Friday, March 30, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - The 26th Man

Who: Not one person in particular, but a collection of bipeds with pulses who may be asked to step in and put on the snazzy new unis and fill in where there’s a hole caused by injury, trades, poor performance or other unforeseen circumstances. Remember Darin Mastroianni’s game in centre field last year? Or the return of DeWayne Wise? Brian Tallet’s one disastrous return to the mound? Or the one out registered by Scott Richmond last year?

Why: The Jays used 24 position players and 29 pitchers to get through the 2011 season, with 12 different pitchers starting a game for them. So again, you’d be right to ask: Who? It’s likely that the last guys out will end up being some of the first ones back.

Below, you’ll find a handful of the likely suspects. Some of these players may not make the team this year, and some may actually gain some tenuous hold on a spot before the team heads north. Heck, they may have even been released between the time that we’re typing this out and when you read it.

In any case, it’s unlikely that any of them play a major role on this year’s team, but then again, who the hell really knows?

Mike McCoy: McCoy seems to be the most likely candidate to bounce back and forth between Las Vegas and Toronto on a pretty regular basis. McCoy is versatile enough to play pretty much anywhere on the diamond, though his bat (.291 OBP, .269 SLG) likely doesn’t play anywhere.

Luis Valbuena: With Omar Vizquel making the team, Valbuena likely hits the waiver wire before the season begins. A .200 OBP in 37 spring at bats might allow him to slip through and make his way to Vegas.

Jonathan Diaz: A .462 OBP and .976 OPS in 21 spring games to go along with a very reliable glove up the middle might allow Diaz to slip ahead of McCoy or Valbuena should a bench role open up.

David Cooper: If Adam Lind’s back gets tricky again, the Jays might bypass Travis Snider in the short term and look to wring a few starts out of their Quad-A first baseman.

Yan Gomes: Had an impressive spring (.382 OBP, .676 SLG, seven doubles and a homer in 34 at bats), and demonstrated intriguing versatility by playing third and first in addition to his catching duties. If either Arencibia or Mathis go down, Gomes might get the call before top prospect Travis d’Arnaud. Also, is a dead ringer for Arencibia, so Jays fans might not even notice the difference for a few weeks.

Aaron Laffey: Has an outside shot at the rotation, though the notion that the Jays would choose to subject Kyle Drabek to the PCL as some sort of character-building exercise seems a bit cruel and unusual.

Jim Hoey: Seven strikeouts versus one walk in eight innings this spring. He throws hard, and we saw him hit 97 M.P.H. on the radar gun in Dunedin which didn’t seem overly generous to any pitcher.

Trystan Magnuson, Chad Beck, Evan Crawford: All relievers on the 40-man roster for the time being.

Some dude who arrives in a trade: Entirely likely that we'll see this guy, though we haven't the faintest who it might be. If you had pegged Colby Rasmus to be the everyday centre fielder last year, then would you mind filling out our lottery tickets for us this weekend?


And so, that’s that. That’s your 30 Jays in 30 Days preview. If we were evaluate our own work over the past six weeks, we’d say that there was some inconsistent play, but that we grinded it out and gave our all. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed yourselves, and found a bit of fun along the way.

One name that you may have noticed was missing from the 30 Jays was Kyle Drabek, in part because our preview piece on him was reserved for Sportsnet Magazine. You should still be able to find it on a finer newsstand near you. And if not, ask a friend if you can swipe theirs. We kinda like the piece, and it is a treat to see our ramblings alongside the excellent preview pieces by Arden Zwelling, Mike Wilner and Stephen Brunt.

And now, onward into the season.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Brett Lawrie's Star Burns Bright

Who: Brett Lawrie, No. 13. Third baseman. Bats right, throws right. 6’0”, 215 LBS. 22 years old.

Provenance: Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Canada, Canada, Canada. Drafted in the first round (16th overall) of the 2008 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. Acquired by the Blue Jays on December 6th, 2010 in exchange for pitcher Shaun Marcum.

Contract Status: Date of arbitration eligibility not yet established.

Still Just a Babe: Was the fifth youngest player in the American League last year.

Minor League Stats: In three minor league seasons across four levels, played 326 games in the systems of the Brewers and Blue Jays. .360 OBP, .492 SLG, .852 OPS. 39 homers, 190 RBI, 208 runs scored in 1425 plate appearances.

2011 MLB Stats: In 171 plate appearances over 43 games, .373 OBP, .580 SLG, .953 OPS with eight doubles, four triples, nine homers, and seven steals.

Looking Back: Brett Lawrie has gone supernova.

There was plenty of excitement about him when the Jays acquired him around the Winter Meetings after the 2010 season, a fair bit of which was fuelled by the fact that he was a “homegrown” talent. (From 3000 kilometres away, but nevermind that.) At the time, we figured that a September call-up might be a possibility, but that 2013 was most likely the point where Lawrie would become an every day player.

But Lawrie’s arrival in Jays camp was loud and fierce, and garnered raves from nearly everyone who saw him bust out and impose himself into the near term plans of the team. From the media to the manager to the front office, it was hard to find anyone who wasn’t wowed by Lawrie.

Were it not for an ill-time errant pitch that caught Lawrie in the hand, he may have earned his way to Toronto as early as May last year. Lawrie not only tore up the Pacific Coast League (18 homers, 1.076 OPS, 13 steals in 69 games), but he responded to direction from the team in a way that we’ve never quite seen. When the front office noted that he was being too aggressive early in counts and not taking enough pitches, Lawrie immediately changed his approach and added close to 70 points of on-base percentage over his previous minor league outputs. Moreover, he did this while moving up a level and learning a new position.

By the time he arrived in Toronto in August, the legend of Lawrie had grown to a point where his was the most anticipated Blue Jays debut in recent memory. He did little to disappoint, cranking out game-changing hits at a hellacious pace, and looking like he belonged from the moment he arrived. There is nothing timid or tentative about Brett Lawrie.

Even his defense, which initially looked problematic, visibly improved over his two months with the big club. He appeared to loosen up in his approach to fielding the ball, and by season’s end, his throws looked loose and elegant while remaining strong and on target.

Looking Forward: Last week, as we walked around the concourse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, we saw Lawrie’s name screened onto the backs of more fans’ new blue paraphernalia than every other Blue Jay combined. And though he spent most of that week sitting out to rest a sore groin, his comings and goings were closely monitored by all of the other baseball nerds who showed up at 11 am to watch practice sessions.

As much as we might attempt to maintain a critical distance from the patriotically-fuelled Lawrie-mania, we have to tell you: It’s really difficult to resist the urge to watch his every step. We were compelled to watch him take grounders at third, and especially notice the improvement on his footwork and throws. We couldn’t help but pay attention as he crushed the ball in batting practice – the ball really does sound different coming off his bat – nor could we help but notice how eager he was with a smile and a handshake to the media or fans assembled on the field.

Brett Lawrie is a big bright shining star.

Of course, this season will bring a whole new test, as Lawrie will have to adjust to teams who have video on him and his approach to hundreds of at bats. Given his previous determination to make adjustments and absorb instruction, it will be interesting to see if Lawrie will recognize new patterns and reconfigure his own approach. We’d find it hard to bet against him.

2012 Expectations: Last year’s big league numbers were pretty extraordinary, though we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves in trumpeting that small sample. Still, Lawrie has a number of tools at his disposal, and can use his speed to change games should his power regress. Health will also be a concern, given his tendency to play all-out, all the time.

Lawrie will still be young, and still have to adapt and adjust to a higher level of play and tremendous pressure. But we wouldn’t want to be the one attempting to rationalize doubts about his ability to conquer his foes and exceed the expectations.

A full year of watching Brett Lawrie is a very exciting thought to hold onto on the eve of the season.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - José Bautista is a Transcendent Superstar

Who: José Bautista, No. 19. Right fielder, occasional third baseman. Bats right, throws right. 6’0”, 195 LBS. 31 years old.

Provenance: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Drafted in the 20th round of the 2000 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Acquired by the Blue Jays on August 21, 2008 in exchange for catcher Robinson Diaz.

Tao-Approved Nickname: One Man Gang.

Contract Status: Beginning second year of a five-year, $65 million deal signed last spring. Jays hold an additional option year for 2016.

Career Stats: 885 games played for Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Toronto. .362 OBP, .481 SLG, .843 OPS. 156 homers, 438 RBI, 455 runs scored in 3376 plate appearances. Two All-Star appearances. Two Silver Sluggers. Two Hank Aaron Awards.

2011 Stats: .447 OBP, .608 SLG 1.056 OPS with 43 homers in 149 games.

Before and After
: Posted an OPS+ of 91 from 2004-2009. From 2010 on, posted an OPS+ of 173.

Looking Back: A year ago, we were left wondering how José Bautista would ever follow up his 54-homer coming out party. Also, we were wondering why the Jays were planning to honour Jason Frasor because of the big number 54 on the field on Opening Day. Because we’re a bit dim sometimes, and have yet to retire our aluminum pots and pans.

What Bautista did to top it was add almost 70 points of on base percentage, and lead the league in walks, slugging, OPS and OPS+. Oh, and homers too. Again. No biggie.

