Saturday, 28 March 2015

But with a Whimper

So this is the way the world ends...

The last morsel of hope we have remaining has finally fluttered away, and it has done so with very few of us noticing, and probably fewer of us caring.  Kyle Drabek is no more than a glimmer in our eye, or a tickle in our loin.  The greatest era is over, and the honeymoon of that era has followed, lethargically.

One Harry Leroy Halladay, who all prospective Blue Jay talk has, and should surround, has long since re-signed and retired, but the eponymous trade is really only just making its' mark, as sad as that seems.  He was traded years and years ago, for a pile of prospects, none of whom really ever did anything, and he flourished, making the playoffs, throwing a no-hitter and a perfect game, and winning another Cy.  Of course, those are years that we can give a fuck about, since he wasn't a Blue Jay at the time.  He was traded, of course.

There was Travis d'Arnaud, the catcher, who was part of the R.A. Dickey trade that we will all maybe regret on AA's behalf.  He was certainly the eventual centerpiece, whether we knew it or not at the time.  Sure, he's flashed some bat at age 26, but there's still no sure thing, especially at catcher.  Not like Dickey's gone and 4-WARred for us though, and Syndergaard is probably better than Dickey right now, all things being considered.

There was also Michael Taylor.  He, of course, got flipped for Brett Wallace, who eventually got flipped for Anthony Gose, who eventually got flipped for Devon Travis.  Devon Travis should make the opening day roster at 2B.  That's OK, but it's also several degrees of Kevin Bacon away from what WE WERE LOOKING FOR IN 2009.  And it's certainly better than letting something leave through waivers or free agency.

And then there's Drabek.  The one who did leave through waivers or free agency.  The Travis Snider of pitchers, per se.  Prospect #14 per baseball prospectus, and #29 per MLB in 2011. A scalding hot prospect who never had it come together.  A guy who might have been the next ace if he didn't walk everybody, or get hurt, or a combination of the two.

And now he goes elsewhere, unceremoniously.  Like, so unceremoniously, that I don't remember reading that he was DFA'ed or removed from the 40-man or whatever.  It didn't make the news.  This guy was traded for Roy God Damn Halladay.  And he's been jettisoned so a 20-year old can make the team.

The Halladay deal is closed, and the era of the same name has come and gone long ago.  It still hurts. And it feels like it came and went with 118 K's, and 111 walks, and literally, a line drawn in the sand.  In a more literal sense, d'Arnaud got Dickey, and Taylor eventually got Travis.  Those things range somewhere from OK to good, at least at this very moment, because the ultimate goal of the Halladay trade was to help the team contend a few years after it.

We don't know that Travis doesn't go and kill it.  Nor do we know that d'Arnaud doesn't go kick ass the way we all expected him to.  And Drabek might find something in the Chicago system that allows him to throw the ball in the strike zone.  But there's a statute of limitations on this kind of thing, and I suppose it's time to say it now.  The Roy Halladay trade was a disaster.

Yeah, prospects will break your heart sometimes, and TINSTAAPP, and Tommy John's up the wazoo, I get it.  And it's not like AA's track record in trades is exactly anything less than stellar, to the point where we've pretty much forgotten about this deal, since there have been so many others in its' wake.  But sometimes you just look back and relive those glory days and don't know what to do with yourself anymore.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Getting Some Exercise

Or, you know, driving.

I have this thing that I do quite often.  I can't help it.  I wouldn't classify it as a bad habit or anything, and I can't imagine it annoys anybody or anything.  It's just a thing that I do, probably a bit weird.

I have Cot's bookmarked, and I go and read up on contracts like once a week.  Usually, I'm just picking a random team and reading contracts, often ones that I already know exactly what is written about them, thus learning nothing.  These things evolve, from time to time, though, as a player gets awesome or terrible all of a sudden.  My favorite is the Yankees' page, mostly because of the ARod, Teixeira, Sabathia, etc. deals that have all these goofy incentives and perks, though all of the contracts negotiated by Theo Epstein are usually hilarious: John Lackey's clause that stipulates that the team gets a club option for league minimum if he misses time with an elbow injury, or Carl Crawford's "if we trade you, you can't be traded to the Yankees" clause.

More than any other team though, obviously, I'm looking at the Jays' page.  Looking towards the future for payroll commitments, checking options, seeing who is arbitration eligible, free agency eligible or 0-3 at season's end, and so on.

