Tagged: 2017 Blue Jays

Putting Up The Blue Jays Stocking…

As kids world-wide start to think of putting pen to paper to beg from that man up North Pole way, so too do Blue Jays fans start dreaming of wish lists so they can be happy as wide-eyed children around a tree come Christmas. Or at least spring training.

After a disappointing season to say the least, there are no shortage of ideas for how to fancy up the 2018 roster and make it look more competitive. To his credit, so far Ross Atkins has sounded reasonable at least, suggesting that the Jays need to add depth in mid-infield positions (given the obvious health issues of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis) and need to get a bit quicker and more athletic all around. Fair enough, but that’s only a start. Toronto last season was quite frankly, burdened by a old-age home’s worth of injuries, completely lacklustre hitting and an unstable starting rotation which featured far too many arms. A goal in 2018 must be to find ways to reduce the injury list and find better subs,which could mean a turnover in trainers and scouts (rather than front office people, like April Whitzman who’ve already been let go from media jobs they were handling quite nicely.)

Although public perception seemed to be that the pitching threw the team’s chances out, the reality is that the offence was the worst culprit. A team which only 2 years earlier led the world in bat power had sunk to last in the AL in batting average, and where it counts, runs scored. Being the only team in the majors to fail to reach double digits in triples and topping only the slow-winged Orioles in stolen bases was symbolic of the trouble and more evidence of the Atkins theory of the need for speed. The ’17 Jays could hit homers alright – 222was mid-pack 7th best in the league- but if the ball didn’t sail out of the park, they were essentially screwed. Their cumulative 1098 non-home run hits outpaced only the patsy-Padres in all of baseball. Granted the 542 walks wasn’t bad, but still the result was only a .312 on base, tied for 12th in the AL. And when that is added to tortoise-like stealth on the bases, there’s no good way to think the team will win routinely. For all the names and big salaries, E. Carrera led the staff regulars with a .282 average – and that’s if you consider 287 at bats enough to make him a regular ! So, Job 1 has to be improving the offense.

Unfortunately though, that by itself won’t be enough assuming we don’t pull in the likes of Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado and Joey Votto between now and April (yeah, we won’t.) We need to stabilize and improve the pitching as well, particularly the starting rote. The ‘pen wasn’t horrible and besides, I’m always of the belief that a good starting rotation makes a good bullpen. Starters that can pitch into the 7th or 8th regularly lead to a well-rested bullpen which can be utilized strategically by a smart manager- which John Gibbons is. Starters that get blown out routinely by the 4th lead to fatigued arms, specialty lefties going 3 innings in relief and so on. The Jays pitching numbers easily outdid their batting ones, but still weren’t pretty. Their 4.42 ERA was actually 7th best in the AL. the bad part though is that it was more than a run behind Cleveland and 3 of the 6 teams with better numbers were divisional rivals. Of concern was the 549 walks allowed, more than the offense took and 12th best in the league. Clearly, the team needs more reliability in the staff than they had last year.

Personally, I think a new hitting coach couldn’t hurt. Nothing personal about Brook Jacoby, but no matter what he’s teaching the men, they’re swinging for the fences on every pitch and failing to be aggressive on the basepaths. A new voice could perhaps persuade them to play more “small ball”, put the ball in play, try for the extra base and all those other passe things which lead to runs. I have no problem with pitching coach Pete Walker though, I don’t know how anyone would do better with a rotating door that put over 30 faces on the mound in the year. We saw improvement in some young arms, and veterans holding their own which is about all you can hope for. Walker merits a continuation as does manager Gibbons.

So how do we wish for these changes to take place? We’ll examine that later this week!

Glass is half full, .204 average and all!

 

Well it’s not the start we Jays fans had dreamed of, to say the least. Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun pointed out this is the slowest start we’ve ever seen by the team and already there are calls for the heads of john Gibbons and pretty much everyone involved with the team from the impatient ones amongst us.

Granted this does seem to reflect 1994 a little (without the strike) when the reigning World Champs suddenly turned into last place chumps for no apparent reason but I think it’s far too early to give up hope on the ’17 squad or their chances in October. I picked them in the last blog to finish second in the division behind Boston , and make the playoffs via the Wild card and I’ll stick by that – for now.

Let’s look at the half-full glass. yes, they’re 1-5, tied with Atlanta for worst record overall. But let’s remember, that’s only 1/27th of the season accounted for and they’ve yet to play in the friendly confines of Rogers’ (although by the time I have this posted they may have taken the field there.) Their run differential is only -8. Not flashy but not atrocious either; Baltimore is sitting atop the division with a run diff of only +1 so no one is exactly setting the world on fire so far in the East. Really the jays have been in every game except the last (the 7-2 loss to Tampa); two of the losses have gone to 11 innings. A lucky bounce or two off our bats and the team would be at .500 and nobody would be squawking.

