Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Whole New Ballgame

Why is this man smiling?
Though there are no pennants handed out at the end of the offseason for the team who has done the most to improve their lot, the Blue Jays will be able to hang column inches in yard lengths after the most dramatic turnover of the franchise's personnel in franchise history.

Simply put: The Blue Jays are not messing around. They're leaving nothing to chance. And they're in a hurry.

Since October 21st, the manager, half of the coaching staff, and a significant chunk of the roster has been turned over. The Jays have added at least seven full-time players to their roster, and maybe more. In most instances, they've arguably upgraded over the 2012 roster, adding bulging sackloads of money to the payroll.

After years of following along with the logic of the Eternal Building Process and attempting to understand the extended series of moves around the margins made by Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, the bounty of signings and transactions within the past few weeks is almost befuddling. It flies in the face of much of what I assumed about his approach, and certainly runs counter to the philosophy that I had adopted with regards to the slow build paying off with a longer success cycle.

But maybe all of that is out the window at this point. Maybe it's time to recalibrate.

The Jays' previously prudent approach made perfectly good sense: Stock up the system with young, controllable players, and hope to hit the jackpot on two or three of those potential stars. Build from within, and eschew the over-priced free agent market. Buy low, sell high. It's just good business, and the Jays - an entertainment arm of a publicly-traded multimedia conglomerate - can't lose money to win games.  

This made sense right up until October 2nd of this year. That's when Major League Baseball announced a $6.8 Billion extension of its national rights agreements with Fox and Turner Broadcasting. And while you might not have felt your china rattling in its cabinet on that day, there was a geological shift in the game that occurred with this deal.

Stack that deal on top of the $5.6 Billion deal with ESPN from late August, and a lot of new money is flowing to the bottom lines of all teams before the first turnstile budges.

This money has several effects on a team like Toronto. For one, it adds immediately to the team's spending capacity. But because it also does so for the other 29 teams, it creates a competitive imperative to move quickly and spend that money immediately before premium talent is snapped up.

Ultimately, all of that giant pool of money is going to get spent, and you had better hope that your team is spending it wisely.

The pace of the transition is dizzying for someone like me, who is deliberate to a fault. Sending six or seven of the team's best under-25 players out the door within the span of a few weeks is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you still maintain that the team needs to create their own superstars if they are to be more than a one-year wonder.

Moreover, the team has added nary a young player in return in any of these deals. The system that was the envy of many in baseball will be much thinner for the next few years, with most of the more intriguing pieces being several years away from the major leagues. The backlash towards prospect watching notwithstanding, the state of the Jays' minor league system will once again become a watching brief for some fans, regardless of what plays out on the field and turf over the next three seasons.

But if this is a turning point in the sport, and if this new money will indeed fundamentally change the economics of the game - even if only for a few years - then maybe there's something to this offseason's spree that runs more profound than "spend to contend".

Certainly, the perceived weakness of the AL East for 2013 might have played into the thought process, as may have the concerns that the team might be teetering towards irrelevancy as elements of the fanbase became cynical after a poor season and the awkwardly orchestrated departure of their manager. But when you're attempting to shake loose tens of millions of dollars to add to the top line of your financial ledger, one would imagine that it would take more than a series of PR fires to create the argument for more resources.

In the next couple of years, there will be inflation on player salaries as teams look to spend the newfound riches from the national media deals, not to mention the significant local broadcasting money that is flowing into the system as well. While the cost of acquiring veteran ballplayers was high in terms of the exchange rate on prospects, the Blue Jays were smart to be aggressive in this area before truly premium talents become so scarce that middling players command huge salaries on the open market.

Trying to spend money next offseason -or even next month- might not be such a rewarding proposition.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Note On A Quote

"Do they all pan out? Do they all do well? Who knows? But I'm not opposed at all to taking prospects and trading them for big-league players.
"They're not all going to play up here and part of drafting and signing and developing these players is to use them to supplement the big  league team. I think the depth is certainly there to make a trade, and it's something we'll look at if we think we can get a player who can be part of this."

I've thrown those words around on this blog a number of times, and I'll be damned if I don't keep coming back to them.  That was Alex Anthopoulos in November 2010, just over two short years ago.  The context then was different than it is now for the Toronto Blue Jays.  At that time, acquiring "a player who can be a part of this" sounded tantalizing, despite the fact that many of us didn't have a clue what "this" was.

We had an inkling that we were in the early stages of a plan; Anthopoulos has always seemed to have a plan.  Or maybe we just needed to believe he had a plan to help us sleep at night.  In the autumn of 2010, the notion of trading large swaths of the still-under-construction prospect base was more far-off fantasy than immediate option to create a contending major league roster.

As a result, two years ago, I was probably spending more time trying to sort out whether departing players were Type A or Type B free agents under the old collective agreement than whether incoming players were any damn good.  The idea of bringing in-their-prime, elite talent to Toronto was fun to think about, in the same way that buying a winter home in the Cayman Islands is fun to think about -- maybe one day if things break right, but not really in the cards right now.

Still, I (and many others) clung to the "They're not all going to play up here" quote, through the strange ride that saw marginal relievers and backup-turned-starting catchers cycle through town as part of the Anthopoulos quest for supplemental draft picks.  I told myself it's all going somewhere, that watching Kevin Gregg walk three or four guys in an inning was just the price we were paying to stock the prospect pipeline.

Then something funny happened along the way:  I got to really like some of those prospects.  I read all the analysis, and then the analysis of the analysis, of all the annual Top 100 prospect lists, upon which more and more names from Lansing, Dunedin, New Hamsphire and Las Vegas seemed to turn up every year.

I still kept the quote tucked in my back pocket, ready to pull out when Anthopoulos made a deal that made me squirm a little bit because I'd invested a few hopes and dreams in a kid I'd never really seen play.  Sure, Alex, move one or two of those stud prospects, you know, if you have to, but don't trade the special ones.

Turns out none of them were special.  Or, more accurately, even the most special ones weren't immune to what was foreshadowed of November 2010.

I can't claim any deep inside knowledge of the character or intentions of the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays.  I can only take what he says, compare it to what he does, and see how they match up.  And even though he seems to talk in circles that leave the kind of wiggle room any politician would envy, I've found that he generally does what he says.