Naturally, this morning, I was laying in bed with my computer on my stomach reading the Jays' page, and was looking at all the club options they have on their players.  There are options on the contracts of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, RA Dickey, and Maicer Izturis for next season, at various values.

The Bautista and Edwin options are for $14MM and $10MM respectively, and, barring some hilarious misfortune like gigantism from consuming too much brain and nerve tonic, or falling down a bottomless pit, those two are getting their options exercised, even if they miss the season due to injury or go all Chris Davis on us.  The other two are kind of interesting though.

Maicer Izturis

We'll start with Izturis, I suppose, since he's the least interesting.  Despite being completely terrible in year one of his deal, and breaking his leg or something and missing 90+% of year two of his deal, Izturis has a totally reasonable option on his contract.  He'll make $3MM this season, which, on a value level, should get something like 0.5 WAR.  He's cheap, and there isn't exactly a bunch of competition trying to pry the 2B job away from him; Devon Travis seems to be the heir-apparent, but he's yet to see AAA, and after him, it's just a bunch of also-rans in Muni, Ryan Goins, and maybe Steve Tolleson against LHP.  He is a switch-hitter who can play a few infield positions, but certainly doesn't do any of those things spectacularly.  Still, we've seen guys, especially at premium(-ish) positions put up a WAR practically by accident.

If Izturis happens to have a halfway decent season (by which I mean "if he can get out of his own way defensively, sit his ass on the bench if and when Steve Tolleson plays against lefties, and put up even a win), then picking up his option seems pretty palatable.  The option is for $3MM, but comes with a $1MM buyout, so in essence, it's a $2MM decision that the Jays will be saddled with.  Perhaps, by that time, Devon Travis is ready, or Ryan Goins learns how to hit .200, or Chase Utley becomes a Blue Jay, rendering Izturis more or less useless, but a $2MM decision, these days, makes a pretty small, low-risk investment.

I'm guessing that this one gets declined, and that AA would take a do-over on this one if given the chance, but it wouldn't be a huge shock if the guy was worth a WAR and justified that option.

Ra Dickey

Dickey's deal is for $12MM in 2015, and has an option for '16 at the same cost, with a $1MM buyout.  $12MM, on the open market, should buy you about 2 WAR, which is right in line with Dickey's performance as a Blue Jay so far, depending on where you look (and you should be looking at B-Ref for him, and maybe all pitchers depending on your feelings about fip-WAR).  He was worth 2.0 rWAR in 2013 and 2.5 in 2014.  That suggests that he's an approximately league-average pitcher, solid but not spectacular.  Certainly not the Cy Young guy that he was in 2012, but wholly valuable nonetheless.

From a strict cost-per-win standpoint, the option is probably a wash, and the Jays would likely get more or less what they paid for.  There are a few other circumstances to look at though.

First, Dickey is 40 years old.  Sure, knuckleballers can throw till they're fucking 70 if they want to, and Dickey has said that he's planning on pitching for at least another few years, and there's not exactly a shitload of data out there that determines what the normal aging curve should resemble for a knuckler (though Breaking Blue tried shortly after the trade).  Tim Wakefield was useful in to his mid-40's, for example, and Phil Niekro was useful through 46.  But most baseball players peak at age 28 or so, and there are a few grey hairs in Dickey's beard.

Second, Dickey has thrown at least 200 innings four years in a row now, which is certainly a good thing to have around.  We don't know what's going to happen with Mark Buehrle after this year (he's a free agent), but I'd guess that he'll walk or retire or something that isn't pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays.  That's based off of nothing, of course, and he seems to like it in Toronto and is building a good rapport with the team's young pitchers, so who knows?  My point is that Dickey is a stabilizing force in the Jays' rotation, even if he isn't as good as he was a few years ago.  He's that guy who takes the ball every fifth day and throws 6-ish innings for you 34 times a year.  He doesn't have a Tommy John ligament, so that's not a worry, and he doesn't throw hard enough to do any damage to the rest of his arm.  As long as he doesn't take a comebacker to the face, or break a nail, there's not really a whole lot to worry about.

Third, Dan Norris seems to have taken a liking to him.  You'd like to keep that guy happy.

