Saturday, 28 March 2015

But with a Whimper

So this is the way the world ends...

The last morsel of hope we have remaining has finally fluttered away, and it has done so with very few of us noticing, and probably fewer of us caring.  Kyle Drabek is no more than a glimmer in our eye, or a tickle in our loin.  The greatest era is over, and the honeymoon of that era has followed, lethargically.

One Harry Leroy Halladay, who all prospective Blue Jay talk has, and should surround, has long since re-signed and retired, but the eponymous trade is really only just making its' mark, as sad as that seems.  He was traded years and years ago, for a pile of prospects, none of whom really ever did anything, and he flourished, making the playoffs, throwing a no-hitter and a perfect game, and winning another Cy.  Of course, those are years that we can give a fuck about, since he wasn't a Blue Jay at the time.  He was traded, of course.

There was Travis d'Arnaud, the catcher, who was part of the R.A. Dickey trade that we will all maybe regret on AA's behalf.  He was certainly the eventual centerpiece, whether we knew it or not at the time.  Sure, he's flashed some bat at age 26, but there's still no sure thing, especially at catcher.  Not like Dickey's gone and 4-WARred for us though, and Syndergaard is probably better than Dickey right now, all things being considered.

There was also Michael Taylor.  He, of course, got flipped for Brett Wallace, who eventually got flipped for Anthony Gose, who eventually got flipped for Devon Travis.  Devon Travis should make the opening day roster at 2B.  That's OK, but it's also several degrees of Kevin Bacon away from what WE WERE LOOKING FOR IN 2009.  And it's certainly better than letting something leave through waivers or free agency.

And then there's Drabek.  The one who did leave through waivers or free agency.  The Travis Snider of pitchers, per se.  Prospect #14 per baseball prospectus, and #29 per MLB in 2011. A scalding hot prospect who never had it come together.  A guy who might have been the next ace if he didn't walk everybody, or get hurt, or a combination of the two.

And now he goes elsewhere, unceremoniously.  Like, so unceremoniously, that I don't remember reading that he was DFA'ed or removed from the 40-man or whatever.  It didn't make the news.  This guy was traded for Roy God Damn Halladay.  And he's been jettisoned so a 20-year old can make the team.

The Halladay deal is closed, and the era of the same name has come and gone long ago.  It still hurts. And it feels like it came and went with 118 K's, and 111 walks, and literally, a line drawn in the sand.  In a more literal sense, d'Arnaud got Dickey, and Taylor eventually got Travis.  Those things range somewhere from OK to good, at least at this very moment, because the ultimate goal of the Halladay trade was to help the team contend a few years after it.

We don't know that Travis doesn't go and kill it.  Nor do we know that d'Arnaud doesn't go kick ass the way we all expected him to.  And Drabek might find something in the Chicago system that allows him to throw the ball in the strike zone.  But there's a statute of limitations on this kind of thing, and I suppose it's time to say it now.  The Roy Halladay trade was a disaster.

Yeah, prospects will break your heart sometimes, and TINSTAAPP, and Tommy John's up the wazoo, I get it.  And it's not like AA's track record in trades is exactly anything less than stellar, to the point where we've pretty much forgotten about this deal, since there have been so many others in its' wake.  But sometimes you just look back and relive those glory days and don't know what to do with yourself anymore.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Getting Some Exercise

Or, you know, driving.

I have this thing that I do quite often.  I can't help it.  I wouldn't classify it as a bad habit or anything, and I can't imagine it annoys anybody or anything.  It's just a thing that I do, probably a bit weird.

I have Cot's bookmarked, and I go and read up on contracts like once a week.  Usually, I'm just picking a random team and reading contracts, often ones that I already know exactly what is written about them, thus learning nothing.  These things evolve, from time to time, though, as a player gets awesome or terrible all of a sudden.  My favorite is the Yankees' page, mostly because of the ARod, Teixeira, Sabathia, etc. deals that have all these goofy incentives and perks, though all of the contracts negotiated by Theo Epstein are usually hilarious: John Lackey's clause that stipulates that the team gets a club option for league minimum if he misses time with an elbow injury, or Carl Crawford's "if we trade you, you can't be traded to the Yankees" clause.

More than any other team though, obviously, I'm looking at the Jays' page.  Looking towards the future for payroll commitments, checking options, seeing who is arbitration eligible, free agency eligible or 0-3 at season's end, and so on.

Naturally, this morning, I was laying in bed with my computer on my stomach reading the Jays' page, and was looking at all the club options they have on their players.  There are options on the contracts of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, RA Dickey, and Maicer Izturis for next season, at various values.

The Bautista and Edwin options are for $14MM and $10MM respectively, and, barring some hilarious misfortune like gigantism from consuming too much brain and nerve tonic, or falling down a bottomless pit, those two are getting their options exercised, even if they miss the season due to injury or go all Chris Davis on us.  The other two are kind of interesting though.

