By George…Toronto’s Glass Half Full!

The Blue Jays head into their final game of April tonight leaving fans a little unsure of just what this year’s edition really is. A win tonight would bring them to .500 on the season, which isn’t quite what we had hoped for…but neither is it atrocious. As it stands, the 11-12 Jays are third in the division, 3.5 behind the surprising Red Sox, but notably ahead of the critics’ darlings, the Yankees. With Kansas City off to a galloping start in the AL Central, and journeyman minor leaguer Yermin Mercedes being a sudden MVP candidate so far, it looks like 2021 might be the year that anything’s possible. So, I say let’s look at that half-full Toronto glass.

Yes, 11-12 is disappointing but there are reasons for optimism and to expect May – and future months – to be better. For starters, consider that Toronto has had the fewest home games of any team in the AL, eight so far out of 23. Compare that to the Bosox who’ve been in Fenway for their home-cooked chow-dah 16 out of 26 games. So even though “home” is a relative term for this season’s Blue Jays, the schedule will soon start to give them an edge with fewer road games. One can only imagine how much the cheering fans will spur them on should they eventually get back to the Rogers’ Centre by season’s end.

As well, the roster is getting better, primarily because at last, the season’s big splash, George Springer is active after missing the first 22 games with injuries. Springer does seem to exude a positive energy within the team and is bound to start hitting some homers…and take some of the pressure of Vladimir Guerrero Jr to do everything by himself. Springer’s presence should have a ripple effect up and down the lineup for the better. Already Rowdy Tellez , a cryptic hitting talent off to a very slow start, has been demoted to the minors since Springer will take over at DH for the next few games and after that, presumably an outfielder like Lourdes Gurriel or Teoscar Hernandez will do that job. Oh yes, and last year’s home run basher, Hernandez, who’s only played seven games so far, is expected back within a few days from a Covid scare. Bottom line, a lineup with Springer and Hernandez is going to generate a lot more runs than one without. Good since Toronto’s .226 average is near the bottom of the league – but ahead of New York’s .216 – and their 94 runs is just 4.1 per game…not terrible but not the stuff of a World Series.

One might also add that Cavan Biggio and Gurriel are both young enough to be slightly unpredictable producers, but we know both are better than their .197 averages and 2 (Biggio) and 1 (Gurriel) home run thus far suggest. Both began to hit a bit better in the last week, so even if they don’t approach their 2020 numbers, we should see them on base more often.

The glass half-empty crowd might wonder how long the staff can keep up the AL’s second best ERA (3.35) but we could choose to see it as a deeper pool of pitchers than we had anticipated.

It all makes me wonder… is this the year Toronto should put the “pedal to the metal” and go all-out to win the World Series? For all the good they’ve shown so far, there are still definite areas which could be improved upon on this team. Despite a great opening day, neither Biggio nor Bo Bichette have played well defensively or seem to have arms capable of throwing across the infield. Beyond Hyun-jin Ryu and Steven Matz, the rotation is still questionable. Danny Jansen is OK behind the plate, but 2 for 44 with no RBI… and now he’s stopped wearing his glasses at the plate? It’s getting laughable… soon Charlie Montoyo should be asking umpires if his pitchers can hit and he can DH for his catcher. All these issues could be addressed… but not without giving up some talent and maybe taking on a lot of salary.

It might be the year to do so. I think three things suggest that. First, the competition isn’t all “that.” Few expect the Red Sox to keep playing over .600, Tampa’s pitching looks uncharacteristically weak, Baltimore are getting better but still below mediocre (but improving fast enough to make one think that a savvy free agent or two could make them respectible by next year) and the Yankees aren’t ruling the world. Even with a healthy Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, their .679 OPS is only ninth best in the league and they’re scoring fewer runs than Toronto. Plus, their two star pitching acquisitions of the winter, J. Taillon and Corey Kluber are looking like yesterday’s news – 1-4 combined over 9 starts, with Taillon allowing 4 HR in 17 innings and boasting an ERA over 6. On the hitting side, Jay Bruce has already given up and retired and Aaron Hicks is doing his Danny Jansen impersonation. Bottom line – yes, New York is almost bound to improve. But they are not necessarily bound to improve enough to run away with the division. The window of opportunity is open.

Second, the payroll allows. We know Toronto is a big market team (although stuck playing outside that big market this year and last) and has money. But we also know Rogers’ is cautious on going overboard on spending… and that the payroll won’t be this low again any time soon as bargain-basement earners like Guerrero and Bichette soon come eligible for arbitration and big league raises. Taking on for example a starting pitcher making $20M a year might be easy enough to swallow in 2021… but might not be by perhaps 2023 when suddenly there could be a whole lot more familiar faces in the $10M range in the dugout.

Third, and a bit gloomily, there may be no next year. At least not in MLB. We hope for the best, but understand that the union and owners agreement runs out after this season and negotiations will not be friendly. For evidence of that, consider that both the players and the owners favor having the universal DH. But that the players wouldn’t agree to it for this season because they didn’t want to cave in to owners, the way they see it. If they can’t agree on something they actually agree upon, how much co-operation will there be on the battle lines over things like changes to free agency, rule changes to the game itself or salary floors for low-spending teams. It’s not unrealistic to think that 2022’s season may be severely curtailed by a strike and/or lockout, and when play resumes it may be under a new set of conditions. If we can’t count on having a business-as-usual next season, maybe we should plan to win this year? Some food for thought, to go along with that half-full Toronto glass.

Two Brightest Lights In First Two Weeks

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of this year’s Blue Jays yet. As of right now, they’re sitting at an even .500, with numbers that make that seem about right – some good games, some disappointing ones, decent but not spectacular fielding (an improvement from last year that), pretty good bullpen, too many injuries and or illnesses disrupting the roster already. But two things have stood out so far that should give us fans reasons for optimism – Steven Matz and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. Fittingly they were the co-stars if you will of this aft’s 5-1 win over Kansas City.

Matz was always seen as a starter who had great potential with the Mets, but he never quite put that potential into action. So mediocre were his numbers in the last couple of years (0-5 with an absurd 9.68 ERA last year) that few even paid attention when the Jays acquired him on the cheap this past winter. While I still think Ross Atkins was woefully inadequate in bolstering the pitching staff for a playoff run, he does look pretty good on this one so far. Matz has made three starts and sits at 3-0 so far. He’s gone 6 or 6 1/3 in each, allowed a grand total of 9 hits, mainly softly hit and just one run each game. That equates to a 1.47 ERA, and if he keeps throwing sinkers that hit the bottom of the strike zone and pulling in ground balls left and right, that might not be such a mirage.