For all of that achievement, Bautista became an afterthought in the Most Valuable Player discussion towards the end of last season. Baseball’s chattering class twisted itself into painful contortions in order to find arguments against his candidacy. That punditry, in an all-out effort to hold true to the sacred conventional wisdom that governs baseball’s awards season, dismissed Bautista out of hand, noting that his production “tailed off” or that he went “into the tank” after the All-Star Game. We wouldn’t classify an OPS of .893 with 12 homers in 64 games in that manner, but hey…live and let live, right?

We wouldn’t even be so impertinent as to point out that when his team needed him to fill in at third base for several weeks to rebalance the team’s defensive strengths and weaknesses, he made the shift without much fuss and vastly improved their infield defense for the month while they waited to the apparition of another star. (But more on that guy tomorrow.)

Bautista can take some comfort in a record number of All-Star votes, as he garnered almost 7.5 million ballots from fans around the world. In the space of two seasons, Bautista has evolved from a handy and perhaps underappreciated utility man into a truly transcendent star. He’s become the biggest sports star in Toronto, and one of the most recognized faces in baseball.

Looking Forward: It’s hard not to revert back to last year’s question: What next? It’s perfectly reasonable to expect some sort of regression with Bautista’s output. Given just how high he set the bar with last year’s all-around excellence, it’s hard to envision that there’s another level above that for Bautista to achieve.

It could be that the next level has less to do with personal achievements, and more to do with the success of the team. Last season’s personal development for Bautista was built on refining his game, becoming more selective at the plate and taking as many walks as the opposition was prepared to offer. If he can maintain his patience and if the lineup around him is more productive, it could lead to improvement in the most important stat of all: Team wins.

Speaking of the team, Bautista has said in the past that he believes he serves it best when he is playing right field. We wonder about this a fair bit lately, as we become more convinced that he’ll finish up his contract in Toronto playing first base. That’s not to slam his defense -- though his rocket arm helps to conceal some of his positional weaknesses – but it is more a matter of how many outfielders will begin to crowd the picture for the Jays within the next 18 months.

Bautista comes off as a proud and driven player, so could he see such a move as something that is better for the team and not a personal demotion?

2012 Expectations: We expect that Bautista will continue to produce at a level with the best players in the game. An OPS over .900 would seem reasonable, and anything above .950 would be great.

What might be interesting is how Bautista is perceived in the season’s endgame, especially if the Jays are in the mix for one of the two Wild Card positions in August or September. If he has even 90% of last season’s success while the Jays are in the postseason discussion, could he break through and achieve the individual honour of an MVP season?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Ricky Romero is an Ace of a Guy

Who: Ricky Romero, No. 24. Left-handed starting pitcher. 6’0”, 215 LBS. 27 years old.

Provenance: East Los Angeles, California. Drafted as out of Cal State Fullerton by the Blue Jays in the first round (6th overall) of the 2005 draft.

Contract Status: Signed five-year $30.1 million extension with the Blue Jays in August of 2010. Deal runs from 2011 through 2015, and includes one club option for 2016 at $13.1 million.

Career Stats: 3.60 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 93 starts over three seasons with the Blue Jays. In 613.0 innings pitched, has struck out 493 batters (7.2 K/ 9), walked 241 (3.5 BB/9).

2011 Stats: 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 178 strikeouts (7.1 K/9) and 80 walks in 225 innings.

Looking Back
: The most impressive aspect of Ricky Romero’s 2011 season is hard to locate in his stat lines or game logs. Certainly, the career best marks that he posted in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and innings pitched show that RickRo took an important step forward last season in becoming a bona fide staff ace.

But what sticks with us more than anything was Romero’s resolve in the final six weeks of the season. At that point, Romero was well beyond any innings pace that he’d ever previously posted, and his stuff and control began to elude him. There were times where early in counts, he just wasn’t locating pitches as well as he wanted. He went deep into counts, walked batters, gave up a few extra runs, ran up his pitch count, and got knocked out before reaching the seventh inning in a number of those games. But even with those struggles, Romero bore down and limited damage, pitching smartly and working his way out of jams with guile and smart pitch selection.

People can define the term “ace” however they want. But for us, a pitcher’s ability to focus and work his way through and out of difficult situations while saving the bullpen and keeping his team in the game are truly the hallmarks of that role. And that’s precisely what Ricky Romero did for the Jays last year.

Looking Forward: While there were a number of high water marks for Romero last year, his strikeout and walk rates have remained relatively similar over all three of his major league seasons. Which raises the question as to whether if there wasn’t some luck involved with last year’s ERA.

Romero’s fielding-independent pitching stats insinuate that his output might not be all that it appeared, and if you are going to cling to those FIPs and xFIPs when dreaming up your happiest Brandon Morrow thoughts, then it probably makes sense to note that Romero posted an xFIP of 3.80 last season. That’s not a bad mark (21st in the American League, if you must know), but there’s enough of a gap in the wrong direction between it and Romero’s ERA to make you wonder if a slight slip back might be entirely predictable.

Romero’s success will depend in part on the defense behind him, and while there are positions that look as though they are improved (centrefield and third base), there are others that might be slightly diminished (second base and left field).

Given that uncertainty, Romero’s strikeout rate will bear some scrutiny this year. If he can bump it up above eight per nine without running up his pitch count, he may be able to avoid any

2012 Expectations: Even if he adds a half a run to his ERA in passing, it probably wouldn’t be a crushing blow to the Jays’ ultimate level of success. Romero’s ability to take the ball every five days and grind out more than 200 high quality innings will be the more vital contribution to the Blue Jays’ season.

Monday, March 26, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Sergio Santos Has a Scary Arm

Who: Sergio Santos, No. 21. Right-handed relief pitcher. 6’2”, 230 LBS. 28 years old.

Provenance: Bellflower, California. Drafted as a high school senior by Arizona in the first round (27th overall) of the 2002 draft. Acquired by the Blue Jays on December 6, 2011, for minor-leaguer Nestor Molina.

In Another Life: Was ranked the #37 prospect in the game by Baseball America in 2004 as a shortstop in the Diamondbacks’ system. Traded to Toronto as part of the Troy Glaus trade in December of 2005. Spent two seasons and a few months with Jays before being selected off waivers by the Twins.

Contract Status: Signed three-year, $8.25 million extension with the White Sox in September of 2011. Deal also includes three club options for the years 2015 through 2017, with a $750,000 buyout on each.

Career Stats: 3.29 ERA and 1.296 WHIP in 119 relief outings over two seasons with the White Sox. In 115.0 innings pitched, has struck out 148 batters (11.6 K/ 9), walked 55 (4.3 BB/9). 31 saves.

2011 Stats: 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 92 strikeouts (13.1 K/9) and 29 walks in 63 innings. 30 saves.

Looking Back: It doesn’t feel like all that long ago that we were watching Sergio Santos take ground balls at third base for the then-SkyChiefs of Syracuse. Our impression of him back then was that we was an impressive physical specimen, but he was not much of a bat, even against some fairly tepid Triple-A pitching.

So it was an odd bit of news two years ago when we started to see his name listed among the depth arms in the White Sox system. It was more of a curiosity until we got out first look at his 2009 minor league numbers, and saw the impressive strikeout totals he posted as he rocketed through the White Sox system. In that season, Santos leapt through four levels in 26 games, and while his cumulative ERA was 8.16, he showed enough of an ability to miss bats to make him an intriguing project.

His ascent to the White Sox in 2010 and subsequent move to the closer role last season followed as he began to find enough control over his pitches to make himself an imposing late game option. Santos averages north of 95 M.P.H. with his fastball, and mixes in a hard slider that elicits futile swings, along with the occasional changeup.

All of which makes it rather strange that the White Sox would ship him out of town after signing him to a very club-friendly deal that could have wrapped him up for six seasons.

Looking Forward: Santos enters the season as the undisputed closer, marking the first time since B.J. Ryan’s career-ending implosion that the Jays have had such clarity about the role in March. And given the unsatisfactory performances of the bullpen last year and the season before, Santos will find himself pitching before a fanbase with little or no tolerance for failure from someone in that vaunted role.

Having had a chance to see Santos this weekend, we wondered if those fans are ready to see a pitcher who is still somewhat raw. With a walk rate over four per nine innings, Santos will launch some of those mighty throws into the dirt and on to the backstop with the game on the line. He’s a power arm, and will throw harder than any Blue Jay closer since Billy Koch, but it won’t always be with pinpoint accuracy.

2012 Expectations: It seems like a bit too much to ask for Santos to repeat last season’s strikeout bonanza, and against patient teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, it will take more than stuff to get through closing assignments. Still, if he can post a K/9 in the range of nine or above, and keep his walks per nine below four, the Jays will have found that elusive bullpen ace.

And if it plays out that well, Santos could be among the most exciting additions to the franchise in some time.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Snider Thing

Photo via the Las Vegas Sun

I had intended to write up another off-field preview for the 30 Jays in 30 Days series this weekend.

(And really: before I go any further, can we all give a tip of the cap to the Tao for having taken this endeavour on? As it reaches its conclusion, and Opening Day gets ever closer, I think it’s been a fun, insightful exercise to take stock of the roster the way this series has. It’s been a lot of work, though, and Tao deserves our thanks for it. Even if he didn’t take me to Florida with him.)