So long, then, Travis d'Arnaud.  Be well, Jake Marisnick.  Go get 'em, Noah Syndergaard.  You were fun to read about.  You're probably going to be fun to watch for other teams.  But then again, "Who knows?" Right?

But we should have known all along you weren't all going to play up here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Music City Mundanity

For as many years back as I can remember, the annual Major League Baseball Winter Meetings were something I anticipated with a sense of both optimism and dread.  Optimism, because even if the actual track record says otherwise, the impression that the meetings are where the off-season dealing takes place can give the fan looking forward to roster improvements a reason to think they may be coming soon.  Dread, because a lot of the time (at least for the Toronto Blue Jays), the rumours and speculation flying around the Twitter-sphere and whatever southern town was hosting the meetings usually ended up bearing little to no fruit for my team of choice.

As the buzz around the team confirms, though, this year is a little different, with so much of the off-season dealing seemingly already done and roster holes fairly nicely filled going into 2013.  Alex Anthopoulos has already been a busier GM than most would be in an entire off-season, in keeping with his well-cultivated industry persona as a enthusiastic, thorough, and diligent baseball man.  But it's that same persona that leads most to believe he isn't about to coast into Nashville this week just to sit in a corner booth at the Bluebird Cafe, sip Jim Beam and pat himself on the back.  Most of the flapping jaws and twittering thumbs that feed the baseball rumour mill from November through March believe that AA isn't done, and that there are at the very least details left to attend to.  So what could our man be up to in Music City this week?

More Pitching

Much to AA's credit, the scrambling for major-league bullpen arms that is likely to preoccupy some of his colleagues is not on his to-do list.  But more pitchers that can carry a larger load than the 60, 70 or 80 innings the team would ideally ask from its confirmed stable of relievers would remain a welcome addition.

Much of the talk of starting depth has boiled down to whether the team can land an arm that would push J.A. Happ to 6th-starter status.  But slipping into AA's brain for just a minute, I don't think he would be entirely dissatisfied opening the season with Happ in the rotation.  I have a feeling Anthopoulos acquired Happ for a reason, and that he has been keen on him for a long time, if the rumours we heard around the time of the Roy Halladay trade have even a kernel of truth to them.  And frankly, at this point, are there that many reasonably-priced pitchers out there, at least in the free agent pool, that would without question be upgrades on Happ?  I suppose it depends on what you'd consider to be a reasonable price, but with the payroll the team has already added, I'm guessing they're shopping at Dollarama for now, as opposed to Holt Renfrew.

That doesn't preclude another out-of-nowhere trade going down that brings back that fifth member of the 2013 rotation (and perhaps beyond).  Speculation persists that Toronto matches up well with the Mets in a potential deal for National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, for instance.  I think the uncertainty about whether Josh Johnson will be a Blue Jay beyond next season might preclude the team from acquiring another pitcher who comes with some-assembly-required from a contract point of view, however.

Besides, we need look no further than the words that actually came out of the GM's mouth in the above-linked article, where he says that he's more likely to be looking for Buffalo-type depth via the minor-league free agent route, as an insurance policy against injury to the current batch of Johnson, Happ, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and Mark Buerhle (not necessarily in that order).  If there's anything one might expect as a signing out of Nashville's meetings this week, I'd bet on an Aaron Laffey type like that.

Platoon Partner at DH

To put things charitably, Adam Lind has been not good against left-handed pitching for the better part of his career.  I mean, over the last couple years, he hasn't exactly been a superstar against right-handers either, with sub-.800 OPS numbers in 2011 and 2012.  But barring a more expensive 1B/DH acquisition before spring, he's notionally still penciled in as the every-day guy at one of those two positions.  I'll restate the blatantly bleedin' obvious here and say that the words "Adam Lind" and "every day" shouldn't find themselves in the same sentence anymore, and having him face left-handed pitching in anything but an emergency should be avoided at all costs.

Thankfully, with the re-installation of John Gibbons as manager, there's evidence that the smart use of platoons will once again enter the strategic picture in Toronto.  Now they just need the personnel to make it happen.  But cheap lefty-mashers don't necessarily grow on trees -- while there are some out there who could be useful, those that are most useful tend to get snapped up for seemingly more prominent roles (Jonny Gomes) or have questions about age, health and/or bat speed (Andruw Jones).  Scott Hairston would seem to be a reasonable fit to partner with Lind in the DH spot and take some reps in the outfield occasionally.

But it's also not as though there aren't right-handed bats on the roster as currently constructed that would make the old "half-day off" routine a viable route for Gibbons to go when facing southpaws.  The added positional and switch-hitting versatility that the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis bring could make it feasible, for instance, for the likes of Jose Bautista or Brett Lawrie to cycle through the DH spot, with one of Bonifacio and Rajai Davis moving to the outfield, or one of Bonficacio and Izturis moving to third base.

All of this is to say that there's really very little pressure for Anthopoulos to get something done in Nashville beyond poking around for what might be available and checking on price tags.  It's a nice situation for him to be in, I'm sure, and it's definitely a change of pace for fans like me.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tweet Bag - Pertinent Questions, Impertinent Answers

These are interesting times, no?

About three weeks ago, I knew that between work, family, home and all that other non-blog life that I allegedly have, I was about to head into a dark tunnel. "But thank goodness the Jays aren't really going to do much until after the Winter Meetings" I thought to myself. Hey-o!

But enough of my excuses and explanations. Your questions and queries have piled up. Let's get to it.
Oh, for sure, and if my immediate reaction to the Marlins trade was somewhat tempered, the subsequent signings and announcement of John Gibbons' hiring have certainly left me feeling light-headed with excitement. Which isn't to say that this team is guaranteed of anything next year, but it certainly piques your curiosity going into 2013.

My greatest concern heading into the free agent signing period was that the Jays would shell out and overpay on a couple of big contracts to players who might not be worthy aside from the mere fact that they were available. And so the thought of six year deals for Anibal Sanchez or Edwin Jackson had me feeling dread at the possibility of this "big splash" merely for the sake of filling the transactional void.

But what the Jays have managed to do is bring in an elite player at a premium position for the long term and a potential ace for the 2013 season, then supplemented those moves with a reasonable deal for a player who is younger than you think and could be an all-star. There's much to like about that.