More positives: Roberto Osuna should be back on the bench tonight, solidifying the bullpen a great deal and I am making the assumption young Casey Lawrence will be shipped back across the lake to get some more seasoning in Buffalo. Lawrence has potential but so far has looked far over-matched in his 2 big league appearances. That mere roster tweak should improve the team exponentially and enable some wins in close games.

Aaron Sanchez was fantasticin his debut, picking right up where he left off last season and Marcus Stroman (he of the only “W” so far for the Jays) was very good too (6 1/3 innings, just 6 hits and one earned run) coming off his memorable World Baseball Classic performance. He’s shown he can handle the pressure of big games already, I look for him to pick up his everyday game some this year and be considerably better than his 9-10 last year. With JA Happ looking good in his first outing and not being a power pitcher prone to losing a lot all at once when he ages, the core of the rotation remains very good. True, liriano’s outing was a nightmare but every pitcher has a clunker once in awhile. If he can’t find the strike zone with binoculars again in his next outing there might be cause for concern but until then, let’s just chalk it up to his worst game of the year being his first. He looked fine in spring training by the way. By the way, AL champ Indians currently have the worst pitching in baseball by the numbers, with a 5.82 staff ERA.

The “D” has been pretty solid thus far, no surprise there nor reason to figure that’s going to change anytime soon, partiuclarly in Devon Travis can manage to stay healthy for a whole campaign…and even if he doesn’t we don’t lose much with the glove with Barney or Goins in there.

which brings us to the hitting. Two years ago, largely the same lineup was an offense for the ages, leading all the majors. Last year- not so much. This year? Well, it’s been bloody awful so far. No way around that fact. .201 average? only four homers in 6 games? League-low .297 slugging percentage? Well, even though KC and Seattle currently have even lower sub-Mendoza team averages, there’s no way to pretend those are adequate numbers. Which leads us to the bright spot. No matter how much Bautista, Tulowitzki and Martin (0 for 14 but with 6 walks) might be getting up there in years, there’s no way they’ve collectively lost 100% of their hitting acumen. The hitting will get better and even, as bad as it’s been, they’ve been in the thick of things 5 games out of 6. Just imagine when Jose Bautista starts knocking a few out or Troy T. starts hitting his weight if not his career average… so far he’s already driven in 6 on a mere 3 hits! Truth be told, I’d fire hitting coach Brook Jacoby. A good hitter in his time and from what I can tell, a decent man, but he seems incapable of inspiring his talent to come up with the big hit. Even if that doesn’t happen though, rest assured. Just as sure as Yunel Escobar over on the west coast won’t finish the year hitting above-TEd Williams numbers, Russ Martin will eventually get a base hit, Joey Bats will work towards 30 if not 40 homers and we’ll see more power out of Kendrys Morales, whose first Toronto hit was a grand slam, even if his average stays in the low-.200s (which I don’t think it will). This team will score enough to be competitive this year.

Furthermore, one has to note that Boston, the unanimous pick to click in the division in polls and publications I’ve seen are only 23rd in the bigs in runs scored and are hitting an anemic .240. David Ortiz’s heir apparent, Mitch Moreland is hitting .333 after 6 games but has driven in only 1 run. And while i don’t want to be the guy to engage in “schaudenfraude” and I do like David Price well enough, one has to realize that his current placement on the DL for the Sox with a bad elbow doesn’t look good and a Red sox with him in the #2 slot behind Chris Sale is a lot more capable of going the distance than a Red Sox with dubious Cy young winner Rick Porcello there. A great rote turns to a passably good one, and the Sox probably drop 5 to 8 games over the season if Price ends up under the knfie.

Granted, the glass half-empty has solid reason to worry about Josh Donaldson’s oft-sore calf – right now Josh has been the team’s standout at the plate with a 1.097 OPS- and it’s true that Aaron Loup doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence if he’s the only southpaw in the bullpen should JP Howell not bounce back quickly. But there’s a lot of upside folks and if the JAys can turn it around tonight back in Canada, those jeers will turn to a season of cheers.

the 2017 Predictions… Cleveland to “Wahoo”?

