Tagged: Jose Bautista

MLB’s New ‘Two Way’s To Add To Fan Aggravation

Well its been about two weeks since the last post and so, no surprise to regular readers, Leadglove Rob’s been at it again since then. Yes, never ones to let a chance to shoot themselves in the foot go by without bloodying a toe or two at least, MLB is back at it with more ways to make the sport and league just a bit less interesting and appealing to the fans.

First we have the availability of games online. For years now, the league has been promoting MLB.TV as a way to watch any game you want. No worries about what channel your cable provider might have or if you’re out of the house… pay MLB and you can watch any game, every game online on your PC or phone, or any number of other new device. The service has been a little expensive, but for many, it’s a great way to be able to see all your team’s games anywhere you go.

A good system, so whaddya know – they’ve changed it up in a number of markets for the 2020 season. Some (if not all) the teams are going to have blackouts for their local areas, meaning you’ll be able to watch every game … except your hometown faves. For them you’ll be able to go out to the park to “root, root, root for the home team”… or possibly buy another expensive local service. For Jays fans in their main market of Canada, all 3500 miles from sea to shining sea, it would mean buying a new service from the team’s owner’s Rogers’ Communications. Which some fans might do, but would certainly cut down on their desire to renew their MLB.TV account, as not many Toronto fans will be wanting to plonk down something like $150 (in Canuck bucks) to watch those late-night San Diego/ Arizona battles. Yahoo didn’t think much ofYahoo didn’t think much of the plan, but then again, who does?

Next up, another new Rob Manfred rule announced last year that makes little sense to quite a few fans and is perturbing Cincinnati fans … and possibly Toronto ones too! Enter the “Two way player”. Of course, baseball rode a wave of excitement and international interest a couple of years ago when Shohei Ohtani came over from Japan and signed with the Angels. Another good Japanese pitcher, but with a twist … he is a hitter too. Fans were abuzz, even outside of Anaheim, and while so far, Ohtani’s trips to the mound have been limited due to injuries, he’s been a fan favorite and seen by some as a role model for a brand new kind of player. Brand new old school type of player, some would say. Remember that Babe Ruth, the game’s greatest hitter not only had the home run record for about five decades but also managed to pitch 300 innings twice in a season and finish his career with 94 wins and an ERA barely above 2.

Well MLB apparently thinks we don’t want too much fan excitement or too many star players becoming household names, so they’ve installed rules essentially designed to prevent this from becoming more common. As of this year, teams will have to designate a player as a “two-way” if they want to use him as a pitcher as well as position player. Otherwise, non-pitchers can only appear in extra innings or in blow-out games where the lead is over 7 runs. And, to add a snag to having an influx of players designated as such, they decree that player must have not only pitched 20 innings in the current season or the year before, but also have started 20 games as a position player and had 3 or more plate appearances in each of those games. Since Ohtani didn’t actually live upto those numbers they put in a one-time grandfather clause that will let the Angels call him a two-way this season.

Not so lucky, the Cincinnati Reds, who have a similar, if perhaps less-stellar, type player in Michael Laurenzen. they’ve used him both as an outfielder and a regular arm in the bullpen, but even though he logged over 80 innings last season, and playing 100 games in the field, he didn’t qualify because he was often used as a defensive replacement and didn’t always notch 3 times to the plate. The Reds can still use him this year but would have to call him a “pitcher” (which, it’s not clear, may impede his ability to play regularly in the outfield) or an outfielder who can only be called upon infrequently in extra inning games or blow-outs to pitch.

Another player who will suffer from this new rule is… wait for it… Jose Bautista! Wait, you say. The Jose Bautista of “bat flip” fame? The 50-homer hitting Joey Bats of the Blue Jays of yesteryear? The Bautista who’s apparently retired?

Yes, that Jose Bautista. He never officially retired and has been working out all winter, apparently trying to not only play in this year’s Olympics (glad that baseball is apparently reinstated as an Olympic sport!) but wants to get back to the majors as a two-way player. In his prime, he did have a laser of an arm in the outfield, and doubters who’ve watched him come away less dubious. He apparently has a 94 mph fastball, and a good slider with “legitimate tilt”. Former teammate Marcus Stroman has worked out with him and declares Bautista good enough to make many MLB bullpens right now. And while maybe not fast enough with the bat to lead the league in dingers anymore, have no doubt he could still swat a few out of the park and run down a ball or two in the outfield.