Which leads us to Vladdy. 14 games is not enough to really make a prognostication on, and a .429 average probably is a mirage… but those 14 games have been enough to show people that the Guerrero Toronto dreamed of a few years back has arrived.

I felt bad for young Vlad last year. He was playing reasonably well, but it seemed the main hobby among the Jays fanbase was jumping…off the bandwagon. There was no small amount of hostility expressed towards the then 21 year old. Sure, he wasn’t great at getting under pop-ups and yes, he wasn’t in anyone’s MVP discussion. But it was his first year playing first base and a .462 slugging percentage wasn’t anything to sneeze at. Neither though was it like his incredible minor league numbers which so many expected him to duplicate from Day 1 in the Majors.

Well, perhaps all the naysayers ended up doing everyone a favor. Vlad worked out hard in the off-season and shed 40 pounds without losing his happy on field demeanor. He’s looking much more fit and athletic this year, and lo and behold, the numbers are showing it. It doesn’t hurt that he’s hitting the ball in the air more this season – there are still a lot of hard hit grounders, but as we saw in KC with the high-flying bomb to left field, he’s getting enough airborne to be a power threat. The result – at present time, 21 for 49, a .429 batting average second in the AL, 21 hits ranking him third, a league leading .533 on base pct. (wrap your head around that… he’s been on base over half the times he comes to the plate!) and 1.268 OPS, putting him behind only the White Sox breakout star Yermin Mercedes, comeback story JD Martinez and a guy called Mike Trout. All that and a guy looking pretty good in the field. Yep, he’s come off the base a few times trying to reach a throw, but…isn’t that more on Biggio and Bichette throwing the ball five, six feet off the plate more than Vlad doing the splits?

So yes, a .429 average and being “on pace” for 48 homers and about 130 RBI might not hold up all year. But as Sarah Langs shows, with his hard hit rate, and his ability to lift the ball a bit more this year, what probably will is an All Star calibre Vladimir. It’s what we’ve been waiting for… and the best part is that he’s still just 22 and is still coming up to his 200th career game. That is reason to celebrate, .500 record or not, fellow Jays fans.

And Winner Is… 2021 Standings Predictions

Well with the 2021 regular season – destined to hopefully indeed be “regular” unlike last year – only days away now, it’s time to put forth my Fearless Predictions. And, the biggest surprise among them is perhaps that there are few surprises. Not many people seem to differ on their picks of the six likely division winners, or even terribly much on which teams will be Wild Card picks.

My picks , with win total out of 162 games

AL EAST

New York – 95

Toronto – 89

Tampa Bay- 85

Boston – 75

Baltimore – 63

AL CENTRAL

Chicago – 91

Minnesota – 88

Cleveland – 84

Kansas City- 76

Detroit – 67

AL WEST

Oakland – 87

Houston – 85

Seattle – 85

LA A – 78

Texas – 67

NL EAST

Atlanta – 94

New York – 90

Washington – 85

Miami – 82

Philadelphia- 80

NL CENTRAL

St. Louis – 85

Cincinnati – 81

Chicago – 79

Milwaukee – 77

Pittsburgh – 54

NL WEST

L.A. – 102

San Diego – 97

San Fran. – 76

Arizona – 68

Colorado – 64

AL PLAYOFFS

Toronto over Minnesota (wildcard)

Chicago over Oakland

New York over Toronto

New York over Chicago (ALCS)

NL PLAYOFFS

San Diego over New York (wildcard)

Atlanta over St. Louis

L.A. over San Diego

L.A. over Atlanta (NLCS)

WORLD SERIES

New York Y over L.A. D.

And a few addeds… team most likely other than those two to win World Series, Atlanta, then Toronto. Dark horse to make playoffs – Kansas City.

And one surprise prediction – 2021 All Star Game… have a cheesesteak, it’ll be at the Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Wait… doesn’t the schedule have it in Atlanta? Well, what’s a baseball season without a surprise or two!

A Blue Jays To-do List

As we enter the final few days of Spring Training, excitement is high for this year’s Blue Jays squad. So too are expectations. The team turned a corner last year, finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2016 and making the (expanded) playoffs. After an expensive off-season with a trio of major free agent signings – George Springer, Marcus Semien and the already-injured Kirby Yates – expectations are high as well. That in mind, I’ve compiled a list of reasonable goals for the main players in the Toronto lineup for 2021. If the majority of them can reach these, Toronto should be playing more than just two games this October.

Danny Jansen (C) – Hit .200. Not a lofty goal, but since he hit just .183 last year, would show an improvement. We know young Danny works hard on his defence, which is great for a guy with two year’s experience and an ever-changing array of pitchers to learn. We also know he can hit. He just needs to do it a wee bit regularly.

Alejandro Kirk (C) – Be on the roster at All Star Break. Kirk was a fan fave when he got called up last season, a rollie-poly young guy who can flat out hit. But he was a surprise addition to the Big League roster this year after only 9 MLB games and no AA or AAA minors experience. He can hit, if he can catch, he’ll stick to July and beyond.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr (1B) – Have at least .900 OPS. Sure that’s a great number, but given his minor league record and spring, not out of reach at all. Last year it was .791, if he lifts it to .900 it’ll mean we’re starting to see the guy the hype suggested we would, one getting on base a lot and hitting with some authority.

Rowdy Tellez (1B-DH) – Hit 25 homers. He’s never going to be a finesse infielder or a speedster, but Rowdy can crush the ball. Since he has 33 career HR in 553 AB, 25 is reasonable…if he stays in lineup. 25 will mean he’s doing well enough to be an essential in lineup more days than not.

Marcus Seminen (2B-SS) – Get at least 1 MVP vote. In 2019, he was third in AL voting for MVP…but also had career bests in games played, HR, RBI, OBP… Finishing that high in voting again might not be reasonable, but if he gets at least one vote, even a single 7th or 8th place ballot, it shows Toronto spent the money well to bring him in.

Bo Bichette (SS) – Collect at least 125 hits. Hey, Bo knows hitting. He’s hit over .300 in both his MLB seasons so far. But he also knows aches and pains and has missed a lot of time on the IL. If he gets to 125 hits, it means he’s playing at least fairly regularly…something Toronto will need to truly compete.