AL East

Boston

93-69

+

Toronto

89-73

4

New York

85-77

8

Baltimore

81-81

12

Tampa Bay

70-92

23

AL Central

Cleveland

90-72

+

Detroit

88-74

2

Kansas City

79-83

11

Chicago

74-88

16

Minnesota

70-92

20

AL West

Seattle

91-71

+

Texas

87-75

4

Houston

84-78

7

LA Anaheim

77-85

14

Oakland

70-92

21

NL East

Washington

90-72

+

New York

89-73

1

Atlanta

86-76

4

Philadelphia

72-90

18

Miami

72-90

18

NL Central

Chicago

96-66

+

St. Louis

87-75

9

Pittsburgh

79-83

17

Cincinnati

69-93

27

Milwaukee

68-94

28

NL West

Los Angeles

91-71

+

San Francisco

87-75

4

Arizona

79-83

12

Colorado

74-88

17

San Diego

63-99

28

Playoffs

AL:

wild: Toronto over Detroit

ALDS: Cleveland over Seattle

Toronto over Boston

ALCS: Cleveland over Toronto

NL:

wild: New York over San Fran(over St.L)

NLDS: LA over Washington

Chicago over New York

NLCS: Chicago over LA

World Series:

Cleveland over Chicago

next up, we’ll look at some guesses for the individual awards and look at the Jays year ahead…

Joey and Jays sitting in a tree…

Ever seen one of those Hollywood romcoms where all the friends see it but the couple can’t see they were made for each other right until the very happy end? Me too, and while it makes for an enjoyable film, it’s frustrating when taking place in front of us on the diamond. That couple is the Toronto Blue jays and Jose Bautista, and yes they need each other. That’s right, need. So let’s hope the much-reported recent meetings between the two in recent days result in a quick return of Joey Bats to Toronto.

Let’s start with Bautista. Although a five-time All star and one of the few certified home run threats in the game these days, the free agent market hasn’t developed like he would have hoped. While pitchers of even less-than-ordinary stature are making out like bandits this off-season (arr-cecil-cough-cough-thirty-mil-hack hack… something stuck in my throat there!) hitters aren’t finding much demand for their services. Witness Jose’s teammate Edwin Encarnacion, personally picked by David Ortiz as the heir apparent in Boston, rumored to be starting the bidding process at 5 years and $125M. Only the Sox weren’t interested, instead opting for Mitch Moreland at one-fifth the money and one-fifth the commitment. The end story, a smaller contract with Cleveland after turning down an $80M offer from the Jays. Mike Napoli rings in the new year “this” close to having a 2016 World Series ring…and without a job to go to in spring despite having 34 homers for the AL Champions. LA’s interest in Bautista apparently fizzled and Baltimore told him to go to hell since MD fans don’t like his pouting and arguing balls and strikes. Bautista’s .234 average and 22 homers last year don’t help his cause, although it was in an injury-shortened year. then again, a 36-year old who missed nearly 2 months the past year sends up red flags with some GMs.

Baltimore fans don’t like Bautista. I can say with good first-hand experience, neither do Texas fans (with the Rangers being one of the few teams rumored to want a power hitter added to their roster this winter.) His “bat flip” got him put on the boxes of cereal boxes in Canada, and was called by one over-enthusiastic Yahoo Sports columnist the greatest single moment in Canada for the past 25 years, but didn’t win him fans in middle-America. On a more purely business sense, the new CBA in baseball makes teams reluctant to go all-in on a big free agent this winter since to sign Bautista, they’d need to give up a first round draft pick to Toronto. Next year that rule changes, meaning a wild wild west scurry to bulk up the roster with no loss of young talent. then there’s all those promotional contracts JB has in the Great White North with the likes of Canada Goose clothing and Canadian Tire stores. Unlikely he’d get as many endorsements should he move on to LA, New York or Tampa (as has been laughably suggested as a dropping spot for him.)

Bautista has strong ties to the community in Toronto, does a great deal of charity work and is adored across Canada. He needs to stay there.

But make note of it- the team needs him just as much as he needs Toronto. The Jays for all their apparent hitting prowess made the playoffs last season on the strength of their pitching and nothing more. The offence was run of the mill at best and dropped over 130 runs from 2015. the loss of RBI-king Edwin Encarnacion isn’t made up for by the signing of Kendrys Morales, although he’s not a bad Plan B for a designated hitter. With Michael Saunders also gone, for the time being, Toronto look to be down about 60 homers and 140 RBI right now compared to the team they ended the season with; not good for a team with only so-so hitting to begin with. All the near no-nos of Marco Estrada and a storybook comeback from Marcus Stroman aren’t going to pitch a team that potentially only scores 600 runs in a strengthened division into the playoffs in ’17. As it stands now, an outfield of Gold Glove-worthy Kevin Pillar, good for a bench player E. Carrera and “vying for the most over-rated player in history of the game” Melvin uPton will assure the team of the worst hitting OF in the league. They need a guy out there who can hit, and a guy who will excite the team in the clubhouse. AKA- Jose Bautista.