The prospect has excited many, especially Toronto fans. Bautista was always well-loved among the Jays faithful and seemed to reciprocate their warmth. With the Jays bullpen so-so and full of possibilites but short of sure-things beyond closer Ken Giles and with the likes of Derek Fisher seeming like contenders for a backup OF spot, many think Jose could actually fit into the 2020 roster. And well, who wouldn’t be a little curious to see the announcer declaring “batting for Texas, second baseman Roughned Odor. And now pitching for the Blue Jays, Jose Bautista…”?

Perhaps unrealistic, perhaps a pipe dream.But what is real is the fact that once again, Rob Manfred and his minions are needlessly draining the game of a little bit more excitement and fun.

A Blue Jays Decade In Five Shots

A decade comes to a close and while Blue Jays fans have had a number of things to grumble about – 26 years and counting since the last championship high among those – there have been highlights and things to cheer of course. No World Series but at least we hit the post-season in back to back years which automatically makes it a bit better decade than the one it followed.

For a little recap, here’s my Top 5 Moments To Remember for the team this past decade.

5. 2011

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Maybe he was the best Blue Jay yet, maybe not. He certainly had charisma and took the town by storm in his brief five years here. And got under the skin of opposition pitchers in a way no one else until a certain rightfielder two decades later. Not to mention being a cornerstone of the two Blue Jays World Series teams. So seeing Roberto Alomar Inducted Into The Baseball Hall Of Fame , the first player to do so representing the team, was pretty special.

4. 2015

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The diving catches on line drives. The big home runs. The 123 RBI and .568 slugging percentage. Getting the team to within a couple of games of the World Series. That interesting haircut. He made fans forget about homegrown Third Baseman Brett Lawrie. Josh Donaldson winning the AL MVP was a decent consolation prize after the Royals stopped the team in October. Kansas City had its first World Series in 30 years but at least Toronto had its first MVP winner since George Bell in 1987.

3. 2019

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The season passed was in many ways a total flop. there’s no way to put a very positive spin on 95 losses, nor disguise the fan reaction shown by the second straight year of league-high drops in attendance. However, on April 26 when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his long-awaited MLB debut, fans had reason to watch again and to feel some optimism at least. For years the team sported a lacklustre farm system and unrealistically-promoted low-level prospects as “the next BIG thing” but this time, VG2 was being touted by the league itself as the “next BIG thing”… and had the minor league numbers to back it. His season might not have been quite all expected, but he smiled a lot, was darn good for a 20 year old and was soon joined in the infield by two other sons of stars with close-to as good credentials : Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette. Real reason to think Toronto has a chance at a much better decade ahead than behind.

2. 2019

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A woman speaking on a lawn as a top baseball moment? It was for Jays fans this past summer and there was nary a dry eye on the lawns in Cooperstown that day as widow Brandy accepted the induction of Roy Halladay into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Few, if any players have worked so hard and been so popular with the Blue Jays as “Doc” so even if his family didn’t want to have him illustrated in either a blue “bird” or a red “P” cap in the Hall (so as not to alineate fans in either of the cities he played in) it was a huge moment for Toronto fans everywhere. Not to mention a good finish to the great story of his which got cut so prematurely short in a plane accident.

1. 2015

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Hard to believe this was so spark-provoking only four years back, now that MLB itself does things like rank the “best” ten of the year,many of which take place in meaningless situations and games. But that blast in Game 5 of the ALDS against Texas was anything but meaningless. the team felt the umpires were blatantly biased against them, the Rangers were arrogant and convinced they had pulled off a huge comeback after scoring a run when the ball appeared to be dead and not in play. Number 19 had different ideas. Always a clutch performer, Jose Bautista’s Bat Flip is as iconic an image in Canada as soldiers raising a flag in Iwo Jima in to the South.

Well, bring on the 2020s! Maybe ten years from now I’ll be posting a photo of Vlad hoisting that World Series trophy!

 

All Star Points To Ponder

A couple of random items before we get back to the final instalments of the Best Ever Blue Jays.