I think John Gibbons was an inspired choice. I couldn't be happier to see him back. And that's coming from someone who beat up on Gibby in the early days of this blog's existence.

I took some time in recent days to look back on my gripes or complaints about Gibbons, and it seems as though my greatest hangup was his constant rejigging of the lineup. Which is odd, because my biggest complaint about the last two managers was their unwillingness to change the lineup or reconsider "roles". Towards the end of his run, though, I think I had come around to appreciate Gibbons. I liked how he handled the pitching staff, and thought that he was tactically sound.

One thing that I think was under-appreciated  in his first stint with the Jays was the fact that Gibbons didn't indulge in "small ball". He didn't send runners or bunt or make calls just for the sake of injecting his decisions into the offensive game. After two years of Farrellball, I think we'll welcome the change.

As for who I might have hired: I was beginning to lean towards Sandy Alomar Jr. as my personal preference, and the influx of Latin players certainly helped to sway that thinking. But truth be told, I think the Jays made the better choice.
Although Josh Johnson might end up being the ace of the staff, I'd give the ball to Brandon Morrow on Opening Day. The role of "Opening Day Starter" is largely ceremonial, but I think that Morrow has earned that recognition for what he's done over the past two years. Also, I'd rather not hand it to the New Guy. But that's just me.

Moreover, I think that it is the sort of recognition that he would appreciate, and that would motivate him. It's easy to slip too far into the rational analysis sometimes and neglect to recognize that these players are people.  and sometimes, they need a pat on the back. Or a hug. Or a $10 LCBO gift card. Something to warm their hearts and make them feel special.

(I'm not even joking. Not really. Maybe a bit.)
I'd tweeted at some point that I thought the Jays should consider rotating Travis d'Arnaud into the 1B/DH mix along with Lind - presuming he's still here - and Encarnacion. I know the Jays had begun to get him reps at first in Las Vegas before he hurt his knee and ended his season last year, so I don't think that I am far off.

However, it's worth remembering how valuable d'Arnaud could be as a catcher if he is able to progress and become an above average offensive player while manning that position. There are only so many really good offensive catchers - Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, maybe Yadier Molina, and it drops off quickly from there - whereas you can find first basemen or designated hitters.

I think that the best course of action for this season is to allow J.P. Arencibia to remain as the starter, with John Buck backing up and d'Arnaud getting a month or two in Buffalo to prove he's healthy. But I think they should continue to give him a start or two per week at first if his bat merits it, so that if the Jays have a DH/1B opening, he can come up and get regular at bats.

Over the last two seasons, Smoak has posted a .685 OPS (.290 OBP) in 1024 plate appearances. Adam Lind has a .732 OPS (.303 OBP) in 895 PAs. Both have a 96 OPS+ in that time.

I don't see how there's any improvement to be found, unless you really put a lot of stock into the idea that Smoak still has his best years ahead of him. I would consider him if I didn't have to give up anything in return, but nothing more than that.

What's great about that list is now much positional and lineup flexibility the Jays will have next year. There are a lot of options that get covered off even with just those four players.

If either of Izturis or Bonifacio take the everyday second base job -  and that's my suspicion - then I think that you need to find someone who can cover off the infield in a pinch. The Rockies' Jonathan Herrera might be an option if he were non-tendered, though I use him more as an example.

You probably need one more outfielder as well in that list. Moises Sierra might be an option as the 25th man, though I wouldn't want to ever put him in centerfield, and Davis can't play there for any extended period of time. I've also seen Ryan Roberts' name on lists of players who may be non-tendered, and as a player who can slip from the outfield to the infield when needed, he could be a decent option. Though clearly, I'm not overly enamoured with any of these options.

But since the Jays have brought back John Gibbons, might I suggest that the Jays repatriate John McDonald as well? Sure, they have better offensive options on the bench, but as a versatile and beloved former Jay, I wouldn't mind him as the 25th man.

I have no idea why people would get upset by AA answering a question in French. If that was a complaint, it is beyond stupid.

As to the question of broadening the fan base: I have found that the Quebecois have been very reticent to warm up to the Jays, so I don't think that you'll see much of a movement of former Expos fans embracing the Toronto team. But it is worth noting that there are a half-million people in Ontario for whom French is their first language.

I don't think that you'll see bilingual announcements at the Rogers Centre any time soon, but it certainly doesn't hurt anyone to have a GM who can field a question in French once in a blue moon.
On the one hand, I'm tempted to dismiss your question by suggesting that you're getting way too excited too early about this team. Let's see them lead their division in June before we start comparing them to the greatest teams in franchise history.

I don't think the Jays will have three players with OBPs above .400 (as they did in 1993 with Olerud, Alomar and Molitor), and I don't think that they have the depth of pitching that the 1992 Jays did. But this is a pretty good team on paper, and they might have a lineup that runs five or six deep and enough pitching to get them to 90 wins. If all goes well (and it so seldom does, right?)

"Complainy." Just a stab in the dark, there. Though with lots of precedent.
Reyes SS
Rasmus CF
Bautista RF
Encarnacion 1B
Melky LF
Lawrie 3B
Lind DH
Bonifacio 2B
Arencibia C

Morrow SP.

So there. 

Edwin Encarnacion. He's dreamy.
Might be a decent buy-low option in that role, though his strikeouts would make people wistful for Kelly Johnson. I also thought that he had hit well at Rogers Centre, but the numbers aren't that impressive. Also, I think he wants a full time gig.
Shovel. My walk is smaller than a batters box.
I take the over. Even with his injury-hampered seasons, he's averaged 136 games per year since his first full season.

And one last one before we call it a day:
This is one that's hard for me to nail down, in part because I actually enjoy myself when I am able to make it to the game. I hear a lot of belly-aching that there aren't better food choices, and that the beer is too expensive and it's not from a craft brewery nearby and the grass too fake and the scoreboard is too busy and there are too many ads and the PA is too loud and the stadium isn't pretty enough. I dunno. Like I say: I enjoy myself at the ballgame, because I'M AT THE BALLGAME. But that's me. I'm pretty easygoing that way.

I will say that I think there has been a lot done over the past five years to help enhance the fan experience, from the vast expansion of the Jays Shop to many new food options on the 100-level concourse. The new options aren't mind-blowing, but I find that most of my non-baseball friends who come to a game with me are more interested in typical ballpark fare: hot dogs and the like.