Cavan Biggio (3B-IF) – Steal 25 bases. It might be a bit of a lofty goal, but Cavan has excellent speed and judgment on the bases and has stolen 20 in 159 career games. If he can turn on the wheels a wee bit more it will help get the team using their good overall speed and relying less on the big, three-run blast to win games.

Lourdes Gurriel (OF) – Hit .309 or better. Gurriel often gets lost in the shuffle when discussing young talent in Toronto, but that shouldn’t be. He was a Gold Glove candidate in ’20 and hit .308, after hitting .281 and .277 in his previous years. Let’s go one better this year.

George Springer (OF) – Hit 40 HR or drive in 100 RBI. Either would be perfectly fine…and be career bests for the big-money guy. His current bests from his Houston era are 39 and 96. Toronto (and Dunedin, Buffalo) are more hitter-friendly stadiums and fans need evidence their $25M is being well-spent.

Teoscar Hernandez (OF) – Be in the top 5 in either OPS or HR. Last year he finished fifth in HR and seventh in OPS, and that was a drop-off after a late ribcage injury slowed him down. Getting back to the top 5 in either big category would show 2020 was no fluke and Teoscar is really quickly becoming one of the game’s elite.

Jonathan Davis (OF) – Be on the roster alongside Springer. Davis is apparently on the opening day roster, but that is in no small part due to a minor injury which will keep Springer sidelined for a few days. Davis has speed, a good glove, even a little pop in his bat. He needs to prove he should stick around at the Big League level.

Randal Grichuk (OF) – Play in 140 games. Grichuk had a good 2020 campaign but with the Springer signing seems a little redundant now. Just so-so performance and minore injurie have allowed him to be in that number of games only once in his 7 years so far, 151 in ’19. He needs to be good enough to be worth playing regularly.

Hyun Jin Ryu (P) – Be in top 5 in Cy Young voting. Not unrealistic as Ryu has finished third two years running, in ’19 in the NL and last year here with the Jays in the AL. Even if he doesn’t match (or better) that, being in the top 5 shows he’s doing what’s needed – being an excellent and consistant team ace to anchor the rotation.

Robbie Ray (P) – Limit walks to < 3 per 9 innings. Robbie has dynamic stuff, a great fastball and high strikeout rate. All that’s missing from an All star-calibre year is ability to hit strike zone consistently. Last year he led the sport in walks issued, about 8 per 9 innings. In ’17 the rate was 3.8, still high but decent. Fewer walks = good WAR = team wins.

Tanner Roark (P) – Justify your complaints about quick hook. Tanner got into a well-publicized dispute with the manager about being taken out too soon last year. He might have had a point, but a 6.80 ERA and negative WAR hardly merit confidence. Pitch well enough to deserve to be in the game in the 7th…then complain if you’re not.

Steven Matz (P) – Lower ERA to or below 3.96. Matz seems to be a southpaw with great potential but Mets gave up on him after 9.68 disaster in ’20 following mediocre 4.21 in 2019. In ’18 it was 3.97. If he can better that, he’ll be a positive addition to the Jays rotation.

Ross Stripling (P) – Make 20 starts. Stripling’s role is undefined right now and he’ll probably begin in the bullpen. But he can start, having begun 21 games for LA three years back. He’ll likely get a chance as a starter; if he can come remotely close to the 2018 3.02 ERA , he’ll stick there… and hence collect those starts.

Nate Pearson (P) – Pitch in October again. Although he’s only appeared in 5 regular season MLB games, he did get a few innings in the playoffs. A lot is expected of him. I’ll be happy if he isn’t overused early to cause him to be shutdown, and stays healthy enough to be able to get a few playoff innings again this year.

Tyler Chatwood (P) – Get at least 60 innings. Kind of like Stripling, a guy who could be a starter, could be a reliever and likely do both at times. 70% of his almost 200 big league games have been starts, but last year’s 5.30 ERA and .474 opponents slugging doesn’t make him a lock to do that. Being good in long relief would be a help

Rafael Dolis (P) – Pick up at least 6 saves. The big righty worked overseas for several seasons and was great with Toronto last year, picking up 5 saves (after four total before in his career) although not being the “closer”. He wasn’t destined to be that this year, but with Yates injured, he’ll have a shot. Six saves means he’s not blowing it.

Alex Manoah, Simon Woods-Richardson (P) – Dominate…at AAA. Two of the best young starting pitchers in the organization, both looked fine at spring training. But neither has any significant minor league experience, so let’s hope the year isn’t bad enough nor injuries prominent enough to merit calling them up yet. Seeing them on the mound for Jays this year means something went wrong.

Charlie Montoyo (Manager) – Win a post-season game. I thought of “have a pitcher go beyond 7 innings”, which didn’t happen last season, but why not aim higher. Becoming the second team skip, after Cito Gaston, to win a World Series would be great, but baby steps… first he has to at least win one playoff game!

Injuries Take Spring Out Of Spring Training Step

Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. And that’s a problem for the Blue Jays right now, because they have too much outfield talent. This, in itself isn’t a big problem as baseball things go, but it is when one considers the over-riding problem with the club this season, namely that they appear perilously short on major league pitching. So it’s time to try and correct both those, or at least improve upon them, in one fell swoop.

This week’s news hasn’t been good for Toronto. Lefty Robbie Ray, looking quite encouraging so far this spring, fell over carrying his little boy at home. The lad is fine but Ray’s hurt his elbow. They remain confident he’ll only miss one start and be good to go for the opening series, but elbow problems, no matter how minor, can often lead to major trouble for starters. Nate Pearson remains out with a groin problem, which sounds painful but probably not enough to put him more than a couple of weeks behind in schedule – which could be a good thing, since as we’ve mentioned here before, it’s a stretch to expect a kid who’s pitched so little over the past three years to shoulder a heavy workload for an entire season. But worst of all, free agent signee Kirby Yates is gone for Tommy John surgery after just two appearances. There goes the erstwhile closer that was brought in to replace similarly-injured Ken Giles. Suddenly the pitching staff, which already seemed a bit thin on “locks” seems downright waif-like.

The outfield news wasn’t good either, with the big prize of the off-season, George Springer having an oblique injury. Although it’s not said to be serious, one might well imagine the big guy missing the first week of the season at least. Luckily, they are still well-equipped for the outfield with Lourdes Gurriel, Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez all quality major leaguers ready to go and Jonathan Davis a minor leaguer always doing his best to show he’s MLB-ready. That amount of depth is a good thing… but an unncessary luxury when other parts of the roster (ie – pitching, particularly starting) is so iffy. So, Mr. Atkins, it’s time for you to pick up the phone and round up a pitcher or two for one of our outfielders. As if it was that easy.