The first is reason for hope for Jays fans. A few of whom have been grumbling about a perceived lack of performance from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Which might be reasonable if viewed through the lens of media hype and the assumption that the majors are no different than the minors. However, the two are utterly different and there is a learning curve for even the best of players coming up. Last night, #27 played in his 49th big league game (and had 3 hits plus and RBI against the Yanks). To put his first two months in context, let’s compare him to another good player through their first 40 games. That other player is Mike Trout, who logged exactly 40 games in 2011, just few enough to keep him under the bar so he could come back and win the Rookie of the Year in 2012 – which he did. Guerrero’s 40th game was back on June 14th, so we’ve backdated his stats to that game:

AB H 2B HR RBI B AVG OBP SLUG OPS DIF
Trout 123 27 6 5 16 220 281 390 672 N11
Guerrero 149 40 8 7 18 268 325 467 788 4

Most of the stats are self-explanatory, but I point out that the decimal points are missing (software quirk) and the final column is the difference between the player’s OPS and the league average that year. Trout’s N11 is negative 11… 11% below average.

We can see that Guerrero’s numbers are better in every category. Does that mean he’ll continue to outpace Mike Trout and be an even bigger star than the Angel’s OF down the road? Not necessarily. But it does mean it’s time to shut up with the complaints about Vladimir’s hitting.

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Give commissioner Rob Manfred one thing. He’s not afraid to tinker with time-honored traditions of the game. Among his many changes have been alterations to the All Star Game.

He’d already eliminated the (relatively recent) incentive of the winning team getting home field advantage in the World Series. This year he’s played around with the voting procedure.

For the first time, there are two separate votes to get to the starting lineups for the AL and NL team – the initial one which has wrapped up now and another round starting tomorrow with fans picking between the top 3 at every position. Fun! (Yawn) Excitement!

If memory serves, last year there was a cap on how many times a fan could vote -35. This year, no such limit has been in place. But a funny thing happened along the way to the All Star ballpark. Fans seemed to give up caring.

Although MLB quickly seemed to edit out the total number of votes received by players, the tallies were out there and they show that so far Cody Bellinger of LA leads with 3.68 million votes. Christian Yelich and Mike Trout are the only others to log 3 million ballots this year. Last year, Jose Altuve led all vote-getters… with 4.85 million. Flip backwards like a bat in time to 2011 and you’ll recall Jose Bautista became the first Blue Jay to lead in votes… with 7.4 million.

I don’t have the time to search out the entire vote results for year, if they are even archived and add them up. But the trend seems clear. Fans can vote more than ever this year. And they are in fact voting less than they have before this decade at least. Methinks paying the players to take part in the rusty Home Run Derby isn’t the way to bring excitement back to the Mid-summer Classic.

Perhaps if fans could vote on who they wanted for MLB Commissioner people would pay attention again.

True Blue Pt. 4 – The Best Of The Blue Jays

So, we actually had a decent series in Beantown, and if our fate this season is to be “spoiler”, well whose post-season fates better to spoil than the Curt Schilling-bloodied Sox! Nevertheless, it’s been a disappointing season so far, so let’s look back on some of the good Jays days of the past. In the spirit of the All Star Game, I present to you the All Time Blue Jays All Star Team. The best of the best over the first 42 Toronto years…Last time we looked at our choices for best 3B and DH.. Today, we move around the diamond for three more standouts at their position, and today it’s the trio of positions out there we have had a number of good ones at – the outfield! I toyed with the idea of picking the best 3 outfielders period, but decided to break it down to individual spots since traditionally, Toronto hasn’t been one to switch their outfielders back and forth willy-nilly.

LEFT FIELD:

George Bell

Yes, another LF hit the shot heard around the world (or Canada at least), and was a pretty good one for us for a good chunk of the ’90s – Joe Carter. But the guy who he replaced has to take the crown. Bell was a ground-breaker in many ways for the Jays – first big Dominican star for them (not inconsequential for a team that for years was with only the Dodgers as finders and perfectors of talent from the DR) , first Jay to win the AL MVP award, perhaps at his best the very first Toronto superstar. What he wasn’t, famously, was Toronto’s first gold-glover… Bell’s excellence always stemmed from his bat, not his glove, something that eventually led to his termination (as he made it clearly known he didn’t like the concept of being a full-time DH.)

