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.