Fourth, if Dickey leaves, (and again, assuming Buehrle walks), Drew Hutchison is suddenly the dad of the rotation (not that that is a bad thing, but he's still 24, and you know how much AA likes his vets).  This could certainly change between now and then, if the Jays acquire someone between now and the start of 2016, but there doesn't seem to be any money there for 2015, and we all know how tough it is to get people to sign in Toronto, especially to pitch in the dome.

Fifth, his defense should improve a bit, with Donaldson playing at third and Smoak soaking up a few more errant throws at first.  Not that such a thing changes a ton about how well he pitches, but he certainly does seem to get his ass kicked a bit more from the stretch (.603 OPS with bases empty, .833 with men on in 2014), and if there's anybody in the league who induces weak contact, and thus needs a bit of defensive help, it's Dickey.

It seems as though AA likes guys that can throw innings, guys that can help with team chemistry, and guys who don't have a choice on whether or not they come to Toronto.  With an option, they don't need to pitch it to an agent, or compete with other teams, or worry about how much it's going to cost, or convince someone to pitch in a park that cedes all the homeruns-- this is a known entity, under control, and he's already here.

I would guess that Dickey gets his option exercised if he has a year that is anywhere close to what he had last year, and has it declined if he has a dumpster fire, so the real issue here is what happens if he's in the middle ground.  There is value in resting the bullpen, and it's not a complete impossibility that he gets better, either.  Niekro had a 4.6 WAR season at 45, Wakefield a 4.5 WAR season at 38.  3 WAR isn't completely absurd, especially if his whole schtick about still learning the pitch and adjusting to the various environments is to be believed.  One factor we need to consider is how well Hutchison, Norris and Sanchez perform this year, and if anybody in the minors (i.e. Osuna) develops.  Stroman should be good to go for opening day of 2016, there are plenty of options on the 2016 free agent market, and we could always see a trade, so it's not like there aren't other avenues to find pitching.

It sure would be a lot easier if Dickey went and kicked ass this season, though.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Fixing this Mess

National Post
Well this is fucking horseshit.  No Stroman for 2015.  I'm sure you've seen this by now, so there's no point in writing about that.

It's obviously not over before it starts.  I mean, Stroman is one guy.  Sure, he's probably the best pitcher on the team, but his upside for the year is, what, 4 WAR?  5?  Yeah, those are all important wins, given the Jays' location on the win curve.  The difference between one Stroman and no Stromans is probably more starts to Aaron Sanchez or Dan Norris or Marco Estrada... whichever of those guys didn't get the 5th starter's job.  Maybe some Johan Santana in there, I guess.  Still, Steamer sees 3.4 WAR that the Jays are going to need to go and find for 2015 just to get back to where they were yesterday.

Obviously the problem there is that there aren't free agents available in mid-March.  Yeah, James Shields would have been fucking golden, even before this happened, but there's probably no money there, and Stroman getting hurt in, say, December, probably wouldn't have changed that.  Might have seen a Chris Young signing or something minor like that, but the real issue here isn't money; teams are pretty well set and ready to go in to the early part of the season with what they have in-house.

If that's the case, then the Jays are kind of locked in to doing that themselves.  Everybody just moves up a spot on the chart, more or less.  Dickey is now the obvious opening day starter, if he wasn't before, and Daniel Norris is probably even more of a lock to get a rotation spot unless he throws up all over himself and loses it over the rest of the spring.  Aaron Sanchez was getting stretched out (and will continue to do so) in order to give him a chance to win a spot, but I think a healthy Stroman and all other things being equal would have put him in the bullpen.  Not so certain now.

The likely rotation at this point, in no certain order, has Dickey and Buerhle as the horses, Hutchison and Norris as the young guns, and probably Sanchez getting every chance to fail rounding things out.  If he does fail, Marco Estrada is there, able to 2012-2013 Carlos Villanueva.

The real problem is that both Sanchez and Estrada were tentatively set to be bullpen pieces in a pen that wasn't exactly strong before the Stroman injury.  Now, we're incredibly likely to see one of those guys added to the rotation.  Worse yet, this assumes that Norris can hack it as a starter*, which is probably a bit aggressive to do when you consider that Norris is 21, had offseason surgery, and has pitched a total of 6.2 MLB innings, and 22.2 AAA innings.