The problem here is that few teams have decent pitching to spare. A handful of teams would greatly benefit from a good outfielder, but not many of them are looking to give up arms or take on a lot of salary. Which will make the GM earn his money if he is to solve the dilemma.

One must assume the Jays won’t be trading Springer, given his high-profile, huge salary and the fact that he was the team’s marquee signing this winter. Which leaves Gurriel, Grichuk and Hernandez. Of the three, I – and I expect most fans – would be happiest to dispatch Grichuk. He is the highest-paid of the trio and arguably the least effective. He’s owed $31M over the next three years. And while I’m not enamored with him, he’s still a player who could be a nice upgrade for many teams. He’s not yet 30, and has definitely improved in his three years in Toronto (after four in St. Louis). Last year he hit .273, with 12 HR and 35 RBI, along with a .793 OPS , which was 14% above average. His strikeout rate dropped to 22% from 32% in his final two years in St.L. After being a negative defensively in Missouri, he’s shown me (and others) he can do the job, posting positive defensive WARS each year and making a dazzling catch or two this spring. He’s good, but it’s debatable as to how many teams would want to give up anything worthwhile and take on that amount of salary for a guy who’s not “all star” calibre.

Which leads us to the other two. Gurriel might be the best all-round player of the three, being a Gold Glove nominee last year and only 27. He’s also under contract for the next three years, but will bring in only a shade less than $15M for that stretch – a bargain for a guy who hit over .300 last year as well as getting the “D” props. Between 2019-20, he played 142 games (a tad less than one full regular season) and hit .289 with 31 homers, 33 doubles, 9 stolen bases, .836 OPS and a WAR of 2.6. He’d be a sweet addition to many rosters, but one Toronto wouldn’t want to give up that quickly.

Hernandez is perhaps the outlier of the group, being arguably the guy with the highest ceiling but also the most to prove. Teoscar is 28, and has been in the majors for five years, but put in only 379 games in that time. Up until last season, he was a spotty hitter and poor defender. Last year though, things came together and he was among the lead leaguers with a .919 OPS (46% above average) .579 slugging and 16 homers. He was right among the leaders for MVP consideration before a late season ribcage injury slowed him down. At the time that happened, he was second only to Mike Trout in homers and had an slugging percentage over .600. As it turned out, he still won a Silver Slugger Award. While he’s still a bit of a questionable outfielder, he does have a great arm when he gets to a ball in time. With a home run rate of one in 12 at bats last year (up from 1 in 22 as recently as ’18) he’s a potential MVP in waiting…and only earning a little over $4M this year. He’s arbitration-eligible in ’22 and ’23, making him a player many teams would love to have… and Toronto would be hard-pressed to drop.

As good as any of those three are, the big problem is few teams have decent starting pitching they want to get rid of; fewer still have that and lack deep outfields. The best match might possibly be Minnesota, a team with a serious challenger for Central supremacy in the young White Sox and two locked in outfielders in Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, then question marks. They’re big on young Alex Kiriloff, but he’s never played above AA before and is hitting just .129 this spring with a single homer. Jake Cave is probably their third OF, but any of Toronto’s trio would be an upgrade for Minny. They do have a decent roster of pitchers, but just what they’d offer is questionable. Perhaps they’d part with big Michael Pineda, but at 32 years old, almost 300 pounds and having missed three entire years due to injury since arriving in 2011, it’s equally questionable as to how much confidence he’d provide the Jays. He managed 26 innings last year, after a fairly good 2019 (11-5, 4.05, 146 innings.) Or maybe they’d part with Taylor Rogers, a pretty decent strikeout-throwing reliever who in ’19 saved 30 and featured an 8:1 K:BB ratio. He’d be a great closer to replace Yates, and would make it easier to spare either Ross Stripling or Steve Matz for the starting rotation and perhaps give the Jays a very deep left side of the ‘pen with Tim Mayza and Francisco Liriano both returning.

Colorado has only one legitimate set outfielder (Charlie Blackmon, after Ian Desmond decided to sit out this season) and would probably love to see what Gurriel or Hernandez would do in their mile-high air. Trouble is, they also don’t have much pitching. Jon Gray is the best the Jays could hope for there, and he’s a bit of an enigma- very good at times (11-8, 3.84 – good for that city – 25 starts, 50% of all contact being ground balls and WAR of 4.1 in 2019), not good just as often (2-4, 6.69 last year with career worsts for homers and low strikeout: walk ratios.)

L.A. could probably afford to let David Price come back to Toronto, a city and team he seemed to like a few years back, with the plethora of starting pitching they now have since adding mega-money man Trevor Bauer. The question marks there are A) what does Price have left, turning 36 this summer and having last pitched a full, and decent, season in 2018 and B) why would the Dodgers be anxious to add an outfielder given their existing World series-winning roster?

Ultimately, the way to solve the problem might be a more complicated route, involving either a third team (ie – sending someone like Grichuk to Minnesota for prospects, and in turn sending them or other high-end prospects to L.A. , or maybe Cincinnati for Sonny Gray if his back seems likely to let him back on the mound soon.) But that’s why Atkins earns the big money in the Blue Jays front office… getting us into April with a game plan better than “Ryu, whiny Roark and the lefty with the sore elbow and the kid who with the fireball and pulled groin who’s pitched about 100 innings over the past three years combined.” Because if that’s the deal, even if Teoscar overtakes Mike Trout in the home run and glory race, it’s probably not enough.

Ng Baseball’s One Welcome Change For ’21

Well Rob Manfred is at it again. His incessant tinkering with the game is back again much to the chagrin of many of the game’s scribes and experts. Already in spring training we saw a number of games scheduled for fewer than nine innings and a ridiculous “mercy” rule of sorts whereby a team could simply decide to end an inning – no matter how few outs there were – if it got to 20 pitches and they felt they’d had enough. As one writer noted incredulously, imagine you’re a fan who paid $50 for great seats, your team has the bases loaded, nobody out, your homer guy is on deck…and out comes the opposing manager waving his hands. “Innings done boys. My pitcher’s tired!”