One thing that might be nice is to see some WiFi installed, at least in certain nerd sections. (Might I suggest section 231?) The wireless coverage in the stadium can be dodgy at times, oddly enough, so to have a spot for those who like to have a phone or tablet fired up through the game might make sense.

Ultimately, the team shouldn't rest on its laurels. If there are some of the "improvements" that didn't necessarily resonate with fans - the chicken wing concession comes to mind - then they should always look to improve on those.

One hopes that the spirit of adventurous improvement extends beyond the field, though to be frank, I'd be thrilled to scarf back a hot dog and fries at a playoff game this year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Whole New World

Well, then.  We've had ourselves quite a couple weeks as Blue Jays fans, haven't we?

Between the Maicer Izturis signing, and then THE TRADE (TM) and most recently the Melky Cabrera signing, your humble correspondent has barely had time to catch his breath.  There's been lots of smart, passionate and well-written stuff put out there -- both online and in the good old MSM -- about what's been going on, and I don't want to rehash it too much here.

So without getting too philosophical about what's transpired, and what might still be coming down the pipeline, I have a few short thoughts.

I've been a fan of this team for a long time, but only for the last, say, six or seven years have I followed personnel changes closely enough to form strong opinions about them.  I was a much younger man in the early 1990s, and the significance of the Joe Carter/Roberto Alomar trade, or the Paul Molitor or David Cone or Dave Winfield acquisitions, or the others that turned a good team into a great one, were mostly lost on me.  I was happy that my team was getting better and ecstatic that they won two championships, but I didn't spend much time thinking about how all that was happening, at what cost, or about whether it would last.  I was mostly thinking about who might be able to get me booze for the weekend without getting carded.

Now, I'm an older, more dedicated, (I like to think) more informed, and more opinionated fan than I was in those days.  I've tried to recognize the team for what it was for several years:  a usually good, never great, fairly entertaining bunch that kept my attention and made me appreciate baseball a little more all the time.  At the same time, I understood and accepted that there was a difference between the way they approached the business of the game and the way teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and other big spenders did.  I could still enjoy them for what they were.

The past seven to ten days may not have completely turned that whole paradigm on its head, but it's as close as we've seen to that happening.  Whether the Toronto Blue Jays, and their corporate ownership at Rogers, now intend to remain a top-5 or top-10 payroll in baseball for perpetuity remains to be seen.  But for the time being, the franchise has cast their lot with the big boys.

The expectations are different now, and they might not live up to them.  And even if they don't, we'd all be well advised to think back to how we felt this week -- this dizzying blend of optimism, anxiousness, hope and a bit of fear -- and remember that it was still about as good as we've felt about this team for roughly a generation.

Best week ever?  Best week ever.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Splish Splash - This Is What You've Wanted All Along

Hey look, it's Emilio Bonifacio!

You wanted a splash, and you got it. In fact, it's hard to conceive of a move more splashy than this. Twelve players - Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck in one direction, and Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony Desclafani in the other - along with tens of millions of dollars in salary shifting north. Not to mention the deep impact on the psyches of the two fan bases.

Big names. A much bigger payroll. It's precisely that for which so many of you - fans and media alike - have clamoured over the past few years. It's a demonstration of might. A show of strength. And as such, I hesitate to dampen the expectations or somehow speak ill of this pending mega-deal.

And yet, here I stand with a bucket of cold water weighing heavily in my hands, the weight of which is dominating my thoughts at the moment.

Okay, let's take a step back. Let me splash a bit of that bucket's contents on my own face to snap myself out of this odd funk, and to accentuate the positives of this proposed deal.

The Blue Jays come out of this deal with a pitcher who can pitch like a legitimate staff ace, and another starter who has traditionally been reliable for more than 30 starts and 200 innings per season. plus an All-Star offensive talent at a premium position who has put up WARs around 6.0 in multiple seasons. Plus, they get a versatile switch-hitting utility player and a veteran catcher who returns to the fold, and who remains a pretty good catch and throw guy.

If that's where the Blue Jays netted out at the end of the offseason, you would have probably been pretty satisfied that they were living up to their promises of adding big league players to the 2013 roster. And maybe more importantly, you would have been happy to see the payroll's "parameters" - collect yourselves, it's gonna be okay - broadened somewhere closer to the $120 million mark.

If seeing "proven veterans" added to the 25-man roster and a substantial amount to the payroll is your thing, you're understandably over the moon today. I can't blame you, either. The notion that the club has more resources going forward expands my notion of what will be possible in the coming years, and that maybe the Blue Jays will settle into life as a top-10 payroll. This is all good, and the sort of thing you can dream on.

Now, here come the bucket.

Let's not mistake this trade for a long term solution to the Jays' woes. Because the Jays are trading for a single season of Josh Johnson (or his pursuant value) this trade is completely oriented towards success in 2013. The Blue Jays needed two starters to plug into their rotation while they wait on the development of the next generation and the convalescing masses, and in order to get that, they needed to take two bad contracts - Buehrle and Buck - and one very expensive-if-defensible contract in Reyes.

The Jays also moved five players under the age of 24 to Miami, and while upsides of Alvarez and Hechavarria seem to be as something less than All-Stars, they are still in their ascendance. The Jays' system doesn't seem to have been overly culled in sending Nicolino (perhaps the most movable of the Lansing Three) and Marisnick (who struggled in a year in which he was pushed through two levels), but there's plenty that is going in the other direction.

And all of that is wagered on Josh Johnson being healthy and having a good season next year. That's the bottom line.

Certainly, the notion of José Reyes as a fixture in Toronto is an attractive one, even at that price point, but by this time next year, people will be judging this trade on two levels: Did the Blue Jays make the playoffs? Or did they retain Johnson beyond 2013? Otherwise, you're staring down the $39 million left on Buehrle's deal and hoping that it is offset by Reyes' performance, minus the $82 million he'll be owed from 2013 through 2017.

And don't forget that the mere presence of these players by no means guarantees a good outcome. As much as the Marlins were pushed to the forefront at the beginning of last season, let's take a moment and recognize that the same players we're gleefully taking in are the ones who were heralded as missing pieces which would put them over the top in the NL East last year.