*-- I don't think he goes to the bullpen if he doesn't get a rotation spot.  No real need to sit him in the pen as the third lefty, at 21, when he could easily be starting in AAA.  Putting him in the pen runs the risk of him not being stretched out when they need someone to come up.  The lack of rotation depth was a sore spot before, now it's a killer.

Everything might be great.  Norris might come in and kick ass.  Sanchez might win a job and perform admirably too.  Fuck, Johan Santana might light it up and force the team to make a choice!  Russell Martin is behind the plate, after all.  If that's the case, this doesn't really matter a whole lot.  But at the end of the day, we're talking about subtracting from a weakness to patch a hole.

Cole Hamels isn't fucking happening, so we can stop dreaming there.  But if Sanchez or Estrada is getting "taken", then this might be more of a bullpen issue than anything, and that's going to need a quick patch, stat.

It's pretty clear that we, as Jays fans, aren't allowed to have nice things.  21 years of no playoffs. Nobody wants to sign.  Vernon Wells.  Alex Rios.  Mike Sirotka.  Joey Hamilton.

But then 2013! Finally make a run at it!  Nah, Dickey puts up a 4.21 ERA after AA ships both d'Arnaud and Syndergaard.  Josh Johnson falls off the face of the planet.  Jose Reyes misses 70 games.  Starts from Ramon Ortiz.

But wait, most of the good parts of the team are still under contract.  Let's try again!  And hey!  It's working!  Leading the division by a lot!  Nah, let's collapse and not really come close down the stretch, powered by nobody coming in at the deadline.  Baltimore needs the rub just as bad, you guys go ahead and win the division going away.

Clearly, someone has to sell their soul to the devil, and it may as well be AA since his job is probably on the line this season.

I think it's time to trade for Jonathan Papelbon.  Rafael Soriano is still out there too.  Sure, he doesn't exactly project to come out smelling like roses, but neither did, say, Pat Neshek last year, and at least Soriano's done it before.  It's another piece.  It's someone.  A warm body, if you will.  And after today, there's bound to be one fewer in the bullpen.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Nobody Likes You

Image: National Post
Dioner Navarro, in 2014, was worth 2 WAR, per fangraphs, and 2.3 WAR per baseball-reference.  That's entirely reasonable, especially for a guy who sat on the bench every 5th day to make room for Josh Thole's ability to catch a butterfly.  Either story puts him comfortably in the top 30 catchers, by WAR, in baseball, which should suggest that he'd be a starter, right?  Especially on teams that don't have a guy in that top-30?  Stands to reason.

Another guy who stands even more firmly in that top-30, and, in fact, inside the uppermost echelon of catchers, is Russell Martin, who, if you need reminding, signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent back in mid-November, prompting Navarro to request a trade so that he can catch everyday, wherever he plays.

I guess the question needs to be asked, then: why is Dioner Navarro still a Blue Jay?

A couple of factors have Navarro snookered in to bench duty, at the moment.

Navarro, per Steamer, is projected to only provide 0.7 WAR this season, mostly due to the fact that he currently slots as a backup catcher, and possibly DH, for the Jays, though I'm sure the fact that he hadn't seen 400+ MLB PA's since 2009 has something to do with that as well.  Still, in a situation where he's given the #1 catcher's job, he's seeing more plate appearances than what's been projected.  The problem is that even if we aggressively project Navarro to be roughly what he was in 2014 (we'll call it 2.0 WAR just to be neat), there still aren't going to be a whole pile of buyers.

Let's turn our attention to Fangraphs' positional depth charts for catchers.  Scrolling down that list, we can immediately remove a whole pile of teams from the Navarro sweeps.  We can immediately discount teams like SF, CLE, KC and STL (and others) who have a couple of rocks behind their plates (I suppose Posey could play some 1B, but Andrew Susac would then play).  We can remove teams like CHC, LAD and MIN, who all have guys who are in the same relative zone from a projected WAR standpoint, and thus wouldn't be getting a clear upgrade in Navarro, making it useless to give up assets.

We can remove a team like PIT, who went from one of the best, in Russell Martin, to a bunch of unheralded guys (26th in cumulative projected WAR) who share some of the less tangible, less measurable defensive qualities that Martin has.  We can remove a team like Boston, who, even if they weren't the Jays' immediate competition for the division, and thus pretty unlikely to help each other, have youngster Christian Vazquez, as well as veteran Ryan Hanigan as a quality pair, and top prospect Blake Swihart waiting in the pipeline, just in case.