But his bat was special. Bell came up as a youngster in 1981 and was with Toronto though ’90, playing 150+ games annually from ’84 to ’90. He retired a White Sox (Sock?) in 1993, making his Toronto time the bulk of, and the best of, his career. With the Blue Jays he logged 1181 games, knocked 1294 hits, 202 of them homers. He drove in 740. For his Jays career, he hit .286, with a .486 slugging percentage and .811 OPS (which was 19% above league average.) When he was young, he had surprising speed and gumption, stealing 21 bases in ’85 but primarily for George it was all about smacking that ball hard. His 1987 MVP season saw him hit .308, score 111 runs, hit a then-club record 47 longballs and drive in 134 runs, still the second-best tally ever for the team. He had 4 years of 25 HR and 5 of 90 or more RBI.

Bell was colorful, passionate, quick to rile and get riled, but a fan favorite of the early years of success, and one of the best-hitting outfielders the team’s ever seen.

CENTER FIELD:

Vernon Wells

This was one of the hardest positions to call. Four names quickly came to mind. Besides Wells, there was World Series-era Devon White, the only recently-departed Kevin Pillar and one of the first Jays’ stalwards, “Shaker” Llloyd Moseby.  White and Pillar were somewhat alike in being only ordinary hitters, but brilliant, fleet-footed defensive stars who could be counted on for about one highlight reel catch (not infrequently scaling a wall to do so) per series. As good as their gloves were, I dropped both from the running largely due to their duration – both played between 600 and 700 games in blue-and-white, only about half of the number played by the other pair.

Moseby was reliable and spanned the entire decade of the ’80s here, playing 1392 games with 169 homers, and an All Star appearance in 1986. Impressive, but just a wee bit short of Wells, who in fact ended with one game more – 1393. Wells first arrived in 1999 at a young 20,but only played 3 games in the Bigs the next year. However, he was essentially the everyday CF from 2002 through ’10, racking up Gold Gloves from ’04-’06 and being a two-time All Star. At his best, although not a match for White or Pillar in highlight catches, he was fast and reliable as any defensive outfielder in the AL, with two full seasons without any errors (and over 350 total chances handled smoothly in each.) More notably, he was an above-average hitter in every respect. Through his Toronto years, he hit .280 with 223 HR and 813 RBI, all contributing to a WAR of 29 over the years. In his best season, 2006, he hit .303 with 32 homers, 106 RBI and a remarkable WAR of 6.2. It was one of his three 100 RBI campaigns. Through his career in Toronto, Wells is the team’s all-time leader in at bats (5470), and is second in hits (1529), doubles (339) and RBI (813.)

Wells was always a rather low-key, decent sort who got on well with fans and the media. In an unfortunate sort of Catch-22 situation, his final days in Toronto were rather unpopular due to the simple fact that the club had listened to the fans and signed him to keep him around. The result was a very big, long-term deal that paid him about $124M over 7 years. His numbers didn’t keep up with the contract, and there was palpable relief when the Jays traded him to Anaheim leading up to the 2011 season. He hit just .227 with a total of 47 homers in the last three years he played, between the Angels and Yankees. Of course, had he left in free agency in 2008, fans would have been riled up, and had he settled for considerably less money, fans would have probably remained squarely in his corner. 

RIGHT FIELD:

Jose Bautista

With apologies to Jesse Barfield. Barfield was the RF for the team through most of the ’80s, the first Jay to hit 40 homers in a year (1986, when he led the majors and drove in 108 to boot) and whose cannon arm brought him Gold Gloves in ’86 and ’87. All the while being a thoroughly decent and likeable guy. But his stature has to be relegated to “silver medal” status by the guy who shares his initials and his talent, and became the face of the franchise this decade.

Bautista is one of baseball’s best “rags to riches” type stories. Not that Jose grew up in rags; he was one of the fortunate Dominicans to grow up in middle class surroundings and get a good education. However, his baseball career seemed tentative through the first decade of the 2000s, playing with little acclaim for, and easy disposal by, Tampa, Baltimore, Kansas City and Pittsburgh who traded him with little fanfare, to Toronto. At the time in 2008, fans shrugged and Bautista was seen as a run-of-the-mill backup infielder. It wasn’t until the following year, when Alex Rios started swearing at fans (becoming a detriment to the franchise)  that “Joey Bats” got to play regularly… and in right field.