Our splash? It's last year's splash in Miami.  

There's plenty of downside to this deal, but if I'm going to be optimistic about it, I'll recognize that a bigger payroll permits the Jays to make some mistakes and sit on them if they need to. If Buehrle's contract turns into Barry Zito's in two years' time, it's possible that this newly flush front office can swallow it and go about their business. 

Again, let me be clear: It's really fun to envision all of these players wearing blue next year. Also, this move is probably a much better one than overpaying for one or two starting pitchers. Would I trade this package for Zach Greinke and Anibal Sanchez or Edwin Jackson? Probably not, especially when you consider the years and annual salary they'd have commanded if they even deigned to come to Toronto.

Ultimately, the team is better today than they were at lunchtime yesterday. If I feel somehow as though I have to begrudge the mechanism that got them to that place, then let me at least acknowledge that there's a reason to be excited about the team on the field. And that should be all that matters.

But if this goes completely pear-shaped, keep in mind that this is the game that many of you implored the Jays to play. You want this? You got it. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Hello, Jays Shop? I'd Like to Return This Mike Aviles Jersey."

Hey, remember last week, when I looked ahead to how a new manager might make use of a player like Mike Aviles, holding out hope for some creativity and ingenuity with respect to platoons and defense and what-not?  Yeah, never mind about all that.
Alex Anthopoulos flipped Aviles quicker than a downtown Toronto real estate speculator, albeit perhaps with less expectation of profit.  Any added middle infield flexibility Aviles' presence on the roster represented evaporated quickly in favour of yet another hard-throwing righty reliever in Esmil Rogers, who (for now) joins Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln, and some others of that ilk in a somewhat crowded bullpen.

It's a curious deal for a bunch of reasons, the first of which is related to the deal that brought Aviles to Toronto in the first place.  I remain of the view that getting a viable, versatile middle infield piece in return for a manager with a middling track record was a bit of a coup for Anthopoulos.  In fact, the GM himself seemed to envision some kind of 2013 role for Aviles too, based on his comments to the media after the trade was finalized. Yet here we are a week later with the same questions about second base that were there at the end of the season. There's obviously a lot of off-season left, with time to answer the infield questions and others, and we can't know which players the organization might be targeting as potential fits.  But it's certainly frustrating as a fan to see a roster gap partially dealt with, and then thrown back into uncertainty within a span of days.  And as Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus pointed out on Twitter yesterday, while two data points don't make a trend, this practice of appearing to win a trade, only to quickly move the most useful return piece elsewhere for a relief pitcher, does look to be a bit of an Anthopoulos specialty. 

If all that wasn't troubling enough, I had an even more uncomfortable thought yesterday as I mentally digested this deal:  what does it mean for Sergio Santos?  Or more to the point, is it possible that the team remains pessimistic about Santos coming back healthy enough in 2013 to be effective in the late innings?  Santos is surely Exhibit A for why accumulating bullpen depth is a good thing, because you never know how hard-throwing, maximum effort pitchers who tend to find careers in relief will hold up.  Santos certainly has the potential, as well as a short but impressive track record, to be a shutdown reliever for the Jays.  But shoulder surgeries are a tricky business, and despite reports that he'll have no problem being ready for Spring Training, it's interesting that Anthopoulos continues to accumulate right-handed relief regardless.  I mean, maybe I'm being paranoid and Santos will show up to camp buckling knees with a slider and blowing a fastball past batters like nothing ever happened.  I'd love if that were the case.  It's just... does that really seem like the most likely scenario?  And isn't it better to prepare for the possibility that he might not be the same pitcher again?

If there's a saving grace in this whole business, it's that the Jays are rid of Yan Gomes, a player for whom my dislike grew with every appearance.  I don't have anything against the guy personally, and he seems like an earnest enough ballplayer.  But frankly, there was no reason to think Gomes had a future as even a borderline utility player for the Blue Jays, and I'm relieved that the organization will no longer have to deal with the temptation to pretend he might.  At whichever positions he might have been expected to fill in, I truly think the team can find plenty of other options who can do the job more effectively at the same price.  I wish him well, but packaging him in a deal for a living, breathing major-league baseball player of any kind was probably a best-case scenario.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Farrell And Everything After

Photo from the wonderful @james_in_to. More of his great stuff here.
I had counted myself among the horde who didn't believe for a second that if and when the Toronto Blue Jays traded their manager, John Farrell, to the Boston Red Sox, they would receive anything more than an above-average prospect in return.  Barring the inclusion of a higher-level player from Toronto's side, I was fairly certain that a major-league player would not be coming back north of the border.

Here we are more than a week later, and things obviously shook out much differently than I had expected they would.  Frankly, I'm pretty happy with how things transpired.  I didn't actively dislike John Farrell as a manager, really, but I also didn't put him on any kind of pedestal either.  For two years, he was just kinda there, inspiring mostly indifference in me, despite my protestations on Twitter against his daily inclusion of Adam Lind as his cleanup hitter or some other passing transgression.

The trade, in which Toronto acquired Mike Aviles in return for their erstwhile skipper, opens up a couple of key questions for GM Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the organization to address (to go with a pile of others the team will need to address this off-season, but we'll get to those later in the fall and winter).  The answers to those key questions are going to have a material impact on the approaches the team might take in 2013 and beyond -- although those impacts might not be immediately evident.

The first question, obviously, is who will replace Farrell as manager.  Anthopoulos has had one crack at picking a manager and landed, after much careful consideration, on Farrell.  Along with that choice came a particular approach to in-game strategy, clubhouse management, and all the other things a manager can influence.  Now, if the Road to Contention in the AL East were a video game, this represents a chance to at least re-start the current level.  You may have to start again a little further back than you were, but at least you have a sense what's coming at you and what you did wrong last time. Picking another manager now, after an abbreviated stint like Farrell had, gives Anthopoulos an opportunity to re-assess what it is he wants from his manager.

If there really was a disconnect between Farrell and Anthopoulos (I'm not sure there was), or if Anthopoulos has a firmer idea now of what kind of manager he needs than he might have had the first time around (I have to think he does), the GM will now get to pick a manager that he expects will fit his vision, strategy and resources better.  But there's still a huge element of guesswork involved, since it's not until the manager is in the job -- and has a roster to work with -- that results will even start to be evident.