Maicer Izturis

We'll start with Izturis, I suppose, since he's the least interesting.  Despite being completely terrible in year one of his deal, and breaking his leg or something and missing 90+% of year two of his deal, Izturis has a totally reasonable option on his contract.  He'll make $3MM this season, which, on a value level, should get something like 0.5 WAR.  He's cheap, and there isn't exactly a bunch of competition trying to pry the 2B job away from him; Devon Travis seems to be the heir-apparent, but he's yet to see AAA, and after him, it's just a bunch of also-rans in Muni, Ryan Goins, and maybe Steve Tolleson against LHP.  He is a switch-hitter who can play a few infield positions, but certainly doesn't do any of those things spectacularly.  Still, we've seen guys, especially at premium(-ish) positions put up a WAR practically by accident.

If Izturis happens to have a halfway decent season (by which I mean "if he can get out of his own way defensively, sit his ass on the bench if and when Steve Tolleson plays against lefties, and put up even a win), then picking up his option seems pretty palatable.  The option is for $3MM, but comes with a $1MM buyout, so in essence, it's a $2MM decision that the Jays will be saddled with.  Perhaps, by that time, Devon Travis is ready, or Ryan Goins learns how to hit .200, or Chase Utley becomes a Blue Jay, rendering Izturis more or less useless, but a $2MM decision, these days, makes a pretty small, low-risk investment.

I'm guessing that this one gets declined, and that AA would take a do-over on this one if given the chance, but it wouldn't be a huge shock if the guy was worth a WAR and justified that option.

Ra Dickey

Dickey's deal is for $12MM in 2015, and has an option for '16 at the same cost, with a $1MM buyout.  $12MM, on the open market, should buy you about 2 WAR, which is right in line with Dickey's performance as a Blue Jay so far, depending on where you look (and you should be looking at B-Ref for him, and maybe all pitchers depending on your feelings about fip-WAR).  He was worth 2.0 rWAR in 2013 and 2.5 in 2014.  That suggests that he's an approximately league-average pitcher, solid but not spectacular.  Certainly not the Cy Young guy that he was in 2012, but wholly valuable nonetheless.

From a strict cost-per-win standpoint, the option is probably a wash, and the Jays would likely get more or less what they paid for.  There are a few other circumstances to look at though.

First, Dickey is 40 years old.  Sure, knuckleballers can throw till they're fucking 70 if they want to, and Dickey has said that he's planning on pitching for at least another few years, and there's not exactly a shitload of data out there that determines what the normal aging curve should resemble for a knuckler (though Breaking Blue tried shortly after the trade).  Tim Wakefield was useful in to his mid-40's, for example, and Phil Niekro was useful through 46.  But most baseball players peak at age 28 or so, and there are a few grey hairs in Dickey's beard.

Second, Dickey has thrown at least 200 innings four years in a row now, which is certainly a good thing to have around.  We don't know what's going to happen with Mark Buehrle after this year (he's a free agent), but I'd guess that he'll walk or retire or something that isn't pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays.  That's based off of nothing, of course, and he seems to like it in Toronto and is building a good rapport with the team's young pitchers, so who knows?  My point is that Dickey is a stabilizing force in the Jays' rotation, even if he isn't as good as he was a few years ago.  He's that guy who takes the ball every fifth day and throws 6-ish innings for you 34 times a year.  He doesn't have a Tommy John ligament, so that's not a worry, and he doesn't throw hard enough to do any damage to the rest of his arm.  As long as he doesn't take a comebacker to the face, or break a nail, there's not really a whole lot to worry about.

Third, Dan Norris seems to have taken a liking to him.  You'd like to keep that guy happy.

Fourth, if Dickey leaves, (and again, assuming Buehrle walks), Drew Hutchison is suddenly the dad of the rotation (not that that is a bad thing, but he's still 24, and you know how much AA likes his vets).  This could certainly change between now and then, if the Jays acquire someone between now and the start of 2016, but there doesn't seem to be any money there for 2015, and we all know how tough it is to get people to sign in Toronto, especially to pitch in the dome.

Fifth, his defense should improve a bit, with Donaldson playing at third and Smoak soaking up a few more errant throws at first.  Not that such a thing changes a ton about how well he pitches, but he certainly does seem to get his ass kicked a bit more from the stretch (.603 OPS with bases empty, .833 with men on in 2014), and if there's anybody in the league who induces weak contact, and thus needs a bit of defensive help, it's Dickey.

It seems as though AA likes guys that can throw innings, guys that can help with team chemistry, and guys who don't have a choice on whether or not they come to Toronto.  With an option, they don't need to pitch it to an agent, or compete with other teams, or worry about how much it's going to cost, or convince someone to pitch in a park that cedes all the homeruns-- this is a known entity, under control, and he's already here.