We can remove the Braves and Diamondbacks, who certainly have some ugly catching situations at the moment, but those are hardly their biggest problems, and improving by a win or two at catcher-- and giving up an asset for one year of a $5MM catcher while doing it-- isn't likely to save them from mediocrity.  We can probably remove the Marlins, given that they have Jarrod Saltalamacchia under contract and is certainly a bounceback candidate.

Simply, Navarro has been a trade candidate, if we don't believe everything we hear, for the entire offseason, save for the two weeks before Russell Martin signed.  We've seen a few moves for catchers this offseason-- the Cubs, Rays, Rockies, Padres, Pirates and Dodgers (and more) all acquired catchers this winter, and all happened after the Martin signing, so they all likely could have had Navarro if they wanted.

The only real teams that might make sense are the Tigers, if Alex Avila can't catch due to concussion issues, and maybe the White Sox, though they appear willing to have Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers split time.  Throw in Milwaukee, I suppose, if they shift Lucroy to 1B when the "Adam Lind hitting against LHP" experiment goes sour.  If the A's decide that Steven Vogt is better used elsewhere, they may eventually end up interested, but it seems as though they're going with him and Phegley for now.

If a team decides that their current situation may not be good enough, the Jays will then need them to convince the other to give up something to take Navarro.  Of course, if there's only one team looking for him, there wouldn't be much leverage, especially when other, cheaper, marginally worse options are out there, such as Wilin Rosario.

I think the most likely situation for a Navarro trade is to find a team partway through the year that finds their catcher injured or terrible, and go from there.  Catching is tough on the body, and there always seems to be a star catcher out for an extended period come midseason, or someone like Saltalamacchia, who dropped off pretty dramatically last year relative to 2013.  The best way to move Navarro, at the moment, would be to bide time and wait for someone to lose their catcher.  Navarro, after all, has a reasonable contract, and, more importantly, has the unfortunate distinction of being the best catcher in baseball who is currently out of a starters' job despite being qualified to start.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

On Batting Orders

I keep hearing Gibby say it, and I just don't really want to believe it, because it seems so horribly wrong to me.  I mean, let's not pretend that I'm not about to write a small essay about a batting order, in 2015, as if it's something that means a lot.  But still, come on.

What I'm talking about is Gibby's answer to one of the questions at tonight's State of the Franchise Address, where someone asked how they were going to take care of the "weak" bottom of the order.  Gibby, as he is wont to do, answered the question in a pretty awesome manner, saying, among other things, that the person asking the question was confused.

Gibby mentioned that the top half is strong-- so strong, in fact, that it makes the bottom half look weak by comparison, and that it would look totally reasonable were it not for the ridiculous pop starting things off.  That's probably a halfway reasonable thing to say, I suppose.  No team is stacked top-to-bottom without some riffraff or question marks hanging in there, and there are certainly some possibilities for platoon spots in there as well, which should at least mask some of those deficiencies.

Anyway, that's not really what I'm talking about here, we're just trying to put more words in there so it looks like I've got a great big point to make, when in reality, it's a minor issue.  Optimal lineup vs. least optimal lineup is the difference between about 2 wins a season, and there's no way that Gibby is going to run a lineup out there everyday without it being really, really close to optimal, to this point where we're probably looking at much less than a single win over 162 games.

That doesn't take away my right to build a mountain about this though, god dammit.

Gibbons seems to have the top of his order set and ready to go:

 and then the next series of names he mentioned before trailing off leads us to believe that there will be some combination of Navarro/Saunders, and then, I suppose, Smoak, Pompey, and whoever plays 2B on a given day.

My issue is with the 2-hole.  Mathematically, this is the most or second-most important slot in the batting order.  Bautista and Edwin are projected to be pretty similar hitters, and definitely the two best on the team (per Steamer's wOBA projections), but Bautista said at one point or another last year that he'd rather hit third (can't find a link here, but I'm fairly certain I didn't imagine that), and Gibby likes to have Edwin hit behind Bautista.  If Reyes is #1, Bautista #3 and Edwin #4, and those are all set in stone, then that's fine, I guess.  We'll work around it.