From there, there was little looking back. In 2010, the first season he was an everyday outfielder for the Jays he rocketed to the top of the league’s hitters, knocking 54 longballs, a record which still stands for Toronto, and the first player in three years to reach that number in the AL. He also drove in 124 that season, and not surprisingly, given his power, was walked 100 times. That was the first of 4 years he had triple digit walks, in 2011 he had 132 in just 149 games! He also led the league in homers that year, with 43.

When all was said and done and his Jays career was done, after 2017, he played 1235 games, hit .253 with a stellar .372 on base percentage due to his good eye and all those bases on balls. He hit 20 or more homers every year from ’10 on, tallying 288 with the team, second only to Carlos Delgado. Likewise his 790 runs scored and 803 walks; his 766 RBI puts him third. It all added up to a 37.3 WAR, just a fraction behind Tony Fernandez for best. He had an 8.3 in 2011 alone.

Like Barfield too, Bautista had a fantastic arm from the corner, although as he aged, his range began to diminish some. He assisted throwing out 86 runners through the years from RF… and when called upon played third base quite acceptably as well.

No surprise that he was a 6-time All Star or was in the top 10 for MVP voting four times. And like most sports superstars, Jose didn’t shrink away from pressure. In 2015-16, the first Toronto teams to make it to the post-season since the early-’90s, he had a .364 on base percentage and drove in 16 in 20 games. He opened the scoring in the 2016 Wild Card game with a homer but of course, is ever beloved in Canada for another homer, that 3-run blast “bat flip” against Texas in the deciding game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. Time and time again when the pressure was on, Bautista would rise to the occasion, making him one of the most popular Jays of all-time.

Next up, we’ll start to look at some of the best pitchers ever for Toronto…

A Modest Proposal For The Fans

Here’s a trade that should be a no-brainer come September, when trading becomes easier (but prohibits players playing post-season games for their new team.) It won’t alter the trajectory of either team much and is unlikely to have much lasting impact on the teams’ futures, Yet it’s a win-win trade for the two teams and their fans.

Ross Atkins, call up the Big Apple. The Blue Jays need to flip Curtis Granderson to the Mets in return for Jose Bautista. It might not add a single win to either club’s total but it would be eminently pleasing to fans in both cities…and after all, baseball is a form of entertainment.

I wrote here early this season how the pair are as close to statistical identical twins as can be. That continues through 2018. Granderson, with Toronto, has appeared in 98 games, and is hitting .241 with 11 homers, 35 RBI and a .342 on base percentage, playing adequately in the outfield. Bautista, now with the Mets after a brief stint with Atlanta, has played 86 games, hitting just .200 but with 10 HR and 40 RBI and a .345 on base due to his ability to take walks left and right. Both players are 37, both debuted in 2004, both hit a grand slam for their teams last week! Career wise, Bautista has 1762 games under his belt, with a .248 avg, 341 HR and 967 RBI. Granderson, 1894 games, .252, 330/900. Both are frankly, only a shadow of their former selves on the field but still play hard and could, I’d expect, inspire some of the younger ones in the dugout.

So the two peas in a pod are pretty much the same on-field but are both out of place. Granderson played from 2010 to ’13 with the Yankees, having his best season (2011 with 119 RBI and a .532 slugging percentage) in Pinstripes. Then he moved cross-town to play from ’14 through mid-season last year with the Mets. Grandy won the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award for his charity work, and is well-loved in the Big Apple for his work with under-privileged inner city kids.

Bautista, of course, had all his noteworthy success with the Blue Jays from 2008 through 2017, being a 6-time All Star and working his way up to second in the franchise all-time home run hitting list. He’s loved by the Canadian public and, let’s be honest, rather despised by many fans elsewhere. He’s done a good amount of charity work in Toronto and works to help kids in his native land, the Dominican Republic, get good educations.