I would guess that Dickey gets his option exercised if he has a year that is anywhere close to what he had last year, and has it declined if he has a dumpster fire, so the real issue here is what happens if he's in the middle ground.  There is value in resting the bullpen, and it's not a complete impossibility that he gets better, either.  Niekro had a 4.6 WAR season at 45, Wakefield a 4.5 WAR season at 38.  3 WAR isn't completely absurd, especially if his whole schtick about still learning the pitch and adjusting to the various environments is to be believed.  One factor we need to consider is how well Hutchison, Norris and Sanchez perform this year, and if anybody in the minors (i.e. Osuna) develops.  Stroman should be good to go for opening day of 2016, there are plenty of options on the 2016 free agent market, and we could always see a trade, so it's not like there aren't other avenues to find pitching.

It sure would be a lot easier if Dickey went and kicked ass this season, though.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Fixing this Mess

National Post
Well this is fucking horseshit.  No Stroman for 2015.  I'm sure you've seen this by now, so there's no point in writing about that.

It's obviously not over before it starts.  I mean, Stroman is one guy.  Sure, he's probably the best pitcher on the team, but his upside for the year is, what, 4 WAR?  5?  Yeah, those are all important wins, given the Jays' location on the win curve.  The difference between one Stroman and no Stromans is probably more starts to Aaron Sanchez or Dan Norris or Marco Estrada... whichever of those guys didn't get the 5th starter's job.  Maybe some Johan Santana in there, I guess.  Still, Steamer sees 3.4 WAR that the Jays are going to need to go and find for 2015 just to get back to where they were yesterday.

Obviously the problem there is that there aren't free agents available in mid-March.  Yeah, James Shields would have been fucking golden, even before this happened, but there's probably no money there, and Stroman getting hurt in, say, December, probably wouldn't have changed that.  Might have seen a Chris Young signing or something minor like that, but the real issue here isn't money; teams are pretty well set and ready to go in to the early part of the season with what they have in-house.

If that's the case, then the Jays are kind of locked in to doing that themselves.  Everybody just moves up a spot on the chart, more or less.  Dickey is now the obvious opening day starter, if he wasn't before, and Daniel Norris is probably even more of a lock to get a rotation spot unless he throws up all over himself and loses it over the rest of the spring.  Aaron Sanchez was getting stretched out (and will continue to do so) in order to give him a chance to win a spot, but I think a healthy Stroman and all other things being equal would have put him in the bullpen.  Not so certain now.

The likely rotation at this point, in no certain order, has Dickey and Buerhle as the horses, Hutchison and Norris as the young guns, and probably Sanchez getting every chance to fail rounding things out.  If he does fail, Marco Estrada is there, able to 2012-2013 Carlos Villanueva.

The real problem is that both Sanchez and Estrada were tentatively set to be bullpen pieces in a pen that wasn't exactly strong before the Stroman injury.  Now, we're incredibly likely to see one of those guys added to the rotation.  Worse yet, this assumes that Norris can hack it as a starter*, which is probably a bit aggressive to do when you consider that Norris is 21, had offseason surgery, and has pitched a total of 6.2 MLB innings, and 22.2 AAA innings.

*-- I don't think he goes to the bullpen if he doesn't get a rotation spot.  No real need to sit him in the pen as the third lefty, at 21, when he could easily be starting in AAA.  Putting him in the pen runs the risk of him not being stretched out when they need someone to come up.  The lack of rotation depth was a sore spot before, now it's a killer.

Everything might be great.  Norris might come in and kick ass.  Sanchez might win a job and perform admirably too.  Fuck, Johan Santana might light it up and force the team to make a choice!  Russell Martin is behind the plate, after all.  If that's the case, this doesn't really matter a whole lot.  But at the end of the day, we're talking about subtracting from a weakness to patch a hole.

Cole Hamels isn't fucking happening, so we can stop dreaming there.  But if Sanchez or Estrada is getting "taken", then this might be more of a bullpen issue than anything, and that's going to need a quick patch, stat.

It's pretty clear that we, as Jays fans, aren't allowed to have nice things.  21 years of no playoffs. Nobody wants to sign.  Vernon Wells.  Alex Rios.  Mike Sirotka.  Joey Hamilton.

But then 2013! Finally make a run at it!  Nah, Dickey puts up a 4.21 ERA after AA ships both d'Arnaud and Syndergaard.  Josh Johnson falls off the face of the planet.  Jose Reyes misses 70 games.  Starts from Ramon Ortiz.

But wait, most of the good parts of the team are still under contract.  Let's try again!  And hey!  It's working!  Leading the division by a lot!  Nah, let's collapse and not really come close down the stretch, powered by nobody coming in at the deadline.  Baltimore needs the rub just as bad, you guys go ahead and win the division going away.

Clearly, someone has to sell their soul to the devil, and it may as well be AA since his job is probably on the line this season.

I think it's time to trade for Jonathan Papelbon.  Rafael Soriano is still out there too.  Sure, he doesn't exactly project to come out smelling like roses, but neither did, say, Pat Neshek last year, and at least Soriano's done it before.  It's another piece.  It's someone.  A warm body, if you will.  And after today, there's bound to be one fewer in the bullpen.