But instead of adding a preview of Dwayne Murphy or Pete Walker or the guys who tape ankles in the clubhouse, I felt like this time would be better spent discussing the outcome, which we learned today, of the “Battle for Left Field” that had unfolded during Spring Training. Travis Snider was optioned to AAA Las Vegas earlier today, making Eric Thames your starting left fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. At least for now.

In fact, there wasn’t really a battle at all, in any official sense of the word. When Alex Anthopoulos comes out and says something to the media, even if it sometimes sounds less than definitive or leaves him all kinds of wiggle room, he generally means it. In retrospect, Anthopoulos, along with pretty much every other person in the organization, couldn’t have signalled louder that Thames was getting the left field job unless they walked around Dunedin carrying #TeamThames bullhorns.

It’s not that they were leading the fans on with a false display of real competition for the job; it’s that a lot of us (me included) projected our own desire to see a real competition onto the otherwise mundane preseason preparation in Florida. It was easy to get caught up in a spring training position battle, even a contrived one, because spring training would be as exciting as Uno night at your grandma’s place without some storylines like this.

I love Travis Snider, and I’m sad about this. But I don’t think Travis Snider is getting a raw deal, or getting jerked around by the organization, or being developed improperly, or that he should (SHUT YO MOUTH) be traded. In fact, quite the opposite: this might be the first time in four years that anyone in the organization is being 100% honest with the guy. He knew going into camp that he was probably going to be on the outside looking in on Opening Day. Then he came in and had a pretty damn good camp. And OF COURSE he did. He’s a very talented hitter; he was facing weaker competition than he would during a big-league regular season; and he had (I would think) some degree of certainty about what the end result of this whole exercise was going to be, so he had a chance to just go out and play some baseball.

In “Moneyball”, Michael Lewis looked back at Billy Beane’s ignominious big-league career and contrasted it to the likes of Lenny Dykstra. The picture was of a tightly-wound perfectionist with the highest of expectations wrapped up in him; as opposed to a loose cannon who never understood why anyone would doubt he could play in the bigs, because all you had to do was go out there and play the bloody game the way you know how. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a little bit of that Billy Beane conundrum going on with Travis Snider. The skills and the tools are there. But that absolute certainty is elusive. That faith in his own abilities; that confidence that he can just let it all hang out on the diamond and the inevitable result will be elite-level success; that I’m-good-at-this-and-I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think attitude. With a ticket to Vegas in hand and almost nothing to lose, it’s entirely possible we saw some of that attitude begin to emerge this spring in Dunedin with Travis Snider, and I suspect the organization wants to see if he can build on it now.

You can look just down the dugout at a 21-year-old Brett Lawrie and see that whole package ready to explode onto the Major League scene. It’s the kind of supernova arrival that we fans of Snider have been hoping for – expecting, even – for about three years.

But Travis Snider isn’t Brett Lawrie. He’s also not Billy Beane, or Lenny Dykstra, or anyone else. There’s no template for success in the major leagues. There’s just thousands and thousands of prospects and non-prospects trying to find a way to put it all together. We probably shouldn’t forget that Snider is still – still, after all the false starts and dashed hopes – closer than most are to doing so.

Friday, March 23, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - How Do You Solve a Riddle Like Rasmus?

Who: Colby Rasmus, No. 28. Centrefielder. Bats left, throws left. 6’2”, 200 LBS. 25 years old.

Provenance: Columbus, Georgia. Drafted in the first round (28th overall) by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005. Acquired by the Blue Jays in a three-team trade on July 27, 2011.

Contract Status: Signed a one-year deal worth $2.7 million in the offseason to avoid arbitration. Two years of arbitration rights remains. Eligible for free agency in 2015.

Career Stats: 420 games played for St. Louis and Toronto. .322 OBP, .432 SLG, .754 OPS. 53 homers, 171 RBI, 232 runs scored in 1580 plate appearances.

2011 Stats: .688 OPS (.298/.391) with 14 homers in 129 games between the Cards and Jays. Posted .517 OPS (.201/.316) after the trade.

Looking Back: Maybe it’s some sort of Mickey Mantle fixation that we all have, where every talented young “five-tool” centrefielder is just supposed to come blow our hair back and leave us breathless all the time.

After a tremendous 2010 campaign, in which Colby Rasmus showed the potential to be something truly special, last season was one that he’d most likely rather forget. Rasmus struggled mightily from the start of the season, and saw himself the focus of the Cardinals’ displeasure until he was dispatched just before the non-waiver trade deadline.

What occurred after his arrival to the Jays – two months of profound struggles and injuries – certainly didn’t help to build his reputation with his new fan base. And to add insult to injury, the Cardinals went on a historic run after the trade from 10 games back to become World Series champions.

Rasmus truly looked as though he was lost after the trade. When he fell behind early in the count he expanded his strike zone significantly and began chasing breaking balls, leading him to strike out 27.9% of the time while drawing just five walks as a Blue Jay.

The more that we think about it, the more that we recognize why some Blue Jays fans are so quick to dismiss Rasmus and look past him towards the next prospects. It’s not to say that we agree, because we don’t think the player who posted an .859 OPS and hit 23 homers in 2010 was replaced by pod people. It might just take some effort to find him again.

Looking Forward: It’s particularly hard to read Colby Rasmus because he presents himself in such a low key, laconic manner that you wonder whether if there’s any energy there at all. Put him next to a jacked-up, earnestly energetic Brett Lawrie, and you wonder why Colby doesn’t seem more enthused to be given the opportunity to play every day.

But that exterior doesn’t speak to what is actually happening inside the man’s mind, and we hope that in the coming year, he’ll have the opportunity to show the reason why the Jays brass and so many others around baseball were so enthused with his talents.

With all of the other bats around him, Rasmus can probably settle into a spot lower in the line up, and won’t be asked to carry a large part of the load. However, if he does find himself in a spot just before or after Brett Lawrie, or wedged between Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia, his lack of production will be noticeable if he’s not driving them in or getting on base to give them runners in scoring position.

Rasmus’ defense will also bear some scrutiny this season, as he’ll be pushed hard by Anthony Gose by the time next spring rolls around. The advanced defensive metrics dislike Rasmus, giving him negative marks for his range, so if he’s to hang around Toronto in the long term, he’ll likely need to put up enough offense to take a corner spot or play the field well enough to prop up his bat.

2012 Expectations: We think Rasmus is much better than he showed last year, and that if he can find the right approach at the plate, he will post an OPS right around .800. He’ll likely strike out a fair bit and he won’t steal many bases, but if he can show patience at the plate, he can be an asset by getting on base and hitting 15-20 homers.

But the upside is much more than that, which is why we're not nearly ready to figure that we've solved the question of who Colby Rasmus is.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Brandon Morrow is Ready for His Close-Up

Who: Brandon Morrow, No. 23. Right-handed starting pitcher. 6’3”, 195 LBS. 27 years old.

Provenance: Santa Rosa, California. Drafted by Seattle in the first round (5th overall) of the 2006 draft out of the University of California. (Berkeley!)

Contract Status: Signed three-year, $21 million extension to avoid arbitration this past January.

Career Stats: 4.37 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 187 games (71 starts) over five seasons with the Mariners and the Jays. In 523.1 innings pitches, has struck out 585 batters (10.1 K/ 9), walked 263 (4.5 BB/9).

2011 Stats: 4.72 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 203 strikeouts and 69 walks in 179.1 innings over 30 starts.

Nerd Alert: Morrow posted a 3.53 xFIP (25th in MLB) and 3.31 SIERA (14th). Which, in case you’re not predisposed to such ways of measuring things, is pretty good.

Looking Back: Morrow’s 2011 never seemed to fully get on track, especially given the astronomical hopes that had sprung up after his otherworldly 17 strikeout, one-hit masterpiece at the end of the 2010 season.

The Jays brass has been cautious with Morrow – maybe even to a fault – and didn’t allow him to make his first start of the season until April 23rd. Moreover, they were quick to pull him out of games early in the season, at times not allowing him to pitch his way out of his own trouble. Both decisions irked Morrow, who seemingly wants the team to take the training wheels off and let him go.

Though the ERA wasn’t anything to write home about, Morrow managed to impress in two rate stats of note: His strikeouts per nine was the best in the American League at 10.2, and he dropped his walks per nine to 3.5, the lowest mark of his career. His 1.29 WHIP was also the lowest of any year in which he served primarily as a starter.
As the nerd stats seem to indicate, Morrow was also extraordinarily unlucky, especially when it came getting double play balls. He was on target to go the entire season without the benefit of a GIDP until his second-to-last start, in which he elicited one from the Tampa Bay Rays in a 5-1 victory.

It’s difficult to tie Morrow’s pitch selection to those aforementioned results, but it is worth noting that he back off on throwing his curve ball (from 12.2% in 2010 to 5.6% in 2011) and his changeup (from 14.1% to 6.2%), while relying more on his slider (15.3% to 26.6%). Every pitcher is different, and they find whatever mix works for them, though working as a fastball/slider pitcher certainly makes sense to us. (Come on, look at the name of this blog. How could we not love a guy who deals a wicked slider?)

One pitch that doesn’t show up in Fangraphs’ pitch type breakdown is a cutter, which Morrow affirmed on Twitter that he was working in to his repertoire towards the season’s end. It will be worth watching to see if he continues to mix it in this year.