Well, thankfully that idea didn’t last long (although it’s reported it was called over 100 times in spring training before it was canceled) but the league Commissioner is back with new ideas that he’s going to be trying out in various minor leagues this summer. Among them, making bases bigger, having the pitch clock he’s always advocated, limiting a pitcher to two pick-off attempts per at bat and trying to prevent defensive shifts by making all four infielders have their feet on the infield dirt when a pitch is delivered. While not all those ideas are terrible, and they address a few issues that many don’t like in the game (for example in 2020 over half of all at bats by lefthanded hitters were played with the opposition “shifting” to try and cover more of the field he’s likely to hit to) they all point to a larger problem. Namely that Manfred is determined to alter the face of the game so much that its barely recognizable to longtime, loyal fans in a probably futile attempt to win brand new fans who find the game too slow or predictable. The result has been steadily declining attendance at big league parks (before last year, which obviously ended in zero attendance during the regular season due to the pandemic), and frustration from fans who feel increasingly un-noticed by the game’s powers-that-be. And, the kicker, the fact that the so-called problems continue unabated – shifts, long games due to excessive pitching changes, too many strikeouts making games rather boring.

All that said one change this off-season will alter the game and I’m a big fan of. I’m talking the hiring of Kim Ng as the GM of the Miami Marlins. Not only a visible minority (Asian descent) but most importantly and obviously, the first woman taking on that role in the sport or any other major North American team sport. As her family told her it was “long overdue.”

Now, lest you get the wrong impression, I’m not in favor of so-called “affirmative action” programs which set quotas and reward people not for their ability but for their race, or sex instead. But it is clear that’s not what was going on with Ng and the Marlins. She was given the job because she was the best person available to fill it…and that’s how it should go. As Derek Jeter said to NBC this week, “she was the first person I called. She was the only person I called” for the vacant position.

Ng has fought the odds and preconceptions much of her life, becoming a huge baseball fan as a child, star softball player in college then taking an internship with the Chicago White Sox, essentially to work as an unpaid secretary and “gofer”… something her Mom, paying for her university, wasn’t thrilled with! But from there, she worked hard, learned a bit about just about every job in the running of a pro ball team, took a (paying) job with the league itself, filing paperwork regarding contracts and team waivers, and before she was 30 was an assistant to the Yankees GM, Brian Cashman. She helped him out as the team won three-straight World Series… then left to become the Vice President of the L.A. Dodgers. There she helped the GM to a string of successful seasons and was in charge of arbitration and negotiating with players wanting pay increases. She usually won. As far back as 2015, Joe Torre, former Yankees manager and about as “old school” a baseball guy as you’d hope to find said “I always talk her up at owner’s meetings. At some point, somebody’s just got to ingore that she’s a woman and make a baseball decision.”

Good on Jeter, a star of those Yankees teams who she helped drive to the championships for giving her the opportunity.

She’ll have her hands full, mind you. Miami’s managed to win the World Series twice in its 28 years of existence…not bad, better in fact than such “powerhouse” teams as Atlanta or the Chicago Cubs. However, they last finished with a winning record in a regular , full-length season back in 2009 and since then have been noted more for bright colors on the uniform and massive cost-cutting more than developing talent or winning clubs. Lacklustre fan support doesn’t help mind you. Despite being in a large metro area with great climate making a day at the ballpark a fine experience all season long, the last time they ended up in the top half of the sport’s attendance was in 1997. Since then they’ve been dead last in butts in the seats four times, and often are ahead of only their cross-state rivals Tampa Bay, in that category. There is however, a glimmer of hope for Ng… last year in the pandemic-shortened year, the team finished above .500 and squeaked into the playoffs. There’s enough young talent on the roster to foster at least vague hopes of a team which could be entirely respectable within a year or two. Ng’s job is to make sure that happens. As she told the Today Show, her job might not be a failure if she doesn’t win the World Series for them, but “I have to do well.”

I hope she does. I’ll be watching the Marlins progress a bit more closely than usual this year and cheering for them in more games. They took a bold step which should help the game. It makes no sense to limit your search for executives and bosses to just half the population, after all. Maybe it makes no sense to even limit your search for players to half the population. Personally I doubt there are many women who would have the size, strength and talent to match up to the men on the diamond in the MLB. I don’t doubt that there might be some however, and I find it exciting to think of the day we may see a woman take the field… the next Jackie Robinson if you will. That I look forward to. Five inning games or managers waving white flags after four batters reach base in an inning…no. Maybe Ng should be next in line for Rob Manfred’s office.

All Eyes On…

Yay! Baseball is back, even if it is only spring training games today. Correction – even if its only a weak imitation of spring training games, with new Rob Manfred-initiated rules allowing pitchers to go in and out of the game, games to last as little as five innings and innings being ended when a manager feels like it’s gone on long enough. Anyway, there will be opposing teams on the field hitting the ball, so that’s a nice sign of springtime and something resembling normalcy.

MLB itself recently listed their “seven players all eyes will be on” this season. By and large their picks were reasonable, but I had a few slight disagreements with their picks so here are my Five Players Who Will Be In The Spotlight in 2021, in descending order.

5) Francisco Lindor, Mets. Lindor’s rapidly risen to the ranks of superstar, both with his bat and glove, but up until this year he’d been playing on a small-market, slightly-above-average talent team. This year pressure will be notched up with him playing in the largest city in the game, on a team who’ve stated fairly straight-forwardly they intend to win and are tired of being “that other Big Apple team.” He’s one of the new breed of flamboyant players who seem to crave the spotlight, so it’s his time to shine. If he can indeed thrive in a bigger market and help the Mets take a run in October, he’ll probably be the premier free agent come this winter ( a tall order in a year when Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Marcus Semien will also be available shortstops.) If not, he may be next year’s Semien, a decent enough short-term pickup for a team trying to move up in the standings.

4) Fernando Tatis, Jr. Padres. In two seasons of the bigs, Fernando has played 143 games – about one normal year’s worth. During that “one” season, he’s hit .301, slugged .582, had an OPS 54% better than league average and hit 39 homers. His WAR in that time , a tidy 7.0. That’s impressive for essentially a rookie campaign. But is it impressive enough to warrant a massive 14 year, $340M contract? San Diego think so. There’ll be a lot of people looking at him under a microscope and if he doesn’t pull off the seemingly improbable – getting better than he has been – and more importantly, if San Diego don’t make a very serious run at the Dodgers for the division title, many will think him a bust.