The new manager's approach will become evident not through an introductory news conference, but rather through the dribs and drabs of information that show themselves through the course of a season.  One of those bits of data will be the way the manager utilizes a player like the freshly-arrived Aviles.

Here's a reasonably versatile middle-infield type, with a little bit of pop and a little bit of speed, and a sizable platoon split in which he's a career .344 wOBA in his career against lefties, versus a .297 against righties.

Could Aviles play every day at second base or at shortstop with numbers like those?  Sure, I guess.

Would he make a better strict platoon partner for, say, a Daniel Murphy, who bats from the other side and hits righties better than lefties, and who has been reported to be on the trading block for some time, including this past summer?  Or perhaps as a utility guy, filling in where and when his particular skill set matches best -- like starting against lefties, pinch-hitting against them when they come out of the bullpen, and being an important asset in case of injury?  Absolutely yes.

I'll concede that to use Aviles in such a way would necessitate some other upgrades to the roster in the middle infield, in particular at second base, with everything else remaining equal (that is to say, with Yunel Escobar remaining a Blue Jay or a reasonable facsimile of a starting shortstop taking his place).  That's going to be on the General Manager's shoulders.

In the optimum situation, though, I hope a new manager will be the kind of guy who isn't necessarily glued to an every-day 1 through 9 in the batting order and in the field.  I'm not talking about Joe Maddon's mad scientist routine here, which despite the accolades it gets, can also get in the way of itself.  But given this team's resources, and the talent it has now and can reasonably be expected to add in areas like the middle infield, it wouldn't hurt at all to show a bit more creativity where it's warranted.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Awkward Goodbyes and Uncomfortable Questions

Sometimes, it's hard to wrap your head around the moment when you're fully immersed in it. When you're drowning in the moment, everything seems overwhelmingly historic and meaningful. It takes a certain level of detachment to look off into the horizon when your head is still under the surface, and you're breathing nothing but water. 

Having said that, there's something about this business with the Jays trading their manager to a divisional rival that seems...let's say "transformative". Like it's a big frigging deal. Like it's a moment that we'll reflect upon years from now as a moment that either changed the direction of the franchise, or made clear that there was something flawed in the way the Blue Jays were proceeding with the Eternal Building Plan.

Because really, this whole thing is a mess. This is not the way that it is supposed to play out. And I'll spare you my interpretation over who jumped and whether if they were on the cusp of being pushed, because really, who knows? There's a lot of whispers, and from a distance, whispers really just sound like noise. I won't be so bold as to interpret them quite yet.


Brought on board following one of the most exhaustive managerial searches in the history of mankind, John Farrell was supposed to be the leader who marshalled the new-look Blue Jays into their new era of contention. But after maddeningly inscrutable two seasons at helm, Farrell was unable to reasonably earn an extension to his contract. He was also not able to make himself appear indispensable. At least not to the Jays.

I held out a lot of hope for John Farrell, from the time he was hired through until the somewhat surprising news of his departure this weekend. I thought he talked a good game, and at the risk of painting myself as a bit of  a rube, I tend to think that people who talk a good game usually have the mental dexterity to actually manage the game just as well.

Certainly, there were holes in his management of the team. I didn't always care for his lineups, though I thought that by the end of last season, he had become better with that aspect of the game. I also didn't care for the 13-man pitching staff and the lame use of a thin bench, though it is an open questions as to whether if that was his call or the general manager's.

On the positive, I appreciated that his management of the bullpen seemed to progress when he had an adequate supply of arms from which to choose. I also thought that the Jays' use of extreme shifts - taking greater advantage of Brett Lawrie's tremendous athleticism - was a very nice development this year, and one which might have been underappreciated by some of the armchair nitpickers. 

I agree somewhat with notion - the new conventional wisdom, as it were - from the progressive-minded types that states that managers have a modest impact on the performance of their team. But I can't help but wonder: Would the Tampa Bay Rays have traded their manager for a 32 year-old, sub-.700 OPS utility player? For that matter, would the Rays trade their skipper for a 27 year-old with an .800 OPS? Should they?

Maybe that seems like an unfair example, but it certainly makes it hard for me to wrap my head around the notion that a player with value is worth blowing up your entire coaching staff. It's no sure thing that Brian Butterfield and Luis Rivera and Torey Lovullo follow Farrell out of town, but it seems as though that might be the de facto outcome of this transaction, which in turn means a new manager, new coaches, and a lack of continuity in the message the players are hearing from management.

This leadership transition means new processes, and new faces creating new expectations. It's going to mean a new set of coaches feeling out the limits and pressure points on the players who make up the roster. And if any coaches remain - because Dwayne Murphy and Bruce Walton will probably keep their jobs through nuclear winters and the zombie apocalypse - it will mean that they will deal with new directives and expectations as well.

So maybe a salient question leading out of this whole mess - even if it is unanswerable at this point - is whether a new message from a new regime is better at this point than preserving the existing regime to maintain continuity. A new message might not be a bad thing, considering some of the non-injury-related backsliding by some of the younger players this season.

In the end, what Farrell's departure might help to underline is the inherent fragility of the painstaking process of building the Toronto Blue Jays into a perpetual contender. Certainly, many Jays fans still hold Anthopoulos in a positive light, and believe that his approach to building the team has been prudent and wise. But I'd also hazard a guess to say that it's a shrinking number who continue to hold this view.

It probably doesn't matter if he was plucked from the Jays through something that feels like coordinated campaign through back channels that falls just short of "tampering", or if the team simply couldn't rationalize an extension beyond next year and let him go to avoid a lame duck year. That's all academic. We can stick out our pinkies and fill the air with chatter on these points at cocktail parties all winter long.

But ultimately, this feels to a fan - this one, anyway - like another low point in a year that has had far too many of them. It feels like a bit of an insult, even if it's not entirely clear why, and who's responsible. It feels like another step backwards. 

The other side of this debacle is that the Jays will fill out the coaching staff in the coming weeks, and that will provide another opportunity for some blind optimism. We'll meet a new skipper, and project some hopes and dreams on him. We'll visualize that manager having champagne poured over his head, and celebrating some sort of meaningful victory. Just as we did with John Farrell, two short years ago.