Looking Forward: So Brandon Morrow puts up basically the same ERA as Brett Cecil last year, and somehow, we’re figuring that he’s a staff ace who’s almost ready to assume the mantle. Funny how that works.

The separator is that Morrow has the ability to miss bats, and to overpower hitters when the need arises. He was somewhat susceptible to the long ball, which is a problem for a pitcher in the AL East, but his stated recognition of a need to pitch to contact earlier in games might help to minimize some of the damage that comes with those big flies.

Morrow enters the season as the number two starter, and we certainly feel as though he could be the best pitcher on the staff on any given day. But even being that high up the pecking order, Morrow should feel the push from the young pitchers coming up quickly in the next year or two.

When you look at the SIERA rankings, you see Morrow’s name alongside James Shields, Matt Garza and Dan Haren, that exactly the class of pitch with which we think he belongs.

2012 Expectations: Maybe we said this last year as well, but this year, we really mean and really think it will come to pass: Brandon Morrow is going to come into his own this year. With a little luck and some good defense behind him, an ERA in the mid-to-low 3.00’s doesn’t seem out of the question.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - On the Velocity and Mass of Brett Cecil

Who: Brett Cecil, No. 27. Left-handed starting pitcher. 6’1”, 215 LBS, down from 250 last season. 25 years old.

Provenance: Dunkirk, Maryland. Drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round (supplemental) of the 2007 draft out of the University of Maryland. Go Terps.

Contract Status: Resigned for one year by the Jays in the offseason. Arbitration eligible after this season.

2011 Stats: 4.73 ERA, 1.326 WHIP, 87 strikeouts and 42 walks in 123.2 innings over 20 starts with the Blue Jays.

Career Stats: 4.64 ERA in 66 games (65 starts) over three seasons with the Jays. 6.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.40 WHIP in 389.2 innings.

Looking Back: It feels as though we’ve spent much of the past 18 months treating Brett Cecil as some sort of riddle, wrapped in an enigma and smothered in secret sauce. How could the 15-game winner (most on the Jays!) in 2010 devolve into a 4-11 pitcher in the space of one year?

And yet, if you cast your eyes down his stat line a bit, you start to see that Brett Cecil’s last two seasons have more in common than the win-loss record would lead you to believe. (Which is why we never talk about pitcher win-loss records, and why you should pay them little mind. But we digress.)

Cecil’s WHIP in 2010 and 2011 was the exact same at 1.326. His K/9 rate was 6.1 in 2010 and 6.3 in 2011. His BB/9 was 2.8 in 2010 and 3.1 in 2011. The differences are hardly earth-shattering. The numbers that stand out when comparing the two seasons are those that show hitters getting balls in the air off the Jays’ lefty. His flyball rate bumped up from 38.2% to 43.5%, and his HR/9 rate spiked from 0.9 to 1.6.

Plucking from our memory we’d explain the added loft by noting the trouble Cecil had keeping the ball down in the zone last year. His delivery seemed to be a constant work in progress, especially after he showed up to spring training with a couple of miles per hour missing from all of his pitches. He’s gone from a pitcher who touches the low 90’s and averaged 90.7 M.P.H. in his 2009 debut to averaging 88.5 M.P.H. last season.

Looking Forward: Funny how one year later, we’re all still waiting for Cecil’s velocity to return.

Anyone who is live-tweeting the games from Florida is questioned almost immediately from Jays fans as to the speed that Cecil is showing in any given game. There ought to be a hashtag for that: #CecilRadarGunWatch? #WhatsTheVelocityCecil?

Through his ascent through the system, there was talk of Cecil being a power lefty, and even the odd musing about his ability to close games. But the reports back so far would seem to indicate that Cecil has become a pitcher for whom the 90’s will be just out of reach for his fastball. If Cecil is going to succeed, he’ll have to do it with guile and control, and better location on his pitches.

Cecil’s off-season weight-loss is supposed to help him finish through his delivery, and keep the ball down in the zone. Apparently, love handles and puffy midsections impede your ability to keep a downward angle on your pitches, which means that we’d probably be launching everything over the backstop at this point. Again, apologies for the further digression.

2012 Expectations: It’s not inconceivable that Cecil could find a way to take his arsenal of pitches and carve out a decent season for himself, though the Jays will likely look to him to eat innings and carry his starts through and beyond the sixth inning this season. If his newly svelte figure truly helps him keep the ball down in the zone, we could see a season closer to his 2010 performance. Not exactly the stuff that puts you over the top in the AL East, but a very useful arm at the back of the rotation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - The Game is the Game for Omar Vizquel

Who: Omar Vizquel, No. 17. Utility infielder. Switch-hitter, throws right. 5’9”, 180 LBS. 44 years old.

Provenance: Caracas, Venezuela. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 1984.

Contract Status: Signed a one-year minor-league deal with the Blue Jays on January 24th, with an invitation to spring training. Has yet to be added to the 40-man roster.

Career Stats: 2908 games played for Seattle, Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas and Chicago (AL). .272 AVG, .337 OBP, .353 SLG, .690 OPS. 2841 hits. Three-time All-Star, 11 Gold Gloves.

Active Leader: Vizquel is the active leader in a number of career stats, including games played, plate appearances (11,850), sacrifice hits (255), outs made (8,306), assists (7,947). He has played more games at shortstop than any player in history (2,699).

2011 Stats: 58 games with the White Sox. .251 AVG, .287 OBP, .305 SLG, .592 OPS in 182 plate appearances.

Looking Back: The odd thing about Omar Vizquel is that he doesn’t seem nearly as, um, “experienced” as his 44 years suggest. Maybe it’s because the peak of his career came relatively late, at the age of 32. Or maybe it is because he doesn’t seem to have lost that much off his game.

Vizquel has spent most of the last four seasons as a part-time player, picking up starts in the case of injuries and acting as a mentor to young Hispanic shortstops in Texas (Elvis Andrus) and Chicago (Alexei Ramirez). His offensive output isn’t especially staggering, with a .673 OPS in 2010 passing as a “good” season. At the same time, he’s put up better numbers than either Luis Valbuena or Mike McCoy, or John McDonald for that matter.

Most people wouldn’t really think of Vizquel’s bat as his main selling point. With several mantles filled with Gold Gloves, we know that he at least has a great reputation as a defender. Trying to parse through the defensive metrics for his recent seasons is next to impossible, given the fact that he bounced from position to position, and rarely spent more and 150 innings at any given one. There is an impression given by some of the negative numbers under the Range Runs column that Vizquel might have lost some range in recent years – hardly a stunning revelation – but the samples are too small to give much more than a whiff of such a thing.

Looking Forward: Initially, we figured that it was no sure thing that Omar would end up coming to Toronto. The minor league contract was a very slim commitment on the part of the Jays, and it would have been easy for either party to walk away from the deal.

But Vizquel’s versatility and his willingness to contribute in smaller roles makes him a decent fit as a reserve infielder. Moreover, his ability to hit from both sides of the plate is a rare skill that we haven’t really seen since Orlando Hudson left town, and could help late in games if the Jays need to play a matchups game in the final innings. If an injury forces Vizquel into regular duty at second, third or short for any amount of time, the Jays could likely hang on for a few weeks with him putting in time as a ninth hitter.

2012 Expectations: It’s hard to talk about a player like Vizquel without falling back into some wistfully romantic notions about the intangible contribution that he’ll make. Vizquel comes off as a thoughtful player who can potentially pass along some of what he’s gleaned over the 22 seasons he’s played the game. But what the value of those ephemeral notions like “leadership” and “veteran presence” are almost impossible to quantify. It’s also what makes it so enticing to fall back on those sentiments.

But even if you take a completely unsentimental look at the state of those last spots on the roster, an old and possibly diminished version of Omar Vizquel is still preferable and tangibly better than the other options. With his flexibility both at the plate and in the field, he’s a player we’d look forward to seeing this year, on a limited basis.

Monday, March 19, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Eric Thames is Gonna Have to Win Our Affections

Who: Eric Thames, No. 14. Batter, and since tradition dictates, also sorta an outfielder. Hits left, throws right. 6’1, 205 LBS. 25 years old.

Provenance: Santa Clara, California. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 amateur draft by Toronto out of Pepperdine University.

Contract Status: Thames has 0.115 seasons of MLB service, which means that he’s here for a long time, and he’s quite inexpensive.

2011 Stats: .262 AVG, .313 OBP, .456 SLG, .769 OPS in 95 games and 362 ABs. 24 doubles, 12 homers, 58 runs scored. Isolated power number of .193. 0.9 WAR (Fangraph-ically speaking.)

Looking Back: The battle for the left field job started in earnest in March. March of last year, that is.

Eric Thames came to Jays camp in 2011 as a depth player who had put up decent numbers in New Hampshire in the previous year (27 homers, 104 RBI, 896 OPS). There were asterisks attached to that, given that Thames was old for the level, and the ballpark apparently favours left-handed hitters. Nevertheless, the Jays gave Thames plenty of opportunity to get at bats with the big club in Florida, with a notion that he might be able to step in. Maybe. In a pinch.