3) Yu Darvish, Padres. Does anyone remember the time before Yu in the MLB? Fewer and fewer do. Darvish has been in North America for nine years now. And while he’s been a “plus pitcher” for years, he had never come close to living up to the extraordinary amount of hype generated by his coming over from Japan, where he was a Bob Gibson crossed with Steve Carlton and a dash of Randy Johnson. Over here he built up a reputation for being fragile (even though he logged 140 + innings five of the first seven years here, which in this day and age is fairly sturdy, alas) and was a goat in L.A. where they blamed him for losing the World Series. That changed last year when he was dominant in the NL Central, going 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA and 93K’s in 76 innings pitched in the shortened season. Suddenly he was the guy Japan had sold us, so to speak, and a solid Cy Young candidate. So much like Tatis, now that he’s in San Diego, there’ll be more eyes on him watching to see if he can propel the Padres deep into October and perhaps tutor a few of their great young arms along the way.

2) George Springer, Blue Jays. Yes, I admit again, this Blue Jays diehard wasn’t ecstatic with his $150M signing by Toronto. I don’t hate it, mind you, but wasn’t dazzled by the optics or dollar amount. But George clearly was set up as the top available position player in the off-season. Toronto had stated they intended to take the next step to go from barely Wild Card to a legit World Series contender, and Springer is the showcase in their turn in that direction. Springer will be carefully watched not only because he’s a home run hitter in the most homer-friendly division in the game but because he still wears a cloak of shame from being a member of the 2017 Champions of Cheat team out of Houston. Nonetheless, Toronto management talked to him at length and figure he’s a solid character who will be a great mentor to the very many talented but raw kids on the roster. A lot to live upto for the big outfielder.

1) Trevor Bauer, Dodgers. Are you kidding me? MLB didn’t think Bauer was the #1 deer in the headlights this year. I figure no player, no five players combined, will attract as much attention as Trevor will. It won’t matter how many Kardashians file for divorce or how many celebrity assistants get shot, the media in L.A. will be nowhere but at the Dodger clubhouse door when he’s due to take the mound. After all, there’s the money, the controversy, the idea of a new breed of player and a World Championship in a city which at times has trouble producing trophy-winners, all rolled into one.

Start with how wherever Bauer goes, controversy usually follows. Nothing if not outspoken, he’s made enemies in the Commissioner’s office wit his criticism over many Rob Manfred decisions (one can only wonder how he’ll respond to potentially five-inning spring games or pitch counts deciding when to end an inning) and with a huge number of Democrats across the country with his rather prolific and outspoken use of Twitter and other social media. His support of Donald Trump and questioning of Barack Obama’s background may be long-remembered in one of the most liberal cities in the land…particularly if he can’t come close to matching his Cy Young winning season of last year. His social media presence extended to his free agency, where he publicly goaded some teams into talking to him, and solicited all kinds of feedback from fans in various cities. One of the few superstars to not use Scott Boras, his agent was a young woman named Rachel Luba. She followed his lead and did much of her negotiating, it would seem via Twitter. Expect other players and agents, for that matter, to watch to see how well the season plays out before deciding if they want to update their methods as well.

And then there’s money. Why wouldn’t people be attentive to how he does? He just broke a new gold ceiling in the sport by becoming the highest-paid player this year and the first to rake in $40M a year. That alone would be attention-getting, but in his context is more so. After all, before 2020, he was an only slightly-above average pitcher by the numbers. He’d only had an ERA below 4.00 once in eight seasons and had only reached 190 innings twice. Last year things changed with him winning a deserved Cy Young with his league-leading 1.73 ERA, and almost 6:1 strikeout to walk ration, not to mention two complete game shutouts, an animal as rare as a dodo bird these days. But one can’t help but ask, how much does his performance over a season that was less than half the normal length, in a schedule adjusted to let him avoid playing any tough Eastern or Western teams really spell out how good a pitcher he is, or will be? With San Diego beefing up their roster and payroll rapidly, you bet all eyes will be on Trevor to see how he answers that question, and if he can get L.A. back to the World Series.

Off-season Shifts Slowly Towards ‘On’

Glory be, spring training is here at last. May it play out better than last year’s! As we start to dust off the crystal ball and look ahead at the 2021 season and begin to acclimatize ourselves to our favorite teams’ new rosters, it wouldn’t hurt to look back at the winter. A few trends were clear.

The Mets are in it to win it with their new owner. Not only did they pull off the flashy trade for Francisco Lindor (which I predicted) and Carlos Carrasco, they added the likes of Jonathan Villar, James McCann, Trevor May, Kevin Pillar and more although missing out on much-coveted DJ LeMahieu and George Springer.

Likewise, San Diego are tired of being patsies and are augementing their young talent in a big way, trading for pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell.

On the other end of the spectrum, Baltimore and Pittsburgh continue to do little other than let what established talent (of a middle income variety) they had go in a race to the bottom.

The Blue Jays are a puzzle, having established a reputation for being active in trying to acquire almost every star free agent or tradeable player available and succeeding in making headlines with their $150M contract for George Springer. He, shortstop Marcus Semien and rehabbing closer Kirby Yates show the team has money to spend and a desire to win…but then that’s bookended by an inexplicable inattention to the team’s weakest area, the starting pitching. So far, Matt Shoemaker and Chase Anderson have moved on, Taijuan Walker is unsigned and all they’ve done to bolster the rote is bring in Stephen Matz, a guy with potential but whose numbers are no better than either of the departees.

One more thing is clear. Despite the owners carping about huge losses in 2020 and the uncertainty about this season and attendance, there is still a lot of money to go around. The Dodgers were willing to make Trevor Bauer the highest paid player in the game and set a new plateau ($45M a year) on the basis of two solid months in 2020, potential and a one year separation from a 4.48 ERA year. The Jays gave out the biggest contract in franchise history for an outfielder with a career OPS of .852 (good yes, but no comparison to the likes of Mookie Betts at .895, let alone Mike Trout and his 1.000) and a history of injuries. Relief pitchers far and wide saw their pay rates skyrocket. One couldn’t blame the Player’s union for being skeptical of cries of poverty coming from the teams.

