fall flat or leave fans clamouring for a return to the old look. On the other hand, a team who does it just about perfectly when it comes to its uniforms is the Boston Red Sox, who never radically change brands, but who add on features (such as the red and blue jerseys or the "hanging sox" caps) that seem germane to their historical look.

The branding cycles of teams seem to have become shorter in recent years, with teams introducing the "new modern feel", only to bring back the "retro feel" at the behest of the fans within four or five years. It should have surprised no one that when the Blue Jays reintroduced their powder blue uniforms a few years ago, the fans adopted it almost immediately as the primary colour scheme for their merchandise purchases. If you looked through the Rogers Centre over the past few seasons, you would find far more powder blue in the stands than black, and far more retro caps than the new and allegedly improved black ones.

(BTW, if you were curious to see just how delighted we were by the return of the powder blue unis, check out this piece that we wrote for Big League Stew at the time.)

The journey of the Jays' brand over the past two decades has been an interesting one, in that there have been numerous changes and adaptations and tweaks and reformatting, and yet the logo and look to which the fans innately relate are those that the team sported in the World Series years. The new uniforms introduced in 1997 never seemed to gain much of a heartfelt following, even as the team tweaked them for the better in subsequent years. We not-so-secretly loved the 2003 version, which was the only season in which the T-Bird acted as the primary logo for the team. While we've generally heard nothing but guff about the T-Bird, we fully attribute Roy Halladay's Cy Young that season and Vernon Wells' best offensive performance to the plucky determination and cartoony muscle of the T-Bird.

(If you want a full rundown of all the permutations of the Jays' uniforms over the years, Chris Creamer's has an exceptional accounting of all the elemental changes over the 35 seasons.)

So what do we hope to see when the new look is fully revealed? We know with some certainty that the logo leaked a month back will likely be the main emblem going forward, and it seems just about right to us: A smart update on the classic 1992-1996 look. We'd like to see an blue alternate jersey, which could be powder blue, though a darker royal blue would be fine as well. We'd like to see a font that evokes the old school script with the white inline, but does not absolutely revert back to it, as we find it a bit flat and sparse by the time it makes it onto the chest of a player.

But mostly, we're dreaming of blue. Lots and lots of blue.

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?


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


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.


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


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 Kübler-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?


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.


The Taofather.