Saturday, December 15, 2012

Do Jays Fans Overvalue Prospects?

Well, we've all heard by now that the Blue Jays are apparently close to making a deal with the Mets for current NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

There haven't been many particulars of the trade that have leaked out, however the speculation (according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News) is that the Blue Jays are willing to include Gose and d'Arnaud in the deal.

Normally I would assume that because we have heard about this that there is probably no truth to it.  We all know that the "Silent Assassin" works in the shadows.  However, there are other reports suggesting the Jays have been reviewing Dickey's medical information since yesterday.  So maybe there is some bite to this one.  Hard to say at this point.

The general reaction that I've seen on twitter is that Jays fans are either extremely for, or avidly against acquiring Dickey.  There doesn't seem to be much middle ground.  The one point that does seem to keep re-occuring though, is that Jays fans do not want to give up Travis d'Arnaud.

This to me is astounding.

I've always been surprised at how attached Jays fans can tend to get to their prospects before ever having seen them play at the Major League level.  I'm not disputing that all signs point to d'Arnaud being a franchise player.  I am also not contesting that on paper Gose and d'Arnaud appear to be guys that could help your team for 10 plus years if you're able to retain them.  But we don't know that, and we won't know that for a few years to come.

Maybe its me.  Maybe I'm jaded when it comes to prospects because I still remember Eddie Zosky, Derek Bell and Howard Battle.  How they were going to be the next "franchise guy".  Not one of the three worked out.

But if I am jaded, as a Jays fan, I do have good reason to be.

I could sit here and post draft results to you.  Show you that a lot of first round picks, actually first overall picks even, that never saw the light of day in the major leagues.  I'm not going to do that though.  The draft is a long way away from the majors.  Instead, I took a look at some top 100 prospect lists from over the years.  This hit a little closer to home.

In February of this year Baseball America's top 100 prospects list has Travis d'Arnaud ranked at #17, and Anthony Gose at #39.  Both are very highly thought of players.  Those are are respectable rankings.  However the Jays have had this before.  Derek Bell was #15 on the list in 1992.  Eddie Zosky was #22, and Mark Whiten #25 in 1991.  If you're looking for a higher ranking, Jose Silva was #10 in 1994.  Not one of these four really even had a career in the majors.  

In 2000 Vernon Wells was #4, Alex Rios was #6 in 2004.  Both of these guys are everyday players sure, and they have had good seasons.  But could anyone really argue that they lived up to their potential and projections?  I don't think you could.  As much as I like the guy and feel for him as a player, Wells is about to become the highest paid bench player in history.

Other Jays players to crack the top 100 that you've probably heard of include:  D.J. Boston, Angel Martinez, Marty Janzen, Gabe Gross, Josh Phelps, Billy Koch, and Guillermo Quiroz to name a few. 

In 2006, the top 10 Blue Jays prospects heading into that season were as follows:

1.   Dustin McGowan (Who also cracked the 100 list twice at #36, and #18)
2.   Ricky Romero
3.   David Purcey
4.   Adam Lind
5.   Josh Banks
6.   Casey Janssen
7.   Brandon League
8.   Franciso Rosario
9.   Curtis Thigpen
10. Vince Perkins

Of that list, I think we have to acknowledge Romero, Lind, Janssen, and League as successes.  The other six, well, you can make your own decision.

There are two sides to every argument.  Obviously the Blue Jays have had prospects crack the top 100 that have panned out.  That list includes but is not limited to Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Alex Gonzales, Shannon Stewart, Roy Halladay, and Chris Carpenter.

Jays fans need to relax.  If the rumours are true and d'Arnaud and Gose are included in the deal, I can almost assure you there are more pieces coming back.  I suspect it will be another large Anthopoulos deal that includes 8 players or more before the final icing is on the cake.  Alex has been after Jonathan Niese from the Mets for a while.  You can bet that he's at least brought his name up in the discussions.

The only point I'm trying to make is that no matter how close they are to the majors and how much potential they have, prospects are just that.  Prospects.  R.A. Dickey is a commodity.  If a team is in a position to be a contender, I am always in favour of trading prospects for a commodity.  Prospects are replaceable.  Don't forget that Johnson's contract is up this year and Melky has two.  If the Jays aren't competing, they can deal guys like these for prospects at the deadline.  If the Jays are competing you probably won't miss d'Arnaud, Gose, or the players given up in the Marlins deal anyway. 

I believe that the best shot the Jays have to win with this team, is right now.  Especially with Josh Johnson only having one year left on his deal.  Veterans like Reyes, Beurhle, Encarnacion and Bautista, though under contract for a few more years, aren't getting any younger.  R.A. Dickey helps this team win, right now.  The acquisition of Dickey would give them a rotation (in no particular order) of Morrow, Johnson, Buerhle, Romero and Dickey.  Keeping J.A. Happ and any other pieces they acquire that could potentially start, in the bull pen.  Giving them lots of insurance against injuries.  After last year I think we all agree that you can never have enough pitching.

Whether the Dickey rumours are true or not, I think 2013 is going to be a great season.  I firmly believe that Alex will bring in another starting pitcher before opening day.  If it is Dickey, great.  If not, then maybe we get to keep Gose and d'Arnaud, and all this fuss was over nothing.

What should we the fans do in the meantime?  Sit back and enjoy the ride.  This is the busiest offseason we have experienced as Jays fans in a long time and the Jays sure are getting media attention south of the border.

Is it April 2 yet?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Well, I did it again.  After a posting which promised a bald head in the coming days if a Cliff Lee trade were to be consummated (which quickly became my second most widely read posting on this site by far) I went missing again.  For what I believe to be my longest absence to date.  Were it not for a post written by Andrew in late August this site would have been completely dormant for over three months.

Not a word on the disaster which was the second half for the Toronto Blue Jays, or the manager leaving town immediately following the season's end when his "dream job" came available.  Nothing about Canada's dominance of their qualifying pool for the World Baseball Classic.  No mention on the playoff race or on the World Series, of which I saw at least parts of every game. 

I leave myself wondering why I hold on to the hope that I will someday actually write on a regular basis about what I believe to be the greatest game we know.  Why don't I just give it up?  Admit that I'm not going to make time for it and let it go already.

When I started this blog, I had such high hopes for it.  After having my wife, some friends, and a radio host from a Toronto Sports Radio station all tell me I should start one.  I finally decided it was a good idea.  I had planned to cover not only the Blue Jays, but baseball in Canada as a whole.  On all levels.

Since starting the blog, I've traveled to Cincinnati to cover Joey Votto being presented with the Tip O'Neil award.  Wound up with my photo all over the internet.  However never got around to posting anything about it in a timely matter.  When I did have one written, it was weeks later and I wasn't happy with it.  I never bothered to put it up.  I've gone to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame the last two years to cover the induction ceremonies.  Then didn't write about it either time.

This summer I was fortunate enough visit five different ball parks, not counting spring training.  One of which was Wrigley Field, at a game where I was able to go down on to the field before the game.  I didn't share any of it.

Why?  Well, I could list lots of reasons,  come up with excuses.  No time.  Not following closely enough.  Can't remember what I wanted to say.  Didn't have a computer with me... etc. etc. etc. 

The real reason, honestly, is fear.  Fear of sounding like I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.  Fear of being wrong.  Fear of being criticized.  Fear that postings will sound like they were rushed, or written for the sake of writing something.

I don't express as much opinion as I should, or give my baseball intuition for fear of being wrong, or sounding cocky.  For example, I knew that the Giants would win game 1 of the World Series.  I came home and gave my wife several reasons why Detroit would lose game one, and why if gambling on single sporting events were legal, we should have been taking out a loan and betting it all.  I didn't write it down though, just in case I was wrong.  I wasn't.  The thing I was wrong about is that I thought it would at least be a close game.

So I've decided this is it for me.  My last kick at the can.  I'm giving this one more try and if I don't stick with it, I'll call it quits.

I'm taking a new approach though.  I'm going to start speaking my mind.  Making predictions.  Calling out General Managers or coaches.  Telling you what I think.  Inviting Criticism.  Writing only about things I want to write about, and leave the reporting to other people.

If it fails, it fails.  If you don't like it, tell me.  If you do like it, well, tell me that too.

I started this blog because I love baseball, and I love writing about it.  Just took me a while to remember.

So here goes nothing.  I hope you'll check out what pops up on here in the coming months.  I hope you'll like it too. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Five Reasons to Still Watch the Jays in 2012

My fellow Blue Jays fans.

I’m sure most of you, like me, have been disappointed with the way this season has played out.

