Blue Jays fans should be excited because of the talent increase, not the “clubhouse change”

Culture

So long Canadian Jesus, so long.

Yet another major move by Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was announced last night, and it was another move that caught people by surprise. Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson is coming to Toronto and bringing his MVP-calibre play along with four years of control with him. Heading out is the aforementioned Canadian Jesus, Brett Lawrie, pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Gravemen, and highly regarded prospect Franklin Barretto.

For a team looking to win now, the move is huge for the Jays. Donaldson brings a supreme talent, huge power, and strong defence, not to mention a durability Lawrie has yet to display.

With the trade of Adam Lind, the signing of Russell Martin, and now the acquisition of Donaldson, next year’s narratives have already pretty much been written. Clubhouse change, culture change, leadership, #GRIT. That’s what we’re going to hear about next year, especially if the Jays do well.

And a good chunk of that is bullshit. Sure, there’s something to be said for changing the atmosphere – we really don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of the clubhouse, so to say definitively one way or the other is stupid. Lind was often seen as kind of lazy, while Lawrie came off as an immature little shit. But consider last year. Lawrie played his last game on Aug. 5, just as the team was embarking on a stretch that would kill their playoff hopes. He was on the field during the team’s great run in May, playing everyday.

Strangely, so was Lind. Kittenface missed time in July, when the team did okayish and returned for the awful August. During August he was brutal, hitting to a .297 wOBA and 85 wRC+, which given his inability to do anything else rendered him essentially useless. Lind returned to form in September, putting up a .393 wOBA, in a month where the Jays turned it around.

They were both on the field, and presumably in the clubhouse, when the team was doing well.

So, while culture change or whatever you want to call it may be a part of the reason AA has been making these moves, it’s a reason that’s far down on the priority list. The durability and flexibility arguments, quite frankly, carry far more weight. But even still, those aren’t the biggest issues at play.

At the end of the day, these moves should excite fans simply because the team has drastically increased its talent level, without giving up an exorbitant amount. With Martin, it was only money. And while we can’t really be sure where the payroll threshold is located with the team, the contract is structured in such a way that it shouldn’t hamper plans for next year and shouldn’t become so much of a burden in later years that the team is handcuffed.

With Donaldson, yes the team gave up some pieces. Lawrie still has the potential to be an awesome player. Nolin has long been seen as a solid back of the rotation piece. Graveman came out of nowhere last year and looks like he might be something.

And of course, Barretto is seen as a very strong prospect, and if he can stick at shortstop might turn out to be the best player the Jays gave away.

But that doesn’t mean much for next year. Barretto’s still a couple years away from even sniffing the big leagues, if he even makes it. Nolin and Gravemen were quite far down on the depth chart for Toronto, given the surplus of starting pitchers the team has.

Finally, Lawrie’s absolute upside potential for 2015 is likely around Donaldson’s absolute floor. And given Donaldson has one extra year of control than Lawrie does, it’s a no brainer.

What I’ve found interesting about the moves so far, though, is that AA has made two substantial trades and one big signing, and has yet to address the areas of need we all wanted addressed heading into the offseason: bullpen, second base and left field.

But maybe he sort of has. With Donaldson and Martin coming into the fold, are we perhaps a little more comfortable going with some sort of Ryan Goins-Maicer Izturis-Devon Thomas group at second base? Given the presence of Danny Valencia and John Mayberry, could the Jays cobble together enough to have a strong infield without anymore moves? Not ideal, but I’m certainly more willing to answer in the affirmative with Donaldson at third base as opposed to Lawrie.

Even the outfield seems like less of a concern. As Shi Davidi reported in an article put up overnight:

“I notice a lot of people are focused on positional needs,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said on a conference call late Friday. “I know people can say, ‘Well, you had a third baseman’ and that’s true, we did. But I don’t know that we had another middle of the order bat to go with (Edwin) Encarnacion and (Jose) Bautista and now we do. That was a spot in the lineup of need if you want to call it that.”

So while signing Melky Cabrera would still be great, the urgency to get another middle-of-the-order-bat left fielder isn’t there anymore. The team has more flexibility to sign, say, a Nori Aoki or even Alex Rios type.

There’s still work to be done for the Jays and Alex Anthopoulos, but by improving in other areas he’s in part addressing the glaring holes we all talked about heading into the offseason.