The case is made more clear when we look at the alternatives. Mark Trumbo has been suggested, although who knows if we can even get the California native to move north. Sure Trumbo led the league ih HR in 2016, and could no doubt power a few out of Rogers Centre. However, his 2016 47 homers was an outlier; he has a 5-year average of just 26 HR. He also struck out an alarming 170 times in ’16 while walking just 51 times, far inferior to BAutista’s numbers. And while Baltimore proved Trumbo could be used in the outfield, they also proved he shouldn’t be. Five errors and just one DP turned in over 90 games played in right last year show that as outfielders go, Trumbo’s a decent DH. Talk if you will about the slowing of Bautista in the OF but stats show that Trumbo would be worse. his 2016 WAR was just 1.6- almost identical to Bautista- due to a terrrible -2.8 rating in the outfield. That is, stats show Baltimore lost 3 games by having him play OF rather than an “average” minor leaguer. With slow-footed Morales now the DH in Toronto, Trumbo would need to be the everyday 1b, making Justin Smoak redundant. Now Trumbo would hit better than Smoak but therein lies the problem- it’d be hard to find a taker for the lacklustre Smoak and his $8M, two-year contract. So, we’d need to factor his contract into the amount to spend on Trumbo, meaning that unless Mark could be brought onboard for , say $11M a year (unlikely) he’ll cost the team more than Bautista and still leave them with a mediocre outfield.

Colby Rasmus? There was a reason the team let him walk away, and that reason was largely that hard-working players like Mark Buehrle named him specifically as lazy, that fans saw a player who seemed entirely indifferent to trying and a player who was run out of St.Louis previously for his outspoken unwillingness to listen to coaches. The 30 year-old Rasmus hit all of .206 with 15 HR last year and for him, a .234,22HR,60+ RBI season (like Bautista’s “off” season in ’16) would be a career year.

Bringing back Michael Saunders wouldn’t be terrible- if they can get him back at a bargain-basement price. The 2016 All Star from BC likes Toronto well enough but is a below-average fielder and had a remarkable drop-off in productivity in the second half. Whether it was from a surge of cocky indifference (I don’t think that to be the case), an unreported injury or just him getting burnt out after playing every day, he seems a risky proposition to rely on for more than a bat off the bench.

Which leads us to trade talk. Andrew McCutchen? jay Bruce? Both are said to be offered by their teams, and both are under contract for 2017 at “reasonable” rates – around $14M. But let’s not forget that Bruce had a Saunders-like drop off in the second half last year, with slugging pct. dropping from .559 to a weakling .391. His career best homer season was 4 years ago now, with 34. McCutchen, for all his reputation and smiling, is in a serious three-year decline. Batting average: .314/.292/.256. On base: .410/.401/.336 Stolen bases: 18/11/6. 143 K in 2016, zero RBI in 8 career post-season games, a negativeWAR last year (yep- statistically Pirates would have won more benching him and using a random minor leaguer)…is his decline a result of a team that seems to have lost direction or is the opposite the case?

Whichever it might be, the point is neither Bruce nor McCutchen are strong candidates to do fantastic things for Toronto in ’17. But both have big reputations and aren’t going to come cheap. Pittsburgh have already turned down good packages of young players for McC; toronto might have a hard time putting together enough young talent to wrestle him away from Pennsylvania and to do so would be reckless to say the least. Would, for example, a team with him but without Marcus Stroman (said to be one player asked for) and roberto Osuna be better?

The Jays need Bautista and to bet on him being healthy and rebounding, even if not to 50-homer levels, to perhaps .260 and 35 HR plus continuing to fire up the lower-key players around him. Bautista needs to realize Toronot is where he is loved and that his best offer is whatever Toronto is offering today, not what Tampa or the Dodgers might just think about offering in February.

Bye to relief pair priced too high

Well again this December, we Jays fans find ourselves in a spot watching the opposition (in Boston and New York at least) improve while there’s been little to get much-excited about on the homefront. It’s safe to say few toronto fans are asking for autographed pictures of president Mark Shapiro or his right-hand man Ross Atkins.