In April there was so much optimism surrounding the Blue Jays. It was easy to imagine that this team would challenge for a spot in the post season come September and October. Then the injury bug hit and destroyed any hopes the Jays had of making a run at the playoffs.

When you consider that Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Dustin McGowan, Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor, Luis Perez, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, and JP Arencibia have all seen significant time on the disabled list, it’s no wonder that the Jays find themselves below the .500 mark. All of these players were supposed to play significant roles for this team throughout the season. Their injuries have led to a number of young players being called up to the big club and bench players being asked to become starters and see significant time on the field.

 All of this has made it very difficult for me to watch the Jays play on a regular basis. I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t watched an entire Jays’ game over the past 2 weeks. I’d tune in to find them behind and change the channel… figuring that the game’s outcome had already been decided.

With some time on my hands this afternoon, I took a look over the highlights and box scores from the Jays games over the past few weeks and there were 5 things I saw that will have me tuning into Jays games on a more regular basis the rest of the way.

1. The Young Ones

Moises Sierra has put up outstanding numbers thus far (.333 in 42 at bats). Granted this is based on a small sample size, but he looks very comfortable at the plate. Could he be the solution to the “perceived” hole the Jays have in left field? Is he the reason both Snider and Thames were dealt at the deadline for relief help? Either way, he’ll be fun to watch while he’s a member of the big club.

Anthony Gose is flat out fast. 9 stolen bases in 23 games is ridiculous… especially when you consider that he is sporting a .273 on base percentage. There is no question that his bat still needs work, but when he gets on base, he’s a sure threat to run.

Adeiny Hechavarria is a kid we’ve been hearing about for a couple of years now… especially when it comes to his glove. He’s played third base extremely well in the absence of Lawrie and it isn’t even his natural position. While Adeiny’s bat is also in need of some work (only 5 of 26 in 10 games), he’s made some outstanding plays in the field.

Aaron Loup has been a pleasant surprise coming out of the bullpen. He’s sporting a 2.50 ERA and 0.59 WHIP over 18 innings. He’s struck out 12 batters while only walking 1 and is holding opposing hitters to a .150 batting average. He is certainly giving John Farrell another consistent lefty to help
Darren Oliver get the tough lefties out late in games and his cross fire delivery makes it very difficult for lefties to pick up the baseball.

Given that the average age of these four players is 23, they represent the future and I certainly am curious to see what the future holds.

2. Power Surge 

What an outstanding year being put together by a player I would have been happy to see traded for a ham sandwich only 16 months ago. Now, Edwin Encarnacion’s chasing Adam Dunn and Josh Hamilton for the AL (and MLB) lead in homeruns. (34 to 31)

This has been a career year for Edwin who has already reached career highs in HRs (31), RBIs (82), and total bases (238) and is only 1 walk and 9 runs scored from setting career highs in those categories as well. He is the runaway favourite for team MVP in my opinion. He has been a solid hitter for the entire year and has proven to be a threat to go deep in every at bat. I think it would be great to see a Blue Jay lead the league in home runs for a third year in a row… and I plan on cheering him on the rest of the way.

3. League’s Top Thief

Two years ago, I was very energized to hear that Alex Anthopoulos had signed Rajai Davis. I thought we had finally found a leadoff hitter and consistent stolen base threat. My vision of that signing finally seems to be coming to fruition. With 38 stolen bases to this point in the season, Rajai is tied with rookie sensation Mike Trout. No Blue Jay has ever led the league in stolen bases and Rajai will certainly have a shot if he continues to get regular playing time between now and the end of the season.

4. The Return of Brandon Morrow

Brandon’s coming out party this year was a lot of fun to watch. After 13 starts, he was sporting an ERA of 3.01, a WHIP of 1.00, 67Ks in 77+ innings while issuing only 24 walks and seemed to be on the cusp of becoming a legitimate ace. Then, an oblique injury forced him to the disabled list on June 11th and we were left to consider what could have been.

He is close to returning to the Jays rotation and I am very excited to see him pick up where he has left off. His rehab starts have gone very well (4 starts, 1.72 ERA in 15+ innings and 14Ks) and he will receive a warm welcome back to the starting rotation. I’m sure his first start will come with a pitch count, but it will still be great to see him back with the big club.

5. The Future of our Current Rotation

Even with the struggles of both Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez, you would have to think that both of those guys will be in the starting rotation along with Brandon Morrow in 2013. But that cannot be said for the other three pitchers in the current starting rotation. Carlos Villanueva, Aaron Laffey and J.A. Happ have all displayed an ability to be a starting pitcher on a major league roster. However, Alex Anthopoulos has stated that he’s looking to upgrade the starting rotation this off season, meaning that each of these guys could be auditioning for a starting spot in 2013… it just may not be a spot in the Blue Jays rotation.

Since joining the rotation, Carlos has only given up 18 earned runs in 9 starts while striking out 54 and walking just 15. He’s stated that he wants to return to Toronto, but would prefer to be a starter rather
than a long reliever. If he continues pitching like this, I can’t see how Anthopoulos doesn’t give this guy a contract and an opportunity to be a starter in 2013 with Drabek and Hutchison both on the shelf. Does Villanueva continue to pitch well and give the GM something to think about?
When I first heard that Aaron Laffey was a Blue Jay, my first thought was, “Why? He’s no good!” And granted, he is not the best pitcher in the league, but he has been a serviceable starter. In his 10 starts, he’s pitched 58 innings with a record of 3-4 and an ERA of 4.97. He is arbitration eligible but I would think he is a long shot to return to the Blue Jays rotation. Does he present enough value that another team might become interested in his services?

J.A. Happ has been a pitcher I have rooted for since his great 2009 season in Philadelphia when he went 12-4 with a 2.93ERA. He has had three starts with Toronto since his trade from Houston and has gotten better with each start. His last start against Texas saw him pitch 6 innings, giving up only 1 run on 2 hits with 8 strikeouts. Happ is also arbitration eligible this off season and has stated his desire to be a starter. Do the Jays use him as a fifth starter? Does he become the long man in the bullpen?

There is no question that the Blue Jays will not be post season bound this year, but I’ve discovered there certainly are enough story lines to keep this Blue Jays fan interested until September? How about you?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cliff Lee Isn't Going Anywhere!

It's that time of year again.  The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching, and there have already been a number of trades consummated ahead of the deadline.  Among others, Detroit has added Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.  Ontario Native, catcher George Kottaras is headed to the Oakland Athletics, who somehow have become one of the hottest teams in baseball.  The Anaheim Angels bringing in Zack Greinke to an already potent rotation.  The Pittsburgh Pirates showing they're ready to make a push by adding Wandy Rodriguez.  Ichiro is a Yankee.  The White Sox, not yet ready to roll over to the Tigers, added Francisco Liriano yesterday.  Last week the Dodgers brought over Hanley Ramirez to bring the total amount of hitters in their lineup to two....  Last but not least, the Blue Jays kicked things off in a sense with Houston in a ten player deal that brought in J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon. 

The deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday July 31 at 4pm, and you can bet that there is still a lot of movement to come before then.

After missing out on Greinke, I suspect that the Texas Rangers will still make a hard push to add an arm.  Perhaps James Shields, Josh Beckett, or maybe even Josh Johnson if they can make Miami an offer they can't turn down.  Atlanta is also looking to add an arm after missing out on a deal that was in place last week to acquire Canadian Ryan Dempster from the Cubs.  The Dodgers are still looking to add one more arm, and improve their offense in any way they can. (Let's face it....  It wouldn't take much to improve that offense)  The Athletics still want to add a middle infielder and have been linked to the Jays in talks regarding Yunel Escobar.  Toronto in turn is apparently interested in Brett Anderson, but as we know, if we've heard about it, it's probably not true.  The Silent Assassin works only in the shadows....

The latest rumors surfacing today center around Canadian  Justin Morneau.  The Giants, Dodgers, and Blue Jays are apparently interested in adding the first baseman.  He would be a fit on any of these three teams.  The best fit would of course be the Dodgers, but Blue Jays fans can hope right?

One team in particular I expect to be active ahead of the deadline is the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phillies have performed well below expectations this year and after this weekend now find themselves 12.5 games out of a playoff spot.  They have pieces to move.  Shane Victorino is very likely going to be putting on a different shirt by the end of the week, as is Joe Blanton.  Both players are looking at becoming free agents following the 2012 campaign, and there is definitely a market for both of them.  Juan Pierre will likely be moved and Hunter Pence has become an interesting name as well.  He still has some time left on his deal, but despite this there are still some analysts around the industry who think there is a good chance that Philly will move him too.  There are a lot of teams who could use offensive outfielders right now.  (Again, I'm going to pick on the Dodgers.  Bobby Abreu is your starting LF?  Really?)