Revisiting Alex Anthopoulos’ end of season Blue Jays review

Remember when Alex Anthopoulos said he was really excited about the offseason and how he expected big things, and how there was a somewhat collective rolling of the eyes?

To wit:

“As much as it seems like we’ve got some looming free agents — and we do — or some guys with options — and those decisions need to be made — there’s also an opportunity to add some players and to have some turnover with some guys that I think are going to continue to take a step forward. It can be really exciting”

From Brendan Kennedy, The Toronto Star

Yeah, about that.

Not even two months later and it appears the Toronto GM wasn’t bluffing. He’s already signed one of the top free agents in Russell Martin and there have been plenty of reports linking the Jays to guys like Pablo Sandoval, Jon Lester and Andrew Miller.

On the trade front, AA jettisoned longtime Jay Adam Lind in exchange for Marco Estrada, and traded longtime Jays centre fielder of the future if he ever learns to hit Anthony Gose for second baseman Devon Travis.

He went into the offseason saying he was excited about the possibilities, expected some turnover, and reiterated he had money to spend. Alex was apparently being quite truthful.

So…what else did he say, and what does that mean about what we can expect as the offseason kicks into full gear?

  • In John Lott’s piece in the National Post, he said Anthopoulos expects plenty of turnover in the bullpen. While the Jays have been linked to Andrew Miller, that’s about it. I suppose the addition of Estrada could end up being another bullpen piece, depending on what happens in the rotation and whether Estrada even remains with the team, but Marco Estrada and Andrew Miller doesn’t seem like enough to warrant a “significant” label. I would expect the Jays to be linked to, and likely acquire another couple bullpen pieces.
  • In both Kennedy’s and Lott’s pieces, they mentioned Anthopoulos’ commitment to The Policy. That rubs a little with rumours coming out of the Jon Lester sweepstakes that the Jays might be willing to budge. Has there been a change in those two months? Does AA think he can get Lester for six years at an AAV he didn’t expect? Is he just try to bid up a player that at least one division rival is in on? I wouldn’t be surprised it’s one of those, or it’s possibly even all bullshit. It could be posturing too.
  • AA told reporters Brett Lawrie was his third baseman, but left the door open about a move to second, only if the right deal presented itself. With the Jays appearing to drop out of the running for Pablo Sandoval, the only other potential third baseman that makes sense is Hanley Ramirez. And that’s only on the condition he accepts a move to third, which admittedly he sounds more open to. I’d expect Lawrie to stay at third. However, Anthopoulos also noted a desire to improve depth and durability, and find a way to give Jose Reyes more days off. That, to me, signals more movement in the infield. Perhaps a second baseman who could slide over to shortstop when Reyes needs a day off? Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera?

With the winter meetings coming up in a few weeks look for the Jays to make some movement on at least a couple of these front. There are certainly more moves to be made.

Everything is happening

Of course the week a co-worker goes down during basically the busiest time of the year is also when the Jays turn into this big wheeling team that’s in on everybody.

I honestly haven’t even been able to digest what’s happened the last few days. All I can say is that the Martin signing seems to signal a big time shift in the team’s philosophy. The fact the Jays put that much money into a position that really wasn’t a weakness show that either they’re really willing to invest in the team or it was a really bad ploy to sign a Canadian, #mapleboner, to please the masses. I’d bet the former.

And now, with all this talk about the team in on Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester…I just…don’t…even…know.

I think it’s good stuff.

If the team has as much money as it seems to have after the signing of Martin and all the rumours the last few days, especially with the analysis from Andrew Stoeten regarding old Bob Cat’s comments, then I think we can safely assume most of the team’s issues will be addressed this offseason.

After years of thinking about value, payroll parameters and all that crap, it’s weird to think that the organization has decided to forego that crap and just plug the holes, money be damned. But maybe…perhaps…this is what is happening. Maybe the business peeps looked at the last few years and realized how much they got from legitimately investing in the team, and then how much they gave right back by completely cutting the team off, and decided to do right by the team – and obviously by themselves.

I don’t know. It’s been a weird week. I’m tired. I’ve written and looked at far too many words since Monday. But I’m pumped.

When does spring training start?