Toronto and the Mets are even alike as teams this year. Both have 69 losses, are in fourth in their divisions and have generally under-achieved in no small measure. Let’s give the fans something good to remember the year by– and two of the greats of this era who are likely as not in their final go-rounds as major leaguers..

Jays Make A Few ‘Grand’ Additions For ’18

A little over a month back, I pondered what Toronto would need to field a reasonably competitive team this spring. I concluded the top need would be a good starting pitcher to supplement the core trio of Stroman, Happ and Estrada and for the team to not assume Aaron Sanchez would be good to go after a disasterously bad, blister-ridden 2017. As well, the left side of the bullpen could be improved and there was a need for a bat to replace, or actually upgrade upon, that of the apparently departed Jose Bautista.

The Blue Jays have made a few moves to improve the terribly lacklustre ’17 offense but have been quiet on the pitching front, veteran rightie reliever Al Albuquerque notwithstanding.

The Jays continued their apparent mission to corner the market on backup middle-infielders by acquiring Yangervis Solarte from San Diego. While he’s hardly a household name here (more a function of how little we see or hear about the Padres), neither was Roberto Alomar when Toronto picked him up from the same NL West team. However, I don’t see Solarte becoming the next Alomar. Nevertheless, he didn’t cost the team a whole lot and should be a good addition. After arriving in the bigs with the Yankees in 2014, he was soon traded over to San Diego and over his 4 years thus far, he’s posted a career .267 avg with .327 on base and averages about 14 homers, 61 RBI per year in 130 games. His .255 and .314 last year, were career lows but there’s reason to think the switch-hitter can hold his own at the plate. He’s played all infield positions and left field to boot, but while the need for him may be greatest at short, he’s played the bulk of his games at third. He’d be no real replacement for the “Bringer of rain” should the team choose to trade off their $23M man third baseman, but he could do OK as a new shortstop should the team be able to find a taker for Troy Tulowitzki. His limited time at SS suggests Solarte might not be equal to Tulo defensively, but perhaps if it was his primary position he might be. What he could do though is boost the productivity at the plate from that position. Last year TT hit only .249 with a .678 OPS and 7 round-trippers in 66 games; Solarte’s numbers in the less hitter friendly NL West suggest he’d easily do better than that with regular playing time. But of course, finding a taker for Troy, with his huge contract (over $50M still due) and his ability to veto a trade is the monkey wrench in the concept. Since the team has made changes to the outfield this month, the concept of Devon Travis the new left fielder seems less sensible so in reality what we probably look at for 2018 is Aldemys Diaz and Solarte being the New Goins and Barney, or perhaps Solarte being the new SS with Tulowitzki the league’s most expensive bench-warmer. Both could be improvements over 2017 but neither is really an ideal scenario.

Which leads us to the OF. First the team signed Curtis Granderson to a one year deal for a reasonable $5M. Presumably he is designed to replace Jose Bautista, and given that, the team couldn’t have done anything better. Granderson is as close to a statistical clone of Joey Bats as you can find. He’s a year younger than Jose but became a regular player a year sooner (2005 vs. 2006) but through their careers, they match up closely. Granderson has played 1796 games, Bautista 1676. Both had career best averages of .302. While Bautista’s 54 HR ’10 stands out, both have had 40+ homer seasons- but not lately. Bautista has a bit more power – 331 HR to 319; 927 RBI to Grandy’s 865 but last year CG had the slight advantage, going .212/26/64 with a .775 OPS (thanks to 71 BB; both batters also take lots of walks) to Jose’s .203/23/65, .674 OPS. However, what is obvious is both are on a steady run downwards…Granderson’s average has fallen from .259 to .237 to .212 since 2015 and his homers have also gone south; Bautista .250,.234,.203 in the same period. Bautista brought a determination and swagger to the table and was a clubhouse leader. I don’t know if Granderson will do that, but he’s an undeniably good character who is eager to help out in the community, so Toronto, the city, will take to him. The point here is that, yes, Granderson is a good replacement for Bautista but…. but…isn’t the reason the team waved goodbye to #19 that he’s not considered good enough to play regularly anymore? If so, why bring in a guy who matches his talent level to a tee?