However There is one player in Philadelphia that I can tell you will definitely not move before tomorrow.  Despite numerous reports that the Phillies may be shopping him, I will tell you with great certainty, Cliff Lee is not going anywhere.  Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing the Lee speculation.  There is no meat to this rumor.  At all.

Now, I get criticized for sometimes for not being opinionated enough on this blog, or sure of my self when I write.  Well, how is this for being opinionated and certain:  If Cliff Lee gets traded before tomorrow's non-waiver trade deadline, I will shave my head bald.  (and yes, I do still have a full head of hair, and will post pictures to prove it.)

Cliff Lee is absolutely not moving.

The Phillies have made it known that they still want to come into next season with Halladay, Lee and Hamels as their big three.  Now I realize that teams make this type of claim all of the time and then retract on it.  But this is different.  For some reason people have failed to remember why Lee signed in Philly in the first place, leaving a small fortune (to you and I anyway) on the table with the Yankees.  At the time of his free agency, Lee's son was in remission from Leukemia and Philadelphia apparently has the #1 children's hospital in the United States.  This was a huge factor in why Lee signed on for a second tour with the Phillies, and the reason I know that will keep him from approving a trade anywhere.  (Lee has a no-trade clause that allows him to submit a list of 21 teams the Phillies can not trade him to without his consent.)

Technically The Phillies can trade Lee to 8 teams whether they have his consent or not, but they won't.  When asked if he planned on keeping his expensive starting rotation in tact, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. responded by saying:  "Plans can change, but that's what the plan is right now." 

Plans won't change.  I'm betting the hair on my head that Lee will make his next scheduled start tomorrow night against Washington.  Three hours after the deadline has passed.

Who will move before tomorrow night?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I've given a few of my loose predictions on who will move before tomorrow.  Who do you think will be walking out of a new home clubhouse by the end of the week?  Please feel free to share your predictions in the comments section below.

Happy Trade Deadline!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy All~Star Day!

 The annual All-Star game has arrived!  Even though there seems to be a lot of negativity towards all-star games in different professional sports, I still look forward to the Major League Baseball All~Star game every year.  Being a non-contact sport (or at least, most of the time non contact) I believe the Baseball mid-summer classic to be the most competitive of the all-star games, because players can go out and play hard yet still return to work for their respective clubs a few days later.  Anyone who says that these players don't care about winning doesn't actually watch these games.  Pitcher's are throwing their best stuff, players are running out ground balls, and fielders are chasing after balls and charging in on grounders.  I remember watching Grady Sizemore diving for a ball in extra innings a few years ago and I think we all remember Jose's feet first slide into the wall at last year's game.

Despite the fact that the game does count for something, (home field advantage in the World Series) I do understand why at times fans have trouble taking the game seriously.  I certainly do.  If it is really to be sold as a "competitive" game that counts for something, then shouldn't the best players play?  If you have a starting pitcher who is pitching well, don't you want to leave him in there for more than an inning or two?  Would the American League not have a better shot at winning if they were to let Verlander take the ball for as long as he is dominant tonight?  Shouldn't the best players be on the field for the majority of the game, rather than sitting them down half way through the contest in order to carry out the school yard mentality that everyone should get a chance to play?  Especially when baseball still has the unwritten rule that there should be a representative from every team, regardless of whether any players on that club are worthy or not.  If everyone does indeed get a chance to play, then at times there are guys who shouldn't even be at the game that will find their way onto the field.

If it were a real game and each league was genuinely concerned about home field advantage in the World Series, then I also think the team selection should be different.  I have come to realize that the fan vote is a part of the game that will never go away.  However when it comes to the reserve players, I believe that each league should have a say on who is on their team and not just leave the decisions up to the team's manager.  There should be some decision makers there from around the league to help in the final selection of each League's All Stars.  I'm not suggesting a representative from each of the 30 teams, but maybe someone from each of the top two teams in each division.  That gives you a selection committee of six people, who see every division between the six of them, to select the best players to represent that league and compete for home field advantage.

Staying on the subject of player selection, I would like to share a letter with you that was sent to me late last week.  It deals with the omission of Edwin Encarnacion on the American League roster.  This letter is written by a fan to Ron Washington, the manager of this year's American League squad.  I certainly agree with the opinion that there is no way Edwin should have been left out with the year he's having, but the rest of the opinions within the letter do not necessarily reflect those of myself.  I think the letter is both interesting and makes some valid points.  So I would like to share it with you.
A Letter to Ron Washington from a fan:

Dear Ron Washington,

First of all, let me congratulate you for taking your Texas Rangers to the World Series last season and as a result, earning the right to manage the American League All-Star team this season. Now that the Commissioner has placed home field advantage for the World Series as the prize for winning the All-Star game, this honour that you have earned, carries a significant weight for the entire American League. 

With this kind of reward available to you, I would think that you would choose to take the players who give you the best opportunity to win. After looking at the roster that you put together, I can’t help but think that you had a slightly different agenda. I found it very intriguing that 7 of your Rangers were chosen. This is almost twice as many representatives as the Yankees and Angels, who each have 4 representatives. And, if Yu Darvish wins the 34th roster spot via the fans’ final voting, you would have 8 of your players on the roster. I can’t help but think there’s a tad bit of favouritism involved in your selections. I certainly realize that Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli were voted to the game by the fans, but in addition to these players, you felt that Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Joe Nathan were also deserving of All Star selections.

I cannot disagree with you on your selections of Andrus, Harrison or Nathan, as each of these players was near the top of their respective positions in terms of production. However, I think your professional relationship with Ian has clouded your judgement. Kinsler was hitting .276 with 9HR, 40RBI and 15SB while Jason Kipnis of the Indians was also hitting .276 but with 11HR, 49RBI and 20SB. Cleveland has only two representatives, why not give them a third? 

I’m also curious why you would not choose a player who was hitting .295, had scored 55 runs, hit 23 homeruns, had 58 RBIS and stolen 9 bases? Of course, I’m speaking of Edwin Encarnacion. Instead, you felt that Billy Butler and Adam Dunn were more deserving of selection for the DH spots. Butler was hitting .293 with 31 R, 16HR, 48RBI and 1 SB while Dunn was hitting .210 with 57 R, 24HR, 58RBI and 0 SB. Granted, you’re obligated to follow the unwritten rule of having one member from every team in the league, so I understand the selection of Billy Butler. Plus, with Butler being a member of the hosting Royals, it’s a very smart PR move. The selection of Dunn gives you a less consistent hitter with a slightly bigger bat. It also handcuffs you slightly on the defensive side as Dunn would only be an option at 1B and DH while Edwin could play those positions as well as 3B and LF for you, should the need arise.

But, who am I to question the opinion of a major league manager who has taken his team to the World Series two years in a row? Your logic makes no sense to me other than to make sure your players are the ones who are recognized instead of players who are more deserving. For your sake, I hope you win the All Star game and make my opinion a mute one. If you don’t, maybe next time you could look outside your own clubhouse.


A Common Baseball Fan

Feel free to give your opinion on this letter, or on the all-star game in general below in the comments section. 

I hope you all enjoy the game this evening!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Pitching Really the Problem?

Like many of you, after watching the performance of 3 of our starting pitchers this weekend against what I consider the most complete lineup in all of baseball, I am very disappointed with the results turned in by our starting rotation.  Morrow gives up 6 runs and doesn’t make it out of the first inning, Alvarez gives up back-to-back-to-back homeruns and Drabek allows 9 runs on 8 hits over three innings… it stings a little bit right now to just think about the games this weekend. 

However, after taking some time to digest everything, I’m feeling more optimistic about things than I did this afternoon.  In reviewing the first 45 games of this season, I have to say that the Blue Jays have played a lot of very entertaining baseball.  As frustrating as they’ve been at times, I have been impressed with the Blue Jays starting rotation so far this season.  With so many young arms in the rotation, some experts and Blue Jays fans were very nervous about the likely success of this year’s staff.  But, they are putting up numbers that should leave many of us feeling very excited about what this group of pitchers is capable of.  Let’s take a look at their statistics as of May 27th 

Ricky Romero         5-1, 3.86ERA, 1.30WHIP, 65.1 INN, 48H, 28ER, 6HR, 37BB, 49K, .208avg against
Brandon Morrow     5-2, 2.63ERA, 0.96WHIP, 61.2 INN, 42H, 18ER, 7HR, 17BB, 54K, .192avg against

Henderson Alvarez  3-4, 3.30ERA, 1.23WHIP, 60.0 INN, 59H, 22ER, 8HR, 15BB, 18K, .258avg against

Kyle Drabek           4-4, 3.27ERA, 1.43WHIP, 52.1 INN, 41H, 19ER, 7HR, 34BB, 41K, .217avg against

Drew Hutchison      3-2, 5.73ERA, 1.54WHIP, 37.2INN, 44H, 24ER, 5HR, 14BB, 27K, .286avg against

How can you not be excited about those numbers?  Remember, Romero and Morrow, the veterans of this staff, are just 27, Drabek is 24, Alvarez is 22 and Hutchison is only 21.  When you take that into consideration and see that the Jays are 4th in the AL East and only 5 games behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay, you have to give them some credit.  At the start of the year, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan were supposed to be in the rotation; instead we have Kyle and Drew pitching in their place, both of whom have little Major League experience and are pitching in Toronto sooner than they should be.