Sticking Martin in the 2 just kind of sticks in my craw though.  Josh Donaldson projects to be the third best hitter, by wOBA, at .360, on the roster, ranking ahead of Martin, ahead of Reyes, and ahead of Michael Saunders, among others.  Martin, on the other hand, projects for a .337 wOBA.  That's still plenty good, but if the only options are having those two players in the 2- or 5-holes, a 27-point wOBA difference in a spot in the order that comes to the plate significantly more often could make a world of difference.

The second issue I'm having revolves around the days that Martin doesn't play.  Martin has started between 106 and 118 games at Catcher each year since 2011, which is plenty durable, but is still only about 70% of all of his teams' regular season games.  That leaves something like 40 games that they've got to go move someone else from their homes and stick them in to the 2-spot.  Wouldn't it just be easier to have Donaldson there in the first place?

Heh, this probably isn't worth anywhere near as many words as I've devoted to it.  Josh Donaldson is ours now, and perhaps I'd just like to see more of him, squeezing in that extra couple dozen plate appearances per year.  That can't be a crime.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Howard They Live with Themselves?

God.  Can't believe I'm writing this.

I read Mike Petriello's piece on Fangraphs last night, in which he lists a few new homes for Ryan Howard, with Toronto being one of them.  Now, Howard sucks, and is owed a shitload of money over the next two seasons, so we really don't have to worry a whole lot about this; the Phillies are going to trade Howard, and they're going to eat a big, big percentage of the $60MM that Howard is owed between now and the end of next season, and it's going to be a pretty small-time prospect going back the other way, whichever teams bites.

The big thing with Howard, per Petriello, is that he doesn't have a position to play, or at least doesn't have the ability to play one well.  Sure, he's a first baseman by virtue of the fact that he's played first base for Philadelphia for several years now, but he's also done a pretty horrific job of that, from a defensive standpoint.  So basically, he's a DH.  Which eliminates 14 of the 29 teams out there right off the bat.

He also points out that of the remaining 15 (i.e. AL) teams, most of them already have their own current situations at 1B/DH, with Baltimore, Tampa and Toronto being the exceptions (and those teams all have stuff going on, to the point where Howard may not even fit there).

Finally, he points out that Howard has been much better hitting the ball in the opposite direction, as opposed to pulling the ball, for the last few years.  There are some fancy charts and graphs in there, but all we really need to know is that Howard has done the bulk of whatever damage he's done over the last two seasons down the LF line.

OK then.  Let's talk about all that.

Within Petriello's piece, he links to a pretty dandy little study that ESPN did on park factors.  Within that link, we'll note that LF in the Skydome yields a HR on 1-in-5 flyballs, with a .307 isolated slugging, both the highest rates in baseball.  The Dome also has some slightly above average rates to both CF and RF, but nothing in that area.   Comparing that to Citizen's Bank in Philly, we see some pretty average park factors for left and centre fields, and some above average numbers for RF, which don't really affect Howard all that much since he doesn't really use that field.

Howard hits a slightly above-average number of fly balls and liners, and a slightly below average number of grounders, but they're not so terribly far away from league-average totals that we should even bother freaking out about it.  What we should at least look at, though, is Howard compared to Justin Smoak, who Howard would likely be fighting with for a spot were a trade to actually happen.

Here are Smoak's fly ball spray charts for the last two years, similar to what Petriello posted for Howard, though he didn't opt to leave line drives in for Howard's for whatever reason, and I totally would have, but meh.

 Now, I notice a few things here, and the numbers back that up.