That’s not to say that Steve Pearce or Kendrys Morales are bad players. Pearce is a decent enough hitter and with his ability to play first base, as well as (not as effectively) third and outfield, could turn into a sort of “super-sub” utility player, rather like Chris Collabelo two years back. OF course, CC is still kicking around in the system but after last year’s drug susension, his star has fallen and Pearce looks a better bet . Morales should surely hit some homers at Rogers Centre, and other East parks, but is no Edwin Encarnacion. Then again, he comes in at $9 million a year less than EE was offered. given that Encarnacion seems to be drawing little interest from rich teams like the red Sox, he might end up being the fool in that story ultimately, not the Blue Jays. So those two signings are not bad deals for the team, but there’s no getting around the fact that the lineup right now is inferior to the one that bowed out in october to Chief Wahoo’s crew. The team still needs an outfielder or two (I reiterate I personally do not view Melvin Upton as a valid everyday OF for a team which doesn’t covet last place) , a backup catcher – they had two to end the season!- and some bullpen arms.

It’s discouraging to read Gregor Chisholm write on the official team website that there’s not a lot of interest to bring back Jose Bautista; not only is he the face of the franchise, as noted here many times, even on a bad year (like 2016) he motivates the teammates and can drive in 65 , injuries and all, batting lead-off much of the time. And for all the complaints about his ALCS, he has combined to hit 6 HR and drive in 16 in 20 playoff games over the past two falls. A healthy Jose hitting third or fourth in ’17 is likely to be a good bet for 35 homers and 100 RBI, something Pearce or the underwhelming ben Revere (mentioned as a possible replacement) won’t. Rajai Davis , a speedster we know well, has also been mentioned and would add something new to the team, in base running and decent enough defence but , looking at Dexter Fowler’s contract with St. Louis, one might suspect he will pull in close to the same amount the Jays offered Bautista. And a 36 year old who relies on speedy legs is more of a gamble than a 36 year old power hitter. Andrew McCutchen might be a nice fit, but unrealistic given what the Pirates want in return and what limited resources the team has in prospects to give up.

One thing I won’t criticize Toronto for is failing to re-sign Brett Cecil or Joaquin Benoit. Even in today’s inflated salaries, the contracts that pair seem out of the ballpark. To review, Cecil, coming off a mediocre year when he went 1-7 and blew all four save opportunities in just 36+ innings receives over $30 mil over 4 years from St. Louis. the aging Benoit, pushing 40, was excellent in his 25 games here, but was horrible early in the year with Seattle. HE’s getting $7.5M from the Phils for ’17.

Both pitchers would be fine to have in Toronto’s pen, but neither is worth what they got on the market. I’d wager combined, they’re not worth $7.5 M to a team, let alone individually! No questioning that Toronto’s bullpen looks a bit weak right now, particularly in lefties, but one has to wonder how Cecil , who threw a career low 566 pitches last season and buckled under pressure (except , I admit in the Wild Card game) could justify that kind of money . If you like numbers and bow to the “WAR” (a number I find a bit too subjective to take as an exact science) , consider his WAR in 2016 was just 0.3 – meaning that he added one-third of one win to the team compared to using a typical AAA pitcher in his place! Benoit’s WAR was 1.4 in Toronto, but 1.0 overall (taking into account his first half ). Mike trout, for comparison, had a 10.5 WAR – he added ten or more wins to the Angels lowly total. Justin verlander was rated as the most valuable pitcher, surprisingly, with a WAR of 6.6. Now, if we take the current market and think that a top-flight hitter or starting pitcher might be worth $20-25 M per season and lift your team from , say a .500 (81-81) to a wildcard-challenger (around 88 or 90 wins) single handedly, one would surmise that a reliever who will only appear for 50 short outings, maybe 12 or so of which are important, and will only add at most one win to the W column…well, I think we can see their value is quite a bit below what the former Jays pair got.

Perhaps the market will cool down and a few run-of-the-mill veterans like Neftali Feliz or even failed starters like Scott Feldman and Dan Hudson will be around and willing to add their arms to the ‘pen on the cheap come March. In the meantime, while I’d like to have had Cecil and Benoit come on back, given a realistic outlook of the GM having maybe $25 to perhaps $30M left to work with to fill out the 2017 team, I’d much rather have the money go towards a 30+ homer outfielder and a good backup catcher (who can work with our pitchers and hit over the Mendoza Line should he need to play regularly) and take our chances with more guys like Ryan Tepera or Chad Jenkins to fill in the inconsequential middle innings than have Cecil, Benoit and go with Ben Revere in right and a rookie catcher.