When you view the staff as a whole, there is no question that the number of walks and home runs allowed is ridiculously high… their command has been downright awful at times.  But when I look at the ERA, WHIP and batting average against categories, I love what I’m seeing.  Romero hasn’t had a “complete” game all season where all of his pitches are working at the same time, and in his last couple of starts his command has all but disappeared.  However, with all of that, his numbers are still good.  Morrow has been close to lights out in his last five of his last 6 starts, having decreased his walk rate and throwing two complete game shutouts.  I hope that this is the pitcher we get to more consistently for the rest of this season.  (Forgetting of course his last appearance in Texas)  Alvarez is also pitching very well and I love the fact that he doesn’t show much emotion whether he is ahead or behind on the scoreboard.  His strikeout rate has decreased from last year, but the focus of the coaching staff this year has been to pitch to contact, so this decrease is to be somewhat expected.  Drabek’s numbers are encouraging, although he still hasn’t figured out how to find the strike zone consistently.  The walk really has been his Achilles heel in his major league career so far, but I see a pitcher who is more willing to listen to those around him and who is developing a fighting nature rather than thinking he can just overpower hitters to get them out.  There’s no question that Drew's got some work to do, but only 37 innings into his big league career, I'm not terribly upset about his numbers.  There’s still a lot of time for him to improve on his craft. 

Now… just to give everyone some food for thought, I’ve decided to take a look at the other starting rotations in the AL East and compare them to the Jays.   (all stats as of May 27th , 2012)

New York Yankees

C.C Sabathia   5-2, 3.78ERA, 1.21WHIP, 64.1 INN, 59H, 27ER, 8HR, 19BB, 65K, .239avg against
Ivan Nova       4-2, 5.69ERA, 1.65WHIP, 49.0 INN, 65H, 31ER, 10HR, 16BB, 52K, .322avg against
Hiroki Kuroda  3-6, 4.56ERA, 1.48WHIP, 53.1 INN, 59H, 27ER, 10HR, 20BB, 34K, .281avg against
Phillip Hughes  4-5, 4.94ERA, 1.37WHIP, 47.1 INN, 52H, 26ER, 11HR, 13BB, 46K, .267avg against
Andy Pettitte   1-1, 2.51ERA, 1.05WHIP, 14.1 INN, 11H, 4ER, 2HR, 4BB, 11K, .220avg against

Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester       3-3, 3.95ERA, 1.30WHIP, 57.0 INN, 55H, 25ER, 4HR, 19BB, 37K, .256avg against
Josh Beckett    4-4, 4.38ERA, 1.28WHIP, 49.1 INN, 48H, 24ER, 9HR, 15BB, 40K, .251avg against
Clay Buchholz  4-2, 7.84ERA, 1.91WHIP, 49.1 INN, 67H, 43ER, 11HR, 27BB, 27K, .330avg against
Felix Doubront  4-2, 3.96ERA, 1.42WHIP, 50.0 INN, 48H, 22ER, 4HR, 23BB, 53K, .247avg against
Daniel Bard      4-5, 4.69ERA, 1.56WHIP, 48.0 INN, 46H, 25ER, 3HR, 29BB, 28K, .261avg against

Tampa Bay Rays

David Price          6-3, 2.88ERA, 1.21WHIP, 59.1 INN, 54H, 19ER, 5HR, 18BB, 52K, .242avg against
James Shields      6-2, 3.63ERA, 1.27WHIP, 67.0 INN, 64H, 27ER, 9HR, 21BB, 66K, .249avg against
Jeremy Hellickson 4-1, 2.73ERA, 1.23WHIP, 56.0 INN, 50H, 17ER, 9HR, 19BB, 38K, .236avg against
Matt Moore          1-4, 5.07ERA, 1.57WHIP, 49.2 INN, 51H, 28ER, 8HR, 27BB, 48K, .264avg against
Jeff Niemann       2-3, 3.38ERA, 1.18WHIP, 34.2 INN, 29H, 13ER, 2HR, 12BB, 30K, .221avg against

Baltimore Orioles

Jason Hammel     5-1, 3.12ERA, 1.14WHIP, 49.0 INN, 40H, 17ER, 3HR, 16BB, 46K, .222avg against
Jake Arrieta         2-5, 4.87ERA, 1.28WHIP, 61.0 INN, 62H, 33ER, 9HR, 16BB, 53K, .264avg against
Tommy Hunter    2-2, 5.07ERA, 1.35WHIP, 55.0 INN, 60H, 31ER, 11HR, 14BB, 31K, .284avg against 
Wei-Yin Chen      4-1, 3.35ERA, 1.32WHIP, 48.1 INN, 47H, 18ER, 5HR, 17BB, 37K, .249avg against
Brian Matusz       4-4, 4.86ERA, 1.54WHIP, 50.0 INN, 58H, 27ER, 6HR, 19BB, 38K, .287avg against

I would say they have easily performed better than both the Yankee and Red Sox rotations to this point.  The top 4 Blue Jays starters have lower ERAs than all but two of the Yankee or Red Sox starters and the top 4 have lower WHIPs than all but 4 of those starters.  (I’m not including Pettitte in that last statement as he has only had 3 starts to this point).

When it comes to the Rays and Orioles starters, the statistics are closer.  The Rays’ staff has been more consistent top to bottom than the Jays staff.  That said, the Jays are allowing less hits than the Rays staff (248 to 234) and as a result have a lower batting average against.  On the flip side, the Jays starters have allowed more walks than the Rays (117 to 97).  If the Jays’ starters could find the strike zone more consistently, the discrepancy in walks would decrease.
 The Orioles staff is led by Hammel who, with a new found sinker, is off to a great start.  Only he and Chen have better numbers than any of the top 4 Jays pitchers. 

At this point in the season, I would give the edge to the Rays’ rotation based on their consistency from 1 through 5, followed (in order) by the Jays and Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox.  Any way you try to break down these numbers, I can’t agree with anyone’s opinion that puts the Jays’ starters worse than 2nd in the division.

After looking at these numbers, there is no way I can be disappointed with the rotation.  If anything, I would say that they have been leading the way for the Blue Jays so far this season.  They had a bad weekend.  What pitching staff doesn’t?

New Contributor to North Side!

In an effort to broaden our horizon a little, and hopefully to help me keep this blog up to date on a more regular basis as well, we are happy to introduce a new contributor to the North Side.  Andrew has joined us and hopefully will bring another perspective to our readers.  Andrew is a huge baseball fan and Blue Jays supporter.

Hope you enjoy what he has to say!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wrapping Up the Rest of the Week

After a masterful outing from Ricky Romero against Jon Lester and the Red Sox on Wednesday, the Blue Jays enjoyed an off day Thursday before welcoming Baltimore in for a three game set over the weekend. 

I didn't get to see any of Wednesday's game (darn work gets in the way of life's important things), but I did get to listen to some of it.  From what I hear of the game, Romero was lights out.  He ran into a little trouble in the third, giving up one run.  After that Romero set down 17 Red Sox in a row.  After eight innings Romero's pitch count was only at ninety, so he was sent back out in the ninth to try and finish it off.  Romero walked two (his first walks of the day) and got one out before giving way to Sergio Santos who came into the game with runners at the corners with two out.  Santos shut down the next two hitters and picked up his first save of the season.  After the game Sergio was placed on Paternity leave so he could be with his wife for the birth of their third child.  Santos will be back on the active roster today. 

So when the Red Sox left town, the Jays found themselves 4 and 2 with two series wins in their back pocket.  Now... My Mom always told me if I haven't got anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all... Perhaps that means at this point I should stop typing?