Emilio Bonifacio reuniting with the Blue Jays? Might just be crazy enough to work

Oh the memories. The ground balls through the wickets. Botched double plays. Misread attempts. Poor throws.

And the hitting, my god the hitting. A .579 OPS, including a .258 on base percentage. His wRC+ while a member of the Blue Jays was a hilariously bad 54. Remember, wRC+ compares a hitter to the league average, with 100 being exactly average. So, at 54, or nearly half league average, I’m pretty sure that means Yunel Escobar could have swung that bat with one arm and done as well as old Boneface.

Early season 2013 was a dark time, and the black hole that was Emilio Bonifacio at second base is among the darkest.

So when we hear things like below, we should cringe, cry and roll up into the fetal position, right?

Aaaahhhhhhhhhh! WTF EHRMIGOD?!11!/?1/1?!?!!!!///?

It might just be crazy enough to work.

Now I’m not suggesting he’s a boni-fide (see what I did there?) solution to any of what ails the Jays, but he certainly could be part of a solution. Consider what GM Alex Anthopoulos’ modus operandi has been thus far in the offseason: raising the floor and creating flexibility. Justin Smoak, Devon Travis (who by the way I’m starting to like more and more), and Adam Lind for Marco Estrada have all been moves to raise the floor of the organization and increase flexibility.

And what better way to keep that going than acquiring a guy who can play horribly at just about every position on the field!

Well, hear me out here.

It’s true, his time with the Jays was bad. And overall, his bat just hasn’t been that good. However, it’s not as bad as many think.

For starters, Boneface actually sports a decent 97 wRC+ and .320 wOBA, powered largely by his respectable .340 OBP vs lefties over his career. That includes ridiculous numbers in 2014 in the split: 170 wRC+, .420 (“haha, FOUR TWENTY!” said in the voice of a dumb teenager) wOBA, and .959 OPS, in an admittedly small sample size.

On the other side of the field, he’s not as bad as we all remember. At least according to the metrics. Both UZR and DRS consider him average in the outfield, overall, and both quite liked his work out there in 2014. Is it possible his bouncing around and being DedFA in 2013 sparked a new attitude or focus in the field? Maybe. Is it possible we’re remembering Bonifacio with shit-coloured glasses (or whatever the opposite of rose-coloured glasses is)? Probably.

There’s no shortage of lightning rods for the 2013 season. From Josh Johnson to Brandon Morrow. Bonifacio to even Jose Bautista (remember all the “not a leader” morons?). I’d say it’s a very good possibility that the disaster around Bonifacio during his time with the Jays is clouding what we think of the player. The fact he went onto the Royals and almost immediately went back to being the decent player and good utility guy we thought the Jays were getting only fuels that dislike, I think.

But it shouldn’t. It should remind us that he is what he is. A no-power speed guy, who can play passable defence around the field.Over his career both UZR and DRS don’t mind him at second base (note: really!) and he ranges from passable to good in all outfield positions.

Bonifacio isn’t a solution. But he could be part of the solution of raising the floor. He could slide nicely in as a replacement for Anthony Gose and provide insurance in case Dalton Pompey isn’t quite ready for prime time yet.

And if Pompey is the solution, Bonifacio provides speed off the bench, a decent bench bat against lefties, and a player who can play multiple positions if John Gibbons has to juggle things late in a game.

Yup. Just might be crazy enough to work

Back (loading) troubles: Toronto Blue Jays’ payroll outlook not so cut and dry

As it stands right now, the Toronto Blue Jays have about $110 to spend heading into 2016, and that’s if the payroll stays as is.

Great! you may say. That flexibility should allow them to back load some contracts this offseason and maybe sign a few premium free agents this winter. With Jose Reyes’ $22 million yearly payout the only guaranteed money the team can do as it wishes.

And that’s true, to an extent, but let’s not get carried away. First, Jose Bautista’s and Edwin Encarnacion’s options are almost a sure thing to be picked up. If RA Dickey has another season like the last couple then his $12 million option will likely be as well. That brings the total up to $58 million already.

The list of players going through arbitration is quite long: Smoak, Dirks, Mayberry, Francisco, Cecil, Thole, Valencia, Delabar, Loup, Lawrie and Hutchison. Sure, some of those guys – Fat Juan, come on down! – will be non-tendered, but Toronto will likely be relying on a good chunk of them to field the team in the coming years.