Last but not least, the Jays made one of the bigger trades of the slow off-season picking up Randal Grichuk from St. Louis. Here they did have to pay a bit, with highly-touted prospect Connor Greene and reliever Dominic Leone going to the Show Me State in return. Therefore, the fans have reason to expect Grichuk to “show me” why he was worth getting.

He may be up to the task. Grichuk is seen as having above-average skill in the field and at the plate, and at age 26 is still a work in progress. He’s got good speed, was considered adequate at center for the Cards but improved when moved to left and over the past two years posted consistent, decent but not great hitting numbers: .240/24/68 in ’16 with a .769 OPS; .238/22/59 , .758 OPS last year. Both times he struck out about 30% of the time. There’s little question he has power and is likely to be at or above 30 HR in the AL East with our hitter-friendly parks. If he can be more selective at the plate, his average will rise and he could become quite a force in the middle of the lineup. He says he wants to do just that and is undergoing “eye strengthening” exercises this winter to try and be a better judge of pitches at the plate. Encouraging news.

I am hopeful Grichuk will work hard and become an asset. There’s a nagging doubt in me, which isn’t really his fault, that he might just be the latest in a string of dud outfielders the team seems to have a knack for finding – ultra-talented but bad-tempered and lazy Alex Rios, talented but apparently lazy young Upton (you can call him BJ, you can call him Melvin but you’ll probably just call him out on strikes) and of course, another promising young outfielder they got from the Cards. Grichuk even looks a little like Colby Rasmus and is coming off a year in St. Louis almost identical to Rasmus’ part-season in ’11 before being traded. And like Rasmus, he was quick to lob a few jabs at the Cards’ organization once he arrived here, which doesn’t bode too well. Nonetheless, he also says he wants to play everyday and appears willing to work to improve (which Rasmus plain-spokenly wasn’t) so we give him the benefit of the doubt for now and hope he develops into the player he has the talent to be.

All of that means that, if healthy, the Jays could be somewhat better at the plate and in the field this year. But there’s still the starting rotation and the southpaws in the ‘pen to consider… I’ll look at that next time.

The Jays’ Santa List- part 1

As we noted here a few days ago, even before the Giancarlo Stanton trade, the Jays need to get better- more disciplined at the plate, faster, better starting pitching- if they hope to even contend for a Wild Card spot next year. this in itself isn’t news; John Gibbons this week said the team needs to add offence and a reliable 5th starter and Ross Atkins has spoken of the need for speed and athleticism since before Game 162 of this season. The question therefore is how to do so. A few suggestions, or a veritable Santa letter in fact here.

Adding Almedys Diaz in quickly was a smart move, even if I question the non-tendering of a contract to Ryan Goins. I think they should have kept goins- he’s been a reliable, non-problematic infielder for years and really came through in the clutch last season with 62 RBI. However, Diaz may be an upgrade for about the same money; he’s only a year removed from an All Star, .300 avg season and seems versatile in his ability to play around the infield. Which should allow the Jays even more latitude in exploring the chances of trading Troy tulowitzki. Granted, given his salary (3 years remaining at an average of $18M per season), and injury woes , it will be hard to get rid of the 33 year-old. However, should he seem healthy at the start of spring training, perhaps a team looking for a SS or even 3B would bite, if the Jays eat some of the stipend. Trading him for a bit player and paying the other team, say $30M over the next three seems like it might be palatable to free up salary space and open the position for Richard Urena (who seemed capable, if not star-like, in his debut last year) with Diaz around as a backup if and when Devon Travis returns to the lineup. Mind you, given the latter’s knees, getting Ryan Goins back or a similar type of bench player (Adam Rosales anyone?) for a million or thereabouts would be wise. In that respect, Howie kendrick also comes to mind. I used to think Kendrick got the short end of the stick with the Angels, he seemed to go unnoticed in the shadow of Mike trout despite being one of the game’s best second basemen. At an old 34, he’s no longer that, but could still be a solid contributor as a backup infielder and outfielder (last year he played most of his games in left). Although his 305AB were the lowest for him since his ’06 rookie year, he still hit a solid .315 with an .844 OPS, both above his career norms while his range factor at second, 4.4, in limited use there, was on par. No longer a star but if he falls through the cracks in the free agent frenzy, he’d be a solid addition at say $3M or so for a year.