To do a quick recap of some of the major signings in the off-season, I’ve copied my end of season predictions for free agency and added in the actual signings with the values as clearly as known (some of the contracts are a little murky with so many different options and deferments):

Catchers

JT Realmulto — NY Mets – 6Y, $135M —- (Philadelphia, 5Y, $115M)

Wilson Ramos – Philadelphia – 2Y, $24M —- (Detroit, 1Y, $2M)

Yadier Molina – St. Louis – 2Y, $28M —- (St.Louis, 1Y, $9M)

First Base

Mitch Moreland – Seattle – 1Y, $9M

Justin Smoak – Boston – 1Y, $3M —- (Japan, 1Y, $6M)

Second Base

DJ LeMahieu – NY Yankees – 4Y, $85M —- (NY Yankees, 6Y, $90M)

Kolten Wong – Toronto – 2Y, $20M —- (Milwaukee, 2Y, $18M)

Jonathan Villar – San Francisco – 1Y, $6M —- (NY Mets, 1Y, $4M)

Shortstop

Marcus Semien – LA Angels – 4Y, $40M —- (Toronto, 1Y, $18M)

Didi Gregorius – Cleveland – 2Y, $25M —- (Philadelphia, 2Y, $28M)

Andrelton Simmons – Atlanta – 1Y, $7M —- (Minnesota, 1Y, $10M)

Third Base

Justin Turner – LA Dodgers – 2Y, $28M —-(L.A. Dodgers, 2Y, $32M)

Eric Sogard – Texas – 1Y, $4M

Outfield

George Springer – NY Mets – 6Y, $130M —- (Toronto, 6Y, $150M)

Marcel Ozuna – Atlanta – 3Y, $55M —- (Atlanta, 4Y, $69M)

Michael Brantley – Houston – 3Y, $38M —- (Houston, 2Y, $32M)

Brett Gardner – retire

Joc Pederson – Miami – 2Y, $8M —- (Chicago Cubs, 1Y, $7M)

Ryan Braun – Houston – 3Y, $27M —- (retired)

Designated Hitters

Nelson Cruz – Minnesota -1Y, $19M —- (Minnesota, 1Y, $13M)

Edwin Encarnacion – Tampa Bay – 2Y, $16M

Shin Shoo Choo – Baltimore – 1Y, $9M

Relief Pitchers

Liam Hendricks – LA Dodgers – 4Y, $52M —- (Chicago WS, 4Y $69M)

Kirby Yates – Washington – 2Y, $20M —- (Toronto, 1Y, $5M)

Brad Hand – Atlanta – 3Y, $30M —- (Washington, 1Y, $10M)

Trevor Bauer – LA Angels – 6Y, $164M —- (LA Dodgers, 3Y/ $102M or 2/85)

Charlie Morton – Boston – 2Y, $29M —- (Atlanta, 1Y, $15M)

Mashahiro Tanaka – Minnesota – 3Y, $40M —- (Japan, undisclosed)

Mike Minor – Pittsburgh – 1Y, $3M —- (Kansas City, 2Y, $18M)

Taijuan Walker – NY Yankees – 4Y, $40M

Jake Odorrizi – St. Louis – 1Y, $13M

James Paxton Toronto – 2Y, $25M —- (Seattle 1Y, $9M)

Soon we’ll try to figure out how it all shakes out looking ahead to the 162 games ahead.

Union Fight For The Right To Be Dumb

I never saw ‘Dumb and Dumber’. Seeing the trailer was enough to make me figure it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Alas, baseball fans seem destined to see their own version of Dumb and Dumber played out again this year. Dumb and Dumber, 2021 Edition seems to showcase the players proving they can be even dumber than their rich owners, who demonstrated their capacity for it last year. Or so their rejection of the league’s proposal to set back opening day would indicate.

Now, to get you up to speed, you might remember the fiasco last season that Covid created. Spring training began then had to be postponed, then we had over four months of downtime while the players union and group of owners went back and forth as to when, if and how the season could proceed safely. You might also recall I was squarely in the players’ court, thinking the owners were being unreasonable with their proposals (eventually given up on) which would have not only imposed severe behavioral restrictions on the players (which largely did remain, such as staying in hotels and not leaving them at all except to go to the stadium) but take a per game pay cut too. It didn’t seem right to me that they should be expected to play games as per their contracts, alter their lifestyles and get less money than the owners had previously agreed to. Eventually they compromised and got full pay per game for a ridiculously shortened season, much abbreviated from what they and we fans had hoped for.

Which brings us to this season, which is fast-approaching. Someone should be just about to get out the vaccuums to clean up the cobwebs at Spring Training sites which will open in some locales two weeks from today.

The problem is of course, the pandemic which played such havoc with last season hasn’t gone away as expected. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Over the past week, the U.S. has averaged 150 000 new cases per day. And that’s resulting in about 3200 people a day dying from it… which is triple the worst week experienced during the 2020 baseball season. If there was reason to worry about having people crowded in stadiums last summer, the worry should be tripled this “spring”.

So, MLB recently proposed a schedule change to the players. The idea was to roll back the season by a month, with it beginning on April 29 instead of April 1, with spring training also delayed somewhat. The season would run about a week later than proposed in fall, and be a 154 game slate (instead of the normal 162 but obviously more than last year’s 60.) But to nip the players’ arguments about money in the bud, they agreed to pay players their full salary for the shortened season – 162 games pay for 154 games played. There would be an expanded post-season of 14 teams, compared to 16 last year but 10 normally, and the “universal DH”, tried out last year would return. The league noted both those were “overwhelmingly popular with our fans.”

The upside of course is that by waiting a month, hopefully millions more people might be vaccinated against COVID and be safe to – and feel safe to – go out to ballparks. And if numbers or cases were dropping, fewer municipalities might have restrictions in place blocking large crowds for games. As a plus, by May, weather is usually much nicer in cities like Milwaukee and Toronto, which could allow for those stadiums to be played open-air rather than with the roofs closed, again cutting down on infection risk.

As for the DH, we all know some National League fans don’t like the change, but we also know the union and owners both have generally been in favor of it for some years. The players figure it will save a few high-paid jobs for the likes of Nelson Cruz who can hit but whose fielding days are largely behind them, and the owners like not having star pitchers risking injury going to bat, not to mention having a few more marquee names to sell for another year or two.

So it should have been a slam dunk, right? Shoulda, coulda… wasn’t. The union turned down the idea cold. “We do not make this decision lightly,” they wrote, noting “we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead.”

Turns out they didn’t like several things about the league proposal. Amazingly (according to the L.A. Times at least) they balked on the universal DH change, because they want to hold onto that as a “bargaining chip” in talks with the owners next year! Why agree to something you both want now if you can try to blackmail the other party a year from now?

