Wednesday 12 September 2012

There's Always Next Year

So the MLB released their 2013 season schedule today, complete with the move of the Astros to the American League, which means that both sides will have 15 teams.  Last I checked, 15 is an odd number, which, as implied by the photo above, suggests that we're going to be seeing at least one interleague series running at all times throughout the season.  That is, of course, retarded and we're not going to be speaking about that anymore.

What we will speak of, however, is the edition of the Toronto Blue Jays that will be playing in those games during that unspeakable schedule.  It's obviously quite possible that the 2012 team will be quite different from the 2013 one, and naturally, there are some changes that are going to be needed for the Jays to be contenders moving forward.

There are obviously a few guys that are essentially locks to return to the lineup next year.  Bautista, Encarnacion, and Lawrie on the offensive side of things, Romero, Morrow and Janssen as pitchers.  Guys like Rasmus, Arencibia, Escobar, Lincoln and Delabar seem pretty likely to return, though they could certainly be used as trade fodder, and most of the young guys we've seen lately are fairly certain to see at least some MLB time next year (Jenkins, Crawford, Loup, Hech, Gose, Sierra, etc.)

The biggest area of attention should be the starting rotation, in my view, with the middle infield being a close second.  Injuries to both Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, and the relative mediocrity of Henderson Alvarez mean that we're going to see a different rotation from what we had on opening day this year.  Romero and Morrow are, more than likely, sure things to find themselves in the opening day rotation this coming spring, but beyond that, we've got a few question marks.  Carlos Villanueva is a free-agent-to-be, and since AA hasn't locked him up yet, I'm wont to believe that he won't be back next year.  Call it a hunch.  JA Happ is a respectable stopgap, I suppose, and we're going to see Chad Jenkins at least get a shot at it.  I suppose Aaron Laffey, Deck Mcguire, and Brett Cecil might get looks, but there seems to be a real lack of depth at the AAA level within the organization right now.

On top of that, the free agent class appears to be watered down, and it isn't exactly AA's preferred way of shopping.  Still, Zack Greinke is there, as is Brandon McCarthy (injury permitting),  Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse.  Depending on how contract options (in brackets) go down, Jake Peavy ($22MM club), Dan Haren ($15.5MM club) and Ervin Santana ($13MM Club) could all potentially be free agents as well.  Trades could also be worked out, naturally.  Arizona has plenty of depth, for example.

What I'd Do: If Zack Greinke isn't a snob about where he plays, I would be more than thrilled to give him $20MM+ per over 5 or 6 years.  As a contingency plan, have a look at Brandon McCarthy, assuming his brain recovers.  Some kind of frontish-middle-rotation guy would be just fine as a trade candidate; I'm looking at Jon Niese of the Mets, or Matt Garza of the Cubs.  Prepare to let Villanueva walk.

Hopefully the bullpen is pretty well set.  I'm not sure how long Luis Perez is out, and I assume Sergio Santos will be back in time for the start of next season.  Either way, Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, and hopefully Darren Oliver will return.  Brett Cecil is probably a reliever going forward, and Aaron Loup has a fip of 1.79 in a small sample.  Brad Lincoln is there, as is Jason Frasor and Brandon Lyon, though they're both FA's at the end of the year.

What I'd do: It depends on Oliver, Frasor and Lyon's decisions.  I'm sure all three would be welcomed back with open arms, but even if any or all of them leave, the controllable members of the bullpen make up a solid bunch.  There are a few halfway respectable free agents out there, if necessary, but you've got room for guys like Jesse Litsch, Brett Cecil and JA Happ (if he doesn't start) and others.  I think the Delabar and Lincoln trades pretty much shored up the bullpen.  If not, wasted prospects tend to fetch reasonable relief pitching, apparently.

Edwin and Lawrie are pretty well locked in to their spots at 1B/DH and 3B, respectively. As long as Adam Lind doesn't get consistent (see: any) playing time, I'll be okay.

Second base is the real wild card here; Kelly Johnson has definitely had a rough second half of the season, probably partially due to a wonky hamstring that he's dealt with all year.  Re-signing him isn't the worst idea in the world, given the state of offense at 2B these days, but there are other options.  Three of the last four years have seen Kelly Johnson put up an average in the .220's, an OBP in the low .300's, and a strikeout rate that has risen dramatically.  He's a bounceback candidate for sure, but it's also possible that this is what the real Kelly Johnson looks like.  Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't really seem to be ready for the bigs yet, but he's definitely an option, either at second or at short.  Finally, they could look outside the organization at a guy like Marco Scutaro or Jeff Keppinger.

Directly related, Yunel Escobar is still under control for a few years, thanks to an extension he signed last year, complete with two team-friendly club options.  He's having a bit of a disappointing season, and was the subject of a few trade rumors this season, but he's quite good defensively, and has put up some excellent seasons in his career, so there is always a chance that he could be moved in a trade for a nice return.  Hechavarria would be a natural replacement if Yunel were moved.  Potential fits would be Oakland and Arizona.

Travis d'Arnaud is essentially guaranteed the everyday catching job once he hits the bigs, but given his season-ending broken leg, I suspect he'll see some more time in the minors, even if it's just to start the year.  By the all-star break, he'll be in the majors, and JPA will likely be traded.  Mathis is your backup.

What I'd do: In no particular order:

  • Trade JPA.  If d'Arnaud is ready for the bigs, let him catch.  If he isn't ready, Mathis is probably passable for a while.  TDA won't be long in the minors.
  • I'm partial to signing Jeff Keppinger.  If that works, trade Yunel Escobar, especially if Kelly Johnson will re-sign for cheapish.  Try to avoid letting Hechavarria play everyday. 
  • Give Bautista some time at 1B when Edwin DH's as a way to ween him off of playing the outfield everyday.  Adam Lind to the bench/minors/free agent pile.
Bautista and Rasmus take RF and CF, naturally.  Gose and Davis can platoon in LF, I guess, until something better comes along, but I don't think Gose is ever going to hit.  Sierra is a bat off the bench or a trade piece at best.

What I'd do: Assuming Zack Greinke doesn't come to Toronto, which, if we can be serious for a moment... I'd take a run at one of the left-handed/switch-hitting outfielders on the free agent market.  Depending on pricetags, obviously, I prefer Bourn over Swisher and Victorino.

I don't expect AA to go insane and upgrade everywhere, but there are some pretty clear spots that need upgrades.  The rotation is the big one, but if nothing wild happens there, I hope to see him upgrade at either 2B or to find a nice bat to DH and play either 1B or LF.  I mentioned that I don't think Gose or Hech's bats will ever develop enough to be good, but I'm sure we're going to be stuck with one of them in the lineup full time next year.

Update: Hey! Check this out: It's a John Lott tweet, saying that C, 1B or DH (Edwin), SS, 3B, RF, and CF are "entrenched" for the 2013 season.  Forget the JPA stuff above, and then carry on.

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