There was a time last season when the team’s top 3 catchers were all on the DL simultaneously. While Russell Martin brings a great attitude and tradition of winning to the clubhouse and is still decent enough behind the plate, it’s no longer reasonable to consider him an All Star nor a guy built to catch 130+ games a year. The Canadian who’ll be 35 in spring needs a better backup who can take on more of the catching duties. Welington Castillo was an obvous candidate, but was quickly snatched up by the White Sox. That leaves perhaps Jonathan Lucroy as the best fit. Lucroy is about 4 years younger and has played 265 games over the past two seasons (which he’s split between Milwaukee, Texas and Colorado.) He’s a career .281 hitter who’s only a year removed from a .292 campaign with 24 homers and 81 RBI. However, his frequent moves and his somewhat down ’17 (.265/6/40) might lower the going rate for him to something no more than, maybe a little under, Castillo’s $15M over 2 years. At that rate, the Jays would be smart to pick him and his 63 assists last year (compared to 41 for Martin in a similar number of games) up and hope he rebounds a little and that a better-rested Russell Martin is a better player.

Teoscar Hernandez looked ready to play in the bigs regularlry in his late-season callup; we might hope he’ll be an everyday corner OF in 2018. But with so-so hitting, golden-gloved (but irritatingly, not “Gold Glove”) Kevin Pillar in center, there’s still a need for another everyday outfielder. Atkins and company have stated that won’t be Joey Bats – probably a smart call, as much as I like Bautista- they need someone who can deliver like Bautista used to to drive some runs and move Toronto up in the standings. It’s said they’re looking again at Jay Bruce, who might be a decent pick-up if his contract goes in the range of the 3 years, $36M predicted by pundits.

I however, think Carlos Gonzalez might be a better free agent option. CarGo’s only 32, was an All star in 2016 when he hit .298 and drove in 100. That dropped off last year to .262 with only 14 homers; the average was the lowest he’s posted since his injury-riddled 2014. He did notch 56 walks though, matching his career best leading to a highly respectable .339 on base. I think the left-handed power hitter might rebound well at Rogers Centre- and should the Jays make the playoffs, he brings along a 12 for 22 career average post-season.

The other option being bandied about in hot stove leagues also bears looking at. The Pirates have long been rumoured to want to part ways with Andrew McCutchen. The 31 year old will be a free agent after next year, which could be just fine as the team has some decent prospects who could be in line to play MLB by ’19. In the meantime, McCutchen will only earn $14.5M next year, not bad for a guy with 8 straight years of 540 or more AB and started 2017 with a .293 lifetime average and .869 OPS. He hit a bit below that last season but still did better than 2016, and offers a strong outfield arm that could match a younger Jose Bautista’s . The catch of course, is that all these factors make him appealing to more teams than just Toronto. If Toronto could pry him away from the cost-conscious Pennsy team for say, Anthony Alford (who in 2 or 3 years could be the “next” McCutchen) and a reliever or mid-range pitching prospect, it would be a great move. If the Pirates want substantially more for him, it’s best to turn the attention back to Jay Bruce or Car Go.

All this makes the obvious assumption that Jose Bautista is gone. While the Jays correctly didn’t pick up his option for ’18 (at something close to $20M), I’d like to see him return. I envision Jose at this point in his career to be a new Steve Pearce. A backup outfielder, first-baseman and part-time DH. If all went well, he might start 70 games in those roles and i think put up better numbers than he did last year, with the benefit of rest. And should things go awry, he’s still in good enough shape to be an everyday OF should someone break down for an extended period. Bautista could also allow the Jays to peddle Pearce, or put him as part of a package for a much-needed pitcher or catcher (should they not come in via free agency.) That said, I’d also envision a realistic paycheque for Joey Bats in ’18 to be in the Pearce-range- maybe $6M a year. This might be a blow to his ego, but i find it unlikely he’ll get a large, multi-year deal anywhere given his reputation and his difficulty staying above the Mendoza line in ’17. He brings a self-assured confidence to the team that could still be beneficial and really, who doesn’t want to see him retire in Toronto blue?

Well we’ll leave it at that today… up next, what to do with that pitching staff.

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.

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.