  • There's a certain value to not popping the ball up in the infield, especially in foul ground, and Smoak does that, while Howard appears to not.  One of the above links suggests that the league average infield flyball rate hovers around 11% (which seems totally high to me without ever having looked this up before, but I dunno).  I'd guess that power hitters tend to pop more balls up in the air, but that's just me speculating.  Either way, Smoak is kicking around right at that 11.5% mark for his career, and somewhere around 9% for the last two seasons.  Howard, on the other hand, has a career rate of 1.7%, and is way, way lower than that over the last few years.  That's certainly not the be-all and end-all of hitting, but it's hard to tag up and score on a popup 7 feet from the plate.  Flyballs and grounders can at least turn in to hits some of the time, too.
  • Smoak didn't get a whole lot of plate appearances in the bigs this year, but his power clusters are pull-ey.  The Dome is better than Safeco to LF and CF, but is vastly worse (again, from a HR and ISO perspective) to RF.  Ole' pitcher-friendly Safeco is actually the third-best hitters park to right-field for both HR's and ISO (The Dome isn't too far away for ISO, but HR/FB% is about 5.5% away).
Now, if we look at some general stats, we'll realize that this isn't anything we shouldn't already know-- Howard has always been a better hitter than Smoak.  In Smoak's best year (2013), he managed a 111 wRC+, and he doesn't exactly have favorable platoon splits in either direction.  As bad as Howard's been for the last few years, a big chunk of that is his negative defensive value, his negative baserunning value, and the positional hit for being a 1B, he's been a better hitter than Smoak (though Steamer likes Smoak much more).  That's not to say that all that stuff goes away if he turns in to a DH in Toronto, nor does that take away from the upside that Smoak has inside, untapped.

Smoak is only 28 after all, and he hit .337/.422/.502 in AAA last year.  Sure, all that proves is that he can hit AAA pitching, something he's done very well over 750 or so plate appearances since 2009.  And he's already in the organization.  And he only costs $1MM.  And he's still under team control, arbitration eligible next year from a $1MM starting point.

I don't necessarily think it's likely, or a good idea for that matter, that the Jays acquire Howard.  But a guy at Fangraphs said it was possible.  And then I looked in to it.  And the numbers kind of fit.  I'd honestly prefer Smoak, for all of the reasons listed in the above paragraph, but dammit if the numbers and park factors don't make a reasonably compelling case, especially when you consider the projections for 2015, as they look right now, the Jays are within a reasonable reach of being the best team in the division, and they're obviously trying to go for it. 

Ultimately, there's more of a factor than just "should they do it?"given the whole $60MM over two years thing, and then 0.0 WAR over the past four years thing, there's a pretty good chance that a deal would go to shit.  But there's a fit.

Pretty fucking scary to me.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Jays get Canadianer

Canada TV
Hey!  I kind of called this one!  Don't believe me?  Suck it.  Here's what I said in that particular post:
Speaking of rumor season, apparently Michael Saunders and Jack Z aren't seeing eye-to-eye in the Skydome Seattle.  Saunders, of course, is Canadian and seems to crush the Jays every time he plays them.  He's probably a part-time/ platoon player, but there's still upside there, and he was worth 2 WAR this year, powered by a .273/.341/.470 slash, and some roughly average fielding across the outfield.  He's actually a pretty reasonable comparison/replacement for Colby Rasmus.  He'll make ~$3MM in arbitration this season, and doesn't have a place to play full time in Seattle.  Perhaps a Saunders/Pillar platoon situation?  Mayberry fits in there as well.  Could do worse.

Now, that post was made under the guise of Melky signing elsewhere, and the Jays needing to go out and figure something else out to fill the roster.  I don't necessarily think that the Saunders deal precludes the Jays from bringing Melky back, but it doesn't not mean that either.  If the Jays want to hand the reigns over to Dalton Pompey, it's easy enough to stick Saunders in LF as the lefty half of a platoon-- Saunders has a career .279 obp against lefties, though his 2014 numbers, albeit powered by a .372 babip, look quite a bit nicer.

That probably leaves Kevin Pillar as the other half, which seems totally reasonable given Pillar's ability vs. lefty pitching and pretty good defense.  Pillar and Saunders can both handle CF as well , just in case something goes wrong with the Pompey experiment.

Of course, the offseason isn't over yet, either.  Let's say Melky re-signs and is the everyday left fielder.  Again, a Saunders-Pillar platoon doesn't (and shouldn't!) preclude a Melky deal.  It certainly opens a door for another trade there somewhere.  Whether that means that the Jays flip Saunders, or have some kind of combination of part-timing/benching/optioning he, Pompey and Pillar, I have no idea.  This offseason has been fucking nuts so far though, and we're not even at the winter meetings, which is where shit usually goes down.

As for Happ... well, I'd rather have Saunders for $3MM than Happ for $6.7MM.  And the Mariners don't even need a back-end starter!  Not yet, anyway.  Maybe they're looking to acquire an impact bat, and use Taijuan Walker to get it.  Much like the Donaldson trade, this trade makes a lot more immediate sense for the Blue Jays than it does for the other guys, so there is probably another shoe to fall here.  I doubt the M's acquired a $7MM pitcher just to throw him in at #6 or 7 on their rotation depth chart.