And when it comes to taking responsibility for hiring a manager that is ultimately viewed to be disposable within two seasons: That's on AA. Farrell was his call, and it will be incumbent on him to
help take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Long-Delayed Exit Interview - Tao and Org Guy Nurse Their Wounds

Tao: So, Org Guy. Come in, sit down, relax. And you might want to close the door behind you. Welcome to the season exit interview. 

(Moves a box of tissues to the front of the desk.)

Shall I pour you a beer? Scotch? Skinny Girl brand Margarita Mixer Spritzer? I've got a little bourbon going myself. I've lost count of how many I've had too. So this might get ugly.

But listen, we're not here to talk about your performance this year. You were great, and carried the blog when you could find it in yourself to ignore work and family responsibilities long enough to post something. But I appreciate that you don't post more often, because some people don't realize that you're the one writing all the good stuff around here these days. I'm happy to take credit for you.

But really, man. This season...

(Takes sip of bourbon. Gazes into the distance. Eyes well up, ever-so-slighty.)

It wasn't what we were expecting, was it?

Org Guy: Um... I suppose I could have a drink. (Looks at watch. It's before 10 in the morning.) You've been watching Mad Men again, haven't you?

Look, I appreciate that you're able to look past the irregularity in my posting.  Frankly, it was sometimes hard to get the motivation up to even think about what was going on with the Jays for large chunks of the summer, let alone to write about them.  But now that the smouldering remains of the season can be safely seen through the rear view mirror, just watch me get prolific.

It's not as though there weren't SOME positives, though, right?  I mean, Edwin Encarnacion? 
 Brandon Morrow, when he wasn't hurt? (Looks around the room trying to think of another positive.)  And... uh... hey, is that a new desk lamp?  Nice.

Tao: Oh, the desk lamp...lemme tell you, the lamps took a beating this year. Every time the Jays lost a player to some goofball injury or the other, I hurled one of these babies at the wall. It got so that I just went ahead and ordered in bulk, though I'm nearly out at this point.

But that's really the thing of it, isn't it? Picking up broken pieces all year long. I mean, I can't even tell you if I like this lamp, because I won't let myself get attached to it. It's too fragile.

But after everything, can we glean much of anything from the past 162 games? With all of the gaps in the lineup and rotation through the second half of the season, is there anything of meaning that we can hang our jocks on, aside from: "You can never have too much pitching"?

Org Guy: Considering how far down the depth chart the organization had to dip in order to simply put a passable arm on the mound on some nights, "You can never have too much pitching" is a bit of an understatement.  It remains absurd to think that the team should need (or could possibly accommodate) four or five major-league quality starting pitchers at the AAA level, but that's what would have been required to get through the injury plague that beset them in 2012.  Now, that's admitting that there was a gamble made on at least two younger pitchers -- Drew Hutchison and Henderson Alvarez -- staying healthy and performing at a near average level all year.  Which, you know, they didn't.  It seems pretty clear to me that Alex Anthopoulos intends to address this in the off-season.  I read and listen to what he says pretty closely, and through his entire tenure as GM, I don't think he's ever verbally left himself less wiggle room than he has with regard to adding starting pitching before 2013.

But were other questions answered as definitively? Beyond pitching, when you look right up the middle of the diamond, does the team know what it has at catcher, middle infield, centerfield?  And if they do know, do they like it at all for the medium or longer term?

Tao: Here's the thing about some of those other questions: I think we knew from the outset of the season that they were questions that we were kicking down the road by a year. If you thought that Kelly Johnson or Rajai Davis or Omar Vizquel were much more than seat fillers, you were probably hoping for more than they could deliver.

And that's not a bad thing. It doesn't hurt to go into a season with three or four guys on your active roster who are just there to fill in for the season, but who add depth and avoid the necessity of going into your farm system too early. Sure, this blog has had its fun with the "Menchersons" of the past few years, but even good teams - playoff teams! - have their share of scrubs to fill in on the margins. 

I suppose, though, that we’re all a bit disappointed with Yunel Escobar’s performance – wardrobe malfunctions, notwithstanding – and that a lot of us held out hope that Colby Rasmus was something more than slightly above average. And if those guys remain with the team through the winter, they probably end up at the top of the heap of questions that we’ll be posing through next season.

As for the pitching, I hear all the rational arguments and the well-founded excuses. Guys being pushed into the deep end and such. But then I think of the Jays signing Dustin McGowan to a multi-year deal, and I just can't get away from the sense that they were either off course or off their rocker this spring.

You know I’m not a spend to contend guy, but there better be some sort of arm that shows up in Dunedin this February, ready to throw 200 innings while not crushing my will to live. 

Org Guy: It's hard to separate the "here and now" with the "what's to come", though, which might be one of the reasons why fans of this team find themselves in such a funk.  Our freshest memories of 2012 are two months without Jose Bautista and a mason jar full of replaced elbow ligaments.  It's easy to lose sight of the fact that the roster that exists now is not the one that's going to open the 2013 season.  Just how different it will be remains to be seen, but some things will change.

If there's something about which to be optimistic, I'd like to think it's the fact that the AL East looks a bit more beatable than it used to.  I flat-out refuse to believe Baltimore is actually any good, because it would be damaging to my soul to do otherwise.  The Yankees will win a lot of games next year because Yankees gonna Yankee.  Tampa Bay had a strong finish to the year, and should continue to make noise. Who knows what path Boston will take, as a team that actively made itself worse this year?  The point is, even this stain of a season hasn't necessarily put them so far behind the pack that they can't catch up.  Maybe I'm being unrealistic, but that's what the off-season is for.

Tao: Let's wrap it up, because we all have a bus to catch, and these banker's boxes aren't going to fill themselves. 

It would be nice to think that the AL East was softening. Maybe 2013 is a year where 92 wins gets you the pennant, although the Yankees can stink and seemingly still manage more than 90 wins each season. I think the Rays will continue to play above their heads, because I can't imagine them not doing so at this point. The Orioles will be good, but I don't see them replicating that insane run of good luck. And the Red Sox? I honestly think there's a scenario where they win the division next year. And one where they finish last as well.