Friday night the Baltimore Orioles came into town.  The Jays sent Brandon Morrow to the hill, looking for his second win of the season.  Morrow pitched seven innings, giving up four runs on six hits while striking out four but walking only one.  Despite the four runs given up, when Morrow left the game the Blue Jays were in possession of a 5-4 lead. 

Then came the bull pen.  Toronto's re-vamped pen has not had the best opening week.  Frasor, Oliver and Janssen worked the rest of the game, each of them giving up one earned run.  With Oliver taking the loss.    

Positive notes from this one:  Kelly Johnson and Edwin Encarnacion each hit their second home run of the season.  While Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar both got their home run tallies started for the season. Rasmus had another nice game in centre field. 

Unfortunately yesterday's outcome wasn't much different, with the bull pen once again handing the game back to the O's in the late innings. 

Henderson Alvarez lasted seven innings, allowing three runs on six hits with two strike outs and one walk.  He left the game with a one run lead.  Janssen and Cordero worked the eighth and ninth, with Janssen giving up one run and Cordero allowing two.  Cordero took the loss.

In the first six games of the season, the Baltimore Orioles didn't score a single run in the eighth or ninth inning.  So far this weekend, that's when they've been winning the game. 

Postive notes from Saturday:  Colby Rasmus had three hits in four at bats with two RBI's.  He also had yet another nice play out in centre field.  Brett Lawrie went two for two.  Kelly Johnson hit his third home run of the season and his second in as many days.

I'm headed to the park today to watch the Jays try to take one win from the Orioles.  (That just sounds wrong... trying to take one win from the Orioles?  they should be sweeping the freaking Orioles.)  Kyle Drabek will start for Toronto and Baltimore counters with Brian Matusz. 

Hopefully Toronto will be able to finish the weekend on a winning note before Tampa arrives on Tuesday. 

See you at the game!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jays Beat Sox 7-3 To Tie Up Series

Alright, not going to lie, I'm going to keep this short cuz I need to get some sleep.

Kyle Drabek was very impressive tonight in his first start since June 12 of last year.  Drabek pitched five and a third, holding the Sox to one run on three hits while striking out four.  He did walk three batters, but over all he looked very good.  I really hope that this is a sign of things to come for Drabek.

On the other side, Daniel Bard threw five innings and was charged with five runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking only one.

Frasor and Perez followed Drabek with a scoreless inning and a third each before Casey Janssen came on in the ninth with a 7-1 lead and allowed two runs, but closed it out for the 7-3 victory.  Then It was smiles and high fives all around from the Jays as they congratulated one another and headed for the club house.

Some Notables from this game:

Edwin Encarnacion, who continues to hit the ball well, hit his first home run of the season in the seventh inning and he stole two bases. (I called 25 home runs or more for Edwin back in February.  I'm sticking by my prediction)

Escobar, Lind and Lawrie each contributed with two hits a piece. 

Brett Lawrie attempted to run through a wall while trying to catch a foul ball as it went into the stands. The wall won.  He did almost catch the ball though.

Jose Bautista released some of the frustration he's been feeling at the plate when he got to throw a ball at, and hit Dustin Pedoia.  Ok, so maybe his intent wasn't to nail him.  The throw from right field was online for third base though and he probably would have gotten the out had the ball not caught Pedroia on his way to the bag.

Tomorrow it's the battle of the lefty aces as Rickey Romero and Jon Lester take the ball for game three at 12:30 eastern.

Sure would be nice to take a series win from Boston this early in the season.   To quote Jake Taylor:  "Okay Ricky, lets get nasty!"

What To Make Of Daniel Bard: Game 5 preview BOS 1-3 @ TOR 2-2


After having their home opener spoiled by a ninth inning loss at the hands of Dustin Pedroia and company, the Blue Jays seek redemption tonight at Rogers Centre in game two of the three game set.

Kyle Drabek gets the ball for the Blue Jays.  While Boston will counter with Daniel Bard, making his first start as a member of the Sox rotation.

For the last two seasons, Daniel Bard has been a dependable, imperative piece for the Red Sox as their eighth inning guy.  Last year he struck out 74 batters in 73 innings and had a WHIP under 1 at 0.959.  In 2010 he had 76 strike outs in 74.2 innings pitched, with a WHIP of 1.004 and a sparkling ERA of just 1.93.  Bard has been dominant.

This year however, Bard has made the conversion to be a starter and was able to nail down the fifth rotation spot after a less than stellar spring.  In Grapefruit League action this March, Bard threw 24.2 innings with only 18 strikeouts and 16 walks.  Finishing with a spring ERA of 6.57 and a WHIP of 1.5.  Well above his career numbers.

I saw Bard pitch against the Blue Jays on March 25 and found him to be much less impressive than when I last saw him during the 2011 season.  He gave up 5 runs on 6 hits (including an Adam Lind HR) and 3 walks through 6 innings. 

With the trouble that Boston has been having in the late innings with their bull pen (excluding last night of course) you would have to think that if Bard struggles early, he will be headed right back to the pen.  All signs so far point to Bard struggling as a stater, but we all know that spring numbers don't count.  Otherwise the Jays would already be in first place by a mile.

Toronto counters with Kyle Drabek.  Last year Kyle struggled early with his control and was sent to Vegas to work things out.  This spring his numbers were pretty good, but the walks are still a bit of an issue.  I got the chance to talk to Buck Martinez in Dunedin and he spoke very highly of Drabek.  Saying that he was looking very good and appeared to be very receptive of the coaching staff and was working hard to be better.  Buck seemed to be of the opinion that if Drabek made the rotation out of spring training, he would stick.  I hope he is right.

First pitch is at 7:07.  After a sell out last night, I hope to see a lot of people back at the ball yard tonight with the hopes of a better result.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sergi-Oh No! Jays Drop Home Opener

Sergi-Oh No!
Everything was shaping up to be a great home opener for the Blue Jays.  The Rogers Centre was packed.  Henderson Alvarez made the start and went six strong innings, allowing only one run on four hits.  The Jays were terrific defensively throughout the game, highlighted by another stellar running/diving/sliding/holy @#*! catch from Colby Rasmus in the third.  Heck, Martin Short was on hand for goodness sakes.  How can you have a bad night with Martin Short in the house??

Colby hit a triple, then scored on a fielder's choice.  Escobar scores in the same inning.  Things were looking up!

The Jays took a 2-0 lead in the third and hang on to it until the sixth when Dustin Pedroia took Alvarez deep to get Boston on the board.  The Pedroia home run seemed inconsequential however.  That 2-1 lead held heading into the ninth inning with our closer, the hired gun we traded for coming in to take the ball.  Unfortunately, Sergio Santos's second opportunity to get his first save as a Blue Jay went even worse than the first opportunity did.

Pedroia struck again to start off the ninth.  Lacing a double into left field.  Then a passed ball allowed Pedroia to move to third, from which he was able to score on a sac fly from Adrian Gonzales.  Kevin Youkilis was next and Santos struck him out swinging for the second out.  At this point I thought we were heading to extra innings again.  The Red Sox however had other plans.  Santos walked the next two batter in David Ortiz and Cody Ross.  Darnell MacDonald was brought in to pinch run for Ortiz.  Then Sweeney drove in MacDonald and moved Ross to third and a wild pitch allowed Ross to score.

So effectively, Santos kind of gave this one away.  He never did get out of the inning either.  Luis Perez came in and immediately got Mike Aviles to ground out and end the inning.  The Jays went down 1-2-3 in the bottom half.

Sox win their first game of the season.  Jays drop to 2 and 2.

Positives to take away from this one:  Henderson Alvarez threw six quality innings of four hit ball.   The defense the entire game was great.  Colby Rasmus is still hustling, making plays and now appears to be starting to hit.  I'm getting concerned that I might start to like him... 

Negatives?  Sergio blows his second save (I'm not worried... yet...) and Escobar still can't seem to get good wood on the ball.  Not really worried about him at this point either. 

Tomorrow Kyle Drabek gets his first start of the season against converted reliever Daniel Bard.  I will try to find time to preview that one before first pitch.

Previewing Tonight's Home Opener TOR 2-1 vs BOS 0-3

Henderson Alvarez will become the youngest Blue Jay in team history to start a home opener when he gets the ball tonight in front of a sold out crowd at the Rogers Centre against the Boston Red Sox.  He replaces Dave Stieb on the list, who started the home opener in 1980 at the age of 22.  Alvarez will turn 22 next Wednesday.

Alvarez made ten starts last season for Toronto finishing with an ERA of 3.53 and a very nice WHIP of 1.13.  Now I generally try not to get overly excited about a young player before they get a few years under their belt.  But I have to tell you, I am excited about this kid.  This spring he threw 15 innings, allowing only 3 walks and striking out 10.  His spring ERA was a solid 3 and again he again threw to a WHIP of 1.13.  I know that spring stats aren't usually a valid reflection of a players performance.  However what I'm taking from this is that he has good control of his stuff and he gets people out. 