Thames made the most of the opportunity last year, earning raves from the organization, and earning himself an unexpected call-up in May of last season. The initial reaction to him seemed to focus more on his follicular achievements than on his play of the field, and while he didn’t exactly blow the doors off their hinges in his first weeks with the team (9-for-42 with two doubles and 13 strikeouts, mostly in DH duty), he was squaring up balls and hitting them hard, even when they went for outs. Which is more than anyone was saying about Travis Snider at that point.

When the Jays eventually allowed Thames out of the batter’s box to play the field on a regular basis, it wasn’t a particularly pretty sight to behold. Though partial seasons of Ultimate Zone Rating are difficult to parse – especially for left fielders, for some reason – Thames sat in the bottom five of that metric among LFs with more than 400 innings played, posting a -6.6. It’s not that Thames is bereft of athleticism, as he made a few highlight reel grabs when running in for balls. But his ability to judge fly balls or to track down anything hit behind him is not nearly up to snuff.

To play that sort of a weak glove in the field every day, one would hope for a bat that posts something more than a .313 OBP with a lot of loud outs as a consolation prize.

Looking Forward: We get asked the “Thames vs. Snider” question often enough that we’ve gone through several iterations of our answers. (We’re workshopping it. Go with us on this one.)

Our sympathies generally rest with Snider because he is younger, a better fielder, a better baserunner, more familiar and because we suspect that his progress has been delayed by his early call-up to the majors. Ultimately, we figure that if either one of the two plays well enough to earn their way onto the opening day roster, we’ll be satisfied with the process.

But our suspicion at this point – based on tea leaf analysis and not much else -- is that the Jays are inclined to move forward with Thames’ bat in the lineup and that they’ll park Snider back in Las Vegas to earn his way back onto the roster. (As for Ben Francisco’s presence in this whole equation? We’re stumped as well.) Thames remains the more controllable of the two players, in spite of being 15 months older than Snider, and thus far, he’s been the better of the two players offensively. If we let our eyes get coldly analytical about this, it makes sense that Thames get the nod.

Our preference might have been that the Jays find a suitor for Thames’ services, and if that were in any way the intention, it would make sense to give him his reps in MLB so as to maximize the return. But somehow, seeing Thames’ bulging biceps and affected glower staring out at us from the Blue Jays’ website, we’re guessing that this team is banking on him being around.

2012 Expectations: Thames is going to have to lose the job in order not to come north with the team. Keeping the job will be a whole other task, but we could see Thames building on last year’s power numbers, and hitting more than 20 homers, and posting an OPS in the high .700’s or low .800’s.

Strikeouts will be an issue, and if he does manage to win the job in left, we hope the Jays’ brain trust is smart enough not to put all of those whiffs directly in front of José Bautista in the lineup. And as much as we’ve heard all of the dandy things about his arm strength, Thames will still need to track balls down in the outfield rather than waiting for the ball to stop rolling so that he can pick it up.

If Thames is going to be our everyday outfielder, we certainly hope he’s worthy of the role.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Playing Nice With Others

Photo credit to Daylife, because it was a picture I could find with the Jays in first place.

Our blogging pal the Tao has been doing yeoman's work with his 30 Jays in 30 Days series, and I've done my best to add an off-field dimension to the body of work during my weekend time. But I got an email from a chap named Bryan O’Connor, who puts together the Replacement Level Baseball Blog, asking me to contribute a bit of a preview of the Blue Jays as part of a collaboration between him and some other bloggers who follow and write about AL East teams. I thought I'd press pause on the Jays previews to look at the team and a division as a whole. Below is my submission. You'll be able to find all the stuff on Bryan's site, and I'd encourage you to visit.

What is your team's ceiling in 2012? What has to go right for them to win the AL East?

“Ceiling” is a funny word to apply to a team, especially during Spring Training and the early season, when we all cling to the mythology about every team having a shot at the division and the World Series and other untold glories. Reality eventually gets in the way for teams like the Blue Jays, who play in what is obviously the toughest division in baseball and probably the toughest division in professional sports.

There’s no doubt the Jays have improved, although there seems to be a tendency to discount how much they’ve improved after a quiet offseason. They didn’t add Prince Fielder (like a lot of fans wanted), or Yu Darvish (like a lot of fans were led to believe they would). They picked up what should be some helpful bullpen pieces in Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver and Sergio Santos, and reacquired Jason Frasor to stabilize the relief corps as well. They said goodbye to Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Shawn Camp. On the offensive side, they picked up just some marginal pieces in Ben Francisco (thereby maintaining their Francisco quotient as mandated by Canadian law) and Jeff “Worst Hitter in Baseball Hahaha I Can’t Believe Someone Gave Him a Job” Mathis as backups.

So yeah, nothing earth-shattering was added between October and March. But don’t forget that the 2011 Blue Jays gave regular playing time to the likes of Corey Patterson, Juan Rivera, and Jayson Nix – useful players in certain situations, but not the kind that are going to help you cut the mustard against the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. Those guys are gone, and the 2012 edition will feature full seasons of Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson, Colby Rasmus and one of Eric Thames or Travis Snider. Every one of them is (or should be) an upgrade over what was in place last year.

Still, a lot has to go right for the Blue Jays to win the Al East. Jose Bautista, arguably the best hitter in baseball, needs to have another season like 2010 and 2011. Lawrie, Rasmus and Johnson will need to perform better than the various occupants of their positions for most of 2011. I don’t think that will be all that difficult. Where the rubber meets the road for the Jays is in the starting rotation. Ricky Romero looks more like the real deal with every passing season, and expectations are high for Brandon Morrow to finally see his results match his excellent peripherals. After those two, though, it’s a lot of hope. Henderson Alvarez impressed during his ten games last season, but he really only has two pitches. Brett Cecil has arrived to camp in the much-ballyhooed “best shape of his life” but questions about his fastball velocity remain troublesome, and he spent much of last season in AAA-ball. Dustin McGowan could be an amazing and inspirational comeback story; or he could pitch 40 innings and never be heard from again. Kyle Drabek could begin putting it together, finding the strike zone and showing the world why he was the prized prospect in the Roy Halladay trade, but he’s just as likely to start the season in the minors.

Rumours (with a “u”!) abound about Alex Anthopoulos seeking out another arm to add to the mix before the season. I wouldn’t discount the possibility of that happening; as mentioned above, Anthopoulos has shown a talent for acquiring pieces during the course of the season, including at the trade deadline. In fact, if this team finds itself legitimately in the hunt for a playoff spot, it has the depth in the minor league system (with a near-consensus rank of second in all of baseball) to move prospects for additional talent this year. That’s the sort of deal that could really raise the ceiling for the team.

What is your team's floor in 2012? What has to go wrong for them to miss the playoffs (even with a ridiculous second Wild Card)?

Almost all you need to know about the Jays and the AL East, quite frankly, is that the floor that many see for the team is the ceiling that many others see: fourth place. The Yankees are still going to be awfully good. So are the Rays. And Boston was the best team in baseball for about half of last season (with such intense focus on the team’s September troubles, people forget just how good they were before that). The Jays need to overtake one of those three teams to even glimpse a one-game play-in against another wild card team. But with the Angels and Rangers in the West getting even better, there are no guarantees a third-place finish in the East gets you anything but a warm, fuzzy feeling heading into October.

Really, not much needs to go wrong for the Jays to miss the playoffs. That’s the status quo. I expect the team to be better than they were last year – say, 86 wins? – but I don’t think that would be enough to keep them playing into the fall.

In 1 to 5 paragraphs, how do you see the division playing out this year? Is there a team you're particularly afraid of?

I’ve mostly answered that above. I expect that by the end of September, some combination of the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox will be in a 1-2-3 position in the East. Really going out on a limb, I know.

But… but… players get injured. Players have breakthrough seasons. Players go into terrible slumps. I think the Jays have a superior lineup to most teams in the American League. I think they can hang with the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels and Rangers – maybe not well enough to get to 90+ wins if all teams field run their best out there every inning, but well enough to be the sort of team that you don’t want to see coming into town for a four-game set when you’re in the running for a playoff position yourself. And you never know, maybe this is the year the Jays are the ones in the running.

Friday, March 16, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Travis d'Arnaud is (Almost) Here

Who: Travis d’Arnaud, No. 15. Catcher. Hits right, throws right. 6’2, 195 LBS. 23 years old. Five minor league seasons in the systems of the Phillies and Blue Jays.

Provenance: Long Beach, California. Drafted in the first round (supplemental) of the 2007 amateur draft by Philadelphia. Acquired by Toronto with a bunch of other guys in exchange for Roy Halladay.

Prospect Ratings: Ranked 26th best prospect in the game by John Sickels, 17th by Baseball America, 16th by Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, and 6th by ESPN’s Keith Law.

Other Notable Skills: Master of the “Oppo Taco”.

2011 Stats
: .311 AVG, .371 OBP, .542 SLG, .914 OPS in 114 games at Double-A New Hampshire. Won Eastern League MVP, and named as Topps Double-A All Star.

Using Counting Stats for Perspective: Ranked 12th in runs, 13th in doubles, fourth in homers, 6th in total bases in the Eastern League as a catcher. His OPS was also good enough for fourth overall in the league.

Looking Back: It didn’t take long for distant tales of Travis d’Arnaud’s exploits to begin to seep into our consciousness after he was acquired in the Halladay deal.