All that said, let's go out on the positives: Last year was a mess, but there were moments, and they augur well for next year. There was a beautiful, sparkling year from Edwin Encarnacion. José Bautista and Brandon Morrow were great when they were healthy. Casey Janssen was twitchy and really good at the back of the bullpen. Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup were kinda cool stories. The bullpen version of Brett Cecil is an intriguing animal, and there's just enough promise in Adeiny Hechavarria to make me think that he could be a valuable number nine hitter.

I see reasons for optimism. I think there are plenty of them. But then I'm the optimistic type.

(Swivels around in chair, realizing that Org Guy left the room.)

Hello? Hellllooo?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Org Guy's Paternity Replacement Tweet Bag

It's a Tweet Diaper Bag! Get it?
Friends, our blogging pal the Tao is now a proud papa.  Now, those of us who have been through those whirlwind first few weeks of parenthood will likely sympathize with his plight.  I wasn't yet a blogger when either of the Org Kids came along, but if I were, my posts would have been few and far between (Ed: so what's changed?), lost in a fog of sleepless nights and laundry.  In a spirit of solidarity and goodwill while Tao tends to his growing brood, I volunteered to pinch hit for a Tweet Bag, answering your baseball and non-baseball related questions.  Without further ado:

@CFoster92 asks:
Sometimes it's easy to forget how young most major league baseball players are.  I know for a certifiable fact that I was nowhere close to being ready to be a dad until I was over the age of thirty.  Your decline years as a player happen to coincide with what I'd consider to be the best years to start a family.  It's a bit on the nose, I realize, but my "best dad" vote would probably have to be Darren Oliver.  Calm, serene wisdom dispensed in single-inning sized chunks.  If he were my dad, he'd probably just have to snap his fingers and I'd fix him a scotch, and be damn glad for the opportunity.

As for the worst dad, I feel like I'm being a bit unfair to some of the really young guys by throwing them into the mix.  Most of the under-30 set would probably be really cool to have as uncles.  But my "worst dad" crown goes to Mike McCoy, because that guy's on the road more than Willy Loman.  "You were NEVER there for me!"

@adamtherealtor asks:
We had plenty of Tweet Bag questions about potential 2013 acquisitions.  Me, I have an unnatural desire, growing stronger every day, for the Jays to sign Jeff Keppinger to play second base next year, or at least fill out a utility role as Tao discussed a couple weeks ago.  It doesn't pain me to say it now as much as it might have in, say, July, but Adeiny Hechavarria does still seem to have the inside track right now for second base.  The Keppinger and  Hechavarria scenarios are more a reflection of the weak free agent class at the position than anything else, which is why I think if they look outside the organization for second base, they'll go the trade route.

And if you allow yourself to dream big for just a minute, there are some intriguing possibilities out there.  Why, the Philadelphia Phillies traded almost all the rest of their big-money guys as their season circled the drain, so surely they could be coaxed into moving Chase Utley north of the border, right?  Two seasons left on the contract at $15 million per, at which point he'll be entering his age 35 season. I could get behind taking that off Ruben Amaro's hands (although Utley does have a limited no-trade clause and I think is closing in on 10 and 5 rights, thanks to the indispensable Cot's Baseball Contracts).  I'm not saying it would be easy.  But it would be fun if Alex Anthopoulos were to shoot for the stars, and hopefully hit the moon.  They certainly have the prospects in the system to make some big deals, if they decide that's the direction they want to take.

Speaking of which, @sporkless asks:
And this is where things get trickier.  Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD do it.  I like the idea of trading prospects now to improve for 2013 -- I just don't think the idea of going "all in" for one season should override the need to maintain a system-wide strength for years to come (a point I've made in the past), because there are never any guarantees it will work, and the ensuing years can be pretty painful if it doesn't.  So how many prospects is too many prospects?

Or, as @JackCekovic and @scottrobinson7 ask:
I think one or two of the the "Lansing Three" -- Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino -- will be in the mix for deals this off-season.  I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of them traded away, in particular if packaged in return for a starting pitcher that can slot is as a #2 or #3 type.  There's been some indication already that Anthopoulos is willing to part with prospects and understands the perilous attrition rate for even the best prospect talent out there.  And as much as the Lansing Three are excellent prospects, the idea that there are three Roy Halladays lurking within the organization at low-A ball is just as absurd as it sounds.  There's a chance -- a remote one -- that those kids will all turn out as above-average starting pitchers in the major leagues, but the more likely scenario is that one or none of them does.  "They're not all going to play up here."

Now, I did indicate that I was an expert in lawn care, as well as the works of Steve Earle, when soliciting questions for this little segment.  I may have been overstating things with respect to lawn care.  Nevertheless, to answer the question above, and that of @whatadewitt:
The most useful things I've learned about actually getting your grass to look good are:  aerate (both in the spring and the fall); fertilize (both in the spring and fall); seed (both in the spring and fall -- don't bother in the middle of the summer because it's too hot for the seed to properly germinate and take root); and water the hell out of it all summer long.  Get a good fall fertilizer now, and spread it after you've given one good last raking for the fall and aerated it.  It's probably too late now to try to seed anything for fall.  But both in the spring and fall, if you have bare spots or things are just a bit thin, lay down a thin covering of topsoil and peat moss mixture, spread some quality grass seed on it and keep it nice and moist for a good couple weeks.  As long as the temperature is somewhere between about 15 and 25 Celsius, this is a good time to thicken things up.

Onward!  @_LeftField asks:
and @NicholasDeRosa asks:
These questions refer to my encyclopedic knowledge of the Steve Earle catalogue.  To the first, of those three, my pick is Guitar Town.  It's a fine album that holds up incredibly well despite being more than 25 years old, but my pick here is a little sentimental.  This was the first CD I ever purchased, and I did so before I even had a CD player.  I bought a CD player just so I could listen to Guitar Town.  Earle's music has progressed in a dozen different directions since then.  I like the question about Telephone Road because it references probably my favourite album of all his standard "Steve Earle & the Dukes" efforts -- El Corazon.  Telephone Road is a terrific, very underrated song, and it's not even close to the best one on the album.  I could listen to that album every day and not get tired of it.  Fort Worth Blues will haunt your dreams.

Alright, I know I got a lot more questions than these, and I wish I had time to get to more, but this is getting awfully long already and a lot of it isn't even about baseball.  Just trying to ease you into the off-season, I guess.  Enjoy the playoff baseball, everyone, because once it's gone, baby, it's gone.