But the main stumbling block was that the proposal would give the league, via Commish Rob Manfred the right to shut down , temporarily or entirely, the season if the pandemic gets out of hand. Manfred had the right to “interrupt” the season if A) “government restricitions prevented five or more teams from playing home games with fans present”, B) “if government regulations restricted travel in the U.S.” or C) “if the number of major leaguers unavailable due to Covid-19 undermines competitive integrity” of the sport. The players worried that there was no guarantee that they would be paid in full for any games suspended in those circumstances.

Man! It would seem to me that if those conditions were met – if for instance, the law wouldn’t allow the Yankees to charter their own plane or bus to drive up to Boston, or if so many players were in hospital with Covid that several teams couldn’t field a squad – then getting their full contract might be the least of their worries, or anyone else’s. It seems rather an insult to the ordinary supermarket clerks and bus drivers who go to work day after work, putting themselves at risk and having no guarantees about tomorrow. Once again it puts the players in the position of seeming out of touch, rich and spoiled jerks.

If they can’t agree to something as mutually beneficial as this, I can’t imagine what next winter will be like when the two sides square off trying to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place. I don’t forsee Spring Training starting on time next year as a result… and if things keep up like this all year, I can’t imagine many people really caring one bit either.

Blue Jays Spring-er Into Action, At Last

At last something for us Jays fans to talk about other than being the Garfunkels and Oates of the baseball world – the also rans. After being “linked” by the media (often with the team’s backing) to almost every big name player who was available this off-season – DJ LeMahieu, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Corrasco, Japanese pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano – only to see them land elsewhere or, in the case of Trevor Bauer and JT Realmulto – balk at the offer, the Blue Jays have been on a bit of a tear in the past 48 hours. In case you were sleeping, or preoccupied by goings on in D.C. (who hasn’t?), Toronto have signed free agent pitchers Tyler Chatwood and Kirby Yates, and the most highly-rated free agent “position” player, outfielder George Springer. And according to multiple reports, they’re just dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” on a contract with the outfielder I personally hoped they’d get, Michael Brantley. Toronto still has some holes in the roster but are undeniably a stronger team than they were 48 hours back.

The first of the signings, Chatwood, actually didn’t cheer me up much. Sure, he’s an adequate major league arm, a veteran of average distinction with the Rockies and Cubs, but he’s also had one of the highest rates of walks allowed in the league (the opposite of GM Ross Atkins stated priority in getting pitchers throwing more strikes) and I feared he was slated to be the “big” acquisition to finish the starting rotation and replace a better arm like Matt Shoemaker or Taijuan Walker. Seems that’s not the case, and Chatwood is viewed more as just another bullpen hand, and with his history of starting pitching, he could probably be valuable in such a role, working in blowout games or ones where multiple innings are required.

Yates was much more exciting, albeit a player who carries a little risk along with him. The ex-Padre saw his 2020 come to an early end after only 6 (bad) games with elbow pain. He underwent bone chip or bone spur (depending on source) and thus may not be back to normal by spring. Estimates are he will be though, and if so, the team has the proven closer to replace injured Ken Giles. Yates has a good 94 MPH fastball and an above average split finger pitch as well as a great ability to paint the bottom of the strike zone. In 2019 he was arguably the most stellar NL relief pitcher, striking out 101 in 60 innings, with only 13 walks and two homers allowed. Any pitcher who doesn’t walk a lot and isn’t prone to too many flyballs is welcome in Toronto. That year he had a 1.19 ERA and league-leading 41 saves.

Which brings us to Springer. Now regular readers know I’ve not been a Chuck Mangione when it comes to him…I’m not one to be trumpeting him. I thought he was a tad over-rated and destined to be overpaid. I still do. BUT... there is no denying he’s a good, all-star perhaps, outfielder who can hit and comes through under pressure. There’s no denying that’s a good addition to the team, even if the total $150M price tag seems high.

Springer at 31 should be right around his prime, and comes with good numbers by anyone’s standards – a career .361 on base pct., an average 93 RBI and 81 BB per 162 games played. And of course, 19 career playoff homers and a .546 slugging percentage in them. He’s viewed as an above average fielder and while a member of the Champions of Cheat 2017 Houston club (which still irks me a bit), his numbers in 2019-20, after the scandal broke, were actually better than in that notorious season, so maybe the trash can percussion wasn’t the secret to his success.

Which brings us to Michael Brantley, a veteran for sure, but not as long-in-the-tooth as many imagine, turning 34 in May. He spent the last two years in Houston with Springer, and apparently the pair had an interest in signing with the same club, so a win-win for both them and Toronto. Brantley in the past three years has posted .309/.311/.300 batting averages and OPS between 20 and 30% above league averages each year. He has 25 home run power, which might expand to 30-ish with Toronto and AL East parks and is a solid clubhouse personality who might be a good mentor to the many fledgling Blue Jays. I’m excited to have him on board. Or almost there anyway.

Two important takeaways from this for the Jays. One is that they are making a statement to us fans and to the competition, no, this time they’re not lying about “going for it.” We’ve heard that quite a few times through the past couple of decades and seen them carry through on it many times fewer. But by landing the biggest fish in the pond and outbidding the free-wheeling, drunken sailor-spending Mets for Springer then adding another all-star outfielder just for good measure, and a borderline superstar reliever, they show they mean business. This should make filling in the other puzzle pieces a bit easier, make selling tickets (if indeed there are any tickets to sell in 2021) easier and perhaps dissuade the Red Sox from doing anything much to strengthen themselves in the short-run. Catching back up to Toronto just got harder.

Secondly, it leaves the team with a glut of quality outfielders. Gurriel, Grichuk, Hernandez, Springer, Brantley… five stars, four spots even if one is the DH every day. Suddenly they’re in a position of strength to trade one (my hope and guess would be Randal Grichuk, the highly-paid but erratic CF now out of a steady job because of Springer) in order to fill the remaining hole in the infield or perhaps add a starting pitcher. Kolten Wong or Tommy Lastella are adequate free agent choices for the infield, but perhaps with an excess OF thrown in, an even better fit could be acquired by trade.

Things changed in Washington D.C. today with a transition in power. So too in the AL East.

Addendum – as we found out later in the day, after this was posted, the reports of Brantley coming to the Jays, though widespread, were inaccurate. He signed back with Houston on a two year deal instead.