While Kyle Drabek and Brett Wallace (‘memba him?) were the marquee parts of the deal, we heard within that first spring of how d’Arnaud might turn out to be the real find.

Of course, we’ve heard many a tale of the “Catcher of the Future”, so we attempted to temper any such expectations initially. d’Arnaud’s first season in the system was a fairly pedestrian one in the Florida State League. Even though the elements and parks in that circuit are known to deflate offensive numbers, it’s hard to stare at a .726 OPS in an injury-shortened season in Dunedin and figure that it will sprout into something more grand. The thought of him as a “catch-and-throw guy” started to settle its way into our thought process.

Move ahead to 2011, and d’Arnaud’s offensive explosion at Double-A was a bit of a revelation. Sure, he’s played well before, but to add 180 points of OPS while moving up a level was a remarkable feat. Moreover, d’Arnaud received a season of tutelage from former catcher Sal Fasano, which we would imagine can only help him going forward.

Looking Forward: J.P. Arencibia’s rookie season and the acquisition of Jeff Mathis have likely penned in d’Arnaud to a role in Triple-A Las Vegas. This is perfectly reasonable, as an added year of seasoning can only help d’Arnaud’s progress. At the same time, it will be quite a task for Jays fans to hold their breath and wait for d’Arnaud, especially if he posts outrageously inflated numbers in the offensive environments of the Pacific Coast League.

Last year, the Jays managed to get through an entire season using just two catchers, which is pretty amazing when you think about the beating that they take. Is it plausible that they could manage such a feat two years in a row? At present, the Jays have only those three catchers on their 40-man roster. Should an opening arise due to injury early in the season, it will be interesting to see whether if the Jays prefer to find anyone else to fill the void. They could lean back on Brian Jeroloman, who is still in camp as a non-roster invitee.

But if it is Arencibia who misses any amount of time, we wouldn’t be surprised to see d’Arnaud eased into a role on the major league club. As much as everyone professes to love Jeff Mathis, it’s hard to conceive of him as an everyday starter for an extended period of time.

2012 Expectations: At the very least, we expect that we’ll see Travis d’Arnaud in September of 2012. But we have a sneaking suspicion that the Jays would love to take any opportunity to bring him up if they get the chance. Part of his process over the next two years will involve getting to know the team, the staff, the pitchers and the standard operating procedures. With that in mind, d’Arnaud’s apprenticeship might be advanced more effectively in Toronto.

In either case, there are few players outside of the 25-man roster who will be monitored as closely this year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Pounding Down with Luis Perez

Who: Luis Perez, No. 47. Left-handed relief pitcher. 6’0”, 210 LBS. 26 years old.

Provenance: Guayubin, Dominican Republic. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2003 by the Blue Jays.

2011 Stats: 5.12 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 54 strikeouts and 27 walks in 65.0 innings over 37 games with the Blue Jays.

Minor League Stats: At Triple-A (2010-2011), 5.61 ERA in 23 starts, 6.8 K/9, 4.8 BB/9. At Double-A (2009-2010), 3.86 ERA in 41 games (39 starts), 6.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9.

Looking Back: There was scarcely a word or whisper among the media, blogs or fans about Luis Perez until the date that he was called up in April of last season. Last spring, we were all too fixated on what sort of growth we might see out of David Purcey to even pay much mind to any other depth lefty. But as pitchers were injured early and as Purcey pitched poor enough so as to secure his release from the Jays, Perez was called upon to mop up some early season messes.

Though his initial service with the Jays lasted just three outings, he made enough of an impression to earn himself a return engagement and stuck with the team through most of the rest of the year. We were impressed with Perez from the outset, and probably liked him much more than we should have given his pedestrian numbers at the end of the year.

It wasn’t completely unwarranted, either. If you’ll indulge us as we play with arbitrary endpoints, Perez posted a 2.96 ERA in the 28 games between his May 23rd recall and his August 27th start against the Tampa Bay Rays. A couple of ugly outings in blowouts and one horrific start against the Red Sox in September overshadow a lot of the good that Perez did throughout the season, but he’s pitched well enough to work his way back into consideration for a role in the crowded Blue Jays bullpen.

The apex of Perez’s 2011 came in an August 21st start against Oakland, in which he limited the A’s to one hit over six innings. After cruising through the first five innings, striking out four while keeping a clean sheet, Perez walked two and gave up a hit to load the bases before getting a 6-4-3 double play ball from Coco Crisp to close off his part of the day. The Jays went on to win 1-0.

Looking Forward: Perez is out of options, and it’s hard to imagine that the Jays will let him walk, so he’s almost certain to be part of the big club to open the season. John Farrell raved to the press corps about Perez on Wednesday, noting that his slider looked much better, and his approach to getting our right-handed hitters had improved significantly.

It will be interesting to see how a new approach manifests itself in the pitches Perez is asked to deliver. Last year, he threw his fastball 72.5% of the time, which is likely a function of his middle relief role. (“Just go in and throw strikes, kid.”) If Perez is given work in higher leverage situations, or if he needs to make starts in a pinch, he may be asked to lean on that slider more often, or work in a changeup more than 6% of the time.

Ultimately, Perez throws fairly hard (92.6 M.P.H. on average with the fastball), and showed a willingness to stay down in the zone. He also improved significantly on his strikeout and walk rates after arriving in Toronto, which might be a comment on the funhouse pitching environment of the Pacific Coast League, or could also be a reflection of his ability to be coached by the major league staff. Being the optimist we are, we’ll opt for the latter.

2012 Expectations: Not unlike Joel Carreno or Carlos Villnueva, we believe that Perez has the ability to be a 100-inning reliever for the Jays this year. (Yes, this is a fixation of ours. No, we have no reason to believe that either Alex Anthopoulos or John Farrell share our enthusiasm for this strategy.)
Moreover, with the praise that has been heaped in his direction early in the spring, it also wouldn’t surprise us if he were asked to step in to a fifth start spot while certain other pitchers get their stuff together. Either way, we expect Perez to be an important part of a strong bullpen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Who is Joel Carreno?

Who: Joel Carreno, No. 34. Right-handed pitcher, role to be defined. 6’0”, 190 LBS. 25 years old.

Provenance: San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2004 by the Blue Jays.

2011 Stats: 1.15 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 14 strikeouts and four walks in 15.2 innings over 11 games with the Blue Jays. 3.41 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire in 24 games, including 23 starts. 152 strikeouts in 134.2 innings.

Looking Back: Up until last season, Joel Carreno had taken a fairly deliberate route through the Jays’ system, bumping up a level per season over five years. But a bullpen made sparse by trades, injuries and performance issues led to his unexpected summoning to the big club in late August of last season.

Carreno pitched very effectively out of the bullpen, giving up just two earned runs and 11 hits along the way. He has a fairly limited repertoire, working with a 91.5 M.P.H. fastball (41.6% of his pitches) and breaking balls (52.9%) which in some cases are categorized as curveballs, and sometimes sliders. We’d always heard that he threw the latter, so maybe a more extensive look will help to determine exactly what is coming out of his hand.

Like teammate Henderson Alvarez, Carreno has a tightly coiled delivery, with lots of tight movement on his pitches. Though we only got a brief look at him, he never seemed particularly outclassed, though he did get a lot of work in September against some weaker lineups.

Carreno also had some control problems in New Hampshire, walking 4.5 batters per nine. Though he didn’t show that propensity often while with the Jays, there were moments where he was ducking and diving around the zone.

Looking Forward: Almost all of Carreno’s minor league work was as a starter, which makes it somewhat surprising that his name is never mentioned as a potential starter for the coming season. Not knowing what he’s throwing makes it hard to figure out if he has starter stuff, and if he does rely so heavily on just two pitches, it might explain why the team is not eager to work him into that equation.

But given the options that are being floated as potential back-end acquisitions to eat innings in an emergency, we’d much rather give Carreno the fifth spot and open up a slot in the bullpen for someone else. Otherwise, Carreno might also be a very good candidate for the 100-inning reliever role which we dream about incessantly.

2012 Expectations: It would be a bit too much to hope for a full season of an ERA just over 1.00, wouldn't it?

At 25, Carreno is probably beginning to stretch the definition of the term prospect. The Jays have him under control for the foreseeable future, and can probably bump him back and forth between Triple-A and the majors if necessary.

He’ll be on the bubble for most of the year, and might get squeezed out of the initial 25-man roster because of asset management issues. But he likely won’t spend much time in the minors, and we figure him to post decent numbers with the Jays when he gets that opportunity.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Casey Janssen Is a Bullpen Monster

Who: Casey Janssen, No. 44. Right-handed relief pitcher. Deceptively tall at 6’3, 225 LBS. 30 years old.

Provenance: Orange, CA. Drafted out of UCLA (Brooins!) in the fourth round of the 2004 amateur draft by the Blue Jays.

Contract Status: Got paid this offseason with a two-year, $5.9 million pact which also includes a $4 million option for 2014.

The Career Thus Far: Five MLB seasons. 221 games pitched for Toronto (18th in club history), 22 starts. 3.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 223 strikeouts and 90 walks in 331.0 innings pitched. Nine saves, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

2011 Stats: 2.26 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 53 strikeouts and 14 walks in 55.2 innings over 55 games with the Blue Jays. 6-0 record, if that’s your bag.