This trade certainly did make me think, though.  One of my favorite things to do in my spare time is to look and see where players come from, so to speak.  Not in the literal sense.  I don't really care that Happ was born in a city called Peru.  I'm more interested in how he became a Blue Jay, and what he cost, in terms of money or prospects or players.

Happ was acquired from Houston a few years back in that giant clustercock of a trade that saw 10 players exchange hands.  The Jays sent Ben Francisco, Francisco Cordero and a couple of minor leaguers to Houston for Happ, Brandon Lyon, and David Carpenter.

Carpenter was mostly useless to the Jays, in that he provided a few innings of mop-up before being the throw-in that allowed the John Farrell trade to happen.  Of course, that turned in to the Jays giving away Yan Gomes and, to a lesser extent, Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers, who was also given away.  Which actually, when you think about it, uhh... Aviles and Rogers would both be at least kind of useful, at least at the present moment.

Anyway, Lyon was also mostly useless, in that he was only around for the last couple months in a mostly lost season, and then left, never to be seen or heard from again.  This trade may as well have been a bunch of prospects and two shitty contracts for Happ.  This is my long-winded way of saying "Hey guys, let's look at the trade where we gave up a bunch of practically free, controllable-for-years prospects in exchange for 2.5 years of JA Happ."  For simplicity's sake, we'll look at the money involved on the major league side (i.e. Lyon/Carpenter/Happ vs. Francisco/Cordero), and then the prospecty stuff.  Let's just say that it was halfway through the season, for the sake of dividing salaries in 2.

As far as I can tell, Happ ($2.35MM), Carpenter ($500k) and Lyon ($5.5MM) made $8.35MM between them, of which the Jays paid half. so ~4.2MM.  Cordero ($4.5MM) and Francisco (~$1.5MM) basically means that the Jays took on an extra $2.2MM in salary and gave up a bunch of low-level prospects in order to get a guy who could throw major league pitches for a team who was using Joel Carreno and the bad Jesse Chavez and Chad Jenkins and SIXTEEN STARTS FROM CARLOS VILLANUEVA.  So yeah, kind of need a guy to start and maybe serve as depth for the next year.  Borrow from the distant future to help the present and near future.

Rather than going incredibly in-depth and pretending to know what I'm talking about when it comes to prospects that I've never seen and don't know pitch velocities, etc...  let's just say that none of them have shown up on the MLB top-20 prospects list for the Astros.  Now, we should probably remember that the Astros have a really deep system, even after graduating a bunch of guys to the bigs in the last few years.  That's what sucking and rebuilding for like seven years will do.  Still, I remember when the Jays had a top-3 farm system and don't exactly remember hearing a whole lot about the guys outside their top-20 (to be fair, though, top-20 spots tend to go to guys fresh out of the draft, not guys who have been toiling in the minors for a few years).

Carlos Perez has since been traded to the Angels, and is probably going to fight for a backup catcher role, now that Hank Conger has been traded.  Everybody else appears to be either some degree of distance away from contributing to the big league roster if they ever do, or getting old for prospects.  To wit:

  • Joe Musgrove is 22 and finished a season of A- ball, though he put up reasonable numbers.
  • David Rollins will be 25 in a few weeks, and has had a pair of trips through AA with reasonable, but uninspiring numbers.
  • Asher Wojiwhatever will be 26 in a few weeks and took a step back in performance in his second trip through AAA this year (in the PCL, mind you, which has some silly offensive numbers).
  • Kevin Comer is still hanging out in A ball and is pitching out of the bullpen, giving up a lot of hits.
So yeah, the Jays pretty well took $2.2MM and an expensive-for-his-skillset, 31 year old, arguably at the peak of his value, and turned him in to an outfielder who fills a need that they can control for two years.  That's not exactly a fair exercise to conduct when it comes to prospects, but whatever.  I think the Astros were looking for a pile of guys, hoping to have one of them hit it big, rather than finding one single prospect who had a lot of upside.  Two years forward, the Jays still weren't going to get a good prospect for Happ.

Not to mention the Canada.  Pretty fun deal for the Jays all around.