Alvarez, ArencibiaOn March 24 I watched Alvarez in Dunedin start against an Atlanta lineup that included all of the regulars aside from Dan Uggla and an injured Chipper Jones.  Alvarez allowed one hit over five innings and walked no one.  What really impressed me though was how well he dominated the lower half of the strike zone and induced ground ball outs.  He is young and he may have a sophomore slump.  That being said, I like the way he plays the game. 

The Red Sox will counter with left hander Felix Doubront.  Doubront won a rotation spot after posting a 1-0 record with an ERA of 2.70 in Grapefruit League action this spring.  Boston is still looking for their first win of the year after being swept out of Comerica Park in Detroit this weekend.

If Toronto is going to have a shot at competing this season, they need to win these early games against Boston while the likes of Beckett, Bailey and Crawford are out.  Here's hoping they get off to a good start at home tonight behind Alvarez.

One thing is for certain.  It's gonna be loud!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Looking Back on the Weekend That Was

Well the first series of 2012 for the Blue Jays is in the books and as fans I don't think that we can be overly disappointed.  A record breaking Opening Day that saw the Jays fight back in the ninth inning to tie it up, then win it in the 16th.  Game two consisted of two strong pitching performances from each team's starter, both of which winding up with a no-decision as it was the Indians this time who tied it up in the ninth to force extras.  The game was decided by the bullpens in the twelfth inning when a double from Rajai Davis drove in two, to seal the victory.  Followed by a game three which the Jays dropped but only by one run.  Let's face it, if Toronto were to actually win two out of every three games all year we all will be pretty darn happy.  So when you look at the scorecards and the standings, things are looking pretty good for the boys in blue.

However, if you watch what's happening on the field and in the dugout, it's even more exciting.

Jose Bautista hitting his first home run of the year on Opening Day.  Kelly Johnson and JP Arencibia each going deep as well.  Edwin Encarnacion smacking three doubles and performing a pretty snazzy shuffle and slide dance in the dug out.  Five players with three or more hits in the series.  Some great defensive plays made.  Rasmus is hustling and made a great diving catch.  Rajai Davis is stealing bases.  Most of our relief staff looked strong and showed us what kind of depth Toronto has coming out of the pen this season.  Lots of smiles, high fives and leaps up from the bench. 

This is a young, excited, motivated group.  They think they can win. 

They're fun to watch.

Buckle in kids, it's gonna be an exciting ride!

Jays Top Indians 7-4 in Extras

Wait... Didn't that already happen?

For the second time in as many games the Blue Jays and the Indians went to extra innings to decide game two of the three game set on Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field.  This time it was the Indians tying it up in the ninth to force the additional frames.  The Blue Jays and Indians have now already played the equivalent of three games (plus an inning) against one another.

Brandon Morrow and Ubaldo Jimenez both had strong outings, going seven innings with three walks, three strikeouts and allowing only one hit each.  Each pitcher also allowed 2 runs, however Morrow's were unearned after a throwing error by Arencibia in the fifth inning allowed the inning to continue for Jason Kipnis to hit a two run home run giving Cleveland the lead.  Toronto tied it up on a two run single from Brett Lawrie in the seventh.

Then in the ninth Kelly Johnson hit his first home run of the year just over the glove of a leaping Micheal Brantley to give Toronto a 3-2 lead for Sergio Santos heading to the bottom of the ninth.  Santos retired the first batter he faced, but then surrendered a solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera tying the game once again and sending it to extra innings.

Rajai Davis was the hero in the twelfth, smacking a two run double to give the Jays a 6-3 lead.  Colby Rasmus promptly added to that number, collecting his first hit and RBI of the season driving in Davis from second with a single.  Francisco Cordero came on in the bottom of the twefth and despite giving up 3 hits and a run, he got the job done.  Jays win 7-4.

Some positives that I take from this game:

Morrow looked very good.  I think that if he keeps his walks under control, this year will be the break out year that we've been waiting for from Brandon Morrow.

Colby Rasmus hit the ball hard a couple of times and came up empty.  Don't worry about him, he is going to hit.  I fear that if this keeps up I may actually wind up a Rasmus fan...

I never got a chance to post about spring training, but Kelly Johnson looked great in Dunedin when I saw him and it appears he is continuing to see the ball well and drive it when he connects.  I really think he is going to have a nice year this year.

Casey Janssen continues to look stellar.  Working two no-hit innings, striking out two and walking no one.  Despite Santos giving up the HR to Cabrera, the bullpen was still effective.

The Blue Jays are now 2 and 0 and have secured their first series victory.  Game three goes this afternoon with Joel Carreno taking the hill for the Jays against Derek Lowe.

First pitch is at 1:05.  The question is, what inning will the last pitch be thrown in?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The 2012 Season is Officially Underway


I love opening day.

It's a new beginning.  A fresh start.  For players like Adam Dunn, it's a chance for redemption after a disappointing season.  For players like Alex Gordon, it's a chance to prove that you are the real deal and last year wasn't just a fluke.  Jose Bautista was in that very position on opening day 2011.

Everybody shares the home run lead.  Every pitcher has a zero in the loses column.  Every team is in first place.  I love opening day.

For Blue Jays fans this opening day, there seems to be a little bit more to be excited about.  A re-vamped bull pen.  A new second basemen and a new centre fielder since last opening day.  A young Canadian phenom playing third.  A catcher back for his sophomore year after breaking the franchise record for home runs by hit by a catcher while in his rookie campaign last season.  A young team who think that they can win right now.

Even though it took them a little extra time, on Thursday in Cleveland that's exactly what they did.  The Blue Jays and Indians played 16 innings on opening day at Progressive Field to kick off the 2012 season.

I'm sure everyone knows the story by now so I won't recap the whole game, just a few highlights that caught my attention.  Ricky Romero did not look like himself and was having trouble controlling the ball.  He did seem to settle down a little after the home run that put Cleveland on top 4-1.  Justin Masterson pitched very well for Cleveland and attacked the lower half of the strike zone.  He was also very effective in throwing breaking pitches low and outside that had some Toronto hitters chasing.  Through eight innings he allowed only 2 hits and one run.  That run coming from a home run off the bat of the reigning home run champ.  The other hit was a double from Adam Lind.

Colby Rasmus was great in centre field which was very good to see.  I have not been shy about how I felt about the Rasmus deal when it was completed and after the end of the year last season.  Some of my concerns with Rasmus was that when he got here he didn't seem to want to hustle.  His sense of indifference to the game he played and some comments he made were also unsettling.  I said earlier this year that I would be happy to deal him back to St. Louis for Rzepczynski straight up and this was my stance until two weeks ago when I saw him at spring training.  He wasn't hitting, but he was hustling.  He played centre field very well and his only hit in the two spring games we saw was an infield hit to short that he ran out and beat the throw at first base.  That is something we never would have seen out of him last year.  After Thursday's game of solid defense and a fantastic diving backhand catch.  He has almost made a believer out of me.

Toronto's Bullpen was brilliant.  I have said many times that I love the bullpen Toronto has this year and we got our first look on opening day.  Romero exited after five and the seven bullpen pitchers combined for eleven innings of shut out baseball.  I would be comfortable with a relief staff that included Frasor and Janssen as the seventh and eight inning guys.  The fact that the Jays have these arms available to them at the front end of the pen is fantastic.  I know it is only one game, but I really believe that this is the type of performance we can expect out of this bullpen moving forward.

In the ninth, Edwin Encarnacion hit a double that my friend and I were convinced was gone.  So was Edwin.  However the wind kept the ball in the park and it bounced off of the wall scoring two and tying the game.  Then, seven innings of great pitching later, JP Arencibia got his home run count for 2012 started.  After missing a sign and attempting to bunt, Arencibia smacked a 1-2 pitch over the left field wall to put Toronto up 7 - 4.  Following a slight mix up on the part of Luis Perez, Santos came in and retired the final two Cleveland hitters to seal the victory for the Blue Jays.