Don’t Even Bother…: …With your Mr. Dressup-themed taunts. By the time that you explain to Casey who his namesake was, and that he lived in a treehouse and his dog was named Finnegan and the dog spoke to him, you’ll have exhausted yourself, and he won’t even care. Don't go there.

Looking Back: A few years back, we looked at Casey Janssen as just another busted-out arm, trying to salvage an extra year or so out of a baseball career that was being cut short by a labrum tear. Chasing the “3% chance of being Rocky Biddle,” to paraphrase injury expert Will Carroll.

Now, Janssen is a key contributor to the Blue Jays’ success, and unquestionably one of our favourite members of the pitching staff. He’s a twitchy, high-energy reliever who works quickly and effectively, and wears high socks with aplomb and without looking as though he’s trying to bring pantaloons back into fashion. Moreover, we love the way he drops and drives to the plate with his legs, like he’s infringing on Tom Seaver’s copyright over that delivery.

Ultimately, the reason that we think so highly of Janssen can be reduced to one key metric: strikeouts per nine. When Janssen returned after missing a season due to his labrum surgery and rehab, he had trouble finding the means of eliciting swings out of hitters. As a result, he was around the plate often, but as evidenced by his 5.40 K/9 rate, he wasn’t fooling many with his stuff. For a relief pitcher, being able to leave a batter with his bat in his hand in a high-leverage situation is an essential skill, and Janssen’s reliance on his fielders made him resemble a mop-up pitcher at best.

But over the past two seasons, Janssen’s fastball velocity has returned and improved (from 90.4 MPH in 2009 to 92.1 MPH last year) and his K rate has increased remarkably, from the aforementioned 5.40 to 8.26 in 2010 and 8.57 in 2011. He’s also de-emphasized his slider (from 15% of his pitches in 2010 down to just 4.7% last year), and added in the de rigeur cutter (25% to 30% to 37.5% over past three seasons.)

And if there’s one thing we like to see from our relievers, it’s some fastballs that deserve the moniker.

Looking Forward: For all of the caution and equivocating that we’ve demonstrated throughout this season preview process, we’ll probably lose our mind over our expectations for Janssen.

Sure, it’s possible that he regresses, and that hitters around the league catch up with him. But we can’t state enough how much we appreciate the skills of keeping the ball down in the zone, and throwing it hard. Add to that the fact that Casey doesn’t dilly-dally on the mound, and you’ve got a guy who we love to see get the ball in close situations.

(One of our favourite mental images is the speed with which Janssen steps of the mound, gets the rosin bag, resets with a big shoulder shrug, then lets it rip. It just looks like it’s so much fun to be him out there.)

Though we think the Jays now have a better closer option, it wouldn’t have bothered us at all to come into the season with Janssen pegged to be the monster at the end of the bullpen. As it stands, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him manage to get five saves over the course of the season. If you’re in to that sort of thing.

2012 Expectations: With the glut of good arms competing for late innings, we figure that Casey will take the mound in a whole host of situations. Which is perfectly fine by us. If he’s needed to take the ball anywhere from the sixth through the ninth inning, we reasonably expect him to respond with an ERA in the low 3.00’s and just under a strikeout per inning.

Monday, March 12, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Don't Get Attached to Ben Francisco

Who: Ben Francisco, No. 8. Outfielder. Hits right, throws right. 6’1", 190 LBS. 30 years old. Five MLB seasons in Cleveland and Philadelphia. 460 games played.

Provenance: Santa Ana, California. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2002 amateur draft by Cleveland out of UCLA. Acquired by the Blue Jays on December 12, 2011 for minor league pitcher Frank Gailey.

Contract Status: Signed one-year, $1.57 million deal to avoid arbitration in the offseason. One year or arbitration eligibility remaining.

Career Stats: .260 AVG, .332 OBP, .430 SLG, .762 OPS in 1514 plate appearances. 45 home runs, 174 runs driven in.

2011 Stats: .244 AVG, .340 OBP, .364 SLG, .704 OPS in 100 games with the Phillies. Six homers, 24 runs scored, 36 runs driven in in 293 plate appearances.

Nagging Feelings As This Piece Is Being Written: Either Francisco gets released within three days of it being posted, or that he is on the team for the full season.

Looking Back: Given the minor role that we figure Ben Francisco will play this season, we’ve spent entirely too much time trying to figure him out. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that there’s a reason to consider his potential contributions. This is the madness of spring.

On the one hand, Francisco posted his career best in on-base percentage last season, as his walk rate jumped up to 11.3% and he dropped his strikeout rate to 14.3%. But on the other hand, his slugging percentage dipped 80 points below his career average as he stole at bats from super-prospect Domonic Brown through the first half of the season.

He’s also been used as a defensive replacement over his years in Philly, but a look through the defensive metrics show a player whose glovework can only be considered an upgrade when compared to Pat Burrell or Raul Ibanez (career UZR/150 of -6.3). He also hasn’t played centre field on a regular basis since 2009, when he posted a grim -4.3 UZR in 322.2 innings. So the notion floated after the trade that Francisco could be a super outfield sub seems to be a bit overenthusiastic.

Francisco’s best season to date sits three years in the past, as he posted a .779 OPS in a season split between the Indians and Phillies. He hit five homers in 104 plate appearances after the trade, but never improved beyond that in his subsequent seasons.

Looking Forward: Much as Eric Thames and Travis Snider are competing for a starting spot in left field, it would seem to us that Francisco’s spot on the 25-man roster will depend on his ability to stave off Rajai Davis.

Neither are exemplary fielders, but they could both be squeezed into some spot duty if the need arises. At the plate, Francisco generally makes fewer outs and hits the ball harder than Davis, but won’t offer the speed off the bench in a pinch-running role.

If it comes down to a dollars and cents decision, the fact that the Jays have more money staked on Davis – not to mention an option year for 2013 – makes Francisco the lesser option. It’s plausible that the Jays could decide to carry only one infielder on their bench or six pitchers in their bullpen in order to retain both players, but there are a fair number of moves in this slide puzzle before we get to that point.

2012 Expectations: Our former blogmate The Ack came up with the term “Mencherson”, lovingly named for the undistinguished and indistinguishable outfield platoon of Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench. Should Francisco manage to make the team out of Spring Training, he’d be almost a certain shoo-in to be inducted into the Menchersonian Insititute of Middling Outfield Bench/Platoon Players.

The upside could be a decent bat who might find something magical in his swing through an apprenticeship with Dwayne Murphy. And a player who can post an OPS in the mid-.700’s is still useful, if uninspiring. Plus, he offers insurance in case of an injury late in the preseason to one of the putative starting outfielders.

But it seems to us that the most likely scenario has Ben Francisco wearing another uniform before the air is warm.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days Off-Field Edition: Roast Beest

Photo credit: the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, who somehow made a photo of the most powerful person in the Blue Jays organization look like a yearbook shot of your high school physics teacher

Who: Paul McGill Beeston, President and CEO, Toronto Blue Jays

Nickname: “Beest”, spawning such lovable and not-at-all-tiresome spinoffs as “Beestmode”.

Key characteristics: Socklessness. Beeston told Morgan Campbell of the Toronto Star in 2010 that he picked up the habit of rarely wearing socks from Buffalo teenagers around with whom he used to hang as a youngster.

History: According to Wikipedia and other assorted folklore, Beeston was the very first employee of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1976, which makes me wonder if he just had to wander the halls to find the pisser that first day, since nobody else was around to tell him where it was. From 1991 to 1997, he had the same job he has now as President and CEO of the organization. He was President and CEO of Major League Baseball from 1997 to 2002, returning to the Jays fold six years later to re-assume his duties, initially in an interim capacity and then under the terms of a three-year contract signed in 2009.

What Does He Do?: I ask this question mostly rhetorically, because obviously, Beeston has a lot of influence over the operations of the team, including some influence over the on-field product itself. I don’t know the inner workings of the Jays front office any better than you do (unless you happen to be Alex Anthopoulos or Paul Beeston and you’re reading this for yourself. Hi fellas!) But I gather the President and CEO is the big swingin’ dick in charge of the business side of running a major league baseball team. Marketing and promotions; ticket sales; merchandising; broadcasting agreements – all that stuff is in Beeston’s bailiwick. In terms of putting the team together, he surely has some kind of role as well, whether it’s playing an active part in contract negotiations or setting budgets for other parts of the baseball operation, like scouting or draft bonuses. All of which means Beeston matters to this organization.

Does He Do It Well?: Yes, I think so. When he was named interim President in 2008, it was under the pretense that his primary job would be to find a permanent replacement, Rogers Communications kept coming back to him as the best man for the job until he finally agreed (to the surprise of few). Beeston is pretty much universally loved by Jays fans for his work in helping to cement the team as an AL East Contender through the 80s and early 1990s, culminating in back-to-back World Series titles. He worked hand-in-glove with GM Pat Gillick, and there are shades of the same interpersonal dynamics at play between him and Anthopoulos today. If you like the general direction of the team, you probably like Beeston. If not, not.