Long term, Toronto also has to take care of its catcher situation, with Dioner Navarro only under contract for one more year and not much coming up in the system (Max Pentecost was a first rounder in last June’s draft and could progress quickly, but his future is somewhat up in the air and his progress surely stalled after undergoing shoulder surgery in October).

One would assume that the Jays would like to keep at least the two sluggers around longer. And if the team wants to contend for the next few years it will need guys like Brett Lawrie and Drew Hutchison to step up. That would be great for the team, solid seasons in 2015 for those two could go a long way in a postseason push, but they’re also not that far away from becoming expensive.

It’s unfortunate, from a team perspective, that both players accrued so much service time while sitting on the DL, but such is life. So factor in possible extension for Lawrie and Hutchison down the road, as well as costly extensions for Bautista and Encarnacion, not to mention likely having to sign a starting catcher next year, and the payroll quickly escalates.

So while the flexibility is great, the team can go in any direction it wants, it’s also scary. Back loading some free agent contracts could come back to haunt the team in a big way in two to three years when it comes time to start locking up the young players Alex Anthopoulos and company have developed.

There are some bad contracts coming off the books in the next couple years but that doesn’t mean we should push to replace those bad contracts with similarly bad contracts. It’s a sad reality, given the wealth of the owners, but continued prudence is key to sustained success for the Jays.

The Mariners are going to shop Michael Saunders. They’re going to shop him hard.

He’d be a great replacement for Melky for the Jays. Has two more trips through arbitration so won’t be terribly expensive. John Mayberry could spell him against tough lefties, giving them some really strong production from the LF position.

HardballTalk

Hey, it was Crasnick who said that, not me:

Saunders relationship with the M’s has deteriorated pretty badly. After the season was over, GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon made the media rounds criticizing him for his conditioning and suggesting his extensive injury history is a result of shortfalls in this department. Saunders and his agent fired back. It was just not a great scene.

Saunders has value, of course. Despite multiple trips to the DL he hit 273/.341/.450 with eight home runs and 34 RBI in 263 plate appearances. He’s team-controlled for two more seasons too. If the M’s want to shop him, there should be takers.

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Marco? Polo…er…Estrada?

Strikeouts per nine, walks per nine, homeruns per nine. ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA. Homeruns per flyball, WAR, ERA- and FIP-. Groundball-to-Flyball ratio and fastball velocity.

Those are the stats, and there could me more, where Marco Estrada has progressively declined in each of the past three seasons. I’m not positive, but I don’t think that’s good.

And yet that’s exactly who the Blue Jays acquired for DH Adam Lind. The same Adam Lind whose wOBA versus right handed pitching the last two years is better than Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt and a ton of other really good hitters.

This one’s a bit of a headscratcher. Sure, Estrada could be a decent back of the rotation starter. He had a 4.36 ERA in 150 innings last year after two straight sub-4 ERA years. He could also be a bullpen piece, having split time between the bullpen and rotation in 2014.

But for a righty-mashing DH/1B on a very friendly deal? I mean, I was all for trading Lind, but for the sole reason that he seems valuable and would net a strong return.

Marco Estrada is not a strong return.

So what does this mean? One, it could mean Alex Anthopoulos jumped the gun. Perhaps he was itching to get a deal done quick. It could also mean that the coaching staff/front office soured on Lind, his injuries and what could have been considered lazy and apathetic attitude.

Perhaps it’s the first of a chain of moves. There were rumours about the Jays and Angels getting together for a trade, maybe AA has a deal to send a pitcher to LA for Howie Kendrick, meaning he’ll need Estrada as a replacement?

Maybe AA’s scouting staff identified something in Estrada that could be easily fixed.

Perhaps Lind’s defensive liabilities, need for a platoon partner, and complete lack of power in 2014 lowered his value? But if so, why not just keep him?

There’s also the money thing. Estrada made $3.3 million last year, and will be going through arbitration this year for the third and final time. He’ll get some sort of raise, and if you add what Estrada is likely to get with what fellow new Blue Jay Justin Smoak is going to get in arbitration you have basically what Lind will be making. Does AA have to be payroll neutral with everything he does?

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but unless something else happens in the next few days I don’t really like what’s happening here.