Game two is Saturday afternoon in Cleveland.  Brandon Morrow gets the start for Toronto after a strong spring.  I think Morrow is going to have a very good season.  Let's hope Saturday gets it started for him.  After all, we are tied for first place.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

10 Reasons To Watch The Blue Jays In 2012

We did it!  After what seemed like a looooong cold winter (even though it really wasn't) we have survived the wait.  We've weathered the storm.  We stayed up late to find out how the Prince Albert saga would end.  We all anxiously waited by our trees to see if Santa would bring us our new logo jerseys and caps for Christmas.  We have put up with Canadian sportscast after Canadian sportscast of hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey.  We all sat through "The Big Game" and watched for the commercials with interest, while eating our wings and nachos and pretending that we gave a crap whether Tom or Eli was going to be the hero.  We've picked through our DVD collections and have already watched Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, Major League, and Rookie of the Year so many times this winter we can once again recite them word for word.  Well people, our hard work, sleepless nights, and shaking fits of withdrawal have paid off.  Baseball is FINALLY close to coming back!

Blue Jays pitchers and catchers report to camp on the 21!  Thus beginning another season of Blue Jays, and more importantly, Major League Baseball.  

As Jays fans, we've relented that we are entering another season that will very likely result in 82 to 86 wins and not as much as a sniff at the post season, or even at meaningful games in September.  However that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be some interesting story lines developing down at 1 Blue Jays Way this summer.  Here is my list of the top 10 reasons the Blue Jays are worth watching in 2012.

#10  What will Edwin do?
Back in November I voiced my opinion, and gave the Jays praise on their decision to pick up Edwin Encarnacion's $3 million option.  $3 million is a cheap price to pay for a bat that has hit 38 home runs in the last two seasons, and I really, truly believe that we can expect to see more from him in 2012.  This is the first year that the Blue Jays are going to let Edwin just hit the ball, and I for one think this is a great idea.

Frankly, when Edwin didn't have to worry about making that throw from third base he was a better hitter.  His offensive numbers greatly reflected this.  During the 2011 season, in 122 at bats while playing third, Edwin batted just .213 with 3 HR.  However, he batted .305 in 82 at bats when playing first, and .296 in 267 at bats when he was in at DH with a total of 14 HR at the two positions.  Edwin has also brought his batting average up from from .225 in 2009, and .240 in 2010 to .272 in 2011.

I'm excited to see what he can do in 2012 with a full season of DH and filling in at first from time to time. (presumably when a lefty is starting for the opposition.)  I'm going to call 25 home runs or more for Encarnacion this year if he stays healthy and has regular playing time.

#9  How does JP follow up his rookie campaign?
23 home runs, 78 runs batted in, and 20 doubles.  Not a bad line for a 25 year old who was in his first full season as a big leaguer.  Granted the average was a little low at .219.  Still a good line, especially from your catcher.  I am very excited to see how JP will follow this up.  I think he'll be better.  He was learning how to handle a pitching staff last year and adjusting to both the life, and the pitching of the big leagues.  JP hit for a .301 average in 2010 down in triple A, with 32 home runs.  Going by his numbers in 2011 and 2010, and keeping in mind that his 2010 season was in the Pacific Coast League, I'm going to say this year that the average comes up to around the .260 to .265 range, and he adds a couple of big flies to finish around 25 for the year.

What I love most about this guy though is his attitude towards the Jays organization, and that he believes that this group can win.  Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows what I'm talking about.  JP has all positive things to say about the team, and is all about proving the "naysayers" wrong.  He also likes to tweet when he is embracing Canadian culture and seems to genuinely enjoy spending his summers here.  If you're not following him, you can and should @jparencibia9.

#8 Who is going to play left field?
To quote Stan from South Park in the Towelie episode:  "Don't care.  Don't care.  Don't care." If I hear one more segment on the radio, or read one more article about the Jays left field situation I may go insane.  It's left field, we have two guys, one is going to play there, roll credits.  Whichever one is awarded the position out of spring training I'm sure will be deserving, and do the job well.

Travis Snider seems to have fallen out of favor with a lot of fans who thought he should have developed into more by now.  Keep in mind though, Snider just turned 24 years old this month, and hasn't really been handled that well so far in his career.  He has however shown time and time again that he can crush pitching in AAA, and hasn't been able to find the same success at the big league level.  Having said that, it is too early to close the book on him.

Eric Thames is Snider's senior by 15 months.  In a little over half a season he showed he has some pop, hitting 12 home runs in 2011.  He also hit 27 home runs while batting .288 in the minors in New Hampshire in 2010, and was batting .352 in Vegas before being called up last year.

If I had to place a bet, I think Thames is going to win the job.  Although, Snider does only have one option left.  Meaning that the club can only send him down to AAA one more time without having to place him on waivers and risk having another team claim him first.  Thames still has plenty of options.  Whether this will play a factor into who wins the job out of spring training is anyone's guess.  Either way, barring injury, don't be surprised to see one of these two getting moved at the trade deadline. 

#7  What did we get when we got Colby Rasmus?
Colby, I am asking you to please prove me wrong, because from where I'm sitting it's not looking good.  In a deal that had some reporters claiming Anthopoulos "stole" Rasmus away from the Cardinals, I thought at the time that we had given up enough.  Right now, I think I'd like to see him traded back for just Rzepcynski straight up.

Anthopoulos says Rasmus is a five tool talent, and Alex has probably already forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know.  So when he says it, I'm inclined to believe him.  But it is really hard to get behind a guy who, when asked about the focus of his daily drills, says things like:  “I’m not working on anything right now.”  Then, when questioned about his season since arriving in Toronto replied:  "I feel like I’ve played the outfield pretty good but my hitting’s been terrible,”  “But I wasn’t hitting good before I got here, so I didn’t really put too much expectation on myself to do good.”  Didn't put any expectations on yourself to do good?  What the.... are you kidding?  Ok, well what about your offseason workouts then Colby?  “Last off-season I didn’t do anything baseball-wise,” he said. “I didn’t really pick up a bat ’til probably a week, two weeks before spring training.  I was just tired last year, and I didn’t have a great year."  Well, here's hoping that this offseason you took a different approach.  As I said Colby... Please prove me wrong.  Because you're kind of coming off as a little bit of a punk with a lotta bit of an attitude. 

#6  Will the real Adam Lind please stand up?  
 Ok Adam, we love you.  We've watched with interest as you come up through the system and developed into the young man you've become today.  But please, PLEASE stop teasing us and either be that guy who hit 9 home runs in 90 at bats last June, or be the guy who hit 3 in 105 the following month so that we know what we've got.

We all understand that you were fighting injury last year and that you were learning a new position.  We empathize with you, we really do!  We just can't handle another summer of holding our breath and watching the Lind pendulum swing all the way from bad, through mediocre, to great and back again.  Please show us that you are the guy who is going to be our first basemen of the future and the stud bat to hit behind Bautista in the order.  A leader for the kids to model themselves after.  The guy who hit 35 home runs batting .305 in 2009.  Heck, we'd settle for 30 and .280.  Just either way please show us what we can expect from Adam Lind, the real Adam Lind, from this point forward.  I think it is somewhere around the .280, 30 to 35 home run range, but I'm waiting for Lind to prove it to me.  I hope he does.

#5  The bullpen
This is going to be fun to watch.  What is not to like about this bullpen?  Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch, and the newly re-upped Casey Janssen all returning from last year.  Jason Frasor re-acquired from the White Sox.  Then add in the ageless Darren Oliver, and Francisco Cordero to set up Sergio Santos.  I'm really excited about this staff of relievers.  Right now Luis Perez appears to be the odd man out, but will probably make his way in if there is an injury, or if Toronto wants to get a second lefty sitting out behind the fence in left field. (Oliver currently stands as the only left handed reliever in Toronto's pen.)

There are two reasons I'm excited to see what this bullpen can do.  One is that I suspect that there will not be as many blown save chances this season as there were last season.  The second being that we were able to upgrade both our setup and closer roles, without having to give a ridiculous long term contract to any of the big name relievers that were available this offseason.  Santos has a great contract, and Oliver and Cordero are each one year deals.  I like what Anthopoulos has done here. 

#4  The rotation
None of us are worried about number one.  Where the rotation will become interesting this year is going from the 2 to 5 spots.  As it stands right now, Toronto's rotation is shaping up to be Morrow, Cecil, Alvarez, and McGowan from 2 to 5.  Morrow comes in to the season with a brand new contract, and hopefully something to prove.  We have watched him be one of the most dominate hurlers in the game one day, and then cringed as he gave up five runs in one inning the following game.  There is no doubt that Morrow has great stuff.  The talent is there.  I'm really hoping that this is the year he is able to string together a number of good starts in a row, and possibly pull out 15 to 19 wins.

After leading the team in wins in 2010, Brett Cecil had a very forgettable year last year.  Statistcally his ERA and WHIP weren't very different from Morrow's.  However Cecil wasn't the same from spring training on, and had some velocity issues.  He will be looking to bounce back this year and I really hope he does, but I am not sure how confident I am that he will.