Notable Screwups: Okay, maybe that overstates things, but Beeston has received plenty of grief over some musings he’s made about the team’s payroll potentially reaching a lofty $120 million. A certain segment of the fan base is now, shall we say, impatient for this. The past offseason was a veritable orgy of demands for this expensive acquisition or that, which I just relived in my own mind while typing this and now I’m having an aneurysm. Summing up: Beeston probably didn’t need to say what he said. People probably didn’t need to read as much into it as they did. Now everybody stop, m‘kay? Let’s have ice cream.

Looking Ahead: Beeston’s contract is set to expire at the end of the 2012 season. There have been bits of speculation here and there about whether he’ll be replaced, and by whom. At the “State of the Franchise” event earlier this year, when asked about whether his successor might be seated with him on the dugout, Beeston replied, “It’s not my choice, but it’s easy to recognize talent.” This prompted Bob Elliott to ask whether Beeston was referring to Buck Martinez, which I think would be a fun choice, if only for the revenue possibilities that would exist as Rogers spun the whole scenario off as a sitcom.

2012 Expectations: Ummm… more of the same? Really, I think most of the heavy lifting that Beeston does is behind the scenes. If his face is front and centre during the course of the season, I expect it would be because something bad has happened. If the Jays continue to progress and inch closer to a playoff spot, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Beeston asked to stay at least another year.

Friday, March 9, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Rebuilding Dustin McGowan

Who: Dustin McGowan, No. 29. Right-Handed Starting Pitcher. 6’3, 235 LBS. 29 years old.

Provenance: Savannah, GA. Drafted as a high school senior in the first round of the 2000 amateur draft by the Blue Jays.

Contract Status: Signed one-year, $600,000 deal in offseason to avoid arbitration. Has no minor-league options remaining. Free agent after this season.

The Career Thus Far: Five MLB seasons. 80 games pitched, 60 games started for Toronto. 4.80 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 305 strikeouts and 154 walks in 374.2 innings pitched.

2011 Stats: 6.43 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 20 strikeouts and 14 walks in 20.0 innings over five games with the Blue Jays, including four starts. 2.80 ERA in 12 minor league starts between Dunedin and New Hampshire.

Expired Nicknames: Dusty Lambchops. McGowan appears to be a real grown-up gentleman when he shaves off the Glenn Danzig sideburns, and it’s a much better look for him.

Looking Back: It’s hard to even attempt to get a handle on what the past few years say about Dustin McGowan. Since 2008, McGowan has gone through surgery for a torn labrum, and a subsequent knee repair, another shoulder procedure to address a rotator cuff problem. Given all of those setbacks, it would have been easy to write off the Jays’ one-time top prospect.

On the other hand, it’s also easy to get caught up in the human interest story that surrounds McGowan’s comeback bid. Jays fans are rooting so fiercely for him to triumph over all of these injury obstacles that it is easy to lose sight of what McGowan actually did when he finally got the call to return.

McGowan’s September 21st start against the Angels was an outstanding outing, with eight strikeouts and two earned runs against over five innings and 79 pitches. But otherwise, the initial outings ranked somewhere between pedestrian and forgettable, with McGowan struggling to find the strike zone and showing little command over his fastball.

It would be easy to write off those early outings because they were his first in the big leagues in three years, but McGowan did have the benefit of 12 minor league rehab games to get himself into proper working order. To be generous, perhaps the Jays bumped him along ahead of schedule in order to get a look at him on a major league mound before they had to start making decisions on his future with the franchise.

Looking Forward: Does anyone really know? To this point in the spring, McGowan has only thrown simulated games, and while the coaching staff tripped over itself to praise the 25 pitches thrown – presumably against plywood cutouts of hitters? – it’s hard to even muster a guess as to whether this will translate into regular season success.

And that’s the other piece to consider: How will we define success for Dustin McGowan? Is it hanging in there, like the kitty on the branch in the poster? Is it being a decent fifth start who can give the Jays 150 innings or more? Is it an ERA in the low-4.00’s?

Moreover, if the team has pitchers such as Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins, Drew Hutchison or even Kyle Drabek ready to step in and provide value for 15-to-20 starts this season, how much time are we willing to give McGowan in order to establish himself and keep the dream alive?

2012 Expectations: Having said all that, we still see some upside in McGowan, as strange as it is to talk about McGowan with the terms used for prospects. His fastball averaged 93.0 M.P.H. in 2011, and while that’s down from the 94.8 M.P.H. he threw before his injury troubles, it’s still enough to get big leaguers out. If McGowan can locate the fastball and have better command of his slider to get batters whiffing, he may earn a spot at the back of the rotation.

But with free agency pending and a slew of prospects coming fast, how much patience will the Jays have for McGowan? And how much does he deserve?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Ribbing Adam Lind

Who: Adam Lind, No. 26. First Base/Designated Hitter. Hits left, throws left. 6’1, 220 LBS. 28 years old. Six MLB seasons in Toronto, 621 games played.

Provenance: Anderson, IN. Drafted in the third round of the 2004 amateur draft by Toronto out of the University of South Alabama.

Contract Status: Signed four-year, $18 million contract extension before the 2010 season. Scheduled to make $5 million this year and next, with options at $7 million, $7.5 million and $8 million in 2014-2016.

Ear Worms Induced by the Player: “Indiana Wants Me”, by R. Dean Taylor, although we sing it as “Lind-iana Wants Me”. Also, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” by Bob Dylan, because his college years were spent in Alabama's third-largest metropolis.

Career Stats: .267 AVG, .316 OBP, .466 SLG, .782 OPS in 2534 plate appearances. 106 home runs, 132 doubles, 367 runs driven in.

2011 Stats: .251 AVG, .295 OBP, .439 SLG, .734 OPS in 542 plate appearances over 125 games. 26 homers and 87 RBI. 0.5 wins above replacement (as per Fangraphs).

Back of the Class: Among qualified first basemen, Lind posted the third-worst weighted on-base average (.315), ahead of only Juan Rivera and Aubrey Huff.

Looking Back: As we’ve been thinking back over the past season for this series, there are a lot of images that flash through our mind, like animated GIFs being posted somewhere between our synaptic nodes. And one of those video loops is an amalgam of Adam Lind’s painful-looking swings from last season. We certainly don’t want to present ourselves as any sort of medical authority, but it takes a certain degree of wilful blindness not to recognize the extent to which Lind’s swing suffered because of back injuries last season.

A year ago, the greatest concern seemed to be whether if Lind could handle playing first base on a full time basis, and the Spring Training lore that was spun out dealt with the monstrous number of ground balls he took every day to prepare himself to be up to the task. His less-than-impressive 2010 season (.712 OPS, .341 OPS versus lefties) was looked upon as something of an anomalistic blip, with the memory of his Silver Slugger year not so far in the past.

But the wear and tear of crouching for hours on end to cram for his first baseman’s exam clearly physically affected Lind. After a decent start to the season (.857 OPS up until May 7th), Lind was sidelined for a month with back troubles. He returned in June and managed two very productive weeks after his rest (eight homers, 1.460 OPS between June 4th and 17th), the last half of the season was an ugly downward spiral (.247 OBP, .332 SLG from June 18th through the end of the schedule.)

As he ground through the dog days of the season, Lind’s swing became more of a wave at the ball. There was no leverage or torque coming from his legs or his core, and he appeared to be tossing his bat through the swing zone out of desperation. The harsh truth is that you can’t be a middle-of-the-order bat if your swing is all arms, and it still surprises us that the team’s on-field management couldn’t recognize how bad Lind’s at bats had become.

We also seem to find ourselves in the minority when it comes to Lind’s defense, which we thought was less than exemplary last season. Lind’s ability to pick balls out of the dirt was certainly welcome, but his ability to range to either side was decidedly weak. Lind made only 12 plays out of his zone in 965.1 innings in the field, and his “range runs” -- the number of runs above or below average, as determined by his ability to get to balls hit in his vicinity, as per Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Ratings calculations -- was 3.6 runs below average.

Looking Forward: That 2009 season is slipping further into the mists of memory, and the notion that Lind will suddenly find his stroke again is left to those of us who are dreamers and wish makers.

To put Adam Lind in perspective at this point, keep this in mind: Lind’s first season at first base was offensively a step down from any of Lyle Overbay’s last three seasons with the team. Now take that information, close your eyes, and imagine what the furor might have been if the Jays had insisted on plugging Lyle Overbay into the four-spot in the lineup in any of those seasons.

With a team-friendly deal, the Jays shouldn’t feel as though they are handcuffed to Lind as a key to their offense. A smarter approach to managing the lineup would look for ways to minimize the demand on Lind’s performance by placing him lower in the order and platooning him with Edwin Encarnacion against some left-handed pitchers. We doubt that the Jays will make such moves until they’re absolutely forced to do so, but a “cruel to be kind” approach might be in the best interest of the player and the team.

2012 Expectations: We hate to say a player is on his last chance, because we pride ourselves on not giving into the impatient hyperbole of fandom. But with a team that should be headed towards a Wild Card playdown within the next two seasons, Lind will either need to assert himself or move on.

We don’t think that Lind is as bad as either the 2011 or 2010 seasons would seem to indicate, and we can see his upside being a .330 OBP/.500 SLG for 2012. Maybe more? Are we getting too enthusiastic?

On the other hand, anything below an .800 OPS is going to be a problem for the Jays in the middle of their lineup, and something that will need to be resolved in the near term.