Henderson Alvarez came onto the scene in 2011 making 10 starts, and pitching to the tune of a 3.53 ERA, and a 1.13 WHIP.  I can not wait to see how he follows this up.  He'll turn 22 on April 18, so expect to see some growing pains as he adjusts to being a big league starter.  But I believe he is going to be a good one, and exciting to watch as he comes into his own.

Finally we arrive at Dustin McGowan.  What can I say.  On June 24, 2007 I was at the Rogers Centre and watched McGowan take a no hitter into the ninth inning against Colorado, becoming only the sixth Blue Jay to carry a no hitter into the ninth.  He's had success before, but if this guy didn't have bad luck, it would appear he would have none at all.  McGowan missed three years, and has now had surgeries to repair his labrum, knee, and rotator cuff.  Last season he finally made it back to make four starts at the end of the season.  I can't explain why, but I just have a feeling that this is going to be McGowan's year.  He's worked hard to get here, and I think he's going to come out and surprise people in 2012.

#3  Ricky Romero
 With the departure of Shaun Marcum last year, Romero solidified himself as the number one in Toronto's rotation posting an ERA of 2.92, and a WHIP of 1.14.  What is he going to do for an encore in 2012?  He has continued to get better every year, dropping his ERA by over half a run in each of the past two seasons, and I really wouldn't expect anything less of him this year.  He's going to continue to get better.  Last year for the first time Romero's numbers in the second half were better than his first half numbers, throwing out any remaining theories that he can't stay consistent for an entire year.

He's competitive, he loves playing in Toronto, and he wants to win in Toronto.  In 2011 Toronto realized that he was an ace, this year the rest of the league will.  I can't wait to see what Romero brings this season.  

#2  Jose Bautista
I know what you're thinking.  How can I not have Jose number one?  I know, I know.  It was a tough call, and really, I could have gone either way.  Everybody is waiting to see what Jose does this year.  After signing a contract that some thought Toronto would later regret.  (Not this guy, you can read what I thought here)  Jose followed up his 54 homer season by hitting another 43 home runs, and raising his average by 42 points.  Though his numbers dropped off dramatically in the second half, you have to keep in mind that he did have an ankle injury, and Jose himself has admitted that he chased some pitches he shouldn't have in the second half.  He still finished the year strong.

My only complaint with Jose last year was that he always decided to hit one out when I was taking my 3 year old to the bathroom at Rogers Centre.  In fact, after this had happened a couple of times, we were at a game in which Toronto was behind.  With two on and Bautista coming up, I asked said 3 year old if they had to go.  They did, and before I'd even had a chance to lock the stall door, we could hear the sound of the horn and the crowd going wild.  I couldn't help but chuckle at my own superstition, and that it had actually worked.

I think Bautista will be fine this year, despite his second half in 2011.  I'm jotting him down for 35 to 40 home runs, and 115 walks.

#1  Brett Lawrie
Alright, I'm all in.  I'm on the wagon, and I'm eating up the hype.  If you don't want to watch this team for any other reason, you have to be intrigued by what the 22 year old phenom from Langley is going to do this year.  I'm going to be honest, I was not impressed that Alex traded away Shaun Marcum, one of my favorites, for this kid who came in shooting his mouth off that he was going to make the team out of spring training and not go to the minors in 2011.

Well, the kid has turned out to be alright so far.  After having a very good spring and starting the season in AAA, his call to the Blue Jays was delayed last season when he was hit by a pitch on May 31, suffering a non-displaced fracture.  But when he did come up from AAA, his impact was immediate.  In 43 games Lawrie batted .293 with 9HR and 25 RBI's while stealing 7 bases, and he's really got baseball folks talking.  Both north and south of the border.

Will he keep that pace for an entire 162 game season?  Will he regress?  Will he be better?  We're all going to have to watch with interest to find out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jays Sign Three

Some news from Blue Jay land this week. 

Brandon Morrow signed a three year contract extension worth $20 million yesterday.  The deal comes with a team option for a fourth year at $10 million.  I like this deal for the Jays.  We've all seen Morrow's upside, but I'm of the opinion that the Jays do not yet know what it is they have in Morrow.  His Jekyll and Hyde antics over the last season left us wanting more after one start, and wondering where he went after the next.  With some consistency, Morrow could be great.  Without it, he's still a .500 pitcher.  6.66 million for a .500 pitcher in today's salary structure is far from unreasonable.  (See AJ Burnett)

Yesterday the Blue Jays also signed 44 year old free agent utility infielder Omar Vizquel to a one year minor league contract with an invite to spring training.  I like this signing as well, and see it as very low risk.  If Vizquel breaks camp with the team (which presumably he will) his role will be very similar to the role John MacDonald held with the team before his departure for Arizona.  A defensive replacement who will get a start here and there to give one of the everyday players a day off.

That brings us to today's signing.  Anthopoulos continued to rebuild the bull pen today when he signed free agent closer Francisco Cordero to a one year deal worth $4.5 million.  Cordero was 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 37 saves for Cincinnati last season, and it is reported that he will be the set up man for new closer Sergio Santos.  Again, I am a fan of this acquisition.  Cordero brings a veteran presence to help along Santos get situated in his role.  I also like the Jays newly revamped pen that much more with Cordero in it. 

The signing of Cordero today comes after there were early reports last night that a deal was in place between the Rangers and the Blue Jays that would send reliever Koji Uehara to Toronto.  However, the buzz died almost completely about two hours after the rumors first surfaced.  Tonight it was reported from multiple outlets on twitter that the deal had been called off as a result of Uehara exercising his limited no trade clause he had to six MLB teams.  Toronto was one of them. 

Well, Who Saw That Coming?

Well, at the start of this offseason I made my predictions as to where I thought both Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols would end up.  At the time I was of the opinion that Pujols would stay in St. Louis, Fielder would be a Cub, and that the Angels could potentially be a dark horse in the running for either player, but it was unlikely.

Wow was I wrong.

St. Louis tried without success to convince Albert to stay, and when he didn't they grabbed Carlos Beltran to both fill the hole in their lineup, and allow Berkman to move full time to first base.  The Cubs went completely in the other direction and acquired top prospect (and a player I followed with great interest last year) Anthony Rizzo to be their first basemen of the future.

I based my opinions on the time around which MLB franchises had both the funds, and the position availability to pursue either of the stud first basemen.  It seemed to me that the market was shallow for teams that fit this criteria.  As it turned out, both players went to teams that appeared to already have their first base situation well at hand.

This afternoon the Detroit Tigers proved that AA isn't the only quiet predator in the American League, when they seemingly came out of no where and inked Prince Fielder to a nine year, $214 million.  Seriously?? Detroit??  Did anybody see that coming?

Sure, we all heard last week that Victor Martinez had torn his ACL, and was likely to miss the entire 2012 season.  So we expected that the Tigers would respond and try to sign someone to fill the gap left by VMart's absence.  However, I assumed that with Martinez being under contract through the 2014 season that the Tigers would be more likely to consider the likes of Carlos Pena on a one year deal.  NOT Fielder for nine.

Nine years!  Nine years?  Did anyone at this point in the off-season actually believe that Boras was going to get the long term deal he was lusting after for Fielder?  Honestly, anybody?  I sure didn't.  I assumed that with Washington and Texas appearing to be the only teams left interested, Boras would have to lower the bar and shoot for the same, or maybe even a little more money on a shorter term.  A six year deal with an opt out after three years perhaps.  Allowing Prince to hit the market again at 30 if he so chose, when presumably the Mets and Dodgers would each have stable ownership, and a bank account again.  I thought that best case scenario Fielder would get one of the few teams still interested to go to seven to get the deal done.  Not nine.  Wow.

 This opens up another topic of interest for discussion next year.  Who is the odd man out in Detroit?  What do you do with three first basemen?  We assume that Martinez isn't going to catch again, especially after having a repaired ACL.  Brendon Inge's contract is up at the end of this season, but surely the tigers aren't going to let Cabrera go back to third?  Would they?  Could he possibly play a corner outfield spot?  Do they try to trade one of them?

Time will tell I suppose.  For now we can all admire the best 3-4 combination in baseball as they lead the Tigers to another post season berth, and probably the world series.  This Tigers team was looking pretty damn good in a weak division.  It was very plausible looking at this division yesterday that the Tigers were going to take the Central by ten games.  Now, who knows.  But you can bet we'll all be watching with interest.

One final thought:  How high is Cabrera's average going to be with Fielder protecting him in the line up?  .340?  This is going to be something to see.